Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, December 30, 2012

First Sunday after Christmas

First Sunday after Christmas (C)
December 30, 2012
Text: Luke 2:22-40

            The old man had been waiting, waiting, waiting… not impatiently, mind you, as we are prone when we are waiting, but in hope, the kind of biblical hope that is sure and certain as death and taxes, nay, more certain, because such a hope is built on the rock-solid foundation of the promises of God.  The Holy Spirit was upon the old man (Luke 2:25).  One cannot hope in the biblical sense without the Holy Spirit, after all.  But this man had the Holy Spirit in the way of the prophets.  The old man was an Old Testament man, though he appears here in the New Testament, in the Gospel according to St. Luke.  He was an Old Testament man, because he waited in hope for the consolation of Israel, for the promised Messiah to come and save His people from their sins.  Yet this Old Testament man would see the New Testament come to Him in the flesh.  He had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (v. 26).  And so it was on this day that the old man, Simeon, came by the Holy Spirit to the Temple to behold a Baby (v. 27).  Now, there were lots of babies in the Temple with their parents, doing what the Law of Moses commanded, “as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’” (v. 23; ESV [cf. Ex. 13:2]).  The parents were redeeming their first-born sons with the required sacrifice, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons (v. 24).  So the other folks in the Temple paid no attention to this particular Baby.  He had no halo over His head.  His parents were not glowing with divine radiance.  The detachment of angels assigned to guard His tiny foot from striking against a stone (Ps. 91:12) were invisible to the naked eye.  Yet Simeon knows.  He has no trouble identifying the One.  The Holy Spirit always directs His people to Christ Jesus.  The Holy Spirit is always pointing us to Christ as the One who reconciles us to the Father.  Simeon walks right up to Mary and Joseph and takes the Baby into his arms and blesses the God whom he now holds: “Lord,” he prays to the Baby Jesus, “now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation…” (vv. 29-30).  I’m holding salvation right here in my arms.  You’ve prepared this salvation, this Baby, not just for the Jews, but for all people, the whole world, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (v. 32).
            The Nunc Dimittis we call Simeon’s song, and we sing it, too.  When?  After we, also, see our salvation in the flesh and hold Him in our mouths as He feeds us with His true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord Jesus is just as present with us as He was with Simeon.  In the bread and wine we see by faith the very same Jesus Simeon held as a baby in his arms and saw with his own eyes.  It is a marvelous truth.  Joseph and Mary marvel at what Simeon says about their Son (v. 33).  And we marvel, too.  How can this be?  We don’t know.  We simply trust what the Lord says.  This Baby is the Savior of the world.  It is He who fulfilled the Law for us.  It is He who died on the cross for our sins.  He is risen and lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  And He gives His true body and blood in His Supper, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, for the forgiveness of our sins.  It is for all the people of God, no matter what their nationality.  It is for Jews and Gentiles alike, this salvation, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 
            As a result, we, like Simeon, can depart in peace.  This doesn’t just mean we can depart from the Communion rail in peace, or from the Church in peace, but from this earthly life in peace.  It’s a strange saying to our fleshly ears, but Simeon praises God that now he can die without fear.  Anna, too, joins Simeon in this confidence.  The daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (v. 36), she, too, had been waiting, waiting, waiting… with the kind of biblical hope that is sure and certain, built on the rock-solid foundation of God’s promises.  She had been married as a young woman only seven years, and then was widowed until the age of eighty-four.  So devout was she, she made her home in the Temple, “worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (v. 37).  Her hope did not disappoint her.  The Holy Spirit was upon her, too.  In the presence of the Lord, she could not contain her joy.  She did not hold back, but confessed with great rejoicing that the Christ had come.  And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God,” to little Baby Jesus, “and to speak of him,” of Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel” (v. 38).  Now, she, too, could depart in peace, not just from the Temple (from which she hadn’t departed in years), but from this earthly life.  She, too, could die without fear.
            Praise be to God, you and I, beloved, can depart in peace.  We can die without fear.  Because our eyes have seen the salvation God has prepared for us in Jesus Christ.  We have beheld Him in His Word, in our Baptism, in His body and blood in the Sacrament.  I believe it was Kenneth Korby who once said, “We go to the Lord’s Supper as to our death, so that we can go to our death as though going to the Lord’s Supper.”  It’s not a morose statement, but a statement of biblical hope and joy built on the rock-solid foundation of God’s promises.  Death can come to any one of us at any time.  But when we close our eyes in death, that is not the end.  We open our eyes in heaven, in the presence of the Lord Jesus, seeing for ourselves what we once beheld only by faith.  And we know that the risen Lord Jesus who has distributed His risen body and blood into our mouths has marked us for resurrection.  On the Last Day He will call us out of the grave.  We won’t stay dead any more than He stayed dead.  We’ll rise, to live forever with Him in resurrection bodies fashioned in His resurrection image.  That’s the promise of the Lord’s Supper.  That’s why we can depart in peace and with joy.  As Luther sang in his hymn-version of Simeon’s song: “In peace and joy I now depart Since God so wills it.  Serene and confident my heart; Stillness fills it.  For the Lord has promised me That death is but a slumber” (LSB 938:1).  I will wake up.  I should fear the grave no more than I fear my bed.
            Because Jesus conquered the grave for me.  That’s what Simeon prophesies to Mary: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).  He’s talking about Jesus’ rejection and crucifixion.  The sign is the holy cross and our Lord nailed to it.  The sword that pierces Mary’s soul is her beholding her Son lifted up on Golgotha.  Imagine that poor mother’s grief.  And hearts are revealed by that sign.  For the cross is foolishness to unbelievers, a scandal, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.  But to us who are being saved it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.  Jesus Christ takes our death, that we might live.  He pays for our sin, that we might be accounted righteous before God with the very righteousness of Christ.  Physical death is not really death for the Christian.  We have spiritual and eternal life in our Baptism, and we will be bodily raised from the dead on the Last Day.  “Lord,” we pray to Jesus whom we have received in the Supper, “now you are letting your servant depart in peace.”  We can die without fear.  Christ, the sacrifice, has been offered to redeem us. 
            And that’s what the sacrifices in the Temple, the redemption of the firstborn, the pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, is all about.  Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all of that.  All the Old Testament sacrifices point to His once for all sacrifice on the cross.  The Old Testament people were saved by faith in the Christ who was coming.  We in the New Testament are saved by faith in the Christ who has come.  The Firstborn of Mary, the only-begotten Son of God, is given for our redemption.  Just as the blood of the lamb marking the doors of the Hebrews in Egypt saved their firstborn when the angel of death passed over, so the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, marks us and saves us from death.  Baptized into Christ, now we’re all the redeemed firstborn of God, holy to the Lord.  We depart in peace, out of the Egypt of sin, through the Red Sea waters of Baptism and the wilderness of life in this fallen world, into the Promised Land of heaven and the resurrection, eternal life with Jesus Christ.  The gift is already ours in Christ, but for now we’re waiting, waiting, waiting… But we wait in hope, the biblical hope built on the rock-solid foundation of God’s promises.  Beloved, that hope will not disappoint us.  The Holy Spirit reveals to us in His Word that we will not see death without seeing our salvation in the flesh, even Jesus Christ, our Lord.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day


