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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Kingship and a Righteous Branch

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Sunday Next before Advent 2017

‘STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”   

Every year we read this Collect, the Sunday next before Advent. We petition God to “stir up” the wills of His faithful people. Historically, this Sunday is known as “Stir up” Sunday.  Why? We are preparing for two momentous church seasons, Advent and then, of course, Christ-mass.  We Christians beseech the Lord to “stir up” our wills, that we may be filled with faith and plenteously bring forth good works. It is vital to our spiritual health that we appreciate these two upcoming seasons for what they are and not the mere counterfeit the World offers us.

Turning to our Epistle from Jeremiah, we read: ”Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.”[1]

How do these two thoughts come together on the Sunday Next before Advent?  What is the unifying theme here and what significance do they have for us?

First, it is that we see God being 100% consistent in His Holy Word.  What we mean here is that the lessons from this Sunday are purely and simply a fulfillment of prophecy. 

In this case, it is the prophecy of Jeremiah coming true in the days of Jesus.  The O.T. prophet Jeremiah clearly proclaims the kingship of the Messiah. He is to be the “righteous branch”, the “King” who “shall reign and prosper” over Israel and Judah. 
Then, in our gospel selection from St. John 6, Jesus performs a miracle that clearly gives evidence of His Kingship over all creation.  To the spiritually discerning, the prophecy is fulfilled.

But wait, one might say, how is it that Christ showed himself, really and symbolically, as King and Ruler over Creation?  If it weren’t for a grassy hillside near the Sea of Galilee, one could argue that He was not.  After all, what Jeremiah was prophesying was the standard Messianic vision several prophets had or would have in their ministries. This type of prophecy fed right into what Judah hoped for during the Roman occupation and the vision Judah had for herself: a strong, independent Jewish nation, led by their warrior-king-messiah, subduing all nations and bringing the light of God’s Law to the heathen.  In some ways, it is also the vision some 21st century Christians have of Christ as well.

Today, some members of Christ’s body on earth support Israel for this purpose. Not only to participate in the blessing on those who support her, but in some way to advance an agenda whereby Christ returns to earth in power and great glory.  It has been said, for example, that President Harry S. Truman believed this and thus helped advance the formation of the state of Israel.  He did this to prepare events for a certain end-time scenario. He thought that by causing Israel to be created, he was setting the stage for the Second Coming of Christ. In the mysterious sovereignty of God’s Will, he did help, just not with the short-term payoff he may have envisioned. It is true that all of us fulfill God’s Holy Will in some way, even when we are unaware of it.  For the spiritually introspective, most of us only see the glorious working out of God’s Will in our lives in hindsight.  Looking back, sometimes we are blessed with an “ah-ha” moment.  It is those times that we should bow our heads and worship most fervently as we see God’s Kingship in our lives.

It is precisely this Kingship that Christ revealed in Galilee when the hungry crowd followed him and listened eagerly to His teachings.  As Lord and Pastor of their souls, he fed them spiritually and then, fed them physically.  First, he tested his first disciple Philip by asking him where they might buy bread, in order that the crowd might eat.
Philip acknowledges the impossibility of earthly means to feed them.  Andrew then informs Christ of the lad with five barley loaves and two fish, while also acknowledging the paucity of means to feed so many.  Christ does not respond to this, but tells the disciples to have the people sit down. 

He then performed four important actions: he took, he blessed, he broke and he gave. The liturgical Christian will recognize these as the same actions a presbyter performs during the Eucharist. The symbolism is intentional. Christ feeds all of us in the Eucharist, just as he did the multitude.  All the faithful who come to communicate with Christ are the new multitude of the Church. After distribution, the men eat and are satisfied, just as we who come to the Holy Table are satisfied with Christ.

Note that the significance of this kingly sign was not lost on the people.  In fact, it was so evident that they wanted to make Christ an earthly king by force by necessary. Christ rejected this and withdrew from them into the mountains.

The message is both clear and mysterious.  Clearly, Christ was the expected One, the Messiah of God by the signs He exhibited.  Yet, it was unclear how He exercised his power once he began to appear among men.  Not as the powerful earthly ruler, with pomp and magnificence, did he manifest Himself to mankind. Yet, as possessing all power He showed Himself to man through His miracles.  Note that He did not create the bread out of nothing, using some manipulation of Nature or magic, but magnified that which already existed. Bread comes through the bounty of God and the labor of Man.  The message is clear to those who have a heart for God: Jesus is Lord and King, just not in the earthly sense of these terms. Rather than exercising lordship through coercive or terrible means, Christ exercises Lordship through loving authority.  He doesn’t need to extract fealty from us through fear or raw power, but through the attraction of love.

This is the standard that God expects of us.  We are to love God with our whole being, with our heart, our soul and our mind.  We are to love Him with every fiber of our being, the One who loved us so much that, in the words of John 3:16:  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (NKJV)

Then, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are, in the words of the Golden Rule, to treat others as we would have them treat us. We are to love them as we love ourselves. These two commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor, are at once very simple and very profound.  We can only do this through Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit.

That leads us to contemplate the great Season upon us, the Season of Advent
One cannot underestimate the value and importance of this brief and wonderful season.  
Are we ready, as faithful Christians, to re-commit to Him, as we prepare for another year in the life of the Church?  Will we permit ourselves to experience the full joy and peace of Christ is our life? These are all serious, but wonderful questions that Advent helps us to answer.

To us today, the same message applies: there is hope, for our “King and Redeemer draweth nigh.”  The Season of Advent is meant to help prepare our hearts and minds to receive the One to whom all Biblical prophecy points.  Advent helps us prepare for the One who brings light and life to a dark and despairing world.  Advent helps us to maximize the spiritual and temporal joys of Christmas, as we embrace the eternally momentous Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We pray you, let this Advent season be the richest you’ve ever had, full of the joy of Christ.

Glory be to God the Father, and to God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and forever.   AMEN

[1] Jer. 23:5