Circumcision and Name of Jesus (Numbers 6:24-27; Luke 2:21)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Circumcision and Name of Jesus + December 31, 2017
Text: Numbers 6:24-27; Luke 2:21

When you say “Happy New Year,” you may be surprised to know what that wish means. Many people think nothing of the greeting, “Happy New Year.” It’s just another year that will bring gladness and sadness in appropriate measures; maybe more of one than the other. Other people think about earthly happiness, hoping this year will be better than the last. Some will eat their share of black-eyed peas and use other good-luck charms to start the year off right.
What about you? When you wish another Christian “Happy New Year,” for what are you wishing for them or for you? Will your desires be fulfilled? In Christ Jesus, the answer is “Yes.” The year of our Lord 2018 will bring all sorts of good things for you, whether in the body or in the spirit, whether temporal or spiritual blessings. What guarantee have you?
Consider the blessing in the Old Testament reading, the familiar blessing that concludes every Divine Service. Consider also the short account of Jesus Christ’s circumcising and naming, eight days after His birth according to the flesh.
The Lord bless you and keep you. At the end of eight days. Eight days of nursing at Mary’s breast. Eight days of life in this poor vale of tears. Eight days subject to earthly government. The blessed Son of the Most High is equal to His brethren. The same sun that shines on you now also shone on the Child Jesus. The same Almighty God fills one year to another with His good. He blessed the earth at the beginning of time. He opened His gentle Hand in the fullness of time and gave food to all flesh. He sows His blessing over city and country even in these last days. Even if you are as poor as Jesus was in His earthly life, do not worry about your earthly life. You are God’s child. You live under God’s blessing: the Lord bless you! He blesses you coming in and going out of this house of prayer. He blesses your work and your rest. He blesses what you have, even when you have little.
Our Lord knows what it means to live in an evil world. Herod of Judea spread His terrors, attempting to slaughter Jesus. All male children two years of age and under were not spared the blade. Even now the days are evil. Diseases, fires, floods, earthquakes, the wickedness of man, and the powers of darkness threaten you in the New Year. But, do not be afraid, dear Christian friends. God the Father protected His Child Jesus. He also will protect you. He covers you with His wings, your confidence will be under His wings. The Lord keep you! He is your shade and your shield. He encamps His angel hosts all around you. He never slumbers nor sleeps. As you are blessed in the body, so will you also be in the spirit.
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you! …when He was circumcised…. The shepherds who witnessed the glory of the Lord on the night when Christ was born were terrified at the sight of the holiness of God Almighty. They were the sinful seed of Abraham. But the Seed of Abraham in a manger is holy. Nevertheless, Jesus takes up the mark that the sinful children of Abraham wore. He was like His brethren, born under the Law, even under the curse of the Law, until God even hid His fatherly countenance from Him on that dark Good Friday.
We remain sinners entering a new year. What if this is the year that Christ returns in triumph to judge the living and the dead? Will the glory of the Lord shine upon us in terror? Must we expect to hear the terrible words, “Depart from Me, you cursed ones?” No. Instead, we hear the Lord make His face shine upon you. The Lord Christ does not shine from Sinai, but from the little crib of Bethlehem and from the throne of majesty as the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ: a friendly, lovely face.
He was called Jesus. The little child circumcised on the eighth day, Who bore the curse of the Law, tasted the wrath of His Father. Jesus atoned for the punishment of sins. He gave His life in death for you. Jesus is your Savior. He bore a curse for you, yes, especially for you; bore indignation and wrath so that you would partake of the blessing: the Lord be gracious to you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ must console you in the New Year in all sinful distress, coming tribulation, in the midst of death, and in the last judgment.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace! …the name given by the angel…. If only Satan would have prevented our Lord’s circumcision and naming. Then this poor world would remain unblessed even though Jesus would purchase salvation. Not even Satan could make mute the angel of that holy night or even the Herald at the empty tomb. However, he attempts to silence the pure preaching of the Gospel. God gracious countenance shines over sinners, but Satan sends dark clouds in abundance through false teaching, lies, slander, doubt, and temptations of all kinds. Satan will continue to send dark clouds in the New Year, but his work will not succeed. The Name above all names will fulfill His blessing among us: the Lord life us His countenance upon you! High above the dark storm clouds the Spirit of the Lord lifts up His countenance. He lets His breath blow in Word and Sacraments. His light shines upon us. As for Satan? “One little word can fell him.”[1]
…before He was conceived in the womb. God has determined and manifested the Name of the Savior. His decree was certain from all eternity. The decree has its expression in the Name of Jesus. He also calls you by your name. He has known you from all eternity. He knows what you need: peace. Thus the blessing of Numbers chapter six ends: and give you peace. This peace is higher than all reason. It is the peace that the world cannot give. God’s peace is peace in the heart, in the conscience, and especially God’s peace in the struggle with Satan, the world, and your flesh. It is also the peace into which you will die. After the last struggle and victory, there is eternal peace of the perfect blessed ones in the Lord.
The blessing of the Lord remains upon you as a new calendar year is here. In the shedding of the blood of Jesus, there is cleansing of all sin. In the shedding of the blood of Jesus, there is sure and certain hope for joy in eternity. Happy New Year in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Name of wondrous love!  Amen.
[1] “A Mighty Fortress” (LSB 656:3)

Nativity of Our Lord (John 1:1-14)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Nativity of Our Lord + December 25, 2017
Text: John 1:1-14

This morning, we complete our series on the pivotal point in the Nicene Creed (which we just confessed).  “For us men, and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made Man.
As 21st century Christians, we take these words for granted.  That the Son of God became man was the scandal of the first five centuries of the Christian Church.  It was already brewing in the days of John the Evangelist, when he warned believers, 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist.” (1 John 4:2–3) But it continued through the councils where one after another teacher tried to skirt the Scriptural truth: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  “He was made man.”  “Homo factus est.” (Latin for the same) was the rallying point for the true Christian faith.  How could the Word become flesh?  How could God become man?  Perhaps it’s better to answer with Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
All those who have been led astray have gone that way because they compared God’s ability to human understanding.  If we cannot let go of our own limited understanding and philosophical rules, we miss out on tremendous truth that God became man.
In the truth of this, there is astounding comfort!  Because God became flesh, we have a high priest who sympathizes with our weakness, as the Scripture says, 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15–16)   Our God shares our flesh. He is not aloof from our bodily pain, but He shares it.  Whenever you are assaulted by Satan, He has been there too—and overcome for you.  In the depth of despair when we want to cry out to someone who can both understand and help, cry out to Jesus who shares your flesh!
Because God became man, we have a God who is not aloof from us, but is intimately connected with our lives.  3He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)  Consider your griefs–pains of body, family discord, facing poverty, or losing your spouse or a child.  You know your own experience of that pain.  But, now consider what these verses say: Your God, your Savior Jesus, is so well-acquainted with grief and sorrow that He feels it personally.  His coming in the flesh means that He is not a God who stands far off from your anguish and simply sends a sympathy card.  He sympathizes by becoming one with you and the whole race so that He can uphold you and bring you out of this valley of sorrow to eternity!
Because God became man, He is able to give us strength with His Body and Blood to eat and drink.  54Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54)  We feel the pangs of death, and see the effects of its approach.  But Jesus, our God in the flesh, has made atonement for sin by the cross, entered the grave and risen.  Now, He gives us, who live under the shadow of death, His flesh to eat and His blood to drink.  Though His flesh and blood, our weak flesh and blood has eternal life.  In this Sacrament, He preserves you through every temptation, disease, and even your own passing away.
Even though human wisdom may not comprehend how this can be, believe His holy Word:
12To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the [only-begotten] Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:12–14)
These words proclaim to you salvation, comfort, strength, and eternal hope.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord (Luke 2:10-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord + December 24, 2017
Text: Luke 2:10-11

“He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary”
This blessed evening, we will focus on these words which are confessed by the universal Church–Christians in every place—about Jesus Christ: “He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary.”
There’s something called the natural knowledge of God.  By observation in nature and by our own in-born understanding, we know God to be a power greater than ourselves.  Plato called God the “unmoved Mover” and Anselm of Canterbury defined God as “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”  No matter people’s religious affiliation, we surmise that whoever God is, He must be beyond us in some way.  He’s in heaven; He’s in another plane of existence.  However you say it, it’s natural to think God is not only above humanity, but also separated from us.
If you perceive that, you would be correct.  Heaven is God’s dwelling place, and in Isaiah 40, God speaks about Himself, 22It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” (Isaiah 40:22)  But the distance was not always this case.  In fact, after the world was first made, the Lord made His dwelling among His creatures.[1]  Yet that closeness was shattered by Adam and Eve’s disobedience.  They are no mere mythical figures in a creation fable; they are in fact our ancestors whose sin brought the separation we now know from God.  We are separated from God because every since our parents brought sin into our spiritual condition, our hearts are inclined toward evil, as God tells us: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)
It is actually mercy that God does not dwell in our midst with all His holiness.  4For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.” (Psalm 5:4)  In fact even a glimpse of the Holy God is too much for us now: 5And [Isaiah] said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:5)   And the Lord says, “If for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you.” (Exodus 33:5, see also Hebrews 12:29)
But in spite of our wickedness, it remains God’s desire to dwell with us.  The only way for that to take place is if our unholiness can be dealt with.  Long ago, God made Himself known to people in dreams and visions, in smoke, cloud, and a burning bush.[2]  In all these, He veiled Himself and protect the sinful children of Adam from being consumed.  Yet the fullness of God’s plan to dwell among us was when He veiled His Godhead not with foreign substances like smoke, but in human flesh and blood itself.  9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” (Colossians 2:9)
“For us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary.”
God, though heavenly, high, and holy, came down to dwell with us most lowly.[3]  “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” (Titus 2:11) The grace of God did not simply appear in a message broadcast from heaven, but by the Son of God coming down from heaven—true God, begotten of God the Father from eternity and also true man, born of the virgin Mary in time.  The Lord has come down from heaven to forge the way to bring us back into His presence.
Despite this, often it’s more comfortable to think about the distance of God.  “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (Psalm 115:3)  By that we’d like to think that God is far off when it’s convenient to our lives.  When we put other things above our spiritual welfare and invest everything in our children’s “future” while their faith rots.  We want God not to be near, but look the other way when we delight in sexual fantasies and fornication.  Who wants the humbling reality that God hears our every idle word—especially when our words tear down and hurt other people?  God, you do your thing, and I’ll do mine.
But when we’re in danger, need, or experiencing a trial…that’s when we beg for God to be near!  Won’t you heal my diseased body?  Mend my broken marriage?  Provide what my family needs to live?
God is not an on-call super hero like Superman to save the day.  He’s far more than that, and He wants better for you.  The truth is, He sees those sins you thought were hidden or at least not that big a deal.  And yet, He still came near!  He came near to stand in your place, to bear the just punishment you deserve!  Jesus came near to win you peace with God again.
10And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10–11)
That peace He gave by His holy life, His innocent suffering and death, and by His glorious resurrection.  He “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession.” (Titus 2:14)  In the manger and from the cross, Jesus, the Son of God, made Himself yours, so that you could be God’s once more.
So, if you’ve distanced yourself from God, repent.  As we sang in the hymn, “to meek souls who receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”  He wants to be near you as Savior, not judge, He desires that peace which the angels declared to be your peace also!  Jesus wants this Christmas to be filled with true joy and everlasting peace, because He has come near for you!  Amen.
[1] Genesis 2:8
[2] Genesis 12 & 15, Exodus 3 & 13:17-22
[3] Allusion to the hymn, “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness” (LSB 636:1)

Fourth Sunday in Advent (Luke 1:46-55)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fourth Sunday in Advent (Rorate Coeli) + December 24, 2017
Text: Luke 1:46-55

“Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven”
This morning is the beginning of a three-part sermon series over today and tomorrow, in which we will focus on the part of the Nicene Creed where we, the Church, confess Jesus Christ, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.”  So this morning, we begin with the first part, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.”
Who’s on your Christmas list?  Who did you buy presents for?  Your spouse, kids, extended family, and close friends?  Beyond that, the rest might get a Christmas card.  But do you plan to give a gift to your ex-wife who sued you for custody of the children?  Are you going to get something nice for the guy who carelessly broke your daughter’s foot?  Will you be thinking of what would be really nice for the person who spread lies and got you blackballed from your employer?  I bet you didn’t.
But at Christmas, that’s exactly what God does.  St. Paul says in Romans 5, 6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8)  God’s gift was not for people who loved Him; it was for those very ones whose hearts were set against Him.
Yet it’s not that God welcomes in a bunch of His worst enemies to His proverbial Christmas party.  That would amount to God being indifferent toward people who hate, slander, and ignore Him.  No, the Lord is “a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6 NKJV)
This is how He does it: God showed grace to His enemies by giving His only-begotten Son so that those enemies would become friends.  No! Even better than friends!  That those former enemies would become members of His family for all eternity.  13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)
The Magnificat, the Song of Mary, speaks to the riches of God’s grace, making children out of those who in their hearts formerly hated Him.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:46–53)
Humble, lowly, and hungry were statements about more than Mary’s personality or material condition.  These speak of her as undeserving of the least of God’s favors, and they speak of you and me.  The Mighty one has shown His strength in the love incarnate in the manger at Bethlehem.  So it is that God exalts those who are harassed and helpless, and lifts them up to be seated with Christ in the realms of heaven![1]
You see, God’s gift at Christmas gave you, a stranger and enemy, reconciliation.  This is the gift which you needed beyond any money, sweater, fancy chocolate, or electronic gadget.  For us men and for our salvation is the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God, out of great love for you, me, and all sinful people redeemed us from the singular most dangerous threat to our life.  That threat is not terrorism, or being maimed in a car accident, or even falling prey to cancer; it’s eternal death and to suffer in hell.  With this in full view, the Father sent His Son, born of woman, born under the Law to redeem us.[2]
But His gift was not free!  The gift which God gives you at Christmas came at the greatest price.  The Holy One traveled from heaven to earth, walked through our sin-filled world, carried His Present up the hill of Calvary, and God paid for it with the life of His own Son. But the gift was not complete with that, because the Son rose on the third day to win resurrection and eternal life.  And there’s still more to His gift because He ascended into heaven to show our return to the presence of God.  What a precious Gift!  Wrapped in the most glorious package!
And He delivers that gift to you in the waters of your Baptism.  At various times, you may through unbelief put that gift back in the box and on a shelf in your linen closet.  But He wants you to have that gift so badly, that He uses still more means to deliver it—the Word of God spoken by a godly friend or family member, an invitation to church, a message on a church sign.  Through His Word and Spirit, God leads you again to see how lowly your estate truly is, and He urges you to take that gift once given out of the box, dust it off, and rejoice in it once more.
He delights to give it again and again.  As often as you repent and confess your sins, He delivers His Gift again in the words of absolution.  Every time you come to the Sacrament of the Altar, there He is delivering His Gift to you—the Body of Jesus, broken for you; the Blood of Christ, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
With that kind of Christmas gift, none other can compare.  Enjoy your material gifts, but always in view of God’s gift to you in the manger.  Amen!
[1] Matthew 9:36; Ephesians 2:6
[2] Galatians 4:4

Christmas Services

Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing!


Sunday, December 24th

10:30 AM – Sunday Worship (4th Sunday in Advent)

7:00 PM – Christmas Eve Candlelight Service

Monday, December 25th

10:00 AM – Christmas Day Divine Service

Special 3-Part Sermon on the words of the Nicene Creed: “Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man.”

Advent 3 Midweek (Isaiah 40:1-8)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Advent 3 Midweek – December 20, 2017
Text: Isaiah 40:1-8
Who doesn’t like to feel comfortable?  It sure is nice to not be annoyed, or hungry, or sleepy.  Your favorite chair, your favorite room in the house, your favorite food and the people around you. That’s what we’re all hoping Christmas will be like—even though for some of us we know that’s not going to be the case.
Often times, we believe that God promises like will be comfortable.  When things are good, we bless the Lord because He is good.  But when suffering is appointed for us—especially when health and finance problems pile up—we start question God’s motives.  “Can’t I just get a break?” we complain.
Perhaps the answer from God is “No, you can’t yet.  I still have more to teach you.  Take up your cross daily and follow Jesus.”[1]  That’s because God doesn’t promise that we will be comfortable in this life, but that we will be comforted.  But in order to know that comfort, we must also know hard service.
1Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1–2)
What sort of comfort is our God speaking to us?  Is it a financial windfall at just the right time?  Is it a miraculous recovery after illness?  Maybe the return and reconciliation of an estranged family member?  While all of these things are a relief, they are only symptoms of the bigger cause of our hardships.  When God seeks to comfort His people, He doesn’t scratch at the surface, but instead He goes to the root of all our tears—sin.
It is because of a broken relationship with God that our lives are so filled with misery.  It’s the sin of people around us—evil, insensitive, hurtful things that people say and do—which tear apart our dreams for a peaceful, fulfilled life.  It’s parents who act like babies and drive their children to counseling, bosses who unjustly favor your vindictive coworker over you, pastors who mistreat their flocks, elected officials who vote against the needs of their constituents.
Oh, how we love to be the victim and point the finger.  But there is no favoritism with God, and each of us must confess how our own sins bring trouble.  It was us who answered their hurtful words with still more, it was us who lost our temper and acted rashly, it was us who squandered our employer’s time with idle conversation, and it was us who started spending too much time with a special friend because things were hard at home.  The Word of God shows not just other people’s sins, but that we have lived as if God did not matter and as if we mattered most.  We have not honored our Lord’s Name, our worship and prayers have faltered.  Our love has been cold for God and for our neighbor.
That’s when we are ready for words of comfort.  In the light of our confession, God speaks tenderly to His faith-filled people (identified here as Jerusalem): “Your hard service is ended.  Your iniquity is pardoned.  In place of the justly-deserved anger of God and being abandoned by Him, you have received a double portion of blessing so that God even says, “You are my beloved child.  I will never leave you or forsake you.”[2]
From the Lord’s nail-pierced hands, you have received grace upon grace.  You have received a comfort that brings new light to our temporal life.
It is a comfort that you can’t but share with those in your life.
[1] Luke 9:23
[2] Isaiah 64:8-9; Joshua 1:5

Third Sunday in Advent (1 Corinthians 4:1-5)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Third Sunday in Advent (Gaudete) + December 17, 2017
Text: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
John the Baptist was that voice foretold long before—one crying in the wilderness, a messenger before the Lord’s face, and him who was to come in the spirit and power of Elijah.  His task was to prepare the way for the Lord.
But although he labored in this calling, dressed strangely in a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt, and spoke boldly about the end of the world, he was not the Messiah Himself, as some suspected.  19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.””[1]
In Christian artwork, dating back to the very early icons, through the Middle Ages and the Reformation, John the Baptist is pictured with his pointer finger aimed at Christ.  This is the sum total of His ministry—to point to Christ.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had John the Baptist pointing to Christ in our own day?  Actually, we do.  Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul:
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.
John was a servant to Christ, as he prepared the way by preaching boldly.  The Christ is coming not only as Savior but also end times judge!  The axe is already laid at the root of the tree, therefore bear fruit proper to repentance![2]  Yet John was far from the last servant of Christ.  All of the Apostles served Him, as well as the 72 disciples He sent out, preached and worked signs of the Kingdom.[3]  It continues still in every generation through the pastoral office.  Pastors are servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Stewards own nothing of what they manage, but they are called upon to administer the property according to the master’s wishes.  In the case of the pastor, His Master has given clear instruction: preach repentance, forgiveness of sins to those who repent, withhold forgiveness as long as they refuse to repent.  Baptize and teach.[4]  A pastor’s work, properly speaking, is the Lord’s work.
Pastors are God’s stewards, entrusted with handling God’s mysteries faithfully.  Although it’s their mouth and their hands, the power doesn’t really come from them.  We do not believe in magic, and pastors are not arcane priests just because they wear long robes, chant, and serve at an altar.
Like John the Baptist, a pastor’s ministry is to point the finger to Christ. In fact, the robes clergy wear and chanting are meant to cover up the man and keep the focus on Christ.  We sophisticated adults should learn from our young children who point at the pastor and say, “Jesus!”
Your pastor is a servant of Christ and entrusted with His heavenly mysteries.  When you are cast down under heavy burdens of your sin, your pastor comes beside you to lift your eyes to the cross.  If you get sick and your life is upended by illness, your pastor brings the powerful medicine of God’s living Word and Christ’s Body and Blood your bedside.  If you are caught in the delusion of sinful security, it is your pastor’s job to call you to repentance.  Administering the Lord’s Supper with closed Communion is also the pastor’s job—to discern as far as humanly possible those who are fit to receive the Body and Blood for the forgiveness of their sins.
Pastors are therefore a gift from God, who deliver His mysteries to you.  That’s why the call between the congregation and her pastor is divine.  It is through this blessed vocation that the Lord continues to tend His flock.
Think of what individuals and congregations lose when they don’t have a pastor—unity of faith, spiritual leadership, and correction from error.  That’s also what happens to a person who stops going to church.  Separated from the Good Shepherd and His servant, they become a wandering sheep, to fall prey to the devil or mired in their own foolishness.
This is God’s intent in giving the 3rd Commandment—“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”  We are not to despise preaching or His Word by avoiding church.  But we could break the 3rd Commandment even while sitting faithfully in the pew if we despise the preacher.
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
Pastors answer to the Lord of the Church for the work that they do.  The Lord calls them to be faithful to Him.  Again, picture John the Baptist: dressed in camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, calling people a brood of vipers and that they should repent before the coming wrath of God.  Our modern sensibilities would look down on John for being insensitive, and not meeting the congregation’s felt needs.  John probably would have picked all the hymns you call a “dirge.”  These are the things we think would make for a successful ministry.  The Lord did not call John to “be successful” but to be faithful.
So also pastors are called to be faithful, not successful.  This is really baffling in a world where you answer to the one who cuts your paycheck.  Many congregations fall into the error that the pastor is the employee of the congregation.  In our economic system, some of the language of the business world applies—taxes, health insurance, and payroll.  But it is a dangerous road to travel when you think of your pastor as an employee.
If the employee isn’t meeting expectations, and not fulfilling the job description you have for him, then you take disciplinary action.  You slash his pay, or you threaten to fire him unless he bows to demands of the ruling faction of the congregation.  Congregations have tried to leverage their pastors by denying them health insurance or forcing them out of the parsonage and changing the locks—all because they have forgotten who the pastor really answers to.
It’s called a divine call, not a contract, for a reason.  Because it’s a divine call, Scripture, rather than business practice, determines how a congregation regards and treats their pastor.  We’ve already heard it, but it bears repeating: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  He also has this instruction from Galatians 6:
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:6-8)
The flesh is stuck thinking, “Pastors are expensive!  What makes them worth all that money?!”  The flesh perceives only the material—the building, the offering envelopes, and the monthly figures.  But beware, because Scripture says, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”[5]  Just as the pastor is called to faithfulness, so is the congregation.  The congregation is not called to have a balanced budget, but to be faithful to the Lord’s Word and trust in Him to provide.  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”[6]
The Lord’s saving work cannot be quantified and measured; it is of the Spirit, and the Spirit says, 17 Let the elders [that is, pastors] who rule [lead] well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”[7]  Again, the Word of God says, “the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”[8]
So the question for the congregation to ask isn’t, “Are the numbers up?” but instead, “Is our pastor faithful to the Lord in His calling?  Does He preach the Word in its truth and purity and administer the Sacraments according to the Lord’s institution?  Does He pray for us and counsel us with the Word?  Does He catechize our children, offer Bible studies, and encourage us to grow and live out our faith?”  These are the things which the Lord calls faithful in His sight. This pastor will live by what His Lord says, “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.”[9] Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus.
[1] John 1:19-20
[2] Luke 3:7-9
[3] Luke 10:1-12
[4] Luke 24:47, John 20:21-23, Matthew 28:19
[5] Romans 8:8
[6] Matthew 6:33
[7] 1 Timothy 5:17-18
[8] 1 Corinthians 9:14
[9] Luke 12:43 (see also Luke 12:35-48)

Advent Midweek 2 (Malachi 4:1-6)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Wednesday of Advent 2 + December 12, 2017
Text: Malachi 4:1-6
Is it hot in here?  Yes, I do believe it’s hotter than hell in here.  We hear that phrase thrown around thoughtlessly.  But is it really true?
“Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”
The Dies Ire, the Day of Wrath is coming, and the Lord describes it like an oven, like the oven that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into.  The oven of God’s wrath is like a forest fire which will reduce the arrogant and evildoers to mere stubble.
The Lord Jesus also says about that fire,
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.[1]
Here He describes hell as a fire that is never put out.  There are no rains to extinguish it and no lack of fuel to cause it to die out.  That is what hell is—suffering without a shred of hope of reprieve.  There is no more time to turn and repent and experience refreshment.[2]
Just ask the Rich Man:
The rich man…died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”
But there was no mercy for him.  Abraham replies, “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed”[3]  There is no more mercy, and now the torment is physical as well as spiritual.  The bodies of those in hell will never again know relief and their spirits will never again have their prayers answered.
Hell is unlike what any person has ever yet experienced—because it is an eternal agony, separated from the mercy of God and in the wicked arms of Satan.  Hell is pretty damned hot.  Yes, I mean damned, too.  Damnation is the eternal dwelling place of all of God’s enemies.
So what did these people do to deserve such a hopeless future?  Surely this is reserved for the most wicked among men—child molesters and rapists, murderous dictators and psychopaths.  But this isn’t necessarily the case!  It may be that the most pious and godly in appearance will end this way—popes and pastors, martyrs and pillars of the church.  How can this be?
How can it not be?  All of us have inherited rebellious hearts from our ancestors, and added our own sins on top.  The intention of our hearts—in God’s sight—“is only evil continually.”[4]  And the Psalmist says, “you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.”[5]  We have all run roughshod over the Ten Commandments, though we know those who break them deserve death.[6]  Hell is what each person justly deserves.  But there is another way.
But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
For those who fear the Lord and put their hope in the Sun of Righteousness, they will be healed of their sin-disease!  They will be planted in the house of the Lord and stand tall as cedars in Lebanon.[7]
What about the Day of Wrath?  What about the just wages for our rebellion?
The Day of Wrath has already been borne for all men.  It happened on Calvary, when all the threatening signs of the Last Day centered on the cross:
45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying…“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”… 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.[8]
The sky was darkened, the foundations of the earth rocked, and Man cried out in despair that God had utterly forsaken Him.  This is the Last Day Judgment against the ungodliness of man.  But you weren’t there.  God’s Son, Jesus, was there in your place!  The burning day of God’s wrath has already been poured out for you.  And if you believe in Him, you “do not come into judgment, but have passed from death to life.”[9]
For you who believe, there is more rejuvenation and refreshment than any of us has ever experienced.  It will be a bodily bliss, a perfect healing.  “You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall”—full of youth and vigor, completely free from the bondage to sin which we’ve always known!
But for those who refused to receive this gift, the already-atoned-for wrath of God poured out on Jesus, then the Last Day will be a terror.  The terror will be against their refusal to repent and believe in the Savior.
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.[10]
In our bodies, we shall live in the immediate presence of God, no longer veiled by signs and perceived by faith.  But, as Job says, “After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see him for myself.”[11]  And we will be refreshed to the utmost:
They are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.[12]
That is what awaits every believer when the Last Day comes.  No more sinning, no more enemies, and no more peril of everlasting death.  By the everlasting faithfulness and mercy of God, may He preserve you in the fear and trust of Him.  You have a truly blessed eternal home through Jesus Christ your Sun of Righteousness. Amen.
[1] Mark 9:43
[2] Acts 3:20
[3] Luke 16:22-26
[4] Genesis 6:5
[5] Psalm 5:4
[6] Romans 1:32
[7] Psalm 92:12-13
[8] Matthew 27:45-54
[9] John 5:24
[10] 1 Corinthians 15:51-53
[11] Job 19:26-27
[12] Revelation 7:15-17

Fear Not, The Kingdom of God is At Hand (Luke 21:25-36)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Second Sunday in Advent + December 10, 2017
Text: Luke 21:25-36

Let’s be honest, the things described in the end times are scary!  They make even the worst terrorist attack seem like a hiccup, because it’s not just going to be in one city or a few cities.  It’s going to be worldwide, with even frightful signs in the heavens above.
Then, they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Game over.  No more second chances, no more putting off turning to Jesus.  For those who have despised the Lord Jesus as Savior, they will say to the mountains, “Cover us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us.”[1]  Yet, for those who love the Lord, “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Fear about the Lord’s second coming is a real thing.   Here are some things we’re afraid of:
We want there to be a easier way.  When we go to Portland, and there’s a big line of cars backed up, we want to be in the car with that person who knows a back road.  If we’re buying a car or a TV, we want to be that guy who gets a great deal on it.  Perhaps the end times is something like this.  Maybe there’s a secret code to unlock that will help us sail through without batting an eye.  What’s the significance of “the time of the Gentiles” in verse 24, or maybe there’s a special sign of the fig tree that other people will miss.  When it comes to tribulation and distress, we want to have an exempt card.  This is the method of the apocalyptic cults who gather around their leader, hoping the Lord will notice their astuteness while the rest of the world burns.
Well even if there isn’t a secret code of the end times to decrypt, we’re still afraid that faith won’t hold out.  After all, life is long and the end of the world seems so far off.  Everyone so far who has hoped for a short period until Jesus’ return has been disappointed.  We fear for our children as they grow up, that they would persevere in the faith.  We fear for those who we know used to go to church but now have more pressing things to do with their life.  We fear for the countless numbers of souls who have never heard the Gospel—even in our own country.  Out of fear, people come up with complicated scenarios about the Last Days.
It’s also possible you’re afraid you don’t have what it takes to make the grade in the end.  Are you afraid that faith is not enough?  It sounds too easy to say that a person is “saved by grace through faith and this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God.”[2]  It sounds too simple, too easy.  It must take something more!  After all, your eternal destiny rests on whether you’ve got this right.  Maybe we should take a popular vote, and see what the majority of people think (kind of like we depend on star ratings for buying products).  The trouble you’ll find is the majority of humanity agrees faith isn’t enough.  The majority say you must add some effort of your own on the road to salvation.  But what could be better than a fellow sinner’s opinion?  God’s Word, and He would not and will not deceive us.
What would be most helpful is to read this as a believer and child of God.   Listen to how your Lord speaks of nearness: “Your redemption is drawing near…you know that the kingdom of God is near.”  The nearness of the Son of Man and His Kingdom is good news, right?  He is near, not in the sense of time or distance, but of divine presence.  He is intimately joined to His people on earth: He shares your flesh and He knows your weakness.  He has made the all-atoning sacrifice on the cross, so that He, though holy and exalted, can dwell with you and bear you up.  The children of Israel in the wilderness had God’s presence in the glory cloud, but a believer has His very Spirit dwelling within their body!  He is near to you with His creative, renewing, and sanctifying Word.  He is near you with the assurance of grace and sonship that He made to you in Baptism, and He is near you when you eat and drink His Holy Body and Blood.  Truly his last words in Matthew’s Gospel were not a lie: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[3]
Here’s an interesting observation: Those who are most afraid and fixate the most on the End Times are those who also reject the power of the Means of Grace.  Along with a lopsided view of Revelation as the code to world history, not one of them teaches the efficacy of Baptism.  Not one of them confesses the authority of the Absolution for forgive sins on earth.  Not one believers in the bodily presence of the risen and ascended Lord in the Sacrament.  For many, the Bible is more information about God than the realized story of God dwelling with sinners and making them His children.  But where the Sacraments are, there is the divine presence of the Lord with His people.  And where the Lord is, there is freedom, and there is His abiding peace—even in the midst of turmoil in the world.
But there is a warning for believers, lest they wrap themselves up in a warm blanket of delusion34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”  There is a very real danger for Christians to grow indifferent while we wait for the Lord’s return.
Certainly it could come in the form of drifting away from church and losing your faith.  That’s the obvious one that we can see with our eyes.  Plus, it makes us more comfortable to think that we can draw lines on where Jesus is going to find His sheep versus His goats.[4]
But even more dangerous is the unbeliever who sits in the pew every Sunday!  This is the Christian who comes to church and goes to Bible study just out of habit.  They listen for the pastor to say the right things—Ah! There he talked about sin!  Wow! I’m glad he mentioned that one!  Oh good he ended by talking about Jesus, so I can go home with a happy heart. This secure churchgoer is more interested in the social benefits that church membership gives—a shoulder to cry on, group activities, and a discounted rental hall.
But when the Lord comes back in glory, these people will be caught off-guard because it will become shockingly apparent that their life of repentance and faith was only lip service.  The Word of God did not touch their hearts so that they felt true terror over their sins and instead took the cross as God’s free pass.
If that scared you, Good!  It should.  Each of us should look in the mirror of God’s Word and be afraid of persevering in the faith.  Remaining a Christian in these Last Days is no human accomplishment.  We cannot do it, but for God’s grace through the Holy Spirit.
 “36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
As we approach Christmas, we ought to all live in a healthy fear of God.  The God who came in the flesh is not the mild illustration which adorns our Christmas cards.  He is almighty!  He Is holy!   But it is His will for you to stand before Him redeemed on that Day.  Pray that your almighty, holy Savior would give you strength, purge away your sloth, and keep His Word in your heart throughout this life.  This is a prayer He delights to answer, because it is the very reason He came in the flesh.
Will it be easy or smooth?  Not likely.  Will there be scary moments as time draws to a close?  Definitely not.  But your God and Savior loves you and He is faithful.  23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”[5]  Amen.
[1] Luke 23:30
[2] Ephesians 2:8-9
[3] Matthew 28:20
[4] Matthew 25:33
[5] 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Advent Midweek I (Jeremiah 23:5-8)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Advent Midweek I – December 6, 2017
Text: Jeremiah 23:5-8
True salvation vs. counterfeit hope
In the days of Jeremiah, every true Israelite was in expectation.  The nation was severely broken—ruled by kings who had more interest in feasts and fertility gods than the spiritual welfare of God’s holy nation.  But the problem wasn’t just the kings.  The prophets, who were supposed to shepherd God’s people in justice and righteousness, had come up with their own methods.  The prophets before them—Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, and Elisha—had always been on the people’s bad side.  So, the modern prophets adopted a message that everyone liked: Peace be upon Israel![1]  Peace be within your walls and security within your towers![2]  The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.[3]  They preached good news!  It was even something God says…in certain circumstances.
But there was something wrong with when they were preaching that good news.  Yes, God has good news for people broken by sin and afraid of destruction.  But He has no good news for the unrepentant heart.  It’s not just the broken heart that God heals, but the broken and contrite heart, that is sorry for his or her sins, that God will not despise.[4]
In a time where Jerusalem and her kings were indulging in pagan worship despite multiple warning to repent and return to the Lord, it was not time for a message of “Comfort, comfort, ye my people.”[5]  The shepherds who were preaching nothing but good news were actually the ones the Lord spoke of immediately before our reading tonight:
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord.” (Jer. 23:1-2)
They had set up their own brand of righteousness, and they were in competition with the Lord.  It was a good news that required no admission of wrongdoing.  Wouldn’t it be great to hear that God suddenly changed His mind about sin?
It was also good news that could be self-administered.  The Lord said of them, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”[6]  It was the equivalent of collecting only affirming Bible verses, so that no matter where you turn, God agrees with you and tells you that you’re on the right track.
Because of what the lying prophets were doing, the Lord promised to set things straight Himself: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days, Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.”   And this salvation and security will be no thanks to the prophets who maligned God’s Word.  By their consoling and pandering to the wicked,[7] they gave them the feeling of salvation and security.  But a feeling of salvation and peace is different from actual peace with God.  The true salvation came from outside of us, in this Righteous Branch.
The Righteous King did came, just as the mouth of the Lord had spoken.  The Lord, our righteousness was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.
The peace of Judah and the security of Israel are of the heart.  Yet, they are altogether real.
In these last days, the Righteous King, Jesus Christ, reigns through faith, and the signs of His Kingdom depend on faith.  But those signs have all the power of the Almighty King.
This is what the Lord, Our Righteousness does for His people even today by faith.
But it will be far more glorious when He comes again!  What only believers perceive now, all of creation will see when He comes in power.  The Lord God who once came in the lowliness of infancy and was placed in a manger, will come in His glory.  Before Him, all the dead will be raised from their graves, and every knee will bow before Him.  Those who, in their own righteousness, refused His, will face divine wrath, and their feelings and opinions will come to nothing.  Yet those who hungered and thirsted for the Lord’s righteousness, those who bemoaned their sin and the power it had over their flesh, those who clung to Jesus because only He has the words of eternal life—these will be received into His Kingdom.
In that place, Satan will be no more, neither will any lies be heard.  Everything will be good news, because sin will be gone.  We will live in justice and righteousness under our wise and righteous King, whose Name is the Lord.  He is our righteousness yesterday, today, and forever.  Amen.
A branch /sprout (denotes a separate plant) who is righteous, without fault who will be king
He will execute judgment by God’s Law and establish righteousness.
Laetsch: “All branches, leaves, fruits, are only products of the Zemach…springing up from the seemingly dead root of the house of David” p. 190
Not a term of His lowliness as much as His fulfillment of the Davidic dynasty
Righteousness is His very essence, His nature and being. p190
He will raise up a Kingdom where the Branch will give life “His kingdom partakes of the nature of this King, is like Him a living, life-producing kingdom”
This King establishes a new norm, a new righteousness. “It is a norm that is established by the righteous King, and a righteousness that this righteous King, whose righteousness is that of Jehovah, acknowledges as an all-sufficient righteousness.”
It is He who is called “The Lord, Our Righteousness” because He is the righteousness of all time, that covered the sin of Adam and Eve, and washes your sin today.
“Judah will be saved..Israel dwell securely” – A complete picture: the first describing deliverance, the second the freedom from fear and danger and want.  “Deliverance and safety here are spiritual blessings”
The title given Him is what He shall be called by all.

  1. The Lord establishes righteousness.
    1. He determines right from wrong, justice from injustice.
    2. The false prophets of Jeremiah’s day thought it was more expedient to make their own righteousness.
    3. But the Lord would raise up a Righteous King who reigned who truly executed justice and righteousness.
  2. His first coming in lowliness established His reign of faith in human hearts.
    1. Everything which the Lord spoke was true: Judah saved, Israel secure—spiritually.
    2. It’s true today for everyone who believes in Him.
    3. And His reign is through means which depend on faith.
  • His second coming will establish His Kingdom in power.
    1. We also confess, He will come again to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end. In that day, His will reign without a rival.
    2. In that day, we will be saved from every enemy, and dwell securely outwardly.

[1] Psalm 128:6
[2] Psalm 122:7
[3] Psalm 46:7
[4] Psalm 51:17
[5] Isaiah 40:1
[6] Jeremiah 6:14
[7] Jeremiah 23:14