Thursday, December 26, 2019

Feast of St.Stephen, Martyr

Today is the Feast of St. Stephen, Martyr.  Stephen is mentioned in Acts chapters 6-7 as one of the seven deacons appointed by the Church to provide for the needs of the poor in the Christian community in Jerusalem.  Because of his powerful witness to the Gospel, Stephen was brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin, where he boldly confessed Christ.  Infuriated, the Sanhedrin took him outside of the city and stoned him to death.  Stephen was the Church’s first martyr (a word which in Greek means “witness”) as he died for the faith.  He is remembered for commending himself to Christ in death when he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and for forgiving those murdering him with the words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60).

Scripture reading:
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me….

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
(Acts 6:8-7:2a, 51-60 ESV)

Collect of the Day:
Heavenly Father, in the midst of our sufferings for the sake of Christ grant us grace to follow the example of the first martyr, Stephen, that we may also look to the One who suffered and was crucified on our behalf and pray for those who do us wrong; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Sermon for the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Day - Ex. 40:17-21, 34-38

                                                                                                Christmas Day
                                                                                                Ex. 40:17-21, 34-38

            Based on the pictures I see on Facebook, it is clear that there are many people who enjoy camping – and that includes a number of members of this congregation.  There are many great places in southern Illinois for camping, and so we are blessed in that you don’t have to go very far to find a lovely setting where you can spend some time outdoors.
            However, I feel like perhaps I should instead say “camping.”  After all, I don’t see many pictures of tents when people go camping.  Instead, there is usually a camper involved.  And many of these campers are not exactly what I would call “roughing it.”  Instead, they take all the comforts of home and bring them to the setting of the outdoors – which I suppose is entirely the point.  A person gets to enjoy the setting of nature without giving up any comfort.
            In the Old Testament lesson for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord we learn that in a time when Israel lived in tents, Yahweh went camping too.  The tabernacle – a temporary and portable structure that was for all intents and purposes a tent – was the means by which Yahweh dwelt in the midst of his people as they journeyed after their time at Mt. Sinai.
            In the instructions that Yahweh gave to Israel at Mt. Sinai, part of the Torah, Yahweh said, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.”  Yahweh had just approached Israel as he came down on Mt Sinai.  It was a terrifying experience as the mountain was wrapped in smoke and Yahweh descended on it in fire. The mountain trembled and the smoke went up from it like the smoke of a kiln.
            If this is what it was going to be like, maybe Yahweh dwelling in their midst didn’t sound like such a great idea.  However, God did not intend his presence to be a source of terror.  Instead it was to be a comfort for his people, knowing that he was there with them – there in their midst.
            Yahweh was going to provide located means by which he would dwell in their midst.  This was God who was going to be there Israel wasn’t going to make whatever arrangements seemed best to them.  Instead, Yahweh provided very specific instructions about what was to be made.  He said, “Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.”
            The materials for the tabernacle and its implements were to come from offerings given by the Israelites.  Yahweh said, “From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me.”  And just as the plan for the tabernacle came from God, so also he provided the skill needed to make it.  Yahweh said that he had chosen a man named Bezalel from the tribe of Judah, and “filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.”
            The heart of the tabernacle was the Ark of the Covenant.  And the key piece of the Ark was its cover – the mercy seat.  This lid had two cherubim – angels upon it. The Ark was placed in the rear portion of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies that the high priest entered only once a year.  And Yahweh said that he would be enthroned upon the mercy seat.
            In our text from the last chapter of Exodus we hear about how Moses set up the tabernacle for the first time when all its components were completed. When he had done this, something remarkable happened.  We hear at the end of our text:  “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”
            Yahweh’s glory, his perceptible presence, filled the tabernacle as he demonstrated the truth of his words – the tabernacle would be the means by which he would dwell in the midst of his people. Placed in the very center of the Israelite camp, Yahweh truly was in their midst. 
            And his presence was the means by which Israel knew whether they were to remain in place or set out on the journey. We are told: “Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.”
            Today is the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. Today we celebrate the birth of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.  In our Gospel lesson, John tells us, “And 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.” The Greek word John uses for “dwell” is based on the same root that was used to translate “tabernacle” in the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
            John is telling us that all that had been true of the tabernacle as the located presence of God, is now true of Jesus Christ.  And Jesus himself makes this point in the next chapter. The temple in Jerusalem was the permanent replacement for the tabernacle.  At its dedication, the cloud and the glory of God filled it too.
            After Jesus had cleansed the temple the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews were confused, because it had taken forty-six years to build this new version of the temple. They asked, “And will you raise it up in three days?”  Yet John tells us, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body.”
            At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh. We learn that the tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament were types that pointed forward to an even greater fulfillment in the future. In the Old Testament, God’s people did not have to wonder about where God was present for them.  He was there through the located means of the tabernacle and temple.
            In the same way, we do not have to wonder where God is present for us.  At Christmas, he was present in the located means of the flesh of the baby Jesus lying in the manger. The Son of God himself came to dwell in our world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He came in the flesh – he took on a human nature from Mary – without ceasing to be God.  He is true God and true man at the same time.
            The tabernacle was more than the place where God dwelt in the midst of Israel and indicated to them when it was time to travel and when they were to stay in place.  It was also the location where the sacrifices were offered – sacrifices that delivered forgiveness as God had promised.  And in particular, the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant was the location where the high priest on the Day of Atonement sprinkled the blood in order to purify it from contamination of Israel’s sins. The tabernacle and temple were a place of sacrifice by which God removed Israel’s sins.  Only in this way could he continue to dwell in their midst as his people.
            Like the tabernacle and temple, these sacrifices were also types pointing forward to the great sacrifice that Jesus Christ would provide as he offered himself on the cross.  St Paul told the Romans, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
            The word “propitiation” is the same Greek word that was used to translate “mercy seat” in the Old Testament.  By the shedding of his blood in death, Jesus Christ was the sacrifice that has given us redemption.  He has freed us from our slavery to sin by giving us forgiveness. The baby in the manger of Christmas came to be the man nailed to the cross on Good Friday.
            The incarnate Lord was like us in all ways, except that he had no sin.  One of the ways he was like us was that his flesh could be killed.  The wages of sin is death. The One who had no sin came to suffer death for us by taking our sin as his own – by becoming sin for us. But he did not remain dead. On the third day, on Easter, God raised him from the death with flesh that can never die again.  He defeated death and has given us the living hope because when he returns in glory on the Last Day he will raise us in bodies transformed to be like his – bodies that can never die again.
            God was present with his people in the Old Testament through the located means of the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant.  He was present with his people in the first century A.D. through the located means of the flesh of the baby Jesus in the manger, the man hanging on the cross, and the risen Lord who ate and drank with is disciples.
            As we look for the return of our Lord, he continues to be present with us through located means.  In the water of the baptismal font we were buried with Christ as we were joined to his saving death.  Our sins were washed away and we received the guarantee that we will share in Jesus resurrection.  Paul tells us, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
            And in the Sacrament of the Altar Jesus uses the located means of bread and wine to give us his true body and blood.  The means may appear humble as we confess that it is the true body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But then again, it looked that way too when the creator of the cosmos was wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger – dependent on Mary and Joseph to provide for him. Yet just as it was true then, so it is now that God is present and at work through these means to give us forgiveness and salvation.
            In the Old Testament, God dwelt in the midst of his people and gave them forgiveness through the tabernacle and temple.  Now in these last days, he has dwelt in our midst through the incarnate Son of God. By his death and resurrection he has won forgiveness for us and begun the resurrection that will be ours too on the Last Day.  And as we look for that day, he continues to be present in our midst through the located means of the Sacraments as he gives us forgiveness and strength to live as his people.


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Eve - Lk 2:1-20

                                                                                                Christmas Eve
                                                                                                Lk 2:1-20

            When sin entered into the world through Adam and Eve, God said to the devil, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” In this first Gospel promise, God said that a descendent of Eve would defeat the devil.
            During our mid-week Advent services we considered how God brought this promise to fulfillment using unexpected means.  He used the elderly and barren Sarah.  He used the virgin Mary.  Yahweh worked throughout the history of Israel in order to narrow the focus of who this descendant of Eve would be. 
            God called Abraham and said that in him all nations would be blessed.  He extended this promise to his sons Isaac and Jacob.  Jacob, whom God called Israel, became the source of the nation Israel. At the end of his life when Jacob blessed his sons, Yahweh indicated that that the tribe of Judah would be the one through whom he would work.
            Then Yahweh chose David from the tribe of Judah to be king over Israel.  He sent the prophet Nathan to announce about David’s son Solomon: “I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.”
            Yahweh promised that a descendant of David would be the Messiah – the One who would rescue God’s people.  We hear about this One in our Old Testament lesson tonight:  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
            In the midst of this lofty rhetoric there are some puzzling descriptions. This child will rule on the throne of David, so naturally we assume that he is a descendant of King David – a human being.  Yet he is also called “Mighty God, Everlasting Father.”  This is language that is jarring.  It does not fit with what otherwise seems to be a description of a person.
            From the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke we can understand how the language of Isaiah is true.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit, the child carried by Mary is more than a human being, without ceasing to be one. The child is the Son of God.  He is also human.  He is true God and true man at the same time.
            Because Joseph has taken the child to be his own, this one is also now included in the line of King David. He is therefore a son of David. He is the Christ – the Messiah – who fulfills God’s promises about the One who will bring his end time salvation.
            So many years had passed as God guided the circumstances that would fulfill the promise he made at the Fall.  But now the moment had finally arrived for this child to be born. The culmination of all of God’s work in salvation history was about to take place. This was the most important thing that had ever happened in human history. This was news that had to be shared.
            We hear about that announcement in our Gospel lesson. We are told, “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”  The announcement about the birth of the One who is the Savior and the Christ is not made to the Sanhedrin, to the Jewish leaders from the Pharisees and Sadducees. It is not announced in Jerusalem at the temple to the crowds that worshipped there.  It’s not announced to the Roman governor who represented the Emperor and the Roman Empire.
            Instead, it is announced to shepherds living out in the open with their animals. These men were not socially important. They were not powerful. They were not well known.  They were nobodies.
            Yet an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. The night sky was lit with the perceptible presence of God as an angel appeared to them and said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
            These were startling and frightening events.  Yet the angel told the shepherds not to fear. The reason was that he had come to share good news of great joy – good news that was for all people. The news was this: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  He announced that in Bethlehem, the city of David’s origin, a Savior had been born. This Savior was the Christ – the Messiah – promised by God in the Old Testament.  He was also the Lord, a term which in the Greek Old Testament was used to translate the name of God, Yahweh. Though the shepherds could not comprehend the full significance of this, we recognize that as true God Jesus is the Lord. 
            A baby in Bethlehem was rather vague.  So the angel added, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  Swaddling clothes were the typical treatment provided to newborn babies.  But a manger – a feeding trough for animals – was not. This was the sign that would identify the child for them, because it was so unusual.
            After the angel had said this, he was suddenly joined by an army of angels who praised God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” They announced that God was to be glorified to the highest degree because of what he was doing through this child.  He was giving peace on earth by showing his favor in Christ.
            When the angels had departed to heaven the shepherds said, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” They hurried and found the stable with Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
            The angel announces good news of great joy that is for all people. He says that in city of David a Savior has been born who is Christ the Lord. But he announces this to shepherds. And when they find the source of this good news, it is a baby lying in a stable’s manger. Nothing about this looks royal or mighty. God’s angel says it is one thing, but it looks like something else.
            In this we discover that while Jesus is the Christ and the Lord, he is the Savior who saves by humbling himself to the point of death – even death on a cross.  Jesus is the Savior who came to take the place of sinners and receive God’s judgment against your sin. The angel is entirely correct.  But God is doing it in a way that looks like the opposite of what it really is.
            Tonight we see a cute baby in a manger.  But on Good Friday Jesus will hang bleeding on a Roman cross. Tonight God’s angel sends the shepherds to see Jesus, but on Good Friday Jesus will cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
            God does this because we are people who fear, love and trust in everything other than God.  God does this because we love ourselves far more than our neighbor.  He does this because we lust, and lie, and covet.  It is because of these sins – your sins – that Jesus the Son of God entered into the world in order to suffer and die on the cross.
            But by his death on the cross Jesus was the seed of the woman who defeated sin and the devil. And by his resurrection he has triumphed over death itself.   The angel appears to the shepherds tonight and tells them not to fear.  He announces good news that a Savior has been born.  After Jesus had been buried, on the third day an angel told the women at Jesus’ tomb not to fear.  He announced the good news: “I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen as he said.”
            Born as a helpless baby in a manger, Jesus Christ has now completed his mission for us.  He reigns as the risen, ascended and exalted Lord.  The Lord continues to be present at work among us, giving us the forgiveness that he has won for us and strengthening us in the faith.  He does this through means that look humble and weak – like a baby in a manger; like a man on a cross.
            He does this through the preaching of the Word of God, as the Gospel is proclaimed.  He does this through the water and word of Holy Baptism. He does this through a pastor in the Office of the Ministry speaking absolution.  He does this through bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar as he gives us his true body and blood. Yet like the baby in the manger and the man on the cross they are in fact the powerful working of God for us.  We know this, because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.
            In our text tonight the angel announces: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  We have received the forgiveness and salvation won by this Savior. And so now we act in love and forgiveness towards others. 
            The world talks about the “spirit of the Christmas season.” It is a brief time when people get caught up in the giving gifts and helping others.  But we have received the Spirit of the risen Lord who leads us to forgive and support others every day of the year. The baby born in Bethlehem is the man who died on the cross and rose from the dead.  He is our Savior who entered into our world and served us, so that now as we live in him we can serve others. 



Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent - Rorate Coeli - Jn 1:19-28

                                                                                                Advent 4
                                                                                                Jn 1:19-28

            Last Sunday we heard in the Gospel lesson about how King Herod Antipas had put John the Baptist in prison in one of his fortresses.  He did it because John was calling Herod Antipas to repentance by saying that he should not have taken Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, to be his own.
            That’s actually only part of a story that sounds like an ancient soap opera.  Herod Antipas had married the daughter of Aretas IV, the king of Nabatea, a kingdom to the southeast of Galilee.  It was marriage that helped to establish a time of peace and stability.
            However, Herod fell in love with Herodias, and she agreed to marry him once he had divorced Aretas’ daughter. When Aretas’ daughter found out about this she was, of course, not pleased. And so she went to her father to report and complain about what Herod was doing. Herod did proceed to divorce Aretas’ daughter, and then took Herodias to be his wife.
            King Aretas IV was angered by what Herod Antipas had done. The time of peace was ended, and Aretas went to war against Herod.  He soundly defeated Herod’s army and would have pushed his advantage against Herod further, if it had not been for the Roman Emperor who ordered these two vassal kings to end their hostilities.
            Writing around 93 AD, the Jewish historian Joesphus tells us: “But to some of the Jews it seemed that Herod’s army had been destroyed by God, who was exacting vengeance (most certainly justly) as satisfaction for John who was called Baptist. For Herod indeed put him to death, who was a good man and one who commanded the Jews to practice virtue and act with justice toward one another and with piety toward God, and so to gather together by baptism..” And then Josephus adds that Herod feared John the Baptist’s great persuasiveness, because others gathered together around John and were excited by his teaching.
            It is interesting that as he wrote some sixty years after John the Baptist’s life and martyrdom, Josephus thought it was necessary to mention John the Baptist.  John had certainly made an impression on people to be remembered in this way.
            This background from Josephus helps us to understand the degree to which John the Baptist’s ministry captured the attention of his contemporaries.  John’s call to repentance in the face of the imminent arrival of God’s kingdom – his reign – was part of the reason.  But another side of this was the fact that he baptized others.  Ritual washings were common in Judaism. However they were always self-administered.  John was completely different because he applied the washing to others.  It is for this reason that he became known as the Baptist.
            In our Gospel lesson we see that John’s ministry certainly captured the attention of the Jewish religious leadership. Priest and Levites were sent from Jerusalem to ask John a very basic question: “Who are you?”  We are told, “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’”  John immediately removed the biggest question that was on their mind.  He confessed the truth that he was not the Christ – he was not the descendant of King David that God has promised would bring his end time salvation.
            After this, his interlocutors ran through a list of the other end time figures expected by Judaism. They asked if he was Elijah or the Prophet.  Each time, John said no. Then in exasperation they asked, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
            John replied using words from Isaiah chapter forty, last Sunday’s Old Testament lessons.  He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
            But those questioning him still were not satisfied. And they focused in on his activity of applying a washing to others. They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
            John did not focus on himself.  Instead he placed his baptizing ministry in relation to the One who was coming after coming after him.  John pointed to One coming after him who was so mighty and glorious that John was not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal.
            Our text says that this was the witness that John gave.  The prologue to the Gospel at the beginning of chapter one says that John was sent as a witness to Jesus Christ. We are told, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”
            Immediately after our Gospel lesson, we learn more about the witness that John gave.   We hear, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’”
            John called people to repentance.  We find this in John’s quotation of Isaiah as he says, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”  Yet in the Gospel of John a greater emphasis is placed on the fact that Jesus had come to offer himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  In fact, John says this twice since the following day as John was standing with two of his disciples, he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said again, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
            During Advent we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We rejoice that, as John’s Gospel says earlier in this chapter, “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.”  Jesus was greater than John the Baptist.  He came before John the Baptist, because he is the Son of God. He is the Son of God who took on human flesh – a human nature – without ceasing to be God.
            He did so for a reason.  He did it to be the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Just as a lamb was offered in sacrifices to God in the tabernacle and temple, so Jesus came to be the sacrifice that takes away our sin.  As Jesus will say on the night when he is betrayed, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”    Jesus Christ was conceived and born into this world in order to give his life for you.  By his death in our place Jesus Christ has won us forgiveness.  The apostle John says in his first letter, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  Jesus is the means given by the Father to remove the sins of which we are guilty.  And because the he has done this through his death, Jesus is also the means by which we now are able to stand before God as those who are holy and righteous in his sight.
            We are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as the Son of God entered into our world.  We will all expend great effort in this celebration.  We put up a Christmas tree and decorations, bake Christmas cookies, play Christmas music, buy gifts, and travel to be with family. 
            Yet what is the witness that we give about the One whose birth we celebrate? What do we say to others about Jesus?  Do we confess that Jesus born at Bethlehem is true God and true man at the same time? Do we confess that that he died on the cross as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, but then rose from the dead on the third day?  Or are we silent because the world says that religion is a private matter that should be kept to oneself?
            And what is the witness that our actions give?  At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Jesus Christ loved us by offering himself as the sacrifice on the cross.  He served us by giving himself, the sinless Son of God, into death in order win us forgiveness. 
            Do our lives now share this love we have received in Christ by serving others?  The apostle John wrote in his first letter, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” 
            John the Baptist came as a witness to the Word become flesh, the incarnate Son of God.  He pointed to the One who was greater than he.  He declared, “‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  Later in his ministry, Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
            Jesus Christ gave his flesh on the cross in order to free us from sin.  On the third day, he rose from the dead as he defeated death.  Now, he continues to come to us in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
            Just as John bore witness to Jesus as the lamb of God when he was in his presence, so also do we now.  When the Words of Institution have been spoken – the words of our Lord – and the true body and blood of Jesus Christ are on the altar, we sing in the Agnus Dei: “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.” We bear witness to the incarnate Lord who comes into our midst to give us the very price he paid for our forgiveness and salvation. He gives us forgiveness and nourishes the new man in us so that like John the Baptist we can bear witness to Christ in what we say and do.





Friday, December 20, 2019

O Antiphons - Dec. 20 O Key of David

The Great “O” Antiphons were sung before and after the Psalm at Vespers during the last seven days of Advent.  They were used to create the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which is the Hymn of the Day for the Fourth Sunday in Advent: Rorate Coeli. The “O” Antiphon for December 20 is:

O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open:

Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.

Commemoration of Katharina von Bora Luther

Today we remember and give thanks for Katharina von Bora Luther.  Katharina von Bora (1499–1552) was placed in a convent when still a child and became a nun in 1515. In April 1523 she and eight other nuns were rescued from the convent and brought to Wittenberg. There Martin Luther helped return some to their former homes and placed the rest in good families. Katharina and Martin were married on June 13, 1525. Their marriage was a happy one and blessed with six children. Katharina skillfully managed the Luther household, which always seemed to grow because of his generous hospitality. After Luther’s death in 1546, Katharina remained in Wittenberg but lived much of the time in poverty. She died in an accident while traveling with her children to Torgau in order to escape the plague.

Collect of the Day:
O God, our refuge and our strength, You raised up Your servant Katharina to support her husband in the task to reform and renew your Church in the light of Your Word.  Defend and purify the Church today and grant that, through faith, we may boldly support and encourage our pastors and teachers of the faith as they proclaim and administer the riches of Your grace made known in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

O Antiphons - Dec. 19 O Root of Jesse

The Great “O” Antiphons were sung before and after the Psalm at Vespers during the last seven days of Advent.  They were used to create the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which is the Hymn of the Day for the Fourth Sunday in Advent: Rorate Coeli. The “O” Antiphon for December 19 is:

O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage:

Come quickly to deliver us.

Commemoration of Adam and Eve

Adam was the first man, made in the image of God and given dominion over all the earth (Gen 1:26). Eve was the first woman, formed from one of Adam’s ribs to be his companion and helper (2:18–24). God placed them in the Garden of Eden to take care of the creation as his representatives. But they forsook God’s Word and plunged the world into sin (3:1–7). For this disobedience God drove them from the Garden. Eve had to suffer the pain of childbirth and be subject to Adam; Adam had to toil amid thorns and thistles and return to the dust of the ground. Yet God promised that the woman’s Seed would crush the serpent’s head (3:8–24). Sin had entered God’s perfect creation and changed it until God would restore it again through Christ. Eve is the mother of the human race, while Adam is representative of all humanity and the Fall, as St. Paul writes, “For in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).

Collect of the Day:
Lord God, heavenly Father, You created Adam in your image and gave him Eve as his helpmate, and after their fall into sin, You promised them a Savior who would crush the devil’s might.  By your mercy, number us among those who have come out of the great tribulation with the seal of the living God on our foreheads and whose robes have been made white in the blood of the Lamb; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Sermon for third mid-week Advent service - Lk 1:26-38

                                                                                                Mid-Advent 3
                                                                                                Lk 1:26-38

            As you push your shopping cart through the checkout area at the grocery store, it is impossible to miss the English Royal family.  Whenever there is something happening amongst them, there they are looking out at us from the magazine covers. 
            Most recently it was about the marriage of Prince Harry to the American actress Meghan Markle, and then the birth of their baby.  Now it seems strange that so much attention is allotted in the United States to a man who is sixth in line of succession to a throne that has no actual power.  But such is the fascination that the public apparently has with this royal family.
            The English royal family may get all the attention from American press, but it is not alone. In fact, there are twenty five other royal families around the world in places as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Swaziland, Liechtenstein, Tonga and Bhutan. Some of these royal families actually rule their nation, such as in Saudi Arabia.  I should add that strangely enough, in looking into this a little I was not able to find any evidence of the royal families that rule the quaint little European kingdoms that constantly appear in Hallmark movies.
            In tonight’s text, a royal family plays a key role.  In fact we see that while in the miracle of the incarnation Mary bears the incarnate Son of God within her – the seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head – it is not possible for this to happen in fulfillment of God’s promises without Joseph.  Jesus is true God and true man.  He is also the Christ, the descendant of King David who fulfills all of God’s promises to Israel in the Old Testament.
            Our text begins by saying: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.” Six months after Elizabeth had become pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary, a virgin who lived in Nazareth.
            Nazareth was a village about twenty miles south west of Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee.  It was a place of no real importance. The same can be said about Mary.  She was of no real importance. She was undoubtedly a teenager, probably in her early teens.  She was not married, and so in keeping the Sixth Commandment, she was a virgin.
            We learn that she was betrothed to a man named Joseph who was of the house of David.  Joseph himself was of no real importance.  He was a carpenter.  But there was one thing about Joseph that was crucial for God’s plan of salvation: he was a descendant of King David.
            Gabriel said to Mary: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  Mary had been chosen by God to be the woman from whom the seed would be born who would defeat the devil. He had graciously shown his favor in giving her this role that would forever set her apart from every other woman.
            Angels did not appear to Mary any more often than they do to you, and so she was troubled.  But Gabriel said: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
            The angel told Mary two things. First, she would conceive and bear a son named Jesus. And second, this son would reign as King David’s heir over an everlasting kingdom.  Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah promised by God.
            In Genesis three God had promised that a seed of the woman would defeat the devil.  Last week we saw how God did the unexpected by using aged and barren Sarah to provide a son to Abraham – the one through whom all nations would be blessed.
            Between the time of Sarah and Mary God had been at work fulfilling his promise.  Step by step he narrowed the focus of how this would happen.  He said it would be through Abraham’s son Isaac, and then through his son Jacob.  Jacob, whom God gave the name Israel, became the father of the nation Israel.  At the end of his life Jacob identified his son Judah as the one through whom God would work when he blessed him and said, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
            Then, out of the tribe of Judah, God chose David to be king.  He sent Samuel to anoint him with olive oil and designate him as king.  When David was planning to build the temple, Yahweh sent Nathan to David with these words: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.”
            And even though most of the kings descended from David were unfaithful, God promised a Messiah – an anointed one – who would rule forever and bring peace. He said through the prophet Isaiah, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
            Yahweh had described the king who descended from David as his “son.”  He had already called the nation of Israel his “son” – son in an adoptive sense.  Now as Israel reduced to one, the Davidic king was also his son. Through marriage to Joseph, a baby born to Mary would be part of the Davidic line. But this child would also be God’s Son in his very being – a Son who is one substance with the Father.
            Mary was betrothed, but was not married. And so she asked Gabriel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 
For nothing will be impossible with God.”
            Mary learned that this child – this seed of the woman – would be like no other.  There would be no human father.  Instead, the Holy Spirit would cause the child to be conceived in her womb.  The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity would receive a human nature from Mary, while remaining true God.  He would be true God and true man at the same time.
            When Mary had been told this she said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And then the angel departed from her.  Mary had just been told that her life had changed forever.  She would give birth to the Son of God. She would be raising the Messiah promised by God – the One who would bring God’s end time salvation. And her response was one of faithful acceptance.
            Are we as faithful in the acceptance of the vocations God has given to us? God has made you a husband or wife; a father or mother; a son or daughter; a member of this congregation; an employer or an employee.  Do we receive these callings with the same attitude as Mary: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Do we see ourselves as servants of the Lord in these roles? Do we seek to carry them out so that they are done according to God’s word?
            Often this is not easy, as Mary herself soon learned. When Jesus had been born and they went to Jerusalem, they met Simeon.  He spoke the beautiful words that we sing in the Nunc Dimmitis at the end of the Divine Service, “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; Your word has been fulfilled.  My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people.”
            Yet Simeon then went on to say to Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”  Some thirty three years later, Mary learned the full import of these words as she watched herson die on a Roman cross.
            There is nothing in our text tonight that would lead you to expect this. We learn that Jesus is the Son of God. We learn that he is the Messiah descended from King David and promised by God.  But the Son of God entered into our world and took on human flesh in order to bear our sins.  The Davidic Messiah is also the Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah who was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. When the seed of the woman defeated the devil – it cost him dearly.
            Dead and buried, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. God the Father raised him up and vindicated him. His suffering and death had not been weakness and failure.  Instead it had been faithfulness to the Father’s will.  It had been the victory over sin and death that God had promised all along.  The long awaited seed of the woman accomplished what God had promised.
            The fulfillment of God’s entire saving plan began as the angel Gabriel went to a place of no real importance and announced news to a young girl of no real importance. Yet the news about the baby she would bear was the most important thing that has ever happened.  It is what we prepare to celebrate this Christmas.