Incarnation: Messiah and King

The King is coming!

That’s the theme of Advent. The word Advent means “coming.” Advent is our season of preparation for the coming of Jesus. It’s a three-dimensional season. Its three dimensions are past, present and future.

First, we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. That was 2,000 years ago, and we’re still celebrating. Second, we pray for the spirit of Christ to be reborn in us today, both as we prepare to celebrate his birth and – this is that third dimension – as we look forward to that day when he will return to establish his kingdom in full.

Three dimensions: First Coming, rebirth in us today, Second Coming.

So often we celebrate the First Coming with gusto but somehow miss having Christ reborn in us – and, as to his Second Coming, we either ignore the possibility altogether or we focus so closely on it that we lose all contact with our present reality.

A truly three-dimensional Advent balances all three. We want to celebrate that event in Bethlehem two millennia ago, but we also want to make room in our hearts for Jesus to be reborn today, and we want to stay open to the possibility of his return at any moment, aware that we cannot know that moment ahead of time.

We sure need Advent and the promise of Christmas right now, don’t we?

Have you noticed? Even before Thanksgiving, a lot of people put up their outdoor Christmas lights and had them blazing away every night. We need those lights to shine hope into the darkness of our days and nights.

Think of all that has happened in the last month alone. On Nov. 1, we turned the clocks back an hour. I’m still not used to it being dark at 5 o’clock. The nights seem so long already! Is that what lies ahead this winter?

Two days after changing the clocks, we had local, state and national elections. But our current president, whom some call the sorest loser in American history, still insists that he won, still insists on sowing chaos and discord in everything he does.

As if we didn’t have enough of that already, thanks to the global pandemic! Strangely, some people still deny its reality. Yet more than 261,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 or its complications, and the toll of infection and death continues to spiral ever higher.

So many of us just celebrated Thanksgiving without seeing beloved family members, and we wonder if Christmas will be the same. And because Thanksgiving falls so late this year, Christmas will be upon us even faster than usual. Our life today is like riding a roller coaster that keeps speeding up!

Don’t you think it’s about time for our King to make an appearance? Don’t you think it’s high time for our Savior to show up? Don’t you think it’s the right time for the Light of the World to shine his light brightly over all creation?

Our King is coming! We know that. We place our trust in that promise. But are we ready for it? Not likely. Advent is the time we have to get ready.

Our guide to Advent this year is Adam Hamilton’s book titled Incarnation. Sadly, we won’t be able to offer a small group study of it, but I will try to represent it fairly in my messages, though you know I’ll go my own way when I feel prompted.

What does it mean to say that Jesus is God incarnate? How does God become embodied, enfleshed, in Jesus? How is Jesus both divine and human? Ultimately, Adam says, the how is a mystery. It’s something beyond our comprehension. Yet we can celebrate the mystery of how while we explore the why of it. Why would God come to us as Jesus? What is God’s purpose in doing this?

Adam explores these questions in terms of seven titles given to Jesus in the Bible. The first two are Messiah and King.

We call Jesus the Christ. What does that mean? Christ is the English version of christos, which is the Greek version of the Hebrew word mashiach, or Messiah.

Mashiach Yeshua, we say – Christ Jesus, or Messiah Jesus.

Messiah means God’s Anointed One. In the Hebrew Bible, both priests and kings are anointed with oil as a sign of commissioning to their office by God.

You may remember the story from 1 Samuel chapter 16. God sends the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the new king of Israel. One by one, seven of Jesse’s sons pass by, and each time God tells Samuel, “Nope, not him.”

Finally Samuel asks Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And Jesse says, “Well, there’s the youngest one. He’s out keeping the sheep.” “Fetch him now,” Samuel says. And God tells the prophet, “Anoint him. He’s the one.” And, our narrator says, “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:1-13).

David became Israel’s greatest king. He was the standard against whom all later kings were judged and found to be deficient. Yet God promised that one greater than David would one day rule Israel, and David’s throne would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16).

The prophet Jeremiah writes: “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 I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David” (Jeremiah 23:5).

Jesus is that righteous branch. He is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah speaks: “A child has been born for us, a son given to us. Authority rests upon his shoulders, and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

It is really hard for us to imagine a king, let alone a king of peace. Happily, our experience with kings and other strongmen is mostly second-hand. But we’ve seen the damage they do in other countries. How would you like to live under the rule of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, or Kim in North Korea, or Putin in Russia?

The Jews of Jesus’ day wished for an ideal king, but what specific ideals he would embody were widely debated. Some wanted a military hero like David who could free his people from domination by the Romans. Some wanted a poet and philosopher like David, someone who was close to God’s heart, as David was said to be, and would lead his people to spiritual freedom, if not political freedom as well.

Jesus could not fulfill all expectations, and he did not even try. As Adam says in his book, he didn’t campaign for lower taxes, more jobs and a chicken in every pot. He never promised to make Israel great again.

He stayed true to himself and to his Heavenly Father. He avoided flawed human conceptions of power and authority. He spoke of welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick. And for these things he had to die, because he was a Messiah nobody wanted.

In Advent, we prepare to welcome him as our King. But before we do that we need to get something straight in our heads. Jesus is King, and no other.

Adam says that Advent puts all our political wrangling into perspective. “Whatever Christians think about their president,” he says, “and whoever we voted for in the various elections, we are meant to know that there is only one King. It is to him we give our highest allegiance.”

He continues: “Advent beckons all who consider themselves Christians – regardless of whether they are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians or Independents – to come to the stable and there fall on our knees as the shepherds surely did, yielding our allegiances, our hearts and our will to the newborn king.”

Jesus is king, and Jesus alone. No president is, or ever can be our king, and no president can ever claim our highest allegiance.

We hear a lot about “Christian nationalism” these days. It’s an idolatrous mixing of loyalties. There is no such thing as Christian nationalism because elevating nation above all else is simply not Christian.

“Follow me,” Jesus says. That’s all he asks, and he does ask all. If Jesus is not first in your life, you’re not a follower of Jesus.

If you are American first and Christian second, you’re not Christian. If you are Republican first and Christian second, you’re not Christian. If you are Democrat first and Christian second, you’re not Christian. If you are anything first and Christian second, you may be a something but you’re not Christian.

If your highest loyalty is not to Christ your King, then you’re a traitor to Christ. You cannot claim Christ as king if you serve any other master. For, as Jesus says, you cannot serve two masters. You’ll always hate the one and love the other. You’ll be devoted to one and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13)

Now do you better appreciate what it means to say Christ is my King?

Our King is coming! That’s what this Advent season is all about. Our King is coming. He came once, he is coming again today in our hearts, and one day he will return. Our King is coming. His name is Mashiach Yeshua, Messiah Jesus, Christ Jesus, King Jesus.

He’s our King. He’s the only King we’ll ever need. He’s the only true King we’ll ever have. If he’s not your King today, I invite you to make him so. Lift up Jesus as your King. Welcome to new life. Welcome to true life. And on this first Sunday of Advent, we say, Maranatha, come King Jesus!

Amen.

This message was delivered remotely November 29, 2020, on the First Sunday of Advent.   

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