Thursday, December 24, 2009
December 26 – 27, 2009
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Mary had kept all these things, namely, the birth out-of-doors, the appearance of shepherds who claimed to have been sent by angels, and her own knowledge that her Son was conceived without knowing a man, she kept all those things and pondered them in her heart. Her lot as the Mother of God had already been hard. She had borne the shame, at least for a little while, of her beloved Joseph’s suspicion. She borne the shame of the wagging tongues in Nazareth and if they ever called her “the Virgin Mary” it was certainly in mocking tones.
She also knew the hardship of traveling while pregnant, of poverty in general, and of there being no room in the inn. Already, immediately upon His birth, the world wanted a peek at, and a piece of, her Son. Those uncouth shepherds came barging in and told everyone. There was not much peace or rest for Mary. Forty days and she and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem and there Simeon prophesies while they marvel. But there is a warning. A sword will pierce Mary’s pondering heart. Soon mad Herod will come looking for blood and as far as Bethlehem is from Nazareth, from mother and sisters, Egypt will be even further. Jesus will escape that attempt on His life, but He will eventually submit to death. Mary is destined to outlive both her husband and Her Son, a burden in itself as great and burdensome as any mortal has ever known.
The shepherds are excited. Joseph is marveling. Simeon is singing and departing. Mary is pondering. It is not that she is less than joyful. It is simply that her joy is tempered by the reality of the curse. Things are not as they should be. She should not have been out of doors in the winter with a newborn. She should have a better place to lay Him than a manger. She should not be shamed by men for the honor that God has bestowed on her. But most of all, Her Son should not have to die. Of all those ever born, this One is innocent, this One has not sinned. He should not die. But He does. He dies. That is His sole purpose and objective. That is why He was born. For if He doesn’t die, than Mary and the Shepherds, Joseph, Simeon, Elizabeth and Zacharias, and all of us, would. If He didn’t die then we would die.
Mary knows joy and peace in Christ. She knows union with God. But she also knows sadness for this life is not as it should be. We have not yet arrived. Our sorrow is not yet ended. Life, even for Christians, on this side of death is not yet full. It is still incomplete, still sorrowful. Far from Nazareth Mary knows that Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Egypt are not her home. Does she know that Nazareth is not either? That she will not really rest or be at peace until she is home with her Son in the place prepared for her? Is that what she ponders?
This is how it is for you. You are forgiven in Christ and there is no one to accuse you. The devil has nothing to say. You are holy, righteous, and innocent in Jesus Christ. You rose to life out of the watery grave of God’s Name in Holy Baptism. No one can stand against you. But you still hurt. Your heart is pierced as well - broken with children who do not honor you, who have grown in ways you do not approve; with supervisors who abuse you; with neighbors who forget you; with a church that goes the ways of men and follows dollars and prestige instead of the Word; with a government full of self-serving bureaucrats; with cities full of violence; with rivers full of garbage and the skies full of smoke; with cancer, war, and poverty. Your Christmas didn’t measure up to Hallmark’s standards. The warm fuzziness melted quickly like credits rolling on the big screen. The mundane, workaday world returned too soon, while you washed the dishes all alone or picked up the living room or ran out of toys and distractions before dinner. Christmas just doesn’t satisfy like it seems it should. Something is always a little wrong, someone missing, someone mad, someone alone. Is it any wonder that it is reported that more people commit suicide at this time of year than any other?
And yet, no matter how unsatisfied, how frustrated or tired you might be, no matter how deeply your own heart is pierced: Jesus was born of Mary. He laid down His life under Pilate. He struck the guards dumb on Sunday when He rose. Life on this side of glory is not as it should be. Husbands should always love their wives. Parents should always remember their children. Pastors should always preach the Truth and serve others. But they don’t. Not even mostly or most of the time. And yet, no matter how much life has failed you, friends betrayed you, your own flesh abased and shamed you: Jesus was born of Mary. He laid down His life under Pilate. He struck the guards dumb on Sunday when He rose!
And that is enough. It is enough to bestow joy and hope to your pondering heart. This sad life is not all there is. This fallen world will not last. Jesus was born and died and rose and will bring you home. This love will not yet remove all your pain, stop all the violence and debauchery, bring your children back. But it will. It will make all things right and wipe away every tear on the Last Day. In the meantime, it will give you the strength to carry on. It will comfort and console. For Jesus Himself, born of Mary, alive out of death, loves you. He gives His Body and His Blood to strengthen and nourish you in the true faith unto life everlasting. And that is most certainly true. Ponder that for a while.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
December 27 St John Isaiah 51:17-52:12; Matthew 2:1-12
December 28 Holy Innocents Isaiah 52:13-54:10; Matthew 2:13-23
December 29 Isaiah 55:1-13; Luke 1:1-25
December 30 Isaiah 58:1-59:3, 14-21; Luke 1:26-38
December 31 Isaiah 60:1-22; Luke 1:39-56
January 1 Circumcision/Name of Jesus Isaiah 61:1-11; Luke 1:57-80
January 2 Isaiah 62:1-12; Luke 2:1-20
SECOND SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
Lord God, heavenly Father, who from the safety of exile in Egypt called Your Son and brought Him to a home for a while in Nazareth, mercifully keep us from losing our final home by clinging to places along the way, and so bring us to our abiding home with You, Your Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Old Testament: Genesis 46:1–7 [Jacob’s journey to Egypt]
Epistle: 1 Peter 4:12–19 [Partakers of Christ’s sufferings]
Holy Gospel: Matthew 2:13–23 [Flight to Egypt]
ARE YOU READY?
This morning we leave the world behind, and we travel together on a long journey. It is a journey that leads beyond Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and gift giving. This journey leads us to the quiet, sleepy town of Bethlehem.
This morning we stand with the shepherds huddled around the manger. We stand, straining our eyes, trying to look inside, trying to catch even a glimpse of this Child—the Child whom all creation was awaiting, the Child foretold by all the prophets. The Savior of the world, incarnate in human flesh, has come.
And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. . . . And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:16, 20)
Have you ever wondered what it would feel to have been there on that blessed night? Journeying with the shepherds to see this Child who was born. Standing out in the fields, tending your flock by day and by night.
The beauty and majesty of the stars in the sky, the peaceful night air, the clouds dancing across the moonlight sky. And not a single sound—only blissful silence while shepherds and sheep are bedded down for the night.
What would it have been like, standing there that night with the shepherds? To hear the voice of an angel of the Lord: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). To hurry off to see this Child who was born in such low estate, yet born the King of the world.
Have you ever wanted to be a shepherd? To be honest, I do not know if I would want to be a shepherd. I picture it as a rather filthy job. Leading around a flock of smelly sheep does not sound like a great life to me.
And shepherds, who were they? They were poor, not folks of noble birth. The were people of low esteem in the sight of many.
Not much power—honor—not much glory and wealth in being a shepherd. They did not rule over lands or rule over peoples. They just tended their smelly sheep.
But, despite their lowly status in the eyes of the world, the shepherds did something amazing that night.
The shepherds hurried off—immediately. They did not waste precious moments bickering over the quickest route to take. They did not first rush home to tell their families where they were going. They did not find it necessary to get cleaned up from working in the fields. They did not pack extra food. They did not take a spare set of clothes. They simply hurried off, leaving everything behind—including their flocks—unprotected, with no one to stand watch over them.
And they went because they had to see this thing that had happened. This miracle, the child, who is Christ the Lord born of the Virgin—and there was nothing in the world that could keep them from seeking Him.
I often wonder if we would be so quick to follow after the Child. Are we prepared to drop everything and hurry off to see this miracle? I wonder if we are prepared for this Child who has come. Are our hearts and minds ready for the infant King?
Most of us have already spent endless hours getting ready for Christmas: there is the usual list—hanging lights, baking cookies, trimming the tree, shopping for and wrapping gifts, decorating the yard—and the list goes on and on.
But are you ready? Are you ready for the Child who has come? Are you ready to learn from the shepherds? Are you ready to drop everything and go immediately to see the Child? David’s Son now come as David’s Lord—Emmanuel, God with us, Christ the Lord.
