Sunday, September 30, 2018

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.
“Now there was war in heaven.” Now, there’s a remarkable statement! Do we not typically think of heaven as a serene and peaceful place? And, of course, this statement evokes the question, “When did this war happen?” Well, there is a clear answer to that question if we only consider the passages immediately preceding today’s Epistle: 
“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.”
The woman is the Church of all time and all places, the spiritual Mother of all Christians. The child in the LORD’s Anointed, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, conceived and born of woman for the redemption of humankind. And, the dragon? Well, that is clear enough. He is the devil, Satan, the old evil foe who means us deadly woe. His desire was to destroy the Christ child. But, since he could not do that, he pursues the Church and he pours out his furious rage against Her. Thus, when did the war in heaven occur? It occurred in conjunction with Jesus’ death on the cross and His subsequent resurrection. That was the moment the promised Seed of the Woman crushed the serpent’s head. In Jesus’ death, Satan’s power was destroyed and he and his fallen angels, his demons, were thrown out of heaven by St. Michael and his holy angelic army. St. Michael was simply the enforcer of the judgment upon Satan that occurred when Jesus died and was raised: Satan is guilty and can no longer accuse mankind before God’s presence.
But, woe to the earth and to the sea! For the devil has come down in great wrath, knowing that his time is short. Satan knows that he has been defeated, but in his hatred for God and in his hatred for you, Christ’s Church, whom God loves so dearly that He gave His only Son as a sacrifice to make you holy, through lies and deceptions Satan strives furiously and ceaselessly to lead you away from faith in Christ and life and salvation. Satan knows that he only has a little time before Christ returns and will send him and his demons to hell forever, therefore he is always on the prowl like a roaring lion seeking to devour its prey. Though he is defeated, Satan is still dangerous. In some ways he is more dangerous than ever. As a wounded or rabid beast is more dangerous than a healthy one, so is Satan even more dangerous because of his wrath and fury and hatred, knowing that he has nothing left to lose. Moreover, in a culture like ours today, he doesn’t even have to hide or work in stealth, for we have embraced godless wickedness and labeled it freedom, rights, and tolerance. Thus has it often been said, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince us that he doesn’t exist.”
But, that is a terrible and deadly mistake. It is in vogue today to dismiss traditional Christianity as unenlightened, superstitious, intolerant, bigoted, and worse. Many people like to think that they can dismiss both Christ and the devil and just live their lives, live and let live, and be a good person. They are dead wrong, and if they do not repent and receive the free gift of forgiveness through faith and trust in Christ Jesus, they will join the devil in hell when Christ returns on the Last Day. There is no neutral ground, no gray area, and no fence straddling: You either belong to God in Christ Jesus, or you belong to the devil. Satan could care less if you acknowledge him, believe in him, or worship him; all he wants is for you to not put your trust in Jesus – then you are his and you are lost. The aftermath of the war continues, even though Satan has been defeated, and countless many, tragically, will become the casualties of a war that has already been won.
But, not little Evalee who was just baptized this morning. Evalee was literally snatched out of the lion’s jaws and back into her heavenly Father’s arms. And so were each of you when you were baptized. Moreover, Jesus says that God’s holy angels watch over and protect His little ones who believe in Him, just as Gabriel was watching over Daniel. Yes, there are guardian angels! Whether or not each of us is assigned one specific angel, I do not know, but the Scriptures clearly teach that God’s holy angels watch over us, defend and protect us. Thus does Martin Luther teach us to pray in the morning and evening, “Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.” However, the LORD’s holy angels are no Precious Moments or Willow House figurines, but they are fierce and mighty warriors deserving of respect and honor and reverent fear, for they are the LORD’s servants and they always see the face of God. That is why every mortal who beheld an angel in the Scriptures trembled with fear and expected only to die. Truly, we mock God and treat Him with contempt when we trivialize His holy servants.
The war is over. The victory is won. Jesus lives! But, our defeated enemy, in supreme hatred, is still trying to take down as many souls as he possibly can. You must never let down your guard! Jesus’ victory has been given to little Evalee this morning in Holy Baptism, but the new life she received this day must be fed, nourished, clothed, and protected, for Satan is even now seeking to steal her back. And, the same is true for all of you. Therefore, understand this: More than offering praise and thanksgiving to God, the reason you come to the Divine Service every week is to be served by God – to have your sins forgiven anew, to be fed and nourished by His Holy Word, to be strengthened in faith, and to be equipped with the armor of God that you may withstand the assaults of the evil one as you fulfill your vocations in loving service of your neighbor, through which you serve and glorify God in Jesus Christ. This church is not a memorial for saints, but a hospital for sinners. This church is no holy club, but it is a spiritual triage and bootcamp. There must be no confusion whatsoever that Christ is present here with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Anything that obscures that Truth must be removed. Things that support that Truth and cause it to shine forth more clearly should be practiced.
Just as you were invited to use the occasion of Evalee’s baptism as an opportunity to renew your own baptismal vows, so you should view each Sunday Divine Service in the same way. When you confess your sins and receive the Lord’s Absolution, Satan has been exorcised from you once again. “Do you renounce the devil?” “Yes, I renounce him.” “Do you renounce all his works?” Yes, I renounce them.” “Do you renounce all his ways?” “Yes, I renounce them.” “Be gone thou unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Then the Lord feeds you and strengthens and equips you with His Word. Then He invites you to commune with Him as His holy and pure Bride, His flesh and blood united with yours, His righteousness, innocence, holiness, and Sonship with the Father shared with you as you join your voices with His holy angels and all the saints that have gone before us in the faith singing praise to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the song of heaven that never ends. My brothers and sisters in Christ: This is what it means to be a Christian – to receive His gifts and to share in His life, and then to share that life with others to the glory of His Name. Humble yourselves before the LORD and before your fellow man and keep yourself strong by receiving His gifts. Do not fear the devil, but do not become lukewarm, comfortable, and complacent. The LORD commands His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. Trusting in Him, they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against a stone.
In the Name of our victorious Lord and Savior + Jesus Christ. Amen.

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