30 December 2010

Believing is Seeing

If seeing is believing, and if what you see is what you get, then you're in trouble. Because what you see, in yourself and all around you, is sin and death.

But what you hope for is not yet seen. Why would you hope for it, if you could already see it?

Indeed, it has appeared in the Person of the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, the Babe, the Son of Mary, the Man crucified under Pontius Pilate. It has appeared in His flesh and blood, in the humble form of a servant, subjected to the Law and put to death for the sins of the world.

To be sure, in His face shines the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God, and in His Resurrection from the dead He has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.

For He has appeared in order to take away sins, to destroy all the works of the devil, to conquer death, and to make you a child of His own God and Father, by His grace, in His mercy and Peace.

And yet, again, that is not what you see. For it has not yet appeared what you will be.

You know that in Him there is no sin. He is pure, and He is righteous. Therefore, no one who abides in Him sins — and by the same token, no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. The one who is born of God does not sin — and cannot sin — because He is born of God, and His Seed abides in Him. By contrast, the one who practices sin is of the devil, whose works Christ has come to destroy.

This hardly gives you any cause for joy, nor does it give you peace in the face of death. For you know that you are sinful and unclean, impure and unrighteous in all your thoughts, words and actions. Surely what you deserve is nothing but punishment, here in time and hereafter in eternity.

What, then, is your hope? It is Christ Jesus, who has appeared in humility, an obedient Servant of God for man; who hides Himself under the Cross and conceals Himself in weakness, in order to reveal and give Himself to you in love.

In Him there is no sin of His own, but He has come and taken all of your sin, and the sins of the whole world — away from all of us, upon Himself, even in His own Body unto His death upon the Cross.

He is pure, and He is righteous, but He submits Himself to the Law, to all of its demands and all of its judgments; He keeps all that it requires, suffers all its punishments (for the sins of others), and fulfills it perfectly, in order to purify you by His sacrifice, and to justify you in His Resurrection.

Beloved, now you are a child of God, because He has called you so by His Gospel. He has adopted you in mercy and by grace through the forgiveness of all your sins.

Daily and richly He forgives your sins with His Word of Absolution, by His cleansing blood, so that as often as you sin, your sin is being washed away and removed from you and put to death in Christ. There is no sin counted against you, because the Righteousness of Christ covers you and avails for you before His God and Father, as though you had no sin whatsoever.

Though you are dying and your flesh is growing weaker and wasting away every day, yet you live and shall not die, because Christ and His Life abide in you. His Spirit breathes in you by His Gospel.

His purity adorns you with His Glory and His princely beauty as the Son of God. While He, for now, appears so small and weak, so helpless and hopeless, so cursed and crushed underfoot, condemned by the Law and put to death on a Cross.

What you see is actually no more obvious than what St. Simeon saw with his eyes — nor any less: a Babe in arms, or bread and wine; a mom and dad, or a pastor in vestments.

It is not your eyes, but the Word and Spirit of God who reveal the Christ to you and grant you the faith to fix your hope on what you cannot see, to believe and trust what you cannot feel.

You are righteous and devout, you are pure and holy, by such faith in Christ; not because you have sought Him out and found Him, but He has sought you out, and He has found you.

Here today, by His Holy Spirit through His Word of the Gospel, He has brought you to His Temple to meet Him in His flesh and blood, to take His Body into your own, to be forgiven and at peace, and to live in the Light of His revelation to the praise of His glorious grace.

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

28 December 2010

For You and for Your Children

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

The promise is for you and for your children. There is hope for your future. Your work will be rewarded. For out of Egypt God has called His Son. Therefore, all His children, in the same Lord Jesus Christ, will return from the land of the enemy to the Lord’s own territory, to His good land.

But here is another story and another big question for those who wonder and ask why God allows such evil in the world. If there is a good and all-powerful God, why doesn’t He simply prevent sin and put a stop to wickedness?

Why must His Son flee to Egypt in the first place? And why on earth is Herod permitted to slaughter all those innocent baby boys? They were just little children — picture Cillian Grobien and Evan Horner — and did they have to be sacrificed for the sake of some object lesson, or to make some dramatic point?

Be sure of this: God is not the author of evil, but neither did any of these events happen outside of His providential care and permissive will. Nor does He suffer lightly the death of any creature.

The Lord Jesus goes into Egypt, because He has come to save His people from their sins. He escapes the tyrant’s sword, for no one takes His life from Him, but He will lay it down willingly, in faith and love, when the time has come. And then He will take it up again.

As His Father calls Him out of Egypt when the tyrant has died, so will His Father raise this same Son Jesus from the dead, when that last great enemy has been defeated for us by the Lord’s own sacrificial death in our human flesh and blood.

So do the little lambs of Bethlehem follow this Lamb of God through death into life, because He is their Salvation, His Cross their Passover, His Resurrection their Exodus.

As before, another Joseph now brings his Father’s family into Egypt, lest they perish, in order to preserve the world from death. In the midst of the story, in the middle of the night, he has no way of knowing how events will unfold, and he has nothing to guide him or go on except the Word of the Lord, His warnings and His promises. With that, he goes in faith, and everything ensues and is fulfilled in accordance with the Scriptures.

In other words, the situation then was not so very different from your own. In the middle of living your life where God has placed you, caring for the neighbors He has entrusted to your love, working the job He has given you to do, and suffering the Cross He lays upon you, your eyes cannot see, your heart cannot feel, and your mind cannot imagine where things are going. Yet, you do know where your life story is written, with its happily-ever-after in Christ Jesus.

Both His Cross and His Resurrection are yours. So you also follow the Lamb wherever He goes.

That can be downright scary, can’t it? Only do not allow your fears to master you, neither in the violent anger of Herod, nor the inconsolable weeping and mourning of Rachel for her children. Both hatred and despair flow out of fear — not the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom and is always coupled with love and trust in Him — but, no, hatred and despair flow from the fear of death, which is the fruit of idolatry.

To lose your temper, to rage and storm at your neighbor, even to lash out in violence, is at once to make of yourself a false god and at the same time to demonstrate your weakness, fear and insecurity. The almighty power of the one true God is not found in such uncontrolled anger, but is chiefly manifested in His tender pity, mercy and compassion toward us poor miserable sinners.

In light of such grace, mercy and peace from your God and Father in Christ Jesus, to throw up your hands in hopeless despair, or to give yourself over to wailing grief and mourning, refusing to be comforted, is to reject the Lord who loves you in favor of atheism. To act as though there were no hope, nor any reason to go on, is to live as though there were no God, no Savior and no Lord.

That is the false belief, despair, and fear that reside in your sinful heart and in your mortal flesh. Therefore, the Lord your God lays the Cross of Christ upon you — not to atone for your sins, for Christ has already accomplished that by His death in your place, but in order to crucify and kill the idols that reign as tyrants in your heart, and to work repentance in you, in your heart and mind and body and soul, unto faith and life in His forgiveness of your sins.

He puts you to death, in other words, with all your sinful unbelief, ungodly fear, violent rage and desperate sorrow, in order to call you out of Egypt as His own dear son.

He does not do this at your expense, but at great cost to Himself for your benefit and profit. Nor does He destroy your children for the sake of teaching you a lesson. But He may, in love, allow your children to suffer and die — under the Cross — in order to break your idolatry and call you to repentance — and at the same time, to call your children from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven. For He is their true God and Father, who loves them more than you do, who cares for them far better, and who is Himself their everlasting life and eternal Salvation in Christ Jesus.

So did God put Father Abraham to the test, when He commanded him to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved. But so did God spare Isaac and sacrifice His own dearly-beloved only-begotten Son, Christ Jesus. It is in such love, with His own Self-sacrifice and Self-giving, that God the Father deals with you and with your children.

It is far too easy for you to make false gods of your children, or of yourself as their parent; or of your spouse and marriage; or of your job, your house and home, your family and friends. All of these are good things, blessed gifts of God’s grace, but they are to be received in faith, in the fear, love and trust of the one true God above all else.

Therefore, you are to love and care for your children as God has commanded, putting their needs ahead of your own comfort and preferences; as St. Joseph cared for the Christ Child and His Blessed Mother Mary, and as pastors are likewise given to care for the Lord’s Church and His children of all ages. For the Lord’s providential care of His people is exercised through His creation, through earthly ways and means and “masks,” through those who are His messengers and servants in faith and love. So does He give you to serve your neighbor, and so does He give your neighbor to serve you.

Proceed in that calling of faith and love, in the confidence of Christ Jesus. In accordance with the Holy Scriptures, God has called Him out of Egypt; the Father has raised His beloved Son from the dead. That is your future and your hope. That is the great reward that you also receive for His good work of Redemption. It is His sure and certain promise to you — and to your children.

It is His Peace to calm your anger, His security to calm your fear, His comfort in all your sadness. Because the Exodus of Christ Jesus — through death into life by His Cross and Resurrection — is your forgiveness and your righteousness, your innocence and holiness, your eternal bliss and blessedness. So does He wipe away every tear from your eyes, so that even now, by His grace, through faith in His Gospel, you behold the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, and the Lamb who was slain upon His throne, alive forevermore, reigning in love.

No tyrant is He, but a most gracious and benevolent King. He cleanses you and your children, and your children’s children, with His own Blood, shed for you upon His Cross, and poured out for you here at His Altar, for the forgiveness of all your sins. And He clothes you, likewise, with the pure white robes of His beautiful righteousness. And He feeds you from His own tender hand, with His own holy body.

Though you are very little, weak and small, do not be afraid. Rest here from your labors in the Peace of Christ. In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

21 December 2010

Wounded with Love, in order to Love the Weary, Weak and Wounded

Another pastor once offered his theory that St. Thomas was called “Didymus,” which means “twin,” because he looked a lot like Jesus and was frequently mistaken for Him. There’s no way to know for certain, and it doesn’t change anything, in any case, but it’s a compelling suggestion. It may help to explain why St. Thomas was so skeptical; if he were used to having people think he was Jesus, then perhaps another “twin” had appeared to his fellow disciples.

