Monday, December 31, 2018

The Feast of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus (New Year's Eve / New Year's Day)

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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Your God always works through means. That is to say that, the God who made all the stuff that there is, who still sustains all that stuff, always works through the stuff of His making for your good. He attached His creative Word to the fruits of two trees in the Garden, to Aaron’s staff and Moses’ serpent of bronze. He attached His creative Word to the Passover, the tabernacle and the altar of burnt offering, the Ark of the Covenant, and to the Holy of Holies in the temple. And, he attached His creative Word to circumcision, that it might be attached to Holy Baptism and to the Supper of His Son’s body and blood.
God attached His creative Word to circumcision saying, “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”There is something unique, particular, and personal about circumcision. In other Old Testament sacraments, God attached His Word to external, inanimate objects, to stuff. In circumcision, however, God attached His creative Word of promise to man’s flesh, literally. In circumcision, God’s benediction was not spoken over you by a priest, but into your own flesh. In circumcision, there was no ambiguity in God’s Word “this covenant is for you”– it was crystal clear who the “you”was, for you carried it in your own flesh. Though it was possible to be circumcised and be an unbeliever, it was impossible to be a believer and still reject circumcision and the promises God attached to it.
Nevertheless, circumcision did not remove sin, original or actual, but it was God’s promise that He would look upon you in grace and mercy and not in wrath against your sin. Circumcision was God’s work, in your flesh. The sign was irrevocable, for God would not go back on His promise, but faith in that promise was a necessity which men had the freedom to reject. Though only males were circumcised and bore the sacramental sign of God’s covenant, the promise was for all of the offspring that man would bear. This was not some sort of patriarchal prejudice, but it got directly at the root of man’s problem, sin. As we are conceived and born in sin, God’s covenant promise was attached to the very source and beginning of human life. No one was, is, or ever will be conceived and born without a human father – that is, except one, Jesus.
Yet, circumcision was but a sacramental sign pointing ahead to a future fulfillment. That fulfillment came in the circumcision of Jesus, eight days after His birth in Bethlehem. Jesus had no human father and, therefore, He bore not the corruption of original sin. Nevertheless, He submitted Himself to circumcision in His innocent flesh that His heavenly Father’s covenant promise might be given to His offspring by faith. Therefore, in the circumcision of Jesus, all people are circumcised once and for all, because He represents all humanity, as St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “In [Jesus Christ] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.
Because of Jesus’ circumcision in the flesh, you are God’s child today, not by the shedding of your blood, but by faith in God’s creative Word of promise made flesh, Jesus Christ, who submitted to circumcision in your stead and became obedient under the Law and fulfilled it, dying in your place and rising from death to give new and eternal life to all who are born again with Him by baptism and faith. St. Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
That new life began on the eighth day, the day of our Lord’s resurrection, reinforcing the connection between circumcision on the eighth day and Holy Baptism. In the Church, the number eight is symbolic of the fulfillment of God’s work of re-creating His sin-broken and fallen world and humanity. The new life begun in Jesus’ resurrection on the eighth day will never end. The eighth day is literally the day upon which the sun will never set. That is the day and the new life into which you are baptized. Therefore, to be baptized is literally to be born again, to a new life that will never die. That is why baptismal fonts, like this one, as well as pulpits and lecterns and other church furnishings are often eight-sided – they are symbolic reminders of God’s covenant and promise kept and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
As the world celebrates the beginning of a new year this evening and remembers the passing of the old, so the Church celebrates the new life and the new Name that She has been given in the innocent shed blood of Jesus Christ. In Holy Baptism and faith you are sealed in God’s Benediction, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you: the LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”His Name is not only proclaimed to you, but it is placed upon you, marking you as His offspring, His child, His heir, with and in Jesus Christ His Son, with whom He is well pleased.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

