23 January 2011

The Light of Christ

He has come to save His people Israel, to fulfill His Covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to bring about and bring to fruition His promises concerning Judah and the House of David. He truly is the King of the Jews, and He will save His people from their sins.

But it would be too small a thing for Him to save only those who are Jews according to the flesh. He is Himself the Seed of Abraham and the Son of David according to the flesh — but so also by the faith of Abraham, and according to the faith of His father David. As Abraham was called from the land of pagan idolatry on the far side of a distant river, so does the Lord Jesus call disciples to Himself from beyond the Jordan, from Galilee of the Gentiles, and from all the nations of the world. For in Him, the Seed of Abraham, all the nations are blessed.

So, too, as David gathered loyal followers to himself from the foreign peoples all around, the Lord Jesus enlarges the nation of Israel by calling all people to Himself.

In Him, in His Body of flesh and blood, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. And by His preaching of the Gospel, strangers and foreigners, enemies and exiles become true citizens of His Kingdom, true sons of His Father.

When His own native Israel rejects Him, His preaching and His preachers, He withdraws to those who were despised, neglected, far off and forlorn. He is the Light that shines in the darkness, and His Light of the Gospel brings life to those who sat all sad and gloomy in the valley of the shadow of death. He breaks the yoke of the oppressor, the burden of the Law with its accusations and condemnations. He breaks down the wall of hostility and reconciles the world to His God and Father. He grants peace, blessed peace, where there is no peace on earth: to the Middle East; to the old world, the new world, and the third world; and also to your heart and mind, your body and soul.

In Him, in His Person and work, in His flesh and blood, and in His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins, His Light shines upon you. He is the Morning Star who rises over you with healing in His wings. His Word is a lamp to your feet, a light to your path. His preaching scatters the darkness and awakens you to the dawning of a New Day: in His Resurrection.

Beloved, follow Him in the Light of that New Day, while His Light shines for you in the preaching of His Word; lest He withdraw from this place to go elsewhere.

When you try to walk by your own human sight, according to the wisdom of the world, you actually stumble around in the darkness without a clue. What the world considers bright is really foolish, and what the world calls “light” is blackest night. That is the most perverse and devastating curse of sin: the inability to see things clearly as they truly are. Everything is inside-out, like a negative image. The true Light seems so dark, while the darkness looks brilliant. Therefore, do not be deceived, for nothing is what it appears to be.

One case in point is the heinous sin and deep darkness of abortion, which our nation celebrates as a matter of personal choice and great freedom. The blindness of this great lie is sometimes so blatant as to be ludicrous, and yet over half the nation apparently doesn’t notice or simply can’t perceive wrong from right.

Perhaps some of you saw the news this past week, concerning the abortion doctor in Philadelphia who has been running what even the media have described as a “house of horrors” for the past thirty years. Atrocities abound, and countless legal violations, but the principal crime for which he has been arrested and is being charged (finally!) is that he has delivered viable infants and then used scissors to puncture their necks and sever their spinal cords. Grotesque and vile, yes, no doubt, but only inches removed from the legal “partial birth abortion” that is routinely practiced all over the country and protected by the law of the land. And it is really no different than any other abortion, which does similar violence to infants yet unborn, putting them to death.

See what evil the world’s black light would adorn with praise and glory, as though beautiful?

Now, if you have had an abortion — of if you have urged another to have an abortion — of if you have condoned or defended the legality of abortion — recognize your sin, repent of it, and cling to Christ who loves you. His Light not only reveals this sin for what it is, but also remits and removes it. You cannot restore the lives that have been taken by the violence of abortion, but the Lord Jesus brings life out of death, even as He causes the Light to shine out of the darkness.

If you have not practiced or supported abortion, praise God, but do not congratulate yourself. Repent of your own sin. Repent of your failure to help wherever and however you can.

Repent of your failure to love and care for your neighbor, whether the unwed mother God has placed near you, or your own spouse and children. If you have allowed your children to live, but have not given them your time and attention, your love and affection, Repent. Or, if you have avoided children for the same selfish and unfaithful reasons that others abort them, Repent.

The Fifth Commandment — “You Shall Not Murder” — not only forbids abortion, but it requires you to serve and protect your neighbor’s body and life: To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and defend the helpless. It requires you to pay attention to your neighbor, not for the sake of competing or criticizing, but for the sake of loving and helping. It requires that you consider the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ, for example, whose bodies of flesh and blood — like unto the Lord’s — sit alongside you here within the Lord’s House, and that you offer more than sympathy and soft words.

Hear and heed the call of Jesus, who has come to you and called you to Himself, to follow Him.

You have heard how He called Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and John the sons of Zebedee, and how they immediately left their nets, their boats and their father to follow the Lord Jesus. They left their father and mother, as it were, the way a man does when he takes a wife, that they might cleave to the Church, the Bride of Christ, as faithful husbands in His Name and stead. The yoke of the Law is removed from their necks and backs, but the yoke of Christ is laid upon them for the Ministry of His Gospel: for the benefit of their neighbors, unto the close of the age!

In the case of these and the other Apostles, they are not only given the vocation of discipleship, but the new station and office of apostleship. No longer fishermen, they are to be fishers of men. Not boats and nets, but Word and Sacrament, the preaching of repentance, the catechesis of Christ, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Holy Communion will be the tools of their new trade.

You also are called to follow Jesus, but where and how? Some of you men, I hope and pray, will be called to the Office of the Ministry, to be pastors in the footsteps of the Apostles. Some of you women may be called to the office of a deaconess in due time, as Mrs. Rhein has been this past year. But most of you will not be so called to full-time offices in the Church. Yet, each and every one of you is called to discipleship.

Where and how are you to follow Jesus?
Are you supposed to quit your job, to leave your home and family?

If you are still a child or young person, there are many possibilities — and free choices — ahead of you. Discipleship does not require any particular one over all others. But discipleship does mean that you will listen to the wisdom, counsel and advice of your parents, and that you will proceed in the fear, love and trust of God above all things.

If you are married, you certainly should know that discipleship does not require but forbids you to abandon your spouse and children.

In any case, following Jesus does not mean that you should turn your back on family, friends and neighbors (which even pagans do not normally do!); nor does it require that you must give up your honest labor. It does mean, rather, that you are called to serve all of your relationships and stations in life in the Light of the Gospel, in faith and love.

Faith and love will do no harm to the neighbor. They will never dishonor father or mother. They will never be unfaithful to husband or wife. They will never neglect or abuse son or daughter.

Faith and love may result in division within families and even within the Church on earth. Just as faith and love result in a division within yourself — between the old Adam and the New Man. There is quite a difference, though, between the division that necessarily arises in response to the faithful confession of Christ Jesus, and the division of pride, selfishness and party spirit.

To oppose or withdraw from your neighbor out of contempt or competition is sinful and wrong. But if your neighbor opposes or withdraws from you on account of Christ and your confession of His Name, know that to be the blessed and holy Cross of Christ laid upon you. Take courage, and do not be dismayed.

The fact is, wherever Christ enters in with His preaching of the Gospel, the teaching of His Word, the proclamation of repentance and of His Kingdom, there Satan, all his works and all his ways will be cast out. Where the New Creation enters in, the old creation is crucified and laid to rest. But of course your old Adam doesn’t care for that, nor the old Adam in your neighbors. Hence, division, but do not despair.

By those whom He has called and sent in His Name, Christ Jesus is still teaching in the synagogues of His Church; He is still proclaiming the Gospel of His Kingdom, even here and now to you. With this, the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God shines upon you — in His flesh, and in His forgiveness of your sins. His preaching of repentance is for your rescue. He has not come as your enemy, to destroy you, but as the enemy of your sin and death, and of the devil, in order to release you from bondage. He has come to cast out your demons, to heal your diseases, to remove your iniquities and remember them no more.

This is the news about Him that has spread even well beyond Syria — from Galilee to Jerusalem, from Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth. His Word and Spirit have spread even here, even to Emmaus in South Bend, Indiana, and by these He calls you to follow Him. That doesn’t require you to pack your bags and travel to Palestine or anywhere else in the world, but only that you hear His Word, receive His good gifts, and live in the Light of His Presence.

For He is here with you, and He is with you in your home and family, in your job and relationships. He is with you to forgive your sins and cover you with His righteousness. He is with you to uphold you by His grace, to shelter you in His mercy, to strengthen you with His own courage and compassion. He is with you in your heart and mind with His Word and Spirit, and His own flesh and blood fill your body and soul with His Life and Light and Love, His grace and peace.

He is the First Fruits of the New Creation, and you are a New Creation — a new man or woman — in Him. Even if you may be divided from your earthly family by the faithful confession of Christ Jesus, you belong to a new household and family of God in Him. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Judah and David are among your fathers in Christ, because you share with them one Lord, one faith, one God and Father, one Spirit, one Church, one life and salvation. And by one Holy Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, you belong to one Body in Him.

You and all of your true brothers and sisters — in Him — are of the same mind and the same judgment, which is the mind of Christ and His righteousness. Not by your own reason or strength, but by the faith and confession of His Gospel.

As you have heard, so do you believe, and so also speak. That is what the Creeds and Prayers and Rites of the Church provide and protect: the faithful confession of Christ and His Gospel. You speak with one another with His Word and voice, and so also for one another — you for your neighbor, your neighbor for you. You give as you receive, and together with the whole Church in heaven and on earth, you live in the Light of Christ, in the Love of God the Father, and in the Communion of the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

18 January 2011

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, Your Savior

The point is that you be saved. But you cannot save yourself. If you try, you’ll lose. You’ll barter your soul in exchange for death. If you attempt to build your own castle and tower, to make a name for yourself, it will all crumble into dust, and you along with it.

Your flesh, apart from the Spirit of the Lord, is nothing but dust, dirt and clay. Whence you were taken, thence you shall return. What, then, of your soul? Where and how shall you live?

Perhaps you will have managed to beg, borrow, bargain and steal the whole world, but when you have tasted death in your body, you’ll be no more than a restless ghost haunting the place you thought was your own.

Already, as your body ages, it’s wearing out and getting weary, getting weaker, falling apart and disintegrating. Replacement parts, additives and exercise won’t make it brand new. It won’t last.

Your body, soul and spirit are coming apart at the seams, and your body is dying, because of sin, which permeates your thoughts and feelings, your words and actions. What you say and do with your body is not good and right and true, because your spirit does not abide in harmony with the Spirit of God. Your heart does not fear, love and trust in the Lord. You do not have the mind of Christ, but you have set your mind on the interests of man, on your own selfish interests, on the wisdom of the world, and on the lies of the devil.

What you perceive to be wrong is most godly, and what you consider necessary is Satanic.

Still, God’s good and gracious will remains, His love for you, His desire and purpose that you not die but live; that you should not merely survive and exist, but that you would share His Image and Likeness and partake of His divine nature; that you would abide in Him and dwell with Him in perfect peace, in blessed communion and fellowship divine with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

From the living death that you have apart from Him, and from the perpetual punishment that you deserve for your sin, He wills and purposes to save you for divine eternal life with Him. He comes and acts for your salvation.

That is the “must” that flows from and with and in His Love for you. Nothing else forces or compels Him, but His love moves Him to save you for Himself; not for His benefit, but for your eternal blessing, by His grace. That is why God becomes Man, the Word becomes flesh, and the Son of God is conceived and born the Son of Mary. That is why He is given the name, “Jesus,” “Yahweh Saves,” and why He is called “Immanuel,” “God with us.” That is why He is baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, bodily, in His own flesh and blood, in the waters of the Jordan. Why He is driven into the wilderness to fast and pray, and to be tempted by the devil. Why He heals the sick and raises the dead and preaches the Gospel.

And it is for His saving purpose, for the sake of His divine and holy Love, that He must be handed over to His enemies, brutalized and ridiculed, wounded and mistreated, stripped and shamed and spit upon, nailed to a cross and executed as a criminal.

He gives up His Spirit, and His soul and body are separated in death. His body is buried in the dust of the earth, a grave in the ground.

For you, beloved; for your sins, for your salvation.

And then there is the “must” and “necessity” of His Resurrection on the third day. It had to be, because His death is not defeat but victory; because the Father loves the Son and is well-pleased with Him. This, too, is what it means for Him to be the Christ, the Son of Man, the Son of the living God, Jesus your Savior.

His body is raised from the dust and dirt, alive and well with the Breath of Life, the Spirit of God. As He is and remains both God and Man in His one Person, so are His human body, soul and spirit perfectly and permanently reunited in His Resurrection from the dead. This also for your sake.

It is in this God-Man, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, that the Holy Triune God accomplishes His gracious purposes for man. It is in Him that enmity and hostility are removed, and that peaceful harmony is established for you and for the world through forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. It is in Christ Jesus that the Spirit of God abides with man forever, and the Church abides in Holy Communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is all perfectly accomplished in Christ Jesus, as His Resurrection from the dead openly declares. Sin is forgiven, death is destroyed, the devil defeated. The Son is vindicated by the Father who loves Him, and the entire world is justified and righteous before God in Him.

This righteousness of God is what is given to you in the apostolic preaching of the Gospel of Christ, in the Ministry of the Confession of St. Peter and his fellow Apostles, who were eye-witnesses of the Cross and Resurrection. Their wisdom, power, strength and authority are that they have been with Jesus; they have known Him, and they have been called and sent by Him.

They have seen and heard the One who is your Savior, your Strength and your Song, who has become your great Salvation.

St. Peter confesses the same thing that he has heard; he gives to the Church what he has been given by the Lord. He testifies to what he has seen, and in his word — preached while in his earthly pilgrimage, and written for the edification of the Church unto the end of the age, even these many centuries after his departure from this vale of tears — in his word, Christ Himself speaks to you and is with you.

St. Peter and the other Apostles did — and on the solid foundation of their written Word, pastors now still do — the things that Jesus does: in His Name and stead, in remembrance of Him.

This remembrance is not simply an intellectual exercise, nor a bit of emotional nostalgia. It is as much about the present (and the coming of the Kingdom of God) as it is about the past. It is indeed the intimate knowledge of fellowship with Christ Jesus, in His flesh and blood, and with His Father and the Holy Spirit in Him. You eat and drink His Body and His Blood at His Word, and in this Meal you know Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

This remembrance of Jesus, the Holy Absolution of His Gospel and the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood, is not merely a means to some other end, but a means of grace and of salvation.

For the whole point is that you be saved:
rescued from sin, death, the devil and hell, alive in Christ, and safe and secure with God in Him.

This is the life and salvation to which you are called, and which you are freely given in the holy apostolic Ministry of the Gospel.

This is your principal vocation: to be a disciple of Christ, Jesus, to follow Him through death into life, to be with Him where He is, and to abide with Him forever. All of your other vocations and stations in life are governed and guided by this one. It enters into conflict with the hostile world and all its unbelief and wickedness, and so also with the old Adam in you. Yet is also introduces the compassion of forgiveness — for you, for your family and friends, for your co-workers and competitors, your teachers or students, and for all your other neighbors.

The Cross of Christ puts you and the whole world to death, in order to raise you up with Him to a brand new life: better than a “second chance,” it is the New Creation that has already begun in the Body of Christ.

It’s true enough that you still find and experience so much of the “old” in your heart and mind, body, soul and spirit. You must wrestle with sinful lusts and desires. You covet, grasp and horde, instead of being content with what God has given, confident in His gracious providence, and glad to share or give what you have. You get angry and lose your temper. You gossip and grumble, mutter and complain. You invest yourself, your time, treasures and talents, in selfish pursuits and foolish diversions, while neglecting the needs of your neighbors round about you.

Well, there are many such fossils and relics of the old Adam and this old world in you, which is why you are called to take up the Cross and return to the drowning and death of your Baptism every day. Doesn’t seem or feel good, surely, because the Cross crucifies you. It kills you. But the same Cross thereby saves you, because it is the Cross of Christ your Savior, which He has borne for you, by which He has atoned for all your sins, redeemed you and reconciled you to God.

That’s why, even though you lose your life as a disciple of Christ Jesus, you save it. Or, rather, He saves you. You both die and rise with Him.

He has marked you with the sign of His Cross in Holy Baptism, and the same Cross is frequently signed upon you in the Ministry of the Gospel. Do not be ashamed of Christ and His Cross, but make the sign of the Cross upon yourself, upon your forehead and your heart, as a confession of Christ Jesus and a prayer of faith in His mercy.

Let His Cross crucify and sanctify your thoughts, words and deeds, unto faith and love.

With the Cross He has also named you with His Name and anointed you with His Spirit. Hence you are a Christian. You are the Lord’s anointed, a son of God in Christ Jesus. His Word and Spirit — and His own flesh and blood — bind Him to you, and you to Him, through thick and thin, through death into life.

With the Father’s love for His own dear Son, He loves you now and forever. As often as you fall, He raises you up to stand, to walk, to follow Christ Jesus the Nazarene, and to live with Him in His own righteousness and excellence. As often as you fail, He forgives you. Every day He washes you, and He feeds you. He shall not deny you, nor shall He ever leave you or forsake you. He is your Savior, and He is faithful. He has saved you, and He will.

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

15 January 2011

Behold, the Lamb of God

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

The Baptism of Our Lord has manifested the Glory of God in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, conceived and born of Mary. It testifies who He is, and what He has come to do. This Self-revelation and Self-giving of God in Christ is the Lord’s divine glory, His gracious rescue of poor miserable sinners: For the Father’s Son has been anointed by the Holy Spirit in His own body of flesh and blood, for the sake of our salvation in body and soul.

The Lord Jesus is the Son of God from all eternity, begotten of the Father — God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God — of one and the same substance as the Father. But so is He now also the Son of God in His true and perfect Manhood; for He is the Image God in His flesh.

He thus establishes His divine Sonship in your place, in order to share it with you by His grace.

Likewise, He and the Holy Spirit are one God with the Father, from all eternity to all eternity, but now He has been publicly and bodily anointed by the Holy Spirit in His human flesh and blood. This anointing is His ordination as the Christ (or Messiah), whereby He enters upon His unique Office as your Savior and Redeemer. That is His vocation and His good work of faith and love.

As the Spirit rests and remains on Him, from the waters of His Baptism with the Word of God the Father, so does the same Spirit now rest and remain on you who have been baptized with water and the Word of God in the Name of Jesus Christ.

His Holy Baptism and His flesh and blood are the Anchor that bind His Spirit to your Baptism and to your flesh and blood through the Ministry of the Gospel.

This is how He reveals Himself and gives Himself to you.

Yet, He does so in such an unassuming form — in human flesh and by ordinary earthly means — in voluntary weakness and humility, unto His Cross and Passion — so that you are not able to recognize Him, nor are you able to receive Him and believe in Him, except by the Word and Spirit of God: the same Word and Spirit that sanctify the waters of your Baptism (and sanctify you).

It is by the Word and Spirit of God, attached and connected to the waters of Baptism, that St. John the Baptist recognizes Jesus for who He is, and knows Him and believes in Him. And so also, by baptizing in water with the Word and Spirit of God, St. John manifests Jesus to Israel — and you.

The preaching of this Holy Baptism is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; which is the preaching of Christ Jesus — and that is the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection: His Exodus out of Egypt into Canaan, out of slavery into freedom, out of death into life.

His Baptism puts Him into your tomb, in order that your Baptism would put you into His heaven.

To preach this Lord Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, is to proclaim Him the Lamb of God: the true Passover Sacrifice and Meal; the firstborn, well-beloved Son of God, given as the substitutionary Sacrifice for the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also for all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. He is the Sacrifice for you, and for your sons and daughters, and for your grandchildren.

He is the Sacrifice of redemption and atonement, whose blood pays for your sins, cleanses you, and protects you from death and the devil; whose flesh feeds you, nurtures and sustains you, and fills you with Himself and His Holy Spirit.

He is the Sacrifice of propitiation for all sins, for the reconciliation of the whole world to God.

And as the Sacrificed One, His flesh and blood are the Meal and the means of fellowship with God, and so also of His whole Church with Him, with the Father and the Spirit, and with one another in His One Body: the Holy Communion.

By the Ministry of His Gospel, by those whom He calls and sends in His Name — as St. John the Baptist was called and sent in his day — by preaching and teaching, by baptizing, by absolving and communing, the Lord Jesus reveals and gives Himself to you. As the Christ, the Lamb of God, He takes away your sins, sanctifies you by His Spirit, and feeds you with Himself by this Ministry.

This is the special authority and teaching of your Rabbi, who gives you not only the knowledge of names and dates and facts and information, but the true and intimate knowledge of Himself — the way the Bridegroom and His Bride are given to know each other in their life together.

As you hear and follow His voice in the preaching of His Gospel and in the catechesis of His Word — as you are united with Him in Holy Baptism, and you are daily returned to the significance of your Baptism through contrition and repentance, through faith in His forgiveness — and as you abide in and with Him, and He abides in and with you in the Holy Communion — so are you with Him where He is. You live with Him, and remain with Him, and His Spirit rests and remains upon you, in all of your callings and offices.

That means that you share and carry His Cross, in faith and love, in whatever particular place He has put you, in relation to the people He has situated around and near you in your life on earth.

As a disciple of Christ Jesus, by virtue of His Baptism and ongoing catechesis, you are anointed by His Spirit to live with Him, and to live in love for your neighbor: on the one hand, by serving the needs of his or her body, just as you care for your own body, and as you desire others to love and serve you; and on the other hand, by confessing the Gospel to your neighbor, so that, like Andrew, you would bring your brother or sister to the Lord Jesus Christ, to the life that is in Him.

Does that seem daunting or impossible? Perhaps naive and unrealistic?

It is not.

In all that you do, wherever you are in the world, you live in the Body of Christ, in His flesh and blood, and His Spirit lives in you — by and with the Gospel. God is your dear Father, you are His dear child, and His Church is your true home and family — on earth now, and in heaven forever.

All of this under the Cross of Christ — in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection.

Your good intentions, sincere efforts and hard work may seem pointless, and often as though it were all for nothing. Your blood, sweat and tears may weary you to the point of giving up, and your suffering may tempt you to despair or to harshness and hardness of heart.

But what you do and suffer in faith and love is not in vain. Nor do your sins and failings rob you of hope. Because the Cross of Christ has borne all your griefs and sorrows, and His Resurrection is your forgiveness, your vindication, and your righteousness.

His Cross is your Atonement, not your damnation. As you are bound to Him in His Passion and death by your Baptism into Him, so is He bound to you by His holy Name, by His Word and Spirit, by His Baptism, and in His Resurrection from the dead. He has not left you, but He is your surety, your freedom, and the place where you belong.

If you seek Jesus and want to know where He is, and if you would be with Him where He is, come here, and you will see.

Not by accident do we sing the Agnus Dei at the heart of the Holy Communion. When the Lord Jesus has spoken — “Take, eat; this is My Body,” and “Drink of it, all of you; this is My Blood” — not only does He make Himself known as the Lamb of God, who takes away your sins and the sins of the whole world, but He actually gives you Himself, His flesh and blood, to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of your sins, and for fellowship with Him, now and forever.

In this free forgiveness and fellowship of Christ is the Glory of God: for you and your salvation. Here there is perfect peace and rest, in and with the same Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, your Savior; perfect peace and rest, such as the world does not know and cannot give — but He does.

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

12 January 2011

Baptized and Beloved

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

As the Boy Jesus submitted to His earthly parents in obedience and love,
so does the Lord Jesus submit Himself to St. John the Baptist, the preacher of repentance.

No one is more surprised by this than John himself, who tried to stop Him.

The people who came to be baptized by John, came confessing their sins. But Jesus has no sins of His own to confess, nothing to repent. He comes, however, confessing your sins and the sins of the world, as though they were His own, as though He had committed all of them Himself. He confesses all your failures to do what you should, and all your wickedness in doing what you should not. He confesses your murder and adultery of thought, word and deed; your theft and false witness; your gossip and greed; your covetous idolatry and blasphemous speaking and acting.

For all of these sins, which He takes upon Himself, His repentance is His Cross and Passion, His sacrificial death and Resurrection. That is the work He begins to do in the waters of the Jordan.

He submits to St. John’s Baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness for you and for all sinners, to reconcile the world to His God and Father; to set all things right, as they should be; to repair what has been broken; to revive and refresh what has been bruised and bent; and to establish a good and right relationship with God, that is, a friendship of faith and love, and a true sonship of peace.

In order to accomplish such great things for you, St. John’s fierce and fiery preaching of God’s Law is here set upon Jesus, so that all the righteous wrath and judgment of God against your sins, and all the punishment of your sins, punishes Him. At the same time, He also takes up all the just demands of the Law — all that pertains to faith and love toward God and love for all His neighbors (including you) — in order to complete and establish everything in Himself, in His flesh and blood, in all of His relationships, vocations and stations in life. This He does for you and for all: for your sake and for your benefit, in your stead and on your behalf.

