Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas I Matt. 2:13-23

And they (the wise men), having departed, look, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph according to a dream, saying, "Arise, take along the Child and His mother and flee into Egypt and stand there until whenever I speak to you; for Herod is about to seek for the Child to destroy it. And he arose and took along the Child and His mother at night and departed into Egypt, and was there until the end of Herod; in order that the utterance of the Lord through the prophet be fulfilled, saying, "Out of Egypt I called My Son."... And Herod, having come to his end, look an angel of the Lord appeared according to a dream in Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Arise, take along the child and his mother and go into the land of Israel, for dead are those having sought the life of the child." And he arose, took along the child and His mother and went into the land of Israel. And having heard that Archeleus reigned in Judea in place of his father, Herod, he feared entering there; and being warned by revelation according to a dream, he left into the region of the Galilee, and he came, resided in a city called Nazareth; that would be fulfilled the utterance through the prophets, that he will be called a Nazarene.

People are vulnerable. They become ill, suffer and eventually die. Life on this earth is testament to this. Mary and Joseph had suffered a long, pregnant journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. Now an amazing thing had happened. God has taken human flesh. He is now people like Mary, Joseph or you. God has become vulnerable. He's now kill-able. Jesus is now expendable.

So God the Father must protect His only-begotten Son by Joseph who is nothing but a dreamer. Like his name-sake from the Old Testament, Joseph dreamed. The first Joseph dreamed his eleven brothers would one day bow down to him, so they shipped him off, secretly to Egypt (without his colorful coat). Likewise, this New Testament Joseph was given a dream to likewise escape to Egypt. Coincidence?

The first Joseph's eleven brothers threw him in a pit, wanting to kill him. The second Joseph's life is also in danger, along with his wife Mary and step-son, Jesus. In both cases God rescued the by sending these dreamers into Egypt. The Israelites was led to come out of Egypt by Moses as they crossed the Red Sea. Now God's Own Son, Jesus, was called out of Egypt back to the land of Israel, once again.

But Jesus is God almighty! How can some wimpy king Herod chase the all-powerful God into Egypt? Because Jesus is God-made-vulnerable. As you are afflicted with sin and suffering, so Jesus came into this world to take your place, to be vulnerable, afflicted with your afflictions. Jesus is in the likeness of your flesh, though sinless, He becomes your sin at the cross bearing it's affliction of eternal death for you.

But that would be later on. Not when Jesus was just a young child. He would not die at Calvary until much later. So the devil's plan for Jesus' early death is thwarted by the Father. God delivers His Son from His enemies, to have vengeance upon them later. All those psalms of old that talk about God's deliverance from enemies are all about Jesus and how His heavenly Father would rescue him here.

Dream after dream, step by step, God reveals to Joseph (as head of household) how to protect Jesus until He's grown. Then the time comes for His vulnerability. God sent His Son, born of a woman to live under Law. That means He's able to be tempted, as Satan did his best for forty days in the wilderness, yet Jesus did not sin. He remained a perfect sacrifice on the cross to redeem you, who fails to keep God's law.

This redemption took place for Him on the cross, but for you it happened at your baptism. There the blessed trade took place, your sins washed from you, and the filthy flood from the font takes them to Jesus at Calvary. In exchange, you get Jesus holiness, His goodness, the Lord's Own righteousness credited to your account by faith! So your baptism becomes God's adoption of you into His heavenly family. You have all become sons of God, even you prettier ones, sons receiving God's inheritance.

Jesus humbled Himself to come down to earth to be vulnerable, kill-able, not as a child, but as your redemption price on the tree of Calvary. There He would become the ransom price to redeem you from sin, death and  the devil. You could not save yourself, or make yourself worthy of life eternal. Jesus did that for you at the price of His body given for you, and His blood shed for you for your forgiveness. Jesus makes Himself expendable for your sake, suffering your death that you have His life.
For He is a "Nazarene" as the prophets predicted. No, you won't find the word "Nazarene" in any Old Testament prophecy. But Jesus is from "Branch-town" which is what Nazareth means. He is that branch of Jesse's tree, sprouting up from that stump for you. Jesus is the genuine Vine from David's line into Whom you are grafted by His grace. He dies for you under the sign, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." All according to God's plan, in His timing, this Branch from Jesse's tree is vulnerable, for you.

In the name of Christ,

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Day John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was toward God, and God was the Word. This One was in the beginning toward God. All things through Him came to be, and without Him came to be not one thing which came to be; In Him was life, and the life was the Light of mankind; and the Light in the darkness shines and the darkness did not overtake it.   There came to be a human, sent on a mission from God, whose name--John. This one came for a witness, in order that he might witness concerning the Light, that all might believe through him. That one was not the Light, but that He might witness concerning the Light. The Light, the genuine one, which enlightens all mankind was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world through Him came to be, yet the world did not know Him. To His Own He came, and those who were His Own did not receive Him. But as many as did receive Him, He gave to them authority to become God's children, to those who believe into His Name. Ones, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but out of God were born!  And the Word came to be flesh and tabernacled in us, and we saw his glory, glory as the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
My very first day of confirmation class in 1978, Pastor Ginter wrote these words on the chalkboard. As a good student, I copied them down into my notebook, but I didn't have the foggiest notion what they meant. "In the beginning was the Word..." OK. But what word? Was it a single word or a whole sentence?  It must be a special word, since everything that exists came to be through this amazing word. And how exactly  was the word "light"? Was it on one of those newfangled computer screens? I was clueless.
It wasn't until the very end of the class, and hour and a half later that it finally began to click for me. The word became flesh and was with us on the earth. Folks saw this word's glory, begotten from His Father. I started to "get it". This mysterious Word was actually the Son of God–Jesus! Ever since that day, I haven't read the word "word" in the scriptures the same way. Now I see "Word" and always think "Jesus".
If you look on the front cover of your bulletin for today, the Greek "O Logos" is printed there. It means "The Word". Jesus is this word made flesh. He is God "incarnate". This incarnation is not about Americans driving down the interstate, but it is about the Word becoming flesh. Like meat-eaters are called "carnivores", Jesus is in-carn-ate, meaning to have meat on His bones–flesh. The Word by Whom God created everything, like when He said "Let there be light", had come down to the earth, in the flesh.
Now I know this is a bit of a challenge. Many of us hear "Word of God" and instantly think "The bible". While the bible is the book of God's words plural, the singular Word of God is always Jesus the Christ.  The words of God in scripture can only enlighten you because they are about the Word of God–Jesus. The words of holy writ can only bestow you life eternal because Jesus, the Word is your life!
The only reason that you recognize Jesus as the Word of life for you is because He has enlightened you to believe it. Many in the world remain in darkness, by their own choice. The temptations abound to think that you don't need Jesus, because you feel like you are already pretty good on your own. You have earthly parents, so why would you need a heavenly Father too? You've already been born into this world, so why should you want to be born another time to a heavenly life in the world to come?
People who think that they are already pretty enlightened folks are deceiving themselves. There is only one true, genuine light that can actually enlighten you. That light is Jesus! No matter how smart you think you are, no matter how high your IQ, no matter how much you have learned, no matter how well read you consider yourself to be, you remain in utter darkness without Jesus. But those who believe, receive Him and come to know Him as He is. The Word of God Who enlightens and gives life to all mankind!
You have been reborn, of water and the Word, Who is Jesus! Born anew in your baptism, you are raised up to new life in Jesus' Own resurrection. By this gift of God, He has given you special authority as children of your heavenly Father. Because of the Son of God–Jesus, Who died for you on the cross, you become a son of God. You believe in His name, the name into which you have been baptized!
But not only has the Word of God–Jesus, come to you to bring you into His heavenly Father's family through your baptism, but He also comes to you incarnate this day–in the flesh. Yes, the flesh and blood Jesus comes to you this Christmas morn to feed you from His feeding trough manger. He gives you His incarnate body to eat, and His blood to drink in the Lord's Supper. His flesh tabernacles in you today!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent 4 What's in a name? Matthew 1:18-25

And the genesis of Jesus, the Christ was so: His mother Mary, having been betrothed to Joseph, before their coming together, she was found having in womb of the Holy Spirit. And Joseph, her husband, was righteous and did not wish her to be disgracefully exposed, intended privately to divorce her. And having thought about these things, look, an angel of the Lord according to a dream appeared to him saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife; for the one begotten in her is out of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a son, and you will call His name `Jesus'; for this One will save His people from their sins." And the whole of this happened in order that it be fulfilled, the thing spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Look, the virgin will have in the womb and will bear a son, and they will call his name, Immanuel" which is translated "with us, God". And Joseph, having risen from the sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded to him, and took along his wife and did not know her until she bore a son; and he called His name `Jesus'.

What's in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell the same, as Shakespeare reminds us. But sometimes a name is highly significant. It's very important for the Christ-child, because His name reveals to us just Who He is, and what He is to accomplish! Which is why, in our story today, the second person of the Trinity receives not one but two names. But before we get into the importance of these two names, we must first consider just Who this Christ-child is and how He came to be so...

Jesus obviously didn't come into this world in the normal fashion. He had a mother who became pregnant with him while still a virgin. She was "betrothed" and considered married to Joseph because the vows were in those days at the engagement, not at the marriage ceremony. But they hadn't come together yet. They didn't know one another in the biblical sense, so there was no way Joseph could be the father of this baby boy. So Joseph, an upright guy, wanted to divorce Mary quietly, shamefree.

Then God's angel comes to him in a dream to explain what has happened. Mary is pregnant, but not from a man. She became with child from the Holy Spirit! No human male was Jesus' father. God the Father was His daddy! This was very important, since human fathers passed on sin and death to their children, from generation to generation. But Jesus had no human father, so He was sin-free. He had no "old adam" in Him to give in to sinning like you have. Jesus had a pure and undefiled flesh!

That's precisely why the Christ is given the name "Jesus", because it means Savior. He is called Jesus because He has come to save His people from their sins. That includes you. The Christ-child was born sin-free to earn eternal life for you by his righteous obedience under God's Law. As a human, Jesus was made subject to keeping God's commandments, and he did it perfectly. He was the only one to live out His life on earth without sinning, thus being the only one worthy of life eternal.
But Jesus didn't come to save Himself, but to save His people from their sins. This is why He came in the likeness of sinful flesh, so that He could bear sin in His Own body. Not His Own sins, since He was perfect, but Jesus came to earth to bear your sins in His own flesh on the tree of Calvary. Jesus, Who knew no sins of His Own, made Himself incarnate to become your sins on the cross. He suffered the wages of your sin, dying your death to save you from being forsake by your heavenly Father.
Yes Jesus became man, in the flesh to take your sins and their punishment as His Own. For liars, Jesus became a liar. For those who lose their tempers, Jesus became a temper-loser. For thieves Jesus became a thief. For the unfaithful Jesus made Himself to be unfaithful. For gossips Jesus became a gossip. For the foul-mouthed Jesus became foul-mouthed. He died as the transgressor.

But the incarnate second Person of the Trinity isn't just given the human name of Jesus. He is also given another name: "Immanuel". This name is just as important for the Christ, because it is a divine name. It means "God–with us!" With this name, it is revealed to us just what is happening in Mary's womb. It's not just a human baby in there. It's fully God as well! As God, this Christ-child has the power to do what only God can, forgive sins, save souls, deliver from death and the devil, and bestow eternal life!

This Immanuel is God-with us now, and until the end of the age. The incarnate Jesus was with you at your baptism, washing your sins from you to Himself at Calvary. He is in His Word proclaimed, entering your ear as you hear that He has come to save you from your sins. He is in the bread and wine, giving you his ever-living body and life-giving blood for your forgiveness, life and salvation. Jesus is Immanuel, God-with you in the voice of your Pastor forgiving you absolutely when you confess.


Hymns for today from LSB:

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent II Matthew 3:1-12 How is it that YOU can make GOD'S path straight?

