30 December 2013

Where in the World God Is

Where in the world is God?  That is the question, which is answered for you in this Holy Gospel.

It is His Word that points you and guides you and brings you to Him, even as it is by His Word that He is with you here on earth.  Indeed, He is with you, here and now, by His Word.

He reveals and gives Himself to you in the most unlikely of ways and places; which is among the reasons why you will not find Him, nor will you be able to recognize Him, except by His Word.

As from the beginning, everything happens according to the Word and promise of God.  But what He does for you, and how He does it, is where and when you least expected Him to be and to act.

Surely no one is looking for a king from within the house and lineage of David, not in the days of great Caesar Augustus and the mighty Roman Empire.  Far less does anyone expect the Son of God in the flesh, who is Christ the Lord, our Savior.  Yet, as the Lord has promised, so it is.

Not in Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph are from; nor in Jerusalem, where the Temple and the king’s palace are found.  But in the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, the “house of bread,” that is where the Living Bread from heaven now appears and is given for the life of the world.

Appropriately, this Bread of Life is laid in a manger, a feeding trough, because ye sons of men, and ye daughters, too, are called to feed on Him, to eat and drink His flesh and blood, to be forgiven all your sins, and so to live on Him.

And He is wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in the manger, because He has come naked from His Mother’s womb into this world, as He shall hang naked on the Cross for the sins of the world, and then be swaddled in shrouds and laid in the tomb (where your bed should otherwise be made).

These are the sacred signs that have been given and repeated, first of all to the shepherds then, and to the Church on earth ever since, including now to you.  The Word marks the place where the Christ Child is to be found, who is the Lord your God, the Savior and Redeemer of mankindThe Word is still manifested to shepherds, as they guard and keep their flocks, by night as by day: to the pastors of Christ’s sheep and lambs, who are fed upon the pastures of that Holy Word.

The pastors are pointed and led to the Christ Child in the House of Bread, in His Manger Bed, and thence return to make know the Glory of God in Christ to the flocks of His Church, to the sheep of this Good Shepherd.

Thus are you called by the messengers of the Lord to find and receive your Savior, Christ Jesus, in this “Bethlehem” of His Church: Swaddled in the paraments and linens, cradled in the vessels of the Holy Communion, and laid for you upon the feed trough of His Holy Altar in the bread and wine which, at His Word, are His holy Body born of Mary, given for you; and His precious Blood outpoured, for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins, unto life and salvation.

Here, then, according to the Word of God, is the true Christ Mass; at which, no less, you are joined by the choirs of angels in singing the majestic hymn of Christ’s Holy Church: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth!  Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory!  Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord, and blessed are you in Him, who is here with you in Peace, evermore and evermore.

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

29 December 2013

Living in the Hands of God

The example of St. Joseph is a beautiful confession of faith; and it is a good example, because the Lord our God, in whom he trusted, is faithful in His mercy and compassion, and in all His Words and promises, who has saved us from sin and death by His Son, the Child born of Mary.

Truth be told, appearances notwithstanding, it is the Lord who has you and your situation and all things in His hands, in His care and keeping.  Although you do have responsibilities, you are not in control of your life and your future.  Not really.  But neither are your enemies, no matter how big and strong and powerful they may be.

No, the Lord your God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth, He is the Author and Giver of Life, and He is the One who governs all of creation for the sake of His Church.  He accomplishes His purposes, in love, for the salvation of sinners, by His grace and mercy and forgiveness.  Not only “in spite of” those who oppose His will, but even through them, contrary to their own designs — He fulfills His Word and promises.

So, too, He guides and guards His faithful people — including St. Joseph and you — by and with His Word: As written by His Prophets and Apostles in His Holy Scriptures, and in the preaching of His Law and His Gospel by His messengers, whom He sends to speak to you in His Name.

All that He has spoken, He has fulfilled in the Person of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, conceived and born of St. Mary.  As He is the Word of God made Flesh, He is the accomplishment of God’s good and gracious will: for you and for all people.

He is the promised Son of David, the Shoot of Jesse (in Hebrew, the Nazar of Jesse), anointed by the Spirit of His God and Father to be the King of the Jews, to rule and shepherd His people Israel, the sheep of His pasture.  And not for Israel and Judah only, but for all those who are the children of Abraham by faith in the Gospel.

He Himself, the Son of God and of St. Mary, is the Epitome of faith and trust in God His Father.  Of course, from all eternity He is of one substance with His Father, of one mind and one will, in and with the Holy Spirit: one God, now and forever.  But also in His own human flesh and blood, from His conception, even in His Mother’s womb, He is fully devoted to God with His whole heart and mind, His body, soul, and spirit.  His human will conforms entirely to the divine will, even to the point of His great anguish, suffering, and death upon the Cross.

In this, He has been consecrated and devoted to the Lord, much as the Nazarites were dedicated to the Lord by their vows and in their obedience.  In His case, it is not only for a set period of time, but with His entire body and life, and with His very flesh and blood, even unto death.

It is finally on the Cross that He is called the Nazarene.  For by His voluntary sacrifice, He fulfills the Scriptures of the Prophets, and He accomplishes the will of God for the salvation of the world.

His death and burial are on the horizon and anticipated from the beginning: So also in Herod’s persecution, and in the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.  But God His Father calls Him out of Egypt — as He will draw Him out of the Red Sea waters of His Baptism — and so does He call Him out of death and the grave.  This, too, is “according to the Scriptures,” just as we confess.  And in this Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, God the Father also calls you out of death into Life, to be His beloved and well-pleasing son, by adoption and by grace.

He calls you by the preaching of His Word — to repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins, and to newness of life in Christ Jesus.  He calls you, as He called St. Joseph, to live according to His Word within your vocation as a Christian, and within your own particular place here on earth.

Although it is true that neither you, nor your life, nor your future, are in your own hands — for they are in His — it is also the case that He accomplishes His purposes in you and through you, and He cares for others, including His Church on earth, by means of your faithful service.

Here, too, consider the example of St. Joseph, who quietly and quickly obeys the Word of the Lord in caring for his Bride, St. Mary, and for her Son, the Christ Child.  Such a task it is, and of such great importance!  But the Lord God provides for the Child and His Mother, and He preserves their lives, by the hand of His servant, St. Joseph.  He does the same for your neighbor by your hand, as you work and serve according to His Word.

As for St. Joseph, so also for you, the Word directs you in the darkness of night, in the midst of great danger, on paths of real difficulty.  The world hates you, as it hates the One whose Name you bear.  And the devil himself seeks your life more viciously than any King Herod.  In the face of all that, you have only the Word of the Lord to go by, and there are times when, like St. Joseph, you are afraid of the foes who reign so fiercely in the world.  The task set before you is too daunting, and yet, it is too important to fail.

But, now, get up and go!  Hear and heed the Word that God speaks to you by His Son.  Remember that you, and your journey, the outcome of your duties, and your destination, all are in the hands of Him who loves you.  God has guarded the Child with His Mother, and so does He guard and keep you.  He has been at work through St. Joseph, and He is now at work in you, to will and to do His good pleasure, for you and for your neighbors.

The guarantee is in Christ Jesus, who has been crucified for your transgressions, and, yes, who has been raised for your justification.  Out of Egypt God has called His Son — in order to bring about this great salvation.  Rachel, weep no more!  For He will surely bring you back from death into life, into the Land of Israel, even into Paradise the blest.  This promise is for you and for your children, and for your children’s children and their children yet unborn.

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

28 December 2013

These Are the Ones Who Follow the Lamb

The Feast of the Holy Innocents is a rather shocking celebration.  It is painful and hard even to think about such a brutal crime as the slaughter of those little boys of Bethlehem.  But, why, oh why, for God’s sake, must we celebrate that sad memory on this Fourth Day of Christmas?

And yet, here it stands, precisely for God’s sake, for the proclamation of His Glory, and for the sake of our salvation.  In fulfillment of several Old Testament Prophecies, under the good and gracious will of God, and at His Word, the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents is part and parcel of the Christmas story — no less so than the Shepherds of St. Luke’s Gospel, or the Magi who have just departed for their own country by another way.

We observe this day — indeed, we celebrate this Feast — not out of any morbid fascination with the gruesome details of Herod’s wickedness.  This is not Herod’s story, in any case; nor was he the one calling the shots, after all, his evil machinations notwithstanding.  No, it is in the humility of repentant faith, under the Cross of Christ our Lord, that, on this day also, we confess His Cross and Passion — His holy and precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death — to be the real heights of His divine glory and the living fountain of peace on earth and good will toward men.

This is what Christmas was and is about: the birth of the one Child who was born to die for us all.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, like every other Christian Feast, is a celebration of His Cross, which these young martyrs of Bethlehem were given to share in advance by a Baptism of blood.

As throughout the Holy Gospel, you are given to find yourself in this story, and to hear this Word of God in Christ addressed to you and to your circumstances (under His Cross).  Not as a checklist of rules and regulations with which to work your way into heaven, but as a Word of the Gospel of the Cross, whereby you are washed in the blood of the Lamb.  Thus are you called by this Gospel, not to work, but to be crucified, dead, and buried with Christ Jesus, in order to be raised with Him, as well, and to live with Him in His Kingdom in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever.

