Tuesday, December 25, 2012

LSB Christmas Day Sermon - John 1:1-18

December 25, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

We often talk about the mystery of Christmas. Usually it has something to do with changes in people’s behavior or unexpected acts of generosity. Think of the way Charles Dickens writes of Ebenezer Scrooge’s turning from selfish miser to charitable donor. But when the first chapter of John’s Gospel is read, the true Christmas mystery is noted: God becomes man and dwells with us. The Gospel Writer summarizes this major theme of Christmas Day, the Festival of Our Lord’s Nativity: “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 mystery of Christmas is Christ’s incarnation.

It isn’t left to your logic to understand what John describes in these words, only to receive and believe the message given. Essentially, there are three items of great importance that the Gospel Writer outlines in his prologue, this extended doxology that begins his account of Jesus’ life and work. First: the Word is God of eternal origin and causes creation to exist. Second: that same Word takes on flesh, becomes truly human, and lives here on earth. Third: that Incarnate Word has a mission, a purpose to achieve. This third item of importance makes Christmas Day significant to you. But that could not be the case without the other two being true. So set your minds on each of these statements that John makes about Jesus.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” John wants all to know exactly of whom he is speaking with this statement. He gives a full description of the Eternal Word. There is no doubt that the Word is divine. John is clear that this Word was not only with God or in some way equal to God, but that He is God Himself. This Word existed at the beginning of creation. He was there at the genesis of the universe.

But then John adds that important detail to the description: “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” In these words the Gospel Writer notes that the Word was at the beginning of all things. But he also tells something more that is true about the Word: the Word was the prime cause of all things. Nothing exists that hasn’t been made by Him. The Word speaks and creation comes into being. He is the means of creation, the One who is the origin of life itself. This is what the author of Hebrews also made known in today’s Epistle Reading: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.”

The Word is God Himself who creates and sustains. This is most important, because of what the Word would do. All things were made by Him, but the world that He created needed redemption. All creation has been affected by Adam’s sin and the death that entered through it. Everything that the Word had brought into existence was tainted. And so it was left to Him—the only One with the ability to do so—to redeem what He had first perfectly created.

But how would the Word accomplish this? How would He bring life to a world affected by sin and death? John tells us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Redemption of the world required the world’s Creator to become part of it. The Lord who had formed the first man out of the dust takes on the same human flesh in order to redeem humanity. “The Word becomes incarnate,” the Christmas hymns say. You led off the service singing about Him: “Son of the Father now in flesh appearing!”

That is what this morning celebrates. Christmas is wrapped up in the mysterious event of that incarnation. There is great joy because of the great privilege that has been extended to you, even in the midst of your sin and your corruption. The Lord humbles Himself to be just like you. He limits Himself to a human frame, even the body of an infant, to be born. It’s what an ancient hymn of the Church praises with these words: “When You took upon Yourself to deliver man, You humbled Yourself to be born of a virgin.” It’s what Church custom traditionally honors by kneeling or deeply bowing during the Nicene Creed when the phrase about the Son of God’s incarnation is confessed: “And became man.”

And yet, John includes another statement of great importance. The mystery of God-becoming-flesh is astounding. That the Creator would become a creature is miraculous. But it is all for no benefit for you if the action is simply for demonstrating that ability. The miracles of Christ are of little benefit to anyone if used for entertainment value. But as mentioned before, the Lord’s choosing to enter the world has a greater purpose: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Centuries ago, one of the great teachers of the Church named Athanasius wrote: “What God assumed, that He redeemed.” So it is with Christ’s incarnation: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He assumed human nature and made it His own in order to redeem you. This Infant Jesus, whose birth you celebrate, is God-become-man, so that humanity can be saved. Creation is redeemed by the Creator becoming a creature. That is the mystery of Christmas.

The Word becomes incarnate, so that you are saved. You heard in the Epistle Reading for this morning what He accomplished for you: “After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name He has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” Redemption is given to you. The purification for sins required the offering of what was truly pure and holy. And so the death of God Himself—the Word that became flesh—has taken place, so that in His resurrection you may have life. What God assumed, He redeemed. To all who receive Him and His work is given the grand privilege of being made children of God. The Child who was born in Bethlehem grants you the power to become the Eternal Father’s children. And if you are children, you are also granted His inheritance. And what greater treasure does the Eternal Father have to give to you than life everlasting?

