Sunday, September 28, 2014
Homily for The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (observed)
Matthew 18:1-11; Revelation 12:7-12; Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It’s no coincidence that the Gospel appointed for The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels is the account of Jesus’ disciples vying for greatness in the Lord’s kingdom. Indeed, a similar struggle for greatness occurred long, long ago, shortly after the LORD’s creation of heaven and earth, the account of which struggle and the victory of St. Michael the Archangel over Satan and his fallen angels being the focus of this festival day.
One of the LORD’s holy angels, Lucifer, whom Isaiah calls the “Day Star” and “son of the dawn,” and Ezekiel “a guardian cherub,” fell from holiness and grace because of his great pride, desiring to be “like the Most High,” that is, like the LORD Himself. Lucifer was a “signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” and a “guardian cherub” “in Eden, the garden of the LORD.” He was “blameless in [his] ways from the day [he was] created, till unrighteousness was found in [him].” That unrighteousness was pride, which bred discontent, jealousy, anger, and ultimately hatred and murder.
Because of his pride, Lucifer became a profane thing. He literally fell from holiness and grace. Therefore the LORD necessarily cast him from His presence, for the unholy cannot abide in the presence of Him who is holy and holiness. Cast out and away from the LORD’s presence, Lucifer gnashed his teeth against the LORD – against His holiness and His righteousness, and against His just judgment. Lucifer knew that he had no one to blame but himself. Therefore he hates himself, and He hates the LORD, but, most of all, he hates you Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, because the LORD loves you and has created you to be the very crown of His creation, all that He has made, giving your dominion over all of creation, all plants and animals, the earth, moon, sun, and stars, and even over the heavenly angels themselves who serve the LORD and who guard and protect you whom the LORD loves with boundless love.
Thus Lucifer, now Satan, the Enemy, and the Devil, the Accuser, knowing that he could not attack and defeat the LORD, set about to attack, defeat, and defile his beloved creation, Adam and Eve, and you their children. Satan hates you because he hates the LORD and he hates himself. He hates his sorry, miserable, and irreversible condition, which he knows is his own damn fault. Therefore, he has set himself against the LORD and against you, and he exists only and always to take down as many of you with him as he possibly can.
And, that’s why he tempted our First Parents. Though he came in the disguise of one of the LORD’s creatures, a serpent, and though he talked smoothly and convinced them that he had their best interests at heart, that they become wise and like the LORD Himself, Satan was motivated by hatred and he used lies and deceptions to appeal to their pride so that they would fall just as he did. And it worked. And it still works.
“Did God really say?” he asked. The question seems innocuous, doesn’t it? But it’s not. For, that question necessitates that the Word of the LORD be subjected to another’s criticism and judgment, a supposedly higher standard and rule, man’s reason, intellect, wisdom, and will. For, to evaluate “Did God really say?” is to judge the veracity, the goodness, the justice of the LORD’s Word and will by the reason, intellect, wisdom, and will of man. This is the creature evaluating and judging the Creator. This is an act of insurmountable pride. This is to make oneself to be god. And, that is impossible, for only the LORD is God who is before all things and the source, Creator, and sustainer of all things. The LORD alone is good, the very standard, measure, and rule of goodness. And the LORD alone is just, the very standard, measure, and rule of justice. Other people, other things, other words, other thoughts, and other deeds are judged by the LORD, not the other way around. Other people, other things, other words, other thoughts, and other deeds are good or evil, just or unjust, truth or lies in comparison and in relation to the LORD’s Word and will.
Revelation twelve describes a great war in heaven between St. Michael and the LORD’s angels and the Dragon, that is Satan, and his fallen angels. St. Michael was victorious and Satan was defeated and was thrown down to the earth along with his demons. Now, inevitably, people want to ask, “When did this great war happen?” And, you will hear many answers to that question. Some will say that this happened shortly after creation, but before the temptation in the Garden. Others will say that this happened at Christ’s crucifixion and death upon the cross. Others still will say that this is happening now, or is yet to happen. My dear children in Christ, I say to you simply, “Yes.” I think the most responsible answer that can be deduced from the Scriptures is that what John was given to see in the Revelation was from the perspective of the LORD Himself who is not bound by time, who sees all things at the same time. Certainly Lucifer’s rebellion and fall occurred prior to his tempting of our First Parents. And, clearly Satan has been at work tempting and deceiving the LORD’s people throughout the time of the Old Testament. Yet, there is no doubt that Satan was truly defeated when our Lord Jesus Christ died upon the cross. Yet, still Satan prowls this earth like a roaring lion seeking to devour, and the faithful are sealed in Holy Baptism that they may resist Satan’s temptations by the Word of the LORD and by prayer. Indeed, Satan will finally be imprisoned in hell for eternity when our victorious Lord returns in power and glory on the Last Day. Therefore, the great war in heaven described in Revelation twelve is an overarching narrative of the LORD’s victory over Satan in Jesus Christ, a victory ascribed to St. Michael the Archangel whose name means “Who is like God?”
The point is that, though Satan still rages and deceives and leads many astray, he is already conquered and defeated. The LORD God through His Son Jesus Christ has defeated Satan and his demonic angels. Satan no longer has an audience before the LORD by which he may accuse you. Indeed, you “have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb” of God, Jesus Christ. Through Holy Baptism and faith, the gifts of the LORD’s grace in Jesus Christ, you have been sealed and assured that the Lord will be with you always and will never leave you or forsake you. This is His promise to you, His Word that cannot be broken. His promise is not dependent upon your faith, be it strong or weak. His promise is not dependent upon your piety, be it high or low. His promise is not dependent upon your good works, be they many or few. His promise is not dependent upon your church attendance, your knowledge of the Bible, the quality of your marriage, the obedience and faith of your children, or anything else but the promise of Jesus Christ, the Word of the LORD made flesh. All that is required of you is faith, that is trust, which is itself the gift of the Lord by the Holy Spirit. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. He who confesses Jesus before men will Jesus also confess before His Father in heaven.
Do not fear the devil. But, do not be naïve about him and his ways either. He is very real and he is very present. His angels are about you all the time, just as the LORD’s angels are about you all the time. They are even here, in this holy sanctuary, right now trying to disrupt the proclamation and the reception of the LORD’s Word and Sacraments. They are in your homes, always working to set husband against wife, and children against their parents and each other. They are very real and they are very present. But, do not fear them, and do not fear him. His only weapons are lies and deceptions. That is why you must hear, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of the LORD. For, by making the Word of the LORD your steady diet, you will be strong in faith and in knowledge of the Word to identify and to resist the devil’s temptations when they come. Moreover, pray. Pray for the Lord’s protection, pray for the strengthening of your faith, and pray for deliverance from the Evil One. For, the LORD has promised that His holy angels will “guard you in all your ways.” Thus, Dr. Luther teaches you to pray in the morning and in the evening, “Let Your holy angel be with me that the Evil Foe may have no power over me.” Likewise, Jesus taught His disciples, and He teaches you, that whoever humbles himself like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And, Jesus continues, “I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
And, here we come full circle. Lucifer’s fall was the result of his pride, which bred discontent, jealousy, anger, and ultimately hatred and murder. Humility is the very opposite of pride. Jesus teaches that the humble, the poor in spirit, the selfless and the lowly are great in the kingdom of heaven and that their angels behold the face of God. This is because the humble are open to the LORD’s will and His Word. The humble do not place their own reason and intellect, wisdom, and will over and above the will and the Word of the LORD. The humble do not make themselves out to be gods, or god, but they submit themselves to the LORD, and they acknowledge and confess Him to be the only true, holy, and righteous God.
And so, there is a promise and there is a warning. The promise is that the humble will receive the kingdom and will be guarded and protected by the LORD’s holy angels. However, the warning is that you must beware of haughtiness, arrogance, and pride. These were the cause of Lucifer’s fall, and these are the chief temptations Satan used against our First Parents, and continues to use against you their children. Moreover, beware of looking down on those you think to have weak faith, or a compromised confession, or less than pious lives. Beware of looking down on the little children who in simple faith believe much easier and trust more completely. Beware of looking down on others at all, and worse, of leading others astray by your own words and deeds. As the Proverb says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
But, now, let us join the LORD’s holy angels in glorifying and praising the LORD as they do continually before His holy throne in heaven. For, in this Holy Eucharist, heaven comes down to earth and we are privileged to receive the Lord’s body and blood and to laud and glorify His holy Name “with angels and archangels,” even St. Michael, “and with all the company of heaven.” This day you will be with Jesus in Paradise, for wherever Jesus is, there is the kingdom of heaven.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.