Give him some credit, at least, for identifying the real Jesus with the wounds of His holy cross. St. Thomas got that much right, even in his doubts and unbelief.

This is not the first we hear of St. Thomas the Twin. The other holy evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, only mention his name (paired with St. Matthew) in their lists of the Twelve Apostles. But St. John records several occasions on which St. Thomas steps to the fore and speaks up.

When Jesus determined to go to Bethany after His dear friend Lazarus had died, even knowing that Jews in that vicinity (near the city of Jerusalem) were out to get Him and had already tried to kill Him, St. Thomas resigned himself to “go and die” with the Lord Jesus. (Again, that makes a special sort of sense if he highly resembled the Man.)

On that occasion, then, not only did St. Thomas witness the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, but he also heard the testimony of Christ Jesus concerning Himself, that He is “the Resurrection and the Life.” Those who believe in Him shall live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in Him, shall never die.

It should not have struck St. Thomas so remarkably and unbelievably, therefore, that the same Lord Jesus Christ had Himself risen from the dead (just as He had said He would at several points along His way to the Cross). It should not have come as such a surprise to St. Thomas or any of the other disciples, but, in fact, it caught them all off guard. Each and all of them doubted the resurrection initially (and more than once), even with the risen Lord standing right in front of them. Actually, St. Thomas is relatively quick to believe and confess when he sees the evidence of our Lord’s crucified and risen flesh.

Less than two weeks previously, on Maundy Thursday, St. Thomas had stated that he and the other disciples did not know where Jesus was going, so how could they know the way or follow Him on His journey to the Father. In response, Jesus declared that He is “the Way, the Truth, and (again) the Life.” It is by Him alone, and by no other way or means, that His disciples come to the Father — through His Cross, and in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension to the right hand of God the Father almighty.

“He who has seen Me,” Jesus says, “has seen the Father.” Believe His Words, therefore, which He speaks from the Father. Or else believe His works, which are the works of His Father.

Or, as here, believe His wounds, which proclaim His Gospel and evidence both His Cross and His Resurrection. For here is the Paschal Lamb of God, who has been sacrificed and slain for us, and yet, behold, He lives forevermore, never to die again.

As for St. Thomas and the other disciples then, so also for you now, and forever: You do not and cannot have God as your Father, nor do you breathe His Breath of Life, that is, the Holy Spirit, except in the fellowship of this incarnate Lord God, the crucified and risen Jesus Christ — fellow-ship with Him in His wounded and glorified Body of flesh and blood.

You find and have that fellowship with the incarnate Lord Jesus in the fellowship of His Body, the Church. He comes to you and is with you in that gathering of His disciples, within His House where His Word is preached and His Sacraments are administered in His Name. So has St. John described the events of today’s Holy Gospel with the Divine Service of the Lord’s Day in view.

The Eighth Day — in this case, the day when St. Thomas is met by the Lord, who grants him peace and restores his faith through the testimony of His wounded hands and side — this is the eternal day of the Lord’s Resurrection. It is the day of Holy Baptism and of the Holy Communion. It is the day of the Divine Service and the Pax Domini.

Here, also, by the Gospel–Word and Sacrament of the same Lord Jesus Christ, even on a Tuesday evening in the middle of December, we are gathered together in His Name, in the midst of His disciples, and we enter with Him and all of them into the Eighth Day, into the eternal sunshine of His Love. This is the morning for which the watchmen wait in hope.

Here is where and when and how the Lord is with you, hidden from your eyes, but no less present in His Body of flesh and blood than He was with the disciples then.

The first mistake that St. Thomas made was in not being gathered together with the other disciples — whatever his reasons may have been for not being there. His sinful doubts and fears and unbelief are not relieved but fostered and exacerbated by his absence from that fellowship of the Church. He does not see the Body of Christ on the First Day of the week, because he is not gathered with the Body of Christ in the company of his brothers.

He is there on the Eighth Day, however, on the Octave of the Resurrection, the Second Sunday of Easter, because of the confession and witness of the other disciples who have seen the Lord. In this, they begin to serve their office and vocation as holy Apostles of Christ Jesus.

So also should you seek out your brothers and sisters in Christ when they have been missing from the Divine Service; search them out, and confess and testify to them what He says and does for you here in the fellowship of His Body, the Church. Encourage them to come with you, to be here with the disciples of the Lord Jesus — even (or especially) if they are struggling with doubts and fears and incredulity; even though they may be weary, weak and wounded in heart and mind, body and soul. Invite them to come, encourage them to come, and bring them along with you.

The Church is precisely the place for the weary, the weak and the wounded, for those who are hurting, doubtful and afraid.

It is the place for you, no matter your wounds that will not heal in this life on earth; no matter the scars you bear on the inside or on the surface; no matter your personality, your cynicism, skepticism or sarcasm, your sickness, suffering or sorrow.

The wounded Body of Christ is the place for you. Reach here, then, with your finger and your hand, to see and touch and feel and handle His holy wounds, His sacred scars. For He has been wounded in His love for you and for all, in order to love the weary, the weak and the wounded with His sacrificial flesh and blood.

Again, St. Thomas had that part right, even in the depths of his doubts, depression and despair. He looks for the Lamb who was slain. He understands that the real Lord Jesus is the Crucified One — and that remains so, even in His Resurrection. His glorified Body bears the scars of His Cross, because His Body has been glorified by the wounds He has suffered in love for us poor sinners.

He is recognized, rightly, not “in spite of” His wounds, but especially by His wounds. Indeed, He is recognized in His wounds, not only as Jesus of Nazareth, but as the Lord and God, and as your Savior and Redeemer.

He is recognized in His wounds,
and His disciples are brought to faith in His wounds.

So where do you see and touch those wounds of Christ in His Body?

First of all, in His means of grace. He approaches you by the preaching of His Gospel, which is the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection, the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins in His Name. That preaching breathes into your body, through your ears, the Spirit of Christ — from His Cross into your body, unto the resurrection of your body from the dust of the earth to the life everlasting.

His preaching of the Cross also brings you to His Baptism, whether to be baptized in the first place, if you have not been, or to return you to the significance of your one Holy Baptism through contrition for your sins, repentance, confession, and faith in His Absolution or forgiveness.

By that ongoing significance of your Baptism, you are daily united with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus in His Cross and Resurrection. You die and rise with Him, as you are baptized into His riven side, and you are washed and cleansed in the water and the blood that are poured out from the wounds of His Body upon your body and soul.

He has drowned your old Adam in that death-dealing and life-giving flood of Holy Baptism, and He has brought you through the Red Sea and the Jordan River of your Baptism, and brought you safe and dry aboard His holy ark of Christendom, so that you are now a sheep of His pasture, a member of His Body, the Church.

Here in His House, at His Table, He who is both your Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God, who has laid down His own life for the sheep and shed His blood for their Atonement and Redemption, feeds you from His wounded hands with His holy Body and precious Blood.

Not only have you entered His wounds through Holy Baptism, but you feast upon His wounded Body here in the Holy Communion, and with His own flesh and blood, the fruits of His sacrifice, He enters into your wounded body to dwell with you and abide with you in peace, unto eternal life.

As He thus deals with you so kindly and so graciously, beloved, so do you also behold His wounds and reach out to them in His other disciples, your brothers and sisters within the one Body and fellowship of His Church.

Do not be afraid to care for those who are so weary, so weak and so wounded, for whom Christ Jesus Himself, your Lord and your God, has been so wounded and sorely scarred in love.

How else should you look like Jesus, so that you might also be called “Didymus,” His “twin,” and be so closely identified with Him as to be mistaken for Him? So as to be His Christian?

Love your neighbor, that is how. Tend his wounds, care for her scars, feed his hunger, quench his thirst, and soothe her doubts.

Love your brothers and sisters, with or without emotion, but surely with your words and works of mercy and of service.

Use your body to care for your neighbor’s body, as you care for the wounds in your own flesh.

And in so doing, behold the Lord Jesus, the wounded God, who has been slain for you and for your neighbor, and yet, behold, He lives: for you, in you, and through you. If you are wounded for the sake of His love; if you are beaten and bruised, mocked and ridiculed and spit upon; if you are crowned with thorns, crucified and pierced, well, then so much the more will you look like Jesus.

How can you possibly believe this? And how on earth can you ever hope to live like this, as Jesus lives, in such love for your neighbors, even for those who hate you and hurt you?

How shall you survive your own wounds, and how shall you help to heal the wounds of others? Such wounds are not pleasant or pretty. The instincts of your sinful heart and of selfish self-preservation would have you turn away in fear and loathing. So how shall you ever become otherwise? How shall you believe and love?

It is by the apostolic ministry of the Gospel of Christ, by those who come in His Name with His word, His works, and His wounds.

It is by the apostolic witness and testimony of St. Thomas the Apostle and his fellow Apostles, and the Prophets and Evangelists, and the pastors and teachers whom Christ freely and graciously gives to His Church on earth.

Beloved, you do not yet see Him, but His Apostles have seen Him, and have eye-witnessed His Baptism, His Life and Ministry, His preaching and miracles, His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension. And as they have so seen and heard and touched and handled the Word-made-Flesh, so by their confession, preaching and teaching of the Word of Christ, you are blessed by His grace, and you believe Him and love Him, sight unseen, hidden under His Cross and revealed not yet in power but in His wounds.

