Saturday, December 28, 2019

Christmas 1

Christmas 1 – December 28th and 29th, 2019 – Luke 2:33-40

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
Sometimes we are too used to Scripture, we just take it at face value and nod our heads at the stories and think, “Oh, isn't that nice?” Because that's what we think the stories in the Scripture are – nice little stories. Stories that make for really pretty cards and decorations and such. And here we have Jesus in the temple 40 days after his birth and old Simeon and Anna are there – and isn't this just a sweet story, pastor? I suppose – in part it is a beautiful story – the setting is this. There's an old guy at the temple named Simeon, and he's been told by God that he will live until the Messiah arrives, so he shows up at the temple every day – and Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the temple to offer the sacrifice that is required for a first born male – and Simeon recognizes Jesus and sings the words of the Nunc Dimittis that we sing to this very day. You can focus on beauty here really easily – and perhaps on the weekend of February 2nd – the Presentation of our LORD, we'll look at that beauty. But for now, think about this.

So, you're a mother, with your child – your wondrous miracle child – and as you walk into the church, some random old guy run up and grabs him and starts singing. Most of the moms I know get nervous about people touching their kid – and some stranger grabs him? And starts praising God. That is why we hear, “And His father and His mother marveled at what was said about Him.” This is not heart warming sighing or a hallmark moment – this is their jaws hitting the floor what in tarnation is going on do you know who this guy singing is. It was utterly befuddling.

But it gets worse. Old Simeon stops singing, and then He comes up to Joseph and Mary and starts blessing them, fawning over them – which would have been weird and awkward. At worst, the guy is crazy – and at best he's being moved by the Holy Spirit but still moved to some strange things. And then the old guy says, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed, (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.” And we can hear this today in the midst of our post-Christmas bleery-eyed cheer and smile and nod and say, “That's nice Pastor” all the while not really getting what's going on.

The old man who has taken your child up and is singing and prophesying then turns to you and eyeballs you – this Kid, He has been sent by God (because that's what it means in the Scriptures when you hear that word “appointed” - it is God has established this and ordained it) – this Kid has been sent by God to cause utter chaos in the Israel. That's what the fall and rising of many in Israel would look like – utter chaos. Trouble. Strife. The mighty will fall because of this Kid. And moreover – people will hate Him with a passion – that's what it means that He is a sign that is opposed. He will perform miracles – signs that He has in fact by sent by God – and that will just anger people and make them hate Him all the more. Do you see how what Simeon says, once you get past the fancy-dancy old fashioned bible language, is actually kind of terrifying? Congratulations – your son will cause chaos and people will absolutely hate Him.

And it gets worse. A sword is going to pierce your own soul too Mary – you're going to get caught up in this. In fact, Mary – there will be times that you hate Him. This is one of the things we don't think about or talk about often – but in the middle of His ministry, Jesus' own family gets mad at Him. This is Luke 8 – Then His mother and His brothers came to Him, but they could not reach Him because of the crowd. And He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside desiring to see you.” That word there for “see” there isn't just the simple idea of “we've missed you and want to catch up” - it's the kid who got into trouble coming home and being told, “Mom wants to see you in the kitchen” or your boss saying, “I'd like to see you in my office.” Jesus' family is embarrassed by His preaching – that's why none of His brothers were around when He's crucified. And Mary is terrified of the response that Jesus is getting – she knows that if her Baby keeps running His jibs like He is that they are going to kill and why can't He just be quiet. Think on it mothers – how nervous do you get when your kid does something that makes other folks unhappy? Now imagine your Child so angers people that they plot to kill Him. And Mary wants Him to tone it down – and He won't. And He doesn't. And that will make Mary feel fear and terror and guilt and shame and a heart rending, a heart piercing mixture of emotions. That's what Simeon tells Mary is going to happen.

So... Merry Christmas! Do you get how seemingly incongruous this Gospel lesson is, how it just doesn't seem to line up with the (sentimental feeling inside) that we are promised by Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree? And yet, I would submit, my dear friends, that actually this text fits perfectly for Christmas and is filled with joy – and we hear this wonderful joy and truth when we come across Anna. Who is Anna – well, she's an 84 year old widow who had only been married seven years, and you normally got married around 13, so she's been a widow roughly 64 years. That's rough. And she's a ward of the Temple – she lives there, helps out, they feed her. Everyone knows old Anna. And the Holy Spirit falls upon her when Jesus enters the temple, and she begins to prophesy, to praise God and give Him thanks. 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 Jerusalem.

