Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sermon for 12/26/10--The Sunday After Christmas (LSB 1-year)

The Dark Shadow Over Christmas

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christmas morning has come and gone. It’s only been a day, but it’s been long enough that we’re getting back into the routine of our normal daily lives. The joy of the season has ended—and to tell the truth, it probably seems as though it ended a couple weeks ago, considering how much effort it takes to get ready for Christmas.

For Mary and Joseph, the joy had not yet ended. Jesus was forty days old. As a good Jewish family, Mary and Joseph took the child Jesus to Jerusalem so that He could be presented at the Temple, according to the Law of Moses. He had already been circumcised, marked with the sign of the Old Testament covenant, at the tender age of eight days; this was the next requirement. This was meant to be a joyous time for this new family. Although Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, he had already accepted the responsibility to raise Jesus as his own. Mary had already spoken her acceptance and sung her song of joy for the Messiah that she had borne in her womb. They were going to raise Him as would any good Jewish family would raise a son, and that meant obedience to the Law. They would bring Him to the Temple for the appropriate sacrifices.

What started out as a joyous family occasion suddenly became more solemn when the family encountered Simeon. Holding the Infant Jesus in his arms, Simeon spoke of his own death, now that his eyes had seen the salvation which God had promised to His people. And then he said something that brought their joy up short. He said, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against—yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

The Holy Spirit was resting upon Simeon, and through the Holy Spirit he was able to see what was to come for the blessed holy Child in his arms. This Child would be the salvation of the world—both Israel and the Gentiles—but He would also be despised and rejected, crucified at the hands of the very people He came to save. Mary would be an eye-witness to this, watching first as Nazareth rejected her Son, and then standing at the foot of the cross as her Son died there to redeem the world.

This same specter hangs over the Church in the midst of our Christmas celebration. We cannot look at the manger at Bethlehem without seeing the cross of Golgotha looming over it. If you look at the calendar of the Church Year, you see that today is the Feast of St. Stephen the martyr, tomorrow is the Feast of St. John the apostle and evangelist, and Tuesday is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the children ages two and under who were massacred—martyred by King Herod as he sought to eliminate the rival King whom the Wise Men came from the East to worship. While the Church always rejoices at Christmas, it has always understood that it cannot let itself become inebriated with the joy of Christmas morning, lest we forget that Jesus was born to be a sacrifice to atone for our sins.

The world has made it very difficult for us to keep Christmas holy, and we have been willing accomplices. We can complain about how Christmas has become a secular holiday, but we participate and even revel in the secular festivities. Christmas has become about black Friday, about the joy on our faces and on the faces of our children as we hand out the presents under the tree. It has become about children and how cute they are dressed in their costumes as they sing carols. Not only do we take the Christ out of Christmas; we have even taken the Mass—the divine service—out of Christmas for the sake of what we find under our trees and on our tables on Christmas morning.

Simeon knew all too well what Christmas was about. Simeon saw in the Jesus child the Consolation of Israel, but he knew that consolation would come at a cost—the rejection, suffering and death of that same Child he held in his arms. Christmas does not happen in a vacuum. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter and the Ascension come as a unit. Christmas means nothing without the blood of Christ. If Jesus is not born, He cannot die upon the cross carrying the burden of your sins. If He does not die, He cannot rise from the grave, raising you with Him. But if He is not raised from the dead, His death has done nothing for you. And if He does not die, then His birth means nothing. These things all work together. Simeon saw it all, and he warned Mary that this Child would suffer—and because her Child would suffer and be rejected and killed, Mary would feel the spear in her own heart.

Mary would observe the fulfillment of all these things. But she also witnessed that her Son went willingly to His work. She watched as Jesus bore the rejection in His own hometown. She watched as He endured His trial, listening to the false accusations leveled against Him without a word on His own behalf. She watched as her Son hung on the cross, dying a death He did not deserve, bearing sins He did not commit. Jesus endured all this willingly for the consolation of Israel—and not just for Israel, but to bring light to the Gentiles.

The infant Jesus whom Simeon held in his arms is the same Jesus that you will receive in your mouth today. The Consolation of Israel is also the Consolation of Campbell Hill. It’s true that Christmas means nothing without the blood of Christ. When you receive the body and blood of Jesus in His Holy Supper, you celebrate His incarnation: how He comes to you as Immanuel, God with us in the flesh! Salvation and the glory of God are revealed to you here. You celebrate Christmas and Good Friday and Easter all together in this Feast. And though the cross hung as a shadow over the stable and manger of Bethlehem for Mary for a time, it stands for you and for all as a beacon, for it is the instrument upon which Christ bore your sins, shining as brightly as the star that guides you to the manger.

The glory of God, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life are found in that little child whom Simeon held in his arms. By the forgiveness and life won for you by that same Jesus, you too will be able to depart in peace, having seen the salvation prepared for you. And as you wait for the day when you depart in peace, you receive the same blessing which Simeon received with Jesus in his arms: the Consolation of Israel—and, indeed, the Consolation of all those who wait on the Lord. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sermon for 12/25/10 -- The Nativity of Our Lord (LSB 1-year)

The Word Became Flesh

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

He has his mother’s eyes. How often have you heard that phrase, or one like it? Family resemblance can be striking. You don’t have to see a child’s parents sometimes to know them. You can see it in the young child’s eyes, or their nose, or the shape of their face. Family resemblance can even go beyond the little things. Big or small, weight, height, build, disposition, inclination toward music or math, or things mechanical, or whatever, all sorts of things are connected to family genes. You can tell so many things about a person by their family.

So what was Jesus’ family like? Our text proclaims a miracle: the Word, the almighty, eternal Word of God, became flesh. The creator of all things came into our flesh to be born of a virgin. He clothed Himself in our flesh, lived our life, died the death that should have been ours, and rose from the dead so that we, too, could live that new life of His. This is His life, and this is our life through baptism. As St. John says in verse 12 of our text, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” By baptism we have been adopted into this same Holy Family.

This miracle, which the Church calls the Incarnation, is perhaps the greatest mystery of all time. How can eternity be contained in a little baby? How can the creator of the universe be wrapped in the clothes of a little Jewish baby? This is one of the mysteries of the Church that we can only confess and give thanks to God for. Perhaps the greater mystery is “why.” Why would God humble himself to be born as a human?

Now there’s a question we can answer, because our Lord has told us why He came to earth. He came to earth because of His great love for us. Love so deep and rich and passionate that He could not, He would not let us die in the mire of our sins. He came into our flesh. This body, this flesh that God has given to each one of us, this is the flesh that we have torn and abused by sin and greed. This is the flesh that holds all of our filthy thoughts, and these are the arms and legs and eyes and mouth and ears that each one of you uses to deny and mock God, and to serve yourself rather than those in need around you. It is into this weak and sinful flesh that Christ our Lord came.

The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. Our Lord did not come into the flesh to be an earthly ruler, or as some sort of superhuman. No, he came into our flesh, and He dwelt among us. He came and was in the midst of human life. Our hurts, our sorrows, our joys, our pain: He experienced all of it. That’s the sort of God we worship. Our Lord is not way off in heaven, looking downing with a disdainful eye on all of our misdeeds. No. He saw our sinful weakness and rebellion, and came into our flesh to dwell among us. The Son of God entered the world of His creation to redeem it, to buy it back from Satan and the world.

So where do we find this Son of God today? Did He go back into heaven after doing all of His work to save us? Is it back to business as usual? The world today has all sorts of places to go to find God. As are now in the new millennium, we see more and more bizarre cults and religious groups coming forth with the “truth” about God. But where to we find God? John answers the question for us: The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. We know God by knowing Jesus. Luther put it this way: “The Son of God did not what to be seen and found in heaven. Therefore He descended from heaven into this lowliness, came to us in our flesh, laid Himself into the womb of His mother and into the manger and went to the cross. This ladder He placed on the earth so that we might ascend to God on it. This is the way you must take. If you forsake this way and try to speculate about the glory of the Divine Majesty without this ladder, you will invent marvelous matters, matters that are above your horizon; but you will do so to your very great harm.”

So what is the way to heaven and to God? The way passes through the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb. It is only through Christ that we find God and ascend to heaven. Many people will want to speculate about God, and try to put the focus away from Christ and on to us. That is always the temptation, isn’t it? We so much want to get away from Christ and look elsewhere. A little baby in a manger is cute, but death on a cross? That’s morbid and depressing. But it is only through this cross that we can find God.

This is what it means to say that we behold His glory. Where is His glory? Is His glory in power, where He rules with an iron fist? Is His glory in success? As a preacher, Jesus was a failure by earthly standards. Who was left with Him when He suffered and died? No one. Does John call Him, “Behold the mighty lion who takes away the sin of the world”? No. He is the lamb, a meek and lowly creature that is easily taken and killed.

Here we get to the back to the mystery of Christmas. The angels and all the heavenly host sing of His glory, and we sing with them. “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” God’s glory, bound together in human flesh, dwelling among us as one of us. He was born and circumcised; He lived, suffered, died, and rose again. All this He did for you. He lived the perfect life we cannot live, and died our death, so that we can partake of His glory.

St. Paul once wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Your baptism bound you to Christ’s life. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” When you were baptized, all of the fullness of His life became yours. You are bound to His flesh in your baptism. The fullness of His divine life is yours. Life, real life, is yours through this babe of Bethlehem, the Word made flesh.

So what was the family resemblance Jesus had with His mother? And what is the family resemblance you have with Jesus, your true Brother? It is this: that you have the gift of eternal life, and the name of God is upon you. And we know this because the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sermon for 12/19/10 – RORATE COELI: Fourth Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)

I am not the Christ

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

His name is John, and he was a prophet of the Most High, sent to prepare the way for the promised Messiah. That preparation included preaching and baptism—a washing of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This preparation caught the attention of the religious powers that be in Jerusalem. When they heard about John and his words and actions, the Pharisees sent men to him to look for something dangerous: a man who would testify concerning himself. You see, John was something the Jews thought they could understand. He was the son of a priest, one who had served in the presence of God in the very Holy of Holies itself. That was pedigree enough for the Jews. To them, John was nearly royalty himself. This was a man who they—and the world—could see as the Christ: a powerful speaker, a man of a holy lineage, a man with charisma, a man the people could rally around as one of their own, maybe even a man with enough influence to challenge their Roman overlords.

As we heard in the Gospel reading last week, Jesus said that “among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist”. If ever there was a man who was blessed to know his place in the Kingdom of God, it was John. Scripture laid out for him who and what he was to be; and even before he was born, he was doing what his father had prophesied that he was supposed to spend his life doing: pointing to Christ and saying, "There He is! He's the one!" His entire life was spent in preparation for the culmination of his role as the final prophet of the Old Testament Church. When people came to find out what this John guy was all about, he clearly confessed, saying, "I am not the Christ." When he was forced to expand on that answer, even that answer pointed away from himself to the Word of God and to the Christ whose way John had come to prepare. Even with his role clearly laid out for him, as a sinner, the temptation must have been there to claim more for himself than he was meant to claim. His final word on the matter was, "He must increase, but I must decrease." He did not speak with reluctance or false modesty; it was merely the truth.

There is a danger in being a preacher of the Word, and that is the danger of self-promotion, the danger of thinking of yourself as indispensable, the danger of thinking of yourself as Christ. Like John, a true preacher of the Word knows that he is not worthy to even untie the sandals of the Christ. But when a preacher says, “MY preaching does it; MY baptizing does it; MY officiating does it; MY teaching does it”—the preacher is setting himself up as a false Christ. Such a preacher imperils his own soul and the souls of his hearers. We all know those preachers exist. We see them on television all the time, whether it’s men like Joel Osteen who preach a “gospel” of prosperity or those like Benny Hinn who promote healing for those who have enough faith. And these false prophets are very popular. You see, there is also the danger of being a hearer of the Word—the danger of seeking after a false Christ. Do you come here to hear the Word? Do you come here to receive the gifts of absolution and eternal life? Or are you here because of the personality and talents of the preacher? Do you come—or do you stay away—because of the preacher’s charisma or lack thereof? Do you come here to be seen and acknowledged, to remind the Lord that you exist? Who is the Christ you come here today to see?

Your pastor is not the Christ, nor does He claim to be. Your pastor is a sinner. He is not a charismatic man. He is not a powerful man. He cannot save you, nor will he try. Any word that he speaks to you apart from the Word of God is only his own word. And if he (or any other preacher) tries to convince you that his own words are words of power or salvation, he has no business in this pulpit, in your classrooms, in your lives. And for your part, do not look to any mere mortal for salvation. You can tell the marks of a real and faithful preacher by comparing him to John the Baptist. Does the preacher point to himself? If so, he is not worthy of your attention. Does the preacher seek to entertain you instead of convicting you of your sins? If so, he is not a faithful man of God. Does the preacher seek your good will and generosity by saying things from the pulpit that you want to hear? Does he surrender the preaching of the Law under the pressure of financial hardship? If so, he does not belong in this pulpit.

But God provides faithful preachers to His people. He Calls men who do not point to themselves. He Calls men like John: men whose voices He uses for preaching the Word and speaking Holy Absolution to His people, men whose hands He uses for faithful administration of the Sacraments. He uses these men, but Jesus is the one doing the work. He is the one who washes you and raises you to new life in the waters of Holy Baptism. He is the one who speaks to you the Word of Holy Absolution. He is the one who gives you His very body and blood in the Holy Supper. The preacher is just another instrument He uses—an instrument like the water of Baptism and the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. Your pastor is not the Christ—he isn’t even John the Baptist. But like John, he is “a prophet of the Most High”, for, like Zechariah said of his son, your pastor “will go before the Lord to prepare His way, to give His people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins”. As He did with John, Christ uses your pastor to give Himself to you.

This is the last Sunday in the season of Advent. Christ is coming. He has already come as a humble Infant, come as the Word made flesh to dwell among us, come as the One who bore our sins, come to set us free. He comes to us now in hidden ways, hidden in the water of Holy Baptism, hidden in the humble words spoken by a sinful preacher, hidden in the ordinary means of bread and wine. And we look forward to that last great day when He will come again in glory—neither humbly nor hidden—to set us free forever from sin, death and the power of the devil. Thanks be to God for John the Baptist, who clearly confessed that he was not the Christ and firmly pointed to Jesus as the promised One. Thanks be to God for faithful pastors who point us to Christ and His gifts. And thanks be to God for Jesus: the One who has come, the One who comes to us today, the One who will come again as He has promised. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

REVIEW: "Faith, Alone" by D.M. Davidson

I'm not usually one to advertise merchandise--at least, not when it's not my own--but I felt I should share this with y'all.  One of my former parishioners from North Dakota has participated in National Novel Writing Month for the past few years, and she has stepped forward to do what I have not yet been brave enough to do: publish her first novel.  She has written a book titled Faith, Alone and published it under the name D.M. Davidson.

Faith, Alone is the story of Sara Curtis, a high school senior who is struggling with her place--in high school, in the Church, in life.  Her friends don't understand her; her classmates abuse her; and she is hard on herself.  In other words, she's a fairly typical teenager.  In addition to that, her parents barely pay attention to her, and when she discusses college with them, they do not support her choice at all.  This tale follows Sara through her senior year as she struggles to live a sanctified life, questioning God and herself.

This would be a good book to share with a Christian teen.  I can't say I was blessed to have the kind of experiences Sara ends up having, but I do know that it is a story that could be (and has been) a true story for many.  The book smacks of reality, though it be fiction, and the author has captured the high school experience.  It's about the sanctified life of faith without sounding like it was written by a cult member.  I'd give this book three thumbs up . . . as long as someone will lend me a thumb. 

Click this link to order a copy at the reasonable price of $12 plus shipping and handling.  You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

PARODY: Blessed Assurance

For some reason, this just popped in my head today.  I know it's an old favorite I lampoon here, but there are some days where the lightning will just have to strike me before I'll learn.  *wink*

Blessed Assurance
a parody of the spiritual song
of the same name

1. Blessed assurance: look at me shine!
Dare I presume that the Savior is mine?
Such narcissism, arrogance true--
As if the Lord needs aught I can do.  (refrain)

(refrain) This is my story.  Can it be wrong
Stoking my ego all the day long?
This is my story.  Can it be wrong
Stoking my ego all the day long?

2. Perfect submission must be my lot.
You may be sinners, but surely I'm not.
Vanity, ego, pride for the win!
You may be tempted; I don't give in.  (refrain)

3. Burgeoning laurels: on them I rest.
Sinners are losers, so I must be best.
Jesus is nifty, if overblown.
Who needs His goodness? I have my own.  (refrain)

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sermon for 12/12/10 – Gaudete: Third Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)

The Jesus You Need

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is the Gospel appointed for today.

John sent his disciples to Jesus with a question: “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Now if ever there is an Advent question, this is it. All of our texts today revolve around the theme of the preaching of the Gospel, and John’s disciples really got at the heart of the matter. Are you the Messiah or not? Should we follow John or do we follow you? You can almost sense the tension in their question. Have we been wrong for following John the Baptist all these years? Some theologians think John, sitting in prison, is beginning to doubt Jesus. Or maybe John himself is concerned that when he is martyred, some of his disciples won’t follow Jesus, but will rather bask in John’s memory. Perhaps they would turn him into a folk hero, and they wouldn’t get the connection between John’s preaching of repentance and Jesus’ work of forgiving sins.

Really, though, the question of the disciples to Jesus is our question as well. In one way or another, we are all searching for answers. We all have questions about life and about our identity as God’s children. These questions draw us into the question of Jesus. Who is He? Why did He come? What does that have to do with my life here and now? Those are good questions, ones that have to be asked, maybe now more than any other time in the history of the Church.

Now Jesus knows all about John’s disciples’ fears and questions. Notice what Jesus does. He doesn’t answer their question outright. They ask, are you the Coming One, or do we seek another? Jesus doesn’t just answer, yes, I am the Coming One. No, instead He says, “Go back and tell John what you hear and see.” Jesus then gives a list of the works He’s performed in their presence: “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Notice how Jesus in this list moves from the least important to the most important. The blind see and the lame walk. These things didn’t make you unclean, but they incapacitated you. The lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. These things not only incapacitate you, but they make you unclean, so that you cannot hear the Word of God. The dead are raised and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Jesus raised up the dead, but even more important than that, Jesus gives the good news of salvation and forgiveness to the poor. Or to put it another way, preaching the forgiveness of sins was the most important thing He did.

What does that have to do with Advent? It has everything to do with Advent, because this question gets at the heart of why Jesus came to earth in the first place. In Jesus’ ministry, many people were offended when Jesus said that He had to suffer and die on the cross for the sins of the world. Many quit following Him, and looked elsewhere for a more user-friendly Messiah. The tried to make Him a king; they wanted Him to rebel against Rome; they followed after Him because He fed their stomachs. But when He sought to forgive their sins, when He went to preach the Gospel to them, well, they had better things to do than that. As Paul said, preaching of the cross is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.

This is still true today. How many people the world over go to church to have their sins forgiven? How many of you are here because you need Jesus? Think back to our Old Testament lesson, when Isaiah prophesied about the preaching of John the Baptist. “Comfort, yes, comfort my people! Says your God. Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” This is the message of Christmas. As Isaiah said just a few verses later, “Lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”

This message is significantly different than what we seek after by nature. Jesus gives us what we need, not what we want. That was His message to John. Perhaps John was wondering if Jesus would come down and get him out of prison. But that was not Jesus’ purpose; He had a higher purpose for John and for you. You want Jesus to help you with your money problems, or family problems, or conflicts with co-workers, stress about life, or school, or whatever may be ailing you. Now to be sure, Jesus cares about all these things. And He will help you with whatever the problems of your life are.

But His sights are much higher than that. Jesus did not come to earth to make you feel better, or happier, or even to make your life easier. He came to earth to raise you from the dead. He came to earth to heal the sickness of sin, which is a part of you even now. He came to preach to you that your sins are forgiven. He comes to give you Himself. He comes to lift you up out of your mess of a life, and to make you sons and daughters of heaven!

So what do you hear and see? Do you hear and see a Jesus you want? Do you see a Jesus that makes you happy, that makes you feel good about your self and about who you are. Do you see a Jesus that says it’s okay to sin and revel in wickedness? Or do you hear and see the Jesus you need? Do you hear the Jesus that says that sin cannot be brushed over? Do you see the Jesus born in a manger, dead on a cross, gone from the empty tomb? Do you hear the Jesus that forgives your sin, and who gives you Himself week after week?

That is why Jesus says to John’s disciples, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Jesus doesn’t necessarily give you what you want; but He does give you what you need, and that is the far greater thing. He gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. What looks on the outside like almost nothing, is in fact the thing you need the most in the whole world. Blessed are you who are not offended that Jesus uses poor preachers, mere words, simple water, and ordinary bread and wine to bring you the greatest gift of all. He gives you Himself; and this is the Jesus you need. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Sermon for 12/5/10-POPULUS ZION: Second Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)

Your Redemption Draws Near

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Each year, the Season of Advent brings to our attention the comings of our Lord Jesus Christ—comings, in the plural; for there are more than one. His first coming was to Bethlehem, lowly and humble, to live for us and then to die for us, to redeem us from sin, death, and hell. He continues coming to us also now, in those means He has given us, His Word and Sacraments, a coming every bit as real though shrouded in mystery that only faith can penetrate. And He will come again to judge the living and the dead. That coming is called by different names; the Day of Judgment, the Day of the Lord, the Fulfillment, the Last Day, and others.

As the Church prepares for our yearly return to the manger to greet the Christ who came to save us from our sins, once again the lectionary takes us to days leading up to that last day, the day when Son of Man will return in glory. Jesus speaks of signs in the heavens and on earth. There are cosmic signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On earth there is political perplexity in nations caught in distress. The ocean waves roar in rebellion. Indeed we see the agony of a collapsing world as the creation itself which was subjected to futility by human sin groans under the stress and strain of the last days. The natural world—stars, earth, and the seas—experience the "wrath of God which is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" as Paul says in Romans 1. Creation itself calls us to account, leaving no one with an excuse before Almighty God.

God makes His power and His unfailing judgments manifest in the maneuverings of creation, making it absolutely clear that our trust is misplaced if it is put in any created object. Thus our Lord moves from the groaning of the heavens and the earth to the anxieties that overtake the human heart. He speaks of "men's hearts failing them from the fear and expectation of those things which are coming on earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken."

Someone has said that when people cease fearing God, they become afraid of everything else. Such is the fear we see today. Sinful human hearts will always find something to be afraid of. But behind all of these fears lies the fear of judgment, the fear of God's judgment. For unbelievers, the prospect of our Lord's return is greeted not with joy but with fear. Indeed as the Book of Hebrews says "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Week after week, we confess in the Creed that our Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead. For unbelievers, those who live their lives in rejection of the Son of Mary who was born to be our Savior, the thought of Christ's return is the cause of terror. And their fear is justified.

Jesus says "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." For unbelievers this will be a most unwelcome sight. For them, the Lord's return will be the consummation of the law. The time for repentance will be over and they will face the reality of hell.

When the high priest questioned Jesus asking Him "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" the Lord answered Him "I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." Upon hearing those words, the high priest tore his clothing in protest of what he concluded to be blasphemy. To Caiaphas it was utter blasphemy that Jesus would identify Himself this way; for with these words Jesus was stating that He was God. Jesus is clearly demonstrating that He is the one spoken of by the Prophet Daniel in the Old Testament when he wrote "And behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed." The sight that Caiaphas could not bear to imagine is the sight that will be revealed on the Last Day—much to the eternal regret of all who have lived as enemies of Christ. On the other hand, those who have received this Lord by faith will greet His second advent as the consummation of the Gospel. The One who returns with the clouds of heaven is the Son of Man who was crucified for us.

The agony of a dying world points us to the Crucified Son of Man who will return as our Judge and Savior. So Jesus says "Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near." These signs, of course, have been present ever since the coming of our Lord in the flesh. With His coming in the flesh, the Lord has brought the kingdom of God near to all people. We live in that kingdom now by faith, and we will receive the full fruits of this kingdom in the resurrection of our bodies to life everlasting. So we do not shake in cowardice nor are we bent over in fear; instead we lift up our heads in eager expectation of our Savior's return. We are not waiting on a millennial golden age of tranquility and peace undisturbed by the assaults of Satan on this earth. Unbelief and unbelievers will continue right up to the return of the Lord who will come as a thief in the night at an hour when men do not expect Him.

We wait in hope with uplifted heads and hearts for we have the sure and certain promises of our Savior. He has given us His Word which will by no means pass away but will continue to create faith in the hearts of those who hear it. He has given us His body to eat and His blood to drink as the testament of the salvation which He won for us on the cross. And every time we eat His body and drink His blood, we proclaim His death until He comes. So the Divine Service echoes Jesus' words "Lift up your heads for your redemption draws near" with the words of the communion liturgy "Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord." We lift up our hearts and heads for our redemption does draw near whenever we receive the body and blood of our Savior that is given to us for the remission of sins and the strengthening of our faith—and that faith waits with patience and confidence, with heads and hearts uplifted to the Lord. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

HYMN: Fear Not, O Virgin Mild

We find ourselves once again in the season of Advent, a penitential season in which we prepare our hearts to receive the Christ who came as a humble infant, who comes to us in His holy gifts, and who will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead.  Though we in the one-year series of readings find ourselves focusing a great deal on the return of Christ in glory this week, we also cannot help but look back to the first Advent, as the angels appeared to Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, and the shepherds, telling them to "fear not", bearing tidings of great joy to them.  This hymn text focuses on these visitations.

The tune for this text, Yigdal, is not exactly known as an Advent tune.  It is most famous for the hymn "The God of Abraham Praise".  Nonetheless, I believe the text seems to fit the tune fairly well.

Fear Not, O Virgin Mild

1.  Fear not, O virgin mild—
Dear Mary, favored maid—
For you will bear the holy Child
For whom Eve prayed.
Your Child shall conquer death:
The Life, by all confessed.
Rejoice, O Mary, child of faith
Forever blessed.

2.  Fear not, King David’s son:
O Joseph, just and true.
The nurture of the Promised One
Belongs to you.
Take Mary as your wife;
Your righteousness remains.
This Child shall be the Lord of life
And bear all sins.

3.  Fear not, you faithful priest—
Good Zechariah, hear:
Your son proclaims, “The Lamb’s high feast
Has now come near.”
The hearts of men shall sway.
The prophet has foretold
He will prepare Messiah’s way
Through preaching bold.

4.  Fear not, O shepherds brave.
Rejoice to hear this Word;
For born to you—born all to save—
Is Christ the Lord.
Like you, He guards His sheep.
He claims them as His own.
Go, seek Him where the cattle sleep:
His manger throne.

5. Fear not, O saints.  Rejoice!
The Savior now is here.
Lift up your head and raise your voice
For all to hear
The triumph song begun,
As saints and angel host
Sing, “Glory to the Father, Son
And Holy Ghost.”

© Alan Kornacki, Jr.
6684 D
Tune: YIGDAL (LSB 798)