Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
December 24, 2018
Text: Luke 2:1-20

            Why did you come tonight?  Maybe it’s just because it’s Christmas Eve, and that’s the thing to do.  Perhaps some nostalgia brought you here.  On this night we wear our hearts on our sleeves as we sing the old songs about angels and shepherds and silent, holy nights.  The lights are dimmed and we worship by candlelight.  There is a romance about the whole thing.  Maybe you’re here because your parents dragged you here.  Your spouse told you the least you could do is make an appearance.  Or maybe you’re here for all the right reasons, because you know that here you’ll find the Baby announced by the angels, your Savior from sin and death, Jesus Christ.  But if I’m being honest, I have to say, I really don’t care why you’re here.  I just thank God you’re here.  Because there is incredibly Good News for you to hear tonight.  But I have to warn you up front.  You’ll probably be disappointed if you’re expecting a trite story about glowing stars and a serene birth and a little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.  Oh, we have the old traditional hymns, and we’ll have the candlelight.  But the real circumstances of Christmas are nothing like your Christmas cards or nativity sets.  Mary’s face is probably anything but serene.  She just gave birth in a stable.  There is no such thing as the Motel 6 in the New Testament, and it’s not an “inn” in the sense we think of where Mary and Joseph tried to stay.  Probably what happened is Joseph came knocking at the old family home, but there just wasn’t room for his fiancĂ©e who got pregnant out of wedlock.  If you want to stay here, you’ll have to stay with the animals.  She gives birth there, with no one to help, with the hay and the dung and the lowing cattle and bah-ing sheep.  She wraps her Baby in scraps of old cloth and lays Him in the feeding trough.  A beautiful scene, indeed.   Fitting for the birth of a King.  And the shepherds out keeping watch over their flocks by night?  Can you imagine the smell?  And it’s dangerous out there.  Robbers and wolves and mountain lions.  It’s dark.  It’s cold.  It’s probably wet.  These particular shepherds have to work the graveyard shift.  They probably haven’t had a bath in weeks.  Blue collar workers who don’t make much money to speak of.  This is the last place you’d expect angels to show up.
            It’s not very nostalgic, is it?  But that’s the point.  Christ wasn’t born into a beautiful manger scene.  God came down into the stench and poverty and scandal of the real world.  To redeem it.  God came down, in real flesh and blood, for shepherds and for unwed mothers and for sons turned out by their own families.  God came down, in real flesh and blood, for you.  So you stink like a stable or a field full of sheep.  Maybe you can fool others, but you know you’re full of sin.  You put on a smile and try to ignore it, but that tape of your failures plays over and over and keeps you up at night.  God comes for beautiful people in serene manger scenes, you think, but not for me.  I’m too dirty, too smelly, too guilty.  My sin is just too big.  Brother… sister… you couldn’t be more wrong.  Maybe we’d do better to craft more realistic manger scenes with apparent heartache and poverty, though they’d probably never sell.  You have to understand, this Baby is born, not for the righteous, but for sinners… for tax collectors and prostitutes, for murderers and adulterers and thieves and scoundrels.  Which is to say, for you.  Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord (Luke 2:11).  Yes, unto you.  In all your sin and sadness.  In all your mess of a life, your guilt, and your death.  He was born for you.  And that is Good News of great joy, indeed. 
            That also takes all the pressure off of Christmas.  You’ve been running around frantically since Thanksgiving, skipping right over Advent, trying to make this the perfect Christmas, just like the ones you think you used to know.  Like Clark W. Griswold, you just want to deliver a “fun, old-fashioned family Christmas.”  But your sister isn’t speaking to your mother.  Uncle Bob is drinking too much and getting loud.  Your son is whining because, despite your best efforts, he didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas, and truth be told, you didn’t either.  Now your head hurts, your stomach aches (that second slice of pie wasn’t such a good idea), and reality slaps you in the face.  You can’t make Christmas.  But pass the aspirin and take a deep breath.  Of course you can’t make Christmas!  Christmas is made for you.  God comes down, to you, for you, in the middle of the messiness of this world and your life to redeem this world and your life. 
            To you the angels sing.  Good News of great joy for you and for all the people.  Unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.  He makes Christmas, the Christ-Mass.  He is the real gift, wrapped up in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger… wrapped up in the Scriptures and lying on the altar to feed the beasts, to feed sinners and forgive sins, to feed you with the Bread of Life that is His Body, born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, the House of Bread.  If you came here for nostalgia, perhaps that’s disappointing to you.  But then again, perhaps it’s finally beginning to make some sense.  The reason we give presents and eat candy canes and gather together to laugh and sing is that this Baby was born for us.  And He gives Himself to us, to make all that is wrong right.  To take away sin and pay for it in His flesh.  To be mocked and accused and humiliated.  To be nailed to the accursed tree.  The cross looms large over the Christmas story.  This Baby is born to die.  But that doesn’t make the story morbid.  That is what makes it Good News for sinners.  No sin is too big that the death of God, born of the Virgin, cannot cover it.  This Baby is born, that by His death you be released from all that binds you.  You are free.  Hell has no claim on you.  Jesus took your place in it.  Satan cannot harm you.  Jesus crushed the serpent’s head by His own death.  Sin is undone.  The Law no longer accuses you.  Because this Baby was born under the Law to take your transgression of it into Himself and put it to death in His Body. 
            So you live.  He dies, and you do not die.  And He is risen.  Death could not hold Him.  Because He was innocent.  It is not His own sin for which He died.  It is yours.  But now it is done.  And He is risen.  He lives.  And He’s still in the same flesh and blood, born of the Virgin Mary.  He’s still a man, this God who came down.  He is a man for you.  He is Emmanuel, God with you.  And He gives Himself to you now, with all of His forgiveness, life, and salvation.  I don’t know why you came here tonight.  But don’t leave here without this Gift.  If there are no other presents for you this Christmas, this Gift makes the holiday, the Holy Day.  Jesus is born for you.  Your sins are forgiven.  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace.  God is pleased with you for Jesus’ sake.  You have a Father in heaven.  You have a Savior who loves you.  You have a family, the Church, to sing and feast with you.  Tidings of comfort and joy.  Merry Christmas.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.     

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
December 25, 2018
Text: John 1:1-18
            There is great wisdom in the preaching of our Fathers, and this Christmas morning I delight to unwrap for you the gift of one Alexander of Alexandria’s Christmas preaching.  But be warned.  As I said to you last night, true Christmas preaching is anything but nostalgic.  The manger always points us to the cross.  This Baby was born to die.  Because of us.  Because of our sin.  For us.  For the forgiveness of our sins.  Christmas is infused with joy inexorable precisely because of Good Friday.  And because on Good Friday, death swallowed up Righteousness and Life, death has come to its own end.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead in the flesh born of the Virgin Mary.  He will raise you.  You live in Him.  Hear now Pastor Alexander, who died in the late 320s AD (326 or 328), thus only several generations removed from the Apostles, and who served as a mentor to St. Athanasius, for whom the Athanasian Creed is named:   

Alexander of Alexandria
"Why did Christ, who was vested with glory, clothe Himself in flesh? And although He was God, why did He become man? And although He reigned in heaven, why did He come down to earth, and become incarnate in the virgin's womb? What drove God to come down to earth, to assume flesh, to be wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger cradle, to be nourished with milk from the breast, to receive baptism from a servant, to be lifted up upon the cross, to be interred in an earthly sepulcher, to rise again the third day from the dead? What drove Him to this?

"It is sufficiently clear that He suffered shame for man's sake, to set him free from death; and that He exclaimed, as in the words of the prophet, 'I have endured as a woman in labor' (Is 42:14). Truly, He endured for our sakes sorrow, ignominy, torment, even death itself, and burial. For thus He says Himself by the prophet: 'I went down into the deep' (Jonah 2:5). Who made Him thus to go down? The impious people.

"Behold, sons of men, behold what recompense Israel made unto Him! Israel killed her Benefactor, returning evil for good, affliction for joy, death for life. They killed by nailing to the tree Him who had brought to life their dead, had healed their maimed, had made their lepers clean, had given light to their blind. Behold, sons of men! Behold, all you people these new wonders! They suspended Him on the tree, who stretches out the earth. They transfixed Him with nails who laid firm the foundation of the world. They confined Him who confined the heavens; they bound Him who absolves sinners; they gave Him vinegar to drink who hath made them to drink of righteousness. They fed Him with gall who offered to them the Bread of Life. They wounded His hands and feet who healed their hands and feet. They violently closed His eyes who restored sight to them. They gave Him over to the tomb, who raised their dead to life both in the time before His suffering and also while He was hanging on the tree."

Alexander, On the Passion of the Lord, 5.5[1]
Thus far Alexander.
            How blessed we are this Christmas that our Lord willingly became flesh and blood for us and for our salvation.  God was born a man.  The Author of the Law placed Himself under the Law to fulfill it for us transgressors.  Flesh and blood God suffered and shed His blood on the cross to pay the penalty for our iniquity.  The body of God was laid into a tomb, but the tomb could not hold it.  He is risen, flesh and blood.  He has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father in human flesh and blood.  But He is not gone from us.  He is not a God removed from His creation.  He is Emmanuel, God with us, and that means in the flesh.  It is so in Baptism.  It is so in the Word as it is proclaimed.  It is so under bread and wine, which is His body and blood, the very body and blood born of Mary, dead and risen for you, because that is what He says.  He lays Himself on the altar for you, to feed you with Himself.  Why?  For your forgiveness, life, and salvation.  There is no greater gift.  Merry Christmas!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] Quoted from Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray, “For Us,” Memorial Moment for December 5, 2018,

Monday, December 24, 2018

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent (C)
December 23, 2018
Text: Luke 1:39-56

            All generations call Mary blessed, as she herself prophesied (Luke 1:48).  This is good and right, and we must acknowledge that fact in the face of our Protestant instinct to dismiss her altogether.  She is the mother of our Lord, the mother of God, and you ought to have a little reverence for that.  It’s not Roman Catholic, it’s in the Bible.  Then again, we must not fall off the horse on the other side.  We should not worship Mary.  We should not pray to her.  We have no promise in Holy Scripture that she can hear us, and even if she can, she cannot help us.  Nor do we need her to plead with her Son for us, as Rome would have us believe, that Jesus isn’t all that interested in being nice to us, so we need His mother to soften Him up for us.  All of these Marian abuses, dismissing her altogether, or turning her into an idol or even a co-redemptrix with Christ, we must repent of and avoid.  The key when it comes to Mary is to know why we call her blessed.  Elizabeth tells us, and Mary sings it in her song: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” declares St. Elizabeth (v. 42; ESV).  And Mary sings, “he has looked on the humble estate of his servant…”  It is for that reason that “from now on all generations will call me blessed” (v. 48). 
            Mary is blessed because of the fruit of her womb, our Lord Jesus Christ.  She is blessed because God has looked with favor upon her.  He has regarded her in her humble estate.  He has looked upon her in mercy and filled her with Himself.  And the whole world is blessed in her, for in her womb she bears the Savior of us all. 
            Mary is always pointing us to her Son, Jesus.  She does not want the attention on herself.  She is not jealous when the shepherds and the wise men worship her Baby.  She treasures up all these things and ponders them in her heart.  It is not to Mary that Simeon and Anna bow in the Temple, but to Mary’s Child, the new and greater Temple, the dwelling place of God with humanity, the flesh of Jesus.  Mary is scared and angry when twelve-year-old Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem, in the Temple, and she thinks He is lost.  But she remembers the words of the angel and the prophecies of Simeon and from Holy Scripture about her Son, and she believes them.  Elizabeth says that, too, is why she is blessed: “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (v. 45).  Because she believes in her Son, it is Mary who says to the servants at the wedding in Cana, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), when they run out of wine.  She doesn’t tell the servants to let her butter Him up first.  In fact, it doesn’t work out so well for her when she tries.  Woman, what does this have to do with me?” is Jesus’ retort (v. 4).  That’s a pretty good indication Jesus doesn’t want us to go to Mary to get around Him when we have troubles.  Instead, Mary shows us the way.  She goes directly to Him.  And even when there is an apparent rebuke, she holds fast to Him in faith.  It’s all in His hands.  Do whatever He tells you.  Stick with Jesus, Mary tells us. 
            Oh, I’m sure she had her moments.  Whether she was there of her own volition, or whether the rest of the family drug her along with them, there she is trying to shut Jesus up and drag Him home when they think He’s gone crazy (Mark 3:21).  Well, Mary is a sinner, too, and like you and I, she has her struggles with faith and doubt.  It must have stung her to the heart on that occasion, although it was also a gracious reminder, when Jesus said to those who sat around Him, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (vv. 34-35), and we know that the will of God is that we believe in Jesus Christ, and so have eternal life, and this same Jesus will raise us up on the Last Day (John 6:40). 
            And so Mary trusts and she follows her Son.  Apparently widowed somewhere along the way, next we meet her at the foot of her Son’s cross.  And the sword pierces her own soul, also, as Simeon prophesied it would (Luke 2:35).  How this mother’s heart must have ached for her Baby Boy, naked and bleeding, wracked with pain, loaded with her sin and the sin of the whole world, nailed to the torturous instrument of execution.  Yet even there, suffering hell for Mary and for us, for our salvation, what great compassion He has for His mother.  He will not leave her alone.  He commends her to St. John, and St. John to her.  Woman, behold, your son… Behold, your mother!  And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26, 27).  Tradition records that Mary died in Ephesus where St. John was serving as Bishop.   She stays with him the rest of her life.  Jesus settles the solitary in a home (Ps. 68:6).  He joins us in the Church.  We’re family.  Mothers and sons, brothers and sisters, in the House of our Father.  We’re put there by Jesus in His death.  Mary and John are the picture of this. 
            Jesus breathes His last, and Mary is there to witness it.  Who cannot be moved by the artists’ renderings of Mary holding the crucified corpse of her Son?  But He does not abandon her to her sadness.  For He is risen.  And Mary believes.  There she is with the Church and with the Twelve after our Lord’s Ascension into heaven, devoting herself to prayer, and now even the brothers of Jesus have come to faith.  But she’s the one constant.  God kept her in the faith, through some pretty rough going, from the moment she heard the angel’s words that she would bear the Son of God. 
            The Lord looked upon her in mercy, and she believed, and so she is blessed.  And so you.  Mary is a picture of you and your life of faith.  The Lord looks upon you in mercy.  He has regard for you.  You hear His Word, and you believe there is a fulfillment to that which is spoken to you by the Lord.  Yes, you have your struggles with faith and doubt.  You are a sinner, like St. Mary.  But your sins are forgiven by virtue of the incarnation and death of Mary’s Child.  God sustains you in the faith, and through some pretty tough going.  He sustains you by placing you in a family, the Church, where He continues to strengthen you and nurture your faith with the preaching of His Word and the Holy Supper.  You are brothers and sisters, of Jesus, and of one another, children of the heavenly Father.  You have a place and a home and a family. 
            To be sure, you have your sorrows, swords that have pierced your soul.  Some of you have lost children.  Not forever, but they have died.  We have all been touched by death.  There is not a lot of hope in the world.  Not real hope, anyway.  We are all worried about the state of our nation and the uncertainties of the world.  There are fightings and fears within, without.  Imagine the fear of unwed mothers who have to face the judgment of their families this Christmas, or have to face the future with the very real possibility that the father of the child will not be present.  We must help these women and their babies, and speak to them the forgiveness of Christ, include them in this family, the Church.  In the meantime, they have an example in St. Mary.  Granted, Mary hadn’t made the mistakes some of these dear women have made, but the rest of the world didn’t know that, and they certainly didn’t believe it.  Still, she embraced her calling to bear her Son for the sake of the world, to give birth, to be a mother come what may.  Others will have a different struggle this Christmas.  There will be strife in families as we gather around the table, unresolved issues, deep hurts and grievances.  Don’t forget Jesus’ brothers thought He was insane.  He was not immune from the brokenness. 
            Jesus is born right into this mess.  To redeem it.  To redeem you.  And He turns everything on its head.  It is like Mary sings: He scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts.  He brings down the mighty from their thrones.  Those who seem to be something in this world, He brings to nothing.  But the lowly, the repentant sinners, the nobodies, the despised and rejected, these He lifts up and exalts.  He fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.  He has mercy on all who fear Him, which is to say, those who believe in Him, like Mary, like you.  You who have loved ones who have died in Christ will hold them again.  Jesus will fill your empty, aching arms.  You who worry about our nation and our world will inherit the earth.  For your Lord has purchased it for you with His own blood.  You who have suffered rejection and shame, your sins are forgiven.  You are pure and holy in Jesus, Mary’s Son, the pure and holy Son of God.  And there is always a place for you in this family, in this house.  And a place has been saved for you at this Table.  You see, things are not as they appear.  You cannot see it now with your eyes.  But you will.  And in the meantime you believe, and you are blessed.
            So give Mary a break.  More than that, embrace her.  But do so in the way that truly honors her: by believing in her Son.  Mary is blessed because the Lord regards her, because of the fruit of her womb.  And for the same reason, so are you.  Let us magnify the Lord with her.  Mary takes her proper place in the Christmas Gospel when our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, even her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Third Sunday in Advent & Advent Midweek III

Third Sunday in Advent (C)
December 16, 2018
Text: Luke 7:18-35

            John asks the question on everybody’s mind.  Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:19; ESV).  Everything rides on the answer to this question.  John asks from the dungeon where he sits in chains.  He will lose his head for preaching Jesus.  So he just wants a little assurance that this isn’t all for nothing, that it’s worth it in the end, that the Gospel is worth dying for.  And that Jesus is, in fact, the Savior who will deliver John and all who believe the Gospel from death.  Truth be told, this is your question, too.  Oh, you don’t ask explicitly, out loud, like John does.  You don’t have the guts for that.  Then others may not think you’re a good Christian.  You don’t even admit the question to yourself.  Because then you’d have to acknowledge you have your own doubts about whether you’re a good Christian.  But there it is, that nagging question.  Is Jesus the One?  Should I really risk it all on Him?  Is He worth dying for?  Will He deliver me from death?  Sin?  Hell?  Because it would be a lot easier to forget this whole Christianity thing and get as much as I can out of this life now; eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.  In many ways it would be easier to believe there is nothing but what can be seen and experienced here and now.  Then there would be no accountability.  Then there would be no limits, no commandments.  No God means I am the god of myself.  Repent.  Snap out of it!  If that fantasy is true, then everything is meaningless.  Which is exactly what Satan wants you to believe.  Still, the question is important.  It is the question of Advent.  Is Jesus the One?  Is He the Savior?  Or should we look for another?  Should we seek salvation somewhere else: Our own works, our spouse, our family, our job, our president, education, environmentalism, wealth, power, pleasure?  Should we rot in a dungeon and lose our head for Jesus?
            Interestingly, our Lord does not answer the question directly.  He tells John’s disciples to report back what they had seen and heard: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them” (v. 22).  Then He adds a benediction: “blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (v. 23).  Blessed is the one who is not ashamed to be shackled and feel the cold of flashing steel for my sake.  For yes, this is all worth it John.  Your life and your preaching, your suffering and your death, are not in vain.  Jesus does not answer the question directly, but John would get the message loud and clear.  Jesus is doing all the things Isaiah prophesied He would 750 years earlier: “The Spirit of the LORD GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (Is. 61:1).  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (35:5-6).  Jesus does what God promised Messiah would do.  So you tell me, John.  Am I the One?  What does the Word say?  Jesus points John to the Word.  And so He points us.  The Word preaches Jesus into our ears and hearts and souls.  The Word answers the question.  If this is what Jesus does, should we look for any other?  Can our family or our job do this?  Can politicians deliver this?  Can all the power or money in the world buy this?  No.  So look no further. 
            And notice that all the miracles Jesus does physically for the suffering during His earthly ministry, He does for us spiritually now, and will do for us bodily in the resurrection.  Now, this is not to deny that miraculous healings happen today.  In fact, every healing we experience is a miracle.  It’s a gift from Jesus.  We’re just too used to it to notice, “Oh, I didn’t die from that cold I had last week.  Praise be to Christ!”  We’re a lot more like the nine lepers who went away than we are like the Samaritan who returned to give Jesus thanks (Luke 17:11-19).  But don’t miss how Jesus is performing all the miracles He did in His earthly ministry upon you as you hear His Word.  He heals you of the disease of sin, the plague of death, and He casts the evil spirits out of you.  You who are born in spiritual blindness: He opens your eyes and gives you spiritual sight, as we confess in the Small Catechism: His Spirit calls you by the Gospel and enlightens you with His gifts, so that you see Christ as your Savior even though He is hidden from your eyes.  The Word turns the lights on for you.  You who are lame: He sets you on your feet and gives you to walk in the way of His Word.  You whose sin eats you up like leprosy: He cleanses you with His Blood.  He bathes you in His Baptism and administers the medicine of immortality in the Supper of His Body and Blood.  You who are deaf: He opens your ears to hear His living voice in preaching and Scripture.  He raises you who are spiritually stillborn, born dead to Him… He raises you to new and everlasting life in a spiritual rebirth by water and the Word.  And you poor (and you are poor!  You have nothing with which to buy God’s favor and get eternal life!)… you poor to this day have the Good News preached to you, the Good News that Jesus is your Savior, that He has come for you.  And that is the greatest miracle.  Jesus loves you, oh sinner.  Jesus died for you.  Jesus is risen for you.  And by the preaching of that Good News, you believe in Him, and so you have Him.
            What He does for you spiritually now, He will do for you bodily on the Last Day.  Your Body will be raised without disease, without injury, without any affliction.  Perfect sight.  Lame men leaping like deer.  Skin soft and clear.  Perfect hearing.  Eternal life.  Death will be no more.  The miracles are a picture of the resurrection.  Every miracle is a Promise that comes to pass in Jesus who was dead, but now lives and reigns forevermore. 
            It is a scandal, this Gospel.  For John and Jesus come in weakness.  John is the King’s herald.  Yet he does not come in splendid clothing and royal luxury.  He comes in camel’s hair and leather, eating locusts and wild honey.  He does not preach in palaces, but in the wilderness.  He does not roll out the red carpet and invite you to a royal ball.  Instead he invites you to a bath of repentance and the forgiveness of your sins.  And he points you to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin.  John at least looks like a prophet, but Jesus looks like a nobody.  He has no form or majesty, no beauty that we should desire Him (Is. 53:2).  Among those born of women there is none greater than John.  Yet the One who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.  And that can only be Jesus, who becomes the least and the last, who suffers the rejection of the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees, who is a friend of tax collectors and sinners, who suffers the accursed death of crucifixion for them and for you.  He is forsaken of the Father there, hanging naked on the cross.  And you can’t get any lower or lesser than that.  This He does for you.  And for this reason He is the greatest.  He wins the Kingdom of God by purchasing it with His own blood.  He does it to make you His own.  He dies so that you live.  Does that answer the question?  Should you look for any other Savior?  He’s done it all.  For you.  The answer Jesus gives, to John’s question and to yours, is His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead.
            This generation does not like the answer.  “This generation” in the Scriptures is always those who belong to this life and this world.  In other words, it is unbelievers.  You see, this kind of Gospel… crazy preachers in the wilderness, Saviors who suffer and die… this isn’t something this generation can understand.  In this world, Ivy League professors hold forth wisdom, and Superman saves.  But that is not the way of Jesus.  This generation calls the tune and we do not dance.  We do not rejoice in what this world rejoices in.  We do not mourn what this world mourns.  We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep” (Luke 7:32).  Why are Christians persecuted in the world?  Why does our own media mock us?  Why do our own elites laugh at us?  Because they can’t understand us.  They can’t understand the Gospel.  They can’t understand Jesus.  They can’t understand the cross.  We will never win in the court of political correctness.  No matter which political party is in power or who sits on the Supreme Court, the Church must suffer, as did her Lord.  That’s life under the cross.
            But “wisdom is justified by all her children” (v. 35).  What on earth does that mean?  Wisdom is God’s plan of salvation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Really, wisdom is Jesus Himself.  And wisdom’s children are those who believe in Jesus.  You, and all sinners who believe in Christ, are born of wisdom.  You declare wisdom to be right… you justify her.  You declare her to be true.  Now, this is the complete opposite of this generation’s rejection of Christ and the Gospel.  For the time being, it appears as though this generation has won the argument.  After all, they are in power, or so it seems.  But what happens in the End is that everything is turned on its head.  As it turns out, the elite of this generation ruled at God’s bidding, the very God they have rejected.  And wisdom’s children who suffered in this life?  They rule.  You rule, with Christ.  The suffering was from Christ, for your good.  And it cannot be compared to the glory you will have then.  It is hidden now, as wisdom so often is.  But not then.  Then every eye will see.  And so will you.  It’s hard to remember that now.  Even John had his doubts, his “what ifs.”  Such is the weakness of the flesh.  But hear the Word of the Lord: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (vv. 22-23).  In hearing the Word, you know.  Jesus is the One.  There is no other Savior.  He lived for you.  He died for you.  He is risen and lives forever for you.  He still eats and drinks with sinners.  He eats and drinks with you.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Advent Midweek III: “What Child Is This? The Child Who Is John’s Joy”[1]
December 19, 2018
Text: 2 Samuel 6:12-23; Phil. 4:4-7; Luke 1:39-45

            “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4; ESV).  Why?  St. Paul tells us: “The Lord is at hand” (v. 5).  He is not far removed.  We do not have to clamber or climb our way into heaven to find Him.  He comes.  He is here.  He is flesh and blood, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  The admonition to rejoice is not a command to slap some silly, fake smile on your face and pretend you have no problems, like so much of pop-Christianity says we should do.  After all, St. Paul writes these words from prison.  He is no stranger to problems and bad things happening.  No, this Word is a gift given by the Gospel.  Dear Christian, you can rejoice, no matter your circumstances, even in the midst of great sadness or trial, because the Lord is at hand.  He has come to you.  Here is joy, deep and abiding and real.  The Lord is with you in a very real way.  With skin in the game.  So look up.  Be encouraged.  Gaudete.  Rejoice. 
            David leaps with all his might when the Ark of the Covenant comes into Jerusalem.  He rejoices in the Lord.  For the Ark, with its Mercy Seat, is the place of God’s presence with His people Israel, and where the LORD is with His people, He is there to bless, to save.  Unborn baby John leaps in his mother’s womb at the greeting of St. Mary.  For His unborn cousin, the little Lord Jesus, is borne on her words, which are God’s Words.  Mary is the fulfillment of the Ark.  She is the vessel of God’s presence with and for His people.  John leaps when Jesus arrives.  We could say much here about the sanctity of life, the full humanity of these two unborn babies.  Let it not be lost on us, too, that little St. John’s leap is an expression of faith.  This unborn baby believes in Jesus, which teaches us how important it is for pregnant mothers and infant children to be in Church, to hear the Word, and to be baptized into Christ.  He cannot yet speak, nor can he comprehend with his reason, but St. John believes in Jesus.  For his Lord has come, and when the Lord comes, He brings joy.
What of you?  The vessels that bear the bodily presence of the Lord are His Word and the holy Sacraments.  He comes into His Church.  He comes to you to bless and to save.  The same Word that gives faith to St. John conveys Jesus into your ears and heart and soul.  He stands in the water of your Baptism, our Lord Jesus Christ, as assuredly as He stood in the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by the same St. John.  And just as it happened with Him, so it happens to you.  The Holy Spirit descends on you and the Father declares from heaven that you are His dear child, with whom He is well pleased.  For your sins are washed away, and you are baptized into Christ.  You are clothed with Christ.  God looks at you, and sees all the righteousness and perfection of His Son.  And this Lord Jesus comes to you in His body and blood, the very body born of Mary, the very blood shed on the cross for you, for the forgiveness of sins.  He feeds you with Himself, His body under the bread, His blood under the wine, given to you to eat and to drink.  The Lord is at hand.  He is here, now, in this place, to bless and to save, to forgive and give life.  How can you not rejoice?
            Because your hearts are heavy with sinful thoughts and fleshly desires.  Because you are not content with the life God has given you, the people with which He has surrounded you, your wealth and possessions.  Because your fallen nature, your Old Adam, is turned away from the Lord, curved in on the self, always seeking its own.  Because your heart rejoices in other things… you fear, love, and trust in other things above the Lord your God, before His incarnate presence in Mary’s Child.  Because we are always simul iustus et peccator, at the same time saint and sinner, the Lord must always restore to us the joy of our salvation and uphold us with His Spirit.  We always think we have something better to do than to be in His Word or in His Church.  But it is precisely there that He comes to us in mercy, to give us life.  The more we are away from His Word, the farther we wander.  His Word calls us back to Him.  It turns us, repents us (gives us the gift of repentance), gives us the gift of faith in Jesus, and, in fact, gives us the Lord Jesus Himself.  The Word always conveys Jesus Christ.  The Word is the Ark, the virgin womb, the manger that holds the Son of God in the flesh for our salvation.
            You know, the joy is instinctual.  The world knows it should be joyful this time of year.  Of course, they celebrate other things than Jesus, or a watered down Jesus, or they create other holidays like Kwanzaa (which, by the way, is not an African holiday, just so you’re aware… you’ve been lied to on that one).  Or they co-opt the holy days of other religions and pull all the religious significance out of them, like Hanukah, in a bid to make all religions equal.  You can’t give too much credence to Christianity in our politically correct culture.  The joyless “joy” sells, but we’re all a little tired of it by the middle of December.  Like useless tinsel and glitter, both of which I’m against. 
            Jesus redeems us from joyless “joy.”  He gives us the real thing.  David and John can leap, Paul can tell us to rejoice in the Lord always from his prison cell, and you can sing songs of praise in the midst of grief and sadness, because Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger, because there was no room for Him in the inn… because He was poor and despised… because He was rejected by the chief priests, the scribes, and the teachers of the Law… because He was falsely accused, unjustly convicted, mocked, beaten, ripped to shreds, and crowned with thorns… because He did not leap, but staggered to His death on Calvary… because, as we sang, “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you” (LSB 370:2).  The world will discard it all, the tree and all the trappings on December 26th.  You’ll just be getting started with your Christmas celebration.  Because, “for the joy that was set before him,” the joy of redeeming you, our Lord Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2).  And He is risen.  He leaps forth from the grave.  He has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.  From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.  And still He comes to us now, on the wings of the Word, in the holy Sacraments, bringing joy and life. 
            Rejoice, dear Christian, always.  I will say it again, rejoice.  The Lord is at hand.  He comes.  He advents.  He is here, as surely as you are here, in the flesh, with all His gifts.  He is Emmanuel, God with us.  There is no hole so deep that Jesus does not climb down to rescue you.  There is no sewer so filthy that Jesus is afraid to get dirty pulling you out.  He is with you in life.  He is with you in death.  He is not a God far away.  He is a God at hand.  He is with you in every mess and scrape, with you in the sadness and the pain, with you to the bitter end.  He is with you wherever His Word is spoken.  That is why you are here tonight.  That He be with you.  That you be in Him.  He is with you to turn you from sin to Himself, with you to forgive you all your trespasses and sins, with you to give you life.  He is with you for joy.  Rejoice.  You are never alone.  God comes to you.  He is the Babe, the Son of Mary.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

[1] The theme and many of the thoughts in this sermon are from Ralph Tausz, What Child Is This? (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018).         

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Second Sunday in Advent & Advent Midweek II

Second Sunday in Advent (C)
December 9, 2018
Text: Luke 3:1-20

            At just the right time, on the cusp of the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), God sent His man into the wilderness to preach.  God sent the Voice into the place of emptiness and death to proclaim fullness and life.  The Word of the Lord came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert, and so he went into all the region of the Jordan proclaiming a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And that is the Christian message, the kerygma as we call it in theology, the preaching.  Baptism for repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  The drowning and killing of Old Adam.  The turning away from sin and death and unbelief.  The returning to the Lord our God for the forgiveness of sins that He alone can give.  And He gives it in the coming One, Messiah, Jesus, the Christ, for whom St. John prepares the way. 
            Repentance.  That is the great leveler.  Every valley is filled.  Sinners are forgiven.  Our emptiness is filled with Jesus and His fullness.  Every mountain and hill is made low.  The word for “made low” could actually be translated as “humbled.”  Sinners are humbled.  The high and mighty of this world are cut down to size.  They are cast down from their thrones.  Your pride is cut to the quick.  You and I are made nothing, that Jesus may be our everything.  That is what the Word of God does.  That is the work of preaching.  To cut us down to nothingness, to slay us so that we are good and dead, that God Himself may make us alive, raise us from the dead by the preaching of His Gospel.  He is like a refiner’s fire, we heard in our Old Testament (Mal. 3:1-7b).  He melts us down and takes away all that is not gold or silver, all that is not faith, all that is not Christ.  He is like fullers’ soap.  He scrubs us clean of our sins and makes us radiant white with Christ’s own righteousness and holiness.  The Word of God straightens out what is crooked.  It calls you on your sin.  Convicts you.  And it does not excuse you.  That is not forgiveness.  No, it covers your sin with the blood of Jesus Christ.  It covers your sin with the death of God as the sacrifice of atonement.  And even as the Word gives you new life, the very life of Christ who is risen from the dead, it sets you on the right path to walk the straight way of His Commandments.
            Or as John puts it, it produces in you fruit in keeping with repentance.  That is the fruit is love and good works.  Now, this kind of talk makes us nervous as Lutherans, but it really shouldn’t.  Of course, you are saved by grace alone.  We know that.  You are saved because of Jesus’ fulfilling the Law in your place, dying for your sins on the cross, and rising again.  And we know that He gives you faith in Himself by sending His man to you, His preacher.  He sends His voice into the wilderness of your sin and death to call you to faith in Himself.  He pours out His Spirit on you in the preaching and in Baptism, and so you come to faith in Christ as God’s own gift, apart from works.  So you rightly say that you are saved by faith alone.  But beloved, God-given faith is never alone.  It is living and active.  It is always busy.  It is always overflowing in love and good works that benefit your neighbor.  After all, faith that has no works, no love, no fruit, is dead, as St. James teaches us (2:17).  And here in our text, we learn the place of good works in our Christian life.  They do not merit us salvation, but they flow out of our salvation in Christ alone.  And in that sense, while good works are not necessary for salvation, they are necessary.  God does demand them.  We should do them.  We should obey our God’s Commandments, for they are good for us and for our neighbor.  And this is the fruit in keeping with repentance.  As God’s baptized children, forgiven and redeemed by grace alone, this the work God has given us to do, and which He does in us by His Holy Spirit.
             The people who went out to be baptized by John asked him what this meant for them, concretely.  What does it mean to bear fruit in keeping with repentance?  They had heard the warning.  Bear fruit, or else the axe is already laid at the root of the tree, and God will cut you down and cast you into the fire.  That is what happens to dead faith, faith without love.  So they asked, what should we do?  Well, first, a general admonition. We all should be generous and help our neighbor in times of need.  Do you have two tunics?  Share with the one who has none.  Do you have food on your table and in your pantry?  Give to the one who is hungry.  Faith does that.  It provides wherever it sees a lack, because that is what Jesus has done for us.  He saw our emptiness and He filled us with Himself.  He saw our death and He raised us to new life.
            But then consider your station in life.  God has called you to a very specific place in the world, at a very specific time.  He has surrounded you with real, concrete people, and he has placed you in relationship to them to do very concrete tasks.  These you are to do faithfully.  The tax collectors, who routinely fleeced the people, charging more than they had a right to do, and pocketing the money… the concrete fruit of repentance for them was that they were not to overcharge.  Can you imagine the shock of the first century people when they came to the tax booth and were only charged the minimum?  Soldiers routinely abused the commoners around them because they could.  They were strong, they had weapons, and the commoners did not.  So they would grab a person and shake him down.  They would blackmail him, make a false charge and extort money.  It was a regular mafia racket.  The fruit of repentance for them?  Don’t do that anymore.  Protect people, which is your job.  And be content with your wages. 
            You can see how this works out in your own station in life.  Be a faithful husband or wife, or a chaste single person.  Raise your children in the faith and provide for them.  Honor your father and your mother and the earthly government.  Get up, go to work, do your job with integrity, pay your taxes, be content with your wages.  Do what God gives you to do.  And do it well, because that is love for your neighbor, God’s love, bestowed on you graciously, pressed down to overflowing so that you can love those around you.  Don’t live for yourself.  Live for your neighbor.  Don’t hoard up the blessings of the Lord.  He blesses you to be a blessing to your neighbor.  Be generous.  Give liberally.  God will not forsake you in this.  God will bless it.  He will not bless miserliness, but He will always bless your generosity.  And He will never fail to provide for your needs of body and soul.  This is the new life you have in Christ.  And this life is God’s gift to you. 
            Now, all the people were in expectation.  They could sense that the time was ripe.  They could feel it in their bones.  Like we feel during the Advent Season.  It is almost Christmas.  We are bursting with anticipation.  The crowds wondered whether John might be the Christ.  But John is the Voice, and the fruit he bears in keeping with repentance is to speak what God gives him to speak.  He is ever and always to be pointing us to Jesus.  John is the forerunner.  He is the best man at the wedding.  Jesus is the fulfillment, the Bridegroom come to claim His Bride.  John is the last of the great Old Testament prophets.  There is, by the way, a difference between his Baptism and that of Jesus, not in terms of forgiving sins, but in this sense: John’s is a Baptism of preparation.  Jesus’ is a Baptism of fulfillment.  John baptizes with water, in anticipation of Jesus.  Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 
            That is to say, Jesus’ Baptism imparts the Holy Spirit, who creates living faith in the one baptized.  Christian Baptism is God’s instrument for creating faith.  It washes away your sins.  It unites you with Christ.  It makes Christ’s death your own, and Christ’s resurrection life your own.  In Baptism, Jesus takes away your sin and gives you His righteousness in exchange.  And He makes you God’s own child.  He writes the holy Name of God upon you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because you belong to Him and are precious to Him.  That is Baptism in all its fullness. 
            But there is also a warning.  Jesus also baptizes with fire.  And that is to say, when our Lord comes with His winnowing fork, if you are not wheat, the fruit of Christ… if you are, instead, chaff, the weightless husk that flies away in the wind when the wheat is tossed into the air… Christ will gather you and cast you into the fire, which is to say, hell.  That is not pleasant preaching, but it is what preachers are given to say.  Herod didn’t like it one bit.  John preached God’s Law to Herod.  It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.  That is adultery.  Repent, or you will be chaff, not wheat.  Well, it got John a prison sentence, and eventually, the loss of his head.  So it goes for voices sent out into the wilderness.  I pray God spares me, but it will not surprise me when the day comes that it will be illegal for me to preach God’s Word in all its fullness and truth.  That is already the case in so much of the world, and so many of our Christian brothers and sisters have suffered.  But this, too, suffering faithfully, is fruit in keeping with repentance.  This is what our Lord calls us to do, and He does it in us by His Spirit. 
            John came preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and that is vocation of every Christian preacher.  And that is your confession as royal priests of God.  And John still preaches.  We hear him again this morning.  Repent.  Turn from your sins.  Return to the Lord your God.  He is gracious and merciful.  He sends His Son, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  This preaching prepares us to receive Jesus as He comes to us.  Believe in Him, and live.  He rescues you from your wilderness emptiness and fills you with Himself.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           

Advent Midweek I: “What Child Is This? The Child Who Is a Virgin’s Great Son”[1]
December 12, 2018
Text: Judges 13:2-7; Luke 1:26-38
            Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, the wife of Manoah, Hannah, and of course, Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist.  Six matriarchs from the Old Testament (true, Elizabeth appears in the New Testament, but she is an Old Testament figure).  All of them barren, which, for an Old Testament woman was a source of great sadness.  A barren woman was even considered by many to be cursed, so greatly did the ancients value the gift of children.  And, of course, these Old Testament mothers longed to give birth to the One, the Messiah, who would save His people from their sins.  None of them did, but in every case, the miraculous fruit of their wombs pointed to the great miraculous conception in the womb of a seventh matriarch: the Virgin Mary.  The number seven, a very biblical number, a number of completion.  Mary, the seventh and greatest, a Virgin, conceived and gave birth to our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the Son of Mary.  He is the Son of God.  God does what is, humanly speaking, impossible, bringing fruit from the barren, and salvation when the virgin conceives and bears a Son. 
            All of those miraculous conceptions and births from the barren matriarchs point to this greatest of miraculous conceptions and births.  And they all bear some similarity to the conception and birth of our Lord.  Tonight, we focus in on the nameless wife of Manoah who, at the promise of the Angel (in fact, the pre-incarnate Son of God Himself), conceives and bears a son.
            That son, of course, is the mighty Samson.  What an unlikely biblical hero.  The LORD will do great things through him.  Dedicated to God from the womb, a Nazirite, he was not to drink wine or strong drink, nor was he to cut his hair.  That is the thing most people know about him.  The actor, Michael Landon, famously let his hair grow long so he could be strong, like Samson.  It was not the hair, though, that made Samson strong.  It was the Word of the LORD.  Samson would “begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5; ESV).  That was the promise. 
            The Philistines had been raiding and oppressing the Israelites for forty years.  The Israelites had brought it upon themselves, rebelling against God, worshiping false gods, rejecting the Word of the LORD.  But now God sent a redeemer, a judge, a promised son, Samson, a mighty man.  Once he was attacked by a lion in a vineyard, and he tore the lion limb from limb with his bare hands (Judges 14:5-6).  This is the Samson who tied 300 foxes together by their tails with torches and set them lose to burn down the Philistine grain fields (15:4-5).  This is the Samson who killed 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey (v. 15), who took hold of the Gaza city gates, doors, posts, and all, and carried them on his shoulders to the top of the hill (16:3).  Of course, we know of his violent tendencies and his weakness for women.  He is not the model saint.  As a matter of fact, it is not Delilah’s cutting his hair that weakens him, it is his falling away from the LORD and his failure to confess the LORD as the source of his strength that leads to Samson’s capture and humiliation.  Bound, blinded, mocked, a source of entertainment for the Philistine elite.  It is in this condition Samson performs his greatest feat.
            He dies.  And he dies in this way.  Placed between two columns, he stretches out his hands.  He takes hold of the columns and brings down the house on top of the Philistines, so that those whom he killed in his death were more than those he had killed during his life (vv. 23-31).  By his death, Samson defeats Israel’s enemies.  In the shedding of his blood, this promised son of a barren woman begins to save Israel.
            For all his sins, for all his going his own way, for all the blood on his hands and lust in his heart, and for all his failure to confess the LORD his God as his strength, Samson is a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The angel (in this case, Gabriel) appears to the Virgin Mary and promises she will conceive and bear a Son (Luke 1:31).  Her child will be great, not as Samson was great, with great physical strength, but as the Son of the Most High.  For, the angel declares to Mary, “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).  The Word enters Mary’s ear and is conceived in her womb.  God has become flesh, Jesus Christ, the Savior. 
            He is dedicated to the LORD from His mother’s womb.  He is not a Nazarite, though He will grow up in Nazareth, from the same Hebrew root.  And His strength is not in His hair, but as was, in fact, the case with Samson, His strength is the Promise, the Word of the LORD: “you shall call his name Jesus” (v. 31), which means “YHWH, the LORD, saves.”  For that is what He will do.  He will tear apart the roaring lion, Satan, not by might, but by being torn Himself.  As Samson used foxes and the jawbone of a donkey, our Lord does not use conventional weapons in His battle to save us.  He uses a cross and death.  He takes the wood upon His shoulders and carries it up the hill, Golgotha, the Place of a Skull, to die.  Between two thieves, stretching out His hands, He is bound to the wood, nailed there, mocked, bleeding, blinded in death, He takes down our enemies by sacrificing Himself.  It is the end of our sin.  It is the end of our death.  It is the defeat of hell itself.  In the shedding of His blood, the Promised Son of the Virgin saves Israel, saves us, once and for all.
            And unlike Samson, Jesus doesn’t stay dead.  He is risen from the dead, and He will raise Samson, and He will raise you.  From the barrenness of the grave, the risen Lord Jesus will raise you bodily and give you eternal life.
            You?  You’re a rather unlikely object of the Lord’s salvation.  You’re not exactly the model saint.  You’re a Samson.  Here you were just objecting to Samson being the picture of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I know how it goes.  It’s uncomfortable thinking of such a wretched man, such a vile sinner, as a picture of the Lord, but then again, you’re not really in a position to judge, are you?  There is blood on your hands, too… The person you have despised in your heart, the neighbor in need you have failed to help, your unrighteous anger, your unwillingness to forgive, embittering your neighbor’s life by your words and actions, failure to speak up for the weakest and most vulnerable among us.  There is lust in your heart, too… Casual second glances, wicked fantasies, trashy novels or vile websites, not loving and valuing the spouse God gave you as you should, or not bearing the cross of chastity in the single life faithfully.  You’re rightly disgusted with Samson.  But as Nathan said to David, “Thou art the man” (2 Sam. 12:7; KJV)! 
            And yet!  And yet… All this our Lord Jesus did and suffered, all of which Samson was a living picture, Jesus’ cross, Jesus’ death, the barren tomb, and the victorious resurrection… All of this is for Samson, and it is for you!  It is for all sinners.  And you have been dedicated, set apart for the Lord from your new birth in the waters of Holy Baptism.  God’s Name is on you.  You are not a Nazirite, you are a Nazarene, a Christian, in Christ and one with Him.  His cross is your death.  His death is your salvation.  His resurrection is your life.  Your strength is not in your hair or your holiness or your works.  Thank God for that, because Samson has no holiness in and of himself, and neither do you.  Your holiness, your strength, is the Promise, the Word of the Lord: Your sins are forgiven in the Name of the Father, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit.  This is my body, given for you.  This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  If you locate your strength within yourself, it will lead to bondage, humiliation, and death.  But Christ is your strength.  He is your salvation.  Believe it and confess it.  And in that strength, God does great things through you.  He loves your neighbor with your hands.  He provides for your neighbor through your hands.  You are the mask of God, dear Christian, dear little Christ, as He provides for your neighbor through you. 
            Yes, for all your sins, for all your going your own way, for all the blood on your hands and lust in your heart, you are forgiven in the Name of Jesus.  And you are the picture of Christ to your neighbor.  See what God does with barrenness?  He brings life to the desert, sinners to repentance, the unbelieving to faith.  Jesus raises the dead to eternal life.  Through the cross and Good Friday, to Easter and the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day.  God gave this Child for this very purpose.  He is your life.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.      

[1] The theme and many of the thoughts in this sermon are from Ralph Tausz, What Child Is This? (St. Louis: Concordia, 2018).