So here in His Church, as a member of His Body, whether you be a joint or ligament, an arm or leg, a hand or foot, a mouth or an ear, an internal organ or a weaker member, you taste and see by faith the Glory of the Lord in His flesh and blood. You see the bread and wine, which by His Word are His Body given and His Blood poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. You hear, also, His Gospel of forgiveness. You touch and handle, and eat and drink, His wounded Body, conceived and born of Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, risen from the dead and glorified — for youforever — at the right hand of His God and Father.

By this apostolic ministry of the Gospel, your fellowship is with Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, and with His Father and His Holy Spirit, and with all those who are His, with St. Thomas and all of the Apostles, and with all saints in heaven and on earth.

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

19 December 2010

The Quiet Obedience of Faith in the Righteousness of the Word

Where other sons of David have failed to follow in their father’s footsteps, and even great David himself was not always faithful, as the Holy Scriptures make plain, here now is a son of David who shows himself to be a man after his father’s heart. In fact, the Scriptures present St. Joseph, the son of David, as flawless in his obedience of faith. He is righteous, by God’s grace, and he is faithful in his righteousness. He governs himself and lives by God’s Word, and when God the Lord speaks to him, St. Joseph acts immediately to do as the Lord has spoken.

Yet, the birth of Jesus Christ and His Holy Gospel do not begin with St. Joseph and his faithful obedience, but with the Word and Spirit of God. So also for you.

It is God’s gracious speaking that precedes and brings about St. Joseph’s faithful hearing, from which his righteousness proceeds. It is God’s speaking of His Word, His speaking to us by His Son, that not only marks but makes the beginning of all things, and accomplishes the perfect fulfillment of all things in Christ Jesus.

Before there ever was King David, the Gospel that begins to make its appearance in the birth of Jesus Christ was promised through the holy Prophets in the Scriptures. This same Son of God, who has now become flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood by His conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is Himself the Word of God by whom all things were made and are preserved in love. And when already our first parents Adam & Eve fell into sin, it was this very Son of God, St. Mary’s Son, the Seed of the Woman, whom God promised and pledged and for centuries prepared to give when the fullness of time would come.

This Son of God, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, is the Prime Mover, the First Cause, the Ground of Being, the Fountain and Source of all things. But He has not simply brought things about and set them into motion. He remains alone the Author and Giver of life, in whom all His creatures live and move and have their being. He is intimately aware of His creation and of every aspect of it, from the tiniest detail to the vastest reaches of time and space. All things are His, and He is actively present unto all things to sustain them by His grace, by divine goodness and mercy.

This one true God, the Holy Trinity — who is Life and Light and Love — He creates and preserves all things in heaven and on earth for the sake of Man, the male and female, whom He has created in His own Image for the sake of His Love, in order to share His Life with them and to enlighten them with His own Spirit of holiness. Not by any compulsion, nor out of any necessity, as though God the Lord could be forced or needed anything, but in the perfect freedom of His divine grace.

He takes every initiative, and He acts in love for you, as for all. He does not ask for your help, nor does He need your help; nor does He simply offer to help you. As He created you in love out of nothing, so does He move to save you from your sins and from your sinful self, from death and damnation, to the uttermost of His everlasting life and salvation. What He is by nature, He gives to you by grace alone. It is His work, His labor of love, and His good gift — from start to finish.

What He does ask of you — His commandments of faith and love — are not for His benefit, but for your benefit and for your neighbor’s benefit. For He would have you learn to live His life, and He who has called you to be His own, sends you as an instrument of His grace, mercy and peace unto your fellow man. In this way, too, He graciously shares what is His with you and others.

The aim is not that you would “earn your keep,” nor that you must “earn your living,” but that He would give you life, and that you would thus live in His love by His grace, in the radiant light of His glory both now and forever.

That is what He does for you and gives to you, because He freely chooses to do so, because He likes you and He loves you. He really does. Not arbitrarily, nor whimsically, but from God the Father’s great heart of love for His Son, and from God the Son’s great heart of love for His Father. The freedom of His love for you is therefore the perfect divine freedom of God the Holy Spirit.

In such love, He comes to you and gives Himself to you. And so that you might know Him and receive Him in His coming to you, He also gives to you a Sign, which not only points to His great salvation, but the Sign is your Savior. That is to say, the Sign that God gives you is Himself: Immanuel, God with us, deep in the flesh. The Lord Himself comes and draws near and is with you to the utter depths of Sheol, and He remains with you in the flesh unto the heights of heaven.

That is the Sign He has given to you in your Holy Baptism, which He gives to you everywhere in His Holy Gospel, in His Holy Absolution of all your sins, and which He gives to you again this morning in the Holy Communion.

The thing about His Signs, though, is that they are only recognized by faith — not by sight. For now, at least, you know them solely by the hearing of His Word — until you shall finally see them fulfilled in the Resurrection of the body. For the Resurrection of Christ, and of His disciples, is the confirmation of the Incarnation of the Son of God and of His Redemption of the world by His Cross and Passion. But you do not yet see His Resurrection, do you? Nor your own, nor the resurrection of your loved ones from the dead.

What you see now are the Signs of the holy Cross. It is not by sight, therefore, but by the ears of faith, that you receive and recognize the glory of Jesus’ Resurrection in the Word of His Cross.

Beloved, wait upon the Lord in the hope of His Resurrection, according to His Word and promise to you. Wait in the peace of His Gospel; watch unto prayer, as He has taught you to pray and has promised to hear you; and work in those labors of love to which He has called you in this life.

Do not lose heart when your place in life is hard to bear, when your job is difficult and long, when your work seems pointless and under-appreciated, and when all your labors appear to be in vain.

Do not lose heart, nor give up hope, though you are tested and tried and frankly tired of waiting.

Do not grow weary of doing good, even if you feel like it doesn’t really matter what you do or don’t do, or whether you do anything at all. In truth, your works of love mean a great deal; they are significant in the same mysterious and hidden way as all the Signs of Christ are hidden under His Cross — because they are His good works of love in you, and they fly in the face of sin, death, the devil and hell. When everything is so hard and seems so hopeless, and it only keeps on getting harder and worse, no matter how much you try, and yet you persevere in faith and love, by God’s grace in Christ Jesus, then you are boldly confessing His Resurrection from the dead.

That matters. Not because you are saving yourself, but because your obedience of faith and your persistent labors of love are the fruits of Christ’s Cross and genuine Signs of His Resurrection.

Therefore, wait upon the Lord and hope in His Word, for His mercies are new every morning, and with Him there is plenteous redemption. Quiet your nagging doubts and fears with His Gospel, His Word of forgiveness, and with His sure and certain promises to you.

If you speak, then speak as God speaks: Confess what He has spoken to you by His Son. Pray as He has spoken, also, with the words that He has given you, in the confidence that He does help you in your weakness, and knowing that He Himself prays in you and with you and for you all the time.

Do not take any words of grumbling upon your lips, nor harbor such grumbling in your heart, nor allow such grumbling to carry on a conversation in your head. Drown out those false words with the Word of Christ. Let it ring in your ears as often as you are able to hear it; treasure and ponder it in your heart; rehearse it for yourself and with your family in the morning, at Noon, and when you go to bed at night; let it sing upon your lips and tongue, instead of grousing and complaining. So set the Word of His Cross and Resurrection against the assaults and accusations of the devil.

It is a perilous path that you are called to follow in faith and love, and you shall not be left alone to proceed unhindered. You rather walk in danger all the way, as St. Joseph also found in taking the Pregnant Virgin Mary to be his lawfully wedded wife. Whereas the glory of the Resurrection is hidden from your eyes, what you do see and feel and experience tugs persistently on your heart and mind, tempting you away from the Word of the Cross to that which has the appearance of wisdom and glory and power and might, but which the Lord has forbidden as deadly and damnable.

Adam & Eve fell for it when they turned away from all the gracious means of life that God had so generously given to them, and they took hold of the one thing He had warned them against. It was, after all, a delight to the eyes, a delicacy upon the tongue, and desirable to make them wise, so as to make them like gods unto themselves. King Ahaz, too, a son of David according to the flesh but not by faith, refused and rejected the Word of the Lord, and sought instead to find refuge and strength in the enemies of God’s people.

It’s easy to recognize their gross errors now, in retrospect, with your 20/20 hindsight. But you pursue the same false trail and fall into the same deadly trap when you will not hear nor heed the Word of God but insist upon your own wisdom, reason, inclinations, feelings and experience; when you neglect what God has given, and you attempt to take what He has not given; when you demand your own preferences; and when you chase after the lusts of your heart, mind and flesh.

In order that you would not go down that deadly path and become lost, the Lord in His mercy sends the ministers of His Word, like the Prophets and Apostles before them, to preach His Law and His Gospel. Again, as always, He takes the initiative in coming to you and acting for you.

In order to warn you against the way of death, He comes with the fiery judgment of His Law, which exposes and condemns your sin. In this, He disciplines you in love, as a good father will discipline his children — not out of anger or frustration, but out of care and concern for your life. He did the same when He cast Adam & Eve out of the Garden, lest they eat the Fruit of the Tree of Life in their fallen state and so live forever in the darkness and death of their sinful unbelief. So, too, when He disciplined Judah with the King of Assyria, in order to break their trust in idols.

When you suffer hardship and loss, and things don’t go your way; when your best laid plans go awry, and the traps you have set for others end up snagging you instead; when you feel the curse of sin, the sting of death, and the fire of God’s righteous wrath and anger, then learn to fear the Lord and turn away from all that contradicts His Word.

Do not despair of His help, nor suppose that you must earn His favor by your good behavior. But live by the righteousness of faith in His Word, and do as He has commanded, because it is meet and right so to do. Proceed in the confidence that He loves you, that His desire is your salvation, and that He has in fact redeemed you from all your sins and reconciled you to Himself by grace.

For He sends His preachers not only with the frightening thunder of His Law, but with His sweet and precious Gospel of forgiveness. You receive this grace and apostleship of the Gospel through Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who by His Cross has descended into Sheol as your dread Champion, but who has also risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven for you. The preaching of the Law and the Gospel is really the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection, that through these you should pass through death with Him into the life everlasting.

