O King of Nations
Isaiah 49:3-10, II Timothy 4:1-8, Luke 1:26-38
O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people; Come and save us all, whom You formed out of clay.
Dear Friends in Christ,
We have been fixing our eyes in this Advent season on Jesus,
• Jesus, who is Wisdom form on high, Wisdom in the flesh who pervades and permeates all of creation
• Then Jesus as Adonai / Lord of lords, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and keeps redeeming us in Word, in the waters of Holy Baptism, in the bread and wine of the Holy Supper
• Then Jesus as Root of Jesse, who stands before us as a banner around whom to rally, before whom all kings stand speechless
• Then Jesus as Key of David who with joy in His heart forgives the sins of the penitent and with tears in His eyes retains the sins of the impenitent,
• Then O Dayspring who chases away the darkness every time He visits
• Today O King of Nations, the ruler we long for and who is the cornerstone uniting all the people, come and save us all, whom You formed out of clay.
Luther told two parables about kings meant to show that to change government isn’t necessarily to improve government. The first parable is of a widow who stood and prayed for her tyrant most devoutly, that God might let him live long. The tyrant heard this and was astonished because he well knew that he had done her much harm, and a prayer such as this was unusual, for prayers for tyrants are not commonly of that sort. He asked her why she prayed for him in this way. She answered, “When your grandfather was living, I had ten cows. He took two of them. Then I prayed against him that he might die and your father might become lord. When that happened, your father took three cows form me. Again I prayed that you might become lord and he might die. Now you have taken four cows from me, and I have only one left. I am praying for you, for I am afraid that your successor will take the last cow from me and everything I have.”
Today we worship the king who has been ruling the nations in days gone by, is ruling the nations in these days, and will be ruling the nations in the days to come on behalf of His Church. Three parts to our sermon today, each part beginning with an ”R”, each part based on one of our three lessons assigned and already read, Rejoicing, Recognizing, and Reverencing.
In our Old Testament reading for today, we are led to do some rejoicing. Rejoice in the King who doubles as your (Servant). This king would be unlike any other king. He would be famous not for throwing lawbreakers into jail, but setting them free. He would spend his days not having his underlings shine his shoes, but in fact getting down on his knees and washing their feet. He wouldn’t be sending other people’s sons off to war fighting for his pet cause, but surprise of all surprises, He would lay down His own innocent life on behalf of his guilty subjects. In Isaiah 49, we listen in on a conversation between this Messiah, this Suffering Servant, and His Father. We learn two truths from this conversation.
First, we learn that He / this King who doubles as our Servant / knew where to go with His (complaints). We hear Him say, “ I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” On the night he was betrayed, as Jesus cried out for strength in the Garden of Gethsemane, all appeared lost. Eleven men surrounded Jesus, the 12th led a band of soldiers to arrest him. After three years of ministry, after all the sermons and all the miracles, after all the walking on waters and the stilling of the storms, after all of the giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, after all the telling of the lame to get up and walk and saying to the dead sit up and live, after all of that, only death awaited him. From all human perspectives, the Messiah’s mission had failed. And so Jesus cries out to His Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Even as He is forsaken, you and I are accepted. He gets crushed, we get healed. He gets punished, we go free. We worship a God who has always known what He is doing, He knows what He is doing in our lives today, tomorrow, He will still know exactly what He is doing.
In Isaiah 49, He / the King who doubles as our servant / gets both reassured and (reassigned). He knew where to go for help, and he was not disappointed. The Lord answers, it is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” To whom much is given, much is required. First, Jesus came to restore the tribes of Jacob, secondly He was to be a light to the Gentiles. First, He came for Israel, and when the time was just right, His Church would be sent to the nations. First, this Suffering Servant would be reassured, secondly He would be reassigned. Lesson #1 today is that in this season of Advent and moving into the twelve days of Christmas, is to spend our days rejoicing, rejoicing in the King who doubles as our servant.
The second “r” is recognize. In 2 Timothy 4, we learn to spend our days recognizing reality. Recognize that in these last days there will be a massive turning away from (sound doctrine) Paul writes from death row to young Pastor Timothy, and tries to get him ready for what is to come. He is urging preachers in all generations to proclaim Law and Gospel whether people want to hear it or not. Congregations are to make sure their pastors and teachers of the faith are convicting, chiding, and admonishing and that they are doing so with all of Scripture, that they are speaking truth and doing so with patience.
