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Advent – December 19 and 20

December 20, 2005 Leave a comment

December 19, 2005 –
O Radix Jesse
“O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”

December 20, 2005
O Clavis David
“O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.”

Note: I combined Dec 19th and 20th.
The child in me is awash in wonder. Each room in our house radiates with magical decorations that stay hid most of the year. An army of snowman stands atop our bookshelves. Santas of every shape, size and even race line our mantle. Pine branches, cotton snow, and red baubles surround our Santas as small lights encircle this scene in an enchanted, hazy glow.

There’s a sleigh with a gingerbread couple traveling to their gingerbread house. Two giant nutcrackers guard the fireplace, and tiny little French horns appear ready to announce marvelous news.

Each room of the house welcomes Christmas characters. There are snowmen, Santas, reindeers, nutcrackers, stars, bears, angels, and even penguins.

This year we even hung bellows of pine garland from the ceiling of our dining room complete with lights and ribbons and baubles. If time and money allowed, I might just turn every square inch of our home into a dreamy wonderland. In the foyer, giving energy to all the other decorations stands a large nativity.

Outside, the leaves have fallen, the grass is brown, and the intense colors of last year’s spring have faded into a brownish, greenish mix. Winter is coming and the world is dying. When the world reminds us of death, we respond with symbols of life, filling our homes with evergreens and childlike images of endless youth.

This is one way we resist the inevitable march of death. Humans, unlike other creatures, do not automatically yield to the natural progression of things. Like Dylan Thomas, we will “not go gentle into that good night.” We fight with stories, with medicine, with art and most of all with children. Every time humans give birth we are resisting the power of death.

The child is not merely another creature that must fend for itself. The child carries our stories, our hopes, our dreams, and our lineage into the future. Death’s power cannot withstand the mystery of generations. If one story can pass through the generations, death is challenged.

One people who understood the power of generations to overcome death were the ancient Hebrews. Unwilling to accept stories of endless cycles, they told their story in linear progression. They saw continuity from one generation to another. It was as though they were moving forward on a journey through time to a specific future. Some suggest they invented history.

In so doing, they changed the ancient habit of allowing the past to dictate the present. For the ancient Hebrews, the future creates the present. So instead of always speaking about tribal forefathers, they spoke of generations, toledot.

David ruled Israel as the poet warrior. He was loved by the people, and it was believed his toledot would always sit on the throne. The image of David came to embody the image of the people. The throne of David would give Israel continuity between the generations.

David sprang like a giant oak from the roots of his father Jesse. These roots and this tree were seen as an image of eternal hope. The tree of David grew high and strong, sheltering the nations. A ruler from David’s line would always occupy the throne. The power of generations wielded the power to conquer death and transform the world.

But eventually, David’s tree toppled: his line fell. One bad king followed another bad king. They forgot who they were. They forgot their dependence upon previous generations. They lost a vision of conquering death through future generations. Thus they lived, like we often do, with no awareness or responsibility to the generations.

This means death wins. The old stories are forgotten. The future is abandoned. By refusing to listen to the past and sacrifice for the future, they became a people doomed to vanish from the earth. I fear we are a people quickly vanishing from the earth.

When David’s tree toppled, Israel was taken captive. Eventually they returned to their land, but a line of new kings took to the throne. They were not true Hebrews, and they reinterpreted the story of ancient Israel (rejecting the line of David). The new glorious kingdom developed outside the generations. And it was eventually subservient to another kingdom: Rome.

Some dreamed that one day the line of David would be restored. The rightful heir to the throne would appear, claim the throne, defeat their enemies, cleanse the temple and restore the ancient glory to Israel.

The prophets suggested that this king would be a fresh shoot on the root of Jesse. The toppled tree of David would come back to life, the proper kingship would be restored, and the Hebrews would conquer death through generations.

They watched and waited.

Then the strangest thing happened. The king finally appeared in a most unkingly way. Born in less than glorious circumstances, a babe appeared in Bethlehem, attended not by the powerful and great but by animals and lowly shepherds.

This unkingly king didn’t even calls himself king. And yet, some people knew. Even a few wise kings bowed before while he was still a child. As the unkingly king grew, he lived a poor man’s life—embracing the woodcraft of his family.

He was hid from view for most of his life, so that when he finally did start acting like a king, he seemed to come from nowhere. This most unkingly king, said the most unkingly things in the most kingly way. He spoke as one having authority.

As king, he reinterpreted the law suggesting that ceremonial and external obedience is not good enough. It’s not only wrong to murder, it’s wrong to hate. The reason we do what we do is just as important as what we do. Love should drive our actions—not ambition, anger or anything else.

As king, he challenges our understanding of authority. Power is realized in serving not in being served. Kings are not great for the number attendants that serve them, but for the friends that sup with them. Serving to the king is expressed in service to the lowest among us—not the highest.

Jesus, the unkingly king, defined and established the Davidic kingship forever. By his actions and words, he set in motion the law of love that undergirds this kingdom that extends beyond the land of Israel to embrace every tribe and nation. Instead of demanding tribute from his subjects, this king became the tribute. His sacrifice sustained and keeps sustaining the future. His sacrifice conquers death—in more ways than one.

His rule extends between generations connecting father to son and son to father. Thus death is not simply defeated in space by his resurrection from the dead, but it is defeated in time by connecting the beginning with the end.

The subjects of his kingdom speak different languages, come from different cultures, and don’t even always agree, but they are united in love. Jesus says the mark of his followers will be their love one for another. This love brings a visible demonstration of continuity between the ages. We are connected across space and time through our confession of faith and our demonstration of love.

This love takes many forms in multiple circumstances but it always calls us to follow Jesus and become the sacrifice for others. By His power, we lay down our lives so that others might be blessed. This self-giving love is but a reflection of the unending love that Jesus reveals in the triune community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This Christmas, we return once again to our roots. We return to the stable of Bethlehem to honor the birth of a king, the King. When the world is dying, we celebrate the birth. GK. Chesterton says that “Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate.”

So we fill our houses with lights, evergreen, Santas and snowmen. We laugh and sing songs of rejoicing. But we never forget the root of Jesse, the king of Israel, the Lord of Love. In all our festivities, the nativity burns unceasingly as a celebration of the life that conquered and conquers death.

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