Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sermon for 12/25/11--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.

Where is the Lord? How shall we find Him? Where do we go to receive Him? Many people search for God and go from here to there, from one religion to another, from one dose of “spirituality” to another, looking for whatever they think God is. And they don't find Him because they are not going to the place He Himself has promised He will be. The Lord is always where He promises to be. In the incarnation, the conception and birth of Jesus, God has come to us, and He does so in a way that is not difficult to receive: He has come in the flesh, as one of us.

In the Old Testament, the children of Israel camped at Mt. Sinai and the Lord was upon that mountain in smoke and fire. Yet the children of Israel couldn't stay there forever. They were bound for the land promised years before to their father Abraham. And the Lord would go with them. So Moses was commanded to make a tabernacle, a great big tent that could be put up and taken down. When the cloud of the Lord's glory stopped, the tabernacle was set up and the Lord's glory filled the Tabernacle. Whenever Moses would speak to the Lord and the Lord to Moses, it happened in the Tabernacle. There He was, the Lord, right there where there was no mistaking Him. If you wanted to find the true God who made the heavens and the earth, you went to the Tabernacle, and there the priests would intercede for you. But there was no mistaking that the Lord was there, in that spot. The Lord cannot be contained in one spot, of course. He fills heaven and earth. Yet, by His Word, He promised to be where the Tabernacle was; and the people who worshiped there were His people. But the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, as it was called, was only a shadow of things to come. The fulfillment of what the Tabernacle showed came in Christ.

St. John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” But what he is literally saying is this: “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” There is an important connection here. The same Lord who has come to His people in fire and smoke and cloud in the tabernacle now comes to us as one of us: in the flesh—in a specific place, a particular spot. Born of woman. “No one has seen the Father,” John wrote, “but He who was in the bosom of the Father has made Him known.” It is Jesus who reveals the heart of the Father to us. God, who pours out His judgment upon sinners, shows us in Christ that that judgment will instead fall upon His Son, so that those who are in Christ are now beloved of the Father. So the question is: Where is God? Where do we find the Lord? The answer: In Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, born of the virgin Mary. The celebration of Christmas is a celebration of the Lord Himself coming to us! And in that flesh, Jesus comes to live our life, perfectly obedient to the Father. He comes to die our death, suffering on the cross for our sins.

If all of our salvation is in Jesus, then where do I go to receive Jesus? Many will acknowledge that Jesus is God; but then, as we heard last Sunday, not all those who look for the Christ know how to find Him. So where is He? Many religions and preachers turn it back into something we must do, to figure it out for ourselves. They put Jesus in all kinds of places except the places He has said He would be. But Jesus comes to us. He is present in this place, His church; for He promises to be present where two or three are gathered in His name. He comes to you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He continues to come to you in the Word of Holy Absolution and in His own body and blood. His own words tell you. “Go and baptize all nations.” “Whosoever's sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” “Take, eat; this is my body; take, drink; this is my blood.” With these words and promises, the Lord tells us right where He'll be: in His church, where the ministry of the Gospel and Sacraments is carried out faithfully and in accord with His Word. The Word became flesh; and it does not stop being flesh. He has taken on a body for all eternity, and He gives us that very flesh and blood which was born in Bethlehem and nailed to a cross and rose from the dead—that very flesh to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of sins. That means when someone asks, “Well, where is God?” you can say boldly and with confidence, “God is in the flesh in Jesus, and Jesus is in the church where the font and the altar are full of Jesus and His gifts.”

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us; and He continues to dwell among us. He's physically and eternally present in His church through His Word and Baptism and Supper. No longer do you flail about in the darkness, looking for the Light. He's right where He said He would be: present as He promised in the means of grace. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us—and we know right where He is for our salvation. 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.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sermon for 12/18/11--Fourth Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)

The Season of Light

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

At the time of John the Baptist, many were in the dark. Oh, they knew that God had promised to send Light to His people. They knew that the same God who had led His people in the desert with a pillar of fire by night had also promised to bring light to those walking in darkness. And with His promise was also His admonition, as spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” The priests and Levites knew light was coming, but still they were in the dark. For one thing, they did not know when it was coming. But at the same time, they really did not understand what that Light was. And so, when it did come, they did not see it.

One of the tragic things about people walking in darkness is that many of them do not even realize their condition. It is like dressing yourself in the dark. Can you imagine what you would look like when you had no idea what clothes you were putting on? And yet, that is how we must look to God; people whose spiritual appearance reveals the darkness of our sin. Most people do not even realize this spiritually embarrassing situation. They are perfectly content to live in sin and ignorance, unaware of the will of God. They feel no need for light because they don’t know they’re in darkness.

Even you who know the Lord slip into this realm of darkness. You shun the light of God, and live for yourselves rather than for Him. You neglect Him in every day things, where too often the darkness of the world begins to overwhelm your faint reflections of the Light. You stand more like flickering candles about to be extinguished than as beacons guiding others to the Light of Christ. It is no wonder that John the Baptist, who came to bear witness to the true Light, also came with a message of repentance. The light of Christ exposes your deeds of darkness.

Of course, knowing that you need the light does not guarantee that you can find the switch that turns it on. Here is where the priests and Levites had their problem. They were looking for the Light, but could not find it. “Who are you,” they asked John? “Are you the Christ?" John humbly gave His answer: "No." He was not any of those; but he added, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.” The same ones who came looking for light missed it. And they would continue to miss it. Jesus, who gave sight to the blind, who said so clearly, “I am the Light of the world,” who would be put to death in a world and on a day noted for supernatural darkness; this Jesus was condemned by these men who were looking for the Light! How easy it is to miss the true Light by pursuing any number of false but flashy lights: the bright lights of materialism and the brilliant light of pride. And yet, how many today either miss or misunderstand the Light of God; and as a result, they miss the whole purpose of this season of light. Thank God that man’s light is completely overshadowed by the true Light of the world.

Thank God for John and the witness he gave to that Light who gives light to all men; for you cannot find it on your own. You need someone to show you the light, to turn it on for you. John’s witness comes to you once again in this Advent season. John points you directly to who that Light is: God’s true and only Son, who came to die bearing your sins, who came to redeem you from the power of darkness, who suffered the darkest depths of hell in your place, and who rose in glory to give His light and life to all the world.

When you come confessing your sin, when you admit that you are walking in darkness, then suddenly and wondrously the light comes on, and you see your Savior, Christ the Lord. You behold a baby in a manger, but you understand that this crib of Christmas will find its meaning fulfilled only in the cross of Calvary. This child has come to die for you, so that you need not suffer the darkness of death. You are led out of darkness into His marvelous light.

When the light of Christ is turned on, the world changes. You see your entire life in a new way. No longer do you need to live in a world of fear, for your sins have been forgiven and the power of Satan has been crushed. No longer do you need to grope about in the darkness, fumbling around in a futile search to find purpose amidst the confusion of life. For you have seen the true light. God has shown you the Truth. With eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, you can walk confidently in faith through your life on this earth to the everlasting light of heaven.

This is the season of light. You know the One true Light is coming; and you shall see Him in the full revelation of the glory of that Baby, a Savior who is Christ the Lord, whom we shall meet in the light of heaven, where we will live in His light forever. “Come, let us walk in the light of 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.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sermon for 12/11/11--Third Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)

“Should We Expect Another?”

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

Without a doubt, John the Baptist is the strangest figure in the New Testament. Outfitted in a suit of camel hair and living off a diet of grasshoppers dipped in honey, nothing was ordinary about John the Baptist. Even his birth was unusual. His parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were well past the age of parenting. They had prayed for a child but none had been given. Then one day, when Zechariah was taking his turn performing his priestly liturgy in the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. Like Elijah of old, the son that was to be born to this old couple would be filled with the Holy Spirit and he would turn many to the way of the Lord. In time this angelic word was fulfilled as Elizabeth gave birth to a little boy named John.

John would grow into manhood, and in time, in God's time, he would appear in the wilderness surrounding the Jordan River preaching and baptizing, calling all Israel to repentance and faith in the Messiah whose coming he announced. John the Baptist was a servant of a Christ, a faithful steward of the mysteries of God. As Paul says of preachers in today's epistle, "Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful." John was faithful in the task that the Lord God had given him. He preached a sermon that was not popular. It can be summed up in a single sentence: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." John did not flinch in this preaching. To preach repentance is to name sin for what it. John proclaimed the law of God that calls the Pharisee, the Sadducee, even Herod—and you—to repentance. It was politically incorrect for John to expose Herod's adultery and ultimately it would cost him his life. Nevertheless, John the Baptist preached that Word to high and low alike. That was his calling, his office.

For John, as for all genuine preachers, the law was preached in service of the gospel. The law was preached to lead sinners to repentance, that is, to kill in them any thought that they could right themselves before God. John was a gospel preacher. He proclaimed the Christ, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. John's whole life was spent in the service of this Christ. Of Him, John said, "He must increase and I must decrease." So it was that as the brightness of Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, dawned on this sin-darkened world, John the Baptist faded into the shadows. He was not the light. He came only to bear witness to the light. That was fine for John. He had no need to call attention to himself, to gain any kind of personal prestige or prominence. He was willing to be spent and consumed for the sake of making Christ known. And soon he was consumed. John's faithfulness landed him in jail. Soon he would be put to death for his faithful service to Christ.

John sent his disciples to question Jesus: "Are You the Coming One, or should we expect another?" In response, our Lord points to the messianic signs. "Go and tell John the things that you hear and see: The blind receive their sight 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." John’s preaching has not been in vain. Jesus is the Messiah. There is no other.

Is this the Jesus you’ve come here to seek this morning? Are you here because this Jesus can cure your depression, your poverty, your cancer, your humiliation? Jesus can do all these things. But is that all you want from him? John sent his disciples to Jesus to calm them of their doubts and fears. They had not followed John in vain, for John led them to Jesus. But look at how Jesus builds it up for them: the blind see, the lame walk—He cures the body. The lepers are cleaned, the deaf hear—He cleanses the body of things that make it spiritually unclean. The dead are raised, and the poor hear the Gospel—He gives life. This is the Jesus who comes to you this day. Not only does He remove your physical ailments—for those are but the wages of sin. He also cures your spiritual ailments, and in the waters of Baptism He raises you to new and eternal life with Him.

Jesus says, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." Those words spoken by our Lord to John are also for you. Your blessedness comes not by way of human approval, but through faith in Jesus Christ. He says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to Father but by Me." The world judges that truth claim to be the highest form of intolerance. So Christians are branded as narrow-minded bigots. Those who claim to be so tolerant become very intolerant of the confession of Jesus. Jesus Christ is still the cause of offense.

"Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me." You who were dead in your sin have been raised with Christ through Holy Baptism to new life, eternal life in Christ. By the faith you were given in Holy Baptism, you cling to the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. You who were silent before the Lord have been given the words to confess His holy name and to sing His praises. Your blind eyes have been opened to see your Lord, present in this holy meal. You who in sin were lame, unable to approach the Father, have been healed so that you may approach this altar. Expect no one else, for in this meal you receive the Christ who comes to you in His body and blood. 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.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Sermon for 12/4/11--Second Sunday in Advent (LSB 1-year)


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

The Lord is coming back any time now. Don’t expect your pastor to speculate as to the exact date, but the Lord is coming again in glory, and He is coming soon. If you doubt it, just listen to these words: “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring.” Now look around you. Look at the skies. Back in September, scientists observed two massive X-class solar flares. A total lunar eclipse occurred in June, and another is actually due to happen this weekend. Once again this past month we saw in our skies the annual Leonids meteor shower. And then look at the world around you. The world’s economy is in a nightmare state. Wars continue across the world. The tsunami in April devastated Japan, taking the lives of nearly 16,000 people, damaging or destroying 125,000 buildings, and causing explosions in at least three nuclear reactors.

So now that you’ve seen the signs, it’s time to speculate concerning the day and the hour in which the Lord will return—and that way you can know the exact moment when you should repent of your sins and make your peace with God; and in the meantime you can live exactly the way you want—right? You know better than that, of course. There are really two things that distract from Christ's return and hinder preparation. On the one hand, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the pursuits of the flesh that it seems like it doesn’t matter if Christ is coming. It’s easy to live as if there is no Last Day, no fearful judgment upon sin on that day. On the other hand, the cares of this life can be a heavy burden, and it’s hard to believe that there will be an end to all these trials when the Lord appears the final time. Either way, we live as if there is no Last Day, no Lord who is coming back to judge.

Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Right there, Jesus has given you the answer. Everything around you is passing away. Some people live as if this life is it, and they decide to live as if there's no tomorrow. Some are so worried about the end of all things, they try to make themselves ready. But Christ gives us the answer: His Word never passes away. It's simple, really: heaven and earth will pass away. Christ's Word does not pass away. What about you? Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have His Word. You cannot pass away. You cannot perish. You cannot be destroyed. The Word of Christ spoken with water at the font means you will outlive the passing away of this earth and heaven. The Word of Holy Absolution spoken to you means you will not pass away with the unrepentant masses who despise Christ and His salvation. The Body and Blood of Christ Himself are your sure promise that since Christ can't pass away, neither can you.

Last Sunday we began our observation of Advent with the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Advent begins with Palm Sunday to remind you that Christ came to die for you. You have Palm Sunday; and then five days later you have Good Friday. In Advent we have Palm Sunday and then a week later the end of the world. The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, put these readings together to connect in your mind that the Last Day, Judgment Day, can never be separated from Good Friday. On Good Friday, on the cross, the sins of the world were judged, and the wrath of the righteous God poured out on Jesus. On that day, the sun was darkened and the earth shook, and it probably seemed like the end of the world. That's because the End of the World, Judgment Day, happened that day at the cross. There, on Calvary, The Son of Man was there in all His glory, saving you. When you think of Judgment, the Last Day and the End of the World, think first of all of Good Friday. Think of Christ suffering the judgment against your sins. Only with this Good News that your Savior has shed His blood for you can you truly lift up your heads and rejoice on the Last Day when He does come again.

Where Christ is present in His Word, Judgment Day has no power to terrify. The Last Day cannot bring fear to those who know their Savior has already undergone Judgment Day. But apart from Christ, apart from His Word, there is nothing but fear. In Christ, Judgment Day has already come; outside of Christ, Judgment Day is still coming. In Christ, the Day is joyfully anticipated; outside of Christ, that Day comes like a thief. Jesus tells you, “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” How do you watch? How do you pray? The Lord invites you to this place, where you can confess your sins and hear the Good News that the Judgment upon those sins has already been placed on Him. He invites you to come to this altar and receive His body and blood in the Holy Supper, a foretaste of the eternal heavenly wedding feast that awaits all those whom He has made worthy and who cling to Him by faith.

The signs of the Last Days are all around. The world is going to pieces. Wars, rumors of wars, plagues, famine, and all sorts of natural disasters are all around. The nations are in chaos. You are living in the last days before the Lord returns. But you do not need to fear or despair. Lift up your heads, for your redemption is near. Right before your Lord comes to you in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, you hear, “Lift up your hearts!” And now you lift up your heads, for He will soon appear on the clouds with great glory. And that will be the day of rejoicing, the day of the end of all misery and woe. Your Lord is coming, and He Himself has prepared you by giving you His Word which will never pass away. And because you have been raised with Him in Holy Baptism, you won’t pass away, either. 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.