The Word became flesh and made His dwelling
among us (John 1:14). The Word, ὁ λόγος. This Baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling cloths
and lying in a manger, is the Word of our Father, now in flesh appearing. He is the Word spoken in the beginning. St. John chooses his words very carefully, by
inspiration of the Spirit, and he takes us back to Genesis with the first words
of the Holy Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word” (v. 1;
ESV). That means that Jesus is the Word by which God the Father creates
heaven and earth. He speaks forth
creation. “Let there be light,” He says (Gen. 1:3), and there is light. He speaks a thing, and it is. Jesus is the speaking of God. And not
only that, “the Word was with God, and
the Word was God” (John 1:1). Jesus
is God. He is the eternal Son of the
Father, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Creator of all things, who
with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns to all eternity. It is this Word, who is God, who in time becomes
flesh and is born of the Virgin Mary.
This God is a Man. The Creator
comes to His creation. Because
everything has gone wrong. Adam and Eve
broke fellowship with God in the Garden.
They rejected His Word. He came
to His own in the cool of the day, but His own would not receive Him. They hid from Him. They covered themselves with leaves. They were afraid because they were naked. The darkness was taking over. The serpent had deceived. Man had earned sin’s wages, which is
death. And the creation which God had
declared “very good” (Gen. 1:31),
had fallen, held in bondage by the sin and rebellion of Adam and his sons.
brought about the creation of the world by the Word. So if He is to redeem the world, He must once
again speak. And so it is God speaks His
Word into the ear and womb of the Virgin Mary, and the Word becomes flesh and
blood to be the Savior of all He has made.
The incarnation, we call it, the taking on of our flesh of the Son of
God. That is the theology of
Christmas. John presumes you know the
Christmas story from St. Matthew and St. Luke.
We got that last night in the Christmas Eve service. John gives us the theology of it all. His is a theological Gospel, but that does
not make it impractical. The problem is
sin, darkness, and death. And you know
this by personal experience. You never
measure up. You are a constant
disappointment to yourself, to your loved ones, and to God. You never know where you are going. Life is a continual groping around in the
dark. And in the end, you die. And just so you remember that that is what
happens to us all, your loved ones die all around you, and you get sick and
suffer injuries, all as a reminder that this will not end well. Except that God speaks, and Christ, the
Savior, is born.
born to die, so that you live. That is
why He must be flesh and blood. He comes
in the flesh to be one with you, to suffer your every weakness and temptation,
only without sin. He comes in the flesh
to be your substitute, to take your sins into Himself and to be punished in
your place. He comes to make
atonement. Apart from atonement, there
is no justice. For God to be just, He
must punish sin. But your punishment happens
there, on the cross. God sends His Son,
and punishes His Son, that He might be both just
and the Justifier of the one who has
faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:26). The
death of Christ on the cross restores creation to the Creator and sinners to
the Father. And so to all who receive
Jesus Christ, who believe in His Name, He gives the right to become children of
God, born of God (John 1:12-13), children of the heavenly Father, forgiven,
restored, and renewed. You don’t measure
up, but Jesus measures up for you. You
continually disappoint, but Jesus doles out grace upon grace on you and all
your loved ones, all people, and from His fullness we receive all we need (v.
16). God looks upon you as perfect and
righteous, because He sees only the fullness of His Son. In Jesus, your sin is done to death, and you
are righteous in full measure.
you would not know this apart from the Word.
So again, God speaks. The Light
comes into this world of darkness, so that you who are born spiritually blind,
may see your salvation. God speaks Jesus
into your ear and into your heart and mind and soul in preaching. Jesus comes to you. We often speak of the real presence of Jesus
in the Supper, of His true Body and Blood under the bread and wine for our
forgiveness, life, and salvation. That
is a very important consequence of Christmas, of the incarnation of our
Lord. When He says He is with us, He
means in the flesh! I have said to my
family back home as they celebrate Christmas that I’m with them in spirit. By which I mean that I’m not with them at
all! I’m in Idaho, of all places! My
word cannot make it otherwise. When
Jesus says He’s with us, He really means it.
The Word does not lie. Jesus
speaks Himself present on the altar, in bread and wine. But consider this. He is also really present in the speaking of
His Word. It is the living voice of
Jesus you hear in Scripture and preaching.
It is the living voice of Jesus you hear forgiving your sins in
Absolution. He speaks a thing, and it
is. He is the Word that is spoken. Preaching only has power because the Word
became flesh. We preach Christ crucified
(1 Cor. 1:23), and that means the crucified and risen Christ comes to you in
the preaching. He comes to you in the
flesh as He is preached into your ears, just as surely as He came into the ear
and womb of the blessed Virgin.
He is poured all over you in your Baptism, the water and the Word that washes
away your sins and bespeaks you God’s own forgiven and beloved child. He is spoken into your ears and your very being
by preaching and Absolution. He is
spoken into bread and wine to open your lips and course through your veins in
the Sacrament. And what happens? The Light comes to grab you up out of the
darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
The prince of darkness is foiled again.
His reward is coming, and he also will have to suffer the weeping and
gnashing of teeth for all eternity. But
not you. Your sins are forgiven. Jesus has paid your debt in full by His blood
and death. And He is risen. You will not die. In the end, your loved ones who died in the
faith will be restored to you, and you will be healed. That is the Good News of Christmas. All that is wrong has been righted in the
incarnation of our Lord. Christmas is nothing
less than the re-creation of the world, the restoration of what has been lost,
God’s coming in your flesh to be reconciled with you and to clothe you with
Himself. In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word is with you now, in the
flesh. The Word makes all things
new. Including you. Merry Christmas. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son
(+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Nativity of our Lord – Christmas Eve Candlelight Vespers
December 24, 2016
Hymn: 376 "Once in Royal David's City"
Hymn: 379 "O Come, All Ye Faithful"
people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a
land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. 3 You
have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4 For
the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his
oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For
every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in
blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For
to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon
his shoulder, and his name shall be calledWonderful
Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of
the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne
of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice
and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Comments: Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the
light no darkness can overcome. He
brings His light into the darkness of our sin, the darkness of violence, of
sickness, of death. He comes to break
through the darkness, to grant us forgiveness, peace, healing, and
resurrection. “Break forth, O beauteous
heav’nly light, And usher in the morning… This Child, though weak in infancy,
Our confidence and joy will be, The pow’r of Satan breaking, Our peace with God now making" (LSB 378:1).
Hymn: 378 "Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light"
Titus 2:11-14:For the grace of God has appeared,
bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce
ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and
godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the
glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem
us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own
possession who are zealous for good works.
Comments: Jesus both justifies and sanctifies. He declares us righteous and makes us
holy. It is all by grace. It is a great and mighty wonder, that God
should become flesh, born of a virgin, to redeem our flesh and save our
souls. “The Word becomes incarnate And
yet remains on high” (LSB 383:2). The
grace of God appears in the flesh. God
becomes a man. He unites our flesh to
Himself. He pays the penalty for our
sin. He dies for our redemption. He makes us new by His resurrection. He redeems us from lawlessness. He purifies us for Himself. He makes us zealous to do good works to His
glory and for the benefit of our neighbor.
“Proclaim the Savior’s birth: ‘To God on high be glory And peace to all
Hymn: 383 "A Great and Mighty Wonder"
Luke 2:1-7:In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world
should be registered. 2 This
was the first registration whenQuirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went
to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from
Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is
called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be
registered with Mary, his betrothed,who was with child. 6 And while
they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her
firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger,
because there was no place for them in the inn.
Comments: The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is
grounded in history. It happens in a
real town, Bethlehem, in a real stable, among lowing cattle and bleating goats. It takes place when Quirinius is governor of
Syria, under the empire of Caesar Augustus.
Historical events bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to be
registered. You can investigate the
historical sources. All of the facts
line up. The Son of God is born into our
history to redeem our history. He is
wrapped in our history, wrapped in our flesh, wrapped in swaddling cloths and
laid in a manger. “O holy Child of
Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, Be born in
us today” (LSB 361:4).
Hymn: 361 "O Little Town of Bethlehem"
Luke 2:8-14:And in the same region there were
shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel
of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and
they were filled with fear. 10 And
the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great
joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in
the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you:
you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And
suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God
and saying, 14 “Glory
to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
The holy angels do not announce the Savior’s birth to King Herod or Governor
Quirinius or Caesar. They do not sing to
the High Priest or temple clergy.
Instead, the poor have the Good News preached to them. They come to the lowly, despised shepherds,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
While the rest of the world slumbers in ignorance, heaven is aglow with
rejoicing that spills over onto earth.
The angels and the multitude of the heavenly host proclaim the glory of
God and peace on earth, peace with God, the peace that can only come from the
Seed of the woman come to crush the serpent’s head. This Gospel, proclaimed by an angel to the
poor Judean shepherds, is also for you.
“Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing; Come, adore
on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King” (LSB 368:3).
Hymn: 368 "Angels We Have Heard on High"
the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,
“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the
Lord has made known to us.” 16 And
they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that
had been told them concerning this child. 18 And
all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But
Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And
the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The Gospel message of the heavenly host gives strength and courage to the
quaking shepherds. Let us go over to
Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known
to us. They find the Child, just as it
had been told them. The prophecy is
fulfilled. Messiah has come to save His
people from their sins. God is in the
flesh. He is Emmanuel, God with us. This Good News is to be confessed abroad, as
the shepherds made known all the things that had been told them concerning this
Child. And it is to be treasured and
pondered in the heart, as did the Blessed Virgin Mary. “Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me, I pray” (LSB 364:3). Be near me and abide with me. Abide with Your holy Church. Keep us in the faith of this blessed
Gospel. And take us at last to heaven,
to live with Thee there.
Advent Midweek IV:
“Savior of the Nations, Come: Are You Ready?”
December 21, 2016
Text: Luke 2:8-20
no accident that our Lord’s birth is first announced to shepherds. This is God’s plan. These men were chosen by God for this
purpose. It is no accident, but neither
is it obvious. After all, who are these
shepherds to receive the announcement of Almighty God’s birth in the flesh? Shepherds are common laborers, and these particular
shepherds are the lowest of the lower class, for they are working the night
shift out in the fields of backwater Bethlehem.
There they keep watch over these dirty, stupid, defenseless animals. Out in the cold and the dark, with little
comfort, they are charged to protect their sheep at all costs. Remember young David who once worked these
very hills, defending his flock against lions and bears, wrestling them with
his hands or killing them with his sling.
Dangerous work, shepherding could be.
And thankless. Some were in it only
because they needed the work. You can
always tell a real shepherd from a hired hand.
When danger arrives, the hired hand runs for his life. The good shepherd lays down his life for the
sheep. Of which category were these shepherds of whom St. Luke writes
in our Holy Gospel? We don’t know. But we do know one thing: While they may have
been ready for lions and bears and wolves and robbers, they were not ready for
the appearance of the angel in the glory of the Lord. Needless to say, they were terrified. In spite of the effeminate representations you
put on top of your Christmas trees, angels are always a fearsome sight for
sinners. But this angel bears good
news. “Fear not,
for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the
(Luke 2:10-11; ESV). No, the shepherds
had not expected this. They were not
ready for the appearance of the angel, and they were not ready for the Gospel
he proclaims. Nor were they ready for
what happened next: Heaven torn open by a heavenly chorus, the angels and saints
who had gone before singing the first Christmas hymn, which we still sing today:
“Gloria in excelsis deo!” “Glory
to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
shepherds were not ready for Christmas.
The Gospel has about it this quality that it always comes as a surprise. God is a man.
He is born of a virgin. This baby
is God. He is born to die. He is risen from the dead. He lives and reigns with the Father and the
Holy Spirit. He will come again to raise
you from the dead and to give you eternal life.
In the meantime He gives comes to you in the flesh in Words and water,
bread and wine. These are all scandalous
statements. And the great surprise is
you believe every one of them. The whole
business of the angel appearing to shepherds tending their flocks by night is a
great surprise, and it is scandalous. But
more surprising still, the shepherds believed it. And they dropped everything, left it all
behind to go and see this thing that the Lord had made known to them. What were they to do with this great Gospel
news? Go and find the Baby where the
angel said He would be. Go and find God
in the flesh where He is for you. Find
Him wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. They go, and so they find Him, and they tell
everyone who will listen about the sermon the angel preached. They tell everyone who will listen about Jesus,
the newborn Savior and Lord. Then they
return. They go back to work. But everything has changed. They take up their shepherd’s crooks with
renewed vigor, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as
it had been told them.
is no accident that the Gospel is first received by shepherds. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and He lays down
His life for the sheep. He lays down His
life for you. He was born for this very
purpose. You are His beloved sheep, and
Jesus is no hired hand. Like His
forefather David, He faces all the enemies that would harm you, rob you from
His flock, and kill you. He takes on sin,
death, and the very devil, and He protects you at all costs. He does not run from danger. He embraces His cross and He willingly dies,
for His death means your life. In His death,
death is defeated. His blood washes away
all your sin. And the devil? The devil has lost his grip on you. He once held you with claw and fang. Like a roaring lion, he sought to devour
you. But now the Good Shepherd has
wrestled the satanic hellcat with His own pierced hands. He has triumphed over him in His cross. The Shepherd’s heal was struck, but the serpent’s
head is crushed.
is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep, and now He is risen
from the dead, and still tends His sheep here in the sheepfold of His
Church. He tends them by His Word,
proclaimed by His undershepherds. “Pastor”
is a Latin word that means “shepherd.”
We learn a lot about what it means to be a pastor from the Bethlehem
shepherds. Pastors are to keep watch
over the flock and protect the sheep from predators and robbers at all
costs. Dangerous work, pastoring can
be. It is fraught with perils. Many are the pastors who have fallen to the
enemy in battle for the lives of the sheep.
Some only do it because they need the work. When danger comes, they are exposed as hired
hands. They run for their lives. But a true pastor lays down his life for the
sheep, in the confidence that his life will be returned to him by the Good
Shepherd, the Good Pastor, even Jesus Christ.
Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, a pastor must first hear the
preaching. He must first receive the
Gospel and believe it in order to preach it.
He is a sinner, and he needs the Good News proclaimed by the angel: “Fear
not! Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ
the Lord. Go and find the Lord where He
has promised to be for you: in the swaddling cloths of the Scriptures and in
the manger, the feeding trough that is the altar, where you feast on His true
body and blood. Then preach. Tell all who will listen, and even those who
won’t, the saying that has been told you concerning this Child. Get to work.
Tend the sheep. Glorify and
praise God for all you have heard and seen.”
then there are the sheep themselves.
That is to say, then there is you, Jesus’ little lamb. The Good Shepherd loves you and tends you
Himself. And He sends His pastor, His
undershepherd, to care for you. By preaching. By pointing you to the place where Jesus is for
you: The swaddling cloths… the Holy Scriptures; the manger… the altar. The pastor is to shelter you and your fellow
sheep in the grotto of Holy Church, and feed you with Jesus.
is the picture of the faithful Christian in this Gospel. She hears the shepherds’ preaching, and what
does she do with that Word? She
treasures up all these things and ponders them in her heart (v. 19). What are you to do with this incredible,
surprising, scandalous Good News of great joy proclaimed by the angel to the
shepherds, and by the shepherds to Mary, proclaimed in the Scriptures and by
your pastor to you? Treasure it up. Ponder it in your heart. Keep it always before your ears and eyes as
that which is most precious. Cling to it
for your very life. Wonder. Worship.
And speak it to others. To all
who will listen, and even to those who won’t.
For this Gospel first proclaimed to lowly shepherds is now proclaimed to
you: “Unto you is born a Savior,
Christ, the Lord.” Rejoice. Emmanuel comes, now, in the flesh, to you
dear child of God. He advents. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son
(+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 The theme and some of the
thoughts in this sermon are from Savior
of the Nations, Come (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009).
Christmas is near. So near you can almost taste it. If you’re anything like me, you’ve already
been tasting the Christmas cookies, undoing everything you’ve worked so hard
for since the Lenten fast. That is why
we’ll all make our New Year’s resolutions in a couple of weeks, which we’ll
promptly break. But we aren’t worried
about that now. Not yet. Now, we’re filled with anticipation and
excitement, nostalgic for the Christmases of yesteryear, hoping to capture once
again that old Christmas feeling. But
our memories are faulty when it comes to the good old days. The truth is, Christmas never lives up to its
expectations. We make it so
stressful. There is always so much to
get done, the shopping, the cooking, the baking, the merry-making. There are the decorations to put up, the
house to clean, the cards to send, the presents to wrap, the phone calls and visits
to make. Some of it is good and
enjoyable, but there’s so much of it.
It’s all a big blur. Hectic. Chaotic.
And, of course, when all is said and done, the house is a disaster, the
new toys are already broken (and you didn’t get the right batteries anyway),
the gifts were wrong and have to be returned, and you’re left, not with a
Christmas glow in your heart, but with a giant, Christmas-sized headache. Some of you have even greater challenges,
though. Some of the family members you
love aren’t talking to each other. Maybe
they aren’t talking to you. Some of your
family members or close friends have made decisions that have brought them
harm, and deeply disappointed you. Some
of you will face Christmas for the first time without a loved one who has gone
to be with the Lord. Depression is
rampant this time of year. No doubt some
of you are suffering with that cross.
And of course, we know about all those among us who are suffering great
physical afflictions. What is it about
Christmas that it never lives up to our expectations? Is Christmas broken? Has Christmas failed?
If you think you have problems
this Christmas, just take another glance at the Holy Family’s situation in our
Gospel. An unwed, teenage girl from
Nazareth finds herself pregnant. She
tells her family and her fiancé she’s seen an angel, who told her this baby is
from God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, the Son of the Most High. Likely story.
Poor Joseph. What’s the guy to
do? By all rights he should hand her
over to the religious authorities as an adulteress, to be stoned to death. But he doesn’t want to do that. He’s a just man, a faithful and pious Jew,
waiting for Messiah to come and deliver his people. He has compassion, and… well, he loves her,
the poor schlub. So, a quiet
divorce. That’s the best answer. Engagement, betrothal, was regarded as the
same level of commitment as marriage.
The only difference was that the bridegroom had not yet taken the bride
into his home and there had been no consummation of the marriage. So you see, Joseph had to divorce her, both
to protect his own reputation (he hadn’t touched the girl!), and because the
only way to break the relationship is by a legal severing of what God has
joined together. That first Christmas,
the family was broken. Everyone was
suffering. Everyone was hurting. It would take a Christmas miracle to put it
all together again.
And that’s what happened. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a
dream. “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). So, it was true after all! She wasn’t making it up. Mary, God bless her, is still a virgin! She has been faithful. And not only that, she has been chosen by God
to bear His own Son, the promised Messiah.
“She will bear a son, and you
shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (v.
21). He’s been given to be the Savior of
the world. The Name “Jesus” means “The
LORD saves,” and that is what He will do.
He is the LORD, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, but now
also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, and He has come to redeem us, not with
gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and by His innocent
suffering and death.
He is the rightful heir to the
throne of David. Don’t miss how the
angel greets Joseph: “Son of David.” The
royal lineage is passed down now to Jesus, the Son of David par excellence, the fulfillment of the
promise that David would never lack a man to sit on his throne. But Jesus’ throne is of another sort than
King David’s. Jesus’ throne is made of
wood. It is the throne of the cross,
whereon the proclamation is nailed, “Jesus
of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” (John 19:19). For on the cross, crowned with thorns, the
Savior claims for Himself a Kingdom, a people for His own possession, and you
are given to be in that number. Jesus
was born for this, to make you His own by taking on your flesh and blood,
coming into your mess of a life, taking on your diseases, your hurts, your
sorrows, your griefs, taking into Himself your very sins, all of them, and
bearing them to the death of the cross, your death, your condemnation, which He
willingly takes upon Himself in your place.
Jesus comes into a broken family in order to redeem your broken
family. He is conceived by an unwed,
teenage mother to redeem unwed, teenage mothers. He is born of a virgin to redeem virgins. He passes through all the stages of life to
redeem us at every stage of our lives, from microscopic embryonic life to the
grave. He is born amidst sin and
suffering and hurting because He is the cure to it all. That is why He came. Our Lord Jesus did not come into the world
expecting us to clean up the house for Him, put up the decorations, bake Him
Christmas cookies, and make sure He experienced a Christmas glow in His
heart. He came because we are incapable
of cleaning it up. Because as hard as we
strive to decorate our lives with good works, in the end, it’s only worthless tinsel,
shiny to be sure, but messy and good for nothing. Jesus did not come to be adored and receive
our worship and praise. He came to
rescue His enemies, those who hate Him, those incapable of worshiping Him, much
less believing in Him, those who would crucify Him, you. That you might be reconciled to God and have
This is the miracle of
Christmas. Jesus has become one with
us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our
weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet
without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He has
suffered everything we suffer. He has
endured everything we endure. He knows
what it means to be sick. He knows what
it means to be heartbroken. He knows
what it means to be falsely accused, arrested, tried, beaten, tortured, mocked,
and condemned to death. He knows it
all. Because He’s suffered it. He’s been there. He’s one of us. He’s as with us as with us can be, truly our
Immanuel. The only difference is, He
never sinned. But He does know what it
means to be a sinner. For He became THE
sinner for us. All our sins were heaped
on Jesus, that the Father would punish them all there, in His body, on the
cross of Calvary. So we have no more
sin. Jesus has taken it all away. He has paid for it all in full. This was the plan all along. The proof is that now He is risen and lives
and reigns at the right hand of the Father, and He will come again to get us,
to deliver us finally, once and for all, on the Day of our own resurrection
from the dead.
This is a great comfort for us
at Christmas and always. Jesus does not
fail to come to us because our lives are messy.
He comes precisely because of the mess.
Christmas is not about having everything neat and in order. Christmas is not about all the hustle and
bustle that becomes so distracting. And
above all else, please understand that Christmas is not about a feeling at all. A warm glow is nice, but Christmas can get
along just fine without it. Nor is
Christmas about giving and receiving gifts, or getting together at
Grandma’s. In fact, this may surprise
and even offend you, but Christmas is not about your family. Nor is it about coming to Church to adore the
baby Jesus. That would be your work for
Him, and Christmas is most assuredly not about your work for Him. Christmas is
about this one objective fact: God has
come in the flesh to save you. And
He comes to you right here in the Church in His flesh, in His Word and
Sacrament, to deliver that salvation wrapped up in the swaddling clothes of
Words and water, bread and wine.
Everything else you add to Christmas, the traditions, the decorations,
the feasting, the presents, and even the family gatherings… though those things
be good and wonderful, they have nothing to do with the essence of
Christmas. The essence of Christmas is Jesus.
The essence of Christmas is Christ for
you. He is for you, right where you are, right in the mess that is your life,
right in your sin and suffering and death, right in your disappointments and
depression and broken relationships, right there to cover it all with His blood
and forgive it. Christmas is not broken.
Christmas has not failed.
Christmas is doing exactly what it was given to do. Giving you Christ. Everything else, beloved, is just wrapping
paper. In the Name of the Father, and of
the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.
Advent Midweek III:
“Savior of the Nations, Come: His Throne”
December 14, 2016
Text: John 19:16-22
The account of Jesus’
crucifixion may seem a strange reading for Advent. I mean, we’re prepared for
prophecies about His coming and accounts of His birth during this holy season,
but by the glow of Christmas lights and the Yule log, the crucifixion can be… a
bit of a downer. But we’ve missed what Christmas is if we forget why He came.
He came to die. Christmas is what it is in all its glory because of Good
Friday. Otherwise this is just the birth of another baby to another
peasant-girl. And while every birth is special, it’s an everyday occurrence. It
is the purpose of this birth that sets it apart. Jesus is born to die.
And to rise again, but that resurrection can only happen out of death. The
newborn King claims His throne when He is nailed to it for the life of the
world. He dies for His subjects. He dies for all people. He dies for you. And
in so dying, He claims you for Himself. Hark, this is the peace on earth the herald angels were singing about: His death. “Glory to the newborn King.”
matter how you cut it, Jesus doesn’t live up to human conceptions of kingship.
The Jews of Jesus’ day were not against the Messiah coming. But they expected a
Messiah who would be mighty and powerful, lead a military revolution, and rule
as earthly King over an independent Israel. When Jesus didn’t live up to their
expectations, they plotted how they might trap Him, arrest Him, and deliver Him
over to death. Jesus’ own disciples were no better. Even after His
resurrection, they asked Him, “Lord,
will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6; ESV). They
were thinking too small. They failed to understand that by His crucifixion
Jesus had restored the Kingdom to spiritual
Israel, the Church, claiming a Kingdom and a people for His own possession,
purchasing us from sin and death by His own sinless blood and death.
is not the kind of king we expect,
either. We expect a king who will make our lives better, easier, who will not
allow bad things to happen to us, or who will immediately pick us up and brush
us off if they do. We expect a king who shares our values rather than imposing
His own upon us. We expect a king who will shatter our enemies and exalt us as
the favored nation. In reality, our expectations of the King aren’t that much
different than the Jews and disciples.
is none of that. Not in the way we think, anyway. Jesus is the King whose power
is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Jesus is the King who gives Himself
up totally for the sake of His people. He is the King who comes not to be
served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28).
He is the King of the universe, the Son of God, who leaves His heavenly throne
to take up residence in the womb of the Virgin Mary, who becomes flesh and
makes His dwelling among us (John 1:14), who is laid in a manger because there
is no room for Him in the inn, who grows up in a carpenter’s family, who
surrounds Himself with fishermen and other commoners, eats with tax collectors
and sinners, is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted
with grief (Is. 53:3). This is the King who is betrayed by a kiss, who
willingly gives Himself into the hands of His enemies, though at any moment He
could call upon His Father in heaven and be rescued by more than twelve legions
of angels (Matt. 26:53). This is the King who is tried before earthly rulers,
the Sanhedrin, Herod, Pontius Pilate (who declares Him innocent). His Kingdom
is not of this world (John 18:36). Nor is He a king the world would embrace.
This is the King who is clothed in royal purple, worshiped in mockery by the
soldiers, given a reed scepter and beaten with it, spat upon, and crowned with
thorns. He is scourged and led in royal procession outside of the city, where
He is nailed to His throne, the blessed and holy cross, lifted up and exalted
between two criminals, forsaken of the Father, suffering all hell. For you. For
His subjects. And there He dies. He dies to make you His own, that you may live
under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him.
writes the truth. “Jesus of Nazareth,
King of the Jews” (John 19:19). Here He is, enthroned on high, for us and
for our salvation. The devil, the world, and fallen humanity thought they had
conquered this King once and for all that Good Friday. But on the Third Day He
would emerge from the grave victorious over all His enemies. Glory to the
newborn King, who came to die that we might live.
nature we rebel against our crucified King. We reject Him as our King and as
our Savior. We want to rule ourselves. We want to save ourselves. Or at least
we want Him to rule and save us on our own terms. We want strength, not
weakness. We want glory, not the cross. But there’s no salvation in that. There
is salvation in no one else, for there is no other Name under heaven given
among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the King. And He
comes to us in weakness, that we might share in His glory. He comes to us in
weakness still: Words and water and bread and wine. But in these weak vessels
there is great power: the Holy Spirit, the washing away of sin, the true body
and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Don’t let the appearance of the
vessels fool you, any more than you should let the appearance of the King
Himself in His earthly ministry, suffering, and death fool you. This is
Almighty God come to His people. Because we cannot ascend to Him. He descends
to us. He comes to us, in weakness, by which His power is made perfect.
there is no other way. This King must die to save His people. So He does so,
willingly, in love. No earthly King would do what He did. No earthly King could
do what He did. And that is why Christmas is what it is. We don’t celebrate
just because a baby was born. We don’t celebrate because that baby was the
symbol of hope, or even the symbol of God’s love. We celebrate because that
baby is hope incarnate, God’s love in the flesh, poured out on the
cross. Christmas is meaningless without the cross. Even at Christmas we say
with St. Paul, “I decided to know
nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
Worship the newborn King by beholding Him on His cross, and receiving the
benefits of that cross as they are delivered to you in the means of grace.
Because in that way you live joyfully in Jesus’ Kingdom. This (Christ
crucified) is King of the Jews. By this, we have God’s peace on earth, God’s
goodwill toward men. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the
Holy Spirit. Amen.
The theme and many of the points made in this
sermon are taken from Savior of the Nations (St. Louis: Concordia,
“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we
look for another?” (Matt. 11:3; ESV).
It is the question of Advent. Is
Jesus the long-promised Savior, or are we to look for salvation somewhere
else? John’s question does not betray a
lack of faith. Far from it. He is languishing in prison for the sake of
Christ and His Word, and in the end, he will lose his head as he decreases and
our Lord increases. The Kingdom of
Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force (v. 12). John sends his disciples seeking a word from
Jesus, a simple word, a Gospel word: I AM.
I am Jesus, YHWH saves. Look no
further. For there is salvation in no
one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we
must be saved (Acts 4:12). John, you can
die in confidence and peace for the Name of Jesus, for He is, indeed, your life
ask this question, too. “Are you the
One, Jesus, or shall we look for another?”
It’s not that you don’t believe.
Far from it. It’s that you
languish in the prison of this fallen flesh.
You know your sin. You know your
guilt. You know your utter inability to
free yourself from your sinful condition and work your way into God’s
favor. And in the end, you will
die. Death and taxes, as they say. The evidence of the fall of all creation is
all around us in corruption and decay.
So we need a word of hope. We
need a Gospel Word. I AM. I am
Jesus, YHWH saves. You can die in
confidence and peace, for the Name of Jesus is on you… You are baptized into
Christ, and He is your life and salvation.
answer does Jesus give John’s disciples?
“Go and tell John what you hear
and see” (Matt. 11:4). What you hear
comes first. Go and tell John about the
preaching. Faith comes by hearing. Jesus comes to preach the Kingdom of Heaven
into your ears. Then tell him what you
see. The actions of Jesus fulfill the
Scriptures and confirm the preaching.
The blind receive their sight.
The lame walk. Lepers are
cleansed. The deaf hear. The
dead are raised. And the capstone of
all the miracles: The poor have the good news, the Gospel, preached to them (v.
5). Those languishing in sin and death
and mired in the brokenness of this world hear a Word of hope. Salvation has arrived. The things Jesus does are the things spoken
of by the prophets signaling the arrival of salvation. Death itself is being reversed. All that is broken is being restored. Jesus has come, and He lives up to His
Name. The LORD saves.
is the messenger who prepares the way for our Lord’s arrival. He is sent to point us always and only to
Jesus. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” he proclaims (3:2),
as the people come to him to be baptized and confess their sins. “Behold,
the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” he preaches (John
1:29), as his ministry comes to an end and our Lord’s begins. John is not the Christ. He is the voice of one crying out in the
wilderness, preaching in the place of emptiness and death. John baptizes with water, but Jesus baptizes
with the Holy Spirit and fire. John is
Elijah who was to come (Matt. 11:14). He
is the last of the Old Testament prophets, and he witnesses the fulfillment of
the prophecy. From John we learn what it
is we should look for in a preacher. He
is not a reed shaken by the wind, bending this way and that depending which way
the wind blows. In other words, he does
not tickle fancies or scratch itching ears.
He does not preach what people want to hear. He preaches what you need to hear. He does not dress in soft clothing. That is to say, he doesn’t preach for a
paycheck. He’s not in the ministry for
his belly or to live in the lap of luxury.
On the contrary, a leather belt and camel’s hair are his raiment, and
locusts and wild honey his meat. Why,
then, is he out there in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of
repentance? Why is he in the dungeon
awaiting execution for having preached the sanctity of marriage to the powers
that be, King Herod and his illegitimate wife?
He is there because he was sent. The
love of Christ compels him. He is given
a Word to preach, and woe to him if he does not preach it. But the preacher also needs the Gospel. The preacher especially needs the
Gospel. Go and tell John what you hear
and see. Go and tell him the Scriptures
are fulfilled. The Savior comes. He advents.
Jesus saves us from our sins.
what is Jesus’ answer to you? What is
His answer to your question, “Are you the One, Jesus, or shall we look for
salvation in someone or something else?”
His answer is the same as that which He gives to John. What do you hear? What do you see? You hear the Scriptures. You hear the preaching. You hear that your sins are forgiven in the
stead and by the command of Jesus. You
hear that He died for your sins on the cross.
You hear that He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity
with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and He is coming again to raise you out of
death and give you eternal life. In the
hearing of this preaching, the Holy Spirit gives you faith to believe it. And then you see the water of the font, and
you know it is what Jesus promises, the washing away of your sin and your new
birth in Him, the Name of God placed upon you making you God’s own child. You see the bread and wine of the Supper, and
you know they are what Jesus says of them, His true body and blood, given and
shed on the cross for you, now placed in your mouth, for the forgiveness of
your sins. It is the manna that sustains
you as you sojourn in this wilderness.
These things are miracles of God no less than those our Lord performed
during His earthly ministry. You who are
blind to the things of God now see by the healing Word of Christ. You who are lame in your spiritual impotence
Jesus raises up unto love and good works.
You who are leprous with sin unto death have been cleansed and made
whole. Your deaf ears have been
opened. You’ve been raised from the dead
already now spiritually, and on the Last Day in your body. Indeed, you poor, you who have nothing in and
of yourself with which to save yourself or earn God’s favor… you, who are
enslaved to sin and death in your fallen flesh, and suffering in this fallen
creation… you, who have no hope outside of Christ… you have the Good News, the
Gospel, preached to you. Jesus has come. He is your Savior. He forgives all your sins. He loves you and makes you His own. In Him, you have eternal life.
answer your question, “Are you the One, Jesus, or shall we look for another,”
Jesus brings you to Church and gives you Himself. He comes.
He advents, right here and right now, in His Word and Sacraments, for
your salvation. And since that is true…
Since Jesus is your life, and that life cannot be taken from you, what can you
suffer for the Name of Christ and His Gospel?
You can suffer all, even death, in confidence and peace, knowing Jesus
will not forsake you. You can speak the
truth in love to a world that does not want to hear it. You can suffer the scorn of family members
and friends who can’t believe you hold on to this religion nonsense. You can tell them Jesus loves them and invite
them to your Church. You can suffer
fines. You can have your business ripped
out from under you, as our brothers and sisters in the marriage industry have
had in recent times. Much like St.
John. You can suffer imprisonment. You can lose your head to be served up on a
platter. You can suffer the paradox of
living in the reality of light and life in Jesus, even as you experience
darkness and death in this world.
Because in the End, Jesus wins.
He’s already won in the cross and empty tomb. Beloved, Jesus comes. Joy is breaking through the gloom. That is why the rose candle glows this
morning, light piercing the violet of repentance. Christmas is coming. The Virgin conceives and the days are
fulfilled. The Table is set and the
Feast is before you. God in the flesh
arrives. He comes. For you.
For the forgiveness of sins.
Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by Him. And blessed is He who comes in the Name of
the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son
(+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The announcement was
impossible to believe, at least by the standard of human reason. By that
standard, it is still impossible to believe, that a virgin should conceive and
bear a Son, and that Son be God in human flesh, the Savior. It is the mystery
of Christmas. Virgins don’t conceive, protests our reason. And for God to be a
man is an unreasonable notion. Don’t take these two things for granted just
because you are a Christian. Have you ever stopped to reflect on how impossible
it is to believe this, how utterly unbelievable it is that a virgin conceives,
and that the child she conceives is Almighty God? That the Creator of the
universe is a blastocyst, an embryo, a fetus, a baby who is born and cries and
pukes and soils His diapers? The mystery isn’t unbelief. The mystery is that
anyone believes any of this at all.
this is what the angel preaches to St. Mary. The angel Gabriele announces to
her that the Lord is with her, that she has found favor with God, that she
would conceive and bear a Son and call His Name “Jesus.” This Son, preaches the
angel, will be the King of Israel, the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of
the Most High. Now Mary wonders aloud with the same question we all ponder: “How
will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v. 24; ESV). And the angel answers: “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). Beloved in the Lord, as the angel speaks these words, the very Word of
God, so it happens. The Word of God is performative. It accomplishes what it
says. So as the angel speaks, so it is done. The Word enters Mary’s ear and is
implanted in her womb. The Word becomes flesh and makes His dwelling among us.
He is conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. He is the Son of
God from all eternity. He is Mary’s Son in time, conceived at the angel’s
announcement, born in Bethlehem on Christmas Day.
is impossible for human reason to comprehend, unbelievable by our own reason or
strength. But such is the case with everything God’s Word preaches. God created
the whole universe in six days several thousand years ago, as the Bible says?
Forget it, says our human reason. Much easier to believe this is all some
cosmic accident that evolved over billions of years into what it is now.
Miracles like the Flood and the deliverance of Noah on the ark, the plagues in
Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the day the Sun stood still, and all the
other miracles of the Bible? Impossible, says our reason. There must be some
rational explanation. Again, the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus, His
bodily resurrection from the dead? We can explain these away by showing that
they are pious traditions and explanations of faith adopted by early Christians
in their scientific ignorance. We are children of the Enlightenment, and we
know better. So says human reason. Nor can reason accept the great miracles God
performs among us today in His Church. A powerful Word of God proclaimed by
preachers in the stead of Christ, Baptism actually washing away sin and making
you God’s child, forgiveness from the pastor as from God Himself, bread and
wine the true body and blood of Christ received in your mouth for your
forgiveness? This is all just as unreasonable, unbelievable to human reason.
And not one of us is capable of believing this on our own. What makes this
difference? What brings us to reject our fallen human reason in favor of the
Word and to say with St. Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be
to me according to your word” (v. 38)?
same impossible Word of God spoken to St. Mary is spoken to us. And the Word is
powerful. It is full of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit’s vehicle, His
means of conveying faith in Christ and new life to us. As the Word was preached
into St. Mary’s ears so that it took root in her womb, so the Word is preached
into our ears and takes root in our hearts. Faith is conceived, faith in the
Word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ. And such faith believes the Word of God
no matter how unreasonable, no matter how unbelievable, no matter how
impossible. Faith clings to the Word, the Word preached, the Word made flesh.
This faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit who declares to us in the Word: “The
Lord is with you. Do not be afraid. You have found favor with God. Because
Jesus has come, God in human flesh, the Son of Mary, the Son of God. And He has
borne your sin all the way to the cross. He has suffered your punishment. He is
risen from the dead. He has restored you to God. And He sends His Spirit
through His Word so that you believe in Him and His sin atoning work and
receive eternal life.” Impossible to believe by our own reason or strength. But
it is all God’s work. With man it is impossible, but all things are possible
with God (Matt. 19:26).
we cling to the angel’s announcement to Mary for our very salvation. The virgin
did conceive and bear a Son, Jesus, who saves us from our sins. He is
true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity. He is true man, born of the
Virgin Mary. And He is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned
person, purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and from the power of
the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and by
His innocent suffering and death. He has made me His own. All this He has done
also for you and all people. All who believe in Him have eternal life. So we
prepare this Advent for a robust and joyful celebration of our Savior’s birth
on Christmas. Because the impossible has happened, the unbelievable, the
unreasonable: God became a man, born of a virgin. God became a man for you and
me. He is our Savior, Christ the Lord, and He has come to set us free. In the
Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The theme and many of the points made in this
sermon are taken from Savior of the Nations (St. Louis: Concordia,