1st Sunday in Advent – B LSB #350
Text – Mark 11:9-10
Those who went ahead & those who followed shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Hosanna is not exactly a common, every day word. It isn’t now, & it wasn’t when I was growing up. Back then, I didn’t know what the word meant & no one had explained to me. What I clearly remember thinking is that in church we were singing to Santa Claus. And I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why we were doing that.
In one of the worship services we use here, the congregation still sings what is called the Sanctus. It’s the Latin word for holy. Here are the lyrics. “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power & might: heaven & earth are full of Your glory. Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”
Based on my knowledge at the time, all I could come up with for a meaning to what we were singing was – Ho Santa! Ho Santa! And, like Jesus entering Jerusalem, there’s also a story about Santa coming to town. “Oh! You better watch out, you better not cry…” It’s good I never told that story to any of my seminary professors. They surely would have crucified me.
When it comes to the Church, & its traditions, there’s always a balancing act going on as God’s children seek to be “in” the world, but not “of” the world. Jesus dealt with that struggle as well. While living on earth, He was literally God with us, & yet, to most of the people, most of the time, He did not act like they expected the Messiah to act.
As God with us, even among the people of His hometown, Jesus is required to stand out, to not be “of” the world. The Gospel of Matthew records how Jesus suffers & endures derision & scoffing amongst His own childhood acquaintances:
“When He taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed & said, ‘Where does He get this wisdom & the power to do miracles?’ Then they scoffed, ‘He’s just the carpenter’s son, & we know Mary, His mother, & His brothers – James, Joseph, Simon & Judas. All His sisters live right here among us. Where did He learn all these things?’ And they were deeply offended & refused to believe in Him. Then Jesus told them, ‘A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown & among his own family.’” (13:54b-57 NLT)
One way Jesus was tempted to be “of” the world, occurred way back at the beginning of His ministry: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting 40 days & 40 nights, He was hungry. And the tempter came & said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’” (Matthew 4:1-3 ESV)
Not having eaten for 40 days & 40 nights, who of us, if we had the power to turn stones into bread, would not have done exactly that? But, that was a temptation to be “of” the world.
You’ve heard the saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” That’s another temptation to be “of” the world.
When we tell lies in order not to hurt someone’s feelings, we’re giving in to a temptation to be “of” the world. We don’t have to be a drug kingpin, a corrupt politician, or someone cheating on their husband or wife in order to be “of” the world. There are a million minor little things we do each day that are “of” the world because they are not “of” God.
God is love. Anything we do that is not driven by love for our heavenly Father is technically not from God. How many decisions do we make each day that involve not a single thought concerning what Jesus has done for us & how His love should guide our choices? For a good example, we can think back just four days, to Thanksgiving Eve.
In his Thanksgiving Day proclamation, a year & half before the end of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln wrote this regarding that war, & all the blessings he saw our heavenly Father give our nation even during that war:
“…the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless
remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit & proper that [those blessings] should be solemnly, reverently & gratefully acknowledged as with one heart & one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States… to set apart & observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving & praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
I had to read quite of section of his proclamation to give you the context he was speaking in, but it’s that last part of the sentence I want to emphasize: “…to set apart & observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving & praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
Mr. Lincoln doesn’t say a thing about having a huge meal, or about spending hour after hour shopping & preparing such a dinner. His proclamation meant to emphasize the setting apart & observing a day of thanksgiving & praise to our Father in heaven.
Now, let me ask, how many of you did that? How many of you set any time apart for thanksgiving & praise to our Father in heaven? To be rather blunt, there weren’t very many of you here this past Wednesday evening. Our congregation has well over 300 members. I’m being extremely generous in saying there might have been 45 of us there.
To make that lack of attendance even more dramatic, those who have researched it can’t even agree if President Lincoln was a Christian. Yes, there are all kinds of legitimate reasons why people couldn’t make it. There are also all kinds of excuses that being “of” the world gives you, & being “of” the world makes those excuse sound very noble & sincere.
I have to add, however, that excuses are always sincerely from the devil! I’m not talking about legitimate reasons, I’m talking specifically about excuses & I realize there’s a fine line between the two! But 45 out of 360 members; doesn’t that smell of something other than legitimate reasons not to be in God’s house last Wednesday evening?
The wealthier we become, the more independent we become, & the danger of that is
losing sight of the fact that no human being can ever become independent of our heavenly Father & live. By that I’m using the Bible’s definition of heaven as life & its definition of hell as death. No human being can become independent of God & live.
Can you survive abundance? Can we as American Christians survive the abundance our Lord has given us? That is truly a question for every man, woman & child in our nation today. I remember a guest preacher from some years ago. He made this statement, “The average American pet dog has better nutrition & health care than 75% of the world’s population.”
Will you survive abundance? The answer to that question will finally be known on Judgment Day, for all the world to see. St. Paul well knows the gravity of it thus he writes to the church at Philippi: “I know how to be brought low, & I know how to abound. In any & every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty & hunger, abundance & need.”