You are here called by God the Father Almighty to be His own dear child: to be united with His only-begotten Son, in His crucifixion, death, and burial, unto the Resurrection of His Body and yours, to the life everlasting of body and soul.  You are called out of Egypt, covered by the blood of this Lamb, through the waters of the Red Sea; fed by the living Bread from heaven in the desert; and led through the waters of the Jordan into the Promised Land.  For this is the true Exodus, fulfilled in the Christ-Child, Jesus, ultimately by His own innocent death and holy blood-shed.

He gathers up into Himself (and He fulfills) the entire history of Israel, that He might then become and accomplish the salvation of the true “Israel,” that is, of all those who are the children of Abraham by faith (who are the sons of God in Christ).

He is Isaac, who was spared a sacrificial death at the hand of his father, that the Child of Promise might become the blessed Seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the world are blessed.  And He is Joseph, the son of Israel and Rachel, who was spared a murderous death at the hand of his kin, that He might prosper in Egypt and accomplish the Lord’s great salvation of all people.

And He is Moses, who was spared from the slaughter of the innocents at the hand of a tyrant Pharaoh, that He might be raised up by the mighty, outstretched arm of the Lord — in order to lead His people Israel out of slavery and death, into the freedom of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Yet, this same Child who is spared on this occasion, who is called out of Egypt as the very Son of God, He shall be the Firstborn Son who is sacrificed and slaughtered in the place of all the others.  For He is the Lamb whom the Lord Himself provides for the requisite sacrifice.  Indeed, He is the true Passover, whose blood covers His people — including you — from the angel of death, and whose flesh is Meat indeed, your meal of salvation.

What Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Joseph and Moses, and all the others sons of Israel could not do (and could never have done or accomplished for themselves), He — the Son of God and Mary’s Son — has done and accomplished for them all, and for you and me and all mankind.  He has done so, ironically, by the way of His own voluntary suffering and death upon the Cross.

Yes, it is by His death that He has conquered death and sheathed its sword.  It is by His stripes that you are healed.  It is by His blood that you are cleansed and forgiven, your iniquities pardoned.

Of course, the irony is, that the victory of the Cross appears to be anything but a victory in the eyes of the world.  It is so contrary to the wisdom of the world and to anything that man would ever hope or expect.  So, also, when you are given the Cross to bear, it feels like crushing defeat, and it can surely seem as though the Lord has abandoned you to the punishment, suffering, and death that you deserve for your sins.  Then come the tears of mourning, and loud lamentations, when you stubbornly refuse to be comforted, as though your life and every hope were done for.

Truth be told, your old Adam is — and must be — crucified, dead and buried with Christ Jesus.  And yet, again, it is precisely by and through His Cross that you are rescued from sin, death, and hell. Your death is life indeed: in Him!  This is, to be sure, the great paradox (and divine mystery) of the Christian faith and life, beginning with your Holy Baptism: It is by dying with Christ and sharing His Cross that you also share His Resurrection and live with Him in His eternal salvation.

It is this divine paradox of the Cross and Resurrection — and therefore, also, the mystery of Holy Baptism — that we are given to perceive and celebrate in the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  The wickedness of sin, death, and the power of the devil, is unable to prevail or to thwart the great salvation of the Lord, because He has taken even the last and most fearsome enemy, death, and He has bent this terrible opponent to His own will, to serve His own good and gracious purposes for Life, for you and for all people.  So it is, that even the wicked death of innocent children must bow before Almighty God and serve to the praise and glory of His holy Name, for Jesus’ sake.

In the death of the Holy Innocents, you are given a picture of your own death with Christ in Holy Baptism, wherein you become a newborn child of God and enter His Kingdom with childlike faith.  In each case, death is swallowed up in victory by the death of Christ Himself, the incarnate Son of God, upon the Cross.  The blood of the infant martyrs of Bethlehem, like the blood of all the righteous martyrs from Abel to the end of the world, proclaims and gives witness to the precious blood of Christ Jesus, which cleanses you from sin.  Thus are the tears of mourning sanctified, like the waters of Holy Baptism, to become a gracious and life-giving flood of salvation.

Out of Egypt the God and Father of our dear Lord Jesus Christ calls you to be His own dear child.  He calls you through the waters of Holy Baptism into the Resurrection and the life everlasting.  He opens your mouth to show forth His praise, in both life and death, by placing on your tongue and on your lips the “new song” of the Cross.  For you are called to follow the Lamb wherever He goes; and so do you follow Him through suffering and death into the Promised Land of heaven.

There before the throne of God and of the Lamb — gathered together with the Holy Innocents and with all the dear children of our Father in heaven (whose angels do always behold His face) — there you feast upon the Lamb of God, who is your Life and your Salvation, now and forever.

Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears.  In the valley of the shadow of death, fear no evil.  For even in the land of the enemy, the Lord is with you.  Here in the desert, between the Exodus and the verge of Jordan, you are fed by the hand of God with the very Bread of Life, and your thirst is quenched with the spiritual drink that flows from the side of Christ, your Savior.

“There is hope for your future,” declares the Lord, who speaks the Truth and does not lie.  It is the sure and certain hope of His own Cross and Resurrection.  This promise is for you, and for your children, and for your children’s children.  It is for all who believe and are baptized in His Name.  So it is that you shall rise to see the Lord in His own territory, and abide in the land of the living.

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

27 December 2013

Blessed Are Those Who Hear This Word

Blessed are those who read and those who hear the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, as recorded by His bond-servant St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist.  For by this Word, you receive the grace and peace of the One who was, and is, and is to come.  You walk in His Light as an heir of His Life and Salvation, clothed in His Blood and Righteousness forever.

Truly, for all of this, it is meet and right to remember St. John with thanksgiving unto God.  For the Lord has chosen to reveal Himself and give Himself to you by the hand of this holy Apostle.  Indeed, do not take lightly the significance and benefit of this apostolic Word, which is uniquely foundational to the Christian Church.

What St. John and his fellow Apostles saw and heard, and even touched and handled — the only-begotten God, the Word-made-Flesh, the incarnate Son of the Father, your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ — no less than He is manifested and communicated to you in the Word of His Apostles, written and proclaimed.  As the Father has spoken His Word to us in the Person of His Son, so is He now spoken to you in the apostolic preaching of the Gospel; whereby you have entered into the joyous friendship of the glorious company of the Apostles, and of the one Lord, Jesus Christ, and of His God and Father and the Holy Spirit.

You cannot separate your Savior, Jesus Christ, from this apostolic Word of His Gospel; nor can you have the One without the other.  Nor do you have God as your Father apart from this Word of Christ.  But none of us would have this Word, if not for the Apostles of our Lord, whom He called, ordained, and sent to preach His Word.

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ; and by that Word, that is, by the Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins in His Name, you have believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, your Savior.  And by such faith, you live and abide in Him forever.  Not metaphorically, rhetorically, or theoretically, but actually and tangibly: for real.

In the apostolic Word of Christ that is preached to you, by His grace, through faith in that Word, you have received everything that the holy Apostles beheld and heard and grasped in the Person of Jesus Christ, the incarnate God conceived and born of Mary.  Which is to say that you, also, are a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ: a disciple whom He loves.  And you, also, are given to recline with Him at His Supper: cleansed and sanctified by one and the same Christ, by His washing of water with the Word; and fed from His own hand, His holy body and precious blood.

He who has come from the bosom of the Father, who reveals God to us, has taken you into His embrace, to rest upon His bosom, to find your shelter and protection, your life and your salvation, there in Him, in His own human Flesh.

As you have thus been called by His Word of the Gospel, by His forgiveness of all your sins, to live and believe in Him, so it is that you shall never die.  For so long as you abide in Him, by grace through faith in His Word of the Gospel, you shall continue to live, even though you die!  Not by any reason or strength of your own, but by the good and gracious will of God for you in Christ Jesus, your Savior.

The life that you now live, therefore, you live no longer for yourself, but for Him who for your sake died and was raised.  And you live that life, in Christ, in whatever office or station to which He has called you.  Whatever it may be, and however it may seem to the world (or to you), that is the place where you glorify the Name of Christ and serve your neighbor in faith and love.

It will be different for you than for your fellow Christian disciples; as it was different for St. Peter than for St. John.  Therefore, do not look back to see where you have been, and do not look around to compare yourself to your  neighbor, nor speculate about your neighbor’s life and service.  But, as for you, follow Christ Jesus wherever He shall lead you by His Word and Holy Spirit, whether in life or in death, knowing that your true life is now hidden with Christ in God, and that, when He appears in Glory, so shall His Life be fully manifest in you forevermore.

Take heart, dearly-beloved disciple.  Repent of your envy and jealousy, your coveting, your doubts and fears, your denials and betrayals, your haughty arrogance and faithless despair.  And in repentance, not only sorrow for your sins, but take heart in Christ; and do not be afraid.

The Lord Jesus Christ, by the Word of His Apostles — by the Holy Scriptures recorded by St. John, and by the preaching of that Word — He continues to fill the world with His gracious deeds of Life.  And so does He fill you.

When the bright Light of His Law exposes and condemns you, know that He remains faithful and righteous to forgive your sin and cleanse you of all unrighteousness.  For He Himself is the Propitiation for all your sins, and for the sins of the whole world; and the merciful Light of His Gospel shines yet more brightly upon you than His Law.

You are already clean, therefore, by this Word that has been spoken to you (this Holy Absolution of the Gospel): All of your sins are forgiven!

It is in that Light of Christ that you have fellowship with St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist, and with all the saints who have gone before us in the faith, and with one another and the whole Christian Church in heaven and on earth.  For at His Word, once heard and received by the Apostles, now spoken and delivered to you here, you have fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and, in Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  It is for the sake of this Holy Communion, and to this Holy Communion, this fellowship with God in His Word-made-Flesh, that these things have been written and are preached to the close of the age, unto eternal life in body and soul.

Come, then, to recline here at His Table, to lean upon His breast, to eat and drink the flesh and blood of that very dear Savior who loves you: to taste and see that He is good!

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

25 December 2013

Our Favorite Read-Aloud Books of 2013

This Year of Our Lord 2013 has been another marvelous literary adventure for me and my five middle children listeners: Monica, Ariksander, Oly'anna, Justinian, and Frederick.  In January, we voted on what I should read aloud over the course of the year, and we’ve managed to make it through most of that list: 47 books in all.  Soon we’ll be voting on books to read aloud and listen to in the New Year, although we’ll begin with the books remaining on our current list, including one of my long-time favorites, the Great Brain series, by John D. Fitzgerald.  Meanwhile, we’ve voted on our favorites of the year now drawing to a close.

Although there weren’t quite the standout series such as we enjoyed from Suzanne Collins and Brandon Mull in 2012, there were some unique gems and fun discoveries among this year’s crop.  It is interesting to me, to see which books rise to the top of the pile across the range of ages and personalities among my listeners.  I’m often surprised, and therefore instructed, by the choices that my children make: It helps me to know and understand them better, both individually and collectively, and it gives me a new perspective on the books, as well.  Anyway, there’s a lot of variety in the literature we share together, and reading aloud to my children remains one of my greatest joys in life.  I’m happy to say that I’ve also had opportunity to read to my grandchildren in 2013, but I haven’t asked them to vote on their favorites at this stage.  All in due season!

Well, then, on behalf of my listeners, I happily publish the following list of our Top Eighteen Read-Aloud Favorites of 2013.  We've grouped sequels and series into single entries, rather than trying to segregate the individual titles.  In at least a few cases, we are eagerly awaiting further installments yet to come.  Meanwhile, there are plenty of books in the world to occupy us.  It should be noted that most of the following books were not published in 2013, but were among those that I was privileged to read aloud in these past twelve months.  Each of the following entries received at least two votes (out of six possible); the top choice received five votes.

Top Eighteen Read-Aloud Favorites of 2013

1 - What the Dickens, by Gregory Maguire

2 - the My Side of the Mountain trilogy, by Jean Craighead George

3 - Chasing the Prophecy (final book in the Beyonders trilogy), by Brandon Mull

4 - Candymakers, by Wendy Mass

5 - The Chronicles of Prydain (five books), by Lloyd Alexander

6 - Reckless; and its sequel, Fearless, by Cornelia Funke

7 - The Secret Life of Ms. Finkelman; and its sequel,
     The Mystery of the Missing Everything, by Ben H. Winters

8 - the Missing series (five books so far), by Margaret Peterson Haddix

9 - the Jack Blank trilogy, by Matt Myklusch

10 - Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce

11 - Icefall, by Matthew J. Kirby

12 - The Mostly True Story of Jack, by Kelly Barnhill

13. Liesl & Po, by Lauren Oliver

14. Michael Vey 3: Battle of the Ampere, by Richard Paul Evans

15. Summer and Bird, by Katherine Catmull

16. Escape from Zobadak, by Brad Gallagher

17. Dragon Rider, by Cornelia Funke

18. Jimmy Coates: Blackout (book 7), by Joe Craig

His Manger Is Your Paradise

Working at night is a different experience.  Those who have done it know what I mean.  There’s a reason they call it “the graveyard shift.”  Even nighttime carousers and the glare of neon lights can’t really hold back the darkness; nor, behind the darkness, are they able to hold back death.  Which is why there are those who must labor through the night to watch out for their neighbors.

Cheers to those who are keeping watch tonight, that we might be gathered here in safety.  It is a lonely occupation: too quiet of comforting sounds, yet, too loud with chaos and confusion.  The night and the darkness are ominous and threatening, a constant reminder of danger close at hand.  For the truth is, that we are dependent on the light, which originates and comes from the Lord our God.  Even the sun is but a creature of His, which derives its light from Him, by way of His Word.

It is the same Lord God who provides the people who serve and protect their neighbors, by night as by day.  So, not only cheers to them, but thanks be to God.  And thank you, also, for your work and efforts in this poor life of labor.

Whatever your shift may be, you also work in the dark.  That’s not an insult, but a fact.  For your whole life, and all of creation, is now shrouded in deep darkness under the shadow of death.  The nighttime simply reminds you, and makes it more obvious, what is also true during the day.

The nations and the rulers of this world have it all wrong in their raging, in their quest for power, and in their aspirations.  All of their grand schemes are futile, and they will end in ruin; for even the heavens and the earth will pass away.  Rage on.  Win your wars.  Build your empires.  Then watch it all fall apart and crumble into the dirt.  It’ll be folded up as quickly as a game of Risk, when it’s all said and done, whether you imagine that you’ve won the game or lost it decisively.

What about your own plots and best laid plans?  What raging or scheming does the little tyrant in your own heart and mind concoct?  Not only with malicious intent; though, by all means, repent of that wickedness, which is deep darkness indeed.  But, what is probably more common in your case: Where and how do you conspire against the Lord and His Anointed, perhaps with the best of motives, simply by disregarding His clear Word and charting your own path and progress?

What is this thing that you have done?  What anxiety now grips you?

Living unto yourself, apart from the Word of the Lord, this too is darkness, the long nighttime of sin and death.  It will not end well.  Not even if you are very nice, hard working, and successful.

Yet, even now, in the midst of that dark night, the almighty Word leaps down from heaven to earth.  He enters the too quiet silence, as well as the too noisy chaos, with His speaking of the Gospel: Which is the Father’s speaking of His Son, not only “in Person,” but in the Flesh of His Word.

This is the Truth that is truer than true, which we celebrate tonight and tomorrow and for the next twelve days: That God the Creator has become the central Part of His own Creation, in order to save the work of His own hands; to rescue His creatures from sin and death, from the evil serpent, and from all their mortal enemies; to preserve the Man and the Woman and their children in peace; and to perfect them in His own divine holiness, forever and ever, in and with His own holy flesh.

The almighty Word, by whom all things are made, has not only entered into His own Creation and become the central and defining Part of it; He also gathers all things up into Himself, into His Body of flesh and blood.  For so it is, that all things find their Life, their Light, and their Salvation, their meaning and their purpose, their today and their tomorrow, and forevermore, in Him.

This is what it means for Jesus Christ to be the Light of the world, the Light that no darkness at all can overcome.  And He is the Light that now shines upon you in His preaching of the Gospel.  This is your future and your hope, both day and night; whether you are keeping watch or sleeping, in your grave or in your bed: Even the darkness is Light to Him, the night is as bright as the day.

The Father has not hidden this Light of Christ under a bushel, no.  He has set this incarnate Word, this Son of His in the flesh — this Christ, the Lord’s Anointed — upon the holy hill of Zion, that is, within the City of David which is called the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Therefore, He sends His messengers to all the nations, even to the ends of the earth, and also now to you, to find you out in your field, in the midst of all your labors, and to call you and send you to His Manger in His Church.  His Word sends you to find and feast upon the Word-made-Flesh.

It’s not that you must now spend all your time, your every waking moment, day and night, at the Lord’s Altar.  Although, I dare say, you do invest a lot of time and energy into many others things which do not matter as much, which will not last and cannot give you life.

But, like the shepherds then, come and go from this Manger, that is to say, to and from the Lord’s Altar in the Lord’s House.  Find Him cradled in the arms of holy Mother Church.  Come and go from His Manger, not once, but often.  And realize that this is the Center, the beating Heart of Life itself: It is the Center of your own life in body and soul, and of the whole universe, all of creation.

For as surely as all things depend upon the divine Word, by whom and for whom they were made, so surely do the heavens and the earth, and all things visible and invisible, find their Heart and Home in Him, who has become Flesh and dwells among us in His Church, in the preaching of His Gospel, and in His Holy Sacrament.

Here is Life and Salvation, for you, and for all people, in this City of David, which is rightly called the House of Bread; in the sacred Feeding Trough of the Holy Communion.  For here the Word, who is both God and Flesh, is given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Here is Paradise found: Creation as it was meant to be, God’s very good gift, freely given to you.

Come, then, and feast upon the Word-made-Flesh.  And go back to your flocks, to your office and your desk, to your classroom or your kitchen, and live like it matters; because it surely does.  Live as though it made a difference; because His flesh and blood make all the difference in the world.

In the Body and Blood of Christ the Lord, the Son of God, your Savior, creation is rescued and redeemed from sin, death, and destruction; and not simply restored and renewed, but it is realized in its true perfection.  Not only is the darkness driven back and held at bay, but the true Light now shines eternally upon the New Creation, and so also upon you, in the living flesh of Jesus Christ.

He is not merely a means to some other end, but His Incarnation and your fellowship in His flesh are the meaning of Life, the point and purpose for which you have been created and are here at all: To live and abide in Christ, and Christ in you, in both body and soul, both now and forevermore.

