22 January 2017

Living in the Light of Christ

He has come to rescue His people Israel; to fulfill His Covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; to bring about and bring to fruition His promises concerning Judah and the House of David.  He truly is the King of the Jews, and He will save His people from their sins, from death and the devil.

But it would be too small a thing for Him to save only those who are Jews according to the flesh.  He is Himself the Seed of Abraham, and He is the Son of David according to the flesh — but so does He also share the faith of Abraham, and He lives according to the faith of His father David.  And as Abraham was called from the land of pagan idolatry on the far side of a distant river, so does Christ Jesus call disciples to Himself from beyond the Jordan, from Galilee of the Gentiles, and from all the nations of the world.  For in Him, the Seed of Abraham, all the nations are blessed.

So, too, as David once gathered loyal followers to himself from the foreign peoples all around him, the Lord Jesus enlarges the nation of Israel by calling all people to Himself.

In Him, in His Body of flesh and blood, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  And by His preaching of repentance unto faith in His forgiveness of sins, strangers and foreigners, enemies and exiles become true citizens of His Kingdom, true sons of His Father.

When His own native Israel rejects Him, His preaching and His preachers, He withdraws to those who were despised, neglected, far off and forlorn.  He is the Light that shines in the darkness, and His Light of the Gospel brings life to those who languished in the valley of the shadow of death.  He breaks the yoke of the oppressor, the burden of the Law with its accusations and judgments.  He breaks down the wall of hostility and reconciles the world to His God and Father.  He grants peace, blessed peace, where there is no peace on earth: To the Middle East.  To the old world, the new world, and the third world.  And also to your heart and mind, to your body and your soul.

In Him, in His Person and work, in His flesh and blood, and in His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins, His Light now shines upon you.  He is the Morning Star who rises upon you with healing in His wings.  His Word is a Lamp to your feet, a Light to your path.  His Gospel scatters the darkness and awakens you to the dawning of the New Day in His Resurrection.

Beloved, follow Him in the Light of that New Day while His Light shines for you in the preaching of His Word, lest He withdraw from you and where you are to go elsewhere and to others.

When you attempt to live and walk by your own sight, according to the wisdom of the world, you actually stumble around in the darkness without a clue.  What the world considers bright is really foolish, and what the world calls “light” is blackest night.  That is the most perverse and deadly curse of sin, that is, the inability to see things as they truly are.  The true Light seems so dark, while the darkness looks so brilliant.  Therefore, do not be deceived, for nothing is as it appears.

One case in point is the heinous sin and deep darkness of abortion, which our nation celebrates as a matter of personal choice and great freedom.  The blindness of this great lie is at times so blatant as to be ludicrous, yet half the nation apparently seems unable to perceive the wrong from right.

If you have had an abortion — or if you have urged someone else to have an abortion — or if you have condoned or defended the legality of abortion — recognize your sin, repent of it, and cling to Christ Jesus who loves you.  His Light not only reveals this sin for what it is, but He also remits and removes it.  You cannot restore the lives that have been taken by the violence of abortion, but the Lord Jesus brings life out of death, even as He causes the Light to shine out of the darkness.

If you have not practiced or supported abortion, praise God.  But do not congratulate yourself.  Repent of your own sins.  Repent of your failure to help wherever and however you are able.

Repent of your failure to love and care for your neighbors, whether the unwed mother God has placed near you, or your own spouse and children.  If you have allowed your children to live, but have not given them your time and attention, your love and affection, Repent.  Or, if you have avoided children for the same selfish and unfaithful reasons that others abort them, Repent.

The Fifth Commandment, “You Shall Not Murder,” not only forbids abortion and all other harm and violence against your neighbor; it also requires you to serve and protect your neighbor’s body and life: To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless and defend the helpless.  It requires you to pay attention to your neighbor, not for the sake of competing or criticizing, but for the sake of loving and helping.  It requires that you consider the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ, for example — whose bodies of flesh and blood, like unto the Lord’s, sit beside you here within His Holy Church — and that you offer more than just sympathy and soft words.

Hear and heed the call of Jesus, who has come to you and called you to Himself, to follow Him.

You have heard how He called Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and John the sons of Zebedee, and how they immediately left their nets, their boats, and their Dad to follow the Lord Jesus.  They left their father and mother, as it were, the way a man does when he takes a wife, that they might cleave to the Church, the Bride of Christ, as faithful husbands in His Name and stead.  The yoke of the Law is removed from their necks and backs, but the yoke of Christ is laid upon them for the Ministry of His Gospel, for the benefit of their neighbors to the close of the age!

In the case of these four men and others after them, they are called not only to discipleship but to the new office and station of apostleship.  No longer fishermen, they are now to be fishers of men.  Not boats and nets, but Word and Sacrament, the preaching of repentance, the catechesis of Christ, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion will be the tools of their new trade.

You also are called to follow Jesus, but where and how?  Some of you men, I hope and pray, will be called to become pastors in the footsteps of the Apostles.  But most of you will not be called to full-time offices in the Church.  Yet, each and every one of you is called to discipleship.

How are you to follow Jesus?  Are you supposed to quit your job and leave your home and family?

If you are still a child or young person, there are certainly many possibilities ahead of you and many free choices available to you.  To be a disciple does not require any one of those choices over all the others.  But discipleship does mean that you will listen to the wisdom, counsel, and advice of your parents, and that you will proceed in the fear, love, and trust of God above all things.