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.
This morning's Gospel really belongs on February 2nd, 40 days after Christmas, because it describes what happened that day Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple when he was 40 days old. The Old Testament Law pronounced the mother unclean for 40 days after giving birth to a boy (60 days for a girl), teaching that we are all born sinful and unclean, that every birth is the birth of a sinner under God's wrath, and that rescue from sin and wrath would come ultimately through a first-born male child belonging to God. The Law also required that the first-born belonged to the Lord and had to be redeemed by a blood sacrifice, usually a lamb or a goat, though if the parents were poor, two pigeons would suffice. This pointed to the sacrifice that God would ultimately make to redeem us by sending His only-begotten Son to redeem us with His innocent blood. Every point of the Law Jesus kept perfectly for us, down to the purification of His mother, though, of course, she needed no purification for bearing the sinless Son of God, and His own redemption at the price of two pigeons, though He came as God's sacrificial Lamb to redeem the world. But we will save that for February 2nd, at the Presentation of our Lord, when you will hear this Gospel again.
Today, on this sixth day of the twelve days of Christmas, our focus will be on the two senior saints in this passage - Simeon and Anna. Sadly, our youth-oriented culture tends to despise the old and frail. We tend to value energy and excitement over wisdom and experience. We are impoverished for it. There is much to be learned from the wisdom of their experience. You can learn more about marriage by talking to two people who have been married for 50 or 60 years than you can from any book pulled from the shelf. In fact many congregations pair up their newlyweds with a senior couple in the congregation as kind of marriage sponsors. You can learn a great deal about life from those who have lived many years. You can learn much about prayer from those who have prayed a long time. You can learn about patience from those who wait.
Seniors do a great deal of waiting. They wait for buses and taxis and rides. They spend a lot of time in waiting rooms, in which about the only thing you can do is wait. They wait for the mail to come, for family to call, for friends to drop by. Sometimes they wait in vain for people who don't show up, or who get sidetracked by other more urgent matters. If they are sick, they wait for the doctors to diagnose, and the medicines to medicate. Sometimes that wait can be long. The body heals more slowly when you are old. Sometimes things don't heal completely. Some wait to die. Often times our senior saints find that they have outlived their entire families. When one such saint became sick and was completely confined to a hospital bed, she said that she was tired and she wanted to die. She was getting tired of waiting. Another senior saint, who is now with the Lord, once said that the toughest part of the waiting is all the funerals you have to go to.
"I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope," the psalmist prays. Senior saints can teach us a few things about praying that psalm, about waiting on the Lord and trusting in His Word. Simeon and Anna are two people who waited long years on the Lord, whose hope was in His Word. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die." Simeon and Anna lived under that promise. If we take the time to listen to them we can learn a few things about it means to live in the shadow of death, and to die in the light of life.
St. Luke describes old Simeon as a "righteous and devout" man, meaning that he trusted in God's promise of salvation and lived in that trust. Simeon was a man whose life was governed by the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit was upon him. He had been told by the Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, the Lord's Christ. That was a heavy honor. Imagine what it would be like knowing that you would not die until you saw God's Promise of salvation fulfilled before your own eyes, but not knowing when that would be. 
Year after year went by in the temple, marked by the holy days of the temple liturgy - Yom Kippur, Passover, Pentecost, the Day of Tabernacles. Every day, the morning and evening sacrifices and prayer. Every day Simeon waited and watched. Would today be the day? The evening sacrifice; the morning sacrifice. Another day, nothing. Perhaps tomorrow He will come. More waiting. We don't know how many years Simeon waited, but he must have been quite old. You can hear the relief come from deep within his bones when he sighs, "Now let your servant depart in peace."
Imagine the excitement of old Simeon that day when Mary and Joseph came to the temple with their precious bundle, the newborn Messiah wrapped in a blanket, just 40 days old, and the Holy Spirit brought him to the temple at just the right time so that their paths would cross. Oh, it must have been a marvelous moment when Simeon took that precious bundle in his arms (you grandparents know a little bit of what that's like when you first hold a new grandchild) and hoisted the baby high in the air and sang out his glorious song that echoed all throughout the temple: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word.For mine eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.A Light to lighten the Gentiles,And the Glory of your people Israel.”
It is a joyful song, not a sigh of resignation. Simeon is confident, bold, very much alive. It is Simeon's "deliver us from evil," that the Lord would at last take him from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. Simeon speaks to God the way a servant speaks to his master who has promised him freedom. "Master," he says, "release your servant now in peace, just like you said you would." He holds God to his promise, trusting that this tiny, poor baby will be His Savior. He trusts God's Word. He lives in the "now" of Christ. He doesn't need anything more than this baby to say, "my eyes have seen your salvation."
What did Simeon's eyes see? Nothing more than the shepherds saw in the manger the night of the birth. Or what the wise men would see a bit later. Simeon saw a baby boy who looked just like any other baby boy. No halos hovering over his head. No chorus of angels singing at his side. All Simeon could see was a squirming infant wrapped in a blanket and his poor parents who had come to do what the Law required of them. But the Spirit of God said, "This One is different. He's the One you've been waiting for." Simeon trusted God's Word. With the tiny baby cradled in his arms, he knew that he could depart in peace. He could die without fear. He had seen God's salvation in the face of this poor and humble Child, and now he could depart in peace. God had kept His promise.
Such high and glorious names Simeon gives this poor infant! He calls Him God's Salvation, the Light of the Gentiles, the Glory of Israel. "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation." “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” “I bring near my deliverance, it is not far off, and my salvation will not tarry; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory."
Cradled in Simeon's arms is God's salvation, God's devil-crushing victory over sin and death. We are weak, but this Child is our strength. We are filled with darkness, but He is our Light. We are sinful, but He is the sinless One who became sin for us so that in Him we might become God's righteousness. He is Light shining into our darkness, opening the eyes of the blind, opening our eyes to God's love and His desire to save. He is the Glory of Israel, the reason God had an Israel, a chosen people, so that His beloved and chosen Son would be born into the world to suffer and die, to rise and reign.
Simeon must have sounded like an old man gone stark raving mad, calling this tiny baby the Salvation of God and the Glory of Israel. Even Mary and Joseph were amazed at his words. Who would have guessed that such infinitely wonderful things could be said about such a tiny baby? Our saviors are big and strong. Our lights are bright. Our glory is glitter and gold. This Child appears so small and helpless and poor. The enemies around us loom so large - the cancers, the viruses, the violence, the evil, the guilt, the death. It is David and his slingshot versus Goliath and his sword. How can a little Child be strong enough?
Old Simeon is our preacher this morning. "Don't believe your eyes. Trust God's Word. Look to this Child that Mary wrapped in a blanket and brought to the temple. Receive this Child in the empty arms of faith. Hold him as your own, for He has come to be your Light and your Salvation. He is the Glory of God's Israel come down to you. It doesn't matter who you are or what you've done, whether you are good or bad, rich or poor, young or old, married or single. This Child has come to save you, so that you too can depart in peace." 
The Church traditionally sings Simeon's song on two different occasions. We call it the Nunc dimittis, from its first two words in Latin, "Now depart." It is the traditional hymn of Compline, the prayer at the close of the day. Just before we go to sleep at night, we are to pray, "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace." Sleep is a picture of death just as rising in the morning is a picture of the resurrection. If I die before I wake, I know that God's only begotten Child will care for me. "The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?"
Later in history, Simeon's song came into the liturgy of the Lord's Supper. What a perfect place to sing St. Simeon's song of deliverance. We have heard the Word of Christ. "My body given for you; my blood shed for you." He is more present for you here in the Supper than when His little body was cradled in Simeon's arms. Then we sing, "Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your Word." To repeat a clever phrase I heard from a wise Pastor: "We go to the Sacrament as though going to our death, so that we might go to our death as though going to the Sacrament."
Simeon knew the cost. Even at 40 days, the cross casts its shadow over the Child. He was set for the falling and rising of many. Many would stumble over Him in unbelief and fall to their condemnation. Some would look to Him in faith and rise to eternal life. He would be a sign spoken against, despised and rejected, a curse on men's lips. The sword that would pierce His side would also pierce the soul of his mother, as she stood by and watched her Son give His life for the world. Those who bear Christ are not immune to suffering and sorrow in this life. Not Mary, his mother. Not the Church. Not you and me. The cross marks the life of this Child, and it marks all who follow Him. But if we learn one thing from St. Simeon, it is this: Where Christ looks most helpless and weak, there He is most Savior, most Light, most Glory, most Son of God for us - in the manger, in the arms of Simeon, on the cross, in the Sacrament.
There was also a woman named Anna in the temple. She had been married for seven years, and had likely been widowed at the age of 24 or 25. Though she certainly would have been free to marry again and raise a family, Anna instead devoted herself to prayer and fasting, watching and waiting for the coming redemption of Israel. Luke tells us that she was from the tribe of Asher. Asher had been among the wealthiest of the tribes of Israel. Yet Asher's religious history reflected the spiritual sleepiness and indifference that often comes with the life of prosperity. No prophet or judge had come from the tribe of Asher. But now in these last days is St. Anna, a prophetess, a woman who spoke the Word of God with prophetic power. Even the numbers of her life were a prophetic witness to God's grace: She'd been married for a perfect seven years. Now she was 84 years old, seven times twelve. In the seventh twelfth, or the twelfth seven, of her life, she was given to see the Salvation of God, the Glory of Israel.
Her life was now complete. Everything she had hoped for, everything for which she had prayed and fasted and waited was found in this little Child born of Mary. She gave thanks to God and spoke about Him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. She bore witness to Jesus, directing everyone who was looking for the redemption of Jerusalem to Him. There He is! The One in Simeon's arms! He is the One we've all been waiting for. Anna is a picture of the Church - receiving Christ, thanking God, witnessing in the world.
Simeon and Anna. Mary and Joseph. And there in the middle of it all, a tiny 40 day old baby. It is a little congregation. Everyone is represented. The young and the old, the married and the single, the widowed - people who would otherwise have nothing in common are gathered by the Spirit of God around Jesus hidden in humility. People, the likes of you and me, who live in the shadow of death, can, by the grace of this Child in Simeon's arms, die in the light of life. And we too can sing with saints Anna and St. Simeon: Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your Word.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

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 eveing. 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 tentamong 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.

Monday, December 24, 2018

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

“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 Waverly, Iowa. 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.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Rorate Coeli - The Fourth Sunday in Advent (Advent 4)

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 youstands one you do not know.” “The LORD is nearto all who call on Him.”Do you notice how the unseen, real, and true presence of our Lord nowpermeates 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 your 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.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Advent Evening Prayer - Wednesday in Gaudete (Advent 3)

Luke 1:39-45; Revelation 11:19 -12:6; 2 Samuel 7:18-29

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I know that each of you has some magical number in mind for the maximum number of stanzas a hymn should have, and I suspect that the eight stanzas of the hymn we just finished singing likely exceeds all of them. C’mon, those eight stanzas moved at a goodly pace so that they seemed like, maybe, only four, right? And besides, the hymn tells a story. You can’t cut it short in the middle. That’d be like Mary and Joseph only making it to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Wouldn’t be much to celebrate without the birth of Jesus. You see, you have to finish the story.
In all sincerity, though, that hymn, “Savior of the Nations, Come,” is a great hymn. It is the Advent hymn par excellence! The text was composed by St. Ambrose of Milan in the fourth century, making it one of the earliest Christian hymns we have. There is something beautifully catholic (universal) and transcendent about singing a hymn and praying the liturgy that has been sung and prayed by Christians for over sixteen centuries! However, more important than the transcendent catholicity of the hymn is its text, the words, and the confession of faith we make when we sing them together. “Savior of the Nations, Come” sings of the mystery of the Holy Incarnation, the Word of God made flesh and dwelling amongst us as one of us, as our brother, in the person of Jesus. “Not by human flesh and blood, By the Spirit of our God, Was the Word of God made flesh, Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.” The mystery of the Holy Incarnation is what Christmas is all about. Yet another hymn, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” puts it this way, “Veiled in the flesh, the Godhead see. Hail the Incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel.” That name, Immanuel, means “God with us,” and that is what we celebrate at Christmas, that, in the Holy Incarnation, in the conception and birth of Jesus, God Himself is literally with us, as one of us, knowing our weakness and sorrow, and taking that upon Himself on the cross where He died for our sins and was raised for our justification.
Another great stanza from this evening’s hymn is this: “Then stepped forth the Lord of all From His pure and kingly hall; God of God, yet fully man, His heroic course began.” This stanza speaks of our Incarnate Lord being born from the “kingly hall” of the womb of His virgin mother, Mary. To describe Mary’s womb as a “kingly hall” is not to give undue glory to Mary, but rather to the one who is the King, whose presence blesses and sanctifies. Thus, Mary’s womb, and Mary herself, are not blessed in and of themselves, but they are blessed by virtue of the Blessed One, Jesus, Immanuel, who resides within. The LORD had made Mary and her virgin womb to be a palace, a “kingly hall,” for His Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus.
Thus, our hymn fits well with this evening’s lessons. Our First Lesson speaks of King David who desired to build a proper house for the LORD God. The LORD did not permit David to build the temple of the LORD, for he was a warrior and had much blood on his hands. The LORD wanted, not a man of war, but a man of peace to build the temple. In time, David’s son Solomon would build the temple of the LORD and reign over Israel in peace. Moreover, the LORD told David that in all His years dwelling in the tent of the Tabernacle in the midst of His people, never did He rebuke them for not building Him a permanent dwelling. Rather, the LORD promised David that He would build a house for him and would bless it forever. This was a Messianic promise fulfilled in the Holy Incarnation of Jesus Christ, a promise referenced in the hymn, “Savior of the Nations, Come.”
In our second lesson we see the fulfillment of the same, or the super-fulfillment, if you will, as the temple of the LORD in heaven is opened amidst “lighting, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail,” and what appears, but “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.” The Woman is Mary, or at least a metaphor for Mary, and to be more accurate still, the Woman is the Church, the Mother of our Savior and the Mother of all who believe and trust in Him. However, the dragon was there too, the devil and Satan, ready to devour the Woman’s Child as He is born. You will recall how Satan, through his servant Herod, attempted to murder the Christ-child following his birth. When the Magi were warned by an angel of the LORD to not return to Herod, the murderous king sent his soldiers to murder all the infant boys in Bethlehem where the Christ was prophesied to be born. But, the child was “caught up to God and to His throne, and the Woman fled into the wilderness, where She has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished.” Now, since Satan cannot have the Christ-child, he purses the Woman, he pursues you, the Church. And yet, you are protected by God, sealed in Holy Baptism, having God’s Name upon your foreheads, and His holy angels watch over you and fight to protect and defend you against the assails of the evil one.
“God the Father was His source, Back to God He ran His course. Into hell His road went down, Back then to His throne and crown.” This was God’s plan all along. After man’s fall into sin, the LORD uttered the first Gospel promise, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The Holy Incarnation of Jesus was the fulfillment of this first Gospel promise. This was confirmed when Mary, carrying the Christ-child within her virgin womb visited her aged cousin Elizabeth who in turn was carrying the forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, “the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’” In the virgin soil of Mary’s womb, by the power of His Word, God had made a house for His people. All who trust in Him, regardless of birth, race, class, or anything else, He brings under His tent and shelters with His Spirit. Jesus’ house and tent, tabernacle and temple, is His body, His Church, of which He is Her head, and with whom He shares all that belongs to Him: life and immortality, righteousness and holiness, sonship with His Father, and a share in His reign as King over heaven and earth. “Glory to the Father sing, glory to the Son, our King, Glory to the Spirit be Now and through eternity.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Gaudete - The Third Sunday in Advent [Sunday School Christmas Lessons & Carols]

