On the USAToday home page this morning there were roughly 25 stories, roughly half of which were headlines like these: “2 killed in crash with bus carrying swim team”, “Maria Fowler dies after battle with cancer”, “Woman has surgery for infection caused by hair tie”, “Man charged in death of child in oven: I’m not a bad person”. There were more encouraging stories in there too. But 50% chance you’ll read about death or terrorism or disease or war? There are so many tragic news stories, tragic friend stories, posts on Facebook, about people we love, places we’ve been – depressing things. As we said throughout the End Time season, just like generations of people have said probably since the beginning – it seems like the world is always going from bad to worse. And, as we heard in Sunday’s gospel, at the end Jesus will come in judgment glory and we will stand before him, Christ the King. Confidently to that end, we’re asking in our midweek Advent services, “Who is this King of Glory?” We’re going to mark him unfailing in love, promising peace, and tonight strong and mighty. As we see our King’s strength tonight may we recognize a message and a person so different from the world around us. Tonight we see Our Uplifting King.
It’s not certain for what event David wrote this psalm. David’s not really specific about the moment, but he’s very clear about the mode – it’s a psalm of praise. This is the believer’s song of praise to God for who he is; it’s the believer’s invitation that this God deserves to “come in” and rule. It’s interesting to note in Advent, that everything David notes about God as King is true of Jesus our King too. Because of who Jesus is, he lifts us up from out of the depressing things of this world, into joyous praise.
In v.1, David proclaims God’s ownership. In his heavenly office, he has the deeds for the earth and Mars and all the stars, the patents for “continents” and black holes, the flow-charts of the rivers, maps of the great crevasses of the deep. He is the mighty creator, the architect, the engineer of everything we enjoy. And just as when we stand in awe of some super-structure or beautiful building, so we look on what God has done in this world and we smile and sing his praise. Our King Jesus is also called the creator of the world, and as he comes to be Savior of the world, it’s important to note who he really is, despite how familiar he looks. Take it from John or Paul but you’ll find the same thing as David said, “Through [the Word] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made,” in fact, “in [Jesus] all things hold together.” “The earth is the LORD [Jesus’] earth, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” because he is its creator.
There’s a question begging to be asked then: How do I relate to this one who owns all things, is the life of all things? David asks it too… “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” In Advent we’re concerned with that – being ready to confidently stand in the presence of our King Jesus. Are you ready? To stand in our King’s presence takes only “clean hands and a pure heart” – blameless deeds, pure motives. To stand in our King’s presence takes only to never have lifted up your soul to an idol – never to offer up yourself to some ungodly desire, never to present yourself servant to some belief of the world. To stand in our King’s presence takes only to never have sworn falsely – never lied, never misrepresented the truth, never promised with no intention of keeping it.
Are you ready to stand in the presence of the architect of life? Say you had an interest in architecture, in designing houses on paper… How would you feel about comparing notes, showing your wonders to Santiago Calatrava (architect of the winged white building downtown) or with the lead architect on the new Northwestern Mutual project? Might you not hesitate – for their works are far above yours, it’s almost guaranteed and for them to receive you, it would be by their graciousness. There’s no doubt that the napkin doodles of your daily deeds cannot compare with the accomplished works of our Creator King. In fact, in almost every respect – your plans and mine deviate from God’s, err far from his code for life, buckle and collapse instead of standing up tall and proud before him. The weight of our sins and the weakness of our flesh bring us low.
To the contrary, think about your King Jesus. “Clean hands and pure heart”? God’s Word describes Jesus in words like these: holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners, exalted, “he knew no sin”, was “without sin”; his life and all his works precious, unblemished, spotless. Beautiful…especially because when Jesus stands up in God’s presence, we are lifted up. He will come again as glorious as the creator of all things and as righteous as he really is, but he returns because he has come once already, meek and lowly to stand up holy in the presence of God for us.
The writer to the Hebrews describes it like this with a little play on words – what Jesus bears and brings – that with his perfect life, “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” That’s very much like the way David plays with words about the one who can stand up in the King’s presence. The one who doesn’t lift up his life to ungodliness, in v.5 literally, “He lifts up and walks away with a blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Doesn’t Jesus do that for us? Jesus lifts up the sins that weigh me down. He takes them off my shoulders and bears them away in his own death so that I can stand before God. And Jesus brings back salvation for me so that I can walk away each day bearing blessings. Because of his perfect resurrected life, I walk before God each day forgiven, pure of heart and hand, truly and honestly righteous. And one day, before him we will stand.
That strong, vibrant picture is based on who our King Jesus is. With the gates of forever, in the halls of heaven, we will shout for this glorious King to come in. At Christmas we’ll see him meek and lowly – in a manger, on this earth. We’ll find him during his ministry weeping, tired, finally dead. But he is the “Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle…the Lord Almighty (the Lord of armies).” He doesn’t come to wage war on earth, to command legions in battle. He doesn’t come to project strength and power. He comes to wage war on sin and to win. The zeal of the Lord Almighty brings what Isaiah promised: a child, God’s Son, the Prince of Peace. Or as John said it, “And the Word became flesh and took up residence among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth…[and for] as many as received him—to those who believe in his name—he gave to them authority to become children of God,”
And children of God is what we are – v.6 – the generation that seeks his face, that lifts up clean hands and pure hearts. Children of God we are because of who Jesus is – the King of Glory so strong and mighty that he lifts up the lowly to make them righteous and holy… Let’s begin our Advent season with praise. Let’s rejoice and sing and not be disheartened by what this world brings. Instead with joy let’s long for what our King will bring; thinking of his salvation, let’s lift up our heads with confidence and expectation, that when we hear our glorious king say, “Yes, I am coming soon,” we can say ourselves, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen.