Thursday, December 29, 2016

Commemoration of David

Today we remember and give thanks for David.  David, the greatest of Israel’s kings, ruled from about 1010 to 970 B.C.  David was gifted musically. He helped to organize the music for the temple and was the author of 73 psalms. His public and private character displayed a mixture of faithfulness (for example, his defeat of the giant Goliath; 1 Samuel 17) and sin (as in his adultery with Uriah’s wife, followed by his murder of Uriah, 2 Samuel 11).  In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God promised that He would establish David’s kingdom forever, as He promised that the Messiah would descend from David.   It was under David’s leadership that the people of Israel were united into a single nation with Jerusalem as its capital city. 

Collect of the Day:
God of majesty, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven, we give you thanks for David who, through the Psalter, gave your people hymns to sing with joy in our worship on earth so that we may glimpse your beauty.  Bring us to the fulfillment of that hope of perfection that will be ours as we stand before your unveiled glory; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs.  In the attempt to kill the infant Jesus, King Herod the Great murdered all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2:16-18).  Since they were killed because of Christ, the Church very early honored these babies as “the buds of the martyrs,” killed by the frost of hate as soon as they appeared.  The Holy Innocents remind us of the terrible cruelty which sin has brought into the world.  Their deaths point forward to the death and resurrection of the Innocent One, Jesus Christ through whom God has conquered sin and death.

Scripture reading:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:13-18)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, the martyred innocents of Bethlehem showed forth Your praise not by speaking but by dying.  Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will that our lives may bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

Today is the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist.  John and his brother James were among the first apostles called by Jesus.  He was present with our Lord at His transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane.  From the cross, Jesus entrusted the care of His mother Mary to John.  He is the author of the Gospel that bears his name, as well as three epistles and the Book of Revelation.  According to tradition, John was banished to the island of Patmos (off the coast of Asia Minor) by the Roman emperor Domitian.  In his later work John is associated with Ephesus and he is believed to have been the only apostle who did not die a martyr’s death as he lived to a very old age and died at the end of the first century A.D. 

Scripture reading:
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.  Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:20-25)

Collect of the Day:
Merciful Lord, cast the bright beams of Your light upon the Church that we, being instructed in the doctrine of your blessed apostle and evangelist John, may come to the light of everlasting life; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord - Christmas Day - Tit 3:4-7

                                                                                               Christmas Day
                                                                                                Titus 3:4-7

One hundred years ago, in 1916, the Marion Carnegie Library opened its doors. The Carnegie library is one of the gems of Marion, having been expended and renovated several times, most recently in 1997. The Carnegie library exists here because of the philanthropy of one man: Andrew Carnegie.

Andrew Carnegie immigrated from Scotland and lived as a teenager in the Pittsburgh area. Carnegie worked at a local telegraph company. Looking back he credited James Anderson with playing an important role in his life’s success. Anderson opened his personal library to workers every Saturday. Carnegie remembered how Anderson gave working boys the opportunity to gain the knowledge that helped them to improve themselves.

Carnegie’s experiences led him to believe that society should be a place where anyone who worked hard could improve their life. His efforts in the steel industry made him into one of the richest men in the world during the 1880’s. And then he began to give his money away in acts of philanthropy – a word that comes from the Greek word that means “love of man.”

Carnegie’s personal philosophy shaped one of the greatest programs of philanthropy in United States history. Carnegie believed that philanthropy should assisted the "industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from others.” Convinced of the importance that access to books had in his own success, Carnegie began to give $10,000 grants to build libraries.

Carnegie had a formula that determined whether a community would receive the money. It had to provide the building site, and more importantly, it had to provide public funds to staff and operate the library. Carnegie wanted the library to be a matter of public concern and involvement, not the personal playground of a wealthy clique. And finally, it had to provide free service to all.

Between 1883 and 1929, 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built worldwide – 1,689 of them in the United States. Carnegie gave away $60,0000,000 of his personal wealth in order to build these libraries. To give you some perspective on how generous he was, in adjusted dollars that would be almost $1.7 billion dollars today.

In the epistle lesson for Christmas Day, Paul says that the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior has appeared. The Greek word in our text translated as “lovingkindness” is in fact philanthropia – the word that gives us the English word “philanthropy.” Like Andrew Carnegie, Christmas reveals a great and costly act of philanthropy by God – a love of man. In the baby born in Bethlehem we see a great gift. But unlike Carnegie, this gift did not have as its aim those who are most anxious and able to help themselves. Instead, God gave it because people were utterly unable to do anything at all. 

In the letter to Titus, Paul is writing to his co-worker in the Gospel. Paul tells Titus that his job on the island of Crete is to organize the newly founded churches there. He is to appoint pastors in every town. The apostle describes the characteristics of the men who are suitable candidates for this. And then in the rest of the letter, Paul reminds Titus about what these pastors need to teach.

Paul introduces our text this morning by writing, “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” The apostle describes how these new Christians are to live. They are to obey the rulers of society. They are ready to do good works. They are not to be malicious and quarrelsome, and instead they are to be gentle and caring toward others.

Now the Greco-Roman world had no shortage of philosophers who offered counsel and advice about how a person should live well. Much of it is very good – and in fact you would find some of it sounds like what is in the New Testament. But today – Christmas – is what makes Paul’s instruction different. He does not just tell the Christians to suck it up and do better. Instead, he grounds his instruction in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. And on top of that, he tells us that our life in Christ is one that is led and moved by the Holy Spirit.

In the verse just before our text, Paul begins with his explanation of why Christians should live in this way. And he starts with what Christians used to be. He writes, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”
If you are looking for a warm fuzzy about human potential … the Bible is definitely not the place you should look. Oh, it’s not that people aren’t capable of doing things. It’s just that Scripture tells us that since the Fall, everything they do is turned in on themselves and away from God. As we now exist in the world, our natural inclination is to do things that reject God’s will. Sin is the default setting of human beings.

Now as Paul describes, this produces a rather unpleasant setting in which to live. But far more importantly, it sets people in opposition to God. Sinners sin – that’s what they do. And when it comes to the holy God, sinners cannot live in fellowship with him. Instead sin provokes God wrath and judgment. It brings death. First it brings the physical kind because as Paul told the Romans, “The wages of sin is death.” But even more significantly it brings the eternal death of hell.

That is where things stood on Christmas Eve. But then Paul goes on to say, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

God revealed his kindness and love for man when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. God had always been known in the Old Testament as the God who abounds in steadfast loving kindness. But he took it to a whole new level when he sent his Son into the world at Christmas. The Father sent forth the Son into our world to carry out a mission. The Son took humanity into himself, without ceasing to be God. The One born in Bethlehem was true God and true man. And he did this in order to suffer and die for you.

In the previous chapter Paul had already used the language of “appearing.” He wrote, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” Jesus came to be the Savior – to be the One who brings salvation from sin and God’s wrath. And Paul goes on to say that he “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.”

Jesus Christ came to save people who couldn’t do anything for themselves. Pauls says in our text that he saved us “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” It was God’s mercy and love for us that led Jesus to the cross where he died as the sacrifice for your sins. There he received the judgment and wrath of God in your place. And by doing this he has redeemed you – he has won forgiveness for you so that you are a saint in God’s eyes because of Christ.

On Christmas, Mary gave birth to the new life of child. This new life had been conceived in her womb through the work of the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit was not done with his work. For on the third day, the Spirit entered into the tomb and gave new life to the body of Jesus. He transformed Jesus’ body so that it can never die again as he raised Jesus from the dead.

The continuing work of the Spirit now brings new life to us. He does it in Holy Baptism. Paul says in our text that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

The Holy Spirit has given you new life. Jesus Christ was born at Christmas so that you could be born again. Nourished by the food of God’s Word and the Sacrament of the Altar, the new man created by the Spirit is being led by the Spirit to live in ways that look like Jesus.

This is great news! This is wonderful news! But sadly, it’s not the only news. Because while the new man has been created in you because of the baby born in Bethlehem, the old man created by the sin of Adam is still present too. The old man wants to sin – he wants to serve himself and disobey God. That’s the reason that Paul has to write the words of our text in the first place. That’s why Paul tells Titus to have the pastors on Crete remind the people about how they are to live as Christians. That’s why your pastor reminds you about how you are to live as Christians. 

As we think about this, we must always start with today. We start with Christmas. We start with the Gospel. For on Christmas the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared as he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy. He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. And so in faith we return to our baptism, for there the Spirit joined us to Christ’s saving death. And the Spirit who raised Jesus Christ from the dead also gave us new life so that we can live in faith toward God and love toward our neighbor.  

Now when the Spirit has this word of God spoken to us – a word that reminds us to obey authorities; to be ready for every good work; to speak evil of no one; to avoid quarreling and instead to be gentle and to show kindness toward all people – the new man in us know that this is exactly what he wants to do. And the Spirit uses this word to bash the old man. The Spirit uses it to suppress the old man, so that the new man in Christ directs what we actually do.

This is the life of the Christian who is forgiven because of Jesus and is an heir of eternal life. It is the life of a person who has been born again through the work of the Spirit in Holy Baptism. It is the life that has been made possible because “the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared” when Jesus Christ was born at Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Eve - Isa 9:2-7

                                                                                            Christmas Eve
                                                                                             Isa 9:2-7

One hundred years ago, Christmas Eve was a very dark time in Europe. As 1916 drew to a close, Europe had seen the highest war casualty totals for one year that the continent had ever experienced. And when you consider the long history of war in Europe, that was really saying something.

World War I had broken out in August 1914, and before the year was over it had turned into trench warfare. Allied attempts to retake ground during 1915 produced no success and instead yielded casualties at levels that had been previously unimaginable. Entrenched positions built in depth, protected by machine guns and barbed wire, and shielded by artillery support, proved to be impregnable. Defensive echnology had outstripped tactics, and the generals’ answer to the problem of costly failed offensives was that they needed more men to throw into attacks.

By 1916 it had become clear that the war would be one of attrition. Beginning in February the Germans initiated a battle at Verdun against the French that did not end until Dec. 17. Around 800,000 casualties were suffered on both sides, and 300,000 of those were killed. In order to take pressure of the French, on July 1 the British launched an offensive at the Somme. On the first day of the battle, the British suffered 57,550 casualties, of whom 19,000 were killed. The battle of the Somme didn’t end until November. The armies fighting suffered a million casualties, of whom 300,000 were killed. At the two battles nearly two million casualties with 600,000 killed had only moved the frontline a couple of miles in each location – a muddy wasteland shattered by artillery and filled with rotting corpses.

Our text for Christmas Eve addresses a similar dark time of war. Eighth century B.C. warfare did not produce battlefield deaths on the scale of the industrialized twentieth century. But it was horrific nonetheless since it brought the destruction of cities, and the enslavement and forced relocation of the civilian population.

The prophet Isaiah wrote in this time of war. First, the northern kingdom of Israel and the nation of Syria had attacked the southern kingdom of Judah. Instead of trusting Yahweh, the king of Judah had requested help from the powerful Assyrians empire. Assyria was only too glad to get involved as it conquered Israel and Syria, and then attacked Judah. Only God’s dramatic intervention against the Assyrian army saved Jerusalem.

Yet the devastation of the northern kingdom was complete. Israel’s capital city, Samaria, was destroyed. The population of Israel was taken away into exile as part of the population swapping strategy that Assyria used to control conquered peoples. In our text, Isaiah speaks about the devastated north. He says in the verse just before our text, “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” 

The northern parts of Israel had been the first to bear the brunt of the Assyrian onslaught. The defeat and devastation was a time of great darkness. Yet the prophet speaks of a later time when God would make this land glorious. He would do it by bringing a light into the world.

Isaiah starts our text by saying, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” God promised a light that would pierce the darkness of a sinful and fallen world.

Yahweh would act, and it would bring them joy. Isaiah compares this joy to that experienced at the time of harvest, or when the spoil obtained in victorious battle was divided up. God would free them from the yoke and rod of the oppressor. And he would give them peace. Isaiah describes the destruction of the implements of war when he says, “For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.”

How would he do this? He would do it through a child. In chapter seven Isaiah had referred to a child born of a virgin who is Immanuel – God with us. Now in our text he says: “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.”

This child born of a virgin is Immanuel – God with us. And in our text we hear him described with names that go beyond anything that makes sense for a man. Yet clearly, this One is also a king of Israel – a Messiah descended from King David – because Isaiah says at the end of our text: “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 forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

The great challenge for us as sinners is to let God be God. This occurs in obvious ways that break the First Commandment when we choose to put people and things ahead of God. Our choices about the use of our time, resources and attention reveal what is most important to us; what we value most.

But at a deeper level this occurs when we demand that God work in ways that make sense to us. We know how things should be done. We know what is best. We know how to evaluate things, and so we can let God know when his ways just don’t measure up.
Tonight we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God. And in this event we see that God’s gives us everything that we need – everything that Isaiah describes in our text – and yet he does it in ways that often don’t make sense to us. It’s not how we would do it.

In our Gospel lesson we hear about how the virgin Mary gives birth to Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. Luke has already told us about how this virgin became pregnant. The angel Gabriel told Mary, “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.” 

It is a real human baby that Mary lays in the manger. And yet because he has been conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit he is also truly God. He is, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The Creator of cosmos is found in a feeding trough for animals. He is true God and true man – born in Bethlehem because Joseph has taken him to be his own son, and so had made him part of the line of David.

Matthew tells us that Isaiah’s words in our text were fulfilled when Jesus begin his ministry in Galilee. The light shown in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali as Jesus preached, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and worked miracles.

But this is probably not how we think it should work. Israel is devastated by Assyria, and God’s answer is Jesus Christ’s ministry seven hundred years later. And what of the peace Isaiah describes, when “every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire”? What of the description in chapter two when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” That doesn’t describe what happened in 1916. That doesn’t describe what happens today.

God’s plan for the child in the manger does not look like anything we would expect. Jesus Christ is born in Bethlehem so that he can die on a cross in Jerusalem. He goes as the sacrifice for sin – the means by which God justly punishes sin and yet also gives you forgiveness. The Son of God is incarnate so that he can die. But he is also incarnate so that he can rise from the dead on the third day as the second Adam who begins the new creation – who begins what we are meant to be.

He is the Prince of Peace now. As the apostle Paul told the Romans, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And the ascended Lord will return to bring the peace Isaiah describes. He will end all wars. He will bring peace to humanity and to creation itself.

Again, this is not how we would do it. We would never plan a “now and not yet.” We would not have God act dramatically to save, and yet leave us walking by faith and not by sight.
On this Christmas Eve, we need to humble ourselves. We need admit that God is God, and we are not. We need to let God be God. And instead of being the mouthy child who is never satisfied, we need to listen to what God has done. 

God the Father sent the Son into our world as he was incarnate through the work of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. The Father showed how much he loves us – how much he values our created existence – by having he Son of God become one of us without ceasing to be God. He has given us the joy of knowing that our sins – all that would keep us separated from God – have been taken away by Jesus Christ’s saving death. And he has shown us the life that awaits us in the resurrection of the incarnate Lord. God has defeated death, and even if we die before Jesus returns, sin and death cannot separate us from God.

This is what God has done. And when we focus on this, we can let go of the other questions that trouble us go. We can let go of the way we would want things done. And instead, we can set our attention on those ways by which God nourishes and strengthens us in this faith. We can return with renewed attention to God’s Word as we hear it proclaimed at church and as we read it at home. We can return to our baptism, for there we have shared in the death of the Lord and have the promise of our resurrection.

And, as we will in a few moments, we can come to the Sacrament of the Altar. The One who was bodily present in the manger, now comes to us bodily in the Sacrament. Yet here he does not, like on Christmas Eve, come as the One who is just beginning his mission. Instead he comes as the incarnate Lord who has completed his work for us. He gives us his true body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. In doing so he assures us that we are the forgiven children of God now. And he guarantees us that we will share in his resurrection and the final peace he will bring. We will, because the child whose birth we celebrate tonight is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He is Immanuel – God with us.