1st Lesson - Isaiah 2:1-5       Epistle - Romans 13:8-14        Gospel - Matthew 3:1-12

Gradual for Advent:  (Zechariah 9:9,  Psalm 118:26)

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
See! Your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation.
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD;
we have blessed you from the house of the LORD.

And in those days John the Baptizer came along proclaiming in the desert of Judea, saying "Repent for near--the kingdom of the heavens." For this is the one spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying, "A voice crying out in the desert; `Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight His paths!'"And this John had his garment from camel hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then, kept coming out to him Jerusalem and all the Judea and all of the region around the Jordan, And were baptized in the Jordan river by him confessing their sins. And seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, "Offspring of Vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Then, you do fruits worthy of repentance, And do not think to say in yourselves, `We have Father Abraham.' For I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And already the ax to the roots of the trees is laid; Then every tree which does not make good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. On the one hand, I myself baptize you in water into repentance, but on the other hand, One coming after me is stronger than I am, for Whom I am unworthy to carry sandals; This One will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire; Whose winnowing fork is in His hand and He will clean thoroughly his threshing floor and gather His grain into the barn; but the chaff He will burn up in unquenchable fire. 

With these words we have before us a tale of two trees. It was the best of times for the repentant trees. It was the worst of times for the unrepentant trees. Those trees that repented bore fruit from repentance. Those trees which refused to be changed by God in repentance bore no godly fruits. Repentant trees bore fruitful grain which God gathers into His barn on the last day. Unrepentant trees have no fruit at all–only chaff which will burn in the unquenchable asbestos hell-fire for eternity.

These trees are actually people. It's really a tale of two types of people. The first are convicted by God's law, and confess that they are indeed sinners who deserve punishment from God. God turns them from their sin to His grace in repentance, and they are baptized to wash away their sin. The second group, pharisees and Sadducees, are those who don't think they sin, don't see any need for change, and rebuff God's attempts to turn their hearts and minds away from their sin toward God.

So which group do you fall in? If you consider yourself a "good person", resist any change from your bad habits, expect God to welcome you into heaven because you are so great, then you are probably those resisting God's Spirit who wants to bring you to repentance. If you know that you are guilty of sin, sorry for breaking God's commandments, desperate for God to rescue from your sinful ways, then you are among those in whom God works repentance, turning you from sin to His grace in Jesus 

It is this gift and working of God called "repentance" which makes all the difference. Repentance prepares the Lord's way to you. Repentance makes Jesus' path straight for Him to come to you. Because repentance is something special. It is not just the guilt and sorrow you feel when you do the wrong thing. Judas felt that much, but ended up in hell. Repentance is also faith, which trusts in Jesus to remove your sins, guilt and all, and bear those sins in His Own body on the cross unto death.  

Repentance is so vital to your salvation that Luther listed it as the first and foremost of his 95 theses. He wrote that the entire life of the Christian would be one of repenting. Repenting isn't just something you do once, right before you "get saved". Repentance is God constantly turning you from sin, returning you to His grace in Christ Jesus. Repentance is a continual renewal of your heart and mind which God's Spirit works in you, conforming you to be more and more Christ-like in thoughts and feelings 

But this gift of repentance is not "of the Law". It's not something that you can do to straighten God's path to you. The pharisees and sadducees thought it was, trusting in their own self-righteousness. They became offspring of deadly snakes, nothing but dead trees to be burned in hell-fire. No, the law says do, and for you it remains ever un-done. The gospel says "it is finished", and by Christ, it truly *is*! God prepares His way to you in Jesus, Who comes to you in His means of grace for your salvation.

Jesus came to you in your own baptism, not unlike the baptism of John. Your baptism washed away your sins, cleansing you from all your unrighteousness. Jesus comes to you in the proclamation of the gospel which tells you the kingdom of heaven is at hand in the person of the King, Christ Jesus Who died and rose for your salvation. Jesus comes to you when you confess your sins, receiving His absolution from your pastor. Jesus comes to you with His body given and blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. And you know that where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also... 


Hymns from LSB:
#343  Prepare the Royal Highway! music  


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

ADVENT I Matthew 21:1-11 "OK, So who moved Palm Sunday to December?"

And when they came near unto Jerusalem and came into Bethphage into the mountain of the Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples on a mission, saying to them, "You go into the village, the one across from you, and immediately you will find, tied, a donkey and a colt with her; having loosened, you lead to me. And if ever anyone to you may say anything, you will say that the Lord has need of them; and immediately he will send them on a mission. And this happened in order that the spoken word through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Look, your king comes to you, gentle and mounted upon a donkey, even upon a colt, a son of a beast of burden.'" And the disciples went, and did just as Jesus had instructed them; they brought the donkey and the colt and placed on them the garments, and He sat upon them. And much of the crowd spread their garments in the way, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading in the way. And the crowds, the ones going before Him, and the ones following after were saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed– the One coming in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!" And He, having entered into Jerusalem all the city was shaken, saying, "Who is this?" And the crowd was saying, "This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth of the Galilee." 

Happy New Year!

"Um, Pastor. It's December 1st, not January 1st. You're a month early." But the church's new year begins today with Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. "Pastor, you've got it wrong. That's Palm Sunday". But in the restored lectionary, it is returned to where it belongs, on the first day of the church year. For Advent means "arrival", and salvation arrived in Jerusalem.

So what does Jesus riding a donkey have to do with Advent, which focuses on Jesus' last day return? We must go back to the days of Israel's kings. On his deathbed, David instructed his son Solomon to ride into Jerusalem on his own royal steed. The man whose name meant "peace" entered the city for his coronation. This is a type of the Prince of Peace riding on a donkey to die as King of the Jews.

As Solomon's ancient ride foreshadowed Jesus' Palm Sunday, that day is also a type, prefiguring His return to earth on the last day to judge. As Jesus comes down in the clouds you are snatched up to meet Him in the air, to descend and remain with Him through the final judgment. As the citizens  went out to usher Jesus into the first Jerusalem, so too will you meet and follow Him to the New Jerusalem.

History repeats itself, and that's a good thing. As Nathan the prophet, Zadok the high priest, and the people gathered to welcome Solomon saying, "Long live King Solomon!", so the crowds met Jesus in His day with shouts of, "Hosanna in the highest!" Hosanna means "save us!". But you won't be making any such exclamations when Jesus returns on Judgment Day. For He is already raised to everlasting life. He has already saved you from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil.

You might shout as they did on Palm Sunday, "Blessed–the One coming in the Name of the Lord!" For Jesus is truly the blessed One, from whom all blessings flow. He has already blessed you with salvation, having redeemed you by His blood sacrifice at Calvary. He came to you not as a king of war, but one of peace. Meek, gentle, He came to offer Himself unto death for you, as His riding of a young donkey instead of a war-horse foretold. He is the lamb led to slaughter in silence, for you.

Jesus came once before as your salvation, into Jerusalem where He sacrificed His life to save you. He comes again in triumph at the last day to usher in His heavenly kingdom on earth–paradise restored. So don't get caught up in all the false rapture theories. Jesus isn't coming invisibly to snatch folks from behind the driver's seat of their car. That's nonsense. He who ascended once in the clouds comes back the same way He left to complete His as-of-yet unfinished kingdom of God.

This is why you pray, "Thy Kingdom Come." It has come to you, in your heart by grace thru faith. You have received the righteousness of Jesus in blessed exchange for your sin Jesus bore at Calvary. You have been washed clean in the waters of your baptism, nourished by Jesus' body and blood, and comforted by the gospel. Your spirit and soul are saved, but your body of flesh still may taste death.

Yet your salvation is nearer  than when you first believed, because as each day passes, the last day looms closer. On that day, the Spirit will raise all flesh, and your body will be made glorious as Jesus' Own body is! When Jesus returns your body, soul, mind and spirit will all be saved, and the Kingdom of God will be complete! For this we pray, Blessed–the One Who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.

.Hymns from LSB:

#335  O Bride of Christ, Rejoice  stanzas  music
#332  Savior of the Nations Come stanzas  music
#516  Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying!
#331  The Advent of our King