Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Name:
Location: Dorr, Michigan

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Rhythm of the Church Year

Pastor’s Window for January 2009

The Rhythm of the Church Year

Merry Christmas! Yes, the world has already put away the Christmas decorations. The all-Christmas music station is back to playing regular top 40 hits. The stores are liquidating the Christmas merchandise and already pushing Valentine’s Day paraphernalia. The world has moved on. For the world, Christmas is over. But as of this writing, for Christians, Christmas has just begun. If you are reading this before January 6th, it’s still Christmas! For Christians do not let the media or commerce determine when Christmas ends. We operate under a calendar all our own, the Church Year calendar.

The Church Year gives rhythm and meaning to our life of worship together. The Church Year begins with Advent, four Sundays before Christmas. Though the world began to celebrate Christmas back in October (it gets earlier and earlier every year, doesn’t it?), the Church doesn’t begin her Christmas celebration until the evening of December 24th (Christmas Eve). Why? Because we believe Christmas is important enough that we should spend some time preparing. Advent, which means “coming,” is a season of repentant preparation for the coming of Christ in the flesh at Christmas, His coming to us in Word and Sacrament, and His coming again to judge. Christmas begins for the Church with Christmas Eve (actually in the evening… the Church counts her days like the believers in the Old Testament, the new day beginning at sundown) and continues until January 6th. This is the 12 Days of Christmas!

January 6th is the celebration of the Epiphany of our Lord. Epiphany means “manifestation,” or “revelation.” It celebrates the revelation of our Lord as God in the flesh and as Savior of the Gentiles. For that reason, the Day of Epiphany is often called the Gentile Christmas. So even after Christmas, we Christians tenaciously continue to celebrate Christmas! As a matter of fact, Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are collectively called “The Time of Christmas.”

Lent begins “The Time of Easter.” Lent is another season of repentance and preparation, forty days (not counting Sundays) before Easter, this time in preparation for Holy Week and the celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection. And once again, though the world moves on to the next holiday the day after Easter, the Church continues to celebrate Easter for another 7 weeks, until the Day of Pentecost. In fact, Easter is so important, the Church celebrates Easter every Sunday, including the Sundays in Lent. The very reason we worship on Sundays is because our Lord rose from the dead on that day. Though the world considers Christmas to be the most important holiday (and don’t get me wrong, it IS very important), the Church gives even more weight to Easter. For Christmas finds its significance in Good Friday and Easter. The time of Christmas and the Time of Easter combine to make the first half of the Church Year “The Time of Jesus,” as the readings and hymns concentrate on the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

“The Time of the Church” starts with Pentecost Sunday, eight Sundays after Easter. This day is the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples with tongues of fire and the miraculous speaking of tongues in Jerusalem. The next Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday, celebrating the mystery of God as Three Persons in One God. The Pentecost and Trinity Seasons, which run parallel to each other, make up the longest season of the Church Year and continue until Advent begins another year. The Pentecost Season is called “The Time of the Church,” because it is during this season that our readings and hymns concentrate on growth in faith, growth in our understanding of God’s Word, and growth in our Christian life.

As you can see, we Christians live our life together according to a unique rhythm. Of course, the Bible doesn’t command that we observe the Church Year. But it is a good practice that serves the Gospel and gives order to the life of the Church. It also sets the Christian Church apart from the world. It is a confession that our Lord, not the secular calendar, determines the order of our days. So until January 6th, make a point of continuing to wish each other a Merry Christmas. Keep those Christmas trees up and light those Christmas lights. When others ask you why you do these things, you have the perfect opportunity to confess our Lord Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, our Savior from sin.

Pastor Krenz

Sunday, December 28, 2008

First Sunday after Christmas

First Sunday after Christmas (B)
Dec. 28, 2008
Text: Luke 2:22-40

The cross always comes with Christmas. What a strange blessing Simeon pronounces upon Baby Jesus and His mother, Mary, and step-father, Joseph. “Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35; ESV). What manner of Christmas blessing is this? The fall and rising of many in Israel? A sign that is opposed? A sword shall pierce Mary’s soul? The thoughts of many hearts revealed? What do these things mean? One thing is for sure, this is definitely not the tripe we hear in the world’s celebration of Christmas. But then again, truth be told, we kind of like the tripe. We even wish for a little more of it in church. Less cross talk during Christmas, more baby Jesus meek and mild. But that’s not for Simeon. He goes right to the point of Christmas. This Child, whose birth was lauded by the whole host of heaven, born in a manger where cattle were lowing because there was no room in the inn, whom the shepherds sought out and worshiped; this Child would crush secure sinners and raise the repentant from the bowels of death; this Child would be a sign that is opposed right up to the present day; and as much as Mary rejoices over her virgin-born Son, a sword would pierce her own soul as she witnessed her Son rejected, despised, tortured, crucified for the sins of all the world. Yes, this Child would expose the thoughts of many hearts. For you either take Jesus, cross and all, this Christmas, trust Him for your very life and salvation, receive from Him alone the forgiveness of all your sins and every grace and blessing, or you have no Jesus. Simeon understands this from the beginning. The cross always comes with Christmas.

It is for this very reason that Jesus is a sign that is opposed. Who wants the cross on Christmas? We don’t want visions of crucifixion dancing in our heads on Christmas Eve. But don’t you see, this is why the Baby was born! None of the events of Christmas… the manger, the lowing cattle, the shepherds, the angels, Joseph, the Virgin Mary… not even the baby Jesus… none of it means a lick without the cross on Good Friday. In fact, it would not be inappropriate to preach on the crucifixion Christmas Eve. It would not be inappropriate to have a childrens’ Christmas program about Good Friday. Imagine the surprise of those who only come to church on that one night the whole year, expecting to hear the story of the Baby that they, along with the whole world, had sentimentalized into meaninglessness… imagine their surprise when they heard of nails, spears piercing Him through, the cross being borne for me, for you. I think it’s quite possible some people would walk out. And I can guarantee that some people would go home that night disappointed, maybe even some here this morning, because “Christmas is not supposed to be about the cross!” And yet Christmas is nothing if it’s not about that.

St. Luke calls Simeon’s words a blessing. We might think they are a curse, but in fact, they are a blessing not only for St. Mary and her family, but for you and me. Because what we see as “bad” here… the fall of many, a sign that is opposed, swords piercing souls, the thoughts of many hearts revealed… what sounds to us like a curse is, in fact, the very blessing of salvation for the world, for you, for me. God has come in the flesh! God has come in the flesh to save us! Simeon, a righteous and devout man, who had been waiting for the consolation of Israel, who was promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ, saw the poor carpenter and his young wife come with their Baby into the Temple courts to do what the Law required, the rite of purification. And he knew, because the Spirit had revealed it to him, that this Child is Emmanuel, God with us, God come to save. That’s what Christmas is all about, dear friends. Salvation given as a gift by God in the flesh. But that only happens through the cross of our Lord Jesus.

Well, there was another person on the seen here in the Temple courts who heard the blessing of Simeon. She didn’t walk away offended. The prophetess Anna (incidentally the only woman in the New Testament specifically given the title “prophetess”), she, too, was looking for the consolation of Israel. She, too, was looking for the Messiah of God. And Simeon nailed it! This Child is the One come to die for our sins! Anna, a widow for decades now, spent all her time at the Temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day as she waited for the Christ to come and deliver His people. And now here He was! Anna does not reject Simeon’s prophecy of the cross. She does not expect any other Christmas message. Her response is that of faith. “And coming up that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38). She speaks to those who likewise are in the Temple courts awaiting the redemption of God’s people, the redemption that only comes through the suffering and cross of the Son of God.

So what does all of this mean for us? Beloved, you have heard the story of our Lord’s nativity over the past week, of His birth in Bethlehem. You have heard about the manger, the lowing cattle, the shepherds, the angels, Joseph, the Virgin Mary, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. And all of this is good and right. But don’t forget that the shadow of the cross looms over all of it. It looms over all of it for you and for your salvation. Remember that Simeon’s strange blessing spoken to Mary is also a blessing spoken over you today. The Child, Jesus, is appointed for the rising of many, that is, those repentant sinners who believe in Him and are covered by His blood. The opposition He suffers, the cross to which He is nailed, is the punishment you deserve by your sin. He has come to take it upon Himself, for you. But be warned: the thoughts of many hearts, all hearts, in fact, will be revealed. You either have this Jesus, cross and all, or you don’t have Him at all. And in that case, this Child is appointed for your fall. Repent, therefore. Repent of your desire for a cross-less Christmas. Repent of your desire to only dwell on the niceties of the season and fail to see the destiny of this Child in the manger. True Christmas joy is not found in sugarplums or angels named Clarence or even repentant Grinches and Ebenezers who learn to be generous, as nice as these things might be. True Christmas joy comes from one thing, the message of this sermon and of the whole Bible, the very meaning of Christmas: Jesus Christ is born to save sinners! Jesus Christ is born to save you!

Simeon and Anna were both sinners, and this is why they waited so eagerly for the consolation of Israel, the Messiah. He brings them salvation! He makes them righteous with His righteousness. For those who cannot fulfill the Law, He fulfills it perfectly. That’s why He’s in the Temple, so His parents can offer sacrifice. Not that He needs it. But He is fulfilling the Law for us. He fulfills the Law for us who are under the Law, and redeems us. He redeems us by His death on the cross. So now we are sons. Now we can cry, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:5), and God will hear and answer us as His beloved children. He who raised His Son Jesus Christ from the dead after He had completed His sin-atoning work on behalf of the whole world, He will also raise us. This Child is appointed for the rising of many. Jesus has come, and we no longer need to fear the Law. He has fulfilled it. We no longer need to fear sin. He has given us forgiveness by His blood. We no longer have to fear Satan. He can harm us none. He’s judged, the deed is done. We no longer have to fear death. For Christ is risen, and we, too, shall rise to eternal life.

That is why Simeon could take the Baby Jesus in his arms and sing that now he could die in peace. It is a beautiful song, called the Nunc Dimittis in Latin. We’ll sing it this morning after we receive Jesus in our mouths, His very body and blood given and shed, again, on the cross, for the forgiveness of all our sins. For the cross always comes with Christmas. And thank God it does, for then we, too, can ask to depart in peace. In fact, that’s the strange blessing I’ll give you, or rather, the Lord Jesus Himself will give you through me after you receive the Lord’s Supper. “Depart in peace.” For your eyes have seen the Lord’s salvation. You’ve held and received the same Lord Jesus Simeon held in his arms, the same Lord Jesus lauded by Anna to all who awaited redemption. You’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good. And this is true Christmas joy, joy that will last all year long, your whole life long. In fact, it will last for all eternity. Jesus is born to save you! Praise be to God! Merry Christmas! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day

Homily on the Nativity of the Lord
by St John Chrysostom

I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd's song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.

The Angels sing!
The Archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise!
The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice.

And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.

This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead.

And behold,Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory;
Soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;
Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy;
Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy;
Infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise;
Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;
Men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants;
Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;
Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech;
Servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom;
Fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men;
Publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist;
Sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.

Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the Highest;and with the shepherds: and on earth peace to men of good will.

From http://www.abbamoses.com/stjohnnativity.html

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

A blessed Christmas to all. May the Holy Spirit strengthen you and keep you in the one true faith of the Christ Child, God in the flesh, who has reconciled us to the Father through the shedding of His blood.

O God, You make us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Grant that as we joyfully receive Him as our Redeemer, we may with sure confidence behold Him when He comes to be our Judge; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

From Pastoral Care Companion (St. Louis: Concordia, 2007) p. 540.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fourth Sunday in Advent

We had to cancel service this Sunday due to weather. I HATE cancelling, especially on Sunday morning, but God-willing we will be able to receive our Lord's gifts in Word and Sacrament this Christmas Eve and Christmas and again next Sunday. Our Lord is an ever-giving God. As Advent comes to a close, let us prepare for the gift of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The folowing is the sermon that would have been preached on Sunday:

Fourth Sunday in Advent (B)
December 21, 2008
Text: Luke 1:26-38

“For nothing will be impossible with God,” declares the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:37; ESV). His words are as necessary for us as they were for the Virgin Mary who that day learned that she would be the mother of the God-Man, the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. She would not conceive Him in the natural way, for God Himself would be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit would be the agent of conception. Mary would remain a virgin. It is a mystery. God the Son joins Himself to our flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. And she is to call His Name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. Mary is as stunned as we are. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v. 34), she asks. It is not that she doubts, but she knows where babies come from, and this is not the usual way. It doesn’t make sense. But the angel declares to her the Word of God: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (v. 35). And in that moment, Jesus was conceived. The Word entered St. Mary’s ear and implanted itself… or Himself rather, in her womb. Nothing will be impossible with God.

We need to hear this word of the angel as much as Mary needed to hear it, because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. His thoughts and ways don’t make sense to us, either. A virgin birth? God in the flesh? The King of the universe born in a stable? Dead on the cross? Risen from the dead? Impossible! The problem is that our reason cannot wrap itself around the facts. Virgins do not give birth. If we were God, we would accomplish the salvation of the world in some glorious and powerful way, but not by becoming flesh and dying on the cross. And when we start to talk about resurrection, now we’re really pushing it, because our whole experience of death is that it is final. We bury the dead body in the ground. The flesh rots and returns to the dust. We simply have no experience with resurrected bodies. And as a result, were it not for the Holy Spirit working in us through the Gospel, we wouldn’t believe a lick of this nonsense. Don’t take your faith in these events and in this enfleshed God for granted. Faith is also impossible from a human perspective. St. Paul nails it when he writes, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). When confronted with the claims of Holy Scripture, the natural man declares, “Impossible!” And so the angel Gabriel’s words are very necessary for us: Nothing will be impossible with God.

It is not just the virgin birth that doesn’t make sense to us. So many things in the Holy Scriptures are incomprehensible to us outside of the Holy Spirit. For example, not only does the angel Gabriel announce to the Virgin Mary that she will conceive and bear a Son, He also tells her of another seeming impossibility… Mary’s cousin Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age. She who was barren for years was now pregnant with John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah. Now, come on! Senior citizens do not conceive or give birth. Elizabeth is well past menopause. This is impossible! Ah, but nothing will be impossible with God.

We are reminded of how Abraham and Sarah must have felt when God promised that they would bear a son in their old age. Remember the story… When God promised Abraham that within a year he’d have a son, Sarah, who was listening at the door of the tent, laughed out loud (Gen. 18)! “Impossible!” she thought. “We’re too old!” Scripture even records that “The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah” (v. 11). Yet when Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah not much younger, she gave birth to Isaac. Nothing will be impossible with God.

God is always accomplishing the impossible. The very creation bears testimony to that. What looks like it would take billions of years to create took God only six days. And of course, God didn’t have to take that long in creating the heavens and the earth. He could have created all that is in less than the twinkling of an eye. Impossible, you say? Nothing will be impossible with God. God is always accomplishing the impossible. Not only did He create the heavens and the earth in six days, and not only does He sustain His creation, the entire universe, all that is, and provide for the physical needs of all His creatures… not only does He do all of this… He also creates saints out of sinners. Now this may not have been highest on your list of impossible things that God accomplishes, but if you think about it for just a moment, and if you believe what Scripture says about mankind, this is really the most amazing thing. God actually makes lovers of God out of those who by nature hate Him. He actually makes a holy people for Himself out of those who are filthy and rotten with the disease of sin. And He does this in that impossible way we heard about in our Gospel lesson this morning: God becomes a man. God is incarnate. God takes on flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He is God’s Son, but so also He is Mary’s Son. God and man become one in Jesus. Though He is very God, He makes Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. He bears our griefs and carries our sorrows. He is tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. God is one of us in Jesus Christ. He is one with us. He calls us brothers. And He does all of this, lowers Himself in this way, in order that He might submit to death, even death on the cross. He suffers our rejection. We consider Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He suffers hell for us. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He suffers the punishment we deserve for our sins. He is wounded for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brings us peace is upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. Mystery of mysteries, it is too good to be true. “Impossible!” one might say, and many have said it. How could God so love us that He gives Himself into the accursed death of the cross for us? Beloved, nothing will be impossible with God.

And so we encounter the empty tomb. Christ is risen! “Impossible!” said the Jews. So also the disciples. None of them believed at first. And of course we remember Thomas, who declared that unless he saw the wounds, thrust his fingers into the nail marks and cast his hand into Jesus’ side, he would not believe. But then the risen Christ appeared among His disciples without warning and said, “‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe’” (John 20:27). And “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 28). Thomas was just acting according to human nature. Without the enlightening of Christ, he was unable to believe what, according to both reason and experience, is impossible. Dead men do not walk and talk and eat and breathe and live. Dead men decay. But there stands Christ. He is risen! Nothing will be impossible with God!

And, beloved, God accomplishes the impossible with you. All of that impossible stuff Jesus did, being born of a virgin, fulfilling the law, dying on the cross, rising from the dead… all of that was for you! All of that was for the forgiveness of your sins. He took your punishment upon Himself. He made peace with God for you. And again, He accomplishes the impossible through His Spirit working in the Gospel. For it is a mystery beyond all telling, that when the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel and enlightens you with His gifts, you become spiritual and believe what as a natural man you could not even understand (1 Cor. 2:14). The Holy Spirit brings you to saving faith in Christ. And He does this through seemingly impossible means, words, water, bread and wine, the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. The words of a book, the words of a preacher actually forgive my sins? Impossible! But nothing will be impossible with God. Simple water applied to the head in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, a washing of rebirth and renewal, so powerful it even brings babies to faith? Impossible! But nothing will be impossible with God. Bread and wine consecrated by a few words of Scripture actually are the body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins? Impossible! But nothing will be impossible with God. It may seem impossible, but God loves you. And He imparts His love to you in this way. So also in this way He marks you for the resurrection of the dead. Yes, you also, and all who have died in Christ will rise from the grave on the Last Day. Even though your flesh decays and returns to the dust, Jesus will put you back together again, perfect this time, your body like unto His resurrection body. Despite all reason and experience, the risen Jesus raises the dead. Impossible? Nothing will be impossible with God. For His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways. His thoughts and ways are so much better. And they may not make sense to us. But that is why we live by faith, not by sight, not by reason, not by any of our senses. We live by faith in the Gospel, which is the pure gift of God.

Now Mary shows us how to accept such a gift. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). That is faith, the receiving hands into which God places Jesus Christ for your salvation and mine. May it be also unto us according to the Lord’s Word, be it delivered by angels, or through the pages of Scripture, or through the sermon of a simple pastor. For Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is our Lord, and He has redeemed us. Impossible? Nothing will be impossible with God! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Advent Midweek 3

Advent Midweek 3
December 17, 2008
Text: 1 John 5:6-12

“For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:7; ESV). This is the very testimony of God Himself, through His Spirit who speaks to us in the Word of Holy Scripture and preaching, and in the Word made visible, connected to visible elements, the water of Baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, bread and wine which are the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord has not left us to figure things out for ourselves when it comes to spiritual matters. We are not on some sort of spiritual journey wherein each of us makes his or her own discovery of “truth” as Oprah and the voices of our post-modern culture would have you believe. God testifies to Himself. He leads us on the journey. There is only one path. And Christ is our Captain. He does not leave us to fend for ourselves. He comes to us. He comes to us as He has promised, in the means of grace, in Word and Sacrament.