And if you are married, you certainly should know that discipleship does not require but forbids you to abandon your spouse and your family.

Regardless of your circumstances, following Jesus does not mean that you should turn your back on family, friends, and neighbors — which even pagans normally do not do!  Nor does it require that you must give up your honest labor.  Rather, what it does mean is that you are called to serve all of your relationships and all of your stations in life in the Light of the Gospel, in faith and love.

Faith and love will do no harm to the neighbor.  They will never dishonor father or mother.  They will never be unfaithful to husband or wife.  They will never neglect or abuse a son or daughter.

It is true that faith and love may cause division within families, as even within the Church on earth.  Just as faith and love divide you within yourself, between the old Adam and the New Man in you.  There is quite a difference, however, between the division that results on account of the faithful confession of Christ Jesus, and divisions that are caused by pride, selfishness, and party spirit.

To oppose or withdraw from your neighbor out of contempt or competition is sinful and wrong.  But if your neighbor opposes or withdraws from you on account of Christ and your confession of His Name, know that you bear the blessed and holy Cross of Christ.  Take courage, and do not be dismayed, but find your hope and confidence in the promise of His Resurrection from the dead.

The fact is, wherever Christ enters in with the preaching of His Gospel, with the teaching of His Word, with the proclamation of repentance in His Name, and with the promise of His Kingdom, there Satan, all his works, and all his ways will be cast out.  Wherever the New Creation enters in, the old creation is crucified, put to death, and buried.  But of course, your sinful old Adam does not care for that, nor does the old Adam in your neighbors.  Hence, division, but do not despair.

By those whom He has called and sent in His Name, Christ Jesus is still teaching in the synagogues of His Church; He is still proclaiming the Gospel of His Kingdom, even here and now to you.

And with this Word of Christ, the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God shines upon you — in His flesh, and in His forgiveness of your sins.  His preaching of repentance is for your rescue.  He has not come as your enemy, in order to destroy you, but He has come as the great Enemy of sin, death, and the devil, in order to release you from their bondage.  He has come to cast out your demons, to heal your diseases, to remove your iniquities, and to remember your sins no more.

This is the Good News of Christ Jesus that has spread even well beyond Syria — from Galilee to Jerusalem, from Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth.  His Word and Spirit have spread even here, to Emmaus in South Bend, Indiana, and by the Holy Gospel He calls you to follow Him.  That does not mean you have to pack your bags and travel to Palestine or anywhere else on earth, but only that you hear His Word, receive His good gifts, and live in the Light of His Presence in the place where He has stationed you to be, in the place where He has promised to be with you, which is to say, wherever He has established His Church on the Ministry of His Gospel.

Christ is here with you; and He is with you in your home and family, in your job and relationships.  He is with you to forgive your sins and to cover you with His own righteousness.  He is with you to uphold you by His grace, to shelter you in His mercy, to strengthen you with His courage and compassion.  He is with you in your heart and mind with His Word and Spirit, and so do His own flesh and blood fill your body and soul with His Life and Light and Love, His grace and peace.

The crucified and risen Body of Christ is the First Fruits of the New Creation, and as a member of His Body, the Church, you are a New Creation, a new man or woman, in Him.  Even if you may be divided from your family on earth by the faithful confession of Christ Jesus, you actually belong to the household and family of God in Him.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Patriarch Judah and King David are among your fathers in Christ, because you share with them one Lord, one faith, one forgiveness of sins, one God and Father, one Spirit, one Church, one life and salvation.  And by one Holy Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, you belong to one Body in Him.

You and all of your true brothers and sisters in Christ are of the same mind and the same judgment, which is the mind of Christ and His righteousness.  Not by your own reason or strength, but by the Word and Spirit of God, by the faith and confession of His Gospel.

As you have heard, so do you believe, and so also speak.  That is what the Creeds and Prayers and Rites of the Church provide and protect, that is, the faithful confession of Christ and His Gospel.  You speak together with His Word and voice, and so do you also speak to and for one another — you for your neighbor, your neighbor for you.  You give as you receive, and together with the whole Church in heaven and on earth, you live in the Light of Christ, in the Love of God the Father, and in the Communion of the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

18 January 2017

The Ministry of the Confession of Christ Jesus

Now you know who the Wise Man is, who builds His House upon the Rock.  And when the winds blow, the rains pour down, and the waves beat and slam against that House, it shall not fall, because it is founded on the Rock

The Wise Man is your Lord Jesus.  He is the One who builds His Church.  And it is His Church.  If we simply remember those few important points, then we shall not be ensnared by the many fights and arguments that have been fought over this beautiful Holy Gospel.

It is the Lord’s Church, and He is the One who builds it, using the same Wisdom by which He has been the Architect of all creation: The Word and Wisdom of God, who speaks, and it is so.  But He brings His creation to fulfillment by His own Incarnation.  Not only that He has become Flesh, but also that in His Flesh He has borne your sin and become your Savior, and has poured out His holy, precious Blood to atone for you, to make peace with God; to reconcile you to the Father; to cleanse you with His Spirit, and to anoint you with His Spirit, so that you are now His Christian.

So it is that He also brings you into His House, His Holy Church, and herein He keeps you safe.

Remember that it is His House, and that it is in Wisdom that He builds it, even though the way in which He goes about it seems altogether foolish to this fallen and perishing world.

So have the Scriptures told us, that the Wisdom of God is foolishness to man; that the Cross is a scandal and a stumbling stone.  Likewise, the Office of His Holy Ministry.  How offensive it is, that God should call men like Peter and Paul, a denier and a persecutor, men who are sinful and mortal and in need of salvation, like yourself.  Finite creatures.  Fallen.  Frail.  Flawed.  Sometimes too timid to speak, when they ought to speak.  Sometimes too quick to speak, when they ought to shut their mouths and listen.  Sometimes courageous and bold, even to the point of sticking their feet into their mouths.  And otherwise scared to death to do that which God has given them to do.

It is easy to know the faults and flaws of St. Peter, at least some of them, because that holy Apostle has seen to it that his own faults and failings were included in the preaching of the Holy Gospel.  They were written down by St. Mark and by St. Matthew.  And yet, God chose this man, and through his mouth, his lips and tongue, through his voice, the Lord caused His Gospel to be heard.  He caused His Holy Name to be confessed.  He preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

This man, who was at one point afraid of a little servant girl, huddled around that charcoal fire when our Lord was led to His Passion, stands up in the strength of the Spirit and boldly preaches to those crowds of people on Pentecost: “You crucified the Christ, the Son of the living God.  But now, repent, and believe the Gospel.  Be baptized in His Name for the forgiveness of your sins.  For this promise is for you, and for your children, and for as many as God shall call to Himself.”

So has He called you.  By His Word of the Gospel, that is why you are here.  That is why you have been baptized.  That is why you pray and confess.  That is why you are a faithful Christian within your own stations in life, whatever those may be.  That is why you live by faith in the midst of sin and death, and why you cling to Christ Jesus, though for now you cannot see Him.  It is by the Word that He speaks to you through sinful, dying men whom He has called and sent, into whose mouths He has placed His own Name for the sake of your repentance, forgiveness, and salvation.

That is what He did for St. Peter.  And not only for St. Peter, the Rock, but for the whole Church.

Our Lutheran Confessions answer that persistent question, as to what exactly is “the Rock” to which the Lord Jesus refers.  To be sure, many other answers have also been given, and various interpretations.  But our Confessions say it simply: Christ Jesus addresses St. Peter as a minister of the Gospel, and so He says, “Upon this Rock,” that is, upon the Ministry of this Confession.

The preaching of Christ Jesus by those whom He calls and sends, that is the Rock upon which He establishes His Church.   He does it through St. Peter and the other Apostles to begin with, and in the apostolic Holy Scriptures to the close of the age.  Thus do we confess one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  And on the basis of that apostolic Word, He continues to build and sustain His Church on earth through those men who are called and sent in His Name.  Perhaps some of you will someday be called and sent in that way, but already such men are sent to each and all of you.

And what is it that characterizes that Office of the Holy Ministry?  That Ministry of the Confession upon which Christ Jesus builds His Church, what is it that chiefly defines it?  What is it all about?  What is it for?  It is for the forgiveness of sins.  That is what this is all about.

It is the Office of the Keys that defines the Office of the Holy Ministry.  Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Keys of forgiveness in Jesus’ Name.

Again, you hear it in Peter’s preaching on Pentecost: “Repent, and believe the Gospel, and receive the forgiveness of sins.”  For as Jesus promises, “Whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven.”

Astounding.  Miraculous.  The Glory of God placed not only into the mouth of men like St. Peter, but into the ears of sinners like yourself.  And what your ears hear, it is so.  Here, then, is the New Creation.  Here man is taken again out of the dust of the ground and made into a living being.

Here there is Life and Light and Salvation, where there was only darkness, death, and damnation.  Here there is now something very good, called forth by the Word of Christ from out of nothing.

Not only mighty winds and heavy rains and powerful waves, but even the gates of Hades, that is, the gates of death and the grave shall not be able to prevail against Christ’s Holy Church.  That is His promise.  And that is true for you, as well, who live within His Holy Church.  The guarantee of that Word, the guarantee of your forgiveness and of your resurrection from the dead, is the fact that God has raised this Jesus from the dead, who was crucified, dead, and buried for your sins.

It was impossible for death to hold Him.  His Body did not suffer decay.  His soul did not remain in Hades.  Death and the devil could not contain Him or restrain Him.  Nor can they have or hold you, who belong to Jesus, who believe in Him and are baptized into His Cross and Resurrection.

When I was growing up, I always loved this particular passage.  But I also puzzled over it.  This phrase, “The gates of Hades (often translated, the gates of hell) shall not prevail against her, against the Lord’s Church,” what does that mean?  For years I struggled with that picture.  Sometimes you hear people talk about the Church storming the gates of hell, or some such thing.  But that seems backwards.  That seems skewed in some way.  But what is really going on here?

Our Lord Jesus Christ, He is the stronger Man who has invaded Satan’s kingdom and bound him up by the way and means of His Cross, so that He who is our Savior and our God in the Flesh might release us from the bondage of sin, death, the devil, and hell.  And that is getting to the point at hand.  We, His Church, are not the ones who storm the gates of Hades in order to get in!  Rather, on account of Christ our Lord, the gates of Hades shall not prevail against us to keep us in.

Fast bound in Satan’s chains you lay, death brooded darkly over you.  The gates of Hades had you trapped, and they were locked, shut tight by sin.  But where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation.  And as Jesus was raised from the dead, so shall you also be raised from death and the grave, and so shall you be glorified in Him, both body and soul, together with all who have departed in the faith, in the confession of His Holy Name.  Hades, death, and the grave shall not be able to hold you nor any who belong to Christ; they shall not prevail against His Holy Church.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Wise Man, and He has built His Church well.  He has set her pillars, and He has prepared His Feast for her in the face of all her enemies.  So here you are set free from your sins, from the fear of death, and from all the assaults and accusations of the devil.  Here you are safe and sound in Christ Jesus, so that you may eat and drink in Peace, receiving the Fruits of the Tree of Life, His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you and for the many, for the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  Here you have life with God in Christ, now and forever.

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

08 January 2017

What the Baptism of Jesus Means for You

Here at the waters of the Jordan, God the Father in heaven speaks to you in Christ: “This is My beloved Son; and here is My Holy Spirit, who is poured out upon you in Him, unto eternal Life.”

The Lord God, almighty and all-merciful, is with you, and He loves you, in the waters of Holy Baptism.  Here He has opened heaven to you.  Here He has anointed you with His Holy Spirit, in order to give you His divine, eternal Life in Christ Jesus.  Here He has declared Himself for you.  He has named you with His own Name, to be His own dear child.  He Has granted you His Peace.

If you would discern whether you are a Christian, do not try to fathom what is in your heart, and do not try to fathom what is in your head.  Do not look first of all to your good works and actions.  But consider your Baptism into Christ.  Consider what God has said and done for you there.  For your Christian faith and life are found entirely there in the waters of Holy Baptism.

And if you would consider whether your neighbor is a Christian, do not try to guess what is in your neighbor’s heart or head, either; and do not pass judgment on your neighbor’s outward actions.  But consider what God has said and done for your neighbor in the waters of Holy Baptism.  And then, as needs may be, call your neighbor back to the gracious Word and promises of Baptism.

And you, likewise, return to your Baptism.  Know that your life is there, because your God is there.

Christ Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God in the flesh, has fulfilled all righteousness in Baptism.  He says so Himself.

The people from all the surrounding area were coming to John, confessing their sins and being baptized.  In this the Kingdom of God was at hand.  But it all hinged on this One, the Lamb, the Son of God, who also comes to John at the Jordan.  He has no sins of His own whatsoever, but He comes confessing the sins of the world.  He comes confessing your sins as though they were His.

He comes confessing your sins and the sins of the world, and for all of those sins He repents.  He submits Himself to John, and to God the Father who sent John to preach and baptize.  He submits to the Law and to the Prophets, and to all that God has said.  All of this He does for your salvation.

It will all come down to His Cross and Passion.  That is already what His Baptism means.  For already here and now, the Lord Jesus buries Himself in the watery grave of the Jordan.  When He steps into those waters and says to John, “Permit it now,” He is already committing Himself to suffer and to die.  He willingly takes upon Himself the sins of the world and bears the curse and consequences of those sins.  He trusts the Word of His Father, and He goes to His death in faith, in the confidence of the Resurrection, in order to save this world of sinners in His love for them.

This is what His Baptism means for Him.  And this is what Baptism means for you, also.  This is what repentance looks like: To be drowned and die with Christ Jesus, and so also to live with Him.

This is what it means to entrust yourself to God, to live by faith in His Word and promises.  And this is what it means to love your neighbor; to do for your neighbor what your neighbor does not deserve and cannot do for himself, but you do it for him in love.

This is what it means to live unto God, to go in the way that He has given you to go, and not to protest or argue that it’s not fair, but to go in peace, in faith, hope, and love.  This is what it looks like to be and to live as a child of God, as a beloved son of God in Christ your Savior.

Repent, therefore.  Hear and believe the Word of God, and love your neighbor as Christ loves you.

Baptism in itself is the good and gracious work of God.  It is His free gift.  Your Baptism, then, is perfect and complete.  There is nothing lacking there: Not in the Word of God; not in the water administered with God’s Word; and not in His Name, which certainly is holy in itself.

But as for what your Baptism means for you, what it means for your daily occupation and life, that is not a done deal.  That is not a day once-upon-a-time in the past.  It is an ongoing engagement.  It is a daily call to repentance.  It is a daily call to die and rise with Christ by His Word and Spirit.

Baptism has not made repentance unnecessary.  No, your Baptism has made repentance possible.  Where previously you could not do this — you could not choose to repent; you could not turn yourself around, away from sin and back to God — now Christ, by His Baptism, even unto death on the Cross, He has opened the way of repentance to you and to all who are baptized into Him.  And in this way, by His Cross and in His Resurrection, He has opened heaven to you and to all.

Repent, therefore, and live henceforth in Christ.  As He has fulfilled all righteousness for you and for all people, and as He has established justice for the nations, so you also live righteously and godly in Him, even in the midst of this present evil age.  Do not live any longer in your sins, but live unto God.  Think of your neighbor as Christ Jesus thinks of you and of your neighbor.  Speak to and concerning your neighbor as Christ Jesus speaks to and concerning you and your neighbor.

Live as a child of God, for so has the Father spoken of you by His Son and through His Spirit in the Gospel, in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  He has named you as His own, and so you are His very own.  Live, then, as His child.  Live in the righteousness of Christ.

What does it mean to live as a child of God?  How is His Name kept holy in your life?  It depends first of all on hearing what He speaks, on giving attention to His Word, on living to hear His Word.  Listen to what He says.  Believe it, and confess it.  Speak what is true because God has spoken it.

Confess what is true concerning yourself and your sin.  And confess what is true concerning Christ and His Salvation.  Confess it with both your words and your actions, in all that you say and do.

Do not be true proud or too ashamed to confess your sins, which the sinless Son of God has confessed in your place, taken upon Himself, and borne in His Body to the Cross in order to get forgiveness for you.  Confess your sins because that is the truth.  And confess your sins in the sure and certain confidence that, for Christ Jesus’ sake, the Lord your God forgives you.  That is what it is to live by faith.  That is how you live in Christ.

Speak also what is true concerning Christ, His Cross, His Resurrection, His Baptism in the Jordan River, His preaching, His miracles, His Holy Sacraments, and His Church.  Confess the Word and work of Christ, because He is true, and His Word is the Truth.  Confess it because your neighbor needs to hear it in order to live.  And, confessing it, so also live according to it in your own life.

In your Baptism you have died with Christ Jesus, and your life is now hidden with Him in God.  You have died to yourself, to your sins, and to the world, but you are raised up with Christ through His forgiveness of your sins.  Return, therefore, to your Baptism, and to the significance of your Baptism, through contrition and repentance, through confession of your sins, and through Holy Absolution.  And thus returning to your Baptism, dying with Jesus each day, and rising to live with Him each day by faith in the Gospel, so live in Him.

Do not cling to your life in this world, as though this life were all there is.  Do not cling to your life in this world, as though it were your treasure and your god.  Rather, sacrifice yourself entirely unto God, your body and your life, as a living sacrifice — that is how St. Paul describes it.  Place yourself entirely into the hands of your Father who loves you, in the hope and confidence of the Resurrection and the Righteousness of Christ.  And living in Christ, pour yourself out for others.

You need not be afraid.  Your Father in heaven will vindicate you.  He has already raised you up in Christ Jesus.  He raises you again, day after day, by the Spirit of His Son through the Gospel.  And on the Last Day He will raise you and all believers in Christ to eternal life in body and soul.

You are free to love and serve those whom God has placed around you, even those who don’t love and serve you.  For you are free to forgive and gladly to do good to those who sin against you.

Do not worry that you will be used and taken advantage of, and that you may lose everything in this body and life.  In truth, the world may put you to death, as much for your righteousness as for your sins and failings!  That is what it did to Christ, though it never did have the upper hand on Him, who laid down His life and gave Himself willingly for the salvation of sinners.  And that was not the end of His story; nor is it the end of your story in Him.  If you perish, you perish, so be it.  But as you die in the faith of Christ, yet shall you live in His Resurrection from the dead.

It is to faith and love that your Baptism into Christ daily calls you.  Your Baptism does not live in the past, but you live in it now and ever, in the hope and promise of the future, in the neverending Day of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.  So, then, return to your Baptism each day.

Go out to the preacher and baptizer of repentance whom God has sent to you.  Confess your sins.  Be forgiven.  And live in the Holy Absolution of Christ, your Savior.  For He remains steadfast and certain for you.  He has taken His stand with you in the waters of the Jordan, and His feet remain there planted until all of Israel has gone through the water into the Promised Land.

He will not run away and hide.  He will not abandon you.  As often as you fall, He lifts you back up again, out of the waters of death, into the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

Heaven is still open to you in Christ Jesus.  The Holy Spirit of God is still poured out upon you abundantly through His ways and means of the Gospel.  He comes to you and rests upon you, not in the form of a dove, but in water with the Word of God; in bread and wine, which by the Word of Christ are His Body and His Blood.  The Spirit rests and remains upon you in the Body of Christ.  And He is breathed into your body and your soul through the words of a man, upon whom God has laid His yoke, that He might speak to you in love and thus forgive you all your sins.

The Lord Jesus Christ is your permanent foundation.  He is faithful and true.  It is in Him that you live; in Him that you are beloved of God; in Him that you are well pleasing to your Father in heaven.  Hear what He says to you today: This is My Body.  It is given for you.  This is My Blood.  It is poured out for you.  Eat and drink, and know that your God is here with you and for you.

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

06 January 2017

Seek the Lord Where He May Be Found

Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, in the house and lineage of David, to be the King of the Jews.  Which is to say that He is the Ruler who will shepherd His people Israel.  For He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed of God.  Indeed, He is God in the flesh.  He is your Savior.

Understand that He is not simply a means to some other end.  But He Himself is your Life, your Light, and your Salvation.  Get up and go to Him, therefore, to be with Him where He is; that He alone would be your heart’s delight and your most precious Treasure.

Worship Him in the beauty of His holiness and His righteousness.  Worship Him both for the sake of all that He does for you and gives to you, and simply for His own sake, because of who He is: your God, the Lord.  It is truly meet, right, and salutary so to do.

Do not let any distance be too far.  Let no obstacle or cost be considered too great.  Do not cling to your own power, position, or prestige in this world, none of which will last; none of which can save you; none of which is God, though too easily you make such things into false gods and idols.  But, no, you shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.

The coming of the Lord Jesus, the very Son of God in the Flesh, does not permit you to remain in your “comfort zone.”  His coming and His presence change everything.  And they challenge you to relinquish and let go your false gods and your false worship for this one true God, Christ Jesus.

Examine your heart and life.  Examine your words and your actions.  Do not presume to remain in your castle, supposing yourself to be the king, as though you were the master of your own domain and of all that you survey.  But get yourself to Bethlehem.  Search diligently for the Child.  Worship Him who is your true and rightful King.

Worship Him with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  Worship Him with your body and your life, your time, your treasures, and your talents.  Invest all that you are and all that you have in serving Him.  Honor Him with all that you say and do.

Or do you still imagine that all of these things are yours?  As though they belong to you; as though you had a right to them.  And do you still pretend that any of these things will give you life?

No, they belong to the Lord, who is your King.  And you also belong to Him by right.

Repent of the idolatry in your heart and in your life.  And heed the Word of the Lord, which directs you to Him, that you should find your life and spend your life entirely in Him.

Why are you so troubled?  What is your excuse?  What are you afraid of?

Do you think it a waste of time to seek the Lord while He may be found?  Do you consider it a pointless endeavor to worship the Lord?  Will you proceed as though His Word were not being preached to you, or as though it made no difference?

Repent, and heed His Word.  And humble yourself before Him always, because He is your King.

Fear, love, and trust in Him, who has not come to rob your life, but rather has come to give you Himself and His Life, His grace and every blessing

Look, His holy Word has told you precisely where He is for you.  Do not scan the skies or search the stars.  But search the Scriptures.  And better yet, hear the Word of the Lord that is preached to you and for you: His Word of the Gospel, which is for you on this day and throughout the year.

He is in Bethlehem.  He is in the House with His Mother.  He is in the bosom of His Church, the House of the Lord on earth.  He is on the corner of Milton and Dale in South Bend, in His Divine Service.  That is where He is for you.  That is where you may find Him.

Do not underestimate the importance, the significance, yes, even the necessity of the Church and the Ministry of the Gospel, the preaching of forgiveness and the administration of the means of grace.  For here in the Church on earth, the Mystery of the Lord your God, that is to say, God Himself with His Light and Life and Salvation, He is here for you.  He is manifested and revealed for you in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, though yet hidden under the humility of the Cross.

You will find Him nowhere else than here in His Church of the Gospel, His Church of the Word and Sacraments.  You will not find Him anywhere else, and you will not live without Him; not out East, nor back home in Jerusalem, but only here in His House of Bread on the lap of His Mama.

Of course it is true that you live your entire life in His presence, righteous and holy before Him at all times and in all places, that is, by His grace through faith in His Gospel.  But that is only because He has first of all come to you here, and He has manifested Himself to you here, and He still does.  He has given Himself to you here, and He still does.  Here in His House.

That is how and why you proceed from this place homeward by another way, that is, in newness of life, having become other than you were.  You go home in faith and love, in the worship of Christ Jesus, instead of going back to the fear and anger, to the hatred and lustful murder of your former king, the “Herod” who has reigned in your heart and life through sin and unbelief.

Your true life is found here.  It is hidden in humility and weakness.  It is hidden under the Cross and suffering, under poverty and hardship.  But your life is here, nevertheless, because Christ your true King is here.  He is here for you in love with His forgiveness of sins and His gift of life.

Entrust yourself to Him.  Bow your heart and mind before Him.  And bow your body, too, as you are able.  Confess with your flesh that which you profess with your lips.

The magi traveled great distance at great cost to worship the Lord.  They were not content with the knowledge they had, having seen the star and reading the Scriptures, but they went to Him.  And having found Him, in great joy they threw themselves at His feet and prostrated themselves before Him, this little Baby, this Toddler, who is the Lord, the Word-made-Flesh.  They were not ashamed to humble themselves before Him and to honor Him with their bodies and their gifts.

You also, reverence Him.  Reverence Him with your words, with tangible action and sacrificial giving to the glory of His Name, and so also with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength

Present Him with your gifts and treasures, with the best of all that you have.  Not because He needs anything from you, but because you need everything from Him, and He alone is your priceless Treasure.  Everything else is dispensable.  Everything.  None of the rest of it can save you; but it can become a temptation and a false god to damn you, when you worship that which is not God.

Present the Lord Jesus with your best and your finest gifts.  Not your leftovers and your castoffs, but your first fruits in thanksgiving for His grace.  Do so in the faith that every good and perfect gift is from Him; and that He will not neglect to provide you with all that you need for your body and life, both now and forever; and that, whatever you may lack, or seem to lack, having the Lord Jesus, you have everything that matters.  He is your God.  He is your Savior.  He is your King.

Honor Him.  Confess Him.  Glorify Him, and give thanks to Him, by serving and supporting His holy House and His holy Family, the Church and the congregation of His people.

Would you leave Joseph and Mary and the little Lord Jesus to languish in poverty and want?  To starve and to die on their flight into Egypt?  Do not imagine all of the ways that you would lavish your love upon them, “if only,” while you neglect to do all that you can to love and serve the Lord Jesus in this place here and now, where He is found in the Ministry of His Gospel.

Balance the budget.  Help to take care of the building and property.  Look to the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ.  And support your neighbor with your presence at the Liturgy.

Do all of this in love for God and for your neighbor.  But above all else, live by faith in Christ, that is, by hearing the Word that He preaches to you here and receiving the gifts that He freely gives to you here.  Do it gladly and with thanksgiving to the Father in His Son and by His Holy Spirit.

Where your heart is, that is where your treasure will be.  So, what is your treasure?  Where is your heart invested, along with your body and life, your time and energy and money?

The world may hold her wealth and gold, but thou, my friend, keep Christ as thy true Treasure.  He is here with you.  He is here for you.  Bend your knee before Him.  He is your gracious King.  And so receive the Gifts that He bestows upon you.  For He withholds no good thing from you.  He feeds you with Himself, your God in the flesh, with His holy Body and His precious Blood.

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

05 January 2017

The Books I Most Enjoyed in 2016

For the past number of years, my children and I have voted on our favorite read-aloud books of the year (that is, of those we enjoyed together in the course of the calendar year).  I'm not sure we'll be able to do that anymore, since I've been reading to several different groupings of the children in addition to the reading that I do for myself.  So, for this year, at any rate, I'm simply offering the following list of the (fictional) books that I most enjoyed in 2016.  Some of these I read to myself, others I read to my children.  For the most part, I've not included isolated books from ongoing series that we've read (and listed) in the past, since it's difficult to evaluate those individual installments.  In some cases, though, where a book or a couple of books from a series have stood alone and stood out, I've identified those where pertinent.

With that preamble, here are the fifteen (fictional) books (or series of books) that I most enjoyed in 2016, listed here in proximate order, beginning with my most favorite:

Infinite RegressPast Tense (Schooled in Magic, #9 & 10)
by Christopher Nuttall

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3)
by Robert Galbraith

The Kronos Chronicles (trilogy)
by Marie Rutkoski

The Diabolic
by S.J. Kincaid

The Heir Chronicles (five books)
by Cinda Williams Chima

The Nethergrim series (two books so far)
by Matthew Jobin

The Books of Beginning (trilogy)
by John Stephens

Ramona series (eight books)
by Beverly Cleary

Split the PartyGoing Rogue (Spells, Swords, & Stealth, #2 & 3)
by Drew Hayes

Dodger
by Terry Pratchett

Bookworm series (four books)
by Christopher Nuttall

The Twistrose KeyThornghost
by Tone Almhjell

Switch (Savvy, #3)
by Ingrid Law

Henry Reed series (five books)
by Keith Robertson

The Toymaker’s Apprentice
by Sherri L. Smith

The Heavens Are Opened to You in Christ Jesus

In Christ Jesus, the heavens have been opened.  As at first in His Baptism, and then again at His Transfiguration, so have they been fully opened by His Cross and Resurrection from the dead.

He has done these great things and opened heaven for you — and for all those who believe and are baptized into Him — just as you will surely see, according to His Word and promise.

Come and see, therefore, by following Jesus.  Live and walk according to His Word in faith and love in your vocations and stations in life: As a Christian, by the hearing of His Gospel and the receiving of His means of grace; and as a son or daughter, husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister, as a worker, a student, or retired, by trusting Jesus and serving your neighbors.

Your labors are not in vain, nor do you bear your children for calamity, no matter how it seems.  For behold, the Lord creates new heavens and a new earth, the home where righteousness dwells, according to His grace and mercy.  He makes you and all things new, and it is very good.

Unfortunately, it is all too easy and far too common to become cynical and pessimistic, perhaps even hardened in despair, because of what you do see and experience for now under the Cross in the midst of sin and death.  It is a world full of weeping and crying, where sarcasm and insult function as humor.  Children die by many causes, including many who are murdered in the womb by their own parents, or beaten and neglected after they are born.  Old people live out their days in pain and sorrow, often lonely and afraid, if not wretched and bitter.  Investments yield little or no return.  The best laid plans go awry.  Buildings, businesses, and families crumble into ruin.

Cynicism begins to reign in your heart and mind, where faith and love ought to hold sway, because you become accustomed to such patterns of disappointment and discouragement.  Your parents, spouse, and children let you down; they do not love you and care for you as they should, but they embarrass you and take advantage of you.  Your friends forget you, desert you, or betray you.  Your boss is a jerk, and your job is going nowhere; or perhaps you are losing your job or have no job to lose.  As often as you have dared to get your hopes and expectations up, thinking that things are finally going to get better, time and time again your dream is dashed and things only get worse.

Can anything good come out of your lot in life?  Can anything good come out of your vocations?

Well, can anything good come out of Nazareth?  The answer, of course, is Yes.  It can, and it has.

For Jesus Christ, the Son of David, though He was born in Bethlehem, He is called the Nazarene.  He is consecrated by the Word and Spirit of God from the womb; and He grows up as a citizen of the city of Nazareth; and He is the promised Root of Jesse (“root” being NaZaR in the Hebrew).

He is the One of whom Moses in the Law and all the Prophets wrote — in the very Scriptures that Nathaniel was searching and studying under the fig tree when Jesus saw him and knew him.

The Word of the Lord does not lie.  His promises are not broken.  Just as He has spoken, so He does and gives to you and to all by the way and means of Christ the Crucified.

It is in Him that Jacob/Israel and every Israelite indeed (each and every son of Abraham by faith in Abraham’s God) find their refuge and rest, their peace, and their true home with God; though they may not know it or realize it at first.  A Rock on the ground proves to be the gate of heaven.

Upon this Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and of St. Mary, the Lord in the Flesh who is the King of Israel — upon Him the angels of God ascend and descend.  Notice that He is both the starting point and the center of the holy angels and their faithful service unto God and Man.  For in Him, in His Body of flesh and blood, the Kingdom of God is at hand, on earth as it is in heaven.

And He is here for you now with His open heaven — and the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God the Father — in the Holy Communion of His Body and His Blood.  He is here for you, and with you, and is given to you.  Here, then, you are surrounded by all the angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven, precisely because this is where the Lord Jesus dwells in the flesh.

This Lord and God, Christ Jesus, your Savior and your King, He is here — with you and for you — because He has purposed to be here with you and for you.  He saw you and knew you and loved you, before you ever heard of Him or knew Him.  Before you ever prayed to Him or called upon His Name, even when you had no idea how or what to pray, He answered your deepest need with Himself in the flesh, and He acted in grace and love to save you from sin, death, the devil, and hell.

So has God the Father predestined you to be conformed to the Image of His Son, to become one of His many brethren.  So does He seek you out and call you to Himself in Christ Jesus, by the preaching and ministry of the Gospel.  For this Lord Jesus Christ has atoned for the sins of the world by His Cross and Passion.  And in His Resurrection, He has been vindicated by His God and Father, justified and glorified for you, so that you are now justified by grace through faith in Him.  So shall you also be raised from the dead at the last and glorified in Him, unto the life everlasting.

You have entered with Him through death into life, into an open heaven through His Cross and Resurrection, by your Holy Baptism in His Name.  Thus have the heavens been opened to you in Christ Jesus, and in Him they shall never be closed to you again.  Not by sickness, suffering, death, or sadness.  Not by the sins of others against you, nor by your own sins, either.  For heaven itself has come to you in the Word of the Lord, in His Body given and His Blood poured out for you.

Come, eat and drink, taste and see.  Something good, and such great things, have come for you.

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

03 January 2017

You and Your Children in the Father's House

Consider here the human nature, the growth and development of the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, as He increases, not only in stature, but in knowledge and wisdom, and in favor with God and man.  It is remarkable, every bit as much as the Incarnation itself and His conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But this, too, belongs to His becoming like you in all things, that He might redeem you in body, soul, and spirit.  That He can grow and learn and change as true Man, means that He can also hurt and bleed and die, as He will do for your redemption and salvation.

Thus are your reconciliation and relationship with God embodied and secured in the human body and life of this Lord Jesus Christ, from infancy and childhood into adulthood, even unto death, and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  For in Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily and lives humanly among us, so that we might live the divine life with God in Him.

How then do you, for your part, hold on to Him and keep Him in your sight?  By what wisdom are you able to grow and abide in Him, throughout this life on earth and unto the life everlasting?

And if you are a father or a mother, how shall you secure Him for your children and preserve their faith and life in Him?  For that is the most important thing you are given to do as a parent.

How shall you not lose Christ Jesus to yourself and to your children, so that you and they shall not be lost but found in Him throughout all your days and years and hereafter for eternity with God?

There is first of all the good example of Joseph and Mary, who go up with the Lord Jesus to the Feast in Jerusalem.  They are reminiscent of the Prophet Samuel’s parents, Elkanah and Hannah, who were likewise faithful in going up to the House of the Lord at Shiloh.  That is good and right.

But then consider what happens, and how easy it is, even for such pious and faithful people, to leave the Lord Jesus behind and to lose Him as you go about the activities and busyness of life.

And when you do realize His absence, then there is such anxiety and stress, and the fear of death.  If you are a parent, and if you have ever had a missing child, you know well enough the terror of that situation.  But to lose the Lord Jesus, no matter who you are, is far, far worse than even that.

If you are brought to an awareness that He is missing from your life, that you have lost sight of Him and let Him go, then, to begin with, by all of your own wisdom, reason, and strength, you go about looking for Him in all the wrong ways and in all the wrong places.  Increasingly more frantic, more desperate, and more hopeless, you try to find what is lacking within your family, with your friends, and in that which is comfortable and familiar to you.  Maybe in hard work.  Maybe in reading and studying.  Maybe in recreational activities and hobbies, or in charitable endeavors.

But, no, you will not find the Lord Jesus in any of those ways or places.  For though He has come to be like you, and to live your human life on earth, He and His Kingdom are not of this world but from the Father in heaven.  So it is that His Body and His Life, and His Resurrection from the dead on the Third Day, are there for you within His Church, in the preaching and hearing of His Word.

You should know — because you are taught by the Word and Spirit of God — that you shall find the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, your Savior, within the House of His Father.

Is that not what the Feast of the Passover is all about?  That the sons of Israel are delivered from death and the devil within the house where the father has sacrificed the lamb, where he has marked the doors with the blood of the lamb, and where he feeds them with the flesh of the lamb.  And as for each household and family, so also for the household and family of God within His Temple.

The little Lord Jesus was catechized by the Feast to seek His Father in His Father’s House, that He Himself should finally become the Passover Lamb who is given in the place of all the sons of men.

So are you also taught that you and your children belong to the Lord your God, who has redeemed you, purchased and won you for Himself by the blood of His own Son.  And so it is that you and all your sons and daughters are called to live as the children of God within your Father’s House.

Remember that the Son of God has become like you in every way, so that you might be like Him.  Therefore, what is true for Him has also become yours by His grace and mercy in the Gospel.  For He has made a place for you within the true Temple of God, which is indeed His own Body, crucified for all of your sins and raised from the dead for your justification, never to die again.

It is within the household and family of God, that is to say, within His Church on earth, that the Body of this Lamb of God is given to you from His Cross and from His Altar, that you should Feast on Him and be strengthened and sustained in the one true faith, unto the Resurrection.  And it is in His Church that the Blood of this Lamb now protects you from the devil, death, and hell.

Here, then, is what you’re looking for, whether you know it or not.  Here is what you truly need.  Here is your true home and family in Christ Jesus, and here is the Feast to which you bring your children.  Here your anxious heart and troubled mind are granted Peace and Sabbath Rest in Him.  And here you are raised up with Christ from the fear of death to faith and life by His Holy Spirit.

So it is that you now live — you really live — to and from this House of your own dear God and Father in Christ Jesus; and for His Name’s sake, the grace and favor of God are upon you.

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