Monday, January 16, 2017

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of the Baptism of Our Lord (January 16-21, 2017)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Matthew 4:17 - “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #839 “O Christ, Our True and Only Light”
Hymns for Sunday: 412, 839, 623, 378, 849, 813

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

Monday:  Psalm 27:1-9
What do you fear? Why? What is the answer to our fears?

Tuesday:  Isaiah 49:1-7
Who has God’s servant come to save? How would He come? What will be His weapon? What will be the result?

Wednesday:  John 1:29-42a
Why is John the Baptist’s testimony important? Why must the Church today continue to both hear and speak the same?

Thursday:  Isaiah 9:1-4
What darkness did the people walk in? What light did God bring to them? How has He done this also for you?

Who sows division? Who brings unity? Where is our unity to be found? Why?

Saturday:  Matthew 4:12-25
What did Jesus preach? How was that true? How is it true for us still today?

The Catechism: Confession: What do you believe according to these words? I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ a safe and peaceful presidential transition and inauguration this week, and peace in our country.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational vice president, Scott Killian.
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church - Peru, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for the Lutheran Haven.
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

“John’s Destiny, Jesus’ Destiny, and Yours”
Text: Matthew 3:13-17; Romans 6:1-11; Isaiah 42:1-9

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

If you are surprised that Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized by John - good! You should be. So was John.

Wave after wave of people were coming to John, like the waves that lap the seashore. Coming to confess their sins. Coming to be baptized to wash those sins away and cleanse their guilty consciences and souls.

Until . . . one comes in silence. Confessing nothing. No sins. Not a one. Yet still desiring to be baptized. So either this one is deluded, thinking He has no sins to confess (like some people today), or He really is sinless, perfect. God in human flesh.

John knows the truth is the latter of those two options. Jesus is no madman. But if that’s true, then this isn’t right. John should not be baptizing Him - He should baptize John! And he says so. He tells Jesus that - not to inform Jesus (who as God in human flesh would certainly know that!), but to confess Jesus. 

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Or in other words: No, John, this is right. This is how it should be. This is how it must be. To fulfill all righteousness. Everyone’s righteousness. All these people’s righteousness. Your righteousness and mine. 

For yes, Jesus was righteous and sinless. He didn’t need baptism. John is quite right. But He didn’t come just to be righteous and sinless, but to make us righteous and sinless. And this is part of how He is going to do just that. So do it, John. 

This is John’s destiny. This is Jesus’ destiny. And this changes your destiny.

That’s a word that gets thrown around a lot in our world today, destiny. A lot of people try to think about what their destiny is, what they were destined to do or be. And especially this week, I think you’ll hear a lot of that kind of talk with the inauguration of a new president. What’s his destiny? What’s America’s destiny? And maybe you wonder what your destiny is, too . . .

But this, Jesus’ baptism, is John’s destiny. This is what John came for. All the other baptisms he did would ultimately be meaningless without this one. In fact, if he were to do only one baptism, this is the one he came to do. And after this, he begins to fade away. Jesus increases and John decreases (John 3:30). This is John’s “it is finished” moment. His destiny fulfilled. 

But Jesus’ just beginning. Jesus’ coming to John with all the other sinners is a snapshot of why He came, and of what He came to do: to stand in our place. Though no sinner He is baptized as a sinner. Not to take away His sin, but so that He take away ours. He enters our baptism that we might enter His. He enters into our death that we might enter into His life. He takes our place that we might have His. 

This is Jesus’ destiny. This is why He was sent. Which we see with the actions of the other two persons of the Godhead - the Holy Spirit descending upon Him in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father descending from heaven, saying: Atta boy! Well done!

And we see it, too, the other notable time Jesus was silent and confessed no sin - when He stood on trial before Pontius Pilate. Pilate asks Him repeatedly: What have you done? And Jesus responds with silence (Matthew 27:14). There is nothing to say. Nothing to confess. He has done no wrong, but He also will not defend Himself. He has come to be the sinner. He has come to die our death. And so He will. And so Pilate finishes what John started. John baptizes Jesus into the death that Pilate will sentence Him to. To fulfill all righteousness. Everyone’s righteousness. Our righteousness.

And with that, our destiny is changed. Before, our destiny was death. An earthly death and an eternal dying. For the wages of sin is death. 

But if Jesus pays those wages for you (which He did with His death), then your destiny has changed. No longer is your destiny an earthly death with an eternal dying, but an earthly death that will be followed by eternal life, eternal living. For as Jesus entered into your death, into your curse, into your punishment, beginning with His baptism and ending with His cross, He did so that you might enter into His life, His blessing, His kingdom, beginning with your baptism and completed with your resurrection.

That’s what Paul was talking about in the Epistle we heard today from Romans, this exchange. This Jesus taking our place and we getting His. That because of baptism, when we die we do not die alone, we die with Him who died for us, so that we will also rise with Him. And your baptism is the beginning of that - the beginning of that death and the beginning of that life. In baptism you die with Christ, and in baptism you rise with Him. Already here and now. You die with Christ and so are set free from the dominion and curse of sin, and you rise with Him to live with Him. To live a new life. The life you need the life you now have.

Perhaps it’s hard to think of baptism that way because most of us do not remember our baptism, when we were baptized. And when we see baptisms here, they do not look like much.

Folks in the early church thought that too. And so one of the early church fathers, named Ambrose, said of baptism: “You saw what is seen, but not what is done.” You saw what is seen, but not what is done. Or in other words, there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Or as Luther wrote in his baptism hymn that we just sung: All that the mortal eye beholds is water as we pour it (LSB #407 v.7)

But what you see is not all that is done. And it is Jesus’ baptism that gives us a glimpse of that; of what really happens whenever someone is now baptized with the baptism that Jesus has filled with Himself. The Spirit is there and descends upon the baptized. The Father is there and well pleased and calls out His “Atta boy!” And most important: heaven is open. The heaven locked to sinners is now open because the righteousness of Jesus is ours in the forgiveness of our sins.

And so, Paul says, you now have a new life to live. Like a criminal on death row who has been pardoned and set free, so has your baptism done for you. 

And so, Paul says, do you now want to use your new found freedom to go back to the criminal life and wind up back on death row again? That’s stupid! But you can if you want. 

But that’s not your destiny. That’s not who you now are. That’s not what your heavenly Father wants for you, why Jesus died for you, and why the Holy Spirit lives in you. That old life is dead to you now. You now live in Christ and His life, in His forgiveness and love, and in the promise and confidence that when you die, whenever you die, you will be with Him in Paradise (Luke 23:43)

So live like it! Paul says. When you sin, repent. And come and be absolved and receive the Body and Blood of your Lord. And also humble yourself and ask others to forgive you. And when others sin against you, forgive them. Be generous, do good, pray - and look for opportunities to do so. Remember - you’re not on death row anymore! You’re out! You’re free! Don’t go back. Don’t lock yourself up again in a dungeon of sin and shame and guilt and hatred and anger and bitterness and revenge and coveting and greed and lust. As Isaiah said, the Lord has led you out of those dungeons of darkness and death. He has done a new thing. He has made a new you. A new person, with a new life, new food, and a new destiny.

That’s all yours now. Not yet in all its fullness and freedom and glory - that will come only in the resurrection. But it’s yours now. Promised. That as Jesus’ death began with His baptism and ended with His cross, so your life began with your baptism and will come in its fullness with your resurrection. He in your place and you in His. 

And that’s not just your destiny - it’s the reality in which you now live.

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Epiphany Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Joy in Suffering”
Text: Matthew 2:13-23; 1 Peter 4:12-19

Things in our lives often turn out quite differently than we expect. We think we know what we’re doing, but as we walk down the path of life, we quickly find out we didn’t know as much as we thought. Twists and turns, hills and valleys, and surprises good and bad come our way.

I think of my father, for example. He was ten years older than my mother and because of that, always thought he would die first. But my mom died first and now, some twelve years later, my father is still here. Far outliving her.

I went to college for computer science, but now stand here before you about as far from that career as possible - as a pastor.

And I’m sure you could add examples from your own life. What you thought, what you expected . . . and how things turned out.

And so it was for Joseph. When he got engaged to Mary, I’m sure he thought things would follow the normal course of events for a couple going to be married. But then there was the pregnancy. And then there was the visit from the angel, telling him that this unexpected twist was not just okay, but good. That it was not of sin and evil, but from God. The trip to Bethlehem was an inconvenience and then Jesus’ birth there another twist that had to be dealt with.

But now this too? A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad king wanting to kill the son he has been charged to raise and protect? And not just that, but what would the king do to those trying to protect the child? Working against the king to save the child would surely draw the king’s wrath down on Joesph as well. 

So now Joseph was a refugee. You’ve seen the pictures on the news, of refugees fleeing Syria or some other war-torn country. Joseph didn’t know he had signed up for this! Things were turning out very differently than he had expected.

But so it has been for God’s people all along. The unexpected, yes, because God plans and thinks and acts quite differently than we (Isaiah 55:8-9) - just think of all the stories in the Old Testament with twists and turns and surprising people and events. But also persecution and suffering. As long as there is sin and evil in this world, there will be conflict that bring persecution and suffering. As long as there is sin and evil in this world, it will rage and fight against Christ and all who bear His name. It started with Cain and Abel, and it will not end until Christ comes again and throws sin and death into the pit of fire from which it will never return (Revelation 20:14).

This reality of suffering and persecution surprises some Christians, but it shouldn’t. The prophets wrote about it. We heard from Jeremiah tonight, about Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. Jesus Himself tells His disciples that if they hated Him they will hate them, too (John 15:18-19). And tonight Peter said it as well: Beloved, don’t be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

So we shouldn’t be surprised. 

But something else too: fiery trials don’t only come from evil against Christians, sometimes they come from your heavenly Father for Christians. Those from the evil one are meant to destroy you. Those from your Father are to save you. And from our point of view, from our side of eternity, it’s not always so easy to tell the difference.

But Peter doesn’t tell us to try to figure it out and react accordingly. He says this: that when the fiery trial comes upon you, rejoice! Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, he says. Rejoice, for if this is from your Father it is meant for your good. If from evil, it is because you belong to Christ and bear His name. And your Father can turn what is meant for evil and use it for good for His children. 

We see that with Jesus. Herod meant to kill Jesus, but God used him to fulfill prophecy: Out of Egypt I called my son. And we see it with Jesus on the cross. The leaders of the Jews wanted to destroy Jesus, but God used the crucifixion to save the world. 

So what are we to do? Well, what Peter said, and, I suspect, what Joseph did: entrust your soul to a faithful creator while doing good.

Trust. If you are suffering beause of your own sin, repent and trust that the forgiveness of Jesus’ is yours. You may still have consequences to bear, but God is not against you. He is here to save you from your sin. And if you are suffering for some other reason or being persecuted for being a Christian or for your Christian beliefs, trust that your Father is able to use that for your good. Remember the examples we have in the Bible of that very thing. Especially the cross. So first of all, trust.

Entrust your soul to a faithful creator. He is faithful to all His promises to you. So know those promises. Rely on them. Call God on them. He loves it when His children hold Him to His Word. When with all boldness and confidence we call on Him as dear children ask their dear father (Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer). We sometimes run our ship of faith aground when we expect what hasn’t been promised. So know His promises. He who created you is He who has redeemed you and He who will save you.

And then finally, entrust your soul to a faithful creator while doing good. Just as sin and evil rage and fight against Christ and His Christians, so too do Christians rage and fight - but in a very different way . . . by doing good and forgiving. By returning good for evil, forgiveness for persecution, love for hate. And while that looks weak in the eyes of the world, it takes great strength to do those things - a strength, quite frankly, that we do not have. But a strength that is given to us by the Spirit of God who lives in us.

That is the stength, I think, that took Joseph to Egypt. And it is the strength, I know, that will see you through - whatever fiery trial is happening to you, or will soon. Rejoice when it does, because whether it is from the evil one or your Father, it is because you bear the name of Christ. And that is truly the reason above all reasons to rejoice.

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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Epiphany of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“He Wanted Them There; He Wants You Here”
Text: Matthew 2:1-12; Ephesians 3:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6

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

Scripture doesn’t tell us their names.

We don’t know where they were from. Just from the east. Does that mean Persia? India? The Orient?

We don’t know how many there were. Three gifts suggest three visitors, but maybe We Three Kings of Orient Are isn’t right at all.

And we don’t know they were kings. Some think so, based on the words we heard from Isaiah today. The biblical word is magus; magi is the plural form. But what does that mean? Magician? Wise Man? Were Magi kings of some sort? Some think they were astronomers or astrologers, given their fascination with the star.

We don’t know if they came together or separately, and just met up on the way or in Jerusalem.

We don’t know exactly when they showed up. How old was Jesus? Was the family still where Jesus was born or somewhere else? 

We don’t know how they knew the star meant what they said - that this star was HIS star, the one born king of the Jews. Had they been taught that, to look for such a star, by Daniel or someone else long ago?

This story that we heard today, such a treasured part of the Christmas story, depicted in cards and carols and nativity scenes, we simply don’t know much about. There are more questions than answers, it seems, when it comes to these mysterious visitors.

But this we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt: God wanted them there. God wanted them to be among the first to see His Son in human flesh.

And He wanted them there so much that He used some pretty extraordinary means to get them there. A star to guide them - first to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem. A wicked and paranoid king to point them to a town they never would have looked in. And chief priests and scribes who would later, like Herod, not only try to kill this son, but succeed.

But so it happened. A most unlikely collusion. The angels who had announced this birth to Mary and to Joseph and to the shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night (Luke 2:8) had this one off. God used other means . . . and no less impressive, I would argue.

For He wanted them there. Who? Not just the Magi, whoever they were. But Gentiles. Folks who were not Jewish. He wanted rich and poor, high and low, Jews and Gentiles, there and worshiping His Son, who came to be not only the King of the Jews, but of all people.

And He wants you, too. And so He has brought you here. 

And lest you think it not the same, I would say it is very much the same. For like the star, what thing or event in your life worked to bring you here? Like Herod, what unlikely person pointed you in this direction? Like the chief priests and scribes, who spoke the Word of God to you? 

The apostle Paul says that he himself was one of those unlikely people God used to bring others to His Son. Paul - who hated Christ and Christians and the Church more than anyone, who couldn’t persecute, imprison, and kill them fast enough - God used him to bring people to Jesus. Paul, who as we heard him say today, calls himself the very least of all the saints. God wanted him. God brought him. God used him.

And however He did it, God wanted you and brought you here as well. And He revealed to you your Saviour, that you too fall down and worship Him and receive gifts far more than you could ever bring Him. For while gold, frankincense, and myrrh have great value in our world, the gift this child has come to give has far greater value. Value for both this life and eternal life. For the gift He gives is Himself. To you.

And how remarkable, this gift that doesn’t look like much of a gift. For what did the Wise Men see when they entered that house? No throne, no entourage, nothing to suggest royalty or specialness. What they saw was a baby or a child that looked just like any other baby or child, or perhaps a child even poorer than most and less likely to be a king. They could have looked at Him and said: What? Who? That? Him? No! Pardon us. We must have the wrong house. 

But they believed the Word that had been spoken to them. Or better to say, the Word that had been spoken to them gave them the faith to believe. That yes, this child. Yes, Him. And they fell down and worshiped Him.

And how very much the same for us. For the gifts here, too, don’t look very royal or special. For what do you see when you come here? Water than creates children of God? Words that forgive sins? Bread and wine that carry the Body and Blood of Jesus? This? Here? Really? How easy to say: No! This cannot be right.

But the Word spoken to you gives you too the faith to believe. To fall down and worship not water, words, and bread and wine, but the One who comes to us in them as humbly as He came in the human flesh the Wise Men set their eyes on. Blessed, Jesus says, is the one not offended - not turned away, not tripped up - by Me (Matthew 11:6). Or, we could say, is not offended by how He comes to us.

Not offended by how He comes to us. 

How remarkable a statement is that? Our God comes to us who ruined His world, who rebelled against Him and continue to rebel, and we’re the offended ones? The ones who often think He should do things differently, that the truth should be different, that He should be different? The ones who think what God calls sin really shouldn’t be sin or what God calls good really isn’t good at all? That God should love us differently? That we deserve better from Him?

We’re the offended ones? 
We who love our stuff more than we love God, and regard the love of others more than the love of God. 
Who value His name that He put on us so little that sometimes we don’t even want others to know we’re Christians? 
Who think so little of His Word that it doesn’t even make it off our shelves during the week, and allow the things of this world to keep us away from church on Sundays? 
Who despise the parents and authorities He has placed over us and so disrespect and rebel against them? 
Who value life so little that we hate to be inconvenienced by others, and wish the guy who cut us off or took our parking space or made fun of us at school dead? 
Who abuse our sexuality, have eyes filled with lust, and do not cherish the spouse given to us? 
Who think buying and getting and keeping more important than giving and sharing? 
Who think nothing of gossip and tearing to shreds the reputation of our neighbor? 
Who covet and want for ourselves what God has given to our neighbor? 

We’re the offended ones? No! We are the people who don’t deserve to have God come to us. Who don’t deserve a star or a Word or a Saviour.

And yet He came. And if you recognized yourself in all that unworthiness and sin, then He came for you. And He came in the only way He could in order not to destroy us with His glory. And in order to destroy our sin and death with His own. He came as a man to die, that men and women who die might then rise to life again. He came poor for the poor, lowly for the lowly, and became a sinner for sinners. That the poor might become rich in Him. That the lowly be exalted in Him. That sinners become saints in Him. That we rebellious fools become Wise Men, in Him. 

So He who came for you wants you here with Him. He who knows your name and everything about you - everything you keep secret and hidden from everyone else, He knows. And He wants you because He knows it all. Because He wants to give you His gift of forgiveness. His gift of freedom from that shame. His gift of life. To be your strength in weakness, your hope when everything seems hopeless, your confidence when all looks lost, your love in a world of hate. 

So come to Me, He says. Maybe no longer speaking with an angel, or a star, or a wicked king, but the invitation is the same. 

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.

The world can be a pretty dark place. Our hearts can be pretty dark places. But a light is shining for you. Not of a star but of a Son. The glory of the Lord has risen and come to earth, He has risen from the dead, and now He arises also upon you. In you. For He wants you here, and He wants you there, with Him, forever. Whether you are a somebody in this world or a nobody in this world, you are dearly loved by the only one who matters. The One who came to die and rise for you, and is here for you, and is coming again for you. 

So come, fall down and worship Him. Receive Him who comes to you now in the same Body and Blood the Wise Men fell down before and worshiped. For by so doing, you too, are a Wise Man indeed.

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

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Circumcision of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Not What Could Be, but What Will Be”
Text: Luke 2:21; Galatians 3:23-29; Numbers 6:22-27

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

There’s something about the start of a new year, isn’t there? Turning the page. A fresh start. Possibilities.

We just took down the calendar that hangs in our kitchen and put up a new one. The old one looks as you would expect - boxes filled in, things crossed out, a mishmash of the expected and the unexpected. Things noted for which I am grateful, and some things which I wish had been different.

And the new one looks as you would expect as well - row after row of empty boxes, gleaming white, wide open, waiting to be filled in . . . What will come this year? What will fill these boxes? What will be the same? What will be different? What joys await? What sadness will come? 

So the truth is, the reality is, that all those gleaming white, wide open boxes are not empty at all - because they are filled with hope. With the hope of what could be this year . . . hopes and dreams.

Mary and Joseph had hopes and dreams the year Jesus was born as well. That year started with the hope and dream of a joyous marriage feast, and ended with a baby in a manger. And in those months in between, a lot took place. An angel visiting them both. The scandal of what the world thought was an illegitimate child. And the unexpected and what had to be the most uncomfortable trip to Bethlehem ever. So when Mary and Joseph took their calendar down at the end of the year, that had to be one for the ages.

But in the gleaming white, wide open box eight days after the birth of their son, an event was written that perhaps doesn’t get as much notice as it should. The box read: Jesus’ circumcision. It was an important appointment. For ever since the days of Abraham, it had been commanded by God for every male child in Israel to be circumcised on the eighth day after their birth. It was to be a mark of God’s people and a sign of God’s promise, that one of those people, a descendant of Abraham, would be the Messiah, the Saviour. And not just of Israel, but of the world. And so whenever a male child was born in Israel, with circumcision the people would remember that one of these sons . . . maybe this son . . . would be the one. It was a day of faith and hope.

But for Mary and Joseph, it was even more than that - it was a day of fulfillment. Because they knew. Not maybe this son . . . but YES, this son! Because as the angel told Joseph: You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21)

And part of Jesus accomplishing that was His being circumcised.

That surprises some people, because usually when we think of Jesus as our Saviour, we think of the cross and the empty tomb. We think of the atonement and the forgiveness of our sins. And that’s correct. But it’s more than that, too. In fact, that’s only half of it. 

Because there are two parts to the Law. There are the things we are not to do - the Thou Shalt Nots - but also the things we are to do. And to be perfect, 100% perfect, we need both. We need to never do the things we shouldn’t, and we need to always do the things we should. To fulfill the Law, it’s not enough to just avoid the wrong. We need to also do the right.

And deep down, we know this. That’s why at the start of every new year, resolutions are made that include both - to stop doing what is wrong, what is unhealthy, what is not good, AND to start doing what is right, what is better. But the fact is that our focus tends to be on stopping what is wrong. For, the thinking usually goes, that I need to cut out the bad, but any good I can do is extra. Bonus. Icing on the cake. 

Our civil laws are like that as well. You can get a fine or go to jail for breaking the Law, so as long as I avoid that, I’m okay. As long as I don’t break the Law, I am considered an upright citizen. And whatever good I am able to do above and beyond that is extra. Bonus. Icing on the cake. That person is not only an upright citizen, but deserving of society’s honor, thanks, and praise.

But it’s not like that with God. God says that we are to be perfect - which, again, means we must not only not do what is wrong and contrary to the Law, but that also we must do what is right and fulfill the law. So unless you have both, you are not perfect.

And so our salvation is not just the forgiveness of our sins and wrongs, as important as that is - it is also the giving to us, the crediting to our account, Jesus’ righteousness, Jesus’ perfection. It is all that we have done wrong washed away by the blood of His perfect, sinless sacrifice, AND all that we have failed to do credited to us as done. Because our Saviour, our substitute, did both. He died our death to atone for our sins and paid the awful price that was demanded, AND He lived a completely perfect and sinless life, filling your account with His perfect good.

That’s what Paul was getting at when He wrote to the Galatians: For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. That baptized into Christ, when the Father looks at you He doesn’t see a sinner. He doesn’t see a person who has done what is wrong and failed to do what is right. Instead, He sees His Son. He sees perfection. He sees all right and no wrong.

And part of that fulfilling the Law, fulfilling the right, fulfilling all that God had commanded, was Jesus being circumcised. It was done for you

So that’s what makes our New Year in the church different than our New Year in the world. In the world, a New Year is filled with the hope of what could be. In the church, a New Year is filled with the confidence of what will be. 

For as Paul said, in Christ Jesus, baptized into Him, it doesn’t matter what nationality you are, if you are Jew or Greek; it doesn’t matter what your status or work are, if you are slave or free; and it doesn’t matter what your gender is, if you are male or female - Jesus was born for you, circumcised for you, lived for you, and died for you. And so you have His promise of forgiveness, His promise of life, His promise of good, and that all things will work for your good. These are what WILL BE, no matter what else happens or doesn’t happen this year.

Now, that doesn’t mean that all those gleaming white, wide open boxes on our 2017 calendars will be filled with exactly what we want or plan or hope. Because we will sin and interfere with God’s good. Because in our sin not everything we want or plan or hope is good for us. And because others will sin against us. As long as we live in this world, sin will be a reality in our lives. We will do wrong. We will fail to do right. And we will need to repent ourselves and forgive others.

The good news is that though that is true, Jesus signed His promise to us today in His blood. He begins fulfilling the Law for you today. Doing no wrong and every right, so that when He is offered on the cross as the Lamb of God, His name is fulfilled - He saves you. He gets your sin and atones for it, and baptized into Him, you get His forgiveness and good and live in it. And all is fulfilled. For you. Nothing more is needed for your salvation. You can add nothing more to what Jesus has perfectly fulfilled for you.

So when that year started for Mary and Joseph, they had no idea how it would end. But though unexpected and surprising and difficult in many ways, it was good. All good. And so it will be for you, too.

And also like Mary and Joseph, you may be a very different person at the end of 2017 than you are today. (And not just because you will be a year older!) Things will happen. All those gleaming white, wide open boxes will be filled, and you can be sure that some of them will be in ways unexpected, surprising, and difficult as well. But good. Always good for children of God.

So today we look back in gratitude and repentance, and we look forward in confidence and hope. For on the eight day of Christmas my true love gave to you . . . the circumcision of His Son. Who loves you and gives Himself for you, and give Himself to you now as you come to receive His very Body and Blood. The same Body circumcised on the eighth day, the same Blood shed that day. The gift that continues to fill you with His forgiveness and His good.

And then also we will be sent out from this place with the blessing of our God and His name placed upon us. To go and live as the child you are, dearly loved. Having every good and needing no more, and so able to do and give that good to others. 

For in Jesus, the Lord is blessing you and keeping you
In Jesus, the Lord is making his face shine upon you and being gracious to you
In Jesus, the Lord is lifting up his countenance upon you, and giving you peace.

Which means that in Jesus, I don’t know if it will be a Happy New Year for you or not, but I know this: that it will be a good one. His Good. For you.

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