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Christmas Day 2015. “The Word Made Flesh”

December 31, 2015 Leave a comment

Christmas Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 1:1-18

December 25, 2015

“The Word Made Flesh”

Iesu Iuva

God is never far away from any one of us. But there are moments when He seems nearer than others. Usually those are times when we are not distracted by ourselves, our worries and desires, but are able for a moment to step outside ourselves and pay attention to the order and beauty in the creation. Like when I was fifteen and a cousin took me and my sister and my dad to a cottage in the highlands of Zimbabwe in Africa. I can still remember looking at the stars, which were amazing because there were so few lights around, and noticing with wonder that they had different constellations than we do in Illinois because there we were south of the Equator. But it wasn’t just that. It was that the stars were so beautiful, old and vast, and we were so small. People throughout the history of the world from every nation have had experiences like this and said to themselves, “How can all this exist unless there is a God?”

 

The same feeling and thoughts come at other times. Sometimes we hear music that moves us so powerfully that we seem to participate in a beauty that is greater than our own existence. Or we fall in love, and everything we come into contact with reminds us of that person we love. Or we give birth to a child, and suddenly instead of living only for ourselves we experience what it is to want to live for someone else.

 

But even when we do not have such experiences, the creation goes on with a purpose and an order that is not ours. We can discover it, recognize it, but we don’t create the order. The sun rises and sets, the days grow long and short according to the seasons each year. Our brains, without our conscious thought, regulate our breathing, digestion, heartbeat.

 

That’s the reason that throughout human history people have always stubbornly believed in a God or gods. We can recognize from creation’s order and from its sublimity that there must be a powerful and wise Being who brought it about. And the ancient Greeks, looking at creation and using their reason, concluded that God must have used this ordering principle to create and sustain the world. They called this ordering principle “The Word.”

 

The Greeks got about as far as human reason will take you in coming to a knowledge of God. Which is to say they had some right ideas about God, but they were a long way from knowing Him. God does have a Word through Whom He created, ordered, and sustains the universe. The Word is the Son, the only-begotten Son of the Father. He was with God in the beginning. He is God. And through Him everything that is came into being. All the beauty, order, and wisdom in the world are the prints of His fingers. It came into being through Him and continues to exist through Him. His life is what upholds the world and what gives it meaning and order. Music works and is not just a cacophony of noise because of the Word. Mathematics and science work because there is order in the world that comes from the Word. “From His fullness we have all received,” says St. John. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Everything that gives us life, sustains our lives, and gives them meaning and purpose comes from the Word of God who was in the beginning with God and who is God.

 

You would think, then, that it would be everyone in the world’s goal to draw near to that Word of God. If everything beautiful and lovely and good comes from the Word, surely the Word would be the best of all, just like water at its source is clearer and better than what is downstream. But that is not what people do. They love the gifts of the Word and ignore the source of the gifts. They set their love and trust on created things rather than the Creator. Instead of the beauty of the stars causing them to glorify the God who made them, they bowed down to the stars as gods. Instead of knowing the Divine Love of which all human love is but a shadow, they set their hearts on the love of their spouse or children. And we are no different. By nature we know there is a God, and yet we have loved and trusted and become attached to the things He made instead of loving and trusting in Him above all things.

 

That leaves us cut off from the Father’s Word, alienated from His life, without the life that gives light to every man. The Word continues to uphold us, but we reject Him. And everywhere you can see and experience the sadness and the dying that comes from being alienated from the source of all life, truth, and goodness.

 

We are restless and dissatisfied. We are vain and selfish. We cannot step outside of ourselves and marvel at the wonderful works of the Word and be led by Him into the glory of God the Father. We are preoccupied with glorifying ourselves.

 

We make a god of our own happiness, seeking it even at the expense of others. Yet we never arrive at contentment or rest.

 

This is death. It is the beginning of the never-ending death that is the result of separation from the eternal Word. In hell there will be no rest, but only the eternal despair of ever being happy, the eternal regret of knowing that we once enjoyed the gifts of the eternal Good but rejected the One who gave them.

 

But Christmas changes all this.

 

Where we once saw glimpses of the eternal Word from far away, we now see Him in His fullness. He has come near to us. He who was in the beginning, in the Father’s bosom from eternity, has entered time.

 

He has become one of us, a human being. And through His coming in our nature He makes us know God. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”

 

The Father’s eternal Word who made and upholds the world has come into the world. He who was in the beginning, in the Father’s bosom from eternity, has come to us. He has come to us not merely as a spirit or a force. He has become one of us, a human being. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”

 

He has come to us in a form that we understand—as a human person. He has not come to terrify us or to condemn us, but to show Himself to us in a way that we are able to bear. That is why on Christmas we adore the baby Jesus. The mighty God, the eternal Wisdom, the Word, is wrapped up and held close to the breast of His mother. He shows that He loves human beings, even though we have turned away from God to demons and the darkness. If He wanted to destroy us, why would He become one of us? If He wanted to terrify us, why would He become an infant? No one is scared of an infant. So the mighty Word comes near to us in our flesh, to live our life and bear our iniquity.

 

The Word became flesh and lived among us. He did this to reveal Himself to us and to reveal the Father in Himself.

 

He came to restore human beings, so that we not only reason that there is a God, but that we know the true God. Through the Holy Spirit we know the Son as our Savior and Brother. Through the Son we know the Father as our Father in heaven.

 

He came into human flesh to re-create it, so that it is able to dwell in God’s presence again. To see God and not hide in the darkness.

 

And He came not only to bring us back to God as His creatures, but to give us new birth as God’s sons and heirs.

 

In the Old Testament, Moses went up into the presence of God on Mount Sinai. He came back down with God’s Law. The Law contained God’s rules for how people must live to be pleasing to Him. In some ways people already knew this Law, because their consciences witnessed to it. But the Law on tablets of stone made it clear and undeniable what God expected of human beings.

 

But as you know, having the Law of God didn’t make the Israelites right. Just because He told them what to do didn’t mean they were able to do it. And so despite knowing God’s law we see throughout Israel’s history that they continually turned away from Him. Away from the light.

 

St. John preaches to us on Christmas: “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

 

Jesus does not come with a new Law. He comes with grace. Grace means that God loves you and blesses you even though you haven’t deserved it.

 

Jesus is the well of grace. In giving Him, the Word, to become a human, God gives us His pure favor and grace and love. Jesus is the One who fulfills the Law. Grasp Him by faith and you have fulfilled the Law; you enter God’s presence and live.

 

Because Jesus brings us back to God. He lives without ever turning away from God. He dies the death that we have earned by rejecting God. He fulfills the demands of the Law for us. Then He raises our human nature with Him to the right hand of God.

 

Everyone who believes in Jesus receives the power to become a son of God through Him. Through faith in Him God gives us new birth as His sons. We are reborn into Jesus who died for our sins, rose from the dead, and ascended to the Father. Through faith in Jesus, the Word made flesh, we no longer merely speculate about God from a distance.

 

We know Him. We see Him in Jesus.

 

And we not only see Him and know Him as outsiders. We know God as sons. Because when God’s only-begotten Son took up human nature, He united human beings to Himself. He adopted our sin and death and made it His own on the cross, taking it out of the way. Then He raised our flesh to reign at God’s right hand.

 

If you believe this, you are reborn. You are given new birth by God. You are created anew by the Word in His image. You share in Jesus’ life by faith. You are born of God and know God. Throughout your life you will experience the cross and suffering and finally death, as did God’s Son. But you will be raised with Jesus and reign with Him. You will know the power of His resurrection and attain to the resurrection of the dead.

 

So we feast and rejoice on Christmas Day. No one has ever seen the Father, but God the Word has revealed Him by coming in the flesh. He has come down to us and raised up our flesh to heaven. He has united us with Himself and made us sons of God.

 

The body and blood that He gave for our sins we eat and drink this Christmas morning. We are forgiven. We are united to the eternal Word. We rejoice in the eternal Word who created us and who now has become what we are through His incarnation.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Christmas Midnight 2015

December 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Christmas Midnight

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

December 24, 2015

 

Iesu Iuva

Not long after I was confirmed something happened to me that I think many other people experience. I became disenchanted with the Church. Disappointed. Disillusioned.

 

I didn’t stop believing in Jesus. I wasn’t disappointed with Him. I was blessed in that I had a pastor that I liked and respected—He wasn’t what caused me to be dissatisfied.

 

It wasn’t even the people in the church at that time. No one was mean or blatantly hypocritical. Many of them struck me as being truly sincere.

 

It was just that things were so—ordinary.

 

Nobody seemed extremely holy, or wise, or spiritual. The Divine Service seemed very human and not all that divine. People sang quietly or didn’t sing at all and they turned around and looked at you if you sang too loud. It didn’t seem like heaven was opening and God was about to be revealed.

 

Somewhere inside my teenage self, mixed up with all kinds of other worries and desires, was the desire not just to hear some facts about God, but to experience Him. To see Him or feel Him.

 

But that didn’t seem to be happening in church. So I got disillusioned. I started looking for God in other places, in beautiful things, in music and literature and art. Little by little I stopped going to church; over time I started to find reasons not to go without formally rejecting what I had been taught. I took offense at really devout people I knew who I thought were jerks and hypocrites. Then I started avoiding Church because I knew I had no intention of quitting things I was doing that I knew were wrong.

 

Then when I got a little older I started going back to Church. And I experienced other things that didn’t cause me to quit going but made me struggle to believe in “the Holy Christian Church” and the “communion of saints.” A couple of different pastors hurt my feelings and it was years before I could get over it, even though I tried to forgiven them. Then I had the experience of being on the receiving end of personal attacks and slander from church people. I guess the disappointment I felt in the Church as a teenager never completely went away.

 

I’m pretty sure that some of you know what I’m talking about this Christmas Eve. Maybe church just seemed too earthly, too routine, too boring—when you wanted to see God or feel God. You wanted heaven to open like it did for the shepherds. You wanted to experience God and felt disappointed. Or maybe someone in the Church hurt you or disappointed you. Maybe it was me, or maybe it was another pastor, or someone else in the Church.

 

Then the unspoken question becomes: “Can God really be there? In Church?

 

Among such ordinary people? Among such seemingly backward people? Among people I feel like I have little in common with?

 

Can God really be found among such sinners and sometimes hypocritical people as I see in the pews and the pulpit?”

 

Can God really be found among the simple, the lowly, the ordinary? Can He be found among sinners? And if God really is there, shouldn’t we see or feel something of His glory?”

 

Those are good questions for Christmas.

 

Not necessarily. That’s the answer. God can be there and our hearts and eyes may miss Him entirely.

 

He may be there and we don’t feel Him or see Him.

 

In fact, that’s sure to happen unless our hearts and our eyes submit in humble faith to God’s Word. Apart from God’s Word we can’t see God.

 

Consider the Gospel reading tonight. There are shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem. They go into the town that night and discover Mary and Joseph and the baby wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

 

If the baby is in a manger, there are probably animals around, grunting and smelling like animals do.

 

Unlike the paintings, there are no halos marking the heads of the holy family. There is nothing to suggest that God is there. If the shepherds didn’t know what they were looking for—a baby in a manger—they would have walked right past. There was nothing remarkable about that scene of Mary and Joseph and the baby except for the poverty and lowliness of a mother having nowhere to put her newborn son besides a manger.

 

But the shepherds see this baby with different eyes. Their eyes see a poor newborn swaddled near oxen and sheep. But through the Word of God spoken to them by the angel, they believe that this baby is “Christ the Lord,” the Almighty God who led Israel through the Red Sea and appeared in fire on Mount Sinai.

 

Can God be found among the ordinary, earthly, among the non-glorious and the pitiful? Can He be found among the sinful?

 

Can God be there where we don’t expect Him, even when our hearts don’t feel Him?

 

Yes. We have to realize that our hearts, minds, and senses don’t recognize God and His works. St. Paul writes, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him

 

And he is not able to understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14)

 

Our hearts, reason, souls are not responsive to God. Sin has darkened and deadened them.

 

By nature we don’t know God and don’t want to know Him. We want to see Him reveal His majesty and glory. But we don’t realize that we couldn’t bear to see it. If we tried to approach God’s glory with our sin and uncleanness He would terrify us (at best) or destroy us (at worst).

 

That’s why when the angel appears to the shepherds and the glory of God shines around them, they are “filled with fear.” They are undone with terror. The light of God’s glory exposes their sin and they are afraid that He is going to break out against them and consume them.

 

But the angel says, “Don’t be afraid…I bring you good news of a great joy.” The good news and the joy is that Almighty God has come to us. But He is not here to overwhelm us, to terrify us or to avenge Himself on us.

 

He has been born a baby. He has come as one of us. And He has come to save us.

 

God has come to His creation. He has come to live among the ordinary and the sinful, to be gazed upon by sheep and cattle, shepherds and townsfolk, his mother and adoptive father. He has come to live among the ordinary and sinful so that they, through His flesh, might safely enter His glory. God has come as a human being to take our sins away and to safely conduct human beings into heaven and the glory of God.

 

Not that we would ever recognize our God coming in our image and lying in the manger. We are proud, and that makes us blind to God who comes down to serve us. Guilt makes our hearts insensitive to His presence. Neither your heart nor your intellect will lead you to God.

 

But the good news, the Gospel does, whether it is preached by an angel or a man, whether it causes your heart to burn within you or not. The Gospel teaches you unfailingly to find your God in human flesh, coming to serve you. Your Savior, Christ the Lord. Believe that word and hold on to it, even when you look at the child and your reason says, “How can God be there for me?” Hold to the word and the great joy of the message will dawn on you in God’s time.

 

Because what are we looking at when we look at the manger with the shepherds? Not just a poor baby, but your God, seeking you.

 

He is seeking you out like a shepherd seeks out his lost sheep. The mighty One, your Creator, becomes weak like you, becomes a creature like you. He who is the image of the glorious Father has taken your image, the image of a slave bound by sin and death.

 

He who lived in eternal joy, always seeing the face of His Father, has now come into a world that is estranged from God and full of grief. He comes to us who don’t know God’s joy but only the misery of sin and death to give us life and the eternal joy of seeing God.

 

That is why He is in the world. That is why He was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, why He was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. He comes to claim us, to live among the ordinary and the sinful, to purchase us by taking our nature, dying our death, rising from the grave and ascending to the Father.

 

When we look into the manger, we see God with us, near to us. He is not ashamed to be among the ordinary and not ashamed to be found among sinners, not even afraid to serve them and give His life for them.

 

Amazingly, God the Creator is humble. He willingly comes to the womb of Mary and is put in the manger. He is not ashamed to be seen this way because He wants you to have what is His—His eternal glory and His unending joy.

 

It’s a shame that Christians so often experience and exhibit so little of the great joy proclaimed by the angel. But that happens because we pay attention to the feelings of our hearts and the reasoning of our minds instead of listening to the message that is preached to us.

 

We look at the dirty hay of the manger and smell the animal’s stench. We look at poor Mary and the baby and doubt what the angel said—“To you is born this day in David’s city a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

 

Or we look, as I did, on the outward appearance of the Church. We see its ordinariness, its frailty, its sin. And we say, “Could God really be there?”

 

And the joyful answer of Christmas is “Yes!”

 

God was there in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.

 

God is in the midst of His Church. The Words of Scripture and preaching are His swaddling bands and manger. In the water joined with His Word God comes and gives sinners new birth so they are holy, united with the Son of Mary. He comes in the bread and the wine of His supper through His Word and makes them His body and blood. And believing we eat and drink and our sins are forgiven. We eat and drink and under the bread and wine God comes to us in flesh and blood.

 

He takes ordinary people in an ordinary place and unites them to Jesus through His Word and Sacrament. And those ordinary people become God-bearers. They mystically, in a hidden way, share in the glory of God.

 

From this comes the joy of the Christian Church. It’s not that we can see or feel God’s glory. But God’s word tells us it is for us. “To you this day is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” That means I have a Savior and a God, whether I feel it or not. He was born for me and lived and died for me 2000 years ago; but He rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and from there gives me the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and union with God. That is joyful news, which we believe even when we can’t see. But one day we will look at Jesus and no longer see a baby in swaddling clothes or bread and wine hiding His flesh and blood. One day we will look at Him and see clearly the glory of God in His body. And on that day we will no longer be disappointed by the Church of Christ. Because we will see every member of it transfigured into the glory of Christ the Lord.

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Christmas Eve Vespers 2015

December 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Christmas Eve Vespers

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 1:18-25

December 24, 2015

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Christmas preaches hope to us when cold reason and experience tells us there is nothing left to hope for. It proclaims in the darkness that a light is shining, and that light has even overcome the darkness. The seeming omnipotence of the darkness is exposed as a lie by the birth of the God-man. The light appears in the heart of the kingdom of darkness at Christmas and shines its glory into our hearts.

 

It’s not hard to recognize the darkness that has descended on us even if your eyes are accustomed to the dim light. We sense the darkness this Christmas. So many friends and relatives no longer recognize the light. At least at one time, duty or some faint, smoldering spark of faith drew people to come to honor the newborn King at His birth, even if they wandered away for the rest of the year. But now, though Christmas still brings in great profits for retailers, the formerly Christian world has become functionally atheistic. Neither the pagan gods of our distant ancestors nor the Holy Trinity give meaning to people’s lives, provide the story in which they live. Instead each person lives to discover the god within himself, to pursue pleasure and meaning for himself wherever he thinks he will find it.

 

As the darkness settles into even the government and enshrouds public standards of morality, many in the Church become afraid and despondent. We see the signs of moral collapse in our society. Families have broken down; children grow up with no father, no Joseph. People are unclear on what it means to be a man or a woman, and that confusion is reflected in the education of our children. The government, which is supposed to be God’s instrument to maintain order in society, sanctions gross immorality and threatens to apply force to the Church when she raises her voice in protest. People are encouraged to no longer take responsibility for their sins, but to blame parents, authority figures, the structures of society. All of this comes as the result of our society’s idolatry, of trading the Triune God for the false god within self.

 

As our society feverishly pursues that god, chaos results for us and our children. And the light that the Church bears in the world seems to be flickering, in danger of going out.

 

The darkness around us is deep. And yet there is a deeper darkness that would overwhelm us. That is the darkness inside of us. It is relatively easy to recognize evil outside of ourselves, in the world and in other people. But that darkness has a limited ability to harm us. The devil and the world can cause us pain, take our possessions, comfort, and even our lives. But they cannot harm our souls unless we consent to their enticements to sin, to turn away from God.

 

What is harder to recognize and accept is the darkness that is already within us. It can really only be made known by God’s Word; it is not apparent to our feelings and reason. The darkness that is in us by nature is total. It is such that there is no light in us at all by nature, nothing that could light the way back to God. We are conceived and born without any righteousness before God, in sin. The first parents of our race sinned against God. When they did that, they died. They were corrupted by sin. They came under the power of Satan. They became enemies of God, hiding from Him and His judgment. And they passed that state into which they fell onto us, their descendants. Only by the work of God’s Spirit does light come to dwell in the utter darkness of our hearts, and even after that the darkness continues to fight against the light, trying to snuff it out again through sin and unbelief.

 

So as bad as the world is, as great as the darkness is which seems poised to put out the light of the Church, it is not the greatest threat to us individually. The greatest threat is the darkness within us—the total power sin holds over our flesh by nature.

 

That’s why the angel tells Joseph that this unexpected child conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit will be called “Jesus.” Jesus means “the Lord saves.” The angel says that the child is to be named this because He will save His people. He will save them not from the Romans and their invincible army, nor the rising godlessness of their people. The angel says: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”   (Matthew 1:21)

 

Jesus will save us not just from the darkness in the world, but the darkness within our hearts. He will save us from the sins that cut us off from God, and He will save us from the sins that still rage within us when we have begun to believe in Jesus.

 

But how can this baby Mary conceives and bears give us hope in the darkness in which we find ourselves? The world is so corrupt. The Church appears so weak. It seems like there is no help for either one.

 

And then there is the darkness within us. We were born in the dark. And even as people who are baptized and believe in Christ, the darkness within us remains so great. Sin rages within us with such power that we sometimes doubt whether we are Christians at all, whether we have been saved.

 

How does this baby save us from our sins?

 

Even though Jesus is conceived in a way that appears shameful to human eyes, even to righteous Joseph, the angel declares that His conception is a wonder that has never happened before. There is not taint of sin or shame in it. Mary’s Son has been conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit, in a womb never touched by sinful human seed, but overshadowed by the Spirit who hovered above the waters at creation. A new kind of human being has come into the world. His conception is not stained and corrupted with the guilt of Adam. Jesus is conceived and born in innocence. He is a sinless man.

 

And He is more than that. Isaiah tells us that this child He foretold by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, would be called “Immanuel—which means, ‘God with us.’” The baby is not just a new kind of human, without sin. It is the Lord God, who has become a human being.

 

God is with us to destroy the darkness within our flesh.

 

Why should God become a human being and come into the world? To save His people from their sins. To destroy the darkness in the world and in your heart—in Himself.

 

He comes to live the innocent life that neither Adam nor his descendants have lived. He comes to fulfill God’s law and will from conception to death. He comes to resist the temptation of the devil, to stand where we have fallen into the darkness.

 

He comes to offer His holy, divine and human life. He comes to suffer and die under God’s wrath for the darkness of sin within you—your lusts to go your own way and be your own God, and for the times when you followed your desires into the darkness, away from God’s light.

 

He comes to rise from the dead with sin atoned for, buried, and to take our nature to the throne of God in heaven.

 

He is, “Immanuel, God with us.”

 

God with us, a human being, forever. In Mary’s womb, in the manger, hanging on the cross, buried in the tomb, ascended into heaven, at God’s right hand interceding for us. On the last day when He comes again in glory, and forever and ever, God is a human being. He is what you are.

 

And He is with us to save us from the darkness inside and outside. He has been born to cover your sins with His obedience, to swallow the darkness of our sins in His death and rise from the dead to make known our justification. He stands at the right hand of God on your behalf, to speak for you to the Father. And from heaven He sends the word of His Gospel, His Baptism, His supper, to declare your share in His righteousness and the forgiveness of your sins.

 

He is with us in human nature to accomplish our salvation and to give us that salvation in His Word.

 

He is also with us to save us from the sin with which we are still battling in this valley of sorrows.

 

He saves us not by making the darkness inside us disappear, but by forgiving us. Seventy times seven. Again and again, until it no longer lives in us to torment us.

 

And at the same time He sanctifies us. He forgives us and He makes us partakers of His divine nature. The almighty power that formed Him in the virgin’s womb is also at work within us. When we were baptized into Him and believed, the Holy Spirit conceived a new you inside of you. A new you in the image of baby Jesus, who is innocent and holy.

 

Through this little baby born to Mary we receive forgiveness of sins, but also a new self. He is born within us. He gives us the power daily to put off our old man and put on Christ until the day we put Him on forever in the resurrection. And on that day the darkness within and without will be banished forever.

 

Christmas preaches hope to us. It preaches hope in the darkness of the world and even more, as we feel the darkness within our hearts. God is with us in flesh and blood. Our sins have become His, not ours. His appearing in the manger means that the darkness is dispelled, even though He seems too small to accomplish anything so great. Those who believe in this child may smile and laugh at the darkness in themselves and in the world.

 

And if you are weak in faith, and you fear the darkness that surrounds the Church or makes itself felt in your heart, come to this child and hold on to the words of the angel. If you continually fall into sin, into the darkness, away from God, don’t try to make things right yourself. Trust this child. He is God, with you in your weakness, with you in flesh and blood, with you, bearing your guilt, sin, and shame. With you even in death.

 

That is why the virgin conceived—so that God might be with you when you could not bring yourself to Him. That is why He is called Jesus. He is the Lord who saves His people from their sins.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Categories: Piles in my office

My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation. Funeral Sermon, Dec. 18, 2015

December 18, 2015 Leave a comment

In Memoriam + Fannie C. Zabel

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:25-32

December 18, 2015

“My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation”

 

Iesu Iuva

Dear Willard, Fred, Sue, David, Betty Jean, Dean, Sharon, Debbie, and Mark,

Fannie’s brothers and sisters,

Grandchildren, Great-grandchildren,

Relatives and friends,

Members of St. Peter Lutheran Church:

 

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

 

God’s Word for our comfort this morning are these words from the Gospel of St. Luke: My eyes have seen Your salvation (Luke 2:30).

 

Those were the words of an old man named Simeon when He saw the infant Jesus being carried into the temple. Imagine, seeing a baby carried in the arms of its mother and praising God and saying, “Now I am ready to die in peace, Lord, because my eyes have seen your salvation!”

 

They are also words that Fannie sang in true faith. She sang them with the whole congregation at St. Peter each week after kneeling at this altar that she cared for and receiving the bread and wine of which Jesus said, “This is my Body, given for you. This is my Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” “My eyes have seen your salvation,” she sang.

 

We will also sing those words at the end of the service today. “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation…” We will be singing them for her, because the Lord has let His servant Fannie depart in peace. He let her come to Him in peace. He declared “Well done, good and faithful servant. Rest from your labors.” Not because she was without sin, not because she lived an exemplary Christian life, although she did. God was pleased with Fannie and let her enter His rest because He provided salvation for her, and she received it by faith. She believed that the baby Simeon held in his arms was her salvation; she believed that her sins were forgiven solely because of Jesus, who gave His body and blood for her on the cross, who gave His body and blood to her to eat and drink at this altar.

 

But we will also be singing them for ourselves. “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace, according to your Word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.” The salvation that Fannie saw and trusted has also been shown to you. That salvation is Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man.

 

When Fannie wrote down what mattered most to her in her time on earth, what she wanted conveyed at her funeral, she talked about two things—her family and her Lord. The two were tied together for her, because the Lord gave her the holy calling of being a wife and mother and caring for many children and grandchildren. She wrote down in a booklet a collection of her memories, her accomplishments, her own estimation of her life. Her inspirations, she wrote, were “reading the Bible and singing to my children when they were small and teaching them ‘Jesus loves me, this I know.’” Her fondest memories: “The birth of each of our children—what a miracle! The celebration of our 50th anniversary that our children gave us—we repeated our vows and took communion with all our relatives and friends.” All her cherished memories revolved around being able to show love to her family and friends. And always intertwined with the love of her family was the love God showed her in Jesus.

 

Fannie was unique. She was a strong person who was able to bear many burdens—not just her own, but those of others. She was also unique as a Christian in the strength of her faith and her zeal to serve God. That was one of the things she wrote down: “I would like the following religious beliefs conveyed at my funeral: ‘How I enjoyed and loved working for my Savior Jesus Christ.’”

 

But because she was so unique both in the strength of her faith and the abundance of her good deeds, it might be easy for you to think that her peace in the face of death and many kinds of suffering is not something you also can have.

 

You might think, “Maybe if I lived like her I could be confident that God is with me and that I am going to heaven. Maybe if I read the bible like her, worked like her, prayed like her, then I could also say, ‘Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace.’” But the reality is most people, even in the Church, are not so strong in faith and so abundant in good deeds.

 

But that’s not why Fannie had confidence in her Savior and why she loved to do His work. It wasn’t because she lived so well and because she never doubted Him, especially when she had pain and saw her loved ones in pain. She would tell you—I am a sinner like everyone else. And I have doubts too. Sometimes I don’t understand why God lets us have one heavy burden after another in this life.

 

The reason Fannie had confidence and love for her Savior, the reason she persevered in faith in Him, the reason she loved to serve Him, was because of who Jesus is and what He has done, not because of what she was.

 

Her Savior Jesus is the One who has saved us. He has done all the work and carried all of the heavy burden. He has rescued us. He has made us right with God. He has done it all.

 

That’s why Simeon rejoiced when He picked up the baby Jesus and why Fannie rejoiced to serve the altar and receive from it Christ’s body and blood. They rejoiced because the Lord provided salvation for them.

 

He became a human being in the virgin’s womb so that God and human beings would be reunited again.

 

He grew up and obeyed God’s holy law and will that we transgress in thought, word, and deed.

 

He was handed over to be crucified and, nailed to the cross, dying a cursed death, He received God’s wrath against all our sins of thought, word, and deed. He fully paid our penalty, erased our debt, covered the guilt of our sins with His blood.

 

Then He rose from the dead showing that sin was paid for, guilt was removed, the world was forgiven, and death was destroyed.

 

Jesus is the Lord’s Salvation. He has atoned for the sins of every helpless sinner and made them right in God’s sight.

 

And His work was not finished there. He ascended into heaven and continued His work. He takes the forgiveness and life that He won and gives it to sinners by preaching His Word, by baptizing babies, by feeding us His body and blood in Holy Communion.

 

That’s what He did for Fannie. When she was a little baby, born in sin and subject to death, He baptized her in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He poured out on her the forgiveness of her sins, won by His death, and His eternal life shown in His resurrection.

 

Our eyes can’t see all of this. When Simeon picked up baby Jesus and said, “My eyes have seen your salvation,” people must have thought he was crazy. How can a little baby save you from death and destruction?

 

People think Christians today are crazy too. How can we say we are ready to die just because we ate a piece of bread and drank a sip of wine?

 

The Lord does not do salvation in a way that makes sense to the world. He does His glorious work in a hidden way. He hid the majesty of God beneath the humanity of Jesus. He hid His mighty salvation under the shame and suffering of the cross. Now He hides His presence among us. He doesn’t come thundering out of heaven. He speaks with the voices of human beings, the voices of preachers, the voices of mothers and grandmothers who teach us to sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” He gives resurrection and victory over death in baptismal water. He gives the forgiveness of sins with His body and blood under bread and wine at altars like this, altars that are cared for by hands like Fannie’s. Hands that grow old and arthritic but that are lovely and pleasing in His sight because they are dwelling places of His Holy Spirit.

 

Fannie saw the Lord’s salvation. I don’t think she ever had visions of angels or was caught up into heaven. If that happened, I wish she would have told me!

 

She saw the Lord’s salvation in her Bible. And she saw it here in this house, where heaven was opened and Jesus came to her in His body and blood. Where heaven was opened and you, her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, were baptized into Christ and your bodies became temples of the Holy Spirit.

 

Heaven is opened in this place because Jesus makes Himself known here and proclaims what He has done for us. He has atoned for our sins and reconciled us to God.

 

That’s why Fannie wanted you—her children and grandchildren—to be here each Sunday. Not just because it’s something God commands. But because heaven is opened here, and we see the Lord’s salvation, the salvation that allowed Fannie to go in peace. She wrote: “My unfinished work: ‘Getting my children to go to church regular—Oh how much richer and full their lives would be.’”

 

We now commend her to her Savior and her God, giving thanks for her. She saw the Lord’s salvation on earth. She now sees Him as her soul rests with Him, together with her beloved Willard and all who died in faith in Jesus. She will see Him with the eyes of her body when He comes again and the dead are raised, when this body we place in the earth rises and puts on immortality, when “death is swallowed up in victory.”

 

May Jesus, our Savior and Fannie’s, give us comfort now in these days of grief. May He teach us to say, “My eyes have seen your salvation” here on earth. And may He let our eyes see Fannie in His glory and with her her joy and salvation, Jesus Christ.

 

Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Christ’s Kingdom. Advent Midweek 3, 2015

December 16, 2015 Leave a comment

Advent Midweek 3

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Psalm 72

December 16, 2015

“Christ’s Kingdom”

 

Iesu Iuva

Psalm 72 describes the kingdom of the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ. As we have heard, God had been promising His anointed One all throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, from the time Adam and Eve first fell into sin. He promised Abraham that the whole earth would be blessed through His offspring. He promised King David that one of his offspring would reign on David’s throne. In Psalm 72 Solomon prays for this king to come and prophesies about His Kingdom.

 

The Messiah’s Kingdom will be a kingdom of righteousness and justice. It will extend over all the earth, and it will never end.

 

In the first two verses of the Psalm, Solomon prays, Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice! (v. 1-2) You may remember how, at the beginning of his reign, Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom, that he might rule the Israelites with justice. And the Scriptures tell us that Solomon’s father David was a man after God’s own heart. He not only hungered and thirsted for righteousness for himself, but he endeavored to rule and shepherd the people of Israel in righteousness and justice.

 

But David and Solomon were not the promised Messiah. They were men. They were sinners. David caused a plague to come upon the people of Israel when he disobeyed God and tried to have a census of the nation. Solomon was turned away from the Lord to the worship of idols by his many foreign wives. Though God worked through their reigns to preserve the nation of Israel and even blessed the nation through them, they did not judge God’s people in His perfect righteousness. They did not establish the justice of God on earth.

 

But God has answered Solomon’s prayer. He has sent His righteous One to be the King of Israel, and to rule His people with justice and righteousness. As another prophet proclaims to us in the Old Testament reading for Christmas Eve: Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end; [He will reign] on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. (Is. 9:7)

 

And that King is the one that Gabriel proclaimed to Mary, the Son of God who was conceived in her womb by the Holy Spirit working through the angel’s word. He is the king who ushers in a kingdom in which God’s righteousness reigns.

 

How does this King, Jesus, set up this kingdom in which God’s righteousness reigns? Verse 4 of the Psalm says: May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! The whole human race, of course, is poor, needy, and oppressed. We are by nature poor, needy, and destitute. The glory, life, and riches that God created us to have has been lost and squandered, like the prodigal son’s inheritance. We were created to bear God’s image, to reign over creation, to see His face. But since the disobedience in the Garden of Eden we have been cut off from the face of God. We are born in bondage to the devil, who deceived us. We are by nature slaves of sin, under the power of the grave, bound for the eternal torments of hell, and unable to free ourselves.

 

But now the King promised to Mary has defended the cause of the poor, given deliverance to the children of the needy, and crushed the oppressor.

 

He became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich. He laid aside His glory and was born a man, born in the likeness of a man enslaved to sin and death. He put away His glory and put on the image of our mortality and weakness. He did this so that He might stand before God as our defender, covering us with His righteousness, presenting us justified before God in the face of the devil’s accusations. He made our sin and weakness, our death and hell His covering when He became man, and He gives us His righteousness and glory as a free gift in the Gospel and in Baptism.

 

In doing this He has delivered us from our sins and from the oppression of the ancient serpent. He has crushed the serpent’s head by taking away his power to accuse us before God. All our sins He made His own. His holy obedience to God’s law, His righteousness is reckoned to us.

 

Thus in His Kingdom righteousness reigns. Everyone who is in His Kingdom is clothed and covered with the righteousness of Christ. Everyone who believes in Jesus, the Son of God, that he is righteous because of Jesus’ obedience, is in Christ’s Kingdom. That kingdom is invisible to our eyes now. It comes to us in the Word and Sacraments, but those who possess Christ’s Kingdom are those who believe the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. That faith is invisible. But soon the kingdom of Jesus will be visible, when He appears again in His glory. Then those who belong to His Kingdom, who believe in Him, will also be visible. For you have died, and your life is in hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col. 3:3-4) That is why we pray “Thy Kingdom come.” We are praying that Jesus’ Kingdom would extend to more people, that they would believe the gracious news of the Gospel. But we are also praying that Jesus would come, reveal His face, and let His Church appear as it really is—as sons and heirs of God.

 

Jesus’ Kingdom is a Kingdom of Righteousness. Everyone who is in His kingdom is righteous before God. And His Kingdom is not a little, weak kingdom, although it appears that way in this world. His grace extends through the whole earth. Wherever the Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection is preached, His kingdom sprouts there. Believers in Christ are born by the Holy Spirit. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth (v.6)! That is what Christ’s Gospel does. It is like a rain cloud passing across the earth. Wherever it drops down its moisture it brings life. And that is our comfort as members of His church when our numbers seem few and we seem weak and miserable. Actually we are members of a great nation, which no one can number, of every tribe and language and people and nation. Throughout the last two thousand years, all across the world, Christ has been gathering people into His Kingdom, the Church. We are united with all believers in Christ who have ever lived, including those who are in heaven. We are not bound together by ideas or common interests like the organizations of this world. We are bound together as one body and share one Spirit. We are baptized into one flesh and blood, and we participate, commune in the one body and blood of Jesus the Son of God.

 

Christ’s kingdom is great and wide. It spreads across the whole earth and through all of history, because Jesus is the King of all the earth. The Father has given Him all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28) as He told His disciples before sending them to make disciples of all nations. The whole earth is His and all people are His, because He has redeemed them all by taking up their flesh and being condemned for their sins on the cross. And now is the time of grace, where He extends His gracious offer of salvation to all men through the Gospel. But the day is coming soon when He will return again. The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (Matthew 13:41-43) On that day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

But even now His kingdom extends to the ends of the earth; men from every tribe and nation and people have been brought into His Kingdom. May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before Him, all nations serve Him…Long may He live; may gold of Sheba be given to Him! May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for Him all the day! (v. 10-11, 15) This prayer has been fulfilled. Christ’s Name has been proclaimed to the ends of the earth, and daily in His Church the nations worship and praise the name of Jesus Christ, from the coastlands of Europe and America, to the lands of Sheba and Seba, present day Ethiopia, to the desert tribes, to the farthest regions of Asia. Christ’s kingdom of righteousness extends over all the earth.

 

And His Kingdom will never end. It will endure forever. Not even the gates of hell—the power of Satan and his demons, with all their fury and hatred—will prevail against Christ’s Kingdom, the Church. This is a great comfort to us as our members pass into glory and our numbers grow smaller in this congregation. Not the world, not secularism, not all the forces of godlessness in this age, not even Satan with all his rage will destroy the Kingdom of Jesus, which we have a share in through faith in Him.

 

Throughout history nations and kingdoms have risen and fallen. One nation rises up and rules for a century or two and then fades away into obscurity. But the Kingdom of the Christ, the Son of David, will never end, as the angel Gabriel announced to Mary: And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. Luke 1:31-33 And the Psalm says In his days…may peace abound, till the moon be no more…may his name endure forever, his fame as continue as long as the sun (v. 7, 17)

 

Christ’s kingdom will endure to the end of this age; the Church will abound in peace and righteousness through the Gospel and Sacraments in which Jesus bestows on us righteousness and peace with God. The enemies of His Kingdom will never overthrow Him nor plunder and destroy the citizens of His kingdom.

 

And when the moon is no more, the sun grows dark in the heavens, and the stars fall from the sky, when everything in this present age is destroyed by fire, the Kingdom of Jesus will still endure. It will stand forever. Then the King will appear in His glory. And we who are sons and heirs of God will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of the heavenly Father. For this reason we pray continually with the whole church of Christ, “Thy Kingdom Come!”

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Categories: Piles in my office

Ripples of Paradise. Advent 3 2015

December 16, 2015 Leave a comment

Gaudete—The Third Sunday in Advent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 11:2-10

December 13, 2015

“Ripples of Paradise”

 

Iesu Iuva

This Sunday is called “Gaudete”—rejoice! We light the pink candle in this short and somber season of waiting and watching and we rejoice because our wait is nearly over. Soon comes our Lord’s advent, or appearing. When Jesus shows His lovely face in the manger at Christmas and with the clouds at His second coming, what will it be for those who are prepared to meet Him?

 

It will be paradise.

 

Meditate for a moment on that—paradise. That’s why we’re here this morning, isn’t it—not simply to see friends or pour coffee in the gym, not even just to escape the fires of hell—but because we want to have a share in paradise. And yet we so seldom think about the joy of everlasting life which is to be ours forever.

 

What will paradise be like?

 

It’s hard to say because we can hardly imagine it. But what are you looking forward to in eternal life, in paradise?

 

To see your loved ones again who have died in faith in Christ? Yes, your father and mother, your brothers and sisters, perhaps your spouse? Perhaps one of your children? Yes, those who were baptized and believed in Christ will be with you in Paradise because there will be no more death there.

 

What else will there be in Paradise? No more pain, no more sickness. No more growing old. No more futility and uselessness. No more oppression. Yes, because sin will be gone, and so will be the curse on the earth.

 

Think, what will paradise be for us? We don’t think about it enough.

 

No more sin, no more temptation, no more guilt. There will be no Satan to tempt and accuse us and no sin left in our bodies, because Satan will be cast in the lake of fire and we will have put on new bodies in the image of Jesus, the Son of God.

 

And there will be no more separation from God. We will see Him face to face in all His glory. And we will not be terrified or destroyed by His glory. We will see God and we will delight in His beauty and splendor and wisdom.

 

It is comforting to think about paradise, and even more comforting to have the certain assurance and hope that it is ours. That is the certain promise Jesus gives us in His Gospel—that everyone who believes in Him will be with Him in paradise.

 

Why don’t we do this more often—dream of the new heavens and earth that are coming when Jesus appears again? Why don’t we rejoice in the heaven we will inherit?

 

Because it seems so far away from us, right? And we have so much work to do in the “real” world, this present world, and so many problems and so many sins here, that it seems—perhaps—irresponsible to rejoice in the paradise that is to come.

 

It’s like the experience of John the Baptist and his disciples in the Gospel reading.

 

John, as Jesus tells us, was the one the prophet told about long ago: “See, I will send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.”

 

His work was to prepare the way for the promised Messiah, who would be nothing less than the Lord, the God of Israel, in human flesh.

 

And this is what John did. He prepared the way of the Lord, preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

 

Then he baptized those who repented for the forgiveness of sins.

 

Finally, John preached repentance to Herod, the ruler of Judea, called him out for his sexual immorality. And Herod threw John in prison.

 

And now John is in the dungeon waiting for Herod to give the order for his execution. And where is the paradise he preached, the kingdom of heaven that was supposed to arrive with Jesus?

 

All John’s disciples see is their teacher chained up in the depths of gloom, waiting for death. Where is the kingdom? Where is paradise? So far all Jesus has done is walk around in poverty, preaching to crowds and healing a few sick people. They don’t see any paradise.

 

Does the experience of John and his disciples sound familiar to you? It does to me.

 

I have preached for nearly ten years. I have preached that not merely a prophet, but the Lord God of Israel Himself is in our midst. He dwells among us in His Word; He comes to us in His very flesh and blood under the bread and wine. He pours Himself out on us in the water of Baptism and delivers us from sin and death as He once delivered the people of Israel through the Red Sea.

 

And yet what has come of this preaching? Where is paradise? Christ has come to us in the Word and yet our circumstances haven’t improved. The congregation continues to decline. And indeed we see the Church throughout the country facing similar trials. We find ourselves asking, “Is this really the true Gospel of Christ, or should we look for another? Should we be looking to other, seemingly more successful churches and seeing what they are preaching?”

 

When John sent His disciples to Jesus to ask this question, Jesus told them to go and tell John what they were hearing and seeing.   The blind received their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the dead were raised, and good news was preached to the poor.

 

Paradise is walking around in Jesus, God in the flesh, leaving a wake of paradise behind Him.

 

Good news is preached to the poor, the gospel of the forgiveness of sins.

 

Even though John dies in prison, the Lord has come to redeem the earth.

 

The fruits of John’s preaching will be visible not in this world but in the world to come.

 

Even though we are suffering, paradise is within our midst and even in our bodies through the blessed sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.

 

We are living for paradise, but now only see its ripples.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Categories: Piles in my office

Advent 2 Midweek 2015–The Bridal Song of Christ’s Church

December 9, 2015 Leave a comment

2nd Sunday of Advent—Midweek Vespers

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Psalm 45

December 9, 2015

“The Bridal Song of the Church of Christ”

Adapted from G. Stoeckhardt’s Adventpredigten

Iesu iuva

 

This psalm sounds like the happy ending to a fairy tale, doesn’t it? In it we have a description of a glorious, noble, conquering king, who rides forth into battle on behalf of the oppressed and on behalf of righteousness. Then we have a beautiful queen or princess, adorned in splendid garments, and being brought into the king for their wedding.

 

Fairy tales resonate with us. They speak to the part of our souls that longs for meaning, for heroism, for the triumph of good over evil. But things seldom seem to work out like fairy tales in the real world, and as we get older we have less and less hope that things will work out happily ever after.

 

But even though this psalm sounds like a fairy tale, it isn’t. It’s a bridal song. It’s also a prophecy. It tells of the King promised throughout the Scriptures—the Messiah, the Christ. And it speaks of His marriage, His wedding.

 

Modern commentators have suggested that this psalm was composed for the wedding of Solomon or one of the other kings of Israel. But the New Testament shows us that the Holy Spirit inspired this psalm to prophesy of Christ, His kingdom and His royal wedding. In the first chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews it quotes this psalm as referring to God’s Son. “But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” (Hebrews 1:8-9)

 

This Psalm is The Bridal Song of the Church of Christ. In it The Bride sings and makes music to the Lord, her King and her Bridegroom and in it she also rejoices in the beautiful garments she has received from her bridegroom. This psalm is the voice of the Church. It expresses the longing and tender love of Christ’s bride for Him, and also her joy in what He has done for her. It is our song too. For we are Christ’s bride, who are baptized and believe in Him. We know our bridegroom; we are bound to Him through the most tender bonds of love. Because we cannot now see our Bridegroom’s face, we long after His visible appearing, especially during this season of Advent.

 

The bride sings and makes music to her King and Bridegroom. “My heart overflows with a pleasing theme,” she sings. Whatever our heart is full of spills out and overflows through our lips in our words. The Church’s heart is full of Jesus and what He has done for her. Therefore Christ’s Church is always proclaiming Him, singing of Him, praising Him.

 

And what is the nature or the subject of her song? She sings of the beauty of Jesus. “You are the most handsome of the sons of men,” she sings. How is Jesus handsome? He is beautiful because He radiates the glory of the eternal God. He is the eternal God, light of light, joined to our human flesh. And when He emerged from His chamber, when He was born of the virgin Mary, God the Son did not appear with a frightening countenance, in wrath to judge us for our sins. He was born an infant and laid in a manger. His face was one of friendliness and kindness—God’s friendliness and kindness toward us sinners. And when the believers in Jesus saw Him, they rejoiced. Simeon held Jesus in the temple and said, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace…for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” John rejoiced and boasted, “We have seen His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth…” (John 1) The true beauty of this most beautiful of the children of men is the grace, kindness, and gentleness of the most holy God, who has come to be with us in the flesh.

 

Of course, we haven’t seen Jesus with our eyes. Instead, we hear Him with our ears. The psalm says: “Grace is poured upon your lips…” (v. 2) When Jesus preached in his hometown of Nazareth, the people wondered at “the gracious words that came from His mouth.” We are still hearing these gracious words of Jesus as He proclaims to us in the Gospel that He has come to save us, His righteousness is for us. The preaching of the Gospel is Jesus’ voice; it flows from His lips. It is sweeter than milk, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb. The voice of the Bridegroom, which we hear in the Word gives life, joy, and comfort to the soul. And it is not a fleeting happiness like the pleasures of the world. It is God’s grace, that He favors us. It is an eternal, unchanging comfort that sinks down into our hearts through the Bridegroom’s voice.

 

Jesus is the most beautiful, the most handsome of the sons of men. The Bride, the Church, hears His Word and in it sees the gracious, beautiful face of her bridegroom.

 

Of course the world does not see beauty in Jesus. It sees, as Isaiah says, that “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Is. 53:2-3) Jesus was humble. He was meek. He endured insults and persecution in His time on earth. Finally He was betrayed, punished with whips, hung up to die shamefully on the cross where He cried out that God had forsaken Him. The world sees no beauty and glory here in this king and in the way in which His disciples walk.

 

But the bride, the Christian Church, the believing soul has her joy precisely in this most-despised and humiliated Jesus, this man of sorrows. In His affliction and rejection and weakness, in His bloody wounds, the Bride’s soul has been healed. He has taken away her sins. “The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” The blood of the Lamb is the comfort and consolation of souls distressed by their sins. She sees Jesus’ beauty shining from the cross.

 

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions (v.6-7). Jesus is the King of Righteousness. He is the Holy God in human flesh. He loves righteousness and hates wickedness, and He reigns in righteousness. Therefore His throne will be forever and ever. It will have no end.

 

Many times people will ask why God allows evil on the earth. Here the Psalm tells us Jesus’ kingdom is not a kingdom of sin and evil; it is a kingdom of righteousness. Even though the world accuses God of unrighteousness, it is really the world that is evil. It hates the light and will not come into the light lest its deeds should be exposed (John 3). It rejects Christ. It will not let the light of His holy law expose its sin, nor believe in the righteousness that counts before God, which is Jesus’ righteousness alone.

 

But now Jesus the King has come to earth in the flesh to establish righteousness on the earth. He came in the flesh to fulfill the law in our place and to receive the righteous penalty of the law for our sins. In doing this He established righteousness on the earth, what the Scriptures call “The righteousness of God.” By His obedience and suffering whoever believes in Him is counted righteous before God. And now He reigns with His Word, dispensing righteousness to all repentant sinners in the Gospel, but condemning those who would stand on their own righteousness.

 

This is the King and Bridegroom to whom the Bride, the Church, sings and makes music—the Son of God and the Son of Man. She rejoices in Him because He has wedded Himself to her and made His righteousness and kingdom her own.

 

Now in the second half of the psalm the Bride also rejoices in the glorious wedding garment she has received from her Bridegroom. Everything that is said about the honor and dignity of the Bride really serves to honor the Bridegroom. She owes everything that she is and has to Him. At the side of the king stands “the king’s daughter” and “her virgin companions.” These are the people who are chosen by God out of all nations. The Church is the Bride that stands at the right hand of the king.

 

Jesus the King, the eternal Son of God, has chosen the Church. When He first saw her, she was filthy and ugly. She was lying in her uncleanness. She was full of blemishes and stains. Everyone who now belongs to Christ and adores Him as King was conceived and born in sins and carry by nature the image of fallen Adam. The Bride had no beauty or appearance that the King should desire her. But now the Bridegroom, the King, says to her, “Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty.” (v.10-11) He says, “Recognize your nakedness and your shame. Be ashamed of your birth in sin. You are impure from the womb. Forget your heritage, forget father, mother, brother and sister. Renounce yourself and forsake the world. Come to me. With me you will find rest for your soul. You will be my bride and share in the wealth of my kingdom.” Through this alluring and enticing speech the Bridegroom has won His bride. He has chosen His Bride, His Church, out of the world, called her by the Gospel, drawn her to Himself out of pure goodness and grace. Still today we hear His beckoning voice: Forsake and forget what is behind. Seek Jesus and the light of His face. And forgetting what is behind, we draw near to Christ by faith, putting on His blood and righteousness as our wedding garment.

 

The King now shows His desire for His Bride and His delight in her. “The King will desire your beauty. Since He is Your Lord, bow to Him.” (v. 10-11). All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with god. In many-colored robes she is led to the king…” (v.13-14) The Lord Himself is the one who has so beautifully clothed His Bride the Church. It is true that outwardly the Church has no beauty or appearance. Externally she carries a mundane, earthly appearance. She is disfigured by the wounds of the cross she bears. From outside Christians appear to be the most miserable people on earth, Luther would say. But inwardly they are the most lovely bride, dressed in splendor and wearing a crown, pleasing and lovely to Jesus.

 

The Bride of the King is glorious within. She is purified inwardly by the blood of Jesus. She is made holy through the Holy Spirit, and wears through Baptism the robe of Christ’s innocence and righteousness. The image of the most beautiful among the children of men, the image of the Crucified, is stamped upon her. In her heart glows the gold of faith in Christ, which is tried through the heat of tribulation. The Bride shines in the glorious robes of the Bridegroom, and so the King has pleasure in her beauty.

 

The Bride of Christ glories in the love of her Bridegroom, the favor that Christ has shown her. Before the whole world she tells what God has done for her in Christ. “I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.” (v. 17) What the Church proclaims and sings about Christ, the King and Bridegroom, entices and allures others to come and adore her Lord.

 

The commemoration of the Lord in proclamation and praise continues forever. The joy of the Bride continues forever. She rejoices forever in Her Bridegroom and the glorious splendor with which He has clothed her. And soon, when the Bridegroom appears, she will be led to Him and enter into the palace of the King. Then heavenly, eternal joy and delight will be on her head. May God bring us to this for Christ’s sake! Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Categories: Piles in my office
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