Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve Sermon

New Year’s Eve, 2015 – Isaiah 40 and Romans 8

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
          As one year draws to a close, and a new one approaches – how in the world is it already 2015 – we are gathered here together in God’s house to worship, to hear His Word, to confess our sins of the past, and receive His Supper for strength for the year to come.  And in our Gospel lesson we hear the injunction that we are to watch, to be ready – for we are still assuming a 2015 – we don’t know when Christ will return – He might beat the ball drop tonight.  Or He might not.  Either way, we are to watch, we are to wait, we are to be prepared.  But how?  What does watching and waiting look like?  What does the being awake pointed to in our Gospel text actually mean?  To get the answer for that question, we are going to pay special attention to our Old Testament lesson and our Epistle this night, and hear them in light of our Lord’s call for us to be awake.

          Why?  Well, the Gospel sounds scary at first blush – “But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into.  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”  Like a thief in the night.  However, this is not in reality a call from God for us to be scared or worried or panicked or anything like that.  Just to be aware, to have our eyes open to what is really going on, to understanding who is really in charge.  And this is pointed out in our Old Testament lesson – “For thus says the LORD God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’”  It’s not a call to panic, it’s not a call to terror – rather be calm, relax, remember in all times and in all places that God is in control and in charge, and that whether we live or whether we die, we live and die to the Lord.  In Him it is all good.  This is truth.  Yet, what so often is the reaction of our flesh?  “But you were unwilling, and you said, ‘No!  We will flee upon horses’; therefore you shall flee away, and ‘We will ride upon swift steeds’; therefore your pursuers shall be swift.  A thousand shall flee at the sight of one; at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left like a flag staff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill.”  All too often, throughout the Old Testament, when Jerusalem and Israel were besieged and surrounded by foes, rather than remaining calm and trusting in God, they panicked, they freaked out.  They fled at the drop of a pin.  If you’ve got the enemy outnumbered 1000 to one, you’ve got no reason to run.  But Israel looked to their own weaknesses, saw the strength of others – when all along they should have been considering God and His strength.

          So then, what will you see this year?  Now, I have no idea about the specifics – and I’m sure some of it will be good and joyous, but some of it will probably be bad and sad and horrific.  That’s just how life goes in this fallen world.  I love the last of the 20 Questions that Luther wrote up for those preparing to go to the Supper – “But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament? To such a person no better advice should be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood.  Then he should believe what the Scripture say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.  Second, he should still look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and 1 John 2 and 5.  Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16, 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.”  Well, there’s Martin’s Luther description of what we’ll see in any and every year until our Lord comes.  But what is our reaction to be, how do we respond to all this?  Not with panic, not with fear, but by resting in Christ, trusting in Him, fleeing to His Word and to the Sacrament of the Altar, remembering that we are baptized and belong to Him, because it is in His strength that we have security and hope, it is in Him that we are prepared for anything.

          This is the point that Paul makes in our Epistle lesson tonight from Romans 8.  “What then shall we say to these things?”  That is what shall we say to any of the crazy or terrible or horrible things we see, the events, the guilt and shame of our own sin?  What shall we say to them, what shall our response be?  “If God is for us, who can be against us.”  Yes, these things, they are big and strong – but God is greater and stronger than anything we face, and He has said that He is for us, and so we have confidence and hope in Him.  But what if Satan slinks up, what if that sly serpent should come and accuse you, tell you that God is not for you?  “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the One who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”  The Father sent Christ Jesus to the Cross to die for you, to save you – He’s not going to change His mind.  He’s not going to back out now.  In fact, Christ Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, risen again, constantly proclaiming your forgiveness – God is the One who justifies you, who declares you forgiven and nothing can trump that.

          Indeed, you get Paul at his rhetorical best – he calls out Satan.  Says, as Luther would put it, that Satan may still scowl fierce as he will, but he can harm us none.  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  Even if 2015 goes to utter pot – if the crops fail and the stock market crashes and the banks close, and the cops and communities both riot and Putin has Russia invade and the ravaging hordes of ISIS swarm over our borders and slaughter us left and right… so what?  Christ Jesus has still died for you and risen for you, and so in all these things we are more than conquerors.  We will still be gathered into His House to hear His Word, to receive His forgiveness, to proclaim His death and resurrection in His most Holy Supper.  “For I am certain that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Nothing changes the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you, that He has risen for you, that He has baptized you and claimed you as His own.  You are forgiven by Him, this is reality, this is truth.

          Do you see what this means?  “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast.”  You belong to Christ, He is your master.  You are dressed, your robes white, having been washed in the blood of the Lamb – the lamps, the candles of His church still burn, and He shall return for you.  This is who you are.  Rest securely in Christ, for He has won you the victory, and He shall be your Lord and Master in the upcoming year, even until the Last Day.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King + Amen.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Funeral Sermon for Gary Swiggett

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
          Carolyn, Robert and Kim, Dale and Vernon, friends and family of our brother in Christ Gary, grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I want to begin today paying attention to our Gospel reading, which we just heard, so that we approach this day centered upon Christ Jesus, upon His Word, because it is in Christ that we find peace.

So there, in our Gospel text, is Martha, a dear, close personal friend of Jesus.  And her brother Lazarus, also Jesus’ friend, has just died.  And then in walks Jesus, not while Lazarus was sick, not when He could have healed him up, but in walks Jesus after Lazarus has died, and Martha eyeballs Jesus and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  You could have stopped this Jesus, you could have made things work out differently.  This was Your friend, Your buddy Lazarus – and if You had been here, he wouldn’t have died.  It’s a pretty bold and blunt thing Martha says to Jesus there, isn’t it?  But what is interesting is that Jesus doesn’t defend Himself, He doesn’t explain things away.  I mean, if you read John’s Gospel, there are reasons given – Jesus knows He’s going to raise Lazarus, that’s part of it.  And part of it too is Mary and Martha and Lazarus live in Bethany, live right next to Jerusalem – and right after Jesus raises Lazarus it’s on to Palm Sunday and His own crucifixion.  If someone wanted to make excuses or explain things, tell someone why, it would have been Jesus to Martha right then and there.  But when Martha confronts Him, Jesus doesn’t explain why.  At that moment, the why isn’t important, and all the whys in the world wouldn’t have changed anything.  So instead Jesus says what is truly important.  “Your brother will rise again.”  Your thoughts, your fears, your questions, your anger, your sorrow – that’s all there Martha, and I’m not even going to try to explain them away – but instead hear this:  Your brother will rise, and He will rise because of Me, because I go to the Cross and I myself die to destroy death and sin, and I myself rise to ensure that he will rise.

And here we are today.  And here lies Gary.  Someone we loved, someone who was a blessing in our lives.  But not only that – Gary wasn’t just a part of our life – Gary was tied to Christ.  Gary is baptized child of God.  Christ Jesus’ brother, not just a friend, but baptized into God’s family.  And I’m sure that there are plenty of questions we’d want to ask, plenty of emotions and feelings running through us.  I’m sure there would be plenty of “why’s” that could pour out from each of us, plenty of what ifs.  And the simple truth is I can’t tell you why, I can’t answer those what ifs.  I’m a preacher – I’m stuck with what the Word of God says, and Jesus doesn’t answer Martha’s why’s… and if He didn’t back then, I certainly can’t today.  I don’t know the whys, but I do know what Christ Jesus has done. Christ Jesus Himself died and rose for Gary, Christ Jesus claimed Gary as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism, and Gary will rise again.  That’s going to happen, that is the promise, that’s what we confess in the Creed in Church every Sunday – I look forward to the resurrection of the Body and the life of the world to come. 

And here is something else to ponder.  We are in the Christmas season – today is the 5th day of Christmas, 5 gold rings.  And the world tells us that Christmas is a time when we’re just supposed to be holly and jolly no matter what and pretend there’s nothing wrong at all, and just carry on.  But we here know that’s not always the case.  As much as the world might try to tell us that everything is wonderful, we see, we know life in the world.  How hard it often is, how scary it often is, how often things are out of our control.  And the world would have us live in denial, pretend these things didn’t exist, but they do.  And the world also loves to lie to us, the world also loves to keep Christ out of Christmas – the world tells us “comfort and joy” comes from new junk under the tree – and while presents are nice, they don’t fix things in the world.  But Christ Jesus knows.  He knows what life is like, He knows what you face today.  When He first came, Jesus didn’t come to some pretend fairy land where everything was perfect.  Hardly – He was born in a barn because no person at an inn would give up their room to a pregnant woman, and after that His parents had to run for their lives before Herod could kill Him.    No, Jesus came into this world, a world where there is often darkness and sorrow and hardship – Jesus came into this world where there is sin and suffering – and He came not so that we could pretend these troubles don’t exist, or pretend that they don’t hurt – He came to win us forgiven and salvation and life in His Name.  You don’t have to hide your grief from Jesus, you don’t have to wrap yourself up in a pretty bow and pretend.  He knows – and that is why He came.  Jesus came into this world because He knew precisely how hard and painful it can be – and He Himself shared your pain, shared Gary’s pain.  He is Immanuel, God with us – with us even here and now, especially here and now.  And He will comfort you.  And this comfort doesn’t mean suddenly everything is better, it doesn’t mean the pain suddenly is gone.  No, we makes sense to be sorrowful today – this was a big tragedy.  There’s no need to pretend it isn’t.  Even Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ death, even knowing He was going to raise him.  But in the face of our sorrow, this truth remains. Christ Jesus is still God Almighty, come into the flesh, come to win salvation for us sinners, and His love and His forgiveness still are true.  Gary’s death doesn’t undo Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection – in fact, because Christ Jesus died and rose, the day is going to come when Gary is going to step right on our of this casket.  Christ Jesus comes and He brings peace, peace so that we know that we are forgiven in Him, peace so that we can endure even in the face of sorrow.

  Jesus said to her “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live.”  This is the truth, for Christ Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  God keep us focused upon Christ Jesus, especially in the midst of trials and troubles we cannot understand, that we receive His peace and His strength.  Now, may the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds on Christ Jesus.  Amen+

A Parable

And he told a parable to those who were on Facebook and the Blogs making sure everyone else did things exactly the way they wanted:

"The Kingdom of Missouri will be like a valley filled with flocks and shepherds, each wandering in their own space.  Then one of the shepherds, upon seeing a wolf entering the valley and approach a flock, cries out 'wolf' to alert the nearby shepherds.  A second shepherd across the valley says, 'That is not enough!' and pulls out his M-60 and starts laying down covering fire.  A third shepherd across the valley cries, 'It's coming right at us,' and starts firing rocket propelled grenades.  And yet another shepherd leads his flock into a crag, saying, 'This valley is full of wolves - stay here sheep - I may have to nuke it.'

"When the owner of all the flocks returns, the shepherds will say, 'We were not zealous in defending your sheep?'  And standing amidst the little bits of sheep chunks blown to kingdom (or a stew pot) come, the owner will say, 'Good night - have you heard of a sling shot, people?  Or a Shepherd's crook?  Shoot, even a rifle with a scope would have worked!'  Then he himself will pull out his sling and slay the wolf, who apparently is very good at dodging."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas 1 Sermon

Christmas 1 – Luke 2 – December 28th, 2014
In the Name of Christ Jesus our New Born King +

          Another Sunday, another song.  On the last Sunday of Advent, leading up to Christmas, in our Gospel lesson we heard the Maginificat – Mary’s great song of hope and expectation, the song of trust in what the Lord was going to do.  And now, Christmas has come – we have focused in great detail on the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation, the enfleshment of God – the wonder that for us men and for our salvation, God Himself comes down from heaven and is born of the Virgin Mary, and is made Man.  The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.  And now, on the first Sunday after Christmas, we come across another song, this one more familiar to us, one which we sing whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper – the Nunc Dimittis.  The Song of Simeon.  And in this song we will see, focus, zero in upon the impact of the Incarnation – what the Incarnation actually means for us.

          But before we get to the song, let’s start with the background.  And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.  Yes, Joseph and Mary, being good parents, being faithful folk, on the 40th day after His birth bring Christ up to Jerusalem and offer the Sacrifices mandated in the Law of Moses for young boys to get.  Do you see what this means?  Even as a Child, even before He could walk or speak, our Lord Jesus Christ was obedient to the Law of God.  What does Paul tell us in Galatians?  That God sent His Son, born of Woman, born under the Law, to redeem us who were trapped by the Law.  When Christ Jesus comes to earth, He doesn’t come like a tourist who just wants to see the highlights and then leave; He doesn’t come as some dignitary who is far above us.  God becomes Man, becomes one of us, gets into the same boat as we are in.  And why?  to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  We are burdened with sin, with seeing and knowing all those things that we do that we aren’t suppose to do, with seeing and knowing all those times we fail and fall short and don’t do what we ought.  We are under the Law.  The Law is there, constantly reminding us of our sin, showing us the ways our thoughts, words and deeds go astray.  And that’s what this law did – it was a reminder to all those new parents who were gaga and loopy over their kid that sin was real, that it required sacrifice and atonement.  But here is Jesus, the perfect and innocent One, the spotless Lamb who has no sin, who needs no sacrifice.  Yet, He is placed under the Law, takes His place next to us - He is truly Immauel, God with us, here with us under the Law, God with us – and God here to save us.  He will be where we are, even unto death.

          And as Mary and Joseph bring the boy Jesus in, they come across old Simeon.  God had somehow let old Simeon know that he would not die until he saw the Messiah.  So old Simeon came to the temple every day, and old Simeon waited, waited patiently in the temple.  And then Simeon sees Jesus.  He runs up and takes the babe in His arms, and in the Holy Spirit he says the words we know as the Nunc Dimitiss. . . the words we sing whenever we commune – 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.  The song of wonder and glory and joy that we sing, these are the words of Simeon.  And why does Simeon say them?  Because he holds in his hands, old, wrinkled hands that aren’t as strong as they used to be, Jesus, the promised Messiah.  Simeon is dying, yet he holds in his hands the Christ who will be his salvation, who will call forth Simeon again from the grave on the last day.  Dying Simeon holds the One who gives him Life Everlasting in his hands.  And so, Simeon says, “Okay – I can die.”  Lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace isn’t just world weariness, or indifference, or anything like that.  This isn’t the aches and pains and sorrows of an old man talking.  No, it is something much bolder, much more brash, much more defiant against Satan.  Simeon is proclaiming, “Let death come – it will not be a terror for me, for I will die in peace.”  Why in peace?  Because he has seen it – he has seen Salvation, he has held in his own hands the very Body of God, the fact, the proof that all the promises God had made His people, the promises that God would be among us and live among us and rescue us from sin – Simeon holds the fulfillment, the proof of all that in his shaky hands.  What more is there for him?  What more does Simeon need to see?  God’s salvation is here.

          Dear friends in Christ – what do you see when you think of Christ?  When your mind comes across Jesus, when you think of Him, what do you think of?  What we ought to think of Him, what we ought to see is the same thing that Simeon saw.  Salvation.  Life.  Forgiveness.  When you hear in Scripture of our Lord doing anything in the Gospels, doing whatever it is that He does – that is your salvation.  That is God at work for you.  That is Jesus becoming a human being like you so that you can be a child of the Father like He is.  That is Christ breaking down the hackles Satan had chained you with, it is Christ taking the noose off your neck.  That is Christ stretching out His own hand and grabbing yours and raising you up, lifting up your hearts with Him.  This is what Simeon sees – and by faith this is what we see as well.  By the teaching of His Word and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit this is what we will see more and more, this is what our focus will be upon.  Christ Jesus our salvation.

          We do get another elderly person popping up in this text.  We see Anna.  Anna’s 84.  Anna, like Simeon, has been in the temple a long time.  And she sees Jesus, she recognizes who He is.  And what does she do?  And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel.  What does she do, what is Anna’s response?  She gives thanks.  She gives thanks to God – and how is this done?  By speaking, by speaking of Him.  The way in which we give thanks to God is by speaking, by talking about Him, by saying, “Look at what God has done for me.”  We spell it out.  And what does Anna do?  She sees folks who need what she needs – she sees folks who need a Savior as much as she does.  And so, she spends her time saying, “He’s here – the Messiah has come.”  This is thanks.

          Dear friends, the words of Simeon and Anna, the words of these two pious servants of the Lord shape our worship, craft and shape how we worship even to this day.  Our Communion Service is Luke 2 being played out again, here and now.  After the sermon, after the prayers, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  Do you recognize what that is?  Do you know and understand what it is that God gives to us in the Supper?  We enter God’s House, come into His temple, and what do we see?  “Take and eat, this is My Body, which is given for you.  Take and drink, this is My Blood, which is shed for the remission of all of your sin.”  What Simeon waited his whole life for is what we get in the Supper.  Simeon held the Body of Christ in his hands, we have Christ’s own Body placed in our hands, upon our tongues.  Our Lord comes to us as surely as He came to Simeon – and we see what He brings.  Whereas Simeon’s eyes merely saw salvation and held it in his hands, we not only see and touch, but we smell it, we taste it, we taste God’s Salvation.  This is how thoroughly God comes to us – He would be our God and have us be His people so He calls us to His House and feeds us on His own Body, the medicine of Immortality, gives us Eternal Life, gives us His life.

          And then, we echo Simeon.  Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.  We aren’t saying, “Okay, that’s enough pastor, let us out so we can beat the Baptists to the Western Sizzlin’.”  We are saying – We can face death now, Lord.  Death will never conquer us, because Christ Jesus has died for us and risen for us.  What ever this upcoming year holds, we leave this place in peace – we are at peace with You, God, and You are at peace with us.  You have forgiven us and given us all that we need for this life, You have called us to everlasting life.  When You are ready, so are we – for You have joined us to Your Son Christ Jesus – You have brought us into Your family, indeed You have Baptized us, made us part of Your Son’s own Body - - indeed, You have fed us with that Same Body to keep us steadfast in the faith.  We are ready for whatever comes, for we know Your salvation and we have it right now.  That is why we sing the song of Simeon when we commune.

          And after that, just before we get to the Benediction and head out in the world, we pray a prayer that is known as the Thanksgiving.  Having echoed Simeon, we echo Anna.  “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift.”  We give thanks to God by saying what He has done.  And then, “we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love toward one another.”  Lord, we are going out into the world – help us, be with us, make us to love others, not just love them a little bit, but love them fervently.  We echo Anna, who gives thanks to God and then shows the highest love, by speaking of Christ. 

Our worship, dear friends, isn’t shaped by what we want or what we like – it is shaped by Scripture, and we follow its patterns, what it has laid down for us.  And this is good, because it evermore focuses us upon Christ Jesus and how He comes to be with us today, comes to be with His Baptized children in His most Holy Word and in His Most Holy Supper.  And today, we have seen that pattern, seen the guides which mold how we praise God and give Him thanks.  So, having seen the shape of our worship, let us with gladness receive the Salvation our Lord gives us.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King + Amen.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent 4 Sermon

Advent 4 – December 21st, 2014 – Luke 1

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          One of the adages one of my fellow pastors likes to say is “follow the verbs.”  It’s a great little guide for keeping on track when reading the Bible.  Follow, pay attention to the verbs – keep your focus on who is doing what, and when you read the Scriptures, the wonderful thing you will see is that God is the One who is active, who is *doing* things for you.  December is such a time of busy-ness for us, where we run around with lists and decorations and plans and all that – but in the Church, Advent is a season where we wait and look and see what God is doing for us.  And this fourth week of Advent there is nothing better to ponder, nothing with better verbs to follow, than our Gospel text, where Mary will sing forth her song, the Magnificat.

          Let’s remember the set up.  Mary is pregnant – not married, young, probably 13 or so, Joseph was planning on divorcing her, calling off the marriage – God has to send him an angel to get him to relax.  You want to talk about your weird, stressful situations?  You want to talk about times where we’d get thoughts of “what am I going to do?”  Here’s one for you.  And Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, and Elizabeth just starts gushing.  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  We’ve got Elizabeth gushing, we’ve got baby John jumping in the womb, it’s all wild and caddy wampus!

          And then Mary speaks.  She speaks the words of the Magificat – words the Church has sung for probably over 1900 years.  And listen to this, pay attention to the verbs, pay attention to Who is doing What.  “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.  Here we have Mary doing something – she is rejoicing, she is praising God.  That’s what “magnify” here means – if you have a magnifying glass, it makes whatever you are looking at bigger – Mary’s praise is showing the bigness, the greatness of God.  And from Mary – that’s it.  That’s the last time Mary talks about anything *she* does.  All that is on her plate to do is to praise and rejoice – there’s nothing left for her to do, because God is going to do it all.  “For He has looked on the humble estate of His servant” – who is Mary?  She’s just a humble nobody.  A simple servant.  Yet, what happens?  God acts on her behalf – God does all the work require to make her the mother of God, and what happens?  “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me.”  Mary was just sitting there, and God acts, and wham, she is going to be called blessed.  Even Elizabeth is praising her – and not because she has done anything, but solely because God has done something great for her.

          Now pause here for a moment.  There’s a reason why the Church sings this as well.  Let me ask you a question.  Are you blessed?  And I don’t mean this in a Joel Osteen how big and ritzy are the presents under your tree going to be sort of way, but I mean this?  Are you blessed – that is, has God looked upon you in your lowly state, and has He done mighty things for you, so that from now on, until the end of time, you will be called blessed?  Yes.  It is not just that Jesus came down and now Mary gets to say, “I’m the mother of God, see how blessed I am” – Mary may be His mother, but Christ Jesus is your Brother.  Think on that – you are, in Christ, the brothers and sisters of God Himself.  And not because of anything *you* do – rather He comes and declares this to be true.  This is why He came, to win you salvation with His death and resurrection, these are the great things He has done for you, and come the last day when you are raised from the dead by Christ, you will reign with Him.  From now on even the angels in heaven will declare you blessed, for you are one redeemed by Christ Jesus.  And again – all about what Christ has done.

          “and Holy is His Name.  And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.”  Again, we get more focus on God, who God is, what He does.  God’s Name, the God who does all this for you, His Name is holy, and He is full of mercy.  Mary sees that – and her name will ever be associated with God’s Name.  She will forever be remembered as Mary, the Mother of God.  And she sees the great mercy that she has received, that she, a sinful being, receives such wonderful things from God.

          Now, dear friends, consider the fact that you are Baptized.  You have been joined into God’s own Name, His own holiness has been applied to you.  The proof, open and public, that you actually are Christ’s brother, Christ’s sister, it’s right there at the font – for you have been Baptized, you have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Father, you now have Christ for your brother, you are His family – and as such, you receive His Mercy.  This reality, this truth of who you are in Christ all flows not from your strength or what you do – it flows from His mercy.  You have been forgiven on account of Christ – you have been given the gift of faith and welcomed into the family of God.  God in His great mercy and love for you has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, and this is something that is for eternity – and it’s not dependent upon you, but flows totally from Him.  God is rightly praised for this.

He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.  Mary shows us more God at work – and with something we don’t focus on as often in the Church today.  We do not need to look very hard to see the mighty and powerful abuse and harm others, indeed, even harm us.  But Mary’s words remind us of a truth that we can forget when we see the wickedness and oppression in this world – there is so much more that God prevents, there is so much that God brings to an end.  The proud are scattered, their plans fall apart and so often do not come to fruition.  The tyrants on their thrones fall, the powers crumble – evil doesn’t endure because God brings an end to it.  And this is a comfort to us, it gives us a new perspective – for even when evil is done to us, even when we are getting it heaped upon us – we know that God does not let it last, that it will crumble and fail sooner or later, and that He will deliver us. 

          Indeed, the great example of that is the very fact that Mary is pregnant with the Christ Child as she says this.  No more will God be content to have fallen king after fallen king come and rule on this earth – no more will He let this world’s prince have His sway – no, God Himself comes to be our king, to be our Lord, to defeat Satan – and because He has come we have victory assured.  The brief battles we face now in this life will give way and yield to the eternal victory celebration of heaven, because God’s strong arm wins the victory by being nailed to the cross and rising again on the third day.

          He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away.  He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever.  God’s great actions for you continue.  The coming of Christ changes things; things will be different because of Christ.  Wickedness will be overcome, the powerful will be cast down.  The failings and the disappointments that we face in this life eventually will go away.  And instead, God fills us with all joy and blessedness.  And as those of the New Testament, we see these words of Mary and the promises they point all gathered in to the Lord’s Supper.  If you are so foolish as to think that you in and of yourself are spiritually “rich”, that you are fine on your own, that you need no forgiveness, that you have no need for God’s mercy – you will remain as empty and shallow as you were.  But for you, dear friends, you who see and know your own sin, who know your own struggles, who feel the pressures of life in this world and who are burdened – you who are hungry for righteousness – behold what God does for you.  He calls you to His own table, and here He fills you with not merely good things, but the very best thing – He fills you with Himself – Christ Jesus gives Himself unto you, in a way most wondrous and amazing – He forgives your sins in His Supper, He gives you His own strength – He helps you face down the fears of the past and helps you to face the trials of the future, because in His Supper we see the proof that He is with us, indeed, in His Supper He is with us.

          And then Mary stops. She’s pretty well covered everything, hasn’t she?  These are all the things God has done for her, done for you.  And all of them, all of them depend upon God, upon His strength, His mercy, His righteousness.  My dear friends in Christ – rejoice in Him, for He has done all things for you already, and now we simply await His return when we will see all things in full.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advent Midweek 3

Advent Midweek 3 – Isaiah 52 – December 17th, 2014

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Advent King +
          For this final Advent lesson, we are going to look at the beginning of Isaiah 52.  Now, what is interesting is you know what comes after this – this passage rolls into the great suffering servant section from Good Friday.  However, we don’t normally pay much attention to this part of Isaiah, yet these verses capture the joy, the passive joy of our salvation that is accomplished by Christ Jesus.  Let us go through the text and see.  “Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean.”  We get a familiar start.  The idea of waking up is a familiar way of describing the idea of waiting for the Lord, of the Lord’s coming.  We know the parables of the Wedding Feast that Jesus gives – put on your beautiful, wedding garments!  Wake, awake, for night is flying!  And what is the hope – Jerusalem isn’t going to be messed with again.  But here is the twist – put on strength.  No, the strength isn’t going to be your own – Isaiah isn’t saying “You folks need to man up” – no, put on strength like a garment.  Shake yourself from the dust and arise; be seated, O Jerusalem; loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.”  Arise, be seated.  “Good night, almost as much up and down as Pastor Brown makes us go through in our service!”  What’s going on – wake up, pay attention – now rest, relax, sit down, and behold what God is going to do for you, Jerusalem.

          “For thus says the LORD: ‘You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.’”  When you went into Egypt, you were welcomed with open arms – Joseph’s family, the family of the wise man who saved the nation in the face of famine.  And then, as time passed, you were just cast into slavery.  God delivered you from Egypt – not by buying you, but by rescuing you.  Likewise, now, Israel, you won’t buy or bribe your way out of the current political problems you are in.  You aren’t going to sweet talk the vile Assyrians out of anything.  Instead, God will deliver you.  But even more than that – this points forward to Christ Jesus.  This is actually going to be our Catechism lesson this next Sunday – what has Jesus my Lord done – “[He] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

          This brings us really into the topic, the idea of redemption.  We will talk about Christ Jesus being our Redeemer – but I think that we often forget just how visceral that word is.  To be Redeemed means you had been a slave, that you had been trapped and caught and unable to go where you wish, unable to do what you wanted.  And this is actually the classic Scriptural depiction of original sin, of what it means for us to be born sinful.  We are born stuck in sin, slaves to sin.  Often we tend to think of sin as a mere bad moral choice – I can choose to be good or I can choose to be bad.  That’s not the fullness of it – we are born sinful, full of sin.  We aren’t able to simply choose God or come to Him, we aren’t able to choose to be righteous in God’s sight.  We cannot of our own power choose to believe in God – But how are they to call on Him in Whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard?”  We know this – faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.  Without that Word of God coming you to, you are stuck without faith, and if you are breaking the first commandment, it doesn’t really matter how “nice” you are and choose to be.  Rather, God must come in, burst in and win salvation.  Christ Jesus must defeat and destroy sin and death, and that is how He delivers, how He redeems, how He buys us out of the mess we are in.  When it comes to our salvation, our redemption, it isn’t about what *we* do – we are passive.  We were sold into slavery, even before we were born – and we were purchased out of slavery, redeemed.

          That is why we get this next part – “How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’”  Feet are associated with the Gospel – it’s why in Ephesians when Paul is talking about the full Armor of God, he says, “and, as shoes for your feet, having the Gospel of peace.”  The reason for this is that the Gospel is never something *you* do, but something you hear, something that is announced to you, that is proclaimed to you.  Something that a messenger comes and proclaims.  We get this – the word for messenger in Greek is “angelos” – angel.  A week from now, come Christmas Eve, what do we think of when we think of angels?  They come and they announce good news to the Shepherds – and what had the Shepherds *done* to earn or merit this news?  Nothing.  It’s not about them and what they do.  It’s not about us or what we do.  Rather, the news, the good news, the Gospel is this – your God reigns – Christ Jesus has come and with His death and resurrection has defeated sin and death and won you eternal life.  It’s not about you, but it is for you – it is the declaration of God for you, being born for you, suffering for you, in your stead, rising for you – and even coming again for your good.

          “The voice of your watchmen – they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion.”  Your watchmen are the folks standing on the city walls, keeping a watch out for anything approaching – so they would be the first one to see the messenger coming.  They would be the first one to see, maychance even to hear the shouts of joy and victory of the messenger.  And then, there is rejoicing, rejoicing that cannot but help to spread.  “Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted His people; He has redeemed Jerusalem.  The LORD has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God from this time forth and forevermore.”  This is the might of God.  Even the waste places, even the dead and dull places, they will break forth in singing.  So, what of you?  Do you face and feel the weight of life in this sinful world?  Do you feel worn and beat down, like a used up piece of land?  Christ Jesus has redeemed you.  And all this relies not upon you, but upon Him.  He has bared His arm, He bared His arm as He hung bare upon the Cross, taking upon Himself all the weight of sin, including that weight that bothers, that oppresses you.  This is why He came – to take on sin and death and to burst them open and destroy them with His death and resurrection.  Christ is risen – Jesus Christ, true God and true Man is alive – a true Man is alive, never to die again – and thus you will live; we are all going to follow after Him.  God grant that we who are still on earth in this life see this salvation ever more, even until He comes again and we see Him face to face and break forth with the watchman’s joy.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!  In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent 3 Sermon

Advent 3 – Matthew 11 and Isaiah 40 – December 14th, 2014

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +     
          “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.  This is what Isaiah is told to proclaim, to prophesy.  The war is over, sin is pardoned, the Messiah will come.  Great words.  And then, there is the verse pointing forward to John – “A voice cries in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD.”  Everything is great – the prophecy is in place.  And then, what do we hear.  Just a few verses later – Cry?  What shall I cry?  All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades.  Even knowing the Messiah is coming – what does Isaiah see?  As the old hymn puts it, death and decay in all around I see. It can raise fear and doubts and worries – even in Isaiah, even in a prophet.  What to do?  There is only one thing – The word of our God will stand forever.  Look to the Word, trust in that.

          This is played out in our Gospel lesson today with John.  When we see John, he is in prison.  And he isn’t in prison singing, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.”  He is in prison in a bad way, a cold dark cell, and when next he sees the light of day it’s because they are pulling him out simply to chop off his head.  It’s a dark place, harsh, terrible place.  And we hear this – “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”  Well, doesn’t John know?  This is John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness!  He was there in the Jordan river when the heavens were torn asunder and the Father boomed forth, “This is my beloved Son!”  This is John the Baptist who pointed to Christ with words that we sing to this day, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  No man in History, not even Peter or Paul has more fervently proclaimed Christ Jesus to be the Messiah than John.  Sure, he knows - and yet – there John is.  In a cell.  Cold and dark.  About to be killed.  Right then and there, John sees another truth – that this world is not how it should be, that things in this life are about to go poorly for him. The grass withers, the flower fades. And so He calls out to Christ and asks - Are you to the One who is to come – is this long advent, this long time of waiting done, or do we need to wait for, to look for, to trust in another?  This prison is horrible, Jesus – am I still, even now, to put my trust in You?

          Do not be surprised, my dear friends, when doubts and fears assail you, when Satan has you look at your life and whispers to you, “Is this how it really is supposed to be – If God loves you so much, why is your life like this?”  This is what the serpent was doing to John in the prison.  It’s the same thing Satan will try to do to you.  But John doesn’t simply listen to fears and doubt, he doesn’t just focus on the walls of his cell – he does one thing that is beautiful.  He seeks the Word of Christ – go ask Jesus – please, let Him speak to Me, let Him tell me what I need to hear.  The Word of our God will stand forever.  And so John’s disciples go to Jesus, and they tell Jesus what John asks, what John wants to know.

          So, what is Jesus’ response?  Does He say, “What, John is in prison?  Come on boys, we’re breaking him out!”  No.  Does He lambaste John, “You go tell John that he should know better and that he just needs to suck it up and tough it out.”  No.  Does He say, “Ah, one who pays any attention to such fears and doubts is not worthy of me – be gone with him!”  No.  Jesus does what is wonderful – He proclaims the Gospel.  “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”

          Go tell John what you hear and see – Go tell John what Christ Jesus has been doing.  The blind – they see now, because Jesus speaks a Word of healing.  Ditto the lame, the lepers, the deaf – all healed at Christ’s Word.  Even the dead are raised – and the poor have Good News, have the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins preached to them.  All this stuff, all these things that Christ does is the answer to John’s question.  Are you the Christ, Jesus – well, look at all these things – these are the things that the Messiah has been promised to do – these are the signs Isaiah tells you to look for.  Yes, John, I AM.  I am the Messiah.

          But this is more than just Jesus saying to John, “yes, yes, I am the Messiah.”  What happens with all these things that Jesus would have John be pointed to?  The blind see.  A horrible wrong in this world, a horrible problem – Christ comes and fixes it.  The lame, those with legs that don’t work – Christ comes, and they are restored.  Lepers, those who are made outcasts by their disease – they are cleansed and restored to their communities.  The deaf, those who are cut off from people even being right among them – they are restored by the Word of Christ.  And even the dead, they are raised.  What does all this mean?  It means that the Messiah has come, and that the effects of sin, the ways in which it messes with life here in this world, that is all being undone by Christ.  And the highest example, the greatest way in which wickedness is undone – Good News is preached to the poor.  Not just the effects of sin like blindness or lameness, not even just the wages of sin, but sin itself is done away with and destroyed by the preaching of the Gospel.  To those who have nothing, who have been utterly battered and bruised by life in this sinful, fallen world – your sin is forgiven, and you shall have life everlasting.

          And through this Jesus says to John – “John, this too is proclaimed to you.  I have not forgotten you in that prison, I have not abandoned you.  You know why you are there – you are there because wickedness and evil and sin reigns in this world, and things are not as they should be.  I come to put them aright, once and for all upon the Cross – believe in Me, trust in Me, be not offended by Me – but rather see and know that I put all things right – that even when Herod takes your head, you will rise, forgiven and justified to live forever.”

          And through Matthew, through Matthew recording this Gospel – this is what Christ Jesus says to you here today.  Do you look on the world and see things that are just horrible?  Do you see your own situation, your own sin, and are nothing but ashamed and shocked and disheartened?  This makes sense, for sin and wickedness is very real, and often it is very present in our lives.  But listen to what Christ has done.  In His days on earth, He undid evil, undid that which was wrong.  But the chief thing He does is this.  The Christ whom our fathers waited for, the Christ whose birth we prepare to celebrate, this same Christ, seeing you, seeing your struggles, your burdens, your hardships, goes willingly to the Cross, so that by His death and resurrection He would fully defeat Satan and the world and death, and by His resurrection win and assure you life everlasting.  These trials of this life – they do not last forever.  How long will the trials you face last for you – beats the tar out of me.  Tomorrow might be better, or it might not.  Some burdens might disappear, and some burdens might accompany you all your days.  Over and against these, one thing holds true – that Christ Jesus has died, and thus your sins are forgiven; and He has risen, thus you too shall rise, and these troubles will be gone.

          This Sunday in Advent is the pink Sunday, is “Gaudete – Rejoice”.  Why then such a dour text?  Because, oh Christian, your rejoicing is not rejoicing because things are great, not because right now life is high and everything is coming up roses.  There may be times that is true, great for you.  But that is not the center of your rejoicing.  No, rejoice in this – You are poor, you are a poor miserable sinner, and there are times when it is quite apparent and overly apparent that you are – yet to you, Good News, the Good News of Christ’s love and redemption is proclaimed, and thus you have forgiveness and life in His Name – and this can never be robbed from you.  This Word of life which Christ has given to you is yours – whether today is the happiest day of your life or the worst.  Every day, wherever you are, wherever the twists and turns of this life, this world leads you, Christ Jesus is your Lord and Savior who has died and risen for you. 

          And whatever happens in your life, whether it be joy or sorrow, better or worse – be directed to the Word of God – come and hear what the Scriptures record for you – be told again what the Apostles have seen and heard – your Messiah has come – He has died and risen for you – He has joined Himself to you in Baptism, so that you are never alone but that He is with you in the face of every trial and shall see you through them unto life everlasting, He comes to you [today, now] on this very altar and strengthens you with His own Body and Blood in His Supper, so that you can face anything in this world until the day you see Him face to face on the Last Day.  Because of this, you may rest secure in Christ, for He has proclaimed the Good News of His salvation unto you, redeemed you, forgiven you, made you His own.  He came to win you this redemption, and now we simply rejoice and wait until He comes to bring all goodness unto us.  Thus we pray, come quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent Midweek Sermon 2

Advent Midweek 2 – Isaiah 9 – December 10th, 2014

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          One of the things that is so refreshing about the Scriptures, about the prophets, is that they never feel the need to softsell or white-wash anything.  They are blunt and honest, and blunt and honest about the harsh and lousy realities of life in a sinful, fallen world.  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”  Whom is Isaiah addressing here?  People who have been walking in darkness – those who are faced with doubts and despair even as they go about their daily life, their normal walk.  Isaiah is addressing those who live in a land, not just of darkness, but of deep darkness.  A land that is rife with wickedness and trouble, a land where so often there is little or no leadership, or what leadership there is oppresses and rules unjustly.   It’s a wonderful, poetic way of describing the blunt and often sorrowful and nasty reality of this world, realities Isaiah saw terribly clearly in his days.  And there are no platitudes – Isaiah doesn’t waste his breath saying, “It’s not so bad.”  He doesn’t just tell folks to just buck up.  That’s not the way of the Scriptures – when addressing the sinful fallen world – that’s what it is.  Sinful and fallen.  Gloom and darkness.

          Yet there is this – even though there is gloom, even though there is darkness, real, impactful, frightening and terrible darkness, God does not leave you to your own devices in the midst of those troubles.  No, He sends a great light – indeed, He sends the Light of Light, Christ Jesus, to be the Savior, Redeemer, and rescuer.  And what we see here in the rest of Isaiah 9 is Isaiah recounting, telling who exactly the coming Messiah would be, how He would be Light in the midst of that darkness.  How He will come and give growth and joy and put an end to war.  And then we move to the famous part from the Messiah.  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”  The prophecy pointing forward to the coming Messiah highlights the idea of hope, of something new – but also a wait.  A kid isn’t elected president the day after the Baby shower; oh, sure, one of my kids might cure cancer, but it ain’t going to happen tomorrow.  Isaiah is calling for patience, but hope in that patience.  There will be One coming in the future. 

And what shall He do?  “And the government shall be upon His shoulder.” This is one of those wonderful bits of language that can be read, can be seen two ways – a theological, prophetic surprise.  Yes, Christ Jesus would be the ruler, He would take the burden of ruling upon Himself.  But how would Christ Jesus do this – how would Christ Jesus take up rule and leadership?  When the government, when Pilate places the cross upon His shoulder.  What we have here is a pointing towards the Cross – and of course we do.  The world is full of darkness, deep darkness, and the Messiah who comes to rescue us, to be the light in the midst of this darkness is going to run head on into the worst of it.  So there He will be – innocent, falsely accused, a victim of an unjust government and a bloodthirsty mob.  The government is laid upon His shoulders as He goes to His death in order to destroy the very violence and wickedness that He suffers from. 

This is an important point – because what comes next is the famous “name” section – “And His name shall be call-ed”.  And these names are important, but they are all tied to the fact that the Messiah comes and suffers, dies, and rises.  They are tied to the fact that the Messiah takes upon Himself, upon His shoulder the weight and wages of sin and brings redemption.  Because Jesus goes to the Cross, what will Christ Jesus be called?  He will be called “Wonderful.”  Why is Christ Jesus called wonderful?  The Latin puts this as “Admirabilis” – as the one you look upon and admire with awe and wonder.  Because what do you see when you see Christ Jesus?  Though He is God, He doesn’t cling to that fact, He doesn’t demand His rights as God.  Rather, He comes down from heaven, empties Himself, and goes to the cross for our sake.  There is nothing more wondrous, more admirable than this, nothing more profound.

Jesus is the “counselor”.  Now, normally we think of a counselor as someone who gives advice.  I’m the circuit “visitor” but that used to be called the circuit counselor – I’d give advice.  But this word here is bigger, stronger than that.  A counselor, a helper – this is your attorney.  It’s counselor like in the phrase “legal counsel.”  Jesus is your defense lawyer – and he’s a good one to have.  When Satan comes with his accusations, when he cries and threatens that you deserve death and hell and eternal punishment – you have the best defense lawyer ever.  Christ Jesus has already borne your punishment; He has already died for you.  He has taken up your sin – there’s no more sin to pin upon you.  That’s some defense counselor!  Christ Jesus is your great defense.

Jesus is the “Mighty God.”  If you want to understand the might or power of God, you don’t look to earthquakes or thunder – you look to the Cross.  Consider from 2 Corinthians, where Paul is lamenting the thorn in his side, and God tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you” – but the verse doesn’t stop there, it continues, “for My power is made perfect in weakness.”  Where do you see the power, the might of God?  In weakness, where God Himself hangs upon the Cross – and what does He cry out there?  “It is Finished”.  That word for “finished” is the exact same word for “made perfect”.  Everything is accomplished, completed, made perfect – you have salvation and redemption won for you by God suffering and dying for you, and that is how you see that He is the Mighty God.

Jesus is the Everlasting Father.  Now, of all the names Isaiah gives, this is the one we use the least for Jesus today – and partially this is to avoid confusion between Jesus and the Father when we are speaking about the Holy Trinity.  Partially, this is because we don’t have a king, we don’t have a tribal set up.  Think on the old Native American title for the president – he was the “great white father.”  The leader is the “father” – that’s why the 4th commandment, honor your father and mother, extends over all sorts of government and authority.  Christ Jesus’ rule is everlasting, He sits at the right hand of the Father and of His kingdom there will be no end.

And then there is the final name – Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  He is the One, who as soon as He is risen from the dead breaks into the upper room, dark and cold and locked for fear of an angry mob, and who declares to the Apostles “Peace”.  Jesus is the One who creates His Church to go out all throughout this rough and tumble world to proclaim peace – to proclaim the forgiveness of sins and restoration to God.  He is the Prince – all authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Him, and He uses that authority to make peace, to forgive sins.

“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 uphold it with justice with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”  The Messiah comes, the Light of Light comes to stand up to the darkness of this sinful, fallen world.  He comes to conquer over sin and death with His own perfection and death and resurrection, and all this He does for you, to redeem you, to save you.  Thus He is Wonderful, the Counselor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, and He shall be called this forever and ever.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name Christ Jesus, our Advent King.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Do You Really Expect to "Win"?

Do you really expect to "win"?

Your grand crusade - do you expect to win?  That sweeping reform, that great attempt at fixing "_____" - whatever that blank happens to be filled with. 

Do you really expect to "win" - and if so, what would winning look like?

+ + + + + + +

One of the things I love about advent is all the eschatology, all the end timey talk.  Why?  Because the Scriptures remind us that until Christ comes again, there will not be triumphs and endless success and praise.  No, there will be trials and troubles and tribulation until *Christ* comes and He obtains the victory.

And you know what?  That wonderful, pious crusade I'm on.  I'm not going to "win".  I'm not going to "fix" things - because until Christ returns, we're going to be dealing with sinful folks who will still be sinners until the end. 

We don't win in this life.  We don't fix the problems.  We don't bring in the new and great golden age.

Instead - we pray for endurance.  Self-control.  We learn to rejoice in suffering.  We learn that God's grace is sufficient, that His strength is made perfect in weakness.

If I look to my efforts, even the most pious and grand efforts, they will all fail; they will all fall by the wayside. 

There is no victory expect Christ's - and we need to wait to see that in full.  And any other "victory" is just the triumph of my sinful flesh -- that is, something I need to repent of.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent 2 Sermon

Advent 2 – December 7th, 2014 – Malachi 4 and Luke 21

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets.  In fact, our Old Testament lesson today are the very last words of the Old Testament.  Malachi proclaimed these words right around 500 BC, give or take a few years.  And then, that’s it.  For 500 years, from Malachi to John the Baptist (the Elijah here promised), you don’t have any more prophets in Israel.  The Word had been proclaimed, and that was what was needed until the Messiah would come.  So – what did people need to hear, what did they need to know?   The text starts off ominously – “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”  Well, that’s sort of blunt and dire, isn’t it?  Kind of a strong contrast to all the ho-ho-ho music we get on the radio this time of year.  And at first glance, this seems so inappropriate – why when preparing for Christmas should we talk about the end and judgment when it gives us the willies and makes us scared?  Well, that’s the problem – the end shouldn’t cause you fear, my friends in Christ Jesus.  Listen.

          “But for you who fear My Name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.  You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.  And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.”  You are in Christ Jesus – we all gathered here today in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – we are baptized, God’s own people.  And all we have to look forward to is joy, and healing, and total and complete victory.  You see, we often mishear the warnings about the end days, and this is because of centuries of bad doctrine.  Once you get to the middle ages, we fell into some messed up thinking about the second coming; we became terrified of Jesus and His return because of that stupid, false, made up, unscriptural teaching of purgatory.  Instead of joy and leaping like calves, Christians thought Christ’s return would mean millions of years in detention, burning in purgatory.  That’s not the point in Malachi, not at all.  No, his message for the faithful is this – yes, you still see wicked folks around you – but don’t worry about them.  You don’t have to try to outwit them or defeat them or even punish them.  God will take care of that – boy will He ever!  But as for you – wait on the Lord.  Show love to one another, seek and give forgiveness and mercy, and trust upon God – know that God is stronger than the world (for that is what the “fear of the LORD” is) and that He will deliver you when He comes.

          And in the intervening 500 years, the children of Israel saw enemies come and go.  Alexander the Great came – but there was no prophet.  No, your instructions are the same – don’t worry about the enemies; rather, remember the Word of God, His promises to you.  Then other enemies conquered, the Selucids, and they did horrible stuff.  Still, no prophet – carry on, I will support you.  Then Herod’s family and then the Romans, and still Israel was given to wait, wait 500 years… 500 years takes us back to before the Reformation.  A long time of waiting – but the promise is still sure.  The Messiah will come, and you’ll have the forerunner before Him, and He will take care of things.

          And then we move forward to our Gospel Lesson.  And this is in the midst of Holy Week, this is after Palm Sunday, on the way to Good Friday.  And Jesus knows what is coming.  He is going to suffer and die.  That’s why He came, that’s what needed to be done so that come the last day you all can go leaping in joy.  And yes, He will rise, but He won’t be establishing an earthly kingdom.  Instead, there will be a wait, again.  There will be time given so that more and more can come to faith – including every single one of us in this room.  But in the meantime, before His second coming… the waiting is going to be rough.  And so, He teaches, He tells us how to view and understand the world around us.  “And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming upon the world.  For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”  What’s life before the second coming?  Well, the world is going to fall apart, and people are going to freak out about it.  I’ve been here 10 years – and we’ve seen tsunamis and hurricanes and earthquakes, and people freaking out over it.  Global warming, climate change, fracking – and this isn’t even getting into wars and rumors of war and nuclear power plant meltdowns and ISIS and terrorists.  The world is a messed up place.  Got any doubts – turn on the national news any given evening – it ain’t going to be pretty.
So – what is to be our response to this – what is our reaction when we see all this junk in the world?  Tremble with fear?  Wring our hands?  Panic and get angry?  Not according to Christ Jesus – “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  What does all this tragedy and trouble point us to?  Christ shall come again.  And how are we to view His coming – straighten up.  Don’t hunch down in fear, get up, be ready, don’t cower in fear – raise your head.  Why?  Because redemption is coming, redemption for you.  Christ Jesus, who has conquered death with His own death upon the Cross, He is coming and it is going to be good.  Again, the idea of the last day is meant to be a joy, a comfort to you as Christians – because all this lousiness of life in this world will be done away with, and we will have the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come where none of these things will bother us – where the “former things” that vexed us will be remembered no more.

And Jesus gives a parable.  “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near.  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the Kingdom of God is near.”  How many of you are going to say in Spring, “Oh drat, look, there are leaves on the trees, I was hoping we’d have 5 more months of it being freezing cold and windy”?  No, this is a good thing.  A cause for rejoicing.  Christ will come.  “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.  Heaven and Earth will pass away, but My Words will not pass away.”  And here we get a passage that can be somewhat tricky.  Some people say, “Well, all those people there died before Jesus returned… what went wrong!”  Nothing at all.  What is “this generation”?  For a hint, I’m going to bring up a theological term – we will talk about “Baptismal Regeneration” – the idea that we are born again in Baptism.  Jesus is talking to the faithful in Jerusalem, to the Church – and the Church will endure until the end.  There will always be Christians waiting for the coming of the LORD – they might not live where they used to, but the Church will remain.  Why?  Because the Word of the Lord does not pass away.  The Gospel is still proclaimed.  Baptism – it still brings people into Christ’s Kingdom.  Christ still comes to us in His Body and Blood in the Supper – these things remain – the Holy Spirit still calls people by the Gospel and richly and daily forgives our sins here in the Church.  So this wasn’t a “it’s coming right now” point – but again, like Malachi - don’t worry about the wait.  Don’t worry about the time inbetween.  I will preserve you, then I will come, and it will be good for you.

And one final note.  “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.  For it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth.  But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”  Ut-oh!  We need to escape!  It’s a trap!  Watch out!  Panic!  No… not quite.  It is a warning, a reminder.  People can fall away from the faith.  They can just stop caring, they can just live it up and get blotto-ed, they can just be too busy and successful to care.  And that’s when it’s bad.  But Jesus mentions two things, two ways of being prepared, of “staying awake” as it were.  Prayer and then also standing before the Son of Man.  Oh my, if only there were some place where we Christians came together to pray, where we stood before Christ Jesus Himself and received strength from Him.  If only there was some place where, instead of having my heart weighed down, I was told, “Lift up your hearts.”  If only there was some place where God would strengthen us in faith towards Him and in fervent love toward one another.  Did I lay it on too thick?  Jesus here is pointing us to Church, to coming to this place where we gather in prayer and then receive from Him His own strength, His own righteousness, His own forgiveness.  The Church isn’t an afterthought.  The Supper isn’t an afterthought.  It wasn’t as though the Apostles were standing at the Ascension and said, “Oh, um, hmm…  Guess we better make something up.”  No, God has always gathered His people together around His Word. And you today, you are no different. You are in Christ, gathered in His Name – and you are prepared for His coming, whether it is coming to this Altar today to bring you forgiveness or whether it is His coming on the Last day to give you the resurrection and the life.  It’s okay – in Christ it is all good, and all good for you.  Be at peace in Him.

We believe that He shall come again to judge the living and the dead, and that His kingdom will have no end.  Not only that, but we know that this is a good thing, because you are forgiven by Christ, you have been joined to Him in Holy Baptism, and until He comes again He will continue to come to you in His Word and in His most Holy Supper.  And yes, the world around you often will fall apart – so be it.  You belong to Christ, and because of Him, because of His Word of life, you will endure even when this heaven and this earth have passed away, for He will take you to the new and better heavens and earth.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen.