28 November 2009

Behold, Your King Is Coming to You

Forget about sheep for today. The Lord would have you see yourself in the donkey, in the colt, the foal of a donkey.

Without any rider, you would seem to be free. But you are not. You are tied up and owned by other lords; unused and useless; unclothed, unbridled, unneeded — but not free, and not safe.

Then Christ Jesus sends His disciples to loose you from your bonds and set you free; to clothe you with the garments of a disciple, and to set Christ Himself upon you. Not that He would burden you, but that He would be your gracious Lord and King.

In fact, for you the Lord Jesus Christ has become the donkey, the colt, the beast of burden. For He carries all your guilt and sin and shame, in His own body to the Cross, and He carries you through death into life.

In His descent, you are raised up. He goes up to Jerusalem, yes, because He is offered up to the Father as the sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the world. But thus He comes down from the Mount of Olives, anointed by the Holy Spirit for the sake of mercy, in order to give you life.

The Law accuses and condemns you, and would rebuke your worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. But He has come to establish righteousness for you, to save you by His grace, and to grant you safety, peace and rest in the midst of His Jerusalem. He receives your praise, as He receives you.

He does not condemn you, nor cast you away from His presence, but has called you to Himself. He does not rebuke or reject you, but calls you to rejoice in His salvation and His righteousness.

For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. And as there is now peace in heaven, in the heart of God the Father toward sinners, so is there now peace on earth in the preaching of the Gospel, in the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of the Lord Jesus.

He calls you to be reconciled to Him. For He would convert your stony, idolatrous heart into a heart of flesh: to love and trust in Him, your God in the flesh. Rest yourself in His Peace, and so be at peace with Him; and, in such peace, now love and serve your neighbor in his body and life.

Such love and peace in your body and life — in your daily words and actions, in your dealings with the sinners and brothers and sisters and fellow disciples round about you — such love and peace are all that is lacking in your faith as a disciple (as St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians).

To be sure, even in its weakness, even in your frailty and falling short, your faith lays hold of Christ Jesus and His Righteousness, in which there is no lack but perfect life and light and love, both now and forever. That is fully yours, by His grace. So, again, be at peace with Him, as He is most certainly at peace with you. So also do I rejoice and give thanks for your faith and life!

But in your flesh and in your members, in what you say and what you do, your faith in Christ has not fully turned in love toward your neighbor.

Therefore, do not remain tied up and still attached to your old lords and masters, but live now in the freedom of Christ, that you may increase and abound in love for one another. Do not avoid your brothers and sisters, but seek them out in mercy. Do not wait for them to ask for your help, but look for ways to love and serve them, as Christ has come to help you when you did not know Him. Do not speak ill of your neighbor, nor cause him any hurt in his body, his family, his home or his honor, but let all your words be gracious and all your actions graceful toward him.

Love freely, in faith, and not as though under the whip or goaded by the prod. Have no fear of punishment; you shall not die, but live. Rather, rejoice in the King who comes to you, who reigns over you in love from His Cross.

As He has become your gracious Lord and King; as He has borne all your burdens in His body, and as He has set you free from sin and death, so now bear Him in your body and life.

Be the colt that carries Him. Be a Christian. Let your tongue and mouth be bridled; let your hands and feet be guided; and let your flesh be disciplined by one Lord, Jesus Christ.

Let Him be the Lord who rides you, through death into life.

Let your outer garments be trodden under His feet, on the way of the Cross; so that you may be clothed with a new vesture, with His righteousness and purity, and with the holiness of His Love.

Has He not named you with His Name — the Name of the Lord your God — in Holy Baptism?

Has He not signed you, also in your body and your flesh, upon your forehead and your breast, with the sign of His holy Cross?

And yet, it is not you, the servant, the donkey, but Him, the Christ, your Lord and God, who first of all bears the burden of the Cross and looses you from the bondage of sin and death.

If you now bear Christ and His Cross, it is only because He has already borne you and yours.

Therefore, you are born again to a new and living hope. No longer the foal of a donkey, you are a son of God, a daughter of Jerusalem. You dwell in safety, and you shall be saved, because Christ has made righteousness and peace for you. That is your freedom and your faith.

For, behold, there is yet another donkey here at hand, which bears your King to you, who comes in the Name of the Lord, having salvation for you.

As He has sent His disciples to make a disciple of you — to forgive you in His Name; to baptize you and catechize you in love; to fill up whatever is lacking in you, with Jesus — so does He also send His disciples before His face, to prepare this upper room of His Church, this House of the Lord, for the true Passover Feast of His Body and His Blood.

The Lord has need of bread and wine. That is the colt He now rides, that by these earthly means He would enter His Jerusalem in mercy: to give His Body for you, and to pour out His holy, precious Blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Here He has need of you, also. Not that you should serve Him, but that He would serve you. For He would be your King of righteousness and peace. Not to enslave you, but that you would live with Him in His Kingdom.

He is a greater and more faithful King than even David, a better and far wiser Son than Solomon. For He is Himself your righteousness and holiness. He is Himself your safety, peace and rest.

That is why we shout aloud, and cry out, and greatly rejoice. That is why we sing of peace on earth as it is in heaven. For "blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord." From the House of the Lord we bless you. Hosanna in the highest!

And happy are you, who know this festal shout.

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

25 November 2009

This Brief Span of Eternity

An unusually warm and sunny November has been nice, but that doesn’t have us fooled. We know that winter is coming with its ice and snow and bitter cold temperatures. Already the days are shorter and darker than they were, notwithstanding the sun’s valiant efforts while it does shine. The shortest day of the year will occur just a few days before the Christ Mass, and here in the Northern hemisphere we can marvel at the striking contrast between this world’s darkness and the Light of Christ, in whose face we behold the radiant glory of God.
Winter is coming, and we are reminded that the world in which we presently live is temporal and perishing. As the Word of the Lord has declared to us in the final weeks before Advent, everything in this world is passing away. Even the once mighty stones of the beautiful Temple in Jerusalem have been thrown down, and no other building of man will fare any better. Not only that, but the earth itself will finally be rocked to the core, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken right out of their sockets. The sun and the moon will be shut off altogether, and the stars will fall out of the sky like dead fireflies.
Every winter is a kind of death from which we are raised again in the spring. But these natural seasons really point beyond themselves to the ending of all things, and to the resurrection of the body in the final judgment. Summer and winter, springtime and harvest continue for now, but only for so long as the earth remains; and the earth shall not remain forever. There are constant reminders all around us of how fleeting our life is. Not only the sin and death which press upon us, within and without; and not only the change and decay, which all around we see. But every bedtime is a little burial of our body, and every surgery a measure of violence and murder of our mortal flesh. No amount of labor, no amount of money, no accomplishment or great achievement, and no human strength will prevail against death.
As everything in this world is passing away, and we ourselves are subject to death and decay, returning to the dust whence we came, the Lord our God calls us to live as sojourners on earth, as wayfarers in a foreign land. Here we are guests, but for a brief time. Our home is in Christ, as our true and everlasting life is hidden with Him in the bosom of God the Father. So by His Holy Spirit do we live in this world as strangers and aliens, on a pilgrimage to our true home and fatherland, which is with Christ Jesus and our dear Father in heaven.
That is not to say that we treat this world with contempt. We do not disdain the bodies that our Lord has given us, for we are His creatures of flesh and blood, of both body and soul, and our bodies also shall be raised unto the life everlasting. We neither idolize nor despise the good gifts of our Lord’s creation, for these are bounty from His hand, for which we rightly give to Him all thanks and praise.
The way in which live in our bodies on earth, and the way in which we receive and use the Lord’s creation, is an exercise of faith and love, by which we are catechized to live with Christ in His Kingdom in righteousness, innocence and blessedness forever. The life that we live in the flesh, we live already for Him who for our sakes died and was raised. We receive His good gifts with thanksgiving and glorify His holy Name. We live by His gracious mercy, and we rest in the peace of Christ, and so do we extend His grace, mercy and peace to our neighbors in the world. That is to live the heavenly life on earth.
Since everything on earth is perishing, and we ourselves are mortal, we are called to invest ourselves and stake our lives on something that will remain. That is Christ and His Word, which shall not pass away. He is not a pie in the sky, over the rainbow, someday, somewhere, somehow, but He is with us (Immanuel) in His own Body of flesh and blood, with His divine, eternal Gospel. He has come to us in the flesh, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He has come to us by the Cross, atoning for the sins of the world with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, and thereby reconciling the world to God. He comes to us now, within His Church on earth, with the Gospel, His Word of forgiveness.
His coming to us now — with His Word and with His Body and His Blood, as also in His Holy Baptism — protects us from every evil of body and soul and prepares us for the world to come. Not only that, but His coming to us now — in flesh and blood like ours, with free and full forgiveness of all our sins — sanctifies our life in the body on earth. Though our days are numbered and few, they are indeed a brief span of eternity. Our pilgrimage and sojourn are not a pointless meandering, but a real journey on the way of the Cross, which is the way of Life in Christ.
Eternal life is lived, already here and now, in the Body of Christ, in the Sabbath rest of His Gospel, in the true peace of His forgiveness. To eat and drink His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion, is already to taste of the Wedding Feast to come. To pray, praise and give thanks in the congregation of His Church on earth, is already to join the great choir of His angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. To strengthen your brothers and sisters in Christ, and to be strengthened by them, in both body and soul, with both words and actions of love, is to live by the Cross of Christ in His Resurrection from the dead, unto the life everlasting.
That life which is yours in Christ, in the blessed communion of His one, holy, Christian and Apostolic Church, is then also lived in the vocations to which He has called you here on earth, and in those stations to which He has assigned you here in time. You bring to those vocations and stations in life the divine, eternal significance of Christ and the power of His indestructible life. When you confess the gracious Word that He has spoken to you, by living in faith and love where He has called you to live, by speaking as He has spoken, and by doing what He has given you to do, then your words and works shall not perish but shall follow you in the resurrection of your body. For it is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you.

In particular, consider what it means for you to live from the Altar of Christ, where He has fed and still feeds your body and soul with His own holy Body and precious Blood. For how shall your hands now serve, which have handled the Body of the Lord? And how shall your lips and tongue now speak, which have tasted His Blood and know His love? And how shall your life in the body not matter very much, since Christ and His Spirit dwell with you in your body?

21 November 2009

Learn the Lesson of His Tender Tree, and Know that His Summer Is Near

Pay attention to what you see.

Give ear to what you hear from God, the Lord.

All around you and within you, there is sin and death, decay and destruction. Everything within and without is wearing out and wasting away. Nothing that you see and feel and experience will last. Nothing that you know so well and are so prone to fear, love and trust will remain.

Number your days, and know how short your life is. Consider your end, that your lifetime is nothing. There is no strength of man that survives.

What, then, is your hope?

Your hope is in the Lord.

Give ear, again, to what He says. Pay attention to what He does.

He deals with sin, which is the problem. It is the underlying problem, not so much as bad behavior to be punished, but as a turning away from God, the Creator, who is alone the Author and Giver of life.

He deals with sin by sending forth a law and establishing His justice. Now His righteousness is near, and His salvation has gone forth. Although the heavens and the earth will perish — the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment — His salvation and His righteousness are forever.

His righteousness and salvation are forever, and they are for you.

His arm will judge His people. Therefore, wait upon His arm in hope. For with His mighty, outstretched arm, in the palm of His hand, He suffers the tribulation and the final judgment of sin in Himself. He, Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, atones for the sins of the world. He rectifies what was broken in all of creation. He reconciles the world to God: in Himself.

The Son has left His home with the Father in heaven and has come forth on a journey to redeem you and save you. As true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary — as your brother in the flesh, with a body and blood like yours — He has waited in faith upon His Father (not knowing the day nor hour). He has heeded and relied upon His Father’s faithful Word. He has taken heed, stayed awake, and been alert; so that, when the day and hour came, He was ready.

Learn the lesson of His Tree. Consider its tenderness, its leaves and its fruit, which are for the healing of the nations. They are no less so for you. He has sent forth His messengers with its rich and lush produce to gather His elect from the four winds, to call His disciples from all nations: To call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify His whole Church, on earth as it is in heaven; daily and richly to forgive you all of your sins.

He has set His servants to care for His household. To feed and clothe, to nurture and teach His family. To keep watch, both day and night. To guard your coming and going by His Word. To guide all your days and your deeds in His Peace.

So, also, to you He says: "Be on the alert!" Take heed. Be watching for Him and waiting upon Him. Set your heart on the pilgrim’s way, to live by faith as a sojourner through this world, a wayfarer on earth. Lift up your head, your heart and your mind, unto Christ your Savior; unto Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, who shall cause you to stand in His glorious presence, blameless and beloved before the God and Father.

Keep yourself in that Love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.

But how?

He has taught you how, and He continues to catechize you in the way you are to go, which is the way of life in Him:

Build yourself up on your most holy faith by giving attention to the Word of Christ. Hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it. Avail yourself of the Gospel, that is, the preaching of Christ, His Word of Holy Absolution, the administration of His Body and His Blood in remembrance of Him. Return daily to the significance of your Holy Baptism in His Name. You will not overdo it or get too much of Christ Jesus.

Pray in the Holy Spirit: at all times, without ceasing. Not by your own reason and strength, but by the Word of Christ, as He has spoken to you and taught you to pray (and promised to hear you). Pray throughout your days, in the morning when you rise, and in the evening when you lay you down to sleep; when you sit down to eat, and when you have eaten your fill. Let your life itself be a kind of prayer, as you go about your vocations and serve your neighbors in love. Pray also within the Communion of the Church, as belonging to the Body and Bride of Christ, the Lord.

Wait eagerly, even anxiously, for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, unto eternal life. Set your hope fully on Him, and fix your eyes on Him by faith in His Word and promises. Do not be consumed by the temporal, perishable things of this life on earth, but comfort and strengthen yourself with the divine, eternal things of Christ.

And as you wait upon His mercy, so have mercy on your neighbor: Comfort and encourage the doubting in their weakness and fear. Save others by snatching them out of the fire with admonition and exhortation; but call them to repentance in all fear and humility before God, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

Have mercy, as you also depend upon the mercy of God in Christ; for He is merciful indeed. Be gentle and compassionate, as He is gentle and compassionate with you. Forgive, as you yourself are freely forgiven.

Have no fear, and do not despair; for the Lord helps you in your weakness and doubts, and He saves you from the fire. He persists in His constant prayer and intercession for you, as He ever stands before the Father in heaven as your great High Priest. He faithfully speaks His Word to you, His Law and His Gospel, so that you are not left to your own devices of sin and death.

In calling you daily to repentance, He calls you daily to faith in His forgiveness of all your sins, to find your Sabbath rest and perfect peace in His righteousness and holiness, in His innocence and blessedness forever. Indeed, the forgiveness that is already yours in His holy, precious Blood delivers you from every evil of body and soul, unto that day and that hour when He shall finally call you from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven. Even now His fruitful Cross shines the summer sunshine of His faith and love upon you in His Peace.

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

14 November 2009

Draw Near to God in the Body of Christ

How shall you endure to the end, and be saved?
How shall you go to heaven? How shall you draw near to God and live?
There are all manner of impressive possibilities clamoring and competing for your attention and allegiance: the nation, your family, your self, and any number of different "churches"; then there's hard work, money and investments, "love," popularity and fun, entertainment and fashion.
But everything on earth will be torn down, and the earth itself will perish and pass away.
Only Christ and His Word remain, steadfast and forever, risen from the dead and seated at the Right Hand of the Father. Look to Him, and cling to Him, and confess His Name. Listen to Him, trust His Word and live according to it.
And be on your guard. Do not be frightened, but see to it that no one misleads you. For not everyone who claims to come in the Name of Jesus, and not everyone who calls Him, "Lord, Lord," speaks by His Holy Spirit. But, as for you, listen for the preaching of His Cross.
The preaching of the Cross is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name. That is the voice of Christ which saves you. For it is by His Cross and Passion that He has redeemed you from sin and death, and by His Cross that He brings you into heaven, into the presence of God, to live.
But know this: His Cross divides the world. It divides nations and families, kingdoms, and churches, and your own heart and life. It kills, in order to make alive. It wounds, in order to heal. And it must be so.
So it is that, if you belong to the Crucified One, you will be hated and handed over to death; because of the Name of Christ Jesus, which you bear. You will be questioned, accused and put to the test; punished and put to death, because of His Word.
These are the beginnings of the birth pangs, the narrow passage of Crucifixion with Christ, by which you are delivered out of death and damnation and finally raised from the dust of the earth unto the life everlasting in heaven.
If you renounce the Cross of Christ — if you deny His Name, reject His Word and forsake Him — you shall not stand in the judgment or survive.
But how, then, shall you endure to the end, and be saved?
For your sins not only accuse and condemn you, but they weigh you down with guilt and shame; they ensnare you and entangle you in death.
Think about it: Are you strong and courageous like Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, who stood his ground under the glare of church and state, or brave and steadfast like the holy martyrs, who did not love their life on earth but remained faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ even unto death? Or do you betray the Lord for silver and gold, or deny Him out of fear?
Be on your guard! And see to it that no one misleads you.
But do not be frightened.
Hold fast the confession of your hope in Christ Jesus. That hope will not disappoint you, for He is faithful.
His great prince, St. Michael the Archangel, and His legion of holy angels, arise to guard and keep you for His sake and by His Blood of the New Testament.
It is by and through His holy, precious blood, and by the veil He has opened for you, that is, His flesh, that you draw near to God — here and now — and you enter into the holy of holies of the true Temple, which is the Body of Christ.
Draw near with confidence. Do not shrink back or despair. If you have turned away and wandered in the past, turn back now and draw near. Do not be frightened.
By His Cross, with His own blood, by the sacrifice of Himself, once for all, He has atoned for all your sins forever. And not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.
He has washed you with pure water, with His Word and Holy Spirit, and sanctified you in both body and soul, perfected by His humble obedience unto death and by His Resurrection from the dead; perfected by His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness. He has cleansed your conscience of every stain. There is, therefore, no condemnation.
By the preaching of that Gospel, which is His forgiveness of sins, He calls the nations to Himself, and to God the Father in Him. So does He call you to enter in, to abide with Him, to recline at His bosom (at His Supper) in the bosom of His Father.
For He has endured to the end — even unto death upon the Cross. And He has been saved out of death and the grave, in His Resurrection, for you.
You, therefore, enter into His Passion, His Resurrection and salvation, by eating and drinking His Body and His Blood at His Word.
Here at His Altar are the fruits of His sacrifice, which has ended all sacrifice for sin, because it has atoned for all sin forever.
Here, in His holy body and precious blood, is the Temple of God and the Holy of Holies, which, having risen from the dead, shall never die again; which shall never be torn down, and shall never perish or pass away. This Body and Blood of Christ, which are given and poured out for you, have conquered death and the grave; and these also now conquer death in you.
For, as Jesus clearly says, this Body and Blood of His are given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins; and where there is such free and full forgiveness of sins, there is no longer any death, but everlasting life and eternal salvation.
As you are assembled here, together with your brothers and sisters in Christ, in His Name, to eat and drink His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion, you live and abide in the presence of God, and you reside in His Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.
Do not forsake this assembly, but draw near to God and enter His heaven here, as He draws near to you in the flesh and blood of Christ, the beloved Son.
And so living by His grace, and living in His presence, abiding as a member of His Body, in His Temple, brothers and sisters, parents and children, friends in Christ, love one another; for all of your sins, and all of theirs, are forgiven.
Behold, what beautiful stones you are, built into a holy habitation. Even now the Lord your God is in your midst, dwelling in His Temple with such loving-kindness. Make the circuit of His city, set here on His holy hill; look well, and take it to heart, as you walk round about this place. See the tower of His Cross; consider the bulwark of His Baptism; examine the stronghold of His Sacrament. This is your God forever; and He is your Savior evermore.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

07 November 2009

The Body and Bride of Christ

The Body of Christ is conceived and born in Holy Baptism.

His preaching of the Gospel, which is the forgiveness of sins, is the Breath of Life which animates His Body.

And the Sacrament of the Altar is the beating heart of His Body.

So, also,

The Bride of Christ is betrothed to her Groom in Holy Baptism.

His Word of Holy Absolution, that is, the forgiveness of sins, is His solemn vow to have and to hold her, even against death and hell; it is His solemn pledge of faithfulness forever and ever.

And the Holy Communion is the undefiled marriage bed within the inner sanctum of the bridal chamber, in the house that Christ has built for His beloved.


To live as the Body and Bride of Christ, is to live by faith in His Ministry of the Gospel; which faith and life He accomplishes in us by the gracious gift and working of His Word and Holy Spirit in the preaching and administration of His Gospel.

So are the children of God conceived and born of His Bride, the Church, by His grace.

03 November 2009

Lovin' it in Lala Land

A Yahoo! news blurb last week alerted me to a new arrangement between Google, Facebook, and "Lala," an online music service that I had never heard about before. Evidently it has been around for awhile, but Lala is entirely new to me. As I've had opportunity to begin playing around with it, I'm really lovin' it, and I suspect that others might appreciate it, too.

Lala has a catalog of 7 million songs. You can listen to any of those songs in its entirety for no charge. That's better than the 20- or 30-second song clips that you can listen to on Amazon or elsewhere. If you want to check out a new song or artist, you can do so at Lala without any cost.

You can also upload your own music collection onto your Lala site, and then access your music from any other online computer. That's nice for me, as I've been methodically ripping my CDs onto my laptop over the past year or so; now, via Lala, I can access them and listen to them from pretty much anywhere else.

Of course you can purchase music from Lala, too, although you don't have to buy anything. You can add songs to your online collection for 10 cents apiece; or download them as MP3 files for 89 cents. I'm not buying any downloads, but there's a lot of "one-hit wonders" out there, and I'm glad to add some of those to my online collection of songs. Then I can listen to them on demand when nostalgia strikes.

Lala is now linked up with Facebook, too, in such a way that you can share songs and make music recommendations, or let your virtual friends know what you are listening to (or not).

For me, this is all quite exciting. If you'd like to check it out for yourself, you can do so here.