30 December 2014

And You Shall Be Like Him

The Son of God has appeared in the flesh on earth, to take away sins and to destroy the works of the devil.  But the way He goes about it is not obvious.  You don’t yet see Him as He is, though you know Him and you love Him by faith in His Word.

The world does not know Him at all, nor is it able to recognize Him for who and what He is, but rather hates Him and persecutes Him; because the world is sinful and practices lawlessness.  It is driven by the devil in a jealous rage, in prideful spite, in covetous greed and terrible fear.

Take care, then, how you live in the world.  For your own flesh is prone to those ways of the world.  It perceives sin to be a way of life, and it thinks that lawlessness is freedom.

But, beloved, you are born of God, and His Seed abides in you.  It is for this reason, also, that the Son of God has become flesh, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary: so that you would be called a child of God by the gracious adoption of His Father.  Indeed, you are a child of God — you are a son of God in Christ Jesus — by virtue of your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.

It does not yet appear what you will be, but when the Son of God appears in Glory, then, not only will you see Him just as He is, but you will be like Him.

Therefore, fix your hope on Him, as St. Joseph did, by hearing and heeding His Word.  Listen to what He says, trust in His promises, and do whatever He calls you to do.

By such faith you are purified, just as He is pure.  And you abide in Him.  You do not live in sin, because you live in the righteousness of Christ, and all of your sins are taken away by Him; they are not counted against you.

That is why He goes into Egypt — and God calls Him out again, into the Promised Land, His own beloved Son.  He lives in the midst of adversity and danger.  He takes upon Himself the burden of sin and death.  He bears the Cross and suffers reproach, hostility, persecution, and violence.

This, too, is why the world does not recognize Him or know Him as the true and only God; that is, because He appears in such frailty and weakness, in such a pitiable state.  It holds Him in contempt, therefore, abuses Him, and finally kills Him, because it can.  And it does the same to you, as well, because it can, and because you belong to Him.

You see, already under the Cross, you are like Him!  You are frail and weak; you suffer and die. And He has made Himself like you.

But now, God has also called Him out Egypt.  The Father has raised up His beloved Son from death to life.  And so does He raise you up and call you to Himself, as His own dearly beloved child, through the Resurrection of the same Lord Jesus Christ.

He does call you to live and abide for a while in Egypt — under the Cross in the midst of sin and death — but even there He still preserves you in peace and provides for all your needs of body and soul.  And in due time, He will call you from this vale of tears into the heavenly Canaan, to your true home with Him in Paradise.

Even now, it is already from heaven that you are born of God and named by God in Christ.

Dear Christian, you are baptized, and Christ who is your hope is risen from the dead.  That last great enemy, death, has been defeated.  Therefore, with the Child and His Mother, you are rescued, you are cared for, and you live.

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

The 2014 Grampies

This past year has been a good one for guitarists.  No, scratch that.  It's been a great year for guitarists.  Not only some great solo albums by a slew of upper echelon axe-slingers, but a fair number of new albums by groups anchored in solid guitar playing.  Lovin' every minute of it.

As in the past, I've compiled my year-end lists of favorite albums across a spectrum of genres.  I've also noticed, yet again, how difficult it can be to categorize some artists.  I'm sure that readers might quibble with some of my choices and decisions in that regard.  Where does one draw the line, exactly, between country and pop, between pop and rock, or between, rock, hard rock, and heavy metal?  And what does "alternative" comprise anymore?  I have tended to view the latter category as a "catch-all" for music ambiguous enough to straddle two or more of the other categories.  Consequently, the albums included in my "alternative" list cover a rather diverse range of actual styles and sounds.

Well, I should say, before I go any further, that my favorite new release of 2014 was my fifth baby grand, Donovan Richmond Stuckwisch, who made his appearance just last week (22 December).  And the sixth baby grand is already in production, due to be released in the spring of 2015; no doubt, he or she will be next year's top winner.  Kudos to all my Stuckwisches and Wirgaus in Texas!

As far as all the runners up are concerned, eating Donovan's dust, to be sure, but making a good showing nonetheless, the results are compiled below.  By the nature of the beast, these are entirely subjective assessments, essentially identifying my personal favorites, which amounts to what I like, what I have enjoyed listening to and found entertaining.  In some cases, it may be a profound or thought-provoking lyric that caught my attention, in others a particular groove or sound.  Whatever the factors may be, many of which may elude even me, the albums included in the 2014 Grampies have found their way into my life over the past twelve months, and have managed to make me smile.  If there are surprises of one sort or another, well, perhaps that will make you smile, too.

The initial list indicates my 40 favorite albums across all of my categories or genres: country, pop, rock, hard rock & heavy metal, "alternative ambiguities," and guitarists.  The subsequent lists, for each of these categories, indicate my 30 favorite albums from within the genre in question.  I've listed them more or less in order of my preference, although the relative position of many entries could easily be adjusted from week to week, depending on my musical mood of the moment.

By way of final observation, I've been disappointed by some otherwise enjoyable albums that were basically ruined for me by the use of profanity, vulgarity, or even outright blasphemy, which I will not wittingly tolerate.  A "colorful expletive" here and there I can live with, although I would prefer to do without it.  But gratuitous cursing is both pointless and wrong.  There were at least a few albums that were disqualified from my consideration on account of such language, and it's a shame.  I also have no use for the provocative innuendo and pervasive sleaziness of so much of what passes for "pop" music these days, so I've deliberately avoided and excluded a lot of the most popular albums in that category.  Any hints of that sort of thing that have slipped into my lists are either an oversight or a compromise for the sake of some other mitigating factors.  On that note, without any further ado:

