The Transfiguration of Our Lord (Historic)

Readings: Exodus 34:29-35 | 2 Peter 1:16-21 | Matthew 17:1-9

Text: Matthew 17:1-9

Everyone hopes for heaven on earth. What can we do to hasten its arrival? What’s the “secret sauce” that nobody before has managed to discover, or how can I adjust my living so that I can be free of want?

The twentieth century was full of human schemes to create heaven on earth. Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam all thought that Communism was the answer. But even in our own country, the past several years have witnessed the belief that the “right” politicians will make things right: some by Republicans, some by Democrats.  The 21st century also continues in this line, with the notion of the Great Reset, which will bring about a new world order of sorts. However, In every case, people came closer to giving people hell than heaven. These schemes were not ill conceived or poorly organized. The schemes of humans always fail to bring heaven to earth, no matter how well planned, or efficiently organized.

While we might think that if we could just avoid the programs of those who are attempting to impose their view of an earthly heaven upon us, we would be able to create it for ourselves. We think that if we could just create the perfect family with children who are always obedient, and get the perfect job, which pays a large salary and does not require any work, we would be just fine. It would be like heaven. Some people think that if they check out of their responsibilities and move to a red state, that that would be heaven on earth.

Peter expressed that same wish in the Gospel today: And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” If we could only just stay here a while, that would be perfect.

But the problem with creating heaven on earth is me, not the stuff or the people around me. My sin and its guilt thwart heaven’s earthly arrival every time. Communism is poisoned by human greed—both a sinner’s desire for more and the selfishness of sinners in power. The problem isn’t one party against another, or even an independent party; it’s that every single representative is horribly flawed by sin. George Soros might have some grand ideas for society, but they cannot accommodate a country, or state, or city full of wicked sinners. And for all those who have hoped for the “perfect” church community where everyone is loving, the music is just what they wanted, and every need is abundantly met—is chasing after the wind.

However, our hope for heaven on earth alerts us to a desire that has been implanted in us by our Creator. Ecclesiastes 3, just after the famous “a time for everything” portion says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Eccl. 3:11) God made us for perfect fellowship with Him. He created us to inherit eternal life with Him. He designed us to experience a perfect home in His presence. Our desire is not wrong, but because of sin, it is misplaced. The desire of itself is in harmony with our true nature as creatures of God. We just cannot create what we so much desire to have.

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

In trying to create what we desire; our focus is wrong. It is fatally set upon our doing and our activity and our definition of heaven. God is the Creator of heaven and earth. Therefore, He is the one who can grant us heaven on earth. He does so in a way that appears to us to be so unspectacular and even unattractive. Yes, Peter, James, and John were awe-struck by the sight of the Transfiguration, but that was not to remain. It was a blessed vision to which they were eyewitnesses. But, the balance of their life was spent in ordinary life—in conversations, in Peter caring for his wife, in James suffering martyrdom, and John being exiled to Patmos. And all of them fled when the hour had come for Jesus to be glorified in the eyes of the Father.

Yet, in that most unpleasant—some might even say hellish—episode of Jesus’ passion, He was gaining heaven for us. Heaven for those who deserve it least. A Kingdom of Heaven, that can be found even in the midst of a fractured, dying, Satan-infested world.

“Thy Kingdom come,” we pray. The Father answers this prayer not with beatific visions on a mountain top, but through faith in the Word of His Son: “Listen to Him.”  He does it by granting us the body and blood of the Lord upon our altars. The church sings together with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven at the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar. Together with that heavenly host—with Moses and Elijah—to confess that heaven is where the Body of the Lord has come. If Christ’s body is here, then all the heavenly hosts must be present, even though unseen. Heaven bursts the bonds of mere sight through the gracious presence of the Lord’s Body among us.

Heaven on earth is attainable by our most fervent efforts. Heaven on earth comes only where God gives it to us as a gift. The 4th century bishop, John Chrysostom wrote:

“This mystery of the body of Christ makes earth become a heaven to you. Open only once the gates of heaven and look in; no, rather not of heaven, but of the heaven of heavens; and then you will see what I have been speaking of. For what is most precious of all there, I will show you upon earth. For as in royal palaces, what is most glorious of all is not the walls, nor golden roofs, but the person of the king sitting on the throne. So likewise in heaven the body of the King is most glorious. But this, you are now permitted to see upon earth. For it is not angels, nor archangels, nor heavens and heavens of heavens, that I show you, but their Lord and Owner. Don’t you perceive how that which is more precious than all things is seen on earth; and not merely seen, but also touched; and not only touched, but also eaten; and after receiving it you go home?

“Cleanse your soul then and prepare your mind for the reception of these mysteries. For if you were entrusted to carry a king’s child with the robes, the purple, and the diadem, you would cast away all earthly things. But now we are considering no child of man no matter how royal, but the only-begotten Son of God Himself, whom you received. Do you not thrill with awe and cast away the love of all earthly things, and have no boast but that with which to adorn yourself? Or do you still look toward the earthly, and love money, and pant after gold? What pardon then can you have? What excuse could you offer? But don’t you know that all this worldly luxury is loathsome to your Lord? Was it not for you that at His birth He was laid in a manger, and took to Himself a mother of low estate? Did He not for this say to him that was seeking gain, ‘The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’? (Matt 8:20). John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians, 24.8

Nonetheless, the will of the Father is for you and I to hear the voice of His Son. We hear it as the Spirit enables us, and in that faith-filled hearing, we see what heaven really is: The very presence of God in the midst of His people. There, we see a God who reconciles Himself through the blood of Jesus, who hears our prayers, who cares for us in every need. Gathered as we are in the Body of Jesus, we pray together, “Our Father,” alongside the rest of the holy Church. If we are looking for heaven on earth, look no further than where the Father has sent His Son. In Him, we have peace with God and confidence in faith. The Holy Spirit seeks to preserve each of us in this true faith, until the day comes where there is no more room for doubt.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Readings: Amos 9:11-15 | Romans 12:6-16 | John 2:1-11

Text: John 2:1-11 

There are two Old Testament readings assigned for this Sunday. One is from Exodus 33:12-23. In that, we read: 

18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” 

Moses wanted to see God in His glory. The trouble is, sinful man cannot see Him and live. Moses was permitted to see his back. 

Centuries have been spent by man seeking the face and the glory of God: 

  • Mystics seek God in emotional experiences. 
  • Jewish mystics have sought it through a devotion to the Torah: “Kabbalah takes man beyond the normative understanding of reason. It goes beyond the exoteric part of Torah and transcends normative existence. It uncovers many of the infinite layers of the secrets of life, of Creation, of the soul, of the heavenly spheres. It penetrates beyond the garments and the body of the Torah. It is the very core and soul of Torah, the ultimate revelation of Divinity – exposing the inner meaning, effects and purpose of Torah and mitzvahs.”1 
  • Spiritualists old and new seek to find God through their own devices—repetition, music, occasionally intoxication—all so they can achieve what even Moses was not permitted to see. 
  • For His part, God gave the Levitical code to keep sinful man at a safe distance. Through the blood of sacrifice, water of purification, the smoke of incense, the veil before the Ark—God covered His glory so that they would not perish. 

Enter Jesus onto the scene. The Evangelist John comments that the “Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) It’s a new era for the glory of God and sinful man. The sin hasn’t gotten any better (that’s the delusion that humanity is advancing over generations). But while we were still as wicked as ever, Christ came and tabernacled in our midst. We certainly did not become more worthy of beholding the glory or face of God. The difference was the incarnation, and the gracious purpose of God to reconcile sinners to Himself. 

At the Wedding at Cana, we hear: 

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 
6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 

At first glance, it seems unrelated and trivial. So what? Jesus was invited to a friend’s wedding and saved them from a huge embarrassment. But in view of who Jesus is and what He has come to see, there is so much more to behold! 

  • The Lord is revealing Himself in His tabernacle among us in a new way. Where will people see God? Not just in the Temple. How will He show His glory? In this creative work which takes the old and fulfills it; which brings an abundance which man could never conjure up. To whom will He show His glory? Not simply to one man, but to His disciples who believe in Him! 
  • Under the Law, the glory of God had to be kept away from sinful man. When the Word became flesh, He made His intention clear that He wanted to take up a permanent dwelling among this fallen race. 
  • In the Old Testament Lesson we heard from Amos 9:11-15, the Lord says that this new era will be marked by “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it”—an abundance of cause to rejoice and celebrate. It is a joy and peace that alcohol by itself couldn’t possibly give in its intoxicating properties. As God gave us wine to “gladden the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15), it’s only in seeing the Son of God’s mighty deeds that we know true elation. 

So, this sign shows that God’s restoration has come. Jesus is the end of the waiting of the Law. He is the end of the divide between God and sinful man for all who believe. 

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. 
  • Here is the message of Jesus at the wedding in Cana: He is there to show what Moses and Amos anticipated. The glory of the Lord would be seen by people from all nations, even the “remnant of mankind.” (Amos 9 quoted in Acts 15:17). 
  • His glory is manifest in human form (Phil. 2:8). Moses could not see, but here, the Lord is present in the midst of sinners. He is approached by His mother with a request. He is an ordinary guest, and yet the Lord in His glory. 
  • The glory of God is not something for man to seek out on our own deceitful terms. Rather it is what God makes known in His own timing. 

Likewise, with the coming of Jesus in the flesh, and His glory manifest, the answer is no longer: “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). Now the face of God is visible in the Son of God [2 Cor. 3:18]. 

Jesus has come to hear our prayers, just as He did of His own mother, to bring us the joy of His salvation, and to make the face of God seen in our midst. This brings us full-circle back to something God gave during the ministry of the Levites. And it is with this unveiled face, and revealed glory, that the Divine Service ends with the Aaronic Benediction:  

24The Lord bless you and keep you;  
25the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;  
26the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Num. 6:24-26)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. 

The Baptism of Our Lord

Readings: Isaiah 42:1-7 | 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 | Matthew 3:13-17

Text: Matthew 3:13-17

Who is Jesus? That’s one of the questions that comes up when we consider the Baptism of Our Lord.  Where can we look for an answer? To men? As the dialogue in Mark 8 with the disciples showed, even during His earthly life, there was misunderstanding and disagreement about who He is and what He’s up to. That’s why we, who are called by His Name some two millennia later, need to continually be reminded who Jesus is.

The Name, Jesus, was given to Him at His circumcision (Luke 2:21). It was given with the shedding of His blood. The Name, “The Lord saves” does not come without the shedding of the blood of God’s Son.

God’s Son was placed under the Law, as we heard last week:

4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:4–7)

Under the Law, He became subject to everything we are—every bit of suffering both just and unjust—even though He was without sin and He was under no compulsion to do so. This is foundational to who Jesus is.

Likewise at His Baptism. Reason tells us He had no reason to be there. “I need to be baptized by You and do You come to me?” What is the sinless God-Man doing submitting to a baptism where they are confessing their sins? Just as at His circumcision, He received the mark of the covenant permanently on His body, at His Baptism, He is permanently marked—anointed by the Holy Spirit. He is set apart for God’s purpose.

The Baptism is where Jesus received the title, Christ: the Anointed One. It’s the anointing of the Holy Spirit, for the very work He had come to do: The Lord saves His people from their sins (Matt. 1:23).

He came as Prophet, through whom the Word of God came and is, and who still speaks to us in His Word today (which is why we stand for the Holy Gospel). “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18)

He came to be the Priest, who stands in that water of sinners because He is the one chosen to make the sin offering for the whole world. As St. Paul says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6) And for our sakes, “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. 16 Let 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)

Finally, He is anointed to be the King. He rules over a Kingdom which is not of this world (John 18:36). But His Kingdom does bring deliverance to her citizens. For us, Scripture describes what this King does for us: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

And if all of that isn’t clear enough in the title of Christ, God the Father adds His clear voice to the scene at the Jordan: “Behold! A voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” In this declaration, it shows that Jesus is not simply a functionary—an underling sent to do the dirty work. This reminds us of the hymn, “He sent no angel to our race, of higher or of lower place, but wore the robe of human frame, and to this world Himself He came.” (LSB 544, “O Love, How Deep” v. 2) God is personally invested in reaching each one of us, seeking our eternal salvation!

His Circumcision and Baptism were not just for Him. They are a sermon to us: The Lord Saves. Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. “At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21) There God is…in the womb just as we once were, just as all people are. But there is God sanctifying the womb, making it a holy dwelling for His life-giving work. At His circumcision, there the Son of God is again, as a newborn, recently covered in vernix and blood and mucus. But here, He sheds His first blood and bears the mark of God’s promise: “So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 17:13; 12:3).

Likewise, His Baptism wasn’t just a show for one day. It was a teaching for us who were to come. It cannot be that we are saved simply by knowing about certain truths about God. James says that even the demons know truths about God, but this causes them to shudder [James 2:19]. It preaches a reality to us, by which we might also be called sons of God. Hear it once more:

16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”

Certainly Adam would have been considered a son of God, but he and His bride forsook their position. They and their offspring became enemies of God, brutal rebels out to prove their place by their own way. This whole course was a dead end…a deadly end, in fact. Until Jesus was revealed—in the womb of Mary, in the arms of His mother and father, in the waters of the Jordan. He made His place with sinners, with whom He shared flesh and blood. There in flesh and blood, in the water with sinners, God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth, declared from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” In the water, and in the Spirit, He declared this through His Son who shares our flesh.

He also has come to you at your Baptism.  There, you were permanently marked as His own, witnessing God’s covenant with His Church.  There you too were marked with His most holy Name.  God the Father marked you with His Name!  Bathed in the cleansing water and blood from His pierced side, you were given your personal name and placed into Jesus! And there, in the font, He brought you forgiveness, rescue, and the promise of eternal salvation!

And receiving this Name means a complete change for each of us—even if it took place many years ago in time, or we don’t remember it. At your Baptism, in the waters of Lebanon (or in my case, Piedmont, California), the heavens opened for you and the Holy Spirit was given to you, and the God the Father said about you—in Christ—”you are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” All of this is wrapped up in being called “Christian,” and this is why we call on God as our true Father, and we are indeed His true children.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

First Sunday after Christmas

Readings: Isaiah 11:1-5 | Galatians 4:1-7 | Luke 2:22-40

Text: Luke 2:33-40

Joseph and Mary marveled about what was spoken about their son by Simeon. The Song of Simeon, known to us as the Nunc Dimittis, summed up the longing of the people of God since the very entrance of sin into the world. About this child whom Mary carried in her arms, the prophet exclaimed that now, at long last, the Lord was releasing Him in peace. His Word—which was shorthand for the entire Old Testament—had now been fulfilled in the coming of this holy infant, now in the Temple. It was a promise which Simeon could see fulfilled, hold in his arms, and while holding this infant, bless God for accomplishing the long-promised mercy to a stiff-necked people.

Mary treasured all these things in her heart. But not everyone shared Simeon’s exultation at seeing Jesus. There were many more things that would also be spoken about Him as the child grew.

Is not this Joseph’s son?Luke 4:22

Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?Luke 5:21

“A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”Luke 7:16

Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?Luke 8:25

He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.Luke 23:5

Away with this man, and release to us BarabbasLuke 23:18

But this man has done nothing wrong.Luke 23:41

Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?Luke 24:32

All of these things were spoken by Israelites—the very recipients of God’s promised mercy. Some of them are true; others are false. But what is true about all of them is what Simeon also says: Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed (vv. 34-35). The coming of Israel’s Savior brought out what was in the hearts of all—whether faith, or unbelief.

The coming of Christ is a fulfillment of what is spoken by Isaiah: 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”[1]  Again, it is written in Psalm 118: 22The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  There is no greater stumbling block for sinful men than Jesus.

In Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata 152, titled “Step Forward on the Way of Faith,” Lutheran poet, Salomo Franck, expresses this mystery of stumbling over the Rock, Jesus.

Step forward on the way of faith,

God has laid the stone

that bears and supports Zion.

Man, do not stumble against it!

Step forward on the way of faith![2]

In the post-modern, post-Christian world that we live in, absolutes are rejected. The Christian faith is expected to “coexist” with other monotheistic religions, and even with religions that confess a whole host of gods. Every person has his or her own opinion about God, and that’s just great to the world.

Even the Christian Church on earth is riddled with differing opinions, which manifest themselves in denominations. For example, it’s common to hear that a person can’t be saved until they open the door for Jesus,[3] while others confess with Scripture, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”[4]

Yet God’s perspective is quite different. “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame”[5]  God is the one who defines who He is and what is to be believed about Him. Ironically, no person would stand to have lies told about themselves, but we want to reserve the right to say whatever we want about God, even if it isn’t true.

But all that is put to rest by this Rock of Stumbling. God establishes His Son as the standard for truth: Man is a corrupt, abominable sinner. God is man’s Savior and Jesus Christ is the blood-guilt offering for our sins and the sins of the whole world.[6]  This is most certainly true, and everything else is damnably false.

And this Rock is the only hope for lost and condemned sinners. He is the refuge of all who are convicted and dying. In the Cantata, Franck continues:

The Savior is appointed

in Israel for its fall and resurrection

The precious stone is without blame

if the evil world

injures itself on it

even falls over it to hell,

since the world runs against it so maliciously

and God’s favor

and grace does not recognize!

But blessed is

a Christian who has been chosen

who places the foundation of his faith on this cornerstone

since by this he finds salvation and redemption.

This Stone went out from Israel, to all the people of the earth. The preaching of Him went out to a world filled with evil men—including you and me. “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”[7]  He breaks to pieces our attempts to repair our sins and escape the grave. He crushes our pride which waves our own laurels in God’s face. Anyone who trusts in these vanities will be cast into hell with prideful Satan.

But blessed is everyone who is called by God to salvation. Blessed are those who are crushed by this Stone, “not having a righteousness of [their] own,”[8] as St. Paul says in Philippians, “but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”  Blessed are you who have been crucified with Christ along with all your sin and evil desires, for you are raised to a pure life by faith in Him.

As for who will believe in or stumble on this Rock, that is entirely the business of God the Holy Spirit. We often trip on this question about the Rock, and wonder if there were another way that we could help fewer people to stumble. Should we change our worship? Should we change the Word we preach? Maybe if we just advertised more! But all of this is fumbling in the darkness of our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the Lord. He calls to faith, as the Son said in St. John, “The Spirit moves where He wills. You hear His voice, but you cannot tell where He is coming from or where He is going to.”[9]  The Holy Spirit brings Jesus to us and us to Jesus. He is the Rock of salvation[10] for all who believe.

The Word of God proclaims this Rock. An evil world will writhe against it, trying to destroy the God who speaks and the people who proclaim His Word. But it is God Himself who calls people out of this world—you and me—to believe in this Rock, to see our sins on Him, to see our life in Him, and to have refuge in Him for eternity. May God preserve faith in our hearts in this evil world, till our Savior comes again in glory!

We pray in the words of the Aria from Cantata 152:

Stone, which surpasses all treasures,

  help me, so that I at all times

through faith on you may place

  the foundation of my salvation

  and so that I may not injure myself on you,

Stone, which surpasses all treasures.

In the Name the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1] Isaiah 8:14-15

[2] Translated by Francis Browne. Cited from http://bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV152-Eng3.htm

[3] Based on the understanding of Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…” that Jesus speaks to those who are outside of His Church. Yet those who are addressed are already called His members in v. 14.

[4] Ephesians 2:8

[5] Romans 9:33

[6] 1 John 2:2

[7] Matthew 21:44

[8] Philippians 3:9

[9] John 3:8

[10] Psalm 62:7

The Nativity of our Lord

Readings: Exodus 40:17-21, 34-38 | Titus 3:4-7 | John 1:1-14

Text: John 1:1-14

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Those few words describe the most important event in all creation. You would think that the universe being created out of nothing by the Lord simply speaking His Word would, by default, be the most important. Or maybe when the Lord created humanity in His image and likeness. But no. The One through whom all things were made become one of us. Was born just like we were. Lived just like we live. Died just like we will die. So that everything else He did would be counted as ours. 

Last night we celebrated the night when Jesus was born. We remembered Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and angels. This morning, the opening of John’s Gospel reveals just how much the incarnation, that is God taking on our flesh, means for all of creation. Before this, the Lord was certainly our creator. But even with His image and likeness, we were not the same. God did one thing, humanity did another. God is perfect and holy, humanity chose sin and depravity. God is eternal and immortal, humanity chose death and self-destruction. One man’s sin reflected all humanity. One man’s death meant death for all. It would take the sinlessness of God to overcome inherited sin. But only a human being could do it for it to count for us all. 

The first half of Paul’s letter to the Romans lines this out far better than I. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 

And so, the Word who was with God, who is Himself also God, through whom all things were made, did something new. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God became a human being, just like you and me. 

But before that happened, the Lord first made the world ready. He set aside a people to whom He would be born. He gave them all the Law that He required us to fulfill. He had them hand it down from generation to generation. He kept those generations faithful, sometimes through only a small remnant. They were Jews. 

He also turned other kingdoms into empires that would conquer all. Persians, then Greeks, then Romans. Each adding another piece. The Persians funded the temple rebuild, and the walls that let Jerusalem survive. The Greeks brought the language that would unify the nations. And the Romans gave peace and free passage to all who were within their borders. So, at the right time, God entered His creation, took on human flesh, and was born to a virgin. He was named Jesus. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. 

Jesus did not take a comfortable life. He did not enjoy the charmed life of those born wealthy. He did not inherit a life of power for those born into royalty. He did not inherit anything of note, except a name handed down from generation to generation. He did not live a life that only a few may know, but the life that all experience. A life of hardships, and loss, and pain. We read that He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power . . .” But He sets everything aside to be just like us. Not because He would like to fit in with us, or gain our favor. Rather that’s the only way we can be saved from our sin.

Jesus fulfilled all the Law that He had given to Moses and the prophets of Israel. Jesus lived His life without sin. He was blameless, spotless, just like the lamb of the sacrifice the Law required. By Jesus becoming human, we shared our sin and death with Him who had none. But the reverse also happened. for if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. He got our sin and death, we got His sinlessness and life. 

And did He ever take our death away! The spotless Lamb of God, was nailed to a cross in our place. He received the wages of our sin as one of us. He died a criminal’s death because He became one of us. He was buried alone in His tomb like we deserved. And in exchange, we are now children of God like the only-begotten Son. We stand without our sins before the judgment seat, just like Him. We have life instead of death, just like Him. Because, here’s the kicker. on the third day, Jesus stopped being dead. Not as a god freed from his humanity. Jesus rose in our humanity. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. 

In the flesh, Jesus left the grave. In the flesh, He appeared to Peter, the twelve, and five hundred witnesses. In the flesh, Jesus remained with them forty more days after His resurrection. And, get this, when Jesus ascended back into heaven, He did it in the flesh. Jesus still has our humanity. That means that the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has our humanity joined in. God is no longer an other. God is one of us. Everything that is His, He has made ours. 

He has made us sinless, by taking our sins away, dying with them on His cross, and forgiving our sins forever. He has made us immortal, by dying and rising on the third day. He has made us children of God by becoming our brother. He has made us heirs of His kingdom in the same way. So this Christmas Day, we rejoice. We have heard the good news. We have good tidings of great joy that is for all people. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord

Text: Titus 2:11-14

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

What would Christmas be without gifts?  I mean, imagine telling your child that you’re going to celebrate Christmas, but they won’t be getting anything—no toys, no candy, no special meals, no family visits.  It’s unthinkable.  There can’t be Christmas without gifts!  And that’s not just the voice of a brainwashed consumer.  Christmas and gift-giving go together, and you can ask anyone.  Even people who aren’t the least bit religious celebrate Christmas by giving gifts.

The Word of God read tonight has the language of gifts in it:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.

Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

And it’s also here in Titus 2:Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…gave Himself for us to redeem us.[1]

Christmas is about giving gifts because Christmas is about the God Who is giver of gifts.

I want you to think about the gifts you selected this year (or those you feel like you should have gotten).  Who were they for?  What kinds of gifts were they?  Usually we buy gifts for people who we think are worthy of them—your favorite relatives, your friends, your boss (if he’s nice enough).  Occasionally, we might give a gift if we think it will earn us some brownie points.

But what about those people who haven’t called or written all year?  What about the guy who cheated you?  The woman who spread lies about you all over town?  The people you unfriended on Facebook?  Do you buy Christmas gifts for them?  I think not.  They deserve a lump of coal.

Now consider how God gives gifts.  Listen to Jesus, God’s Son, tell it: 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”[2]  God gives His gifts to the very people who least deserve it.

Don’t believe me?  Consider your life: Your food and drink, your clothing, your spouse, your children, your health, your job, your reputation, and your country.  Consider the safety you’re enjoying right now, thanks to police, paramedics, and our soldiers.  Where do you think this all comes from?  It is a gift from God.  What if you think that’s nonsense?  God still gives those gifts to you.  He makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, the believer and the unbeliever alike.

But what reason could God have for doing all this good to us, regardless if we acknowledge Him or not?  Giving is in His nature.  You’ve heard it quoted that “God is love,”[3] and that love is expressed in what He gives: His Son, Jesus Christ, for the salvation of the world.  The familiar passage from the Gospel of John says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”[4]  Tonight on Christmas Eve, we hear how unto us the Son was given and laid in a manger.  God’s gift is His Son, who made His dwelling among us.[5]

Yet the full beauty of God’s gift comes years after Jesus was “in a little stable.”  More than once in His ministry, He told His disciples, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”[6]  At the root of the words for Jesus being “delivered up” and “betrayed” is “to give” (paradídomi).  God gave His Son into death for our offenses.  Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession.”

Was this gift for those who were worthy?  Those who prepared themselves by their good conduct and a godly demeanor?  Was it just for the people who made a decision to ask Jesus into their heart?  St. Paul writes in Romans 5, For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  While we were God’s enemies, He gave His greatest treasure to for our greatest good.

Deep down, each of us recognizes this kind of love, and we know that it’s better than being selfish.  The best-loved stories aren’t those where a super-human figure wins by his might.  They’re the ones about those who sacrifice themselves for others.  Think of characters like Uncle Tom, Mufasa (Lion King), Gandalf (Lord of the Rings), or even Neo (The Matrix)—all of them suffered to save others.  The reason we are drawn to these stories is because God made us all in His own image.

Yet even though we know this godly love, we scarcely practice it.  How quickly are we ready to give up on people when they don’t appreciate our hard work?  Would we gladly spend ourselves on others for no return?  How many of us could persevere through a lifetime of rejection from the one we love?  Think of how burdensome and stressful the holidays are for us!  If we were really unselfish people, it would be a joy to receive guests and give gifts.

But that’s exactly where God comes in with His gifts.  To us selfish and cold-hearted people, no matter if we grew up in church or have only come tonight, God showers us with His grace.  “Glory of God in the highest, and on earth peace among those on whom His favor rests.”[7] That Christmas night, the Father gave His Son into human birth.  He was for all human beings the substitute before God—the Righteous One, the One who was without sin, who didn’t wrong His neighbor, or resent God for the suffering laid on Him.  In fact, He even bore sin that didn’t belong to Him; it was rightly ours.  He took our sins and was betrayed, handed over, given into death in our place.  He then rose from the grave as a guarantee to all who believe in Him that, by faith, they too have been washed from all their sins and will rise to eternal life.  “On earth peace among those on whom His favor rests.”

In this way, you can think of God’s gift in Christ as Him taking something away from us.  Jesus takes away our sins and bears the wrath they deserve.  Then, in return, He gives us forgiveness, adoption as God’s children, and grants us a home in the new creation.[8]  He takes from us our sinful hearts that are full of greed and selfishness, and gives us hearts where His Spirit dwells, so that our hearts become like His—loving and giving, generous and patient.[9]

And we see how that happened for the people around Jesus’ birth.  The angel Gabriel declared God’s favor to Mary,[10] but she still had to bear the scorn of being thought an adulteress by her relatives and friends.  She had to bear with the news that the Son of her flesh and blood was destined to unjustly suffer and die.[11]  Joseph, who had been ready to divorce Mary secretly, submitted himself to God’s Word and took her as his wife.  He had to defend her against slanderous attacks, raise a Son who wasn’t naturally his own, and even take his family to Egypt and back.[12]

It was the grace of God that had appeared to them, which gave them the strength to bear these burdens.  They denied themselves because Jesus would also deny Himself and take up the cross of their sin, and the sins of the world.[13]  They risked life and property because the Lord gave His own life to ransom all humanity and gain for them a heavenly inheritance.[14]  They bore all these things without complaint or resentment because the innocent Son of God was rejected by all mankind and said not a word in rebuke.[15]

God’s Christmas gift is the very definition of grace.  It starts with Him giving Jesus for our redemption, and is received by unprepared and undeserving sinners.  Those who are touched by His gift are forgiven and transformed.  So, then, Christmas really is about gifts, but gifts that are given in the spirit of the God who gave His greatest treasure to us—His Son, in whom we have forgiveness and eternal hope.  Tonight, may God create in you a clean heart, and renew His right spirit within you.  May He give you joy in His salvation and uphold you with a willing spirit, through Jesus Christ, the Lord.[16] Amen.


[1] Isaiah 9:6; Luke 2:11; Titus 2:13-14

[2] Matthew 5:43-45

[3] 1 John 4:8

[4] John 3:16

[5] John 1:14

[6] Matthew 17:22

[7] Luke 2:14

[8] 2 Corinthians 5:21, Revelation 21:5

[9] Galatians 5:22-24

[10] Luke 1:28

[11] Luke 2:34-35

[12] Matthew 2:13-15

[13] Isaiah 53:4-6

[14] Matthew 6:19-21

[15] Isaiah 53:7-9

[16] Psalm 51:10, 12

Fourth Sunday in Advent

~ Rorate Coeli ~

Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-19 | Philippians 4:4-7 | Luke 1:39-56

Text: Luke 1:38-46

Pastor Dan Voth, edits by Pastor Miller

The Gospel for today is set about 9 months prior to the birth of Jesus. Gabriel is perhaps not gone very long. Mary, though betrothed to Joseph, would still be living at home with Mom and Dad. The Holy Spirit has only recently overshadowed her and conceived the Christ-child in her womb. She is not yet showing that she is pregnant but she probably was scared. Her parents may have even been the cause of her long trip south to visit her old aunt while they tried to figure out what to do with the news of a young daughter now pregnant. Joseph at least had the angelic message to not divorce her, which may have helped Mary’s parents come to grip with this unexpected news.

Mary, now with the Son of God in her womb, travels like the ark of old, until she reaches Judea where Elizabeth lives. When Mary enters her house, Elizabeth greets her with an exclamation reminiscent of David dancing before the first ark as it is brought into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:16-19):

Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

“Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth says, which interestingly St. Luke does not use the normal “exclaim” word here, but uses a word that was most commonly used in liturgical ceremonies involving the Ark of the Covenant. Elizabeth is worshipping her Savior, who is in the temporary ark of Mary’s womb, which is part of why Mary is blessed among all women. She is the God-chosen Mother of God.

The baby, who was miraculously conceived in this virgin’s womb, is the Son of our heavenly Father. As such, Jesus shares his Father’s nature, even as my sons shares my human nature. Jesus is fully divine; He is not only Lord and Savior but God. Since Jesus is God, and Mary is the mother of Jesus, then Mary is the mother of God. It’s that profoundly simple. “I believe that Jesus Christ—true God, begotten of the Father from eternity; and also true man, born of the virgin Mary—is my Lord…” (Small Catechism, Creed 2nd Article)

God’s favor rested on this virgin of Nazareth, for her to have such a high position. It’s just as God chose Noah for no apparent reason [Gen. 6:8] or Abraham while he was worshipping idols [Gen. 12:1], God simply chose the virgin Mary to be the flesh and blood giver of life to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, to become human like one of us.

The God who in days of old brought forth Eve from Adam’s flesh now brings forth the New Adam from the flesh of the New Eve – “This One is now bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh; He shall be called Man, because He was taken out of woman.” [Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons]

Chromolithograph, published in 1886.

When our first mother, Eve, ate of the forbidden fruit, all her children inherited her and Adam’s sin. Both Adam and Eve had rejected God’s Word by listening to the lies of the fallen angel, the liar who twists God’s words, and so disbelieved divine truth. Their rejection of the Word ushered in sin and death f. into our world.

How often do we do the same? We are masters of rejecting the Word of God.

God said to honor father and mother, those who have authority over us, and from every excuse we make why parent or teacher can be ignored, to every speed limit we “push”, we reject the Word of God.

God said not to steal and how often do we steal a few minutes to check Facebook or Instagram.

God said not to covet your neighbor’s wife or possessions — something the Internet helps us do both too well in the darkness and privacy of our home.

We are commanded by God to remember the Sabbath, to spend time receiving His Word, which we all too easy ignore on Sundays and other days during the week as push devotion time aside because we are so busy believing the lie that there are more important things in this life than God’s Word.

“You shall have no other gods” is the root of every rejection of God’s Word. When we give our time, our energies, our money, our devotion, our all to spouse, children, work, drugs, pleasure, fill in the idol of your own making, we reject God’s Word, just as our original parents did, just as all humanity does. No wonder David says, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” (Ps. 51:4)

Yet, in the midst of sin and death, it was to Eve that God gave the promise that her seed would crush the head of the serpent, even as that ancient serpent would strike that seed’s heel (Gen. 3:15/Rev. 12:9). Mary is like a new and better Eve in two ways. First, Mary was the “Eve” who bore that promised seed. The child in Mary’s womb is the One who crushed our ancient foe, even as the venom of death struck Him. Christ came into the world through the Virgin’s womb, assuming the body prepared by God for Him. He came to do the Father’s will, which we cannot and have not done. Christ came to offer Himself, fully divine and fully human, as the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world once for all. Every sin you have committed or will commit in the future, no matter who you have been, are, or will be, Christ has offered His life on the cross to save you. This child conceived in Mary, the blessed fruit of her womb, is your salvation through His death. He took your sin, your death to Himself in order to give you His life that will never end. Of this you can be assured, which brings us to the second way Mary is the new and better Eve.

When the angel spoke God’s Word to her, she believed. Her reception to that word was the reception of the Word Himself. When the archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she was to be the mother of the Christ, the Savior, by the power of God, she responds, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) She did not put forth a list of rational arguments about the absurd nature of such a claim. She acknowledges her place as the servant of the Lord. She takes God’s messenger at His word. She knows that God cannot lie, so anything He promises is trustworthy, even if it seems irrational or downright crazy to the human mind. As such, Mary is a model hearer of the Word of God. She shows us how we are to receive the divine message. God speaks, we hear, we believe, we confess with Mary, “I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

This is further emphasized in our Gospel reading. When the Word of God now made flesh came to Elizabeth, she praised Mary for believing what God had said He would accomplish: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” When God speaks, His Word comes with the Holy Spirit to create faith that believes His Word. This is true for you as well. There will be a fulfillment of those things which you have been told by the Lord.

And what are those things He has told you? He has told you, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He has told you, “I forgive you all your sins.” He has told you, “Take; eat. This is my body. Take; drink. This cup is the New Testament in My blood.” The life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ stand in your place before God. All His good and perfect works are credited to your account, and God is well-pleased with you.

It may not feel that way. Like a woman just pregnant, it may not show. But it will be fulfilled. It is true already, whether or not it feels like it or shows. You have been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit in the water of your baptism. Jesus abides in you as you eat His body and drink His blood. You belong to Him. You will be freed from all this pain, sorrow, and shame. What God has said to and about you is truer than what you or anyone else sees.

Therefore, we also join with Mary in singing the praises of God:

4646My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name.

In Christ, Jesus God has done great things for you. He has saved you from sin and death passed on from generation to generation. The promised seed of Eve, who would save us, was found in the new Eve named Mary. God stepped down from His throne in heaven to be found in human flesh through Mary, to be her Lord and Savior, to be my Lord and Savior, to be your Lord and Savior. The Jesus born of Mary, the Jesus who bore Mary’s sin, who bears your sin and mine— this Jesus is yours and you are His. As Mary received the Word of God and believed it, so you receive the Word of God and believe it. God grant you this by the power of His Holy Spirit. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Third Sunday in Advent

~ Gaudete ~

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-11 | 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 | Matthew 11:2-11

Text: Matthew 11:2-11

We hear from the Epistle to the Hebrews, “In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets, but now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.”[1]  But what do we think of when we hear about prophets?  Men with unkempt beards and long robes, whether they’re as eccentric as Ezekiel or a member of the court like Nathan.

And when we think of what prophets say, we usually think of judgment and condemnation—“Even now the axe is laid at the root of the trees” (Matt. 3:10).  Yet, God sent His prophets with a two-fold message.  Yes, there was condemnation for unbelief, but to the repentant, there was also the soothing words of comfort.

The name for this Sunday, Gaudete, meaning “Rejoice!” is from Philippians 4:4, where St. Paul says very memorably, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I will say, Rejoice!”  This really sums up the goal for God sending His prophets.  Much more than the wet blanket that people usually took them for, God’s prophets brought genuine cause for rejoicing in the Lord.

The Old Testament reading from Isaiah is a perfect example of this.  Hear what the Prophet wrote, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak 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.”[2]  What cause for rejoicing!  You know that sin which God rightly condemned? It is pardoned.  God spoke through Isaiah and said that Jerusalem’s warfare was ended—even while Babylon was getting ready to pillage the city.  The warfare was between God and us.  And One was coming who would bring terms of peace,[3] the very same One who would pardon our iniquities.  And this is none other than Jesus Christ.  In the full pardon of His death and resurrection, sinners would receive this double blessing of peace and forgiveness for their sins.

When John the Baptist came, it was he that Isaiah was writing about: “A voice cries, in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”[4]  That’s exactly why God sent him: to prepare the way for the His Son, Jesus Christ.  In chapter 3 of his Gospel, St. Matthew tells us that John came with the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”[5]  Again, it was a message of repentance, but for all who heard it in faith, it was a message of comfort—a cause for rejoicing in the Lord.  John was the last prophet and was sent to proclaim the imminent coming of God’s Kingdom.  Many expected God’s Kingdom to be a great breaking into the world, with a show of force and fire from the sky.[6]  But in fact, John’s preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven pointed to the Lamb of God, who takes our sins away.

Like so many prophets before him, John was not well received by Israel’s ruling class.  John found himself in prison because of what King Herod Antipas thought of God’s call to repentance.  And from prison, John sends his disciples to Jesus.   He may have been arrested, but he was still carrying out his prophetic call.  He tells them to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  In case John’s proclamation on Jordan’s bank wasn’t enough, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”[7] he adds still more testimony.  And the testimony is in Jesus’ reply: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

The proof that the Kingdom of Heaven has come is not in fiery signs from above or the spilled blood of unbelievers.  It’s in the Gospel preached to blind, lame, deaf, dead, and poor sinners!  And Jesus is the Coming One who all the prophets up through John had foretold.  In Jesus Christ, the Lord, the lowly are exalted, and the rich are sent away empty.[8]  He brings good news for sinners who have been slain by the Law, and rebuke for the proud who boast in their own righteousness.  This is truly cause to rejoice in the Lord!

And blessed are those who see this good news as the coming of the Kingdom.  Those who are looking for an earthly kingdom, where Jesus reigns supreme over all the ungodly, will be greatly disappointed.  Those who expect the Church to be filled with flawless people with flawless lives will also be greatly disappointed.  The Kingdom of Heaven is filled with sinners who have been called by the Savior and washed in His blood.  The blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, and the dead—all have hope in the Lord who makes them well.

God spoke to His people of old by the prophets, but now He has spoken to us by His Son.  God still speak to us by His Son.   All the prophets pointed ahead to Christ until He appeared.  Once the glory of the Lord was revealed in the flesh,[9] God stopped raising up prophets like John, Malachi, or Zechariah.  But He still sends servants who point to Christ, and they still bring cause for rejoicing.  They are the Lord’s pastors.  Like John, they preach repentance and pardon for iniquities.  They are now the ones who prepare the way before His coming in glory.

So, even though the “Prophets prophesied until John”[10] the Lord is still preaching His Gospel to the poor.  St. Paul explained this in the Epistle, saying, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”[11]  Pastors are servants of Christ, sent to bring His powerful Word to you.  It is a Word which convicts and calls you to repent.  But more than that, it is the Word of Christ, who brings you good news in the forgiveness of your sins.  God’s pastors bring you cause for rejoicing in the Lord!

However, just as it was for John, there are many who misunderstand the pastor’s ministry.  “What did you go out in the wilderness to see?” the Lord asks us today.  If you came looking for a pastor whose charismatic personality will attract droves of people, you will be greatly disappointed.  If you came looking for a pastor who is a visionary leader like a CEO, then you won’t be satisfied.  If you’re looking for a pastor who makes you feel good about yourself with motivational sermons on Christian living, look somewhere else (but don’t really, because you won’t find Christ’s life there)

But, if you are looking for a pastor who is like John the Baptist—who has a godly love for you, who will speak God’s Word of repentance and heal you with the life-giving forgiveness of Christ—then you are in the right place!  In this Christian Church, Christ brings good news to the poor through His pastors.  He sends you cause to rejoice in Him.  Pastors are “stewards of God’s mysteries”—the Sacraments which bestow good news to the poor, and give them cause to rejoice: the gracious washing of Holy Baptism, the unbinding word of Holy Absolution, and the death and sin-defying food of Holy Communion.  The Lord’s servants are sent to you, “knowing nothing except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”[12]  Such prophets God graciously raises up in each generation. They bring Christ to you, because only in Him will you find the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  There is ample cause to rejoice in the Lord always! In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.


[1] Hebrews 1:1-2

[2] Isaiah 40:1-2

[3] Luke 19:41-42

[4] Isa. 40:3

[5] Matthew 3:2

[6] Luke 9:54

[7] John 1:29

[8] Luke 1:51-53

[9] Isaiah 40:5

[10] Matthew 11:13

[11] 1 Corinthians 4:1

[12] 1 Cor. 1:23

Second Sunday in Advent

~ Populus Zion ~

Readings: Malachi 4:1-6 | Romans 15:4-13 | Luke 21:25-36

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. It goes hand-in-hand with the end of our own life.   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 snags a great deal on it.  Perhaps the end times will really look 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? Let us in on a secret, Pastors! 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 and Adventists groups who gather around their leader, hoping the Lord will notice how they “figured it out” 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.  We’re also afraid for our children. We may not the first generation of Christian parents to cry bitter tears for our children and grandchildren, but it is a valid fear in this wicked world.

Everyone so far who has hoped for a short period until Jesus’ return has been disappointed.  In addition to fearing for our descendants, we grieve and fear for those who we know used to go to church but seem to be deceived that there are “more important” things than their Lord and Savior.  We fear for the countless numbers of souls who have never heard the Gospel—even in our own country.

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… although you should know that most of those are fake and boosted by AI bots).  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 Gospel 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 necessarily in the sense of time or distance we measure by. He is near by His 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 usually those who are ignorant or reject the Sacraments.  Along with a futurist view of Revelation, they also don’t understand the efficacy of Baptism and the mystery of Christ’s presence.  Usually in rejection to the abuses of Rome, they shun the authority for the Church to forgive sins on earth.  There’s little understanding of the bodily presence of the risen and ascended Lord in the Sacrament—they call it metaphorical.  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 these sacred mysteries of Christ are taught and believed, there is the assurance of 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.

Nevertheless, 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 being deceived out of 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 person 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—familiar faces, group activities, and a discounted rental hall.

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, weak sinners we are, regularly need to look in the mirror of God’s Word and cry out to God because He is the only one who can preserve us in saving 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 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.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.


[1] Luke 23:30

[2] Ephesians 2:8-9

[3] Matthew 28:20

[4] Matthew 25:33

First Sunday in Advent

~ Ad Te Levavi ~

Readings: Jeremiah 23:5-8 | Romans 13:(8-10) 11-14 | Matthew 21:1-9

Text: Matthew 21:1-11

Advent, as you may remember, means “coming.” Every year, we rehearse the coming of our Lord. Again, you may be familiar with His first coming in the flesh at Christmas, and His second coming on the Last Day. Today, however, as we begin this holy season, I’d like to focus on all the meanings of His coming, as we pray for it in the Lord’s Prayer. Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.

Herb Lindemann (1909-1995), a Lutheran pastor who wrote a series on the church year, writes that Advent can be described as a threefold coming:

“[1] The coming in the flesh, [2] the coming in glory and [3] the coming in grace. In Advent, the liturgy prepares for a worthy and proper commemoration of our Lord’s First Advent, the historical event that lies in the past. However, the church is not content to remind her children of only a past event that can be called to remembrance, but cannot be experienced in the first coming. She sees a picture of the invisible coming in grace, which can be and is experienced in the present, and of the visible coming in glory, which will be experienced in the future.”[1]

So, these are the three ways the Kingdom of God comes to us:

Our Lord comes in the flesh, entering the world He made (John 1:1-14). This is what Christmas celebrates, and the “reason for the season” as we say. We have reason to rejoice with everyone from angels to shepherds, and sing of this good news of great joy! Now, don’t get me wrong, but it’s in some ways unsatisfying. What I mean is, we commemorate the Lord’s birth, but it’s also an event that is disconnected from us by thousands of miles and by millennia of history. Over the centuries, Christians have tried to overcome that barrier by depicting Christ and the scenes of His birth in familiar settings, portraying him with familiar physical features. But it remains that the birth of Christ is a historical event. As the world gets further and further from that point (even to the point of writing His birth out of how we number years, preferring CE—common era—over anno Domini—in the year of our Lord), it takes more of an effort to have this history impact our present, day-to-day life.

His Kingdom also will come in glory. This is certain, and we look forward to it. But it will come when God the Father appoints. No man knows the day or the hour, although many have falsely claimed to pin down the date. We see the eagerness of believers for the end, when events in the world get really bad, or there is turmoil in the “Holy Land” (as Israel is called). Putting the best construction on people’s obsession with the Return of Christ, they are longing for eternity to break into the crumbling world. They want the doldrums of this futile life to be blown apart and something permanent to replace it. As Hebrews reminds us, “He has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’” (Hebrews 12:26, citing Haggai 2:6) But this, too, leaves us waiting. Not to sound impious, but where is the satisfaction from God now? Or, in the words of the faithful who have gone before us, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10)

What we have been given is the Kingdom of grace. The Kingdom of Grace is here with us now! Yes, we know that we have peace with God, forgiveness in Christ. There’s more than that, though. We suffer from a love of reason over revelation. Our reason tells us about the days and years, about the illnesses and pains of our life, about the turmoil in the world. So, we pray that God would take these things away—and do so quickly! We tell Him that if these things aren’t taken away quickly then we will certainly be driven to despair, beyond our ability to bear. It’s too much, God!

This is what our reason tells us, but God reveals a better reality. In this Kingdom of Grace, He Immanuel—God with us. Not just in the memory of the past, or the steadfast hope for the future. He is presently with us, just like He promised: “Behold [that is, pay attention!], I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)

Our King comes to us, but it’s not in ways that reason can grasp. This is why Jesus said to His disciples before His passion,

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:18-21)

Jesus is saying that the way He is with us now (the Kingdom of Grace) is through His Word and the Holy Sacraments. The world does not see these. Instead, it hails reason as the measure of all truth and reality.

Our present age believes the promise that if we just have access to enough information, we will be able to overcome all obstacles. This is the pride of the worship of Science, which says if scientists are just given more time and money, and they will be able to solve all things, and unlock all mysteries.

But it is not information that our Lord gives us, but a Kingdom. It is a Kingdom built for faith. What He gives to His faithful is enough for the weariness of this age. The Father of Lies would like you to believe that the Christian faith is only adequate for simpler times and olden days. But the way that the Lord is present with us, in this Kingdom of Grace, it is enough.

The Lord adds more to His promise to be with us always—through this time—to the end of the age. He says that His Kingdom comes in Baptism—as surely as He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) That’s personal and tangible. It happened on a certain date, in a place, by a certain servant of Christ. Imagine that: The Lord doesn’t just speak from heaven; He works here on earth, through human hands. It’s the same thing He was doing to preserve His Word to us, so should we be surprised? What better can we ask of the Kingdom of Grace than what He gives to us?

All of these modes of God’s Kingdom work together, and none is better or more necessary than the other. They all have their time. Coming in the flesh, “In the fulness of time, God sent for His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5) And the Coming in glory, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matt. 24:44)  What we need now is the Kingdom of Grace. Now is the day in which God forgives our sins and strengthens us through His appointed means—the Sacrament of the Altar and the Absolution. Now is the time when He invites people into His Kingdom in the saving washing of Baptism (Titus 3:5-7).

So how can we remain in this Kingdom of Grace? By turning away from the deceit of our own hearts, the deceit of this present world. This is why we practice Advent. It is a necessary reminder of the proper order of His Kingdom coming. Yes, the Lord has brought His Kingdom among us in the flesh. Yes, the Lord will bring His glorious Kingdom when the Day is come. But most of all for us, we rest on the truth that His Kingdom of grace comes, just like we’ve prayed for.

Let us pray:

Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created. Give us the faith to behold the majesty of Your presence in simple words, simple water, and simple bread and wine, as You come to us in the very body and blood of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. (16 December)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.


[1] Lindemann, Frederick, “Sermon and Propers” (vol. 1, page 29)