Oh yes, Jesus will cause people to fall, and they will see that all their so called strength and power comes to naught. Oh yes, Jesus will break people's hearts – especially the hearts of people who are more worried about their pipe dreams and their niceties and folks who want things to be just so. They get mad enough to abandon Him and even kill Him. But you know what Jesus really does, what He came to do? To redeem. To win salvation. To take on sin head on, to punch sin square on its jaw – including the sin that our sinful hearts like to cling to and hold on to. Jesus will deck it, and if that hurts – well, it has to. Because He is going to rescue you from it. And He will rescue you from it by taking on Death itself and dying. And why? Because He came for the rising of many – He came for your rising, so that you will rise from the dead unto everlasting life. And that is a wild, wondrous, joyous thing – but also something that our old sinful flesh finds terrorizing and wants to treat with nothing but utter contempt.

And over the next few months, as we wend our way towards Easter – we are going to see Jesus in action – and we'll hear preaching that shatters sinful hearts, and we'll see the mighty brought low and we'll see the pathetic healed and raised and all of this even unto His own death and resurrection. And it is my prayer that we hear this Gospel with ears renewed by the Holy Spirit. For too long the Church has just smiled and nodded at the Scriptures, at the Gospel of Christ Jesus. And all the while the contempt for Christ Jesus and His Word has grown all around us... but our Lord has promised to use all things for our good, and perhaps hearing, being a bit surprised by the disdain the world has for God and His Word, we might hear that Word a bit more attentively, and perhaps even notice the places where we causally disdain it and skirt on by it. Perhaps in the disdain of the world, we will see a reflection of the ways in which we ourselves are guilty of the same disdain, the same thanklessness.

And there are times that might be painful. There may be sermons to come that pierce through your heart – my own heart included in that. But this is again for your Good, that you would see again and know again that while you desperately need a Savior, you have One in Christ Jesus. You have One who is closer to you than you can comprehend, who has given you all good things in the water of Holy Baptism, who forgives you and will raise you. And this is a profound thing, not something to be hurried past, or treated with hushed embarrassment when around the folks out there who no longer like it. It is a wondrous thing, a jaw dropping thing. A Jesus puts His Body and Blood in our mouths for the forgiveness of our sins sort of thing. Something that lets us live this life in peace and then depart it in peace, all according to God's Word. This is the true joy and wonder of Christmas. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Day

Christmas Day – 2019 – John 1

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
Let’s start where John starts His Gospel, the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It’s a good place to start, the beginning. . . but the Word is there before that – for the Word was God. Yes, the Word was of the Father’s Love Begotten, ere the worlds began to be. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life.” Pretty impressive – it is as we confess in the Nicene Creed – the Word is the Maker of all things, by whom all things were made – God Almighty, God Himself, the 2nd Person of the Trinity – this is the Word that John Speaks of this Christmas morning.

And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.” And here our jaw should drop – our surprise should be greater at this than at anything we saw under our tree this morning. The Word, God Almighty Himself, became Flesh, became Man, and dwelt among us, lived among us. Think on that. God became Man – God looks down from heaven and sees us sinful folks mucking it up, making a mess of our lives. He sees us earning nothing but His wrath and Damnation. . . and what does He do? Does He blot us from existence? Does He run away and leave us alone, deciding to just let us rot in our own mess that we have made? No. He becomes Man. God sees us in our sinful state and says, “You know what, I will fix that. . . I’ll become one of them, I will live the perfect life, and win for them salvation by my own death.” God sees our sin, and how does He respond? By becoming Man, by being born, by being a helpless infant. God, in order to win our salvation, hungers until His mother decides to suckle Him, lies in dirty diapers until His mother changes Him, stays where He is put until He can learn to crawl, then to walk. We often get this sweet, neat picture of Christmas – but that sort of misses the point. Christmas is messy, babies are messy. Christmas means God becomes Man and dwells among us – He comes down to us because we can’t go up to Him. God chooses to participate in our lives, share in what we have. And He comes to share in all of it – not just the highs, but also the lows, the hardship, the weakness, the frailty. We see God tasting in all that we taste in our days. We see God for our salvation lying in a food trough.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Indeed, God came down to earth, down to the world to be among men, and by in large men reject Him. Wicked King Herod sought to kill Him, sent our Lord’s Adoptive father Joseph and His Virgin mother scurrying into flight into Egypt in order to protect their infant Child. Yes, a few wise men from afar would come and bow down, but those who were accounted wise among His own people – the Pharisees, the scribes, the priests – they mocked Him. They said He was possessed, they called him a Drunkard. They plotted His death. The crowds on Good Friday finished the job that Herod started as they shouted for His death. But we shouldn’t think it was only people way back then who reject Christ. Look at the very Holy-day of Christmas even in our own land. By in large, we’re more apt to be thinking about Santa than Jesus for most of December. If you tell people that Christmas is coming, they tend to be more worried about getting their shopping done than they are about giving thanks to Christ Jesus for His deigning to come to us. Or maybe we should say Happy Holidays instead. Of course, we’ve even taken the holy out of the holy days. Christmas day has become simply a day for eagerly opening presents and feasting – many Churches don't even have service today, so people can be at home with their families, instead of worshiping together with their real family, the Body of Christ, instead of gathering together for the great and true Christmas Feast – the Lord’s Supper.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. The presence of the Lord, God’s presence, is a scary thing when you are a sinner. It terrified the people of the Old Testament – Adam and Eve hid in the garden, the children of Israel demanded God keep His distance, Isaiah thought He was going to die when He saw God in the temple. Sinful man is reminded of the wages of his sin when He beholds God’s holiness. It’s no surprise that the people of Christ’s day or the world today reject Christ. God with us reminds us that we need God to be with us, that we are not self-sufficient, that we of ourselves are condemned need rescuing from our sin. Instead we often crave better ways to delight in sin. And often enough, even we who know better cave and give into sin, we are tempted to want nothing to do with Christ. When we sin, we shout at the Christ child “Be away from me, I want no part of you. Let me live my life how I want to.” But God does come to us, in His great and wondrous mercy our Lord comes to us again and again – but He doesn’t come as we would expect. He doesn’t come yet as an angry judge to damn us for our sin – that’s what we feared. He doesn’t come yet as a mighty King to defeat and destroy. In His mercy, God has held off that judgment of the last day, and instead He devised a different coming, a coming that would give us hope to be able to stand on that last day. He comes to us simply as one of us.

The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” The Boy born in the stable at Bethlehem would grow, He would run and play, He would learn His letters and how to work a saw, a hammer. He would learn from Joseph and Mary to go the temple and pray. They taught Him His prayers which He said at night before He went to bed. God dwelt among us – He lived a life with all the things that we see. Jesus got picked on growing up by the neighborhood bully and caught the colds the kids passed around. He grew into a young Man and had to work – He had friends who disappointed Him and abandoned Him when He needed them. He went hungry and suffered. He wept and mourned. He laughed and rejoiced and celebrated. He heard people complain about Him. Everything you can think of in your life, all the range of experiences, He too shared in them – all except sin, for this Christ Jesus is the spotless lamb, the One without Blemish. He lived how Adam would have lived had he not sinned, Christ lived how we would live if we didn’t sin. This is way in which Christ comes to us, dear friends. Jesus comes to us to share in our lives. Know that Christ Jesus knows our struggles in life well, personally. He too has shared them. Your ups and downs, He knows them. Your joys and sorrows, our Lord knows them. Even your temptations, our Lord knows them, why they would appeal, although He did not give in. Christ has dwelt among us, He has shared fully in your lives. He understands the trials you face, and as such in Compassion He is determined to win you salvation from them. That is the miracle of Christmas Day – that God would lower Himself to our level, simply to be with us, all in order that by His life and death and resurrection He might raise us up to the life everlasting.

Christ Jesus our Lord continues to come to us this day. Jesus still dwells with us, He is still here for our Salvation. Jesus still has the Body that was born in that manger, it is His. Satan tried to wrest it from Him, put Him to death upon the Cross, but on Good Friday Satan overstepped His bounds, and so the Father restored Jesus; the Father was pleased, saw all that His Son had done, and returned Him to life – and now Christ Jesus has risen and lives to die no more. Right now the Man Jesus, born of Mary, Jesus our Brother who shares in all that we are, rules all of Creation from heaven. And Right now, Christ our Brother comes to us, comes to dwell with us here in His Supper. This is Christmas. . . Christ Mass. . . the service of Holy Communion where we celebrate the fact that God became Man for us, that He gives Himself to us, even His own Body and Blood in His supper. It is the feast of His incarnation. As the manger held the infant Christ on the first Christmas morn, this Christmas morn we hold in our hands the Resurrected, life-giving Body of our Lord. Behold your King comes to you humble and lowly, His Body and Blood under Bread and Wine, and brings with Him your life and Salvation. God Almighty comes down from His throne, Christ Victorious over sin and death comes and gives us His own life! This is why we celebrate Christmas – we in fact celebrate it every time we have the Lord’s Supper. God has come and been our Savior – He has won for us full redemption by His death on the Cross, and He gives us His own life to share.

Dear friends in Christ, a most happy, joyous, and blessed Christmas to each of you. This day we remember and rejoice in a great and mighty wonder. Christmas comes again, as Christ shows us His own Body in His Supper and gives us His life. God has come to be with you, to give you life and salvation, to give you Peace with God and each other. God grant that we might ever more know and realize this, even until the day when we see Him face to face. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Advent 4 - Out of Order - Oops

Advent 4 – December 21st and 22nd, 2019 – John 1:19-28

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
As I was getting ready to write this sermon, I came across an interesting article from one of my Pastor friends. It was a religious survey from the website Five-Thirty-Eight, which does fantastic political and social polling – and it was a survey looking at the Church attendence of Millenlials. And what they noted is that the tidal pattern of Church attendance seems to be disappearing. The old pattern was you went to church as a kid, you didn't so much in the early twenties, but as you became an established adult, had kids, you went back. And basically, with the folks aged 23-38, they found that more people left than the generations before, and that less were coming back. And there were a variety of reasons put forth – delayed onset of adulthood, marrying later, more marriages where both spouses aren't religious. But the one that really got me thinking was this. Even the parents with kids were less likely to head back – and the biggest reason given was that the Church was viewed as no longer necessary for moral instruction.

Now, at first glance you might expect me to rail against this and perhaps even make you all stand and recite the Ten Commandments – as we have done throughout our Advent Midweek services – or even recite a meaning or two, as I am sometimes want to do in a sermon. But no – because frankly, they are right. You can learn to be a nice little boy or girl from places other than the Church. The golden rule permeates society – and there are plenty of writers who are fantastic on civic virtue. Even Barney and Curious George can teach you basic morality. No – the sad part about the idea that the Church is no longer necessary for moral instruction is the premise itself – that the primary job, the main function of the Church is supposedly moral instruction. No! These people should have listened to John from our Gospel lesson today!

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” So, John had been baptizing for repentance out by the Jordan river, causing a stir amongst all the people, so the big wigs from Jerusalem send folks to check him out. And they want to know who he is, what his credentials are. Hey bub, who do you think you are? And listen to this answer, and listen to how it is introduced. He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” It doesn't just say, “John said” - but you have this really strong and forceful introduction. Just saying “He confessed” would make it forceful enough, but we hear he confessed and did not deny, but confessed – do you get how strong, how important it is to hear and pay attention to what John says here? And what does he say? I am not the Christ. Do you see what John is doing here? You priests and Levites – you asked the wrong question. You didn't ask the real question, the important one. Who am I – not important. The important question is this – are you the Christ, the Messiah. That's the One we're supposed to be looking for. Am I Jesus, am I the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world – that's the important question – and the answer to that one is... no. I am not the Christ.

But that's not good enough for the priests and the Levites. They keep asking John who he is – are you Elijah – who was said to come before the Messiah. John says no (although Jesus points out later that he actually was... John just doesn't really care who he himself is, John is focused on the Messiah). Well, are you the prophet? No. I will admit – part of me, as a pastor, just loves how ornery and difficult John is here, especially as this time of year I get a bit more ornery or bah humbugy myself. But finally, these poor priests and levites beg John to give them something. Listen, we're not trying to bug you, but if we don't get some answer for our bosses back home, they are going to be all over our case. Can you just throw us a bone – what do you say about yourself? John finally says, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the LORD,' as the prophet Isaiah said.

Do you see, do you hear John's focus upon Jesus, upon the Christ, upon the Messiah? As much as they want to shift John to talking about John himself and who he is – John refuses. Even when John answers them, its Isaiah that is talking about him – and John still points it back to Jesus. No big head for John – I mean, imagine the pride you might have if you could point to prophecy in Scripture and say, “yeah, folks – that one there's talking about me.” Nope. Not the point – look at Jesus!

For a long time, the Church was the institution of society, the most important place. It was the social, moral hub. Not so much any more. School is taking up more and more of that space, so much so that I can't even count on kids having their Wednesday nights free for Confirmation. Other clubs or social groups are rising up – and often they do things on Sunday mornings or on other holidays. And while it might be sad that this is changing, that the church as a social place is declining – that's not the real tragedy. The tragedy is this. When as a society people look at the Church, ask the Church, “Who are you” as it were – the answer isn't “Jesus” - it isn't “This is the place where Christ the Crucified is proclaimed for the forgiveness of sins.” It's something else... and while those something elses are often fine and good – moral training is good, and so is social aid, and so is silly club fun and so are Star Wars movie nights set up by nerds (December 30th, 10 am) – but they aren't what makes the Church the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ – where the Holy Spirit gives the forgiveness won by Christ to His people. Now I will quote the catechism – In this Christian Church He [the Holy Spirit] daily and richly forgives my sins and the sins of all believers in Christ. That's the important thing – that's who we are. And so many don't even think to ask the question of where can I find salvation.

But back to our Gospel lesson. They asked [John], “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 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 unworthy to untie.” So then what's your point John – if you aren't the big deal, what's the point of all this ruckus? Well, glad you asked. The point is Jesus, the point is the Messiah – the point is the guy who is better than me and who will redeem me. It's not about how great I am – it's about how Great He is in winning us salvation. That's the point people. And while our text stops here, verse 29 says, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John stays on point, and His point is Jesus.

So then, Trinity, if you aren't the main social hub of town anymore, and if you don't have the market cornered on moral teaching or social fun, why do you even exist? What's your point? That font. That lectern, this pulpit. This communion rail. These are the places that God Himself has established – not us, not our grandparents, but God Himself has set up this place to be the place where the Holy Spirit gives us Jesus. It's not about us – we're not worthy to untie Jesus' sandals – we aren't worthy enough to be the lowest scullery maid in the kingdom of God. But Jesus, God Himself, became Man and suffered and died to serve you, to cleanse you of your sin, to redeem you. And He has built this place to see that you hear this Gospel, this Good News – to see that you are brought to baptism, that you receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Because you aren't going to get that anywhere but the Church. You aren't going to get the Gospel in the world. The World will take the things of God and twist them and strip them of Jesus. Oh, the true meaning of Christmas is giving and family... wait, you are defining CHRIST-mas without mentioning... Jesus Christ? The meaning of Christmas is God becomes man so that in Christ Jesus we are forgiven and by Baptism we are made once again part of the family of God. Oh, but Christmas time is the beautiful time of lights and Santa and reindeer (or flamingos). Well, close – but those lights – they are there because Jesus is the light of the world. You'll hear that Gospel lesson on Christmas day here in the Church, but you aren't going to hear it out in the world. And “Santa” is just the Dutch word for “Saint” - and you are made saints, made God's holy children here in the Church – not out there in the world. Oh, and we'll confess the creed that Saint Nicholas helped to write on Christmas day when we confess the Nicene Creed. But that's an in here, in the Church thing. That's a focus on Jesus, God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made sort of thing.
John the Baptist was adamant that the focus must be upon Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And likewise, this is where our focus is to be and to remain – otherwise the unbelievers are right and there's no point to this place – we become just another place clamoring for your time and money. We become nothing but a clanging gong (or ringing bell) if we do not proclaim the love of Christ Jesus for us and for our salvation. The most important thing is that Jesus comes to be your Savior – and just as He came a bit over 2000 years ago, He comes to you in His Word, in His Supper, to forgive you again today, richly and wondrously. God grant us ever more to see Jesus for us. In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve – 2019 – Luke 2

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
It was the most normal and typical thing in the world. “The time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths.” To all appearances, this would have been the most typical thing in the world. A mother giving birth. Happens all the time. They put pictures of new babies up on the board at Riverside all the time. And the fact that you are here means that one day a while ago someone gave birth to you. And plenty of kids were born today. In fact, we just sent a bunch of beautiful blankets up to the birthing centers at Riverside and St. Mary because still today you have a kid who is born and they get all swaddled and bundled up in comfy blankets to keep them warm.

We know that Jesus being born was special – but just pause for a moment and consider just how typical and normal this birth looked to be. Now, remember, typical and normal doesn't mean “easy” or “ nice” - far be it from any man to call any childbirth “easy”. But there you have a Boy born in the normal, typical fashion, just like billions of people before and after Him. If you had been in that manger watching the birth – and you wouldn't have been, because they were in the manager so Mary could have some privacy. (The “Inn” wasn't a Hampton inn with a bunch of private rooms – it would have been a crowded mess – so head on out to the barn and have some privacy, and if anyone comes snooping around I'll give them the back of my hand.) But if you had been watching that birth, it would have seemed like any other one you might have gotten to see – and then a mother and her child, the bonding, the care. Utterly typical.

And of course, the Shepherds were having an utterly typical, boring night, out there in their fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Oh, what a boring job – hours, days of tedium only interrupted if wolves or bears attack. Night shift shepherd was a lousy job – and there the shepherds were, the low guys on the totem pole at work, slogging along, when something utterly untypical happens. And an angel of the LORD appeared to them, and the glory of the LORD shone around them, and they were filled with fear. We don't understand how fearful this would have been – we love angels – we have angels all over the place, on our tree tops. The Angels were the mighty warriors of God – and normally if they showed up, if you saw them, it meant you were dead meat. Even today if the mobster says that he'll “send you to the angels” that means you're dead. But more than that – there's the glory of the LORD – the awesome presence of God that people couldn't abide in the Old Testament – the glory that departed Israel over 600 years early – even Moses was fearful in that glory cloud – and these are just humdrum shepherd... of course, Moses had been just a humdrum shepherd when God appeared to him at the burning bush. An awesome, fearful thing – would have terrified any of us.

And yet, this most terrifying, fearful thing ever - “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Don't be afraid – it's good news I bring. It's gospel – it's life and salvation and joy and wonder for all people. Why? Because on this seemingly utterly typical night, the most wondrous event in all creation heretofore has taken place. All the promises of the Old Testament – the promise of God to be with His people, to come to be their Savior – well - “For unto you” - to you, for your good shepherds – is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the LORD. God Himself has been born. That typical baby boy is also in fact God Almighty – God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God. And how will you know Him? Not because He's glowing, not because there are Angels singing to Him – we'll sing here in a moment, because this really is cool and we angels have been waiting to see this play out – but this will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manager. Yeah, it's that normal looking Kid – the one in the barn. You'll see Him. But before you go, there's a choir piece. And the angelic armies – that's what a heavenly host is, an army – this angelic army sheathes their flaming swords and breaks out into a song of joy and peace and salvation. Utterly astonishing – most wondrous than we normally take it for.

And the shepherds go and see, and they tell Joseph and Mary about the angels, and Mary is left there to treasure this all up in her heart – because this had to be a ton to take in. And the shepherds glorified God and praised Him – and then life went on. And that boy, Jesus, grew in wisdom and stature, and lived perfectly for us, and fulfilled the Law of God for us, and in order to be our Savior, He went to the Cross and died and rose, and what the Angels had proclaimed to the shepherds was fulfilled and true. The Savior had come, and Salvation was won.

There is, in reality, nothing more mind blowingly awesome than how our God wins us salvation. He becomes man, and He suffers, and He dies. This is heady stuff, this is the sort of thing that befuddles the brightest and most brilliant of people, that still causes our heads to spin if with think about it too much. God Himself wins forgiveness! Jesus wins everlasting life. The powers of hell and death and Satan are undone by this little Child born in Bethlehem.

And yet this, the wonder of the ages, a mystery so profound that angels break out into song over it – it comes to each of us here, my dear friends, in such simple, typical, normal ways. This salvation that Jesus won – you don't have to go on some long dangerous trip for it (although if you've traveled back home for Christmas, we're glad you're here). This salvation is not some costly thing for us where we must slave and save our lives away to earn it – oh it cost Jesus but for us, it is free. And it is given out to us and to our brothers and sisters in faith all around the globe in hundreds of thousands of Churches in the most simple ways. The Good News the angels sang is still proclaimed – Christ Jesus has come and won you salvation. The gift of Baptism, where you are joined to this Christ Child and given all that He has – and you don't need a golden font or frankincense to pull this off – just simple water and Jesus' Word. The Lord's Supper, where this same Jesus who was born on Christmas comes to you and gives you His true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins – and all that is needed is again simple bread and wine and Jesus' own Word.

And why all this? Because the mystery of the ages is this – that God Himself came down from heaven, and now salvation is freely open and given to all, in the most simple, commonplace ways. Wherever there are people – there will be water, there will be bread and wine, there will be someone to speak the Word. Because this Jesus is for all, even for us here today. Therefore, in the Name of the Christ child, born for you, a most hearty and profound and yet typical and normal Merry Christmas! In the Name of Christ Jesus, our New Born King +

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Being Busy and Pausing

I find that the busier I am, the more I am aware of the need (and benefit) of study and meditation - be it from the pause for daily devotions or from gathering with other Pastors and discussing (going to a place where I will hear, not simply teach). It is when I am busy and running around and worn - especially when I am busy with multiple sermons and services bouncing around my head - that pause to be in the Word - to be a hearer is such a wonderful benefit.

The worst trick Satan has played upon us is the idea that we become too busy to pause and be hearers of the Word. Instead we become worn and worn and yet even more worn. Our work becomes more onerous. And we become slower and slower. . . and the work seems to pile even higher and higher (so of course we have less time for worship).

The Word of God refreshes. The Gospel gives joy. The Supper strengthens.

Sometimes we as Lutherans. . . okay. . . most of the time we as Lutheran shy away from speaking of the emotional benefits of worship and the Word -- and this is because we don't like making absolutes about emotions - we don't just say, "Worship should make you happy." Hearing the Word will not always make one happy (if you are content with your sin, it most certainly won't!).

But when you are weak, when you are heavy laden, when you are seeing the toil and wear of the world -- you are seeing Law, and the counter for that is Gospel, and the Gospel brings with it joy and refreshment and wonder. And not only the Gospel, but the joy it brings, is a good thing.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Pastor's Temptation

"I thought I could train him as well as Yoda. I was wrong." - Obi Wan Kenobi.

So, what is the Pastor's temptation? No, it's not being deluded into thinking that we are Jedi (although I did take to asking folks at the Seminary when we would be getting our lightsabers whenever I saw someone in a cassock - respectful as always) - it's a tendency to believe that we could do a better job than ___________ whenever we hear about something another Pastor does.

It doesn't matter whether we are right or not - the simple fact that so often this is the idea we have is what is disturbing and wrong. And partially this comes up because if you are a theologian you are trained to do analysis - to observe and pick apart people's actions on the basis of the Word of God. That's what preaching direct Law is - according to the Word of God, this is bad. Period. Or then there is even the giving of advice - putting the Law into practice. You might want to consider doing _________. That can be good and fine too. Hopefully, if you are a pastor you have given good advice, and if you are of the laity you have received good advice from your Pastor.

That is fine. . . the danger comes in when the analysis is done and Ego kicks in. When instead of simply saying, "This should not be done, rather one should do that" - we think, "We'll, I'd never have done it that way. . . ." Even if the thought it completely true. . . why should I be involved in an attempt to elevate myself over another?

Pastors need to learn humility, to break down their ego, to not elevate themselves. That way, when they are bold, it is bluntly clear and obvious that they aren't being bold because they are offended, because they are arrogant, because they are "Lording it over people" (which all too often is just an excuse given when a pastor says that you are wrong - but if you show ego other times, it becomes more believable) - rather, the boldness is when the Word of God is drawn into question.

I'm not adamant about Closed Communion because I'm a control freak. It's in God's Word.
I'm not adamant about the Liturgy because I am awesome. It's about the Word.
I'm not adamant on issues X because you've been rude to me in the past. It's about the Word.

People will try to circumvent the Word we say. If we act with arrogance, they will be able to slough off the Word. If we don't control everything, when we step in and say, "No, this cannot be done that way, it must be done this way instead" - the Word shines forth instead of us.

God grant that I learn to be humble - to be silent where the Word is silent and a clarion call where the Word is clear - to ignore those flippant attacks on me and to be instead quick to defend my neighbor! Lord have mercy!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Advent 2 Sermon

Advent 2 – December 7th and 8th, 2019 – Luke 21:25-36

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +
I tend to like a lot of heroic movies, the classics, stories where you have the damsel in distress trapped, hidden away by the evil villain, but then the hero comes and storms the castle and rescues her. Just fun types of stories – and there’s always a moment that stands out in each – where the villain is threatening the damsel in distress – but then they both hear noise. And at that moment, there is joy and wonderment upon the damsel – she knows the hero has come. The fear and terror melt away from her face, and she looks up with hope and gladness. This same set up is precisely what Christ Jesus our Lord is describing in our Gospel lesson today. We were captives, fast bound in Satan’s chains, we were spiritual damsels in distress, as it were. But what happens? Christ Jesus, our King, our hero comes, and He comes to rescue us. Just as He came to win us salvation with His first advent, so too He shall come again to bring us unto His own side for all eternity. Listen.

“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 the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” The world should have known what was coming. Whenever Jesus does something awesome, the world is shaken. Consider Christ’s birth – what do we see? Signs in the stars – behold the Wise men have seen it. Distress of nations – you have Herod freaking out, and all Jerusalem terrified with him. Jesus is coming – the signs are clear. And then, when our Lord was crucified, what do you have? Signs in the heavens – the sun is blotted out and the day turns to darkness. You have fear and foreboding – the mighty Centurion falls to his knees and confesses “Surely this was the Son of God.” Christ once came, and He was crucified, He destroyed sin and death. And He shall come again. This season of Advent is not just a time looking forward to our celebrations of His first coming, but it is the time where we also focus on His second coming – “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Christ the Crucified, God become Man for us men and for our salvation, shall return. And what is our response? “Now, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

We Christians just don’t act or think like the rest of the world. We see signs in the world, reminders that this is a fallen place, that it will not go on forever. Perplexities, violence, terror, weather run amuck – and while we sorrow and grieve for those impacted, we do not give into to utter terror and fear. Why? When you see the news, when you scroll through your feeds – straighten up and raise your head – it’s all just a reminder that your redemption is drawing near. It’s all just a reminder that while this world is a fallen, sinful place, Christ Jesus your Lord and King has promised to return and to rescue you.

And no, I’m not exaggerating, I’m not blowing things out of proportion. Listen. “And He told them 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.’” It is obvious, as obvious as the coming of the summer. There are leaves on the trees again, I guess it is going to be getting warmer. There is still trouble and chaos in the world – I guess Christ Jesus will be coming. As Christians, everything we see in the world, all the tragedy, all the sorrow, all the pain – it all should be a reminder, it should all point us and drive us to remember that Christ Jesus, our Redeemer, shall come again. You see, this is how and why we rejoice in our suffering, as we are told over and over again in the New Testament. This is why those who mourn are called blessed. Not because suffering is fun, not because we like mourning – but because Christ Jesus has come to you, made you His own in Holy Baptism, given you life in Him – and all this trouble, all this sorrow, all this pain… it reminds you that this life isn’t all there is – that this world isn’t as good as it gets. You have more – not more now, not some secret bible code to double your income in 2020 – no, because of Christ you have life in the world to come where there is no sorrow, you have a resurrection that will undo all mourning. When you see the suffering and sorrow in your life, it is a reminder that Christ shall come and put an end to that suffering and sorrow and bring you to His side. When you hear of wars, that is a reminder that the Prince of Peace shall come and put an end to all strife. When you hear of the earth falling apart, that is a reminder that He shall come again and make a new heavens and a new earth. When you feel your own body falling apart, breaking down – that is a reminder that when He comes you will be raised and have a new and glorious Body that is like His. This is how we see the world.

Before we move on to the end of a passage, a brief note in passing. Jesus says, “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.” Sometimes this verse can cause some consternation – Jesus said that that generation would not pass – well they are gone and where is the second coming! Part of this is because our text jumps in the middle of the speech. Christ has talked about many things, about the destruction of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple – indeed, things that many there lived to see. But what it really boils down to is this – everything gets done and wrapped up when our Lord is Crucified. What does our Lord proclaim – IT IS FINISHED. It’s all accomplished, it all has taken place. The sin of the world is atoned for, death is swallowed up in death. Everything is done – now we are just waiting for the passing away of heaven and earth so that we can get the new one, the new one promised by His Words which do not pass away. It is all finished.

But Satan tries hard to make us forget this. Satan tries hard to rob us of the comfort we have in Christ. Instead of seeing all these things as signs and reminders of Christ Jesus and His promises to you, Satan will try to use this world to distract and terrorize you, to rob you of your comfort in Christ. Listen. “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with the dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you like a trap.” This actually is one of my favorite verses – it is just dense and drives to things. Satan will try to trip you up, he will try to mess you up, he will attack you in three ways. He will attack you with dissipation. Well great Pastor, if we knew what in tarnation “dissipation” was we would take the warning to heart. It is the running around after stuff, after things, after riches and spreading yourself thin and dissipating like a mist in the morning. It’s the frantic worrying of trying to do everything and trying to get everything just right and keep up with the Jones’s. So yes – this Advent season, do not be frantic trying to do everything, to make the gifts and dinners and such be just so perfect and wonderful. Why? They won’t be – we live in a fallen world, things will go wrong. And this isn’t me being a Bah Humbug Scrooge – no, simply this. Don’t dissipate, don’t run around so frantic worrying about everything and spread yourself so thin that you are robbed of joy and comfort. You are blessed, and when you see things get messed up, remember that in Christ you have more blessing to come – even if you burn the cookies or so and so doesn’t really like their gift. Life is more than this.

And then there is the warning against drunkenness – another temptation that we can face when confronted with the world. Instead of trying to perfect everything, we can just want to tune everything out – be it getting blottoed or be it what ever other forms of escapism that we might like – diving into work, into drugs, into hobbies or whatever. We can be tempted to flee from the trials of life. No, that’s not the way – because again, those trials remind us of what is to come, point us forward to Christ and His return – and we still have neighbors to love, that need us.

And then of course, the cares of this life – where we see trial and trouble and we get so focused on how they aren’t going to be fixed now that we despair. The simple, blunt, honest truth is that in this life, some things are never going to be fixed. Just the way it is. That sorrow – a piece of it will still hang with you, even as you get used to it. The body that’s failing – well, even medicine only goes so far. Heartache, pain, suffering – they are going to be around us always. Fears and troubles and tribulations – Satan will send those your way in spades, because you are a Christian, and he will attack you. He wants these to overwhelm you – do not let him, do not listen to the prince of lies – rather remember what Christ Jesus has promised you. He is with you, and you will endure in Him, even until He comes again. That is His promise to you – don’t let Satan lead you astray.
“But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Again, one final bit of comfort. Pray that you may have strength to escape – let me ask you one thing? Where does your strength come from? Where does your escape come from? Is this a matter of you having to become spiritually buff and clawing your way out? Do you have to take the spoon of super-holy good works and dig your way to freedom? No, the Son of Man will come with… power and great glory. He is your strength, He is your hope, He is your escape. That’s why you pray – because it’s God’s strength that He gives to you. The simple fact is that one day, you will stand before the Son of Man – and how will you stand? Not on the merit or basis of what you are and have done – but you will stand as His own beloved whom He has come to rescue, whom He has sacrificed all for, whom He has come to give the new heavens and the new earth to. You will stand because He will raise you. Your King, your Champion is coming – keep your eyes open, be awake, do not worry about the rantings and the ravings of that villainous snake – do you hear the sounds of trouble and strife in this world, do you see the toil and fighting? Satan’s kingdom is crashing down around Him, and your Lord and Savior is coming to you, to pull you out of Satan’s kingdom unto His own. Straighten up, lift up your head – lift up your hearts – your redemption is drawing nigh. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +