31 December 2012

Your Loins Girded, Your Lamp Burning


Her name was Charlotte.  She was six years old; not much older than my Gerhardt or Stefan Horner, but she was all girl.  Like some other young ladies we know, she enjoyed Tae Kwon Do with her Dad, but she was into pink and pretty dresses.  Her brother, Guy, was three years older, but they attended the same elementary school, where her Mom was an active volunteer.

Charlotte’s Grandma & Grandpa, on her mother’s side, live in Minnesota, on the western outskirts of the Twin Cities, not far from where I worked and went to church between college and seminary, and not far from where I served my vicarage a few years after that.  Small world, isn’t it?

You may have seen pictures of Charlotte’s funeral procession, as her body was taken from Christ the King Lutheran Church to be laid to rest in the Newtown Village Cemetery.  It’s been in the news a bit.  She and her family were not members of Christ the King, but Charlotte attended the Sunday School there, and Pastor Morris has been caring for her family and conducted her funeral.

Charlotte’s parents, Joel and JoAnn, had no idea how little time they would have to care for their daughter, to give her what she needed most, and to teach her the most important things there are to learn in life.  I’m sure they were doing the best they could.  They were actively involved with their children in school and sports.  I don’t know why they weren’t members of the church; maybe they were in transition, or maybe they had let that slip in the busyness of so many other things.  But in the providence of God — maybe it was at Grandma Irene’s urging — they had taken Charlotte to the church, to learn of Christ her King, her Savior and her God.  In doing this, they gave her life.

Be sure of this, dear friends in Christ, if the Principal and PTA of Sandy Hook Elementary had known on what day, and at what hour, the gunman was coming, they would have had that school on lockdown before the tragedy could happen, in order to prevent it.  They would have saved lives.

But there is always more at stake than temporal life and mortal flesh and blood.  Six years is a tender age, but life on earth is not long, in any case: maybe sixty years, or barely more than 100 at most.  But this brief span in a fallen world is not yet the Life for which you (and all) are created.

As it was, the gunman, twenty-year-old Adam Lanza, took the lives of almost thirty children and adults, none of them very old.  But for each of those victims who were catechized in the Word of the Holy One of Israel, who were brought to faith by His Word and Spirit, death was but an end to their watching and waiting upon Him: It was a graduation to the neverending Day — to the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells, and where the Prince of Peace reigns in Glory — to the nearer presence of God in Christ, in order to behold Him face to face.  For the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever on those who fear Him, who are called to faith by His Gospel.

Blessed are those parents who teach their children the fear and faith of God, by caring for them with His Word.  There is no more significant task that any father or mother is given than that:

To bring their sons and daughters to the washing of water with the Word and Spirit of God in Holy Baptism, by which the Lord guards all their going out and coming in, henceforth and forevermore.  And to catechize their children in the Name of the Lord, with which they have been named.  To teach them the pattern and practice of repentance and forgiveness, both by exemplifying the use of Confession and Absolution with the pastor in the life of the Church, and by exercising mutual confession and forgiveness of sins in the life of the home and family.  And to bring their children to the pastor, also, for the Holy Communion, to be fed by the coming Lord at His Table.

Fathers and mothers, you do not know the day nor the hour when death may snatch your sons and daughters from your stewardship forever.  But in bringing them to Christ Jesus in His Church, and in giving Christ to them with His Word, you prepare them for the ongoing Feast in His Kingdom.

What, then, if you have no children?  Blessed are you, one and all, who watch and wait upon the Lord by giving careful attention to His Word and to His works, whereby you live, now and forever.  Blessed are you, when you remain awake and alert and alive, by His Holy Spirit, by His grace, even in the nighttime.  Not that you must never take your rest or get any sleep; for He does also give to His beloved sleep.  But how shall you, perhaps, stay up late to bring in the New Year on such a night as this, and yet not keep vigil to watch and wait upon the Lord your God?

You do not know how little time you may have; nor how long you may have to wait.  What if the loud and angry voices that you sometimes overhear at McDonalds, or even at the library, were to escalate into physical violence?  What if treacherous icy roads, or a fire in the night, were suddenly to wreck your car, destroy your home, or end your life on earth?  A tree might fall on you; for accidents do happen.  Deadly cancer might strike, irrespective of age.  Or, your mind might fail long before your body.  Number your days, therefore, and let each one count for what matters most.

Do you not hear the watchmen singing on the heights?  Christ has come!  And He is coming!  Be ready, then.  Have your loins girded, and keep your lamp burning.  Do not be caught unprepared.

If you were a father, a mother, a child, young or old, a brother or sister, in Egypt on that night of the Lord’s Passover, then you would know from the Prophet Moses that the Lord was coming at some hour after twilight: A terrible Thief in the night, He would come, to steal away the firstborn sons of Egypt, from the Pharaoh in his palace and from the captive in his cell.

But how many sons of Israel has Pharaoh already put to death?  And now shall the Lord Himself slay even more?  Not so!  For He has heard your cries.  He knows your sorrows.  And He has come to save you, to release you from the Egyptians.  He shall bring you through the waters into safety and freedom, and feed you generously with bread from heaven in the wilderness, and bring you at last into the Good Land He has sworn to give you, a land of creamy milk and sweetest honey.

What, then, shall you do, now, on this dark night in Egypt?  The Lord your God has told you.  He has given you His Word to guide you and guard you.  You shall take a male lamb, unblemished, from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall slay it in the evening, as the night falls.  If your household is too small for the lamb, then you shall join with your neighbor and his household.  And you shall anoint the doorposts and the lintel of the house with the blood of the lamb, and you shall roast its flesh and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  Eat it with haste.  Your loins shall be girded as you eat, with staff in hand and sandals on your feet, ready to leave in a hurry.

You know the story.  The Lord is faithful, and He brings you out of Egypt with His mighty arm and outstretched hand.  No plague befalls you, for the blood of the lamb covers and protects you, and your whole household, in accordance with the Word that God, the Lord, has spoken to you.

Now, beloved, this is how you are to live, each day and every night of your life on this earth.  For the Thief is surely coming, at an hour you do not know.  Death is coming, yes:  Tonight, tomorrow, in the new year ahead, or at some point in the years to come, if the Lord shall grant such years to you and to this earth.  But the Lord Himself is coming like a Thief in the night.

You neither know the day nor the hour of His coming.  Yet, He has not left you clueless, without a Lamp to lighten your way.  He has given you His Scriptures and the preaching and teaching of His Word.  And there is, for you also, the Lamb who has been slain. His Blood anoints your lips and tongue, the doorposts and lintel of your body, and protects you from death.  And His Flesh is your Meat indeed, your true Passover Feast, which you eat with the unleavened bread.  You share this sacrificial Meal in the household and family of God, regardless of your own station in life, no matter the size of your own household.  And here you are kept safe, so that you may have Life.

Therefore, let your loins also be girded, and be ready to leave at any time.  Be dressed for work, and packed for travel at moment’s notice; like a woman ready for her labor and delivery to begin.

Not as though your watching and waiting upon the Lord were a waste of time.

But here now is the point and purpose of your time on earth, whether in Egypt or the wilderness:

Here and now you learn to live by the grace of God, by faith in His Word.  You learn to live each day in view of your Baptism, dying and rising with Christ.  You learn to live with Him, to follow Him through the water, and to be fed by Him in the wilderness, without complaining or grumbling.  And so you are taught to number your days, to know how short your life here is, and to apply your heart to wisdom; which is to fear the Lord your God, but also to love and trust in Him.  You are taught to repent of your sins, and to rest in His mercy and forgiveness.  You are taught to be alert to Him and to His coming; neither anxious nor afraid, but in quietness and peace.

In such repentance and faith, you also love and care for your neighbors, especially for those who are entrusted to your care: Your spouse and children, if you have them; your siblings and parents, your co-workers and customers, your neighbor next door, and your brothers and sisters in Christ.

If your own household is small, or if you are alone, you still share the Lamb with your neighbors.

You love and care for all of these others, as the Lord so enables you to do, in order that they too may be prepared for His coming; so that, when death and judgment come, they shall also be found ready and waiting in the faith of Christ Jesus.  Such love for your neighbor is a priceless service.

All the while, dear little child of God, you do already live: by the grace of your Father in heaven, through faith in His beloved Son — even while you are still watching and waiting upon Him in the power and peace of His Holy Spirit.

For the Lord is coming to you, here and now, and He is already with you: By and with His Name, with which He has named you as His own in Holy Baptism, and with which He still claims you and richly blesses you with His Glory in the Divine Service, in the Invocation and the Benediction.

He is your very present Help in every trouble; for with His Word and Holy Spirit He attends you.  And because you are His very own, and you are dear to Him, He watches over all your going out and coming in, even to the last: With His Holy Angels, whom He has given charge over you; and through the service of His watchmen, your pastors, who shepherd you with the staff of His Word.

By the preaching of His Gospel of forgiveness, He satisfies you in the morning with His steadfast love, and He gives you peace and rest in the night season; no matter what terrors may lurk outside.

And now, again, as day by day and week by week throughout the year, through summer and winter, seedtime and harvest, here and now He comes into His House; and though He is your Lord, He girds Himself to serve you.  He gently invites you to recline at His Table, and here He waits upon you in tender love and mercy: He washes you and feeds you.  And in doing this, He gives you Life.

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

30 December 2012

To Sing of Christ in Peace and Joy


Now you are met, as Simeon and Anna were met, with the Christ, the Babe, the Son of Mary.

He is more than He appears, but, by the Light of the Gospel, He reveals Himself to you; so that, not only with your eyes, but into your arms, into your heart and soul, and with your mind and mouth, you receive Him, His Life, and His Salvation.

He is God’s Answer to your prayers.  He is the true Satisfaction of your deepest longing.  He is the reason and purpose for which you have been created.  And now He is here, with you and for you.

He is begotten of God the Father from all eternity, but now, in the fulness of time, He has been conceived and born of the Woman, St. Mary, in order to redeem you with His own flesh and blood.

That is why He comes to His Temple, and why He will enter the Most Holy Place, once for all, by His Self-Sacrifice upon the Cross, in His bodily Resurrection from the dead, and in His Ascension to the Right Hand of His God and Father.  He does all of this, in fulfillment of the Law, in order to save you from sin and death, to justify you with His righteousness, to sanctify you with His Spirit, and to glorify you with His own divine Glory as the Son of God.  These are things that only God the Lord can do, and by His grace He does them all for you.

He first of all becomes like you.  He takes human flesh and blood from His Mother Mary, in order to become true Man; and He opens her womb by His holy Nativity, in order to sanctify all the sons and daughters of man.  From conception and birth, unto His death upon the Cross, His whole body and life are devoted to His God and Father, to do His will.  From infancy, He is presented to the Lord, to grow up before Him — from true boyhood to true manhood — increasing in wisdom and stature, and learning to live, as you must learn to live, by grace through faith in the Word of God.

It is a great Mystery, indeed, that God should first of all become what He was not — without ceasing to be what He always was, and is, and ever shall be — and that He should then also grow in grace and truth, in faith and love, in His own human flesh and blood.  But so He does.  For in this way, He keeps, fulfills, and satisfies the Law of God, as the true Man, for all of mankind.

He lives by faith, entrusting Himself to the Lord His God.  And in love for His God and Father, He lives in love for you and all His neighbors.  As a Child, He honors His parents and submits to their authority.  He is chaste and pure in human celibacy, and in faithfulness to His Bride, the Church.  He cherishes her and cares for all her children in gentleness and peace.  He does not hurt nor harm, but helps all people, without prejudice, and gives life in both body and soul.  He does not rob, but freely bestows His generous good gifts, to both the evil and the good.

He foregoes His wealth and makes Himself poor, in order to make you rich.  He turns the cheek to those who strike Him.  He forgives the sins of those who trespass against Him.  He loves His enemies, and prays for those who kill Him.  And so does He pray and plead for you, with His own blood and righteousness, as your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.

So does He perform everything according to the Law of the Lord.  Even to the point of sacrificial death.  For His flawless obedience of perfect faith and perfect love take Him to the Cross; which is already there on the horizon, in His Presentation, when Mary and Joseph offer Him up to the Lord.  He is not redeemed or released from service, but He is consecrated for sacrifice.  For His Mother’s purification, “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons” are paid, the offering of the poor, because the Holy Family cannot afford the usual lamb.  But in this case, the Firstborn Male, who has opened her womb, is the Lamb who is given to God.  For He is the Passover.  His Blood is the Ransom.  His Flesh is the Meat.  His Cross and Passion are the Exodus from Egypt.

Now, then, if you would be released from the bondage of sin and death, and be set free from the house of slavery, receive this holy Child Jesus into your arms, and bless God by faith in His Name.  For He is your Life and your Salvation.  He is your true Light in the darkness; your sure and certain Hope when all seems lost and hopeless; and your sweet Comfort in all sorrow and temptation.  He is your great Redeemer, who brings you out from under Pharaoh’s bitter yoke, through the hard wilderness in safety, and finally into the Land of Canaan.

This Child who is born for you, this beloved Son who is given for you, He is your Peace and Sabbath Rest.  For He is the Christ who atones for your sins by His Blood.  He is the Mighty Lord who conquers death by His Sacrifice.  He is the Seed of the Woman, who crushes the accuser under His wounded heal.  And He is the Prince of Peace, who reconciles you to God, His Father, and brings you into His presence, blameless before Him in body, soul, and spirit, both now and forever.

Therefore, everything depends upon this Lord Jesus — yes, even upon this little Lord Jesus, who at six weeks of age is presented in the Temple — and nothing else matters, at all, apart from Him.

As you are met with Him, so are you confronted by His Cross, and that is the Sign that first of all opposes you: the Sword that pierces your heart and your soul, dividing between your bones and marrow.  It puts you to the test, by forcing you to choose between the Christ and the Pharaoh; between the Exodus and Egypt; between God and the devil.  There really is no middle ground, no compromise or living in-between; except the wilderness, which teaches you repentance by the Cross — which begs the question, yet again, and confronts you with the choice of life or death.

Theoretically, it should be easy: Your life is in Christ Jesus, so, there you go.  But, in fact, it is impossibly hard.  Because your heart is desperately sinful, and you are deathly afraid of entrusting yourself entirely to God in Christ.  You neither understand nor trust the paradox of the Cross: that you must die to yourself, in order to live with God.  That you must fall, in order to rise with Christ.  That you must be humbled in genuine repentance, in order to be exalted in faith and righteousness.

Between you and the Lord in the Holy of Holies, there stands the Sign of the Cross, which threatens to undo you, and does.  It is a swift and terrible Sword, which not only divides your heart and soul within yourself, but also divides and redefines your family and all of your relationships.  For it calls you to belong to God, so that you and your life are not your own, but His; and so that all of your feelings, all of your friendships, and your entire family are under Him, and under His Cross.  That is how deeply the Sign of Christ divides you.

If this work of repentance were yours — for that is what this falling and rising is; this revealing of the heart; this division of soul and spirit — it is repentance — and if this were your own work, you would be lost, and you would have no peace or joy forever and ever.  For you cannot break the yoke of bondage that lies upon you.  You cannot redeem yourself from sin and death.  You cannot preserve your life, nor can you save your mortal flesh.

But the work of repentance is the work of Christ Jesus.  It is for this work that He is appointed by His Father, for the falling and rising of many in Israel.  It is for this Cross that He is consecrated, in order to sanctify forever the children born of women, by the offering of Himself once for all.  It is for this death of His that He is presented to the Lord, in order to bring you to God in Himself.

So He comes to you now, and He calls you to Himself, and He crucifies the man or woman, the boy or girl that you have been, in order to make you alive in His own Body of flesh and blood, to fill you with His Holy Spirit, and to grant you perfect Peace in the presence of His God and Father.

You see, His redemption of Jerusalem, and His consolation of Israel, are not only what He has done by His Cross and Resurrection, once upon a time, but what He does for you and gives to you, even now, here in the Temple of His Church on earth.

That is why the Holy Spirit calls and gathers you here, by the Gospel.  For this is where your Life and Salvation are found, for you, in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus.  Here is where the Glory of God fills the Temple in the means of grace, in His preaching of forgiveness and in His holy Sacraments, which are His Pillar of Cloud by day, and His Pillar of Fire by night.

Even better, these Sacred Things are the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus.  In Him, you see the Face of God, and yet, you do not die, but live.  For His great Glory is the Gospel of Salvation, which shines upon you, that you may see and believe.

As the Holy Spirit brings you to this place by this Word of the Gospel, so by this Word are you anointed and filled and sanctified by the same Holy Spirit.  Thus are you able to live by faith, to bless the Lord your God, to serve Him day and night in His Temple, and to love and serve your neighbors in the peace and joy of Christ Jesus.

As scary as the Cross of Christ is, it is now also your comfort and your peace.  For by the Cross you have already died, and now, by the Cross, your life is safely hidden with Christ in God.

It is hidden, yes, but Christ is your Anchor behind the Veil, in whom you have entered into the Holy of Holies.  Indeed, at His Altar, here and now, where you eat His Body and drink His Blood, you rest in the bosom of the Father, and you abide in the Inner Sanctum of the Holy Triune God.

Now you are released from the fear of death, and you are set free to sing unto the Lord, to sing the New Song of God and of the Lamb.  For He has done marvelous things, for you and for all people, and here He feeds you with such good things, which shall not be taken away.  He remembers His mercy and His faithfulness to you, and to His whole Church in heaven and on earth.  Everything is safe and secure in Christ, your Savior.  Which is why your whole life is one of thanksgiving.

I know that your heart and spirit are not always thankful.  For that, I must say to you, Repent.  Do not give yourself over to discontent or grumbling.  But then I say to you, also, that Christ is your Sacrifice of Thanksgiving; as He is also your High Priest, and your constant Prayer of Faith.  He always lives to make intercession for you, and His Spirit also helps you in your weakness.  For Christ is your Offering to the Father, your acceptable Sacrifice, and your sweet-smelling Incense.  There is, therefore, nothing lacking, nothing amiss, and no accusation against you.  There is only thanksgiving for your life and salvation in this one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Therefore, beloved, now sing, as the Apostle instructs you to do.  It is no empty or futile exercise, but meet, right, and salutary.  It is good for you, and for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  For the Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of His Word fill you and the household and family of God with His Life-giving Holy Spirit.  They catechize you in the true faith, and strengthen you in faith and love.  And they bear the fruits of thanksgiving to God.

Such singing of Christ is both a principle part and a paradigm or pattern of the entire Christian life.  It is a godly work of faith and love, which both a little child and an old man or woman can do, by the grace of God, and by His Word and Spirit.  It chases away the devil, and glorifies the Holy Trinity, and allows the joy and gladness of heaven to echo throughout all of creation.

How so?  How shall a song do all of this?  How shall your voice accomplish such great things?

Because Christ the Lord, the Son of God, your Savior Jesus, has become flesh and blood.  He has a human voice, like yours, with which He speaks and sings the Word and Spirit of His Father.  And in His Body, crucified and risen from the dead, all of creation has been redeemed and sanctified for God: including you, your lips and tongue, your mouth, and your voice.  And in the Temple of the Lord, all cry out and sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth!”

