16 January 2022

The Glorious Sign of Christ and His Church

The Holy Scriptures praise Marriage highly, and it is highly to be praised.  For it is the culminating high point of the Lord’s good Creation.  Not simply a man in lonely isolation, but male and female, the Lord God made them in His Image; the Woman taken from the Man, then brought to the Man and given to the Man, to be united with him in one flesh.

In this union of husband and wife in heart, mind, body, and soul, the Love of God is manifested — the Unity of the Holy Trinity, the Love of the Father for His Son, the Love of the Son for His Father, embraced in the personal and permanent Bond of the Holy Spirit.  So it is that this one true God has created you in such Love, in order to make you His own and unite you to Himself, that you should have life in Him and with Him, forever and ever, in heart, mind, body, and soul.

To that end, the very Word of God, the almighty and eternal Son — by whom the Man and the Woman, Holy Marriage, and all of Creation has been made — He Himself has become Flesh, in order to become one flesh with you and with His Holy Bride, the Church.  This is the very purpose for which God created anything at all and everything that is.  This is the Marriage that every other marriage signifies, and which every marriage on earth is called to celebrate and participate in.

But there is a tension in Holy Marriage here, even at its very best in this world, as throughout God’s good Creation.  There is not only the goodness of the Word which has established it, but also the brokenness of the Fall into sin and the curse of death, which lies in wait even within the marriage rite itself: “Til death us do part.”  And you know, perhaps quite personally and painfully, that many different sins can break the bonds of marriage even before death in this fallen world.

Consequently, it is rather more precarious than permanent, and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to consider all the ways the wine is spent.  There are those who have no wife or husband, who long to be married.  And there are those who are married, not happily-ever-after, but who regret it and resent their spouses.  In all such cases there is the constant temptation of bitterness, cynicism, and despair, whereby God’s good gift of Marriage is despised and its high and holy purpose is denied.

On the other hand, there is also the risk of idolizing marriage and family, both in a general way and in your own spouse and children, in particular, whether you have them and make false gods of them, or you covet such people and relationships which the Lord your God has not given to you.

That is the way of it in the midst of this fallen and perishing world.  Either you despise God’s good Creation because you perceive how fleeting and fading this life is, or else you worship the Creation instead of the Creator, as though the people, things, and opportunities on earth were the source of life and happiness forever.  Either way is sinful, and either way you miss the point, whether you are married or unmarried, rich or poor, and whether you drink freely of wine or only of water.

There is, however, another alternative, which is found only in Christ Jesus.  The One by whom and for whom all things are made is still an option, and He is the only option that actually does give Life and remains forever.  He is no imaginary lover.  His Gospel is no hoax.  He has come in the Flesh in order to be with you, to redeem you in body and soul, to pour out His Life-giving Holy Spirit upon your fallen flesh — through His forgiveness of all your sins — and so to raise you up from death and the grave to the Life everlasting with His own God and Father in Paradise.

He draws near to woo you to Himself in peace and joy, to wed you and make you His own Wife.  Here we are speaking, not of human sexuality, nor of mortal marriage until death, but of divine intimacy and eternal Fellowship with the Father and His Son and the Holy Spirit.  So, put away all perverse and provocative thoughts and the lusts of your flesh.  Purify yourself in the Lord Jesus Christ, as He Himself is pure; for He is the very Image of God in whom you have been created.

As you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus by virtue of your Baptism in His Name, so are you all together called to be His Holy Bride.  Before God there is neither male nor female, neither rich nor poor, neither slave nor free; but you are all one Body in Christ, one Flesh and Blood with Him.

It is rather in relation to your neighbors and each other here on earth that there are varieties of gifts, of stations in life, and of service.  But each and all of these various callings and stations, by the grace and mercy of the one Holy Spirit, take their cues from the one Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Head of His whole Body, the Church, and the heavenly Bridegroom of all His Christians.

Christ Jesus is the New Adam, who gives not death but life to all His children.  And His Bride is the New Eve, whom He cares for and protects, so that she has life in Him, and so that she in turn gives birth to the children of God by His Word and Holy Spirit.  He does not take from her, nor does He give forbidden fruit, but He produces and pours out the most excellent Fruit of the Vine, the Spiritual Food and Drink of His own Flesh and Blood.  So does the Husband sustain His Wife, and the Bridegroom gives life to His Bride; for He delights in her and cleaves to her in Love.

You see that in Christ Jesus all things are made brand new.  From the inside-out, He brings about the New Creation in Himself.  He first of all becomes true Man, a child of Adam, by way of His conception and birth from the Woman.  And then He reverses the Fall into sin and the curse of death by entering into their arena and taking them on.  He sets Himself against the serpent who beguiles, and He perseveres in true Wisdom, in steadfast faith and holy love, in perfect obedience to His God and Father.  For He is the promised Seed of the Woman, who crushes the head of the serpent by permitting the serpent to bruise Him to death.  By the shedding of His Blood He atones for the sins of the whole world; and thus by His Cross He conquers death and defeats the devil.

His own Body, crucified and risen from the dead, is the First Fruits of the New Creation.  For He was born of the Woman in order to be the New Man, from whom the New Woman is now taken and brought to Him and given to Him by the Father.  He suffers and dies in love for her, so that New Life might come forth out of death and the grave, out of the ground that was cursed by sin.

It is now within His Holy Church, by the Ministry of His Gospel, that the New Creation of Christ Jesus is realized for you, even here on earth in the midst of sin and death.  This is the true Glory of God in Christ Jesus, which faith perceives and beholds in the preaching of His Word and in His Holy Sacraments, despite all of the apparent contradictions in this fallen and dying world.

It would still seem that everything is simply running out, falling apart, turning sour, and returning to the dust, until even the dust shall disintegrate and be no more.  Yet, here is the Bridegroom who has come; who speaks, and it is so; whose own Flesh is the evidence and guarantee that your flesh also shall be raised from the dust of the earth and glorified in Him, and that you shall feast with Him in His Kingdom at the Wedding Banquet that is never exhausted and never ends.  Thus do you live in your body of flesh and blood within His Holy Church and within your own place in life.

