Merry Christmas!

                      Merry Christmas!

                      Merry Christmas!

Grace and mercy to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ.

As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.”

The sentimental family Christmas is a double-edged sword. For there are those who are absent from the family, whether by distance, death, divorce, or defiance. Christmas dinner can be wonderful, except for those who have no one with whom to share it. Christmas presents are eagerly anticipated, except they lead many to use money irresponsibly, and teach children to focus on a Santa instead of a Savior. And all of these things expose the very things the sentimental family Christmas seeks to cover up – our families are touched by loss, conflict, and division; many are at their core quite lonely; and we seek a balm for our woes in food and drink, pleasures and possessions. Yet we are left with an emptiness that is not filled by those things we thought would make life wonderful, or at least tolerable.

So if those things that we thought would make this a “December to remember” are finally bankrupt—and threaten to bankrupt us both economically and spiritually—what then is Holy Christmas truly about? Simply this: God the Father  had issued a sentence of death for our race. Yet the “Son heard this judgment, and, laying aside His royal diadem, He went forth, sprinkled ashes upon His head, clothed Himself in sackcloth, bared His feet, and mourned and wept over the condemnation of His poor slave” [Bernard of Clairvaux]. This is the meaning of the incarnation. This is why we gather on Holy Christmas. Not because the Baby Jesus is adorable on account of His cuteness. He is adored because He became a penitent for us, was baptized for us, was hungry for us, had nowhere to lay His head for us, was tempted for us, was taunted for us, was wounded for us, was slain for us. The Prince became a slave, so that we who were slaves to sin and death could be liberated from this bondage.

Seeing such a magnificent exchange, how can I not be filled with shame and sorrow, knowing that it was my rebellion that caused the incarnate Lord to suffer so? How can I continue in sin, when I see what a remedy my sin necessitated? But how can I not also be filled with joy, seeing the extent of God’s love and favor? Would that, as the Word became flesh, so He would also remove my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, a clean heart and a right spirit, to walk the rest of my days here in righteousness and purity, no longer captivated by the darkness but receiving Him who comes to me!

He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” Not only was there no room for Him in the inn, we must admit that there has been often no room for Him in our hearts and lives. For we too have loved the darkness more than the light. We would rather make excuses than repent. We would rather hold grudges than forgive. We would rather resent what others have than be thankful for what God has given us. We have not taken up our cross and followed Him, but we have done what was right in our own eyes.

We deserve only punishment, yet He comes to shower us with gifts!

He deserves only goodness, yet He endures vile abuse for our sakes!

Amazing! The Word becomes flesh not to speak words of retribution but words of pardon. Adam said to the Lord, “I heard Your voice … and I was afraid … and I hid myself.”Thus the Word comes among men as a helpless infant, humble, showing us that He wishes not to terrify but console. The presence of the Lord brings terror, so the Angel of the Lord immediately declares, “Fear not!”

Removing our fear, the Holy Church this joyous day rejoices at how greatly the Word has dignified our nature. For in becoming flesh, He became One of us, while retaining completely His divinity. Had God not become man, our human nature would not have received the remedy that only the divine nature can give. Thus St. Peter says that God has “given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature” [2 Pt. 1.4]. He who filled the tabernacle of old with the Glory of His presence, He who has tabernacled among men in the Word made flesh, has made you a tabernacle, a temple of the Holy Spirit by Holy Baptism. What place does the devil have in you, then? Therefore put off the old man and his lusts. Unto us a Child is born, and you have been made children of God, not through blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man – but born of God.

On this joyous morning, God becomes Man so that God, as a Man, might die for men.

This joyous morning, God becomes Man so that man might be made like God.

This joyous morning, God makes us glad by the gift of His life.

This joyous morning, God makes us glad by destroying death, and the fear of death which so long has held us in bondage.

This joyous morning, God makes us glad by the costly sacrifice the infant Jesus comes to offer – costly, yet given to us freely.

