27 January 2019

On Not Rejecting But Receiving Christ Jesus in His Word

Following His Baptism in the Jordan River and His forty days in the wilderness, the Lord Jesus has returned to His hometown of Nazareth; and on the Sabbath, according to His custom, He has gone to the local Synagogue, where He reads and preaches from the Prophet Isaiah.

His preaching is itself the fulfillment of that very Word He reads.  For He is the Christ, the Son of God, anointed with the Holy Spirit by the Father in His Baptism.  And He has come in the flesh, God in Man made manifest, to release His people from the captivity of sin and death.

The fulfillment of the Holy Scriptures is found precisely and specifically in the preaching of Christ Jesus.  However humble or stuttering the sermon or the preacher might be, it is in the preaching and hearing of His Word that Christ and His Holy Spirit are poured out upon His people.

St. Luke is quite specific in his description of these things.  The Words of grace, he clearly writes, come out of the mouth of Jesus and into the ears of the people.  It is, therefore, in the ears of the people that the promises of God are fulfilled.  So also today in your ears, in this preaching.

It is easy to despise God’s Word as it is spoken to you this way, but it is His Word nevertheless.  And though it has been despised throughout history, in the preaching of His Prophets and Apostles, in the preaching of Christ Jesus Himself, and in the preaching of His pastors to this day, yet, by the mercies of God, the preaching of His grace and forgiveness continues, even here and now.  And by His Holy Spirit there are those who believe His holy Word and live a holy life according to it.

Now, the people of Nazareth were initially able to admire Jesus as a powerful, eloquent speaker, and as a worker of miracles.  He was a local boy done good, and they were proud of that.

But what was it that turned them against Him?  Why, then, their rage and their attempt to kill Him?  It was because He would not play their games, nor play by their rules, nor cater to their whims and desires.  Instead, He read their hearts, identified their selfishness and sin, and brought it all to the surface by provoking them to jealous anger.  How different He is from those who go out of their way to appease the crowds and keep them happy, who say whatever itching ears want to hear, even if it isn’t true, and who do whatever is most expedient and popular, even if it isn’t wise.

The Lord has come, not to give the people what they want, but rather to do and say and give what they need — not according to their thoughts and feelings, but by the Word and Wisdom of God.

So Jesus lays it on the line.  He is not a miracle-working sugar daddy.  He comes to forgive their sins, for which He calls them to repentance.  He comes to bury them with Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism, and to raise them up as something altogether new and other than what they are.

Today, the same Lord Jesus Christ is here to do the same for you.  Will you repent of your sins and receive His forgiveness?  Or will you cast Him down from the prideful hill of your sinful heart?

What begins in this Holy Gospel is the rejection of Christ Jesus by His own people and nation and the subsequent turning of His grace and salvation to the Gentiles.  What Israel was supposed to be, as the people of God, for the blessing of the nations, Christ Himself now and ever shall be.

Prophetic examples are found already in the cases of Elijah and Elisha, such as Jesus recalls from the Old Testament.  Both of those men, like the Lord Jesus Himself, were rejected and persecuted by the rulers and people of Israel; but they took the grace and Ministry of God to foreigners.

The extension of the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles was not the result of an arbitrary rejection of Israel by the Lord.  On the contrary, Israel persistently and stubbornly rejected the Lord and His Prophets.  Had Israel received Him as He intended, they would have enjoyed the blessing of His grace, and they would also have been a vehicle of His grace to the nations around them, as well.

It was never supposed to be, nor did it have to be, an “either-or.”  Nor is it an “either-or” for you.  As you hear and receive the gracious Words of life and love from the lips of Jesus in the preaching of His Gospel, you become a vehicle of His grace to your neighbor in the words that you speak and the works of love that you carry out.  But if and when you reject His Ministry of the Gospel, then do not be surprised when He sends a famine of His Word upon you, and leaves you to languish in the leprosy of your sins.  Meanwhile, He will not fail to raise up other ways and means of taking His Words of grace, His cleansing waters of forgiveness, and His life-giving Food to others.

Tragically, the people of Nazareth were given what they asked for — to be rid of Jesus.  He left them and went on to Capernaum in Galilee.  In throwing Him out, His hometown anticipated the time when His followers would likewise be thrown out of the synagogues.

But to be sure, that pattern of rejection, witnessed in the Old Testament Prophets and climaxing in the Cross of Christ, continued in the ministry of His New Testament Apostles, and so also in the service of His pastors to this day.  Those who preach in the Name of Jesus suffer in His Name.

The fact is, the Lord Jesus and those who are sent in His Name and stead will always meet with rejection from this sinful world of sinful people.  What is far more sobering is the way that many in the church are often found to be leading the world in its rejection of the Lord and His Word.

Consider how it is in this Holy Gospel.  It was not the world but the synagogue that rejected Jesus and tried to throw Him off a cliff.  It was the pious, devout, church-going folks, like yourself.

Do not presume to rest on your laurels or suppose that you could never fall into such heinous sins.  Just when you are most secure in your own righteousness, you may well be engaged in throwing Jesus out.  Do not be surprised, then, when He takes His Word away and leaves you with nothing.

On account of your sin, you are always in danger of taking His grace for granted and allowing it to pass on by, on its way to those who will receive it in true faith and genuine gratitude.  Lest that should ever happen to you here, I implore you to cling with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and strength, to the Word of Christ and His Ministry of the Gospel.  Do not wait until they are gone away to realize what He has so graciously offered and bestowed upon you.

The people of Nazareth refused to accept Him, and left to yourself, you would likewise do the same.  As the Lord Jesus has spoken, no Prophet is acceptable in his hometown.  And as St. John writes in the opening verses of his Gospel, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, but the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.”

So that was the situation.  But the real issue, in fact, was not the people’s acceptance of Jesus.  He had no need or want for their acceptance and approval, in order to be who and what He is from all eternity, that is, the Christ, the Son of the living God.  What was absolutely crucial and desperately needed was rather the Lord’s acceptance of the people.  That is likewise what you need, as well.

It is not for you to “accept” the Lord Jesus into your heart, as if you even could, and as if He were subject to your approval; but what you need, if you are to be saved, if you are to live and not die, is for the Lord to accept you by His grace, to welcome you into His heart, His city, His Kingdom.

Whenever you presume to pass judgment on Christ Jesus and His Word, or you demand that He meet your expectations, you have forgotten that He is your Judge, that He is the One who judges you, whether you are righteous through faith in Him, or condemned forever in your sinful unbelief.

But this very One who comes to be your Judge is likewise the very One who has come to save you.  And notwithstanding the inherent sinfulness at work in the rejection of Jesus — which continues throughout the Gospel, until it reaches its crescendo on the Cross — it is precisely this rejection of the Christ, even unto death, which constitutes His mighty Salvation for you and all the world.

That is the great irony of Epiphany, and of the Christian faith and life: The divine Glory of Christ Jesus, and the glory of His people in the world, is found in His Cross and Passion, in His voluntary suffering and death as the Son of God in the flesh, given and poured out for the sake of sinners.  In the footsteps and pattern of the Old Testament Prophets, the Lord Jesus suffers righteously and innocently as the Servant of Yahweh.  He is rejected by sinners because He faithfully proclaims the Word of the Lord, the Law and the Gospel.  But it is by His death, surpassing that of any other Prophet, that all the Law and the Prophets, all the Words and promises of God, are now fulfilled.

Not only does His death give meaning and purpose to the suffering and death of the Prophets who were before Him — and to the suffering and death of His Apostles and all the ministers of His Word who follow after — but His sacrificial death upon the Cross is the very heart and center of the Gospel, because it is the end of death, the forgiveness of sins, the conquest of Satan, release from captivity, cleansing of leprosy, bread and water in the desert, and life everlasting in heaven.

In bearing the rejection of His own people then — in bearing the rejection of your hard heart and sinful flesh — the Lord Jesus took upon Himself and bore within His flesh and blood all of those sins and the sins of the whole world.  So did He also bear your griefs and carry all your sorrows in His Body to the Cross, that He might do away with them forever.  By His suffering and death He removed those burdens from you.  He has taken them away and does not count them against you.  In His divine love for you, He has opened up the way out of death into life with God.  For as surely as He has been crucified for your sins, so has He also been raised for your justification.

His Sacrifice is your Atonement and Redemption, and so His Resurrection is your Reconciliation and your Righteousness in the presence of His God and Father.  He has borne your hostility with patience, He has embraced you to Himself in mercy, and He has accepted you in peace and love.

Though the nations rage against the Savior and reject Him — and though your own sinful heart has done so, time and time again — His rejection and His death are for the salvation of sinners all over the world, including you.  And that great salvation which He has obtained by His Cross and Passion, He freely offers now, to you and all the nations, in the waters of Holy Baptism and in the Words of grace that flow from His lips.  It is freely offered to you this morning in these very words now sounding in your ears, and in the giving of His Body and the pouring out of His Blood here at His Altar, for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of your sins, and for eternal life in Him.

By Words of grace from His own mouth, He preaches Himself and all His gifts and benefits into your ears, into your heart and mind, and into your body and life.  By the washing of the water with His Word, He has cleansed you from the leprosy of all your sins, and He has made of you a child of His own dear God and Father in heaven.  So it is that, here and now, in the synagogue of His beloved Church on earth, He continues to feed you — Today, tomorrow, and always — with the life-giving Food and Drink of His own flesh and blood.  For He has made you a citizen of His Kingdom.  You belong to His own people, not by genealogy but by grace, through faith in His life-giving Word; and thus do you reside in His own Town, the heavenly City, the new Jerusalem, even now in the midst of this fallen and perishing world, and so forever hereafter in the Resurrection.

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

25 January 2019

From the Way of Death to the Way of Life

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two.  The way of life is that of faith in Christ Jesus, which proceeds in love for God and man; and the way of death is that of unbelief and self-idolatry, whereby you strive to serve yourself above all others, only to find that you are consumed by the desires and demands of your own fallen flesh.

So you stand at the crossroads, and these two roads diverge before you, the blessing and the curse, the way of life and the way of death.  You cannot travel both, but it seems as though the choice  were obvious and easy, since faith and life and sin and death are as different as heaven and hell.

The trouble is that, in the blindness of your sinful heart and mind, you cannot perceive or interpret the difference clearly.  The way of life looks like death to you.  The life-giving Word of the Lord sounds onerous and burdensome, as though it were asking too much of you, whereas the gifts and promises of God in Christ appear foolish and pointless.  Life itself looks like the opposite to you.

