Sunday, December 26, 2021

First Sunday after Christmas

First Sunday after Christmas (C)

December 26, 2021

Text: Luke 2:22-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 25, 2021

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day

December 25, 2021

Text: John 1:1-18

            “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” (LSB 387).  The Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that is God, the eternally begotten Son of the Father, this Word has become flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, to be our Lord, to make His dwelling with us, to set up His Tabernacle among us, to save us.  He comes in our flesh to bear our sins, and to die for them.  And to be raised in our flesh for our justification and eternal life.  Therefore, joy!  Let the whole earth receive her King.  Indeed, He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  They did not believe in Him.  They rejected His salvation.  They rejected Him all the way to death.  But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed on His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, born not in ordinary fashion, but of God, by water and the Word, by the Spirit sent from above.  Let every heart, then, prepare Him room.  And let heaven and nature sing!  The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1; ESV).  The sun and moon and shining stars, the great sea creatures and all deeps, “fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!  Mountains, hills, fruit trees and cedars, beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds, kings and peoples, princes and all rulers, young men and maidens, old men and children, the very angels and the hosts of heaven… “Let them praise the name of the LORD,” for “He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him.  Praise the LORD!” (Ps. 148). 

            “Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!”  Though there are many who claim this throne for themselves, this is the eternal truth.  Let them persecute.  Let them malign.  Let them forbid our doctrine and faith.  Our Father in heaven is on His throne, and with Him, the Lamb who has been slain, who stands nonetheless, risen, alive.  He rules.  The nations rage and the peoples plot in vain, but He who sits in the heavens laughs (Ps. 2).  And the faithful, whom the Lord has gathered to be His own, these men, women, and children, their songs employ in praise of His Name, and in confession of His saving Gospel.  And the very fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.  If the children are silent, the very stones will cry out.  For the Creator has come into His creation to restore it and to heal it of its brokenness. 

            Therefore, dear Christian people, “No more let sins and sorrows grow Nor thorns infest the ground.”  Repent of your sins.  Forsake your iniquities.  Christ, the Savior, has taken them away.  All of them.  Every last one of them.  No matter who you are.  No matter what you’ve done.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love to those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed your transgressions from you (Ps. 103:11-12).  He applies His salve to your sorrowful wounds, the oil of His Spirit, the aloe of His Gospel.  He feeds you the medicine of His Body and Blood.  “He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found.”  To the ends of the earth.  To every single person in this assembly.  And in all the dark corners of your own heart and life.  The old and the fallen is passing away.  Behold,” says the Lord, “I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

            “He rules the world with truth and grace.”  St. John and his brother apostles were eyewitnesses.  They saw His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, His eternal divinity shining through His humanity, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  And from his fulness we have all received, grace upon grace” (v. 16), blessing upon blessing, forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation, the Holy Spirit, sanctification, Christian love, a home and a family, everything needful for this body and life, and even more besides.  Heaven.  The Promise of resurrection.  And, though no one has ever seen God, the revelation of the Father in the Person of His Son.  This is He who comes, and who rules, even our Lord Jesus Christ.  And the nations, the Gentiles, you, prove the glories of His righteousness, that in His saving work for you, the wonders of His love, God declares you righteous, justified, freely on account of Christ, by faith alone, apart from works, grace upon grace.

            Beloved, joy to you.  The Lord has come.  This will be the sign for you.  You will find Him wrapped in bread and wine and laid upon the Altar.  You will eat His Body and drink His Blood, and He will make His Tabernacle within you.  The Light is coming into the world.  And He is coming into you.  “Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.”  Christ the Savior is born.  Merry Christmas.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

Friday, December 24, 2021

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve

December 24, 2021

Text: Is. 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20

            For unto us a child is born” (Is. 9:6; KJV).  A Child.  THE Child.  The Seed of the woman promised to Eve, He whose heel would be crushed in crushing the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).  The LORD’s Anointed, the Messiah, the Christ.  He is a human Baby, flesh and blood, born of the Virgin Mary in the little town of Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread,” surrounded by beasts, wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger, because there was no room for Him in the inn.  Ten little fingers and ten little toes.  Dependent on His mother and Joseph for everything, for warmth and nourishment, for comfort and protection.  I very much doubt that the little Lord Jesus, no crying He made.  He is a real Baby in every way.  He suffers what we suffer.  Hunger.  Cold.  Spit-up.  Dirty diapers.  Certainly as an adult, Jesus wept (John 11:35).  Why not now?  A helpless Infant, holy, and lowly.  With us fully, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone. 

            And yet, “unto us a son is given” (Is. 9:6).  This little Babe in arms holds the universe in His hands.  For He is the eternally begotten Son of the Father.  The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Glory of the LORD that was wrapped in a cloud, now wrapped in skin and cloth and hay.  Mary and Joseph and all of us are dependent on Him for everything, this precious little Baby.  For warmth and for nourishment, for comfort and protection.  For life and breath and every beat of our hearts.  And crying we most certainly make.  For we are sinners.  Our father in the Garden, surrounded by beasts, reached out his rebellious hand to grasp the forbidden fruit.  And we’ve been grasping for it ever since.  That is why there are tears and hunger and cold and spit-up.  That is why every one of us is soiled with sin.  We weep.  How could we not?  And now God has come in the flesh?  For what?  Infant holy, infant lowly.  But He will grow up.  To smite us as we deserve?  God with us.  It is a fearsome thing. 

            Thus the shepherds in the same country, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night, were sore afraid when the heavens opened, and the glory of the LORD shone round about them, and the angel appeared with the heavenly army.  When sinners are exposed to the holy things of God, there is surely reason to fear.  For sin and holiness do not mix.  Unmitigated holiness means death and damnation for the sinner.  Except…

            Fear not,” the angel preaches, “for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be,” not only to you shepherds, but “to all people.  For unto you,” and that means all the people, “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).  You sinful shepherds need not fear, for the fulness of time has come, and God’s Son has been born of a woman, born under the Law, not to smite and damn the lawbreakers, but to redeem them, that they may receive adoption as sons, and call upon God as “Abba!”… as “Our Father, who art in heaven” (Gal. 4:4-6). 

            “All people” includes you, beloved.  You lawbreakers.  You sinners.  Fear not.  Heaven still preaches to you good tidings of great joy.  Unto you… unto you… is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  Unto you a Child is born.  Unto you a Son is given.  He is the Gift of God most high, come down to be your Savior, to be flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone, to suffer and die for your sins on the cross, the Sacrifice of Atonement, the Propitiation, the vicarious Satisfaction for your sins, that you not die, that you not be damned, but live in the eternal presence of His glorious holiness, as children of God, and fellow heirs. 

            Unto you” means “for you.”[1]  Christ the Lord was born for you.  He lived for you.  He died for you.  In the very body born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judea, the very body wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, the very body pierced and torn and wrapped in graveclothes and laid in a tomb because there was no room for Him in this world… That very body stands.  Christ the Lord is risen for you.  Fear not.  Gospel.  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).  Peace… because, on account of Christ, God no longer holds your sins against you.  Good will… because, on account of Christ, God counts you righteous with the very righteousness of Christ, and loves you as He loves His own dear Son. 

            Now the preaching of the angel drives the shepherds to go where they know they will find Jesus bodily present for them: Wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  There He is, with His mother Mary, wrapped in strips and lying in the feed bin of beasts, the Bread of Life in the House of Bread.  So it is for us.  The preaching of God’s messengers drives us to find Jesus where we know He is bodily present for us, wrapped in bread and wine and lying on the Altar, the Bread of Life in His House, the Church.  The Service of the Word leads into the Service of the Sacrament.  There is Jesus in the very Body born of Mary, crucified, dead, and buried, risen again on the Third Day, given us to eat, His Blood, given us to drink.  We beastly sinners eat from the manger, and so receive forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

            The manger may well have been made of wood.  If so, it points us to the holy cross on which our Savior died.  Or it may have been made of stone.  In that case, it points us to the tomb of Jesus, the tomb that was empty on Easter morn.  In either case, the manger preaches the death and resurrection of the Virgin’s Son.  The shepherds typify Christian pastors who make haste to find Jesus and tell abroad what was told them concerning this Child.  In other words, receiving the Gospel, they preach it.  Mary is the personification of the Church.  Beasts, having eaten from this manger, become like Mary.  Hearing the Word concerning Jesus, they keep all these things, and ponder them in their hearts.  Here we see the whole Gospel portrayed before our very eyes in the Nativity scene.  But this is no mere theatrical production, least of all a pious myth or magical story.  These things happened.  It came to pass,” Luke writes, “in those days,” when the decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed, when Cyrenius was governor of Syria, when each went to his own city to be taxed, and Joseph and Mary made the trek to Bethlehem, because they were of the house and lineage of David.  This is concrete history.  Which is to say, the Gospel is accomplished fact.

            And so, merry Christmas!  Unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  The people walking in darkness have seen a great Light.  They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.  The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.  Fear not.  I bring you good tidings of great joy.  You shall not die, but live.  For this night, Christ the Lord is born for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.



[1] John Bombaro,

Monday, December 20, 2021

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent (C)

December 19, 2021

Text: Luke 1:39-56

            The Word of God announces the saving presence of Jesus, and imparts the Holy Spirit, who gives faith and joy. 

            Maybe we should call this In Utero Sunday.  On the face of it, the story is about the miraculous mothers, Mary and Elizabeth.  But in truth, the story is about the miraculous babies in their mothers’ wombs, St. John the Baptist, and our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

            Mary is the true Ark of the Covenant, bearing within her womb God Himself, enfleshed in her little Bambino.  It is no accident that she takes the same route King David took as he brought the Ark up to Jerusalem.  And as she comes to the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, she serves as the spokesman of her Divine Son.  She greets her cousin, and as happens with the Word of the Lord, Mary speaks it, and it fills the hearer with the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth now knows things that cannot be revealed by flesh and blood, the things of faith.  She knows that the fruit of Mary’s womb is none other than the Lord come to save His people from their sins.  And John, the other bambino in utero, is also now filled with the Holy Spirit.  The Word spoken by Mary fills little John with faith and joy.  Much as David leapt before the Ark of the LORD, St. John leaps in his mother’s womb.  And already as a fetus, the prophet preaches Jesus.  Already in the womb, John points to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

            The New Creation is breaking in here.  The Old is coming to an end in Zechariah and Elizabeth and John.  The priests and the prophets have reached their pinnacle.  The fulfillment of it all has arrived.  Christ has come. 

            John leaps because his salvation is here.  But so also John leaps because his own work has begun.  John prepares the way of the Lord.  Quite literally, that happens by his miraculous conception in the womb of an old woman.  John’s conception is a re-run of Isaac’s miraculous conception by Abraham and Sarah.  Two elderly parents, the mother quite beyond the years of child bearing, nonetheless have a child as the result of God’s Promise.  We could think of others as well.  The barren women of the Old Testament, like Rachel or Hannah, are given sons by the LORD’s intervention.  This says something about the miraculous birth par excellence.  John and his predecessors are miraculously conceived of old or barren women.  Jesus is conceived of a virgin.  John and the others are types of Jesus.  And especially John.  It is what we call in theology, “step parallelism”.  That is to say, what John does, Jesus does, only one step higher.  John goes first.  He prepares the way.  Jesus comes after on the way John prepares.  From miraculous birth through preaching and ministry and all the way to unjust execution by the state, John goes before the Lord.  But John must decrease.  Jesus must increase.  John is the type.  Jesus is the fulfillment.  And it all begins right here at this prenatal meeting of the Lord and His messenger.

            And notice how even as an unborn Child, Jesus commands the scene.  It’s all about Him.  What a profound text this is as a testimony to the worth of the unborn.  Elizabeth rejoices, John leaps, and Mary sings as a result of this little Baby in Mary’s womb.  And Jesus is already doing His saving work.  He endures all the stages of human life, to redeem humanity at every stage.  He is a Blastocyst for blastocysts, a Zygote for zygotes, and Embryo for embryos, a Fetus for fetuses.  What the Lord has redeemed by His incarnation, blood, and death, we dare not treat as disposable.  He is a Newborn for newborns, a Child and a Grownup for children and grownups.  He is a Man for us men and for our salvation.  What our Lord becomes, He redeems.  He takes on our flesh fully, and He saves it and sanctifies it.

            Then there is little Baby John in the womb of his mother Elizabeth.  Six months into the pregnancy, He receives the Word through the voice of Mary, believes, and rejoices.  And he preaches, leaping in the womb.  Now of course, Holy Baptism is ordinarily the means by which God gives His saving gifts to infants.  But what happens here is a great comfort for believing parents who have suffered miscarriages or stillbirths.  This little baby who is not even born, who cannot comprehend what is being said and cannot confess the faith, nonetheless believes on account of the Word.  We know that babies can hear in utero.  They are born already recognizing the voices of their mothers and fathers.  There have been wonderful experiments done where the unborn are exposed to musical stimuli and their physiological reactions and brain impulses are recorded.  Clearly babies can hear inside the womb.  What we know from John is that they also can believe.  Because faith is simply trust in the Lord Jesus.  Just like a baby is born trusting Mom.  He doesn’t know her name.  He can’t understand her words and he can’t say anything about her.  Still, he knows her.  He knows her voice.  And he trusts her.  And in fact, he loves her.  When Christian parents learn they are expecting, they come to Church so that they and their baby can be in the presence of Jesus and His saving gifts, hear the Word of God, and know the voice of Jesus, and they can rejoice that their precious baby belongs to Jesus.

            Mary and Elizabeth are the model Christian mothers, and they teach us what it means to be the Church.  Elizabeth is the Old Testament Church.  She has been waiting all her life for Messiah to come and save His people.  She is married to the priest, and covered by the sacrifices.  And she bears within her the last of the Old Testament prophets, St. John. 

            Mary is the New Testament Church.  Messiah has come to her in mercy and she bears Him within her.  She hears the Word concerning Him and she believes it.  And for this reason, she is blessed.  She, who is poor and lowly and despised in this world, is exalted by God, for the Lord is with her… Literally with her, in her womb. 

            In the same way, the holy Church bears Jesus within her.  He comes to her in mercy.  She hears the Word concerning Him, and believes it, and for this reason she is blessed.  The Lord is with her.  Quite literally, in His Body and Blood in the Supper. 

            And then, having heard and believed the Word of the Lord, Mary sings it.  She confesses the faith in song, the Magnificat,My soul now magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:36; ESV).  It is the first Christian hymn, and Mary is the first Christian hymn writer, and the Church still sings her song today.  Her song is all about Jesus and what He has done, which is always what Christian hymns should be about.  They should clearly confess Jesus and His redemption for sinners.  Look how the cross is confessed in this marvelous song.  The Lord does His mighty things for the lowly… by becoming lowly, despised, and rejected… the lowest of the low, submitting to death on the cross.  And in this way, He brings down the mighty from their thrones.  Those who are high and exalted in this world and in their own eyes, He brings down.  But He exalts those who are of humble estate, the nothings of this world, the poor, the despised, the sinners, you.  He fills the hungry with good things, but the rich He sends empty away.  Poor little Mary, teenage unwed mother Mary… she is filled!  She is exalted.  She is blessed.  For she is the Mother of God.

            And poor little Holy Church, despised in this world, mocked by the proud and exalted ones, persecuted by the mighty… She is the Bride of Christ.  You poor, despised Christians who know the weakness of your own sinful flesh, whose souls are tortured by the state of things in this world in these gray and latter days, the war and the bloodshed, the slaughter of the precious little babes, the rebellion against our holy and righteous God, like Lot in the midst of Sodom… Jesus calls you friend.  He is not ashamed to call you brother, sister, for you are His own.  He bought you with His Blood.  His Father is your Father.  You are God’s own child, baptized into Christ.  And He breathes His Spirit into you, the breath of faith, the breath of life. 

            So you sing this song, as Mary does.  What is true for her is true for you.  Your soul magnifies the Lord, and your spirit rejoices in God your Savior, because He has looked upon you in the destitution of your sin and death, and He has had mercy upon you.  He forgives your sins, dies for them, in fact, and He is risen and gives you life.  Therefore all generations will call you blessed.  His mercy is for you.  He shows His strength with His arm, the arm nailed to the tree for you.  He scatters the proud, the unbelievers, the scoffers, in the imagination of their hearts.  He brings down the mighty from their thrones.  But you?… You he exalts, at the proper time, in the proper way.  You, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, He fills with Righteousness Incarnate, the Body and Blood of Jesus.  And you are satisfied.  The rich, who scoff at such meager fare, he sends empty away.  He helps you.  He remembers His mercy toward you and He helps you.  Because He promised.  It’s what He promised to Father Abraham.  It’s what He promised to Abraham’s Offspring forever.  The Lord keeps His Word, and you are saved.  So you sing.

            And you leap with the joy of Baby John, here safe in the womb of Mother Church.  For Jesus comes to you and greets you through the voice of Mother Church, through the voice of your pastor, in the Preaching.  And hearing, you are filled with the Spirit, and you believe.  And you are blessed.  Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (v. 45).  That’s Mary.  That’s the Church.  That’s you.

            Christmas is coming, beloved.  Jesus comes.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.   


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Advent Midweek III

Advent Midweek III: “Symbols of Salvation: You Shall Defeat Them as One Man”[1]

December 15, 2021

Text: Judges 6:11-24, 7:2-9

            God chooses what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.  He chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27).  God chooses “what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (vv. 28-29; ESV).  In fact, He says to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

            So it is, that of all people, God chooses Gideon son of Joash to deliver His people from the oppressive terrorism of the Midianites. The “mighty, menacin’ Midianites.”[2]  Every year as the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites and their friends would descend like locusts on the land, devouring everything.  And they must have raped and pillaged along the way, for they drove the Israelites themselves to the hills to hide in dens and caves for fear of them.  This, by the way, we read, was a chastisement from the LORD.  He sent the Midianites in response to Israel’s idolatry.  Let this be a warning to us.  When we reject God, the Lord sends His rod of discipline.  In love, to be sure, for our good, as a Father disciplines His Son.  But it hurts.  It isn’t pleasant. 

            Now we meet Gideon, in a wine press beating out what little bit of wheat he was able to salvage, hiding from the invading hoards.  He is, as he himself says, the least in his father’s house, from the weakest clan in Manasseh (Judges 6:15).  A rather pathetic figure. 

            But there is the Angel of the LORD, sitting under the terebinth, watching Gideon.  And we know who this Angel is.  This is the preincarnate Christ, the Word, the Son of God, and we are not surprised to find Him under a tree.  Now He speaks, and the first thing He announces is His own divine, gracious presence, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor” (v. 12). 

            The LORD is with you, a greeting familiar to us.  We say “The Lord be with you, and with your spirit,” as a confession of faith, and as a blessing that bestows the reality that our God is just as present with us, Emmanuel, as He was with Gideon at the wine press.  In fact, even more present, if we may speak that way, because He is with us incarnate, with us in flesh and blood. 

            And then, “O mighty man of valor.”  That must be a joke.  Remember, Gideon is hiding.  And he’s a whiner.  He complains: “if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us” (v. 13).  Why doesn’t He do something about our enemies?  Why doesn’t He smite them?  Why doesn’t He help us and deliver us?  Our fathers told us all about how this LORD brought us up out of Egypt.  But now?  Now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the power of our enemies.  What do you mean, “the LORD is with” us?

            Isn’t Christ’s response to Gideon’s lament rather curious?  Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (v. 14).  Go in this might of yours?  O mighty man of valor?  Gideon, the weakest of the weak, hiding, moaning and complaining… mighty?  Sent to save?  How?  What might?  Why does the LORD say this? 

            Notice, the Source of the Gideon’s might is not within Gideon.  And that is the key to this whole encounter.  The LORD sends Gideon precisely because He is weak, a nothing, a nobody.  Because then everybody will know it couldn’t possibly have been Gideon who saved Israel, but the LORD working through Gideon, who is with Gideon to “strike the Midianites as one man” (v. 16).  The LORD is the One Man.  He is the Savior.  He is Gideon’s Might.  God’s grace is sufficient for Gideon, and for all Israel.  His presence.  His Word of sending.  But I will be with you” (v. 16).  That is the Promise.  And no one will see it coming.  It will be a great surprise, a mighty mystery.  God will get all the praise.  Which is to say, the people will once again believe in YHWH.  They will return to Him in repentance and faith. 

            God chooses the foolish, the weak, the things that are not, to accomplish His saving purpose.  His power is made perfect in weakness.  This is how God works.  So when the time comes for the world’s salvation to appear, for God to deliver us from the mighty, menacin’ demons and their satanic lord, from sin, from death, from hell, and from ourselves… He doesn’t come as an invincible warrior, obliterating His enemies in a blaze of glory.  He comes… as a Baby.  Flesh and blood.  The Son of God, to be sure, eternally begotten of the Father, conceived by the Holy Spirit.  But born to a poor, unwed virgin girl from… Nazareth?...  Born, in of all places, Bethlehem, Ephratha, too little to be counted among the clans of Judah (Micah 5:2)?  In a stable, complete with all the sights and smells one might expect in such a place, surrounded by beasts and dirty shepherds, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in the feed bin, because nobody has any room for Him inside the house?

            Foolish.  Weak.  Just what kind of a God do we have here, anyway?  How is a Baby supposed to save us?  If this is how He is with us (Emmanuel), no wonder the Midianites always walk away with the spoils.

            But things are not as they appear.  And there is the LORD with His tree.  In Gideon, the LORD gives us a picture of how He wins the victory over our enemies.  When He sends Gideon out to deliver Israel, our… hero?... raises an army of 32,000 fighting men.  Well, that’s not bad.  We’ll give those Midianites a contest, at least.  But the LORD says, “That’s too many!  See, I intend to keep My Promise.  The Midianites will be defeated.  But if you do it with that many men, you’ll think you did it, and then you won’t believe in Me.  So dismiss everyone who is afraid.”  Just like that, 22,000 abandon the field.  10,000 left.  Against the locust-hoards of Midian.  Now the situation is dire.  But… still too many!  With a test at the water, God whittles it down to 300 men!  300 who lapped the water like dogs.  Now the situation is hopeless.  Humanly speaking.  But that’s the point.  That’s right where God wants us.  Because now He will come down and win the victory.  And that’s what happens.  Gideon’s army advances on the camp of Midian with trumpets and torches hidden in jars.  They smash the jars and blow the trumpets and before they can raise a weapon of their own, the LORD sets the Midianite camp in such panic and confusion, that each Midianite turns his weapon on his comrade.  The enemies of God’s people defeat themselves.  The LORD wins the victory with an army of nobodies who do nothing. 

            The LORD with His tree.  The Baby grew up to be rejected by His own, His people, whom He came to save.  Our flesh and blood God, mocked, spat upon, tortured, scourged.  An innocent Man condemned to death.  Crucified between two criminals.  A band of nobody disciples scattered in hopelessness. 

            But they should have known.  This hopeless moment is THE great moment of salvation, when the LORD turns His enemies’ weapons on themselves.  He harnesses death and damnation… to deliver the death blow… to death and damnation.  And Satan, and the demons, and our sin and misery.  For in suffering death and damnation, in submitting Himself to the hoards of evil, He suffers the just penalty for our sins, and pays our debt in full.  He faces down our enemies as one Man.  And He defeats them.  For after all, what happens on the Third Day?  The grave is empty.  The stone has been rolled away.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  There He stands… victorious!

            It is a great surprise.  A mighty mystery.  No one saw this coming.  No one can say that weak and sinful man won this victory.  The LORD did it.  His angel.  On His tree.  And now?

            From the vast army of humanity, the LORD gathers His 300, which is to say, His little Church of redeemed sinners, the weak, the whining, the moaning, and complaining… absolved and renewed by Him.  That is our role in this.  We are the 300.  Nobodies from Nowheresville.  Chosen at the water.  We are given lamps under jars; that is, the Light of Christ, the Spirit, and our Lord’s resurrection Life are in us.  But for now this treasure is hidden in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Cor. 4:7).  And trumpets, to proclaim God’s victory.  That is, the preaching, your daily confession of Christ in the world, lives of love and sacrifice in Jesus’ Name.  But we know it isn’t us who win the victory.  It is our new and greater Gideon, Jesus Christ, who does all that.

            All cloaked in the weakness of flesh and blood, and the holy cross.  The LORD Himself wins the victory.  We just enjoy the spoils, now in a hidden way, in the foolishness of God that is wiser than men, in the weakness of God that is stronger than men, the things that are from the things that are not, Words and water, bread and wine, repentant lives of faith, always looking forward to that Day when the angelic trumpets sound, and the jars are smashed, and what is hidden is revealed.

            So we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.  Advent to us.”  And He does, right here and now.  He comes to this little congregation, the Messiah and Lord of all.  To be with us now in flesh and blood.  To give us His victory.  Under His tree.  At His Altar.  Go then, beloved, in this might of yours.  Jesus is with you, to defeat your enemies as one Man.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 




[1] The theme and a number of the elements in this sermon are taken from Aaron A. Koch, Symbols of Salvation: Foretelling Christ’s Birth (St. Louis: Concordia, 2021).