Thus, to and from His Manger, to and from this Paradise on earth: Live, love, and work in the Light of Christ.  Don’t quit your day job (nor the night shift, if that is when you are given to work).  But do now go about your labors in a whole new way.  For it is so, beloved, born of God the Word, that you now live in the never-ending Day of His crucified and risen Body.  And as He lives and reigns to all eternity, which is most certainly true, you also live forever and ever in His Peace.

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

24 December 2013

Ready for ChristMass

Are you ready for Christmas?  You’ve been asking others, haven’t you, over these past few weeks.  And you’ve been asked the question, too, I’m sure.  It’s the social equivalent of chatting about the weather, in these latter days of December.  A tip of the hat, without risking any deeper revelations.

If you actually consider the question, however, what would your answer be?  Are you ready for Christmas?  You’ve tried to be, to whatever extent, whether with your best effort or half-heartedly.  It’s hard to avoid or ignore it, when all your circles are revolving around it for a month or more.

But, let’s face it: You’re not ready.  No, you’re not.  Not with all of your trying, nor with all of your checked-off to-do lists.  I’m guessing that you could tell me in a heartbeat what you have and haven’t done: Maybe with pride, or maybe with regret, or maybe with irritation and resentment.  In any case, you know the score, because you know that everyone else is keeping score on this.

It may be that you’re content and satisfied; or maybe not.  I don’t need or want to know your score.  It’s a lie, no matter what the bell curve.  The truth is, that you aren’t ready for Christmas, because it simply isn’t anything for you to do or achieve or to be ready for.  You can’t make it happen.

What is it, really, that you’re actually aiming at and trying to accomplish?  Consider your list; go over it twice.  Are you doing it all for love?  For whom?  And for what?  What’s your plan?

The stress and the strain.  The striving and struggle.  The sadness, and the surliness, on the surface or deep down inside:  Is that love?  Or, is it self-ness that drives you and whips you forward?

If you’re trying to know God, and to be like Him — by somehow getting Christmas “done right” — you’re not going to manage anything close to that on your own.  By your own wisdom, reason, and strength; by your own working and worry; by your shopping and spending, or by your saving and investing for the future; without the Savior, it all amounts to one and the same: epic failure.

You can’t manage on your own, because you live in the darkness of sin and death (inside and out).  Which is to say, that you’re doing it wrong, and that you’re going to die.  As simple as that.  And there is nothing you can do about it; nor any way for you to fix it, or stop it, or make it any better.

Yet, ready or not, Christmas comes.  It is upon us.  It is here.

The Light shines in the darkness.  What, then, does that mean?  It is the Law, which exposes your sin, your nakedness and shame.  But, more than that, it is the Gospel, the knowledge of salvation, which is the genuine knowledge of intimacy and personal experience with God, the Holy Trinity.  The Father speaks to you by His Son, and the Holy Spirit opens your ears, heart, and mind to hear.  The Lord Himself gives you a Sign, which is Himself in the flesh.  He swears by His own Name.

Here is the bottom line: Christmas comes, because Christ Jesus comes; and He does so for you.

The incarnate God, conceived and born of St. Mary, the Blessed Virgin, is Himself the Sign that is given to you by His grace, by which He is with you in the flesh.  Not simply to hang out with you or keep you company; though that companionship and friendship of Christ is no small thing, especially in the face of your loneliness and emptiness and isolation.  But there is more than that.  The Lord God is with you in the flesh, in order to save you, to give you His own divine Life in body and soul.  That Life is the Light that drives away the darkness with the knowledge of God.

In Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, you know what God is like.  You know Him.  You know that He is Love, and that it is for the sake of His Love that He rescues you from every evil, delivers you from sin, death, and the devil, and draws you to Himself in Peace.  You know Him, not as anger, but as mercy and compassion; as long-suffering patience, sweet forgiveness, tenderness, and care.

From the heights of heaven, into the depths of Sheol, He has come for you, to save you from the serpent’s deadly sting; to snatch you from the clutches of the grave; to pick you up out of the dust and the dirt, and to stand you upright in His presence.  All of this, at the cost of His own suffering and death.  For the Father has sacrificed His only-begotten Son for you, and He has raised Him up again: a standard for the nations.  Look to Him, and live.  This is Love.  This is who God is.

Therefore, in Christ; in His Incarnation, flesh and blood; in His Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension; and, now also, in His Church, at His Altar, all is prepared — finished and complete — and everything is ready.  Just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity in the very flesh and blood that He shares with you and with all the sons and daughters of Adam & Eve.

The Christ Mass is ready for you, beloved of the Lord, at midnight and tomorrow morning, and throughout the coming fortnight.  You were not ready for it, but the Christ Mass is ready for you, in which there is nothing less than sheer Life and Salvation for you, and for the many, through the free and full forgiveness of your sins.  The only score here is the Victory of Christ on your behalf.

And in that Light, the good news is, that you are ready for Christmas; no matter how much or how little you have tried to do, or managed to get done; or even if you’ve been a Scrooge and haven’t done a blessed thing to make this season bright.  Because, again, it is not something for you to do or to give, but it is a gift that is given to you by the Word of Christ, and you receive it by His grace.

As the Son of God thus comes to you, by His Word and in His Holy Sacrament; and as He serves you in this way, and makes Himself known to you by these means, and gives Himself to you in Peace, to live and abide with you; and as you abide in Him, by grace through faith in His Gospel, you are made ready by His Holy Spirit to live and to love in His Name:

To live by His grace, and so to love as He loves you: To love Him who is your Life and Light and Salvation, and to love one another in Him.  That may not mean lots of expensive gifts.  But do love each other well, in sincerity and truth, by caring for one another in the Peace and Joy of Christ.

Don’t worry, and do not be afraid.  He is ready, willing, and able to save you; and He is here to help and serve you.  Live and love in Him, in whom you are so blessed, unto His Life everlasting.

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

19 December 2013

An Expanded Calendar of Commemorations

For some time now, I’ve been working on an expanded list of commemorations, and I’ve finally completed a first full draft, including commemorations for every day of the year.  My starting point has been the calendar of feasts, festivals, and commemorations included in the Lutheran Service Book; and I’ve built upon the research and work that went into that project.

All things considered, I’ve attempted to be comprehensive and catholic in my approach, and to rely upon precedents as much as possible.  I’ve drawn on the sanctoral cycle of Wilhelm Löhe, as well as the old LCMS Lutheran Annuals, which for many decades included commemorations for every day of the year.  I’ve taken into account Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican calendars, hopefully with appropriate discretion (although I’ve tried to exercise latitude).

I view these commemorations not as a kind of “canonization” of those who have gone before us, but as something of a tour de force through church history, considering some of those fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters in Christ, through whom He has served His Church on earth.  Along the same lines, I’ve included quite a few biblical saints, both with and without prior precedent in Eastern and Roman sources.  Most of those inclusions will presumably not be controversial, even if some may object that I am introducing novelty into my practice.  I would offer that the stories of the Holy Scriptures are already a commemoration of the saints who are there set before us, which is the most significant precedent one might ever hope to find.

In any event, I should clarify that I certainly don’t intend this list to usurp or overshadow the Sunday and Feast Day Lectionary, but view it as a supplement to the practice of daily prayer.  To that end, I share the following calendar of commemorations, a list of people worth remembering and learning from, for whom I give all thanks and praise to Christ Jesus.


