December 1, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory!”
Gates are opened only for those who are meant to have access. Those who aren’t supposed to have entrance are blocked by the gates. They have to climb over them or break through them to get inside. But when one appears who is permitted to enter, the gates are opened: the guards recognize the arriver and clear the way for him.
That concept is reflected in the Psalm for this First Week of Advent. As the Church enters the season of preparing for Christ’s appearance, she prays about gates. But not just any sort of gates. No, these gates mentioned in Psalm 24 are called “ancient doors.” They have existed forever, from the establishment of time itself. And they await a particular person to arrive and pass through.
So who is it that is meant to gain entry through these “ancient doors”? The Psalmist reveals His identity: “the King of glory” and “Lord of hosts”. This is no ordinary arriver. No, it is One who surpasses all others who have ever lived. It is He who has dominion over all things. That is seen in the first verses of Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” Only He will have access through the “gates” and “ancient doors.”
And just where do these gates open to? What is found on the other side of them? They are the portals to where the Lord dwells: Paradise, heaven. Because they stand as the threshold to that location, to the place of the Lord’s holiness, access is limited. Only those who meet certain criteria can hope to pass through. Note what the Psalmist says: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Such criteria are demanding. They limit access to all, but One.
Think about what is required. Clean hands that have committed no wrong. A pure heart that has not believed or desired anything false or evil. Those are demands that you cannot meet. For your hands are soiled and dirty, mired with sinful deeds and acts. And your hearts are breeding grounds for all sorts of impurities: lust, envy, greed, malice. These disqualify you from entering through the gates to the Lord’s holy place. You should not receive blessing from the Lord, but curse from the God of your condemnation.
But the requirements placed upon those who would dare to enter through the gates are met by the Lord Himself. He has clean hands and a pure heart. They are the hands that create and sustain creation, even despite all its flaws. His heart contains His will to show mercy and compassion. He does not lift up His soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. No, He exults in truth and speaks it. He makes promises that are kept and fulfilled to the fullest. The King of glory can come up to the gates, and the ancient doors would open wide to Him. Though you should be prohibited from entry, the Lord of hosts can take His rightful place in His own celestial palace.
But this is not some sort of taunting truth. Knowledge of your faults is meant to lead you to what the Lord has promised for you. Note what the Psalmist says after listing the harsh, demanding criteria for entry: “Such is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” The Psalmist indicates that there will be those besides the Lord who can ascend His hill and stand in His holy place. Those who seek Him will be granted such access.
How is this possible? Because of what the Lord who has clean hands and a pure heart has willed and accomplished. You heard a prophecy of that in the portion of Jeremiah’s prophecy read this evening: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is name by which He will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” The promise is given that the Lord will send someone who meets the criteria needed to enter through the ancient doors. It was not any of the kings of Israel or Judah. There were many who were nothing but evil. Even the great ones like Solomon, Josiah, and Hezekiah all showed themselves to be flawed men.
But a Son of David did arrive to fulfill this promise. That Son is Jesus Christ our Lord, the One who received the great welcome on Palm Sunday: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus shows Himself to be of clean hands and pure heart. His will is for truth and holiness. And through His life and work, He receives blessing and righteousness for Himself and for others.
The promise was given that this Righteous Branch would accomplish great things for His people. And so He did. He brought forth forgiveness, life, and salvation. He was mighty in battle against sin, death, and Satan. He became the source of righteousness for those who lacked it in themselves, even for you. Jesus fulfills that title: “The Lord is our righteousness.” Because that is so, because you are given Christ’s holiness to be your own by being united with Him through Holy Baptism, you can now climb His hill and stand in His holy place. You meet the set criteria to enter through the gates. Connected to Christ, receiving His righteousness, your unclean hands and impure hearts have been cosmically bleached. You are set to pursue His truth and have an eternal covenant made with you.
Through what Christ has done, you have received blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of your salvation. Those who keep guard no longer recognize your faults and bar your entrance, since you are united with the Lord of hosts and the King of glory. Now they only see you clothed in Christ’s righteousness and holiness, the blessing that you have received from Him. Therefore, the gates of Paradise shall open for you, so that where your Savior is—“the Lord who is your righteousness”—there you may be also.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.