In the first week of Advent, we meditated on Jesus’ coming as God in the flesh to give His life on the cross in exchange for the life of the world. This was His first coming, or advent. In the second week of Advent, we meditated on Jesus’ coming again in glory, His second advent. But what about the time between the advents? Even in this in-between time, our Lord does not leave us helpless or alone. He comes to us. Before He ascended into heaven, our Lord promised His disciples, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). He is with us in Word and Sacrament. That is what St. John is referring to in our text this evening. Jesus is with us in the testimony of His Spirit, His baptismal water, His blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Through these means of grace He forgives our sins. He creates and strengthens faith. He gives us all the benefits of His cross. He makes us His people. He grants us salvation. He delivers to us all that He accomplished in His first advent in order to prepare us to meet Him in His second advent.

Here is the promise that sustains us in this time between the advents, the truth to which the Spirit, the water, and the blood testify: “that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12). Notice there is a past tense and a present tense in this passage. God gave us eternal life. He gave us eternal life through the first coming of Jesus to be our Savior, to fulfill the Law for us, to die on the cross for our sins, to be raised again for our justification, and He made this subjectively ours when we came to faith through the Spirit working in the Word and in Baptism. And this continues to be ours, present tense: Whoever has the Son has life. It’s not just that we have been baptized into Christ, we are baptized into Christ, an event in the past that is nonetheless an ongoing reality for us. We have life because we are in Christ. We continue to live in our Baptism. We hear the Word. We receive the Spirit. We partake of our Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. And in this way, Jesus continually comes to us. Thus we do not meet His second coming alone. He’s right there with us, upholding us with His righteous right hand. He who is our Judge on the Last Day is also our Advocate and Defender!

We should look upon the Word of God and His holy Sacraments as lifelines that keep us alive in Christ. By these means God is always supplying us with what we need to remain in the one true faith unto eternal life. The Word and Sacraments give you a continuous supply of Jesus. By these means He is really present with you. He’s not just with you in spirit, whatever that means. He is with you as God and as Man, bodily, even though you cannot see Him. In the Scriptures and in preaching and absolution, Jesus is really speaking to you; through the mouth of the pastor or the words printed on the page to be sure, but it is really Jesus who is doing the speaking. And His Word enters your ear implants itself in your heart, where His Spirit dwells. In Baptism, Jesus is really the One who washes your sins away and makes you a child of God; through the hands of the pastor, to be sure, but it is really Him doing the washing and bringing you to new birth. And of course, in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is coming to you in a special way, with His true body and blood. The bread and the wine do not just represent His body and blood. We know by faith, because our Lord says so, that in, with, and under the bread and wine is the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the very same body and blood given and shed for us on the cross. Again, you receive these from the pastor’s hand to be sure, but it is really Jesus feeding you and giving you to drink. He is strengthening and preserving you in the one true faith unto life everlasting.

Now if you believe in the Son of God, you have this testimony within yourself. Remember, this is God testifying to Himself and to His truth. If you accept the testimony of men in important matters (and you do every time you believe a product endorsement or the testimony of someone in court or ask someone to recommend a restaurant), surely God’s testimony is much greater. And you need this testimony in this fallen world. There are so many perils to your salvation in this fallen creation. The devil, the world, and your sinful flesh are all out to destroy your faith and your life in Christ. How do you battle against these? Again, you need to be connected to the lifelines our Lord has given. That means regular use of the Word and the Sacraments. That means coming to church faithfully and being in daily contact with the Word. That means coming to Bible class.

Now, it is true that you can miss church here or there, neglect your devotions, fail to have contact with the Word and the Sacraments for a time, and still remain in the faith. This is a gift of God’s gracious preservation. But don’t deceive yourself. When you fail in this way, your faith is ever weakening. It may be imperceptible at first. In fact, it may be so gradual, you hardly notice it. But what happens is that as you are separated from these lifelines that give you a continuous supply of Jesus, you weaken more and more until finally there is little if anything left of your faith. You take stock of where you are spiritually and you are amazed at how far you’ve wandered. You can lose your faith. You can disconnect yourself from Jesus, and we know that whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life (v. 12). All of us falter in our spiritual life. It is so easy to become lax, to neglect faithful use of the means of grace. Beloved, when this happens, do not lose heart. Repent. And go where your Lord Jesus Christ has promised always to be for you. Go to the lifelines. Go to His Word and His Sacraments. Receive again His forgiveness and life. For even when you are unfaithful, Jesus is faithful. He is always there, right where He has promised to be, for you. These three testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. Their testimony agrees. And in their testimony Christ Jesus is present for you, to forgive you, to sanctify you, to strengthen you so that you stand firm in this time of tribulation between the advents.

This is pure gift on the part of God. As we prepare to celebrate another Christmas next week, it is good and right that we meditate upon our Lord’s continual coming to us in Word and Sacrament. In fact, there is no better preparation for Christmas. In reality, there is no other preparation for Christmas. For the way we receive Jesus is through the Spirit, the water, and the blood. He promises no other way. But through these means He is with us always, as God and Man, even unto the end of the age. And when that end of the age comes, He is there waiting to receive us into the splendor of His kingdom. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Third Sunday in Advent

Third Sunday in Advent (B)
December 14, 2008
Text: John 1:6-8, 19-28

The Prophet John was sent by God for a very specific task: to prepare the way for Jesus Christ. He was sent to be a witness to the Light, so that all who hear John’s testimony, right up to the present day, may come to believe in that Light, the Light of the world, the Light that is Jesus Christ. God would have all to be saved, to come to a knowledge of the truth, to step into the Light that is Jesus Christ and so receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. And God has not left us without a witness to point the way to the Light. God has given us His Word. And in our text this morning, He gives His Word through John the Baptist, a prophet that not only cried to those gathered around him in the wilderness east of the Jordan, but so also, through the pages of Holy Scripture, he is a prophet who cries to us this morning in Dorr, Michigan, “Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23; ESV).

John is not the Light. John is not the Messiah, about that he is quite clear. John has been sent by God to bear witness to the Light, to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Notice that the ministry of John is all about Jesus. Even when the religious establishment in Jerusalem sends priests and Levites to ask John who he thinks he is and why he does the things he does, John does not talk about himself. He is always bearing witness to the Light. He is always pointing people to Jesus Christ. The priests and Levites and Pharisees were very concerned about John’s ministry in the wilderness. He was drawing great crowds from Jerusalem. He was very popular among the people. He must have been, for there is no other reason they would be traveling to the desert region on the east side of the Jordan River. The religious leaders wonder what it is that John is claiming about himself. Does he think he is the Messiah? That could cause a lot of trouble, for the people thought that when Messiah comes, he will lead a military defeat of the Romans and restore the earthly kingdom of Israel to the Jews. As we learned last week, John certainly dresses in a strange way. He dresses in camel’s hair and leather, the clothing of the great Prophet Elijah. Elijah was taken bodily into heaven, as you’ll recall, a great chariot of fire swooping down from God and taking him out of sight. The people thought that Elijah would return bodily to usher in the age of the Messiah. Is this who John thinks he is? Or maybe he thinks he is the prophet whom Moses says will come in Deuteronomy 18 (v. 15): “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” But notice, as the priests and Levites interview John, he does not take such honor upon himself. “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ’” (John 1:20). And even though Jesus declared that John was the one who was to come in the spirit of Elijah (cf. Matt. 10-13), John does not want the people to misunderstand and think that he is Elijah in the flesh, and so even this he denies, “I am not” (John 1:21). Nor does he claim to be the prophet like unto Moses, for that prophet is Jesus Christ Himself. No, John was not sent to bear witness about himself or the great things he was doing. John was not the Light, but God had sent him to bear witness to the Light. And even when the priests and Levites ask him plainly, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (v. 22), even then, in answering, John points to Jesus Christ. “He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said’” (v. 23). John’s very identity is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. John is the forerunner, the prophet sent to prepare the way and to call upon us to prepare the way by repenting of our sins and believing that God has come to His people in the flesh of Jesus.

John has come to prepare the way for Jesus by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That is what John’s ministry is all about, repentance and the forgiveness of sins. That is what all Christian ministry is about. That is what the Church is about. That is what you are about as priests of God. Therefore, like John, your very identity is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. John’s baptism foreshadowed Jesus’ Baptism. And you are baptized into Christ. John baptized with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit hidden under the water and the Word. John points you to Jesus and His Baptism, and so also you, as the Baptized children of God, are always pointing others to Jesus and His Baptism. You continue to proclaim the message of St. John the Baptist, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” And you heed this message yourself.

What does it mean to “Make straight the way of the Lord?” It means to repent, to remove the obstacles that prevent Jesus from taking possession of you body and soul. The Lord Himself does this to you through His Word, through the preaching of men like John, Christian pastors who faithfully proclaim to you the whole counsel of God. The Lord Himself fills every valley and makes every mountain and hill low. He makes the crooked straight and the rough places level (cf. Is. 40:4; Luke 3:5). He casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. He convicts and condemns sinners with His holy Law. He binds up the brokenhearted and repentant with His precious Gospel (Is. 61:1). Making straight the way of the Lord means first of all confessing your sins, acknowledging that there is nothing good or righteous in you, that you have sinned by your own most grievous fault. And that means repenting of the specifics. It means repenting of your envy, your lust, your covetousness, the times you looked at a woman with lustful intent in your heart, the times you envied your friend whose husband was a better family man than your own. It means repenting of your greed, thinking the stock market and the Big Three automakers are what is most important this season, worrying about your own paycheck and portfolio, but turning a cold shoulder to those who have nothing this Christmas. It means repenting of your hidden faults, acknowledging to God and to one another that you have many sins even you are unaware of. It means confessing that you are wholly unworthy of the Christmas gift of God in Jesus Christ, that you confess along with John, “I am not even worthy to stoop down and untie His sandal, not even worthy to be His lowly slave.” But making straight the way of the Lord is also to confess that in spite of all this sin and filth and unworthiness… in fact, because of all this sin and filth and unworthiness, Jesus Christ has come, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

In fact, though John came preaching repentance, he always did so with the forgiveness of sins in view. For that is why Jesus came, and John was always pointing to Jesus. Jesus is the One who clothes you with the garments of salvation and covers you with the robe of righteousness (Is. 61:10). This is what He does in the Gospel. This is what He does in Baptism and in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord makes His own way straight in your hearts and minds. For after He crushes you with His Law and kills you, He raises you and makes you alive with His Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins which He won for you by His sacrificial death on the cross. He lightens the darkness of your hearts by His gracious visitation. He makes you new people, people who rejoice always, who pray without ceasing, who give thanks to God in all circumstances. He makes of you people who do not quench the Spirit or despise His Word, but who test everything and hold fast to what is good, abstaining from every form of evil. That is to say that the Lord keeps you. He keeps you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ. He sanctifies you completely so that your whole spirit, soul, and body are kept blameless at the coming of Jesus Christ. Our Lord is faithful. He will surely do it. He Himself accomplishes this within you. He makes His path straight.

Our gracious God would have all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. And that includes you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. So God sends His messengers, His witnesses, witnesses like St. John the Baptist. These witnesses call upon us to prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight. They preach God’s Word to us. They are always proclaiming Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. For Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome. And you, beloved are children of the light, children of the day. You no longer walk in darkness, for the Holy Spirit has enlightened you with His gifts. God keep you ever in that Light, the Light that is Jesus Christ, bringing you to repentance and faith in Christ. And He will do so. He has promised, and He is faithful. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent Midweek 2

Advent Midweek 2
December 10, 2008
Text: 1 Thess. 4:13-5:11

Dear brothers and sisters, our Lord Jesus has promised that He will come again to judge the living and the dead. But our Lord warns us, “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:36-39; ESV). In our text, St. Paul is essentially preaching on this passage from Matthew. We don’t know when our Lord Jesus will return, but one thing is certain, we know He will return. And though there will be signs indicating our Lord’s impending return, for example, wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom, famines, and earthquakes in various places (cf. Matt. 24:6-7), the reality is that these signs have been testifying to the end since the beginning of the world, at least since Adam and Eve fell into sin and their son Cain rose up against his brother Abel and murdered him. Every war, every famine, every earthquake, every conflict and every natural disaster is a sign of the end. But the end has not come yet. And so life goes on as usual, even in the midst of these signs. Just as in the days of Noah, people are eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, celebrating another Christmas and another New Year as if the end will never come.

There is a danger here of becoming lax in our waiting and watching for the Day of the Lord. There is a danger here of false security, believing the Lord will never return, that there will be no judgment, that life will always continue this way, in spite of the signs. But dear brothers and sisters, “you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). In other words, it will come when we least expect it. When it comes to securing our homes against thieves, we have to be vigilant about locking our doors and windows, investigating suspicious noises in the night, being on the defensive, because we never know when a thief may try to break in and steal. “But know this,” says Jesus, “that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into” (Matt. 24:43). So we also have to watch, at all times. If we knew exactly what day and time the Lord was returning, we might be tempted to let our guard down, to put off repentance until the last moment, and then the devil would have opportunity to rob us of our salvation permanently. St. Paul is warning the Thessalonians in our text that for this reason they need to watch, to be ready at any moment for the Lord’s return. For He could return a thousand years from now. But so also He could return in the next ten minutes. For “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thess. 5:3). This is true not only of the end of days, but of your death. Even if Jesus does not return during your lifetime, you do not know the day or hour when the Lord will take you from this life. And then you will be judged. Make no mistake, the judgment is coming, one way or another. Therefore repent of your carnal security. Be warned, and watch.

There is another danger, though. Sometimes Christians, in their zeal for the Lord’s return and their sincere belief that He will, as He says, come soon, stop living in their God-given vocations in this life. As a matter of fact, while in 1st Thessalonians Paul writes the Christians in Thessalonica to warn them against false security, believing the Lord will never come, in 2nd Thessalonians he has to write to them again, this time to warn them against forsaking their callings in this life. Some Thessalonians apparently were under the mistaken impression that since the Lord could come at any moment, they no longer had to work for a living, no longer had to provide for their families, no longer had to tend to the matters of this life. Not so, says Paul. In fact, Paul is very emphatic on this point: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). We are in the world, even if not of the world. God has placed us into specific relationships and specific vocations in this life. And He would have us serve faithfully in these relationships and vocations right up until the very last moment. This is, after all, God’s way of providing for His people. He provides for His people’s earthly needs through the hands of His people working in their vocations. And this is one reason our God has seen fit to withhold from us the day and hour of Jesus’ return. He wants us to continue in faithful service to our neighbor for as many days as He gives us.

So how are we to avoid these twin dangers when it comes to Jesus’ second Advent? St. Paul says that we are to avoid them by remembering who we are. We are the people of God. We are baptized into Christ. We have been redeemed by Him through His suffering and death. We are marked for resurrection like unto His glorious resurrection. The Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel and enlightened us with His gifts. Therefore we are not in darkness for the day of the Lord to surprise us as a thief (1 Thess. 5:4). “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (vv. 5-6). And remember that the Day of the Lord will be a Day of rejoicing for you and for all who believe in Jesus Christ. For on that Day Jesus will return visibly, in the glory of His Father, with the holy angels, with the cry of command and the voice of an archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God. Then the dead in Christ will rise first, bodily, springing from their graves to join the Lord in the air. This includes your loved ones who have died in Christ. And then as many of us as are left will also be caught up together with them in the clouds. Then there will be the judgment, but remember, your verdict has already been pronounced. If you are covered by Jesus’ blood, and you are in your Baptism, all your sins have been forgiven. You are not only innocent, you are righteous, justified. And Jesus will say to you, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). Then you will enter His glory to enjoy a new heaven and a new earth, without sin and sorrow and sickness and death, in the eternal bliss and fellowship of your Lord Jesus.

You may not know the day or hour when your Lord Jesus will return. But rest assured, He will return. And since you are in Christ, since you are a child of the day, not of the night, you can watch in eager expectation. And if God so grants it, you can celebrate another Christmas and another New Year, in the certain confidence that the Lord who first came as Baby and Savior will come again to grant your final deliverance from all that is fallen. Behold, He makes all things new. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Second Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent (B)
December 7, 2008
Text: Mark 1:1-8

Advent is about preparation. Even the secular world knows this. Even those who have no idea what the season of Advent means for the Church of Jesus Christ know that Advent is all about preparation… preparation for Christmas! Secular Advent calendars count down the days until December 25th. The good ones even have chocolate behind each door or window. But the best these Advent calendars can do is remind us how many shopping days we have until Christmas and prepare us for the climactic moment when we can finally rip into the presents.

Of course, you and I know that Advent has much more significance for the people of God. For us, Advent is about so much more than shopping and decorating in preparation for the Christmas feast. It is about spiritual preparation to receive the true Christmas gift from God to all humanity. It is about preparation to receive the gift of God Himself wrapped in human flesh, come to be the Savior of the world. In fact, as we heard last week and as we are learning in our Advent midweek series, our Lord Jesus, God’s Christmas gift to us, comes to us in three ways: He came as our Savior, a baby born in a Bethlehem stable, God in the flesh come to die on the cross for our sins. He comes to us with His forgiveness, life, and salvation in His holy Word and Sacraments. And our Lord Jesus Christ will come again visibly on the Last Day to judge the quick and the dead. So Advent is about preparation to receive Jesus in each of these three ways. It is good and right that we prepare, that we not greet our Lord casually, but that we call upon Him to prepare us by His Holy Spirit to receive Him aright.

This morning in our Gospel lesson, St. John the Baptist comes to us proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). Repentance and forgiveness, that is true Advent preparation. John is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (v. 3; ESV). Elijah has come in John the Baptist. The point is not lost on the people of Judea and Jerusalem. He looks like Elijah. He is clothed in camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. He eats locusts and wild honey. He conducts his ministry in the wilderness. So too, he acts like Elisha, Elijah’s successor, on whom a double portion of Elijah’s spirit rested. For just as Elishah directed Naaman to wash in the Jordan river and so be cleansed of his leprosy, so John the Baptist directs his hearers to wash, to be baptized, in the Jordan and so be cleansed of sin. A true prophet has come in the person of John the Baptist, and the people have not had a legitimate prophet for 400 years. They are excited. They hear him with all eagerness. They even suspect him of being the Messiah. But John rejects any such notion. He is not the Messiah. But, he declares, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (vv. 7-8). John has come to prepare the people to receive Jesus. John must decrease so that Jesus may increase. John prepares the people for the coming of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

The preaching of St. John the Baptist has been preserved on the pages of Holy Scripture for our benefit, for our learning. John bids us prepare this morning. We prepare for Jesus’ coming as Baby and Savior at Christmas, for His coming in His gifts of Word and Sacrament, and for His coming again on the Last Day. We prepare, as John says, in repentance, and in receiving the forgiveness of sins. I would suggest to you that such preparation is not pious sentiment, but real activity. It is first of all the activity of the Holy Spirit in you, working through His holy Word to bring you to repentance and then delivering to you the forgiveness of sins that you have through Jesus Christ. But such activity on the part of the Holy Spirit does not leave you inactive. John bids the people prepare the way of the Lord. Granted they do this in and through the Holy Spirit, and certainly not to earn forgiveness, but as a response to the gift of God in Jesus Christ, they prepare. The people of Judea and Jerusalem came to John to confess their sins and be baptized. So also there are concrete things that you should do, not to earn forgiveness, but as a response to the gift of God that you have in Jesus Christ. For example, you should actively prepare to celebrate Christmas this year. And here I don’t mean putting up the Christmas lights and baking cookies for the office party. I mean you should be spiritually preparing now to celebrate Christmas, the Christ-Mass, the feast of our Lord’s Nativity. You do this by attending our church services faithfully on Sunday morning, and I think it is a good Advent discipline to make sure you come to the Wednesday evening midweek services. Perhaps you also do some extra devotions during the season of Advent. Maybe you have an Advent wreath around your dinner table, and you light the candles for each week as you do devotions with your family. Whatever you do, you intentionally use this time before Christmas as a time of self-examination and repentance, a time of meditation on our Lord’s Word and of prayer, a time to receive anew and with joy the forgiveness that our Lord won for us on His cross. In this way you mark this as a special time to prepare to celebrate the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in this way, Christ Himself prepares you for His coming.

And just as we do not celebrate our Lord’s coming in the flesh at Christmas lightly, without preparation, so too we do not receive Him as He comes to us in His Word and Sacrament without preparation. While this is true of our reception of all of the Lord’s gifts, I’m thinking here particularly of the Sacrament of the Altar. We have specific instructions in the Holy Scriptures about how we should prepare for the Sacrament. St. Paul writes, “Whoever therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:27-29). We prepare for our Lord’s coming to us in His body and blood by examining ourselves. What should we ask ourselves when we perform such an examination? We should ask first of all if we believe we are sinners worthy only of damnation. We should ask if we realize our great need for our Savior Jesus Christ, if we are sorry for our sins, desire the forgiveness only Jesus brings, and if we want to do better. We should ask if we believe the risen Lord Jesus comes to us in this holy meal with His very body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, to deliver to us the precious fruits of His cross, the benefits of His innocent, bitter sufferings and death. We should ask if the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation which He bestows on us here are really for us. And in this way we prepare the way John the Baptist teaches us to prepare, with repentance, receiving the forgiveness of our sins. For he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” For the words, “For you,” require all hearts to believe (Small Catechism). And in this way we see again, it is really Jesus who is preparing us for His coming.

So we prepare for Jesus’ coming at Christmas and for His coming to us in His Word and Sacraments, with repentance and the hands of faith receiving His forgiveness. But we know also that there is another coming for which we need to prepare, His coming again to judge. St. Peter writes in our Epistle lesson, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10). We don’t want to meet such a Day without preparation! But how do we prepare? Again, we take our cue from St. John the Baptist. Repent and believe the Good News. Your sins are forgiven. We meet the Day of Judgment with repentance and the forgiveness won by our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. And we know that the same Lord Jesus Christ who loves us and died for us and is risen again for us, the same Lord Jesus Christ who came as Savior that first Christmas and who continually comes to us with His gifts in the Word and the Sacraments, that same Lord Jesus Christ is the One who sits in judgment on the Last Day. Well, if that is so, we need not fear! Jesus has prepared us for this very Day. As it turns out, Jesus first coming as Savior and His continual coming to us in Word and Sacrament are preparation for this Day of His second coming! Now, in response to this there are, to be sure, once again practical things we, as the people of God, do. Just as there are concrete things we do to prepare for Christmas and concrete things we do to prepare for the Lord’s Supper, so there are concrete things we do, as a result of our salvation in Christ Jesus, to prepare for our Lord’s second coming. The Christian life is a life of preparation for this Day, a life marked by repentance and the forgiveness of sins. St. Peter tells us what such a life looks like: “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God… since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (vv. 11-12, 14). In other words, as those who have been redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ and who await the final deliverance, we strive to live according to His will, observing His commandments, leading our lives to His glory, that men may see our good works and so glorify our Father who is in heaven. And when we fail (and we will fail!), we repent, and rest again in the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus Christ. For He is the One who erases our spots and blemishes, the stains of our sin, by His blood.

Jesus Himself prepares us for His judgment. He makes us holy and clean. He gives us the strength and power to live a new life in Him. He baptizes us with His Spirit. This is not another Baptism than that which you received at the beginning of your faith. It was your Lord Jesus Christ, who through the hands of your pastor, poured water over your head in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. It was a washing of regeneration for the forgiveness of your sins. And it is to that Baptism that you return each day in repentance to receive once again the forgiveness that springs from this well of living water. The long and the short of our text this morning is this: We prepare for our Lord’s coming, in each of the ways He comes to us, with repentance, confessing our sins, being baptized, and receiving from Him the forgiveness of sins. And so we have a treasure that is beyond anything the secular world can imagine in all its Christmas sentimentality. We have Jesus Christ. He is THE Christmas gift. And you don’t have to wait until December 25th to receive Him. He is here today with His Word and His body and blood and His Holy Spirit, to give you the Kingdom of His Father. Let us prepare, then, and come to the feast. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Advent Midweek I

Advent Midweek I
December 3, 2008
Text: Is. 9:6-7

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as you have heard from me many times this week, the word Advent means coming, and this Advent season we meditate upon the coming of our Lord Jesus to us in three different ways: First, His coming to us as the Babe of Bethlehem, to be our Savior from sin, death, and hell; second, His coming again to judge the living and the dead; and third, His continual coming to us in this “time between the comings” in His Holy Word and Sacraments.

Tonight the Prophet Isaiah proclaims to us the good news that God has come in the flesh to be our Savior. Unto us a Child is born. Unto us a Son is given. That is to say that God has observed our wretched state, that we are wholly lost in sin, that there is no one who does good, no, not even one, that no one is righteous, no one understands, no one seeks God, that we have all turned aside after other gods, gods of our own making. God has observed our wretched state and in love, broken into our world, taken upon Himself our flesh in the incarnation of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. God has made good on His promise that He would send the Seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head. The Son of God becomes the Son of Mary, God becomes one with man. And this so that He could save man. This so that He could suffer and die as the sacrificial Lamb of God for the sins of the whole world. The little baby in the Bethlehem manger would grow up to die for your sin and mine on Calvary’s cross.