The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
Lessons and Carols

LSB 379: “O Come, All Ye Faithful”

Micah 5:2-5a: But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.

Luke 2:1-7:    In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 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, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 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: Could it be that this backwater, no-account town in Judah, Bethlehem, would be the birthplace of the Savior?  It really shouldn’t surprise us.  That’s just how our God works.  St. Paul writes: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Cor. 1:27-28; ESV).  So it is that our Christmas account begins in Bethlehem, too little to be among the clans of Judah.  It begins with a Jewish carpenter named Joseph and his betrothed, Mary, a pregnant teenager, traveling, on foot no less, when the time has come for her to be delivered.  It begins in a stable, among animals and hay and filth, because there is no room for Jesus in the inn.  It is fitting.  Because Jesus is born to be God in the flesh in the midst of our filth, our sin, our death, to cleanse us and bring us new life.  He is born to be of no account for us no accounts, weak for us who are weak, despised for us who are despised.  He is the wisdom of God, yet accounted foolish by the worldly-wise who have no room for Him in their hearts and lives.  He is born to take all of this into Himself, into His flesh, and to die for it.  And appropriately, He is laid in a manger, a feeding trough.  For the name Bethlehem means “House of Bread.”  Jesus Christ, born in the House of Bread, is the very Bread of Life (John 6).  We feed on Him.  With His Body and Blood, He descends to us, casts out our sin and enters in.  He comes to us, abides with us, our Lord, God with us, Immanuel.  Because we are not of no account to God.  In Christ, He declares us precious, loved.  And His gift to us is Himself.

LSB 361: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”


 Isaiah 9:2, 6-7: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone… 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. 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.

Luke 2:8-14: And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 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. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

            “Glory to God in the highest,

                        and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Comments: Shepherds were backwater, no-account people in Israel.  They were laborers who earned their bread by dwelling in darkness and danger, putting their lives on the line for stupid animals.  Yet on this night, heaven is open to them.  Of all people, God chooses shepherds to behold His glory and to be the first to hear the announcement, the good news, that a Savior has been born, Christ, the Messiah, the Lord.  You will find Him wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.  And then the singing.  These uncultured shepherds get the concert of a lifetime.  The heavenly choir breaks out in song: Gloria in excelsis Deo: Glory to God in the highest.  For to us a Child is born; to us a Son is given.  The Good Shepherd has come to lay down His life for us sinful sheep.  He has come, that by His death, and by His resurrection life, He might bring peace to us, peace with God, the peace of sins forgiven.  Now, dear friends, the heavenly chorus sings those same glad tidings to us in Holy Scripture.  Heaven is open to us.  And we are given to join in their song, with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven.