In doing so, He puts not only His body and life on the line for you, but His divine eternal Sonship. In flesh and blood like yours, He weathers the curse and consequences of sin and death, under the Law, in order to give you His body and life and bestow His divine Sonship upon you by grace.

All that is yours becomes His,
in order that all that is His would become yours.

Thus, the Law’s fire and brimstone fall upon Him, but so does the Holy Spirit descend upon Him, in bodily form as a dove, to rest and remain upon His body of flesh and blood. Therefore, the fire does not consume you, but it purifies you as silver and gold are purified by fire, and the same Holy Spirit that descends upon Jesus is poured out generously upon you, to rest and remain upon you, to sanctify you in body and soul, and to give you life in both body and soul, both now and forever.

As Jesus went into the water for you, and came up out of the water, so do you drown and die to sin in the waters of Holy Baptism, and emerge and arise from that watery grave to newness of life. By the water, Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, you are a new creation. You are a Christian, anointed by the Spirit of Jesus, the Christ. You are a beloved and well-pleasing son of the Father, just as He speaks from heaven: concerning Christ Jesus and all those who are baptized into Him.

Heaven is now opened to you, and it shall not be shut in your face again, because all your sins have been washed away and you are clean. All the righteousness of God in Christ is yours. Because His Baptism is not only for you, but it has been given to you, and it is yours. His repentance, His confession and forgiveness are yours. His Cross and Resurrection are yours, not only once upon a time, but once and for all, and every day of your life on earth, by His grace through faith in Him, by His Word and Spirit, until your Baptism is fully completed in the death of your mortal flesh and in the resurrection of your body to the life everlasting, immortal, imperishable, and all-glorious.

Your Baptism is the beginning of that good work in you, which the Lord has already accomplished and completed for you by His Incarnation, by His Nativity and Holy Baptism, by His Life and Ministry, by His Cross and Passion, and by His Resurrection and Ascension — the good work that He is bringing to completion in you by His preaching of repentance and His daily forgiveness of your sins, unto the day of His glorious appearing for the final Judgment. Then the righteousness which is already yours by the Gospel, shall be openly declared before the face of all people, and in the presence of all your enemies, in the face of sin, death, the devil and hell.

Just as surely as Jesus came up out of the water and out of the tomb, so surely are you justified and sanctified in Him, and it is most certainly true that you shall be raised from the dead at the last and live forever and ever with Him and all the faithful, in both body and soul.

Every day, it is true, your sins are putting you back into the ground, returning you to the dust of the earth from which your first father was taken. With every covetous and hateful thought, with every false and hurtful word, with every selfish and abusive act, old Adam buries you.

But your sins do not bury Christ Jesus, nor put Him back into the ground. Having died once for all, and having risen from the dead, He will never die again. Death no longer has any mastery over Him. Nor does death have any lasting hold or power over you, since you have already died with Christ in your Baptism, and sharing His death you also share His Resurrection. For the life He lives, He lives for you, before God in righteousness, innocence, blessedness and purity forever.

As often as the old Adam in you, with all your sinful lusts and desires, puts you to death and buries you in the tomb, so often and even more decisively does Christ Jesus, the New Man, put your old Adam to death and rise in you, Himself, unto His God and Father in heaven. His Voice and Spirit descend to where you are, even to the depths of Sheol, to raise you up and make you brand new through the forgiveness of all your sins.

Your sins put you to death because they separate you from God, but the Father has reconciled you to Himself in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, and He has anointed you with His Spirit, adopted you as a dear child and heir by His grace, and bound you to Himself with His own Holy Name.

Your sins are deadly, but they cannot destroy you in Christ. Death is brutal and devestating, but it does not have the last word concerning you; it cannot keep you. The devil is cunning and powerful, but he has been robbed of all his weapons against you — for Christ has fulfilled and satisfied the Law, atoned for all your sin and overcome your death; He has risen from the dead for your justification, and ascended to the right hand of the Father for your glory.

This same Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and St. Mary’s Son, crucified and risen in the flesh, has been baptized for you. Therefore, your Baptism into Him avails for you at all times and in all places. What this means for you is that even sin and death must serve the purposes of God, instead of the devil, by driving you to repentance, unto Christ and Him Crucified.

The death of your body in this wilderness of tears does not mean the end of your life with God, but only the end of sin and every evil. Until then — though you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment — the Jordan River of Holy Baptism is constantly washing your sins away and preserving you with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

His mercies are new every morning, and from the waters of your Baptism, day by day, He makes of you a new creation. The same waters that put sin and death to death in you, also lift you up and save you within the Holy Ark of Christendom. They stand as a mighty wall, a tidal wave, against all your enemies, threatening proud Pharaoh with all his chariots and horsemen, keeping them at bay, while opening before you the way out of Egypt — through the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus — into the good land that God has promised and given to you in His dearly beloved and well-pleasing Son. Holy Baptism stands for you at the foothills of the Lord’s Mountain, on the cusp of the wilderness and the threshold of heaven.

The new and better Joshua has entered those waters ahead of you, to make the way for you, and He has established Himself in the midst of the Jordan until you and all His chosen people have passed through the water into the life everlasting. He shall not be moved.

The waters that would have dashed you against the rocks and swept you away, have swept over Him and swallowed Him up — and when it seems as though He has been drowned and died forever, His body never to be recovered, He rises from the water and lives. In that sacred bath, in that washing of Jesus in the Jordan River, which you share with Him by water with His Word and Spirit in His Name, in that Holy Baptism is your repentance, forgiveness, faith and resurrection.

When Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, came to St. John, the son of a priest and more than a prophet, and submitted to his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, He was humbling Himself before God, putting Himself under the Law, and obeying His Father in perfect faith by submitting Himself to suffering and death, even death upon a cross.

Already in His Baptism, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ began putting Him to death for the sins of the world — for all of your sins — until this Baptism which He undergoes for you and for all would be fully kindled in the fire of His Passion and finished in His atoning sacrifice.

God put Him to death for your sins, beloved.

And God raised Him, who died for you, from the dead.

That is your Absolution, your righteousness and holiness, and your resurrection, both now, and every day, and forever.

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

09 January 2011

The Year of the Guitar? I Reckon So

Yes, of course it’s true that I was personally paying more attention to guitars in 2010 than at any other time in the past, but I don’t think it was just me. It first occurred to me this past October that there had really been rather a lot of guitar-related happenings, events, publications and releases in the course of the year. At that point I started paying more particular attention, and, sure enough, I discovered even more than I had previously realized. Almost everywhere I’ve looked, actually. Not since the late 80s, so far as I am aware, has there been such a surge of interest in listening to and learning how to play the guitar.

The rampant popularity of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band video games crested right around Christmas 2009, and I strongly suspect that many people were prompted by that excitement to learn how to play the real thing. It did work that way for me, that much I know; but again, I don’t think I'm unique in that respect. Take a look around, and you’ll find more “teach yourself to play guitar” resources, both in print and online, than you could shake a whammy bar at, many of them quite good (others, not so much, but they're out there). Old and new books on guitars and guitarists are likewise plentiful, with more appearing seemingly every few months. Check out the selections at Barnes & Noble and at Borders, or do a simple search on Amazon.com.

In any event, the guitar certainly didn’t die with Les Paul in August 2009. The legacy of that legendary guitarist and guitar craftsman continued with renewed vitality and vigor in 2010. That’s what I reckon. A case in point was a “Rock and Roll Party to Honor Les Paul” in June 2010, sponsored by Gibson Guitar and hosted by another legend of the instrument, Jeff Beck, at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, the Times Square nightclub that Les Paul played every Monday for 14 years. Beck will be taking the same show on the road in this New Year.

Jeff Beck also released a new studio album in 2010, Emotion & Commotion, his first in seven years. Eric Clapton released a new album, Clapton, and hosted his triennial “Crossroads Guitar Festival” at Toyota Park, Chicago, in June 2010. And Jimmy Page published his autobiography, regrettably in a pricey limited edition, but nevertheless. Page also helped to usher in the year with It Might Get Loud, a movie he made with the Edge (of U2) and Jack White (of the White Stripes), on the art of playing the guitar. So Clapton, Beck and Page are still at it, 40-plus years after hitting their groundbreaking stride in the 60s.

Jimi Hendrix has often been identified as the greatest electric guitarist of all times. Whether or not that’s true, he’s been dead for decades, yet, even he managed to release a number of new albums in 2010, by way of the official Hendrix-family-authorized productions of his recordings.

Ronnie Woods (variously of the Rolling Stones, the Faces, the Jeff Beck Group, and on his own), released his first album since 2001, I Feel Like Playing, with guest appearances from Slash, Flea, Billy Gibbons, Kris Kristofferson, Eddie Vedder, et al. Another Rolling Stone, Keith Richards, released a solo album, Vintage Vinos, and published his autobiography, Life. And Ozzy Osbourne published his, I Am Ozzy, almost as much the story of Tony Iommi and Randy Rhoads as the singer himself. Speaking of the late great Randy Rhoads, 2010 also saw re-releases of the now classic Blizzard of Oz and Diary of a Madman, finally remastered with the original bass and drums, though not yet readily available in the United States.

On his new album, Scream, Ozzy introduced his new guitarist, Gus G, who also released a new album with Firewind, Days of Defiance. Gus G is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to shredding, but he shares some of his knowledge and experience with learners on a new Rock House Method set of DVDs, focusing on “Lead & Rhythm Techniques.”

Similarly, Gary Hoey released a new album, Utopia, and a Rock House Method set of DVDs, entitled The Need for Lead: Phrases, Hooks & Melodies. (How is it that I somehow managed never to have heard of Gary Hoey until this year? He is an outstanding and entertaining guitarist, and he’s been around for a good many years.) Nevermore released The Obsidian Conspiracy, and that group’s gifted guitarist, Jeff Loomis, also produced a Rock House Method set of DVDs, Extreme Lead Guitar: Dissonant Scales & Arpeggios.

Not only the classic guitar triumvirate of Clapton, Beck and Page, but the modern equivalent, Malmsteen, Satriani and Vai, also released new material in 2010. Yngwie Malmsteen came out with Relentless toward the end of the year; Joe Satriani gave us Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards in the fall; and Steve Vai released the video, Where the Other Wild Things Are, a companion to 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are. Vai also taught a special master class at “Guitar Nation Live 2010” (in the United Kingdom), and now, as 2011 begins, he’s teaching an online class for the Musicians Institute of Los Angeles.

Steve Vai also plays with the young Australian girl wonder, Orianthi, on the song “Highly Strung,” from her excellent album, Believe. A second revised “edition” of Believe was released in 2010, a testimony to Orianthi’s growing popularity. She deserves the attention. She’s that good.

Though not always mentioned in the same breath as Malmsteen, Satriani and Vai — but he should be! — the shredmaster Paul Gilbert treated us to his latest release, Fuzz Universe, in the late summer of 2010. Seriously, any year with new releases by both Satriani and Gilbert is a great guitar year! Another of their peers, Eric Johnson, released Up Close in 2010.

But wait. There's more! Look what else we got:

Slash released a new self-titled album, getting by with a little help from his illustrious friends on the microphone, and Santana released Guitar Heaven, likewise with various guest vocalists, doing covers of some of the great classic guitar songs.

Blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa released a new solo album, Black Rock, and also played his six-string as a member of the new “supergroup,” Black Country Communion, on its self-titled debut. Both albums hearken back to the glory days of classic rock, as do a number of other new groups that have recently surfaced. Taddy Porter, the Gracious Few, Black Water Rising, Stereoside, just to name a few, all had releases in 2010. These are groups that clearly cut their teeth on Zeppelin, Sabbath and AC/DC, who also have the chops and the artistic and creative skills to own that classic sound and run with it.

Ozzy’s guitarist for the past two decades, Zakk Wylde, released a great new album, Order of the Black, with his own band, Black Label Society. Jerry Cantrel and his band, Alice in Chains, returned in 2010 with Black Gives Way to Blue. Guitarist Christ Duarte released his new album, Infinite Energy. And the great Peter Frampton released his latest, Thank You Mr. Churchill.

Mention must be made of Mike Tremonti, guitar guru for both Creed and Alter Bridge. In 2010, he served up the music on Alter Bridge’s new album, ABIII, and their Live in Amsterdam DVD.

Guitarist Lee Ritenour released 6 String Theory, a special project celebrating what it describes as “the world’s most popular instrument.” Joining Ritenour in this tribute to the guitar, the all-star line-up includes George Benson, BB King, Slash, Steve Lukather, John Scofield, Joe Bonamassa, Robert Cray and Vince Gill, as well as other superstars. Together they blend rock, blues, jazz, acoustic, country and classical into a seamless project that takes the listener on a musical exploration of the guitar. Debuting on 6 String Theory is sixteen-year-old Shon Boublil, the grand prize winner of Ritenour’s “Six String Theory Guitar Competition.”

On the country music scene, three of the most popular artists are especially well-known and notable for their guitar prowess: Brad Paisley, Keith Urban and Zac Brown, each of whom had a new releases in 2010. Those guys could hold their own cutting heads with any one out there. On the whole, both traditional and modern country music tends to be as guitar-oriented as anything happening in rock and roll. One of the best albums of the year was The Guitar Song, a double set by traditional country artist Jamey Johnson.

The “Big 4” of heavy metal — Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax — remarkably went on tour together in the summer of 2010, and a DVD of their show was released in the fall. They’ll be bringing the show to the United States in the new year. Then there's the sweet sounds of Synester Gates and Zacky Vengeance, who unleashed their most recent Nightmare with their band, Avenged Sevenfold. Iron Maiden released Final Frontier, and the Scorpions released Sting in the Tail. Can Judas Priest be far behind? George Lynch (of Dokken and Lynch Mob) released his first instrumental rock guitar album, Orchestral Mayhem, applying his electric guitar and metal techniques to various classic pieces.

Finally, as far as the evidence I’ve gathered, Legacy Learning Systems released a new “Gibson” edition of their magnificent Learn & Master Guitar program. This is what I am using, not only for myself but also with my children, with steady success (hindered only by my busy schedule).

Readers can reckon for themselves,
but I hereby dub 2010 the “Year of the Guitar.”

07 January 2011

My Favorite Century from the First Decade of the Final Millenium

I do hope and pray that we are now in the final millennium, and that our dear Lord Jesus will quickly bring to light the new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells; the sooner, the better. At any rate, it will be my final millennium on this old earth, unless I live longer then Methuselah did!

To the point at hand, I've been considering the first decade of this millennium, specifically with respect to the music thereof, and mulling over my favorite albums of this time period. Because I like to think about such things for my own amusement, and I also enjoy sharing my love of music with the people I love — especially with my number one music buddy, my son Zachary, who already released his own list of his fifty favorite albums of the decade — I've here compiled my own list of my one-hundred favorite albums of the first decade of the twenty-first century.

In order to establish some balance over the course of the years in question — since the earlier albums have had much longer to implant themselves upon my brain, whereas the newer albums are much fresher in my ears — I determined to select at least half a dozen albums, but no more than a single dozen, from each year of the decade. I also limited myself to no more than two albums from any one artist, and I tried to keep such double hitters to a minimum.

The criteria for selection was that an album had to be released within the decade that just ended this past week, that is, at some point from January 2001 through December 2010, and it had to endear itself to me within that same time frame. Some of the albums recently released in the final months of 2010 are likely to become real favorites in coming months (there's already some strong contenders), but only those that managed to do so before the clock stuck twelve on the 31st of December were considered for this list. Likewise, there were albums released in the Year of Our Lord 2000, which became favorites in the ensuing years, but they weren't eligible for inclusion because of their prior release date.

I've distributed the albums from each year over the entire span of the list, rather than allowing those from particular periods to cluster together in groups. That has also helped to balance out the different genres of music I enjoy. My tastes are fairly eclectic, really running the gamut from country of all types, through pop, rock and roll, all the way to hard rock and heavy metal. But my listening habits tend to follow trends that vary with the years, influenced by all manner of things. It will be readily apparent that much of my listening during this past decade was dominated by country music. However, there were patches of pop here and there, and, interestingly, the decade both began and ended with a renewed interest in guitar-driven classic rock and modern metal.

I've exercised my personal prerogative in positioning these picks approximately in order of my present preferences. By the very nature of such things, they could easily shake out differently at some other time, but this is my list for now. I'm sure I've probably forgotten some things; for example, I notice that Taylor Swift's Fearless somehow didn't make the list, although it should have (I like it as well or better than her new one, Speak Now, which did make the cut). Oh, well. Since nobody's careers or livelihoods are at stake in my choices, and all such things are adiaphora, I'm not going to stress about it.

With a nod of my hatless head to all my music-loving friends, and with the raising of my now empty New Year's glass to the musicians who have shared the fruits of their talents and labors with me, here are my favorite century of albums from the first decade of my final millennium:

1. Black Stone Cherry - Folklore and Superstition (2008)

2. Big & Rich - Horse of a Different Color (2004)

3. Daughtry - Leave This Town (2009)

4. Bon Jovi - Lost Highway (2007)

5. Tim McGraw - Set This Circus Down (2001)

6. Van Zant - Get Right with the Man (2005)

7. Evanescence - Fallen (2003)

8. Zac Brown Band - The Foundation (2008)

9. Halfway to Hazard - Halfway to Hazard (2007)

10. Matchbox Twenty - More Than You Think You Are (2002)

11. Joe Satriani - Strange Beautiful Music (2002)

12. Daughtry - Daughtry (2006)

13. Five for Fighting - Slice (2009)

14. Bon Jovi - Have a Nice Day (2005)

15. Brad Paisley - Time Well Wasted (2005)

16. Jet - Get Born (2003)

17. Kid Rock - Born Free (2010)

18. The Donnas - Gold Medal (2004)

19. Saving Jane - Girl Next Door (2006)

20. Black Label Society - Order of the Black (2010)

21. Jason Aldean - Relentless (2007)

22. Boys Like Girls - Love Drunk (2009)

23. Darius Rucker - Learn to Live (2008)

24. Anna Nalick - Wreck of the Day (2004)

25. Gretchen Wilson - All Jacked Up (2005)

26. Breaking Benjamin - Dear Agony (2009)

27. Montgomery Gentry - Back When I Knew It All (2008)

28. Tim McGraw - Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors (2002)

29. Paul Gilbert - Silence Followed by a Deafening Roar (2008)

30. The Gracious Few - The Gracious Few (2010)

31. Rodney Atkins - Honesty (2003)

32. Bobby Pinson - Man Like Me (2005)

33. Ozzy Osbourne - Scream (2010)

34. Regie Hamm - American Dreams (2003)

35. Gary Allan - Alright Guy (2001)

36. Avril Lavigne - Let It Go (2002)

37. Lady Antebellum - Need You Now (2010)

38. Billy Currington - Little Bit of Everything (2008)

39. Marcel - You, Me and the Windshield (2003)

40. Pink - Missundaztood (2001)

41. Jedd Hughes - Transcontinental (2004)

42. Ashlee Simpson - Autobiography (2004)

43. Alter Bridge - ABIII (2010)

44. Brooks & Dunn - Cowboy Town (2007)

45. Rodney Atkins - If You’re Going Through Hell (2006)

46. Chris Cagle - Anywhere But Here (2005)

47. Hot Apple Pie - Hot Apple Pie (2005)

48. Phil Vassar - Shaken Not Stirred (2004)

49. Steve Azar - Waitin’ on Joe (2002)

50. Carrie Underwood - Carnival Ride (2007)

51. Jamey Johnson - The Guitar Song (2010)

52. Avril Lavigne - Under My Skin (2004)

53. Plain White T’s - Every Second Counts (2007)

54. Shinedown - Sound of Madness (2008)

55. Red Hot Chili Peppers - By the Way (2002)

56. Jo Dee Messina - Delicious Surprise (2005)

57. Orianthi - Believe (2009)

58. Gary Allan - Living Hard (2007)

59. Mandy Moore - Amanda Leigh (2009)

60. Trisha Yearwood - Inside out (2001)

61. Lisa Marie Presley - Now What (2005)

62. Brooke White - High Hopes and Heartbreaks (2009)

63. The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus - Lonely Road (2009)

64. Jack Ingram - This Is It (2007)

65. Jennifer Hanson - Jennifer Hanson (2003)

66. Joe Bonamassa - Black Rock (2010)

67. Jessica Andrews - Now (2003)

68. Joshua Kadison - Vanishing America (2001)

69. Black Tide - Light from Above (2008)

70. U2 - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)

71. The Warren Brothers - Well Deserved Obscurity (2004)

72. Eli Young Band - Jet Black & Jealous (2008)

73. Trace Adkins - Dangerous Man (2006)

74. Bucky Covington - Bucky Covington (2007)

75. Good Charlotte - The Chronicles of Life and Death (2004)

76. Black Stone Cherry - Black Stone Cherry (2006)

77. Linkin Park - Meteora (2003)

78. Keith Anderson - C’mon! (2008)

79. MoZella - Belle Isle (2009)

80. Creed - Weathered (2001)

81. Travis Tritt - The Storm (2007)

82. Pinmonkey - Pinmonkey (2002)

83. Trace Adkins - Songs About Me (2005)

84. James Otto - Shake What God Gave Ya (2010)

85. Dream Theater - Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009)

86. Staind - Break the Cycle (2001)

87. We Are the Fallen - Tear the World Down (2010)

88. Travis Tritt - My Honky Tonk History (2004)

89. Brooks & Dunn - Hillbilly Deluxe (2005)

90. Taylor Swift - Speak Now (2010)

91. Switchfoot - Hello Hurricane (2009)

92. Ray Scott - My Kind of Music (2005)

93. Eric Church - Sinners Like Me (2006)

94. Thriving Ivory - Thriving Ivory (2008)

95. Ingrid Michaelson - Everybody (2009)

96. Kenny Chesney - Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates (2007)

97. Chris Cagle - My Life’s Been a Country Song (2008)

98. John Michael Montgomery - Letters from Home (2004)

99. Tracy Lawrence - Strong (2004)

100. Day of Fire - Losing All (2010)

04 January 2011

A Voice Beyond the Jordan

For now you find yourself living beyond the Jordan, in the wilderness outside the land that God has promised. You do not yet see the milk and honey for which you hunger and thirst. Nor do you see or understand by any human intellect, wisdom or strength, what God is really like.

You hear words, which, in themselves, are simple and clear enough, and yet they make no sense; they don’t add up to your expectations. You have more questions than anything else, and the answers seem more confusing than helpful — until the Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus opens your ears to hear, your mind to comprehend, and your heart to believe His preaching of repentance and His forgiveness of all your sins.

Your mental picture of Almighty God and His awesome power is all out of whack, because you have known and experienced the might of His Law against you, and the world’s concept of power, too, which exerts itself against others in an effort to gain control: to dominate, to take, to punish and destroy.

You may at times forget your own sin, and that you deserve only punishment, and then you pray that God would rend the heavens and come down to punish and remove those who trouble you and trespass against you, who hurt you and rob you and put you to death.

Oh, if you only knew what you were asking! And what a threat it would be to you!

But He sends, instead, a voice in the wilderness — a preacher of repentance — to preach and administer a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He calls both you and your enemies to repentance, not to punish or destroy, but to forgive your sins and theirs.

No dominating power plays here, but a preacher who points out your sin,
and then points you to Christ the Lamb of God, who takes upon Himself and takes away your sins.

Do not be offended by the preacher and his preaching; do not despise his personal unworthiness, but hear and heed his voice, which makes straight the way of the Lord in the wilderness.

What is coming your way is the Christ, in whom the almighty power of God is made perfect through voluntary weakness, suffering and death, and manifested in His mercy toward you.

He comes and submits Himself to the demands of the Law, and to all its punishments, for you, so that His way is made straight for you through the waters of the Jordan into the good Land of God.

You pass through the Baptism of repentance — through His Cross and Resurrection — into His righteousness, life and salvation.

This is real power and strength, such as your old Adam and the whole world have never known and cannot understand.

But now He sends the preacher to preach, so that you might believe in the Lord Jesus through such preaching, and know Him through such faith in His Gospel, and finally see Him as He is in His Resurrection from the dead, when you shall be like Him in body and soul.

That is why I preach to you, and why I baptize in the Name of Christ Jesus, that you and your children and your children’s children may know Him who loves you, who is your Savior and Redeemer, who has such grace and mercy upon you, who forgives all your sins and iniquities and gives you life instead of death and grants you His Peace.

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