Saturday, January 30, 2021



Matthew 20:1-6; 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 10:5; Exodus 17:1-7 


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

There’s a lot of talk today about equality. However, there is also a lot of disagreement about what equality means and looks like. The United States was founded on the idea of human equality before both God and before the law. This sense of equality is ensconced in the words “all men are created equal” from the Declaration of Independence and in the proverb that “justice is blind.” Even so, American history bears the scars of racial, sexual, and other forms of inequality. And, in no way do I agree with those today who claim that our constitution, government, laws, and culture are systemically racist, misogynist, and bigoted. Neither do I endorse the view that the history of our mistakes should be blotted out from books, museums, and public building, squares, and parks. The United States is a nation of people, and people are sinners. Just as there are no perfect people, so there are no perfect nations. Still, we are blessed to live in this freest of all the nations, a nation that believes in and strives towards the ideal of equality even if imperfectly.

One aspect of equality that has dominated the national conversation recently is equality of outcome, the idea that people should have approximately the same material wealth and quality of life regardless of sex, race, education, ability, and numerous other factors. While this sounds great at first hearing, equality of outcome is simply unrealistic because individuals are not the same physically, mentally, in terms of intelligence and ability, or even desires. Attempts to force equality of outcome almost always involve a transfer of income or wealth from wealthier to poorer individuals or coercing people to take on professions and vocations for which they are not equipped or even desire. The United States is founded upon equality of opportunity, towards which we must continually strive. However, equality of outcome cannot be, and should not be, guaranteed.

Life isn’t fair. We don’t get what we deserve. And, when it comes to our lives before our God and Lord, that’s a good thing! Before God, we don’t get what we deserve, nor would we want to. In fact, before God, we do not get what we deserve, eternal punishment in hell, but we get what we don’t deserve, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Our Lord desires to pay us with grace, to pay all of us, without distinction or discrimination, equally, wholly apart from what we deserve, the same gift, forgiveness and eternal life with Him in heaven. That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. Only in the case of God’s kingdom of grace are all outcomes equal. Regardless of your sex or race, your intellect or ability, how good or bad you are, how long you’ve worked in the kingdom, how long you’ve been a believer, everyone gets the same pay, the same gift of grace, eternal life with God in heaven.

To illustrate this truth, Jesus taught His disciples saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house.” Yes, the kingdom of heaven is like a man, so we need to pay special attention to this man in Jesus’ parable and what he does. This man went out in the morning to hire workers to work in his vineyard. The first workers hired agreed to a denarius for their day’s work, a fair and respectable wage. The next workers hired weren’t guaranteed a specific wage but they were promised “whatever is right.” Still more workers were hired at different times throughout the day seemingly according to this same agreement. The last workers were hired near the end of the day; they were not promised anything at all but were simply ordered to go to work. At the end of the day, it was these last hired workers that were paid first, and they were paid the same amount those hired first had agreed to, one denarius. Seeing this, those hired first began to think that surely they would receive more than they agreed upon so many hours earlier. But why would they think that? Ah, yes, their sense of fairness and justice, of getting what they deserved for their work. However, when they were finally paid, they were paid exactly what they had agreed upon, one denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house.

They grumbled at the man who had hired them. Why? They received what they themselves agreed to. The master did not treat them unfairly. Truly, their grumbling says much more about themselves than it does the master. Something was wrong with those men. Something was wrong with the Israelites too who grumbled at Moses and the Lord Himself. Something is wrong with you, and something is wrong with me. The master said to his grumbling workers, “‘Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’”

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who chooses what to do with what belongs to him, and he chooses to give the same to all regardless of works or merit. That’s because the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of grace. The Lord doesn’t give us what we’ve earned and merited – death, but He gives us what we haven’t earned, what we don’t deserve – forgiveness, life, and salvation. Still, there’s more to it than that. There’s a translation problem in the text. The final question of the master is not, “Do you begrudge my generosity,” but rather he asks, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” You see, the grumbling of the workers, of the Israelites, and your own grumbling is not because of our Master, or because we have been treated unfairly, but it is because of our evil eye, because of our sin and because we see things wrongly, badly, and wickedly. We see others prosper and we are jealous because we wrongly believe that we deserve anything good at all and because we do not love our neighbor, because we do not love God.

The truth is that we do not merit or deserve anything good. What we truly merit and deserve for our sin is death. Thanks be to God that He doesn’t give us what we deserve, but that He gives us what we don’t deserve, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ. However, because of sin, our eye is evil and we cannot see things clearly or rightly. Our Lord knows this about us, and He loves us anyway. Though we were idle in this life and world, doing nothing good for ourselves or for anyone else, but grumbling against our Lord and our neighbor, God has called us to work in His vineyard kingdom. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Life isn’t fair. Grace isn’t fair either, thanks be to God. St. Paul compares the Christian faith and life to a race. As men understand races, only one runner wins the prize, a perishable wreath of laurels or a plastic trophy or a polyurethane ribbon. But in the race that is the Christian faith and life, all who cross the finish line, that is, all those who die in faith, no matter how long they have believed and trusted in the Lord, receive the prize, the same prize, the gift of God’s grace in Jesus, eternal life in heaven.

When our eye is evil we cannot see clearly or rightly. We think that God is unjust, unfair, and cruel. And since we do not love God whom we cannot see, we do not love our neighbor whom we can. Our evil eye causes us to covet what our neighbor has and to want it for ourselves, to want him not to have it or to lose what he has. In contrast, our Lord wants to give to your neighbor freely just as He freely gives to you. This is not fair, of course, but thanks be to God that He is gracious to us and not fair with us.

The Lord has called you from idleness to fruitful service in His vineyard kingdom, service to Him through your service to your neighbor. Like our brother Israel, we have all been baptized into Christ and we all eat and drink of His spiritual food and live. In this way He sustains us that we may finish the course of our lives in faith. And, because it doesn’t matter who finishes first or last, if our brother stumbles and falls along the way there is time to stop and help him cross the finish line too. Truly, before our Lord, we are all equal. We are all equally undeserving, and we are all equally forgiven. Life isn’t fair, but neither is grace, thanks be to God. You have been baptized in Christ so that your evil eye might by cleansed and see clearly the grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness you have received from the Lord and graciously and lovingly show the same to your brother and sister and neighbor. Christ our spiritual rock is present now that we might eat and drink of Him and receive clarity of sight and sustenance for our lives that we may continue our work in His vineyard kingdom while helping others to cross the finish line with us and receive the crown of eternal life.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord


Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 34:29-35


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

“...and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” That is how St. John recounted his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration: John confessed that he had beheld the Shekinah Glory of God in the person of Jesus, and he lived to tell about it. Surely that experience defined John’s apostolic ministry in a deep and profound way. Hence John began his Gospel, not with the familiar infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke concerning Joseph and Mary, angels, shepherds, wise men, and a Bethlehem manger, but with the eternal, primordial being, and with the creative work of the Holy Trinity, and with the Shekinah Glory of God becoming a man, living in our midst as one of us, as our brother.

This was the same Shekinah Glory of God beheld by Moses on Mount Sinai that caused his own face to shine so that it must be veiled before he spoke to the people of Israel. Moses beheld that glory first in the burning bush, before which he was commanded to remove his sandals, for he stood upon holy ground. And yet, the glory of the LORD could only be seen and experienced through means, and not directly, for sinful man may not see God and live. Thus, when Moses asked to see the full glory of God, he was given to see only God’s backside, and that only after the LORD first hid him in a cleft in the rock. The Patriarch Jacob wrestled with a man all through the night until that man put his hip out of socket. When daylight arose and he realized that man was God, Jacob exclaimed in fearful wonder, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” Likewise Isaiah trembled in fear and despaired of his life when He beheld the Shekinah glory of God in a vision saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” The LORD absolved Isaiah, sending a Seraph with a burning coal taken from the altar of sacrifice to touch Isaiah’s lips to atone for his sin and to cleanse him of his guilt. What these men of faith each knew and confessed was expressed concisely by the Preacher to the Hebrews: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” “for our God is a consuming fire.”

And so, when Jesus led Peter, James, and John up the mountain and was transfigured before them so that “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light,” and “there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him,” they were amazed. Peter, always quick to speak, excitedly suggested that they build three tabernacles for the holy trio and preserve that glorious mountaintop experience. But, when a bright cloud tabernacled over them and the LORD Himself spoke from the cloud saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him,” “they fell on their faces and were terrified” before the presence of the Shekinah glory of the LORD. Shortly before His Transfiguration, Jesus had asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Then Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But, now, on the Mount of Transfiguration, God Himself answers the question and shows the disciples precisely who Jesus is as His Shekinah Glory shines from, in, and through Him, the express “image of the invisible God” as a man.

The presence of both Moses and Elijah with Jesus at His Transfiguration is pregnant with meaning. First, Moses, who brought the Ten Commandments of the LORD to the people of Israel, is symbolic of the entirety of the Law of God. Likewise, Elijah, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets is symbolic of all the prophets of the Holy Scriptures. Together, Moses and Elijah stand for the Law and the Prophets, that is, for the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, which, Jesus instructed the Emmaus disciples, all testify about Him. Second, both Moses and Elijah died, or were translated to heaven, in unusual ways: Moses died and was buried in a secret location by God Himself! Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind! Yet, on the Mount of Transfiguration both men are present, alive, and conversing with Jesus in the fullness of the Shekinah Glory of God, a preview of the promise of life beyond death fulfilled. Additionally, whereas because of his sin and the rebellion of the people of Israel, Moses was permitted to see, but not to enter, the Promised Land of Canaan, now he stands upon that promised ground in the presence of the LORD in His glory. Third, Moses and Elijah were not merely having a casual conversation with Jesus, but St. Luke tells us that they were discussing with Him “His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The Greek word translated as departure is exodus. Thus, Moses, the leader of the Exodus out of captivity and slavery in Egypt is discussing with Jesus the exodus He is about to lead, through His death and resurrection in Jerusalem, out of captivity and slavery to sin, death, and Satan.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ stands at the end of Epiphanytide as a final manifestation of Jesus as both God and man in one person before we descend with Him down from the mountain and prepare to enter Jerusalem to die throughout Lent and Passiontide. Our Lord grants us this preview and foretaste of His glory, this mountaintop experience, that we may believe in Him and that our faith may be strengthened and persevere as we journey with Him through trial and tribulation in the Valley of the Shadow of Death in which we live our lives, that we might resist temptation and be comforted and persevere through Satan’s furious and hateful assaults. This purpose of His Transfiguration, too, follows upon Jesus’ question to His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” For, immediately following Peter’s bold confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Jesus “began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” This preview and foretaste of Jesus’ glory is offered to strengthen and encourage His disciples, to strengthen and encourage you, that, when the horrible and humiliating events of Jesus’ arrest, trial, scourging, crucifixion, death, and burial occur, and when trials and tribulations, heartaches, diseases, tragedies, and deaths occur in the lives of Jesus’ disciples, and in your own lives, you and they will remember and be comforted in the knowledge that Jesus foretold this and that “we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

As Moses lead the Israelites in the Exodus out of Egypt by the blood of the Passover Lamb, so now Jesus, the Passover Lamb of God leads His Israel, that is all of His Father’s children through faith in His Son, by the shedding of His own holy, innocent blood poured out upon the world from Calvary’s cross. And, as Elijah was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind, so was Jesus taken up in a cloud forty days after His resurrection to be seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven where He now rules over heaven and earth and all things until He comes again in glory as Judge and King.