As the ministers of Christ deal with you by His divine command — as they preach His Word to you, as they absolve you in His stead, as they baptize you, and as they serve you His Holy Supper — it is Christ Himself who is at work to fill you up in body and soul with His Spirit and His Life.

You also, then, do whatever He tells you to do in whatever particular place He has stationed you.  Proceed according to His Word in the confidence that He is at work to accomplish His purposes for you, and in you, and through you for others, even though you may have no idea at any given point what He is doing or going to do.  The outcome is in His hands, as you also are in His hands.  Although you know not when or how He will act, His Gospel teaches you that He delights in you, and that He desires to give you His good Gifts.  And that is all you ever really need to know.

Do not be dissatisfied or discontent with what you have or with your situation; and do not allow yourself to be eaten up with envy over what you do not have.  Rather, receive whatever you are given with thanksgiving to the Lord, and sanctify all of these things unto yourself by the Word of God and prayer, and put them to use in your life on earth to the glory of Christ’s Holy Name and for the benefit of your neighbors in the world.  So shall others see His Glory and believe in Him.

If you are married, then be chaste and pure within your marriage.  Love and cherish your own spouse, and be faithful to her or him until death.  And if you are unmarried, then be chaste and pure within your celibacy, and use your time and energies to serve the Church and the community in holy faith and Christian love.  None of you lives unto yourself alone, but each and all of you are called to live unto Christ Jesus, who is your Husband and your Head, both now and forever.

Pray, therefore, in the confidence of His Word and promises to you, in the certainty of His tender mercy and steadfast Love, in the surety of His great Salvation.  Look to Him for all that you need, for all good things, and learn to live by faith in His Holy Gospel.  Be persistent in your prayer; not presumptuous, as though you would dictate what He must do, but in the sure and certain hope that He is gracious and that He will act in love to save you; neither impatient nor willful, but persistent in praying, “Thy Will be done,” and saying, “Amen, Amen, it shall be so,” with the voice of faith.  That is to live as a member of the Bride of Christ, who always relies upon her Bridegroom.

St. Mary sets a beautiful example for the Church in this regard, in turning to her Son with the need at hand, and then in turning to the servants with the wise counsel to hear and heed His Word.  She is not dissuaded by His reply, which sounds like a rebuttal and rejection.  Nor does she presume upon Him.  She does not command, but she seeks His help, and she trusts that He will provide in due season.  His Hour has not yet come, but His great heart of Love, which takes Him to that Hour of the Cross, is ever the same and ever open to His people.  His heart is no less open to you now.

Despite your failings and all that you lack, He rescues and redeems you in love because He is your Bridegroom, and this is how the true Husband cares for His own dear Wife.  He does not hold your sins against you, nor does He even look at them, but He lays down His Life and gives Himself for you, in order to bear your burdens, to comfort you in all your griefs, to cover your shame with the glory of His righteousness, and to clothe your nakedness with the beauty of His holiness.

Where you have been prideful of yourself, and where you have made idols out of His Creation, repent of your sins.  Where you have despaired of any hope or help from the Lord, and where you have despised His good gifts of Creation, repent of your sins.  Believe the Gospel of Christ Jesus, and find yourself, your vocation, and your life in His crucified and risen Body, given to you here.

So, too, from His riven side, from the Hour of His Cross, from His open heart of Love, He pours out the Water and the Blood and His Holy Spirit generously upon you, in order to save you from sin, death, and the devil, and to give you real Life forever with Himself, within His own Marriage and Family, which is the Household and Family of His own God and Father.

From the sacred waters of Holy Baptism to the blessed wine of the Holy Communion He cleanses and purifies you with His Spirit by His Gospel of forgiveness through His holy, precious Blood.  And by these same means of grace He not only quenches your thirst with Living Water, but He also fills you up with genuine joy and gladness, even as He Himself is full of Grace and Truth.

He brings you here to His Banquet Hall, and His Banner over you is Love.  Here He fills you with good things from the abundance of His House.  He takes you to Himself, to have and to hold from this very Hour unto the neverending Day of the Resurrection.  He plights thee His troth, so that He and all His goods are now your very own, and neither He nor they shall be taken from you.

Beloved of the Lord, He is the Giver of the Feast, and He is the Feast Itself, in which you behold His Glory: That is the Glory of His Cross and Resurrection and His Glory as your Bridegroom, from whom you shall never be parted; for He will never leave you nor forsake you.

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

09 January 2022

The Spirit of God the Father Is Yours in Christ Jesus

If you make something for yourself, or if you go out and buy something for yourself, and it doesn’t work, you’ll either try to fix it or replace it, or else just give up and throw it away.  But if you’re a father, then you love your children, you take care of them, provide for them, teach them, and train them, regardless of what might be broken or wrong or not working in their bodies and lives.

The Lord your God is your Maker and your Redeemer.  He has created you, and He has bought you back for Himself.  He has purchased you for His own possession.  But more than that, and better than that, He has also chosen you and called you to be His own dear child.  He has chosen in love to become your Father, and He has called you by His own Name in the waters of Holy Baptism.

The Holy Triune God is your Creator, not by necessity or compulsion, but by His gracious choice, for the sake of His divine and holy Love.  And He has not only made you and formed you, like a work of art or as a machine, but He has adopted you to be His child and heir, to share the Sonship and inheritance of Christ Jesus.  He disciplines you as a good Father, but He does not disown you.

He has created you and given you life, and He still takes care of you and provides all your needs.  But there is more to His being your Father than simply your ongoing existence and biology.

He is your true Father, your Dad or “Daddy.”  He loves you and honors you, because you are precious to Him.  He has redeemed you from your sin and death, and He daily forgives you all of your trespasses.  He rescues you from every evil of both body and soul.  And all that He is and all that He has, He freely bestows upon you by His grace, along with His Name and His Holy Spirit.

That is what it is and what it really means to be a father.  So, men, if you are given a family, learn from your God and Father in heaven — by whom all fatherhood on earth is named — learn from Him to care for your children on earth.  And whether you have children of your own or not, learn from your Father in heaven to care for His children within the household and family of His Church.

Women, know that your God and Father in Christ Jesus is faithful, loving, and true.  He does not take but gives you life, He loves you and delights in you, and He will never leave you or forsake you.  So, that is where and how you find the confidence and strength to live and love as His child; to honor your father and mother on earth; to submit to your husband, if you have one; to care for your own children, or for others; to love your neighbor; and to guard your heart and mind, your body and soul, in purity and peace.  You can do all such things with such a Father as you have.

Little children, you also are safe and secure in your Father’s loving care.  He hears and answers your prayers, no matter how small and quiet your voice may be, because He has named you with His own Name, He has adopted you to be His very own.  He loves you, and He listens to you.

Of course it is true that fathers on earth are not always like this.  Even the best of human fathers are not always faithful and kind; they are not always dependable, patient, or attentive.

And there are far too many fathers who are not like our God and Father in heaven at all.  Men who beget children outside of holy marriage, not by any gracious choice or with any commitment, but by fornication and adultery.  Men who become biological fathers, but are no real Daddies to their daughters and sons.  Men who neglect their wives and children; who berate them, demean them, or use them with selfish arrogance; who do not listen, are rarely there, and do not give but take.  Men who make demands and issue punishments, but who do not teach, and who do not forgive.

There are many men like that.  And in fact, as all men are sinners, all men are tempted and prone to such unfaithfulness.  Where you have been like that or done so, repent and become otherwise.

But that is not what it is or what it really means to be a father.  And that is not what your true God and Father in heaven is like.

Which is wonderful; except, how can you be sure and certain, confident, and at peace, that such a true and faithful Father as He is will not disown you and send you away in your guilt and shame?

After all, as surely as there are unfaithful, negligent, and absentee fathers on earth, so surely are there also rebellious and disobedient children — prodigal sons and wayward daughters — who dishonor their parents and daily sin much against the Father in heaven.  God’s holy and righteous Law requires that such children should be stoned to death.  In fact, in the case of such children,  the Law requires their parents to bring charges against them and to join in punishing them.

But you also have sinned against heaven and in God’s sight; and, as you confess, you surely deserve nothing but punishment.  For the soul that sins shall die.  You cannot fix or repair that.

How, then, can you be sure of your Father in heaven?  How shall you call upon His Name and have any hope or expect to be heard?  How shall you be released and set free from your sin and death?  And how shall your brokenness ever be repaired?

The answer is right here in the Baptism of our Lord, which has also been given to you as your own Holy Baptism.  And the certainty and the confidence of that answer is Christ Jesus Himself.  It is for His sake that the Father has created you in love, in order that His only-begotten Son should become the first of many brothers and sisters.  And it is by the same beloved and well-pleasing Son that God the Father has redeemed you, purchased and won you, from sin, death, the devil, and hell.

Christ Jesus is the Son begotten of the Father from eternity, and it is His divine Sonship that is now yours by way of your Baptism in His Name.  For He has become true Man, conceived and born of St. Mary, that you might be conceived and born again as a child of God in Him.  It is His Name — which He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit — with which He has also named you.

So, too, it is the same Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified as one true God — one and the same Spirit who descends upon Christ Jesus at His Baptism and rests and remains upon Him, bodily — it is that same Holy Spirit who is also poured out upon you generously by and with and in the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

These gifts of God Himself, His Name and His Spirit, are granted to you, freely and fully, with all the steadfast faithfulness of the same Lord God who gives them, because they have been received by the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours, in your stead and on your behalf as the true Man; not arbitrarily, but with the justice and righteousness of God.

Have you not heard?  When all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized.

When you were baptized — wherever and whenever you were baptized — Jesus also was baptized with you.  For He has taken His stand with you, there in the waters of the Jordan and in the waters of your Baptism, in order to pass through those waters with you out of sin and death into Life.

I baptize you and your children with water in the Name of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But the One who is mightier than I — the Lord, your Redeemer, in whose Name I baptize — He comes to you by that washing of the water with His Word, by the ministry of the Gospel He has entrusted to me; and He baptizes you with the Holy Spirit through the forgiveness of your sins.

You die with Him in the water, as He has died for you.  That is what this is already all about, from the start.  And so do you also arise and emerge with Him from the water, from the dust of the earth, and from death and the grave, just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever.

Having died with Christ Jesus, you are set free from your sins.  And rising with Him, you now live as He lives.  For He has taken you up in the water, in and with Himself, and out of the watery tomb into a wide-open heaven.  In His prayer you ascend to His God and Father in heaven.  And in His Sonship you are a beloved and well-pleasing son of His God and Father.  That is your relationship with God.  That is your righteousness, holiness, and life with God, as sure and certain as Christ Jesus Himself — as sure and certain as His own Body, crucified for your transgressions, raised for your justification, and ascended into heaven.  All of this has been made yours in Holy Baptism.

Therefore, the Fire of His Holy Spirit does not consume or destroy you.  You are not scorched or burned up, but cleansed and purified in body and soul for the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

You don’t yet see it or experience it, not fully, but only in part.  For now, both death and life are at work in your body, as the Spirit has been poured out upon you bodily in Christ.  You suffer the consequences of sin in your mortal flesh and blood.  But so do you also bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit in your body and life on earth.  And all of this is taken up and worked out in the ongoing significance of your one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, as you drown and die through daily contrition and repentance, and as you rise and live with Christ Jesus through faith in His Gospel.

Already, His own Resurrection from the dead is your once-for-all Absolution, which is spoken and given to you, again and again, by the Ministry of the Gospel in His Name and stead.

As His Cross and Resurrection were the completion and fulfillment of His Baptism in the Jordan River, so shall your Holy Baptism be completed and fulfilled in the death and resurrection of your body, unto the Life everlasting.  That is already true and sure and certain for you in Christ Jesus; and then, at the last, it will be fully realized in you, in your body and your soul, forever and ever.

That is the great Glory of your God and Father in heaven, and that is your inheritance as His dear child in Christ Jesus, as His beloved and well-pleasing son or daughter.  He has staked the honor of His holy Name upon it, for with His own Name He has bound Himself to you, and you to Him.  And so has He also tenderly invited you to call upon His Name in faith.

Do not be afraid, but take refuge in Him here within His House.  It is your Father who feeds you at this Table with His beloved Son, because you are so precious in His sight.  He will uphold you, and He will guard your coming in and your going out from this time forth, even forevermore.

The Peace of the Lord be with you always.

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

06 January 2022

Worship Christ, the Lord, Your King

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

He is not simply a means to some other end.  He is Himself your Life and your Light, your Strength and your Song, because He has become your Salvation.  So, get up and go to Him, in order to be with Him where He is; and cling to Him alone as your heart’s Delight and your dearest Treasure.

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

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

The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God in the Flesh, does not permit you to remain in your “comfort zone.”  His coming and His presence change everything.  And they challenge you to relinquish and let go your false gods and false worship to fear, love, and trust in Him alone.

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

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

Or do you still imagine that all of these things are yours?  That these things belong you to by some kind of right or merit?  And do you still pretend that any of these things will really give you life?

No, they belong to the Lord, who is your King.  And you likewise belong to Him, your Creator.

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

But why are you so troubled?  What are your excuses?  And what is it you’re afraid of?

Do you suppose it a waste of time to seek the Lord while He may be found?  Do you consider it a pointless endeavor to worship Him, the Lord your God?  Will you go about your days and your life as though His Word were not being preached to you, or as though it made no difference?

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

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

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

He is found in Bethlehem, in the House with His Mother.  So is He found in the bosom of His Church, the House of the Lord on earth.  He is on the corner of Milton and Dale in South Bend, in the Liturgy of His Gospel.  That is where He is for you.  And that is where you find Him now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Magi traveled great distance at great cost to worship the Lord Jesus.  They were not content with what they knew from the sign of the star and the prophecy of Scripture, but they went to Him.  And having found Him, in great joy they threw themselves at His feet and prostrated themselves before Him, this little Baby, this Toddler, who is the Lord, the Word-made-Flesh.  They were not ashamed to humble themselves before Him and to honor Him with their bodies and their gifts.

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

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

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

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

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

Contribute offerings and alms.  Help to maintain the building and property.  Look to the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ.  And support your neighbor with your presence at the Liturgy.

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

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

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

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

02 January 2022

Fix Your Eyes on the Boy Jesus

How ordinary the childhood of Jesus must have been, although in many ways it’s hard to imagine.  He was a real Boy, and yet He was also the sinless Son of God, and none of us know any other little boys like that!  Even so, He had His friends and relatives and peers.  No doubt He played with toys, perhaps little wooden carts and creatures that His father Joseph might have crafted for Him.  He would have run and jumped and climbed and thrown things, because that is what boys do.  As the one true God in the Flesh, He lived the life of true Man from infancy to boyhood to adulthood.

He got dirty in the course of His days, just like you and your children.  He had to bathe His Body and wash His hands before meals.  He ate and drank.  As a little Guy He would have taken naps, and even as an older Boy He had to sleep at night.  He probably had a bedtime.  And during the day He did His chores, He studied His lessons.  He was taught things, and He learned.  He grew.

It’s not unusual to think of Jesus’ “birthday,” even as we celebrate His Holy Nativity every year.  But just think, His birthdays then meant that He was getting older, just like you.  He grew out of infancy.  He was weaned from nursing at His Mother’s breast to eating big boy food at the table.  At some point He was potty-trained.  So the very Son of God grew up, like any other ordinary boy.

He was a little Child in the midst of His people, experiencing the bump and grind and cut and thrust of daily life with all of its ups and downs and ins and outs.

Now, bear in mind that rearing the sinless Son of God was not easy.  Dr. Luther calls it a burden and a cross.  There were frustrations and anxieties, restless nights, and at least one frantic search.  And dear fellow parents, consider that, at least in the case of the little Lord Jesus, those worries, frustrations, and concerns were not due to any sins of the Child but to the sins and weaknesses of His earthly parents.  And so also with your children.  Though they are not sinless, neither are you.

So fix your eyes on this Boy Jesus, for He is your childhood’s pattern, the very Image and Likeness of God in which you have been created.  He actually lives the divine Life in His own human Flesh, the true human life as Man was created to live, as you are called to live in your own place.

Your duty as a child is to honor your father and mother through all the stages of life.  The keeping of the Fourth Commandment changes when a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, when a woman is given in marriage to her husband.  But the Commandment still remains.  Whatever your age, you are to honor your father and mother.  And when they are old and infirm, or when they have forgotten most things, you are then to care for them as they once cared for you.

And when your own parents have departed from this life on earth, then you have the privilege and the opportunity to care for other elderly and infirm neighbors, especially within the Body of Christ.

Your duty as a parent, if you are a parent, is to care for and catechize your children in the fear, love, and trust of God, in His Word and faith.  So St. Joseph did for his family as the Prophet Samuel’s father did for his family.  He took them to church.  He brought his wife, St. Mary, and the Boy Jesus to hear the Word of God and to celebrate the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem.

Fathers and mothers are to care for their children in all kinds of ways, to feed and clothe them, to shelter and protect them, to teach them and train them.  And along with all of these good things, above all they are to catechize them in the Word of God, to teach them by word and example how to pray and confess His Word, and faithfully to hear and receive His good Gifts of the Gospel.

Likewise, whether you have children or not, your first and foremost duty as a Christian, as a child of God, yourself, is to listen to the preaching of His Word, to gladly hear and learn it.  For faith not only comes by the hearing of the Word of Christ, but so is it sustained and nourished by His Word.

Then, also, as a child of God, you are called to live a holy life according to His Word.  To worship Him in faith and love.  To fear, love, and trust in Him above everything else, no matter how much or how little you have in this world.  To confess what the Father has spoken to you by His Son.  And to call upon His Holy Name at all times and in all places, to pray, praise, and give thanks for all that He has said and done.  To go up to His Feast each week, and to live in the joy and peace of that Feast wherever the Lord has stationed you on earth; to love and serve your neighbor in that place, as surely as you care for your own body and life; and to forgive those who sin against you.

In all of this, fix your eyes on the Boy Jesus, and do not lose sight of Him in any of your activities.  For one thing, you ought to follow His example.  He is certainly far more than an example, but He is an example, as St. Peter writes in his First Epistle.  So, follow His example.  Not so much “What Would Jesus Do?” (in all sorts of situations He never encountered), but “What Did Jesus Do?”

For one thing, as you have heard this morning, He went to church.  He listened attentively to the Holy Scriptures.  He asked His pastors and teachers questions, and He listened to their answers, engaging them in conversation and discussion as a way of learning to know the Word of God.

He also honored His father and mother.  He submitted to their parental authority, even though they were sinful and He was not, because He followed and obeyed the Fourth Commandment.

Follow His example in these ways, and fix your eyes on Him — all the more so because He is far more than just an example.  Indeed, He is your dear Savior, in whom alone you have Life with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It is in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, that you know the Mysteries of God, His good and gracious Will for you.  It is in Him that God is your dear Father, and you are His dear child.  And it is through Him that you receive the Holy Spirit, the Life-giving Breath of God, the Pledge of your inheritance as a son of God in Christ Jesus.  Baptized in His Name, anointed with His Spirit, adopted by His God and Father, as Laura has been this morning, you belong to the Lord your God; you are His own, and He is with you, and in you, and for you.

It is in Christ Jesus that you live before God in the flesh, even now in your pilgrimage on earth, holy and blameless, righteous and pure in His sight.  You live a sinless life — shocking as that may sound — despite the fact that you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment — because you live in Christ Jesus by faith in His Gospel, and His Righteousness avails for you.  Your sins are covered by His holy and precious Blood.  The Lord your God is at peace with you.

Remember that, and cling to that, when you find yourself in dire straits and desperate trouble — when you have done wrong, and when others have wronged you — when everything is crashing and burning around you.  Even then, your life is (and remains) safely hidden with Christ in God.

Christ Jesus is the Ark of the New Covenant.  His own Body of flesh and blood, conceived and born of St. Mary, crucified and risen from the dead, is the true and eternal Temple of God, wherein the Grace and Glory and Name of God abide with you and all His people here on earth.  And He is both your Priest and your King, the true Son of David, the true King of Peace.  He is the Whole Burnt Offering and the Peace Offering, the Sacrifice for your Atonement and your reconciliation with God and with each other.  For He is the true Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed for you.

This dear Lord Jesus Christ gives you His own divine, eternal Life in both your body and your soul.  And as such, He gives meaning and purpose to your body and life here on earth, even now.

Fix your eyes on Him, therefore, and stay with Him.  Keep Him with you in all of your going out and coming in.  Abide with Him, as He abides with you, within the Temple of His Church on earth.

Too easily you depart from the Feast and return to your chores and regular routines, leaving Christ Jesus behind you — and not even realizing that you’ve done so!  He hasn’t left you, but you have left Him in the preoccupation of all your worries and concerns, projects and ambitions, as you turn your attention and your energies away from Him and His Word to other things.  You go along with the crowd, and how quickly a day — a week, a month, a year — goes by without a thought of Him.

Eventually you realize that something is terribly wrong.  Your life may be full and busy, hectic and overwhelming, and yet there is this deep lack, this gaping hole, this hollow emptiness.  And there is the distress and anxiety of duties you have neglected — promises and obligations you have not kept or fulfilled — friends and neighbors you have forgotten and failed to help — and your own family, missing you because you’re always gone even when you’re there, and you missing them.

But what’s really missing at the core of all of your troubles is Christ Jesus.  So, where do you go looking for Him?  Typically, according to your sinful nature and the wisdom of the world, you go looking for Him, His Life and Salvation, in all the wrong ways and in all the wrong places — in the ways of the world and your fallen flesh, in that which is already friendly and familiar to you.

With misguided zeal, you make a false god out of your family and friends and out of your own frantic efforts at life, all the while dying inside and becoming more and more anxious and afraid.

For all of that, it is the Lord who seeks you out and finds you and calls you back to Himself by His Word and Holy Spirit, by the preaching of repentance unto faith in His forgiveness of your sins.  He calls you back to the significance of your Holy Baptism, to the Temple of His Holy Church.

It is in His House and in His Word that the Lord Jesus is actively present, with you and for you.  And it’s not for you to fetch Him back to yourself, but He brings you home to His God and Father.

Remember that He has lived His divine Life in your flesh, and that He has also lived your human life in His own Flesh and Blood.  The almighty and eternal Son of God, from His conception in His blessed Mother’s womb, grew and increased through all the stages of human development.

Not only did His Body grow, but He got smarter and wiser.  He listened carefully, and He learned things.  In fact, He grew up and matured in all things, in favor with God and man, in holy faith and holy love.  He heard and availed Himself of the Word of God! — He who is the very Word of God in Person and in the Flesh.  He went up to Jerusalem, to the Temple, to the Feast.  And there, in the fullness of time, when His Hour had come, by His sacrificial death upon the Cross He became the Temple of God and the Passover Feast for you and for all the people of all times and places.

Through death into life, by His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension, He has entered the Father’s House, that is, the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens.  Indeed, He is your Anchor behind the Veil.  As your merciful and great High Priest, He has entered the Holy of Holies on your behalf, and there He is your Anchor; so that, no matter how you’re tossed about by winds and waves and all the storms of this life, you’re anchored to Christ Jesus in the presence of God.

