“The Pending Birth of a King”
By The Rev. Dr. Andrew Stirling
Sunday, December 12, 2021
Reading: Matthew 21:1-5
I want to introduce to you this morning a very important person, in fact the third very important person that I’ve introduced to you so far during Advent. This is the son of Berechiah, and the grandson of Iddo, which I’m sure means a lot to you. He was well known for building things, particularly temples, and building them well and big. He had immense faith and a belief that God could do wonderful things and could change the whole trajectory of history. He was also a person of peace and desired a peaceful world. He had a great longing for a monarch that would rule things well and was a passionate monarchist. The person is Zechariah.
For those of you who were here three weeks ago you’re saying, “Dr. Stirling is losing his mind. He’s already introduced Zechariah to us. Has he only got one sermon this Advent?” This is another Zechariah, not the one that I spoke of before who was the father of John the Baptist. In fact, this Zechariah existed somewhere in the Fifth or Sixth Century before the arrival of Jesus Christ, so he dates back. He was known as one of the minor prophets, not to be distinguished on a qualitative basis from the major prophets, but a minor prophet because of where he appears in the Bible. Zechariah is still a great person.
We encounter him, believe it or not, in the New Testament as well. Again, if you think I’m losing my mind and having a Palm Sunday text on the third Sunday of Advent, which is very unusual, you will understand that in that text and following on from Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the words of Zechariah are quoted from some 500 years before. So, there is a link, especially in the mind of the Gospel writer Matthew between Zechariah’s prophecy and the arrival of Jesus, of the nature of the kingship of Jesus and a desire on the part of Zechariah. Above all, Zechariah looked to the future and when he gave his prophecy his hope was that there would be a new king, who would lead the country of Israel, someone who would restore things to where they should be, he stood very much in the line of other prophets, such as Haggai, who also hoped a new king, a new monarch would bring a new era for the people of Israel.
Recently on social media I’ve heard people denigrating the Old Testament prophets and saying that they really don’t have anything relevant to say in our day and age, and that they’re an antiquated, out-of-style, out-of-fashion group of people, and maybe a little bit eccentric. I would like to go on record as saying I disagree because not only were they writing within the context of their own time, five, six, seven hundred years before the arrival of Jesus, but they were also pointing the way forward. Maybe they were condemning the sins of their nation, pointing a finger at injustices, but they were also prophets of hope. Out of this prophecy of hope, they had the conviction that despite the current state of affairs God would restore the joy of Israel.
So, I stand by the Zechariahs, and think that part of Jewish history is important for us as it was important in preparing the way of Jesus of Nazareth. Let me read again what Rev. Diaz read for us beautifully a few moments ago from Zechariah and you’ll see what I mean: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
As Canadians we’ve heard that before, haven’t we? “He shall have dominion from sea to sea”, we add to sea. This notion that a king would come and defeat the perpetrators of military evil, who subjugate the weak, and restore to Israel, Ephraim and Jerusalem to a place of peace and harmony.
Zechariah, while condemning the injustices of his day, was nevertheless an optimistic prophet who looked to the future restoration of his people, Israel, and the arrival of a new king. He also stood in contrast to the emerging empires around Israel. Certainly, Zechariah wanted a king of peace, justice, and hope. So, he stood in contrast, not only to Darius the Persian before, but Alexander the Great who was to follow, by hoping for something wonderful to happen. This is precisely where we look at Zechariah through the lens of the New Testament text and the belief in it and in Matthew in particular, that the arrival of Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise of Zechariah that there would be a king of peace. What we have here is a sense that Jesus is not only the fulfillment of Zechariah wanted, which he was, but that he was the embodiment of the peace and the justice that Zechariah desired. What we have then in Matthew is a reflection on Zechariah about the nature of the kingship of Jesus of Nazareth. That kingship becomes very clear in the New Testament, and you cannot read your Bible without confronting a Jesus who fulfills exactly what Zechariah had in mind.
A few years ago (I have told this story to some of you before maybe in a study or elsewhere) I was driving down the Don Valley Parkway minding my own business going at exactly 90 kilometres an hour, the legal speed limit, when a white van pulled in front of me. This van’s doors were plastered with Christian stickers. There was the Ixthus, the sign of the fish; there was something about Jesus and Mary; then there was another one, bigger than all the others that simply said, “God allows u-turns.” At 90 kilometres an hour going down the Don Valley Parkway, it gives you no peace to see a van saying, “God allows u-turns,” does it? I was mortified. I kept my distance, I’m a good driver, but I was suspicious of the Christian in front of me. I know that he probably didn’t mean it literally in terms of his driving style, although I must say he was going a little quickly, but what he was staying was the truth.
The truth is that God does allow u-turns. God turns things around 180 degrees from where things had been going. When you think of the monarchy of Israel this is a good thing. The monarchs that Zechariah was referring to and some of those that followed, like Ahab and Jehoshaphat and others, were corrupt. They led Israel into idolatry, injustice, and ultimately war. These are the kings that Zechariah wanted replaced, and when Jesus arrived on the scene those who followed Jesus saw in him a monarch. For centuries, we have sung in our own very hymns, two of which we sang this morning, the nature of his kingship. We sing, “Joy to the World, the Lord is come, let Earth receive her King.” And we sing, “Hark! The herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King.” We recognize the kingly nature of Jesus. The New Testament understood the kingly nature of Jesus and he was a complete u-turn from those that had preceded him, a complete reversal but in line with what Zechariah had promised.
When you look at the life and ministry of Jesus you see someone who was completely unlike the monarchs of Israel. One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read on this was written by the Christian writer Max Lucado who said:
“He came, not as a flash of light or as an unapproachable conqueror but as one whose first cries are heard by a peasant girl and a sleepy carpenter. Mary and Joseph were anything but royal, yet heaven entrusted its genuine treasure to these simple parents.
