Sunday, December 31, 2023

Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas - Isa 11:1-5


Christmas 1

                                                                                      Isa 11:1-5



          I have always enjoyed the First Sunday after Christmas. The Sundays in Advent are such a busy time as all the preparations are made for Christmas.  There are presents to buy and events to attend.  There are travel plans to make and trips to take as we gather with family.

          That time builds to a crescendo on Christmas Eve as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  The nave is decorated with the Christmas tree and poinsettias.  We have the Christmas Eve candlelight service as the light of the candles pierces the darkness and we sing “Silent Night.”  The gifts that have been the object of so much attention are then opened that evening or the next morning.

          The First Sunday after Christmas is very different.  The hoopla of Christmas is over.  The guests have probably left, or we have returned home. The world is done with Christmas, but that is not so in the church.  Instead, our Christmas celebration continues.  This is a quiet time that focuses our attention on the baby Jesus and what he means to us.

          The First Sunday after Christmas was a quiet time for Mary.  The previous nine months had certainly been a whirlwind for her.  The angel Gabriel had announced to her that she would give birth to the Christ – the descendant of David promised by God.  He told her, “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.”

          Mary would give birth to the descendant promised to David.  She also learned that this child would be more than just a king.  Although she was a virgin, she would conceive and give birth because the Holy Spirit would come upon her.  For this reason, the child to be born would be called holy – the Son of God.

          Mary had learned that her relative Elizabeth had become pregnant as well.  Though barren and too old to have a child, Elizabeth had conceived.  When Mary visited, Elizabeth had been filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

          The Roman registration had forced Mary and Joseph to go south to Bethlehem at the worst possible time – just as Mary was due.  There she had to give birth to Jesus in a stable as she placed her newborn child in a manger.  Then as if the circumstances were not eventful enough, shepherds arrived who reported that an angel had announced to them that Jesus was the Savior.  He was Christ the Lord.

          All of that was now in the past.  It was not yet time for sacrifices to be offered for Mary’s purification after giving birth.  This was a quiet time after the birth of Jesus.  Her child had been acclaimed as the Son of God, the Savior and the Christ.  But Mary and Joseph remained nobodies.  Jesus was merely a helpless infant who depended on his mother.  There was nothing about him that was impressive.

          He certainly does not seem to be the fulfillment of our Old Testament lesson.  Isaiah speaks of what God is going to do in the future.  Writing in the eighth century B.C., the prophet addressed a time when Judah was threatened by Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel.  They wanted Judah to join them in an alliance against the threatening power of the Assyrians. But Judah had refused and so the two nations were going to attack it.

          Isaiah had told King Ahaz that Yahweh would protect Judah. He called him to trust in God as he said, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”  But Ahaz, who descended from King David, would not trust in God. Instead he set in motion his own plan as he asked the Assyrians for help.  It was a disastrous move as the Assyrians kept rolling south and conquered much of Judah – laying siege to Jerusalem itself.

          The line of David had been unfaithful.  It was powerless.  But in our text God promises a future descendant of David.  He says, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”  God promised that the Spirit of the Lord would rest upon this One.  He would delight in the fear of the Lord and judge his people righteously. God promised that he would rule in might as he said, “and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”

          The baby with Mary does not seem to be the fulfillment of these words.  There is nothing mighty about him.  He does not seem to be God powerfully at work.  Certainly, he is not God at work the way we want him to do so.  He is a disappointment.  And in this he seems to fit with the way we sometimes feel about God.  We look at the difficulties in our life and wonder where God is at. We want God to do something now.  We want God to act in might and power.  We want victory and vindication now.

          However, the appearances of the baby are deceiving. What we need is patience as God works through him.  What we need is faith in this One. 

