1st Sunday after Christmas
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 2:33-40
December 28, 2014
Falling and Rising
Christmas ends far too quickly. We have just a day and a night to celebrate together the coming of God in human flesh. That is too short. We must stay with the incarnation of our Lord a little longer. It is the wellspring of all joy. For God has not left us in the dust of our corruption, sin, and death. He has joined us in our human nature and united our nature to God’s nature forever.
In the Gospel reading Joseph and Mary are still marveling at Jesus, even though at least a month has gone by since His birth. It is impossible to take in all the glory of this child or to comprehend all the good things He brings to us. Even though Mary has been told that her child will be called “The Son of God,” they are still marveling at the things people tell her about Jesus. First it was the shepherds proclaiming that they had seen angels who told them that they would find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, and that this baby was “a Savior, Christ the Lord.” Now, as Mary and Joseph go to the temple for Mary’s purification and the presentation of the baby Jesus according to the law of the Lord, the aged prophet Simeon snatches the child out of His startled mother’s arms and begins to prophesy that in this child he has seen the Lord’s salvation. He sings the song that we sing after communion each Sunday, the Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.”
Why is Simeon ready to die in peace? He has seen God’ s salvation in the babe of Bethlehem. The baby is the one the prophets have proclaimed for centuries and for whom God’s people had watched since they first left the garden of Eden. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is the Lord of hosts tenting among us, tabernacling among us, letting us see Him now not under the covering of the temple but in human flesh. He is God and man, coming to fulfill the requirements of the law for us. He is coming to end Satan’s rule and domination over us. He is coming to bear sin on Himself and remove it from us. He is going to break the power of death over us and give us resurrection from the dead and eternal life.
The Christmas Gospel tells us that God has become one with us and shouldered the whole burden of our salvation. Greater joy could not be proclaimed than the joy that comes with this baby.
Yet in our Gospel reading sorrowful prophecies also come from Simeon’s lips concerning the baby Jesus. They are hard to understand in light of the great joy of His birth. Simeon says that this child is set for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and as a sign that will be spoken against. He says that a sword will go through Mary’s soul because of her child. How can such hard things be said about Jesus? How could He who came into the world to save it be the cause of many falling? Who would speak against Jesus, who comes to us meek and gentle as an infant?
Yet we see to our sadness that just this happens in our own experience. Many do not receive the good news of Jesus’ birth. The powerful and great people of the world, the educated and wise of the world, by and large reject Christ, and many speak against His teaching and His church. And not only these, but also the great majority of people despise this baby and His kingdom.
The reason for this is not to be found in Jesus. He does not will that people reject Him. He does not will that any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth. He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world mighty be saved through Him.
The reason is found in sinful men. Jesus is given to us to be the cornerstone of our salvation, that we might be built on Him and be saved. But most of the world stumbles over Jesus.
The powerful, rich, and mighty people in the world often stumble over Christ because His kingdom does not bring earthly wealth and earthly peace, but instead persecution, conflict, division, and often poverty in this world. Jesus does not bring peace in this world. He is the world’s only Savior. As a result He excites the hostility of people who follow other religions and other gods who claim to save. And having a religion that excites the anger and hostility of many people is not good for business or politics. So most of the wealthy and powerful people of this world are offended at Christ. They stumble over Him, reject Him, and are lost forever.
The wise and educated of this world are often offended at Christ. Great learning and intelligence do not bring a person to Christ. The well-educated and intelligent people of this world are often put off by the fact that their wisdom does not count for anything before Christ. They say to Christ’s people, “How can you presume to condemn everyone who doesn’t believe in your Christ when so many people who are your intellectual superiors don’t believe in Him?” They take offense at the Scripture, which does not seem to agree with the findings of modern science. But they do not realize that the Christian faith can’t be believed in even a single article unless it is revealed to a person by the Holy Spirit from heaven. The doctrine that God is three persons, one God—the doctrine of the trinity—confounds human reason. The teaching of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ—that Jesus is both fully God and fully man, yet one person—confounds human reason. The teaching that we are justified by faith in Christ alone apart from the works of the law contradicts human sense and reason. Thus many of the wise and learned stumble over Christ and are lost forever. They put their trust in their own intellect instead of the baby in Mary’s arms.
And it’s not just the wise and powerful who stumble over Christ, but the majority of ordinary people. They stumble over Christ because their hearts are set on having peace, ease, good days, earthly prosperity. But Christ’s kingdom is such that it is always followed not by wealth and ease but by the hostility of the devil and the world. Persecution and the cross come with Christianity. And so when the devil makes people’s lives difficult for the sake of faith in Christ, whether through persecution or suffering from outside or temptation within, the majority of the world says, “Why should I suffer all this just for the sake of religion?” So the mass of people stumble over Christ and are lost forever.
Even though Jesus is sent into the world for its salvation, many stumble and fall over Him, just as Simeon prophesied.
But Simeon also prophesied that Jesus is set for the rising of many in Israel. He raises up those who are cast down because of the knowledge of their sins. He raises up those who are terrified because they know that they are sinners before God. For them Jesus is a precious cornerstone of salvation. This infant Jesus is an immoveable rock of salvation, just as Simeon said: “My eyes have seen your salvation.” He is the salvation provided by the Lord. No one who believes in Him will be put to shame. He cancels the shame and disgrace of all who believe in Him. This little infant comes to bear the sin and shame and disgrace of the whole world. God Himself comes in our human flesh to bear our disgrace, to bear and suffer for our fall from the grace of God. And He comes instead to give God’s pure grace and favor, so that everyone who believes in Him can say, “God is pleased with me.” For as Jesus grew up, the grace of God was upon Him. God’s favor was on Him, because He always did what pleased God. He was given by God to win this favor not for Himself but for us. We who were born in sin and grew up in sin have God’s favor rest upon us because of the obedience of Jesus.
Thus He raises up the fallen. And He does not reject anyone who comes to Him, no matter what their sins have been. Often times in the church we feel more burdened by our sins than we would be if we were outside of it. We are supposed to know better and be better because we have been taught about Christ and believed in Him. That makes our falls into sin so much the worse and more grievous, because we sin against the Lord’s salvation that we know and our eyes have seen.
But the infant Jesus is set for the rising even of such sinners as we are. He raised up Peter, who denied Him, and Paul, who persecuted and murdered Christians. He raised up Mary Magdalene, and Zacchaeus the tax collector. Jesus raises up the fallen. In Him is pure salvation to the chief and worst of sinners. He is their righteousness. He is our righteousness.
We cast down sinners fall upon Jesus because we have nowhere else to go for relief from our sins. And He raises us up. He clothes us with His own righteousness. He washes us clean from sin in Baptism. He absolves us, even though our offenses are red as blood, and makes us as white as snow. He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink to purify us. And He raises us up. He raises us up to reign with Him. He raises us up to share God’s favor with Him. He raises us up to share His image. And one day He will raise us up from the dead to perfectly wear His glorious image.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 1:1-14
December 25, 2014
And the word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
Look at the stable with the goats and donkeys and oxen and whatever animals were there. That stable outside the inn where there was no room. Look into the manger, the crib out of which the animals eat. Look at the baby lying there, swaddled in bands.
You are looking then at the one who was in the beginning. You look into the beginning when you look into His eyes.
You look into the eyes of the one who saw your unformed substance before one of your days came to be. He saw you before time began, before there was light, before the sky separated waters from waters, before dry land appeared.
Those eyes you meet in the infant lying in the crib, the manger, amidst the clucking chickens and the cow and those animal smells.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. Before the sun ever rose, before there was an ocean teeming with creatures, before Leviathan played in the depths there was life in Him. And all the things that would be would be for Him. They would come from Him, pass through His fingers, pass across His lips as He spoke them. And the air they breathed and the light which marked out their horizons was the life that was and is in Him.
We want to find life. Would we have ever looked for life there, here, in a baby wrapped up among the animals?
You would think that the animals would be scared by the close proximity of the beating heart of the life of the world.
But there is peace here where the Lord of the world lies. Beyond all comprehension is the peace that He brings. He comes with no war in His heart and He is not ashamed of the grime and dirt He has come to live in. The Lord comes in peace. He makes His dwelling among us. He takes up residence in and among us, in our skin, bone, blood.
In the growing bones, beneath the soft baby skin, breathing softly, in the blood gushing through fragile veins is the Almighty, the Lord.
The dear eternal Son of the Father is ours. Could God give something more, something better? Less than we are able to give something better than our only sons.
Oh Christmas Day! If only our hearts were wide enough to hold a sliver of the joy of your birth, O Christ our Lord.
For God our God has held nothing back from us! There is the proof—the baby held by blessed Mary! He is the Father’s dear child, now also a poor woman’s dear child. He is the Holy Father’s beloved Son to whom He gave everything, through whom He made everything! And He is your dear child, your dear baby, because He is for you.
He is the ancient, omnipotent Word of the father that expresses all His heart and mind, and now all the fullness of that Word is clothed in our flesh. The word that made you has come into the world beside you, to live with you, to live for you, to be wholly and completely yours. And you completely and wholly His.
But how can He come to me and be mine, you say. Some people are afraid to have babies because they are afraid that they will injure them, hurt them, ruin them. Some people are afraid to hold babies because they do not want to drop them.
How can such a priceless gift be given to us, to lay in a manger with the smell of animals? How can you, O Father, give your Son to smell our stench?
Or do you think that really you would take good care of this Word, this life that has come to dwell among us?
Do you need to be reminded of all the priceless things you’ve broken, wasted, despised? There was paradise. Your ancestors destroyed it. They befouled what was holy. Took what was forbidden. Rejected life. And you are their child. God gave you your body and you didn’t appreciate it until it started not to work. When it was young and strong you used it to serve your pleasure and will.
God gave you parents who loved you, clothed you and fed you and changed your diapers. And you live as if they were born to serve you. You took lightly their instruction.
Our lives are littered with broken things, gifts we broke, discarded. All of them were the handiwork of this Word who now lies cradled in the manger.
There is holy marriage and your spouse God gave you to love, and you did not recognize this holy gift came from the Word that lies before you.
There were your coworkers and boss that the Word designed for you to love and serve and be schooled by, and you despised His handiwork.
How will you be able to take Him for your own? What horrors will you inflict on Him?
No, you must take Him up with your soiled hands. You must let this baby be born in a stable among the animals and the stench, and you must take Him up in your soiled hands, the hands that once took what was forbidden. You must take Him up and place Him in the soiled manger of your heart, because it is for that purpose that the Father has given Him.
He knows your hands will bruise Him and that your heart is a wilderness, no safe place for a baby. He knows, the Father knows, more deeply and intimately than you do, with tears—the darkness that is in you.
He knows the evil that you have become, but He knows one thing that will make you new, and that is His Son,t he Word, becoming what you are.
You must take Him up in your hands and claim Him as your own. You must allow Him to be Christ the Savior who is born for you. You must allow Him to bear your iniquity and be bruised and slain by your hands. You must allow Him to be your Lord and not try to prevent Him from shedding His blood for you.
Yes, you must eat His flesh and drink His blood, for in His flesh and blood are life.
Indestructible life that cannot be overcome by the darkness that is in you, in the world, in hell, or anywhere else.
No, His life swallows up your darkness and death. His life eats the death and darkness in you. That is what will happen when His blood flows on the cross.
Whoever receives Him, whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood, has life. Whoever believes in Him has eternal life. Whoever believes in this baby will not kill this baby, defile this baby, but will be born again of God into this baby’s image.
Those who received Him He gave the right to become the children of God.
It is those who will not receive Him, who pretend that they can get by without taking Him in dirty, evil, murderous hands—they have eternal death. They do not receive Him or know Him. Because they do not know that the eternal Son has come, and the Holy Father has given Him, that He might receive our dirt and filth and wickedness, our inability to handle Him with reverence, our sin and all our helplessness in it.
He has come to receive that so you might receive Him and His life.
Look at Him. He is the ancient of days, but now He has a beginning. He who has no beginning has a beginning. It is your new beginning, so that all of your old and broken may fall on Him and be broken and destroyed and His eternal newness and life may be yours.
You are started over.
Only by His birth in that smelly cradle.
He is born. God has started you over.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 2:1-14
December 24, 2014
Hope for the Sons of Adam
At the time Jesus was born, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that the whole world should go back to the city of their forefathers to be registered for a tax.
If we want to receive the good news of great joy that the angels proclaim in this evening’s Gospel, we must also go back. We must go back to our origins and consider the years of our life, and also the people we are descended from.
For God has set a date when the entire world will be registered before Him; the entire world will stand before Him and face judgment. And God has a registry in which is written not only the family and city of our birth, but also the record of our lives and those of our fathers. And He has kept an account of who has paid Him His due, who has paid Him the honor and glory that belong to Him.
So if we want to consider the birth of Jesus in the right way, we must go back to our beginnings. What kind of life have we led—not only in the past few weeks or months, but down through the decades into our youth and childhood? Who did we live our lives for? Did we live to love and serve God and other people, or did we live as if the purpose of our lives was to please and glorify ourselves?
But we must go back farther. We must consider that we are the heirs of the lives of our parents, grandparents, and our ancestors in the more distant past. And we should honor our parents and forefathers, and praise God for the good they did for us. But we shouldn’t be blind to what they were. We have a tendency to rewrite our own histories and pretend that we are descended from long lines of mostly noble people. We edit out the parts that are unpleasant to remember. The Israelites consistently forgot that their fathers rebelled against God, turning back to idols and stoning the prophets. It was probably easy for descendants of David to forget that despite all the glories of His life, David had committed adultery and then murder to cover up his sin. If we go back, we will find that we are also descended from a long line of sinners, and that even the best people in our ancestries press down upon us with the guilt of their rebellion against God.
All of us in the end are from the house and lineage of Adam, our first father. In the beginning the house of our first father was Paradise, the garden of God. Our first ancestor was created in the image and likeness of God. He was a great king in that state.
But he squandered it all and brought the curse of God on himself and the generations that followed. Instead of remaining in the image and likeness of God, he fell into the image of the liar and imposter and enemy of God, the devil, who claimed that he could teach us the way to become more than just images of God, but gods in our own right. This shameful treachery and curse passed from Adam to all his descendants.
It’s the reason that by nature we are quite comfortable the way things are, being separated from God. We are born dead to God and objects of His wrath. We do not feel like imposters imposing on God’s good creation until we sense His nearness. Then we suddenly become afraid, like the shepherds, and start looking for places to hide.
If we go back and look, this is what we see—that even if we have tried and succeeded at living an honorable life before other people, we cannot cover up our shame before God. Adam and Eve’s fig leaves worked to cover their nakedness before each other, but not before God.
He sees what we do not want to see or accept—that we are conceived and born from ancestors who were corrupt and had gone astray from God. Even if we have lived an honorable life before the world, God still sees that the thoughts of our hearts are corrupt by nature. There is no good remaining in them. There is no spark of good in us, no good impulses, no remnant of free will that would enable us to become free from the debt that we inherited from Adam. We are by nature objects of His wrath.
When a person is convicted of sin, he knows that he is an object of God’s wrath. And like his father Adam, he starts casting around to find something to help or to hide his guilt. But creation offers no help. Even if there were something in creation that could hide our guilt or take away our sins, it would not do it. Creation turns against the guilty fugitives that we are for our treachery against God.
This is the place we find ourselves if we go back to the house of our fathers. It is a place without hope. We are scrambling around looking for a place to escape God’s wrath but cannot find any.
Faced with this reality, most people choose to deny it. They simply deny that the bible is true in teaching these things. They say Scripture has been disproven. Others continue to hold to the authority of the Bible outwardly but obstinately deny that our situation in Adam is so bad. But the consciences of those who deny the truth cannot have peace. They may slumber for awhile, but they can’t know real rest or peace.
When we have gone back to the city of our fathers and seen that there is nothing but destruction to be found in us and them, we are ready to go to Bethlehem and hear the angels.
Tonight there is proclaimed a place of safety, rest, and peace for the heirs of Adam’s sin. There is true hope given to those who in themselves are nothing but objects of God’s wrath. “For unto us a child is born. Unto us a Son is given.”
Into the midst of the generations of sinful people the Son of God is born. David, despite being a man after God’s own heart, was a murderer and adulterer. Yet God made a promise to him that a descendant of his would reign on his throne forever. This descendant would be born in the ancestral city of David—Bethlehem.
How could this possibly be, when David had committed such grave sins that he deserved not only not to keep his throne, but to receive the death penalty? It did not happen because of David’s goodness or faithfulness to God. God made David a promise to set a descendant on David’s throne forever. He made David a promise based on His own grace and goodness. And He kept His promise.
And His promise of a descendant to David was also a promise of the forgiveness of sins to David, His descendants, and all the human race. He did not count David’s sins against him because he had already planned to blot them out. God had planned before the foundation of the world not to hold men’s sins against them. That was why Adam and Eve, when they came out of hiding, were not immediately damned and put to death. Instead God promised that an offspring of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head. It was the first promise of the Gospel.
The Son of God is born into the house of David, a great sinner. The Son of God is not ashamed to be seen with great sinners and to call them His own. This is our first ground for hope.
Secondly, the Son of God has been conceived without sin in the womb of a virgin. Even though He takes up residence in the midst of fallen men and sits as king in the dynasty of a sinful man, the Son of God does not share in the guilt that has cursed the birth of every human being since the first man sinned. He is conceived and born sinlessly, yet He comes to dwell with sinful men.
He comes to dwell with sinful men because it is His good pleasure to be stained and burdened with their sins and finally to overcome the corruption into which we were born.
Third, He is born and placed in a manger, in a feeding trough for animals. This is so strange a sight that the Gospel mentions it twice. It surely is the last place you would look for a king and savior. In the same way, the last place you would look for God is in the midst of the people who rebelled against Him and deserved His wrath. Certainly you would not look beneath them. For what human being would want to lay his baby in a feeding trough for animals? The world says we are foolish and kidding ourselves that we have righteousness solely through this baby, when the church is marked by so much sin and weakness. But Jesus the Son of God does what is beneath God. He even goes beneath men to serve us. Because He has come to earth to be beneath us; He has come not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. He has placed Himself beneath us by bearing our guilt.
Fourth, we have grounds for hope because the angel tells the shepherds not to be afraid, even though they are surrounded by the glory of God. The image is reminiscent of paradise, where God put an angel to guard the way to the tree of life and put Adam and Eve out of His presence. But now the angel is opening the door to paradise. Don’t be afraid, because I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people…Don’t be afraid because I evangelize you. I tell you the good news that paradise is open again through this little baby born in Bethlehem.
Fifth, when the angel tells us who this baby is, He gives us assurance that He is strong enough to undo our birth in sin and our debt. “A Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” It is no mere man. It is not an angel who has become man. It is the Lord Himself, the omnipotent one. It is the one who has been wronged and offended by our sin. He comes down into our presence because we cannot rise to His. And He will do everything necessary to make us reign with Him at the Father’s right hand. He joins Himself to our flesh and blood, is born for us, obeys the Father for us. He will die for us and rise to the right hand of God so that we will be raised with Him to the right hand of the Father. By His death and resurrection He causes us to be reborn in Him. Because He is the Lord, He is strong enough to undo the bonds of our sins in His flesh.
Sixth, a great multitude of the heavenly host appears to praise God for this birth. They did this at no other time. Why did they sing so loudly at the birth of Jesus? Because it is truly good news of great joy for us. They were not singing for themselves. It was not for angels that Jesus became a man. It was for us. They sing so jubilantly because they rejoice that now we have nothing to fear. Our salvation is in this baby’s hands. And He will accomplish what He has begun by being born for us. He will perfect His work and bring it to completion when He breathes His last on the cross.
And everyone who believes in this baby has all his merit for their own.
God has restored us to Him, because He has joined Himself to us.
Finally, we have the song that the angels sing to cheer us. They sing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men with whom He is pleased.” In this child God gets His glory from the human race. What Adam had taken and what we have taken from God, God receives from Jesus. God receives the honor and the obedience due Him from the first man and all subsequent men. The price of His stolen glory is paid back by this child who was born for us, who was born to die for us.
Jesus also brings peace to men with whom God is pleased. All who believe in Him are pleasing to God. And all who believe in Him have peace with God. What nothing in all creation could give us, because nothing in all creation could take away our sins or cover them, Jesus gives. He lets Himself be stained with our sins and receive their due reward. He is our mediator and intercessor who stands in our place before God. He gives a quiet, peaceful conscience. He is the sign that God is at peace with us and we with Him, this infant wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
Soli Deo Gloria
Christmas Eve Vespers
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 1:18-25
December 24, 2014
Before Joseph heard the good news, He acted in line with it. Here he had every reason to feel grieved and betrayed, and no doubt did, because Mary who was betrothed to him, who had promised herself to him, turned up pregnant with someone else’s child. But Joseph put aside his feelings of betrayal and grief. He didn’t seek revenge, to hurt Mary in return for what it seemed she had done to hurt him. He was going to put her away in secret, so that she would not be shamed as an adulteress, perhaps even put to death.
That is just how God acts toward us in the Gospel. Where we really have betrayed Him and been unfaithful, God responds not with anger and vengeance but with kindness. He does not punish us as our sins deserve. He remembers His mercy and seeks to cover our shame.
What Joseph did not know was that God was in the midst of doing just that through Joseph’s pregnant bride. He was not only softening His punishment, but wrapping His own righteousness around us to cover our sin. He was not going to put His adulterous creation away quietly, but take us as His bride through the baby which was conceived in Mary’s womb.
Joseph did not know that Mary was not pregnant through unchastity. She was pregnant with a chastity that no other human pregnancy had ever had. She remained a virgin, but had conceived a holy child solely through the power of the Spirit of holiness. There was no stain of sin whatsoever in Mary’s pregnancy.
But it was more than a spotlessly clean conception that did not violate her virginity. The child who was conceived in her womb was not just a holy man but the second person of the Trinity, God the Son.
God was with us in the womb of Joseph’s wife in a way that he had never been before. He was not only with us because He is present everywhere, according to His divine power and majesty. He was with us as a human being, a little unborn human being wrapped in His mother’s womb. He was with us in having skin, bone, blood vessels, eyelashes. He was with us living in a world that is scarred by grief and death and sin. He was coming into the world, about to enter it as one of us.
God was with us, as the prophet Isaiah had foretold hundreds of years before—“The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which means, God with us.
But they did not call His name Immanuel, did they? No, the angel told Joseph that he was to name the child Jesus. And Jesus does not mean, “God with us.” It means, “The Lord saves.” And the angel explains that He was to be called Jesus because He would save His people from their sins.
But the two names are the same. The Lord was present in Mary’s womb to save His people from their sins. The Lord was showing the mercy to His people that Joseph had shown to Mary. The Lord was not responding to the betrayal of the human race with vengeance. We had departed from God, but He drew near to us to save us from our sins. He had come into the flesh in Mary’s womb not to punish us or even rebuke us but to be with us in our sin and condemnation. He came to be with us under its dreadful burden and curse so that we might not be put away from the Lord forever in shame, but joined to Him forever as partakers of the same nature. The Lord was with us to reclaim fallen human nature from sin and make it God’s again, but this time even more intimately united to God than it was at the beginning. Now man would not just bear the image of God, but God would be man and take man’s image on Himself.
God was with us in Mary’s womb to be our Jesus, to be the saving Lord who saves us from our sins. And how would He do that? Not merely by being a helper and a guide and a teacher, but by sharing the shame and guilt of our sin, making it His own. That’s why He didn’t appear in majesty when He was born but in weakness. He put aside His power and majesty so that He could dwell under the same curse as us. He came to suffer as we do. We have lost the glory we were created with and now dwell on earth as exiles who are surrounded by pain and chastisement until we die. He came to be with us in our exile. We are no longer able to see the glory of God and rejoice in His presence except through faith in His Word. Jesus came to be with us and suffer that also.
We are cut off from God by our sins. We deserve to be sent away from Him forever, and sometimes we feel that we are. And when we feel this way the law of God reminds us that our unfaithfulness to God has earned us an eternal divorce from Him.
Jesus came to receive this most bitter fruit of sin—to be cast away from God for our sins. In being with us in our separation from God He saved us from our sins and united us to God forever.
Through Him we are bound to God with bonds of flesh and blood and bone. God has not sent us away but covered up our shame with His Son whom He gave to be our own. God gave Him to be our God and brother and bridegroom. He gave Him to be with us even in our death and separation from God so that we might be united to Him in His life and in His perfect union with God the Father.
God has not cast us away for our unfaithfulness. He has come near to us in our own flesh and bone. He has taken us as His bride. He is with us, and has saved us from our sins.
God not only was with us when Jesus was in Mary’s womb. He did not stop being with us when He ascended to heaven. He is still with us as the bridegroom who purchased us with the shedding of His blood. He paid for us not to be sent away. He intercedes for us, pleads with the Father on our behalf. And though He is at the right hand of God, reigning over all things for our good, He also is present with each one who believes in Him as our Jesus, the one who saves us from our sins. He gives us His Spirit who declares us free from our sins. He is with us to help us until we see His glorious face. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
(Tilemann Heshusius, Sermon for Christmas, Postilla)
Der Allmechtige und Gutige Gott/ hat nicht allein der gantzen Welt seinen Son geschencket/ und verehret zu dem reichen Trost/ wie wir jetzt gehoeret haben/ sondern auch geleret/ wie wir seiner moegen geniessen/ Und alle der Gueter theilhafftig werden. Er begeret zwar nicht von uns grosse Schetze oder Bezahlung/ das wir im solche Gueter abkeuffen muesten/ Oder das wir uns zubesorgen hetten/ Unsere Armuth were zu gros/ Wir koendten zu solcher Herrligkeit nicht kommen/ Er fordert auch nicht von uns schwere harte Dienste/ damit wirs muesten verdienen/ Sondern alles wil Er aus gnaden schencken. Eines fordert er nur/ das wir solche thewre Gaben mit Glauben annehmen/ An dem Newgebornen Kindlein alle unsern Trost und frewde haben/ unnd durch in von Suend und Todt uns helffen lassen/ Gott spricht selber/ Jesa. 55/ Wolan/ alle die ir duerstig seid/ kompt her zum Wasser/ Un die ir nicht Gelt habt kompt her keuffet/ und Esset/ Kompt her/ Keuffet one Geld und sunst/ Wein und Milch. Das ist One alle Vergeltung wil uns Gott solche thewre Gaben widerfaren lassen/ Das wir durch seinen Son den Himmel und die Seligkeit erlangen moegen.
How we Should Make Ourselves Participants in the Saving and Joyful Birth of Jesus Christ.
Tilemann Heshusius, Sermon for Christmas, Postilla
The Almighty and Kind God has not only given the whole world His Son, and set Him forward to give rich comfort, as we have now heard. But instead He also teaches how we might enjoy what is His and become participants in all His good things. He does not at all require of us great treasures or payment, that we must buy such great good things from Him, or provide ourselves with them. Our poverty is too great. We could never come to such glory. He also does not demand hard service of us with which we must merit these good things, but instead He wants to give them all out of grace. He only requires that we receive such precious gifts with faith, that we have all our comfort and joy in this newborn child, and let Him help us from sin and death. God Himself says in Isaiah 55, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come here to the waters; and he who has no money, come here, buy and eat. Come here, buy wine and milk without money and without price. That is, God wants to let these gifts come to us without any payment, that we might receive through His Son heaven and blessedness.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 1:19-28
December 21, 2014
“The Unknown Christ”
“Among you stands one you do not know…” John 1:26
We preach an unknown to the world.
The world is ready to receive great men. That’s why the Jews from Jerusalem made overtures to John the Baptist. They saw in him the marks of a great man, perhaps a prophet.
But John was not coming to be a great man. He was there to prepare the way for someone else. He was there to prepare the way for the LORD.
The world understands human greatness, but it does not understand the Lord. The Lord is above human greatness. As Luther puts it in His Christmas hymn:
Worldly honor, wealth, and might,
Are weak and worthless in His sight. LSB 358, st. 12
The Lord is not coming to do anything the world thinks is great. He comes to establish no empire, build no company, make no money, win no Super Bowl.
He is coming to destroy the kingdom of the devil. But what is that to the world? The world does not believe that it is under the power of the devil and cannot free itself.
The Lord cannot be known by fallen people. It doesn’t matter whether they are spiritual or religious or not. Unless we receive a new heart we cannot know Him or the work He comes to do.
That’s why John’s work was to preach “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
That means the pride of men’s hearts must first be extinguished. We are eager to receive great men because we are arrogant and proud. Proud and arrogant hearts cannot know the Lord, because He is meek and gentle.
“For thus says the Lord who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in a high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” (Is. 57:15)
The Lord does not dwell with hearts that are assured of themselves, of their own worth and goodness. For the high and exalted Lord dwells with the lowly.
The Jews, though they were religious, didn’t know the Lord, because their hearts were lifted up. We struggle against the same sin in the church today. It pains us that Christianity doesn’t come with earthly benefits, or even with respectability anymore. Instead we are forced to join with a small bedraggled band of believers who seem to be abandoned by God rather than chosen by Him.
This sin of pride, together with its cohorts—self-righteousness, despising of God, love of the world–are what make the Lord of the world and unknown. They keep people from seeing the Lord and from valuing what He has come to do, that is, set us free from our sins. The world despises the Lord’s work because it doesn’ t believe that it is in bondage to sin and the devil. It doesn’t believe that no one can free it but the Lord.
The world thinks that it is already right with God, or that by making good choices it can make itself right with God.
And by nature this is what we believe too. We insist on believing it, because if it is not true we cannot save ourselves.
This makes us, too, idolaters who don’t know the Lord. We don’t recognize Him or His work. We despise and reject Him in our proud flesh. This is how every one of us is by nature, and we have no power to free ourselves.
We understand human greatness but do not regard the works of the Lord.
But to crushed sinners who fear when they hear John’s preaching, the mighty Lord is revealed. He is no longer an unknown.
He makes Himself known in His might and His gentleness to save those crushed and burdened by their sins.
He reveals Himself as God in the flesh who has come to fulfill the demands of God’s law for us. He comes with the power to love God with His whole heart and His neighbor as Himself, so that not a jot or a tittle of God’s law remains unfulfilled. It’s not a false self-righteousness He accomplishes, that simply pretends to itself that it is good enough for God. He accomplishes the righteousness that God accepts. He accomplishes the whole burden of the law. And this spotless, flawless righteousness He comes to bestow on us.
He comes with divine power in our human flesh to remove the curse of sin. Sin blinds us so that we do not know the Lord. It also divides us from God. God does not have fellowship with sin and those who commit it. Instead His anger remains on sinners. But the Lord comes to do what the world doesn’t understand and doesn’t think it needs. He comes to remove our sin and its curse so that we are not divided from God anymore. He comes to bear sin and its curse for us. He receives God’s wrath against all our sins. He lets Himself be divided from God. And now all who believe in Him are reconciled to God. God no longer counts their sins to them, but regards them as having fulfilled His will.
The Lord comes in His might to reconcile us to God and at the same time takes away the devil’s reign over human beings. Without Christ’s work the devil holds us in iron chains. All he has to do is remind us of our sins and God’s wrath against them and we are enslaved to despair. But Jesus put His heel on the ancient serpent’s head. By suffering for our sins He took away the devil’s argument. He broke the chains with which we were held. And now He frees us by the preaching of His cross and the forgiveness of sins, causing our hearts to believe that we are set free from condemnation. He teaches us to defy Satan and say, “Yes, I am a sinner, but Jesus has paid for sinners with His blood.”
And with might Jesus makes Himself known as death’s destroyer. He is the Lord of life. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” When the Lord of life entered into our flesh and tasted death, He wrecked and ransacked death as He did the kingdom of Satan. And now He gives us back death, and it is no longer death. It is a rest, a sleep, a rest for the flesh in the earth, and a rest for the soul with the Lord, awaiting the resurrection.
The mighty One who is in our midst is unknown to the world, but not to sinners who mourn. The one whose shoes John was not worthy to untie is the Lord who is mighty to save the sinful and lost.
But He comes in gentleness to those who are terrified by their sins. He does not shake the earth and tear the heavens open and thunder in His glory. He comes meek, among us as one of us, as a man also subject to weakness and pain and death. The world despises His gentleness as weakness. But to us who are terrified by our sins His gentleness is consolation.
See, He comes in every way like us, even though He is high, holy and mighty, so that He might console us and soothe our terrified hearts.
Do you grieve because you are a sinner? He doesn’t come to shame you or destroy you because of your sins. He comes to bear them.
Do you grieve because you are sick or in pain? See, the mighty one lays His majesty aside and takes your suffering and sickness on His own body. He sweats feverishly in Gethsemane. He hobbles in pain up to the platform after His beating. He thirsts on the cross. And if He who suffered for you still lets you have pain, it is not to hurt you but to heal you. It is as if He has taken a stripe off His wounded body and applied it to you as a spiritual dressing.
Do you grieve because you are poor, always struggling to make it? See, the mighty One comes in your image. He has no place on the earth to lay His head. He will be born in a stable and laid to sleep in a manger. He is poor, but His poverty is your wealth. He hasn’t come to bring you money but heavenly treasure, so that you may see the face of God. One day you will see it in heaven, with no more sin or tears to cloud your eye. But also today you may see God’s face in the midst of your suffering, in the face of Jesus, who bears your image of weakness, poverty, and sin. One day you will also see His glory and your face will reflect it.
The Lord is unknown to the world, but not to terrified sinners. He shows His face to us. He shows us His might, breaking the power of sin, death, and the devil. But He also shows us His gentleness, preaching that our sins are forgiven through His wounds and death.
Soli Deo Gloria
In Memoriam + James W
Overman Jones Funeral Home (Plainfield, Illinois)
St. John 3:16-21
December 17, 2014
Arlene, Gene, Ron,
Beloved in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today we are gathered in grief.
Where can we find a foothold?
James W.: a man ready to help people. A hard worker. A good man.
But good men in the sight of men also die, because all men are sinners before God. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Because we are sinners we must stand before God’s judgment. Then not only our deeds but the thoughts of our hearts that motivated our deeds will be examined.
Who can stand that judgment? Are our hearts pure? Don’t we want to hide in the darkness where our sins can’t be seen?
Here is our foothold, our support: God loved the world. That includes everyone.
How did He love the world? He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
God loved the world and sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
Though Jesus could rightly judge the world, that’s not why the Father sent Him.
And the text says: Whoever believes in Him is not judged, not condemned.
We live in a world in which we undergo constant judgment, even from friends and close family. And we want the judgment people speak of us to be like what I heard from James’ family—that he was a good man. But God’s judgment, if He were to judge, is that we are sinners and not good in His sight. But the text says: whoever believes in Jesus is not judged, not condemned.
Because the Son of God was judged and condemned in our place, for all our sins, that we might not perish for them but have eternal life.
For the sin in which we were born.
For our evil thoughts and desires.
For our failure to love God.
For our misuse of His name.
For our failures to worship and hear His word.
For our failure to honor our parents, love our neighbor.
All these things Jesus took the condemnation for, that we might have eternal life.
And yet, the Scripture says, most people in the world reject this gift. They stay in the darkness rather than believe in the Son and live in the light.
Living in the light doesn’t mean we don’t sin—it means we bring our sins to Christ so that He may take them away.
Then our good deeds are not good deeds done in the darkness, out of our own strength; they are carried out in the light of God, by faith in Christ, and they remain forever.
The word remains for our comfort this morning: God loved the world so as to give His only Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life.
We can look death in the face with that word of Christ: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world through Him.”
Jesus suffered the agony of death and lay in the tomb three days that we might not despair in facing death. He promises that all who believe in Him are not judged or condemned, but have eternal life.
With that freedom from judgment we can live and die with confidence before God, and have hope in the face of death.
Soli Deo Gloria