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Thoughts From Many Hearts. First Sunday after Christmas 2018

jesus simeon.PNGFirst Sunday after Christmas

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:33-40

December 30, 2018

Thoughts from Many Hearts Revealed

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Christmas has come and gone.  We ate and drank and opened presents.  The shredded wrapping paper has been put in the trash.

 

Soon Christmas will be over in the Church too.  Already the otherworldly beauty of Christmas Eve has gone.  The glory of God that shone around the shepherds has disappeared with the great company of the heavenly host.  The candles we held in our hands as we sang “Silent night, holy night,” have been put away too.  They will not come out again until we come here in the darkness of the vigil of Easter, as the women came while it was still dark to the tomb in which Jesus was buried.

 

And so we are back to life in this world.  Back to business.  Even in the holy place of the church.  Mary and Joseph go to the temple to offer the sacrifice for Mary’s purification.  Simon and Anna, prophet and prophetess, make glorious statements about Mary and Joseph’s child in the temple.  And yet, few there seem to hear and listen.  How, after all, can a little baby from a poor family be as great as Simeon claimed?  Besides, Jerusalem is still not redeemed.  It is still ruled by the hated Roman oppressors.

 

Likewise for us this Sunday after Christmas.  We return to church a few days later.  It is still cold and gray.  We still have all the same problems and pain our families as we did before Christmas.  Maybe the problems and pain are even more apparent to us after we celebrated Christmas with them.  Besides this our land and our church are in the same difficult position we were in before Christmas in relation to the unbelieving world, the powers in media, universities, government that are opposed to the Law of God.  This baby carried by Mary and Joseph into the temple ahs not changed these things, has He?  The struggle hasn’t ended with Christmas.  It begins again.  It goes on for us.  And where is our help?  Only this baby?  Who is not only a baby and therefore weak—but also born in poverty and low estate, not regarded by anyone?

 

Yes, and it gets worse.  Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph, but he whispers words to Mary about her future and that of her firstborn son that must have been hard to hear even if she could not fully understand them: Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also) so that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed (Luke 2:34-35). 

 

This baby Mary carries in her arms is not only outwardly weak and poor but also offensive to the world.  He is a sign that will be opposed.  The world is not going to love Jesus.  It is going to fight Jesus tooth and nail.

 

Why?  Because Jesus is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel.  He lays low and casts to the ground all of us with our pretensions, where we struggle to build ourselves up and make something of ourselves—financially, spiritually, whatever it may be.  The baby in Mary’s arms casts us to the ground, makes us and our efforts fall.  We are not whole.  We do not have the power to make ourselves whole.  We must see ourselves as we are—wretched, poor, spiritually miserable.  Something like this child we despise.  He looks wretched and poor because He has taken our image and appearance, not because He is wretched and poor in Himself.

 

But not even Mary or the other saints, not even the godly are immune.  Even Mary has a sword pierce her heart.  Even she opposes Jesus in the thoughts of her heart.  We don’t know what Mary wished for her son, but if she was anything like any other mother, she wanted Him to be happy.  That would have included peace in this world.  Not suffering.  Certainly not death on a cross!  We know that when Jesus began His ministry and was teaching large crowds, His family was worried about Him, thinking He had gone crazy (Mark 7:21)  .  And Mary’s heart was pierced with sorrow when Jesus was pierced and nailed to a cross.  What she wanted for her Son was not the will of god.  Even Mary, in the thoughts of her heart, opposed Jesus.

 

So it is with you.  Your heart’s thoughts are revealed by Jesus—and many of your thoughts are to have expectations of Him that oppose what He came to do.  Your heart wants to be exalted in this world, so you want Him to be exalted (so that you may be exalted with Him), and you are bitterly disappointed when He achieves nothing but the mockery and hostility of the world.  Like the world, your flesh thinks that wealth and the praise of human beings, the glory of this world—is God.  Jesus, the Word of the Father, is a double-edged sword who divides flesh from Spirit and reveals the thoughts of our hearts.  He shows us what we really believe in and what we really love, and what the wicked nature in us believes in and loves is not the true God.

 

But this child is also set for the rising of many. 

 

If you are poor and wretched, unable to free yourself from the love of idols, this baby Mary holds will raise you up.  This is why Simeon sang the Nunc Dimittis about the baby Jesus, the song that made Jesus’ father and mother marvel at what was said about Him (Luke 2:33).  It wasn’t in the reading, but you probably know it by heart; we sing it every week as we leave the Lord’s altar and we will sing it when you take your final leave of the Lord’s altar, when your casket sits at the altar rail covered by the funeral pall.

 

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,

According to Thy Word.

For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation

Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.

 

Why did Simeon sing this about the baby he took from Mary’s arms?  Because the baby, poor and weak, was the God of Israel; He had become poor and weak to save us from our poverty and spiritual helplessness.  We are born in a flesh, a nature, that rejects the true God for false gods that cannot save us.  And even if we were able to make ourselves free to turn to the true God, we could not escape the punishment of all our turning aside from Him in the past.

 

This child comes to save us.  He comes to make known to us the true God and to forgive our turning aside after idols.  He is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”  He makes the true God known to the heathen who worshipped false gods.  And He is “the glory of God’s people Israel.”  Israel’s glory and the church’s glory is not the glory of the world—wealth, power, the praise of men.  It is the true and living God.  The world despises God, but to us, His Church, He is preferred above jewels and every pleasure.

 

Like the people of Israel when Jesus was born, we are poor and weak in human terms.  And we are poor before God because we have longed for the glory of the world instead of the glory of the true God.

 

But this child is the Lord’s salvation. He is set also for the rising of many in Israel.  He enables all who take Him up to die in peace.  Because He, who is equal to the Father and shares His glory and joy, humbled Himself to take up our poverty.  He restores us to the true glory and joy of God by fulfilling the law of God for us and atoning for our sins.  This is why we sing Simeon’s song after we eat His body and drink His blood.  He has made us die to this world and made us alive to God.  He has covered our sin and our running after idols with His holy life.  We are purified by His birth and His death, and so our bodies in death are covered with the white pall emblazoned with His cross.  WE will be raised up with Him who rose in victory over death.

 

This child is a sign that is opposed by the world because He reveals the thoughts of our hearts—that we desire the world and its false glory.  He also goes against our thinking and wisdom.  He humbles Himself in order to raise us up, to make us able to depart in peace.  And so He comes to us today, now, in the bread and the wine, entering our fallen and impoverished bodies, to make us sharers in His salvation and in the glory of the true God.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Gift upon Gift. Christmas Day 2018

jesus nativity 2.PNGThe Nativity of our Lord—Christmas Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 1:1-18

December 25, 2018

Gift upon Gift

 

 

Iesu iuva!

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The Gospel for this morning says about God the Word who was born to us: From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (John 1:16).  That could be translated “gift upon gift.” 

 

That is the nature of the true God, and we see it clearly in Jesus.  We might mistakenly believe that the true God wants to take from us, that He never gives without demanding repayment.  Instead in Jesus we see the true God who is rich and has given to us freely again and again.

 

People also think God dislikes it when we live in the world too much; when we eat and drink and take delight in our wife or our children, our house and home.

 

No, friends.  Who do you think gave us food, drink, wife, children, and all we have?  From His fullness we have all received, says John.  He is full.  He is rich.  He has everything you could want and He has things you never dreamed of wanting.  All created things are His.  And He gives freely without finding fault.

 

When I was a small child, like most small children raised in Christian homes, I liked having my mother read me picture books about Noah’s ark, because in Noah’s ark were so many animals.  Have you ever noticed how almost all children love animals, as if they were Adam giving all of them names for the first time?

 

In the picture books of the ark are giraffes, hippos, horses, ducks, dogs, lions, bears, walruses, cows, deer, skunks, possums, squirrels, chickens, pheasants, woodpeckers.  The only limit on animals in the ark picture books is the inclination of the artist to draw and paint them all.

 

From His fulness we have all received—from God the Son’s fullness and riches—because He created the animals I named and countless, almost innumerable other ones.  And the sun, the moon and stars, the land and sea.  Everyone has received from Him—Christian, unbeliever, scientist, businessman, artist, politician, farmer.  Everyone has received from Him gift upon gift.

 

We have all received from Him, yet the world does not know Him from whose fullness we receive all these gifts.

 

That is terrible darkness; to have life, but not to know the source of your life, and not to know where to go to have life renewed and restored.

 

If you go into a cave where no light from street lamps or sun or moon can get in, and turn off your flashlight, what will you see?  Nothing at all.  Impenetrable darkness.  You won’t even be able to see your hand in front of your face.

 

You would know that you were in darkness, though, because you would be able to compare it with seeing.

 

But if you had been born in that cave, what then?  You wouldn’t know anything but the darkness.

 

John says that this is what we are like in this world.  People are conceived and born in total darkness, alienated from the light and life of the true God.

 

They know there is a God.  They know His Law and His will, even if their knowledge is imperfect.  But they are in the darkness when it comes to God.  They do not know Him.  They are alienated from the One out of whose fullness we receive life.  So their light is burning out into total darkness.

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

 

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

 

Into this darkness in which we are born comes the true light.

 

In the beginning He created the light that we see with our eyes, but that is not the true light.

 

The true light is in Him.  He is the eternal life, the One who was, who is, and who is to come.  The eternal God who receives life from no one, because He has life in Himself.

 

By Him everyone lives even this fading life that is burning out.  But in Him we see God the eternal life.  By faith in Him we come out of the darkness into the brightness of God’s face.

 

This is the child who was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, whom she cradled in her arms and nursed at her breast.

 

The life of men, the light from eternity, the Word who was with God in the beginning.

 

He has taken up His dwelling in flesh—the same flesh you have and I have—that He first formed from the dust and into which He breathed His breath.

 

And everyone who sees this light, who believes in Him, has His light dawn within him.

 

You who believe in this child are no longer in darkness.  The true light, the eternal life has dawned on you.

 

The Giver of Life, from whose fullness we have all received, has given you Himself.  He shares your nature so that you might participate in His divine nature and His eternal life.

 

On this festival day, this coming of God to us, let us celebrate rightly by receiving His gift.

 

Come and receive the Son who gives you His flesh to eat and His blood to drink, as food to eternal life.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Savior in the Flesh. Christmas Midnight 2018

jesus nativity 6 bronzino.PNGThe Nativity of our Lord—Christmas Midnight

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:1-14

December 24, 2018

The Savior In the Flesh

 

 

Iesu iuva!

In the name of Jesus.

 

Most people don’t like to follow decrees, especially not if it involves travelling somewhere so you can be taxed.  But even if people don’t do it willingly, they will follow a decree and they will endure slavery if they are forced to it at the end of a sword or a gun.  That is why everyone went to the city of their fathers in response to Caesar’s decree.

 

But there is a ruler to whom we all pay tribute even without external force. Not only we but all our ancestors have been slaves to this master.  They paid him tribute and so do we.

 

You have probably had some experience of this ruler if you have ever tried to lose weight, if you have ever wrestled with an addiction.

 

The name for this ruler is the flesh or desire.  Everyone in this world serves the flesh.  Most people in our time serve the flesh and think they are free, that they are doing what they want.  They don’t realize that they are just willing slaves to a master who will use them up.