By contrast, the way of death appears to you as though it were pious and righteous, as though it were a sure and certain path to life and happiness, to safety, security, and peace, and as though it were actually the way of God.  The Lord Jesus warned His disciples, prior to His Passion, that a day was coming when men would presume to serve and worship God by persecuting Christians and putting them to death.  Nowhere was that more the case than it was with Saul of Tarsus before the Lord converted him.  In his sincere zeal for the Law and for his ancestral traditions, and in his conviction that he was serving the Lord God of Israel, Saul was in fact sincerely and dead wrong.

So also in your unconverted heart.  In your sinfulness, in your native unbelief, life looks like death, and death looks like life.  Faith seems foolish, a bad investment.  Sin seems wise and profitable.

The way of death, in short, is the way of legalistic self-righteousness, which is already the heart of the problem.  It comprises all the many and various ways whereby you strive to get life for yourself, whether by attempting to bargain and barter with God, seeking to buy Him off with your works and sacrifices, or by ignoring Him altogether on the false assumption that you know better.

This way of death is common to all the sons and daughters of Adam & Eve, apart from conversion.  Until the Holy Spirit shines the Light of Christ into your heart through the Gospel, you dwell in thick darkness, though you cannot even tell that you’re in the dark.  You strive and strain with all your might to set things right, to get life for yourself, to gain control, to get whatever you want.  But what you get is death; and many others suffer, too, as you pursue that path of self-destruction

The way of life is the very opposite.  It is followed by no trust or confidence in yourself at all.  It is pursued solely by faith in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, by His Word and Spirit.

You cannot find or follow that way of life by any wisdom, reason, or strength of your own.  For you cannot recognize or know the Lord Jesus apart from His Word and Holy Spirit, far less can you believe in Him or follow Him by any intelligence or effort of your fallen flesh.  But the Lord in His mercy has not left you to your own devices or allowed you to proceed unhindered on the way of death.  He has rather confronted you with the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection, by which He calls you and brings you to repentance and faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.

By the preaching of His Word He knocks you off your high horse, He shatters your hard heart, He pierces your beclouded mind, and He breathes His life-giving Spirit into your body and soul, so that you become a living being.  He shines the Light of the Gospel in the midst of your darkness, so that you begin to see Him as He is.  It is as though something like scales falls from your eyes.

He does it by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection, which is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  That is what is necessary for the salvation of the nations.  So that is what St. Paul is called to do, like the other Apostles before him; and that is what pastors to this day are called to do in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

By that preaching of repentance you are crucified and put to death — to yourself, to your sins, and to the wicked world all around you.  You are crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ Jesus, in order to be raised to newness of life by His forgiveness of your sins and the gift of His Spirit.

Whoever tries to save his own life will lose it, but whoever loses his life in this world for the sake of the Lord Jesus and His Gospel will have Life everlasting with Him in body and soul.  That is the paradox between these two ways, the way of life and the way of death.  In attempting to make a life for yourself, you end up dying, and you take your neighbors down with you.  But when you live and die by faith in the Cross of Christ, then you are raised up and live forever in His Body.

The preaching of repentance and forgiveness thus corresponds to and coincides with your Baptism into Christ.  Indeed, such preaching is always to and from the font, to and from the waters of Holy Baptism.  That is to say, not only does it call you to be baptized, but then it daily returns you to the dying and rising of Baptism.  Day after day it drowns you and puts to death the old Adam in you, in order to raise you up, day after day, to live before God in the righteousness and purity of Christ, now and forever.  It brings your sins to light and calls you to account for them, to acknowledge and confess them, that you might be turned away from sin and death and brought to life in Christ Jesus.

This preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins — the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, the preaching of the Cross and Resurrection — marks your body and soul, your heart, mind, and spirit, with the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the sign of His Cross, just as you also received in your Holy Baptism.  So it is for you as it was for St. Paul.  As the Lord sent Ananias to lay his hands on Saul of Tarsus, to bestow the Spirit upon him, to open his eyes, and to baptize him in the Name of the Lord Jesus, so has the same Lord sent His pastors to baptize and catechize you, to anoint you with His Spirit, and to sign you with His Cross upon your forehead and heart.

That is why, as a Christian, there is hardly anything more appropriate than making the sign of the Cross in whatever circumstances you may find yourself at any given time.  Not only to remember the death of Jesus once for all upon the Cross, but also to remember and confess that you have died with Him in your Baptism, and that you therefore also rise with Him and live with Him forever.

As the Cross has been signed upon your heart, mind, and body, as it is preached into your ears and confessed with your mouth, so does the Cross mark all that you think, all that you say, and all that you do.  It crucifies and puts to death whatever is self-righteous in your body and soul, whatever is sinful, whatever is unfaithful and unloving.  But it also resurrects and sanctifies your body and soul, and it strengthens the New Man in you — which is your life in Christ and His Life in you.

Because the Cross does all of this, because it marks you, and because it crucifies you, and because it raises you up with the Lord Jesus Christ, it also means that you are hated and persecuted for His Name’s sake, and that you bear and suffer His Cross in your body and life on this earth.

Consider what God said concerning St. Paul: “I will show him how much he must suffer for My Name’s sake.”  Not that God would punish him for being so wicked up until that point, but that his suffering for the Name of Jesus Christ, his suffering for the sake of the Gospel, his suffering under the Cross, would be a manifestation of the Gospel in his body and life.  Thus were the power and wisdom of God manifest in St. Paul, and so also in your body and life as a Christian, as well.

You also bear and suffer the Cross of Christ.  In some respects it is the discipline of the Lord who loves you, as a father disciplines his children in love.  The Cross does perform the work of the Law in exposing your sin and putting it to death.  But it is more than that.  For the sufferings of the Cross that you bear also include the hatred and hurt of the world on account of what you do right.

In truth, you do not suffer even a fraction of what you deserve because of your sins, for you surely deserve nothing but punishment, yet God in His mercy spares you so many of the consequences of your sin, even in this life on earth, just as He has removed all of the consequences of sin from the life everlasting.  But for doing what is good and right, for loving and forgiving your neighbor, for speaking the truth in love, for serving those around you in need, and for doing good to those who sin against you — for these things you are crucified, for these things you suffer and die, as Christ was crucified and put to death, the Righteous for the unrighteous, for the sins of the world.

What you suffer is not pointless, it is profound and fruitful, both as a discipline by which you are strengthened in your repentance and faith, and as a bodily confession and proclamation of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, your Savior and Redeemer.  Praise God, therefore, when you are counted worthy to bear and to suffer the Cross of Christ to the glory of His Holy Name.

It is by His Cross that your thoughts and feelings are conformed to the mind and Spirit of Christ.  And by His Holy Cross your entire body and life are recreated in the Image and Likeness of God.  For in this poor life of labor, this is what God looks like: the Body of Christ Jesus on the Cross.

It is in that Image of God — in Christ the Crucified — that you are shaped by the preaching of the Cross.  Not as though God were some kind of sadist who rejoices in your suffering, but because He has called you in love to be conformed to the Image of His Son, and because in Christ, through the Cross, you have such a life and such good things as you could never imagine or dare to ask for.

That is what St. Paul was called to bear in his body and life; that is what he was called to suffer for the Name and sake of Jesus.  Both in his preaching and in his body he bore the Cross of Christ.  He preached and he suffered in Jesus’ Name.  And as I have already said, so also do you bear the Name and Cross of the same Lord Jesus Christ.  You do not have the same office and vocation as St. Paul the Apostle, but you do have the same Lord, you are called by the same Jesus, and you are given the same life in Him.  So, then, as a disciple of Jesus Christ the Crucified, you bear His Name and His Cross in your body and life, in whatever office and station you are called to serve.

But as you are thus called to live and die with Christ on the way of life — and so to rise and live with Him forever after in body and soul — He does not leave you to fend for yourself on your own.  Like St. Paul, having received the true sight of faith through the preaching of the Holy Gospel, and having received the gift and cleansing of the Holy Spirit in the waters of your Holy Baptism, so are you also now fed and strengthened in body and soul by the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  You are invigorated as a member of His Body, the Church, to live in faith and love by His grace.

And it is not only that you bear and suffer His Cross as a disciple, but Christ Jesus Himself is with you to share your sufferings and bear you up in the midst of sin and death, each step of the way.

Do you want to know how close Jesus is to you in the sufferings that you endure as a Christian?  Consider what He has spoken to St. Paul there on the Road to Damascus.  “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  “Who are You, Lord?”  “I Am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  So closely does He identify Himself with His Christians, that whatever they suffer in His Name, He suffers in them and with them, that He should sanctify their sufferings with His own and save them from sin and death in His Resurrection from the dead and in His Ascension to the Right Hand of God.

So, too, when you are persecuted for the sake of Christ Jesus, the same Lord Jesus Christ suffers with you.  As He bore your sins and death upon the Cross, so does He bear your suffering with you now, that you should not be crushed or destroyed by it, but sustained and sanctified in faith. And He will bring you through it, through your death into His Resurrection and His Life everlasting.

Whatever it is that is put to death in you by the Cross of Christ Jesus, much more do you receive in the fruits of His Cross, in His crucified and risen Body, given for you, and in His holy, precious Blood, poured out for you.  Baptized in His Name, anointed by His Spirit, fed and strengthened by His Food and Drink, you live and walk with Him on the way of life.  Which is to say that, even though you die to yourself, to your sins, and to the world, yet shall you live unto God in Christ.

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

20 January 2019

The Glorious Mystery of Christ and His Bride

Wherever the Holy Scriptures speak of marriage — from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to the water-into-wine at the Wedding in Cana — there is an even deeper and more profound Mystery in view than the union of a man and a woman in the life-long bond of holy matrimony.  As sacred as that bond is, it points beyond itself to the eternal Communion of God and Man in Christ Jesus.

As St. Paul has written, this great Mystery belongs to the holy matrimony of Christ and His Bride, the Church.  That is the very point and purpose of it all.  That is what it’s all about.  From the very beginning, the divine institution of holy marriage has been a revelation of the glorious love and the permanent union of Christ and His Church in body and soul, heart, mind, and spirit.  Marriage in general, and every particular marriage, is a sign of the heavenly Bridegroom and His holy Bride.

So, too, the marriage of that anonymous bride and groom in Cana of Galilee.  St. John does not identify the couple, because he would have you understand that this is the story of Christ Jesus and His Church.  Indeed, the same Lord Jesus identifies Himself as the Bridegroom in the next chapter.