JANUARY

1 Jan - THE NAME & CIRCUMCISION OF JESUS

2 Jan - J. K. Wilhelm Löhe, Pastor

3 Jan - Abel, Seth, and Enoch

4 Jan - Theophylact of Ohrid, Bishop and Theologian

5 Jan - Simeon Stylites

6 Jan - THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD

7 Jan - Lucian of Antioch, Pastor and Martyr

8 Jan - King Solomon, Son of David

9 Jan - William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr

10 Jan - Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa,
Bishops and Confessors

11 Jan - Duke Ernst the Confessor

12 Jan - Jakob Andreae, Confessor

13 Jan - Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop and Confessor

14 Jan - Felix of Nola, Pastor and Martyr

15 Jan - Sebastian of Avla, Soldier and Martyr

16 Jan - George Spalatin, Reformer

17 Jan - Anthony of Egypt, Abbot

18 Jan - The Confession of St. Peter

19 Jan - Fabian of Rome, Bishop and Martyr

20 Jan - Sarah, Matriarch

21 Jan - Agnes, Child Martyr

22 Jan - Vincent of Saragossa, Deacon and Martyr

23 Jan - Ildephonsus of Toledo, Bishop

24 Jan - St. Timothy, Pastor and Bishop

25 Jan - The Conversion of St. Paul

26 Jan - St. Titus, Pastor and Bishop

27 Jan - John Chrysostom, Bishop and Preacher

28 Jan - Thomas Aquinas, Theologian

29 Jan - Emperor Charlemagne, Christian Ruler

30 Jan - Andrei Rublev, Iconographer

31 Jan - Claus Harms, Pastor and Reformer


FEBRUARY

1 Feb - Brigid of Ireland, Abbess

2 Feb - THE PURIFICATION OF ST. MARY
AND THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD

3 Feb - Ansgar of Hamburg, Bishop and Missionary

4 Feb - Rhabanus Maurus, Bishop and Theologian

5 Feb - Jacob (Israel), Patriarch

6 Feb - Amandus, Bishop and Missionary

7 Feb - Zechariah, Prophet

8 Feb - George Wagner Carpentarius, Pastor and Martyr

9 Feb - Apollonia of Alexandria, Deaconess and Martyr

10 Feb - Silas (Silvanus), Companion of St. Peter and St. Paul

11 Feb - Augustus, Elector of Saxony

12 Feb - Cornelius the Centurion [Acts 10–11]

13 Feb - Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos

14 Feb - Valentine, Martyr

15 Feb - Philemon and Onesimus

16 Feb - Philip Melanchthon, Confessor

17 Feb - Agabus the Prophet [Acts 11, 21–22]

18 Feb - Martin Luther, Doctor and Confessor

19 Feb - Simeon of Jerusalem, Bishop and Martyr

20 Feb - Peter Damian, Bishop and Theologian

21 Feb - Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr

22 Feb - Johann Crüger, Kantor

23 Feb - Polycarp of Smyrna, Bishop and Martyr

24 Feb - St. Matthias, Apostle

25 Feb - King Ethelbert & Queen Bertha of Kent, Christian Rulers

26 Feb - Princess Isabelle Capet of France

27 Feb - George Herbert, Pastor and Poet

28 Feb - John Cassian, Abbot

29 Feb - Joseph Barsabbas, also called Justus [Acts 1]


MARCH

1 Mar - David of Menevia, Bishop

2 Mar - Chad of Lichfield, Bishop

3 Mar - Empress Cunigunde, Christian Ruler

4 Mar - Rahab the Harlot [Joshua 2–3; Matt. 1:5; James 2:25; Heb. 11:31]

5 Mar - Lucius I of Rome, Bishop

6 Mar - Fridolin of Säckingen, Missionary and Abbot

7 Mar - Perpetua and Felicitas, Martyrs

8 Mar - Frances of Rome, Wife and Mother

9 Mar - Catherine of Bologna, Artist

10 Mar - Simplicius of Rome, Bishop

11 Mar - Susanna the Righteous [Apocryphal Daniel]

12 Mar - Symeon the New Theologian

13 Mar - Zadok the Priest [2 Samuel; 1 Kings]

14 Mar - Queen Matilda of Ringelheim, Christian Ruler

15 Mar - Ittai the Gittite, Hushai the Archite, and Barzillai the Gileadite,
Friends of King David [2 Samuel 17–19]

16 Mar - Heribert of Cologne, Bishop

17 Mar - Patrick, Missionary to Ireland

18 Mar - Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop

19 Mar - St. Joseph, Son of David

20 Mar - Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, Bishop

21 Mar - Thomas Cranmer, Bishop and Martyr

22 Mar - Epaphroditus of Philippi [Phil. 2:25–30; 4:18]

23 Mar - Gregory the Illuminator, Bishop and Missionary to Armenia

24 Mar - Nathan the Prophet [2 Samuel; 1 Kings]

25 Mar - THE ANNUNCIATION OF OUR LORD

26 Mar - Ludger of Münster, Bishop and Missionary to the Saxons

27 Mar - Gregory Palamas, Theologian

28 Mar - Gideon, Judge

29 Mar - Eustace of Luxeuil, Abbot

30 Mar - John Climacus, Theologian

31 Mar - Joseph, Son of Israel


APRIL

1 Apr - Hugh of Châteauneuf, Bishop of Grenoble

2 Apr - Theodosia of Tyre, Martyr

3 Apr - Joseph the Hymnographer

4 Apr - Isidore of Seville, Bishop and Theologian

5 Apr - Juliana of Liège

6 Apr - Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Dürer,
and Matthias Grünewald, Artists

7 Apr - Friedrich Myconius, Reformer

8 Apr - Celestine I of Rome, Bishop

9 Apr - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Theologian and Martyr

10 Apr - Aphraates of Persia, Theologian: “The Sage”

11 Apr - Nikolaus Hunnius, Theologian

12 Apr - Zeno of Verona, Bishop

13 Apr - Julius I of Rome, Bishop

14 Apr - Miriam, Sister of Moses and Aaron

15 Apr - Aaron, High Priest

16 Apr - Micah, Prophet

17 Apr - King Hezekiah, Son of David

18 Apr - Anicetus of Rome, Bishop

19 Apr - Olavus and Laurentius Petri, Pastors and Reformers

20 Apr - Johannes Bugenhagen, Pastor and Reformer

21 Apr - Anselm of Canterbury, Bishop and Theologian

22 Apr - Alphege of Canterbury, Bishop and Martyr

23 Apr - George, Soldier and Martyr

24 Apr - Johann Walter, Kantor

25 Apr - St. Mark, Evangelist

26 Apr - Egbert of Ripon, Bishop of Lindisfarne

27 Apr - Tertullian, Theologian

28 Apr - Origen, Theologian

29 Apr - Catherine of Siena

30 Apr - Aristarchus, Epaphras, and Tychicus, Companions of St. Paul


MAY

1 May - St. Philip and St. James, Apostles

2 May - Athanasius of Alexandria, Bishop and Confessor

3 May - Friedrich August Crämer, Pastor and Missionary

4 May - Friedrich Wyneken, Pastor and Missionary

5 May - Frederick the Wise, Christian Ruler

6 May - Jude of Jerusalem, Brother of James

7 May - C. F. W. Walther, Pastor

8 May - Julian of Norwich

9 May - Job the Righteous and Longsuffering

10 May - Johann Arndt, Pastor and Theologian

11 May - Cyril and Methodius, Missionaries to the Slavs

12 May - Epiphanius of Salamis, Bishop and Confessor

13 May - Germanus of Constantinople, Bishop and Theologian

14 May - Nikolaus von Amsdorf, Reformer

15 May - Isidore the Farmer

16 May - Alexander of Jerusalem, Bishop and Martyr

17 May - King Erik IX of Sweden, Christian Ruler

18 May - Ivo of Kermartin, Pastor

19 May - Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury

20 May - Alcuin of York, Deacon and Theologian

21 May - Emperor Constantine, Christian Ruler;
and Helena, Mother of Constantine

22 May - Bernardino of Siena, Preacher

23 May - Urban I of Rome, Bishop

24 May - Queen Esther the Righteous

25 May - Bede the Venerable, Theologian

26 May - Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop and Missionary to England

27 May - Deborah and Jael [Judges 4–5]

28 May - Germain of Paris, Bishop: “Father of the Poor”

29 May - Judith the Righteous [Apocrypha]

30 May - Joan of Arc, Soldier

31 May - THE VISITATION OF OUR LORD


JUNE

1 June - Justin, Martyr

2 June - Blandina and the Martyrs of Lyon

3 June - Franz A. O. Pieper, Theologian

4 June - Benjamin, Son of Israel

5 June - Boniface of Mainz, Missionary to the Germans, Bishop & Martyr

6 June - Caleb the Righteous [Numbers; Joshua]

7 June - Tobias, Son of Tobit [Apocrypha]

8 June - Pelagia of Antioch

9 June - Columba of Iona, Abbot and Missionary to Scotland

10 June - Ephrem the Syrian, Deacon, Hymnwriter, and Theologian

11 June - St. Barnabas, Apostle

12 June - The Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325

13 June - Anthony of Padua, Preacher and Theologian

14 June - Elisha, Prophet

15 June - G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien, Authors

16 June - Rachel and Leah, Matriarchs

17 June - Amos, Prophet

18 June - King Josiah, Son of David

19 June - Zephaniah, Prophet

20 June - Nicholas Cabasilas, Theologian

21 June - Paulinus of Nola, Bishop

22 June - Alban, Soldier and Martyr

23 June - David Chytraeus, Confessor

24 June - THE NATIVITY OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST

25 June - Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

26 June - Jeremiah, Prophet

27 June - Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Confessor

28 June - Irenaeus of Lyons, Bishop and Martyr

29 June - St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

30 June - Judah, Son of Israel


JULY

1 July - Hendrick DeVoes and Jan Van Esschen, Martyrs

2 July - Levi, Son of Israel

3 July - Ezra and Nehemiah, Reformers of Israel

4 July - Ulrich of Augsburg, Bishop

5 July - Jan Huss, Reformer and Martyr

6 July - Isaiah, Prophet

7 July - Willibald of Eichstätt, Bishop

8 July - Kilian, Bishop and Missionary to Franconia

9 July - Queen Elizabeth of Portugal: “Patroness of Peace”

10 July - Angela of Foligno

11 July - Benedict of Nursia, Abbot

12 July - Bo Giertz, Bishop and Theologian