That is what makes Christmas significant for us. It is all about the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. So you have been told exactly who your Redeemer is: the Word who is God Himself, who created life, who took upon Himself humanity, and who perfectly achieves the goal of salvation for His people.

Remember again what the author of the Hebrews says: “After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….” There is something great hidden in that statement that gives Christmas one more added dimension. The same human flesh that the Word assumed and made His own He has also taken into heaven. And so it will be for you. What you inherit as the children of God is not just everlasting life, but a restored life in a restored Paradise. So wherever you view Jesus living in the flesh, you can see yourselves—even that you will eternally stand in the presence of God the Father.

So much is contained in this prologue of John’s Gospel that you heard this Christmas morning. The true mystery of Christmas is deep and inexhaustible, not even containable by all author’s books. God Himself takes on human flesh and gives you the right to be His children! Every time you explore this passage, you see more and more that is promised to you, more and more that is revealed about your Redeemer.

Once again, from this morning through Pentecost, you will begin to hear about the life of the Word-become-flesh that dwelt among us in this sinful world in order to bring salvation to it: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” May you hear what your God is like, as the Gospel is once again proclaimed in your midst: “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.” His glory is displayed for you, so that you may receive the grace and truth that makes you the children of God. That is the good news of a great and profound joy for you on this Christmas Day.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

LSB Advent 4 Sermon - Luke 1:39-56

December 23, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Elizabeth’s words reveal a blessedness that Mary possesses. She speaks of Mary’s unique status: “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she 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? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’” Elizabeth’s guest is different. She is the bearer of the Lord, the mother of God.  And that is nearly too much for the human mind to take in.

But such complete mind-blowing marks the Lord’s actions through time. The pair of women in today’s Gospel Reading are two in a long line of people who have witnessed and experienced the way that He works: Elizabeth who was called barren is now with child in her old age; Mary who knows no man is now found carrying the Son of God in her womb. As the Lord makes promises and fulfills them, the events are not usually what people would expect or devise. This is how He operates. It’s what He does.

Today you heard one of the promises concerning the arrival of the Messiah. Hear it again, but think on how the unexpected is what the Lord chooses to do: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days…. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.” The Lord promises to raise up a ruler for His people. But that ruler will not come from the chief cities of Israel; he will come from a rural town where sheep outnumber people. Yet this ruler will exercise all of the Lord’s strength; he will possess the Lord’s majesty. From among the shepherds’ staffs is raised a scepter that will stretch to the ends of the earth.

How the Lord chooses to bring forth His Messiah is consistent with how He had chosen those who were part of the lineage. Abraham is taken out of his homeland and made into a great nation. Though he is the younger son, Jacob is made a patriarch of the people. From Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, comes the royal line of Israel. David, the youngest son of Jesse, is anointed king. The Messianic Line includes the faithful and impious, wealthy and poor, heroes and rogues, powerful and weak. But this is how the Lord brings forth an eternal ruler for His people.

As Elizabeth notes the unique status of Mary and her own privilege to welcome the mother of her Lord into her home, her words express what makes her visitor blessed. Hear again how Elizabeth speaks of Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! … And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary’s blessedness is wrapped up in the Child that she bears. Because she is carrying the Son of God within her, she is blessed. Because she believed what the angel Gabriel announced to her, Mary is blessed. Through that action, Mary is granted her status. It does not originate in her; it is bestowed to her by the Lord.

Mary’s response of praise testifies to that fact: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” She knows that her life has been turned upside down and inside out. Mary recognizes that she has been given a divine privilege that none else will have. Through the Lord’s actions, she has been brought into the Messianic Line. Because of the Ruler who is brought forth from her, Mary is elevated from being an insignificant young woman among the clans of Israel to a figure that will be called blessed by all generations.

