31 January 2014

The 2012-13 Grampies

It's been two years since I posted a listing of my favorite albums, so these Grampies cover both 2012 and 2013 together.  I went cold-turkey on following music for quite awhile, actually, but have my friend and colleague, the Reverend Erich Fickel, to thank for putting the bug back into my ear, so to speak.  Along with that, the fact that my five oldest children all enjoy listening to music, and the awesomeness of Spotify, which makes it so easy to enjoy good music, encouraged me to begin listening more carefully and paying attention again.  My tastes still cover a gamut of genres and styles, and, frankly, I find it difficult sometimes to know where to draw the lines, or whether drawing lines even makes much sense.  In my own way of thinking, the category or "genre" of "Alternative" is actually defined by that very ambiguity, which blurs the lines between country, folk, pop, rock, blues, rap, and soul, and who knows what else.  I enjoy that diversity of sound.

So, anyway, over the past month or so, I've been considering contenders and compiling a list of my favorite albums from 2012 and 2013.  I opted to include sixteen (16) albums in each category: 4 x 4 in honor of my four babies grand (Sarena, Emma, Jude, and Cherianne).  In the case of my overall favorites, I did make an effort to keep it fairly balanced between the two years, but, otherwise, I didn't make any distinction between 2012 and 2013 as I was revisiting my enjoyment of the albums.  It's interesting, in retrospect, to see how that all shook itself out within each of the categories: Country, Pop Rock, Rock 'n' Roll, Hard Rock & Metal, Ambiguous Alternatives, and Guitarists.  Sharp observers will discover that a handful of artists managed to land multiple spots across the landscape.  I realize that others may quibble with my classifications, even as I wrestled and debated within myself in many of these cases.  That's part of the fun.

Well, then, without any further ado: In honor of my babies grand. . . .

The 2012-13 Grampies

1. Train - California 37 (2012)

2. Shinedown - Amaryllis (2012)

3. Lifehouse - Almeria (2012)

4. Uncle Kracker - Midnight Special (2012)

5. Tim McGraw - Two Lanes of Freedom (2013)

6. Bon Jovi - What About Now (2013)

7. Daughtry - Baptized (2013)

8. Luke Bryan - Crash My Party (2013)

9. Slash - Apocalyptic Love (2012)

10. Gavin DeGraw - Make a Move (2013)

11. Matchbox Twenty - North (2012)

12. Alter Bridge - Fortress (2013)

13. Lee Brice - Hard 2 Love (2012)

14. Imagine Dragons - Night Visions (2013)

15. Joe Bonamassa - Driving Towards the Daylight (2012)

16. Kenny Chesney - Welcome to the Fishbowl (2012)


1. Tim McGraw - Two Lanes of Freedom (2013)

2. Luke Bryan - Crash My Party (2013)

3. Thompson Square - Just Feels Good (2013)

4. Lee Brice - Hard 2 Love (2012)

5. Chris Young - A.M. (2013)

6. Lady Antebellum - Golden (2013)

7. Darius Rucker - True Believers (2013)

8. Blake Shelton - Based on a True Story (2013)

9. Kenny Chesney - Welcome to the Fishbowl (2012)

10. Carrie Underwood - Blown Away (2012)

11. Bucky Covington - Good Guys (2012)

12. Easton Corbin - All Over the Road (2012)

13. Zac Brown Band - Uncaged (2012)

14. The Band Perry - Pioneer (2013)

15. Chris Cagle - Back in the Saddle (2012)

16. Tracy Lawrence - Headlights, Taillights and Radios (2013)

Pop Rock

1. Train - California 37 (2012)

2. Uncle Kracker - Midnight Special (2012)

3. Daughtry - Baptized (2013)

4. Gavin DeGraw - Make a Move (2013)

5. Sara Bareilles - The Blessed Unrest (2013)

6. Jason Mraz - Love Is a Four Letter Word (2012)

7. Ingrid Michaelson - Human Again (2012)

8. Five for Fighting - Bookmarks (2013)

9. Parachute - Overnight (2013)

10. Taylor Swift - Red (2012)

11. John Mayer - Born and Raised (2012)

12. Elton John - The Diving Board (2013)

13. Boys Like Girls - Crazy World (2012)

14. Courtney Jaye - Love and Forgiveness (2013)

15. Crystal Bowersox - All That for This (2013)

16. Barenaked Ladies - Grinning Streak (2013)

Rock ‘n’ Roll

1. Shinedown - Amaryllis (2012)

2. Bon Jovi - What About Now (2013)

3. The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten (2012)

4. Black Country Communion - Afterglow (2012)

5. Volbeat - Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies (2013)

6. The Winery Dogs - The Winery Dogs (2013)

7. Place Vendome - Thunder in the Distance (2013)

8. Fergie Frederiksen - Any Given Moment (2013)

9. Shakra - Powerplay (2013)

10. Kings of Leon - Mechanical Bull (2013)

11. Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth (2012)