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

28 December 2012

In and Out of Egypt with the Lamb of God


Do not suppose that death has got the upper hand, nor that death will have the last word.  For out of Egypt God has called His Son: the same Son, Jesus Christ, who has come in the flesh to bear your sins and be your Savior.  He has shed His blood and died for you, and God has raised Him from the dead.  Therefore, death has no power over Him; and neither does it have any power over you, who are baptized into Christ and belong to Him, now and forever.

And yet, despite all that, it would appear that death is still winning.  How many examples abound!  One hesitates anymore to read the news, when each new day seems to bring some new calamity.  The events of the past fortnight alone have been staggering: young children gunned down in their school rooms; firefighters shot while responding to a fire, deliberately started for the purpose of luring them to their death; and Christmas shoppers randomly killed in a Portland mall.

“In the very midst of life, death has us surrounded.”  And the fear of death, under its many guises, enslaves and tyrannizes you, and drives you to sin.  It is at the heart of all your selfishness and greed, your covetousness and idolatry, your deception and manipulation, and both your laziness and legalism.  For death has come into the world because of sin, and sin increases all the more in the fear of death.  It is a vicious cycle, which erupts here and there, within and without, sometimes with cold calculation, and then again with aimless outbursts of violence.

Sometimes, like King Herod, you get angry, and you fight back and defend yourself with force; as though you were a god, with the power and authority of life and death.

At other times, like Rachel, you despair of any help or consolation; you weep and moan, refusing to be comforted; as though there were no God, no Savior, and no hope.

Such fear of death, such anger, and such inconsolable grief are all sinful and unclean, because they are contrary to faith and to the love of God.

I tell you, then, repent of your misplaced fear, of your violent temper, and of your hopeless despair.

Wait quietly and patiently upon the Lord, and rise up at His Word to do what He calls you to do.  No matter how daunting, difficult, or discouraging the task at hand may be, get up and go in the hope of His grace, mercy, and peace.  Precisely as St. Joseph of Nazareth does in caring for his wife and for her Son, in fleeing with them to Egypt and waiting there upon the Word of the Lord.

But, yes, about that story set before us on this day: Again it would appear that death has got the upper hand, and that everything is out of God’s control.  After all, the little Lord Jesus has to be rushed away to safety in the middle of the night, while the innocent baby boys of Bethlehem are slaughtered in His wake.  Where is the justice or the hope in any of this?

To point out that everything actually unfolds according to the Scriptures, seems, on the surface, only to make matters worse.  For why on earth would God permit such atrocities to happen?

Why, indeed, does God permit you to suffer?

And why does God permit you to hurt and harm your neighbor?

In fact, God does respond and deal with evil, with sin and death, with fear and anger and despair.  Only, He does so very differently than you would do.  He is different, too, than Rachel and Herod.  He does not react with force, nor retaliate with the raw unbridled power of a temper tantrum.  He has no need to get “defensive,” as though He were backed into a corner and desperate for some way out.  Nor does He panic and throw up His hands in frustration.  He does not give up the fight.

True enough, there is a day of reckoning, a day of judgment, when God vindicates His people and punishes the sons of disobedience.  He does get glory against Pharaoh and the armies of Egypt, who are drowned in the depths of the Red Sea.  Herod also dies and is judged by the Lord.

But the Lord God demonstrates His almighty power over sin, death, the devil, and hell, chiefly by showing mercy to sinners, and having compassion upon them, and forgiving them all their sins.  He is patient and long-suffering, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  He establishes His righteousness in the midst of the nations, not by punishment to start with, but by redemption.  Else we should all be lost, completely and forever, and then there really would be no hope at all.

As it is, the Lord our God is faithful in His mercy, and He is righteous in His forgiveness of sins.  Therefore, Herod’s treachery does not triumph, because death does not get the last word.  Herod’s slaughter of the innocents is no less sinful and wicked on that account, but neither does it win.

God does not fail or neglect the children of Bethlehem, but He calls them to Himself and rescues them from every evil, unto the life everlasting in body and soul.  Their little bodies are cruelly butchered and put to death, but God gives them rest, and He shall raise them in glory at the last.

Because the Lord Jesus does not “run away” in fear from danger and from death, but He proceeds in faith to the death of His Cross, which shall be at the time appointed by His Father in heaven.  No one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down willingly when that Day and that Hour come.

Unto that purpose, He grows up — from infancy, through childhood, into adulthood — in order to redeem the entirety of human life.  He lives in faith and love, from the first to the last, on His journey to the Cross.  And as true Man, He learns to refuse the evil and choose the good.  That is to say, He learns to live by faith in the Word of God, even in the midst of sin and death; so that He goes to His death, not as a helpless babe in His Mother’s arms, but as the Perfect Man of God.

In all of this, He does not escape the trials and tribulations of this life — which the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem are spared (though their mothers and fathers are not).  But He submits Himself to every bit of the Great Tribulation: for you, and for your salvation, and for the sake of all people.

He enters Egypt, in order to rescue and redeem His Israel from Egypt: in the confidence that His God and Father will call Him forth by the new and greater Exodus of His Cross and Passion.

Not at Herod’s whim, but in fulfillment of God’s holy will, the Lord Jesus lays down His life in the hope of the Resurrection, trusting the Scriptures of the Prophets, the promise of His Father.

He thus becomes the Passover Lamb, who is slain in place of beloved Isaac, and in place of the sons of Israel, and really in place of all the children of men.  He is pierced for our transgressions, wounded for our iniquities; and by His stripes we are healed.  He is crucified, dead, and buried.

But now, behold, He lives!  For He is raised by God to life again, which is our justification, our righteousness and holiness before God in heaven.  And so does He return to His own territory, to the Right Hand of His God and Father.

Beloved of the Lord, you now follow this Lamb, Jesus, wherever He goes, so that you are with Him where He is: First of all by your Baptism into His death, and so also by the eating and the drinking of His true Passover Feast, which is His Body given and His Blood poured out for you.

So shall you be with Him forever, alive with His Spirit in body and soul, holy and righteous in the presence of His Father, residing in peace on the heavenly Mount Zion.

This is your future, and in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, it is your sure and certain hope.  Amen, Amen, it shall be so!  As it was for the believing baby boys of Bethlehem when Herod put them to death, but he could not rob them of their life, which is in Christ Jesus.

To be sure, your time now under the Cross — in the wilderness to and from Egypt — is not easy; whether you must care for your neighbors in hardship and adversity, or mourn for those who die.  It was neither easy for St. Joseph and the Holy Family, nor for the grieving fathers and mothers of Bethlehem.  And let us not make light of the Cross that is thus borne in this poor life of labor.

But the truth remains: For Christ has died, and Christ has risen from the dead.  And He has written His Name — the Name of His Father — with the sign and seal of His Cross upon your forehead.

Therefore, God also calls you out of Egypt in His Son.  Indeed, you are His beloved son in Christ!

Have no fear of death, for it has been undone.  Restrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your sins are all forgiven.  The devil, who sought your life, is defeated; he cannot harm you anymore forever.  You are ransomed and redeemed by the Lord your God, and you are taught the New Song of the Lamb, who has purchased and won you with His own Blood.

Even now you sing His Song in the strength of His Resurrection, which is the surety of your own resurrection from the dead; because He has become your Salvation, evermore and evermore.

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

27 December 2012

The Light No Darkness Can Overcome


Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome.  For the Life and the Love of the Father are in Him, and with such divine Love He has manifested Himself to us, in order that we may have that Life with Him forever.

In Him you see what otherwise cannot be seen.  In Him you see God, and you know God as He truly is.  And in His very flesh and blood, you know and receive the works of God, which are grace and truth.  For in His flesh, all of creation is fulfilled and perfected.  So are you also redeemed from the darkness of death, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ is the Propitiation for all your sins; and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  This is the Light that scatters the darkness and shatters the works of the devil.  Because the sacrifice of Christ, the Son of God, for the salvation of sinners, accomplishes the good and gracious will of God, and makes known the Father to all the children of men.  In this, the Name of God is glorified and hallowed among us, and His Kingdom comes to us from heaven.

To know God rightly is to know this Love of the Father in Christ, and to be sanctified by His Spirit through His forgiveness of all your sins.  As all of this is now revealed to you, and given to you, through the Word of the Gospel, so do you have peace in place of despair, and life instead of death.  For not only is God with you in Christ Jesus, but He is for you; He is on your side.  He is here to help you, because He loves you.  His life and death and resurrection — in His own Body of flesh and blood — are the guarantee of that Love: which was, and is, and is to come.

This is your Light in the darkness.  This is how you get your bearings, so that you know who you are, and where you are, and where you are going, and how to get there.  For knowing God as your Savior in Christ Jesus, you have Life with Him forever.  Everything else takes its cues from that.

So, then, by His Word and Holy Spirit, live that divine Life which is yours in the incarnate Son of God.  Walk in the Light, which shines upon you in His Gospel.  Which means, first of all, that you give careful attention to His Word.  For that is where and how the Life of Christ is set before you.

Blessed are your ears, which hear the reading and preaching of the Holy Scriptures!  And blessed are you, when the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ gives to you His Holy Spirit, so that, by His grace, you believe His Holy Word and live according to it!

Faith follows Christ Jesus in His Word, and love follows faith.

That is how you walk in the Light; namely, by listening to and learning from the Word of Christ, so that you might thereby live and love as He does.

Open your ears, therefore, to hear and heed His Word; and so keep your eyes on Jesus, and follow Him.  You are His disciple, and He is your Light in the darkness.

Look neither to the right, nor to the left; and do not turn around to look behind you, but move forward in faith.  I do not mean that you should forget what the Lord your God has done and said and given in the past; but do not linger on your own past works and accomplishments, as though your life were there, in glory days gone by.  Rather, leave the past in repentance and forgiveness, and give thanks to God for the promise of His mercy and the hope of the Resurrection.

