31 December 2017

My Favorite Fantasy Fiction Books from 2017

Here are the fantasy fiction books (or series of books) I most enjoyed reading aloud to my children, or else reading quietly to myself (mostly while riding my exercise bike), in the Year of Our Lord 2017. Obviously, many if not most of these books were published prior to 2017. A few of them are books that I have read before, but I had the joy of rediscovering them with my children this year.

The Secret Keepers - Trenton Lee Stewart

Chronicles of Narnia (series) - C.S. Lewis

Five Kingdoms (series - partial) - Brandon Mull

Auggie & Me - R.J. Palacio

The Messengers (series - partial) - Lisa M. Clark

Lockwood & Co. (series) - Jonathan Stroud

The Secret Series - Pseudonymous Bosch

Partials Sequence (trilogy) - Dan Wells

The Gordian Knot / Graduation Day (Schooled in Magic series) - Christopher G. Nuttall

Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters - Lesley M.M. Blume

Oracles of Delphi Keep (series) - Victoria Laurie

The Vengekeep Prophecies (series) - Brian Farrey

The Rising Star of Rusty Nail - Lesley M.M. Blume

The Zero Blessing - Christopher G. Nuttall

Tales of Magic (series) - Edward Eager

Full-Ride - Margaret Peterson Haddix

Tennyson - Lesley M.M. Blume

Jinx (series) - Sage Blackwood

The Books of Elsewhere (series) - Jacqueline West

The Paladin Prophecy (series) - Mark Frost

Julia and the Art of Practical Travel - Lesley M.M. Blume

The Menagerie (trilogy) - Tui T. Sutherland & Kari Sutherland

Guardian Glass - Christopher G. Nuttall

Before the Devil Breaks You (Diviners series) - Libba Bray

The Night Gardener - Jonathan Auxier

The Real Boy - Anne Ursu

In Over Their Heads (sequel to Under Their Skin) - Margaret Peterson Haddix

Heroes of Olympus (series) - Rick Riordan

Keeper of the Lost Cities (series - partial) - Shannon Messenger

Tuesdays at the Castle (series) - Jessica Day George

fyi - Here is my "Year in Books" for 2017 on Goodreads

The Gift of the Son

From before the foundation of the world God the Father in heaven has planned to give His Son.  That is the decisive act of God, upon which everything else in heaven and on earth depends.

It is for the sake of the Son — by Him, through Him, and for Him — that all things are created, and that man in particular is created, male and female, Adam & Eve, in the Image and Likeness of God.  And it is by the giving of that same Son, even into death upon the Cross, that fallen man and all his children are redeemed from death and the grave and given life with God the Father in heaven.

The Lord your God has given His only-begotten Son for you, in order to redeem you, to buy you back for Himself, though you were already His own creation.  He has paid for you with this most costly gift — His Son, His Life, His Blood — so that you might become a son of God by grace.

That’s not just one bonus or benefit of your salvation.  That is the heart of it.  To be a son of God.  To be able to cry out to the Creator, the Lord, the Almighty, “Abba! Daddy! Father!”  To be able to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.”  To have your life in Him, and to have with Him that special relationship of a child with his or her father, only better than any relationship here on earth.

God has given His Son for you, that you might become His own dear son.  That you might share the sonship of Christ Jesus.  That you might share His Name and His Life and His Father forever.

It is by the Word and Spirit of God that you receive this gift, and recognize it, and rejoice in it.  Otherwise you would be utterly oblivious to this grace and blessing of God in Christ, on account of the frailty and weakness of your sinful, mortal flesh, and on account of the frailty and weakness in which the Son of God is given by the ways and the means of His Cross.  Apart from the Word and Spirit of God, you would never know it or believe it.  Everything is by and with His Word.

As a powerful case in point, it is by the Word — and not by any accident or coincidence — that Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, are brought together in the Temple of God.  St. Luke has gone to great lengths to emphasize, again and again, that every jot and tittle of this Holy Gospel has transpired in accordance with the Law of the Lord.

Here you should understand that the Law was not simply a collection of rules and regulations.  To be sure, it did include such rules and regulations, for a father must regulate, govern, and discipline his household and family in love.  But the Law was the full Covenant that God established with His people, encompassing His relationship with them and especially the promise of the Christ who would come — who now has come in the fullness of time, the Babe, the Son of Mary.  All that God the Lord had spoken, including all that He commanded, pointed to this dear Lord Jesus Christ.

It was by that Word of the Lord, His commandments and His promises, that Mary and Joseph brought the little Lord Jesus to the Temple.  And it was by the Word of the Lord that Simeon was there, anticipating the revelation of the Christ, the Glory of Israel and the Light of the Gentiles.  And it was by that Word of the Lord that Anna was there; for she was always in His Temple, day and night, calling on the Name of the Lord in faith and hope, in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.

It was by the Word and Spirit of God that they were there together in the Temple — for the Holy Spirit was at work through the Word and promises of God to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify them by the gift of the Son.  They were there that God might present His Son to them in peace.

And it was by the Word and Spirit of God that faithful St. Simeon and devout St. Anna were given to recognize the Lord their God, their Savior and Redeemer, the Light of the world, in the Baby Jesus.  They could not have fathomed this by their own reason or strength.  And neither can you.

You cannot behold the Glory of God with the eyes in your head, but only by the eyes of faith which are enlightened by the Gospel.  When you see what happens here in the Church, which is the Temple of God in Christ, you only know what it’s about by the hearing of God’s Word.  That the waters of your Baptism have given you the new birth of the children of God, so that you are now able to call upon Him as your Father.  That bread and wine are the same Body and Blood of the same Lord Jesus Christ that St. Mary carried to the Temple and St. Simeon held in his arms.

These blessed things are most certainly true, but it is only by the Word and Spirit of God that you see and believe.  The world does not recognize it.  Your sinful heart could not recognize it.  But the Lord in His mercy reveals it to you in Christ Jesus, as God the Father gives to you His Son.

Not only has He given His Son for you on the Cross, but now also, in the Temple of His Church, He gives His Son to you by the Gospel.  So does He also draw you to Himself and make you His own in the same Son, Jesus Christ.  But He does all of this by the way and the means of the Cross.

That is why this precious little Child, this beautiful baby Boy, shall be a Sign that is opposed and spoken against.  His Life will become a sword that pierces the soul of His Mother Mary.  For He shall die upon the Cross in public shame and humiliation, in nakedness and devastating pain.

It is by His Cross that He saves you, not only then, but also now.  It is by His Cross that Christ has atoned for all your sins, and for the sins of the world, and thereby defeated death and crushed the serpent’s head beneath His feet.  So is it also by His Cross that He reveals the secret thoughts of your heart, and exposes the deepest depths of your sin, and thereby calls you to contrition and repentance.  He lays the Cross upon you, in order to crucify you and put you to death.  But so also from His Cross does He forgive your sins, call you to faith, and raise you up to newness of life.

The Cross is the most basic Sign of the Christian Church.  From the earliest days, Christians have identified themselves, confessed the faith, and glorified God, by and with the sign of the Cross.  So was the Cross signed on you in your Baptism.  For it is by the Cross of Christ that God has done everything, putting death itself to death in the Body of Christ Jesus, that life might reign in Him.

His Cross does put you to death, as well.  To be a Christian is to be crucified and die with Jesus.  It is to bear the Cross — not only as a piece of jewelry or as a decoration in your home;  nor simply as a ceremony that you trace upon your forehead and your heart — but as that which puts your sinful heart to death and restores you to faith and life with God in Christ the Crucified.

It is because you bear that Cross as a Christian disciple of Christ Jesus that you are ready to die from this world, to depart in peace from this vale of tears to your Father in heaven.  You are ready to die, because in your Baptism with Christ you have already died.  You are ready to die, because the death that you have died, you have died to sin, so that henceforth you live unto God in Christ.

If you are a Christian, then you are ready to die at any time.  Not because you’ve reached a ripe old age or managed to check off all the items on your bucket list, but because you are the Lord’s.

Don’t count on your fingers or calculate in your head what has to happen yet before your life can be complete.  Your life is complete in Christ, because He has died for you and risen from the dead.  And as you have died with Him in your Baptism, so is your life now hidden with Christ in God.

But not to worry!  It is because you are ready for death in Christ that you are finally ready to live.  Because you no longer live for yourself, but for Him, who for your sake died and was raised.

The frantic pace of the world is driven by the fear of death, and by a vast array of futile attempts to avoid death or delay it as long as possible.  All the buying and selling, all the giving and taking, all the decorating and partying — all of this can be done with great joy in faith.  But how much of it is done in a desperate attempt to deny the truth?  To escape the harsh realities of sinful life in a sinful world?  How many people desperately strive to make a life for themselves by earning and spending, by seizing and grasping, or by dreaming of goals they may or may not ever accomplish?

That is not where your life is found.  Do not cling to your stuff, as though it were your life.  Do not even cling to your own health and safety, as though you could preserve your body and life in this world forever.  And do not cling to your family, to your parents, spouse, or children, as though you could not live without them.  Rather, rest yourself in Christ, knowing that you live and die in Him.

It is because you are in Christ that you are free to live — here in time, and hereafter in eternity — because the death of Christ has set you free from the tyranny and bondage of sin, death, the devil, and hell.  You no longer have to be afraid of death.  In fact, you have nothing at all to fear.

What can man do to you?  What can the devil do to you?  What can the world do to you?  Nothing!  Not really.  They can hurt your feelings.  They can hurt your body.  They can even put your body to death in this world.  But then what?  Nothing more!  They cannot take your life with God.

You are not a slave.  You are a son of God.  You are an heir of His Kingdom.  All of heaven is yours.  The riches of Christ are yours, because Christ Himself, the almighty and eternal Son of God, He is yours.  You are rich.  You are alive with God in Christ.  And so, you are free to live.

In that freedom, redeem the time that God gives to you here on earth.  Redeem it to the praise and glory of His Name; which is also to redeem it in love for your neighbor.  You are free to do so.

Sanctify your days with the Word of God and prayer, as faithful Anna did, by night as by day, with fasting and prayers.  Sanctify your life in this world by the fasting of faith, which hungers for God above all else.  And sanctify your life in this world by interceding for your neighbors in the Name of the Lord, and by giving thanks to your God and Father for all that He has done for you and all that He has given you in Christ, His Son, which is far more than you need or could ever imagine.

Your days are marked and measured by the Word of God, because it is the Word of God that gives meaning to your life, both now and forever.  Which also means that your vocations in this world, your offices and stations in life, are meaningful and purposeful.  They’re not just a spinning of your wheels, even if they might feel that way.  Do what you are given to do in the confidence and joy of Christ.  Going about your days and living in accordance with the Commandments of God is to live by faith in His promises.  Not because you must save yourself, but because you are saved.

I know the daily grind can be a drudgery.  I know that many of your days may be wearisome and tedious.  I know there are dark and gloomy days that threaten to undermine your joy with despair, and it can seem like those days will never end.  But none of that is the real truth of the matter.

You can do whatever God has given you to do in the joyful confidence of Christ, because the truth is that He is not far away from you.  He has not forgotten you, nor will He ever forsake you.  He has not left you without consolation and comfort.  He is near you.  He is closer than a brother.

He is with you in your callings and stations in life.  And He is here for you in the Temple of His Church, no less than He was in the Temple in Jerusalem when Mary and Joseph brought Him there, and Simeon rejoiced to take Him into his arms, and Anna glorified the God of Israel who had kept every single one of His promises and granted redemption for His people.

Your own redemption and salvation are right here in the One who is your Savior and your God.  Indeed, He is given into your arms, pressed into your hands, placed upon your lips and tongue, and given into your body of flesh and blood, so that you may live in Him, both body and soul, forever.

Here is the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  And in Him you have peace and hope and joy forever, even in the face of death and the grave.  For God has given you His Son, and you are a son of God in Him by His gracious adoption and by His Holy Spirit.

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

28 December 2017

Of Fathers and Kings

There are basically two kinds of King.

There are those who provide daily bread for their people; who give life and protect it; who use their strength, their power and authority, to serve and to care for their people.

And then there are those kings who take life from the people and seize it for themselves.  Kings who feed themselves at the expense of their subjects.  Kings who exercise their strength against the weak and the helpless, in order to consolidate and shore up their power.

So, what sort of king are you?

A king is called to be a father to his people, just as a father is a king in his own castle, called by God to be the head of his own household and family.  What, then, should that mean, and what should it look like?  How is a father to care for his family?  How is he to love and serve his wife?  And how shall he provide for and protect those little ones whom God places under his authority?

A father is called to feed his family in body and soul, not only with ordinary bread and water, but with the Word of God.  He is to guard and protect his family, and to use whatever strength and skill the Lord has given to strengthen his wife and children.  He teaches them by what he says and what he does.  He disciplines his children in love, being slow to anger and quick to forgive.  And when he sins against his family, he repents and makes amends.  That is how a father is supposed to be.

Within your own kingdom and castle, however big or small it may be, what sort of father are you?  What sort of king?  How do you treat those under your care?  Do you give life or take it?  And how do you exercise your strength?  Is it like St. Joseph, the son of David?  Or more like King Herod?

Consider the example that God has given you in St. Joseph of Nazareth, who quietly and quickly served his family, caring for St. Mary and her Son at the Word of the Lord.  He did not argue or debate.  He simply obeyed.  Sure, he was probably frightened; he was probably frustrated; he was probably tired.  But he still got up and immediately did what the Lord instructed him to do.  That is the sort of father he was by God’s grace.  He walked in the footsteps of his father, King David.

By contrast, there is Herod.  He was neither quiet nor obedient, but angry and violent.  He used his position, his power and authority, to murder and rob, in order to protect himself and his position.

In the case at hand, we are told that Herod was enraged; he was greatly angered.  But it was envy and jealousy that fueled his anger — the idolatry of covetous lust.  And behind all of that, it was fear that really drove him to such violent rage.  He did not fear God, but he was deathly afraid.

Real power is able to serve.  It is not afraid for itself, because it is not threatened.  It does not have to crush and destroy — it is rather able to give — because it is content and complete and secure.

But if you do not fear the Lord your God, then you will be driven by the fear of man, as Herod was.  And you will be driven by the fear of death, from which you cannot and will not escape.  When you worship the perishing idols of this fallen and perishing world, you are inevitably consumed with fear, because your gods are always dying, all the time, and you are dying along with them.

And if you imagine that life is something to be taken and held within your hands, to be seized and kept by your own power, then your life will be a contest, a competition, even all-out-war, and everyone else will be your enemy.  But no matter how you fight or play the game, no matter how ruthless or cunning you may be, death will still outsmart you, outmaneuver you, and beat you.

Sometimes you are Herod, giving your ferocious but ultimately futile orders.  And sometimes you are Rachel, inconsolably weeping for your children.  And sometimes you are the infant snatched out of her arms and put to the sword.  Sometimes the tough soldier, sometimes the little child.

But even Herod dies in the end.  All men die, because all men sin.  Learn, then, how to grieve rightly, that you may learn to hope in the Lord.  Do not mourn as those who have no hope.  And do not let your grief drive you to anger or despair.  But fear the Lord, and love and trust in Him.

If you are angry, do not let anger be your god, but fear the Lord and repent.  Sadly, the children of men have allowed their anger to get the better of them from the fall into sin to the present day.  Brothers against brothers.  Sisters against sisters.  A rock to the back of the head, a club, a sword, a gun, or biting words and cunning schemes.  But do not let your anger master you.  Do not stoke the anger in your head and your heart, and do not let it break out into violent words or actions.

Your Lord has taught you how to deal with your brother when he has sinned against you.  If you are rightly angered by his fault, do not sin, but approach him and admonish him in love, and pray for his repentance and the renewal of his faith in Christ.  In any case, do not hold on to your anger, but fear the Lord with whom there is forgiveness, and forgive your brother his sins against you.

Are you exasperated?  At the end of your rope?  Impatient?  Will no one listen to you?  Is your life so hard and painful?  Fear, love, and trust in God.  Call upon His Name and confess His Word.

If you must bear the reproach and the hostility of man, so be it.  That will then be the Egypt where you sojourn as a stranger for a time, where the Lord will still bless you and keep you by His grace, until He shall call you out of Egypt to Himself in due season.  Your Father will take care of you.

It is not the first time that Joseph must go down to Egypt to survive the violence of jealous anger.  That is where he flees, and that is where the Lord preserves his life and his family — even though Egypt is no friend of Israel, and Egypt is not the land that God has promised.  Egypt is not home.

And when a king arises who knows not Joseph, he seeks to destroy you by one means or another, you and your children, and no place feels safe; nowhere feels like home.

And when your children are no more — whether because they have died, or they have grown up and moved away, or they are estranged, or they have departed from the faith — whatever the case, it may be that you refuse even to be consoled or comforted.  You become angry and lash out, or you drown yourself in sorrow and despair.  Maybe even Christmas brings more grief than joy.

But now, repent of such faithless unbelief, and trust that Christ has not forsaken or forgotten you.

When everything is taken from you — when you are driven on the run, and nowhere is safe, and nowhere is home — when you are the little one, the helpless child who is snatched from your mother’s breast and arms, and you are put to the sword, and stabbed through the belly or stabbed through the heart, and even your soul is pierced with grief and pain — even then, do not despair.

Even now, says the Lord, restrain your voice from weeping and dry your eyes from tears.  There is hope for your future.  There is safety, peace, and rest.  There is a place for you.  There is a home where you belong.  There is yet life, that you may not die anymore forever.

The Lord has called you His Son.  He has written His Name on your forehead and your heart.  It is true that He has also signed you with the Cross and put you to death for many a day, but only for the sake of raising you up to a brand new life in Christ Jesus.  So will He also call you out of Egypt at the last.  That is a sure and certain promise, as sure and certain as the Lord your God.

He will call you out of Egypt — through the Red Sea and the Jordan — through the Cross and Resurrection — through your Baptism — out of death and the grave into the life everlasting.

He has not forgotten you in Egypt.  Nor is He out to destroy you.  He is a different sort of King than that, and a different sort of Father than you have known on earth — though every father on earth, including every pastor, is called to be like the Lord your God in caring for His children.  There are good examples — like St. Joseph! — but they all point to the One who is King, to the One who is Father, who deals with you kindly and gently, who strengthens you and gives you life.

That is the sort of King He is, the sort of Father He is, even when it does not seem like it at all.  Even when the ruthless reign on earth, and innocent children are murdered.  Even when the royal ways and wisdom of your God and Father are beyond you and hidden from your sight; and you cannot comprehend His purposes, but you have only His Word to you that says, “Go” or “Stay.”

Hear and heed His Word in the confidence of faith, and go or stay as He commands.  Only take the Child with His Mother with you, and keep the Child with His Mother close at hand wherever you may roam.  For that little One is your Peace, and for His sake you shall live.  He is the King who gives life, who feeds His people with good things, and who strengthens you at His own expense.