12. Kid Rock - Rebel Soul (2012)

13. W.E.T. - Rise Up (2013)

14. Ten - Heresy and Creed (2012)

15. Pink Cream 69 - Ceremonial (2013)

16. Alice in Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013)

Hard Rock & Metal

1. Alter Bridge - Fortress (2013)

2. Amaranthe - The Nexus (2013)

3. Dream Theater - Dream Theater (2013)

4. Jorn - Bring Heavy Rock to the Land (2012)

5. Primal Fear - Unbreakable (2012)

6. Coldspell - Frozen Paradise (2013)

7. Dragonforce - The Power Within (2012)

8. Voodoo Circle - More Than One Way Home (2013)

9. James LaBrie - Impermanent Resonance (2013)

10. Blessed by a Broken Heart - Feel the Power (2012)

11. Eden’s Curse - Symphony of Sin (2013)

12. Pretty Maids - Motherland (2013)

13. Trivium - Vengeance Falls (2013)

14. Love.Might.Kill - 2 Big 2 Fail (2012)

15. Megadeth - Super Collider (2013)

16. Black Sabbath - 13 (2013)

Ambiguous Alternatives: What You Hear Is What You Get

1. Lifehouse - Almeria (2012)

2. Matchbox Twenty - North (2012)

3. Imagine Dragons - Night Visions (2013)

4. Mumford & Sons - Babel (2012)

5. The Goo Goo Dolls - Magnetic (2013)

6. Redlight King - Irons in the Fire (2013)

7. SafetySuit - These Times (2012)

8. The Fray - Scars & Stories (2012)

9. Dawes - Stories Don’t End (2013)

10. Reckless Kelly - Long Night Moon (2013)

11. Silversun Pickups - Neck of the Woods (2012)

12. Matt Nathanson - Last of the Great Pretenders (2013)

13. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals - The Lion The Beast The Beat (2012)

14. The Lumineers - The Lumineers (2012)

15. Randy Rogers Band - Trouble (2013)

16. The Avett Brothers - The Carpenter (2012)


1. Slash - Apocalyptic Love (2012)

2. Joe Bonamassa - Driving Towards the Daylight (2012)

3. Joe Robinson - Let Me Introduce You (2012)

4. Joe Satriani - Unstoppable Momentum (2013)

5. John 5 - God Told Me To (2012)

6. John Mayer - Paradise Valley (2013)

7. Keith Urban - Fuse (2013)

8. Tremonti - All I Was (2012)

9. Jeff Loomis - Plains of Oblivion (2012)

10. Tedeschi Trucks Band - Made Up Mind (2013)

11. Orianthi - Heaven in This Hell (2013)

12. Paul Gilbert - Vibrato (2012)

13. Steve Lukather - Transition (2013)

14. Steve Vai - The Story of Light (2013)

15. Brad Paisley - Wheelhouse (2013)

16. Jack White - Blunderbuss (2012)

26 January 2014

He Is God's Kingdom Come

As the Forerunner is handed over to imprisonment and suffering, and finally to death, so is the Mighty One, the Christ our Lord, who follows after John, handed over to His Cross and Passion.  Already the shadow of the Cross is upon Him, even as He preaches the Gospel, and teaches the Word of God, and heals all manner of infirmity, sickness, and hurt.  But of course, it is by the Cross that He obtains this very healing, which He now administers in view of His Resurrection.

Although the Cross itself is darkness and death — and make no mistake about it — yet, the Cross of Christ is, paradoxically, the Light that shines in the darkness.  For He Who is the Light has entered the darkness and submitted Himself to death, in order to save you and all who dwelt in the deep darkness of sin and death.

He comes to you and brings, not only information, but Atonement and Reconciliation with God.  He gathers and embraces all the brokenness of this fallen world into Himself, in order to repair what was broken, to heal the deadly wound, and to bind and unite God and Man, heaven and earth, in His own Body.  All of this He does and accomplishes from the inside-out, from within the pitch-black darkness of your sin, and of your fatal sickness of heart and mind, body and soul.

So it is that, in His death and resurrection, there is Life and Light and Salvation, which are for you and for all people.  He has taken the place of sinners, of all sinners, as though He were the only Sinner; and He has suffered and died the suffering and death of all men.  Therefore, likewise, His Resurrection is also for all men, women, and children, of all times and places.

Now, then, in the preaching of this crucified and risen Christ, and in His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood, “the Kingdom of heaven” is at hand.  It is here for you, as He is here with you and for you, so that you might live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  For He is your Lord and King, and it is in Him that our God reigns.  He does so in love, with mercy and forgiveness.

This coming of God’s Kingdom, this heaven on earth in Christ Jesus, calls you to repentance, which is to say, to your own dying and rising.  As the Christ follows the Forerunner into suffering and death, so does He call you to follow Him: to carry the Cross after Him, and to be crucified, dead, and buried with Him.  Not to atone for your sins, nor for anyone else’s, but to escape the death-grip of sin upon your heart and mind, body and soul.

As in your Baptism, and so also throughout your days on earth, repentance means dying to all your false gods; renouncing Satan, all his works, and all his ways; and being turned toward the Holy Triune God in the Person of the incarnate Son, to rise from death to newness of life by His Spirit.

Repent of all your sins, therefore.  Not only your vices and perverse habits and addictions, which everyone knows are destructive and wrong.  But, repent also of your glittering and impressive idolatries, which you proudly display and the world both admires and envies.

What does it mean, after all, to have something or someone as your god?  It is whatever you fear, love, and trust.  Whatever you rely upon, respect, and regard as your highest and best good.  Whatever it is that makes you happy when you have it, and which threatens to undo you if it were to be taken from you or lost.  That is your god.  And, whether it be good or bad in itself, if it is not the Holy Trinity whom you fear, love, and trust above all else, then it is a false god, a pagan idol.

So, then, where you have made an idol of your job, your income, your work ethic, or your pension – Repent.  Where you have made a god of your possessions, your house and home, your vehicles, your heirlooms, or your toys – Repent.  And where you have idolized your family, your parents, your spouse, your children, your fiancé/e, or the idealized marriage and family you dream about for yourself and covet in your neighbor – Repent.

So dark is the sin that reigns in your flesh apart from Christ and His Spirit, that it is often God’s greatest good gifts that you are most tempted and prone to make into a false god: whether it be your body and sexuality, or food and drink, other people, freedom and opportunity, or life itself.  All of these are good, but none of them is God.  Whatever idolatrous grip they have upon your heart must be undone.  The Light must shine upon this darkness, in order to expose it for the death it is, and then also to show you the more excellent Way of Life, which is found only in following Jesus Christ, formerly of Nazareth.

Come, leave your nets, your boat, and your father, and follow Christ alone.  That is what Andrew and Simon Peter, and James and John the sons of Zebedee did.  But what does this mean for you?  What does it require of you, when Jesus calls you to come and follow?  What does that look like?

It is certainly not about abandoning the vocations and responsibilities to which He has already called you.  To forsake your spouse and children, for example, would be sinful and wrong, and that is not  at all the way to follow Christ the Lord.  But repentance and discipleship are about having Christ Jesus as your one true God, and living by faith in Him, and loving and serving and working in His Name.  It is a matter of turning to Him for Life in your body and soul, for now and for ever.

It is not unlike a man leaving his father and mother in order to take a wife and cleave to her; or a woman being given into marriage by her father, and being given a new name by her husband and head.  So, too, your identity and all of your relationships are redefined and fundamentally changed by your allegiance to Christ and union with Him.

Come, then, to Him; and cleave to Him who cleaves to you in love; and brings others with you.  Call upon the Name of the Lord in prayer, praise, petition, and thanksgiving, as He has called you by His own Name in your Holy Baptism, and as He continues to call you by His preaching and the catechesis of His Word.  Come, and hear, and then speak as He has spoken to you in His mercy.

And bring to Him, also, all your sickness, weakness, sadness, and hurt, and all the diseases and the dark despair of your heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit.  For this dear Lord Jesus Christ, who is here with you and for you, heals you by His Gospel.  He surely does.  With His forgiveness of your sins — by and with His Word and preaching — He shines His Light into your darkness; He raises you from death to Life, to be a new creation; and He removes the yoke and burden from your back.

The Law of God does not condemn you in Christ, but rather illuminates the Way of Life that you now live in Him.

And that Life of God in you is nourished, nurtured, and sustained by the divine and heavenly Food with which He feeds you here within His Church on earth.  Indeed, with His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead, He bestows healing and strength and life to your body, also.  Not only in this life, but unto the Resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.

So, too, the dying and rising of repentance, unto the forgiveness of sins, anticipates and prepares you for that Resurrection and eternal Life with God.  Which is how and why you now live a new life in Christ Jesus, a heavenly life here on earth, as you follow after Him, a Christian disciple of this Lord who is your true King, your Savior, and your God.

There is, then, this newness to your identity and everything you do within your ongoing stations in life.  All things are made new in Christ, including all your old routines, your chores and duties, your studies and your job, your family and your friends.  Nothing is the same as it was before.

For some of you, this newness of life in Christ may also yet mean the sacrifice of other ambitions for the sake of service in the Church; which could require a radical change in your present plans, and a new path to pursue toward tomorrow: To become a pastor, perhaps; or a Lutheran school teacher; or maybe a deaconess, like Mrs. Rhein.  Or, what might seem like a particularly heavy Cross, to live a chaste and celibate life dedicated entirely to the household and family of God and the care of your neighbors in the community, instead of having a spouse and family of your own.

Some of you may be called to cast the nets in the preaching office; others to mend and care for the nets by serving as officers and leaders within the congregation and the Church at large; and still others may remain with father Zebedee in the boat, in order to rear children in the fear and faith of Christ, and to serve and support His Church and Ministry with your offerings and gifts of love.

The freedom to live in any of these ways, in faith and love, in joy and peace, is here for you in Christ Jesus Himself, in His Word, and in His Body and His Blood.  For He is the Lord your God, who is here with you and reigns over you in love.  He is your Righteousness and Holiness, your Substance and Sufficiency, your Life and your Salvation.  You are able to live and to serve in His Name, because He is here to love and serve you, to the Glory of His Holy Name.  So does He forgive you all your sins and heal all your diseases; He drives out all your demons and fills you with the Spirit of His God and Father forevermore.

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

19 January 2014

Come and See

It is the Holy Spirit who gives life, whereas the flesh of fallen man returns to the dust in death.  Still, your own mortal flesh does not even know what it needs, what it longs for, and what you should seek, until the Lord God reveals and gives Himself to you.

He has put eternity in your heart, as He has fashioned you and formed you for Himself in both body and soul; so that you should not be content with what perishes and passes away, but that you should finally find your resting place, your home, and peace and life, in Him.

You shall, in fact, be restless, until you rest in Him.  Everything else that you chase after and set your hand upon shall fall short and fail you, if it does not actually hasten your own demise.  If you would be raised from the dust of the earth to live — really to live: the life which remains — and that your living should have meaning and purpose, joy and gladness, contentment and peace — then what you need, and what you seek, is the Spirit of God, the Author and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father in the Son.

The Persons of the Holy Trinity are a great Mystery, indeed, to you who are not God.  But the Holy Spirit is not simply an attitude or mind set, a point of view or feeling of the Father for His Son.  He is all of that, to be sure, but He is more.  He is not an “it,” an abstract quality or concept, but one of the co-equal and eternal Persons of the one true God: the personal and permanent Bond of Love between the Father and the Son, who was, and is, and ever shall be.  As the Spirit of the Living God, He not only lives, but He is Life in Himself, the One who gives life to all of creation; even as He is the One who sanctifies all things with the holiness of the Holy One of Israel.

You do not know the Father or His Son, except by this Holy Spirit.  But neither do you know or receive the Spirit, except from the Father in His Son.  And you cannot find your own way into that divine Life, but the Lord God comes to you, and reveals Himself to you, and gives Himself to you, in order that you might come and see, and stay with Him, and live and abide with the Father and His Son, by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.   Thus do you become and remain a beloved and well-pleasing son of God the Father in Christ Jesus.

