Archive for the ‘Advent’ Category

Ad Te Levavi, the First Sunday in Advent 2019. Join the Triumph of Our King.

December 2, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus triumphal processionAd Te Levavi—The First Sunday of Advent

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 21:1-9

December 1, 2019

Join the Triumph of our King


Jesu juva!


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


God the Father was His source

Back to God He ran His course

Into hell His road went down

Back then to His throne and crown.


For You are the Father’s Son

Who in flesh the victory won;

By Your mighty power make whole

All our ills of flesh and soul  (LSB 332 st. 5-6).


In the town I grew up in the Lutheran Church of our synod worshipped in a building not much bigger than this one.  I hope no one from that church would be offended by my saying that it was not the most beautiful building in Christendom.  It was functional.  But I distinctly remember, despite its plain appearance, Palm Sunday in that church, when all the children would process to the altar with palm leaves in their hands.  I understood intuitively then what I later learned formally in seminary as I paraded into church with the other children in clip-on ties and barrettes: that Jesus Christ was there in that Divine Service, just as really as when He sat on the back of the donkey and rode into Jerusalem among the crowds who scattered cloaks and branches on the road before Him.  In flesh and blood, though invisibly, our King comes to us in this church too, 2000 miles from the church I grew up in, 2,000 years after the first Palm Sunday.


Our King comes to bring you with Him in His triumphal procession.


Even though I sensed that Jesus was present in the Divine Service on Palm Sunday decades ago—at least that’s how I remember it—more often I am not really fully awake to the coming of our King.  I am half-asleep when Jesus comes, more often than I want to admit, both in the Divine Service and outside of it.  And it is the same with you.


Hasn’t that been the case with you too, in your life?  Jesus came to you.   He came to you as your King, but you didn’t recognize Him.  You weren’t prepared to fall down before Him and honor Him.  Perhaps you were a young child or a teenager in church and Jesus came to you and was warning you to watch and pray lest you enter into temptation.  But you did not heed Him.  When temptation came, you fell into sin.


Or perhaps you committed no great sin, but year after year you were complacent.  You did not serve your King with your whole heart.  You brought little or no fruit to maturity, because the cares and worries and pleasures of this life occupied you and not Christ Jesus the King.


But see what kind of King visits us.  He does not ride a war horse or a chariot; He doesn’t bring a sword or a gun.  But His knowledge and His might subtly make themselves known like a concealed weapon.  He directs two disciples: “Go over into the next town and you will find a donkey tied up with its colt.  Untie them and bring them here.  If anyone says anything, just tell him, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and right away he will let you take them.”


Normally we call borrowing someone’s donkey without asking “stealing.”  But it is not stealing when everything on earth is yours, when not only the donkey and her colt but also the man who owns them are yours.  Jesus is Lord by right over the donkey and its owner because He is God their Creator.  And He proves that by His knowledge.  Who but God would know what animal is tied up in the next town and what the owner will say when His disciples arrive to take it?


That is who the King who comes to us is.  He is all-knowing and all-powerful, even though He does not make a display of His knowledge or His power.  And everything belongs to our King.  All of you.  All of your thoughts, all your time, all your money, all your property, everything He has given you belongs to Him and should be put to His service. And He knows and sees everything.


So He knows how you have used your body and mind, time and possessions.  Sometimes you have simply served the devil with them in a way that was obvious to you and filled you with shame.  More often you simply behaved as if your time, life, body, possessions were yours alone, and you did not think of Him when you used them.


And He is coming.  This is why Paul calls out in the epistle: Now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we [first] believed.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light. (Rom. 13:11-14).


Salvation is nearer than when you first believed in Jesus because the day of His return to judge is nearer than it was when you were baptized.  Then, His knowledge from which nothing in creation can hide, will be unveiled.  Then also His omnipotent power will be visible, to the terror of those who rejected Him as King.



But He is coming now as well, not only in unveiled knowledge and might on the last day.  When He comes now, it is not in terror, but as He appeared on Palm Sunday, and also as He appeared on the first Christmas.


Matthew quotes the old prophecy from Zechariah chapter 9: Say to the daughter of Zion: Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey; on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.  (Matt 21:5)


He says, Look at how this mighty King comes.  He knows everything.  He has all power in His hand.  Everything belongs to Him.  He sees our disobedience, our self-serving, our rebellion against Him—all the things we hide in the closets of our conscience so that even we ourselves forget about them—for awhile.


He does not come to excuse our sins, as though we really are justified in having served ourselves instead of Him.  But He does not come as an enemy to take vengeance.  He comes humble, gentle.  He rides a yoke animal, the lowly beast they tied to a cart to drag loads too heavy for men to carry, the animal they bound to a mill to turn the giant stone that grinds grain.  You can’t dig your spurs into a donkey and charge your enemies.  You go slowly on a donkey, because you are not riding a military animal, but an animal meant to labor and carry burdens.


That is how Your King comes.  All His knowledge, all His strength are bound to your service.  Jesus rode the donkey, and her colt came with.  But that was not how it was with Him.  He was separated from His mother to carry the immeasurably heavy burden of your sin.  You have lived as if everyone should serve you, as if you were king.  Jesus came to carry the burden of your guilt with his great strength.  He carried it like the lowly beast of burden that carried him when he carried the cross out of the city gates and was crucified.  And there on the cross He carried the guilt, shame, and wrath of God that was yours into the grave and death.  Away from God’s sight and away from you forever.


He came to serve you.  This is how your King still comes to you.  There is no doubt about His power and majesty and glory.  He is the living God.  But He comes in gentleness to bear the burden of your sin, and to serve you so that you are healed of it.  He will come as a terrible judge to His foes, but His gentleness toward troubled sinners is as great as His might.


He comes to be your King, to take you captive, that is true.  He wants all of you, and He keeps coming to you until you are all His and He is all yours.  But He doesn’t abandon you when you fall or even when you are an unripe fig tree for years and years.  He comes gentle, meek, on a beast of burden, to help you.


Now His lowly donkey is the preacher.  You could look at the pastor’s vestments that way.  They are like the cloaks the apostles put on the donkey before Jesus sat on it.  When the pastor preaches and teaches the teaching of the apostles, he is Jesus’ donkey with the apostles’ cloaks covering him.  Then Jesus comes to you through the pastor—lowly, humble, gentle, to serve you, to take your sins away, and bring you with Him in his triumphal procession.  When the pastor baptizes and absolves you and feeds you Jesus’ supper the way He said to do it, according to His direction, then Jesus the King leads you out of the nations among which you have been scattered into His Kingdom.  Then the King leads you into His chambers, brings you into His banqueting house, and His banner over you is love (Song of Solomon 1:4, 2:4).


Just as they laid the branches in the road before Jesus, so this righteous branch appeared not as a glorious King but as a little branch trampled down in the dust.  Yet this is where His might accomplished wonderful things.  Driven into the dust by those who hated Him, He tore the whole human race out of the power of the grave and the curse of Adam—you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  His gentleness and meekness made us great, as His ancestor David wrote in the eighteenth Psalm (Ps. 18:35).  This little branch with no splendor or beauty became our righteousness in His death, and in His resurrection opened for us a Kingdom with no end.




He comes to us and calls us to awake and receive Him, to cast away the works of darkness, because the day is almost here.  To receive our King who comes to serve us.  To let His Word expose the darkness in us and then proclaim to us the light of His righteousness for us.  He calls us to join Him in His triumphal procession.


And already, at least in our word and singing, we do that in every Divine Service.  We sing: Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!


The words of the Divine Service tell us “The King is coming; Jesus is coming, just like on Palm Sunday—to us!”  They proclaim this just before we eat the bread that is His Body and drink the wine that is His blood.  There He gives us His righteousness and the forgiveness of our sins.


And in heaven, in the highest place, the angels and victorious saints echo our hosannas.  They join in our praise of the King who is coming to save us.


These are not idle words.  The angels shouted Hosanna with the crowds as Jesus entered Jerusalem to die.  They do so now when Jesus comes here to give us the body and blood He gave for us in Jerusalem long ago.  They rejoiced then and they rejoice now as they see the King come to us in salvation.


And yet His Kingdom didn’t come in a way that made sense to the people in Jerusalem.  The crowds expected paradise to begin that day or soon after.  Here we have high hopes too for what Christ will do among us now that, after years of vacancy, God has sent you a pastor.


But Jesus does not bring His kingdom in a way that is comfortable or sensible to human wisdom.  He brought it through His death on the cross in Jerusalem.  He brings it to us through the strange means of bread, wine, water, and preaching.  And as He comes in this way He no doubt will work in us and lead us in ways we cannot understand.


But as Advent returns our King does not tell us we need to understand what He is going to do.  He calls us to recognize Him as He comes in His Word and Sacraments and to join Him in His kingly procession.  Follow Him with hosannas to this altar.  Ask Him to visit you with His Spirit this Advent and show you where He would have you serve Him.  Go with Him to your brothers in the church and those who are apart from our king, and serve them with Him.


How blest the land, the city blest

Where Christ the ruler is confessed!

Oh peaceful hearts and happy homes

To whom this King in Triumph comes!

The cloudless sun of joy is He

Who comes to set His people free.

To Christ the Savior raise

Your happy shouts of praise!  (LSB 340 st. 3)




Soli Deo Gloria

The Thongs of His Sandals. Advent 4, Rorate Coeli 2018

Rorate Coeli, the Fourth Sunday in Advent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 1:19-28

December 23, 2018

The Thongs of His Sandals

Iesu Iuva!


In the Name of Jesus.


Jesus got up from the table and took off His outer garment.  He took a towel and tied it around His waist.  He poured water from a pitcher into a large bowl.  Then he went and knelt down and washed His disciples’ feet with the water and dried them with the towel wrapped around His waist.


John the Baptist says, I am not worthy to untie the thong of His sandal and wash His feet.  What He will do for us, I am not worthy to do for Him.  I am not worthy to do this lowest of jobs for Him; and He is standing in your midst, but you do not know Him.


The Jews of Jerusalem have sent priests and Levites to ask John, “Who are you?”  and “Why are you baptizing?”  First they ask John—are you the prophet?  Are you Elijah?


John confessed and did not deny even though all of his answers are denials: I am not the Christ.  I am not the prophet.  I am not Elijah.  I am none of those esteemed personages; I am the voice Isaiah talked about, crying out in the desert Make straight the way of YHWH. 


Like someone running ahead of the king, emperor, or some other esteemed person into some lowly village:  Make the road straight.  Get your garbage and your animals and your broken down wagons out of the way so the king can come in in a way fitting for a king.  So He doesn’t have to wait while someone clears the obstacles out of His way.


He is not merely a King, not merely a prophet like Moses and Elijah.  He is the Lord; I AM.


That is why I am baptizing.  To make straight His way.  To clear the garbage out of the road so that He finds you ready for Him.


Look where John is pointing.  The Lord stands in our midst.  Tomorrow night we will celebrate His birth and listen to the gospel proclaimed by the angel: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  The baby, who looks like any other baby, is the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, the giver of the Law on Mount Sinai.


He is so great we are not worthy to untie His sandal or do the most menial task for Him.  He needs nothing we can give Him.  He is our Creator.  We are clay shaped by Him on His potter’s wheel.


Besides this we are not fit to do the lowliest job for Him because we cannot, as we are by nature, do anything right for Him.


Yet we do not recognize Him for who He is.  We do not recognize His approach.  We know Christmas is coming.  Our houses are probably decorated.  Gifts are probably bought.  Food is probably being prepared.  But many of our hearts are unprepared.  The way for the Lord is not straight into our hearts.  Sin that we do not intend to forsake lies in the road, perhaps; perhaps sin we do intend to forsake, but to which we keep returning. And almost universally there is the junk of wrong priorities—busy-ness without prayer.  We are worried and anxious about many things and do not sit at the feet of the Lord hearing His Word.


The Lord is also coming soon to judge the earth, to redeem the bodies of His saints, to begin the new heavens and the new earth.  But we are distracted from that coming too.  With what?  With serving ourselves.  With being so concerned about getting things ready for tomorrow or New Year’s or whatever our plans are in 2019, that we neglect looking for Him who is coming to judge the earth.  The way in our hearts is disheveled, full of debris.


This is the first commandment: You shall have no other gods.  This was the reason the Jews of Jerusalem did not know their God even though He was standing in the midst of them.  Even when they did not have idols standing in the temple, they had idols in their hearts.  All the things that kept them busy—the pursuit of wealth and a good name, care for their families, care for their work.  It’s not that those things are bad—it’s that they are not God, nor are they more important than God.  Yet they competed with the true God in the hearts of the Jews of Jerusalem.  Just as they do in our hearts.


Repent.  The Lord who is coming to you, who is in your midst, is the only God.  He is so great that we are not worthy to untie His shoe or wash His feet.  Should He have part of your heart, part of your strength, part of your love?  No.  He should have it all.


But you have probably decided in the past that He would have all of your heart and strength.  That was the promise we made at Baptism, then again at confirmation.  Just as Peter, when the Lord finished washing his feet, said, Lord, why can I not follow you now?  I will lay down my life for you.  (John 13:37)  Then he denied Jesus a few hours later.  So we have done.


John made the Lord’s way straight by baptizing the people.  He preached repentance, that tax collectors and Pharisees alike were sinners.  He baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  But he taught the people to look for the one who would come after him and who would give the Holy Spirit—to put their trust in Him to make them new.


That is how we are made ready for the Lord’s coming.  We return to Baptism, where we were forgiven our sins and made a new creation in the Lord Jesus.  In our Baptism we find the forgiveness of our sins.  But we also find ourselves made new, with hearts that are constantly being straightened out, because in Baptism we are united with Jesus Christ, the Lord made flesh.


In our Baptism we find the Lord whose sandals we are not worthy to untie serving us.  The Lord who washed His disciples’ feet with a towel and a basin washed us once and for all in our Baptism.  In our Baptism He put Himself on us, just as at His Baptism He entered into the flood of all the sins of the world.  He carried that stain on Him to the cross and washed it out and away from human beings forever with His blood.


He is so great that John isn’t worthy to untie his shoe, but He came to earth to serve us.


That is the mystery we look into with the angels tomorrow, as we find God in swaddling clothes in a manger, come to serve us.


It is also the mystery we look into today.  The Lord joins His body to the bread, His blood to the wine, and He whose sandals we are unworthy to untie comes to serve us, loose our sins, and make straight His way into our hearts.




Soli Deo Gloria

All the Families of the Earth Will Be Blessed in You. Third Wed. in Advent–Evening Prayer, 2018

December 19, 2018 Leave a comment

o radix jesse.PNGThird Wednesday in Advent—Evening Prayer

St. Peter Lutheran Church

“O Radix Jesse”—Isaiah 11:1, 10; Revelation 5:1-7

December 19, 2018

All the Families of the Earth will be Blessed in You


Iesu iuva!


In the Name of Jesus.


The antiphon for December 19th: “O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage: Come quickly to deliver us.”


The antiphon is quite clearly drawn from Isaiah’s prophecy that we heard moments ago.


Isaiah calls Him a shoot from the stump of Jesse, a branch from His roots.  You know what Isaiah is picturing here.  Virgil and Ron cut down a tree in the backyard of the parsonage this year.  It was a crabapple tree that has been there decades, probably, but a lot of its limbs were dead.  And they put, I think, dirt in the center of the stump so that the stump wouldn’t try to grow again—so that the stump would die.


If I was a tree that had taken years and years to grow from a seed or an acorn into a big tree with a thick trunk and then someone cut me down, I would give up and die, probably.  All those years represented by the rings in the trunk now become firewood.


But that is not what trees do.  Give them another season and that stump will put out a little branch on the side of the stump—a little green shoot coming from its roots.  It is ready to start all over again.


Jesus is the branch from Jesse’s tree.  Jesse lived in Bethlehem in the land of Judah.  He had eight sons.  God chose the youngest of his sons, David, to be King over His people Israel.  He promised David that He would build him a royal house and that one of the sons of his body would sit on the throne of David forever.  And you can read about what happened to the house of David in the first chapter of Matthew.  And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah…(Matthew 3:6-7)  And after David Matthew lists fourteen generations, fourteen kings.  And Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon (3:11).


The time of the deportation to Babylon was the end of an independent Israel and the end of kings from David’s line ruling over Israel.  The people deported to Babylon came back to the land of Israel, but they came back as subjects of the Persian Empire.  And after that they were ruled by the Greeks, and then the Romans.


The great tree of Jesse’s family, of David’s house, was cut down.  It was a stump.  But next to the stump would grow a little branch out of the roots of the tree that had been cut down.  Another king would come.  That king would be the Christ, the Messiah.  That little branch is Jesus.  After David’s house was cut down because of the idolatry and sin of David’s descendants, the Lord fulfilled His promise to David and raised up a branch from His roots, a king to reign on the throne of his father David.


His faithfulness and His grace restored the desolate house of David.


Just like a branch growing on or by a stump looks pitiful at its beginning compared to what has been cut down, so it was with Jesus when He was born and even when He grew up.  He did not look like a replacement for the mighty, noble tree that had been cut down.


But Isaiah had more to say than just that Jesus was the branch from Jesse’s tree.  In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious (Is. 11:10).


Did you catch that?  Not only the branch of Jesse, but also—the root.


A branch is an offshoot of the trunk. Jesus branched off of the tree of Jesse.


But He is also the root of Jesse and David.  He comes from David and Jesse; He is descended from them.  But at the same time—they grow out of Him.


How can that be?


You, of course, don’t need me to explain this mystery to you.  You know very well that Jesus is the root of Jesse because He gave Jesse life.  He created Adam, the first man.  He called Abraham to leave his family and go to the land of promise.  And out of Abraham’s offspring He made a nation—Israel, from whom Jesse came.  And Jesus, the Divine Wisdom, the Lord and giver of the Law, also planned Jesse and David’s existence before the world began.  According to His purpose He raised up David as King over Israel because He was preparing for His own coming into the world in flesh and blood to redeem all the families of the nations on earth from their sins and from death.


This was what He had promised Abraham a thousand years before David was born.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Gen. 12:2-3). 


Because all the families of the earth, all the different nations, tribes, and people that came from Adam and branched off into their different families and peoples—all of them are under the same curse.


It was no different for Jesse and David, or for Abraham.  You can see it in them all.  Though Abraham and David were godly, their offspring were not—at least not all of them.  God blessed them and they forgot God.  Some became outright pagans and heathen who did not know God at all.  That’s the way Israel was in Egypt.  It is the way many of David’s descendants were.  How do you have a saint for a grandparent or a parent and end up godless, like a son of Cain?  Because the curse that comes from Adam is in us all—sin.  Unless God converts us and keeps sin in remission it breaks forth and does its work of leading us astray, leading us to hell and our children with us.


But the wisdom through whom the world was made and the Lord who redeemed Israel had seen all this and planned, long before the world was made, long before Jesse was born, to come and redeem all the families of the nations, to bring them blessing instead of the curse.


And to do this, He planned to become a man.  To enter humanity and human history in a particular house, from a particular family.  And the family that He chose was the family of Jesse.


It wasn’t because the family of Jesse was so good.  They were just as helpless in sin as the rest of us.  That’s why that royal tree was cut down and a branch had to sprout from its roots.


Jesus is the branch, a baby from David’s family.  He is also the root, the one who created Jesse and called David to be King.  All along He was planning to bless and save us.


So He was born and entered into a world full of families like David’s.  And He did what no family does on its own.  He bore fruit to God.  He lived a life pleasing to God, a life of perfect obedience to God.  And He gave His life in satisfaction for our sins, to cover them and blot them out, to impute righteousness to all the families of the nations.


Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous branch, we sing in the responsory normally, in the service of Vespers.  This is the name by which He will be called: The Lord is our righteousness.


You see this pictured on the altar—a root with branches in the form of a chi-rho, the symbol for “Christ.”  Out of the family of Jesse comes the Christ.  The eternal God who made the human race joins the human race.  And He bears fruit to God, where all the people before Him have been barren and cursed.


But everyone who believes in Him is full of good fruit.  Jesus’ righteousness is credited to him.  And it lives in him, and produces what pleases God.


That is how David became pleasing to God.  He believed God’s promise, that had been spoken to Abraham—that God would send an offspring that would bring salvation to the whole earth.


And through faith David pleased God, and God chose him to be the ancestor of Jesus.


By the same faith of David you became related to Jesus.  Jesus dwells in your body through faith.  He bears fruit in you, and you become a branch in Him, the tree of life.


He alone is able to deliver us from the curse, from the domination of sin.  When you see that curse raising its head in your family, don’t despair.  Don’t be surprised.  Don’t make peace with it.  Call to Him who was born into David’s sinful family and raised up David’s fallen house when no one else could raise it.


O root of Jesse, come quickly to deliver us!


Rejoice, rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


Soli Deo Gloria

The Christian Hope. Populus Zion, the Second Sunday in Advent 2018

December 19, 2018 Leave a comment

jesus judgment.PNGPopulus Zion, the Second Sunday in Advent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 21:25-36

Dec. 9, 2018

The Christian Hope


Iesu iuva!


In the Name of Jesus.


In the epistle reading St. Paul prays that the Christians in Rome may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13).  This Sunday is called “Populus Zion”—the people of Zion.  And it is an apt name, because the people of the city of God are people of hope.  They share the Christian hope of the return of Jesus Christ.  Say to the daughter of Zion: Behold, your salvation comes.  Those words from the introit are the words the people of Zion are listening for.  They are looking for their Savior to return and bring them His salvation.


The people who are outside of the walls of Zion, God’s city, also have hopes.  But they are false hopes.  Their hopes are for this world and, as this world moves closer to its end, they are people who increasingly are without hope.


Our Lord Jesus pictures for us the hope of His people in the reading from St. Luke’s Gospel.  He shows us that the Christian hope is directed not to this world, but to this world’s end; and secondly, that the Christian hope enables His Church to overcome the world.


I say “the Christian hope,” not “the Christian hopes,” because there are not many things for which the Church hopes.  The Church has one hope.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, St. Paul writes in Eph. 4.  Just as there is only one Christian Church, one Christian faith, one doctrine or teaching of Christ, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so there is only one hope for the Christian Church.


We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2).  We wait eagerly for the adoption as sons, the resurrection of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved (Rom. 8:23-24).  There are different aspects of this hope, but only one hope—the return of Jesus in power and great glory, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment, and the life of the world to come, in which the people of Zion will see the glory of God.


But this hope of the Church is not a hope for this world.  It is a desire and an expectation that this world and its present order will come to an end.  Because the glory of God cannot be seen in this world; sinners cannot endure it, and neither can the creation, which is infected by human sin.  You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live, the Lord told Moses (Ex. 33).  Human beings are not allowed to see God’s glory and live because, by sin, we have treated Him and His glory with contempt, and His glory is too wonderful, too beautiful for those who have so treated it to behold.  Besides our unworthiness there is the reality that those who have sin must perish in the naked presence of God.  God is a fire that consumes sin.  So when the Lord comes in power and majesty, sinners and the world they have stained cannot abide it.  He brings destruction and death to them.


That is why, as the time of Christ’s return nears, the world begins to shake.  The creation begins to rumble like dishes on a table when a train rolls by.  It shakes because it is coming apart as His glory nears.


There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves; people fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world (Luke 21:25f).  the sun and the moon, appointed by God to rule over the seasons and years, begin to flicker like lights before the power goes out.  The sea and waves roar with hurricanes and tsunamis as though the seas will overflow the boundaries God set for them when He said Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place and let the dry land appear (Gen. 1:11).  But in the last days it will look like the seas can barely be contained from covering the earth again, as when the earth was without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep (Gen. 1:2). 


And of course these signs are all around us.  Unbelievers aren’t even able to write them all off as simply part of nature anymore.  Environmentalists tell us that the earth will be destroyed by fires and floods if we don’t reduce carbon emissions.  The point is not whether or not they are right, and the political questions this raises.  The point we should pay attention to is that this is the “distress of nations” Jesus prophesied.  People are scared.  Even non-believers see signs that the world is not going to be around forever.  Its demise may be imminent.


And they are right.  But our world is blinder than ever about the reasons why.  They do not see that the Son of Man is about to appear in a cloud with power and great glory, and the world will die not only because of our mismanagement, but because it is being judged by Christ.


The Christian Church does not run in fear when she sees these signs.  The Church looks for them expectantly, and she does what her Lord says: When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28-29). 


Because the Christian hope is not in this world—it is directed toward the end of this world.


That is certainly not the case for most people in our time.  Most people are not in distress, despite the signs of the end—the hurricanes, earthquakes, eclipses, fires—because they are weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life (Luke 21:44).  But if they recognized the signs, they would not be happy, because everything they care about and hope for is in this world.  They have no desire for God and His glory.


But is it different for you?  You, after all, are a Christian, baptized into Christ’s death so that you may share in His resurrection and His Kingdom on the last day.  But is your hope set on His coming?  Do you raise up your head in joy and anticipation as you see the heavens and the earth shaking as His glory comes near?


Too often the answer is “no”.  We are asleep and not looking for His coming.  Our hearts too are set on this world and its cares and its pleasures.  And when we are startled awake by the nearness of His coming—as we should be now—our response isn’t hope and anticipation but fear.


This leads to the second point about the Christian hope—that it enables the Christian Church to overcome the world.


You are probably familiar with the stories of the Christian martyrs, how the apostles and many others in the Christian Church of the first three centuries especially were tortured and killed for their faith in Christ, but they suffered these things and did not deny Him.  They did this because their hope was not set on this world but on the Kingdom of God.  They were not hoping for riches or success or pleasure here but in the new heavens and the new earth with Jesus.  So they were able to overcome the worst this world could do to them.  They were able to overcome poverty, hunger, nakedness, torture, death, because they hoped in the return of Jesus and that they would see His glory and receive His praise.


And this hope was not uncertain or doubtful.  It was sure.  It was sure not only that Jesus would come back, but it was also sure to them that they would have a share in His Kingdom.  That when they saw His great power and glory appear as the world was destroyed, that great power and glory would be for them and not against them.


That same certain hope is held out to us in the Gospel, even though we are sinners who have not earned God’s praise.  When you see these things, lift up your heads, because your redemption draw near.  Jesus tells us that His return will not be to destroy us but to redeem us.  At His first coming, He appeared in weakness and humility, took up our sin, and died for it.  He was judged as though He were us, and had transgressed God’s Law.  He died on the cross forsaken by God for us.  But then He was set free in His resurrection, and so we who He died for are also free from our sins.  We are redeemed from the old life of sin.  And at His second coming He will come in power and great glory to redeem our bodies, to finish our redemption and make our bodies like His—alive forevermore, free completely from sin and death.


That is His pledge to us in His body and blood.  We have been redeemed out of this world of death.  We are the people of Zion, the people of God, who belong to His new creation.


When you see the signs of this creation’s destruction, Jesus tells you they are signs that summer is near for you.  It is winter and death for everyone whose hope is in this world.  But for His people it is almost summer.  We will see God’s glory.  We will live forever.  We will have a peaceful conscience and no more guilt, no more aching conscience, no more aching bones, no more old age.


This is a certain hope because Jesus promised it.  And now He comes and pledges in His body and blood that this hope is certainly yours.




Soli Deo Gloria

O Come, Desire of Nations. Third Wed. in Advent, Matins, 2018.

December 19, 2018 Leave a comment

o rex gentium 1Third Wednesday in Advent—Matins

St. Peter Lutheran Church

O Rex Gentium—Is. 11:10

December 19, 2018

Desire of Nations


Iesu Iuva!


In the Name of Jesus.


The century in which we were born was marked by great wars, but also by equally great efforts to unite nations.  At the very beginning of the century President Woodrow Wilson constructed his grand idea of a League of Nations, even though he could not convince his own country’s legislature to go along with his plan.  The League was followed by the United Nations and a hundred other international organizations like the World Trade Organization and the European Union.  In the last century people felt more strongly than in the centuries previous—at least it appears so—the need for some kind of global governance to preserve peace or at least to try to uphold human dignity.


Efforts to try to foster mutual understanding among the nations of the world are valuable and necessary—up to a point.  But it is always the case that when people try to create paradise on earth they end up with something closer to hell.  This happens because the people who invent these plans for utopia have a mistaken understanding about human nature and what will make people truly happy.


Throughout history there have been many attempts to unite the nations of the world, and all of them required bloodshed.  The Roman Empire tried it, and succeeded to a great degree in maintaining an external peace over many nations.  But the pax Romana, the Roman peace, was maintained by the Roman legions, by the crucifixion of rebels, by the requirement that all subjects of the emperor worship him as a god.  And so with other would-be uniters of the nations—Islam, the Mongols, communists.  All required force and much shed blood.


The reason why is two-fold.  The first is that nations are not the source of human division.  According to Scripture, nations are the work of God.  St. Paul preached to the philosophers in Athens that God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him (Acts 17:26-27).  This was why He commanded the descendants of Noah to scatter and fill the earth after the flood, instead of remaining together and creating a counterfeit way into heaven.  The fac that there are separate peoples and nations with their own customs and languages is not evil.  It is the will of God, meant to prepare them to receive the true King and ruler of the nations, instead of a salvation of their own making.  It’s the will of God that there be different nations and peoples, and He directs the history of nations to bring about His purposes.


The second reason why human efforts to create “peace on earth” end badly is that the people who put those plans forward fail to recognize the reason why human beings are divided.  People aren’t divided against each other simply because they are different.  We are divided against each other because we are divided from God.  That is to say—we are sinful.  Sin divides us from God and from other people.  It even fragments our own selves, so that we are out of harmony with our own being, with what we were created to be.


Because people feel this division, this alienation, they are driven by a desire to be whole.  But one person’s pursuit of happiness impinges on someone else’s, because everyone seeks wholeness in something other than God.  As long as that desire drives people it is not possible that we will have real peace and unity among nations; we won’t even have it among neighbors, in our families, or even in ourselves.  We can have a unity and a peace imposed by force but not a genuine peace that flows from the heart.  Many times people will even embrace a tyrannical or idolatrous state or ruler—as in Rome—if that state or ruler will preserve prosperity and an outward peace.


But the true peace for which human hearts are actually longing—even though they do not know it and would deny it if they were told—is the peace brought by the Christ of God.  When God “fashioned mankind from clay” and breathed into him His own breath, making man in the image of God, He placed our first father and mother in Paradise.


But they rejected their Maker and bit into the delusion that human beings would be gods without God.  And that delusion remains in human beings.  We are born into it, which means we are born rejecting the true God.  And the place in us in which God was meant to dwell is now the desire that each person has to find wholeness in what is not God.  The constant longing for wholeness in peace in something other than God.


There is only one King who is able to put an end to this and unite people with God and with each other.  That King is the one God promised on the same afternoon that Adam and Eve doomed themselves and their descendants.  He told the serpent: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.  (Gen. 3:15)


Down through centuries God kept promising this seed to His people, but also reminding them that He would not only be King and Savior to the Jews, the people who were called by His name.  He would be the King and Savior of all nations.  And when the King of mankind was born of a woman, born of the virgin, from the very beginning of His appearing Gentiles began to come to His light, starting with the wise men from the East.  They came to worship Him when the priests and leaders of Israel did not even know that He had been born.  And in the centuries that followed the Gentiles of every nation rallied to the name of Jesus and the Church of Jesus.  And so the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled: In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of Him shall the nations inquire…(Is. 11:10)


This King has already united the nations in Himself.  Through His coming He has united us with God; He is our intercessor and mediator who has ended God’s wrath against us, offering His body and blood as the sacrifice that makes atonement for us who have sinned.  And we who believe in Him and are baptized into Him are baptized into one body, whether we are Jews or Gentiles.  We all live from His flesh and are made alive by His blood.  We are all built on Him, the cornerstone of the Church, trusting in Him alone as our salvation.  When He returns, the congregation from every nation and tribe that He has gathered will be complete in Him.  Our desire for His image and likeness will be satisfied, and there will be peace among men on whom His favor rests, while for those who reject Him there will be no peace.


That is why we pray Him to come—to come now by His Word with His Spirit and convert those who are still looking to false gods to save them.  But also that He would quickly come in His glory, satisfy our desire for Him, and bring us His promised peace.


Rejoice, rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!




Soli Deo Gloria

Another Preacher. Gaudete, The Third Sunday in Advent, 2018.

December 16, 2018 Leave a comment

john the baptist prison.PNGGaudete—The Third Sunday in Advent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Is. 40:1-8, 1 Cor. 4:1-5, Matt. 11:2-10

December 16, 2018

“Another Preacher”


Iesu iuva!


In the Name of Jesus.


When John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Mt. 11:2-3)


The deeds of the Christ that prompted this delegation to come from the Baptist appear to be Jesus’ ordination of the 12 disciples.  In chapter 10 Jesus sent them to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons (Mt. 10:8).  The Christ was sending out ministers to do more of what He had been doing.


But these works of the Christ left John, or at least his disciples, uneasy.  Is this really the one John had said they should look for, the one coming after him?  But all He is doing is sending out ministers, preachers.


What were they looking for that they weren’t seeing?  They were seeing the signs that God had said would accompany the dawn of His Kingdom and His Messiah.  Say to those who have an anxious heart: ‘Be strong, fear not!  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.’  Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”  (Is. 35:4-6)  Light was breaking forth in the darkness, life and healing in sickness and death.


And yet the darkness was not disappearing.  It was fighting back.  John was in the dungeon of a king who did not want to accept John’s preaching of repentance.  Death could come at any moment and pull him out of his dark cell.  The dark world was not responding to preaching.  New measures were needed.  But Jesus did not seem to have any plans to do that.  He was training His disciples to do just as He had been doing—healing the sick, preaching good news to the poor.


John’s disciples weren’t looking for another preacher, much less 12 of them.  They were looking for one mightier than John, the preacher, one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, clearing his threshing floor and gathering the wheat into the barn, but burning the chaff with unquenchable fire (Mt. 3:11-12).  John had already preached.  John had already baptized.  Now they were looking for the Christ to come with might and cast fire on the earth.


The doubts that rose in the minds of John’s disciples have only increased at the end of 2000 years.  Jesus is still doing it the same way, and the world still thinks it is weak and stupid—and even the church, for the most part, is disappointed.  Jesus still is pinning it all on sending preachers with His Word and Sacraments.    And now they don’t even, for the most part, make the deaf hear or the lame walk.  They just preach the good news to the poor.  We are offended that this is the way Jesus extends and preserves His Kingdom.  Sometimes we don’t even believe that it is Him doing it at all—sending preachers, teaching and preaching, baptizing.  Obviously He could overcome the darkness so much more quickly and easily than He is choosing to do.


Repent.  Do you really think you know better than the King how to manage His Kingdom?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe says St. Paul in 1 Corinthians (1:21).  It is God’s good pleasure that His Kingdom come in this way—through preaching.


Even more, the preaching of Jesus and His ministers is different than the preaching of John the Baptist and all the preaching of the prophets.  The prophets preached what was to come; but the preaching of Christ and His ministers gives the Kingdom of God now.


John prepared people for Jesus by preaching repentance and telling them all that God’s axe was at their roots, about to cut them down and throw them into eternal fire unless they brought forth good fruit, whether they were religious or irreligious, moral or immoral by human standards.  None were righteous, all were near to the fire.  But then John told those who trembled to look for the one who was coming, who would give them the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins, righteousness.


But the preaching of Jesus and His ministers is greater.  It brings God’s comfort that Isaiah spoke of in the Old Testament reading to the spiritually poor.  It announces the end of their war with God.


The preaching of Jesus’ ministers imparts a secret and hidden wisdom of God (1 Cor. 2:17); it opens up for us the mysteries of God that have been hidden since the world began.  This is why Paul said in the epistle reading: This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1). 


Faithful ministers of Christ unveil mysteries hidden in the mind of God from the world’s foundation, mysteries the world does not know and cannot find out for itself.


And the chief mystery is this: that to restore us who are alienated from God by sin and can’t make ourselves right again, the eternal Son of God became flesh and blood.  He Himself would crush the head of the ancient serpent and bring us out of the dark prison in which we are bound, ignorant of God and under His wrath.


Jesus was in the midst of this work when the messengers came from John.  His disciples then went out and healed people and told them that the Kingdom of God was near them.  But now Christ’s faithful ministers preach that Jesus has opened our dungeon.  He tore open its doors, tore up the record of our sins, when His body was pierced and torn in death on the cross.


When the ministers of Christ baptize, it’s not in preparation for one who is coming after.  It is a baptism into the One who has already come,  who was baptized into our sin and its punishment, who bore it on His head as a sacrificial victim and was led away to spill His blood in atonement for us.  And after making purification for sins once and for all, He rose from the dead and ascended to the throne of God.


The mystery given by the hands of Christ’s ministers is Baptism, where all that Jesus did becomes ours.  We share in Baptism His death that atones for our sins, and in His new life where He rose from the dead.


Don’t be offended that Christ sends preachers.  That is how He brings good news to the poor, the comfort of the forgiveness of sins. It is how He, the eternal God who became man for us, comes to you now.




Soli Deo Gloria

O Dayspring. 2nd Wed. in Advent Evening Prayer 2018

December 12, 2018 Leave a comment

Second Wednesday in Advent—Evening Prayer

St. Peter Lutheran Church

“O Oriens”—Is. 9:1-2; John 1:1-9

December 12, 2018


Iesu Iuva


In the Name of Jesus.


O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting,

Come and enlighten hose who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.


There are two ways to think about this antiphon and its name for Christ: Dayspring, Dawn.  The first is that dawn and light are necessary for life and for ordering things so that life is possible.  The second is that dawn, daybreak comes as a relief and joy to those who live in a terrifying darkness.  Prisoners in a dark dungeon rejoice when the sun dawns on them.  Soldiers who are trapped and surrounded by the enemy rejoice when morning dawns and they have survived.


Light is gives the clarity and order that is required to sustain life.  Advanced disorder is death.  For example, when your body is not able to maintain the boundaries between itself and other organisms that would invade it, it dies.  The symptoms of sickness are a sign that your body is trying to keep itself separate from viruses and bacteria that want to feed on it.  But without light there can be no order and no separation; everything becomes an undifferentiated chaos.  The earth was without form…and darkness was over the surface of the deep.  (Gen. 1:2)


So when God created the world, the first thing He created was light, and separated it from the darkness.  Then He made lights: the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars (Gen. 1:16).  And as a result there were different times: a time to sleep, a time to wake, a time to plant, a time to harvest.  Order as a result of the lights, and because of that order—life.


But if there is no light there is no order and no life.  And creation does not order itself, bring itself into being, give itself light.  Instead light, once it exists, goes out if it is not tended.  Just ask the altar guild.  Or if their opinion isn’t learned enough, you can ask the astrophysicists, who will tell you the same thing, that even the stars will not give their light forever; they too burn out after a million or so years.


But you would be better off asking the altar guild, since they have more wisdom than most astrophysicists.  The altar guild knows, and so does everyone else here tonight, that the created light came into being through the Word of God, the Uncreated Light.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:4).  Creation did not order itself or bring life out of itself.


But this is what our world is trying to do. Finding itself out of order, it is trying to order itself.  Finding themselves in darkness, our neighbors, friends, relatives are trying to create their own light.  One invents a new sex for himself because he is told that this will free him from the feeling of being out of order.  Another tries to find wholeness in his life by throwing off what we call “traditional sexual morality”, because of the guilt and tension he feels trying to subdue his desires that go against those “traditional morals”.  We see our children or neighbors doing this and are shocked or disgusted.


But the same darkness has been in the world since Adam and Eve turned from the light of God’s face and hid from Him as evening fell.  We just lied to ourselves about it.  We here tonight don’t go to the doctor to change our sex.  But we bristle at what God requires of us as men and women and try to excuse ourselves.  We try to re-work God’s ordering of male and female in a way that accords with our own understanding, our own light.  Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph. 5: 25)… But that is not to be taken too literally, we say, or our wives will take advantage of us.  Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body…(Eph. 5:23)  Well, we don’t want to be doormats and slaves to our husbands, Christian women say.  The same darkness is in us as in our world.  Some people physically change their sex, but human beings have been rejecting God’s ordering of male and female since Adam took the forbidden fruit from his wife.  We flee from His light as often as it comes to us in His ten commandments, at least as we are by nature.


And we cannot bring God’s light and order to our disjointed selves anymore than the formless and void world could at the beginning.


But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish… in the latter time He has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.  (Is. 9:1-2)


The great light that dawned in Galilee was the uncreated light, the Word of God, who created and ordered the world in the beginning so that it would sustain life.  He rose upon the human race in the womb of the virgin and the dawn broke at His baptism when He was revealed to the world.  He dawns upon us in preaching.  There we see the uncreated light of God in human flesh.


Because God has become man in Jesus of Nazareth, human nature has been restored to the light.  It has been re-ordered.  In Him we see humanity put back in order.  In Him we see not only one man put back in order, but we see ourselves restored to the light and life of God.  In Him God destroyed the sin and corruption we see in our bodies and souls; He destroyed the darkness and disorder from which we cannot make ourselves emerge.  All of that darkness was broken when He suffered and died for our sins on the cross, and there was darkness over the face of the whole land.  Our darkness was being dissolved by the light of light, very God of very God.


When He rose on the third day, He rose as the second Adam, the new man.  As we were born in the old Adam and His darkness, we are reborn in the new Adam and His light.  This is what His Word proclaims to us.  This is the dawn that rises on us in the preaching of His Word.  Jesus dawns on us.  We who walk in darkness see His great light.  Dawn comes on us like it comes to soldiers who are surrounded at night.


Jesus comes and tells us we are loosed from our sin and its penalty; that we are baptized into Him and so have been raised from the dead, become new men in Him.


When our flesh works against us and hardens our hearts so that we feel our resistance to His Word, and feel the darkness that is still in us, we confess it to Him and He absolves us.  The darkness breaks and the sun of righteousness rises upon us with healing in His wings.


We are overwhelmed and near despair when we see how few believe in Him, how many are falling.  He comes, and gives us the body that was crucified to redeem us and the blood that purifies us from all sin.  You have a share in the great light that dawned in Galilee, He says.


And when the day dawns fully, and His face appears shining like the sun in full strength, the darkness of hell, sin and death will vanish before His brightness, and so will everyone that belongs to it.  And the old us will also be gone.  But we will see one another in that light, on that day, and we will be changed.  We will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.


So we pray:


               O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high

               And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh.

               Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

               And death’s dark shadows put to flight.


               Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

               Shall come to thee, O Israel!




Soli Deo Gloria

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