Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of the Epiphany 2 (January 15-20, 2018)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Psalm 62:5 - “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #839 “O Christ, Our True and Only Light”
Hymns for Sunday: 396, 839, 540, 409, 849, 797

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

Monday:  Psalm 62
Why is God alone our only hope? Why do we trust other people and things? Why is this foolish?

Tuesday:  1 Samuel 3:1-10
How are you sometimes deaf to the word and call of the Lord? How can you better hear?

Wednesday:  Mark 8:27-35
Commemoration of the Confession of St. Peter. Who is Jesus? How do we know? 

Thursday:  Jonah 3:1-5, 10
How is the power of God’s Word shown here? How is the love of God shown here?

The time is short. Should that change how we live? Why?

Saturday:  Mark 1:14-20
How is the kingdom of God “at hand” for us? Therefore what shall we do?

The Catechism - Confession: What sins should we confess? Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ all struggling with besetting sin, for freedom and forgiveness.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational recording secretary, TJ Myers.
+ the India Evangelical Lutheran Church, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and provision for Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO.
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

“Baptized for a Greater Life”
Text: Mark 1:4-11; Romans 6:1-11; Genesis 1:1-5

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

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

John appeared in the wilderness. The wilderness. A place isolated and lonely, a wild and unruly and dangerous place. What, would you say, where, would you say, is such a place, such a wilderness, in our world today? A place where would John go today with his message of forgiveness? Well, there are probably many you could think of, but one, I think, might be a prison.

So imagine . . . Imagine if our president, who as president has full power to completely pardon anyone he wants, went to the highest security prison we have. The place where they lock up the worst of the worst, the really bad criminals. He appears there one day with a pile of pardons. And all who come and confess may have one. But don’t deny your sin. Don’t tell him you’re innocent and have been locked up wrongfully. If you do, no pardon for you. What do you think would happen?

Well, a number of things, I suppose. Certainly, there would be those eager to confess and receive this pardon and be set free. But I think also there would be those who were indignant at having to confess; too prideful to lower themselves to him. There might be some who know their guilt and feel they don’t deserve such a pardon. And there would undoubtedly be an outcry from those outside the prison at such horrible people being set free. They don’t deserve it, and we don’t want them back on our streets. I think John had all those kinds of people and had to face all of that.

But what if our president then went to the town the prison was in with another set of pardons, but these to forgive the debts and taxes owed by those in the town. At the stroke of his pen they’d be gone. Do you think that would change some attitudes?

But here, too, there would be those who object. They must pay what they owe! How can the town run if taxes are not paid? You cannot just pardon people. You cannot just forgive. You cannot just set free. I’m sure John faced those attitudes as well. You can’t just baptize, John. You can’t just forgive like that. But it did not stop him. He had a gift to give, and he was going to give it. To all. To those whose sins were great and to those whose debts were small. He made no distinction. For the one who sent him made no distinction.

But John also preached. He had a message to proclaim along with this gift. That if you think this pardon is great, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! There’s another one coming, mightier than I, greater than I. So much so that I cannot even come to him on hands and knees and take off his grubby sandals! He’s coming with an even greater gift, an ever greater baptism. For I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

The baptism of this greater one gives forgiveness, yes, but this too: a new spirit. His Spirit. A holy Spirit. That, as Paul said, you no longer be enslaved to sin. Or maybe we would say it this way today: that you be no longer addicted to sin. That you now have a new mind to think a new way, a new heart with new desires, and a new life to live. That forgiveness be much more than just getting out of jail or out of debt, but the beginning of a whole new life. A holy life, with a holy spirit.

And then this mightier one, this greater one, came. He came to John and was baptized by him. And the greater happened. Unlike all the other baptisms that John had been doing, when Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened, this Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven announced what it all meant: You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.

Now, on the one hand, such a statement makes sense. The Father has been well pleased in the Son from eternity. But on the other hand, it is strange. For the Son is here receiving the baptism of the sinner. The Son, who is absolutely free, subject to none, has no debt, and has broken no laws, goes into the prison and lines up with the prisoners for pardon. And the Father is not only okay with, but pleased with that?

Yes. For with this the Son is not receiving a pardon He doesn’t need, just pretending to be a prisoner. Jesus is fulfilling His office - His office as the Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Saviour. By virtue of his office, the President of the United States has the authority to pardon. By virtue of His office, Jesus has the authority to come and take the place of the prisoners. Not just to pretend to be one, but to become one. To become us. To take our place. To take our guilt, all the time in prison, all the debt that is owed, the condemnation for all of us on death row, and make it His own. He’ll pay it for us, to set us free. And to set us free not only from our sin but from our addiction to sin. That we be not just prisoners set free, sinners forgiven - but prisoners made into upright citizens; sinners made sons of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

That’s why Paul asks the question: What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Or to phrase that a little differently: What are we saying here? That getting out of jail we can return to a life of crime and not worry about it because we know there’s forgiveness? That we can now sin as much as we want because we’ll just be able to walk of jail again and again and again? No way! he says. By no means! That’s not it at all. That is to ignore completely what Jesus has done for us and the gift of the Holy Spirit He has for us. That is to think of baptism today as still just the baptism of John - the lesser baptism, if we could say it that way - and not the greater baptism, the baptism of Jesus. The baptism which not only forgives and sets us free, but gives us also a new life to live. A Spirit-led life. Not just a better life, but a greater life.

For I think there’s a difference. Most people want a better life, but what that means is quite different. It might mean moving from prison to a homeless shelter, from a homeless shelter to a place of your own, from an apartment to a house, from a lower paying job to a higher paying one, from being single to being married, from being married to having children, from working to retirement - and the list could go on and on. Yet for some, these very things could be seen as not better - but more responsibility, more inconvenience, more time consumed, more worries. Better is a matter of opinion. And better changes. 

But a greater life - how many of us think of that? A life that’s greater than just you and your wants and desires. Greater than your better. We often use sin to get what we think is better; but sin doesn’t give us a greater life. It can’t. Not this kind of greater. It makes us less. Ask Adam and Eve. They reached for better; they got lesser. They didn’t get greater; they got death.

Jesus came to change that. Jesus came to the Jordan to change that. Jesus was baptized to change that. And Jesus baptizes you to change that. 

When Jesus is baptized, the greater one becomes the least, so that we who are least may become greater. That we not have just better lives, but greater ones. Ones filled not with sin, but filled with God and His greatness. The greatness not of selfishness but of love. The greatness not of being served but serving others. The greatness not of being able to do whatever we want but of doing what is good. The greatness not of being led around on satan’s leash, but led by the Spirit given to us. Not addicted to sin, but alive in Christ. 

A greater life. A significant life. A better life is not necessarily a significant life. In fact, it may be quite insignificant; quite self-centered and small.

But when you’re there for a friend in need, when you help your parents, when you take care of your children, when you forgive someone who has deeply hurt you, when you speak a word of hope and encouragement, when you pray, when you give, when you help, when you lift up others - that is the greatness not addicted to sin, to serving yourself. That is the greater life of Christ. That makes a difference. That means something. 

And so John baptizes the greater one who becomes least, and Jesus baptizes the least who become greater. For what did St. Paul say today happens in baptism? Not that we continue to sin. No, sin becomes dead to us. We begin to live a new life. A resurrected-with-Christ life. A no-longer-addicted-to-sin, find-my-life-in-sin, life. But a life where sin, death, and devil have no dominion over us. Where we are ruled by them no longer. They will still happen, but we’ve been baptized into the greater one, into Christ. What’s ours is His and what’s His is ours. The life we now live is new; it’s God’s. God’s life given to us in Christ. And so a greater life. A life that will never end.

Being out in the wildermess, clothed with camel’s hair with a leather belt around your waist and eating locusts and wild honey, and then being thrown into prison by King Herod and eventually having his head danced off - many would not think that John had a better life. And maybe not. But Jesus said: among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist

But then He adds this too: Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matthew 11:11).

That’s what Jesus wants for you. Not just a better life, that’s not enough. But a greater life. A kingdom of heaven life already here, already now. And it’s here for you, in whatever wilderness you’re in, in a font. For as we heard in the reading from Genesis, where there’s water, the Spirit, and the Word of God, there’s life. 

So when you find yourself in the wilderness, and even when you’re not, when you’re in an easier place in life, remember this: that you are baptized. You are a child of God. You have been given a greater life. And you have a meal here that is greater than all others - the very Body and Blood of Jesus. That no matter where you are, no matter how things are going in your life, you have been given this gift. You have a life that matters, that makes a difference, and that will last forever. 

For just as when water, Word, and Spirit got together in the beginning and launched the first day of creation, of life, so water, Word, and Spirit launched the first day of your new life. And when the evening comes for you, when your life here in this world ends, there will then be the morning of a new day, a greater day, for a greater you. Because that’s what Jesus came. That’s why He came to the Jordan. That’s why He was baptized. And that’s why He baptized you. His gift. A greater life. For you and for all. 

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

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Epiphany of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“At the End of the Journey”
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.

There’s a story in the New Testament about a rich young man who comes to Jesus and asks: Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? And in the end, Jesus tells him: Go sell all that you have and give to the poor . . . and come, follow me (Mark 10).

Because there’s something waiting for you at the end of that journey. Something you need that your riches are holding you back from, namely life and joy. You think you have that life and joy now, Jesus is saying to him, with the life you have, with the wealth you have. But that’s only because you don’t know there’s more. Much more. A more that you cannot even begin to imagine. 

Maybe like the first time you tasted something really delicious. You thought you knew what good was, and then you tasted this . . .  Or maybe like the first time you saw a really beautiful sunset, when the sky was awash with color like you’d never seen before. So come, follow me, Jesus says. 

It might not be an easy journey. In fact, it might be quite difficult, with many trials and sorrows and struggles on the way. It might take a long time, longer than you think. It might have detours that take you down ways you did not expect, and maybe don’t even seem right or good. But follow me, Jesus says, and in the end, you will see.

But in this story, the rich young man doesn’t. Instead he goes away sorrowful. He does not taste, he does not see, what he does not know. And we are sad for him.

A sorrow that we should have also for the chief priests and scribes that Matthew tells us about today, who do not go to see the one born king of the Jews. The Scriptures tell them of Him, and that He is not even far away - in Bethlehem. Just down the road. But they cannot follow this word. Maybe they are afraid of Herod, or of losing their positions, or what this would mean for their life. The life they know, anyway. So they do not taste, they do not see . . . their Saviour come for them. 

But the wise men do. And at the end of their journey, they taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

Have you ever wondered what made the wise men go? Why, the star, you say. Of course. But why did they follow it? They had it all figured out. They saw this star and they figured out what it meant - that the king of the Jews had been born. So, case closed. Move onto something else - the next mental challenge, the next problem or puzzle to solve, the next topic of the day.

But no. They go. They pack up their stuff, take their treasures, and follow this star. I wonder if other wise men ridiculed them, like the ridicule Noah must have received, building a giant boat where there wasn’t even any water! Why go see a king who isn’t even your king? Why give up what you have? Why make a journey you may not come home from?

Well, Matthew doesn’t tell us any of that. Just that they went. Maybe we would ridicule them if we knew why they went. 

But there’s a saying: You’re not wise because you know so much; you’re wise when you know how much you don’t know. And maybe that’s what made these wise men wise. They knew there was more. More they needed. And so they go. 

And at the end of their journey, they taste and see that the Lord is good

Oh, I’m quite sure it was not what they expected to see at the end of their journey. But they did not hang on to what they knew or thought they knew. And at the end of their journey, they saw a love they never knew before. A God who would do this for His people. A God who did not come to shepherd His people by bossing them around or flexing His muscles - like all the other gods they ever knew. But by coming like this - a baby. Here was a God who so loved His people that He would become poor and weak and helpless for them. He was not a king like Herod or any of the other kings they knew. This was like seeing that beautiful sunset for the first time! They couldn’t believe it. Except they did. We know, for they fell down and worshiped Him. And they gave their treasures to the poor - to this poor family. They weren’t really treasures anymore anyhow. For now, they had tasted more, they had seen more. Now they were more - more than they were when they started this journey. Now, they were truly wise men.

So they fulfilled what Isaiah wrote, of those who would come to taste and see something new, something never before seen. They are examples of what Paul wrote, Gentiles who are partakers of the promise - the promise that there is something greater, something we need at the end of the journey; something that we cannot now even begin to imagine. And so it is told us, revealed to us. That we, too, might know. That we, too, might go.

It is, in fact, why you come here every week. To taste and see this same Lord. This God who so loves you that He would come here for you, like this. Not bossing you around or flexing His muscles, but to forgive your sins and give you life. 

It is a life that might be quite different than what you expect. It might not be an easy journey for you. In fact, it might be quite difficult, with many trials and sorrows and dangers on the way. There may be surprise detours, and ways that don’t seem right or good. 

Consider the disciples, and their journey. Where did they go? What did they see? Many things, but ultimately the cross. They saw God’s love returned as hatred. They saw God’s goodness rejected. They saw what the journey to the end of our sin looks like - like that. Pain, agony, and death. And while you and I may not have that much pain or agony in our lives, we will have that: death. Joy and life snuffed out by sin and death.

But in Jesus, there’s something waiting for you at the end of that journey. Or, better: someone. He is there. For just as He came into this world and was born for us as a baby, so He came back into this world, rising from the dead. That we too might live. That the end of our journey not be a grave, or worse! - but a life the likes of which we have never seen before. A tasting of goodness and a seeing of beauty that will never end. More than we could ever imagine.

And the disciples, who saw all that - Jesus alive, Jesus dead, Jesus alive again, and then Jesus ascended - became wise men. How so? Well, not only did they fall down and worship Him, they realized their treasures - their life and anything else they had - really weren’t treasures anymore. They had tasted more, they had seen more. Now, like the wise men, they were more - more than they were when they started this journey. Paul too.

And now you. You who do not journey to Bethlehem or follow a star, but who hear the Word and come here. We are sad for those who do not. Who do not come, or who come physically but their minds and hearts are somewhere else. For here is the Body and Blood of the one that makes men wise, that fills us with life, that forgives our sins, that gives us joy and hope, that shows us love, and that makes us more than we are when we start this journey. For we start as sinful children of a human father and mother, but we arrive as forgiven children of our Father in heaven, and brothers and sisters of the King. The King who comes to shepherd and serve and save.

So just as in Isaiah’s day, the call goes out to us: 
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.

Yes, the people walking in darkness - we! - have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2). What are you hanging onto that compares with that? No, come receive your life and your joy, your Saviour, who is here for you.

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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Christmas 1 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Not Just Shepherds and Wise Men . . .”
Text: Luke 2:22-40

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

The shepherds and the wise men get all the press. They’re in our nativity scenes and on many Christmas cards. They have Christmas carols written about them that everyone knows, and they’re in children’s Christmas pageants. We hear about them on big days in the church - Christmas Eve and Epiphany. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the shepherds and the wise men, right?

The guy we heard about today - Simeon - well, he kind of falls through the cracks. He’s not in any nativity scenes or on any Christmas cards. No well known carols about him, and no child rushes up to the director of the Christmas pageant and asks to be Simeon! Maybe its because we usually hear about him the Sunday after Christmas, which is called a “Low Sunday,” meaning its not usually one of the better attended services of the year. 

So Simeon? Well, Christmas is just fine without him.

Except . . . of those three: the shepherds, the wise men, and Simeon, who can we most relate to? The shepherds? They got to see and hear from the angels and leave their flocks and go to Bethlehem the very night that Jesus was born. That’s pretty cool . . . but something I’ll never get to do. And the wise men? They got to see and follow a special star! They journeyed a long and perhaps difficult way, and then fell down and worshipped Jesus. That’s pretty cool, too . . . but again, not something I’ll ever get to do.

But Simeon? He’s a bit different. Kinda ordinary. And he didn’t go see Jesus - Jesus came to him. In Church. And Simeon didn’t get to see angels or a special star - what He had was the Word of God. Simeon . . . he’s like us. 

So maybe he’s the part of the Christmas story where we fit best. And maybe that’s why the church decided to give him more press than the shepherds and the wise men. For while they get the big days of Christmas and Epiphany, the words of Simeon are sung by us many Sundays throughout the church year. We sing them right after we see our Saviour - taking Him not up in our arms, as Simeon did, but even better - taking Him into our mouths, and so into us, as we eat His Body and drink His Blood in the Lord’s Supper. We get to be Simeon. You even probably have your lines memorized:
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace 
according to Thy Word,
for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, 
which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people,
a light to lighten the Gentiles
and the glory of Thy people Israel.

With those words, Simeon is saying something significant. The shepherds went to see the Lamb of God lying in a manger. The wise men went to see the King of kings. But Simeon tells us what this means for him, for you and me, and for all people: that because Jesus has come into the world, we can depart in peace. For God’s salvation, God’s sin offering is here. The King who came to serve His people. The Lamb who came to offer His life. That we who die may die in peace.

And that’s a great Christmas present, really. Most people I have spoken to want to die in peace. They don’t want to be in a hospital or in great pain - they want to die at home in their sleep, peacefully. Some get to, and some don’t. But Simeon is telling us that even in the hospital, even in great pain, even suddenly or unexpectedly, we can die in peace. The peace of knowing that death is not the end. The peace of knowing that our sins will not haunt us. For the one who conquers sin and death is here. He has come to put our spiritual affairs in order, so we can die with a peaceful mind and a peace-filled heart.

Yet while that’s a great Christmas present, I guess it’s also why Simeon hasn’t really caught on as part of the Christmas story - nobody wants to think about death at Christmas. But sometimes death intrudes on our Christmases. When we try to celebrate for the first time without a loved one, or when we know that our loved one won’t make it to the next Christmas. I still remember getting the phone call from my father just a couple of days after Christmas telling us that my mother was going on hospice care and that this was going to be her last Christmas with us. 

Sad . . . but Simeon teaches us that there is never a “last Christmas” for those who die in Christ. In fact, for them, they enter the Christmas that never ends. Can you imagine that? Every day Christmas Day? Every day with your Saviour? Not with Him in your arms, but with you in His! Perhaps that is a good way to think about eternal life. 

But not just eternal life, but your life even now. For even now, each day that we live is a day in Christ’s arms; a day in His love and care. It may not always seem like it, just as another Hebrew mother and father bringing their child to the Temple didn’t seem like anything special. Simeon had probably seen it dozens of times before. But the Word and promise of God, and the Holy Spirit, told Simeon this one was different. This one was special. This one was the one he had been waiting for . . .

And for us, too. It is the Word and promise of God, and the Holy Spirit, telling us that though our lives seem quite ordinary or even bad, that we are in the love and care of our Saviour. That this water really does wash away our sins and give us a new birth. That these words really do change our status before God. That this bread and wine really are the Body and Blood of Simeon’s promised child . . . and of our crucified and risen Saviour. That God uses the ordinary in extraordinary ways, and to do extraordinary things.

And that’s really what makes Christmas merry, isn’t it? 

So maybe we could start a campaign to “Keep Simeon in Christmas” . . . but I don’t think we’d really get anywhere. Keep Christ in Christmas in catchier, and hard enough.

So how about this? That we make Simeon our New Year’s Eve commemoration? We always hear His story around this time, and this day needs a better name anyway; better than the Eve of the Circumcision of our Lord. And Simeon is perfect for this day, for New Year’s Eve, it seems to me. For this day was a turning point for Simeon. His waiting was over, the promise was fulfilled, and he now looked to the future with confidence. He was ready to die and ready for whatever else came his way. He had held his Saviour in his arms! What could possibly overshadow that?

And this too - we don’t know how long Simeon lived after this. Was he an old man - like is often assumed and like is pictured on the cover of the bulletin today? And so he didn’t have many years left to live? Or was he a young man who could have lived for many more years, even maybe long enough to see the child he once held in his arms held by nails to a cross? Or was he a young man who died young? We just don’t know what happened to him after this day . . .

And we, too, don’t know what this New Year will bring for us. This day is a turning point for us - the close of one year and the start of a new. This day is when many look back to the year gone by and look forward to the year ahead. The joys and regrets of the past and the hopes and dreams - and maybe the fears - of the future. But like for Simeon, Jesus changes things. Like Simeon, we can face the future - whatever it brings - with confidence. For our Saviour has come for us with forgiveness for the past and hope for the future. So that whatever happens, whatever comes, we are ready when He is with us.

And also like Simeon, none of us knows how much longer we have to live. Maybe you’re old and have not many years left. But maybe you’re young and will die young. Or maybe you’ll live many more years and see things you’ve never imagined - not just the changes that will surely happen in our world, but also, maybe, you’ll get to see the Jesus we now eat and drink returning in glory on the clouds of heaven. We just don’t know.

But from that day on, this Simeon knew: he could depart in peace. And that we know too. 

We can depart this year in peace and we can depart this life in peace, because our sins, our failures, our mistakes, our screw-ups, and our rebellion have been forgiven. All of them. There’s no old man skeleton in the closet or monster of sin under the bed, waiting to come out and make God want to toss us out or disown us. They’re gone, slain, with Jesus on the cross.

So now, for us, is a new life. The turning of a new page - not just of a new calendar, but of new life. In Christ

So let the shepherds and the wise men get all the press and good carols. Long after the press cycle has ended, the cards have been recycled, and the carols put away for another year, we’ll still be singing Simeon’s Christmas carol and making his joy ours as well. 

And pay attention, too, to the words of the hymn we’ll sing at the end today, our closing hymn (LSB #897). As you sing those words, imagine Simeon saying them. How appropriate those words are to sing, to proclaim, today. Simeon’s day. New Year’s Eve. Maybe we can sneak them into some Christmas pageants next year . . .

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

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Day Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Full of Grace and Truth”
Text: Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-14

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

Whenever I sit down to write a Christmas sermon, my thoughts always go to those for whom Christmas is a struggle. Who don’t have the pile of gifts under the tree and the big, cheerful, family dinner. Like those who have lost loved ones this year, those who have just lost their job, those who have been diagnosed with a disease that will soon end their life, or those with some other struggle, bad news, or hardship. And that’s not just people not here; but maybe describes you. They miss Christmas, some would say, because they have none of the joy and happiness that for many define Christmas. But I actually think it is just the opposite. I think people in those situations can celebrate Christmas better than most; can understand better what it’s all about.

And so it is with that in mind that I looked at the words of the prophet Isaiah that we heard this morning, and I realized for the first time that right after these verses that we read on Christmas Day every year, come the words that we read on Good Friday every year. Just two verses after this reading, Isaiah begins to tell us of the one who would be stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God (Isaiah 53:4). The one who would be so marred that you couldn’t even recognize Him as a human being (Isaiah 52:14). The one who was cut off out of the land of the living (Isaiah 53:8).

So if we put those two readings from Isaiah together, this is what we get:

Those beautiful feet which Isaiah speaks of, which bring good news, would soon be pierced with a nail.
The God who reigns, would reign from the throne of a cross.
Isaiah’s Lord returns to Zion . . . to die.
He redeems Jerusalem . . . with His own blood as the price.
And if all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God, they will see it this way: the Son of God offering Himself as the sin offering for the life and salvation of the world.

That’s how Isaiah says Merry Christmas! So no wonder the prophets weren’t so popular, and (according to tradition) Isaiah was sawn in two. That’s not the kind of Merry Christmas most want! People then or now. But it is the kind of Merry Christmas we need. It is what makes Christmas merry. For without the Good Friday verses, these Christmas verses would be meaningless to us. God did this - so what? But with the Good Friday verses, God did this FOR ME. He was born for me to die for me and give me life and hope in the midst of a world so often filled with sadness, struggle, and hopelessness.

And so writing of the birth of Jesus, John put it this way: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

We have seen His glory. We have seen, John says, that the one who was with God and who was God; the one who was in the beginning with God and through whom all things were made - this eternal, almighty God, we have seen His glory, because we saw Him on the cross. For the glory of God is His great love for you. The glory of God is His sacrifice for you. The glory of God is that God would become a man, born of the virgin Mary, born in poverty, and then trade His life for yours. The glory of God is that He would take your place under sin and in death, so that you could have His place in glory and life. We saw all this, John says. God’s Christmas gift to you.

For this one, come down from heaven to earth, John says, the Creator born into His creation, is full of grace and truth. Or in other words, in Jesus, there is nothing else but grace and truth. For if He is full of grace and truth, then there is room for nothing else. Just grace and truth. And so everything He does, everything He speaks, is grace and truth. Grace, which is gift language, the giving of Himself for others. And truth, no ulterior motives, no hypocrisy; just truth, straight-forwardness, honesty.

And what happens when grace and truth fill a person? Well, then you have a Saviour. 

For there is grace in our world, but it is often grace without truth. And grace without truth is laxity, license, and enabling those who live in sin to continue to live in sin. Grace without truth is what today is called love and tolerance. For anything goes when you have grace without truth.

And in the same way, there is truth in our world, but it is often without grace. And truth without grace is severeness, sternness; unbending, unyielding justice. And we see this today with those accused of certain sins - there is no grace for them, no understanding, no reprieve. They must pay for their transgression. And it must be swift and it must be complete.

So look around at our world today and this is what you see: those deceived by grace without truth, and those hurt by truth without grace. 

But today John says to us: Look! Here in this one, the Word made flesh, is both grace and truth. The fullness of grace and truth. And when you have the fullness of grace and truth, you have neither cheap grace nor despair - you have forgiveness; you have a Saviour. For you have the truth of sin, but also the forgiveness of sin. You have the justice of God against sin, but that justice poured out on another, not you. And you have the glory of God, that He gives not an inch in grace or truth, but gives Himself fully to atone fully for your sin.

And that’s not just what the Christmas is all about, but what the Bible is all about. Grace and truth. And then grace and truth embodied in this one whose birth we celebrate today. In Jesus. 

And then His grace and truth embodied also in us. In us who were, as John said, born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. Born again, born from above, as children of God, children of grace and truth, in Holy Baptism. That we live not in grace without truth or truth without grace, but with both. Confessing our sin and rejoicing in forgiveness. Speaking the truth in love. Facing death, but knowing it is not the end. Struggling, perhaps, but knowing we struggle not alone. For the Word made flesh is still flesh. He didn’t leave His body behind when He was done with it. It is His flesh, forever. His flesh that made Himself one with us, and which He gives us to eat and drink that we be one with Him, and be filled with His grace and truth. The grace and truth of the only Son from the Father, yet in whom are many sons for the Father.

Some people think that struggle and sadness means that God has left them, if He was ever there in the first place, or ever there at all. And maybe if you buy into the world’s vision of Christmas that’s true. But Isaiah’s Christmas, and John’s Christmas, and so our Christmas, is quite different. For the Christmas of grace and truth is this: that the Son of God came to be with us exactly in our sin and struggle and sadness. To give us hope, not ease; to give us joy, not mere happiness; and to give us life in the midst of death. To give us grace and truth by giving us Himself.

And when we know that, when we have that, then it is a Merry Christmas, no matter what else is going on in the world or in your life. In fact, it is the struggle that perhaps enables us to see the gift that is there, but at other times we are blind to. The gift of our Saviour. The light that shines in the darkness. The Word made flesh FOR YOU.

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