Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Advent of the King

Jeremiah 33:14-16

In an article written for the Spectator in 1943, C.S. Lewis remarked, “I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason.” Lewis was of course not speaking of our own country’s democratic party—he was citizen of the United Kingdom after all—but of democracy in general which in the minds of many is based on a very high view of human nature and our ability to govern ourselves. Lewis maintains that the opposite in fact is true. Democracy is the most sensible form of government precisely because no human being can be trusted with unchecked power and authority over others. He confesses that he need not look further than himself to see that this is in fact the truth, “I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost, much less a nation. Nor do most people—all the people who believe advertisements, and think in catchwords and spread rumors.”  

Last week, on Christ the King Sunday, when Fr. Sam preached, he said that as an American he feels uneasy with the whole idea of Kings, because he associates them with tyranny and unjust taxation. I hope you won’t think me un-American if I say, that for myself, I have always been somewhat jealous that our British friends have managed to maintain a ceremonial Monarchy while having a legal democracy, and it’s not just because I am a bit of an anglophile as all good Anglicans should be, but because it preserves something fundamental, a sign of real authority and majesty. It is a helpful reminder that the universe is not a democracy, it is a monarchy.
Jesus Christ, who sits enthroned above all earthly powers, is appropriately named king more than president. He rules by divine right, and not human election, and every knee must bow before him and every tongue confess him as Lord.

If all the media coverage of the Royal wedding and the birth of the prince a few years ago is any indication, I don’t think I am alone in my fascination with Monarchy. There is a part of the human heart that must bow, that longs to look up to greatness. In the same article Lewis concludes, “When men are forbidden to honor a king they honor millionaires, athletes, or film-stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.”

In our Old Testament lesson for today, the prophet Jeremiah speaks to Israel’s longing for a King, but not just any king, a true king who will rule after God’s own heart, and establish peace and justice. The people of Israel have known far too many of the other kind.
In the book of the law, Deuteronomy in particular, God instructed the people that if they were to have a King it must be a man of God’s own choosing who would not lift his heart above his brothers, and never turn from the commandments of the law, either to the right or the left, in other words a righteous king. Generations latter, Samuel warned the people against having a king, for the very reason we have already discussed, there is no one who is righteous enough to rule. Kings inevitably use their power for selfish ends and exploit those under them. Only God himself is righteous enough to rule over Israel. Nevertheless, God honors their wishes, and instructs Samuel to anoint a man from among the people as King.

The first King of Israel Saul, loses his right to rule when he disobeys God, and the throne is given to another, a shepherd boy from the house of Jesse named David. King David rules the people with righteousness, the bible calls him a man after God’s own heart, but even he remains a very flawed King. The power he wields leads him into truly wicked actions such as adultery and murder, yet even in his grievous sin he humbles himself before God. God promises that he will not remove his blessing from David’s offspring as he did with Saul. One from his line, a Son of David, will have a Kingdom that will be established forever.

The history of Israel’s monarchy is spotty at best. Despite God’s promise of blessing, the Davidic Kings fell far short of God’s standards.  After the reign of David’s son Solomon, the kingdom is split in two. In the following generations, the Kings are mostly wicked with only faint glimmers of light and hope among them. 

Jeremiah prophesied in the Southern Kingdom of Judah during its final days. He lived through the reign of five kings. The first of these kings, Josiah, was a great reformer and is celebrated by God as a good king. He led the people in repentance and reestablished the Law in the Kingdom, but his reforms were short lived. The next four kings Jehoahaz, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah were not good. In fact they were a disaster, and undid all the good the Josiah had accomplished. As a result, God brings judgement on the people. Under Zedekiah, the kingdom of Judah is captured by the Babylonians. King Zedekiah himself is taken captive, his sons murdered, and his eyes put out. That is the end of the Jewish monarchy on Earth. The people are scattered, carried into exile. The hope of God’s promises to David being fulfilled, appear to be disappointed.

The Lord spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah first to warn them of the Judgement to come, but he also spoke to them through Jeremiah to assure them that he had not forgotten the covenant he made with them or the promise he made to David. He promised that he would restore them to the land and set over them a Righteous King, “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

When the New Testament begins, the people have indeed returned to the land, but those who rule over them are not righteous, they are the corrupt puppets of their gentile overlords. They are still waiting for their true King. They are still waiting for righteousness. They groan under the tyranny of the unjust kings of this world, but they also groan under captivity to their own sinful nature. All hope for deliverance seems vain, because Human nature is corrupted at the root. Can a bad tree produce good fruit?

Israel’s situation is our own. It is the universal human experience. We are, all of us, captivated by a longing greater than the resources we have to satisfy, driven by a hope we cannot fulfill on our own, called to a future we cannot ourselves bring to pass. This is the ache of Advent.  Deliverance cannot come from our selves it must descend on us from above, and so we wait in faith.

Soon many of us will be putting up trees in our homes and decorating them in preparation for the glorious celebration of our Lord’s birth on Christmas Day. Every year my family likes to decorate our tree with shiny red plastic apples. Now even if those ornaments were real apples, it would not make our Christmas tree an apple tree! Only apple trees can produce real apples. And only a righteous heart can produce true righteousness. We need to be changed from the inside out. Jeremiah speaks of a Righteous branch springing from a sinful tree. Only God can cause this to come to pass.

In the fullness of time, God sent his own eternal Son, descending from above, born of a woman, born into our own fallen nature, from the house and lineage of David, to bring deliverance to the whole world. What the people of Israel could not produce themselves, a righteous king, God brought forth himself in Jesus Christ.
A people are only as righteous as their leader. An evil ruler leads the people into wickedness, but a good ruler leads the people into righteousness. For once in human history, a king was born who could truly lead his people into truth and life. A king was born who was worthy of his authority, one to whom to bend the knee in obedience means more liberty not less. Jesus Christ is the one true, and worthy king of Israel, but he is also, the one and only true and worthy king of the human race, the world, and the whole universe. He is the God and creator of all become one of us.

He came to his own people and they rejected him. Indeed, the world in its rebellion, still does not acknowledge him. And yet, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. He has promised that he will come again. At that time he will be all in all. All his enemies will at last be put under his feet. In this holy season of Advent we wait. The word Advent means coming. Just as the people of Israel awaited his first advent, we await his second advent. We cling to his promises, just as Jeremiah did, for he has said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

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