Philip Casmer

Stir Up, O Lord…

by Philip Casmer on December 3rd, 2023
Mark 11:1-10

The King Shall Come. That theme might bring to mind pictures of royal retinues, presidential motorcades, and visits from foreign dignitaries – things that could happen even in our town – but look again. That’s not what we’re saying in this season. Mark the difference. We’re saying, “The King shall come…” the one and only King among all the process of this world, the King of kings and Lord of lords… and it  doesn’t matter who you are, you will see him. It’s a promise. The King shall come… Blessedly, we want him to arrive. In fact, we kicked off this Advent season with a bold statement this morning in the Prayer of the Day, “Stir up your power, O Lord, and come…” And I say, why not begin Advent that way by asking our Lord to do what he has promised, what only he can do, and to do it in our own hearts too? If we did, then we’d start the season like this: Stir Up, O Lord… your power to save.

And we’d be addressing the one in Mark 11. That puts us standing beside the dusty road with a crowd around this figure in the middle. Teleported here, you might experience a little disorientation and wonder, “Is this where we’re supposed to be?” Pastor Free texted me this week – checking up on my sermon writing – “You have a weird text…” Seemed a little strange to me too, actually. Maybe you agreed… Palm Sunday? It feels a little bit like putting the cart before the horse, or the donkey ride ahead of the hay box, am I right? I mean, in Advent we’re looking forward to Christmas, aren’t we?

Well, before we even get going too far down the road marked for us, let’s step aside for a minute and collect ourselves (we’ve got time anyway, the disciples are off to find that donkey)… Just look… Cradle creche and the angel-songs and shepherds are 30 years history by now. We’re looking at this man standing in a crowd, an unassuming Jewish man, who by Scriptural account isn’t presidential or powerful looking, nothing we’d really esteem. It’s just Jesus… Nevertheless it is a good and right start – the best kind of preparation, in fact. 

Because I bet you’re already preparing in some ways for Christmas – for dinners, with garland, about presents. So that our cry could be, “Stir up, O Lord… a really festive holiday… a beautifully tinselled tree… a Dickensian Christmas that will glow-up the Scroogiest of hearts…” Because those things seem to have power – an emotional power, an affective power, a powerful glow… Those also tend to fade when the excitement of decoration is boxed up again… But with this one standing in the middle of the road, talking to women and children, waiting… with this one is real power. And here it comes in the donkey…

I know, donkeys are kind of silly with their hee-haw braying and those corn stalk ears, and they’re squatty… If king’s ride in armored limousines, a donkey’s like a rusty Pinto… But maybe there is power… If so, probably in the donkey’s procurement… Those disciples were told in detail what would be – find a donkey tied, here’s what you say when challenged, bring it on back… And that had happened, exactly just so; as though Jesus could see the future. If you’re skeptical; that maybe it was like a first century Uber transaction – prearranged 10am donkey pickup… Then, actually, you should look at the guy two tiers back in the crowd gazing at Jesus as though the image of him might disappear at any moment… 

Roll the dial back on the Bible time machine – only an hour or two maybe… You’d find that familiar face, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, sitting and crying out on the roadside, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Others were annoyed with his noise, Jesus stopped to do for him exactly what he asked – not some coin for food or a reversal of fortunes – just wanted to see. And that Jesus gave – healed his eyes by faith. You’d gaze too after power like that…

You could dial a few days further back, if you wished for more, to a house in Bethany. A woman is weeping and wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair, anointing him with oil. It’s a dramatic scene. Many are taken aback, some are embarrassed, one is not – he’s in the background nodding because he knows this Jesus deserves far more than anointing and tears and adoration – especially in this house. I don’t know if Lazarus was following along with the crowds as Jesus rode, but I know he was alive after being dead for days – he’d hosted for dinner the one climbing up on that colt, the one who called Lazarus out of a dark tomb into the light of life again. Power over even death…

And now, as Jesus rides on, in this lowly majesty of people tossing cloaks around to carpet his way, waving branches, singing – look at his face. I imagine him glancing with a smile at those around him, greeting, acknowledging, but mostly – mostly – gazing off at Jerusalem. Because if he knew about a donkey tied and he restored a beggar’s eyes and raised one who died… he absolutely knew what was coming within Jerusalem’s gates. You know that’s the power, right? That the prophet cried out centuries before, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, [O Lord]…” and then he did? And it all communicated in prophecy like this? “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Ze 9:9) The Son of God come down wrapped up all his might to be the Son of Man who would ride on purpose right into his death. 

And it’s for that saving power we need to cry. For Isaiah was right. The Lord came down and did awesome things and we, instead, can tend to decorate our lives with all the baubles that don’t matter. In the midst of everything else we do not expect or esteem his mighty works. In fact, though the Lord acted on behalf of his people, we continue to sin – even our best things are tainted and filthy – our sins should sweep us away… But this Jesus rides with appropriate kingly acclaim and all of God’s power to be our punishment at his cross, so that not us but our sins would be swept away and he would die and we would not and when he lived again we would too. 

For that we pray… to know that we prepare… We remember that our Lord did use his power to save us from our sins. Rightly we look ahead to his coming and we cry, “Stir up, O Lord, your power to save us from our sins.And, when the Lord stirs up his power like that, it naturally stirs his people too… to praise.

It might be soon that your heart will be stirred up to singing Christmas tunes – some of us are already doing so. Among them might be that classic, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas…” which would make you a weirdo, IMO. You know that song is predominantly about pudding, right? And not chocolate, but figgy pudding. Did you know, historically, that song is related to this day? This day was affectionately called Stir Up Sunday…  Back in the day, when that same Prayer of the Day was read and God’s power was stirred up, it reminded the housewives to go home and stir up the figgy pudding… To boil it and make it into a brown, jiggly mound that would mature in the cool, dark larder (or wherever) for five weeks until Christmas… Then they’d light it on fire and bring it out all mature-figgy smelling… After a fashion, the mighty work of the Lord stirred them all to rather insignificant action: stirring pudding…

But isn’t it just that way? Isn’t it interesting with all the power Jesus has that the disciples are commanded to retrieve the donkey and say, “The Lord needs it…” Does he though? He could have rent the heavens and rode into Jerusalem on a crystal throne powered by strange beasts with angel armies… And actually, I bet angel voices sound way better than pilgrims singing Old Testament praises… And yet it was disciples he sent and that donkey he needed and their voices he employed…

He doesn’t rend the heavens and come down himself now… The angel choirs do not sing through the veil… Instead, still, he chooses to need you. Even in the stuff we might think insignificant… Paul said – God gave his grace to you – “you were made rich in every way in him, in all your speech and in every kind of knowledge…so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 1:5-6) God chooses to need you and me with all our gifts. He’s given us everything we need – in our decorations, our steadfast work, our intelligence that makes projects, our care for others, our encouragements, in kind words, we lay our cloaks on the road and with branches pave his way. He needs us, he uses us to be ready and to make others ready for his coming. In this season, and always…

You may bring out figgy pudding. You may have parties coming. You may gift one another galore at Christmas. But for our Lord’s coming whenever it is there is no better way to be prepared than to know how he has bent his power for our salvation. In fact, as we begin another Advent, our Lord’s saving power calls us into that Palm Sunday crowd so that our perspective might be praise. That everything we do cries out, “Blessed is he!” That everything we know be a blessed “Hosanna!” – Save please, Lord! That everything we say exclaims, “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” So that no matter what else we anticipate, we show what we know: the King shall come – and we cannot wait for it…

Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Protect us by your strength, save us from our sins, and move us to praise… Amen.  

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