Sunday, December 30, 2012

Homily for The Feast of the Holy Innocents (observed)

F-5 Holy Innocents (Mt 2.13-23)


Matthew 2:13-18; Revelation 14:1-5; Jeremiah 31:15-17

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

An angel of the Lord warned Joseph that evil was coming. He offered no explanation as to why there was evil, or why God would permit evil to happen, but only the stern warning stating the prescient reality of evil, “Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy Him.”

What is striking in this horrific account of evil in the first years of our young Lord’s life is not the fact that evil exists, but that God provided the Holy Family advance warning. The children and teachers in Sandy Hook Elementary School were not so fortunate. There was no advance warning that evil was coming, but, as one pastor put it, “Herod shot his way into the school two weeks ago. Well not the Biblical Herod, but the evil that he represents, that evil filled a person and shot its way into the classroom.” Evil came to Newtown on Friday, December 14, 2012. There was no advance warning. Twenty children, most about the age of six, and six adults were murdered, and two were wounded, and, seemingly, God permitted it to happen.

Yes, God permitted it to happen. That is the correct conclusion to draw. It is not that God is unable to prohibit evil, if it is His will to do so, nor is it that God is not good and does not desire to prohibit evil, and nor is it that God simply doesn’t exist. Rather, God is in control of evil, though He is not its creator or source, and He prohibits it, and He permits it, in accordance with His holy will.

The cry of the flesh into the heavens is, “How can a good and loving God ever permit evil, suffering, and death to befall His creatures?” Luther referred to this as God’s alien work. In His alien work, another pastor writes, “God destroys things, He creates calamity, and He lays waste to our idols and to us, because we have turned our own lives into idolatry. He lays waste to us and to all that we have placed before Him seeking to save us.” This is to say, Luther understood God’s alien work to be discipline, not punishment, meted out in love to destroy all our idols, all that we have raised up before and above Him, all that gets in between Him and us. Truly, it was idolatry that introduced evil and death into the world, something feared, loved, and trusted more than and above God by our First Parents, and by Satan himself. Since the fall, every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil.

It was God’s will to spare the infant Jesus from Herod’s murderous evil. However, it was God’s will also to surrender His Son unto evil on Good Friday that, through death, He might destroy the sting of death. But, what about the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem? What about the innocents in Newtown? Why did God permit them to be overcome by evil and slaughtered, without advance warning or seeming purpose? Here the answer, once again, is God’s alien work, that He permits evil, that He even sends evil, though He is not the source of evil, to save us all from evil.

One of the best passages from Scripture to illustrate this truth comes from the Prophet Isaiah: “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.” From man’s perspective, there is evil, and then there is Evil with a capital E. We look at the wanton slaughtering of young children, both in Newtown, and in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, and we call it Evil with a capital E. However, the fact that over 16,000 children worldwide die each day from hunger-related causes, we blithely consider to be evil, not to mention the fact that 3,200 babies die each day from abortion – that’s a child every 32 seconds and 54 million children since 1973 when abortion was legalized in the United States.

Truly, sinful man has no sanctified ground from which to judge evil, with or without a capital E, but only God does, and He prohibits evil and permits evil according to His divine and holy, proper and alien will. He worked to prohibit evil from befalling Jesus in the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, but in His alien work He gave Jesus over to death on the cross. Surely diseases, natural disasters, and wars do not have their source in God, but they are according to His permissive will, His alien work, under His control and according to His divine goodness, holiness, and righteousness. Even those horrors which have their unquestionable source in man’s sinful corruption, abortions, murders, massacres, and wars, God permits, controls, limits, and directs as His alien work for a good we cannot usually see, know, or understand.

What about those innocents in Newtown? What can we possibly say about that? What good could God possibly bring from permitting evil to happen in such a way as that? My dear Christians, I will be the first to tell you that I do not know what good God in His infinite wisdom sees and will bring from this horror, but that He has certainly knocked down and destroyed many a man’s idols. For too many, life itself is an idol, separating us from God, stealing our fear, love, and trust which belong to Him alone. If such sudden and horrific evil and death can fall upon such young and innocent souls as those in Newtown, or in the shopping mall in Oregon, or the movie theater in Colorado, then it can certainly fall upon us as well. Your God is a jealous God. He is not jealous as you are jealous, envious, and covetous of your neighbor’s material goods, spouse, and blessings, but He loves you with a perfect and holy love that will not share you with any other thing that He has made, which you have fashioned into a god of your own design. He will have you for Himself every day of your life, and He will have you for Himself for eternity, which is greater by far.

When calamity, horror, and evil death befall you and those you love, or your neighbor you do not know, we have God’s Word that “the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.” What evil? Is not being slaughtered by a crazed gunman at the age of six an evil to be spared from? No, for there is a greater evil than even horrific and untimely death, eternal death in hellish separation from God’s gracious presence and life. This, your heavenly Father will permit many evil things to happen to you to preserve you from, because He loves you and will never leave you or forsake you for the sake of His Son, whom He gave over unto evil death to secure for you salvation and eternal life.

Interestingly, a related theme emerges in the propers appointed for The Feast of The Holy Innocents which might seem to run against the grain of orthodox Christian doctrine concerning our justification and reception of the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. In our Old Testament reading the Prophet Jeremiah actually speaks of a work which will be rewarded. He says, “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.” These words of comfort and hope were spoken to Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin, who had died a thousand years earlier. Speaking prophetically of the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities in 722 and 586 B.C., Jeremiah pictures Rachel weeping bitterly for her distant offspring, the children of Israel, refusing to be comforted as though they were dead. Jeremiah tells Rachel to not weep, for there will be a reward for her labor of bringing her children into the world. They would come back from the land of the enemy, to their own country. A remnant would return.

In his Gospel, St. Matthew writes that this prophecy was fulfilled in the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, thereby connecting the return of the remnant, not only the children of Israel’s return to the promised land, but the spiritual children of Israel’s return to the promised land of heaven. The work, of which Jeremiah prophesies, which will be rewarded, is much less the labor of childbirth than it is the work of martyrdom for the sake of Jesus. The Holy Innocents of Bethlehem were slaughtered, not because of anything that they had done, but because of Herod’s murderous attempt to kill the infant Jesus. They died because of Jesus, the result of evil they had not committed, so that the Holy Family would flee back into the land of Israel’s historic enemy, to Egypt, that the prophecy would be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I have called my Son.” As through Moses, God long ago called Israel, His son, out of bondage and slavery in Egypt, into the good land of promise, so through His Son Jesus, the new Moses and the new Israel, God would once again call His children forth out of slavery and bondage, not to Pharaoh, but to sin, death, and Satan. All God’s children must pass through death. But, God’s own Son, Jesus, has suffered evil and death in our place and has passed through death, destroying its sting, into free and eternal life for all who trust in Him and follow Him in the way that He has blazed.

God does not spare you death, for His own Word of warning has made it a necessity, “In the day that you eat of [the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil] you shall surely die.” However, He has suffered death for you, in your place, and He has given you His Word of promise, “[you] shall come back from the land of the enemy,” “your children shall come back to their own country.” When death comes, all Christians die as martyrs, for death is an enemy, your enemy and God’s enemy, and you too are His Holy Innocents, made innocent, holy, and righteous in the blood of His Son, Jesus, whom He has called out of Egypt, the land of the enemy, death, hell, and Satan.

Your life in this world is like everything else in this world, a gift of God over which He has made you managers and stewards. Therefore, your life belongs to Him alone. The best that you can experience or imagine in this life is but a dim shadow of the life that is to come in communion with God, in the presence of His holiness and glory. Likewise, the worst that you can experience or imagine in this life is but a dim shadow of the death-like life that is separation from God’s gracious presence. Thus, Jesus has taught you to refrain from making your life in this world an idol saying, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

What good comes from evil? Your idols are shattered, even those you didn’t know you had, and Christ alone is revealed as the one thing certain, the one thing needful and necessary, and God is glorified. Today He provides you the fruits of His death that, in the midst of death, you may have life – a foretaste of true and eternal life, on the other side of death, in communion with God in Christ Jesus.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

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.

Finitum non capax infinitum – The finite cannot contain the infinite. With this saying, also known as the extra-calvinisticum, the French theologian John Calvin hoped to rebut Luther’s teaching concerning the Lord’s supper, insisting that God, who is infinite, filling heaven and earth, the Creator of all things material and immaterial, cannot possibly be contained within the finite and limited bread and wine in Holy Communion. Truly, one wants to sympathize with Calvin in so stridently attempting to preserve God’s sovereignty and utter transcendence, and to not attempt to limit God or to put God in a box, so to speak. However, if we are to take God at His Word, and surely we are, then has He not revealed to us that He has in fact limited Himself and placed Himself into a box, so to speak, because it was both necessary for our justification and for our reception of Him in faith and trust?

For, what does it mean that the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle, but that the infinite fullness of the Godhead took up residence within the finite four walls of the tabernacle which God Himself had commanded Moses to construct according to His precise specifications? And, what does it mean that God’s Word of creation, who was with God from the beginning, and who was God, by whom all things have been made – what does it mean that the infinite Word became flesh and dwelt among us, but that the infinite God has limited Himself and has placed Himself into a box, so to speak, that is, into finite human flesh, born of a woman in lowliness and humility?

Truly, it was not the doctrine of the real presence of our Lord’s body and blood in the Supper that was at stake so much as it was orthodox Christian doctrine and faith itself as Calvin claimed that “the Word is fully united to but never totally contained within the human nature [of Jesus] and, therefore, even in the incarnation is to be conceived of as beyond or outside of [extra] the human nature.” What then did St. Paul have in mind when he wrote of Jesus, “In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily”? Likewise, what did the Nicene Fathers have in mind when they formulated the Creed saying that Christ is “very God of very God, … being of one substance with the Father”? Did Calvin not see that, not only did God deliberately and intentionally limit Himself in becoming a finite man, but that God’s becoming man was absolutely necessary and essential for man’s justification?

Now, perhaps I am not being charitable to Calvin who, at least, had good intentions. For, he was not the first, and he certainly wasn’t the last, to attempt to use human reason and philosophy to understand and to demystify that which is truly a divine mystery beyond human understanding and reason – The mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord. That specific mystery, the Incarnation, is truly what we are celebrating this Christmas morning, of which St. John writes so profoundly in his Gospel Prologue, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son form the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The Incarnation is the divine mystery to which God had been pointing mankind since He walked with our First Parents in the Garden. Our Creator and God deigns to dwell and commune with us, His finite creatures. Therefore, when our First Parents rebelled and fell into sin and death, God put into action the plan He had established before they sinned, before their creation, even before the foundation of the heavens and the earth themselves: He would give us a son. He would give us His Son. And, in His Son, our God and Creator would become one of us, His finite creatures, and He would do all that was necessary to restore us, not only to stand in His holy presence, but to commune with Him forevermore – flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone.

Why didn’t Calvin get it? Charitably speaking, he probably did. It’s more likely, however, that he simply wouldn’t believe it could be that easy, that God would do such thing, condescend in such a way as to take on finite human flesh and be born in lowliness and humility, to suffer and die. But, again, Calvin’s not alone. Gnostics had denied, and still do, that the infinite Divine Logos could take on finite and corruptible flesh, or could suffer and die. And, today, it is fashionable to blend New Age mysticism with Christianity, and maybe throw in a little Oriental philosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism to boot. Is not the cliché of our day “I’m spiritual, but not religious”? By this, people mean that they believe in some sort of infinite spiritual reality, but they won’t be pressed to define it or confess it in any particular or finite way. That is, they won’t limit their gods or goddesses, or attempt to put them in a box.

Why is this so difficult for us to apprehend? Perhaps it is simply because of the fact that men are finite, because our minds are finite and limited, we simply cannot conceive of what God in His infinite wisdom and power might do. For, in truth, in our striving to protect and to preserve God’s sovereignty, are we not limiting Him and boxing Him in saying, “No God, you can’t mean that you are really and truly present in the Supper. That’s impossible! You must mean something else.” We shouldn’t be surprised that we don’t understand. This the writers of the Lutheran Confessions confessed of the Incarnation in the Formula of Concord saying, “In this personal union the two natures [of Christ] have such a grand, intimate, indescribable communion that even the angels are astonished by it.” Even the angels of heaven are astonished and mystified by God’s Wisdom and Power and Grace. We are so bound up in this material world and materialism, that we think more of the stuff of this world than we do the Creator of stuff, world, and all things in it. Because of the finite limitations of matter, we disbelieve the Word of our divine and infinite God.

Our problem is always a First Commandment problem – idolatry: Worshipping the creation instead of the Creator. We do this in two ways: Placing our fear, love, and trust in material things above and before God, or disbelieving God’s Word that He limits Himself and places Himself, where He has promised, in the stuff of His creation.

God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. The closest experience to that kind of love that we can experience this side of heaven is the birth of a child. As a child is conceived and born of your own flesh and blood, so that his existence and life is both from you and sustained by you, so God’s creation was brought forth from Himself. And, just as loving parents would not abandon or destroy their child who disobeyed and rebelled against them, but would discipline them and sacrifice their own right for love of the child, so God would not and could not destroy His creation or consign it to damnation, but He lovingly and mercifully, selflessly and sacrificially did what His justice and righteousness required to restore man to a right relationship with Himself.

The Incarnation of Our Lord is the re-creation and rebirth of man from the inside out. God has not merely spoken His Word to us, but He has spoken His Word into us. Where, before, there was God and man, separated from one another, now, in Jesus, God and man are in communion with one another. Our divine and infinite God has condescended to dwell within finite and limited man. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us. Jesus took His sinless body and soul to the cross, where He earned in His body and soul the wage of our sin and rebellion. He died and was buried, and on the third day God raised Him from the dead. He ascended into the heavens and sits at the right hand of God the Father. Now, our divine and infinite God, not only has taken up our human flesh and blood, but in our human flesh and blood He now, mysteriously, and without limitation, fills all things. Thus, He is really and truly present in the Holy Supper, in His resurrected and glorified body and blood. And, thus, we commune with the living Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. On the Last Day, He will come again in His human flesh and blood body and He will raise our flesh and blood bodies from their sleep and glorify our bodies like His own glorified body to live with Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit in heaven forevermore.

The Incarnation of Our Lord is the true and perfect gift of Christmas. This is most certainly true.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

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

Nativity Icon


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.

When the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, the Evangelist tells us that she was greatly troubled and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. Truly, Mary’s response to an angelic greeting was not unique. In fact, St. Luke, alone records no less than three angelic appearances in the first two chapters of his Gospel, beginning with the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah, the soon to be father of John the Baptist. Zechariah was serving as priest in the temple at the hour of incense when Gabriel came to him in a vision. Luke tells us that he was troubled when he saw him, and that fear fell upon him. Later, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, an angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Luke tells us, in the old King James translation, that they were sore afraid.

Outside of the infancy narratives, even in the Old Testament, whenever an angel from heaven visited God’s people, they were filled with fear. Perhaps the most well known instance is that of the prophet Isaiah who, when he beheld, in a vision, the angels of God surrounding His throne, famously confessed, “Woe is me! I am undone! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell amongst a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” In this, Isaiah’s confession, we hear the reason that God’s people are so very afraid in the presence of God’s holy angels – it is because of their unclean lips, the guilt of their sin which makes them and all men unholy. Isaiah was right, of course; he should have been undone. He should have died.