Do not look sideways at your neighbor with envy and jealousy; nor compare and compete with your neighbor, as though he were your opponent or your enemy.  But consider the people around you with the holy compassion of Christ.  Care for them in love, and with forgiveness for their sins.  Do so, especially, within your own place in life, on the path to which Christ Jesus calls you.

To turn aside or depart from that path, is to wander away from the Light, to walk in the darkness.  Then you will surely stumble and fall — and do not suppose that you will manage anything else.

Child of God, do not sin!  For in such darkness there is only death and despair.  Do not scheme and strive to light your own way, so as to get life for yourself by your own designs and ingenuity.  And do not abandon the faith and fellowship of God for the friendship of the world.

But here is how you shall live: Do your duty, according to God’s command and your neighbor’s need.  That is to exercise the faith and love that you find in Christ Jesus.  And be content with what you have been given, in the confidence that God, who loves you, has given His only-begotten Son to die for you, and has also raised Him from the dead, in order to give you all good things in Him.

In the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, in His eternal great High Priesthood as your Savior, you live, now and forever, in the presence of His God and Father.  That is your “royal priesthood,” which is carried out within your own particular place in life, whether that be in service to a ripe old age, or by way of an early martyrdom; whether in Jerusalem, Athens, Ephesus, or Rome.

Wherever God has put you, love your neighbor there, with whatever means the Lord has put into your hands.  That is the chief purpose of your time, treasures, and talents, namely, to glorify the Name of the Lord your God, by using what He has given you to love and serve your neighbor.  You’re quite safe to do that, because the Lord Himself provides for you, in love, all that you need, and far more than you could ever ask or hope or imagine.

Instead of seeking to get and to keep whatever you can for yourself, freely give to your neighbor what you have freely received from the Lord of all, by His grace.

That is what St. John the Apostle and his fellow Apostles have done; with special thanks and praise to God for the holy Evangelists, who have recorded for the Church the words and deeds of Christ our Savior!  What they received, they also have given; nor were they emptied or undone by doing so, but filled up and glorified in the very Son of God.  That is how it is with the good gifts of God: they are multiplied as they are divided and distributed, as in the case of the loaves and fishes.

So has St. John written what he himself saw and heard and touched — for the reading and the hearing of the Church on earth, even to the end of the age.

In this Apostolic Word, no less than in the flesh and blood of Christ, the Life of God — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is manifested.

This proclamation of God is an admonition and a warning, to be sure, which calls you to repent; to turn away from your sins, from darkness, and from death; to cease doing wrong, and to do what is right.  But the Word of the Apostle is not a scolding or a threat.  It is the very Word of God, in which the Gospel predominates, because the Gospel is the very heart of God in Christ.

St. John writes to you, in order that you may be set free from sin, not through your own works and righteousness, but through your Advocate with the Father, who is Jesus Christ the Righteous.

The Apostle and Evangelist writes, so that you may be set free from death, and that you may have Life in Jesus through faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.

This is the great joy of St. John and of all the holy Apostles, that you should have fellowship with them in this Word that has been written.  Imagine that! — As we rejoice in the fellowship of the Apostles, so do they rejoice in you, who believe and live in Jesus by their Word.  And not only that, but your fellowship with the Apostles is the fellowship of the Holy Triune God, whereby you also now live and abide with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit.

In order for that to be true — and it is most certainly true — it must be as St. John has testified, that everything he witnessed, and all that he received from Jesus, he has conveyed to you with this Word he wrote.  Not simply as history and information, but as the ongoing continuation of all that Jesus began to do and preach from the beginning, even to the ends of the earth.  Which is why the whole world is now filled with this Word of Christ, and even the whole world cannot contain it.

Beloved disciple of Jesus, what St. John saw with his eyes, and looked at, and touched with his hands, is here given and poured out for you.  Recline here upon Body of the Lord who loves you, at His Supper, and know that, in His flesh and blood, you are safe in the bosom of the Father; because the Blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses you from sin and releases you from death.  For where there is forgiveness, as there is forgiveness for you here, there you shall not die, but live.

This is the true Light, which shines for you in the darkness; the Light no darkness can overcome.

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

26 December 2012

The Feast of St. Stephen, the Martyr


There are those whom you have hurt, and those whom you have failed to help.  Whether you have been the one throwing stones at your neighbor, or quietly standing aside while others stone him.

You are not so complacent about your own body and life; nor are you so patient with those who are throwing things at you.  Instead, you are quick to retaliate, and more ready to call down vengeance than forgiveness on those who trespass against you.

To withhold forgiveness from your brother or sister; to view your neighbor as your enemy; to hurt instead of help; to speak words of accusation, and to refrain from speaking words of defense, is to call down the wrath and judgment of God — not only upon your neighbor, but upon yourself.  By the measure and criteria with which you judge your neighbor, you shall be measured; you shall be judged; you shall be weighed and found wanting.

The Lord sends His messengers to you, to call you to repentance, to bring you back to Himself in love.  For His heart’s desire is to gather you unto Himself, to nestle you under His wings in peace.

It is a gentle life to which He calls you, but His preaching of repentance is not a gentle word to get you there.  It is, rather, kill or be killed, because of your sin, your unbelief, and your idolatry.  You cannot be wrenched away from your false gods without suffering violence at the deepest level of your life.

Either you are put to death by the preaching of repentance; or you put the preacher to death, either with hostility or apathy, with active persecution or passive rejection.  There is no middle ground.

There is a terrible irony in all of this: Unless you die, you cannot live; and if you live as you want, you bring death upon death upon yourself.  Either way, you die; but without God, you do not live.

The Lord desires to gather you to Himself and give you life with Himself forever, but in your native unbelief, you are unwilling and unable to come to Him.  You’re afraid of His Word, which threatens to undo you, and so you resort to fight or flight.

You retaliate, or you retreat, but you do not repent.

Further and further you fall into death and self-destruction, despair and other great shame and vice, unless the Lord Himself shall call you to life and light and salvation by His Word of the Gospel.

His Gospel is the Word of His Cross.  For you come into Life in the presence of God only by the way and the means of His own death — and, in so far as you are His, you share His Cross and suffering!  You are not wrong to suppose that He is out to kill you.  You must die to live.

Where, then, is there any safety or protection for you anywhere?  When you feel safe and secure in the world — when you make your nest in its comforts — you are lost in your own perdition and in grave danger of eternal death.  But there is no other house in which you can live, and no place to lay your head, except for the desolate Temple of the Lord and upon the harsh wood of His Cross.

It surely seems as though everything were lost and hopeless!

The Lord has given exceedingly great and precious promises to those who trust in Him, yet He brings these very things to pass through the narrow passage of suffering and death.  There is never any life or hope or peace for you here on earth, but that which is under the Cross.

You love the Lord — and people hate you for it.

You serve the Lord — and the world around you either does not care at all and pays you no heed, or else it despises and ridicules your faithful service.

You serve and care for your neighbor — and he takes it for granted, or spits in your face.

You are a child of God.  You believe and trust in Him.  And you belong to Him.  And yet, for that, you are hounded day and night by the lying and murdering devil, who hates you; and there is this warfare raging in your own sinful flesh, a daily battle of temptation.  You are prone to sin and vice, on the one hand, and to hopeless despair on the other hand.  In desperation, you may even lash out at your neighbor, whether he is friend or foe, gnashing your teeth in fear and anger and frustration.

The gravest trial and temptation of all is that you would attempt to take and seize for yourself what can only be received by grace through faith in the Cross.  For only the Lord can give you life, and His life for you is always given by and with the Cross — which threatens to destroy you!

This conundrum is one you cannot escape.  Repent of your efforts to fight or to flee.  By your own wisdom, reason, and strength, you cannot endure the battle, and you shall not survive it.  It is kill or be killed.  Either murder and be executed, or be martyred and put to death.  You die either way.

But now, beloved of the Lord, lift up your head and behold your Redeemer, the crucified One, who is at hand.  He is here with you, even as He is at the right hand of God.  He is here to help and defend you — to die and rise with you — and to bring you with Himself to the Father in heaven.

It is true that He is here with His Cross, which is both death and life for you.  But you die, then, with Him, so that your resurrection and your life are also with Him, and they are forever.

Everything is determined and defined for you by His Cross.  Hear that again: It is His Cross.  You cannot understand or celebrate Christmas, nor any of the Christian faith and life at all, apart from that Cross and Crucifixion of the Christ.

Every stone that you have thrown, He has borne in His own flesh and bone, in His own Body.  Every sin that you have committed or complied with, He has taken it upon Himself.  So also every stone that is thrown at you; every bruise and unkind word; every trespass against you — He has suffered it; He has undergone it.  And over all of this, He has prevailed with steadfast love.

He has not faltered.  He has not failed.  He has done it all willingly, for you and for your neighbor, for your loved one and your enemy, for the pious and faithful, and for the lazy and impious bum.

For all who suffer the curse of sin and death, He has suffered the Cross.

He has suffered the Cross, and by His death He has broken death, because He has paid for every sin with His own life.  The sentence has been fully served.  The death penalty has been carried out.

Here is the vengeance of the Lord!  Here is His revenge for every wrong!

The Judge has thus spoken.  The Executioner has been satisfied.  His work here is done, and every other punishment has been stayed.  You are reprieved.  His Resurrection is your emancipation proclamation.  It is the Lord’s own Word of Absolution for you and for the world.

You are forgiven, and you are set free to live.

You are free also to forgive those who sin against you, who hate you and hurt you.  The Cross of Christ has borne their hate and hurt.  It is not only against you, but He has taken it against Himself, and yet He does not hold it against them.  He has obtained forgiveness for them and their wrongs by the shedding of His holy and precious Blood.  You also: forgive them.