D. Rick’s 2014 Album Top 40

1. Slash - World on Fire

2. Gus G - I Am the Fire

3. Better Than Ezra - All Together Now

4. Night Ranger - High Road

5. Tim McGraw - Sundown Heaven Town

6. Phillip Phillips - Behind the Light

7. Augustana - Life Imitating Life

8. American Authors - Oh, What a Life

9. The Fray - Helios

10. Joe Bonamassa - Different Shades of Blue


11. Conquering Dystopia - Conquering Dystopia

12. Insomnium - Shadows of the Dying Sun

13. Tesla - Simplicity

14. Gotthard - Bang!

15. Amaranthe - Massive Addictive

16. Kenny Chesney - The Big Revival

17. Colbie Caillat - Gypsy Heart

18. John 5 - Careful with that Axe

19. Uriah Heep - Outsider

20. OneRepublic - Native


21. Mr. Big - . . . The Stories We Could Tell

22. Angels or Kings - Kings of Nowhere

23. James Durbin - Celebrate

24. Miranda Lambert - Platinum

25. Chase Rice - Ignite the Night

26. Train - Bulletproof Picasso

27. Unisonic - Light of Dawn

28. Weird Al Yankovic - Mandatory Fun

29. Marty Friedman - Inferno

30. Brad Paisley - Moonshine in the Trunk


31. U2 - Songs of Innocence

32. DragonForce - Maximum Overload

33. Red Zone Rider - Red Zone Rider

34. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Hypnotic Eye

35. Blake Shelton - Bringing Back the Sunshine

36. Freedom Call - Beyond

37. Blackhawk - Brothers of the Southland

38. Primal Fear - Delivering the Black

39. Rival Sons - Great Western Valkyrie

40. The Black Keys - Turn Blue


Country

1. Tim McGraw - Sundown Heaven Town

2. Kenny Chesney - The Big Revival

3. Miranda Lambert - Platinum

4. Chase Rice - Ignite the Night

5. Blake Shelton - Bringing Back the Sunshine

6. Blackhawk - Brothers of the Southland

7. Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

8. Dierks Bentley - Riser

9. Eli Young Band - 10,000 Towns

10. The Secret Sisters - Put Your Needle Down

11. Eric Church - The Outsiders

12. Ronnie Dunn - Peace, Love, and Country Music

13. Rascal Flatts - Rewind

14. Jo Dee Messina - Me

15. Joshua Scott Jones - The Healing

16. Sara Evans - Slow Me Down

17. Lady Antebellum - 747

18. Big & Rich - Gravity

19. Hunter Hayes - Storyline

20. David Nail - I’m a Fire

21. Little Big Town - Pain Killer

22. Jennifer Nettles - That Girl

23. Lucy Hale - Road Between

24. Brantley Gilbert - Just as I Am

25. Lee Brice - I Don’t Dance

26. Cole Swindell - Cole Swindell

27. Dustin Lynch - Where It’s At

28. Jason Aldean - Old Boots, New Dirt

29. Josh Thompson - Turn It Up

30. Garth Brooks - Man Against Machine


Pop

1. Phillip Phillips - Behind the Light

2. Augustana - Life Imitating Life

3. Colbie Caillat - Gypsy Heart

4. OneRepublic - Native

5. James Durbin - Celebrate

6. Train - Bulletproof Picasso

7. Weird Al Yankovic - Mandatory Fun

8. Caleb Johnson - Testify

9. Christina Perri - head or heart

10. Jason Mraz - Yes!

11. Ed Sheeran - x

12. Taylor Swift - 1989

13. The Script - No Sound Without Silence

14. Ingrid Michaelson - Lights Out

15. Sarah McLachlan - Shine On

16. The Belle Brigade - Just Because

17. One Direction - Four

18. Passenger - Whispers

19. Nina Persson - Animal Heart

20. Lake Street Dive - Bad Self Portraits

21. Drake Bell - Ready Steady Go!

22. Andy Grammer - Magazines or Novels

23. Bob Seger - Ride Out

24. Imelda May - Tribal

25. Sam Hunt - Montevallo

26. Neon Trees - Pop Psychology

27. She & Him - Classics

28. Danny Gokey - Hope in Front of Me

29. Jackson Browne - Standing in the Breach

30. You + Me - rose ave.


Rock

1. Night Ranger - High Road

2. Tesla - Simplicity

3. Gotthard - Bang!

4. Uriah Heep - Outsider

5. Angels or Kings - Kings of Nowhere

6. Red Zone Rider - Red Zone Rider

7. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Hypnotic Eye

8. Rival Sons - Great Western Valkyrie

9. California Breed - California Breed

10. House of Lords - Precious Metal

11. Black Stone Cherry - Magic Mountain

12. Ten - Albion

13. Harem Scarem - Thirteen

14. Sunstrike - Rock Your World

15. Nazareth - Rock ‘n’ Roll Telephone

16. H.E.A.T - Tearing Down the Walls

17. Free Spirit - All the Shades of Darkened Light

18. Framing Hanley - The Sum of Who We Are

19. Royal Bliss - Chasing the Sun

20. Charm City Devils - Battles

21. Sixx:A.M. - Modern Vintage

22. Work of Art - Framework

23. The Gaslight Anthem - Get Hurt

24. Brother Firetribe - Diamond in the Firepit

25. The Empty Hearts - The Empty Hearts

26. Whiskey Myers - Early Morning Shakes

27. The Strypes - Snapshot

28. Grand Design - Thrill of the Night

29. Threshold - For the Journey

30. KXM - KXM


Hard Rock & Heavy Metal

1. Insomnium - Shadows of the Dying Sun

2. Amaranthe - Massive Addictive

3. Mr. Big - . . . The Stories We Could Tell

4. Unisonic - Light of Dawn

5. DragonForce - Maximum Overload

6. Freedom Call - Beyond

7. Primal Fear - Delivering the Black

8. Judas Priest - Redeemer of Souls

9. Riot V - Unleash the Fire

10. Pretty Maids - Louder than Ever

11. Allen Lande - The Great Divide

12. Audrey Horne - Pure Heavy

13. Delain - The Human Contradiction

14. Lacuna Coil - Broken Crown Halo

15. Red Dragon Cartel - Red Dragon Cartel

16. Black Label Society - Catacombs of the Black Vatican

17. Wovenwar - Wovenwar

18. Winger - Better Days Comin’

19. Accept - Blind Rage

20. Epica - The Quantum Enigma

21. Black Veil Brides - Black Veil Brides

22. AC/DC - Rock or Bust

23. Falconer - Black Moon Rising

24. Sanctuary - The Year the Sun Died

25. Hammerfall - (r)Evolution

26. Stream of Passion - A War of Our Own

27. Striker - City of Gold

28. Xandria - Sacrificium

29. Red Circuit - Haze of Nemesis

30. FireWölfe - We Rule the Night


Ambiguous Alternatives

1. Better Than Ezra - All Together Now

2. American Authors - Oh, What a Life

3. The Fray - Helios

4. U2 - Songs of Innocence

5. The Black Keys - Turn Blue

6. Counting Crows - Somewhere Under Wonderland

7. The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus - 4

8. Little Hurricane - Gold Fever

9. Robert Plant - lullaby and . . . The Ceaseless Roar

10. Shades & Peters - Let the Record Spin

11. Chevelle - La Gárgola

12. Royal Blood - Royal Blood

13. Weezer - Everything Will Be Alright in the End

14. Ryan Adams - Ryan Adams

15. Within Temptation - Hydra

16. Linkin Park - The Hunting Party

17. Anubis Gate - Horizons

18. Voyager - V

19. Bayside - Cult

20. Starset - Transmissions

21. Nothing More - Nothing More

22. Switchfoot - Fading West

23. Phish - Fuego

24. Evergrey - Hymns for the Broken

25. Flying Colors - Second Nature

26. NeedToBreathe - Rivers in the Wasteland

27. Ray LaMontagne - Supernova

28. While Heaven Wept - Suspended at Aphelion

29. The Madden Brothers - Greetings from California

30. Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways


Guitarists

1. Slash - World on Fire

2. Gus G - I Am the Fire

3. Joe Bonamassa - Different Shades of Blue

4. Conquering Dystopia - Conquering Dystopia

5. John 5 - Careful with that Axe

6. Marty Friedman - Inferno

7. Brad Paisley - Moonshine in the Trunk

8. Kenny Wayne Shepherd - Goin’ Home

9. Fabrizio Leo - Spectrum of My Past

10. Adrian Weiss - Easy Game

11. Animals as Leaders - The Joy of Motion

12. Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock - Bridge the Gap

13. Ace Frehley - Space Invader

14. Brian Setzer - Rockabilly Riot!

15. Bruce Bouillet - The Order of Control

16. Santana - Corazón

17. Neal Schön - So U

18. Peter Frampton - Hummingbird in a Box

19. Joanne Shaw Taylor - The Dirty Truth

20. Vandenberg’s Moonkings - Moonkings

21. Christian Muenzer - Beyond the Wall of Sleep

22. Ethan Brosh - Live the Dream

