No One Can Name Themself a Child of God (John 1:1-14)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
The Nativity of Our Lord + December 25, 2016
Text: John 1:1-14

Who has the authority to make someone a child of God?
Who is a child of God, a Christian?  Who makes that declaration?
Not what family you come from, whether a Christian home or not.  This is difficult for Christian parents to accept when their children seem to lose their faith.
Not what our flesh desires.  Our sinful nature wants all the benefits of being a child of God with none of the repentance and dying with Christ.  Old Adam wants carte blanche to live his own self-defined life and go to heaven when he’s done.
Not the will of man.  That is, nobody decides to be a Christian.  Nobody can make themselves a believer.  “I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”  Don’t believe it because Luther’s catechism says it.  Believe it because God’s Word said it first.
All of you who are gathered here to worship the Incarnate Lord and celebrate Christmas, rejoice!  Your being a child of God is God’s handiwork, called by the Gospel, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, sanctified, and kept in this true faith to life everlasting.

Who Is Christmas For? (Luke 2:1-20)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Christmas Eve + December 24, 2016
Text: Luke 2:1-20

What are the ideals of Christmas?  “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” getting to spend Christmas with family, getting and giving the perfect presents, hot cocoa, sweets, and ugly sweaters. We have these dreams, but they become expectations—even demands of what the holidays “should be.”  Those expectations come to a head on Christmas Eve.
But this “ideal” Christmas, even though it might be sweet like those shortbread cookies, is only available to some.  What about those who are homeless, unemployed, or widowed?  What about people who are in the hospital, alone, or have their house burn down on Christmas?  Where is their reason to deck the halls with boughs of holly?
If these things are really the core of Christmas, it makes it an elitist holiday because it’s only available to those for whom things are going well. Christmas for the young and healthy, those with disposable income, or those who live near their family.  It’s a Christmas that’s only for people who feel like singing saccharin jingle bell songs.
But the Christmas we find in Holy Scripture is altogether different.
Christmas is for the poor and lowly, not the proud and powerful.  Consider where the Christmas story takes place: Galilee, Bethlehem, a manger, out in the field.  These are not the places of power and success like Jerusalem or the temple.  Look at who is present at Christmas: Joseph and his wife, Mary—people of no human notoriety.  Shepherds, who were despised far and wide because of their dirty, smelly way of making a living.  You see no kings, no noblemen, nobody boasting about their achievements and qualifications.  Lastly consider the decorations on this first Christmas.  It was dusty, dirty, and smelly, not neat and tidy and certainly not decked with gold or any hint of luxury.
Christmas is for people living their ordinary lives.  There was no federal holiday on the first Christmas.  The IRS of its day was by all means open and compelling a man and his very pregnant wife to come and be taxed.  There’s been grumbling in some circles that Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25th.  Maybe it would be better if we celebrated on some obscure date like August 4th so we’d have a better sense of what Christ’s arrival was like.
The shepherds, like farmers today, didn’t get any day off to stay at home.  They were in the midst of their work when the angels appeared—sleeping with their sheep watching out for thieves and wolves, but not for a heavenly host.
Now, this isn’t to brag about how hearty the first recipients of the Good News were, but to say that God meets us with Good News that Christ is born even if the chaos doesn’t stop for a designated “holiday season.”
Christmas is for all people“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  The good news from God doesn’t wait for us to achieve it.  He comes to us in our sin, our despair, our tears and announces: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”  He has come to be Savior for all people, not those who work hard at living a good life, or don’t have complicated lives, or those who grew up in church.
What’s more, this One who has come to save you is no underling, but the Lord God Himself.  So if you want to know what love God has for every single human being, look at Christmas, where God Himself steps into our world with almighty power to save from sin, death, and hell.  Think of that next time you judge someone as being a lost cause or think you’ve fallen too far for Him to reach you.
There’s a big thrill for people of our day to find things that are true and authentic (hence the criticism that December 25th isn’t the “real” birthday of Jesus—but those accusations come from hearts that don’t want Christmas to be true anyway).  Well this year, I hope your Christmas is true and authentic and real.
May you have a true Jesus who was born for your eternal salvation, and not some cardboard cartoon who fills your heart with vain expectations.
May God gives you an authentic faith to believe in Him, not just twice a year when family’s in town, but week by week and every day.
Finally, may God fill your heart with the real joy of Christmas, that He loves you enough to bleed and die your way out of eternal punishment and gather you into His kingdom which has no end.
For all that I say, Merry Christmas!

Mary the Virgin Mother (Matthew 1:18-25

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fourth Sunday of Advent + December 18, 2016
Text: Matthew 1:18-25

Review: In the genealogy of Jesus, there are certain names which stand out.  The Holy Spirit is drawing our eyes to these five women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.[1]  During the midweek services, we’ve been exploring why these women appear in the human lineage of the Savior.
When it comes to the lives of the other women and the men they partnered with, we can relate.  They’re flesh and blood, human, sinful, messy lives—family drama, war, marital unfaithfulness.
But when it comes to the story of Mary, absolutely none of us can relate to how Jesus was conceived.  It’s beyond us.

  • None of us has had an angel announce the birth of their child. Yes, a few of the barren women of old have had angelic announcements, but none were without a husband (Sarah, Samson’s mother, Elizabeth).
  • Never before and never again has a virgin conceived and borne a son. Genetic engineers may accomplish strange feats, but they will never conceive a child without a human father.

But Mary’s story being beyond us is exactly the point.  Sin has so surrounded us, seeped into our pores, and flourished in our hearts, that no natural-born man or woman can do anything to save themselves, much less the entire corrupt human race.
God made it clear that it was beyond our reach when speaking to King Ahaz.  “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”[2]  The Savior to be born would be the work of God alone.
Yet though He is beyond us, He is also in every way with us—except for sin.[3]  The Son of God enters the world through His mother’s womb, He is born, He hungers, He nurses at His mother’s breasts.  Jesus is raised by His parents and submits to them.[4]  He grows up around relatives, friends, and acquaintances.[5]  He goes to weddings and gets invited to dinner, and mourns over friends who die.[6]
On earth, the occasion also came for Him not to be like us.  He was baptized in the Jordan and visibly anointed by the Holy Spirit and declared by the Father’s voice to be God’s only-begotten Son.[7]  He went about teaching with authority and healing every kind of disease, sometimes even raising the dead.   Then He walked a road alone, one only He could walk, up the hill of Calvary to the cross.[8]  There, the sinless-born Son of Mary died in place of every sin-born son and daughter of the earth.
On the Third Day He again blazed a path that no man could when He was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father.  After 40 days, it was He who ascended into heaven to prepare a place for every believer, to dwell in the Lord’s house eternally.  This is God’s fervent desire for every person under heaven.
It’s very fitting that the genealogies in Scripture end with Jesus.  Every person named has a unique story with high and low points.  But none of them could be right with God and find an eternal home without the One who came last.  Even Mary herself, the maiden who bore God in her womb, needed this Savior.  Without a doubt, the only way for any one of us to be a child of God is through Jesus.
Mary made Jesus a blood relative to all these sinners, but Jesus made Mary and all people blood relatives with God through faith.
That’s where you and I fit into the genealogy of Jesus.  We are not forerunners, according to time, but the offspring of faith.  The family tree of God is rooted in Jesus, the God-man, the Savior of the sinful race.  “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.”[9]  Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ! Amen.
[1] Matthew 1:3, 5, 6, 16
[2] Isaiah 7:14
[3] Hebrews 4:15
[4] Luke 2:41-52
[5] Mark 6:3-4
[6] John 2:1-2, Luke 7:36, John 11:33-35
[7] Matthew 3:16-17
[8] John 13:36
[9] Romans 8:29

Advent Midweek 3: Bathsheba the Adulteress (2 Samuel 11:1-5)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Advent Midweek 3 – December 14, 2016
Text: 2 Samuel 11:1-5

11 iIn the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”
In the Commandments it’s pretty clear: You shall not commit adultery, meaning:  “We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do and husband and wife love and honor each other.” (Small Catechism)
Now, you’d think the Bible would be a great place to learn God’s morality.  What better place do we have to look for upright, moral behavior than the pillars of the faith like King David?  Wrong!   In this case, David was a horrible example and would even be criticized by unbelievers for what he did.
According to the Law, this is what they deserved: “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.”[1]  Purge the evil, whether he be the king or a beggar in the street.
Then, the adulterous couple conspired to cover it up.  David called back her husband from battle, urged him to go lay with Bathsheba, and then nobody else would have to know.  When that didn’t work, he even conspired to have Uriah killed so that David could save face by marrying the poor widow Bathsheba.  Without TMZ around, it’s unclear how many in Israel knew the details of King David’s illicit affair, but God could not be fooled.
But God, whose steadfast love endures forever, intervened in this unholy union between David and Bathsheba  Yes, the first child died, for God chose not to justify their lust.  “Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him.”[2] 
Remember the promise which God had made to David by Nathan before all this happened? “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”[3]  Who would have guessed that this is how it would happen?   But out of this dead couple, God would fulfill His promise.  The Son of David would establish a godly kingdom, whose enemies would be defeated.  This kingdom and the Son of David who rules it would last forever.
But this promise was not fulfilled in Solomon.  It came in Jesus.  As Jesus Himself points out,
44    “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord,
                       “Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?
45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
Jesus is the Son of David who is able to bear the sins of all mankind.  He is more than a special Child whom God loves.  He is the reason God is gracious and does not immediately put us to death when we deserve it.  The Son of David reconciled sinners to God and He is the assurance of forgiveness and love from God.  And that forgiveness is for the adulterer, drunkard, thief, or sodomite.[4]   The Son of David, Jesus Christ, is how every sinner is able to pray with confidence:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
   Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
   Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10    Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11    Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12    Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit. [5]
[1] Deuteronomy 22:22
[2] 2 Samuel 12:24
[3] 2 Samuel 7:12-13
[4] All people whom God preaches repentance to: David, Noah (Gen. 9), thief on the cross (Luke 23), Genesis 19:6-8
[5] Psalm 51:7-12

Funeral of A. Lorraine Roosa (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Funeral of Alta “Lorraine” Roosa – December 12, 2016
Text: 2 Timothy 4:7-8

Fought the good fight – Lorraine lived a life of many struggles, yet the Lord sustained her through them all.  94 years of struggles.   It’s never easy for a child of God, an heir of eternity to live in this world, knowing the day will come for us to lay it all down and leave it another.  That’s why this Scripture describes life as a “fight.”[1]
Lorraine’s life, just like each of ours was a fight.  She prayed for her children, that they and their children might keep the faith and reverently hear the Word of the Lord.  She agonized in grief over losing her husband Jim, even 21 years later.  She fought with infirmity and relying on her kids to care for her.  She argued with God asking to go home.
But it turned out that this was her final lap of the race.  The time for her labors and endurance had come to an end.  But what a strange race this was, because after all her struggles and sighing, she didn’t even receive her own reward.  “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me.”  Lorraine is not in heaven because of how well she fought the good fight or finished the race.  She is in heaven because God gifted her with righteousness.  So, you could say her life was a race which she ran, but Christ had already won the victory.
A week and a half ago, I stood by Lorraine’s bedside when we thought she was about to cross the finish line.  There, I read the crucifixion and resurrection of her Lord and Savior.  These are fitting events to focus on because that’s really what our life as baptized children of God is about.  Lorraine was crucified with Christ and raised with Him in her baptism.  So, reading the death and resurrection of her Lord was like reading her own life story.  “Into your hands, I commit my spirit.  You have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.”[2] 
Lorraine’s life was unique and she was special to each of you.  But we’re gathered here in worship because she was before God a child adopted in Christ.  Her Lord is the one who fought the good fight for Lorraine and for you.  And He continues to fight for you against unbelief and despair so that you would also be a child of God when your last hour comes.
My prayer for you is that your life is a fight.  That may sound strange, but by God’s grace may it be a good fight.  Even though you weep now, may you trust that God will bring joy in the morning.[3]  Even though you long to have Lorraine back or be where she is, may God give you endurance to keep the faith.  And when your race is finished, may you not receive your own prize, but the heaven which Jesus has won for you.  Amen.
[1] Greek: agon, familiar to us as agony and agonize
[2][2] Said by Jesus from the cross Luke 23:46, quoted from Psalm 31:5
[3] Psalm 30:5

Joy Where Only Faith Can Find It (Matthew 11:2-15)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Third Sunday of Advent + December 11, 2016
Text: Matthew 11:2-15

The theme for this Sunday is JOY – Historically the first word heard was “Gaudete!” (Latin for Rejoice) – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4)
But in the Gospel we have a picture of persecution and uncertainty.  John is in prison for preaching the Law to Herod about his brother’s wife.  John knew that he was the one crying in the wilderness, but had he prepared the right away of the Lord?  Was there another whose coming would look more successful?
Where is the joy at the coming of the Lord?  It’s there, but it’s hidden from the world in signs that only faith can acknowledge—“the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”  The world and the people of the world cannot bear this, even though it’s such joyous news.  For them it is a threat.  The Kingdom of heaven is invading their territory.  They would rather hold onto the signs that their kingdom has come—sexual immorality, debauchery, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, factions, envy, and drunkenness.[1]  But the Kingdom of heaven comes and threatens to end all of that—to dethrone Satan and us and lords and let God once again rule.
Even during Jesus’ ministry this war of Kingdoms led to persecution for the faithful.  We too live in a time of persecution.  Faithful Christians are being edged out of society and government by a world that would rather throw us in prison than hear us preach against their lawless deeds.  Church membership is on the decline as love grows cold and the hunger for God and His Word are filled with earthly amusements and pleasure.  Where’s the joy?
Because this is what our eyes see, doubts arise for us just as they did for John and his disciples.  There are so many religious “options” out there.  So many varieties of Christianity that don’t seem so hardline—“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”[2]  Maybe Pope Francis is right and we should set aside old doctrinal differences so we can just share the Lord’s Supper.[3]  Maybe the progressives are right and what Paul said about homosexuality and women’s role in the Church was just based on his personal bias.  Have we truly followed the Christ or is there another whose cross isn’t so heavy?   Where is the joy?
The joy isn’t in the persecutions & doubts, but it exists in spite of them.  The joy of Christ’s Advent is in the works which only Christ can do, just as it was in the time of John the Baptist.   The Kingdom of heaven continues to come in signs that only the faithful—those who have ears to hear—can recognize.  “In this Christian Church, the Holy Spirit richly and daily forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.  On the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.  This is most certainly true.”[4]
Even though this is such tremendously, earth-shattering good news to us who believe, the world will have none of it.  They call us stupid for following ancient writings and a Man we’ve haven’t met face to face.  They call us haters for believing that human sexuality is defined by our Creator.  They say we’re hypocrites, uneducated, and misled by corrupt leaders.  Where is our joy?  It’s in our Savior who has given us ears to hear and eyes to see.
But where is the world’s joy at the end of life?  Is their joy to be had in personal annihilation?  Where is joy when Christ comes again in glory?  Will not those same scoffers cry out for mercy, but find none?  On that Great Day, their kingdom and their fleeting joy will vanish.  All the power and influence, the praise of men and rich feasts, all the hope of a limitless future will melt away.
But for all who are in the Kingdom of heaven, our joy will never cease!  Then, our Kingdom will not just be in spiritual signs.  When our Redeemer stands on the earth, we shall see God in our flesh and our eyes shall behold Him.[5]  All the sorrow that now covers our joy will be erased—sin will be no more, the devil will be condemned eternally, and death—that terrible foe who robbed us of our family and friends and filled our nights with weeping—will give up all who it has taken.
Then we who are thankful, undeserving citizens of the Kingdom of heaven will bring up this taunt: “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?”[6]
We are those who see the coming of the Kingdom of heaven and rejoice at its signs.  Even though we now weep in persecution and doubt, our Lord will arise to bring everlasting victory and eternal joy.  Thanks and praise be to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen!
Reed shaken: change the doctrine with the times
Dressed in soft clothing: kings like Herod
A prophet: Yes!

  1. 12 – “Kingdom forcefully advancing” (NIV) – “Onward Christian soldiers…till all the world adore His sacred Name.”

“Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” – “O Lord look down from heaven behold And let Thy pity waken How few are we within Thy fold, Thy saints by men forsaken! True faith is quenched on every hand, Men suffer not Thy Word to stand; Dark times have us overtaken.” (TLH 260:1)
[1] A selection from Galatians 5:19-21
[2] 1 John 2:15
[4] Small Catechism, Creed, 3rd Article
[5] Job 19:25-26
[6] 1 Corinthians 15:55

Advent Midweek 2: Ruth the Moabite (Ruth 1:6-17)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Advent 2 Midweek – December 7, 2016
Text: Ruth 1:6-17

Ruth was a woman without an earthly family.  Sin and its effects had caused her to lose her husband and she also lost her home and inheritance.
With Naomi she found a family.
Yet with Naomi’s God she found much more.
“Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
God settles the solitary in a home;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.” (Psalm 68:5-6)
This is in God’s nature to be a Father.
He is Creator – He is the source of our life and provides all that we need in this life.  Even when Bethlehem, the house of bread, suffered famine, God shows His faithfulness in preserving life.
He creates out of nothing, so that even if we are brought to the lowest point, God is able to raise up.
In God, Ruth found a true, heavenly Father.  He is one who above all, cares for her and all who cling to Him by faith.  His faithfulness doesn’t change, even if droughts, sickness, sadness, or death bring change.  Ruth lost everything, but in God she gained it all—a family, a home, a future, and peace.
But it didn’t stop for just Ruth:
13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:13-17)
Through her and her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz, a true redeemer was born for all people of the earth.  In Him, everyone who is left poor in spirit finds solace.  Amen.

Prepare Your Hearts for a Real Savior (Matthew 3:1-12)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Second Sunday in Advent + December 4, 2016
Text: Matthew 3:1-12

John the Baptist’s appearance is jarring.  There’s no getting comfortable around a man who wears camel fur and eats nothing but bugs and honey.  John is not someone you would want at your holiday party.
There’s also no getting comfortable with John’s message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  A spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down, but there’s no sugar-coating the preaching of John the Baptist.  It’s offensive.  It’s invasive because it exposes our hearts.  It’s necessary, too.
God’s Law comes into our heart and demolished any sense that we’re good enough for God.  It exposes our hearts and shows none of us to be righteous.  It shows us how comfortable we’ve been in ourselves and our sins, brushing them under the rug and making excuses for them.  All the while, the Master of the house is near—at the very gates![1]
This is the way God prepares the way for the Christ, and how we ought to prepare ourselves for Christmas.  While the world is hanging “holiday balls” and droning on about the “spirit of the season,” Christians are watchful, hearing the Word of God and taking a true spiritual look in the mirror.  What we find is not good, and that’s why we are glad that God sent a Savior.
There’s a push right now to “put Christ back in Christmas” and while that’s admirable, there’s a better way to do that than just saying, “Merry Christmas.”  Christmas is about salvation, and Jesus only comes for sinners.  “He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)  Anyone who is not a sinner need not look forward to Christmas.
There were many who came out to hear John preach, even “Jerusalem and all Judea.”
In a similar manner, there are many who will come on Christmas to witness the spectacle and be lifted up by warm, nostalgic feelings.
But this Christmas, don’t just be a good Christian (or Pharisee/Scribe).  Be a real sinner.
Be a real sinner who hears the call to repent and be saved.
Christ’s coming is a warning that the axe is laid at the root of the tree.  Every tree that thinks its fruit is lovely will be cut down and burned.  Everyone who says they have not sinned deceives themselves.[2]  But the one who truly bears good fruit is the one who has heard the spiritual message of Christ’s arrival: You are all sinners; I have come to die for you.  You are all unrighteous; I have come to be your righteousness.[3]
This Christmas, above all the other preparations that you make, prepare your heart for Christ’s birth.  As we sang in the hymn:
Then cleansed be every life from sin;
Make straight the way for God within,
And let us all our hearts prepare
For Christ to come and enter there.[4]
So, rejoice in Jesus, the Savior of sinners just like you and me.  That is a truly merry Christmas.  Amen.
[1] Matthew 24:33
[2] 1 John 1:8-10
[3] Matthew 3:17
[4] On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry (LSB 344, v. 2)