“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.” (Zechariah 9:9–12, NIV)
More than likely, most of you parents have taken your children to see the headwaters of he Mississippi located in Itasca stare park not far from here. You have walked the little walking bridge across those waters, and even encouraged your young children to take off their shoes and walk across the babbling brook that is described as the “source of the mighty Mississippi”. Little children cross this brook and their parents say to them, “You have crossed the Mississippi!” and meanwhile the child thinks, “Oh that's nice.” Because what does a child think of when he or she thinks of the Mississippi? She thinks of a river no larger than the one behind grandmother's farm. She thinks of the little river that the bus goes by on the way to school. He thinks of the river that goes through town. A river you can ride over in just a few seconds. Most children have no knowledge of how great and powerful the Mississippi is. It's hard for them to imagine a river so large that winds over 2,300 miles through twenty three states, and serves as a watershed for nearly half of the continental United States. The mighty Mississippi demands some pretty big thinking and most children have a hard time trying to imagine just how large that river truly is. This morning we have a text that demands from us some pretty big thinking too. It is our reading from the book of Zechariah written about five hundred years before the coming of Christ. Zechariah ministered to a rag tag band of exiles recently returned from the land of Babylon after nearly seventy years of captivity. Zechariah describes for them how God will bless his people with a great king whose peaceful rule will extend “from sea to sea, and even the ends of the earth”. And this king, unlike all other kings, will bring peace to the world. He will drive away the “war horse and break the shield and sword” used in battle. It was a mighty king that Zechariah described for God's people. “And who?” they must have wondered “Who will this king be?” Zechariah's people were challenged to think big, but like little children, whose experiences and knowledge are limited, so also was it with the people Zechariah ministered to. They thought of this king and probably tried to apply it to their own ruler of 500 BC, Zerubbabel, who not even king but only a governor appointed by the emperor of Persia, King Darius. And what a limited kingdom Israel was at this point in time! Israel in 500 BC was the smallest it had ever been. Some commentaries describe it as stretching only thirty miles by thirty miles, north south and east and west. It's population of may have numbered as few as fifty thousand. With its capital and temple in ruins, Zerubbabel's kingdom hardly compared with the description found in our reading for today. But maybe this small and marginal kingdom, was part of something much larger than itself? Something much grander than anyone could imagine? Perhaps Zechariah's people were being challenged to think not just of the “kingdom of Israel”, but of the “kingdom of God”. Just as that little stream flowing out of Lake Itasca is part of the Mississippi, so also was little Israel, even in its weakness and smallness, part of God's kingdom at work in the world. And sometimes, that kingdom takes its own sweet time to coming into being. Sometimes it comes into fulfillment in ways and times we are not expecting at all. Let me give you just one example. Can you name a world famous person who was born on October 4th, 1940? Now this is someone you all know the name of. Someone you have all read about in the newspapers and magazines. Someone you have all heard of on TV and radio. October 4th 1940, that was the day he was born. Can't place him? Here's another clue. This famous person was born in Liverpool England and was part of a rock band that launched the “British invasion”? Now do you know who I'm talking about? John Lennon, in his day was famous all the world over. At one point in his career he boasted that he and the Beatles were more famous than Jesus Christ. For one moment in history, that may have been true! But today, John and the Beatles are quickly fading into history. And not only do we not know the day of John Lennon's birth, we also fail to remember the day of his death. But ask anyone the name of Jewish baby that was born on December 25th some 2000 years ago, and they will respond with a smile, saying, “Jesus!” Yes, Jesus was born on December 25th, over 2000 years ago. People remember less and less about John Lennon, while all the world over, some 2.3 billion people celebrate Jesus' birth and venerate his death. King Jesus has followers in almost ever nation on the face of the globe. Indeed his kingdom does stretch “from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth”. It took awhile, but Zechariah's prophecy of 500 BC finds fulfillment in Jesus who brings peace and forgiveness to his followers in every nation. And who knows how God will add to this mighty kingdom? Even now we hear of millions of millions of Christians in China, just waiting to be more open about their faith. Some say the geographic center of Christianity may in coming years switch from Europe to Africa. Who knows how many people will be blessed by the gentle rule of King Jesus 2000 years from now? The Mississippi meanders east and west north and then south, but always knows where it is going. And no one, no one can impede its flow. So also is it with God's kingdom in Jesus Christ. Many rulers both ancient and modern have tried to erase from history all memory of Jesus and his followers. But one after another, they have failed. We remember names like Herod, Nero, Stalin, Hitler, and Chairman Mow. They too had their moments of glory, but as with all tyrants, how quickly they fade, never to rise again. But Jesus, rises over and over again, despite all obstacles. He rises in the hearts of his people serving all over the globe in his name. You can't stop the Mississippi, and you can't stop Jesus either. King Jesus has no army, no tanks, or air force. He doesn't even have a bank account or check book. Yet his kingdom extends from sea to sea, and to the ends of the earth. And like the Mississippi, it just keeps on rolling, just keeps on flowing, on and on and on. And what is our job? In his small catechism, Luther reminds us that God's kingdom “comes on its own”. It is not the result of the will or effort of human beings. When we pray “thy kingdom come” what we are really praying for is our inclusion in that kingdom. That we might “jump into” that kingdom and be part of it. That's what Zechariah and his people, did in his day. The didn't build the whole kingdom of God in one day or even forty years, but they tried to be faithful, and be part of that kingdom in their own special way. Zechariah's people rebuilt Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple. They preserved Zechariah's words and the words of the prophets before him. They helped collect and preserve the books that would later become the Old Testament. Little did they know, that nearly 2000 years later, people would be reading Zechariah's words in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota! That's God's kingdom for you. God takes little drops of water and builds them into a mighty river. May we “jump into” that ever flowing kingdom! May we worship that king of peace, whose gentler rule, continues to flow out to the nations, blessing us all. Amen.