23. Jack White - Lazaretto

24. Lynch Mob - Sun Red Sun

25. Richie Kotzen - The Essential Richie Kotzen

26. Oz Noy - Twisted Blues, Vol. 2

27. Eric Johnson & Mike Stern - Eclectic

28. Eric Clapton & Friends - The Breeze (An Appreciation of JJ Cale)

29. Paul Gilbert - Stone Pushing Uphill Man

30. Eric Gales - Good For Sumthin’

29 December 2014

The Son of David, Your Savior, Is Born for You

As He once called David from pasturing his father’s sheep in the fields outside of Bethlehem, and He anointed that young boy to shepherd His people Israel, so does He announce the coming of the great Good Shepherd King, the Prince of Peace, to shepherds keeping watch in those same fields.  He calls them to come and see, to worship and receive their Savior, born for them in the City of David: The true Bread of Life is baked and ready for them in the House of Bread.

So also for you.

The Lord has made known His grace and mercy toward you, and you have heard the good news of great joy, that the Savior has in truth been born for you.  God Himself has come in the flesh, in order to be with you, to save you from your sin and death, and to bring you to Himself.  For the Child born of Mary is the Christ, who is both David’s Son and David’s Lord.  His flesh and blood are given and poured out — as a Sacrifice upon the Cross, and as a Sacrament within His Church — to be an everlasting Covenant for you, and for all those whom He calls to Himself in peace.

Therefore, do not be afraid, for He calls you now by this Holy Gospel to come and see, to worship and receive your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  He sends His messengers to announce what He has done, and shepherds to feed and care for you with the preaching and teaching of His Word.

Incline your ear to this preaching, in which the Prince of Peace is made known to you and His great Salvation is granted to you.  Seek Him here, where He is found, where He is with you in the flesh, just as He has told you: He is here for you in His Church, in His Ministry of the Gospel.  You find Him in this Manger, in this Bethlehem, where He is set before you as your Food and Drink.  For here is the dwelling place that He has chosen, where He causes the Ark of His Covenant to rest and abide among His people; where He satisfies you with true and living Bread for your body and soul.

Do not merely gawk and wonder at what you see, and do not be persuaded by appearances, but believe the Word of the Lord.  Listen carefully to Him, and live by what He says and gives to you.  Recognize Him, receive Him, and adore Him in His means of grace.  Eat freely of His good food.

Splendor and majesty are here at His Altar, because Christ is here in His Word and Sacrament.  Strength and beauty adorn this Sanctuary, because He fills this place with His Holy Spirit by the preaching of forgiveness; because here He gives His flesh and pours out His blood for His Church.

Worship Him, therefore, in the splendor of holiness, which is to say, by faith in His salvation, with confidence and great joy in His Holy Gospel of forgiveness, and in love for Him, your Savior.

In His Love for you He clothes you with His own righteousness and sanctifies you by His grace.  So it is that you worship Him rightly, you honor and adore Him, and you ascribe to Him the glory due His Name, first of all by receiving what He gives to you in faith and with songs of joy.

Then, also, as He calls and sends you to and from this Holy House of Living Bread, you glorify the Holy Triune God — the Father, the incarnate Son, and the Holy Spirit — by faith and love within your own place on earth.

You worship the Holy Trinity by faithfully tending your own sheep with loving care, with patience and in peace — whatever your particular flock may be, and wherever your field may be found.

And again, you worship the Lord your God by telling your neighbor what you have seen and heard in this “City of David,” according to the Word that Christ has spoken to you by His messengers.

So, then, confess the grace and glory of your Holy Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus; confess His Holy Absolution, the forgiveness of all your sins in heaven and on earth; and confess the Holy Communion, which is the New Testament in His Body and His Blood.

Not only do you glorify God in the highest by testifying to these means of grace to your neighbor, but likewise by treasuring these things in yourself, and by pondering them devoutly in your heart and mind.  Exercise your faith in this way, by rehearsing both inwardly and outwardly the Word that you have heard.  Confess and pray with heart and lips alike, with your body and your soul, what the Lord has said and done for you.

For your great God and Savior, Jesus Christ — the Righteous One, great David’s greater Son — He has come, and He is here with you and for you, just as He said.

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

28 December 2014

Our Read-Aloud Favorites of 2014

The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things: of shoes, of ships, of sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.  Or something like that.  My young listeners and I have read through 56 books together over this Year of Our Lord 2014, including a number of multi-book series, and now we have voted on our favorites, tallied the results, and compiled a list for the edification of the masses.

My esteemed listeners are Monica, Ariksander, Oly'anna, Justinian, Frederick, and, as of this year, Gerhardt.  They range in age from 18 to 8 years old.  Their personalities, interests, and activities vary, as anyone should expect, but the books that we share together over the course of the year are one of the things that we hold in common and hold dear.  For many, many years now, reading aloud to my children has been one of my favorite pastimes and a daily priority.

In considering our favorites each year, we count each series as a single entry.  But new installments in a series we began in a previous year are taken on their own merits in the current tally.  This year, each of my listeners, and I as the reader, voted for our twelve favorites in order of our preference.  So each book or series could potentially receive seven votes.  First position received 12 points, second position received 11 points, and so on and so forth, down to 1 point for twelfth position.  Therefore, the maximum number of points possible for any one book or series would have been 84 points.  The number one entry, when all was tallied, said, and done, received 78 points; so it was a strong favorite.

Noteworthy among the books that we read this year were entries by my brother-in-law, Robert Polk, and by a fellow pastor here in the Indiana District, the Reverend Thomas Sabel.  Both of them did well in our year-end tally, as the results below will demonstrate.

We enjoy the experience of reading and listening together.  The books enable to go on grand adventures from the comfort and safety of our living room, where we are normally gathered for this shared activity.  We often become quite attached to the characters in the stories, and emotionally involved in their hopes and hurts, their trials and tribulations, their relationships and developments.  Aside from building vocabulary and exercising imagination, the books we discover together invite a thoughtful consideration of life "in the real world," which also gives us worthwhile topics to discuss.  Even the books that didn't wind up as "favorites" have been our "friends" for a little while, and for that we give thanks to our Lord, the Giver of all good gifts.

And for all our other friends, we offer the following list of favorites with our recommendation that you and yours might also find enjoyment, perhaps even edification, in some of them:

Top Fifteen Read-Aloud Favorites of 2014

1. Rangers Apprentice (series of 12 books) - John A. Flanagan

2. The Great Brain (series of 8 books) - John Fitzgerald

3. Operation Tree Roper - Robert A. Polk

4. Adventurers Wanted (series of 4 books so far) - M. L. Forman

5. Michael Vey 4: Hunt for Jade Dragon - Richard Paul Evans

6. Legends of Luternia - Thomas Sabel

7. Iron Hearted Violet - Kelly Barnhill

8. Twice Upon a Time (series of 3 books) - Wendy Mass

9. The Mysterious Benedict Society (series of 4 books) - Trenton Lee Stewart

10. Grey Griffins // Clockwork Chronicles (two trilogies) - Derek Benz & J. S. Lewis

11. The Key to Rondo; and The Wizard of Rondo - Emily Rodda

12. The Hamlet Chronicles (series of 7 books) - Gregory Maguire

13. The Limit - Kristen Landon

14. Risked - Margaret Paterson Haddix (Book Six in the Missing Series)

15. The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair - S. S. Taylor

The Peace of the Lord Is Yours in Christ Jesus

What is it that you’re looking for?  Behind all your goals and aspirations; in all your projects, plans, and wish lists, all your dreams of romance, love, and marriage; and with all your academic pursuits, financial ventures, and physical endeavors, what is it that you’re really after?

In the movies that you watch, the games that you play, the music that you listen to, and the books that you read, what are you trying to find?

When you come to church on the First Sunday after Christmas, to the Temple of the Lord — and whether you come to church on each of the Twelve Days of Christmas, or find other things to do on these holy days — what is your hope and expectation?

Whatever you might call it, however you might describe it, and however your heart might feel it, what you’re looking for and longing for is peace.  Not simply a truce or cease-fire.  Not merely the absence of arguments and conflict, a break at last from the fighting and yelling, contending and competing.  But real peace.  Genuine contentment and true satisfaction.  A confidence in who you are and why you’re here.  And not only reconciliation, but actual friendship with God, and with your neighbors near and far.  A peace that flows with identity, meaning, and purpose.

You’re looking for a peace that surpasses human comprehension or achievement, but you find it in the same place that Simeon and Anna did: In the Temple of the Lord.  In the Christ-Child, the Babe, the Son of Mary.  In the Sign of His Cross.  In accordance with the Word and Spirit of God.

But how shall you perceive and recognize what Simeon and Anna saw in the Christ Child, that is, the Light of revelation to the Gentiles and the Glory of His people Israel?

And how shall the Light of Christ reveal the meaning and purpose of your life, not haphazard and capricious, but graciously given by God?  To say it simply, how shall you live and die in peace?

If you “live like you were dying,” as they say, that might seem helpful in some respects; or maybe not so much.   But that approach is not the source of peace.  Neither a zest for life nor succumbing to despair will save you.  If you remain centered in yourself, the end is the same either way.

Whether you seize the day, run with the bulls, parachute out of a plane, or you do nothing at all, what difference does it make?

And if you simply resign yourself to the fact that someday you’re going to die — sooner or later, this way or that way — well, that attitude is not the peace of Christ but the cold logic of Satan.

Consider, instead, the righteousness of faith in the Gospel, which reasons in this way: “Yes, it is true that I shall die from this temporal life on earth; for I have already died with Christ in my Baptism.  But so is it also true that my life is hidden with Him in His Resurrection and Ascension, in the bosom of my God and Father in heaven.  Therefore, even though I die, yet shall I live.”

Who dies thus, dies well.

Even so, while it is far better to depart and be with Christ — and if you die before you wake, you pray the Lord your soul to take — there is nevertheless a reason for your temporal life on earth.  There is a meaning and a purpose for the time and place that you are given here; for your vocations and stations in life.  And already there is peace for you in Christ Jesus.

For whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.

That is the key, first of all, to this Holy Gospel, to the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, and to the Peace of Christ that you share with Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph.

You are the Lord’s  because He has redeemed you, purchased and won you.  As He once redeemed the firstborn sons of Israel from death, and redeemed His people Israel from Egypt, so has He even more gloriously redeemed you and all people from sin, death, the devil, and hell, by the Sacrifice of His holy Body and the shedding of His precious Blood upon the Cross.

That is why Jewish parents brought their firstborn sons to the Lord’s house: The Levites did so to dedicate their sons to service in the priesthood; and the rest of the Israelites came to redeem their sons from sacrifice, to sanctify them for their life in this world to the glory of God.  Because, in truth, both they and all their children are the Lord’s by right, who is their Creator and Redeemer.

You and your children, too, are likewise His.  You belong by right to your Creator and Redeemer, from whom your life and all things come by His grace alone.

Because you are His, you belong not to yourself but to Him.  And as you belong to Him, so do you belong to His people.  Your life is dedicated to the service of God.  And, as you are redeemed from sacrifice by the Sacrifice of Christ, so are you sanctified for life with God in time and eternity.

That is the life that you are called to live by faith in whatever particular place God has put you.  Not for yourself and your own sake, but for Him who for your sake died and was raised.

It is in fact His Cross and Crucifixion that reveals the secret thoughts of your heart, as Simeon prophesied to St. Mary.  For His Cross opposes whatever selfishness and self-righteousness there is in you, whatever striving for yourself.  His Cross brings about the dying of your self.

But it is His Cross, first of all, and He has given Himself over to death ahead of you, in order to redeem you, to rescue and raise you.  So that He is the Ram who is caught in the thicket and thorns of the Cross, provided by God in the place of you and your sons.  And He is the Passover Lamb, who is sacrificed to feed you with His flesh and to cover you with His Blood.  So then, not death but life shall have you; not slavery but freedom; not fear and sadness, but peace and joy.

All of this Christ does, not only for you, but for the many.  Not only for the dying of repentance, but also for the rising of faith.  You are not only put to death in your self, but you are also raised up to a new life in Christ within His one Body of many members.  You live as He lives, and you shall never die.  You live as He lives, and your life is bound up together with all who live in Him.

Therefore, the peace that you are looking for and longing for in the depths of your being is not only your own comfort and salvation, but the redemption of Jerusalem and the consolation of Israel.

The peace that you are looking for is found in Christ Jesus, because He has reconciled God and man in Himself, in His own Person, in His own flesh and blood, in His Cross and Resurrection.  You find the peace that you are looking for in Him, and you also find your neighbors and friends in Him; your brothers and sisters; your fathers and mothers; your sons and daughters; your babies and old people.  In loving Him, you love each and all of them.  And in loving them, you love Him.

Not only that, but, as you love Christ in your brothers and sisters, so do they love you in Christ.  The Anna sitting next to you there in the pew, her piety, her fasting and prayers are yours; they avail for you and strengthen you.  The Simeon sitting a few rows in front of you, his righteousness and devotion are yours; they avail for you and strengthen you.  The Joseph sitting with his family in the back, his quiet obedience is yours; it avails for you and strengthens you.  And the young Mary who lives by faith, who bears children and cares for them in love, her purification is yours; her faithfulness and loving service are yours, they avail for you and strengthen you.

Not as though any of your brothers and sisters could redeem you or merit salvation for you, but because they and you belong to each other in Christ Jesus, and you are all taken up together into Him who is your redemption and the Savior of His Body.

You are called to live according to the Word of the Lord, and you are guided by His Spirit to live and love in peace.  That is what brought Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna to the Temple, to the little Lord Jesus.  And that is likewise what brings you here with your parents and children.