Come, then, to the water and the Word, and you shall see and receive the Spirit of God in the flesh and blood of the Christ.  For though His Body is made of meat like yours, and He has made Himself mortal for your sake, His flesh and blood are spiritual, divine, and life-giving.  That is to say, in the Body of Christ Jesus, God the Father gives Himself to you in the Person of His Son, and He pours out the Person of the Holy Spirit upon you, so that you have eternal Life in and with Him.  Thus do you have fellowship with God, by faith, in His own flesh; and by His Spirit, you share in His own divine Sonship.  Such is Life.

Come, and you shall see.  The Lord your God has sent His messenger to preach and point to Christ Jesus, and to baptize in water with His Word, so that He might be manifested to His Church on earth.  So that you may behold the Lamb of God, and see God in Him who forgives you, and live.

There is this one Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and it is by this one Baptism that even John the Baptist has recognized the Son of God and learned to know Him rightly.  He has been taught by God, as you are, in the washing of the water with the Word and Holy Spirit.

What, then, does it mean for the Christ to be the Son of God?  From the days of Father Abraham, at least, God has taught the connection and identification of the beloved firstborn Son with the sacrificial Lamb.  In the place of beloved Isaac, God provided for Himself the Ram.  So, too, in the Passover, the Lamb was given and sacrificed, His blood shed and His flesh eaten, for the life of the firstborn sons, and for the rescue and redemption of His Israel.

It was also then the case, that, every day, every morning and at sundown, the male Lamb was sacrificed, in order that God might remove the sins of His people and draw near to abide in their midst, not for destruction but with mercy; and that His people might draw near to Him with the incense of their prayers, petitions, and praise, and so abide in peace as His sons.

And now, in the Baptism of our Lord, St. John has perceived the fulfillment of this entire Old Testament in the Person of Christ Jesus.  For He is both the beloved Son and the sacrificial Lamb, who is given and poured out for all the sons of Israel.  In fact, He bears in His own Body, not only the sins of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their children, but the sins of the whole world, in order to atone for all the sons and daughters of Adam.

It is through this forgiveness of sins, which He obtains and bestows in His flesh and by His blood, that He establishes the fellowship of God and Man forever.  That is the fellowship of sonship, of faith and the fear of the Lord, and of the Spirit of God, who proceeds from the Father in the Son.

It is in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, that God and Man are perfectly united and remain together in harmony and peace; even though He has also taken the place of sinners and taken the sins of the world upon Himself.  It is sin that has separated man from God, and so brought death upon all the children of man, from the fall of Adam to the end of the world.  Yet, Christ has borne the sins of all the people in His own Body, even to the point of His sacrificial death upon the Cross, while remaining at all times steadfast and faithful in His relationship with His God and Father.

So does the Spirit rest and remain upon Him, upon His Body of flesh and blood, as He carries the entire burden of sin and death within Himself from the waters of His Baptism to the bloodshed of His Cross.  He perseveres in faith and love, bearing both the sins of the world and the Spirit of God, in order to remove the sins and their crushing weight from you and from all, and, instead, to bestow the Spirit and the Life of God upon you and all people.

It is in His sacrificial death upon the Cross that He bestows the Spirit upon His Church, and in the Resurrection of His Body that He breathes the Spirit into you through the Absolution of your sins.  And, as He is first of all baptized into that very death and resurrection, so it is in His Baptism, which is also now your Baptism, that He is revealed and recognized to be the Christ, and that the Holy Spirit is given and received.  For He is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit, and thereby gives Life in place of death.

He has been manifested to you in the waters of your Baptism, and in the preaching and catechesis of His Word.  Listen to Him, and learn from Him, and so follow Him as a disciple of this Lamb, as a sheep of this Good Shepherd.  See, now, that He is set before you in this preaching, in the Church’s visual confession and depiction of His Crucifixion, and in the administration of His Sacrament, as the true Paschal Lamb: He has taken your place under the curse of death; His blood cleanses you from sin and covers you with His righteousness and holiness; and His flesh feeds you and fills your body and soul with His own divine Life.

As the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, and brought you to Christ, and taught you to follow Him by faith, and has enlightened you by His grace, now stay with Christ Jesus, and live with Him, who has come to abide with you here.  Find your Sabbath Rest in Him, by hearing and heeding His Word; and eat and drink the Supper with which He feeds you here in His House.  For the Church is the Body of Christ, upon whom the Spirit remains, as surely as the flesh and blood of Christ are the Tabernacle of God among men.  This is the place where He is staying!

Do you recognize the Life that is here for you in the Word and Spirit of Christ, the Son of God?  Then follow the example of John, who pointed his disciples to the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.  And follow the example of Andrew, who found first his own brother Simon and brought him to this Lamb of God.  You, also, bring your siblings, your spouse, your parents and children, your neighbors and coworkers, your classmates and peers.  Bring them to the Christ, by inviting them and bringing them to church along with you.  Testify to what you have seen and heard in this place.  Do not be embarrassed by it.

Here is the Holy Ark of the Christian Church, to which the Dove has now returned and finds His resting place.  You have heard the witness of St. John, that the Spirit has descended and remained upon Christ Jesus.  It is therefore in His Body that the Holy Spirit is given and received: In the Ministry of the Gospel, in the means of grace, in the flesh and blood of the crucified and risen One.  This is where the Lamb who was slain — and yet, behold, He lives! — is given and poured out as the Feast of your Salvation.  His Flesh is your true Spiritual Meat, and His Blood is your true Spiritual Drink, in which you have fellowship with God and sanctification in His own holiness.

