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

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