Because Joseph has taken him as his son, Jesus is the shoot from the stump of Jesse.  Next Sunday we will celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord.  At that event the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus – he was anointed with the Spirit.  Because of this event, Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words: “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”

Jesus’ baptism will be the moment when he begins his ministry.  Endowed by the Spirit he will delight in the fear of the Lord.  His desire will be to carry out the work that God the Father has given him.  That work will seem surprising. This powerful figure who has received the Spirit did not come to judge. Instead, he came to be numbered with the transgressors.   He came as Paul says in our text “to redeem those who were under the Law.” 

The child held by Mary is the Christ.  The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him, and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.  Because he does, he will offer himself on the cross.  He will be the sacrifice that frees us from sin.  He will win us forgiveness and peace with God.

Good Friday did not look that way.  Christ died on the cross cursed by God.  It seemed that Jesus had failed in his work and that he had been completely rejected by the Father.  But then, through the work of the Spirit God raised Jesus from the dead.  God vindicated Christ as the One through whom he defeated death and began the resurrection of the Last Day. 

Because Jesus has risen from the dead, we can now see that his suffering and death was the saving work of God for us. As the risen Lord said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven and been exalted to the right had of the Father.  But the One who came in humility will return in might and power.  He is the One who will judge righteously as he declares the meek - all those who believe in him - to be justified.  On the Last Day he will “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”  He will destroy everyone and everything that has been opposed to him as he gives victory to his people.

He will give us a share in his resurrection as we live in the new creation.  Isaiah says immediately after our text, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.”

It would have been easy to be disappointed by the baby Jesus as we read Isaiah’s words.  However, we live as those who have seen how God worked through Jesus to fulfill them.  The One who was anointed by the Spirit died on the cross for us and then was raised by the Spirit.  He is the risen Lord who will return as he judges and gives us resurrection life.

When we feel that God is doing nothing – that he is not caring for us – Jesus Christ reminds us that appearances are deceiving.  What we need is patience as God works through him.  What we need is faith in this One.

God has revealed his love for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The One who was anointed by the Spirit and raised by the Spirit, has now poured forth the Spirit.  The Spirit always points us to Christ and sustains us in faith.  The Spirit strengthens our trust in God because of what we have seen him do in Jesus.  The Spirit helps us to have patience as we believe in Jesus Christ.  We know what God has done in Christ for us, and we know what he will yet do.

This First Sunday after Christmas is a quiet time.  It is a time that sets our attention upon the baby Jesus.  The child held by Mary does not look like the fulfillment of our text from Isaiah.  But God poured out his Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism, and acted through his death and resurrection to show that he is. God will act yet once more when Jesus Christ returns in glory to judge and bring the final peace.  

Because of Christ we can trust that God is at work in the present. We have seen in Jesus that appearances don’t tell the true story.  The God who has acted to give us forgiveness in Christ continues to give us his love in the present.  The Holy Spirit strengthens us in faith as we wait patiently on the Lord.      























Monday, December 25, 2023

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


Christmas Day

                                                                                      Ex 40:17-21, 34-38



          Amy’s flower hobby/business – or is it business/hobby, I am not exactly sure these days – has continued to grow.  She has had me add raised beds so that she can grow more flowers.  She has bought tools that she needs for working the flower beds.  The whole enterprise has reached the point where she needs a “she shed” – a dedicated barn building where she can store all of her flower stuff.

          However, with three kids in college, the barn will have to wait.  Finances don’t allow it right now.  So as a temporary measure, Amy ordered a small and rather inexpensive metal shed.  The shed arrived in a box and it was our job to assemble it.

          Building the shed was quite an experience.  Sometimes you do get what you paid for.  The plans for the shed were quite unclear.  The parts didn’t all fit exactly as they should.  The hot weather didn’t help as we struggled to build it.  In the end, everything turned out fine and the shed serves its purpose.  But it was not an experience I would want to repeat again.

          We learn from Exodus that Israel’s experience was completely different when they built the tabernacle.  The tabernacle was built from the best materials that had been donated by the people.  The plans for the tabernacle could not have been more certain because Yahweh himself provided the pattern for it.  And the builders were certainly more skilled since God filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God so that he had ability, knowledge, and craftsmanship for constructing the tabernacle.

