Long Live the King

[A stained-glass window of Jesus wearing a crown is seen at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz) (Nov. 18, 2011)]

Video of Evening Prayer is here. The sermon begins around the 22:50 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

God, give Your justice and Your righteousness to the king. Perhaps we could even extend the prayer for those who are in positions of authority in our country, or any country where God’s people live. Presidents, prime ministers, congresses, parliaments. Even those who are not God’s people at least desire many of the things prayed for in this psalm: justice and righteousness; prosperity; defense of the poor and needy, and deliverance to the oppressed.

But there’s something off about the psalm if we pray it for merely human rulers and authorities. What king or president or prince or prime minister has ever been feared while the sun endures and as long as the moon, throughout all generations? What earthly ruler has ever had all kings bow down before him, or all nations serve him? Solomon, to whom this psalm is attributed, had wisdom and riches beyond measure, but his kingdom fell apart and was divided after his death. There is something unfinished in the psalm, just as in the promises attached to the land: promises of eternal peace and rest and safety from all enemies. Solomon died, just as his father, David, had died.

But God kept promising that there would be another King; in fact, another David. Through Ezekiel, God said, “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd… They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations shall know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore” (Ezekiel 37:24-28).

We know that things are not the way they should be, and we long for things to be right—or at least, better than they are. That is a good impulse. It is an Advent impulse, the longing for things to be right in the world. We want peace and an end to injustice—at least most of the time, and at least if it doesn’t cost us too much by way of inconvenience. We want the authorities of this world to act on behalf of those who are oppressed—at least most of the time, and as long as they leave us out of it. But we are continually confusing the kingdoms of this age with the Kingdom of God. We are convinced that people are primarily good, so if we could just get people to act on their innate goodness, we could make this world a better place. And, in fact, we can acknowledge that improvements for people have been achieved. No doubt, there have been moments when earthly authorities have acted for the good of their people, and have done things that have brought external peace and security.

But never for long, and never for good. Even if we can point to times of external peace and prosperity, it never lasts. Some new authority comes to power, or some other authority ends the peace. Advent teaches us that all earthly authorities will fail us. And not only that, but 99% of those earthly authorities will do nothing at all to further the good of people, especially since, more and more, people are unable even to agree on what is good. Neither we nor our authorities can ever free us from the ongoing conflict, warfare, bloodshed, oppression, and injustice in our country and in the world. The best we can do is hold the darkness at bay for a little while—and even that is ambiguous.

But someone greater than all those authorities is here. Someone greater than David is here. Someone greater than Solomon is here. Psalm 72 is not, finally, about Solomon, or David, or any other earthly king or government or authority. It is a prayer in hope for the King of all the earth to appear and fill the whole earth with His glory. This King is the one who fulfills the prophecy given to Abraham, that in Abraham’s descendant, all nations will be blessed. He is the one who stands as a signal for all the nations, like a flag planted in enemy territory to which all the soldiers rally. Those who see His salvation, which He has revealed to all people and in all the earth, will come to Him.

This King does not appear in the world as other kings do, nor is He crowned as the ruler of a single earthly nation. He is not elected by the majority of the people. He appears like rain falling on mown grass: silently. “Here a maid was found with child, yet remained a virgin mild. In her womb this truth was shown: God was there upon His throne” (LSB 332:3). But He saturates this earth with the knowledge of His salvation, and His victory is unshakable because it lies behind and beyond all earthly victories and defeats. No one is able to approach this King in His glory. No one is holy enough to ascend to His throne. So He descends, humble, a King in the flesh and appearance of a servant. He humbles Himself unto death, and then wraps Himself in a slave’s garments to wash us clean and serve us the bread of heaven. “Who may ascend Mount Zion’s holy hill to do God’s will? The One whose unstained hands can meet the Law’s demands, whose purity within reveals One free from sin. Come, praise this King who claims the cross as throne—praise Him alone!” (LSB 339:3).

It is only in this King that all the nations will be blessed with peace. It is only in Him that every good thing will be fulfilled for which humans hope. We can either have the nations of this world, which rise and fall, rise and fall, conquer and are conquered, or we can have the King of all the earth who was defeated in order to be victorious over even death and hell. He fell into death and the grave only to rise from the dead, alive forever, unable to die anymore. It is for you He took frail flesh; for you He died; for you He rose; for you He reigns at the right hand of God’s power. His enemies and yours come to bow at His feet. Like the serpent, who is cursed to eat dust for his food, sin, death, and the devil will lick up dust as He puts them all under His feet. “Hail to the Lord’s anointed, great David’s greater Son! Hail, in the time appointed, His reign on earth begun! He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free, to take away transgression and rule in equity” (LSB 398:1).

This King has gone into a far country until God’s chosen time of His return. We wait, and watch, and pray, and long for His appearance, because His revealing will mean the end of violence, oppression, lack and need forever. It will mean the fruitful abundance of His creation restored and the blessing of all the earth. It will mean the gathering of all His people to Himself, His poor ones who have suffered under their burdens. “He shall come down like showers upon the fruitful earth; love, joy, and hope like flowers, spring in His path to birth. Before Him on the mountains shall peace, the herald go; and righteousness in fountains from hill to valley flow. Kings shall fall down before Him and gold and incense bring; all nations shall adore Him, His praise all people sing. To Him shall prayer unceasing and daily vows ascend; His kingdom still increasing, a kingdom without end. O’er ev’ry foe victorious, He on His throne shall rest, from age to age more glorious, all blessing and all blest. The tide of time shall never His covenant remove; His name shall stand forever—that name to us is Love” (LSB 398:3-5). “The King shall come when morning dawns and light triumphant breaks, when beauty gilds the eastern hills and life to joy awakes. … Oh, brighter than the rising morn when Christ, victorious, rose and left the lonesome place of death despite the rage of foes. … The King shall come when morning dawns and light and beauty brings. Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray: Come quickly, King of kings!” (LSB 348:1, 3, 5).

Long may He live! Long live the King! Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel, who alone does wonderful and marvelous things. Blessed be His glorious Name forever; may the whole earth be full of His glory! Amen, amen. Let it be. Let it be.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/6/22

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