What is the secret Paul has learned? It should be a question that consumes our thoughts at Thanksgiving. Instead, most Americans focus their time & energy on consuming a meal.
Stuffing our belly full of food has become the manner in which we express our thanks, while rarely anymore do most of us thank our heavenly Father in prayer before any meal, let alone before every single meal.
The secret Paul had learned was to give thanks to the heavenly Father. The church at Philippi had sent Paul a gift of money to strengthen & encourage him, as well as to supply his needs. The entire letter to the Philippians was to thank them for that gift.
Maybe the fact that Paul was in prison enabled him to write an entire letter that literally overflows with joy & thanksgiving, quite unlike our lives today. Are we surviving our abundance? Isaiah wrote of God in the OT reading, “Behold, You were angry, & we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, & shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, & all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, & our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon Your name, who rouses himself to take hold of You…” (Isaiah 64:5b-7a) Was Isaiah writing to the people of St. Matthew Lutheran Church? It certainly sounds like he was!
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” Have our thoughts, words & deeds of the past week been consistent with members of the kingdom of our father David? Or, have they been more consistent with people who are members “of” the world rather than merely in it?
Have the devil’s lie & excuses become so common to our ears that they now seem like legitimate reasons for ignoring our Savior’s call to repent & turn back to Him? Has our day of thanksgiving become just another self-centered holiday for taking care of ourselves, instead of allowing our Lord to care for us, & to bless us?
As He entered Jerusalem, the people of Jesus’ day were shouting greetings to the coming Messiah, yet it was likely the same crowd shouting, “Crucify him,” four & five days later! They didn’t understand how real this coming of their Messiah was. Not long before Jesus had fed the 5000 & then He raised Lazarus from the dead.
The crowds wanted a Messiah to reestablish an earthly kingdom of power & might. They wanted a feast like our American thanksgiving provided free of charge by their king. Instead, the very Son of God came in weakness & poverty, in hunger & brokenness, weary to the point of death from carrying our sins. Just 5 days later, He hung dead on the cross.
The Messiah’s advent is just as real today, yet just as hidden. He is God with us right now, yet our lives are filled with struggles against sin. At Easter time we say, “Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!” while our thoughts, words & deeds reflect a belief that Jesus is dead. Last Wednesday evening few of our members showed up. Those who did were blessed with God’s Word & presence. Those who chose to be somewhere else received a different type of blessing. Their earthly reward is all they received – extra sleep, time at home, watching a game on TV, working to prepare the next day’s meal.
Today, the 1st Sunday in Advent, we’re already looking forward to Christmas, yet too many of us don’t understand how real that coming is. All the commercialism is blinding us to reality. Like the crowds shouting “Hosanna” will we be left, once Christmas is over, without a clue? Will nothing in your lives have changed by December 26th of this year?
As Holy Scripture says: “Now is the day of salvation,” & the word Hosanna is perfect for our situation. With our indifference to Jesus, with our self-centered nature, with our lack of praise & thanksgiving to God, we need a Savior, & Hosanna means “Save us!” Jesus is blessed as He comes in the name of the Lord, because He is coming to rescue us from our sin.
Yes, He’s still coming in weakness, brokenness & suffering. The unveiling of His kingdom in our hearts becomes plain only in light of coming events, undeniably on the Last Day. Until then, like it was with Jesus, it is in our weakness that we are strong, for then we lean upon Yahweh’s power rather than upon our own. That is the genius & the glory of God’s kingdom.
However, the world loves power & might. It loves the razzle & dazzle of the bright lights, fame & fortune. Thus our Lord calls us to be in the world, but definitely not “of” the world. Jesus knows that fine line between the two is impossible for us to avoid, so He fulfilled that task for us. As we succumb to the temptation to be “of” the world, Jesus erases our sin.
The decisions we make each day, with not a single thought concerning what Jesus has done for us, are made holy in God’s sight, because Christ Jesus has paid the price of our failure. The words, “Hosanna in the highest” are a call for the Lord of heaven to come once again, to rescue me, to rescue you, to rescue whoever will listen. Once again we pray, “Stir up Your power, O Lord, & come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins & saved [Hosanna] by Your mighty deliverance.” God’s children daily live in the joy & the power of that Gospel message. Amen.
Enter now my waiting heart, glorious King & Lord most holy. Dwell in me & ne’er depart, though I am but poor & lowly. Ah, what riches will be mine when Thou art my guest divine! My hosannas & my palms graciously receive, I pray Thee; evermore, as best I can, Savior, I will homage pay Thee, & in faith I will embrace, Lord, Thy merit through Thy grace. Hail! Hosanna, David’s Son! Jesus, hear our supplication! Let Thy kingdom, scepter, crown, bring us blessing & salvation, that forever we may sing: Hail! Hosanna to our King. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet