Feast of St. Michael & All Angels (observed)
25 September 2011
St. John’s, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
About a week ago, a high school friend of Kristi's received the kind of contact no parent wants to ever get: police telling him that his son was in a terrible car accident. The teenage boy was driving home and fell asleep at the wheel, and the car ended up wrapped around a tree. With only what appears to be a broken leg and some bruising, amazingly, he survived! When you look at the car, you know that he should not have come out of that car alive. Only by the grace of God, protecting the teen with His holy angels, is that boy still here.
On Leap Day of 2008, another friend was returning from work, driving in the fast lane of the interstate. Suddenly, the SUV in front of her swerved, to reveal a broken down semi. There was no time to react, other than braking as much as she could. Her car was crushed as it impacted with the rear of the trailer. In the end, there was one inch between her head and the tailgate of the truck. No earthly reason why she survived. Simply the Lord's holy angels protecting.
“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Satan, the old evil foe, the prince of this world, falls down. That wicked serpent who deceived our mother Eve, who set Israelite hearts to reinvent God in their own image while newly delivered from Pharaoh at the Red Sea – although he is powerful and a strong adversary, he is powerless against the Word of Christ.
Watch yourselves, though. For often we do not encourage Satan’s fall. Sometimes we help and aid him. When you refrain from being sustained in the Divine Service by Gospel and Sacrament, Satan is happy; it helps him up! When you convince yourself that you “didn’t get anything” out of a service where God’s Word was faithfully preached and His Sacrament administered, you have been tricked by the devil, and rather than help his fall, you help him back up.
Today we pause and thank God for His holy angels. He placed an angel at the Garden of Eden when our first parents fell. They shattered the image of God and plunged us all into the depths of sin, sickness, and death. So the Lord God placed cherubim at the entrance to Eden, to be sure that humans did not go and eat of the tree of life. Sounds mean and vindictive, doesn’t it? Yet that very action was one of love. In His judgment, the Lord had mercy, to prevent Adam and Eve from finding that fruit and living forever in a fallen, sick, sinful and suffering condition. He was protecting you, even as you join in the rebellion of your ancestors!
But for all those rebellious times, our compassionate Savior and loving Lord rescues us. He dishes out His forgiveness and mercy through His means of grace. And with every helping, Satan fall[s] like lightning from heaven!
You see, to begin with, on the cross Jesus assumed all sin on Himself and paid the price with His innocent and holy sacrifice, once and for all. The righteousness of Christ – His just perfection and holiness – are given through His precious blood. He was innocent, yet suffered and endured the miserable death that you and I deserve. There on that mountain, He paid the price and it stands paid forever!
He purchased your right to enter His Church. His innocent suffering and death on the cross made it a tree of life. One that angels do not guard to keep you from it, but a new tree of life to which angels rejoice to encourage you. And these holy angels rejoice as God gathers repentant sinners to Himself, and crashes in on the devil’s kingdom.
Even now, here in the kingdom, here at St. John’s, every time a pastor’s hand dips in that font and pours a cleansing flood over someone, Christ wins. And the devil falls down. Every time the saving work of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, and His forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are declared to people, every time someone repents and comes and confesses their sin to their pastor and he absolves him, every time someone comes to the Holy Supper of our Lord, and receives the Holy Gift of Christ Himself, Satan fall[s], like lightning from heaven.
But as joyous as it is, to know that Satan is falling, our Lord Christ declares that we are not to spend too much time focusing on that. No. He says, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Jesus says, “Yeah. It is great! But this is even better: You get to spend eternity in heaven with Me!” You have been called by the Gospel, enlightened with His Gifts, sanctified and kept in the true faith. You have been given new birth by Water and the Word, and continue to be nourished by His Gospel and Eucharist. Through these Gifts, Jesus is preserving you on that list, “written in heaven.”
So many want to find salvation in other places. They don’t want to think it is that simple and that particular, that salvation comes through Christ alone, with His work on Mount Calvary and His delivery through His Holy Church. We even have to be careful as we discuss angels. If you give too much attention to Gabriel or Michael or Raphael, you end up distracting from Christ. Do not lose focus.
On this Church festival of Saint Michael & All Angels, it can get easy to lose that focus. For well over a thousand years, the Holy Church has taken the 29th of September as a day to give thanks to God for His holy angels who serve and protect us. In the Lutheran Church, we sometimes transfer this celebration to a Sunday, so more people can participate in the occasion. We praise the Lord for His legions of spirit warriors who defend us from the evil one, and watch over God’s children. They do amazing work – miraculous work – that blesses us in our earthly pilgrimage, and for this it is completely appropriate to pause and thank our heavenly Father. Yet do it with the proper focus.
Jesus, Lord over men and angels, reminds us, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” And until we join Him there, dear friends in Christ, you can join the thrilling celebration of Satan falling like lightning. We rejoice not simply in his defeat, but knowing that his defeat is Christ’s victory! Jesus baptizing another. Jesus preaching His Gospel to another. Jesus feeding another with His Body and Blood.
Praise God! Michael and Gabriel, angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven join in this praising. Celebrate that our gracious God sends them to serve and protect His children and His Church. But even more, dear friends in Christ, rejoice that [by His suffering and death on Calvary, and the giving of His gifts in the Divine Service that keep you in the faith] your names are written in heaven. Amen.