Date: Advent I + 12/03/06
Once again we are given the grace and the mercy to say “Happy New Year” as Holy Church marks the passing of days with the Divine Agenda of telling the Good News, the story of the salvation of the world, to the world in an orderly way for all to hear. From the Advent anticipation of prophesies fulfilled, to the Christmas crisis of the incarnation of the Word made flesh, to the Epiphany lightshow of our Lord’s earthly ministry, to the Lenten litany of His passion, the Easter emancipation of resurrection, and the Pentecost proclamation of the Spirit, we mean to reveal the true meaning of the passing of days. We begin again to tell the whole story, the really good story of new life even as our old, tattered 2006 calendars are nearly filled with the record of an aging year, the old story of our broken promises, devastating reverses, the dark turns of life incessantly marching to a destination we either deny or ignore. This story, God’s story, means to say that death no longer has the last word and that life has been restored.
We begin to tell the story of salvation, however, not with the enticing displays of market-driven merchants, the cosmetic campaigns designed to lure curious customers. In its usual way the Gospel begins not with entertaining our shallow expectations but with God’s penetrating preparations that peal back the veneer of our pretenses to get to the heart of our true need. The Gospel of the First Sunday in Advent insists that, before we can say “Merry Christmas,” we need to shout “Hosanna!”
What sort of “gospel” is it, after all, that merely panders to our shallow seasonal wishes for a temporary reprieve from the daily grind, a little Christmas cheer to help us forget and avoid confronting the dark despair, the brokenness and seeming futility that persists under the wrappings and trappings of secular celebrations, sure and certain but to rise again when the Christmas glitter fades and is thrown out with the trash? Therefore the Divine Word appointed to be spoken as the first Word welcomes our Blessed Lord Jesus not with “Happy Birthday” but with the last word, “Hosanna.” His entrance is “humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden,” for his burden and destination, from the crèche to the cross, was death and the grave. His purpose was to establish the New Testament in His blood—not according to the covenant that the Lord made with the old Israel, the covenant which they broke. With this New Testament the Lord has come to seal the promise, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” [Jeremiah 31:34 (ESV)].
Hosanna. Yes, it’s Hebrew. But it is familiar because the liturgy has taught us over and over again to say it over and over again. As the crowds cheered with this word at his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, so we greet his entry as he comes to us in His Holy Supper. What are you saying when you say “Hosanna”? It is a cheer. And it is shouted with a smile of expectation—the expectation of receiving a gift from a visiting monarch. “Hoshi’a na” means “God save us!” In Christ God comes to save us. He saves us by means of the forgiveness of our sins by His Blood. And I trust you know that this forgiveness is not just a free pass that merely lets you get away with it, or that merely winks, and pats you on the head as if to say, “That’s okay.” Sin is not “okay.” The forgiveness our Lord comes to bring is real forgiveness because only in this One have the wages of sin been fully paid. For this One says, “Your sin is now my sin. Whatever you have done, said or been amiss I bear it, I carry it, I make it my own. I endure it, and I overcome it. I suffer for you so that your suffering is no longer a curse, no longer unbearable, no longer punishment but purification. This forgiveness takes sin away and drowns it in the depths of the sea. This forgiveness removes sin from you as far as the east is from the west, removes it completely from the memory of the God Who would be, once again, Our Father in heaven.
Hosanna! God, save us! Wherever the Lord’s forgiveness is there is also life and salvation. For he came not only to take something away, namely, sin, death and devil, but also to restore life eternalized again. All of this is proclaimed in the face of a humble rabbi riding to his death on a donkey into Jerusalem. As there is no Easter without a Good Friday, and no Good Friday without a Christmas, so there is no Christmas without Hosanna. That is, Christ rose from the dead, victor over death and the grave because he took the sin of the world into himself by death on a cross. He was subject to death because he is true man, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Easter, Good Friday and Christmas are all of one piece. It is salvation for all who welcome him in faith. Hosanna! God save us! is what faith confesses, shouts and pleads to this One Who is Savior, Lord and God.
Our Lord Jesus does not despise taking on our flesh in the Virgin’s womb, nor riding to His death on a donkey, nor willingly bearing your sins on the cross. For His desire is not to play the hero but to unite Himself so fully with your flesh that he might redeem you from your enemies, break the oppression of Satan, sin and death. So now again He enters in the humble elements of bread and wine and pronounces his absolution as he gives us his very body and blood to eat and to drink. We become his body, the “mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” [Col. 1:27 (ESV)].
Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord! And blessed are they who receive him as Lord; and that, not only once but continually so that we may wait faithfully for his return. Keep receiving him as he keeps coming to you and is with you and in you always to the end of the age. Keep praising and pleading “Hosanna!” God, save us. For He does and He will.
Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna to the child of Mary. Hosanna to the newborn King. Hosanna to the Master who trod our dusty roads. Hosanna to the Prophet, Priest and King who reveals the heart of God’s Word, who intercedes for us and makes the atoning sacrifice, who lives and reigns forever. Hosanna to the risen and ascended Lord of glory. Hosanna to the coming king.