Monday, January 28, 2019

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
January 27, 2019
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.  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.”  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.  And, our Lord proclaims, this is the year of the Lord’s favor, His gracious acceptance of the poor, the sinners, as His own.  This passage is programmatic for Jesus’ entire earthly ministry and His saving mission.  And He tells us as much in His sermon.
            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.  (Come to think of it, I kind of like that arrangement.)  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 He is?  And 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.  St. John is the witness.  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 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 yay high 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 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.  They drive Him to the brow of the hill throw Him off the cliff.  This is what preaching God’s Word gets the preacher, and, incidentally, you who hear and believe the preaching 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 it’s really not you they want dead.  It’s Jesus.  Nothing more enrages the people of this world than Jesus.  And the rage, of course, 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 claiming to be God’s Messiah, the only Savior of the world, and that He won’t save the people who don’t believe in Him. 
            The people are in a murderous rage, but this time, for now, it isn’t Jesus’ time.  He passes through their midst and goes away.  See, there’s 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.  Bodily.  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 poor, miserable sinners.  And to you, Jesus preaches good news.  You are free.  You are healed.  You see.  You hear.  You are raised to new life.  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?  The greatest miracle is that you believe in Jesus.  That happens by His Word, in the preaching, by the Spirit.  And of course, the miracles point to what Jesus does for you now spiritually, and will do for you finally and decisively in the resurrection of your body.  Prophets preach God’s Word and are rejected. But those who believe, you, receive the perfect freedom of life in Jesus Christ, who is risen from the dead.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
January 20, 2019
Text: John 2:1-11

            Wine in abundance is a sign that Messiah has come.  No room for teetotalling in the Bible.  The Prophets Joel and Amos both preach that in that Day (the Day of Messiah), “the mountains shall drip sweet wine” (Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13; ESV).  The rest of the prophets concur.  Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”  Old Ben was not a very good theologian, but on this one, he’s close.  Wine is proof that God loves us and gives us His Son.  So it is that Jesus comes to a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mountains drip sweet wine.  Our Lord speaks and water becomes the very best wine.  We often call this Jesus’ first miracle, but it’s so much more than a miracle, and that is not what St. John calls it.  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee” (John 2:11; emphasis added).  St. John calls it a sign, not a miracle.  In other words, it’s not just an impressive magic trick.  It is a sign of who Jesus is.  It is a sign that Messiah has come and our salvation has arrived.  Wine in abundance, dripping from the mountains, is proof that God has made good on His Promise.  He has sent us a Savior.  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory,” manifested, a word related to Epiphany.  He gave us an Epiphany that He is the Glory of God, God Himself, in the flesh.  And his disciples believed in him” (v. 11).  They believed the sign.  And so do you, for this sign is manifested for you as you hear it in Scripture and preaching this morning. 
            What is amazing is that this sign is performed for those who least deserve it.  Jesus gives the very best wine to a bunch of rowdy drunks.  To run out of wine at a wedding feast brings great shame on the bride and groom and their entire family.  It is also an indication that guests were lubricated to excess.  What the family thought to be more than sufficient was not enough for this crowd.  They were abusing their right to the family’s hospitality.  They were abusing God’s good gift of wine.  Wine is a gift, but drunkenness is sin.  The guests are three sheets to the wind.  The master of the feast is angry because custom has been broken.  Everyone knows that you serve the good wine first, and after the people have “drunk freely” (v. 10), that is, after they are plastered and their taste buds are numb, you bring out the cheap stuff.  But the wine Jesus provides is the very best.  The master of the feast does not know the wine came from Jesus, from the 6 stone water jars.  He thinks the family paid good money for it.  He is outraged over the extravagance, the expense undertaken for those who are incapable of appreciating it.  But isn’t that just like Jesus?  He gives the very best gifts to those who take Him for granted, who despise His gifts and abuse them.  Still, He gives, and He gives in abundance.  The jars held twenty to thirty gallons each!  No more danger of running out.  Even this crowd would have trouble burning through that.  The mountains drip sweet wine.  Jesus gives wine to drunks.[1]  And in this way He manifests His glory, and His disciples believe in Him.
            It is not by accident that this sign takes place at a wedding.  Actually, this is the fulfillment of the Prophet Hosea’s ministry.  Remember Hosea?  We should talk more about him.  His name is related to the Name of Jesus.  Hosea means “salvation”, just as Jesus means “The LORD saves”.  God commands Hosea to marry a prostitute, Gomer, and in this way the prophet’s marriage becomes a sign of YHWH’s marriage to Israel.  Gomer is unfaithful.  She runs away from her husband.  She goes back to prostitution.  She sells herself to other men.  Just like Israel, “whoring” after other gods (the Bible’s words, not mine… Lev. 20:5-6; Ez. 6:9; Hosea 4:18; and numerous other examples).  But Hosea goes out to find Gomer.  He redeems her.  Literally, he buys her back, for fifteen shekels of silver.  Can you imagine, a broken-hearted husband slogging through the gutters of the red light district to find his unfaithful bride, having to pay for her to come back to him?  But he loves her.  And Hosea is a picture of our God and what He does for His beloved Israel, His beloved Church, what He does for us.  The Church is the Bride of Christ.  We are unfaithful to our Divine Bridegroom.  We whore after other gods.  We sell ourselves to the pleasures of this world.  Drunk and full of lust, we take our Lord for granted, despise His gifts and abuse them.  But He comes after us.  He comes for us, God in the flesh, God in man made manifest, to redeem us, to buy us back, not for fifteen shekels of silver, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.  He pays with His very life for us to come back to Him, to live with Him, to be His Bride.  Because He loves us.  God shows his love for us,” St. Paul writes, “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  Christ is our Hosea.  We are His Gomer.  We are unfaithful, but He is faithful, to us and to God, for us and in our place. 
            Now, this is what it means to be married to Christ.  What is ours is His, and what is His is ours.  That is how it works in marriage.  All that belongs to the Bride becomes the Bridegroom’s.  All that belongs to the Bridegroom becomes the Bride’s.  Jesus takes upon Himself all our sin and uncleanness, our unfaithfulness, our idolatry, lust, and drunkenness, and He pays the penalty for all of it.  He takes our death and condemnation and all that goes along with it, our weakness and sickness and sadness, and puts it to death in His flesh on the cross.  In the meantime, we get all His righteousness, eternal life, salvation, and every good and gracious gift bestowed upon us by our God.  Luther says all of this is sealed by the wedding ring of faith.  Faith makes all of these things our own.  St. Paul writes about this in Ephesians, chapter 5, when he tells husbands to “love your 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, 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” (vv. 25-27).  As Jacob met Rachel at the well, so our Lord meets His Bride, the Church, at the well of the Font, where He gives us the wedding ring of faith.  And we are made clean, holy, spotless with the splendor of His holiness.  It is as Isaiah prophesied in our Old Testament reading: “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Is. 62:5).  You are beautiful to God.  You are precious in His eyes.
            So our Lord does the first of His signs at a wedding, and in this way He woos us to believe in Him and be His Bride.  And so also He honors holy marriage as a blessed institution, given by God in the Garden even before our first parents fell into sin.  One man, one woman, united in love and fidelity as long as they both shall live.  Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).  Our Holy Gospel is a great comfort for husbands and wives, because just as Christ was present for the couple in Cana, so He is present in your marriage.  And He gives wine.  He gives joy.  He gives the Holy Spirit.  Even when you abuse His good gifts.  In fact, especially when you abuse His good gifts.  He is there, in the hard times as well as the good, in every argument, in every heartache, and even in your infidelities.  His Promise sustains your marriage, and He gives you joy.  He gives you to delight in one another.  He gives you to delight in Him.  So also our Holy Gospel is a great comfort to single people.  There were undoubtedly unmarried people at the wedding, singles and widows and maybe even divorcees.  They also get the wine.  Jesus, who is not married… He’s saving Himself for His Bride, the Church… is at the wedding for single people, too.  Being single does not make you less of a person, less of a guest at the Feast, or any less forgiven and redeemed and precious before God.  Singles have a particular cross to bear for as long as God gives them to bear it.  But you also get the wine.  And what is ultimately true for every one of you, single or married, child or adult, husband, wife, widow, or divorcee, is this: Jesus is your Bridegroom.  You are married to Jesus.  He is faithful to you.  He has redeemed you.  And all that belongs to Him, belongs to you.  All of it.  All things are yours in Christ Jesus who loves you.  For though His hour had not yet come at the wedding in Cana, it would come soon enough, on Calvary, where He shed His blood and gave His life to make you His own.
            On the third day there was a wedding,” writes St. John, and there is more going on here than meets the eye.  The Holy Ghost chooses His Words very carefully.  On the third day Jesus rises from the dead.  On third day there is a wedding.  On the third day the preparations are complete.  The Bride, who was once a drunken Gomer, has been washed in water and the Word, and robed in the righteousness of Jesus.  The Bridegroom has prepared a Feast for His Bride, and at this Feast there is wine in abundance.  Here He manifests His glory.  Here His disciples believe in Him.  Beloved in the Lord, you are the Bride, and Jesus woos you.  Come to His Table.  Eat and drink, and rejoice.  The Bridegroom who loves you has arrived.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.    

[1] For this recurring phrase I’m indebted to the Rev. David Petersen.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Epiphany of Our Lord/ The Baptism of Our Lord

The Epiphany of Our Lord
January 6, 2019
Text: Matt. 2:1-12

            Happy Epiphany!  Which is just another way of saying, Merry Christmas!  Epiphany is sometimes called the “Gentile Christmas,” as the Magi were the first Gentiles to behold and worship the Savior of the Nations.  In fact, Epiphany has been the historic celebration of Christmas among the Christians of the East.  Christmas is all about the joyous mystery that God has become flesh in Jesus Christ.  Epiphany is all about the joyous mystery that this man, Jesus, is God.  Same blessed gift considered from another perspective.  The word “epiphany” means revelation or manifestation.  It is when something comes to light.  When you suddenly have a bright idea, you say that you’ve had an “epiphany”… a new thought has been revealed.  Epiphany is the Season of Light.  God has revealed to us a new thought in the Gospel, which is really a very old thought, the will of God from all eternity, that we would not be condemned but have eternal life in the salvation brought about by Jesus.  The Light that is Jesus Christ shines in all the dark corners of the world and of our hearts, and the darkness cannot overcome it.  What we could never have known or imagined has been revealed in the flesh of Jesus: God has come down.  God has become one with us.  This man, susceptible to all the weaknesses and temptations and difficulties of the flesh, is God come to save us who have fallen to all the weaknesses and temptations and difficulties of the flesh.
            We sang on Christmas Day that Jesus “comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found” (LSB 387:3).[1]  That is an Epiphany thought.  The blessings of salvation wrapped up in the flesh of Jesus Christ are to flow, to be made known in preaching and confession and the presence of Christian people “far as the curse is found.”  And that is to say, the whole world which groans under the curse of sin and death and fallen creation.  That is to say the far reaches of the earth.  That is to say your own homes and families and the deepest recesses of your heart.  The preaching goes forth from the Baby in the manger: God has come to deliver you.  God has come as a flesh and blood Child to grow up and die for you, to rise for you, to live and reign for you.  To forgive your sins.  To give you new and eternal life.  To take you to Himself in heaven.  To raise you bodily on the Last Day.  He reverses the curse by suffering it for you on the cross, in His flesh, shedding His blood.  He imparts to you all His righteousness and life in His holy Word, by baptizing you into Himself, and by feeding you with His body and blood, the body and blood of God!  Far as the curse is found, the Word goes out, deep into you and from you to the whole world.  It is an Epiphany, a revelation.  God is gracious to sinners.  God is gracious to you.  He loves you.  He gave His only-begotten Son for you. 
            Epiphany is a missionary season.  The concept is often lost on us, just how revolutionary this is that Gentiles are given to behold and worship the newborn King, and come into His Kingdom.  Israel often forgot that their God is the God of all the nations.  Israel was, after all, God’s covenant people.  St. Paul reminds us, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.  To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever.  Amen” (Rom. 9:4-5; ESV).  Even after our Lord’s appearing and saving work, the blessed Apostles had to wrestle with what it meant for the Gospel to preached in all the world.  Peter had his vision of the sheet with unclean animals.  Rise, Peter; kill and eat,” was the Lord’s command (Acts 10:13), and Peter objected: He had never eaten anything unclean.  Three times he had to have the rooftop vision, so that Jesus could teach him, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (v. 15).  And what was the impetus for the lesson?  Go, Peter, and preach to the Gentile Cornelius and his household.  And when Peter did so, wouldn’t you know, Cornelius and his household believed and received the Holy Spirit, so that Peter was compelled to baptize them and include them as full members of the New Israel, the holy Christian Church.  It was revolutionary.  Unclean Gentiles, not even circumcised, included in God’s covenant people?  But this is all written in the prophets, and typified by the visit of the Magi. 
            Then, what to do with Paul?  Of course, he began his ministry in each new place by first visiting the Synagogue and reasoning with the Jews on the basis of the Scriptures, proving that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  But when this Jew of Jews, Pharisee of Pharisees, of the Tribe of Benjamin, former persecutor of the Church, converted by Jesus Himself on the Damascus road… when he encountered the objections of the Jews, as he inevitably did, he would go to the Gentiles.  It took a whole Synod convention in Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council, to solve the problem of what to do with all these Gentile converts.  Should they be circumcised?  Should they observe the Sabbath?  What about bacon and shellfish?  (Well, I guess Peter’s vision solved that problem!)  James, the brother of the Lord, and St. Peter himself had to speak up in defense of Paul’s ministry.  The old ceremonial laws are unnecessary for the Gentiles to keep.  Clearly it is the Lord’s will to save them as He has saved us all, Jew and Gentile alike, by grace through faith on account of Christ, apart from works.  Therefore let us simply bid them to abstain from things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and so as not to give offense to the Jewish brethren, not to eat what is strangled or blood (Acts 15:19-20).  The Gentiles do not need to become Jews, as the Judaizers had maintained.  They could still be Gentiles, but now Christian Gentiles, for the grace of God is for Gentiles also. 
            So the Magi come to worship Jesus.  They are not kings, by the way, and we don’t know how many of them there are.  Probably more than three.  They represent the best of human wisdom.  We get the word “magician” from Magi.  They are actually pagans.  But they are given, by grace, to know that a new King and Savior has been born.  And this King is not only King of the Jews, but of the whole world.  It is revealed to them by a star that appeared, epiphanied, in the East.  How did they know to follow that star?  These are the Magi undoubtedly in the tradition of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, wise men of Persia.  They had received the Scriptures.  They knew Scriptures like Numbers 24 and Balaam’s final oracle: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (v. 17).  Or our Old Testament reading this morning from the Prophet Isaiah: “those from Sheba shall come.  They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praise of the LORD” (60:6). 
            Now, this may not strike you as such amazingly good news for you personally, that the Gentiles are included in the covenant.  But then again, are you Jewish?  If not, you ought to fall on your knees in thanksgiving for this morning’s Holy Gospel, that this Savior, Jesus, the man who is God, is for you, your God, and your Savior.  And if you do happen to be Jewish, you also ought to fall on your knees in thanksgiving, for this salvation of the Gentiles does not displace you and your place in the Kingdom.  It vindicates you!  Your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, longed to see this day.  God preserved the nation of Israel for this very purpose, to bring about the salvation of the world.  And we all, Jew and Gentile alike, are saved by this man, this God who died for us, and who lives and reigns.  So we preach, because that is the continuation of the Epiphany.  The blessings continue to flow far as the curse is found. 
            The Magi come and the star leads them to the very house where Jesus is with the Holy Family.  As they enter, St. Matthew tells us, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matt. 2:10).  May it ever be so for you when you enter the House where Jesus is with His Holy Family, the holy Christian Church.  And they present to Him gifts: gold and frankincense and myrrh.  We often think of worship as our coming to bring gifts to Jesus, our time spent in holy obligation, our praises, our offerings in the plate.  But learn here from the Magi.  Their gifts actually reveal, epiphany, the Lord’s gifts to them and to us.  Gold, befitting a King.  Jesus is our King.  He reigns over all things for our sake, and we are beloved citizens of His Kingdom and children of His heavenly Father.  Frankincense: That is the incense of sacrifice.  Jesus is the God who receives the incense of our sacrificial offerings and prayers.  Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins.  The Frankincense is a prophecy of His crucifixion for our sakes.  And along with that, myrrh, the burial spice.  Jesus will be dead and buried for us and for our salvation.  The very Gospel in all its fullness is prophesied in the gifts of the wise men.  As much as it is their gift to Jesus, even more it is Jesus’ gift to them.  And so our gifts.  We do not come to Church to fulfill a holy obligation, but to be filled with Jesus and all of His gifts to us: forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation; strength for daily life and our various vocations, the Holy Spirit, faith, love for God and our neighbor, prayer that calls upon God in every trouble, praises, and gives thanks in all circumstances.  Our offerings in the plate?  Do you really think God needs your money?  This isn’t about giving to God, as if He has a lack or a need you can fill.  No, your offerings are God’s gift to you.  They are first of all an exercise of your faith, that you recognize that all good things are from God, that they belong to Him, that you are merely stewards of what is His, and that He will not forsake you when you give your money away.  He will continue to provide for your needs.  And then, too, they are God’s gift to you because they continue to provide for the preaching of His Gospel among you, and to send forth the preaching to the ends of the earth, far as the curse is found.  Your offerings are actually and investment in God’s Gospel preaching, in the Epiphany!  We do not come to worship primarily to serve God, but to be served by God: served up with Jesus and His salvation.  Then, and only then, and for that reason alone, we sing our praises to Him, and His Name is glorified.
            So happy Epiphany!  And merry Christmas!  Pray that this man, Jesus, who is our God, be revealed to all who do not know and believe in Him.  Give your offerings, for the sake of the preaching.  And rejoice.  Especially you Gentiles, and also you Jews.  This Savior is for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         

The Baptism of Our Lord (C)
January 13, 2019
Text: Luke 3:15-22
            John’s Baptism is preparatory.  He is not the Christ.  He is not the Savior.  He is the last and best Old Testament prophet, on the cusp of the New Testament brought about by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  But John’s work is still preliminary.  This is not in any way to diminish John’s Baptism.  John’s Baptism is the forerunner of Christian Baptism, as John is the forerunner of Christ.  And John’s Baptism comes with gifts.  John’s is a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3).  The people came to John confessing their sins (Matt. 3:6).  They knew God was justly angry over their transgressions.  John preached not only the Law to the people, but as our text says, “with many other exhortations he preached the good news,” the Gospel, “to the people” (Luke 3:18; ESV).  The people heard from John that God is gracious, that He is merciful, that He does not desire the death of a sinner, but that the sinner turn from His evil ways and live.  And they heard that God would provide, and was in the very act of providing, a Savior, a sacrificial Lamb, to take away the sins of the world.  So come and be baptized.  Take a divine bath, that God may wash away your sins.  Leave them here in the Jordan.  Be forgiven.  Be clean.  And you better believe that such preaching and Baptism created faith in the one true God, as it always does.
            But John’s Baptism only works this way because Jesus steps into the water.  He’s in the lineup of the people being baptized.  And when John baptizes the Lord, Holy Baptism is transformed forever.  The preparation has come to an end.  The fulfillment has arrived.  Like a Divine Sponge, in His Baptism, Jesus soaks up all the sins of the people and of all the world.  He takes all sin into Himself, bears it in His flesh, that He may put it to death, suffer its penalty, pay for it in full, in His flesh.  And He leaves behind Him in the water all of His righteousness and life, all of His gifts.  It is the beautiful image Luther pains in his Flood Prayer, part of the rite of Holy Baptism: “Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin” (LSB 269).  Because Jesus stepped into the Jordan, Jesus is in the water for us. 
            Jesus is in the water, and He is praying, and all at once the heavens are opened.  The Holy Spirit comes upon our Lord in the bodily form of a dove.  A voice comes from heaven, the very voice of the Father, declaring “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (v. 22).  And that is now the reality of the font.  When you are plunged into the watery grave of Baptism, Jesus is there in the water, giving you His resurrection life.  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).  Newness of life now, eternal life in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day.  Jesus is in the water praying, for you, with you, and in you.  Heaven is opened to you, to receive your prayers prayed in Christ, to receive you who have been baptized into Christ.  You are now a citizen of the Kingdom, an heir with Christ of all that is the Father’s.  The Spirit descends upon you, not in the bodily form of a dove, but into your body which is now a temple of the Holy Spirit.  He possesses you, and gives you faith in Jesus Christ for salvation and restoration to the Father.  And you are God’s own child.  That is what the Father says of you who are baptized into Christ.  You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  Your sins are forgiven.  You are righteous in my sight.  For you are covered with my Son, Christ.  You are wrapped in His righteousness.  When I look at you, I see only the righteousness and perfection of my Son, Jesus. 
            Of course, certainly not just water does these things.  This is not magic.  It is not superstition.  Nor, by the way, is it your work for God.  Your will, your obedience, these are not the operative ingredient in Baptism.  Oh, no.  It is the Word of God in the water that does these things.  That makes Baptism God’s work, not yours.  To say that “Baptism… now saves you,” as St. Peter does (1 Peter 3:21), is not to contradict the truth that we are saved by God’s gracious action alone.  Quite the opposite.  It is to say, this is how God does His saving work in us.  By Jesus in the water, by virtue of His Word, as the vehicle of the Holy Spirit, creating saving faith and washing away sin.  It’s all God.  Not you.  Not even the pastor.  God does the baptizing.  The Word of God in the water is our Lord’s command: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), and of course, the command continues with our obligation to teach the baptized all things whatsoever our Lord has commanded (v. 20).  It is also the beautiful Promise of our Lord from the longer ending of Mark, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).  Faith grasps this Word of God.  Faith is the receiving hands God gives us, by which we take hold of His saving gifts in Christ.  And those gifts are the forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation.  It is the daily drowning death of the Old Adam in us by contrition and repentance, that the new man daily emerge and arise in Christ to live before God in righteousness and purity.  That is what repentance is, a daily return to Baptism. 
            And because this is God’s work, and not ours, this is why we baptize children and infants.  It is true, the infant doesn’t decide to come to Baptism, or even rationally know what Baptism is.  That’s exactly the kind of person God wants.  Infants don’t present all sorts of objections to Baptism on the basis of the perverse human will or human reason.  They simply undergo it.  By grace.  God does His work upon them and in them.  We adults have all sorts of problems in this regard.  We have our objections.  How can water do this, even if you add a few words from the Bible?  It just looks like water.  How can I know it will work?  How can I know if I believe enough?  If I was sincere in my decision?  I’m just not so sure.  That is why Jesus tells us we must become like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  That is to say, helpless.  And trusting.  Everything must be done for us.  God is the Doer.  Infants don’t know much about anything.  But they do know the voice of Mom.  Already in the womb, they know her voice.  And they trust Mom.  They don’t even know the word “Mom,” but they know Mom.  They know her touch.  They know her heartbeat.  They know that Mom is the source of all that is good.  Food.  Diaper changes.  Comfort.  Protection.  Help.  And the same trust an infant has in Mom, he is given to have in Jesus by means of Holy Baptism.  The adult is no different.  Even if an adult marches up to the font all by himself, having resolved to be baptized, it is really not his work in any way.  He is carried there by His mother, the Church.  The Holy Spirit calls him by the Gospel and gives him to answer by faith that he rejects the devil and all his works and all his ways, and believes in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The problem with adults is we think we came up with this ourselves and we’re doing something for God.  Not at all.  Baptism is the Triune saving action: Jesus is in the water with all of His gifts, the Spirit comes upon you to enlighten you, and the Father declares His love and pleasure in you, His child.  It is all God’s work.
            Now, this is important, because life in this world is dangerous.  For one thing, there is a Judgment coming.  Jesus is coming back, visibly, to judge the living and the dead.  His winnowing fork will be in His hand to clear His threshing floor, to clear out the world.  He will gather the wheat into His barn.  That is to say, those believe and are baptized will be saved.  They will be gathered to the Lord Jesus.  But the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.  That is to say, the one who does not believe will be condemned.  Eternity in the unquenchable fires of hell.  So you need to be in Christ.  And you come into Christ by Baptism. 
            The other thing is, Christians are promised great persecution in this world.  You haven’t had to suffer much of it.  But look at St. John the Baptizer.  He gets a little too political in his sermons.  He preaches against Herod’s adultery with Herodias.  Sexual indiscretion in the halls of power, as well as all the other evil things Herod did.  John is not politically correct.  He preaches against this and it gets him locked up and eventually beheaded.  Not only Christian preachers, but you can expect these things to happen for your steadfast confession of faith, the faith into which you have been baptized.  If it doesn’t happen, great.  The Lord has spared you.  But don’t be surprised if it does, as if the Lord did not warn you.  It’s great to know, though, going into persecution, that you belong to your heavenly Father.  That you are precious to Him.  That He has written His Name on you.  That nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  That take they your life, goods, fame, child or wife, the Kingdom yours remaineth.  They can kill your body, but they cannot kill your soul, and really, they cannot kill your body ultimately, because you are baptized into Christ, who is risen from the dead, and who will raise you.
            Beloved, live each day in your Baptism, which is to say, live in the holy faith of Jesus.  Live in His death and resurrection.  Live in His forgiveness and righteousness.  It is not that you were baptized, but that you are baptized.  This is your reality.  Jesus has died on the cross for your sins.  Daily die to sin.  That is to say, repent.  Jesus is risen from the dead.  Daily live in the confidence of His resurrection.  That is to say, believe.  Each day make the sign of the holy cross and speak the reality anew: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.              

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

First Sunday after Christmas

First Sunday after Christmas (C)
December 30, 2018
Text: Luke 2:22:40

            Merry Christmas!  Yes, it’s still Christmas, the first Sunday after the Nativity of Our Lord, the 6th Day of Christmas, complete with geese a-laying, reportedly a catechetical reference to the six days of creation (and even if the idea has been debunked that the song is catechetical in nature, why not use it that way?).  Anyway, put away your Santas and Rudolphs if you like.  I understand we’re all a little weary of that.  But Christians, don’t put away Christmas.  It’s kind of nice that the world has moved past their brand of celebration.  This holy time belongs to the Church.  Keep wishing people a merry Christmas.  When they look at you weird, use it as an opportunity to confess the birth of Christ our Savior.  Teach them that for the Church, Christmas is not just a Day, but a Season, and, in fact, a worldview, and a way of life.  Everything has changed because God has come in the flesh.  Everything has been turned on its head.  The proud are scattered.  The mighty are brought down.  The humble are exalted.  Sinners are forgiven.  The hungry are filled and the rich are sent away empty.  The dead are raised up and the poor have the good news preached to them.  God is a flesh and blood man.  He comes, not in wrath, but as a Baby, born to save us from our sins by dying on the cross for us.  And He is risen in that same flesh and blood, and He lives and reigns in that same flesh and blood, so that He may raise us from the dead, to new and eternal life in our flesh and blood.  This good news, this Gospel, makes for a merry Christmas, indeed.
            This morning the little Lord comes into His Temple.  Now, the first thing that should strike us in our text is how His parents follow the custom of the Law, which is not to say Law in the Lutheran Law and Gospel sense, but Law as in Torah, the Instruction of the Lord.  They’re following the Word.  The Word has engendered a custom, given a habit, and that is to bring the Baby to the Temple to present Him to the LORD.  We heard in our Old Testament (Ex. 13:1-3a, 11-15) how the Firstborn is holy to the LORD, and thus to be redeemed by sacrifice.  Mary and Joseph offer the sacrifice of the poor, a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons.  This custom and these sacrifices, of course, point to Jesus Himself.  He is THE Firstborn, not only of Mary, but of the Father, His only-begotten Son.  He is holy to the LORD.  He is the Holy LORD.  And He is the Sacrifice.  The firstborn of all flesh died in Egypt as the climactic event in the Exodus, except for those whose doors were painted with the blood of the Lamb.  Jesus is both Firstborn and sacrificial Lamb, by whose blood we are saved.  Death passes over us because it did not pass over Him. 
            And now we are to follow the example of Mary and Joseph.  We bring our little ones into the House of God.  We bring them to Holy Baptism, to be painted with the Lamb’s blood and cleansed from their sins.  Ours is not to bring a sacrifice for them, but that they receive a Sacrament.  And then we are to keep bringing them.  We bring them to the Divine Service.  No, we don’t send them away to some kind of children’s church or playtime.  This that we’re doing here is as much for them as it is for anyone.  They belong here, with us, hearing the Word, receiving the gifts, growing up into the solid food of doctrine, and eventually, as they are taught and can examine themselves, to the Lord’s Supper.  We bring them to Sunday School.  We bring them to Catechism.  We teach them the faith.  That is our custom.  It is the custom of the Torah, the Instruction, the Word of the Lord.  The Church is for children who hear the living voice of Jesus and believe it.  It’s we adults who have the problem.  We need to become like children, that we may inherit the Kingdom of God. 
            The next thing that should strike us is Simeon and Anna, both advanced in years, both waiting their whole lives long for this moment.  We have here the bookends of human life.  The Baby Jesus and the elderly Prophet and Prophetess.  The climax of it all is the confession that this Child is the Lord’s Christ, the Savior of the world.  The old is now passing away.  Simeon and Anna are Old Testament figures.  Their office has come to an end.  For the new has come, righteous and having salvation.  Jesus, the Lord, has come into His Temple. 
            Old Simeon takes the Child from His mother’s arms… and it is probably no small miracle that she lets him.  He lifts the Baby into the sky and prays, “Lord!”… And by the way, who is he talking to?  He’s talking to the Baby, of course.  Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace" (Luke 2:29; ESV).  “I can die, now.  Happily.  Because with my own eyes I have seen Your salvation.  In the flesh.  Held You in my own arms.  You are for me, and you are for all.  You are the Light for revelation to the Gentiles.  You are the Glory of Your people Israel.”  We sing His song, too.  We’ll sing it again today.  When?  After we’ve held this same flesh and blood Child in our hands, in our mouths, under bread and wine, and thus with our own eyes and ears and tongues have beheld our salvation in the Person of Jesus Christ.  Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis, is a Communion hymn.  We can die in peace, because we’ve seen our salvation.  Our sins are forgiven.  And it is always a Christmas hymn, because it is about God our Savior clothed in skin.
            Simeon tells us how this salvation will happen.  This Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many, and for a sign that is opposed.  What does that mean?  It means that Jesus is the Great Reversal, the fulfillment of Mary’s Magnificat.  The movers and shakers of the world, the powerful and elite, the somebodies are nobodies before God.  And all who reject this sign, the Savior, will fall eternally.  But the nobodies, the lowly, the despised, the sinners and the rejects, have in this Infant a God who regards them, loves them, declares them to be great.  He forgives sins.  He gives life.  He gives a Kingdom.  But be warned, Mary.  He will do all this by suffering.  By dying.  A sword will pierce your own soul, also.  You will be at the foot of His cross.  Remember that Christmas has no meaning apart from Good Friday.  This Child is born to die.  And to rise.  In His conception and birth, He takes up the tools necessary to effect our redemption… He takes up our flesh and blood.  Simeon prophesies all this in His blessing. 
            Then dear Anna, married only seven years, then a widow until she was eighty-four… She cannot contain herself, for the true Bridegroom has arrived.  Sure, He has some growing up to do, but the Wedding Feast has begun as far as she is concerned.  And she cannot help it, she must speak of this Child to all who are waiting for the redemption of Israel, to all who were looking for and trusting in the Lord’s Christ.  Here He is, this precious Baby.  Anna speaks to us still.  He’s worth the wait.  He’s worth it all.  Cling to this little One in faith, dear Christian.  He will deliver you.  And you will have joy.  In the meantime, follow Anna’s example, and speak of Him to all.  Capture for yourself some of that joy that cannot be contained.  After all, you’ve held Him, like Simeon.  You’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good.  God grant us all the zeal of Anna, and her patience as we wait upon Him.
            This is precisely what He gives to us as we receive Him where He comes to us, our flesh and blood God.  Baptism, Preaching, Supper.  It has become almost cliché to us, so I don’t want you to miss it.  The mystery of Christmas, that God makes His dwelling among us in the flesh, is fulfilled every time we gather around the altar to eat His body and drink His blood.  The same thing that happened to Simeon in the Temple happens to us here.  That is why we bring our children here.  That is why we remain here worshiping, fasting, praying, feasting until we are old.  Because here our eyes see our salvation.  Our ears hear Him.  Our mouths are filled with Him.  And being filled with Him, we confess Him.  Beloved, as long as we gather around the altar, it is always Christmas.  For Jesus comes in the flesh to make us His own.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  Merry Christmas!