First Sunday after Christmas
First Sunday after
December 29, 2013
Text: Matt. 2:13-23
is unquestionably the evil villain of the Christmas story. When he encounters the wise men and hears of
this One born King of the Jews, he is troubled, and all Jerusalem with him
(Matt. 2:2-3). Why is he troubled? Because this Baby is a threat to his kingdom. Herod the Great ruled Judea as the vassal
King of the Roman emperor. He wasn’t
technically Jewish, though he vastly expanded the Temple during his reign. He was an Edomite, a descendent of Esau, from
Idumea. Given to fits of paranoia, Herod
had family members put to death on suspicion of conspiracy against his rule. So the last thing he wants to hear from these
wise men of the east is that a new King of the Jews has been born, that a star
has appeared, indicating fulfillment of the ancient prophecies. So troubled was Herod, he consulted the
clergy. Where is the Christ to be
born? “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet” (v. 5;
ESV). By the way, it is fascinating,
isn’t it, that the religious leaders hear the report of the wise men and
identify the place that Messiah is to be born… they hear that He has come, but
they don’t immediately drop everything and run to Bethlehem? They don’t even move a muscle. What the matter with them? I suppose we must confess, we do the same
thing when we don’t run eagerly to the altar at every opportunity to meet
Christ where He has promised to be for us.
Here He is, the Lord Jesus, right here, right now, the Savior of the
world, as real as you and me, giving out precious gifts of eternal consequence,
but, you know… it’s not like we won’t do this again next week. Repent.
At any rate, Herod has the wise men do his dirty work. He feigns piety. “Go to Bethlehem and let me know what you
find out. I want to come and worship
Him, too.” Lies. Villainous lies. The wise men go. They find the Child with His mother, Mary,
and they worship Him, and give Him their gifts: Gold, frankincense, and
myrrh. “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to
their own country by another way” (v. 12).
And that’s where our Holy Gospel this morning picks up the story. Joseph is visited in a dream of his own. “Rise,
take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell
you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (v. 13).
that’s when the real villainy begins.
With Jesus safely on the midnight road to Egypt, Herod unleashes the
soldiers on the boys of Bethlehem. Every
boy two years old and under is ripped from his mother’s arms and mercilessly
slaughtered before her eyes. We call
these children the Holy Innocents, not because they are sinless, but because
they’d done nothing to earn Herod’s ire.
Circumcised on the eighth day, these boys were covenant boys, God’s boys. And so now they are safe. They are with God. They rejoice that they were counted worthy to
be the first to suffer for the Name of Jesus.
Two years or less in this vale of tears, they are comforted now and for
all eternity in the bosom of their heavenly Father. Their brother Jesus has escaped for now, but
not for good. His time is coming, in
thirty years, give or take, when He will be executed. The charge?
Once again, a threat to worldly power: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). And so we come full circle.
Holy Gospel this morning is hard to take, though, isn’t it? I mean, these poor children. These poor mothers and fathers. How could God allow such a thing? Why didn’t He warn other fathers in their
dreams to flee for their son’s lives? I
don’t know. A certain humility is
necessary here on the part of the Christian.
“For my thoughts are not your
thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”
(Is. 55:8-9). We cannot discern the
hidden will of God. Nor is it our place
to call His righteousness into question.
Faith clings to what He has revealed in His holy Word and leaves the
rest to Him. For as Moses wrote to us, “The secret things belong to the LORD our
God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever”
(Deut. 29:29). God has revealed what He
wants us to know in Scripture. But that
leaves the question why God allows children to be slaughtered, whether in
Bethlehem, or Newtown, or their own mother’s womb, unanswered. Faith confesses, in the midst of grief over
tremendous evil, that God is working it all for the good of His people (Rom.
makes for a struggle within the Christian between the old sinful flesh and the
new creation in Christ. Because, while
that new creation in Christ clings to Him in spite of all the evil it sees and
experiences, the old sinful flesh whispers doubt and clings to unbelief. You know what your real problem is when it
comes to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents?
You don’t want to let God be God.
You think He made a mistake in letting those poor babies suffer, those
poor mothers with their aching, empty arms.
You would charge God with injustice, or, at the very least, incompetence. Beloved, don’t you see that you’ve fallen for
the same old lie of the devil? “Did God
really say? God is holding out on you,
withholding a good that you deserve.
He’s jealous. He doesn’t want you
to have too much. But you can be like
Him, you know. You can be in
control. You can rule yourself and your
world. You can be a god, too.” Lies.
Villainous lies. And when you
believe them, you are Herod. You are
unquestionably the evil villain of the Christmas story. You see God, you see Christ, as a threat to
your rule over yourself and the world around you. And so you must kill Christ, the real One,
who escapes while the blood of Bethlehem’s boys runs in the streets, and you
must put in His place a christ of your own making, who does and says what you
want Him to do and say. Repent. Your old Adam, the Herod in you, must die.
he has, in Baptism, where your sinful flesh is daily drowned to death and you are
daily raised to new life in Christ. The
truth is, you have no control over yourself or the world around you. But Christ does. He knows every breath you’ll ever take, every
beat of your restless heart, and He’s redeemed it all by His dying breath and
static heart on the cross. Grief? He knows it well. “Surely
he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4). “In
all their affliction he was afflicted” (Is. 63:9). We aren’t told when or how, but sometime
before His earthly ministry, our Lord Jesus had to bury St. Joseph. We see how He wept at the tomb of His dear
friend Lazarus (John 11:35). Do you
really think He didn’t know the sacrifice of the families in Bethlehem, that He
didn’t care, that He doesn’t even now console those babies and their mothers
and fathers in Paradise? For He “is mindful of them; he does not forget the
cry of the afflicted” (Ps. 9:12). Do
you really think He doesn’t know or care about you in your grief? He has redeemed you even in your grief. He has sanctified your grief for a holy
purpose. That you recognize that your
arms are empty and can be filled only by Him.
He alone can fill you. He alone
can comfort you. And He has done
something about your grief and your sorrow, something very concrete. There, on a hill outside Herod’s Jerusalem,
our Lord was nailed to the wood and lifted up, naked and bleeding, suffering
and dying. His mother’s empty arms ached
as the sword prophesied by Simeon pierced her own soul (Luke 2:35). And His Father, God… well, He gave His only-begotten
Son into death for the boys of Bethlehem and their mothers and fathers, for St.
Mary and St. Joseph, for the wise men, for Herod and His murderous soldiers,
boys of Bethlehem rejoice today to have shed their blood as a witness to the
Savior who would shed His blood for them, for their redemption. They rejoiced that first Easter when our Lord
burst forth triumphant from the grave with the promise that He will raise them,
too, on the Last Day. They rejoiced when
they beheld our Lord’s ascension into heaven and enthronement at the right hand
of the Father. They rejoice before His
throne today as they eagerly run to join us right here at the altar of Christ
for the unending heavenly Feast. So do
all the Christian children who died too early.
They join us with their mothers and fathers who died in the faith, with
Adam and Eve and Mary and Joseph and the wise men, and who knows? Maybe even some of the soldiers, if they came
to faith. Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted (Matt. 2:18).
Until she sees them again. Now
she is comforted and rejoices with them, as she, too, joins us at the
altar. The Lord may not give you to see
the secret things that belong only to Him.
But what He has revealed is enough to sustain you and comfort you in
this fleeting life and bring you into the next, which is eternal. Jesus is your King. He rules over you and the whole world. He rules all things for your good, even the
evil things. You are precious to
Him. For He has purchased you with His
own blood. And even if you are called
upon one day to shed your blood for His sake, you rejoice, and rest
secure. For every drop of your blood has
been redeemed by His. And in the End, you
will stand with the boys of Bethlehem before His throne, and you will sing. Merry Christmas, beloved. Come and join the Church in heaven at the
Christmas Feast. In the Name of the
Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
The Nativity of Our
Lord: Christmas Day
December 25, 2013
Text: John 1:1-18
We know God through Jesus Christ His
Son. For “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he
has made him known” (John 1:18; ESV).
You cannot see the Father. But
you can hear Him in His Word. Just as
our words reveal what we desire to express about ourselves, so God’s Word
reveals what He wants us to know about Him.
God the Son is the eternal Word of the Father. He is with God in the beginning, though He
Himself has no beginning, but is begotten of the Father from all eternity. “In
the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”
(v. 1). Father and Son dwelling together
in eternal unity. It is through the Son,
the eternal Word, that God does His work.
God speaks the creation into being.
St. John is calling us back to Genesis 1 here. God speaks His Word, “Let there be…” and there is.
The Word is the Son. Through the
Word, through the Son, all things were made, and without Him was not anything
made that has been made (v. 3). He is
the Father’s agent in creation. He is
the Father’s agent in revelation. He
reveals God. He is the Light that comes
into the world, comes into the darkness, which the darkness is not able to
overcome (v. 5). Jesus Christ, the Son
of God, the Word of the Father, is the Light of the world.
And today He is born in the flesh. “And
the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (v. 14). That is the miracle of Christmas. The incarnation, literally, the enfleshment,
of the Son of God. He is born of the
Virgin Mary in the fullness of time, in the little town of Bethlehem, wrapped
in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger, the feeding trough for animals. The angels proclaim His birth to shepherds keeping
watch over their flocks by night: Peace on earth, goodwill to men, which is to
say God’s peace on earth and God’s goodwill to men, because He no longer holds
sinners’ sins against them. He has sent
His Son to deal with sin in His sinless body.
Unto you is born this day in
the City of David a Savior who is Christ, the Lord. You can read all about it, as we did last
night, in Luke Chapter 2. Our reading
from John Chapter 1 this morning explains this same joyous mystery from another
perspective: from the eternal, Trinitarian, cosmic perspective. In the incarnation, the conception and birth
of Jesus Christ, God unites Himself to man in the flesh. God unites Himself to you in the flesh. The Creator has become one with His
creation. God, as He reveals Himself in
His Word, now lives and walks among His people.
To redeem them. To redeem you and
me. He is born among us, as one of us,
that we might be born in Him, God’s own dear children, born not of the will or
man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God (v. 13). And that is precisely what happens in Holy
Baptism. Every Baptism is a celebration
of Christmas, because in Baptism, you are united to the God who united Himself
to you in the incarnation.
Through the Word of the Lord, you were
made, fashioned in your mother’s womb.
And through that same Word fashioned in the womb of Mary, you are made
anew, re-created, born again as the Word is poured out upon you in water. Through the Son of God who became flesh to
suffer and die for your forgiveness, and who is risen to new life in that same
flesh, you become God’s own child. And
as in the beginning, the Spirit is there, hovering over the waters, to make
sense out of the chaos, to bring you to faith in Jesus, to enlighten you with
the true Light that is Jesus Christ. For
you are in darkness outside of Christ.
You are spiritually blind and dead.
You have no light and you have no life.
But the Spirit brings you into the Light, that you may have Life in the
Name of Jesus. It is not your own
doing. It is the gift of God. It is given in the Word and the
Sacraments. It is received by
faith. The Word became flesh, came down
to us, that He might bring us up to God and present us to His Father as His own
He comes down. Because we cannot ascend to Him. He comes down. He is incarnate, conceived by the Holy
Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. And
here is the great comfort of this Gospel.
We do not have a God far removed, who does not care about our problems
or do anything about our sin and our pain and our death. We have a God nearby, a God who so loves us
that He sends His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not
perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).
We have a God who becomes Himself our High Priest, in the flesh, who is
able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He has been tempted in every way
as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).
We have a God who makes the perfect sacrifice for our sin, His own holy
flesh and precious blood. We have a God
who is one with us, that we might be one with Him. God and sinners reconciled, reconciled by
God’s body laid in a manger, God’s body hanging on a cross. This is the Christmas gift from God, all
wrapped up in swaddling cloths and human flesh.
It is His fleshly Word pronouncing us righteous with His own
righteousness. Rejoice, dear children of
God. Today you receive from His fullness
grace upon grace (John 1:16). Today the
Word made flesh reveals your God to you as a God of love and compassion who
saves you from your sins, who saves you from death and eternal condemnation,
who saves you for joy and eternal life.
He is the Light that dispels all darkness. He is the Life that dispels death and hell. And He comes to you, for you. A blessed and merry Christmas, beloved. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son
(+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Fourth Sunday in Advent
Fourth Sunday in
December 22, 2013
Text: Matt. 1:18-25
is near. So near you can almost taste
it. If you’re anything like me, you’ve
already been tasting the Christmas cookies, undoing everything you’ve worked so
hard for since the Lenten fast. That is
why we’ll all make our New Year’s resolutions in a couple of weeks, which we’ll
promptly break. But we aren’t worried
about that now. Not yet. Now, we’re filled with anticipation and
excitement, nostalgic for the Christmases of yesteryear, hoping to capture once
again that old Christmas feeling. But
our memories are faulty when it comes to the good old days. The truth is, Christmas never lives up to its
expectations. We make it so
stressful. There is always so much to
get done, the shopping, the cooking, the baking, the merry-making. There are the decorations to put up, the
house to clean, the cards to send, the presents to wrap, the phone calls and visits
to make. Some of it is good and
enjoyable, but there’s so much of it.
It’s all a big blur. Hectic. Chaotic.
And, of course, when all is said and done, the house is a disaster, the
new toys are already broken (and you didn’t get the right batteries anyway),
the gifts were wrong and have to be returned, and you’re left, not with a
Christmas glow in your heart, but with a giant, Christmas-sized headache. Some of you have even greater challenges,
though. Some of the family members you
love aren’t talking to each other. Maybe
they aren’t talking to you. Some of your
family members or close friends have made decisions that have brought them
harm, and deeply disappointed you. Some
of you will face Christmas for the first time without a loved one who has gone
to be with the Lord. Depression is
rampant this time of year. No doubt some
of you are suffering with that cross.
And of course, we know about all those among us who are suffering great
physical afflictions. What is it about
Christmas that it never lives up to our expectations? Is Christmas broken? Has Christmas failed?
you think you have problems this Christmas, just take another glance at the
Holy Family’s situation in our Gospel.
An unwed, teenage girl from Nazareth finds herself pregnant. She tells her family and her fiancé she’s
seen an angel, who told her this baby is from God, conceived by the Holy
Spirit, the Son of the Most High. Likely
story. Poor Joseph. What’s the guy to do? By all rights he should hand her over to the
religious authorities as an adulteress, to be stoned to death. But he doesn’t want to do that. He’s a just man, a faithful and pious Jew,
waiting for Messiah to come and deliver his people. He has compassion, and… well, he loves her,
the poor schlub. So, a quiet
divorce. That’s the best answer. Engagement, betrothal, was regarded as the
same level of commitment as marriage.
The only difference was that the bridegroom had not yet taken the bride
into his home and there had been no consummation of the marriage. So you see, Joseph had to divorce her, both
to protect his own reputation (he hadn’t touched the girl!), and because the
only way to break the relationship is by a legal severing of what God has
joined together. That first Christmas,
the family was broken. Everyone was
suffering. Everyone was hurting. It would take a Christmas miracle to put it
all together again.
that’s what happened. An angel of the
Lord appeared 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”
(Matt. 1:20; ESV). So, it was true after
all! She wasn’t making it up. Mary, God bless her, is still a virgin! She has been faithful. And not only that, she has been chosen by God
to bear His own Son, the promised Messiah.
“She will bear a son, and you
shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (v.
21). He’s been given to be the Savior of
the world. The Name “Jesus” means “The
LORD saves,” and that is what He will do.
He is the LORD, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, but now
also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, and He has come to redeem us, not with
gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and by His innocent
suffering and death.
the rightful heir to the throne of David.
Don’t miss how the angel greets Joseph: “Son of David.” The royal lineage is passed down now to
Jesus, the Son of David par excellence,
the fulfillment of the promise that David would never lack a man to sit on his
throne. But Jesus’ throne is of another
sort than King David’s. Jesus’ throne is
made of wood. It is the throne of the
cross, whereon the proclamation is nailed, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” (John 19:19). For on the cross, crowned with thorns, the
Savior claims for Himself a Kingdom, a people for His own possession, and you
are given to be in that number. Jesus
was born for this, to make you His own by taking on your flesh and blood,
coming into your mess of a life, taking on your diseases, your hurts, your
sorrows, your griefs, taking into Himself your very sins, all of them, and
bearing them to the death of the cross, your death, your condemnation, which He
willingly takes upon Himself in your place.
Jesus comes into a broken family in order to redeem your broken
family. He is conceived by an unwed,
teenage mother to redeem unwed, teenage mothers. He is born of a virgin to redeem
virgins. He passes through all the
stages of life to redeem us at every stage of our lives, from microscopic
embryonic life to the grave. He is born
amidst sin and suffering and hurting because He is the cure to it all. That is why He came. Our Lord Jesus did not come into the world
expecting us to clean up the house for Him, put up the decorations, bake Him
Christmas cookies, and make sure He experienced a Christmas glow in His
heart. He came because we are incapable
of cleaning it up. Because as hard as we
strive to decorate our lives with good works, in the end, it’s only worthless tinsel,
shiny to be sure, but messy and good for nothing. Jesus did not come to be adored and receive
our worship and praise. He came to
rescue His enemies, those who hate Him, those incapable of worshiping Him, much
less believing in Him, those who would crucify Him, you. That you might be reconciled to God and have
is the miracle of Christmas. Jesus has
become one with us. “For we do not have a high priest who is
unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been
tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He has suffered everything we suffer. He has endured everything we endure. He knows what it means to be sick. He knows what it means to be
heartbroken. He knows what it means to
be falsely accused, arrested, tried, beaten, tortured, mocked, and condemned to
death. He knows it all. Because He’s suffered it. He’s been there. He’s one of us. He’s as with us as with us can be, truly our
Immanuel. The only difference is, He
never sinned. But He does know what it
means to be a sinner. For He became THE
sinner for us. All our sins were heaped
on Jesus, that the Father would punish them all there, in His body, on the
cross of Calvary. So we have no more
sin. Jesus has taken it all away. He has paid for it all in full. This was the plan all along. The proof is that now He is risen and lives
and reigns at the right hand of the Father, and He will come again to get us,
to deliver us finally, once and for all, on the Day of our own resurrection
from the dead.
is a great comfort for us at Christmas and always. Jesus does not fail to come to us because our
lives are messy. He comes precisely
because of the mess. Christmas is not
about having everything neat and in order.
Christmas is not about all the hustle and bustle that becomes so
distracting. And above all else, please
understand that Christmas is not about a feeling
at all. A warm glow is nice, but
Christmas can get along just fine without it.
Nor is Christmas about giving and receiving gifts, or getting together
at Grandma’s. In fact, this may surprise
and even offend you, but Christmas is not about your family. Nor is it about coming to Church to adore the
baby Jesus. That would be your work for
Him, and Christmas is most assuredly not about your work for Him. Christmas is
about this one objective fact: God has come in the flesh to save you. And He comes to you right here in the Church
in His flesh, in His Word and Sacrament, to deliver that salvation wrapped up
in the swaddling clothes of Words and water, bread and wine. Everything else you add to Christmas, the
traditions, the decorations, the feasting, the presents, and even the family
gatherings… though those things be good and wonderful, they have nothing to do
with the essence of Christmas. The
essence of Christmas is Jesus. The
essence of Christmas is Christ for you.
He is for you, right where you are, right in the mess that is your life,
right in your sin and suffering and death, right in your disappointments and
depression and broken relationships, right there to cover it all with His blood
and forgive it. Christmas is not broken.
Christmas has not failed.
Christmas is doing exactly what it was given to do. Giving you Christ. Everything else, beloved, is just wrapping
paper. In the Name of the Father, and of
the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.
Third Sunday in Advent
Third Sunday in
December 15, 2013
Text: Matt. 11:2-15
is in prison for preaching traditional marriage. Perhaps that offends you. It certainly offended Herod Antipas. Herod, as you’ll recall, had taken his
brother Philip’s wife Herodias for himself.
And John preached against it. “It is not lawful for you to have your
brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18; ESV). As
it turns out, two people who love each other is not the all-important
ingredient that makes for a God-pleasing marriage. The question is whether they are using God’s
gift as He has instituted it, or if they are abusing that gift. Herod and Herodias are abusing the gift,
adulterating it with their own fallen notions of romance, justifying it by
their own fallen reason and emotions, expecting the clergy to give it their
blessing. John is faithful to God’s
Word. And so he is in prison, and so he
will pay for his faithfulness with his head on a silver platter. The prophet enjoys the prophet’s reward,
being counted worthy to suffer for the Name of Jesus. So it goes.
John is right where he should be. For he
must decrease, as the One to whom he points, the Lamb of God who takes away the
sin of the world, the Messiah, the Christ, must increase. The Old Testament, to which John belongs
(even though we read of him in the New Testament), is coming to an end. The Lord is doing a new thing now. The fullness of time has come. The Virgin has conceived and borne a Son, and
has called His Name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. He is the Christ, God’s anointed, who is
bringing about the New Testament in His own blood. John’s imprisonment and death is to be a
prelude and foreshadowing of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. Upon hearing of Jesus, Herod would believe it
is John, risen from the dead. That is
not quite the case. John will rise on
the Last Day. But Jesus would be
crucified, and He would rise from the dead, the Firstborn of all who have
fallen asleep. Among those born of women
there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11). Except for One, He who has become least in
the Kingdom of Heaven for our sakes, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is, finally, not about John, who did not
deny, but confessed, “I am not the
Christ” (John 1:20). It is never
about any preacher. It is about
Jesus. John is always pointing to
Jesus. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John
John has a date with the executioner as he fades into history, but first he must
ask, he just has to know, or perhaps he just wants to make it clear for
everyone else… “Are you the one who is
to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3). He sends his disciples to ask the question,
once again directing them to Jesus. You can
sympathize with John, can’t you? He
wants to know if this has all been worth it?
The rough life in the wilderness, the mockery, the censure of the
religious leaders, his arrest and imprisonment, his impending death. He was a talented boy, the light of his
parents’ life, the son of a respected priest.
He could have lived quite comfortably if God hadn’t ruined it all by
calling him to be the messenger before Jesus’ face, to prepare the way before
Him (v. 10). So just to be sure… We did
get the right One, didn’t we? And what
does Jesus answer? How is he to be
sure? Jesus points John and His
disciples and us to Holy Scripture, to the sure and certain Word of God. “Go
and tell John what you hear and see,”
(v. 4), whereupon Jesus rehearses His own fulfillment of all the promises made
in our Old Testament lesson. Check these
out against Isaiah’s prophecy which you heard and read this morning: “the blind receive their sight and the lame
walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear” (Matt. 11:5). It’s a direct fulfillment of Isaiah 35:5-6: “Then,” on the day the Lord fulfills
this prophecy, “the eyes of the blind
shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man
leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” We know from elsewhere in the Gospel record
that Jesus did plenty of freeing mute tongues.
And what else did He do? The “dead are raised up.” Who else could do that but God? And then the kicker, which really doesn’t
sound like the kicker to our fallen ears, but hopefully you’ve been a Bible
believing Lutheran long enough to recognize it as such: “the poor have the good news preached to them.” The preaching. The Word.
We’ve come full circle. Go tell
John what you’ve heard. You’ve heard the
preaching. This, too, was prophesied by
Isaiah: “The Spirit of the LORD GOD is
upon me, because the LORD has anointed me,” and remember, the titles
“Christ” and “Messiah” mean “anointed one,” “to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the
brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the
prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and
the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” (Is.
61:1-2). Go and tell John what you’ve
heard. Tell me, John, is this enough for
you? I have come to heal. I have come to preach. I have come to fulfill the prophecy and to
free you from sin and death, even to proclaim liberty to you who are captive
for my Name’s sake. “And blessed is the one who is not offended
by me” (Matt. 11:6).
world is offended by Jesus. I hope by
now you’ve noticed that. This is not a
friendly world toward Christ. Not the
real Christ, anyway. There are all sorts
of notions about who He is and what He should do and what He should approve,
none of which have any basis in the Bible or the Christ who reveals Himself in
Holy Scripture. Unfortunately, what is
true of the world is all too often true of Christians. It is all too often true of you and me. We fabricate a Jesus of our own design. Because there are things of which we say, “I
just can’t believe in a Jesus who would do or say that.” Or perhaps we are not so blunt, but we say it
secretly, in our heart. “I know what the
Bible says, but surely it can’t be true.
Not that. It just doesn’t feel right.” Christians are particularly prone to fall
prey to this sort of thinking when called upon to suffer. “Why are you doing this to me, God? I’ve tried to be a faithful Christian. I thought you loved me. I thought you wanted only good things for
me.” What kind of a Jesus is it who
sends the cross of cancer or who snatches loved ones away in the prime of
life? What kind of a Jesus is it who
allows His last and greatest prophet to languish in prison, shackled in the
dungeon, only to be released by a rush of cold steel? “Blessed
is the one who is not offended by me.”
are not as they appear. “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the
coming of the Lord” (James 5:7).
Then it will all be revealed, what all of this is about, what is really
true and what has been the deception of the serpent. Do you not understand that in this fallen
creation you are the blind one whose
eyes the Lord Jesus has made to see by faith?
Do you not understand that in your fallen flesh your ears have been deaf to God’s Word? But now Jesus has come and given you ears to
hear, and so to believe. What do you
hear and see this morning in the Gospel?
You are the lame who have been
given to walk in newness of life. You are the leper cleansed of the sin
which has been eating you alive, healed by Jesus’ Absolution. You
are the dead man, the stinking corpse, the dry bones of Ezekiel’s vision, into
whom the Lord has breathed His Spirit and resurrection life, and whom He will
raise physically from the dead on the Last Day.
And so you hear the preaching,
and you rejoice on this Gaudete
not be offended. Believe. Jesus is the One. There is no other. And soon, soon all will be manifest. All will be revealed. “Strengthen
the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come… and save you”
(Is. 35:3-4). As the blade fell upon St.
John’s neck, he knew what you know: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, John’s
Savior, and yours. In the Name of the
Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Second Sunday in Advent
Second Sunday in
December 8, 2013
Text: Matt. 3:1-12
John was called to preach. When you
think about it, preaching, and listening to preaching for that matter, is
perhaps a rather strange activity in our cultural setting, a remnant of custom
from a bygone era. We just don’t listen
to speeches anymore. Our grandparents
and great grandparents, in fact our ancestors for most of the world’s history,
enjoyed a good oration. They were
trained to pay attention, to listen and take it all in, even to memorize what
was said. Many in the previous
generations were trained in the art of rhetoric, the third component in the
trivium of classical education. They
memorized speeches so that they could learn to give good speeches. I was thinking about this on the recent 150th
Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.
How many of you memorized President Lincoln’s speech? Maybe some can still recite it. I’m sure some children still learn it. But I didn’t.
And I bet most of us haven’t memorized the orations of Cicero or other
important speeches. We just don’t have
the time, or so we think. We just don’t
have the inclination. Ours is a sound
bite culture, a generation of miniscule attention spans. Maybe you’re already tuning out. Time for a commercial break, a flip of the
channel, navigation to a new website. It
is easy to complain about the state of things and pine after the good old days,
or vice versa, to ridicule the practice of the past as so old-fashioned, but
this it is simply the reality that in our day, we don’t, as a general rule, give
our undivided attention to speech makers.
And yet you’re here listening to a preacher. And my point is simply this. That’s counter-cultural. That goes against our cultural
instincts. So why do you do it? There must be something going on in preaching
that sets it apart from other speech making.
there is. The difference is dynamic. “Repent,
for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” John preaches (Matt. 3:2; ESV), and
Jerusalem and all Judea make a pilgrimage to the wilderness to hear the
message. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” proclaims every
Christian preacher since John, for this is the heart and content of the
proclamation of Christ, and you come on a blustery Sunday morning to hear and
to take it to heart. And it’s a miracle. There is an urgency to the message. The time is now. Catastrophic, earth
shattering things are happening. God has arrived. And that is not a thing to be taken
lightly. Especially by sinners. The holiness of God must consume sinners as a
wildfire consumes dry brush. Except that
it doesn’t. For God comes in the flesh. And what is miraculous is that in so coming
He does not consume the flesh, nor does He consume us with whom He came to
dwell. As Moses observed the fire in the
bush, yet the bush was not consumed, so the fullness of God dwells in the
flesh, Jesus Christ, and that flesh is not consumed. And He lives and walks among men without
consuming them, without damning them, instead saving them, saving you and me. He comes to die. Of all things, God comes to die for sinners,
for you. That is what He does on the
cross, defeating your sin and your death.
He comes to take death and hell captive and to rise victorious, to give
life to those dead in trespasses and sins.
He comes to you now, in water, baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with
fire, putting you to death, drowning you, killing you, then raising you to new
life in His life, in His Spirit, by the power of His resurrection. He comes to you now in Words that do things,
Words that perform, Words that create, Words that kill and make alive, crucify
and resurrect. John preaches. Your pastor preaches. And it isn’t just any speech. In that Word, Jesus comes. He comes to you. He comes for
you, forgiving your sins and making you His own. “Behold,
the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” John preaches (John
1:29). He is always pointing to
Jesus. Jesus must increase. John and your pastor must decrease. John and I, we are not worthy to stoop down
and untie our Lord’s sandal. But we are
to speak, and you are to hear. The voice
of the preacher cries out in the wilderness.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Jesus comes as the sacrifice to take away your sins. He comes.
Therefore “Prepare the way of the
Lord; make his paths straight” (Matt. 3:3).
Prepare. How do you prepare for such a momentous
coming? John tells you. Repent.
You have sinned. You have grieved
your God. You have hurt your
neighbor. You have exploited your fellow
citizens. You have spoken evil of your
brothers and sisters. You have sought
your own good above the good of others, and God’s glory you have not sought. You have justified yourself, refusing to
confess your sins or even acknowledge that they are real. You have made yourself your god, lived for
yourself, worshiped yourself. But God is
coming. He should come in wrath, and He
will come to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day. But now He comes as a baby. He comes in the flesh, as Savior, as the
crucified, as the risen One who loves you.
His blood cleanses you from all sin.
To repent means to confess your sins, and then to believe Jesus’
Absolution, that He forgives your sins.
There are two parts of repentance, our confessions teach us (Apol.
XII:28). First there is contrition,
sorrow over sin, the terror of the conscience, grief that you have grieved your
God and Savior. And second, there is
faith, faith in Jesus Christ and His all-availing, sin-atoning death on the
cross, and His victorious resurrection, that these are for you, that in Christ
and His work on your behalf your sins are forgiven and you stand righteous
confessions then speak of the fruit of repentance, and that is what St. John
likewise preaches in our Gospel. “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance,”
John commands (v. 8). That means
forsaking your selfishness, dying to self, and living in the new life Christ
has given, living for your neighbor.
That means doing good works. You
see, this all happens after forgiveness, after confession and Absolution, after
repentance and faith. This is the fruit
of all that, the natural consequence, that faith is always living, busy, and
active in works of love. So drop that
grudge you’ve been harboring and go forgive your neighbor. Defend him, speak well of him, and explain
everything the in the kindest way. Go
buy some food and presents for the LWML Christmas families or put some money in
the alms box to help and serve your neighbor in need. Forsake your greed and covetousness. If money has a hold on you, give it
away. If time has a hold on you, give it
to your neighbor in whatever service he may need. Husbands, go love your wives. Wives, go love your husbands. Pluck out your wandering eye. Delight in the children God has given you. Delight in the work God has given you to do. Delight in your brothers and sisters in
Christ. Read a Scripture. Sing a hymn.
Belly up to the Altar for the Feast.
Rejoice. Repent. It is all one cloth, the Christian life that
is death and resurrection. Prepare the
way of the Lord, which is to say, hear and believe His Word. For He comes to you, in mercy, to serve you,
to save you. He comes to give His all
for you. He gave Himself into death for
you. He is risen and lives for you. And He comes here in His Word and the Sacrament
to be your all.
a strange thing, preaching, isn’t it?
You come week after week to hear a less-than-eloquent man, lacking in
presentation and charisma, say the same thing he always says about the same old
subject. Why do you do it? It’s so counter cultural, so contrary to
instinct. You do it because you know
that hidden behind the weak man, the sinner, is Christ Himself who bore our
sins, really present, speaking to you.
He is the Word made flesh, the Logos, the Word that is with God, the
Word that is God. He comes. He speaks.
And His Word does what it says. He
says repent, and you do. Repentance is
God’s gift to you, His work in you. He
says believe, and you do. Faith is God’s
gift to you, His work in you. He says
your sins are forgiven, and they are. He
says you have new life, and you do. It
is all done by His Spirit in His Word, by which Christ comes to you really and
truly, aurally and orally, to bring you to the Father as God’s own child. Well, you’d go out to the wilderness to hear
that, wouldn’t you? Thank God you don’t
have to. You can come into the nice warm
building and sit in the padded pew to hear it.
That may not always be the case.
But no matter. You’ll go
anyway. Because when the Good Shepherd
calls, the sheep hear His voice, and they know Him and they come to Him. He comes to you in His Word, that you may
come to Him. You wouldn’t miss it for
the world, no matter how counter cultural it may be. For you do not live by bread alone, but by
every Word that proceeds from the mouth of your God. St. John was called to preach. Your pastor is called to preach. And you are called to hear the preaching, and
you do so gladly. Because in hearing, God
prepares you. In hearing, you repent and
believe. In hearing, the Kingdom of
heaven, Jesus Christ Himself, comes to you.
It is God’s gracious gift in Christ.
In preaching, the God of hope fills you with all joy and peace in
believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you abound in hope (Rom.
15:13). In preaching, God fills you with
Christ. Beloved, preaching is a strange
thing in our culture, but it is the life-giving breath of Christ into His
Church, into you. Receive the Holy
Spirit. Hear the preaching. Your sins are forgiven. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son
(+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
First Sunday in Advent
First Sunday in
December 2, 2013
Text: Matthew 21:1-11
Anticipation. Longing. These words are descriptive of the Christian
life from the dawn of time. The Christin
life is a life of waiting upon the Lord.
Waiting full of hope, a hope that is sure and certain. It is expectant waiting, waiting in faith
that our God will make good on all His promises. It is a waiting with anticipation of our
Lord’s return to judge the living and the dead, of heaven, of the resurrection,
of eternal life. And it is a waiting
marked by longing. For we suffer here in
this fallen world and this fallen flesh, longing for deliverance from sin,
death, and the devil, from disease and heartache, from our enemies and
persecutors, from our own fleshly desires and weakness. We long for a home. We long for the presence of Christ. We know it will come. We know He
will come. We know we already possess
all that is His, but that is not yet manifest to the naked eye. This is the realm of faith, not sight. So we wait, and so we long. Some are given the grace to wait with
patience. Others bear the cross of
impatience, another mark of the very sinful flesh from which we long to be
delivered. But wait we must, and so we
do. Hopefully. Expectantly.
Believing that Christ will come and our joy will be complete.
was the Christian life of our first parents, Adam and Eve. They ate the forbidden fruit, and all at once
they were plunged into death. They died
spiritually with the first bite. They
began to die physically. They began to
age and decline. And they would die
eternally in hell. Hopelessness,
despair, misery, eternal separation from God, these are the fruits of sin. Except that God spoke His promise: The Seed
of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). And so hope was born. Hope is bestowed by the Gospel, the promise
of God, Christ, the Savior. There is a
way out of death. It is the Seed of the
woman. It is the Son of God. Christ
is coming. And that is what Advent
means. Advent means coming, and it is
all about the coming of God in the flesh to save His people. So Advent is the season of hope, expectation,
and Eve had hope in the promise of the Savior.