LSB 368: “Angels We Have Heard on High”

 Isaiah 7:13-14: And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

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.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Comments: Who would believe a shepherd?  The no-account shepherds go to the no-account town of Bethlehem and find it just as the angel had told them.  They proclaim the message: Christ, the Savior, is born.  This baby, this is the One!  The people wonder.  But the miracle is, Mary and Joseph believe.  They believe the Word of the Lord proclaimed by shepherds.  The miracle is, you believe, beloved.  Only the Holy Spirit could do a miracle like this: By the common words of weak, foolish, sinful, no-account men, creating faith in you that grasps a poor little baby as the Savior of the world.  For to you, also, no-account shepherds come, proclaiming the message.  The Latin word for shepherd is Pastor.  God gives no-account pastors to proclaim Christ, the Savior.  The pastor preaches.  The people wonder.  You believe.  It’s a Christmas miracle.  And now St. Mary is your model.  She treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  So do you.  For it is a ponderous mystery.  This little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay, is your God.

LSB 364: “Away in a Manger”


 Hebrews 2:16-17: For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

Matthew 1:18-25: Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

            “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

                        and they shall call his name Immanuel”

            (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Comments: “You shall call His Name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins.”  The Name “Jesus” means “the LORD saves.”  God comes in the flesh for no other reason than to save us from our sins, to make us His own, to give us eternal life.  He does it in a way we do not expect, that we would never have imagined or dreamed.  He does it in a way the world thinks foolish, backwards, unreasonable.  He comes as a man of no account, born in poverty, in the little nation of Israel.  He grows up in Nazareth.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” as the old proverb asks.  “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2).  Just a Jewish rabbi, who is also the sinless Son of God.  He saves us by, of all things, being betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Falsely charged, mocked, beaten, spat upon, crowned with thorns, crucified.  “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, The cross be borne for me, for you” (LSB 370:2).  Utter foolishness.  Weakness.  Lowliness.  Despisedness.  “For God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”  God chose His crucified Son to redeem you and me and all people for Himself.  God chose to forgive our sins by placing them on Jesus, who was made like us in every respect, so that He might make propitiation, atonement, for us, in our place.  And God accepted His sacrifice.  He raised Jesus from the dead. 
In Jesus Christ, God chooses you to be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom.  God chooses you and baptizes you into His Son, into His death and resurrection, so that you can be God’s own child.  Whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve done, God chooses you.  Your sins are forgiven.  You are loved.  For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

LSB 370: “What Child Is This”


The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
December 25, 2012
Text: John 1:1-18
            And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14; ESV).  That very Word that was in the beginning, that Word that was with God, that Word that was God (v. 1), it is that Word that became a flesh and blood man in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God’s flesh and blood Word.  And He gets stuff done.  It was He through whom all things were made, and without Him was not anything made that was made (v. 3; Heb. 1:2).  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  He created out of nothing.  There was no material with which to start, nothing to organize or shape into the universe we now enjoy, nothing existed outside of God.  There was nothing but God.  So how did He do it?  He spoke.  He spoke His Word.  And God said, ‘Let there be…’” (Gen. 1:3 ff.), and there was.  God’s Word gets stuff done.  He speaks and it is.  His is a performative Word.  His is a Word incarnate.
            It was the Word of God in the mouth of the angel, spoken to the Virgin, by which He was conceived in her womb.  The very same Word of the LORD that came to the prophets now appeared in the flesh and called fishermen to be apostles.  He spoke, and the blind received their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, and the poor had the good news proclaimed to them.  He spoke from His exalted throne, the precious and holy cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), and the world of sinners was absolved.  He spoke, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and all at once sin and death were at an end, the devil and hell conquered forever.  The Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, died for your sins and for the sins of the whole world.  (B)ut the word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:24).  Therefore death could not hold Him.  He rose from the dead and spoke new life to the dying world.  He is the firstborn of the new creation.  Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).  As the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven He spoke His blessing upon His Church (Luke 24:50-51), and His sure promise: He is with us always to the very end of the age, and He is coming back to raise all the dead and give eternal life to all believers in Christ.
            Beloved in the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, still speaks.  And when He speaks, He gets stuff done.  His Word always accomplishes what it says.  Unlike the fickle and unreliable and downright deceitful words of man, when the Lord Jesus speaks to you, you can have absolute confidence.  Because He is faithful.  Because He is the Truth.  Because when He speaks, it is done.  When He says, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” your sins are washed away and you are God’s own child.  When He says, “I forgive you all your sins,” they are removed from you as far as the east is from the west.  When He tells you of all that He has done for you in Scripture and preaching, when He teaches you of Himself and speaks His Spirit into your ears and heart, you can believe it, for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.  When He says of the bread and wine in the Supper, “This is my body… This is my blood… given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins,” you can know for certain that it is so.  Every Lord’s Supper is a celebration of Christmas as the Word who became flesh gives His flesh and blood to you for your forgiveness, and to dwell with you bodily.  This same Lord Jesus also dwells in heaven and speaks before the Father on your behalf, intercedes for you before the throne of grace, and rules all creation with His Word of power for your good.  One day, beloved, the Word of the Lord will come to you, the Lord Jesus Christ, and bid you come home.  He will receive you into His arms as you pass through the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil, for you will behold Him face to face.  And you know that on the Last Day He will say to you, “Arise from the dead.  Live and rejoice.  Behold, I am making all things new.”  Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).
            And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Everything changed when God became a man for us men and for our salvation.  God and sinners reconciled, in the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He calls you to be His own by His Spirit in the Gospel.  He still speaks.  He speaks to you.  He speaks for you.  And when He speaks, it is done.  You belong to Him.
Merry Christmas!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent (C)
December 23, 2012
Text: Luke 1:39-56

