Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas 1 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Oh My God!”
Text: Luke 2:22-40; Colossians 3:12-17

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

You’ve all heard the cries. The outbursts of joy. If not in person, then you’ve seen them on TV or on YouTube. When that present was opened. You know the one. The one that was wanted more than any other. The one that was so special, so important. The one that was waited for so long. It seemed as if Christmas would never get here. But when it did, would that present be there? Could it be? Maybe? Possibly? Hopefully? This one? This one? Then there it is! The paper is ripped off and the cry sounds out . . .

Oh my god!

And sometimes not just once, but over and over again. It is a cry that I’m sure sounded forth from homes all over our country, and perhaps all over the world. We laugh at such outbursts; we understand the uncontrollable excitement, even if we do not appreciate or approve of using the word God in that way. But here’s the sad part: they’re actually right. That present - what they wanted more than anything in this world, what they loved more than anything else, what they would have done anything to get - had become their god. Nothing else really mattered, or at least paled in comparison, to getting that present. And that obsession, that love, that desire, gradually squeezes out all else.

Well that same scene played itself out some 2,000 years ago as well. There was a man waiting for that present. The one that had, in fact, been promised to him. And though we don’t know exactly how long he had been waiting, it seems like quite a number of years. He knew he would get it eventually, before he died, but when? It was so special, so important. Maybe at times it seemed to Simeon that it would never arrive . . .

Until it did. It probably wasn’t wrapped quite as he expected. A rather ordinary looking man and woman came into the Temple with a baby. They came to redeem him, according to the Law that God had given to Israel after they came out of Egypt - to give a substitute for their first born son. The offering they brought indicated they were quite poor - instead of a lamb, they brought a pair of birds. But the plain wrapping couldn’t fool Simeon! This was that present! And so he takes the baby Jesus up in his arms and cries out . . .

Oh my God!

And he’s right. That poor, humble child nestled in his arms really is the God of Israel, the promised Saviour. 

Now, Simeon used slightly different words than that, more Scriptural, but that’s really what he was saying. That was his overwhelming joy that day in the Temple.

And so he said:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;

The picture on the cover of the bulletin today has him speaking those words while looking up to heaven. But I wonder . . . I wonder if maybe he wasn’t looking down, at the child, and talking to Jesus and calling Him Lord. Oh my God, he says, looking into the eyes of Jesus and Jesus looking up at him. There You are, God. I can die now. I got my present.

for my eyes have seen your salvation

My eyes are looking at Your salvation, Your sin offering, God, he says. Joseph and Mary had brought a pair of birds to redeem Him, but He was the One who had come to redeem the world. The Lamb of God. The Lamb who is God. Whose blood will provide life for all people - first born, last born, and everyone in between; Jews, Gentiles, and all nationalities; from the beginning of time to the end of time. The One who would provide life for Simeon and redeem him from his sins. Which is why he could now die in peace. He was holding the forgiving One. He was holding His forgiveness. He was holding the Saviour who was holding him. So he needed nothing else.

for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

Here He was - God in plain sight. Hiding in human flesh and blood, yet for all to see. Do you hear me, fellow Jews? Here’s the one! That present I’ve been waiting for! Many probably laughed, thinking him an old coot; or maybe they just shook their heads - what a shame that ol’ Simeon has lost his mind. 

a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Even Joseph and Mary marveled at the words Simeon spoke. Certainly they of all people shouldn’t have been surprised. It had been only 9 months since the angels had appeared to them, and only 40 days since the shepherds had come. But still it was almost too much to believe: God in human flesh. The Saviour of the world. The One who would lighten a world plunged into the darkness of sin, and who would bring glory to Israel - the fulfillment of all the promises of old. All those promises made to Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, David, and spoken through the prophets. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight (LSB #362 v. 1), is how the popular Christmas hymn puts it. Who could not marvel?

But there was another there that day who heard Simeon and believed his words. Her name was Anna. She had lived in the Temple ever since her husband had died, fasting and praying night and day, hearing God’s Word and relying on Him for everything. And in humble faith born from that Word of God that she lived in and that lived in her, she gives thanks to God, too. Oh my God, she cries out in her own quiet way. You’ve done it. He is here. The Redeemer. 

And you cry out now as well. Those words of Simeon should sound familiar to you - we sing them after receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus in His Supper. After the Body of Jesus is placed not into our arms but into our mouths, and after his Blood is poured over our lips, we cry out with Simeon: Oh my God! for we have received God. I can die now, for we have received His forgiveness. My eyes have seen - not our physical eyes, for they have beheld nothing more than Simeon; the wrapping is still quite humble and poor. But our eyes of faith have seen - and received - the salvation, the sin offering, God has prepared for us. The sin offering that enlightens us to His mercy and love, and brings glory to Him. 

That gift - yes, you know the one - is here for you. Each and every Sunday. Perhaps its frequency has made us a little less excited. Perhaps the things of this world capture our love and desire more from time to time. If so, let us repent, and put ourselves in Simeon’s place today and see with his eyes of faith and joy. Oh my God! You’ve done it. You were born for me, lived for me, died for me, and rose for me. You’ve baptized me into your death and resurrection, given me your Spirit, forgiven me, and feed me. You’ve put Your Body and Blood here for me! You wonderfully created me and yet more wonderfully redeemed me, as we prayed earlier (Collect of the Day). Oh my God! Why would you do that for me? Sinful me, struggling me, failing me, rebellious me? 

And those little infant eyes look up to you, too, and tell you the answer: Because I love you. And those full-grown adult eyes look down to you from the cross with the same answer. Oh my God! Is that not too wonderful for words?

But words we need, so as St. Paul said to us today: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Like Simeon. And whatever you do, in word or deed, - like Anna - do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Until like Simeon and Anna, you close your eyes in death, and then open them to see what you here believed. And you know what you’ll say on that day? That day you receive that gift? You know the one. The one you’ve been waiting for. The one promised you when you were baptized. The one so special, so important. When that day finally comes and all the wrappings come off, the sound will cry out from here and all around the world . . .

Oh my God!

And you’ll be right! And live with Him forever.

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

Christmas Day Sermon

Jesu Juva

“God’s Advents: In the Flesh”
Text: John 1:1-14; Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6

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

This Advent season now past, in our midweek services we’ve considered “God’s Advents” - some of the ways and times that God came to His people. And in doing so, we noticed a common theme. When God came to Adam and Eve in the Garden after they had fallen into sin, when God came to His people on Mt. Sinai after He brought them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and when God will come again on the Last Day - each time, there is fear and the desire to hide from God. For sinful people cannot stand in the presence of a holy and sinless God. That is the sad reality of sin and the separation it has caused between the Creator and His creatures; between the Father and His children.

But last night and today, as we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord, we hear of something completely different - it is no longer people hiding . . . God is hiding. Hiding in human flesh and bone. Hiding in the infant, born of Mary, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger. Or to use John’s words which we heard this morning: The Word - that was in the beginning, was with God, and was God - became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

Yet equally as important as the fact that God is present and hiding in the infant whose birth we celebrate this day is to know why He is so hiding. We hide because of fear, anger, shame, or maybe just the desire to be alone. Our hiding is to separate ourselves from others. But not God. Again, with Him, it is completely different and exactly the opposite. He hides in love and mercy. He hides to reveal His glory (John 1:14). He hides in order to be with us as our Saviour, and so that we may be with Him as those redeemed and saved . . . and be no longer afraid.

And so today, as Isaiah said (v. 7), today is the proclamation of good news, of peace, of good tidings, and of salvation. That today, the Lord has laid bare his holy arm (v. 10). He has rolled up his sleeves, so to speak, baring his arm, to get to work - the work of our salvation. And what do we see when God reveals His muscle and gets to work? A baby. And we are reminded once again that God does not do as we do nor think as we think. Today, your God reigns (v. 8) from a manger. And we burst into songs of joy together (v. 9).

For as we heard today from the book of Hebrews: In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days - today! - he has spoken to us by his Son. And has God ever spoken so loudly as He did that Silent Night, when Christ the Savior was born? Has God ever spoken so loudly how much we need not fear, but how much He loves us, the lengths He would go for us, all that He would do for us?

So He comes, into the darkness, John says. To be a light for us in the darkness. Or as the psalmist put it: Your Word is a lamp for my feet, and a light for my path (Ps 119:105). That’s the Word of God spoken through the prophets, yes; but even more, the word of the prophets fulfilled by the Word made flesh. For all the prophets spoke pointed to Him, and now He is showing us the way. For in these last days, [God] has spoken to us by his Son. He is now showing us the way, lighting the way, to life; life now and life forever.

And that way is not a way of greatness and power, but of lowliness, weakness, and humility. Of Bethlehem, mangers, and shepherds. And ultimately, of persecution, cross, and death. Again, not as we would do nor as we think, but the way of God. And so the way to life is as John said: by faith. That to all who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God

Now, that’s not the best wording, the best translation, for us today, to say that we have been given the right to become children of God. Because that word - the right - is a loaded word for us today, in our society where my rights and equal rights and civil rights and the Bill of Rights are buzz words and the cause celebre. And so using that word here in translation almost makes it sound like we can demand something from God, that He owes us something. We have rights! And we have the right to be Your children God! Just like we have the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to be whoever we want to be.

But that’s the darkness we live in - the darkness that we’re something and can demand something from God. But Adam and Eve, the people on Mt. Sinai, and the people on the Last Day, all those we’ve heard of this Advent season - they know better. They don’t demand anything of God, they hide in fear. They know the only right they have is for punishment, condemnation, and death. Because of sin; their sin. And us too.

So sometimes that word is translated as power - that he gave us the power to become children of God. But that, too, is misleading, sounding like we have the power to make ourselves God’s children. But as anyone can tell you, a child doesn’t make itself anything. It is made in it’s mother’s womb and then born into the world quite from its own power or desire. 

And so a better translation of that verse today would be this: that to all who believe in his name, he gave to them the privilege to be children of God. That puts the emphasis in the right place. For put that way, you see what God has given as pure gift; completely undeserved. It is a gift that the Father sent His Son to be born a son of man, that we might be born sons of God. A gift that in Jesus, we be taken from the darkness of sin to the light of love; from the darkness of death to the light of life; from the darkness of hell to the light of heaven.

That’s what Jesus has done for us! That is why He is born. To endure the darkness of our sin and death and hell in our place on the cross, that we rise with Him to a new life - a life of light. A life we do not in any way deserve, but is the gift of God - His Christmas gift, to us. A gift that gives us joy and hope and peace in Him. And a gift that if it gives us any rights or power at all, gives us the same rights and power that we see in Christ - the power to fear not, but to trust, to believe His promises, to be lowly and lay down our lives for others, to humbly forgive and serve and love.

Which is exactly the gift we need. Those things sin has robbed from us, but are now restored to us in Christ. Gift from Him. It is the gift Mary and Joseph received, the gift the shepherds and wise men received, the gift the lowly and sinners and outcasts received, and the gift you have received. The gift of being a child of God in Jesus. And as Linus would say: That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

And that flesh and blood of Jesus that we remember this day was born for us, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger . . . that same body and blood is now given to you, here, wrapped in bread and wine and laid into your mouths. More gift. That your sin be forgiven and your death be overcome, even now. That though you sin, you need not fear, but rejoice in His forgiveness. And that though your life here on earth end, you not really die, but instead begin living your eternal life, your heavenly life, the life that has no end. That, too, your Saviour’s gift to you. 

That’s the good news for us today; the good news of God in the flesh for you. The greatest wrapping job of all time, with the greatest gift as well. So rightly we will sing a new song today: Joy to the World, the Lord has come (LSB #387)! And rejoice we will. In the joy that He has come. The joy of His forgiveness. The joy of His gifts. And the joy that in Him, we need hide no more.

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

Christmas Eve Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Love Story”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

How do you know that God loves you? Because sometimes it may seem as if He doesn’t; or at least, not very much. When your life gets turned upside down. When tragedy strikes. When each day you awaken to sorrow or loneliness, maybe especially during the holidays. When fears outnumber joys and worry is your daily bread. When tornadoes strike your town and take your home and maybe a loved one, as they did in the South the day before Christmas Eve. In the midst of such times, how do you know, how can you be sure, that God loves you? We heard the answer tonight: In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 

Or in other words, Jesus is born because God loves you. 

Because God didn’t have to do that. There didn’t have to be a Christmas. When Adam and Eve sinned, as we heard in the first reading tonight, God could have let them go their rebellious way and die in their sin. And He would have been 100% justified in doing so. They deserved it. They didn’t want God and His Word and His gifts and His Paradise? Fine. See ya.

But God didn’t do that, because He loved them. Still. He couldn’t not love them. He couldn’t stop loving them, though they had not returned His love. And so instead of sending them away, He promises to send someone to them: a Saviour. A satanic-head-crusher. One who would undo what they did, though they did not in any way deserve it. 

That is the Saviour the prophet Isaiah then wrote about; the Saviour who comes as a child. For to us a child is born, he says; to us a son is given.  . . . A shoot - a baby tree - will come from the stump of Jesse.  . . . And this little child shall lead them. And this little child, this Son, Isaiah says, will be none other than the Mighty God Himself. The Son of God come into a world darkened by sin and death, to bring light and joy and peace. And into a world of not just any darkness - deep darkness, Isaiah said. Your darkness and mine. That’s where this child is and where He wants to be. And the deeper the darkness, the brighter will shine His love and light. 

