The First Sunday in Advent - "Blessing the Lord"
Nov. 28 “Blessing the Lord” – The First Sunday in Advent
And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! In the name of Jesus.
(Let us bless the Lord….) You know this. The response. We say it at the end of the service. Though in today’s setting it’s: “Bless we the Lord.” But do you ever wonder how we do that? Just how do we bless the Lord? Haven’t you ever wondered why we say it that way? Well, that is the meditation for today; that phrase that we say right before the benediction every Sunday. Let’s answer the question: how do we bless the Lord? Our tried and true liturgy of the church encompasses many treasures from of old and all we do is simply bring them forth anew.
Blessing the Lord is a command given to Moses in Deuteronomy 8:10 where Moses speaks on the edge of the Promised land: When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Eaten and are satisfied; no wonder why the “let us bless the Lord” part comes in after partaking of the Lord’s Supper in the Divine Service. It is biblical and the believers in both testaments give us this pattern and model to imitate. Today on the First Sunday in Advent we enter the scene of the triumphal entry of Jesus and join in on the people blessing the Lord. The people then shouted “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest. Yes, it is a very liturgical text. That part too, “Hosanna in the highest,” is a part of our service as well; it is sung in our Sanctus during the Service of the Sacrament. Yes, here on Sundays is where you get to truly embody the Word of God. But first before we get to the end of our service, let us start at the beginning. Let’s go all the way back to the days of Nehemiah, where it was there the liturgy of God’s people got organized. In the 9th chapter of Nehemiah, the Israelites, after fasting in sackcloth and dust on their heads, were confessing their sins and the iniquities of their fathers – the they stood up and listened to a reading from the Book of the Law of the Lord. It says they did that for ¼ of the day (that’s like 6 hrs straight) and then for another ¼ of the day they worshipped the Lord. Then the priests cried out in a loud voice: “Stand up and bless the Lord your God forever and ever! Blessed be Your glorious name” and they went on exalting the Lord. Now who wants to have a 12hr long service next week like that? Come on, let us bless the Lord.
After those days the Jews formed Benedictions off what they came to learn about worship. What is still known as the Amidah: the Eighteen Benedictions formed the heart of the Jewish people. These benedictions of prayers of praise and thanksgiving were exaltations and they also included all their petitions for God to send the Messiah and to grant wisdom, forgiveness, healing, and deliverance. Drawn from Scripture, especially the Psalms, they always started with the words “Blessed are You, Lord our God” as in David’s Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name!” In Psalm 34, David says, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth,” and Psalm 63: “My mouth will bless you with joyful lips.” Even the angels bless the Lord in Scripture as spoken about in the Psalms. The Rabbi’s teach there is a blessing for everything. The little habit of blessing the Lord instills a sense of God’s continual presence in those who practice it.
But what does it mean? How do we mere mortals actually bless the Lord? To bless God is to praise him, to acknowledge him as the source of all blessing. It is not just something you do on Sunday though or only on your good days. Blessing the Lord should be as continual as breathing (and for the same reason – because we need it). But doesn’t it make more sense for God to bless us instead of us bless him? In Scripture when God “blesses” men they are helped and strengthened and made better off than they were before, but when men “bless” God he is not helped or strengthened or made better off. Rather with man’s blessing God is an “expression of praising him with thankfulness” (ein lobendes Danksagen) in German, Danke, you know like Ferris Bueller sings in His movie, Danke Schoen….darlin danke Schoen…I declare out there and everywhere..(I love that tune). In giving thanks we are not trying to increase God. Blessing him is not designated towards making him stronger and more fit. It is an exclamation of gratitude and admiration. Doesn’t this tie well on the Sunday right after Thanksgiving? The triumphant entry of Jesus and thanking him.
God is the primal and inexhaustible blesser therefore he must be above all others in a blessed state – the fulness and source of all blessing. If this is so, then it is only natural to burst out in praise with a “Blessed are You!” Other analogies are ones like: “I magnify the Lord” or “Let us exalt his name.” Both are expressions that recognize and give joyful expression to God’s magnificence and his exalted status. They do not mean that we make him larger or higher. They mean to recognize his great richness, strength, and gracious bounty. Blessing the Lord means to express our delight in seeing and experiencing him. Now, to further expound on the word blessed: the Hebrew word, which was the language the people were screaming it at Jesus that day, means to kneel down to, to congratulate, it is like a Commander getting a salute from his soldiers. Yes, Jesus came riding a mule into the city. Very reminiscent of the Army General, how they rode into town after winning a great battle. Though they always rode in majesty on a big stallion of a horse. Jesus doesn’t come in on a stallion, but on a lowly horse. That picture in itself, remember from last week, reminds us of what kind of King Jesus is – humble, not seemingly royal and that is because he came to save man a different way than that of prestige or military might.