Sunday School Christmas Lessons & Carols: 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.
I think most people know that the Bible opens with the words, “In the beginning….” Indeed, Moses’ first book, called Genesis, begins, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And the first thing God created in this formless void of darkness was light. With the creation of light, the Lord brought matter and energy into existence, and He shaped them by His own hand to bring all things into being.
But we, His rebellious creatures, often delude ourselves into believing that we are more than creatures, seeking to be gods ourselves. Our ancestors put us on a path that led us back into darkness, and by our sins, by choosing to be people of darkness, by preferring to have our evil deeds covered by the shadow of night – we shy away from the very Light that animated us, that gave us the breath of life.
But then, there was another book, a Gospel book, a Book of Good News written by the Apostle and Evangelist St. John that, likewise makes its beginning with the very same words, “In the beginning.” But in John’s beginning, we find something that precedes the creation of the heavens and the earth. We hear of the Logos, that is, the uncreated Word, the Son of God.
For the same Word that spoke light into existence is the very Word that “was with God” in the beginning, and yet, at the same time, “was God.” And “all things were made through Him, and without Him, nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
But so shortly after the time of the beginning, we chose darkness over light, we rejected the Word and chose our own wicked and pathetic words instead, poor imitations of the Almighty Word through which we were created and by which we have the Light of Life.
Instead of the Light of Life, we poor miserable sinners live in the constant shadow of death. As fallen men, we despise the light, for the light exposes our lawless deeds and our wicked thoughts. We live in the delusion that the darkness conceals our iniquity – but the one who created all things sees all things. Nothing is truly hidden.
But, as a father pities his poor children who wail out in the darkness, our Father has come to bring us light, to save us from the darkness of the grave and the decay of death.
The Word by whom all things were made became the Word by whom we were redeemed and re-created. Our darkness was to be yet again dispersed, as the veil was shred. The separation between God and man, the gap between the divine and the human, was to be forever bridged and occupied by the LogosHimself, for the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This Word, this Christ, this Savior, is He who is the “true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.”
And just as the Word, the Logos, commanded “Let there be light” and “there was light,” so too does the Logos– the Word of God Himself, the Light that is uncreated – burst into our dark world to illuminate us.
And yet He didn’t accomplish this by a mushroom cloud, by a nuclear blast, by a collision of atoms into a cosmic conflagration that would ignite all of creation into obliteration – but rather in the “still small voice” of a boy, a poor child lying in a feeding trough for livestock in the chill of a stable in the middle of the night – the King of creation reclining with His creatures, the Good Shepherd unto whom come shepherds from the countryside who have been given a sign from a holy angel of the LORD.
Indeed, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” here, in our toxic world, living in the midst of our sin, our selfishness, our suffering, our pain, and the death that we deserve, but which He was not obligated to taste. And yet He took that cup, He allowed the light of His life to be temporarily extinguished so that we could bask in the glow of His resurrection.
“And we beheld His glory, the glory as the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.” We can behold His glory, because like the Glory of the Lord as manifested in the Tabernacle, this Glory shines forth as a Light, condemning the darkness into non-existence, and as the Word, serving as a “lamp to our feet and a light to our paths.” In fact, this Word made flesh is the path, He is the “way, the truth, and the life.”
And we gather here, as the Church has done since the Boy of the Manger became the Man of Sorrows, and we eat his flesh that once lay in the food trough, and we drink His blood that was shed by way of a cup not of His choosing. By the Light of our Lord, our eyes are illuminated by faith alone, and we see the manger become a cross, and a stable become an empty tomb. We see bread become His holy body and wine become His holy blood. We see death vivified into life and the darkness made lucid into light – a light and life that will have no end.
Dear friends, the Light is not our enemy, but our friend. This Light has not come to condemn, but to save. He has come to be a beacon, not as a lamp to expose us. The glow of the Light has come to warm our cold hearts, not to melt us into oblivion. For just as darkness becomes non-existent when a lamp is lit, so too do our sins cease to be when they come into contact with this Holy Light. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” But we, dear friends, comprehend it. We grasp it, cling to it, and hold on to it for dear life, knowing that this Light is our only way out of the dark pit of exile and separation in which we have been living these thousands of years.
And this revelation of Light was first manifest to us, the redeemed, at the manger. To us Christians, the manger is more than a feeding trough for livestock, it is the location of Eden itself.
May this blessing of the Word Made Flesh in His Light-bearing manger illuminate the Church and keep her safe from every form of darkness and evil, now and unto eternity.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Advent Evening Prayer - Wednesday in Populus Zion (Advent 2)

Luke 1:26-38; Revelation 14:1-5; Deuteronomy 18:15-18

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes it’s tempting to think, “If only God would speak to me personally, then I’d be certain that He exists and I’d do what He says.” Don’t be a fool! Many experienced such a personal encounter with God, and, without exception, they were simply terrified! When God spoke with Moses on Horeb, His glory was accompanied by earthquakes and thunder and fire such that the Israelites cried out to Moses that he should speak to them instead of God, lest they die. They were right in what they had spoken, therefore the LORD gave Moses as an intercessor to the people, a prophet, to be His mouthpiece, to speak His Word to His people in His stead. And, the LORD promised that, after Moses, He would raise up a prophet like him from amongst the people. The LORD would put His Words into His prophet’s mouth and he would speak to the LORD’s people saying, “Thus saith the LORD.” And, so began the line of the prophets of the LORD, all the way from Moses to Isaiah to John the Baptist to Jesus, whom we may reckon the fulfillment of the Mosaic and prophetic line, even the New Moses who not only spoke the Word of the LORD, but who is the Word of the LORD made flesh and dwelling amongst us.
Each of the prophets was a foreshadowing and type of Jesus, even as each was rejected, persecuted, and killed so that Jesus wept over Jerusalem calling it “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” Likewise, Jesus warned His disciples that, as they did it to Him, so they would do them, and that the one who rejects them rejects Himself and His Father who sent Him. The prophets were intermediaries, if you will between God and man. Their calling was to proclaim God’s Word to His people in truth and purity, whether they liked it or not. And yet, they were but types, foreshadowing Jesus, who is the one intermediary and intercessor between God and man, in human flesh as a man, the Word of God made flesh.
It is Jesus, the Lamb of God, we see once again in Revelation, along with the terrible voice of God “like the roar of many waters, and like the sound of loud thunder” just as it was heard by Israel when Moses met with God on Horeb. And yet, there was something different about this voice. John describes it as a “new song” that only the faithful followers of the Lamb could learn. The new song is a song of victory for the Lamb and for God over the enemies of sin, death, and the devil, defeated in Jesus’ selfless, sacrificial death on the cross and in His glorious resurrection. All the prophets foretold this victory in many and various ways, but they all find their fulfillment in the Lamb and Son of God, Jesus Christ. It is this song that the angels sang at Jesus’ birth, proclaiming peace between God and man through in the Christ-child born of Mary.
Mary, too, was troubled at the Word of God spoken by His angelic messenger Gabriel, wondering what kind of greeting this might be. Thus Gabriel’s first words to her were an absolution and a word of peace, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Literally, Mary found herself in God’s grace and favor, not because of anything that she had done, but because of who God is and what He was about to do. But, the LORD’s grace, favor, and Word are not empty and void, but they are life giving, performative, and creative, bearing fruit. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his Name Jesus,” the angel continued.And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” It was not a question of doubt, but a question of means. And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” And, that was it. That was the moment of Jesus’ incarnation. Martin Luther famously said that the organ of conception for Mary was her ear, for as the angel Gabriel spoke, God’s Word brought into being what it said, and Mary conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit working through God’s holy Word.
The Word became flesh through the spoken Word of God heard in faith by a young Hebrew maiden. Not with earthquakes, thunder, fire, or smoke, but by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, salvation came to humankind. St. Paul wrote that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” The Word of life that must be heard also bestows upon us the ability to hear it. Even faith itself is God’s creation and gift. God comes to us who could not come to Him, and He comes to us in a way in which we can receive Him: Veiled in the flesh of a newborn baby, in the humble appearance of carpenter, through Word and water, bread and wine, proclaimed and distributed by the sons of the prophets in these latter days. No, God does not speak to us directly and personally – thanks be to God! But, God speaks to us through Jesus, His Word made flesh.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Crumbling is not an instant's Act

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Dilapidation’s processes
Are organized Decays —

‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
A Cuticle of Dust
A Borer in the Axis
An Elemental Rust —
Ruin is formal — Devil’s work

Consecutive and slow —
Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping — is Crashe’s law —

Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Populus Zion - The Second Sunday in Advent (Advent 2)

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.
“Daughter of Zion, behold, your salvation comes!” But, what does that mean? What does salvation look like? How will salvation change how you live your lives from day to day? Those are good questions, for your lives will be indeed be changed. When your salvation comes, it will be like when Mom and Dad get home and turn the lights on in the basement where their kids and other teenagers have been partying while they were away. Whatever was going on will be exposed! There will be no time to cover up or clean up. Whatchya got is whatchya see. When your salvation comes, it will be like turning on the lights in a dark and filthy kitchen; the cockroaches will run for cover, but it will be too late – they will have been seen for what they are, dirty, disease carrying vermin.
This is what it will be like, for the day of your salvation is a day of judgment, for you and for everyone else. There is no escaping it, just as there can be no darkness where the light shines brightly. Yet, you need not be afraid of that day. For, “though the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble,” for you who fear, love, and trust in the Lord, “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” Thus, the day of salvation, the day of judgment, will prove to be a very good day for you. Therefore, lift up your heads, for “you shall have gladness of heart.”
Yet still, you fear change. So do I. Indeed, all people do. You fear change because you have made idols of worldly and fleshly things: money, possessions, family, power, health, reputation, etc. You don’t want these things to change. You fear these things changing because you have placed your fear, love, and trust in them over and above, or in place of, the Lord. In some very real ways, you believe that they define you, they make you who you are. But, they do not last, and you know that to be true. You see the material things you own break, rust, and decay, become outdated and obsolete. You see and feel your own bodies become weak and frail; you don’t see as well, hear as well, or look as well as you used to; you are dying, a little more each day. You see your children age and marry and have children, and often move away, sometimes far away. But these things don’t define you. They don’t make you who you are. You came into this life having none of them. If you leave life without them, that doesn’t change who you are.
Then, who are you? You are the people, the Daughter of Zion, the New Israel, born from the side of the True Israel, God’s Son, Jesus Christ. It is to you that the LORD says the day of judgment will be a day of great joy for you! However, that does not mean that you will be left unscathed. No, not at all. You will be changed as all the idols you have oft placed your fear, love, and trust in are destroyed. Then the hearts of fathers will be turned to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers, for that most fundamental reality of your lives, the very source and origin of your lives, imperfect and corrupted by sin as it may be, and the imperfect love and faithfulness which accompany it, will be seen as an image of the perfect, holy, and righteous source and origin of all of your lives and the perfect and holy love and faithfulness of God, your Father and Lord.
This is a call to repentance uttered from the mouthpiece of God, John the Baptist. The LORD promised that he, Elijah, would come before this great and awesome day of the LORD. But, that was nearly two thousand years ago, you say? Yes, it was – for that was when the day of the LORD occurred, in Jesus’ crucifixion and death upon the cross. That was when the Light switch was turned on and the darkness of sin and death were scattered and overcome. That was the day of judgment, when Jesus was judged guilty in your place. That was the day when it was promised and guaranteed that the ways of the arrogant and evildoers will not last, that they will be left with neither root nor branch. That was the day when the Lord began to make all things new – the ushering in of a new first day of the new creation. That was the day that everything changed. The world has changed. Your life has changed. And, this change is good and nothing to fear.
One of the first things to be changed was how you relate to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to your neighbor in the world. Your heart is to be turned to your Father, and your children’s to their Father. Jesus introduced this new understanding of family in His last words to His mother and His disciple John:“Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!”In those words, Jesus created a new family. Though John was not a true son of Mary, he became her adopted son. In the same way, you have been adopted into the family of Jesus Christ. Jesus had taught in this way throughout His ministry saying, “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”Look at one another.  This is your family.  This is your true family.  Yes, You were born into a family according to the flesh.  Nevertheless, here is the family God has adopted you to be a part of. You are the people of Zion, the Daughter of Zion, the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Daughter of Zion, behold, your salvation has come! Your salvation comes! And, your salvation is coming! The day of judgment has come for you, and you have been judged innocent in Jesus Christ. Therefore, you have a new family and a new life, and you need not live in fear of change or loss or of the Last Day when your King returns. “For whatever was written in former days was written for your instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures you 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.” Even now you are free to “go out leaping like calves from the stall” and to “tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet.” You are free from living like those who have no hope. You are free from the slavery of idolatry to the worldly and fleshly things the godless covet. The kingdom of God has come, it is near you now, and it is coming soon in it’s fullness, power, glory, and might. Its reign is mercy, forgiveness, grace, and love. It reigns upon you, it reigns to you, and it reigns through you into the lives of your brother, your sister, and your neighbor to the glory of God in Christ Jesus. Your Lord Jesus is the sun of righteousness, and His reigning scatters the darkness of sin and death, while it brings healing in its wings to the children of God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Advent Evening Prayer - Wednesday in Ad Te Levavi (Advent 1)

Luke 1:5-25; Revelation 5:1-14; Genesis 49:8-12

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The aged Patriarch Jacob was dying. Under inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit Jacob called his twelve sons to his bedside that he might bless them. First he called Reuben, his firstborn and the rightful heir of the lion’s share of his wealth and property. It was expected that God’s covenant promise made to Abraham, and then to Isaac, and then to Jacob would now fall upon the eldest of Jacob’s sons. But no, Reuben would not enjoy preeminence amongst the Tribes of Israel, for he had taken his Father’s wife Bilhah and had incestuous relations with her, defiling her and himself and his Father’s name and house. Thus Reuben, Jacob’s eldest son, who should have received both the priesthood and the kingdom, received neither. Instead, the priesthood was given to his brother Levi, and the kingdom, and the covenant promise of God, was given to his brother Judah.
Now, this is a story and a pattern that repeats again and again throughout the Scriptures in many and various ways. The seemingly obvious choice is passed over and the blessing is given to an unlikely and unexpected choice. Jacob himself was the younger son and yet, deceitfully, received his father’s blessing instead of his firstborn brother Esau. When the LORD sent Samuel to the house of Jesse to select a king form Jesse’s sons, young David wasn’t even brought to Samuel for consideration. Son after strong, virulent, and mighty son paraded before Samuel before the Spirit settled upon the shepherd boy David. Even with the story we are considering this evening there are still more surprises. If not the eldest son Reuben, surely the blessing would go to Joseph whose story makes up over one-third of the book of Genesis. But, no. Then surely Benjamin, the youngest son by Jacob’s most beloved wife Rachel. Still, no.
Instead, the blessing fell upon Judah. Now, not only was Judah not the firstborn of Jacob, but his own life and deeds were far from spotless. Genesis chapter thirty-eight records the account of how Judah committed incest with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, who had disguised herself as a prostitute (so, if you were inclined to excuse Judah because he was deceived, still he had no problem soliciting the services of a prostitute!). Tamar conceived twin sons and, fascinatingly, as she was giving birth to the boys, one of them, Zerah, meaning “sunrise,” reached out his hand. Tamar’s midwife tied a piece of red yarn around his wrist, marking him as the first-born. But then the boy withdrew his arm and his brother Perez, meaning “bursting forth,” was born. After Perez was born, Zerah, bearing the red string tied around his wrist, was born. In great surprise at what had happened, Tamar exclaimed of her usurping son, “Is this how you burst into the world!” Perhaps more interesting still, Judah, Tamar, and Perez all appear in the genealogy of Jesus that begins St. Matthew’s Gospel.
Jacob’s blessing upon Judah was prophetic and was most immediately fulfilled in the glorious reign of his descendant King David. The prophecies, “your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you,” and “the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples,” each find their immediate fulfillment in the rise and reign of King David. Nonetheless, there was an even greater fulfillment to be realized in Jesus, descended from both Judah and David, over a millennium later.Whereas Judah would be Like a young lion in might and bravery, the mature lion of Judah would show his strength in King David, but ultimately in the coming of the Messiah Jesus the Christ. His garments of deep purple, reminiscent of wine and the “blood of grapes,” is a prophecy of Messianic royalty, that Jesus would be the King of kings and the Lord of lords. “His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk” is a metaphor for the fullness and the richness of Jesus’ kingdom and reign.
St. John was granted a vision of King Jesus, “the Lion of Tribe of Judah,” reigning over heaven and earth at God’s right hand in the Revelation. What John saw was “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes.” This was the coronation of King Jesus, the seven horns symbolizing the complete and total power and authority of His reign, and the seven eyes symbolizing His knowledge of all things. In glory and with power, Jesus bears still the marks of His atoning crucifixion and death, a permanent and glorified reminder that all that was necessary to restore humankind to a right relationship with God was finished, completed, and fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In His conception, birth, adolescence and ministry, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed him not.” But, the ways of the LORD are not our ways, and the foolishness of the LORD is wiser than our wisdom. We must learn to look not on the outward appearance, but according to faith in the LORD and His Word that never fails. Part of our Advent preparation for the coming of our King is that we might repent of our foolishness and stubborn insistence that God act on our terms in order for us to believe, that we, like the Wise Men from the East might recognize how humbly our King came to us, that we might recognize and be ready to receive Him when He comes again, and that we might receive Him as He comes among us now through Word and Sacrament to forgive our sins anew, to strengthen our faith, and to send us bearing His gifts for the life of the world. Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come. Stir our hearts to bold and fiery faith in you that we may bear Your Light in this world of darkness to the glory of Holy Name.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.