            We can almost taste it.  Christmas is almost here.  This is the last Sunday in Advent.  All four candles around the Christ candle are aglow.  Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  We’ll all hold candles tomorrow night as we sing in the Savior’s birth.  God is giving us our Christmas gift all wrapped in flesh and blood and swaddling clothes, laying in a manger.  We can’t wait to open that Present in the reading of the Scriptures and the joyous singing of carols.  But not yet.  This is still Advent.  Christmas is almost here.  But we have one more day of preparation.  We prepare by heeding the words of John the Baptist, words we’ve heard throughout the season: Repent.  Continue to clean out the old sin that plagues you by confessing it and being forgiven in the Name of Jesus.  Fill in the valleys.  Bring low the mountains and hills.  Make the crooked straight and the rough places level.  Crucify the sinful flesh and live in the new life the Savior gives you.  Hear the Scriptures and the preaching.  Eat the Body of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, including your sin.  Drink His blood, the cleansing flood that brings you life. 
            In our text, St. John the Baptist can hardly contain Himself.  It is shortly before the first Christmas.  Mary comes to visit Cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah.  Elizabeth, now an old woman, has also miraculously conceived and is carrying a child, none other than John.  And when Mary greets her cousin, the baby, St. John, leaps for joy.  By the way, don’t let it be lost on you that this is no clump of cells in either womb of either mother.  These are fully human babies at different stages of development, one already the Redeemer of mankind, God in the flesh, the other already the prophet who prepares His way.  John leaps for joy.  Already, in his mother’s womb, he makes his first prophesy.  He is in the presence of the unborn Savior, who speaks to him by the voice of the Virgin.  Elizabeth is aglow with joyous Advent anticipation.  Herself filled with the Holy Spirit, she exclaims with a loud cry, “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,” my precious, tiny little unborn Lord, should come to me?  For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:42-43; ESV).  Mother and child, Elizabeth and John, in word and in action, make the great confession: Mary’s Son is no ordinary child.  He is the Lord.  He is the Messiah.  He is the One who saves His people from their sins.  The fruit of Mary’s womb is none other than the Son of God.
            The arrival of the Son of God and His presence with us is cause for praise and confession.  John leaps.  Elizabeth exclaims.  And Mary sings.  The leaping, the exclaiming, the singing, are praise to God and confession of the Gospel at one and the same time.  The two go hand in hand.  Praising is nothing other than confessing the good things that God has done in Christ.  Thus Mary sings the Magnificat, which the Church continues to sing as a sacred canticle, especially in the office of Vespers and Evening Prayer.  Mary sings of the great reversal God effects in sending His Son.  He brings mercy to sinners.  He scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts.  He brings down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the humble.  He fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.  He helps His servant Israel, His people, His Church, in remembrance of His mercy.  He does what He has so long promised.  He sends His Son, our Savior.  Rejoice, rejoice, for Emmanuel, God with us, shall come to you O Israel, O Church of God.  Sing your praise and confess His glorious deeds to the world.
            And that is what we do as we sing our Advent hymns and Christmas carols.  Like John and Elizabeth and Mary, we leap and exclaim and sing the good news, the Gospel, that the Lord is come to save us from sin and death.  Joy to the world.  Let earth receive her King.  It is almost here.  The Savior reigns.  Repeat the sounding joy.  No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground.  He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.  All that sin has wrought, all that is fallen, all that is dying and dead, He comes to make new, to raise up, to bring to new life.  John couldn’t wait.  He couldn’t hold back his praise, even before he was born, even before Jesus was born.  Elizabeth couldn’t wait.  She could not hold back her confession that Mary’s Son is Lord.  Mary couldn’t wait.  She couldn’t hold back her song of praise to God for His great mercy in sending His Son.
We can hardly wait, either.  Like children who can’t wait to tear into the gifts under the tree, we can’t wait to proclaim that Christ the Savior is born.  And in some ways we don’t have to wait.  Because we celebrate Christmas every time we come to the Lord’s Supper.  Have you ever thought about this before?  Christmas is about the incarnation, the enfleshment of God.  In Jesus Christ, God is a flesh and blood man.  The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, is conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” as the Christmas Day Gospel says (John 1:14).  We celebrate that and receive that reality in our mouths every time we eat His Body and drink His Blood in the Supper.  Every Holy Communion is a celebration of Christmas, because the God who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, who was made man, who was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered, died, and was buried, and who, on the third day, rose again from the dead in His Body… This God gives us this very Body and the very Blood He spilled on the cross.  He gives us these Christmas gifts under the bread and wine of His Supper.  Why?  For the forgiveness of our sins.  They are tokens of our peace with God.  They are morsels of eternal life dispensed to us by Christ Himself.  They are the resurrected Flesh and Blood of Christ becoming one with us as the guarantee of our own bodily resurrection from the dead.
            Since that is true, how can you do anything but sing?  How can you not leap and exclaim, praise and confess this truth?  The Son of God comes in the flesh, to you, for you, to be yours, that you may be His.  As He called Zacchaeus by name, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5), so He calls you by name in your Baptism.  So He calls to you today in His Word, hurry and come, for I must dwell with you.  I must share a Meal with you.  I must become one with you.  I must dwell in your house.  I must dwell in your body and soul.  Today salvation has come to you with my presence.  Now you also are a son of Abraham by faith.  Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel has come to you, O Israel, O Church of God.
            Christmas is almost here.  Not quite yet.  It is still Advent.  And yet, Christmas is already the reality.  For today we will kneel and hear the Words of the Christ who has been born for us: “Take, eat, this is my Body… Take, drink, this is my Blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.”  And then He will do it.  He will put His Body, His Blood, into our bodies, the Christmas gift all wrapped up in bread and wine.  We can hardly wait.  We don’t have to.  Come, for all is now ready.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent Midweek III

Advent Midweek III: Brothers Dwelling in Unity
December 19, 2012
Text: Psalm 133

            We’ve talked about the nuclear family in our midweek Advent series, and we’ve talked about the family of God that is the Holy Christian Church.  Psalm 133 is about the family of God, the Church.  We’re a family here in this congregation.  We’re family with all Christians of all times and all places, with countless people we haven’t even met.  This Psalm is another one of those songs of ascents that the pilgrims would sing on their climb up to the Holy City for Passover or one of the feasts.  It was a confession that all those headed to the Temple for the holy sacrifice, to receive the gifts of God in the Passover meal, these were family.  Our Communion with one another around the Lord’s Table is an intimate relationship.  It makes us one, even as it bestows on us the forgiveness of sins and power for a Christian life of love toward one another.  That’s why we call the Holy Christian Church the Communion of Saints.  Communion means “one with,” “united with.”  Each of us is one with each other.  We’re a family. 
            Well, like any family, we have our share of dysfunction.  We’re all sinners, and we sin against one another.  We’ve been known to argue.  We’ve been known to gossip.  We’ve been known to say mean things to each other and foster bitterness in our hearts.  There have been times we’ve absented ourselves from the family gathering for selfish or superficial reasons.  We may not say it out loud, but everyone acknowledges in their heart the empty place at the Table when you’re not here.  What do we do with the dysfunction, the sin in the Christian family?  Just like in our families at home, we repent.  We confess it to God.  We confess to one another.  We apologize to those we have hurt.  God forgives us all our sins on account of the blood and death of His Son, Jesus Christ.  So we, too, forgive one another and restore the unity.  For this is good and pleasant.  How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters in Christ dwell in unity (Ps. 133:1).  “Agreement in spirit, doctrine, and practice is objectively ‘good’ ‘to achieve and inwardly ‘pleasant’ to experience” (The Lutheran Study Bible [St. Louis: Concordia, 2009] p. 978).  Such unity is the gift of God to His Church, and it grows out of His Word, out of our Baptism (which is our birth into the family), and out of our gathering around His Table for the family meal of our Lord’s true Body and Blood.
            King David describes this unity as precious oil on the head of the priest (v. 2), running down on his beard and the collar of his robes.  Oil was used for anointing prophets, priests, and kings.  Here the reference is to priestly ordination, and it symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit whereby the man in the priesthood is set apart for holy service.  Jesus Christ is our High Priest, anointed with the Holy Spirit at His Baptism in the Jordan River, the Priest who offers the once for all sacrifice, Himself, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And in our Baptism into Christ He anoints us with that same Holy Spirit to be His priests in the world, redeemed by His sacrifice, given to sacrifice ourselves in love for the sake of the neighbor.  In our common priestly anointing, we are united, a family, with God as our Father and Jesus Christ as our Brother. 
            Again, King David describes this unity as the dew of Hermon (v. 3), a high mountain in the Northern part of Israel, the source of the Jordan River, bringing water and refreshment to the dry land.  Or, he says, it is like the dew that falls on the mountains of Zion, Jerusalem, the Holy City, the place of the Temple, the Holy Christian Church.  The Church brings refreshment to a sin-parched and dying world by the preaching of the Gospel.  It all flows from Zion, from a mountain just outside the city, Mount Calvary, where our Lord was crucified.  There, from that place, the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore (v. 3).
            Now, we’ve been talking about the perfect family Christmas.  Hopefully it has become apparent that the perfect family Christmas can only be that which is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, who was crucified on Calvary for the forgiveness of all our sins, from whom flows the blessing, life forevermore.  The perfect family Christmas is that in which all that is imperfect and dysfunctional in our lives, our families, our Church… all that is sin… is forgiven.  The perfect family Christmas is that in which we gather with our families as the Family of God around His family Table where our Lord Jesus places His true Body and Blood into our mouths for our forgiveness.  Sinners never dwell in unity, unless their sin is removed from them and nailed to the cross.  Here, in His Word and Sacrament, sins forgiven, our Lord gives His people the gift of the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).  How good and pleasant it is.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent Midweek II

