Text: Matthew 21:1-11
Date: Advent I + 11/28/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
“And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’”
“Hosanna” is the word. It’s the word for the First Sunday in Advent. It’s the word for Palm Sunday of Holy Week. It’s the word with which we join our voices Sunday after Sunday as the promised King, the Messiah, the Christ, our Savior comes into our town, into this very place as He promises in the humble means of the Sacrament of the Altar. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. Hosanna is the word. It’s the word to sing that looks by faith to Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
It’s a Hebrew word filtered through Greek but kept in the original no matter in which language the rest of your Lutheran liturgy is sung, whether English or German or Norwegian or some Asian or African dialect. The liturgy preserves the original word so that we might hear with our ears the exact same word and know, discover and believe its original and full meaning for faith. It is probably better pronounced the Hebrew way, “hoshi’ah na,” the final “na” sometimes translated “now,” sometimes just untranslated making the request a polite one, “please save.” What request? Hoshi’ah na is from the word yeshuah meaning salvation. It is the request, the prayer, the petition to the King for salvation, to be saved. That’s why it’s also the same root word of the name that was given the One who came to save, “Yeshua,” Jesus, for that’s what His name means, “He will save.” It’s the main concern of the Gospel we proclaim: salvation. Let it be known by all that what we have to proclaim as the Holy Church throughout the world, as the catholic or universal Church, daring to be the Lutheran Church, and even (with due humility and repentance) The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, is Hoshi’ah na, salvation from sin, death and hell by God’s grace through faith in Yeshua, the Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lord.
This word is found a number of times in the Old Testament, as in Psalm 118(:25), “Hoshi’ah na,” “Save us, we pray, O Lord!” And here…what was it that moved the people on the outskirts of Jerusalem that springtime day suddenly to spread their Burlington’s, cashmere and Dockers® on the road, and others to cut branches from the rhododendrons to roll out the green carpet for this unannounced guest? ‘Must have been faith; faith inspired and given on the basis of some Word of God.
For, did I say “unannounced”? But who was better announced ahead of time and described by the ancient prophets so that when He came, His people would not miss Him? The prophet Isaiah wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Is. 62:11; Zech. 9:9). And here He is, literally riding on a donkey. Of course that was not the only hint. He is the One of the house and lineage of David and the virgin-born, the suffering servant, the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophesies. God told them ahead of time. How could they miss it? Some of these people didn’t miss it. But the rest? Well, they caught the meaning of this unusual parade, but they also questioned it. “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up,” upset, troubled. The Messiah, the King, they thought, surely could have made a better entrance on a blazing steed in power and triumph, with trumpets blaring, especially as He was supposed to blow away the hated Roman occupation. And so the expectations of the first century Hebrew “church growth movement” missed Him when He appeared right in front of their eyes, “humble, and mounted on a donkey.” “This one? This friend of sinners and tax collectors? This weakling, this ‘unorthodox’ rabbi? And from where? Nazareth? Galilee?” “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46), or St. Louis? or Rochester Hills?
And that’s the first concern as we begin a new liturgical, Church year; that people, and we ourselves, do not miss or, worse, deny what is really going on here as “Church.” For don’t people today expect something to at least make the headlines in the newspaper, television or radio if it is to be convincing and really true? How can you doubt, for instance, that a Joel Osteen is a true prophet, a real, Christian preacher? I mean, look at the crowds and look at his success! “Since 1999, under the leadership of Pastor Joel Osteen, Lakewood has grown…and expanded into over 200 million households in the United States.” (http://www.lakewood.cc/pages/new-here/our-history.aspx)
Wow! And look at us! Barely 15 or 30 folks gathered in a rented choir rehearsal room with only an occasional visitor; a member congregation of the largest truly Lutheran church body in the United States but which, truth be told, is, like all other mainline churches these days, decreasing in membership. Which is the “real” church? What is the authentic Gospel? The power of positive thinking or Jesus Christ and Him crucified? The Pharisees complained, “This man has table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners.” “This man is of the devil.” But the crowds said, “Hoshi’ah na,” hosanna in the highest. The rest asked, “Who is this?” The crowds made it clear, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” That’s as much as they knew to say. But by faith they knew more, namely, to ask Him for “Hoshi’ah na,” salvation!
So the question comes to us—can we, do we miss the coming of the Messiah, the advent of our King even though we’ve been told where and how He comes to us today? Or do we miss why He comes to us today? Oh, there’s the usual, the typical distractions that keep folks away from church or, even in church, that keep us from connecting with the Christ. Do we entertain misguided expectations and then wonder why things don’t seem to be going smoother for the Christian than for the blatant unbeliever? When we sing the word “Hosanna” in the liturgy, are we truly moved at the real presence of Christ coming among us or do our minds wander to just thinking about the victory of the MSU Spartans yesterday as they beat the Penn State Nittany Lions? Do we possess the faith that looks to Jesus alone for our hope of salvation, or do we still harbor the idea that we’re saved by being good enough?
Martin Luther spoke about this when he wrote, “If we don’t want to understand this with our ears, but accept only that which our eyes see and our hands touch, we will miss our King and be lost.” He says, “There’s a big difference between this King and other kings. With the latter everything is outward pomp, great and gallant appearance, magnificent air. But not so with Christ. His mission and work it is to help against sin and death, to justify and bring life. He has placed his help in baptism and the Sacrament, and incorporated it in the Word and preaching. To our eyes Baptism appears to be nothing more than ordinary water, and the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood simple bread and wine, like other bread and wine, and the sermon, hot air from a man’s mouth. But we must not trust what our eyes see, but listen to what this King is teaching us in his Word and Sacrament, namely, I poured out my blood to save you from your sins, to rescue you from death and bring you into heaven; to that end I have given you baptism as a gift for the forgiveness of sins, and preach to you unceasingly by word of mouth concerning this treasure, sealing it with the Sacrament of my body and blood, so that you need never doubt.” (Klug: Luther’s House Postils, p. 28)
“You need never doubt.” That’s the difference; the difference faith makes. Without faith you cannot cry, or at least cannot really mean “Hoshi’ah na,” Hosanna. But such faith in the Savior, the Savior who comes to us in mercy, doubts not His power and will to save. “Drink of this, all of you, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” When He comes to you, He forgives, He has taken away your sins and gives you salvation. For, the first time He entered Jerusalem to that cheer, that plea, He proceeded to His greatest victory—the offering of Himself on the cross, by whose sacred blood He has reconciled God to man by the erasing, the taking away of all sin and its punishment. By His death and resurrection He won salvation for the whole world. And in your Holy Baptism, by the preaching of this Gospel and by the receiving of His body and blood in the sacrament, you are saved, delivered from sin and death.
So now the goal or completion of this salvation is, as the apostle Paul said, “nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Keep believing, therefore. Keep singing and praying Hosanna as we await His final rescue when He comes again in glory.