 

But even Christians serve the flesh and its desires; only they do so unwillingly, crying out with the apostle Who will deliver me from this body of death?  (Rom. 7)

 

Only the grace of God sets us free from this evil master, not our own efforts.  There are people who are very self-controlled when it comes to food, for instance.  They discipline their bodies and go to the gym and watch what they eat, and they reap the reward of this discipline, which is that for a time their bodies are stronger and more beautiful than they would be otherwise.  But the desires of the flesh are not limited to wanting to eat food that makes you fat.  The desires of the flesh are nearly limitless.  The flesh craves everything except God.  Your flesh wants praise, it wants love, it wants wealth, it wants power, it wants beauty, it wants youth, it wants fame, it wants a good reputation.  It wants what it wants and we serve our flesh like slaves, believing that if we give this master what it wants it will give us happiness.  But it never does.  It is never satisfied.  Because nothing that the flesh or the sinful nature desires can replace what it is trying to find a replacement for—for God, in whose image we were created but whose image we have lost.

 

Not only so, but the flesh, or the old Adam, or the sinful nature always lusts against the command of God.  St. Paul wrote about this in the seventh chapter of Romans.  As soon as God gives a command: You shall not covet, the flesh produces in us all manner of covetous desires, where we long for what God has not given to us but given to someone else.

 

Paul said this as an apostle of Christ.  He was not a willing servant of the flesh, the sinful nature.  He wanted to be free from it.  But his old nature was still a slave to corruption.

 

If it was true for St. Paul it is true for you.  If you are here tonight and you reject God’s commandments which command you to love Him above all things, to come to church and hear His word, to honor your parents and to teach your children, to abstain from sex outside of marriage to your husband or wife, the freedom you think you have is a sham.  You are a slave to the flesh and its desires, and from the flesh you will reap corruption and death.

 

And if you are here tonight and you acknowledge that the law of God is right, you still are not free.  In this world no one has completely overcome this master the flesh.

 

Except for one.  The angels proclaimed Him to the shepherds on this night.

 

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  (Luke 2: 10-11)

 

Christ means “anointed one”—a King.  But this is not merely a King like Caesar who will force you to do what he wants at the end of a sword, with a cross looming over you.

 

He is not just Christ but Christ the Lord.  The anointed King who is also YHWH—I AM.  The Lord who appeared in the burning bush to Moses and in the fire on Sinai, who spoke the holy ten commandments in the hearing of the people.

 

But He has not come to judge you, to condemn you for breaking His Law.  He has come to fulfill the Law for you and to fulfill it in you.  To make you free indeed.  Not just Christ, not just Lord, but a Savior, Christ the Lord.

 

The one who gave the Law that we cannot fulfill because of the corruption of our flesh has now come in our flesh.  He will fulfill the Law He gave so that there is no condemnation for us.  So that even though the flesh continues to war against God’s Law, to fill us with lawless desires, there is no condemnation for you for the sake of Christ Jesus.  God covers all the uncleanness of our flesh with the righteousness of His Son.

 

And the Lord in human flesh also frees us from the power of the corruption in our flesh.  He governs it so that it is not able to have dominion over us.  He trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2:11-12).  Not that we become free from evil desire in this world, but that we learn from the child who is born to us, the Son who is given to us to walk in self-control and godliness.

 

It begins like this.  Not that we master our flesh or evil desire.  But that we come admitting our slavery to Him.  We come and listen to the angels who once sang creation’s story now proclaim the coming of the Creator into our flesh.  We find our creator wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.  How has the mighty, omnipotent, eternal Lord become an infant, lying with the cattle?  Why would He do this?

 

He has come to raise you up from slavery to your flesh and its desires, and the devil and his lies, and the world and its false glory.  He has come to make you truly alive and free, to make you a son of God.

 

He comes and begins to repay your debt.  Here he erases the stain that is on our conception and birth.  For we were conceived in sin, born in sin.  We were corrupt from our beginning.  But now, good news of great joy.  A Savior has been born to us.  God the Lord covers the corruption of our beginning with His innocent birth of a virgin.

 

And He will do more.

 

He will erase the handwriting that was against you, the record of your sins.  He will blot out the long record of your debts to God with the blood of His veins and the agony of His soul.  No place will be found for that record any longer in God’s courtroom.  It is cast out as He was cast out, here at His birth and later out at His death.

 

And He will pour out on you the Spirit by which He governs His church, who will remake and renew you in His image, after the pattern of the one in the manger.  After the pattern of God’s Son.

 

The angels suddenly appear in a great throng praising God as they contemplate the birth of Jesus for us.  It isn’t for them, but for us that He is born, yet they cannot restraint heir joy.  They see the God who made them come to us in our weakness and helplessness.  They do not say, “One day there will be peace, goodwill to man.”  But now at the same time there is glory to God and peace on earth among men.  The Lord has come to help us who were enslaved, to make us sons of God.

 

Tonight we are, none of us, lords over our sinful flesh in ourselves.  We are not perfectly sanctified, nor are we perfectly obedient sons of God.  Yet for the sake of this baby we are counted so.  And so we begin.  We praise Him by coming to Him with our helplessness, our weakness and sin, and believing that He forgives and covers it.  And with whatever weak and faltering faith we have, we praise the one true God, who revealed Himself in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.

 

This is the way we begin to live self controlled and godly lives—by coming again and again to the God who shares our flesh and blood, and who gives us His flesh and blood to us that we may live in Him.

 

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

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Immanuel, God With Us. Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols 2018

jesus nativity 3.PNGChristmas Eve Lessons and Carols (5 pm)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Isaiah 7:14

December 24, 2018

Immanuel—God with Us

Iesu Iuva!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

 

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.  (Is. 7:14)

 

Immanuel, we are reminded by the gospel according to Matthew, means, “God with us.”  (Mt. 1:23)

 

It is easy enough to say “God is with us.”  On Christmas Eve many people, moved by the twinkling candles and the carols even feel it to be true that “God is with us.”  They feel as though God is present.

 

What is difficult for us is to believe it and find comfort in it the day after Christmas, and the many days when you have to show up for work day after day, and to take hold of it and believe it firmly on the day when the doctor tells you that the days you have left are few.  On those days we often do not feel that God is with us.  We feel anxious instead; we wonder how He can be with us in days of drudgery and boredom, in days of suffering, in our last days.

 

In reality it is the normal state of human beings to feel like God is not with us.  When so-called atheists and agnostics point out that nobody has ever seen God, that it seems strange to insist on the existence of a being no one has ever seen, there is a point to what they are saying, even though it usually annoys or agitates Christians.

 

Not that it is rational to be an atheist or agnostic.  Reason and conscience testifies to the existence of God.  The existence of the world and its complexity tells people that there must be a Creator.  Meanwhile our consciences constantly speak to us about the rightness or wrongness of our thoughts and actions.  The fact that our own conscience is constantly judging us testifies to the fact that God is just and will judge us, whether we have done good or evil.

 

But still, knowing that there must be a God is not the same as seeing Him, feeling Him, or knowing Him.  When atheists and agnostics bring this up they have a point because they are expressing a fact about human nature—that we were created not merely to see traces of an absent God, but to see God and feel God and know God.

 

According to the Bible that is how things were for the first human beings.  And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8).  This was the relationship Adam and Eve had with God.  For them what the revival hymn sings was actually true—He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own. 

 

But on the afternoon we heard about, Adam and Eve did not want to see God.  And the man and His wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  (Gen. 3:8)

 

They did not want God with them because they had rejected His word and listened to another word.  And He had said, But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die (Gen. 2:17)  God with them now meant death, so they hid.  And when they came out from the trees, they were still hiding their nakedness under clothes made of leaves.  I was afraid, because I was naked, Adam said.

 

Before, Adam was naked before his wife, naked before God and the angels—and there was no fear and no shame.  Can you imagine what it would be like to be so clean and so innocent?

 

But Adam was right to be afraid and ashamed.  Ashamed before his wife, because he had said nothing when she took the fruit and brought death on herself.  Ashamed before God, because he had not loved God who gave him everything, and not believed Him.

 

Adam understood correctly that he could not be in God’s presence and live and that there was no way for him to make things right again.

 

They say, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  “Like father, like son.”  In the case of Adam and Eve and their descendants it is true without exception.  We are born knowing no other way than to run and hide from God.  People complain that God is not with them, but we really can’t tolerate Him being near us, because then the truth will come out.  I am hiding my nakedness because I have rebelled against you.  I have not loved you, God, even though you gave me everything.  I did not want to be your son and I squandered everything.  I deserve to be cast away from Your presence.

 

But now it has changed.  Now Adam’s rebellion has been forgiven and God is with us, not to carry out the sentence of death but to restore us to paradise.

 

This is not something that human beings can make happen.  It’s not something they can feel, naturally.  It is something that must be given to us, proclaimed to us by a new word from God, and received only by faith.

 

And that is what is preached to us by Isaiah, then by Matthew, Luke, and John.  Isaiah said, “the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and call His name Immanuel”—God with us.

 

A virgin named Mary in the city of Nazareth was visited by the angel Gabriel who announced to her that she had found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:30-32). 

 

Even though Mary was a virgin, she would conceive a Son by the Word of God, not by lying with a man.  So the child would be born without Adam’s sin and guilt, without fleeing from God.

 

And the child, being the son not only of a woman but of God, would be God with us, God with us in human flesh and human nature.

 

This was the message to Mary.  By this message Mary, who was a virgin, became pregnant and gave birth to her firstborn Son.

 

But the message to us is that through her child, God is with us.  We are in His presence without fear and without shame.  We are in His presence not only because He has come, but we are in His presence as Adam was in paradise—naked and not ashamed.

 

Because the child Jesus, the son of a woman, has brought us into the presence of God.

 

He loved His Father and lived in His presence, fulfilling the commandments God gave us humans.

 

And He made amends for our guilt before God.  He paid for Adam and Eve’s reaching out to the tree of knowledge, for the ingratitude and lovelessness toward God that was in their hearts.  He took upon Himself their shame and what they had to fear from God.

 

God did not cast them away though He put them out of His presence.  But the child born of Mary He cast away for their sins, hiding His face from Him as He hung on the cross.

 

For our crimes as well, known and unknown, that drive us to run from God lest we die, this child was born.

 

God is with us in our guilt, our helpless birth in sin, and all those sins we chose and we did not choose, we know and we do not know.  He was born to make them His own.  He was baptized into them to make the way open into God’s presence.  And finally He opened that way once and for all, pouring out the blood from His veins that ended sacrifice forever and caused the veil covering God’s presence to be torn open.

 

When your feelings tell you that you are alienated from God, God tells you in the Gospel that He is with you.  He has become human and joined you in the deepest depths of sin, death, and hell, and brought you God’s forgiveness and His favor.

And though He is no longer in the manger or on the cross, He is still with us in human flesh and blood.  He speaks to us from the right hand of God in His Word and preaching; He pardons and consoles us when He absolves us through the minister.  He is with us in our Baptism, which gave us the promise that we are reborn as children of God.  He is with us on the altar, giving us the body He shares with us and the blood poured out to purify us of all sin.

 

The world complains that it cannot see or feel God’s presence.  But you who are Christians and believe in Jesus believe what the world cannot experience.  God is with you in the baby Mary bore, who has brought you into God’s grace.  He is with you in a hidden way in the sacraments and the Word where He gives you His Holy Spirit.  And one day He will be with you in His glory, in which you will share.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

To You A Savior Has Been Born. Christmas Midnight 2017

December 24, 2017 Leave a comment

baby_jesus_touches_lamb_The Nativity of our Lord—Christmas Midnight

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:1-14

December 24, 2017

To You The Savior and Lord Is Born

 

Jesus

 

It had been a long time since there had been any kings in David’s house.

 

King David lived a thousand years before Joseph.  Joseph didn’t even have any family left in the ancestral hometown of Bethlehem.  When he went to be registered, he had to stay at an inn, like a tourist.  And there wasn’t even room in the inn for him and his pregnant, not-yet-wife Mary.

 

So when Joseph’s son—or to be precise, when his step-son—was born in a cave, or a stable, a place probably filled with the smell of animals, in which there was the manger where Jesus slept His first night on earth, no one imagined that this baby was a king.

 

The circumstances of Jesus’ birth didn’t arouse confidence that this child was a king or a Savior.  Do you think Mary and Joseph were upset when she had to give birth to her firstborn son among goats or sheep or cows or donkeys, where they not only “were feeding” but also relieving themselves, neighing and grunting?  Did Mary cry to have to go into labor here for the first time?

 

Even if a firstborn son was just a normal child, you would be sorry if he came into the world among animals instead of people.  But a Savior and a King being born like this?  And not just any king, but the promised One of God, who is not merely anointed a King and Savior but is Himself “the Lord”, as the angel said?  Who would kneel before a king whose life begins like this?  How could a king like this save others?  How will he rule others?  A child without even a hotel roof over his head, pushed out to be born with animals.  He looks to us like He needs to be saved, not like He will save us.  He looks like the kind of child we collect coats and mittens for in the winter.  What kind of king will He be, who is helpless, meek, with no place to lay His head even when He comes into the world?

 

The kind of King who is crowned with thorns, whom the crowds acclaim by shouting “Crucify!”

 

That has always been the objection to Jesus the Christ, the stumbling block to the world.  There have always been those who mocked Jesus openly as weak and foolish.  There have also been those who dishonor Him more quietly, who claim Him as Lord, and yet practically do not believe Jesus will or can do much.

 

But Christians are also offended at Jesus’ apparent weakness.  His own disciples simply cannot believe that if He is the Christ and the Son of God that He will be mocked and killed by those who hate Him.  When it happens they abandon Him.

 

And Jesus’ disciples today, the baptized, even those who are baptized and truly believe that He is their King, their Savior, their Lord—still stumble at how Jesus’ Kingdom appears to our eyes weak or non-existent.  We stumble at the apparent weakness of the things He uses to extend the borders of His Kingdom.  He does not conquer with swords or guns, with powerful speech, with skillful manipulation of emotions or appealing to what the world thinks it needs.  His Kingdom advances through the foolishness of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21).  He comes and conquers through preaching, robs the devil of men’s souls with humble water joined to His Word, and preserves what He has taken with bread and wine joined with His Word.  That is the Lord Jesus’ way; those means are the means He chose to have His reign spread and to save souls.

 

It has been a long time since the days of the apostles, when they went out with only those things of the Lord, and faith in Christ spread across the entire Roman world until the pagan emperor’s knee bowed at the name of Jesus.

 

It has been a long time, 500 years, since the Reformation, when Martin Luther did nothing else that proclaim the good news of a Savior born to us, and the kingdom of the antichrist was torn open.  It was a long time ago.  Times have changed.  I wish you could have heard people say this to you as many times as all sorts of different people have said it to me.

 

The foolishness of preaching Christ might have been enough in Paul’s time (although Paul says it was regarded as foolishness by people then).  It might have been enough in Luther’s time (although Luther complained that people did not listen to the Word in his day either.)  But today everything is different.  Our kids need more than just the preaching of Jesus, the baptism of Jesus, the body and blood of Jesus; just Jesus isn’t enough to save my kids and make them holy, so that they love God and listen to His Word.  And the empty pews, and the vacant Sunday School seems to say, “Amen.”

 

I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people; for to you has been born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  So preached the angel on the first Christmas Eve.  But today almost every mouth says, “Maybe that good news is enough to save your soul by itself, but it isn’t enough to save our churches.”  The baby in the manger is weak, despised—in Bethlehem, in this stable or cave here, in the manger in which He lies today—the pulpit, the altar.  Who will worship Him and believe He is a Savior and a King when He lies in the manger of preaching and sacraments, surrounded by the dishonorable aroma of weak and sinful people and the braying of boring preachers instead of the ornaments by which we recognize kings and winners?  Who will worship a king who insists on being found in a stable?

 

According to the Gospel we heard tonight, the army of heaven will.  The angels will worship the Lord in a stable, and a little number of people on whom God’s favor rests.  They will come like the shepherds to the manger in which Christ lies among His people who believe in Him.  They will not be turned away by the fact that He lies in “mean estate where ox and ass are feeding,” by the small number who come to see Him, while most of Bethlehem sleeps by their fires in the inn or their homes.  They will come to the Church, to the manger in which the Lord, the promised King, the Savior, lies.

 

How sad it is on this Christmas Eve to think how many of us—not just the world outside—let ourselves be turned away from the infant Lord who wants to be found among us!  Many of us do not come to the place where He is found.  We stay away from His Church and do not come to see the Lord who has been born for us.

 

And others of us do come.  But we ourselves doubt that what is here in church is the Lord the angels worship.  The stable is not full. The handful here are lowly shepherds. He must not be much of a King.  Really He needs a Savior, we say, if He wants His Kingdom to grow in our day.  He needs salvation from church consultants and extra-talented pastors and church workers.

 

He does not need their help, beloved.  The baby we heard about, wrapped in swaddling clothes, comforted by His mother’s lullabies, causes the armies of angels to kneel and the demons to beg.  The angels see Jesus among the smelly animals and they suddenly erupt in praise, in joy.  And this Lord is with us.  He had become flesh, and in humility He lies in the manger of the words preached here, the straw of this bread that we eat, so that we may take Him as our own.

 

The world does not flock to His manger because it is a world in great darkness.  It is a world in which people do not have good will toward God.  Unless His favor rests on us we can’t see His light.

 

But listen to the angel speak to you: Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  For to you has been born this day in the city of David a Savior, Christ the Lord.

 

To you has the Savior been born.  He has not been born for us to save Him; He has been born to save us.  To save us, who decline to come where He is adore Him.  To save us, who do come, but doubt the power, wisdom, and majesty of this baby who comes to us at this altar.

 

To you this Savior was born.  For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder.  While He lies in the manger, all things in the world exist through Him, hold together in Him, exist for Him.  This baby who needs to be swaddled by His mother speaks and the sea is still and the howling storm is quiet.  Creation obeys Him as it did at the beginning.

 

He reigns in His Church.  The burden of the government of the Kingdom of God is on His shoulder.  He dispenses justice.  He bears on His shoulder the burden of punishing the guilty and justifying the righteous.  The burden of His government is the cross laid on His shoulder.  You were born in deep darkness, not knowing the Lord who made you.   But He justifies you of this crime; He pronounces you righteousness.  To do this He joins you in wretchedness and helplessness; He is born among the animals and later carries the heavy beam of God’s curse away from the city called by God’s name.  He is pierced and affixed to it and from it He bestows righteousness.  He reigns in our midst by proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to us who are unable to free ourselves from it.  He gives His blood to us to drink and His flesh to be our food; He gives Himself to be our life.

 

To you is born a Savior who is not only King, but Lord—I AM, the God of Israel.

 

It is not that He is weak.  He is mighty beyond our comprehension.  If He showed this we would run away.  He comes as a baby with no majesty so that sinners will not be afraid.  So that no one who is poor, or born in low estate, or made low through whatever sin, will think he is too lowly to come to this Lord.

 

His almighty power is hidden but is for us.  In His weak appearance, He takes on what we are far too weak to even struggle against—the power of sin and death.  If you have struggled against sin and lost, that is why the Lord of the world is swaddled and lying in the manger.  Born without sin, He becomes like us who sin and death wraps up.  And He will go on to bring sin and death to an end by His death on the cross.  The omnipotent power of the eternal Word is hidden under the appearance of weakness like ours so that He might keep the promise of God to Eve at the beginning of the world and crush the head of the serpent.

 

The days of the apostles was long ago.  So was the reformation.  But Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.  The mighty Lord who shared the weakness of our infancy is the same Lord who comes in the foolishness of human preaching and saves you individually and His whole Church.  His mighty word brings His holy birth and victory over sin to you and makes it your own.  It releases you from the devil’s power by forgiving your sins.  Through Him who is preached we, His Church, bruise the serpent’s head.  We conquer with Him; we will reign with Him.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.

 

And through the humility of the Lord Jesus, who put Himself lower than us, we are coaxed to come near to the Almighty, to fear not, and receive the free gift of this child who has been born to us.  Our Lord and God, our Savior, and our own flesh and blood.

 

Hither come, ye poor and wretched,

Know His will/ Is to fill

Every hand outstretched.

Here are riches without measure;

Here forget/ all regret

Fill your hearts with treasure.  WH 20, st. 11

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

The Blessing of Abraham–Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, 2015

Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:21

December 31, 2015

“The Blessing of Abraham”

Iesu Iuva

 

Since Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden people have marked the passing of the years. What else could they do? They could not stop the progress of time, or slow it down, nor stop the inevitable fulfillment of the curse God pronounced on the first sinners and their children: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” They could only watch as the years fled from them, taking with each time a little strength, a little beauty, a little vigor. They could only watch, and perhaps remember that they had not been created for this. They had been created to live forever.

 

But in the midst of the flying years stood the promise of God, which some few people remembered. It was a promise to take away sin and its curse, death. Adam heard this promise; Noah trusted it. Then many years after the flood when it seemed that everyone had forgotten it, God spoke to Abram and gave the promise to him. He told Abram, who was already old, that He would bless all nations and peoples on earth through Abram’s offspring. He wasn’t promising a vague, inconsequential blessing like we wish people when they sneeze. God never gives vague blessings. He was promising something concrete. Through Abram’s offspring, Adam’s curse would be replaced by God’s benediction and blessing on human beings. Instead of cursing human beings, God would lift up His countenance upon them. Where all human beings were polluted by sin from conception, God would bring about righteousness and purity for all nations through Abram’s offspring. Instead of all nations being captive to death, God would give eternal life again through Abram’s descendant.

 

But the years went by. Years turned into decades. Abram was ninety-nine years old and he still had no offspring. It seemed like God had not kept His promise. After all, can a ninety-nine year old man beget children? With a ninety year old wife?

 

But then God appeared to Abram. He repeated His promise about Abram’s offspring. And it was more than just a promise—it was a covenant, a legally binding contract. God gave Abram a sign of His covenant. Abram and all his descendants would be circumcised. That mark in their flesh would be a physical sign and reminder to Abram and his descendants that God was going to send one of their flesh and blood to take away sin and the curse of death.

 

When God gave this sign of the covenant to Abram, he also did something else. He gave Abram a new name. Instead of “Abram” which means “exalted father,” he would henceforth be called “Abraham,” which means “Father of many nations.” God’s promise to Abraham made him a new person, gave him a new identity. Instead of being barren, he would be a father of many nations, he would have a multitude of descendants.

 

Soon after, one hundred year old Abraham and Sarah his wife had their first son, Isaac. God’s word made “a father of many nations” out of a one hundred year old man. It did what it said, as God’s Word always does.

 

And then 2,000 years passed. Generations were born and died. All through that time Abraham’s descendants were circumcised when they were eight days old. It was a sign in their flesh of the covenant God made with their ancestor, a covenant that was intended for all Abraham’s descendants. A young Israelite would never have seen his father Abraham, but his circumcision was a physical testimony to God’s ancient pledge to send a Savior from the curse of death. It reminded of God’s promise that one of their flesh and blood would be that blessing to all nations. And it also symbolized something about what Abraham’s descendants should be as they waited for God to fulfill His promise. Their flesh should be cut off; that is, they should be separated from the sinful flesh inherited from Adam. By faith in the coming Savior they should put off the flesh and not fulfill its desires.

 

And now, today, eight days after Christmas, they bring Mary’s Son to be circumcised. Like all Jewish babies, He receives His name when He is circumcised, just like father Abraham got his new name at the same time God gave him circumcision. But unlike other babies, Mary and Joseph had been told what to name this boy by God, by an angel from heaven. He is named, “Jesus”, which means, “the Lord saves,” or “Savior.” He undergoes circumcision and His innocent flesh bleeds. But unlike all the other offspring of Abraham who received this sign of the covenant, Jesus is Himself the fulfillment of the promise. He is the Seed of Abraham who brings blessing to all nations instead of the curse—not just to Abraham’s physical descendants, the Jews—but also to all the Gentiles. He comes and replaces God’s curse on Adam’s offspring with God’s favor. Where Adam’s children are sinful from the womb, Jesus provides righteousness for all men that stands before God. In Adam all men die and return to the dust. But in Jesus all men are made alive, made not to watch the years pass with dismay, but to live endless years. He is what His name says—the Lord’s salvation.

 

Unlike Abraham and others who were circumcised, Jesus does not need to put off His flesh. Jesus’ flesh is unstained, innocent and holy. He did not receive the stain passed on with a father’s seed, because H was born of a virgin.

 

But He has come to put off the flesh nevertheless—that is, to receive in His flesh the condemnation for sin—for Adam and all Adam’s descendants. He sheds His blood on the eighth day of His life because He has come to later pour out all of His blood to cleanse and purify us of all sin, to make atonement for all our sins before God. By His death on the cross He will be cut off from God for us, and cut off and cut away all our guilt before God.

 

Through Him God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled. The world receives life instead of death, blessing instead of curse. And through Him Abraham becomes the father of many nations, because through this child people from every tribe, language, and nation become sons of God through faith and inherit the blessing of life and salvation which was promised to Abraham.

 

It has been another 2,000 years since Mary’s Son was circumcised and received His Name—“Savior.” Generations have been born and have died. Like Abraham and the Jews, they waited to see the Lord’s salvation. As they waited, the years passed, flew away.

 

We have now watched the last year, 2015, come and go. In that year, like the Jews and Abraham, we have doubted or forgotten God’s promise of blessing through Abraham’s seed.

 

Instead of living in unshakeable faith and certain hope that the blessing of Abraham has come and been given to us, we have often looked for our consolation not in Jesus, but in this passing world.

 

We have wasted time. We have lived according to the flesh and its desires, neglecting to seek the life that is to come. Like Abraham, as time passed we have doubted that God will keep His covenant and prove true to His Word.

 

This year is now gone along with its many missed opportunities, its unbelief and other sins, its disobedience and disbelief toward the true and faithful God.

 

But that sorry history of our failure, along with the whole history of Adam’s race, is cut off. Our speedy course toward the grave, the curse on sinners, has been replaced with a new story, the story of God’s promise fulfilled, the story of blessing and eternal life. That’s what is taking place as Jesus is circumcised and given His name.

 

The old year with its sins and rebellion and failure, and even those sins, rebellions and failures still to come, have been swallowed up by the blessing of the God of Abraham.

 

The Lord has sent His Jesus, His salvation. By the blood He shed, in a trickle at His infancy and in a torrent in His passion, he has wiped out the record of our debt, taken ownership of the world, and history, and time, and you, and me.

 

He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

 

And He has turned the curse of sin and death into the blessing of resurrection, life, and righteousness.

 

We no longer receive a sign of a covenant waiting to be fulfilled, as the Jews did in circumcision. We receive Baptism, in which we are born again into new life, into eternal life and salvation. We are clothed with Jesus in Baptism and named with His Name, the name of salvation. As Abraham was renamed at his circumcision, we receive a new name in our Baptism. We bear the name of Jesus, and share His inheritance and kingdom as the Son of God.

 

And so we go forward into the new year in that name, the name of Jesus. We go forward knowing that death and the cross await us there, because we are in Jesus. We share His name and His life, His cross and His death. But we go confidently, knowing also that Jesus has made death and the cross the gate to resurrection.

 

All things are His. And He makes all things serve for the blessing and salvation of those who are baptized and believe in Him.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

First Sunday after Christmas 2015

First Sunday after Christmas

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:33-40

December 27, 2015

 

Iesu Iuva

Christmas as a secular, American holiday is over. In our society Christmas starts around Thanksgiving when the stores start advertising their wares so that they can rake in money for Christmas. Then Christmas comes; the wrapping paper litters the floor, family goes home, and the credit card bills arrive in the mailbox.

 

But in the Church’s calendar Christmas has a different significance. The great gift we receive is not electronic and can’t be bought at a store. Our gift comes from God. It is not an earthly treasure, but a heavenly and spiritual treasure. It is not a gift that gives pleasure for awhile and then gets old. It is God’s treasure, His greatest treasure that He values most—His only-begotten Son who has been with Him from eternity. The Son of God is given to us in our flesh and blood, in the womb of the virgin.

 

This treasure is so great that it passes human understanding—that God should become man. So we spend the weeks of Advent preparing for His coming. Otherwise how easy it would be to behave like a child on Christmas, who tears open his presents and ignores the ones that have great value—like a family heirloom or a classic work of literature—and is happy to receive the latest plastic gimmick toy that will break in a few days.

 

In the same way we prepare our hearts that we may see the heavenly treasure that God gives us on Christmas. And in the Church’s calendar the rejoicing in this gift of God isn’t limited to one day, to Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning. The Church’s celebration of the birth of our Lord extends over 12 days, to January 6th, the Epiphany of our Lord, when the Magi from the east bring their gifts to the infant Lord. It would be good if we could reclaim this long celebration of Christmas to bear witness to the world and to ourselves what the real treasure of Christmas is—God with us in the flesh—if we continued to celebrate Christmas in our homes and if we gathered to hear the word of our incarnate Lord during the 12 days of the Christmas season like we gather each day in Holy Week.

 

Our Gospel reading for the first Sunday after Christmas presents us with two prophets who utter amazing things about the baby Mary and Joseph have brought into the temple, just as the shepherds proclaimed in Bethlehem that this baby was Christ, the Lord. In the verses before our text, Simeon has taken the baby Jesus in his arms and sung the Nunc Dimittis—“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” He says, “Now I can die, because in this baby I have seen the salvation God has promised since the beginning of the world.”

 

Also the prophetess Anna praises God when she sees the baby in Mary’s arms. She tells everyone who is waiting for Jerusalem to be redeemed—that is, set free from slavery—about this baby, saying that He is the Redeemer sent by God. And so Mary and Joseph are amazed at what is said about Him, even though they have already heard many things like it from the angel Gabriel and the shepherds.

 

But now comes the first inkling that Mary and Joseph have about what it will mean for this Child to be the Christ, the Redeemer, the promised King. Simeon warns that not everyone will accept this child. He is “appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.” Many among the people of Israel will trip and stumble over Jesus. They will be offended by Him and reject Him. He will be “a sign that is opposed.” Though He is God’s Son, many will speak against Him and try to stand in His way. And as a result pain will come to Mary and to all who love Jesus: “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.” In this way this infant Jesus will reveal what is in the hearts of many people. He will reveal that some who appeared to be godly did not know their God and Lord at all. But for others, He will be the cause of rising; He will lift up those who were cast down in sin and death and be the cause of their glorification.

 

But all this is so far in the future. How can Mary and Joseph understand what the prophets are saying? They can’t. They simply have to hold on to their words, along with the words of the angels and the shepherds, by faith. They have to hold on to God’s Word that this infant they bring home to Galilee, despite appearances, is not just a baby, but the Lord of Israel in human flesh, the promised Messiah, the King who comes to save His people.

 

Then St. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph and Jesus went home to Nazareth in Galilee. And then what did the infant Lord do? Did He make Mary and Joseph’s house a place of miracles? Was Joseph’s business blessed and made successful by the presence of the Lord in his house? We hear nothing from Luke that suggests that Jesus did any miracles or signs while He was in His parents’ house.

 

What do we hear? “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him.”

 

Jesus, like all children, grew up. Though He was God He matured and grew physically and intellectually like every human child. In fact, the majority of His time on earth, Jesus was a child and a young man growing up in His parents’ house.

 

We all know growing up is not easy. It’s hard to be a child under your parents’ authority. Children often feel like they’re in a holding pattern until they become adults and can do what they want.

 

On the other hand, parents and grandparents know how easy it is to make decisions when you’re young that set the whole course of your life—choices made without experience and wisdom. That’s why we try to guide and shape our children and grandchildren and not leave them to their own way.

 

Childhood and youth is really a time to submit to your parents’ authority, as God commands us to do in the 4th commandment, to learn wisdom and be prepared to serve God and your neighbor in your adult life.

 

Happiness in childhood and young adulthood is really found in the same place it’s found in adulthood, middle age, and in old age. True happiness isn’t found pursuing the desires and dreams of youth, but in knowing God and serving Him.

 

Yet childhood and youth is the time when many people—even most people—begin to stray from God. The Bible recognizes this, which is why King David wrote in the 25th psalm: “Remember not the sins of my youth, or my transgressions; according to thy steadfast love remember me, for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord!” (v. 7)

 

(Not Jesus. He was filled with wisdom.

 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7)

 

As a child and young man He knew God, trusted God, was godly, obeyed His parents.

 

The favor/grace of God was on young Jesus because He always did what was pleasing to the Father.

 

Jesus is an example to children and youth. Do you want to be wise and walk the way that leads to joy, blessedness? Be godly in your youth. Believe in Jesus, your God and Savior. Follow His example. Obey your parents, gladly hear and learn His Word. Read your bible, pray. Learn the commandments and live according to them; repent and receive His forgiveness when you sin.

 

But what about those of us who are now adults, and who look back on childhood and youth and see the many sins of our youth?

How we served ourselves, not the Lord

How we did not listen to His Word diligently

How we did not honor our parents

How we established sinful habits that haunted us later in life?

 

Recognize these things for what they are and repent, even if you don’t feel as sorry as you should. Recognize that all the sins of our youth are foolish and separate us from God and His joy.

 

But Jesus is the one who makes it so that the sins of our youth are not remembered by God. He faithfully did the will of His Father.

 

God’s favor was on Jesus because of His perfect righteousness, obedience, and holiness

 

Jesus came to offer up His obedient childhood up for us as a sacrifice on the cross;

 

His godliness and obedience covers our sinful youth

 

So that we are sons and heirs of God (Galatians 4); we bear fruit, being engrafted into Jesus through Baptism and faith in Him.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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