Thursday, December 24, 2009

December 26-27 2009 Sermon

The Sunday after Christmas
Luke 2:22-40
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.
Daily Lectionary

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

Israel and all his family went and dwelt in Egypt (Genesis 46:1–7). God made a great nation of him there. But that nation would prove unfaithful to the Lord. Therefore, the New Israel came. In fleeing from murderous Herod, our young Lord goes to Egypt (Matthew 2:13–23), that the prophecy might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my Son” (Hosea 11:1). Jesus brings to perfection what old Israel could not. He is the faithful Israel, the embodiment of the people of God. He offers His perfect and holy life in place of our own. He submits Himself to persecution and suffering in order to save us. Therefore, we should not think it strange when we who are in Christ experience trials because of the faith (1 Peter 4:12–19). Rather, we rejoice to share in Christ’s sufferings, knowing that we will also share in His glory.

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]

Christmas Day 2009 Sermon


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.
Have you ever wanted to be a shepherd? Have you ever wondered what it was like on that night? When the still silence of the cold evening air was shattered by a voice that must have sounded like thunder; when suddenly the bright brilliance of the glory of the Lord shone around them.

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.

Christmas Eve Sermon

Christmas Eve 2009
The Life

Tonight we celebrate the birth of life. For that is who Christ Jesus is. Not a holy man among holy men, or the holiest of all men. Not a man of nearly mythical proportions, but of life. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself. Jesus is the life of all living things. For all things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. Yet He is not only the life of all the living. He is also the life of all people. For in Him is life. But even more, our Lord Jesus Christ is the life of all those who wish to live through death. For whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. If there is no Jesus, then there is no life. For most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.

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.