Nothing in His life is merely by chance or incidental to His saving Gospel of forgiveness.  It all points to the Glory of His Cross and Resurrection, even as He rescues and redeems His Creation and makes all things new in His own Body of flesh and blood, conceived and born of St. Mary.

As the Baptism of our Lord Jesus in the waters of the Jordan has sanctified the waters of your own Holy Baptism in His Name, so does His presence at the Wedding in Cana sanctify your marriage in this body and life.  Though He was not united with a woman in such a marriage, Himself, He does bestow His grace and every blessing on those who are so joined as one flesh until death, in view of the fact that He is the Husband of one Wife, His holy Church, forever and forevermore.

His presence and His miracle at the Wedding in Cana sanctify and grant His divine blessing on marriage itself, restoring and reaffirming the original intention of God that the lifelong union of a man and a woman should reflect and reveal the heavenly Marriage of this eternal Bridegroom.

Sadly, sin has laid such a burden upon the institution of holy matrimony that, without the presence and blessing of Christ, it is impossible for any marriage to succeed in a God-pleasing way.  Apart from Christ and His Word, the wine will run out, the celebration will come to an end, and the whole thing will devolve into rack and ruin.  Certainly, if Christ is absent from your married life, you will fail to reflect and reveal the gracious character and glory of His Marriage to the Church.

But Christ has drawn near, and He provides the wine that is lacking.  He restores the joy and saves, not only the wedding, but the marriage.  Not only at the Wedding in Cana, but all the more so in His redemption and salvation of those He has sought in self-sacrificing love to be His holy Bride.

Whether Jesus would have turned the water into wine if Mother Mary had not made her request, it actually becomes the first Sign of His Glory, an Epiphany (or manifestation) of His identity as the incarnate Son of God, and a preview of what He will accomplish by His Cross and Passion.

He points to that Glory of His Cross when He says to St. Mary, “My Hour has not yet come.”  That Hour will come when He is handed over and lifted up in death.  In the meantime, He clarifies, for His Mother and for you, that He has not come to meet the political and social needs of the world, but to die in the place of sinners as the Lamb of God, thereby to obtain for them eternal life with God the Father in the Holy Spirit.  Changing water into wine for this particular wedding is not why He has come; and yet, it is a Sign pointing forward to the Glory and Salvation of His Holy Cross.

St. John signals the connection between these events by mentioning St. Mary in his Gospel only twice, here at the beginning and then at the foot of the Cross.  In each case he describes her, not by name, but simply as “the Mother of Jesus.”  In each case our Lord addresses her as “Woman.”  And in the latter case it is written, “from that Hour the Disciple took her to his home.”  It is in that Hour at the foot of the Cross that St. Mary beholds the revelation of her Son’s Messianic Glory.

To be sure, the Sign that Jesus gives at the Wedding in Cana is a good one.  Not only because the good wine that He creates in this case is a fitting anticipation of the Messianic Wine that He pours out for you and for the many from His Cross, but also because He does so at a wedding celebration.  Throughout the Scriptures, the Lord describes His relationship to the Church in terms of marriage. For as the Bridegroom rejoices over His Bride, so the Lord your God rejoices over you in love.

The entire Song of Solomon has long been heard as a romantic love song, a Song of Songs, rejoicing in the love between the Christ, the Son of David, and His beautiful Bride.  By the same token, the Prophet Hosea describes the disobedience of God’s People with the sobering image of a prostitute returning repeatedly to her adultery and sinning against her always-faithful Husband, the Lord Himself.  That is the measure of your behavior, no less, when you cavort and fornicate and carry on with all manner of false gods and earthly pleasures instead of cleaving to Christ.

For all of that, why has the Son of God come to dwell with you in the flesh?  And why is it that He first reveals His Glory at a wedding feast?  We do not have to speculate or wonder.  Christ loved His Bride, the Church, and gave Himself up for Her.  He did not come to judge and condemn her.  He did not come to file for divorce.  He came to shed His Blood for her, to bleed and die for her, to take away her sins and dress her in the white wedding gown of His own perfect righteousness; that He might present to Himself His Bride, His holy Church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or blemish, or any such thing.  That She might be holy and blameless by His grace.

And Christ our Lord has done it!  As St. John records in the Book of the Revelation, no doubt recalling that first Sign of Christ’s Glory at the Wedding in Cana: “Let us rejoice and be glad, for the Marriage of the Lamb has come.  His Bride has been made ready.  Blessed are those who are called to the Marriage Feast of the Lamb!”  And blessed are you, therefore, this morning.

Changing water into wine at the Wedding in Cana is a beautiful Sign of Christ’s glorious Cross.  It is from His Cross that He pours out the Messianic Wine of forgiveness, life, and salvation; and it is by and from His Cross that He calls you to become a member of His Body and His Bride, to enter with Him into the great Wedding Feast of His Kingdom, which has no end.

Even so, because His Hour has come in His Cross and Passion, you are now granted an even better Sign of Christ’s Glory in His Sacrament of the Altar.  For the Messianic Wine is truly the Blood of Christ, which cleanses you from sin — the Blood that is poured out for you in, with, and under the wine of the Lord’s Supper, by which you receive the Fruits of His Cross and thereby already begin to partake in the never-ending Marriage Feast of Paradise.

In both cases, both at the Wedding in Cana and here in His Sacrament, Christ Jesus manifests His Glory in the context of ordinary life.  What could be more human than the marriage of a man and a woman, and the wedding celebration of the couple with their friends?  Yet, that is where the Lord first reveals His Glory, by making an abundance of good wine for the party.  And so does Christ continue to manifest His Glory in the most common elements of life, in water, bread, and wine.

Not only that, but, as He has taken human nature, human flesh, and human life to be His very own, and as He has lived as true Man from conception in the womb unto burial in the tomb, the Lord Jesus Christ has sanctified and restored your own daily life and existence.  Thus are you able to speak and show His faithfulness and salvation in your life, as a living Sign of His divine Glory.

How on earth does that happen?  How shall you, with mortal flesh and blood, be able to manifest the Glory of the Lord?  You know!  God’s Name is kept holy in your body and life when His Word is taught in its truth and purity, and you, as a child of God, lead a holy life according to it.  Or, to say it even more simply, as St. Mary instructed those servants at the Wedding in Cana, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”  Don’t ask questions, just do it, whether it makes sense to you or not.

By way of one obvious example, if you are married, so is your marriage to be a daily celebration and confession of the gracious and glorious love that Christ has shown to you and all His people.  Whatever He says to you, do it.  What, then?  Husband, love your wife, as Christ loves His Church.  Wife, place your life into willing service to your husband, as the Church submits to Christ Jesus.

In no aspect of married life are such love and willing service better shown than by forgiving each other, as Christ the Lord forgives you.  So has He taught His Church on earth to pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Surely such forgiveness must begin within your marriage.  For how shall you truly forgive anyone else, if you do not forgive even your own spouse?  To be sure, married life brings with it countless opportunities for daily forgiveness.  And the more undeserving your spouse might be, the more like Christ your forgiveness will be.

All of this applies, as well, in your life as a member of the Lord’s own Bride, His holy Church.  For all of you, as members of His Body and Bride, have become one flesh and blood with Him.  And so it is that you are called to live together in Christ Jesus — in holy faith toward Him, and in fervent love toward one another.  Not simply in your thoughts and feelings, but in word and deed.

Today, in particular, we consider the special responsibilities which are entrusted as a stewardship to the officers of our congregation.

If you are one of those officers, then your duties are in some ways analogous to my responsibilities as your pastor.  As I am given to serve and care for you and for this little flock of our Lord Jesus with His Word and Sacrament, so is your role also like that of those waiters in this Holy Gospel.  You are charged with the task of serving the guests of the Bridegroom and His Bride.  Not by your own best efforts, not with your own clever ideas and human ingenuity, but solely at the Word of Jesus.  You are given to do “whatever He says to you,” which necessarily begins with the hearing of His Word.  Thus do you serve your brothers and sisters with His gifts, sanctified by His Word.

If you are entrusted with an office of responsibility within this congregation, take heart, and serve with confidence in Christ, faithfully, to the best of your God-given abilities, trusting that the Lord Jesus is well able to change your “simple water only” into a good wine worthy of a celebration.

Whether you are an officer of the congregation or not, you are a child of God and a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, within your calling and station, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

And what is that Word of the Lord Jesus, first of all?  What does He say to you?  It is not chiefly a list of rules and regulations, orders and commands.  He does preach the Law, which demands perfection — and thereby reveals your sin, death, and damnation.  But there is also a very different “bottom line,” the sweeter Word of His Gospel, which daily and richly forgives you all your sins.

By that Word of His Gospel He has named you with His Name, anointed you with His Holy Spirit, and made of you a child of His own God and Father in the waters of your Holy Baptism.  And by His Word of the Gospel He has betrothed you to Himself, that you should be and live forever as a member of His Bride.  So does He pour out His Blood for you as a good and life-giving Wine.

To do “whatever He says to you,” therefore, means first of all that you believe and trust His Word of the Gospel, that you rely on it in holy peace, and that you receive all good things from Him by faith in His promises.  It is to live by His mercy and His grace, and so to live in love for others in the sure and certain confidence that you are loved, and that your life with God is secure in Christ.

His love for you is stronger than death.  So shall He embrace you to Himself and take you into His arms, both body and soul, even from the dust of the ground.  For you are His, and He is yours, to have and to hold, to honor and cherish, forever and ever.  Already here and now He brings you into His Banquet Hall, a Foretaste of the Resurrection and the Life, and His Banner over you is Love.

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

13 January 2019

Baptized into the Cross and Resurrection of the Christ

As Advent has given way to Christmas and Epiphany, as the divine Word has become Flesh and dwells among us, and as the preaching of the Holy Gospel leads you to the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus at His Altar, so does St. John the Baptist decrease as the Lord Jesus increases, as He manifests the divine Glory of the Holy Triune God by the Epiphany of His own flesh and blood.

As a case in point, although it is St. John who baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River, St. Luke makes a point of locating St. John the Baptist in prison before he mentions the Baptism of Christ Jesus.  Why?  Because the Baptism of our Lord is a decisive turning point, a startling transition, and the beginning of all that will be accomplished and perfected by His Cross and in His Resurrection.

The liturgical year, like the Holy Gospels, moves very quickly from the Nativity of our Lord to His Baptism.  Of the four Evangelists, only St. Luke writes anything at all about the time in between — the story of the Boy Jesus in the Temple (as we heard on the Ninth Day of the ChristMass).  For St. Mark and St. John, the Gospel basically begins with the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.

His Baptism marks the beginning of His public ministry.  But it is more than just that.  In some respects, today is not only the Octave of the Epiphany but the onset of Lent and Holy Week, as well.  As Jesus enters the waters of the Jordan He passes the point of no return on His journey to the Cross and Tomb.  As He submits Himself to those waters, He commits Himself to be crucified, put to death, and buried.  Everything that happens to our Lord from this occasion onward — up to and including His Cross and Passion — is one, long, continuous Baptism into His own death.

As Jesus puts it to His disciples at one point: “I have a Baptism with which I must be baptized, and how distressed I am until it is completed!”  So does He describe His sacrificial death for your sins.

And so does His Crucifixion begin in the Jordan River with a Baptism that continues until death.

Likewise, your life as a Christian from the Font until the grave is one continuous Baptism, which signifies that your old Adam should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all your sins and evil lusts, and that you should daily emerge and arise from death and the grave, in and with the New Man, Christ Jesus, to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

In either case — for Jesus and for you — it is a lifelong Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.

Now, the practice of a “baptism” per se was not entirely new with St. John.  The Jews were already accustomed to many ceremonial washings, or “baptisms” (from the Greek).  Especially significant is the fact that Gentiles were sometimes “baptized,” as it were, when submitting themselves to the life and laws of Judaism, as God-fearers who recognized the authority of the Lord God of Israel.

But in the case at hand, St. John the Baptist was calling the Jews themselves to undergo a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Although they were the biological descendants of Father Abraham, their sins cut them off and kept them far away from the Lord their God, as much or more than any Gentile.  To be and to live as His children, they also needed to be cleansed and forgiven.

There has actually been rather a lot of debate and differences of opinion among theologians and Biblical scholars as to the precise nature and purpose of St. John’s Baptism.  But whatever it may have been beforehand, when the Lord Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan and submitted Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance, it was changed forever after.  His Baptism “consecrated and set apart the Jordan and all water as a salutary flood and a rich and full washing away of sins.”

This is no abstract theology or merely poetic piety.  It is of the greatest significance to your life.  For the Baptism of our Lord has become your Holy Baptism.  Only, what is Law and sin and death and judgment for Christ Jesus, is for you the sweetest Gospel of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

To begin with, you know from the preaching of St. John, as we have heard during Advent, that Baptism calls you to repentance and bestows the forgiveness of sins.  But you receive forgiveness in your Baptism because Christ has received your sins in His Baptism.  It is the place of a great exchange, in which Christ Jesus goes into the water holy and sinless and perfect, but He comes out drenched in your sins, in your death and damnation; whereas you go into the water saturated with your sins and covered in filth, but you come out clothed in the beautiful white robes of Christ and His perfect righteousness.  Your sin and death in exchange for His divine life and eternal salvation.

All of this, as St. Paul writes, because you have been united with Christ in His death by your Baptism into His Cross, that you might also rise with Him in His Resurrection and so live with Him forever.  So it is that your Holy Baptism is your personal Good Friday and Easter.

That is the significance of the Crucifix and Paschal Candle which stand alongside our Baptismal Font as visual confessions of the Gospel.  They declare that you have been crucified with Christ and buried with Him by your Baptism into His death; and just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, so does He arise and emerge in you, and you arise in and with Him, in the Spirit of His Resurrection from the dead, to live as a beloved child of His God and Father.

Everything that happens to Christ Jesus is for your sake, and He receives all things in heaven and on earth on your behalf.  Thus, you have a new identity, a new reality, and a new life in Him.  And when the Father looks at you, He does not behold the sinner that you are, He does not look upon your sins; He sees instead His own dear Son, and He speaks His divine blessing from an open heaven, now also to you in Christ Jesus: “You are My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

So have you also been given the Holy Spirit in your Baptism, the same Spirit who descended on Christ in the form of a dove at His Baptism.  For all that He has received is given to you, as well.

Thus do you now bear in your body and soul the Spirit of God, who unites you with Christ Jesus as a member of His Body and Bride, the Church.  And in this Christian Church, by and with the Word of the Gospel, He strengthens you and keeps you steadfast in the one true faith; He helps you in your weakness; and He teaches you to pray to the Lord God Almighty as your own dear Father.

Accordingly, your Holy Baptism is far more than a single red-letter day on the calendar of your life or a page in your scrapbook.  Indeed, your Baptism into Christ Jesus has an ongoing, daily, and lifelong significance, which defines who you are and gives meaning to all that you say and do.

The drowning and dying of your old Adam and his evil cohorts, which began with your personal flood in the Baptismal Font, is a drowning and dying that must continue throughout your life on earth.  In this body and life, there is never a point when you could say that sin is once and for all behind you.  It is a battle that rages until you depart from this vale of tears and enter into heaven.

That battle, however, which you are called to engage against your fallen flesh and sinful heart, is not won by any good intentions or firm resolve on your part.  Discipline your body and life by the Word and Spirit of God.  And just as Christ the Lord defeated Satan by clinging to the promises of His Father, unto His death upon the Cross, so do you triumph by clinging to the Word of the Lord which puts you to death and raises you to newness of life in Christ by repentance and faith.

It is for this reason that Dr. Luther describes Confession and Absolution as the continuation of Holy Baptism and a regular return to the significance of your Baptism.  That is to say, confessing your sins and receiving the forgiveness of your sins in the Name and stead of Christ is an exercise of the ongoing reality of Baptism in your body and life.  Which means that it is not only for those who find themselves in a crisis over some great unusual sin.  It is rather the most natural thing in the world for you as a Christian.  It is a confession, not only of you sins, but of your faith in Christ.

By this ongoing exercise of repentance and faith, Confession and Absolution, your Baptism into Christ is your crossing of the Red Sea out of Egypt and your crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  It is no coincidence that Christ our Lord was baptized in the Jordan River, that He might bring you into the Good Land of God, into His Kingdom, His Church, on earth as it is in heaven.  By His Baptism there and then, He brings you through the waters of your Baptism into the freedom of life and salvation with Him.  Because the Font is the Jordan River here and now for you, and by its waters you share in the Baptism of our Lord, in His Cross and Resurrection.

Thus may you also follow Dr. Luther’s good example in greeting each new day with the confident confession and assertion: “I Am Baptized!”  That was the sure and certain hope that sustained him in the face of all sorts of threats and challenges, doubts and fears.  And it is your hope, no less.

Whenever he was tempted or afraid, he recalled his Baptism with the sign of the Cross — as also in the morning, at every meal, and at night — marking himself as God’s own child.  He laid hold of the fact that he was baptized into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, whereby he received the forgiveness of sins, the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and the gracious adoption of God the Father.

You have that very same comfort in the waters of your Holy Baptism, waters encompassed by the Lord’s command and promise and administered in His Name; waters sanctified by His Baptism for you and all the people in the Jordan River.  To the human eye and your fleshly senses, according to the wisdom of this world, it is nothing but a splash of ordinary water, an empty symbol, and a worthless ceremony.  But to the eyes of faith, according to the gracious Will and Wisdom of God, it is a gracious water of life, a rich and full washing of regeneration.  It works the forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the Words and promises of God declare: “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.”

For Christ also was baptized, once for all, the Just for the unjust, the Righteous One for all of us poor sinners, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in our flesh, but made alive in the Spirit of His God and Father.  Participating in that good work of His, your Holy Baptism in His Name now saves you.  Not as a removal of dirt from your face and hands, but as the testimony of a good conscience in the presence of God through the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead — in whose crucified and risen Body you are now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  By your Baptism you have died; and by your Baptism your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

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

06 January 2019

To Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness

There is a deep darkness that lies thick and heavy upon you, and really upon all of God’s creation.  The days have not been as dark and gloomy this winter as they typically would be this time of year, but our culture and society have gotten darker in countless ways, regardless of the weather.  And there is a darkness within you, as well, in your heart and mind and in your flesh, which threatens to drag you down into its depths of despair.  It may be the weight of anxiety and pressures at work, or a constant stress and tension in your relationships.  Perhaps it is failing eyesight or dementia.

It’s different in some ways for everyone, but you do have your own darkness of body and soul.  In one way or another, it all stems from the darkness which is sin and death, the heart of which is your ignorance of God.  Your sin is a kind of ongoing solar eclipse, which blocks out and cuts off His Light from your heart, mind, body, and life.   So you are not able to know Him by sinful nature.  That is the real darkness that blinds you to all that is noble, just, beautiful, and true.  Not only that, but it is a darkness so deep that all of your senses are numbed by it, and you do not even know it.

But now the grace of God has appeared in the Person of Christ Jesus, and by this very preaching of His Word He shines the Light of God into the heart of your deep darkness, not only to expose the problem for what it really is, but also as the Lord’s own solution and His great Salvation.  By His Word and the preaching of it, He gives you more than facts and information about Himself; He reveals and gives Himself to you, and He embraces you to Himself with divine and personal intimacy, that you might live in the Light of His presence and bask in the sunshine of His Love.

It is entirely by His grace.  Nothing forces Him.  He is not compelled by any outside agency, nor by any inner need or lack on His part.  He is moved from within by His own divine, eternal Love.

So does He reveal Himself to you by His Word and Spirit in and with His good creation.  For even though this world is full of sin and death and falling apart, nevertheless, all that He has made is still very good, as He has spoken.  Therefore, He does not abandon the works of His hands, but He enters in to redeem and rescue His creation.  He is conceived and born of the Woman, that by His flesh and blood He might sanctify you in body and soul and make all things new in heaven and on earth — within His own Body, first of all, crucified for your sins and raised for your justification.

Thus do we rejoice in the life that He has given to this brand new human being, Fredrick William James, whose conception and birth are sanctified by the conception and birth of the Son of God in human flesh and blood exactly like his own.  All the more do we give thanks that he has here and now been given the new birth of water, Word, and Spirit in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  For the same Lord Jesus Christ who has become like us, flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has so granted that we should not only come to know Him in His mercy through the Gospel, but that we should become like Him in body and soul.

By the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, you are given to know and love the Lord your God.  To receive all good things from Him.  To hear and trust His Word to you.  Even more, to eat and drink His Word-made-Flesh, given and poured out for you.

It is by these ways and means of His grace toward you, in the hearing, receiving, and trusting of these good gifts which are yours in Christ Jesus, that you worship the Lord your God in Spirit and in Truth, in righteousness and peace, and in the beauty of holiness.

It is for such worship of God that you have been created, and it is for such worship of God that you are redeemed and sanctified by the incarnate Son.  Not that He needs anything from you, but that you might live with Him forever, enlightened by His Love for you and glorified in His presence.  To worship Him in the beauty of holiness is to live by His grace as a member of His household and family, as a beloved child of God the Father in Christ Jesus, adorned with His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, as surely as Fredrick is adorned with Christ on this glorious day.

This true spiritual worship of the one true God not only begins with His revealing and giving of Himself to you, by grace; it likewise continues with His revealing and giving of Himself to you, by grace.  You worship Him because of who He is and what He does, thereby reflecting the Light of His Glory and echoing the Word that God the Father speaks to you by His Son, as you live with Him in body and soul by His Spirit.  It’s not a means to some other end; it is your life with God.

Now, the fact is that, even in the miry bog of your thick darkness — even in your native ignorance of the one true God — yet, because you have been created to worship the Lord, you will worship something or someone in some way or another.  You will worship something or someone, because you are a worshiping creature, whatever else you might do.  That is true of little Fredrick William James, who from his mother’s womb and as a newborn infant has been created by God to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth, in the beauty of the holiness and righteousness of the Lord Jesus.  And that is true for you, as well, throughout your entire life, from your conception unto all eternity.

It is only that, apart from the Word of God and the gracious gifts of His Gospel, it is impossible for you to worship Him by faith.  In the deep darkness of your sin, subject to death and the grave, you do not know Him as He is.  So, instead of worshiping the Lord, you make gods out of other things and other people.  Above all, you make a god of yourself.  And you worship those false gods and dead idols by devoting yourself to them; by trusting them, and fearing them, and loving them; and by despairing when they are lost — for every one of them surely will be lost, sooner or later.

Apart from the Light of Christ, your worship will always be false and misdirected toward that which does not last and cannot save you.  It will be idolatrous and blasphemous.  It will not be a way of life and light and love, but a downward spiral of death and damnation, moving further and further away from the true God, and descending ever deeper and deeper into darkness and despair.

But now Christ has come to shine His Light upon you in love and give you life in place of death.

You and Fredrick and all the children of God worship Him in the Spirit and in Truth, because He makes Himself known to you, and He gives Himself to you, in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.  You worship the one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in the Body of the incarnate Son.

That you might know where He is and how to find Him, and that you might worship Him by faith, He guides you and directs you by His Word and Holy Spirit, as surely as He did for the Magi.  He shines the Light of His Gospel upon you, that you should know Him and love Him as He truly is, and recognize Him in the poverty and weakness of His Cross, in the mercy of His forgiveness.

It is by His Word and the preaching of it that He calls you and draws you to Himself, as it was by the Holy Scriptures that He identified the significance of the star to the Magi, and by the Word of the Prophet that He pointed them from the capital city of Jerusalem to the little burg of Bethlehem.

But along with the preaching of His Word, He also attaches His Word and promise of the Gospel to signs which He has given, as surely He did in the case of that star.  It was the attaching of His Word to that particular star which signified the birth of a King within Judah.  So was it the Word that God spoke through the angel to the shepherds that gave significance to swaddling clothes and a manger in Bethlehem.  And so has God attached His Word to the signs He has given to you.

He attaches His Word and promise to the washing of water in His Name, and it becomes a life-giving water, rich in grace.  So has the Lord made Himself known to Fredrick this morning, that this little infant son should join with us in worshiping the Lord in the beauty of holiness.  And the same Lord attaches His Word and promise to this unassuming supper of simple bread and wine, that you and all the faithful might receive and eat and drink the very Body and Blood of the Lamb, and thereby worship the true and only God in the Son of St. Mary, in faith and with thanksgiving.

He makes Himself known and gives Himself to you by His Word and through these sacred Signs of His Gospel, all within His Church on earth.  Take to heart what St. Paul has written, lest you suppose that life on earth were nought but misery and drudgery.  For all the heavenly powers and authorities learn the Mystery of God by the preaching of the Gospel of Christ within His Church on earth!  Heaven does not know Him better than you do, because heaven finds out what God is really like in the flesh and blood of Jesus, and Christ Jesus has come to abide with you on earth.

He is with you in His Church, as He is always “with His Mother” in this whole second chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel.  Look and see.  Over and over again, the holy Evangelist is at pains to say, “The Child with His Mother.”  She is indeed the living evidence of His Incarnation, proof positive that He is true Man, of human flesh and blood like yours.  For He is born of this Woman.  But she is also a living icon and a symbol, as well as a member, a preeminent member, of His Holy Church.  The Child is always with His Mother because Christ the Lord is always with His Church.

So it is that He is here with Fredrick, and He is here with you, within His Church.  He is here with you in the preaching of the Mystery of His grace, which was hidden so long but now is revealed.

He comes to you here within His Church on earth, and in the washing of the water with His Word He has made of you a member of His Church.  He has named you with His Name and poured out His Spirit generously upon you.  His God and Father is now your God and Father.  And as the Christ Chid is always with His Mother, so is the same Lord Jesus Christ ever and always with you.

So it is that you worship the Father in His Son and by His Spirit within His Church on earth, as you hear His Word and receive the Gifts of His Gospel.  As He causes His Light to shine upon you in Christ Jesus, His Light is reflected in your words and actions to the glory of His Holy Name.  As you hear His Word, so do you pray and confess His Word.  As you are clothed with the holiness and righteousness of Christ in Holy Baptism, so do you clothe and shelter your neighbor in love.  And as you are fed by Christ in His Supper, so do you feed and care for your neighbor in peace.

You worship the Lord your God in Spirit and in Truth, in the beauty of holiness, in heart, mind, and spirit, and so also with your body, as well, in faith and love.  For your body also participates in the salvation of Christ, and your body also shall be raised from the dead in glory at the last, as surely as Christ Jesus Himself is risen from the dead and lives forever in His own glorious Body.

Thus do you acknowledge the Lord and worship Him with your body, as you enter here into His House and meet Him at His Altar.  Like the Magi, you bow before the Lord your God, the Babe, the Son of Mary.  In His Body and His Blood, hidden from your sight but revealed by His Word, you worship Him as your Prophet, Priest, and King.  And with your gifts, your gold, “your incense and myrrh,” or whatever means you may have, you worship Christ Jesus as your Savior and God.

And then you return from His House, and you go back to your own country, to your own place in life, to your own home and family and neighbors and friends.  But you do so by another Way, a new and better Way.  For you have a new King, who rules over you in grace and love, and who causes the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God to shine upon you through His Gospel.

He scatters the darkness and disperses the gloom.  Not that you won’t have dark days.  Not that you won’t get depressed and discouraged.  Not that your eyes and your mind won’t ever falter or fail.  But Christ the Lord is with you in the midst of suffering and death.  He scatters the darkness and disperses the gloom by the way of His own Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, and by His preaching of the Gospel of forgiveness, whereby He gives you life with God in Himself.

Lift up your eyes and see.  Open your ears and hear.  You are not alone.  For Christ is with you here and now, and as you go about all your days and nights on earth.  Not only that, but in Him you belong to the household and family of God.  Indeed, Fredrick William James and every baptized Christian of all times and in all places are your own brothers and sisters and family in Christ Jesus.  For His Church is your Mother, and His God and Father is your God and Father.  His House is your house and home.  And all the treasures of His Kingdom, all the wealth and riches of His heaven, are given to you in His Body and Blood, which are your Meat and Drink indeed, forever and ever.

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

04 January 2019

The Baptism of the Lamb of God

The floods have lifted up their voice; the waters of Holy Baptism have testified:

Jesus, the Son of Mary, is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  He is the One who is greater than John, who existed before him, but who now comes after him in order to save the world.

Even John does not know this Lord Jesus rightly, except by the water, Word, and Spirit of Baptism.  For it is by John’s baptizing in water that Jesus is manifested to Israel as the Lamb of God.

He is both humbled and exalted by His Baptism, because He there receives these two things, the sins of the world and the Spirit of His Father from heaven.  Both of these He receives in His own Body of flesh and blood, so that He might be your Savior and the Savior of all people.

Receiving your sins is the guarantee that He will die your death.

Receiving the Spirit is the promise of His Father that He will be raised for your justification.

Though Jesus is of higher rank than John — for He is Himself the Son of God by nature, begotten of the Father from eternity — He submits Himself to John the Baptist, to his preaching and his Baptism, in order to become the Lamb of God who is given by the Father for the sins of the world.

He takes those sins upon Himself in the waters of His Baptism, in order to bear away the sins of all the baptized — to cleanse the people and set them free from the bondage of sin and death.

But the same Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God who bears your sins and the sins of the world in His Body, also receives the Holy Spirit in His flesh as He comes up out of the waters of His Baptism.

And the Spirit remains on Him.

He is indeed the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, and so it is that He bears the Spirit in His Body as the One who pours out the Spirit upon you — as the One who baptizes you with the Holy Spirit.

To begin with, He fills the waters of your Baptism with the Holy Spirit, so that, by that washing of water with His Word, the unclean spirit is compelled to depart from your body and life and to make way for the Holy Spirit, who enters in with the forgiveness, life, and salvation of Christ.

And the same Lord Jesus Christ continues to bestow the Spirit upon you, to fill your body and soul with His Holy Spirit, by the way and the means of His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.

This sacred Supper also belongs to His office and vocation as the Lamb of God.  On the one hand, He bears your sins in Himself, in His own Body, so that by His sacrifice your sins are removed and atoned for.  He is the Passover Lamb who is given in your place, so that He dies instead of you.  His Blood is poured out as the propitiation for your sins, and it now covers you completely.

But the same Lamb of God is also given to you as spiritual Food for you to eat, and His Blood is poured out for you as your spiritual Drink.  And this Meat and Drink of Christ Jesus, the Lamb, cleanses you inside and out; this Meal fills you, both body and soul, with His life-giving Spirit.

This is what it means for Him to be the Lamb of God, who takes upon Himself and takes away all of your sins; who takes away the sins of the whole world.

In His Baptism He has taken all of those sins upon Himself, but so has He also received the Spirit on your behalf.  So it is that, by your Baptism, and by your eating and drinking of His Supper, you are forgiven, and you are anointed by the Spirit of Christ — and His Spirit remains on you for life.

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

02 January 2019

Finding the Lord Jesus in His Father's House

Throughout his record of the Holy Gospel, St. Luke answers a fundamental question: Where do you find God?  Or, to say it better: Where does God reveal Himself and give Himself to you?