In these fashions of benedictions and blessing the Lord we have a great way to learn how we can always avoid negativity and ingratitude and open our eyes to God’s provisions! It’s just a habit that changes the altitude of your attitude. As children we learned similar type of habits. Remember when your mom reminded you to use the magic words, “please and thank you?” She did it because she knew that this small habit has the power to instill attitudes of thankfulness and consideration. Likewise, the habit of continually blessing the Lord teaches us to be ever mindful of how much God loves us and how he continually cares for us. As one Christian author put it: “When you start to make a habit of blessing God, you will discover that daily life can begin to feel like Christmas morning. God’s presence will overwhelm you and you will feel His love as if wading knee deep through shards of wrapping paper and mountains of bows to enjoy a pile of shiny new gifts.”
Ultimately though we return to the great power and richness of the Gospel text. The Hosanna blessing right before the Lord rides in to save us. That is why the crowd used the words Hosanna to the Son of David and Hosanna in the highest. They were crying out “save us.” Hoshiana literally means that, “save us.” And the worshippers knew that Messiah would come from the line of David. His name is what he comes in. And just what does Jesus’ name mean? Savior. Hoshiana and Jehosuah have the same vocabulary in them! The ultimate provision of Salvation is in his very name and we evermore need his saving name. Like Israel in Nehemiah- to get to the part of blessing the Lord in church, first we confess our sins, open his book, hear his word, then get fed by him in the feast of the holy eucharist, which means thanksgiving. The feast of victory for our God. It is the meal of thanksgiving. Therefore you can say partaking of his body, not only blesses you but it also blesses the Lord; you are putting his blessed state into your very bodies. The sacrament of the altar is the triumphal entry into Hosanna in the highest and blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord so that you can ride on in victory from the benefits of his triumph.
Speaking of the Sacrament, and I know I’m now making you hungry, unless you’ve still been eating on the leftovers from Thursday, but in the Words of Institution, when Jesus took the bread and gave thanks part. The Gospel writers don’t tell us the words he used to give thanks in that passage and that’s because then everyone already knew them. The blessing, giving thanks for bread is the Barakah, still used in the Jewish culture today – [said in Hebrew here…] which translates: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Even Jesus blessed God in Scripture. It wasn’t a type of table prayer we use today though, and there’s nothing wrong with those, but Jesus and the believers back then, when they ate, they weren’t blessing the food, like we do. They were blessing the Lord who gave it. Asking God to bless our food arrived from a misunderstanding of this. The reason we pray before eating is not to make the food holy, but to express our gratitude to God for providing it. So now you see why that part of our service is placed where it’s at. And now after today you’ll always understand that part of the service when we say “let us bless the Lord” or “bless we the Lord.” You know what it means though because of the response that is said after I say that. The reply to bless we the Lord is “thanks be to God.” That’s what it means. The directive is given to bless the Lord and then we do by stating our thanks to Him.
And then after that, in the Benediction, the Lord shines on you. That’s the formula, we bless the Lord and He shines on us. In the words of Benediction “the Lord make his face to shine on you.” It’s table talk once again. All the way from the tabernacle in the wilderness with the showbread inside it that the Lord commanded to put candelabras near. That command was so that the bread of the presence (that’s what it was called) would always be lit up. That’s why we have altar candles on the outside of the real bread of presence. It’s all connected. The means of grace blesses us so that we are able to break forth in praise, blessing the Lord. That’s how you do it. But you’re already well practiced in the assembly. David in 1 Chronicles 29, blesses the Lord in the presence of the assembly. This Barakah is corporate. It is in the great assembly that the people of God gather to bless His holy name. It is where forgiveness of sins is given that a bless we the Lord comes to the top of the list.
Now in the season of Advent, as the seconds and minutes in the church new year has arrived to kick off this time, I encourage you to adopt this fervent way through this season where we await. Allow this time to be a time of fervent adoration while awaiting the celebration of the incarnation and as we anticipate the second advent to come.
Christ is our hope and our light. Now that we have him, we can show forth his presence. We are getting wrapped up in Him that that in the last day, he can unwrap us. It is the pattern of thanksgiving, going from death to life. And yes, it is these churchly patterns that keep us in the faith throughout our pilgrimage all the days of our lives. All the days of our lives, Blessing the Lord is the activity of the redeemed so let the redeemed of the Lord say so: let us bless the Lord, and all God’s people said: thanks be to God.
In the name of Jesus + Amen.