In this beloved Son, God the Father has taught you how to pray.  As He is now your own God and Father in Christ Jesus, and you are His dear child, He has invited you to come to Him for all that you need.  For every ache in your heart.  For the hunger in your belly.  For the fears that surround you.  For life in the midst of death.  For all of this and more, He answers your prayers in peace.  He has mercy on your weakness, and kindness, and love.  And He forgives you all of your sins.

Whatever evil the world has inflicted upon you in its animosity, hostility, and violence, the Lord your God has permitted only to the extent that He, in His mercy, should work it for your good.

And whatever evil you have wrought; whatever fear and terror have threatened the very heart of you; whatever covetous lust has enticed your soul; whatever anger and violence, grief and sorrow, despair and shame have gotten their hooks into you — all of this He crucifies and puts to death in you, in order to remove it from you.  All of this He slays, in order to give you life.  All of this He covers with the shedding of His Blood.  And with that same holy and precious Blood, He cleanses you and clothes you in His righteousness.  He ransoms and redeems you from death and the grave.  And even in the wilderness He quenches your thirst; He feeds you on the journey to and fro.

For Judah has made Himself the Surety for Rachel’s children.  Not Joseph or Benjamin, not Ephraim or Manasseh, but the Lion of Judah, the Son of David, He is the King of Peace.  He uses His strength to save His people at His own expense.  He sacrifices Himself to spare them.  So He is the One who goes down into the well, into bondage, into the prison house of sin and death, into the very depths of Sheol.  But none of it can hold Him.  He comes up and out again forevermore.

As He has thus become an acceptable Sacrifice to His God and Father, and ascended to the right hand of the Father — where He ever lives as your High Priest, and makes intercession for you, and shelters the holy martyrs under His wings, and preserves them in safety and peace under His Altar — so it is for you and all who believe and are baptized into Him.  Your life also is an acceptable sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.  And you ascend to stand before the Throne day and night, to serve your God without fear, in peace, in joy, in happiness, even when all around you there is death.  In Christ you are presented to the Father, not for death, but for life as God’s own child.

For everywhere that Lamb has gone, His Mother and her children follow after, that you also may be with Him where He is.  His God and Father is your God and Father.  And if St. Joseph kept and cared for the Holy Family on their pilgrimage, much more does your Holy Father care for His Church on earth and keep her safe and sound in Christ Jesus from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down.  Whether you dwell in Israel or Egypt, in Bethlehem or Nazareth, in Michigan or Indiana, your feet are surely standing on Mount Zion in the midst of the heavenly Jerusalem.  And so shall you abide in the Lord’s own Land, and dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

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

27 December 2017

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loves

Perhaps you can imagine what it must have been like for Simon Peter, when he looked back and saw “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” who had also “leaned back on His bosom at the Supper.”  Envy and jealousy, competition, and resentment rise up far too easily in all of us poor sinners.  So you know how painful and difficult it is to see others receiving the love that you are longing for, which seems so elusive to you.  You work so hard for it, and yet it is given so freely to others.

Peter had just been questioned regarding his love for Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times in a row.  He was stung by that questioning, but so was he also reminded of his three-fold denial of Jesus.  He had made such big, bold promises, only to fail miserably when put to the test.  In time he will be glorify the Christ he once denied, by way of his own imprisonment, suffering, and death.  But for now he cannot help but wonder, and even to ask: “Well, then, what about that guy?”

Yes, indeed.  What about him?  Your parents’ favorite child, or the teacher’s pet?  If you’re going to have to eat crow for your mistakes, and if you must suffer the Cross, then what’s in it for him?

It stirs your restless heart, because you want so much to be loved, to be liked for who you are, to have friends who enjoy your company and who share their company with you.  Real relationships are hard; they require work and effort, patience and self-sacrifice.  But it would be inhuman to live without them.  Personalities differ widely, and the way you feel things and express yourself may be utterly unique, but the longing for love, for friendship and fellowship, for genuine intimacy, is common to all people, to men and women, boys and girls, and even to the holy Apostles.

But while you might be able to sympathize with Simon Peter, as he wonders about St. John in this particular Holy Gospel, you might also be thinking to yourself: What does he have to complain about?  After all, he also got to be with Jesus, to see Him in person, to eat and drink with Him.

By comparison, it can sometimes ring hollow when you’re given the consolation of the Gospel and the promises of Jesus Christ, because those words can feel and seem so intangible, so far away and far removed from where you are and what you’re going through.

You want a personal relationship with Jesus, something up close and more intimate than words and promises appear to give.  You want personal relationships with other people, too, family and friends with bodies in the same room as you, with faces and voices you can actually see and hear.  Everyone needs a hand to hold onto.  Even a childlike faith desires a warm body, one with skin and a familiar smell, with hugs and kisses.  So important is such human touch and contact that babies will not thrive but languish in every way without it.  A lack of touch can even be deadly.

Take that into account when considering the hurts and needs and longing of your neighbors — including especially your own spouse and children, your parents and siblings.  Of course you should not touch your neighbors inappropriately, nor against their will.  Love does not force itself on anyone.  But neither does it keep its distance or keep your neighbor away at arm’s length.

Are you, then, a body in the room for your brothers and sisters?  Are you a face and a voice and a very present help, in both good times and bad, to share in the joys and sorrows of life on earth?  Are you there with a helping hand, a listening ear, a comforting word, a pat on the back, or a hug?

Truth be told, not only do you lack the love you want to have, but you are lacking in the love you ought to have for others.  Whereas you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you — because it is the right thing to do, and all the more so because of God’s gracious love toward you in Christ Jesus — too often you and your neighbor play this waiting game with each other, neither of you wanting to love first, lest you be hurt or disappointed or taken advantage of.

Little children, do not sin in this way, but love from a heart of faith in all your words and actions.  Trust the Lord Jesus, and love your neighbor, even if you are hurt or disappointed in the process, and whether or not your love is ever reciprocated.  Do no harm to your neighbor, even if he should harm you.  Do nothing wrong, but do good and give help as you are given the opportunity, and as the Lord enables you to do, especially within your own particular place in life.

Do not alienate yourself from others, especially not from the fellowship of the Body of Christ.  Nothing could be more self-defeating than that!  It is harmful to your neighbors, as well, to your brothers and sisters in Christ, when you remove yourself from the life of the Church; but it will destroy your own Christian faith and life.  So do not hide yourself away in the darkness, but live and walk in the Light of Christ, that is to say, by the hearing and confessing of His Word.

Love the Lord your God, and so love your neighbor.  You cannot love the one without the other.  If you would love God, whom you cannot see, then love your neighbor whom you can see.  Not from a distance, nor with cold detachment, but with the tender warmth of personal attention and affection, and with the genuine passion of self-giving and self-sacrifice.

Follow Christ Jesus in taking up the Cross to love and serve your neighbors, in the confidence of the Lord’s love and service for you.  Christ will not abandon you, no matter how things may go.

In fixing your focus on Him, do not compare and contrast and compete with others.  Do not be concerned with what your neighbor may be given in this life, but receive your own stewardship in faith and carry it out in love.  Whether a lot or a little, use whatever the Lord has entrusted to you faithfully, throughout the life to which the Lord has called you.  Whether you remain until His reappearing or die a martyr’s death, or if you simply grow up and grow old until you wither and fade like the grass and its flowers, be and live as a disciple.  Follow Christ and learn from Him.

Remember that the Lord Jesus Christ has called you by name, and realize that you are His; that you also are a disciple whom Jesus loves.  There is nothing lacking in His love for you, nor anything lacking in His personal relationship with you; nor does He withhold any good thing from you.

St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, beloved of the Lord Jesus, has made a place for you in his writing of the Holy Gospel.  In fact, he has written you into his own place, by never describing himself by name, but only as the disciple whom Jesus loves.  He would have you know that place as your own, just as you are known so intimately and well by the incarnate God who is Love.

What has been written, what is read to you, and what you hear in the reading and proclamation of this Word, is in fact the very Son of God, your Savior, Jesus Christ.  All that He is, everything He has, and everything He does, it is all for you, and it is given to you by His grace in this Word.

It is more than imagining yourself in the story of Jesus and John.  By the preaching of this Word the story of Jesus is actually given to you, so that it becomes your own story.  Whatever St. John was given to see and hear and touch and receive, he has handed over to you as an Apostle and Evangelist of the Word.  For the revelation of God in the Person of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, has been given to His bond-servant John, to His human angel or messenger, who has been sent to signify this Word-made-Flesh to you through the preaching and Ministry of the Gospel.

That is why the many other things which Jesus does would overflow the whole world with books, if they were all written down; because He keeps on preaching and performing the signs of His glory in the presence of His disciples.  The almighty and eternal Word of the Father continues to abide with us in flesh and blood, and His own Body remains the true Tabernacle of His Church.

So these things that have been written by the holy Apostles, have been written for you and for the whole Church on earth in all the times and places ever since.  The same story of Jesus continues as pastors preach the apostolic Scriptures and carry out the apostolic Ministry in His Name.

It is your story, beloved disciple, in which you follow Christ Jesus through death into life, sharing His Cross and Resurrection, His Ascension and His Life everlasting.  By this Word that you hear and receive, you share in the fellowship of the holy Apostles with Christ Jesus; and in Christ Jesus your fellowship is with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  In that fellowship with the one true God, the Holy Trinity, you also have fellowship with one another, as one Body in Christ, as one family of one God and Father, having the same heart and mind and partaking of the same Holy Spirit.

