Sunday, January 23, 2022

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (C)

January 23, 2022

Text: Luke 4:16-30

                        A hush fell over the crowd as He entered the synagogue.  The hometown Boy, the famous Rabbi and miracle worker, had come to preach.  Maybe He would even do some of the miracles He had done in Capernaum.  It’s only reasonable to expect it.  There is His family, of course.  Mary, widowed at such a young age.  His brothers, James, Joseph, Jude, Simon, and His sisters.  None of them rich, but certainly respectable, pillars of the community.  The liturgy got underway, the singing of Psalms, the customary prayers composed by the ancient fathers.  Now it is time for the reading of Holy Scripture, the high point of the Service.  And this time it is extra special.  This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.  Jesus stands up to read the appointed text.  He takes up the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah and finds the place.  And He opens His mouth, the Word made flesh speaking the Word inscripturated: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19; ESV.  Cf. Is. 61:1-2). 

            Now, already, before He has preached, hear the profound and gracious words that pour forth from our Lord’s lips.  To begin with, this is a Trinitarian passage.  The Spirit of the Lord (the Father) is upon Me (the Son).  Jesus begins His preaching, and really, His public ministry, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! 

            And then we learn what He has come to do.  He has come to preach!  Good news, Gospel.  To the poor.  The poor both bodily and spiritually, those who have nothing, no resources within themselves to provide for themselves, to sustain themselves, to save themselves.  And that preaching is a proclamation of liberty.  The word for “liberty” could also be translated “release,” or even “forgiveness.”  Certainly both ideas are included here.  Creation is released from its bondage.  Those who are captive to sin, to death, to the devil are set free.  Their sins are forgiven.  They are brought into God’s Kingdom.  You are forgiven, set free, and brought into God’s Kingdom.  Thus our Lord proclaims that this is the year of the Lord’s favor; that is, the Year of Jubilee, the year when all debts are forgiven, slaves released, inheritance restored.  The Lord proclaims His gracious acceptance of the poor, the sinners, as His own, free citizens of His Kingdom and children of His heavenly Father.  That is what the Lord brings in His incarnation, by His gracious presence among us in the flesh and blood of Jesus.  So you see, this passage is programmatic for Jesus’ entire earthly ministry and His saving mission.  That is what He proclaims to us this morning.  And by His proclamation, that is what He gives.

            Jesus sits down, not back amongst the crowd, but in the preacher’s seat in the front of the synagogue.  (You can be especially thankful for your pew, because the way it used to work is the preacher sat and the congregation stood.)  Now the eyes of all the people are fixed on the Lord.  What will He say?  Is He as good a Preacher as we’ve heard?  They are riveted from Word one.  Jesus begins His sermon with the great announcement that would shake the world: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). 

            Jesus is the One anointed by the Spirit of the Father.  It happened at His Baptism, when the Spirit descended on Him as a dove and the Father spoke His love and approval from heaven.  St. John is the witness. 

            And Jesus is the One sent to preach.  He is the Great Prophet of whom all the prophets who went before were but foreshadowings and preparers of the way.  He is the Great Preacher of whom all the preachers who have gone before, and all who come after, are but instruments, mouthpieces for His continued preaching.  Of release.  Of forgiveness.  Of New Creation and New Life.  Of the Grace of God for sinful man.  Jesus is the One.  Don’t miss what He is claiming.  Jesus is the Promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. 

            It’s a nice message.  So far, so good.  The people are with Him. 

            Well… maybe.  “Actually, now that we think about it, that’s an awful audacious thing to say about oneself.  You know what, this boy whom we’ve known since He was knee high to a grasshopper is getting a little big for His britches.  Isn’t this Joseph’s son?  Don’t we know His mother and His siblings?”  And now Jesus takes a situation already turning sour and makes it worse.  As faithful preaching of the Word of God always does.  Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself’” (v. 23).  “We’re done with your preaching.  Do some miracles.  Heal the sick.  Cast out some demons.  Let’s see some fireworks.”  And Jesus says, “No.  No dice.  No prophet is acceptable in his hometown.  You do not believe the preaching.  Here you have heard the most gracious Words imaginable from the lips of God Himself.  Here you have witnessed the ancient prophecy coming to fulfillment.  And still you do not believe!  Well, I can’t do any miracles then.  The miracles are for believers.  They manifest the truth of the statement that I am the Messiah.  They reveal to you that the New Creation is breaking into the old, that salvation and new life have come in My flesh.  Now, you should know this if you know the Scriptures.  For all the Israelite widows in the days of Elijah at the time of the great famine, he was sent to a Gentile, to a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon!  Because she believed!  For all the Israelite lepers in the days of Elisha, it was a Gentile the Prophet cleansed, Naaman, the Syrian, the military commander who had fought against Israel!  He didn’t believe at first.  But when he followed the words of the Prophet, dipping in the Jordan seven times, he was cleansed by the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.  He came to faith!  You refuse to come to faith.  You have rejected the Word of the Lord.  You only want a show!”

            Well, the sermon didn’t go so well.  There are two marks of a prophet: 1.) They preach the Word and demonstrate the power of the Word in miracles.  2.) They suffer rejection, which is ultimately the rejection of God.  Jesus, our Great Prophet, fits both criteria.  The people (remember, not a huge company, a relatively small congregation of people who have known Jesus since He was a little Boy), are “filled with wrath” (v. 28).  They want to kill Him.  Because they don’t like what He says.  They drive Him to the brow of the hill to throw Him off the cliff.  This is what preaching God’s Word gets the preacher, and, incidentally, this is what it gets you who hear and believe the preaching of God’s Word, and confess it in your daily lives and vocations.  It gets you the wrath of the people who want you dead.  You know that it’s true.  You’ve read the reports.  You’ve seen the newscasts.  But then, it’s really not you they want dead.  It’s Jesus.  Nothing more enrages the people of this world than Jesus.  And this rage they feel when confronted by Jesus’ preaching is demonic.  Which is to say, the people who are enraged are deceived.  They think they’re doing good.  They think they are serving what is right and true and beautiful, so they have all the passion of a raving fundamentalist.  They are fundamentalists.  Just not Christian fundamentalists.  That is the way the unbelieving world responds to the preaching of Jesus.  They’re okay with Him, until He starts making demands on them about what is true and what is a lie, what is right and what is wrong, what is holy and what is damnable sin, what we ought to believe and do.  They’re okay with Him, until He claims to be God’s Messiah; in fact, God Himself, the only Savior of the world, and that those who don’t believe in Him cannot be saved.  But that He does save all who do believe in Him, no matter who they are, even the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, even tax collectors and prostitutes and scandalous sinners, even barbaric Gentiles. 

            Needless to say, the people are in a murderous rage.  No prophet is acceptable in his hometown.  You don’t come say that type of thing to any crowd of respectable citizens, least of all to those who knew you when.  So they drag Him to the cliff to throw Him off like yesterday’s garbage.  But for now, it isn’t Jesus’ time.  He passes through their midst and goes away.  See… there is a miracle after all! 

            But His time is coming, and does come, on a Friday during Passover.  It is the ultimate rejection.  God is nailed to a cross.  The elite scoff.  The passers-by gloat.  The demons dance.  But by God’s grace, we see.  This rejection is the very release Jesus has been preaching.  The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the sacrifice of atonement for the whole world’s sin.  It is the good news preached to the poor, the liberty of the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, the liberty of those who are oppressed.  It is the Lord’s gracious favor, the forgiveness of your sins, your life, your salvation.  It is the end of the old, the satisfaction of the Law, the undoing of the curse.  It is the mortal poison death must drink to the dregs.  It is the crushing of the serpent’s head.  And when “It is finished,” there is rest, Sabbath.  And then there is life and the New Creation.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  And all of this for you.

            And today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.  Because that is the nature of preaching.  Jesus is the Preacher.  Not me, for crying out loud.  I’m just the lump of flesh standing here as His mouthpiece.  My words don’t do a thing.  Jesus is the Preacher.  And His Words do what they say.  You are poor.  You know it.  No matter how much money you have.  You are a poor miserable sinner.  And to you, Jesus preaches good news.  You are free.  You are healed.  You see.  You hear.  You are raised to new life.  Which is to say, your sins are forgiven.  Because of Jesus.  God looks upon you with favor, accepts you as His own, makes you His own child.  Because of Jesus.  And the miracles?  Well, they happen here today, too, don’t they?  Jesus speaks, and it is so.  He gives you His gifts by speaking His Word.  You repent.  You believe.  You are absolved.  The Spirit of the LORD is poured out upon you.  You come to the Table where bread and wine are Jesus’ true Body and Blood, crucified and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins, because that is what Jesus says.  All of it happens by His Word, in the preaching, by the Spirit.  Jesus’ preaching in Nazareth is an account of what happens to this very day in the preaching of the Church.  Jesus preaches the prophetic Word that He Himself fulfills.  And many reject that Word, and so reject Him and His salvation.  But not you.  You believe, and so you receive the perfect freedom of life in Jesus Christ.  And because He is risen from the dead, the life you have in Him is eternal, in His restored and perfected New Creation.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

 


Sunday, January 16, 2022

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (C)

January 16, 2022

Text: John 2:1-11

            Maybe you’ve been in one of those awkward social situations where the whole event is about to become a train wreck, much to the host’s embarrassment, and all you can do is watch.  We had this massive funeral one time at my previous parish.  Way more guests than we expected.  It almost happened there at the funeral luncheon.  We nearly ran out of food!  And I don’t have to tell you that Lutherans at a funeral expect to eat.  It was a crisis of epic proportions.  The macaroni salad, the tater-tot casserole, the jello-encased fruit cocktail, all of it, nearly depleted, and more hungry mourners in line.  But then those dear women of Epiphany congregation sprang into action.  Fervent prayer, husbands flying from the parking lot with their wives’ grocery lists, and a blaze of Lutheran kitchen cookery like you’ve never seen.  It was a veritable miracle.  I think we ended up with twelve baskets full of food left over.  Or maybe not.  That is another miracle for another time.  But all the guests left satisfied. 

            Mary was in just such a predicament at the wedding in Cana.  In those days, wine was to weddings what luncheons are to Lutheran funerals.  And weddings weren’t just one day affairs.  The celebration could last a week or two.  And one of the burdens of the poor bridegroom was to provide the whole party with wine.  Wine sufficient for the duration.  And the guests weren’t shy about bellying up to the bar.  The custom was to drink freely, as the master of the feast points out to us.  Who knows what Mary’s relationship was to the happy couple?  Close enough that her plus one was expanded to include, not only her Son, Jesus, but His disciples as well.  In any case, she sees the problem, and it isn’t going to be good.  With a grave look on her face, she catches Jesus’ eye.  Perhaps she whispers, or silently mouths the words.  They have no wine” (John 2:3; ESV).  “What are we going to do?”  And Jesus may as well have shrugged His shoulders.  Woman, what does this have to do with me?” (v. 4).  Literally, “What to Me and to you?”  “Why does this concern Me?  Why should I get involved?”  After all, “My hour has not yet come.”

            What does this problem have to do with Jesus?  A social embarrassment, but, it’s not as though the world will stop turning.  And what on earth is this Hour that has not yet come?  What does that have to do with anything? 

            When Mary puts the problem on Jesus’ shoulders, she is asking her Son to play the part of the bridegroom.  She is asking Him to take upon Himself the responsibility, the burden, of the bridegroom, and to cover over his failure.  She is asking Him to provide for the bride, and for all who are in attendance at the bridal feast.  And though His Hour has not yet come, Mary asks Him to do this precisely because His Hour is coming, and it is near.  And what is that Hour?  The Hour is the divinely appointed time when Jesus, our heavenly Bridegroom, gives Himself into death for His Bride, the Church.  St. Paul says Christian husbands are given to be living pictures of this when they love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word”… and here we can think about how Jesus meets His Bride at the baptismal font in the same way so many Old Testament saints’ met their wives at the well: Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and how Jesus Himself met the Samaritan woman at the well, that she may be included in His Bride… “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).  The Hour is the lifting up of Jesus on the cross for the sins of the world, that from His spear impaled side a new Eve be formed for Him by the water and the blood.  That is the Church.  That is you. 

            The changing of water into wine is a sign of this very thing.  Jesus gives Himself for His Bride, in order to turn her sorrow into joy (John 16:20), her mourning into dancing (Ps. 30:11), her sins to righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21), her death to life (John 5:24), her hell to heaven.  The Old Law of Purification becomes the New Law of Feasting.  Jesus lifts the veil and wipes away the tears of His blushing Bride (Rev. 7:17; 21:4).  And He gives her the cup of joy, the cup of salvation.  And the wine in the cup is nothing less than the New Testament in His Blood that cleanses her from all her sins.  You already drink this cup.  You drink it right here as you kneel with your Bridegroom at His Altar. 

            So Jesus does as His mother says, because it has everything to do with Him.  Because of His impending Hour.  This particular bride, and this particular bridegroom, at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, are also included in the Bride of Christ.  How could He not provide for their needs, as Mary well knew? 

            Now, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory” (John 2:11).  Water into wine is not just a miracle, to bring Jesus fame, and help a young couple in need.  It is a sign.  It is a sign that manifests Jesus’ glory, and in John’s Gospel in particular, Jesus’ glory is to be lifted up on the cross.  Jesus gives this sign to preach the Gospel of His self-giving sacrifice, that His disciples, and all of us who hear this sign anew today, believe in Him.  These things “are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). 

            And it should not be lost on us that Jesus does this sign on the third day.  To be sure, this is to indicate the third day after the previous event John narrates, which happens to be the calling of Nathanael (John 1:43-51).  But we know the significance of those words, and that time stamp, which point us to the greatest of Jesus’ signs.  It is the sign that gives to all the others their power and significance, the sign by which He brings us to living and saving faith in Him.  On the Third Day, Jesus, who was crucified for our sins, who gave Himself up for us, who died for us… burst forth alive from the tomb.  Jesus Christ, our heavenly Bridegroom, is risen the from the dead.

            The changing of water into wine is a sign of that… the changing of death into resurrection and eternal life by His own death and resurrection. 

            Now, what is the meaning of all of this for us, concretely?  We learn some very important things about what Jesus does for us in our Holy Gospel this morning.  First, let us simply recognize and give thanks for the fact that Jesus bestows good gifts to sinners; in fact, the very best gifts, in abundance.  It’s no two-buck Chuck Jesus gives to the drunks at the wedding.  It is the very finest of wines, a draught at which the master of the feast marvels. God graciously gives His good gifts to those who do not deserve them, to people who will thanklessly abuse those gifts.  He even gives them to you and me.  And why?  Because Jesus died for our sins, for our thankless abuse.  Because Jesus is risen, and lives, for us, and is Himself our life and righteousness.  Because He would lead us to recognize God as the Giver of all good, believe in Him, and give Him thanks.

            Second, Jesus really does care about the details of our lives.  He cares about the bridegroom’s embarrassment, about the hungry Lutheran mourners in the lunch line, and about you when you are sick, or sad, or suffering, or even when you lose your car keys.  When you are in want or need, He wants you to tell Him your troubles, as St. Mary did.  He may sometimes appear at first to shrug His shoulders.  But why does He do that?  That you may address the question of what this has to do with Him.  And the answer is, everything.  Because He endured His Hour, He has redeemed you, body and soul, right down to every last detail of your life.  It all belongs to Him.  It is sanctified by Him.  Just as I am moved to compassion by my wife’s tears, and I help her search if she loses her car keys, so Jesus cares for you.  He will act out of love for you, and always for your good.

            Third, as we confess in the Rite of Holy Matrimony, “Our Lord blessed and honored marriage with His presence and first miracle at Cana in Galilee,” and “In marriage we see a picture of the communion between Christ and His bride, the Church.”[1]  Marriage is holy to Christ, as His own institution.  And so our marriages, each one of them, are holy to Him, and blessed with His presence.  He graciously deigns to be with us in all the ups and downs of our married life and the family that comes of it, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, when we’re arguing and when we’re rapturously in love, when the dishwasher is broken, and the trash needs to be taken out, and the kids need help with homework, when we’re growing old and gray, and when death parts us.  Our whole life long, Jesus is present with us.  And on into eternal life.  But then, understand, this promise is not just for married people.  At the wedding in Cana, Jesus didn’t only give wine to the bride and bridegroom.  He poured it out for everyone present.  Married and single.  Newlyweds and widows.  Young and old.  Men and women.  And yes, even for His mom.

            There are undoubtedly more applications to be made, but the final take-home point for our purposes this morning is summed up by Mary in her instructions to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).  That is, hear and believe Jesus’ Word as He reveals it to you in Scripture and preaching.  Just trust Him.  Keep His Word, and do it.  This from the woman who treasured up all these things, all the Words about her Son, and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19).  Thus you will know that all good gifts come to you from above, from God, for Jesus’ sake, and you can recognize this, and give thanks.  Thus you will know that you can always call upon Him in time of need.  He will provide.  He will protect.  He will save.  He died for you.  He is risen for you.  He gives you life and will raise you bodily from the dead.  And thus you will know that He is with you now in your own marriage and family life, in all your joys and sorrows, and that He is with you just as assuredly if you are not married.  With you to sanctify.  With you to bless.  With you to give you joy and gladness, and the very best wine.  His Word does all these things. 

            And His Word will even give you wisdom for those awkward social situations where the train is about to derail.  Pause and say a prayer.  Like Mary, let Jesus know your need.  Then get to work in love for your neighbor, knowing every failure is forgiven, and your work is blessed.  So it is that on the Third Day Jesus turned all our mourning into joy, and here and now He gives us the very best wine, His Blood, shed for us, for the forgiveness of all our sins.  When His Hour came, Jesus rose to the occasion.  And now everything in our life has everything to do with Him.  For He is our life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       



[1] Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006) p. 275.


Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of Our Lord (C)

January 9, 2022

Text: Luke 3:15-22

            John’s Baptism is not quite the same thing as Christian Baptism.  It is, rather, a prefiguring of Christian Baptism, a preparatory rite, a foreshadowing.  John was once again preparing the way.  And you might say John’s Baptism had within it the embryonic form of Christian Baptism.  It was, after all, a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and it certainly delivered the goods.  But it was not a Baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  One Name, three Persons, the mystery of the Trinity packed into the water.  And those are the words… and that is the Name… our Lord has given us to use in Holy Baptism (Matt. 28:19). 

            We are not to baptize in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, as some do, who are concerned that our language be gender neutral.  Though it is true that the Father is neither a man or a woman, He reveals Himself in masculine terms in the Scriptures, as does the Son, who actually is a man in the flesh born of the Virgin Mary, and as does the Holy Spirit.  We are to speak of God as He speaks of Himself in His Word.  And we are certainly not to baptize in the name of the Parent, the Child, and the Love that flows between them, which is actually a Trinitarian heresy.  Nor are we to baptize with any other words, or in any other Name, that that which we’ve been given. 

            We should know also that Baptism “in the Name of Jesus,” as is recorded in Acts, does not mean anything other than Baptism as Jesus has given it to His Church.  How could it?  It does not mean saying, “In the Name of Jesus,” and giving the person a dunk.  That is not what Jesus said to do.  It means Baptism into the Name Jesus has revealed to us, God’s Name in all its fulness, and that is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  Any other Baptism is not Christian Baptism.

            So when Paul came across some disciples in Ephesus who did not even know there is a Holy Spirit, having been baptized with John’s Baptism, Paul baptizes them “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5; ESV), which is to say, in the Name Jesus bears and has given us for Baptism, the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  At which point, those who were so baptized received the Holy Spirit.  Because they received the fulness of Christian Baptism.

            In our Holy Gospel this morning, John and his Baptism are passing away.  John is decreasing, that Jesus may increase.  In fact, John says as much.  I baptize you with water” (Luke 3:16), that is, “I baptize you in the manner of all Jewish baptisms, with ceremonial water, to cleanse you from uncleanness.  Here you step into the water, confessing your sins, and I forgive you as I pour the water out upon you.  But the One who is coming will baptize you with something more.  This is not to say He won’t use water.  The very definition of Baptism is, after all, a washing with water.  But His Baptism will be filled… with the Holy Spirit, and with fire.  The Spirit to take possession of you and teach you all things.  Fire for a real cleansing, the true purgation.  So it is that all who receive the Baptism of this One who is coming, believing what He here gives, will be gathered as wheat into the Lord’s Barn, the Kingdom, the Church, Heaven, New Creation, Resurrection,” or as Jesus Himself puts it, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).  But whoever will not receive it because they do not believe it, like the Pharisees and lawyers who rejected God’s purpose for themselves and would not be baptized by John (Luke 7:30), be warned… The Lord will clear His threshing floor, separating the wheat from the chaff.  And the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire (Luke 3:17), eternal death, hell… or again, as Jesus puts it, “whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

            Now, the text almost sweeps John away at this point, though we know he is the one who baptizes Jesus.  Luke tells us John kept preaching, and Herod didn’t like it, especially when John preached traditional marriage and holy sexuality, so he locked up John in prison, and we all know how that ended.  But now the focus is entirely on Jesus.  As it should be.  And when Jesus steps into the water to be baptized, He fills Baptism with the fulness of our Triune God and His salvation for us.  Stepping into the Jordan, our Lord sanctifies and institutes all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin (Luther’s Flood Prayer).  Jesus transforms John’s prophetic Baptism into the Christian Baptism God now gives us.

            There is the flesh-and-blood Son of God in the water.  Heaven is open to Him.  There is the Holy Spirit, descending upon Him in bodily form as a dove.  There is the Father’s majestic voice from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).  Now as we are baptized “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” so it is with us. 

            There is Jesus, the flesh-and-blood Son of God, in the water for us, to take our sins away and give us His righteousness in exchange, to give us His saving death on the cross and resurrection life.  Heaven is now open to us. 

            There is the Spirit.  We do not see Him in bodily form as a dove.  But He comes visibly that way at Jesus’ Baptism, that we may know that, as we are created anew in our Baptism into Christ, there is the Spirit hovering over the waters, just as He was at the Beginning.  And as the dove returned to Noah in the ark with a freshly plucked olive leaf, proclaiming the Good News of the end of God’s wrath and divine peace between God and man, so the Spirit descends and remains on us with His peace, to give us faith in the blessed Gospel of sins forgiven in Jesus Christ. 

            And there is the Father.  We do not see Him, but we do hear His voice.  In the Scriptures.  In the preaching.  In the Holy Absolution (which is always a return to Baptism).  And what does He say to us?  You are my beloved Son.”  Baptized into Christ and covered with Him as with a garment, God loves you, and adopts you as His own… “God’s own child I gladly say it!”  And there is something else: “with you,” with you, my dear baptized child, “I am well pleased.”  And that is justification language.  He is well pleased with you, because your sins are forgiven, washed away in the baptismal flood.  And you are righteous with the very righteousness of Christ Himself, given to you as a gift in the baptismal waters.

            See, Baptism is where what Luther called the “Great Exchange” takes place.  Jesus is baptized, not for His own repentance and forgiveness… He doesn’t need that.  He is sinless.  But He is baptized into you, to bear your sin, your guilt, your shame, your death and condemnation, all the way to the cross.  And you are baptized, not to take on the sin and guilt and punishment of others… but to take on Jesus.  To be wrapped up in Jesus.  To receive His death as your own… That’s right, you no longer have to fear death.  You already died.  You got your death over with at the font…  And to receive His resurrection.  That’s right, you have already been raised with Christ.  To new life now, a life that is hidden, but nonetheless yours, right now, by faith…  And the Promise of bodily resurrection on the Last Day, when He who is risen from the dead, raises your body from the grave…  And to receive His righteousness.  All Christ’s righteousness God credits to your account.  All Christ’s perfect fulfillment of God’s Law, God now counts as though you had perfectly fulfilled His Law.  Oh, it is a Great Exchange that takes place there in the water.  For Jesus has filled the water with Himself.

            But there is something else that happens at Jesus’ Baptism that we should not fail to notice, for it has great significance for our life in Christ.  When Jesus also had been baptized, Luke tells us, He was praying (v. 21).  Baptism gives us the gift of prayer.  We can call upon God at all times, and expect Him to hear and answer.  And not only may we call upon Him as “Almighty God,” or “Holy Lord,” but baptized into Christ His Son, we may call upon Him as “Our Father who art in heaven.”  The Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of the Baptized.  And as any father does when his children call out to him in need or distress… in fact, better than any earthly father would… our Father in heaven hears our petitions, and He acts for our good.  He rescues.  He provides.  He comes to our aid.  He does not fail us.

            Jesus fills Baptism with all of this when He steps into the water.  Baptism is not our work of obedience to God.  It is God’s gracious work for us, in which He pours upon us all the saving gifts of Jesus.  That is why Peter declares, “Baptism… now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).  That is why Paul says that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).  That is why our Lord Jesus Himself teaches us, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).  Beloved, you are baptized into Christ.  And you should never forget it.  You have been born anew of water and the Spirit.  You have entered the Kingdom of God.  The Spirit has been poured out on you.  You are God’s own Child and heir.  You are baptized, which is to say, you are saved.  By grace alone.  By His work for you.  That is what Baptism is.  For Baptism is filled with Jesus who stepped into the water for you.  And so, as those baptized into Christ, we end this meditation with Jesus in the water, tracing the sign of the holy cross upon our bodies, as we say again the Name written upon us, the Name we’ve been given there at the water… In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                

 


Sunday, January 2, 2022

Second Sunday after Christmas

Second Sunday after Christmas (C)

January 2, 2022

Text: Luke 2:40-52

            Where are you looking for Jesus?  Mary and Joseph were looking for Him in all the wrong places.  They thought they had lost Him.  12 years old, He had travelled with His parents and the throng of pilgrims to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast.  Now on their way home to Nazareth, they supposed that He was somewhere in the group, among family, with friends, playing with the other children, that He would catch up with them at the night’s lodging place.  But when He wasn’t where Mary and Joseph expected Him to be, where it was their will for Him to be, they panicked.  Back to Jerusalem.  Three days they searched.  The holy sites.  The favorite family stops.  Then the streets and back alleys.  Where could He be?  Three days of an anxious mother’s heart and a father’s desperation.  Three days.  After three days… they found Him.  And they should have known.  They should have looked there first.  There He is, in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions.  There He is, immersed in God’s Word, in the place of sacrifice, where God dwells with His people.  There He is in His Father’s House, or, as we may also translate it, about His Father’s Business, or, among the things of His Father.  Did you not know, Mary?  Do you really not understand, Joseph?  Jesus is right where He belongs.  The Lord has come into His Temple, present in the flesh, the fulfillment of the Torah and the Prophets, the true Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the whole world.

            And you?  Where are you looking for Jesus?  It is fashionable for Christians these days to presume Jesus is wherever families are gathered together.  Family values, and all that.  That is why many Christians, and Christian congregations, boycott Christmas services, because “Christmas is a time for family,” we are piously told.  Of course, family is good, God’s own institution by way of holy marriage, and we are all for family values.  But that is not where Jesus has promised to be for us with His saving gifts. 

            Likewise, we expect to find Jesus in other places where we will Him to be.  We seek Him under the guise of outward prosperity.  If we’re healthy, wealthy, and movin’ on up, Jesus must be with us, giving us special blessings, because we’ve shown Him that we’re worth it.  We seek Him in our politicians.  We all know that my candidate is God’s chosen one, the embodiment of righteousness and godly zeal, while the other candidate is undoubtedly the beast from Revelation that serves the great evil dragon.  We seek Him in our patriotism.  I love America, and I’m very patriotic, but we have been guilty of actually equating America with Christianity, a new chosen people of God.  That is probably the sin of most of us here today.  Others also equate America with Christianity, and therefore hate America with the same zeal with which they hate Christ and His Christians.  In either case, it’s false.  Neither America, nor any other nation on earth, is God’s chosen people in the way that Old Testament Israel was. 

            One of the devil’s favorite tricks is to get us to look for Jesus deep within us.  In our experiences.  In our feelings.  In our hearts.  I have read an awful lot of purportedly “Christian” literature in recent days that would have me look for the Christ Child to be born deep within me this Christmas, like some sort of intangible “Christmas spirit.”  Come to think of it, that may be the gist of some of the Christmas cards I’ve received this year.  (Actually, that may be why I don’t receive very many Christmas cards anymore, because you’re afraid they’ll show up in a sermon.)  But seriously, look for this.  This is always the evil one’s tactic, but it is especially prevalent at Christmas time.  Get you to look for Jesus… by looking at you.  But that is the very definition of a fallen human being.  Incruvatus in se.  Curved in on the self.  Why on earth would you look for Jesus there? 

            There are many other places we look for Jesus, but they are all variations on a theme.  Holy works.  Holy places.  Even Protestants have their pilgrimages and relics, and a rose by any other name is still a rose.  Dreams.  Ecstatic spiritual experiences.  Miraculous revelations.  The immediate answer to prayer in the exact manner prescribed.  And when Jesus is not where we expect Him to be… when He is not where we will Him to be… like St. Mary, we get a little upset.  Son, why have you treated us so?” (Luke 2:48; ESV).  Jesus, what’s the matter with You?  Can’t You see we’ve been searching for You in great distress?  Don’t You see us in our misery?  Don’t You see us in our sin and death?  Don’t You see the great evils Your people suffer?  Is it too much to ask You to appear where and when we want You, to do the things we want You to do? 

            I’ll tell you one thing, that is what the disciples were looking for some years later on another Passover night in Jerusalem.  It’s go time.  Two swords.  We’ll die with You if we have to.  One Last Supper, and then… the Romans will never know what hit them.  Jesus, though, sits with them, His chosen Twelve, and He teaches them God’s Word.  He serves them… Divine Service.  He washes them.  Gives them a Meal.  And bids them love one another.  He sings some Psalms with them.  And then… He goes and gives Himself into the hands of His enemies.  This is not what the disciples were expecting.  This is not where they willed Jesus to be.  But it must be.  It is divinely necessary.  This is the business of His Father, and Jesus must be about it.  It is the business of redeeming sinners and forgiving sins.  It is the business of becoming the great Sacrifice of Atonement that will reconcile God with sinful humanity.  Thus the cross.  Thus the death of God’s Son. 

            They thought they’d lost Him, the disciples.  They panicked.  They went and hid.  For fear.  Anxiety.  Desperation.  Great distress.  But they should have known.  After all, had He not told them?  After three days  After three days, they found… an empty tomb.  And then they found Him, risen, and living, and speaking His peace.  And He sent them out to preach the Good News.  He sent them out to speak His Word.  And, as He made clear especially to the Emmaus disciples, but also in every resurrection appearance… you will recognize His presence from here on out in the Breaking of the Bread.  That is, the Holy Supper of His Body and Blood, where He gives to us the Sacrifice of Atonement He made once and for all on the cross, and where He is present with us in the flesh, our Emmanuel, Jesus Christ. 

            So where are you looking for Jesus?  Stop looking wherever you will Him to be, wherever He has not promised to be.  You really should know better by now.  Look for Him immersed in His Word.  Sitting among the teachers.  In the place where the Sacrifice is given us as Sacrament.  Where God dwells with His people in flesh and blood.  In the Father’s House.  About the Father’s business.  Among the things of His Father.  That is where you will always find Him.  That is where He has promised to be for you.  To forgive your sins.  To give you life.  To teach you.  To impart wisdom.  To give you His righteousness.  You will always find Jesus and His saving gifts in the holy Word and Sacraments.  To look elsewhere only leads to more desperation.

            After three days, Mary and Joseph found Jesus sitting among the teachers, fulfilling the Third Commandment for us and in our place.  Isn’t it a wonder that the Word made flesh, the eternal Son of the Father, eagerly studies the very Scriptures He has given?  He does not despise preaching and God’s Word, but holds it sacred, and gladly hears and learns it.  And then He goes down with His parents to Nazareth and is submissive to them, He who is their Lord and Master, thus fulfilling the Fourth Commandment for us and in our place, to honor father and mother.  He does not despise or anger His parents, but honors them, serves and obeys them, loves and cherishes them.  This, and His fulfillment of all the Commandments, God imputes to us as righteousness, even as our Lord’s blood and death on the cross wipes away our sins.  Mary treasures up all these things and ponders them in her heart.  Which is to say, she receives them by faith.  And so it is with you and me.  Finding Jesus in His Word and in the things of His Father, we believe, and so believing, we receive.  Merry Christmas.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                       

           

 


Sunday, December 26, 2021

First Sunday after Christmas

First Sunday after Christmas (C)

December 26, 2021

Text: Luke 2:22-40

            Merry Christmas!  It is December 26th, and the world has already moved on from its celebration.  Good.  Their version of the holiday, which is to say, the Holy Day, is mere tinsel and glitter, paper and bows.  It is a jolly old elf, lights on the tree, an excuse for gluttony and excessive drink, and for the entertainment of covetousness and greed. 

            But you?  This is only the Second Day of Christmas for you.  You have ten more days to go.  You, who have kept the Advent Season of anticipation, waiting upon the Lord, waiting for the consolation of Israel to come.  Or even if you haven’t kept it.  Even if you dove right in after Thanksgiving, or perhaps Halloween.  We all do, to some extent.  But that, again, is for the world’s celebration of the “Winter Season,” or whatever.  I’m not against Christmas cookies and gingerbread lattes in November, and for some of you, there is the obligatory company party.  But now that the world is done, the Church enters upon Christmas as a holy time, without all that distraction.  It is a time of joy in the hope fulfilled at Christmas.  For Christ has come.  Jesus is born.  The Son of the Virgin, and God’s own Son.  Born for you.  To be your Savior from sin and death.  To defeat for you the very devil. 

            Jesus has come, and in our text, He has come into His Temple.  And we should not miss what is going on here.  After many years of Israel and Judah rejecting God in favor of idols, the prophet Ezekiel saw a vison of the Glory of YHWH departing from the Temple through the East Gate (Ez. 10).  But it wasn’t just a vision.  It really happened.  The God whose glory is to dwell with His people, withdrew His presence when His people abandoned Him.  And then came the Babylonians, who destroyed the Temple, and the Ark of the Covenant disappeared forever. 

            But what happens when Jesus comes into the Temple for Mary’s purification and the redemption of the first born?  Ah, the Glory of YHWH has returned.  God graciously deigns once again to dwell with His people.  The fulfillment of the Ark, the Temple of Jesus’ flesh, has come into God’s House.  The Word became flesh and tabernacled, pitched His tent, among us.  And we have seen His glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  The One the people had longed for has come, the promised Messiah, the Savior.  And that is to say, it is Christmas!

            Now in these Twelve Days of Christmas and beyond, as we see what the world does not see, that our life and salvation has come in the birth of this Child, we are like Simeon and Anna, and we learn from them how to celebrate. 

            First, note how they both keep the Season of Advent, and for them, it isn’t four weeks, but their whole life long.  Both of them have been waiting, hoping, praying, anticipating.  But always in the sure conviction that God would make good on His Promises.  That is to say, they were waiting in faith. 

            Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel.  He was waiting for Messiah to come and save him from his sins.  Luke tells us he was righteous and devout.  That is, he was a good Christian, righteous by faith to be sure, but also what we might call “outwardly righteous.”  He was full of the good works that are the fruit of faith.  He believed and kept the Scriptures.  He heard them and learned them eagerly.  And he put his faith into practice.  And he did this, not to become righteous before God, but because he knew his righteousness was coming in the Person of the Messiah.

            Anna, also, was waiting.  A prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the Tribe of Asher, married only seven years before she was widowed, now advanced in years, a woman of 84.  She essentially lived at the Temple, waiting, and worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.

            So, from Simeon and Anna, we learn how to wait upon the Lord.  Hear and believe the Scriptures.  Learn them by heart, and put them into practice.  Do good works, the fruit of faith in the coming Savior.  Be always in God’s House, in His saving presence.  Worship with fasting and prayer.  Fasting, which is a physical expression of prayer, especially as we wait upon the Lord.  It confesses our emptiness apart from the Lord’s fulness.  Our helplessness.  Our hunger and thirst for a righteousness that comes from outside of us.  It is a prayer for God to come and fill us, even as it disciplines the body.  And prayer.  Never neglect the gift of prayer.  The liturgy.  The corporate prayers here in God’s House.  And your own prayers with your family and in private.  Call upon the Lord.  Ask Him.  Lay your needs before Him.  Intercede for others.  Pray for your family, for the Church, for your brothers and sisters in Christ, by name, and, of course, for your pastors.  And wait.  Anticipate.  Know with sure conviction that God will make good on His Promises, and come, and deliver. 

            And so He does.  When Jesus comes into the Temple, what does Simeon do but grab our Infant Lord up into His arms and rejoice and sing.  For in this little bundle of flesh and bones is the One who fulfills the Law perfectly for Simeon and for all of us.  This little Baby is the Lamb of God who takes away Simeon’s sin, your sin, and the sins of the whole world.  He is the Paschal Lamb, the Sacrifice of Atonement, the Propitiation for our sins.  He is the Son of God.  The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And now that he has seen Him, and held Him in his arms, Simeon sings and confesses that he can depart in peace, that he can die now, with joy.  Because the Lord has fulfilled His Word.  Simeon’s eyes have beheld his salvation, the salvation prepared for all peoples, the Light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the Glory of God’s people Israel.  Yes, the Glory.  The Glory has come into the Temple once again.  Simeon can die, because he knows that he will not die.  In this little Lord Jesus, he lives.  And that eternally.    

            So you, when you behold that little bundle of flesh and blood all wrapped up in bread and wine, you take Him in your hand and on your tongue, and you rejoice and sing.  You sing Simeon’s song.  The Nunc Dimittis.  Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:29).  That is even what the pastor says to you after you commune.  “Depart in peace.”  It doesn’t just mean go quietly back to your pew and sit down.  It means you can live in peace, with God and with one another, because all your sins are forgiven.  And you can die in peace.  You can die now.  Because your eyes have seen, and your tongue has tasted, your salvation.  This Light has enlightened you.  And the Glory of God’s people tabernacles once again in His New Israel, the Church.  And He takes up His abode in you.  You can die now, because you know that you will not die.  Christ died for you, and in Baptism, you died in Christ.  Now Christ is risen, and so in Christ, you live.  And that eternally. 

            Anna is so overcome with joy at the sight of Jesus that she can’t keep quiet.  She gives all thanks and praise to God, and she speaks of the precious little Savior to everyone who will listen, all who likewise were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem, for divine help and consolation, for a Savior from sin and death and condemnation.  So you.  Especially this time of year.  You come to services, and you spend extra time in Scripture and prayer at home, and you give all thanks and praise to God.  And you just can’t keep quiet.  You speak of Jesus to anyone who will listen.  You send cards with Bible verses and words of Christian hope and joy.  You sing carols.  You give gifts.  And not just tinsel and bows.  You give Christ.  You speak His Word.  You love with His love.  Receiving Him in the Supper, you bear Him within yourself wherever you go.  It is all such joy.

            There is, though, one more component of the Christian celebration that we learn especially from Simeon.  That is that the cross looms large over the whole business.  This Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, the fall of all who reject Him, the rising of all who believe.  He is a Sign that will be opposed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul, Mary.  You will behold Him tortured, naked, bleeding, and hanging on the Tree.  But He came in the flesh for this very reason.  This is why Simeon could die in peace.  This is why Anna rejoiced and confessed.  This is why you can live, and die, confidently, come what may.  Because Jesus died for your sins on the cross.  The full atonement is made.  And Jesus is risen, and lives, and reigns, this Child, this Babe, the Firstborn of Mary, the Son of God.  Christmas and Good Friday and Easter go hand in hand.

            It is only now the Second Day of Christmas, and there is so much more rejoicing and merriment to make.  There are Twelve Days of Christmas, and then… more Christmas!  Epiphany, January 6th, and the visit of the wise men.  And 40 days after Christmas, this event in our text, called the Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of Mary.  We also call it Candlemas, historically the day Christians brought candles to offer for use in the Church, a confession that the Light for revelation to the Gentiles has come in Christ, and that the Glory of the LORD dwells once again with His people. 

            And the reality is, every Lord’s Day is a celebration of Christmas, even as it is a celebration of Easter.  For here you have a direct encounter with Jesus Christ as you hear His voice, eat His Body, and drink His Blood, the very Body and Blood born of the Virgin Mary, given and shed on the cross, risen and living, for you.  And so… Merry Christmas!  The world has moved on, but not you.  Keep celebrating.  Keep singing.  The Glory of the Lord has come into His Temple.  Here you see His salvation.  And He dwells with you.  Take, eat.  Take, drink.  Christ is born for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.