He is a King, this Jesus, King of the universe, in fact. The very government is upon His shoulder, which is to say even at birth, even as He lay in the manger, the baby Jesus has all the authority of God, for He is God. Though in His state of humiliation He may not always or fully use His divine power, do not be deceived. He rules all things, and this for the benefit of His people. And it is a great mystery, but this King of the universe, of all things, visible and invisible, rules in this way: He submits Himself to His sinful subjects, submits Himself to death on the cross. In fact, the cross is His coronation, crowned with thorns, robed in purple, worshiped in mockery, a reed for a scepter with which He is beaten and bruised, lifted up on the throne of the cross for all the world to see. But in this way He does rule. In this way He purchases us to be His subjects. He pays the punishment for our sin and so also defeats death and Satan. These no longer have a claim on us. He is risen and lives and reigns to all eternity. So we are made His own, to live under Him in His Kingdom, and to serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Those of whom Jesus has taken possession, wholly by grace, live lives of thanksgiving and praise.

God has given our Lord Jesus Christ the Name that is above every name. His Name shall be called “Wonderful.” Despite the lack of a comma between “Wonderful” and “Counselor” in the ESV, these are really two different ascriptions. He is called Wonderful, which is to say His coming and His salvation are full of wonder, miraculous. He is called Counselor, which is to say He counsels us with His holy Word and guides and directs all things for our benefit. He is called Mighty God, for there is no God other than the God revealed in Jesus Christ. There is no God but the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it is God the Son who took on flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the very mystery of Christmas. He is called the Everlasting Father… not God the Father, but Father in the sense that He cares for us and loves us as a father loves his children, even more so, for He loves us with an everlasting love, from all eternity. And so He is also called the Prince of Peace. For He has made peace with God for us who were eternally separated from God by sin. He made peace for us on His cross.

Of this King’s government and of this King’s peace there is no end. This is the Son of David come to sit on the throne of His royal father. He is the fulfillment of the promise that David would never fail to have a descendent sit on the throne of Israel. And you are Israel, beloved… the Church of God. For you are all sons of Abraham by faith. You have been grafted into the Kingdom, made members of the family of God. You have been baptized, God’s own children. Notice what marks this Kingdom into which you have been grafted. Isaiah says the Kingdom of this King is marked by justice and righteousness. This is justification language. In this world we hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness, and are never satisfied, for fallen man has no inherent justice or righteousness. But our King, Jesus, gives us His justice, and His righteousness. He suffers the just punishment for our sin on the cross and gives us the just reward for His righteousness, eternal life. In fact, He gives us His very righteousness. He does this without any merit or worthiness in us. The righteousness is all His, given as a gift. He does all the work. It is the zeal of the LORD of hosts that accomplishes this. And it is ours forever.

To us a Child is born. To us a Son is given. It is the Christmas gift of God wrapped in the flesh of the Christ Child. God comes in the flesh, our flesh. Great is His Advent. The Church from the time of Adam and Eve has prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus.” God has heard the cries of His people, and sent His Son. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Behold, Your King is Coming to You

Pastor’s Window for December 2008

“Behold, Your King is Coming to You”

Beloved in the Lord,

“Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he.” So prophesied Zechariah (9:9b; ESV). We sing these words in the Introit for the First Sunday in Advent. How appropriate it is that these words are placed upon our lips on that Sunday, for this verse is what Advent is all about. As you may know, the word “advent” means coming. In Advent, we meditate on our Lord’s coming to us as God in the flesh to be our Savior, on His continual coming to us in His gifts of Word and Sacrament, and on His coming again in glory on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead.

As we meditate on each of these ways our Lord Jesus comes to us, this verse is key: “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he.” There are four key words in this text: “king,” “coming,” “righteous” and “salvation.”

Jesus is our King. His coronation took place in His innocent, bitter sufferings and death, when He was dressed in royal purple and crowned with thorns, led to the place of crucifixion and lifted up on the throne of the cross. There He died for the sins of all people, for you and for me. But in so doing He bought us as His own, to be His beloved subjects and heirs of His Kingdom. And Christ is risen. Death could not hold Him. The King has conquered His enemies. He has crushed the serpent’s head. Sin no longer has any power. Death is dead. So our King has ascended to the very throne of God where He rules His Church, rules all things in fact, rules them for the good of His Christians.

Our King Jesus comes to us, as we saw, in three ways. He came as our Savior and He continues to come to us in His Word and in the Sacraments. And it is because He came as our Savior and, in love, shed His blood for us, for our forgiveness and life, and because He continues to come to us with His gifts in the Word and Sacraments, giving us the all the benefits of His sin atoning work… it is because of all this that we do not need to fear His coming again as Judge. For as Zechariah says, our King comes to us with righteousness and salvation.

That He comes to us with righteousness means that He comes to give us His righteousness. We have no righteousness of our own. We are sinners. What kind of reception should a convicted murderer expect before the King? That convicted murderer should expect nothing from the King but condemnation, an order of execution. But King Jesus does not do what is expected. He comes to us convicted murderers, thieves, adulterers, gossips, rogues… He comes in His perfect righteousness, and He strips us of our guilt, takes it all upon Himself, and gives us instead His righteousness as a gift. That’s justification!

Our King also comes with salvation. He saves us from condemnation. He still gives the order of execution, to be sure. He is holy, and cannot leave sin unpunished. But the order is that the King will die in place of the scoundrel. The scoundrel will not die, but live as a king. This is what Jesus does for you. He suffers all hell, the hell that you deserve on the cross. And then He dies for you. He takes your condemnation upon Himself, and in exchange gives you eternal life. Christ, our King, is risen from the dead and continues to reign, and He will come again as Judge on the Last Day. But because He has first come to you with His righteousness and salvation and given these to you freely, as a gift, you don’t have to fear His Judgment. On Judgment Day, He will judge you righteous, because that is what He has made you with His righteousness. On that Day your salvation will be revealed.

Repentance is certainly a component of the Advent season. We should repent of our sin as we prepare for the coming of the Lord. But Advent is also a season for rejoicing. For our King does come to us. He comes with His righteousness and salvation. And there can be no better preparation for Christmas than to receive these gifts with joy.

Pastor Krenz