Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, December 27, 2009

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
December 27, 2009
Text: Rev. 1:1-6; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 21:20-25

Beloved in the Lord, the world was finished with Christmas yesterday, December 26th. All the unsatisfactory gifts have been returned and exchanged, the Christmas glow has worn off, the decorations are coming down, only one more week until we all have to resolve to go on a diet, and there are now, depending on how you count it, 364 shopping days left until next Christmas. But Christmas has just begun for the Church! There really are twelve days of Christmas, the Christmas season of the Church year. The world ignored Advent as the Church prepared for the coming of her Lord. Now Christmas is over for the secular world, and I say, fine and good. Because now we can discard all the tinsel and gift-wrap and all the distractions of the season and get down to the churchly celebration of Christmas. This is only day three of the Christmas Feast! If you’re anything like me, you may feel a kind of “let down” the first day or two after Christmas. This is a symptom of our sin of trying to make Christmas what it is not: the perfect, sentimental, romantic, fun, old-fashioned family Christmas where everybody gets along, everybody gets everything they want, and all the stuff makes everybody happy. And even the things we wish for that we have no control over, like a white Christmas, or better, 70 degrees and sunny, or the Miracle on 34th Street kind of wishes, all come true, delivered with a big red bow. It doesn’t happen. And we get the blues. See, the devil and the world and our own flesh have tricked us into thinking that Christmas is over, and worse, that Christmas has failed, when in reality, none of those things are what Christmas is. Christmas is this: Jesus Christ is born. And we celebrate that all year round, but particularly now, in the Christmas season of the Church year, as we celebrate and meditate upon the incarnation of our Lord, the coming of the Son of God in the flesh of the Son of Mary. Christmas is not over. The Feast continues this morning. Let not your heart be troubled. Jesus is born in spite of the world’s inattention, your Savior, and your eternal Christmas gift.

This morning happens to be another feast as well, the feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. It is good and right that we consider the Apostle John on this First Sunday after Christmas, for as the writer, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of the Gospel according to St. John, three epistles that also bear his name, and the book of Revelation, John has unwrapped for us the Christmas gift of our Lord Jesus Christ and His salvation. It is John who wrote the divinely profound words of the traditional Gospel for Christmas Day: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14; ESV). John proclaims the truth of the incarnation in a particularly sublime way: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:1-2). He’s talking about Jesus Christ, the Word, the Son of God in human flesh. He’s heard Him, seen Him, touched Him. John is an apostle of truth, and he is an apostle of love. He speaks the truth about Jesus Christ, and the truth that is Jesus Christ, and he speaks that truth in love. Even a cursory reading of his Gospel and his epistles finds John proclaiming the truth in the face of great heresies in the ancient world, yet expounding the great commandment of Jesus: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (4:11). “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (3:18). The incarnation, the light coming into the darkness, truth and love, major themes in the writings of John. We celebrate him because of his doctrine, because he has proclaimed to us living in this world of darkness the Light of our Savior, Jesus Christ. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

We honor John and give thanks to God for him because of his preaching. And so also, we learn and are edified from his example of faith and life. That is how we should regard the saints and celebrate them according to our Lutheran Confessions. The Augsburg Confession declares, “Our churches teach that the history of saints may be set before us so that we may follow the example of their faith and good works, according to our calling.”[1] The first thing we should observe about John’s faith and life is that he is a sinner just like us. This is what we should know about all the saints. They are not saints because they are any less sinful than us. They are saints because, just like us, they are made righteous, justified, by the blood and death of Christ alone. In this sense, all who believe in Christ and are baptized into Him are saints. John is particularly singled out for honor because of his calling, by God’s pure grace, as an apostle, one of the Twelve, and an evangelist, author of one of the four Gospels. But he was most certainly a sinner. The Gospels bear that out. John was a rough and tough fisherman along with his brother James and their father Zebedee, and their associates, Peter and Andrew. Jesus calls John and his brother James, “Boanerges,” “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), and this is probably not a compliment. These brothers tend to act before they think. They want action from Jesus. John and James want to sit on two thrones on either side of Jesus when He comes into His kingdom (Matt. 20:20-28). They want to be first among their fellow apostles. John is jealous when one who is not one of the Twelve is casting out demons in Jesus’ Name (Mark 9:38). And John receives a cutting rebuke from Jesus when he asks Jesus if he should call upon fire from heaven to come down and consume the Samaritans (Luke 9:54). Though John would accompany our Lord through much of His trial and crucifixion, he is among the disciples who are initially scattered because of fear, for Jesus says: “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’” (Mark 14:27). So also, John is among the disciples who are behind locked doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19), and John, too, initially doubts the resurrection (Luke 24). And the point of all of this is we see ourselves in St. John, do we not? He’s a sinner, like us. If he were alive today, he, too, would probably be struggling with the after-Christmas blahs, needing to be exhorted to remember that it is still Christmas in the Church.

But just as John was a man of flesh, a sinner, so also he lived by faith in Christ. He lived in the Gospel. He was honest with himself about his sin, and he would have us be honest with ourselves: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). But so also he points us to Christ crucified alone for forgiveness and salvation. “If we confess ours sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (v. 9). St. John lived and died and continues to live in the forgiveness and righteousness and salvation of Jesus Christ: “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (2:1-2). It is no wonder that John could leave his life and death so confidently in the pierced hands of his Lord Jesus, just as we should also do. In our Gospel lesson (John 21:20-25), Jesus prophesies Peter’s suffering and death for the Gospel and his Savior. Peter asks about John. Jesus does not say that John will not die a martyr’s death. John himself does not know what kind of death he will die. But he knows he will suffer. And suffer he did. John lived during a time of great persecution. Christians were tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. Many of John’s beloved friends, including probably all of the apostles were martyred during John’s lifetime. Tradition says that John was not put to death for his faith. This may or may not be the case. Tradition is foggy. But even if, as tradition says, he lived to a ripe old age and died of natural causes, this does not mean John was not a martyr in the true sense of the word: a witness of Jesus Christ. And John’s witness included much suffering. Tradition, again, says that John was sentenced to be boiled alive in oil, and narrowly escaped by divine intervention. We know from the Scriptures that he was exiled to the island of Patmos (Rev. 1:9). Another tradition says that John was forced to drink poison, but the poison did not harm him. These things teach us, beloved, to entrust our life and all of our days and our death into the pierced hands of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, and is risen, that we might have eternal life. These things teach us that we should at all times be ready to give an account for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15), even when such confession leads to suffering and death, because Christ is our life, and no one can take us out of His hands.

