Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor
The Baptism of Chloe Anna Ruth Young and Layla Kaye Louise Young
January 24, 2010
Text: Neh. 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Luke 4:16-30

God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). In this world of darkness, the Word of the Lord shines and shows us the way. It guides us in the way of truth. It guides us in the way of Christ. It leads us along the path of righteousness, the path of the cross, the path of eternal life. It shines upon every stumbling block and every peril so that we can mark and avoid them. It exposes sin and false doctrine. It exposes the lies and work of the devil. In the darkness, our enemy can hide and prowl and pursue us and set his traps. But when Christ, who is the Light of the world, shines in the darkness, the enemy must flee and we see his traps for what they are. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5). It’s not for lack of trying. The darkness ever assaults that Light and the people of the Light. The darkness ever tries to silence the Word, silence preaching, entice the people of the Light away from the Light of the Word, away from the Church, away from the Sacraments, and when it has enticed them away, it seeks to hold them in its dark, cold clutches. But where the Light of Christ, His Word, the Light that is Christ, the Word made flesh, shines, there the darkness is wholly scattered.

This morning in our readings we see fallen humanity groping in darkness, and we see fallen humans transformed into repentant believers by the Light of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit enlightening them with His gifts. The people of Nazareth behold the Light of Christ shining as He preaches His Word in their synagogue. But they turn away, turn back to the darkness of unbelief, for the Light does not force anyone to bask in its glow. The children of Israel in our Old Testament lesson, however, hear once again, many of them for the first time, the Word of the Book of the Law, better translated “Torah,” teaching, the books of Moses, and they weep and lament. But their weeping is turned to joy as Nehemiah the governor and Ezra the scribe and the Levites proclaim the Word of the Lord that scatters the darkness. This morning we hear the Word of the Lord. This morning the Word of the Lord made flesh comes among us with His sacramental Word, Words and water for two brand new children of God, Chloe and Layla, and Words and bread and wine, the feast of His body and blood for the congregation of God here present. And the question is, how do we receive it? Because the Light of the Word does not force anyone to bask in its glow. Do we turn away, back to the more comfortable darkness of sin and unbelief? The darkness is more comfortable because it hides our sinfulness, whereas the Light exposes our sin and death and deals with it in the crucifixion and death of Christ. The Light exposes us as sinners for the purpose of healing us. But the darkness hides us. No one has to know we are sinners, and we don’t have to admit it even to ourselves. But one day all that is hidden in darkness will be exposed, revealed, in the Day of Judgment, and on that day there is no healing for those who refused it in this earthly life. So how to receive the Light of the Word… Turn away? Or walk in the light, having our sin exposed and repenting, believing in Christ alone for forgiveness and mercy?

The people of Nazareth hear the Word proclaimed by Jesus with great joy at first. Jesus, the hometown boy made good, opens the scroll to the 61st Chapter of Isaiah the Prophet and reads these words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19; ESV. Cf. Is. 61:1-2). Then He sits down to preach, as is the custom in the synagogue, and His sermon is simple and to the point: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). That is to say, “Today is the age of Messiah. I AM Messiah. I AM the Christ. I come in the Holy Spirit to impart Him to you and bring you to faith. I come with the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, release from sin’s oppression, and to give you spiritual sight, that you who were born spiritually blind may see me for who I am, and seeing, believe.” It is an epiphany, a manifestation of the truth that Jesus is God in the flesh come to save His people, if only the people will hear it and believe it. They are wowed by their favorite son, at least at first. “And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming out of his mouth” (v. 22). Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Why, I remember Him when He was still a lad in diapers. Well done, well done. But then the preaching gets hard. Jesus knows the secret thoughts of their heart. “I know what you will say next to me,” says Jesus. “‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well” (v. 23). “Show us a miracle, you will say. But I tell you the miracles are only signs that testify to the Word. Dear members of the synagogue, you have the Word, and the Word is enough for you. The Word is the Light of truth. The Word is the Light that shows you that I AM the Messiah. Believe the Word, and do not look for a magic show for your own amusement.” “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his home town” (v. 24).

Why does Jesus preach such a harsh Word? It is to bring the people of Nazareth to repentance. It is to rend their hearts, to bring their sin to light that it might be healed, forgiven by the blood of Christ, and to direct them instead to the Light of God’s sure Word, the Light that bears testimony to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Light that is our Lord Jesus Christ. But how do the people of Nazareth receive that Light? They turn back to the darkness of unbelief. They seek to kill Jesus, to snuff out the Light, to throw Him off the cliff. They are unsuccessful. He will be killed, but not today, not by being thrown off a cliff. The cross is His end, His goal. But here in Nazareth, the hometown of the Savior, the Light is refused. The darkness is more comfortable. And so, though the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is for them, the payment for their every sin, including the sin of turning away from the Light, they cannot receive its benefits, because the saving benefits of Christ’s death can only be received by faith, conveyed by the Light of the Word of the Lord.

How different is the reaction of the children of Israel in our Old Testament lesson? Nehemiah assembles a solemn assembly of the nation, at which Ezra the scribe reads the Book of the Law and the Levites preach its meaning to the people, much like I’m doing now. The people stand for the reading of the Word (Neh. 8:5), much like we stand for the reading of the Holy Gospel. The people listen attentively as the Word is read and the sermons are preached (vv. 3, 8). It is an all-day affair, and no one complains about the length of the service. And as the people hear the Words of the Torah, much of it hard, bringing to light their sins and their sinful condition, what do the people do? They weep. They mourn. They repent. They do not turn away from the Light. The Holy Spirit brings them to faith, converts them by convicting them with the Law and calling them to faith by the Gospel, putting them to death and making them alive again, and so their mourning turns to joy. The Word brings forgiveness, release from their captivity to sin. The Word brings spiritual sight, that they may see their salvation in the mercy of the Lord alone. The Word brings consolation. The Word brings great joy, and as Nehemiah says to the people, and so also to us this morning, “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (v. 10). For the Word of the Lord brings Christ, and all the benefits of His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. The Word makes us God’s own children in Christ Jesus. The Word brings salvation, as it scatters the darkness. The Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.

So how do we receive that Light? Do we turn away, back to the darkness of our sin and unbelief, and ultimately of death and eternal condemnation? God forbid! By no means! May it never be! We who have been called to the Light of Christ, may we ever bask in that Light by continual, daily contact with His Word. And may we recognize that here in this place is Christ, the Word made flesh, among us, where He has promised to be, for us, for our salvation. Here He speaks His Word, Law and Gospel, to turn our hearts from sin to faith, and here He speaks His absolution, His forgiveness for all our sins. Here He washes us, as we witnessed this morning with the twins, Chloe and Layla, as they were given new birth by the Holy Spirit in the washing of water with the Word. They, too, have come into the Light of Christ. Here our Lord Jesus places His Light into our bodies in His holy Supper. By the power of God, and His grace alone, we remain in the Light of Christ, repenting of our sins, confessing them, receiving and believing in His Word of forgiveness. That is to say, we live the baptismal life. And so we live in the Light, live in the Word, live in Christ. His Word brings great joy, and, beloved in the Lord, His joy is our strength. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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