The preaching of His Cross and Resurrection is the preaching of repentance, unto faith in His forgiveness of all your sins. For what is repentance but the dying and rising of Christ worked in you by His Word and Spirit? It is what He has worked in you by your Holy Baptism into Him, and it is what He continues to accomplish in you by the ongoing catechesis of His Word of the Cross.

Now, you should know that even the Prophets and Apostles were wearied by the sinful response that often met their faithful preaching. Deaf ears and hard hearts seem impervious to the Word. It is no different now than it was for any of them. A pastor can far too easily become discouraged by the seeming hopelessness of preaching. So many people don’t even bother to listen at all, and those who do hear the preaching may still act as though it made no difference whatsoever. The pastor is tempted to suppose that the success or failure of the preaching rests upon his shoulders. And yet, he is not called to achieve results, but simply to preach and confess the Word of Christ.

Much the same is true for you also, dear child of God, within your own vocation and stations in life. If you are a husband, love your wife and give yourself for her in compassionate care, sacrificial service, steady patience and ready forgiveness, whether it seems to help or make any difference, and irrespective of whether she appreciates or even notices your efforts. If you are a wife, love and serve your husband, pray for him, submit to his headship for the sake of Christ, and care for your home and family in the faith and confidence of that which cannot yet be seen or felt.

If you are a father or mother, care for your children in peace; teach them to know their Savior, not only by your faithful catechesis of His Word, but also by the example of your own life; discipline your children in the way they ought to live, clarifying the difference between right and wrong, but so also forgiving their sins as consistently and steadfastly as the dear Lord Jesus daily forgives you.

Whatever your job may be, do your work conscientiously, not merely to please or impress men, but chiefly as a servant of God.

In all of your duties and responsibilities, be encouraged by the beautiful example of St. Joseph, and by the mercies and faithfulness of God toward that strong but quiet man of faith. In each case that God has chosen to record for us in His Holy Scriptures, St. Joseph receives the Word of the Lord without question or complaint, and he immediately gets up to do exactly what the Lord has given him to do. He takes dear Mary to be his wife, though she is already pregnant with a child not his own. He loves her and cares for her because he knows and trusts the love of God for him, on the basis of nothing more nor less than God’s Word and promise concerning her Son, Immanuel.

For his obedience, St. Joseph’s life is challenging and difficult, probably embarrassing in ways we can only imagine, and frustrating at any number of steps along the way. He allows the outward shame of Mary’s pregnancy to rest upon him. He shelters and protects her in harm and danger, taking her to Egypt, for example, and keeping her there when Herod tries to kill the Christ Child.

All St. Joseph could see with his eyes were the needs of his family, and the hurts and hardships of their life together under the Cross. Not so different than what you see and find in your vocations. But not only did the Lord provide for St. Mary and the Baby Jesus through this sturdy carpenter, a faithful son of David, indeed; He also provided salvation for St. Joseph, and for all the world.

Who would tell St. Joseph, now, that his work was meaningless, that his labors were in vain, and that the crosses in his life on earth were not worth the pain and trouble they brought upon him?

Beloved of the Lord, it is no different for you! Whatever your place in life, whatever your office and occupation, you also are given to care for the Mother of God and for the Christ Child — in caring for His Church and for your neighbors. Do not doubt that it is true. You may not even live to see the difference God makes in the lives of His people through your faithful service, but, as for the preachers of Christ, so also for you, it is not for you to achieve or accomplish, but only to love your neighbor by doing what the Lord has called you to do. He will take care of everything, as He will surely take care of you, providing for all your needs of body and soul, for now and forever.

The proof of this promise — and more than the proof, the actual accomplishment of this Word — is in the Body of Christ Jesus, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. With His own flesh and blood, crucified under Pontius Pilate for your transgressions, and raised for your justification, He gives to you the same Sign that was given to the House of David: For He Himself is the Son, Immanuel, who is God with us. He is God with you. He gives Himself to you.

Why does He do it? Because He is Jesus, which being translated means, “Yahweh Saves.” He comes to save His people from their sins. That is why He is here for you. That is what He does.

He has defeated all your enemies, and He has cast them out. He has brought peace to the Land, and He grants rest to all His people, even to you in the midst of all your labors. All that you fear has been removed. Sin is forgiven, and death is defeated. Christ is risen from the dead, and in Him all of creation is made brand new.

You cannot see it now. Your eyes will deceive you and play tricks on you, as will your sinful heart and mind, your fickle feelings and fluttering emotions. Yet, even when you see and feel death, behold the Cross of Christ, and by the hearing of His Word let faith discern His Resurrection.

Hear His Word to you now, and taste the Signs that He thereby gives to you and pours out for you: His holy Body and His precious Blood. If He has eaten curds and honey in the promised Land, so do you eat and drink a better Milk and Honey in His Kingdom, even now in His Church on earth.

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

15 December 2010

Blessed Is She

Beloved, God’s grace is greater than your need. His forgiveness is larger than all your sins. And His answers are bigger than your prayers.

But He gives you Himself and all of His biggest and best gifts in the smallest of packages, hidden under the meanest of wrappings.

Not by sight or sense, but only by the sound of His Voice do you recognize His Visitation, His coming to you and His presence. For He comes to you by the speaking of His Word, and His Word becomes flesh under the Law, under the Cross, in the womb of His Church. It is the ultra-sound of His Gospel that makes Him known, and reveals Him to your heart and mind, and opens your eyes of faith to perceive Him where He is and as He is.

The visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her relative, Elizabeth, in the final trimester of the older woman’s pregnancy, is at once the most profound Mystery and the most practical work of mercy. Every year I marvel at this story, as often as it is set before us. For the Son of God, St. Mary’s Son, our Savior, visits us in this Word of His Gospel, no less so than He visited St. Elizabeth and the unborn John the Baptist in her womb. In truth, He here visits you in much the same way that He visited them.

It is first of all a very practical Word, and a very practical visit. St. Mary was given the sign that barren Elizabeth had conceived a son in her old age, and so she went straightway in accordance with that Word to see the fulfillment of that sign. But she also went in love to help and serve her elderly relative — and in turn to learn and benefit from St. Elizabeth’s wisdom, to be strengthened in her faith and vocation by the witness of St. Elizabeth’s faithfulness and righteousness. These two women, in some respects at opposite ends of the spectrum, yet bound together in faith and by their sons, love and serve and care for each other in mercy.

Consider what it would have been like for that dear old lady in her final months of pregnancy: Heavy with the weight of the child growing insider of her, weary from the work of it, her frail mortal flesh stretched and strained by that burden under the curse of sin and death, her bones no longer so resilient as they were in her teens and twenties.

We hear nothing of St. Elizabeth after the birth and circumcision of her son, but she likely did not live long; perhaps a few more years to nurse and wean the boy. It is not a stretch to suppose that her pregnancy, her labor and delivery, broke her health and led to her decline and death. Her child grew and became strong, but he lived in the deserts until his public appearance some thirty years later, dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey. There is no indication that St. Elizabeth ever saw the Christ Child following His holy Nativity, leastwise not with her own eyes in her life on earth.

What she did see and receive was a welcome visit from her young relative, the Blessed Virgin Mary from Nazareth. The dear young Mother of our Lord came and spent the final three months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with her. Aside from everything else hidden within this Visitation was the help and comfort she brought.

And for St. Mary, too, there was the blessing and benefit of being with the wise and faithful St. Elizabeth. We know nothing from the Holy Scriptures concerning St. Mary’s father and mother, but it is possible that she may already have been orphaned, even at her young age. She was probably in her early teens, the age of many of our young ladies here at Emmaus. She was old enough to be engaged, by the standards of that culture, and her body was able to conceive and bear a child, but now she was pregnant before her wedding, before the consummation of her marriage. The very wonderful Word of God that she received in faith, by which the Lord was fulfilling all His promises and granting such grace and every blessing, was also throwing everything up into the air for St. Mary and putting her entire life into jeopardy and danger.

Sure, the Son within her womb was conceived miraculously by the Word and Spirit of God, and she herself remained a chaste and pure virgin, faithful and righteous by God’s grace. But who was going to believe that? What was Joseph going to think or say or do? And what was she to do?

She went with haste in the direction the Word of the Lord had pointed her, in the same faith with which she had prayed, “Let it be,” and in love for the Lord in her womb and for St. Elizabeth. This was her vocation set before her, and just as she believed that the Lord’s Word to her would be fulfilled, so did she trust that He would care for her and provide for all her needs.

And as she believed, so was it done for her, one step at a time.

Zacharias the priest — and Elizabeth his bride, a daughter of Aaron, the mother of the Lord’s forerunner — they would believe dear Mary’s story. They would strengthen and sustain her faith, even as their own faith would be strengthened and sustained by her confession and witness.

You should learn from this, beloved, to seek out your brothers and sisters in Christ, not only your close relatives but your fellow members of the household and family of God, to love them in faith, and to be loved by them. Resist the temptation to withdraw into ever narrowing circles and personal isolation. Faith and love, body and soul are strengthened and sustained — and both you and your neighbor are comforted and helped — through fraternal fellowship and in the mutual conversation and consolation of those who are bound together by the Gospel in the one Body of Christ Jesus.

To be faithful by God’s grace, and to be righteous by such faith in Christ, does not mean that you will never be lonely or afraid, that you will never be confused or doubtful, that you will never be worried or anxious. Even the Blessed Virgin Mary and Righteous Elizabeth bore the burdens of their mortal flesh, the frailty and weakness of their sinful hearts and minds, along with the bodily burden of their baby boys. Righteous Zacharias, too, had doubted and questioned the Word of the Lord when it was spoken to him by the Archangel Gabriel.

Do not suppose, then, that you shall simply stride forward in confident faith and never falter. Nor despair when your mind balks, your heart quails, your body trembles, and your frail flesh falls short. Rather, follow the example of St. Mary and St. Elizabeth in hearing and heeding the Word of the Lord, and proceeding in faith upon the path it sets before you. By faith, and not by sight. By the hearing of the Word of Christ.

Hidden in the womb of his mother, St. John the Baptist is already filled with the Holy Spirit and beginning to fulfill his vocation and office as the forerunner. He kicks and leaps for joy inside his Momma at the presence of the Christ, the little Lord Jesus, deeply hidden in the womb of His own Mother, and therefore doubly hidden from John! But little John points and preaches, as it were, because that is what his whole life is about. Here he is, Mom! Here He is! Here’s the Lamb of God! Here’s the Lord, in the flesh!

St. Elizabeth perceives the non-verbal preaching of her son, even as she hears the verbal confession of the young Maid Miriam, that is, her beautiful song, the Magnificat, which the Bride of Christ continues to sing with her. By this double testimony of her Lord, the Christ — who, even as a Fetus in His Mommy’s belly, is nothing less and no one else than Yahweh in the flesh — by His gracious Visitation, St. Elizabeth too is filled with the Holy Spirit. In faith and love, with great joy she cries out with a loud voice, singing a priestly chant of praise in the presence of the Lord, her God.

Here the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh Sabaoth comes home to a city of Judah. Great David’s greater Son has come to save His people from their sins, to set them free from all their enemies, from death and the devil, to establish the House of His God and Father forever, in the midst of His true Jerusalem, with peace and rest and perpetual felicity. For the body of St. Mary bears the very Son of God; hence, she is the Mother of God, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is both God and Man.

He comes with a body of His own, of the same flesh and blood as St. Mary and as all of you, in order to bear your sin and be your Savior. He bears it in His Body to the Cross, where He sacrifices Himself once for all — the Lamb of God, indeed, who takes away the sin of the world. So does He shed His holy and precious blood to atone for all your sins, to make propitiation for you and the whole world, to cleanse your conscience and to seal His Covenant with you. So does He feed you with His flesh, to strengthen and sustain you in body and soul, as He leads you out of Egypt, through the desert, into Paradise. For He is the living and life-giving Bread from heaven, the very Word of God made Flesh for you.

He comes to visit you with all this grace and every blessing in great lowliness, wrapped up in weakness, hidden in deep humility. You cannot see Him with your eyes, nor do you discern the glory of His Resurrection in the present experience of your body and life on earth under the Cross. You share His lowliness, His weakness and humility; or else, when you presume to exalt yourself, He scatters your pride, empties your hands, and brings you down from your high horse. He calls you to repentance. He closes your mouth and shuts your lips, until He shall open them to confess, to pray, and to show forth His praises by His Word.

He does all of this in remembrance of His mercy toward you. He does not forget you, even when you have forgotten Him. He remains faithful, even when you are not. Therefore, He humbles you, in order to exalt you in Himself, in His own Resurrection from the dead. That is the once barren womb from which you have been born again to a new and living hope, by the water, Word and Spirit of His Holy Baptism.

His promises to you, His gifts and benefits, His life and salvation for you, are no less miraculous, no less amazing and remarkable, than the pregnancies of a very old woman and a young virgin teen. Nor are they any less true, but just as sure and certain as Christ Himself.

What has been spoken to you by the Lord has been fulfilled for you, already in Christ Jesus, the Son of Mary, and it shall be fulfilled in you, in your heart and mind, body and soul, just as He has promised. Blessed are you who believe, by His grace.

Here He has brought you to His House by His Word and Spirit. And as soon as you hear the sound of His greeting, the proclamation and confession of His grace, mercy and peace, you also are filled with His Spirit, with the great joy and gladness of His Gospel. So do you sing and chant, and pray and confess, in the confidence of Christ the Lord, in the presence of His holy Ark and Altar.

From this Altar, in this place, by His Word and with His Spirit, hidden in the womb of His Bride, the Church, the dear Lord Jesus Christ visits you with His own flesh and blood. He feeds your mortal body with His own Body, conceived and born of Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried, risen and ascended. By this gracious Visitation, He feeds you and He fills you with good things, His mercy rests upon you, and He is borne in you, unto the life everlasting of your body and soul. For He has done great things for you, even by the nailing of His strong hands and outstretched arms upon the Cross. His mighty deeds of salvation are manifested and given to you in His deep compassion for you, in His tender mercy and kind pity upon your misery.

Blessed of the Lord, do not be afraid. He shall exalt you in the proper time. Behold, He is with you, and you have found favor in His sight. Surely, He will help you at all times and in all places, for He will never leave you nor forsake you.

As He has spoken, so shall it be done.

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

11 December 2010

Every Given Sunday

Every Sunday is Advent
and Christmas
and Epiphany

Every Sunday is Palm Sunday
and Good Friday
and Easter

Every Sunday is Pentecost
and All Saints' Day

Every Sunday is penitential
and festive

Every Sunday is the beginning
and the consummation
of the Church's life in Christ

For on every given Sunday
the Lord comes to us with His Word and Spirit

He sends His messenger before His face to prepare His way,
preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins

He comes to us in His Body of flesh and blood,
conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried,
risen from the dead, ascended into heaven,
seated at the Right Hand of the Father,
given and poured out for us at His Table

He manifests the grace and glory of the one true God
in that human flesh and blood of His, transfigured by His Cross,
by which He also makes us partakers of His own divine nature

He enters the wilderness with us,
contends with Satan as our own dread Champion,
crucifies the old Adam in us by contrition and repentance,
and raises us from the dust of death to newness of life in Him
through His free and full forgiveness of our sins

He comes in the Name of the Lord,
upon the colt and donkey of chalice and paten,
to proclaim His death among us,
to feed us with His paschal Flesh,
to cover us and seal us with His Blood of the New Testament,
and to bring us by His Exodus through death and the grave
into His Resurrection and His Life everlasting,
into the very Holy of Holies of the Father's bosom

He pours out His Holy Spirit generously upon us,
and binds us to Himself in love, as members of His Body,
as members of one Holy Communion in Him,
our Husband and our Head

Every given Sunday

Every week
of every Season

Every Year of Our Lord,
until He comes in power and great glory
to judge us righteous by His Cross and Resurrection
and He brings us into the biggest Sunday of all:
the eternal Eighth Day of His Kingdom

Wait in Patience and Rejoice in the Lord

Well, what are you waiting for?

What have you come here to see?

What do you want? And what are you hoping for?

What do you expect?

You have heard of the works of Christ, but what has He done for you lately? Where do you find yourself? And what are your circumstances?

Beloved, wait upon the Lord. Not by laziness or lethargy, but wait upon the Lord by seeking out His Word and the preaching of it, and by gladly hearing it and learning it. Wait upon the Lord by confessing His Word, and by praying in accordance with His Word, in faith, hope and love.

Wait in patience, under the Cross of Christ, not grumbling, groaning or complaining, neither against the Lord your God, nor against His servants, nor against your neighbors. Do not harden your heart against faith and love by grumbling, but persevere in prayer and confession. Speak and sing what is true and right and good, even when you ain’t feelin’ it, because God has spoken to you by His Son, and the Lord sings to you so sweetly in His Gospel.

It is better to be comforted by the Gospel in your misery, in the midst of sin and death, than to be comfortable in this world that is perishing.

The world is so impatient, precisely because it is dying. It’s time is short. But you, dear brothers and sisters of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, wait in patience and rejoice in the Lord.

Watch for Him, and wait upon His coming, and do not worry. Though you find yourself under His Cross, strengthen your heart by His Word. For He is near, a very present help in trouble — though you be imprisoned by one means or another; though you be deaf, mute or blind; though you be leprous or lame; though you are mortal, and you mourn your family, friends and loved ones.

Wait patiently upon the Lord, and trust that He will open up His hand to satisfy your every need of body and soul, for this life and forever. Trust that He will do so, despite the fact that you are impoverished in one way or another, and you would prefer to be wealthy and rich, dressed in fine clothing and living in a royal palace.

You do live under the curse of sin and death, that’s true. But the Lord Jesus Christ has turned that very curse into the blessing of His Cross: for you and for all.

Therefore, this desert wilderness in which you find yourself is not a death trap, not really, but a journey of repentance from death to life, from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to Canaan.

The Lord disciplines you here in the wilderness, because He loves you, dear child, and He puts you to death by the cross in order to catechize you in His way of life: in the faith, hope and love of Christ Jesus, in His Cross and Resurrection.

He teaches you to hunger and thirst for Him alone. He teaches you patience and faith. He teaches you to wait upon Him in hope.

This isn’t like a semester of lectures, nor even a lab. It isn’t like reading a book, studying your notes, writing a paper or preparing for final exams.

It does require listening, experience, and preparation. But you do not and you cannot prepare yourself; leastwise, not on your own.

No, the Lord sends His messenger before His face — coming to you in the wilderness, walking with you there, in the way of His Cross — to prepare His way before Him, and to prepare you for His coming. He does it by preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

That preaching, that Baptism, that repentance and forgiveness, is your preparation for the Christ, by which the Lord prepares you for Himself. It is His good work, His good and gracious gift.

He does not simply preach it and teach it, nor does He merely offer it and give it to you, but He Himself receives it, undergoes it, and fulfills it for you, in human flesh and blood like your own.

So the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence at the hands of sinful men. The Prophets and Apostles do, because they preach the Christ, the Crucified One. St. John the Baptist does, because he is the Lord’s own forerunner, who points not only with his words but with his body and his life to the sacrificial Lamb of God. And Christ the Lord Himself suffers violence, every last bit of it: all that you suffer, all that you deserve, and all that you inflict upon your neighbors. So that by His suffering and death, by His Cross and Passion, you are brought through suffering, sickness, death and the grave, into the Kingdom of Heaven.

You see, the curse of sin and death has been laid upon childbearing and childbirth, and upon every child born of a woman. It is laid upon you, because you are a sinful son or daughter of the first Adam and his wife, and it has been laid upon the second Adam, Christ Jesus, the Son of Mary, because He has come in love and voluntarily subjected Himself to the curse in order to redeem all the children of men, to save His people from their sins.

Now His Church, His own beloved Bride, in the waters of Holy Baptism, gives birth to the children of God in His Kingdom, through the bloody labor of His Cross and the delivery of His Resurrection from the dead. Whoever is born from that womb is greater even than John.

Therefore, do not take offense at the Lord’s Cross: not in its historical fact and victory, but neither in its preaching to you, nor in your own life as His disciple. The last of these is where it is most heavy and hard to bear.

But wait upon the Lord in patience under the Cross, not complaining but rejoicing in His Gospel. Rejoice at all times and in all places, in any and all circumstances, in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection.

Rejoice in the Lord, for He does set prisoners free.

Rejoice, for He does cleanse lepers and heal the lame; He casts out demons and cures diseases.

Rejoice, for He does feed and clothe, shelter and protect the poor; He provides for all their needs.

And again I say, Rejoice. For He does raise the dead from the dust of the earth to live forever and ever. Amen.

All of this He has experienced, done and accomplished for you — in Himself — in His own patient waiting upon the Lord, His God and Father — by His Cross and in His Resurrection.

And He gives it all to you by grace: into your ears, into your hands, into your mouth, and into your body. He gives it to you by the preaching of His Gospel to you; by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection; by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.

So that He makes His Advent and draws near to you — in your own prison, and in your desert wilderness — by this preaching of His.

This preaching is the crescendo of His grace and glory as the Christ, the Crucified one. And it does and gives as good as it speaks! Even while yet hidden under the Cross, it does as it says.

His preaching opens your ears to hear, and your heart to believe, and your mind to comprehend.

His preaching opens your lips and your mouth to pray and confess.

His preaching opens your blind eyes to see Him by faith in His hidden Mysteries of the Cross. So that you recognize Him and His Victory in Holy Baptism, and you recognize His Body and His Blood in the bread and wine of His Holy Supper.

His preaching provides you with water in the wilderness, streams and pools of cool clear water in the desert. Water to cleanse you and your dirty feet. Water to quench your parched mouth and desperate thirst.

His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins prepares the way of the Lord before His face, and leads you in His paths of righteousness by faith, and keeps you on the narrow Highway of Holiness. Surely there are dangers on your right and on your left, and yet, because you are ransomed and redeemed by the Lord, reconciled to God and righteous in His sight, the roaring lion who is on the prowl, who is seeking to devour you, and the vicious beasts that would destroy you — they are all kept at by. The wild things cannot harm you, because the Lord is with you.

"How so?" you ask. For you still suffer harm, and hurt, and heartache, hunger and even death.

But have you not heard? Christ also, before you, has suffered all these things, and more, and everything that you suffer. He has spent His time in the wilderness, where the wild things are.

Surely He has also died your death.

And God raised Him from the dead for you!

Therefore, no hurt or harm, no heartache or hunger, no suffering, sickness or death, shall have you forever.

Rather, taste and see, even here and now — in the House and at the Table of the Lord; in His Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven; even in the presence of your enemies — taste and see the great Feast to which the Highway of Holiness leads you by the Cross.

With His Body and His Blood, Crucified and Risen, the Lord Jesus answers all your questions and concerns. He answers all your prayers, too, with this resounding “Yes” and “Amen.”

Though you were born of a woman under the Law, under the curse of sin and death, you are now born again of the free woman, the heavenly Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ, the daughter of God; so that, now and forever, you are His dear child and heir, a royal citizen of His Kingdom.

Though you have been shaken by a fierce wind, still, you are not bent or broken or blown away; your dimly burning wick is not snuffed out.

Though you have been naked and ashamed, and are rightly garbed in sackcloth and ashes, here, indeed, you are dressed in the fine clothing of your Baptism, which is the righteousness of Christ.

And though you still sojourn through a desert wilderness, here you live and abide in the true King’s Palace in perfect Peace and Sabbath rest at His festal board.

Here, then, beloved of the Lord Jesus, eat, drink, and rejoice. For He is with you, and all is well.

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

Christmas Tide 2010-11 at Emmaus

The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Eve (24 December, 7:00 p.m.)

Evening Prayer with Lessons and Carols

Office Hymn
Silent night, holy night (LSB 363)

First Lesson
Genesis 3:8–15 (The promised Seed shall bruise the serpent’s head)

First Carol
Now sing we, now rejoice (LSB 386)

Second Lesson
Genesis 22:15–18 (The Lord’s gracious promise to Abraham)

Second Carol
On Christmas night all Christians sing (LSB 377)

Third Lesson
Isaiah 7:10–15 (The Virgin shall conceive and bear Emmanuel)

Third Carol
It came upon the midnight clear (LSB 366)

Fourth Lesson
St. Luke 1:26–38 (The Annunciation unto the Virgin St. Mary)

Fourth Carol
A great and mighty wonder (LSB 383)

Fifth Lesson
Isaiah 60:1–6 (The Glory of the Lord has risen upon you)

Fifth Carol
Angels from the realms of glory (LSB 367)

Sixth Lesson
Isaiah 62:10–12 (The Lord comes with salvation for you)

Sixth Carol
Joy to the world (LSB 387)

Seventh Lesson
St. Matthew 1:18–25 (The Birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior)

Seventh Carol
Away in a manger (LSB 364/365)

Eighth Lesson
1 John 4:7–16 (Let us love one another, for love is from God)

Eighth Carol
Once in royal David’s city (LSB 376)

Ninth Lesson
St. John 1:1–14 (The Word became Flesh and dwells among us)

Ninth Carol
O come, all ye faithful (LSB 379)

Processional Out
Angels we have heard on high (LSB 368)

The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord
Midnight ChristMass (24 December, 11:00 p.m.)

Isaiah 9:2–7
Titus 2:11–14
Luke 2:1–14 (15–20)

Processional Hymn
Of the Father’s love begotten (LSB 384)

We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth (LSB 382)

Hymn of the Day
From heav’n above to earth I come (LSB 358)

Offertory Hymn
Let all mortal flesh keep silence (LSB 621)

Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is (LSB 372)
A great and mighty wonder (LSB 383)
The infant priest was holy born (LSB 624)

Processional Out
Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light (LSB 378)

The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day (25 December, 9:00 a.m.)

Isaiah 52:7–10
Hebrews 1:1–6 (7–12)
John 1:1–14 (15–18)

Processional Hymn
Of the Father’s love begotten (LSB 384)

Gradual Hymn
Rejoice, rejoice this happy morn (LSB 391)

Hymn of the Day
We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth (LSB 382)

Offertory Hymn
Come, your hearts and voices raising (LSB 375)

Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
All my heart again rejoices (LSB 360)
From heav’n above to earth I come (LSB 358)
Savior of the nations, come (LSB 332)

Processional Out
Hark! The herald angels sing (LSB 380)

St. Stephen, Martyr (26 December, 9:00 a.m.)
The First Sunday after Christmas
2 Chronicles 24:17–22
Acts 6:8—7:2a, 51–60
Matthew 23:34–39

Processional Hymn
Let all together praise our God (LSB 389)

We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth (LSB 382)

Hymn of the Day
The Son of God goes forth to war (LSB 661)

Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
Christ sits at God’s right hand (LSB 564)
Wide open stand the gates (LSB 639)
The infant priest was holy born (LSB 624)
Lord, enthroned in heav’nly splendor (LSB 534)

Processional Out
A great and mighty wonder (LSB 383)

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (27 December, 7:00 p.m.)
Revelation 1:1–6
1 John 1:1—2:2
John 21:20–25

Processional Hymn
O sing of Christ, whose birth made known (LSB 362)

Hymn of the Day
O Word of God incarnate (LSB 523)

Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
Let all mortal flesh keep silence (LSB 621)
O Savior of our fallen race (LSB 403)
Of the Father’s love begotten (LSB 384)

Processional Out
Thy strong word did cleave the darkness (LSB 578)

The Holy Innocents, Martyrs (28 December, 7:00 p.m.)
Jeremiah 31:15–17
Revelation 14:1–5
Matthew 2:13–18

Processional Hymn
All my heart again rejoices (LSB 360)

We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth (LSB 382)

Hymn of the Day
Sweet Flowerets of the Martyr Band (TLH #273; LSB 969e)

Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
In the very midst of life (LSB 755)
When aimless violence takes those we love (LSB 764)
What child is this, who, laid to rest (LSB 370)

Processional Out
By all Your saints in warfare (LSB 517)

The Fifth Day of Christmas (29 December, 7:00 p.m.)

Brief Spoken Divine Service

Psalm 132

Isaiah 55:1–7
St. Luke 2:15–20

O little town of Bethlehem (LSB 361)

The Sixth Day of Christmas (30 December, 9:00 a.m.)