It began in a manger, this momentous moment in his time. He looked anything but a king; his face prunish and red, his cries still the helpless and piercing cry of a dependent baby, majesty amid the mundane, holiness in the filth of sheep manure and sweat. This baby had overseen the universe, these rags keeping him warm with the robes of eternity. His golden throne room worshipping angel had been replaced with kind but bewildered shepherds. Curious, the royal throne room. No tapestries covering the windows, no velvet garments on the courtiers, no golden scepter or glittering crown. Curious, the sounds in the court. Cows munching, hooves crunching, a mother humming, a baby nursing, it could’ve begun anywhere, the story of the King. But curiously it began in a manger. Step into the doorway, peak through the window, the King is here.”
Wow, this is what Zechariah hoped for, and when you look at the existence of Jesus as Lucado has pointed out from his birth as the lowly infant in a manger, to the culminating moment when they put a crown of thorns on his head and mocked him as King of the Jews, Jesus was the fulfillment of Zechariah’s wish. He was the humble one. He was the peaceful one. He was God’s King.
There is a paradox in this text, and in the whole way in which we look at Jesus. Zechariah says, “Behold! Look at him coming to be enthroned.” The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Colossians say, “All things will be under his feet.” There is a sense that Jesus is mighty and wonderful: The king of kings, the lord of lords, the high, the mighty, the glorious, the powerful. People refer to Jesus in the light of a name that was used for God called El Shaddai, which means all powerful. In Greek they would write that he is the pantocrator, that he is the great one, the magisterial one. How do we reconcile then the humble nature of Jesus of Nazareth? The Lord who was crucified, who was born in a humble way and who was a man of peace, with this notion of a God who is all powerful, who sits on high and puts all things under his feet?
One of the joys of clearing out my office (and I’ve said this every week) is finding books that I had forgotten I even had. There was one book by theologian, Donald Bloch, who I hadn’t read for years. I just blew the dust off it, (you know, like you do with your Bibles – sorry, sorry. I’ve never seen a dusty bible in any of your homes, maybe unopened but not dusty, alright?) I opened this book, blew the dust off and started to read and I couldn’t stop. It was called Jesus Christ and he dealt with this very issue, one that’s always bothered me, how do we uphold a humble Jesus and yet the king of kings and lord of lords under whose feet everything stands, and he says: “He calls this a Christocracy, and it’s the sense that does not mean that the church obtrusively tries to force its convictions on the state or on a nation. Its true meaning is that the church announces what it believes to be the word of Christ for the world and that it does not use any other means of persuasion than the truth of its message.”
That is a Christocracy that relies not on the power of the sword or the government but on the prophetic means of the word and the priestly means of prayer and leaves it to the king himself to make these means effective. In other words Christ reigns on his own terms. He does not reign based on culture or power or the sovereignty that is known in this world. He neither requires it nor endorses it. Yet there are many who look at Jesus through the lens of historic oppressions, and understandably question the authenticity of the person of Jesus in his rule because they do not see embodied in the church the humility, the love, the justice, the forgiveness, that was there in Jesus of Nazareth himself. Be under no illusion, just because Jesus came in a humble form, incarnate in a child, does not mean that he ceases to be God or the God’s reign is not complete. It is.
So, how then do we look at Jesus after his kingly arrival? How do we deal with the fact that here we are believing that he is the ruler, that he reigns, and yet it seems that when we look around there is so much that still needs to be done. Well, maybe we need some Zechariahs again, maybe we need some voices that point once again to the future. It’s not that Jesus is not king and has no come – he has – but that fulfillment of his kingdom is something for which we still wait for upon his return. We are like Zechariah again, between two worlds. But the vision that Zechariah had of a kingdom of peace, of justice, of humility, a kingdom where the power of God was not made through the sword but through sacrificial love, this is the kingdom for which we now wait. Like Zechariah speaking to his own people before the arrival of Jesus, we should prepare ourselves for that coming.
Very often, my friends, people speak and write prophetically about things that are to come, and when we look back in time, we see that they were real, but we see them after the event, ex ēventū. I was reading, A History of the Empire Club of Canada, and the great speeches that were given at the Empire Club over the years. I went back to June 1947, believe it or not, to an incredible moment where Col. The Honorable George A. Drew addressed the Empire Club. He said: “If the lesson we said, and we had heard in 1939 is still correct, then the hope for peace depends upon the firmness with which all the democracies tell Russia this year by November, or when the Foreign Secretaries meet again, that the people of the free world, do believe in the principles laid down in the Atlantic Charter and subscribed to by Russian as well as the free democracies, and that those free nations do want to assert just as strongly as Russia, the right of Russia did to them in their own course within their own bounds. But they are also insistent that Russia shall not impose by force its form of government upon any other nation against its will.” – 1947.
Sometimes people give speeches and make declarations that are not fulfilled. But does it mean that even though it might not seem apparent that everything is falling in line with what you have to say that you should not say it. Does the fact that we sometimes feel that the Kingdom of God is not fully realized mean that we do not continue to speak for it? Do we not have the call of Christ to continue to uphold him as Lord and Saviour? And do we not have to live in accordance with the vision that we hold out? I think we do.
I think for this congregation in this church, at a moment of great transition, it’s a time also to ask yourselves, “Why are we here? For what purpose do we exist, and what word do we have to proclaim?” If Zechariah were before you, he would hold out his vision of hope and joy. He knew that he would have to wait, and it came in Jesus. We know we have to wait until the return of Jesus, but let’s hear him speak to us this morning, Zechariah, who I introduced.
“Rejoice greatly, of daughter of Toronto. Shout aloud O children of Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He will cut off from the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.”
This Advent we say, “Come, Lord Jesus come.” Amen.