You have one Lord.  You confess one faith.  You have received one Holy Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  And as disciples whom He loves, you all eat of the one Bread which is His Body, and you all drink of the one Cup which is the New Testament in His Blood.

Therefore, you have neither more nor less than St. Peter or St. John, nor do you have any more or less than any of your fellow Christians.  Let there be no envy or jealousy among you, nor any arrogance or pride.  If you must compete, do so in love and service for each other.  Glorify the Lord Jesus with your body, with all your words and actions, whether in life or in death, in whatever your particular calling may be.  For in the Word of the Gospel, the Glory of God in Christ Jesus, your Savior, is given to you by His grace.  It is given to you in the flesh, in the cleansing of your body and soul, and in the food and drink of His Body and Blood, conceived and born of St. Mary.

Blessed indeed is the womb that bore Him and the breasts that nursed the infant Christ Child.  Yes, indeed.  But all the more blessed are she and you and all who hear and believe the Word of Christ and keep it in true faith, who ponder it in heart and mind, and who treasure it in body and soul.

Blessed, too, are the eyes of the holy Apostles who saw the Lord; and blessed are their ears which heard Him.  And yet, so says the Lord Himself, more blessed are those who have not seen with their eyes, but who have believed the testimony of the apostolic preaching, who hear and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd in the Word of His bond-servants in every age.

Blessed are those who were given not only to preach and to teach but to write the Holy Scriptures — St. John the foremost among the Twelve, who wrote the Gospel, three Epistles, and the Book of the Revelation.  But no less blessed are those who read and those who hear those Scriptures.

Here in the preaching and hearing of this Word is your personal relationship with Jesus.  Here is your friendship with God, who has a body and a face, a voice of love, and a hand to hold on to.  Not only does He hear and answer your prayers in peace, but He speaks to you in mercy.  His Word enters by way of your ears into your heart and mind, your body and soul, unto the life everlasting.

And here within the fellowship of His Church there is for you an intimacy both more tender and more secure than any other.  For here in the Lord’s Supper, at His Table, you recline upon His breast and find your Sabbath Rest in Him, even as He feeds you with His Body and His Blood.  In Him, too, you find your place in the bosom of His God and Father in heaven.

Within His Body you are loved, and so do you love in return. There is nothing unrequited here.  You love Him because He first loves you.  And in loving this dear Lord Jesus Christ, you love both God and Man.  In Him, therefore, you learn to love your neighbor as yourself; and no less do your brothers and sisters in Christ love you.  Whether married or unmarried, young or old, orphaned, widowed, or bereft, you belong to the fellowship of Christ and to the Family of His Father.

It is for that purpose that God has given you His Son, and that He speaks to you by His Son; and it is for that same holy purpose that God the Son, Christ Jesus, has given you His servant John, and that He speaks to you by that holy Apostle and Evangelist.  He has caused His Word to be written, and He causes that same Word to be preached in this place, that you may receive His forgiveness, and by His forgiveness believe in Him, and, believing in Him, have life in His Name.

That Life is surely yours in the Word of Christ.  It rings even now in your ears, it echos upon your lips, and it abides within your body and soul.  Thus do St. John and the whole glorious company of the Apostles rejoice in the fullness of joy, and all the angels and archangels of heaven rejoice with them.  And so do we also give thanks and praise to our Lord Jesus, the Word-made-Flesh, who with His Father and the Holy Spirit is the one true God, both now and forever and ever.

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

26 December 2017

The Costly Gift of Forgiveness

You have not let God’s Love have its way with you, and so your love for others has failed.  There are those whom you have hurt, and those whom you have failed to help.  If you have not been the one throwing stones, you have quietly stood by and watched while others have been harmed.

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

Yet, to withhold forgiveness from your brother or sister; to view your neighbor as your enemy; to hurt instead of help; to speak words of accusation, and to refrain from speaking words of defense, is to call down the wrath and judgment of God.  Not only on your neighbor, but on yourself.  For by the measure and criteria with which you judge your neighbor, you also are measured and weighed.  And by the judgment of the Law, you are found wanting and condemned.

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

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

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

There is a terrible irony in all of this: Unless you die, you cannot live.  But if you live as you want, you bring death upon yourself twice over.  You die either way, but without God you do not live.

The Lord desires to gather you to Himself and to give you life with Himself forever.  But in your native unbelief, you are neither willing nor able to believe in Him or come to Him.  You’re afraid of His Word, because it threatens to undo you — to rip your deep seated idols right out of your heart and life.  So you resort to fight or flight.  You retaliate, or you retreat, but you do not repent.

Deeper and deeper you fall into death and self-destruction, into dark despair and all manner of vice and shame — until the Lord calls you to life and light and salvation by His Word of the Gospel.

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

Where, then, is there any safety or protection for you anywhere?  When you feel safe and secure in the world — when you nest yourself in its comforts — you are lost in your own perdition and in grave danger of eternal death.  But there is no other house in which you can live, and no place to lay your head, except in the desolate Temple of the Lord and on the hard wood of His Cross.  Which makes it seem as though everything were utterly lost and hopeless!

The Lord has given exceedingly great and precious promises to those who trust in Him, yet He brings those very things to pass through the narrow passage of suffering and death.  There simply is no life or hope or peace for you here on earth, except that which is under the Cross of Christ.

You love the Lord, and people hate you for it.  You serve the Lord, and the world around you either does not care or pay any attention, or else it despises and ridicules your faithful service.  You serve and care for your neighbor, and he takes it for granted, or he may even spit in your face.

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

The most dangerous trial and temptation would have you attempt to take and seize for yourself what can only be received by grace through faith in the Gospel.  But only the Lord is able to save you, and He gives you His life only by and with that very Cross which threatens to destroy you!

You cannot escape this crisis.  Repent of your attempts to fight or to flee.  By your own wisdom, reason, and strength, you cannot endure the battle or survive it.  One way or another, you will die.

But now, beloved of the Lord, lift up your head and behold your Redeemer, the crucified One, who is with you.  He is by your side, no less than He is at the right hand of God.  He is here to help and defend you — to die and rise with you — and to bring you with Himself to the Father in heaven.

It is true that He is here with His Cross, which is both death and life for you.  But so it is that you die, not alone, but with Him, and that you also rise and live with Him in body and soul forever.

Everything is determined and defined for you by His Cross.  Listen carefully: It is His Cross.  You cannot understand or celebrate the ChristMass, nor any other aspect of the Christian faith and life, if you do not perceive the heart and center of it all in the Cross and Crucifixion of Christ Jesus.

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

He has not faltered.  He has not failed.  He has done it all willingly, for you and for your neighbor, for your loved ones and your nemeses, for the pious and the faithful, and for the lazy and the impious bum.  For one and all who suffer the curse of sin and death, He has suffered the Cross.

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

Here, then, is the vengeance of the Lord!  Here is His revenge for every wrong!  Not against you, but for you, in the voluntary Sacrifice of the Son of God, in His innocent suffering and death.

The Judge has thereby spoken.  And the Executioner is fully satisfied.  His work here is done, and every other punishment has been resolved.  You are reprieved, for the Resurrection of Christ is your emancipation proclamation; it is the Lord’s own Word of Absolution for you and all people.

The Lord does not hold your sins against you.  Therefore, you are free to live, and free to love.

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

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

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

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

Not only do you have that sure and certain promise of the Resurrection, but look here: This Altar is the throne of God, it is the very gate of heaven on earth.  For here Christ Jesus feeds you with the blessed Fruits of His Holy Cross and Passion.  Take and eat His Body.  Drink from His Cup.  Taste and see that He is good, that His mercy endures forever.  Ponder His glory: It is forgiveness.  It is the gift of life: for you.  He does not hold your sins against you, but receives you to Himself in love, in peace and joy, in gentleness and kindness, and so does He pour out His Spirit upon you.

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

24 December 2017

The Lord Is Here for You in His House of Bread

It’s not uncommon at this time of year to see attention given to those who are poor and needy, and especially to those who are homeless and out on the streets.  One can speculate and pontificate on the politics and the psychology involved in such publicity, but we cannot deny that such people, regardless of their circumstances, and no matter what their own blame may be, are human beings like yourself, for whom the very Son of God became true Man and suffered death on the Cross.

One of the most poignant examples I have seen — which has stuck with me ever since, though it’s been about a decade ago, I suppose — was a picture on the front page of the South Bend Tribune.  It showed a homeless man in his late 50s, sleeping outside on the night before Christmas, inside a narrow wooden box which looked disturbingly like a casket.  He had nowhere else to lay his head but in that box, with a borrowed pillow and a borrowed blanket.  As I recall, his name was Juan.

Images like that elicit a variety of reactions.  There’s the classic, “There but for the grace of God go I,” and the more honest, “Thank God that’s not me!”  It’s not unusual to feel guilty, and then to wonder what you could or should be doing.  You may get angry, or feel sad, or offer excuses.  Quite aside from all of that, it would surely be appropriate for you, as a Christian, to pray the Our Father and the Kyrie for your neighbor in the street, to give thanks to God for His grace and mercy toward you, and to consider how you are called and equipped to serve those around you in love.

Whatever your reactions to the suffering and sorrows of your neighbors, do not get too comfortable in your own sense of security.  Do not suppose that your four walls and a roof over your head will save you from death when he rides in on his pale horse.  And do not suppose that warm clothes and layers of blankets will hide you from the guilt of your sin and the punishment that you deserve.  Do not suppose that your nice warm bed and your very own pillow, just right for your head, will provide you with the true peace and rest which are found only in the forgiveness of all your sins.

