We love mountains. They’re great for skiing, if you like that sort of thing. They give us great views of valleys beneath, filled with picturesque scenes of homes, churches, and farms during the day, and lights at night. They grab our attention as we drive towards them, and we can’t miss them as we drive around, through, or over them. For some people, the mountain is their life.
God loves mountains too. The Ark landed on Mount Ararat. Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. God gave Israel His Law on Mount Sinai. Mount Moriah became the temple mount, where God dwelt with His people. Jerusalem was built on hills, and one of them, Zion, became a name for God’s people. Jesus told His faithful to flee to the mountains when it was time for Rome to destroy Jerusalem in 70A+D.
So it should be no surprise Isaiah saw salvation happening on a mountain. Did not the Psalmist say, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, Which made heaven and earth.” The same Psalm later says: “The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: He shall preserve thy soul.” The prophet is right. Salvation was finished on a mountain. For on little Mount Calvary Christ Jesus died to rescue us from all evil.
Death is the big evil humanity has. It’s not pretty. It’s not good. It shouldn’t happen. We all realize this deep down. People today try to sugarcoat it, change what it means, make it something it isn’t. We try to control it, even proclaim we rule matters of life and death, at the expense of God’s ownership of life. We forget life is sacred and created by Him, and when we do, death wins.
Death is a problem. Only a Christian can see the full magnitude of this problem. We know death isn’t supposed to exist. God didn’t make us to die. We know this from how we feel when friends and family die. We’ll know this when we are dying. It’s not normal. It’s not natural. God our Creator lives forever. Since He’s eternal, He wouldn’t want it to be any other way for His creation. He wants us to live forever.
So why don’t we? Why don’t we live forever? Why can’t we avoid aging or the funeral home? Why does Dr. Luther teach us to sing: “In the midst of earthly life Snares of death surround us”? Death is not good. Death is not normal. Death is not natural. Life is. But death has entered the world. Death has taken over. Death loves to torment us. Death is here, and it wants to be here to stay. It has no desire to let anyone go. Death loves what it does. Death loves to kill.
Death is here, and it’s our fault. Death is our fault. Death would not be here if we did not sin. “The wages of sin is death.” God did tell Adam: “The day you eat of it is the day you will die.” He ate it anyway. He let the snake talk them into eating the thing they knew they shouldn’t eat. He decided he wanted to know evil, which means he wanted to experience evil. But death comes with evil. They cannot be separated. For God is good and hates evil. God created life. Death opposes God’s will. Death is evil.
Death has come down to us. Ever since Abel died at the hand of his brother people have been dying. Nothing is more sure to us than death. Our lives will end, unless Jesus comes back first. Death is coming for us. That mighty hunter before the Lord will come. It spares no one. We can fight it off, but it takes no prisoners, only victims.
We are mortal. We are frail. We cannot fight off death. With Luther we sing, “Who shall help us in the strife Lest the Foe confound us?” Only 1 person: The Lord, Him only. He alone can burst death. He alone can swallow it up into nonexistence. He alone can wipe away the tears off our faces that death brings. He alone can destroy it and restore us and give us eternal joys with Him in paradise.
This is what Advent looks forward to. We’re not just looking forward to a baby being born when all was still and it was midnight on December 25. We’re looking forward to celebrating what that Baby is born to do. We’re looking forward already to Good Friday and Easter. We’re looking forward to the celebration of Him bursting death and swallowing it whole.
That’s what Christian faith is all about. That’s what we celebrate. We celebrate that death is dead. We celebrate that the killer of mankind has been killed. We celebrate Jesus’ Birth because we know what it means for us. If God the Creator has taken on our flesh, He’d only do it for one reason: to destroy the very thing that ruined His beloved creation. When God took on human life, death was put on notice: you, O Death, will be destroyed. Your stinger will be pulled. Your victory will be overturned. And you, O Death, can never appeal this decision.
For Death took God. It could never be fully victorious as long as the Author of Life was alive. So it killed God. It put Him to death on The Cross. It was victorious. It rejoiced in hell. But it bit off far more than it could chew. It thought it had swallowed God and Life up whole. It thought it was a tasty dinner. But Life could not be digested. God could not be defeated. Death had to throw Him up. And Death burst to pieces. He is swallowed up.
For Christ is risen from the dead. Now He can never die again. He lives forever. This Man, our God, has defeated death. He has defeated death for us. He bore the penalty for our sins completely. This means the penalty must be remitted. It must be forgotten. Now Death is told it can’t have us. It may take us, but we don’t belong to it. It must give us up when He says so. Death must give us up to life eternal.
So let us keep the feast as Christ the Lord invites us, the feast of rich food, well-aged wine, rich food full of marrow, aged wine well-refined. This feast is no mere celebration. There is food involved, and it’s going on right now. Where do you find it? You find it at this holy Altar. You find it when The Body and Blood of Christ are offered to you.
I’m told marrow holds lots of nutrients and aged wine tastes much better than new wine. What food is more nutritious or tastier than the Sacrament? Yes it seems so little: a little circular wafer and a sip from a cup. But it is the medicine of immortality. It is life-giving. It is Jesus’ promise to you who confess your sins and believe the Gospel that He will raise you from the dead. It is His gift to you this Sunday, this Christmas, this Easter, until time ends.
Adam ate the sacrament of death, so he died. You eat the Sacrament of life, and you live. We will enter into the joys of our Lord. He will raise us up. Death will have to spit us out just like it spit out Jesus, for by Baptism you are united to Him. Baptism has put death to death in you. It has given you new life, and the Altar keeps you in that life. By His visitation, Jesus has lightened the darkness of death, and you receive the reward of eternal life.