Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of the Baptism of Our Lord (January 14-19, 2019)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Isaiah 62:5b - “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #394 “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”
Hymns for Sunday: 402, 394, 637, 408, 399, 810

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday: Psalm 128
What does it mean to be blessed? Do we always see blessings as blessings? Why or why not? 

Tuesday: Exodus 33:12-23
Why is God with us the greatest blessing of all and exactly what we need? Why do we often want more than that?

Wednesday: Ephesians 5:22-33
How is the love of Christ for us the foundation of every marriage? How is this love reflected in marriage?

Thursday: Isaiah 62:1-5
God rejoices over you! Why? How might that change how we see ourselves and how we live?

Why does God give us His Spirit? What is the greater gift: the Spirit Himself or what He does? Why?

Saturday: John 2:1-11
How does this miracle teach us about the joy Jesus has for us?

The Catechism - Baptism: What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Where is this written? St. Paul writes in Romans, chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:4

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ safety, good weather, and joy for the March for Life, and positive change regarding life in our world.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational recording secretary, TJ Myers.
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for Lutheran Bible Translators.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Baptism of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Heavens Were Opened”
Text: Luke 3:15-22; Romans 6:1-11; Isaiah 43:1-7

This is a gentle reworking of a sermon from yesteryear. Enjoy this encore presentation!

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Why did Jesus have to be baptized?

That’s the question I am asked whenever people hear this story. And the answer, very simply, is this: He did not have to be. Jesus had no sin to repent of. He needed no washing of forgiveness. Jesus is the Lord and Creator of all, and the perfect, sinless Son of God - what could John possibly give Him that wasn’t from Him and of Him? Nothing.

So the next question then is: So why was Jesus baptized?

Well, for the same reason He was born and lived and died: because you needed Him to be. Because you need a Saviour. For you have sin. You were born in sin, with sin, and to your charge have added sins of thoughts, words, deeds, and desires. Each and every day. You have sin that you know of - selfish acts, angry words, hateful thoughts, shameful desires; and sin that is so deep in your nature, so ingrained in your being, so part of our everyday life, that you don’t even know of it. But your Saviour knows. He knows it all. He knows it is you who need the washing of forgiveness, and therefore, He is baptized. For you. Because when Jesus stepped into that water, the water didn’t change Jesus - Jesus changed the water.

Now to the crowds that were along the Jordan that day, it didn’t look that way at first. The people had no idea that one of the folks in the crowd with them that day was the one they were looking for and hoping for - the promised Messiah. They were looking at John and wondering if he was the one. John said “No!” But He is coming, and soon. And He is so much greater than I that I am not even worthy to do the most lowly and menial of tasks - untie his shoe.

Yes, John, you are correct. You are not worthy. Yet by your hand this great one, Jesus, will be baptized! For to this He has graciously called you, to do this very thing; to be a small cog in Jesus’ work of salvation. . . . We are not worthy either - to be children of God, to speak His Word, to raise His children, to be His pastor, to be in His house. Yet He has graciously called us - you and me - to do these very things. To be small cogs in His continuing work of salvation. Is that not a wonder? For John. For us.

So the crowd took no notice of Jesus at the Jordan that day. Just another pilgrim; a Nazarene, a Galilean. Yet actually, this pilgrim had come on a longer journey than that! For this one in the crowd that day had come all the way down not just from Nazareth or Galilee, but from heaven itself! Here was God Himself, standing in solidarity with His creatures. Standing with us against the evil one, just as He had promised He would. His holy humanity mixed in with all our sinful humanity. One of us, yet not one of us. Which would soon become evident.

For when Jesus is baptized, Luke reports, three unique things happen: heaven is opened, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him in bodily form, like a dove, and the voice of the Father sounds forth from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Yes, here is the One greater than John. A man who is also God’s Son. A man who has no sin, for with Him God is well pleased. A man at whose baptism heaven is opened so that the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven may attend and see this wonder. The wonder of God as man, taking man’s place in the water. He is more than an example - He is our substitute under the Law, under sin, under the sentence of death, to save us. Of no other god could this be said. All others gods demand from their creatures; the true God comes and serves His creatures.

And we need it, we need this! For without Him, heaven remains closed. Closed as it was for our first parents when they fell into sin and were expelled from Paradise into a world of death - a world of thorns, a world of pain and rebellion, a world of struggle and suffering. You’ve felt it. You’ve given it. You’ve groaned under it. The thorns of sin, the struggles of life, the pain of sin, the crushing insensitivity of selfishness. But what could you do? Without Christ, the way to the Tree of Life was blocked by fearsome angels with flaming swords.

But at the Jordan that day - did you hear? - heaven opened again! . . . That is a phrase we should not take lightly. When that happened before - when the windows of the heavens were opened - it was in Genesis (7:11), when the sinfulness of God’s creatures had gotten so bad that He sent a flood to destroy sinful mankind from the face of the earth. All who had turned away from Him and would not believe in Him. But now heaven is opened again, for God is now using a flood of water not to destroy sinful mankind, but to destroy sin. To destroy sin through the One who would take all the sin of the world upon Himself and be destroyed by the flaming sword of God’s wrath on the cross. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, as John would proclaim after this (John 1:29). And now, when the heavens are opened, the result is not just death - but death that leads to life.

That is why St. Paul speaks as he does to us today, as we heard from him in the book of Romans. That baptism is about death that leads to life. For with His baptism, Jesus now begins His journey to Jerusalem and the cross, where His baptism will be fulfilled. Fulfilled as on the cross He is engulfed in the fire of sin and death. But with the Holy Spirit descending upon Him in bodily form as a dove, we are reminded of Noah’s dove, which proclaimed the return of life after death. And with Jesus’ resurrection, that is exactly what has happened. The power of the Law, the power of sin, the power of death has all been broken by Jesus. For as Paul said: He who has died has been set free from sin, and He who has died can never die again - death no longer has dominion over him. And so if death is defeated, then there is life. The life of God. The life of freedom. The life that has no end.

That is the life now given to you and all who are baptized into Jesus. Baptism, Paul says, joins you to Jesus in His death and resurrection, so that in Him, you too die and rise to live a new life. A new life free from the condemnation of sin and the power of death. A new life of freedom and love and forgiveness. A new life free to live, even though we still live in the midst of this thorny, painful, difficult world of death. But though the struggles and troubles be many and difficult, they will not - they cannot - win. For you are one with Christ, the Victor.

Listen again to how Isaiah talked about that very thing as He looked forward to this day of Christ’s life and victory:

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; 
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, 
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

In Baptism, the Lord called you by name. In Baptism, He made you His. In Baptism, He called you His beloved son. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon you. In Baptism, the flames of God’s wrath against your sin were quenched with the water of forgiveness and life, and so His fire is no longer a consuming fire but a purifying one. For He who created you has redeemed you. He is the Lord your God, your Saviour.

How can water do such great things? If it’s plain water, it can’t. Plain water can only wash your body, but cannot touch your soul. But if Jesus is in the water, it can. Because remember, when Jesus stepped into that water, the water didn’t change Jesus - Jesus changed the water, to a water rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth by the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul would tell Titus (Titus 3). The Holy Spirit who leads us to Christ and joins us to Christ. To His cross of death and life. To cross from death to life.
And as His baptism was the beginning of His journey to the cross, so too with your baptism, you have begun the journey to the cross. To where Christ has put His cross for you: here, at this altar. For here, the Body and Blood that once hung on the cross and died, but then rose from the dead and lives, are for you. Here, you eat and drink the fruits of His cross - the new Tree of Life - receiving the forgiveness, life, and salvation Jesus gives you in His Body and Blood. To raise you and strengthen you in the life He gave you in your baptism.

For you need raising and strengthening. You do. You know it. You fall, and sin beats you down. You grow weary of the fight, and the fight makes you weak. At times, it may seem hopeless, pointless, and as if there is no reason to go on, to keep trying. And so your baptism brings you here, where your Saviour places His Body into your mouth and pours His Blood over your lips and says to you: I am your strength; I am your hope; I am your life. Do not be afraid; I am with you. Always. Rise, and depart in peace. And we do, for He is faithful.

It started so simply and seemed so ordinary. Just another baptism. But when Jesus stepped into the Jordan that day, everything was changed. Not for Him, but for you. Not for Him because He came for this; but for you because He came for you. And still He comes for you, in the water, on the altar, in the Word. And when He does, everything is changed.

You no longer live a life that will end in death, but will die a death that ends in life. You no longer live a life of captivity under the condemnation of sin, but of freedom under the forgiveness of sin.

For in Jesus, in the water, heaven has been opened to you. And it shall never be closed again.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Get it? Get it!”
Text: Matthew 2:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Matthew is a lousy historian. He tells us this story of the wise men, but he leaves out so many details. For example, how long after Jesus was born did the wise men come? How long and how far did they have to travel? How old was Jesus when they arrived? And where were they from? From the east isn’t very precise, Matthew. Was it Babylon, Persia, Arabia, or somewhere else? And how did they know to follow that star? What made them do that? And them - how many of them were there? Three? One for each gift? Or were there more than that? Isaiah told us today of a multitude of camels that would cover the land. Was that their entourage? And did these wise men even travel together? Or did they come separately and converge in Jerusalem? C’mon Matthew! Do your research. Get the facts. Tell us more.

Yes, Matthew is a lousy historian. But he is a great Gospel writer. For he knows this story really isn’t about the wise men - it’s about Jesus. And so what’s important in this story isn’t the details about the wise men, it’s that God is here, among us, in human flesh and blood. God revealed this to the wise men, and He uses the wise men to reveal it now to us.

Which, maybe, sounds funny. Because we know, right? We know the story of Christmas, and how Jesus was born, and that He is the Son of God. We just celebrated that. We know all the great hymns and carols that talk about that. We already know all that, right?

Except, well . . .  the Christmas lights that lit up our houses and streets and trees are going dark and being taken down. The troubles and cares - and government shutdown - that were overshadowed by Christmas joy are still there. Doubts and fears come roaring back and cast dark shadows over our lives. And that darkness can get pretty deep. The darkness of sin. The darkness of death or the threat of it. The darkness of life without the light of God’s love and forgiveness. Yes, Jesus was born, but that was so long ago and so far away. And where is He now, when I need Him? In my loneliness. In my hopelessness. In my uncertainty. Yes, He was born. Everyone knows that. But was He born for me?

Oh, we know that too, right? We’re Christians! But that does not make you immune from the devil’s temptations and his efforts to drive you to despair and away from God. In fact, it makes you a target of them. His hissing accusation that you call yourself a Christian, but look at you! You’re no Christian! You’d be better if you were. Stronger in your faith. His assertion that you’re not worthy of Jesus. You’re too sinful. You repent, and yet do the same sins over again, don’t you? See? Unworthy! His reminder that if you were really a Christian, you’d read your Bible more, pray more, give more - of yourself and what you have. But you don’t, do you? You keep saying you will, but then . . . what? Everything and everyone else gets bumped up ahead of God, don’t they? That makes them false gods, Christian . . . Christian! Yeah, that’s a good one! You should be a stand-up comedian! That’s what he says. That’s what he wants you to believe.

And what makes all that so effective is that we know all those accusations are true. We’re not what we should be. We’re not good enough. Not even close. But that’s not the end of the story.

So we can learn something from the Wise Men. But not what you think, or what you may so often hear. Not to give our best to Jesus. Our gold, frankincense, and myrrh, or whatever counts as those things today. Not that “wise men still seek him” as the saying goes, and so pat ourselves on the back that we, here today, are so wise. As if we had anything to do with it. Not that we should seek signs from God in the stars, and not that we should travel great distances and overcome any obstacle to get to Jesus. None of that. If the Wise Men were here today and heard you say any of that, they would wonder what is wrong with you. Because all those things are about them, what they did; and about us, what we should do. And to the Wise Men, their journey was about only one thing: Jesus. They came to fall down and worship Him.

And why did they? Well, for one reason only: not because they were so wise, and not becasue they were so good - but simply because God wanted them there. God wanted them to know that their Saviour had come. Not just the Saviour of the Jews or of the world, the Saviour of the wise or the Saviour of the good, but their Saviour. That’s why He sent the star. That’s why He had Micah write his prophecy about Bethlehem. And that’s why they fell down and worshiped him. You may fall down before a king, but you only worship a god.

And everyone today does. Everyone has a god or gods that they worship. For whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god (Large Catechism). And so some popular ones today are happiness, success, popularity, wealth, job, health, family, pride, power, self-fulfillment. All these things are not wrong or bad in and of themselves, but they can be, if they become our gods. If they become what we live for at all costs, and where we find our meaning and value. And they make lousy gods. For when they go away, or are taken away, when we can’t achieve them, or get enough of them, or when they fail us - then what? Well that’s when the darkness descends. A darkness that can get pretty deep. 

So epiphany comes to show us, reveal to us, teach us - again! - your God. The one, true God. The only one who will not let you down, leave you, or fail you. The only one who keeps His Word and all His promises - even when that means being born as a baby and dying on a cross. If just any god will do, the wise men had gods where they came from, so why bother? And if any religion will do, why make the journey to Bethlehem? No. These wise men, these wealthy men, these men who seemed to have it all, knew they didn’t. They fell down and worshiped the one who did. And who could give them what they needed most. It didn’t matter that He was just a child. It didn’t matter that He was poor. It didn’t matter that He wasn’t in the capital and surrounded by royal trappings. God’s Word trumped all of that. And the Word made flesh was the gift that had come for them.

And for you. Arise, shine, for your light has come, Isaiah said. And this light is for all people, Paul said. To enlighten your darkness, no matter how deep. The light of hope in despair. The light of life in the midst of death. The light of forgiveness in the mire of sin. The light of peace in the midst of fear. For Jesus is everything that we are not. Jesus is everything our false gods are not. Here to give you what you need.

Which is why the wise men fell down and worshiped Him, and why we do the same. For that’s what worship is - not what we do for God, but what God does for us. In worship, we receive what we need. We come as sinners for forgiveness. We come unworthy to be made worthy. We come with doubts and fears to hear His Word of promise and assurance. We come hungry and are fed by Him, His own Body and Blood. No matter how rich you are in the things of this world, you - and the wise men, too! - come to Jesus as beggars in need. And Jesus, poor in the things of this world, gives us what we need: Himself, His life, and His kingdom. Which means we come as beggars and leave as princes.

So the wise men left wiser and wealthier than when they had come. For they saw what no earthly learning could reveal to them - their Saviour. And they received what no earthly treasures could buy - eternal life. And so do you. 

And that’s what Matthew wants you to know. The details about the wise men? Meh, he’ll leave that to someone else. But they fell down and worshiped Him. They fell down and worshiped Him! Yes, that’s what matters. For that’s why Jesus came. To give to them. To raise them. To be their God and Saviour. And yours, too. And the rest? Everything else will fall into place when you know that you and your life, who you are and what you do, is all really about Jesus and what He is doing for you. The Son of God born to die a sinners death, that you who die a sinners death be born from above and rise to live as sons and daughters of God. To receive this gift from Him in the forgiveness of your sins. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation (Small Catechism).

So Epiphany, that’s when the light goes on. The real light - not just the Christmas lights that shine only for awhile, but the light we need all year round. The light in our darkness. The light that changes everything. The light that worship is not about us, but about Jesus. That it’s not about giving, but receiving. That we don’t worship at church, we worship at Jesus, where He has promised to be for us. Whether that is in a house in Bethlehem, a cathedral in a big city, or a borrowed building in Vienna. That the baby Jesus isn’t the one who will be king, but already is. That in the manger or on His mother’s lap, He is not the one who will be the Saviour, but already is. And that we are not those who will be sons and daughters of God, but already are. And that we are not those who will have eternal life, but that you are already living that life that not even death will be able to end. Not because you can do it, but because it’s Jesus’ life, given to you. The one born into your death that you be born into His life. Epiphany shines the light on all of that for us, that you get it. That you get Him

And then maybe, just maybe, God will use you as one of His “wise men,” when you fall down and worship Him. For others may not know your history, your story, but see you do this - and so see in Jesus the one who saves, the one who gives hope, the one who has come to lighten our darkness by His mercy, forgiveness, and love. That we get it. That we get it (pointing to mind) and that we get it (receiving motion with hands).

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, December 31, 2018

First Sunday of Christmas Sermon

No sermon to post today as we were privileged to have Rev. Robert Rahn, founder of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, as our guest preacher. I tried to record his preachment for you, but did something wrong and it didn't come out. My apologies. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas Day Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Open Your Gift!”
Text: John 1:1-14

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

A present wrapped in the shape of a tennis racket probably is a tennis racket. Not much else shaped like that and hard to make anything else look like that. In the same kind of way, a small box under the tree probably doesn’t contain the large present you were hoping for. We can often figure out presents by their shape, rattle, size, or weight. Or at least get a clue to what may be under the wrapping. Though we do like to try to fool each other sometimes. Putting a small gift in a large box, or a putting a small picture of that large gift, hidden in the other room, into that small box under the tree. The other thing about gifts is that children tend to open the biggest gifts first. Because the bigger the better, right?

Well not this morning. This morning, in the tiniest of human packages, is the biggest and greatest gift of all. Today in the poorest of wrappings, swaddling clothes, is the most precious and priceless gift of all. For we remember this day, the Word that was in the beginning, before all things, the Word that was with God, and the Word that is God, became flesh and dwelt among us. Today, the eternal Son of God is wrapped in human flesh for you. 

Now, the size and shape and appearance of the baby lying in the manger could not tell you that. In fact, judging by appearance, you should have pity on this newborn, born into such poverty, in such an unfortunate way, far away from home. But do no such thing, John is telling us this morning. He came not for your pity, but to have pity, to have compassion, on you. On you who had everything, but gave it all away. You who were created as the crown of God’s creation. You who were given dominion over all creation. You who were created without sin, without sickness, without death . . . but now look at you. 

You see, the devil knows how to wrap, too. How to wrap sin into a really good looking package. That it look like what you’ve been wanting. That it look really good. But when you unwrap it, open it, it’s not what you thought it was. Adam and Eve found that out that hard way. Us, too. 

And so, as I said, look at you now. Look at what sin has done to all of us. We are hurt by sin and hurt others by your sin. We are sick, diseased, and frail. We have graves full of loved ones. So what to do? Well, we try to do it too! For if it worked on us, maybe it will work on others, too. And so we try to wrap ourselves up and look good; try to fool others with our happy appearance. Maybe others won’t know what I’m like inside, how sinful; all that I am ashamed of. Maybe they won’t know how I feel inside; the hurts and pains and doubts and fears.

So what many want for Christmas, but they’re afraid to say, is for all that to be gone. To stop having to hide. For the hurts to be healed, the doubts to be conquered, the pains turned to joy, and the fears conquered by love. And not just for a day. 

So today, John is unwrapping the gift of God to us. The gift that gives all that! That we not judge this gift by its size, shape, or appearance, but know that here, today, is the gift we need. 

Last night we heard about the wrapping and what could been seen - the journey to Bethlehem, the stable, the swaddling clothes, the manger, the angels and the shepherds. That’s like your Christmas tree with all the presents under it and around it, but none of them unwrapped or opened yet. It’s pretty, but there’s more to it.

And that more is what John is telling us today. John unwraps all that and tells you what the real gift here is: that baby is the Word was made flesh. Or in other words, the very Son of God was made to be just like you. The infinite God has, in this child, become as small as you. The all powerful God has, in this child, become as weak as you. The glorious God has, in this child, become as poor as you. Which might not sound like good news, at first. But it is, John says. It is! The Son of God is born a son of man, that we children of men might 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

Born of God. That’s you. Born of man, you are sinner. Ugly. You have to wrap yourself up to look good and hide the ugliness. But born of God, you are saint. Holy, perfect, and pure. Because that’s what God has made you, through this child, in the forgiveness of your sins. Your wrapping might not show that. Like the child Jesus, you look just like everyone else. But you’re not. Not anymore! Because of Jesus, you’re now a child of God by grace through faith. You’re a child of God, for you’ve been baptized into your Saviour. 