The fact of the matter is that, even though your circumstances in this body and life may differ from your neighbor’s, outwardly better or worse than others, your actual predicament is no different than anyone else’s.  In all the ways that matter, from conception and birth, you are likewise in the dark, out in the cold, cast out of the Garden, and subject to death and the grave on account of your sin.

That is why the story of this night, and the song of the angels, and the testimony of the shepherds, and those things that dear St. Mary pondered in her heart, really are such good news.  Not only for men like Juan or shepherds abiding in their fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night, but for middle class and working class Americans, for young and old, and for the rich and poor alike.

For you and for all people there is this good news, that a Savior has been born.  He is the true King, anointed by God the Father for the purpose of your salvation.  It is upon His shoulders that the government rests.  He has not come to rob the rich and give to the poor, nor to ignore the poor and cater to the rich, but He has voluntarily made Himself poor and lowly and despised so that you might become rich with all the riches of His Kingdom and dwell within His House forevermore.

He has come to save you from your sins, and He has done so at the cost of His own life.  He has made Himself frail, weak, and mortal, so that He could bleed and die, and so that you might live.

Here, then, is the true Son of David.  Here is the Man with God’s own heart.  Here is the King that Israel has waited for, the King that we, His Church, have prayed for throughout the days and weeks of Advent, and really throughout our lives.  He has come to save you, and He is with you now.

This really is good news.  Rejoice, give thanks, and sing to the Lord your God!  For He has come to be your Good Shepherd, to care for you as His own dear sheep.  To feed you in green pastures, and to lead you beside quiet waters.  To give you peace and rest in the place that He has prepared for you.  Indeed, He has prepared His Supper and set His Table before you, even in the presence of your enemies, so that He might feed you with a magnificent Feast: To feed you with Himself.

He has not left you in the dark and clueless.  As He did for the shepherds then, so does He also tell you where to look for Him, and the signs by which you will discover the Child born of St. Mary.

He is in Bethlehem, in the City of David which is called Bethlehem, that is, the House of Bread.  For here now lies the true Bread from heaven, which God the Father has given, that you may eat of It and live.  Here is the Bread which is the Word of God made Flesh.  So this is where you find Him, in this House of Bread, which is the Church on earth.  This is the true City of the true David, where He now reigns in love from the Throne of His Cross.  His Altar is your Bread Basket.

And here within His Bread House, His Bethlehem, He is still wrapped in His swaddling clothes.  As He was wrapped in such clothes at His birth and at His burial, so does He continue to wrap Himself in the ordinary elements of this world: In the water of Holy Baptism, and in the bread and wine of the Holy Communion, which are indeed, by His Word, His own true Body and true Blood.

You find Him wrapped up in these simple, humble elements, because that is where He has directed you with His Word.  He takes bread and says, “This is My Body. Eat it.”  He takes the cup of wine and says, “This is My Blood. Drink it.”  So has He directed you, just as surely as He directed the shepherds: This is where you find Him who is born your Savior in the City of David.  He is here.

And here He is laid in yet a different sort of manger, that is to say, a different sort of feed trough.  And how appropriate that is, since He has come to be your Food, to give Himself for you to eat.

So it is that, just as He was laid out in the wood of that manger, He is now laid upon the Altar, the greatest Gift of all, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and given to you beneath the Tree of His Cross.  Here and now from this Manger, He gives you His Body to eat and His Blood for you to drink.

You can picture the scene, though the reality is hidden from your eyes.  The Lord God Almighty, laid out in a narrow wooden box, a feed trough for animals.  And He Himself lives like an animal, born in a stable.  As He will ride a donkey to His death, so has He come to be a Beast of burden, to bear the burden of sin and death upon His own back.  And so does He become a source of food, the Lamb led to the slaughter, sacrificed upon the Cross, and given to feed His priestly people.

The Lord thus comes and identifies Himself with the weak and poor, with the lowly and despised.  He identifies and associates Himself with the homeless, with outcasts and the gossiped-about; with the likes of Mary and Joseph, who come to his family’s hometown, and the city is so full of his relatives that he has to care for his nine-months pregnant wife in the stable.  Don’t romanticize the story.  Give thanks to God for St. Mary and St. Joseph, indeed, but realize how they were viewed and treated by the people of their own day.  They weren’t pictured on postcards or postage stamps.

The shepherds were likewise viewed as lowlifes, the dregs of society.  Considered little better than criminals, they were not even permitted to testify in court.  Best for them to stay out in the fields with their sheep.  Yet, the angels of heaven appeared to them and announced their Savior’s birth.

He comes to and for such people, because He has come to save the world from sin and death.  From the least to the greatest in the eyes of men, He identifies Himself with the predicament of poor sinners.  With your predicament.  With your neighbor’s predicament.  With everyone.  He has come to be Good News for all the people.  So He makes the circumstances of all people His own.

He is the true Light in the darkness.  He is Clothing for the naked.  He is Food for the hungry.  He is Shelter for the lost.  He really is.  He’s all of that for you, and all of that for your neighbor.  For both your body and your soul, not only now but forever.  That is who He is.  That is what He does.

So, if you would go and visit Him, as the shepherds once did; if you would love and serve Him because He is your Savior and your heart overflows with gratitude; if you would thank and praise Him, who gave Himself for you and sacrificed His body and life that you might live, then look to the needs of your neighbor.  Look to the one who is hungry and feed him.  Look to the one who has no place to sleep, and provide a bed, a pillow, a blanket, and a place to be, a place to belong.

Look to the needs of your neighbor.  And within your own office and station in life, whatever it is — a shepherd, a teacher, a student, an accountant, an engineer, a computer tech — whatever it is that God has given you to do, wherever He has stationed you to be, that is where and how you serve your neighbor.  And that is where and how you serve the Lord Jesus Christ in your neighbor.

Do what you are able.  And do it with joy and confidence and gladness.  You can, because the Son of God, your Savior, Jesus Christ — the Son of David, and the Seed of the Woman, St. Mary — He is your Refuge and your Strength.  He is your very present Help in trouble.  And no less than He has identified Himself with your neighbor, so has He identified Himself with you, as well.

He has visited you in mercy, and He remains with you in love.  He has redeemed you with His own flesh and blood, and you are His very own, purchased with those most costly Coins.

He is your Light, and He is your Life, and He is your Salvation.  He is your Shelter in the storm, and He is your Meat and Drink indeed.  He is the One who clothes you with Himself and His own Righteousness.  So it is that, in Him who is your Savior, you do have Peace and Sabbath Rest.  Death shall not have you in the end, for to you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

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

The Light and Life and Love of God in Christ Jesus

Perhaps you have not prayed for Immanuel to come, as you should have done.  And perhaps you have not waited on the Lord in faith and hope, in the way a Christian ought to live.  Yet, even though you have been more naughty than nice all year, He has come to be your Savior, anyway.

The true divine Light has entered into the darkness, and here He shines on you in love.  He has come into the world by His conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and He comes to you now in mercy by the preaching of His Word and with His own flesh and blood here at His Altar.

You cannot see the Light of Christ with your eyes, nor can you feel His presence with any of your senses or emotions.  Your fallen mortal flesh is not capable of perceiving Him under the Cross.  It is by faith and not by sight, and it is only by the hearing of His Word that you believe in Him.

The Lord your God loves you, and He has given His Son in the flesh to live and die for you, to save you from your sins and bring you into life with Himself.  But too often what you see and feel and experience in your life on earth, perhaps even within your family and among your friends, is a lack of love.  Though there may be charity and generosity at Christmas, it does not last all year.

As for yourself, regardless of the shiny façade that you wear on the outside, you live in the terrible fear that your own nakedness will be uncovered; that your hypocrisy, your guilt and shame, and your many faults will be exposed; that you will be found out for who you are behind your fig leaf.

And all the while, there are so many things that you want for yourself, and always such daunting obligations piling up on top of you, that you begin to realize how helpless and hopeless you are.

Surely you must understand that you need help.  And yet, for all of that, because of your sin and your lack of faith, you fear the coming and the presence of the Lord — who is your only hope!

He comes to help and save you.  Even His preaching of repentance is for the forgiveness of your sins, that you might receive His great salvation in peace.  But still you flee and try to hide from Him, because you do not love and trust in Him, and you have not known Him as He truly is.

The Lord, your God and Savior, comes to you and speaks to you in love.  But how often do you let His Word go right on by without really listening to it, taking it to heart, or acting upon it?  Is it not the case that you rather persist in relying on your experience and perceptions of the world; on your own intelligence, knowledge, and so-called wisdom; on your job and your income; on the works of your own hands, your personal achievements and accomplishments; or on your family, your children and grandchildren?  Even though none of these things can save your life from death.

This whole world is full of false hopes which compete for your attention and allegiance.  And the devil lies to you flat out, with all manner of enticements; because he hates you and wants to destroy you, to rob you of life, both now and forever, he beclouds and contradicts the Word of God.

It is a downward cycle of despair and death into which the devil leads you, because you cannot perceive the Truth except by the Word and Spirit of God.  The further you depart from the hearing of the Word of Christ, the less you are able to comprehend or believe the Truth.  The further you sink into the darkness, the less you are able to behold the Light of God in Christ or to live in it.

Bear in mind that, in this fallen and perishing world of sin and death, appearances are deceiving.  So it seems as though the ChristMass were just a silly or childish dream, and as though the world of working and spending and of all your stuff were the only real world.  But that is not the Truth!

You cannot rely on your sight or your senses to discern or understand what is true and what is real.  It is solely by His Word that the Lord shines His Light upon you and reveals the Truth to you.

Praise God that He continues speaking to you — the Father speaking to you by His Son — even when you have not been listening.  If not for His persistence in coming to you with such grace, mercy, and peace, you would be lost in the darkness of death and damnation forever.  And so you shall be lost if you refuse to hear and heed the preaching of His Word to you while it is still day.  Therefore, do not squander this gracious opportunity to seek the Lord where He may be found!

In your sin, subject to death, you have not known the Lord your God, nor could you imagine Him; neither have you loved Him.  But He has known you in love, as He created you in love for life with Himself.  It is likewise for the sake of His Love that He makes Himself known to you now.

God Himself is Love.  From all eternity, to all eternity, the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, in the Holy Spirit.  And it is from within that divine, eternal Love that God the Father has revealed Himself and His Love for you in the Person of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.

The Father has loved you by sending His Son in the flesh to be the Sacrifice of Atonement for your sins, and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  And He continues to love you, now and to the close of the age, by speaking to you in Christ Jesus, by giving His Spirit to you in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, and by giving you Life with Himself in the Word and Flesh of Christ.

As you are thus loved by the Lord your God in Christ Jesus, and as you now live in Him by grace, so love your neighbor in accordance with His Word.  As you hear and believe His Word of the Gospel, by which your sins are all forgiven, so live by faith in His Word within your vocations.

Trust the Lord by doing whatever He has called you and given you to do, no matter how difficult it may be, and even when it may seem as though it were doing no good and making no difference.  Do not be deceived by the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh, but do what God has said.

Hear and heed the Word of the Lord.  Believe it and obey it in holy faith and holy love.  Not as though your life depended on your faithfulness and obedience, but because you are given life by the grace of God in Christ, and your life is safely and securely hidden with Christ in God.  You live and love, not to become His child, but because you are His beloved and well-pleasing child.

Take it to heart that God loves you, that He shines His Light upon you in peace, and that He has given you His own divine, eternal Life through the Gospel of His incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  The Good News of the ChristMass is not simply the promise of some future pie-in-the-sky, nor the gift of stuff that wears out or gets used up.  It is the gift of God Himself, who comes and gives Himself to you, and binds you to Himself in love.  He lives with you, that you might live with Him.

It is not because you are so pious and faithful and good that He loves you, but in spite of the fact that you are a sinner, and even though you do what you should not and fail to do as you should.  Which is no excuse to be naughty, but all the more reason to be pious and faithful and good.  As the Light now shines upon you in Christ Jesus, do not continue to live and to die in the darkness.

Open your ears and hear this: The Lord your God is here with you and for you in grace, mercy, and peace.  God the Father speaks to you and for you in the preaching of the Gospel; He breathes His Holy Spirit into your body and soul through His Word of forgiveness; and He gives to you His own dear Son in the flesh, whom He has also given for you on the Cross, to save you from your sins.

So does the Lord now shine His Light upon you, and so does He reign over you in Love.  His Word to you is not a fairy tale, nor is it a burden or a threat.  It is the living and active Word of Truth, which delivers you from death and the devil, the Word of Salvation which gives you life with God.

Thus are you beloved of the Lord your God, who created you for Life.  By no means shall you be forgotten or forsaken, since the Lord Himself has sought you out and redeemed you for Himself.  As surely as St. Joseph took St. Mary to be his wife and cared for her in love, so much more does great David’s greater Son, Christ Jesus, have you and hold you and care for you in love forever.

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

Living in the House That Jesus Built

Remember that the Lord your God has named you with His Name in your Holy Baptism.  He has named you His own dear child, a member of His household and family.  He has done great things for you, and because the Name is holy with which He has named you, you also are holy in Him.

Through the waters of your Baptism He has brought you out of Egypt.  He has freed you from the bondage of sin and death.  He has called you to be His very own, His chosen possession.  You are a member of His Church, His royal priesthood, His holy people.  And He will not abandon you.

Remember what He has done, for He remembers you, His holy Covenant, and all His promises.

He has brought you out of Egypt into freedom through the waters.  And on your journey through the wilderness, He never fails to care for you.  He feeds you, and He clothes you, both your body and your soul, with His gracious good gifts.  Already in His Church on earth, He has brought you into the safety and peace of the Promised Land, which is yours by faith in the Body of Christ.

The Lord has established this place for you, already here and now on earth, and by His grace He has established you within this place.  Here you are at peace with God.  You are reconciled to Him by the Blood of Jesus Christ, His Son.  And here you are given rest from all your enemies round about, and from your enemies within, through the free and full forgiveness of your sins.

He has provided this place for you, He has planted you in this place, and He shepherds you here with the preaching and catechesis of His Word.  He raises up shepherds after His own heart to speak His Word into your ears, that you might be strengthened and sustained in the true faith unto the life everlasting.  He speaks to you in love, with tender mercy and deep, divine compassion.

The Lord thus calls you to Himself, but not as though He needed something from you.  He does not look for you to care for Him; He does not look for you to build Him a house, to shelter and protect Him, or to provide for Him.  It is rather that He would give Himself to you, with all good things, in Christ Jesus.  He calls you to Himself that you might have life and salvation in Him.

It is true that He does call you to care for your neighbor, as the Lord your God cares for you.  To shelter and protect your neighbor, and to provide for the needs of your neighbor in body and soul, relying on the means that God has provided, especially the Word that He has spoken to you.

So, then, love your neighbor.  That is not an optional program.  It is the Lord’s commandment, and it is fundamental to the Christian faith and life.  Shepherd whatever portion of His flock the Lord your God has entrusted to your stewardship in this body and life.  Honor and help your parents.  Serve and support your own spouse.  Teach and take care of your children.  Love your neighbor.

Do all of that in faith and love for God, to the glory of His Name.  But do not suppose that you will now build a house for God.  You will not be the one to make a place for Him.  Nor will you earn His favor by your efforts, no matter how heroic.  But neither do you need to earn His favor; it is already yours in Christ.  It is by grace that He loves you, and He will not turn away from that.

You do what you are given to do, because He has called you and given you to do it.  But His favor is already yours before you have begun to work and to serve.  And when you fail and fall short, it is in love for you that the Lord calls you to repentance, which is to call your heart back to Him.

In calling you to Himself, He has already drawn near to you in peace, and He abides with you in flesh and blood like your own.  As He provided the Tabernacle and eventually the Temple in the Old Testament — not because He needed a place for Himself, but to give His people a place with Him — so has He become your Place and established Himself as your Place in the Body of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified and risen from the dead.  It is in Him that you are at peace with God.  It is in Him that you are given rest.

Since your life is therefore safe with God in Christ, do not despair on account of the trouble all around you in this fallen and perishing world.  And when you look at your own life, and you see how many and great your sins are, repent of your sins and begin to do better, but do not despair.  For the Lord is with you, and He is for you.  He is your Champion, and your place is with Him.

Fear God, yes, but fear not when He comes to you.  He comes, not with vengeance against you, but with mercy for you.  He comes not to punish but to redeem you, to declare you righteous for His own sake, and to set you free from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  Therefore, do not be afraid.

Fear not when the Lord comes to you, and do not be afraid to go to your neighbor in love.  Even if your neighbor is ungrateful, ambivalent, or grouchy in return.  Remember that the Lord is with you in your callings and good works.  To live and love as He loves you is to live and abide in Him.

The Lord goes with you all the way.  He strengthens you and helps you in that which He has given you to do, to the glory of His Name and for the good of your neighbor.  He has befriended you, and He will not leave you alone.  He has come in the flesh.  He has made Himself like you and borne your sins and sorrows in His own Body to the Cross.  He has lived your life, even from conception and childbirth, from youth to adulthood.  And He has died your death in order to give you His Life.

By all that He has become in His conception and birth of St. Mary, and by all that He has done in His Body of flesh and blood, He has established Himself as the House and Temple of God for you.  And now in His Body — from His Cross and in His Resurrection — He reigns over you in love.

It is with forgiveness, righteousness, and peace that He lives and reigns forever as the true King over the household and family of God in heaven and on earth.  He is the true Son of David who has taken His seat at the right hand of His God and Father in order to serve His whole Church.

He pours out the Holy Spirit upon you.  And by the power of the Most High He brings you into His Kingdom, He shelters and protects you, and He bears the good fruits of faith and love in you.

Such great things He does for you — the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and the power of the Most High overshadows you — by the ways and means of His grace, by His Word and Sacraments: By the waters of your Baptism, by His Word of Absolution, and by the gift of His Body and Blood.

The One who is with you in these means of grace — the Child conceived and born of St. Mary, the Man crucified under Pontius Pilate — He is the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, who saves you from your sins and gives you everlasting life with Himself and with His Father and the Holy Spirit.

He has made His place with you, even to the depths of your sin and death, that you might have your place with Him and share His Resurrection and Ascension.  He tabernacles with you here in His own flesh and blood, that you might live and abide with Him in body and soul forevermore.

His crucified and risen Body is the Ark of the New Covenant, and His Cup is the New Testament in His Blood.  In such frail tents of flesh and blood He dwells with you and all His people, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down.  He is in and with His Church under the Cross.

St. Mary was under the Cross in that which the Lord called her to be and to do.  But the Lord was with her there.  When her husband doubted her, and her neighbors gossiped about her, and there was no place for her to give birth except a stable, and her sovereign (King Herod) chased her and her Child down, hunting them to kill them, even then the Lord was with her and preserved her life.

The life of the Lord Jesus was likewise under the Cross from the very beginning and throughout His years on earth.  He was not welcomed by His people.  He was mocked and despised.  He was beaten and put to death.  And yet, by His death He has conquered sin, death, the devil, and hell.

So it is that His Cross, which is now also laid upon you — given to you in your Baptism, given to you by His Word — His Cross does not destroy you.  Even under the Cross — especially under the Cross — you are His own, and you are kept safe.  You have peace and rest with God in Christ.

Believe that to be so.  And believing His Word, live as He has called you.  Whatever He has given you to do, do it with confidence.  Do it with joy, even in the midst of suffering.  The world is full of sin and death, but it cannot rob you of that which is yours in Christ Jesus.  All of its many and devious lies cannot destroy the Word of Christ which He has spoken to you, which is the Truth.

Let it be for you according to His Word.  He has named you with His Name, and you are His own.  Your sins are all forgiven.  This is most certainly true.  The Lord your God loves you, and He will never leave you or forsake you.  He is the Savior of sinners.  He is your Savior and your King, that you might live with Him in His Kingdom, in the House of His God and Father forever and ever.

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

20 December 2017

Reborn as a Child of God in the Kingdom of Heaven

Among those born of women, there is no one greater than St. John the Baptist, conceived and born by the grace of God to the elderly priest, St. Zacharias, and his barren old wife, St. Elizabeth.  He is greater, indeed, than even the Patriarchs and Prophets of old, because he is the one who goes before the face of the Lord Himself to prepare His Way, to usher in the Christ and point to Him.

It is remarkably true that the one who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than St. John on earth — though, to be sure, St. John himself belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven, and he is not the least of all the saints who live and abide in the presence of God, resting in peace under the Lord’s Altar.  But it is precisely to the point at hand that you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven by your natural birth, but only by the new birth of water with the Word and Spirit of the Lord.

So it is that, already, St. John’s miraculous conception and birth signify and point ahead to the Baptism of repentance that he will preach and administer in the Name of the Lord.  It is actually a case of both death and life, because that Baptism puts you to death for your sins and raises you to newness of life through the forgiveness of your sins, anticipating the Cross and Resurrection of the Christ.  In and out of death, it gives you a new birth, as St. John was conceived and born from St. Elizabeth’s dead and empty womb, when her husband was also old, his body as good as dead.

If you are not conceived and born again to newness of life through the death and resurrection of Holy Baptism, then you simply grow old and waste away and die forever.  There would be no life in you, and you would bare no fruit.  You would wither and fade like the grass and its flower.

The life that you have received from your father and mother on earth is an inheritance of sin and a legacy of death, from which neither they nor you could ever hope to escape.  You cannot heal or save yourself, much less live forever.  You are mortal.  You are dust, and to the dust you return.

You and all people die, because you and all people sin.  From Adam & Eve down to your own Mom and Dad, every last one of your parents — and you, no less, as their child and heir — have turned away from the true and living God to serve a legion of dead idols, to worship a pantheon of false gods.  You have pursued the forbidden fruits of your covetous lust, and you have misused God’s own gifts and good creation under the pretense of piety, but without prayer or thanksgiving.

You have disobeyed and disregarded His Voice in the wilderness, His Word of Truth — because it calls you to account and to repentance, and it threatens to put you and your lifestyle to death.  You have not trusted the Lord, but have invested yourself and put your trust in that which is not God and cannot save you.  You have feared the opinions of the world and the loss of your own life more than you fear the one true God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  You have loved yourself above all else, and you have loved this world and the things of this world more than God.

Ironically, and tragically, in fleeing from the Voice of God in the hopes of preserving your life, you have departed from the Author and Giver of Life and plunged yourself headlong into the grave.  In avoiding the death of repentance, you commit yourself to the everlasting death of damnation.  It is precisely for that reason that you are dying.  From the moment you were conceived, and from the day that you were born, you have been dying on account of your sinful unbelief and idolatry.

How, then, shall the Lord your God regard you and deal with you?

Should God think of you and treat you in the way that you regard and deal with the people who have hurt you or disappointed you?  Should He seek revenge and punish you for all of your sins?  He would certainly be within His rights to do so, as the judgment of His Law thunders against you.  What plea bargain or self defense could you possibly offer to appease His righteous wrath?

And yet, His Law is not His last or final Word concerning you.  He calls you to repentance, not to be done with you, but to raise you from death and restore you to life.  He does not aim to destroy you; He disciplines you in love, as a father disciplines his children.  Even His punishments in this body and life are not punitive but remedial, that you might learn to fear Him rightly as your God and to flee from your deadly sins and the deceptive temptations of the devil.

With divine grace and utter charity, the Lord regards you with compassion, and He deals with you in love.  He remembers His promises, the Oath He swore to Abraham and to his Seed forever, the Covenant freely given and perfectly fulfilled in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  He remembers you in mercy.  And for His Name’s sake, He responds to your sins with His forgiveness and salvation.

He’s not out to get you, nor to get something from you.  The truth is that He needs nothing from you — He does not need anything at all, for all things are from Him and depend on Him, who was, and is, and is to come.  But in Love — in the Love of the Father for His Son in the Holy Spirit — the Lord desires your salvation, to give you Life with Himself forever and ever.

So has He given His Word and promise of the Gospel from the very start, even following hard on the heals of the fall into sin.  And whereas you and all your parents and your children have been unfaithful to Him and to His Word, yet He is and remains ever faithful to His Word and promises.  He remembers His oath, His covenant, His promises, and He remembers you in mercy; which is to say that He takes the initiative, He moves, and He acts to save you from sin, death, and hell.

In order to do so, He has been conceived and born of the Woman, St. Mary of Nazareth, the young virgin relative of St. Elizabeth.  The Son of God has been conceived and born under the Law, in order to rescue and redeem you from the curse of the Law and the consequences of all your sins.

The gracious and miraculous conception and birth of St. John the Baptist anticipate and declare the coming of the Christ Himself in human flesh and blood.  Indeed, his whole life points to the Lord Jesus Christ.  That is why his own father sings first of all about the unborn Son of St. Mary!

Already in the womb of His Mother Mary (still in her first trimester), true God has become true Man, the very Word of God has become Flesh, in order to bring about a New Creation for you and all — and to make of you a brand new creature by the New Birth of His Cross and Resurrection.

He comes in the flesh and, behold, He makes all things new in His own crucified and risen Body.  By His Cross He has atoned for all of your sins, and in His Resurrection from the dead He has justified you and reconciled you to God the Father.  Indeed, He has become your Righteousness and Holiness, even as He is your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.

All of this He has already accomplished for you.  It is a done deal in the Body of Christ.  It is finished!  But, for all of that, you could not lay hold of the Gospel or believe the promises of God in Christ, not by any reason, emotion, ingenuity, or effort of your own.  No more than you could reconcile yourself to God in the first place.  You could not resolve or remedy your sinful unbelief.

So the Lord in His mercy sends His messengers before His face, to preach His Word to you, and to bring about the New Creation in your heart and mind, in your body and life, by the preaching of this foolish Word of the Cross, which is the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins.

The preaching of His Law exposes your sins and condemns you.  It crucifies you and puts you to death.  But this it does, not to crush you completely, nor to destroy you forever, but that you might be raised from death to life with God in Christ; that you might be born again through the Gospel.

It is indeed the preaching of His Gospel that comforts you, because it forgives your sins and brings you to life.  It recreates you out of the nothingness of your futile, mortal life, to be a New Man or a New Woman, a newborn child of God in Christ Jesus.  For His Word of the Gospel gives you a new birth — as in Holy Baptism, so also in Holy Absolution — by the labor of the Cross and the delivery of the Resurrection.  Out of death there emerges Life.  Out of darkness there shines Light.

His Gospel also names you with a new Name — as in Holy Baptism, so in Holy Absolution.  Not the name of death and decay that you received from your mortal father and mother, but the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And with His Name, you have received and now share in His Sonship.  You are anointed by the Spirit of His Father, and you live with Him in body and soul, now and forever.  Death has no dominion over you, because it has no power over Christ in whom you live.

So it is that you are no longer mute, unable to speak, but your lips and your mouth and your throat have been opened and set free to praise the Lord your God, to call upon His Name in prayer and thanksgiving, and to confess His Word, which is most certainly true.  By His Voice you have been given a voice.  And really, by the prayer and confession of His Word, your whole body and life are at liberty to praise His holy Name in faith and love.  For by the new birth of water with His Word and Holy Spirit, you now live and abide with Christ Jesus in the Kingdom of His God and Father.

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

17 December 2017

By the Preaching and Ministry of the Gospel

It is most certainly true — I confess and do not deny — that I am not the Christ.  I am not the Lord’s Anointed, the Messiah.  I am not the very Son of God in the flesh.  I am not your Savior and Redeemer.  Nor could I be.  I am neither worthy nor sufficient to save you.

So, why am I here?  And why do I do what I do?  Why do I preach and teach?  Why do I baptize?  Why do I absolve your sins?  Why do I commune the disciples of Jesus?  There is only one real answer.  There is only one legitimate reason.  It is because the Lord has called me to be your pastor and has sent me to do these things.  Indeed, this is how He chooses to come and do His work.

So has it been from the start.  For example, St. John the Baptist preaches this morning that Christ Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  And surely He does.  Within a few chapters, the Evangelist indicates that Jesus was baptizing even more people than St. John.  But then he goes on to clarify that, actually, Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were baptizing in His Name.

