Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols 2021. The Sign of the Manger

January 14, 2022 Leave a comment

Christmas Eve—Lessons and Carols

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:1-20

December 24, 2021

The Sign of the Manger

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

It is not every day you find a baby lying in a hay trough for his crib.  It’s not common today; nor was it then.  To see such a thing is strange, out of place.

The angel says to the frightened shepherds:

My message of good news of great joy for all the people, that the Messiah has come, that He is God in the flesh, is not a figment of your imaginations.  It is God’s message to the world.  You will know this when you see this strange sight, an infant in a crib used to feed animals.

After the angels disappeared into heaven, the shepherds went into town.  How many barns did they peek into, looking for a baby?  When they found Him, they said: See, it was not a dream or a hallucination.  The Messiah has come.  The Lord has come in the flesh.  There is the sign.  He is wrapped up in baby clothes, lying in the manger, with His mother and her husband standing by.

Sometimes God gives glorious signs—pillars of fire, rainbows.  But this is a sign of poverty and humiliation.  You want a clean place to lay your firstborn child to sleep.  It doesn’t have to be made of gold or rare wood, but you don’t want to put your baby where animals eat.  You do that only because you have no other choice.

Mary has no other choice.  And the Lord, the Son of God, has joined us in our state of having no other choice.  He has come to be with us who are not free lords, able to do as we please, but slaves, driven to suffer what we do not want. 

The readings told us about this state we are in.  Although we try our best to live happy, fulfilling lives, we are under God’s curse.  The ground is cursed; we have painful toil to survive, and our work produces thistles and thorns. 

Then we return to the dust, we die.  We are under God’s curse because of sin.  We are not free lords who can do whatever we want.  We are in poverty and have to suffer what we would not.  We suffer anguish and futility in work, in our family life.  And then, whether we are willing or not, we must die because of our sin. 

But now the Lord has given you a sign.  A Savior has been born, Christ the Lord.  The sign is the baby lying in the manger.

He has come to be with us who have no choice.

He was free and glorious.  Now He is an infant who has to be carried and who is bound up with swaddling cloths.

He lived in unutterable, eternal glory, but now He has entered into our poverty and subjection.  That is what the sign means.  A baby in great poverty, in the greatest subjection.  We are under God’s curse, but even we provide better for our babies, by God’s kindness.  But He provided nothing but poverty for Himself from the moment He entered the world.

He did that to show you that you are not alone with your curse.  You are not abandoned to it.  You no longer have to try to escape it and pretend it isn’t there.  Christ the Lord has come to be with you under the futility and pain, the poverty and shame, the sin and death whose power you cannot break.  He has come to make you free, to bring all His power and glory into your fallen flesh and blood.

Sometimes we are around people who seem to be very holy.  They know the Scriptures and seem to have avoided sin better than we have.  And sometimes we are afraid of people like this.  Will they judge me?  Will they look down on me if they know what I have done?  Or instead we may resent them because they seem high and mighty.

The Son of God really is high and mighty and holy.  But He comes down into the lowest poverty and humility so that you will not shy away from Him or be afraid of Him.  He is not a stranger to your sin, curse, shame, or to the pain and difficulty of death that comes because of sin.  He came down from heaven and shares your burden.  He says: Don’t be afraid.  I have come to make you free.  Don’t try to escape the curse by denying it is there or by trying to overcome it by your own talents and will.  I have come to bear the curse for you.

Jesus lying in the manger is the sign that the Gospel is not a delusion, a story we tell ourselves to try to make ourselves feel better.  It is the sign that He is with us under the curse we cannot take away.  As we draw near to the baby in the manger and believe He was born for us, there, in Him, the curse is ended.  Even in this cursed world, at the manger we enter Paradise by faith.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Advent 4 Vespers: The Lord Has Done Great Things For Us

January 14, 2022 Leave a comment

Advent Vespers 4

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Luke 1:39-55

December 22, 2021

The Lord Has Done Great Things For us

Jesu juva!

1.

A voice crying in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord.

John the Baptist, locusts and wild honey in his mouth, crying: The axe is at the root of the trees! 

The angel Gabriel visiting a virgin named Mary, telling her, You will conceive and bear a son, and call His name Jesus. 

And now the young mother goes to visit her cousin.  When she says: “Peace” or “Joy” to Elizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy.  And Elizabeth cries out with a loud voice: How am I so blessed, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?

How blessed Adam and Eve were, that the Lord visited them in the afternoon or evening, and forgave their sins, promising the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent!

And the people of Israel were blessed when the Lord visited them in Egypt and delivered them from slavery, and went with them in the wilderness in a pillar of cloud and fire.  And He lived among them in a tent.  He remained with them, even though they were sinful and provoked Him.

But none of those visits of the Lord compared with the one Elizabeth received.  To her the Lord came not in a human form, or in fire or smoke, or in a tent.  He came to her in flesh and blood, a human like her, carried in the body of her cousin.

Throughout the Old Testament people doubted the Lord’s coming.  Gideon complained that he had heard all that the Lord did for Israel in the days of Moses, but He seemed to have forgotten all about them in his day. 

We have also thought this way, and it is a foolish way to think.  The Lord was always coming.  And in the fullness of time He came so near to us that everyone was shocked.  He came so near that He became a human being, an infant carried by His mother.

And if He has come as near to us as that, He cannot now forget us and leave us alone.  He is coming to complete His work and bring us even nearer, into the glory of His Father.  And He comes near to each one of us in this life and does great things for us, just as He did to Elizabeth and Mary.  He visits us in His own flesh and blood, with might to save us.

But why do we not perceive Him?  Why often does it seem we are all alone in life, with our fears, with our sins, and our boredom?

Partly because our attitude is different than Elizabeth’s and Mary’s.  Hear what Elizabeth says: Whence is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 

She doesn’t say, “This is Mary, my young cousin.  I am older and much more wise than she is.  I am the wife of a priest.  She is a fourteen year old girl.”  She says: this little girl is the mother of my Lord.  I don’t understand how that could be, but I am not going to be prideful and look upon her lowliness.  I am going to see the Lord who comes to me in her womb.

Not only this, but Elizabeth says, “Why should the mother of my Lord come to me?”  Not only does she acknowledge Mary as the mother of God, she says, “I am not worthy to have my Lord or her mother come to me.”

That is the truth.  We don’t deserve to have the Lord visit us, except in wrath and judgment.  But He comes to us as our brother, joining His unspeakable greatness and glory to our flesh and blood.  And then He is pleased to come to us in the mouth of a sinful preacher, in bread and wine, in water.

And because He comes so near to us, so often, we forget to say, “Who am I, that my Lord should come to me?”

The other reason we do not recognize the Lord’s coming to do great things for us is that we doubt His Word.  Elizabeth says, I am not worthy to be visited by my Lord and His mother.  I am not worthy to be visited by the seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head, and the woman, the new Eve who bears Him.  And if Mary had thought about it, she could also have said, “Who am I, that I should be the mother of the Lord?” 

But she did not say that.  She said, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me according to your word.”

Elizabeth says to her: Blessed is she who believed there would be a completion of the things spoken to her by the Lord.  Mary is a daughter of Abraham.  The Lord told her He would do a great thing to her.  He would become a man and save the human race by entering her womb and becoming a man. 

Mary did not go back and forth thinking that this could not be possible, that He must have meant someone else.  She said, Let it be according to the Lord’s Word.

The Lord Jesus says, ‘I am with you always to the end of the age.”  He says, “This is my body, which is for you.”  He says that all who are baptized into Him have put Him on.  We should not waver or doubt or let ourselves be depressed and believe that the Lord Jesus is far away from us.  We should rouse ourselves to follow Mary’s example and cling to His Word.  The Lord says He is coming soon, but also that He visits us now and does great things for us, just as He visited Adam and Eve in their need, and Israel in slavery, and Mary and Elizabeth in their low estate.

It is true that we do not deserve to have Him visit us.  But this is the kind of Lord we have.  Precisely because we are low, needy, and undeserving, He comes to us so that we may leap with joy and magnify His goodness.

2.

The Lord has come.  John the Baptist, still in the womb, leaps for joy at His hidden presence.  And Mary sings her famous song, the Magnificat, which is the song of the Church, every evening.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my  spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

Because He has looked on the humiliation of His handmaiden,

For behold, from now on all generations will call me happy.

For the mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.

What great things did the Lord do for Mary?

He made Mary the mother of God.  The child that she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit while still a virgin was called and is God.  God the Son joined to Himself a human nature so that there is no part of His divinity that is separate from His human nature.  All of the fullness of God was in her womb.

God gives many gifts to human beings.  Some people He makes smart.  Some He makes beautiful.  Others He makes great leaders.

To Mary He gave a much greater gift.  He did not make her a genius or a fashion model or the Empress of the Roman Empire.  He gave her the gift of  carrying the Son of God in her womb, bearing Him, nursing Him, teaching Him, and caring for Him during His life and His death. 

This gift came with great pain, because she had to see Her Son that she carried in her womb, carry the sins of the world and the death of all men.

The great honor God gave her came with great pain.  But as He always does, He did not honor Mary for herself alone.  She was honored in that she was given a work of service to perform for others.  Her service was not only to care for her Son, but to bear a Son who would save all people.

3. 

But the Lord did not only do great things for Mary.  He has done great things for us and continues to do them.

And His mercy is to generation after generation of those fearing Him.  He has done might with His arm.  He has scattered the arrogant in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has pulled down rulers from their thrones and exalted the humble.

She does not say that the Lord is going to do this when the child in her womb gets older.  He has already done it. 

His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear Him.  The Lord does not forsake any of those who fear Him, who believe in Him, hear His word, and keep His commandments.  He showed mercy even to fallen Adam and Eve; He showed mercy to Jacob’s descendants in Egypt; He showed mercy to the believers in Israel.  He showed mercy to Mary and Elizabeth and the faithful ones in Israel who were waiting for consolation. 

The same Lord shows mercy to those who fear Him in this generation, and does great things to us.

What great things does He do to us?

He has already shown His great might.  In His omnipotent power He joined the Godhead to flesh and blood like ours.  In His might He caused the virgin to conceive so that you and I would have a new birth.  Our old conception in sin is covered by this pure and holy conception of Jesus.

When Jesus was conceived in the virgin’s womb, the Lord fulfilled all His promises going back to Adam and Eve.

You and I were dead in our trespasses and sins.  We were wretched, living under the curse of the fall, with our shame and condemnation.  We were born in sin, to work in futility and to give birth in pain, and then to return to the dust from which we were taken.  This is why St. Paul says about the burial of our bodies: “It is sown in dishonor.” (1 Cor. 15:43)  We grow old and die and when we are buried we return to dust.  This is the dishonor and shame we bear because of sin.  We live a little while, and then the wind blows over us, and our place remembers us no more.

But now God, the living God, the Creator, has entered the virgin’s womb.  He has entered our flesh and blood.  And He has lifted up the wretched and lowly, those doomed to die.

He is conceived without the stain of sin.  New, clean, righteous, pure, holy.

His conception is for you.  It stands for you before God.  And if you believe it, then you are new and clean.  You are born anew before God.  His birth and His life and death are all yours before God.

The Lord has done great things for you.  He has given you a new life and exalted you, and this old life of dishonor, sin and death, He has replaced.

And this is what He comes into this Church to visit you with and give you.  His holy and spotless body and His cleansing blood.  God’s pledge that the life of Mary’s Son is yours.

Who are we that our Lord should visit us?  Yet He does.  The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Advent 4, 2022. Knowing And Confessing the New Man

January 14, 2022 Leave a comment

Rorate Coeli, The Fourth Sunday in Advent

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. John 1:19-28

December 19, 2021

Knowing and Confessing the New Man

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

Once upon a time, a pastor was preaching a series of sermons through the book of Exodus.  Not a Lutheran pastor, but a non-denominational pastor. 

One of his sermons had to do with God’s word to Moses from the burning bush: I have come down to deliver them…and to bring them up…into a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:8). 

In that church the practice was to have bread and grape juice or wine every Sunday in remembrance of the death of Jesus.  But this Sunday the pastor said they would do something different.  Instead of bread or wine in the cup, there would be milk and honey.  And as the members of the church took their bread and dipped it into the milk and honey, they could remember how Jesus has promised to bring us into our good inheritance in the Kingdom of His Father, where we will live forever.

Now if you approach this ritual instituted by the pastor by human reason alone, it might not seem like such a bad thing.  To the people in the church, it was very moving.  It made them think about heaven and it made them feel comforted.

But if you look at this practice of the pastor through God’s Word, you realize he committed a very grave sin against Christ, although he might not have known what he was doing.  The Lord’s Supper that he set aside that Sunday was not instituted by a mere man, but by God in our flesh and blood, Jesus Christ.  And He did it so that we might not just have a thing that we do to remember that He died for us.  In the supper He give us His true body and blood, given and shed for us on the cross to redeem us.  And with His body and blood He gives us not a symbol of heaven, but a foretaste of the good inheritance that is ours in heaven.  Because when we eat and drink His body and blood in faith in His promise, we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

So the appropriate question for someone to have asked this pastor would have been, “By what authority are you instituting this new ritual of eating bread, milk, and honey, and setting aside the institution of Christ?”  And the answer would have been—by his own authority. 

But the reality is this is already being done in every church that denies that Jesus’ true body and blood are present in the bread and wine, as He says.  When they deny this, they turn His supper into a pantomime where we remember Jesus using symbols, instead of what He instituted, where He gives us His saving body and blood.  It’s true that many of these churches do it in ignorance, without realizing what they are doing, but they still do it.  They create a ritual of their own, apart from God’s institution, by their own authority.

The reason for talking to you about this this morning is that this is just what the Pharisees who come to John are asking about his baptism.  They want to know: who are you to say that all Israel needs to be immersed or washed for the forgiveness of sins?  Are you Elijah, whom the prophet Malachi said would come before the Messiah?  Are you the prophet like Moses that the Lord said He would raise up?

And if you are none of these people, by what authority do you institute this baptism?

John’s answer is simple.  My baptism is with water, just water.  But in your midst is One who is so great I am not worthy to untie His sandal.  And you do not know who He is.

John’s baptism and his whole ministry is to point out that great One who is in their midst, whom they do not know. 

2.

Why do the Jews send these priests and Levites out to John to find out who he is in the first place?  Do they want to hear John’s message, repent of their sins, be baptized, believe in the One who is in their midst?

No.  Do they ask John any questions that would lead you to think that is what they are after?  No.  They just want to know who John says he is.  They want to know John’s credentials, not his message.

The reason they want to know is that all the people think John is a prophet.  Great crowds are going out to be baptized by John.  John is starting to look like he has more influence and authority than the leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem. 

So they send these messengers to find out who John says he is.  If John is too big for them to stop, maybe they can hire him, and harness his influence for themselves.

But the evangelist says that John didn’t fall for it.  When the Jews sent priests and Levites…to ask him, “Who are you?” [John] confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”  (John 1:20) 

This is a strange kind of confession.  In the Bible and in Christianity, there are two types of confession.  The first is confession of sins, when you acknowledge your sins to God.  The other is confession of faith.  It is to acknowledge God, like we do when we confess the Nicene Creed.  But when we confess the faith in this way, we usually say, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord, in the Holy Spirit.”

Not: “I am not the Christ.”

But to confess the true God is to deny yourself.  To believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not merely to acknowledge that He exists, but to say, “He is my God and Savior.”  And if you confess that with your lips, then you will also be tested to see whether it is not only the faith of your lips but also your heart.

That’s why Peter, after confessing Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, was later asked by a servant girl in the courtyard of the high priest if Peter had been with Jesus.  Peter was willing to confess Jesus as God’s Son.  But when Jesus was about to be crucified he was not willing to confess Him.  Peter denied Him, because otherwise Peter would have had to deny himself.  He would likely have had to die with Jesus on the cross as a blasphemer.  And later in life Peter did just that.

In our Gospel reading, John denies himself.  He says, “I am not the Christ.”  He also denies being the prophet and Elijah.  It would have been easy for him to claim to be somebody.  Then he might have had the leaders of the Jews on his side, but he would have been denying Jesus.

Instead John only points to Jesus.  Later people stop paying attention to him and go to Jesus, and he tells his disciples that this makes him happy.  He must increase but I must decrease.  (John 3:30)  After that John is finally arrested and put to death.  John denies himself and confesses Jesus.

On the other hand, the leaders in Jerusalem are not willing to deny themselves.  It doesn’t even cross their minds, apparently, that they would listen to John’s message.  As a result, they remain ignorant of the great One who is in their midst whose sandals John is not worthy to untie.  They can’t see or recognize Him because they are too busy confessing themselves, seeking themselves, trying to keep their places in this world.

That is the way you and I are in the flesh too.  If you are a Christian like Peter, you believe that Jesus is the Christ and you confess Him.  But your flesh is weak even though your spirit is willing.  Your flesh is tempted to deny Jesus in order to avoid confessing Him by suffering with Him, by losing your life with Him.

The first commandment is: You shall have no other gods.  This means: We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  It means that we should not only confess the Triune God with our lips.  We should be more afraid of Him than what man can do to us, than what people say about us.  We should trust Him even though He slay us, even though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the depths of the sea.  We should love Him more than we love our lives, more than our husband or wife, children, possessions. 

But our old self, our old man, does not.  It is self-seeking, and moves us to deny the Triune God and seek ourselves, so that we do not know the One John proclaimed, who is in our midst.

3.

You were taught to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and …to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  (Eph. 4:22-24)

So says St. Paul in Ephesians 4.  It sounds so good and simple.  If only I could just put off this old, self-seeking self!  And not be like Peter, but be like John!

But John is pointing out the “new self” to us.  What Paul actually says, literally, is not “new self” but “new man.”  John the Baptist came baptizing with water not only to forgive sins, but to reveal the “new man.”  The Mighty One, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit, and give us a new self.

John tells the Pharisees this Mighty One is already standing among them.  They do not recognize Him, but He is in the midst of them. 

He is already in our midst too. 

We are not worthy to untie His shoes or touch His feet because He is the eternal God who made us and gave us everything we have.  Our lives, our wife and children, house and home, good name.  But this Mighty God has come near to serve us.  He has become a man in order to make the whole human race new. 

He comes to be the man who fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things.  He loves God His Father more than His own life, and He gives it up for us.  Where we have been Peter or the leaders in Jerusalem, seeking ourselves, and denying God, His blood makes atonement.  When Peter fell, what enabled him to rise again?  That Jesus was the new man.  Jesus brought Peter’s old nature to an end in His death, and raised him up a new creation, forgiven of his sins, righteous before God.  Believing this, even though Peter continued to struggle with his old self, Peter came around and confessed Jesus as he should have done on the night he was betrayed.  He faltered and did not die with Jesus on Calvary.  But years later he did die with Jesus at Rome.

Jesus is the new man who always does the Father’s will.  He loves the Father above all things.  And He is your new self.

When John baptized Him, He was revealed to Israel.  The Spirit descended on Him and remained.  The Father declared Him His beloved Son.  Jesus was baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  That means He took on your old self, your old man, with its sins.  He brought your old self, your old man to the cross and put it out of the way.

When He was baptized, the Son of God was baptized into your guilt.  But you were baptized into Him and received the Holy Spirit.  You became a new man and received a new self.  Your new self is Jesus and His perfect obedience to the Father.  That is what stands before God.  That is who you are daily rising up to become as you repent of your sins and believe in Him.

John said that He was not worthy to touch Jesus’ feet, and this is true.  Yet Jesus washes the feet of His saints.  Having given you the washing of new birth in Baptism, He washes your feet by absolving you.  Then He brings you with Him into the presence of His Father, feeding you His body and His blood.

He is in the midst of you, just as He stood in the midst of Israel at John’s Baptism.  Just as He was hidden in Israel in Mary’s womb, and then in the manger. 

He has taken your old self off of you and put it on Himself.  He was nailed to the cross with your old self.  In Baptism He gave you a new self.  You are in Him.  This is where the strength comes from to deny yourself and confess Him. 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday of Advent 3. Luke 1:26-38 Nothing Will Be Impossible With God

January 14, 2022 Leave a comment

Wednesday of Advent 3

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Luke 1:26-38

December 15, 2021

Nothing Will Be Impossible With God

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

1.

We have been hearing how the Lord’s way must be prepared. 

Centuries before Jesus came, Isaiah prophesied that a voice would cry in the wilderness to prepare the Lord’s way.  Mountains would have to be torn down and chasms filled in.  The Lord would come to His world, but a great work would be necessary for people to be ready to receive Him. 

Then we heard how John the Baptist came preaching repentance, proclaiming God’s axe laid to the root of every tree that did not produce good fruit.  He preached that One was already in their midst with a winnowing fork in His hand, to gather in His wheat, His elect, and to burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. 

Tonight we hear how the Lord came into the world.  He did not come with fire and majesty and fierce judgment, but invisibly into a virgin’s womb.  He was in the world, but no one even knew He came, except Mary, and soon enough Joseph, as he saw her belly swell with the child.

All along He had been proclaiming that He would come in this way, but hardly anyone was ready.  Yet in just such a way He comes to you in this life—unseen, invisible.  No one can prove it.  But He comes and does the seemingly impossible thing.  He gives you God’s grace and favor, where the axe of God’s judgment had been laid at your roots.  For nothing will be impossible with God.

2.

Rejoice, favored one!  The Lord is with you.  But Mary was disturbed at this word and cast around in her mind about what sort of greeting this might be.

It seems strange that Mary would be disturbed at this word.  The angel says, “Hail!  Greetings!”  But the literal meaning of the word is “Rejoice!”  He tells her to be joyful and calls her the favored one, tells her “The Lord is with you.”  But Mary is disturbed at this word that is nothing but grace; she starts trying to peek beneath the words of the angel to see what is really hiding under them.

Don’t people do this all the time?  True enough, people frequently don’t pay attention to the words of the Gospel.  Our flesh doesn’t take them seriously.  But sometimes we do hear them and then say, “What do you mean, ‘The Lord has favored me?’” 

And (N)the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, (O)“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” 13 And Gideon said to him, “Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are (P)all his wonderful deeds (Q)that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”  (Judges 6:12-13)

Mary debates, “What does he mean, the Lord is with me?  What does he mean, God has favored me?  How can that be?  Why is the Lord with me?  What did I do wrong?”

It’s one thing to confess your sins and unworthiness, but it is something else to doubt and dispute the Lord’s Word.  Remember how Moses argued with God about how he wasn’t the right man for the job, he couldn’t speak well, and so on. 

13 But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” 14 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses…

3.

But isn’t that what you do?  The Lord doesn’t just say to Mary: The Lord is with you.  You are highly favored.  He says it to you.

The Lord is with you also.  We say it in the Divine Service.  Jesus Christ the Lord is in the midst of His congregation.  He is with us in the Sacrament of His body and blood.  He is with us in the Baptismal font, and in the Word.  He dwells within the bodies of believers.

But before this He was with us in Mary’s womb.  Just as you were conceived in the womb and were corrupted by sin from the moment you were conceived.  So the Lord God was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary.  He was with you in flesh and blood, in being conceived as a human being.  And from the moment He was conceived, He was with you.  He was coming to cover the corruption of your conception and birth and give you a new birth.

So you are highly favored.  Mary was the favored one because the Lord chose her to bear Him, to raise Him.  He chose to take up flesh in her womb.  But the flesh, the humanity He took up, was not for her alone.  It wasn’t just to honor her.  It was to glorify you.  It was to make you righteous before God.

He not only favored you by becoming flesh for you and your redemption.  He favored you by sending you the message of His incarnation.

The angel told Mary, You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will call His name Jesus.  And He will reign as King over the house of Jacob forever, and His dominion will have no end.

The King Mary is going to give birth to will reign forever.  He reigns by accomplishing righteousness for human beings by His birth and death, and by giving this righteousness to us in the Gospel.  And He gives it to you now.  And this blessed Kingdom where He declares you righteous will never end.  He lives forever to declare you righteous.

4.

When Mary hears this message, she stops debating and doubting and simply asks the question: How?  I have not known a man.  That makes it a biological impossibility for me to bear a child. 

It is not a biological impossibility for you to be favored by God.  It is a legal impossibility.

God is just.  He does not play favorites.  He does not clear the guilty or punish the innocent.  The soul that sins shall die, He says in Ezekiel.  How then can you, a sinner, be favored by God? 

How can I have God’s favor when I constantly stumble and fall?  Intellectually you probably have an answer for this.  So do I.

The seminary professor who taught us Greek told us a story about his young son, under ten years old, who was attending the big Lutheran school in Fort Wayne.  He asked his young son what he learned in school that day.  His young son said he learned about the fourth commandment.  “We should love and honor our parents because God gave them to us as gifts to teach us.  So you, Dad, are in the place of God.  When you give me a command, it’s like God has given me a command for my good.”

Then the professor said, later in the night he said, “All right, it’s time for bed.”  And his young son threw a fit, threw himself on the ground, crying and yelling, “How come you always get to decide?”

He understood the fourth commandment well enough, but understanding didn’t kill his sinful nature.  So you and I may understand how we can be favored by God when we are sinners.  But in the test, it does not feel true.  It still looks impossible.  It goes against reason and sense.

Nevertheless, God’s word to Mary and His word to you is true.  “You have found favor with God.”  How can it be true?  Because the just God sent His son to be with you in the womb.  To satisfy God’s just demand that sinners be punished by being punished in your place.  To satisfy God’s demand that you be righteous by fulfilling the righteous demands of God’s Law in your place.

This Lamb is Christ, the soul’s great friend,

The Lamb of God, our Savior. 

Whom God the Father chose to send,

To gain for us His favor.

5. 

Mary asked, “How can I bear a child, since I do not know a man?”  Gabriel answered: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore also the Holy One who will be born will be called the Son of God.

At the very moment Gabriel spoke this word of God, it came to pass.  Just as God’s Word at creation did what it said and brought forth light, so as God’s word came out from the angel’s mouth, the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, and the son of God was conceived in her womb.

He was in the world, but no one saw it.  No one could feel or sense it.  Only Mary knew it, by faith.

Just so it is with you.  The Lord comes to you.  Silently and invisibly.  But audibly.  He comes in the Word that declares Him to you.

This baby that was conceived in Mary’s womb is the Lord your righteousness.  He is the covering of your sinful nature.  He is your recreation and rebirth.  He is the certainty that you will stand before God and be righteous and dwell in His Kingdom that has no end.

This baby that was conceived in Mary’s womb is the one who gives you the Father’s favor.  Who makes it so that you can boast with Abraham and Moses that you please God, that you are the chosen of the Lord.  You can be certain of that, because the Lord in Mary’s womb who shares your human nature grows up to die, even though He has no sin of His own.  He does not leave you alone in your sin.  The Lord is with you.  He is with you in the shame and the awful destruction it has wrought you and He does not leave you alone with it.  He passes through the torrents of destruction with it and brings you into freedom and life.

Nothing will be impossible with God.  The impossible is what He has always done.  From the very beginning, when the first man and woman sinned, they could see no way out.  The Lord’s word was clear—in the day you eat of it, you will surely die.  But they did not die.  They heard the Lord proclaim that the woman’s seed would bruise the serpent’s head instead. 

And Abraham heard the impossible word that his offspring would bless all the families of the earth.  But his wife’s womb was dead, and his body was as good as dead.

And you and I are dead in our trespasses and sins.  But nothing will be impossible with God. 

The Lord’s word comes and declares that the Son of God is with you.  He has won God’s favor for you and carried your sins.  And just as the word of the angel caused Mary to conceive, so the word of the Lord tonight brings Jesus Christ to you, and with Him God’s favor and eternal life.

6.

Mary said, “I am the handmaiden of the Lord.  May it be to me according to your word.” 

So we say.  Let the Lord’s word be true.  Let God be true and every man a liar.  Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us.

Amen.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Advent 3, 2021. The Last Prophet and the Servants of the King

December 15, 2021 Leave a comment

Gaudete, the Third Sunday in Advent

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 11:2-10

December 12, 2021

The Last Prophet and the Servants of the King

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

1.

The momentum of the spiritual movement that began with John seemed to have run its course. 

John was in prison, and even though he had borne witness to Jesus, his disciples had reservations.  He sent them to Jesus to ask if Jesus really was the Christ they were expecting.

And when John’s disciples leave, Jesus turns to the crowd.  “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?”  He asks them because they seem to have forgotten.  The spiritual fervor and energy that drove them into the wilderness to hear John preach, to confess their sins, and be baptized by him, was waning. 

“You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth,” Jesus said of John in another place.  “Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I mention it that you may be saved.  He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice in his light for awhile.”  (John 5:34-35)

For awhile the crowds were willing to listen to John.  When people hear God’s Word, sometimes they receive it with joy, for a time.  Then tribulation and persecution comes, and they fall away.  Others hear God’s Word, but allow it to be choked by the thorns of earthly worries and delight in riches.  This is what happened among many or most of those who heard John’s preaching that God’s Kingdom was imminent and went out to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.

So Jesus reminds them what they went out into the desert to see.

Did you go out to see a reed shaken by the wind?  Did you go out to listen to a man who would blow this way and that, who would change his message depending on what was popular, depending on whether or not the authorities would put you in prison if you preached it? 

Of course they did not.  There are some preachers and churches that seem to prosper for awhile when they are “blown about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).  But at least as often churches that blow in the wind and preach whatever is acceptable to the majority, or to the people in power, have a dwindling number of hearers.  People don’t generally listen to “a reed shaken by the wind.”  Not for long, anyway.  People may be afraid of the truth and fight against it when it condemns them.  Yet as John the Baptist’s example shows, the truth compels people.  It is a rare thing in our world for someone to preach the truth, come what may, whatever the cost.

John was such a man.  That was why he was in prison. 

He told Herod the King that it was unlawful for him to have his brother’s wife.  But John preached this way to everyone.  He told the Pharisees and Sadducees that they were a brood of vipers, sons of the devil.  He told all the crowds that they must bear fruit worthy of repentance or they would be cut down and thrown into the everlasting fire.  When you heard John, you knew he would tell you what God said even if you fought against him and inflicted pain on him.  That is a mark of a prophet.

Jesus continued to remind the crowd who John was, whom they had gone out to see.  “What did you go out to see?  A man dressed in soft clothes?  Behold, those who wear soft clothes are in king’s houses.”  (Matt. 11:8)

Jesus isn’t saying kings are bad or that they shouldn’t wear soft clothes.  A king may wear fine clothes because it is necessary for him to have worldly grandeur in order to do the work God has given him.  Imagine if our President or Senators wore clothing from Goodwill!  It would not be fitting.

Kings and rulers may wear soft clothes or expensive clothes.  But if they want to live soft lives, that is the sin.  A king or a ruler is not put in his position to live a soft life.  He is in a position of authority in order to make hard decisions, in order to uphold justice and order for the people under his authority.  He can’t do that and have a soft life.  Pontius Pilate wanted to make things easy on himself as governor.  He knew if he condemned Jesus he would prevent the leaders of the Jews from causing a riot.  So he gave Jesus over to be crucified.  It isn’t soft clothes that makes a person guilty, but when you want to live a soft and easy life instead of serving God and your neighbor, that brings condemnation.

But Jesus reminds the crowds—when you went out to see John, you weren’t going out to see a man in soft clothes.  You weren’t going out to see an earthly ruler or the servant of an earthly ruler.  You weren’t going out to see a man dressed in Brooks Brothers or Versace or whatever.  You weren’t going out to see a man who governs this earth or gives advice on how to govern.  And you certainly weren’t going out to see a man who would live a soft and easy life.

What did you go out to see?  A prophet.  You went out to see a man who proclaimed the divine Word. 

You went out to hear a man who proclaimed the holy and righteous law of God and who called sinners to repent before the judgment of God came down on them.  That’s what the prophets did of old, from Moses to Malachi.

They also proclaimed the gracious promise of God.  They proclaimed hope to the sinners in Israel, that the Lord would send the Messiah, the King of Israel.  He would govern Israel in righteousness.  He would establish and accomplish justice in the world.  And because He would bring about righteousness on earth, all the curse of sin would disappear.  Sickness would be healed.  War would end, death would be no more. 

This is what a prophet does, Jesus says.  He proclaims God’s uncompromising law and His impending wrath and judgment.  He does this even though to proclaim it brings suffering and even death to himself.  But at the same time a prophet brings God’s true comfort.  Human beings since the fall into sin have tried to avoid confessing their sin and accepting God’s punishment.  We have invented our own comfort, our own excuses.  A prophet proclaims true comfort, the comfort of God to condemned sinners. 

That’s what you went out into the desert to see, Jesus reminds the crowds.  A prophet. 

But actually more than a prophet.

All the prophets in the Old Testament proclaimed a comfort in the distant future.

But this prophet, John, is more than that.  He is the messenger who goes before the Lord to prepare His way.  He is the herald of the Messiah who the prophets had been promising for centuries.

That means the hope of Israel is here, says Jesus.  The king who would establish righteousness in Israel and would reign over the whole earth in righteousness is here.  Because His kingdom is here, death is destroyed.  Human beings are made whole.  The poor have good news preached to them.  Those who are poor before God, who are paupers before Him, will hear the good news that they are rich.  Sinners will hear that they are declared righteous before God.

That is who you went out to see in the desert.  A prophet, but even greater than a prophet.  The one who prepares you for the Lord of Hosts in the flesh, and for His kingdom, whom you have been awaiting for centuries.

2.

What does this mean for us this morning?  John had his head cut off 2000 years ago.

It means in a certain sense, that the time of prophets is done.  Peter’s sermon on Pentecost quoted the prophet Joel who said that in the last days that all God’s people would have the Spirit of prophecy, the Holy Spirit.  But the Old Testament prophets who told about the coming Kingdom of God—their ministry has come to an end.  Now the King has come.

Now instead of prophets who proclaim God’s judgment and consolation in the future, we have servants of Christ, servants of the King, as Paul says in the Epistle reading.  This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1).  They proclaim God’s judgment and Kingdom not in the distant future, but today.

Like John, faithful ministers of Christ must not be reeds blown in the wind.  They must proclaim the unsparing judgment of God.  I must proclaim it.  I must say to you, Repent.  God will not excuse your sins, as you try to do for yourselves.  He demands perfect righteousness in His kingdom, and will not accept anything less.  And it does not matter if you are Abraham’s descendants or if you are baptized—if you want to hold on to your sins and excuse them, you will be damned.

That preaching of God’s judgment does not spare the preacher either.  It also calls me to repentance.  And it condemns preachers who want to live a soft life.  A faithful servant of the King must go to prison like John, must suffer like John, for proclaiming the judgment of God, or else he is a reed blowing in the wind, a man wearing soft clothing, an unfaithful servant.

3.

Because the King the preacher serves is not a reed shaken by the wind, or a man in soft clothes.

The King whose kingdom a pastor proclaims is the Son of God in our flesh and blood. 

Our King proclaimed the judgment of God also.  He declared that God would not permit sin in His kingdom.  He was rooting it all out.

Then He proved what He preached by enduring the wrath of the Almighty against your sins. 

He preached the judgment of God without wavering, and then He endured it when He was crucified.

Every attempt by us to excuse of escape our sins is an attempt to get rid of the judgment of God that fell on Jesus.  When pastors waver and try to avoid the suffering that comes with God’s pure Word, they are also trying to do away with the cross.  They say—we say—“There is another way to heaven than this.  Just do your best.  Mean well.” 

But that is a lie.  There is no other way.  Righteousness must be done.  Your sins must be punished.  And they are.  They have been.

Your sins have been punished to the uttermost and completely done away in the suffering of the God-man.  The King has established justice and righteousness for you by His blood.  And this righteousness is received through faith alone.

That is the good news He preaches to the poor.  In this world you may not have soft clothes.  You will have tribulation.  But you are in My Kingdom, He says.  There is no condemnation for you.  Instead, you who were deaf to my voice now hear Me and live.  You who were blind and could not see the glory of God now see Me removing your sins as I hang on the cross.

You who were unclean and cast away are cleansed and brought near to God in the bath of rebirth and renewal that I consecrated when I was baptized.  When I claimed your sins and then died for them, I created this washing in which you would be purified. 

You who were lame are now given feet to walk.  I have raised you up with me to walk in the way of the Lord.

You who were dead in your trespasses and sins have been made alive.  Because I died for your offenses and was made alive again, the one who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.

The crowds went out to see a prophet, and more than a prophet.  They went out to see the prophet who prepared the way for the Lord and His kingdom.

We live in the Kingdom of the Lord who has come.  The judgment of God fell on Him and provided righteousness for all who believe.  As we eat the body crucified and judged for our sins and drink the blood He poured out for us, the King pledges that we are in His Kingdom of righteousness and life. When He appears, our life will appear.  But today, even now, we rejoice in the true comfort of God.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

How Far Away Is It? Advent Vespers, Wednesday of Advent 2

December 15, 2021 Leave a comment

Advent Vespers, Wednesday of Populus Zion

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 3:1-12

December 8, 2021

How Far Away Is It?

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

How far away is the judgment of God, when the righteous will receive their commendation from the Lord?  When they will receive their blessedness and joy, and be made new?  When the wicked will be ashes beneath the soles of the feet of the righteous?  When they will be cut down and cast into the unquenchable fire?  How long until the righteous judgment of God?

How long until the Lord reigns as King in righteousness?  Until the devil is cast out forever, and death is no more, and there is no more crying, or sadness, or pain?  How long until heaven comes to earth?

Not long.  It is very near.  Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.  It is not coming soon.  It has already drawn near.  It is upon you. 

The axe is already laid to the root of the trees, and every tree not producing good fruit is being cut down and thrown into the fire.  It is happening, the Bible says.  Everywhere you look, human beings are producing no good fruit before God.  Every thought of their hearts, of our hearts, are only evil continually, according to Genesis.  Even when we appear to ourselves to be doing good things and thinking good thoughts, we produce nothing but poisonous and rotten fruit before God.  Whenever someone hears this and refuses to believe it, the ax is laid to the root of that tree.  It is being swung and cutting into the trunk, cutting that tree down to throw it into the fire.

The wheat is already being gathered into the barn, too.  The mighty One has His winnowing shovel in his hand.  He throws up the wheat and separates the grain from the useless stalks.  Whenever a group of sinners hears a sermon, the grain is being separated from the fuel for the fire.  Sinners hear that they produce nothing good in God’s sight, and in their hearts they confess their sins before God, and believe in the righteousness God gives in Christ alone.  They return to Holy Baptism and to the One whose sandals John was not worthy to carry, and receive the righteousness that stands when the Lord clears His threshing floor.  They are already being gathered into the Kingdom of Heaven, right now, today.

2.

Therefore, repent. 

The judgment of God and the Kingdom of God has drawn near.  It is not far off in the future.  The kingdom of heaven is near you.  The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (Romans 10). 

Repent; receive a new mind.  The kingdom of heaven isn’t far away and God isn’t wavering about whether or not to let you in.  People are outside the kingdom of God because they refuse it.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees arrive at the Jordan River where John is baptizing.  He calls them a generation of vipers.  A brood of devil’s children. 

What makes them so bad?  Are they prostitutes, homosexuals, transgenders, child molesters, devil worshippers?  What have they done? 

All around John at the Jordan River are flocks of people being washed for the forgiveness of sins.  They come to John terrified they will be left out of the kingdom of heaven.  They come to John and tell him the ugly truth about themselves.  I cheated at business.  I neglect my family.  I am a drunkard.  I am a glutton.  I slander; I curse.  I have fits of rage.  I don’t pray.

I am a sinner, John.  I have no good fruit.  I am afraid I will be burned up with the unquenchable fire. 

These come to John with sin and John baptizes them for the forgiveness of sins.

But the Pharisees and Sadducees come out convinced that they have lived a good life.  Not perfect, certainly.  But not nothing.  They aren’t ready to come and say “It is all filthy rags.”  That’s why they are a generation of vipers.  They believe they have produced good fruit for God and they teach others to trust in the fruit they produce. 

So they are poisonous.  They look as though they are doing good, but they are poisoning people with the devil’s poison.  They are teaching them to refuse to repent, to go on to the bitter end trying to establish their own righteousness.

Bear fruit worthy of repentance!  What is fruit worthy of repentance?

It is first to confess your sins, to confess that you cannot make yourself right.  And second to believe the truth, that God will give you the kingdom of heaven as a free gift. 

John’s hearers believed that God would forgive their sins through his baptism, and soon after would give them the Holy Spirit through the One who is coming.

That is how John made straight paths for the Lord.  False teachers make winding paths.  They say do this work and that work.  Pray, be sorry for your sins, read the Bible, give to the poor.  Eventually you will feel the Lord’s coming into your heart, after you have worked.

The Lord’s way is made much straighter and simpler.  It is this—the declaration that  You are a tree that is being cut down and thrown into the fire.  You are chaff about to be cleared into unquenchable fire.  You are a sinner that cannot make good fruit. 

When you are brought to confess that, the Lord’s way is made straight and plain.  The Lord is the Savior of sinners.  He doesn’t lead sinners in a maze, in a long way to the forgiveness of sins.  He comes quickly and directly to the terrified, desperate sinner and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” 

The judgment is not far away.  The kingdom of heaven with its joys is not far away.  It is upon you.  You are a tree that can’t bear good fruit, who has borne evil fruit your whole life.  When you come with this confession to the Lord, heaven opens.  The waters of Holy Baptism flood you and cleanse you of every stain before God.  You are clean.

3.

It is not a mystery to us who is coming after John.  We have heard that our whole lives.  It is Jesus.

He is so great that John, the last prophet, is not worthy to carry His sandals.  If one of the apostles were here, or even Luther or one of the great teachers of the past, we would probably recognize that we were in the presence of someone greater than us.  But Jesus, whom we are so comfortable with, is so great that we are not worthy to do Him the most menial service.  He is king of kings and Lord of Lords.  He is the One who was with the Father in the beginning. 

How shameful to think that this unspeakably great Lord was treated with contempt by the Pharisees and Sadduccees!  They acted like Jesus was a fool, a lowborn, ignorant peasant.  But we also forget with whom we are dealing when we listen to Scripture, when we listen to faithful sermons, when we come to the Lord’s table.

He comes near to us in the Divine Service.  And when He comes now, He comes with what He will bring on the last day.  The Kingdom of Heaven and judgment.  The Holy Spirit and fire. 

But as frightening as it is to consider the arrogant and stubborn way we often listen to Jesus, consider the joy and comfort of His coming.  He comes to serve you, despite His greatness. Jesus has already drawn near to you in great grace.  He has given you Baptism, not merely with water.  He has given you the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit gives prophets the power to speak the word of God, kings wisdom to rule.  He creates and makes new and gives peace. 

Jesus won for you the Holy Spirit by coming in the flesh.  He fulfilled the Law for you and suffered for your sins.  He accomplished righteousness for you, so that you could receive the Spirit to make you a good tree.  So that you would enter the kingdom of heaven and be judged righteous. 

When you were baptized, He poured out on you with the water His Spirit.  The Spirit gave you repentance and faith in the Word of God.  He enabled you to believe that Jesus’ obedience and death is yours, is your righteousness.  He gave you entrance into the kingdom of heaven.  He made you a new creation, so that you are not a tree producing nothing but bad fruit.  By faith in Jesus you are righteous and produce nothing but righteousness. 

The sins you still see in your flesh have been given to Jesus, who perished for them, who was judged and condemned for them.  The righteousness of Jesus, the living tree of life and good fruit, is counted to you.  You have been grafted into this tree by the Holy Spirit given you when you were baptized.

The kingdom of heaven dawned upon you then.

So repent and return to it.  The Mighty One, whose sandals John is not worthy to carry, says that in that baptism you were gathered into His barn.  You were given His Spirit and heaven opened upon you.  Don’t argue with Him or despise Him, like the Pharisees.  You are a sinner; He comes straight to sinners and saves them.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Advent Devotion. 2 Chronicles 7:11-22. The House of Sacrifice.

December 7, 2021 Leave a comment

Tuesday of the Second Week In Advent

December 7, 2021

2 Chronicles 7:11-22

The House of Sacrifice

David wanted to build a house for the Lord, but it was Solomon who completed it.  The temple that David had planned needed God’s approval.  He had not instituted a temple made of stone, but a tent.

But when Solomon built the house, he prayed that the Lord would accept it as the place where atonement would be made for the sins of God’s people.  And the Lord showed His approval of the new dwelling place, sending fire from heaven to consume the burnt offering and sacrifices (2 Chr. 7:1), just as He had done at the consecration of the tabernacle (Leviticus 9:24).  In the reading before us, He tells Solomon: I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice (2 Chr. 7:12).  Through the service of the priests in this house, God would be propitiated toward Israel, forgive their sins, and accept their prayers. 

And He tells Solomon further that as long as he and his descendants walk like David, by faith in the forgiveness of sins, and as a result uphold God’s Word in Israel, one of Solomon’s descendants would always sit on Israel’s throne.  But if they turned aside from God’s command and worshipped idols, He threatens that this temple in which He would receive sacrifices for sins would be cast out of His sight (2 Chr. 7:20). 

This temple is a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ.  When the Jews asked Jesus for a sign to prove His authority to cleanse the temple in Jerusalem, He told them, “Tear down this temple, and I will build it again in three days.”  (John 2:19)  They thought Jesus meant the building, but He was speaking about the temple of His body (John 2:21).

Jesus’ flesh and blood is the dwelling place of all the fullness of God (Colossians 2:9).  Through the sacrifice of His body, all our sins are covered before God.  He receives the prayers offered through Jesus the way He once promised to hear prayers for deliverance directed toward the temple.

Through our Baptism into Jesus, we are members of His body (Eph. 5:30).  We not only have access to God’s dwelling in Jesus; we are His dwelling.  The Church is the temple of God.  He dwells in our bodies.  He is in the midst of us, as we confess whenever we pray in the Divine Service: “The Lord be with you.  And with your spirit.”

The Lord told Solomon that if he and his sons turned aside from the Lord’s commandments and worshipped idols, He would cast away the house he had built and not receive sacrifices there anymore.  But the temple of Jesus’ body, the Church, will never be cast away.  It will always stand before Him, offering up prayers and intercessions through the one sacrifice offered by Jesus.

His body was already torn down once for our transgressions.  But now it is raised up, with sin destroyed forever.  We are raised up with Him, freed from sin.  Unlike Solomon, this King always keeps the Lord’s commands.  Therefore His house will never be cast away.  And we are His house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope (Hebrews 3:6).

Now in the manger we may see

God’s Son from eternity,

The gift from God’s eternal throne

Here clothed in our poor flesh and bone.  Alleluia!  Amen.  (LSB 382 st. 2)

The Cloud That Hides Jesus. Advent 2, 2021

December 6, 2021 Leave a comment

Populus Zion—The Second Sunday in Advent

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Luke 21:25-36

December 5, 2021

The Cloud that Hides Jesus

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

1.

Jesus calls the sun, moon, and stars “the powers of the heavens.”  That is because those great lights rule the sky, and they rule over everything beneath them.  When the sun begins to climb up into the sky, people get up out of bed and go to work.  The moon appears, and most of the time we start getting ready for bed.  We have no choice.  We have to work to survive, and for that most of us need sunlight.

And when the sun’s time in the sky is long, that is the time to plant.  When its time is short, that is the time we are supposed to have gathered everything in.  These powers in the heavens had great power over our ancestors.  Because their lives were tied to agriculture in a way ours were not, their lives were governed by the powers of the heavens.

When Jesus says the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and the sea and waves will roar in the days before He returns, He is saying creation itself will appear to be coming apart.  The powers in the sky that rule our lives will be shaking.  The sea that God separated from the land so that there could be life on earth will look as though it is going to overflow the boundaries He set for it and return the world to the formless and empty void it was at the beginning of creation and during the great flood. 

People will be nearly dead with fear, Jesus says.

2. 

But not everyone.  You would think that when creation is shaking on its foundations, everyone would notice.  But you would be incorrect.

You would also think everyone would notice when the Creator came into His creation.  But they did not.  Jesus rebuked His contemporaries: You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?  (Luke 12:56)

So it is at the end of the world.  Some are fainting with fear about what is coming on the world.  But others, most, are weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life” (Luke 21:34).  “Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.  They will say “Where is the promise of His coming?  For ever since our fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4)

When creation is tottering and breaking apart, most people are saying, “Everything is the same as it has always been.  Nothing to be afraid of.” 

Well, it is true that the world has always been evil and unjust.  And since there is a just God in the universe who will judge it, who will right the injustice in the world, then it’s also true that the end has always been on the horizon for this creation and those who dwell in it.

When a house is on fire, there is smoke from the very beginning the fire starts.  As the fire progresses, things begin to collapse in the house.  Windows maybe shatter from the heat, a chandelier falls from the ceiling.  If you were watching the fire from the beginning to the end, it probably would be hard to tell at what point exactly it went from a small fire to a fire that can’t be put out.  And when the house finally began to collapse in the flames, it might come abruptly and even though you had been watching the fire for hours you might not have expected it.  If someone walked up and said, “How much longer does this fire have left,” you would probably say, “I don’t know.  It’s been burning for two hours already.”

That’s the way it is with the end of the world.  Yes, there have been signs in the heavens for thousands of years, and wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, false prophets.  But the house is on fire.  We don’t know whether the house will collapse tomorrow or a century from now.  But we should be able to tell what is coming, and that it is coming any time now.

There are two dangers as we live in this burning house.  The first is that we see the end coming and are full of fear.  The second is that we no longer think the end is coming.  We become so used to the flames and the smoke that we think this will all go on forever.

The end is coming because God is just.  This is a world where dictators slaughter religious and ethnic minorities, where parents abuse children, where lies and injustice are committed every day.  But there is a just God who is going to punish wrongdoing and establish righteousness on the earth.  Pestilences, plagues, signs in the heavens all testify that this day of judgment is very near.

That should frighten parents who abuse their children and dictators who commit genocide.  But it should frighten also everyone who breaks the ten commandments.  Everyone who does not love and trust God with all his heart, everyone who dishonors his parents, everyone who hates, lusts, covets, lies, gossips.  God does not judge as we do, condemning only egregious evil.  He is coming to root out all injustice from the world.

But what possible response can we have to this?  One response is terror, hoping that Jesus will delay coming until we can figure out some way to become just.  The other is scoffing and being asleep, and setting our hearts on the pleasures of this life.  And this is what most people do, because our sinful nature doesn’t want to know God or repent of unrighteousness.

3.

Make no mistake, the judgment of God is coming upon you.  Yet there is the possibility of greeting that day with joy.  In fact, that is Jesus’ will for you.  He says: When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28). 

When He preached this sermon, He was in Jerusalem, about to accomplish the judgment of God.  He was about to be condemned for all the injustice of human beings on the cross.  He would die as the substitute for us lawbreakers.  He would provide redemption from sin so that everyone who believes in Him is released from guilt and counted just. 

What is happening to the Creation in the days leading to the end of the world has already happened to Him.  When Jesus was nailed to the cross He experienced the suffering and death of His body.  But His soul experienced the anger and rejection of God that is the eternal torment of the damned. 

At the end of creation, this world will be destroyed and a new one made.  But the demons and the damned will experience eternal rejection and wrath from God.  And Jesus received this wrath that we deserved when He suffered on the cross. 

So everyone who believes this and has been baptized into Jesus has been redeemed from this old world of death and sin.  In reality, even those who have not been baptized and believed have been redeemed by the judgment that came upon Jesus.  But only those who believe receive this redemption.

But since we have already come through the judgment with Jesus, we are only waiting for Him to complete His work and set us free from this age and the bodies of death in which we now live. 

When we look at Jesus nailed to the cross with our unrighteousness, we can’t say any longer, “Everything is the same as it has always been.”  No, God has already judged the world.  He has done away with unrighteousness and redeemed us.  When we receive the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, we are participating in the end of the world, the end of our sins, and the life of the world to come.

When we look at Jesus nailed to the cross with our sins, we also can’t be terrified of the shaking of the powers in the heavens and the roaring of the sea, the destruction of this old world.  It has already happened in Jesus.  The old has gone and been put to death with Him.  So when it appears to be falling apart, that is no surprise.  But we know the One who is bringing in the new world.  He is not a cruel Lord; He is the One who gave Himself for us and who has been with us in the Church all along.

4.

Jesus tells us that when these things happen, they will suddenly see the man appear in the clouds with great glory.

But when Jesus ascended into heaven, it was also with a cloud.  As they were looking on, Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.  And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw Him go into heaven.”  (Acts 1:9-11)

The cloud represents the glory and majesty of God.  In the Old Testament, God is almost never seen.  What was seen instead was fire or the cloud of glory.  The bright cloud was not God, but showed where He was while at the same time concealing Him.  So when Jesus ascended and was hidden by a cloud, it meant that Jesus’ human nature now is exercising the divine majesty.  When He appears again, His divine power and glory that we cannot see now will appear.

Right now many of us are filled with distress about the way the world is shaking.  It’s not primarily the physical signs that are disturbing us, but the moral and political quakes that make us afraid.  But the fact that Jesus disappeared behind a cloud and will come again with the clouds is our comfort.

He has already redeemed us from the old world of sin and death; He has already judged it.  And now He is reigning in divine majesty until it is time for His majesty to appear.  When the world quakes, it is by His doing.  He is signalling that His return and the appearance of the new world is near, just as buds on the trees announce that spring is inevitable.

This is how fear and sleepiness is replaced with joy and expectation.  We have already been brought out of the old world.  Its end has already come.  We are prepared, because Jesus prepared us.  He was judged for us, and we have come with Him through judgment in our baptismal water.

And while we wait for the joyful day of His return, He is reigning with wisdom and might.  The glorious Lord we cannot see is on the throne.  But He is also with us.  He was with Israel in the cloud and the fire, hidden and yet present.  He is with us in the water and the bread and wine joined with His Word.  His majesty is hidden, but present.  And when it is seen, we will recognize Him who has been speaking to us and feeding us with Himself in His Church.

Amen.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Funeral Sermon. In My Flesh I Shall See God. December 4, 2021

December 6, 2021 Leave a comment

In Memoriam + Dory Poronto

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Job 19:21-27; 1 John 3:1-2; St. John 12:23-28

December 4, 2021

Jesu juva!

Dory’s friends,

Members of Emmaus:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This morning we look to God’s Word for comfort, especially these words from Job:

And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.  (Job 19:25)

Early on, I went to see Dory at her apartment.  I think it was before Covid; then I saw her several times after the pandemic began when she couldn’t come to church.  The isolation from being stuck in her room and not being able to see people weighed on her.  It was a gift when her son would take her away to stay with him for a few weeks at a time.  Then she would go back and be quarantined for awhile.

But even before Covid started she mentioned to me that she was losing her memory, and this bothered her a lot.

We are here to give thanks to God for her life and the gift of her as a fellow member of Christ’s body, and to hear the Lord’s words of comfort at her death.  She was a comfort to many of you, her sisters in Christ, by God’s grace. 

In the book of Acts there was a woman named Tabitha who died, and they sent for Peter the apostle.  And when he came, all the widows of the church “stood beside him weeping, and showing tunics and other garments [she] had made] while she was with them.”  (Acts 9:39)  Dory was like Tabitha.  Her hands were tying two quilts for poor people on the far side of the world days before she died.  The widows she sewed for are not here with us, but on the last day they will glorify God for the mercy He showed them through Dory’s hands. 

And with her voice Dory built us up and carried us as we sang the Lord’s song during the Divine Service.

The Lord did much more good through Dory that we don’t know about, partly because we often miss His gifts, and partly because it was only the last years of her life that she spent here at Emmaus.  God brought two sons into the world, nurtured and loved them, fed and prayed for them, through Dory.

But a question that we have is: why, since the Lord loved Dory, and since He did so much good through her, did He let her experience the pain of losing her memory, the pain of these last few years?

Often we don’t give voice to questions like that because we are not supposed to, or think we aren’t.  What answer is there?  Some people say, “That’s just the way it is.”  If we try to answer from the catechism, piously, we may say, “It is because of sin that we have suffering and death come to us.”

Or we may say, rightly, “The Lord has forgiven our sins, but we have to be conformed to His death so that we may be like Him in His resurrection.”

But at the end of our lives, and actually at many other times in our lives, but especially nearer to the ending: testing, crosses, seem to come after us, wave after wave, almost knocking us over.  We can’t seem to get our footing.  And then it’s hard for us to keep hold of the answers.  They seem at times to slip through our fingers.  Why does God do this? 

And even though we have seasons of pain earlier in life, at the end the very foundations of our lives are shaken.  You begin to lose your memory, like Dory.  Or your ability to drive.  Health problems come one after the other.  Tomorrow in the Gospel reading Jesus says, “the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:26)—the sun, moon, and stars, the fabric of the universe.  But this is what happens to our bodies and minds if we live long enough.  The basic fabric of our bodies—senses, limbs, organs—begin to fail.

Then Job’s words at the beginning of the reading we heard ring true: The hand of God has touched me!  Why do you, like God, pursue me?  Why are you not satisfied with my flesh?  (Job 19:21-22)

Job is talking to his friends, but he is really lodging a complaint against God.  God is pursuing me, laying His hand on me, destroying my flesh.

And even though he is speaking out of pain, he isn’t wrong.  Satan said to God: Put forth your hand, and touch his bone and flesh, and he will curse you to your face (Job 2:5).  Then the Lord gave Satan permission to do whatever he wanted to Job except take his life.

If Satan laid his hand on Job with God’s permission, then Job was right to say, “The hand of the Lord has touched me.”

At the end of our lives we may not say it or even allow ourselves to think it.  We suffer quietly and do the best we can to comfort ourselves and others.  But it is true; the hand of the Lord has touched us. 

And we know well enough why.  The wages of sin is death.  And we are all sinners, as we say often enough.  When we say it we mean it as a comfort, but it is actually not a comfort.  It means we all die.

But in our readings the Lord speaks another word about why His hand is upon us at the end of our lives (and sometimes in the middle or earlier).

Our Lord Jesus speaks about His own death.  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  (John 12:23)  He doesn’t pretend that it isn’t happening.  He doesn’t try to run away from it.  He faces it, and says that it is the opposite of what it appears.  It is not the hour for His destruction and His shame, but the hour of His glorification. 

He goes on: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  (John 12:24) 

God’s hand comes upon Jesus not to destroy but to glorify Him.  Jesus dies not to be destroyed, but to bring forth much fruit.  If He does not die, He will remain alone.  But if He dies, He will bring forth many seeds like Himself.  He will be like a wheat seed planted in the earth.  There its shell breaks open, roots go down, a stem breaks forth from the earth.  It grows and becomes a plant with a head heavy with seeds. 

So when the hand of God is upon you and you memory falters, you can’t hear anymore, your eyesight is failing.  Your bones ache; your organs start to turn against you. 

Then the Lord’s sermon to you is not “the wages of sin is death.”  It is that the hand of the Lord came upon Jesus Christ your Lord even though He had done no sin.  God’s hand came upon Him for you and your sin, and for Dory and her sin.  Now when you feel the hand of the Lord upon you, it is not because the wages of sin is death.  It is because you are the fruit Jesus went into the earth to bring forth.  His death and bursting forth is working in you so that what happened to Him is happening in you.  You are being glorified with Him, like a seed that goes into the earth, dies, and becomes something new.

What are you becoming?  What has Dory gone ahead of us to become?

Job, wrestling with pain and doubt, shouts out: I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.  (Job 19:25-26)

At the end of our lives, our skin is destroyed, like Job said about himself.  But we have a Redeemer who is living, who will raise up our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, so that we will see Him in His glory in our flesh and bone.  Thousands of years before Jesus, Job looked by faith to Jesus’ death to redeem him from his sins and from death.  And he saw by faith Jesus returning to stand on the earth and the resurrection of the dead.  He confessed that even though the hand of God was destroying him, He would be raised up to look upon the One who would redeem him from all his sins.

When the hand of God touches you and this body is wasting away, He is preparing you to be raised up in a glorified body.  He is glorifying you; He is going to raise you up in a body like His so that you may see God.

See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are.  The reason the world did not know us is that it did not know Him.  (1 John 3:1) 

True enough, we don’t look like children of God.  There is no glory that people should look at us.  We look like sinners who are being stricken by God.  But so did Jesus our Lord.  But He says when His hour has come, “It is my hour to be glorified.”  That is what He wants you to say when your body fails you and you approach the end.  That is what the Gospel gives you the right to say.  It is my time to be glorified.

Because you have been baptized into Jesus Christ.  Your death is not your death.  Jesus’ death is your death.  You have died with Jesus in Baptism.  Your death is now wrapped up in His death.  You will rise to be declared righteous.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared.  But we know that when He appears we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

Dory has now put off this body of death so that she may put on the new body that is to be her eternal habitation.  It will be like the glorious body of Jesus.  It will not grow weak or old.  If she forgets, it will not be because her body is failing, but because God wills it, who said: “For behold, (AH)I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind. (Is. 65: 17)

The body she will shine like the sun.  And in that flesh she will see God; she will see Jesus in His glory.

This is what the Lord is preparing each of us for.  Not only for putting off this mortal body, but for putting on immortality.  He prepared you for it by being planted in the earth for your sins and rising again.  He watered you with the name of the Triune God in Baptism and joined you with Him in His death.  Sunday after Sunday He gives you His body and blood that were handed over to death so that you might live.

You are prepared to put off this body and be glorified, as Dory was prepared. 

And as you come to this table to be prepared by the Lord for glorification, she will be with you, together with the whole host of Jesus’ servants.  If anyone serves me, he must follow me, and where I am , there will my servant be also. (John 12:26)

In Baptism, we followed Jesus into His death.  We are still waiting for that to be completed.  Dory is not waiting.  She rests and waits for the Lord who comes to us in the bread and wine to come and stand on the earth.  Then in her flesh she will see God, when she is raised to be glorified.  And so will you.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Advent 1 Vespers. Is. 40:1-11 Prepare the Way of the Lord

December 6, 2021 Leave a comment

Wednesday of Advent 1

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Isaiah 40:1-11

December 1, 2021

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Jesu juva!

In the Name of Jesus.

1.

Jerusalem is a very old city and has been besieged many times.  King David besieged it about three thousand years ago and made it his capital city.  In the time of Isaiah the prophet, about 700 BC., it was besieged by Sennacherib, the king of the Assyrians.  In 597 BC the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, besieged Jerusalem, and then returned ten years later to besiege it again and raze the city and the temple to the ground.  About one hundred years later the Jews received permission to rebuild the city, but it was later besieged by the Greeks and then the Romans, who finally destroyed the city and dispersed the Jews from Judea. 

The Jews were continually at war with the nations around them.  But their real warfare was not with the Gentiles but with God.  They fought against Him by refusing to believe that He was their God and looking to idols to help them.  And the Lord was angry with them.  He sent the Gentiles to chasten them, to burn their cities, kill them, take them into captivity and slavery.  The Gentiles were only tools of God’s fierce wrath against a people that turned aside from Him, that did not fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.  He had told them this when He took them out of Egypt to be His people: I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me.

God remains a jealous God.  He does not wink at sin, does not tolerate it, does not overlook it.  In His fierce wrath He threatens sinners with punishment in this world, temporal death, and eternal damnation.

But Isaiah the prophet foretold a coming day when He would have another word to say to His people besides His anger and threats against them for their sins.  Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins (Is. 40:1-2). 

Jerusalem, the city where God made His dwelling, saw siege after siege, army after army.  If you have read the Old Testament, you see how God is angry with His people again and again.  They deserve it, but you can see where the Jews would despair: we can’t get it right.  We can’t please God.  He is always angry with us.  And they are right.  They are constantly provoking God’s wrath.  Unless they receive some other righteousness than their own, He will always be angry with them, always be fighting against them.

But Isaiah says, Now that day has come.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, like a husband should speak to his wife.  Comfort her.  Tell her her warfare is ended.

This is what the Lord says to His Church in these last days.  It is what He says to the world at Christmas.  Now another righteousness has come to you than the one you produce for yourself under the Law.  It has caused my anger against you to come to an end and made me pleased with you.  It is the righteousness of my Son, God incarnate, who fulfills all My will in your place. 

2.

But there is a problem.  The problem is that Jerusalem has its wall.  There is a wall around Jerusalem.  It is made out of stone.  Nothing can get into Jerusalem while that wall is there. 

The wall around Jerusalem was put there to keep invaders out.  But since the one besieging Jerusalem has been God, the wall blocks Him out.

So when sinners hear this gracious message from God, they don’t really hear it.  When they hear the war is over between them and God they say, “Of course!  I have always loved God.  I would never fight against God.”  When they hear “Comfort, comfort, says your God,” they say: “Of course!  Why would God ever speak harsh words?  After all, God is love.”  When they hear “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” they say, “Of course!  Why would God not want to be close to us?”

Not just they: you.  In your flesh you are deaf to God, like snakes who cannot hear the voice of the charmer.  In your flesh you are dead to God.  You fight against Him when He declares you a sinner under His judgment.

God has opened your ears and raised you from the dead with His message of peace and pardon.  But your flesh is always working to close your ears again, and rebuild the wall around your heart, to assert your own righteousness.  Then you will say, “Everything is fine between me and God.  I am Abraham’s offspring and have never been a slave to anyone.  How can you say we will be made free?”

That was the way Israel was.  So Isaiah prophesied that a voice would come.  “A voice cries, In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord.”  (Is. 40:3)

This voice cries out that everything is not fine.  Everything is not okay.  God is not content with you as you are.  And you have not always been God’s friend like you pretend to yourself and to other people.  You have been His enemy.

The Lord enters in with His comfort among the poor and the lowly.  He does not dwell among the high and mighty, the self-assured, and the strong.  He dwells among the lowly and sinners.  Every mountain and hill must be made low.  The Lord wants to come with His comfort, with the end of warfare.  But He cannot enter in among those who have no need of comfort, who are like the majestic mountains that tower over us in central Oregon.  That’s where we imagine God wants to live: among the good and the noble, among the achievers and the skilled.  Among the spiritually strong.

But it is just the opposite.  He will only come where those mountains have been leveled.

So Isaiah prophesied that there would be a voice in the wilderness calling for the levelling of those mountains and the smoothing out of those rough places and uneven ground. 

People would hear the word of God and confess themselves to be a besieged city at war with God.  And then they would hear the Lord’s words of comfort and pardon.

3.

And something else would follow this work of demolition, levelling, and humbling. 

The glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

After the Lord’s way was prepared, He would not only send words of comfort and pardon and peace.  The Lord Himself would come and show His glory.

To see the glory of the Lord is another name for what we call heaven.  It is paradise.  Moses the man of God wanted to see the glory of the Lord, but he was only allowed to see God’s back as He passed by.

Isaiah foretells that those among whom the Lord’s way is prepared would see God’s glory.  They would not only be forgiven but enter into paradise. 

And not only this, but they would become heralds proclaiming the good news of God’s presence among us to others.  Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold Your God!” 

The city that was formerly besieged by God, walled off from Him, now sees the glory of the Lord and proclaims with a loud fearless voice that He is among us! 

And the Lord comes into the midst of Jerusalem as a mighty Savior and Shepherd.  Jerusalem is not left to guide herself and shepherd herself, but the Lord Himself comes into her midst and guides her and carries her. 

This is what the Lord does among you through the preaching of the Law and the Gospel.   He levels the mountains of self-trust and self-righteousness and makes you a poor miserable sinner.

Then He reveals His glory to you—at the manger, at the Holy Supper, at His last coming.

And He shepherds you.  John the Baptist baptized the contrite and pointed them to Jesus, and Jesus led and taught them.  But those who are repentant and are baptized among us are no less led and taught and fed by Jesus.  He taught and led them visibly for a few years.  Now the Lord Himself shepherds you who are contrite from heaven through the ministry of the Word.  He carries you in His arms and gently guides you.

Long ago the Lord prophesied that He would prepare the way before Him through His messenger, so that you would see His glory and be shepherded by Him.  He is fulfilling the prophet’s word among us tonight.  Your war is over.  Comfort!

Amen.

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

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