If you are a parent, then bring up your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  Bring them to His Temple in Holy Baptism.  Teach them His Word, and bring them to His Holy Communion.  Teach them to pray, to sing, and to confess His Name.

If you are a wife, then live with your husband in peace, until death parts you from him.

And if you are a widow, or if you are unmarried — if you have been given the gift and vocation of celibacy — then “do not leave the Temple,” but serve both night and day with your fasting and prayers.  That is to say, use your time and energy, your talents and resources to serve and support the Church and Ministry of the Gospel, and to care for your neighbors in the faith of Christ and with His love.  You thus give thanks to God, and you strengthen the congregation of His people.

If you are a young man, or old, know that it is a manly thing to be in church, to pray and sing, to praise the Lord your God.  It is a manly thing to care for your own family if you have one; to care for orphans and widows in their distress; to take the little children in your arms with gladness, and to behold in them God’s gift of life.

To belong to the Body of Christ is to bear with your neighbor patiently, and in love to share his burdens as your very own.  Which means not only time and sweat and money — though it does include all of that, as needs may be — but it means, above all else, that you forgive your neighbor whatever his trespass against you.  There is peace in such forgiveness, and life.

There is peace and life for you and for the many in such forgiveness of sins, because it is such forgiveness that resides in the heart of Christ, and it flows from His great heart of love to all the members of His Body.  His Body bears with you in patience, and in love His Body shares your burdens as His own.  His Body forgives you all of your sins, whatever your trespasses may be.

It is all the blessed good work of this little One who has opened the womb of His Mother, and who was brought up to Jerusalem and presented to the Lord: not only in the Temple once upon a time, but once-for-all upon the Cross.

This little One, the Babe, the Son of Mary, He is your Peace.  In flesh and blood likes yours, He has been righteous and devout, and He has performed everything in fulfillment of the Law.  He has grown in wisdom and stature for you, and He is strong on your behalf, for your eternal benefit.

The grace of God is upon Him, and His grace is upon you.  In Him you see not death, but the Lord’s Christ, whose Body bears all your sins and bestows forgiveness.

By His Cross He has redeemed you, and in His Resurrection His Body has been established as the true Temple of God in heaven and on earth.  As your merciful and great High Priest, He ever lives to pray and intercede for you before His God and Father, while He also comes and enters in to be with you here in His Church, in His Sacrament, to grant you His forgiveness and His Life in His own flesh and blood, given and poured out for you.

Take His Body now into your arms, and take up His Cup of Salvation.  Call upon His Name, bless the Lord your God for all His benefits, depart in His Peace and Joy, and live forever in Him.

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

26 December 2014

The Witness of Christ in His Saints

It isn’t nearly so cozy and cuddly as the Nativity scene, but this is how the Christmas story goes.  Not only for the Christ Child and His holy family, but for His Prophets and Apostles, His wise men and scribes, His deacons and elders, pastors and teachers, and all of His disciples, His Christians.

It is also the story of your Baptism into Christ, whether you die a martyr’s death or live a martyr’s life.  The stones may be real or metaphorical, but they will hit you either way if you belong to the Righteous One, and they will hurt.  His afflictions are many, His tribulations great.  His Cross is deadly, and His tomb a strange bed for the Lord of Life.

Then there are the stones that you hurl at Him and at His beloved, out of jealousy and spite, with envy and resentment, or for the sake of pride and competition: When you do not help and protect your neighbor, but hurt and harm his body; when you do not guard his interests or defend his name, but conspire against him, or simply turn your back on him and consign him to his suffering and his desperate need.  Perhaps you merely stand by and watch, condoning his murder by your silence, keeping the coats of his killers, and giving thanks that you are not the one under attack.

Your life in the world as a Christian, under the Cross, is not so neatly and easily categorized as good or bad, right or wrong.  It is by God’s grace that you are a Christian, a son of God in Christ, anointed by the Spirit of the Lord; whereas by your birth from Adam you are sinful and unclean.

For your faithfulness you are stoned, whether by the world in its wickedness, or by the far greater perversity and blasphemy of those who consider themselves to be pious and righteous, who count it a service to God when they kill you.

And in your own sinfulness, you are the one hefting rocks in your hands and taking deadly aim at the children of your own God and Father, your own dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

We do not find such ambiguity in St. Stephen, the First Martyr of our crucified and risen Lord, but only because the record of his life and death is the witness of Christ Jesus, in whom there is no ambiguity nor uncertainty.  Stephen, too, was a child of Adam by nature, but by grace he is a child of God, who strengthened and sustained him in the one true faith.

You are right to marvel at the faithful witness of the martyrs; and none of them are more faithful than St. Stephen, who demonstrates the righteousness of God in both his bold preaching and his gracious prayer of forgiveness.  You are right to marvel, because this faithful witness of the holy martyrs is a testimony to the faithfulness of Christ.

That is the story of Christmas, of Christ and of His Christians, from the New Testament throughout the history of His Church on earth, even to the present day around the world.

The story of Christ, of His Life, His Cross and Resurrection, is written, lived, and confessed in the story of His disciples, the story of those who are baptized and catechized in His Name.  They are faithful, because He is.  They live and die, and they shall rise again, because He has done so for them, and He does so in them, unto the life everlasting.

He did so for St. Stephen, and He does so for you.

The ambiguity that you experience in your mortal life, in your heart and mind, in your thoughts, words and deeds, and in all your members, is resolved by the work of the Cross, which is God’s good work of repentance, unto divine eternal life in Christ Jesus.  The Cross puts to death the old Adam in you, while it also conforms you, in body and soul, to the Image of God, the incarnate Son.

The Cross therefore brings you through death into life, in and with and through Christ Jesus.  At the same time, it becomes a faithful witness to the same Lord Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, in what you do and say and suffer in His Name.

It is not a matter of trying hard to make such a witness of yourself.  In the history of the Church, those who have sought to claim the glory of martyrdom for themselves have fallen far short when it came down to it, and have denied the Lord in the face of actual torture and death, thereby shaming themselves and blaspheming the Name they presumed to confess.

But, no, you should instead work hard and make a conscious and conscientious effort to do those things which God has given you to do.  Do your duties faithfully and well.  Then, in faith receive and bear and suffer the Cross that He lays upon you in His love for you.  For within your vocation as a Christian, in the offices and stations to which He has called you in your life on earth, He will be with you, to bless you, to guard you and keep you, to preserve your faith and life in Him.

Thus, whether you live or whether you die, you are the Lord’s.

The shape of such a Christian life, as in the case of St. Stephen, is a confession of the Word of God.  You speak with confidence what the Lord has spoken.  If you are not a pastor or preacher, still, your words and actions as a Christian are a proclamation of Christ and a confession of the Name of God, with which He has named you in your Holy Baptism.

Such a confession has for its heart and center the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, who is God our Savior in the flesh.  In you it is repentance, and for your neighbor it is manifested in love and forgiveness.  It is love that speaks the truth forthrightly, but with gentleness.  It is love that serves sacrificially, even unto death, but no less so in day to day life.  It is love that turns the other cheek, even against hard rocks and sharp stones, and forgives those who trespass against you.  That is the way of Christ, for you and for all, which we see exemplified in His servant, St. Stephen.

It is truly meet, right and salutary that we should remember St. Stephen and his faithful example; for so has the Holy Spirit through St. Luke remembered the story for us in the Holy Scriptures.  And it is right that we should give thanks and praise to God our dear Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord, for this blessed holy martyr.

His example should not only prompt you to thanksgiving, but also to ask: How is it that Stephen was so faithful, even in his suffering unto death?  How was he able to confess so boldly in the presence of his accusers, in the face of those who hated him so much and wanted to hurt him so badly?  How could he die so peacefully, despite such a painful death?  And as he was dying, how was he able to pray so graciously for those who were throwing stones at him?

The answer is given by the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  St. Stephen was strengthened and sustained by the same Gospel that he confessed and preached to others.  So are you.

His mortal eyes were given to behold a special revelation of the risen Christ, and by faith in the Gospel he not only saw but he believed that His great High Priest, His Savior and Lord, had risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven.  Hence, that same heaven was opened to St. Stephen, too — as it is, also, to you.  Death and the grave would not be able to hold him, no more than death could hold Christ Jesus.  Neither shall death be able to hold you in its grasp forever.  Even dead and dying, yet you are alive in Christ, and so shall you be, unto the life everlasting of body and soul.

By your Holy Baptism, you have already been crucified with Christ, and dead and buried with Him.  And by one and the same Holy Baptism — into His Cross and Resurrection — daily are you raised with Him to newness of life through His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  Your life on earth is therefore a daily martyrdom, which is simply the working out of your Baptism until it is finally and fully consummated in the death and resurrection of your body.  Already your life is hidden with Christ in God.

His Body is the true Temple of God, even as He tabernacles with you in His own flesh and with His own holy and precious Blood.  You enter that Temple via Holy Baptism, and you abide in that Temple, before the throne of God both day and night, within the fellowship of His Church on earth.

For the same eternal Liturgy of your merciful and great High Priest, by which He serves all His saints in His Kingdom, He also administers here for you at His Altar.

His heart’s desire is to gather you here to Himself; to enfold you in His embrace; to shelter you under His wings; to surround you round about; and to fill you with Himself and with His Holy Spirit, with His own flesh and blood, with His forgiveness of all your sins, with His grace, mercy and peace, and with all the power and glory and blessing of His indestructible life.

Would you be gathered to Him, and would you behold Him at the right hand of the Father, where He ever lives to intercede for you in love?  Surely He has opened heaven to you, but do not gaze up into the sky to see it or find it.  Rather, open your ears to hear His Gospel, and open your mouth to be fed from His hand.

What you behold with your mortal eyes are mortal men, an altar of wood, vessels of metal, and mere bread and wine, all within an earthly house constructed by human hands.  But these ordinary earthly things are clothed with a hidden majesty by the Word of the Lord, who speaks, and it is so.

Mortal men are filled with the Spirit of God, with the power and wisdom of Christ, by their call and ordination to His Office of the Holy Ministry.  For His Word and promise attend that Office.

The wood of this Altar, like that of the manger and of the Cross, bears the very Body of the Son of God.  And at His Word, the chalice becomes the New Testament in His Blood.

This man-made building, likewise, sanctified by the Word of God and prayer — though it could not contain the One who holds the heavens and the earth in the palm of His hand — yet, it is His House, His Holy Place, His Temple on earth as it is in heaven.  Not only that, but He who upholds all things gives Himself into your hands, upon your lips, and into your body, so that you also are a Temple of God.  As you live in Christ, so does He live and abide in you, in your body and soul.

He was and is St. Stephen’s righteousness and holiness, his bold courage, strength and confidence, his faithfulness in life and death, and his Resurrection and Ascension to the bosom of the Father, the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens.

Dear Christian, the same Lord Jesus Christ is all of that for you, as well, both now and forever.

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

24 December 2014

The Light Shines in the Darkness

Little children of whatever age, shape, or size, you are to love one another, because Love is of God.  It is who and what He is, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is also what He does, and why He does it.  He creates and gives life for the sake of Love, the Father for His Son, and the Son for His Father, in the Spirit.

Love is of God.  And so are you: You are His workmanship, His good creation, His own boy or girl, man or woman.  He has made you for the sake of love: That you should love Him above all else, and that you should love your neighbor as you love yourself.  If you would know and wish to pursue the point and purpose of your life, it is to love.  But, first and foremost, God has brought you into being, He has created you, and you exist, in order to be loved by Him, by the Father in His Son and with the Holy Spirit.  And so you are.  You are loved by God.

His love for you permeates all of creation, so that all things everywhere work together for your good, by His grace.  Every ray of sunshine, every drop of rain, every flake of snow, every star in the sky, and every breath you take belongs to His loving care for you.  It is not just a thought, a feeling of affection, or a pleasant word, but an act of God and the tangible gift of Himself for body and soul.  He loves you.  He really does.  The evidence and, more than simply evidence, the actual expression and experience of His Love for you is the Body of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He is the Light that shines in the darkness.  But the darkness doesn’t understand it.  After all, there is so much that seems backwards, inside-out, upside-down, and the opposite of Light all about us.  In the shadow of death, the promise of Life sounds like a lie.  So, the Light seems artificial, fake, or unreal.  And the Love of God that undergirds and permeates all of creation is elusive, apparently ambiguous, if not downright fickle and fleeting.  The sun is too hot in the summer and too absent in these dark winter months.  There’s either too much or too little rain.  And the snowflakes, when they fall, pile up into a difficult, sometimes dangerous obstacle.  With every breath your body takes, you’re that much closer to breathing your last, no matter how your stars may align.

As you look around and listen to it all, are you not pummeled with the evidence and experience of darkness which denies and contradicts the Light of Christ and the Love of God in Him?

Good friends are hospitalized with heart problems, and even young friends contract cancer and lose their hair if not their lives in battling it.  Old friends lose their memories, and maybe their minds.  Christianity is increasingly mocked or simply dismissed as irrelevant.  Children are martyred.  Terrorism undermines the safety, security, and stability of the world’s pretense of control.  It is difficult to discern the truth from the fiction or the flat-out falsehood.  But you watch it unfold and play out on your phone, on the news, or in the papers, as though life were nothing but a tennis match, a bad soap opera, or a tragicomedy.

Beloved of the Lord, do not give up or give in to the fatalism of unbelief or the futility of despair.  The true Light that shines in the darkness, shines for you, and you are given your bearings again in the Body of Christ Jesus.  Not that it’s obvious or easy to see, but it’s no less true.  God’s purposes for you and for His whole creation are not thwarted by sin, death, the devil, or anything else.  His good and gracious will is not prevented, regardless of appearances to the contrary.  As surely and certainly as the Father loves the Son from all eternity to all eternity, so does the same Lord God love you in and with the flesh and blood of Jesus.

Which is why we crazy Christians sing in the dark and celebrate, not the achievements of modern man, but the ancient and eternal grace of God.  We rejoice and give thanks in the face of death, and even at the gravesides of our loved ones; not because we are stupid or deluded by wishful thinking, but because we have come to know and have believed the Love of God in Christ.  Not by our own wisdom, reason, or strength, to be sure.  We are willing to count ourselves foolish and weak without hesitation.  Even so, by the Word and Spirit of the Father, we live by faith.  We have hope.  And we love, just as we are loved by God.

As God brought forth Light out of the darkness by the speaking of His Word on the first day of Creation, so does He cause the Light of the Revelation of His Glory in Christ Jesus to shine within your heart by the preaching of His Gospel.  He speaks the forgiveness of your sins, and it is so.  And with that forgiveness, He gives you life in body and soul, for now and forever.  He raises you up from the death of doubt to the life of peace and joy, and He enlightens you with His Holy Spirit.

The promise and power of His Word is made perfect for you, for your body and your soul, by the Incarnation of the Word.  The Lord your God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of the heavens and the earth, He speaks to you, to your heart and mind — not from a great distance, as though by radio waves across the vast expanse of the universe — but up close and personal.  He speaks to you by His Son in the flesh and blood born of Mary, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

God affirms the goodness of His Creation, and He guarantees His good and gracious Will for His Creation, by actually entering into His Creation and becoming one with it in Christ Jesus.  That fact remains and stands fast over against the darkness of death and despair.  Not only in general, but also for you.  God does not hate you or despise you for your sin.  He loves you still.  Indeed, He cares for you most deeply.  And He has become like you in order to save you, to give you His own life forever, so that you should be like Him and live in fellowship with Him forevermore.

In the Son of Mary, you see the Face of God as He really is, and you see the face of Man as man is meant to be.  You see what you shall be in Him, in the Resurrection and the Life Everlasting.

The key, of course, by which you are brought from death to Life, from darkness into Light, is the Gospel of the same Lord Jesus Christ.  For He does not simply enter Creation and become a part of it, but He actually takes upon Himself — He embraces, and He bears within Himself — the contradiction of sin and death.  Although He is the true and perfect Man, the very Image of God, without any sins of His own, yet, He voluntarily undergoes the curse and consequences of Adam’s sin, and He shares fully in the circumstances and conditions of fallen man.

He makes Himself, not only human, but mortal, subject to death.  He bears and carries the burden, the weight, and the punishment of sin.

In this way, He solves the paradox and resolves the conundrum in Himself, in His own Person, in His own Body of flesh and blood.  For He is faithful and obedient, holy and righteous, even unto death upon the Cross.  He remains steadfast and true, even as He suffers and dies for the sins of the world.  Thus, He continues to shine the Light of God into the uttermost depths of the darkness.  And now, then, in His Resurrection from the dead, He shines that same Light upon you through the preaching of His Gospel, which is the preaching of the forgiveness of your sins in His Name.

It’s not an arbitrary or an artificial arrangement.  The Word and promises of God are a sure and certain fact for you in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.  He who shares with you the same human nature, the same flesh and blood, has entered entirely into your predicament and returned from it to the Right Hand of the Father in heaven.  So, then, God and Man are reconciled, not only in Him, but also for you and for all people.  For He has made Peace where there was enmity.  He has rescued Life from out of the jaws of death.  He is your Light in the darkness.

And not just once upon a time.  As God loves you with all of His Creation, so does He love you every day, from one year to the next throughout your life.  The Father speaks to you by His Son, who remains forever and ever as your Brother in the flesh, true God and true Man.  He speaks the forgiveness of your sins, and it is so, as surely as Christ Jesus is risen from the dead, never to die again.  The certainty of His own risen Body is the absolute guarantee of your own resurrection.  It is for this that He was born.

He has become flesh and redeemed you with His Blood, He has dealt with your sin and death in His own Body, in order to bring your body as well as your soul into eternal fellowship with God.

And now, with His Body of flesh and blood like yours, conceived and born of Mary, crucified and risen for your redemption and your righteousness, He also feeds you: Not metaphorically, but actually, with Meat and Drink indeed.  His Body and His Blood are the surety of your Salvation, the down payment on the resurrection of your body.  In the Sacrament, He is conceived and born in you, as it were, so that He lives in you, and you in Him.  That is the true ChristMass, tonight and tomorrow, throughout the coming Twelve Days, unto the close of the age and the life everlasting.

Hidden under bread and wine, then hidden in your mortal body in this poor life of labor, in your own flesh and blood, the Light shines in the darkness, and the Love of God is manifest in your Christian love for one another.  By forgiving those who trespass against you, by serving those who cannot reciprocate or pay you back, and by persisting in your vocation and stations in life, you also are a Word in the flesh that God speaks into the world.  The darkness cannot understand you, but neither can it overcome you.  For the Light of Christ has risen upon you and within you, and He remains forever and ever your Life and your Salvation.  Nothing in all of creation can separate you from the Love of God in Him.

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

21 December 2014

The Word of the Lord Is Your House and Home

Unless the Lord build the house, you labor in vain to build it.
Unless the Lord guard and keep the city, in vain do you keep vigil.

He is the Builder of all things, the Maker of the heavens and the earth out of nothing.  He speaks, and it is so.  He establishes and continues to uphold you and all of Creation by His Word.

It is not for you to build and achieve, but for the Lord to speak, and by His Word to give His good gifts, to accomplish His purposes for you and for all, according to His good and gracious will.

So does He call Abraham from the land of the Chaldeans; He brings him in and settles him in a good land.  And He makes that one old man, as good as dead, the father of many nations.

He brings the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel out of Egypt, and He makes of them His own children, His people, His chosen nation, in order to bless all the nations of the earth.  He sustains them through the wilderness, and He brings them into the Land that He promised.  He defeats and drives out their enemies, granting them victory in battles they barely fight, wherever He directs.  He gives them a safe place to call their own, a place of peace and rest.  He shelters and protects them.  He dwells among them with His Word, and He remembers His covenant with them.

Though the people are stubborn, frequently ungrateful, often rebellious and resistant to His Word, He raises up a king for them, a ruler after His own heart.  He finds and chooses David, He calls him and anoints him; He takes him from shepherding sheep to shepherding Israel.  The Lord crowns David a prince among His people, giving him victory over all his enemies and exalting his name.

It is the Lord who does all of this for David; the Lord who gives all of this to David; the Lord who builds up David’s house and blesses it.  Not for David only, but for the blessing of all the people.

David is always at his best when he trusts that gracious providence of God, the Lord, and lives accordingly.  Whenever he proceeds by faith in the Word of the Lord, he receives exactly what the Lord has promised, even against impossible odds.  His greatness and his glory are thus to receive all things by grace, and to live by faith in the Word and promises of God.

Of all those Words and promises, there is none greater than the one that David received in response to his proposal and plans for a temple.  Not that he would get to do what he intended.  But the Lord would build and establish the house of David, and raise up a Son of David to sit on his throne and reign forever.  It is that Son of David who builds a house for God’s Name.

It is true that Solomon reigned after his father David, and that he built, with God’s approval, a great Temple in Jerusalem.  There the Lord indeed caused His Name and His Glory to dwell with His people, hearing and receiving their prayers and their sacrifices, according to His Word.  By the Old Testament Temple Liturgy, He forgave their many sins, both day by day and year after year, and with His forgiveness He bestowed His good and gracious gifts of body and soul upon them.

