Monday, December 26, 2016

Sermon for the Nativity of Our Lord

Jesu Juva

“A Great and Mighty Wonder”
Text: John 1:1-14; Hebrews 1:1-6; Isaiah 52:7-10

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

The Word became flesh. The Light of life has pierced the darkness of death. The Creator has entered His creation as a creature. The perfect and sinless One has come to redeem a sinful world. The Truth has come to set straight a world of lies. The grace of God has appeared and as we heard last night, is wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

And the world yawns. Yeah, we’ve heard the story before. It’s the same every year.

Others who do not yawn rage against this story as a threat to them and the way they want to live their life. The truth is not always welcome; the darkness hides what we do not want others to see in us.

And then some think this all religious silliness. After all, a world that has evolved doesn’t have a Creator that can become a creature. And men that are evolving are making everything better and advancing anyway.

But know this too: these thoughts don’t only come from outside the church, they can slither into the church and creep into our minds as well - before we know it or realize it - and make their home there. And so we need to be on guard.

For we, too, have heard the story before and maybe take it for granted, passing by and over the words without really thinking about them too much.

There is darkness and sin in us we do not want others to see or know, and some we don’t even want to repent of, or are afraid to repent of. It is tempting to deny the truth to keep what we want to be true; to hold onto what we love or think we love.

And while we may not think the Word of God silly, do we perhaps act that way? Do we make it the priority it really should be in our lives? Or do we just fit it in when we can, thinking we’re doing pretty good on our own, or focused more on what we can do more than what God can do?

But Christmas, if we take it seriously, shatters all that thinking and sets us straight. The Word became flesh because there was simply no other way for us to live. For those who turn away from the Light are overcome by the darkness. Those who turn away from the Truth are consumed by the father of lies. Those who think they need no redeeming must save themselves. Yet every grave from Adam’s until today is still full. No one has done it yet.

So good news today! Wonderful news, in fact. Hear it again and let it fill you with wonder, like a child’s eyes seeing the tree and presents on this day. The Word became flesh.

The world says the gifts you get are because you deserve them, because you’ve been so good this year. This gift, however, is given to those who do not deserve Him; to those who have not been good, but have sinned, repeatedly and grievously. To a world where there is no naughty list and nice list - only sinners.

For this world, for you and me, the Word became flesh

For those who take the gifts He has given and either abuse them or throw them away, the Word became flesh.

For those who deny His Word or disregard it, the Word became flesh.

For those who take Him and His grace and mercy for granted, the Word became flesh.

He did not turn His back. He did not give up. He did not take back His promise. Today He comes for you, for one and one reason alone: because still He loves you. And He always will.

Unless you understand that, unless you realize our need, you won’t get the wonder of Christmas. You won’t hear the wonder that fills the words we heard today.

The wonder John is expressing when He says, Folks! the Word became flesh! The Infinite became finite. The Uncreated became a creature. The all-powerful One became a helpless baby. Do you realize the glory of God, that He would do this for us?

Iconographers try to depict this wonder by painting icons of Jesus with a gold halo, or nimbus, around His head. And within that halo they put three Greek letters, forming the words: ho on, which means: the one who was. Meaning that the one who always was, who had no beginning, is now here, enfleshed in this man. So if you want to know God and see God, look no where else but here. For the Word who was in the beginning, and was with God and was God, is now here. The Word became flesh, for you!

And we heard that wonder also today from the book of Hebrews, that in these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son! Or in other words, the time of the prophets is done. No more messages from angels. Dreams and visions are a thing of the past. The same Word of God that spoke in the beginning and everything came to be is now in the flesh and speaking to us! 

Do you get the wonder? Do you know what that means? That Word that spoke and created is speaking and still creating. Creating us anew. Re-creating us. To we who chose death He is speaking life. To us who choose sin He is speaking forgiveness. To us who have turned away He is calling us back. If you’ve ever got the cold shoulder from someone, or can’t get your phone calls, emails, or texts returned, you know how frustrating the silence is. But God is not silent. He is speaking. To you. A Word which does what it says! Can you believe it?