Do not despise the costly gift of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, by refusing to forgive.  Pray instead for repentance and faith, for yourself and for your enemies, for your family, friends, and foes alike.

Instead of seeking vengeance — do not hurt or harm your neighbor, neither his body, his home and family, his property and honor, nor anything that is your neighbor’s — but you be put to death by contrition and repentance for your sins.  Return to your Baptism, in which you die and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  Emerging from those waters, the heavens are opened to you, and you behold the grace and glory of your Savior, the dear Lord Jesus Christ.

Seeing Him in His Gospel, who is at the right hand of the Father, who always lives to intercede for you with His own Blood, know that death cannot harm you.  Where Jesus is, there you are, and there you shall be.  The sting and death of your sin has been undone and shall be lifted at the last.  And those who hurt your body cannot destroy you forever; they cannot rob you of your life.

Here is the throne of God.  Here is the gate of heaven.  Here are the fruits of His Cross and Passion.  Taste and see that He is good, that His mercy endures forever.  Ponder His glory: it is forgiveness.  It is the gift of life: for you.  He does not hold your sins against you, but receives you to Himself in love, in peace and joy, in gentleness and kindness, even as He has granted His Spirit unto you.


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

25 December 2012

Perfected in the Flesh of the Word

No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes his body.  It’s not a matter of pride or personal affection, but of need and survival.  There may be all sorts of things that you really don’t like about your body, and yet, you are constrained to care for yourself.  Your aches and pains are bothersome, but you give attention to them, rather than ignoring them, because they are your own.  Your flaws and weaknesses may frustrate you, and your blemishes and scars may embarrass you, but you deal with all of these things, because you cannot separate your body from your self.

There is an immediacy to the demands of your flesh, which you simply can’t ignore; and so you do the best you can to protect and provide for yourself, despite the fact that you actually cannot preserve your body and life beyond a limited point.  You’re driven to nurture and care for yourself for as long as you can do it, while all the while you are confronted with the fact of your mortality.

No one ever hated his own flesh, but neither can you trust it.  You know that, sooner or later, it’s going to let you down, fall apart, or otherwise betray you.  You serve it every day, because you have to — it eagerly and greedily becomes your god — but your body cannot save you.  Instead, it makes you anxious, angry, and afraid.  Your own flesh discourages and disappoints you.

The whole of creation presents a similar challenge and temptation.  Though the rest of the world is not so personal as your own body of flesh and blood, there is still an immediacy to all the stuff that you can see and touch, and taste and smell, surrounding you on all sides and pressing upon you.  It is so tangible, so present, and so solid, as though it were definitive and decisive, whether for good or ill.  Creation promises and threatens, seemingly without any recognition of the Creator.  Thus, faith and fear are misdirected, from God to the world.  You either idolize or demonize it.

A case in point is the sun, which God created as a great light to govern the day.  It is surely an impressive and valuable gift, and, oh, how we miss it when it goes down at night or hides behind the clouds.  Of course, we also curse the sun when it beats down too hotly upon us and burns us.  But mostly we rely on it, so much so that we often express our hope for the future in terms of the sun coming up tomorrow.  That may be a confession of confidence in the Lord, who causes the sun to shine on both the evil and the good.  Or it may be another case of pagan idolatry.

You have probably heard, at some point or another, that the Feast of Christmas competed for a time with the pagan festival of sol invictus, the “unconquered sun,” which followed the winter solstice in late December.  The lengthening of the days appeared to be a triumph of creation over death.

Modern conceit is no better than ancient paganism, in supposing that, with gadgets and electricity, we are now able to provide and control the light for ourselves, against any and all darkness.

Christians know and confess that Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is the true Light, which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.  He is the true Sun of Righteousness, who has risen upon us with healing in His wings.  Neither is He a creature, nor within anyone’s control; but He is the divine Word by whom all things are made, and without whom there is nothing at all.  The sun, moon, and stars, the earth and the sea and all that is in them, all of these are His creation, and He is the One who still preserves them and provides for them.

The Light of this Son, Jesus, is the Life that is His by nature, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, from all eternity to all eternity.  It is the holiness of His Life and His freedom as the one true God.  For He is neither constrained by anything, nor in need of anything, but He is who He is: He was, and is, and is to come.  So He remains, always the same, and all of Creation depends upon Him.

But why, then, has He created the heavens and the earth?  Not out of boredom or need, but for the sake of holy Love!  Because the divine eternal Life of the Holy Triune God is Love: the Father for His Son, the Son for His Father, in the Holy Spirit, forever and always.  It is in this Love that He always remains, always the same; and so it is for the sake of this Love that He creates all things ex nihilo, “out of nothing,” in order to share Himself — His Life, His Light, and His Love — His Glory and His Holiness — with others outside of Himself, that is, with His own creatures.

This is the grace of God, of which we so often speak, and for which we glorify His holy Name.

By this grace, through His almighty and eternal Word, the Father created man in His Image; which is already to speak of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus — the Word made Flesh — from the very beginning, from the foundation of the world.  This is a great Mystery, indeed: that man is made in the form and the likeness of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Son.  The first Adam is created to be like the Second.  For the Lord Jesus Christ is the Image of God, the exact representation of His Being.

The Incarnation of our Lord is not an afterthought.  His conception and birth of St. Mary are not a “plan B,” but are the original creative purpose and gracious intention of the Holy Trinity; that God should become Man in this way, in order that man might receive and share the Life of God in Him.  Indeed, that is the very foundation upon which the entire Creation has been established.

From the beginning, it is this Word of God — the only-begotten of the Father — who fills Creation with divine Life and Light and Love; not only bringing all things which have been made into existence, but undergirding and sustaining them.  Neither man, nor the sun in the sky, nor any creature under heaven is self-existing or self-sufficient.  Which is why the fall into sin is so deadly and destructive: In turning away from God and His Word, man plunges everything into darkness.

Yet, as we rejoice on this holy day, divine Love moves to rescue and redeem, to sanctify and save His fallen creation: Not simply to restore man to the starting point again, but fully to complete and perfect mankind, as He intended, in His own Image and Likeness, in holiness and righteousness.  That is what the Word of God has set about doing in His becoming flesh.

By His conception in the womb of St. Mary, and by His holy Nativity, He has become one with His Creation.  He has entered into it, and in doing so, He has become the definitive part of it.

He comes to His own, to the work of His own hands, and although He is neither comprehended nor received by those whom He has come to save, He accomplishes and brings about a New Creation in Himself: Not by scrapping it all and starting over, but through the forgiveness of sins, by the sacrifice of His own flesh, and by the shedding of His own blood.

In doing so, in laying down His life in this way, He did not hate His own flesh, but in divine Love He gave Himself for you, that you might become a member of His Body and His Bride.

Although this may seem self-defeating and tragic, namely, that the Son of God should suffer and die for sinners, this is actually the fulfillment and perfection of His Creation.  Not as though sin and death were by God’s design, but because they are utterly unable to thwart His purposes, and they rather become the occasion for His great Salvation.

As God, in the flesh, He saves you from sin and death, and He gives you Life and Light and Love.  This, too, is a creatio ex nihilo, a “creation out of nothing,” for there was nothing and no one else  who could have done this thing.  It is God Himself, and He alone, who saves you.  But being also the true and perfect Man, He does so in perfect faith, in perfect love for His own God and Father, and in holy love for you and for all people.  Thus, grace and truth are realized in Jesus Christ.  The faith and love required by the Law are accomplished and established in Him, in His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood.  And so the “government” of the whole world is upon His shoulders — the “economy” of all Creation rests upon Him, and resides in Him, and shall not be shaken.

It is for this purpose that He became flesh and was made Man, so that, by His Cross — and in His Resurrection from the dead — you who were dead in your trespasses and sin should be given the New Birth of the children of God: by the washing of water with His Word and Holy Spirit.  Your Baptism into Christ Jesus is the New Creation by which you have become the man or the woman that God intended you to be: a beloved son or daughter after His own heart, in whom He delights.

No longer do you live and die in the darkness, since the Light of Christ has risen upon you and shines in your heart through the Gospel.  No longer are you driven by desperation to take care of yourself at the expense of others, since the Life of Christ now fills you and sustains you through His Word and Spirit.  No longer are you cast off and distant from God, since He has drawn near to you in Love; and you now live and abide in Him by faith in the Word of Christ, your Savior.

This Word of God is with you, because, by the preaching of the Gospel, God the Father speaks to you by His Son.  He is not an empty or futile word.  He is not white noise or meaningless chatter.  But He who is spoken to you is the creative and life-giving Word, by whom all things are made; by whom you are named with the excellent Name of God Himself, and sanctified by His Holy Spirit, and glorified with the radiance of His own divine Glory.

By this preaching of the Gospel, the Lord God Almighty bares His holy arm — which is the arm of Christ, the Crucified — to all the nations of the world, even to the ends of the earth.  And not only does He make known His Salvation, but His Gospel actually saves you, and grants you His peace; because it does exactly what it says, which is to forgive you by the Cross of Christ Jesus.

That same Word of the Gospel becomes Flesh for you in this Sacrament: The One Who became like you, now feeds you with Himself, that you might become like Him.  The One who shed His Blood for you, now gives you to drink of His Blood — from His Chalice, with the mouth of your own body of flesh — that you might be cleansed and refreshed with the Life and Love of God.

See, then, how solid, how present, how immediate and tangible this Word is for you.  See here how the true Sun of Righteousness now shines upon you.  See here the perfection of Creation in His Body and His Blood.  And see here, beloved, how in this eating and drinking you become flesh of His Flesh and blood of His Blood; that you are thus wed to Him, as a member of His holy Bride; and that all of you together become one holy Body of Christ.

This true Man surely does not hate you, but loves you dearly, and nourishes and cherishes you with Himself, with His whole life.  Not by any constraint, nor with any selfish desperation, but in the perfect freedom of His holiness and divine grace.

Nowhere is the heart of God more open to you than here.

This, then, is the New Song that you sing to the Lord, and the Good News that you shout joyfully to the whole world; because the Word of God is put into your mouth, upon your lips and tongue.

Surely all the angels worship Him, who is your Savior.  And all of heaven rejoices in His mighty works and great Salvation.  For of His fulness you receive, His grace upon grace everlasting, in this Son who is given and poured out for you.

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

The Midnight Christ Mass


We have prayed that the Lord would rend the heavens and come down.  And He has come.

He is coming to you now.  And He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

Already here and now, the Glory of the Lord is shining upon you; the great God and Savior has appeared in your presence.

Therefore, what sort of person ought you to be?  How should you be living?

Do what you are given to do, not begrudgingly, but zealous for what is good and right, for what is godly, sensible and righteous.  If you are a husband, love your wife.  If you are a mother, care for your child.  If you are a shepherd, tend your sheep.  And whatever you do, whether eating or drinking, waking or sleeping, wherever God has placed you on earth, do all to the glory of God: in peace and with love for your neighbor.

You are right to be humbled by the Glory of God, and by His Word.  Your are right to fear His Law, His wrath and judgment, for He shall judge the world in righteousness and truth.

But hear His Word of the Gospel, which is for you today: He is your Savior, and He has been born for you, to redeem you from sin and death, and to purify you with forgiveness for life everlasting; that you may live with Him in His presence, and serve Him without fear.

This true and greatest Glory of God is hidden and mysterious; because it is not finally the obvious, overwhelming and irresistible glory of power, might and punishment, but the gentle and quiet Glory of a voice that speaks forgiveness.  It is the paradoxical divine Glory of a powerless little Child, the Word-made-Flesh, who will submit Himself at last to voluntary suffering and death.

Punishment terrifies you, but you can understand it, and you know it when you see it and feel it.  Indeed, apart from this Gospel of the Christ Child, you cannot see or feel anything other than punishment and death (which is all that you deserve on account of your sins).

But this paradoxical Glory of divine humility and weakness perplexes you.  Apart from the Word and Spirit of God, you would not and could not recognize or comprehend it; on the contrary, you would be tempted to despise and reject it.

Repent of your sins and failings, but do not be afraid!

Here you are called by the Gospel, enlightened by the free gifts of God the Holy Spirit, and gathered together with the Body of Christ in His Kingdom of Peace.

He is both your Shepherd and your King.  He cares for you, feeds and waters you, guards and protects you, leads and guides you, in steadfast love and mercy for you.  He rules you with justice and righteousness — not that of the Law, but of the Gospel: His own perfect righteousness of grace prevails for you, because He has redeemed you from sin and death, rescued you from every evil, reconciled you to Himself in peace, and sanctified you with His own holiness.

Here is where and how you find Him, because He has come to be with you here in His Church on earth: His Bethlehem (His House of Bread).  Here He feeds you from the feed trough of His Cross, from the manger of His Altar, with the Meat and Drink indeed of His own Body and His Blood.

This is the Body of the Baby born of Mary, who shed His Blood for you upon the Cross.  He has been wrapped in cloths, both at His Birth and in His Burial, for you and your salvation; and here He is wrapped in vestments and paraments, in chalice and paten, veiled under the bread and wine: for you, this day, in this place — a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

What is there to be afraid of in any of this?  It is all for your great joy and blessing, for your life everlasting.  There is no threat of punishment in this little Babe who comes to save you; there is only forgiveness and peace.

The zeal of the Lord of Hosts, the God of Sabaoth, has done it.  With divine grace, He has done it for you; and all the angels in heaven rejoice in this, your salvation.

The holy angels praise and glorify God for your salvation.  Shall you not also praise Him, give thanks to Him, and honor Him?  Not because you must appease Him with obeisance, far less as though to stroke His ego with flattery.  He has no need of anything from you, but showers you with grace and every blessing, with or without your prayer.  Yet, how much more shall we, His Church, His people, give all thanks and praise and honor and glory to Him, our Savior and our God.

Receive His gifts with thanksgiving, therefore.  Receive them here and gladly.  Feast upon the sacred food and drink, the flesh and blood of Christ, which He provides and pours out for you here in this place, in this holy house (made holy by His presence), in the midst of this very night.

And rejoicing in His mercy, return to your office and station in peace.

Know that both you and your neighbor have such a Savior as this, who comes not with terrors to destroy you, but with gentleness and immortal kindness to serve all men everywhere; to serve you.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, who was and is and is to come, the one true God, both now and forever.  Amen

24 December 2012

Christmas Eve Catechesis


Sing for joy, O earth, and lift up your voice in song, all you people of the world.  For Christ your Savior has come to dispel the darkness of despair and death.  In His Love for you, He has come to shine His Light of the Gospel upon you, in order to give you His Life.

In this, beloved of the Lord, He gives you nothing less than Himself — in flesh and blood just like yours, save only without sin and no longer subject to death.  For He has become Flesh, true Man, a human being like you, in order to unite Himself to you — and you to Him — so that, by His grace, you may become like Him.

He has come in the flesh, conceived and born of Mary, in order to bear your sins and carry all your sorrows in His Body to the Cross, thereby to conquer death and shatter all the power of the enemy.

He takes upon Himself — and He removes from you — all your guilt and shame, all your doubt and fear, all your frailty, flaws and weaknesses.  In place of sin and death, He gives you Life and Salvation in both body and soul, already now in His Church on earth, and in heaven forever.

For He is Immanuel, "God with us," in order that you may be with Him, where He is, and live with Him in His Kingdom in the glorious Light of His presence, abiding in His Love forever.

That is why the angels sing and glorify God in the highest, even as they proclaim His glory and salvation on earth.  They praise His holy Name and give Him thanks for His grace toward all mankind, for His Incarnation and His holy Nativity, and even now for His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.  They rejoice with us and for us — for you — because they delight in the good and gracious will of God, in His forgiveness and salvation of all of us poor sinners.  That is His glory, that He freely chooses in love, in His divine grace, to rescue His fallen creatures and reconcile the world to Himself.

If the holy angels thus praise and magnify the Name of our Lord, how much more shall we rejoice, give thanks, and sing; for He is not the Savior of angels, but of all the children of men.  He Himself has become true Man, not only to save us from sin and death, but in order to share His divine nature and eternal Life with us, in our flesh.

It is truly meet, right and salutary that you should sing for joy on this night, with all the holy angels and with the whole Christian Church in heaven and on earth.  And you are able to sing, even in the midst of deep darkness and under the shadow of death, because the Lord has spoken to you and sings His Gospel to you, here and now.

True, the shadow of death does lie heavy and thick upon the world, and it presses hard upon you, upon your loved ones and upon your own mortal flesh and blood.  All the bright lights and colors of the season cannot stave it off nor keep it at bay.  Wars may or may not cease fire for holy days, but the hospitals and morgues cannot shut down, not even for twenty-four hours.  Remember those who serve in those places, as well as the police and firefighters, paramedics and rescue workers, who keep working while the rest of the world parties, because death continue day and night.

Not only the world, but Christians likewise suffer and die and are buried, even at Christmas and at any given time in this poor life of labor.  Sometimes in a classroom, at the mall, or in a movie theater.  At the wheel of your car, or asleep in your own bed.  Perhaps this very night.

In the face of that, the joyous singing and celebration of the Lord’s Incarnation and holy Nativity may seem a pretense, perhaps insensitive to the pain, or inappropriate.  And it is fair to ask: Are we only fooling ourselves?  Crafting smiles on corpses in the hopes that no one will notice?  But who are we kidding?  There are ups and downs, highs and lows, good days and bad days, sure, but all of your days will finally end in death — maybe sooner, maybe later, but unavoidably.

The problem is not that you are a finite creature, but that you are sinful.  You are mortal and die because you are sinful and you sin, from the inside-out.  You exist and live at all by the gracious Word of God, and yet your sinful heart still doubts, denies, disbelieves, and despises His life-giving Word.  This is the darkness in which you grope.  And that is why you die.

Sin leads to death because it is a turning away from God and His Word.  And as such, it leads away from love to selfishness and greed and desperation.  For having turned your back on your Creator, on the Author and Giver of life, you spend all your days in a frantic pursuit of a life you presume to make for yourself.  In a thousand different ways, by all manner of tactics, you grasp for it, and you horde whatever you find, but still you cannot hold onto it or keep it for long.

This is your darkness, and you cannot see your way clear or find your way out of it.  You cannot save yourself.  You were conceived and born in this dark valley, and whatever else you have gotten from your parents, you have received from them and share with them the inheritance of sin and death.  That is the legacy of sinful man, from Adam & Eve to the end of the world.

The problem is within you, as well as all around you.  It is not only your parents but you, also, are sinful and unclean.  You do not fear, love and trust in the Holy Triune God as you must, and you do not love your neighbor as the Lord has commanded.  Therefore, the harder you scheme and strive to elude the darkness and escape your fate, the worse it all gets.  Because you do not love, neither God nor man, you do not and cannot know God, who is Love.

Such ignorance of the one true God is deadly and damnable.  What you believe to be true is false.  What you consider good is evil.  What you perceive to be light is only a deeper and more sinister darkness.  Your heart and mind are clouded as darkly as your mortal body is overshadowed by the certainty of death.

And yet, despite all of that, we sing; and we are neither foolish nor ignorant to do so.

For into the darkness shines the great Light of God our Savior.  Into the valley of the shadow of death strides the Lord — the beloved and only-begotten Son of the Father; the Christ, anointed by the Holy Spirit; the incarnate God, who is true Man with us and for us, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, blood of our blood.

