Saturday, December 25, 2010

December 26, 2010 - The Sunday after Christmas - St. Luke 2:22-40

The song that Simeon sang on the day He held Baby Jesus in His arms has been sung ever since by the church. Let us ponder the words of this song and make them our own. “O Lord, lettest now Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.” Simeon is now ready to die. He has held in His arms the Child who is His Savior and the Savior of the world. He can depart in peace, which means to die in peace. He can die knowing that He has a Savior who will take away His sin and so he will not be judged for it. The same for you. When the pastor says after you eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus, “depart in peace,” he's saying, you can die now. In peace. In Christ. Whatever things out there in the world can happen to you cannot harm you because you are full of the Body and Blood of the Savior. The same Body and Blood which was given for your sins and rose from the dead. To depart in peace means that because of Jesus there are no sins hanging over you. No outstanding warrants for your judgment by God. No condemnation for you. And this is according to God's Word. Simeon had the Lord's Word that He would not die until He had seen the Christ. You have God's Word that having seen the Christ, received Him in His Word and Sacraments, you will die in peace.

“For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou has prepared before the face of all people.” Salvation isn't an abstract concept. Salvation is something Simeon can hold in his arms. This Baby is God's salvation. This Baby is the Savior. This Baby is the One who will do the work of taking away Simeon's and your sins. This is the One St. Paul tells us was born under the Law in order to redeem us who were under the Law. There is a reason that Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce her own soul too! This Baby is the Lord's salvation. And that salvation will come at a price. The price of His precious blood and His innocent suffering and death! But the salvation of the Lord is right there in Simeon's arms. He can hold it. Salvation isn't some abstract religious idea. It's the Son of God becoming flesh. It's Jesus taking our place. It's Jesus suffering and dying for our sins. It's Jesus rising from the dead. Not that Simeon gets all that in the flash of a moment, but he knows enough: this Child is the One who is the salvation of God.

“A light to lighten the Gentiles...” Here Simeon says something extraordinary. This Savior is a light to the Gentiles, to the nations. He was not just born for the Jewish people. He was born for all people. For all nations, races, languages, tribes, peoples. Even us in Southern Illinois! We live in a dark world. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes. The weight of economic hard times and the crumbling morals of our society mean there is ever more and more pressure to live like the world does and to look out for just ourselves. But Simeon's words proclaim that there is Light in this darkness. Not just a hopeful outlook. Not just a “brighter tomorrow” or some other feel good rubbish. Here is true Light, shining in the arms of an old man. Here, in this Child is the Light of the world which will shine brightly from the top of Calvary, a beacon of hope for sinners on a day when the skies were dark over Golgotha. This is the Light that shines in the darkness and cannot be overcome.

“...and the glory of Thy people Israel.” When Simeon held Jesus in his arms, he was holding the fulfillment of God's promises since Adam and Eve, renewed to Abraham and proclaimed by prophets for thousands of years. Simeon knew that in this Child, God had kept His promises. It was the ultimate sign of God's faithfulness. Yet many of God's own people refused to believe that the Christ had come. But now it is not a physical bloodline that links us to Abraham but faith in Christ. St. Paul says that we are all sons of Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ. The true Israel is not a chunk of land in the Middle East. No, the true Israel is the holy Christian church where we rejoice in the promises of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We, along with Simeon, are God's people among whom His glory shines. Where is that glory? In the Word that is preached in Israel, in the church. Where the Baptism of water and the Word brings people into Christ's church. Where holy absolution is spoken and the crucified Savior is preached. Where the glory of God Himself is hidden under the bread and wine as we feast upon His Body and Blood in the holy Sacrament. The glory of Israel is Christ, who is the glory of the church. For it is here that He bestows upon us His salvation by coming to us and giving us Himself.

That is Simeon's song. The song that welcomed the Savior and confessed the fulfillment of God's promises. Where do we sing that song? Right after the Sacrament of the Altar. For there, at the end of the Divine Service, we have remembered our Baptism, been absolved of our sins, heard the Word read and preached, and feasted upon the flesh and blood of Christ. The pastor says, “Depart in peace,” that is, let nothing in this world and life worry you. You are in Christ. And you will be in Him when you die. And so we sing these words of Simeon to confess ourselves the good things God has given and shown to us. So now, to the welcome the Lord at His altar and then, having seen the Lord, having received the Lord's salvation once more, you can depart in peace. In Christ. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

December 25, 2010 - The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day - St. John 1:1-18

I know of no other God than the One in the manger, on the cross and on the altar. St. John tells us why: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God became man. The Son was incarnate by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin's Womb. Jesus is “God-with-us” literally because He is God and man in One Person. People everywhere have certain conceptions about what God is or what He is like. But to look anywhere other than in Jesus is to have no real or true God at all. God isn't defined by what we think about Him but by what He does. And He has become man. One of us. Human. Flesh and blood. In fact, the most important thing you can say about God is not that He is almighty or all powerful or that He knows everything or can be everywhere at once. The most important thing the Scriptures teach us about God is this amazing mystery: that God took on flesh. That God became Man. And He has taken on flesh not for Himself but for your sake. For you salvation. To redeem and save you from sin and death. On this holy Christmas day, let us ponder what it means that the Son of God has flesh and blood.

The Son comes into this world in the flesh not simply appearing and walking into town one day but by being conceived in the womb of the Virgin and born as a baby. This is so that we who are born in sin may be born anew from above. You see, ever since Adam, we have inherited the curse of sin. It is passed from one generation to another. We are conceived and born in sin. We don't like to hear it but even when we are babies we are sinners. This curse of sin is passed from father to children ever since Adam. We are born with it, born under the condemnation of God. So Jesus is born in the flesh. He does not have an earthly father, therefore He has no sin. His holy and perfect and spotless flesh comes to us because ours is ruined and tainted. By His holy flesh, He gives us new birth. Paul says that in the Epistle today, that God's kindness and love are given in the washing of rebirth and renewal. When you were baptized you were born from above. This is the new birth that St. John talks about: not of the flesh or of our own will but by God's grace. Jesus is born perfect into this world in order that you would be born again from above by water and the Spirit unto eternal life. Without His coming in the flesh, your flesh could not be redeemed and washed clean by His water and Word. Jesus is born in the flesh so that you will be born from above in Him.

The Son of God comes into this world in the flesh so that His flesh can suffer and die. So that His flesh can be pierced with nails, thorns and spear. Our sin has brought the curse of death. Sinners die. That's our fate. So God comes to take care of death by dying Himself. He takes our sins upon His spotless flesh and dies for them on the cross of Calvary. It is hard to think that the little baby in the manger is headed someday for the cross and death but that is why He came. In our flesh is sin and death. Jesus' spotless flesh takes our sins so that He may die our death. And that holy flesh that is pierced and that holy blood that is poured out, these are the price of our redemption. The price paid by Jesus for our sins. Not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death: that's how he redeems and saves us. Christ comes in the flesh so that His flesh and blood may pay for our sins.

Christ comes in the flesh so that He may give His flesh to us as food. Later in St. John's same Gospel Jesus says, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood and I will raise you up on the Last Day.” Jesus gives us His flesh to eat so that our flesh will be raised from the dead. Jesus has died and risen from the dead. So will you who have eaten and drunk His flesh and blood. Death couldn't keep Jesus down. It can't keep you down either if you have His flesh and blood in you. If sin and death want you, they have to get through Jesus! He's already taken care of them. When we eat regular food, it gives some life to our bodies, at least for a little while and then we must eat again. But the flesh and blood of the Son of God give us a life that does not end. Eternal life. So much life that even though we die we are going to be raised the Last Day. How it is that Jesus gives us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink is just as much a mystery as how God can become man, but there it is: He has flesh so that He may give it to you for the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. The same flesh that is crucified is given to you as food. Is it any wonder that our Lord is born and placed into a feed trough? His flesh is true food! His blood is true drink. And by them you have eternal life.

Christmas teaches us to look for no other God than the one who is in the manger, on the cross and on the altar. Beware of a god that isn't there in the flesh. Beware of a god who's too big and powerful to be a Baby, or too big and mighty to suffer and die or to distant and far away to be in the Sacrament. Beware of a god that's found in your feelings or in the ups and downs of life or the world around us. Beware of any god who doesn't have flesh and beware of any Jesus who isn't truly God. And for ourselves, let us be reminded by this Christmas flesh of Jesus to repent of looking for God anywhere other than where He is in His flesh. God is not in our ideas and our notions about Him. He's in the flesh. In the manger as a baby. On the cross as a man. On the altar with the food of His flesh and blood. Because no other God saves you than the One who has taken on flesh for you!

So rejoice on Christmas, dear Christians, to know of no other God than the One who is in the manger, on the cross and on the altar. Rejoice in the Savior whose pure flesh makes your sinful flesh clean at the font. Whose pierced flesh is the Good News of your salvation. Whose flesh and blood are given as your food. It is that God who has come to us and become man, not for His own sake but for your sake. To give you new birth. To redeem you. To feed you. You have flesh. So does God now. Merry Christmas in the Name of Jesus! Amen.

December 24, 2010 - The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve - St. Luke 2:1-20

Is God happy with you? Is He pleased with you? He gives you His Word and name. Do you study it? Learn it? Grow in it? Meditate upon His Word every day? Is it your joy and pleasure to study God's Word and grow in it? Or do you forget it. Ignore it. Don't know what's in it. Do you think God is pleased with you? The Lord gives you a neighbor. People around you. Husband. Wife. Kids. Parents. Family. Friends. People you work with. How do you treat them? Do you love the ones who love you back and do you harbor anger and a grudge against those who don't treat you right? Do you go out of your way to help others who need something or do you try to avoid doing something for others? And if you are helpful, do you help all the people or just the ones you get along with? Do you think God is pleased with you for that? If we stand in the light of God's Law to love Him and to love others, we realize pretty quickly that the Lord doesn't have any reason to be delighted in us.

When Jesus is born the angel host appears to the shepherds and sings, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!” Peace and goodwill. What are those? What do they mean? If we consider “peace” and “goodwill” as just ideas then we will be stuck forever in the various personal meanings they have for people. “Peace” and “goodwill” will mean pretty much whatever people want them to mean. But if we understand that by “peace” and “goodwill” the angels mean Jesus, then we see what true peace and goodwill are all about. We ran through the Law. We see that we don't keep it. That makes us enemies of God. At war with Him. God says we are supposed to live one way and we want to live our way. And who do you think will win that battle? You or God? But when Jesus comes to be our peace, that means peace as in “no more enemies. No more fighting.” How is Jesus that kind of peace? Because He is born to die. Born to go to the cross. Born to pay the price of our sins. Born to suffer and die in our place. Born to take on the wrath of God Himself and absorb it for us. Deflect it from us. Rescue us from it. On Calvary, the One who was born in Bethlehem becomes our peace by dying for our sins. Now, you have peace with God. Whatever you have done against Him has been wiped out. Cancelled. Forgiven. No more warring with God. No more fighting. No more God being your enemy. Now, peace which means Christ for whose sake your sins have been forgiven.

Peace on earth and goodwill toward men. What is goodwill? It's God's favor. It's God being “well pleased” with you instead of condemning you. God being happy with you instead of angry. But again, how does that happen? How does that take place? The baby. The Son of God. Jesus. When the angels announce “Goodwill to men” they don't mean a happy feeling between people. They mean the Son of God for whose sake the Lord is now pleased with you. According to the Law, God is not happy. But according to Jesus, He is. According to Holy Baptism which sprinkles you with Jesus' blood by water and the Word, He's tinkled pink to rejoice that you too are His holy and precious child. According to Holy Absolution He says He is pleased with you because you have no sins to your account any more. According to His Holy Gospel He is pleased with you because His Son has taken your place and given His righteousness to you. According to Holy Communion He is pleased with you because He is pleased with Jesus His Son and Holy Communion puts that Son in you by Body and Blood. Is God pleased with you? Is there goodwill toward you? All of the gifts of Jesus—His Word and Sacraments—say yes He is. The Word and means of grace which give you Jesus are the ways He gives You His goodwill and the ways by which you know you have it.

Do you ever wonder if God's got it in for you? If you're in trouble? That happens. Sometimes life piles up around us and we can't help but think, “God's out to get me!” The shepherds thought that when an angel appeared. They were sore afraid. They feared a great fear. Or, to put it another way, freaked out and terrified! Until the angel preached to them. Until the learned a Savior had been born. Then what? They couldn't but run to Bethlehem and see their Savior. They couldn't keep their mouths shut about what they had seen and heard. Suddenly God's Word which delivered their Savior was the only thing they could talk about! When you hear Christ's Word preached, you have the answer to your question, “Does God have it in for me?” The answer is, “No way!” He's sent you a Savior. His own Son born in the flesh for you. Christmas means you never have to wonder if God hates you or loves you. Because His Son is born in the flesh and He is your peace and your goodwill from God.

Is God happy with you? The birth of our Lord Jesus means we don't answer that question according to the commandments any more. It means we answer it according to Who this Baby is that is born. The Son of God. His name, Jesus, “The Lord Saves.” Peace. Goodwill. That's what He is and does and gives. Is God happy with you? He can't be any happier with you than He is in Jesus His own beloved Son. That's through the cross and death and into eternal life glory happy with you. In Jesus. Who is peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Peace and goodwill toward you. Merry Christmas in the name of Jesus! Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

December 22, 2010 - Wednesday of Advent 4 - Deuteronomy 18:15-19

So when the children of Israel got to Mt. Sinai, they did NOT like it! The Lord was there. Thick smoke and clouds covered the mountain. There was fire and flashes of lightning and rumblings and the blast of the horns. If you even touched the mountain, you were dead. The holy God was there and you didn't dare get too close! So they said, “Moses! You go talk to the Lord. We'll just stay here while you go do it. You talk to God and then tell us what He says, OK? If your survive?” You know we often think that if we could just see God with our eyes, or see some miraculous revelation or glimpse the Lord in some way, we'd really believe, really be faithful. But the truth is, we'd be like the children of Israel. Run! Let someone else go talk to that God!

The Lord confirmed that their idea was a good one by establishing Moses as His prophet. It was through Moses that the Lord spoke to His people. If you wanted to know what God said, you didn't go to the mountain and ask God, you went to Moses. Moses would tell you the Lord's words. But it wasn't that Moses was trying to be power hungry or act like a big shot. The people WANTED it that way. The Lord won't deal with His people apart from His Word, delivered by Moses. You don't get to God except through Moses. Well, you could, but you'd be dead in a flash! The Lord does this to protect His people. Rather than approach Him in their sins, He comes to them through Moses and His Word so that the people are not destroyed. But Moses won't be around forever. So the Lord tells His people that He is going to raise up a prophet like Moses who will do the same thing. But there will be one thing different...

The difference, when this Prophet comes, is that He will be the Lord Himself. The Son of God in the flesh. When Jesus is born, we learn that God is not going to make us come to Him but He comes to us. When we go to God on our own there is nothing there but the terrors of Mt. Sinai. But when God comes to us, there is a God you can see and deal with without being destroyed. When people approached Mt. Sinai, there was the fearful expectation of God's judgment. But when the Prophet comes, Jesus, He goes to Mt. Calvary to save us from the wrath of God. On Mt. Calvary is not the scary but the hidden God. Not the mighty Lord but the weak and crucified. Not the mountain crowned with fire and smoke but the man crowned with thorns. Not men who quiver in fear but men who stand and mock or weep. And yet, on that mountain, there IS the wrath of God. But now it is not to destroy us but to wound and kill God's own Son. On Mt. Calvary, the Lord of Sinai takes our place and spares us from His destructive power that would doom us.

The Lord does not want to deal with us apart from His flesh and His Word. How does He do that? By His flesh and His Word! Word, water, body and blood—in the means of grace, the forgiveness of sins given in His church. There's no need to go looking for God. He's right here. Right here for you. Repent of seeking the Lord anywhere other than where He has promised to be found. Out there, in the world, in the amazing things and in the disasters, in your experiences and emotions, there's no sure and certain God. Look at the sunset! God loves you! Your house burns to the ground. God hates you! See how quickly and easily what we want to think about God can be confused? But here, in His church, your Baptism says He loves and forgives you. His Word says He loves and forgives you. His Body and Blood say He loves and forgives you. Always. No matter what is going on out there. Because He has come in the flesh for you.

You see, there are two ways to have God. You can approach Him yourself, on your own, apart from Christ. But then there is nothing but the fiery thunderous judgment of Mt. Sinai. There is the God who can and will kill you because He is holy and you aren't. Or you can have God the way He comes to you. Hidden. In the flesh. To save and forgive. On a cross. As a Savior. That God is the One who gave His life for us and took it up again and who promises that He did it to raise you up on the Last Day. The children of Israel needed a prophet like Moses to keep them from getting destroyed by the Lord. Now we have the greater Prophet, God's own Son Jesus Christ who does the same thing only greater, not just protecting us from Mt. Sinai but from all of God's wrath and giving us eternal life by His Words. So off to Mt. Calvary. But first stop is the city of David where the Lord first appears in the flesh at His birth. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 19, 2010 - Rorate Coeli: The Fourth Sunday in Advent - St. John 1:19-28

There's John the Baptizer baptizing in the Jordan river. A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Teaching people to repent, to do good works, and to trust in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. A guy dressed like a prophet in camel's hair at the Jordan River? That gets the attention of the clergy. They head down from Jerusalem and start asking questions. “Are you the Christ.” John: “Nope.” “Elijah?” “No.” “The Prophet?” “No.” It's like everyone cares who and what John is. Except John! Surely you're some big name preacher, John? Nope. The Lord sent John to preach and baptize. So that's what he does. Does he have a bestseller on the market? His picture on a billboard? Is he a nationally renowned and respected religious adviser? Has he filled football stadiums with people who want to hear him? No. He's just John. Preaching and baptizing in the wilderness, pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. So why does John not make a big deal about John?

John the Baptizer is only good for being a voice. A voice that points to Christ. That's His job. His calling. The work the Lord called Him to do. To be a voice. A voice that proclaims the coming Savior and points Him out. It was John who told the people to repent and be baptized for their sins to be washed away. It was John who preached that soldiers should be content with their pay, that people who had extra should share with those who had less, doing good works. It was John who warned those that thought they weren't sinners that the Lord was coming with the ax to the root of the tree to chop down all who didn't bear fruit. It was John who, when He finally saw Jesus, cried out, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The clergy all wanted to know who John was but he just said, “The voice crying in the wilderness.” They want to make John the big deal but for John the only big deal is that he gets to point out which of the people coming to the Jordan is the Christ. You see, it's not about John but about what John preaches. It's not about the man, but about what the voice proclaims. About whom the voice proclaims. About the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

So why is John baptizing they ask? “I baptize you with water but there stands one among you whom you do not know.” But when He comes to the Jordan, John will point Him out: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This is the Good News John preaches: That the Lamb of God stands among us. God has become a man. He is one of us in order to die for us and to be the sacrifice for the sin of the world! God is not hidden, not “up there somewhere.” He's here on this earth, born of a woman to be our Savior. When John points Jesus out a little later, he identifies Him as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. There. That guy. The One he baptizes who has the Spirit come down on Him—that one is the man who has been born among us. Stands among us. Will be nailed to a cross among us. The Good News that John preaches is that the One who is before Him, the One whose sandals he's not even worthy to untie—this man comes to humble Himself even unto the death of a cross for sinners.

Now last week we heard how Jesus is pointed out by the testimony of the Scriptures which foretold His words and deeds. This week we hear how Jesus must be pointed out by the preacher. It is true that Jesus stands among them, but no one will know who He is until John the preacher points Him out to them. That's the preacher's job: to point out the Lamb who takes away our sins. Today, if we were to go looking for Jesus, we wouldn't know where to find Him either. There are so many fake and false Jesuses out there. How then do we tell? Our preachers point Him out. They tell us to look at the One who washes with water and the Spirit at the font. They speak Jesus' own words of forgiveness to sinners. They point to the Lamb of God sacrificed on the cross and alive three days later. They direct our attention and faith to the Christ on the altar in His Body and Blood. We would go looking for Jesus in our hearts or emotions or experiences or in a thousand other ways. But His Word, proclaimed by His preachers, is what points Him out to you. Want to know where Jesus is? Font. Lectern. Pulpit. Altar. Behold in these things, where Christ's Word and Sacrament are, behold the Lamb of God who takes away YOUR sins.

And that's all your pastor is good for. To be a voice that points to Jesus. The Scriptures record the prophets like John who came and preached and then usually passed away as martyrs. Or the Apostles whom the Lord chose and we don't even really know what happened to them. They preached Christ. That's all we need to know. That was the big deal. But today, it seems it's all about the preachers. Preachers who write bestsellers or have their pictures on billboards or have their own TV shows. Even in our own churches we get worked up about what sort of a man a pastor is, what his personality is like, what we like about him or can't stand about him. Rather we should simply ask one question of our preacher: Does he point me to Christ? Does He deliver Jesus? Does He point to the Lamb of God who takes away my sins? Because that is all your pastor is good for. Whether he's outgoing or keeps to himself, a nice guy or grumpy, whether he's personable or awkwarrd in a social situation—does he point you to Christ and His gifts? If so, there is the Lamb of God who takes away your sins. That's why your pastor wears black. Pretty much all the time. It's not about him. It's just a reminder that he's a preacher. His job is to point to Jesus, the Lamb. The Lord sets it up this way, that He calls a man to point Him out so that you'll never be without Jesus. Never be uncertain that He died for you and forgives you all your sins.

Who are you, John? Just a voice. A voice telling you the Lamb has come. He's among us. Immanuel, which means “God with us.” The Lamb who takes away sins by giving up His life. The Lamb who saves sinners by taking on their sins. The Lamb who is the world's Savior. The Lamb who is your Savior. So says John. So says your pastor. Rejoice! The Salvation of God has come to you in Jesus. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December 15, 2010 - Wednesday of Advent 3 - Isaiah 40:1-11

The Old Testament readings for Advent remind us that Israel was pretty much always in trouble. Though they were God's own people, they continually turned away to false gods and continually treated each other like dirt. How did the Lord put up with them? Over and over they sinned and He punished them in order to turn them back to Him. In the wilderness, they ended up having to stay 40 years because they did not trust in the Lord to keep His promise of giving them the Promised Land. Once in the Promised Land, the Lord had to continually chastise His people with enemies because they didn't trust in Him. After so many wicked kings who led the people into idolatry, the Lord sent His people into exile among the Assyrians and the Babylonians. And what is the preaching that would come later? “Comfort my people! Tell them their struggle is done. Their sins have been paid for double.” How is it that the Lord continues to put up with these people? They turn away. He brings them back. They run off. He seeks them out. He comes in the flesh and they nail Him to a cross and He prays, “Father, forgive them.”

It should be apparent that the Lord is not like us. When someone wrongs us, we don't let it go. How many of you have had someone say or do something that hurt you. What did you do? Let it go? Forgive them? Or hang on to it? Hold it in your heart? Sit around imagining the conversations you would have with that person and what you'd say to put them in their place! “Yes, pastor,” you say, “But you don't understand what they did. You don't understand how much it hurt. You don't understand how much they deserve the treatment they get.” I'm sure I don't. And I'm sure when I do the same thing, nobody else would understand how much the person that sinned against me deserves my scorn and hatred either. Advent reminds us with these vivid words that we are not like God. He constantly puts up with people we'd be done with after the first wrong thing they did to us. He sends His prophets and preachers over and over to tell His people that He has forgiven them and to turn their hearts back to Him in repentance and faith. Advent reminds us that is what repentance is all about. To repent isn't to feel an abstract “sorriness.” It is to recognize how unlike God we are and how much we need a Savior or we are doomed. It is a time to turn from the sins we love to cling to the God who is still bearing with us and putting up with us. Repentance is the Lord's gift which rescues us from thinking we're so good in comparison to others and teaches us that we are such awful sinners our only hope is the Son of God. Let that be your Advent repentance: to put aside your sins and the sins of others and trust in Christ all the more for His forgiveness and grace.

Now let's be clear here. If you're holding a grudge against someone and you act like you like them and forgiven them, that's not going to fool God into thinking you've made yourself repentant and worthy. Likewise any other sin. Just trying to kick a bad habit or change your ways is no proof to the Lord that you've figured out how to act like a Christian. You see, repentance means you want to do better but it doesn't mean you can. And it doesn't mean you can get rid of your sins yourself. For that you need the Lord to do what He does: forgive sinners. And how does He do it? By coming in the flesh Himself and being crucified by those very sinners. The Lord doesn't do what you and I would do. He doesn't plan His revenge and then, when the moment is just right, spring it on all those evil unbelievers who hate Him. No, He lets them take hold of Him, mock Him mercilessly and drag Him out to be nailed to the cross. The Lord brings us comfort by undergoing suffering. He brings us peace by being hated and crucified. He earns forgiveness for our sins by paying the price for our sins: suffering and death. The One Man who really could give us what we deserve for our hatred of God and others instead takes that hatred upon Himself and bleeds and dies and then rise from the dead. There's double for your sins! There's an answer to your sins that wipes them out! There is the comfort Isaiah is talking about!

Isaiah says that a voice will cry out in the wilderness. That's John the Baptizer. What does He cry out? Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight His paths. All flesh is grass and will fade away!” John came to remind people that the way to be prepared to receive Christ is repent of their sins. Not that they could get rid of their own sins, but rather repentance was being baptized in the Jordan and believing in the Christ, the Lamb of God that John pointed out. The warning that we are grass and that we fade away is a warning that we have no strength to save ourselves. John's preaching is a reminder not to be like the Pharisees who came to see Him and didn't get in the river to be baptized. They looked around and down their noses at others because they knew they were better, knew they were less sinful. They didn't have any need for a Savior. Advent, with Isaiah's and John's preaching, is a warning not to be like that. Don't think that you are better than others. Don't think you deserve the Lord's forgiveness but someone else out there doesn't deserve yours. Don't act like you can live without God's Word and Christ's Body and Blood. Don't live as if your neighbor owes you everything and you can treat others however you want. That sort of living is like the grass that fades and dies!

But while the grass fades, the Word of the Lord does not. And here is our Advent comfort. The Lord gives us a double portion of taking care of our sins in His Word and Sacraments. Baptism: the water and the word that washes us. Absolution, the words of forgiveness target to our particular sins. The Preaching of the Gospel: the Good News heard over and over that Christ crucified has rescued us from sin and death. The Lord's Supper: the Body and Blood of Christ by which He gives us forgiveness, life and salvation. Double portion? That's like a quadruple portion! The Lord's forgiveness is given to us in all these different ways, so overflowing and abundantly. To be in the Lord's church, to be in His Divine Service, to live in these gifts is to know the comfort of Isaiah's preaching: that we have received double for our sins. That they are taken away.” There are no other gifts by which we are forgiven before God than these. There are no other sources of our strength and the Spirit working in us to teach us to let go of the sins of others and to love our neighbor as ourselves. True repentance is to turn from our sins, not to something in us by which we can improve ourselves. True repentance, the repentance of Advent, is to flee from our sins into Christ's church where He gives out His saving and forgiving gifts. Where His never-passing-away Word is heard.

How is it that we are so quick to hold on to the sins of others and the Lord is so quick to forgive? That's what makes Him our Lord and Savior and we the people who need saving! Brothers and sisters in Christ, Advent is the time to throw out those things which drag us down, both our sins and the sins of others. Comfort, comfort, people! Your Lord is speaking tenderly to you today from the lips of Isaiah. His tenderness is that He will not pay you back for your sins. He has paid FOR them by His Son. Cling to that Savior whose birth is near and whose Second Coming is not far away! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

December 12, 2010 - Gaudete: The Third Sunday in Advent - St. Matthew 11:2-11

John the Baptizer, locked up in Herod's dungeon sends His disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the One who is to come? Or should we be looking for someone else?” Maybe John has some doubts? He preached about the guy who was coming to cast the unrepentant into the fires and yet here he is, locked up by an evil king. So is Jesus the real deal? What's the answer? The answer is, “What is He doing?” The sick are healed, the dead are raised and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. Does that mean He's the Christ? See how Jesus points John to His works which fulfill the Scriptures. In other words, the answer to John's question is: What is Jesus doing? And is He doing the things the Bible says the Savior will be doing. Jesus' answer reminds John and us that His kingdom isn't about the things we'd make a kingdom out of. We'd like power and glory and fame and money and all that. Jesus' kingdom is about those who can't help themselves. It's about the lame, the blind, the deaf, the dead and those who need forgiveness. That, above all, the forgiveness of sins, is what the Lord is bringing as the Savior. The Old Testament said He would. Do these things. He does them and so He is indeed the Christ, the Coming One. Be at peace, John, Jesus is indeed the One, as you faithfully preached.

How about today? There are so many religions and faiths and philosophies. We are surrounded by a world that doesn't know anything about Christ and doesn't want to. We may well wonder as John did, “Is Jesus the One? Seriously? Where is He? What is He doing? What good has He done?” How do we answer that? We answer it with what we have seen and heard through the eyewitnesses of Jesus. He was born of the Virgin, baptized for sinners, tempted in the wilderness. He walked on water and He preached that we should trust in Him. He was arrested, tried, beaten and crucified. He died on the cross of Calvary. He rose from the dead the third day. Again, all things the Scriptures said would happen. One of the most important ways we know that Jesus is the true Savior is that He fulfilled the prophecies made of him hundreds of years before. The world and its history are full of prophets and wise guys and all that. But it is only Jesus Christ who was killed in the most horrible way and yet was alive again three days later! How do we know Jesus is the One among all those religions? Because He was dead and is alive just as the Scriptures taught beforehand and just as the Scriptures give witness to. And by dying and rising He has done what no other prophet has done.

What about today? In His church? When we struggle to pay our bills and wonder why we don't have more people here. What then? Is this really the right faith? The right religion? The right Jesus? Well, what do you see and hear? Sinners are baptized and absolved. Christ crucified is preached. Those hungry and thirsty for righteousness have the Body and Blood of Christ given to them. For the answer to his question, Jesus points John to the Scriptures. For our answers we go to the Scriptures. What does Jesus' Word say? “Therefore go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. Go and preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in my name. Whosoever's sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” Is that what this church is about? Is that what's going on here? Look around. Listen up. Everything in this church is about Christ crucified and risen forgiving our sins by His Word and Sacraments. That's Christ at work doing what He says He would be doing. If those are the things Christ said are His works in His church and those are the things going on, then never worry that Christ is here among us doing what He promised to do.

What about you? When someone asks whether you are a Christian, when the opportunity to give witness to your faith comes up, who and what do you talk about? Give them the answer that John was given: what has Jesus done and is He doing for you. Tell them, “Well, I am baptized. My pastor forgives my sins. I hear Christ crucified preached every time I'm in church. Christ feeds me with His Body and Blood.” Those are the gifts which make and keep you a Christian, a child of God. When it comes to your religion, don't talk about you. Just as Christ didn't promote Himself but rather pointed to the Word and His fulfillment of it. Not that He didn't know Who He was but He wants all things done by and according to His Word. So for us. We don't rely on the testimony of ourselves but of the Word and what Christ says and gives in His Word. Then we're on solid ground, as John was, for He had the Word of God to give His answer and proof.

But the answer to all these questions is not one that will satisfy most people. To point to the Word of God and see Jesus as the One who fulfills it is not what people want to hear. “Blessed is he who is not offended by Me,” says Jesus. There were many in Jesus' day who denied the Word and refused to acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah. There are many today who have one religion or another but deny the true God, instead seeking gods and philosophies that are all about them. There are many in the church who measure things by the works of men rather than by what Christ is doing in His Word. There are many who profess to be Christians who based their claim upon something they've done: how good they are or what decision they made or how faithful they try to be. Even we are not immune from the doubts that wonder whether Jesus is it. Repent, brothers and sisters and look again at how Jesus fulfills the Scriptures. Look at how He directs us to the Word for the answer. Look how the Word points to Him and what He has done for us by His cross and empty tomb. Look how the Word directs us to what He still does for us by water, Word, Body and Blood. There are many who are offended by Jesus because He isn't the god they want. But He is the only God who saves. He is the only God who became man and died and rose for sinners. He is the only God who preserves His holy church even in this evil world until He comes again. All that Christ does for us the Word teaches and it is our comfort amidst all trouble.

When Jesus first appeared at the Jordan River, it was John the Baptizer who pointed Him out saying, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That's why Jesus came. That's what Jesus did. That forgiveness is what He delivers to us now. Whenever we doubt, whenever we wonder, let us look to what Christ has done and still does. His works, according to God's Word declare Him to be the True Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God who saves sinners. It is He who has brought us into His kingdom by grace. John the Baptizer died before he could see the fulfillment of his preaching, Jesus' death and resurrection. But you have had that death and resurrection preached to you from the Word of the eyewitnesses. But we, like John, are saved the same way: by the works of the One who was to come, who came and who will come again, even Jesus Christ our Lord. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

December 8, 2010 - Wednesday of Advent 2 - Malachi 4:1-6

All right! The proud and the wicked are gonna burn! The Day of the Lord is coming and all those evil people out there are going to get it! We like to take comfort in the fact that those who are so full of themselves and who are so evil and wicked are going to one day get what they deserve. When the Scriptures talk about the Day of Judgment burning like a fire, there's a part of us that wells up with eager anticipation for the vengeance of God on the proud and the wicked. But there's just one problem. WE are the proud and the wicked! Are we not full of pride? Thinking we can live just fine without God's Word? Are we not proud thinking that we are somehow better than all those evil people out there who do such bad things? Are we not proud assuming that we will escape that burning Last Day because of how religious we think we are? Are we not the wicked who act so sincerely that we're coming to church for forgiveness yet won't let a single bad comment against us go unpunished by our anger and holding a grudge? Are we not the wicked who love to call ourselves Christians but have so little regard for learning and growing in God's Word? Are we not the wicked who lightly ignore our Lord's command to love others as ourselves? Indeed, the burning-like-an-oven Last Day doesn't sound so exciting now if we face the prospect that Malachi is talking about us!

But the Lord says that before that Day comes, He's going to send Elijah to preach and turn the hearts of children to their fathers. That Elijah who would come is John the Baptist. Jesus says so. So the Day of the Lord that Malachi is talking about is the time when God's Judgment for sin would come. So, again, in Advent, we are pointed to Good Friday. Because the Day that the Lord's Judgment is coming is the Day Jesus faces it for us on Calvary. In fact, who are the proud and wicked that God is going to destroy? On Good Friday, the proud and the wicked is Jesus! On Good Friday, the selfish and the hater is Jesus. On Good Friday, the idolater, adulterer, murderer, coveter and hard boiled sinner is Jesus. Not with His sins, of course. They're our sins. But on Calvary, they're His. He takes them. He bakes in the oven, as it were, of God's Judgment, sweating blood and being pierced. Suffering and dying under the weight of our sins and pressed to death by the heat of the Father's judgment. On the cross is the curse of sin, Jesus, who was a made a curse for us. When Malachi talks about that awful day, he's directing our attention to the day when God's Son died for sinners, as if He Himself were every sinner, the worst sinner, to save us.

So how does this cross and death of our Lord rescue us from our pride and wickedness? By burning it up. But killing it off. That's done by the preaching and the Sacraments which brings this Savior to us. When the burning wrath of God's Law is preached, our sinful Old Adam is burned up. Or, if you like better, drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism. The point is, the preaching of God's holy Law is the death of the sinful nature and the preaching of the life-giving forgiveness of sins in Christ is the our life. By the Word we are turned from being among the proud and wicked into those who fear the Lord's name, those who go out like “stall fed calves,” that is, feasting upon the good things of God: His Word, forgiveness, the Body and Blood of Christ. For your Old Adam, every preaching of the Law and the Gospel is Judgment Day. But for you, the new man in Christ, it is a day of healing and triumph, a day to trample the Old Adam and the power of sin underfoot like ashes. In Christ's church, the gifts of Calvary are given to you to rescue you from that fearful day of Judgment and to make you a new person in Christ, humbly trusting in your Savior, doing good as Christ lives in you.

So what about the Last Day then? Because there WILL be a Last Day. A Last Day and an end of this heaven and earth. Well, as we've been hearing in this Advent season, for those who are in Christ, that day is not a day to be feared but to be eagerly longed for. Apart from Christ, that Day will burn like an oven and the judgment that fell on Christ will fall on all those who deny and despise Him and want to hang on to their sins. But for you who are in Christ, that will be the day the Sun of Righteousness rises with eternal healing in His wings, bringing to you eternal life and the wiping away of all sorrow and sadness. Apart from Christ: burning day where the roots and stubble are consumed. In Christ, life and joy everlasting.

So don't root for the proud and wicked to be destroyed! Rather, repent of your own pride and wickedness and cling to Christ in whom we are rescued from sin and death. In this Advent season, let us learn to see in ourselves the pride and wickedness for which the Son of God had to die. But more than that, let us rejoice that He came to do exactly that. Now we are rescued from the threatening peril of our sins and saved by His mighty deliverance and now we can serve Him with cleansed minds. The Sun of Righteousness arises for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

December 5, 2010 - Populus Zion: The Second Sunday in Advent - St. Luke 21:25-36

When we were kids, my brother and I had a list of chores to do each day. But we would always put them off as long as possible. That's because we knew when Mom would be home. She was home from work the same time every day so we could quickly run around and get things done with a few minutes to spare. But we don't know when the Lord is coming. We don't know the day and hour of his return. Somewhere as a spoof once I saw a sign that said, “Jesus is coming! Look busy!” Except when our Lord comes back, there won't be time for straightening up, acting right and looking busy. Advent is a reminder that Christ is coming. He came as a baby the first time but the next time we see Him it will be on the clouds with great glory as the heavens and the earth pass away! Frightful! Terrifying! Jesus says not. He says, “When you see those things happening, lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near!” For Christ's people, the Last Day is not a day of fear and terror but of rejoicing! We want this day to come.

Or do we? Our Lord tells us not to be all wrapped up in drunkenness and carousing and the cares of this life. There are really two things that keep our minds OFF of Christ's return and so make us not ready. On the one hand there is carousing and drunkenness, that is, getting so wrapped up in the pursuits of the flesh that we don't care if Christ is coming. We will live how we want. Do what we want. Act how we want. Say what we want. No one will tell us what to do. We'll live for the moment. Whatever makes us happy. Whatever passes the time! We live as if there is no Last Day and no fearful judgment upon sin on that day! On the other hand, we might be weighed down by the cares of this life. Sickness. Sadness. Loneliness. Worries about our health or our loved ones or our money. How will we pay the bills? What if I don't get better? What can I do for my kids? The cares of this life weigh us down and we don't rejoice as we should that there will be an end to all these trials when our Lord appears to save us the final time. Either one is living as if there is no Last Day, no Lord who is returning. No Lord who judges sin. No Lord who saves us from sin and this life. The sadness of getting wrapped up in those things is that we might not be ready when our Lord comes back! So repent! Repent in Advent and be turned in heart and mind to Christ! Turn away from the lusts of the flesh that you love to indulge and be sober and watchful. Turn away from the worry and anxiety that comes because you don't trust the Lord. Turn from all those things in this Advent time, this time of preparation! But don't turn to you!

Christ says, “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.” Right there, Jesus has given us the answer for our sins. For the Last Day. For eternal life. Everything around us is passing away. Some people live as if this life is it so they party hearty as if there's no tomorrow. Some are so worried about the end of all things, they try to make themselves ready. But Christ gives us the answer: His Word never passes away. It's simple, really: heaven and earth will pass away. Christ's Word does not pass away. What about you? Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have His Word. You cannot pass away. You cannot perish. You cannot be destroyed. The Word of Christ spoken with water at the font means you will outlive the passing away of this earth and heaven. The Word of Absolution spoken to you means you will not pass away with the unrepentant masses who despise Christ and His salvation. The Body and Blood of Christ Himself are your sure promise that since Christ can't pass away, neither can you.

And what is it that Christ's Word gives you to keep you from passing away? It gives you Christ! Remember how we said Palm Sunday starts Advent to remind us that Christ came to die? For Holy Week you have Palm Sunday and then five days later we celebrate Good Friday. In Advent we have Palm Sunday and then a week later the end of the world. Why? To connect in your mind that the Last Day, Judgment Day, can never be separated from Good Friday. That's because on Good Friday, on the cross, Judgment Day hit. It hit Jesus. On that day, the sins of the world were judged and the wrath of God poured out on His Son on the cross. On that day, the sun was darkened and the earth shook and it probably seemed like the end of the world! That's because the End of the World, Judgment Day, happened that day at the cross. There, on Calvary, The Son of Man was there in all His glory, saving sinners. Saving you. When we think of Judgment, the Last Day and the End of the World, I want you to first of all think of Good Friday. Of Christ suffering the judgment against your sins. Only with this Good News that our Savior has shed His blood for us can we truly lift up our heads and rejoice on the Last Day when He does come again.

You see, the connection to Christ's Word is the key. For where His Word is, Christ is. Here, plainly and simply is the truth: In Christ, where His Word is, Judgment Day cannot be frightful. The Last Day cannot be scary to those who know their Savior has already undergone Judgment Day. But APART from Christ, outside of Him, away from His Word, where the world lives in its drunken stupor, there is nothing but terror and perplexity of nations. In Christ, Judgment Day has already come. Outside of Christ, Judgment Day is coming! In Christ, the Day comes expected, longed for. Outside of Christ, it comes unexpectedly, like a snare, like a thief. In Christ, that Day is no surprise. Outside of Christ, they never saw it coming. What then does this mean for our lives? How do we watch and pray? We do that by our life in the church. By coming and confessing your sins and hearing the Good News that the Judgment upon those sins has already landed on Jesus and can't land on you. It means living on the receiving end of the Lord's gracious gifts here in His church so that we are not surprised when that day comes. It means living out these days looking out for others. Warning them. Giving them the example of being ready by being in Christ. It means living not as if Jesus isn't coming and you can do whatever you want. Or living as if He will never come back and you are just stuck with all your sorrows and trials. To watch and be ready is to be in Jesus who has prepared you for His return by giving you His saving Word.

The signs of the Last Days are all around us. All around us the world is going to pieces. Wars, rumors of wars, plagues, famine, disease and pestilence are all around. The nations are going crazy. We are living in the last days before our Lord comes again. But we aren't terrified like the world is terrified. And we aren't worked up about it like those crazy preachers who spew nothing but fear and gloom and doom. No, we lift up our heads because our redemption is near. Right before our Lord comes to us in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood we hear, “Lift up your hearts!” And now we lift up our heads, for He will soon appear on the clouds with great glory. And that will be the day of rejoicing and the end of all misery and woe. Our Lord is coming and He Himself has prepared us by giving us His Word which will never pass away. And that means you won't either. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

December 1, 2010 - Wednesday of Advent 1 - Jeremiah 23:5-8

If you read the Old Testament, you will see that God's people, the children of Israel, even though they were God's special people, constantly turned away from Him. The Old Testament story reads like the biography of the bad kid. Almost always when the choice was between being faithful to the Lord or tagging along with some other religion, the false god wins out. God's people, who had been given the commandments of love and service to their neighbor, were constantly trampling each other down so they could have advantage; they despised one another and lived for themselves. The children of Israel over their history, showed that they neither loved God nor their neighbor. But the Lord continued to make the promise that He would save them. We're not that different. Now the church is God's Israel and do we love Him above all things? Do we put others ahead of ourselves or do we grumble and complain that we never get what we want. We have the Word of the one true God among us but so easily we let strange notions and false spiritual ideas creep in. The Lord's Word teaches us right from wrong and yet we learn our morals and behavior from the world instead. How we love God and how we love others is the measure of our righteousness. If we love God and others we are righteous. If we don't, then we are not.

There is repentance here. Advent is a season of repentance. It's the season of “throw away your sin” and get ready for the Lord's return. But be careful! Repenting of our sins doesn't mean getting our own righteousness. Our problem is this: We know our sinfulness but we can't fix it. We can't fix ourselves so that we love God and our neighbor perfectly. This is why the Lord preaches this promise through the prophet Jeremiah: There will be a descendant of David, whose name will be “The Lord Our Righteousness.” Think about that for a second. Whatever is meant by that big word “righteousness,” your righteousness isn't you. Your righteousness isn't that you do more good works than sins. It isn't that you try hard to make up for your sins. It isn't that you go to church or say your prayers. It isn't that you have good intentions or try to live a good life. It isn't how much of the Bible you know or how much doctrine you can recite. It's none of these things because your righteousness isn't you. The Branch of David is the One born of Mary, Jesus Christ. And He is called “The Lord our Righteousness.” That means that your righteousness is Jesus. How you stand before God the Father; how you look to Him; what your record looks like: it's all Jesus.

Everything Jesus is and does is for you, for being your righteousness. We are conceived in sin and born sinners so Jesus is conceived by the Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. We are baptized and fall easily into our old sinful ways so Jesus is baptized with sinners and goes to fight the devil in the wilderness and defeat his temptations for you. We are distracted from God's Word by every little think imaginable so for us Jesus makes His whole life about teaching God's Word. We do whatever it takes to make our live comfortable so for us Jesus suffers and endures mocking and pain. We avoid death and do everything we can to put it off and not think about it so for us Jesus goes willingly to His death on the cross. When we die, we would stay dead, condemned to the depths of the grave forever so for us Jesus rises again from the dead. When we are born sinners, He casts His own righteousness upon us by the waters of Baptism. When we sin, He speaks through the mouth of our pastor to declare us not guilty. When we need more righteousness, more Jesus, He gives us Himself by His Body and Blood to live in us and be our righteousness. Everything that Jesus does, He does to be our righteousness.

So repent of your sin. Scan the Ten Commandments and identify every way you've not loved God or your neighbor. See exposed by God's Holy Law your LACK of righteousness. In Advent, prepare the way of the Lord by turning away from all that you do that serves yourself and neither God nor others. But don't repent by turning back to yourself. No false promises, “I”ll do better! I'll try harder!” Rather, cling to Christ who is your righteousness. Believe that when the Father looks at you, He sees you as righteous as can be because He sees His own Son when He looks at you. Repent, above all, of trying to have your own righteousness. You can't do it. Hear again Jeremiah's promise about this branch from David's line: His name is “The Lord Our Righteousness.” And make it your own. Whenever you doubt or question how it is between you and the Lord, confess it: “The Lord is my Righteousness!” Jeremiah says He will execute justice and judgment. That's because Jesus takes God's judgment on Himself and gives you that justice that you are rescued from sin and death.

Finally, the prophet says that by Him, Judah and Israel will dwell safely and securely. Here Jeremiah refers to God's people which is His holy church. That's us. To live safely and securely means to live not trying to find our own righteousness or make it up or anything like that. To live safely and securely is to live in Christ. Baptized into God's name, absolved of your sins, and filled with Christ's Body and Blood. When you sin, don't go for more of you! You need more Jesus. More of His Word. More of His absolution. More Body and Blood. And that's exactly what He has for you here in His church. For here, in His church, The Lord who is our righteousness continues to be our righteousness even unto eternal life. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.