Not only does the Lord choose to send men like St. John, the Apostles, and even me, to preach and to baptize in His Name, but this is precisely the way He deals with His Church.  You do not have Christ Jesus except by the Ministry of His Gospel, carried out in His Name and stead to the close of the age by those men whom He has called and sent to speak His Word and to work His works.

That is how He shines His Light upon you, the Light of the knowledge of the Glory of God, so that you might believe in Him and have life in His Name.  By the preaching and Baptism of His sent ones, He comes and makes Himself known to you, as He truly is.  He thereby reveals and gives Himself to you who did not recognize or know Him, who could not find Him or lay hold of Him.

Thus, He has called me and sent me, and He has anointed me with His Spirit for this office and ministry.  To baptize and teach, to confess and point to Him.  To say, There is the Lamb of God, who takes away your sins!  There, on that Altar, in that Bread which is His Body, in that Cup which is the New Testament in His Blood.  And there, in that Font, in which you and Beatrix have been born again; to which you are returned in repentance; and from which your sins are forgiven.

He has called me and anointed me for this office and work, as He has also anointed me with His Spirit in Holy Baptism to be a Christian.  To be like Him, to live in Him, and He in me, within my various vocations in life, not only as a pastor, but as a son, as a brother, as a husband and father.  To be your pastor.  To be my wife’s husband.  To be my children’s father.  To be my parents’ son.

And by this work of the Holy Ministry — whoever your pastors have been over the years of your life — He has also called you to be His own dear child in your Holy Baptism.  God the Father has anointed you with the Spirit of Christ Jesus, His beloved Son, so that you also are a Christian.

So, then, even though you are not the Christ, yet you are a Christian in Him.  Though you are not a baptizer, yet you are baptized into Christ Jesus.  And in the waters of your Baptism the Lord has named you with His Name.  Just as He named St. John before he was conceived in his mother’s womb, so has He named you.  As Nathaniel has named Beatrix Irene and given her his name, so has the Lord named her and you with His Name.  He has done it by His Word, by His grace alone.

He has called you by name, and He sends you, as well.  He sends you to work and to serve your neighbor in His Name, to be like Christ in loving your neighbor, as the Lord Jesus Christ loves and cares for you.  He has planted you as an oak of righteousness, that He might be glorified in you.

All of this within your own place, wherever the Lord has stationed you on earth.  You need not go hunting and searching for what the will of God is for your life, or to figure out where you ought to be or what you ought to do, because the Lord your God has already positioned you where He would have you live and love and serve, and He has set you in relationship to particular people.  That is where you are to be like Christ in caring for your neighbor.  Just as it is for each of you married men, that you are called to be like Christ in loving and caring for your own wife.

For each and all of you, whatever your stations in life may be, you are to be like Christ for your neighbors.  Not as though you were Christ Jesus; and not as though you were worthy of yourself to be or do any such thing; but because the Lord your God has chosen to come and to work for your neighbors in this way.  He delights to serve your neighbors through you, as He delights to serve His whole Church on earth through the ministry of His pastors and through the created means of water, bread, and wine.  Indeed, He chooses and delights to care for His entire creation through the service of His creatures, no less than He has given life to Beatrix and continues to care for her through Nathaniel and Sarah.  So does He also cause righteousness and praise to spring up in you before the world, that His glory may dwell in our land in your words and works of love like His.

For you, as for St. John the Baptist, you are called and sent to live and love out in the wilderness.  You are stationed for now on the far side of the Jordan, that is, on the outskirts of the Holy Land.  You are yet on your pilgrimage, living by faith and waiting on the Lord, just as Beatrix has been set upon that way of the Cross by His Word and Spirit.  At every age, in every place that you are stationed on earth, you serve your neighbors in the wilderness, in frailty, affliction, and hardship.

Just so, it is also in the desert wilderness where the servant of the Lord is sent to you, and where the Voice of the Lord cries out to you, calling you daily to repentance, and bringing you to repentance by His Word and Spirit.  Indeed, the wilderness itself is a preaching of repentance by which you are being crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ Jesus, that you might live no longer for yourself but for Him who for your sake died and was raised.

Thus are you called to bear the Cross and to persevere in faith, watching for the coming of your Lord Jesus Christ and clinging to the promise of your God and Father.  You live by faith as you hope in the Lord.  And loving Him, as He has first loved you, you love and serve your neighbor.

This preaching of repentance is not only the preaching of the Law.  It calls you not only to stop doing what you should not, and to begin doing what you should.  It does not only expose your sins and crucify you to yourself and to the world.  The preaching of repentance is also the preaching of the Gospel, which is the free forgiveness of all your sins.  It is the preaching of the Resurrection and the Righteousness of Christ, which are yours by faith in this preaching.  It sets before you, not only what you should and should not do, but what Christ has done and is still doing for you.

This preaching of the Gospel is the bright and beautiful Light of Christ Jesus.  It is your Life and your Salvation.  For He is your Savior and Redeemer, and in love He has done for you what only He could ever do.  He is the incarnate Son of God — true God and true Man — and in His own Body of flesh and blood (like yours) He has been anointed by the Spirit of God as the Christ, the Messiah.  He has purchased and won you to be His very own at the cost of His own life.

Having done all that, do not suppose that He has left you alone to fend for yourself, or that He has left you to find your own way to Him.  No, in love and mercy for you, He comes to you, He reveals and gives Himself to you through the ministry and preaching of His Gospel.  That is not simply information about Him, but the real gift and knowledge of Himself.  By the preaching of His Word and in the Holy Sacraments, God the Father opens His great heart of love to you in Christ Jesus, and He draws you to Himself in peace, in faith and love.  He is with you, and He is for you.

Indeed, He has come and taken His stand here with you in this place, right here on the corner of Milton and Dale, South Bend.  In this Font, from this Pulpit, and at this Altar.  He is here with you, in the midst of the wilderness, in the Word and work of those He calls and sends to you in love.

Not only that, but He is likewise with you in whatever He sends you to do.  It is not because He is absent or on holiday that He has chosen to love and serve your neighbors through your words and works of love.  On the contrary, it is rather that He would have you live and love like Him, that you should be with Him where He is and in what He does.

Whatever your callings and stations in life, the Lord is with you in those things.  He upholds you and sustains you in those offices, and He accomplishes His purposes in you and through you and for you, so that He is glorified in you, and you are glorified in Him.

Do not despair as you consider the demands of your place in life and the persistence of your own frailties, faults, and failings.  For the Lord your God, your Savior Jesus Christ has bound Himself to you — and you to Him — in the waters of your Holy Baptism.  So you are not alone, and you are not on your own in whatever the Lord has given you to do.  Christ is with you in that work, as surely as He was with St. John the Baptist when He sent him before His face to prepare His Way.

Not only is He with you, but this same Lord Jesus Christ has already done all things for you.  He has done all that you could never have done or accomplished for yourself or anyone else.  He has done it all.  He has fulfilled the Law.  He has completed it and brought it to perfection in Himself.

That is what He gives to you, along with Himself, by and with and in the preaching of His Word.  He credits to you all that He has done for you, and whatever He has received from the Father He gives to you by His grace.  By the Ministry of His Gospel, by His Word of Absolution, and in all the ways and means of His grace, He gives to you His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness.  As He preaches to you, as He absolves you, as He recalls you to your Baptism, and as He communes you with His Body and His Blood, He truly forgives you all your sins.  And with that forgiveness, He gives you His own life in both body and soul, for here and for eternity.

So this is an excellent deal, you have to admit, and a better exchange than any store on earth will ever give.  Christ takes away all of your sins, and He gives to you His righteousness and holiness.  He takes away your death, and He gives to you His life.  He takes away your slavery, and He gives to you His Sonship.  He takes away your devil, and He gives to you His Spirit and His Father.

Not only that, but He also rejoices over you.  Today is Gaudete, the Sunday of Rejoicing, and we rejoice in the coming of Christ Jesus.  But true rejoicing begins with His rejoicing over you.  Yes, over you!  The Lord rejoices over you, and He delights in you, even as He robes you in His own righteousness.  As Nathaniel and Sarah delight in dressing their baby girl, so does the Lord dress you in the garments of His Salvation.  He washes you within and without, anoints your body and soul with the oil of gladness, revives your fainting spirit, and cloaks you with His mantle of praise!

He is the true and faithful Husband to each of you, as you are members of His Bride, the Church.  In calling you husbands to love your wives, He is simply calling you to do for them as He does for you and for all who are baptized into Him.  He has given Himself for you, even unto death, in order to cleanse and sanctify you by that washing of the water with His Word, to anoint you with His Holy Spirit, to name you with His own Name, and to adorn you with the beauty of His holiness.  So has He done for Beatrix this morning, and so He does for her and you unto the Life everlasting.

By His Ministry of the Gospel, by His preaching and His Sacraments, the One who sacrificed Himself for you withholds no good thing from you.  He commits no robbery in the burnt offering.  For having given Himself wholly and completely to His Father throughout His life and in His death upon the Cross, so does He give Himself wholly and completely to you through the Ministry of His Gospel, especially in His Sacrament of the Altar.  Here He gives Himself to you, He feeds you with Himself, He nurtures and sustains you with Himself, with His own flesh and blood, so that you are rescued and protected from every evil of body, soul, and spirit, and kept safe with Christ in God.

So does He preserve you blameless in His sight, and so shall He keep you blameless unto the Day of His glorious appearing, to the dawning of that neverending Day.  He guards and keeps your going out and your coming in throughout your life, so that you are now and ever blameless, beloved, and righteous in His sight.  The One who calls you is faithful, and He will surely do it.

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