The answer, of course, is that God — the one true God, the Holy Trinity — reveals Himself and His Glory in the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He is the almighty and eternal Son of God, who has become flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood; who was crucified for our transgressions and raised from the dead for our justification.  It is in Him that God the Father is made known, and by Him that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon His people.

So, it is in the Lord Jesus Christ that you find God (or He finds you).  But that raises another, more immediate question: Where do you find Jesus? Where does He reveal and give Himself to you?

In answer to those questions, you have set before you this particular story of the Boy Jesus, unique to St. Luke’s Gospel, which tells you where and how to find Him.  It accentuates and reinforces the answer that was given this past Sunday, as well, that the Lord has come to His Temple; that He reveals and gives Himself to His people in the Temple.  Here, again, it is in the Temple that Christ Jesus is found — specifically, in the speaking and hearing of the Word of God.  And that remains the case, not only throughout the Holy Gospel, but so also for you, and throughout all the ages.

Not that you must find your way to Palestine or make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem — only to find that, of course, that Temple has long since been destroyed, not one stone left upon another.  But, no, in Christ Jesus those Old Testament means of grace, the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Temple, have been fulfilled and transformed.  The Word of God has become Flesh and is perfected in His Body and Blood.  The Holy Scriptures really are the Word of Christ Jesus from the start.  And the true Temple of God is the Body of the same Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.

So, then, the Temple is found wherever the Body of the Lord Jesus is found.  And He is found in His Father’s House, doing the works of His Father, wherever the Holy Scriptures are preached in His Name, and wherever His Holy Sacraments are faithfully administered according to His Word.

In particular, as we are well aware from the story for which our Emmaus congregation is named, the Lord Jesus opens the Scriptures to you and leads you in the Way of His Cross and Resurrection to find Him and receive Him in “the Breaking of the Bread,” that is to say, in the Holy Communion of His true Body and true Blood, given and poured out for you to eat and to drink in holy faith.

So, then, as a good Christian and a faithful disciple of Jesus, you go up to the Lord’s House for the Feast on the Lord’s Day.  It is truly meet, right, and salutary that you should do so.  But then what?

As you return from this Temple of the Lord to your own house and home, to your busy, hectic life, to your own business and busyness, and to all of your hobbies, pastimes, and other distractions, how often are you leaving the Lord Jesus behind?  You pray that He would abide with you in love, and He does.  But do you abide with Him?  Or do you forget Him and go your way without Him?

Is that not the root cause of all the worry and anxiety that permeate your days and nights?  You are so pre-occupied with yourself and with your own concerns that you lose track of Jesus altogether and leave Him behind — far too often without even realizing that He is missing from your life.

When you are made aware of His absence in your life — by the preaching of the Law, or by some crisis or disaster that befalls you — then your first instinct is to go looking for Him in all the wrong ways and all the wrong places.  Forgetting the Word and promise of the Holy Gospel, you search for Him among your family and friends, in whatever is familiar and comfortable and meaningful to you.  But that is not the way that you will ever be able to find the Lord Jesus.

Almost as a last resort, in desperation you are driven back to the Lord’s House, to the Lord’s Word.  And that is where you finally find Him.  Or, rather, that is where He finds you at last.  For you have been so anxious in your doubts and fears and sinful unbelief, He actually catches you by surprise.  You are amazed and astonished at Him, as the world and your flesh always are by His Cross.

Notwithstanding all your missteps and shortcomings, this is where He is for you, and this is where He finds you.  He is in His Father’s House, giving attention to the things of His Father.  In this case, as true Man, and as a faithful child of God, He is found listening to the called and ordained teachers of His own Holy Scriptures, that He should hear and learn the things concerning Himself and grow in the grace and knowledge of His God and Father.  So also do you find this Jesus in the Church of His Word and Sacrament, in the preaching of His Gospel, in His Body and His Blood.

And far from reprimanding you or punishing you, what does He do but forgive you, and comfort you, and return with you from His Father’s House to your house and home and to your daily life.

All of this He does for you, by His grace alone, in His divine love and tender mercy toward you.  And for your part, you abide with Him and keep Him with you as you go about your days and carry out your callings, by remaining in His Word throughout the week.  Not only in these holy weeks of Christmas, when you have the blessed opportunity to be in the Lord’s House each day, but so also in the piety and rhythm of your days and weeks throughout the year.

As you receive the Body of Christ in the Sacrament, live as a member of His Body in the world.  Return each day to the significance of your Holy Baptism by way of contrition and repentance, confession and absolution.  Sanctify the time that you are given by the prayer and catechesis of the Word of Christ as you go about your routines.  Live to and from the Lord’s Altar, knowing that His God and Father is your God and Father, His House is your house and home, and His business is your life and salvation.  And rejoice that He goes with you all the way, today, tomorrow, every day.

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

01 January 2019

The Fiction I Most Enjoyed Reading in 2018

I do a lot of reading, not only for work, but for my personal enjoyment and relaxation. All you gotta do is put a book in my hand, and I'm on "vacation," even if only for an hour or two. It is also one of my greatest joys in life to read aloud to my children; that remains my primary recreational activity, as well as a personal priority for most of my days throughout the year.

With all of that in mind, for a number of years now I've tallied up my favorite books at the end of each year. That is to say, not a list of my favorite books published over the course of the year, but the books I've most enjoyed reading during the year, whether to myself or to my children. I focus on the works of fiction, rather than confusing things with the many books of non-fiction that I use for work and for my own personal "continuing education."

Thanks to Amazon and my local library for helping me to discover many things I would otherwise never come across. And thanks to Goodreads for helping me track my reading, and for keeping me in touch with my literary friends all over the place. Above all, thanks to my children for sharing so many great books and stories with me over the years. So many grand adventures we have had together, and the shared experience is no small part of what I treasure in the books I read.

Kudos to my son Nicholai for encouraging me to read (finally!) the Farseer Trilogy this past year, after roughly twenty years of owning those books. As you'll note, it is at the top of this year's list! A shout out to my brother-in-law, Rob Polk, for calling my attention to author Dan Gemeinhart, whose books we have since enjoyed very much. He was one of several new discoveries in 2018, along with Lisa Graff and Polly Horvath, who have been added to our gallery of "favorite authors." You'll note a number of books by those three on this list.

I could easily comment on each of these books and series, but you can see my "reviews" on Goodreads if you're interested in seeing more of my thoughts on any of them. I do want to call special attention to The Messengers series, by Lisa M. Clark. Not only did my family and I enjoy these books very much (the conclusion is #3 on this year's list, and the first two books were on my list from 2017), but they are a profound expression of the Christian faith and life, masterfully crafted into a fine fictional story in a most natural and compelling fashion. I recommend The Messengers highly.

And on that note, without any further ado, I here present the fictional books (and series of books) that I most enjoyed reading in 2018:

1. Farseer Trilogy (series) - Robin Hobb

2. Lockwood & Co. (series) - Jonathan Stroud

3. The Messengers: Revealed (The Messengers, #3) - Lisa M. Clark

4. Lost in the Sun & Umbrella Summer - Lisa Graff

5. Super Powereds (series) - Drew Hayes

6. Forging Hephaestus - Drew Hayes

7. Lethal White (Cormoran Strike, #4) - “Robert Galbraith” (J.K. Rowling)

8. A Tangle of Knots & A Clatter of Jars - Lisa Graff

9. The Broken Lands & The Boneshaker - Kate Milford

10. The Brotherband Chronicles (series) - John Flanagan

11. The Night Garden - Polly Horvath

12. The Zero Equation & The Family Shame (The Zero Enigma, #3 & #4) - Christopher Nuttall

13. The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase - Wendy Mass

14. The Royal Sorceress (series) - Christopher Nuttall

15. Some Kind of Courage - Dan Gemeinhart

16. Wereworld (series) - Curtis Jobling

17. Absolutely Almost - Lisa Graff

18. Very Rich - Polly Horvath

19. Justin Case (series) - Rachel Vail

20. Everything on a Waffle & One Year in Coal Harbor - Polly Horvath

21. The Promised Lie (The Unwritten Words, #1) - Christopher Nuttall

22. Time Jumpers (Five Kingdoms, #5) - Brandon Mull

23. Flashback (Keeper of the Lost Cities, #7) - Shannon Messenger

24. The Flaxfield Quartet (series) - Toby Forward

25. Run Program - Scott Meyer

26. Scar Island - Dan Gemeinhart

27. The Trolls - Polly Horvath

28. The Empress (The Diabolic, #2) - S.J. Kincaid

29. The Bunny’s (series) - Polly Horvath

30. The Forbidden Library (series) - Django Wexler

Entering the Eighth Day by the Name & Circumcision of Jesus

Some days are longer than others — but that can mean very different things.  Most of us prefer the long sunny days of summer to the short dark days of winter.  But when we talk about a “long day,” it usually refers to one that has been difficult and tedious.  Such “long days,” when they pile up, tend to become long weeks, long months, and sometimes long hard years.

There is, however, yet another Day which actually goes on forever, one that is not “long,” but eternal.  Not difficult, tedious, or painful, but full of light and life and love and peace.  A Day that never ends, in which there is no more night, nor darkness anymore; no hurt, no fear, no sadness.

Your days on earth can be long and hard, and they often are, because they are burdened by sin and death.  Since everything is dying, and there are limited hours of daylight, there is a constant battle to grow and gather food while you can, and to shore up your life against the encroaching night.

But now, the Circumcision of the Lord Jesus points you to the Eighth Day — not the beginning of yet another week, another month, or another year, but the never-ending Day beyond all blood, sweat, and tears.  The eternal Day of life with God in the New Creation of the Lord’s Resurrection.  The dawning of the new heavens and the new earth, in which there is no more nighttime, and no more darkness or death.  The Day that doesn’t require any alarm clocks or time clocks, or watches or schedules, because work is no more cursed by sin, neither is it a battle to the death, but work and play alike are simply part of living the Life that is yours by the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

So shall it be, because Christ Jesus has redeemed and sanctified all of creation, man in particular, by His becoming flesh of our flesh, by His innocent death and holy bloodshed.  And, behold, all things are made brand new in His risen Body.  For He has taken your flesh to be His own, and He has taken your sin and death upon Himself to bear it in His Body to the Cross.  So it is that, in His Resurrection from the dead, your sin and death are left behind, as He enters into heaven for you.

As He has thus entered upon the eternal Eighth Day on your behalf by His Cross & Resurrection, so have you also entered upon that Eighth Day by your Baptism in His Name.

In his Letter to the Church at Colossae, St. Paul describes Holy Baptism as a “circumcision made without hands.”  In doing so, he identifies your connection to the Circumcision of Jesus, which is the fulfillment of the Covenant of Circumcision that the Lord made with Abraham and his Seed.

Circumcision was both the Law and the Gospel for Abraham and his heirs.  It was commanded and required, and there were serious consequences for males who were not circumcised.  Without this cutting of the flesh, they were cut off from the fellowship of Israel.  But circumcision itself was indeed a cutting.  It was painful and bloody.  For adult men, it was debilitating for several days.

Yet, however odd or embarrassing it might be, circumcision was God’s Covenant with Abraham, and a promise that was given to Father Abraham and all his children.  Not the cutting in and of itself, but the cutting included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.  Thus, it was a divine promise signed and sealed in the very flesh of the Patriarch and his sons.  For the Seed of Abraham would inherit the earth, and in that Seed of Abraham all the nations would be blessed.  In Him, Abraham would become the father of many nations, according to the promise of God.

Now that Covenant and its promise have been fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In submitting to the Law of Circumcision, He has taken the burden of the entire Law upon Himself, as well as the curse and consequences of sin and death.  So has He also received the inheritance of Abraham, that is, the blessing promised to his Seed forever.  For the Son of Mary, Jesus, is the Seed of Abraham.  His holy Body is of the flesh and blood of Abraham, and in that Body of His, in His own flesh, He bears — and bears away — all the sin and death of all mankind.

His Circumcision signifies all of these things, and so does it mark His Body for all of these things.

So does the Name that He is given signify and mark His identity and His vocation as the promised Seed — of Abraham, of Judah and David, of the Woman Eve, and of the Blessed Virgin, St. Mary.

To be named “Jesus” is to be called the Son of the Most High.  Indeed, it is to be the true God, Yahweh, in the flesh, who saves His people from their sins.  For He is Immanuel, God with us.  He is the Everlasting Father, the Patriarch of a new Israel, who surpasses even the great Father Abraham.  He is the true Prince of Peace, surpassing even the great kings, David and Solomon.

He is a new and better Joshua, named by God, who truly fulfills what the Lord promised through Moses, but which Moses himself could not do or accomplish.

The Law was a custodian and a tutor, leading the people out of Egypt by the staff of Moses, through the Red Sea and the wilderness, to and from Mt. Sinai, to the border of the promised land.

But now this Joshua has come, who goes ahead of the people into the waters of the Jordan River.  And He brings them, one and all, into Canaan, into the good land flowing with milk and honey.

That is what this little Lord Jesus has done for you, and for all, by receiving Circumcision in His flesh, and by receiving the Name with which His God and Father has named Him from heaven.

He has gone the full distance — from the waters of His Baptism in the Jordan River, to the Blood and Passion of His death upon the Cross.  And so also, in His Resurrection from the dead, you are brought into the true and everlasting Promised Land, which God swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and to all who share the faith and confession of Father Abraham.

He brings you into that good land through the waters of your Baptism.  Not as a slave or a captive, but as a beloved son — a son of Abraham by faith, but so also a son of God in Christ Jesus.

Whether you are male or female, young or old, rich or poor, Jewish or Gentile, employed or un-employed, a student or retired, still very young, or already very old — you, dear Christian, are a son of God in Christ, by virtue of your Baptism into Him.

By your Baptism into Christ Jesus, His Circumcision and all that it signifies avails for you, for the removal of sin and death from your flesh and blood, from your heart and mind, body and soul; and for your resurrection to a new and everlasting Life, as a new creature living in the New Creation.

So it is that your Baptism has also named you with the Name of Jesus.  Not that each and all of you are called “Joshua.”  (How confusing would that be!?)  But everything the Name of Jesus testifies concerning Him, is now also credited to you.  It declares that you are saved by Him, who is your own true God in the flesh.  It certifies that His God and Father is now also your God and Father forever; and Christ Himself is your King, who reigns over you in peace and love from His Cross.

With His Holy Name, which He has invoked upon you and given to you, He binds Himself to you and blesses you for life.  He has done this for you in your Holy Baptism, and that is permanent.  But He also continues to do so, day by day throughout your life on earth, unto the life everlasting: by the speaking of His Word, by the preaching of His Gospel, by His absolving of your sins, and by the giving of Himself to you, His Body and His Blood, for you to eat and drink in His Supper.

Just as a father begets children, and a mother gives them birth, but then both parents continue to “name” their children with loving care for them, by teaching them, by conversations with them, by forgiving them, and by praying and confessing the Word of God with them and for them.  Each time a father calls his child by name, by the name that he has given, he calls that child his own.

So does the Lord continue to name you His own by speaking His Word to you; and with that Word He blesses you with the gift of His Spirit, who is life and health, and peace and strength, and love.

Naming you with His Name, by His Word, He guards and keeps you in body and soul.  In this life, yes, but so also for the life everlasting — for the eternal Eighth Day of life with Himself in heaven.  With His Name He claims you as His own, He identifies you with Himself and His family, as His beloved child and heir.  He is gracious toward you, compassionate and patient, because He loves you.  He delights in you.  He smiles upon you, and His countenance is bright with joy over you.

As you are named with the Name of Christ Jesus, anointed by His Spirit as a Christian, the Lord your God, your dear Father in heaven, is pleased with you and proud of you.  He is not angry or unhappy with you.  Far from it.  He reigns over you with grace and mercy and never-ending love.

That is your peace, through Jesus your Savior.  It is solid, sure, and certain in His Body, in His flesh and blood, in His already-accomplished and completed-once-for-all Cross and Resurrection.

And this is already yours, here and now; for Christ is yours even now, in your Baptism, which has left its indelible mark on you, and in this preaching of the Gospel, and in this Holy Communion.

By this grace of God in the Gospel, by this flesh and blood of Jesus, given and poured out for you at this Altar, you already live and abide with Him in the eternal Eighth Day of His Resurrection.  It is not a long hard day, but a brilliant and beautiful Day of divine Light and Life and Love.

For now it is by faith, and not by sight.  There are still days and nights, some of them longer than others, difficult and tedious.  But the Eighth Day has already dawned for you, and for all people, in the Incarnation of the Son of God, and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  As you are baptized into Him and named with His Name, so shall you also rise and live forever in body and soul, immortal, imperishable, and glorious, like unto Jesus Himself.

Then there shall be no more days and nights, no more weeks and months and years, but only one great and glorious Day, and only the Light of your Savior, Jesus Christ, shining upon you forever.

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

The 2018 Grampies

To welcome the New Year, I here publish the eagerly anticipated and highly coveted 2018 Grampies, identifying my favorite albums from this past year across a variety of genres. I've worked on further refining my categorizations, and (for the time being) I'm fairly settled on what I've come up with. Even so, I have no doubt that some readers might quibble with my classification of certain albums (not to mention disagreeing with my assessments of their quality). So be it. With thanks, as always, to Amazon, Spotify, and my local library, to my children who both share and tolerate my interests in music, and to my friend and colleague, Rev. Erich Fickel, for his willingness to swap suggestions and discuss discoveries from the music world with me. In my estimation, music is alive and well, and I'm grateful that so many of my favorite artists (including some new favorites) released great albums in 2018.

D. Rick’s Album Top Eighty (Across All Genres):

1. Lori McKenna - The Tree

2. Shinedown - Attention Attention

3. Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour

4. Joe Bonamassa - Redemption

5. Myles Kennedy - Year of the Tiger

6. Ten - Illuminati

7. Judas Priest - Firepower

8. Poets of the Fall - Ultraviolet

9. Eric Church - Desperate Man

10. Greta Van Fleet - Anthem of the Peaceful Army

11. Brian Fallon - Sleepwalkers

12. The Poodles - Prisma

13. Phillip Phillips - Collateral

14. Parker Millsap - Other Arrangements

15. Brandi Carlile - By the Way, I Forgive You

16. Tremonti - A Dying Machine

17. Wade Bowen - Solid Ground

18. Black Veil Brides - Vale

19. The Devil Makes Three - Chains Are Broken

20. Devin Dawson - Dark Horse

21. Mayday Parade - Sunnyland

22. Ashley McBryde - Girl Going Nowhere

23. Mat Kearney - Crazytalk

24. Kenny Chesney - Songs for the Saints

25. Rosanne Cash - She Remember Everything

26. The Record Company - All of This Life

27. Sister Hazel - Water / Wind

28. Angra - Omni

29. Saxon - Thunderbolt

30. Cody Jinks - Lifers

31. Treat - Tunguska

32. The Revivalists - Take Good Care

33. Kamelot - The Shadow Theory

34. The Temperance Movement - A Deeper Cut

35. The Night Flight Orchestera - Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough

36. Joe Satriani - What Happens Next

37. The Struts - Young & Dangerous

38. Amorphis - Queen of Time

39. Jesse Kinch - I’m Not Like Everybody Else

40. George Ezra - Staying at Tamara’s

41. Jason Eady - I Travel On

42. Brothers Osborne - Port Saint Joe

43. Disturbed - Evolution

44. Slash - Living the Dream

45. Riot V - Armor of Light

46. Dillon Carmichael - Hell on an Angel

47. State of Salazar - Superhero

48. Owl City - Cinematic

49. The Radio Sun - Beautiful Strange

50. Paul Cauthen - Have Mercy

51. Dierks Bentley - The Mountain

52. Three Days Grace - Outsider

53. Mipso - Edges Run

54. The Clarks - Madly in Love at the End of the World

55. Donovan Woods - Both Ways

56. Breaking Benjamin - Ember

57. Tommy Emmanuel - Accomplice One

58. Of Mice & Men - Defy

59. Good Charlotte - Generation Rx

60. Audrey Horne - Blackout

61. Courtney Marie Andrews - May Your Kindness Remain

62. Beyond the Black - Heart of the Hurricane

63. Ruston Kelly - Dying Star

64. Joshua Hedley - Mr. Jukebox

65. Black Label Society - Grimmest Hits

66. Montgomery Gentry - Here’s to You

67. Ruby Boots - Don’t Talk About It

68. Thrice - Palms

69. Holter - Vlad the Impaler

70. Uriah Heep - Living the Dream

71. Adam Hood - Somewhere in Between

72. The Brother Brothers - Some People I Know

73. Jason Mraz - Know

74. Pistol Annies - Interstate Gospel

75. Imagine Dragons - Origins

76. Black Stone Cherry - Family Tree

77. Carrie Underwood - Cry Pretty

78. Kodaline - Politics of Living

79. Airrace - Untold Stories

80. FM - Atomic Generation

Pop 2018

Phillip Phillips - Collateral

Mat Kearney - Crazytalk

George Ezra - Staying at Tamara’s

Owl City - Cinematic

The Clarks - Madly in Love at the End of the World

Jason Mraz - Know

Kodaline - Politics of Living

Ben Rector - Magic

Elle King - Shake the Spirit

Plain White T’s - Parallel Universe

Matt Nathanson - Sings His Sad Heart

David Cook - Chromance

Kylie Minogue - Golden

Dawes - Passwords

Daughtry - Cage to Rattle

James Bay - Electric Light

RSO - Radio Free America

Lake Street Dive - Free Yourself Up

Rita Ora - Phoenix

Camila Cabello - Camila

Modern Mainline Country

Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour

Ashley McBryde - Girl Going Nowhere

Kenny Chesney - Songs for the Saints

Dierks Bentley - The Mountain

Montgomery Gentry - Here’s to You

Pistol Annies - Interstate Gospel

Carrie Underwood - Cry Pretty

Jason Ingriselli - The Miles North

Hilary Williams - My Lucky Scars

Sugarland - Bigger

Maggie Rose - Change the Whole Thing

Jeff Hyde - Norman Rockwell World

Kane Brown - Experiment

LANCO - Hallelujah Nights

Jordan Davis - Home State

The Shires - Accidentally on Purpose

Jason Aldean - Rearview Town

Ashley Monroe - Sparrow

Scotty McCreery - Seasons Change

Morgan Evans - Things That We Drink To

Levi Hummon - Patient

Morgan Wallen - If I Know Me

Jimmie Allen - Mercury Lane

Thompson Square - Masterpiece

Folk and Americana

Lori McKenna - The Tree

Brandi Carlile - By the Way, I Forgive You

The Devil Makes Three - Chains Are Broken

Rosanne Cash - She Remembers Everything

Mipso - Edges Run

Donovan Woods - Both Ways

Courtney Marie Andrews - May Your Kindness Remain

The Brother Brothers - Some People I Know

American Aquarium - Things Change

The Wild Feathers - Greetings from the Neon Frontier

The Black Lillies - Stranger to Me

Jamie Lin Wilson - Jumping Over Rocks

Trampled by Turtles - Life Is Good on the Open Road

The Jayhawks - Back Roads and Abandoned Motels

Lera Lynn - Plays Well with Others

Amos Lee - My New Moon

Passenger - Runaway

Paul Kelly - Nature

John Hiatt - The Eclipse Sessions

Mary Chapin Carpenter - Sometimes Just the Sky

I’m With Her - See You Around

Old Crow Medicine Show - Volunteer

John Prine - The Tree of Forgiveness

Joan Baez - Whistle Down the Wind

First Aid Kit - Ruins

Retro and Traditional Country

Wade Bowen - Solid Ground

Cody Jinks - Lifers

Jason Eady - I Travel On

Dillon Carmichael - Hell on an Angel

Paul Cauthen - Have Mercy

Joshua Hedley - Mr. Jukebox

Adam Hood - Somewhere in Between

Sam Morrow - Concrete and Mud

Brent Cobb - Providence Canyon

Carson McHone - Carousel

Whitey Morgan and the 78s - Hard Times and White Lines

Casper McWade - Hello Lonesome

Shooter Jennings - Shooter

Stryker Brothers - Burn Band

Willie Nelson - Last Man Standing

Loretta Lynn - Wouldn’t It Be Great

Colter Wall - Songs of the Plains

Kyle Park - Don’t Forget Where You Come From

Alternative & Edgy Country - Folk - Americana

Eric Church - Desperate Man

Parker Millsap - Other Arrangements

Devin Dawson - Dark Horse

Sister Hazel - Water / Wind

Brothers Osborne - Port Saint Joe

Ruston Kelly - Dying Star

Ruby Boots - Don’t Talk About It

William Clark Green - Hebert Island

Hawks and Doves - From a White Hotel

Ben Danaher - Still Feel Lucky

Amanda Shires - To the Sunset

Becky Warren - Undesirable

Blackberry Smoke - Find a Light

Frank Turner - Be More Kind

David Nail and the Well Ravens - Only This and Nothing More

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats - Tearing at the Seams

Davisson Brothers - Fighter

Ray LaMontagne - Part of the Light

Mumford & Sons - Delta

Lindi Ortega - Liberty

Neko Case - Hell-On

Caitlyn Smith - Starfire

The Decemberists - I’ll Be Your Girl / Traveling On

Belle & Sebastian - How to Solve Our Human Problems

Erin Rae - Putting on Airs

Classic Rock

Greta Van Fleet - Anthem of the Peaceful Army

Brian Fallon - Sleepwalkers

The Record Company - All of this Life

The Temperance Movement - A Deeper Cut

Jesse Kinch - I’m Not Like Everybody Else

Black Label Society - Grimmest Hits

Uriah Heep - Living the Dream

Black Stone Cherry - Family Tree

Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa - Black Coffee

The Magpie Salute - High Water I

Rod Stewart - Blood Red Roses

Nazareth - Tattooed on My Brain

Walking Papers - WP2

Paul McCartney - Egypt Station

John Mellencamp - Other People’s Stuff

Retro Radio Rock

The Poodles - Prisma

The Night Flight Orchestra - Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough

State of Salazar - Superhero

The Radio Sun - Beautiful Strange

Airrace - Untold Stories

FM - Atomic Generation

W.E.T. - Earthrage

Gioeli - Castronovo - Set the World on Fire

Sunstorm - The Road to Hell

DeVicious - Never Say Never

Steve Perry - Traces

Bonfire - Temple of Lies

Modern Rock

Shinedown - Attention Attention

Myles Kennedy - Year of the Tiger

Treat - Tunguska

Disturbed - Evolution

Three Days Grace - Outsider

Breaking Benjamin - Ember

Audrey Horne - Blackout

Red Sun Rising - Thread

Nordic Union - Second Coming

Voodoo Circle - Raised on Rock

Smash Into Pieces - Evolver

Alice in Chains - Rainier Fog

Halestorm - Vicious

Clutch - Book of Bad Decisions

Red Dragon Cartel - Patina

Godsmack - When Legends Rise

Beartooth - Disease

Stone Temple Pilots - Stone Temple Pilots (2018)

Progressive Rock / Symphonic Metal

Ten - Illuminati

Angra - Omni

Kamelot - The Shadow Theory

Amorphis - Queen of Time

Beyond the Black - Heart of the Hurricane

Holter - Vlad the Impaler

Borealis - The Offering

Last Union - Twelve

Redemption - Long Night’s Journey

Stratovarius - Enigma: Intermission II

Spock’s Beard - Noise Floor

A Perfect Circle - Eat the Elephant

Temperance - Of Jupiter and Moons

Riverside - Wasteland

The Sword - Used Future

Sirenia - Arcane Astral Aeons

Royal Hunt - Cast in Stone

Dynazty - Firesign

Seventh Wonder - Tiara

Ghost Ship Octavius - Delirium

Leah - The Quest

Haken - Vector

Kingcrow - The Persistence

Visions of Atlantis - The Deep & The Dark

Visigoth - Conqueror’s Oath

Ashes of Ares - Well of Souls

Kalidia - The Frozen Throne

The Pineapple Thief - Dissolution

Shattered Skies - Muted Neon

Jon Schaffer's Purgatory - Purgatory

Hard Rock / Heavy Metal

Judas Priest - Firepower

Black Veil Brides - Vale

Saxon - Thunderbolt

Riot V - Armor of Light

Of Mice & Men - Defy

Primal Fear - Apocalypse

Striker - Play to Win

Praying Mantis - Gravity

All That Remains - Victim of the New Disease

Bullet for My Valentine - Gravity

Amaranthe - Helix

Dream Child - Until Death Do We Meet Again

Alternative (Pop - Rock - Metal)

Poets of the Fall - Ultraviolet

Mayday Parade - Sunnyland

The Revivalists - Take Good Care

The Struts - Young & Dangerous

Good Charlotte - Generation Rx

Thrice - Palms

Imagine Dragons - Origins

Houndmouth - Golden Age

Thirty Seconds to Mars - America

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus - The Awakening

You Me at Six - VI

Alkaline Trio - Is This Thing Cursed

Dashboard Confessional - Crooked Shadows

Clean Bandit - What Is Love?

Twenty One Pilots - Trench

Florence + The Machine - High As Hope

Panic! At the Disco - Pray for the Wicked

The Smashing Pumpkins - Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1

Fall Out Boy - M A N I A

U.S. Girls - In a Poem Unlimited

Lucy Dacus - Historian

Edie Brickell & New Bohemians - Rocket

AWOLNATION - Here Come the Runts

blessthefall - Hard Feelings

Muse - Simulation Theory


Joe Bonamassa - Redemption

Tremonti - A Dying Machine

Joe Satriani - What Happens Next

Slash - Living the Dream

Tommy Emmanuel - Accomplice One

Michael Schenker Fest - Resurrection

Gus G - Fearless

Lindsay Ell - The Continuum Project

Impellitteri - The Nature of the Beast

Paul Gilbert - Behold Electric Guitar

Andy James - Arrival

Al Di Meola - Opus

Ana Popovic - Like it on Top

Billy F. Gibbons - The Big Bad Blues

Ace Frehley - Spaceman

Jason Becker - Triumphant Hearts

Mark Knopfler - Down the Road Wherever

Keith Urban - Graffiti U

Jack White - Boarding House Reach

Kurt Vile - Bottle It In

18 Live Albums of Note from the Past 18 Months

Linkin Park - One More Light Live

Alter Bridge - Live at the Royal Albert Hall

Volbeat - Let’s Boogie (Live from Telia Parken)

Accept - Symphonic Terror - Live at Wacken 2017

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Live from the Ryman

Black Sabbath - The End (Live)

Joe Bonamassa - British Blues Explosion (Live)

Kenny Chesney - Live in No Shoes Nation

John Mellencamp - Plain Spoken - From the Chicago Theater

Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls: The Live Chapter

Mr. Big - Live from Milan

Amon Amarth - The Pursuit of Vikings: Live at Summer Breeze

Electric Light Orchestra - Jeff Lynne’s ELO - Wembley or Bust

Jeff Beck - Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Opeth - Garden of the Titans (Live at Red Rocks Amphitheater)

Beth Hart - Live at the Royal Albert Hall

Alice Cooper - A Paranormal Evening at the Olympia Paris

Bruce Springsteen - Springsteen on Broadway