December 1, 2019
For December’s newsletter, I shared a poem by Richard Wilbur by the title, “A Christmas Hymn,” which has the refrain, “And every stone shall cry. And every stone shall cry.” This refrain refers to an episode recorded in the 19th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus is entering into Jerusalem and the crowds are shouting praises to Jesus, calling him their king. The Pharisees in the crowd commanded Jesus to rebuke his disciples for what they perceived to be blasphemy. However, Jesus responds, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
If Jesus’ disciples do not praise him, the stones themselves will praise him. This is true, because Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. He utters his voice and the earth melts. He created the heavens and the earth. All things visible and invisible exist in order to serve him. And yet, as I point out in the newsletter, Jesus didn’t come to be praised by rocks, or sheep, or donkeys, or even angels. Jesus came to be praised by you. This is why he took on human flesh and was laid as a baby in a manger. This is why he was obedient to his parents, why he was baptized in the Jordan, why he rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, why he was nailed to the cross and laid in the tomb. He didn’t do this to save rocks, or beasts, or angels. Jesus took on human flesh, lived under the law to save us humans under the law, and he died to take away our sin. And he has done this so that we, whom he saves, will sing his praises both now and forever.
Yet, there are many who will not praise him, as we see with the disgruntled Pharisees. They do not welcome his coming. Rather, there are many plotting his execution even as the crowds are singing his praises. They reject Jesus, because he does not come the way they want him to come. He comes lowly on a donkey. He’s too humble and weak-looking to be their king and the promised Christ. They reject him, because he is an outsider. He didn’t learn from them or go to their school. They reject him, because he doesn’t praise them or stoke their ego. They reject him, because he rejects their manmade rules; because he teaches with the authority of God; because he receives sinners and eats with them.
Jesus didn’t come the way they wanted him to come, so they rejected him. Instead of praising him, they demanded his crucifixion. Instead of calling him their king, they said they had no king but Caesar. Instead of taking off their cloaks to lay before his donkey, they watched as soldiers stripped Jesus of his clothes and cast lots for them. Instead of cutting branches from trees to wave in praise, they wagged their heads in disdain as Jesus was nailed to a tree. Perhaps if Jesus would have presented himself in a different way, they would have accepted him and sung his praises.
And this is how many think today. They want Jesus to come to them in a way they are comfortable with. They want Jesus to meet them on their terms, and present himself in a manner to their liking. Some want Jesus to entertain them, while others want Jesus to tell them how smart they are. They think his words in Scripture are outdated and out of touch. They think Baptism is superstitious and reject the idea that it can forgive sins. They are offended that Jesus gives authority to men to forgive sins and promises to come to people through their words. That Jesus tells us to repent and believe in the Gospel does not bode well for most. If Jesus were really “Jesus-like,” he would just accept people for who they are and affirm them in their sins. For these and a host of other reasons, people today reject Jesus and refuse to sing his praises.
Maybe if Jesus would come in a different way, more people would accept him and sing his praises. If Jesus would be a bit more entertaining, a bit more flattering; if he would let us choose in what mode we will receive him; if he would not talk so much about sin, death, and judgment; if he would be less divisive, and be more like the Jesus in the imagination of men’s hearts, then Jesus would be accepted. Right?
Wrong. Jesus does not need to change the way he comes to us. Rather, we need to accept Jesus the way he comes to us. We need to accept the baby born on straw in the stable. We need to accept the man who calls sinners to repentance. We need to accept the man, who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, was arrested in the dead of night and crucified on the cross, yet rose from the dead on the third day. We need to accept the man, who comes to us through words, not just any words, but words he has given us, words that have created faith, forgiven sins, and built up the hosts of saints in heaven for many generations and will continue to do so. Words, that the Holy Spirit caused prophets and apostles to write down; words that call us to repentance and declare forgiveness of sins freely for Christ’s sake; words that demand that we conform our minds to God’s will and love one another.
We must accept Jesus in the way he comes to us, because Jesus does not come to us any other way. He doesn’t come to us through the breeze blowing through the leaves as we sit in the deer stand. He doesn’t bubble up in our heart as we meditate on our own feelings concerning the world. He doesn’t come to us through Muhammad, or Buddha, or Hare Krishna. And he doesn’t preach to us any other Gospel. He doesn’t come to tell you how to get rich or live your best life now. He doesn’t encourage you in your selfish desires and sins. He doesn’t tell you that if you try your best, you’ll go to heaven based on your own works. Rather, Jesus comes to you as the God-man, the one who was crucified for your sins, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, from thence he will come to judge the living and the dead. And Jesus tells us to repent of our sins and to trust in him for forgiveness and salvation and in him alone. If you are going to receive Jesus, you must receive him on his terms, not on your own.
Yet, this does not mean that Jesus does not meet us where we are. Quite the contrary. Jesus does not demand that we ascend to him, rather he comes down to us! In fact, Jesus comes down to us in the only way we can receive him!
If Jesus were to come to us in his divine glory without joining himself to our human nature, we would be consumed by his glory. We wouldn’t be able to stand before him, let alone receive him into our hearts! And if Jesus were to tell us to do our best and try to enter heaven by our own works, none of us would make it. Every one of us would fail. We’re sinners. We will never be good enough by our own works to enter heaven! And if Jesus were to simply ignore sin, to tell us that we do not need to repent, he would deny himself, for he is righteous and no wickedness can dwell with him. Jesus can't share his glory with any other god, because he is the only God and we must have no other gods before him. If Jesus did not die for our sins, then our sins would still oppress us today and bind us to hell.
Yet, Jesus didn’t come in any way invented by sinful people. Rather, Jesus came in the only way we could receive him as our Savior. He took on our human flesh, was tempted in every way as we were, except without sin; he fulfilled God’s Law in our place! Jesus entered Jerusalem humble mounted on a donkey to show that he does not come in the power of violence, but in the power of his mercy, which he showed by bearing our sins on the cross. Jesus came in the only way that shepherds could come and bow down to him, that a sinful woman could wash his feet with her tears and hair, that crowds of sinners looking for a savior could greet with palm branches and shouts of hosannas, that could bring him to the cross. He came in the only way where his disciples could take hold of his nail pierced, yet living feet in worship.
And Jesus comes to us today in the only way we can truly receive him. He comes to us in Baptism to wash our sins away. We cannot choose him nor cleanse ourselves from our sinful condition, so Jesus does it for us. He empowers simple water with his almighty word. Jesus calls sinners, not to save themselves, but to come to him for salvation. He doesn’t demand that you make reparation in order to receive forgiveness, rather he declares forgiveness by grace as a gift. Jesus comes to you in bread and wine, which cannot be eaten by angels, but you can eat and drink. A meal simple enough for anyone to eat, yet holy enough to contain the body and blood of Christ Jesus, which must be eaten with faith in order to receive its eternal benefits.
If Jesus were to come the way we wanted him to come, we would be lost. Thank God, Jesus comes the way he planned with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Thank God he came to take away our sins through his passion, so that when he returns, he will not deal with us according to our sins, but with healing in his wings. Thank God that he comes to us in words of peace and mercy and that he opens our ears and softens our hearts to understand and believe these words, so that Christ Jesus might dwell in our hearts through faith. It is only through repentance and faith in the Gospel of Christ that we can receive Jesus. This is how God has prepared praise for Jesus wherever he makes his entrance. And this praise will continue to grow. God grant that we would receive Jesus in faith as he comes to us, so that we might praise him today, tomorrow, and in eternity. Amen.