If we believe we are ready, then we should be prepared for what we will see. As the world has been preparing, the majesty of it all seems to be greater than the Child who has come.
When the shepherd arrived in the stable to see this glorious Child, they found Mary and Joseph without much preparation.
No light. No fire in the dead of the night. Few came to their assistance. The Child was not wrapped in a royal purple silk but was wrapped in rough pieces of cloth. He was not laid in an ornate, gold bed but laid in a stone-feeding trough. There were no princes and kings standing near to offer their praise and worship; only the cattle lying silent in their stalls.
That is what the shepherds saw. That is what they hurried off to see. Not glory and power by the world’s standards, but the glory of God incarnate in an innocent, humble, and helpless child.
Do you really want to be a shepherd? Is that what you want to see? Is this the Kingly glory that you desire?
The shepherds teach us a great lesson: in their simplicity, they simply go. They heard the proclamation of the Lord, and they knew that His Word and promises are full of salvation, even when they appear to be humble and frail.
When the shepherds had seen the Child, when they had spoken with Mary and knew of His greatness, they went home. They went back to being simple shepherds. Despite the miracle the shepherds had seen, they still had their everyday work to attend to. The smelly sheep still needed to be looked after.
All of us might think—or hope—that these shepherds would have decided to do something different. They were, after all, the first ones to see the Child. Surely there were people to see and stories to tell. No, they returned home. And again, in their simplicity, the shepherds teach us so much about our daily life in Christ.
Maybe all of us should be more like the shepherds. We should hurry off to see this Child and then return home—changed and different because of this Child—changed because of what we have seen!
This Christmas day we travel with the shepherds to see this King of glory—the King of the Jews—the Child who came to bear our sin and be our Savior. Yet, with all of our fears and anxiety, even with our sins, the Child still desires to come into our midst. And not only in the manger so long ago, but He still comes to us this day.
This is the true miracle of the incarnation: that our Lord still comes to us. And He comes in ways that seem humble, weak, and even lowly.
The Christ Child comes into our midst. He comes in the preaching and proclamation of His Word. For where His Word is—there also is His Spirit. He comes in Holy Absolution—forgiving our sins and remembering them no more. He comes among us in simple water that is joined together with His Holy Word—water that now brings the gift of faith.
And He comes to us this day in perhaps the most humble and lowly way of all: in simple bread and wine that He proclaims to be His body and His blood, given for us Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins—life and salvation.
This is how our King comes to us—in ways that the world may never understand. And with His presence comes the invitation to his feast. Not only to see Him as the shepherds did that first Christmas, but now to dwell with Him in the most intimate way possible: through His holy body and blood. When we see our Savior this day, when we touch and handle things unseen, like the shepherds we are changed forever. We are prepared to return to our own homes glorifying and praising God for the forgiveness that He has won for us.
Soon all of the glitter of Christmas will be over. The decorations will be taken down, and life will go back to normal. What then? Maybe we do not want to go back to our everyday lives—to the pain and suffering, the boredom and monotony. Instead, maybe we would like to go and be with those first shepherds. But we cannot turn back the clock to be with the shepherds, and we do not have to. The Lord invites us to something even better. He has blessed each of us with opportunities to serve Him and our neighbor in this life. Instead of leaving here sad that the celebration is over, we can return home, giving thanks and praise that as He once came into this world, He still comes to us, through His word and His sacraments, and that He is truly making every day of our lives Christmas. Amen.
Life is who and what is born of the Virgin Mary, wrapped in strips of cloth, and laid in a manger. Not just any life, but life Himself, life in the flesh.
So let us rejoice! This is the birthday of life. Death may still lurk in the corners and stalk about; it still seeks to scare us into sin and urge us to live for ourselves. But death cannot hold a candle to life. For Christ has given us His Word when He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).
“Do you believe this?” That is what Life asks you. For everything hinges on you recognizing Life for who He really is. And everything hinges not only on you getting a grip on Life, but on receiving Life as He gives Himself to you. For He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Christ, our life.
So often we believe that life is what we make of it. So we work hard to get the most out of life, afraid that life will pass us by, sure that we will not live life to the fullest, and convinced that life will give us a raw deal.
But Life was not born on this day to cheat you out of anything. He comes that you may have life, and that you may have it abundantly. He is not simply born. Life becomes flesh so that He might lay down His life. And greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. Yet Jesus is born to be more than a friend, more than someone to turn in crisis, more than someone to gripe to or wish from. He is your life. To be that, He is born in flesh like yours. Then He gives His life—all so that He might take it up again and give it into you.
So our Lord Jesus Christ was “in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:10–13).
Did you hear that? Another birth. Not just the birth of Life on Christmas Day, but your own birth, your new birth, through Life, by Life, in Life. For our Lord and our Life is born, not simply to take on flesh like yours with all its aches and pains. Our Lord and Life also desires to be born in your flesh and to live your life even while you live His life.
So today is not just about Jesus. It is about your life—your life which is hidden with Christ in God. Where is it hidden? In Christ. How? By this new birth, this being “born of God” which takes place in the waters of Holy Baptism. And what does that get you? He lives in you, and you live in Him.
Listen carefully, then, to how Life describes your life in Him:
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples. (John 15:4–8)
So let us truly and heartily and with full joy give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit. For in His great love for us, the true and only God has not left us dead in our trespasses and sins. Instead, He has brought us to life in Christ Jesus. And that life began when Life Himself became flesh and dwelt among us. And through Baptism, with the eyes of faith, we now get to behold His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
And having seen and received and tasted the Lord of life, understand and believe what dignity and worth you have received. For you do not have just any old life. Life Himself has you, holds you to Himself, and gives you His own holiness, worthiness, righteousness, and dignity. Be mindful of whose Life you have so that you do not fall back into your living death. And be glad that Life has been born for you, even as He has been born in you. Amen.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
December 20-21, 2009 Advent 4 John 1:19-28 Who Are You?
The bigwigs from Jerusalem went down to the river to investigate John the Baptist and they asked him, “Who are you?” John´s answer was very strange. He said, “I am not the Christ.” Isn´t that a funny way to respond? It´d be like if someone said, “Who are you?” and you said, “I´m not the president of the united states.” They asked, “Who are you?” and he answered, “I am not the Christ.” We can deduce from John´s response that there were some people who thought he might be the Christ.
John was the forerunner anointed by God to prepare the people for the coming of the Christ, but he is very clear from the outset saying of himself, “I am not the Christ.” In fact, much of John´s ministry was about demonstrating who he was not. He is not the light. He is not the Christ. He is not Elijah. He is not the Prophet. He is not worthy to untie the Christ´s sandals. It is a wise individual who can accurately describe what he or she is not.
If he were hungry for honor and adulation, this would have been the perfect opportunity for John to promote himself. The Scriptures tell us that John as already extremely popular with common folk. All of Judea was flocking out to see him and be baptized. His sermons were impressive and rumors were circulating that this man was special.
The people of Israel during the Second Temple period, the period during which the Gospels were written, were deeply tuned in to the promises of a coming Liberator, one like Moses, who would bring liberty to captives and good tidings to the poor. There was a strong sense of expectation in the atmosphere. Around the time of John the Baptist and Jesus, there were numerous charismatic figures attracting followers and promising change. There were wonderworkers claiming to bring healing and deliverance from devils. There were messianic political agitators gaining traction in their campaigns to upset the tyranny of the Roman occupiers.
It was John´s role in those turbulent times to call men to repentance, to point out that our sins have alienated us from our Creator and that all of us are in desperate need of reconciliation.
The best time to hear about a Liberator is when you are in prison. You are never more receptive to the promise of freedom than when you are a slave. Most of us will never know the feeling of being bound by chains of iron but there is more than one form of bondage. It is easier to bend metal bars than to set yourself free from incarceration by lust or selfishness or malice. Nothing locks you down as firmly as guilt.
As the heirs of Adam´s rebellion, all of us are enslaved not only by sin but by the decay of death. Death is the fruit of sin. Not only the deaths of our bodies, but the brutal corruption of every aspect of human existence. In other words, life on earth is not the garden of delights it was meant to be.
It is a sign of wisdom when a person begins to know the world for the cruel merciless place it is. And this awakening, if not understood within the context of Christian hope, is devastating. The crushing realization that you won´t achieve most of your goals; you won´t realize most of the things you hope for; mothers don´t really love their sons; people are essentially selfish and the world basically does not care. These are the realizations that drive men to seek some sense of relief in drugs or alcohol or illicit sexual encounters, in gambling and addictions and shirking one´s duties through excessive escapist entertainments.
No sentient creature is so polluted that it does not know the difference between bondage and freedom. A fox caught in a steel jaw will chew off his leg to get away. Even men who have never heard the gospel message of forgiveness and eternal life hope for a better day. It is the instinctual will to survive. We need to be saved from the darkening powers which crowd us if we are to live.
For several weeks or months, we´ve been preparing for Christmas. For many of us, that means spending money we don´t have as much in the spirit of consumption as in the spirit of giving. Very soon, we´ll all be gathered around the trees in our living rooms exchanging gifts, drinking eggnog, taking pictures while ooh-ing and aah-ing over clothing and trinkets and gadgets we don´t need and will never use. Then the excitement will be over and for many of us there will be a sense of letdown as we go back to our routines with renewed awareness that our families are imperfect, there is no peace on earth nor goodwill toward men.
Christmas is a time when many Americans feel nostalgic for a simpler day. Coca-Cola advertisements set in the 1940s and 50s show Santa Claus bringing presents to children whose faces are lit with innocent joy. The implication is that those were better days but it´s a false misleading dream. What is better for some is worse for others. There was never a time in since the fall of such carefree happiness.
Nostalgia is a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former time. A bittersweet longing for the way things never were but should have been. Interestingly, the Greek root for the word “nostalgia” means “to return home.” In general usage, nostalgia looks to the past, but at an even more basic level, I think we are nostalgic for something yet to come.
The Christian never feels truly at home in this world. We are always strangers in a strange land, pilgrims journeying to a better destination. There are many signposts along the way telling us that we are getting closer to our destination. There are signs that we are nearing the closing of this age. And by God´s mercy, there are frequent indications of the beauty and glory of that future home.
Everything in this world that can be called good is a glimpse of something better. Music that makes you tap your toe, strong coffee on a cold morning, being hugged unexpectedly, the savory goodness of ham, sweet potatoes and stuffing, the inviting comfort of a soft bed, being entranced by a well told story, seeing your son´s face light up when you bring him a present, the loyal companionship of a dog. All those things are just the tip of the iceberg. They are merely shadows of something more substantial on its way. C.S. Lewis once wrote that the wholesome delights of this life “are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have not visited.”
John the Baptist lived to point us to the Christ, the one and only answer for our bewilderment. Jesus is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. There is never a recorded incident in the four Gospels of Jesus ever turning a sinner away. There is never a recorded incident of Jesus refusing a sincere plea for healing, for deliverance or for redemption. Nor will he turn you away. Nor will he refuse your plea.
Examine yourselves according to the Ten Commandments as you have been taught. Look in the mirror of God´s Law to see yourself as you truly are. Have you loved God above all things? Have you neglected His Word? Have you honored authority? Have you helped your neighbor in all of his needs? Have you lusted or coveted for what God has not given?
God has seen your situation. He has heard your sobbing. And He has done something about it. The unique eternal Son of God has stepped down from his majestic throne to enter our world as one of us. And he has miraculously taken upon himself the guilt of our sin. Upon the cross hung the vilest, most repulsive scoundrel that has ever lived. Upon the cross hung the most perverted adulterer, the vilest offender, the most sadistic murderer of them all, Jesus Christ. He had no sin of his own but he took upon himself the full guilt of the sin of all, a scene so repugnant that even the sun turned dark, the earth shook and God cursed Him. All this Jesus did willingly out of supreme love for you. The Father´s wrath has been extinguished. The righteous anger of God was exhausted upon the Son so that we who are in Christ might be pardoned and cleansed, justified and set free from all condemnation.
So come to the Lord´s table of celebration to receive the very antidote to death. And sing, for in truth the Lord Jesus is coming again to take us up out of this vale of tears to dwell with him in glory forever. In Jesus´ name. Amen.
Monday, December 14, 2009
December 20 Isaiah 40:18—41:10; Revelation 8:1–13
December 21 (St Thomas) Isaiah 42:1–25; Revelation 9:1–12
December 22 Isaiah 43:1–24; Revelation 9:13—10:11
December 23 Isaiah 43:25—44:20; Revelation 11:1–19
December 24 Isaiah 44:21—45:13, 20–25; Revelation 12:1–17
December 25 (Nativity of Our Lord) Isaiah 49:1–18; Matthew 1:1–17
December 26 (St Stephen) Isaiah 49:22–26; 50:4—51:8, 12–16; Matthew 1:18–25
THE SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
A Rod has come forth from the stem of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1–5), the Seed of David whose kingdom shall be established forever (2 Samuel 7:1–16). In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son Jesus to redeem us from the judgment of the Law (Galatians 4:1–7). Now He is presented in the temple in fulfillment of the Law and revealed to be “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of the people of Israel” (Luke 2:22–40). Christ has enlightened us in baptism, giving us to be adopted as sons of God and heirs of eternal life. Receiving the holy Sacrament of His body and blood, we are prepared to depart this world in peace, for our eyes have seen the salvation of God in Him.
O heavenly Father,, as You gladden our hearts again to celebrate the birth of Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, mercifully bestow on us the joy to receive Him as our Redeemer and so welcome Him when He comes again to be our judge; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Almighty eternal God, we heartily implore You, grant that we may know and praise Your dear Son as did Simeon, who took Him up in his arms and faithfully knew and confessed Him; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Luther)
Old Testament: Isaiah 11:1–5 [The rod of Jesse’s stem]
Epistle: Galatians 4:1–7 [The fullness of time]
December 13 Isaiah 29:15—30:14; Revelation 1:1–19
December 14 Isaiah 30:15–26; Revelation 2:1–29
December 15 Isaiah 30:27—31:9; Revelation 3:1–22
December 16 Isaiah 32:1–20; Revelation 4:1–11
December 17 Isaiah 33:1–24; Revelation 5:1–14
December 18 Isaiah 34:1–2, 8—35:10; Revelation 6:1–17
December 19 Isaiah 40:1–17; Revelation 7:1–17
NEXT WEEKS LESSONS: RORATE COELI—THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT
The coming of God in all His unveiled power at Mt. Sinai was terrifying to the people of Israel. The thundering voice of the Lord puts sinners in fear of death (Deuteronomy 18:15–19). God, therefore, raised up a prophet like Moses, the Messiah, the Christ. God came to His people veiled in human flesh. The skies poured down the Righteous One from heaven; the earth opened her womb and brought forth Salvation (Introit) through the blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of the Lord (Luke 1:39–56). The fruit of her womb is the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the One whose sandal strap John was not worthy to loose (John 1:19–28). In Jesus we are delivered from fear and anxiety. In Him alone we have the peace of God which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:4–7).
Most merciful God, who has given Your eternal Word to be made incarnate of the pure Virgin, grant grace to Your people to put away fleshly lusts so that they may be ready for Your visitation; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 18:15–19 [A Prophet like Moses]
Epistle: Philippians 4:4–7 [Rejoice in the Lord always]
DECEMBER 16, 2009
Advent is a time of preparation. It is the season that is set aside for us to ponder the greatness of our Lord—the miracle of the incarnation; begotten of His Father before all worlds. He is the Word now made flesh; the Word which speaks all life into being.
Advent is the time to think about the infant but also the man. Advent reminds us who this Jesus of Nazareth is and what His life and ministry were about. This was a child conceived in the throne of the Virgin’s womb, who died in our frail flesh that He might sit upon the throne crowned in glory.
Oh, to be the king! Even for just one day. Think of the pomp and power, the prestige and wealth. Oh, to be served! How we would welcome that! But kingdoms rise and fall: imperial and personal. The kingdoms of this world: private or political, powerful or puny, do not stand forever. Ours will not either.
Jesus was not the king the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were awaiting. They wanted one who was strong, mighty, and powerful. They wanted one who would rise to political power. They wanted one who would bring wealth and riches to the nations. They found none of this in Jesus.
What sort of King is born in a dirty stable to peasant parents? What sort of King calls fishermen and tax collectors to be His disciples? What sort of King goes to a Samaritan woman and forgives her sins? What sort of King kneels down with an adulterous woman and challenges the Pharisees and Sadducees to acknowledge their own sin? What sort of a King is Jesus?
Jesus is not the King that the world is looking for. In a day and age of self-help books, quick fixes, and easy solutions, no one wants to talk about real problems and real solutions. Sin, death, and the devil have become naughty words. Why do we need Jesus when we can fix ourselves and the world around us?
The truth is we cannot fix ourselves or the world around us. The harder we try to fix things, the worse they seem to become. Left to ourselves, we will surely die. Jesus was the King that the dying world had to have. There was no other way than the way that Jesus walked.
He was the King who cared enough to leave His throne in heaven to take on the flesh of a man. He was the King who would give life to the dead. He was the King that healed every disease and cast out demons. He was the King that the world needed.
And He was clearly our King, clearly our Jesus, in those moments when the world would see His weakness.
A King when He was led before Pilate. A King when the soldiers beat Him with a whip. A King when the crowds taunted and jeered Him. A King when they mocked Him, putting a crown of thorns on His head, a staff in His hand and a purple robe on His back. A King when He carried His cross. A King when He forgave the sins of the thief and promised him eternal life. A King when He cried and out to His Father in pain and anguish and gave up His Spirit.
The world will see the last days of Jesus as far from kingship. But there was no other way to save a dying world. The King had to do the unthinkable. The King had to die. That is why our Advent King came not with pomp, power, prestige, and possessions but to show His great love. Not to be served but to serve us in His suffering and death.
Because of the kind of King that Jesus is, we should not be surprised with the kind of kingdom He has established. His kingdom is not of this world. This earth and this life are only the beginning, not the end. We are told to be in the world but not of the world. For our home is in the kingdom of heaven, where there will be no more death.
As you read Luther’s catechism, you make an amazing discovery. The catechism is no do-it-yourself manual. Rather, as Christians we are taught to pray and live as baptized children of the King. And as His children, we know that our King delights in bringing His gifts to His people still today: In the voice of your pastor granting you forgiveness as from the mouth of Christ Himself. Through the life-giving waters of Holy Baptism, claiming you as the Fathers own child and bringing you into His kingdom. Bread and wine, now body and blood, for us Christians to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
Oh, to be the King? Even for just one day. Think of the pomp and power, the prestige and possessions. No, not to be the King. But to know the heavenly King and to know that through His suffering and death, through His Holy Sacraments, He continues daily to call each one of us to be kings with Him. Amen.
December 12-13, 2009
Matthew 11:2-11, John 8
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Are You the Coming One or not? Do we look for another? Will You stay in heaven or come to us?Are you the Lamb of God who takes, and not just took, away the sins of the world? We have sins -- as many as those people then. We need them taken away. Are You the Lamb who takes away sins?
Have you forgotten about us? Do you know how cold it is? How sad we are? How lonely and afraid? Do you know our hearts are broken and our families are in distress? Do You know about divorce? About garnished wages? About visitation rights? Do you know about addiction and betrayal and neglect? We are hurting inside and out. Where are you?
And what of those at war, who confessed Your Name, last week and died at the hands of violent terrorists? Where were you then?
We did not see, but we have heard, that the blind once were made to see, the lame to walk, and the lepers were cleansed. We did not see, but we heard, that the dead were raised.
So, too, we have heard your Gospel with our own ears. Though we are poor, not much noticed in this city or state or country, though we are not important or powerful or famous, Your Gospel has been preached to us. We have heard what others saw.
We have heard the Good News of Your coming in the Flesh, of angelic choirs singing to Shepherds, of wise men coming from the East. We have heard of Herod's wicked jealousy, of a nighttime flight to Egypt, and of a detour back to Nazareth. We have heard that you were Baptized by John and crossed the Jordan. We have heard the heavens were opened, that the Spirit lit upon You, and that the Father said, “This is My Son with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him.” We have heard. We are listening. Are you the Coming One or not?
We have heard how You endured temptations in the desert, how the crowds followed You while you taught and healed and fed them. We have heard of those you loved: of John and James and Peter, of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Do You also love us? Do you weep when we die? Are You the Coming One? Are You coming?
We have heard you were betrayed by a friend, a man you loved, perhaps he was a zealot, over-eager for the end, pushing You to do do what You came to do. Did he lose his faith because You did not move fast enough to satisfy his fallen flesh? Did his remorse, his feeble attempt to give the money back, make you weep as you wept for Jerusalem? And when his intestines spilled out onto the ground, when the devil finally had his way with him, did that small justice make the betrayal any less? Are You the Coming One? Like Judas we have waited. When will You show Your hand? When will You take up Your power and reign? We are besought with temptations and doubt. This is a dangerous place for faith. What will keep us from Judas' fate? When will we be free?
We have heard how You suffered, of sweat like blood and cups of Wrath. We have heard of soldier's scourges and crossed beams outside the city gates. We have heard of pain and sorrow and a desire to gather like a hen gathers her chicks to herself, and of grief for a city that knows not what makes for peace. We have heard how you groaned and died. We know the promise: “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” the gentle care You showed, “Woman, here is your son.” We know the cries: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” and “I thirst.” We have heard You said: “It is finished” and then commended Your Spirit into Your Father's hands. You went to Him. Will You come to us?
We have heard how the centurion sank his killing spear into Your side to make sure that You were dead. We have heard that blood and water came out, that Your Life poured on him and that he said “Surely this Man was the Son of a God.” Are you still the Son of God? We have heard the Temple veil was torn in two and the dead of Jerusalem got up alive. We have heard that you were laid to rest in Joseph's tomb hewn from virgin rock. Nietzsche wasn't the first to say that God was dead. You were dead, and buried, and thus Your Coming in the Flesh came to an end.
Will You now come to us? For we have heard the tomb was empty but for the burial clothes three days after You were put to death. We have heard of unused myrrh and women full of fear. We have heard that You were thought a gardener and that You opened eyes in Emmaus at the breaking of the bread. We have heard how you breathed the Spirit out into the Apostles and bestowed peace upon them. We have heard that You gave them the keys to heaven and sent them to open it for men, to preach and to baptize, to make disciples of all the creatures of the earth.
We have heard, by their preaching and their writing, what others saw. We have been absolved at their hands, had the keys applied to us, and heard Your Voice in them. And now we ask again: Are You the Coming One or not? Will You come to us? Will you open our eyes, give motion to our lame limbs, put words of praise into our mouths, and cleanse us of all our sins? Will you bestow the peace that passes all understanding? Will You make us the friends of God again? Will you preach to us poor sinners Good News of righteousness? Will you makes us Yours and remember promises made to Abraham for our good? Will you give us faith, see us through, teach us to wait and hope and pray and lift up our heads as the end draws near? Will You be Our Lord? Will You come to us?
Are you the Coming One, O Lord? Are You coming for us as You came for them?
Yes. You are. Though we are weak, though we are frustrated and unsure and full of doubt, though we are dying and afflicted by death, by Your grace we believe that You are. You come in Word. You come in Sacrament. You come to and for us. You take away our sins. You make us Yours. We are Yours. There is much we do not know and do not understand, but we are Yours. We have heard Your Voice. It has spoken us clean. We are washed in Your Blood. We are joined to You in the Holy Communion. We are Yours! Give us patience, Lord. Give us Faith. And come Lord Jesus. Come quickly! Amen.