And speaking of deceptive gift wrapping . . . that’s one right there: baptism. That’s like the present under the tree that you open last, because it’s kind of small and doesn’t look like much. But when you open it, unwrap it, you find out it’s the gift you’ve been wanting and waiting for! That’s baptism! It really doesn’t look like much, just a little water. But really, there’s the gift you need. There’s the healing, the forgiveness, the love, the life, the salvation you’ve been wanting, and need! God put all that there for you.

And the Lord’s Supper too. Just a little piece of untasty bread and a sip of wine. Like a present wrapped in a plain, brown bag. Or what about Absolution? Just words? Or maybe the humble wrapping is hiding the greatest gift of all. For you see, that’s Jesus in all those things. Wrapped up for you in water and in words and in bread and wine. And not just the baby Jesus, but the beaten and bloody Jesus, the crucified Jesus, the risen Jesus, and the ascended Jesus. Your Saviour Jesus, to save you. 

That’s what John wants you to know this morning. And it’s what we sang to each other in the beautiful opening hymn we sing every year on Christmas Day (LSB #384) - a hymn written back in the fifth century! A hymn Christians have been singing for some 1500 years now! Expressing this truth. 

That this child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger? 
He is the one:

(v. 1) Of the Father’s love begotten before the worlds began to be,
He is the Alpha and the Omega, 
the source, the ending, 
of all the things that are, that have been, or that will be. Forever.

(v. 2) He is the one now born,
Conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin, Mary -
she bore the Savior of our race!
On that day not just a child was born, but the world’s Redeemer
first revealed His sacred face. Forever.

This child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger? He is the one:

(v. 3) The prophets and seers in old time, in the Old Testament, 
all spoke of with different words, yet in unison.
And promised in their faithful words that God was fulfilling His promise!
And now He shines, here, with the glory of God!
Let creation praise its Lord! Forever.

(v. 4) But not just creation! All the heights of heaven, too!
The angel hosts that praise Him in heaven, now praise Him on earth,
extolling our God and King now born in human flesh and blood.
So let no tongue on earth be silent either! Every voice in this concert, ring! 

Did you realize that’s what we sang? Pretty amazing. Not the song, the child. The gift. Don’t let the wrapping fool you. Here is a gift that will never run out, never wear out. It might seem like He’s gone out of style these days, but He never does. For what He is, what He has, is what we always need. For He is full of grace and truth. And you need both. Grace without truth is like treating the symptoms but not healing the disease. Truth without grace is like operating without anesthesia. But when you know the truth of our sin and its depths, and know the grace of God and how great it is, then we have something! And what we have is Jesus. And when we have Jesus, we have His life and His forgiveness, we have His Sonship and His kingdom, we have His perfection and His love. And that, you have to say, is a gift unlike any other.

Therefore we sang our thanks in the final verse of that opening hymn:

(v. 5) Christ, to Thee, with God the Father and the Holy Spirit,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unending praises!
For with Him is honor, glory, dominion, and eternal victory! Forever.
Evermore and evermore!

And we will sing that, those thanks, forever. A hymn, chant, high thanksgiving, and praise that not even death will be able to end. Because of Him. Because of your gift, born for you this day.

Merry Christmas.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Christmas Eve Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Glory to God in the Highest”
Text: Luke 2:1-20; Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14

(Note: Our Advent midweek meditations this year have been hearing the Christmas story as told by the angel Gabriel - what it might have sounded like had he told the story, from his perspective. Tonight’s meditation is the last installment of that series. So, listen to Gabriel’s story one more time . . . And again, though the Biblical text doesn’t tell us it was Gabriel who announced the birth to the shepherds, I have taken the liberty of assigning him that role for the purposes of this story.)

It had been a busy year! Actually more than a year - some 15 months in all. First the visit to Zechariah, then the visit to Mary, then apparing to Joseph in a dream, and all the watching, guarding, and protecting I did in between. If angels could get tired like you humans, I would be one tired angel! But it was such a joy watching our Father put His plan into action. The plan He had promised so long ago, when Adam and Eve first fell into sin and plunged all of creation into sin with them. But our Father waited for just the right time. And He had made me, Gabriel, such an important part of it! 

Well, when I last talked to you I had just appeared to Joseph in a dream, to let him know that everything was okay. That the child Mary was carrying was not of adultery, but was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was, in fact, the Son of God. That Word of God had worked in Joseph and he believed. He took Mary to be his wife and did not divorce her.

The next six months were filled with activity as Joseph and Mary not only went about their lives, but got ready for this baby. But then, one rather large monkey wrench got thrown into their lives! Caesar Augustus issued a decree, that all the world should be taxed. Everyone would have to go to the town of his ancestors and register there, so that Rome could be sure they were collecting all the taxes they should. I know how much you all love to pay taxes! So there was no small amount of grumbling going around Galilee and Judea. This meant a change of plans for Mary and Joseph - and right around the time Mary was due to have the baby! They would have to make the trek down to Bethlehem. It was not going to be easy.

So they packed up and started off. I was one of the team watching over them as they went. Poor Mary! She was so uncomfortable. And Joseph - you could see the worry that never left his face. His head seemed like it was on a swivel, constantly turning to look where they were going, and then to Mary. Back and forth. When they stopped for the night, he was asleep before his head hit the pillow. And then they were on the road again, first thing in the morning. I think Joseph was trying to get there and back before the baby came. And I have to say, they were making good time.

When they got to Bethlehem, the place had swelled to a population far greater than normal. It was busting at the seams! You see, Bethlehem had the honor and distinction of being the city of David, and David’s lineage was long and full. So many people were there. Joseph and Mary hoped to stay with some of their relatives, but all the guest rooms were full. Finally, one offered to let them stay with their animals. It wasn’t ideal, but it would be warm.

Well, they no longer got to the place when Mary cried out in pain - the baby was coming! Really? Joseph though. Here? Now? But there wasn’t much he could do about it. He helped as he could; tried to make Mary comfortable. And where would they put Jesus once He was born? He looked around for whatever extra things were lying around. Maybe he could build a cradle. He was a carpenter, after all. But there wasn’t enough, or enough time. The baby was coming and wasn’t going to wait for him! So Joseph dumped out the manger and put clean straw in it - that would have to do. Beggars can’t be choosers.

You know, I thought to myself: only our Father would do it this way! Choose to have His Son born like this. In such lowliness and humility. And I thought of the words of Isaiah the prophet: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given . . . Yes, this was God’s Son here in this manger! Given as a gift to the world. And the government shall be upon his shoulder . . . Those tiny shoulders, so little now, but which would one day bear the cross and rule from it as His throne. And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Yes, He was all of those things, for they were not just names, but descriptions of what Jesus would be.

Well, I was so wrapped up in my thoughts and at the wonder of all that I was seeing that I almost missed the call! One of my brothers had to come back and shake me out of it. Gabriel! C’mon! he yelled. I hated to leave, but we had an important mission to do. Yes, we. Not just me, this time. It was to go out to the fields around Bethlehem and find the shepherds our Father had told us about. To find them and tell them that their Saviour had been born. 

Now, you might think: why shepherds? They weren’t the most educated people, and being a shepherd wasn’t a glamorous job. In fact, it was pretty rough. But, you see, our Father misses no detail and takes advantage of every opportunity to teach you. Because if His Son is born to be the Lamb of God, who else should come to see Him but shepherds! You see? It makes sense! And, it’s how our Father usually does things. He doesn’t just favor the rich, important, and powerful - He likes to go to the poor, lowly, and weak and lift them up with His good news. And boy, did He ever! 

So we found the shepherds our Father told us about, right where He said they would be. And then it was time for me to speak again. Yes, our Father had given me another honor: to announce to the shepherds the fulfillment of the Scriptures, the birth of the promised Saviour. He had actually given me this assignment a few weeks ago, and me and all my brother angels, we’d been practicing our lines ever since. What incredible news we got to bring! And now it was time.

