Saturday, December 31, 2016

Name of Jesus 16/17

Circumcision and Name of Jesus – December 31st, 2016 and January 1st, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Newborn King +

While we are moving into a new year in our calendar, while we have a whole new set of records to record for our taxes, in the reckoning of the Church, January 1st, the 8th day of Christmas, has a different importance. Today [and yes, in the Church, today is already tomorrow because the sun has set] is the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus, one of the high holy days of the year. Today our world celebrates that a new year has come, but today the Church throughout the world celebrates that the world has forever been changed by Jesus’ circumcision.

To understand this, we must start off in the Old Testament. Abram’s faith was flagging. God had promised him that he would be the father of a great nation, of many peoples. And here he is, 99 years old, older than any of you here in this room, and he isn't the father of many nations yet. He has only one child - Ishmael - his ill-gotten son born off of one of his serving girls. Abram knows that this isn’t how it is supposed to be, that his wife, Sarai should be the one who is the mother of his heir, that his heir should be legitimate. Abram's faith was flagging - it was getting awfully late in the day for the Lord to act. If he was going to act, He had better act soon.

When Abram was 99 years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said, 'I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.' Note what happens. How is Abram's faith bolstered, how is he made strong again? God comes to him, God speaks to him. This is how God always strengthens the failing faith - by His Word. Remember, faith is that which clings to the promises of God, the things that God has told us and we know to be true. But doubt seeps in, and we fear, we become weak, and our faith needs strengthening. God always works through His Word - He speaks and we are restored.

And note what God says. Walk before me blameless that I may make my covenant before you. In a covenant, who is acting, primarily? It’s God. That I may make my covenant. I’ve got plans for you Abram, I have my intentions and designs – I’m acting – don’t act against me. Turn away from your sin, which gums up the plans I have made for you. Remember this - we don’t receive blessings from God because we're good - God isn't some abusive parent in heaven making us jump through hoops to earn His love. But our sin sometimes gets in the way. Let's say you are a teenager, just turned 16 and got your license, and your parents decide to buy you a car. . . yes, very good parents. . . and just before they head out the door to the dealership, they get a phone call from the police. You've been arrested for drunk driving, and are going to loose your license. Are they going to buy the car? Of course not - you wouldn't be able to use it, what good would it be? It will just have to wait. This is the way our sin works in our lives. Our mistakes and sins mess things up. So God comes to Abram and says, 'Don't mess things up, Abram. I'm going to make you the father of nations My way - leave your serving girls alone.'

And God wants Abram to remember that He has a specific plan for him. So God forms a covenant. A covenant was where God pledged Himself to a person or a people, and gave them a sign, a proof, a reminder, an identity which would always point back to the promise. God says to Abram, “you will be the father of many nations, and from your descendants will come the Messiah, the Savior. And here’s how you are going to remember this. You will be circumcised - the foreskin of your penis will be removed, and all your male descendants will have this done on the 8th day until that promise is fulfilled, until the Messiah comes.” And that’s the sign, and a good sign it was - a good constant reminder to Abraham (for God also changes his name later on in the chapter). Whenever Abraham was tempted by Satan to go about getting heirs his own way, to go see another serving girl, God’s sign was there reminding him to trust in the Lord. And that’s what Abraham does. And eventually he has his son Issac with his wife Sarah. Now after Sarah’s death, he remarries and has many more children but God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled in Issac, and so Abraham and his children are pointed forward to the day when the true child of Abraham, the promised messiah would come.

And at the end of 8 days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the Name given by the Angel before He was conceived in the womb. And the promise is fulfilled. Christ Jesus is born, born a great-great-great-many-greats-grandchild of Abraham. And He is born just like any other Jewish child, and on the 8th day, this day, He is brought forth and circumcised to remember God’s covenant. And for the first time, the blood of God is shed for the sake of His people. Jesus, the Messiah, He needed no reminder of who He was. And yet, He is born as one of us, born under the Law. Circumcision had become a Law, it was recorded by Moses, a requirement for the people of Israel to do. And so, Jesus is born in Israel, and He must be circumcised, His blood must be shed. And it is.

This is what Jesus is all about. God doesn't need to do this for Himself - God could have simply avoided it all. Never took on flesh, never suffered. But God wishes to save us, so there the newborn Jesus sits, crying in pain as His flesh is cut. This is what the incarnation means - that God becomes man, that He shares in all our suffering and burdens. That God willingly takes up pain and hunger - that God willingly lets His blood be shed, lets the life pour out of Him, so that we might have life. And we hear this, we are taught this, by His very Name. The name Jesus, Yeshua, has a very specific meaning. God saves. That’s what Jesus means, literally. God saves. God brings about salvation for His people. And this is how He does it - by becoming Man, and by living under the law, taking all the punishment that is required for our sin in our place. The tiny bit of blood shed as He is circumcised points us forward to the day of His crucifixion, where His blood is shed for us completely, where it pours from his side, not from a precisely placed knife in an operation, but a spear thrust cruelly there.

This God has done for you. But God knows that you are frail, that you struggle with sin daily, that daily your doubts and fears rise up. So He comes to you, just as He came to Abraham. And just as God stilled Abraham’s doubts and fears through His Word, through a sign, so too, God stills your fears through His Word, through a sign. He has given the gift of Baptism. Think on Baptism for a moment. It’s not an active event - most of us were brought forward, brought to the font as infants. And that’s appropriate - just as Abraham didn’t earn God’s promise, so too we don’t earn the gift of Baptism. And what does God do at Baptism - He takes His Word, His Almighty and powerful Word, and attaches it to Water, something visible, something we all can see and touch - and then you are Baptized - that Water comprehended with God’s Word at God’s Command is applied to you. I Baptize you in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. God’s own Name is placed upon you, the Holy Spirit takes residence within you. In a concrete and public way - God claimed you, showed the world that you are indeed His child. This is why we are to remember our Baptism daily - because daily Satan will come, daily Satan will stir up doubt and fears - does God really love you? You have the answer, you have the proof - Yes, God loves me - I know, He has Baptized me, He has claimed me as His own at the font and you can’t do anything to change that fact Devil, so begone with you. This is why Luther instructs us that it’s a good habit to wake up in the morning, make the sign of the cross and say the Creed and the Lord’s prayer. Start your day off remembering that you are Baptized, that God’s name has been applied to you, that you have been marked by God for salvation. Don’t forget who you are.

Jesus is indeed the God who saves, who redeems us apart from our own Works. Rather, Jesus takes His life, the Righteousness which He shows by His life and Death and gives it to us by His Word. We simply receive His salvation - we received it at our Baptisms where God poured it upon us freely and richly, and we receive it today in His Supper. He is the One at work for us. He is the One who freely sheds His blood for us. We see today, at His naming and circumcision, not just a new year, but a whole new world, for God is among us, winning us the Salvation which we could not earn. May God the Father who has begotten you of water and the world keep you in your Baptismal faith until life everlasting. Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Day Sermon

Christmas Day - 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
Christmas morning is here, and from the manger shines forth Christ Jesus, whose birth we have been anticipating for weeks now. And it’s here – the day has dawned, the presents have been opened, and now, we are gathered at Church, and we pause, and we behold this Christ – so let us now ask the Lutheran question – what does this mean? Peel back all the hoopla, the lights, the torn and tossed away wrapping paper and behold Christ Jesus, lying in a manger. What does this mean?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. Behold the Word of God, now in flesh appearing. The joy and wonder of Christmas day isn’t just the joy of a new life being brought into this world – it isn’t just the joy parents have when they first hold their child in their arms. No, this child is God. This child is the Word, the Son, the 2nd person of the Trinity, God Himself. When you behold Christ Jesus lying in the manger – you see your Creator. You see the Word of God which called all of this, that spoke this entire world into being. That Child is the Creator of all things – as we just confessed in the Nicene Creed “by whom all things were made.” And of all the things this God could choose to do, of all the ways that an Almighty God might appear – there He is. Not as some 10 foot tall powerful giant. Not as the strongest of the strong. A child, an infant. God, unable to speak. Do you see that – the Word of God, unable to speak. God Himself, whom gives us all our daily bread, unable to feed or clothe Himself. God coming not just as a Man, but as a Man at His weakest, at His lowliest.

What do we see when we behold the manger? We see God taking up Human flesh and becoming one of us. But this becoming man, it’s not just a matter of our God becoming some sort of idealized figure, strong and buff where everyone sees Him and their eyes get big and they say, “Boy howdy, that’s the sort of god that a fella could worship – why, he’s even tougher than Zeus or Mithras!” No – when He comes as one of us, He comes as one of us. Born, just like all of us were born. Weak, where even opening His eyes is tiresome and difficult. This is an experience you and God have in common now, because that is how He chose to come. God comes down to your level, to be with you. And why?

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John drives right to the heart of the matter with these words. Christ has life. We didn’t. Not since Adam, not since Eve. We didn't have life - Death was what we sinful men had. Our days on earth were just a brief flickering, a spark that flared up and then was snuffed out – grass that withers and fades away. We didn't have life – we grew old and died. The life that was mankind’s we lost by sin, and we were thus stuck in death, in darkness. And that’s where all us sinners would have stayed, except for one thing.

The Light of Light Eternal comes into the world of darkness, the world full of sin, He comes into our world of death in order to bring with Himself life. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. When you see that Child in the manger, you are seeing that even though you should die, you will live again. When you see Christ Jesus held in His mother’s arms, you see and know that God the Father has not forgotten you, and that He will do whatever is necessary to hold you again as His own, do whatever is necessary to pull you out of the darkness which you have stumbled into, do whatever is necessary to have you restored to Him, and not just for a day, but forever, for all eternity.

And so, the Son comes down from heaven, Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. He comes bringing life with Him. When you see Christ Jesus, you see one who is truly Man, who is like us in every way except one – He is without sin. He has no darkness of His own, He has no death in Him. When He comes, He comes bringing life, His life to contend against our death. He comes to be mankind’s champion against the tyranny of death – this is the combat He wages throughout His ministry, this is the combat He fights most fiercely upon the cross – this is the combat He wins resoundingly on Easter day when He strides forth from the tomb alive, for in Him is life.

This Child that you see shall grow in wisdom and stature, and He shall go to the Cross, because until He goes there – Satan had a string tied to you. Until this newborn King goes to the Cross, He was not yet your King. He had not yet won you for His own. But see, He comes, and even when He cannot yet walk, He is striding towards Golgotha, ready to fight for your life, ready to win you salvation. This One lain in the manger in the One who will lay down His life so that He will share His life with you for all eternity. God will save you – that is what this Child means. He will fight even sin and death and Satan for you.

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. But this Child who comes to save you, to give you life, He is not distant. He is not standoffish, He will not brow beat you with how wonderful He is and how poor you are. No, He comes as lowly as you are, not so that He can save you and then dump you off on the side of the road, as though He’s just a nice fellow picking up a hitchhiker for a few miles – no, He comes to dwell with you and to have you dwell with Him.

When you see the Christ Child, know that your life is different, different from what it would have been. Your life is now a life shared with God. That is the present reality of your life even now. When we speak of our life with God, it is true, we are speaking of life everlasting, life where we will be raised to Bodies like His incorruptible body, and bask in His presence and Glory – but we aren’t simply speaking of a being with God at some point down the road. No – there is more than just that – it is a present reality.

Christ is with us now, and what we need to remember is that this is more than just some sentimental feel good statement – it is reality and truth. The Word who became flesh is present with us in His Word. Christ has said that He is present in our midst whenever 2 or 3 are gathered in His Name for worship. Christ is present in us, for He has claimed us as His own in Baptism, and we are now His temple. Christ is even present for us in a way more mind boggling than these. There is a reason the day is called Christmas – Christ Mass – because it is in the Supper that we behold the very same thing which Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds beheld that first Christmas – God present for us, God in flesh appearing. What is this Supper – it is the true Body and Blood of Christ Jesus our Lord, given for you. What is the special focus of Christmas – that Christ Jesus took on Body and Blood to win you life and salvation. This is what we receive, what we participate in whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This is the reality that we participate in. The truth and wonder of Christmas is not a once a year occurrence –not something we only drag out in December, but it shines forth from this altar every time our Lord gathers us together around His Body and Blood.

Christ Jesus, True God, has come as a True Man to be with us sinful men, to win us life and salvation, and to be present with us, be it now in time or forever in eternity. This is the wonder and joy of Christmas, this is the reason our voices are joined together this day, this is what this celebration means. Our God has come to us to be with us – and thus our lives are changed. We have life and salvation – because Jesus brings with Him life and salvation. His victory is our victory, and so we remember Christmas – when Christ begins His march towards winning our Victory. Thus we come and adore Him, thus we welcome Him, thus we sing and rejoice. God is our Savior, and He is here with us. Merry Christmas to all! In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King + Amen.

Christmas Eve Homily

Christmas Eve 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
How do you handle rejection? If this seems an odd way to start a Christmas sermon, remember our first reading. There in the Garden the LORD God comes upon His Adam, His Eve – and there they are, hiding in the bushes, trying to be as far from Him as possible. He is the Creator, their God, their Friend, who was used to coming and chatting them in this Garden that He had made for them. And they rejected Him. Spurned Him. Wanted His power because they thought they could do a better job than Him. So, how do you handle rejection? Anger? Sorrow? Depression? Sweep it under the rug and never speak of it? That's because we're all sinners, stuck in the same rut we've been in since the Garden – but that is not how the LORD God handles rejection. His response to rejection, dear friends, is Christmas.

Adam and Eve have rejected Him, yet He promises right then that He will rescue them from the hole they've dug themselves, that He Himself will come and crush Satan's head to rescue them. And He comes at Christmas, is born a human being. Adam and Eve thought that they could be a better God than God – instead God becomes Man, and for their sake He lives as Adam and Eve should have.

But the Garden wasn't the end of the rejection. There was Abraham. God had promised him a son, born of his wife Sarah. Yet he had rejected God as well, tried his own thing – took the serving girl Hagar and then Ishmael was born. But no, that's not how God will work. Finally, God gives Abraham Isaac, and then there upon the mountain, when Isaac's life was demanded of him, a demand that would be God's right – God's just judgment upon sinful man – the LORD shows Abraham something else. Go – Isaac will live. My ways are not your ways = I'll handle this rejection not by killing your son Isaac as justice demands, but I myself, I the LORD will become man and I will suffer in Isaac's place. Your rejection will not cost you, it will cost Me.

Yet the rejection continued. All those lovely prophecies Isaiah makes – they were made to wicked kings of Israel, who rejected and disobeyed God. And yet, even in the midst of their rebellion and rejection, God still is faithful. Your rejection won't stop my plan of salvation. I will give you a Son, I will come and be the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace in spite of your wickedness – and I will do this for you. The Lion will lay down and graze with the sheep because I Myself will be born and laid in manager... and I will put an end to all this sin and violence.

And so He comes – comes into a world just like what we see today. A world with fearful people, governments squeezing out more and more taxes, shepherds stuck out with the lousy night shift, wicked kings and the like. But the world is changed, my friends. It is changed because God does not meet our rejection of Him, our sin, with a rejection of His own. No, He is determined to be Emmanuel, God with us. And so, He is born – there in that manger lies True God now also True Man – and He does all that Adam and Eve, all that you and I did not. He lives perfectly, righteously – and He gives that righteous to us. God no longer sees our rejection – when He sees us, He sees only Christ. This child is born, and He goes to the cross, and all the punishment, all the wages of sin is swallowed up in His death – and He rises to show and promise to us that life is ours – His life is ours, life eternal.

How does God deal with rejection? He forgives it. He reconciles it. He gives us forgiveness and life and salvation, for God becomes Man to be our Savior from all our sin. Dear friends in Christ, a most blessed and wondrous Christmas to you all! In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King + Amen.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent 4 Sermon

Advent 4 – John 1:19-28 – December 17th and 18th, 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
So why? Why is there such a focus on who John is? In our Gospel lesson you have folks come from Jerusalem to basically sort out John, who has been out there at the Jordan preaching and baptizing, and the first question they ask is “Who are you?” Not what are you preaching, not why do we need to repent, not why do you think the Kingdom of God is at hand – but who are you? Oh, and by the way, do you remember your bible history? Who is John? Well, his dad was Zachariah, a priest. An important one. Mom was aged Elizabeth, giving birth when she was really, really old. All these hoity-toity priests and Levites from Jerusalem asking John this – they saw him grow up. He was one of them. And yet – who are you?

[John] confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” John doesn't answer the question. John doesn't answer it because they asked the wrong question. You blooming idiots, you know who I am. I played with you when we were kids – and your bosses were friends with my dad. But here's the problem, you folks are so self-important, so focused on your own positions and prestige that you can't even think straight anymore. Who I am isn't the important question – the important question is this: Is the Christ here yet? Is the Christ here yet, since I am out here preaching about the Kingdom of God being at hand. And that is the question I will answer – and the answer is not yet. The Kingdom is coming, but it's not here yet – I am not the Christ. Do you see what John is saying – I'm not important, the Christ is. That's who you should be looking for!
But, they don't get it. They aren't worried about Messiahs who aren't here yet – they just want to know who this fellow who is causing a ruckus thinks he is. And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Do you hear the consternation in John's voice? You've missed the point, people. The point isn't me – the Messiah is coming. If the Messiah is coming, then why would we be wasting time looking at me? But they still go on. So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” Listen, John, now you are causing us problems. If you don't tell us something and we head back, we'll get in all sorts of trouble. So just tell us, what do you say about yourself? About yourself. Did you catch it – surely you talk about yourself at some point, you brag about who you are, you throw your authority around and make people kowtow to you, right? Because that's what our sinful flesh likes to do – we like to establish a pecking order, we like to assert our place in their heirarchy – you're the alpha here, John – how do you assert your dominance?

But still, John will have none of it. He doesn't answer their question. He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said.” I don't say anything about myself. That's not my point, not my task. Now, Isaiah said something about me – if you want a title – there you go. I'm just a voice out in the wilderness. I've got no authority of my own, no rule of my own. I'm not going to try to take over Jerusalem or shake up temple politics. Your bosses are all safe in their cushy little jobs – but they too, and you, ought to be getting ready because the Messiah is coming, and we all ought to be focused upon Him.

Let us pause here for a moment. John teaches us a very important, yet unpopular lesson. It's not about me. And it's not about you. It's not about us. The Church – it doesn't revolve around us. It's not about our wants or whims or likes. It's not about who we are – what we get to say about ourselves. And before you just nod and say, “Yes, pastor, we know that” - let's consider this. How often do we get upset because something at the Church doesn't get done precisely the way we want? Or the thing I wanted done gets put on the back burner? Or I don't like how this was done? Nine times out of 10, when something goes sideways in Church and a nasty fight breaks out, it happens because “I” didn't get My way, and I'm going to cause a stink till I get it, or I'm going to take my ball and go where I'm appreciated. This is the temptation that we face, that we've seen and lived before, and that Satan will smack us with again. Be on guard against it. Church isn't about you. And in fact, any one of us in this room could get our knickers in a bunch and leave in a huff – and the Church would go on just fine without us – me included in that. The person we'd really hurt is ourselves. Nor is the Church the place we talk about who we are and what we do – see how great and good I am? It's not a place where we get to brag about how great we are – what wonderful snowflakes we are and let's get all patted on the back. Now, don't get mad at me, you're all wonderful, beautiful snowflakes (or maybe pelts of sleet), but again, that's not the point. It's not about us.
Because, you see, and this is what John is driving at – this church, religion, Jesus, Messiah thing – it's not about you. It's about Christ Jesus who comes for you. This is the place where we are focused upon not the desires of our hearts, but God's gracious desire to bring us salvation. This is the place where we are focused not upon what we do, but upon what God has done to win us salvation. Next Sunday, Christmas day – the sermon's not going to be about all the great gifts you give – but what Christ is doing. In fact, every service here, Saturday, Sunday, midweek, whatever – is a time where what Christ is doing for us is declared. And Christ's action, Christ's birth and death and resurrection – they don't rely upon us at all. Not about us. Whether you had a good week or bad – whether you showed great patience this past week or whether you went off on rants at the drop of a hat – doesn't change what Christ has done. And He's done it for you, for your good, so that you are redeemed and forgiven.

Back to the text. These messengers from Jerusalem just can't get it, can't wrap their heads around things being about the Messiah, not about me as an individual. They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet.” Where do you get off doing this, John? Surely it has to be about you, there has to be some merit or quality in you that lets you be the fellow doing all this preaching and baptizing, right? Do you hear the ego at play in the question – the assumption that if you are given a task by God, it really is speaking to how great and good you are. My friends, our sinful flesh can be so prideful. Even as John is pointing them again and again to Christ, they want it to be about an ego trip. So John answers again. John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” It's not about how great I am – even what I'm doing is as nothing. I'm worthy of not a single thing – but the Christ is coming – He's here, He's ready to reveal Himself – and He's the One we should be focused upon. He's the One who is going to do it all.

Oh that we would learn this. Oh that we would learn to see that it really is Christ at work, that it really is all about Jesus – that Paul was right when he said “It is not I who live but Christ who lives within me.” That like John later on, we would say that we must decrease that Christ would increase. You see, to view the world through the eyes of faith is more and more to see that Christ Jesus is the One at work, doing good for you and through you. And so often we don't see this – so often we get so wrapped up in ourselves and our own sin that the thoughts, the approach we take is so self-focused and self-important. What does this mean to me, how will this effect me, here's my thoughts about what's going on. Me, me, me, me, me – it sounds like we're warming up for a really selfish choir. And especially as we are busy and stressed more and more we turn in, curve in on ourselves. But behold, even in the midst of this selfish darkness, Christ Jesus comes. It really is about Him – the Light of Light, very God of very God, who comes down from heaven for us – not about us, but for us and for our salvation. Christ Jesus comes – behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He comes even to us today, comes and pulls our eyes off of our own ego, off of all our sinful hang-ups – and He says to us, Peace be with you, always. 
As we move into our final week of Christmas preparations – remember who Christ Jesus actually is. He is God almighty who becomes man and does everything required for your salvation. He is the God who joined Himself to you in Holy Baptism and is with you always – working in you and through you for the good of the people He has placed in your life, even with or without you being aware of it. He has poured His Holy Spirit upon you, so that you are daily and richly forgiven, daily and repeatedly pulled away from your selfishness and made to see, made to understand a bit, a glimpse of what He has done and is doing for you. Now, we see dimly, as in a mirror. Soon, we will see face to face, and marvel at who Christ Jesus for all eternity. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Advent 3 Sermon

Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-11 – December 10th and 11th, 2016

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, a harsh and 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 reign 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 – though you are poor, though 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 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. This is joy that stands always, even for John in prison, even for you no matter what comes up. Christ has come 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.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Advent 2 Sermon

Advent 2 – December 3rd and 4th, 2016 – Luke 21:25-36

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
While s lot of folks love going to a good home sporting event, hearing the roar of the crowd as they cheer along with you, I'd say the best moment for a fan is when you're at an away game, surrounded by fans of the other team – and then suddenly that groan ripples through the stadium. When you hear that, you know that your team has pulled it off, won the upset. Now, you do realize, my dear Christian friends, that as a Christian, in this world you are fans of the away team, right? You're but a stranger, a visitor here – your home is with Christ in Heaven, right? This is what Christ is pointing out in our Gospel lesson - “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 the waves, people fainting with fear with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” Whenever you look around, look at the world, listen to the news, you're going to see worry and fear and troubles and pain. But here's the thing, O Christian, you know what is going on.

You see, the world has deluded itself into thinking that it's a pretty swell place with everything in order. Maybe there's a little brush up work to be done, but with the right leader, the right law, the right program, everything will be fixed. We'll have a steady stream of improvement and growth and we'll keep evolving as a culture and we'll finally make everything right and good. Progress and advancement! And it never quite turns out that way – and hopes get dashed and plans fall apart. And while all around you folks lose their minds over things, you know what this is. We're sinners in a sinful world, and even with the best plans and policies and hopes, we're going to remain sinners in a sinful world. It's always going to be a long, hard struggle in this life, and we're always going to have fix things again and again, things that never should have been broken in the first place. And we know that we are called by God to keep showing love, to keep striving after doing what is good and right, even when things don't work out. When we see this, we are called away from despair by God, for we know what is happening.

“And 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.” Your redemption. The thing that separates a Christian from a non-believer isn't necessarily morality – there are plenty of very nice pagans out there, and there are plenty of Christians who end up being jerks way more often then they should be. What separates Christians from non-believers isn't earthly success or ease of life – both can have it easy or hard. No, what separates us is this – you, O Christian, know that you need to be redeemed. You know your own sin, you know that this world is messed up and that you need something better, something better you can't make for yourself. You know that Christ Jesus has come, that He has suffered and died and risen, so that you are forgiven and that you will have perfection and joy and never-ending contentedness in the life of the world to come. You know your redemption. You know Christ. And as such, you see the world differently. Whenever there is hardship or shock or fear – it is not merely defeat, it is not merely tragedy. It is also a reminder of your redemption. Troubles and hardship do not mean that God hates you, rather they remind you that Christ Jesus Himself came and endured troubles like these for you. And so, even until the day we look up and see Christ in the clouds returning to bring an end to all these strange things, whenever they happen – straighten up, lift up your heads, because they remind you of Christ, they remind you that He will come again. The world sees defeat; but you know victory in Christ.

Okay, alright Pastor, you say that nice and comfortable up in that pulpit, but what about all the junk that is going on in my life, with my parents, with my kids, with my co-workers, with school? Why in the world should I be all happy for the future given the junk that I see? Well, for that, let's look at our Lord's short little parable, shall we? “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.” The imagery is simple. You don't need the weather channel to know what when the trees start to leaf out, it's going to get warmer. The change, the movement, it's nothing to worry about, because you know what will happen – and even if it looks like winter may be rough, you know that spring will come and then the summer, and you even know how to look for it. In Christ Jesus, you know what is going on, you know what this world means.

But Pastor, how do we know that He will come? After all, Jesus said, “this generation will not pass away until all has taken place,” and I'm pretty sure that everyone in that generation is long dead and gone. Well, you're partially right – everyone to whom Jesus first spoke these words has died. But again, listen to Jesus, “look at the fig tree, and all the trees.” That generation saw a tree, a very special tree. And on that tree was a very special fruit – the fruit of a Virgin's womb, the fruit of life itself. That generation saw everything take place there upon the tree of the Cross as Christ was crucified. Because everything Christ spoke to happened at the Crucifixion. Signs in the Sun and Moon? A few chapters later Luke records, “It was about the sixth hour [that is, high noon], and there darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed.” Eh? Or roaring or shaking? “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” Fainting with fear? “When the Centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'” They saw the Son of Man lifted up and glorified – they saw His power of redemption play out.

You see, once Christ is crucified, it is the end of time. The Last Days aren't something distant, we're smack dab in the middle of them. As Hebrews says, “In these last days, [God] has spoken to us by His Son.” And what does the Son say? Jesus declared on the Cross “It is finished,” and it is. The game is won, Christ has the victory – and now it's just letting the clock of this world run down to its final zeros. Because we are children of the New Testament, because we are born and raised in the last days, we don't understand just how unique this is. We know what Abraham and David and Isaiah only had fleeting glimpses of. We know what “Behold a Virgin shall conceive” looks like and how it plays out. We know the righteous branch of David, we know the Seed of Abraham in whom all nations are blessed, even Christ Jesus our Lord. And while the world still spins along in chaos, we know Christ's Victory.

And so we watch. Advent is the season of watching. We think back to the watching of those in the past, of our faithful brothers and sisters who lived in the former times, in the Old Testament days. We rejoice in what Christ has done. We prepare for His final return, when we get to storm the field, run out kicking like calves from the stall, and finally tear down the goal posts of this world. But until that day, we too are charged to watch. “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” Dissipation. That is, tending after the hum-drum things of life, and ignoring the things of God. Don't have your head buried in your iPhone checking the news feed and miss the final out! Or drunkenness. Don't pass out in the stands and miss out when the celebration's going to be on the field. Or the cares of this life. Don't be too cool for school and worried about this or that – cheer, you nervous Nelly – Christ our Lord took out Satan and there's a party to be had. The end is a good thing, provided you're ready for it. So pray, pray for strength. Of course, you realize what praying for strength implies, what it teaches us and reminds us of? This strength to stand before the Son of Man – it's not our strength. It's not on the basis of how good or bad we are – nope, we're poor miserable sinners, just like the rest. But you know Christ, and Christ Jesus is your strength, and He bids you to stand, He bids you to rise forgiven and perfect and holy in Him. His Victory is for you, and He intends to celebrate it with you for all eternity. Indeed, when we storm that court with Christ, we'll be storming it with all the saints of all the ages, for even the Dead will be given Christ's strength to live and celebrate again. And it will be good.

So know what's going on. Yeah, the world is a messed up, strange place. And it will remain so, even until Christ comes again. But you, you are ready for all that. Hear the Word and anticipate, watch, see what is happening. Take and eat, take and drink, so you've got plenty of strength for the party to come. Because it is coming – a great and joyous celebration – and if the unbelievers around you are freaking out in terror and fear – well, tell them of Christ and His victory and His redemption – how He has done it for them too. Everyone's welcome on the bandwagon. There's always room for more to celebrate Christ's victory – because that is what we are preparing to see. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +