Sunday, January 31, 2021

Sermon for Septuagesima - 1 Cor 9:24-10:5



                                                                                    1 Cor 9:24-10:5



            Next Sunday the Kansas City Chiefs will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl.  The two teams will compete for the National Football League championship. They will be each be trying to win the symbol of that championship, the Lombardi Trophy.  Officially known as the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the trophy is twenty two inches high and weighs seven pounds.  It depicts a football in a kicking position on a three concave sided stand, and is made of sterling silver.

            The trophy didn’t receive its current name until Super Bowl V.  We are all familiar with the scene of the trophy being presented to the winning team’s owner on the field after the game.  However, this practice didn’t begin until twenty five years ago at Super Bowl XXX.

            In past years this presentation was part of a great celebration as the trophy was passed around among the winning players who hoisted it into the air and often kissed it.  The result is rather amusing, since the trophy which began the presentation with a pristine silver finish, soon becomes covered with smudges through all of the handling.  I suspect that in the present situation of Covid, the whole thing will be quite different this year.  It’s hard to imagine that the NFL is going to allow the trophy to be passed around to be touched and kissed by dozens of people.

            A symbol of victory given to the winner of an athletic contest is nothing new.  It goes back to ancient times, and is mentioned in our text this morning from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  He refers to a prize and a perishable wreath.  Corinth was the site of the Isthmian Games – athletic contests just like the Olympic Games that were held in Olympia, Greece. At the time of Paul in the first century A.D., the winner was crowned with a wreath made out of celery.

            In this section of 1 Corinthians, Paul is in the midst of addressing a significant issue faced by the early Christians.  The primary source of meat in Greco-Roman cities came from animals sacrificed at pagan temples.  Often, the temples had banqueting facilities on site where people could hold celebrations.

            There were Christians at Corinth who believed that since they were baptized and were receiving the Sacrament of the Altar that they were free to eat meat sacrificed in these pagan settings.  They thought that faith in Christ gave them the protection to do as they pleased.

            However, the apostle is warning the Corinthians that this is not how life in the faith works.  At the beginning of our text, Paul says that he knows full well that it doesn’t work this way for him either. Paul has just described how he has given up freedoms he has in order to win people to Christ.  He says,For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” But even this faithful work does not mean the Paul can do whatever he wants.

            Paul begins our text by saying, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” Paul uses athletes competing as a metaphor for talking about the Christian life.  The apostle says that there is need to for self-control in the Christian life in the face of sin.  In fact he says of himself, “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

            Paul wants the Corinthians to know that they can lose what they have. And what they have is an amazing gift of God’s grace in Christ. In the first chapter the apostle reminded the Corinthians that most of them were nothing as far as the world was concerned.  He said, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

            God had called the Corinthians to faith, and the apostle went on to say: “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”  Through faith and baptism the Corinthians – and you – have been joined to the saving work of Jesus Christ.  You are “in Christ” – the One who died on the cross bearing your sins, and then rose from the dead on the third day.  Because of this, God’s saving action in Christ to put all things right, he has made you holy in his eyes.  Because of this saving work of Jesus, you have been redeemed – you have been freed from slavery to Satan and sin.        

            We are sinners. But through baptism the saving death and resurrection of Christ has freed us from sin. As Paul says in chapter six, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

            Paul’s words this morning are something that we need to hear.  We face the exact same threat as the Corinthians.  True, none of us have to wonder about eating meat sacrificed to idols.  But the same basic question presses in on us in ways that Christians have not experienced since the first four centuries of the Church.

            The question is whether we will accept the belief of the culture around us.  The world today says that there is no such thing as truth.  Instead, you as an individual must decide what is true for you.  The individual is god, limited by no external law or standard.  You are master of your own life and are free to believe what you want, and do what you want. And the place this becomes most obvious is the exact same place it was seen in the first century.  The world says that you can use sex in any way you desire.  It defends abortion at all costs because that is essential for continuing in this so called sexual freedom.

            Paul warns the Corinthians – and us – that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t think and act like the world, and remain a child of God.  He uses Israel’s experience in the Old Testament in order to make this point as he writes: For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.”

            Just like Christians in baptism, Israel had been miraculously saved by God through the water of the Red Sea.  Just like Christians in the Sacrament of the Altar, God had miraculously fed them with manna from heaven and water from a rock.  Yet then Paul adds, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”

            Simply being part of God’s people and experiencing his saving miracles had not saved many in Israel when they chose to disobey God. Right after our text the apostle writes, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.”  Paul says the judgment that came upon Israel at different times are examples that teach us.  Referring to Israel’s worship of the golden calf, Paul says, “Do not be idolaters as some of them were.” He writes, “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day” – a reference to how Israel became involved with the daughters of the pagan Moabites.

            Paul recounts several examples like this before finally saying, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”  Israel’s history teaches us that the people of God cannot embrace the idolatry of the surrounding culture. We cannot take up the culture’s views about sex. Choosing to ignore and reject God’s will eventually leads to rejection and condemnation by God.

            Paul urges us not to do this because we know that we are people upon whom the ends of the ages has come.  We know the that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has begun the end times.  In the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of the last day has already started.

            Because of what God has done in Christ, we are now God’s people.  We are holy in God’s eyes because of Jesus.  Paul began this letter by writing, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”

            As we call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our text today reminds us that we must continue to engage in the struggle to resist the idolatry of the world – the idolatry of self – and its sexual immorality.  Instead as a new creation in Christ, we seek to live in God’s ways. 

            We listen to God’s Word, for through its teaching and admonition the Holy Spirit represses the old Adam to aid us in the struggle again sin. Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar are God’s gifts by which he strengthens us for this struggle for through them we continue to receive the forgiveness Christ has won for us. Through Christ’s gifts we receive the grace of the Holy Spirit’s work by which we are sustained in the faith. We live in the knowledge that through the work of the Spirit we are seeking to live as what God has made us to be.  We are striving to remain part of the forgiven people of God who will receive the crown of eternal life.     







Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Commemoration of John Chrysostom, Preacher


Today we remember and give thanks to God for John Chrysostom, Preacher.  Given the added name of Chrysostom, which means "golden-mouthed" in Greek, Saint John was a dominant force in the fourth-century Christian church. Born in Antioch around the year 347, John was instructed in the Christian faith by his pious mother, Anthusa. After serving in a number of Christian offices, including acolyte and lector, John was ordained a presbyter and given preaching responsibilities. His was one of the greatest preachers in the history of the Church and his sermons found an audience well beyond his home town. In 398, John Chrysostom was made Patriarch of Constantinople. His determination to reform the church, court, and city there brought him into conflict with established authorities. Eventually, he was exiled from his adopted city. Although removed from his parishes and people, he continued writing and preaching until the time of his death in 407. It is reported that his final words were: "Glory be to God for all things. Amen."

Collect of the Day:

O God, You gave to Your servant John Chrysostom grace to proclaim the Gospel with eloquence and power.  As pastor of the great congregations of Antioch and Constantinople, he fearlessly bore reproach for the honor of Your name.  Mercifully grant to all pastors such excellence in preaching and fidelity in ministering Your Word that Your people shall be partakers of the divine nature; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Feast of St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor


Today is the Feast of  St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor.  Titus was a Gentile who was a trusted co-worker of St. Paul in Greece, Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and on the island of Crete.  He assisted Paul in the collections for the Church in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:3-6) and was instructed by Paul to organize the church on Crete (Titus 1:4-5).  According to tradition, Titus returned to Crete where he served as bishop until he died at the end of the first century A.D.

Scripture reading:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

 To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:1-9)


Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, you called Titus to the work of pastor and teacher.  Make all shepherds of Your flock diligent in preaching Your holy Word so that the whole world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.



Sunday, January 24, 2021

Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord - Mt 17:1-9



                                                                                                Mt 17:1-9



             “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That’s what Peter had just confessed in the previous chapter.  Jesus had asked the question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The answers had varied – some said John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. And then Jesus had asked the really important question: “But who do you say that I am?”

            Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Our Lord replied, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”  Jesus made it clear that only God the Father could make this known. 

            Now the really important point being confessed here is that Jesus is the Christ. I say this because in chapter fourteen, after Jesus had walked on water and stilled a storm, Matthew tells us, “And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”  The disciples have confessed that Jesus is the Son of God.  Perhaps Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Son of God here in chapter sixteen involved some new understanding or certainty. But the thing that is really new is the confession that Jesus is the Christ.

            God had enabled Peter to confess that Jesus was the descendant of King David who fulfilled the prophet Isaiah’s words in chapter eleven: And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”  Peter was confessing that Jesus was the Messiah who would bring God’s end time salvation – the time when the wolf would dwell with the lamb in peace.

            This was indeed wonderful news!  It was the fulfillment of everything that God had promised in the Old Testament for Israel. And based on what Scripture said about the Christ, it meant that victory and glory were just around the corner.  As God had said about the Messiah in Psalm two: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”

            These two verses that talked about striking the earth with the rod of his mouth, and slaying the wicked with the breath of his lips; about breaking the nations with a rod of iron, and dashing them in pieces like a potter’s vessel, were the most quoted statements used in talking about the Messiah at the time of Jesus. The Messiah was seen as the mighty and awesome one who would bring nothing except victory for God’s people, and defeat for their enemies.

            Yet immediately after this, Matthew writes, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ.  Jesus says that he is exactly correct.  And then Jesus starts to talk about his suffering and death.  It made no sense.  In fact Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But Jesus replied, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

            Our Gospel lesson for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord begins with the words, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”  Now Matthew very rarely provides time references like this. And so it becomes clear that what he is about to narrate has a relationship to what has just happened – the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Christ, and our Lord’s declaration that he is going to suffer and die.

            We learn, “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”  During Christmas we celebrated the fact that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  We rejoiced in the fact that the Son of God become flesh – became man – without ceasing to be God.

            The season of Epiphany has been about how Jesus began to reveal his glory as the incarnate Son of God who had come as the Savior.  And now on the last Sunday of this season, we see Jesus’ divine glory revealed in a dramatic and unmistakable way.  Matthew tells us that he was transfigured and his face shown like the sun.  His clothes became white as light.  For that moment Jesus the Son of God allowed the disciples a glimpse of his divinity.

            It was an awesome sight!  But there was even more.  We hear: “And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”  There with Jesus were Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, and two individuals that Scripture said had a relationship to the end times. 

            Always ready to speak, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  The problem with Peter’s statement was that it seemed to put Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the same level. This was not what Peter had just confessed.

            And then God the Father acted in a way that made everything clear. We learn that while Peter was still speaking a bright cloud overshadowed them.  God revealed his presence and spoke from the cloud saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

            The Father spoke the same words at the Transfiguration that he said at Jesus’ baptism.  They were words based on Isaiah chapter forty two which said: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”  And of course, at Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove.

            God had identified Jesus as the Servant of the Lord.  Now, Jesus shines forth in divine glory, and the Father again indicates that Jesus is the Servant.  The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah is the one who is also the suffering Servant.  He is the One of whom the prophet says: But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Jesus shines in divine glory, and yet at that very moment God again identifies him as the Servant – the One who would bear our sins and suffer for us.

            In the Transfiguration God shows that Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, and Jesus’ prediction of his passion are not contradictions.  It might seem that way. But Jesus is both the Christ who is victorious and the suffering Servant who takes away our sins. He is the One who suffers and dies on the cross as the Father judges our sin. But he is also the One who rises from the dead on the third day in a victory that conquers death itself.  He is the One who wins victory for us by passing through suffering and death, and then out of the tomb on Easter.

            Matthew tells us that when the disciples heard the Father’s voice, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear,” and when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

            In our text, we hear God the Father say from the bright cloud: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  The Father says “Listen to him.” This is a reference back to Jesus’ first prediction of his suffering, death and resurrection.  The Father had given Peter the ability to confess, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But now, he and all of the disciples also needed to listen to what Jesus had to say about his mission. They needed to set aside their own ideas about how the Christ would work, and listen to Jesus who said that he would bring salvation and glory by means of suffering and death.

            The Father’s words, “Listen to him!” speak just as directly to us.  At the end of chapter sixteen, after rebuking Peter, Jesus went on to say, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  The way of sacrifice and suffering did not belong to Jesus alone.  It will be true for all who wish to follow him as his disciples. 

            To follow Jesus will set us on a path that is opposed to the world.  It will mean confessing that Jesus Christ alone is the truth, when the world says that is no such thing as truth.  It will mean living God’s will for marriage and sexuality, when the world opposes everything about it.  It will mean forgiving and loving, when the world knows only the way of power and payback.

            Yet the reason that we can do this is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus showed his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed. But he also told them that  on the third day he would be raised. Or as we hear in the last verse of our text: “And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.’”

            Jesus suffered and died to win forgiveness for us.  But on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  In our text today we see Jesus’ face shine like the sun and his clothes become white as light.  In the Transfiguration we see an anticipation of what awaits Jesus on the other side of the cross.  It is resurrection, and exaltation as Christ ascended and was seated at the right hand of God.

            Because you have been baptized into Christ, the same resurrection victory will be yours.  The ascended Lord will return.  In fact, at the end of chapter sixteen he has just said, “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father.” The risen and ascended Lord will return on the Last Day to raise us from the dead.  We may experience suffering and sacrifice now, but the Jesus is the Christ.  He suffered and died to take away your sin and make you a child of God.  He rose from the dead in order to conquer death. He will return to give us a share in his resurrection. And when he does, we will rejoice as see him in his glory.





Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord


Today is the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord.  On this day we remember and celebrate the visit by the magi.  In this event, God began to reveal the saving glory of Christ which is for all people. 


Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)

 Collect of the Day:

O  God, by the leading of a star You made known Your only-begotten Son to the Gentiles.  Lead us, who know You by faith, to enjoy in heaven the fullness of Your divine presence; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.




Sunday, January 3, 2021

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Christmas - Mt 2:13-23


                                                                                                Christmas 2

                                                                                                Mt 2:13-23



            Because of the way the church year works, we don’t have the Second Sunday after Christmas every year.  We begin our celebration of Christmas on Christmas Eve, and then the season of Christmas runs for twelve days. Next, the season of Epiphany begins on January 6 with the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord as we celebrate the visit by the magi. 

            Depending on how the dates fall in a year, there isn’t always a second Sunday that occurs after Christmas and before Epiphany.  However, I am always thankful when there is one, such as this year because the Gospel lesson assigned for this Sunday and its timing speaks directly to what Christmas means for us.

            In the world, Christmas has been long over.  The tree has been taken down and the decorations have been put away. Even the “second act” of the holiday season, New Year’s Eve and Day, have come and gone. And that means that the “holiday season” is finished. Christmas break ends for the kids as they head back to school this week. 

            All of the fun and celebrating that divert our attention are in the past. And that leaves back with our life in this world. It leaves us with the continuing disruptions of COVID – something that has affected life here at Good Shepherd very directly as our church secretary Sue tested positive this past week.  It leaves us with the other health issues that afflict our life – cancer, diabetes, and heart problems.  It leaves us with concerns about finances, about our job, and about how our children and other family members are doing. It leaves us in a world where sin, suffering and death are the realities that surround us every day.

            During the Christmas season we have focused upon the fact that Jesus, who was conceived by Holy Spirit, was born into this world.  Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth focuses on Joseph’s experience.  Joseph was ready to divorce Mary who had been betrothed to him, when it was discovered that she was already pregnant.

            However an angel appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  Joseph learned that this was no ordinary child.  And then Matthew adds, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

            The child to whom Mary gave birth was a human being, just like you.  But conceived by the Holy Spirit, he was also the Son of God – the Second Person of the Trinity.  As Isaiah had foretold, the virgin did conceive and bear a son. And in the miracle of the incarnation Jesus was indeed Immanuel – God with us.  He was God with us – God living in this world as one of us, while still also being true God. Yet we see in our text today that Immanuel – God with us – is also the presence of God in the midst of the sin, suffering and death that we experience in our lives. 

            Our text begins with a happy memory as it says, “Now when they had departed.” This is a reference to the unexpected visit by the magi who had come to give homage to the King of the Jews, and had brought expensive gifts. What a wonderful and exciting time this must have been for Mary and Joseph! 

            But God had warned the magi in a dream not to return to King Herod the Great. And then we learn in our text, “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.’”  An angel in a dream had told Joseph the wonderful news about who Jesus was and what he would. Now an angel in a dream delivers frightening news.

            The angel told Joseph to get up immediately in the middle of the night so that he could take Jesus and Mary, and flee to Egypt.  Herod had become aware of a potential threat to his rule, and Herod was a man who did not leave things to chance.  He was a man who had no problem killing his own children when they seemed to be a threat.  Now, he was seeking to kill Jesus.

            Many a Christmas card has contained a depiction of Joseph and the pregnant Mary on the way to Bethlehem.  This is a peaceful scene of God about to fulfill his promise to send the Christ – the Savior - into the world.  But in our text we hear about a very different journey.  It is one that begins with Joseph abruptly waking Mary, as they take Jesus and leave at night.  This journey is not about fulfilling the bureaucratic requirements of a great empire. Instead it is a flight to escape the murder of a child.

            On this Second Sunday of Christmas we continue to celebrate the incarnation of our Lord. We celebrate the fact that he is Immanuel – God with us.  But we see that he came to be God with us in the midst sin, suffering, and death.  At the age of barely two years old we find him homeless and on the run as his parents obey the angel’s command and take him to Egypt to escape Herod’s plans to kill him.

            We all experience times of doubt. When the diagnosis is cancer, or the treatments drag on with no certainty about their outcome, there is the temptation to wonder about whether God really cares.  When personal relationships in families seem always to be poisoned by anger and harsh words, we wonder about whether God is really with us.  When the circumstances of life bring challenges and difficulties we never saw coming, we can find ourselves doubting God’s love and care.

            Our text this morning shows us that God is with us – that he does love and care. We know this first, because God entered into our world in the incarnation as the Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  But more than that we see that Jesus Christ is God with us in the midst of sin, suffering and death.  Though without sin of his own, he came to live in this world and all its ugliness caused by sin.  He came to live in the midst of suffering and hardship – the same ones that we do.

            But Jesus Christ came as Immanuel to do more than just live in the midst of it and experience it. The Son was sent by the Father to do something about it.  After all, the angel said to Joseph that “he will save his people from their sins.”  And we see this in the fact that Joseph was told by the angel to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt.

            Practically speaking, the destination made a lot of sense.  Egypt was a Roman province, and it was outside of Herod’s jurisdiction.  It was far enough removed from Judea to be safe. And, there was a very large Jewish population in Egypt, so the family would find a welcoming setting.

            Herod’s murderous scheme may have been the reason for the flight to Egypt.  But the trip to Egypt was about more than just escaping to a safe place.  Matthew tells us, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” The words that Matthew says were fulfilled come from the prophet Hosea.  In the eleventh chapter he writes, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.”

            Hosea’s statement is a description of Israel’s past.  God had called Israel, his son out of Egypt. But the nation had proven to be unfaithful. Now God had sent Jesus the Christ to Egypt, so that in time he could be bring his Son out of Egypt once again. Yahweh had declared the nation of Israel to be his “son” in an adopted sense. He had then described the descendants of king David as his “son” – they were Israel reduced to one.  Now God was bringing his Son out of Egypt once again.  Jesus was the Christ – the Messiah.  He was the son who was the nation reduced to one. Yet he was also the Son of God, begotten from all eternity.

            In the prophet Isaiah, God called Israel his servant.  But Israel had failed in its mission to be the means by which God brought salvation to all – to be a light to the nations.  Now, God was acting through Jesus the Christ to be the true Israel -  to do what Israel could not.

            Jesus had come as Israel reduced to one to be the Servant of the Lord.  He came to be the Servant who fulfilled Isaiah’s words: But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”  Or as Jesus said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus died on the cross in order to win forgiveness for you.

            Yet he did more than that.  In our text today Mathew tells us about the flight to Egypt, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’”  Jesus fulfilled this word of Hosea.  Yet he also fulfilled another word from this prophet when he wrote in chapter six, “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”

            On the third day, God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. Through Jesus he defeated death, and began the resurrection life that will be ours on the Last Day.  God has shown us in Jesus that he not only cares and understands, but that he has acted to defeat Satan, sin and death.  This is the victory that he has given you in Holy Baptism as your sins were forgiven and the Holy Spirit made you a new creation in Christ.

            Until our Lord returns, we continue to live in a world of sin, suffering and death.  But we see in our text today that Jesus Christ is Immanuel – God with us.  He entered into this fallen world because God does love you; because God does care. Jesus understands our struggles and hardships because he has lived them just as we do.

            But he is also the One who has obtained the ultimate victory over sin and death.  And in order to sustain us in the faith during this pilgrimage through a fallen world, he continues to be Immanuel – God with us. He is with us in the Sacrament of the Altar.  For here we encounter not the two year child being taken to Egypt, but the risen and exalted Lord who is still true God and true man.  Here he gives us his true body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins.  Here he gives us food for the journey by which the Holy Spirit sustains and strengthens us in faith.  Our God is Immanuel, God with us now through the Sacrament. And in each celebration he points us forward to the time when he will be God with us in the glory of his return on the Last Day.