Last Sunday of the Church Year
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 25:1-13
November 25, 2012
“This Burning Light”
In the Holy Name of Jesus.
“Receive this burning light to show you have received Christ, who is the light of the world. Live always in the light of Christ, and be ever watchful for His coming, that you may meet Him with joy and enter with Him into the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end.”
The pastor hands to your sponsor the little baptismal candle which has been set on fire by the flame from the Paschal candle, the large candle by the baptismal font.
That large candle symbolizes the light and life of Jesus Christ, which burst forth from the tomb for us on Easter. The flood of death and sin has been dried up by the consuming fire of the love of God. “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away, and there was no more sea.” (Revelation 21:1)
That fire burned a bush in the wilderness but did not consume it, and drew Moses to its flame and sent him to tell Pharaoh to let the Lord’s people go. Then it went as a pillar leading the Israelites through the Red Sea and into the desert. It fell on Mount Sinai and set it on fire, and the people heard God’s voice thundering, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…” The Lord God is love; and He is a consuming fire.
That fire was hidden in the body of Jesus, who is the Lord God of Israel. It appeared only as light to men, but it did not burn them. But when the lamp of Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb and descended into hell, it burned death to ashes and set Satan on fire forever. When He rose and ascended to the Father, the fire of the Lord transfigured His body the way earthly fire transfigures metal and makes it glow red or white. That same fire burns within the members of His body. It began to burn in Your body when the pastor splashed water on you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—our God, the consuming fire.
So they handed your sponsor your little candle lit from the fire of the Easter candle, but that was only a symbol.
The water they poured on You, joined with the Lord’s command and name, was not just a symbol. It was reality. Before that you were the offspring of adulterers—not physical adulterers, but worse—spiritual adulterers who had gone whoring from the Lord. You were born with the stain of their adultery and with the same adulterous, faithless heart.
But then you were dipped in the water joined with the Holy Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. You were immersed in the fire, born again into Jesus as He died bearing Adam and Eve’s impurities which had to be burned up before the holy face of the Lord. With Him you were doused in the flood of death. But with Him you leaped out of death, leaving Satan burning in eternal fire and death scorched to ashes.
You arose with Jesus. No longer an adulterer or an adulteress; but a virgin going to meet the bridegroom. You were made pure and holy, unspotted, unstained. You were born again in Christ. And though the unclean flesh of Adam and Eve remained, inside burned consuming fire: the Holy Spirit—giving light to the world through you, but burning away the uncleanness of sin from within.
Outside you wore virgin’s clothes marking you as belonging to the wedding party of the bridegroom, Jesus Christ. You wore the clothes because Jesus was Your purity; His suffering and death and His blood shed in payment for Your sin washed away all uncleanness and covered you with righteousness. Over your innocent skin was the garment of Jesus’ perfect obedience to the law of God. He dressed you and called you a virgin—pure, untouched, reserved.
You were not afraid to meet the bridegroom. You were in the wedding party. You ran out into the darkness with joy, your lamp burning. There was nothing to fear. The bridegroom was coming to bring you to His wedding banquet.
How wonderful that wedding feast will be, for which all of Jesus’ wise virgins have waited so long! It will be in a city with 12 foundations, and each foundation will be made of precious stones. To get into the city we will have to pass through gates each made of one massive, costly pearl. And all the people at this feast will be like Jesus; they will be transfigured by the consuming fire of God’s love like metal glowing red or white with earthly fire. All of them will have all evil burned away, and so there will be no one to insult, or injure, or defile, or shame us. The consuming fire of God’s love will not burn us. Nothing evil will be able to come near us. Words fail to describe the glory that will be revealed there.
Of one pearl each shining portal, where joining with the choir immortal, we gather round Thy radiant throne. No eye has seen the light; no ear has heard the might of Thy glory. Therefore will we eternally sing songs of praise and joy to Thee.
We were perfectly ready to meet the bridegroom when we were baptized. When did that change?
So soon after that momentous day you lost your first love. My two year old godchild likes to run around the house and pull everything he can off shelves onto the floor. But at bedtime he wants his mom to sing “Jesus songs.” That’s not hypocrisy; that’s the fire of the Holy Spirit burning within the jar of clay.
Just a few years older than that and you already had other priorities that made you less eager to run out and meet the bridegroom. It was more conscious then. The bridegroom has taken a long time to come bring us to the wedding. We fall asleep.
Looking and waiting for Jesus to come doesn’t mean going out to the edge of town and standing with a candle. It means letting your light shine before men so that they see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5). We go out to meet Jesus by faith, believing that He has made us ready for His coming. By faith we follow Him into the place where He has called us and we meet Him there in our neighbor. People see Christ, the light of the world, whom you have received, in you, as you go about your tasks. As a hearer of the word your light shines when you gladly receive Scripture and faithful preaching not as the word of men, but as the word of God, and you joyfully support the preaching of the Word with your offerings and prayers and by showing love and honor to the office Jesus set up for the proclamation of the Gospel.
As a father and mother your light shines when you gladly meet Christ in your children, provide for them, and train them in the Lord’s teaching.
As a child your light shines when you meet Jesus in your parents and honor and obey them as gifts which He has given to you.
As husband Christ’s light shines in you when you love your wife and lay down your life for her, when you do it gladly because Christ did not come and condemn you for your sins and weakness but washed you with the water by the Word after carrying your sins on the cross. As a wife Christ’s light shines when you gladly honor your husband as your head out of love for Jesus whose love, a consuming fire, caused Him to leave His own comfort and pleasure and take death and shame for you.
As an employee your light shines when you work for your employer not only when their eye is on you, but you serve him or her gladly, knowing that it is really Jesus you are serving.
We go out to meet Jesus by faith that when He comes He will take us to His wedding. Faith shows itself in the daily tasks to which Jesus has called us.
To serve gladly and sacrificially in those daily tasks, always looking for Jesus and not looking to enjoy ourselves in this world requires a steady source of oil to keep our lamps burning. The oil is the Holy Spirit.
When you were baptized, you were given a little flame from the consuming fire that is the life and love of God, which has burned up death. Your lamp was lit from the fire of life that burned gloriously in the body of Jesus.
This little flame is so precious that nothing in the world can compare to it. Our greatest concern in life is to not let that light burning in us—which is God Himself, the Holy Spirit—go out.
Keep your lamp burning and be dressed for service like a man waiting for His master to come home. It will be well for the servant who the master finds doing so when He returns. He will gird Himself for service and wait on them. And He is almost here! That is why we light the candles on the Advent wreath in the days ahead. Our greatest joy is nearly here. Whatever else we are occupied with, nothing can compare with the joy of meeting Jesus the bridegroom when He comes and entering His eternal feast.
Yet we do. We fall asleep. We forget about our calling to meet Jesus in our neighbor. We forget about the wedding feast. We wander from Christ and our lamps grow dim or they go out.
But some day soon we will be startled awake. “The bridegroom is here; come and meet him!” It may be the day of your death. It may be the moment of Christ’s return. At that time your only concern will be to have your lamp lit and be ready to meet the bridegroom.
It’s not a good thing to fall asleep when we should be watching for Christ to come. On your wedding day, you want your bridesmaids to share in your joy. If the maid of honor rolls out of bed and just barely gets to the church on time, you would be grateful that she made it, but not exactly pleased that she didn’t take more care to be ready for one of the biggest days of your life.
But if she doesn’t show up on time because she has to run out to the store to get makeup or something for her hair, you’d be furious. Of course, we all make mistakes. But your wedding is too big a day for your guests to be foolish and unprepared.
That’s how it will be on the day when Jesus returns for many who were baptized. There will be no baptized Christians who will be able to say that they never fell asleep looking for Jesus the bridegroom to come.
But those who are wise will have oil with them. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you,” Jesus said. Now is the time to ask, seek, and knock—not the day of death. He says, “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, though you are evil, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11). Today is the day to pray, “Thy Kingdom Come.” “The Kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father grants us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His Holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”
We pray daily for the Holy Spirit, so that we may lead godly lives, awake, looking for Jesus’ return, with clear consciences, letting the light of Jesus shine in us through love toward our neighbor in our callings.
If you find yourself neglecting your calling and serving yourself; if you frequently forget about Jesus’ return and find your heart set on the world, whether by falling into sin or simply by neglecting His Word and prayer, now is the time to ask and seek and knock, that God give you His Holy Spirit, so that you believe the gospel and lead a godly life, looking for Jesus’ return.
We pray for the Holy Spirit, and seek the gift of the Holy Spirit where the Lord promises to give Him. That is in Scripture, in faithful preaching and teaching, in absolution, in the Lord’s Supper. In that way we carry extra oil with us so that we are prepared.
We also do it because it is in hearing the word and serving in the callings He has given us that we are with Him and are prepared for Him.
The joys of eternal life are great and no one is able to speak about them properly. But one thing is certain. Those who dislike Christ’s word now and who find no pleasure in serving their neighbor in love would not like eternal life either.
No one knows the day or the hour of Christ’s return, and so trying to predict the day is sinful—then you could postpone repentance until the last minute. Instead, Christians live as if every day is the day of Jesus’ return. And they do it not out of fear only, but out of joy, because Christ’s return is the joy of their hearts.
We have divided hearts. Our flesh wishes that Jesus would never come back so that we can go on serving ourselves. In Christians the flesh which does not want Jesus to return is still very much present. That is why daily we need the Holy Spirit. We pray for Him in the Lord’s prayer. And the Lord has promised to give Him to us. As often as you see your flesh not wanting to hear the Word of God, not wanting to serve your neighbor, not wanting Jesus to return, that is the sign that you still need to knock and ask for the Holy Spirit, and seek His Word, praying, “Lord, let me not be among the foolish virgins who say, ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do the will of Your Father in heaven and so do not enter the Kingdom of God.”
If you have been ill prepared, begin to pray this way now, but also rejoice. Whether your faith is weak or strong, you have received Christ, the light of the world. His light shines upon you and lifts up your eyes to the cross, where the darkness of sin died, and to His resurrection, where eternal life and righteousness dawned for you. The Sun rose upon you in your baptism. And now the bridegroom comes to give you a taste of His wedding feast in His body and blood, which cleanse you inwardly, make you holy, and pour out the oil of His spirit on the flickering lamp of your faith in Him, so that you may go forward with joy and confidence to meet Him when He comes again.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
1 Timothy 2:1-6
November 22, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:3-4.
God is our Savior. He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
What a happy description of God that is for anyone who needs saving! St. Paul does not tell Timothy that God is the skeptical critic of the Church, or the all-powerful, provoked judge of the Church. He is “God our Savior.”
His almighty power is not separate from His tender-hearted, bottomless love. He loves us with all His strength, which is limitless. As His strength is awesome, so His love is compassionate, patient, and gentle. He is not quick to become angry, but patient. Nor does He hold on to His anger forever. He is all-powerful; He is just. But Scripture does not say “God is power,” and it does not say, “God is justice.” It says, “God is love.” God who is love, and who is almighty, is our Savior. No one and nothing in the universe is able to interfere or stop God from saving His Church.
The word “Savior” implies helplessness. That is what we Christians were and still are. We were conceived in sin, helplessly held captive by death and Satan, God’s enemies, subject to punishment. But there is a Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as the ransom that set us free from sin. By His blood shed for us, the man Christ Jesus made us free and saved us. Yet we remain today completely dependent on God our Savior. He who baptized us into Christ and made us free through His blood must also keep us in Christ through faith. We cannot do it. We remain those who are, in ourselves, powerless against the sin that still lives in our flesh. God our Savior, by His love and His power, has to deliver us from the sin which still lives in our flesh. He has to do this so that we do not wrestle with sin alone, but daily return to Baptism where His death on the cross took away our sins. He has to save us, finally, by raising us from the dead in bodies that no longer are in the image of Adam, prone to sin, but in the image of the Son of God, over whom death has no dominion.
But He has promised us that He will do these things. That’s why St. Paul calls Him “God our Savior.” He has done it all and will do it all.
Since God is our Savior, you and I are free to give thanks for everything. God gave us the whole creation when He created Adam, to enjoy. And when Adam sinned and lost the right to enjoy God’s gifts, God redeemed us through the suffering of His Son and made us His sons and heirs. The whole creation belongs to the man Christ Jesus, and He gives it all to His brothers who are baptized into Him, reborn in Him as sons of God. That’s you.
Today we each have all kinds of earthly blessings for which to give thanks. The catechism teaches our children to say: I believe in God the Father Almighty. What does this mean?
So we have our personal blessings, earthly and spiritual, for which we should be grateful, though we often are not. Or we find fault with them. Or we treat them as if they are not gifts from God but accidents. Or perhaps we think that we have gotten them for ourselves, independent of God our Savior.
But in Christ, we have far more than just what God has given us individually to enjoy and care for, to watch over and pray for.
You are in Christ. You were baptized into Him, taken out of Adam and born anew in Christ. And this was not your doing. Jesus did it.
You are in Christ and all that is Christ’s is yours. Nothing is held back. Today the altar is open to you, and God our Savior gives you the flesh and blood of His only Son to eat and drink that you may have life instead of death. What will the holy God not give you when He freely gives you the life of His Son?
All that is Christ’s is yours. What belongs to Jesus?
The whole universe. Eternal honor and glory and joy. The right to sit at the Father’s side, above all the holy angels who never sinned, to live forever in the new heavens and earth in which there is no weeping or pain, sin or death.
What belongs to Jesus? All people. Because God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. So God became man and took as his own all the sins of men, and all the grief and suffering of all people. So Jesus took upon Himself all people and was baptized for their sins in the Jordan, sweat drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane, and came under the wrath of God on the cross.
Even now, at the right hand of God, Jesus carries all people upon Himself. The guilt and grief and sin of all men He carries as His own. He rules the world to bring all men to repentance. He intercedes with the Father for His church and for the unbelieving as though He were them. He stands with them.
In Christ, that is yours too, this work to see all men be saved, this love that takes on the sins and suffering of other people.
That is why Paul urges Timothy as the most important thing for the church in Ephesus, after receiving God’s salvation through the Word and Sacrament, that prayers be made for all men.
Jesus prays for all men. As His church, His priests, we join in Jesus’ work of gathering all men to Himself.
We do that through making supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings—not only for ourselves, but for all people.
Not only for ourselves or for our Church, but for the whole world and every person.
Jesus prays for all who are in any need. He makes “supplications” or requests. So together in worship and privately in our homes, we join with Jesus in His work, since all that He has is ours. We don’t only ask for blessings for ourselves, but for anyone we see in need. Personally we are called to pray for those in our families, with whom we work, for our church, its pastor and leaders, and particularly for those who are in need of bodily or spiritual blessings. But we also pray for the whole world—for those in authority. We don’t stand apart from the world, because Jesus desires the blessing on earth and in heaven of every person, every nation, whether enemy or friend.
We make prayers for the prosperity of people who don’t appear to be in need too. God is our Savior. He is for us—not because we are good, but because of His mercy and love. Now we are in Christ, and our neighbor’s problems are ours. Our neighbor’s poverty becomes our poverty. Our neighbor’s wealth is our wealth. We rejoice for those who do well as though it was us who received the blessing. We weep for those who suffer as though we were suffering.
Not that this comes naturally to us. It doesn’t, because our sinful flesh is selfish. But Christ has given us Himself—not only His blessings, but the gift of sharing in His work. The Church remains on earth to bring blessing and salvation to the world. We are here to pray for the world’s salvation and also to uphold all in authority—earthly governments, earthly rulers. Unbelievers can’t pray for themselves.
When people sin, we make intercessions for them. That is what Jesus does when we sin. He does not damn us but prays for us. When our brothers in the Church sin, we should weep as though it were our own. And the holiness and strong faith of brothers in the Church is not just for them, but we have all in common in Christ, because we are one body.
Finally, Paul tells us “give thanks for all men.” Jesus rejoices and gives thanks over the lost sheep, and so do the angels. They rejoiced for the shepherds when Jesus was born, as though it was their own blessing. So we are given to give thanks for the blessings others experience—Christians or non-Christians, enemies or friends.
In this way, we not only live a peaceful and quiet life in that we don’t bother anyone outside the Church, but we are serving them in the best possible way constantly—bringing them before God for blessing in prayer. When God brings people near to you, He does it so that you can pray for them and bring them blessing.
God desires the salvation of all men. Our congregation’s work of bringing the Gospel to our neighbors rests on our prayers for all men, because when we pray for them we are wishing them good.
Therefore today, don’t simply give thanks for your own blessings, but for the blessings given to your brothers and sisters in the church, and for the blessings God gives to those outside. And know that all of your blessings are not only yours, but Christ would make them available through you to everyone, just as He did not see His righteousness and joy as His own, but came to earth to serve us and make us partakers in them.
Let us rejoice and give thanks in this bounteous God who comes to feed us richly in His body and blood. Amen.
The grace of our Lord…
At my house, Christmas music begins to play sometime in the middle or early part of November. If you’ve ever listened to Christmas radio stations, you know that they play the same songs over and over and over and over and over again.
And then they play them a few more times.
It isn’t yet Thanksgiving, but I’ve already heard Wham!’s “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart” at least five times. This is perhaps the only song of Wham’s oeuvre which still emerges from the mists of the early 80’s to remind us of those, by comparison to today, almost Victorian times when George Michael was still into women and when pop stars didn’t come out of the closet.
I think that’s probably a big part of the reason why people who like holiday music like holiday music, just as it’s probably part of the reason why people who have never lived in the country like the formulaic Chevy-truck-ad jingles that comprise most of what’s played on country-music (so-called) radio stations. People like it, at least in part, because it makes them feel safe.
Christmas begins about the same time in my house that it does in much of the United States—following hard upon Halloween. Both holidays were once Christian holy days, to whatever degree they may have been reappropriated from pagans.
In America they are pagan holidays again, although I think Samhain (isn’t that what the Wiccans call it?), Yule, and Saturnalia would be more enjoyable. What offends me about American subversions of Christian holidays—American re-paganization—is the awful aesthetics. Some of my aversion to “Christmas” in America arises from the way that the mystery and the miracle of the incarnation of God is obscured.
But mostly it’s just elitism.
I’ve hated American consumerism since I was a kid. It blights the mind, soul, and imagination by constantly making available (for a price) whatever is convenient and easily digestible. In its wake it leaves mind-numbingly ugly and boring places to live. It destroys all sense of the sacred. It creates soft minds and shrunken souls.
But my elitism really is an impediment when it comes to being a pastor. I don’t want to be superior or right; I want to teach Christians how the Church’s preparation for the birth of Jesus ought to be very different from the cheap consolation provided by American “Christmas.”
Cheap consolation is really the enemy in almost every case when liturgical pastors and pastors wanting to teach the doctrine of Evangelical Lutheran Church run into resistance from popular piety. American pop Christianity sells because people want to feel good and safe and because it’s easy to understand. Sometimes people turn to it because they are suffering and they need answers immediately. Other times people turn to it because it permits them to indulge themselves with the illusion that the solution to the suffering we endure as a result of living in a collapsing world is to go back to the simple answers about God we really always knew and from which we were never far.
American “Christmas”and its associated rituals—holiday music beginning in November, flagrant overspending, Christmas carol singing in Advent and parties in school, church, work all through December, overeating and overdrinking–all the Christmasy things that enable us to avoid honest appraisal of our selves, our lives, the way our society is going, and numb ourselves into a syrupy, sentimental glow—is almost exactly like American Christianity.
But here is where pastors and hearers who know something of the value of the pure teaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments and the liturgy and hymnody of the Church fail. American “Christianity” and American “Christmas” is democratic, and we are too often elitists. American “Christmas” isn’t supercilious toward people who just want to feel safe and good. It embraces them.
A lot of people believe that if they really like a song by Elvis, nobody can tell them that Bach’s music is simply better. So if they hear Joel Osteen preach and understand him, they also think that no one can tell them that a sermon by Chrysostom or Luther is simply better either.
American “Christmas” and American “Christianity” accept this reality in people and cater to it. But not only do I not cater to it—I despise it and have almost zero patience when people expect me to do the same thing. Lacking patience and love toward people who don’t immediately respond to real Christianity and real Christmas is not a Christian virtue. Harboring anger and resentment toward Lutherans who are stubborn in adhering to bad teaching and traditions flowing from that teaching–whether out of snobbery or out of anger–is grave sin. With this anger we make the Gospel noxious because we smear it with the scent of our own pride. Particularly pastors. When I get mad because I’m trying to teach God’s Word purely and you’re not listening, I’m really mad because you’re not respecting me or listening to me. And that is to use the ministry of the Gospel which Christ instituted for the salvation of sinners as a means of exalting myself.
Jesus preached and taught to the masses; He didn’t tickle ears, but taught the Word of God in a way that was accessible to normal people–not only the great. He was patient and continued to teach even when He met with opposition and mistreatment. Luther preached to and taught the masses. He sought to elevate them—that’s why the Reformation went hand in hand with a renewal of education. But he also taught; patiently, bearing with the people, serving them and caring enough to be understood by them.
I’ve failed consistently in this way. It’s not that I didn’t teach, but that I became angry and afraid when people didn’t get it or didn’t appear to want to get it. On the one hand there is fear because you want to be a good pastor, be faithful to Christ, serve the people. On the other hand there is simply sin and profanation of God’s Name and Word. There was my desire to be honored that trumped any other desire–whether to love and serve the congregation or to love and serve Christ. I was unwilling to bear with unjust criticism without snapping at my critics. At other times I’ve reacted to criticism that I thought was unjust with anger or defensiveness, later realizing that I was wrong, that I was failing to properly divide law and gospel, and I needed to be opposed.
Lutherans also have to be democratic in the sense that we are willing to teach God’s Word—slowly, patiently, consistently—and bear with people. That is the way that Jesus was democratic. He loved the people. So He was willing to teach them–the eternal Son–even when they wouldn’t hear Him and when they dishonored Him. Love means patiently teaching and listening to criticism and learning slowly, over time, where you are not being understood. So often people embrace false teaching, or bad traditions, because they are scared or because they feel stupid and the false teaching relieves the feelings of stupidity by addressing people where they are.
Then a guy like me comes in, teaches for awhile, receives flak, and very quickly begins responding in anger to the people. And is it any surprise if people then run to preachers (or to religious practices) that make them feel safe, that feel familiar? Is it surprising if people go to a pastor who is nice and acts like he loves them [even though he is a wolf], instead of to the one who comes to change everything and says, “You are doing it wrong”, and reacts with harshness and arrogance when they don’t immediately listen? In trying to roll back American Christmas in Lutheran churches so that we can once again observe Advent, there will be the inevitable conflict. People will say it’s “too catholic.” Probably one of the best ways we can observe Advent is to try to fast and repent of haughty and angry defensiveness, and show kindness, patience, and love to people who haven’t yet experienced the blessing of preparing for the mystery of Christ’s birth through Advent. Really, it’s not something to get angry about, but to have pity about, that lots of people would prefer to sing Christmas Carols for a month and haven’t developed a taste for the rich gospel we have in so many Lutheran Advent hymns.
I’m grateful for my beautiful wife and son and for the opportunity they give me to practice not being a jerk about American Christmas in Advent. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn to lead our family, graciously, into the gift of observing Advent with its call to repentance, faith, and willing obedience to Christ.
In long gone times there were outward, physical disciplines associated with repentance, faith, and renewal. Self-examination and confession and fasting went with repentance. Attending Advent services midweek meant giving one’s attention to Christ’s Word, which works in contrite hearts the faith that our sins, from which we cannot free ourselves, have been blotted out by the suffering and death of the baby of Mary. And where this faith is, there is joyful giving from a new and glad and confident heart. So Christians practiced almsgiving. Instead of buying family huge, extravagant gifts, they gave to the poor. This is the way I want to learn to spend Advent with my family. But that is a lot harder than simply trashing American consumerist “Christmas” and its associated rites, such as having to listen to “Feliz Navidad” for a month and a half. As annoying as that is. It takes doing it myself, and then walking with them into it. Not just giving orders.
I wrote an article for the church newsletter trying to explain the importance of Advent and why we don’t immediately start singing Christmas hymns in church in December. And I also tried to point out why it would be better if during Advent the Church behaved differently from the world, and instead of the church calendar filling up in December with Christmas parties (during Advent), we should consciously reject the way the world tries to greet the miracle of Jesus’ birth not by “making straight the way of the Lord” but by bombarding ourselves with things designed to arouse “the proper Christmas spirit”. I don’t know whether the article will succeed as a gracious attempt to teach the gifts of Advent or whether it will be one more instance of making people feel dumb and then wondering why they reject what you say. I’ll post it on here shortly.
Our society really need this witness from the Church in Advent. But it will never happen if those who understand the gift of Advent don’t love people enough to teach patiently and bear with people when they don’t get it or reject it. So I hope that God will teach me and sinners like me to love and serve our brothers and show the value of pure doctrine and the church’s liturgy by demonstrating the love and patience that come from the Gospel. Then maybe they could hear that we are truly safe in Him—not in the false comfort that comes from avoiding penitence, but in the true comfort given by Him who was placed in a manger to deliver us from our sins.
Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 25)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 24: 14-28
November 11, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The time is short. The end is near.
What should we do?
Last year the man on 91.9 FM predicted the return of Jesus on May 21st. Since then he reportedly has admitted that it was sinful to try to predict a certain day for Jesus’ return, since Jesus said, “No man knows the day or the hour.” Thanks be to God for his repentance.
This year some people claim the end will come because the ancient Mayan calendar predicts it.
Probably most people don’t believe that. But look at the world. Things everywhere are telling us that the world is hanging by a thread. The weather and the oceans—chaotic because of “global warming,” as we’re told. Economic crisis looming over the world. Moral crisis shaking formerly Christian nations.
Or is it that our conscience whispers to us that it can’t be long before the sins of the world are punished? And then we look at the world and see the signs?
It’s both. Our consciences speak to us about sin and God’s wrath. But the signs of the end are also present. Jesus rebuked the people to whom He preached: “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the weather, but not the signs of the times.” We should not ignore the signs by which God warns us of the judgment that is right at the door.
As long as death seems not to be near, and as long as Jesus’ return seems like it will wait for at least a few more years, repentance can also wait. We figure we can enjoy ourselves now and leave serious soul-searching and sorrow for our sins until we are closer to the end.
That is the way unbelievers deal with the last judgment. 2 Peter 3 says: 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 the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation…” But the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise…but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance…The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:3-4, 9-10)
Jesus warned the disciples to pay attention to the signs that would mark the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. When you see the abomination of desolation, then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. The abomination of desolation meant the defiling of the Holy Place—the temple. When this happened, Jesus warned that the Christians in Judea should flee without looking back. And the Christians did flee when the Roman armies gathered to attack Jerusalem. As a result they were saved from the great slaughter that came upon the Jews and the city of Jerusalem.
When the temple was torn down, that was the end of Israel as God’s chosen political kingdom on earth. The stones of the temple were replaced with the living stones of the new temple, Christ’s church.
But just as the Judean Christians were to watch for the signs of the destruction of the temple and be ready to flee into the mountains without turning back, so Christians are to be ready for the coming destruction of the world, ready to leave it without looking back.
So what are the signs that the world’s end is upon us? Jesus names one thing in particular: Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
False Christs and false prophets performing great signs and wonders are the signals that the end of the world is at hand. The signs of brokenness in nature and the economy point to the fact that the world is coming to an end. But false prophets and false Christs—that is, people who put forth man’s word as the word of God, and people who proclaim a false salvation—this is far worse than a hurricane knocking out power in New York. False teaching and false saviors are a worse plague than nuclear war would be. Wars and earthquakes and terrorist attacks can only disrupt earthly life, make it unpleasant or take it away. But false doctrine and false saviors bring eternal misery.
And yet, as bad as the consequences of false teaching is, there is nothing that people seem to hate hearing more than calling out false teachers and false teaching by name. If a preacher slips a little bit of false doctrine into his teaching—that is, a little poison, a little bit of the lies of the devil, the world, the flesh—that shouldn’t be criticized, because no one is perfect. Okay. Try saying that the next time the government makes a mistake that results in the loss of life! “No one’s perfect” is true, but we don’t tolerate it if leaders slip up and accidentally kill people. But if a preacher by his false teaching endangers the souls of those who hear him—that shouldn’t be criticized.
How do you tell false Christs and false prophets? And how do you prepare for the destruction of the world when false Christs and false prophets appear?
False Christs and false prophets direct you away from the true Christ. Sometimes they do that in an obvious way; sometimes in a subtle way. Sometimes false prophets come from outside of the church and sometimes from within.
Then there are Christians and preachers whose teaching is infected by false doctrine, but who do it in weakness. Though their false teaching is evil and destructive, it happens through weakness.
Very early on in the history of the church this spirit of false prophecy and false Christs began to appear. There were some Christians in the days of the apostles who taught that unless the Gentiles began to keep the whole law of Moses—being circumcised, observing the Sabbath day, not eating pork—they could not be saved.
St. Paul opposed this false teaching fiercely and insisted, “A man is justified by faith in Christ alone apart from the works of law.” Of any law! But believing that when the waters are up to your neck is not so easy.
When the people of Israel were out by the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s armies were bearing down on them, they started to be afraid. When it seems like God’s wrath is coming down on the earth—or simply that death is approaching us as individuals—then saying “I am justified by faith in Jesus Christ apart from the deeds of the law” seems to be not so powerful.
But Moses said to the Israelites: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord…The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
That is Jesus’ word to us as the end approaches. “Fear not, stand firm.” That is not the same as the fearlessness people have who are ignoring danger. It is the fearlessness of faith in Christ that sees the danger but sees also the victory of Christ and the firmness of His promise.
A while back there was a movie called “Downfall” which pictured the last days of Hitler’s regime as the allies approached Berlin from both sides. In the film, as the shells were shaking the city, Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun and her entourage were holding a drunken soiree and pretending it wasn’t happening, until finally a shell hit the building they were in and knocked the power out.
That’s oftentimes how we are. Our flesh wants to pretend the party will never end.
But then when death and judgment are on the horizon, then the unbelieving start to run around everywhere looking for help. They run here, and then quickly run there. They go to one church, and then another. They read one book, and then another. Someone says, “The savior is in the desert” and they run there. Someone else says, “The savior is in the inner rooms,” and they run there.
That panic of the unbeliever who fears judgment has been found in the church. In fact it has taken over the church at various periods of history; false prophets have lured people away with miracles and signs into false religions, and they have set up in the church and taught a different Gospel.
Any teaching that says you must run here or there for salvation comes from the spirit of false prophecy or antichrist. Some promise salvation if we run to a monastery or out in the desert to live a holier life than everyone else. Other teachers promise salvation only if we ally ourselves with the right church or religious organization.
But really, you have only to be silent—as Moses said. There is only one salvation. And that is the Lord Himself, who fights for you.
The Lord Himself fought for you when He suffered God’s wrath against all your transgressions on the cross. You didn’t do that. You didn’t earn that. You didn’t receive it by running to this location or that. It was given to you in the Gospel. It was proclaimed to you. Jesus, the Lord, found you and forgave your sins.
When you were a baby, most of you were saved by Jesus. You were baptized into His death and resurrection. You didn’t do anything for that. It was simply given to you. And then you didn’t do any holy works; you were just a baby. And when you got older you had to be taught the faith. Yet you were saved. And that baptism still saves us. We have only to be still, as Zachary W. by God’s grace will be saved today. He will not do anything. He will simply be brought in our prayers and with our hands, and Jesus, according to His promise, will bestow salvation.
How can salvation be that simple? Surely we should run here or there, or do something?
No. Salvation is given. Today Jesus gives it to us in His body and blood. It is His promise alone that saves. “For you for the forgiveness of sins.”
On the last day it will be the same. We will not be heirs of God because we ran here or there. We have Christ’s promise that we are heirs. And so He promises that we do not have to run anywhere. He will appear in great glory, and those who are His own He will rescue and raise from the dead to live with Him in His glory.
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria.
- Sermon – All Saints’ Sunday Revelation 7:9-17 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
O joy of women in the host of heaven! Winsomest maid through all the borders of the world, of whom the ocean dwellers ever have heard story! Reveal to us that wonder which came upon thee from on high, how thou in childbirth didst conceive, yet knewest naught of human love after man’s kind. Truly, we have never heard that such a thing befell in days of old as unto thee was granted in wondrous grace; neither may we look for it to happen in any time to come. Verily, fair faith abode in thee, for that thou barest in thy bosom the Prince of glory, yet was thy radiant maidhood no wit stained. As all the children of men sow in sorrow, so again they reap; they bring forth unto death. The blessed damsel spake, holy Mary, rich in triumph:
“What is this wondering wherewith ye wonder, and this sorrowing that ye mourn with sorrow, Salem’s daughters and sons? Eagerly ye ask how I did keep my chastity, my maidhood, and yet became the mother of the glorious Son of God. To men that wonder is not known, but in David’s beloved kinsmaid Christ made known that all the sin of Eve is done away, the curse cast out, the lowlier sex lifted up. Now hope is come that both for man and maid amid celestial joy of angels, with the Father of truth, bliss may abide forever.”
…Now is fulfilled which there the man of wisdom with eye beheld. Thou art that wall-door; through thee the all-ruling Lord once journeyed out to earth; and even so, adorned with power, pure and chosen, Christ the Almighty found thee; even so the Prince of Angels, Lord of Life, locked thee after Him as with a key, all undefiled…We city dwellers pray that thou show forth thy Son, a comfort to the peoples. Henceforward may we all have hope, since now we see the Babe upon thy breast…
Lo! How wondrous change is wrought in the life of men, since the mild Creator of mankind received from mortal maid flesh undefiled; neither knew she any whit the love of man, nor by the seed of man came the Lord of triumph upon earth. But more of craft was that than all the dwellers of earth might comprehend, how wondrously the Glory of the skies, High Lord of heaven, through His mother’s womb wrought help to men. And so the Saviour of the nations, the Lord of hosts, dealeth out each day in succor unto man forever His forgiveness.
Cynewulf, Christ (I) (Exeter Book)
Once a man has killed his conscience in even a single point, natural reason brings forth nothing but error.
This is an article about contraception from a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod theological journal published in 1917. It’s interesting to see the certainty that the Missouri Synod possessed about contraception, even though now we “don’t have an official position.” I guess at that time, less than 100 years ago, all Christian Churches had an “official position” on contraception, whether they were Baptist or Episcopal or Lutheran, or Roman or Eastern. The position was, “it’s a sin.”
The quote above is also instructive. Why do we consistently fail to convince anyone that Christian opposition to homosexual “marriage” is something other than bigotry? Over time it’s easy to start to recognize that nature puts sexuality, conception, and marriage/fidelity together. But try to explain this very simple moral point in a college setting, and you’ll be blacklisted, laughed out of the room, ostracized. Why are otherwise very intelligent people so unable to follow a very simple train of thought with regard to moral issues? Because once you’ve martyred your conscience in regard to one thing, you lose the ability to reason. I suppose this is connected to Paul’s argument, that God gave people over to a “reprobate mind” that is no longer able to perceive basic things like, “An image made to look like a snake or a dragon” can’t be the true God.
It explains very well why otherwise intelligent people show themselves so incapable of making correct judgments about facts like the one above. Natural reason tells you that the true God can’t be a reptile or a bird, since He is omnipotent and eternal. But once we reject the light of simple moral truths which even the pagans understand, we get to where we are unable to reason morally. That’ s where we are now.
Lehre und Wehre (1917), p. 138
More dangerous still than the shameless “birth control” movement is the slogan preached for years in so many American newspapers: “Fewer children and better ones.” The Congregationalist Advance shows in a recent lead article the deception on which this hypocritical proposition of the eugenicists is based.
“The families where there are fewer children have on them the burden of proof. Are there better children in those homes where there are fewer? The contrary is the experience of many homes. The one child is a petted and spoiled child. The men and women who make their mark in the world have largely come out of large families. The reasons are partly apparent. The child who has grown up in a large family has already met a considerable number of life’s social problems and adjusted himself to them. In the large family there must be give and take. There must be adjustment and division and compromise. There must be the constant measuring of one’s own desire against another’s right. A child so reared has met the world, and settled some of its essential problems before he leaves the home.”
Not only is restricting the number of children according to the principle “fewer children, but better” immoral and godless; it is untenable even when judged according to reason alone. How unreasonably the case is made in favor of child-impoverished families is evident from a statement in the Brooklyn Union Standard from 1908, which recently came into our hands again. It was argued at the time that, since the era of protracted warfare is behind us, homeland defense is no longer a contemporary problem. For that reason we can safely limit the number of children! We let the words follow:
“It is now recognized in this day of universal education that it is better to raise three children, so their minds shall be reasonably equipped for the battle of life, and their bodies strong, so as to withstand the hardships of adversity, than to bring five children to the age of maturity in a condition which foretells their filling the ranks of the lower strata of society. With frequent and protracted wars a thing of the past, with the questions of national defense less pressing than ever before, with the conquering of plagues, which in other centuries claimed their thousands yearly, the common welfare does not demand families with eight or ten children, particularly if their parents are poor.”
Is it necessary to repeat more of this today? [At the time this was written the US had recently entered the first world war, by far the most bloody conflict the world had ever seen up until that point.] Even the first sentence with its reference to the sinking down of children into the lower strata of society when their number in the family rises above five is complete nonsense and goes against daily experience.
Once a man has killed his conscience in even a single point, natural reason brings forth nothing but error. G.
- Why Paleo-Evangelicals are leery of Republicans (geneveith.com)
- Yahnke Tapes: Families Are Innocent Victims of Gay Children Who “Come Out” (lcamyopinion.wordpress.com)
- The Yahnke Tapes: Homosexuals and Execution. (lcamyopinion.wordpress.com)
- Violation of Conscience and Freedom of Faith (ezerwoman.wordpress.com)