Advent Midweek II: Blessed Is Everyone Who Fears the LORD
December 12, 2012
Text: Psalm 128

            Since we’ve established that there is no such thing as the perfect family Christmas by the Norman Rockwell, or even the Clark W. Griswold, definition, let’s just give that idol up to be washed away by the blood of the Savior, Jesus Christ.  There is no perfect family Christmas because there is no perfect family in this fallen world.  We can’t manufacture the perfect family by our own striving and effort, certainly not by staying away from the Lord’s House at Christmas in the interests of “family time.”  Family is God’s gift to us.  God establishes the family by His Word; His Word in Eden as He joined our first parents in holy matrimony, His ever-creative Word today as He joins husbands and wives together and blesses them with children, provides for the widow and the orphan and the stranger among us, and sets the solitary in a family.  The Christian family… Not the perfect family, but the Christian family… is a family of sinners who confess their sins and live in the blessed forgiveness we have in Jesus Christ, who died for us, and has been raised from the dead.  So we gather around the very same creative Word by which we were brought into being and placed in a family, and by that Word God sustains us and nourishes us for life together.

            Psalm 128 was sung by families as they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  A song of ascents, it was called, for the family sang it together as they began the daunting climb up toward the holy city.  Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,” they sang.  Blessed is everyone… who walks in his ways!” (v. 1; ESV).  What does it mean to fear the LORD?  It means to honor Him, to revere Him, to worship Him.  Which is to say, it means to have faith in Him, to have Him as your God.  And having Him as your God, you will walk in His ways, live your life in connection with His Word.  To have this God as your God is to be blessed, as the Old Testament pilgrims sang.  And to be blessed, beloved, is to have this God be for you, to love you, to save you, to direct all things according to His gracious will for you, for your good.

            v. 2 speaks God’s blessing upon your work.  You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands.”  You, yourself, shall be blessed and kept well in the Lord’s keeping.  This is a precious promise for those whose work is dangerous or difficult, for those who find their work mundane and sometimes think it meaningless, for those having trouble finding gainful employment, for those whose working years are behind them.  Notice, the Lord here simply promises your work will be blessed.  He doesn’t say how.  He doesn’t say that it won’t be struggle.  He doesn’t say how you’ll feel about it.  To pray this verse of the Psalm is a confession of faith that God will do with your work what He will do, and that He will provide for you, that your daily bread comes from Him, that you are blessed and well because you are in His hands.  To make such a confession is to fear the Lord.  Blessed are you.  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for you, to redeem you, how will He not also along with Him graciously give you all things?  Do not be anxious.  Commend your work to the Lord for His blessing.  Do your work for Him, and not just when the boss is looking over your shoulder.  He has called you to be His hands and feet in the world.  He provides for His people and for your family through your work.  Rejoice.  You are blessed.

            vv. 3-4 speak of God’s blessing upon the family, appropriate for families singing the Psalm together on their way to the Jerusalem Temple, appropriate for us singing this Psalm together as we gather around the new and greater Temple, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.  Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table” (v. 3).  The one flesh union of husband and wife is the vehicle by which God, through His creative Word, brings forth children, expanding our own families, as well as the family of God, the Church.  The blessing of God upon Noah and his sons and their wives in our Old Testament lesson is to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1), even as God established His covenant with Noah and his offspring after him (that’s us!), the bow in the clouds which reminds God and us that, not only will He never again destroy the earth with a flood, but He is our God, who is for us, and has promised to be gracious to us.  God blesses husbands and wives with each other and with children.  Marriage is a good thing.  Having children is a good thing.  We must always confess this over against a culture of commitment-free sex, over against a culture of death.  Marriage and children are God’s blessing to us.

