Monday, December 28, 2015

St. John, Apostle & Evangelist [Christmas 1; St. John 21:19b-24]

As we continue to celebrate Christmas, we hear this day of the Feast of St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist. We know him as the fourth Evangelist, having written the fourth gospel. We also know him as the youngest of the disciples and even that he did not die like the other 11, but got to live to an old age.

And what we hear tonight, from this blessed Apostle, is the command to follow Jesus. Jesus says this three times in this gospel reading and the funny part is Sts. Peter and John were already following Him, but Jesus makes the point here that constant repentance and conversion is needed for the Christian.

So what does it look like for you today to “follow” Jesus? Well, we have talked about this before and have concluded that it is not enough just to ape Jesus, we must literally follow Him; see where He goes; see what He does and why He does it. One of the told the Church uses for such an endeavor is the Lectionary.

A lection is a reading of texts and in our case, it is a collection of texts which we cycle through each year. Along with this yearly Lectionary come traditions, ceremonies, and ways of celebrating each certain time.

Christmas and Easter, being easy to see. Advent and Lent, the next easiest with candles, extra services, and a darker tone to the readings. In this, the Church employs every sense of the Christian: sight, smell, touch, hear, and taste in order to follow Jesus through His life and see how He will accomplish salvation for us.

This Lectionary has been carefully created, reformed, and handed down through the centuries to finally get to you. The readings which you hear and the way they are presented has been found to be the best way to get the message across.

With this kind of importance attached to it, it is no wonder that it becomes are target of Satan, for at no other time of the year than at Christmas do you hear the words: saturnalia, sol invictus, Mithras, or Horus so often.

These arte just a few of the “old” pagan holy days that unbelievers accuse Christianity of taking over and converting to Christina holidays and Christmas is no exception. It is said that Dec. 25 is not really the date of Christ’s birth, but was the celebrations of these other gods proving two things: 1) if you’re a real Christian you shouldn’t celebrate and 2) because Christianity copies these, Christianity is false.

Even though this is used against the Church, the world knows about ceremony and celebration. It even knows about lectionaries, because it has its own, but it is not original. The lectionary of the world is a corruption of church’s and thus is a rhythm of natural things.

Satan gladly uses any and everything to distract you from the Son of God. If there is something better to celebrate on any given Sunday, it is there in your head and it keeps you away instead of here. Because, here is just the same old stuff that has nothing to do with my life.

You demand lectionaries. You demand that the surgeon have a manual and knows what he’s doing each time you visit. You demand that the doctor understand medicine and how best to treat you, every time. You demand that your clothes fit, that your food nourishes, and that your brain works to understand it all. And the Church lectionary is a burden?!

Come, let us reason together. If Jesus handed over the Church to you and told you to feed His flock, how would you go about it? Would you just do whatever anyone wanted to do each day? Would you allow any and everything that is popular, at the moment, to be let inside? What about after that gets old, then what?

The Church is unhelpful and unproductive without a lectionary. The Church becomes a prostitute of the culture when she has no culture of her own. The Church becomes a liar, a salesman, and a swindler when the Truth is not in her.

Jesus tells us to follow Him and yet all He gives us is Sts. Peter and John. No one is waiting for us in Bethlehem. No one is waiting in dark Gethsemane or light Gethsemane. There is no cross on Golgotha and I’m sure the empty tomb has long since crumbled away.

Christmass-time gives us the answer. Since time began God has continued to work the same way towards salvation. He handed over all things to Adam and gave him instructions. He left all 8 remaining people on the earth in the hands of Noah. Jesus gave responsibility of the entire population of the Church to one old man, Abraham, through his one and only son, Isaac.

The Lord continues to work through men throughout history. Jesus does not simply interact with these men spiritually. The way they knew and the way everyone else knew that the Lord was there was by His Word, for either it came true then and was written down, or it came true later.

The written Word now comes directly from the mouth of God Himself, In Christ. God loves the lectionary because He wrote it. It is not about teaching you how to be a good person or invoking feelings of nostalgia, it is about Jesus and His work done for you.

This is what happens in the Church: it has the entirety of holy Scripture, as you do today in the Bible. It has plenty of time,, because whether Christ comes back today or many todays from now, it doesn’t matter for she has been made ready already. So, she takes her time, goes through each major event leading up to the Resurrection and what comes out is the lectionary.

It is a natural progression from having the Word of God to following Jesus and the Lectionary allows you fulfill this command. For in the Lectionary we do just that. We follow Jesus, not to the exclusion of every other part of the Bible, but to its fullest expression.

It is only in Jesus that we conclude that human and earthly things are holy, for Jesus came as a man, forever sanctifying humanity and earthly things. God did not create all things just to leave them behind and neither did He give all things to us only to have them turn into lies.

Jesus sets us in the fortress of His true Body, giving us a right spirit, in order to hear His Word and believe it, even if we were only to celebrate Christmass every Sunday of the year, we would still hear the entire counsel of God.

But the Lord, and we, are more creative than that. Plus, we love to hear as much of what Christ is doing as possible. God loves pure doctrine and the only way to that is through the Word. Simply by believing in and loving the Word, the Church already keeps out so many lies and false teachings that it would be impossible to list them all.

In being made man, Jesus gives us more than simply a wonderful and heart-touching story about Himself. He gives us Christmass and He gives us St. John, both of which, take all of God’s Word, from Genesis to Revelation, and feed it to us, repeatedly. For St. John has taken us on the wings of an eagle, in his gospel, shown us the beginning and the end; the alpha and the omega.

St. John, a man redeemed by Christ, has written words, in Christ, that we may believe, in Christ; that we may be baptized into Christ and that we may eat and drink of Christ, for the forgiveness of our sins.

Through men, even becoming a man Himself, God has spoken to us of His Son Who was conceived, born on Christmass which we await through Advent, reveals Himself as the God-man in Epiphany, suffers for us in Lent, dies on Good Friday, rises again on Easter and ascends into heaven. He gives us His Holy Spirit on Pentecost and governs and keeps the true Faith in His one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church on earth, during Trinity, to which He will come again as our judge.

Jesus is coming. Jesus comes. Jesus reveals. Jesus suffers. Jesus dies. Jesus lives again. Jesus ascends. Jesus gives. Jesus works today and will come again. This is the cycle holy Scripture presents to you and this is the cycle that the Lectionary keeps you in, year after year, in order that you hear what is written and believe that Jesus is the Christ.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Key

The first Sunday in Advent, the King of kings humiliated Himself by riding on a donkey towards His coronation. The Second Sunday, He brought comfort by shaking the heavens and causing the seas to roil. Last Sunday, He took control by letting others control His destiny.

This Sunday, Jesus appears to cause more trouble and confusion by sending John out first, making it look like he is the one to come.  In fact, the message Jesus comes to bring so infuriates believers and non-believers alike, that all you hear can be summed up by author George Orwell when he said:
“War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength.”

In Mr. Orwell’s usage, this is a derogatory statement, meant to reveal the evils of government gone mad. Whether or not you are familiar with his book 1984, this truth still holds today. Lies sell newspapers, gain ratings, and win elections.

War is peace. The excuse goes that if we don’t fight evil overseas, soon we will find it on our own doorstep. So, the lie is that we must continue to fight fruitless, murderous wars in order to keep the world safe. That, somehow, if we send enough bombs and drones and boots on the ground, we can force the world to accept democracy and peace, or else.

Freedom is slavery. This lie says that if we don’t give up some of our liberty, we will forever be in danger and never live in peace and safety. Thus, we must allow others to control most aspects of our lives like what we say, what food we buy, and how much money and private property we can have and keep. Somehow, if everyone has an equal share, then true peace will exist and no one will steal or murder or do evil anymore.

Ignorance is strength. You can hear the talking heads drooling over their turn to denounce Christianity once again, as the true evil in the world. That the Church hides so many secrets and controls so many puppet strings, that no one who is involved knows how to think for themselves. Yet, the intellectual elites are doing the same thing to their own audiences.

Whether in the church or in society, someone always wants you dumb because that is strength; not for you, but for them. The less you know, the more likely you are to believe the next filth that drips from your betters’ mouth.

The great offense of Christmas is that it promotes these same ideas. Jesus advocates for exactly this kind of belief. The reason so many people hate Christmass and Christianity is that Jesus advocates for warfare, their slavery, and their ignorance.

To the sinner, Jesus seems to create war. He comes, as we have said, stirring up dissension. In fact that is one of the accusations the priests accuse Him of on Maundy Thursday. Jesus says things like, “Tear down this temple” and “hate your life” and “leave your father and mother behind” among other anarchist propaganda.

Jesus demands allegiance and intends to wipe out any and all opposition. But not just allegiance, worship; as in He is the master and you are the slave. You get no say, you get no vote, and you must follow His way. Jesus does not reveal everything to you, but simply says to trust Him, even though you are in ignorance.

Repent. In some ways, it is easier to swing your sword at a monster of flesh and blood than at a monster of the imagination, or propaganda. The monster of flesh and blood provides real resistance to nerve your arms. The monster of the imagination doesn’t. It is now here, now there, now this, now that, flickering in and out of existence, like the incoherent course of a dream.

Hearing God’s Word is hard enough. Seeing it made flesh is an impossible.

Yet it is a glorious impossible. The glorious impossible of an unknowable God making Himself known as a man. The glorious impossible of myth and legends coming to life in a manger, making it all true. The glorious impossible of your salvation through war, slavery, and ignorance.

War because the Son of God does battle with sin, death, and the devil. Slavery because Jesus takes on God’s will and your sin, and yet serves you eternal life, faithfully, without complaint. Ignorance, for now your sin and your guilt are no longer remembered. God has blotted them out from memory, turning a blind eye and a blind mind to all transgressions.

In Jesus, the bound donkey is released in order to serve the true Master. In Christ, you are set free from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil. Your mistaken definitions of these things are revealed as false and Jesus places true definitions in your mouth.

The human definition of war is a false corrupt thing, misapplied. It is God who fights and God who wins. Slavery is also falsely seen by you and only exists negatively because of sin. It is not horrid to bow to the will of God, in fact it is to your eternal benefit that God’s will, which is to send His Son to die for you, be done and not your own.

Then is the idea of knowledge. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is evil. What would sinful you do if God told you how the stars worked or what blue tastes like or why water is wet? In our corruption, we would corrupt such things. In God’s forbearance, He would use them as a means to an end; He would use them to accomplish your salvation.

The ideas of evil, corruption, and oppression are human ideas. They come from our flesh striving to be gods and from our minds attempting to overtake the throne.

Christ is the key to undo all of this. Christ is the key to understanding what true peace, freedom, and strength are like. Christ is the key that unlocks holy Scriptures to us in order that we find all of these things in Him alone.

For in order to be true God, He must become man, suffer and die. In order to be true man, He must be assumed into the Godhead. In order to be the Christ, Jesus must become sin in order that you will come to know no sin.

In the great reversal, the guilty are set free and the innocent is lead away to be crucified, for you. In the great and wrathful day of the Lord, Jesus dies on a cross as He alone participates in that day. On the day of the Lord’s visitation, Jesus ransoms captive Israel.

On this day, that the Lord has made, Jesus shows us the path of knowledge, gives us His Gospel, frees from Satan’s tyranny, closes the path to misery, disperses the gloomy clouds of night, and bids our sad divisions cease. Not by the sword or coercion or confusion, but by His Sacraments.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Angel-ed [Advent 3; St. Matthew 11:2-10]

Whenever you hear a word in holy Scripture like tell or message or report, it is almost always the word that literally reads: “angel”. What angel really means is message or messenger; one who has a message to tell.

The Gospel is such a message. We could even call it the message of the angels, for their only message is of Jesus. This message is what St. John was given to preach. As he was preparing the way of the Lord, he reported the Gospel message.

There are only two human reactions to the Gospel, when it is preached to you. The first is idleness and the second is violent opposition. If we remember what happens to St. John the Baptist after this, we would know that Herod liked to listen to John, but did nothing about what he said. Herodias, on the other hand, listened to John, but had John’s head served to her on a plate, for it.

That’s it. Your human condition is so utterly corrupted, that you only have those two choices, for you cannot by your own reason or strength believe or come to belief. So what is it that you do, exactly? What is your reaction to the Gospel?

Upon hearing this, you should break out in song at all times of the day, as we have been talking about on Wednesday evenings. You should be publicly confessing what you believe to everyone everyday. You should be investing all of your earthly treasure in it, looking forward to a heavenly treasure. You should have zero time to do anything else except to listen to and hear this message.

John the Baptist has the message of the angels and he speaks it to your as an angel. Rotting in prison, his sin gets the best of him. He sees Jesus not baptizing in fire, not bringing wrath, and not saving him. So, he appears to lose it.

In fact, St. Luke says that the disciples John sends come back as angels to John, meaning they come back to retell the Gospel to John in prison. They return because the Gospel needs to be preached. Comfort needs to be spoken to you.

There is nothing else in the world to hear. When the breath of the Lord blows, the grass withers and you are the grass. Your iniquity needs pardoning. Your stewardship needs to be accounted for. That which you hide in the dark recesses of your heart must be brought to light. Those who are in prison, must be freed.

You are in prison. You are a slave to your bellies and yourself. You return to the same sins that you thought had been done away with. You look for salvation in distraction yourself or in others. Finding none, you continue to look for it in those same places; again and again.

You want God in control and yet He is not controlling your life. You want your problems solved and yet they continue, endlessly. You want to love Jesus, but you find that to be one more struggle, day to day. You want out of your prison, but it would take too much of your effort and time to breakout.

Darkness is upon us all, whether we admit it or not. We would rather do nothing when we hear God’s Word, because rejecting it outright, in front of everyone, would be embarrassing.

It beats the alternative. That would be belief that all this is real; that you actually have to do something about this Jesus person. That you can’t sit idle and that rebelling against God is wrong and the fact that you must struggle with this everyday means you are not doing it.

So what do you do? Is God really just making the blind see, the lame walk, cleansing lepers, making the deaf hear, raising one or two of the dead, and speaking nicely with the poor people 200 years ago? Is this just another metaphor?

If you continue in sin, preferring your own judgments and emotions, then yes, this is all a metaphor and nothing to do with you whatsoever. However, Jesus is in control and He is doing something. That something is actually losing control and doing nothing.

Yes, Jesus loses control! This Christmas you will hear of God who is a baby; vulnerable, subject to parents, and dependent. This Lent, you will hear of the God-man who allows His enemies (you and me) to arrest Him, scourge Him, and kill Him. Jesus hands over control to you, does nothing about it, and suffers and dies.

God is in control precisely because He did not take control. God is active, because He rested in order to be handed over. Jesus preaches and shows us this on the cross, but you and John the Baptist don’t like it.

You don’t like that there is suffering, yet Jesus suffered. You don’t like that there is injustice, yet Jesus was falsely convicted. You don’t like that there is capitol punishment, yet Jesus was condemned to it. The opposite of what you and St. John want, Jesus is doing, for you all.

This is the Gospel that is continuously preached to you. Jesus releases those from the prison of their sin, death, and the power of the devil, by becoming the prisoner. Jesus heals perfectly with His true Body and Blood, by giving His Body and Blood over. Jesus forgives by allowing Himself to be the Unforgiven One upon the cross.

Jesus, the creator of the angels, brings this message of Himself to you. Because you are idle in your sin, Jesus gives His spirit which is never idle, especially when hearing the Word. Because you violently react against God in sin, Jesus takes on that violence upon Himself, almost as if He is letting you vent it all out on Him.

Giving you Faith, and by that faith alone, there is now a third Way to react to the Gospel: Rejoicing. You now rejoice in the midst of your suffering and death, because Jesus has taken their guilt and power away from you. Though they do their worst, which is kill, not even death can hold you because it could not hold Jesus.

Being baptized into Jesus, you are now where His Body is and wherever it goes. Yes, it ascends in to heaven to sit at the right hand of God, but it comes to dwell among you in the flesh. The Body of Christ gathers around the Good News of salvation, preached at this Altar and given in these sacraments.

God is not in control because your life is in control. God is in control because you find forgiveness of sins on earth. God is not acting because you feel happy. God is acting because you hear of Jesus crucified for you.

God is not working because peace in the world is growing (its not). God is working because Peace with God has been made and is being handed out for free, only in Jesus. Through faith you remain in this world to receive forgiveness. By grace you are justified in the middle of committing your sins. For Christ’s sake you are made a holy saint though you remain a sinner.

You doubt because God’s ways are not your ways and a cross looks like a horrible instrument of peace and comfort. However, the God your soul longs for, to save and commune with you, acts only in this way to remove idleness, violence, and all sin from you that you might live and hear His Word of forgiveness.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Muted song [Advent 2 Wednesday Vespers; St. Luke 1:76-79]

How many of you remember the story of the birth of John the Baptist? How St. Zacharias was struck dumb for unbelief and unable to speak even when it came time to name his very own son?

St. Elizabeth, however, was not dumb. She was still speaking and even though her husband failed to believe, she knew her son’s name and proclaimed it. But it wasn’t just John’s name she proclaimed, but the promise made to her that was fulfilled in his naming.

This promise made to Zacharias causes his mouth to open in song, that is, the Benedictus. The Church sings his song during morning prayer services.

Last week we introduced what singing in the Church should be. That it should be doctrinally sound, meaning full of Christ and His Gospel, not our actions towards God. This is for 2 reasons: 1) these are the songs of heaven and 2) in heaven, there are only songs of and about Jesus.

This does not mean you are excluded. This does not mean that you can’t enjoy and heart warming rendition of one of your favorite Christmas carols. It does mean that you should want to be very careful and specific when singing in Church, because you never know when you will be made mute.

And yet, you are mute right now. When it really comes down to it; when you are put on the spot to defend your neighbor and speak well of him, you are mute. You may talk a good game, but your heart is far from your neighbor.

Jesus tells us that it was music and song that drove away the evil spirits from the kings of Israel (1 Sam. 16:23). What does it mean when we stop singing? What does it mean that we sing any old thing in front of our crucified and risen Lord, in the flesh?

It means that in your sin, you do not have the right to sing. In sin, your only preference is for yourself and so what you bring before the Lord is only filth and rubbish. Every prayer, every song, and every confession you make should fill you with trepidation.

As is the case with Zacharias. He sided with the world and believed when it sang to him that he and Elizabeth were too old to have children. He sang the world’s song of old age and death to an angel trying to tell him differently.

You are made mute, because you do not know that the Scriptures speak only of Christ and the power within is the power of the Gospel for salvation. Worldly songs of lust, disease, and death have no part of the kingdom of heaven.

The real music your soul longs for and the true song your body aches for is the song of Christ. The Church’s song proclaims the Church’s Lord, given and shed for you. St. Isaiah says that the Lord is his strength and his song ((12:2). Dr. Luther writes that he has no one to sing and chant about but Christ, in Whom I have everything (AE 16:129).

The true music that opens St. Zacharias’ tongue is the life Jesus gave to his son and Zacharias’ response is naming that life. I’m certain that St. Zacharias, his tongue having been released from its bondage, sang a strange song all day, the only lyrics being: His name is John.

Our hymn of the Day teaches us the same thing. We cry for the Lord to open our lips into the correct song and “O Savior rend the heavens wide” is what comes out.

A savior from the heavens comes down to unlock heaven through death. True life from heaven, and yet from the virgin’s womb. True God and true man, which is why the hymn speaks of these earthly hills and dales being watered by heaven. The darkness of sin and death only last until the Fount of Hope and the Morning Star breaks upon it.

You can not sing heavenly songs if you are not heavenly people. You can not sing of Christ if you do not first have faith in Christ. From the exile of muteness, we are led to the open mouth of the baptismal font. In Christ we sing forever and forevermore.

Jesus is our only hope. If His song is not enough; If His Word is not enough; If His sacraments are not enough, then we are doomed and will be left as orphans.

However, with song we give voice to hope. With our own great hymnody, we loudly proclaim the Gospel of salvation which alone satisfies man’s deepest need: communion with the incarnate God.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Anti-glory [Advent 2; St. Luke 21:25-36]

Jesus speaks to you today, in His Gospel, saying,
“So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

The Alleluia Verse also spoke to us the words of Jesus saying that all the powers of heaven shall be shaken and the Son of Man will come with power and great glory. Even the Introit and the Collect; all of our Propers this day point us to the time when the Lord will come to shepherd us and cause His face to shine upon us and save us.

We have plenty of proof that the world is going to hell, for earth and even heaven will pass away, saith the Lord. But is this what Jesus was talking about that we need to be watchful for? Do we really just need to hang on to every news story from Fox or the 700 Club in order to be ready for the Coming of the Son of man?

According to most news outlets, God isn’t fixing what is wrong. We pray, but that doesn’t seem to change anything. We can act, but there’s always something else. One after the other. As soon as we try to turn our lives around or try to love our neighbors as ourselves, there is always too much to do. Maybe God is tired like us.

How many of you know what a manger is? You know, that thing we lay Jesus in every Advent. We have farmers in this congregation, so maybe it is somewhat familiar, maybe not. In any case, it is a feeding trough.

In Bible times mangers were made from clay mixed with straw or from stones held together with mud and we have heard of mud and straw before when the Hebrews were slaves under Pharaoh. Jesus is born and is laid in the symbol of the slavery of His people.

Our word, manger, comes from the Latin meaning to chew. This is not a clean item. The spot where animals feed is popular and heavily trodden. You can imagine the mud, the slobber, and the waste. All to welcome the King of Kings on the night of His birth.

You see, great power and glory do not look like a manger to you. To you, great power and glory is a Superbowl win, or a big check in the bank, or maybe even a complete stop to all evil in the world, especially mass shootings. Perhaps you are more humble in what you think power and glory are so they could be providing for others, financial freedom, or good health. If you think small enough, then maybe you can see God working.

Repent! So what is the opposite of great power and glory? Failure? Poverty? Homelessness? A dysfunctional family or disease? Whatever your idea of it is, by pointing it out in others, you simply judge yourself. Do not think that simply because you know good and bad, that it gives you the longer end of the stick.

However, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” (Bonhoeffer)

Jesus tells us that the world is passing away. You should not be comfortable here. You should not want to keep a summer house here. Most of all, you should not expect a world that crucified its Creator to be at peace.

God’s thoughts and way are not yours, but at least you know them. Yes, you know what God is thinking and what He is doing about all this evil: He is bringing it to an end.

In Jesus, you find the thoughts and actions of God. God is not idle, but He doesn’t do things the way you want Him to. As God allows Himself to be placed in a manger, that symbol of slavery and oppression, He is bringing things to an end.

By being born of a virgin; by become just like you in every way, except without sin and by riding donkeys to crucifixions, Jesus makes a way. The Glory of the Son of God is the fact that He becomes a servant. The Glory of the Son of God is the fact that He is humiliated. The Glory of the Son of God is the fact that He dies.

Jesus teaches us and the whole world what it really means to be fighting and winning against evil and that is dying in order to forgive all sin of all people of all time. The glory of the world is a hero in shining armor, making laws to ban all evil wherever it may be found.

Jesus is the true hero and He is to be found in the shining white clothes of the resurrection, which begins in the filthy rags of birth in a manger. For our true enemies are not found in far away countries, domestic congressional houses, nor in prisons or mass shootings.

The real enemy is found within our hearts. It is there that we find, in the deep recesses, the same potential to unleash evil as anyone else on the planet. It is in that heart that we find the same filth that surrounds the manger and swaddling clothes of Jesus.

But it is to that exact place that Christ arrives. In the manger of your enslaved and festering heart, wrapped in the swaddling filth of your death, and sleeping in peace amid much evil, Jesus comes. He comes to make and end of your suffering and death in the bondage of sin. He comes to bring peace.

God does not desire sacrifice. God does not desire submission. God does not desire anything you can give. The broken and contrite heart, Jesus comes to replace. The poor in spirit are to be served abundance. Those hungering and thirsting for glory will find a meal prepared for them in a manger. The Glory of God hangs on a cross.

There would be no point to removing all evil in the world if it still existed in the hearts of men, for it would just rear its ugly head once more. No law or act of kindness can prevent evil, because the very people who make those laws and act kind are the ones with evil in their hearts.

So even though we remain on an evil earth with evil hearts in the midst of a people evil hearts, Jesus comes to serve His clean heart and His right spirit, even to all evil people. Jesus comes for the unrighteous. Jesus comes for sinners. Jesus comes to replace the evil with Himself, Body and Blood.

For this reason, we do not trust in princes or gun control or any laws. We trust in the Gospel which is the power of God for conversion, for salvation, and for hope. We trust in the only tried and true weapon against evil that doesn’t look like a weapon at all.

That is the Good News that Jesus, born in a manger, offers Himself as the food and drink of forgiveness, in order to fix that which is irreparable. Jesus speaks His Word to create a heart of flesh where only stone exists. Jesus baptizes the filthy rags in order that only the robes of the resurrection remain with you.

So when you see God coming in great power and glory, then lift up your heads, for salvation is nearer to you now, than when you first believed and though we walk through the darkness of Advent, the never ending light of Easter dawn is already breaking in the Star of Bethlehem, shining on an infant, Who was once laid in a manger.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Sing a song [Advent 1 Wednesday Vespers; St. Luke 2:29-32]

As we heard of donkeys being sung to, this past Sunday, tonight we see that singing is no small thing that happens only once in awhile. For, we just heard of singing in three different places in holy Scripture: the Psalms, which were always sung, Simeon, who sang to us our Nunc Dimittis, and St. Paul who tells us that the Church sings.

The founding father of all of the Lutheran churches in Indiana, Friedrich Wyneken, says this about singing, when he first arrived in America: “ America is a strange place.  Outside of church I still haven’t heard anyone sing.  I still can’t believe that Americans can travel and work in such a beautiful forest and not sing.” (His first letter to Haesbeart on October 1, 1838)

Even Dr. Luther says that “next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through music.”

Though we do not need these wonderful men of God to tell us something that Jesus has already told us, that if we were to be silent, even the very rocks would cry out! (Lk. 19:40) So, if you don’t want to sing, Jesus will have someone or something else sing.

As Lutherans, we believe St. Paul when he wrote to the Romans, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  And so, throughout our liturgy on Sunday mornings, we hear and respond with a faithful confession.  We listen to the sermon, that is, the preached and proclaimed word of God into the ears of the hearers.  The sermon is faith being preached. To that end, faith is edified and grows.  Hymns, simply put, are sermons set to music.

Thus, as we sing the beautiful language of the hymns of our forefathers, we combine our voices with theirs, throughout all of history. Not only those faithful people, but also with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

What did heaven do at Christ’s birth? Sang. What did heaven do at the Resurrection? Sang. All the times in between and since has been filled with singing. And ours are to be no different.

The prophets of the Old Testament did not make use of any art except music; when setting forth their theology they did it not with geometry, cook books, games, or astronomy, but as music (AE 49:428) so that you would hear what is profitable and more deeply impress true doctrine upon your souls.

What we sang this evening is no different. From the 4th century A.D., St. Ambrose’s words still preach Christ crucified for us. They are still as fresh and relevant today as they were 1700 years ago.

In 8 stanzas he practically confesses the entirety of what faith believes in. Faith can not help but sing out these wonderful truths about Jesus. If it can’t sing, it will at least speak the words.

So we hear the venerable bishop of Milan and believe that the Lord chose to be born of a virgin, the Christmass miracle. That it was by the Spirit, in order that Jesus be free from sin and yet still be a true man.

We believe that it is a mystery how the virgin remained a virgin, yet in her womb Jesus sat upon His throne, thus sanctifying being pregnant and all stages of fetal development. It is Mary’s womb, that pure and kingly hall, from which Jesus steps forth headlong towards the cross.

Being God He healed many, even riding a donkey to His death. But hell and death could not hold Him. Jesus rose and is able to take back the throne and crown of Life. Only the Father’s Son could do this, not spiritually or figuratively, but in the flesh. And it is in the flesh that He is able to heal us all perfectly either in life or in death.

This heroic course begins in a womb and a manger, a feeding trough for unclean animals. Full of slobber and mess, the Light of the World shines forth. Darkness is dispelled in this way and no other. Faith is given by this man in this way and none other.

The Word of Christ, not the word of man, richly dwells within the Church in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16). And where the Word of Christ is, there Christ Himself is, doling out His blood-bought gifts.

So, it is vital not just that a congregation sing hymns which are technically error-free; the hymns must proclaim Christ and His benefits; in a word, the Gospel.

Thus, you sing; 7 stanzas, 8 stanzas, or 15 stanzas. Rhythmic or isorhythmic. Plainsong or sing-song. Easy or difficult you sing with gusto and joy, knowing that all is for the proclamation of the Gospel for you, not your proclamation to God.