Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Dorr, Michigan

Sunday, December 26, 2010

First Sunday after Christmas

First Sunday after Christmas (A)
December 26, 2010
Text: Matt. 2:13-23

At first glance it may seem like our Gospel this morning is a bit of a downer for the day after Christmas. A paranoid king, the holy family’s flight to Egypt for their very lives, the merciless slaughter of all the infant boys of Bethlehem, Rachel, the matriarch of the tribes of Israel, weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted.

Of course, December the 26th has a reputation of its own for being a let down day, at least in the U.S.A. Other countries continue their celebration today as Boxing Day, a day traditionally set aside to give to those in need. This holiday is the heir of the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, which is also today. Perhaps you remember a song about the charitable good King Wenceslas, who gave alms for a poor peasant “on the feast of Stephen.” At any rate, we in the United States rarely think of December 26th as anything other than the day after Christmas, the day we pay for all of our celebrating with bloated bellies and aching heads, the day the kids are already bored with the new toys, the day we begin to anticipate the inevitable credit card bill winding its way through the mail, the day we realize that Christmas didn’t live up to all of our expectations.

Misery loves company. Maybe our Gospel lesson is not so strange after all. But if we aren’t careful, we’ll miss it. We’ll miss the fact that this morning’s Gospel is precisely what Christmas is all about. If you’ve been with us throughout the Christmas pilgrimage, you heard it yesterday morning, and the evening before, and a week ago today, the Christmas mystery: Almighty God comes in our flesh, into the midst of our mess, to save us. For too long we’ve bought into the lie, perpetuated by manger scenes and Christmas cards, that the night our Savior was born was serene, tranquil, peaceful. Not so! Remember? Mary gave birth to the God of the universe and laid Him in a manger, the feeding trough for animals, because there was no vacancy, no room for them in the inn. Imagine the stench in the stable! Could it possibly have been comfortable? Could it possibly have been sanitary? And Mary and Joseph wouldn’t have been in this predicament in the first place if that tyrant who thinks he’s a god, Caesar Augustus, hadn’t declared a census and made everyone travel back to the town of his ancestors. Talk about intrusive government! And the birth of the Messiah, the Savior of the world, is not announced to royalty, nor to the clergy, but to dirty, smelly shepherds who’ve been sleeping outside with their flock all night. It’s not really a pretty picture. Not on the surface. The beauty is not in the scene itself, but in the glorious reality that God in the flesh comes in the midst of this mess!

God in the flesh is with us in the very midst of the worst we have to offer. He comes as a subject of the lunatic King Herod and the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. He comes to the holy family in the midst of controversy, an unwed teenage mother, a threatened divorce, angelic appearances to Mary and Joseph revealing that He is conceived by the Holy Spirit, the long journey to Bethlehem, and the flight into Egypt. He comes, and from the moment He is born, He is a marked man. Herod thirsts for His blood. It is a foreshadowing of the cross. Jesus escapes this time, but all the boys of Bethlehem two years old and under are ripped from their mothers’ arms and slaughtered by Herod’s soldiers. We call them the Holy Innocents, because they had done nothing deserving of death. We call them the first martyrs for Christ, even before St. Stephen, because they had been brought into God’s saving covenant through the Sacrament of circumcision, and were the first privileged to shed their blood for the sake of Christ. Jesus comes in the midst of all of this. It isn’t the usual scene from the picturesque Christmas card. It is reality. It is the reality that the Christ Child came to redeem.

For when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son. Jesus came, born of a woman, taking His flesh from the Virgin Mary, born under the Law to redeem those who are under the Law (Gal. 4:4-5). Notice, at just the right time, in just the right place, the Father sends the Son. Jesus breaks in. He comes. That means that all of this is according to God’s plan. It is no accident that Jesus comes when all of this evil is taking place. It comes to pass, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled. And this is true for us, as well. You want to talk about the slaughter of infants, just think of the tragedy of abortion in this country and in all the nations of the world. The truth is, our Christmas doesn’t look anything like the scene from the picturesque Christmas card, either. Nor does our Christmas look anything like Nat King Cole says it should. Who roasts chestnuts on an open fire anyway? And Jack Frost nipping at your nose is called frostbite. It’s dangerous. Tiny tots’ hearts are aglow because they’re greedy, and they want presents. And we adults are greedy too. And even if we get everything on our Christmas list, we still feel empty on December 26th, because things can’t fill us. But Jesus can. And Jesus comes. Jesus comes right in the very midst of our greed and emptiness and misery and death. Don’t miss it. Don’t let the devil trick you. Don’t give in to his temptations to be depressed. Don’t give in to believing his lies that Christmas has failed you.

The problem isn’t Christmas, it’s you! Your expectations are all wrong. Did you really think there would be world peace, or even peace among quarreling family members this Christmas? You were expecting sinners not to sin. Did you really believe that receiving that coveted gift would complete you? It is empty, here today, gone tomorrow, and its promise of happiness is hollow. You have made a perishable thing your idol. Repent. I’m not trying to be the Grinch who stole Christmas here. I love Christmas. And that’s why I’m preaching to myself as much as to anyone else. It’s really easy for a pastor to succumb to the weariness and feelings of futility this time of year. But beloved, when we Christians do this, we’ve missed what really happened at Christmas. Jesus came. Jesus comes among us now. Jesus will come again. It’s the same Advent drumbeat, only now fulfilled with the birth of the Christ child. Unto you, unto you, unto you, is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord (Luke 2:11).

Today is NOT the day after Christmas. It’s Christmas now. For one thing, there’s the Twelve Days of Christmas in the Church Year (no, it’s not just a silly song!). The world may be packing away the decorations until next year, but the Church’s celebration is just beginning. It is Christmas until January 6th, the Epiphany of our Lord, which is actually then a second celebration of Christmas as Christ is revealed to the wise men as the Savior of the nations. But even more than this, any and every day is Christmas for the Christian. There is this old Elvis Presley song called “Why Can’t Everyday Be Like Christmas?” For the Christian, it is! Because Christmas is not about the presents or the food or the decorations or the jolly old fat man in the red suit. Christmas is about the abiding reality that God is with us, clothed in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. That is true every day. Christmas is about the Christ Mass. We are celebrating it again right now. The Christ Mass is Christ coming to speak with us in His Word, calling us back to our Baptism into Him, and feeding us with His true body and blood for our forgiveness in the Supper. Christmas is about Christ coming here to us now and applying His keeping of the Law, His death, and His resurrection to us in the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. So Christmas hasn’t failed. It is going on right here, right now, to you, for you. Look nowhere else, beloved. The Word became flesh. He is dwelling among you, in the midst of your messy life. Don’t miss it. He is forgiving you and making you whole. Merry Christmas! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day

Christmas Day
December 25, 2010
Text: John 1:1-14

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14). God is a man. He is a man for you. Jesus bridges the great divide between us who are poor, miserable sinners, and our righteous and holy God. There is one mediator between God and men, the Man, Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). We cannot come into the presence of the naked God and live to tell the story. His holiness would consume us. And that is why it is so crucial that God has clothed Himself in flesh. God is a man. It is an unthinkable mystery, were it not revealed to us by God Himself. He has clothed Himself in our nature, our weakness, our limitation, our misery. He humbled Himself to become one of us. He is like unto us in every way, only without sin (Heb. 4:15). And now, because God has mercifully approached us in this way, in human flesh, we can abide in His holy presence and live. In fact, we can live eternally, in the joy of God.

Christmas is not just about the birth of a baby. The birth of a baby is always special, but this birth is not just any birth. It is the birth of God, born of a woman. Of a virgin. The promised Messiah, come to save His people from their sins. The virgin birth and the two natures of Christ are not theories posited by theologians. They are the sum and substance of Christmas. They are vital to our salvation. They make all the difference between this birth that we celebrate at Christmas and every other birth of every other baby. No other baby has been born of a virgin. No other baby is God in human flesh, Immanuel, God with us. The Savior had to be born of a virgin, because God promised it long ago through the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14; ESV). The Savior had to be born of a virgin, because when it comes to procreation, two sinners always make a sinner. Jesus had to be sinless, if He was to be our Savior from sin. The Savior had to be born of a virgin, because He had to be the Son of God. And that leads us to the two natures in Christ.

Jesus is God, and Jesus is man. Yet He is only one person, one Jesus. There are not two Jesuses, one divine and one human, glued together in one body. Nor are Jesus’ two natures, the divine and the human, mixed together in such a way that something entirely new is created, some new substance. There is one Jesus. He is God. He is man. The Infinite clothes Himself with the finite. Wherever He is, there He is both God and Man. Before the incarnation, the enfleshment of God the Son in the womb of the Virgin Mary, He was only God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the eternally begotten Son of the Father. But since the angel appeared to Mary and the Holy Spirit came upon her through the spoken Word, the Son has also been man, Jesus of Nazareth. Joseph, of course, is not His father, thus the virgin birth. Joseph is Jesus’ legal guardian. But Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. He is God and man, and He has to be both. It cannot be any other way. He must be God in order to be perfect, sinless, and in order that His sin-atoning work can count for all men of all times and all places. But He has to be man in order to suffer and die, to stand in our place, as our substitute, to be one with us. He has to be man so that He can come among us without killing us. He has to be man so that God may be clothed in human flesh.

If Jesus is just another baby, just another man, even if He is a very good man, but only a man, then His death does us no good. He can only die His own death. But since the man, Jesus, is also God, He can die in the place of every sinner, of every one of us. Because Jesus is both God and man, we can say things about Jesus that we cannot otherwise say about God. God is born. God is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. God wets His pants. God hungers and thirsts. God gets tired and sleepy. God gets dirty. God suffers. God bleeds. God dies. And because Jesus is both God and man, we can say things about Jesus that we cannot otherwise say about any other man. The man, Jesus, heals diseases, gives sight to the blind, restores hearing to the deaf, casts out demons, and raises the dead to life. The man, Jesus, speaks only the truth, for He is the Truth. The man, Jesus, is the maker of heaven and earth. The man, Jesus, rules the universe. The man, Jesus, is Himself risen from the dead, the first-fruits of them that sleep. In the man, Jesus, is life, and that life is the light of men. The man, Jesus, is present everywhere. The man, Jesus, speaks to us in the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. The man, Jesus, gives us His true body and blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins. He is present bodily at every altar where His Word is joined to bread and wine. And we worship and praise the man, Jesus. For this man is God. God is a man. Immanuel, God with us.

And it matters. Because if we meet God in His naked majesty, we perish eternally. But now we meet Him in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, our Lord. He comes to us as a baby. He comes to us as our brother. He comes to us as one of us. Now we can see Him, and eat with Him, and drink with Him, and live eternally. The Word through whom all things were created, the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that is God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, became flesh and has made His dwelling among us. He dwells with us! God is a man, your man, your Savior. Merry Christmas! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent (A)
December 19, 2010
Text: Matt. 1:18-25

One can’t help but sympathize with Joseph. The young woman to whom he was betrothed, his fiancée, her to whom he was giving himself and all his possessions, was found to be with child. And he knew it wasn’t his. There are some great and serious difficulties to be overcome here. This was a time and culture that took seriously God’s commandments against fornication and adultery, that properly regarded God’s good gift of sexuality as sacred, to be kept pure, for the marriage bed alone. By all appearances, Mary had committed adultery, and Joseph had every right to have her stoned, so seriously did the Jews take the 6th Commandment (you know, the one we reluctantly acknowledge, but for all practical purposes pretend to be outdated, as if it doesn’t apply anymore). But being a just man and unwilling to put Mary to shame, Joseph “resolved to divorce her quietly” (Matt. 1:19; ESV). Yes, the word is “divorce,” because engagement was, at this time, the same commitment as marriage, only the marriage hadn’t been consummated yet. We should have the same regard for engagement today, but as with our 6th Commandment scruples, we pretend the rule is no longer applicable. Joseph had decided to divorce her. Because after all, his honor and standing in the community were at stake. People were talking. Everybody knew everybody else’s business. The gossip machine was running full throttle at the Synagogue Sabbath services. Who was the father? Was the child Joseph’s? Was he complicit in this sin? Or had Mary put him to shame by playing fast and loose with her virtue?

Of course, Mary had her side of the story, too. You can imagine how the conversation went. “Joseph, God is the Father. This Child is conceived by the Holy Spirit.” “Mary, please don’t insult me by resorting to fantastic stories. Haven’t you hurt me enough? Just go away. May God forgive you this sin. As for me, it’s better if we never see each other again.” Now, we know Mary is speaking the truth, the divine truth, but Joseph doesn’t know that. The damage is done. The teenage, unwed mother runs back to the home of her parents, who are beside themselves with grief. Where did we go wrong? What do we do now? The shame of the whole community is upon us. Perhaps we had better send Mary away to her uncle Zechariah and aunt Elizabeth for a few months. Of course, Zechariah and Elizabeth had a miraculous pregnancy of their own to deal with, Elizabeth carrying the last great Old Testament prophet, St. John the Baptist. But that’s another story for another day.

Look at the brokenness of this little family. Disappointment. Heartache. Divorce. An unwed mother. A fatherless Child (well, seemingly anyway). Kind of sounds like our families, doesn’t it? And here’s the miracle: It is precisely into this mess of chaos and brokenness that Jesus breaks in and changes everything! Mary’s story is unbelievable. It would take a miraculous revelation from God to believe her story. And that is exactly what happens! An angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (v. 20). Mary was telling the truth after all. She had not been unfaithful. No, in fact, the opposite was true. She had been faithful, and Joseph had been faithless, unbelieving. But now more than even the marriage is at stake. There is great good news, the Gospel to be reckoned with here. “She will bear a son, and you,” Joseph, you “shall call his name Jesus,” Joshua, The LORD Saves, “for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). Joseph is given the great privilege and responsibility of caring for the Mother of God, and her Son, God in the flesh, Immanuel, God with us (v. 23). Joseph will raise the Messiah in his own household, as his legal father, but of course with the recognition that God is the Boy’s Father. When Joseph awakes from his dream, he does the right thing. He obeys the command of God. He takes Mary to be his wife (v. 24). But her virginity remains intact. In fulfillment of our Old Testament lesson, the Virgin conceives and bears a Son (Is. 7:14). Joseph knows not his wife until her Son is born. And he calls his name Jesus (Matt. 1:25), for He will save His people from their sins.

Beloved in the Lord, Jesus comes to us in the midst of our mess: our brokenness, our disappointment, our heartache, our sin. Jesus comes to us in the midst of our dying and death. He comes to turn everything on its head. Jesus breaks in, and everything changes. That is why we celebrate Christmas, the Christ-Mass. That is why we come to Jesus’ house to celebrate His birth by hearing Him speak to us, to each and every one of us, and feed us with His body and blood in the supper. We take a holiday, a holy day, at Christmas because this day is set aside, set apart from regular work, as a Day to focus on Mary’s Son and His Word. We gather with family on this day, come to church as a family on this day, because God miraculously held the holy family together in the midst of crisis, that He might through this family give us Jesus, the Savior of all families, and of the whole world. We give gifts on this day because Jesus is God’s gift to us, because Jesus gave Himself for us, the Son of God wrapped up in human flesh, to be the sacrifice for our sins. One who has received the Gift of God that is Jesus Christ gives generous gifts to his neighbor. That’s the nature of faith. We decorate and we sing and we feast, first around the altar of the Christian family, and then around the dinner tables of our families and friends, because this is occasion for rejoicing, for great joy, for the greatest joy, the only real joy. Jesus comes. He takes all that is wrong into Himself: our sins, our sorrows, our failures, our ills, and He gives us His righteousness freely, as a gift, without any work or worthiness on our part. He has kept the 6th Commandment, and every Commandment for us. And by His death He pays the penalty for our not keeping the Commandments. By His grace and mercy, He lifts our sins from us, the sins which weigh us down (collect). He reconciles us to the God who loves us and sent His Son for us. Everything is different, now that God is a Man. The Word became flesh. He is Immanuel, God with us. He saves us from our sins.

Joseph still had it hard. Sticking with Mary was even harder than divorcing her. People still talked. They gossiped, they maligned, they slandered. They assumed they knew the story, when they didn’t have a clue. And it got even harder. Joseph had to take his pregnant wife to Bethlehem to be registered for the imperial tax. When they arrived, there was no room for them in the inn. Mary gave birth among the animals. Our infant Lord was wrapped in makeshift swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, a feeding trough for livestock. What a reception for the King of kings! Within a matter of months, Herod wants to kill this Child, and Joseph has to flee with his wife and the toddling Savior to Egypt, while all the other boys of Bethlehem under two years of age are mercilessly slaughtered. Some time later Joseph is told to return to Judea with his family, that it is safe once more, and other than the incident at the Temple when Jesus is twelve years old, we never hear of Joseph again. Except in memory. Presumably he dies while Jesus is still young. So it goes for our fallen flesh. So it goes with our life under the cross.

Jesus comes, and everything changes. He saves His people from their sins. He makes all things new. And yet, this earthly life is still hard for you. You may still be lonely this Christmas. Maybe you will not have a family table to gather round. Maybe you will feel so isolated even in the midst of the biggest family celebration, that you may as well be alone. Perhaps you will be depressed this Christmas, as so many are. Perhaps you will be disappointed that Christmas didn’t live up to your expectations. Maybe you will spend this Christmas in a hospital bed. It’s hard to say. None of us knows yet what this Christmas holds. Because the old Adam is still wrapped around your neck. You still live with the reality of the old sinful flesh. And yet, Jesus comes, Immanuel, God with you. Jesus comes to you in your mess. You are not alone. While you bear the holy cross, the Crucified One bears you! And all of these hardships are passing away. You are a new creation in Christ Jesus. You are baptized into Christ. He has spoken His absolution over you. You’ve been bodied and blooded by the One who gave His body into death for you, and shed His blood for you. So it really is different. There is an end to suffering. It will be manifest, for all to see, for you to see with your very eyes on the Last Day. Mary’s Son is your Brother. God’s Son is your Brother. Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is your Lord. And He has redeemed you, that you may be His own. There is no greater gift. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Third Sunday in Advent

Third Sunday in Advent (A)
December 12, 2010
Text: Matt. 11:2-15

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3; ESV). John’s question, and that of his disciples, can be turned back upon us. Is Jesus the Messiah, the Savior you’re looking for, or are you searching for another? Are you perhaps searching for something or someone else to fill you, to satisfy you, to save you? Christmas has this way of exposing our idols, our false gods, the true desires of our hearts. Every year we make Christmas lists. We think that those things listed will finally complete us. If I only had this or that thing, then I would finally be happy, whole, satisfied. But you know how it really is. Even if you get everything on your list this Christmas, you will have another list next year. Because you still will not feel complete. There will still be unfilled holes in your life, and you will seek to fill them with more and more stuff. We all have unscratchable itches and bottomless pits in our hearts. We all covet, which means that we endlessly search for fulfillment in things. And in people. In fact, family and friends and other people can become our greatest idols. Christmas has a way of exposing this, as well. We strive in vain for the pipe dream of Clark W. Griswold, the “fun, old-fashioned family Christmas,” the perfect, nostalgic, Christmas by the fire side, where everyone gets along, no one really cares what presents they receive because they’re just happy to be together, the food is immaculate, the tree is brightly trimmed, and everyone has a special glow in their hearts. But of course, it never really happens. And we fall to pieces along with our false religion and our Jesus-less Christmas.

Repent. If that is your ideal, you’re missing both the Christ and His Mass in Christmas. Jesus is not about colorful lights and gift lists, nor even the special glow of our hearts. Those things will never satisfy. They will convince you that they can satisfy you year after year. But these are the vain deceptions of the devil. What you need for Christmas, what you need for everyday, is Jesus. He is the gift God promised from of old, to our first parents the very day they fell into sin and death. He is the Savoir come to crush the serpent’s head. He is the Crucified, the death of death and the author of life, the risen One, the firstborn from the dead. He is the cure for your sin and death. He suffered and died for your sins, that you might be forgiven and have eternal life, and He is risen, and comes to you with His Word and Spirit in Baptism and preaching and in the Supper. It is not by accident that the holiday is called Christmas, Christ-Mass! The ideal Christmas is not gathered around the tree with family opening their presents. That is fine, in and of itself, but it is idolatrous if you think that is what Christmas is about. The ideal Christmas is gathered around the altar with the Christian family receiving THE Gift, Jesus Christ Himself, in His true body and blood, for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

And if what I am saying offends you, that is only because your idolatry has been painfully exposed. You are not offended at me, but at Christ. You are searching for another. Christ just isn’t doing it for you. Or at least that is what the devil has convinced your sinful flesh to believe. You are not alone. There is not a soul in this building this morning who is not guilty of this idolatry. But the time for excuses is over. Jesus is coming again. He is coming to judge the living and the dead. The answer to our idolatry is not to make excuses, but to repent, to confess our sins, to hear again the holy absolution, the forgiveness of sins, and to cling to that promise of Jesus Christ for all it is worth. And it is worth everything. It is our eternal lifeline. Repent and look to Jesus. He is the only One who can fill you. He is the only One who can make you whole. He is the only One who can save you.

For making whole and saving are what Jesus is all about. He is the One who strengthens the weak hands and makes firm the feeble knees. He is the One who stills the anxious heart (Is. 35:3-4). He gives sight to the blind. He makes the lame to walk. He cleanses lepers, opens the ears of the deaf, and raises the dead to life. And what is the greatest miracle (we miss this every time, because we’re too enamored with the spectacular physical miracles)… what is the greatest miracle is that the Good News, the Gospel, is preached to the poor (Matt. 11:5). Who are the poor? It is not just those who have little or no money. It is every one of us who has that gaping hole in our hearts that we so long to fill with anything and everything, with anyone and everyone. That hole is your poverty. It leaves you standing before God naked and exposed, with absolutely nothing to bring to the table (except for sin), with no righteousness of your own, with no ability to help or save yourself. And here is the Good News, the Gospel: Jesus has come to fill your emptiness. Jesus alone can fill it. And here He is, now, today, in this place, to fill it, to fill you, with Himself. He’s really present. Bodily. He’s speaking to you now in His Word. In a few moments He will give you a foretaste of the Christ-Mass by placing His very real, incarnate body on your tongues and pouring His very real, incarnate blood down your throats. Nothing else can fill you. This is the real thing today. Away with the idols. Is Jesus the One, or are you looking for another? Look no longer. He is here in the flesh. Only the poor can receive Him. “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” says Jesus (v. 6). Blessed is the one who doesn’t ask, “Really, is that all You have to offer, Lord? More words from the preacher and just another Communion?” If that is your attitude, you cannot be filled by Jesus, for you have no idea of your poverty. Blessed rather is the one who clings to those words as the very Word of Life, and who hungers and thirsts for that Communion of the holy body and blood of Christ as the medicine of immortality. Blessed are the poor who are filled with Jesus. Blessed are the poor who are filled by His Word and by His Supper, by His healing and His life.

Jesus fills you by preaching and Sacrament. And beloved, the Savior you seek goes hand in hand with the preacher you desire to hear. And so Jesus asks the crowds, “When you went out to hear John the Baptist preach, what did you go out to see?” “A reed shaken by the wind?” (v. 7). In other words, did you go out to hear a preacher who could be blown this way and that by the times, or the desires of his audience? Or perhaps you went out to see a man dressed in soft clothing? That is to say, you went out to hear a polished preacher, a man of prestige and influence, the kind of man who could show you how you also could be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous, the Joel Osteen type of preacher. Kings and presidents receive such preachers into their homes. But John is neither a reed shaken by the wind, nor a man dressed in fine clothing. He is an offense. He is clothed in camels’ hair, and eats locusts and wild honey. He is rough around the edges. And his roughness is indicative of his preaching. He says hard words. For he is a prophet. He speaks the Word of God in season and out of season. He calls for repentance, confession of sins, poverty, faith. And he is more than a prophet, for he does not foretell some future event, but the coming of Jesus Christ now. He speaks of the coming of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world now. He speaks of the least in the Kingdom of Heaven, THE Poor Man, our Lord Jesus Christ, who humbled Himself to become one with sinful humanity, humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, for us men and for our salvation. Of those born of women, no one is greater than John. Except for Jesus Christ. John is Elijah, who was to come. But Jesus is the Messiah, the One promised by God to save us from our sins, the One who fills us up in the very midst of our poverty. He opens our eyes to see Him in faith, to believe in Him, to trust Him alone for help and salvation. He raises us up to walk in the light of truth. He cleanses us from the deadly leprosy of sin. He opens our ears to hear His Word. He raises us to new life in the Spirit. He preaches the Good News to us. We are full in Him.

So stop your vain search for another. There is no other. Jesus is it. And He is here. Now. For you. There is nothing else that matters this Christmas. There is nothing else that matters ever. Make a commitment now, beloved, to go to every effort to be here in Christ’s Church on Christmas Day for the Christ-Mass. Because the Son of God has made every effort to come to you, taking on your flesh, suffering the punishment for your sins, dying your death, and conquering your death in His resurrection. It is Jesus’ birth you celebrate. Celebrate it with Him at His house. Because on Christmas Day He will celebrate His birthday by giving you the gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. He will take away your poverty and give you Himself. Even as He does at this very moment, now, today. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent Midweek II

“God’s Saving Love Stirs Up My Heart”[1]
Advent Midweek 2
December 8, 2010
Text: Mal. 4:1-6

Beloved in the Lord, the Day is coming, proclaims the Prophet Malachi. It is the Day of Judgment. It is inevitable. Every one of us will stand before the judgment throne of God. There will be no exceptions. And there are only two possible outcomes for the accused. Either there is condemnation, or there is full acquittal, nay, justification, a proclamation of righteousness. What determines the difference? Malachi tells us that the difference is this: Fear of God’s Name. You either fear the one true God, YHWH, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or you don’t. And what is this fear? It is the fear that knows we deserve to be ablaze, burned up in God’s wrath, but that He has sent us a Savior, the Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, who pays the punishment of our sins on the cross. Fear of God’s Name thus includes both repentance and faith. We know we are sinners, that we deserve the full punishment of God’s wrath, and we mourn over our sinful condition. But we turn to God in faith for help and salvation in Jesus Christ. It all hinges on this fear of God.

For we are all arrogant and evildoers. Every last one of us deserves the Day of Judgment to be a Day of terror for us. And for many, it will be such a day. For it is coming as God here says, “burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble,” which is to say, they will be the worthless chaff left over after grinding the wheat. It is good for nothing but burning. “The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch” (Mal. 4:1; ESV). The fire of God’s wrath will utterly consume them. God gives us this warning in His grace and saving love. By this warning God would stir up our hearts, wake us up, so that we understand His judgment is no joke. Those who do not fear His Name will experience His very real and everlasting wrath on the Day of Judgment. What is described here is hell. And even though hell is not a politically correct concept anymore, that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. There is a real hell, and real people go there, namely, all unbelievers. God doesn’t want them to go there. God has provided for their salvation. It is a great tragedy that anyone ever goes there, because Christ died for their sins. The truth is, we all deserve to go there, and would go there were it not for Christ and His sin-atoning work on the cross and victorious resurrection. So the Day of Judgment is a terrible Day for those who are outside of Christ, for all unbelievers.

But there is a different outcome for those who fear God’s Name, again, those who repent of their sins and cling in faith to their Savior, Jesus Christ. That Day will be for us a Day of great joy and blessing. For on that Day, the Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, will rise, will come visibly, just as the sun rises and gives its light each morning. The Lord Jesus will come visibly and shine His “wings,” His rays, upon us, so that we are healed of sin and death and every dread disease. All that is wrong in the world will be right again. Our bodies will be raised from the grave and made perfect with the perfect healing of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord says through Malachi that we will leap like calves from the stall. Calves who have been cooped up all winter, when they released into the pasture in the spring, leap and kick and play in the freedom and fresh air. That will be us. We will be released from our bondage in this sinful and fallen flesh. Imagine, no more disease or injury, no more aches and pains, no more disabling maladies, no more death. And no more sin. And as for the wicked? They will not bother us anymore either. They will have received their judgment as those who did not fear the Name of the LORD. They will be ashes under the soles of our feet.

Beloved, God must accomplish such fear in us, such repentance and faith, for we cannot do it by our own reason or strength. The Holy Spirit must do it in us by His means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. And that is why He tells us in our text to “Remember the law (the Torah, the teaching, the instruction, including both Law and Gospel)… Remember the [Torah] of my servant Moses” (v. 4). In other words, abide in the Word. To remember here means more than simply to call to mind. It means to be immersed in the Word, to meditate upon it, to keep it as a treasure in the heart. Because by means of this Word, the Torah, the Holy Spirit keeps you in this fear of the Name of YHWH unto life everlasting. Indeed, He who began this good work in you, repentance and faith, will bring it to completion on the Day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6), the Day of His returning to judge the living and the dead. His saving love stirs up your heart to believe in Him, and thus be saved by faith alone. But so also it produces a new life of faith in you, a life marked by love. The hearts of fathers are turned toward their children, and children to their fathers. We no longer live for the self. Our Lord Jesus has redeemed us from that. Now we live for others, in proper relationship to one another, fearing and loving God so that we desire and strive to keep His commandments, always returning to His throne of mercy when we fall, to His flood of grace (our Baptism!), to the Table of His body and blood.

The Holy Spirit calls us to this fear of the Lord every time His Word is proclaimed. He sent His prophet, St. John the Baptist, in the spirit of Elijah to proclaim this timeless message, just as He promises here in our text. The Lord is faithful. And His call is urgent. Because the Day is coming. Fear the Lord, you His saints (Psalm 34:9). Prepare His way by repenting of your sins, confessing them to God, and clinging to the forgiveness of sins you have in Christ Jesus. For in this way, the Day of Judgment will be for you the Day when the Sun of Righteousness rises with healing in His wings. Indeed, by His wounds you are healed (1 Peter 2:24). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Sermon series based on the Rev. David Fleming, God’s Love at Christmas (St. Louis: Concordia, 2010).

That's Just Your Interpretation!

Pastor’s Window for December 2010
That’s Just Your Interpretation!

Our culture would have us believe that whenever we Christians speak about doctrine or morality on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, that’s “just your interpretation.” The implication is that any and every other interpretation of the Scriptures is equally valid, even an interpretation that denies the Scriptures altogether. This Advent-tide, as we approach the celebration of the mystery of the incarnation, God in human flesh, television and newsstands will be filled with so-called “theologians” offering their “interpretation” of the Christmas story and the meaning of Jesus’ birth. On the plus side, this will offer believing Christians an opportunity to confess the Savior to a worldwide audience. Dr. Paul Maier from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, who also currently serves as our Synod’s 3rd Vice President, is in demand on these programs as a go-to scholar and spokesman for orthodox Christianity. But the down side is that equal time, if not the greater amount of time, is given to “Christian” and other scholars who admittedly do not believe the Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God, and in many cases do not believe that Jesus is God in human flesh.

And so we must be careful, diligent, and discerning when we watch these programs and read these articles. It should not be surprising that unbelievers pose as Christian scholars only to tear down the Christian faith, for Satan himself parades as “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). We dare not fall prey to the demonic deception that these unbelieving scholars, as smart as they may be, offer another “valid interpretation.” For in truth, the chief qualification for one who would interpret Scripture is that they believe in Jesus Christ, and in His Word in the Holy Scriptures.

All of this is simply to say that not everything or everyone that claims to be “Christian” should be regarded as such. Jesus tells us to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15; ESV). These are false teachers, who appear to be Christians outwardly, but in subtle ways that sound good to our itching ears, they teach us false doctrine and so poison our faith. Believe it or not, much of what is sold in Christian bookstores is precisely this kind of false teaching. The same is true for much of what passes for Christian radio and television. We have to be on our guard. And it won’t do to defend false teachers on the basis of their sincerity: “But he’s so sincere! He’s so genuine! His heart is in the right place.” Beloved in the Lord, false teachers may very well be sincere in their false teaching. They are sincerely wrong.

So how do we know the difference between true and false teaching? We should always be comparing the doctrine we hear and read with the Word of God in Holy Scripture. We should even compare the doctrine taught by those we know to be Christians with the Word of God. When Paul and Silas came preaching Jesus Christ to the Jews in Berea, “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). This is what we should do. We should test the doctrine being taught. St. John writes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). We should not believe everyone who comes along claiming to be a teacher of the Scriptures or claiming to speak for God. We should put them to the test. Are they believers in Christ? Are they faithful to His Word? For John continues: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (vv. 2-3). That makes it pretty easy to discern who we should and should not listen to when we watch the Christmas specials and read the secular articles about Jesus’ birth. Only those who clearly confess that the man, Christ Jesus, is God in the flesh, are Christians. All the others, no matter how loudly they protest, are unbelievers.

And of course, to be discerning, to recognize true and false doctrine for what it is, you should know the Scriptures yourself. That means attending the Divine Service regularly, to hear the Word read and explained during the sermon, and making sure to be in Bible class, to take an in-depth look at what God says in His Word. It also includes making use of trustworthy study materials and devotional books at home. For we should be occupied each day with God’s Word, daily examining the Scriptures as the Bereans did.

For finally, all interpretations are not equal. Not every interpretation is valid. Only the interpretation that is consistent with the rest of the Word of God is the right interpretation. There is such a thing as truth. There is such a thing as true doctrine. God’s Word is truth. And that doctrine is true that comes from the Word of God. And here is the most precious truth: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14)!

Pastor Krenz

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Second Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent (A)
December 5, 2010
Text: Matt. 3:1-12

“Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight” (Matt. 3:3; ESV). John the Baptist’s cry still echoes from the wilderness of Judea. We hear his call nearly 2,000 years later here, in Dorr, Michigan. For the Lord still comes, comes to us in His blessed Word and Sacraments. In a few short weeks we will once again celebrate His coming in the flesh as Mary’s Son, our Immanuel, God with us, who came to die for our sins on the cross. And He will come again, on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. He comes, and this requires preparation on our part. “Prepare the way of the Lord!” But how? John doesn’t mince words. “Repent!” he preaches. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (v. 2). The Kingdom of Heaven is not a place, a physical location. The Kingdom of Heaven is nothing less than the reign of God in Jesus Christ. When Jesus comes, the Kingdom is here! Jesus is coming to bring us out of the devil’s kingdom and into His own Kingdom, a Kingdom of grace and light and righteousness and truth. We prepare by repenting.

So what is repentance? We must know if we are to prepare for the coming King and His Kingdom by repenting of our sins. And, in fact, the daily life of the Christian is a life of daily repentance. So we must know what repentance is. Narrowly speaking, repentance means being sorry for our sins, sorry for having offended our righteous and loving God, sorry for not living according to His good and gracious will for us. In theology this is also called contrition, and we speak of having a contrite heart, that is, a heart that sorrows over sin. Broadly speaking, repentance includes both contrition and faith in Jesus Christ, and this is important to know because the Bible speaks of repentance both ways. This morning, when St. John calls upon us to repent, he is speaking in the broad sense, which is really the fullest sense. John would have us examine ourselves, that we might know our sins and our deep, dark, deadly sinful condition. And such an examination will lead us to great sorrow, for we have merited God’s eternal condemnation. He who loved us so, who gave us life and every blessing, all we have, and who has also provided for our salvation, Him we have disregarded, rejected, denied by our every sin. And all we can do in and of ourselves is sin. We cannot help ourselves out of this sinful condition. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot earn God’s favor back. So we are led, in great sorrow, to despair of ourselves, and this is the first part of repentance. But repentance cannot end there, or we will be left in the despair of Judas Iscariot, who took his own life in unbelief. Beloved, God is gracious. In His grace, His unmerited favor and love, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to be our Savior. The repentant look in faith to Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness of sins, salvation, and help to amend their sinful lives. And so in this sense, we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ by clinging to Him in faith, trusting Him, holding Him to His promises. We see here clearly, too, that only the Holy Spirit can give us the gift of such repentance. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ. Since the key component of repentance is faith in Christ, this can only be the activity of the Holy Spirit working on us through His means of grace.

The Holy Spirit was bringing the people to John in the Jordan River, including some who would become Jesus’ apostles, that they might repent. They were baptized by John in the Jordan. It was a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And notice that their repentance was concrete. It wasn’t just a general feeling of inadequacy and a desire to do better. That is not repentance. No, the people came to John “confessing their sins” (v. 6). This was not just a general acknowledgement that they were sinful. The people were actually speaking their sin to God in the presence of the prophet called by God to announce forgiveness. They were naming the sins. “Dear John, this is what I am: I am a poor, miserable sinner. I have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. I have cheated in my business dealings. I have lusted after women who are not my wife. I have been lazy and negligent in my duties to my family, my employer, my community. I have cursed and misused the Lord’s Name. I am sorry for all of this, and I ask for grace. I want to do better.” And then John would point them to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, even Jesus Christ our Lord. He would absolve them of their sins. And finally, he would admonish them to bear fruit in keeping with repentance, to amend their sinful lives, to live the Christian life, to love and serve the neighbor. Repentance is concrete for John.

And it must be concrete for us, too. Do we really examine ourselves? Do we really come face to face with the reality of our sins? Do we name them before God? You see, when we just say in a general way that we are sinners and we feel really bad about it, we have not really examined ourselves. We have not really looked our sin and our death in the eye. We are always so reluctant to name the sin, even in our private prayers before God much less before the pastor in private confession, because naming the sin makes it real to us. And we are scared of the reality. And we should be scared, because the reality is damning. But beloved, your sin is real whether you name it or not. Not naming it only casts the illusion that you have not sinned. But the comfort that illusion gives you is only temporary. That comfort is not real. The curtain of that comfort will be torn away on Judgment Day. The only real comfort is that which absolution gives. For “Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”[1] Confession places the sin before God’s throne for judgment now. And absolution seals the sin in the tomb of Christ, never again to be brought against us. The two parts of confession correspond to the two parts of repentance. Contrition leads to confession. And faith clings to the absolution as the Word of forgiveness from Christ Himself.

There are those who will not confess, however. They will not repent. They do not believe they need to repent. They do not believe they have anything to confess. In our text, the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious elite, come to John in the wilderness. But they do not come to confess and be baptized. The Pharisees were known for their self-righteousness. They prided themselves on their keeping of the Law. “What sins would you have us confess, John? We are not like other men. God loves us because we always keep the Law down to the tiniest detail.” The Sadducees, on the other hand, were known for their licentiousness. For they did not believe in heaven or the resurrection of the dead or angels or miracles. They were the theological liberals. And of course, if none of those things exist, we can do whatever we please. There is no judgment. “Why should we confess negative things like sins, John? Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. Let us live in the pleasures of our flesh now, for the flesh will soon be gone.” John has a word for both groups. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (v. 7). The Judgment is coming. The same Lord who comes as Savior will come again as Judge. And those who did not repent, who did not turn to Him for salvation, either because they believed they were beyond His power to save, or because they did not believe they needed salvation, these will be thrown as chaff into the unquenchable fire of hell. And by the way, being a Pharisee or a Sadducee or a Lutheran won’t help you on the Day of Judgment if you are outside of Christ, not any more than physical descent from Abraham will help you. You are either in Christ, or you aren’t. You either offer up real sins to be forgiven by your Lord Jesus, covered by His real blood, or you go on pretending there isn’t any sin to confess.

But be warned, the Judgment is coming. John’s warning sounds. He baptizes with water for repentance. But One is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Understand, every person will be baptized with one or the other. You will either be baptized with the Holy Spirit, which means that you will repent of your sins, believe in Jesus Christ, and so be judged righteous with the righteousness of Christ on the Last Day. Or you will be baptized with fire, which means you will not believe in Christ, not receive His forgiveness, remain in your sins, and so be condemned to the fire of God’s eternal wrath on the Last Day. Beloved, in the Lord, you have been baptized by Christ into the Holy Spirit already in the water and the Word. Cling to that Baptism, and so cling to Christ. Repentance is a daily return to that Baptism. It is a daily drowning anew of the Old Adam in you, and a daily rising again of the new man to live in Christ.

John calls upon us to prepare the way of the Lord by repentance, confessing our sins, and clinging to our Lord Jesus Christ in faith. That is what Advent is all about. It is about returning to our Baptism and confessing our sins, that we might be forgiven. Advent is a penitential season, and so we are to examine ourselves, to name the sins we commit before God, to confess our sinful condition, and to cling to His promise that the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, covers all our sins. We are to cling to the Word spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ through the mouth of His called and ordained servant: “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.” Thus having been forgiven, we can stand before God confidently as His redeemed. We are washed clean. Our hearts and hands have been cleansed. We are prepared to receive our Immanuel, God with us, who comes to us by His grace. Beloved in the Lord, repent. And believe the Good News. Christ Jesus comes, ushering in the reign of God, bringing you into God’s Kingdom as beloved children. “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD!” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Advent Midweek 1

“God’s Love Covers Me with Christ”[1]
Advent Midweek 1
December 1, 2010
Text: Jer. 23:1-8

The LORD our God demands perfect righteousness from His people. For whatever is not righteousness is sin, and our holy and righteous God hates sin. He cannot abide sin. He cannot abide sinners. And that is a problem. For we are sinners. We are not righteous. We do not live up to the holy and perfect standard of God’s righteousness. We live only for the self. We are self-centered creatures. We are born this way, to look out for number one, to look first to our own safety, welfare, comfort, and pleasure. Scratching our own itches is a matter of first importance to us, satisfying our own twisted hunger, our perverted desires. And so, when weighed in the balance of justice and righteousness, us on one side, and the commandment of God in the other, we are found severely lacking. We stand condemned. God help us. For He alone can.

And He has. That is the good news proclaimed in our text this evening. There is no question, we cannot help ourselves. Once we’re no longer righteous before God, we can never be righteous before Him again in and of ourselves. And we’re sunk from the beginning, because we are born of sinful flesh, sinful children of sinful parents, tracing our lineage of corruption back to our first parents, Adam and Eve. We’re born sinners before we even have a chance to sin. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5; ESV). Sinful from conception. No, there is no righteousness in us. But the Lord has regarded our plight. In compassion and mercy, He has given us a righteousness from outside of us. He sent Jesus, our Messiah, our Savior, as He declares through the mouth and the pen of the Prophet Jeremiah: “And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness’” (Jer. 23:6).

“The LORD is our righteousness.” Jesus is our righteousness. That means that we are no longer weighed in the scales when God judges us. Jesus stands in for us. He is our substitute. And He is perfect. He is perfectly righteous with the righteous perfection of God Himself. He is God, in the flesh. God loves us so dearly, He sends His Son. He sends His Son to live the perfect life that we unrighteous ones, we sinners, cannot live. He sends His Son to die our death, the punishment for our sin, in our place on the cross. He sends His Son to be raised for us, for our justification, the proclamation of our righteousness, and our eternal life. And God has exalted this Jesus, the righteous Branch, the Son of David, to the heaven of heavens, to His own right hand, where He rules all things as God and man for the benefit of His people. This Jesus is our stand in. He is our substitute. He is our righteousness. Now when God looks at us, He no longer sees our sin, which has been paid for in full by the blood of Jesus Christ. Now God only sees the righteousness of Jesus His Son.

We are covered with this righteousness in our Baptism. There we put on Christ’s righteousness as a robe. Remember the scene in the Book of Revelation where the saints are coming out of the great tribulation of this earthly life? And one of the elders says to St. John: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14). In other words, they are covered by the Lamb’s blood, and by the Lamb’s righteousness. Because of the Lamb, they are now dressed in white, purity, holiness. Or as St. Paul puts it in Galatians, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). To be baptized is to be clothed with Christ, covered with Him, so that your sin no longer shows, so that God looks at you and sees Christ’s righteousness.

Of course, the baptismal life is a life of daily battle. Because the righteousness is Christ’s, and not our own, we still have to battle against our unrighteous flesh, putting it to death daily by returning to our Baptism and drowning it there. This is called repentance, and it includes sorrow over our sins and our sinful condition, faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness, and the fruits of repentance, which is to say, the resisting of temptation and a life of good works to the glory of God and in love toward our neighbor. Repentance is the way we prepare for Christmas. As we heard on Sunday, Advent, which means coming, is a season of preparation for the three-fold coming of Jesus Christ: His coming as the Babe of Bethlehem to die on the cross for our sins, His continual coming to us in the Word and Sacraments, and His coming again to judge the living and the dead. All three comings are matters of our eternal life and death. They are critical. So they merit a little preparation. We prepare by confessing our sins and being absolved, forgiven, by Christ our Lord Himself, by the mouth of His called and ordained servant of the Word, one of those new shepherds God talks about in our text. That is, at the most basic level, what repentance means. Confession and absolution. Which is always a return to Baptism, a drowning of the old Adam, a rising to new life in Christ. In that new life we begin to do good works, never perfectly mind you, always needing repentance, but we begin, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in thanksgiving for our salvation in Christ. After all, if we are clothed with Christ, how could it be otherwise?

But our good works are not the perfect righteousness God demands. And thank God, they don’t have to be. For this is the Name of our Savior: “The LORD,” YHWH, enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth, “is our righteousness.” We are free of condemnation. We have eternal life. And our righteousness, this Jesus, the Son of David, and Son of God, sits on throne. And He reigns forever and ever. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Sermon series based on Rev. David Fleming, God’s Love at Christmas (St. Louis: Concordia, 2010).