            But what about those who never find “the one” and get married?  What about those scarred by divorce or marital unfaithfulness?  What about widows?  Orphans?  Children conceived out of wedlock?  Couples who can’t have children?  Children or spouses who are abused?  Is it that this blessing does not apply to them?  Not at all, beloved.  This blessing is precisely for them.  This blessing is precisely for you, no matter what the dysfunction in your family, no matter what the sin that has made your family and your life a shipwreck, not matter what you’ve suffered at the hands of your family members.  Blessed is the one who fears the LORD, who clings to Him in faith, who walks in His ways, according to His Word.  Here is the promise for you.  The Lord will set you in a family.  God gives you family.  God gives you friends.  God gives you community.  Maybe not in the way you expect.  Maybe not in the way you would prescribe.  But He has promised never to leave you, nor forsake you.  He surrounds you with His love.  He surrounds you with His Church.  There are children here present who need you.  We all need you.  And you need us.  We need each other.  We’re a family.       

Which brings us to vv. 5-6.   The LORD bless you from Zion!” (v. 5).  The LORD bless you from His Israel, His Church, as He does, by His Word and Sacraments, wherein He gives you His Son, the fruit of Mary’s womb, our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who fears the Lord… The Christian family that fears the Lord… comes here to His Church to be blessed with His gracious presence for us, for our forgiveness, for our eternal salvation.  This place, where the Lord Jesus is with His Word and His body and blood, is the place of your spiritual prosperity all the days of your life, the place where God fills you with every grace and blessing.  This place is the place of grace for you and your children and your children’s children.  This place is the place where God bestows His peace in Christ, sins forgiven, eternal life.

Joseph knew this place.  He was a righteous man, looking for the salvation of Israel, the promised Messiah.  Joseph was a man who feared the LORD.  When God wanted to place him into a family, it took a little convincing, an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream (cf. Matt. 1:18-25).  Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  Her child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  You shall call His Name Jesus, “the LORD saves,” because He is the LORD, and He will save His people from their sins.  Your wife, Joseph, will be a fruitful vine who will bear the Savior of the whole world.  And you get to be His protector.  He needs you.  He needs a family.  You need Him.  You need a family.  You need a Savior.  So Joseph “took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.  And he called his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:24-25).  Joseph’s work was blessed by the LORD.  The LORD blesses you from Zion, His Church, by the Child Joseph raised as his own.  In a family full of dysfunction, God brings forth the Savior of the world.  This Child, beloved, dwells in your family, too, to save it from its dysfunction.  Jesus comes.  He dwells with you, to save you from your sins.  Blessed are you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Second Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent (C)
December 9, 2012
Text: Luke 3:1-20

