Church in the Wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany + January 29, 2017

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

We know a lot of stuff about the Bible, and about the Gospel, right?  We know God, or we’d like to think.  Maybe a better way to put it is in the words we just confessed in the creed: I believe in one God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  When it comes to the Infinite God who dwells in unapproachable light, what we as creatures think we understand isn’t really that much.  That’s because, as Paul quotes from Isaiah 29, God says that He will humble our knowledge so that He can teach us His own:

 

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (Isaiah 29:14.  Literally, God says He will utterly destroy[1] the wisdom of the wise, and He will reject and render void[2] human understanding.)

 

But in order that we better comprehend what this looks like, let’s turn in the Old Testament to the story of Naaman, the Syrian.  Turn to page 311 in the pew Bible and follow along: 2 Kings 5:1-14.

 

In foreign affairs, if you’re going to another nation, seeking something great, you would go to the King.  There’s a protocol for these things.  Start from the top, one nobleman flattering another noble with an official letter.  In proper foreign relations, you would also bring some kind of expensive gift to honor that leader and thank him for his benevolence.  Instead, poor, sick Namaan almost starts a war.

 

Moving from the realm of politics to religion, Naaman dutifully goes to see Elisha the prophet to be healed.  Now, granted, this isn’t the great prophet Elijah; it’s his successor.  But maybe he’ll still be able to do something.  Now, we all know that when a holy man does something related to his god, he chants obscure things, perhaps burns an offering, and draws on arcane powers to heal whatever is sick.  Instead, Elisha’s messenger opens the door and relays the message to go wash in the muddy Jordan seven times and be clean.

 

After being embarrassed and almost starting an international incident, Naaman is himself insulted because his visit to the “prophet in Israel” looks like such a bust.  It doesn’t meet his expectations of what a religious encounter should be.  What kind of wild goose chase did this little Israelite girl lead me on!

 

But this isn’t a story about what is reasonable or rational.  It’s a story about God and the powerful working of His Word.  Thank God for Naaman’s servants who pointed out, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”

 

So, St. Paul writes,

 

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

 

God humbles us by His wisdom, and brings what we think we understand into submission under His Word.  Yes, we know the foolishness of the cross and how those who refuse to believe think the Gospel is a crutch for the weak.  But sometimes we approach God with our reason like Naaman, only to have our thinking turned on its head.

 

Consider what pastors are.  We would like them to be sagely, omnipresent, mindreaders, great orators, and by all means grow the church exponentially.  After all, doesn’t Church history have great examples of the apostles and saints?  People came from miles around to hear Martin Luther preach, and people still fondly remember the great oration of Billy Graham.  Isn’t there a holy glow around the pastor you had growing up, who always seemed to be there at just the right time?

 

Yet like Naaman experienced, you don’t get Jesus or St. Paul in the pulpit; you get a messenger.  You get an ordinary man.  Nevertheless, the Lord has put His Word in your pastor’s mouth, and about this man the Lord Himself says, “The one who hears you hears me.”[3]  Because God puts His Word in this man’s mouth, He also says that you should obey him because he keeps watch over your souls, that you should show him double honor, and give this man just wages for his labors (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Timothy 5:17-18).

 

And because God has put His Word there, He promises to do great things—in baptizing and administering the Lord’s Supper, in teaching Bible study and confirmation, in shut-in visits and your pastor’s prayers for you.  In this ministry, God will accomplish more than we can imagine because the “foolishness of God is wiser than men.”

 

Another place that God surprises us is regarding worship.  To us worship should be directed toward God with our praises, our voices, and our works of devotion.  “How great is our God, sing with me how great is our God…”  It should be majestic, yet also give us a tingly feeling that God is among us.  Worship should set us on fire like the finale of a rock concert, motivate us like going to a pro-life rally, and give us the sense of unity you get from going to a candlelight vigil.

 

But what has the Lord actually said?  “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven….For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”[4]  God is where His Word is preached and believed.  There heaven is opened to contrite sinners, the Holy Spirit is at work bringing forth faith and its fruits, the Body and Blood of God’s Son are received on our tongues, we sing the Word of God and meditate on His eternal truth, and we build one another up in humble yet powerful ways by sharing His Word.

 

Our German ancestors in the faith had a name for this.  They called it Gottesdienst (God’s Service), which is where we get the name Divine Service.  Worship is God’s service to us, not the other way around.  Remember, this is what it means to remember the Sabbath rest: God speaks, and we listen.  We rest from our labors and take our rest in His great acts of salvation and His continued work in us by His Spirit.  It may not look flashy or feel exciting.  It might not give you the nostalgic feelings you crave, but believe that God is at work in this place because that’s where He promises to be with His powerful Word.

 

Naaman’s understanding of God’s ways was put in its place, but in seeing God at work, he was blessed.  In hearing the Word of God and believing, he received even more than he was seeking.  He would have been happy to go home without leprosy, yet he also went home believing in the true God, restored in flesh and spirit.

 

So it is for us, when God humbles us.  Even our finest hopes and dreams of what God could do for us pale in comparison to what He does for us through His Word.  Heaven touches earth and we hear the voice of God in this humble setting, He opens His ear to hear our prayers and answer us, we are invited to share in the praises of the heavenly host, and we are joyfully invited to sit at the Lord’s Table and receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ which was offered up for us.  So let God’s Word do His Work.  Our response of faith is simply, “let it be to me according to your word.”[5]  In that faith, you will truly be blessed.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

[1] ἀπόλλυμι I.to destroy utterly, kill, slay, and of things, to destroy, demolish, waste (Perseus Greek Study Tool)

 

[2] ἀθετέω “cancel, render ineffectual” (Perseus)

[3] Luke 10:16

[4] Matthew 18:18, 20

[5] Luke 1:38

Bringing Us Out of Darkness into His Light (Isaiah 9:1-4)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Third Sunday after the Epiphany + January 22, 2017

Text: Isaiah 9:1-4

One of the first works of God was to separate the light from the darkness, and making a distinction called Day and Night.[1]  The difference between light and dark is a matter of contrast.  For our life, we need contrast to tell the difference between one thing and the other.

 

The difference between light and darkness has a spiritual significance for us, too.  The Lord chooses to associate Himself with the light:

“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5)

“The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.” (Psalm 118:27)

That means where there is God, there is also light.  Conversely, God shuns the darkness, because darkness means the absence or rejection of God:

“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.” (Genesis 1:2)

“Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” (Exodus 10:21)

The Lord describes rejection at the last day as, “[being] thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12)

 

So it’s for more than poetic eloquence that the Prophet Isaiah writes,

 

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.

 

For God, light and darkness are a matter of being in His presence or cut off from Him.  They signify grace and sin.  Those walking in darkness are blinded and cast out by sin from the presence of God, wandering and lost.  Their company is the demonic and their destination is the grave.  Even more tragic is that this darkness is so deep, “a darkness to be felt” in the inner being of man, that they don’t even recognize it.  Even in the created light of high noon, a darkness dwells within our hearts that nothing on earth can illuminate.

 

But to these darkened sons of Adam, the Light of God has dawned!  To the shepherds who stood out in the cold night, an angel shining with God’s glorious light appeared and declared, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”[2]  To crowds of people who know only that something is dreadfully wrong with creation, the voice of the preacher says, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”[3]

Behold, with eyes opened by God, and see the light of God’s salvation: Jesus Christ!  The Light of God has shone upon us, and we are glad!

 

     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.

                    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.

 

Rejoice, because God has brought us back to Himself!  “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”[4]  We have been moved out of darkness and sin to light in the Lord, so that now God calls us children of light, imploring us to walk in the light.[5]  We must work the works of God, for night is coming when no one can work. Nevertheless, as long as He is in the world, Jesus is the Light of the world.[6]

 

Ah! But we still need contrast.  As our life in the light of the Lord continues, we lose sight of the contrast with the darkness.  We forget what a tremendous contrast there is between darkness and light, between sin and grace.  Perhaps you’ve never sounded the depths of darkness and you’ve always grown up around the light.  You just can’t understand how people can live without God, although they seem content to walk in the darkness.

 

Maybe the darkness is attractive because it doesn’t look that bad.  Remember Eve who judged by her reason that the tree was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise.[7]  But once she stepped into darkness, she fell headlong out of light and grace.  St. James warns us (4:4), “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”  But we make excuses for imitating the world’s ways—it’s not that bad for young men and women to engage in debauchery at parties, okay for old men and women to sit around and gossip about others (after all, it’s true, isn’t it?), or to badmouth our elected officials because it’s our First Amendment right.

 

Yet even with that contrast from the world firmly in place, darkness is still in our hearts.  Now that we are light in the Lord, we look for contrast other places.  Sure of our ability to judge good from evil, we start to find contrast within the sons of light.  That’s what Paul was seeing in the Epistle reading:

 

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”[8]

 

We take it upon ourselves to draw lines among Christians—west versus east, orthodox versus liberal, young versus old, contemporary versus liturgical.  But it is God who first separated the light from the darkness, and He alone has the right establish contrast and to judge good from evil.

 

But God graciously brings us out of even the darkness of our hearts.  The same one who divided light from darkness, heaven from hell, brings us back our own transfer out of darkness.  He reminds us where the lines really are drawn—“the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”[9]  It’s with His Word that God works not only to bring us out of darkness and death, but He continues to keep us united in the one Name which has been put on us in Baptism.  The water and the Word brought into the light, and in this Christian Church, you have everything good which God promises—the forgiveness of yours sins, the love and patience which are gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the hope of everlasting life.

 

Rejoice in your God and Savior who has taken you from the darkness, to live forever in the glorious light of His Kingdom! Amen.

 

[1] Genesis 1:4

[2] Luke 2:11

[3] Matthew 3:2

[4] Colossians 1:13

[5] Ephesians 5:8

[6] John 9:4-5

[7] Genesis 3:6

[8] 1 Corinthians 1:10-12

[9] 1 Corinthians 1:18

Pointing to the Lamb of God (John 1:29-42)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Second Sunday after the Epiphany + January 15, 2017

Text: John 1:29-42a

 

Jack Friday in Dragnet was famous for saying, “Just the facts, ma’am.”  Whenever they would interview a witness, it undoubtedly happened that they would trail off into personal experiences and opinions about the suspect.  But what is needed from a witness is just the facts.

 

John the Baptist is that kind of witness.  Just the facts: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” “This man ranks before me, because he was before me.” “I baptized with water.” “I saw the Spirit descend and remain on him.” “This is the Son of God.”  It’s not important what John thought of Jesus, or if John could give a testimony about what Jesus did for him.  These facts are enough to make John the right kind of witness for God’s purposes—“that He might be revealed.”[1]  John’s ministry is no-frills with nothing to attract you to himself.  As John the Evangelist wrote, “He himself was not the light, but came to bear witness about the Light, that all might believe through him.”[2]  John was just a voice crying in the wilderness and a finger pointing to the Lamb of God.

 

It’s important who John is pointing to also.  Jesus is the One God has appointed to save the world.  Nobody and nothing else can be the Lamb of God, the true Passover sacrifice, the ram caught in the thicket which God provides.[3]  Jesus is the Savior of the world because only He takes away the sin of the world.

 

It’s important for us to get this right too, because there are others who masquerade under the name Jesus.  There’s the ecumenical Jesus who comes with the message that we should forget about our different readings of the Bible and embrace all things spiritual.  There’s the feel-good Jesus who encourages with out-of-context Bible verses and promises to help us be better people.  Then there’s the Jesus who is the worst kind of friend to have—a yes man.  He just pats us on the back and affirms us in every choice we make, even if that choice is to leave church in favor of more free time on the weekends.

 

The trouble with all of these false Jesus pictures is that none of them takes away sin.  They all leave us in our sins.  They make a mockery of God’s righteous judgment and turn the crucifixion and resurrection into an obsolete fairy tale.

 

John’s office was to proclaim Jesus to be the Lamb of God.  He himself did not know Him, but nevertheless He was God’s witness.

Only the Jesus whom God sends is the genuine article.

Only He take away sin

This is His chief aim—to make us whole and right before God.

Then everything else falls where it may, our mind and body restored.

 

Jesus continues to be the same Lamb of God who is proclaimed by us.

There’s no need to set up a fancy, side-door Jesus who gets people in the door through something completely unrelated.  This is not how people come to know Jesus.  It might be how they get to know Christians, but these things don’t contribute to saving faith.

 

The Lamb of God is proclaimed simply by pointing to Him and saying who He is and what He does.

 

This Jesus, the Son of God is the Messiah, the one who takes sins away.  He gives my conscience peace by His absolution.  He gives me confidence in my baptism that even death cannot steal me away from Him and the Kingdom He’s promised.  His Body and Blood give me strength to face my trials because He endured suffering and death and overcame them.

 

And hearing that, the Spirit will work faith when and where it pleases God (John 3:8).  No tricks, no gimmicks.  You and I are merely witnesses who are known by God and used by God to point to Jesus.

[1] Reveal comes from the Greek root of the word epiphany.  The season of Epiphany is about God giving epiphany of His Son as the Savior of the world.

[2] John 1:7-8

[3] John 19:14-18, Genesis 22:10-14

Baptized into Grace (Matt. 3:13-17)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Baptism of Our Lord + January 8, 2017

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

If you follow the news, it can be overwhelming—shootings, bombings, betrayals of trust, and political unrest (just to name a few).  One common theme in all of these is the thirst for justice.  We want to see ISIS destroyed, school shooters disarmed, and drunk drivers driven off the road. When we are attacked, robbed, betrayed—we want blood.  Terrorist attacks, a child is taken advantage of, a spouse is found to be unfaithful—we want vengeance.  It’s even irksome when we hear that the shooter was killed in the act because we want to see them face the penalty their crimes deserve—and slowly.

 

For as deep-felt and powerful as our anger is; God’s is more intense.  God is out for blood too:

 

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:6)

I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me. (Exodus 20:5)

Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. (Ps. 18:8)

The soul who sins shall surely die. (Ezekiel 18:20)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18)

 

As much as we would like God’s wrath to be directed out on all those people, God shows no favorites.  “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” (Colossians 3:5-6)  Every one of us has aroused the wrath of God, by our actions, our words, and even the thoughts of our heart.

 

In the Passion of Christ, the wrath of God against sin was unleashed.  The sun withheld its light,[1] the heavens which once opened to declare Him the beloved Son of God were closed and silent,[2] and the cup of God’s wrath is drunk down to the dregs.[3]  It is the day the prophets foretold:

 

That day is the day of the Lord God of hosts,

a day of vengeance,

to avenge himself on his foes.

       The sword shall devour and be sated

and drink its fill of their blood.

       For the Lord God of hosts holds a sacrifice.[4]

 

Yes, vengeance!  Yes, blood!  But look at that last half of the verse.  All the righteous wrath of God against ungodliness was borne by Jesus.

 

“Thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  When Jesus receives baptism in the Jordan, He takes up all of the unrighteousness of men, so that in exchange the baptized receive all His righteousness.  That means all the wrath against them is removed.  God no longer holds their sins against them because justice has been done—on the cross.

 

After an atrocity is carried out, we often wonder why God allowed it to happen and didn’t destroy the guilty.  Where is the wrath of God against Islamic militants who slay Christians?  Where is the Sodom and Gomorrah fire and brimstone over immorality in our country?  Where was God when that maniac shot up the airport in Ft. Lauderdale?  It’s because of Jesus that God does not immediately destroy the wicked.  Instead, He is longsuffering and preaches to all, wanting them to turn from their wickedness, repent and live.  In the Old Testament lesson, we heard that “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law” (Isaiah 42:7), but justice on the earth is the justice of Christ crucified to save the sinners.

 

That says something to us too, as those who are baptized into Christ.  God, the Righteous Judge, has satisfied His vengeance.  Where, then, is there room for our anger and our thirst for blood?  If God is patient toward those who are foolish or those who persist in their evil, how can we go beyond Him?  How can we hold a grudge, when God went to such lengths to forgive even the whole world?

 

In that way, it is fitting for us to fulfill God’s righteousness, by living in His beloved Son.  By acknowledging that God is patient even the most hardened of sinners, we confirm that He has put away our sins.

[1] Isaiah 13:10

[2] Deuteronomy 11:17

[3] Psalm 75:8

[4] Jeremiah 46:10

Funeral of Dale Bruce Gray (Isaiah 40:27-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Funeral of Dale “Bruce” Gray – January 5, 2017

Text: Isaiah 40:27-31

 

Dale Bruce Gray had a long and rich life of 87 years.  He had a long life of marriage to Alice, married for 65 years and 5 days.  Bruce had a long life of faith, baptized and confirmed as an adult in February 1954 in this very congregation.  He had a rich life in this congregation, raising his boys and working on many projects through the years including the building of this sanctuary and work on the parsonage.

 

This long and rich life was a gift from His God, who purchased and won Him from the cross and adopted Bruce as His own child through faith.  The Lord says this about His children:

 

29    He gives power to the faint,

and to him who has no might he increases strength.

30    Even youths shall faint and be weary,

and young men shall fall exhausted;

31    but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;

they shall mount up with wings like eagles;

       they shall run and not be weary;

they shall walk and not faint.

 

The Lord gives power to the faint, and increases the strength of those who have no might.  We might say that it was unfair that such a man as Bruce was riddled by such poor health these last several years.  If the Lord is doing what He says here, it seems like His servants should be healthy and vibrant.  They shouldn’t have to go on this rollercoaster of being in and out of the hospital every few months.

 

We get led astray, however, when we measure the Lord by what we observe in His servants—whether by the condition of someone’s body or by how much they did in their life.  What matters above all—and the reason we are gathered here—is not the man Bruce, but Bruce’s God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

“The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

 

It’s true that we have strength in ourselves, a strength of mind and body.  Every person has a measure of strength that comes from being alive, whether or not they call on the Lord.  With that strength, we achieve many things during our lifetime.  But that strength wears out, gets riddled with disease, forgets things, grows old, and dies.

 

But when are baptized and believe in the Name of Jesus, we put on His strength—the strength of the “everlasting God who does not faint or grow weary.”  It is He who created heaven and earth, who created us and first breathed into our nostrils the breath of life, who knit us together in our mother’s womb, and who daily provides all we need for this body and life.  This is the God who gives power to the faint and renews the strength of those who wait for Him.

 

It’s a strength that is given to God’s children through faith, no matter what the changes and chances of this life bring, whether poor or strong health, a great or a feeble mind.

 

It’s an unwearied strength because it comes from our God.  We have it by the faith God has given us.  It’s about this strength that St. Paul wrote in Romans 8, 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[1]  All of these seem pretty powerful.  But why are they incapable of destroying us?  They are not able to wrench us away from the Lord because He gives us His strength.  He is the God who overcame all things by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.  It’s with that strength that God preserves His children in their Baptism throughout this life.  And with that strength, all who are in Christ will have the strength to rise from their graves and live with the Lord in eternity.

 

The day Bruce passed, Alice asked me how is she going to live without Bruce.  The strength to do it will come from the God who was Bruce’s strength and hers.  Do not be afraid and do not despair; the Lord is the everlasting God and He renews your strength, through every trial, even unto eternal life.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Romans 8:38-39

On the Eighth Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave Me a Name Above All Names (Luke 2:21)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Circumcision and Name of Jesus + January 1, 2017

Text: Luke 2:21

A blessed Eighth Day of Christmas to you!  That’s probably not what you’re expecting to hear on January 1.  But it’s true.  Today we celebrate the eighth day after Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and laid Him in a manger.

 

The eighth day is a big deal for every Israelite, including the Son of David.  Two momentous things happen on the eighth day—the boys are circumcised and they receive their name.

 

  1. Circumcision demonstrates that it is God alone who saves our corrupt race.

 

Now, circumcision was more than a brutish religious ritual.  God commanded that all the descendants of Abraham be circumcised as a mark that they belonged to the promise given to Abraham—“that in his Offspring, all the families of the earth would be blessed.”[1]  It was how God marked these sons as bearers of His promise.

 

Yet for all the circumcised generations, God’s promise was not fulfilled by natural birth.[2]  Enter the virgin-born Son of David and Son of the Most High.  He was circumcised not to receive God’s promise, but to give it to all the families of the earth.  He is the promised Offspring of Abraham, and the One who brings God’s blessing to the sinful sons of earth.

 

  1. The Name of Jesus shows how and what the Lord saves us from.

 

Take that together with what also happened for Him on the eighth day: He received the name given Him by the angel.  Jesus.  Yeshua or Joshua—“The Lord Saves.”   And save He does—“born of woman, born under the Law to redeem those under the Law.”[3]

 

He was born to intervene in the cycle of birth, getting old, and death.   At the end of the year, there’s always a time of reflecting on who we’ve lost this year—great and famous people, police killed in the line of duty, and loved ones who have been taken from us.  It all seems routine.  We even say that death is natural.  Trying to convince ourselves, we come up with platitudes to make it right. But death is not right.  It is not natural.  It may be normal for the world as we know it, but it is far from God’s desire for humanity.

 

The Lord saves—to destroy death by His death.  Now, because of Jesus, the bars on the grave are unlocked, the fear of death is powerless, and everyone who believes in Him has eternal hope.

 

Jesus was born under the Law to save us from sin’s curse.  This curse runs so deep in our veins that quite often we don’t even think it’s that bad.  Like the erosion of morality in our country, we start to buy in and accept it all for normal.  Divorce used to be considered sin, but now we believe that it’s just a contract between two people and they can amicably decide to “end things.”  Having a child out of wedlock used to be a serious shame, but now we accept “single motherhood” as normal, and let the fathers get away with no more than a child support levy on their paycheck.  We are so easily duped by our sinful hearts and the Devil, but God is not.

 

God’s Law is still just as true and just as holy.  His Word shines in and exposes all our works of darkness—our thoughts, our words, and our actions.  He enters into the world with His Holy Son.  But He doesn’t come to destroy, to judge, or to pat us on the shoulder and say “that’s okay.”  The Lord saves.  He saves by paying the price of your sin with His blood and death.  He was forsaken by God so you wouldn’t be.  He steps into your shoes and takes the brunt of all that your evil has deserved.  And in exchange, you are saved!  You are called righteous and a saint.[4]

 

  • We live in His circumcision and in His Name.

 

The Circumcision and Name of Jesus was not for Him; it was for you.  It’s for you every day of your life as a Christian.  St. Paul writes, “11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”[5]   His circumcision was your circumcision—the putting off of the sinful flesh.  His death was your death.  This is your Baptism.  This is where God put His Name on you—the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  He put on you the Name of Jesus, the Lord saves.

 

As everyone is talking about new years’ resolutions and how things are going to be different in 2017, it’s fitting for us to focus on this Eighth Day after Christmas. It’s our new beginning.  It’s our movement from death into life, from the old into the new.  But it doesn’t just happen once a year.  It’s the newness of life every time we turn from our sins and walk in the resurrected and holy life of Jesus.  Yes, have a happy new year, but even better, have a blessed new life in the Name of Jesus!  Amen.

[1] Genesis 12:3, Genesis 17:1-12

[2] Looking back through the eyes of the Promise Fulfilled, it makes sense why circumcision involved cutting in that part of the male body.  It was as if to say, No, O sinful man, it will not by your own effort that God’s promise will be fulfilled. (John 1:13)  No matter what you think you can achieve with that part of your anatomy, all you can do is bring forth more sinners who need God’s promised Offspring.

[3] Galatians 4:4-5

[4] Genesis 15:6, Psalm 16:2-3

[5] Colossians 2:11-12