I came to the shepherds. They were huddled together in the cold, trying to stay warm. When I appeared, the glory of the Lord was so bright that it completely overwhelmed the light coming from their fire! And as you can imagine, this caused no small amount of fear in them. They’d never seen an angel before, or light like this. It was terrifying. So I quickly spoke, before they tried to run away and hide! And yes, as always, I spoke exactly what my Father told me to speak: 

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And here I am telling you these same good tidings of great joy, too! For if it is for all people, then it is for you, too. That you rejoice in this birth, too. That you rejoice in your Saviour, born for you this night. Born to save you from your sins. I hope you know how big that is. Because without Him, you’d have no hope. Without Him, you’re that unidentifiable fuzzy green thing that’s been in the back of your refrigerator all year that makes you sick just looking at it! Really, that’s what you and your sin looks like! And it just needs to be thrown out. 

But our Father loves you so much, He said no. I’m not going to throw them away. I’m going to save them. And I’m going to send my Son, my only-begotten Son, to do it. Every time I tell that part of the story, my now-evil-former-brother satan gets so mad! He hates that part of the story. He doesn’t mind if people know the story of Jesus’ birth - as long as they don’t know why, or don’t care what it means. As long as it’s just a story. But he hates it when I talk about what it all means, and the life and forgiveness and saving God is now doing for you. In Jesus. That’s it’s more than just a story.

Well, I had no longer told the angels about their Saviour than all my brothers came out of hiding and starting singing! They were so excited. I knew they couldn’t wait, but it was - literally! - like no more than a nanosecond after I finished that they came out and burst out in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. I was singing so loud I almost lost my voice! I can’t imagine how loud it must have sounded to the shepherds. 

Finished what we had come to do, my brothers and I all vanished before the eyes of the shepherds. Half of us went back to Jesus. The other half of us continued to watch over the shepherds, though they couldn’t see us anymore. And immediately they got up and went to find Jesus. They left their sheep - I’m sure they still cared about them, but figured if God took the trouble to send us angels to tell them this good news, then He would also protect their sheep. 

It didn’t take them long to find Jesus. Mary and Joseph graciously let them in. I guess they knew their baby really wasn’t their baby, but belonged to everyone. Especially after the shepherds told them what had happened. And then I heard one of the shepherds speak. He said it quietly, but I distinctly heard what he said: He’s just like one of us

You know, sometimes the greatest theology comes from the most unexpected places. For that shepherd was exactly right. The Son of God didn’t become an angel - He became just like you. He was made man. Just like you in every way, except without sin. So that He could take your place. So that He could take your sin. So that He could die your death. So that He could be your Saviour. 

I lost track of time again! I don’t know how long the shepherds were there. Probably not too long. Mary was pretty tired and I know Joseph was exhausted. So the shepherds left, but they couldn’t stop talking about all that had happened. That Once in Royal David’s City, in the Little Town of Bethlehem, the Herald Angels Sang and told them about the newborn king. That’s the message you’ve heard tonight, too. And sang. And just as it changed the shepherds’ world, so it has yours, too. How could it not? For the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. That’s not just talking about the shepherds, but about you. And all people. The darkness of sin that’s now scattered by the love and forgiveness of Jesus. So that you can live a new life. Like Paul wrote to Titus about, in those words you heard earlier. To be people zealous for good works.

You know, we angels have discovered that sometimes you humans don’t like being told to do good works. We angels love it! We love doing whatever our Father tells us! But that’s how badly sin has ruined you. You don’t always love it when our Father calls your name, like we do. 

So, maybe, think of it like this instead. When Isaiah wrote his words that you heard tonight, he ended by saying: the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. And then Paul used that same word again in writing to Titus, to be zealous for good works. So, like Father, like son. You’re sons of God now because of Jesus, so you get to be just like your Father. Loving and serving and forgiving. Jesus became just like one of you, that you be just like Him. And me and my brother angels, we’ve seen it; we’ve seen our Father working that in you, and we’ve seen you be that way. It’s so cool. The change. From seeing the shame and fear in Adam’s eyes in the Garden, to now seeing the love and forgiveness of God in your eyes. Our Father has done wonderful things for you and in you, and now through you for others. So, when He calls you or calls on you, don’t be afraid. I know we angels are saying that a lot! But really, don’t be afraid. It’s all good. It really is. He’s your Father. And tonight, His Son, your brother and Saviour, is born. 

So Gabriel, signing off, one last time. In Jesus’ name. Amen.