But the Scripture readings do not simply tell you about one person who had mighty things done for her. No, they reveal to you how the Lord has acted for your benefit. The blessed fruit of Mary’s womb is the Ruler promised to come from Bethlehem. Your Good Shepherd who exercises the Lord’s strength and carries the Lord’s majesty is born in the city of David. You will hear the good news of a great joy for all people again tomorrow evening on Christmas Eve. That good news is that the Messiah causes you dwell secure; you have Him as your peace. This is the Child that Mary bore, that John welcomed by leaping in his mother’s womb, that Elizabeth praises even before His birth. By Him mighty acts are performed for you, the acts that bring you redemption and salvation.

You are the recipients of the Lord’s actions. They are needed, since you have much that plagues you. You are born in imperfection, born of sinful fathers who pass along the unwanted inheritance of sinfulness from generation to generation. From this stems all manner of problems, including your own desire to be independent and under no one’s rule. You would rather not have a shepherd who prods and leads you with rod and staff. You ignore the Lord’s Law and its instruction, following your own ways, wandering like sheep.

But on the Messiah has been laid the iniquity of all. Not only is He the Shepherd of His people, He is also their sacrificial lamb who takes away the sin of the world. This is the identity of the Son that Mary bears, the fruit of her womb. So you heard in the apostolic writing: “When [Christ] said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings’ (these are offered according to the Law), then He added, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will.’ He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

The voluntary offering of the Son of God, eternal life brought through death of the Messiah—this is how the Lord has dealt with you. It is how He answers the cries of His people: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your might and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let Your face shine, that we may be saved!” The Lord’s actions are not what you would expect or devise. But this is how He operates. He does bring the remedy for your sin, for your guilt, for your imperfection, for what afflicts you. It is given through His Messiah who becomes your peace as the division between the righteous God and unrighteous world is bridged, as atonement and reconciliation are made by Him.

This is what Mary makes known to you through her song of praise for the Lord’s acts. Not only does she testify about what He had done for her, she bears witness to what is yours because of it: “His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and His offspring forever.” The acts of salvation done by the Messiah brought forth from Mary in Bethlehem are performed for you. This is how the Lord displays His mercy to you. He makes gracious promises and fulfills them in His ways.

So you are meant to benefit from what the Lord has done. You are to be given a blessed status. You are to be sanctified and made holy through the Messiah’s offering. And it will be so as you act as Mary and Elizabeth and the others throughout the history of the Lord’s people. The Lord’s mercy is for you, as you fear Him, as you recognize Him as your God, as you acknowledge Him as the ruler of all things. His mercy is displayed to you through the Messiah’s work, the fulfilling of what was divinely promised. You are filled with the good things of His forgiveness, life, and salvation. You are helped and delivered. You are exalted from being separated from the Lord to being the people of His household.

Though the Messianic Line has all its unexpected twists and turns, it has come to its completion in the fruit of Mary’s womb. Though not all that the Messiah does is what you would have devised, it is what the Lord has declared to be His gracious will for your benefit. Though the ways that the Messiah brings His salvation to you—listening to Gospel words spoken, undergoing baptism, hearing absolution, eating supper—stand out as a bit peculiar, it is yours as you trust and receive them. So from what has been done by the Messiah, a privileged status is given to you. Blessed are you who believe that there will be a fulfillment of what has been spoken to you from the Lord.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Advent 3 Midweek Sermon - Luke 1:26-38

December 19, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.

The heart of darkness had fallen over Israel and Judah. Assyria was beginning its conquest of the Northern Kingdom. Judah had fallen into rank idolatry and paganism, which would lead to its own exile. Judah’s king, Ahaz, had allied himself with Assyria. Judah took up arms against Syria and Israel. Ahaz adopted the worship practices of the nations around him, even having taking the Lord’s altar out of its prominent spot in the Temple and putting a new altar patterned after one in Damascus in its place. The priests were complicit with Ahaz’s plan.

But in the midst of this darkness, the Lord sends his prophet Isaiah. He comes with a great promise: “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills, and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’” The Lord sends a message that Judah will be delivered, will be saved. That is, if they place their trust in Him.

So Ahaz is instructed to ask for a sign, a proof of this pledge that the Lord makes: “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz will not do so. He feigns piety: “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” But the real reason that he cannot ask a sign of the Lord is that his heart is darkened by idolatry and false belief. He does not have the Lord as his god. So Ahaz will not follow the instruction that comes from Him.

But the promise still stands. The Lord will fulfill what His words declared. And so Isaiah tells all to listen and believe: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The Lord will not be left ignored and forgotten. He will not be cast aside forever, not even by Judah’s kings. No, He will make Himself known as supreme: “For out of Zion shall go the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

And so the actions in Nazareth take place. The announcement is made to a virgin betrothed to a descendant of David: “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.” Here the promise is fulfilled. Here the Immanuel—“God with us”—is seen. The gracious visitation of the Lord takes place to lighten darkened hearts. Here is the beginning of a new era.

A new rule is established. It is enacted as the Lord speaks. He teaches His ways, so that you can walk in them. He is present with you to illumine your hearts and minds, so that you know what is good and right. His word goes out and calls you to belief. It promises a place in His kingdom for you. He speaks powerfully, yet graciously, so that your sins are forgiven. His salvation is near to all who fear Him.

This is what the Messiah conceived in the Virgin’s womb brings to you in this world of idolatry and false belief. The darkness of sin and death is all around. But the Word that becomes flesh begins to dispel it. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men,” you will hear again in matter of days at Christmastide. And so you are drawn to it, called to follow: “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Jesus’ gracious visitation is here now. It is here in the Gospel words spoken for you to hear and believe. It is here in the proofs of the pledge, in the signs of your salvation: baptism, absolution, eucharist. His words of promise are made. His words of life are given. They make you a part of His realm. You are among the nations and people who have come to the mountain of the Lord and the house of the God of Jacob. He has taught you His ways and set you as disciples to walk in His paths. For the Lord knows well the darkness of your hearts. He has watched it affect His people of many times and places. But He has not stood idly by. He has acted for your benefit. He has come and dwells among you, being Immanuel for you.

Your call is to receive this. Your call is to listen to His fulfilled words of promise and believe them. The sign given as the virgin conceived marks salvation for you: Jesus does indeed save His people. When He speaks, you receive His benefits. So your desire is to hear it: “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.” No more folly like Ahaz, chasing after false promises and making himself a slave to idols. Instead, you have the Lord’s true wisdom that His words bring, the light that shines in the darkness of your hearts. So may you say, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your word.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, December 17, 2012

LSB Advent 3C Sermon - Luke 7:18-35

December 16, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“And when the men had come to [Jesus], they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?”’ In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight.”

The prophet spoke of the Lord’s gracious visitation to His people. It was promised for those who had not seen it for years, but who desired it to be with them. Zephaniah speaks to those people, calling them to leave sorrow and enter joy: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.” What a great call to joy that is! Sing, shout, rejoice, exult—those are the actions done by those with nothing troubling their minds, nothing burdening their hearts. They are what those who await the Messiah’s arrival are to do.

And the Messiah did arrive. That is what John the Baptist had announced, preparing the Messiah’s way. Recall his words that you heard last Sunday: “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” This was to bring joy to the people who had longed to have the Lord in their midst as He had promised.

But what had happened to the Forerunner who announced the Messiah’s arrival? “But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.” So what about the singing, shouting, rejoicing, and exulting then? What about the promises that had been made through Zephaniah’s prophecy? “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” Are these to come true? Did the Messiah actually come in forgetfulness of the promises? Or had the Messiah not come at all?

These are the questions behind the inquiry that John sends to Jesus. Locked up in prison, John had heard from his disciples about Jesus’ actions—His selection of disciples, His preaching in synagogues and in public, His miraculous deeds. But there is some question because of what was happening to him. Had John been mistaken in identifying Jesus as the Messiah? Had his work been in vain? So the question is put to Jesus: “And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, ‘Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” The question demands a yes-or-no answer from Jesus: are You the Messiah who has come to fulfill the promises of restoration and deliverance or not?

So Jesus answers the question for John. He gives answer for both eyes and ears to receive: “In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight. And He answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.’” Jesus performs acts that prophets had foretold about the Messiah doing. He tells John’s followers to report exactly what they saw Him do. He uses the Scriptures to confirm that He is the Messiah. And Jesus tells John that he is blessed through his faith in his confessing that Jesus is the Promised One. Even his imprisonment did not change that status, that identity which was divinely given him from birth.

