Friday, December 31, 2021

Sermon for 12/31/21: Eve of the Name and Circumcision of Our Lord

Yahweh Saves
Luke 2:21


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



Have you ever considered why we name children as we do? Perhaps the chosen names are popular or trendy. Perhaps there is some family history behind the selection of a particular name. No doubt, there are nearly as many reasons as there are names. Whatever the name, there was usually a reason of some kind that stood behind the given name. As we, on this New Year’s Eve, celebrate the Feast of the Name and Circumcision of Jesus, this is a question we might want to address to the giving of the name of Jesus.

The name Jesus means “Yahweh saves.” The importance of this name can certainly be inferred from the fact that the Father saw fit to send the angel Gabriel to both Mary and Joseph with the divine message that named His Son Jesus. The name Jesus occurs more than six hundred times in the New Testament writings. Many other names and titles were given Him—like “Christ,” “Messiah,” even “Lamb of God.” But the name Jesus, perhaps, tells us more vital information than any of His other names or titles.

Had the name Jesus not been given the Son of Mary directly from heaven, it would not have been all that significant. The name was actually quite common among the Jews. It was a name that described Israel’s hope for a Savior and Deliverer. For example, it was the name borne by Joshua, who led the children of Israel into the Promised Land. But when given to the One born to fulfill that hope, the name Jesus assumes its unique significance; it means “the Lord is salvation.” Announcing His approaching birth to Joseph, the angel said of Him: “He shall save His people from their sins.” Jesus is called Salvation because that is who and what He is.

That brings us to the predicament that made it necessary for God’s eternal Son to come among us and to assume this saving name. Right from the fall, sin has been our lot, and death comes as the result of sin. But God, in an unending love for His creatures, had compassion on His wayward children. When the time was just right, He sent His only-begotten Son to seek and to save that which was lost. In the person of our Redeemer, the name Jesus takes on the wonderful meaning of salvation at its fullest.

The name Jesus means full salvation, because we can add nothing to His perfect and completed redemption. When Jesus bowed His head on Calvary’s cross with the cry, “It is finished,” he left nothing undone for our salvation. Our deliverance had been accomplished once and for all.

The name Jesus also means free salvation. Even if we had access to all the money in the world, we could not purchase forgiveness for a single sin. But what all the financial resources of the world could never secure—the cleansing of our souls—is freely offered, without money and without price. “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.”

The name Jesus means our only salvation. Although redemption has surely been accomplished for all people, it can be gotten only through faith in Him. As Scripture says: “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” There are many roads, but all of them lead to hell except the way that leads to the Father through Jesus Christ. In Him only can we have any certainty amidst the changes and trials of life.

Finally, the name Jesus means sure salvation. There can be no doubt about the truth He has proclaimed or the saving work He has performed. His promises have all been proven true. His power has been revealed in the lives of millions over the centuries, many of whom forfeited their own lives for the sake of their confession. Whoever has beheld in faith the Lamb of God will not be lured away by speculation or theories. As we look into the uncertain future of the year ahead and beyond, we know that there is hope amid change and decay; there is truth to guide us with unerring precision on the way to heaven; there is a sure pledge of life that survives beyond the grave. And it is in Him whose name is Jesus.

He is our eternal, unchanging salvation. The whole creation is subject to change and decay. All that we see with the eyes of our flesh will pass away. But Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He said it: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Words shall not pass away.”

So what’s in a name? When the name is Jesus, it is forgiveness, life, and salvation—not just for today, but for every day, and even into the endless day that is eternity. Though all around us will change and ultimately crumble into dust, Jesus and His salvation endure forever. 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 28, 2021

Sermon for 12/28/21: Funeral of Ruby Hartje

Ruby Hartje, member of Bethel Lutheran Church, died on Tuesday, December 21. The sermon is based on the text she selected beforehand for her funeral.

CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

“The Lord Is Near…”
Psalm 145:18-19

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text is written in Psalm 145:18-19; we consider these verses: The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them.Thus far our text.


Barb and John; family and friends of Ruby; beloved in Christ: It may sound cruel of me to say this, especially as we gaze at the coffin before us, but today is not about Ruby. It may sound equally cruel of me to say this, especially as you have gathered here to mourn the death of a beloved family member, friend, sister, or fellow congregation member, but today is not about you, either. I will say nice things about Ruby, and I will speak the comfort to you that I am given to speak, but none of that will matter if you don’t understand that today is not about Ruby, nor is it about you. And Ruby understood the truth of this.

You may not know this, but Ruby has had this day planned for a long time. The selection of her coffin; the pallbearers and organist; the hymns we are singing, the selected verses in those hymns, and even the sermon text—all of these things were selected by Ruby long before I became her pastor. Ruby had thought long and hard about what she wanted the end of her life to confess to her loved ones and friends. And what Ruby wanted to confess is that Jesus is her Savior.

Listen again to the words Ruby selected: The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them. She knew what mattered: that the Lord did the work. “The Lord is near.” “He will fulfill the desire…” “He will hear their cry and save them.” Like Mary, the brother of Lazarus, who knew to sit at the Lord’s feet to hear Him preach while Martha felt the need to vacuum the rug and dust off the computer, Ruby recognized that Jesus and the gifts He died to give her was the “one thing needful;” the housekeeping—the worldly matters—could wait. And with her preparations for her dying breath, she wanted to make sure that you knew the same thing.

A visit with Ruby was never a quick affair. Ruby was a storyteller of this highest caliber, and she enjoyed sharing her stories. So when it was time to visit Ruby, I wouldn’t schedule anything for after. She’d tell me about the store in Jacob; about her beloved Bud and her family; about working for the jeweler in Anna and the courthouse in Jonesboro. She loved to talk about Beta Sigma Phi and the relationships she formed with her sisters. We’d sit there for an hour, two hours, sometimes even three hours.

But she always recognized that I was there for more than just to listen to her stories; I was there to bring Jesus to her. Ruby is a baptized child of God. Though her hearing wasn’t great by the time I became her pastor, she listened carefully as I read Scripture to her. She confessed that she was a sinner who needed forgiveness from her Lord, and she rejoiced to receive that forgiveness, spoken by her pastor as from Jesus Himself. She confessed her faith in the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. She opened her mouth to receive Jesus, physically present in His body and blood in and under the bread and wine. In these gifts, Ruby received what her Jesus died to give her: forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. And like Simeon in our Gospel, having received her promised Jesus on her forehead, in her ears, and in her mouth, she was ready to depart this life in peace.

These gifts are for you, as well. Whether you know Him or not, Jesus knows you and loves you. Whether you know Him or not, He died to win for you the forgiveness of your sins. Whether or not you confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior, He is you Lord. He wants you to know Him as your Creator, your Lord, your Savior, your Life. He wants you to call upon His holy name. He wants to give you those eternal gifts He came in flesh to give to all His people—gifts greater than any jewel. He wants you to be His child, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism to be a part of the Church, the family of faith—a fellowship greater than even that of the closest sorority. He wants to be your Savior, with forgiveness and pardon greater than any human verdict of “not guilty.”

So no, today is not about Ruby. And no, today is not about you. Today is about Jesus. We have come together today to hear His Word, to receive the comfort and peace only He can give, to rejoice in His gracious mercy and love for Ruby and for us. Today is about Jesus—Jesus for you, Jesus with you, Jesus in you. Call upon His name, for He is near you; He will hear your cry and save you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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



Sunday, December 26, 2021

Sermon for 12/26/21: The Sunday After Christmas

“…The Fullness of Time”
Galatians 4:1-7


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


We want what we want, and we want what we want right when we want it. But God has a time for everything. When the time is right, things work; and when it is not the right time, things don’t work. God’s timing was at work in the arrival of Jesus. St. Paul tells us that Jesus came in “...the fullness of time...”—that is to say, at exactly the right time.

The Messiah had been promised for generations. Adam and Eve looked for Him. The patriarchs looked for Him. The entire history of Israel, understood rightly, was the history of a people waiting for the Savior. But only God knew when He would come. While they waited, God gave them signs to remind them of the coming One and of all He would accomplish. The annual Passover celebration pointed forward to the full redemption Jesus would bring just as much as it pointed back to the saving acts of God in Egypt. But many lost sight of the forward look of the Passover and saw it merely as an historical event to be remembered each year.

Before Jesus came, there were a number of self-anointed “messiahs” that arose in Israel. The children of Israel wanted their Messiah so badly that an ambitious charlatan could pretend to be the One, and many would follow Him. But Jesus finally did come! That is what we now celebrate. He came. He lived among us. He died in our place and for our sins. We can speculate on the reasons behind God’s timing. Scholars and preachers have been doing so for centuries. But the time was right because that was the determination of God. The time was just right to send Jesus.

The Epistle describes a mystery, something we could never consider except that God has revealed it to us. Jesus was born of a woman so that He could be born “under the law.” Because Jesus was born of Mary in human flesh, He was obligated, like all men, to keep the Law of God. The same promises and curses applied: promises if He kept the whole Law; curses if He were to sin and break that Law. The promise, for those who keep it, is life without end. The curse is death and hell for those who break it.

Before Jesus came, all were slaves of sin. Because He died for us, all are forgiven, and life eternal is poured out for all. The means appointed to grasp this forgiveness and life is faith. St. John said, “To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” Those who received Him are those who believed in His name. And St. Paul says that Jesus became man and placed himself under the Law “to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive the adoption of sons.” We are adopted to become the children of God in the waters of Holy Baptism. When God says it is so, it is so.

And all of this happened at just the right time. That is what Paul says here. And so, God’s goodness to us should comfort us in every situation; His timing should help us face the uncertainties of life. There are always things we want right now, but God will give us what is best for us when the time is right. He would have us learn to trust Him, and not worry. He knows our needs; He knows our desires and whether or not they are good for us. And when the time is right, He will bless us with everything we need.

We may be tempted to wonder when some blessing will come. We may even worry about when our Lord Jesus Himself will return. God tells us about His timing so that we will be comforted and not worry about it. He wants us to trust Him, to live faithfully as His holy people. The “when” is not up to us. God will cause all things to happen as He has planned them when the time is right. If it were up to us, our congregation would grow in faithful membership and be financially stable. But congregations do not grow according to our plans or our timing; the timing belongs to God. Growth and success for our congregations is not our worry; it is God’s. What God has given us is to be His faithful people: to love one another, to stand firmly on the truth of His Word, and to share that hope we have in Him as He gives us opportunity.

And as to when our Lord will return, when He will take us home with Him—that is in His hands, as well. It cannot come too soon, nor can it arrive too late. It will happen the same way as the birth of Jesus did: at just the right time. While we wait, we can be sure that we will face the temptation to give up on God’s timing. Things around us will often look very bad, and we might get awfully uncomfortable as we wait. But God’s promises are clear and sure. His return will take place at just the right time.

Trust in God, and do not worry. He will bring all things to fruition at just the right time. He will bless you with just the right blessings. He will feed you with His holy body and precious blood; He will fill up your ears and heart with His Word; He will bring to pass all the good He has planned for you. Jesus came to Bethlehem at just the right time. He will bless you, each blessing when the time is right. And He will come again in glory to take you home with Him at just the right time. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Sermon for 12/25/21: The Nativity of Our Lord

Underwhelming Glory
Micah 5:2-5a


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


The half-century of peace that was the subject of the scathing preaching of the prophet Amos was coming to an end. The security and wealth which marked that age were seen by many in Israel as signs of the favor of the Lord. But the prophets were not fooled. They rightly knew them to be the marks of corruption and the evidence of a people who had forsaken their love for God. Israel, the northern half of the divided kingdom, would fall, never to rise again. Then the Assyrian hordes would sweep southward. Micah warned Judah and Jerusalem to prepare for an attack. Judah would be left weak and destitute. Never again would Judah rise to the prominence it had previously known. All that was left of a once great nation was a “stump of Jesse:” the royal family of King David.

The prophets foretold that, at such a time of deep humiliation and degradation, the Messiah would come! His birthplace would be Bethlehem Ephrathah—Bethlehem the “fruitful one.” Bethlehem had a noble history. Benjamin, the last of twelve sons of Jacob, was born there; Rachel was buried there. Ruth gleaned the fields of Boaz at Bethlehem, and her great-grandson David was born there. And yet, Bethlehem had remained only a small village.

How like God this is! And how thoroughly unlike us. We wouldn’t have done it this way. We wouldn’t have had Jesus born in a third-rate village with more sheep than by people. How do you publicize such a thing as this? That’s not how we would do it. We want everybody in the world to know about us; that’s why Facebook and other social media are so popular. But that is not God’s way. Oh, He publicized the coming of His Son. That was what His prophets were doing. But not very many listened to them. St. John says that Jesus “came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.” Perhaps they were offended that God didn’t make a bigger deal of the birth of the Messiah. “That’s not the way our Messiah is supposed to come. Where is the glory? Where are all the fantastic signs and wonders? Where are the adoring crowds? Why—if it happened at all—why was the angelic announcement made to a few shepherds? Why was the ‘upper crust’ left out?”

You might almost think that God is hiding something. Well, that is precisely what He is doing. As Mary sang, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly.” God sends His Savior in a way that He remains hidden. And this is a necessary act of grace. If we were to be confronted with the Son of God in the fullness of His deity, without being hidden behind human flesh, we would be utterly destroyed. The irony of it all is that this is exactly what we want. We want the big and the spectacular; we think that proves the presence and favor of God. We look with covetous eyes on those whose supposed blessings overflow, because we assume that the favor of God rests there.

Let’s be honest: we are offended by a God who seems to be able to do so little for us. The Savior of the world was not even born in a respectable bed. It doesn’t really come as much of a surprise to us, then, that He seems powerless to cure our diseases, to heal our broken relationships, or straighten out our wayward nation. At least, that’s how it seems. But access to God is not found in the spectacular; it is found in the humble; it is found in that still, small, almost imperceptible voice where God speaks His Word and will.

 Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the Babe"--not in a palace, not on a jewel encrusted throne--"wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." That still, small voice was heard by a mere handful of shepherds. It was given to no one else. But they knew it was the voice of God. It moved them to go and find the Babe in the most humble circumstances, where they recognized Him to be the Savior of the world. The scene was underwhelming. If you hadn’t been told, you wouldn’t have a clue. But that is how God works in grace. He doesn’t blast you with a loudspeaker; He doesn’t blind you with neon lights. He underwhelms you with water and Word; with bread and wine; with a Savior who rested in a manger. How like God to accomplish salvation in a way that we could never imagine, much less choose.

With that in mind, are you surprised that this world is not in the least bit impressed with you? After all, you serve a Lord with whom they are not impressed. The world refuses to see or care that there is but one access to the Kingdom of God: the still, small voice that speaks of a Savior who is born in utter humility so that He might die in the very same way; the still, small voice that directs us to water and Word.

How like God to underwhelm us into His kingdom! And that is the reason for Bethlehem: no one but God would ever do it this way. But because this is God’s way, it is the certain way. God’s way brings with it the peace that surpasses human understanding. And that’s exactly what Christmas is: the proclamation that Jesus has come to bring peace between God and man. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us;” and in Him, God and sinners are reconciled. In thanksgiving, “Let no tongue on earth be silent, every voice in concert ring evermore and evermore!” In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Sermon for 12/19/21: Fourth Sunday in Advent

CLICK HERE for the audio file.

CLICK HERE for the video file.

Discerning the True Prophet
Deuteronomy 18:15-19


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


Some say we live in the “information age;” that statement is almost laughable. In these days of the computers and smart phones, we are buried under information. There is an endless supply of information about topics you may wish to know about, and this information is always structured to appeal, to convince, to entice us into acting on what we have learned. And so we have a great need for discernment: the ability to determine what is good and important, while filtering out the bad and insignificant. Discernment is one of faith’s prime functions: listening and reading with ears and with eyes that are always attuned to the Word of God. Faith rightly fed and nourished is faith that focuses on truth, because truth always comes from God.

Moses was a great prophet of God among the Old Testament people of Israel. And in our text, Moses says that an even greater prophet would eventually arise who would bring the truth of God in all its marvelous fullness. The title “prophet” has been tarnished over the years by frauds who claim to have insider information from the mouth of God; that information always proves to be false. Sadly, some of them are persuasive enough to pull the weak and foolish along with them. The true prophet of God was someone very much different. Just like it is today, there were plenty of false prophets with which to contend in those days. The priests and Levites sent to question John the Baptist in this day’s Gospel actually had good reason to wonder whether or not he was the real deal. False prophets had long been the scourge of Israel!

The true prophet of God was just that; he was of God. He was sent by God to say and do the things he said and did. Just like the stewards of the mysteries which we discussed last week, no prophet sent himself. His credentials proved who he was, just as we would never accept a pastor today unless we could make certain that the Lord had sent him to us through His Church. A prophet proved himself by his teaching. Are his words the Lord’s Words? Is he saying what God has given him to say? Is he giving us God’s Word to trust, or is he speaking his own thoughts and opinions? What is most important, is his main focus the Messiah, the Savior God promised to send? True prophets may not have known all of the particulars about the One who was to come; that coming remained shrouded in the mysteries of eternity. But they knew that His day was just over the horizon. He would soon break on the scene like a burst of sunlight. The work of the prophet was to make the way for His coming.

It was through Moses that God provided deliverance from slavery under Pharaoh in Egypt. It was through Moses that God led His people through the wilderness for 40 years as punishment for unbelief. And it was through Moses that God prepared His people for entry into the Promised Land. Through all of this, every word spoken by Moses came from God; it was to be heard and believed. In these ways, Moses was, for the people of his day and for the generations to follow, a picture of the great prophet who was to come, the One who would speak words of salvation and then, also, do the work of redemption.

What Moses and the Exodus and the wilderness wandering foreshadowed, Jesus completely fulfilled. He delivered us from bondage to sin and death by laying down His own life on the cross. And He will continue to lead us through the wilderness of this life—the wilderness of fear and temptation, sickness and pain—to the place of His victory: the everlasting kingdom of the Father. He prepares us now, even this day, for entry into the Promised Land that lies beyond the strife and struggle of our days. And all the while, He speaks what God speaks, because He is God!

And so His Word is the final Word! His words cannot be broken, nor can His works be surpassed by another. His glory outshines that of Moses and the prophets. While Moses certainly shared in the suffering of his people, bearing their weaknesses and burdens, our Lord Jesus Christ shares the sufferings and burdens of the whole world. He has done what Moses offered to do, but could not: Christ has died for His people. Though sinless, He gave His life for the sins of the world and then entered the Promised Land of eternity that we might join Him there.

Advent comes to a close this week. We stand at the brink of that most joyous of celebrations. Our God humbles Himself to come to us in human flesh, to be our Savior and our Lord, and even our brother. We anticipate this joy with the words we will sing at the great celebration of our Lord’s incarnation and birth: “This is He whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord, whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful Word. Now He shines, the long-expected; let creation praise its Lord evermore and evermore.” In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


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

Sunday, December 12, 2021

HYMN: Angel Chorus, Raise Your Voices

I recently posted a hymn text for the Nativity of Our Lord based on a sermon on the Nativity by Leo the Great. This text only covered part 1 of the sermon. After wrestling with it during jury duty selection this past week—I wasn’t selected—today I finished a text loosely based on the other two parts of the same excellent sermon. The temporary tune for this text is ABBOT’S LEIGH, to which we sing the hymn “Church of God, Elect and Glorious.”

Feedback is love. I used a LOT of poetic license here; let me know if I took too much license and didn’t pay enough attention to the poetry.

Angel Chorus, Raise Your Voices

1. Angel chorus, raise your voices!

Saints, your hymns of glory sing!

All creation now rejoices

To receive the Savior King.

See two natures here united:

Truest God and truest Man.

Human flesh in Christ invited

To reside at God’s right hand.

2. Word of God, Himself eternal,

Found in form a lowly Slave,

Raised the slaves to bliss supernal

From the dread, eternal grave.

Hear the great salvation story:

God and Man are reconciled!

Prophets, martyrs, sing the glory

Of our King, the holy Child!

Δ 3. Thanks we give and adoration,

Father, for Your boundless grace.

Christ we thank for free salvation;

At Your birth we see God’s face.

Holy Spirit, thanks we render.

Blessèd, holy Trinity,

You we praise in shining splendor

Now and to eternity.



Nativity of Our Lord (loosely based on Leo’s Sermon 21 on the Nativity, parts II and III)

Sermon for 12/12/21: Third Sunday in Advent

CLICK HERE for the audio file.

CLICK HERE for the video file.


Faithful Stewards

I Corinthians 4:1-5



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



Although we shouldn’t, sometimes preachers worry about what will happen when we preach what God wants us to preach. We worry that we might upset someone. We worry about our our future, our reputation, our status. We worry about feeding our families. As a pastor who has been…forcefully invited to depart from a congregation, I can tell you that the danger is real. But John the Baptist didn’t let such distractions bother him; he just preached. Even so, sitting in prison, he send his disciples to ask Jesus,“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus said that John was the greatest among those born of women, but even John sought reassurance in the face of persecution. Still, persecution is no excuse to be less than faithful. The preacher delivers what God gives Him to preach. We are not to offer personal insights, nor seek to impress people with our humor or charisma. We are here to speak on behalf of Jesus Christ.

A pastor is a minister of Christ. He does what Jesus gives him to do. Jesus is the Lord of the Church, and the pastor answers to Him. St. Paul urged the pastors in the city of Ephesus: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” The Church belongs to God; it doesn’t belong to itself, nor does it belong to any pastor. It belongs to Him who purchased her at the cost of His own blood; it belongs to the Lord Jesus.

A pastor is a steward of the Word of God. He doesn’t own the Word; he cares for what belongs to God. Paul calls the pastor a steward of God’s mysteries. But what are these mysteries? They are God’s Word and the Sacraments instituted by Christ. The word for “mystery” in Latin is “sacramentum, the word “sacrament” in English. The Sacraments are mysteries. We cannot understand how water can bring the Holy Spirit, but Jesus joins His Word to that washing. He promises that this washing is not merely a washing of the body, but a cleansing of the soul to provide us with the forgiveness of sins. How can this be? It is a mystery.

The Sacrament of Holy Communion is also a mystery. How can the bread of the Holy Sacrament be the body of Jesus, and the wine His holy blood? No one can explain how that is so, though some have certainly tried and failed. It is a mystery that cannot be explained. But God reveals to faith many things we cannot explain. Faith, by the way, does not reject reason; it subjects reason to revelation. Divine mysteries are revealed by God. We don’t accept them because we can figure out how they are true. We accept them because God reveals them to us and, therefore, they are true!

The steward of the mysteries of God must be faithful in his stewardship. He does not own these mysteries as his personal property; they belong to Christ, and Christ Himself is the One who has commanded that pastors be called to this office of stewardship, to preach His Word, to forgive and retain sins, to administer the Sacraments; in short, to feed the flock God has entrusted to his care. Pastors need to know how the Chief Steward wants His things managed, and the pastor must act accordingly.

And so, the pastor is obliged first to preach God’s Law. It’s not always easy to do, but it is necessary. Christians are not to commit adultery, attack or tell lies about each other, cheat, steal, take God’s name in vain, or despise His Word. But we do! And when we do, we aren’t behaving like Christians. We need to be told that we are sinning, that we must repent of our sins or face the yawning jaws of hell. Yes, Christians need to hear this because this is what God says, and the minister had better say what God says.

But the Law is not the primary message of the preacher. As St. John reminds us in his Gospel: “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The central mystery of our faith is the incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. Here in Jesus is grace and truth. Here in Jesus is the forgiveness of sins to comfort the wounded and repentant soul. Here in Christ is peace with God, abundant and eternal life, and deliverance from every evil thing.

The steward must be faithful because what he administers is for the salvation of souls. He must not baptize unless he is also willing to teach. He may not give the body and blood of Christ to those who do not know what they are receiving or what they are confessing by receiving it. The pastor is not a spiritual vending machine. He is a steward, responsible for managing faithfully the treasures that belong to his Lord.

Every pastor fails in some way or another, many times over. What else would you expect from a sinful man? This is why pastors need parishioners who will do for them what Jesus did for John. Jesus didn’t ridicule John in his weakness; He encouraged John to hold on to what he was preaching because it was true. When you encourage your pastor to be faithful, this is a kindness you are offering, not just to him, but to Jesus Himself. After all, it is our Lord’s office, and the pastor is but a minister of Christ: by God’s grace the faithful steward. And when your pastor speaks in the name of Jesus, Jesus Himself speaks to you. 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 05, 2021

Sermon for 12/5/21: Second Sunday in Advent

CLICK HERE for the sermon audio.

CLICK HERE for the sermon video.



Malachi 4:1-6



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


The Sundays of Advent join the last few weeks of the Church Year in speaking of the return of our Lord in glory. So why all this fuss over the end times? Why not spend more time preparing for Christmas, for its message and celebration? While we can speak about preparing again to celebrate that great miracle of the Incarnation, God becoming man—and we certainly should give due regard to this most wondrous event in human history—it is an event that has already happened. We can remember it; we can meditate upon it; we can celebrate it; and we should do all of these. But the event itself is a part of history. It has already happened.

Do we prepare for Christ’s coming among us now? Yes, of course we do. We are doing it right now! And what we are doing now to prepare is not mere remembrance; it is reality! We who are Christians have already received this Advent. The Lord has come to us in His Gospel and Sacraments; He continues to do so, and He will continue doing so in the future. This Advent of our Lord is part and parcel of our daily lives.

The Advent of Christ on the day of His return, however, is something that hasn’t happened yet. It is still a part of the unseen future, the day of which is unknown to us. And yet, it is a day for which we must be prepared. And this preparation is no less important than the daily preparation we make to receive our Lord now. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “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. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” I think you will agree that this is pretty serious stuff.

And this was Malachi’s concern in our Old Testament text. There is a day coming, he said, when the Lord will return. And for all who have dwelt on the face of the earth there will be only two potential results of that return: it will either be a day that burns like an oven, and all practitioners of evil and unbelief will be burned up in a fire that is never quenched. Or, for those who fear the Lord, those who have loved Him in faith and longed for His reappearing, they will receive the healing of the Sun of righteousness; they will enter upon a life that is new, like every new day that dawns.

Malachi was part of that generation that followed the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem when Judah was restored after the Babylonian captivity. At first, it seemed that exile in Babylon had chastened Judah and Jerusalem. Despite numerous obstacles, they had rebuilt the Temple—oh, not with the splendor that was Solomon’s, to be sure, but, nonetheless, it was dedicated to the service of the Lord.

But those old, apathetic ways that caused so much trouble in the past had begun to set in again. The priests serving in the Temple were despising the Lord by their polluted offerings. They were using the sick and the lame animal as sacrifices instead of the first and the best, as God commanded. The men were marrying “daughter(s) of a foreign god,” as Malachi put it, unbelievers who would profane the covenant and influence their husbands to do the same. The society was riddled with divorce and sexual immorality. The people were not keeping up with their offerings to the Lord because they believed God was stingy and unjust. Now, there was a remnant of the faithful—there always is—who feared the Lord and worked at supporting one another. They cried out to the Lord, and He heard them and promised them a day of reckoning, when the distinction between the righteous and the wicked would be made clear for all to see.

If you didn’t know differently, you might think that Malachi was born in our days. His indictment of Judah could easily be ours. We are dogged by the same apathy. The services of our “temple,” if you will, are often distasteful to us; we find that we are bored by God’s Word, irritated by the tediousness of the Liturgy and the hymns. We turn our eyes away from the immorality that surrounds us in the media, for example, if not in our own experiences, just hoping that it will go away on its own, even though we know it won’t. We find reasons to think that the Lord has been stingy and not very forthcoming with us, and that He seems to tolerate all kinds of injustice in this world. We wonder why the wicked not only survive but also seem to thrive in this world. And then we realize that the wicked are not just others; we are there, too.

And so, Malachi’s words possess a force that we need to feel as well. It was not just Judah and Jerusalem, and it’s not just today’s purveyors of evil around us; we, too, are in need of repentance, and desperately so! We need to feel the heat of Malachi’s burning oven, its threat of endless punishment. For then we know that judgment from which we have been spared only by God’s grace. And then, in great joy, we can bask in the light and warmth of the Sun of righteousness, Jesus Christ, who comes bringing healing to our sin-sick hearts, to our apathy-ridden souls.

When all is said and done, this is what the fuss is all about. Both Advent and the final return of our Lord are about deliverance from judgment and eternal punishment. It is why Jesus tells us in this day’s Gospel: “Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Thanks be to God! 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.