Despite Social Distancing, He Draws Near To You

Text: Matthew 21:1-9 

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 


It has been about ten months now since we first learned about COVID-19. And in the last ten months, we have done our best to keep away from COVID-19. We have sanitized our hands. We have bleached the outside containers of our food before taking the food into our houses. We have learned to social distance – to stay 6 feet away from people. We have learned to adapt to masks that cover our faces. 


Now, regardless of which side of the political spectrum or the scientific spectrum you find yourself on, we all have to all admit that the last ten months have caused us to withdraw from each other. Masks have covered our smiles. Distance has prevented us from feeling the warmth of a hug. Plexiglass has now become a standard barrier between our human interactions in the marketplace. And there is more. I know that I dare not cough in public because I do not want to get an evil eye from someone suspecting that I am a super-spreader of death. When I am shopping, I do what everyone else seems to be doing - I keep my head down and keep at a distance from others. It is more comfortable that way. That is sad to say, but it is true. The point being we are withdrawn as a people right now, hiding from an invisible enemy that is smaller than a pinhead. And our interaction with other people is cautious. We are suspicious of others while being worried and confused at the same time. Indeed, we do not seem to trust each other and seem to be very edgy as well. We are spending more time looking over our shoulders than looking into people’s eyes.  


As a pastor, please know that I am neither condemning nor condoning all of this; I am not a scientist or a politician. But instead, I am simply pointing out ‘what is’ – how it is with everyone in our society right now. Again, we are separated from one another. We do not lean in towards each other but step back. We have distance, plexiglass, gloves, and masks that create barriers.  


The tragic result of all of this is that people are feeling quite lonely. Depression is also setting in. We see this in health statistics but can especially hear it in people’s voices and see it in their demeanor. We are like a bunch of struggling soldiers tucked into our foxholes with our heads down. 


Now, here is the point of all of this for you and me today. Our Lord Jesus Christ knows all of this.  He knows our trials, our suffering, our loneliness, and our depression. He knows the science behind COVID-19. Jesus understands all the executive orders, regulations, quarantines, and social distancing rules, and He still comes to you and me. He cannot stay away.  


In the reading from the Gospel of Matthew, we hear about Jesus traveling into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Now, the reason for hearing about Palm Sunday on the First Sunday of Advent is to demonstrate to us that our Lord Jesus Christ is all about drawing near to humanity. That Palm Sunday, regardless of the wishes of the crowds wanting to seize Jesus for their political ambitions, besides the obstacles of the Pharisees, and besides the foolish rabbit trails of the disciples, Jesus would have it no other way. He had to draw near to the cross to pay for humanity’s sin. He did not choose comfort but had to draw near pain, suffering, and death for humanity’s sake. 


Also, keep in mind that Jesus drew near to humanity through His birth in Bethlehem that first Christmas long ago. Jesus did not choose the comfort of glory but put on human flesh being born into a manger to draw near to humanity. 


You see, your Jesus is one who draws near. That is the nature of Jesus. He is a peculiar King who draws near to His subjects. He is the God that seeks out sinners. He is the Lord who reaches out to the struggling. He is the Great Physician who touches contagious lepers. He is the Good Shepherd that tracks down a lost sheep. He is like a hound-dog on a scent – never giving up until He finds his catch.  And today, He draws near to you in the Word and Sacraments. Look to this font! Look to this rail and this altar! Look to this lectern and pulpit! He is the Lord who draws near to a bunch of lonely, depressed, and struggling people who are like soldiers tucked into foxholes with their heads down. Jesus cannot and will not stay away from you.


Baptized Saints, just as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, He continues to ride into your life in the humble Word and Sacraments.  


And so, even though you may feel distant from everyone else, your Lord Jesus does not back away from you.


Even if you are withdrawn from everyone around you, the Lord draws near to you, bringing you His free gifts of mercy.  


Even though there seem to be barriers everywhere you look, there is no barrier with the Lord – He comes directly to you with His Word and His Holy Meal to refresh you and revive you in this difficult time.  


Even though all you hear are words of terror, Jesus comes to you, not with terror but hope. He does not come with orders, regulations, death tolls, and infection rates but forgiveness, life, and salvation to chase away fear, suspicion, and confusion.   


And so, this coming of your Lord to you in the Word and Sacraments means more to you than you could ever know or realize. It is the bedrock on which your faith is built and rests. There is a reason why Baptism, Absolution, and Communion are a part of the Small Catechism – they are chief cornerstones of our Christian faith! They are essential to faith.  


Mark this, though; the world does not see the Word and Sacraments as essential items at all. For the world, the Word and Sacraments are optional things of piety – things that Christians can simply forgo. 

The world sees the Sacrament of the Altar as a mere symbolic meal (kind of like tea time with dolls). The world does not recognize that the body and blood of the God of the universe are being placed into mouths and bellies to sustain faith and grant immortality.  


The world sees the Word of God as silly ancient myths (much like storytime at a library with a clown). The world does not see the Word as eternal truth that creates and sustains faith. 


The world sees Absolution as an out-of-touch man in a white robe mumbling pious words, not words of freedom being poured into ears and souls releasing people from paralyzing guilt.  


The world sees the church as a social club for weak-minded fools, not the Lord’s ark of safety in a crazy world gone mad.     


And so, because the world does not see the Word and Sacraments as the means by which the Lord comes to mankind, the world will not and cannot see the church as essential. This is why people will courageously leave their foxholes and go out in public to be around a bunch of strangers for any number of reasons but at the same time condemn Christians for gathering together to receive the Word and Sacraments at church. Shopping at Walmart, attending a protest, standing in long lines to vote, going to a sporting event – risky, but fine. Going to church, though? Reckless! In fact, going to church apparently means that you don’t love your neighbor and don’t care if people die. And, yes, that is what they are saying about you right now being here in this church. Sigh.  


Again, I am not a scientist or a politician but a pastor. And as a pastor and steward of the Word and Sacraments, I say to you, 


“Look to this font. Look to the rail and altar. Look to the pulpit and lectern! Here is Jesus in His Word and Sacraments to forgive and sustain you! Yes, this is where Jesus draws near to you! Heaven meets earth right here at this altar for you to grant you forgiveness and chase away fear, sin, and the devil.”  


Now, I would agree with the world that the church is nonessential if the Lord did not promise to come to us through His Word and Sacraments. But the Lord has not done this. The Lord Jesus Christ has promised to come to you and me with forgiveness, life, and salvation through the Word and Sacraments. And that is why the Word and Sacraments are essential; that is why the church is essential!  


So, one cannot merely dismiss the Word and Sacraments with a flick of the hand. One cannot simply go without them. We cannot live without air and water, just as we cannot live without the Word and Sacraments. 


So today, rejoice!  Rejoice that you are here. Rejoice that you are hearing the Word. Rejoice that you will receive the body and blood of Christ!  Rejoice that the Lord draws near to you and does not stand far off. Rejoice that He has come to you in His Word and will come to you in a few minutes in, with, and under the bread and the wine.  


He came that Christmas long ago. He came to the cross that Holy Week as well. And He comes to you every single week.  This is why the Word and Sacraments are the bedrock on which our faith is built and rests. This is why we cling to the Word and Sacraments all the more when our world is unhinged.  


He comes to you. Receive Him this day. 


In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Several themes in this sermon are indebted to Rev. Jason Zirbel's Matthew 21:1-9 sermon.  

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