How tempting it is to confuse patience with (permissiveness). Just a couple of days ago, I spent an afternoon supervising our grandson 5 year old Oliver. We did a bit of wrestling, a bit of snowboarding, a bit of sledding down the big hill with about a half inch of snow on it, a bit of drinking hot chocolate together, and then little Oliver tested my patience. He jumped around on our living room couch, Grandma’s good couch, and I calmly told him not to do so. He did it again, and I patiently and firmly said not to do so. He tested Grandpa a third time, and Grandpa had to draw the line. So as to make sure patience wasn’t confused with permissiveness, little Oliver was banned to the basement for 15 minutes. In reality, not a terrible punishment, but it seemed to be for Oliver. On a much grander scale, pastors and congregations are to make sure that in our preaching and in our practice, we are not confusing Godly patience with an ungodly sort of tolerance of bad behavior.
How important it is to mind (our p’s and q’s!) (To mind our p’s and q’s is to mind your manners, mind your language, be on your best behavior, origin of saying in dispute, perhaps tavern owner paying attention to consumption of pints and quarts, parents telling kids to say please and thank you) Paul urges Timothy to be sober minded, to endure suffering, to do the work of an evangelist, to fulfill your ministry. To be sober minded is to be clear thinking. It is to be attentive to what is happening in our society. It is not to be blinded and carried away by follies, fables, and twisted opinions. Lesson #2 as we pray for the King of Nations, the ruler we long for, the cornerstone uniting all people, as we pray for Him to come and save us, we want to recognize that in these last days there will be a massive turning away from sound and healthy teaching of God’s Word.
Third, as we pray O King of all nations, Reverence to Whom reverence (is due) The Christmas story is like no other story ever told. An angel frightens the “you-know-what” out of Mary and tells her not to be frightened. This virgin girl would be having a baby, and this baby would be a king and of this kingdom there would be no end. No matter what the world says Christmas is about, the Church knows what in fact it is about. It is first of all about coming to and kneeling at the manger and giving reverence to whom reverence is due. Honor to whom honor is due. Worship to whom worship. It’s common for us to say that we’re going to have Christmas with this side of the family on Christmas Day and this other side of the family on the Saturday following Christmas Day and so on and so forth. In reality, we have Christmas as often as we worship the Christ Child for who he is, for what he has done, for what he is doing, and for what he promises to do in the days to come.
This sixth antiphon would remind us that Divided, we scatter, united, we (kneel). On the one hand our world is divided between the haves and the have nots, wherever Jesus Christ is, poor and broken and struggling sinners have all that they need. Their names have been written in the book of life. Their sins have been washed away. Their souls have been saved. Their mansions in heaven are on reserve. What is there to do but kneel and adore Him? What is there to do but to spend our days thanking and praising? What is there to do but to spend our days loving as we have been loved, forgiving as we have been forgiven, serving as we have been served?
What shall we say, in conclusion today, but to say with Mary, Lord, let it be (as you say). Mary didn’t have any idea how a virgin could be with child, but she believed that with God all things were possible. She really didn’t understand why God would choose her to participate in the salvation of souls, but she believed that He knew exactly what He was doing. There was little about her future that she could know or predict, and so she stayed calm and replied in simple fashion, Lord, let it be as you say. So also with you, dear friends, I don’t really know what is particularly troubling your souls today, and you may have no idea of how God will be working certain difficult situations out in your life in the days to come, but of this you may be certain, with God all things are possible. You may not understand why God is permitting certain trials to come your way or why He may be opening certain days of opportunity for you, but this you may believe, that God knows exactly what He is doing, always has, and always will.
A closing parable from Martin Luther. He tells of a beggar who was full of wounds on which many flies would sit, sucking his blood and stinging him. A merciful man came that way and, wanting to help him, drove all the flies away from him. But the beggar cried out and said: What are you doing? Those flies were almost full and satisfied, so that they no longer greatly worried me. Now the hungry flies will come in their place and will plague me far worse.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people who are learning how to pray. They are learning not so much to pray that their earthly suffering would stop, not so much to pray for their pain to go away, but instead they pray, O King of the nations, the ruler we long for, the cornerstone uniting all people, come and save us all, come quickly. Amen.
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