He strides into the arena, a greater Gladiator than this world has ever seen, and He joins the battle against all your foes.  He sets Himself against all your enemies, as your own Champion against sin, death, the devil, and hell.  He scatters the darkness and disperses the gloom, because He is the Light, and the darkness cannot overcome Him.  Death and the grave will swallow Him up in time, because He lets them; He actually gives Himself over to them in our place.  But having entered into the deep dark depths of Sheol, He shatters that grim dungeon from the inside-out, breaks all its bars and blows its doors off their hinges.

This Lord Jesus Christ has conquered in the fight, and He sets you free, because He has given Himself for your sins.  He has died your death, and He has destroyed its power over you by His dying.  He has atoned for all your sins by the shedding of His blood, so that no charge remains against you.  The devil has no legitimate claim on you, nor any valid accusation to level at you, because the Lord Himself has redeemed you, exonerated you, justified and vindicated you.

When God the Father raised this same Jesus, the Son of Mary, bodily from the dead, who bore your sins in His body of flesh and blood and suffered and died in your place, He raised you up out of darkness into His marvelous Light.

That Light of His Redemption, His Cross and Resurrection, His Righteousness and Reconciliation with God the Father, shines upon you in the preaching and ministry of His Gospel.

That is where and how you “see” Him and know Him, by faith, by the hearing of His Voice.  He speaks and sings forgiveness of all your sins, and with His Word He gives you Life.

This Voice of the Gospel is the way and the means by which He loves you — with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength, with His body and His blood, with His whole self, with all that He is and has.  He loves you, that is where His Life and Light begin for you. He first loves you, and so, by the light and warmth of His love, you see the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God in His face, and you truly begin to live — in Him and with Him.  He loves you, and so you learn to know His love, to know Him, to love Him, and to love your neighbor as Christ Jesus loves you.

His Voice of the Gospel sounds forth in the darkness; it permeates and prevails over the darkness, which can neither comprehend nor overcome it.  He speaks, and there is Light, as His Word called forth the Light out of the darkness in the beginning of His Creation.

Once more He speaks to you from heaven, through His messengers on earth: “Here is your Savior. Your sins are forgiven.  You shall not die, but live.” And with this Word of His, He raises you from death to life.

Do not be afraid.  Do not retreat into the darkness of despair and death, from which the Lord Jesus sets you free.  Do not run away and hide from the bright Light of His Voice, but hear and believe what He preaches: By Himself He has sworn to bless you and keep you, to give you life and grant you perfect peace and rest.  As He has spoken, so is it done.

And as He speaks and sings so sweetly to you, so are you able to confess His Word and praise His Name, to pray and give thanks, to rejoice and sing — by the Light of His Gospel.

Oh, come, let us sing unto the Lord and raise a joyful song to the Rock of our salvation.  For He who is our Life and Light, who loves us with a neverending Love, has done great things for us.  Holy, holy, holy is the Name of this Lord, Jesus, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is one God, now and forever. Amen.

23 December 2012

The Lord Comes to Sanctify You for Eternal Life


She rises and runs in a hurry to the house of Zacharias in the hill country of Judah, in accordance with the Word that God has spoken to her.  She proceeds in faith on this way that He has set before her, because He has coupled His promise to her with Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy.  Therefore, Mary goes in faith, in order to see this sign which the Lord has given her.  And she goes in love for her elderly relative, in order to serve and care for Elizabeth in those final months leading up to labor and delivery.  For the older woman has secluded herself from her relatives, neighbors, and friends, and her own dear husband, Zacharias, is unable to speak with her throughout the long nine months.  What a blessing, then, to welcome young Mary, even if there were nothing else to it!

But Elizabeth not only receives the Blessed Virgin into her home; she also rejoices in the Lord who comes to visit her within His Mother’s womb.  She, too, responds in faith and love to the Word of God, which is revealed to her through the confession of her unborn son, St. John.  In this way he begins to fulfill his office as the Forerunner, heralding the presence of the Christ.  The Lord had said that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb, and now, in utero, he leaps for joy at the sound of St. Mary’s voice, at the Advent of her Son.  So it is that Elizabeth welcomes, not only Mary, but her Lord and her God.  And in this faith, both women praise and magnify His holy Name, and they love each other well.

You are called to live and do likewise, according to the Word of the Lord that He speaks to you: To trust His promises, to follow the path He sets before you, to receive and love your neighbor, and to rejoice in God, your Savior.  Because, in truth, what the Lord has done for dear St. Mary, He has done, not only for her, but for you, and for all; for the benefit and salvation of the world.

In her womb is the union of God and Man, the intersection of the Lord Almighty, by whom all things were made, with humble human life on earth.  Blessed is she among women, and blessed is the Fruit of her womb, Jesus!  For by His Incarnation — by His becoming flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood — He becomes like us, and He comes to be with us, in order to save us.

All the more blessed is she, and everyone else, who believes the Word of God and keeps it: in the confidence that He will do exactly as He says.  For He is faithful, and He does it.  To believe what He says, therefore, is already to have what He promises, and to live by His grace in peace and joy.

His Word to you is challenging and difficult, as it was for Mary and Elizabeth.  He is faithful, no doubt, and He provides all that is needed for this body and life; but in this fallen world of sin and death, it is not easy.  His presence is hidden from your sight, in His Church, as it was hidden in the womb of His Mother when He visited the house of Zacharias.  And His Word is spoken in, with, and under the Cross, which appears to be the very opposite of divine life and glory and salvation.

It is only by the Holy Spirit that you believe His Word and live according to it; not by your own logic or reasoning.  And the Holy Spirit is bestowed precisely by that Word of Christ, and through His flesh and blood, as these are administered to you by His servants within His Church on earth.

If this seems like a circular process — no understanding of the Word apart from the Spirit, and no Spirit apart from the Word — that is because it comes to you by grace from the Lord, from outside of yourself.  It’s not something you can enter by any intelligence or effort of your own.  You can’t force your way into it.  But it comes to you and enters you, solely by the grace of God in Christ.

What is this, but grace?  That the Lord your God, your Savior and Redeemer, in mercy comes to visit you, here in His House, “in the belly of His Mother,” as it were: in the womb of His Church.

Thus, by His grace, by His Ministry of the Gospel, the Lord Jesus pours out His Holy Spirit upon you, and you are filled with the Spirit of God.  Thus are you sanctified by Christ in your body and soul, and so it is that you live in faith and love, and you care for one another in peace and joy.  For the Lord your God is with you, and the Holy Spirit strengthens you, in your vocation as a Christian, in all of your going out and coming in, even forevermore.

The significance of all your days and your whole life is found in St. Mary’s Son, who still comes to be with you.  He truly is Immanuel (God with us).  He comes to redeem you from sin and death, and to sanctify you for eternal life with Himself, and with His God and Father, in the Holy Spirit.

It is for this very purpose that He received, from the body of His Mother, His own Body of flesh and blood; that is, in order to save you in body and soul, by sacrificing Himself upon the Cross, and now by sanctifying you with the fruits of His Cross, that is, with His Word and Sacraments.

Thus, your ears hear the Word of the Lord, which He preaches to you, and your mouth then speaks in prayer and praise, confessing and singing His Word.  So, too, in a similar way, your whole body and life are raised up in faith and love; not as a merely external token, nor as simply going through the motions, but as a living sacrifice of yourself, from a heart of faith, and with the mind of Christ.

It really is a life-changing visitation that He makes to you here.  Your heart and mind, your body, soul, and spirit are sanctified by His presence, because He comes to abide with you as the One who has atoned for you.  He has reconciled you to God, and so He grants you peace with God; indeed, He is your Peace.  For He comes to be with you, in order to bring you to God the Father in Himself.  Thus to be and abide with God in Christ is your life and your salvation.

And as He comes to dwell with you here — no less so than He once tabernacled in the womb of St. Mary — so does He also go with you from this place, to wherever you may go, throughout all your days on earth — just as He visited the house of Zacharias and Elizabeth within the body of His Mother.  That is how and why your life, even now, in the flesh, has meaning and purpose and value and significance — in Christ — each of you, uniquely, within your own particular place.

The fact that your mortal flesh is still dying, all the while, does not contradict or undo the truth of this Gospel.  It was no different for Mary and Elizabeth, and yet, you see that God accomplished His purposes in them.  Likewise, again, the fact that your efforts are frequently disregarded, and that you may not seem to be doing any good, does not change who you are in Christ Jesus.

For God is your Savior, and He is with you; and, not only that, but He Himself has shared your mortality and suffering, and has risen from the dead in His own human Body of flesh and blood.

It is the Lord your God who now humbles you, therefore.  Not that He would destroy you, but in order to exalt you in Christ Jesus.  That is to say, He kills you in your sinful self, in order to make you alive in Himself, in His holiness.  He thereby takes away your self-righteousness, in order to justify you with His own righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

He lets you go hungry, in order to feed you from His hand; so that you would thereby learn to live by faith in His Word.  He leaves you powerless, so that you would lean upon His Mighty Power.

His Law condemns you and puts you to death, with its commands and prohibitions, with all of its threats and punishments.  But the Law is not the last Word.  For Christ Jesus has fulfilled the Law and completed it for you.  He has suffered all its punishments in your place, but, having met all of its demands in perfect faith and love, in holiness and righteousness, He has been vindicated of its accusations and its condemnations, and has thus established the Gospel, for you and for all people.  This Gospel of His does not condemn you at all, but comforts you with forgiveness.  And it does not kill you, but raises you up from death to life in the resurrected Body of Jesus Himself.

Proceed in the certainty of that Word of the Gospel, in the peace and confidence of Christ, your Savior — and in fearless love for your neighbor within your own proper station — no matter how difficult or scary your path may be.  For the Lord is faithful, and His Word and promises are true.

It is in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus — the Seed of Abraham, the Word made Flesh, the Son of Mary — that the words and promises of God are all fulfilled.

For He humbles Himself and takes on the form of a servant (not by His becoming true Man, in which there is no shame but the Image of God, but by His voluntary bearing of sin and death in His Body of flesh and blood).  And in that humility, He is obedient to His God and Father, even unto death, for the salvation of sinners.  In perfect faith and holy love, He lays down His life on the Cross, as the Sacrifice to end all sacrifice for sin.

And God His Father vindicates Him, raises Him up, and exalts Him at His Right Hand forever.

It is in His Cross and Resurrection, therefore, that you are now brought to genuine repentance — that you are humbled in contrition for your sins, yes, but then also raised up and exalted through faith in His free and full forgiveness of all your sins — unto the life everlasting in body and soul.

Already in your Holy Baptism, you share the Cross of Christ and His Resurrection from the dead.  And that Holy Sacrament signs and seals the entirety of your life — your body and soul, your heart, mind, and spirit — and all of your days and your deeds — in His Peace and Sabbath Rest.

So, too, the Lord continues to come, to visit you, to sanctify and save you, to give you life with Himself in both body and soul, in the Remembrance of His Mercy.

St. Mary sings of this “Remembrance” in the Magnificat — as Zacharias does in his song, the Benedictus, such as we considered this past Wednesday.  This “Remembrance” of God is the very thing that Zacharias means (in Hebrew).  It is a most appropriate name for a priest, because the liturgical work of the priests — the various sacrifices, the arrangement of the show bread in the holy place, the offering of incense, the priestly vestments, and the whole administration of the Covenant — it was all for the Lord’s remembrance of His people, in accordance with His Word.

So, now, in the Sacrament of the Altar — which is the New Covenant of God in Christ — His servants speak and act according to the Lord’s Word and Institution, “in remembrance” of Him.

In this way, and by this means of grace, in the Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, your dear Lord Jesus Christ remembers you in mercy.  And with that, His God and Father remembers Him as your Savior; not as an exercise of intellect, as though He might otherwise forget, but rather as an active affirmation of His Atonement, by which you are saved.

As He thus remembers you in love, He gives His Mercy into your hand, into your mouth, and into your body: that is, the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, risen and ascended, and now given and poured out for you.

Thereby He and all His benefits, and all that belongs to Him, are given to you and becomes yours.

Here, with His flesh and blood, He visits you and does great things for you; and He fills you up with these good things, which shall never be taken away from you, but shall bear good fruits in you, even now, and in the resurrection of your body at the last, unto the life everlasting of your body and soul; through the same Jesus Christ, your Lord.

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

21 December 2012

The Feast of St. Thomas, the Apostle

The Peace of the Lord is with you, because the Lord Jesus Christ is with you in this place, in this preaching, at this Altar.

He is with you in peace, because He has reconciled you to Himself and to the Father by His voluntary suffering and death, by His self-sacrifice upon the Cross.

He is the one true God from all eternity, but for you and your salvation He has become true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In His own human body He has borne your sins away, and all your griefs and sorrows, to the Cross. All of this He has put to death and buried with Himself, to do away with it once and for all, and to leave it in the tomb forever. Yet, He has risen from the dead in the very body with which He shares your humanity and in which He has carried the burden of your sin and guilt. Thus, in His Resurrection you also are set free. For with His own flesh and blood He has redeemed you for Himself, for Life with Him and with His Father in His Spirit forever and ever.

All of this is true, whether you believe it or not. And He is here for you with all of this grace and every blessing, whether you believe it or not; whether you are here to receive it or not.

You have the testimony of His servant, St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist; and from St. John you have also now heard the confession of St. Thomas, that Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen One, is the Lord your God. The entire apostolic witness and the confession of the whole Christian Church on earth is that He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity; and that on the last day He will raise you from the dead and give eternal life to you and to all who believe in Him, for His Name’s sake.

Be at peace, therefore. God and man are reconciled. Death has been defeated, because sin is forgiven; your sin is forgiven. The devil has no real power over you. The grave shall not be able to contain you. Christ has arisen, and you too shall rise and live.

Do not be afraid. Do not fret or fuss or figit or fight. Do not be faithless, but believing and faithful. Abide in peace with your neighbor, as God is at peace with you in His Son. Be gathered together with the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, to be with Him where He is.

Do not rely upon yourself. Do not be a loner; it is not good for you to be alone. Do not lean upon your own understanding, nor trust your own wisdom and experience. Do not suppose that what you see and feel is truer than the Word of the Gospel that is preached to you. And do not succumb to skeptical doubt or cynical despair.

Be where Christ is with you, here; believe and trust in Him. And so live with your neighbor in love. Live and abide with your fellow disciples, your brothers and sisters in Christ; and live also for your neighbors in the world. Reach out to them, to one and all of them, with the hands of Christ. Speak the Word that is spoken to you; confess the Word of the Gospel, which is Spirit, Truth and Life. You have nothing else worth saying. You have nothing to give but what you are given.

If you look at yourself, you would be right to conclude that you are not sufficient to the task that you are given. Look, you are wounded by your sin and pierced with guilt. You are riddled with doubts and fears, surrounded by dangers and death. Your strength wavers, your body wears out; your mind falters, and your heart faints. Battered about by winds and waves of strife and temptation, you cannot help but fall and sink. You are threatened with oblivion on every hand, at every turn.

What you see and feel and experience is no help, and there appears to be no hope. The good that you would do, you do not. The sin that you should not, you do, again and again and again. Death stalks you like a nightmare; it pursues you day and night, and eventually it will catch you. And as far as you have ever been able to tell, those who die remain dead and buried.

Neither in your family and friends, nor in your own health and strength, nor in your thoughts, words and actions is there anything, anywhere, that would save you (or anyone else) from death.

How, then, are you to reach out in love to your neighbor, when you have no strength to lift a finger, nor even to grasp at straws? How are you to strengthen others when you are so decrepit and fragile yourself? How are you supposed to encourage your brothers in faith, when you are so discouraged and doubtful and down? How can you even think about your neighbor and his need, when you are so consumed by worry and suspicion?

See here, now, the Lord Jesus Christ reaches out His hand to lay hold of you and help you. Yet, even this seems a dismal sort of rescue! If you consider the men He calls and sends to serve His people — with nothing but the Gospel to do it! — you are sorely tempted to despise His gifts. Cowardly Gideon? Playboy Samson? Peter the denier? Paul the persecutor? Doubting Thomas?

What are any of these men but mortal flesh and blood, wounded and weak, sinners no less than yourself? They stumble and fall. They are put to death and buried. They have no power in the eyes of the world, no fame and fortune, no glory but the Cross of Christ and His Word of the Gospel.

Look at these hands. They have no strength. They cannot pull you from the fire, nor back from the precipice. What good are they? They have nothing to give you, but what the Lord puts into them — and what has He given? Water? His Name? His Word of Absolution? Bread and wine? Shall any of this be able to save you from disaster?

The entire life of the Church is like this. It is a minority in the world, make no mistake about it. Huddled together as a tiny band against the masses. Pastors and people alike are frail and always under the weight of more burdens than resources. If they are not being put to death, they are dying nonetheless. There’s always more to be done than time, money, or people to accomplish it.

Little wonder that you become cynical and sarcastic, skeptical and incredulous. You want something to believe in, something tangible and solid, something sure and certain, something you can see and feel and touch and handle and trust.

Dear friend, be at peace. The Lord is with you. He is here for you. These hands are His hands for your benefit. If they are wounded and scarred, as you are wounded and scarred, know that He has been wounded for your transgressions and pierced for your iniquities, and by His scars and stripes you are healed.

Your doubts and fears are faithless unbelief, but He is faithful; you are forgiven. Your demands are selfish and impertinent, but He does not hold them against you; He is merciful and comes to serve you with care. He puts Himself at your disposal. He places Himself into your hands. He entrusts Himself to you, as He who rules the cosmic deep entrusted Himself to the arms of His Momma.

Witness His love for you. His humility is not weakness but strength and salvation — for you. His Cross and Passion, His suffering and death are not His defeat but His victory — for you. His mortal flesh and blood are not impotent but salutary gifts and life-giving benefits — for you.

His hands and side and feet are pierced and wounded; they bear the marks of crucifixion, of execution, of nails and spear. But Christ the Crucified, the One who was dead and buried, has risen from the dead, and He has all compassion for you. And life!

There is no human logic here, but divine Wisdom. His Cross if foolishness and weakness, but it is the power of God unto salvation. His Cross has not defeated Him, but it has conquered death and crushed the devil’s head; and this same Cross saves you, and gives you everlasting life, through the forgiveness of all your sins.

From His Cross, the Lord Jesus breathes His life-giving Holy Spirit upon you with His Word of Absolution. Your sins are forgiven, and so you live, even though you die. For those who live and believe in Him will never die.

From His pierced and wounded side is delivered His Eve, His glorious Bride, the Church. Of her you are a member; not by your own wisdom, reason or strength; not by your own choice or decision; but by His grace He has called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified you with the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins; the removal of all your guilt and shame; rescue from all your doubts and fears. With this Gospel He has healed you of unbelief and granted you faith.

His wounded hands pour out His Blood of the New Testament, which permeates the waters of your Holy Baptism and cleanses you, as it also continues to fill and overflow the Chalice of the Holy Communion, poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

So do His wounded hands extend to serve you and reach out to feed you with His holy Body, given for you, that you may remain a member of His Body. Hide yourself there, in Him, at this very Altar.

Reach here your hand. Take and eat. Drink. Open your mouth and be fed. Do not be unbelieving, but believing. And be at peace. The Lord is with you, and His Peace is with you always. The One who died for you has risen, and you also shall live. For He forgives your trespasses and remembers your sins no more. In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen