Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, December 30, 2007

First Sunday after Christmas

First Sunday after Christmas (A)
December 30, 2007
Text: Matt. 2:13-23

Israel came to Egypt to escape famine and certain death. He came because his son, Joseph, was second only to Pharaoh, and with God’s guidance had led Egypt through seven years of plenty to plan ahead for the seven years of famine, so that there was enough grain to sustain them. Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery to Ishmaelites bound for Egypt. But what they intended for evil, God intended for good. He had been brought to his high position for such a time as this. The people of Israel settled in Egypt, in the land of Goshen, and enjoyed the blessing of God.

But it was not long before a new Pharaoh came to power, one who did not know Joseph or his God. This Pharaoh enslaved the children of Israel, subjecting them to hard labor. For 430 years the people cried out to God for deliverance. The Pharaohs gave them no relief. The people were kept in subjection. One fateful day the order went out from Pharaoh: Every male child born to a Hebrew woman was to be put to death. And then you know the story. One particular Hebrew boy was born to Amram and Jochabed, placed in a basket of woven bulrushes, and floated down the Nile into the unsuspecting arms of Pharaoh’s daughter. She named him Moses and raised him in Pharaoh’s court. He had been brought into this position for such a time as this. As he learned of his Hebrew heritage, he forsook the royal palaces of Egypt for the hardship of his own people. God called him through a burning bush to be His holy prophet. God spoke to Pharaoh through Moses: “Let my people go!” God heard His people’s cries for deliverance. He sent a deliverer, Moses. He sent Moses to deliver the people from bondage. Through Moses, God led them forth from Egypt, through the Red Sea, through 40 years of wilderness wandering, and into the Promised Land. Out of Egypt, God called His son.

These things were a shadow of the things to come. Our Lord Jesus Christ is Israel personified. He is the fulfillment and completion of Israel’s history. King Herod had to keep the children of Israel in subjection. So one fateful day, on the basis of the wise men’s report, he ordered every male child two years old and under in Bethlehem to be slaughtered. But just in the nick of time, “behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him’” (Matt. 2:13; ESV). How foolish is King Herod if he thinks he can foil the reign of God’s Anointed. The blood of the Holy Innocents is on his hands, but the true King of Jews has slipped through his murderous fingers.

The mothers in Bethlehem weep as they hold the lifeless bodies of their infant sons. “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more’” (vv. 17-18). Our Lord Jesus was to be among their number. It was to kill Him that Herod killed them. But it was not yet our Lord’s time. He would die. He had been saved for such a time as this. He, too, would shed His blood and join His brothers in Bethlehem. But not yet. For now, He escapes, and their martyr blood cries to God from the dust. He will not be gone for long, however. Herod dies in 4 BC. Joseph is told to take his family back to Israel. The Savior is to be raised among His own people. He is the King of the Jews. “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (v. 15).

Israel was called out of bondage in Egypt to serve YHWH as His own people in the Promised Land. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, was called out of hiding in Egypt to serve His Father, YHWH, as His own dear Son and the Savior of the world in that same Promised Land. But this is so much more than an interesting history lesson for you. Did you know that you are in bondage? Did you know that you are enslaved? Did it ever occur to you as you read these stories or heard them preached that these events speak not only of Israel and Jesus, but of you as well?

I’m talking about your bondage to sin and death. You have sinned, and the wages of sin is death. You cannot help but sin. I know that’s not a politically correct thing to say. I know it isn’t nice. But it is the truth, and you came here to hear the truth, even when it isn’t pretty. Beloved, you are born blind, dead, and enemies of God, every one of you. You are born with a will that is bound, that cannot love God or serve God or choose anything but sin. You are born in bondage to the devil. Now that’s a truth we don’t like to dwell on. Believe me, as one eagerly awaiting the birth of his first child, I don’t like to think of my little girl as having anything to do with the devil. But she is in bondage to him. She is his hostage. She is a sinner. Her will is bound. She cannot love God. She cannot serve God. She is enslaved. That is her lot as a daughter of Adam and Eve. She is totally infected by original sin. Until the day she dies she will commit all manner of actual sins. It breaks my heart to say it, but she’s a slave! And so are you outside of Christ.

But here’s the good news. God is calling you out of Egypt! He is calling you out of slavery! He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, for such a time as this. He has sent us a deliverer, a Savior. God is calling you to be united to His Son, Jesus. This is why Baptism is so important. Baptism is the Red Sea through which your new and greater Moses leads you out of the Egypt of your sin. It is the means by which you are united to Him. It is the means by which His death and resurrection become your own. It is the means by which you also become a child of God… by which the prophecy also applies to you: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

God-willing, in a few short weeks my daughter will be brought to this very baptismal font to be drowned and brought to new life. It is really a violent thing, Baptism. But it is life-saving. The Lord will do an incredible thing to her here in your sight. He will cast out the devil and cast off her chains to sin and death. He will call her out of Egypt. He will cover her with the blood of atonement. He will crucify her flesh. He will breathe His life into her and make her a new creation. He will make her His own child. No longer enslaved to the devil, she will be enslaved by her love of Him. She will serve Him not because of the threat of hell, but because that’s what love does. For the first time her will will be free. For the first time her will will be holy. But what happens in that moment will not be momentary. It will last her a whole lifetime, a lifetime of repentance and faith, a lifetime of wandering in the wilderness of this world, believing that the Promised Land of heaven and the resurrection are her future lot. And in the moment we see her undergo this transfiguration, we, too, will behold once again our own Baptism into Christ. All the things that are true for her are true for you and for me as well. Every Baptism and every baptismal font takes us back to our own Baptism. Out of Egypt, God has called His son. He has called you. He has called me. “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:7).

For our ransom price has been paid. The Lord Jesus has taken all your sins and all of my sins and all the sins of the whole world to the cross. There He who knew no sin became sin for us. Sin has been crucified. Sin and death are dead. But Christ is risen. Therefore you are free. You are free from the sin that so easily entangles you. That is the gift of Christmas. You are forgiven. You are free with perfect freedom. Have you been enslaved to gluttony this Christmas season? In Christ, you are forgiven. You are free. Have you been enslaved to pornography or illicit sexual activity? In Christ, you are forgiven. You are free. Have you been enslaved to greed and miserliness? Or covetousness? Or lust? In Christ, you are forgiven. You are free. Live in that forgiveness. Go and sin no more. Whatever the sin, it does not have a greater hold on you than Christ. Nothing can snatch you out of His hand. Believe it and it is yours. Out of Egypt, God has called His son. The Church is the Body of His Son. You are the Body of His Son. In Christ, God has set you free. You are free to be His own, to love Him and serve Him. For He loves you. And it is for you that God became flesh and has made His home among us. Merry Christmas! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day

The Nativity of our Lord – Christmas Day (A)
December 25, 2007
Text: John 1:1-18

Darkness fell upon the world when man lifted the forbidden fruit to his lips. It was the darkness of sin and death. The creation that was good had fallen. The wages of sin is death. Man sought to gratify his own desires rather than render glory and obedience to God. As a result, man can neither satisfy his own desires nor render glory and obedience to God. For Adam and Eve were deceived by the serpent, and ever since Adam and Eve and all of their descendents have been in the serpent’s bondage. Yet into the darkness came the light of God’s promise: The Seed of the Woman would crush the serpent’s head, even as the serpent crushed His heel.

Darkness fell upon a Bethlehem stable. There was inside the manger a tiny newborn life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. Cattle are lowing in the light of their Creator. Angels sing of the light. Shepherds are drawn to the light and kneel in worship. The virgin mother of the little Lord Jesus treasures up all of these things and ponders them in her heart. But a sword shall pierce her soul. This child is destined for the fall and rising of many. He was born to die. But in this way He brings the light of salvation to all men, and eternal life to all who believe in Him.

Darkness fell upon a hill outside Jerusalem, the place called the Skull. The wages of sin is death. The serpent, who by a tree once overcame, must likewise by a tree be overcome. The Child of Bethlehem hangs on a cross. Nails, spear, have pierced Him through, the cross He bears for me, for you. His virgin mother looks on, helpless. As the nails pierce the flesh of her Son, a sword pierces her motherly soul. Her holy Son commends her to His beloved disciple. He forgives His executioners. He grants eternal life to His fellow condemned. He cries in anguish to God as He suffers the just penalty of our sins. He thirsts. He cries, “It is finished!” as the work of atonement is brought to completion. He commends His spirit to His heavenly Father. He gives up the ghost and dies. The world is dark. It appears as though darkness has triumphed over light. It appears as though the serpent has won. He has crushed the heel of the woman’s promised Seed. God is dead. He is sealed in a tomb. The daughters of Jerusalem weep and the disciples cower in fear.

But the darkness cannot hold the light. Christ is risen. He was dead, but behold, He lives. The morning light paints a clear scene. The serpent’s head is crushed. Sin lies buried in the tomb. Death is dead. But the Savior lives. “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit’” (1 Cor. 15:45; ESV). “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (v. 22). “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (vv. 54-55). Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Weep not, dear Christians. Arise, shine, for your light has come. The radiance of the glory of God has come to His people. He is restoring the fallen creation. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. “Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Is. 52:9-10). The dwelling place of God is with men. By God’s power man once again renders glory and obedience to God. God gives man the desires of his heart. He gives the man holy desires. Jesus is the light of the world. Whoever follows Him does not walk in darkness, but has the light of life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Blessed Christmas to All

Hear! The Conqueror has spoken:
"Now the foe, Sin and woe, Death and hell are broken!"
God is man, man to deliver,
And the Son Now is one With our blood forever.

Paul Gerhardt, LSB 360:2

God with Us

Another delightful quote from the North Prairie Pastor. He's fast becoming one of my favorite preachers to plagerize:

"And so we come to the edge of the mystery of Immanuel, “God with us.” We can talk about it. We can say what happened, but we can never really say how. It is beyond all understanding that the almighty God, creator of all that exists, could actually become part of His creation and get mixed up in it. How that could happen, and what it means for God, I have no words for. But I do know what it means for you and what it means for me. It means that as we stumble around here in our darkness, mumbling our pitiful prayers and fumbling with our hymnals, Jesus Christ is here with us. Jesus Christ is here with us. How often does that wondrous fact actually move through our ear-holes, into our brains, and into our hearts? Has it affected us at all? Do you realize, do I realize, what we are saying when we say God is here with us? That where two or three are gathered, there is Jesus in the midst of them? In the midst of us? This is the holy God, before whom angels hide their eyes and mere humans fall on their faces in the dust! We should be struck with the sheer absurdity of it all, that God and man should be united in a single person. Further, that He would actually be among us sinners. Maybe we need Isaiah’s vision in this place: Yahweh sitting on His throne and His robe filling this temple; burning angels with six wings covering their faces and feet and flying around calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is [Yahweh of armies]; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3)! Maybe we need the very thresholds and foundations of this temple shaken with the voice of God Himself, and this house filled with the smoke of His presence. Perhaps then we might realize in whose House we are, in whose presence we stand. I might not be so indifferent then. I might actually cry out with Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, [Yahweh of armies]” (Isaiah 6:5)!

"But, despite what Isaiah deserved, despite what we deserve, “God with us” does not mean that we die. Another name for Immanuel is Jesus, and His Name does not mean “for He will finally give His people what they deserve.” The name Yehoshua means, literally, “Yahweh is salvation.” He is called that because that is what He does. As the angel promised, He saves people from their sins."

You can read the whole sermon, which I highly recommend: http://northprairiepastor.wordpress.com/2007/12/24/fourth-sunday-in-advent/#more-60

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent (A)
December 23, 2007
Text: Matt. 1:18-25

The circumstances of our Lord’s birth are the stuff of soap opera scripts. Joseph loves Mary. But it appears she loves another. Though engaged to be married to Joseph, Mary has been found to be with child, and Joseph knows the child isn’t his. He is heartbroken. She must love another. Still, he loves her. So he does not wish to shame her, even though he has every right under Jewish law to do so. In fact, under Jewish law, he has the right to put her to death by stoning. But he does not. He loves her too much. He will bear his heartache and let her go in peace. He wishes to put her away quietly, to divorce her without public spectacle. He does not desire her harm. He resolves to set her free. He wants her to be happy. He loves her that much.

How could he believe Mary’s story? She claims the child is God’s Son. Why would she add insult to injury by conceiving such an unbelievable lie? Joseph is a broken man with a broken relationship. But as Joseph considers these things, as he wallows in his misery and brokenness, behold, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20; ESV). Could it be true? Could Mary have been telling the truth all along? Could it be that this broken relationship can be put back together again? Yes! For the Child is indeed God’s Son. He will do more than restore the broken relationship of Mary and Joseph. “(Y)ou shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (v. 21). He will restore the broken relationship between God and sinful humanity. He will restore your relationship to God, broken by sin. He will restore you and make you into a child of God.

Yes, Joseph, it is true. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (v. 23). God has come in the flesh to restore what sinful flesh has broken. Jesus is the promised Messiah. It is He of whom all the Law and the prophets testify. God has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of His servant David. The name “Jesus,” “Joshua” in the Hebrew, means “The Lord saves.” That is what the Seed of Mary has come to do. Therefore Joseph need not fear. He should take Mary as his wife. He should be a faithful husband to Mary, and a faithful foster father to Mary’s Son. For Mary’s Son is the Son of God, begotten of the Father, conceived by the Holy Spirit. His birth is the most important birth that ever was or ever shall be. He is the hope of His people Israel and the salvation of the Gentiles. On His birth hangs the salvation of the whole world.

When you consider it, the virgin birth seems just as implausible to us as it did to Joseph. In fact, we like to think that we are much more scientifically advanced than Joseph or any of the other biblical characters. If Joseph understood the science of conception and birth, we certainly do. And virgins simply don’t conceive and maintain their virginity. Reason cannot comprehend this great mystery. Reason is a good gift of God, but it is fallen. It has been corrupted by sin. One of the devil’s favorite weapons to use against us, to tear down our faith, is therefore reason. And the devil even infiltrates the holy Christian Church with his unholy misuse of reason. Liberal mainline Protestantism is replete with deniers of the virgin birth of Jesus, and has been for years. Take, for example, the comments of popular early 20th Century preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick. Fosdick preached that while simple Christians continued to hold to their antiquated view of the virgin birth, enlightened Christians knew better. He explained, “those first disciples adored Jesus – as we do; when they thought about his coming they were sure that he came specially from God – as we are; this adoration and conviction they associated with God's special influence and intention in his birth – as we do; but they phrased it in terms of a biological miracle that our modern minds cannot use.”[1] In other words, according to this brand of liberal Christianity, whatever in the Scriptures conflicts with our human reason must be thrown out. Beloved, this is rank heresy. It is a lie of the devil. And this lie has bewitched and beguiled much of the liberal leadership of modern mainline Christianity.

Consider what is at stake in the question of the virgin birth. Conservative Christians from other denominations are quick to point out that the very truth of the Scriptures is at stake, and they are right of course. If the virgin birth is not true, the Scriptures have lied, and nothing the Scriptures say is trustworthy. But as important as that point is, an even more crucial issue is at stake. If the virgin birth is not literally true, if Joseph or some other man is Jesus’ biological father, then Jesus is not divine. He is not God. And if that is the case, we are still in our sins. Jesus had to be God in the flesh to save us. He had to be a flesh and blood man to redeem flesh and blood men, to fulfill the Law in our place, to suffer and die as our substitute. But He also had to be true God. If Jesus were just another man, even if He were a good man, He could not be a perfect man, and He could not make atonement for all of humanity. He would have been a sinner like us. He could only have died for Himself. But because Jesus is God, He was born sinless, perfect, righteous, and could make atonement for the sins of the whole world. Because Jesus is God He could defeat the devil, sin, and death forever. Because Jesus is God, He could heal our diseases, carry our sorrows, and bring us peace through the punishment He bore for us. Jesus had to be both God and man to be the mediator between God and men. Thus in God’s infinite wisdom, our Lord Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary.”

Can it really be true? Yes, it can be, and is. Jesus is God’s Son. He puts all that is broken back together again, whether it be broken relationships, broken lives, broken bodies, a broken world. Jesus has come to make all that is wrong right again and to redeem us poor miserable sinners. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4). In Jesus, God is united to our flesh. Jesus is our brother and God is our Father. In Jesus, our flesh is redeemed and made holy. Jesus is born into our broken, sinful, soap opera lives to grant us forgiveness and restoration.

All of this despite our reason. Reason is a good gift of God to be used for His glory and the benefit of our neighbor. But because our reason is fallen, it can conflict with the Word of God. When this is the case, we should do as St. Joseph did. We should believe the Word of the Lord, heed it, and obey it. The angel told Joseph in a dream that he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Despite every reasonable objection to virgin births, he should believe this virgin birth, because God said it was true. And God does not lie. This Child is conceived by the Holy Spirit. “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:24-25). He believed and heeded the Word of the Lord. So likewise should we. God does not lie to us, either. He loves us so much that He sent His Son into the world as one of us, to redeem us. God became a man. It is a great miracle. It is beyond all comprehension. But it is real. It is true. It is wonderful.

It is good and right that Jesus is born into scandal and a broken relationship, suspicions of betrayal and broken hearts. He was born to redeem us from these things. He was born to redeem us from sin and its evil effects. He was born to redeem us for Himself and to restore our broken relationship to God. It was for us men and for our salvation that God the Son came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man. He was made man to be crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffer on the cross, die, and be buried. But the Gospel does not end there. Jesus lives. He is risen. He is the first fruits of the new creation. And here once again our reason comes into conflict with the Word. Jesus makes all things new, in spite of appearances. All of the things that are broken in this world He comes to re-create. They will be new and perfect in the resurrection. That includes our broken bodies and broken souls. We, too, will rise to live with Him in a new creation. And then our reason, also, will be restored and perfected. Then our reason will have no conflict with the Word. Then all things will be conformed at last to His perfection. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Quoted in Albert Mohler, “Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth?” http://www.albertmohler.com/commentary_read.php?cdate=2006-12-25.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Advent Mid-Week 3

Advent Mid-Week 3
December 19, 2007
Text: Gal. 4:1-7

Our Advent meditations on the Holy Family continue this week with Jesus, Son of Mary, Son of God.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5; ESV).

The Son of God had to become flesh in order to rescue our fallen flesh. He had to become one with sinful humanity, though Himself without sin, in order to rescue us from our sin. He had to be united with us in flesh and blood in order to fulfill God’s holy Law in our place, suffer His wrath in punishment of our sin on the cross, and raise us to new life by the power of His resurrection. The Son of God had to be one of us. So God placed Him in a family, the family of Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family.

This Family is holy, not because of the mother or the foster father, Mary and Joseph, but because of the Son born into it, Jesus of Nazareth. This Child is the Son of the Father, conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. He is not conceived in natural fashion. Joseph is not His biological father. God is His Father, and Mary remains a true virgin in His conception. It is a miracle. The Son of God sanctifies the family of Mary and Joseph, makes it holy, by His conception and birth as Jesus of Nazareth. The family is holy because of Jesus. Wherever Jesus goes, He brings His holiness with Him.

Without Jesus’ holiness, all mankind is lost. You are lost and I am lost. For we are under sin, which is the opposite of holiness. In His holiness, God cannot abide the presence of sin. There is a dividing wall of hostility between the holy God and sinful humanity. So when Jesus comes with His holiness and unites Himself to sinful humanity by taking on flesh, He breaks that dividing wall down (Eph. 2:14). Humanity is sanctified, made holy, because of Jesus. Wherever Jesus goes, He brings His holiness with Him. And in this way, He redeems what He makes holy.

Jesus sanctifies the womb by His conception in holiness. He redeems embryos by becoming and embryo. He redeems fetuses by becoming a fetus. This is what is so tragic about our national sin of abortion and our dreadful denial that embryos and fetuses are human babies. Our Lord came to redeem embryos and fetuses. He made them holy by becoming one with them.

So also Jesus sanctifies all the stages of human life. This, too, is His work of redemption. He redeems newborns by becoming a newborn. He redeems toddlers by becoming a toddler. He redeems pre-teens and teenagers by becoming a pre-teen and then a teenager, at the age of twelve going about His Father’s business in the temple, teaching the religious leaders concerning the Word of God (Luke 2:46-47). He redeems adults by becoming an adult. He redeems and sanctifies you even in your death by dying for you. Our times are in the Lord’s hands (Ps. 31:15). He has redeemed our time and made it holy.

By virtue of His birth into the Holy Family, He gathers our flesh into the Holy Family of the Church. We are now the Holy Family. God is our Father and the Church is our mother. In the Church, we are fed the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2). We are washed and tended and gathered around the family table for Supper. This all happens, as Paul says, because God has adopted us as His sons. He has adopted us as sons because His Son Christ has put on our flesh and redeemed it with His blood, and we have put on His Son Christ in our Baptism. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6).

Incidentally, the word “son” here is very important. Whether you are a man or a woman, in this case you want to be a son. Because the son is the heir. And notice what happens by virtue of God’s adopting you as son. You are released from your slavery to sin, death, and the devil, and become the co-heir with Christ of all things. “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (v. 7).

This all happens because the Son of God is born of the virgin Mary, born under the Law to redeem those who are under the Law. He becomes flesh to redeem you. The Son of God had to be flesh so that He could redeem you and place you into a Family… His Family. That’s what Christmas is all about. Thus as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, you enjoy all the rights and privileges that come along with the family Name. You know that Name and you bear that Name. It is the Name given to you in Baptism: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Third Sunday in Advent

Third Sunday in Advent (A)
December 16, 2007
Text: Matt. 11:2-15

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15; ESV). Let the one who has been given ears attuned by the Spirit to the Word of God hear and believe and keep that Word. Let the one who has been given faith not forsake that faith because it is contrary to sight. Let him not doubt, but hearing the Word, let him believe. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed on account of the Word written by the apostles and prophets (John 20:29). Only God can give faith in His Word precisely because that Word seems so contrary to sight. It is a great miracle that anybody believes. It is a great miracle because this fallen, sinful flesh cannot comprehend spiritual things. St. Paul declares to the Corinthians, “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). Indeed, we who are trapped by this fallen flesh, with our fallen intellects and the captivity of our sinful wills cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. The Holy Spirit must snatch us out of the jaws of unbelief and hell. It is the Holy Spirit who calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith, and gives us true freedom from sin, death, hell, and Satan. He gives us faith and He sustains that faith. We cannot do it for ourselves. He does it to us by the Word. He gives us the ears so that we can hear. He gives us the faith so that we can believe.

Faith is given and sustained by the Holy Spirit working through the Word. But this in the midst of a fallen world full of deaf men. Not all have ears to hear. Not all have faith to believe. And appearances are deceiving. If we trust our fallen eyes, it is impossible to believe the Word of the Lord. For all that we see is sin and its evil consequences. We see terrorism and violence, war and bloodshed, sedition and rebellion, sickness and injury, broken lives and broken relationships, all manner of sin and suffering, and finally, death. Even we, who believe, are miserable sinners. Even when we look at ourselves, we are led into doubt and confusion. It is a great miracle that anyone should believe what they hear from God in the face of what is seen. Only God could grant that faith.

Since this is so, since appearances are so deceiving, and since the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh press in upon us from every side, seeking to lead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice, our faith cries out for assurance from the only trustworthy source: God Himself. Our faith cries out for a good Word from God in the midst of all manner of wickedness in this vale of tears, “Lord, are You the One who is to save us, or should we look for another? Are our eyes just deceiving us again, or are we right to put our trust in You? Tell us again of the life You bring to this world of death. Tell us again of the righteousness You bring to this world of sin. Tell us again that You love us and that all these things work together for our good.”

Thus St. John the Baptist sits in Herod’s dungeon. He knows that he is not long for this life. He has been a faithful preacher of God’s Word. He has done his duty as prophet. He has called upon sinners to repent and believe the Good News of the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who takes away the sin of the world. But St. John is a sinner. His flesh is fallen. His fallen eyes only see the walls of the dungeon. It is not that he has lost his faith. But his faith needs assurance. His faith needs strengthening from the one and only source he knows can provide it. So he sends his disciples to Jesus. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3). “Are my fallen eyes just deceiving me again, or am I right to believe in You, preach about You, and trust that even this dungeon is for my good?”

Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist (v. 11). Yet even John needs the assurance that only the Word of the Lord can give. You can be comforted by this. Even St. John needed the assurance of the Word. Even St. John had his doubts, especially in the midst of trial and tribulation. And you do, too. When you are assailed by sin, when you are tossed to and fro by the ever shifting winds, when you are wearied by the changes and chances of this life and this world, you also need assurance. It is not that you have lost your faith. But your faith is weak. It is weak because of the flesh. You need the same assurance St. John needed. You need a good Word from God.

Jesus does not withhold assurance from those who ask Him. He does not rebuke John’s disciples or belittle John before the people. He does the opposite, and praises John above all those born of women. Instead, with great compassion, Jesus tells John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them” (vv. 4-5). He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Jesus does not pick these miracles by accident or arbitrarily. This is precisely what Isaiah prophesied concerning the Messiah: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Is. 35:5-6). Don’t miss the implication. If you have ears to hear, listen closely. Jesus does the things only the Messiah can do. Jesus is the One who was to come. He is the promised Messiah. The Word of the Lord from Isaiah the prophet is all the assurance John needs. It is all the assurance you need. “I am He,” says Jesus to John and to you. “I still love you. I am here to cleanse and to heal and to save. I am here for your salvation. I am here to forgive your sins. I am your Savior and your God. Be not doubting, but believing.”

Jesus comes in fulfillment of the Scriptures. It is He of whom all the Law and the Prophets testify. He has come for you, to be your Savior and Lord. He has come to heal you, to give sight to your blind eyes so that you can see the spiritual realities that fallen eyes cannot see, to set you on your feet again so that you can walk with Him, to cleanse you from the leprosy of sin, to open your ears to hear His life-giving Word, indeed, to raise you from the dead. The Holy Spirit gives you faith in Him and sustains that faith in Him by His Word. In the midst of doubt and fear and sin and suffering, your faith will be shaken. In such times, run to the Word, where your Lord has promised to be for you with His grace. It is that Word which delivers to you all the benefits of His cross, His innocent suffering and death in your behalf. It is that Word which makes ordinary water into the cleansing baptismal water of life. It is that Word which makes ordinary bread and wine into the very body and blood of the crucified Son of God. The Word is powerful. It always accomplishes what it says. It does miraculous things, like create faith in the hearts of sinful men who cannot believe, who are living in the midst of a sinful and fallen world. It does miraculous things like forgive sins, even the worst of sins, even the sins of doubt and despair.

God has given you ears to hear. He has given you ears to hear His Word and to believe it. And He grants His Word in rich supply. Natural man cannot believe this Word. But the man who has been made spiritual by the Holy Spirit, the man who has been given faith from above, he it is who hears and believes. And the more He hears, the more he believes. O Lord, open our ears to hear Your precious Word, the Word about our Savior Jesus Christ. And then grant us to believe it. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Advent Mid-Week 2

Advent Mid-Week 2
December 12, 2007
Text: Luke 1:26-56

Our Advent Mid-Week devotions on the Holy Family continue this week with Mary, the Mother of our Lord.

Why are Lutherans so cautious when it comes to the Virgin Mary? What is it about her that Lutherans are so afraid to honor? Have you ever seen a Lutheran Church named St. Mary’s? I’ve only seen one, and it wasn’t an LCMS congregation. We have a lot of congregations named for St. Paul and St. Peter and St. John and St. James, and all the other saints for that matter. But we have almost no congregations named for St. Joseph or St. Mary. Why is that?

You may have your own suspicions, or you may even have your own reasons for shying away from honoring St. Mary, but my suspicion is that Lutherans are cautious when it comes to Mary because any impression that she is being honored or given too much attention sounds too Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Beloved, if we sons and daughters of the Lutheran Reformation have given up St. Mary as a possession of others, and if we who belong to the Church of the Augsburg Confession have divorced Mary from her role in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is a dirty, rotten shame! Shame on us. While we are right to guard against the Marian abuses that have taken hold in Roman Catholicism and even Eastern Orthodoxy, such as devotion to Mary and prayer to her, or regarding her as some sort of mediatrix who makes her Son Jesus favorably disposed toward us, we must repent if we have neglected to properly honor her.

We must never forget that great grace was given to St. Mary that she should be the mother of our Lord, the agent by which God became man! The ancients rightly called her Theotokos, the “Mother of God.” She is the mother of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, our Savior. It was to her that the angel Gabriel declared, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have 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 will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33). God was gracious to Mary in appointing her womb to bear the Son of God and Savior of the world.

Yet God did not bestow this grace upon Mary because of any merit or worthiness in her. Grace, by definition, cannot be given on the basis of inherent worthiness. Grace is God’s unmerited favor on account of Christ. Mary was a sinner like you and me. But God, in His infinite wisdom, chose her to bear the Messiah. And there is no doubt that, while Mary is just as much a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness as you and I, she is among the saints who we should hold up as examples to emulate. You’ll recall what the Augsburg Confession says about the saints: “It is also taught among us that saints should be kept in remembrance so that our faith may be strengthened when we see what grace they received and how they were sustained by faith. Moreover, their good works are to be an example for us, each of us in his own calling” (AC XXI:1; Tappert, p. 46).

Like Joseph, Mary chiefly serves as an example for us in her hearing of, belief in, and obedience to the Word of the Lord. Notice how the initial objections of her reason to the angel’s message immediately give way to trust in God’s promise. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34), Mary asks. The angel replies that this Child will be conceived by the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God” (v. 35). Notice how quickly Mary dismisses all human reason when it comes into conflict with God’s Word. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38).

God grant that every Christian place such confidence in God’s Word, that their faith can overcome even the most reasonable of human objections. God grant us all the faith of Mary. Her belief and obedience to the Word is an example for all of us. And our faith is strengthened when we see God’s abundant grace to Mary and all humanity in electing her to bear the Holy Son of God in the flesh. Our faith is strengthened when we see how God provides for Mary, even as she bears the holy cross of scorn and shame for being found pregnant out of wedlock, circumstances which cause her to arise and go with haste to the hill country of Judah to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Our faith is strengthened as we see how God provides for her, even as she bears the holy cross of hard travel to Bethlehem to be registered and taxed with Joseph, and when she arrives, there is no room in the inn for the woman in labor. God provides a stable, the first palace of the Almighty King. We see how God provides her with escape to Egypt when Herod is seeking to murder her holy Child. And we see how God provides for her even as the sword pierces her motherly soul when her Son is crucified. Even then, as she bears the holy cross of watching her Son die on the cross, God provides for Mary. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26-27). Our faith is strengthened because we see in God’s providence for Mary and the Holy Family that God also provides for us, strengthens us, upholds us, even in the very midst of cross-bearing, even in the very midst of the worst suffering imaginable. Mary is upheld by God’s grace and sustained by her God-given faith. And so are you. So am I. God’s grace for Mary is also His grace for us.

For Mary is the vessel by which God delivers His grace in the flesh to a world lost in sin and death. We bow in reverence when we confess that Jesus “was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man” (Nicene Creed), when we confess that God the Son humbled Himself to be united with our flesh and born of a Virgin, born under the Law to redeem those who are under the Law, that we might be called sons of God. He had to be born of Mary, He had to be flesh, in order to suffer our punishment, to be crucified and die for the forgiveness of our sins. In being gracious to Mary, God is gracious to us. In sending Mary a Son, He sent Mary and us a Savior.

So don’t banish St. Mary from your hearts and minds. Don’t surrender her to the piety of Roman Catholicism, as if she had no place in Lutheran piety. She is the mother of our Lord. Honor her. Look to her as an example of faith and as a model for all of our mothers. Don’t pray to her or invoke her, but thank and praise God for her. And follow her instructions regarding her Son to the servants at the wedding in Cana: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). She is pointing you to Christ. Believe in Him. Believe His Word. Obey His Word. Receive His unending gifts and the benefits of His cross. Mary points us away from herself and to her Son Jesus. He is your Savior and the one mediator between God and men.

There is a beautiful Advent hymn in our hymnal, number 356 if you want to look at it, which I have not yet introduced here at Epiphany because it is a little difficult. In it we sing of Mary as a “Most highly favored lady.” We close with the fourth verse of that hymn: “Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born In Bethlehem all on a Christmas morn, And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say: ‘Most highly favored lady.’ Gloria!” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Second Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent (A)
December 9, 2007
Text: Matt. 3:1-12

Advent is about preparation, and this morning St. John the Baptist calls upon us and all the world to prepare the way of the Lord. He calls upon us to prepare by repenting. Repentance is the preparation that is called for in this Advent season as Christmas fast approaches. Prepare to receive your newborn King by repenting of your sins and turning to Him in faith. Come humbly, confessing your sins, just as the masses from Jerusalem and the surrounding region came to John for holy absolution in the Jordan. That’s what repentance is. It is sorrow over sin and confession to God and a desire to receive His mercy and forgiveness. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9; ESV).

The Pharisees and Sadducees did not come to confess their sins or to be cleansed by John. They came to make an outward show. They came to be seen. They came to be baptized by John because it was the “in thing” to do and it made them appear holy and righteous in their own eyes and the eyes of the people. They thought the mere outward performance of the act was sufficient preparation. They thought they pleased God by their outward show of piety. But they were sadly mistaken. They were deceiving themselves. They said they had no sin, or at least not that much sin. The truth was not in them. Thus St. John’s biting rebuke: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matt. 3:7).

At the seminary, they don’t recommend that we begin our sermons by calling the congregation a brood of vipers. It certainly doesn’t earn the pastor any extra esteem from his congregation. Yet maybe this is precisely the Word of the Lord that the people of the Lord need to hear. Because the warning wasn’t just to the Pharisees and Sadducees of old. It was to all who think themselves sinless, righteous, or at least not so bad in the sight of the Lord. I doubt very much that anyone in this congregation this morning would boast that they are sinless. But I can guarantee that every one of us in this congregation has at one time or another thought of ourselves more highly than we ought, compared ourselves to others like terrorists or child-molesters or shooters at shopping malls and thought, “at least I’m not as bad as that guy.” And even in small matters we are guilty of this self-righteousness. I can guarantee that every one of us in this congregation has unjustly judged our neighbor, trying to remove the speck from our brother’s eye but failing to take note of the beam in our own. I can guarantee that every one of us has at one time or another spoken ill of our neighbor behind his back. And every one of us, without exception, has thought deep down in his or her own heart, perhaps even subconsciously, “I may not be perfect, but surely God must love me more than those who murder, or rape, or… [fill in the blank].” You brood of vipers. Repent.

Self-righteousness is not the preparation St. John is calling for. He is calling for deep and painful self-examination, real and painful confession of sins, and the crucifixion of the self. John is preaching the Law of God to kill you. Because this is a life and death matter! “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 10). In other words, if you don’t produce fruit in keeping with repentance (v. 8), if you don’t forsake yourself and your own idea of what it means to be righteous before God, if you trust in your outward works, or your descent from Abraham, or your volunteer work, or even your membership in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, you will find yourself at the wrong side of Jesus on Judgment Day.

So the Law of God must kill you before God kills your soul and body in hell. It is only when you are dead that you can be raised to life again. That’s what God does in the preaching of His Law. It is painful to confess your sins. It is deadly, in fact. It requires a crucifixion of the self to actually name the sin of which you are guilty, out loud, before the pastor. But absolution, forgiveness, is the healing Word of Jesus that makes alive again. It is painful to be baptized. It is a drowning that happens not just once, at the baptismal font, but every day as you live in your Baptism, drowning the old Adam in you with all his sins and evil desires. But Baptism is also the washing of regeneration. It brings you to new life. The people came to John to confess their sins and be baptized. It was painful and deadly business. But that is the life of repentance. That is the life John is calling for when he cries to you from the Judean wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight” (v. 3).

You may ask at this point, however, what is the fruit of repentance that we should bear? If we are to despair of our own works and our own righteousness, of which we have none anyway, then what shall we do? Beloved, if you are to bear fruit in keeping with repentance, you must be in Christ. You must be in that shoot from the stump of Jesse, the branch from his roots, who bears the fruit of righteousness (Is. 11:1), our Lord Jesus Christ. You must possess His fruit, His righteousness. You must be grafted into Him, into the One on whom the Spirit of the Lord rests, “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (v. 2). And then you will begin to produce the real fruit of repentance. Then you will have the fruits of the Spirit, such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23), against which there is no law. For when you are in Christ, you are also in the Father and the Holy Spirit. You are in God Himself and He does His work in you and through you.

How then are you grafted into Christ? How do you come to this blessed state of preparation by which you are united to the Holy Trinity and do works in keeping with repentance? By Baptism and faith. Christ Himself brings you into that relationship with God. You do not do it. Christ does it to you and in you. John tells you this in our text. John is not the Christ, but he points you to the One who is: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11). He is speaking, of course, of Jesus, your Savior, the Son of God and Son of Mary.

You are united to Christ in Holy Baptism, and your Baptism is not just what happened at the font when as a baby or as an adult the water was poured over you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is an ongoing reality for you. It is a whole new life. It is a life of repentance and faith, death and resurrection, drowning and new birth. It is a life of believing in Christ and a life of union with Christ. If you’re grafted into the tree of Christ, the axe will not chop you down. You will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. You will bear fruit in keeping with faith. For Christ, in whom you are grafted, will bear His fruit in you. “I am the vine; you are the branches” says Jesus. “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

You bear fruit and prepare for the coming Christ by abiding in Christ. You abide in Him by partaking of His fruit, the fruit of His cross, which has become a life-giving tree for all who trust in Him. That fruit is given to you in the Gospel and Sacraments. In a few moments you will come to the altar of the Lord and He will place the fruit of His cross into your mouths for the forgiveness of your sins. He will give you all the benefits of His sin-atoning death. He will give you all the power of His resurrection. And He will give you power for repentance and new life now. Don’t come forward as Pharisees and Sadducees, exalting in your own righteousness. Come as tax-collectors and sinners. Come as beggars. Come as dead men. For the dead man cannot raise himself. But Jesus can raise the dead. The Risen One comes with healing in His wings. It is free to all. Believe it and it is yours. Jesus gathers His wheat, gathers you, safely into His barn (Matt. 3:12), the Holy Church, to receive these gifts. He does so out of pure grace. Let us therefore keep the feast. Let us come for the tangible forgiveness of the Supper. For if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He does just that in the Supper of His Son’s body and blood. He does it to you this morning. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Advent Mid-Week 1

Advent Mid-Week 1
December 5, 2007
Text: Matthew 1:18-25, 2:13-15

Very little is known of St. Joseph, foster-father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We know he was a carpenter living in Nazareth, betrothed to the Virgin Mary, with family ties to Bethlehem, being from the house and line of David. So it was to Bethlehem of Judea that he had to take his wife, Mary, when she was so close to giving birth to the Savior. They had to go to be registered and taxed. And of course, we know the rest of the story. There was no room for them in the inn. Thus Joseph found accommodations for them in a stable, where Mary gave birth among the animals and laid Jesus in a manger, and where the shepherds found and worshiped the Son of God made flesh.

We don’t know much about Joseph, so how should we regard him? The Scriptures call Joseph a “just,” or a “righteous” man (Matt. 1:19). This means that Joseph was a morally upstanding and devout Jewish believer who was waiting in expectation for the promised Messiah. As with all the Old Testament saints, he was looking forward in faith for the Messiah to deliver him from his sins. Oh yes, Joseph was a sinner. That he is called “just” does not change that. For his justification is given to him as a gift from God, received by faith in the Christ who was to come. Little did Joseph know, however, how close his salvation was. It was at hand. The Messiah in whom he trusted for salvation was en-fleshed as a fetus in the womb of Joseph’s beloved Mary.

Joseph was a righteous man, righteous before God by faith and righteous before men by his outward keeping of the commandments. That is how we should regard him: as a saint. He is a saint made holy by God. Lutherans retain saints’ days and the honor of saints, and for good reason. This is what our Augsburg Confession says about the saints: “It is also taught among us that saints should be kept in remembrance so that our faith may be strengthened when we see what grace they received and how they were sustained by faith. Moreover, their good works are to be an example for us, each of us in his own calling” (AC XXI:1; Tappert, p. 46). Such is the case with St. Joseph. Our faith is strengthened when we see what grace he received and how he was sustained by faith. And his good works serve as an example to us. We should not pray to Joseph or to any of the saints. But we should praise God for them and regard them as worthy of our honor.

Joseph was given the grace of being foster-father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was not Jesus’ physical father. God was Jesus’ Father, and Mary His virgin mother. But Joseph was faithful in his vocation as the legal father of Jesus, serving as an example to us, that we should be faithful in the vocations in which God has placed us. Joseph was faithful in the midst of unimaginably difficult circumstances. His fiancée shows up pregnant and he knows the child isn’t his. And to top it all off, the girl claims God is the Father? Come on! Being a righteous man, Joseph sought to put her away quietly. He didn’t want to bring any more shame on the girl than was necessary. But the break was serious business, for the commitment in an engagement was just as binding as marriage in the ancient world (as in fact it should be today).

But then “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20-21). And here is the primary way that Joseph serves as an example for us to emulate in the Church: He believed the Word of the Lord. “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife” (v. 24). He not only believed and obeyed the Word of the Lord, he also fulfilled his Eighth Commandment duty by defending the honor and reputation of Mary, claiming the girl as his wife and the child in her womb as his own. Not that he claimed to have conceived Jesus. With regard to his wife, he “knew her not until she had given birth to a son” (v. 25). Far be it from Joseph to deny the Word of the Lord that this child was conceived of the Holy Spirit. While the rest of the neighbors undoubtedly laughed at the thought of a divine conception and a virgin birth (just as the whole world does today), Joseph confirmed Mary’s story. He defended her, spoke well of her, and explained everything in the kindest way, and this in accord with the truth of God, just as we should do for our neighbors today. And of course, he followed the angel’s instructions to the letter. When the child was born, he, Joseph… not Mary, but Joseph, “called his name Jesus.”

The few other places we hear about Joseph, we see him once again believing and obeying the Word of the Lord. He presents Jesus at the temple and makes the customary sacrifices to redeem his firstborn and for the purification of mother and child according to the Law of Moses (Luke 2:22-24). He takes the Child and his mother to Egypt in obedience to the Word of the Lord, to save the Child from Herod’s murderous intentions, and likewise returns to Nazareth at the instruction of the Lord (Matt. 2:13-23). He takes his family on the customary pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem at the Passover, and when the 12 year old Jesus goes missing, even though Joseph should have known Jesus would be about His Heavenly Father’s business, as a faithful dad, Joseph worries, and seeks and finds his boy (Luke 2:41-51). Joseph believes the Word of the Lord, and is an example of faithfulness for us in our Christian life and vocation.

But even so is he an instrument of God’s grace for us. For in serving as Jesus’ legal father, Joseph passes on the birthright of the lineage of King David to his foster Son. This was to fulfill the Scriptures. The Messiah had to come from the house and line of David. As Joseph’s legal Son, Jesus receives the royal inheritance of His forefather David. That means Jesus is King of the Jews. That means Jesus is your King and mine. He is the Son of David come to save His people from their sins. He is the descendent of David whose throne is everlasting. He is the King who dies for His people, for their redemption, and is raised again for their justification.

We don’t know much about Joseph’s life, and know even less about his death, except to say that he was probably dead by the time of Jesus’ public ministry. But Joseph would not have us direct our attention toward himself. He would rather point us to his beloved foster-Son and Savior, Jesus Christ. He would point out God’s grace in sending Jesus to himself and to Mary. And he would point out God’s abundant grace in sending Jesus to you and to me to be our Savior and King. In this Advent Season we consider the Holy Family. But the focal point is always Jesus. For it is not Joseph, not Mary, not any one of the saints, but Jesus only who saves us from our sins and makes peace for us with the Heavenly Father. And it is Jesus only who sustains us in the one true faith by His blessed Word and holy Sacraments. To God alone be all the glory. “(T)o him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

First Sunday in Advent

First Sunday in Advent (A)
December 2, 2007
Text: Matt. 21:1-11

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9, ESV; cf. Matt. 21:5). Rejoice greatly, O people of Epiphany. Rejoice greatly, O people of Christ, united to Him by Baptism and faith. For your King, Jesus Christ, comes to you. He comes gently and humbly. He comes in the humble forms of words and water and bread and wine. He comes for you and for your forgiveness. Advent means “coming.” On this first Sunday of the new Church Year, we rejoice in the coming of our King. We join our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, and with every Christian who has ever lived and ever will live scattered among the four winds. We rejoice with the crowds spreading cloaks and palm branches on the road to Jerusalem, and shout with them, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9).

Yes, in the liturgy, the Lord places these very words into your mouths as you sing the Sanctus before the Lord’s Supper. You sing these words confessing the blessed reality that your King is present with His very body and blood in the Supper for your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Advent focuses our attention on this reality in a profound way. For Advent is all about preparation for and meditation upon the coming of the King, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is about preparation for and meditation upon His coming as the Savior of the world, the Babe of Bethlehem destined for the cross. It is about preparation for and meditation upon His coming again in glory as Judge. And it is about preparation for and meditation upon His coming to us here and now, and throughout this new Church Year, and as long as the Church Militant struggles and fights and prays on earth, in His hallowed means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. Indeed, our Lord’s gracious coming to us in His means of grace is cause for great rejoicing and singing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Kings do not ordinarily come in humility to their subjects. If you want an audience with the king, you must petition him, suffer through the bureaucracy of his royal court, and even then, there is no guarantee that he will hear you. It is not a citizen’s right to demand an audience with his king. The king will see and hear only those whom he deems worthy. How different it is with our divine King, Jesus Christ, who is not just some earthly king, but Almighty God in the flesh! You don’t have to suffer through any bureaucracy to come before Him. There is no question whether your petitions will be successful. You don’t even have to seek Him or find Him. Your King comes to you! He comes to you even thought you are unworthy. He humbles Himself and becomes one with your fallen flesh. He humbles Himself to the point of death on the cross to redeem your fallen flesh. He comes to you and takes your sins upon Himself, all the greed and lust and covetousness, the laziness and negligence and unfaithfulness that so infects your sinful flesh, all this He takes upon Himself all the way to the cross where the Father punishes it in the person of His Son. God has heard your cries for salvation. He has answered your petitions. The answer is Jesus on the cross. Whatever trial, whatever grief, whatever tribulation you have, whatever cross you bear, the answer is Jesus on the cross, upon which He has won for you the full and free remission of all your sins, peace with God, freedom from death and hell, eternal life and the resurrection from the dead.

Rejoice greatly, dear Christians, for this is what your King does for you. And rejoice greatly, for your King is not dead. He is not bound by the fetters of death. Jesus is alive. Christ is risen. And you who are baptized into His death are also baptized into His resurrection, so that death cannot hold you either. There is great reason to rejoice this first Sunday in Advent. For Christ is committed to another year, in fact a whole eternity of coming to His people, visiting them with His grace and mercy.

But don’t forget that He comes humbly. So what is true and what we know by faith, that Jesus is the great King of the universe, our King, who loves us and has made us His own holy nation (1 Peter 2:9), this King’s glory is not yet manifest to the world. It will be one day, when He returns. Until then, His glory, and the glory we have in Him, is hidden under the cross. That means we still have to suffer and struggle with sin and sickness and pain and physical death. We are still members of the Church Militant, and fall prey to Satan’s sinister attacks. But Jesus has promised to sustain us in these gray and latter days with His precious means of grace. So take heart. Trust in Him. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but with the temptation He will also provide a way out (1 Cor. 10:13). Where should you go when you are tempted or discouraged or suffering tribulation? You should go to the means of grace, where your Lord has promised to come to you. It is in the means of grace that the benefits of His cross are delivered to you. And the cross of Jesus Christ is always the answer you need. There He forgives you. There He heals you. There He gives you eternal life and salvation.

Because you know that Jesus’ Word and presence are certain, you can pray confidently along with the crowd on the road to Jerusalem, “Hosanna,” “Save now!” Hosanna is a prayer for salvation. The Savior’s Name, “Jesus,” means “the Lord saves.” In the midst of our rejoicing on this day and every day as the Church of God, we pray for salvation: Hosanna. Save us now, O Lord. The Lord’s salvation is the very cause of our rejoicing. Our life of rejoicing and thanksgiving and praise flows from salvation and faith in Christ.

This is where good works and obedience to God comes in, as St. Paul points out in our epistle lesson (Rom. 13:8-14). We know that the hour has come for us to wake from sleep, that our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed (v. 11). “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (vv. 12-14). You have put on Christ in Baptism, again, the means of grace. You have been clothed with Christ. You are covered in His righteousness. As a result of the salvation that has been given to you in Baptism, cast off the works of darkness. Cast off the sin that so easily entangles you. Repent, and believe. Don’t be ruled by your old sinful flesh, but rule over it as the new man in Christ Jesus. Put the sinful flesh to death. Crucify it. The prophet Isaiah entreats you this morning, “come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is. 2:5). Do you want to know how you cast off the works of darkness? You walk in the light of the Lord. What is that light? The Psalmist confesses, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). The Word, the means of grace, is the light. Remain in the means of grace and you will remain in Christ, and He will be your light and give you strength to resist the flaming darts of the devil and to cast off the works of darkness. Remain in the means of grace and Christ Himself will open your lips and fill your mouths with songs of great rejoicing.

For you who are in the Word, who are in Christ, there is much reason to rejoice this morning. No matter what you are suffering, no matter what trial or tribulation or grief weighs heavy on your heart, yet you can rejoice. For your King comes to you. He comes to you today in His means of grace in the very same way He came for your salvation 2,000 years ago. And He is coming again. Only not so humbly this time. He is coming in glory. Then all will be revealed. Then your salvation will be manifest. Then all that is wrong and broken will be made right and whole again in the Lord. Until then we pray “Hosanna,” “Save now!” Save us now, O Lord. But being confident in His salvation, we also rejoice. For the Lord has heard and answered. He has promised to be among us wherever we come together in His Name, believing His Word (Matt.18:20). So He is among us this morning. He is coming to us now in His Word. And He is coming to us in His Holy Supper. There is nothing for us to do but greet our King who comes to us and praise His Holy Name in the words of the Sanctus, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (LSB, p. 178). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Two Natures in Christ

Pastor’s Window for December, 2007

The Two Natures in Christ

Beloved in Christ, as we observe the Season of Advent and as Christmas rapidly approaches, this is a good time to pause and consider an important aspect of our Lord’s incarnation: The Two Natures in Christ. The word “incarnation” refers to the coming of God the Son into our flesh. As Lutherans, we confess the historic Christian faith that Jesus Christ has two natures, divine and human. He is not two Christs, one divine and one human, but one Christ with two natures. He is fully God and He is fully human in the one person of Jesus Christ.

That is what we confess in the Catechism when we say along with Luther, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord” (Small Catechism, Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed). We confess the two natures in the Apostles’ Creed when we say, “who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary,” and in the Nicene Creed, “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds… and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.” The Athanasian Creed goes into great detail about the two natures in Christ. You can find the Athanasian Creed on pp. 319-20 of Lutheran Service Book (see especially page 320). “Therefore, it is the right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man.”

Why is the article on the two natures so important for Christians to believe and confess? Our Lord had to be true man for two reasons: To fulfill the Law of God in our place and to suffer and die as payment for our sin. In order for our fallen human nature to be restored, it was necessary that our Savior fully take on our human flesh and in that flesh live the perfect life we cannot live, satisfying the demands of the Law for us. This is Jesus’ active obedience, which He rendered to God on our behalf. “For as by one man’s [Adam’s] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s [Jesus’] obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19; ESV). But our Lord also had to suffer and die on our behalf as the penalty for our sins. In order to die for humanity, Jesus had to be human, both to qualify as our substitute and because God cannot die unless He takes on flesh. Jesus had to be human to shed His blood for us, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). This is Jesus’ passive obedience on our behalf. By His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death as the God-Man, Jesus destroys death and the devil. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).

But Jesus also had to be fully God. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). Jesus had to be true God because “A mere man, be he sinner or saint, could never have redeemed us. A sinner cannot save himself, much less can he save another; a perfect saint, if there were such, would indeed be saved, but he would have no superfluous merit, which he could pass on to some one else” (Edward W. A. Koehler, A Summary of Christian Doctrine [St. Louis: Concordia, 1939] p. 94). “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life” (Ps. 49:7). Jesus had to be true God so that His sin-atoning work could be sufficient for the whole world, and not just for Himself. “Only God could render full satisfaction to God” (Koehler). Man could never do it. The fact that God has taken it upon Himself to reconcile us gives us full assurance that our reconciliation, redemption, forgiveness, and peace are fully accomplished. The proof is in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. His resurrection is the evidence that He has destroyed sin, death, and the devil forever. In fact, the resurrection is God’s stamp of approval on Jesus’ sin-atoning work. The curse of Eden has been reversed. Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. All who are united to Him by Baptism and faith will likewise rise from the dead on the Last Day. His victory is your victory!

The coming of the Son of God in the flesh for the redemption of all humanity is what Christmas is all about. That is what the angels meant when they sang of “peace on earth” (unlike what most of our Christmas cards mean, cf. Luke 2:14). Our peace has come to earth in the person of the Babe of Bethlehem, true God wrapped in flesh and swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. He is our peace because, as the one mediator between God and men, the Man, Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5), He gives us justification by faith and peace with God (Rom. 5:1).

A blessed Advent and Christmas. I hope to see all of you at our special Advent and Christmas services.

Pastor Krenz

The Golden Compass

A great resource for learning about and responding to The Golden Compass movie is available at the LCMS website, <http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=12792>. This is a very well-written piece by Dr. Joel D. Heck from Concordia University Texas in Austin. If you haven't had a chance to read it, check it out. I appreciate a number of things about the article, but especially that Dr. Heck not only warns us about the sinister use of the art of literature by atheist Philip Pullman in these books/movies, but also teaches us how literature can be used by authors and audiences alike to enrich our reflection on the Christian faith. I also appreciate that Dr. Heck doesn't tell us to boycott the movie, but leaves it to our Christian freedom whether or not we see it, and gives us some helpful hints about how to go into the movie with our Christian eyes wide open. Thank you, Dr. Heck.

We'll be publishing the article in our December newsletter here at Epiphany.