But, that’s not what happened. Instead, an angel of heaven flew to him, having in his hands tongs holding a live coal taken from the altar of sacrifice. The angel touched the burning coal to Isaiah’s lips and said to him, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Our sin separates us from God. His holiness can only consume and destroy sin, guilt, and unholiness. Such things have no place in God’s holy presence. But, besides being perfectly holy and just, the very standard and definition of these, He is also the standard and the measure of goodness, love, mercy, and grace. Therefore, instead of destroying unholy man, He did what was necessary to justify him, to make him to be right and clean and holy in His presence. God forgave and atoned for Isaiah’s sin and guilt and made him clean. And, the fact that the purifying coal came from the altar of sacrifice demonstrates that His forgiveness comes at a cost – holy and innocent sacrificial blood, blood shed for those who are unholy.

The first words from the angels’ lips are always “Do not fear.” The justification? “You have found favor with God.” In other words, there is no need for you to be afraid, not because you are sinless and holy, but because God has chosen to look at you that way, because God has sacrificed Himself to make that possible. You have found favor with God. It almost sounds as though you tripped over it, or that it fell into your lap. Do not think that it was your work, or your will, your choice, or your decision; you weren’t even looking for God, let alone for His favor. But, He has found you, and He has decided and chosen to have favor upon you freely, apart from your will, decision, or choice, because of the goodness, the mercy, and the love that He is.

Fear. That is something that you and I are more in touch with this Christmas than in years past. With the shocking, sudden horror of the Newtown massacre fresh in our minds, and that grief and sorrow heavy on our hearts, we are afraid. We are afraid for our children. We are afraid for others we love. We are afraid for ourselves, for our security, and for our way of life. In fact, you are seemingly surrounded by fear and uncertainty, horror and tragedy, everywhere you turn, every moment of your life. They say we are heading for a fiscal cliff. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? An ancient calendar has had us wondering for over a year whether we’d be here tonight or not. I almost didn’t write this sermon. If you’re near retirement age, you’re probably wondering if anyone will look after you and care for you when you are no longer able to care for yourself. You’re probably wondering how you will pay for all the things you will need as you get older and have little or no income. If you’re parents of young children, you’re probably wondering if your children will be safe when they go to school, will they learn what they need to be successful adults, what kind of America will your children live in, what kind of world will it be? There are a lot of things to cause you to be fearful. And there are a whole lot of people, organizations, and institutions, not to mention the media and the government, that seemingly want you to be afraid, and that are all too eager to use your fear to control you and make you buy and believe whatever it is that they’re selling, pushing, or advocating.

“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.” There is no need to be afraid. God has heard your cries in the darkness of sin and death and He has responded. “When all was still and it was midnight,” in the darkest hour of your night of helplessness and fear, God’s “almighty Word […] descended from the royal throne.” When you least expected it, when you were certain your situation was hopeless and there was nothing that you or anyone could do – you were right, by the way – that was when God acted, that’s when God acts, that’s when you can see that God has been acting all along. All that’s been threatened is your idols, those things, those people, those emotions that you have put your fear, your love, and your trust in instead of God. God will permit them to be knocked down, undone, taken away, or destroyed, or He will simply do it Himself, so that you will see that your fear, love, and trust in them is misplaced.

Fear not. God is in control. And, He is not unsympathetic to your fears, your worries, your concerns, and your anxiety, for He shares your flesh and blood and He has suffered through many of the same fearsome happenings as you. He was born in conditions of want and need, exposed to the elements with no defense. He was the would-be victim of murderous Herod as he slaughtered the innocent babes of Bethlehem in his fear-driven insanity to hold onto his power and throne. He was ridiculed and mocked by the intellectuals of His day, and He was hunted by the government as an insurrectionist, and by the Church as a blasphemer. But, He permitted Himself to be taken captive, and He willingly submitted to mocking, spitting, and blows, and, ultimately, to the cruel and tearing whips, thorns, and nails of hatred and evil, even death on the cross, to sanctify all suffering and to defeat the power of sin and take away the sting of death – that you need not fear any longer.

God is in control, and He works all things – even the bad things, even the evil things – He works all things for the good of those who love Him, through Jesus Christ. Jesus came to absolve you of all your fear: Fear for today; fear for tomorrow; fear of death; fear of God. He says to you “Do not be afraid. I know your fears. I know your worries. I know your anxieties. I have faced them all, and yet I remained faithful, trusting in the Word of my Father. I have faced and suffered even death, your greatest enemy, for you, in your place, and I have destroyed its power and sting; death cannot hold you; already you are its victor through me. Because of this, my Father is your Father. Because of His love for me He loves you as His own dear son or daughter.”

Already at His birth the choirs of heavenly angels broke forth in song, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Tonight we join them singing, “Glory to the newborn King; Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” Jesus Christ is born! No more shall we be afraid!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

To my devoted reader in France…

Sitemeter tells me that I have a regular reader in Ile de France, Paris. I would love to know who you are! Please feel free to identify yourself in a comment, or send me an email.
Joyeux Noël!  Pr. J. Ellingworth

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 your 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 a few more hours. 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 Sunday School Lessons & Carols - Rorate Coeli (The Fourth Sunday in Advent)


Isaiah 9:2, 6, 7; Luke 1:26-35, 38; Luke 2:1, 3-7; Luke 2:8-16; John 1:1-14

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

Of the many good, wonderful, and miraculous things we celebrate at Christmas – the Incarnation of God and the Virgin Birth, Peace between God and man, a spirit of reconciliation, peace, joy, and good will between men and women of every creed, race, and clan – one good, wonderful, and miraculous thing that often gets overlooked is God’s Divine Providence, His guiding and directing of all things toward His own holy, good, and wise ends.

For example, consider only the events of which you have heard this morning from God’s Holy Word. First, there was Isaiah’s prophecy, spoken to the people of Judah nearly seven-hundred years before Jesus’ birth. Isaiah prophesied to a people who were continually vacillating between faithfulness and idolatry. Isaiah warned that God’s holiness could not bear with sin and that His righteousness could not permit sin to go unpunished, therefore His judgment was coming. But, Isaiah also showered Judah with the beautiful and comforting Gospel of God’s compassion, mercy, and love, foreshadowing His sending of the Messiah born of a virgin who would be a Light to those walking in the darkness of sin and death, a Great Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.

Then you heard of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, nearly seven-hundred years later, in the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement to a young Judean virgin named Mary. Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear the Son of God, and that He would be given the throne of David and reign over the house of Jacob forever, just as Isaiah had prophesied.

Luke’s Gospel also records for us how God utilizes even earthly governments and human laws, institutions, and machinations, both good and bad, to accomplish His good and holy will. This time, through the Prophet Micah who prophesied, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” In fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy, Joseph and Mary, great with child, found themselves in Bethlehem for a census ordered by Caesar. The fact that the city was crowded with people from all over Judea registering for the census made it so that Mary delivered her son in the lowliest of conditions, in a rough outdoor shelter, and lay him in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. In God’s wisdom and providence, even these seemingly insignificant elements were in fulfillment of prophecy of the kind of King His Son would be: mild, humble, selfless, and sacrificial.

In like manner, the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy was proclaimed first, not to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin, the religious leadership of Israel, not to Herod or Pilate or Caesar, and not to those of wealth, power, or great reputation, but the proclamation of the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy, the proclamation of the Gospel, was given first to those of low estate, to poor and humble shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. Even still today, the chief responsibility of Christ’s undershepherds, His pastors, is to proclaim the Gospel and to guard and keep His sheep in the darkness of this world’s night of sin and death.

And then, in our final reading from the Gospel of John, you hear that this was God’s will and design before man’s fall into sin, before the creation of man, indeed, before the foundation of the world. John’s Words “In the beginning…” take you back, well, to the beginning of God’s revealed Word, to Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….” John proclaims to you that the Word of God was with God in the beginning, and that, in fact, the Word of God was God, and that all things that God has made have been made by the speaking of His life-giving and creative Word. What we celebrate at Christmas, especially, is what John proclaims in the last verse of today’s reading: “And the Word 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.”

