Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmass: Day 4[Holy Innocents; St. Matt. 2:13-18]

Jesus speaks to us today saying,
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.”

Merry Christmass, death. Thanks for joining the party.

On the Fourth Day of Christmass? You’ve gotta be kidding me. How can there be death in light of such a festival as Christmass? How dare the drudgery of death drag our demonstrative demure of delight to the dreary depths of being dreary!

Let’s point some fingers: Its Herod’s fault for being so gosh darn evil. Its Bethlehem’s fault for not arming its citizens and taking better hold of democracy; its not a new thing, ya know.

Let’s point some more fingers: There is a saying that has been taught to those who abort babies, so they can teach it to others. The Overpopulation scare mongers also use it; even Scrooge used it. It is this: “Why would I want to bring up a child in such a world?” or “Its better if the child is not alive to see this evil” or “Die quickly and decrease the surplus population”.

If you think Herod was bad, look at what you have made of your own society. Over 40 million children aborted, since the Roe v. Wade court decision, and counting! Herod at least understood that he couldn’t allow murder everywhere, else he wouldn’t have a kingdom. IN our modern thinking, we can’t even see past our own bellies.

We legalize murder, of the young and old, and call it choice. We legislate euthanasia and call it mercy. Oh how this destroys a country. Statistically, it takes 2.1 children born to each woman in a generation, to simply REPLACE the previous generation. In 2012, the USA was at 1.88 and has been on a falling trend, most recently coming in at 1.86.

America has become a culture of death and has developed its own religion. It’s a crime for this baby to die, but not the unwanted one. It’s a crime for this person to die, but not the one that wanted to. There are certain things you talk about and certain things you don’t. If you do not obey, you will be hauled in front of the judge.

Everyone understands the Law. They understand that if you break it, your things will get taken away and you will be punished. The government enforces the laws it makes. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.

God gives the Law and it is absolute. It speaks against your sin. Sin can not be allowed to continue, for it is an injustice if it were to go unpunished. There is no sin in God. He did not create it, but He will destroy it.

Repent. It is not simply a matter of obeying the Law, either. God has shown this by giving you lists of what you are to do and not to do. He even shortened it to 10 things; no, TWO things, and yet still a Savior is born.

Here, then, is the indicator of your rebelliousness. You believe that if you just follow the god-rules; obey Him, follow Him, and dedicate your life to Him, that you will be ok. That makes sense, in the civil realm. What you miss, though, is that the Word never changes. You will never open holy Scripture and find, “You shall not murder, except for you, Bob. You’ve completed that assignment.”

God’s Law says “do this” and it is never done. Scripture will always say, “You shall not murder.” The Law is always there to reveal our sin and that’s it. Whether it is the Old Testament or Jesus Himself speaking it. If something in the Bible demands your action, it is Law and no one is justified before God by the Law.

In this sense, the wrath of God against sin, is revealed by Herod murdering those children. They were reaping the wages of their sin, just as Herod would, in dying. The so-called-innocence that society says children have, does not prevent them from dying. A lifetime of works, does not prevent Herod from dying.

So, in another sense, we do not call this the Feast of the Holy Innocents for nothing. In this sense, there is only Christ, for the children were murdered for two reasons: 1) to show the sin of the world (evil Herod) and that we are apart of it; and 2) to show the power and glory of Jesus, come to the world to redeem it.

Upon the cross, Jesus purchases the whole world from the dominion of our sin, death, and the devil. The power that enabled Herod, not only to know his right from wrong against him, but also to take life has been done away with. Jesus, who escaped the sword of Herod, lives to shed His blood for Herod, on Good Friday.

In Christ alone is there any refuge from our evil purposes and the death they bring. It is only in and because of Christ that we have the Gospel. The Good News that we are freed from the guilt and punishment we deserve for our sin. It is in Jesus that death leads to a resurrection.

Jesus has cleansed us of our sin. He has rid the world of evil and the power of death. He has fulfilled God’s Law and taken all of the wrath of God upon Himself. There is no longer any condemnation in Jesus, for it is by Him, by Grace for Christ’s sake, through Faith, that we are justified before God.

In the midst of our own torment and weeping for the dead here; especially at times of joy and cheer, we take comfort in the fact that God has promised His one and only Son to us. For even these children, born in the Promise of God in the Temple, living in Faith by circumcision, held to the forgiveness of sins promised to them in it.

They are innocent solely by virtue of their Redeemer and can rest securely, whether they live or die, that they will live with Jesus. You are innocent, in Jesus. You have been washed in the baptism of the Lamb of God and also have this security.

Herod thinks he has won something, but he has not. He could not take the kingdom away from the Romans or God and he could not prevent Jesus from retrieving the Holy Innocents from death.

We weep for those who suffer during the holidays, even though it might not affect us directly. There will come a time when our happy holiday will be ruined, but we do not weep as those without hope, for the Life Christ comes to give is eternal and can not be taken away.

The same kingdom the Holy Innocents were taken to, is the same kingdom prepared for you. The same Son whisked away to Egypt, dies on the cross for you. The same Body and Blood that died, was buried, and rose again will raise you up from death and whisk you away to be with Him.

Jesus is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Where the Law says, “Do this” and it is never done; the Gospel says, “Believe in this and everything is already done.” Believe in the virgin birth. Believe in the death and resurrection of Christ. Faith believes, and faith receives from God death and resurrection.

For, the Boys of Bethlehem were not abandoned. Their mothers found comfort in the wounds of Jesus who died also for them. Now they have been reunited with their sons. They will never be separated again! And already now, after maybe 50 long years of grief here on earth without their babies, they have enjoyed nearly 2000 years in perfect bliss won by Jesus with their children. So that St. Paul writes,
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmass Day [St. John 1:1-14]

Hodie Christus natus est.        Today, Christ is born.
Hodie salvator apparuit.         Today, the Savior appears.
Hodie in terra canunt angeli.  Today, on earth, the angels sing
Letantur arcangeli.                  And the Archangels rejoice.
Hodie exultant iusti dicentes:  Today, the Just exult, saying:
Gloria in excelsis Deo.

This day, the Lord goes with you. This day, you shall see His Glory. This day, the Lord comes. This day, salvation is yours.

Why? This is not Good Friday and it is certainly not Easter. The reason for celebration is that now the Lord will speak to us, directly. Now God has taken on human flesh, with a human voice, and will speak to us, Himself, instead of through prophets and promises.

 Now that the battle for Christmas is over, in the eyes of the world, we can stop saying things like, “Put Christ back in Christmas” or “Jesus is the reason for the season”. Because now we know, that it is the Mass that needs to be put back into Christmass. It is that people need to hear that they are the reason for the season and they need to hear it in church.

For it is only here; only by the lips of Jesus Himself, that the Gospel is preached. You will not find the Gospel in a food pantry, an outdoor hike, or a football game. You will not find the Gospel in your children or your family.

Because the Gospel is not good works of thought, word, and deed. It is not “love your neighbor as yourself” nor is it “something to do”. In the Gospel, we only hear the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ. We only hear that, in Jesus, God gives forgiveness, faith, life, and the power to please Him with His Good works.

The Lord gives and we receive. It has been so since the beginning. Did Adam and Eve earn all of Creation? No, yet the Lord still gave the entire universe to them. Did Abraham deserve to be called the father of many nations? No. It was a gift; free and complete.

Today, we remember that the Lord also gives to us the entire kingdom of heaven.

“For God so loved the world, that He GAVE His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

For it is today, that we hear of a Savior being presented as a gift to all of fallen Creation; presented as an offering, an atonement for sin.

This is because it is evident that Creation is fallen. A savior was born for some reason. Someone needed to be saved from something. Indeed, the reason for a Savior being born; the reason for Christmass is you; needing to be saved from your sin; your sin that prevents you from hearing, even desiring this Gospel of God.

For no one is justified before God by the Law, no one is righteous, no one seeks God, so one has eyes that see or ears that hear.

So, with the sounds of a trumpet; with the sound of heaven being torn asunder; with the clamor of mountains melting and valleys being raised up, Jesus comes. As far as this curse of sin is found, Jesus has redeemed us from it, becoming accursed Himself, for cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree (Gal.3:12)

There is no other Gospel. You do not make it up. I do not make it up. The pope does not make it up. Some deep, dark church conspiracy did not make it up. Jesus made it up. He who created all things, creates salvation for you, delivered only by His Holy Spirit.

And what He delivers centers on Christ crucified. What St. Mary delivers, on Christmass morning is a baby, but it is salvation for the world. What the Church delivers today, is you, born of water and the Word; baptized into Christ: body and blood; death and resurrection.

Jesus is the end of the Law for righteousness for everyone who believes the words of the pastor Christ has sent to you (Rom.10:3,14-15). For in hearing the Gospel of Christ, true Faith is given to you and you believe.

This free gift from God is offered no where else. God only gives the forgiveness of sins in the Gospel; the good news that we are freed from the guilt, the punishment, and the power of sin. That we are saved eternally because of Christ’s keeping the Law and His suffering and death, for us.

The Law shows us our sin and the Gospel shows us our Savior and the grace of God. That, for our salvation, He has offered up His only begotten Son to transfer us from the kingdom of darkness, to the kingdom of Light. The Gospel is what Christ has done for us and that’s it.

Thus, that is what is given to you, each Divine Service. The Divine steps down from heaven and serves you forgiveness. To press this point home, we have even placed the Gospel in the very name of this church. “Evangel” is the Greek word for Gospel and we sit in St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church.

We declare, that in this place, we will hear the Gospel. We will receive the Gospel. We will believe the Gospel and our life will come from the Gospel. This happens because Jesus is born Emmanuel, “God with us”. Not just in an almighty, He is everywhere, sense, but in a real and physical sense.

For Christ comes, Himself, body and blood, to distribute His own gifts of the Gospel upon you. The born of a virgin, crucified and risen Savior of the world shows up for Service, each and every time, to serve us with the fruits of His cross. The Law may kill, but the Gospel, risen from death, gives life.

Christ is born that you, a dead sinner, would have life. Christ is come, this day, to bring salvation to you. Jesus draws near to, once again, lay Himself in a cradle. This time, though, the cradle is your mouth and the swaddling clothes, your body.

“For unto us a child is born; unto us a Son is given.”
 Merry Christmass!

Welcome Christmass! [Lessons and Carols; St. Luke 2:1-7]

Jesus speaks tonight saying, “And there was no room at the Inn”.

Would Jesus be welcome in your church?

In a purely non-Scriptural (Ha!), hypothetical way, we are asking this question.

Of course, if anyone is seriously leveling this accusation at you or your church, they do not know the Scriptures nor the power therein. Jesus will not be stopping by anywhere in the same way He did in 1st century Jerusalem, again. For Christ has come ONCE in humility and He will come again ONCE in judgment. (Heb.9:26-28)

So, the truth is, if Jesus shows up at your church, it means the end of all things.

But let’s just say that Jesus did pick this time and place, in which we live, to make an appearance. Let’s say that, by some cosmic twist of space, time, and the whole history of salvation, that Jesus enters your church building one Sunday morn.

What will He run into? Greeters? Ushers? Bulletins? Big-Screens? Blaring music?

More important is: what will He do about whatever He finds? Regardless of “worship practice” or decorations or “warm welcoming”, Jesus will immediately go to the front of the church where He can speak. Yes, this is His practice in the New Testament, but it is also what He was prophesied to do.

As the Old Testament speaks of Jesus, He is sent to preach and His mouth is a sharp sword (Isa. 49:2). It will also be no small thing when Jesus opens His mouth to speak. He will stir up anger and judgment with His words. The mouth of God opens, and the sinner hears the Law.

So Jesus speaks His Law that He has given and all in attendance hear it, but who believes it? He was born in a feeding trough, for crying out loud. He has no stately form or majesty that we should pay attention. 

He has not the appearance that we should be attracted to Him. Yes, we would hear His Word, but His Word is like a fire; like a hammer that breaks the rock and that kind of speaking does not sit well with you at all.

You would hear Him and you would judge Him. He is not speaking kindly or lovingly and He is scaring the children. He is not allowing questions or debate, simply preaching. His mouth cuts through your fa├žade of holiness and you are cut to the quick. He is not saying things the right way and He is not speaking to people at their level. In talking about sin, He is embarrassing and turning people away.

This is not very Christ-like. Jesus would never do such a thing so that man can’t possibly be He. So we judge Him and the next words that come out of your mouth are: “Crucify Him.”

Repent! Many people love to think to themselves how, when Jesus comes, that we just have to make room at the Inn; that we just have to be a good person towards Him and we will get “in”. Or how, if we were alive at the same time He was, then we would have bashed some Pharisees and rescued Him, but that just proves your own guilt, as Jesus says. (Matt. 23:31)

“Crucify Him.”

It pleases God Himself to crush Jesus (Isa. 53:10), so we should not be so quick to despair in our sin. Of course Jesus would not be welcomed in our churches. He is the Son of God sent to be crucified. He was supposed to be stricken, smitten, and afflicted. It was divinely necessary, in fact, that the Christ be handed over, suffer, and die and on the third day rise again, for our peace. (Mt. 16:21)

Should it be any wonder then, that crucifying Jesus is the will of God? No. It shouldn’t be any surprise, either, that you would find yourself also shouting with the crowd to have Jesus crucified.

In fact, that is the true Church’s cry each and every day. Yes, we lament our sins and are repentant, because God had to go to such great lengths to redeem us. But, come Good Friday, we are cheering Jesus on!

Go, Jesus, go! Take on our guilt. Take on our sin. Endure those false accusations. Dear Christians, see how much God goes through. See how much He loves you as God’s own Child, Jesus, in mercy mild, joins you to Him in baptism.

Be of good cheer, this Christmass, and let no sorrow move you! Even if someone accuses you of Jesus returning, attending your Church, and not being welcome. Jesus is not going to show up in that way anymore. For Jesus died once for all, never to die again. Also, if your church is preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments correctly, Jesus is already there, not judging, but forgiving your sin.

Truly, if Jesus showed up today, Jesus would be crucified. If Jesus showed up in the future, He would be crucified. Truly, if Jesus were not crucified, He would not have died. If Jesus would not have died, He would not have been resurrected. If Jesus were not raised from the dead, then your faith is in vain. (1 Cor. 15:17)

 Praise be to God, this night, for unto you is born this Savior, which is Christ, the Lord.

Monday, December 22, 2014

O Dayspring [Avent 4; St. John 1:19-28]

The Old Testament, namely the witness of the Prophets, is to lighten our darkness. It is our light to lead us to the True Light; our "Dayspring on High".

The light given to St. John the Baptizer was that he was to be the Forerunner. I think, it was never told to him that he was to be Elijah to come. Or, at least, that he would be in the power and spirit of Elijah, so he denies it all.

He denies that he is Elijah. He denies that he is THE Prophet, promised in Deuteronomy. He denies that he has any significance whatsoever. Even his self worth is not to the level of untying the sandal of Jesus. Most importantly, he denies that he is the Christ.

He is not the One to come, freeing Israel from their sins. Instead, St. John is that last prophet to be in the shadow, but in this shadow of humility, St. John allows the Light of Christ to shine that much brighter.

So, the martyrdom of St. John the Baptizer was to sit in the darkness of prison and the shadow of death. The witness of St. John and all the Apostles was that they dwell in bodies of flesh; bodies that rot and decay, even upon those who are yet living; bodies that pass away.

And they all knew this. It was St. John the Baptizer that put it into words: “He must increase and I must decrease.” Even while you all yet live and sit here today, leave this place, and go about your regularly weekly programming, you must decrease.

