November 27, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!’”
“Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance.” The words of the first Collect of Advent have been prayed for centuries by the faithful. There is the call for action, not of their doing, but from the Lord. The desire is for His power to be stirred up again, the power that was used in days of old for the blessing of His people. It is needed because of the perils that sin has caused in humanity. Deliverance is required, a deliverance that only the Lord can provide.
This theme of the First Sunday in Advent is found throughout the readings this morning. What the Collect of the Day pleads for is the same petition made by the Lord’s people throughout history. In today’s psalm and today’s Old Testament Reading that both address the same period in Israel’s history, the faithful call for action. You heard the psalmist’s cry: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your might and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let Your face shine, that we may be saved!” Why does the psalmist pray this way? What was happening? The northern areas of Israel had been overrun. The Assyrian Empire was in the process of making these descendants of Jacob their serfs and slaves.
But what was taking place in northern Israel was not simply a matter of happenstance, the natural ebb and flow of political and military power. No, it was a direct punishment of Israel’s unfaithfulness, their sin of idolatry. The Lord’s anger rose up against this abandonment of the Covenant. This is what the psalmist identifies: “O Lord God of hosts, how long will You be angry with Your people’s prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us an object of contention for our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves.” There is only one remedy to this: a restoration of the people to the Lord’s grace and favor. And so the psalmist and the people pray: “Restore us, O God of hosts; let Your face shine, that we may be saved!”
The same theme of needed restoration, needed powerful action from the Lord is found in Isaiah’s prophecy. Speaking from the future perspective of the exiled people in Babylon, the prophet summarizes their desire: “Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make Your name known to Your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at Your presence! When You did awesome things that we did not look for, You came down, the mountains quaked at Your presence.” The call is for divine action for the people in exile.
But that call for divine action is accompanied by the people’s recognition of the problem. They know what has brought them to this condition: “You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember You in Your ways. Behold, You were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been in a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon Your name, who rouses himself to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.” The realization of what their sin has brought brings out these statements from the exiled people. Instead of having the Lord’s face shine on them, it has been hidden from them. Their idolatry, false belief, and complacency have led to this.
In both cases, the people need action. They need the Lord to stir up His power and come. They need Him to rescue them from the threatening perils of their sins and to save them by His mighty deliverance. But this is not only a 6th Century BC problem. It is a situation that you find yourselves in. You are not immune from sin. You are not some greater condition than the Israelites. No, you are of the same mold. Your unrighteous actions—everything that violates the Divine Law—have become a stain on you. You fade away, swept into death because of your transgressions. You have the habit of speaking well of God or praying to Him when matters are good, but doubting whether He is with you when ill befalls you. As you are like the people of old, you offer the same prayers: “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we are all the work of Your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all Your people.” “Restore us, O God of hosts; let Your face shine, that we may be saved!” Or as the Collect put it: “Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come….”
The Lord has answered that prayer before. It was answered in the appearance of the Messiah, the fulfillment of ancient promises about salvation. Promises were made about the ending of all exiles: the exile of Israel in Assyria, the exile of Judah in Babylon and Persia, the exile of humanity from Paradise. The anger of the Lord would not burn forever. In its place would be His everlasting compassion and favor shown to those who fear, love, and trust in Him. The Lord’s face would shine again on His people. That was done with the arrival of the Christ to bring deliverance and restoration.
This morning, you heard of that arrival. The focus was not on the Christ’s birth—that will be the theme four weeks from now. Instead, the focus was on the Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, the beginning of the series of events that led to His death and resurrection. That is where the Lord’s face would again shine on His people, even as it was turned against Christ in His crucifixion. As He bore the sins and iniquities of the world, Jesus had His Father’s face hidden from Him: the awe-full statement He makes testifies to it, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Yet, this ends not in death alone, but in being raised from it. That is how the Messiah fulfills His role, how He brings the power from heaven above to rescue humanity from the threatening perils of sin and save them.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the people recognize Him as that answer to their plight. His identity as the Messiah is confirmed by their actions. The prophecy of a King coming from the Lord riding on a colt is fulfilled: “And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
The jubilant praises from the people reveal what was happening for them. They had asked for deliverance; now they were shouting the words that make that request to heaven above: “Hosanna in the highest!” They had desired action from the God of hosts; now they see Jesus’ appearance as precisely that: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” They wanted restoration of their place, a return from exile, a lifting of oppression; now they see that beginning with Jesus’ arrival: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” The Lord had stirred up His power and come to deliver them.
This is what you also see in Jesus’ appearance. This is what you believe that He has accomplished for you. His death and resurrection have become the source of your salvation. That is “the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” which the apostle Paul mentions in his writing to the Corinthian believers. The testimony about Jesus given on Palm Sunday is the same testimony that you give about Him. He has brought you out of Satan’s domain to be His own. He has delivered you from the curse of eternal death. He has bestowed life to you. It is the fulfillment of promises made to humanity from the primordial days. By this, God reveals His character to you: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
But you still await more from the Lord. He has given you promises of action that have yet to take place. The Advent Season carries the theme of reflecting on the Old Testament people’s waiting for the Messiah’s arrival. But it also carries the theme of expectation for Jesus’ return. That has been promise made to you. It has been so since the first generation of New Testament believers. Even Paul writes to the Corinthian believers: “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Like the Old Testament believers, you also are waiting for the Christ’s appearance—not a first appearance, but His glorious return.
You know that something great awaits you that you do not yet possess. You have been redeemed from sin; yet you still anger the Lord by transgressing His Law. You have been delivered from eternal death; yet you still see the Lord’s people leave this earthly life and you yourself will also. You have been rescued from bondage to Satan; yet you, the Lord’s people, fall victim to deception and temptation. Even now, the Lord’s people live in exile. You are not yet where you are destined to be. You are not yet in full possession of what has been attained for you by Christ’s death and resurrection. So you live in expectation and desire for what is yet to come.
This is why the ancient prayers are contemporary. Even today, they are the petitions that you offer. “Restore us, O God of hosts; let Your face shine, that we may be saved!” Your desire is for the full measure of salvation, the undoing of all that opposes the Lord’s will and the revelation of the Lord’s perfection. You await the day when you no longer have to say: “Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever.” You anticipate the day when the Christ will come with His angels, when He rends the heavens and comes down. Then you also can join in the worship of Jesus with your own hands, seeing Him with your own eyes, and speaking with all His faithful: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Your expectations and desires are what your faith in the Lord’s actions and promises creates. It comes from trust in His identity and character: “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides You, who acts for those who wait for Him.” So wait for Him during this Advent Season—not only this four-week timeframe, but all the days that will lead up to His return. He is faithful and will sustain you until His return. As you wait, make the first Collect of Advent your own: “Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.