          In our Old Testament lesson for Christmas we hear about the day when Moses set up the completed tabernacle for the first time.  God had commanded that the tabernacle should be made for  a reason.  He said, “And let them make me a tabernacle, that I may dwell in their midst.”  The tabernacle was to be the means by which God would dwell in the midst of his people.  Israel would not have to wonder where God was present for them.

          The pattern God had given described not only the tabernacle itself, but also all of its furnishings.  Most important among these was the ark of the covenant, and its cover, the mercy seat.  Moses set up the tabernacle and placed the ark of the covenant inside the rear third of the tabernacle that was set off by a curtain.

          Next we learn, “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.” 

          God had said that the tabernacle would be the means by which he would dwell in the midst of his people.  When the tabernacle was set up, he demonstrated the truth of this.  A cloud filled the tabernacle as the glory of Yahweh filled the structure. This glory was the perceptible presence of God. And because of God’s presence, Moses was not able to enter it.

          Even after the priests were able to enter the tabernacle, it would continue to be the place of God’s presence.  The cover – the mercy seat with its overarching cherubim – was described as God’s throne.  Enthroned upon the cherubim in the Holy of Holies, God was present in the midst of Israel.  The tabernacle itself was set in the very center of the camp, and so Yahweh was literally in the midst of the nation. God had given his located presence in the midst of his people.

          God’s action in the Old Testament pointed forward to what he would do in Jesus Christ.  It is therefore not surprising that the central feature of Israel’s religious life finds its fulfillment in the Lord.  John makes this clear in the Gospel lesson for today.

          He begins the Gospel by saying, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” With the language of “the Word” the evangelist refers to the Son of  God.  We learn that the Son is God, just as the Father is. He is the creator of all things.

          Yet then John adds, “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.”  He announces that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  The Son of God became man. 

In order to describe this John uses the language of the tabernacle since the Greek verb used here is based on the same root that is used to translate the word tabernacle.  Along with this he employs the word “glory,” just as we hear about the glory of Yahweh in our text.  John is telling us that all that had been true of the tabernacle is now fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

The tabernacle had been the located presence of God in the midst of the people.  This role was later taken on by the temple as the ark of the covenant was placed in a permanent structure. But at Christmas, the fulfillment of the tabernacle entered into the world.  God’s located presence was found now not in a structure but in the flesh of the baby in Bethlehem.  God demonstrated that he truly is Immanuel – God with us – for in Jesus Christ we meet the incarnate Son of God.

The tabernacle pointed forward to what God did at Christmas as the Son of God became flesh – as God became man.  Yet it also prefigured the reason that Christ was present in the world.  The tabernacle was the location where the Old Testament sacrifices were offered.  In particular it was the place where the sin offering was made.  Through this means God provided forgiveness.

God dwelt in midst of his people by means of the tabernacle. However, Israel was a sinful people.  The presence of their sin was like a contagion that infected the tabernacle.  The people’s sin and the holy God could not permanently dwell together.  So once a year the high priest entered the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement.  He sprinkled the blood of a sacrifice on the cover of the ark – on the mercy seat.  In this way the impurity of Israel’s sin was removed so that the holy God could continue to dwell in the midst of Israel.

Like Israel, we are a sinful people.  Because of our sin, we cannot dwell with the holy God.  Paul told the Colossians, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”  Our sin evokes God’s wrath.  It brings God’s judgment.

The Son of God became flesh in order to remove this sin and rescue us from judgment.  He became man so that he could be nailed to a cross.  He came to be the sacrifice for our sin.  St. Paul used language related to the mercy seat when he said, 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 Son of God became man in order to offer himself as the sacrifice for sin and win us forgiveness. But that was not the end of his saving work. He also entered into the world to free us from death. The dead body of the incarnate One was placed in a tomb.  Then on the third day, God raised him from the dead.  He rose with a body transformed so that it can never die again.  In Jesus Christ, God has begun the resurrection of the Last Day and we will share in that resurrection when he returns in glory.

We now wait the return of the risen and ascended Lord. Yet in the incarnation God has shown us how he continues to work.  The God who acted in the located means of the flesh of Christ continues to use located means in our midst. He does this through his Sacraments.

Through water and the word of Baptism we have shared in the death of Christ.  We were baptized into his death – we were buried with him – and so we are forgiven. God has given us something in which we can believe – something we can hang onto. He gives us baptism as the object of faith – faith that trusts his promise attached to water.

And in the Sacrament of the Altar our Lord continues to locate himself in our midst.  The One who became true God and true man works the miracle of giving us his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.  He comes to us as he delivers the forgiveness that he won on the cross.

Today we hear how the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle when Moses set it up.  God located himself in the midst of his people, and the tabernacle became the place where sacrifices were offered to God.  God acted in this way because it pointed forward to what he did at Christmas.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us as the Son of God became man without ceasing to be God.  He entered our world to be the sacrifice for our sin.  Now the risen Lord continues to give us forgiveness through means that are located in our midst.  He deals with our whole person – body and soul – as we look forward to the final victory of the resurrection. 








Sunday, December 24, 2023

Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Eve - Tit 2:11-14


Christmas Eve

                                                                                      Tit 2:11-14



          What time is it?  That’s the question Paul wants us to ask. That’s the key truth he wants us to recognize.  On the one hand, the apostle is very clear about the time in which we live.  He describes in our text how we should live in “in the present age” – more literally, “the now age.”  This now age has a very specific character.  It is something that Paul in Galatians calls “the present evil age.”

          Biblical thought recognizes that the world as we know it is an age ruled by Satan, sin, and death.  It has been since the fall of Adam.  Now of course, that’s not the way the world views itself.  It thinks everything is great.  People think they have the right to believe whatever they want.  They think they have the right to do whatever they want. They can choose to be “spiritual” but not religious as they create their own god.  They can live in agnosticism – as they just choose not to deal with the ultimate questions.  They can use sexuality however they wish and celebrate this fact.

          That’s exactly what the god of this age wants.  This is the life that is alienated from God and leads to judgment.  It is a life of sin which brings harm as it ignores the ordering God has given to his creation.  It is a life that ends in death for all people because that is the result of sin.

          What time is it?  Paul says in our text that it is the time when God has acted in a dramatic way to rescue us from the now age.  He begins our text by saying, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”  The grace of God is the unmerited love and favor of God.  This is what was revealed when he sent his Son into the world.

          Tonight we begin to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  We celebrate the birth of the child in Bethlehem.  Yet Paul wants us to know that this is an event of cosmic significance.  It is the arrival of the new age that frees us from Satan, sin, and death.

          Make no mistake. We too belonged to the now age.  Paul says in the next chapter, “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.”  We were sinners for whom the devil was Lord.

          But at Christmas, God himself entered our world in the person of his Son.  Paul told the Galatians, But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman.”  From the Gospels we learn that the virgin Mary conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit.  She carried in her womb the One who was true God and true man.  Then on Christmas Eve she gave birth to Jesus Christ.  The grace of God appeared which brings salvation to all people.

          Jesus brings salvation because of what he had come into the world to do.  Paul says in our text that Jesus is the One “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession.”  The Son of God entered into the world with a purpose.  He came to redeem us. He came to free us from the slavery of sin. 

          But in order to do this, Christ gave himself into death on the cross. There he died for us – in our place.  Paul explained it this way to the Corinthians: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Jesus Christ had no sin of his own.  But he took our sin – he became sin for us – as he received God’s judgment in our place.

          God condemned sin in the flesh of Christ.  Sin brings death – it has since the sin of Adam.  And so to rescue us from the now age that is ruled by death, God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day.  Paul told the Corinthians, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”  Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of our resurrection.  It is the guarantee that death has been defeated and we will share in this victory.

          God did this for us in Christ.  And then he applied this saving work to us.  In the next chapter Paul says, “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.”  In the water of Holy Baptism God gave us regeneration. He gave us new life and made us his children.

          Paul told the Galatians that Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.”  Through the baby born in Bethlehem “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”  God has rescued us and made us the people of his own possession.

          What time is it?  It is the time when God has acted dramatically to save us.  But when you look around, you will see that the now age is still quite present.  There are wars in Ukraine, Israel, and other parts of the world.  The murder of the unborn continues, as in our area another abortion facility just opened in Carbondale.  We struggle with the presence of sin in our own lives and it often gets the upper hand.

          God’s reign has arrived in Jesus Christ.  And still, there is a not yet character to what we experience.  The new age has broken into the old, but the old is not yet gone.  There is an overlap of the ages.  We live in a time that is characterized by the now and the not yet.

          In our text, Paul tells us the good news that it will not always be this way.  He says that we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  The risen Lord ascended into heaven and was exalted to God’s right hand.  Our blessed hope is that he will return in glory on the Last Day.

Tonight we celebrate the humble birth of Jesus as he entered into the world.  We think of him as the cute baby in a manger scene.  But there will be nothing humble or cute about our Lord when he returns.  He will return as the almighty Lord.  He will raise the dead and transform our bodies to be like his own.  He will pronounce the final judgment as he strikes the “spiritual” and “agnostic” with the fact that there is one truth, and he is it.  All people will have to confess that Jesus is Lord as he welcomes those who have believed in him into eternal fellowship with God in the new creation.

We live as people who have been rescued from the present evil age.  We are a people of God’s own possession.  Yet for fo the present, we are also still living in the now age. We face the battle against Satan and sin.  Our Lord is ascended, but he has not left us alone.  Instead, he has given us gifts by which he is present with us giving forgiveness and strengthening us in the faith.

The words of Scripture are not just words. They are the Spirit breathed revelation from God. They are the means by which the Holy Spirit continues to come to us in the present.  Through them we receive the Gospel as he gives us the forgiveness of sins.   Through this gift he nurtures faith and sustains us.

In a few moments we will celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar.  Here, Jesus Christ comes into our midst as he gives us his true body and blood to eat and to drink.  He gives us his body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.  Through this food he nourishes us so that we can walk by faith in this world.

It is easy for the world to ignore and reject these gifts. Yet that is the nature of how God works until the Last Day.  The baby in the manger did not look impressive.  Yet he was the Son of God in this world as God’s reign invaded the now age.  The man on the cross did not look powerful.  Yet that was God’s dramatic action to break sin’s power.  These gifts – these Means of Grace – are Christ bringing his saving reign to us. They give the forgiveness won on the cross and sustain us in faith.

God has rescued us from the now age.  He has made us his own.  And he keeps us in the faith so that we can live in ways that reflect what he has done for us.  Paul says in our text, For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.”  Or as Paul adds at the end of our text, Jesus “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.”

These good works are not self-chosen.  Instead, God has placed you in callings in life – in vocations – where you carry them out.  Husbands and wives are to love, support, and sacrifice for one another.  Parents are to raise their children in the faith as they share the Scriptures at home and bring the family to the Divine Service each Sunday. Children are to obey their parents and to give thanks for all the ways they provide for them.  Employees are to do their work as unto the Lord and not unto men.  Employers are to be fair and honest at all times.  Above all, we forgive others in every setting, just as God has forgiven us in Christ Jesus. This is how we live in the now age because of Jesus Christ.

Tonight we celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus.  As we do, Paul tells us what time it is.  It is the time when “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”  Through the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, God has rescued us from the present evil age.  He has given us forgiveness and life. He has made us a people of his own possession.

Through his gifts of the Means of Grace our Lord sustains us in the faith.  He does this so that we can live in this fallen world.  Because of what Jesus has done for us, we “live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,

waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”