Sunday, December 25, 2011

Homily for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Day)


John 1:1-18; Titus 3:4-7; Exodus 40:17-21; 34-38

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

In these post-modern times, in which truth and absolutes are denied but are replaced with feelings and perceptions, where all things are tolerated except perceived intolerance, at times it may seem as though words, too, have become meaningless, or, perhaps, they have become connected with so many meanings so as to be rendered effectively meaningless. Indeed, words such as marriage and family which, five or ten years ago had a near universal definition, have been redefined to mean, well, something quite different, or, possibly, to mean anything at all and so, consequently, nothing at all. Yet, you and I know that this is not true. In fact, we all know that this is not true. For, we know and we believe that words do have meaning, for we can feel their meanings emotionally, and we can suffer or benefit from their meanings physically. Words can help and comfort, but words can also enslave and kill. Words can inspire and motivate, but words can also demean and dissuade. Thus, men will fight and die to defend our freedom to speak words, while, at the same time, men will pass laws and exert force to prohibit words from being spoken that they do not want to hear. But, words mean things, and words are powerful, even the temporal and terminate words of men.

Thus, when we consider the Word of our God this Christmas morning, words written down for us almost two thousand years ago by the Apostle John, we must consider that, as powerful and effective as man’s words are, how much more powerful and effective is the life-giving and creative Word of God. When God speaks, His Word brings into being what He says. In the beginning, He created all things by the power of His creative Word so that “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” He attached His Word to two trees in the Garden of Eden and they brought life and death respectively because of the power of His creative Word. When our First Parents rebelled against God and chose to follow their own word instead of His, amidst the irrevocable curse of death, He spoke His irrevocable Word of redemption in the promise of a seed from the woman who would crush the ancient serpent’s head. God gave His Word and promise to Abram as an unbreakable covenant that an heir from his own flesh would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth, and He renewed His covenant throughout generations of Abram’s line, through Isaac and Jacob, through Moses and David. And God kept His Word when His glory surrounded the Virgin Mary and brought forth life out of her fruitless womb in the new creation, a New Adam, the Word of God became flesh, dwelling amongst us.

Jesus is the powerful, creative, and eternal Word of God, conceived and born as a man. He is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. He is the Divine Logos, the Divine intellect, wisdom and the Providence of God in whom all things are created and still exist. He was before all things, being with God in the beginning and of God’s own being Himself. He is the creative Word through which all things were made and are still sustained. This is the Word that became flesh. This is the Word spoken into the ear of the Virgin Mary, conceived in her womb, and born on Christmas Day. This is the Word that was wrapped in swaddling cloths and was laid in a manger. This is the Word that was circumcised and named on the eighth day and presented to the priests in the temple. This is the Word visited and worshipped by gentile sages from afar who brought Him precious gifts as a tribute. This is the Word that grew up through adolescence and was instructed by the rabbis who at twelve years of age caused them to marvel at His knowledge and wisdom. This is the Word that was baptized by John in the Jordan, upon whom the LORD’s Spirit descended and remained. This is the Word that healed the sick, forgave sinners, and raised the dead, showing mercy and compassion on poor, helpless, and broken sinners of all kinds. This is the Word rejected by the children of Adam just as by their father. This is the Word they mocked and scourged and spat upon and nailed to a tree of death. This is the Word who transformed that cursed tree of death into a blessed Tree of Life once again. This is the Word who opened Paradise to Adam’s descendents once again that they might dwell in God’s presence and receive life freely from the LORD and giver of life. This is the Word become flesh who was raised in our flesh from the dead. This is the Word made flesh who ascended in our flesh to the right hand of the Father in heaven. This is the Word made flesh who fills all things in His fleshly divinity and is present as Emmanuel, God with us, now and always. This is the Word made flesh who is coming again in the flesh to raise all people from the dead, in the flesh, and to usher in a new heaven and a new earth where all who receive and believe on His Name will reign with Him as Kings and Queens forever.

For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon Hs shoulder, and His Name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. When we ponder the Christ child, the babe of Bethlehem, lying in a manger and the story of His birth, we cannot help but be touched by the lowliness and humility of His coming. But on Christmas Day, we are invited and we are challenged to see in that holy infant the fullness of God’s glory and divinity. For, this is the true mystery of Christmas and also the greatest gift, that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It was His and His only to give, and He has given it unsparingly because He loves you. He loves you that you might loves others with His love. This is God’s gift at Christmas, His gift of love. As He has given you, so you also may give.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Homily for the Eve of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Eve)


Luke 2:1-20; Titus 2:11-14; Isaiah 9:2-7

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

This night is a vigil. It is a watch. Indeed, this night is the culmination of our watching and waiting and preparing for our Lord’s coming this Adventide. So, whether you were here last week or last year, you are here tonight watching and waiting, praying and singing in hopeful expectation, because you are not like those who have no hope.

But, perhaps you believe that this night is mostly about remembering, for He has come, long ago, as the Babe of Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling cloths, laid in a manger. And, you are right, for tonight we remember that God has kept His promise to us and has sent us His Son, born of a virgin, to be Emmanuel, God with us. And, tonight we remember how the lowliness of His coming was a portent of His humiliation, suffering, and death on the cross, and we remember how everything about Him was scandalous to human reason and wisdom, values, and expectation. And yet, His coming is not merely something that we remember, for His coming radically and permanently changed everything! The Son of God became the Son of Man, and He has borne our flesh through death into life, life that never ends. He who created this world and our flesh stepped into it, took it upon Himself, and raised it out of death into life so that His life is our life, His life is your life, and His life is the life of the world!

This night we remember the incarnation of our Lord, when the Word of creation became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us. We chanted of this Truth incarnate in the antiphon to this evening’s Introit, “When all was still, and it was midnight, Your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne.” But, it was King Solomon who penned those words over one thousand years before the birth of Jesus, describing how God delivered the children of Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt that night the Angel of Death passed over their homes, their doorways having been marked by the blood of an unblemished lamb, while the firstborn in all the homes of the Egyptians were taken in death. In the darkest hour of the night, when all were asleep as though dead, then God revealed His mighty deliverance by the creative power of His Word. The blood of the lamb saved the people because the Word of God said that it would. And so this night we remember God’s mighty deliverance wherein His Word became flesh, wherein His Son became the unblemished lamb of sacrifice who willingly laid down His life and shed His innocent and holy blood that the Angel of Death would pass over us, setting us free from bondage and slavery to sin and death. Indeed, the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus, made Him to be our New Moses who has led us in our Exodus out of bondage and slavery to sin and death, through death itself, into everlasting life in the promised land of God’s heavenly kingdom.

For, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” The incarnation of the Son of God has changed everything! In God’s time, according to His wisdom, He enacted His mighty deliverance; when all was still, and it was midnight, His almighty Word descended from the royal throne. While the nations were about their raging, and men were about their plotting in vain, He who sits in the heavens laughs. God’s all powerful Word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of a doomed land, a relentless warrior carrying the sharp sword of His irrevocable command. But, so enshrouded in darkness were the hearts and minds of men that they would not, they could not, see the signs of His coming. They had forgotten or they had reinterpreted the words of the Prophets so that they would not, and could not, expect a King who comes in lowliness and humility, and they would not, and could not, receive a Savior who is born as an infant lying in a manger. For, indeed, this is what is meant by the stillness of midnight, and this is what is meant by the fullness of time – the night of man’s intellect, wisdom, and ability, and the time of God’s choosing and design.

And so it was that the lives of men proceeded just as they always had, a mundane and routine pilgrimage from birth to death. A census was decreed by Caesar Augustus for the purposes of taxation. Citizens became pilgrims and journeyed to their local sees to register their residency. A young pregnant woman and her husband were amongst those who journeyed to Bethlehem. They were found seeking lodging because the inn was already full. The time came for her to give birth, and she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And, there were shepherds nearby keeping watch over their flocks by night. There was so precious little about that night that was unusual, miraculous, or even noticeable.

How silently, how silently the wondrous Gift is given! How mundane, how seemingly insignificant, how truly human is God’s gift to men given? Indeed, the incarnation of the Son of God was so unnoticeable to men that it required an angel to tell them the Good News! It was an angel that brought the first rays of light into the darkness of man’s night as a herald of the Gospel news that a Savior had been born! The angel proclaimed the Light of God’s Word first to lowly shepherds out in their fields saying, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And then, all heaven broke loose as “there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’” “Glory to God in the highest.” The incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus, is the glory of God! Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity! Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel! God with us!

In the incarnation, God has penetrated our world, our flesh, His creation, and that has changed everything! God is pleased with man in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we have peace with God and with men, for in Jesus we are one flesh, one body. This will never, can never, change! In the incarnation the Son of God became the Son of Man; He became what you are so that you may become what He is. He was born in the flesh that you might be born again. He died in the flesh that your death will not, and cannot, hold you. He was raised in the flesh that, even though you die, you will never die. He came into this world and our flesh and He destroyed the power of death; and He was taken out of this world in our flesh that we might live in the presence of God the Father forevermore.

This Truth incarnate we remember this evening and we celebrate together in joyous vigil. But, as much as we remember God’s mighty deliverance long ago, we acknowledge the presence of the Word Made Flesh amongst us now in Word and water, in holy absolution, and in bread and wine for the forgiveness of ours sins, for the strengthening of our faith, and for the wellspring within us of eternal life and salvation. And so, in receiving these gifts we receive Him. And, as we continue our vigil this night and tomorrow, and as many tomorrows as He grants us until He comes, we are well prepared as we wait and as we watch in hopeful expectation for the Advent of our King. Behold, He has come. Behold, He comes. Behold, He is coming.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

St. Thomas the Apostle–Wednesday in Rorate Coeli (The Fourth Week of Advent)



John 20:24-29; Ephesians 4:7, 11-16; Judges 6:36-40 St. Thomas, Apostle

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

It may seem that the celebration of the Festival Day of St. Thomas the Apostle is a bit out of place so near the close of Adventide, just four days before The Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, Christmas. Indeed, since the most famous account of St. Thomas, recorded in the St. John’s Gospel, exposes him doubting the testimony of the others that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead and that He had appeared to them in the flesh, we might expect to commemorate St. Thomas sometime during the Easter cycle. Well, in fact, the account of Doubting Thomas and his eventual bold confession of faith is the Gospel Lesson for the Second Sunday of Easter. And yet, there is still an Advent connection to be found in St. Thomas’ faith and life which serves as counsel for us latter day disciples of Jesus as we make our pilgrimage by faith, watching and waiting patiently and in hopeful expectation for His return. This connection is found in the words of our Lord Jesus to St. Thomas after He had seen his risen Lord with his own eyes and had confessed Him to be both God and Lord. Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Dear Advent pilgrims, we are they who have not seen and yet believe. We are they who walk by faith and not by sight, who are bringing up the rears in a long train of faithful pilgrims extending back to Abraham who believed God, and God counted his faith to him as righteousness. Yet, lest we puff ourselves up and think ourselves better than St. Thomas, let us recognize how childlike we are, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Too easily we doubt and stray to follow seemingly easier to believe stories and teachings. Too often we impetuously demand signs of God’s faithfulness and put Him to the test when, indeed, there are signs all around us that we refuse to acknowledge and believe.

Thomas’ sin was great and grievous. He was not with the fellowship that Easter evening when our resurrected Lord appeared to them because he was still hiding in fear, having fled and scattered with the others that night He was arrested in Gethsemane. While the others had remembered their Master’s words to them and had gathered together to counsel and console each other, Thomas remained estranged from his family of faith. Jesus came into their presence as the disciples gathered that evening behind closed doors, and He showed them His hands, feet, and side and He ate some food before them, glorious signs that He was alive out of death, in the flesh and not a ghost or spirit. If Thomas would have been there, he too would have seen and believed. But fear and unbelief kept him isolated, alone, and in darkness. Eight days Thomas continued in darkness and unbelief, separated from the fellowship of his brethren, overcome with fear, in denial and unbelief.

The next Sunday, the disciples were again gathered together, and this time Thomas was with them. Jesus appeared to them just as He had done before, but this time He went directly to Thomas and commanded him to reach out and touch His wounds, to take hold of the sign that Thomas previously had demanded. But, of course, this was unnecessary, for Thomas could see his Lord with his own eyes; there was no need to touch any longer, he believed.

As we stand here, almost two thousand years from the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are thankful for the testimony of St. Thomas and the other Apostles. Because they have seen and have believed, it is so much easier for us who have not seen to believe. And yet, there are countless other witnesses besides these. Jesus appeared to over five hundred people after his resurrection. He dwelt with men for forty days before He ascended; how many more likely saw Him with their own eyes? And then there are the prophets and the patriarchs, judges and kings of Israel for four thousand years before Jesus’ birth; these, too, have given eyewitness testimony to the mighty works of God along with faith and trust in the God whom they have not seen.

Satan’s craftiest weapon against us is to separate us from fellowship of the Christian Church, the way a lion separates a weak and struggling antelope from the herd. Then he can use the wedge of doubt, fear, anger, and unbelief to sever us from Christ and leave us alone in darkness and death. For, in the Church, the Lord is present with His Word and with His Wounds to show us that Satan and death are defeated, to comfort, counsel, and console us in His gifts and the consolation of the brethren. Remaining in His Word and Blessed Sacraments, we are well prepared for Jesus’ coming at any hour, any day, any time. Though we have not seen, we have believed. Lord, help us in our unbelief. And He does. He gives us His Word and Spirit that we might hear and believe. He gives us His body and His blood for the strengthening of our faith and the forgiveness of our sins. And He leaves us, not as orphans, but He gathers us in a new family of faith in His Church where He has promised to be present always.

In the fellowship of His body, the Church, may we confess with St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Homily for Rorate Coeli (The Fourth Sunday in Advent)


John 1:19-28; Philippians 4:4-7; Deuteronomy 18:15-19

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

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you.” “The Lord is at hand.” “Among you stands one you do not know.” “The LORD is near to all who call on Him.” Do you notice how the unseen, real, and true presence of our Lord now permeates our liturgy this day? For the past several weeks you have been exhorted to prepare for His coming. Now, it would seem, you are to contemplate that, not only has He come, but that the Lord is amongst you right now. So, I ask you, do you see Him? Do you hear Him? Do you recognize His presence? If not, then perhaps we should extend Advent a few more weeks. For, indeed, tantamount to your being prepared for His coming on the Last Day is that you recognize and receive Him while He is present among you right now.

The priests and the Levites who were sent to question John had been waiting, watching, and seeking the coming of the Lord for centuries. They searched the Scriptures and they trusted in the Word of the Lord proclaimed by the Prophets that God would raise up a prophet like Moses and that He would send forth Elijah before the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. They had good reason to believe that John might be the Christ, or Elijah, or the Prophet, for he lived in the stark, ascetic manner of the prophets and he spoke with an authoritative word in accord with the Word of God. But, when they asked him if he was the Christ, he said “No.” And when they asked him if he was Elijah, he said “No.” And when they asked him if he was the Prophet, again John replied “No.” Indeed, all that John would confess concerning himself was that he was a voice.

Israel had not heard the voice of God for four hundred years. Though they had returned to the Promised Land following captivity in Babylon and had rebuilt the temple and reinstated the priesthood and the sacrificial system, the hearts of the people were far from the Lord, the priests did not teach the people the ways of the Lord, and they did not honor God with their lives, words, and deeds. The last prophetic utterance was given by Malachi who prophesied, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Then there was silence for four hundred years, until the coming of John the Baptist. During this time the people of Israel were hardened and Judaism became more rigid and legalistic under the Pharisees and more liberal and politically driven under the Sadducees. By the time John appeared, the hearts and minds of the people could not imagine a Messiah who would come in humility and lowliness to suffer and die as a sacrifice for the people’s sins.

Part of John’s role in preparing the way for the coming of Jesus was to break up the hardened hearts of God’s people that they might be turned in repentance to receive the one who was coming, not in power, great might, and glory, but from amongst them, as their brother, in lowliness and humility. John was a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” as the Prophet Isaiah had said. John carried out his task by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins and by baptizing with water, a visible sign of the spiritual change affected in a person by the workings of the Holy Spirit. God was about to visit His people, but He was not going to appear to them as He did on Mount Sinai, striking terror of death into the hearts of His people, but He would come in the manner of Moses, Elijah, and the Prophets, as one of His own, amongst His own, for the sake of His own.

Our God has always been a God who is present in the midst of His people. He walked with our First Parents in Eden. He visited Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He called to Moses from the burning bush and encamped in the tabernacle in the Holy of Holies amongst His people. Then, in Jesus, the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. And so, He is not a God who is far off, but He is a God who is near – very near, in fact, come into our own flesh and blood, conceived and born of a woman like all men, so that He is our brother, one of us, knowing in His flesh our joys and sorrows, our pain and tears, the torture of our temptations, but humbly and obediently and selflessly resisting these by faith.

Though He comes to us in such familiar ways, men are scandalized by the incarnation of Jesus. Thus it was necessary that John direct our attention to Him and call us to repentance that we might see in Him God’s presence and our salvation from our sins. The very next day after the priests and the Levites questioned him, John pointed to Jesus and proclaimed “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” There He is, God’s sacrifice, Isaac’s substitute, the true Passover Lamb who’s blood will mark the doorposts of you heart that the Angel of Death might pass over. Who? The carpenter’s son from Nazareth? Who? That lowly rabbi with His band of misfit disciples? Who? The itinerant preacher who hangs about tax collectors and prostitutes and lepers? Yeah, that’s the one. That’s the Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah. Yeah, that’s Him, the Word of God made flesh, abiding in your presence as one of you, as you brother, just as the prophets said.

So, I ask you, do you see Him? Do you hear Him? Do you recognize His presence? If not, well, it’s still Advent for another week. Indeed, it is Advent until He comes on the Last Day, and today your salvation is nearer to you than when you first believed. For, indeed, tantamount to your being prepared for His coming on the Last Day is that you recognize and receive Him while He is present among you right now. He is present for you now in His forgiving and life-giving Word. He is present for you now in Holy Absolution. He is present for you now in Holy baptismal regeneration. And He is present for you now in His holy body and precious blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins that the Angel of Death might pass over you.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Homily for Advent Lessons & Carols


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

Christmas is truly about the incarnation of the Son of God: The Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the eternal, creative Word spoken by the Father, was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin womb of Mary and was born to us as an infant child in the city of David, Bethlehem. God dwells with man as a man. He knows what it means to be a man; He knows what it means to be you better than you do. And so, you do not have a God who is far off, but you have a God who is very near. You do not have a God that cannot empathize with your weaknesses, griefs and temptations, but you have a God who has experienced all these and has suffered and died in your flesh.

Yet, perhaps, the most astounding, and the most comforting thing about the incarnation of our Lord is the love that He displayed in it. For, the incarnation is God stripped naked and presented to you bare, entirely for you. He gave Himself as a gift to you without any concern for Himself at all. He came out of the womb naked, like all men, weak, helpless, needy, vulnerable, and defenseless. Our God became a human child, and our God is still a human man. As Jesus has taught you, there is no greater love than that a man should lay down his life for his friends. Indeed, your God has given Himself to you wholly, holding nothing back, as a gift of perfect and holy love. He came with no demands but with His only desire being that you would receive and benefit from His love, and, perhaps, a hope that you might love Him in return.

He’ll never stop loving you, even if you don’t love Him in return – imagine that! And, He has forgiven you and all people in Jesus Christ, even if you don’t believe that – imagine that! He is for you; there are no conditions or exceptions; He is for you; He is for the whole world! Your God is the greatest gift imaginable – a free and perfect gift of perfect love and perfect grace. But it’s not cheap grace, but it is the most costly and rare grace imaginable. But, truly, that’s what love is. That’s what love means. And that’s what love looks like. Love was born at Christmas. And, Jesus Christ is God’s gift of perfect love dwelling amongst us.

You don’t take a gift. You don’t choose a gift. You certainly don’t earn, buy, or even necessarily deserve a gift. But, you receive a gift. And, you believe the gift is truly yours. And then, you receive the benefit of the gift and the love of its giver who desires only that you would receive and believe and benefit from His love.

That’s the gift of the incarnation. And, that’s what Christmas is truly all about.

Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love Divine, Love was born at Christmas, Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead, Love Incarnate, Love Divine,   Worship we our Jesus, But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token, Love shall be yours and love be mine, Love to God and all men, Love for plea and gift and sign.                                                             - Christina Rossetti, 1885

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Homily for Wednesday of Gaudete–The Third Sunday in Advent


Isaiah 40:1-11; Isaiah 60:1-11; Luke 3:2-3

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

The history of humankind is marked by man’s willful choice of slavery and bondage rather than obedience to God’s Word and Law. Our First Parents chose to follow their own wisdom and will over that of their Creator. Likewise did their descendants up until the days of Noah. After God sent the flood to destroy the corrupted earth and its inhabitants, the descendants of Noah and his sons continued in our First Parents rebellious ways. When the children of Israel found themselves in the wilderness desert and God provided them manna and quail, they grumbled and complained and they longed for the bread of slavery and the fleshpots of Egypt. The story of Israel is a continuous cycle of unfaithfulness, enslavement, repentance, and redemption. When Jesus was born, Israel had been under Roman rule for around seventy years, and under Greek rule for about one hundred sixty years before that. Still, the religious leadership of the Jews chose to suffer under continued Roman oppression rather than to confess their sins and receive forgiveness as Jesus preached and taught. As the high priest Caiaphas infamously and prophetically said, “It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”

Though sin entered the world through the one man Adam, and death reigned through Moses and beyond, yet through the one man Jesus have all men been made to be righteous. He came to those who could not and would not come to Him. He came as light into a world of darkness and sin. He came as life into a world of death. He came as the New Adam, the New Man, holy, obedient, and righteous. He laid down His life unto death that men might live through Him. He came to draw all men to Himself – nations to His Light, kings to the brightness of His rising. Sons and daughters will come from afar, nations shall come to Him. For, He is for all people comfort, pardon, and peace with God.

But, has He not always been this? Has not His disposition toward man been one of mercy, love, and forgiveness. Yet, men hide from Him and love the darkness because their deeds are evil. Men love the creation and hate the Creator of all things. And men willfully chose bondage and slavery to sin and death rather than the God who is and gives life because they will not submit their own will and wisdom to the One who made them, who loves them, and who still preserves them.

And so, God sent them prophets to prepare them for salvation by calling them to repentance, to turn from their sins and the way that leads only to death, and return to Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation. The prophets too were repeatedly persecuted and killed. Then He sent John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah, the last of the prophets, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. He was sent to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus by bringing down man’s mountainous pride and by raising him up out of his valleys of desperation. Though he spoke to them harshly, it was necessary, for John was the physician who pronounced mankind terminal with a sin-sickness that leads unto death. He proclaimed that all flesh is withering and dying grass. But, he pointed men out of their hopelessness, death, and despair to the only source of comfort of hope: Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

He has come. He comes. He is coming. Though our Savior Jesus has come in lowliness and humility, still He comes to us in grace and mercy, and He is coming in glory and great might. Still, the voice of John the Baptist prepares in us the way for the coming of the Lord through a preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We must hear his words daily and return to the Lord our God in repentance. We must return daily to our baptisms in repentance and receive holy absolution for the sake of Jesus. For, comfort is here. Peace has come. And, the Light of the World has risen upon us.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Homily for Gaudete–The Third Sunday in Advent



Matthew 11:2-11; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Isaiah 40:1-11

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

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” asks Jesus. What were you looking for? What did you expect to find? What did you hope to hear? Were you looking for some malleable teacher who would minister to your felt needs, leaving you secure in your sins, telling you that you’re a good person, better than most, keep up the good work? Or, did you expect to see an icon of self-help and prosperity, a guru of good and practical advice that would tell you how to get out of debt, raise your children, save your marriage, and be happy? Or, did you hope to hear that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, so long as you believe something, that all that really matters is that you remain devout in your belief and are good person, more or less.

If that’s what you went out into the wilderness this morning to see and hear, then you surely could have found it somewhere, for this wilderness world is filled with smooth-talking and forked-tongued false teachers who are all too eager to tickle your ears and to take your money and tell you to believe in yourself and to think positively and all will be well with you. This wilderness world is full of venomous serpents spitting poisonous doctrines, often in the name of Jesus, teaching that what God has called sin – murder, adultery and fornication, covetousness, jealousy, lying, slander, and theft – are virtues when they done in the service of the common good, personal freedom, or just about any other justification men may conceive. You can hear anything you want in the wilderness. There’s at least nine public options available right here in little ol’ Pawling, New York! That is, if you even bother to venture out at all, for there is countless variety on the television and the internet to suit every felt need, taste, and itching ear.

But then, perhaps you came out into the wilderness this morning for a different reason. Perhaps you came out to hear the Word of the Lord, a Word of condemning Law and a Word of consoling Gospel. What have you come out to see? A prophet, a mouthpiece for the Lord? Yes, they are in the wilderness too, thanks be to God! However, they can take a little more effort to find, and they don’t always look and sound like what you might think. But, you will know them by the Word that they proclaim, teach, and confess, for it will not be the opinions and platitudes of men, but it will be the Word of the Lord. Quite often it may seem harsh, for the Word of a prophet will not leave you comfortable in your sin. But, if you are willing to receive the Word of the prophet and to confess your sin, then he will have even greater Words of comfort and hope for you. And, he may not be the most charismatic of men, arrayed with the symbols of worldly success, preaching to packed houses, standing room only, but he will be an instrument of God’s grace to bring you forgiveness, life and salvation through the Words and Wounds of Jesus.

Who are these prophets of the Lord today? They are the pastors, ministers, and servants of the Lord placed under Holy Orders to tend His flock until He comes. They continue in the ways of John the Baptist, preparing the way for the Lord by preaching repentance and by baptizing for the forgiveness of sins. But they also point to Christ and His suffering, death, and resurrection as the source and reason of your forgiveness and they deliver to you the gifts He died to give you: His Gospel Word, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and His Holy Supper. These treasures do not belong to them, but only their faults are their own, and for these they are responsible to Christ alone. For, what matter is the condemnation of men if Christ approves, and what matter is the approval of men if Christ condemns? You should receive them as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. And, as stewards, faithfulness and trustworthiness is their only duty and their Master alone is judge.

Like John the Baptist, God’s stewards prepare the way for Christ’s Second Advent in this wilderness world of sin and death. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they proclaim God’s Word of comfort that Jerusalem’s warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. The Church of Christ is this New Jerusalem, redeemed in Jesus’ blood. Now is the time in which She waits and watches in hopeful expectation for the return of Her Bridegroom, Her Husband, Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ. And, during Her time of waiting, God has sent His stewards, His pastors and servants of Christ, to guard and protect and to prepare the Church for the Advent of Her Lord. The Words they speak are His Words. The Gifts they distribute are His Gifts. Repent, believe, and receive; they are for you, bought with a price.

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” asks Jesus. What were you looking for? What did you expect to find? What did you hope to hear? Not everyone was attracted to John the Baptist. He used harsh words. He was unrelenting in His conviction and message. He did not look like the well-dressed and groomed rabbis and Pharisees. Because of his preaching and teaching, John found himself in Herod’s prison awaiting execution. John knew that people, even his own disciples, would be scandalized by his imprisonment and that they would interpret it as either John’s failing or God’s failing. Indeed, today men routinely reject preachers who faithfully and truthfully proclaim and teach God’s Word and who remain unflinching even when that Word stands in opposition to popular worldly views. Additionally, they judge the effectiveness and the veracity of a preacher’s ministry by worldly standards of quantitative and monetary success. Thus, John sent his own disciples to Jesus that they might hear from His own lips that everything was proceeding just as God’s Word by the prophets had foretold, indeed, what they have both heard and seen for themselves: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. John’s disciples had witnessed these very things which were in direct fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah. Though we often have expectations concerning how God should act and what God should do, Jesus teaches us to look rather to what He has said and done. Our false expectations set up stumbling blocks for us and for others which put them and us at risk of tripping and falling into sin and unbelief. Thus Jesus concluded His Worlds to John’s disciples saying, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

But, too often we are offended and scandalized by Him. We are offended and scandalized by disease, suffering, and death. We are offended and scandalized by the wickedness and evil of men in this world. We are offended and scandalized by the lies, deceptions, and treacheries that men utilize in their dealings with one another. However, do not be offended and scandalized, for such have men and the world always been and even your Jesus has suffered in this way and He has told you that you, His disciples, will be treated just as He was treated.

That is why Jesus then turned to the crowd who was gathered around Him saying, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” What were your expectations? Were they in accord with the Word of the Lord? If you came out into the wilderness expecting to see a man having no convictions, easily swayed by the ways and wiles of this world, then your expectations were false. If you came out into the wilderness expecting to see a man dressed in soft clothing, taking delight in material comfort and excess and encouraging you to do the same, then your expectations were false. If you came out into the wilderness to hear a word of platitudes and cheap grace, leaving you complacent in your sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, then your expectations were false. Or, did you actually come out into the wilderness to hear a prophet, a man of God who will tell you, not what you want to hear, but what God wants you to hear and what you need to hear, that you might repent of your sins and receive forgiveness and comfort, life, and salvation in and through Jesus Christ? If so, then I tell you, you have found a prophet, indeed, more than a prophet. “This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”

And yet, “the one who is least I the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” For, John was the forerunner; he was sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, supplanted by those who witnessed the words and teachings, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Apostles of our Lord, even the pastors of the Church of Christ, and you, dear children of God in Christ Jesus. For, you are ones who live on the other side of Christ’s victory over death and the grave. You live in the eternal eighth day, a day on which the sun will never set, so that even though you die, you will live eternally in Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus’ victory is your victory, now, even in the face of lies and corruption, poverty and war, disease, suffering, and death. Blessed is the one who is not offended by Him.

Therefore, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” that your expectations may be shaped and normed by God’s Word kept and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Give no regard, then, to worldly and fleshly judgments and evaluations when it comes to the mysteries of Christ and His stewards. “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” For, He has come and all things have been fulfilled just as has been written by the prophets. And, He is coming, and all that dwell in darkness will be exposed in His glorious light. And, He comes to you, now, and “His reward is with him, and His recompense before Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” Blessed is the one who is not offended by Him. “Behold your God!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Homily for Wednesday of Populus Zion–The Second Week of Advent


Isaiah 49:1-13; Isaiah 43:1-7; Malachi 4:1-6

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

Only God can bring something out of nothing, and He so delights in doing just that! In contrast, when men create, we begin with something that already exists: clay, ore, wood, sperm and egg. But, when God creates, He begins with nothing – indeed, He, Himself, is the beginning and the source of all things. His Word brings into being what it says so that “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.”

In the beginning, God – period. God spoke, and there was: light, planets, land, plants, animals. But then, God began to work a little differently. God made man, not by speaking, but with His own hands, formed out of the earth that He had already made. He made a dirt man, Adam, and then He breathed His own spirit, His own life into the man, and the man became a living being. He was a personal creature, created by a personal Creator, made in the image of His Creator, having the capacity, with the Lord’s blessing and at His command, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

But, almost from the beginning, man rebelled against his Creator. He refused to obey His commands, eating what He was forbidden to eat, staying in one place in order to make a name for himself rather than dispersing and filling the earth. Does the pot do its own bidding and not the bidding of the potter? Of course not. Yet man, God’s creation, continually follows his own will and rejects His Creator. Surely, the potter would smash such a pot and begin anew. But God does not destroy His creation, rather He enacts a plan of restoration for His creation, which He created for His own glory.

And so, once again the Spirit of God hovered over the waters, and the Word of God was spoken into the virgin soil, this time, of a young Hebrew woman’s womb. And, “the Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us.” And He was hidden as a polished arrow in a hunter’s quiver until the time was right. But, before the Word made flesh began His dwelling amongst us, He was known in type in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then in Joseph and Moses and the children of Israel, and in many other persons, figures, and deeds. And, after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, until the time of His second advent, He is known in the Christian Church, His body and Bride.

God continues to work through the stuff of His creation, through matter and means, to work His salvation. Once He plunged His hands into the soil and made man and communed with His spirit, God made a covenant with man that He would not leave Him or forsake Him. He would not merely proclaim man clean and righteous by speaking His Word into the nothing, but it was necessary to make man to be righteous by becoming a man, of the substance of a woman, like all men. Thus, He did not send Jesus as a great moral teacher to instruct us how to live a morally righteous life, but He sent Jesus to redeem us from sin and death, to be obedient to God the Father in the flesh, and to suffer and die in substitution for men in the flesh.

Yet, the greatest mystery of all is that God had a plan of redemption before there was a man to redeem. Thus, when the prophets of the Lord prophecy, they speak a Word of the Lord for the present, and for the past, and for the future. The prophets are but mouthpieces for the Word that has gone forth from the Lord and will not return to Him void, but will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. His Word is for the whole world, for all that He has made, and it comes to us through the stuff that He has made: Words uttered by men, flesh and blood, water, oil, bread, and wine. In the incarnation, when His Word became flesh, He began to redeem His creation from the inside out. He leads His captive people to the land of promise in exodus out of this world through death into life eternal in communion with Himself. Thus He promises you, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”

Though the way at times may be dark, dangerous, and uncertain, you need not fear, your God is with you. He has always been with you, though He may be hidden, He is as a polished arrow hidden away in a hunter’s quiver. At the appointed times He has arisen in power and might to deliver His people. He has come. He comes. And, He is coming. Soon, the Son of Righteousness shall rise with healing in His wings. Watch and wait in hopeful expectation, for your redemption is drawing near.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Homily for Populus Zion (The Second Sunday in Advent)



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

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

In whom or what do you place your fear, your love, and your trust? If your fear, love, and trust is not in God, the Lord of heaven and earth, then your fear, love, and trust is misplaced, for your idols will not stand on the Last Day, at the coming of the Lord. All material things in the heavens and upon the earth will be shaken, all the things in which men place their fear, love, and trust will be reduced to stubble, leaving neither root nor branch. For, there is one God and one Lord who made the heavens and the earth and all things, who still preserves and sustains them, and who will make His presence known in judgment to all who dwell on the face of the earth.

How do you take these words? Do they make you uncomfortable? Do they seem to you to be harsh? Do they strike terror in your hearts? They should. And, they shouldn’t. But, it depends upon in whom and in what you place your fear, your love, and your trust. The fact that our Lord will return in judgment should not cause you fear or concern at all, that is, if you fear, love, and trust in Him now. If you fear, love, and trust in Him now, then the signs of this world passing away are not cause for alarm or terror, but rather for rejoicing, for your redemption is drawing near. But, indeed, they will be terrified who have placed their fear, love, and trust in other things, in material things, worldly things, and fleshly men, for all these will begin to crumble and pass away and they will be left with nothing in which to place their fear, love, and trust, and yet they will know, unequivocally, that Jesus Christ is Lord, and God the Father will be glorified.

However, the great and tragic irony in all of this, of course, is that Jesus Christ was sent for them, as well as for you, even for the entire world. Indeed, the coming of the Son of Man means that your redemption is drawing near. So, rather than cowering in fear, you should lift up your heads in confidence and joy. But, the difference between those who will cower in fear and those who will lift up their heads then is the object, or objects, of your fear, love, and trust now. The temptation of the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh is to take the Lord’s delay in returning as proof that He is not returning at all, that He doesn’t exist at all. And so, you are tempted to value only the material things, the now things, caring not, believing not in the then things. You see, the devil isn’t so concerned about your worshipping him, but only that you divert your attention to something other than the Christ. Be it money, success, fame, family, health, sex, possessions, whatever, he doesn’t care; the devil wants only that your eyes and your heart are not focused upon Jesus, for then he has you, and, though you may not think of it that way, you are serving and worshipping him.

Thus, your Lord warns, “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. […] 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.” Dissipation, drunkenness, and cares of this life – these are the things your Lord warns you against, for they are distractions from the narrow Way that leads to eternal life. They are the means that the devil uses to divert your eyes and your heart from the cross of Jesus Christ. It’s not that worldly and material things are evil, it’s not even that men are evil, for God has made all things good, but it’s really just the same old sin, the only sin, idolatry, creatures fearing, loving, and trusting in the creation more than, or instead of, the Creator of all things. Money isn’t evil, but if money is what you fear losing, love keeping, and trust in for your security, then you have made it your idol, you have made it your god. Same goes for success, fame, family, health, sex, possessions, or whatever. Whatever you place your fear, love, and trust in before or in place of God, that is your god. And, when the true and only God returns in judgment and glory, none of these will remain, and then your misplaced and foolish fear, love, and trust will be left naked and exposed.

But, it’s not like you didn’t know this was coming, right? The Lord has been consistent in His message that this world and this life will not last. Ever since the Fall the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth because of sin, waiting for redemption and re-creation. Indeed, the signs are all around you, they are even in your own flesh which ages, grows weak, and dies. “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees,” Jesus says, “As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know the summer is already near.” Everyone reads the signs of the change of the seasons and so prepares accordingly. Why do you not read the signs that this world’s time is passing quickly, that the end will come, if not tomorrow, the day after that, and so prepare yourself? In the very midst of life, death has us surrounded. Everyone knows that you can’t take it with you. There are no hearse’s pulling U-Hauls. Indeed, Jesus says, “this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.” “Ah!” The scoffers will say. “Many generations have passed, and things continue as they always have. This word of your lord is foolishness!” Yes, indeed, many generations of men have passed, and judgment has come upon them all, they have all died and all their possessions have decayed, their deeds and reputations have been, or will be, forgotten. But, what about the generation of all humanity descended from Adam? What about the generation of the Christian Church birthed from Jesus’ death and resurrection? These have not fully passed away, nor will they until all the things that our Lord prophesied take place. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” He has said, “but My Words will not pass away.”

“My Words will not pass away.” That is key. Life can be hard at times. We each experience life passing away in all sorts of ways, every day of our lives. There is a constant temptation to divert our eyes and our hearts away from Jesus’ Words to all manner of distractions or to deaden our sensory experiences with drug or drink. But we are not like those without hope. We have God’s Word and His promises kept and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. His Word never changes, it never passes away, but it remains constant, trustworthy, certain, and true. It was “written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” When you see and experience the signs of change and decay in your life, in this world, do not despair, but turn to His Word and see that all things are just as He said they would be. Then, “straighten up and raise up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Even now you can experience a foretaste of your redemption as you are released from the chains and bondage of fleshly and worldly possessions and values, as you die to yourself and selfish desires and passions and live to Christ in loving service of your brother and neighbor.

“Stay awake at all times, praying,” and greet the rising sun each day with hopefulness, knowing that your redemption is drawing near. Then you may leap into each day like calves from the stall. And, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Homily for the Christian Funeral of Anna Hohmann 6/29/1909–11/22/2011


John 14:1-6; 1 Peter 1:3-9; Job 14:1-17

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

If you wish to hear a sound perspective on life, read Job. You know his story, how Job was a righteous man who feared the Lord, how the Lord blessed him richly with family and wealth. But then, Satan accused Job before the Lord saying that he only feared God because God blessed him so richly and that, if Job’s blessings were taken away from him, he would curse God. So, God permitted Satan to afflict Job sorely. He took his wealth. He took his family. And, finally, he afflicted Job’s own body with horrible sores and disease that caused him to be cut off from all others and all manner of living.

Affliction like that of Job’s has a way of causing a man to take stock of his life. A man will ask questions like: What is the cause and purpose of suffering? What is the meaning of life? What kind of God causes or permits pain, suffering, and death? Job asked all those questions and more. Likely you have asked a few of them yourself. However, though he asked such questions, and though he struggled with doubt and uncertainty, Job continued to trust in the Lord God and he would not curse Him and die. But, in the face of all his afflictions, Job gained perspective on his life. He remembered that he was brought into this world and life apart from his choosing. He was born to his particular mother and father apart from his choosing. He had the number of sons and daughters that the Lord permitted him to have, and they were taken from him apart from his will. Indeed, he himself was met with physical afflictions and disease, having no control over his situation. And, finally, he died as the Lord had appointed, and was powerless to extend his own life. Thus Job confessed that a man’s days are determined by God, that the number of his months is known only to God, and that the appointed time of his death is established by God. Why is it that a man may live to be a hundred years old and another may not make it out of his thirties? Only God knows. However, what we share in common is that the number of our years is determined by God alone, apart from our control. But what we do have some control over is what we do with our days, months, and years while we have them.

Job recognized everything that he had, even his own life, as a gift and blessing from God. When it was all taken away from him, Job would not curse God, but he said, “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord.” There is a certain peace and comfort, even confidence that comes from confessing that you are not in control of the totality of your life, but that God is in control, and that He works all things, even the bad things, for your good and for the good of those He has called in Jesus Christ. That peace, comfort, and confidence comes, ironically, by death – that is, it comes by dying to yourself and living to Christ. “For whoever would save his life will lose it,” says Jesus, “but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Indeed, Job’s peace, comfort, and confidence did not come from himself, but it came from his fear, love, and trust in God and in His promise to send a savior, a redeemer for Job and for all men. “I know that my Redeemer lives,” Job confessed, “and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”

It is those who die to themselves that God is able to raise up to new life now. Those who believe, who put their fear, love, and trust in the Lord and not in men, themselves, and the things of this world, are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” For the faithful, Christ’s death on the cross and His glorious resurrection stand outside of ourselves as a sure, certain, and unchanging guarantee of our victory over death and the grave, our forgiveness and redemption, and life with Jesus after death. Kind of changes the way you view your life in this world, doesn’t it? Gives you a new perspective, doesn’t it?

Anna Hohmann shared this perspective on her long and blessed life. She recognized that everything she had, even her own life, was a gift and blessing from God. She was born during the Great Depression and learned to live simply and with frugality. She worked as a secretary for many years in New York City and, later, as church secretary right here at Christ the King under Pastor Arthur Gronbach. Ann never complained. She was at peace and content, comfortable, and confident that the Lord was in charge of her life. Whatever she had, it was enough. The things she didn’t have, she reckoned that she didn’t need. “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

But, in truth, Ann was rich. She was rich in friendships and she was rich in kindness, gentleness, and humility. She had so many good friends it would be difficult to account for them all, particularly given her long life. But, Pastor Gronbach and Baldur from Iceland immediately come to mind as holding a special place in Ann’s heart. Her dear friend Mary who passed away not too many years ago and Oskey, who was a dependable handy-man were regular visitors at Ann’s home. From the church there is Janet Sullivan and Nancy Ettinger, both of whom would drive Ann to church. And then there is Kathe Foster who took special care of Ann particularly the past couple years. And that’s just scratching the surface and from my relatively brief knowledge of Ann. These each can testify to the contentment and peace that Ann represented.

We are thankful for Ann and the blessing that the Lord has made of her to us. She is an example for us of a better perspective on life. Indeed, you could just as well hear the words of faith uttered by the Mother of our Lord Jesus rolling off of Ann’s lips, “Lord, may it be to me according to Your Word.” God has blessed us with the gift of Ann’s life, and God blesses us now with the certainty of His promise to Ann fulfilled as she now lives with Jesus in paradise. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Homily for the Christian Funeral for Fred Rosenbergen 6/9/1933–11/29/2011


John 6:27-40; Romans 8:31-39; Isaiah 43:1-3a, 25

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

If we Americans are anything at all, we are pragmatists. We fervently believe that if a man works hard and does good he should be rewarded. We believe that we reap what we sow. We believe that bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. We believe that after working 30 years or more that we ought to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labors. We believe that what we have invested in our children should be paid back to us in our old age, in their care for us and in the joy we experience in our grandchildren. That’s what we believe, isn’t it? That’s only good, fair, and right, right? That’s practical, isn’t it? Then why do things so often seem to go so very, very wrong?

I remember having many conversations such as this with Fred; maybe you do too. In many ways, Fred was a tailor-made example of an American husband and father. He worked hard as a chauffeur in New York City. As a mid-westerner myself, for me Fred was an example of New York’s legendary grit and toughness, but with a great sense of humor and irony, a warm heart, and a genuine joy and happiness for other’s blessings and a genuine pity and sorrow for other’s misfortunes. Fred took a lovely bride, Raeann, established a home in which he took great pride, and he began building a family, three children who were the joy of his life. What more could any man want? He moved to Pawling in 1974 and became a member of The Lutheran Church of Christ the King where he served as an Elder and as a member of the Church Council. Fred was immensely helpful to me when I received the call to be Pastor of this congregation almost ten years ago. And then his babies started to become adults, and then there were his precious grandchildren. Yes, life was good.

Hard work and good deeds should be rewarded. We reap what we sow. Bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. But, they do, don’t they? You know that they do. Despite all the good things in Fred’s life, despite the joy of family and the pride of hard work and owning a home, there was a specter of fear that accompanied much of Fred’s life and that from time to time made brutal assaults upon him, and Raeann, and their children. That fearsome specter was cancer, an enemy that far too many of you know personally as well. Cancer first struck Fred in 1988. He escaped that battle minus a lung. But, other health issues continued to assail him, and Raeann too, so that the good life was always tempered with the fear of the unknown: Will the cancer return? What did I do wrong? Why did God let this happen to me? Why do bad things happen to good people?

When Fred asked me questions like that I sometimes would smile meekly at him and answer, “There are no good people, Fred.” Now, before you bum-rush me outta here, you have to understand that I said that to him with love, because I wanted him to understand that, ultimately, life isn’t about all the things that this world and our sinful flesh values, but life, true life, is about living, truly living, eternally with Jesus. For, the truth is, bad things happen, diseases happen, cancer happens, death happens, because of sin – your sin, my sin, Adam and Eve’s sin, and, yes, even Fred’s sin. As St. Paul has said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And, that’s the truth. Sin separates us from God, the source of true and eternal life, and thus, the wages of sin is only and always death.

I said this to him in love, because a man needs to know that God doesn’t want him to suffer, God doesn’t want him to die. God didn’t create sin and God didn’t create death, but God created everything good, and He created man very good. It was man’s choice to sin. Adam succumbed to the devil’s temptation. He chose to rebel against God, and the fruit of his disobedience was sin and suffering, sickness, and death. And, a man needs to know that he was not created for this, but that he was created for life, eternal life with God. And, for this reason, God sent forth His Son, Jesus, to die in man’s place. He made Jesus, who knew no sin, to become sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

God has done all that is necessary to restore us to Himself. At the cost of His own Son He has redeemed us from sin and death. There is nothing for us to fear, not sickness or disease, not cancer, and not even death. So the Lord has spoken through the Prophet Isaiah, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” But do observe that the Lord has not promised that you will not encounter trial, tribulation, and suffering. Indeed, Jesus has said that if you desire to be His disciple, you must take up your cross and follow Him. For, to be sure, the life of a Christian is a life of faith, trusting in your Lord even when the way is dark, dangerous, and uncertain. But you are not like those without hope, for we have a God who has laid down His own life for us and has taken it back up out of death so that even that dread enemy has had its fangs torn out and has lost its sting.

We have a God who is for us. And, if God is for us, than who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? I can’t say that I ever remember Fred to laugh at these things, but they are truly laughable. How can you not laugh at the bold confidence such words proclaim? Even though we are being killed all the day long, counted as sheep to be slaughtered, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Ha! For I am certain that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ha! Ha! But I do believe that Fred laughed the last time I saw him in the hospital before he died. Yeah, I know he thought there were spiders on the ceiling and he kept seeing plastic spoons everywhere, but he had his wife and his kids around him and his Pastor was there with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His precious body and His holy blood with words of courageous comfort and hope that came, not from his mind, or his reasoning, but from Jesus Christ Himself.

Fred worked hard during his life. He tried to good and often did much good. He certainly loved you Raeann, and you children, Charlie, Sherylann, and Chris were, and are, precious and dear to him. There were times when Fred likely thought that all he had was the fruit of his own labor, we all think that way at times, but in these last years, months, and days I think he began to count it all blessing. I do recall Fred sometimes asking if the bad things he might have done, or the good things he should have done but didn’t, would keep him out of heaven. I would ask Him, “Fred, do you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins and is raised from the dead?” “Yes, Pastor, I believe that.” “Then don’t ask such silly questions.” Ha! Ha!

Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day.”

What perfect love, perfect love that casts out fear. Even while he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, Fred feared no evil. And, you don’t need to fear either, for the Lord is with you now even as Fred is with Him in paradise. But, while you still walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Fred has passed through and dwells in the house of the Lord for evermore. Yet, there is one place on earth where those in the valley may gather with the saints in the house of the Lord, and that is at the communion table of the Lord where you may kneel with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven and receive a foretaste of the feast they enjoy now in the presence of the Lamb of God Jesus Christ and His Father in His eternal kingdom. Do not be afraid. You will see Him again. Christ’s peace be with you until that day.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Homily for Wednesday of Ad Te Levavi–The First Week of Advent


Isaiah 40:22-30; Jeremiah 23:5-8; Zechariah 9:9-12

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

You have to admit, the Lord’s thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways. Indeed, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts. And so, we have proclaimed with the Psalmist saying, “The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” And, we have heard the words of the Prophet, “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the ruler of the earth as emptiness.” Our Lord created all things. He sustains all things. And, He has promised to bring this creation to an end and usher in a new creation. Thus, we might well expect that our Lord would work salvation in like kind, with great power and might in a magnificent display of His deity. But then, the Lord’s thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways.

For, through generations of men, the Lord prepared us for His coming by remaining faithful and true to the promise He made to our First Parents, the promise that He repeated again and again to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Moses, and to all the world, that He would send His Messiah, a King, a Savior to redeem the world from sin and death. And, each generation believed the Messiah would come in their time; indeed, Eve believed her first born son to be her Lord. Yet, though there were types of the Messiah aplenty in figures like Melchizedek, Isaac, and Joseph, the Passover Lamb, the Holy Manna, and the bronze serpent, and the shepherd David, the coming of the true Messiah was delayed. The Lord waited until time was full to send His Son. The Lord waited patiently, mercifully, desiring that all men be saved and none perish. The Lord delayed His coming because His thoughts are not our thoughts; His ways are not our ways. The Lord delayed His coming because the righteous will live by faith, by trust in the Lord’s goodness and mercy, His faithfulness to His Word, trusting not in the might, reason, or emotions of men of flesh.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Everyone expected the Messiah to be a great and powerful leader and king. Make no mistake about it, the people of each generation thought that they had the man be he Joseph, Moses, Saul, David, or another. Indeed, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday, the people were prepared to crown Him their King. They laid down their cloaks before Him and praised Him waving palm branches all the while crying out hosanna, save us! They called Him the Son of David, the great king.

But then, He went on to do the most unkingly things imaginable. He caused a ruckus in the temple courts by turning over the tables of the money changers and casting them out. He brought upon Himself the displeasure and wrath of the religious leadership of the Jews by undermining their teachings and threatening their comfort and power. Then, He permitted to allow Himself to be arrested, instructing His disciples not to draw the sword. He was tried and convicted, scourged and beaten, mocked and spat upon, and then He was crucified and died. God’s ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts.

But, isn’t that precisely what the Lord had been teaching us all along? Isn’t that entirely consistent with the ways and thoughts of God? Our Lord’s first promise of the Messiah He issued shortly after man’s fall into sin saying that the seed of the woman would crush the seed of the serpent’s head. The Messiah would be a man, born of woman like all men. God repeated that promise again and again through covenants with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, up through David and the prophets, right up to the last of the prophets, John the Baptist, to Jesus. Isaiah prophesied that the virgin would conceive and bear a son who would be Immanuel, God with us. And, Malachi prophesied of the one who would precede the coming of the Messiah by preparing His way before Him; that one was John himself who prepared the way for Jesus by baptizing and preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shot aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Didn’t see that one coming? God’s ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts. And that is one reason why we take this extra time in Advent to prepare for our annual celebration of Jesus’ birth. It is an opportunity to tune in a little closer and to ponder God’s Word and His wisdom and His promises that He has consistently fulfilled throughout all the generations of men. It’s all there, after all, in His Word. It always has been and it always will be. But, our thoughts and ways are so very different from God’s that, if we don’t pay close attention, we’re likely to chase after the wrong kings, the wrong gods, and ignore, or worse, our God who comes to us humble and lowly, but having righteousness and salvation for the whole world.

Our King has come, the Messiah, Immanuel, Jesus the Christ. He has come in lowliness and humility. He has taken His throne upon the cross. He has been crowned our king with a crown of thorns. And He has served His subjects in righteousness and forgiveness, laying down His life in death for the world. And, still He comes to us in lowliness and humility under the forms of Word, water and oil, bread and wine bestowing the gifts He died to secure for us. And, he is coming again in glory and great power and might that every eye will see and, because of which, every tongue will confess Him Lord and King to rescue us out of this fallen, broken world of sin and death, shame and suffering, and bring us into His eternal kingdom of peace. May we always be prepared for His coming by remaining in His Word and in His gifts where His promises are given and are kept for the life of the world.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Homily for Ad Te Levavi (The First Sunday in Advent)

Ad Te Levavi


Matthew 21:1-9; Romans 13:8-14; Jeremiah 23:5-8

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

Behold! The King is coming! Behold! The King has come! Behold! The King is coming!

But, when He comes, how does He come? Then, He came in lowliness and humility, scandalously born of a virgin mother in a stable, laid in the animal’s trough. Then, He came in lowliness and humility, riding upon a donkey and her colt. Now He comes in hidden glory under the forms of bread and wine, water and oil, and the proclaimed Gospel Word of God by the lips and the hands of sinful men. Then, He will come in the fullness of God’s power and glory and every eye will see Him and every tongue will confess Him to be the Lord. Then He will be our King in every way imaginable, even as He is our King now, and He will execute justice and righteousness in the land.

The eyes, ears, and the heart of faith recognize the Lord’s coming in all these ways, which is to say, that the faithful recognize the Lord’s Parousia, His presence amongst us, at all times. For, while there are three advents, three distinct comings, there is truly only one Parousia, only one presence. Your Lord Jesus is present with you then, now, and always, just as He has promised to be, even to the end of the age. Thus, this new Church Year begins in the manner the past one ended, with the faithful watching and waiting for His coming, in all the ways that He comes, remaining prepared for His coming by receiving the gifts of His Parousia, His true and abiding presence amongst us.

“O Lord, how shall I meet You,” we sang with Gerhardt and the Church. Indeed, that is our focus and preparation in Advent, to be prepared for the coming of our Lord and to meet Him in all the ways that He comes to us. And, in this mildly penitential season, one way in which we prepare ourselves for our Lord’s coming is by examining ourselves and by confessing our sins. So, we prayed in the Collect, “Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance.”

For, mighty deliverance from the perils of our sins is what Jesus came to bring. And thus, He did not come to bring peace, but a sword. His sword is His Word, the Word of God that proceeds from His mouth and will not return to Him void, a Word of Law that crushes all, and a Word of Gospel which is soothing balm to the repentant and the only source of true hope and comfort. For those who receive Him, He is their righteousness, but for those who reject Him, they are left to be judged by their works according to God’s perfect and holy Law.

But, behold, God has raised Him up, a righteous branch, the only righteous branch and the only source of life. There is no life but to be grafted into Him, and all that are grafted into Him remain in Him, and He in them, and they bear much fruit. And, their fruit is love, the fulfilling of the Law. For, the one who loves another has fulfilled the Law because love does no wrong to a neighbor. Each and every day that passes is an opportunity to draw from the source of life and love Jesus Christ as a branch draws life from the vine and to bear the fruits of love. Drawing life from the Parousia of Jesus now through the means which He offers His grace is what it means to be watchful and waiting in hopeful expectation for His coming as King and Judge. For, each day salvation is nearer to us than it was the day before, or the day when you first believed.

Therefore, do not be offended and scandalized at the humility of His coming. Do not be persuaded by the world, by your flesh, and by your fleshly reason to doubt His presence now, for none who wait for Him shall be put to shame, but they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. They were offended and scandalized by His birth of the Virgin Mary. They were offended and scandalized by the lowliness and the humility of the Bethlehem stable. They were offended and scandalized by His upbringing as the carpenter’s son from backwater Nazareth. They were offended and scandalized by His mercy and compassion to notorious sinners and the unclean. They were offended and scandalized by His suffering, crucifixion, and death. And they tried to cover up, hide, and deny the proof of His resurrection on the third day just as He had said.

But, He has kept every one of His promises. And, God, His Father, has kept every one of His promises. He has come. He comes. And, He is coming. He will not leave you or forsake you. Nothing can separate you from His love which is in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

To prepare and strengthen you as you await His coming in patient and hopeful expectation, come, now, and receive Him where He is present for you now. For, in this Holy Sacrament, your Lord Jesus is present to enter your mouth and your heart, to commune in and with you, to nourish you His branches that you may be fruitful and full of life and love with which you may be a blessing to your neighbor. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Homily for The National Day of Thanksgiving

Thankful Leper


Luke 17:11-19; Philippians 4:6-20; Deuteronomy 8:1-10

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

Thanksgiving is a fruit borne of another’s graciousness; it is our response to what another has done for us. Thus, the one thankful leper who returned and fell at Jesus’ feet giving him thanks is a fitting symbol for us this day. However, in our common parlance, where please and thank you are seen as mere platitudes or means to an end, do we truly understand the spirit of true thankfulness and gratitude?

The thankful leper did not return to Jesus merely to offer Him a platitude, but he returned to die to himself at Jesus’ feet. He completely divested himself of all dignity and honor, of all right, merit, and privilege, and he submitted himself completely to Jesus, confessing Him to be the very source of undeserved grace, mercy, and love. The fact that he was a leper placed him amongst the lowest social tier, but the fact that he was a Samaritan leper made him to be of no count or consideration at all, but, on the contrary, he would have been hated and despised by all. And yet, Jesus accepted him, He showed mercy to him, and He healed him. And, when the Samaritan leper saw the fruit of Jesus’ love borne in him in his being cleansed from leprosy and healed, he returned to Jesus to give thanks to the one who showed him undeserved mercy and who restored to him life.

True thankfulness is a matter of life and death. We cannot truly be thankful when we believe that we have earned or merited, deserved or chosen the good things that we have. But, true thankfulness is the fruit of life being borne out of death, of a lifeless branch being grafted into the True and Life-giving Vine.

Our life as Christians must be to recognize this each and every day of our lives, to die to ourselves and to live to Christ each and every day. Let each day begin and end by dying to yourself, by returning to the grace, mercy, love and forgiveness shown to you in Holy Baptism by confessing your sins and receiving God’s gracious absolution anew. Let us say grace before each of our meals, that is, let us recognize and confess that each morsel we place into our mouths, and those that we throw away, are precious, undeserved and unmerited gifts of God’s grace, mercy, and love. And, after our bellies are full, let us return thanks to the Lord for all His benefits, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. To assist us in this life of faith, our father in faith Martin Luther has left us prayers for giving and returning thanks in the Small Catechism and in our hymnals: The Morning Prayer, the Evening Prayer, Asking a blessing, and Returning Thanks. To be a Christian is to return to the Lord in thanksgiving, which is to die to yourself in humility and repentance and to acknowledge the Lord as the giver of all good and perfect gifts.

In a way, it is somewhat unnecessary for the Church of Christ to observe a National Day of Thanksgiving, for each and every Lord’s Day we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, and we fall down at the feet of Jesus, giving thanks and praising God. We bring nothing to Him but ourselves, our praise and thanksgiving, for He alone is the giver of all things. We come as lepers, even Samaritan lepers, for grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, for acceptance, healing, and cleansing of all our sins. And, the Lord gives us all these things and more and sends us on our way by faith to show His fruits to the world, to bear forth grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness to all in the Name of Jesus, to the glory of the Father.

And yet, there is another fruit borne in thankfulness, and that is the peace and contentment of which St. Paul has written, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heats and your minds in Christ Jesus.” For, one fruit of thankfulness is contentment and peace in your life, in your present situation, with what you have. Have you not seen how it is often those who have the least that appear to be the most content and at peace, even happy and free? Indeed, the pilgrims who celebrated the first thanksgiving meal had come through extreme hardship and suffering and were truly thankful for the food and shelter that they had, recognizing that it was all the gracious gift and providence of God.

Thus, let us commemorate and celebrate this annual National Day of Thanksgiving as a unique opportunity to take stock of all the things we are thankful for: Food and clothing, to be sure, family and friends, a devout husband or wife, devout children, our bodies and lives, and, especially, the grace, mercy, love and forgiveness we have received as a free and perfect gift from our Father in heaven through Jesus Christ. And, let us show thanks by dying to ourselves daily and living to Christ in selfless words and deeds toward our neighbors, especially the least of these, in thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us, as fruit borne on us, His branches, mercifully grafted into the True Vine Jesus Christ.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Homily for The Last Sunday of the Church Year



Matthew 25:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Isaiah 65:17-25

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

Every bit as much as the sheep and the goats of last Sunday’s Gospel lesson were both part of the Good Shepherd’s flock, so today all ten of the virgins, both the wise ones and the foolish ones, are invitation holders to the marriage feast of the Bridegroom. That is to say, they’re already in good with the Bridegroom. They’ve been chosen. It’s party time for the whole lot of them! All the young ladies need to do is, well, nothing at all, but wait…, wait for the Bridegroom to arrive.

But, waiting is boring, right? It certainly can be. And, this fact is probably best exhibited in children. Children often find it very difficult to wait. Think of the weeks and the days before a birthday or a visit from grandparents or a favorite cousin. Think of the months before Christmas or a trip to Disney World. Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Children often find it difficult to wait. And, adults, too, often find it difficult to wait. So, while we wait we fill our lives with distractions, a book or a movie, maybe a crossword puzzle. And, when young people get bored, well, there are temptations to do things that aren’t well thought out and are bad for them, things that get them into trouble or worse.

This was true for our ten virgins as well. In their waiting, no doubt they primped and they partied, they danced and they talked, all the while biding the time until the Bridegroom arrived. However, the Bridegroom was delayed. Indeed, we are often faced with delays in this life, are we not? And, we can empathize with the virgins’ exasperation as they cried out, “Oh no, how much longer do we have to wait?” Well, they partied and primped some more, they danced and talked some more, and, eventually, all ten of the young ladies fell asleep. Yes, all ten virgins fell asleep waiting for the Bridegroom to arrive.

And then comes the crux of the story, literally, the crisis, the judgment: At midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ And, a piece of information that we were told at the very beginning of the story bears fruit: Five of the virgins were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. Thus, when the delayed Bridegroom arrived in the middle of the night, the foolish young ladies realized that their lamps were going out and that they did not have any more oil. But, why was this piece of information given at the very beginning of the story? Likely, it was to show that it was neither the amount of oil that the virgins possessed nor their preparedness that merited their attendance at the wedding banquet, but it was the Bridegroom’s gracious invitation alone. No works or deeds, words, or even the thoughts of the heart get you into, or keep you out of, the kingdom of heaven, but the Lord’s gracious invitation alone, received and kept in faith alone or rejected.

And so, it is about having oil, but it is not about how much, for the oil is a symbol of faith and trust and it is a symbol of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Oil isn’t something that you do or think or speak, but oil is something that you have, or something that you don’t have. Faith is like oil, either you have it, or you don’t. It’s not about how much faith you have, after all, faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, and I reckon that you don’t have faith like that, neither do I. But, faith in Christ saves, regardless of how big or small, strong or weak that faith might be. Faith in Christ saves because it receives what Christ has done and it clings to Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The oil represents faith and Christ’s gift of His Holy Spirit. There is no place and no one from which to purchase faith, and you cannot borrow or receive the faith of another, you have to have your own. Thus, the failing of the five foolish virgins was not that they didn’t have faith, they did, but rather that they allowed their faith to grow weak and thin. Oh, they thought they had enough to be prepared when the Bridegroom came. They were very practical, just like you, thinking that they would only bring enough oil to get them into the early evening when the Bridegroom was scheduled to arrive. But, they didn’t count on his being delayed. Does anyone count on a delay? But, delays happen, don’t they, and then it’s best to be prepared. The five wise virgins seemed foolish in carrying around extra flasks of oil. It was as if they overpacked for a one night stay. Nevertheless, when the Bridegroom was delayed, they had enough oil to wait Him out.

Jesus told this parable to His disciples in the days preceding His crucifixion and death. He knew that they would understand His coming again to mean that He would come very soon. And so, Jesus is both warning them and comforting them, and us, for a delay in His coming. He tells them not simply to wait for Him but also to watch for His coming at a day and hour they do not know. They are to not simply believe, but they are to trust and wait in eager expectation – that is what faith does. They are to take the example of the five wise virgins and bolster their faith, feed their faith, strengthen their faith for the waiting and the watching so that, no matter when Jesus returns, they will be ready and prepared, not by their thoughts, words, and deeds, but because they have faith. But, how do they do this? Where do they go to bolster, feed, and strengthen their faith? You cannot buy faith from vendors. You cannot borrow the faith of others. You have to have and receive faith for yourself. Where then is faith given, fed and strengthened, replenished, and sustained? In and through the means that Christ has appointed during this time in which He is delayed in returning: The preaching of the Gospel. The gift of the Spirit in Holy Baptism. The forgiveness of sins in Absolution. And communion with Jesus in His body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. Through each of these means of grace Christ has promised to be present with you for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. There is no better way to be prepared for His coming than remaining in His gifts. And, these gifts are not something that you must do for Him, but they are the fruits of what He has done for you in His suffering and death upon the cross. He promises you that if you remain in Him that He will remain in you and that through these means He will be with you always, even to the end of the age. Believe it, for Jesus’ sake.

For, this is what the kingdom of heaven is like. The kingdom of heaven is a gift of God’s perfect and uncompromising grace for all people regardless of their thoughts, words, and deeds for the sake of His son, the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. He has prepared everything for everyone and He has called all the world to the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. You are invited. You are in good with God because of Jesus. Do you believe this? If so, then keep on believing this. Keep your faith alive and strong, even if He is delayed in His coming. Wait for His coming. Watch for His coming. Be prepared for His coming by bolstering, feeding, and strengthening your faith. Yeah, I know it’s hard to wait. God knows it’s hard for you to wait too. He knows that you will be distracted. He knows that you will fail at times. He knows that you will fall asleep, that you may even be asleep when Jesus returns. But faith is like oil in a lamp. If you have faith, and if you are sustained and kept in faith by His gracious gifts, then you are well prepared for His coming, even if you fall asleep. For the trumpet will sound, “Here is the Bridegroom! Wake up! Wake up!” Then, all you virgins, made pure, spotless, innocent, and holy in the blood of the Lamb, will come out to meet Him and will enter the marriage feast of the Bridegroom Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church. But, for now, while we are waiting and watching with eager and hopeful expectation, we gather around and receive this foretaste of that feast to come in Holy Communion with our Lord who has come, who comes to us now, and who is coming for us at a day and an hour we do not know. Therefore, with the Church of Christ of all times and of all places we cry out, “Maranatha,” come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, come.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.