Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day

December 25, 2015
Text: John 1:1-18

            The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14).  The Word, ὁ λόγος.  That is the Greek on the front of your bulletin, inscribed over the Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.  And it is exactly right.  This Baby is the Word of our Father, now in flesh appearing.  He is the Word spoken in the beginning.  St. John chooses his words very carefully, by inspiration of the Spirit, and he takes us back to Genesis with the first words of the Holy Gospel.  “In the beginning was the Word” (v. 1; ESV).  That means that Jesus is the Word by which God the Father creates heaven and earth.  He speaks forth creation.  “Let there be light,” He says (Gen. 1:3), and there is light.  He speaks a thing, and it is.  Jesus is the speaking of God.  And not only that, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).  Jesus is God.  He is the eternal Son of the Father, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Creator of all things, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns to all eternity.  It is this Word, who is God, who in time becomes flesh and is born of the Virgin Mary.  This God is a Man.  The Creator comes to His creation.  Because everything has gone wrong.  Adam and Eve broke fellowship with God in the Garden.  They rejected His Word.  He came to His own in the cool of the day, but His own would not receive Him.  They hid from Him.  They covered themselves with leaves.  They were afraid because they were naked.  The darkness was taking over.  The serpent had deceived.  Man had earned sin’s wages, which is death.  And the creation which God had declared “very good” (Gen. 1:31), had fallen, held in bondage by the sin and rebellion of Adam and his sons.
            God brought about the creation of the world by the Word.  So if He is to redeem the world, He must once again speak.  And so it is God speaks His Word into the ear and womb of the Virgin Mary, and the Word becomes flesh and blood and be the Savior of all He has made.  The incarnation, we call it, the taking on of our flesh of the Son of God.  That is the theology of Christmas.  John presumes you know the Christmas story from St. Matthew and St. Luke.  We got that last night in the Christmas Eve service.  John gives us the theology of it all.  His is a theological Gospel, but that does not make it impractical.  The problem is sin, darkness, and death.  And you know this by personal experience.  You never measure up.  You are a constant disappointment to yourself, to your loved ones, and to God.  You never know where you are going.  Life is a continual groping around in the dark.  And in the end, you die.  And just so you remember that that is what happens to us all, your loved ones die all around you, and you get sick and suffer injuries, all as a reminder that this will not end well.  Except that God speaks, and Christ, the Savior, is born.
            He is born to die, so that you live.  That is why He must be flesh and blood.  He comes in the flesh to be one with you, to suffer your every weakness and temptation, only without sin.  He comes in the flesh to be your substitute, to take your sins into Himself and to be punished in your place.  He comes to make atonement.  Apart from atonement, there is no justice.  For God to be just, He must punish sin.  But your punishment happens there, on the cross.  God sends His Son, and punishes His Son, that He might be both just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:26).  The death of Christ on the cross restores creation to the Creator and sinners to the Father.  And so to all who receive Jesus Christ, who believe in His Name, He gives the right to become children of God, born of God (John 1:12-13), children of the heavenly Father, forgiven, restored, and renewed.  You don’t measure up, but Jesus measures up for you.  You continually disappoint, but Jesus doles out grace upon grace on you and all your loved ones, all people, and from His fullness we receive all we need (v. 16).  God looks upon you as perfect and righteous, because He sees only the fullness of His Son.  In Jesus, your sin is done to death, and you are righteous in full measure. 
            Now, you would not know this apart from the Word.  So again, God speaks.  The Light comes into this world of darkness, so that you who are born spiritually blind, may see your salvation.  God speaks Jesus into your ear and into your heart and mind and soul in preaching.  Jesus comes to you.  We often speak of the real presence of Jesus in the Supper, of His true Body and Blood under the bread and wine for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.  That is a very important consequence of Christmas, of the incarnation of our Lord.  When He says He is with us, He means in the flesh!  I have said to my family back home as they celebrate Christmas that I’m with them in spirit.  By which I mean that I’m not with them at all!  I’m half a continent away!  My word cannot make it otherwise.  When Jesus says He’s with us, He really means it.  The Word does not lie.  Jesus speaks Himself present on the altar, in bread and wine.  But consider this.  He is also really present in the speaking of His Word.  It is the living voice of Jesus you hear in Scripture and preaching.  It is the living voice of Jesus you hear forgiving your sins in Absolution.  He speaks a thing, and it is.  He is the Word that is spoken.  Preaching only has power because the Word became flesh.  We preach Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:23), and that means the crucified and risen Christ comes to you in the preaching.  He comes to you in the flesh as He is preached into your ears, just as surely as He came into the ear and womb of the blessed Virgin. 

            Now, He is poured all over you in your Baptism, the water and the Word that washes away your sins and bespeaks you God’s own forgiven and beloved child.  He is spoken into your ears and your very being by preaching and Absolution.  He is spoken into bread and wine to open your lips and course through your veins in the Sacrament.  And what happens?  The Light comes to grab you up out of the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.  The prince of darkness is foiled again.  His reward is coming, and he also will have to suffer the weeping and gnashing of teeth for all eternity.  But not you.  Your sins are forgiven.  Jesus has paid your debt in full by His blood and death.  And He is risen.  You will not die.  In the end, your loved ones who died in the faith will be restored to you, and you will be healed.  That is the Good News of Christmas.  All that is wrong has been righted in the incarnation of our Lord.  Christmas is nothing less than the re-creation of the world, the restoration of what has been lost, God’s coming in your flesh to be reconciled with you and to clothe you with Himself.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  And the Word is with you now, in the flesh.  The Word makes all things new.  Including you.  Merry Christmas.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve

December 24, 2015
Text: Luke 2:1-20

            Why did you come tonight?  Maybe it’s just because it’s Christmas Eve, and that’s the thing to do.  Perhaps some nostalgia brought you here.  On this night we wear our hearts on our sleeves as we sing the old songs about angels and shepherds and silent, holy nights.  The lights are dimmed and we worship by candlelight.  There is a romance about the whole thing.  Maybe you’re here because your parents dragged you here.  Your spouse told you the least you could do is make an appearance.  Or maybe you’re here for all the right reasons, because you know that here you’ll find the Baby announced by the angels, your Savior from sin and death, Jesus Christ.  But if I’m being honest, I have to say, I really don’t care why you’re here.  I just thank God you’re here.  Because there is incredibly Good News for you to hear tonight.  But I have to warn you up front.  You’ll probably be disappointed if you’re expecting a trite story about glowing stars and a serene birth and a little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.  Oh, we have the old traditional hymns, and we’ll have the candlelight.  But the real circumstances of Christmas are nothing like your Christmas cards or nativity sets.  Mary’s face is probably anything but serene.  She just gave birth in a stable.  There is no such thing as the Motel 6 in the New Testament, and it’s not an “inn” in the sense we think of where Mary and Joseph tried to stay.  Probably what happened is Joseph came knocking at the old family home, but there just wasn’t room for his fiancée who got pregnant out of wedlock.  If you want to stay here, you’ll have to stay with the animals.  She gives birth there, with no one to help, with the hay and the dung and the lowing cattle and bah-ing sheep.  She wraps her Baby in scraps of old cloth and lays Him in the feeding trough.  A beautiful scene, indeed.   Fitting for the birth of a King.  And the shepherds out keeping watch over their flocks by night?  Can you imagine the smell?  And it’s dangerous out there.  Robbers and wolves and mountain lions.  It’s dark.  It’s cold.  It’s probably wet.  These particular shepherds have to work the graveyard shift.  They probably haven’t had a bath in weeks.  Blue collar workers who don’t make much money to speak of.  This is the last place you’d expect angels to show up.
            It’s not very nostalgic, is it?  But that’s the point.  Christ wasn’t born into a beautiful manger scene.  God came down into the stench and poverty and scandal of the real world.  To redeem it.  God came down, in real flesh and blood, for shepherds and for unwed mothers and for sons turned out by their own families.  God came down, in real flesh and blood, for you.  So you stink like a stable or a field full of sheep.  Maybe you can fool others, but you know you’re full of sin.  You put on a smile and try to ignore it, but that tape of your failures plays over and over and keeps you up at night.  God comes for beautiful people in serene manger scenes, you think, but not for me.  I’m too dirty, too smelly, too guilty.  My sin is just too big.  Brother… sister… you couldn’t be more wrong.  Maybe we’d do better to craft more realistic manger scenes with apparent heartache and poverty, though they’d probably never sell.  You have to understand, this Baby is born, not for the righteous, but for sinners… for tax collectors and prostitutes, for murderers and adulterers and thieves and scoundrels.  Which is to say, for you.  Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord (Luke 2:11).  Yes, unto you.  In all your sin and sadness.  In all your mess of a life, your guilt, and your death.  He was born for you.  And that is Good News of great joy, indeed. 
            That also takes all the pressure off of Christmas.  You’ve been running around frantically since Thanksgiving, skipping right over Advent, trying to make this the perfect Christmas, just like the ones you think you used to know.  Like Clark W. Griswold, you just want to deliver a “fun, old-fashioned family Christmas.”  But your sister isn’t speaking to your mother.  Uncle Bob is drinking too much and getting loud.  Your son is whining because, despite your best efforts, he didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas, and truth be told, you didn’t either.  Now your head hurts, your stomach aches (that second slice of pie wasn’t such a good idea), and reality slaps you in the face.  You can’t make Christmas.  But pass the aspirin and take a deep breath.  Of course you can’t make Christmas!  Christmas is made for you.  God comes down, to you, for you, in the middle of the messiness of this world and your life to redeem this world and your life. 
            To you the angels sing.  Good News of great joy for you and for all the people.  Unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.  He makes Christmas, the Christ-Mass.  He is the real gift, wrapped up in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger… wrapped up in the Scriptures and lying on the altar to feed the beasts, to feed sinners and forgive sins, to feed you with the Bread of Life that is His Body, born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, the House of Bread.  If you came here for nostalgia, perhaps that’s disappointing to you.  But then again, perhaps it’s finally beginning to make some sense.  The reason we give presents and eat candy canes and gather together to laugh and sing is that this Baby was born for us.  And He gives Himself to us, to make all that is wrong right.  To take away sin and pay for it in His flesh.  To be mocked and accused and humiliated.  To be nailed to the accursed tree.  The cross looms large over the Christmas story.  This Baby is born to die.  But that doesn’t make the story morbid.  That is what makes it Good News for sinners.  No sin is too big that the death of God, born of the Virgin, cannot cover it.  This Baby is born, that by His death you be released from all that binds you.  You are free.  Hell has no claim on you.  Jesus took your place in it.  Satan cannot harm you.  Jesus crushed the serpent’s head by His own death.  Sin is undone.  The Law no longer accuses you.  Because this Baby was born under the Law to take your transgression of it into Himself and put it to death in His Body. 
            So you live.  He dies, and you do not die.  And He is risen.  Death could not hold Him.  Because He was innocent.  It is not His own sin for which He died.  It is yours.  But now it is done.  And He is risen.  He lives.  And He’s still in the same flesh and blood, born of the Virgin Mary.  He’s still a man, this God who came down.  He is a man for you.  He is Emmanuel, God with you.  And He gives Himself to you now, with all of His forgiveness, life, and salvation.  I don’t know why you came here tonight.  But don’t leave here without this Gift.  If there are no other presents for you this Christmas, this Gift makes the holiday, the Holy Day.  Jesus is born for you.  Your sins are forgiven.  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace.  God is pleased with you for Jesus’ sake.  You have a Father in heaven.  You have a Savior who loves you.  You have a family, the Church, to sing and feast with you.  Tidings of comfort and joy.  Merry Christmas.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent (C)

December 20, 2015
Text: Luke 1:39-56

            Maybe we should call this In Utero Sunday.  On the face of it, the story is about the miraculous mothers, Mary and Elizabeth.  But in truth, the story is about the miraculous babies in their mothers’ wombs, St. John the Baptist, and our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Mary is the true Ark of the Covenant, bearing within her womb God Himself, enfleshed in her little Bambino.  She takes the same route King David took as he brought the Ark up to Jerusalem.  And as she comes to the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, she serves as the spokesman of her Divine Son.  She greets her cousin, and as happens with the Word of the Lord, Mary speaks it and it fills the hearer with the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth now knows things that cannot be revealed by flesh and blood, the things of faith.  She knows that the fruit of Mary’s womb is none other than the Lord come to save His people from their sins.  And John, the other bambino in utero, is also now filled with the Holy Spirit.  The Word spoken by Mary fills little John with faith and joy.  He leaps in his mother’s womb.  Already as a fetus, the prophet preaches Jesus.  Already in the womb, John points to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
            The New Creation is breaking in here.  The Old is coming to an end in Zechariah and Elizabeth and John.  The priests and the prophets have reached their pinnacle.  The fulfillment of it all has arrived.  Christ has come.  John leaps because his salvation is here.  But so also John leaps because his own work has begun.  John prepares the way of the Lord.  Quite literally, that happens by his miraculous conception in the womb of an old woman.  John’s conception is a re-run of Isaac’s miraculous conception by Abraham and Sarah.  Two elderly parents, the mother quite beyond the years of child bearing, nonetheless have a child as the result of God’s Promise.  We could think of others as well.  The barren women of the Old Testament, like Rachel or Hannah, are given sons by the LORD’s intervention.  This says something about the miraculous birth par excellence.  John and his predecessors are miraculously conceived of old or barren women.  Jesus is conceived of a virgin.  John and the others are types of Jesus.  This is what we call in theology, “step parallelism”.  We’ve been talking about this in Sunday morning Bible Study.  What John does, Jesus does, only one step higher.  John goes first.  He prepares the way.  Jesus comes after on the way John prepares.  From miraculous birth through preaching and ministry and all the way to unjust execution by the state, John goes before the Lord.  But John must decrease.  Jesus must increase.  This is the beginning of it all, this prenatal meeting of the Lord and His messenger.
            And notice how even as an unborn Child, Jesus commands the scene.  It’s all about Him.  What a profound text this is as a testimony to the worth of the unborn.  Elizabeth rejoices, John leaps, and Mary sings as a result of this little Baby in Mary’s womb.  Jesus is already doing His saving work.  He endures all the stages of human life, to redeem humanity at every stage.  He is a Blastocyst for blastocysts, a Zygote for zygotes, and Embryo for embryos, a Fetus for fetuses.  What the Lord has redeemed by His incarnation, blood, and death, we dare not treat as disposable.  He is a Newborn for newborns, a Child and a Grownup for children and grownups.  He is a Man for us men and for our salvation.  What our Lord becomes, He redeems.  He takes on our flesh fully, and He saves it and sanctifies it.
            Then there is little Baby John in the womb of his mother Elizabeth.  6 months into the pregnancy, He receives the Word through the voice of Mary, believes, and rejoices.  And he preaches, leaping in the womb.  This is a great comfort for believing parents who have suffered miscarriages.  This little baby who is not even born, who cannot comprehend what is being said and cannot confess the faith, nonetheless believes on account of the Word.  We know that babies can hear in utero.  They are born already recognizing the voices of their mothers and fathers.  There have been wonderful experiments done where the unborn are exposed to musical stimuli and their physiological reactions and brain impulses are recorded.  Clearly babies can hear inside the womb.  What we know from John is that they also can believe.  Because faith is simply trust in the Lord Jesus.  Just like a baby is born trusting Mom.  He doesn’t know her name.  He can’t understand her words and he can’t say anything about her.  Still, he knows her.  He knows her voice.  And he trusts her.  And in fact, he loves her.  When Christian parents learn they are expecting, they come to Church so that they and their baby can hear the Word of God and know the voice of Jesus, and they can rejoice that their precious baby belongs to Jesus.
            Mary and Elizabeth are the model Christian mothers, and they teach us what it means to be the Church.  Elizabeth is the Old Testament Church.  She has been waiting all her life for Messiah to come and save His people.  She is married to the priest, and covered by the sacrifices.  And she bears within her the last of the Old Testament prophets, St. John.  Mary is the New Testament Church.  Messiah has come to her in mercy and she bears Him within her.  She hears the Word concerning Him and she believes it.  And for this reason, she is blessed.  She, who is poor and lowly and despised in this world, is exalted by God, for the Lord is with her… Literally with her, in her womb.  In the same way, the holy Church bears Jesus within her.  He comes to her in mercy.  She hears the Word concerning Him, and believes it, and for this reason she is blessed.  The Lord is with her.  Quite literally, in His Body and Blood in the Supper.  And then, having heard and believed the Word of the Lord, Mary sings it.  She confesses the faith in song, the Magnificat,My soul now magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:36; ESV).  It is the first Christian hymn, and Mary is the first Christian hymn writer, and the Church still sings her song today.  Her song is all about Jesus and what He has done, which is always what Christian hymns should be about.  They should clearly confess Jesus and His redemption for sinners.  Look how the cross is confessed in this marvelous song.  The Lord does His mighty things for the lowly, by becoming lowly, despised, and rejected… the lowest of the low, submitting to death on the cross.  And in this way He brings down the mighty from their thrones.  Those who are high and exalted in this world and in their own eyes, He brings down.  But He exalts those who are of humble estate, the nothings of this world, the poor, the despised, the sinners, you.  He fills the hungry with good things, but the rich He sends empty away.  Poor little Mary, teenage unwed mother Mary, is the Mother of God.
            And poor little Holy Church, despised in this world, mocked by the proud and exalted ones, persecuted by the mighty… She is the Bride of Christ.  You poor, despised Christians who know the weakness of your own sinful flesh, whose souls are tortured by the state of things in this world in these gray and latter days, the war and the bloodshed, the slaughter of the precious little babes, the rebellion against our holy and righteous God, like Lot in the midst of Sodom… Jesus calls you friend.  He is not ashamed to call you brother, sister, for you are His own.  He bought you with His Blood.  His Father is your Father.  You are God’s own child, baptized into Christ.  And He breathes His Spirit into you, the breath of faith, the breath of life. 
            So you sing this song, as Mary does.  What is true for her is true for you.  Your soul magnifies the Lord, and your spirit rejoices in God your Savior, because He has looked upon you in the destitution of your sin and death, and He has had mercy upon you.  He forgives your sins, dies for them, in fact, and He is risen and gives you life.  Therefore all generations will call you blessed.  His mercy is for you.  He shows His strength with His arm, the arm nailed to the tree for you.  He scatters the proud, the unbelievers, the scoffers, in the imagination of their hearts.  He brings down the mighty from their thrones.  But you… you he exalts, at the proper time, in the proper way.  You, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, He fills with Righteousness Incarnate, the Body and Blood of Jesus.  And you are satisfied.  The rich, who scoff at such meager fare, he sends empty away.  He helps you.  He remembers His mercy toward you and He helps you.  Because He promised.  It’s what He promised to Father Abraham.  It’s what He promised to Abraham’s Offspring forever.  The Lord keeps His Word, and you are saved.  So you sing.

            And you leap with the joy of Baby John, here safe in the womb of Mother Church.  For Jesus comes to you and greets you through the voice of Mother Church, through the voice of your pastor, in the Preaching.  And hearing, you are filled with the Spirit, and you believe.  And you are blessed.  “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (v. 45).  That’s Mary.  That’s the Church.  That’s you.  Christmas is coming, beloved.  Jesus comes.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Third Sunday in Advent

Third Sunday in Advent (C)

December 13, 2015
Text: Luke 7:18-35

            John asks the question on everybody’s mind.  Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:19; ESV).  Everything rides on the answer to this question.  John asks from the dungeon where he sits in chains.  He will lose his head for preaching Jesus.  So he just wants a little assurance that this isn’t all for nothing, that it’s worth it in the end, that the Gospel is worth dying for.  And that Jesus is, in fact, the Savior who will deliver John and all who believe the Gospel from death.  Truth be told, this is your question, too.  Oh, you don’t ask explicitly, out loud, like John does.  You don’t have the guts for that.  Then others may not think you’re a good Christian.  You don’t even admit the question to yourself.  Because then you’d have to acknowledge you have your own doubts about whether you’re a good Christian.  But there it is, that nagging question.  Is Jesus the One?  Should I really risk it all on Him?  Is He worth dying for?  Will He deliver me from death?  Sin?  Hell?  Because it would be a lot easier to forget this whole Christianity thing and get as much as I can out of this life now; eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.  In many ways it would be easier to believe there is nothing but what can be seen and experienced here and now.  Then there would be no accountability.  Then there would be no limits, no commandments.  No God means I am the god of myself.  Repent.  Snap out of it!  If that fantasy is true, then everything is meaningless.  Which is exactly what Satan wants you to believe.  Still, the question is important.  It is the question of Advent.  Is Jesus the One?  Is He the Savior?  Or should we look for another?  Should we seek salvation somewhere else: Our own works, our spouse, our family, our job, our president, education, environmentalism, wealth, power, pleasure?  Should we rot in a dungeon and lose our head for Jesus?
            Interestingly, our Lord does not answer the question directly.  He tells John’s disciples to report back what they had seen and heard: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them” (v. 22).  Then He adds a benediction: “blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (v. 23).  Blessed is the one who is not ashamed to be shackled and feel the cold of flashing steel for my sake.  For yes, this is all worth it John.  Your life and your preaching, your suffering and your death, are not in vain.  Jesus does not answer the question directly, but John would get the message loud and clear.  Jesus is doing all the things Isaiah prophesied He would 750 years earlier: “The Spirit of the LORD GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (Is. 61:1).  “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (35:5-6).  Jesus does what God promised Messiah would do.  So you tell me, John.  Am I the One?  What does the Word say?  Jesus points John to the Word.  And so He points us.  The Word preaches Jesus into our ears and hearts and souls.  The Word answers the question.  If this is what Jesus does, should we look for any other?  Can our family or our job do this?  Can politicians deliver this?  Can all the power or money in the world buy this?  No.  So look no further. 
            And notice that all the miracles Jesus does physically for the suffering during His earthly ministry, He does for us spiritually now, and will do for us bodily in the resurrection.  Now, this is not to deny that miraculous healings happen today.  In fact, every healing we experience is a miracle.  It’s a gift from Jesus.  We’re just too used to it to notice, “Oh, I didn’t die from that cold I had last week.  Praise be to Christ!”  We’re a lot more like the nine lepers who went away than we are like the Samaritan who returned to give Jesus thanks (Luke 17:11-19).  But don’t miss how Jesus is performing all the miracles He did in His earthly ministry upon you as you hear His Word.  He heals you of the disease of sin, the plague of death, and He casts the evil spirits out of you.  You who are born in spiritual blindness: He opens your eyes and gives you spiritual sight, as we confess in the Small Catechism: His Spirit calls you by the Gospel and enlightens you with His gifts, so that you see Christ as your Savior even though He is hidden from your eyes.  The Word turns the lights on for you.  You who are lame: He sets you on your feet and gives you to walk in the way of His Word.  You whose sin eats you up like leprosy: He cleanses you with His Blood.  He bathes you in His Baptism and administers the medicine of immortality in the Supper of His Body and Blood.  You who are deaf: He opens your ears to hear His living voice in preaching and Scripture.  He raises you who are spiritually stillborn, born dead to Him… He raises you to new and everlasting life in a spiritual rebirth by water and the Word.  And you poor (and you are poor!  You have nothing with which to buy God’s favor and get eternal life!)… you poor to this day have the Good News preached to you, the Good News that Jesus is your Savior, that He has come for you.  And that is the greatest miracle.  Jesus loves you, oh sinner.  Jesus died for you.  Jesus is risen for you.  And by the preaching of that Good News, you believe in Him, and so you have Him.
            What He does for you spiritually now, He will do for you bodily on the Last Day.  Your Body will be raised without disease, without injury, without any affliction.  Perfect sight.  Lame men leaping like deer.  Skin soft and clear.  Perfect hearing.  Eternal life.  Death will be no more.  The miracles are a picture of the resurrection.  Every miracle is a Promise that comes to pass in Jesus who was dead, but now lives and reigns forevermore. 
            It is a scandal, this Gospel.  For John and Jesus come in weakness.  John is the King’s herald.  Yet he does not come in splendid clothing and royal luxury.  He comes in camel’s hair and leather, eating locusts and wild honey.  He does not preach in palaces, but in the wilderness.  He does not roll out the red carpet and invite you to a royal ball.  Instead he invites you to a bath of repentance and the forgiveness of your sins.  And he points you to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin.  John at least looks like a prophet, but Jesus looks like a nobody.  He has no form or majesty, no beauty that we should desire Him (Is. 53:2).  Among those born of women there is none greater than John.  Yet the One who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.  And that can only be Jesus, who becomes the least and the last, who suffers the rejection of the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees, who is a friend of tax collectors and sinners, who suffers the accursed death of crucifixion for them and for you.  He is forsaken of the Father there, hanging naked on the cross.  And you can’t get any lower or lesser than that.  This He does for you.  And for this reason He is the greatest.  He wins the Kingdom of God by purchasing it with His own blood.  He does it to make you His own.  He dies so that you live.  Does that answer the question?  Should you look for any other Savior?  He’s done it all.  For you.  The answer Jesus gives, to John’s question and to yours, is His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead.
            This generation does not like the answer.  “This generation” in the Scriptures is always those who belong to this life and this world.  In other words, it is unbelievers.  You see, this kind of Gospel… crazy preachers in the wilderness, Saviors who suffer and die… this isn’t something this generation can understand.  In this world, Ivy League professors hold forth wisdom, and Superman saves.  But that is not the way of Jesus.  This generation calls the tune and we do not dance.  We do not rejoice in what this world rejoices in.  We do not mourn what this world mourns.  “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep” (Luke 7:32).  Why are Christians persecuted in the world?  Why does our own media mock us?  Why do our own elites laugh at us?  Because they can’t understand us.  They can’t understand the Gospel.  They can’t understand Jesus.  They can’t understand the cross.  We will never win in the court of political correctness.  No matter which political party is in power or who sits on the Supreme Court, the Church must suffer, as did her Lord.  That’s life under the cross.

            But “wisdom is justified by all her children” (v. 35).  What on earth does that mean?  Wisdom is God’s plan of salvation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Really, wisdom is Jesus Himself.  And wisdom’s children are those who believe in Jesus.  You, and all sinners who believe in Christ, are born of wisdom.  You declare wisdom to be right… you justify her.  You declare her to be true.  Now, this is the complete opposite of this generation’s rejection of Christ and the Gospel.  For the time being, it appears as though this generation has won the argument.  After all, they are in power, or so it seems.  But what happens in the End is that everything is turned on its head.  As it turns out, the elite of this generation ruled at God’s bidding, the very God they have rejected.  And wisdom’s children who suffered in this life?  They rule.  You rule, with Christ.  The suffering was from Christ, for your good.  And it cannot be compared to the glory you will have then.  It is hidden now, as wisdom so often is.  But not then.  Then every eye will see.  And so will you.  It’s hard to remember that now.  Even John had his doubts, his “what ifs.”  Such is the weakness of the flesh.  But hear the Word of the Lord: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (vv. 22-23).  In hearing the Word, you know.  Jesus is the One.  There is no other Savior.  He lived for you.  He died for you.  His risen and lives forever for you.  He still eats and drinks with sinners.  He eats and drinks with you.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Second Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent (C)

December 6, 2015
Text: Luke 3:1-20

            The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Luke 3:4; ESV; Cf. Is. 40:3).  St. John the Baptist is the voice.  That is his office and divine calling.  He proclaims as it has been given him by God.  He prepares the way of the Lord, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 3).  God Himself is present in this proclamation and baptism.  He stirs up our hearts for this very thing, that we make ready the way of His only-begotten Son by repenting of our sins and receiving His forgiveness and salvation as He comes to us.  Repentance and forgiveness.  This is the pattern of the Christian life.  This is the life of the Baptized, or better, this is the daily death and resurrection of those baptized into Christ.  And this is how we prepare to meet the Lord Jesus in His coming to us.  This is how we prepare for Christmas.  This is how we prepare for preaching and the Sacrament.  This is how we prepare for the Lord’s coming again in glory.  We examine ourselves, repent of our sins, and trust that Christ’s coming is for us.  Advent means “coming,” and it is a season of preparation to receive the One who comes.  St. John was beheaded centuries ago, but still he preaches.  Still his voice cries out in the wilderness of this world full of unbelief and hatred and violence and death: Repent and believe the Good News!  Jesus is coming.  He is coming for you, to forgive your sins and raise you to life.  Prepare the way of the Lord!
            But what is repentance?  Our Confessions teach us that there are two components of repentance: Contrition and faith.  “We say that contrition is the true terror of conscience, which feels that God is angry with sin and grieves that it has sinned.  This contrition takes place when sins are condemned by God’s Word.  The sum of the preaching of the Gospel is this: to convict of sin; to offer for Christ’s sake the forgiveness of sins and righteousness,  the Holy Spirit, and eternal life; and that as reborn people we should do good works” (Apol. XIIA [V]: 29; McCain, p. 161).  So, in preaching, you look into the mirror of God’s Law.  You consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments.  You ask yourself where you have fallen short.  And the Law convicts you.  You have broken the Law at every turn.  The Law accuses you, tries you, finds you guilty, and sentences you to death.  Christian preaching would be gloomy business if our righteous God left it at that.  And make no mistake, this is a vital component of Christian preaching.  For you must know your sins if you are to know your need for the Savior.  You must be good and dead if Christ is to raise you to new life by His Spirit.  Repentance says to the Savior, “I am a sinner.  I am dead.  I have rebelled against the God who gives me life, and hated Him.  I have despised my neighbor.  I have worshipped myself.  And I cannot rescue myself from this wretchedness.  Save me, O Jesus, for apart from you I am a rotting corpse.”  This is the confession to which the preaching of God’s holy Law brings you.  And Jesus hears your confession, and responds with the voice of your pastor, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit.”  “Rejoice, dear sinner.  What you have not done, I have done for you.  I have filled in the valleys, all that is lacking.  And all your sin and wretchedness and death I have taken into Myself.  It is no longer yours.  It belongs to Me.  And I have put it to death in My flesh on the cross.  I have leveled those hills.  I have straightened what was bent.  Depart in peace.  You are free.”  Your pastor is the voice in this wilderness sent to proclaim to you a Baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  And this preaching of the Gospel, that all your sins are forgiven in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, creates faith.  That is what the Spirit does in the Gospel.  He gives you faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and salvation.
            So you repent by confessing your sins and hearing and trusting the Absolution Jesus speaks to you.  The goal of repentance is always that you hear and believe the forgiveness of sins that is already yours in Jesus.  Then, our Confessions say, “If anyone desires to add a third [component of repentance]—fruit worthy of repentance, that is, a change of the entire life and character for the better—we will not oppose it” (Apol. XIIA [V]: 28).  That is to say, when you believe in Christ and the forgiveness of sins which He won for you and freely gives to you apart from your works, you begin to do good works.  You fail, of course, and you repent of that failure and you are forgiven for that failure and you believe that forgiveness so you begin again to do good works.  You don’t do good works because the Law demands them.  The Law can neither command nor accuse you in Christ.  You do good works because you love God and you love your neighbor, and you know that, while God doesn’t need your good works, your neighbor does.  And you don’t have to guess at what these good works are.  They are given you to do in your various vocations.  Husbands and wives are to live together in love and fidelity ‘til death do them part.  Fathers are to love and provide for and protect their children.  Mothers are to nurture and to teach and to care for their children.  Citizens are to pay taxes and respect their leaders and vote and serve.  Workers are to do their work diligently, and employers are to give just wages and value their employees.  St. John preaches this very thing.  In response to John’s preaching, the people ask, “What then shall we do?” (Luke 3:10).  John tells them to be generous.  Clothe the naked and feed the hungry.  That’s what you do.  And then he gets specific to the vocations represented.  What are tax collectors to do?  Stop gouging people.  Don’t collect more than you are authorized (v. 13).  What about soldiers?  What are they to do?  Stop bullying people.  Don’t falsely accuse people to extort money from them.  Be content with your wages (v. 14).  And now you get the concept.  What are your vocations?  To what offices has God called you?  Within those offices, those vocations, you are to love your neighbor as yourself.  Will you fall short?  Of course you will.  But you love with the love that Jesus Christ has already bestowed upon you, the love that forgives your sins and your failures to love.  One of my favorite preachers put it this way: “This is the constant cycle and life of the Christian… Repent and rejoice and repeat. Love your neighbor and fail and be loved by Christ and then love your neighbor and fail and be loved by Christ and again and again and again”[1]  Christ loves your neighbor for you.  Christ loves your neighbor through you.  Christ loves you in spite of your failure to love your neighbor.  Christ’s love for you enables you to love your neighbor.  It is all Christ.
            And that is why St. John always points you away from himself and to Christ.  John is all about Christ.  There in the wilderness he bids you “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Messianic hopes ran high in John’s day.  Many speculated whether he might just be the Christ.  But John is not ashamed to yield the position of honor.  The preacher must never get in the way of his preaching.  The preacher must decrease.  Christ must increase.  So John answers the question on everybody’s mind: “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” (Luke 3:16).  It is Jesus for whom you are waiting.  It is Jesus who comes to save you.  He comes with a Baptism that far surpasses John’s.  For His Baptism kills you and raises you to new life.  It drowns you in the water and raises you up in the Spirit.  It makes His death and resurrection your own.  In other words, it repents you.  It bestows contrition and faith.  By it you live. 
            Because He lives.  He died in payment of your sins.  He is risen and lives and reigns for you.  And He is coming again.  Advent is about preparing for that by living in it.  You come to Church because coming to Church is living in the coming of the Lord.  It is living in the reality of His coming in the flesh to be your Savior.  It is living in the reality that He will come again to judge the living and the dead and give you eternal life.  It is living in His coming to you now in Word and Supper.  This fallen world is a barren wilderness of emptiness and death.  What there is of joy in it is from the Lord.  Because He comes.  But there is more than the joys of this world.  Joy is complete when you know Jesus comes for you.  And so you pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

[1] The Rev. David H. Petersen, God with Us: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Sermons (Fort Wayne: Emmanuel Press, 2014) p. 22.