O Christian, receive the sacrifice He offered for you! For “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.” Receive the Word made flesh for you. Receive the flesh He gives to you. On this joyous morning, the incarnation happens again in our midst. For in the Supper He instituted, we still behold His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


Commemoration of St. Andrew

John 1:35-42

November 30, 2016

Grace and mercy to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This Advent season, while we prepare for Jesus to come on Christmas day, it is ok to remember the saints who have gone before us. Tonight is appointed the commemoration, the remembrance, of the Apostle Andrew.

What does the Lord tell us about Andrew. The Lord tells us that Andrew studied the Holy Scriptures under John the Baptist. The Lord also tells us that Andrew answered Jesus' call to study the Holy Scriptures under Jesus Himself. Andrew answered the Lord's call. Only then did Andrew go find his older brother Peter and told Peter that, “We have found the Christ!” And for this last tidbit Apostle Andrew is often called the first Christian evangelist.

Tonight, let us not focus on the abuse of evangelism but rather focus on the Apostle Andrew's faith in The Evangelist, Jesus Christ.

When Jesus told Andrew to “Come and see where Jesus was staying”, Andrew came. Andrew was faithful. When Jesus spent the day with Andrew, Andrew listened to Jesus. When Jesus taught the Holy Scriptures, Andrew believed Jesus to be the Christ. One fruit of Andrew's time with Jesus was then to go and tell his brother Peter.

Tonight, I encourage you to be like St. Andrew. Spend time with Jesus. Maybe, make an effort to attend services a little more often. Maybe, attend a Bible study on Sunday or Wednesday. Maybe read the Holy Scriptures a little more. The promises are for you and your children. And Jesus did not come to be served by you but to serve you, being your ransom from bad fruit. And maybe, The Evangelist – Jesus, will grow and ripen some more fruit in you. The Evangelist – Jesus may grow and ripen the same fruit in you as He did in Andrew and you may invite someone to come and see Jesus in this place. Or The Evangelist - Jesus might produce and ripen one of the other fruits for you, fruit such love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The Evangelist of the Church - Jesus is blessing many by teaching the Holy Scriptures, washing sinners in His Holy Baptism, and feeding the same with His very body and blood.

A fascinating account is recorded in extra-Biblical sources about Andrew. The account is that the Apostle Andrew was crucified for preaching the Gospel on an X-shaped cross. X-shaped because Andrew said he was unworthy to die like Jesus. And when the Apostle Andrew was still living after three days on that cross, his hearers wanted to take Andrew down by force against the government authorities, but Andrew persuaded otherwise saying, “Ah, let God take care of it!” To die like the Apostle Andrew might be a prayer we could all ask our Creator Father. Andrew is an example of what it means to “leave everything and follow Christ,” all the way to the last catch of fish.

Tonight, we give thanks for the Apostle Andrew and I encourage you to learn from Andrew to remain in Jesus by being served by Jesus through His Divine Service and and not strive to serve Jesus. For Jesus did not come to be served but to serve you by growing and ripening more fruit of the Holy Spirit for you. This Jesus died for you and promises to you that even should you die a not so wonderful death, He will “never leave you nor forsake you”; in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The First Sunday in Advent

The First Sunday in Advent

November 28, 2016

St. Matthew 21:1-9

Monday Night Service

It's beginning to look a lot like...Holy Week! Palm Sunday? Wait a minute! This is Advent. We're supposed to be getting ready for Christmas. The lights and trees are up and the music is blaring in the stores. Why is it when the new Church Year begins, we suddenly hear about Palm Sunday? About Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? What does that have to do with Christmas? This Palm Sunday Gospel we hear at the beginning of the new Church Year is great! It reminds us that we are waiting for the coming of our Savior. Not a holiday. Not a sale at the store. Not a party or a feast, although all those things aren't bad in themselves. But in the midst of the world's desire to rush into a big celebration of buying stuff, the Church is reminded that what we are waiting for, what God's people have always been waiting for, is our Savior. In the Old Testament times, God's people were waiting for their Savior to come and save them. Jesus has done that! Now, God's people are waiting for Him to come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and bring His kingdom which has no end.

But here's our Advent repentance. We don't live as if Jesus is coming. We don't live as if our Lord will return. We don't live as if the Lord Himself is our righteousness. We live as if the world revolves around us. We live as if we don't need saving. Husbands and wives treat each other like the Lord isn't coming back and won't see how they treat each other. Kids and parents live as if Jesus isn't coming back and can't see how they are too harsh or disrespectful. We live with our secret sins as if we need to please only ourselves and do whatever we want because we need to be getting' while the gettin's good! We live not only as if Jesus hasn't come in the first place and died on the cross; we live as if He's not going to show up on the Last Day ever either! Just as the children of Israel for years and years didn't see their Savior yet and so drifted off to worship other gods, turning away from the Lord's Word. We do the same thing, getting excited for Jesus for a few minutes and then turning back to the more exciting things we are piling up for ourselves on earth. And even the hype of the holidays can't save us. Just think about all those people who were shouting “hosannas” for Jesus on Palm Sunday and then shouting to have Him crucified a few days later! We can clean up our act and get all pious for the holidays, but our sins haven't gone anywhere. Repent of this and confess that this is why we need Jesus to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.

We need Jesus' Advent, His showing up to save us. Unless He comes into Jerusalem and goes to the cross, the celebrations of Christmas will be just another party and we'll be doomed. But because He goes to the cross, our sins are blotted out and washed away. Jesus has two Advents you know. There is His First Advent when He came into this world in the flesh. In that Advent He came to do the work of saving us. To do the work of being a man, living under the Law and getting crucified and dying as if He were the sinner. The only sinner! No matter how peaceful and Silent Night-ish this holiday season is, the First Sunday in Advent reminds us that Jesus came to do this one thing: Be our Savior by dying for us. But the Lord has another Advent. A Second Coming. And that will be on the Last Day. As we heard at the end of the Church Year, no one knows that day or hour but it's coming. But understand this: Because of Christ's First Advent, His Second Advent is not to be feared. He will come again to judge the living and the dead but for those in Him, this is not a scary thing! When Christ comes again, He won't be coming to pay you back for your sins! They're already paid for! He's already paid the price! Your sins are forgiven. And they will still be forgiven and paid for and gone on the Last Day! So when Jesus comes we sing our hosannas and our praises because we know he is coming to save us once and for all for eternity!

So what then between His First Advent and His Second Advent? Christ didn't disappear after He ascended and it's not that He won't be around again until the Last Day. No, He has Advents everywhere His church is gathered around His Word and Sacraments. Where Christ's Word is preached, there Jesus Himself comes. Where people are baptized, there Christ comes. Where pastors are absolving sinners, there Christ comes. Where Christ's Words are spoken, He comes to us in His body and blood. Jesus doesn't just show up at Christmas and then in the future some time. He shows up now. Here He is! Right here among us! That's why we sing the Palm Sunday song right before the Sacrament in the service: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” Until He comes again, we turn from our sins and cling to the Christ who DOES come again, right here in His church in water, word and body and blood! And He comes in His church to do the same thing He always comes to do: save us from our sins. Bestow His forgiveness, life and salvation upon us. Rescue us from death and the Devil. By Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, the Holy Gospel and the Holy Supper, the Lord is YOUR righteousness against all sin and death!

So for the world it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. For Christians, it's looking like Christ crucified and risen, as it always does. Sure, we're getting ready to celebrate the holy day of Christ's birth. But we never forget that His coming was for our salvation. His First Advent in the flesh was to go to the cross for us. His many advents in His church through Word and Sacrament are to deliver that forgiveness to us. And His final Advent in glory is to save us once and for all and give us eternal life. So what else is there to do but to rejoice that the Branch of David's line has come and will come again. We sing with the saints of all the ages, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” In the Name of Jesus. Amen.