Sunday, December 31, 2017

Christmas 1 Sermon

Jesu Juva

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Day Sermon

Jesu Juva

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Eve Homily

Jesu Juva

“Promise Kept”
Text: Isaiah 9:2-7; Micah 5:2-5;
Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 4:7-16; Luke 2:1-20

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

The first people to see that light were the first people to ever live: Adam and Eve. With their sin, they had plunged both themselves and the world into the darkness of sin and death. 

But God came to them with a light of hope. A promise. He would fix what they had done. He would restore creation. He would restore them. He would send a Saviour.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this, Isaiah then said.

And tonight, we rejoice that the Lord has done it. Promise kept. In the city of David, Micah’s little town of Bethlehem, the child Isaiah said would be born, the Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, was born. 

And then it was the shepherds’ turn to see the light. Go to Bethlehem, the angel told them, for there is Christ the Lord. Don’t let the swaddling clothes or manger fool you. It really is Him. This is God’s Saviour.

For God keeps His promises. Always.

I don’t. You don’t. Sometimes because I’m a sinner and fail. Sometimes because something happens and I no longer want to; I take back my promise instead. Sometimes because I promise something I can’t do. But even when I want to, and try to, sometimes I can’t. I’ll be home for Christmas . . . but then a snowstorm prevents me. I’ll be there for you, do this for you, get this for you . . . but we can’t always. 

But God . . . always. Because if He kept this promise, this promise of all promises, which other one will He not keep? 

To us a child is born, to us a son is given.

God sends His Son into our sinful world, our world of sin and death. He sends Him to take our sin upon Himself and suffer its penalty. To be rejected by the very ones He is saving as He is condemned and crucified, and then even forsaken by His Father. For you.

Many years before this God had tested Abraham, but didn’t make him go through with sacrificing his son, Isaac. But the Son would die. His Son. 

And if God did that and kept that promise, everything else is easy, don’t you think?

That’s how much God loves you. A love He doesn’t just speak, but acts. We heard that from John 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, if you ever doubt whether God loves you, swaddling clothes and a manger shows just how much He does. And what He will do for you.

Through the years, God had done an awful lot. Wonderful works, great miracles, awesome power. Dividing the Red Sea, sending manna for 40 years, defeating powerful armies. But nothing so great as this; as a baby. This is His greatest work, His greatest miracle, His greatest power, for you.

Sometimes He gets overshadowed by the lights of the world, or by the darkness in our hearts and lives - the struggles, sorrows, pains, cares, worries, and problems that always seem to come rolling in one after another. 

And so it is exactly to us tonight that Isaiah speaks. Whether you’re walking in the darkness of the world’s lights, or the darkness of sin, sorrow, sadness, and death, the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. The grace of God has appeared, Paul wrote to Titus and his churches. The gift of God. His Son. 

Again, through the years, God has given an awful lot. To people of old, and to us. But no gift greater than this. This gift of a promise kept. The promise of life and salvation.

Some gifts that we receive get broken and thrown away. Some change the present and some change the future. But this gift changes us. It changes us from rebels to sons, from sinners to saints, from death to life. For when the forgiveness and love of God come to you and abide in you, how can that not change you?

Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. As do we.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God. As do we.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this, Isaiah said. And He has. His zeal for you. His zeal to love you. His zeal to save you.

A zeal which now also lives in us, as we are the people Paul spoke of to Titus, a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Because this Son now lives in you. His love and forgiveness live in you. And so His zeal and good works also live in you. Another great work He works in us.

So tonight we see again this great light. The grace of God, the glory of God, the Son of God, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Promise kept.

And we prayed in one of our hymns tonight:

O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Immanuel (LSB #361 v. 4).

And He has. The darkness of the world and sin and trouble may remain, but Christmas means Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). God with us in the darkness, to lighten it. God with us in the struggle, with His strength. God with us to forgive. God with us. Whether we’re from a little town like Bethlehem, or the big city of Jerusalem. Whether we’re lowly shepherds or the mighty of the earth. Whoever you are . . .

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.

Promise kept.

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

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Advent 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Culmination of History”
Text: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:26-38

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

The angel Gabriel spoke to Mary. Not just of a baby, but of the culmination of history.

Is that saying too much? Not from a Christian point of view.

From the point of view that history has a life of its own, that the world - and us - can do what we want, that religion is just something that comes and goes and doesn’t really have anything to do with the real world, then yes, that is saying too much.

But as Christians who believe in a God who created this world, and is active in this world, and who promised to redeem this world, and then worked toward that redemption from the very moment we plunged it into sin and ruined it all - then no, not too much.

In fact, it is exactly right.

For the truth is that God was working all things for this moment - when He would send His Son into the world to redeem it. When He would send His angel Gabriel to announce this fact to Mary.

Now that doesn’t mean that everything that happens is scripted by God and we have no choice - that we’re like robots or marionettes. We do make choices. Sometimes bad ones. We sin. We mess up. And that’s not on God, that’s on us. 

But to say that God was working all things for this moment is to emphasize the importance of this birth, and how God was working in history - using us and our choices, our sins and our successes - toward this day. The sending of His Son into His creation, to save us from sin, death, and the devil.

Now, we may not understand that exactly - there’s so much that has happened throughout history, right? How can it all be for this? This seemingly insignificant birth that hardly anybody noticed when it did happen? How could things that happened half a world away have anything to do with this? Surely, not ALL of history has to do with this!

Well, just because we can’t understand it doesn’t mean those things didn’t - just that our minds are too small and too limited to understand it. That maybe we’re not as smart as we think we are.

AND, it seems to me, that if we allow that, if we allow that this birth was just a blip in history and that all the stuff happening in the world up to this point had nothing to do with this, then we must say this, too: that’s true for what happened after as well. That this birth really has nothing to do with the 2000 years that has come since.

But it simply is not so. And you know who knows that better than we? Satan. Who tried to derail this birth ever since the moment God promised it, and who is still trying to derail its meaning for us today. Belittling it, mythologizing it, marginalizing it, trying to make it irrelevant.

And he’s been able to do a pretty good job of late, hasn’t he? For many, Christmas without Jesus isn’t the exception, it’s the rule. Christmas instead is about love, not incarnation. About buying, not redemption. And go to church on Christmas?! But that’s family time! And even when Jesus is in Christmas, he’s just part of it. Half? Less?

But not so for Mary. When she uttered those words in response to God’s message through Gabriel, Let it be to me according to your word, she was all in. Christmas wasn’t just part of her life, it would be her life, from this moment on. For the next nine months, for the next thirty-some years, and then for however long she lived after that. Christmas changed her world.

And it’s time for us to realize it, too. That Christmas changed our world. Not just for a month or so, but forever. That what God wants is not for history to turn out this way or that, for this team or that to win, or for your life to turn out exactly as you wanted and planned. What God wants is for His Son to be born in human flesh, and for His Son to be born in you. That you have a life that will withstand the twists and turns of history, and a life redeemed from the curse of sin and death - a life that transcends all that. Because it’s His life, given to you. And therefore a life that you live now and will live forever.

And if that’s what God wants, that’s what He is working toward. For you and for all people.

Which may mean that life doesn’t turn out as you planned. David had great plans, which we heard about in the Old Testament reading from Samuel. Israel was at peace, he had just built himself a big, beautiful palace, and now he wanted to build God a big, beautiful house, too. What’s wrong with that? 

Well, nothing, really. Except that’s not what God was interested in. He was happy to dwell with His people in a tent. So, no, He tells David, I’m going to make you a house. Not the kind of stone and cedar, which will eventually crumble; but one that will be established forever. One that will never end. One that neither sin nor time will be able to touch. 

That’s the house Luke refers to when he tells us the story of Gabriel and Mary, when he says that the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And then Gabriel spoke of it, too, when he said: And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end

Or in other words, with this child, God was fulfilling His Word and building David a house that would last forever. A house that sin could not crumble, death could not stop, and the devil could not conquer. They all would try, but they would all fail. And when Jesus rose from the dead, the cornerstone of that house was laid - for all time. The dwelling of God was with men, that the dwelling of men might be with God.

Which brings us to you. A lot of history has passed before you came along, and there may be a lot more still to come - or not. But the house that God build for David, a kingdom that will never end, a kingdom free from sin, death, and evil, through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of His Son, is a house for you. For you to live in now and forever. Baptized into Christ you are a member in this house, this family. And God has been working for you - in ways that you perhaps know, and in ways you know not - and He will not stop. 

Now maybe, like David, you have great plans. But maybe God is going to make your history go in a bit of a different direction. Not because He hates you, but because He is building for you and in you and through you. 

Mary’s plans certainly went off in a whole new direction. And, we could say, a pretty rough direction. A pregnancy before marriage, a birth away from home, fleeing to a foreign country, then back home only to see her son hung up on a cross. God was building a house? Really? It seemed more like a nightmare.

But it was not. It was all according to plan. It happened at just the right time (Galatians 4:4). The culmination of history. Maybe like an hourglass. All of history leading up to this, and all of history now flowing from this. This birth. The Son of God in human flesh. 

And your history, too. For just as the Holy Spirit came through the Word spoken by Gabriel and conceived a baby in Mary’s womb, so the Holy Spirit comes through the Word spoken here - the word connected to the water of baptism, the word of the Absolution, the word of the Gospel - to conceive faith in your heart. That you be born into the house of God, a child of God. And live in that house not for a while, but forever. That no matter what happens in your history - what comes or goes, what is given to you or taken from you - this remain: your life in Christ.

So now we will come and be fed by our Father in His house, to give us the nourishment that we need. Not earthly food, but heavenly food. The bread that came down from heaven and was born in Bethlehem - a name which means, by the way, house of bread.

And tonight we will gather again here to hear of His birth again. We’ll sing the carols and hymns we love and know by heart. We hear of the shepherds and the angels and the manger. And for a moment, this birth will again be at the center - of our attention, of our lives, of history. Where it belongs. And I pray that like with Mary, it change your world, how you view the world, and see the hand of God at work in your life.

For Christmas is not just a birthday - but as we will sing, A Great and Mighty Wonder (LSB #383). The Word of God fulfilled. The Word of God made flesh. The Word of God born for you.

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

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Advent 3 Midweek Sermon

[No Audio]
Jesu Juva

“The Fullness of Your Glory”
Text: Isaiah 49:1-6; Colossians 1:15-29; Matthew 2:1-12

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

So far in our Advent meditations, we have considered the words of the communion liturgy used during the Advent season, which speak of when Jesus comes again in glory, and the words used during the Christmas season, which speak of the incarnation as a new revelation of [God’s] glory. Tonight, we will conclude by considering the words used during the Epiphany season, which say:

It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord; for what had been hidden from before the foundation of the world You have made known to the nations in Your Son. In Him, being found in the substance of our mortal nature, You have manifested the fullness of Your glory.

When something is full, you cannot add anything more to it. So it is with Jesus and the glory of God. Here in this child, in the substance of our mortal nature, is the fullness of God’s glory. If you are looking for something more glorious, you simply will not, cannot, find it. This is it. The fullness of God’s glory.

The Wise Men came to realize that. When they first started following the star they saw in the East, what did they expect to find when they arrived at their destination? We’re not told, but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t what they finally found. After going first to the earthly king in all his glory, and to the capital city of Jerusalem in all its splendor, God told them to go someplace else to see His glory. Earthly glory is not how it is with God.

In the Old Testament, God was happy dwelling with His people in a tent. It was men who wanted to build Him a big, glorious Temple. So here, too, God is pleased to dwell with us in the midst of poverty. And in poverty we see His glory. The Wise Men did, anyway. For they didn’t just give Him gifts, they fell down, face down, prostrate on the ground, and worshipped Him. Their glory was as nothing before His glory. Before the glory of the fact that the fullness of the Godhead was dwelling in this child. The almighty God, creator of all things, is here, like this, with us.

If we would be wise like the Wise Men, it would do us well to consider this for a moment. That the fullness of the Godhead was dwelling in Jesus. Realize what that means! That from the moment of His conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, the fullness of the Godhead was dwelling here, like this, with us. The fullness. Which means that not just a part of God is here with us, but all of God. God is all in to save us sinful, fallen, mortal men and women.

Now, to be sure, part of this is beyond our understanding, that the fullness of God is dwelling in Jesus, even though only the Son of God became incarnate - not the Father nor the Holy Spirit. This is part of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. But the Son is 100% God, so it is proper for us to say that God is born for us, God lived as a man for us, and God died on the cross for us. And that this is why the fullness of the Godhead dwelled in Jesus - so that God could take upon Himself our sin and die, so that we can live.

No wonder the angels of God couldn’t not break out in joy at the announcement of this birth to the shepherds, crying out: Glory to God in the highest (Luke 2:14)! Yes, glory to God in the highest, who is now dwelling in this baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. What a glorious thing indeed.

But I think that is only half of what God manifesting the fullness of His glory here means. The other half is this: that the fullness of God’s glory is that the fullness of His glory is here for all people - for the fullness of humanity. Not one person excepted. Whether you are Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, male or female, slave or free, high or low, what Jesus is doing He does not for some, but for all. Or as the prophet Isaiah said it tonight, in prophesying about the coming Messiah:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

For all the nations. To the end of the earth. And we could say this too: for all time. From the very first man and woman to the very last, the fullness of God and His salvation is here for them. For us.

Paul said it in an even greater, more expansive way, when after saying that in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, he said this too: and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. All things. All people. All of creation. For as all of creation was plunged into sin and death by sin, so all of creation - the fullness of creation - would be redeemed by Jesus. The fullness of God for the fullness of creation. The glory of God is to give the fullness of Himself to us, to make us glorious once again.

That, it seems to me, is the very definition of grace. For we deserve that not at all. Not even for God to consider such a thing, let alone do it. But He did, and so there is hope for us. He did, and brought the Wise Men to show us. That He is not just the King of the Jews, but the King of all, who wants nothing more than to serve us all with His gifts, to give us life, and for us to be with Him - in the fullness of His glory - forever.

It may be bumpy on the way, though. The fullness of God in the man Jesus met no small amount of opposition and hatred, and then was put on the cross. Paul himself suffered mightily until he was beheaded. And Isaiah (according to tradition) was sawn in two. So even as I wondered earlier what the Wise Men expected to find at the end of their journey, I wonder, too, what our journey holds? What will we see? What will come upon us? How will our life end? 

Of course, I don’t know the answer to those questions. But this seems to be something we can learn this Advent season: that if there is glory for us as Christians, it will not be the kind we usually think of. Man’s kind. It will be God’s kind. The incarnation kind. The suffering kind. The Christ in us kind. For as the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus in the incarnation, so God now dwells in us through His Holy Spirit given us in Baptism. And the Holy Spirit, who makes us holy in the forgiveness of our sins, will also glorify us in the end. Even as He is now. Even if you don’t feel, look, or seem very glorious.

So take a cue from the Wise Men. Don’t worry about what looks, seems, or feels glorious, believe instead the Word of God and the promises made there to you. And when Jesus, who is a new revelation of the glory of God, and in whom the fullness of God’s glory dwells, when He comes again in glory, will take you to be with Him in His kingdom forever. For all that He does, He does for you. 

And that is truly His glory.

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