Thursday, December 10, 2009

Son of David Greater than David? The 'O Antiphons' of Advent

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

Dear Fellow-Redeemed in Christ:

The Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew, the 22nd Chapter:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46 ESV)

Lord. Son of David. How do the two go together? Can the two go together? And what difference does it make for us in these days before Christmas?
Our Advent Canticle, O, Come, O, Come, Emmanuel puts the two titles together as it assigns both to Jesus — as it assigns both to Jesus, even at his birth. Lord and Son of David. Son of David and Lord.
Now just pause and consider anew how unbelievably silly that all sounds at first. This child? This man? This son of a lowly maiden and a blue-collar carpenter? Born in a forsaken place on the outskirts of a forsaken town? This child? This child king who's court consists of donkeys and horses and cows and the sheep of flee-bitten shepherds? Is this the best the house of David can do?
No wonder this question of Jesus to the unbelieving religious leaders shut down the entire conversation and left those who would not believe that Jesus could be greater than great King David fuming.
The Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of Christmas Day is accepted by the world and our old, worldly nature, just as long as he remains simply a babe in the straw of a manger or just another prophet or just another nice guy with nice intentions.
But watch out. When Jesus claims to be greater than the great Moses or greater than the Ten Commandments he revealed or greater than King David or greater than King David's City, sparks begin to fly. "Who are you, son of Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth, claiming to be greater than Moses and David? How dare you compare yourself to the great Patriarchs of our faith! How irreverent. How insulting. It's blasphemy!"
When Jesus reveals himself as greater than the great King David, greater than the Law of God and the Law-giver of God, there is nothing more to discuss. That was true in Jesus' day and it is true today.
Everyone (well, almost everyone) doesn't mind a Christmas card with some sheep and shepherds and Mary and Joseph and a little baby in a manger. It looks kind of cute and nostalgic and just a little pitiful.
But we confess something impossible for the world to acknowledge, something part of us has a real problem with: Jesus born Lord of Moses and Lord of David. This little baby Jesus - born King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, greater than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Son of David, greater than David.
No one could be asked to believe that could they? The greatest of the great, born in poverty, born after his parents hear that there was no room in the inn for the Son of David who was greater than David himself?
The hymns of Advent are not for our own entertainment or personal amusement. They are to call forth Christian faith in Jesus as Lord and Son of David and sustain it in a world that will give lip service to Christmas Day but just can't believe that the babe of the manger is the Creator of Heaven and Earth and the one Redeemer of all of humanity.
The world would sing:
"O, Come, O Come, Thou Sage of Wisdom, Thou Spiritual Mentor, Thou Great Humanitarian and Friend of the Poor and Downtrodden."
But the world will never put it's faith in Jesus as Emmanuel, God-with-Us-in-Human-Flesh. Our fallen nature will never put all the chips on Jesus as the one Redeemer, the one God-ordained medicine for sin-sick souls, the one heaven-chosen sacrificial substitute for Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob and Jesse — and even Jesse's son, great King David himself.
Each of us is called to confess Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Who, through his death and resurrection fulfilled the Law given through the great prophet Moses on Sinai's height. Who through his death and resurrection graciously gave us victory over sin, death and the devil.
For, you see, Jesus is not only the branch that springs forth from the tree of Jesse, David's father. Jesus is the root of the tree that is all children of the promise given to our first parents as they wept at the revelation of what they had lost in their disobedience and doubt and rebellion — as they wept at the revelation of what would be won back despite their disobedience and doubt and rebellion — by the Son of God and Eve's Son: the Messiah-to-come.
The Son of David greater than David? Most could not believe it — would not believe it.
But a remnant put all their hopes on this Jesus, this son of Jesse's tree who claimed to be the Word of God — the Law of God — in flesh and blood.
People like the two blind men in Matthew, chapter 9. People like the Canaanite woman in Matthew, chapter 15. People like the two blind men in Matthew, chapter 20:

And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him. (Matthew 20:30-34 ESV)

Only those who abandoned the logic and wisdom of the world, only those who received the unbelievable Word of God in faith looked to Jesus as David's greater Son. Only those who will say, "Amen" to heaven's shocking way of salvation can truly sing on Christmas Eve, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me." "Son of David, Kyrie, eleison!"
Advent is a season of preparation — not for those who have finished sending out all their cards and completed all their Christmas shopping — but for those who are, as the Small Catechism teaches us, spiritually blind, dead and enemies of God.
For it is this babe of Bethlehem, the ancestral home of David, that comes — comes in the waters of holy Baptism to have compassion on you, to wash you clean and open your eyes, that you might follow him in faith.

A shoot will sprout from Jesse's stem, / A branch from David's line,
A Price of Peace in Bethlehem: / The fruit of God's design.
("What Hope! An Eden Prophesied" LSB 342:2)

Come, my Lord and Savior. Come, thou Branch and Root of Jesse's Tree. Come, and save with your might hidden in your mercy, your glory covered by your grace, your power serving your pity on your helpless, wandering people. Come — and save.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit