Sunday, December 27, 2015

Homily for The First Sunday after Christmas (Christmas 1)

Luke 2:22-40; Galatians 4:1-7; Isaiah 11:1-5

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The events following the birth of Jesus serve to demonstrate that He was born to fulfill the Law in our place. On New Years Eve we will celebrate the Circumcision and Name of Jesus when He was eight days old in fulfillment of the Law. Today, we celebrate the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord in the temple in fulfillment of the Law. Accordingly, St. Luke makes reference to the Law of God three times in the first three verses of today’s Gospel, and two more times in the ensuing accounts of St. Simeon and St. Anna. Joseph and Mary were doing to and for Jesus what the Law required, but when they heard the words of Simeon and Anna, they marveled at the words that were spoken about their son.
Simeon is all but an antitype of Abraham. He is described as being “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.” Simeon’s faith is declared to him as righteousness, like Abraham’s, and, just like Abraham’s, it was Simeon’s faith that caused him to wait and to watch for God to fulfill His covenant promise. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had beheld the Lord’s Christ with his own eyes. Thus, when Joseph and Mary brought their newborn son into the temple to do for Him what was required by the Law, the Spirit guided St. Simeon to the temple that day as well. Then, receiving the Word of God made flesh into his own arms, Simeon proclaimed and confessed, “Yes, Lord, Your Word is fulfilled! Here I behold Your salvation with my own eyes. Now You may let me depart this life in peace, for You have kept Your covenant promise! For, here lies in my arms the deliverance and the consolation of Israel, and light for the Gentiles!” Simeon’s confession is akin to that of Abraham’s when he answered his son’s inquiry, “Father, where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham answered, “God will provide for Himself the Lamb for a sacrifice, my son.” Yes, Simeon prophesied of the purpose and the fate of the boy-child Jesus whom he held in his arms, saying to His mother that, because of Him, “a sword will pierce through your own soul.” For, though He would bring peace with God for all men, He would be for “a sign that is opposed.”
Now, I love the fact that Joseph and Mary are said to have “marveled at what was said” about Jesus. Our Lord’s parents were faithful and pious believers in God’s most holy Word. They, like Simeon and Anna, were watching and waiting for the Lord’s promise to be fulfilled as well. While angels had visited them both, and they believed with all their heart, soul, and mind, it is, however, absurd to conclude that they understood everything that was happening. No more do any of us understand the fullness of the counsel of God’s Word, His Will, and His Ways. Both Joseph and Mary pondered and treasured God’s Word and the mysteries that were being revealed to them in their hearts. Truly, this is what God desires of His children, that they keep His Word and Commandments, more precious and dear to them than their own lives or livelihoods. Jesus’ mother, Mary, gazed upon the child of her own flesh, who was also God’s own Son by the Holy Spirit, in profound love and awe. Jesus’ father, Joseph, protected Him fiercely so that no one and no thing would harm this gift of God before His time had come. And, still today, the Holy Family, both in image and in imagination, beckon the faithful to ponder and to receive the Christ-child, the Word of God made flesh, dwelling amongst us.
And, then there was Anna, the prophetess. St. Luke tells us that Anna was “advanced in years” and that she was a widow for seventy-seven years after the death of her husband to whom she was married seven years since she was a young virgin. She did not leave the temple day or night, which may indicate that she lived there, that a room was provided for her. At the presentation of Jesus, Anna gave thanks to God and spoke to all the faithful about Jesus. Now, what are we to make of her being designated as a prophetess? Not much, I have to think. For, Anna is the only woman called a prophetess in all the New Testament, and the Holy Spirit did not see fit to provide us the words she spoke, but only that she gave thanks to God and spoke to others about Jesus. There is no indication that she held a particular office of one kind or another, though we are told that she “worshiped with fasting and prayer night and day.” There is no doubt that she was a woman of great faith, piety, and devotion. Further, it is possible that the Holy Spirit granted her a revelation of who the Christ-child was and what He would do.
As it is, both Simeon and Anna stand straddling the Old and the New Testaments. For, though they lived during the birth and infancy of our Lord, they were not alive to witness His death and resurrection or the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. And so, Simeon and Anna fit best with the Old Testament saints and prophets culminating in John the Baptist. Whatever their role may have been, they served to point us to Christ, who He would be, and what He would do. Even after Jesus’ birth, it had been revealed to Simeon and Anna who Jesus was and what He would do in terms of the big picture, but not necessarily in all the fine details. By divine revelation, in their faith, Simeon and Anna could see that this child, Jesus, was the fulfillment of God’s promises to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to Moses, and to David. He came as their brother, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law. The joy of Simeon and Anna was the joy of the Law being fulfilled for us all! Indeed, rightly did Joseph and Mary marvel.
St. Luke concludes today’s Gospel saying, “And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” They had done everything that the Law required, but, though it was necessary and had to be done, it was still not enough; man was still in sin and destined for death. The rest would have to be performed by Jesus alone. Jesus must now grow and learn as all boys do. Jesus must come of age and study under the rabbis. Jesus must be baptized with John’s baptism and face the devil in the wilderness. Jesus must obey the Law and keep the LORD’s Commandments perfectly, even under temptation, duress, and suffering, unto death. Jesus must lay down His life in humiliation, suffering, and death in your place, going to the cross, drinking the cup of God’s wrath against your sin to the bitter dregs, until it was finished. And He did.
There is a good reason that we sing Simeon’s song after receiving the Lord’s body and blood in the Holy Eucharist: For, we, too, have seen the salvation of our LORD. We, too, can now depart in peace. Therefore, let us, like Simeon and Anna, watch and wait for the Lord, hearing His Word and receiving His gifts. God has wonderfully created us, and in the incarnation of His Son has yet more wondrously restored our human nature. May we ever be alive in Him who made Himself to be like us.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, December 25, 2015

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

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” There it is. That is the basis of your redemption. Without the incarnation of the Word of God, there could be no salvation for you. Because of your sin, and because of your parents’, and their parents’, and your First Parents’ sin – which is all your sin – you fell from God’s grace. No, that’s putting it too lightly. Rather, you rebelled against God’s grace. You threw it off of you like a damp blanket. You left yourself naked in your sin and rebellion before God’s holy and righteous face, and you couldn’t hide, though you tried. But He could see right through your feeble façade. God was right, and you were wrong. And, because you were wrong, there was no way possible for you to make yourself right with Him once again. God must be reconciled, and you couldn’t do anything to make that happen. Therefore, He did what was necessary to reconcile you to Himself. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” The incarnation was the basis of your redemption, but its fulfillment was yet to come.
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” That wasn’t the first time, though it was the final, the last, and the eternal time. For, the LORD had always dwelt among His people in various ways. Of course, in the Garden, before the Fall of our First Parents, God dwelt with them, walking and talking with them, in the cool of the evening. But, after the Fall, man could no longer abide in God’s holy presence, lest he be destroyed in the face of His holiness and righteousness. Therefore, it was in mercy that the LORD banished the man and the woman from the Garden that they might not eat again from the Tree of Life and live in eternal separation from God and His presence. However, before He sent them packing, the LORD sacrificed an innocent beast and shed its innocent blood that He might clothe Adam and Eve’s nakedness and cover their sin until time was full and He would send His only-begotten Son into the flesh to be the sacrificial Lamb of God’s offering that would take away the sin of the world.
The shedding of innocent blood and the covering with skin, with flesh, is a key Old Testament type of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us. The innocent blood and the fleshly covering are typological symbols of what would be necessary to reconcile God in His relationship with humanity. Innocent blood, blood that is not corrupted and tainted with the stain of sin, must be shed and must cover, atone for, and wash away the sin of men. Innocent flesh, holy and righteous flesh, must cover sinful men, and incorporate them into the New Man, the Second Adam, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, with whom the LORD God is fully pleased.
And so, God instructed Moses to erect a tabernacle made of wooden poles and animal skins, a tent of fleshy skins in which God would dwell among His people. Within the tabernacle, Moses placed the Ark of the Covenant containing the testimony of the LORD, the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s budding staff, and a pot of manna. The Ark was covered with the Mercy Seat, flanked by fiery Seraphim, upon which the atoning blood was sprinkled. In this way, the Glory of God dwelt among His people.
Within the tabernacle, the Priests performed animal and grain sacrifices before the LORD on behalf of the people. And, while it is true that these sacrifices never took away or forgave sin, they did indeed permit God to overlook the peoples’ sins for a time, for He had attached His Word of promise to them that He would overlook their sins and spare them. Centuries later, the tabernacle was replaced by Solomon’s temple and, later still, Herod’s temple. The LORD would be present among His people in the temple just as He was in the tabernacle, and the sacrifices would continue just as before. However, neither the tabernacle, nor the temple, nor the sacrifices were an end in themselves, but they were shadows and types of a fulfillment yet to come – the Temple made without human hands, and the sacrificial Lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world.
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” The phrase “made His dwelling” is only one word in the original Greek, eskēnōsen. It is the exact same word that is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the tabernacle. Literally, it means “pitched a tent.” Therefore, we could read John 1:14 this way, “The Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us.” The word implies an intimate dwelling together with man, a living together in a domestic sort of way, making a home together and having a family together. Yes, that is what is connoted in the words “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”
In the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Word of God made flesh, God has incorporated humanity into Himself. As the ancient Church has put it, “God became man that man might become God.” We are not God in and of ourselves, but we have been incorporated into God through Holy Baptism and faith in the Word made flesh Jesus Christ. Undoubtedly the very best symbol the LORD has given us to understand the kind of God He is and the kind of relationship He desires to have with us is marriage. “It is not good that the man should be alone.” When the LORD made Adam, He had no intention of leaving him alone. Eve, His wife, was not an afterthought, but was God’s divine plan from the beginning. The LORD joined Adam and Eve in marriage – the LORD’s creation, not man’s, or the state’s, or the court’s. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
No, Eve was not an afterthought, and neither was marriage and family an afterthought. Indeed, one cannot fully understand the meaning of the Incarnation apart from these symbols, these types, and foreshadowing the LORD has provided. For, from the beginning, God’s plan was to receive you into Himself. Now, many have speculated, even Martin Luther, how the LORD would have accomplished this if our First Parent’s had not plunged humanity and the world into sin and death. While it is speculation, Luther believed that the LORD still would have found a way for humanity to become one flesh with God. Perhaps, Luther thought, they might have fallen asleep, as in a bed of roses, and awoken to a new and fuller life? Regardless, the point is this: Your God and LORD desires to dwell with you, to make His home with you, to marry you, and, yes, to have a family with you! That is why the predominant theme throughout the Holy Scriptures depicting your relationship with God is marriage.
The incarnation of the Son of God, the Word of God made flesh, is the beginning of the redemption of your flesh, even as the death and resurrection of Jesus is the redemption of both your body and soul. God has redeemed the Bride by sending His Son, the Bridegroom, into your flesh to suffer and die and be raised to new life with the promise that your flesh and blood bodies will be raised to unending life as well. However, you have already begun to live that new life, life that will never die. Yes, your bodies are still under the curse and will surely die – you feel that and know that each and every day of your life as you grow older and weaker. However, your bodies will be raised new and holy and will be wed with your new spirit born of water and the Word in Holy Baptism. Therefore, the incarnation of the Son of God has meaning for you now.
And so it is that Christmas is every bit as much about your redemption and salvation as is Easter. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us,” and that has changed everything, already, now! In the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Word made flesh, God has begun to remake you in His image once again, the image and likeness of His Son Jesus Christ. Though this work will not be complete in you until the resurrection of your body, you are already changed, and you will continue to be changed until then. Once you were in darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord. Therefore, put away the works of darkness and walk as children of the Light. Emmanuel, God with us, is with you, always. He has pitched a tent in your midst that He might make a family with you and bear within you the fruit of the family, love: Love for God, and love for your fellow man.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

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

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“When all was still, and it was midnight, Your Almighty Word, O LORD, descended from the royal throne.” Christians have chanted these words from the Apocryphal book of Wisdom on Christmas Eve or at Epiphany since at least the seventh century. Thus, when we sang them this evening, we joined our voices, our thoughts, and our prayers with the multitude of believers before us, with centuries and millennia of saints in Christ, in unified confession of the beautiful and the awe-inspiring truth that, while we were still sinners, God acted, Christ was born, and Christ died for us that we may live in and through Him.
Stillness and silence are extremely difficult to come by these days, are they not? The shopping, the wrapping, the decorating, the baking, the cleaning, the laundry, the cooking, the family, the friends, the fights, the disappointment, the hurt feelings, the loneliness, the sadness, the despair – you’ve been caught up in this since, when, Black Friday? Halloween? Before that? Maybe you never recovered from last year?
Be still. Be still this silent and holy night. Be still and know the Lord your God. His gift to you this night is stillness, silence, peace, and rest. Rest from all your striving to appease Him. Rest from all your fretting and anxiety over what to wear and what to eat. Rest from all your fear of your enemies, from fear of your friends, from fear of tonight, and from fear of tomorrow. Only after He had prepared all things for you in the beginning did He create you in His image and set you in His creation as its Lord. Only after He had done all things necessary, and it was very good, did God take rest from His labors. Your Lord God and Creator took rest from His labors that you might take your rest in Him. He declared that day the Sabbath, a day of rest.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This is God’s Word to you this night. This is God’s Word made flesh for you in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Sabbath rest of God in whom He invites you take rest from your striving, from your anxiety, worry, and fear. Our First Parents rebelled against the LORD’s Sabbath by refusing to take rest in it. Instead, they strove to take for themselves what was not given, they were anxious and unsettled about what they thought was withheld, about what they thought they might be missing out on, about what could’ve been, should’ve been, or would’ve been. They did not fear, love, and trust in God and His Word above all things, but they feared they were being short-changed, they loved the wisdom and knowledge the adversary deceitfully promised them, and they trusted in his word, and in their wisdom, rather than the LORD and His Word. Thereafter, their lives were fraught with busyness and restlessness, with striving and toil, with fear and anxiety, so that, even while they were idle, they could find no rest, no peace. And, is not the same true for you as well, O Sons of Adam, O Daughters of Eve?
Your restlessness, striving, anxiety, and fear are primordial. And yet, they are needless, foolish, and senseless, for it is finished, declares the Lord. What is finished? All that was necessary for you to have rest and peace once again. Do you strive for basic necessities – for food, and clothing, and shelter? Jesus’ body and blood are your true food and drink. Jesus’ righteousness is your true clothing. And, Jesus’ body, the Church, is your true shelter, the very temple of the Holy Spirit. Are you anxious and worried about tonight and about tomorrow? Your LORD invites you to be still, to be silent. Then you may take account, not of the things you want, or the things you think that you need that you do not have, but of the blessings that you do have, most of which you wrongly take for granted and consider the fruit of your own labors. For, Sabbath rest is about viewing the world and your life in it differently, as a gift from God. The Sabbath rest of God is a release from enslavement to the desires and pleasures of your flesh and to the pursuit of material goods and worldly values that have no life and are passing away. Or, are you anxious and fearful of wars and rumors of war, of terrorism, both international and domestic? “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” And, do not be a fool; that one is not the devil, but it is your God, your heavenly Father and Creator of both your body and your soul. “Behold, He who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.”
Be still. Be silent. God does His mightiest works when you are doing nothing at all. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, that is, out of nothing. He spoke His creative and life-giving Word into the nothing, and it was so. And, God sustains His creation by His ongoing breath, Word, and will. When He withdraws it, that will be the end, and all of creation will be undone, as it was first done in the beginning. Similarly, God began His re-creative work, not in a virgin universe, but in a virgin womb. Once again He spoke His creative and life-giving Word, and the Word became flesh and made His dwelling here in time, under the Law, among us. How did Mary receive this Word from God? She was still. She was silent. “Lord, may it be to me as You have said, according to Your Word.” On the cross, God’s Word made flesh spoke the final Word that need ever be spoken, “It is finished,” and then came the Sabbath. Once again, God rested from His labors in re-creating humanity in His image, and the world. The LORD has made His Son Jesus to be your Sabbath rest. Be still. Be silent. And, know that the LORD is God.
It is your sinful, fallen, corrupt human nature that will not rest, but it insists on busying itself, striving, worrying, and fretting. Anxiety, worry, and fear are the worship you give to a false god that cannot save. Addicts know this all too well. Whether it be alcohol or drugs or food or sex or whatever, when they hit bottom, when they finally can see and think clearly, they universally confess, “Let go, and let God.” Just stop. Be still. Be silent. “The devil will find work for idle hands to do?” Perhaps, but to take Sabbath rest is not the same as doing nothing at all. On the contrary, you are not alone in your Sabbath rest, but your rest is in Jesus, who is the Sabbath of the LORD. Be still. Be silent. Stop doing. But, take your rest in Christ, who has done all things well for you.
We are gathered here this silent and holy night, to remember, to give thanks for, and to celebrate God’s gift of rest for us in the incarnation and birth of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s Sabbath rest and peace incarnate, in human flesh and blood, as our brother, as our Bridegroom, as our Redeemer, our Savior, our Lord, and our God.
Jesus is your comfort and your peace. He is God’s pledge that your warfare with Him is ended, that He has given you double in grace for your sins in His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Therefore, you may rest from your labors, you may rest from your striving to earn His favor or to work off your debt to Him. It is forgiven. It is finished. And, there is no need for worry and anxiety, for restlessness and fear, for the LORD your God is the Creator, Redeemer, Re-Creator, and Sustainer of your life, the universe, and everything in it. Not a hair can fall, not a breath can be taken, not a life can be given or taken apart from His will. Therefore, do not give yourself over to the idols and to the false gods of worry, anxiety, and fear. “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His Name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forever.”
Soon it will be midnight, literally the middle of the night. God has already acted. God is acting still, for you – always for you. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.” Tonight Bethlehem, the “House of Bread,” has come to Pawling, New York. Be still. Be silent. Stop. God’s Almighty Word incarnate descends to you here at this altar. Only, He does not leave heaven behind this time, but He brings heaven with Him to you, with its angels and archangels, and with all its company. “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate Deity. Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.” Let us enter His Rest together and live in His Peace. Blessed Christmas.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Homily for Advent Evening Prayer In the Week of Rorate Coeli (Advent 4)

Luke 1:57-80; Isaiah 40:1-8

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Christian life is one of continual warfare against temptation, sin, your own flesh and desires, the world, and, ultimately, the devil. Therefore, it should be a great comfort and consolation to you to hear that you are no longer at war with your God. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.”
Comfort, consolation, and peace – with God; this is God’s gift to you at Christmas. The forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, was charged with preparing the people to receive the gift of God’s Peace in Jesus Christ. However, just as a sick person cannot get better until they are first diagnosed by a doctor, so the people could not receive the Christ, the Medicine of Immortality, until they became aware of their sin-sick-unto-death condition. For this reason John came preaching repentance through the Law, that the people might be prepared to receive the Gospel absolution.
John, whose name means “God is gracious,” came to bring comfort, consolation, and peace to people by preparing them to receive, and by pointing them to, Jesus the Christ. Jesus is Peace with God incarnate. Thus the heavenly host of God’s holy angels sang to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” And, you and I sing this very same hymn as well. When? Following our confession of our sins and the proclamation of our forgiveness from God on account of the substitutionary and atoning death of Jesus.
Now, about this time in Advent, if you are like me, you have likely heard more than you care to about John the Baptist. We’re ready to hear about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, shepherds, angels, and Magi. Too often we hear John’s preaching, even still, as Law, fire and brimstone. We view John as some eccentric desert-dweller with a peculiar and repulsive diet. We wish to write him off as an Old Testament foreshadow that has been fulfilled and is, therefore, no longer necessary. But, the truth is, we still need John. Though his preaching has cut us to the core in the past and caused us to turn in repentance, our Old Man, our fleshly man, refuses to stay drowned and dead, but he rises up each day anew and seeks to go his own way. And, so, we still need John’s preaching of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins, we still need John to prepare the way in our hearts for the coming of Jesus, until the day He returns and raises us up with new flesh and blood bodies that are in peace and harmony with the new spirits we received in Holy Baptism. In fact, when Jesus came, He continued John’s preaching of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins, because the kingdom of God was very near. And, so, this preaching continues still today in the Office of the Holy Ministry in Christ’s Church.
Your God and Lord still proclaims comfort to you, that your warfare is ended, through the mouth of your pastor, who brings you, not a word from man, but a Word from God. Like John, your pastor brings God’s grace to you, His free, perfect, and holy gifts of Water, Word, and Absolution, Law and Gospel, and the precious Body and the holy Blood of Jesus Christ. Still your hearts are prepared to receive your Lord in all the ways He comes to you through a preaching of repentance unto the forgiveness of your sins. Through these sure and certain means of grace – sure and certain because the LORD has attached His Word of Promise to them – you can be assured that your warfare with God is ended, and you may have true and lasting comfort and peace in Jesus Christ. For all your sins, God has repaid you double in grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness so that, though your sins were like scarlet, they are now white as snow.
When the world seems very, very dark, when you wonder how much longer you can bear with sorrow and suffering, grief, pain, and fear, when you begin to lose hope – remember that God is gracious, that God is for you, that God so loved you that He gave His only-begotten Son to redeem you, to have you as His own, and to keep you through good and bad times, through joy and sorrow, through light and dark, life and death, unto eternal life with Him where there is no sorrow, no suffering, no tears, no darkness, and no death.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were like you in your darkest moments – aged, barren, lifeless, and hopeless. Then, God sent His messenger to proclaim to them His grace that they might have comfort, peace, and hope. But, Zechariah did not believe. Thus, his voice was silenced until God’s promise was fulfilled. Everyone thought that the boy would be named Zechariah like his father, a name that means “the LORD has remembered.” However, everyone was surprised when Zechariah wrote the boy’s name upon a tablet, John, “God is gracious.” The LORD had remembered His covenant promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Moses, to David, and to you. The LORD has remembered, and God is gracious. Even when His Law convicts and crushes you, even when He sends you sorrows and grief and pain, even when He permits the darkness to surround you, the LORD remembers, and God is gracious. He will not leave you or forsake you. He is with you in your sorrow and grief and suffering. He is with you in your darkness. Nothing can separate you from His love, which is in Jesus Christ, your Lord.
Then, Zechariah’s mouth was opened and, filled with the Holy Spirit, he prophesied, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath that He swore to our father Abraham to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” The LORD had remembered. God is gracious.
Then, beholding his newborn son, John, the gift of God’s grace, Zechariah continued, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of theirs sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
God is gracious. He will not leave you in your sinful darkness and death. Still He speaks to you His Word of Law and Gospel that you may repent and receive His absolution that you may have comfort, consolation, and peace with God. And, when you have comfort, consolation, and peace with God, then you can begin to have it with men as well.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.