The Lord Jesus Christ has entered the Holy of Holies; and that is now your “childhood pattern,” the Way in which you live and walk with Him by His grace through faith in His Word.

You know the Way, because He is the Way.  And you know where and how to find Him, because He calls you by His Word and Holy Spirit; He calls you to Himself, and He reveals and gives Himself to you — here within His House — by and with and in His Liturgy of the Gospel.

Yet, even so, He  knows that you are sinful, that your mortal flesh grows weak and weary, and that you will lose sight of Him and lose yourself in all the cares and occupations of this life.  Therefore, in His great love for you — which is the true wisdom, grace, and glory of God — He tabernacles with you on the way.  For you, as for Laura, His Baptism remains and avails for you, wherever in the world you may be.  And His Flesh and Blood, given and poured out for you to eat and to drink here at His Altar in His House, accompany you within your own body of flesh and blood.

In all your going out and coming in, from the day of your Baptism in His Name, yes, from before the foundation of the world, from this time forth, even forevermore, He goes with you all the way — unto the Resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting of your body and soul in Him.

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

01 January 2022

This Is the New Testament in the Blood of Jesus Christ

The New Year forces you to think about time, how it’s always slipping away, and how you strive so desperately to hang onto it, not to waste it or lose it, that you too often fail to enjoy it or make use of it.  Time itself, like the rest of creation, has been warped and burdened by the bondage and curse of sin.  And the one thing that is certain for you and all of yours, as time keeps on ticking into the future, is that one day your time in this world will be up, and then you are going to die.

With each birthday that comes and goes, and with every year that passes, you know you’re that much closer to the grave.  And as you grow older, you may become more desperate to hang onto the time you have, or else despair at the seeming futility of life.  The parties and celebrations, such as many enjoyed (or tried to enjoy) last night, are often as not an attempted escape, or a pretense that everything is just fine.  But in the light of day, most everyone knows better (or they should).

It hasn’t always been that way, not from the very beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.  Nor did He intend for time to be a burden and a curse.  It was — and by His grace, it still is — one of His many blessings, a significant part of His good creation, designed to give your life structure and purpose and meaning.  The sun and moon and stars mark the days and years of a life and a world that God the Lord has given for you to enjoy in His gracious presence.

It is possible for you to live that way, by His grace, because the coming of Christ Jesus in the Flesh — His coming into this world of history and time — has restored God’s gift of time to its original purpose and blessing.  Every minute that Christ our Savior lived as the true Man here on earth, from infancy to adulthood, from the womb to the tomb, was thus given the divine significance of God Himself.  In Him every minute counts, no longer in desperation, but in the joy of real life.

And so it is that your time as a member of His Church has been redeemed and sanctified by Christ Jesus; indeed, your time already here and now is really the beginning of eternity with Him.  Which means that you can mark the passing of time — not with sadness and regret for the past, nor with false hopes and your own resolutions for the future — but with confidence in your Savior.

Even so, we are not here today to celebrate the secular New Year.  There’s nothing wrong with New Year’s celebrations, for Christ has redeemed such occasions by His grace, and you are free to enjoy the many good gifts that He bestows upon you in this body and life.  But as a congregation of His Church, we celebrate Christ Jesus Himself, who He is and what He has done to save us.  Only then, having celebrated Christ and His great Salvation, are we able to celebrate anything else.

In particular, the Holy Gospel appointed for this Eighth Day of Christmas has set before you the Name and Circumcision of Jesus, thus declaring God’s great love for you in the sending of His Son into the Flesh, born of the Woman under the Law, in order to redeem you for everlasting Life.

By faith in His Word, we recognize that, in the Circumcision of our Lord Jesus, God Himself was already submitting Himself to the demands of His own Law on behalf of all the children of men, accomplishing divine righteousness in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours, in order that you should be justified in Him and share in His divine, eternal Life.  In fact, everything that Christ the Lord came to do was already underway and being established in His Circumcision.

There was, first all, His obedience to the Law on behalf of fallen man.  As the sinless Son of God, our Lord did not require for Himself the promise and forgiveness of the Covenant.  But He was obedient to the Law from the very first — and as He grew, He was obedient to His human parents in keeping with the Fourth Commandment — that He might obtain the righteousness of God for you and all people.  Thus was He subjected to the Law of Circumcision in His own holy Flesh.

In this way, also, the Lord was at work to bring about the New Creation.  For in His Circumcision there is already the first shedding of the Savior’s Blood — His Blood of the New Covenant — by which He makes Atonement for the sins of the whole world, and so also cleanses you of all sins.

Indeed, it was entirely appropriate that the obedience and suffering of Christ Jesus should begin with His Circumcision, since Circumcision was given to Abraham by the Lord God Himself as the sign and seal of His Covenant, a Sacrament of His Word.  It was a tangible promise of the Savior who would come from the loins of Father Abraham.  And so it was that, by His Circumcision, in His own Flesh and Blood as the Seed of Abraham, the Lord God fulfilled this sacred Covenant.

Leave it to the Lord to establish His Covenant in such a flesh-and-blood, painful, and embarrassing way!  For this is how He loves to work, to reveal and give Himself to you in the most down-to-earth ways and means.  As He created Adam out of dirt, and as He entered into His Creation by His conception and birth of the Woman, St. Mary, He gets right down into it with all of us on earth.

Not so different is the way that He promises truly marvelous things, but then lets you wait for what seems like forever — until it all seems lost and hopeless — before He does what He has spoken.

Consider the history of Circumcision: Abraham was ninety-nine years old, and after many years of promises from God, his time was running out.  He was old, and he was tired.  He was nervous and scared about the future.  But just then, when it surely must have seemed as though it were already too late, the Lord God appears with yet another Word of promise.  And such a Word it is!

Everything God says to Abraham seems ludicrous, like so much foolish nonsense!  Cut off the foreskin from your genitals, and do the same with all the males of your household, and that will be My Covenant with you.  And as for you, old man — your own body as good as dead, and your wife a barren old woman — you will yet become the father of countless children.  Indeed, the day will soon be here when you must circumcise the son whom I have promised, a son of your own flesh and blood, conceived and born of your own wife according to My Word.

Such a Covenant as that is almost as hard to believe as the Words and promises of God concerning the waters of Baptism, that these are a gracious water of life, a rich and full washing away of sin; or the Absolution of a sinful human pastor, that by it your sins are forgiven before God in heaven, as by Christ your dear Lord Himself; or the tiny piece of bread and the little drink of wine in the Lord’s Supper, that these are His true Body and Blood, given and poured out for you.

Yet, as wild and crazy as the promise seemed, Abraham believed the Word of God, and he lived by faith in that Word of promise.  And the Lord God was indeed faithful in doing all that He had spoken, in fulfilling His Covenant with Father Abraham.  He gave to him a son in his old age; He multiplied his descendants; and when they were enslaved in the land of Egypt, He brought them out of bondage with a mighty, outstretched hand, and He confirmed His Covenant with them — by the blood of the Passover Lamb, and by the sacrificial blood of bulls and goats at Mount Sinai.

And finally, after many hundreds of years, when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of the Woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And thus He came, the promised Seed of Abraham, conceived and born according to the Word and promise of God — born under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law — born to redeem you, that you might become a child of Abraham by faith; and even better, that you might be adopted as a son of God in Christ Jesus, your Lord.

Indeed, the Covenant Law of Circumcision was a tutor preparing for the Christ; and with His own Circumcision on the Eighth Day, His Flesh & Blood became the New Covenant, replacing the Old.

Now, for the Jews Circumcision on the eighth day was also the time when a newborn son would be named — just as “Abraham” himself was given that name, “the father of many nations,” when he received the Covenant of Circumcision.  So also did the Christ then receive that Name which was given by the Lord to Mary and Joseph through the Archangel Gabriel.  The Church therefore remembers and celebrates both the Name and the Circumcision of Jesus on this Holy Day.

This Name, Jesus, means “Yahweh Saves.”  For He is born to save His people from their sins; and His Name is a confession of the Gospel, that in Him God is reconciling the world unto Himself.

Everything has been fundamentally changed, forever and for better, with the coming of this Son of God in His own human Flesh and Blood.  Indeed, the entire history of the world and the daily passage of time have new and real meaning in Him, in His Body crucified and risen from the dead; no less so than the entire Old Testament has reached its true meaning and fulfillment in Him.

By way of one significant example, especially appropriate to this day and the occasion before us, the Old Testament Covenant of Circumcision has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus, in such a way that it has been forever replaced — for you and all believers, boys and girls alike, adults and children — with the New Testament Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  So does St. Paul write to the Colossians, that “in Him you were also circumcised with a Circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the Circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in Baptism.”

So, too, it was in that washing of the water with His Word and Holy Spirit that God the Lord put His Name on you — the Holy Name of “Jesus.”  For just as He received His saving Name at His Circumcision on the Eighth Day, so have you received His Name by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  And His Name, “Jesus,” bestows on you the very Salvation He has won.

Consequently, each and every Sunday — on the “Eighth Day,” as the early Christians understood it to be — the people of God leave behind the cares and worries of the workaday world and the seven-day week, and in the Liturgy of the Gospel they enter with confidence and peace, with faith and thanksgiving, into the everlasting Life of the new Heavens and the new Earth, the Home where the Righteousness of Christ abounds in the neverending Day of His Resurrection from the dead.

The passage of time in this life on earth with all its griefs and sorrows has been superceded by the fact that you have been re-created for eternal Life with God in Paradise.  You are no longer trapped by the daily grind of this world, by the endless cycle of week-after-week and year-after-year, with nothing much to hope for, but only more of the same-ol’ same-ol’ thing and a string of short-lived resolutions.  All of that is temporary; it doesn’t define who you really are, nor what you will be.

By your Baptism into Christ you already participate in His New Creation.  By faith in Christ Jesus — who circumcised your heart and gave to you His Name in those holy waters by His Word — you are living already with Him in the Garden of Paradise, walking with your Lord in the pleasure of a Day that never ends.  And for that reason, you are able to enjoy the days and weeks and years that you live on this earth, as well; because you do so in the confidence and the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to the neverending Day beyond all trials, tribulations, and temptations.

So also on this Day, we all together as the Church participate in the everlasting Life and Salvation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Not by way of self-imposed resolutions to try harder and do better, though we surely ought to do both; but we enter into Life by receiving the Gift of Christ Himself, who gives meaning and purpose to this day and every other day, to this New Year and to every other year.  As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and as you receive His Holy Communion, you are intimately united with Him — in His Body and His Blood — unto the Life everlasting.

It is was precisely for this reason and this purpose that He was conceived and born of St. Mary.  And so, too, it was for this reason and this purpose that He shed the Blood of Circumcision, and that He was given the Name Jesus.  For so has He brought completion and fulfillment to the Old Testament, and so does He bring to you the New Testament in His Blood, as surely as He has given you the new birth of Holy Baptism, and put His Name on you, and granted you a permanent place of Peace and Rest in the Kingdom of His God and Father, in the City of the Living God.

The One who calls you is faithful, and at exactly the right time He does all that He has promised.

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

27 December 2021

Blessed Are Those Who Hear and Receive this Word

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

For all of this, it is truly meet, right, and salutary to remember St. John with thanksgiving unto our God and Father in heaven.  For the Lord has chosen to reveal Himself and give Himself to you by the hand of this beloved Disciple and holy Apostle.  And do not underestimate the significance and benefit of these apostolic Scriptures, which are uniquely foundational to the Christian Church.

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

You cannot separate your Savior, Jesus Christ, from this apostolic Word of His Gospel.  Nor can you have the One without the other.  Nor do you have God as your Father apart from this Word of His incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  But as it is, you have been given and you have this Word by way of the Apostles of our Lord, whom He called, ordained, and sent to preach in His Name.

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

In the apostolic Word of Christ that is preached to you by His grace, through faith in that Word, you are given everything that the holy Apostles beheld and heard and grasped in the Person of Jesus Christ, the one true God who was conceived and born of St. Mary.  Which is to say that you, also, are a beloved disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And you, also, are given to recline with Him at His Supper, cleansed and sanctified by one and the same Christ Jesus, by the washing of water with His Word and Holy Spirit, and fed from His own hand His holy Body and precious Blood.

The only-begotten God who has come from the bosom of the Father, who reveals the Father to us, He has taken you into His embrace, to rest upon His bosom, to find your shelter and protection, your Life and your Salvation, there in Him, in His own Flesh and Blood.

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

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

It will be different for you than for your fellow Christian disciples, as it was different for St. Peter than it was for St. John.  So, neither look back to see where you have been, nor look around to see how you compare with your neighbor.  Simply follow Christ Jesus wherever He shall lead you by His Word and Holy Spirit, whether for life or death, knowing that your true life is now hidden with Christ in God, and when He appears in Glory, so shall His Life be fully manifest in you forever.

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

By the Word of His Apostles — by the Word as written by St. John, and by the preaching of that Word — Christ Jesus fills the world with His gracious deeds of Life.  And so does He fill you.

When the bright Light of His Law exposes and condemns you, know that He remains faithful and righteous to forgive your sins and to cleanse you of all unrighteousness.  For He is Himself the Propitiation for all your sins, and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world; and the merciful Light of His Gospel shines yet more brightly upon you than even His Law.

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

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

Come, then.  Recline here at His Table, and lean upon His breast, and eat and drink the Flesh and Blood of that very dear Savior who loves you — and so taste and see that He is good!

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

26 December 2021

To Sing of Christ in Peace and Joy

Now you are met, as Simeon & Anna were met, with the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The incarnate Son lives by faith, entrusting Himself to His God and Father.  And in love for His Father, He lives in love for you and all His neighbors.  As a Child He honors His earthly parents and submits to their authority.  He is chaste and pure in human celibacy; and in faithfulness to His Bride, the Church, He cherishes her and cares for all her children in gentleness and peace.  He does not hurt or harm, but helps all people without prejudice, and He gives life in both body and soul.  He does not rob or steal, but freely bestows His generous good gifts on both the evil and the good.

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

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

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

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

So it is that everything depends upon this Lord Jesus.  Yes, even upon this little Lord Jesus, who at six weeks of age is presented in the Temple.  And nothing else matters at all apart from Him.

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

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

Between you and the Lord in the Holy of Holies there stands the Sign of the Cross, which threatens to undo you — and it does.  It is a swift and terrible Sword, which not only divides your heart and soul within you, but it also divides and redefines your family and all of your relationships.  The Cross of Christ Jesus calls you to belong entirely to Him, the Lord your God; and as such, you and your life are not your own but His — and all of your feelings, all of your friendships, and your whole family are reconfigured by His Cross.  That is how deeply this Sign of Christ divides you.

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

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

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

You see, His Redemption of Jerusalem and His Consolation of Israel are not only what He has done by His Cross and Resurrection, “once upon a time,” but this great Salvation is what He does for you and gives to you, even now, here within the Temple of His Church on earth.

It is for Redemption and Consolation that the Holy Spirit calls and gathers you here by the Gospel.  For this is where true Life and Salvation are found, for you, in the Flesh and Blood of Jesus.  Here is where the Glory of God fills the Temple in the Means of Grace, in His preaching of forgiveness and in His holy Sacraments, which are His Pillar of Cloud by day and His Pillar of Fire by night.

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

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

As scary as the Cross of Christ is, it is now also your Comfort and your Peace.  For by His Cross you have already died with Him; and so by His Cross your life is safely hidden with God in Him.

It is hidden, yes.  But Christ is your Anchor behind the Veil, in whom you have entered into the Holy of Holies.  Even here and now at His Altar, as you eat His Body and drink His Blood, you rest in the Bosom of His Father, and you thus abide within the Inner Sanctum of the one true God.

Now you are released from the fear of death, and you are set free to sing unto the Lord, to sing the New Song of God and of the Lamb.  For He has done marvelous things for you and for all people, and here He feeds you with such Good Things which shall never be taken away.  He remembers His mercy and His faithfulness to you and His whole Church in heaven and on earth.  Everything is safe and secure in Christ Jesus, your Savior, so that your whole life is one of thanksgiving.

Now, I know that your heart and spirit are not always thankful.  For that I must say to you, Repent.  Do not give yourself over to discontent or grumbling.  But so am I also given to say that Christ is your Sacrifice of Thanksgiving, as He is also your High Priest and your constant Prayer of Faith.  He ever lives to make intercession for you, and His Spirit also helps you in your weakness.  For Christ is your Offering to the Father, your acceptable Sacrifice, and your sweet-smelling Incense.  Consequently, there is nothing lacking, nothing amiss, and no accusation that stands against you.  Instead, there is only thanksgiving for your Life and your Salvation in your Lord Jesus Christ.

Sing, therefore, beloved of the Lord!  Sing as the Scriptures teach you to do.  It is not pointless or futile, but meet, right, and salutary.  It is good for you, and it is good for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  For the Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs of His Word fill you and the household and family of God with His Life-giving Holy Spirit.  They catechize you in the true faith, and they strengthen you in faith and love.  And these Songs also bear the fruits of thanksgiving to God.

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

How shall a song do all of this?  And how shall your mortal voice accomplish such great things?

It is because the almighty and eternal Son of God has Himself become Flesh and Blood like you.  He has a human voice like yours, with which He speaks and sings the Word of His Father.  And in His Body, crucified and risen from the dead, all of Creation has been redeemed and sanctified for God — including you, your lips and tongue, your mouth, and your voice.  And in the Temple of the Lord all cry out and sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and Peace to His people on earth!”

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