At Christmas, we must remember that, though we may see darkness and sin and suffering and death all around us, though wars and rumors of wars dominate the headlines, though natural disasters destroy lives, homes, and livelihoods, though diseases take the lives of those we love, and though even children are not spared the horror of evil at the hands of broken, corrupted, and sinful men, we must remember that God is in control, before sin, before man, before the foundation of the world, and that He has worked, and He is working, and will continue to work all things, even the bad things, the horrible things, and the evil things, for the good of those who love Him, whom He has called in His Son, His Messiah, our Savior, His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

At Christmas, we remember that God did not turn a cold shoulder in judgment against His rebellious creation, but He did the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the impossible, and the miraculous – He penetrated His fallen and broken creation and became one of His creatures, being born of the flesh of a woman in weakness, lowliness, and poverty that He might be everything His holiness and righteousness required for you, in your place, as your substitute, that He might bear in His own flesh the necessary wage of sin, death, and shed His own holy and innocent blood to wash away your guilt, that He might be at peace with you, and you with Him, and live in His holy and righteous presence in holy communion with Him – flesh of His flesh, bone of His bone – evermore and evermore. This Peace is God’s gift to you at Christmas, and every day of the year, every day and year of your lives. Remember and treasure His Word, His Gift, and enjoy His Peace and live His Love, every day of the year.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The “O” Antiphons of Advent


“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” Isaiah 11:1-2

In response to the Scriptural exhortation to “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thess. 5:17) the ancient Church developed the Canonical Hours – fixed hours of prayer at which Scripture would be read and Psalms would be sung. From about the 4th century on, these hours, in the West have traditionally followed this order: Matins (midnight), Lauds (3 a.m.), Prime (6 a.m.), Terce (9 a.m.), Sext (noon), None (3 p.m.), Vespers (6 p.m.), and Compline (9 p.m.).

As you can well imagine, this was an extremely difficult and challenging discipline to maintain; only the monks, nuns, and some clergy were very successful at it. Sensing the value of such disciplined daily prayer, however, Martin Luther did not wish to abolish the Hours but simply to condense them into the more manageable and recognizable Hours of Matins (morning prayer) and Vespers (evening prayer). To this day, these Hours of daily prayer are a part of our tradition and piety.

As we begin a new Church Year with the season of Advent, I thought it appropriate to share with you an especially beautiful and poignant part of our catholic tradition which has become all but forgotten amongst Lutheran Christians, The “O” Antiphons. Traditionally, the last eight days of Advent form a little liturgical season unto themselves. As the Church prepares to celebrate the birthday of Christ, the liturgy gets somewhat more intense, freighted with all the hopes of an expectant church.

The “O” Antiphons are a series of “Holy Titles” for Christ by which the Church calls on Him to come. Beginning at Vespers on December 17, each night gives him a new name: “O Wisdom,” “O Sacred Lord,” “O Flower of Jesse’s Stem,” “O Key of David,” “O Radiant Dawn,” “O King of All the Nations,” and the greatest of them all, “O Emmanuel,” a name which means “God is with us.” The great and wonderful Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (LW 31) is based upon The “O” Antiphons – check the seven titles against this hymn’s seven verses.

An antiphon is a small portion of a Psalm, or some other appropriate words, which is sung at the beginning and at the end of a Psalm or a canticle. The “O” Antiphons were sung specifically before and after the Magnificat (Mary’s Song) during the Hour of Vespers the last week of Advent. These seven Holy Titles for Jesus are appropriate “book ends” to Mary’s beautiful and reverent hymn of praise.

As The “O” Antiphons were originally sung in Latin, when considering the Latin titles an interesting acrostic (word puzzle) appears. When the Latin titles are arranged last to first and the first letter of each title is read consecutively, Christ’s answer to the cry of His Church “Come” is revealed: “Ero cras,” which means, “I shall, tomorrow.”

Emmanuel                  Emmanuel

Rex Gentium              King of the Nations

Oriens                          Dawn

Clavis David                Key of David

Radix Jesse                 Root of Jesse

Adonai                          Lord

Sapientia                      Wisdom


Ero cras. I shall, tomorrow.


“O Come, O come Emmanuel,” cries the Church. “I shall, tomorrow,” Jesus answers. And so, the Church awaits. Waiting is what Advent is all about. Even as we celebrate the birthday of Jesus, we await, looking expectantly for His second coming. And as we await, we prepare by repenting of our sins and receiving holy absolution, by remaining in His Word, and by receiving His body and blood. The Bride, the Church, awaits and looks expectantly for the coming of Her Bridegroom – Her lamp in hand, she prepares and awaits.


“Come soon to save us,” cries the Church,

“From sin and death and sorrow.”

Our Lord’s reply is “Ero cras,”

Which means “I shall, tomorrow.”

The Lord Continue to bless you in the Peace that is Christ Jesus until He comes.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Homily for Gaudete (The Third Sunday in Advent)

H-5 Advent 3 (Mt 11.2-10)


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.

“All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass.”

This word is truth, though, most of the time, we exert herculean effort to live our lives in denial of this truth. Today, however, there are twenty-eight families in Newtown, Connecticut for whom the veil of denial has been savagely torn away; and there are many more, even us, who have been graphically exposed to the horrific reality of sin, evil, and death. Horror and grief are our only appropriate responses.

And, the question that is screamed into the heavens is “Why?” So many people are asking “Where was God?” Many more are asking “Is there a God?” And, some are cursing God, while others say that He simply doesn’t exist. People are afraid. People are angry. People are filled with doubt. People have lost hope and are filled with despair. But, there is nothing new about any of this. Indeed, people of every time and every place have suffered and died and questioned and doubted, ever since Cain murdered his brother Abel and spilled his blood in the field. Men slaughter men, children die, and the forces of nature and warring tribes and nations destroy lives and livelihoods, and God permits it to happen – and, that is the truth.

Theodicy – that’s the fancy theological term for trying to make excuses for God’s permitting evil and suffering in the world. I say to you, give it up. It’s a fruitless effort. God doesn’t need you to justify Himself, but, on the contrary, you need Him to justify you. That’s because, sin, evil, and death – these are not God’s creation – but these are man’s choice, your choice, and my choice. In the beginning, God gave man one command, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” and God attached His Word to that tree saying, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Then the serpent came, outside of man whom God created good and in His image and likeness, tempting him to doubt God’s Word and to fear something other than God, to love himself more than God. Still, that temptation was not sin, but it was seed. Man received the seed, the seed bore fruit, and man sinned, and so death entered the world.

Once man had introduced death into the world, it was immediate that blood began to spill and God’s creatures began to die. The first to die were animals at the hand of God Himself. To clothe our First Parent’s nakedness, their guilt and shame, God sacrificed animals and shed their blood, clothing man and woman in their hides. From that point forward men sacrificed animals – oxen, bulls, goats, lambs, and pigeons – to cover over their sins. Their sins were never removed, but by the promise of God’s Word, for the sake of His own blood that He would eventually shed, He overlooked their sin and counted them as righteous and holy. He didn’t have to, and by all rights He shouldn’t have, for He is God and He is righteous and holy. He could have left man to his fate – death and eternal separation from the gracious presence of His God and Creator. But, God is also good, loving, gracious, and merciful; it would be contrary to His nature, even impossible for Him to do as sinful man would, to permit man to reap eternally what he had sown. So, He did what was necessary. He set in motion a plan to become a man Himself, the perfect man, and to fulfill all that was necessary to redeem man from his sin, evil, and death. He sent His only-begotten Son to be born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law. Where He once shed the innocent blood of animals to clothe man’s nakedness, guilt, and shame, in time, He would shed His own blood and take away the sin of the whole world.

In the face of such senseless tragedy and violence – young lives taken in sudden death by horrific and evil means – we grope as in the darkness for peace and comfort, and all that we can find is nothingness, evil, and more death. Only the light of God’s Word can pierce the darkness of sin and death and provide us a path out. The wages of sin is death. It surrounds us as we live, and all who live must pass through its valley; but the Word of the LORD, which alone gives and sustains life, stands forever. His Word proclaims to you comfort and peace, not in place of your grief and sorrows, but in the midst of them.

John the Baptist pointed to the sacrifice that God would offer to take away the sins of all men. He pointed to Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” As Abraham confessed as he prepared to sacrifice his own son Isaac, “God will provide for Himself the Lamb.” Still, John, in prison, awaiting his own cruel death, questioned Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Surely John looked at the horrible, dark, and evil circumstances he was in and wondered, “Where are you God? Aren’t you going to help me? Have I got this all wrong?” What did Jesus do? He directed John back to the Word of God: What do you hear? What do you see? “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. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” The effects of sin, evil, and death are being undone all around you, every day. God’s Word has gone out into the world; it will not return to Him void, but it will accomplish that purpose for which it has been sent. Like a shepherd, I will face grim death before you, and I will lead you, not around it, but through it, into my Father’s house forevermore. It’s a done deal, even before it happens! Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned. You have received double for all your sins. Though the grass withers and the flower fades, this is under the Lord’s control, and He works all things, even the horrible, wicked, and evil things, He works even death for your good.

Why is there evil in the world? Why do innocent children die horrible deaths? Why is there pain and suffering, sorrow and grief? Why doesn’t God do anything to stop it? The answer to all of those questions, except for the last one, is sin. The wages of sin is death. Why doesn’t God do anything to stop it? He has. And, He does. He sent His only-begotten Son to become a man that He might take sin upon Himself and earn its wage, death. Thus, He has destroyed, not death, but the power of death, so that all who die trusting in Him, pass through death into deathless life. In fact, those who believe in Him and are baptized have begun to live that deathless life even now, life that can never be taken from them.

Whence comes comfort for those afflicted by grief and sorrow? Whence comes comfort for those afflicted by sin, evil, and death? Comfort comes from the Word of God which was, and is, and ever shall be: The Word spoken into the darkness in the beginning. The Word made flesh and dwelling amongst us. The Word crucified, dead, and buried. The Word raised up to new life on the third day. The Word ascended, reigning, and ruling all things at the right hand of the Father. The Word making all things new. The Word coming in power and glory, bringing a new heaven and a new earth. The Word present amongst us now to comfort us in our sorrows, to restore us to holiness, to strengthen our faith, and to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death, upon the path He has already blazed, into His Father’s house forevermore.

John didn’t get out of prison. Sometime later he was beheaded by Herod. But, John believed in the Word of the LORD, and he is amongst those souls in heaven who cry out “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” To them, as to you, has been given a white robe and the command “rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who will be killed as they were, is completed.” We are all sheep to be slaughtered. We pass, not around, but through death. But, let us fear no evil; for, the Lord is with us. He comforts us with His rod and staff. He feeds us in the presence of our enemies. He anoints us with His Spirit and fills us to overflowing with His grace, love, and mercy. And He leads us, through death, into life with His Father and the Holy Spirit forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On the Naming of Churches

What’s in a name? In ages not long past, one’s name was central to one’s prosperity and livelihood. One’s name was akin to one’s reputation, something to be defended and preserved, inseparable from one’s ancestry and lineage. One’s name had actual meaning (e.g., Peter means “rock”, Christopher means “light of Christ”) and often was descriptive, or prescriptive, of its bearer. Outside of our own American culture, such attribution to a name is still common practice.

The names of biblical figures are nearly always rich with meaning. Abraham means “father of nations”, Adam means “earth” (Adam, quite literally, is the “Dirt Man”). In their baptisms, Christians, traditionally, receive a new name – a Christian name. This is in symbolic recognition that the “Old Man” has been drowned and that the “New Man” has arisen. That which is ‘born again’ needs a new name. A Christian name was typically a biblical name, e.g, David, Peter, Andrew, Sarah, Mary, Ruth. Such a name connects the bearer to the life example of that figure who bore the name before them. The name Peter carries with it the association to St. Peter’s bold confession of faith even unto death, along with his failings, repentance, and restoration by our Lord.

Biblical names are not so in vogue today. Names inspired by western American landscapes (Dakota, Sierra), cities (Madison, Austin), or popular culture (Destiny, Dylan, Hunter) dominate the school rolls. On the one hand, trends change from generation to generation; but on the other, is there, maybe, something more deceptive and devious at work? The shift away from traditional Christian (biblical) names also marks a distancing from the character and quality those names represent. Subtly, seemingly innocently, our culture continues to sever its ties that ground it in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

A similar thing has happened in the naming of churches. It used to be that liturgical Christian churches were named after saints, e.g., St. John’s, St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s, etc. In the catholic tradition, the saint a church was named after was called the Patron, meaning ‘Father’. The patron saint was to the church a spiritual father, that is, someone whose faith and witness were to be emulated amongst the parishioners. The church did not worship the saint, nor was the church the saint’s possession, but the church venerated (honored) the faith and witness of that saint, and God’s faithfulness to the Saint, and sought to follow in that example.

More and more churches today bear ‘conceptual’ names like ‘Love’, ‘Peace’, ‘Hope’, ‘New Life’, or ‘Family of Faith’. While the ‘concepts’ these names represent are certainly consistent with Christian faith and doctrine, they exist in the realm of ‘ideas’, ‘thoughts’, and ‘imagination’ – that is, they do not have physical, corporal (bodily) referents. In other words, they have no ‘flesh and blood’, no ‘body’, no ‘life’.

Once again, there may be something more subtle, deceptive, and devious going on here that is consistent with an ancient heresy known as Gnosticism. The primary tenant of Gnosticism is that physical matter is evil; thus, Gnostics abhor the flesh, the body. Ancient Gnostics would often fall into one of two behavior patterns: In the first pattern, since they abhorred the flesh, they would become ascetics and would starve themselves and mortify their bodies. In the second pattern, since they abhorred the flesh, they would abuse it by engaging in excessive drinking, eating, and sexual promiscuity of all manner. A related tenant of the Gnostic philosophy was a denial of the Incarnation (the Word of God taking on human flesh in the conception and birth of Jesus) and of the Resurrection of the Dead. Hence, Gnosticism is a heretical belief that the Christian Church has fought against since the time of Christ.

The modern church names mentioned earlier (‘Love’, ‘Peace’, ‘Family of Faith’) have no connection to anyone or anything that ever lived in flesh and blood by the breath of God. The devil must be enjoying this thoroughly! All the devil desires to do is to take our eyes, our focus, off of Jesus Christ – God in the flesh – by any means possible. These ‘conceptual’ names are, perhaps, just one more deception of the devil that serve to direct us away from Jesus.

Churches named in the traditional manner, after saints and martyrs, have connection, whether recognized or not, to real, flesh and blood people, people who gave their lives for their faith. Such examples are for God’s people to emulate in their own faith and confession and to receive strength and encouragement from in the face of temptation, persecution, and suffering. God saw St. Paul through countless challenges, even a martyr’s death, and has given him the crown of life. Christians thank God for the example of St. Paul and the entire Communion of Saints – for the example of their faithfulness and witness, and for the witness of God’s faithfulness.

What’s in a name? A lot! Our church is named ‘Christ the King’ – that certainly says something! Jesus Christ is the greatest saint of all! He is the spiritual Son of God, the Word of God, in human flesh – real body, real blood, real life, real death, real resurrection. God the Father was Jesus’ strength throughout His temptation, persecution, suffering, and death; Jesus is our strength throughout ours. He has been through it all for us, and He has emerged victorious! Flesh and blood now reign in power at the right hand of God the Father! Where He is, He has promised we will be too! Now, there’s strength to live and faith to persevere!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Homily for Populus Zion (The Second Sunday of Advent)

H-3 Advent 2 (Lu 21.25-36)


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.

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.”

I am certain that you will agree with me that our Lord’s prophecy contains a fairly alarming list of tribulations. I suspect that many of you will look at our world today and come to the conclusion that Jesus must have been talking about our time. Or, perhaps you think that this tribulation will come at some time in the future. But, I ask you to consider, what did your parents, what did your grand or great grandparents think about their own time? What did the people of Luther’s day think? What did Jesus’ hearers in the first century A.D. think when they heard these His words? You see, though He has given you a lengthy list of alarming signs, and has instructed you to keep watch, the signs He instructs you to watch for truly are not very specific. I mean that, the people of any time and any generation could equally see the signs as being fulfilled in their own time, in their own generation. And, that’s precisely the point.

For, truly, the outward signs have been occurring, and they will continue to occur, from the time of Jesus’ Ascension until the day of His Parousia, His Second Coming. In fact, the primary sign that you are to watch for and to take note of is that this world, and everything in it, is passing away, and that, in the end, there is only one thing that will endure – the Word of God. Therefore, Jesus says, you are to watch, much less for the signs of the coming end than you are to watch yourselves: “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.”

Perhaps it seems to you that Jesus is using mixed metaphors? Indeed, He is. For, your Lord warns you at once of His coming again in judgment and the end of this present world, even as He warns you of your personal coming judgment at the end of your life. Jesus shifts his images from powerful and turbulent forces of nature – solar flares and supernovas, hurricanes and tsunamis – to the commonly observed phenomena of the annual life cycle of a fig tree, and all manner of trees: “As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

From Jesus’ teaching you must learn that He is Lord of the cosmos and the creator and upholder of all things. Both the normal course of the heavenly bodies and the natural lifecycles of living creatures, plant and animal alike, are governed by Him, exist and function by His ongoing creative Word. It is of this truth that the Psalmist sings, “These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” Thus, Jesus says to you, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Jesus is God’s Word of creation, made flesh, and dwelling amongst us; in His time, at His command and no other, He will pull the plug on this world and unveil His Kingdom of Heaven for every eye to see.

As much as this reality must guide and govern your cosmology and worldview, so must it guide and govern your day to day life. Again, Jesus is speaking not only of the end of the world, but of the nature of your day to day life in this world until He comes. Look around you, not only at the heavenly bodies, the forces of nature, and the destructive wars and wickedness of men, but look at your aging body, look at your aging car and appliances, look at your weathering paint or siding on your home, look and see that nothing in this life or world lasts. For, that is a sign, as much as the lifecycle of the trees or the fading of stars. Jesus’ warning to you is plain and simple – these are not your gods; do not put your fear, your love, and your trust in them. But, put your fear, your love, and your trust in God and in His Word by which all these are made and sustained. For, the temptation is to become weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life. Therefore, your Lord says that you must watch yourself. The signs of brokenness and decay all around you, the distress of nations, wars and rumors of wars, these, which are the results of our sin, are used by the Lord to awaken you to watchfulness, to keep you vigilant, that you may watch and wait in faithfulness, and that the day of His coming not come upon you suddenly like a trap. Your Lord says to you, “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.”

And yet, your Lord’s Words are not meant to terrify you or to threaten you; after all, you know the nature of He who is coming. He is your Savior, your Redeemer, and your Messiah; He is your God and your Lord. He, who was in the beginning with God, who was and is God, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again that He might raise you from the dead and bestow eternal life upon all who fear, love, and trust in Him. He is coming again, not to punish you, not to destroy you, but to crown you with His victory over sin, death, and the devil, and to make you, once again, Kings and Queens with Him over heaven and earth. Thus He says to you, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Thus, even now, there is no need to walk around with your heads down in fear, anxiety, and despair, for we are not like those without hope, but we look forward to that day when the Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in His wings. Then we will go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Indeed, that sort of expectant hope is what this Advent season is all about. In expectant hope, our Lord’s faithful people watch and wait for His coming. This is what St. Paul encourages you with in saying, “What was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And, to sustain you in hope, to strengthen you in faith, and to seal you and keep you in communion with Him, your Lord Jesus has given you His Word and His Spirit alongside water, bread, and wine that you might eat, drink, and wear the fruits of His labor as you wait and watch for His coming in glory. For, He is coming; He has come; and, in answer to your prayers, He comes. The angels of heaven sang at His lowly birth. The earth shook at His death. The heavens and the earth will dissolve when He comes again. This generation will not pass away until all has taken place. And, though there may be various modes of His coming, there is but one Lord who comes – your Lord, our Savior and God in human flesh, Jesus the Christ. For those who fear, love, and trust in Him – for you, His baptized children – the judgment has already taken place on Good Friday’s cross: Innocent, not guilty, for the sake of Jesus. It is finished. Jesus’ death on the cross is the sign above all signs, and it stands fulfilled for all eternity. Therefore, when you look to the signs in the heavens, and when you look to the signs in the trees, these all point to the sign of the cross – sin is judged, death is defeated, this world is passing away, the Word of the Lord alone endures forever. Therefore, live in harmony with one another, and welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. And, may the God of hope fill you with all peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Homily for The Commemoration of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra and Confessor of Nicaea

St Nicholas


Luke 14:26-33; Hebrews 13:7-17; Deuteronomy 10:17-20

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

One of the complaints that Christians often voice at this time of year is that Christmas has become too commercialized and too secularized.  Far too many people observe the holy day of the Christ mass without any acknowledgment of Christ at all.  Everything's about parties and presents and TV specials without any reverence for or meditation on the main focus of Christmas, namely, the incarnation of our Lord, His taking on of our flesh to save us.  Santa Claus gets more attention than Jesus.

Perhaps, however, this problem can begin to be corrected by understanding where the legend of Santa Claus comes from and the actual historical basis of who he is.  Most of us have heard of Santa Claus referred to as St. Nick or St. Nicholas.  And in fact that's where the name comes from–Santa is the word for Saint and Claus is a shortened form in Dutch of the word Nicholas.  Santa Claus, St. Nicholas.

Now Santa Claus has become the stuff of fairy tales and has been influenced in many ways by pagan notions.  But St. Nicholas was a real person who lived in the early 300's A.D.  Since December 6th is the day on which Nicholas is recognized in the church, we shall focus a bit on his life this evening and meditate on what it has to teach us about Christ and Christmas.

Nicholas was born into a wealthy family in Asia Minor, what is now Turkey.  Having become a Christian, Nicholas chose not to pursue a life of riches but instead devoted himself to the church.  He eventually became bishop of a city called Myra.  Myra was a decadent and corrupt city, and Nicholas became well known for transforming it by his pious hard work and preaching of the Word of Christ.

St. Nicholas was also known for his love for those in need, such as poor widows and orphaned children.  As bishop he saw to it that the church worked to care for the needy.  Perhaps his giving of gifts, especially to impoverished children, is part of what formed the Santa Claus tradition.

And there is one story in particular about Nicholas that stands out above the rest and is the most famous.  There was a man in the city of Myra who had three daughters.  But this man did not have enough money to provide his daughters with suitable dowries necessary for them to get married in those days.  Without being able to marry it was likely that they were to end up as prostitutes.  Nicholas was deeply troubled about this, and he decided to help.  But he chose to do so in a way that wouldn't draw attention to himself.  Evidently taking from his own resources, Nicholas prepared three bags of gold.  On three successive nights St. Nicholas went to this man's house and threw a bag of gold into one of the open windows–one bag of gold each night for each of the three daughters, sufficient to provide each of them with the necessary dowry.  Later on when this story was told in colder regions, Nicholas was portrayed dropping the bags of gold down the chimney.  Still to this day three golden bags or golden spheres are the sign of a pawnbroker, in remembrance of how Nicholas bought these three daughters out of hock, you might say, redeeming and rescuing them from the fate that awaited them.

There are many more accounts of Nicholas helping others, too.  For instance, once there were three men who were falsely accused of a crime and sentenced to death.  But Nicholas stepped in and spoke in their defense and was able to secure their release and give them their lives back.

It's interesting that in all the stories of St. Nicholas that I've seen, the number three keeps popping up–three daughters without dowries, three falsely accused men, three sailors whom he rescued from drowning.  And this is fitting.  For Nicholas was one who was a defender of the Trinitarian faith, someone who proclaimed belief in the one and only true God who is threefold, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In fact, it is quite possible that St. Nicholas was one of the bishops present at the Council of Nicaea which defended and confirmed the teaching that Jesus is both true God and true man.  It is from this council in 325 A.D. that we get the Nicene Creed which we confess here each week.  A certain false preacher named Arius was teaching that Jesus was not of the same substance as the Father, that the Son of God was a created being, god-like but not true God.  The Council of Nicaea roundly rejected that heresy and reaffirmed the Scriptural position that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human in one undivided person, true God from all eternity.

Whether or not Nicholas was present at that Council, he was a defender of that faith, faith in Christ the Son of God as the only Savior from sin and death and the devil.  Nicholas preached Jesus, baptized people into Jesus' body, absolved people of their sins in Jesus' name, fed them with the life-giving body and blood of Jesus.  This is the real St. Nicholas.  He wasn't a Santa Claus taking attention away from Jesus.  He was a preacher drawing everyone's attention to Jesus.  He wasn't one making a list and checking it twice to see who was naughty and who was nice.  For he knew that his people were both sinners and saints at the same time and that all desperately needed Christ's forgiveness and mercy.

By God's grace the love of Christ was shown forth both in St. Nicholas' preaching and also in his life.  We give attention to the generous deeds of Nicholas because that ultimately draws our attention to the infinitely generous love that he himself first received from God.  It was that love of God that was working through Nicholas in his life.

After all, just consider his deeds.  Nicholas sacrifices and gives of his own resources to save the three daughters.  Is that not what Jesus did for us?  He sacrificed and gave Himself for us to rescue us from being eternally violated by death and the devil.  He redeemed us not with bags of gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  So it is that we are now worthy and prepared to be His holy bride.

Likewise, Nicholas stood in to defend those facing death, risking his own name and reputation.  Is that not what Jesus did and still does for us?  He stood between us and eternal death on the cross and thereby kept us from having to suffer that most capital of all punishments.  Furthermore, the Scriptures say that even now Jesus is standing before the Father as our advocate, speaking in our defense, responding to every charge laid against us with the merits of His own blood and righteousness.  Through Him we are set free to be people of God.

The same love of Christ that was at work in St. Nicholas is at work also in you.  For in your baptism you were crucified with Christ; and you no longer live, but Christ lives in you and through you.  The Lord is working in you so that His boundless love which has been shown to you might spill over to others, in the giving of yourself, in the giving of gifts–not so that you can feel good about yourself or draw attention to yourself, but giving that is anonymous and entirely for the good of others, like a bag of gold through an open window at night.  That's why I think it is a fine tradition for someone who gives an anonymous gift to say that it's from Santa Claus, St. Nicholas.  For such a gift is given in a spirit that reflects the love of Christ as Nicholas did, and ultimately it seeks to give glory not to ourselves but to God who is the true Giver of every good and perfect gift.

Indeed every present that we give is a sign of that Greatest Gift of all, the Christ child in the manger–given to us almost anonymously, noticed only by shepherds on that night, recognized and received only by few throughout His life.  But hidden within the wrapping of His lowly humanity dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily full of grace and mercy.  Jesus is Love in the flesh for you.  There is no greater present than that.  That is the ultimate gift St. Nicholas sought to give.

So is there such a person as Santa Claus?  Of course there is.  If you don't believe in the existence of St. Nicholas, you might as well not believe in the existence of Mary or Joseph or the shepherds or the wise men.  Sure you're not going to find him sliding down your chimney.  But he is with us whenever we gather for divine service.  For in Christ's presence dwell angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, all the saints and believers who have gone before us.  Thank God that St. Nicholas lives.  He lives forever because, just like you, he was baptized and believed in Jesus, who was born, and died, and rose for us all.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

This homily was written by Rev. Aaron Koch, Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, Greenfield, Wisconsin

Sunday, December 2, 2012

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



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.

The Church’s Year of Grace ended with the coronation of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, prophesied by Daniel, fulfilled on Good Friday, revealed in the fullness of glory in the Revelation to St. John. But, today, the new Church Year begins with Jesus revealing the kind of King He came to be. For, it was not upon a war horse, or riding in a gilded chariot, that He entered the royal city, but He rode in lowly humility upon a donkey and a colt, her foal. Still, He was a King, the True King, the Man after God’s own heart, a King who would lay down His life in sacrificial service to His people.

Therefore, the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into the royal city of Jerusalem is a story of both grace and judgment. He came in blessing in answer to His peoples’ cries of hosanna, save us now. And, He would save them, not from Herod, not from Pilate, or from Caesar, but He would save them from their true captors: sin, death, and hell. As their Shepherd King, He would slay their Goliath with the Word of God and with His love and obedience to His commandments. He would save Judah, and acquire safe pasture for Israel and for all His people in all the lands where God has driven them because of their sinful rebellion. But, He would do this Kingly service, not by mounting the stately throne in Herod’s palace, but by ascending the coarse wood of a cross on Golgotha. He would do this Priestly service, not by donning ornate vestments and taking the place of Caiaphas in the temple, but by being stripped naked, and by being pierced and torn by Roman hammers, nails, and spear. And, He would be their Great Prophet, the very Word of God made flesh, spoken by God the Father into the world and flesh that He had made, to serve as leaven, salt, and light, to return not to Him void, but to accomplish that purpose for which He was sent, to be a seed sown in all manner of soil, to be a grain of wheat that must fall to the earth and die, and bear a harvest a hundredfold. Truly, He was their King. But, their King had come to die; and, only in dying could He be their King. Only by His dying could they live.

King Jesus’ entry is a story of grace; it is only a story of judgment when it is refused and rejected. And, though many received Him at first, even His closest friends and disciples fled in fear when King Jesus ascended His royal throne. For most, He simply wasn’t what they had expected or had hoped for. He wasn’t the new Moses they had hoped for, who would lead them out of slavery and captivity. He wasn’t the new David, the mighty warrior-king they desired, who would release them from the occupation of the Roman Empire and restore Israel to might and glory. And yet, He was both of those and more. He was all that Moses had pointed them toward. He was the True King of whom David was only a shadow and a type. He was the root and shoot of David’s stump to be raised up in new and everlasting life – the Life of Israel, into whom the nations would be grafted and live. Up to that day, the story of Israel was the story of Moses, remembered and replayed each year at the Passover. King Jesus fulfilled all that Moses was – Prophet, Priest, and King – and, through His cross, through His death and resurrection, He would lead His people in Exodus, out of bondage and slavery to sin, death, and the devil, into their own land in the Kingdom of Heaven forevermore.

And so, as the Church’s Year of Grace ended in hopeful anticipation of our Lord’s coming on the Last Day, so does the new Church Year begin in joyous remembrance of His coming as the Babe of Bethlehem, which we celebrate at Christmas. And, even still, we believe, confess, and teach that our Lord Jesus comes to us now, under the lowly and humble means of word, water, bread, and wine. He comes in grace and blessing to all who will not reject Him. He has come. He is coming. And, He comes to save us. How do you receive Him?

Advent is a penitential season, if a bit milder in comparison to Lent, in which we focus upon our sin and death from which Jesus came to set us free. Yes, that is the reason for His coming; He came to fulfill the Law of God for you, and then to lay down His life in death as your substitute, in your place, that you might live. Why? What motivated Him to suffer for you and die in your place? Love – pure and simple. Love for God, His Father; love for you whom God loves. Therefore, receive Him in love, as God’s pure and holy gift of grace – no strings attached. You show Him love, you love Him, by fearing, loving, and trusting Him above all things; you show Him love, you love Him, but letting His love fill you and overflow out of you by loving others.

Hear the message of the Baptizer, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” and turn from your sin, your self-righteousness, and self-centered thoughts and expectations. Repent, be turned, and receive your King who is present in lowliness and humility. Prepare His way into your heart and life by removing the high places of your sinful pride, and by filling in the low places of your hopeless despair, for your King has come, your King is coming, and even now your King comes with forgiveness and healing and eternal life. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! The Lord of your life, the God of your salvation, is here. Your King, who was born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, was laid in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, died upon the coarse wooden throne of the cross that He might be present for you now as the Bread of Life, that you may eat and live, drink and be forgiven, as you receive your King, your Lord, your God in Holy Communion, now, until He comes at last in glory.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Homily for The Last Sunday of the Church Year (Sunday of the Fulfillment / Trinity 27)

10 Virgins


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.

Each year, on the Last Sunday of the Church Year, you hear today’s lesson from the Gospel according to St. Matthew – Jesus’ parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Though there are many interesting points of discussion and many layers of meaning in this parable, truth be told, there are only two things that you really want to know: “What is the oil?” And, “Where do I get it?”

That Jesus prefaces this parable by saying that it describes the kingdom of heaven, and that the protagonists in the story are virgins, waiting for the coming of the Bridegroom, this indicates to you that this parable is told to the Church, to the body and to the Bride of Christ, and that the virgins are, in fact, you, His faithful Christians. All ten virgins believe in the Bridegroom and trust that He is coming as He has promised. They have their lamps, lit and ablaze with the light of faith, and they wait, patiently, for the Bridegroom to come. However, this is when the crux arises: The Bridegroom is delayed, and as they patiently and faithfully wait and watch for Him to come, the virgins become sleepy, and all ten of them fall asleep.

Now, to this point there has been shown to be no difference between the virgins – all are forgiven by grace through faith, all are robed in the whiteness of baptismal righteousness, all are filled with faith, burning and shining with the light of faith. But, five of the virgins brought extra oil with them, and five did not. This fact hardly mattered when the Bridegroom’s arrival seemed to be imminent; however, now that He has become delayed, there is a crux, a crisis – literally, a crisis of faith. Yes, the answer to the first question, “What is the oil?” is faith – the oil in the lamps, and the oil in reserve, is faith: faith in the Bridegroom, faith in His promised coming. What distinguished the five wise virgins from the five foolish virgins was not that the wise were somehow better Christians than the foolish, or more faithful – remember, all ten of them fell asleep – but the five wise virgins had oil, they had faith to spare, to keep their lamps burning even through the delay of the Bridegroom.

Now, I know that your reason wants to credit the wise virgins for their having a surplus of oil, and that you are tempted to think of them as better or more faithful than their foolish companions, however, Jesus’ teaching will not permit this. For, oil, like faith, is not something that you have naturally, or that you can choose or develop on your own, but you must purchase oil from a dealer, that is to say that you must receive faith, not from within you, but from outside of you. Faith is a gift; it has to be given to you, sown within you, created within you ex nihilo, out of the nothingness of your soul in sin and death. Only if the Lord sows faith in you is there hope that it will grow; only if the Lord, by His Holy Spirit fills you with the oil of faith, not once, but again and again throughout your life, will you have oil sufficient to wait and to watch for the coming of the Bridegroom whenever He may come.

And, when the Bridegroom arrived, at an unknown day and hour, the wise virgins with their extra oil entered into the marriage feast, while the foolish virgins – whose lamps were going out and who realized that they could not produce for themselves the oil of faith – pleaded for the wise to give them some of their oil. But, of course, that is impossible, for no one can believe for another. This is why you confess in the Creed “I believe”, and not “We believe”. Indeed, we may, and we do, believe and confess together the same faith; nevertheless, each of you, dear Christians, must believe and confess for yourself. You must have the oil of faith within you. Therefore, the wise virgins had to reply to the foolish, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with Him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. “What is the oil?” The oil is faith. “Where do you get it?” That is the question we must answer next.

Jesus uses the language of commerce – “Go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” But, you cannot buy faith, can you? No, of course you cannot. Therefore, you should consider some other instances in which the Prophets and our Lord Jesus used similar language of commerce in regard to things you cannot buy. For example, from the Prophet Isaiah: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Jesus repeats the same in the Gospel According to St. John, and then again in the Revelation saying, “let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” Your Lord Jesus invites you to come and buy faith, eternal life, and salvation without cost and without price, for He has paid the price in full for you and for all men, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

It should be clear by now who and where “the dealers” are: The dealers of the oil of faith are those servants of the Lord whom He has set apart to give to you, free and without cost, the gifts that your Lord Jesus purchased for you at great cost – forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. You will find them where Christ has promised to be, wherever two or three are gathered in His Name around His faith creating and sustaining gifts of Word and Sacrament. Here, in this place, through these humble means, Christ your Lord creates faith ex nihilo, out of nothing, in the hearts of sinful men by the power of His Holy Spirit through His proclaimed Gospel Word and the washing of Holy Baptism. Here, in this place, He nourishes, feeds, strengthens, and keeps the light of faith burning brightly by replenishing the oil of faith in you as you confess your sins and receive His absolution, hear His Word and inwardly digest it, eat His body and drink His blood and commune in Him, and He in you. When God made you a Christian, He gave you a new life. Yes, you were born again, but your spiritual rebirth was no more by your will, reason, power, or choice than was your natural birth. God alone creates something out of nothing. God alone raises the dead to life. God alone creates and sustains faith in the hearts and souls of men conceived and born in sin, meriting only death.

The Church of Jesus Christ is the place where Christians come to replenish their faith so that they may continue to wait and watch in patient perseverance for the coming of the Lord. And, despite Her warts and wrinkles, the fact that She is composed entirely of sinful and hypocritical men, the Church is the holy and virgin womb in which faith is conceived and the children of God are born. She is bosom of Abraham from whence God’s children are suckled and nourished. That is why the Divine Liturgy is something that we must take great care to preserve and to keep and to do properly. That is why, no matter what the world throws at the Church and Her Christians, no matter what else our failings and foibles might be, Jesus Christ will be present amongst us with His Words and with His Wounds just as He has promised. And, blessed are you when you are humbled to see the Church and Her worship, not as something that you are compelled to endure, but the very location and means of your receiving the one thing needful – faith, which receives all the gifts and blessings of the Bridegroom Jesus Christ.

Still, there is another aspect of Jesus’ Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins that you must consider: When the foolish virgins returned from their search for more oil, they found the door to the marriage feast shut. They cried out to the Lord saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But He answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” Hours ago, these were His holy virgins, waiting in faith for His coming, but now He says that He does not know them! Such harsh words from your Lord should cause you to wrestle with them to determine their meaning and how this can be, what has changed. This much is certain, what has not changed is the Bridegroom. Your Lord Jesus has paid for the salvation of all people, without exception, regardless of their faith. When He died on the cross, it was finished, for everyone. That truth will never change – thanks be to God for His grace and His mercy! Moreover, His Holy Spirit creates faith when and where He pleases, as a sower sows his seed, in hearts and souls that do not refuse Him. That is to say, His grace is not irresistible, and it is not true that we are “once saved, always saved”. Men who once believed can fall into unbelief. Faith that is not nourished, kept, and replenished will grow weak and die. That is precisely what occurred with the five foolish virgins. They neglected their faith; perhaps they took it for granted. They did not nourish it and keep it full and aflame, but they permitted it to slowly fade away, diminish, and burn out. Then, the Bridegroom came, at a day and an hour no one could know, and it was not that they fell asleep that caused them to be outside the gates, but it was that their faith had grown weak and had died. The Bridegroom Jesus pronounced the judgment that they had chosen for themselves, “I do not know you.” I loved you with my Father’s love; I did everything that was necessary to make you right with Him; I died for you and shed my blood for you that you could live; but you have rejected me. I knew you once, but now, I do not recognize what stands before me. You were flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, but now you are something else, something other.

“But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. […] For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” Whether we are awake or asleep, that is not the issue, for it is not what we do that matters, but it is what Christ has done. You cannot buy it, choose it, reason it, or merit it, but salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus is yours at no cost, right here, and right now. A foretaste of the marriage feast to come is here for you now that you may be well prepared, having sufficient oil of faith, whenever the Bridegroom should appear. The feast is prepared; “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.