Text: Jeremiah 33:14-16 / Luke 19:28-40
Date: Advent I + 11/29/15
Welcome to a new church year wherein we begin again to proclaim the entire story of the Truth, the truth of the one, true God, the truth of our creation by the Creator, the truth of our condemnation because of sin and unbelief, the truth of our redemption by the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Today we begin again to proclaim God’s truth. And just in time, too! For the days are dark.
At Christmas time we hear a word of hope as the prophet Isaiah says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Is 9:2). We are a people walking in darkness, the darkness of sin, ours and that of others, and the valley of the shadow of death. But we aren’t the first ones. All mankind is born into this world in the darkness of sin. Today the Advent Gospel tells us that there is still light shining in the darkness.
Isaiah’s prophetic Christmas word is the perfect summary of the entire book of the prophet Jeremiah and of the account of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ our Lord. Jeremiah’s book begins and ends in darkness. God complains that His people have forgotten His deliverance from “a land of drought and deep darkness” (Jer 2:6). The book ends in darkness, the darkness of the fall of Jerusalem, the burning of the temple and the people’s exile into captivity in Babylon (Jer 52). In the very middle of his prophecy however is this great, bright light of chapters 31-33. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and house of Judah” (Jer 33:14).
So also the first Gospel reading we hear in a new year is from the nearing end of our Lord’s earthly ministry. But here, in the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that first “Palm Sunday” we hear the echoes of the song of the Christmas angels at His incarnation. Then the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2:14). Here, at the end, the people sing, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk 19:38). The angels announced peace on earth, the Palm Sunday crowds proclaim peace in heaven. In the coming of Jesus Christ heaven and earth are reunited in peace. The coming of Jesus Christ, though it begins in the darkness of Bethlehem and ends in the darkness of Calvary still is this bright light of salvation for the world.
Jeremiah spoke about the days coming when the Lord will fulfill the promise He made. What was that promise? In Jeremiah it was the promise of the restoration of God’s people in the land He had given them, even after its seeming total destruction. This would happen through the re-establishment of the Davidic monarchy and a renewed and permanent Levitical priesthood.
The Palm Sunday crowd agreed and believed saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Lk 19:38). Jesus is the righteous Branch springing up for David Jeremiah spoke about. It is this word “righteous,” then, that I wish to highlight this morning and at the beginning of a new church year for it is the essence of salvation. Three times this key word appears in our reading: “a righteous Branch” who executes “justice and righteousness,” and the name by which God’s redeemed people will be called, “The Lord is our righteousness.”
What is righteousness? The Hebrew word is “tsadik” or “tsadikenu.” It’s another word for salvation and so forms the main theme of our entire year. For it means not only “being right” with God but being made new by God.
I always like to use the story called “The Tsadik Engine” to explain this. A fellow pastor had an old car that had sat around for a long time. When he decided to fix it and get it going again, no matter what he did it wouldn’t start. (Just like my snow blower at last Sunday’s snow storm!) As he continued messing around with it his neighbor came over to help. He was a Jewish man who happened to know a lot about engines. In short he found the problem, cleaned it out and had the pastor start the engine. As he listened to the engine carefully he muttered the word, “Tsadik!” The pastor, overhearing him said, “Tsadik? Righteous? What does that have to do with this engine?” “You know Hebrew?” his neighbor asked. “Tsadik, ‘righteous,’ means everything is working together again the way it was originally intended. Your engine is ‘saved.’”
So the righteousness God brings, the salvation, the restoration, “makes everything work together the way it was originally intended to.” That happens only as God removes the curse of sin and restores the pure heart of obedience to God. That obedience is not just doing the right things, although it includes that. But this obedience is being in a right relationship with God called the obedience of faith.
This faith is believing in the righteous Branch of David, the Redeemer, the Savior, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. As St. Paul said in the beginning of his letter to the Romans, the good word which God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:2-6).
Through the Gospel we see the saving light. When Jesus was born the Magi from the east were guided by the light of a star. Today we begin by welcoming as did the people of Jerusalem this light, this Branch of David, Jesus, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk 19:38).
Jesus Christ the Lord is our righteousness because he first lived as one of us, for us, to fulfill God’s Law. But then to restore us and the whole world He also died, but not as we die, but as the mighty champion over sin, death and the devil, for us. By His death He has destroyed death, for us. Now by His resurrection the old Levitical priesthood Jeremiah spoke of has been fulfilled as we now have one great high priest who made the complete sacrifice, once for all, bringing the forgiveness of sins to all the whole world, to all people, both Old and New Testament, who believe in this good word this promise of God. As St. Paul said, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21), that is restored to a life of fellowship with God in the great hope of our resurrection to eternal life.
As we begin this year with the cheer, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord,” we begin to proclaim the Gospel; the Gospel of God come to work the forgiveness of sin and salvation of all people who repent and believe. We will be reminded of and called to that repentance especially in the next two weeks with the coming of John the Baptist. Yet repentance is not just for Advent nor only for Lent. It is for every single day of our lives, our lives of struggle against the darkness and sin that so easily besets us.
Every Sunday we sing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Martin Luther recommends that we make the sign of the cross as we sing those words for they are the words that lead us and the whole world to the cross, to the redemption of God, to the light and glory of God. There we are not merely remembering our Lord’s first triumphal entry into Jerusalem but especially His continual triumphant entry now into our presence, in the sacrament of His body and blood for us and for our salvation.
By faith in Jesus, you are the righteousness of God, the new creation, renewed to work the way God originally intended you to work; but only better! Only better because what awaits us is the glory of eternal life, living and reigning with our Lord God and brother, Jesus Christ, in glory everlasting.