And then finally the time appointed by God to send His Son had come, and He sent the angel Gabriel to herald it. And by His Word make it so. And Mary conceives. The Son of God from eternity is now also the son of Mary in time. And that time was during the reign of Caesar Augustus, when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. The world had come a long way since Adam and Eve plunged it into sin, but God had not forgotten His promise. And when Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for the taxation census, the child was born, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger, as we celebrate tonight.

That’s how you know that God loves you. But not just that. We heard more, too. That in this is [His] love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation - the sacrifice - for our sins.

So it’s not just that God sent His Son, but that He sent His Son to die - to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. To pay the penalty for you, instead of you, in your place. That’s the love of God for you. The love of God which stopped Abraham’s knife-wielding hand but would not stop His own at the cross. Abraham was willing to offer up his son, but Isaac was not the son who would bless all the nations of the world - that would be the Son of God and the son of Mary; the son given the name Jesus. 

He didn’t look the part - a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger is all the shepherds saw with their eyes. But as the angels told the shepherds, the one born this day in the city of David is a Saviour, Christ the Lord. And not only would all the nations of the earth be blessed in Him, but God also told Abraham, he shall possess the gate of his enemies.

What does that mean? What enemies are those? Men may align themselves against God, like Adam and Eve, but also like Adam and Eve, they are not God’s enemies; they are not the foes the Son has come to fight and conquer - Jesus comes to save them too! All people. And us, too, when we align ourselves against God and insist on sinning. 

No, the enemies here are the enemies that afflict all peoples of all times and places - the enemies of sin, death, and hell. By His death and resurrection, this child of Bethlehem would conquer the stronghold of hell, break the grip of the grave, and open heaven to sinners by the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus is now the gate-keeper, the gate-possessor, and bids us come and enter, to find our love and life, our hope and joy, in Him. For in Him - and only in Him - is there peace on earth, good will toward men.

So the story we heard tonight from first to last is a love story. Not a sappy, mushy kind of love, but a strong and determined love. The love of a strong and determined God, who wants nothing else for you but the greatest gift of all: life with Him; life in His Son, forever. A life that lasts beyond the grave and transcends the troubles of the world. A life where sin and darkness are no more.

Such a life may not seem possible; there are many skeptics, after all. Maybe even you from time to time. When we see so little love in others. When our own love grows cold, even toward God. And when the troubles and darkness - in our world and in our hearts - grows deeper. The story of Christmas sounds good, but sometimes seems so far away and out of reach. And it would be, were it up to us. As far as heaven is from earth.

But that’s why Christmas is such good news! Christmas is the love and life of God come down to us. There is no darkness too deep, no trouble too threatening, no love too cold, no person too lost, no sorrow too profound for Him. For the God who came to us at Christmas is the God who is with us still, to save, speaking to us His Word and His forgiveness, washing us in His Baptism, and feeding us with His Body and Blood. These are His mangers today, where He is loving us and saving us. And we, like the shepherds, come to the one who has been made known to us.

But not only that - the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God. And God bids us do the same - to glorify and praise God by loving one another, with the love and forgiveness He has given to us in His Son, and providing for one another with all that He has given us. And as you do, as Christ the Lord comes to you and lives in you and through you, you will find His light makes the darkness a little less deep, His love makes your love a little less cold, and His joy makes your sorrow a little less profound. A little glimpse of the Paradise that awaits us.

So yes, God really does love you. With a love greater than anything in this world and life. And we see and rejoice in that love this night. Whether you are going home tonight to an empty house or a full house or any house. To gifts many or few. To memories joyous or sad. To a life easy or difficult. Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, - your Saviour - which is Christ the Lord.

Merry Christmas!

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

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent 4 Midweek

Jesu Juva

“Leap For Joy!”
Text: Luke 1:39-45; Hebrews 10:5-10; Micah 5:2-5a

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

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah . . .

That sounds like what many people will be doing this week. Traveling. With haste. 

And she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

Or in other words, she went to see family. Elizabeth was her cousin. And that too is what many people will be doing this week and why they will be traveling: to see and spend time with family.

But now here is where this story separates itself from our stories, and makes it unique - unlike our Christmas celebrations.

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.

Now, babies kicking and poking and moving in the womb is not unusual, but leaping for joy (as Elizabeth would later add) is. And I’m sure that little nugget made all the mothers here today cringe! That couldn’t have felt good!

Yet Elizabeth is overjoyed, because this out-of-the-ordinary reaction came from an out-of-the-ordinary visit. For this wasn’t just cousin Mary visiting, as I’m sure had happened rather ordinarily in the past - this was Mary, the mother of the Lord, visiting. And if the mother of the Lord is visiting, then this too: so is the Lord. The Lord within her. The Almighty, the one without beginning or ending, the all-present and all-knowing, creator, protector, and preserver of all, the Lord who spoke to Moses from the burning bush and the one who is David’s Son yet also David’s Lord - is now a tiny baby boy in Mary’s womb, and in the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth. 

And so, it would seem, John the Baptist is already starting to fulfill his role as the forerunner of the Christ. For before Mary can tell Elizabeth what has happened to her, John leaps for joy. He knows. And so even before he has a voice, he is crying out and pointing to the one greater than he. And filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth know it too, and is filled with joy.

And so she exclaims: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

Blessed, not because of who Mary is, but because wherever the Lord is, there is blessing. Just ask the shepherds and the wise men, the blind and the deaf, the lepers and the outcasts, even those Jesus would speak harshly to to shake them out of their sins and turn them back to God. He comes to bless. And where He is, there is blessing. For us too.

But then Elizabeth asks the all-important question: And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? That is the all-important question because the answer tells us why Christmas is so important. It is the answer, sadly, many are missing in their celebrations of Christmas. 

And the answer for us today was given in the reading from Hebrews, the author actually quoting from Psalm 40. For, he says, when Christ came into the world (which is what just happened in Mary): Sacrifices and offering you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.”

Now, those are words that sound strange, at first, to ears who know their “scroll of the book,” their Bibles - your ears. Because God commanded burnt offerings and sin offerings, and they fill the Old Testament, so how could he say that He did not desire them nor take pleasure in them? Well, because He didn’t. They were necessary, but never what God wanted or desired. They were made necessary because of sin, our sin, your sin and my sin, but God never wanted His precious creatures slaughtered and their blood poured out all over the place. That’s not why He created. But we needed them. And so they were given to us in mercy, by a merciful God. But was God happy with sacrifices and killing all those animals? No.

What He wanted is the same thing He wanted in the very beginning; what He wanted from Adam and Eve, but the one thing they were unwilling to do: to do His will. To keep His Word and not eat from the tree they were forbidden. That Adam and Eve fear, love, and trust Him above all things. They instead said: Thanks. All this is great. Really, God. But no thanks. We’ll do what we want and eat what we want. We’ll obey our own urges and wisdom instead of You and Your Word.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s what we still do, isn’t it? Toward God, and toward our parents and other authorities whom God places over us for our good. Thanks. All this is great. Really, God. But no thanks. I’ll do what I want instead. And the result for us is the same as it was for Adam and Eve: death.

But God took no pleasure in that either, for death is anti-God. Anti-the-God who is life and gives and sustains all life; who carefully knits us together in our mother’s wombs, the psalmist would later tell us (Ps 139). And so first He mercifully set up the sacrificial system in the Old Testament to deal with sin, but those sacrifices were not the answer. For as the verse in Hebrews right before our reading today (v. 4) tells us: it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins

But, we heard today that there is one who has come to do the will of God, as it is written; in fulfillment of all the Scriptures. And this is why a body you have prepared for me. You see, those words - a body you have prepared for me - the author inserted into his quotation of the Psalm. For that’s what’s new; that’s what’s different; that’s what has now come to pass, that makes John leap for joy. There is now a second Adam, a second bodily man without sin, to do two things: (1.) to do what the first Adam would not do; and (2.) to undo what the first Adam did do. Or in other words, (1.) to live a perfect life, keeping God’s Word and will perfectly, and then (2.) laying down that perfect life; offering it up to receive the death, punishment, and condemnation that Adam and Eve and you and me and all the world deserve. To take it in our place and in so doing, be still the God who is life and gives life. For as Elizabeth said and as the leaping John confirmed, that body that you have prepared for me, is not just a body, but the body of the Lord.

So, Elizabeth, why has the mother of the Lord come to you, bringing with her the Lord who has come to you? It is the same reason why the Lord comes to us still: to forgive us our sin, save us from death, and raise us to life again. 

And He has, for as Hebrews goes on to say: He abolishes the first - the sacrifices of the Old Testament - in order to establish the second - His own; the fulfillment. And by that will we have been sanctified - made holy - through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all. We have been - it is a done deal. Signed, sealed, and delivered by that body and blood of Christ. And delivered to us in Word and Absolution and Baptism and Supper - those places where He puts this gift of life for us today. That just as Jesus came to Elizabeth hidden in the womb of His mother, so He might come to us today hidden in these means. And give us the same leaping joy. Christmas joy. Birth-of-the-Lord joy. Forgiveness joy.

For, Elizabeth concludes, blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. 

But not just she, Mary. That same blessing is for you who believe. For we are not blessed with a forgiveness that means that I can sin and get away with it; a forgiveness that’s like how we sometimes think: that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. No. That’s not Jesus as Saviour; that’s Jesus as co-conspirator. That’s not Jesus as Saviour, but Jesus as undertaker, helping us dig our own eternal graves. 

No, the second Adam came, as Micah said today, to shepherd his flock . . . that we may dwell secure . . . and to be our peace. Or to put it in words you’ve already heard: to (1.) do what we do not do, and (2.) to undo what we do. To undo our old, sinful life, and give us a new, godly life. That we, too, begin to do the will of our Father, who art in heaven, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. That we begin to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. That His birth mean our new birth, to a new life, that has no end. 

That our soul, too, magnify the Lord, with Mary, Elizabeth, and John. For in the little town of Bethlehem - too small to be among the clans of Judah, but not too small for God - our ruler, shepherd, and Saviour was born.

And so blessed are you. Whether or not your family gets along when you’re all packed together in the same house; whether or not you get the perfect gift or any gifts; whether or not you even feel joyful at this time of year, for many don’t. None of that really matters. None of that is the make or break of Christmas. Blessed are you who believe. Blessed are you who have been filled with the Holy Spirit in your baptism, whose ears are filled with His Word, and whose mouths are filled with the Body and Blood of Jesus at the altar. Blessed are you who hear and believe that your sins are forgiven. Blessed are you, for the Lord has come to you. That you, too, might leap for joy in Him.

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

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advent 3 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“God’s Advents: The Last Day”
Text: Joel 2:1-11; Revelation 6:12-17; Matthew 25:1-12

How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped? Or, how do you help someone who doesn’t think they need help; who sees no danger? Maybe you’ve been there. It’s challenging. It’s frightening. It’s heart-wrenching.

It is what God faced with the people of Judah in Joel’s day. The people were in a bad way, the way of idolatry and rebellion against God. But they thought everything was okay, that there was no danger, because everything seemed to be going well. And outwardly, it may have been so. But inwardly, all was sin and death. And God knew it. So He sent the prophet Joel to the people, to call them to repentance, to turn them from the way they were going and back to God. And to warn them, that if they didn’t, disaster awaited. And what a disaster! Joel’s words that we heard tonight are very frightening indeed. That God was going to bring in an enemy army that would be like a locust swarm, to devour the kingdom, the land, and the people. Nothing would escape them, so that the people would have to turn to Him; there would be nothing else left to turn to. Yet even so, the people ignored Joel and mocked him. He was a stupid fool in their eyes. So they continued, and the army came and swept them away.

But Joel’s words weren’t just for the people of Judah back then. As you keep reading, you soon realize that Joel is speaking of a far worse day as well. A day that this first frightening day is but a foreshadowing of. The day when days will end. When not an enemy army, but God Himself is going to come, and there will be no more chance to turn. On that day, not only will the people tremble, but so will the heavens and the earth that God created in the beginning. The sun and moon will be darkened and the stars will withdraw their shining. This day of the Lord wil be great and awesome, and, Joel asks, who can endure it?

The answer is clear. No one, Adam and Eve call out to us from behind their leafy hiding place. No one, the people at Mt. Sinai call out to us from their terror and fear. No one, the people we heard from in the reading from Revelation tonight call out to us; the people who want the mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide them from the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb

The wrath of the Lamb. Isn’t that an interesting phrase? Lambs aren’t wrathful; they are gentle. They aren’t fearsome; they’re cute and cuddly. And the Lamb who is sitting on the throne of God in heaven is the Son of God who isn’t against His people, but for them! It is Jesus who advented, who came, and was born a man like us, and then laid down His life for us. It is Jesus who atoned for our sins by offering up His life as a sin offering, that we need hide no longer. It is Jesus who took the wrath against the sin of the world for us, in our place. And yet you see what sin has done, how badly it has twisted us and our minds? That instead of seeing Jesus as Saviour, people see Him as threat. Instead of loving, as mean. Instead of merciful, as their enemy. And see sin as what we want; what will give us what we need.

And so into such a tangled and twisted world, comes Advent. Calling us to repentance, like the prophet Joel, to realize that cross and discipline now is better than terror at the end. Preparing the way, like John, to level the mountains of sin we have piled up, to fill in the valleys of sin we have dug, and to straighted the crooked road of sin we have constructed. To unweave the web of sin that has so ensnared us that we cannot see rightly anymore; that we see Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And that He is the Lamb returning for us.

With such knowledge, with such faith, that Last Day will be quite different for us. A day of joy and anticipation, like the virgins waiting for the Bridegroom to come. But how we wait is important, too; that we wait well and wisely. That we not be foolish and unprepared, and not full of ourselves, but instead filled with the faith and forgiveness our Lord gives now through His Word and Sacraments. That we be filled now with His Spirit, with His Body and Blood, and with His love and mercy. That filled with Him and hidden in Him, we stand on that Last Day and not only endure, but enter into the marriage feast which has no end.

But such knowledge, such faith, can make a difference for us even now as well. For fear, as Adam and Eve and the people of Mt. Sinai will tell you, makes us act in very uncharacteristic ways, as fear makes us lash out, as it divides, as it turns us against one another. As it makes us blame, excuse, and deny. As it controls us and paralyzes us.

But there is a better way. Instead of living in fear and hiding from God and from each other, to hide in and trust His forgiveness. That’s hard. We’d rather be in control instead of trusting Him and we hate to admit we’re wrong and repent to each other. But look at the messes we’ve made. Is that old way really the way? Again, the answer is clear.

So this season, the manger calls out to us a new way, a new life. It is the message of the angels - not only that a Saviour is born, but they say this too: fear not. Afraid to repent? Fear not. Afraid to forgive? Fear not. Afraid to give up your sins? Fear not. Afraid of losing control? Fear not. Afraid to love? Fear not. Afraid to help? Fear not. Afraid to be helped? Fear not. Afraid of life? Fear not. Afraid of death? Fear not. In this one, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, we need fear no thing. He is our peace. He is our life. He is our confidence. He is our Mighty Saviour. 

And we who kneel before Him now, will stand before Him in the end.

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

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Advent 3 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Teacher of Joy”
Text: Luke 7:18-28; Philippians 4:4-7

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

The best teachers don’t give you a straight answer - they tell you where to find the answer. That can be extremely frustrating for the lazy student, who wants only to be spoon fed. But sooner or later, as in life, the student must grow up. We start with milk, then on to being spoon fed; after that comes eating on your own - which is messy at first, food everywhere (right parents?), until spoon and fork are mastered - and then finally the meat and potatoes. And hopefully just as satisfying as that last course is for our dining pleasure, so too the student will find the joy of learning.

And so it is with John the Baptist . . . though there is some difference of opinion about these verses we heard today. Some think that when John sends his disciples to Jesus with the question: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? he was asking for himself. That he is racked with doubt since he has been languishing in prison for some time now. His preaching and baptizing had started out with such success and promise, but now . . . ? This is not how it was supposed to work, Jesus. So maybe he was mistaken. 

It certainly is an understandable opinion. For many or most or all of us have wondered or doubted for far less. We too who have lives filled with troubles. Things aren’t working out as we had hoped or planned. Worries. Fears. For ourselves or for our loved ones. Old age making things difficult. Temptations abounding and capturing more and more hearts. When we look at life, we too can wonder: Really, Jesus? Is this the way, Jesus? This is not how it was supposed to work, is it Jesus?

But on the other hand, this is the John who leapt for joy in his mother’s womb at hearing the voice of Mary, the mother of the Lord. The John who baptized Jesus and witnessed the amazing aftermath of the Spirit descending like a dove upon Him, and the voice of the Father from heaven. This is the John who pointed to Jesus and declared: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). This is the John who said of Jesus: He must increase; I must descrease (John 3:30). And certainly, being in prison would qualify as decreasing.

So I think, rather, John is acting as a master teacher here. John’s whole life and career were about one thing: Jesus. Preparing the way for Him. And now that He has come, John is fading out of the picture. The prophet is giving way to the fulfillment, the shadow to the reality.

But apparently some of his disciples are still hanging around. Good fellows. But they should not be here any longer. They need to be with Jesus. So John sends his students to see for themselves. To see the answer. To see Jesus in the flesh. To answer for themselves: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

Jesus is a master teacher, too. The master teacher. And so He preaches, words that give faith; but at the same time, He points, too, to the answer. You tell me, good fellows. What do you see? And then He lists the signs, in ascending order, from the least important to the most important. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear. Impressive. But there’s more. The dead are raised up! And then this most importantly of all: the poor have good news preached to them. To the poor in spirit are preached the riches of God, to give forgiveness for sin, hope for despair, light for darkness, strength for weakness, and life for death. And all this, not just powerful stuff, goodies given out; but fulfillment of prophecy. The Word of God fulfilled, for faith. Yes, Jesus is the one. When you look at yourself and look at your life, questions, doubts, fears, death. Look at Jesus, life, confidence, and joy.

And that’s what we need, isn’t it? Did John question and doubt? Or was it his disciples? We may not know that answer, but we know this: we do. And what is it for you? What prison? What sin wrapping its tentacles around you? What troubles and worries dragging you down like an anchor? What lies satanically hissed into your ears making you think you’re not worth anything? That you’re too sinful, too disappointing; you’ll never measure up. What darkness descending, encircling, trying to erect its walls around you? We look at life and we wonder, too. Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? ‘Cause me, and my kids, and my friends . . . things don’t look so good, Jesus. We really, really need a Saviour.

But if Jesus isn’t doing what you think He should be doing, or how you think He should be doing it, is the problem Him . . . or you? And blessed is the one who is not offended by me, Jesus said. When we are offended, when we are disappointed, when we go looking for other saviours, other people or things in this world that we think will give us what we think we want or need, that is not the way of blessing. That is to veer off the way. Temporary happiness does not give lasting joy. Blessing comes only through the blessed One, and maybe in ways that will surprise you.

For your ultimate blessing comes not through life, or a life fulfilled, or a life that goes according to your plans and desires, but through death. The death of Jesus and your death with Him. Jesus’ death for you on the cross, atoning for your sin and the sin of the world. And your death with Him in Baptism, where that old, sinful, doubting, worldly, other-saviour-seeking man is drowned, and a new man given life. Satan hates that new man, you know. And will rage against him; against you. Causing you no little pain, no little opposition. Does that mean your Saviour isn’t real? That it didn’t work? That He didn’t really win? Quite the contrary - that’s why satan is fighting so hard. Jesus did win. To bless you and mercy you and snatch you away from the evil one, so precious you are to Him. So valuable. That He traded His life for yours.

And as great as John was - and as Jesus said, among those born of women none is greater than John - which means not Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob; not Moses or Joshua; not David or Solomon; not Elijah or even Mary - none greater than John. Yet as great as John was, the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. That’s you. A least, a child. But a child of God. Low, despised, nothing, least in the eyes of the world, but great in your heavenly Father’s eyes. And so blessed with His promises: His forgiveness, His life, His kingdom. All of which are out of satan’s reach, for they are hidden with Christ in God. So even if satan take everything else away - health, freedom, riches, even life itself - He cannot have those, those gifts of Christ; and He cannot have you.

That taking away would soon happen to John, as not many days from this account that we heard, King Herod would have his head on a platter. No matter. John went from grace to grace, from great to greater, from this world of sin to that world where sin is forever banished, and there is only joy.

That is not our reality now, or course. We’re still in this world of sin and death, of darkness and disappointment, of worry and fear. And yet there is joy for us, too. The joy not from getting exactly what we want for Christmas, or exactly what we want from life, but joy born from the Word of God - both the Word fulfilled, and the promises we know will be. As sure as Jesus is risen from the dead, so does He live to fulfill every promise. Maybe not as we expect, or even want, or understand. But the cross shows us that with Jesus, the greatest blessing can come from what looks like the greatest defeat.

And that’s why Paul could proclaim - even while in prison like John - Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. He repeats it for emphasis. And that’s why we lit the rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath today - the joy candle. Because in the midst of a dark world, we have a joyful and certain hope. We have Jesus. And He is not only the one who was to come, but the one who is still coming to us, to bless.  

And don’t be offended by how He comes still today - through preaching, through water, through bread and wine. It’s just as easy to be offended by these as to be offended by the flesh of the man from Nazareth who claimed He was God, or the so-called prophet getting His just desserts on the cross, from which He couldn’t even save Himself. . . . Couldn’t? Or wouldn’t?

But that Good Friday body and blood are really here in this bread and wine, for you. To bless. That Word of that man from Nazareth is still preached into your ears, to bless. That water He was baptized in you are baptized in, for life. And this is good. For it is not the spectacular that we have to go out and find and discover and get Jesus for ourselves. No. He comes to us and finds us. The Lord is at hand. In our prisons, in our darkness, in our lostness and sin, through these humble means. Lowly means for lowly ones, to make great.

And so we light a rose-colored candle and curse the darkness. We sing our hymns that confess our Saviour, that satan flee with his ears covered and saying lalalalalalala! We pray boldly, as dear children ask their dear Father. And we come with open mouths and empty hearts, that Christ fill them with Himself, His very body and blood. And in all these ways, the good news is preached and given to us. That unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). That He is not here, He is risen as He said (Matt 28:6)! And that He is coming back for you, to take you to His home and yours (John 14:3). Good news, indeed, of great joy.

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