November 28, 2021 A+D
St. Matthew 21:1-11
NO SERMON AUDIO
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Church enters today into a season of preparation. Contemporaneously, the world has its season of false hope, pretend joy, and over indulgence. Theirs is marked by plastic knick knacks, shiny distractions, and artificial flavors. It is largely driven by a pursuit of profit, but it enrobes itself in the sentiments of pseudo-myths like Rudolph, Frosty, and A Miracle on 34th Street. It should be no surprise then that this is the season in which Americans are most likely to suffer despair, profound loneliness, and dissatisfaction.
Modern man has been fooled into thinking that he is sturdier than his ancestors. We think this because our lifespans are longer. That is due to small advances in biology, food production, and sanitation, not in psychology or theology. If human life lasts longer than it used to, it also suffers more mental illness, more pain, regret, and sorrow. We are far less stable, more delusional, less content, more unhappy, than any civilization that has come before us. The shopping and party season that is now upon us is a frantic effort to cover over the obvious: we are not getting better. In fact, we are dying. We need a Savior.
In contrast to the world’s season, Advent is a season of repentance and self-denial. It is not so much that we are engaged in contrition, as it is that we want to make room for realistic contemplation, to live in real expectation. Our season does not engage in myths, but in history. But none of that history makes much sense or has any real meaning unless we know the promise that God will make Himself a Creature in order to be our Savior, to restore us back to Himself. That history, the only real history, finds its culmination and meaning just outside of Jerusalem, first on the cross and then in the garden from which Jesus arose. So our season begins with Jesus, God made flesh, riding toward that cross, answering the cries of the Church, Hosanna, in His own Body, that we would be delivered from this body of death and all that separates us from Him.
I suspect that our ever weakening mental and physical states have been exacerbated by two overarching realities of the modern world: convenience, which has led to unhealthy softness and idleness, and digital media, which is destroying our cognitive abilities and mental health. Those things are dangerous. We must put measures into place to try to counteract them, things like exercise and careful eating, getting off of Facebook and reading actual books, and ceasing from consumerism and watching the news. But those things are not the real cause of our problem. The real cause is original sin.
It goes all the way back to Eden. Sin and death have entered into the world. The result is entropy. The human genome is aging, mutating, failing. As those who work in the neonatal units know, and contrary to Darwin, mutations are not good. They don’t make us stronger. They make us weaker. We, as a species, are dying. So is the earth. Even the sun is burning itself out. The universe is not eternal.
The necessary response to our current situation, to viruses and inflation and pain, to political machinations and profiteering and broken families, to our guilt and to death, is to cry out Hosanna. That cry was heard before we even made it. It was answered by the Son of God taking up Flesh to make Himself a sacrifice more than equal to the need, a sacrifice to restore men to Himself and restore creation to goodness. He rode into Jerusalem without complaint, but with His eyes wide open. He knew what awaited Him, but He did not flinch. He rode in obedience to His Father, to glorify His Father’s Name, and out of love for us. This is what it took and how God loves the world: He is lifted up from the earth, is forsaken by His Father, and finishes, once for all, what we started. The universe is not eternal, but our souls are. God redeems us that we might live with Him in purity and bliss forever. And in rescuing our souls, He also rescues our bodies which He will raise on the Last Day.
This cry, Hosanna, is absolutely necessary. It is the most rational response to our pain and our world. We must make it, but it is not our only response. There is room for growth, for the training of mind, body, and spirit. If there wasn’t, why would we bother with a school? And why would we have a season to prepare to celebrate Christmas? This doesn’t mean that we can overcome death and mental illness with discipline or a classical education. It is simply that we desire, even now in our last hours, to live as men being restored to the image of God by grace and giving Him the glory.
This is not pollyannaish nor is it superstitious or legalistic. It is the Word of God. We know that it is true. God’s mercy does endure forever. Our King has come to us, answered for our sins, and then risen from the dead. And He still comes to us. He is present in Word and Sacrament, not simply to forgive our sins for the future, but also to comfort us here, to strengthen our faith, to redeem the time, to guide us in His way. He is present in the Church, with His people, with us, in this congregation.
And there is a great mercy among us right now, a sign that there is hope for the future, that God is active. We have all noticed and rejoiced over it, but it should be named. Our prayer includes the names of eleven pregnant ladies and another deep into the process of adopting twins. A few of them don’t live here, and a few are not technically members, but we will likely baptize ten babies in the next 6 months. 10 babies in the next 6 months! Seven of those babies will likely be raised right here. I hope they all enroll in our school.
Even though babies require work and consume valuable resources, we would gladly receive more babies. We love babies. Part of why we love them is because there is no greater sign of life than a baby. There is no miracle more essential to God’s nature and promise, nothing greater in all the world than a baby. Some of us are too old and frail to have any more babies or we were never allowed to have babies in the first place, but He continues to bless us as a community, as His Church, with and by life. In this, the Lord shows us His ways: He is the God of the living.
The days ahead will be hard, but it is coming to an end. We have a Savior. We are not alone. We will not face our sins. We are forgiven. We will not die, but we will live and we will rise. In the meantime, He gives us babies. He gives us Christmas. He gives us His Body and Blood. He gives us a promise. These are the answers to despair, loneliness, and fear. Let us lift up our souls, trust in God, and cry out with confidence and joy: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest!”
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.