Nevertheless, Peter did not fully understand until the Holy Spirit was poured out upon him and the Church at Pentecost. Peter wanted to enshrine the glory, to preserve it, to bask in it now, to avoid the suffering and humiliation that must come before the glory. Because of our sinful concupiscence, we all desire the same; even Jesus experienced the temptation to avoid the cross according to His human nature as He prayed to His Father, “Take this cup from Me.” However, Jesus resisted and overcame even this temptation for you and for all saying, “Yet, not My will, but Your will be done.” Truly, among our greatest temptations is to seek glory now in our lives and in our faith and in our church, and to shrug off and reject the crosses our LORD has chosen for us to bear that His power might be made perfect in our weakness. Peter could not make a tabernacle for the LORD anymore than David could build Him a house. For, truly, Jesus’ flesh and blood body is the Tabernacle and Temple of the Shekinah Glory of the LORD of which He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Glory of the LORD does not reside in a house built by human hands, wisdom, and strength, but in the flesh and blood body and person of Jesus Christ, a tent and tabernacle made without human hands. Within the Tabernacle of Jesus stand Moses and Elijah, Peter, James, and John, the repentant thief on the cross, your mother, grandfather, daughter, and all the saints that have gone before us, all those who have come out of the great tribulation having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

And yet, life in the Tabernacle of Jesus’ flesh and blood are not only something yet to come, but it is a Tabernacle and life that you live in even now in the Valley of the Shadow of death, for you have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. You have, even now, one foot, so to speak, firmly planted in that heavenly Tabernacle, while having also one foot buried in the grave. But, we look forward to that day, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit and in the certainty of faith, when we will stand with both feet firmly planted in the tabernacle of Jesus in the full presence of the Shekinah Glory of God in heaven. Again, you have been provided this preview and foretaste of Jesus’ glory that your faith may be strengthened and that you may persevere through temptation and even death. Thus, St. Paul confesses that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Like Moses, Jacob, and Isaiah, Peter, James, and John were terrified by the presence of the Shekinah Glory of the LORD shining from, in, and through Jesus. However, whereas Isaiah had a seraph touch his lips with a burning coal from the altar of sacrifice, Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God Himself reached out and touched His disciples and raised them up, casting away all their fear. Jesus is what the burning coal on the altar foreshadowed for Isaiah. He is the one who take the guilt of our sin away, atoning for our sins.

“And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” Jesus alone remains. Our trust is not in Moses or Elijah, our trust is not in works or even our faith, but our trust in in Jesus alone, crucified, risen, ascended, and returning. Behold, our Lord is coming, even as He is present with you now, tabernacled in bread and wine, that you may eat His flesh and drink His blood in the midst of our Satanic foes in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and be preserved, kept, strengthened, and protected in faith unto life everlasting, that you may be made partakers of His Divine Nature. To God alone be the glory, in Jesus Christ His Son our Lord, through His Most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany (Epiphany 2)


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


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

In the Bible, wine represents joy, a gift of God that gladdens the hearts of men. Isaiah compares the joy of the kingdom of heaven to a feast of the finest meats and the choicest of wines. At the Last Supper, Jesus comforted His disciples who were saddened that He would be leaving them with the promise that He would drink wine with them once again in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus’ first recorded miracle took place at a joyful wedding, a wedding, however, that was at risk of becoming a sorrowful mess because they had run out of wine. Not only were the bride and groom at risk of their joyful wedding being ruined, but they were also at risk of social embarrassment and humiliation. Their marriage would be marked forever by that singular bad omen: They ran out of wine.

“They have no wine,” Mary said to her son. The strangeness of this statement draws our attention to it. Last Sunday we heard Mary’s distressed words to the boy Jesus concerning His remaining in the temple while His family made their pilgrimage back to Nazareth: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” Jesus mildly rebuked her saying, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Mary treasured up all these things in her heart. Mary had treasured and pondered Jesus’ words for nearly twenty years by the time of the wedding in Cana. By informing her son that they had run out of wine, it is clear that Mary believed that Jesus could do something, and would do something, about it. She didn’t know what He would do, but she believed in Him, she trusted Him. Once again, however, Jesus answered here with a mild rebuke saying, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Mary accepted the rebuke without insult and she instructed the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” And, they did.

While the address, “woman,” was not as derogatory, harsh, or even sexist then as it sounds to us today, it was nevertheless a rather impersonal way of addressing one’s mother. Jesus used that very same address to Mary from the cross when He said, “Woman, behold your son.” Jesus used this address to Mary, not to be derogatory, but when what He was about to say was a matter of great significance. In the temple as a boy, Jesus proclaimed that God was His true Father and that He must be about His Father’s work. At the wedding in Cana, Jesus revealed that the time of His divinely appointed work, to offer Himself as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, had not yet come. It would come soon enough, but not an hour before the time appointed. Then, Jesus would bring joy, not merely to a wedding, but joy to all the world. And, that’s what this story is truly all about. It’s not about wine, or even a wedding, but it’s all about Jesus – who Jesus is and what He has come to do. Jesus is the joy that wine and weddings are but a dim shadow of. Jesus is joy to the whole world and peace with God. This was the first of Jesus’ signs, and His disciples believed in Him, His mother believed in Him, and we believe in Him too.

The six stone water jars were for the purification rites of the Jews. According to rabbinic law, guests must ceremonially wash themselves in order to participate in the wedding feast. This was not potable water. Countless filthy hands would have dipped into it. The water was not there for drinking. Nevertheless, in response to His mother’s announcement that they had run out of wine, Jesus instructed the servants to fill the jars with water to the brim. They did. Imagine their thought, then, when Jesus instructed them to draw some of the water and take it to the master of the feast! Nevertheless, they did as Jesus instructed. When the master of the feast tasted the water, now become wine, they had to be truly stunned, for they knew what was in those jars and for what purpose that water served, and, likewise, they knew now that something truly miraculous had happened, and they knew that Jesus was the cause of it. But the master of the feast did not know, therefore he praised the bridegroom saying, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

The laws of purification involving the water were rabbinic laws. They were manmade laws. The practice of symbolically purifying oneself before a sacred event or meal is not a bad practice in and of itself, in fact it’s a pretty good practice, but the rabbis, whom the New Testament writers came to refer to as Pharisees and scribes, bound the people’s consciences by such laws and oppressed them to obedience and justification by works under the law. Because of this legalistic oppression the people were robbed of the Gospel, they could never be assured of their forgiveness, and so they had no joy, but only fear, resentment, bitterness, and sorrow. In transforming the water of purification into the finest of wine Jesus demonstrated that He was fulfilling the law and removing its demands setting the people free that they should keep the law without fear in love, peace, and joy.

The fact that only a few knew that the miracle even happened is simply the way the LORD works: It all began with one man, Adam. It began anew with one family, Noah’s. The covenant was broadened to all nations through the call of one man, Abraham. The covenant was fulfilled in one man, Jesus, the only name under heaven by which we must be saved. God is not slow, as men consider slowness, but He is patient, desiring that all should repent and be saved. God works through means, over time, through a few people, who tell a few more, who tell a few more again, and again, and again, etc. God works through you.

The miracle occurred on the third day. It was also on the third day that Jesus’ parents found him in the temple teaching the teachers. The third day is the day of Jesus’ resurrection, the day all previous third days were pointing to. At the time of the wedding in Cana, that hour and day had not yet come. Nevertheless, Jesus gave a sign of what that hour and day would bring. It would bring joy to all the world through peace with God. No longer will there be laws of purification, for no longer will there be sin. Sin will be atoned for all people in Jesus’ blood and death upon the cross. It won’t merely be good wine, but it will be the best wine imaginable and forever.

For Jesus and for the wedding guests at Cana, the hour had not yet come. But for you here today, that hour has indeed come and is even now present: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. And Jesus Christ, our Lord, Savior, and Heavenly Bridegroom is present with you His Church, His Bride right now that He might feast with you and commune with you in this Holy Supper, a foretaste of the Marriage Feast that is to come, that you may have joy and peace with God and with man, and persevere in faith, hope, and joy until He comes. Through His Word and Sacraments, through the fellowship of this family of faith, the Church, through faith and trust in Jesus, we have that joy right now, and joy to spare and see us through times of darkness and unrest such as we are experiencing at this hour. Don’t keep it to yourself. Let the Light, Love, and Joy of Jesus shine through you bringing joy to this world that could desperately use it.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

The First Sunday after the Epiphany (Epiphany 1)

Luke 2:41-52; Romans 12:1-5; 1 Kings 8:6-13
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The glory of the LORD is something to behold – or not. What I mean is that the glory of the LORD, sometimes referred to as His shekinah glory, which means His dwelling or His presence, is at once beautiful, awesome, and comforting, and also terrifying and deadly to unholy and sinful men. No one has ever seen God, save one – whom we’ll talk about shortly – but many have seen His glory, or at least some veiled manifestation of His glory, and by His grace and mercy lived to tell about it.
In a very real sense, the LORD is presence. The LORD is being. This was the Name He gave to Moses from the burning bush to give to the people of Israel: Tell them, “I AM has sent me to you.” The LORD is a personal God. He is a Creator who is personally invested in His creation. He is a Father who shares something of Himself with His children and loves them as His own person and being. He created men to know Him, to receive from Him, to share with Him, to commune in Him: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Our First Parents enjoyed something of this, a shadow, in paradise before the fall, but their sin, our sin, has destroyed our relationship with our Creator making it impossible for the LORD to dwell among us in unveiled glory lest His glory destroy us.
Still, He is our God. He is our Father. He is love, and He loves His children. He wants to be near us, present among us, dwelling in our midst. In various mediating ways the LORD dwelt in the midst of His people. The LORD lead His people out of Egypt in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In the wilderness, the LORD encamped in the midst of His people in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle. The LORD gave Moses precise and elaborate instructions concerning the construction of the Tabernacle that the people should learn the nature of His holiness and righteousness and the seriousness of their sin. Still, it does not diminish the Tabernacle to say that the glorious presence of the LORD dwelt in a tent of flesh, foreshadowing the incarnation of the glory of the LORD Jesus.
“How will this be, since I am a virgin,” Mary asked. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;” answered Gabriel, “therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” As she heard this Word of the LORD she conceived, and the glory of the LORD that once dwelt in a tent of flesh became flesh in Mary’s womb, “and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The LORD designed the Tabernacle and commanded Moses to build it that He might dwell in the midst of His people. David desired to build a house of his own design for the LORD, but having blood on his hands he was not permitted to and his son Solomon built a temple for the LORD after his father’s death. After placing the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place in the temple, the glory of the LORD filled the chamber and “the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.” Within the temple, the LORD dwelt among His people. There they made their sacrifices and the High Priest sprinkled the sacrificial blood upon the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant and the LORD looked away from the sins of men until He would make the sacrifice of Himself that would take away the sins of the world. The temple would be destroyed, twice, the Ark of the Covenant lost, but the glory of the LORD would still dwell in the midst of His people.
What happened when Mary conceived? The Word became flesh and the glory of the LORD took up residence once again in a tent of flesh. The Ark of the Covenant was long gone, but a young virgin became the Tabernacle and Her infant Son the Most Holy Place and the true Ark of the Covenant those former things foreshadowed. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” “No one has ever seen God; the only begotten Son of God, who is at the Father's side, He has made Him known.” “The glory of God in the face of Jesus.”
Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God was in the midst of His people, for wherever Jesus was, there was the dwelling place of the glory of the LORD made visible and physical, approachable and tangible. In Jesus, God came to those who could not come to them. He came in meekness and humility, grace, mercy, and love. When the glory of the LORD took on the flesh of man in Mary’s womb, He no longer resided in a house made by human hands. And when the infant Jesus was presented in the temple forty days after His birth in fulfillment of the Law, the glory of the LORD returned to the temple in the person of Jesus. The same is true with His Passover visit as a young boy, which we remember and celebrate this day.
Today’s Gospel text is read here at the beginning of the Epiphany Season for, as the Christmas Gospels proclaimed that God became Man, so the Epiphany Gospels proclaim that the Man Jesus is God. On this First Sunday after the Epiphany of our Lord we hear the first recorded words of Jesus, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” or “about my Father’s business” as the KJV has it. Our young Lord, true man, subject to Mary and Joseph, reveals Himself also to be true God, whose father is not Joseph but the Almighty Father in heaven. His Father’s business will be to lay down His own sinless life as a sacrifice for the sin of all men and to restore the broken relationship between God and His most beloved creatures, man. Jesus is the spotless Lamb of God’s offering who will be consumed in His Father’s wrath against our sin on the altar of His cross outside the temple and the walls of Jerusalem. It was Passover, and Jesus the Passover Lamb of God. Even as He was found by his parents after three days, so He would later rise from the dead on the third day that the favor of God might rest also upon us. It is by these mercies of God that we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God through Christ.
Jesus is the glory of the LORD in human flesh that we may see Him, hear Him, handle Him, and receive Him into ourselves. The Spirit of the LORD dwells in Jesus and in we who are baptized into Him. He is Jacob’s Ladder bridging heaven and earth, God and man, and our mediator and intercessor in and through whom we have access to the Father now and forevermore. “Lord, visit Thou our souls and teach us by Thy grace each dim revealing of Thyself with loving awe to trace. Till we behold Thy face and know as we are known Thee, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, coequal three in one.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord



Matthew 2:1-12; Ephesians 3:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6


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

The Christ child was born into a world very much like ours today, full of political strife, fear, racial and cultural suspicion and jealousy, covetousness, greed, and apostasy. Herod was a pretender king, an usurper of the throne of Israel by force and by fear. Religiously, Herod feigned to be a Jew. Culturally, he was a Greek. And, politically, he was a Roman. All this goes to show that Herod was a man of few convictions, save those that served his own interests, which he guarded in paranoid fear and hatred of any and all perceived threats to his power and throne. Thus, when wise men, Magi from the East, came to him seeking a newborn king of the Jews, Herod immediately set his mind and heart to discover and to destroy this new threat. Though he cared nothing for the Scriptures and faith, he was nevertheless quick to utilize them to serve his own interests, consulting with the chief priests and the scribes of the people. Likewise, these men, though they knew the Scriptures, did not believe them. As for the people, they were more afraid of Herod and what he might do than they were of the LORD and His Word. Truly, darkness covered the wholeness of the earth. But, the primordial Light of creation had just pierced the darkness of the world and of men’s hearts, the Light of the world no darkness can overcome, though it might desperately try. The wise men saw that Light and they came to worship the true King of heaven and earth. And, as the saying goes, “Wise men still seek Him.”

St. John wrote of Jesus saying, “The true Light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to his own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” We do not know what the wise men heard or knew of Jesus, or how they came to know the prophecies of the Christ, but however it came to be, they were seeking light and knowledge and release. That is to say, they were not simply comfortable and content in this world with its values, pleasures, and material possessions. Were they wealthy? Were they kings? Were they astronomers or astrologers? We simply do not know. But, it doesn’t really matter. They were Gentiles, non-Jews, pagans of one sort or another. What the children of Abraham had all but completely forgotten and rejected, save a promised few, a remnant, these men from the east, and countless others, were ready to seek and to receive in fulfillment of the prophecy: “And nations shall come to Your Light, and kings to the brightness of Your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to You; Your sons shall come from afar, and Your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then You shall see and be radiant; Your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to You, the wealth of the nations shall come to You. A multitude of camels shall cover You, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring Good News, the praises of the LORD.”

All the world would come to this Good News, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us, the Light of the world who shines His Light upon all those dwelling in the darkness of sin and death. Jesus was God’s gift of love and mercy and grace and forgiveness for all the world, for all who would receive Him and not refuse and reject Him. The promise of the Christ was always for all the world, not for the Jews only, but, as Moses spoke to Israel before they entered the Promised Land, for “whoever is standing here with us today before the LORD our God, and [for] whoever is not here with us today.” Just as the light of the sun shines upon all the world, so too is Jesus Christ for everyone, for the Jew first, and then the Gentile. Truly, the only way to escape the Light of His justifying grace is to flee from it, to deny it, to refuse it, and to reject it – that is, unbelief.

Herod, the Chief Priest and the scribes, and even the people of Jerusalem were all troubled by the Good News. They were like those whose deeds were evil, and so they were terrified by the Light and hated it, they sought to hide from it that they might carry on in their wickedness unabated. The wise men, however, stand in stark contrast to Jesus’ own people. When they heard the Good News, they received it with joy and relief and thanksgiving. They set out on a long and likely costly and dangerous journey towards Light, towards the true King of the Jews and of heaven and earth, even if they didn’t know or understand completely who or what they were seeking. They could not be deterred, not by distance, cost, and hardship, and not by wicked, paranoid, and power-hungry Herod, not by the self-righteous, legalistic, and faithless religious leadership of Israel, and not even by the indifferent, complacent, and largely unbelieving people upon whom the Light of Christ first shone in the Word of the LORD, the Word made flesh, born in Bethlehem as prophesied long ago. Indeed, this is one of the chief themes of the Epiphany season: when the Messiah appears His people are those who receive Him in faith.

Many have speculated that the gifts of the magi each have a specific meaning, however, the point is not the individual gifts, but rather that they came and worshipped this Child as the King. They believed the Holy Scriptures, they followed the star, and they gave honor to Jesus with their worship and gifts. I want to stress here that it is not your knowledge of the Scriptures that saves you – nor is it your lack of knowledge of the Scriptures that damns you – but it is faith, and faith in Christ alone, that justifies and saves you. Therefore, let us always be on guard to not set up roadblocks and obstacles to those walking in the darkness of sin and death that prevent or prohibit them from seeing the Light of Christ and coming to worship Him with us. Let us not be pumped up with pride and self-righteousness and behave as hypocrites before each other and the world, but let us humble ourselves and consider ourselves nothing but beggars who have, nonetheless, received the richest and most valuable of gifts – forgiveness of our sins, mercy, compassion, and eternal life in Jesus Christ. Truly, we Gentiles are “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” As much as the Jews were the children of Abraham and the chosen people of God in the promise of the Messiah, so now are all who believe and trust in Jesus Christ sons of Abraham and “children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

The Word epiphany means, “to make manifest” or “to make known.” We, along with St. Paul and all believers, the Church of Jesus Christ, are prisoners for Jesus Christ on behalf of the Gentiles, that is, those who do not yet know the True Light Jesus Christ. We, the Church, have stewardship of the great and holy mystery that “the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Let us never think that the Light of Christ has shone upon us merely for the benefit of ourselves, no! But, the Light of Christ must shine through us in our lives, words, deeds, and worship, that all the world might be enlightened by His Light and be saved. That is why we are here. That is why the Church of Jesus Christ is here. That is why the Lord has not yet returned: The LORD is patient and longsuffering, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

“Arise, shine, for your Light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” Yes, wise men still seek Him where He may be found – here, in His Church, with His Word and Wounds, to forgive you anew, to restore you to brightness, to equip you and to send you bearing His Light in love, mercy, grace, compassion, charity, and forgiveness that those walking in the darkness of sin and death may come to His Light and join us in His Family. Come eat. Come drink. And, go forth shining with His Light. This is according to the eternal purpose that the LORD has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Second Sunday after Christmas (Christmas 2)


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.