Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sermon: Christmas 1 - 2018

30 December 2018

Text: Luke 2:22-32, 33-40

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

As the year of our Lord 2018 hastens to its inevitable conclusion, it is natural to look to the past to reflect on the events of the year, as well as look to the future in hope of brighter times.

And that intersection of past and future in the miraculous present  is the story of St. Simeon, who stands at the crossroads between BC (“Before Christ”) and AD (“Anno Domini,” that is, “In the year of our Lord”).  St. Simeon is at the end of his life, but he is waiting – “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”  He is waiting for the BC to become the AD, because the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

St. Simeon also stands at another crossroad: between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The text strongly implies that Simeon is a priest of the Old Covenant, which means that he was a butcher of sorts.  People would bring animals to him in the temple, and they would offer the blood of these beasts as atonement for their sins: innocent blood shed for the sins of the guilty, a sacrificial atonement.  Who knows how many of these lambs Simeon took up in his arms, blessing God for His mercy.

But the temple sacrifices were themselves a preview of the Lamb to come – the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, the living temple, the new and eternal High Priest, the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.” 

And because of this promise from the Holy Spirit, St. Simeon continued to wait – even in his old age.  And like elderly Abraham, he clung against all hope and against all reason to the promise of the Lord that he and Sarah would bear a son – so too does Simeon believe the promise of the Lord, even though he had become aged in body, even though the Romans continued to rule the children of Israel with an iron fist, and even though the prophets had been silent for four hundred years.

St. Simeon continued to wait, and he waited expectantly.  We don’t know if others knew about the prophecy, and if they did, if they thought old Simeon was crazy, or if they perhaps believed him.  But whether or not others mocked, Simeon believed. 

And then one day, it all came together.  St. Simeon caught sight of the baby Jesus.  Simeon “took Him up in his arms and blessed God.”  The New Testament has come.  The year of our Lord has come.  The Christ has come!  Salvation has come!  His eyes have seen this salvation.  The name “Simeon” is based on the Hebrew word that means “He has heard.”  Simeon heard the Word of the Lord, and what’s more, he saw the Word of the Lord.  Jesus is “the visible Word,” for “in the beginning was the Word.”  

What must it have been like, dear friends, to experience Jesus in the flesh?  This must have vindicated Simeon’s faith, the promise of the Holy Spirit that a Savior was coming into the world.  

The beautiful thing, dear friends, is that we too experience Jesus in the flesh, the “visible Word.”  For this is what St. Augustine called our sacraments: “the visible Word” – the Word of God in the flesh, in space, and in time.  We, like St. Simeon, experience Jesus, not just in words about Him, but we experience Him physically.  

And this is why, dear friends, St. Simeon’s song: the canticle that He spoke as he held the Baby Jesus: God in space and time, in his aged arms, is not just Simeon’s song, but the church’s song.  We too rejoice with Simeon, who had become prepared to die, to “depart in piece, according to” the visible Word that he held in his arms.

Holy Communion is just that: a supernatural, holy communion with Jesus Christ, with God, with the Word by whom all things were made!  Jesus is the Word that declares you forgiven and beloved of God.  And this is why we Christians are also prepared to “depart in peace” whether it be of old age or in our youth.  The Lord comes to us in the Gospel, in Holy Absolution, in Holy Baptism, and in His Most Holy Supper.  

St. Simeon’s song was traditionally sung by monks and nuns in their final prayers of the night before going to sleep.  And the early Lutherans took this beautiful canticle, this confession that Jesus has come in the flesh, and He has come for us, the “visible Word” who brings salvation that we can see and hear – and they made this the standard hymn sung by the congregation after receiving holy communion.  We call this hymn by its Latin Name: “Nunc Dimittis” – Now You Dismiss.”

And when we Christians partake of Holy Communion, we receive Christ.  We receive Him where we are – in the fallenness of this world and in the frailty of our flesh.  His flesh becomes our flesh, which we eat unto eternal life.  His righteousness becomes our righteousness, which brings us into communion with the Most Holy Trinity.  Our sins become His sins, which He has taken to the cross and for which He shed His blood.  And His pure righteous blood becomes our blood, which we drink for the forgiveness of sins and renewal of life.

And when we have received the body and blood of Jesus, then we can sing with St. Simeon:

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory for Your people Israel.”

Let us depart in peace, dear brothers and sisters, whether we are departing this age with the coming of our Lord, or departing this life as we go to our Lord, or even as we simply depart this holy place, going into the world bearing in our flesh the flesh of Christ; and coursing through our veins, the blood of Christ; and in our minds, on our lips and in our hearts, the Word of Christ; and in our lives, the forgiveness, life, and salvation of Christ.

And like St. Simeon, we look forward to brighter days ahead, knowing that we are on the cusp of a new year – not just 2019, but the year of our Lord, 2019.

“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Sermon: Funeral of Joann Lotz - 2018

28 December 2018

Text: John 11:20-27 (Job 19:23-27a, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Bridget, Brad, Doug, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests.  Peace be with you.

Our Old Testament lesson was taken from the Book of Job.  Job was a happy, prosperous man.  He was also devout toward the Lord.  The Book of Job recounts that Satan was mocking God that the only reason Job was so devout is because he was not suffering.  God allowed Job to suffer temporarily to test his faith, and so that Job could prove to everyone – even the devil himself – that his love for the Lord was not just because he was blessed.

And so, without knowing why, Job lost several family members in a tragedy.  He lost his home.  He became ill.  And though he was befuddled, hurt, and at times angry with God, he continued to submit to God’s will.  Even Job’s close friends mocked him, and urged him to give up his faith, for surely God must be punishing him for something.  But this was not true.

In the end, God rewarded Job for his faithfulness by restoring him back double.  From Job, we learn that God’s ways are not our ways, that we don’t know the will of God.  God created the universe, and it isn’t up to us to question Him.  And we know that He loves us and sends a Redeemer to restore us to life even in death.  

The passage we heard in our reading was Job saying: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

This is true comfort in the face of death, dear friends.  “I know that my Redeemer lives.”  We have a Redeemer, one who buys us back from slavery to sin, death, and the devil.  Our Redeemer lives, even though He died on the cross.  We know that He rose again, and indeed, our Redeemer lives.  And Job confessed that He would see God in the flesh, with his eyes.  

Well-meaning people often try to comfort us in our mourning by reminding us that we have our memories, that they are going to send us good thoughts or positive energy, or something equally unhelpful.  But Job’s confession is real comfort – for far from thinking of Joann as a spirit floating around with a harp, or simply remembering her in past memories, we have the promise of a bodily resurrection – just like our Redeemer, who walked out of His own grave.  His disciples saw Him that first Easter with their own eyes, they hugged Him, they heard His voice, and they spoke with Him – in the flesh.  

This promise of bodily resurrection was given to Joann when she was baptized, as St. Paul said: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism in to death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

That promise is for Joann, and it is for all of us who believe and are baptized, dear friends.  

St. Paul also said that our perishable body will put on the imperishable, and “this mortal body must put on immortality.”  And then “death is swallowed up in victory.”  We can even show contempt to death itself: “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  And we can say this, dear friends, because “God… gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Think about it, dear brothers and sisters: we grieve now, we miss our dear Joann, we are hurting.  But we also know that we will be reunited – not figuratively, not in our memories, not in our imaginations – but physically, in the flesh, in new glorious bodies that are perfect: not worn down by age, not assaulted by illness, not in pain or in suffering, but perfect: just as God created us to be in the Garden of Eden.  

And this is the message of Christmas, dear friends.  For God did not come to us in our imaginations, not figuratively, not as a fictional super-hero.  Jesus is God in the flesh, completely God and completely man.  He really died, and really rose again to rescue us from sin and death.  He continues to come to us in the Holy Communion that we will celebrate: physically, literally (not figuratively) in His true flesh and blood.  Like a transfusion, His body and blood restore us, strengthen our faith, and fortify us, for those times when we, like Job, struggle with the things we cannot understand.  Holy Communion is, as one of the church fathers called it, “the medicine of immortality.”  Joann knew this, and this is why it was my privilege to give her the body and blood of Christ from my own hand.  

We Christians derive comfort from this physical presence of Jesus.  And it is especially helpful when our loved ones die.  Because they are with Jesus, and in this Holy Communion, Jesus is with us.  This Holy Sacrament of the Altar is as physically close that you will get with your departed loved ones until you see them in the flesh, with your own eyes, on the other side of glory.

Jesus came to breathe new life into all of us, who are mortal, we who bear the load of our own sins and the sins of our ancestors.  We need a Savior.  We need a Redeemer.  And we know that our Redeemer lives.  And our Redeemer gave us a preview of the resurrection when He raised Lazarus from the dead by means of His Word.  And just before this resurrection, Jesus told Lazarus’s sister Martha: “Your brother will rise again.”  He meant it.  And He did it.  Martha had faith in the promise of Jesus.  She confessed that faith: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  

What our Lord Jesus Christ said to her next is also of infinite comfort to us, dear friends: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

Jesus asks us, though Martha, through this Scripture: “Do you believe this?”  And she said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Dear friends, we take our comfort in more than fond memories and the well-wishes of others.  We have the ironclad Word of God.  We have the witness of the empty tomb.  We have the reminder of the sign of the cross when we call to mind our baptism, when the Lord placed His name on us with the promise of resurrection and new life.  

No matter what befalls us in this earthly life in this fallen world, Christ is risen, and Joann “will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” when the Lord calls us all out of our tombs, and we will be reunited in a new heaven and a new earth in new bodies for all eternity.  

And with Job, the faithful one who suffered and was restored, we defiantly say to anyone and everyone: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Sermon: Christmas - 2018

25 December 2018

Text: John 1:1-18 (Ex 40:17-21, 34-38; Titus 3:4-7)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

We begin our first day of Christmas not with a partridge in a pear tree, but rather with a Word in a Tent.  St. John the Evangelist doesn’t introduce us to Jesus as the babe of Bethlehem.  We don’t hear about the wise men and Herod and Mary and Joseph.  John doesn’t tell us about the shepherds and the angels.  In fact, John says nothing about that first Christmas.

John takes us further back to the Book of Genesis: “In the Beginning…”  Jesus is there, even thousands of years before His earthly birth.  He is there, because He is God.  And John describes Him curiously as not only as God, but also as “with God.”  He describes Jesus as “the Word” – “In the beginning was the Word.”  The Greek word for “Word” is Λόγος, which is where we get the word “logic.”

In the beginning, there was logic, order, and design.  And there was design because God created a perfectly planned universe.  Everything had its place.  Every molecule and atom, every element and compound, every planet and galaxy – all interconnected by the Logos, the mind of God, every bit of matter and energy working together harmoniously according to the divine plan, according to the Word, for “all things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.”  

And by means of the Word of God, according to the Logic of God, our world came into being.  And as the creation reached its pinnacle, God created man – in His own image, male and female.  He created a man and a woman, and placed them into the most beautiful garden ever made – for it was perfect.  Not only molecules and atoms, but animals and Adam all lived together harmoniously.  Even Eve and the reptiles had no enmity between them.  There were no predators.  No living creature knew the meaning of fear or pain, and certainly not of death.  For in Him, in Jesus, in the Logos “was life, and the life was the light of men.”

St. John imbedded all of this history by starting his Gospel, his introduction of Jesus, with those iconic words of Genesis: “In the beginning.”  But of course, rather than submit to the Logos: the logic of the design of God – Adam and Eve, manipulated by the lying serpent, decided to operate according to their own distorted logic, thinking that they could appropriate knowledge that they were not yet ready to understand, and thinking that they could “be like God.”  For it wasn’t enough that God made them in His image.  They wanted God’s power.  And the world has been broken ever since, with that perfect logic cast into chaos; that harmony replaced by discord.  Humanity became self-centered, illogical, irrational, and brutish.  Even the animals lost that original beauty and harmony.

So Jesus, our Savior, our Rescuer, is this Word, for He is the one who “became flesh and dwelt among us… the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

John uses another word here that doesn’t come across as well in English: “dwelt” – as in He “dwelt among us.”   The Greek literally reads: “tabernacled among us.”  And this is the connection to our Old Testament text from Exodus.  When God chose the children of Israel, He opted to tabernacle with them, to dwell with them in a tent.  So that as they made their way to the promised land, He would physically go with them, in a cloud “on the tabernacle by day, and fire… by night.”  The Lord was physically present with them in this tent, this physical location in space and time.  For we don’t worship a God who is some kind of ideal from the realm of thoughts.  Jesus is logic, but He isn’t an abstract equation.  Rather, He dwells with us personally, in His flesh, in the baby of Bethlehem, in the Sacrificial Lamb of God on the cross, in the risen Lord who bodily rose from the dead, and in His ongoing tabernacling with us in His holy body and blood given to us in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  

For “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The perfect mind of God put on the tabernacle of a body.  And this, dear friends, is the wonder of Christmas, the mystery of the incarnation.  For God, in His infinite mind, is willing to come to our fallen world and dwell with us in the body of a baby in the womb of a daughter of Eve.  God is willing to take on a mother.  And He is willing to be born, to grow, to learn (though He is the omniscient God), and to suffer the results of the sins that He did not commit.

He dwells among us even in death.  And especially at the cross, we have seen His glory – the glory of the perfect divine Logos defeating the devil by divine logic that Satan could never figure out.  But also by divine love that transcends any and all mere human reason: the love that is willing to die for the sake of the beloved, though we are not worthy.

“And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

The Lord Jesus has come to give us grace and truth, to restore the disharmony of our broken world with peace, and to replace our misshapen logic with His perfect Logos.  Jesus does all of this from the moment of His conception in the womb of the virgin Mary, the physical descendant of Eve.  Jesus comes into our world to crush the serpent’s head, and to being us sons of Adam and daughters of Eve back into communion with the God who created us.

For Jesus truly is the “light of men,” who “shines in the darkness,” and not even the darkness of our sins and the darkness of the grace can overcome the Light that is our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament tabernacle was a shadow of a greater Tabernacle to come: the fleshly Jesus, the very Word of God, the Logos, the Logic of God in human form, who has come to bear our sins and defeat the devil at the cross.  And it all started when this “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

And St. Titus proclaims what the Word Made Flesh has come to do: “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we mighty become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

That justification, that being put back into harmony with God and man and creation itself, is the reason for the season, this is why the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Christmas is about “eternal life” won for us by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior, the Word, the very Logos, the Logic of God.  

Jesus has come to take away the chaos of sin and replace it with eternal harmony and order.  He is God and He is man; He comes to bring peace between God and man, between men, and between all of creation itself.  

“In the beginning was the Word.”  The Word tabernacles with us, washing us in renewal and new life.  And the Word will abide with us even unto eternity, where the ongoing Christmas celebration will have no end!

“In the beginning was the Word.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Sermon: Christmas Eve - 2018

24 December 2018

Text: John 1:1-14 (Isa 7:10-14, Micah 5:2-5a, Isa 9:2-7, Matt 1:18-25, Matt 2:1-12)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our wait is over, dear brothers and sisters!  Merry Christmas! 

The Christmas story begins in different places in the minds of many people.  For many secular people, the Christmas story begins the day after Thanksgiving, when the Best Buy campouts and fistfights at Walmart mark the start of the holy season.  For most Christians, Christmas begins when the tree is put up, when the cards are sent, and when the presents are staged under the tree.  

For Christians who follow the liturgical calendar, Christmas begins now, as the purple of Advent has given way to the white of Christmas, and as the Song of the Angels, the Gloria in Excelsis, has returned to our liturgy.

For Christians immersed in the Scriptures, the Christmas story also can be said to have begun in our fifth reading, as the Magi arrive from the east, bearing gifts for the baby King, following the star of Bethlehem, eluding the wicked and murderous pretender to the throne named Herod.  The story begins as the Magi, “going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him.  Then opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

Of course, the Christmas story also includes the account of St. Matthew, who introduced his account of Christmas like this: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”  The evangelist includes the account of the angel’s appearance to Joseph.  At this point, the birth of our Lord that first Christmas became inevitable.

But from the perspective of God, the real beginning of the Christmas story began, as the evangelist John begins his Gospel: “In the beginning.”  For “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  This is the beginning of all history: the history of the cosmos, the history of the supernatural, the history of mankind – all of that is the Christmas story: a true story that sweeps the entire history of man.  For the Christmas story is the history of humanity and God.  

“In the beginning was the Word” – the Word that made all things as time itself begin.  And in the fullness of time, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The story of Christmas began with the beginning of time itself, at the creation.  The story of Christmas continued with Adam and Eve living perfect lives.  The story of Christmas includes their rebellion against God by the false promise and temptation of the serpent, their estrangement from God, and their world becoming broken, their bodies mortal.  The story of Christmas moves forward through God’s promise that the Seed of the Woman would crush the serpent’s head.  The story of Christmas includes our other readings from the Old Testament.

For God the Holy Spirit (who was hovering over creation in the beginning) spoke through the prophets.  He told the people of God, through the prophet Micah, that their promised Savior would come from lowly and little Bethlehem.  And from Bethlehem would come the “ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”  And the Savior would be born of a woman, and “He shall stand and shepherd His flock…. And He shall be their peace.”

God spoke through Isaiah that the Savior would be a “great light” to “the people who walked in darkness.”  For “to us a child is born, to us a Son is given.”  This Son – the Son of God and Son of Man – is the King, the final King, the eternal King of Israel, of the World, of the universe.  He will uphold His kingdom “with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”  The Christmas story is eternal, dear friends.  It extends from the creation of everything by the Word unto “forevermore.”  

The Christmas story is about God, about Man, and about that sacred intersection between divinity and humanity in Jesus Christ.  It is about the eternal God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, breaking into space and time, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  It is about the Word taking flesh and dwelling among us.  It is about the light shining in the darkness.  For “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The Christmas story includes the Easter story: the sacrificial death of the King for the people, the Shepherd for the lambs, the holy priest for the unholy victims of the serpent: the holy priest who becomes the holy sacrifice that crushes the serpent’s head. 

Yes, indeed, the Christmas story is a story of revenge and bloodshed and of vindication, of salvation and rescue, of love, sacrifice, of the joy of being released from the prison of our own making, of the triumphant victory over sin, death, and the serpent.  

The Christmas story is a story, but it isn’t like most of the stories we hear: fictional tales of heroes and villains in comic books and novels and movies.  For this story is history itself: a true story, a narrative that actually takes place in space and time in the real world.  In fact, it is the true history of God, creation, man, and sin.  It is the true history of the prophecy, birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  It is our ongoing history of grace and truth, of salvation and victory over the grave.  

The story of Christmas is the epic struggle between righteousness and evil: an account written in blood, and lived out in this fallen world whose days are numbered.  It is about our victory in Christ Jesus, even as we figuratively gaze upon the holy face of the baby, the mild and tender care of His mother, the watchful guardianship of his stepfather, the praise and song of shepherds and the angels, the offering of gifts and worship from the Magi, the reverence of the animals and even of the star – all of creation celebrating that Christmas and that Christ.

The Christmas story doesn’t end tonight, or tomorrow, or even after the Twelve Days are over.  The Christmas story continues wherever two or three gather, where His Word is proclaimed, where His body and blood continue to be adored in the flesh and consumed by men and women and children unto eternal life, sinners become saints; saints as victors over the grave.

For the pinnacle of the Christmas story is this, dear friends, “To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

In Christ and by means of Christmas, we are children of God, dear brothers and sisters.

His story is our story.  He has rescued us and vindicated us, and so we celebrate His birth.  While the world marks the holy season with the empty service of the self, we Christians serve the Lord who empties Himself to give everything to us – now, and even unto eternity.  Amen.  Merry Christmas, dear brothers and sisters!  Merry Christmas!  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sermon: Rorate Coeli (Advent 4) and the Baptism of Ella Bagley - 2018

23 December 2018

Text: John 1:19-28 (Phil 4:4-7)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is a pattern in life of waiting for a long time, and then one day, out of the blue, ready or not – everything changes.  We see this in the Holy Scriptures, as God had been promising the coming of the Messiah since the days of the fall in Eden.  And so, year by year, generation by generation, century by century, and even millennium after millennium – mankind waited.

Especially the children of Israel, whose prophets had been declaring His coming, had been waiting.  And then, for about four hundred years, the prophets fell silent.  Silent, as the people of Israel, the remaining part of them who had been conquered by the Babylonians and then the Persians, were later conquered by the Greeks and then by the Romans, and they waited.

And then, Christmas came.  The Messiah was born.  And then, John the Baptist came, the Messiah was announced.  And then, the Messiah came to John to be baptized – and the world has never been the same since.

Our lives follow this plan of waiting, and waiting, punctuated by incredible and sudden changes as God works in our lives.  How many children cannot believe how long they have to wait until Christmas finally arrives.  It is so close, and yet so far away.

Nothing typifies this waiting like a pregnant mother.  In what seems like an eternity, the mother’s body literally transforms into a life support system for a new person.  Before long, she cannot even recall a time when she wasn’t pregnant.  And then, it happens.  The child is born.  The most miraculous and wondrous thing is within the realm of the ordinary.  For each one of us experienced birth, and so did our mothers and fathers.  Little Ella was born into this broken, fallen world, like all of us, as a poor, miserable sinner.  She carries in her body the mortality and the sinful nature of her parents, her grandparents, and all of her ancestors dating back to Adam and Eve – just like all of us.  And like all of us, we were born waiting – waiting for salvation, waiting to be born again, waiting on the Lord Jesus Christ to rescue us.

Ella’s wait is over, for her old nature has been drowned and has been replaced by her new nature in Christ Jesus.  She was born again by water and the Spirit.  Her parents, Chase and Caili, brought her into the world, and they have now brought her into the heavenly realms: the most miraculous and wondrous thing is within the realm of the ordinary.

Ordinary water, ordinary baby, ordinary parents, ordinary church.  But at the same time, all extraordinary.  For “the water is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.”  The baby is a child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and bearing the sign of the cross upon her head and heart.  The parents are two who have been made into one flesh, bearers of a new soul, and given the godly calling of father and mother.  The church is a collection of sinner-saints who gather around an altar, a font, and a pulpit – holy places where sins are forgiven and the dead are raised.  

And, dear friends, our sins are forgiven and the dead are raised by our Lord Jesus Christ, the very reason the entire world is now awash in lights and carols and the joy that cannot be contained within the Christ and within His Church.  

Our wait for the Messiah to be born is over.  And now things are changing rapidly.

In our own day and age, we are indeed seeing great changes, as evil is on the rise and the church is under attack – both here and around the world.  In our grandparents’ day, being a Christian was an honor, whereas today, it is seen by the world as a curse.  Ella will be accused of being a bigot.  She will be laughed at for believing the words of Scripture.  She will be derided if she has children of her own and brings them to the baptismal font decades from now.  And this is why, Chase and Caili, your job as her parents is crucial.  You will teach her that this day is, for her, sacred and life-giving.  For you were right to seek Ella’s baptism.  Just as any parents would seek a cure if their beloved child were suffering from a deadly disease.  You brought her to the waters of holy baptism, by which our Lord Jesus Christ cures her of the curse of sin, and has given her everlasting life as a free gift.  And now your job is to keep Ella in the faith – the faith that to which you committed her by renouncing the devil, his works, and his ways.  You will teach her by your words and your deeds.  You will teach her right from wrong, good from evil, and to hold fast to Christ and to her baptism.

For resisting evil is what we all must do.  Even when it hurts.  Even when it costs.  Even when it seems we are fighting alone.

We aren’t fighting alone, dear brothers and sisters.  We are the church, the assembly of those whom Christ has redeemed by His blood.  We come here to find strength in numbers, to look at that baptismal font and remember our own baptisms, to hear the proclamation of the Good News issuing forth from this pulpit, and to commune in the true body and blood of Jesus at the altar, that our faith may be strengthened unto eternal life.  For just as the birth of the baby is only the start – the child must be fed and nurtured and loved and sheltered and educated – so too must the child be fed and nurtured on the Word of God, loved by God’s people who gather as a flock around her Shepherd, sheltered by the safety of being redeemed by Christ, and educated: taught the faith that was given to Ella by grace on this day, December 23, in the year of our Lord Twenty Eighteen.  

Chase and Caili waited a long time for Ella to be born, but like all children, she was born suddenly, and like all Christians, she was born again suddenly: three splashes and a single sentence, and it was all over.  And yet, embedded in those words of Jesus, the Word of God Made Flesh, is the same almighty power that brought about the creation of the universe.

As we wait for the coming of Christmas, we call to mind that we also await the return of our Lord.  We wait for eternity to begin, for it can begin for any one of us, or for all of us, in the blink of an eye.  And we are ready, dear friends, for just as we have renounced the devil, Jesus has defeated the devil.  Just as water was poured upon us to cleanse our hearts, water from the spear gushed from the heart of our Lord at His victorious death in destroying the devil, his works, and his ways at the cross.  We make the sign of the cross as a victorious reminder of our baptism.

And as we await His coming, which will be just as inevitable and unstoppable as a child coming into the world, let us remember that God took human form, the form of a newborn baby, born into this broken, fallen world, was baptized for us, died for us, rose again for us, and gives to us everlasting life through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, as the most miraculous and wondrous thing is within the realm of the ordinary.  

For there is a pattern in life of waiting for a long time, and then one day, out of the blue, ready or not – everything changes.  We wait for our Lord in joyful anticipation, in hope, always rejoicing, always bearing the sign of the cross and the unfurled banner that proclaims before God, man, angels, and demons: “I am baptized” here in time, and there in eternity.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Society of You-Know-Who?

Imagine a religious order named after our Lord Jesus Christ being ashamed to say "Merry Christmas." 

Imagine this order within Roman Catholicism blandly and cowardly referring to Christmas, the incarnation of our Blessed Lord, as merely a celebration of "connection and togetherness" and that we should use this time to "reflect on the power of coming together" (without ever mentioning Christ).  Imagine a popular and well-respected member of this order scandalizing the faithful by openly calling for the recognition of same-sex "marriage" in open rebellion against canon law and the Holy Scriptures.  Imagine hundreds of members of this order being discovered to be sexual deviants and pederasts, with hundreds more covering for them for decades.  Imagine a university run by this order including a line immediately under a person's email signature line to indicate one's preferred "Pronouns." 

Imagine the chaos in the Roman Catholic Church if a member of this order ever became pope.

Well, we don't have to imagine.

Maybe this order should change its motto from AMDG (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam - for the greater glory of God) to RBL in honor of Churchill's apocryphal quip about the Royal Navy.

Clearly this order, the Jesuits, that is, the Society of Jesus (S.J.) is ashamed of Jesus.  And I surmise that Jesus is terribly ashamed of them too.  Maybe they could use a new name for their (dis)order, maybe something with the initials S.S.

I used to respect the Jesuits as scholars.  But now I think they are intellectual and spiritual frauds: just a bunch of sad, pathetic, dirty old lechers looking for young men to take advantage of.  They make me sick.  They are unworthy of the name that is above every name.

I have a class ring from Walsh Jesuit High School.  I don't think I ever want to wear it again.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sermon: Gaudete (Advent 3) - 2018

16 December 2018
Text: Matt 11:2-10 (Isa 40:1-11, 1 Cor 4:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

This third Sunday in Advent is named “Gaudete” – which is Latin for “rejoice.”  It reads like a command, like something God is ordering you to do: “Gaudete!  Rejoice!”  But rejoicing isn’t something you can do under compulsion, dear friends.  Rejoicing is a response to something that causes joy.  And so when our Lord calls upon us to rejoice, it’s not an imperious  command, but rather a gracious invitation!  “Let us rejoice!” we might say in English.

And we are indeed invited because the Lord has opened the door and He bids us to enter: enter the kingdom of heaven, enter the place prepared for you before the foundation of the world, enter into a place of shelter and celebration and perfection and peace and joy.

And we have all the more reason to rejoice, dear friends, because without God’s invitation, we are without hope, lost in our sins, condemned to death, and stuck in a trap of decay and dysfunction.  But in the midst of the gloom shines a light.  The door to our prison opens suddenly, our chains are struck from our wrists and ankles, and we are brought into the palace to feast with the king.

And this is a great mystery, because we still live here in space and time in a broken world and in our sinful flesh.  We struggle with broken families, with temptations, with disappointments, with lack of money, with aches and pains and health crises, with the deaths of loved ones and with our own mortality.  John the Baptist suffered greatly in Herod’s prison cell, because it seemed that his triumphant preaching of the kingdom, of Jesus, and the call to repent, was all in vain.  For John literally sat shackled in a dark prison, while the evil, unrepentant king, the pretender to the Messiah’s throne – rejoiced in the palace.  

And so we also might be tempted to wonder: is it true at all?  Are we just fooling ourselves?  Is Jesus the one to come, or “shall we look for another?”  The imprisoned John sent his disciples to Jesus to put that very question to Him.  

Our Lord does not scold them or John for asking the question.  Rather, He brings them comfort.  He brings them good news.  He gives them reason to rejoice.

“Go and tell,” He invites, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

John the Baptist knew the Word of God, and he himself was sent to direct Israel to the living Word in the person of his cousin Jesus.  John the Baptist knew the prophets, and he was himself the last prophet.  John the Baptist knew the invitation from Isaiah that was given to him to: “Comfort, comfort My people… and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”  For John knew that he was that voice: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God…. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’”

Our Lord Jesus Christ calls John the Baptist “a prophet” and indeed “more than a prophet.”  John is the messenger, the prophet foretold by the prophets, “of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’”  Our Lord knows who John is, and John knows who Jesus is.

John knew that the Messiah, the Christ, would indeed give sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf; He would indeed make the lame walk, the dead live, and preach good news to the poor, miserable sinner: good news of redemption and life.  And as our Lord points out to John’s disciples, this is exactly what Jesus does.  The kingdom has come upon the earth just as the prophets of old, and the last of the prophets, have spoken.

For like all the prophets, like the apostles, and like all of the Lord’s servants to come until the Lord returns, John has been tasked to speak comfort to the people of God, to be a servant of Christ, and a “steward of the mysteries of God.” 

And even with this prophetic knowledge and this revelation of the Word, John asks Jesus, “Are you the one?” and Jesus answers:  “Go and tell.”  Our Lord speaks comfort to John, preaching to the preacher, prophesying to the prophet, and inviting him into the real palace of the real King, unshackling him from sin, death, and the devil, and even honoring him for his prophetic voice: “Among those born of women,” says our Lord, “there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”

For indeed, dear friends, indeed, dear brothers and sisters, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  This is why we “rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I will say, Rejoice.”

This is how Christians have been able to rejoice in dire circumstances: in prison, in the arena, at the stake, scorned and hated, marginalized, and tortured, and put to death.  This is how John could rejoice even in prison, for even there, he heard “about the deeds of Christ.”  And the Word of Christ brought him comfort and joy, for John knew the hope of life, eternal life, life that nothing and no-one could take from him – not even the wicked king Herod, not even the sword, not even death itself.

For no matter what happens in this fallen world, our Lord Jesus Christ is the king and He has triumphed over sin, death, and the devil.  And “He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom.”

So, dear friends, let us rejoice!  Let us receive our Lord’s gracious invitation!  Gaudete!  Rejoice!  Even unto eternity.  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Sermon: Populus Zion (Advent 2) - 2018

9 December 2018

Text: Luke 21:25-36 (Mal 4:1-6, Rom 15:4-13)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The great writer C.S. Lewis, who famously converted from Atheism to Christianity, wrote, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy.  I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.  If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”  

So here we are in the time of year of Santa and toy trains and trees and gift exchanges, of caroling and parties and beautiful lights – and I am duty bound to preach to you the words of Jesus that begin: “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity.”  Fear.  Foreboding.  The powers of the heavens being shaken.

I do hear a lot of people argue that it doesn’t matter what religion you follow, as long as it brings you comfort.

But, dear friends, we aren’t Christians because it’s comfortable.  We are Christians because it’s true.  Our Lord Jesus Christ was accurately foretold by the prophets of old: by Moses, by King David, by Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and by the prophet Malachi, who prophesied similar words as our Lord Jesus, about a coming time, “burning like an oven” in which the wicked will be judged.  

Our Lord Jesus Christ was testified to by the apostles, all of whom but one died for the faith rather than renounce their Lord, His miracles, His life, His death, His resurrection, and His blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.  Even the enemies of Christianity wrote of the monumental events of that first Good Friday and that first Easter Sunday, being perplexed by the empty tomb and the tenacity of those first Christians.  

We are Christians because it is factually and historically true.  And the Christmas story is not a story: it is a historic fact that the virgin Mary, as foretold by Scripture, miraculously became pregnant with the Son of God, who broke into our world to destroy death.  We celebrate that unique birth every year.

It is also a fact that death is part of the unpleasant reality of our world.  And, the decay of our culture and the uncertainty around the planet is part of what our Lord is warning us about.  He isn’t telling us this stuff about the signs in the sky and the fear of mankind as part of a horror story or as a form of thrilling entertainment.

He is telling us this because it is true.  He is telling us this because we need to know it.  He is telling us this so that we will be informed.

We don’t know when He will return, but we know that He will.  And just as we know that “summer is already near” by the way trees sprout leaves and the way flowers come out, we can look at the signs in the heavens and on the earth and we can “know that the kingdom of God is near.”

For the point of these signs is not to frighten us, but to steel our resolve.  Like the five wise virgins in the last Gospel of the church year, we need to be ready; we need to be wise; we need to be vigilant – and not just go with the flow of the world.  

For at our baptisms, we were asked if we renounced the devil and his works and his ways.  That means that we renounce the wickedness of the world.  That means that we Christians are different.  We are countercultural.  We are not seeking after our own pleasure above all.  We are to serve the Lord and our neighbor.  And if we aren’t, well, now is a good time to correct that.  Our season of Advent is a time of repentance.

Look around, dear friends.  Don’t you see the leaves on the trees?  I don’t mean that literally, but don’t you see the signs of the times?  There is a worldwide movement to crush the Christian Church, to redefine marriage, to criminalize repeating the words of Scripture.  There is a renewed hatred of life.  There is a resurgence of Islam.  Even Socialism is making inroads in our very own country.  Globalization and technology have brought these images to our phones and our computers.  We see the conflict and the tyranny that is targeting the Church. 

And so Jesus tells us to have courage.  This is no time for handwringing, but rather to pray with King David, “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.”  The Lord trains our fingers to come together in prayer, to flip through the pages of Scripture, to point others to the cross, to type the word of God into cyberspace.  

And our Lord tells us to “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

And this, dear friends, is the comfort that Christ offers, the call for the preacher to “Comfort, comfort My people” as the Lord spoke of the coming of Jesus to Isaiah.  But it only comforts us because it is true.  Our Lord brings us comfort because He has warned us and He has won the battle for us.  Christianity will be comfortable in eternity, but as Dr. Lewis pointed out, in this life, if you want nothing more than physical comfort, a bottle of wine might do a better job.  But if you want to know the truth, the discomfort of our Lord’s words is worth it.  

For no matter how much our governments, our schools, our entertainment industry, our sports figures, our celebrities, our universities, our neighbors, and even in some cases, our churches – all conspire to silence God’s Word, listen to what our Lord, the Word made flesh, promises us: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”

People may not like this side of Jesus (who more closely resembles the angry Jesus cracking the whip against the moneychangers than He does the happy Jesus of the little statues of playing soccer with children), but Jesus has not come into our world make us wallflowers, but rather to make us warriors.  We are the church militant, not the church comfortable.

But once again, dear friends, after the warfare comes the reward: the armistice, the triumph, the peace, the spoils of victory.  And for us Christians, that means victory over sin, death, and the devil.  It means the triumph of the cross, the “It is finished!” the return of the Lord in power and might to destroy the devil and to restore our bodies and minds to perfection.  It means eternal life.

And so we wait for His return, but not passively.  We wait vigilantly, expectantly, and militantly.  We take to heart our Lord’s warning not to be caught unawares, “weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”  Our Lord is warning us, once again, not out of morbid entertainment, but as preparation and encouragement, to ready us for battle.  

Ultimately, the comfort that people seek by running from Christianity (and toward things like bottles and sexuality and drugs and consumerism), the true and abiding comfort, will come to us Christians when our Lord returns, when Satan is cast into the Lake of Fire, when our bodies are raised from the dead, and when the heavens and the earth are made anew.  We will then have our comfort that will never end. 

This is why our Lord tells us in the meantime to “straighten up and raise [our] heads.”  St. Paul understands what it means to be militant in a war that was already won by our Lord at the cross.  This is Christian hope: having the knowledge of victory even when we do not know the date nor the hour.

This is why St. Paul reminds us: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope,” and the Apostle blesses us: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”  Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Sermon: Funeral of Claire Bealer - 2018

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7 December 2018

Text: Luke 2:25-32 (Isa 43:1-3a, Rom 5:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Charles and Brenda, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests: peace be with you.

It was my honor to give pastoral care to our beloved Claire for thirteen years – bringing her the Word of God: the Good News of Jesus Christ, as well as the body and blood of the Lord – both in the church building, and at her home.  And all pastors know about those certain people that you visit, and when you leave, you wonder who was providing care to whom.  

Visiting Claire was like that.

We know that the Christian life, like old age, is not for sissies.  When Christ calls us to follow Him, He bids us to take up our cross.  That is what it means to follow Jesus: we follow Him to the cross, to the tomb, and to the resurrection.  That is our journey; that is Claire’s journey; that is the journey of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Claire’s life on this side of the grave was marked by bearing many crosses – which she carried by God’s grace.  She suffered many things in her life, but like Jesus, she turned her face resolutely toward Jerusalem.  She lived with purpose and trust in the Lord.  I was always struck by her contentment.  Her faith served as a saintly example to me, as we servants of the Word also bear our share of crosses.  Thanks be to God for Claire’s discipleship of our Lord.

For we are all sinners living in a sinful and broken world.  We all stand in need of a Savior.  And Claire’s greatest strength was that in her weakness, her trust was in the Lord to carry her through.  And He did!

The prophet Isaiah spoke to us anew just now, uttering the promise of God that I often read to Claire: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned…. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

This promise is for Claire, for me, and for you, dear friends, for all who have been called by name, as Claire was on May 3, 1931.  She was born again of water and the Spirit two weeks into her life on this side of glory.  According to the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, Claire was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and that divine name was placed on her, and her name was written in the Book of Life.  As Claire memorized the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ in Mark 16, let us hear it now in this place while she is with Him: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”  

And as St. Paul also spoke to us anew, let us remember: “We were therefore buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

The Lord said then, and says now, to His servant Claire: “I have called you by name, you are Mine.”

And this explains Claire’s peace in Christ: “Since we have been justified by faith,” says the apostle Paul, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This is how we Christians can “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”  

Claire’s hope was not merely for her soul to “go to heaven” when she died.  This is not what God promises us.  He promises so much more!  For our hope as Christians is in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” as we confessed in the Creed.  For “just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too might walk in newness of life.… we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

Jesus walked out of His own tomb in victory, and so will Claire, dear friends!

Unbelievers try to derive comfort from the fading memories of their loved ones, or maybe in some kind imagination of a ghostly, spiritual afterlife.  But we Christians have the ironclad promise of the risen Lord Jesus Christ that we too will walk out of our tombs, and we will live forever in a restored flesh, a glorified body: without sin, without suffering, and without death, just as we were created to be in the Garden of Eden.  This restoration of paradise is why our Lord shed His blood on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, as the final victory over death, and the ultimate triumph over the devil!  That, dear friends, is the promise given to Claire, the promise that she confessed and clung to, the promise that we will all be reunited in the flesh in glory!

Every time I visited Claire, I brought her the Lord’s body and blood.  And just as we do in church, after receiving Holy Communion, we would speak or sings together Simeon’s Song – even as we will speak it together again in this service.  St. Simeon was elderly.  He was a believer in the promises of the Lord.  He was waiting to encounter “the Lord’s Christ.”  In fact, “it had been revealed to Him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until” this physical encounter with Jesus.  And when it happened, when Simeon experienced the baby Jesus in His very flesh and blood, he rejoiced, he “blessed God” with these words that were Claire’s words and are our words: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”

St. Simeon was prepared, he was ready to “depart in peace” according to the Word of God.  His eyes witnessed salvation.  He experienced the flesh and blood of Jesus in his own body, and now, death was not a defeat, but rather a victory.  For Jesus has come to destroy death, and to turn the grave into a temporary resting place for those who believe and are baptized, to those called by name, to those who place their trust in Jesus and call upon the name of the Lord, to those who eat His body and drink His blood, to those who hear the Good News and take it to heart.

Like the elderly servant of the Lord, St. Simeon, who was prepared to “depart in peace,” so too was Claire.  She was ready and prepared to be called home.  Claire loved her life that the Lord gave her, and she loved being with her family and loved ones, but she said many times that when the Lord was ready for her, she was ready to go.  She knew this because she knew the Scriptures, she knows her Lord Jesus, and she sang with all of us: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.”

She has departed in peace, dear friends.  She has departed to be with the Lord Jesus Christ and to await the resurrection and the new heaven and new earth.  She waits in glory, in peace, in joy.  And we wait, still on this side of the grave, still in this broken world, in sorrow because we miss her, grieving, yet not like the unbelievers, but as a people of hope: hope of the glorious “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  And having experienced our Lord Jesus Christ, being called by name by Him, and in faith in His promises, having met Him in the flesh, we too are bold to pray: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word.”  Amen.

Peace be with you.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Sermon: Ad Te Levavi (Advent 1) - 2018

2 December 2018

Text: Matt 21:1-9 (Jer 23:5-8, Rom 13:8-14)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Jesus is drawing near to Jerusalem. 

But this advent, this coming, this arrival, is different than the previous times when our Lord came to the Holy City.  This time, He is not on foot, but rather on a donkey.  And the crowds understand the symbolism.  This is the entrance of a king, but not just any king.  For the last such royal entrance into David’s Royal City was a thousand years earlier when David’s son Solomon rode in, similarly “humble and mounted on a donkey,” actually the donkey of his father David.  It was a statement that Solomon was humbly acting as his father David’s son, but at the same time, it was David’s donkey.  He was asserting his rightful place on the throne in the face of the claims of others.  This was not a statement of his own personal greatness, but rather his greatness because he is David’s son, the rightful heir.

And although this was happening a thousand years after Solomon’s anointing, the crowds knew what was happening.  They were seeing David’s Son riding in to take the throne as the Anointed One, the Christ.  So what did this mean?  Was Jesus going to overthrow the impostor puppet King Herod?  Was he going to expel the hated Roman occupation governor Pontius Pilate?  Was he going to raise a mighty army and restore the independence of Israel?

Of course, the kingdom of Jesus was none of these things, and many would be disappointed.  And just as this crowd “spread their cloaks on the road” and waved branches as a royal welcome, in five days, the crowds would be yelling “crucify” and Jesus would be in the custody of Pilate, have a hearing before Herod, and the only mighty military presence would be Caesar’s execution team carrying out Jesus’ crucifixion.  

But on the top of this cross was to be a confession of sorts – written by Pilate, and offensive and scandalous to the Jewish church and state, saying officially: “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.”

For Jesus had testified before Pilate (who actually found Him innocent, acting as judge, but ordered Him executed, acting as politician): “My kingdom is not of this world.”  Pilate himself seems to understand that Jesus is truly a king, and yet does not seem to understand the full meaning of this kingdom.

The meaning of this kingdom, and the reign of this King, this Son of David, is found in a single word that the crowds cried out to Jesus on that Palm Sunday advent into Jerusalem: “Hosanna!”  What does “Hosanna” mean?  There are other Hebrew words that we use often in English, like “Hallelujah,” which means, “Praise the Lord,” or “Amen,” which means “May it be so!”  But we don’t say this word “Hosanna” in our day to day life, although we do sing it during the Divine Service every week, when we sing the very same song sung by the people of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”

“Hosanna” is a praise, but it has a specific meaning: “Save us, we pray!”  It is a cry for help.  It is like the desperate shout of a person who is drowning, or trapped in a burning building.  And this word is the same in every language.  You can attend a Christian liturgy anywhere on the globe, and you will hear this same word “Hosanna” being said or sung as part of the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper.  That, dear friends, is the kingdom of Jesus, the Son of David, the Son of God.  It is not of this world, as it transcends every border, both in space and in time.  “Hosanna” is our prayer, and Jesus is the answer to that prayer.  Like the Israelites, of old we are asking for a King, but our prayer “Hosanna” is fulfilled not by a wicked king who taxes us and conscripts our children, but rather a divine King who saves us: from sin, from death, and from the devil.

Our Savior King comes to us “humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” – the Son of David, the Son of God, the only one who can answer our cries of “Hosanna.”  Our Savior King comes us humiliated and mounted on a cross, suffering and bleeding as a sacrifice to pay the price of our sins, a King who dies for His people in order to save us.  Our Savior King comes to us, humble and in the forms of bread and wine that are truly His body and blood, given to us to eat and drink into our bodies to restore us to perfect life.  Our Savior King is coming again, in a second Advent, but this advent, this coming, this arrival, will be different than the previous times, for there will be no humility or humiliation, but rather victory and vindication.

Pontius Pilate was right: Jesus is a King.  The crowds were right: Jesus is the Savior.  We are right in recognizing that we need to be rescued, and joining in the cry of the millennia: “Hosanna!  Save us, we pray you!  Hosanna in the highest!”

Our Palm Sunday prayer of Hosanna was answered by our Lord’s Good Friday cry of “It is finished!”  And just as Easter was a glorious and victorious resurrection, so too will be the Lord’s return.  For it will be our glorious and victorious resurrection, made possible, and made inevitable, by that “It is finished!” as Jesus bled and died at the cross.  

And while we yet live in the flesh, in the world, and in militancy against the devil, we continue to pray “Hosanna.”  We continue to cry out to our Savior King.  We continue to pray and sing “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest” just before the ongoing Advent of the Eucharist.  We continue to wait – even as did the children of Israel, waiting under occupation, waiting in the midst of corruption, waiting surrounded by violence, waiting expectantly and joyfully for the coming, the Second Advent, of our King.  

For “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”  We have begun a new church year, and we approach a new calendar year, Anno Domini, a new year of our Lord and King.  We are another year closer to our victory and vindication.  We reflect on the cross, the blood shed by our Lord for our sins and for our forgiveness; we remember our baptism; we resist the trials and temptations of the devil; we gather around the Holy Word; we gratefully receive the words of Absolution from our Lord as the answer to our “Hosanna,” – and we join with our brothers and sisters, week in and week out, both here in this parish and around the world. 

We wait for His Advent, waiting for our King, waiting for the end of our trials and tribulations in this fallen world with our faces turned toward the New Jerusalem, the new world, the new heaven, the new life that will never end!

Let us pray our Hosannas fervently, hopefully, and faithfully!  Let us pray our Hosannas joyfully and victoriously!  Let us pray our Hosannas in expectation! 

For Jesus is drawing near to Jerusalem.


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.