Brief Spoken Divine Service

Psalm 93

1 John 3:1–10
St. Luke 2:22–32

Angels from the realms of glory (LSB 367)

New Year’s Eve (31 December, 7:00 p.m.)
Isaiah 30:(8–14) 15–17
Romans 8:31b–39
Luke 12:35–40

Processional Hymn
Wake, awake, for night is flying (LSB 516)

Hymn of the Day
Across the Sky the Shades of Night (LSB 899)

Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide (LSB 585)
I lie, O Lord, within Your care (LSB 885)
Now rest beneath night’s shadow (LSB 880)

Processional Out
Let us all with gladsome voice (LSB 390)

The Feast of the Name & Circumcision of Jesus
(1 January, A.D. 2011, 10:30 a.m.)
Numbers 6:22–27
Galatians 3:23–29
Luke 2:21

Processional Hymn
Break forth, O beauteous heav’nly light (LSB 378)

We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth (LSB 382)

Hymn of the Day
The ancient Law departs (LSB 898)

Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild (LSB 546)
In the shattered bliss of Eden (LSB 572)
Jesus! Name of wondrous love (LSB 900)

Processional Out
Now greet the swiftly changing year (LSB 896)

Second Sunday after Christmas (2 January, 9:00 a.m.)
1 Kings 3:4–15
Ephesians 1:3–14
Luke 2:40–52

Hymn of Invocation
The only Son from heaven (LSB 402)

We praise You, Jesus, at Your birth (LSB 382)

Hymn of the Day
Within the Father’s house (LSB 410)

Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
From east to west (LSB 385)
No temple now, no gift of price (LSB 530)
Once in royal David’s city (LSB 376)
Oh, blest the house whate’er befall (LSB 862)

The Tenth Day of Christmas (3 January, 7:00 p.m.)

Brief Spoken Divine Service

Psalm 15

Isaiah 63:1–14
St. Matthew 2:(13–15) 16–23

Once in royal David’s city (LSB 376)

The Eleventh Day of Christmas (4 January, 9:00 a.m.)

Brief Spoken Divine Service

Psalm 103

Isaiah 64:1–12
St. John 1:19–28

Hark! The herald angels sing (LSB 380)

The Twelfth Day of Christmas (5 January, 7:00 p.m.)

Brief Spoken Divine Service

Psalm 110

Isaiah 65:17–25
St. John 1:43–51

Now sing we, now rejoice (LSB 386)

The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord (6 January, 7:00 p.m.)
Isaiah 60:1–6
Ephesians 3:1–12
Matthew 2:1–12

Processional Hymn
Come, Thou bright and Morning Star (LSB 872)

O Savior of our fallen race (LSB 403)

Hymn of the Day
O Morning Star, how fair and bright (LSB 395)

Offertory Hymn
Brightest and best of the stars of the morning (LSB 400)

Hymns for the Distribution of the Holy Communion
What child is this, who, laid to rest (LSB 370)
O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is (LSB 372)
Arise and shine in splendor (LSB 396)
Songs of thankfulness and praise (LSB 394)

Processional Out
As with gladness men of old (LSB 397)

08 December 2010

Let It Be

The world with all its greed, all its pride, and all its stuff is perishing. It is broken and falling apart because of its transgressions, which end in death. The Lord will bring down its lofty heights and boastful pride, and all the kings of the earth will relinquish their thrones to Him.

The only true and lasting life is from and with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. You do not have that God as your Father, and therefore you have no real life, apart from His Son as your Lord and King.

No one has the Father apart from His Son, but neither do you have the Son unless the Father give Him to you — and give you life in His Name.

The world can neither create life nor preserve it. The world, as God's creation, can only receive life from His hand, as He gives it by grace. The world can then share what God provides, or withhold His gifts and horde them, or waste them and destroy them.

The world cannot create life, but it is able to destroy life on account of sin. Abortion is a most poignant example of that tragic condition of fallen man. For the world itself is dying, and it bears the fruits of its own sin and death.

The Lord punishes sin with death, because sin is the rejection of life, and to live in sin is already to die, even while you live.

According to both His justice and His mercy, therefore, the Lord punishes sin with death, in order to put sin itself to death, to end its reign of terror over all the children of Adam and Eve.

For the Lord remains the Author and Giver of Life, according to His own divine eternal Life and Light and Love. He puts sin to death, in order to raise His good creation to newness of life; in order to justify, redeem, and sanctify His creation. He puts sin to death, in order to recreate Man, in particular, in His own divine Image and Likeness. The male and the female, as the king and the queen of His creation, He makes brand new in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.

The Lord brings about this New Creation, He makes all things new, and He recreates Man in His Image by the speaking of His Word — "Let there be!" — and by the Incarnation, the becoming flesh, of His Word. All of this by His grace, out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in any of us.

For the sake of His Son, the Father loves you. And for the sake of His Father, the Son loves you. And by and with and through and in the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Son love you — and give you Life.

Thus, you have found favor with God, for the sake of the Father's only-begotten, well-beloved Son. And by that Son, the Father speaks to you in love, in grace, mercy and peace.

By His speaking, the Lord is with you. Do not be afraid.

He spoke to the Blessed Virgin Mary uniquely, in order to work in her by His grace for the salvation of the world through the Fruit of her womb.

He spoke, and it was so! The almighty and eternal Son of God, the very Word by whom all things were made, became flesh of Mary's flesh and blood of Mary's blood. And from her body, He took His own body.

Conceived and born of her, He who is true God from all eternity, begotten of the Father, also became true Man, your brother in flesh and blood like yours, sharing the same human nature as you have from your parents.

The fertilized Egg from St. Mary's ovary, the tiny Embryo conceived in her body, the growing little Fetus in her womb, He is the very Son of God, of one divine substance with the Father; He is the Word of God made Flesh; He is the very Image of God, in which you are recreated; He is the King of kings and Lord of lords; and He is your Savior.

This is no work of man, but the gracious gift of God. St. Mary does not choose this gift, nor does she make it happen, but she simply receives what God gives. The fact that she receives it in faith is likewise the gracious gift and good work of God.

In St. Mary's faith; in her "Amen" to the Lord's Word; in her humble trust and submission; and in her fiat — "Let it be" — you see and hear the fruits of her own dear Son, her own Lord and Savior, borne in her no less miraculously than He Himself is.

This is the beginning of the New Creation: in the Incarnation of God the Son, conceived in St. Mary's womb, and in St. Mary's faith, in her prayer and confession, and in her faithful life within her vocation.

In this Blessed Virgin, who by God's grace became the Mother of God, you are given a beautiful Icon of the Lord's Holy Church, for which this most highly-favored Lady can rightly be perceived as a royal Queen.

Eve's disobedience is reversed in St. Mary's obedience of faith. And Adam's abdication of headship and dominion is reversed in the gracious Lordship of Christ Jesus, the new and greater Adam, the Son of God and Mary's Son, who is the promised Seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and both King David's Son and David's Lord.

Here, then, is how He heals your hurts, reverses your fall, undoes your death, and delivers you from sin and every evil:

Not only does He become true Man of flesh and blood, but born of a woman under the Law, He submits Himself to the Law, to all of its demands, its judgments and its punishments. He bears upon Himself the Law's righteous condemnation of the whole world's sin, all the while He keeps and fulfills the Law perfectly for you and for all the other sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.

He suffers the curse of the Law and the consequences of that curse, namely, your death and damnation.

The Immortal Son makes Himself mortal, in order to suffer and die.

The Second Adam returns with His own Body of flesh to the dust of the earth, to the ground from which the First Adam was taken.

The Almighty and Eternal One makes Himself small and weak and utterly dependent.

He humbles Himself and is obedient, even unto death upon the Cross. Thus He descends into the depths of your sin and death. He enters the bowels of Sheol.

All of this He does — for you and for all, by divine grace — in human flesh and blood — in the original and perfect faith of the Father's beloved Son.

He obeys the Father's good and gracious will, because He fears, loves and trusts in His God and Father above all else.

And His Father does not fail Him, nor forget Him. He does not abandon His holy and beloved One to the pit. He does not suffer His Son's Body to decay in the grave. But He raises this Lord Jesus, the Son of Mary, from the dead.

He exalts the One who has humbled Himself for you.

He fills up and satisfies the One who has hungered and thirsted for righteousness.

He bestows His Kingdom upon this One, His royal Son, who has been faithful in all things, a true Man with God's own great heart of love.

In His raising of St. Mary's dear Son from the dead, God the Father has set Him upon the throne of His Father David forever, to reign with the righteousness of God, which exercises mercy, compassion, forgiveness and salvation.

This true King justifies sinners by His own Cross and Resurrection. Thus, when He judges you with His Law and thereby puts you to death, it is in order to raise you from the dead with His Gospel of forgiveness, redeemed from sin, death and hell, reconciled to His God and Father in heaven, and perfectly righteous with His own royal righteousness.

He speaks — and it is so! He comes to you in grace, He favors you in love, He embraces you in peace.

He gives Himself to you, by and with His Word and Spirit, but so also in His own flesh and blood for your body and soul, your heart, mind and spirit. He lays hold of your mortal flesh with His Word of Absolution, with His preaching of the Gospel of forgiveness, with His good Spirit, and with His own Body, in which He has swallowed up death forever and ever.

With His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, death and the devil can no longer oppress you. With His righteousness credited to you, Satan cannot accuse you of anything, because you are not guilty but righteous.

In fact, you are a royal brother or sister of this King, a son or daughter of His Father, and so a prince or princess of His royal court. And here in this place, upon this Mount Zion, in the midst of this true Jerusalem, on earth as it is in heaven, the Lord of hosts has prepared a lavish banquet for you — a royal wedding Feast for His holy Bride, the Church.

The same flesh and blood He received from St. Mary's body, and offered as a sacrifice for your Atonement on His Cross, He serves to you from this Altar, His Table in His House, as the choicest Meat and the finest Wine.

Each Lord's Day and Festival Day, when He feeds your Body with His own, and He mingles His Blood with yours, even as He breathes His Spirit into your body through your ears and gives you life, He removes the veil of death from over you and glorifies His Name in you, both body and soul.

Though the world is perishing and passing away, and though your mortal flesh is returning to the dust, you have within your body, in your belly, the Lord your God, Yahweh Sabaoth in the flesh, your Savior and your King.

As surely as He is risen from the dust of the earth, and lives and reigns to all eternity — in love for you! — so surely are you raised, in and with Him: Daily through the forgiveness of all your sins, and at the last, in the resurrection of your body to the life everlasting, when you shall be like Him, immortal, imperishable, and all-glorious.

With the Blessed Virgin Mary, then, open your mouth to sing, "Glory to the Righteous One." Exalt Him, give thanks to His Name, and magnify the Lord your God. You have waited for Him. Behold, He comes. Rejoice and be glad in His Salvation.

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

04 December 2010

Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand

The Lord is coming. As surely as He made the heavens and the earth — as surely as He drowned the unbelieving world in the waters of the flood, and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness — as surely as He was conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried — as surely as He has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity at the right hand of His Father — so surely is He coming to judge the living and the dead.

The Lord shall come in power and great glory for the final judgment at the last, this is most certainly true. But He is already coming to you here and now, to judge you in His righteousness. His Kingdom is at hand, as He Himself is here at hand in the preaching of His Word, in His flesh and blood, and with His Holy Spirit.

If you would receive this Lord, your God, as your Savior and your King, make ready His way in your body and life. Clear and straighten your path to coincide with His.

Repent. That is what His voice cries out and calls you to do.

Repent. That is your only proper response to His coming.

To repent is to be turned around, entirely, away from your willful self-pursuits, away from your covetous greed and jealous envy, away from all the false gods in your life, and to be turned unto God in Christ with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. It is to liquidate all of your own assets and investments, and to put all your eggs in the one basket of Christ Jesus.

To repent is to be crucified to yourself and to all your sins and sinfulness, to be drowned and die with all your sinful lusts and desires, and to be raised up with Christ Jesus, to live in Him alone, to trust Him completely with all that you are and have, and so to live unto righteousness and purity before His God and Father in all that you think and say and do.

To repent is not only to be sorry for your sins, but to be turned away from them altogether. It is not only to stop being bad, but to begin doing good. It is to flee the wrath of God against sin and every evil, by fleeing from sin and every evil, and to do instead what is the Lord's good and acceptable will.

As the Lord is coming and His Kingdom is at hand, and as He calls you to repent, therefore, bear the fruits of repentance.

For every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So, too, while the wheat is harvested and gathered unto the Lord, the chaff is burned up.

Make no mistake. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees.

Therefore, repent of your sins, and bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

Do not suppose that you are here called to bear the fruits of your own righteousness. For those efforts and works of your own are not good fruits but filthy, rotten and wild. What is more, if they are offered in the fear of punishment, or in the hopes of earning some reward, they only serve to increase and magnify your sinful selfishness.

The genuine fruits of repentance emerge in faith and proceed in love. The repentant heart not only fears the Lord and His wrath, but also hopes in Him alone, and trusts Him for all good things, and looks to Him in confident expectation of His mercy.

What is more, and most important, the genuine fruits of repentance are never self-made works, but they are the gift and produce of the Word of God. No tree or fruit-bearing plant produces anything apart from the Word of God and the good gifts that He alone provides by His grace. Rather, He speaks, and it is so. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall, and He nurtures His good creation with His good gifts. So does the earth bring forth its bounty for every living thing, and so do you, whom God has raised up from the dust of the earth, bring forth good fruits by the Word that He speaks to you, by the life-giving Breath of His mouth.

The first fruit of repentance is thus to confess what God has spoken to you: You echo back His Law by confessing your sins, and you echo His Gospel by confessing His mercy and forgiveness, His Christ and His Salvation. His Word opens your lips to confess what is true and right, and by your speaking of His Word you rightly honor Him and worship Him and glorify His holy Name.

With that confession of repentant faith — in that humble confidence with which you acknowledge your sin and yet hope in the Lord's gracious forgiveness — the fruits of repentance continue in true love for your neighbors. I speak not of romance, but of righteousness, that is to say, the divine righteousness of the Gospel, which is the righteousness of faith in Christ and His forgiveness.

As you have known your own sins, your own frailties and failings, and yet you have also known the Lord’s free and full forgiveness of all your sins, so do you know long-suffering patience and tender compassion for your neighbor. You do not deal harshly with his or her sins against you, but with a gentle spirit you rebuke where appropriate; you correct and guide and help where you are given to do so — as in the case of your own children, or with others who may be under your care and authority. Even so, in love you bear with your neighbor’s weaknesses and faults, and you cover his trespasses with grace. You do not hold grudges, but you are eager to forgive and forget.

So do you pray for your enemies, that God the Lord would bless them with every good thing, including the grace of repentance. You turn the other cheek when others hurt you. Instead of self-defensiveness, you are quick to defend your neighbor, to protect his reputation and to guard his interests, even at your own expense. The good fruits of genuine repentance love and serve without counting the cost or measuring any return. You gladly do good to those who would never do the same for you.

You love your neighbor fearlessly, because you fear the Lord and love and trust in Him. After all, He is your life and your salvation. He alone is your hope in the face of sin and death and every evil. He is your sure and certain confidence when you are confronted with your own sin, and no less so when you are sinned against.

If you would receive this Lord who is coming to you, and if you would enter His Kingdom here at hand, repent, and bear the fruits of repentance:

Confess your sins, and receive mercy in the Lord’s Absolution. Where you have not done what He commands you to do, confess your failure. Where you have done what He forbids, confess your wrongdoing. Acknowledge that you are sinful and unclean from the inside-out — in all your thoughts, words and deeds — and in many ways that you have not even realized or been aware of.

Humble yourself before the Lord, and trust not in yourself but in His loving-kindness, in His tender mercy and gracious compassion. Believe and confess the truth of His Law, which correctly condemns you for your sin, but so believe His Gospel all the more, which the Father speaks to you by His Son.

In that fearful confidence of Christ, submit yourself to the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins. Repent and be baptized, every one of you, and be forgiven. This promise and this gift is for you and for your children, even nursing babes and infants, and no less so for the elderly and infirm.

If you are already baptized, praise God for that gift, for that new birth of water and His Spirit, for that washing of the water with His Word, that cleansing of your conscience before Him in Christ. And so live in your Holy Baptism as a disciple of Christ Jesus, that is, by hearing and heeding His Word, by taking up the Cross to follow Him, and by returning to the significance of your Baptism each day of your life. That is to live in the way of repentance, which is by the daily catechesis of Christ, by the preaching of His Law and His Gospel, by the proclamation of His Cross and Resurrection, and by the prayer and confession of His Name. So does He put you to death and raise you to newness of life, day after day your whole life long, unto the resurrection of your body to the life everlasting in His Kingdom of heaven.

You are born again but once, in the waters of one Baptism for the remission of sins, but you continue to live and move and have your being in that new life, in the Body of Christ, by the breathing of His Spirit and by the eating and drinking of His Body and His Blood — in the repentant faith of His Word.

Therefore, die to yourself; die to your stubborn will and selfishness; and die to all your sins of thought, word and deed, to all that you have done wrong, and to all that you have failed to do right. Die to all of that which is not the one true God, in order to live by faith in Him who was, and is, and is to come. Trust not yourself, but Christ, the incarnate Son, the crucified and risen Lord, and so find in Him your true and real life with His God and Father and His Holy Spirit.

Living that divine life in Christ, bear the fruits of love for your neighbor; just as the same Lord Jesus Christ loves you and your neighbor with His whole body and life.

That is to bear the Cross of Christ, and to bear the good fruits of that Tree.

Beloved, to do so is the gracious work of Christ Jesus, which He has accomplished for you in Himself, and which He now works in you by His Word.

For you see, He has borne the fruits of repentance by His death upon the Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead. Indeed, His own Body, His own flesh and blood, are the First Fruits of repentance, and of righteousness, and of the New Creation, the Kingdom of the new heavens and the new earth.

So now, then, by the Word of His Cross, by the rod of His lips and the Breath of His mouth, He bears the fruits of repentance in you, by slaying the wicked old Adam in you, and by raising the New Man in you — and you in Him.

It is thus by His Cross, by His Word of the Cross, that He judges you with His own righteousness. For He has submitted Himself to the judgment of the Law in your place, on your behalf, so that now you share His victory, His vindication of innocence and His emancipation from the dead.

His Cross is your Atonement; therefore, His Resurrection is your righteousness.

He and His Tree were cut down and cast into the fire of God’s righteous wrath and judgment, but, lo, He and His Tree have been raised up as a signal for the nations.

By that holy Tree of the Cross, the Lord Jesus bears good fruits for you, here in the orchard of His Church: the fruits of forgiveness, life and salvation, and, to be more concrete and specific, the fruits of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion — and by these means of grace, the fruits of perfect peace and rest in Him, in His Kingdom. These good fruits are yours even now, by grace through faith in His Gospel, and they shall be yours in His heaven forever and ever.

Therefore, though you are chaff in yourself, and you are thoroughly consumed by the fire of His Holy Spirit, yet you are not destroyed forever, but you are brought through the fire with Christ Jesus. For He is pure wheat, indeed, who has passed through the fire ahead of you, in order to be baked into a wholesome loaf of living and life-giving Bread from heaven, with which He feeds you in love.

So that now, with Him, you also rise up from the fires of death, and you are baked together into Him, as one loaf — even as you all eat of the one Bread which is His Body, and you drink from the one Cup which is the New Testament in His Blood.

It is unto this great Feast of Christ that you repent — it is to this Food and Drink that you are turned — for here at His Altar, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand: not with a heavy hand, nor with an iron fist, but with the right hand of fellowship, in the Peace of reconciliation with God and with each other through His forgiveness of sins.

For it is most certainly true that He has redeemed you from sin and death by His Cross and Passion, and He has reconciled you to His God and Father in grace, mercy and peace; He has clothed you with His righteousness and faithfulness in Holy Baptism, and here at His Table, in His House, it is His great glory to grant you His Sabbath Rest: both now and forever.

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