But then Jesus turns this incident into a discussion about what the others thought concerning John and Him: “When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.” I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’” Jesus states that John is the Forerunner that was prophesied to come. He is to be heard and believed, despite his imprisonment. And the One who was identified by John is to be received as the Messiah.

That is where this matter moves from a dialogue between John and Jesus to a dialogue between Jesus and you. Jesus is testifying that John’s statements were true—not only the statements that have called you to repentance, but that declared His identity as the Messiah. Jesus is the One who will fulfill the promises made about restoration and deliverance. He has begun that restoration and deliverance through His death and resurrection. Through those acts, Jesus has been the mighty one who saves, redeeming you from your sin and guilt. This is how He has taken away the judgment of condemnation against you. And because He has done so, you have everlasting life made to be your possession. This is the gracious visitation that Jesus has brought to the world and to you.

But will you receive it? Will you place your trust and hope in this? It is easy to say “Yes” to those questions when they are posed in a vacuum or as an academic exercise. But what about when you face the oppression like John did? What about the times and places when there does not seem to be any reason for singing, shouting, rejoicing, and exulting? Will the “Yes” come from your mouths when there is little evidence of the promises being kept and fulfilled? Or will that cause you to take offense at Jesus and His messengers?

That question is what this incident brings to the fore. It takes much faith to believe that someone locked up in prison is the greatest man born of woman. More is needed to believe that a carpenter from Galilee is even greater. And even more is required to believe that this One is in control over all things and works them for good when all around is the evidence of evil’s superiority and dominance. The basis for John’s question—“Are You the One who is to come or shall we look for another?”—is really no different than the questions that the Lord’s people have asked—“Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” It is the same basis for your questions: “Where is God in all of this mess? Will He ever return? When is this great hope of everlasting life, the end of evil, and the restoration of the Lord’s order going to happen? Are we really sure that any of this has any certainty?”

So the answer is given to you through Jesus’ disciples of old. The testimony of what was seen and heard is repeated for you: the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ work for your salvation. You hear again what took place in that hour—the birth of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, the miraculous works of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus—and how they lined up with what was foretold centuries before His arrival. As you receive the testimony of what was heard and seen, showing how the Messianic promises were fulfilled, you are directed to the promises that Jesus makes to you. Because these actions have happened, your sins are forgiven, your life does not end at the grave, your suffering at the hands of enemies will be reversed.

Like John, you are directed to the Scriptures fulfilled and being fulfilled for you. It is what the Lord’s people in the past were also given when they needed something to cling onto, something to bolster their faith in Him: “Show us Your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us Your salvation. Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.” The words are spoken for you to receive. They give a blessed status as you receive them, as Jesus states: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”  

This is part of the gracious visitation that you prayed for. The Lord Jesus brings it to your darkened hearts as you wait now. But with His promise, you can live in anticipation of what will be. You can act as the apostle exhorts: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Even now you can rejoice, knowing what will take place.

When the promises are completely fulfilled, you will fully know the blessed status that has been made yours. Yes, you go through much that is less-than-desirable, just as Israel was exiled and John was imprisoned. But the One who gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk, cleansed lepers, gave hearing to the deaf, and enlivened the dead has good news to preach to you: “I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,’ says the Lord.” And when that gracious visitation of the Lord comes, you will sing, shout, rejoice, and exult without end.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Advent 2 Midweek Sermon - Matthew 11:11-15

December 12, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds.”

Pure hearts and minds. That’s what the Lord demands. Pure hearts and minds. What does that involve? Pure love. Pure devotion. Pure emotions. Pure desires. Pure thoughts. Pure will. That is what is required to meet the Lord’s demand. The lack of these or the presence of the opposite means falling short of what the Lord expects.

The problem of impure hearts and minds was found among the people of Israel, those whom the Lord called to be His own. He speaks against their worship, that which was supposed to flow from their hearts and minds. The words of the psalm record what the Lord says: “Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before Me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds.” A problem with their worship is noted. Not that the people weren’t offering the sacrifices, but that there was a lack of faith and devotion found in them. Countless bulls, goats, and birds were placed on altars. But the people’s hearts and minds were not focused on the Lord and the Covenant that He had made with them.

So the Lord exhorts the people: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” And so that this can happen as He wills, the Lord also promises an action that will take place among His people: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”

The Lord is going to come to His people. He will send a messenger to prepare them. And there is going to be a change of hearts and minds: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.” A refining of the priests will take place, so that the people can have the proper worship. This day of purification will come. And the messenger sent will be a part of that: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

So the messenger came. John the Baptizer brought the purification of hearts and minds that was needed. The purification came through the call to repentance, the call to forsake ways that are empty and vain, the call to return to the Lord’s covenant. Love Him with all your heart, soul, and mind. Be baptized, marking the confession and forgiveness that has taken place. Make His precepts and statutes your discipline, your way of life. That was John’s message. And Jesus testifies about Him: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”

The purifying that John’s call to repentance brings is meant for you. His call to repentance is to strike your hearts and minds. You are to be refined by it. For you are the sons of Levi, the royal priesthood of the Lord. That is the identity given to you by the Messiah who has come and made atonement for you. It is your identity as the Lord has chosen you to be His people and gathered you into His kingdom. Essential to that identity is the devotion of your hearts and minds to the Lord and His ways. That is what allows you to offer your thoughts, words, and deeds as living sacrifices to Him. These are the sacrifice of thanksgiving that you offer to the Lord and the vows that you perform because He has made you His people. 

This Advent Season is penitential. John’s message—the proclamation of that promised Elijah to come—is for your ears to hear. It is meant to bring you back to the safety and salvation that the Lord provides. The Lord’s messenger turns your hearts, so that the Lord will not come and speak a decree of utter destruction against you. The hearts that are turned to the Lord’s righteousness are led to call on Him in the day of trouble. The minds that are turned to knowledge of the Lord’s ways will glorify Him for the deliverance He has brought.

So John points you to the Lord and His Covenant. He proclaims the One who has a pure heart and mind, the One who desires to fulfill the Father’s will and accomplishes it. He directs you to the Messiah greater than He who fulfills the divine promises for you and your salvation. He shows you the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, even your guilt and transgressions. And in this way, the Lord’s promised messenger prepares you for the great and awesome day of the Lord. You are made ready for when the Lord does as is foretold: “The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting…. Our God comes; He does not keep silence; before Him is a devouring fire, around Him a mighty tempest.” But with your hearts and minds stirred up and purified by Him, made to receive the righteousness that the Messiah gives, you can endure the Day of His Coming and can stand when He appears. That is the message spoken for you and your benefit in this Advent Season. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

LSB Advent 2C Sermon - Luke 3:1-20

December 9, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“The word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

The Lord promises that a messenger will be sent to His people: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” This messenger will make the people ready for when the Lord arrives to perform His task of purification: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.”

The Lord’s promise indicates that a change will take place among His people. There is going to be a reformation. It would benefit the people, even though it would not be the most pleasant of experiences. Who wants what the Lord says would take place: “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourners, and do not fear Me, says the Lord of hosts.” No one would enjoy the entire process. And yet, the outcome of this would be for good: “Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years…. Return to Me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.”

So the promised messenger appears. He begins to do what was foretold: “The word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John fulfills what Malachi prophesied and what Isaiah foretold: “As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”’”

What did this messenger say? What great words flowed from his mouth? The honest evaluation of the people did, the cutting statements concerning them: “He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’” This is how the Lord’s messenger prepares the people. He is blunt and forthright, even if the words cut the people down to size.

But such blunt and forthright words need to be heard. Polite or circumspect speech will not do. For what John preaches is the Law of God, the judgment poured out against unrighteousness and sin. It is preached for you to hear. John’s statement—“You brood of vipers!”—is directed at you, just as it was spoken of all who came out to be baptized by him. Why is it said? Because it is true. Through His messenger, the Lord speaks about your faults, your guilt, your transgressions. When evaluating what is in your hearts, there are no other types of words to use.

The Lord gave John the harsh words to speak. Their cutting edge and pointedness do not make them false. This is what the Lord promised to declare. He becomes a swift witness against your violations of His Law. Just as the Lord promised to expose the sorcerers, adulterers, perjurers, oppressors, and unbelievers of old, He also exposes your misdeeds. Your vain use of the divine name; your failure to set aside time for hearing the Scriptures; your anger when parents or superiors put demands on you; your violent and cruel behavior; your lustful looks; your joy at pulling one over the buyer; your passing on the best rumor about someone’s foibles; your refusal to be content with what you have—the Lord points it all out, exposing every nook and cranny of your souls where these are found. When that happens, the venom of your hearts is revealed. And so the moniker “brood of vipers” fits you well.

But this witness against you is spoken with a purpose. That purpose is seen in John’s preaching. He says: “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And those words get the attention of the people that they deserve: “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’” That question is meant to come from your mouths. It is the question that the Lord wants to hear from you, after He speaks His judgment through His messengers. For the Lord has the answer to that question, one that brings undeserved benefit to you: “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.”

“Return to Me” is one of the great exhortations of the Advent Season, just as it is in the other penitential season of Lent. “Return to Me” are the Lord’s words spoken to you. Return to what? Return to His covenant promises made, the ones that do not change, just as He does not. Return to His way of life that is spelled out for you, not only the directions for your thoughts and behaviors, but the way that salvation is given. The call is made for you to be reconnected to the salvation that the Lord gives through the work of the Messiah. You are to be brought back to full participation in the gifts that He bestows to you—back to hearing the record of what the Messiah has done for you, back to the identity given to you in baptism, back to the place where absolution is pronounced, back to the meal that connects you to the sacrifice offered for your sins. That is all part of the returning to happen in Advent and all times and seasons.

John’s preaching fulfilled a prophecy. But that prophecy did not speak only about the sins of the people. It also spoke about what they would see from the Lord: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” The salvation of God has been displayed in the work of Jesus. The Messiah who came, the One who is mightier than John, brought divine salvation. It is effected through His sacrifice of Himself. This is the offering that is pleasing to the Lord, the offering made on your behalf. As you return to the Lord, that benefit of the Messiah’s offering becomes yours. His offering covers your guilt. It makes you the Lord’s people, the true heirs of Abraham. Though you were as spiritually lifeless as the stones, now you are living and active.

This is the change that happens among you. You hear the Lord’s words of judgment spoken against you. You hear His messengers call you a “brood of vipers.” So you acknowledge your guilt, how you have failed to keep His Law. But then you hear the exhortations to return to the Lord, to His way of life. You hear the work that He has performed for you. So your hearts and minds are set on the salvation of God that has been accomplished for you. His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation are granted to you. You hear His messengers call you the Lord’s beloved children, the trees that bear good fruit, the partners in the gospel. Those honest and direct words are also to be heard and believed.

Then you begin to act according to the way of life that you are called to. The question—“What then shall we do?”—is answered for you. The Lord gives you the instructions that you are led to follow. For after you have returned to Him, you are given direction, just as John gave the crowds. Those instructions are the teaching of what your life is to look like: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” They are words that guide our parish’s actions—why we hold our clothing closet, why we collect the foods for New Hope, why we gather socks for the Helping Hands Ministries, why we’ve begun to institute the Mobile Meals for Members. These are part of the good fruit that you bear.

But there is more than just the call to be charitable. You are also called to keep the commandments in your daily lives. This is why John gives the instructions to the tax collectors: “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” And he tells the soldiers: “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” Their daily living, the fulfilling of their vocations according to the Lord’s will is also the good fruit that they bear as His people. So it is for you. Governed and directed by the Lord’s will and receiving the benefits of Jesus’ work, you also make this your way of life. You bear the good fruit of acting according to the righteous way that the Lord spells out for you. Instead of venom in your hearts, there is the love that the Lord puts there when you have returned to Him. He stirs up your hearts, so that you are enabled to serve Him with pure minds.

So the Lord’s messenger speaks another word for your hearing: “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ…. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Having been called out for your sin, having returned to the Lord, having the benefits of the Messiah’s work, and having been set right again: this prepares you for the time when the Lord will suddenly appear in glory. You have been made ready. That is the fulfilled purpose of Advent, just as the Lord decreed: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Advent 1 Midweek Sermon - Luke 4:14-22

December 5, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance….”

The Church’s cry in Advent is for the Lord to stir things up for our benefit. So we pray during the weeks of Advent. This week, the cry is for the Lord to stir up His power and come to us. But we do not wish the Lord to come aimlessly. Our prayer is not an invitation for Him to make plans and take a holiday, do a little tourism among our famous sites. No, it is for Him to come with a purpose: to rescue us from the perils of our sins, to save us by His mighty deliverance.

Such arrival of the Lord has been seen before. He has answered His people’s cries in such ways. The greatest way is in the appearance of the Messiah. You were given a report of that. The Gospel Writer records: “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about Him went out through all the surrounding country. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” Jesus’ appearance in Galilee was a demonstration of the stirring up of divine power. It was a showing that He was the Promised Messiah.

What did this power-stirred appearance look like? Jesus taught in the synagogue. He read the prophetic statements about Him: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This was His agenda. And Jesus declares: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He says to the Nazareth synagogue, “I’ve come and done this for you. You wanted divine power exercised on your behalf. So I’ve done that to answer your cries.”

“O Lord, rescue us from the threatening perils of our sins. Save us by Your mighty deliverance.” Those were the prayers of the faithful in Nazareth, just as they were the prayers of the faithful throughout history. They are the prayers offered by you now. The words are spoken because you know the hazards and dangers that you face. The poverty of your virtue is laid before you, as the Divine Law speaks its demands. The captivity of your sinful natures is felt. You suffer blindness to what is truly right in situations of moral quandary, large or small. Oppression from those who are enemies of the Lord’s will is felt and experienced. So you consider yourselves to be outside of the Lord’s favor.

But the promise has been given to you. The Lord says, “I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to exercise the power of My Spirit to remedy this state of affairs.” This is what Jesus accomplished, not only as He “returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee,” but also as He uses that same power here among you. Jesus declares that the Scriptures are fulfilled among you, in your hearing. The Scriptures that promised divine remedy for your sins are kept by Him, fulfilled by His obedience, His sacrifice, His resurrection. And Jesus declares the outcome of that divine, powerful work done for you, so that you may hear and believe.

What does Jesus declare to you? He says, “I give you the richness of my righteousness. I set you free from the bondage to sin. I make you see what is pleasing to the Lord. I call you My own people and set you in My kingdom, where you will dwell securely. I am the favor of the Lord shown to you, despite all that you have done which should rightly forfeit it. I do not treat you as you deserve; I show you pity because I have seen your plight and know that only I can do something about it.” This was the message in Nazareth, just as it is the message here in Mechanicsburg. And the reaction is the same for those who hear and believe: “All spoke well of Him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from His mouth.”

But this same Jesus gives you another promise. He says, “I will return in divine power and glory, so that you will never suffer such perils again.” As you have marveled at the gracious words that come from His mouth about your salvation, so you marvel at this promise. But you trust that it will happen. You trust that it will be so, just as Jesus exercised His divine power to fulfill the prophetic words about Him. And this is what allows you to abide by what the apostle says: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

Your hearts are established on Jesus’ promises. You pray for them to come to pass. You cry out for the divine power to be stirred up again, for the Lord Jesus to come and exercise His total authority over all things. You look for the time when the King of glory will come, ushering in the eternal era of the Lord’s favor. But this is not done hopelessly; no, you believe that it will be so. You can be patient and wait for it, because “you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” That compassion and mercy is what Jesus showed in Nazareth, in Jericho, in Jerusalem. It is what He has shown to you now, forgiving your sins, calling you His people, giving you a place in His kingdom.

Glorify Jesus for His mighty works that bring you salvation, for they will not be known only in your hearing. Like those in Nazareth, you will see Him with your own eyes and witness His glorious return, when He brings resurrection and life everlasting to you. It is the promise of the Scriptures for you, the promises that Jesus fulfills. And so He will fully answer your cries, rescuing you from the perils of your sins and saving you by His mighty deliverance.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.