You must put aside your hypocrisy, your stinginess, your anger, and your lies. You must let go of any and all control you believe you have in a situation or on people. You must make way for your neighbor in every respect, ensuring his holiday be the best yet.

Even the world understands this part of the Christmas “spirit”. Smile a little more, give a little more, be joyous a little more. Its just a coincidence that Christmas coincides with End of the Tax Year giving or that Retailers offer their best prices of the all selling season.

But you know what it takes for any of you to be nice for just one day, guaranteed? A vision of your own approaching death. Charles Dickens understood that. He knew how much guilt and regret affects a person. However, nowadays, since we have drugs to ward off death, or at least the thought of it, Christmas is simply another emotionally draining time with new regrets every year.

You must decrease. In reality, you are already as decreased as you can get. You have already been found by God, in your sin. You have already been reaping the fruits of your sin and that is death.

For “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph.2)

Therefore, the doctrine of the Apostles and the Prophets was for themselves to decrease so that Christ would increase. They hid behind the Word and Promises of God. They covered themselves in the Sacraments, allowing nothing but those things to escape their lips.

St. John the Baptizer hid behind his crazy outfit of camel hair and his denials, which we heard today. Jesus needs to be in the center, because it is only through His Light that the sin of darkness and the shadow of death are dispelled.

There will come a time, when the Son of righteousness will return and all will be laid bare, in that Light. Not just our good deeds, but our evil deeds; not just those that we know about, but even those we don’t know about; and not just those that are public, but mainly those that we keep secret.

Then what shall we do? How shall you meet the Lord in light of that?

Behold Jesus comes! Whether Judge or Savior, He comes. He comes to judge the nations on that great and terrible day. So what does Faith tell us to do? The Holy Ghost tells us to run!

Run to the Word of God. Flee to the Sacraments and promises of the Lord! For Jesus rises upon the cross, shedding His blood for all sin. The eternal Light of His Glory shines brightly there as His sacrifice atones for sin.

The gloomy clouds of night are not forever. The darkness of sin and death have been dispersed so we humble ourselves. We even hide our pastor behind vestments and pulpits in order that we hear of Christ. Not just the light of Him, born in a manger, but the light of Him on Easter morning.

Those who sit in the darkness of prison, whether county lock-up or private sins, they shall be set free. Those who sit in the shadow of death, whether in a cemetery or still living, they shall be made alive.

In the midst of the coincidental kindness of this holiday season, Jesus comes to give true hope, true love, and true charity. There is hope in Christ amidst the dysfunction of family and futile struggle against death. There is love in Christ amidst the many who are suffering in poverty and prosperity. There is charity in Christ in the face of great sin.

You are in the night of sin and it appears as if the sun is setting upon you as death’s dark shadows loom. Indeed, the entire world is shrouded. This is why Christ is the Light. Saying that Jesus is the Light of the World should not just be some half-handed identifier you use for Jesus.

Jesus is the Light of the World, because He was nailed to a cross. Jesus is the Light of the World, because He rose on Easter morning. Jesus is the Light of the World, because you were once dead in your sins, but now live in this true Life and Light.

Jesus, true God and true man, did not need to be born, for His own sake. He did not need to be baptized, He did not need to preach the Gospel, or commune in the Last Supper in order to prove this or that about Himself, as if He needed us to proclaim Him this season.

Jesus was born so you could be re-born. Jesus was baptized so you could share in baptism. Jesus preached the Gospel so that you would be saved by it. Jesus communed so you could commune with God, for the forgiveness of sins.

Christ, our Dayspring from on high, shines bright to dispel your darkness. Jesus, our Eternal Light, draws near to forgive, not to judge, for judgment and wrath have been handed out at the cross and Jesus has paid for it, died, and lived again.

It is this Light that we will find, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. It is this Light that is lifted high upon a cross. It is this Light that breaks on Easter morning and it is this Light that communes with you today. Jesus, the Dayspring on high, has baptized you, spoken to you, and eats and drinks with you all, until the end of the age.

When, at that time, the Light will enlighten the whole world, and no one will be able to deny that Jesus Christ is Lord, to their judgment.

Today, by Grace, we are able to see that Light and know that Jesus comes for us our entire lives; most especially in His Sacraments, not for His own sake, but for you.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Yes, it is [Advent 3; St. Matthew 11:2-10]

In another place Jesus says that the entire Old Testament is about Him and that we should find and hear of Him in every passage. Thus, Jesus speaks to us today of St. John the Baptizer, the last of the Old Prophets, being in prison and of Jesus preaching the Gospel to the poor.

Is that it? John the Baptizer; the man in the spirit of Elijah; the Forerunner of the Lord; able to pick out Jesus in a crowd and point the entire world to Him, is in prison and Jesus says,
“the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

In this reply to St. John, Jesus gives what the Messiah is to be about, when He comes. This list, in turn, comes from the Old Testament. St. Isaiah speaks of these things. However, Jesus leaves out something that St. Isaiah says, “…to bring out the prisoners from prison…” (42:7)

You can just hear St. John’s disciples, “Is that it?” All this time we have been waiting for this Coming One and He can’t even spring someone from the slammer? All this time waiting for the Lord’s Messiah and He sends us a man?

Adam and Eve, upon getting turned out of the Garden, heard the Lord say He would send a seed to crush the serpent’s head. Now they both were thinking that immediately, God would send this savior and get them back in the Garden that very afternoon. But, it didn’t happen that way. Is that it? Noah, knowing of the Seed, then had to witness the entire earth destroyed in a flood, but the Lord promised to save him and his family. Is that it?

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Judah, and David all had promises made to them in increasing complexity all detailing and, one by one, revealing who the Christ of God would be. In this slow, sure process, the Lord kept His Promises to His people and kept promising them of the time of forgiveness.

This is the reason we light the Advent candles at the reading of the Old Testament. As God reveals more and more of His plan for salvation to His people, He never leaves them nor forsakes them. The Light of the Old Testament is constantly revealing who Jesus is and what He is doing.

So that when we get to Christmass, we have a little better idea of things, but it is only when we reach Easter that the full and perfected picture is revealed to us, after we have witnessed the cross of Christ.

But St. John has not, and will not, reach Easter, before he is beheaded. Just as we have not nor will we reach the Last Day, or even Christmass, unscathed or possibly even dead. Repent. Sin and death also cloud our vision of Salvation and we wonder if Jesus even knows who we are, doubting in His work that He came to do on the cross and always asking, “Is that it?!”

So what does it mean that the Old Testament is enough for salvation? Take a look at St. Isaiah 40, which we heard today. In it, St. Isaiah promises that Jerusalem’s warfare is ended and her iniquity is pardoned. That from the Lord’s hand, not her own, will she receive double.

The key is the Glory of the Lord in verse 5 and the Word of God standing forever in verse 8. We know who the Word of God is and we know that His glory is revealed on the cross as He sheds His precious blood for sinners. In St. Isaiah’s words, already, the Christ is Promised to suffer and die in order to Comfort God’s people. That would be you.

Last Sunday, Jesus spoke to us through St. Malachi, saying,

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”

You can already guess that the sun of Righteousness is Jesus and the healing He wins for you is complete reconciliation with God. Again, Jesus is promised to us.

Finally, the First Sunday in Advent starts the season of preparation with St. Jeremiah. Through Him, Jesus says that He will raise up a Righteous Branch for David and in Him Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell securely.

Really, any Old Testament, as Jesus has said, proclaims the Gospel already planned, willing, and waiting for us all. And the Gospel is not, “accept Jesus as your personal Savior” or else you won’t be saved. The Gospel is that while we were yet dead in our sins, Christ died for us.

While St. John sits, rotting in prison; awaiting his execution; millions sit hungry, sick, persecuted, or oppressed. Jesus accomplishes His work of removing the power of sin, death, and the devil from the earth. Even though we may feel we are in the midst of those things, the Gospel is being preached, producing Faith. Though we sin, we are free. Though we die, we will live.

Our Savior lives. Our Righteous Branch, our Sun of Righteousness, and our Glory of the Lord has been lifted up upon a cross, brought low into the grave, and raised Himself three days later. True, we look back from the cross of Christ to see and hear all this correctly, but without the Old Testament, we would not have the full picture.

The next time you feel the need to question God asking, “Is this it”, meaning, “God, if you’re so powerful, shouldn’t you be able to get my job back, bring my loved one to health, or keep peace in the world”, the Lord will answer you , “Yes”.

Because He has accomplished all those things in Jesus. In Jesus the worker never has to work again, for God has given him the Priceless Treasure. In Jesus, the body never gets sick, for God has perfectly completed it. In Jesus, true and everlasting peace has been accomplished.

Jesus is God’s answer to all of life’s troubles, because, in Jesus, none of the troubles have any power or even exist. As long as we are in Christ and Christ is in us, the world has no pleasure I would share. For the Gospel has been and will continue to be preached to the poor. The poor of means, the poor in spirit, and the poor of fortune.

Therefore, the Gospel that the Old Testament preached to St. John the Baptist tells him, even though he is imprisoned, he is free; even though he faces his impending death, he will yet live and he has the very Words of Jesus to assure him.

We have Jesus’ testament in Body and Blood pointing us back to the cross, back to the Old Testament, and back to Jesus. For in this Supper, given by Jesus’ hand, we find the true medicine against sin and death in our lives. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also eternal life, light and salvation.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Son of man [Wednesday in Advent 2; Malachi 3:1-5, 4:5-6]

In the closing chapters of Malachi, really his entire book, evil is passing away and death is being burned off as slag. Sin is the target of this cleansing, as Jesus says He will be a swift witness against all those who do not fear Him.

True fear of God comes in regarding our sins as very horrible and serious. That we do not rank them or attempt to self-justify any commission or omission, on our part. That we learn to believe that no creature can make satisfaction for our sins.

However, primarily, true fear of God begins in the recognition of this sin within ourselves. That, by the very presence of God among us, brings this to a very painful light; a light exactly like a refiner’s fire that will burn the slag away.

Then, it is fear as we know it that sets in, because we find that our entire being appears to only be slag and if that fire touches us, we shall be unmade. We are as St. Isaiah proclaims,

“’Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.’”(Isa.6:5)

To those who do not recognize their sins, those who wish to retain their slag, to them this Day of the Coming of the Lord will be something they want no part of. Really, who wants to be scrubbed to death by soap? And who wants to die? The wages of sin is death and death must occur.

Repent. We are so concerned with our own selves that we fail to take in the Great Picture. We rely so heavily upon our emotions that we fail in hearing the Word of God and Psalm 80 reveals this for us.

Psalm 80, part of which we chanted this evening, is a Christological psalm. Meaning: its about Jesus. In it, the psalmist confesses his sins and makes no excuse for them. He confesses this fact to God and yet still begs for God to hear and save him.

He asks for a vine to be brought out of Egypt, as Jesus was sent to and returned from Egypt when He was young. He begs the Man who dwells between the cherubim upon the holy Ark to cause His face to shine upon us: the place where Jesus sat in the Temple, forgiving sins.

Verses 17 and 18 then get to it. 17, of which we chanted this evening, and 18, which we didn’t are:

“Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself. So will not we go back from thee: quicken us, and we will call upon thy name.

In there we hear two things. We hear of the Son of Man and we hear a plea for “quickening”. Of course the Son of Man is Jesus and just look at what the psalmist is asking for. All of this judgment, all of this burning, all of this wrath; he is asking for it to be upon Jesus instead. He is begging for atonement.

Turn us again O God. Show us Your great salvation in that Your Son, whom You have made strong for Yourself, be sacrificed. That He die in our place and rise again to give us new life. That He might come to us; not just in a manger, but upon the cross and in blazing Glory on the Last Day.

So that we may endure and stand on His day of Glory, quicken us. Though dead in our sins, bring us back to true Life in Your Son. Bring us to the depths of baptism, drowning our sin and death and raise us to new life in Jesus.

For only Jesus has endured and will endure. Jesus has been refined and purified of our sin and death in offering Himself in righteousness. Jesus, who perfectly feared God, was foretold by St. John the Baptizer, and comes to turn the hearts of sinners with His Gospel.

Jesus is the Vine without Whom we can do nothing. Jesus is the strong man that pillages sin, death, and the devil to bring us out alive again in Baptism. Jesus is our Salvation Who has brought us from the death and slag of our sins in to the silver and gold of His holy Body and Blood. He is the Son of Man, made strong enough to bear the cross.

 In Jesus, we know God is for us and not to be feared according to His wrath against sin, but feared, loved, and trusted according to His love shown by Jesus. In Jesus, we fear, love, and trust even above the possibility of our own death, for not even death, a refiner’s fire, or fuller’s soap will be able to separate us from Christ Jesus.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The miraculous Word [Advent II; St. Luke 21:25-36]

Once again, the weight of the never ending stream of violence and death of this world presses upon us as Jesus once again describes to us the coming of the End. This terrible day, which has no meaning for any of us, as none of us have ever experienced anything like it. 

And yet neither does anything else in the Bible, if you think about it. When have we seen the creation of all things? When have we experienced a world-wide flood? When have we been enslaved by another country and needed to be set free?

When have we been in the presence of God in a manger?

Jesus gives the simple knowledge that all things will end and the Church of Christ cries out for that ending. The baptized call for the Return of God and His visitation. If we were not told that; if we had no hope for an end of all evil, there would only be despair.

But, Jesus tells us. He says there will be distress and the very heavens will be shaken. We have already discussed, in detail, this horrid death throw of the devil and this sinful world and how we need to flee from it. But is sin really allowed to shake the heavens?

The power of sin; of perplexity, despair, fear, dissipation and foreboding is no more than the causing of doubt. It is a farce to think that the corruption of sin, death, and the devil can reach into heaven in order to shake all of creation out of balance.

Sin has no power to do this. Death can not touch the Lord of Life. While all of this is also a mystery to us, the real mystery is what truly does shake the heavens. Experience tells us none of these things, but it does reveal that there are quite a few mysteries we live with everyday.

The biggest mystery for us, that you probably never flinch at, is that you live in a functioning and orderly universe. Dr. Martin Luther once, commenting on miracles, said, “I looked out of my window and I saw the stars and the sky and the whole vault of heaven, with no pillars to support it; and yet the sky did not fall, and the vault remained fast.” (Luther: Letters of Spiritual counsel, 156)

You rest easy at night judging this simply as a “natural occurrence”. You also take for granted that the sun rises and sets, your engine internally combusts correctly, and even that food will be there when you are hungry. Indeed, “We are so accustomed to find grain growing out of the earth annually and we are so blinded by this, that we pay it no attention.” (Luther’s Works: Halle and Walch; 11, 1380)

Even the wisest of the wise, in the Book of Proverbs, expresses four things too excellent for him and which he doesn’t understand:

“the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a virgin.” (Prov.30:18-19)

So, when you come to Faith and belief, when facing the Last Day or even Christmass, you should not be surprised that there are mysteries and that they are ok. You don’t know how these come to be or what they are like, but they are real and are only appreciated by the pious. To the unbeliever, they are simply “natural causes and effects” and the “works of men”.

All of you truly witnessed such a mystery today. In the eyes and ears of the impious, six people gathered around a bowl of water, said some strange, made-up things, and then went on with little to no impact upon their lives. However, Faith saw the heavens rent asunder, Christ Himself washing, the devil cast off his seat, and the Holy Ghost coming to dwell with Elizabeth.

Repent. Sin blinds us and will lead us away from Christ. It is not the mystery, miracle, or explanation thereof that saves and converts, but the Word of God. I did no work of forgiving sins this day or any day. No one that was up here today performed any magic ritual of appealing to a deity for cleansing. Our rationalizing impacts the Lord not one bit.

Jesus works above our reason, higher than our thoughts, and is born of a virgin. Christ moves beyond all comprehension by dying on a cross, rising from death from a sealed grave on the third day, and ascending into heaven, sitting at the right hand of God with His flesh.

These are the miracles the Word gives to us and the Word is how all miracles are judged. The Promise of Christ, given by the Word, saved Elizabeth in baptism. Jesus says,
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

This is the Word Jesus gives. This is the Word which by hearing it, you are saved.

Flee from great signs and wonders that tempt you away from Christ, His Church, His Pulpit, Sacraments, and all the works demanded of Him. Even if St. Peter were to appear today and raise someone from the dead, you are to judge that as a work of the devil.

You are to hold on to Baptism. You are to hold on to the Sacraments. You are to hold on to the Word, for it is here that Christ is for you. It is here that Jesus is closer to you than anywhere else, for this is where His Gospel and His ministry are and, so also, where He is.

Jesus tells us He was born of a virgin. Jesus speaks to us of the Last Day and tells us before hand. Jesus promises salvation to those who are baptized.

We do not have to experience all the events of Holy Scripture first-hand. We do not have to have a special revelation for proof that God is with us such as a dream, or an out of body experience, or even a special gift.

We have already been given the gift once found in a manger, now matured and perfected dying on the cross for our sin. The powers of the heavens will be shaken, because Jesus, true God, has descended to earth as a man and has offered His life as a ransom for many. The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world is sacrificed.

Jesus fulfilled His work in order that, today, we could see and hear Elizabeth being assumed into the Body of Christ and so that you could lift up your heads and see your redemption; feel your redemption; hear your redemption and smell and taste your redemption.

Miracles do not prove this. Mysteries do not diminish this and reason does not prevent any of it. Jesus speaks it and it is so. The Promises of God declare it. The Gospel of Christ fulfills it and the Work of the Holy Spirit administers it all: Life, light, forgiveness, and salvation, for you.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Patience [First Wednesday in Advent; St. James 5:7-11]

God had, once long ago, made a promise to Abram and “since He had no one greater by whom to swear, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.” Heb.6

In the Epistle from St. James, read this night, Jesus is speaking to us. He is recalling to our minds, not just the patience of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc., but the patience of God. And Jesus is telling, maybe even demanding, that we also be patient.

However, patience is a virtue, no? Maybe you have heard that from your father or have used it yourself, from time to time. Patience indeed is a virtue and virtues must be worked at and cultivated. Patience is not manifested except by a life determined to increase in it.

You are not born with patience. The infant cries at the exact moment that it is in need. No matter how small the need is, the infant demands placating. The toddler is no better at patience. No amount of time-outs, scolding, or depravity lessens the impatience. Their want is now and so it must be met, now.

As adults, are we really any different? St. James tells us to be patient multiple times, but is it something we have or is it something immediately necessary. Indeed, Jesus’ demand for patience is impatient in and of itself. “Have patience now, or else.”

“Be patient”, Jesus says, even though family is drifting farther and father apart. “Be patient” even though the cancer is coming back. “Be patient” though your entire world is falling apart around you, the command remains the same: Be patient.

Repent. In our great debt to be repaid for our transgressions, we beg on hands and knees, in front of Almighty God for just a bit of patience from Him and we will repay. Yet, we turn around and not only do we persecute our neighbors or neglect them, but we bemoan God’s impatience in dealing with this world. (Matt. 18:26,29)

Truly, in Jesus’ parable of the Unmerciful Servant, we are read out to be the unmerciful ones. We find patience, especially towards God, completely lacking in our lives. We don’t care that Christ died 2000 years ago, we want to know what God is going to do now. What is He going to do about my unemployment? What is He going to do about my disease or my dying relatives?

Truly, it is an unmerciful and unloving God that demands patience in the midst of this evil world.

God demands and God fulfills. Yes, the Law demands our patience, but it is Jesus who shows us what patience truly is. Not only that, but by His sacrifice, patience is no longer just a virtue, but a gift.

In Christ descending to die on the cross, He showed the ultimate patience. Instead of punishing the sinner, our Lord of all took the punishment upon Himself. In order to fulfill the promise made to Abraham, Jesus swore by Himself. In order to show His unchangeable purpose, Jesus gave His life as the ransom.

Now, since it is impossible for Jesus to lie and impossible for Him to change, we have taken refuge in His wounds and grab hold of that Promise. The promise that Jesus has entered the most Holy Place by His holy, innocent, and precious blood; that Jesus crossed from life, to death, and back again in order to secure our place with Him.

The Promise of God is given now. It may not be the Final Day. It may not even be the day that Jesus is walking around on earth, but this is the day that was made for you. This day, the promises of Jesus are fulfilled in your ears and you have seen and know the purpose of the Lord.

That purpose is to send Jesus. That purpose is to save you from your sin, in order that you make it to the Last Day with hope, for in Christ, the Lord is merciful and compassionate. In Jesus, God is working out His salvation in you on this day and everyday of your life.

 So, when Jesus tells us to be patient; He is not saying you need to deal with whatever comes your way and accept it as apart of life. Jesus is saying, Be patient, for your hope is secure, your life is paid for, and your salvation is a Kept-Promise.

Monday, December 1, 2014

For you [Advent 1; St. Matthew 21:1-9]

It is not Christmas yet, but with our sin we push Jesus to His manger in order that He may die for our sakes. The season of brotherly love sees Zion’s King coming to judge the world on account of evil done to God and to its neighbor.

On this unique First Sunday of Advent, we also have the Feast day of St. Andrew. St. Andrew is the brother of St. Peter and what we celebrate St. Andrew for the most is his bringing of St. Peter, to Jesus.

It was St. Andrew, first a disciple of John the Baptizer, who heard the words, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” and proclaimed this to his brother. It was St. Andrew, the Apostle, who continued to proclaim this Gospel, though he was crucified upon a cross turned on its side. It is St. Andrew that now sits upon a throne of heaven, awaiting the Judgment Day.

Jesus speaks today, proclaiming, “Behold your King is coming to you!” St. John declared that the Kingdom of Heaven was near and that repentance was necessary. Jesus then echoed this same sermon, “Repent! For the Kingdom of the heavens is near.”

We have already described the Kingdom of God and it is a kingdom with one ruler, one will, and one agenda. There is no room for any other voice or opinion. There was a time when two opinions occupied heaven, but one was cast down like lightning and will be judged forever in a lake of fire.

So, as the Kingdom nears, we feel more keenly the contrition and guilt for our sin, which burns brighter and hotter the closer God gets. For, sin destroys Faith. Sin, whatever its form, whatever its act is antithetical to everything pertaining to the Kingdom. Sin is having another will other than God’s.

But what have we to repent over, especially coming off of a national holiday of thanksgiving and moving right ahead into the most magical of holidays: Christmas? What is so important about warning of wars, and abominations, and strife?

What is so important that St. Andrew gives his life for? Why must it be “repent” and not “rejoice”?

St. Andrew knew the answer. He had seen the darkness of this world and even of his own heart and knew there was no escape. Not all the blood of every beast sacrificed could pay for the evils in this world and St. Andrew experienced this first hand, for he was a son of Israel.

He lived life centered around the Temple and the Holy of Holies where forgiveness was promised, if the right sacrifice was offered. Thus, John the Baptizer’s words resounded in his ears. Hearing this prophet speak of the Lamb of God could only mean one thing: God will offer the one, true sacrifice Himself and it will be the true Passover Lamb, Who takes away the sin of the world.

Repent. Your sin places you in darkness and bondage. Your sin dissolves what little good you can do, yet you cling to it, because it is in your power and your nature to do so. Thus, the readings of the Church Year and its hymns. This, your darkness, can not remain. Your nature must be changed. There is no sin in heaven.

The appointed readings teach you and guide you to repent of your sin and receive absolution. For Confession has two parts, first that you confess and second that we receive absolution from the pastor as from God Himself.

Jesus comes to do all that the readings and the hymns, of all year, have promised. For now we hear what St. Andrew heard in the depths of his own sin. We hear that it is not the death of the sinner that God is seeking, but the death of His Son.

Now, this son of Israel looks to the promise of the Servant of the Lord. Now St. Andrew looks to the Righteous Branch who will be wise and reign as King. Now we also look to the Lord, because of the cross. For on the cross, justice and righteousness is executed and we are saved.

Though the Church’s appearance has changed, for Advent, the timbre remains the same. We still hear of the promised coming; we still sing of Jesus’ return and yet now the hymns are all hope. The Hymn of the Day today, was nothing but hope.

Hope, because St. Ambrose (the writer) was looking at the time before Jesus’ birth through the cross. St. Andrew was also looking backwards as he hung on his own cross in the Faith given to him in baptism. We now look back. We look to the cross. We look to God’s fulfilled promise there and hold God to His promise to return.

Thus, our hope in Advent; our hope of forgiveness; our hope for the end is a look to the cross. Advent stands as a preacher, with its four Sundays, preaching the cross of Christ so that, by the time we get to Christmas, we know the real reason for the season. Since the point is Jesus going to the cross, the reason is you.

“Behold” the Prophets say to you. “Repent” St. John and Jesus say to you. “Look back” the Apostles say to you, for the Lord of Hosts hangs on a cross for your sin and rises three days later to give you salvation and fortify your hope.

The King had come to St. Andrew, transferring him from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, where not even being crucified could take that away from him. The Righteous Branch still comes to us today, not to be served, but to serve and proclaim His sacrifice as a ransom for many.

The King comes to us today, having already judged Himself in our place. Jesus gathers all His people, not to judge them, but to rescue them, for the judgment is done. The die is cast. You have already been set in the book of Life by grace. The same grace given to you in baptism. The same grace given again and more in hearing the Gospel. The same grace given in Communion.

In this penitential season of Advent, learn to feel your sins more. Learn to hate them as vile and horrible, because they threaten to remove Christ from you. Learn these things well, but even more so, learn your hymns.

For in your Advent hymns, you hear about Jesus. You don’t hear about a 12-step this or a “do-more” that. You hear of a Savior. A Savior of the nations whose gift of Hope translated St. Andrew and all the Apostles from horrible deaths, to thrones in heaven.

A Savior who, even in the form of an infant, orders the entire universe for you. So that, this day that He has made, would find you in His Church, hearing His Absolution, receiving His Hope, and being served Forgiveness at His Table, of which He is Host and host.

All this, purchased and won on the cross, for you. The Church Year and its hymns are for you. Advent is for you. Christmas is for you.

“From the manger newborn light, shines is glory through the night.
Darkness there no more resides, in this light Faith now abides.”