And that is especially true this Christmas. Remember, it is still Christmas. Continue to say “merry Christmas.” More importantly, continue to confess the Christ-child to your family members and friends and neighbors and the world. Do not give in to the post-Christmas blues. Rather, take a cue from St. John. Live in the Gospel, the Word incarnate, the eternal life made manifest to us in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. Live in your Baptism into Christ. Live in Him by receiving His continued Christmas gift: His Word, His forgiveness, and the supper of His body and blood. The Feast goes on this morning. After all, the best way to celebrate the coming of God into human flesh and blood is by receiving that flesh and blood in your mouths. In so doing, you not only receive the gift, you confess the Christmas truth of Jesus, and simply say “Amen.” “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:5-6). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] AC XXI:1, McCain et al., p. 44.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day

The Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Day Festival Divine Service
December 25, 2009
Text: John 1:1-18

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Is. 9:6; ESV). Today we herald the glorious Good News: God is a man, a baby in a manger. Lift up your voice. “Break forth together into singing… for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem” (Is. 52:9). Whereas at many times and in many ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14).

This morning, we feast. We feast on the Word made flesh. It is Christmas, the Christ-Mass, which means we gather together around our Lord in His house to receive His Christmas gifts, to feast on His body and blood, the body laid in a manger and nailed to the tree of the cross, the blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins, to redeem us and reconcile us to the Father. We gather around the Christian family table, the holy altar, where our risen Lord Jesus meets us, and serves us with Himself, and we are united to one another in a most intimate communion, along with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

But there is so much this Christmas that hinders us from receiving our Lord. You are the lucky ones. At least you are here! You may have considered not coming this morning, but maybe another family member begged, convinced, cajoled, or otherwise forced you to come. Maybe you always come on Christmas Day for the Christ-Mass. Maybe you just haven’t had your fill of Christmas carols yet. Maybe you’re here because you think this counts for Sunday. On the other hand, maybe you know the true import of this day. If so, thanks be to God. But whatever reason you came, it is a miracle you are here. Only the Holy Spirit could have accomplished that. Because the point of Christmas is that your sinful human flesh is naturally at enmity with God, opposed to Him, and offensive to Him, and so had to be reconciled to Him. You are not here because your sinful human flesh wants to be here. You are here because God has accomplished a great thing: He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, God and man, to be the divine/human Mediator between God and men, to reconcile us poor sinners to a righteous and holy God. He does that by becoming one with us and serving as our substitute, by dying for our sins, by rising for our justification. And so God calls you here in His Word, calls you to faith in your Lord Jesus Christ, calls you here where Jesus is to dispense His gifts. It is the Holy Spirit who calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who brings you here to meet and receive your Savior.

Yet the old sinful flesh still clings to us, and there is much in this fallen world to hinder us from receiving our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps you don’t believe the Gospel is for you. Perhaps past sins still bother you. Perhaps the sins of others have caused you to harbor a grudge. How many disastrous family gatherings are there this time of year? Perhaps you don’t want to let go of your current pet sins, or perhaps the devil has convinced you that you are trapped by these sins. Some of us make up what we think are more sanctified reasons for not receiving Christ this Christmas. I’ve already done the Church thing this week. Christmas is about family: We won’t be in church because Christmas morning is our family time (of course, most of those who give that excuse aren’t here this morning). Or perhaps the commercialism of Christmas has you in its clutches after all. For all the sanctimonious talk about putting Christ back into Christmas and it’s all about family, the reality is, it really is about the gifts and the tasty treats and the romanticism of it all for you. And in that case, Christmas never really lives up to your expectations. It becomes just a glorified version of Valentine’s Day. “Bah! Humbug!,” is what I say, to such saccharine sentimentality.

Beloved in the Lord, away with all of this. Away with the greed and the impossible expectations and the strife and the stress and the silly excuses. You can toss all of it out with the discarded wrapping paper, because Jesus Christ is born, the Word made flesh, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin. That is Christmas. The real Christmas feast happens not at Grandmother’s house today, but right here at Jesus’ house this morning. Take and eat, the body of Christ, laid in a manger, nailed to the cross, risen from the dead, placed into your mouth. Take and drink, the blood of Christ, coursing through the veins of God, the Son of the Virgin Mary, poured out on Calvary, poured down your throat, for the forgiveness of your sins. Away with sin and sorrow. There is no room for them here. Receive this morning your one and only true Christmas gift: Christ Jesus your Savior. Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Now sing we, now rejoice. “This is the Christ, our God Most High, Who hears your sad and bitter cry; He will Himself your Savior be From all your sins to set you free” (LSB 358:3). Beloved in the Lord, all is ready. Jesus is here. Come to the Feast. Merry Christmas. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve

The Nativity of our Lord – Christmas Eve Candlelight Vespers
December 24, 2009
Readings/Comments

Hymn: 379: “O Come, All Ye Faithful”

Isaiah 9:2-7: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Comments: Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. He brings His light into the darkness of our sin, the darkness of violence, of sickness, of death. He comes to break through the darkness, to grant us forgiveness, peace, healing, and resurrection. “Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light, And usher in the morning… This Child, though weak in infancy, Our confidence and joy will be, The pow’r of Satan breaking, Our peace with God now making” (LSB 378:1).

Hymn: 378: “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light”

Titus 2:11-14: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Comments: Jesus both justifies and sanctifies. He declares us righteous and makes us holy. It is all by grace. It is a great and mighty wonder, that God should become flesh, born of a virgin, to redeem our flesh and save our souls. “The Word becomes incarnate And yet remains on high” (LSB 383:2). The grace of God appears in the flesh. God becomes a man. He unites our flesh to Himself. He pays the penalty for our sin. He dies for our redemption. He makes us new by His resurrection. He redeems us from lawlessness. He purifies us for Himself. He makes us zealous to do good works to His glory and for the benefit of our neighbor. “Proclaim the Savior’s birth: ‘To God on high be glory And peace to all the earth!’”

Hymn: 383: “A Great and Mighty Wonder”

Luke 2:1-7: In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Comments: The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is grounded in history. It happens in a real town, Bethlehem, in a real stable, among lowing cattle and bleating goats. It takes place when Quirinius is governor of Syria, under the empire of Caesar Augustus. Historical events bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to be registered. You can investigate the historical sources. All of the facts line up. The Son of God is born into our history to redeem our history. He is wrapped in our history, wrapped in our flesh, wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger. “O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, Be born in us today” (LSB 361:4).

Hymn: 361: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

Luke 2:8-14: And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Comments: The holy angels do not announce the Savior’s birth to King Herod or Governor Quirinius or Caesar. They do not sing to the High Priest or temple clergy. Instead, the poor have the Good News preached to them. They come to the lowly, despised shepherds, keeping watch over their flock by night. While the rest of the world slumbers in ignorance, heaven is aglow with rejoicing that spills over onto earth. The angels and the multitude of the heavenly host proclaim the glory of God and peace on earth, peace with God, the peace that can only come from the Seed of the woman come to crush the serpent’s head. This Gospel, proclaimed by an angel to the poor Judean shepherds, is also for you. “Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing; Come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King” (LSB 368:3).

Hymn: 368: “Angels We Have Heard on High”

Luke 2:15-20: When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Comments: The Gospel message of the heavenly host gives strength and courage to the quaking shepherds. Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us. They find the Child, just as it had been told them. The prophecy is fulfilled. Messiah has come to save His people from their sins. God is in the flesh. He is Emmanuel, God with us. This Good News is to be confessed abroad, as the shepherds made known all the things that had been told them concerning this Child. And it is to be treasured and pondered in the heart, as did the Blessed Virgin Mary. “Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay Close by me forever and love me, I pray” (LSB 364:3). Be near me and abide with me. Abide with Your holy Church. Keep us in the faith of this blessed Gospel. And take us at last to heaven, to live with Thee there.

Hymn: 364: “Away in a Manger”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent (C)
December 20, 2009
Text: Luke 1:39-56

This morning St. Mary sings to us of the way God deals with humanity. He does not judge according to human wisdom. He judges according to divine wisdom, which is foolishness to the natural mind of man. Our God regards the lowly, the despised, the destitute, and bestows His most gracious blessings upon them, though they be entirely undeserving of such kindness. That is, in fact, the definition of the word “grace”: God’s undeserved kindness and love. Thus God does great things for the weak and undeserving, for sinners, only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in them. At the same time, notice what He does with the proud, the mighty, the exalted, those who are of high estate in human estimation: He scatters them, He brings them down from their thrones, He sends them away empty. What are we to make of all of this? This is what is known in theology as the “Great Reversal,” and Jesus speaks of it often in the Gospels. “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matt. 20:16; ESV).

We see the Great Reversal being worked in our Gospel lesson this morning, in the account of the visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, both of them miraculously pregnant, miraculous because Mary is a virgin and Elizabeth is well beyond child-bearing age. We see the Great Reversal being worked in these two unlikely women being chosen, purely by God’s gracious appointment, to bear the last of the great Old Testament prophets, St. John the Baptist, and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Even in terms of these women’s relationship to one another, we see the Great Reversal at work. Elizabeth, as the older, wiser, wife of a priest, should receive all the praise and honor from this poor teenage unwed mother. And certainly Mary does honor Elizabeth, but so also the reverse is true, for as soon as Mary greets Elizabeth, the unborn John the Baptist leaps in his mother’s womb, and as if using Elizabeth as his mouthpiece, his mother declares, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43).

But why the Great Reversal? Why this great honor for the virgin Mary? It is not, as has been falsely taught for centuries in the Christian Church, that Mary is any less a sinner than you are or I am. God does not bestow this grace upon Mary, that she should be Mother of God, based on any merit or worthiness within her. She does not earn this honor by her virtue or by any super good works. It is not the case, as has been falsely taught, that Mary was born sinless. God does not even choose Mary because she is so humble, although she certainly is that. The whole cause of this great honor bestowed on Mary, that she should bear the Savior, and of all generations calling her blessed, is the unmerited favor of God, His grace, and His grace alone. Mary confesses as much in her song: Why does her soul magnify the Lord and her spirit rejoice in God? Because He is her Savior, and because He has looked upon the “humble estate” of His servant (vv. 46-48). A better translation here for “humble estate” might be “lowly state.” God bestows this great honor of bearing the Savior, not upon the daughter of a king, or the daughter of the high priest, or some rich kid, but on this poor, lowly girl from Nazareth. Pure grace. That’s all it can be. Because there is absolutely nothing in Mary, even from a human perspective, that makes her qualified to be the virgin Mother of our Lord, other than God’s decision.

Again, Mary confesses her “low estate,” and it is upon that basis that she prophesies: “all generations will call me blessed” (v. 48). “They will not be praising me personally,” says Mary, “or anything within me, but God alone, for His great grace to me, and for His great grace to the whole world through my Son Jesus Christ.” And so Mary directs us in her song to the great things God does for lowly sinners. His mercy is for those who fear Him, which is to say, revere Him alone as God, and this mercy is for generation to generation (v. 50). He shows strength with His arm by scattering the proud in the imagination of their hearts, bringing down the mighty from their thrones, and exalting those of low degree (vv. 51-52). That is to say, He does not regard the kings and presidents, celebrities and those otherwise considered influential in the eyes of men. He leaves them in their own folly if they forsake Him. He regards those who believe in Him, acknowledging their utter sinfulness, unworthiness, and helplessness, relying on Him alone for salvation and help in time of need. He fills the hungry with good things, which is to say, to all who look to Him alone for their good, He will not forsake them, but the rich He sends away empty, which is to say, to all who look to themselves and their riches, their own talents and abilities, to provide for their needs, He will take away even what they have (v. 53). And it is true. It could happen to them in this life. It will happen in the life to come, when the despised sinners who believe in Mary’s Son, our Lord Christ, go into heaven, and the worldly-wise, unable to purchase their salvation, are cast into hell.

St. Mary tells us that God remembers His mercy, and that on this basis He has helped His servant Israel, which refers to the Jews from whom Christ comes (v. 54), and fulfilled His promise to Abraham and all who are his offspring by faith, which includes those from all nations who believe in Christ Jesus (v. 55). What she is saying here is that the fruit of her womb is nothing less than the fulfillment of the whole Old Testament. Elizabeth’s son John has come as the last prophet to prepare the way of the Lord. Mary’s Son Jesus is the Lord in the flesh. And this is the ultimate example of the Great Reversal. If we were to design the history of our salvation according to human wisdom, as every religion outside of Christianity does, what would that salvation look like? Undoubtedly God would come in great power and glory and annihilate the devil and the evil angels, and all those we consider the “worst sinners,” like Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden, with a tremendous show of His righteous wrath, and then He would set Himself up as King and rule all earthly politics and make everything right. There would be peace on earth, sustained by His bare power. There would be no hunger or poverty, for wealth would be evenly distributed. We would all serve and believe in this God and be saved by Him, because, after all, we’re not as bad as Hitler and bin Laden, and it would be obvious who is the one true God. It would be a matter of sight, not of faith, because seeing is believing. This is called the theology of glory, and it is a false theology, beloved.

How different is actual salvation history, determined by divine wisdom, which is foolishness to our fleshly minds. This is the theology of the cross, the Great Reversal. God works through what is weak and foolish and despised in the world to shame the strong, the wise, the idolized. God becomes one with man in the incarnation, the enfleshment, of the Son of God, the Son of Mary, Jesus of Nazareth. God comes down into this stinking, rotten, cesspool of humanity that we have created by our sin. He is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a poor virgin girl, born in the one horse town of Bethlehem, laid in a manger because there is no room for Him in the inn. As He grows, He learns the carpentry trade from His adopted father Joseph. Throughout His ministry He is rejected by the chief priests and the Jewish elite. He is surrounded by bumbling disciples, many of them simple fishermen. He eats with tax collectors and sinners. And then He is crucified as a criminal. He comes to a bloody end, one that the Scriptures call “cursed” (Deut. 21:22-23; Gal. 3:13). This is how God saves humanity and His fallen creation. He gives His Son into death. He gives His Son into the hands of the devil. He gives His Son into hell. For us. For you. For me. Jesus, the exalted Son of God, becomes lowly for our sake. And so Jesus is THE lowly One, THE One of low estate. He becomes so willingly, out of love for us, for our salvation. And what happens? After He suffers hell for us, as our substitute, after He dies on the cross as our substitute, after He is laid in our tomb, God raises Him from the dead! God seats Him at His own right hand to rule all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth for the good of His people! God exalts Him! Mary’s song is about the incarnation and death and resurrection of Christ! It’s all about Christ! Mary does not want praises for herself, and she certainly doesn’t want us to pray to her. She wants us to believe in her Son.

And beloved, by faith in her Son, the Great Reversal becomes no longer something we should fear, but great good news for us. In Christ Jesus, we sinners are exalted. The Great Reversal is very personal for you, for God says to you, “Poor sinner, I forgive you, I lift you up, I exalt you, I consider you my own dear child.” It happens at Baptism. It continues as we live our lives in this Baptism and faith. It happens as we are connected to Christ by immersion in His Word and participation in His body and blood at the Sacrament of the Altar. For every sinner here present who is of low estate, who knows they are a sinner, who knows they deserve nothing but God’s wrath and hell, who has been busy preparing the way of the Lord in repentance, trusting Jesus Christ alone for salvation, today our Lord says to you, “In my death you are exalted. Because I have suffered your punishment, you receive my reward.” This is all by grace, without any merit or worthiness in us. God has remembered His mercy. He has helped us. He has called us to be His own. And there is nothing left to do but take up the song with Mary: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent Midweek III

Advent Midweek III
“The Light of Christ Scatters the Darkness of Anxiety and Fear”
December 16, 2009
Text: Matt. 6:25-34

Our Lord Christ commands us, “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (Matt. 6:25; ESV). Perhaps He is not aware that there is a recession. It seems there is much to be anxious about in these times. The one who has a job is anxious about whether or not he will keep it. The one who has lost his job is anxious about finding another one and providing for his family. Job or no, we are anxious about the stuff of this life: our mortgages, especially with the ever rising foreclosure rate; whether there will be enough money to pay the electric bill; whether the family car will make it another year; whether we will be able to retire in comfort. And even those who would seem to have enough money not to be worried about the bills have plenty to be anxious about. The funny thing about money is, the more you have of it, the more you worry about it. Abundance does not put the fear of lack to rest. And of course, money is just one example. There is much to worry about in this life. Our health, terrorism, war, violence, fire, flood, famine, blizzards, tornados, the list goes on. Worry and anxiety give birth to fear. Fear is an intensified form of worry and anxiety. Fear is the strong emotion that overcomes us when we believe we are in immanent danger. On our own in this fallen world, there is much to cause us anxiety and there is much to fear. There is danger around every corner in a world inhabited by sinners and held in captivity by the devil. But dear Christians, tonight there is good news for us. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome. And the light of Jesus Christ, the Light that is our Savior Jesus Christ, scatters the darkness of anxiety and fear.

Did you know it is a sin to worry? It is a sin to worry, to be anxious, because it betrays our lack of faith in our heavenly Father, and in His Son Jesus Christ. Do you really believe that God will fail to take care of you? You are not on your own in this fallen world. Let all the sinners and all the demons of this fallen creation attack you. It is true that you are weak and helpless on your own. But the Lord God who has redeemed you fights for you and sustains you. It is true that in this fallen world we suffer. It is true that in this fallen world there are recessions and job losses and lack of money and food and clothing. It is true that in this fallen world there is poor health and terrorism and war and violence and natural disasters. Do you really believe that God is unaware of this? And, beloved in the Lord, do you really believe that the God who sent His own Son, Jesus Christ… do you really believe that the Son of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, who shed His blood for you and died the accursed death for you on the cross as payment of your sin, do you really believe that He will ever forsake you? By no means! As Paul writes, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Not only is worry and fear sinful, it is unreasonable, illogical for the child of God who knows he has a gracious heavenly Father, a loving and merciful Savior, and the very Spirit of God.

As a Christian, you ought to commend your anxiety to God, pray for your daily bread, and be satisfied with the same. Be satisfied, content, with whatever He gives you. For that is the secret of happiness. Be happy in God and content with His gifts. Leave all the worrying and anxiety and fear to Him. He will take care of everything. Jesus tells us to take a lesson from the birds and the grass. The bird sings his song of praise to God in the morning without giving any thought to his breakfast, and then flies off to eat the kernel of corn that God has tucked away for him (Luther). The grass stands around all day doing nothing, yet God clothes it in the glorious raiment of a flower. So glorious is its appearance, it lifts the heart of its beholder and magnifies its Creator. And the point, of course, is not that you shouldn’t labor, for God has commanded through the Apostle Paul, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). But the point is this: How much more valuable are you than birds and grass? Do you see the folly of anxiety and fear? Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. You know, the many hairs you lose daily without taking any notice? God notices every little hair you lose, so great is His love and care for you. Anxiety cannot add an hour to your life, though it may rob you of many years. But every moment of your life is written in God’s book, and He alone can preserve you and provide for you.

And the sure sign that He desires and will preserve you and provide for you is the cross of His Son, Jesus Christ. In the fullness of time, God sent His Son (Gal. 4:4). Do not let the full import of those words be lost on you. The Light that is our Savior, Jesus Christ, breaks in on this world of darkness and death. The Light of Christ breaks in on your sin. Christ breaks in on your sin, even your sin of anxiety and fear, and takes it as His own and nails it to the cross. The high price for your forgiveness, your redemption, is the blood of the Son of God. If God is willing to pay that price, the Son of the virgin’s’ divine blood, for you, then surely you are most precious to Him. Let not the troubles of this life drive you to fear. Trust in God. Trust in Jesus Christ. Alone. Fore He rules all things, and He rules them for your good.

We Christians know all this, but it is so easy to forget in the midst of trial and tribulation. We know in our heads that we should not worry, but our hearts convince us if we don’t worry the world will cease to turn. God is in control; not you. God provides for you; not money. He feeds the birds. He clothes the grass. O ye of little faith, do not be anxious. Do not worry about tomorrow. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. The Kingdom and the righteousness are yours freely in Jesus Christ. And you are in Christ, baptized into Him. And He gives you here tonight the pledge and token of His righteousness in the holy Supper of His body and blood. The Light of Christ breaks in here in this place to scatter the darkness of anxiety and fear. Bask in that Light. Receive His gifts. Prepare to receive Him who comes to you in the Name of the Lord. Prepare by repenting of your anxiety and fear. Prepare by turning to Him alone for forgiveness and mercy and help. Your heavenly Father knows all that you need. Tonight He gives you what is most important: His Son. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Third Sunday in Advent

Third Sunday in Advent (C)
The Baptism of Paul Michael Smith
December 13, 2009
Text: Luke 7:18-35

Beloved in the Lord, last week John came preaching repentance. We should prepare the way of the Lord, he declared, which means that we should cast aside our sins and whatever falls in the path of the Lord, whatever prevents us from receiving Him. We should cast aside our sin and our own self-righteousness, and turn to Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness. The season of Advent is a season of preparation for the reception of our coming King, Jesus Christ, and so it is a season of repentance. But today, while the story of John continues, we see the fulfillment of John’s preaching. Our Lord Jesus is on the scene. He must become greater, while John becomes lesser. This morning the Scripture lessons bid us rejoice, for our Lord Christ has come. Last week we heard John’s preaching of the Law loud and clear, that there is no good in us, that we are by nature sinful and unclean. This morning we hear Christ’s preaching of the Gospel: He is Himself our righteousness. He comes with healing in His wings. He comes to give life to the dead and preach the Gospel to the poor. He comes to forgive our sins and give us eternal life.

This morning John points his disciples and us to Christ, and this is cause for great rejoicing. The traditional name for the Third Sunday in Advent is Gaudete, Latin for rejoice. We have reached the mid-point of Advent. The fast is almost over. Christmas is almost here. This time of repentance and preparation is about to reach its goal. There is an air of expectation. We can hardly wait for the celebration. Like children eager to open our presents, we can hardly wait to bellow those Christmas carols and feast around the family table. That is why the liturgical color of the day today is actually rose. We don’t have the rose paraments, because they cost so much for only one Sunday a year, but we do have the rose candle on the Advent wreath. It says that something is different about this Sunday. The Scripture readings proclaim it, too. St. Paul writes in our Epistle lesson: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4; ESV). The Prophet Zephaniah exhorts the Church in our Old Testament lesson: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” (3:14). Why? Because of the Gospel: “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you… The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil” (v. 15). We rejoice in the Introit, for Jesus Christ is our help and our hope. “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God” (Ps. 146:5).

Yes, this morning, on this Gaudete Sunday, John points us to Christ. John sends his disciples to Jesus with a simple question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:20). It is rather unlikely that John asks this question either out of doubt or ignorance. Surely John knows who Jesus is. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan. John had a front row seat when Jesus came up out of the water and the Holy Spirit descended on Him as a dove and the Father declared from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (3:22). John declared concerning Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John preached Jesus Christ! John knew there was no other coming One, no other Messiah, no other Christ of God. But John’s disciples do not know this. John’s disciples are confused. Jesus does not fit with their preconceived notions of who the Messiah should be and what He should do. Jesus is lowly. He comes from a carpenter’s family. He is rejected by the Scribes and the Pharisees. The Messiah is supposed to be a Priest and King. Yet this Jesus is a poor man from Nazareth. And after all, can anything good come out of Nazareth (John 1:46)? And He hangs out with the commoners, the tax collectors, the sinners. Can this really be the Christ? Surely the Christ would come into Jerusalem like a white knight on his trusty steed, a mighty army at his command, and he would show those Romans a thing or two about majesty and dominion. But here is Jesus. He has “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2). He doesn’t look like a King ought to look. John sends his disciples with the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?,” that they may see for themselves, with their own eyes, and hear for themselves, with their own ears, right from the Messiah’s mouth.

It is not insignificant that upon hearing their question, Jesus does not immediately answer, but that “In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight” (Luke 7: 21). And then, after John’s disciples witness the miracles, He turns to them and says: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them” (v. 22). He is saying to them, “You know the Scriptures. Compare what you see me doing and hear me teaching with what the prophet Isaiah said: ‘The Spirit of the LORD GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening up of the prison to those who are bound’ (Is. 61:1). ‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a dear, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy’ (35:5-6). Yes, I AM the One who is coming! Rejoice and be glad. John is not the Messiah. I, Jesus, am the Messiah, God in the flesh, come to save His people from their sins!”

Beloved, this news causes us also to rejoice. Jesus comes to us with the same healing, and He comes to us preaching the same good news. Certainly the physical healings Jesus performs are signs of the spiritual healing He grants to all who believe in Him. For us who are born spiritually blind, He opens our eyes, that we may see Christ crucified as our only Savior. For us who are spiritually deaf, He opens our ears, that we may hear the Word of life and believe it. For us who are spiritually lame, unable to do any good work, for everything we do by nature is sinful, He raises us up that we may be His own and live under Him and serve Him in His Kingdom by serving our neighbor in love. For us who are spiritually mute, unable to speak the things of God, He opens our lips and fills our mouths with His gracious Word. For us who are spiritually leprous, the deadly disease of sin eating away at us, He makes us clean with His own cleansing. For us who are born spiritually dead, unable by our own reason or strength to believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him, He grants us His Holy Spirit, who calls us by the Gospel and enlightens us with His gifts in Baptism and the Supper. And the poor have the good news, the Gospel, preached to them. Who are the poor? You saw the perfect example of the poor in little Paul Michael, who was baptized into Christ this morning. An infant has nothing to offer God to merit salvation. An infant is helpless, poor, relying only on the mercy of others. When Jesus speaks of the poor, He is not speaking only of those who lack riches or possessions. He is speaking of the spiritually poor, those who recognize that they have no good within themselves, nothing to offer God to merit salvation, but are only poor, miserable sinners. We must all be infants before God, totally helpless, able to offer Him nothing but our dirty diapers, our sin and uncleanness. If you confess that about yourself, you are the spiritually poor. But this is good news. The Gospel is for you. Your sins are forgiven. Just as surely as Paul Michael’s sins were washed away this morning in Holy Baptism, so you have been washed clean in the blood of Christ. You who know yourself to be spiritually blind, deaf, lame, mute, leprous, dead, are the spiritually poor who are made rich in Christ, the Son of God.

Of course, not everyone rejoices at this news. Therefore Christ says, “blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:23). Blessed is the one who is not offended, who does not stumble over the lowly appearance of Jesus. Blessed is the one who does not stumble over His teaching. Blessed is the one who does not stumble at the cross. The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves (v. 30). So do all unbelievers. They neither heed the preaching of repentance, nor do they regard themselves as poor. They do not rejoice. And they will not rejoice. They will perish in hell. But for those who look at Christ crucified as the perfect sacrifice for all their sins, as their only Savior, as their very life, there is nothing but good news. They live by His wounds. They live by His death. Not offended by this horrifying sight, they find that only in the death of the lowly Jesus of Nazareth, true Son of God, is there resurrection from the dead, and healing from every dread disease. And this is cause for great rejoicing.

Therefore, beloved in the Lord, rejoice! “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). For Jesus, the promised Messiah, has come. The One the prophets foretold has come to be your Savior, to die on the cross for your sins, to be raised for your justification. He has ascended into heaven, yet He still comes to you in His blessed Word and Sacraments, to heal you and forgive you all your sins and strengthen you for your daily life in this fallen world. And He will come again, to judge the living and the dead, and to deliver His saints, the poor who believe in Him, to everlasting life with Him in the bodily resurrection from the dead, in a new heavens and a new earth. Yes, rejoice, believers. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything. Your King comes to you. Place everything in His almighty and pierced hands by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:5-7). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

He Will Come to Judge the Living and the Dead

Pastor’s Window for December 2009
He Will Come to Judge the Living and the Dead

Beloved in the Lord,

Jesus is coming again. He is not coming to pay for our sins. This time, He is coming to judge. This is not a very politically correct thing to say in an age that espouses tolerance as the highest virtue, because judgment means that there is such a thing as right and wrong, that some things and some people stand condemned. Judgment is the antithesis of tolerance.

But there will be a judgment. Even Christians often squirm at this teaching. That there will be a judgment, that Christ Jesus will sit in judgment over the living and the dead, means that some people will go to hell. And that is not a nice thought. That doesn’t inspire us and it doesn’t make us warm and fuzzy inside. But contrary to popular belief, the mission of the Church is not to inspire or impart good feelings. The mission of the Church is to preach the truth, and the Truth incarnate, Jesus Christ.

The truth is, if there were no judgment, if there were no hell, there would be no need for Christ. What would be the point of Christ’s perfect life, His death on the cross, His resurrection, His ascension, what would be the meaning of any of it if there is no condemnation? In what way would Jesus benefit us? Why should we believe in Jesus if believers and unbelievers alike go to heaven? (This is called “universalism” by the way, the teaching that all religions are the same, all roads lead to the same place, all people go to heaven.) Why should we do mission work and evangelism if, in the end, all people will be saved? If this were the case, the most Jesus could be is a good example for us to emulate. But again, what would be the point of following Jesus’ example if there is no judgment? If there is no judgment, there is no measure of right and wrong, because remember, to say that something is right or wrong is a judgment in itself. If there is no judgment, who is to say that Jesus’ example is a good one?

The truth is, “The Lord will judge his people” (Heb. 10:30). Jesus is coming again to judge. St. John beheld the scene of this second coming in the Revelation: “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:12-15). Wow, scary stuff! And it should be scary. God tells us about the judgment beforehand in His Word so that we will be warned and ready.

How can you be ready for the judgment? Abide in Jesus Christ! Abide in Jesus Christ, and you are ready. Remember those mentioned above, whose names are written in the book of life? Jesus is the book of life! Your name is written in Him, engraved on His nail pierced hands, and by Baptism His Name has been written on you. You can remove your name from the book of life by unbelief. Then you will be judged by your works. And your works are nothing but sin before God. But if your name is found written in the book of life, if you abide in Christ to the end, you will be judged by the works Jesus has done, the works credited as your righteousness by faith. Abide in Christ, and you have nothing to worry about in the judgment.

Advent means “coming.” It is all about the coming of Christ. Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas, the first coming of Jesus Christ as the Babe of Bethlehem and Savior of the world. And it is about His coming again as Judge. Because of the first coming of Christ, His coming to die on the cross for the sins of the world, we can face His second coming confidently. In the meantime, as I said, we abide in Him. How do we do that? We meet Him where He has promised to be for us, to continually come to us and for us, in His blessed Word and Sacrament. So come often, especially this Advent season, but throughout your life to hear His blessed Word, the proclamation of Jesus in Scripture and sermon and absolution, and to receive His body and blood in the Supper. Christ comes to you in this time between the comings through these blessed means of grace. He comes, and He forgives your sins and gives you His righteousness. And so, by His Spirit, working in Word and Sacrament, you abide in Christ, and are ready for the judgment. There will be a judgment. The Day is coming soon. But for the Christian this is a Day of joy, for our risen Lord Jesus Christ will raise us for eternal life!

Blessed Advent!
Pastor Krenz

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Prepare the Way of the Lord

John the Baptist bids us "prepare the way of the Lord" this Advent Season. Luther comments:

"The preparing here means to make ready the way, to put out of the way all that interferes with the course of the Lord, just as the servant clears the way before the face of his master by removing wood, stones, people and all that is in the way. But what was it that blocked the way of Christ and John was to remove? Sin, without doubt, especially the good works of the haughty saints; that is, he should make known to everybody that the works and deeds of all men are sin and iniquity and that all need the grace of Christ. He who knows and acknowledges this thoroughly is himself humble and has well prepared the way for Christ" (http://www.orlutheran.com/html/mlsemt11.html).

God grant us all to know that there is no good within us, that we are wholly corrupt and sinful, and that all our good and righteousness comes from Christ alone, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In this way we are rightly prepared to received Him who comes to us in the Name of the Lord, even Jesus Christ our Savior.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Second Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent (C)
December 6, 2009
Text: Luke 3:1-20

The Baptist’s cry is heard this morning not only from Jordan’s banks, but throughout the Church of Christ, and throughout the world, and even right here in Dorr, Michigan: “Prepare the way of the Lord” (Luke 3:4; ESV). What St. John preaches here is repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ. He is preaching Law, so as to hammer our hearts of stone into pieces, really to kill us with the Law’s accusations, lest we rely on ourselves and our works and our merits to earn salvation. The Law of God brings us to nothing, that we might know our sin and our great need for our Savior, Jesus Christ. And He preaches the Gospel, pointing us to Christ alone, the One mightier than John, the strap of whose sandals John is not worthy to untie (v. 16). Jesus comes, the Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, to rescue us from sin and death and hell, and grant us eternal life. Jesus comes with His Baptism, Baptism in the Holy Spirit and in fire.

This morning, St. John bids us repent. What is repentance? Repentance is a turning from our selfishness and sin and false gods to the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a turning from our former masters, sin and the devil, to our new Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. It is a turning from our self-righteousness to the One who alone can give us true righteousness, righteousness before God, our Savior Jesus Christ. This is how we prepare the way of the Lord this Advent Season. We repent. Dear Christians, repent of your sins, cast them off, submit to them no longer, and place them at the foot of the cross to be forgiven. And believe the good news: Jesus has come to take your sin away by dieing for you on the cross, and to cleanse you, to purify you, to make you His own, and grant you His righteousness and life.

The preaching of repentance is a dangerous thing. It is dangerous for the preacher, and it is dangerous for the hearer. The danger lies in the response of the hearer. For either the hearer will repent, or he will reject the preaching of repentance. Those who reject such preaching will persecute the preacher, reject him personally, perhaps try to damage his reputation, perhaps leave the church, perhaps take legal action against the preacher, perhaps, in the worst case scenario, murder him or have him put to death. It happened to St. John. It happened to most of the prophets and apostles and many Christian pastors and faithful believers throughout the centuries. It happens today. But what the unrepentant fail to realize is the greater danger lies with them. St. John is clear: “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 9). The one who rejects the preaching of repentance places himself in the mortal danger of hellfire. Yet the one who heeds the preaching of repentance, confesses his sins, and looks to Christ crucified alone for forgiveness and salvation receives eternal life.

There are actually three responses to the preaching of repentance, all three evident in our Gospel lesson. Luther points out the first two responses in the Book of Concord selection printed in your bulletin:[1] “Now one group imagines, ‘Why, we have repented!’ The other says, ‘We need no repentance.’ John says, ‘Repent, both of you. You false penitents and false saints, both of you need the forgiveness of sins. Neither of you know what sin really is. Much less your duty to repent of it and shun it. For no one of you is good. You are full of unbelief, stupidity, and ignorance of God and God’s will. But He is present here, of whose “fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” [John 1:16]. Without Him, no one can be righteous before God.'” The first group, those who say they have already repented, are like those in our Gospel lesson who claim automatic salvation by virtue of the fact that they are children of Abraham (Luke 3:8). We could think today of those who think they can claim automatic salvation by virtue of the fact they belong to the Church, or are Missouri Synod Lutherans, or some other such pride of place. But that is not repentance. Or we could think of those who say, “Yes, what I’m doing is sinful, but Jesus will forgive me because He loves me, so I’m still going to do it.” And this is not repentance either. It is a bold rejection of repentance. And then there are those who claim no need of repentance, for example, Herod in our text. John called Herod to repentance over stealing Herodias, his brother’s wife, and taking her as his own. Herod rejected the preaching altogether… “Don’t you know who I am? I’m the tetrarch, the king! I’ll do what I want. No dirty desert dweller clothed in camel’s hair will tell me what I can and can’t do.” We can think today of those who excuse their sinful actions saying: “I’m not sinning. God made me this way. God loves me this way.” Or, “I have a right to do what I’m doing. I’m an American. I’m free.” Or, “Even if I do have a few minor faults, I’m basically a good person, and God will surely take me to heaven.” This is utter rejection of the preaching of repentance. And what do you suppose happens to the preacher when the preaching is rejected? Herod had John thrown in prison and ultimately beheaded. Is it any wonder the hardest part of a pastor’s ministry is to talk to an individual about their sin, to call that individual to repentance? Yet it is part of the job description. It’s in my ordination vows. Jesus commands it, even though it leads so often to rejection. Rejection of the preaching means rejection of the preacher. And understand that rejection of the preaching is ultimately rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

There is, of course, a third response. This is the group that takes the preaching of repentance to heart. The crowds that went out to be baptized by John, many of them tax collectors or soldiers, peasants, commoners, sinners, were cut to the heart by His preaching. “What then shall we do?” they asked (v. 10). John commands them to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. The crowds are to share of their abundance with their neighbor in need. The repentant one takes no stock in his possessions, but feeds and clothes his neighbor. The tax collectors are not to take any more money than they are authorized. The soldiers are not to extort or make threats or false accusations, but be content with their wages. And why do they do all of this? Is it to earn salvation? By no means. The crowds have already been baptized! They already believe! Salvation is theirs! They believe in the Christ who is coming, the Christ John preaches. No, rather, St. John is describing what the lives of the repentant who have been forgiven all of their sins ought to look like from now on. Those in the crowd who heed the preaching, who ask the question, “What then shall we do,” are already saved by faith in Christ alone. But repentance always produces fruit. The fruit of repentance is the fruit of faith. Paul says in our Epistle lesson that the one who is filled with Christ’s righteousness, which is justification language, will also be filled with its fruit: love abounds more and more with knowledge and all discernment, that the child of God may approve only what is excellent, being pure and blameless until the day of Christ, which is to say, forgiven of all sin, and daily crucifying the flesh (Phil. 1:9-11). Only God, by His pure grace, can keep a Christian in this third category. Our righteousness comes from Christ, and so also our power to struggle against sin and resist temptation, our ability to repent and produce fruit. St. Paul again writes: “I am sure of this, that [God] who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (v. 6).

Beloved in the Lord, to which group do you belong? Will you heed the preaching of repentance? If so, it is God’s work. It is the work of God in breaking you to pieces with the hammer of the Law, and reconstructing you, raising you to new life in the Gospel. But if you reject the preaching of repentance, be warned. The axe is indeed at the root of the tree. The fire of hell is prepared. St. John bids us this morning to prepare the way of the Lord. For “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6). We see that salvation in the preaching of Christ crucified, and the Sacrament of His body and blood. This is the Gospel, and this alone can restore the one broken by the preaching of repentance. The Gospel alone can produce faith and the fruit of repentance. You are baptized into Christ. You’re baptized into His death and resurrection. You’ve been forgiven all your sins. The Holy Spirit has come upon you. Therefore cast off sin’s yoke. You are no longer enslaved. You are freed to be God’s servant now. You are freed to serve your neighbor in love. This morning the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world comes among us with His Word and Supper. The Lord whom you seek has come into His temple (Mal. 3:1). Do not reject His preaching. Do not reject His preacher. Do not reject your Savior. But believe in Him. Trust Him. Look to Him alone for help. For though He refine you in the fire, crucifying your sinful flesh, bringing you to repentance, though He crush you with His Law, He does so only to raise you up again with the Word of forgiveness and life, the Gospel, and so to give you the only life worth living: Life eternal, life abundant, life in Christ, and Christ living in you. In other words, the life of the Baptized, redeemed, child of God. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] SA III:III30-35. McCain, et al. pp. 275-76.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Advent Midweek I

Advent Midweek I
“The Light of Christ Scatters the Darkness of Sadness and Despair”
December 2, 2009
Text: Is. 9:1-7

Beloved in the Lord, Jesus Christ is the Light of the world (John 8:12). Apart from Jesus Christ, the world is shrouded in the darkness of sin and its wages, death, temporal and spiritual, and eternal death in hell. Advent is about the coming of the Light that is Jesus Christ into this world of darkness. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Remember that the darkness itself is sin, original sin, the disease with which every one of us, as the children of Adam and Eve, is infected. We’re born that way. Two sinful parents always and only make sinful children. Our text, from the book of the prophet Isaiah (9:1-7) says that the people “walked in darkness” (v. 2; ESV). Not only do the people of the world live in a state of darkness, original sin, they, we, walk around in that darkness, which is to say we commit all manner of actual sins, “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19), all the things that proceed from an evil heart. And it is these things, beloved, this walking around in the darkness, and the darkness itself, that cause us gloom (Is. 9:1), sadness, depression, despair. That is to say that gloom, sadness, depression, despair, are symptoms of those who grope around in the darkness, unable to find their own way, ignorantly slamming themselves into each other and into the walls, unaware of the dangers around every corner, the sheer cliffs, the monstrous demons, the sinister traps of the devil.

We sinners walk in the darkness of sin, which is the root of all sadness and despair. It has been said, probably correctly, that depression is the common cold of mental illness, which is to say, many if not most of us go through it at some time. And even those who have never suffered with depression must admit that all of us, without exception, go through times of spiritual and emotional discouragement, call it what you will. Oftentimes this sadness and depression is brought on by specific events, sins that we have committed, sins that have been committed against us. Broken relationships, illness, injury, death, loss, loneliness, all these things can cause very deep grief. Sometimes sadness and depression do not have a specific cause, but result from the overwhelming sense of the truth that we live in a fallen world and in this fallen flesh. And left to ourselves, this sadness and depression can lead to despair. Despair is the absolute loss of any and all hope. To despair is to give in to the sadness. To despair is to surrender to the devil without a fight. And of course, on our own, outside of Jesus Christ and His Light, we might just as well despair, because left to ourselves, the fight is hopeless.

Beloved, outside of Jesus Christ, we walk in utter darkness. And so sadness and despair should not surprise us. What else should we expect? But we should recognize this sadness and despair for what it is: It is the devil and his lies, trying to convince us that we are outside of God’s love, that the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation are not for us, that God has forsaken us. Beloved in the Lord, nothing could be further from the truth. The good news of Advent is that “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (v. 2). “(T)here will be no gloom for her who was in anguish” (v. 1). Why? “For unto us a child is born” (v. 7), Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary. “(T)o us a son is given,” the Messiah, the Christ, the very Son of God. “(A)nd the government shall be upon his shoulder,” for He is God in the flesh and possesses all divine authority. “(A)nd his name shall be called Wonderful,” miraculous, “Counselor,” the One who knows what is best for His people in all circumstances and directs all things for our benefit, “Mighty God,” coequal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, “Everlasting Father,” with a love for His people that surpasses that of any earthly father, “Prince of Peace,” for He alone brings peace between God and man by His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.

This is the Light that breaks into our darkness. And notice what He does when He breaks in upon us, according to our text: He increases our joy so that we rejoice and are glad (v. 3). He lifts our burdens off of us, all those things that because of sin and the fallen nature of our flesh and this world weigh us down. He breaks the yoke of our burdens and the rod of all that oppresses us (v. 4). He defeats our enemies, the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, and delivers us from death (v. 5). Our Lord Jesus Christ has come into the world to deliver His Israel, His Church, holy believers in Christ, out of darkness, into His everlasting Light.

Now, beloved, as those who have been brought out of the darkness and into His marvelous Light, we have true joy, joy in the Lord, joy that lasts, the joy of knowing that Jesus has conquered the darkness at its root, by crushing the devil in His death on the cross, burying sin in His tomb, ripping death to shreds by His resurrection, and ruling all things for the good of His people by His glorious ascension into heaven and session at the right hand of the Father. This is not to say that as long as we live in this fallen world and this fallen flesh we won’t have sadness. This is not to say that some of us won’t struggle with depression. This is not to say that all of those things that cause sadness and depression will not afflict us in this earthly life. But it is to say that we will not despair. Because walking in the Light of Christ, we have eternal hope in Him. Certain hope. Not the kind of hope for which there is any possibility of disappointment, but hope that knows its fulfillment now by faith and in the future at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Last Day. So even in the midst of sadness, we have great joy. Even in the midst of depression we can rejoice. Christ has come. Light has dawned. That Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

So you see, dear Christians, the answer to all sadness, the answer to every earthly affliction, the answer to all our problems is Christ Jesus, the Light that scatters the darkness. And the place to be in affliction and sadness is in the midst of that Light, basking in that Light. That Light shines on you through the blessed means of grace, the Word of God and the Sacraments. When you are sad, remind yourself, as Luther did, “I am baptized!” That is to say, the Light of Christ shines upon me… I am in that Light and that Light is in me. What can the darkness do to me? I am God’s own child, united to the death and resurrection of Christ! When you are sad, read again the blessed Word of the Gospel in Scripture. Hear it in preaching and absolution. For darkness cannot overcome the Light of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. When you are sad, come to the Supper of our Lord’s body and blood. For there Light incarnate, Light in the flesh, is placed into your mouths, bestowing forgiveness, life, salvation, joy. The Light has come into the world. That is what Advent is all about. That is what Christmas is all about. Jesus has come. The Light of Jesus Christ scatters the darkness of sadness and despair. Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust in Christ. He will deliver you. “Hence, all fear and sadness! For the Lord of gladness, Jesus, enters in. Those who love the Father, Though the storms may gather, Still have peace within. Yea, whate’er I here must bear, Thou art still my purest pleasure, Jesus, priceless treasure!” (LSB 743:6). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.