But neither Solomon nor his Temple were forever.  In fact, both came to a rather disappointing end, subject to the judgment of God.  Solomon was drawn away from the Lord by his numerous wives and their pagan gods.  And over the ensuing years, the people regarded the Temple and their sacrifices as a guarantee against God’s wrath and punishment, as though they could buy Him off, even while they gave themselves over to false gods and the willful pursuits of their own flesh.  Thus, after Solomon the kingdom was divided, and in time the Temple would be destroyed, Jerusalem laid waste, and the people taken into Babylonian captivity.

Such is life apart from the Word of God.

Yet, because the Lord is gracious, and life and salvation are by His grace alone, He does not forget His promises, but He fulfills His Word as He has spoken.  He is faithful, and He does it.

He sends the angel Gabriel to speak His Word to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Nazareth.  He fulfills what He promised, at a point when no one would have dreamed that it could happen, when the once illustrious house of David was in disarray, decrepit, little more than a stump.  But the Lord takes the initiative, and He does everything from the ground up, by His grace.

It is no son of David, nor any other man, who conceives the Son of God in St. Mary’s womb, but God does it by His Word and Spirit.  As from the beginning, the Lord speaks, and it is so.

As surely as all projects and pursuits without His Word shall fail, so surely does every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God accomplish His purposes.  For no word is powerless with Him.  That is the answer to St. Mary’s question: “How can this be?”  And it is the answer to all of your questions, too.  For all things are accomplished by the Word of God.

Faith echoes His Word with its own, “Let it be!”  Mother Mary does not presume, but she hears and professes what the Lord has spoken.  “Let it be to me according to Your Word.”  That is the voice of faith, the prayer of a faithful servant of the Lord.  And with that prayer of faith proceeds the obedience of faith, as well.  You see that in St. Mary, to be sure, who receives everything by grace, but who is then also called to live and work by faith: to bear the Christ-Child in her womb, to bear reproach and suspicion from her fiancée and neighbors, to suffer hardship and loss, and to care for  a Son whom she will see crucified before her very eyes in due time.  She does not choose these works, nor does she offer them to God for the sake of gaining His favor.  Indeed, she already has His favor!  But in faith she says “Yes” and “Amen” to His Word.

You see that same obedience of faith in her father David at his best, and in her husband Joseph, who quietly accepts and follows the Word of God at every step along the way.

But you see the obedience of faith especially in St. Mary’s Son, our dear Lord Jesus Christ.  For He, the Word-of-God-made-Flesh, lives as perfect Man — as your Brother in the flesh — by perfect faith in His God and Father.  This is how closely, how deeply, how intimately the Lord has come and drawn near to you, to the extent that He lives your human life in the midst of sin and death.  He establishes the house of David by establishing the house of God in His own flesh.

Even so, He establishes the house of David in Himself, in His own human flesh and blood, by trusting and relying on His Father to raise Him up and establish Him — by the way of the Cross!

Not only does He share your human flesh and blood and make it His own by His conception and birth from St. Mary, but He also shares your sins and your stripes, and He makes those His own.  He takes ownership of your sins, and of the sins of all men and women, all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, as though He had committed every one of them Himself.  And then He suffers the strokes of God and man in punishment for all those sins of yours and others.  So fully does He share your shame and sorrows, even unto death.  So fully is He with you, even to the bitter end.

He submits to His Cross and Passion in the obedience of faith, in the confidence of the Word and promise given to His father David (and to His Mother Mary).  Though He is punished with the rod of men, and with the strokes of the sons of men, the Lord does not remove His loving-kindness from Him, nor remove Him from His throne.  Even from the dead, from the dust of the earth, He raises Him up and establishes the throne of His Kingdom forever.  And in the process, the sins of His people are forgiven, and all their punishments are removed.  Their enemies are all defeated.

Thus, the Lord your God is with you, not only as your Brother in the flesh, and as your sacrificial Substitute in death, but as your King, which is also to be your Good Shepherd.  As you live under Him in His Kingdom, you share fully in His faithfulness and obedience, in His victory over sin and death, and in the Glory of His Name.  For just as all the people suffer when their king is unfaithful, so do all the people benefit and prosper together with this King, who is faithful in all things.

He shepherds and reigns over you in love, from His Cross, by His Word of the Gospel.  He sends His messengers to you, to preach in His Name, as He sent Nathan to David and the angel Gabriel to Mary, and as He sent St. Paul to preach even to Rome and beyond.  By such preaching, you are established in His grace, in the household and family of His Church, and all the wealth and bounty of His Kingdom are given to you.  Thus, you are rich in the midst of your poverty.  You are alive, even in the face of your death.  You are great and glorious before God, even though you suffer shame and sorrow on earth.  And you are strong and steadfast, despite your frailty and weakness.

You live by faith in the Gospel, by which the Lord forgives your sins and declares you to be righteous, innocent, and pure.  Your faith in this sure and certain Word of the Gospel is as much His good work in you, and His good gift to you, as the conception of the Son of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But so does it also become your own faith, as surely as the Son of God became St. Mary’s own Son.  Not only that, but prayer and obedience of faith like hers are likewise yours, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  So that, not only do you say “Yes” and “Amen,” and “Let it be,” to the Word and promises of God — which are spoken to you in the Gospel, and are for you — but you also live and walk according to the Word of the Lord within your calling.

And the Lord is with you in your calling, as He was with David and Mary in their callings.  He is with you, and He is close to you, to strengthen and sustain you, to guard and keep you in those duties He has given you to do.  And whereas your self-chosen projects and self-appointed pursuits are bound to fail and collapse, your works undertaken in accordance with the Word of the Lord will accomplish His purposes.  They shall not fail.  Nor shall you be put to shame.

Not because you are so faithful or flawless, but because the Lord is faithful and gracious, because He loves you, because He forgives all your sins, and because He will never let the righteous fall.

Oh, to be sure, you’re going to make mistakes, mess things up, blow it badly at times, and continue to sin in your thoughts, words, and deeds, up until the day you die.  All the saints have been such sinners.  But it is the Lord who builds the House and brings His people into it.  So it is the Lord who delivers you from evil, who removes all your foes from within and without, and who grants you peace and rest within His House forevermore, all by the Word of His forgiveness.

It is already a done deal.  For the dear Lord Jesus, the Son of David, St. Mary’s little Babe, has made your sins His own, and suffered all the punishments for them; so that by His stripes you are healed.  And God has raised this Jesus from the dead.  That is your righteousness, and that is your resurrection, no matter how many times (or how far) you have fallen.  Just as He is risen from the dead, and lives and reigns eternally, so do you live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Do not be afraid.  The Lord is with you, and you have found favor in His sight.  Behold, here is the House that He has built for you, that you may call upon His Name and be saved.  Behold, here is the Body of Christ, which is the Temple of God on earth as it is in heaven; and here is the precious Blood, by which you are reconciled to God in Him.

His Peace be with you, according to His Word.  For He speaks, and it is so.

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