Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

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




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.




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


Christmas Day 2015. “The Word Made Flesh”

December 31, 2015 Leave a comment

Christmas Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 1:1-18

December 25, 2015

“The Word Made Flesh”

Iesu Iuva

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


But Christmas changes all this.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


We know Him. We see Him in Jesus.


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


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


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


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


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


Soli Deo Gloria

Christmas Midnight 2015

December 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Christmas Midnight

St. Peter Lutheran Church

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

December 24, 2015


Iesu Iuva

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


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


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


It was just that things were so—ordinary.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Those are good questions for Christmas.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


And the joyful answer of Christmas is “Yes!”


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


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


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


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


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


Soli Deo Gloria

Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, 2014.

Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:21, Galatians 3:23-29

December 31, 2014


Iesu iuva


Today we celebrate the circumcision and naming of Jesus because New Year’s is the eighth day after the birth of Jesus.  Circumcision was performed on Jewish babies who were eight days old.  This provides us with an opportunity to talk about the meaning of Jesus’ circumcision and name and the hope it gives us for the new year.


First of all, God gave circumcision to Abram in the 17th chapter of Genesis, and at the same time He gave him a new name.  Abram meant “exalted father,’ but when God gave him circumcision He gave him the new name, “Abraham,” which means “Father of many nations.”


God had already promised Abraham that he was going to have as many descendants as the stars in the night sky.  And Abraham had already believed God, and the Scripture informs us that God counted his faith to him as righteousness.  But now when He gives Abraham circumcision and a new name, it is a sign to confirm Abraham’s faith.  It is a sign of the covenant, or pledge, between God and Abraham and Abraham’s descendants after him.  God pledges to be Abraham’s God and the God of Abraham’s descendants after him.  He promises that He is going to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations.  Finally He promises that one of Abraham’s offspring is going to bless all the nations on earth.  And as a sign of this covenant between Abraham and God, all of Abraham’s  male descendants are to be circumcised in the flesh of their foreskin when they are eight days old.  Thus God’s covenant will be marked in the flesh of Abraham and his descendants.  It showed that they belonged to God’s covenant.  They were the people to whom God had pledged to be their God.  They were the people that Abraham’s offspring would come from and bless the whole earth.


The sad thing that happened to Abraham’s descendants was that even though they had the mark of circumcision, many of them did not have God for their God.  It wasn’t that God had refused to keep His covenant.  It was that even though they were circumcised in their flesh they were not circumcised in their hearts.  That is, they did not walk in the faith of their forefather Abraham.  Abraham believed that God was going to be gracious to him and raise up an offspring from his line that would bless all the nations.  Abraham believed that this offspring would take away the curse that was over all the nations—the curse of sin and death.  Abraham believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness.


But apart from this promised offspring, which circumcision promised, God is not our God.  Circumcision was then just an empty sign in the flesh whose content was rejected.  That’s the way most of the offspring of Abraham regarded their circumcision.  They looked at it as a work that bound God to them.  They did not believe the promise.  God was going to be their God in sending the offspring of Abraham who would take away the curse of sin from the whole earth.  Most of the circumcised people of the Old Testament were ignorant of that promise and did not believe it.  Thus they cut themselves off from God’s covenant even though they were circumcised.


Now in our Gospel Jesus, as an offspring of Abraham, is circumcised.  But it is different than when Abraham and everyone else was circumcised.  They were circumcised as a pledge of the offspring who was to come, in whom God would be their God and bring blessing and salvation to take the place of sin and its curse.


But Jesus is different.  He is circumcised because He is Abraham’s offspring.  But He is the fulfillment and recipient of all the promises to Abraham.


God promised Abraham that He would be God to Abraham and his descendants.  But God was only the God of Abraham by grace.  Unless God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness, God could not be Abraham’s God because Abraham was by nature sinful and unclean.


But God is Jesus’ God not by grace but by merit.  Jesus was born without sin.  God the Father was God to Jesus the Son of Man because Jesus was perfectly obedient from the womb and always did what pleased the Father.  From His mother’s womb God was His God.  He never served another god, not even in thought or desire.


And through Jesus God is the God of everyone who believes in Jesus, whether circumcised or not.  Through this baby who is born without sin, who is Abraham’s offspring, God regards Abraham and everyone who believes in Jesus as if they too have always pleased God from the womb.


Jesus is also the fulfillment and recipient of the promise to Abraham that through Abraham’s seed or offspring all the nations on earth would be blessed.  Abraham and all the children of Israel were circumcised so that they would remember and look for the offspring of Abraham.  But Jesus is that seed of Abraham through whom all nations would be blessed.  He will do this—bring blessing to all nations—by undoing the curse brought by Adam’s sin.  And He will undo the curse by giving His perfectly obedient life to bear the penalty and curse of sin, which is death.


He will shed His blood to bring blessedness and salvation to all nations.  He begins to shed His blood in the first days of His life, but He will end His life by pouring out all His life’s blood that there might be blessing for those who are under the curse of sin.


Circumcision was God’s pledge to Abraham and his descendants.  But the recipients of circumcision were also, in a way, making a pledge to God.  They were showing that they belonged to God.  A knife marked their bodies.  Blood poured out.  Babies cried.  It was also supposed to show that their bodies were consecrated to the Lord and that the circumcised one would give up anything, even his own flesh and blood, for the sake of faithfulness to God.


However, none of those who were circumcised could really fulfill this pledge made in circumcision.  Abraham offered up his own son Isaac in sacrifice to God.  But God’s law requires more than that we love God than father and mother, son or daughter.  The law requires that we love God more than all things, even our own lives.  But we are unable to do this.  Even if you were willing to give up something precious to you for God’s sake—your son or daughter, a limb from your body—you cannot give all of your heart, all of your body, all of the time, to God.  That is what sin has done to us.  We always want to hold something back for ourselves.


But Jesus did fulfill the symbolism of circumcision.  His whole body and His whole soul and everything He was was dedicated to God.  He gave Himself entirely to the will of God so that his perfect submission to the Father might be credited to us and so that He Himself might begin to live in us.


And how does this happen?  By baptism into Christ.  For Baptism is not just an external mark in the flesh, like circumcision.  It is of the Holy Spirit, not of the flesh.


In Holy Baptism we “put on Christ.”  His perfect submission and obedience to the Father is credited to us and covers us.  Our sins and rebellion were credited to Him.


But whereas circumcision was a physical cutting off of a piece of skin, baptism is a spiritual cutting off of the whole old nature.  Our old nature is joined to Christ in crucifixion and death and we are given a new nature which is united to Christ who is raised from the dead.


Now as we come to the conclusion of this year, 2014, we have many gifts for which to thank God, but also many sins to grieve before Him.  There is not time to go into them, but many if not most of us carry a lifetime of sins and regrets as baggage from one year into the next.


Our baptism into Christ is our comfort here.  WE are baptized into the one whose name means, “The Lord saves.”  We could not cut off our sinful nature with its desires and deeds.  We could do nothing in ourselves but die with it and its curse.


But our Lord Jesus Christ, the offspring of Abraham, has cut away the old man from us.  He did it entirely on the cross.  There he completely killed our old nature.


We cling to that fact.  Meanwhile in our baptism he has begun the cutting off of our old man and our putting on of the new.  It is not completed yet and the cutting is painful.  When we feel the flesh fighting against the Holy Spirit to stay alive it is painful and frightening.


But He who circumcises us has a sure and certain hand.  He went surely and certainly to complete the work of the seed of Abraham and take away the curse from the earth.  He also knows surely and certainly the way to cut off and bury our old man and raise us up in His image.


We can carry that hope into the new year.  In the painful death of our old Adam Christ is at work.  He is cutting off the old Adam from us that He cut off once and for all on the cross.  He will complete this work and raise us up new creatures from which the old sinful nature has been completely cut off.




Soli Deo Gloria

Falling and Rising–1st Sunday after Christmas 2014

December 29, 2014 Leave a comment

1st Sunday after Christmas

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:33-40

December 28, 2014

Falling and Rising

Iesu Iuva


Christmas ends far too quickly.  We have just a day and a night to celebrate together the coming of God in human flesh.  That is too short.  We must stay with the incarnation of our Lord a little longer.  It is the wellspring of all joy.  For God has not left us in the dust of our corruption, sin, and death.   He has joined us in our human nature and united our nature to God’s nature forever.

In the Gospel reading Joseph and Mary are still marveling at Jesus, even though at least a month has gone by since His birth.  It is impossible to take in all the glory of this child or to comprehend all the good things He brings to us.  Even though Mary has been told that her child will be called “The Son of God,” they are still marveling at the things people tell her about Jesus.  First it was the shepherds proclaiming that they had seen angels who told them that they would find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, and that this baby was “a Savior, Christ the Lord.”  Now, as Mary and Joseph go to the temple for Mary’s purification and the presentation of the baby Jesus according to the law of the Lord, the aged prophet Simeon snatches the child out of His startled mother’s arms and begins to prophesy that in this child he has seen the Lord’s salvation.  He sings the song that we sing after communion each Sunday, the Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.”

Why is Simeon ready to die in peace?  He has seen God’ s salvation in the babe of Bethlehem.  The baby is the one the prophets have proclaimed for centuries and for whom God’s people had watched since they first left the garden of Eden.  He is Immanuel, God with us.  He is the Lord of hosts tenting among us, tabernacling among us, letting us see Him now not under the covering of the temple but in human flesh.  He is God and man, coming to fulfill the requirements of the law for us.  He is coming to end Satan’s rule and domination over us.  He is coming to bear sin on Himself and remove it from us.  He is going to break the power of death over us and give us resurrection from the dead and eternal life.

The Christmas Gospel tells us that God has become one with us and shouldered the whole burden of our salvation.  Greater joy could not be proclaimed than the joy that comes with this baby.

Yet in our Gospel reading sorrowful prophecies also come from Simeon’s lips concerning the baby Jesus.  They are hard to understand in light of the great joy of His birth.  Simeon says that this child is set for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and as a sign that will be spoken against.  He says that a sword will go through Mary’s soul because of her child.  How can such hard things be said about Jesus?  How could He who came into the world to save it be the cause of many falling?  Who would speak against Jesus, who comes to us meek and gentle as an infant?

Yet we see to our sadness that just this happens in our own experience.  Many do not receive the good news of Jesus’ birth.  The powerful and great people of the world, the educated and wise of the world, by and large reject Christ, and many speak against His teaching and His church.  And not only these, but also the great majority of people despise this baby and His kingdom.

The reason for this is not to be found in Jesus.  He does not will that people reject Him.  He does not will that any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth.  He did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world mighty be saved through Him.

The reason is found in sinful men.  Jesus is given to us to be the cornerstone of our salvation, that we might be built on Him and be saved.  But most of the world stumbles over Jesus.

The powerful, rich, and mighty people in the world often stumble over Christ because His kingdom does not bring earthly wealth and earthly peace, but instead persecution, conflict, division, and often poverty in this world.  Jesus does not bring peace in this world.  He is the world’s only Savior.  As a result He excites the hostility of people who follow other religions and other gods who claim to save.  And having a religion that excites the anger and hostility of many people is not good for business or politics.  So most of the wealthy and powerful people of this world are offended at Christ.  They stumble over Him, reject Him, and are lost forever.

The wise and educated of this world are often offended at Christ.  Great learning and intelligence do not bring a person to Christ.  The well-educated and intelligent people of this world are often put off by the fact that their wisdom does not count for anything before Christ.  They say to Christ’s people, “How can you presume to condemn everyone who doesn’t believe in your Christ when so many people who are your intellectual superiors don’t believe in Him?”  They take offense at the Scripture, which does not seem to agree with the findings of modern science.  But they do not realize that the Christian faith can’t be believed in even a single article unless it is revealed to a person by the Holy Spirit from heaven.  The doctrine that God is three persons, one God—the doctrine of the trinity—confounds human reason.  The teaching of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ—that Jesus is both fully God and fully man, yet one person—confounds human reason.  The teaching that we are justified by faith in Christ alone apart from the works of the law contradicts human sense and reason.  Thus many of the wise and learned stumble over Christ and are lost forever.  They put their trust in their own intellect instead of the baby in Mary’s arms.

And it’s not just the wise and powerful who stumble over Christ, but the majority of ordinary people.  They stumble over Christ because their hearts are set on having peace, ease, good days, earthly prosperity.  But Christ’s kingdom is such that it is always followed not by wealth and ease but by the hostility of the devil and the world.  Persecution and the cross come with Christianity.  And so when the devil makes people’s lives difficult for the sake of faith in Christ, whether through persecution or suffering from outside or temptation within, the majority of the world says, “Why should I suffer all this just for the sake  of religion?”  So the mass of people stumble over Christ and are lost forever.

Even though Jesus is sent into the world for its salvation, many stumble and fall over Him, just as Simeon prophesied.

But Simeon also prophesied that Jesus is set for the rising of many in Israel.  He raises up those who are cast down because of the knowledge of their sins.  He raises up those who are terrified because they know that they are sinners before God.  For them Jesus is a precious cornerstone of salvation.  This infant Jesus is an immoveable rock of salvation, just as Simeon said: “My eyes have seen your salvation.”  He is the salvation provided by the Lord.  No one who believes in Him will be put to shame.  He cancels the shame and disgrace of all who believe in Him.  This little infant comes to bear the sin and shame and disgrace of the whole world.  God Himself comes in our human flesh to bear our disgrace, to bear and suffer for our fall from the grace of God.  And He comes instead to give God’s pure grace and favor, so that everyone who believes in Him can say, “God is pleased with me.”  For as Jesus grew up, the grace of God was upon Him.  God’s favor was on Him, because He always did what pleased God.  He was given by God to win this favor not for Himself but for us.  We who were born in sin and grew up in sin have God’s favor rest upon us because of the obedience of Jesus.

Thus He raises up the fallen.  And He does not reject anyone who comes to Him, no matter what their sins have been.  Often times in the church we feel more burdened by our sins than we would be if we were outside of it.  We are supposed to know better and be better because we have been taught about Christ and believed in Him.  That makes our falls into sin so much the worse and more grievous, because we sin against the Lord’s salvation that we know and our eyes have seen.

But the infant Jesus is set for the rising even of such sinners as we are.  He raised up Peter, who denied Him, and Paul, who persecuted and murdered Christians.  He raised up Mary Magdalene, and Zacchaeus the tax collector.  Jesus raises up the fallen.  In Him is pure salvation to the chief and worst of sinners.  He is their righteousness.   He is our righteousness.

We cast down sinners fall upon Jesus because we have nowhere else to go for relief from our sins.  And He raises us up.  He clothes us with His own righteousness.  He washes us clean from sin in Baptism.  He absolves us, even though our offenses are red as blood, and makes us as white as snow.  He gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink to purify us.  And He raises us up.  He raises us up to reign with Him.  He raises us up to share God’s favor with Him.  He raises us up to share His image.  And one day He will raise us up from the dead to perfectly wear His glorious image.


Soli Deo Gloria

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