13 July - Margaret of Antioch, Martyr

14 July - Bonaventure of Bagnorea, Bishop and Theologian

15 July - Queen Olga and Prince Vladimir, Christian Rulers

16 July - Ruth, Matriarch

17 July - Hedwig of Poland, Christian Ruler

18 July - Marcellina, Sister of St. Ambrose

19 July - Macrina the Younger, Sister of St. Basil the Great

20 July - Elijah, Prophet

21 July - Ezekiel, Prophet

22 July - St. Mary Magdalene

23 July - Birgitta of Sweden

24 July - Thomas à Kempis

25 July - St. James the Elder, Apostle

26 July - Joachim & Anna, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

27 July - King Olaf of Norway, Christian Ruler

28 July - Johann Sebastian Bach, Kantor

29 July - Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany

30 July - Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr

31 July - Joseph of Arimathea


AUGUST

1 Aug - The Holy Maccabees, Martyrs

2 Aug - Nicodemus the Pharisee, Disciple

3 Aug - Joanna, Mary, and Salome, Holy Myrrhbearers

4 Aug - Germanus of Auxerre, Bishop

5 Aug - Nonna, Mother of Gregory Nazianzus

6 Aug - The Transfiguration of Our Lord

7 Aug - John Mason Neale, Catherine Winkworth,
and John Kelly, Hymn Translators

8 Aug - Dominic, Preacher

9 Aug - Herman and Innocent of Alaska, Missionaries to the Aleut

10 Aug - Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

11 Aug - Clare of Assisi, Abbess

12 Aug - Paul Speratus, Pastor and Hymnwriter

13 Aug - Maximus the Confessor, Theologian

14 Aug - Eusebius of Caesarea, Bishop and Church Historian

15 Aug - The Dormition of St. Mary, the Mother of God

16 Aug - Isaac, Patriarch

17 Aug - Johann Gerhard, Theologian

18 Aug - Agapius, Martyr

19 Aug - Bernard of Clairvoux, Abbot and Theologian

20 Aug - Samuel, Prophet

21 Aug - The Formula of Concord Signed at Gotha

22 Aug - Hippolytus of Rome, Bishop

23 Aug - Sidonius Apollinaris, Bishop

24 Aug - St. Bartholomew, Apostle

25 Aug - King Louis IX of France, Christian Ruler

26 Aug - Melchizedek, Priest and King [Gen. 14; Psalm 110; Heb. 5–6]

27 Aug - Monica, Mother of Augustine

28 Aug - Augustine of Hippo, Bishop and Theologian

29 Aug - The Beheading of St. John the Baptist

30 Aug - Rebekah, Matriarch

31 Aug - Aidan of Lindisfarne, Bishop and Missionary


SEPTEMBER

1 Sept - Joshua the Son of Nun

2 Sept - Hannah, Mother of Samuel

3 Sept - Gregory the Great, Bishop

4 Sept - Moses, Prophet

5 Sept - Zacharias & Elizabeth, Parents of St. John the Baptist

6 Sept - Simeon and Anna, among the Righteous of Israel

7 Sept - Regina, Martyr

8 Sept - Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

9 Sept - Nikolai Grundtvig, Bishop and Hymnwriter

10 Sept - Empress Pulcheria, Christian Ruler

11 Sept - Johann Brenz, Reformer

12 Sept - Paphnutius of Thebes, Bishop and Confessor

13 Sept - Samson, Judge

14 Sept - Holy Cross Day

15 Sept - Catherine of Genoa, Widow

16 Sept - Cyprian of Carthage, Bishop and Martyr

17 Sept - Hildegard of Bingen, Abbess

18 Sept - Edward Bouverie Pusey and John Henry Newman, Theologians

19 Sept - Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury

20 Sept - Magdalena Luther

21 Sept - St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist

22 Sept - Jonah, Prophet

23 Sept - Thecla, Martyr

24 Sept - Gerhard Sagredo of Hungary, Bishop and Martyr

25 Sept - Sergius of Radonezh (Moscow), Abbot

26 Sept - Cosmas and Damian, Physicians and Martyrs

27 Sept - Vincent de Paul, Reformer

28 Sept - Duke Wenceslaus I of Bohemia, Christian Ruler

29 Sept - ST. MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS

30 Sept - Jerome, Translator of Holy Scripture


OCTOBER

1 Oct - Remigius of Rheims, Bishop and Missionary to the Franks

2 Oct - Justina of Nicomedia, Martyr

3 Oct - Dionysius of Athens (the Areopagite) [Acts 17]

4 Oct - Francis of Assisi

5 Oct - Othniel the Son of Kenaz and Ehud the Son of Gera [Judges 3]

6 Oct - William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale,
Translators of Holy Scripture

7 Oct - Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, Pastor

8 Oct - The Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, A.D. 451

9 Oct - Abraham, Patriarch

10 Oct - Justas Jonas, Confessor

11 Oct - Philip the Deacon

12 Oct - Hosea, Prophet

13 Oct - Romanus the Melodist

14 Oct - Calixtus I of Rome, Bishop

15 Oct - Teresa of ‘Avila

16 Oct - Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, Bishops and Martyrs

17 Oct - Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

18 Oct - St. Luke, Evangelist

19 Oct - Joel, Prophet

20 Oct - Nicholas of Lyra, Theologian

21 Oct - Ursula, Martyr

22 Oct - Reuben, Son of Israel

23 Oct - St. James of Jerusalem, Bishop and Martyr

24 Oct - Peace of Westphalia (Thirty Years’ War ended)

25 Oct - Tabitha (Dorcas), Lydia and Phoebe, Faithful Women

26 Oct - Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heermann, and Paul Gerhardt,
Pastors and Hymnwriters

27 Oct - King Alfred the Great, Christian Ruler

28 Oct - St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles

29 Oct - Obadiah, Prophet

30 Oct - Wolfgang of Regensburg, Bishop

31 Oct - Reformation Day


NOVEMBER

1 Nov - ALL SAINTS’ DAY

2 Nov - Cleopas of Emmaus, Witness of the Resurrection

3 Nov - Richard Hooker, Pastor and Theologian

4 Nov - Uriah the Hittite

5 Nov - Hans Egede, Missionary to Greenland

6 Nov - Bartolomäus Ziegenbalg, Christian Frederick Schwartz,
and John Christian Frederick Heyer, Missionaries to India

7 Nov - Willibrord, Bishop and Missionary to Frisia

8 Nov - Johannes von Staupitz, Luther’s Father Confessor

9 Nov - Martin Chemnitz, Pastor and Confessor

10 Nov - Leo the Great, Bishop and Confessor

11 Nov - Martin of Tours, Soldier and Bishop

12 Nov - Theodore the Studite, Theologian

13 Nov - Caspar Aquila, Pastor and Reformer

14 Nov - Emperor Justinian, Christian Ruler and Confessor of Christ

15 Nov - Albert the Great, Theologian

16 Nov - Queen Margaret of Scotland, Christian Ruler

17 Nov - Gregory Thaumaturgus, Bishop and Theologian

18 Nov - Hilda of Whitby, Abbess

19 Nov - Princess Elizabeth of Hungary, Christian Ruler

20 Nov - Odo of Cluny, Abbot

21 Nov - Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, Church Musicians

22 Nov - Cecilia, Martyr

23 Nov - Clement of Rome, Bishop

24 Nov - Columban, Missionary

25 Nov - Catherine of Alexandria, Martyr

26 Nov - Matilda of Hackeborn and Gertrude the Great

27 Nov - Lot the Righteous

28 Nov - Paul and David Henkel

29 Nov - Noah the Righteous, Patriarch

30 Nov - St. Andrew, Apostle


DECEMBER

1 Dec - Nahum, Prophet

2 Dec - Chromatius of Aquileia, Bishop and Theologian

3 Dec - Francis Xavier, Missionary

4 Dec - John of Damascus, Theologian and Hymnwriter

5 Dec - Clement of Alexandria, Theologian

6 Dec - Nicholas of Myra, Bishop and Confessor

7 Dec - Ambrose of Milan, Bishop and Hymnwriter

8 Dec - Martin Rinckart, Hymnwriter

9 Dec - Habakkuk, Prophet

10 Dec - Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Theologian

11 Dec - Damasus I of Rome, Bishop

12 Dec - Benaiah the Son of Jehoiada [2 Samuel; 1 Kings]

13 Dec - Lucia of Syracuse, Martyr

14 Dec - John of the Cross, Poet and Theologian

15 Dec - Eusebius of Vercelli, Bishop and Confessor

16 Dec - Haggai, Prophet

17 Dec - Daniel and the Three Young Men

18 Dec - Olympias the Younger, Deaconess

19 Dec - Adam & Eve, Living Icon of Christ and His Bride

20 Dec - Katharina von Bora Luther

21 Dec - St. Thomas, Apostle

22 Dec - Micah, Prophet

23 Dec - Ivo of Chartres, Bishop

24 Dec - Peter the Venerable, Abbot

25 Dec - THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD

26 Dec - St. Stephen, First Martyr

27 Dec - St. John, Apostle & Evangelist

28 Dec - The Holy Innocents, Martyrs

29 Dec - King David, Patriarch and Prophet

30 Dec - Jonathan, Friend of David

31 Dec - Sylvester I of Rome, Bishop

15 December 2013

The Highway of Holiness

It is not unlike it was in the case of the Prophet Jonah: You know that story, right?  He did not want to go, when God first sent him to Nineveh; but then, after three days and nights in the belly of the great fish, when God sent him again, the Prophet Jonah went and preached the wrath to be revealed against that wicked city.

And then, something surprising happened.  The people listened to the preaching!  And, from the king on his throne down to the lowliest peasant, they repented in sackcloth and ashes.  That was the first surprise.  The second surprise, to Jonah at least, was that God had mercy and spared the people of Nineveh.  His wrath was not yet revealed or vented against them.

And that made Jonah pout.  In fact, he was angry and upset with God.  He resented the grace and compassion of the Lord, His mercy and forgiveness, His slowness to anger, and His abundant loving-kindness.  The Prophet himself still needed to be catechized in the way of repentance; that he might learn to know and love the Lord within the Wisdom of the Cross.

It is a similar scenario in the case of John the Baptist.  Not that he has been reluctant in his preaching; not at all!  But that his expectations have also been redefined and turned about, in a way that he is still processing and learning to understand within the walls of his prison.

He has boldly spoken of the Coming One, the One mightier than he, who will thoroughly cleanse the threshing floor and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.  He has warned of divine wrath & vengeance against all unrighteousness, and of dire consequences for sin.  He has called out the self-righteous and commanded them to bear the fruits of repentance.

And all of this is exactly right.  It is the Word and Will of God.  It is the proclamation of the messenger who goes before the face of the Lord, to prepare His Way.  It is the preaching of the Elijah who was to come, by which the Lord God almighty accomplishes His purposes.

But what is the purpose of God?  That is the question.  That is, I believe, what St. John is wondering and wrestling with.  While imprisoned for his own faithfulness in preaching, he has been hearing of the works of Christ, and it doesn’t sound like what he was expecting.

Instead of calamity and consequences on the heads of sinners, there is compassion for the dregs of society.  Jesus has a growing reputation for eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners.  It is true that, like St. John, He does call sinners to repentance, and He teaches them to live a new life within their calling.  And yet, something sure seems different.

It’s not that John the Baptist was wrong in what he has preached and practiced, but he hasn’t known the rest of the story.  The Kingdom of heaven is at hand, and there will be judgment, but righteousness itself is in the process of being redefined and fulfilled in Christ Jesus.  So it is that sinners are being rescued, whereas the righteous are suffering violence and hurt.

The great reversal is begun in the coming of the Christ, as His miracles of life and healing attest: The blind see; the lame walk; lepers are cleansed; the deaf begin to hear; and even the dead are raised up to newness of life; because the Gospel is preached, even to the poor.

This reversal of fortunes — such as we sing with the Blessed Virgin Mary in her Magnificat all year — is accomplished in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God.  He was rich, but He made Himself poor, in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  He has come, not to condemn the world with the wrath of God against sin, but to bear that wrath in His own Body; to suffer death, so that we might live through Him.

Even now, the suffering of the righteous Forerunner at the hands of a violent and vacillating man, anticipates the Cross and Passion of the Mighty One who comes after him.  The very judgment that St. John proclaimed, the fire and brimstone that we heard from him last week, is voluntarily borne by the Son of Man — in whom the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!

He suffers violence against Himself, willingly, in order to save sinners: Not by condoning their sin, but by the way of repentance, that is, the dying and rising of contrition, confession, and faith in His forgiveness of sins.  His forgiveness is not license, but rescue from sin, and reconciliation with God.  It is righteousness and life, through His atonement and cleansing.

Beloved, His own Cross and Resurrection are your repentance and your righteousness, as you believe and are baptized into Him.  It is already anticipated and begun in His Baptism by St. John in the Jordan River.  There and then, much to St. John’s surprise, the Lord Jesus took upon Himself the repentance of sinners, and so entered upon the Way of His Cross.

His Repentance — His death upon the Cross, and then His Resurrection from the dead — that is “the Way” in the wilderness; which is the only Way into the Kingdom of heaven, but it passes through the midst of the desert, and through the valley of the shadow of death.

This difficult, narrow, and perilous Way of the Cross is the Highway of Holiness.  It is the Way of faith toward God, and of love for God and your neighbor.  It is the Way of Life that you now live, in and with Christ Jesus, as you follow after Him into His glorious Kingdom.

The irony and challenge is, that this Highway of Holiness appears to be sorrow and sighing.  For the Glory of the Kingdom is not yet by sight, but only by faith in the Word of Christ.  What you see with your eyes for the time being, and what you feel and experience, both within yourself and in the world around you, is still the Cross of suffering, sin, and death.

But the Truth remains in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus; and in His Baptism, which has become your Baptism — your water in the wilderness, your spring in the desert.

There’s no denying the harshness of your surroundings, nor the roughness of your own body and life.  But, even here, there is Life in the Cross and Resurrection of the Christ.  Indeed, there is Life to be found nowhere else, but only here, in this dying and rising of His, by which you are born, not of woman, but of God, into the Kingdom of heaven.

Repent, therefore, and return every day to the Way of the Cross.  Repent, and return to the Cross, by remembering and returning to your Baptism into Christ; that is, by hearing and heeding His Word, His preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  Listen to Him, and learn from Him.

Do not despair of God’s promises to you, which are “Yes!” and “Amen!” in Christ Jesus.  And do not grow weary of doing good, but take courage.  Persevere in your calling, and on your pilgrimage, by faith in the Word that God has spoken to you by His Son.  Be patient.

Consider the examples you have been given: The familiar story of Job in the Old Testament.  The ministry of St. John the Baptist, and of the Prophets and Apostles before and after him, who were persecuted and put to death for their faithfulness, and yet God accomplished His purposes through their words and their works.  So too, the example of your dear Lord Jesus  Christ, who suffered quietly and patiently in the confidence of His God and Father.  In His Resurrection from the dead, you hear the outcome of all His dealings with you.

What, then?  Do not become impatient, and don’t give yourself over to evil words and works of sin.  Do not grumble and complain.  Such words of anger and bitterness are powerful, and they lead, not to repentance, but to hardness of heart.  Instead of muttering against God and your neighbor, and about the place in life that God has given you, cleanse your heart and mind, your body, soul and spirit, your words and actions, by rehearsing the Word of Christ.

Pray and confess what you have heard from Him.  His Word is powerful, and it gives and does what it says: forgiveness and life in His Name, and faith and love by His Holy Spirit.  So, then, speak as He has spoken, and discipline yourself to live according to His Word; not as though to justify yourself, but as a disciple of Him who is your Justification.

Arm yourself, and armor yourself, with His Word; so that, by His Word and Spirit, you are not offended by Him or His Cross, but cling to His Cross in the hope of His Resurrection.

It is not likely that you, a Christian, would take offense at the Gospel story of His Cross, as you confess in the Creeds.  Neither take offense at the Cross that you are given to bear and to suffer in repentance.  Rather, persevere with patience in the promise of the Resurrection.  How so?  Again, by hearing and heeding His Word, and by rehearsing it daily in yourself.

For the Word of Christ is not simply true; it is living and active.  As you hear it preached, and as you pray and confess it (for yourself and for your neighbor), His Word bestows the Life that He has accomplished and obtained for you in His own Body of flesh and blood.

It is the Word of Christ that works His works for you, and in you, even unto faith and life in Him.  His Word puts you to death by His Cross, in order to raise you up to life eternal in His own Resurrection.  Thus, by His Word to you, He opens your ears to hear, your heart to believe, and your mind to comprehend His coming, even now, hidden under the Cross.

So it is that He heals you, strengthens and preserves you, in the midst of sin and death, and when you find yourself “imprisoned,” as it were, or seemingly trapped by circumstances.

And just as He has borne the Cross for you, and risen from the dead for you, so shall He also bring you safely through the sorrow and sighing of this present time, into the gladness and joy of the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.  Your body also, He shall raise, so that you will then see with your own eyes, what your ears now hear in His Word: The great Majesty and beautiful Glory of the Lord your God in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.

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

11 December 2013

A Costly Cornerstone for the Foundation

There are all sorts of strategies for survival: machinations, orchestrations, negotiations, and as many different stories to tell as there are people to tell them.  Perhaps you’ve also tried to lay your own foundation, and to build your own house, to establish your own kingdom, in the hopes of securing your place and purpose in the world, your safety and security.

The trouble is, that none of those strategies work.  Not really.  Not for long.  None of the countless ways that you or anyone else attempts to protect yourself and preserve your life, is able to secure what you’ve got, nor to achieve what you want.  Your building will not last.  Sin and death will bring it down, and it will crash and crumble into dust; as easily as your brother smashes your sand castle; as swiftly as your sister destroys your Lego masterpiece.

Your covenant with death is a lie of the devil, which has become your own self-deception.  The joke’s on you, but it isn’t funny.  Your pact with Sheol will not secure your survival, but actually seals your doom.  Your “deal with God,” as many people fancy their conceit, is nothing else than arrogant self-idolatry.  So, too, the “understanding” that you think you’ve got worked out “with the Man upstairs,” is surely not according to His holy Word.

So there comes the preaching of destruction and judgment; the wrath of God is visited upon all disobedience and unbelief, including yours.  It is why there are consequences for sin; and do not fool yourself in this regard, as though you could live recklessly and not get burned.  For the Lord God sets Himself and the fire of His Word against all unrighteousness, which is sin; and against all the pompous self-righteousness of man, which leads only to death.

Not only with fire, in anticipation of the final judgment, but also with water, in continuation of the Flood that once destroyed almost everything in the days of Noah: God disciplines the children of men in mercy, in order to bring them to repentance and save them by His grace.

It doesn’t feel like mercy or grace, but it is, lest you be caught unawares and die forever.

His waters sweep over all things, and into all the secret places of your heart, mind, and life; into all the nooks and crannies of your innermost thoughts and private time — behind your closed doors, in the back of your dark closet, or hidden under your messy bed.  They seek out and sweep away your deceptions and subterfuge.  They scourge and they cleanse from the inside-out: Like a dentist cleaning out your teeth with jets of water that cut like knives, or a doctor cleaning out your ears with a roaring rush of water that blows away all the wax.

It is like the farmer who plows up his field, in order to remove the stones and break up the hard soil, in preparation for the planting of the seed; and, afterwards, he threshes the grain, and then he grinds it into wheat, so as to bake it into bread.

But the Lord does not keep plowing when the Seed has been planted.  He does not continue threshing forever, lest the grain be destroyed along with the chaff.  Nor does He grind the wheat into oblivion.  But, in due season, the Seed that was sown in humility, which died and was buried in the dust of the earth, He brings forth again as the Bread of Life for the eater.

The deadly and devastating work of His Law, which crushes and purges and threatens to destroy you forever, that is God’s strange and alien work, His unusual and extraordinary task.  It is necessary.  For those who are perishing in sinful unbelief, it is the first work of His mercy.  But it is not the best or last Word of the Lord.

So, the Forerunner, like a wise and well-catechized farmer, goes before the face of the Lord to prepare His Way: first with the Law, but then also with the preaching of the Holy Gospel.  The one who will threaten fruitless trees with poised and ready axes, and vipers with wrath, and chaff with unquenchable fire, will baptize the Lamb of God and point to Him, and say, “There is the Mighty One whose power is made perfect in mercy; who takes away your sin.”

This, too, is a strange and alien work, but of a different sort, and in a totally different way.  Whereas wrath and condemnation are strange and alien to God’s innermost nature, the Cross of Christ, by which He saves you, is utterly strange and alien to man’s self-righteousness.

Learn, then, by His Word and Spirit of the Gospel, to perceive and trust the Cross for what it is, although it cuts against the grain of every other wisdom and every instinct you have known.  It is so different from, and contrary to, your own strategies of safety and security, and to all your striving for self-preservation and survival, that it really makes no sense at all.  And yet, it is by the Cross, by the Lord’s own Self-sacrifice, that He lays the Cornerstone, and preserves a strong Foundation, and establishes His Throne, and rules His Kingdom in righteousness.  Not only for a little while, nor even a long, long time, but forever and ever.

That is why, already, at the sounding of His Word and promise, the barren old woman and the blessed young Virgin both conceive and bear sons: As out of nothing the Lord creates, and from death He brings forth Life.  These two little boys, these two babies in the womb, anticipate the Resurrection of the Crucified One, of Mary’s Son, from death and the grave.  Their very lives confess that, with God, all things are possible; that His Word makes it so.

The infant St. John, in utero, rejoices in the great Salvation of his God.  He has heard and believes the promise of the Gospel, even in the greeting of his Savior’s Mother.  He knows and he confesses, with his leaping little feet, what he will preach and profess in due season on the bank of the Jordan River: Here is Mary’s little Lamb, who takes all the sins away.

He takes it all upon Himself, this little Lamb of God, the incarnate Lord Jesus, and He bears it in the Body that He has received from His Mother’s flesh and blood.  Which is why, when He is finally crucified under Pontius Pilate, and He suffers and dies and is buried, then all the sins of the world, of all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, are done away with and forgiven.  And, because they are not any sins of His own, but He has borne them all in faith and love and innocence, therefore, death has no just claim on Him; nor can death master Him or keep Him, but must relinquish this Lord Jesus to His own God and Father.

So, the One who has become like you — your Brother in the flesh, who has borne your sins and griefs and sorrows; who has died your death and suffered the judgment of your God — He has also risen from the dead in the same human flesh and blood that He shares with you.

Which means that, not only have your sins been forgiven, once and forever, but death has also been defeated: It no longer has any legitimate claim on you, either.  The Lord Himself has cancelled your contract with death; He has renegotiated your pact with Sheol.  Hence, even though you die from this mortal coil, yet shall you always live in both body and soul.

The sign that it is so, is given to you in the son of the “barren” old woman Elizabeth, and in the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It is the Sign of the Cross, with which you also have been signed and sealed in your Holy Baptism.  And it is given as the surety of your salvation in the Resurrection of your dear Lord Jesus from the dead.  For as the Father raised Him up — which is your Justification and your Righteousness — so, by faith in Him, in the Word that He has spoken (which He preaches even now), you are safe and secure forevermore.

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

08 December 2013

Repentance and the Righteous Reign of Christ

If there was urgency in the days of John the Baptist, there is no less so now, in these last days, in which God has spoken to us by His Son.  Indeed, the day of reckoning, the Day of Judgment — of salvation or damnation — is nearer now than when you first believed.

The Righteous Reign of God is at hand, in which all things are fulfilled and made right by His divine and holy will, and salvation is established for all the citizens of His Kingdom.

To receive Him as your King, and to live with Him in His Kingdom, is to hear and heed His holy Word; to believe and trust in it; and, by such faith, to live a godly life according to it.

But if, instead of a godly life according to His Word, you live as a god unto yourself, and you attempt to make your own life, and you presume to rule your own kingdom, then the coming of the true King is a very real threat to the false reign of your hard heart.  He will topple your self-made throne, and bring your castle crashing down around your deaf ears.

For those who are not ruled by Him; for those who reject Him and refuse to live under His Word; who will not receive Him as He is, but set themselves against Him in their sin — for them, the coming of the Lord, the Mighty One, is wrath and unquenchable fire.  It is eternal hell and damnation.  Not because the Lord is cruel or vindictive or angry all the time.  Far from it!  But rather because you cannot serve two masters, nor can you worship two gods.

If you are hell-bent on serving yourself, and if you persist in worshiping yourself, then you have set yourself at odds with the one true God, and you have declared war against Him (even in the pretense of your passive aggressive piety).  Then you have made the true King of heaven and earth into your Enemy.  But you will not win that war.  You shall not prevail, nor shall you stand against Him.  It is no contest.

If you would flee the wrath which is to come against all usurpers of God’s reign, and if you would not die but live forever by His grace — Repent.

Rely not on yourself; nor depend on your own intellect, ingenuity, elbow grease, or savvy; nor trust in your fine pedigree, whether it be your last name, your family heritage, or your confirmation once-upon-a-time.  Rather, acknowledge and confess your sins: That you are sinful and unclean, that you daily sin much, and that it’s not “okay” to be or live that way.

Consider the duties and responsibilities of your place in life, according to what the Lord your God has commanded.  And then, confess that you have failed and fallen short; that you have sinned in your thoughts, words, and actions — in what you have and have not done.

In this way, by contrition and confession, put yourself to death; and turn back to the Lord: Live, first of all, and foremost, for His Kingdom and His Righteousness.  That is to bear the fruits of faith and love in His Name, and for His sake.  Which means humility concerning yourself, yet confidence in Christ, your Savior and King; and, following His gracious rule, to exercise compassion and charity for your neighbor, and to persevere in your vocations.

All of this is what “such baptizing with water” signifies, in accordance with God’s command and at His Word.  This new righteousness of faith and life in Christ is what Baptism does, and what it gives to all those who receive it in repentant faith.

But, simply to be baptized — apart from such repentance and faith — that will not save you.  Not because there is anything lacking in Baptism (there is not), but because of what is lacking in you, in your heart and mind, in your body and life.

As with the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to St. John then, so also now, and to the end of the age: It is a misuse and abuse of Holy Baptism, to be baptized, or to have your children baptized, but then to depart from the Word and preaching of God, to absent yourself from His Church on earth, and to live unto yourself without faith toward Him and love for others.

Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down — and the chaff will be sifted out and separated from the wheat — and it will all be burned in a fire that does not go out.

So urgent, then, is the preaching of repentance, that you might be spared from such wrath.

For so it is, not only from dead trees, but even from hard stones, that God is ready, willing, and able to raise up children of faith: for father Abraham, yes, but, above all, for Himself.

To this end, the One mightier than John has come; and He enters upon His righteous reign, surprisingly, by submitting Himself to John’s Baptism of repentance.  He suffers Himself to be cut down by the axe, and to be engulfed by the fire of God’s righteous wrath; not for any sins of His own — He has none! — but for the sins of the world, He suffers and dies.

And from the root and stump of such death and damnation, His Tree of Death springs forth from the earth, and stands tall as a standard for the nations — and so also for you.

The Lord Jesus Christ and His Tree of the Cross bear the good fruits of repentance, for you and for the many: Such fruits are the mercies of God, His compassion for your suffering (even when it is your own fault), and His forgiveness of all your sins.

By these fruits of His Cross, your heart of stone becomes a new heart of flesh.  You cease to worship yourself, in order to worship the One who saves you.  And His Tree of Life bears good fruits after its own kind, even now in you.  For God’s Kingdom comes to you also, when the Father in heaven pours out His Holy Spirit generously upon you through Jesus Christ your Savior, who was crucified for all your sins and raised for your justification.

In His Resurrection is the righteousness by which you are raised up to live with Him in His Kingdom.  You are gathered with Him, as the finest wheat, into His barn forever and ever.  For the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead is already the judgment of God — the judgment of righteousness and salvation — for all who believe and are baptized into Him.

Do not doubt that, by your Holy Baptism, you pass through the waters of the Jordan River, out of the desert wilderness into the Promised Land of Canaan; and out of death and the grave into the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.

This, indeed, is the Kingdom of heaven; which is at hand, here and now, in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.  It is here in the fruits of His Cross, which are given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for life and salvation in Him.  So does Christ, your gracious King, reign over you in Peace and Love, both now and forever.

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