Sunday, January 30, 2011

Homily for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany


Matthew 8:23-27; Romans 13:8-10; Jonah 1:1-17

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

Look up at the ceiling of this church. Its mighty beams and rafters supporting a tremendous weight, the protuberance of wood and iron braces, its great height and severe pitch – is it not reminiscent, in some way, of a great wooden ship, perhaps turned upside down? This is not a coincidence. Even in churches of a more modern structure, such as this one, the great architectural tradition of church buildings emulating ships is still carried through. For, the Church is a great naval vessel. She is a frigate sailing upon oft turbulent seas. She is a fishing boat catching men alive unto salvation through God’s creative Word and Sacraments. She is an ark in which God preserves His elect from the raging destruction of sin and death.

For, the sea is a fierce and pitiless force of nature, giving and taking life indiscriminately. In the Scriptures, the sea is at once the provider of food and a means for commerce, but it is also a symbol for the abyss of hell where leviathan and other demons dwell. In the case of Jonah, it was the LORD who hurled a great wind upon the sea causing a mighty tempest so that the ship threatened to break up. In the Gospel, the storm seemingly arose on the sea of purely arbitrary and natural causes. But, in both cases, the LORD was in control, whether actively or passively, using the elements for good in accordance with His wisdom. And, so it is that the same water which floated the ark and saved Noah and his family also drowned those outside in its furious torrents. And, so too, the waters of Holy Baptism both kill and make alive as the man of sin drowns and dies and the new man is raised to life.

Whether He commands the tempests or allows them to go their natural course, the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land, is in control of His creation. The LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea to strike terror in the hearts of the mariners that they would cry out to their gods and rouse sleeping Jonah to cry out to his God in repentance. The LORD allowed a great storm to arise upon the sea that the disciples would cry out in faith to their slumbering Lord. At their cry, Jesus awoke and demonstrated His authority over creation, rebuking the winds and the sea and bringing a great calm, and the disciples marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

What sort of man, indeed? He is none other than the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land, in human flesh. Jesus rebuked the winds and the sea. He spoke to them as one speaks to annoying servants. And, though He slept, the Lord was in command. He slept to illustrate the holy peace and confidence that comes from faith. He slept to illicit a cry of faith from His disciples, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”

When the Lord is in the boat, there is nothing to fear. When the storms of life threaten to overtake you, you must know that the Lord is in control and that, whether awake or asleep, He is in the boat with you. He is the love of God incarnate and the fulfilling of the Law. Through faith in Him, nothing can harm you. Though you often may have but a little faith, faith receives Him who is sufficient for all your needs of body and soul.

In life you pass through many storms. Some arise about you seemingly spontaneously. Others the Lord hurls at you directly. But, there is nothing that is outside of the Lord’s command. Sometimes He calms the storm and removes it from you after a time of testing. Other times He lets the storm seethe and, like Jonah, casts you into the midst of the raging sea that you might be swallowed up and put to death in repentance, before He enlivens you again and brings you back up to shore. And there are some storms that are never removed, but rather are to be endured until death, yet endured in faith. Because where there is perfect trust in the Lord, there is also perfect peace, no matter what storm may be pounding upon your little boat. Jesus, who is the Almighty God, who exercises authority and power over wind and wave, is also your Lord who loves you and has redeemed you from all sins, from the power of the devil and even from death itself.

This He proves to you in His Holy Word, and gives to you here in the ship of His Holy Church, a ship where He is present through the preaching of His Word and in the Holy Sacraments. And with these He answers your prayers for strength and healing and for help. For here He gives you His grace which will strengthen your faith even in the midst of life’s relentless storms, and will bring you through them into a safe harbor and life everlasting.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Homily for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany


Matthew 8:1-13; Romans 12:16-21; 2 Kings 5:1-15

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

It is a lesson about faith. It is a lesson about authority. It is a lesson about the creative power of the Word of God. It is a lesson about true healing in the forgiveness of sins. It is a lesson about the Gospel extended to the Gentiles. It is a lesson about Jesus made manifest as the Son of God in our own human flesh. It is a lesson about humility and repentance in receiving mercy from God and in showing mercy to our neighbors. Indeed, our Gospel lesson today is about all these lessons and many, many more, all at the same time, for the Word of God is an inexhaustible fountain of life and an inviting mystery that draws the faithful ever deeper into the life of God Himself.

In the Gospel lesson we are presented first with a Jewish leper and then with a Roman centurion, a commander of a hundred men, both of whom appeal to Jesus, the leper for cleansing and the centurion for the healing of his dying servant. Clearly the leper is a man of great faith. He dared to approach His Lord in his uncleanness and appealed to the Lord’s will saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” His words are an outstanding confession of faith in the good will, nature, and essence of His Lord. His confession is like unto Job’s – the Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the Name of the Lord – in that, even if it were not the Lord’s will to cleanse, the good will, nature, and essence of the Lord would not be changed in any way. But, the centurion outdid the leper in his confession. The centurion, initially, did not confess anything about Jesus, but merely laid his concern for his dying servant before the Lord. Without hesitation, Jesus said that He would go to his servant and heal him. But, this is when the centurion makes his great confession saying, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” What made the centurion’s confession great was not so much what he said about his Lord as it was what he said about himself – I am not worthy.

I am not worthy. I do not deserve your healing and forgiveness. I a poor and miserable sinner confess…. My brothers and sisters, we come before our Lord with no expectation of entitlements and with nothing of our own to offer. Rather, we come before the Lord as idolaters, as prodigals, as murderers, adulterers, and thieves. In humility and repentance we confess our sins and our iniquities against the Lord. We confess that we are worthy only of temporal and eternal punishment. We confess that to remain an unclean leper is too good for us. And, we confess our repentance and contrition and pray for the Lord’s mercy for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Jesus Christ alone. “Lord, I am not worthy,” we confess. “I forgive you all your sins,” our Lord replies. “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

In a beautiful display of the unity and concord of the Holy Scriptures, the Church, in Her wisdom, has assigned as the Old Testament lesson for this day the complimentary narrative concerning Naaman of Syria. Whereas, in the Gospel we were presented with a Jewish leper and a Roman centurion, Naaman is at once a Syrian commander and a leper. Now, Naaman was a powerful man of great authority and influence, and, yet, he was also a leper. Apparently, it seems, the disease of leprosy had not the same social stigma amongst the Syrians as it did amongst the Jews. Further, this may be indicative of the corruption of the pagan Syrian culture. Thus, when Naaman was informed that there was a prophet in Israel who could heal him, despite his leprosy, he was bold to go directly to the king of Israel. But, having, himself, no power to heal, the king of Israel was distraught. Thus, Elisha the prophet counseled the king to send Naaman to him. So, Naaman then came to Elisha with his horses and chariots and stood outside his house awaiting an audience with the prophet. But, Elisha sent out a messenger instead. The messenger instructed Naaman to wash in the Jordan seven times and that his flesh would be restored and he would be clean. But, Naaman was angry that neither the king nor the prophet would come to him in person. And, he expected ceremonial invocations and showy hand-wavings to accompany such a miracle. Also, he was repulsed by the lowly waters of Israel in comparison to the rivers of Damascus. And, so we see that Naaman is the exact opposite of the Roman centurion. Naaman came to the king and then to Elisha with expectations of entitlement and with a sense of self-worth that he merited respect and honor. He was offended and scandalized that a mere messenger and not the prophet himself would speak to him. He was offended and scandalized that he was given only the command to wash. And he was offended and scandalized that he was to submit himself to washing in such lowly and common waters as the Jordan in Israel. He would not accept the word delivered through subordinates and he would not surrender his own expectations, desires, and will even for the promise of healing.

How like Naaman are you, thinking that the uncleanness of your sin is no big deal and that you are entitled to be heard and served by your Lord on your own terms, according to your own preferences and expectations? How often are you offended and scandalized by the means and the messengers through which your Lord ministers to you, thinking them old fashioned, irrelevant, outdated, and foolish? How often do you think that what is desirable, beautiful, glorious, and pleasurable in your eyes should determine how we worship before our Lord? How often do you leave in a huff and grumble in anger, inciting others to join in your malcontent? Of this you must repent daily, for you are not worthy that the Lord should enter under your roof.

Nevertheless, thanks be to God, He does speak His Word and you are healed. And, it is a great Word that your God has spoken to you, the Word become flesh, dwelling amongst us, whose Name is Jesus, God’s salvation. Thou you were not worthy that He should come under your roof, He has come into your flesh and has joined you into Him. Though He had no uncleanness of His own, He submitted Himself to be baptized in the Jordan for you, to become the Lord’s anointed scapegoat, taking your leprous sin, and the sin of the whole world, upon Himself, to defeat Satan’s temptations and to destroy death by His own death upon the cross. All this He gives you freely in Holy Baptism without ceremonial hand-wavings and impressive flair, but with humble, common water and His mighty, creative, and life-giving Word delivered by humble and common messengers and servants.

The Lord does indeed have authority, as confessed by the centurion, over heaven and earth, yet it is not evidenced in the worldly ways desired by Naaman, but in and through humble means does the Lord exercise His authority to forgive sins and heal, cure, and raise up men afflicted by sin’s poison and death. Though the wages of sin is, universally, death, and though all afflictions, disease, and sufferings are but the symptoms of sin, Jesus is the victor over death. Thus He is the Great Physician of your body and soul and He is the Medicine of Immortality who brings life to all who receive Him. You are not worthy that He should enter under your roof, nevertheless, He has come amongst you and has drawn you into Himself. Even now He is present with His life-giving Word to cleanse and forgive you, to feed and sustain you, and to send you as His messengers of mercy for the life of the world.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Homily for the Second Sunday after Epiphany


John 2:1-11; Romans 12:6-16; Exodus 33:12-23

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

Our Lord simply loves weddings! After crowning His six-day’s work with the creation of man – male and female He created them – He joined them together in the one-flesh union of marriage and blessed them that they would be fruitful and multiply. And, it was at a wedding that Jesus performed His first sign, or miracle, and manifested His glory. Then, in the Revelation, we see our glorified Lord, standing as a Lamb slain, being wedded to His Bride the Church coming down from heaven. From the beginning, it has been God who has joined together; from shortly thereafter, it has been man who has separated.

Thus, Jesus blesses the wedding party at Cana with His presence. He wants to be there as two of His beloved children are made to be one. Our Lord simply loves weddings. He came with His mother and with His disciples who believed in Him. But, the wedding party ran out of wine. How many marriages today are at risk of running out of wine, or have already run out of wine? What God created as holy and as a fruitful blessing, marriage, has, because of man’s sin, become bittersweet and fraught with lies and deception, sorrow and pain. What was to be a brilliant image of the union God would have with man has become but a dim reflection. For, more than our fragmented marriages between husbands and wives, it is our marriage with God that has run out of wine. This Jesus came to restore, but His hour had not yet come.

Jesus’ hour, in John’s Gospel, is the appointed time of His passion and death on the cross. It is a time that will not be forced upon Jesus apart from His will: His life is His to lay down, no one takes it from Him. When His mother informed Him that the wedding party had run out of wine, Jesus replied that it was not a matter of concern between them now and that it was not yet the time for the shedding of His blood. Mary clearly understood this. Nevertheless, she instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus told them. It seems that Mary, who pondered the mystery of her son in her heart, who heard the prophecy told about Him by Simeon that He would be for a sign spoken against and for the rising and failing of many in Israel, and that a sword would pierce her own heart too, it seems that Mary urged her son along His destined path to the cross that He would perform this first sign and manifest His glory.

For, Jesus’ glory was manifested, not primarily in the miracle of changing water into wine, but Jesus’ glory was manifested in this first glimpse of His hour of passion that was yet to come. The water in those six stone jars was for the Jewish rites of purification. It was water that had been set aside to wash away the wedding party’s uncleanness that Jesus changed into wine. Amongst the sadness and the shame of this wedding party that had run out of wine, Jesus began to take the curse of man’s great divorce from God upon Himself and to fill its place with joy and life, the finest of wine. For, the glory of Jesus is not manifested primarily in wonders and miracles, but the glory of Jesus is manifested in the Lamb of God’s self-offering in death on the cross.

The wedding of Adam and Eve was an image of man’s wedding with God. That was the first day. Succumbing to temptation, tasting the forbidden fruit, man became the whore and divorced God in adultery. That was the second day. But, on the third day, there was a wedding. The third day is the day of resurrection, the Lord’s Day, the day on which the sun never sets. Jesus came to turn man’s sorrow and death into joy and life. He came to fill what the Law demands of us to the very brim, and not with mediocrity, but with the finest works, obedience, and love. He came to lay down His life for His friends, the greatest expression of love possible, that they might be restored unto God and live.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the Church, His body, and is Himself its Savior. Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love you wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her, that He might sanctify Her, having cleansed Her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that She might be holy and without blemish. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.

Jesus’ first sign at the wedding of Cana points us squarely to the greatest sign, the sign of Jonah, that is Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection on the third day. For, it was from Jesus’ riven side upon the cross that was brought forth His Bride the Church. From the side of the New Adam was brought forth the New Eve in water and blood.

It is still the Third Day, the Day of Resurrection, and we are gathered here as one body in the water and the blood of our Bridegroom Jesus Christ. This is the New Cana, where the Lamb of God stands as though slain, still bearing the marks of His Calvary as glorious life-giving signs. And, the master of the feast, Satan, is stunned, knowing not from whence this precious wine comes (though you know) saying, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This is the Lamb’s High Feast, the Feast of Victory of Our God. He has fulfilled the Law, filled its gaping tomb-like mouth to the brim with the finest wine of His holy blood. No longer need you repeatedly, ritually return to the water for cleansing, but having been cleansed in His blood once and for all you are clean, holy before the Lord. This feast is but a foretaste of the Feast that is to come, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom that has no end. But, it is all you need for today, for tomorrow, until He comes. Come quickly Lord Jesus. Come quickly, come.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Homily for the Baptism of the Our Lord


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

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

Children of God, let us not make light of the Baptism of our Lord, and let us not make light of our own baptism, for it is because of His baptism that our Lord’s death was efficacious, and it is because of His baptism that your baptism is efficacious. Jesus’ baptism was fitting, it was proper, it was necessary. Thus, when Jesus approached John to be baptized by him, John protested saying “I need to be baptized by you.” Jesus did not deny John’s complaint but, agreeing, He replied “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The baptism of Jesus was fitting, it was proper, it was necessary for the fulfillment of all righteousness. Or, to state it negatively, all righteousness would not be have been fulfilled were it not for the baptism of Jesus. Thus, we dare not make light of the Baptism of our Lord, and we dare not make light of our own baptism.

But what is it about Jesus’ baptism that is so special, so necessary? Here, the placement of this Feast in the Sanctoral Calendar is informative. The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord is celebrated the Sunday after the Epiphany, immediately on the heels of the Christmas cycle celebrating the Birth of our Lord. So, as the story of the birth of Jesus is still fresh in our minds we are caused to reflect upon the second birth of our Lord – His holy baptism. Consider the language of Jesus’ baptism: And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” It sounds like an infant child passing through the birth canal into the light of day being received by His loving Father crying out, “It’s a boy! And, He’s perfect!” And then, what does our Lord teach us about baptism: Unless one is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Indeed, it was fitting, it was proper, it was necessary for our holy and sinless Lord to step into the waters of the Jordan, along with sinners of all kinds, so that He could take the sins of all humanity upon Himself and, in exchange, make all men righteous through Him. In His baptism, Jesus, who was conceived and born without sin, was born again in sin, man’s sin, and was made to be sin for us that we might be made righteous in Him.

It was Creation all over again! The Father spoke. The Son was spoken. And the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. But, what was created this time was a new man, a new Adam, a new son of God with whom He could be fully pleased. The old Adam had closed heaven by his sin; the New Adam has opened it! The old Adam drowned in the waters of the Jordan; the New Adam stepped forth into life and light. The uncreated Son of God became a creature as the Son of Man – it is upon Him, Jesus, that God poured out His anointing Spirit and christened Him Son, Christ, Messiah, Savior – for you.

Jesus’ baptism was fitting, it was proper, it was necessary to fulfill all righteousness. If Jesus had not been baptized, then we would have no Christ and we would still be in our sins, our baptisms would be meaningless and useless. But Jesus has been baptized, He is the Christ, the Anointed of the Lord, and He has taken all our sins upon Himself and has given us His righteousness. He has sanctified the waters of Baptism in His blood to make them a cleansing flood of forgiveness for all men. He is God’s Son for us; with Him God is fully pleased for us. He is the Chosen One, chosen by the Father, and the Father put His Spirit upon Him and no other – for us.

His baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. At once He is subject to temptation by the devil and mockery and persecution by men. And, at once He begins to proclaim the fulfillment of God’s Law and the presence of His Kingdom. He heals the sick, restores sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and speech to the dumb, He makes the paralyzed to walk and He cleanses lepers while proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. His teaching is that, in Him you are forgiven, you are free. Why, then, do you remain in the prison house of sin and death? Why do you continue to strive to earn God’s favor by works? Take up your mat and walk! Go, and sin no more! Your faith has made you well!

Of Jesus, God said through the prophet Isaiah, “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Children of God, it is still Christmas, and Jesus is the Gift that keeps on giving! “And because of Him,” writes the Apostle Paul, “You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Jesus is your Anointed One, Christ for you. Because of His baptism is your baptism a cleansing flood of forgiveness. For, you are baptized into Christ: His baptism is your baptism. His righteousness is your righteousness. His death is your death and His resurrection is your resurrection. He is God’s Son, with whom God is well pleased; through baptism into Him, you are God’s children, forgiven, freed, and possessing eternal life and salvation!

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things! Your baptism, your faith, your forgiveness, your righteousness – these are the LORD’s work who alone does wondrous things. The LORD upheld and chose His servant Jesus. The LORD took delight in Him. The LORD placed His Spirit upon Him. The LORD called Him in righteousness. The LORD gave Him as a covenant for the people and as a light for the nations. For, God has chosen the weak and the foolish things of this world, the low and the despised, even things that are not, to shame the wise and the strong; and the LORD has chosen and called you to faith and baptism into Christ that He might say of you, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” In Christ, God became man that man might become God. Christ is baptized. Let us descend with Him that we may also ascend.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Homily for the Epiphany Walk

The six Christian congregations in the Village of Pawling, NY have a longstanding, unique, and beloved tradition called the Epiphany Walk. Each year on the Sunday before Epiphany, members of the congregations and the community walk together from church to church, stopping at each for a brief service or program. In the past, churches have featured their choirs, a portion of their children’s Christmas program, a prayer service, a hymn sing, etc. Each church does something different. At Christ the King, we pray Evening Prayer, sing two hymns, feature a choral piece, and I preach a brief homily. Each of the churches builds its theme around one of the pericopes of Epiphantide.


Isaiah 9:2-7

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

It is the ninth day of Christmas; three more to go, and then the Epiphany. Many of you have already chucked your tree to the curb; that’s ok, especially considering you may have set it up over a month ago, just after Thanksgiving. And, if your decorations are still up, they may be beginning to look a bit bedraggled and disheveled. That’s understandable. Soon, we will have all packed up our ornaments and stowed away our trimmings and put Christmas behind us for another year. However, my friends, let us not put a cover on the Light that we have enjoyed this season. For what we celebrate at Christmas is the fact that the True Light who enlightens everyone has penetrated this world of darkness, sin, and death. And that that has changed everything!

You were once a people walking in darkness, but now you are children of the Light. You have been changed! You are no longer in the dark, but you are in the light. You are no longer strangers, but you are children, even sons! This God has done for you – this God has done to you – in the incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ. There is nothing for you to do but to live and to walk in the Light and to not hinder the Light from shining about you and through you. My friends, this is as passive and natural as being born. Christ’s birth is the new birth of all humanity; Christ’s birth is your new birth – you are a child of the Light, a son of your heavenly Father, born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Being a son of God means that you have access to your heavenly Father. You can ask Him anything in the Name of Jesus and He will give it to you. More than that, you have access to His will and His voice; He is with you always with His Word to lighten your path and guide your feet, His Absolution to restore you when you go astray, and with His flesh and blood to strengthen you in communion with Himself. You are always loved and you are never alone.

Yet, even now the sun is setting. This world can still be a very dark and a very cold place. But the night is but a little while, and even in the darkness of our night, we know that the sun is still shining and that dawn will soon break. Dear friends, do not despair at the darkness of the world. Do not lose hope because of the personal darkness in your lives. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given – and that has changed everything!

The government is upon His shoulder – no, not the bloated, corrupt, inefficient, and misguided governments of men, but the government of the universe and all things in it where Christ stands as the Lamb who was slain, the flagstaff of sins forgiven for all the world. His Name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He is your Savior. He is your God. He is your brother. And that has changed everything!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Homily for the Second Sunday after Christmas


Matthew 2:13-23; 1 Peter 4:12-19; Genesis 46:1-7

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

On Christmas Eve, Christians the whole world over heard the precious and familiar story of Jesus’ birth as St. Luke has recorded it in the Gospel that bears his name. St. Luke’s infancy narrative is by far the most familiar and beloved, but it is not the only one. St. Matthew, too, has a narrative of Jesus’ birth, though it is much more compact and seems to serve the specific purpose of demonstrating that the circumstances of Jesus’ birth serve to fulfill specific Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. And, if you attended Divine Service on Christmas Day, then you also heard the very succinct and highly theological birth narrative presented by St. John. However, few Christians are likely aware that there is a fourth narrative of Jesus’ birth in the Holy Scriptures and that it is to be found in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, chapter twelve:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.

In stark contrast to the silent and holy night of our imaginations, there is an unseen reality that permeates the story of our Savior’s birth, indeed that was in the world before the incarnation and that remains in the world today, the dragon. Satan, that ancient serpent and tempter, was poised to devour the Christ child upon birth. Indeed, it seems that murderous Herod was but a shadow of the true face of evil as he slaughtered the innocents of Bethlehem in his attempt to destroy Jesus. However, having been warned by the angel of Herod’s furious intent, Joseph packed up his family and fled into Egypt.

Egypt had been the ironic refuge of God’s people since the time of Jacob. Though the Egyptians were pagans who worshiped the sun god Ra, the creator god Amun, and the mother god Isis, along with the Pharaoh himself, God assured Jacob saying, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again.” And God did indeed make Israel into a great nation in Egypt. But in their prosperity, the people forgot about their homeland in Canaan to the east, and the Egyptians forgot about God’s mercy during the administration of Joseph, and God delivered the Israelites unto slavery.

Egypt is, at once, symbolic of both a place of refuge and sanctuary and the place of enslavement and captivity. Egypt, and the surrounding desert wilderness, is the place where Satan dwells, whether in the form of Pharaoh, wild beasts, or the tempter himself. It is the place of waiting in patient faith and trust for the Lord. It is the place where nurture and protection comes from the Lord alone. God sends His people into Egypt that they might learn to trust in Him for all things. God allows His people to dwell in the midst of tyrants and tempters, war, pestilence, and death that they might find comfort, peace, and hope in Him alone.

Thus, St. Peter writes to you, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Since the first Israel, Jacob and his descendents, proved themselves unfaithful to the Lord, God sent His Son Jesus, the New Israel, down into Egypt that the prophecy might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.” Jesus brings to perfection what old Israel could not. He is the faithful Israel, the embodiment of the people of God. He offers His perfect and holy life in place of our own. He submits Himself to persecution and suffering in order to save us.

Therefore, we should not think it strange when we who are in Christ experience trials because of the faith. Rather, we rejoice to share in Christ’s sufferings, knowing that we will also share in His glory. For, it is still out of Egypt that God calls His son; that is to say that it is out of trial and tribulation that God calls you into His glorious presence and life: It is only captives that can be freed. It is only the suffering who can be comforted. And it is only sinners who can be saved.

And the Lord who promised to go down into Egypt with Jacob and all Israel has come down into our Egypt in the person of Jesus. He has made a blessed exchange with us, taking our sin and rebellion upon Himself and dying our death but giving us His righteousness, holiness, and life. He is with us now in this wilderness full of temptations, tribulations, pestilence, and death to forgive and renew, to bind up our wounds and strengthen our faith, promising still, “I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again.” It is but a little while before this corruptible puts on incorruption. Until then, we have His Word, His Absolution, His Baptism, and His Holy Body and Precious Blood. Therefore, let us entrust our souls to our faithful Creator while doing good.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe on the Divine Service

In worship the congregation experiences its Lord most intimately. Here it lives in nearest proximity to its Groom in a heavenly life on earth, an earthly life in heaven. Worship is the most beautiful flower of earthly life. Just like land in the middle of an ocean, the Word and the Sacraments stand in the inner life and worship of the congregation. You have one week behind you, a new week lies in front of you. Between these two weeks is the day of Communion Sunday. You desire to draw near to God with the congregation. What do you, whether you are a shepherd or a sheep, have to do first? You do what all religions say is necessary for the soul: you cleanse it like feet that have become dirty from the activity of daily life. In other words, you prepare yourself for worship by confessing your sins and receiving absolution. Being cleansed from sin, you enter into the joys of the particular festival day or Sunday. But the worshiper finds that earth still has other burdens and sorrows, both present and future. Life, death, and eternity, with all of their bitter fruits and consequences, threaten you as you journey to the heavenly kingdom. Worries burden you and keep burdening you. But no longer does sin torture you, no longer do you fear evil, no longer do you sigh longingly, but joyful confidence fills your soul. You sit beneath the face of the Lord. In the sermon you begin to experience the blessed communion of the saints who rejoice in the Lord. The worshiping congregation experiences itself as the Bride of the Lord, rich not  only in and through Him but also in and through one another. The congregation, in its fullness, thinks of the special needs and miseries upon the earth, delights in all good things, and goes before the altar of the Lord with intercessions, petitions, and prayers. All worshipers are blessed and approach the throne of blessing knowing they are worthy. The worshipers realize that the Church is one unit both here and everywhere. Pilgrims are one in their prayers and are cleansed with all of the blessed saints in heaven.

From Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 2008

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Homily for the Feast of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus


Luke 2:21; Galatians 3:23-29; Number 6:22-27

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

The sun has set and we are gathered here in God’s house to receive forgiveness for our sins and strength for our faith. It is the dawn of a new year, and there is no better way to begin it than in prayerful reception of God’s gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. But it is also the Eighth Day of Christmas, the day our incarnate Lord received the Name that the angel Gabriel told Mary He would be named: Jesus, which means God is salvation. And in conjunction with that Name, our infant priest shed the first drop of His holy, precious blood as He was circumcised according to the Law. This was His morning sacrifice, so to speak, between the crib and the cross; thirty-three years later our Great High Priest would offer the full measure in the evening sacrifice on Good Friday.

Long ago God made a covenant with Abraham that his seed would be the heir of the promise, the Messiah. God sealed that covenant with a sign in Abraham’s flesh, circumcision. Through the outward sign of circumcision, men were brought into the covenant with God and were brought under the Law. Our Lord submitted to circumcision in humble obedience to the Law and to His Father’s will and because it was necessary as a part of man’s redemption from sin and death.

Circumcision is, of course, a cutting off of the flesh. That is clear enough. The question is “Why?” and “Why that particular member?” As to the “Why?” of circumcision, it is because the flesh is sinful and corrupt, even after conversion; it must die and be cut away. As to the “particular member” involved in circumcision, we might wonder “Why not the hands, or the heart, or the tongue?” While those members are indeed corrupt and the instruments of great sin, they are but the symptoms of man’s sin problem. Circumcision gets directly at the root of our problem: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. We come from corrupted seed and the corruption is passed on through our fathers. We aren’t sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. And so to show that it’s the root of the whole matter that’s gone wrong, circumcision. So what needs to be changed is not behavior, but our very selves, our hearts, the core of our very being. Each time you pray “Create in me a clean heart, O God” you are crying out for that of which circumcision is the sign.

But what about the women? Had they no such sign? No, for this was to point to Christ, who would be born of woman, but not of male seed. He would be born indeed, but not from corrupted seed, not born in our sin at all. Born holy, yet fully human, and so not needing circumcision. Free from the curse, free from death itself. And yet, He submitted Himself to be circumcised and to place Himself under the Law to free us who are under the Law by His innocent suffering and death.

And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the Name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. The eighth day transcends our time which is bound up in endless series of sevens. The eighth day points us to a new day on which the sun never sets, the first day of eternal life. Hebrew boys were brought into this new life through circumcision. Jesus too was circumcised on the eighth day to fulfill that sign for all humanity. After His suffering and death, He rose again on the eighth day, never to die again and the firstfruits of those who die in the Lord. Now, Christians are born again unto eternal life through Holy Baptism which replaces circumcision as a circumcision of the heart made without hands. Thus our fonts are marked with eight sides, signifying that we have died and have been raised with Christ and that even though we die, yet shall we live.

And, as Christ received His Name on this day, so too we have been baptized into that Name that is above every name: Jesus, God is salvation. This is the Name that God has known from before that beginning of time, the Name that is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

As we begin this new year in God’s grace, let us resolve ourselves to live in that Name that is above every Name and to daily return to our baptism’s through repentance and faith in the Name of Jesus who has saved us from our sins through His innocent shed blood.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

[Portions of this homily are borrowed liberally from sermons by Martin Luther and William Weedon]