Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Sermon for Midweek Advent Evening Prayer (December 2, 2009)
“Lift Up Your Heads, You Everlasting Doors” (Psalm 24:7)
Lift up your heads, you everlasting doors,
And weep no more!
O Zion's daughter, sing
to greet your coming King;
Now wave the victor's palm
And sing the ancient psalm:
“Lift up your heads, you everlasting gates!”
Your King awaits! (LSB 339.1)
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in. (Psalm 24:7 ESV)
Doors with heads? That would be a strange looking piece of architecture.
Everlasting doors? That's a pretty bold boast.
Well, of course, the Psalmist is writing in poetic language. He knows that doors don't have heads. He is personifying the gates of Jerusalem. He is telling the PEOPLE of the city to lift up their heads and be ready to greet the King when he arrives. And not just any King. They are to be ready to greet their God and Savior. Stop your weeping, because God is here. It's thought that this Psalm, Psalm 24, may have been sung as the Ark of the Covenant was carried in procession into Jerusalem, since for a time it remained elsewhere. The Ark of the Covenant, remember, was that place where God had promised his presence would dwell. Wherever the ark was, that's where you could be sure to find God's gracious presence.
Our hymn has the psalmist calling the doors “everlasting.” That comes from the King James Version. Our translation has it as “ancient.” Which is it? Actually, the word can be translated both ways. It's not likely that the psalm writer thought that the doors of the city would literally last forever. And the doors of the city were old, but they may not have been considered “ancient” by the standards of the day. Either way, whether the doors are “everlasting” or “ancient,” the psalmist is expressing their exalted importance because these doors belong to the city which God had chosen as his dwelling place on earth.
There were many gates in the old city of Jerusalem, or Zion, as the city was sometimes called, named after the name of the hill where King David built his palace. David's son Solomon built the temple on another elevation just to the north of Mt. Zion. Eventually, when someone said “Zion,” everyone knew you were talking about Jerusalem … the place where the temple stood … the place where God had placed his Name and given the promise of his gracious presence.
Residents and pilgrims walked in and out of the gates of Jerusalem every day, all day long. The gates were important meeting places. Business transactions occurred there. Public judgments were carried out there. The lame and the blind would be situated there, knowing that heavy traffic meant a better chance at receiving alms. Most importantly, the gates were doorways through which worshipers headed toward the temple where they would offer their sacrifices and praises.
The easternmost gate of the city was called the Golden Gate. According to Jewish tradition, the Golden Gate was thought to be the place the Messiah would enter when he comes. Until that time, weeping would continue, as the people wait until the time when they would be released from the oppression they face from their enemies.
Stand with me, for a moment, inside the Golden Gate and look eastward. You can't actually do this today, by the way … the Turkish ruler Suleiman the Magnificent sealed it off in 1541 in order to seal off the coming Messiah's entrance into the city. But let's just pretend right now, that you can stand there inside that ancient doorway, and look out with me. Look to the east and you will see the steep descent into the Kidron Valley. Then, on the other side of the Brook Kidron, another hill arises. This one is called the Mount of Olives.
This ought to bring to mind another procession that happened many years after the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem. There was a man who climbed aboard a borrowed donkey and her colt and headed down the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem. A crowd pressed around him. They laid their cloaks in the road before him. They waved palm branches, a sign of victory and joy. And they hailed him as a king, shouting, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Now, consider these ancient doors in which you are standing, this Golden Gate. The Bible doesn't tells us, but it's likely that this is the very gate that Jesus entered on that first Palm Sunday. The Jews expected the Messiah to enter these gates. And that's exactly what He did, although he wasn't the type of Messiah they were expecting (and that's why religious Jews today are still waiting for his first arrival). He did come as a victorious king, but one who would be enthroned upon a cross. The people shouted, “Hosanna” which means, “Save us, now!” Jesus did come as Savior, but one who saved by dying with the sins of the world charged to him. And just as the Ark of the Covenant brought the presence of God into the city, so also did the entry of Jesus bring the presence of God, since Jesus was and is God in the Flesh. We are no longer waiting for the Messiah to come. He already came in the God-Man, Jesus Christ. So weep no more. Your sins have been paid for. You are forgiven. Trust in this Messiah who saves you by shedding his blood and by taking the place of all the sacrifices that were ever brought through the gates of Jerusalem into the temple.
These doors are not “everlasting.” But Christ's Church is everlasting. You are Zion's daughter, the Holy Christian Church, all who trust in Christ for salvation. You have been given new birth through the Holy Spirit and the Gospel message which went forth from Zion after the resurrection of the Crucified Savior. Your “gates” are truly everlasting, and the gates of hell will not prevail against you. You are safe and secure against the assaults of the devil as a member of Christ's Holy Church by baptism and by faith. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, you are already set free from the oppression of your enemies of sin, death, and hell.
Our Advent hope and anticipation is that Christ will come again as he promised. We are forgiven and free, that's for sure. But we still weep. We weep when we are in pain. We weep when we grieve. We weep in repentance when we acknowledge our sin. We weep over the effects of sin in the world.
However, when Christ returns, all that will be done away with, and we will truly weep no more. Here's how St. John saw it in his vision in the Book of Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'” (Rev. 21:1-4)
So lift up your heads, daughter of Zion. Lift up your heads in trust, hope, anticipation, expectation, and joy. Your King has come, born as a baby in the manger of Bethlehem. Your King comes to you today in Word and Sacrament, offering you the fruits of salvation earned on a cross outside Jerusalem. Your King will come again, when the gates of heaven are opened and every eye will see him. Until that day, your King is waiting patiently for everyone to come to repentance and a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9) … the truth which is found only in the Cross of Christ, the Crucified and Risen Lord of Glory (1 Cor 2:8).