And Isaiah is marvelling as well. The Lord has bared his holy arm! he says. He has rolled up His sleeves and bared His holy arm to get to work. Not against us sinners but for us. And for all people. That all the ends of the earth see the salvation of our God. And those feet which bring such good news and peace and joy . . . are the ones now wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. How beautiful those little feet! The feet of God!

Those feet which, as you know, would soon be marred and pierced with nails and fastened to a cross. That creating, life-giving, forgiving voice silenced by those He came to save. And the Word which became flesh laid lifeless in a tomb. 

But this is exactly why the Word became flesh. This is why Jesus was born - not to be an inspiration for you or an example for you, but to die for you, for your sin. 

Which would have been the end of the story and the end of all hope, had this not been true as well: The Word became flesh . . . and shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The darkness of sin and death and grave, John says, did its worst, raged its hardest, and clamped down with all its strength . . . but could not extinguish the Light. And so the Word that became flesh and died is not overcome, but overcomes. The Word rises to life again

And so, John says - writing to people after all this happened, and not just reporting history, but reality - John is saying here: Folks! This light is still shining in the darkness. This light continues to shine in the darkness. It didn’t just shine in the darkness once and then leave - it is still shining for you. The One born for you, lives for you and lives in you. To wonderfully fill you with His grace and truth. To fill you with Himself. To fill you with His life. To fill you with His forgiveness. To fill you with His Spirt. To fill you with His Body and Blood. 

And He does. For no longer is He born in a stable, but born in us through water and His Word. No longer is He wrapped in swaddling clothes but wraps us in His forgiveness. And no longer is He laid in a manger but in our mouths, the bread and wine now His poor and humble manger, as we come to feed on Him. And so He who created all things is creating still, creating in us clean hearts, giving us hope, and providing a life that will never end.

And with such gifts - Christmas gifts! - we can now repent and truly rejoice, but more than that, also give these gifts to others, the grace and truth filling us also overflowing to others. God using us as His blessing, His gift, to others. Not only saving sinners, but using us in this blessed and blessing way as well. Which truly is adding wonder upon wonder, is it not?

And that wonder starts today as we look into the manger and see in the face of a child, the face of God! Our Saviour.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Introit Antiphon).

So marvel again, today, at this birth. Not so much how it took place, but that it did. That God did this for you. The Word became flesh. O come let us not only adore Him, but worship Him by receiving His gifts, and then marvel again at the wonders of His love.

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

Christmas Eve Readings and Meditations

I used this service three years ago and as I was planning for this year and looked at this, I like it and decided to use it again. Many of my folks were not here three years ago, so it will be new for them!

Christmas Eve Readings, Meditation, and Carols
Saint Athanasius Lutheran Church
December 24, 2016

The pages that follow contain the Scriptures, meditations, and hymns that were heard and sung this Christmas Eve. The meditations take into account the readings and use the words of the hymns that are sung with them, thus bringing together all into a cohesive whole to unite the message into the hearts of all who hear and sing. For truly, the hymns we sing are the church’s sung confession of the faith, and this service seeks to utilize that to proclaim the message of this night.

A reading from Second Samuel, chapter 7.

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

Meditation on 2 Samuel 7:5a, 11b-14, 16 and 
Hymns 379 (O Come, All Ye Faithful) and 376 (Once in Royal David’s City)

You have come to adore Him, Christ the Lord. Son of the Father, Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.

But even more than that, you have come tonight to receive from Him. For that is why He came down to earth from heaven, in royal David’s city. He came to live with the poor and mean and lowly, with folks like you and me, that we be poor and mean and lowly no more. To be the king we need, the promised son of David who will sit on his throne forever and rule in holiness, righteousness, and love. 

But before ascending to that throne in heaven, He must lie in a manger-throne and hang on a cross-throne. And in between He is our childhood’s pattern - a pattern, however, that we cannot follow or keep. For He lives perfectly, we do not. He keeps all the Law completely, we do not. He loves at all times, we do not. So even more than our pattern, our eyes see Him as our Saviour in His redeeming love. For that child, that man, so dear and gentle, that condemned criminal on the cross is our Lord in heaven above, who is establishing His kingdom and building His house, His Church, through the forgiveness of sins He won for us. 

And now He leads us on to the place where He has gone, that He who came to be with us might take us to be with Him forever. When we, His children, crowned, like stars, all in white, His praise will sound. When we will adore Him not just for a night, but forever.

A reading from Micah, chapter 5.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.

Meditation on Micah 5:2-5a and Hymn 361 (O Little Town of Bethlehem)

Bethlehem. No one would have guessed there. It was too little, too insignificant, too ordinary. The Wise Men went to Jerusalem, for that’s where a king should be born, right?

Well not if you’re the everlasting light. He chooses differently than we do. He comes not with fanfare, but how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. So many didn’t know. So many slept right through it. So many didn’t care. No ear may have heard His coming, but they would hear Him later, when He spoke God’s Word, God’s truth, to a world in need.

And God is speaking still, for ours is a world still in need. Of Him. And so the holy child of Bethlehem is still descending to us today in His Word, and His Word in Baptism, and His Word in the Supper, to cast out sin and enter in, that being born in us we be born in Him, born from above. A wondrous gift still given. The gift of peace. The gift of being in the flock of this Good Shepherd. 

So maybe Bethlehem was still that night, its streets dark, many in deep and dreamless sleep as the silent stars went by. But as the angels’ great glad tidings told, so we tonight will not keep silent. And we will not only sing out these same great glad tidings, we will repent of our sins. For truly in repenting and receiving the forgiveness of our Lord Immanuel, we praise Him for who He truly is, and who He came to be: our Saviour.

A reading from Isaiah, chapter 9.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Meditation on Isaiah 9:2-7 and Hymn 412 (The People That in Darkness Sat)

The people who sat in darkness. Deep darkness, Isaiah said. That’s not only the people back then, it’s you and I tonight. For we sit not in the darkness of night, but the darkness of sin. If it doesn’t seem too dark to you, that’s just because your eyes - and hearts - have gotten used to it. But the darkness is no less now. Everyone doing was is right in his own eyes. Death descending on more and more every day. Death natural and unnatural, as they say. And God’s perfect plan and design for us seeming to grow dimmer and dimmer.

But in this darkness a great light shines. The light of truth. The light of life. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. To break the darkness of sin with His forgiveness. To break the darkness of death with His resurrection. To break the darkness of a lost and wandering world with His Word - His Word which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119:105). For tonight, the Word is made flesh.

So there is joy tonight. A joy higher and deeper and wider and broader than just the bountiful harvest of gifts we receive, the spoils of the season - but the joy of war over, the joy of oppression lifted, the joy of a promised future that can never be taken away from us. For the light of the Word reveals that the gift we receive tonight is the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. He gives Himself to us to make us His alone. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this, for He is zealous, in love, for you.

A reading from Luke, chapter 2.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Meditation on Luke 2:1-7 and Hymn 370 (What Child Is This)

What child is this on Mary’s lap, sleeping? Mary knew. It was the child the angel Gabriel had told her about. The child conceived in her by the Holy Spirit. The Christ. The King. The Saviour. Son of God now also son of Mary. Now and forever God and man in one person.

Why lies He in such mean estate - wrapped in swaddling clothes - and where ox and ass are feeding - in a manger? Because He has come to be like us and to live with us. Our cashmere sweaters and designer clothes like dirty rags compared to the glorious dress of heaven. Our palaces and mansions like stables compared with the kingdom of heaven. So those things He leaves to be with us in ours. Higher than none, that He be for all. Peasant, king, or anywhere in between.

But even more than that: nails, spear, shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you. This firstborn son will be given to redeem the world. The Father spared all the firstborn sons in Egypt, but He would not spare His own Son. The Father spared all the firstborn sons in Egypt covered by the blood of the passover Lamb, but He would give His Son to be that Lamb whose blood will cover us, so that death pass us over. The King of kings salvation brings - through His death and resurrection.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And so it is, that, while HE was HERE, the days were accomplished that WE should be delivered. So joy to all the world, for Christ is born, the babe, the son of Mary!

A reading from Luke, chapter 2.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

Meditation on Luke 2:8-15 and Hymn 380 (Hark! The Herald Angels Sing)

The Scriptures tell us that the angels of God surround Him always and never cease their song of praise. So it should be no surprise to us that when the Son of God comes down to earth and is born a man, there the angels are too. And they sing their song of praise to some shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. They sing to shepherds, quite naturally, because they are singing of the Lamb, the Lamb of God in the manger.

But though they sing to shepherds, their good tidings of great joy are for all people of all time, everywhere. For you and me. For mild He lays His glory by to be born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. Yes, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. For this child is born to bring peace between God and man in the forgiveness of our sins.

Up until this time, the angels have been at work, but quietly, announcing this good news to Mary, to Joseph. But now that He has come, these messengers of God cannot contain themselves, so great their rejoicing! They herald this good news of the newborn king. That light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in his wings. Here is God with us. Here is God for us. The incarnate Deity, the godhead veiled in flesh, come for you. 

So hear again the angels’ eternal song, for they sing for you.

A reading from Titus, chapter 3.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Meditation on Titus 3:4-7 and Hymn 362 (O Sing of Christ)

In the beginning, when God created all things, it was good. Very good. But it did not stay so long. The first Adam and his wife, Eve, lost this good God had created and given to them, choosing the lie over the truth, choosing sin instead of life. And they could not get it back. Now, Paradise was barred to them and they would live a life of hardship, labor, and strife. Such is the fruit of sin. 

But God was not done with His good. The goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared in the world again, this time in a manger. The eternal Word was made flesh and bone. Upon our frail humanity, the icon of God’s grace was traced. There was once again a perfect man on the earth, a second Adam, and they named Him Jesus.

He came to mend what sin had marred. He came to reclaim us as His own. He came to open Paradise again. And so as we heard, the angels are no longer barring the way with their flashing swords - they are singing of heaven open again. For soon, the grave would be opened by this one, and by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, Holy Baptism opens the grave for us too. Adam’s sin is overcome by Jesus’ forgiveness, Adam’s death is conquered by Jesus life, Adam’s defeat is reversed by Jesus’ victory, given to us with water and the Word. And so by His grace we became heirs of eternal life, sharing His wealth and His name for all eternity. 

Which makes Christmas more than just the birth of one son - it the birth of many. Because of His birth here below are we born from above, and so saved not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His mercy. 

A reading from Luke, chapter 2.

And [the shepherds] came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Meditation on Luke 2:16-20 and Hymns 386 (O Sing We, Now Rejoice), 363 (Silent Night), and 387 (Joy to the World)

The angels had to sing, they couldn’t contain themselves. The shepherds, too, returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. And so now do we, taking this joy of a Saviour out into a world filled with sadness and gloom and need. For even as many sing Joy to the World this night, what their hearts feel is quite different than their words say. For many, joy and peace seem only a dream. 

So we rejoice, not in a fleeting joy, but in joy anchored in the Word, in the one who came from on high to us, for we could not rise to Him. The one who has come to cheer our wearied spirits, wearied under the loads of sin, vanity, and death. And if that’s you tonight, if you are here but feel no joy, if you sing but wonder where is your hope, if you see the lights but find only darkness in your heart, there is good news for you. For in this world where sins and sorrows grow, and thorns infest the ground of your heart, He comes to make His blessings flow. He comes to bless you with His forgiveness. That you have hope in Him. That if your heart and mind are raging this silent night, He quiet them with His love for you. For yes, He loves you. The proof is in the manger and on the cross. The proof is in these words: I forgive you all your sins. All He does, He does for you, for this. That you may know the wonders of His love, even in the midst of a world of sin and hate.

That is where joy is found - in Him. The holy ground where He puts Himself for you. A manger, a font. A cross, an altar. A mountain, a pulpit. Until a cloud, when we will be there with Him. The misery and sadness and strife of this world make us only long that we were there. Now! United with all His saints in praise. But not yet. Now He is here, with us, to bring Joy to the World. To you. I pray this night that it may be so for you. That whatever is happening in you or around you or to you, this be a silent night, a holy night, for you. That the tumult of your heart be calmed by the light of His love and the dawn of His redeeming grace. 

For Christ, the Saviour - your Saviour - is born! 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Advent 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“It’s On!”
Text: Matthew 1:18-25; Isaiah 7:10-17; Romans 1:1-7

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

The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday, there was quite a hub-bub over churches which decided to cancel their services that day. For, they said, they usually didn’t have church on Christmas, and the fact that it fell on a Sunday wasn’t going to change things. It was a family day, they said. For most were large churches that depend on hundreds of volunteers to run everything they have going on, and they didn’t want them to have to “work” on Christmas. We don’t have that problem so much, which is how it should always be. For church - no matter how big or small you are, and no matter which Sunday or holy day of the year it may be - is for you to come and stop from your work; to rest in the presence of the Lord and receive the gifts of God. 

Now, I bring all that up not to criticize churches that will not have church next Sunday, but simply because it seemed to me that just as these churches cancel on Christmas, Joseph almost cancelled Christmas, too. For, as we heard, when he found out that Mary was great with child, he wanted no part of it. He didn’t want this job. He wanted out. He resolved to divorce her quietly.

But God would not have this day go away or be cancelled quite so easily. So He sends His angel to speak to Joseph. To set him straight. To explain why there must be Christmas. And to help him understand. That this child was not the result of Mary’s infidelity, but of God’s fidelity. Not Mary’s unfaithfulness, but God’s faithfulness. Not a result of sin, but to save from sin. To save Joseph from his sins. To save the world from sin. So take her as your wife, the angel said. This is bigger than both of you.

Bigger, for this is a story that had been shaped and planned and prepared for thousands of years. This was no last minute gift idea - this was God’s plan from the beginning, and even before that. And so when Adam and Eve sinned and plunged the world into sin, God didn’t have to sit for a spell and figure out what He was going to do! He knew. And He rushed to Adam and Eve to tell them. So they wouldn’t despair. They needed to know that He was going to send a Saviour. To undo what they had done. To rescue and save them.

And then God repeated that promise through the ages. To people damaged by sin. To men and women under the burden of sin. To folks in the darkness of sin and the shadow of death. To folks like you. That we not despair, but have hope. To call all people to faith in God and His promise, that a Saviour was on the way. 

And finally He got to Ahaz, king of the southern Israelite kingdom of Judah. Now, Ahaz was not the best king, and things were not going well. The northern kingdom of Israel and the Syrians had joined together against Ahaz and Judah. And it seemed like war was imminent - a war Judah was unlikely to win. So Ahaz was worried and fearful.

But God wasn’t going to let Judah be conquered - not yet, not now, anyhow. So God wants to reassure Ahaz and tells him to ask for a sign that He is with them; that He will protect and deliver them. Ahaz, under the pretense of piety and not wanting to tempt God, won’t ask. But God gives him a sign anyway. And a most unlikely one. A virgin, He says, shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us.) That is how you will know, Ahaz, that God is with you; that He will protect and deliver you.

God would partially fulfill that sign during the reign and life of Ahaz, but the full and ultimate fulfillment of that promise would be as Matthew said today. When the virgin Mary conceived a son, who would be not just the son of Mary, but the Son of God. God with us, to protect and deliver us from an enemy far more threatening and deadly than Israel and Syria - from our archenemies of sin, death, and the devil. 

St. Paul spoke of Jesus in just that way to the Romans, as we also heard today. That Jesus was no ordinary man, born in the ordinary way. But that He was descended from David through Mary according to the flesh, but was also declared to be the Son of God in power - His resurrection from the dead being proof.

So the plan was now accomplished. No more waiting. Now was just the right time. And not from Sarah, Rebekah, or Rachel did the Saviour come. Not from Bathsheba or any other wife of the patriarchs or kings of Israel. But who would have guessed it? From Mary. Little ol’ Mary of Nazareth. Mary, who nobody had ever heard of before this. And no high, mighty, or famous man would be his guardian-father - but Joseph. A carpenter. And they were a couple not even married yet.

But it had to be this way. So that Jesus would be born without the stain of sin. That He be conceived not in the natural way, but by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God spoken to Mary. That from that one, single fertilized egg on, He was the holy Son of God and the sinless son of Mary - two natures, divine and human, in one person. God and man. The promised Saviour.

So Joseph awakens from his dream and does what the angel said. And Christmas isn’t cancelled after all. The birth is on, and the battle is on. Jesus is born.

So those churches that think Christmas is a family day . . . well, they’re part right. It is a family day, but the question is: which family? The Son of God came, advented, into a human family, but in order to create a new family. A family of His own. A family that will far outlast our earthly families. A family of faith. A family born from above as He was - by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God spoken or poured out on us in Baptism. And Christmas is a day for that family to be together; for this family to be together - with one another and with our Father and brother. Jesus’ family. Sons and daughters of men and yet at the same time sons and daughters of God.

So the divine and human Jesus has both divine and human families, as do we. And both are blessings. We shouldn’t pit one against the other. It is a mistake to keep the human family Christmas and cancel the divine family Christmas, but it would also be a mistake to keep the divine family Christmas and cancel the human family Christmas. It’s not one or the other - it is God who gives and creates both for us, to give us good and to give us joy. That we don’t always receive good and joy from our families, well, that’s why Jesus is here.

Because our families sin against us, and we sin against them. And that’s just a portion of the sin in the world, and of the sin that both erupts and creeps out of us. And sometimes we’ve been hurt and let down by our families and others so much, and think also that we’ll never get better and improve, that we just want a divorce. From the world. From our families. We don’t want it anymore. We want out. Wouldn’t that be better? Joseph thought so.

But not an angel, but the Word of God Himself, tells us no. Don’t be afraid, He says. You have a Saviour. He gives you the forgiveness you need, and the forgiveness you need to forgive others. To heal and restore us and our families. To make us what we once were and as we were created to be. Life is messy, as Joseph found out that day. But Jesus and His forgiveness cleans it up. Only He can.

And so He does. Jesus goes from the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross. And there He sheds His blood that atones for our sin and cleanses our hearts. There He declares that even though we are an unfaithful, sinful bride, He would not divorce us. He’s not out - He’s all in. For you. Laying down His life that you might live. Live now, and live forever.

And live on Christmas Day. When the joy of the gift opening is past. When the tidings of great joy are engulfed by the shouts of sin again. When the lights go out and the darkness comes back. When family disputes resurface and problems come back. ‘Cause they always do. Family Christmases don’t last. But Jesus’ Christmas does. Because it’s not just a day. Jesus comes for you in His Word, to give you the faith and hope, the forgiveness and peace that you need. He comes to you here with His Body and Blood, to forgive you, strengthen you, and live in you. He sends His Spirit to help and guide you. Whatever you need, He is here to give and provide.

As He did for Mary and Joseph. And not just in the nine months before Christmas and on Christmas, but in the months and years after that. For things didn’t get any easier for them. They had to live with the stigma of having an illegitimate child because the world didn’t understand. They had to flee to protect the life of their child, and live in a strange country for a while. You got that beat? Maybe you do.

But God’s all in for you. No matter how bad things get, He never wants out of your life. And even if it seems to you like He is - like maybe it seemed to Joseph - He’s not. The Word of God told him and tells us. 

And so, He says, do not be afraid. God is working. You’re family, and He’s your Father and Saviour. And He has a gift for you. Maybe not what you always wanted, but everything you need for a Merry Christmas . . . and more.

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Advent 3 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Magnificent Magnificat Verbs: He remembers”
Text: Isaiah 49:5-16a; Luke 1:46-55

Mary said . . .
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

Forgetting is a common problem. Sometimes we forget because as we get older our brains don’t work as good as they used to. Sometimes we forget because we’re busy and what we wanted to remember gets pushed out of our minds. 

And maybe you’re like me in this too: there are some things you want to forget that you can’t. Past sins, failures, mistakes, bad decisions, hurts and pains, that you don’t want in your brain any longer, that you wish would never come to mind again, but there they are. And they never seem to go away. Often causing regret, anger, bitterness, despair, and a whole host of other feelings and actions in our lives.

But there are a few people in this world who do not forget - anything. They have something called hyperthymesia. Its kind of a super memory. They can remember almost every day of their lives in enormous detail - what they wore, what they ate, where they were, what they did. No matter how long ago it was. That may seem like a blessing - it sure would make school a lot easier! But I think it more a curse. For as I said, there are many things I want to forget. And so to remember everything? No thanks. Maybe forgetting isn’t so bad after all.

But that’s us. We whose minds have been effected by sin just like the rest of our bodies. Minds that do not work as they were created to work, as they were meant to be, because sin has infected them. Making us forget what we want to remember and remember what we want to forget. And often at the worst possible times.

But what about God? 

Tonight Mary said: He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy. God had promised to be merciful. He promised Adam and Eve in the Garden. He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He promised David and Solomon. He repeated that promise to Israel in exile through the prophets. Over and over again, God promised. And He had it written down for us in His Word. That’s what I do when I need to remember something - I write it down. That’s more reliable than my memory. And so God had His promises written down.

But not so that He would remember. Not to remind Himself. God isn’t the one who forgets. We are. God doesn’t forget to be merciful. We forget that He is. So He wrote it down to remind us. That we remember who He is and all that He has promised to do for us. 

So when Mary says that God is now helping his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, it isn’t that He forgot before and suddenly now remembered. Oops! It is that now is the time to act. Now is the time for Him to fulfill His promises. Now is the time - just the right time - to send His Son to be our Saviour. When God remembers, it means He goes into action. And so the angel Gabriel came and told Mary. The Holy Spirit works through that Word of God to conceive Jesus in the womb of Mary. And Mary goes to her cousin Elizabeth and speaks these words. 

God remembered. All is now coming to pass. God is faithful.

Which is good for us to remember. Because it seems, doesn’t it, that sometimes, perhaps, God forgets us? When troubles are overwhelming us. When our prayers seem to be getting no response and it feels like we’re praying to a brick wall. When it seems like others are getting blessed, and we are getting passed over. And we think: God, what about me? Don’t you remember me?

Old Testament Israel often felt that way. Christians through the ages have felt that way. But God does not forget. Perhaps it is we who are expecting the wrong things or looking for Him in the wrong places. And so if He is not doing what we expect or He is not where we think He should be, we think He has forgotten us . . . when really it is we who have forgotten. Forgotten what He has promised to do and where He has promised to be for us. 

So at just such times, it is back to the Word. To where it is written down. To be reminded. To remember. What God has spoken to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever. We heard some of those words tonight from the prophet Isaiah. How God had promised to act. Forming His servant in the womb, Isaiah said - that’s Jesus now in the womb of Mary. And what would He do? Save Israel? No, that was too small a thing. He would be a light for the nations - for all people. His salvation would reach the ends of the earth. Even to a little classroom in an adult care community in Springfield, Virginia. 

And in sending His Son, God has answered the prayers of His people. Their prayers for help, for saving, for forgiveness. How often it had seemed that all was lost. In Egypt, in Babylon, when Jerusalem was surrounded by her enemies. Yet God was faithful and merciful always. Even when He had to remind His people of their sins by allowing them to be defeated in battle.

Maybe that’s why God allows me to remember what I want to forget. For when I remember my past sins, my failures, my mistakes and bad decisions, I am reminded that I cannot rely on myself or what I can do. It doesn’t take long to see where that will lead. I must rely on Him and what He has done and will do for me. What He has promised to do for me. And what He has promised to do is forgive. To remember my sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34). Which means that He will not act on them. He will not hold them against me. He will not punish me for them, or reject me for them. Because He remembered them on His Son. He held them against Him, punished Him, and forsook Him on the cross in our place.

And so the words of Isaiah are fulfilled, that the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted

And then knowing who I am, my past, and remembering who my Saviour is and all that He has done for me, makes Mary’s words my own. And you too. My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . . for he who is mighty has done great things for me. He helped. He remembered.

And He won’t stop. Ever. Even when you’re in the grave and the world has long forgotten you, He won’t. As Isaiah said: you are engraved on the palms of His hands. He baptized you as his child, born from above by water and the Spirit. He fed you with His Body and Blood. So, Isaiah also said: Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.

I will not forget you. Or as Mary said: He remembered. His mercy. His promises. To you. For you. Emmanuel has come and ransomed captive Israel (LSB #357). And as He came then, and as He comes now, so He will come again, for you, and raise you to life everlasting.

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