Here is the Christ, the Messiah, who has found you, and chosen you, and called you, and gathered you to Himself, so that you may stay with Him, and live with Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  And here is the Truth: In His Body you also have the Spirit of His God and Father, so that you also are a son of God in Christ Jesus, and you have Life in His Name.

This Life that you have is nothing less than the divine eternal Life of the Holy Triune God, who has given Himself to you and made you His own.  He is your Life and your Righteousness, as He has become your Rescue and Redemption and your very great Reward.  So is He your Strength and your Song, even in the face of sin and death, and in the valley of dark despair, because He has become your Salvation.  Neither injustice, nor unfairness; nor suffering; nor the sickness of your mortal flesh; nor even the grave, shall be able to undo you or to separate you from God.

For as you are crucified, dead, and buried with Christ Jesus, by your Baptism into His death, so are you raised up, justified, and glorified in the Body of Christ Jesus forevermore.  As Jesus’ little lamb, you die and rise with Him, the great Good Shepherd who has gone willingly as the sacrificial Lamb to the slaughter, to lay down His Life for the sheep, and to take it up again.  For His Father does not allow His Holy One to see corruption or suffer decay, but raises Him from the dead and pours out His Spirit upon Him.  And so does He pour out the same Holy Spirit upon you through the Gospel of this Lamb who is the Lord.

As you hear His Word, and as you follow after Him by faith in His Word, in order to see where He is staying, you follow Him through death and the grave into the Resurrection of the Body and the Life everlasting.  And you do remain with Him, where He is, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, safe and secure in the sacred fellowship of the true and only God, world without end.

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

12 January 2014

One Baptism of Repentance and Remission of Sins for the Fulfillment of All Righteousness

Out of Egypt God has called His Son.  And here now is the reason why.  He rewinds the Exodus, in order to relive the history of Israel in Himself, in His own flesh and blood, in faithfulness and righteousness before His God and Father.  He will not be called a son of the Pharaohs, but, in order to become the Firstborn of many brethren, He chooses rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God; to be afflicted with all of their afflictions; to bear the burdens of all their sins and griefs and sorrows and death.  Therefore, having escaped the wrath of one King Herod, He returns to Judea in the time of another, to be baptized by the one whom Herod will imprison and behead.

To John the Baptist He comes, to be baptized by him in the Jordan River, by this priestly son of Zacharias.  Even John does not yet realize or know or understand what is happening, but thus the Lord fulfills all righteousness.  And so it is that John, whose preaching and baptism are from the Father in heaven, becomes Abraham offering beloved Isaac as a whole burnt offering to the Lord.  He is Aaron offering the bull and the ram, the goat and the Lamb for Israel.  He is Samuel, the prophet, priest, and judge, anointing David as the chosen of the Lord, the Man after God’s own heart.  And he is Elijah, calling down the Spirit and fire upon the One who baptizes with the Spirit and fire, upon the one true God in the flesh.

The greater One is baptized by the one who must decrease.  Joshua succeeds Moses, and Elisha follows Elijah.  From the wilderness He passes through the Jordan into Canaan, in order that the people might enter with Him and become the children of God.  This is the point and purpose of His coming, also now to you.  And this is what righteousness is, and what it means to be and to live as the Son of God, by the grace of the Father in the gift of His Spirit, through faith in His Word.

What is revealed in the Baptism of our Lord, and what is given to you in your Holy Baptism, is the inner divine Life of the Holy Triune God manifested and made available in the flesh of Christ Jesus.  The one true God turns Himself inside-out, as it were, in order to draw you and embrace you to Himself in love.  He loves you with the divine eternal Love of the Father for His Son, and He brings you to Himself in the faith and love of the Son for His Father.  He anoints you with the Holy Spirit, the Author and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father in the Son; who is poured out upon the Body of the Son and rests and remains upon Him, so that you, who belong to the Body of Christ by your Baptism into Him, also receive the Spirit of God and become His child.

The heavens are here opened to you, in the waters of Holy Baptism, because the Holy Triune God opens Himself to you in the baptized Body of Christ Jesus.  For not only who and what He is from all eternity, but so also His relationship with the God and Father in the Holy Spirit, has entered into human flesh and lives with you in His human flesh.  He establishes His divine Sonship in His true Manhood, in order to accomplish and perfect this righteousness for you, and in you forevermore.

What does this mean, but that He lives as you and all people are created to live: He lives by faith in the Creator, though He Himself is the Word by whom all things are created.  As the perfect Son, He relies upon His Father, and He receives all things from His Father.  Not only what He needs to support His body and life on earth, but also now the Cross from the hand of His Father, in the sure and certain hope and confidence of the Resurrection.  For His rising and emerging from the waters; the opened heavens; the descent of the Spirit like a dove; and the voice of His Father — all of these are the pledge and surety of His Resurrection.  They confirm what He has learned to know and trust from the Prophets, that His Father will uphold Him and establish Him as a Covenant to the people, as a Light to the nations and the Glory of His Israel.

He takes for His starting point the place where the people are, in order to bear their burdens and the consequences of their sin.  By submitting Himself to St. John’s baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, He identifies Himself with sinners in the brokenness of their relationship with God.  He makes their sins and yours His own.  He shares their fall, their frailty and failure, their fear and fatigue; so that, by His faithfulness, from within that lost cause and hopeless predicament, the people — all who believe and are baptized into Him — are also redeemed and reconciled, in and with Him, by the vindication of His God and Father.  As God raised this same Christ Jesus from the dead, who shared your death by His Baptism, so are you also raised unto righteousness and life by your Baptism.  For as you thereby die with Him, so do you also live with Him.

This is the point, and this is what it’s all about: Righteousness and life with God in Christ.  Not simply the keeping of the Law with its rules and regulations, but actually to be and to live as a child of God, as a son of the Father:

To receive life from Him by His Word and Spirit, rather than trying to create and preserve your own life for yourself.  To bear His Name, to sanctify His Name in your life and conduct, and to call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, instead of striving to make a great name for yourself.  To learn from Him, by hearing and heeding His Word and the preaching of it, the Law and the Gospel, unto repentance and faith in His Christ.  To fear, love, and trust in Him, at all times and in all circumstances.  And to glorify and honor Him in your thoughts, words, and actions.

Not as a means to some other end; and not as though to justify and save yourself by such efforts, which is neither possible nor necessary; but as the life of righteousness which is lived by faith in His Word.  It is to live righteously, to live a holy and godly life in what you say and do, as one who is right with God, that is, a son of God in Christ.  Beloved, that is who and what you are, by grace through faith in Him, by your Holy Baptism into Christ Jesus, our Lord.

For so has He established His divine Sonship, His righteousness and life, in His own human flesh and in the waters of His Baptism.  Beginning from within the brokenness of the fall into sin, He has been raised up for the justification and sanctification of all the son and daughters of Adam, to make of them the children of God.

What His Baptism thus means, signifies, and requires of Him is the Cross, which He accepts in His love for His Father, and in His love for you; and which He bears and carries and suffers in the faith that His Father will raise Him up from out of death and the grave and vindicate Him in Glory for the salvation of the world.

Take careful note and consider that your dear Lord Jesus Christ does all of this — He fulfills all righteousness and accomplishes this great salvation, for you and for all people — by submitting to and making use of the external means that His God and Father provides and ordains for this purpose.  It is fitting, Jesus says, for Him to be baptized by John.  It’s not a show, but the very way and means by which your redemption begins.

It is all of one consistent piece and divine activity: The preaching and ministry of John the Baptist, and his baptism with water for repentance and remission of sins; the Word and promises of God; the gift of the Holy Spirit in bodily form; the Crucifixion and Resurrection of the Body of Jesus.

None of this is play-acting, make-believe, or merely symbolic, but these are precisely the means by which God works: Within which the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, fulfills all righteousness for you.  And now, from the waters of His Baptism to yours, from His Cross and in His resurrected Body, He pours out His Spirit upon you to raise you up to newness of life in body and soul, and He accomplishes all righteousness in you.

Beloved, you are God’s own child.  I gladly say it.  You are baptized into Christ.  So are you well-pleasing to your Father in heaven, and so shall you live in Him who loves you, forever and ever.

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

05 January 2014

Keep Your Eye on the Boy

It is marvelous, how ordinary the childhood of Jesus must have been, in every way, save only without sin.  He was a little Child growing up in the midst of His people, experiencing the bump and grind and cut and thrust of daily life with all its ups and downs and ins and outs.

Keep your eye on that Boy.  For He is our childhood’s pattern, not only by way of example, but as the very Image in which we have been created.  He lives the true divine life in His own human flesh and blood; and precisely that is the true human life, which you also are called to live.

Your first and foremost duty, as a Christian, is to listen to the preaching of God’s Word, to gladly hear and learn it; and, as a child of God, also to live according to His Word.  That is to worship Him in faith and love; to fear, love, and trust in Him above everything else; to confess what He has spoken; and to call upon His Name in every situation, to pray, praise, and give thanks.  It is to go up to the Feast, and then to live from the Feast back to your station in life; therein to love and serve your neighbor as yourself, and above all to forgive those who sin against you, as you are forgiven.

In all things, keep your eye on that Boy, Jesus, and do not lose sight of Him in any of your doings.  For one thing, it is true that you should follow His example.  Not so much the hypothetical, “What Would Jesus Do?”  But, “What Did Jesus Do?”  Which means, in the case of the Holy Gospel here at hand, that you should go to church and pay careful attention to the Word of God; and that you should honor your father and mother, and submit to them, respecting their parental authority.

Follow the example of Christ Jesus, in these and other ways, within your own vocation — and keep your eye on Him — especially because He is your Salvation and your very Life with God.

It is in Him that you know the Mysteries of God, His good and gracious will for you, and His great salvation.  It is in Him, the incarnate Son, that God is your Father; and through Him, also, that you receive the Holy Spirit, the Pledge of your inheritance as a son of God by grace and by adoption.

It is in the Lord Jesus that you live before God, in the flesh, even now in your pilgrimage on earth, holy and blameless, in righteousness and purity.  Because it is in Christ Jesus that your life is already safely hidden with God the Father in the heavenly places.

For His Body is the Ark of the New Covenant, the Holy of Holies, the Temple of God.  And He is both your Priest and your King, the Priesthood and the Kingdom of God.  He not only offers but is the burnt offering and the peace offering, who has prepared, and serves, and is the Feast for all of His servants.  He is the true Passover Lamb of God, who has been sacrificed for us.

Where Jesus is, there is your God; there is your life and you salvation; there is all that you need for both body and soul, every good and perfect gift, and every grace and blessing.

He gives you life forever, and He gives meaning to your life on earth.

Keep your eye on Him, therefore, and stay with Him.  Keep Him with you in all your going out and coming in.  For even though He fills the universe and cannot be contained; and even though He is present unto all things, which are His creation, to uphold and sustain them; yet, He is not to be found apart from His Word, and He is not accessible or available to you outside of His House.

But far too easily, you depart from the Feast, and you return to your chores and regular routines, without having the Lord Jesus with you, and without even realizing that He’s not along!

It is not that He has lost you, but that you have left Him behind, insofar as your cares and concerns, your worries and occupations, your attention and energies are directed away from Him and His Word to other things.  As though anything else were as vital and important as the Word of God.

You go along with the crowd in the caravan, and how quickly a day can go by without a thought of Jesus.  And then a day becomes a week, a month, a year or more.

Much the same thing happens when your own preoccupations and pursuits distract and divert you from the duties of your office and stations in life: When you dishonor and disobey your parents; when you neglect your spouse and children; when you work for the love of money, instead of for the love of God and man; or when you play and party instead of working to serve your neighbor.

Whatever the case may be, at some point, hopefully sooner than later, you’re going to realize that something is terribly wrong.  Your life may be full and busy, hectic and overwhelming, and yet there is this deep lack, this gaping hole, this hollow emptiness that aches within you.  There is also the distress and anxiety of duties you have neglected; promises and obligations that you have not kept or fulfilled; friends and neighbors you have forgotten and failed to help; and your own family, who miss you when you’re missing in action, and, truth be told, you miss them, too, in that case.

For all of that, what’s really missing at the core of all your troubles is Christ Jesus.

So, the big question is, where do you go looking for Jesus?

It is so typical, according to your fallen nature, that you go looking for Him, for His life and light and love, in all the wrong ways and all the wrong places: Either in the ways of the world, which have the appearance of wisdom, success, and popularity; or else, you go looking for “Jesus” in what is already friendly and familiar to you.  So it is that, with misguided zeal, you make a false god, an idol, out of your family and friends and your own frantic efforts.  And all the while, you are dying inside and becoming more and more anxious and afraid.  Because you can’t find Him.

Beloved, it is the Lord Jesus who shall find you, by seeking you out and calling you back to Himself.  He returns you to your Holy Baptism, in which He is with you and for you, by the preaching of repentance and forgiveness.  He returns you to the Temple of His Church on earth, to the preaching and catechesis of His Word: There, too, He is with you and for you; not as a means to some other end, but as your very life and salvation in Himself.

It is not that you must fetch Him back to you, but, if you would be saved, He must bring you back to His God and Father in and with Himself.

Remember that He has lived His divine life in your flesh; that He has lived your human life in His own flesh and blood.  The almighty and eternal Son of God, by whom all things are made and are upheld — He became a Child in His Mother’s womb; He was born into the world; and then He grew and increased through all the stages of childhood into adulthood.  He got stronger and taller, and smarter and wiser.  He grew up and matured in all things, in favor with God and man.

He heard and gave attention to the Word of God!  (He who is the very Word of God in Person!)  He went up to Jerusalem, to the Temple, to the Feast; and there, in time, by His sacrificial death, He became the Temple and the Feast for you.

Through death into life, by His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension, He has entered the Father’s house, the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens.  So that, now, is your “childhood pattern,” the way in which you walk with Him from this vale of tears to the Father.

You know the Way, dear child of God, because He is the Way.  You know where to find Him, because He calls you by His Word and Spirit, and He reveals Himself to you here in His House.

But He also knows that you are sinful; that your mortal flesh and blood grow weak and weary; and that you lose sight of Him and lose yourself in all the cares and occupations of this life.

Therefore, in such love for you — which is the true wisdom, grace, and glory of God — He comes down to you, in order to go with you, and He humbles Himself to serve you and to care for you.  His Word and Spirit attend you on your way, both to and fro.  Your Baptism remains and avails for you.  And His flesh and blood accompany you, within your own body of flesh and blood.

In all your going out and coming in, from the day of your Baptism, yes, even from before the foundation of the world, from this time forth, even forevermore, He goes with you all the way.

As surely as He has been crucified for your transgressions and raised from the dead on the third day for your justification, so surely does He raise you from the dead, day by day, through His forgiveness of all your sins with His Word of the Gospel.  And so shall He raise you from the dead at the last, once and for all, to live with Him in His Kingdom, in body and soul, forever and ever.

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

01 January 2014

The Lord Grants You His Peace

What you long for above all else is Peace:
such as the world cannot give, and you cannot get for yourself.

All of your past regrets, all of your present resolves, and all of your future hopes revolve around a longing desire for peace.  There is this deep hunger in you, which will not be satisfied until it is satisfied in peace; a restlessness that will not be calmed and quieted until you rest in peace.

Death is not the answer or solution, if perhaps you have contemplated that possibility.  Suicide is not a means of grace, but a grave sin of despair.  Dying of old age, illness or accident will not bring you the peace you long for, either; leastwise not in itself; not if you lack peace in your lifetime.

You want your burdens to be lifted, but peace is not found in retirement, nor in a day off, a long weekend, or even an extended vacation.  A sabbatical from work brings no real rest, not without peace; whereas true peace is able to rest and rejoice even while working long hours and hard days.

You want your enemies to give up and go away.  You want your foes to stop fighting you.  You want your persecutors to stop picking on you.  But there is no genuine peace in such a cease fire, stalemate or truce.  World peace may be measured by moments without any wars, but the peace that you long for and need is more than avoiding confrontation and managing to make it through your day without conflict.

You want comfort and confidence, safety and security.  There is no peace without those things.  But none of this is found in the temporary institutions and investments of this life on earth.  Money will not buy you true or lasting peace. Your house and home cannot keep you safe and secure against the real enemies of peace, which lurk within and without.  All the creature comforts in the world will not comfort you in the face of death.  Family and friends are no more helpful than earthborn mortal princes in protecting you from the grave and preserving your life.  Then again, simply to go on living provides no peace or rest, either, no matter whether you keep yourself busy and stay active, or find yourself bedridden, comatose, or driven to extremes.

The Law has the appearance of an answer, because the Law of God is good and wise.  It seems to offer a solution to your search for peace: Simply do those things that God commands, and avoid those things that He forbids, and you’ll have it made.  Keep you nose clean and stay out of trouble, and surely you’ll have nothing to fear.

So you mind your p’s and q’s, you keep your checklist of good deeds, and you dutifully make your resolutions to try harder and do better than you have so far.  You can, and you should, discipline yourself to live according to the outward demands of the Law.  You can, and you should, train yourself in such outward righteousness.  You can stay your hand from hurting and extend your hand to help, and your neighbor’s life on earth is better for it; so is yours, for that matter.  That’s a good thing, but it still isn’t peace.  It does not satisfy the Law, nor can the Law satisfy your heart.

The Law demands perfection, and there is no such perfection in your fallen flesh.  Despite your best of intentions and firm resolutions, you are weak, and you fail.  No matter how hard you try, you can’t make up for your past mistakes; you can’t undo all the wrongs you’ve done; and you can’t pay back all the debts and obligations that you’ve racked up over the years.  And what good is the outward keeping of the Law, when you’re heart remains anxious and afraid?

The Law demands the perfect life of God in you; in all your thoughts, words, and deeds; in all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  But what you still keep finding in yourself, if you are honest, is laziness and selfishness, a battle between pride and despair, sickness unto death, disease and decay.  Not only in your mortal flesh with all its flaws and blemishes, but in the way you think, the way you feel, and the way you really want to speak and act, even if you manage to restrain yourself.

Religious rites and ceremonies are not the answer, either, whether they be sparse and simple or grand and formal.  They are neither the problem nor the solution in themselves, though they may indeed be beautiful and meet, right, and salutary as vehicles for the Word of God and prayer.  In so far as they are human works, they cannot purchase the peace that you are looking for.  In other words, your own piety and religiosity will not save you from the war that rages in your members, the conflict in your heart, and the restlessness of your thoughts.

Not even the God-given Covenant of Circumcision could save anyone apart from the fulfillment of that promise in Christ Jesus.

He is what the Law demands — and He is what the Gospel now gives to you.  For He has come to save you, by His grace, which is the good and acceptable will of God and His great glory.

Here is the perfect life of God in the one true perfect Man, in flesh and blood exactly like your own, only without sin.  Even from the womb, from childbirth and infancy, here is God made Man.  He even has private parts, which He exposes to the knife and to the Law — and, in time, upon the Cross in humility and public shame.

Not only has He become true Man of flesh and blood, a part of His own good creation, but He has voluntarily assumed the circumstances of fallen man, the curse and consequences of sin and death.  Though He has no sins of His own, He assumes the sins of the world and takes them upon Himself, into His own flesh, into all His members.  He owns them as though they were His own faults and failings.  Therefore, He is condemned by God and man as a lawbreaker, and crucified as a criminal.

Because He does so as true God and true Man, perfectly united in His one Person, and within His relationship of perfect faith and love with the Father — because He goes to the Cross voluntarily, in righteousness and holiness, innocence and blessedness — His sacrificial death is the perfect satisfaction and fulfillment of the Law.  In Him, in His Person and good work, all of its demands are kept and satisfied.  At the same time, in His death and in the shedding of His blood, all of the punishments of the Law are completed, and all its debts are paid in full.  Nothing is lacking.

It is for this reason that He now preaches Peace to His people, and He speaks tenderly to the heart of Jerusalem, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.

And so it is that He speaks Peace to you, as well; and with His speaking — in and with His Name — He gives to you this blessed divine Peace, which the world cannot give.

Not only has He taken your place and resolved all that was amiss, but He has done so in order to give you His place and all that is His: His Name; His Sonship and inheritance; His Father and His Spirit; and His Life everlasting in the neverending “Eighth Day” of His bodily Resurrection.

This Resurrection of the Body of Christ, which was circumcised and crucified for you and for all people — this Resurrection of His Body is your Peace with God in body and soul, and on earth as it is in heaven.  It is the Peace which is preached and given to you in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, in which you have the forgiveness of all your sins (instead of guilt and shame), and reconciliation with God (instead of enmity and alienation).

This is the true Peace of contentment, in and with Jesus, your Savior.  It is safety and security, even in the face of death; because the Resurrection of the Body of Christ is the pledge and guarantee of your own resurrection from the dead.  There is nothing that anyone can do to rob you of that life.

Indeed, His Cross and Resurrection, and His Life everlasting in body and soul, all of these things are already given and bestowed upon you — by and with His Holy Name — in the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit in Holy Baptism.  For in that Sacrament, “the circumcision made without hands,” the Holy Triune God has put His Name upon you and blessed you with Himself.

The same Covenant of divine, eternal Life in Christ, in which God has pledged and given Himself to you, and bound Himself to you, is also now realized for you, and it is sealed and renewed in you, in the Holy Communion of Christ: His Body given for you to eat, and His Blood poured out for you to drink, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  For in this Sacrament of the Altar, all the fruits and benefits of the Cross and Resurrection are given into your body, into your frail mortal flesh, in such a way that you are perfectly united with the Holy Triune God in the Body of Christ Jesus; wherefore death shall not be able to claim or keep your body forever, but it shall be raised in glory.

These Holy Sacraments are the rites and ceremonies of the Lord Jesus Christ, which, by His Word and Holy Spirit, save you from this present evil age for the divine eternity of Paradise with God.  These means of grace are not your work, but His.  They are not a purchase, but His free gift to you.

Throughout the Divine Service, year out and year in, the Church on earth prays repeatedly for the Peace of the Lord, which surpasses all human understanding.  So do we pray, for so has He taught us to pray; and while we are yet speaking, He is already answering and acting.  For the Liturgy of His Gospel, of His Holy Word and Sacrament, grants you that Peace which the world cannot give.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  For the Peace of the Lord is with you, here and now, and forever and always.  In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.