Sunday, January 26, 2014

Commemoration of St. Titus Sermon

Jesu Juva

“His Service, Not Self-Service”
Text: Acts 20:28-35; Titus 1:1-9; Luke 10:1-9

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

More and more, things in our world are self-service. 

As far as I can remember, it seems to have started with gas pumps. There used to be attendants who would pump your gas for you, but now - unless you live in New Jersey or Oregon - you have to do it yourself. It’s almost all self-service now.

One of the next change was  banking. You don’t have to go into the bank and talk to a teller anymore when you need to make a deposit or withdraw cash - just go up to the ATM and do it yourself. Or for some, you can even make a deposit through your cell phone.

And now you even have self-service checkout at the supermarket and many other stores. It started with a cashier scanning your items and you having to bag them yourself, but now you even scan them yourself. And it’s not unusual anymore to see more self-service checkout lanes open than there are cashiers waiting to help you.

Self-service. Just do it yourself. It’s faster, easier, and for many people preferable.

And so it makes sense that more and more people are beginning to see religion or things spiritual in the same way now - as self-service. No need for church, no need for other people. Just do it yourself. Help yourself.

Now all this self-service may be good when it comes to certain areas of our life, but it is not when it comes to things spiritual, when it comes to the church. It never was, and never will be. In fact, when our first parents tried self-service and helped themselves, it didn’t turn out so well. 

And it is the same today. Or even worse. For if our first parents couldn’t do it before they fell into sin, after is no better. This self-service mindset actually feeds the sin that now lives in us that wants to be independent and self-sufficient, to stand on our own, to be strong and not need anyone else. I can find God on my own. I can get what I need. I know what I need.

But the truth is, faith really is the opposite of all that. For as we grow in faith we grow not independent of God and need Him less and less, as some would have you believe today. To grow in faith means that we grow in our dependence on God and know our need more and more. For independence from God is called death. He is the source of our life.

And so from the beginning, God has arranged for the care of His church. To give His people what is needed. To care for them with His Word and His gifts. To care for His church, as Paul says, that He obtained with His own blood. And today that means pastors, as we remember and commemorate one of the earliest pastors in the church, named Titus.

The things about pastors, though - whenever we talk about them, it’s not really about them. It’s all about the church they care for. In fact, if it ever becomes about them, about the man, then the focus is wrong. Pastors are given by Christ. Pastors give Christ and His Word. And Pastors give to those who belong to Christ. It’s all about Him. It’s all about Christ.

All the readings today were about pastors and those sent by Christ to proclaim His Word, but except for Titus, we don’t know their names. Jesus sent the 72 out ahead of Him, but who they were wasn’t important. What was important was that they were going before Jesus. What was important was their proclamation: The kingdom of God has come near to you.

In the first reading from Acts, Paul is speaking to the Ephesian pastors - who they were wasn’t important, but what they would do was. They were to pay careful attention to the flock and care for the church of God of which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers. And notice: no self-service there! For the church or the pastors.

And then in the reading from Paul’s letter to Titus, Paul tells Titus to appoint elders - which is a biblical word for pastors - in every town on the island of Crete, to give the people instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it.

And all this because the satanic wolf and his pack are still out there. Paul knew it, telling the Ephesians pastors: I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

Jesus knew it too, telling the 72: I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.

So how does the wolf attack? What does he do? Well first of all, the wolf attacks with lies and false doctrine, to drag us away from Jesus. Trying to get you to believe that God’s Word isn’t really God’s Word, or it’s unreliable, or it’s just too old. All those things it calls sin we know really aren’t sin anymore. So don’t worry about it. You’re actually a pretty good person, you know. Especially compared to the rest!

Or if he can’t get you with that, he’ll try to opposite - to get you to believe that you’re too big a sinner, too far gone, that God could not ever possibly love someone like you. Just look at yourself! All those horrible thoughts you have, those lustful and evil desires you have, those hurtful words you say, and those things you do or are too lazy to do. 

Or if he can’t get you with that, he’ll try a whole host of other ways to get you to rely on self-service. It’s too inconvenient to go to church. Those people at church are too bothersome and messy, or don’t want to be bothered with your mess. Or, there’s too many churches - you can’t really believe any of them. Or, it really doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe something. That’s an especially popular one these days. But the bottom line to all of them, to all these temptations and lies, is self-service. To separate you from God. That you help yourself. Do it yourself. Decide for yourself. And die.

But the truth is that into this world came a servant. A servant who did nothing to serve Himself; everything He did was to serve you. He was born for you, lived for you, suffered for you, and died for you. He taught the truth - calling sin sin, but even more showing the love of God in all He said and did. He didn’t pretend that lepers weren’t really unclean - He cleansed them. He didn’t pretend the deaf and blind and mute were okay - He healed them. He didn’t let sinners go on in their sin as if it didn’t matter - He called them to repentance and forgave them. For in Him, in Jesus, the kingdom of God had come near. In Jesus, God had come to serve His people. All the way to the cross.

For the cross is the ultimate opposite of self-service. There is Jesus all for you. Dying for your sin, the death you deserve, that in His resurrection you may rise with Him to life. Shedding His blood for you, that you be cleansed of your sin and live as children of God. So that you live in a truthful confidence - not a false confidence born of self-service - but the truthful confidence of a God and Saviour who loves you so much that He would lay down His life for you.

And pastors He gives to point to this truth, the truth of the cross. To care for the flock by pointing to the cross. Preaching it, teaching it, and living it. To baptize and apply Jesus’ death and resurrection and love. To absolve and apply His forgiveness. To give out His Body and Blood that died on the cross and rose from the dead to feed and strengthen His children with His life and to the same resurrection. And pastors do so not because they choose to do so, or because they are better or stronger than everyone else - pastors need pastors too! But because, as Paul said, the Holy Spirit has made them overseers. 

Pastors are given by God to the congregations they serve. And God desires that they do only this - only this, but always this: point to the cross of Jesus and all that means. That they preach the strong Word of God to show you your sin, but even more to show you your Saviour. That you not listen to the self-serving wolf who wants you to be self-serving like him, but listen to your Saviour and receive His service to you. His service which gives life. His service which gives a kingdom that will never end.

For it’s not easy being a Christian. You know that. God knows it too. That’s why Jesus came to serve and is coming and serving you still. And that’s why He continues to send pastors like Titus - to fill you with Himself, His Spirit, and His truth. To be with the flock, care for the flock, and love the flock. That His Word and truth be preached and given. That His Word and truth live in you. That His Word and truth thwart the efforts of the evil one who wants to mislead and deceive. 

For still today, the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Pray earnestly for your pastor and all pastors. Pray earnestly for George and all studying to be pastors. Pray earnestly for the Holy Spirit to call more men into the holy ministry. 

And fulfill your callings too. Taking the Word that is here preached and given to you out into your lives and homes, your workplaces and schools, and show the life and love of Christ to the world. That wherever the evil one be lurking or attacking, there also be the love and truth and forgiveness of Christ - the love and truth and forgiveness the wolf hates and cannot stand against. That as you are blessed by Christ’s giving, those around you may be blessed by your giving. And the life and love of Christ, then, fill the world.

So just say no to this mindset of self-service! To the life of independence and self-sufficiency. There’s a better way. The Christ way. His service to you. Depend on Him. Receive Him. Grow in Him. And then go and fill the world with Christ, His servive, and His love. 

Almighty God, You called Titus to the work of pastor and teacher. Make all shepherds of Your flock diligent in preaching Your holy Word so that the whole world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Epiphany 2 / Sanctity of Life Sunday Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Not Life as We Know It, but Life as God Knows It”
Text: John 1:29

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

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! I cannot think of a better Word of God to hear today than this one. A word to give sinners like us hope. A word to point us in the right direction. A word to say: whatever you have done, whatever regrets you have, you have a God who loves you. That a word we need to hear, especially today, our annual Sanctity of Life Sunday. Because all of us mess up life. We do.

And so the sanctity of life is more than just a one-Sunday-a-year topic - it is the battleground, or the Ground Zero, in the battle between God and satan. Between the God who believes every life is worth saving, and the satan who believes every life is worth consuming. And so we hand out little magazines for you to read four times a year - and I hope you read them. We include life thoughts in the announcements on the back of your bulletin every week - I hope you read them, too. To instill in your mind a “life mentality” in the midst of a world, ruled by the prince of this world, that thinks quite differently.

That being said, if the sanctity of life is more than just a one-Sunday-a-year topic, let me also say that Sanctity of Life Sunday is not just a one topic Sunday - just about abortion. It is about that, for millions of babies continue to be cut down at the very beginning of their lives. And the problem is getting worse with the advent of pills that abort babies the morning after they have been conceived - just like taking a couple of aspirin to get rid of a headache! These medical abortions may soon out pace and out number surgical ones, if they don’t already. And how dangerous are these? Certainly to the life of the baby, but also sometimes to the physical health of the mother, often to the emotional and mental health of the mother, but now also in a new way to the spiritual health of the mother - for these pills are being advertised as a way to “prevent pregnancy” (which in this case is just a new, nice sounding way to say abortion) but, they say: without judgment. Without judgment. Well, not exactly. For there is a judgment coming - for all people, for all of us who mess up life - whether we like it or want it or not.

There’s no denying that’s a big problem. But as I said, there’s much more to be concerned about. Perhaps we could call it the “abortion mindset” - the continued, creeping mindset that is so infected us today that we have the ability to cut out of our lives those people we just don’t want in it. Viewing life as disposable. Valuing life by how valuable it is to me. There’s even a new phrase being used these days to reflect this cutting out of others from our lives: You’re dead to me. That’s more than just a new, clever phrase, I think. In the context of this Sanctity of Life Sunday, that little phrase should send chills down your back. What are we doing? What are we saying? Where are we going?

Consider all the life issues that plague our world today. Mercy killing is being extended and thought of as a viable option for more and more people of more and more ages and stages of life. Assisted suicide is now thought of as just a variant of that - the only difference being who is administering the lethal medicine. Genocide and ethnic hatred continues to produce great atrocities, including refugees - and how are they treated, and for so long a period of time? There also continues to be the problems of human trafficking, sexual slavery, and more.

The bottom line is this: how do we look at ourselves and how do we look at each other? Is each and every person, no matter how small or how large, no matter how new or how old, no matter how frustrating or useful, no matter how frail or how strong, a life given by God and therefore precious to Him, or something else? And how we look at people is how we treat them.

In the Introit this morning we sang: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. But in this regard, what we say, what we think, and often what we do, is not acceptable is His sight, is it? 

So I cannot think of a better Word of God to hear today than the Holy Gospel we heard today. And specifically those words of John the Baptist who looked at Jesus and said: Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 

We’ve been thinking about how we look at other people, how we regard them. When John looked at Jesus, he saw more than just a man - he saw the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world.

That phrase was a significant one to the people then. Lambs in the Old Testament were sacrificed on a daily basis to deal with sin. They are the reason why the Tabernacle and the Temple were established by God. The lambs sacrificed there were substitutes, graciously allowed by God to die in the place of the sinners who deserved to die for their sins. The people would confess their sin, see the death of their substitute, and give thanks to God for His mercy, love, and forgiveness for them. His mercy, love, and forgiveness that was not just an idea or a mental or “spiritual” thing, but which they saw very definitively and concretely when that lamb gave its life and shed its blood for them. So they could live. 

Lambs had special meaning. Now, to be sure, sometimes that meaning was forgotten. At times, the people would forget the meaning of what was happening there and simply see the Temple liturgy as a ritual, and what they did as just going through the motions. But God didn’t forget. He didn’t forget that all those lambs being sacrificed in the Temple foreshadowed and pictured THE Lamb that was to come. THE Lamb who would not only take away the sin of this person or that person and a sacrifice that would have to be repeated time and time again - but THE Lamb who would take away the sin of the world. All the sin of all people, ever. And for that Lamb you needed not only an animal, and not only a man, but God Himself. Only God Himself could provide and be such a sacrifice to do such an enormous thing.

So as we have been celebrating these Christmas and Epiphany seasons: the Son of God came, was born as the man named Jesus, was the Immanuel: God with us, and now is revealed to us as the Lamb of God. And who He is, is what He will do.

Because when Jesus looked at you, He saw more than a sinner - He saw a life worth saving. A life worth loving. A life worth serving. You may not think you are worth that much, or even worth anything, but God disagrees. And quite frankly, HIS opinions matters more than yours! So if you are worth something to Him, you are worth something. And what are you worth to Him? The life of His Son, who came to trade His life for yours. Who came to take the judgment for your sin and give you His forgiveness. Who came so that God would not say “You’re dead to me” but that you would be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

What a world this would be if we could look at each other as God looks at us. If we could look at every person as a life worth the life of the Son of God. As a life worth laying down our lives for. The sanctity of life wouldn’t be a problem then, would it?

Can we do that? What do you think? Can we do that in this sinful world and as we live in this sinful flesh?

Well yes, we can begin to. Not perfectly, to be sure. But baptized into Jesus and given His Spirit and given His Word and learning of Him and growing in Him, yes, we begin to be like Him. His Word and Spirit and forgiveness working in us and conforming us back into His image (Romans 8:29; 12:2). The image lost in sin, but now restored to us in Jesus. So yes we begin to see as Jesus sees, love as He loves, serve as He serves, and do as He does . . . though we still have our moments, don’t we? Those moments we revert back to the old, back to the sinful, back to the selfish, back to the unacceptable in His sight. Those moments that arise more often than we’d care to admit, and last longer than they should. Those moments when we see ourselves and others as bothers, as inconveniences to be avoided, as less than worthy of our time and effort, as just getting in the way, as wishing to be cut out of our lives . . .

Repent of that. All of that. For thinking of yourself that way, for thinking of others that way, for living as if you had not been baptized into Jesus at all, and receive not only the forgiveness of your Saviour, your Lamb, but also the NEW LIFE of the Son that He has given to you. The new life provided for you by the Lamb who took away your sin, who took away your old, who took away your death, and gave you something new, something better, something that will last beyond this world and life: Himself. And He continues to give you Himself. That the new life begun in baptism continue in His absolution, be fed by His Body and Blood, and bring you to everlasting life. And not just you, but all people. Whoever you are, whatever you have done, you are not too far gone, you are not too sinful, for the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

So have you had an abortion? Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Have you remained silent and not confessed the sanctity of life? Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Do you have doubts and fears about decisions you have made and things you have done? Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Do you think of yourself or others as worthless? Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Have you failed to love, failed to serve, failed to forgive? Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Have you made the lives of others less and bitter and hard by your words or deeds? Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Have you not been dead to sin and alive in Christ? Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Have you cut others out of your life, or wished they were? Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Do you want to do better? Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Do you want to know the love of God? Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

See this bread, see this wine? Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

And on the last day, the Judgment Day, when you see the face of Jesus, you will Behold the Lamb of God who took away your sin. Who gave you His life, for the sanctity of your life. You will see the Lamb of God, whose love for you will never end.

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

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Baptism of Our Lord Sermon

[Note: No sermon audio this day as I forgot to hook up the recorder. Sorry!]

Jesu Juva

“All Righteousness Fulfilled in Christ”
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.

I was speaking with some of you this week about how those who do not go to church often misunderstand those of us who do. Specifically it was the belief that because we go to church, we think we are better than everyone else . . . or at least better than they are. 

Now, I have no doubt that Christians - and perhaps all the Christians in this church today at one time or another - have given that impression to others, either by what we’ve said, or how we acted, or by our attitude. And when we do, shame on us. Because nothing could be farther from the truth. We don’t come to church because we’re better than everyone else, but because we’re not. Because we’re broken. We know what sin is and yet still do it. We know what good to do yet still don’t do it. We complain instead of love. We think the worst instead of assuming the best. We remain silent far too often. We hurt other by our words and deeds, sometimes impulsive and sometimes carefully crafted and planned. We wear the name of Christ and yet if you were in a line-up could you be picked out as the Christian? So we don’t come to church for a pat on the back, but to fall on our face and say: Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Part of the problem, part of the reason we have gotten to this place, I think, is because the concepts and categories of sin and holiness are not understood anymore. Sin, for many, is no longer offense against the almighty God nor something deserving of death and eternal condemnation. Sin (in our world today) is more thought of as just flaws to correct as we strive for personal growth and fulfillment. Sin to many these days is not loss of holiness, but things like not recycling, not believing in global warming, intolerance, and smoking, while the murder of the unborn and the elderly and the sick continues under the justification of pragmatism and mercy, while men and women continue to act like animals (or maybe that’s an insult to animals) when it comes to their sexuality, and you can be religious about everything but religion.

No wonder so many are so confused. Self-fulfillment and feeling good about yourself is what life has become all about. And for some, what they think the church is all about. And honestly, what some churches have become all about. And so the ones in church must be the ones trying harder, making more progress, better . . .

But now . . . how different - how utterly the opposite, in fact - the church of John the Baptist. Where he was preacher, the folks were coming out to him not for advice, not for self-improvement tips, not for help in self-fulfillment, but to fall on their face. To repent and receive the merciful washing of baptism in the Jordan River. They were coming because they heard John call sin sin and sinners sinners and they recognized themselves. They recognized their brokenness. And they came for the healing of that water - the healing of forgiveness.

Except for one. One person came for a completely different reason. And not because He did not believe the preaching of John - He did! In fact, it was His preaching too. It was straight from His Word. Jesus knew it was true, all of it. But He did not come because He was unrighteous, like the rest, but to fulfill all righteousness. To fulfill it for them. To be what they could not be. To do what they could not do. For them. For you. 

And so Jesus was the only one who ever came to church because He was better than everyone else. And He did so not to judge us, but to rescue us. To provide for us that righteousness that we need but do not have. So He tells John the Baptist: Let’s do this! Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. All righteousness. Not just His own, but all of ours too.

So Jesus is baptized to fulfill all righteousness.
We are baptized because we don’t.

Jesus comes to church to give to us.
We come to receive from Him.

For that day by the Jordan was not just a photo op. Not just an appearance by Jesus with sinners and then back to His life. This is why Jesus was born. To do this. To jump into a Jordan filthy with sin, and take it. Take all those sins washed off all those sinners and put them on Himself. And not just those sins, but all sins. He wanted them all. So that when He hung on the cross, when He hung under the curse of not just the Roman government but of God, His death would be for our sin. What we deserve He would get, and what we need He would give. He came in time to die, so that we can live in eternity. And that all begins now with His baptism.

And it begins for us in our baptism. That’s what St. Paul was describing when he wrote to the Christians in Rome. Baptism is where we die - and rise - with Jesus. Those waters - wherever they may be today - are still washing sins off of sinners and giving the healing of forgiveness. But not only that, but doing something new as well. Declaring us children of God and giving us a new spirit - His Holy Spirit - that we may live a new life. 

For what happened to Jesus at His baptism now happens to you in your baptism. He took your place so that you can have His place. So when you are baptized, heaven is open to you, the Spirit is given to you, and the Father declares you His beloved Son, with whom He is well-pleased. Not because you’re better than most, not because you’ve made enough progress, not because you deserve it, but as the gift of Jesus. The Son of God who wants you to be sons of God, and to have a new life set free from slavery to sin. Set free from anger, from despair, from greed, from jealousy, from pettiness, from self-absorption, from those desires and impulses that divide and hurt and so often rule our lives. That’s slavery. To be driven by those things that take and do not give. No, even worse than that - that take and make you think you are getting what you want, only to find out later . . . that box you’re holding . . . is empty. 

At that point, that point of emptiness,some then turn to suicide, to drugs, to sex, or delve deeper and deeper into their sin of choice, thinking that happiness and hope must be in there somewhere. But satan is like that Three Card Monty guy on the street - he shows it to you, but you can never quite catch up to it; you can never quite get it. Some find that out in this life; some, sadly, in the next.

So don’t continue in sin, don’t die in sin, don’t be enslaved again by sin, Paul says. There’s a better way. Die and rise, die and live, with Christ. Die in repentance and be raised and set free in His forgiveness. Don’t come here in your pride and self-righteousness, but as the filthy, unrighteous person you are, and receive His righteousness, His forgiveness, His life, His salvation. Fall on your face as the people did at the Jordan, and now hear your Saviour say to you: I forgive you all your sins. Your unrighteousness is mine, and my righteousness is yours. Your death is mine, and my life is yours. Go, you are free! 

That’s the new thing Isaiah declared would happen, and that Jesus did. Starting at the Jordan and then continuing wherever He went. For the Jordan isn’t the only place Jesus went to be with sinners, He came into a world of sinners to visit them, reach out to them, touch them, heal them, forgive them, and eat with them. Exactly what continues to happen here, today. Jesus came for sinners, and still does. He comes here for you, to this house, to this church, to speak, to forgive, to feed, to be with you and fill you with Himself. To fulfill all righteousness in you. That you be set free to live a new life, His life. A life filled with His forgiveness and love. To receive it here, and go out and give it to the world.

As you do, thanks be to God!
As you don’t, come back and receive again the forgiveness and life you need.

For just as at the Jordan, the church is the place for sinners, for the broken, for the struggling, for the fallen.
And just as at the Jordan, the church is the place where Christ is, for you.

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

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Epiphany of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Start of an Even Greater Joy”
Text: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12; Ephesians 3:1-12

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

I have to be honest with you today. I have a confession to make. Epiphany has always made me sad. Ever since I was little, and still a bit today. Because Epiphany has always meant that Christmas is over. Yes, the lighted houses around the neighborhood have been going dark little by little for a while now, but Epiphany meant that our lights would now be turned off. And yes, I’d seen dead and dried up Christmas trees out at the curbs of many houses, but Epiphany meant that our tree was now coming down. All the ornaments carefully boxed up, and that spot in the living room where the tree once stood . . . now so bare and so empty. The presents that stayed under the tree all these days now - a reminder of the joy of Christmas morning - had to be carried to rooms and put away too. And yes, while the radio stations stopped playing Christmas music a while ago, Epiphany meant that our Christmas music would now come to an end. Epiphany meant that the Wise Men who had been moving little by little every day across the living room to our nativity scene had finally arrived - there was no place left for them to go. And there is no “On the thirteeth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me.” And that has always made me a little sad. 

Maybe you too. Especially this year for those of you who have had two weeks off from work - Epiphany means back to work for you. And for those of you who have had two weeks off from school - Epiphany means back to school for you. The holiday is over.

But even though that is what I have often felt and still often feel, the reality of Epiphany is quite different. The reality of Epiphany is that we are on a journey to a joy even greater than Christmas joy - a joy that will never end. The reality of Epiphany is that our God who made a journey down to us and was born as a flesh and blood baby in Bethlehem, is not going away. The reality of Epiphany is that the light that has come into the world, to enlighten the darkness, will never be extinguished. And the gift that has been given us - for to us a child is born, to us a Son is given (Is 9:6) - will never stop giving, but continue to give us to the forgiveness, life, and salvation we need. And so the reality of Epiphany is not the ending of our joy, but the start of an even greater joy. A joy that doesn’t come and go, but that is anchored in the flesh and blood of Jesus.

That was the joy of the Wise Men. They’d been on quite a journey. We don’t know where they came from - just “from the east.” But theirs was undoubtedly not a short journey, and one certainly fraught with danger. Their journey began with the appearance of the star and their investigation as to what it meant. It then took them to Jerusalem and King Herod, and then onto Bethlehem and the house where the holy family was staying. And if they were filled with exceedingly great joy when they saw the star again, that joy did not end when their journey ended. For when they saw the child they fell down and worshipped him. They fell down and worshipped not in fear but in joy, and they gave him the gifts they had brought, the wealth of this world, but wealth that paled in comparison with the gift they had been given. The gift of seeing the Christ. The gift of seeing God in human flesh and blood.

Theirs was the joy the prophet Isaiah had written about some 700 years earlier. The joy of God coming and rescuing His people from the darkness of their captivity. In Isaiah’s day, that was first when the dark days of Israel’s captivity in Babylon would end and they would come back to Jerusalem rejoicing. But there was also an even greater joy that Isaiah was speaking of. For Israel’s joy at their return would be short-lived once the realities of life set in again . . . kind of like the joy of our holidays is short-lived once the realities of life and work and school come back again. But Isaiah also speaks of a time when not just Israel but all nations shall see the light that breaks the darkness; when all nations shall rejoice; when an even greater joy from an ever greater rescue would come. And when the Wise Men bring their gold and frankincense, as Isaiah said, that good news of great joy, of great rescue, has begun. For the Saviour not just of Israel, but of the world has come. The gift of God in human flesh and blood.

And that’s the joy with which St. Paul writes his words to us today. Now, we usually don’t read those words in a very joyful way, and phrases like “my insight into the mystery of Christ” sound more like words that should be spoken in a classroom rather than on a joyous Christmas morning. But if we we do not hear Paul’s joy in these words, then I think we are seriously misreading them. For when he speaks of the mystery made known to him, that wasn’t done in a classroom, but when Jesus, the God in human flesh and blood, came to him and knocked him of his horse - and his high horse - and onto his butt! When the light came and blinded him for three days so that he could finally see His Saviour; so that the darkness of his heart be shattered. And once this good news of great joy had come to him and filled him with the joy of forgiveness and life, he could not stop talking about it. Even when it meant being arrested and going to prison, and being stripped and whipped and stoned. Not even these things could take away His joy . . . for His God, His Saviour in human flesh and blood, was greater than these.

Greater, for He too endured all these things for His joy - for YOU! Whatever joy the Wise Men had, whatever joy Isaiah foretold, whatever joy was given to Paul, it was the joy of the Lord first. His joy over you that caused Him to promise - once His beloved man and woman had fallen into the darkness of sin and shame and death - to come and enlighten that darkness Himself, to come and take that sin and shame upon Himself, and to come and die that death Himself, so that He could break it - break it all with His love, with His sacrifice, and with His forgiveness and rescue His children. And so He comes in human flesh and blood to do just that - to die with us and rise for us, that we may die and rise with Him to a life and joy that no sin, no death, and no devil can take away.

And that has, in fact, already happened to you. We’ll hear more about that next week as we hear that in baptism, we have - in fact! - already been joined to Jesus in His death and resurrection and so have begun already now to live His life, a life that will never end. Which again means that Epiphany is not the end of our joy, but the start of an ever greater joy. The start of a joy that will never end. 

And it is a joy anchored in the flesh and blood of Jesus. For us, it is not the flesh and blood of Jesus in the manger or on His mother’s lap, but the flesh and blood of Jesus on the altar, where Jesus puts Himself in His flesh and blood for you today. For just like the Wise Men, He has led you here to Him by the light of His Word. The Wise Men were told by the word of the prophet Micah, who said the flesh and blood of God were in Bethlehem. You were told by the word of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul, who wrote the words of Jesus, who said that His flesh and blood and here: This is My Body; this is My Blood. And as unlikely as it must have looked to the Wise Men that this child was the King of Israel, God in human flesh, they took their eyes saw and what their minds reasoned captive to the Word of God and fell down and worshipped Him. 

And you too. Just bread and wine here? Is this all there is, what your eyes see and your minds says? No way. Here is the flesh and blood of Jesus, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of bread and wine, for you. For you to receive the gift of His forgiveness. For you to receive the gift of Himself. 

And with that gift - of a child, of a Son, of a Saviour - receiving a Christmas joy that will never end. The joy of knowing that the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) is dwelling with us still. The joy of knowing that your light has come, and the darkness cannot overcome it. No matter how deep, how threatening, how pervasive that darkness, the darkness of sin gets, your light is greater. His flesh and blood resurrection proved it. His flesh and blood resurrection to save flesh and blood you. 

Because we still live in a pretty dark world, don’t we? And it seems to be getting darker. And maybe the extinguishing of our Christmas lights makes it seem even darker still. The problems, the pains, the fears, the sin, all of that in the world around us and in our own hearts. The sin in our own hearts that would have us fight the darkness with more darkness, fight sin with sin, and so make the darkness even deeper.

But to us today Isaiah says: Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. What light? The light that breaks the darkness. And what glory? The glory of your Lord’s birth, the glory of His life, the glory of His death and resurrection, the glory of His forgiveness, the glory of His victory. All for you. 

That’s the light you now live in. The light Isaiah foresaw, the light that changed a guy like Paul, and the light that once filled some Wise Men with great joy. For that, truly, is what Epiphany is all about. Epiphany isn’t about the Wise Men, it was for them. And for you too. That you have life. That you have hope. That you have joy. And not a joy that comes and goes, but the start of an even greater joy that is anchored in the flesh and blood of Jesus. That flesh and blood once born and revealed and given to some Wise Men from the East, and now resurrected and revealed and given to you too. 

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