            Prepare the way of the Lord” (Luke 3:4; ESV).  The Lord is Adventing, He is coming.  (M)ake his paths straight.”  How?  Repentance. The coming of the Lord calls for repentance.  Examine yourself.  Search your heart deeply, thoroughly.  Be honest.  Are you the person God has made you to be?  Do you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?  Do you love your neighbor as yourself?  Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments.  Have you had other gods before the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  Have you feared, loved, or trusted other things or other people more than God?  Have you honored His Name as you should in doctrine and life?  Have your worship and prayers faltered?  Consider the questions Luther bids us ponder in the Small Catechism: “Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker?  Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy?  Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome?  Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds?  Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?” (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).  Confess your sins, beloved.  Name them before God.  No more hiding because you are naked and ashamed.  Name the sin so that it might be dealt with, forgiven, in the cleansing blood of Christ.  You are not the person God has created you to be.  You were born in the image of Adam.  You are a sinner.  God has given you new life in your Baptism into Christ, and so now you live each day in that Baptism, which is to say, you live a life of daily repentance, a life of daily crucifying the Old Adam, the old sinful nature, examining yourself, confessing your sins, clinging to the Absolution, the forgiveness of sins, emerging and arising from the Baptismal waters as a new creation in Christ.  How do you prepare the way of the Lord?  Repent.  Confess.  I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.
            St. John the Baptist came proclaiming a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The last of the great Old Testament prophets, St. John was the forerunner of Christ, and his Baptism the forerunner of Christian Baptism and Holy Absolution.  St. John was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, in the place of desolation and death, the place of Israel’s testing and Jesus’ temptation, where Adam and Eve and Cain were exiled, east of Eden, the physical counterpart of the spiritual condition in which we find ourselves apart from Christ in this fallen world.  We’re parched.  We’re starving.  We’re dying.  We’re dead.  God sends His prophet there, where we are, with a word, God’s Word.  It is a Word of life for those in the midst of death: The Lord is coming.  He sends His Word on ahead, but He is coming in the flesh, right here, in the wilderness, where you are, because you cannot come to Him.  He is coming to raise you from the dead.  But first you need to know that you are in the wilderness, and that you are, in fact, dead.  That is the preparation.  If you don’t know you’re dead, you won’t believe you need a resurrection.  If you don’t know you’re a poor, miserable sinner, you won’t believe you need a Savior.  Thus the Holy Spirit must come and do His alien work upon you, holding His holy Law up to you as a mirror, so that you can see the ugly truth, and die to it.  In this way, the Holy Spirit brings you to repentance.  No one wants to do this kind of self-examination.  No one wants to come face to face with their own wickedness.  But as any twelve-step program will tell you, the first step is admitting you have a problem.  Beloved, repent.  Prepare the way of the Lord. 
            It is God who prepares you by the preaching of His prophet and His pastors, Law and Gospel, repentance and forgiveness.  In this way every valley is filled and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked becomes straight and the rough places a plain (v. 5).  The “Valleys may be said to symbolize weakness of faith, discouragement, lack of trust in God’s promises” (William F. Arndt, The Gospel According to St. Luke [St. Louis: Concordia, 1956] p. 110).  These, once exposed, must be filled in by the preaching of mercy in Christ and the certain hope of redemption.  “The opposite extreme would be pointed to by hills and mountains – haughtiness of spirit, pride of intellect and heart, presumptuous judging of God’s will and criticizing His ways.”  Such spiritual pride must be leveled by the preaching of God’s Law.  “The crookedness and the roughness… are apt designations of sinful conduct, taking a person away from the straight, smooth path of God’s commandments.”  Beloved, repent.  Confess.  Be forgiven.  For you, along with all flesh, shall see the salvation of God (v. 6).
            After John has preached repentance, after we have examined ourselves in the mirror of God’s Law and been convicted of our sin, shown our death, then Luther says we must follow the long, bony finger of St. John as he points to Another.  I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (v. 16).  Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).  Having come to a full realization of who we are apart from Christ, St. John now points us to Christ as the once for all atoning sacrifice for our sins.  The Lord comes, there, into the wilderness, to rescue us from it, to save us from sin and death, to bring us into His Kingdom and give us eternal life.
            He is the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, sent from the Father, to dwell among us, to save us from our sins.  The Lord comes.  He Advents.  For us.  For you.  For me.  For all people.  Prepare the way of the Lord.  We spoke last week of our Lord’s three-fold coming: His coming in the flesh as Mary’s Son, to save us from our sins by His life, death, and resurrection; His coming again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead; and His coming to us in the meantime in His Word, in Baptism, and in His true body and blood in the Supper.  Well, all three comings merit some preparation.  Of course, He has already come in the flesh as our Savior.  That’s history.  But it is a history in which God has graciously given us to participate in this time of Christmas.  Advent is the preparation for Christmas, the celebration of our Lord’s incarnation, His enfleshment, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and His birth in Bethlehem.  As the Church celebrates Christmas, we join our voices with the angels and the whole heavenly host, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14), as we receive the Christmas gift of God wrapped in human flesh and blood.  So also, Advent is a time of preparation for our Lord’s coming again to judge.  He will judge all people.  He will judge you.  We must always be ready.  He could come at any moment, and even if He delays, you could die and stand before His judgment seat in the blink of an eye.  So we must prepare.  Repent.  Believe the Gospel.  In Christ, His judgment of you is “righteous” with His very own righteousness.  And to prepare us for His coming as Judge, our Lord has given us His Word and His Sacraments, by which He really and bodily comes to us to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  But this, too, merits a little preparation.  Particularly, St. Paul tells us to prepare for the Lord’s Supper.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:28).  Examine yourself.  Confess your sins.  Repent.  And also ask yourself what you believe.  Do I believe that God forgives all my sins on account of Christ?  Do I believe that my salvation comes from Christ alone, by grace alone, without works?  Do I know that here in the Supper, under the bread and wine, my Lord Jesus Christ gives me His true body and blood, in my mouth, for the forgiveness of my sins, my eternal life, and my salvation?  Such preparation is very important.  For,” as St. Paul says, “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (v. 29).  Prepare the way of the Lord. 
            And recognize this: It is really God who prepares you, by the preaching of His Word.  You cannot do this by your own reason or strength.  His Spirit comes to you in His Word and enlightens you with His gifts.  He prepares you, right here, right now, in the preaching of His Word.  He kills you with His Law (repentance).  He brings you to new life by the Gospel of forgiveness of sins in Christ (faith).  So it is that you prepare the way of the Lord this Advent and in all your Christian life by receiving the gifts of the Lord in His Word and Sacrament here in His Church.  Now, it isn’t always pleasant.  Here there is Baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  The Law of God burns.  It scorches.  It kills.  It calls you a brood of vipers.  It exposes your sin and God’s wrath.  But God does not leave you dead in His wrath.  He applies to you the blood and death of the Lamb of God who takes away your sin and the sins of the whole world.  And this brings you to new and eternal life, so that even now, you can go and live joyfully in your vocation, giving yourself sacrificially, knowing that all your sins are forgiven and that you belong to God.  Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker?  God has made you for this purpose.  Go and love and serve, as Christ has loved and served you.  For your Lord comes to you.  Your eyes have seen His salvation.  Follow the long, bony finger of St. John as he points you to your Savior, Jesus Christ.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.