Summary: Advent is the time of preparation for the coming of our heavenly King. How do we receive him in our Christian community and in our personal lives? Are the gates wide open, or does he need to knock at our door, locked from the inside?

[Sermon preached on 3 December 2017, First Sunday in Advent / 3rd year, ELCF Lectionary]

This past week, Finland had the honor of welcoming three royal visitors: Prince William of the United Kingdom, Prince Daniel of Sweden, and Prince Constantijn of my own home country, the Netherlands. The media followed in particular the whereabouts of prince William: his arrival to Finland by private plane, his reception by President Niinistö, his visit to a Finnish school, and his participation in the Slush event. Everybody praised him for being so casual and friendly, and for the natural way in which he connected with Finnish school children and government representatives alike.

It all looked very spontaneous. But the truth is that everything was planned and fine-tuned beforehand to the smallest detail. The Finnish hosts had dozens of people working out the proper protocol. They all knew how they should receive this royal visitor. Even the children in the schools where he visited knew how to address the prince as “Your royal highness.”

Also our Old Testament reading from Psalm 24 tells us about a royal highness coming to town. Or actually, we should say: “Your majesty”. Because it is not a prince, but a king that honors the city with his visit: the “glorious King”.

Open up, you gates.

Open wide, you aged doors.

Then the glorious king will come in.

Who is this glorious king?

The Lord, strong and mighty.

The Lord, the powerful warrior.

Open up, you gates.

Open wide, you aged doors.

Then the glorious king will come in.

Who is this glorious king?

The Lord of heaven’s armies—

he is the glorious king.

Do you remember who wrote this psalm? It was king David. He was a king himself. His palace was in the city. He was the ruler there. And yet, he was expecting another king to the city. Not as a royal visitor, like prince William was in Helsinki. He was expecting the one to whom he owned his own kingship. He was expecting the Lord God—the one who created heaven and earth, and to whom everything in heaven and earth belonged.

David owed his royal position to the Lord God. He was waiting for him to come and take over the royal throne from him. David realized that compared to God, the King of glory, he himself was nothing.

And how does he want to welcome God, the King? By opening the gates of the city and the doors of the palace as wide as possible. Everything should show God how welcome he is!

I believe that Jesus is coming again in glory one day. And when that happens, this prophecy of Psalm 24 is going to be fulfilled. Because that is what it is: a prophecy. All the gates will be wide open to welcome him into his Holy City. The whole Bible testifies of this, from the books of Moses and the Psalms of David to the promises of Jesus in the Gospels and the Revelation of John.

But on this Sunday in Advent, we look back at his first coming, 2,000 years ago. We look at Christmas.

On the fields outside of Bethlehem, an army of angels from heaven declares the coming of the glorious King to the shepherds. But when the shepherds arrive at the house where Jesus is born, they only find a child lying in a manger and wrapped in cloths. No glory. The shepherds need not look upwards to face a king looking down on them from his throne. They look down into the crib to see this tiny and insignificant baby, not born in a palace, but in a house not his own; not in a room specially decorated to welcome the newborn child, but in a space where the animals normally spend the night.

And then comes Palm Sunday, some thirty years later. Crowds are cheering as Jesus approaches the city of Jerusalem. Their King—their Messiah—is arriving. He is approaching the palaces of King Herod and Pontius Pilate. Something great is about to happen.

The pilgrims that have accompanied Jesus on the way from Galilee have been singing psalms for days on their way to Jerusalem. But now, as Jesus calls for a colt to ride on, the words of Psalm 118—one of the favorite psalms of the Galilean pilgrims—start to take on a special meaning:

“Hosanna! Lord, save us! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

By now, they are all convinced that the King of glory is about to enter the Holy City, just like in Psalm 24. But they are in for a surprise. Jesus does not go to the palace of King Herod. He does not go to the palace of Pontius Pilate. He goes to the place where the true King of glory has his throne: to the Temple.

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