Where Do You Live Your Life?

Second Sunday after the Epiphany [b]                   January 17, 2021

 

Psalm 139:1-10

1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me!

2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.

3 You search out my path and my lying down

and are acquainted with all my ways.

4 Even before a word is on my tongue,

behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.

5 You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is high; I cannot attain it.

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?

Or where shall I flee from your presence?

8 If I ascend to Heaven, you are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

9 If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

What do you want to be the last words spoken about you here on Earth? Those glorious eulogies, of a politician, perhaps, where all the money he or she voted to spend for bridges and buses and schools, of all the programs he or she set up to organize peoples’ lives; those eulogies where a man is always the kindest, the most caring, and ready to help anyone—what do you want to be the last words spoken about you?

 

The last words on Earth spoken over you and over me—not the glorious eulogy cataloging the good and whitewashing the bad, but the actual words rightly describing you and me, the realistic words showing the good and the bad, the joy and the fear—the last words spoken concerning you and me, as our bodies wait to be lowered into the ground, the pastor standing a few feet from the empty rectangular hole, the family and loved ones, with tears in their eyes standing also there the hole, and the pastor will say:

May God the Father, who created this body;

May God the + Son, who by his blood redeemed this body;

May God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be his temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh. Amen.

 

Nothing about how this guy being lowered into the ground loved fishing and loved watching the Broncos; nothing about how much charity he gave and how his smile lit up a room; nothing about how he will now be fishing or golfing are whatever with the angels in Heaven. Really, not anything about the man at all. Except, that this body was created by God the Father, and was redeemed by God the Son, and was sanctified by God the Holy Spirit.

 

Entering the ground, the body is commended to the God who resurrects it on the Last Day.

 

Beautiful words extolling the Lord’s gift of life in the midst of sorrow.

 

 

Those are the words to be spoken over you and me. They show the good and the bad.

 

The bad, that’s the sin and death. Death doesn’t belong to us. Not according to our creation by the God who made us for. He made us to live in these bodies and enjoy life. We sinned. We brought sin into all creation. Sin brought death. The dead body being let into the ground, that shows the sin belonging to all of us.

 

But the body being let into the ground, it is commended to the God of life. That’s the good.

 

So these last words on Earth spoken over us, they show us where we live, our address, even now.

 

We all have our addresses, of course. For us now, it happens to be Albuquerque. The addresses among us here include earlier places we’ve lived, some in Texas, some in California—you can add up the places belonging to different ones of us, Idaho, Wyoming, even England or Germany and more, depending on where our vocations have taken us.

 

But the one address common to all of us is the one we professed in the Psalm.

Where shall I go from your Spirit, [O Lord,]

Or where shall I flee from your presence?

[Psalm 139:7]

 

When David wrote this Psalm, his address would have been Jerusalem. But he wrote of a different address he belonged to.

 

In the Psalm, he wrote, “Where, O Lord, shall I flee from your presence?”

 

But the translation we have has actually softened it somewhat. In his own language, David did not reference God’s presence. In the Hebrew what David says is more stark, more located. He said, “Where, O Lord, shall I flee from your face?”

 

David’s life is at the face of God. When he was running in the wilderness from Saul, he was at the face of God. When he knelt down for Samuel the prophet to anoint him to be King of Israel, David was at the face of God. When he married his first wife, it was at the face of God.

 

David’s adultery with Bathsheba? It was in a private bedroom. But it was at the face of God. His conversation with the prophet Nathan where Nathan pronounced him forgiven and clean of his sin, it happened in David’s palace, but it was at the face of God.

 

“Where shall I flee, [O Lord,] from you face?”,

said David. David’s whole life was at the face of God.

 

So is yours. So is mine. That’s where we live our lives, whether we know it or not. Our address is Albuquerque, or Dallas, or Denver, or wherever, but we live always at the face of God.

 

We see here the severity of our sin. Wouldn’t it have been better for David if, when he was committing adultery with Bathsheba, he was able to keep it in that bedroom, without God being involved? But his sin, hidden from the world, was at the face of God. And so is ours. The news on that front is bad.

 

But these bodies, they were created by God the Father. And redeemed by the blood of God the Son. And the Holy Spirit had water poured over our bodies and words spoken into our ears, and he cleansed us, made us holy, even while we at the same time live in these bodies of sin. So Paul says,

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? … You are not your own, you were bought with a price.”

[1 Corinthians 6:15]

 

The blood of Christ, that’s what bought you.

 

 

So Nathanael was one day sitting under his fig tree. He was in the shade reading Torah.

 

That is, he was reading the Holy Scriptures. He was reading of creation in Genesis; of deliverance in Exodus; he was reading of salvation given to such names as Ruth and Tamar, Jacob and Joseph; he was reading of the lineage of David. That’s what an Israelite would do in the season of the Feast of Tabernacles, you sit under your fig tree and you read Torah. For in the Holy Scriptures, God is with you, and you are with him: you’re at the face of God.

 

John 1:47:

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

 

Jesus saw him. He was with him. Nathaniel’s under a fig tree reading the Scriptures, but he’s at the face of God.

 

That’s our address. That’s where we live.

 

Even while in Albuquerque, even as we live in this world which does not know God, even as we live in a generation so opposed to God’s gifts, so hostile to God’s creation of man and woman and his gift of marriage and family, a generation unwilling to protect the weakest among us, including babies in the womb, even as we live in a time of doubt, with everyone ready to turn on neighbor at the first hint of something said wrong—even as we live here, at the same time, we live at the face of God.

 

At the face of God, we must know our sin, for how can sin ever be any worse than if God is right there with us. But at the same time, living at the face of God, we hear his voice. And it is the voice of the Gospel.

 

It is the voice of God the Father who created our bodies, and God the Son who redeemed our bodies, and God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies our bodies with Baptism and the Word. And hearing his Word of Gospel, we know that he loves us, he loves our bodies, and when we are found in our sin, he wants nothing more than to forgive and cleanse and sanctify us, so that in the midst of death, we know that we belong to the God of life.

 

Where shall I go from your Spirit?,

says David.

Where shall I flee from your face?

 

That’s where we live: at the face of God. 1 Corinthians 6:19:

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, you were bought with a price.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

The Gift of a Hearing Heart

Second Sunday after Christmas [b]                         January 3, 2021

 

1 Kings 3:4-15; Ephesians 1:3-14

 

Luke 2:40-52

40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. 41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Who wants to be with us in all this mess? This mess people mad at each other, of everyone on edge, of one person yelling at another for not wearing a mask, while another argues that anyone wearing a mask has no backbone, of Facebook memes putting up statistics to shame one side or the other, this world of children not allowed in schools and businesses shut down, of nurses grueling days weeks on end—who would choose to be with us in this mess?

 

Jesus chooses. Luke 2:40:

The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

 

The humanness of it, the earthiness. God didn’t just become man, as if it’s just some interesting addition to his divinity. He became man in the way of every human. He was a child. He had to have his diapers changed. His mother, we can imagine, had those conversations with aunts and grandmothers about what to feed the little boy to get him to sleep through the night.

 

There was, we might imagine, one of those rulers drawn on the wall by the door, to mark each inch he gained by the month and year.

 

“He grew and became strong”—that little verb “grew” glimpsing his humanness, the reality of his life as a boy of skin and bones and imagination and dreams, just like any one of us.

 

 

He wanted to be here in our mess. He knew the turmoil—in his day a turmoil of secret political movements doing violence and working to overthrow the governor; in the turmoil of pharisees roaming from synagogue to synagogue to run roughshod over peoples’ lives by controlling them with laws and rules and regulations, and of Sadducees collecting the Temple fees to support their opulent lives and to separate themselves from the regular families.

 

Jesus wanted to be with us in this mess. He knew of how we judge others, always ready to make the argument of what another is doing wrong; he knew of how we are on edge, of how we use words not to encourage and build-up and give gifts, but to control and even tear-down; he knew of our troubled consciences we try to placate by excusing ourselves or accusing others. He knew all of this and more.

 

And he wanted to be with us.

 

So he became a child, and as is given to a child, he grew and became strong and was filled with wisdom.

 

A wisdom not of knowing how to dice out all the philosophers and their arguments, nor of knowing the law in its depth so he could join the Pharisees in using it to control other peoples’ lives, but the wisdom of a child receiving good gifts from parents, the wisdom of hearing the words of life and encouragement, words of God, and hearing them with ears of faith.

 

 

That’s the wisdom Solomon had prayed for. When young Solomon became king, here is how he asked the Lord for the gift of wisdom;

O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

[1 Kings 3:9]

 

In the translation we heard this morning, Solomon asked the Lord for an “understanding mind.” But what Solomon actually said in the Hebrew, which is what he spoke, was, “Give to your servant, [O Lord,] a hearing heart.” [1 Kings 3:9] To which the Lord said,

“Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.”

 

Jesus, Luke tells us, came as a child, growing and becoming strong, and he increased in wisdom. [Luke 2:40]

 

The wisdom the child was given? The same wisdom given to Solomon: a hearing heart. Not the worldly wisdom of conquering a field of study or of being able to understand the philosophers, but the wisdom of a heart gladly hearing the words of the Lord, receiving them as pure gift—as a child receiving the gift of milk from mother.

 

Jesus was made complete in wisdom by hearing and receiving the words of his Father.

 

“The words that you hear [from me]”, said Jesus, are not my words, but [the words] of the Father who sent me.”

[John 14:24]

 

Jesus is given words from his Father, and he receives them with a hearing heart. That’s the wisdom of a child receiving gifts from a loving parent. Jesus speaks those words to us, and by those words implants in us a hearing heart, a heart of faith.

 

Because, the Old Adam, our sinful flesh, he doesn’t hear well. He hears only what he wants to hear.

 

But the Words of Jesus, the words he received from his Father and now speaks to us, these words put the old Adam of our sinful flesh to death daily in repentance, and they create in us the heart of faith, the heart hearing the Lord’s words for all they bestow. That hearing heart, open to receive every good gift from God, is the gift of wisdom.

 

 

The child grew and became strong, he increased in wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

[Luke 2:40]

 

Jesus wanted to be with us in this mess—this world of words spoken not to bestow gifts and speak grace, but to judge and keep score and cover in shame.

 

He wanted to be with us. It was his Father’s gift to him to be given the office to save us from our sin, the Father’s gift to him to place him here among us to do the holy work of making us holy.

 

So he became man. Like us in every way, but without sin. In all humanness and earthiness, he came as a child to grow as we grow and to become strong and to have a hearing heart to receive every word from his Father and thus increase in the wisdom of being given to.

 

He is with us now. He sends to us the Holy Spirit to bring to us all the words which the Father gave to him. He sends to us the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit gathers us to all the gifts of Jesus, the Holy Spirit who is to be known to us as holy because that is his work—he makes us holy.

 

Jesus is with us now as he sends the Holy Spirit to keep us in all the gifts of the Word. In that Word, Jesus is with us now.

 

We hear his Word with the gift of hearing hearts. By that Word,

we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavishes upon us in all wisdom.

[Ephesians 1:8]

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The Unsilent Lord

The First Sunday after Christmas [b]                                     December 27, 2020

 

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD;

my soul shall exult in my God,

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;

he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,

and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,

and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,

so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise

to sprout up before all the nations.

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,

and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,

until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,

and her salvation as a burning torch.

2 The nations shall see your righteousness,

and all the kings your glory,

and you shall be called by a new name

that the mouth of the LORD will give.

3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,

and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

God will not keep silent, Isaiah says, he will not be quiet.

 

How will that work?

 

We listen to what we want to listen to. We have a TV mute button—if we get tired of hearing something, we make it silent. That’s easy. If we mute the obnoxious commercial, no one at the TV station even knows, they are too remote from us. If we switch channels so we don’t have to hear a certain politician, he or she doesn’t even know—they are too distant from us.

 

And so we can even mute God. Just don’t listen to him. Tune out.

 

Don’t turn to his word in Scripture to hear his voice; don’t come to the preaching of the Gospel to hear his voice; don’t gather to the word of forgiveness in the Sacrament to hear his voice; don’t pray in order for him to hear your voice. He’s distant, remote. It’s not like he’s right here.

 

But here we find the good news for the sinner. It’s the Gospel.

 

He is not distant, he is not remote, he is not removed from our sinful lives.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,

and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,”

says the Lord.

 

He is here, even when we kid ourselves that he’s not. He’s no more distant than a family member at the dinner table.

 

In the beginning was the Word,”

John tells us,

and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

[John 1:1]

 

Where the Word is, there’s no silence. There’ s conversation and dialog; there is the speaking of things into existence, there’s creation and life.

 

But maybe we still think of the Word as far off, remote, distant, as something we need not worry about.

“The Word became flesh,”

says John,

And [the Word] dwelt among us.”

[John 1:14]

 

He’s no abstract God up in the skies, distant from us; no spiritual being remote from our flesh and blood lives about whom we give no worry because we can’t hear him anyway.

 

He became flesh; as fully human as you and me. A real flesh and blood baby in the arms Mary. He dwelt among us, talking with people, eating fish with families, drinking wine with neighbors, walking around getting dirt on his feet and sunburn on his face.

 

Mary’s baby. One thing we can say about babies: they make noise. This God is in the flesh in order to not be a silent God, a God not mute to the sinner.

 

 

He’s the Word who with the Father and the Holy Spirit created the world and with that also our parents Adam and Eve.

 

He’s the Word who brought the rain out of the skies for forty days of judgment, saving only believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all.

 

He’s the Word who brought down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, who drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and his army, who held back the jaws of the lions so that Daniel walked out of the den safe, who walked into the fire to be with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to keep them safe—and now he’s the Word make flesh, child of Mary.

 

He does it all to not keep silent, to not be mute to the sinner, to you and me and our families.

 

He does it in order to be with those who had not praised God as they should—to be with them in order to forgive them. To be with those of no thankfulness on their lips, in order to speak grace to them. To dwell with those who’ve been stingy, those who’ve delighted not in encouraging and building up others, but in judging and holding on to sins, in order to cleanse them of all unrighteousness.

 

He became flesh and he dwelt with us in order to be heard. Isaiah 62:1:

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,

and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,

until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,

and her salvation as a burning torch.

 

Zion, that’s the people called to the promise of the Davidic King to be saved from their sin. The new Zion, it’s the Church.

 

Jerusalem, that’s all those called to be cleansed by the blood of the sacrifice at the Temple. The new Jerusalem, it’s those cleansed by the blood of Christ, it’s the Church.

 

For the sake of the Church, for the sake of his baptized people, the Lord will not keep silent.

 

He speaks. This is the good news; this is the Gospel. For to know the Law, we don’t have to hear the Lord’s voice in Scripture—we already know the Law when we look into nature to see things of the sinful world deteriorate. We already know the Law by looking at our own lives to feel the sting in our consciences for sin. We already know the Law by the fact of our own mortality.

 

But the Gospel is that the Lord will not be mute to the sinner. The Word is not silent. He came in the flesh to speak from the cross, Father, forgive them.

 

Having been crucified, he descended to Hell to declare to the demons that it’s over, they’ve lost, he has stripped them of their terror, of their hold over sinners, by forgiving sinners, by cleansing our consciences with his Gospel.

 

Having descended to Hell to proclaim victory over the demons, he then rose from the dead in order to speak to the women at the tomb and to the Apostles to tell them that death is defeated, and the sinner is to hear the Gospel’s word of justification.

 

Having risen from the dead, he ascended to Heaven and sent forth the Holy Spirit to bring the Word of Gospel to the Church, calling sinners of every nation and every language into the Church, that all would hear the word of grace and be forgiven of sin.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,

and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,

until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,

and her salvation as a burning torch.

 

The new Zion is the Church. The new Jerusalem is all those the Lord gathers to his Name.

 

It’s you and me and our families. For our sake, he is not silent.

 

He keeps gathering us. He continues dwelling among us in his Sacrament, declaring us righteous by his blood. He steadfastly speaks to us in his Gospel, by which we are saved from our sin. He keeps coming to his people with his gifts, and he will not be silent.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

How the Holy Spirit Makes Us Holy

CHRISTMAS EVE                                                                          December 24, 2020

 

MATTHEW 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

 

IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

 

This baby, says the angel, this little one conceived in Mary, is of the Holy Spirit.

 

This work of bringing forth the Christmas child is Trinitarian—a work of the Holy Trinity. It’s not just God the Son, though it is certainly him—God the Son coming in the flesh as a human to join those he loves and to save them from their sins.

 

It’s the work, too, of God the Father, who has been Father to the Son in eternity, from before even the creation of the world and the creation of his Image on Earth in Adam and Eve.

 

God the Father has now sent forth his Son to be part of the created order, to be a creature himself, according to his human nature, while still at the same time, according to his divine nature, God the Son remains uncreated, and remains himself, the creator.

 

And it’s the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

In this mystery of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet One God—in this great mystery of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit comes to the Virgin Mary in a Word. And by having that word spoken into her ear—that word, which is, You will bear a Son, and you will call his name Jesus—by having that word spoken into her ear, the Holy Spirit gives her the conceiving of a child.

 

This Holy Spirit was there with the Father and the Son at the creation of the world, even before we brought the good creation into sin.

 

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, creating mankind and all things as they were in conversation with one another.

 

This is the Holy Spirit who spoke by the prophets, giving Israel the promise of a Savior who would save sinners from their sins.

 

This is the Holy Spirit who throughout the history of the Tabernacle and the Temple was using the mouths of the priests to declare people clean before the face of God.

 

This is God the Spirit who all along has been known as the Holy Spirit because in his grace, he makes sinners holy.

 

He has now given conception to the Virgin Mary. She will bear a Son and call his name Jesus, for he will save people from their sins.

 

 

And this is all brought to you and me and our families now by the Holy Spirit, who makes us holy.

 

And this is how the Holy Spirit makes us holy: By bringing to us Jesus and his gifts.

 

By gathering us to the proclamation of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

 

By teaching us that everything Jesus did in his Incarnation, everything he did in his humiliation, everything he accomplished in his death on the cross, everything he did in his resurrection—he did it all for us. He did it all to take our sin upon himself and to make us holy. He did it to justify us before his Father, because he loves us.

 

He became flesh, he came as the child of Mother Mary, in order to be brother to those he loved.

 

He grew up to teach in the synagogues in order to comfort the poor and the beat-down with his grace.

 

He went before Pontius Pilate to be humiliated, and he died on the cross, in order to save from sins those whose sin he willingly took upon himself.

 

And he now sends forth his Holy Spirit in order to gather his people to his Name, to assemble his church to his Body and Blood, in order to bring his forgiveness to us as gift, giving us the Holy Spirit, who by the Gospel makes us holy.

 

This is Mary’s child. You will call him Jesus, the angel told Mary, for he will save people from their sins.

 

We call him Jesus. He saves us from ours.

 

IN THE NAME OF JESUS.

Greetings. The Lord is With You

Fourth Sunday in Advent [b]                      December 20, 2020

 

Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Such kind words we are given to speak to one another, such encouraging and comforting words from one Christian to another: “The Lord is with you.”

 

More than just a thin statement of wish that things would go better, more than a hopeful declaration that the Lord will somehow make things better, but, much more, a statement of fact that the Lord is, indeed, with you.

 

In your doubt, in your fear, the Lord is with you. In your despair, in your loss of hope, he has united himself with you.

 

In Baptism and in his Body and Blood he binds himself to you in such a way that he suffers along with you; in your affliction, he is afflicted. He is not standing far off observing, but is dwelling with you in such a way that your life is taken up into his. You are, as the Apostle Paul puts in, in Christ. [Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 1:30]

 

What of you doesn’t belong to him? With his own blood he ransomed you. He purchased you out of sin and death; he transferred you from the kingdom of darkness into his marvelous light. Of all your problems and fears, all your doubts and failings, what does he not suffer along with you?

“The Lord is with you,” such kind words of encouragement given to one Christian to speak to another.

 

It’s in his Name. “Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” said the prophet Isaiah. Immanuel means, God with us.

 

Now the angel comes to Mary,

“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.”

[Luke 1:28]

 

“The Lord is with you”—that’s Immanuel. That’s the promise Isaiah gave. Mary will call him “Jesus,” which in the Hebrew means “Yahweh saves,” or, in our translations, “the Lord saves.”

 

The Lord who saves is the Lord who is with you, your Immanuel.

 

Or flip it around: the Lord who is with you, your Immanuel, is Jesus, the Lord saving you.

 

 

So the kindness of that angelic word: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.”

 

He is with Mary in such a way as he is with no other. With her in her lowly estate, bringing to her the gift of conceiving a child, so that she is now to be known as the mother of God-in-the-flesh, Immanuel.

 

It is you, Mary, upon whom the Holy Spirit will come, and you will find yourself under the shadow of the power of the Most High God.

 

It comes down to Mary.

 

All the history of the promise given to Adam and Eve of a Redeemer to come from Eve’s lineage to crush the head of Satan and save the sinner.

 

And the history of the promise to Abraham that from his lineage would come a greater Son to give the sacrifice to cleanse all nations, and the promise to Israel that from David’s lineage God would raise up a greater Son to be the Savior for every sinner.

 

It all comes down to Mary. The Lord is with you, said the angel, and you will call him Jesus.

 

Once God comes in the flesh as Mary’s Son, once she is named as Mother-of-God, most honored among women, it comes down to Mary.

 

For no one will know God, no one will be able to find God in his grace and salvation, except that they know the Son who came forth from Mary’s womb as the flesh-and-blood little baby to be with those of flesh and blood.  (Any other god spoken of on Earth, any other place we turn to find rescue from sin, is not real but an impostor, like laying a plastic doll up next to a real flesh-and-blood baby.)

 

 

And now it comes to you and me. Maybe it seems unlikely, maybe even a bit presumptuous, but it comes down to you and me.

 

For Jesus came to be with the sinner.

 

He dwelled with Mary for a time, in her womb, and in her arms as a child—she stands as most blessed among women.

 

He then dwelled with sinners throughout Capernaum and Galilee, touching the skin of lepers, eating and drinking with tax-collectors and drunks, always walking into the darkest corners of an unclean world to be with sinners in their darkest times, dwelling with them and bringing them out of darkness into the light of the forgiveness of all sin.

 

He lived with sinners. As the dwelling of God among men, he set himself for the cross, willingly letting sinful men judge him as he was bearing their sins.

 

And now, to you and me. He dwells with us. The Lord is with you.

 

When we’re not thinking about it, we may take the phrase lightly. But what could be a more comforting pronouncement from one Christian to another: “The Lord is with you”?

 

For God to say, “Behold, I am with you,” is for God to have consigned himself over to death.

 

“Behold, I am with you,” says your Lord. With you in your sin, your fear, in your deepest despair, you worst darkness, even in your death—I am with you, cleansing you, comforting you, bringing you into my life.

 

 

“I am with you”—Will God really die for this little phrase?

 

Yes. On the cross hangs Immanuel—God with us. True God and true Man, God-having-taken-our-sin-upon-himself, God humiliated for us—God-with-us.

 

So it comes down to you and me, to our children and families. He is God-with-us, Immanuel, Jesus, the Lord who saves.

 

He is the Son of God giving us to be baptized and to baptize our children in the Name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit. For, in that Baptism, in that bestowal of the holy Name, he says, Behold, I am with you, even unto the end of the ages. [Matthew 28]

 

He is Mary’s Son, having come in the flesh. He will not deny his birth from Mary; he will not be known apart from the flesh. He now comes to us, “My Body,” he says; “My Blood.” There, in that Body and Blood, he is with us, binding himself to us, forgiving our sins.

 

It comes down to you and me, to our children and families.

 

We who are with our world and its sicknesses and pathologies, who are bound to our fellowman in his despair, who are of one piece with the sin of our world, we now hear the word of our Lord:  I am with you.

 

Your life, your pain, your doubts or despair, in all of it, his word stands: I am with you. There is nothing of us that he does not cleanse, does not forgive, nothing of us that he has not redeemed.

 

Mary knew her Son was God-with-us. She pondered these things in her heart.

 

Our hearts, too, ponder. Along with Mary, we can say to this Immanuel, God-with-us, to Jesus, this Holy One who makes us his people—along with Mary we can say, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

 

And to one other we speak those words of comfort: The Lord is with you.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

To Us

Advent 2, Wednesday                                                 December 9, 2020

 

Isaiah 9:1-17

1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. 3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. 8 The Lord has sent a word against Jacob, and it will fall on Israel; 9 and all the people will know, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: 10 “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.” 11 But the LORD raises the adversaries of Rezin against him, and stirs up his enemies. 12 The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. 13 The people did not turn to him who struck them, nor inquire of the LORD of hosts. 14 So the LORD cut off from Israel head and tail, palm branch and reed in one day—15 the elder and honored man is the head, and the prophet who teaches lies is the tail; 16 for those who guide this people have been leading them astray, and those who are guided by them are swallowed up. 17 Therefore the Lord does not rejoice over their young men, and has no compassion on their fatherless and widows; for everyone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.

 

Matthew 4:12-17

12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

 

Catechism Emphasis

What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?

These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us

that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us

through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life

and salvation.

 

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

A child,

says the prophet Isaiah,

will be born to us. A son will be given to us.

[Isaiah 9:6]

 

What wonderful words of gift, those two words: to us. It signals direction; it gives purpose. What the Lord is doing here is not just something done because he’s almighty God, and it’s not random or accidental.

 

What God is doing is sending his Son from Heaven to Earth in the flesh, as a baby. In Isaiah 7 a promise was given: the virgin will bear a son. Now, in Isaiah 9, we are told more about who this child will be.  Isaiah 9:6:

The government will rest on His shoulders;

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

 

The “government upon his shoulders”—this is the administration of the Kingdom of Heaven, it’s the dispensing of the forgiveness of sins so that every sinner is declared righteous before the Throne of God.

 

He will be called Wonderful—what he will accomplish upon the cross is what no sinner could accomplish for himself, it’s the full reconciliation with the Father in Heaven.

 

He will be called Counselor—he speaks the good counsel of the Gospel, inviting the sinner into salvation, building the sinner up in the encouragement of the cross.

 

He will be called Mighty God—for though he comes as a man—flesh and blood as every person—yet he’s God the Son himself, Mighty God, creator of all, here on Earth not to condemn, but justify, not to accuse, but to show mercy.

 

He will be called Eternal Father—he, God the Son, is the one who ransoms the sinner, it is he who cares for every person as a father cares for his children, it is he who brings forth the church, his people, bringing them from death into eternal life.

 

He will be called, Prince of Peace—the One who brings peace to overcome enmity, reconciliation to heal brokenness, who comforts the distressed, and who looks at the sinner and says, Peace to you, receive the Holy Spirit.

 

Isaiah the prophet tells us who this child will be. But the most comforting words of all are Isaiah’s words, to us, for us, on our behalf:

A child, will be born to us. A son will be given to us.

 

By those words, Jesus hands himself over to us, for our benefit and salvation.

 

 

In the Large Catechism, Luther describes Jesus the same way when he comes to us in his Sacrament. The wonderful words in the Sacrament of the Altar are, for you. The Sacrament of the Altar is, truly, what Jesus says it is, His Body, His Blood, for the forgiveness of our sins.

 

But how do we apprehend this? How do we make it our own? It is given into our hands, into our mouths, with those two little words: For you. To you, that is, for you, on your behalf, for your sake—for you.

 

This is the way,

the Large Catechism says,

that the treasure of the Sacrament is passed along and made our very own, [it] is in the words “Given and shed for you.” For in the words you have both truths, that it is Christ’s body and blood, and that it is yours as a treasure and gift. Now Christ’s body can never be an unfruitful, empty thing that does or profits nothing. Yet, no matter how great the treasure is in itself, it must be included in the Word and administered to us.

 

 

The comfort of Advent: that God the Son comes to us. He came as the Son of Mary into this world, to us, for us, fulfilling the words of Isaiah, A child, will be born to us. A son will be given to us.

 

He comes, making his Advent into our lives in our own generation, his Body and Blood given and shed for you.

 

We hold on to those words of promise: To you. He comes to us, for us, so that we may take him and hold onto him for the forgiveness of our sins.

 

Matthew 4:16:

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

 

When God Gives Comfort

Second Sunday in Advent [b]                     December 6, 2020

 

Mark 1:1-8

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” 4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Comfort from God. Comfort for you and me, for our families, comfort to any in distress. God sends his prophets for just that, to bring comfort. Isaiah 40:1:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

 

What is this comfort? The prophet gives us that, too:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her that her warfare is ended,

that her iniquity is pardoned,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

[Isaiah 40:2]

 

 

There is comfort and then there is comfort.

 

We may start out of thinking of the comfort of a mom putting a band-aid on the scraped knee, a dad telling a child struggling with homework that it’ll all be okay, a friend visiting a sick one in the hospital, the comfort of words and acts of kindness.

 

These are gifts of comfort from one to another.

 

But Isaiah speaks of the most profound comfort of all—of a sinner standing at the face of God, waiting to hear the verdict for sin, and hearing this word from the mouth of God: I forgive you; I cleanse you; I cover you in the honor of my own Son; for all your sin, all your shame, all your fear, I hand to you abundant grace, an overflowing, double portion for all that is needed.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her that her warfare is ended,

that her iniquity is pardoned,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

[Isaiah 40:2]

 

 

Everything the Lord has been doing from the beginning when he gave to Adam and Eve the promise of a Savior; everything he’s been doing since giving the promise of a greater Son to Abraham and Sarah, a Son who would be a blessing to all peoples; everything he’s done since gathering Israel to the Tabernacle to be cleansed by the blood of the sacrifice; everything the Lord did by sending the prophets to call Israel back from sin and gather her again to his grace—he has done all of it to comfort the sinner, to pardon iniquity, and to give grace from the Lord’s hand double for all the sin.

 

So as the Lord comes in the flesh to be with sinners, as he starts his trek, which will take a couple years, to take his place on the cross at Calvary, he starts it by sending a prophet. Not Isaiah this time—Isaiah he sent 700 years before this. This time, it’s the prophet John.

 

John is out by the Jordan preparing the way for Jesus. He’s gathering sinners—people who need profound comfort from God, who need to know that God has come in the flesh to pardon iniquity and give grace from the Lord’s hand, double for all the sin. And gathering these sinners, John is giving gifts. Mark 1:4:

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

 

That word repentance may not at first hit us with the sound of gift. It’s harsh, demanding. Only sinners need to repent. If you’re not a sinner, there’s no need of repentance.

 

So repentance is a word which first hits with the Law’s sting of accusation. But from the Lord, repentance is a word of life, a word of gift. John is proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

 

Repentance doesn’t just hang out there on its own as something the sinner must do. It’s repentance into something—into the forgiveness of sins. If you have no sins, then you get no forgiveness. You can’t forgive what is not there to be forgiven.

 

So repentance is pure gift from the Lord. Not something we do by the Law’s demand, but something we are given for the purpose of forgiveness.

 

The prophet speaks the Law, and by that Law we know our sin.

 

But to know that we are sinner is gift from the Lord; for it is reality, and now we can stand before the Lord not deceiving ourselves as to who we are, but as exactly what we are: sinner.

 

Standing before the Lord as sinner, we may now hear him for the one gift he most wants to give us: Comfort. The word of comfort that our iniquity is pardoned, that we receive from the Lord’s hand double for all our sins.

 

That is comfort—to hear God’s word of Law telling us what we really are, and then, in this gift of repentance, to be forgiven, double for all our sin.

 

 

That’s how John prepared the way for the Lord. By gathering sinners to the Jordan and cleansing them in this baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of all sin.

 

Now, John is not for us. He did his job back at the Jordan. His appointed task is over. By his martyrdom at the hands of King Herod, John the prophet has gone to be with the Lord in eternity.

 

John’s job is over, but he brought us up to Jesus. And Jesus is the comfort for every sinner.

 

To Jesus, we confess our sin, knowing that this sin we confess is the sin he took upon himself when he was publicly baptized by John in the Jordan, and is the sin he then bore on our behalf to his death on the cross. To Jesus, we confess our sin, knowing that this repentance is his gift to us, for it is always repentance into forgiveness.

 

And then we hear his Word of comfort: his Word that his cross was for us, his Word that he brings the gift of his cross to us in his Word, and that in hearing the Word of Christ Jesus crucified for us, we are given comfort—more than the comfort of a mother’s tender care for a child, of a father’s encouragement, of a friend’s consolation, but the profound comfort of knowing that even as we stand at the face of the Father in our sinful flesh, we stand as those who bear the Name of his Son.

 

We stand as those whose warfare is ended, for the Lord has pardoned our iniquity and from his hand we have received abundant grace, double measure for all our sin.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

 

A Promise That Gives You Life

Advent 1, Wednesday                                                 December 2, 2020

 

Isaiah 7:3-14

3 And the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. 4 And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. 5 Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, 6 “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,” 7 thus says the Lord GOD: “‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. 8 For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. And within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered from being a people. 9 And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.'” 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.

 

Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” 24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.

 

THE FIRST PETITION

Hallowed be thy name. What does this mean?

God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.

How is God’s name kept holy?

God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!

 

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

What do you do when the Lord gives you a promise? A promise which saves you from trouble and gives you life?

 

King Ahaz was in some trouble. The threat against his kingdom was great.

 

He reigned as king in Jerusalem some 700 years before Jesus’ birth. Ahaz saw threating foreign powers at every side. And he doesn’t have the army to stop it. But the Lord sends his prophet Isaiah to Ahaz to tell him that the enemies would not destroy Jerusalem but that they themselves would be destroyed.

 

That’s good news, of course, but it’s also not easily believed. These foreign kings are much stronger. So to give Ahaz the comfort and confidence that Jerusalem would be kept safe, the Lord said to him,

“Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as Heaven.”

[Isaiah 7:11]

 

We might think Ahaz would jump on this. Why not tell God to change the weather as a sign or to move the stars in the sky—take God up on his offer and have him do something to show that his promise is good? Isaiah 7:12:

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”

 

 

That sounds pious, to not put the Lord to the test. But the problem is, it’s not putting the Lord to the test to do what the Lord tells you to do, and the Lord had told Ahaz to ask for himself a sign.

 

The Lord is giving a promise. He’s giving a gift to Ahaz, and the gift included doing something to confirm the gift, to give Ahaz and Jerusalem the confidence that the Lord was with them even when events were dire.

 

If Ahaz asks the Lord to do a sign as the Lord had told him to do, that would mean that the Lord is right there in the mix of things with Jerusalem, that the Lord is close and has included himself in Israel’s daily life. It seems better, Ahaz must think, to keep the Lord distant. That’s safer. Israel has sinned and the Lord is holy—maybe we don’t want the Lord too close to us, Ahaz must’ve thought. Isaiah 7:12:

Ahaz said [to the Lord], “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”

 

But the Lord will not be kept a long way off. He will not stay distant from the people he loves. The Lord said to Ahaz,

“Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

[Isaiah 7:14]

 

And there it is, the promise of a Savior. It’s a strange sign to give to King Ahaz, who lived 700 years before the birth of Jesus. But there it is, the promise of a Savior.

 

The promise had already been given to Adam and Eve back in the Garden, and to Abraham and others, but here it is given anew, given again as we are approaching the generation of when the Savior will actually be born.

 

This Savior will be given by the Lord himself; this Savior will be brought forth in a miraculous birth given a Virgin. And this Savior will be known as Immanuel, which means, God-with-us.

 

 

The prophet Isaiah first had us looking at Ahaz, a scared king waiting for the destruction of his city. But Isaiah moves us from that to the promise of God coming in the flesh. The salvation is bigger than just Ahaz and his Jerusalem.

 

This salvation is God himself coming in the flesh to be God-with-us. God-with-us to save us, to take our sin upon himself—God-with-us to die for us.

 

So in Advent, the Church hears our Lord’s word preparing us for the Christ-child. This is the Savior foretold in all the generations of Israel. He’s the one to release the guilt, to take away the sin, to cover the shame—he God-with-us. His Father is the Father in Heaven, he mother, a virgin here on Earth.

 

Along with Ahaz, we are tempted to see him as far off, to keep him at arm’s length, untouched by our day-to-day struggles. But his name is Immanuel—God-with-us. He became God-with-us by birth from the Virgin Mary. He became God-with-us to each of us by joining us to himself in Baptism.

 

It’s all by promise. He is with us in our sin, to forgive. With us in shame, to give us his honor. With us in our fear, to give us the promise of life.

 

Good to his promise, he is with us in our lives, in our families, restoring us, reconciling us to one another, always our God. It’s his Name, Immanuel.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

Jesus Rides Towards Calvary

First Sunday in Advent [b]                          November 29, 2020

 

Mark 11:1-10

1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.'” 4 And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5 And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

We’re at the First Sunday in Advent, the first week of the new church year.

 

The Church year begins, of course, with Advent, then it’s on to Christmas and the Incarnation, then on to Epiphany, which brings us up to Lent and the week of Good Friday and our Lord’s death on the cross.

 

So Advent is pointing everything in the Church toward Calvary.

 

This King will take his throne on Calvary’s cross. Jesus enters Jerusalem, and everything is toward that. Everything Jesus does, everything he allows to be done to him, it all takes him to the sacrifice he will give for all sinners.

 

 

So, as he enters Jerusalem, it’s on a colt of a donkey.

 

Jerusalem is packed. The city is crowded for the Passover Feast. With all the excitement and clamor of the crowds, Jesus enters in a way no one can miss.

 

All have heard of Jesus at this point—he’s been going around Galilee and Capernaum and the districts outside Jerusalem for about three years. They would’ve heard the stories of how the prophet John had baptized Jesus out at the Jordan, of how Jesus had then gone about healing diseases, touching leprous skin, eating and drinking with tax-collectors and drunks, of him casting out demons, even raising dead people—they had surely heard the stories, and now he enters Jerusalem at the year’s busiest week, Passover.

 

And he enters on the colt of a donkey.

 

No political parade ushering in a new government, no military equipment, showing off swords and warhorses, but a single man riding on the back of a simple animal that had never been ridden before.

 

If he had been setting up a new government—and that’s what kings do, or if he had been riding into town to throw the Romans out, then coming in with a political movement or with warhorses would’ve made sense.

 

But they saw a solitary man on the back of a donkey.

 

Because, he’s on his way to Calvary. And to go to the cross, you need nothing of power or strength or effectiveness. You need only to come into town lowly and meek on the back of a donkey.

 

 

If there’s one thing we can’t do, it’s to confuse Jesus with a political leader or the organizer of a movement. He’s here to make no big changes in our world.

 

He’s here to go to Calvary and give himself on the cross. What political leader has ever set out to do something life that?

 

He’s here for the cross. How does that organize a movement?

 

No one is being intimidated or put to death by his actions, no political powers are being overthrown, no communities are being organized.

 

When he’s done with what he is riding into town to do on Calvary, all the world powers remain in place, all the communities go about their daily business as before, the world has not been brought into a new political reality.

 

He’s here to go to Calvary for one simple reason. To save the sinner. To shed blood to cleanse the unclean. To forgive you and me of all sin, and thereby, to make us his own. The solitary man riding on the back of a donkey doesn’t let us get away from it—everything he does is toward Calvary and toward you and me for the forgiveness of our sin.

 

 

So how shall we receive this King?

 

We know how to receive kings and princes of our world. We know how to join up with political organizers and movements.

 

But how do we receive this King, the one riding on the back of the donkey?

 

The crowd received him with the shout,

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

[Mark 11:9]

 

Hosanna comes from the Hebrew. It means “save us, we pray.”

 

They shout “Hosanna” to him who comes in the Name of the Lord. Which is to say, as you see this lone man entering town in such a shocking way on the back of a lowly donkey, you wonder who he is, by what name does he come?

 

He comes by the Name of the Lord. The Lord’s Name is Yahweh. The Name Jesus means, literally, “Yahweh who saves”—that’s the Name by which he enters to go to Calvary.

 

So who is this riding into town in such a shocking way? It is Yahweh, true God, on the back of a donkey, coming into Jerusalem to save us.

 

“Hosanna,” shout the people to this man on the donkey. That is, “Save us, we pray, for you are Yahweh who saves the sinner.”

 

And then, it’s Calvary. It’s the humiliation of the trial before Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate, it’s the shame of being publicly crucified, it’s the torment of dying so that you are forsaken by your Father.

 

For Jesus, everything is toward Calvary. That is, everything is toward giving himself unto death on the cross for you and me. Everything he does is toward redeeming the sinner and ransoming his people.

 

 

And now, everything in the Church is toward bringing the gifts of Calvary to those whom Jesus gathers to his Name.

 

He is the Lord, Yahweh in the flesh, answering the prayer of Hosanna, “Lord Save us.”

 

He is doing what he rode into Jerusalem to do.

 

He is saving you and me and our children, as he brings the Body and Blood of Calvary, the same Body and Blood that rode on the back of that donkey, that stood before Pontius Pilate, that was nailed to the wood of the cross, that was put, dead, into the tomb, and that was then raised up as living Body and Blood—he is saving you and me and our families as he has his Name proclaimed in our midst and brings that Body and Blood to us for the forgiveness of our sins.

 

Everything Jesus did as he rode into Jerusalem was toward Calvary.

 

Now, everything he is doing in the Church is toward bringing those gifts of Calvary to us.

 

And our prayer is joined to the prayer of those at the side of that rode as they watched him ride in on that donkey. “Hosanna,” we say along with them. That is, “Save us, we pray. For you are most blessed, you who comes in the Name of the Lord, that is, who comes by the Name Jesus to save us.”

 

In the Name of Jesus.