Monday, November 28, 2011

The Gift of the Father: A Good King.

1st Sunday of Advent,                                                           November 27, A+ D 2011
Mark 11:1-10

We enter into the season of Advent on Palm Sunday, oddly enough, with Jesus, the King, the Son of David, riding into His capitol, bringing peace and joy to His people.  Which is great news, because we could really use a Good King. 

Can you believe we are in the middle of another Presidential campaign?  Once again the hand wringing, the dirt digging, the endless talking, the phenomenal expenditure of money, all of it is on, again, politicians, journalists, and partisans on all sides gearing up for November, 2012.  Of course, since the campaigns seem to run about three and a half years, we’re almost always in the middle of it. But it’s heating up these days. 

Some people make their living off of the election cycles, some are true believers, and others are just political junkies.  But at the core, aren’t all of us looking and hoping for a good king?  We Americans of course don’t use that title, and certainly elections are very different from coronations of the eldest son of the last king.  But regardless, throughout history, right down to 2011, aren’t we always looking for that wise, fair, benevolent ruler, the one who will know how to take care of things for us? 

Some people reject this idea on egalitarian principle, of course, insisting that every person should be autonomous, ruling themselves, free from hierarchical overlords.  But isn’t it interesting how, whether such protests come from socialists, or libertarians, or anarchists, the groups voicing this particular ‘we don’t want any leaders’ opinion still always seem to have a leader, a spokesman, a guru whom the others look up to for guidance and inspiration?  Even if a radical faction takes over running things, don’t they always end up choosing a leader?  No matter what title is used, the quest for a good king is, I think, close to universal. 

The quest for a good king is close to universal, and it is certainly close to eternal.  Our search for that wise, fair, good ruler never ends, it seems, most often because all the candidates disappoint us.  No one seems up to the task.  The great hero who sweeps into office on a tidal wave of promise always runs aground, sooner or later, revealing previously unnoticed shortcomings, unable to fix every problem, prone to error, and, too often, even to evil.  How many times have we asked ourselves: How could we have been so foolish to think he was going to be the solution?  How many times have we realized that we need to find a new, better leader, a good king, this time for real? 

The quest for a new and good king never ends, in part because no one is up to the task, and in part because we don’t really know what we want.  When things are going well for us, we’d like our king and his minions to leave us alone, and take as little tax as possible.  On the other hand, when problems beset us and we are concerned about surviving, or at least worried that we might not be able to enjoy the same standards to which we’ve grown accustomed, then how we change our tune.  Then we are not so concerned about government overreach, then we want our rulers to step in and help and control and fix things for us.  So which is it?  Do we want our rulers, our kings, to take care of us, or just to do the minimum, the things only kings can do, and leave the rest to us?  We can’t seem to make up our minds, can we? 

The search for a good king never ends, because there will never be a truly good king elected or appointed on this earth, and even if there were, to succeed he would need a truly good people to lead.  And we are fresh out of both truly good kings and truly good people. 

Oh that we Christians would be wise enough to not get caught up in hoping for a new good king, and instead discover the Good King we have already been given.  Advent is the season we prepare to receive and celebrate the Father’s good gift at Christmas, and today, on this first  Sunday of Advent, our readings fast forward us to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when He was hailed as the long awaited King, the Son of David, long promised to return and rule God’s people with justice, equity and glory.  The Father’s gift at Christmas is the One Good King, the eternal King of heaven and earth, come down to live a life like ours, only without sin. 

That He was completely without sin is just one of many ways that Jesus is an entirely different kind of King, different than any king, emperor, president or prime minister in the whole course of human history. 

Every human king or president has limited power to do the things he thinks are right.  But Jesus is all powerful, since Jesus is God, come into human flesh.  Able to change the rules of the universe He created, reversing disease, raising the dead, feeding the masses, controlling the weather, it’s a very good thing that Jesus is also without sin.  Because power, even limited power, corrupts sinners.  That’s why so often seemingly good leaders end up disappointing: they eventually use their power the wrong way, with dire results for all of us. 

But not Jesus, He never misuses His divine power.  In fact, in His ministry He never used His divine power to serve Himself, but only to help someone or to reveal and move forward some facet of God’s plan.  We learn quickly in life to be wary of those who wield great power, for eventually we see them do great harm.  Part of the Good News of our Advent King is that Jesus is completely trustworthy.    

Some human leaders are unselfish, dedicated to the good of their people.  And yet they still fail to be completely and consistently good, because a good king must also be wise.  The best laid plans of mice and men are sure to come to ruin, but Jesus is the Wisdom of God, come down to establish His kingdom.  The ways of earthly victory which we think He should have chosen, the ways of earthly rule that we still would like to see in His Church, these Jesus is too smart to pursue.  Instead He embraces the wisdom of the Cross, foolishness to men, to be sure, but before God it is the power of salvation, the one way for foolish sinners to be declared righteous, to be accepted into God’s heavenly kingdom.  Jesus, the Wisdom of God, hanging on a Cross, for the life of the world. 

Human rulers and kings are notoriously impatient, and for good reason, having only one lifetime to accomplish all they see as necessary.  Not King Jesus.  His triumphal entry into Jerusalem came at the end of an astonishingly long wait.  Before Jesus, with His Father and the Spirit, created the world, the die was already cast, the plan was already in place.  He is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, but only in the fullness of time would the plan be brought to completion.  At just the right time, when all the events of history had converged to set the stage, Jesus acted to establish His Kingdom. 

The patience of King Jesus continues.  Some days we wonder, with the saints in heaven, how long, O Lord, how long until you bring all the struggle and evil in this world to an end?  Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, King Jesus, … to make your name known to your adversaries, to win your final victory over them.  But Jesus is patient, not in a rush, still working, still seeking, still desiring that all come to repentance, to the knowledge of the truth. 

And Jesus is patient with you, not counting your sins against you, not casting you out, even though your lack of faith, like mine, is shocking.  Reflect on the true reality of your life.  Take stock of your deeds, your words, your thoughts.  What separates you from the rebels who openly oppose Christ?  Who would ever say that you are a faithful subject of the Good King? 

Jesus the King says so.  Christ has put His Name on you.  He has claimed you for His own, by the forgiveness of all your sins.  And so, despite what is deserved, He continues to be patient with you, and me, still forgiving, still teaching, still receiving us, despite our sin, which so clings to us.  Turn from your sins, and look to Jesus, your good, and patient, King. 

Which is to say that Jesus is the all merciful King.  Mercy is not a very well liked trait in human kings, we prefer leaders who promise law and order, unless we are the ones in need of mercy.  When a President pardons someone, it usually isn’t for the sake of mercy, though, but rather for a political favor.  And even when a Presidential pardon is truly merciful, it is almost always unjust, because no one has paid the price for the crime committed.  

Not so with King Jesus.  His mercy, for the world, for you, for me, for all us sinners, is not just a whim, not something done to win friends and favors, as if God had need of our favors.  No, the mercy of Jesus is based in the fact that He has taken the sins of the world upon Himself.  The eternal punishment from God that your sins and my sins deserve has been completely vented, poured out, expiated, onto the Good King, who five days after His triumphal entry was enthroned on a Roman Cross.  It is finished, and so you can trust His mercy, you can seek and celebrate and share His mercy, because it is based in the blood of God, the blood shed to pay for every sin of every sinner.  He can have mercy on all, for He has paid for all. 

Which is to say that Jesus is the all loving King.  We hope that our earthly presidents and kings will put the good of their nation ahead of themselves.  And in some instances and for some periods of time, great leaders have sacrificed themselves for the good of their people.  Occasionally an earthly king will even give his life for his nation.  Like Jesus.  Only Jesus’ death is different, yet again.  For His death was not His end, but rather the end of your sins.  His death is not His end, but rather the beginning of His victory, for He rose to new life on the third day.  And His death was not for Himself, but rather for you.  And now His life is your new and eternal hope.  The kingdom of God is every believer, clinging to the resurrected Christ, our Good King, who rules over you, and me, and His whole Church, with grace and mercy, forever and ever, Amen.    

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