They believed the Word of the Lord.
So sure and certain were they in their hope that Eve thought her
firstborn, Cain, to be the Lord (4:1). As
it turns out, she was profoundly wrong, and we all know the sad end of that
story. And the longing is
intensified. Add murder to the
corruption of God’s good creation. But Adam
continued to preach the promise, as did the faithful in every generation. And so the believers, Seth, Noah, Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, King David, and all the Prophets, all those who held
to God’s Word, they believed God, believed His saving promise, and it was
credited to them as righteousness. Hope
sustained them. Messiah is coming, the
Seed of the woman, the Seed of Abraham, David’s Son, yet David’s Lord, Son of Man
and Son of God.
all at once it happened. The angel came
to Mary: “you will conceive in your womb
and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus… The Holy Spirit will come
upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the
child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 2:31, 35; ESV). And so it was in that moment, for the Word of
the Lord does what it says. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among
us” (John 1:14). Promise kept. Hope fulfilled. In the fullness of time, the Savior of the
nations had come, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were
under the Law, that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-5). The first coming of Jesus, His first Advent,
was about undoing what had gone wrong for all humanity in Adam’s fall, in our
sin. He came in the flesh to undo our
sin, and so to undo sin’s wages, namely death, by submitting Himself to death
on the cross. You see, Christmas, too,
is about the cross. It’s about Christ
crucified for sinners. It’s about Christ
crucified for you. Remember that in all your song-singing and
gift-wrapping and merry-making, amongst all the tinsel and glitter and the
decking of the halls, the eating and the drinking, that this is all finally not
about a jolly old elf or stockings hung by the chimney with care, but a Baby
born to shed His precious blood and die… For
you. For in so doing He crushes the
serpent’s head. That we may maintain a
salutary perspective toward Christmas, the Church observes this season of
preparation for His coming, the season of Advent. While the world is busy with the full-fledged
celebration of its version of the
holiday, we Christians are waiting. And
we’re listening as God speaks to us here about His Son, the Savior who has
come, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.
And we’re repenting. For all of
its joyful anticipation, Advent is a penitential season, and we’ll hear from
John the Baptist the next two Sundays calling upon us to “Prepare the way of the Lord,” to “make his paths straight” (Matt. 3:3), to repent for the Kingdom of
God is at hand.
repentance is more than simply sorrow over sin, although it certainly is that,
what we call in theology “contrition.”
It is a daily return to our Baptism, where we died with Christ, and were
brought to new life in Him. But
repentance is also our longing that all that is wrong be set right again, that
we would be set free from sin and death and all that goes along with it, that
we would have the fullness of joy our Lord promises. And that is what we hope for, and what we
believe, expect, and anticipate in the coming of Christ. That is why the crowds gathered with shouts
of joy on the road into Jerusalem as our Lord made His way into the city, why
they were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son
of David! Blessed is he who comes in the
name of the Lord!” (Matt. 21:9).
That is why they were strewing their cloaks and their palm branches on
the road before Him (v. 8). “Hosanna”
means “Save now.” And that is what Jesus
came to do. He came to save them, save
us from our sin, to fill our longing. At
long last He has come, the One promised by God, the Savior of the world.
He doesn’t just come in general, beloved.
He comes to you. He comes to you right here and now in this
place that houses His Body, the Church.
He comes in His gifts, the Word and the Sacraments, in Scripture and
preaching, in Baptism as we saw little Tobiah Gabriel receive Him this morning,
in His true Body and Blood under the forms of bread and wine in the
Supper. He comes absolving you of sin,
taking it away, declaring you righteous with His own righteousness, covering
you with Himself, giving you eternal life.
He comes. Advent. You come to Church, because you know that He
is here. You sing “Hosanna” because that
is what He does for you here. He saves
you now. Hope fulfilled.
yet you still long. You are still filled
with hopeful expectation and anticipation.
Because Jesus is coming again visibly, to judge the living and the dead,
to raise all the dead and give eternal life to you and to all believers in
Christ. On that Day what you now know
only by faith you will know by sight.
You will see Jesus, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. You will dwell with Him. You
will see your loved ones again, those who died in the faith. No more tears. No more sorrow. No more suffering. God will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Beloved, Jesus is coming. He’s coming for you. He’s coming to get you. He comes.
life in Christ centers around His coming for you: His first coming in the flesh
to be your Savior, His continual coming to you in His holy Word and Sacraments,
and His visible coming again in the End.
And so these words continue to describe your life in Christ: Hope, a
certain hope that you know will be fulfilled when you see Him face to
face. Expectation, because God always
makes good on His promises.
Anticipation, because you are filled with joy and excitement that Christ
is coming again. And longing, as you
pray with the holy Church of all times and all places: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
(Rev. 22:20), come quickly, come and deliver us. He will.
He has promised. And so, beloved,
we wait, and we trust. In the Name of
the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.