A Pastor of Kindness and Health

St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor                                January 26, 2020

 

Titus 1:1-9

1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; 4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. 5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Crete needs a pastor. So the Apostle Paul will not let them be without one.

 

 

In order that the Church would be cared for, in order that the Gospel would be preached in the Church, that families and children would be baptized, that the holy Body and Blood of Jesus would each week be served to the Lord’s people for the forgiveness of their sins, the Lord instituted the Office of Holy Ministry. We call them pastors.

 

Paul called them pastors, too. He used also other titles for this office, including “servant” or “minister,” including “elder” and “overseer,” so we don’t need to get too concerned about the title.

 

But the Church in Crete, these Christians, need a pastor, and Paul will not leave them without. So he calls Titus. Titus will be the Lord’s pastor in Crete.

 

So a note about Crete. This is going to be a rough church to be called to. Everyone knows about Crete. These are tough people. They have a proud history, but they are arrogant. Cretans are known for demanding their way, for imposing their will, for making dishonest deals, for doing things however they want. Titus should be under no illusion when he takes the pulpit in Crete. Paul refers to them as insubordinate. In his letter to Titus, Paul is right up front with Titus about these Cretans. Paul writes,

There are many [in Crete who are] insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain.

[Titus 1:10]

 

And it isn’t just Paul’s view. Paul even goes and gives Titus a famous quote from Epimenides, a famous Greek philosopher who was himself from Crete. Paul writes:

One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”

[Titus 1:12]

 

 

Oh, Titus, pastor Titus. Are you sure you want this call to Crete?

 

But Titus is honored. The Apostle sets him there with a charge. Paul loves these Cretans. How could he not?—Paul knows that Jesus has atoned for them with his own blood.

 

So he sets Titus there to be a pastor to the Cretans. “I left you in Crete,” says Paul, “so that you might put what remained into order, appointing elders in every town as I directed you.” [Titus 1:5]

 

“Elders” is one of Paul’s words for the Office of Holy Ministry. Paul wants Titus to appoint elders, pastors, in all the towns on the great island of Crete. Paul wants no one left apart from the Gospel.

 

But how will Titus do this? How will he bring this Gospel week after week to these Cretans? Not in the way they expect. Not in the way they are used to.

 

They’re used to having their own way, to insubordination, to imposing their will, to harshness. But Titus is preaching a different Lord. Titus 3:4:

When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

 

Titus will preach a Lord opposite everything the Cretans grew up with.

 

These Cretans were idol worshipers, now they have been baptized into Christ. This Lord into which they are baptized is known by mercy, by loving kindness; known not by demanding submission, but by cleansing the sinner in Baptism—the washing of regeneration.

 

This Lord is known by justifying sinners by his grace, making them heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus will be a pastor of the grace and gentleness of Christ Jesus, a pastor of kindness among a harsh people.

 

So the pastor, Paul tells Titus, “will not be arrogant or quick tempered, but will be hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright , holy, disciplined,” and, says Paul, “the pastor will hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” [Titus 1:9]

 

“The trustworthy word as taught”—that’s the word of Christ crucified and his sacraments which Titus has been taught by Paul and which the other Apostles have been teaching to the Church.

 

“Giving instruction in sound doctrine”—this is the doctrine of the Apostles. In the Greek in which Paul wrote this letter, the “sound doctrine” is more literally “the healthful doctrine”—it’s a word having to do with taking a sick person and giving him health, with taking one who is near death and giving healing. The doctrine from the Apostles is the doctrine which brings health, which heals those who are the dying.

 

“Rebuke those who contradict this doctrine,” says the Apostle.

 

Do we wonder why there are uncomfortable arguments in the history of the Church? Do we wonder why a pastor stands in front of the Catechism class and warns the students of the danger of a doctrine which says that Jesus is unable to cleanse and give faith to a baby, so you must wait until 17 or some other arbitrary age before you let Jesus do his work of Baptism? Or warn the students of a doctrine which says that the blood of Jesus is unable to purge all your sins, so you must go to purgatory to purge the sins Jesus didn’t catch.

 

Rebuke those who contradict the doctrine which brings health, says Paul, the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

 

So Titus is to keep the Cretans in the healthy doctrine.

 

 

This is the day, January 26, when the Church rejoices in the gift of St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor. In this, the Church is rejoicing in and extolling the gift of the office of holy ministry.

 

We are rejoicing that the Lord justifies the sinner, so that the sinner stands before God righteous not by any strengths, merits, or works of the sinner, but by faith in Christ Jesus.

 

We are rejoicing that, so that the sinner may obtain this faith, God has instituted the Office of Holy Ministry so that his Gospel of grace would be taught in the Church and his Sacraments of the forgiveness of sins would be freely distributed to his people.

 

We are rejoicing than when a pastor is doing this work of preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, the gift does not depend on any sufficiency or worthiness of the pastor himself, but on the Word and Institution of the Lord, by which the Office has been instituted, and by which the forgiveness of sins is distributed to the sinner.

 

We are rejoicing that when the Holy Spirit gathers us to the preaching of the Word and the distribution of the Body and Blood for the forgiveness of all sin, we may repent of our sin, we may be done with trying to justify ourselves, for we are given, instead, to receive and hold onto only the righteousness of Christ Jesus in which we have been clothed in Baptism and by which we stand before the Father in righteousness and purity forever.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Who Gives Baptism?

The Baptism of our Lord [a]                                      January 12, 2020

 

Romans 6:1-11

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Who needs Baptism?

 

John the Baptist, when he sees Jesus walking toward him, speaks of Baptism as something needed. Matthew 3:14:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

 

Who needs Baptism? A sinner standing in front of Jesus needs Baptism.

 

Baptism, this act instituted not by the sinner, but by holy God for the sinner. Baptism, this act instituted by God whereby God uses common water, combines it with his Word, taking this water up into his use, to cleanse the sinner of all sin.

 

Who needs Baptism? Only the cross saves. Only the cross is the Holy One of God shedding innocent blood to redeem the sinner from all sin.

 

Who needs Baptism? The sinner, who needs only the cross. Romans 6:4:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death.

 

We can’t go back to the cross, of course. No sinner can do that, any more than we could go back and help Noah build the Ark. But God can bring the cross to us. And does, bringing the innocent death on the cross to us in Baptism, and uniting it to us. So that the cross belongs to us just as much as it does to Jesus, into whom we have been baptized.

 

Who needs Baptism? Anyone subject to death, anyone counting up their life and finding lacking, fearing the judgement, anyone needing the good news of the fulness of an eternal life secured by Christ and never to be taken from the sinner. Romans 6:5:

We were buried therefore with [Christ] 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. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

 

Who needs Baptism?

 

Anyone needing to be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. Anyone needing the washing of regeneration whereby the sinner is cleansed and given life.

 

Who doesn’t need Baptism?

 

Anyone who doesn’t want to free gift of the righteousness of Christ, but wants to stand on their own righteousness. Anyone who is not fearful of death, but wants to defeat death on their own. Anyone who has no guilt in the conscience, no shame to hide, but is fully confident of standing before holy, eternal God entirely on one’s own.

 

Who doesn’t need Baptism?

 

Anyone thinking Baptism is something the sinner does or decides, anyone thinking Baptism is the sinner virtue-signaling his own spirituality, anyone thinking that we sinners invented Baptism on our own as our own little ritual we can control.

 

But if you are a sinner, if you cannot stand before God in your own righteousness, if you are clothed in your own shame, if you stare at approaching death and see an abyss, then, Baptism:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

 

The work all belongs to God. For the sinner did not invent Baptism, but God gave it for the sinner.

 

 

Then why was Jesus baptized? The holy One, the creator of life, he who himself knew no sin, why Baptism for him? Matthew 3:14:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

 

Why is Jesus baptized? To fulfill all righteousness.

 

All righteousness is the sinner declared righteous before the Father. All righteousness is the Servant of God being publicly set into the office of being the Lamb of God who bears the sin of every sinner. All righteousness is God in the flesh to bring salvation to the nations.

 

All righteousness is he who has no sin being clothed in the sin of every sinner, so that he is accounted the greatest sinner of all, not because of any sin of his own, but because of the sin of you and me, which, in his Baptism, he publicly took upon himself.

 

All righteousness, then, is Jesus baptized by John in the Jordan and now bearing the sin of the world, in order to put it all to death in his body on the cross.

 

 

A death into which he has baptized little Russell this morning, and baptized you and me and our children.

 

A death giving the blood which atones for our sin and justifies us before the Father. A death on the cross which belongs to you and me just as much as it belongs to Jesus because Jesus, in his grace, has baptized us into it, uniting us to himself.

 

Our old man, our old Adam of sin, is, in Baptism, put to death in the crucifixion of that cross. Romans 6:6:

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him

 

We still live in our body of death, in our flesh of the old Adam. We are still tempted and afflicted. We still fall to sin in our old-Adam life, our life of the flesh.

 

But the new man, the new Adam of faith, the new self, does not look at the works of the flesh. The new man, the new Adam of faith, the new self looks to Baptism. To being united to the cross and to the resurrection. To being clothed in the righteousness of Christ. To being given the new life where Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again, for death no longer has dominion over him, and now the life he lives he lives to God.

 

So we, too, along with our brother Russell, consider ourselves dead to sin as we daily put the old Adam of sin to death in repentance, and live to God in Christ Jesus, as daily the new Adam of faith stands up alive in the promise of Baptism.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Into the New Year Not Alone

 

New Year’s Eve                               December 30, 2019

 

Psalm 90

1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place

in all generations.

2 Before the mountains were brought forth,

or ever you had formed the earth and the world,

from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

3 You return man to dust and say,

“Return, O children of man!”

4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past,

or as a watch in the night.

5 You sweep them away as with a flood;

they are like a dream,

like grass that is renewed in the morning:

6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;

in the evening it fades and withers.

7 For we are brought to an end by your anger;

by your wrath we are dismayed.

8 You have set our iniquities before you,

our secret sins in the light of your presence.

9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;

we bring our years to an end like a sigh.

10 The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;

yet their span is but toil and trouble;

they are soon gone, and we fly away.

11 Who considers the power of your anger,

and your wrath according to the fear of you?

12 So teach us to number our days

that we may get a heart of wisdom.

13 Return, O LORD! How long?

Have pity on your servants!

14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,

that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,

and for as many years as we have seen evil.

16 Let your work be shown to your servants,

and your glorious power to their children.

17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,

and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes,

establish the work of our hands!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

We go into the new year, but not alone.

 

 

We go into the new year with hopes and with fears.

 

Our nation’s employment numbers are as strong as they’ve been in our lifetime—we are optimistic. But the deficit is as high as its ever been. Pessimistic.

 

We see incredible improvements in medicine, and prospects of many more. Optimistic. But doctors are complaining about the constant flood of electronic reports they must fill out and we’ve made healthcare more expensive than ever. Pessimistic.

 

We are spending more resources than ever on education, demonstrating care for our youth. Optimistic. But our youth are being educated to think there is no value to life, even defenseless life in the womb, and that there’s no such thing as natural marriage. Pessimistic.

 

 

We go into the new year with hope and with fear, but we don’t go alone.

 

We go with him who has ransomed us with his own blood and made us his own people.

 

We go with him who has given us his own Name, promising that in Baptism he is with us, even until the end of the age. [Matthew 28]

 

We go with him who has told us that no one will separate us from his love. Romans 8:35:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

 

So we go into the new year not knowing what to expect, sometimes overly optimistic, sometimes overly pessimistic, for no one knows how to account for and number our days, but knowing to whom we belong.

 

And to this Lord to whom we belong, we have a prayer—a prayer sure and certain, for he has given it for us to pray. Psalm 90:35:

Make us glad, [O Lord,] for as many days as you have afflicted us,

and for as many years as we have seen evil.

 

Make us glad. Give us joy! We pray this because we know something else about how we go into the new year.

 

We go not only as those happy about strong employment numbers, or fearful due to the deficit; or optimistic about new technologies in medicine, or fearful about the way we’ve caused health care cost to skyrocket; or happy about more money being spent annually on education, or fearful about what the children are being taught, be as we go into the new year, we know something even more profound, more consequential to each of us.

 

We go into the new year as sinners. As people living in sinful flesh. As those who to think that the sin and baggage has been left behind in the past year, and yet we cannot deny that we are still in sinful flesh.

 

But as we go into the new year in our sinful flesh, we go not alone. There is one who is with us. Nothing, not tribulation, not distress, not persecution, not famine, not nakedness, not peril nor sword, will separate him from those he loves. As we go into the new year, he goes with us daily bestowing upon us a gift. Isaiah 30:15:

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.”

 

He, Jesus, the Holy One, is with us. And his gift to us every day is, Repentance and Rest.

 

Repentance as he accuses us with the Law, and as he turns us back to himself to hear his Word of forgiveness, to hear his voice justifying us, declaring us innocent before his Father in Heaven.

 

Rest, as he gathers us from the affliction and tribulation of our world, from the despair of our own sinful flesh, and to the comfort and hope of his Gospel, to the joy of his gift of life.

 

We go into the new year not alone. He who joins himself to us, his holy Body and Blood to our sinful bodies, his holy Body and Blood to forgive our sin and make us his own—he who joins himself to us is never apart from us.

 

We go with him. We enter the new year in joy—the joy of a sinner knowing that he is daily clothed in the righteousness of Christ. We go into the new year with the prayer on our lips that he gives us to pray. Psalm 90:

Make us glad, [O Lord,] for as many days as you have afflicted us, …

17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,

and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes,

establish the work of our hands!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The Church’s Tears

First Sunday after Christmas [a]                              December 29, 2019

 

Matthew 2:13-23

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The first martyrs of the New Testament church, the little boys of Bethlehem.

 

King Herod wants baby Jesus dead. Herod knows the prophecy of the birth of a king. But he’s king. He can’t have other kings. He must secure his throne.

 

So Herod wants the new King—the one heralded by the wise men, foretold by the prophets—Herod wants him dead.

 

But Herod can’t find the baby Jesus—the wise men were no help to him in that. But the wise men had gone to Bethlehem, Herod knows that much. So, to kill the boy who is born a king, it seems easy. Herod will just kill all the Bethlehem boys two and under, and surely, he figures, that will take care of the Jesus problem.

 

So we have the first martyrs of the New Testament church, the little boys of Bethlehem. Historians say this would have been perhaps 10 to 20 little boys. They are martyrs. Their lives bear witness to Jesus, who himself is marked for death, but a death God has not appointed for another 30 or so years.

 

And, as the prophet Jeremiah had foretold, the Bethlehem families, after Herod’s murderous deed, were now in tears. Jeremiah 31:15:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”

 

Rachel is, of course, a wife of Jacob’s in the Old Testament. She stands in as a mother of Israel. Israel weeps. The boys have been killed; they are no more.

 

So these little boys will be forever known as the first martyrs of the New Testament Church.

 

 

The word martyr comes from the Greek. It means witness. A legal witness, one who bears testimony in a trial.

 

Here’s how that word martyr works. At the trial of Jesus, witnesses came forward and testified. They were false witnesses, to be sure, but witnesses in the trial. Matthew 26:60:

Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false witness against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward.

 

That word for witness, and the verb for bearing witness, is the Greek word martyr.

 

So to name those innocent little boys of Bethlehem as the first martyrs of the New Testament church is to say that their lives were given in testimony for the name of Jesus. In their innocent deaths, they bore witness to the innocent of death of Jesus which would be accomplished some thirty years later on the cross.

 

Tertullian, an early Church father, at a time when the Church was being severely persecuted and martyred, said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

 

When Abel was murdered by his brother, Cain, the Lord said to Cain, “The voice of [Abel’s] blood cries out to me from the ground.” [Genesis 4:10]

 

Abel stands in history as the first martyr of the Old Testament church, even as the sons of Bethlehem as the first martyrs of the New Testament Church. The blood of Abel as also the blood of the little boys of Bethlehem cry out from the ground in testimony of the Name for which they were killed, Jesus.

 

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

 

 

We, along with Abel, along with the boys of Bethlehem, are members of the Church of the Lord Jesus.

 

Our lives, as the life of Abel, as the lives of the little boys of Bethlehem, are marked with the Name of Christ—we, along with them, belong to the innocent death of the Holy One on the cross.

 

Our lives bear the Name of Jesus; we are marked with the cross. Romans 6:3:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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.

 

Baptized into Christ, into his death, united to him in all his suffering, our lives are given in testimony of Christ whose name we bear.

 

So we live in tears. The same tears that would’ve been shed by Adam and Eve as they mourned their son, Abel, who was martyred because of the faith. The same tears as those mothers and fathers in Bethlehem, who mourned their baby sons martyred because of the faith.

 

The tears of the Church, for those men wearing orange jumpsuits who were martyred by the Muslims on the beach in Libya and those martyred by the Muslims last week in Nigeria because they confessed the Name of Jesus; the tears of the Church for those 110 Christian girls kidnapped and stolen from their families by the Boko Haram Muslims in Nigeria; the tears of the Church for the Christian families in China threatened with reeducation camps if caught teaching the faith to their children, or the Christian judge in Texas under threat for her job for supporting natural marriage; the tears of the Church for the family going to bed crying each night over a child having been indoctrinated against the faith by a teacher; the tears of the Church over the suffering and persecution of those who bear the Name of Jesus.

 

We bear the Name. Our lives are lived in witness to him who is the Suffering Servant. Our lives bear testimony. We are given as martyrs, in the full sense of the word, which means, to bear witness.

 

But in midst of the tears, joy. In the midst of the suffering, hope and life. For our lives bear witness to Jesus, who is the Suffering Servant of the cross. But the cross then gives the empty tomb, the defeat of death, the certainty of tomorrow. Those who suffer, do not suffer in vain.

 

Abel, martyred by Cain, he lives at the face of God.

 

Those Bethlehem boys, martyred by Herod, they live at the face of God.

 

Those Christians martyred by the Muslims on that Libyan beach or in Nigeria, they are alive at the face of God.

 

The Church now, as she cries tears for the suffering, the afflicted, the persecuted, the martyred, she lives in faith at the face of God.

 

We live in faith at the face of God.

 

To those parents of the little Bethlehem martyrs, as they shed tears, the Lord’s Word, spoken by the Prophet Jeremiah some 600 years prior, was of hope and life. Jeremiah 31:17:

“Restrain your voice from weeping, And your eyes from tears; For your work shall be rewarded,” says the LORD, “And they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope in your future,” says the LORD.

 

 

We live in this hope. We have a future. We have a tomorrow. For we bear the Name of the One who redeemed us with the price of his own blood.

 

We bear the Name of him who in Baptism united us to his cross and his resurrection.

 

Our lives bear witness to him who cleanses us of all sin, who covers us in his righteousness, who justifies us before his Father in Heaven.

 

Our lives bear witness to him, so that when the world looks at us, the testimony they are given to see is not the testimony of a people who overcomes every obstacle, nor the testimony of a church which is victorious in the eyes of the world, but, when the world looks at us, the testimony they are given to see is the witness of sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ, forgiven of all sin, and forgiving of one another.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Out of Love, the Son Gave Himself

Christmas Eve                                 December 24, 2019

 

1 John 4:7-16

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

God the Father, we will know him for his love.

 

By his love the Father does what he does toward us.

 

Now we rejoice in the Father’s sending of his Son to be born of Mary.

 

It is not to show his might and power. For that the Father could’ve just sent down fire and brimstone on the Earth.

 

It is not to impress or amaze. For that he could’ve simply had locusts eat all the crops or even have had flooded the whole world, killing everything but one boatload of animals and people.  He could’ve left it at that, and we would’ve been impressed.

 

It’s not to convince or make a proof of himself. For that he could’ve sent philosophers and wise men to make the argument for God, and we would’ve been persuaded by the fine logic and proofs.

 

In his love the Father does this. His love for the sinner, his love for each one of us and our families.

 

 

He sent his Son into our world of death, that in Him we would have life; his Son into our world of lies, that in Him we would have truth; his Son into our world of despair and hatred, than in him, and him alone, we would have hope and love—Love for God, love for one another.

 

 

That first Christmas morning: Life entered death, and overcame; truth entered lies, and prevailed; love entered enmity, and triumphed. All because, God the Father sent his Son, and the Son entered the world and gave himself.

 

Because, Christmas is more than the astounding account of a miracle of God coming-in-the flesh. It is a holy Baby being born into our world out of the love of the Father. The Son of God coming-in-the-flesh for the sole purpose of taking upon his himself all our sin, taking up into his life all our despair and our shame, and having taken it all upon himself, then putting it to death in his own body on the cross.

 

Without that word of the cross, without the proclamation that he died in our place, for us, purely and simply out of love for us—without the word of the cross, then we might be tempted to reduce the Christmas story to nothing more than a story of a special miracle baby intended to show impress and amaze and to convince us to look at just how awesome God can be.

 

 

But against that stands that one word: Love. Out of love for us, the Father sent his Son. Out of his love for the world, for the sinner, his love of you and me and our children, the Son gave himself.

 

For love his Son, Jesus, took our sins upon himself, so that John the Baptist was able to describe him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

 

For love his Jesus stood in front of Caiaphus and Pilate and the others and let himself be spit upon and yelled at.

 

For love he let nails be driven into his hands and his feet, so that he could be lifted up to die in front of the world.

 

For love. 1 John 4:9:

9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.

 

 

Now, he has makes us the people of his love.  Now, as John says, we love God. Not that we did love him, or are even able to love him, but that he first loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

 

This is the Christmas gift, that he has made us the people of his love. A people living through him. Through the one who died for us, we now have life. He forgives our sins, in his Gospel, he overcomes our fears and dispels our despair. Through the one given as a baby in Mother Mary’s arms, we now have love—love for God, love for one another.

 

It is in his love that is love the Father gave us his Son on that first Christmas morning.  And we now live through him:

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

 

IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

A God Who is With Us

Fourth Sunday in Advent [a]                                     December 22, 2019

Isaiah 7:10-14

10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as Heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17 The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The Virgin will conceive and bear a Son. Call his Name Immanuel. Immanuel, the Hebrew word meaning God-with-us.

 

When this Immanuel comes, he is the child of a virgin named Mary, and his name is given as Jesus. Jesus is the Hebrew word meaning The-Lord-saves.

 

So now we have Mary’s little baby fully named. He is Immanuel, that is, he is God in the flesh to dwell with us. And he is Jesus, that is, he is the Lord having come into the flesh, but having come into the flesh for the purpose of saving us.

What does it mean that he is God-with-us?

 

Isaiah makes an extraordinary announcement to King Ahaz. There will be Virgin—Isaiah doesn’t say here precisely where or when—but there will be a Virgin, and she will become pregnant and have a Son.

 

How will this happen? Isaiah doesn’t unfold this. He gives only one piece of description. This child will be God-with-us. That is, he will be human—he is, after all, the son of a woman. And this child will be God. For he is God dwelling with us as Man.

 

Isaiah doesn’t go further. The when, the where, the how, Isaiah seems to be happy to leave it all hanging. But this son of the Virgin will be true God, and he will be God dwelling with us.

 

What does it mean that he is God-with-us? It means that he will live in this world with us in a natural way, and in this way, he will share with us not only in the joys, but also in the sufferings.

 

He will share in such joys as a wedding party where people are singing and dancing and drinking wine. He’s right there in the middle. He will share in such joys as, perhaps, watching Mary, his mother, smile as she roasts a chicken for a family dinner, or, perhaps, seeing Joseph, his earthly father, smile in pride as he puts the finishing touches on a new table he’s built.

 

The joys of birthdays, of family dinners, of new clothes, he has shared with us in all of that. And in the suffering. To come into the world as Immanuel, God-with-us, means that he will share with us in the suffering common to every person.

 

Laying in bed for three days with the flu, or sidelined with a migraine—we don’t know if Jesus himself had the flu or migraines, or whatever other sicknesses, but he shared in the pain of a friend being sick, or a loved one throwing-up, or a relative bent over with an ulcer, or he saw a friend crying when his pet dog died, or a neighbor in travail when hard rain washed away the crop he planted a month before.

 

God-with-us, Jesus, shared in all that is common to the human in this world.

 

 

He shared with us also in temptation. Common to every person is the enticement of the demons.

 

Temptations take different forms and force for each one of us—for the demons can observe us and know us and will tempt each of us in the way most harmful to each. So the demons may tempt one man most greatly to lust, another they tempt to envy his neighbor’s wealth, another to judge those around him, and all are afflicted by voice of the demons in our consciences, where, in this demonic conversation, they hold us under the guilt of the Law, leading us to despair.

 

God came to be with us in this. Jesus knows our temptation even better than we do, having given himself to be tempted in every way by Satan in the wilderness.

 

These lives of ours, these lives where we live in the suffering we know in our sinful world, where we live under suffering brought by the affliction of the devil, where we live in our own sinful flesh—in these lives of ours, he is God-with-us, he joined with us in all that we are and in all that we do, though he himself is without sin. He has shared with us in it all.

 

What is the one fact common to every human, that no human can escape, and that to be absent of would be to not even be human?

 

Death. Death at the end. Maybe by violence, maybe by sickness, maybe by the weakening of age, but death.

 

Had Jesus shared with us in everything it is to be human, the joys and the sufferings, the eating and the drinking, the laughter and the tears—had Jesus shared with us in it all, but had not died, then he would not have shared with us, he would not have been one of us.

 

For we are sinners, and to the sinner is assigned death.

 

He is without sin. But he clothed himself in our sin. He came into the world holy, but he stood in for us, taking our unholiness upon himself.

 

And as the greatest sinner of all, for he who himself is without sin, bore the sin of every sinner—as the greatest sinner of all, he took upon himself what belongs to the sinner. Death. A death which did not belong to him, but which he took according to his Name. His Name is Jesus, which means, the Lord saves, and he came to save us from death.  A death which, though not belonging to him, he took in its fulness, for he was taking it for every sinner, because he is Immanuel, which means, God-with-us.

 

God with us in the deepest, most profound thing we have made ourselves to be: with us in our sin, in our fear, in our death.

 

God-with-us, in our sinful humanity, in order to take it all upon himself and put it to death in his own human body on the cross.

 

He who knows no sin, is God-with-us as Jesus, our Lord who saves us. He is with us, having joined us to himself in Baptism, so that just as he was clothed in our sin, he has now clothed us in his righteousness.

 

With us in Baptism such that, as we saw in his gift given to little Bailey Marie this morning, he calls us into his Church, he promises to continue teaching us all the gifts of his Gospel as he gathers us with his people in the fellowship of his Church, and, in this fellowship of the baptized, he keeps us in the faith of the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

 

We are body and blood humans. Now he makes himself with us in his Body and Blood way, which is always to be with us forgiving our sins.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

 

Blessed Are Those Not Offended

Third Sunday in Advent [a]                                       December 15, 2019

 

Matthew 11:2-15

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Are we offended by Jesus?

 

How would one be offended by Jesus? He came bringing blessing. Will that offend anyone? Will it offend us?

 

The blind are given sight, the lame are given strong legs. Who’s offended by that? The lepers given healthy skin, the deaf given good ears—who can be offended by this?

 

Jesus raises some dead to life. This is time for rejoicing, not offense, isn’t it? The poor have the Gospel preached to them. Those impoverished in sin, those beat down by guilt, those wanting to hide in the bushes because they’re covered in shame, to all, Jesus proclaims the forgiveness of sins; for all, Jesus gives a cleansed conscience.

 

Who’s offended?

 

 

But when Jesus walks around Galilee, when he enters Jerusalem, everyone is offended.

 

The Pharisees and teachers of the Law, they’re offended. They want Jesus done away with.

 

The Sadducees, they want Jesus indicted for crimes against the people.

 

The elders and scribes, they hear Jesus teaching the people, and they are ready to have him under lock and key, and worse.

 

Even Jesus’ own disciples—is there not offense there? Peter hears Jesus speak of his journey to the cross, and Peter is offended. That’s not the way this lordship is supposed to go, Peter didn’t sign up for this! He tells Jesus it cannot work that way. Matthew 16:22:

Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”

 

His own disciples! John and James hear Jesus speaking of being the servant of God who serves all sinners by giving his life for them on the cross, and they can’t take it. They start making demands not about who can serve, but who can have the power. Mark 10:35:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” And [Jesus] said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”

 

 

Jesus offends.

 

He heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, strong legs to the lame, healthy skin to the lepers, life to the corpse, he gives forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery, he comes to the home and gives honor to the one known for alcoholism, he speaks with respect and love to the broken. And he offends.

 

He has no army, no weapons of war, no political party, no social movement, he’s organizing no great march on the capitol, he’s creating no new government programs to fix every known problem, he’s taking no one’s political power base, but he offends.

 

Jesus must offend. He must be offensive in the world of Jerusalem and Rome, of Pilate and Herod; and he must be offensive in our world.

 

He must offend you and me. Because we are in sinful flesh. We try to improve it, we try to make progress with it, we even try to cover it up, or even to divert attention to something else, but at the end of the day, we are in sinful flesh.

 

Sinful flesh wants to do many things which are sin, but there is one sin which rules over all others.

 

Sinful flesh wants, and is tempted by the demons, to be what it is, sinful. What temptations do we fall to in our life of flesh? For that, we only need look at the Ten Commandments. Love and honor of parents and family; parents treating children with care and respect; love for neighbor; serving neighbor with our gifts of vocation; upholding our neighbor’s name and reputation, his wealth and possessions—we are tempted to place ourselves above all that and be more concerned with how these things affect us.

 

But the real temptation? The ultimate victory the devil desires? The thing so natural to our sinful flesh that it drives everything we do, and is the reason we are in our life of flesh offended by Jesus?

 

We want to justify ourselves. We want to use the Law to make ourselves righteous. We want deep down to think we can somehow improve our lives, somehow make progress in our flesh, so that we can somehow stand before God in our own worthiness.

 

And then when Jesus shows up, we are offended.

 

Offended because, Jesus came to give gifts. And the one who is justifying himself lives before God not according to what he is given, but according to what he can earn. So gifts are an offense.

 

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. But the one who is chasing down his own righteousness by the Law denies that he is lost.

 

Jesus came to heal the sick and give gifts to the poor in spirit. But the one pursing his own improvement in the flesh is not looking for gifts.

 

Jesus came to justify the sinner and give the gift of grace. When the devil tempts us to justify ourselves, grace is the last thing we think we need.

 

After all, even in the world, a billionaire such as Bill Gates does not receive gifts from a beggar. Warren Buffet is not ready to receive twenty bucks of spending money from an unemployed factory worker. The sinner working to justify himself thinks he is rich toward God, and is offended to receive gifts from Jesus.

 

But Jesus came to justify the sinner, to give gifts to the poor in spirit.

 

If we think we are not sinner, then we will be offended by Jesus giving gifts to sinners. If we are not emptied out and poor in spirit, we will be offended by Jesus. If we are changing our lives and becoming better Christians, then we will be offended by Jesus.

 

Jesus came to give gifts to those poor and emptied out, to those deaf and blind to the Word of God, to those dead in their trespasses.

 

[Jesus said,] “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

 

Blessed are those who live in sinful flesh, who are daily afflicted by the devil and daily fall to sin, and who hear the Gospel of Jesus who redeems the sinner and forgives all sin, and in repentance say, This is my Lord.

 

Blessed are those who hear and see Jesus distributing his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins, and instead of saying, I’m working on changing my life and improving myself, say, This Body and Blood, this forgiveness of sins, this is for me, let me eat it and drink it as my Lord gives me to do.

 

Blessed are those who, while in sinful flesh, hear the Gospel of Jesus and say,

Speak to me this Word every day,

Let me speak this Word of Jesus to my neighbor,

Let me commend myself and my family to my Lord and his Gospel every night as I go to sleep,

Let me always know my sin and never be offended to receive the gift of forgiveness and cleansing and healing from my Lord.

 

[Jesus said,] Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Mary’s Child is Our Lord

Advent 2, Wednesday                                                 December 11, 2019

 

“The Announcement”

 

Savior of the Nations, Come

 

2     Not by human flesh and blood,

By the Spirit of our God,

Was the Word of God made flesh—

Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.

 

  1. For you are the Father’s Son

Who in flesh the vict’ry won.

By your mighty pow’r make whole

All our ills of flesh and soul.

 

Isaiah 9:6-7

6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given;

And the government will be upon His shoulder.

And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of His government and peace

There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice, From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

 

John 1:1-14

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Announcements are made. That’s the way our world works.

 

Announcements are made, and they change things. The create new realities.

 

Some eighty years ago, a president announced, “This day will live in infamy.” At that announcement, things changed. A nation knew she was under threat, and from that day, we were at war with an enemy.

 

Some 67 years ago, a scientist named Jonas Salk went on the radio and announced a new vaccine. By that announcement, lives changed—the scourge of polio was defeated.

 

An announcement can change things.

 

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God,”

[the angel announced].

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his Name Jesus.”

[Luke 1:30]

 

The words were the Lord’s. The Lord announced them through the mouth of an angel.

 

God’s Word is not empty. His Word creates what it says. The Lord spoke his Word at creation, and his Word brought the Earth and the planets, the dirt and the plants, the animals and the fish, into being.

 

Gabriel speaks the Word to a young woman named Mary; it is the Word of the Lord, and the Word brings into being what it says. The Word is joined to the flesh of Mary’s womb, and Mary is with child.

 

From the hymn we just sang:

Not by human flesh and blood,

By the Spirit of our God,

Was the Word of God made flesh—

Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.

 

He is not flesh and blood. He is the eternal Word of God, who with God the Father created all things.

 

John 1:1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

 

He is the eternal Word. Yet now he has taken on human flesh. He is true Man, a child in Mary’s womb. Now, at the announcement to Mary, he is flesh and blood.

 

He is true God. He is veiling his divinity under human flesh.

 

What he does in the flesh, the sleeping and eating, the walking and sitting, the speaking and listening, the drinking wine with sinners, the being spit upon, the suffering, the dying—what he does in the flesh he is doing as true God. God in the flesh, saving sinners.

 

He is true Man, who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary.

 

As he is of one nature with the God the Father from eternity, so he is now of one human nature with you and me. This he did by being conceived and born of this woman, Mary, who is herself a daughter of Adam and Eve and is thereby of the same flesh and blood along with us and our children.

 

 

It’s Advent. The coming of God in the flesh. The announcement is made:

Not by human flesh and blood,

By the Spirit of our God,

Was the Word of God made flesh—

Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.

 

The Word is announced, and it creates the new reality.

 

The new reality is, We have a Lord.

 

Apart from the announcement, apart from the Word, we have no Lord. Not the Holy Lord, anyway, not the Lord of life, not the Lord who speaks a Word and creates something new.

 

Apart from the announcement, our lord is not of life, but of death. Our lord is sin, Satan, and the world. Our lord is our own sinful flesh. In those lords, we find no life, only death.

 

 

The announcement is made, and we have a Lord.

 

Mary is with child. Her child is of our flesh, like us in every way, but without sin.

 

Her child is our Lord; he makes us his people.

 

He makes us his own by cleansing us, by forgiving our sin, by clothing us in his righteousness, by giving us his Name in Baptism, by delivering us from sin, death and the devil. As we sang in the hymn:

For you are the Father’s Son

Who in flesh the vict’ry won.

By your mighty pow’r make whole

All our ills of flesh and soul.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

 

In the Wilderness, Gifts

Second Sunday in Advent [a]                                    December 8, 2019

 

Matthew 3:1-12

1  In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'” 4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

It all takes place out in the wilderness. Away from the city, from the roads and streets, from the shops and banks and businesses, from the houses and restaurants, from the meetings and conferences and parties.

 

It takes place out in the wilderness. Out there, you don’t have any of the things you normally have to hide behind. Your job, your status, your standing in the community, your house and assets, these things which give a person a respectable presentation, they don’t carry so much weight in the wilderness. The fine jewelry, the fancy coat, the stylish boots, they’re no help in the wilderness.

 

In the wilderness you stand before the prophet on your own, as who you are, no trappings of respectability to defend you, bare and unguarded.

 

And the prophet says, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

 

 

To hide behind a covering of respectability is to protect ourselves from the need to repent.

 

But the prophet is out in the wilderness: “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

 

Coming to the prophet are all the people of Jerusalem: Rich land owners dressed in fine robes, but their status gives them no standing before the prophet; soldiers, but sword and armor give no help in withstanding the Word of the Lord; tax collectors, but their bureaucracy and legal powers won’t protect them from the onslaught of the Law; teachers of the Law and Pharisees, but the Law and rules they hide behind when going after sinners back in the city give them no covering when the prophet is calling for repentance; Sadducees, those who wear the fancy robes at the Temple and keep watch for who is giving the best offerings, but when faced up with the Word of the Lord, their fine clothing gives no defense.

 

Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand,”

says the prophet John.

 

The call to repentance leaves every person standing at the face of God with nothing to hide behind.

 

We can build up our lives to show no vulnerability, no weakness, nothing out of place, but then the Word of the Lord lays us bare, as bare as a once respectable man standing in front of John the Baptist out in the desert only to hear him say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

 

Repentance means you are not in the Kingdom, and there is something you must be done with before you come to the face of God. Repentance means there is something to be stripped away and left behind in order to be brought into the kingdom.

 

To the tax collectors and bureaucrats—Leave behind the security you form up in your worldly strength and intimidation.

 

To the Sadducees and Temple workers—Be done with the security you find in your fine clothing and high offices.

 

To the Pharisees and teachers of the Law—Strip yourself of the false security you have in justifying yourself with the Law and in putting others under the accusation.

 

To all, the word is repent.

 

For all are sinful. And any effort of the sinner to protect himself with the coverings of respectability, with the defense of self-justification, with the security of strength and intimidation, it is all to be left behind.

 

When the Word of the Lord is spoken, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. And no sinner makes himself worthy of this kingdom.

 

 

Advent proclaims the coming of the King, Jesus.

 

You do not meet Jesus by holding onto any covering that would protect you from him. Jesus wants to meet the sinner full on, the sinner standing before him with no pretense of being anything but sinner. Repentance is the stripping away of everything not letting Jesus meet you full on.

 

Self-justification? Hypocrisy? Outward righteousness? Judgment against others to place oneself in a better position? The call to repentance is the call to be done with it all: Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

 

 

Then, standing as sinners in the wilderness with nothing to hide behind, laid bare by the Law, we look at the One who has faced us up to himself. We look at Jesus.

 

And we see standing there the One who did not let himself be known for his fine clothing or impressive presentation, but made himself known in the most sparse, bare way of all—a man hanging naked on the cross.

 

Behold the Man,” said Pilate, as he sent Jesus to the cross. Pilate could not have spoken truer words. Jesus, the Man standing in for all men, for all sinners, the holy One, going to the cross.

 

This is Advent. The coming of the King. We behold the Man. We look at Jesus. He comes to us in his Word. His word gives us nothing to hide behind. His Law lays us bare.

 

Then he covers us. The clothing is his, he gives it to us.

All of you, who were baptized into Christ,”

says Paul,

“have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

[Galatians 3:27]

 

And now we see repentance not as this work of the Law by which the Law has stripped us bare before God. Now we see repentance as gift—pure gift. It is this Lord, the One who hung bare on the cross for us, kindly and gently turning us around, turning us away from our self-righteousness and self-justification, and turning us to himself.

 

Repentance as gift. Repentance in the way of the Gospel. Repentance not as a work we do to hope that God won’t be mad at us, but as a work done toward us and for us by a King who turns us to himself with his gentle Word of Gospel.

 

Out in the wilderness, it is gifts.

 

The gift of being stripped of any covering of false security, of being laid bare to stand as nothing but sinner. The gift to the sinner, then: look upon the Lord who came to seek and to save the lost, to cleanse the sinner, to call and gather into his kingdom.

 

The gift of the Lord who makes his Advent to us, using bread and wine to approach us, to bring us face to face with him in his Body and Blood. When he has faced us up to himself, the words we hear, the words we cannot miss, are, “For you, for the forgiveness of your sins.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

He Takes Nothing on His Own

Advent 1, Wednesday                                  January 4, 2019

 

Savior of the Nations, Come

 

  1. Savior of the nations, come,
    Virgin’s Son, make here your home!
    Marvel now, O Heav’n and Earth,
    that the Lord chose such a birth.

 

  1. From the manger newborn light

Shines in glory through the night.

Darkness there no more resides;

In this light faith now abides.

 

Isaiah 9:1-7

1 Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed,

As when at first He lightly esteemed

The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, And afterward more heavily oppressed her, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,

In Galilee of the Gentiles.

2 The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light;

Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,

Upon them a light has shined.

3 You have multiplied the nation And increased its joy;

They rejoice before You According to the joy of harvest,

As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

4 For You have broken the yoke of his burden

And the staff of his shoulder,

The rod of his oppressor, As in the day of Midian.

5 For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle,

And garments rolled in blood,

Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.

6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given;

And the government will be upon His shoulder.

And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of His government and peace

There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice, From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

 

John 1:1-14

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The invitation from Satan to Adam and Eve: Come, join me in my kingdom, eat of the fruit, and you will be like God.

 

The invitation from Satan to the children of Adam and Eve, to us: Come, join me in my kingdom, desire what you want, grab what you desire, find your joy in things you can grab by your own strength, and you will be like God.

 

Satan’s enticement to “be like God” is his invitation to us to be not creatures. Creatures—that is, those who are created, those who didn’t create their own lives, but receive their lives purely and only as gift.

 

Satan’s temptation is to receive things not as gift from a loving Creator, but as what we can grasp and grab and hold onto by our own desire and lust and strength and power.

 

The way of gifts is the way not of grabbing and holding with our own power, but of receiving into an open hand, as a child receiving gifts from a parent.

 

Satan’s invitation is to know our lives and everything in our lives not in the way of gift and generosity from a living God, but as that which we grab and control and manipulate by our own devices and power.

 

 

The Invitation to the Savior:

Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin’s Son, make here your home!
Marvel now, O Heav’n and Earth,
that the Lord chose such a birth.

 

The Lord chose this birth. This was given to him, a gift from his Father. He takes nothing on his own, he grasps and grabs at no pomp or prestige or office or authority by his own power. He receives gifts from his Father.

 

The gift to him from his Father: it’s you and me. It’s our children we bring to his gifts in Baptism. It’s all those who belong to his Name both now and throughout the generations. John 17:6:

[Jesus said,] “I have manifested Your name, [O, Father,] to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.”

 

Jesus receives all things as gift from his Father.

 

For this reason, he chose such a birth—the birth to the Virgin—that he might make here his home.

 

His home here, on Earth, among sinners.

 

For sinners. To take the sin of every sinner upon himself. That he might give to those who rebelled, those who refused to be creatures created to receive gifts from the Father, those who made themselves citizens of Satan’s kingdom where all things are grasped and held onto, as if we would have nothing if we didn’t grab it for ourselves—that he might give to us the gift of reconciliation to the Father, the gift of belonging to the kingdom of grace, the gift of being made his own.

 

Unto us—us sinners, we who want to grab things by our own power, want to justify ourselves, we who will turn a gift into a work as we learned to do from our parents, Adam and Eve—unto us a Child is born, a Son is given, and his Name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 

So he came among us, and we beheld his glory. It is the glory of One receiving gifts from the Father, One given by the Father to be the Lamb of God to redeem all sinners—it is the glory of One giving himself the ransom for many. There is no greater glory ever on the face of the Earth than the One hanging on the cross, giving himself as the gift for every sinner.

 

Now the Church sings to him.

 

It is an invitation from those who have been restored to the Father, from those who have grown weary of having what can only be grabbed onto by our own strength, and who now are given to rejoice in being given gifts by the Lord of life:

Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin’s Son, make here your home!
Marvel now, O Heav’n and Earth,
that the Lord chose such a birth.

 

In the Name of Jesus.