Lent 4 – “Out of Death Comes Life”

Sermon texts: Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The basis for the sermon is the appointed readings read earlier.

Death is all around us. Our world is one in which we live and then we die. That is what the people of Moses grumbled about in our Old Testament text: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” Death is all around the Israelites, or so they think. When things start looking bad, they get worse. “Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” If there wasn’t death before, there is death now. So much death and things are only going to get worse. The only way that death could be defeated was from God. As the fiery serpents brought death, God used a serpent to bring about life: “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”

From Adam and Eve, death became a permanent part of creation. Everywhere you turned, there was death and there was no escaping it. Death followed the people of Israel everywhere they went. It followed them as they wandered the wilderness. It followed them because of their lack of faith in God. It followed them to their children and to every generation thereafter. It follows to you and to me as well.

That’s bad news for us. Death is here for us. Death defeats us. But there is One who defeats death. Those who believe in Jesus Christ shall not perish. Yes, they will die a physical death, but they live eternally with Christ. What comfort that is in knowing that because of Christ, on account of what Christ has done for you, you shall receive everlasting life. The best part of all this: you didn’t do anything! You didn’t have to work for it, you didn’t have to earn it; you simply received it.

Here is how that happened. It had to happen at the expense of Jesus. That is what Jesus said: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Salvation lies only in Jesus Christ and in no one or nothing else. The snake was lifted up on a pole; Jesus was to be lifted up on a cross. Everyone who looked in faith at the snake was healed from the bite of deadly snakes. Everyone who would look in faith at Jesus would be saved from the bite of eternal death and have eternal life. This is the life that begins with the new birth by the Spirit. This is the life that comes only through Jesus Christ for your sins.

Paul, in addressing the Ephesians, reminds the people just what it means because of Jesus: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Because of our sin, we were dead. Notice that Paul doesn’t say that you are still dead, but that you were dead. If you were dead but are not now, what does that make you? It makes you alive; alive not because of you but only because of Jesus. It is because Jesus was lifted up upon the cross and only Jesus could be lifted upon the cross.

All of that changes with what Paul says. We see a complete change for us, a change that has been affected by Jesus. Paul says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….” You and I are dead. We are forsaken for all eternity for our many sins, for even just a single sin. But God does not leave us in that state of death. New life has been granted to you. The best part of that is that you did nothing to earn it. You did nothing to achieve it. We were completely dead in sin. We were spiritual corpses, with absolutely no spark of spiritual life in us.  In love, however, God breathed spiritual life into us. We were made alive in Christ. On the basis of Jesus’ resurrection, through faith in Him, we are spiritually alive.

God’s love lifted His Son on the cross, and by His love, He lifts us from death to life. To lift us up, God lifted up His Son. Lifted up on the cross, the Father gave His Son as the greatest act of love for His creation. Here was a creation, made in the image of God: perfect, holy, and without sin. Creation did not retain that image for long and God was not content watching His creation suffer the effects of sin: death and eternal separation from Him. To restore creation, the Second Person of the Trinity, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, took on human flesh in order to do what we could not: live a sinless life in our place.

There is good reason that all of this was done and Jesus Himself says why: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” It was done in order to save it; it was done for you. Whoever believes in the Son of God is not condemned. Sin loses all power to damn us. Sin loses all power to damn you because Christ has died for you. But not only has He died for you, He also rose again for you. Again, the reason that all of this was done is because of the agape love that God has for His creation.

The key to our salvation comes in the final verses of our text for today: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are saved solely by the grace of God which is given to us as a gift, not something that we have to earn. We have to do enough earning in life: earn our paycheck, earn brownie points with our spouse, earn punches for that free latté. Why should salvation be something that is earned? It is given as a gift.

That is the point of salvation. It’s not something that we can earn. It’s not even something which we deserve. On the contrary, it’s the furthest thing which our sinfulness deserves. We deserve eternal damnation yet receive everlasting life. And while all of this makes perfect sense to God, it makes no sense to us. How can something like this be given to me free of charge? There must be something that I have to do. However, that is not the case.

God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved you, even when you were dead in trespasses, made you alive with Christ and raised you up, for God so loved you that He gave His only-begotten Son, that by believing in Him you would not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son to you to condemn you, but that you through Him would be saved. God has given you the promise of eternal life, for He has declared you righteous—not guilty—on account of the saving work of His Son, your Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross, who gave His body and shed His blood for you and has seated you in the heavenly places with Him and the Son. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 3 – “The Law Is Good” (Exodus 20:1-17)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Old Testament, which was read earlier.

It’s safe to say that we live in a day where the Word of God is not in favor with many in the world, even amongst Christians. The authority of Scripture has been attacked on many sides, both inside and outside of the Church. It’s not unusual to see a television show belittling the Scriptures that God gave us. It’s not unusual to read in the newspaper that religious freedoms have come under attack by those who have little desire for God and His Word. Nonetheless, we turn to the Word of God for our strength and our comfort.

Our Old Testament account from Exodus begins with the children of Israel gathered around Mount Sinai. God had descended upon the mountain in fire. The mountain trembled and God called Moses to come and meet with Him. God gave him words that we heard in today’s reading: “And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” With these words, it shows us that God cared for His people. He had a deep desire to protect them from that which was hurtful to them, in both a physical and spiritual sense. In order to protect His people, God gave to Moses the Ten Commandments to guide the people in the relationship as God’s people within this covenant. They would live as His people and He would bless them.

Before we hear those words of God, we cannot forget that God had already given His people, Adam and Eve, a singular command: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” There is no fancy and colorful language here; rather, a very simple statement – eat and die. It did not take long for them to break that singular command of God and they died. They would die a physical death, but more importantly, they died a spiritual death. They were no longer like God, that is, perfect and holy. They would never see that spiritual state again.

Now, God sees fit to give to His people a new Law, His Ten Words, or as we call them, the Ten Commandments. And why would God give such a thing to His people when they clearly could not handle one command from God? God gave the Law for the good of His people.

A quick summary of the Ten Commandments is revealed to us by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew – love. In each of the first three commandments, He spoke of the people’s relationship with God. Jesus sums it by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” First and foremost should be the proper respect due to God, the Creator of all that exists. Commandments 4-10 would govern their relationship with their fellow man: “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In His mercy, God had brought His chosen people out of many years of slavery and was bringing them to a land that was good, a land where they could live and prosper as His own. As they traveled, God established a new relationship with them. The people were gathered at Sinai in His mercy and He came to them and said, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

The Law had a very particular role in their lives. God wanted them to turn away from things that were worshiped by other people they would encounter in their communities. As He gave the Law, God declared that He was a “jealous God.” That may sound strange, but it meant He wanted His people solely for Himself. There are no other gods. Anything else was an invention by man guided by Satan. The Triune God is the sole being who could rescue them from sin.

God established the Law not as a curse, but as a help to His people, then and today. Unfortunately, if we read past our text, we see how the people had already broken the First Commandment before they even got it by the fashioning of the golden calf. They failed to keep the very First Commandment, which opened the door for them to break the remainder. You and I fail to keep the First Commandment each and every day, also opening the door for us to break the remainder. Sadly, we have gotten so good at breaking God’s Law that we don’t even realize we’re doing it, or making excuses or justification of our breaking God’s Law.

So with the Ten Commandments given to the people of Israel and their failure to keep the very First Commandment, let alone the remaining nine, all is doom and gloom for Israel. They will be forever lost to their failure of keeping God’s Law; they will be forever lost to their sin. It would easily appear that way, and at times for Israel, it seems as if God had completely abandoned them. If God had forsaken Israel, then that means there is no hope for you and I. And if that’s what you think, then you would be wrong. There is indeed hope for you and I; there is salvation for us. God did not completely abandon Israel to their sin. God has not abandoned you to your sin. He has sent to Israel and to the entirety of His creation a Deliverer, One that would keep the First Commandment in its entirety. And not only the First Commandment but also the other nine. And not only the Ten Commandments, but also the 613 commandments. And not only those, but One who has kept the entirety of God’s Word and His Law. There is for Israel and for you a Savior, one who goes to the extreme to atone for your sins, for each and every one of them, for every single time that you have broken God’s Law, for every time that you have not done as His Word has declared.

This Savior, this Jesus, is the One who has done for you all that you could never do yourself. In keeping every iota of God’s Law, He has done all that the Father desired of His creation. He has achieved for all those who trust and believe in Him full salvation. For all who have faith and call upon the name of the Lord, all those sins that would make you stand before God as a condemned sinner have been removed and God only sees that the holiness and righteousness that has been achieved by Jesus’ all-atoning sacrifice on the cross. God has promised salvation and that salvation comes through Jesus Christ, the One promised of long ago. As Jesus says in our Gospel for today, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Through His bodily temple, the Son of God lays down His life, only to take it up again three days later. In doing so, He proclaims eternal victory over sin and death for the sinner.

With the giving of the Ten Commandments, it was not meant to punish or tie the hands of Israel. They were given as a response to whom God was, their creator, provider and protector. He had promised to be with them all the days of their life. In line with man’s breaking of God’s Word and commandments, One is sent for us who keeps these Commandments in order to grant to us everlasting life. We have failed time and time to keep these Commandments. Fortunately for us, there is One who has kept them, One who would give His life so that we would live. Christ has come, keeping these Commandments and more, to grant to you life and salvation. Steadfast love from God has been shown to you, all because Christ has kept these Commandments in your place. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 2 – “Who Is Jesus?” (Mark 8:27-38)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

What’s in a name? Everyone has one. They tell something about us. Some denote importance while others denote insignificance. You hear the name Henry Ford and you automatically think Ford Motor Company. George Washington and you think President of the United States. John Doe and you could care less because it’s clear that the name is insignificant.

As we hear in our Gospel account from St. Mark, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The fact that Jesus asks the question infers that people know something about Him and they talk about Him. And of course, the people do know of Jesus and they have been talking about Him. They know Him to be a prophet, a teacher, a healer, a miracle worker. Some have attributed Jesus as being more than that: “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”

What do these responses indicate? It shows the people have great esteem for Jesus. He’s not your every-day, run of the mill carpenter’s son. He is more than that, much more than that. To be herald as John the Baptist, Elijah or another of the prophets indicate that Jesus is important. He is someone to be listened to. He is someone to whom the people respect.

All of that is good and proper. But there is an even more important question that Jesus then asks the disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” That seems to be an odd question, wouldn’t you think? Jesus has been baptized and the voice of God the Father spoke, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Granted, this takes place prior to the calling of the disciples. Even if the disciples didn’t know what God had said, John the Baptist did. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after Jesus was baptized that he was arrested by Herod and later beheaded.

Regardless, Jesus has now called His disciples. They have been witness to the miracles and healing work of Jesus. They have heard His teaching and seen first-hand what He is capable of doing. And so the question is asked to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Clearly Jesus is not John the Baptist as he is dead. Clearly Jesus is not Elijah for he has been dead for generations. Clearly Jesus is not just a run of the mill prophet because the prophets could not do what Jesus had done up until this point. And so there is only one, logical response that can be given: “You are the Christ.” That’s Mark’s description of Peter’s answer. Matthew records Peter’s response as being, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Luke’s account records Peter’s response as being, “The Christ of God.” All three accounts have something in common: Jesus is the Christ, a title which means, the Anointed One.

Now, given Peter’s answer, we have to ask the good Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” Peter rightly calls Jesus “the Christ,” what the people of the Old Testament would have called the Messiah. He is the One who had been expected for so long. He is the One who would bring about salvation to mankind. Jesus is more than just mere man. He is the very Son of God in flesh. The Messiah, though truly human, was also God the Son, and His assignment as the Anointed One was clearly stated back in Genesis – He would be the One to bruise the head of Satan; He would be the one to earn salvation for us sinners.

Even though Peter made this confession, there were many of Jesus’ day who could not or rather, would not. Messiah meant something different to the people. Messiah meant an earthly king. Messiah meant the one who would rescue Jerusalem from Roman rule. Messiah for the people meant only earthly terms. Messiah did not mean what the Scriptures had spoken of regarding the Messiah.

This answer of the disciples given by Peter is the very answer that Jesus had hoped for. It is the only answer that can be given. Jesus is the Son of God and Jesus is the Son of Man, our Christ, our Savior, and our Redeemer.

But that is not the popular answer. “God” is whoever we want him or her to be. “God” can be whatever you want it to be for that matter. “God” becomes a generic name for every deity we worship under the sun. Whatever you want to call your god, it’s all the same god in the end. Your god is my god and my god is your god. That is the age in which we live.

Here is the problem with all of that. “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Only one God was able to do that, not many gods. Only one God can fit that description, not many gods.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again because it bears repeating: if you get Jesus wrong, then you get everything wrong. If you get Jesus wrong, then nothing else matters. What exactly do I mean by that? If you do not have the right understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for you, then everything that follows after that is wrong also. If you do not accept that Jesus Christ is both God and man, that your salvation depends solely upon Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection, then everything else you believe about salvation is wrong. Salvation can come from no other source than Jesus Christ. The moment that we start to think, or even worse, believe, that our salvation comes from someone or something other than Jesus, that is the point when everything means nothing.

After chastising Peter, Jesus gathers the disciples and the crowds and tells them that salvation is in Him and Him alone. Listen again to the stern words that Jesus says: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” In this brief moment of Peter’s anti-confession, he shows that he is ashamed of Jesus because of the words that Jesus has spoken. Peter didn’t like Jesus’ words. But just because he didn’t like them didn’t make them any less true.

We may not like Jesus’ words at times either. Though we don’t like them, that doesn’t make them any less true. We may not like hearing that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation because it takes the focus off of us. We may not like hearing that we must repent and return to God, especially if we’re justified in our actions because I’m not as bad as that person. However, one thing remains the same: it is by Jesus Christ that you have everlasting life. St. Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” I didn’t die for you. You didn’t die for you. Your actions are not what save you. It is by Jesus Christ and Him alone that you have salvation.

By Jesus’ death on the cross, by His blood shed, we have salvation. When the question is asked to us, “Who do you say that I am?,” may we be bold to confess as Peter did: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Lent 1 – “Tempted No More” (Mark 1:9-15)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

“I don’t like you.” “I hate you.” “I wish you were dead.” Have you ever heard those phrases spoken to you before? There’s probably a good chance that you. And even if you haven’t heard them spoken by a person to you, you have had them spoken to you. Your enemy, the devil, has spoken those words to you, time and time again. He loves to speak those words to you because he doesn’t like you, because he hates you, and because he does wish you were dead. The reason why he speaks those words to you is because you are a child of God and he doesn’t like that. That’s why, for you, God sends forth His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to combat Satan.

Turning to our Gospel reading, it begins with the Baptism of Jesus and God declaring forth, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Here is God’s pronouncement of who Jesus is, the very Son of God. That’s what you and I want to hear. That’s exactly what Satan doesn’t want to hear! Here is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, beginning His ministry of salvation for the people of God. That’s good news for us, or at least, it should be. Here is a God who isn’t aloof, twiddling His thumbs as His creation continues in a life of sin and death. He sends forth the only one capable of putting an end to death, once and for all. That sounds great, until it isn’t.

Mark goes on to say, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.” That’s not good news for us, but it’s great news for Satan! Here is his opportunity to defeat God, once and for all. He tried it once, but failed to realize that he, the creation, was inferior to God, the Creator. He revolted and took with him angels and was cast out of the presence of God. But here is Round 2, a second chance of victory over God. If he can’t defeat God directly, then the next best thing is to defeat God through Jesus. And that’s exactly what he sets out to do.

For forty days, Satan tempted Jesus with a singular desire – get Jesus to give into temptation. Surely it can’t be that hard; it worked on Adam and Eve. Satan knew what he was doing. If he could get Jesus to give into temptation, any temptation, then he wins. It doesn’t matter what the temptation, whether great or small. It doesn’t matter what the temptation is, just get Jesus to give in to temptation. And once Jesus does, God’s means of salvation for His people is done. When Jesus gives in, Satan wins and it’s game over for God.

But that’s where Satan got too cocky. He truly thought that he would be able to tempt Jesus, that sooner or later, He would break and give in to temptation. Satan could wait Him out; it was just the two of them. Eventually, Jesus would give in.

And that’s where Satan loses Round 2.

Jesus would not give in. The stakes were too high. Creation had lost once already. It would never see the Garden of Eden again. There was no more perfection, only imperfection. There was no life, only death. That’s a fact, one that Satan enjoys. When he says, “I wish you were dead,” he meant it. And, he is right. We are dead, dead in our trespasses and sins. But because of Jesus, our death is past tense. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….”

That’s not what Satan wants you to hear. He wants you to hear that you are still dead, still separated from God, still hopeless. But Jesus comes to make you alive again. Jesus comes to unite you to God once again. Jesus comes as the giver of hope.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who carries away the sin of the world. Even though He carried the sin of the entire world into the desert, He Himself never sinned. He endured and triumphed over every temptation of the devil. Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus endured the temptations of the devil and triumphed. He not only endured the temptation in the wilderness, but He also endured all the other temptations that the devil threw at Him as He journeyed to the cross.

Because of Christ’s victory over the devil during His 40 days of temptation, you have won as well. Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil is your victory over sin, death, and the devil. God sent His Son into the world to deal with all three of these. In the luscious, fruitful Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted the first man; in the bleak, barren wilderness he tried the same with the stronger Man. Jesus, the second Adam, would dispatch the devil, defeating Satan who had caused the fall of the first Adam. As a result of the first man’s sin, Adam could only lead his wife out from Paradise and into this land of disease, decay and death. As a result of Jesus’ victory over Satan in the desert, the Lord journeyed out from the desert in order to lead His bride, the Church, from this world and into Paradise.

It is important for us to know that Jesus endured all the hardships that we endure. He is our substitute. He doesn’t just know our lives academically, but He has experienced life as we know it. He was tempted just as we are tempted. He also experienced our pain, our sorrow, and our frustrations. He experienced it all except that He never sinned.

In spite of the fact that He never sinned, He was full of sin. St. Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Just as the High Priest placed the sin of Israel on the scapegoat, God has placed the sin of the world on Jesus. He became full of our sin – your sin, my sin, the sin of the entire world. Jesus has carried that sin to the cross. As we remember the cross, we will remember that our sin filled Him as He suffered and died to pay the penalty that God’s justice demanded – a payment that freed us from our slavery to sin.

For us during this Lententide, our focus is this: Christ has defeated Satan, once and for all, and because of that, salvation has been won for you and for me, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 2 – “Good Comes from Nazareth” (John 1:43-51)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

“Follow me.” It’s a very simple command. It means to come with me, to do what I do. It’s straightforward and means what it says. In other words, a simple task. That’s the command that Jesus gives to Philip: “Follow me.” And Philip does just that – he follows Jesus. Good for Philip, you might say. He listened to Jesus and did just what He said to do. And for a brief moment, you might be right.

As Philip follows Jesus, doing what Jesus has commanded, going where Jesus says to go, he finds another, Nathanael. Right now, Nathanael doesn’t seem to be doing anything, and so Philip tells Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Unlike Jesus’ command to Philip, Philip doesn’t tell Nathanael to follow him; rather, he states the obvious – Jesus is here.

That’s great news, isn’t it? Jesus is here! Obviously Philip is happy about that news and so should Nathanael. Instead, Nathanael responds by saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Talk about putting a damper on everything. Instead of celebrating the fact that Jesus is here, Nathanael becomes “Debbie Downer,” insinuating that nothing good can come from Nazareth, not even “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Biblically, there may be an answer to Nathanael’s question. Nazareth is never mentioned in the Old Testament. Outside the New Testament, the first mention of the town of Nazareth seems to be in the second century AD. Nathanael’s response may be a piece of flippant sarcasm in view of the insignificance of Nazareth. No messianic prophecy was associated with Nazareth. Hence, Nathanael expresses skepticism that one from Nazareth could be the Messiah, for nowhere in the Law or in the Prophets is Nazareth the origin of the Coming One.

Despite what Nathanael may think about Nazareth or this so-called Jesus, Philip doesn’t bite. He doesn’t give in and say, “Yeah, you’re right Nathanael. What was I thinking!” He doesn’t argue against Nathanael and tell him all the ways that he’s wrong. Instead, he simply tells Nathanael, “Come and see.” Once again, it’s pretty simple for Philip. He doesn’t ask questions, he doesn’t doubt. He just does what Jesus says, and in turn, encourages Nathanael to do the same.

You and I are exactly like Nathanael. We want to come up with every reason not to believe that Jesus is who He says He is. We want to come up with any other explanation of salvation than the fact that Jesus died on a cross to forgive the sins of mankind in order to redeem creation. It’s all so bloody, so disgusting, so revolting. That’s not what we want to hear, and so we seek to find a way to sanitize all of it, to make Jesus’ death more appealing and less bloody. But that’s where our problem lies. We cannot make Jesus’ death any more appealing that what is already not. There is no way to sanitize Jesus. If you want Jesus, then you need Jesus for who He is – the blood pouring out of the side Jesus, the blood rushing over you to forgive your sins Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by His blood Jesus.

With fire and Holy Spirit power, the Messiah comes, but instead of being a terrible judge, awesome to behold, He’s a lamb. The Messiah, with gentleness, heals and teaches. In lowliness, the Messiah calls disciples and raises the dead to life. Gentiles will follow Him, sinners will adore Him, little children call Him “Son of David.” The Messiah of God loves the lame, the mute, the seeing, and the blind. In humility, this Messiah touches lepers and washes feet. To be the Lamb of God means to be lowly and gentle and humble to the point of death, even death on a cross.

That’s why we are like Philip. We need that Lamb. In this world where death lords over us, we sinners long for that gentle Lamb, who is our Good Shepherd. That’s why Philip immediately leaves all and follows Jesus wherever He may go. Philip doesn’t follow Jesus blindly, but with eyes wide open. Philip doesn’t follow in the hopes that Jesus is the One; rather, Philip follows because he knows that Jesus IS the One. Philip follows Jesus because Jesus is salvation promised and salvation fulfilled.

This Jesus whom you and I come seeking week after week is the prophetic proclamation of God. With the incarnation of God and the revealing Epiphany light, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, invades the world, and the kingdom of the enemy has no chance. The silence of the prophets is broken with Jesus’ infant cries and John’s recognizing Him as the Lamb to be slain. Christ will come to save those who trust in Him, just as Moses and the prophets said. He will save them by dying for them. He will save you by dying for you. He HAS saved you because He has DIED and RISEN for you!

Despite the fact that we are sinners, God calls us unto Him. He calls us to be forgiven. He calls us to receive. He calls us to be His beloved children. Just as God called Samuel, just as Jesus called Philip and Nathanael, so are we called. We are called in our Baptism to be made forgiven children of God. We are called to serve our neighbor, to spread the Gospel to those who have not heard.

At the end of the day, we want, no, we need to be able to make the same confession that Nathanael did: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Such a bold confession for someone who didn’t think anything good could come from Nazareth. But that’s where Nathanael would be wrong, and that’s where we would be wrong as well. Good things do come out of Nazareth, for that is where your Savior is found. It is because of Jesus of Nazareth that you will hear, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” For all who confess that Jesus is Lord will indeed see heaven open and will see the Son of Man. You will see the Key to your salvation, Jesus Christ.

God has drawn you to Himself and found you as well – here at the font and in His holy Christian Church. And here, when Jesus sees you approaching – every time He sees you approaching – He says, here is a true child of God, in whom there is nothing false. That is, He declares you righteous and welcomes you into His presence. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.


Baptism of Our Lord – “Baptized into Jesus” (Mark 1:4-11)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Back to John the Baptist, again. From Advent until now, he has been the focus of the Gospel reading on two separate occasions, all focusing on the same thing – his baptizing of people for the forgiveness of sins. Today, we get the same account – John baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins. It sounds like the same old story we’ve heard before, because we have. In Advent 2, it was from Mark’s Gospel, Advent 3 was from John’s Gospel, and then today, the Baptism of Our Lord, we hear again from Mark’s Gospel, in fact, half of today’s Gospel account is a repeat from Advent 2. Again, what’s the big deal about John the Baptist going out into the desert and baptizing people? As has been established on two previous occasions, this was for the forgiveness of the people’s sins. That is something that is notable, because people definitely need their sins forgiven – just ask me and I’ll tell how much I need MY sins forgiven! But there is something new added to our text today from the previous accounts, there is one more baptism, one that is different than all the others – the baptism of Jesus.

Here is John the Baptist, going about his business as the herald of Jesus, baptizing people from all across Judea and Jerusalem. Again, old news, move on to something else. But Mark writes, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Clearly, that must have been a typo on Mark’s part. John is baptizing for the forgiveness of sins and here comes Jesus to be baptized, the only one in all of creation to have no sins. Clearly this must have been a mistake!

It’s easy to think that way, especially if you read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”” That sounds more like it. That sounds like the way it’s supposed to be. Why baptize the sinless One of God; it just doesn’t make any sense. But that’s where you would be wrong. That’s your limited thinking, just as it was John’s limited thinking. John has already confessed to the people, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” John knows his place and his place is beneath Jesus, hence why it doesn’t make any sense to John to baptize Jesus.

John isn’t the only one who is confused by all of this. We’re confused as well, because Jesus is Jesus and not a sinner. Baptism is for sinners, Jesus is not a sinner, thus, baptism is not needed for Jesus. It’s really simple to connect the dots. But it takes Jesus to reconnect the dots for us: “But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.””

We see in our text just how easy it was for John to question and do what he did. And when Jesus came out of the water, heaven was torn open and the Holy Spirit came to Him and dwelt with Him. Did Jesus have to be baptized? Was it mandatory for that to happen? No. In allowing Himself to be baptized, Jesus was showing His solidarity with sinners. Though Himself sinless, He was identifying Himself with sinners by giving Himself to the work of bearing their sins then and our sins now.

We need to make sure we fully understand what took place in the Baptism of Jesus by John. The view that by being baptized by John, Jesus only showed His willing obedience and that Jesus, though not needing baptism and yet submitted to it, makes the baptism nothing but a formality and misconstrues what John’s Baptism really was. It was not law, but gospel, not a demand to obey but a gift of grace to accept and to retain as such. Jesus was baptized by John because He regarded this as the right way in which to enter upon His great office.  He, the Sinless One, the very Son of God, chose to put Himself by the side of all the sinful ones, for whom this sacrament of John’s was ordained. He signifies that He is now ready to take upon Himself the load of all these sinners, that is, to assume His redemptive office. As Luther points out, Jesus was here rightly beginning to be Christ, the Anointed One, and “was thus inaugurated into His entire Messianic office as our Prophet, High Priest, and King.”

Here, in the Jordan River, Jesus became one of us. He took on all that has gone wrong with us, every sin. By taking our sin onto Himself, He becomes the greatest sinner. He becomes the greatest sinner so that He could become our only Savior. He takes His place under our sin, so that He could lift it from us and carry it away. He carried our sin away from us so that the punishment for that sin will not fall on us, but on Him. That is how God has decided that His judgment and His righteousness should go. Jesus should take our sin to Himself with all its condemnation, guilt, and punishment. God turns His friendly face to us because Jesus became one of us and took our sin on Himself.

The Baptism of Jesus reveals the plan of God to restore this love – to heal our relationship with Him – to open heaven to us once again. Here we see the Son of God in the flesh in order to take our place under the law. Here stands the sinless Son of God who carries in Him the sin of the entire world. Here is Jesus standing with us in the waters of baptism in order that we might be joined to Him in eternity.

From the moment that Jesus came to be in the womb of the Virgin, the Son of God has carried the sins of the world. Up until this moment of baptism, He carried our sins in silent anonymity. Now, at His baptism, His role as sin bearer becomes public. The heavens were torn open. The Spirit descended on him like a dove. A voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The time has come for Jesus to publicize His journey, a journey that will pass through the cross where He will take away the sin of the world, a journey that will also pass through the empty tomb of Christ’s resurrection that demonstrates His power over death.

God the Father is pleased with His Son as He continues this journey of salvation. This is God the Father expressing delight in God the Son. This is God the Father expressing delight in us as well. For Jesus’ journey through the cross and the open tomb earned salvation for us. Through baptism, the Holy Spirit joined us to Christ Jesus. All that is ours belongs to Him, and all that is His belongs to us. So God delights in us just as He delights in Jesus. In a world that has long ago surrendered to sin, death, and the devil, there is one place where we receive the delight of God. That is where we are in solidarity with Jesus who heard the Father say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Christmas 1 – “Ready to Die” (Luke 2:22-40)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Here’s a question I doubt that you’ve asked yourself lately, or possibly ever – are you ready to die? I mean, right now, while sitting in the pew, what if you died? I doubt that many of you would say that you could die right now, but here’s the thing – you should be able to say that! As a Christian, as a believer in Jesus Christ, you should be perfectly fine if you died right here, right now.

Turning to our Gospel reading for today, we see something happen that isn’t out of the ordinary – parents bringing their child to the temple for the rite of purification. Mary, because she had given birth, needed to be made ceremonially clean. The Child that was born also needed to be presented to the Lord and a sacrifice made on His behalf. Like I said, that’s not unusual. In fact, that is according to the Law of Moses and the Law of the Lord. That’s something that happens all the time so seeing that take place is no big deal. But, in fact, it is a big deal because of who the sacrifice is for.

Ironically, a sacrifice was being made on behalf of Jesus. Though this was according to the Law of the Lord, it was out of place. “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.” The fact of the matter was that Jesus was already holy to the Lord, for He is the God incarnate. The sacrifice for such thing required “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. This was an alternative sacrifice, for according to Leviticus 12, the sacrifice is a lamb or two turtledoves or two pigeons. This helps us to understand that Mary and Joseph were indeed of a humble state, given that they were too poor to be able to afford a lamb. Here is a great reversal – no lamb was necessary because already here at forty days old, Jesus is the lamb brought to His temple for sacrifice.

And so we meet a man named Simeon, “and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Luke says he was righteous and devout. That meant he could probably be found at the temple daily, making sacrifices and the like. He wasn’t a religious leader, but rather a religious follower. But Simeon wasn’t a follower of the religious leaders of the day. Instead, he was a follower of God and of His promises. Luke records, “And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

We know that Simeon was old, but that he was not going to die until God had kept His promise. After today, Simeon could do just that, die. Taking Jesus into his arms, he speaks the most wonderful hymn the Church could sing: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” The only thing missing from that hymn is an amen, a yes yes, let it be so.

Now, Simeon could die in peace because he has not only seen the promise of God but has also held the promise. There is no more waiting. Here is the promise, a promise for all people. Because of this promise fulfilled, you can die.

We can all say, along with Simeon, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word….” God made a promise and God kept a promise. Despite the length of time it took for that promise to come to fruition is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that God did indeed keep His promise. It is only because God kept His promise that we are able to die in peace as does Simeon.

This Child named Jesus wasn’t just for Simeon and He’s not just for you either. As much as we like to have Jesus all to ourselves, Simeon doesn’t say that this is our own, private Jesus. Instead, he says that this salvation has been “prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” You see, this Jesus is meant for people that shouldn’t be meant for. This Jesus is for the Gentile, for the one who is not Jewish, not part of God’s chosen people. Despite our wanting to say that Jesus is for me and not for you, that’s just wrong, for Jesus is for all people.

When God made the promise of a Savior, He didn’t make it for Adam and Eve and no one else. He didn’t make it for just Israel or just for the good. God made the promise to all people of all nations. That means that Jesus is for the bad just as much as He is for the good. It means He’s for the wrong as much as He is for the right. It means that He’s for the Gentile as much as He is for the Jew. It means that He’s for you as much as He is for me.

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians says the same thing as Simeon does, just in another way. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Simeon waited until God saw fit to make good on His promise. He sends Jesus, who is under the Law to fulfill the Law and redeem us. By His death on the cross, we are made sons and heirs of God. It means all that He has, we have. It means that we have His holiness because Christ grants us holiness. It means that we are perfect because Christ has made us perfect. It means we receive everlasting life because Christ is everlasting life.

We don’t know what was in store for Simeon after he left the temple. We don’t know how long Simeon lived or how quickly he died. We don’t need to know because it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that Simeon saw the promise of God fulfilled and could now depart in peace, knowing that God kept His promise of salvation.

Like Simeon, you behold your Savior today. You don’t see tiny toes and a hairless head; you observe a man preaching and then see bread and wine. But faith tells you this: God keeps His promises. His Son has come, died and risen, as promised. His Son is here, in these means, to forgive, as promised. You know this by faith, not by sight.

So what is in store for you and me? Will it be a long life lived or will God call us home tomorrow? As much as we want that long life lived, it really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is this: God has made a promise and God has kept His promise. He has sent forth Jesus just as He said. He grants to all who believe forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. You and I are ready to die, for we have seen the salvation of our God made full in Jesus. The only thing left for you and I to do is sing: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word….” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Christmas Day (John 1:1-14)

“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Today is indeed a joyous day, or at least it should be. We celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That should be enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. But unfortunately, that’s not true. In the hustle and bustle that is the season of Christmas, you know, sometime around Halloween until today, we fail to ask ourselves an all-important question: Could God be left alone for Christmas?

What a silly question to ask, you might think. Of course, God could never be left alone for Christmas, but He was. Some 2000 years ago, the almighty God, in a way, spent the first Christmas alone. He has a Son who had been by His side. That Son was even there in heave with His Father the beginning of time. John says, “The world was made through him.” But the Father was willing to let Him go when it came time for the first Christmas at Bethlehem. He didn’t kick Him out of heaven as some sort of punishment, the He did with Satan and all his demons. Instead, something else happened.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” God our Father spent that first Christmas alone you might say, not because of anger. He spent that first Christmas alone because He wanted His Son to be with us, right here as one of us.

When you look at this world, when you see all the sin that man commits, you have to ask yourself why would God want His Son to be with us, to be one of us. We frequently don’t care much about other people or even about God. We’ve made quite clear time and again that we’re going to live our lives our own way, regardless of the consequences. Human sin has a made a horrible mess of everything. So why would God send Jesus, full of grace and truth, to a place that is full of unkindness and lies? Because of just that.

God knew full well it would take far more than just another prophet or priest, preacher or diplomat, to fix it all. So He sent what was needed: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That cute and cuddly Baby lying in the manger is the eternal God come down to our world to rescue us helpless souls by His living, His dying, and His glorious rising again. He’s as human as human can be, a real Child, not some made-up notion. This Child would grow up and face disappointment of being rejected, the pangs of death when they nailed His body to the cross, when He would pour out real blood in a real, ugly death.

This slumbering infant of Bethlehem’s manger we heard about last night is at the same time the true God who has all authority in heaven and on earth. That includes, as John says, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” You, the poor, miserable sinner, who is good for nothing because of that sin, you are now something of great worth – a child of God. You are a sinner, just as I am. God doesn’t owe either one of us a dime, and yet He gives this right to you. He gives it to you because of who He is and what He has done. Heaven’s Father was willing to be left alone that first Christ, if you know what I mean, so that this Christ, this God-man, could come and take His place here with all of us.

This is indeed the most incredible thing that has ever happened! That’s why we decorate the church, sing hymns of praise and cannot get our fill of this time that we call Christmas. But in the midst of that incredible news, John says something that makes things come to a screeching halt: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

In a tragic sense, God was left alone that first Christ, for it seems as if the people of Bethlehem didn’t care about His gift to them. They took no notice of Him, they made no room in the inn for His mother. The very people He came to save had other things to worry about than Jesus.

Sadly, that same sentiment is alive and well among us today. What is the purpose of Christmas? Many would say Christmas is all about getting presents. The birth of Jesus? Well, that’s important too, I guess. Just point me to the presents.

You want a present? Your present lies in a manger. That same wood used to fashion the lowly manger in which He lay is what is used to fashion the instrument of His death. Your present, the only present that matters in all the world of presents, is the one delivered by God – delivered in the manger, delivered upon the cross. Despite a world that is hell-bent on rejecting the Savior, the Word made flesh still comes to you. He still comes, with you in mind, to make you part of Him, to graft you unto Him, so that all He has can and will become yours.

Jesus is present with you in His means of grace, freely giving you salvation. The Lord is consistently faithful to His people, as He has been since Adam and Eve. He still draws near to save, despite so much sin and utter rebellion in the world today. He still comes, though so many do not even pretend to receive Him. In His faithfulness, the Lord does not abandon this sinful world. Hear this remarkable statement of salvation: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” You are now His children: Not by blood or genetic heritage; nor by your plans, works or will; but by His work of saving you on the cross.

Here is the joy that you have: That almighty Word became flesh to dwell among His people, to go to the cross for you. From the cross, He descended into hell, rose again, and ascended into heaven. Drawing near, the Word made flesh proclaims His Word that you are forgiven for all of your sins. Amen.

Candlelight (Luke 2:1-14)

“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Imagine for a moment the scene: two, lowly parents walking the streets of Bethlehem after a long trip from Nazareth. Every door knocked on, the response is the same – no vacancy, that is, until they found room in a barn. Nothing is ideal, but this is the way that it is to be. In the end, God is there, recognized by ox and donkey, praised by angelic choirs. The stars adjust themselves to look down upon the scene. It looks like heaven.

Don’t be fooled. Salvation is not in heaven. Salvation is on earth, where the Savior was born for us. Salvation is earned for us by a baby being born, a baby who would go to the cross for our sins: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

What a joyous announcement from the angel! A Savior is born…to me and to you! The angels break out in a joyous chorus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” But the Savior is not born to the angels and the archangels in heaven. He doesn’t come to save the angels, but He comes to save you. He comes to the shepherds in the fields and the priests of old; He comes to the doctor, lawyer, police officer and trash collector. He comes to mankind in order to redeem mankind. The angels are secure in their holy bliss – we are not. And so He comes for the good and the bad, for the faithful and the unfaithful, for the person who recognizes their sin and for the one who doesn’t. He is born unto all. He is born unto you.

This is news that should be shouted from the rooftops, and yet it is pushed to the back burner in favor of parties, cards, eggnog and gifts. The importance of our Savior’s birth becomes nothing more than an afterthought at best. But Jesus’ birth is anything but an afterthought. God saw fit to send forth a Savior to our world. This Savior is not for when we want Him but when we need Him.

Right now is when we need Him most. In a time where sin runs rampant and unchecked, in a time when sin is viewed as “bad choices” and nothing more than that. The Savior is born to give you life, to satisfy your soul and forgive you all of your sins. He is put into a manger, not only because He is rejected by men and there is no room for Him in Bethlehem’s inns, but also because He gives Himself to you, as food on earth.

This is the great message the angels sing about. This is the cause of the shepherd’s arrival. They see a Baby lying in a manger. But more than a baby, this is their salvation. This is your salvation.

As miraculous as this event is, we want to know more. We want to know how exactly was this accomplished. We want the inside scoop from Mary about her angelic visit with Gabriel. We want to know what it was like when the shepherds arrived. None of that matters. We don’t need to know how God did what He did. All we need to know is that God did it – not for Himself but for you.

That is the meaning behind this night, that God would be born among us in order to die for us. Luther, in one of his sermons for Christmas, writes the following: “This Gospel is so clear that it requires very little explanation, but it should be well considered and taken deeply to heart; and no one will receive more benefit from it than those who, with a calm, quiet heart, banish everything else from their mind, and diligently look into it.” Just what does Luther mean? Everyone has heard the Christmas Gospel time and time again, and yet it is hard for us to accept this for what it is. It is simply the promise of salvation fulfilled for mankind.

This is the reassurance of the Gospel, that no one has to wonder, “Was He born for me? Did He die for me?” The answer is always yes. For all, He came. For all, He died. On some, God’s chosen elect, He will create faith through His Word. These will receive the gracious gift. They will enjoy eternity, not because of anything they have done, but because God’s favor rests upon them. Again, Luther writes, “He does not simply say, Christ is born, but to you he is born, neither does he say, I bring glad tidings, but to you glad tidings of great joy. Furthermore, this joy was not to remain in Christ, but it shall be to all people.”

This is His will, His promise, and His grace. He is God. His is man. He is born unto you and He is your Savior. He will take up flesh, to be God and man at the same time, without compromising either. You receive a reward that you did not earn.

The manner of His birth was in keeping with His mission: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” There would be no posh palace on earth for this King. His reign on earth would be marked by humility and Luke sets that up for us from the beginning, by focusing on where the Christ Child was born.

This is the Christmas story which Luke tells us. This is the story which we have heard year after year. This is the story which we have seen time and time again in a Charlie Brown Christmas. The Baby is Christ, the Lord, says the angel. He is the Messiah, the anointed One.  He’s the One that God has promised through the ages, the One for whom His people have waited through centuries of darkness and suffering. God the Father has specifically appointed His Son to go about this work, and He will accept Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf. No matter what appearances indicate, no matter how the manger and cross look, this Christ will not fail in what He has come to do.

There is indeed great joy that the angel speaks of to the shepherds. This is the comfort and exceeding goodness of God that, if a man believes this, receives the peace that the angel declares, a peace among those with whom God is pleased. In this case, that is us. We, the chosen ones, have God’s peace. This is a peace beyond understanding, a peace that is always with you. It is the peace that Christ purchased for you, the peace of knowing that your Brother is God’s own Son, and therefore all will be well with you. Christ takes care of His family, so He will take care of you. He has already purchased forgiveness and eternal life for you. He will not forget about you or let you slip through the cracks. You are His own.

For you, God has seen fit to deliver you the greatest Christmas present one could ever ask for – Jesus Christ, the Savior of the nations, come to the world as God has promised, to go from the manger to the cross. The promise of the Messiah in the Old Testament is now fulfilled. The Word was made flesh in the form of an infant, and that Word made flesh died so that the gates of heaven would be opened for us sinners. Here is Jesus, our Savior, the Anointed One and our Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Christmas Eve (Matthew 1:18-25)

Joseph showed himself to be a godly and wise man. Even though he had been wrong and had every right, he would not shame Mary. He was set to suffer loss of his betrothed, to put her away quietly and suffer her shame because of her adultery. It was a noble act indeed, given that the law was on his side. In fact, the law stated that Mary should be put to death for her adultery. But Joseph was above that. No good comes from vengeance or making a scene. But something happens, something unexpected. An angel intervened. The Child came by the Holy Spirit, not by a man. Mary’s virginity, her loyalty, and her love to Joseph remained pure. It was not merely lip service; it was real. And things were not quite what they seemed. This child is the Lord who saves His people. He is the Messiah. “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Talk about a turn! No one could have seen this coming. Except, everyone should have seen this coming! The prophets of old have spoken of the coming Messiah. In fact, we heard from Isaiah a few moments ago, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This is what the people should be familiar with. This is from the Scriptures that they have heard and learned from their youth.

Whatever the wagging tongues of Nazareth were saying, Mary had not been unfaithful. But reality rarely stops gossip. Joseph knew then that the gossip wasn’t true, but his shame, even though it was undeserved, remained. Even if the wagging tongues heard the truth, they were unlikely to believe it. And if they did believe it, gossips are always liars. They embellish their tales even when they know it is false.

But none of that matters. Mary’s supposed infidelity doesn’t matter. The tongue-wagging gossip doesn’t matter. What matters is that God has kept His promise. From a time that was known only to God of when this promise would be fulfilled, the people waited in eager expectation, never knowing but always hoping. Now, God has seen fit to send forth the Savior of the nations.

Things have not worked out the way that Joseph and Mary had planned. I’m sure they were looking forward to a nice betrothal, a wedding with family and friends and then a nice, quiet life as husband and wife. But that’s not what has happened. Mary has accepted that things are not as planned, and now, so has Joseph: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”

Joseph was in a sense free – free from all that would now distract him from his mission – to take this God-Child and raise Him to see that He would fulfill His mission: for he will save his people from their sins.”

And so, we have arrived here. We come to gather around Christ, our newborn King. We have this wonderful gift in Jesus Christ that should be our focus but yet we find ourselves focused on things of this world rather than on the gift of salvation that we have received in Jesus Christ. It’s ok; it’s to be expected because of our sinful nature. We turn to the world before we turn to God, thinking that the world will provide what we need the most – forgiveness from our sins and salvation. But the world cannot provide that. The only One who can provide salvation is God our heavenly Father, and He does so by His Son, Jesus Christ.

We have Immanuel, God with us. But on this holiest night of the year, it can be difficult to believe or accept that He is indeed with us. We lose sight of the one thing needful: to hear the Word of the Lord, the Word-become-flesh, and to be still and know He is God, our God-with-us. Stores have been crowded with last-minute shoppers, whether shopping for gifts or for the fixings for Christmas dinner. Travelers come from here and there, from near and far, to be with friends and family. And some families come to terms with an empty chair at the dinner table for the first time because a loved one has died within the past year. It’s hard to think of Jesus in the midst of our busy-ness, in the midst of our grief. It doesn’t help that the devil uses these things to distract us from Him, to not fix our eyes on Jesus. The One whose birth we celebrate tonight is our Rock, our Fortress, and our Might, our God-with-us. Jesus says to you, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” And again, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

God comes to us, despite our being unworthy of His coming. When we had most certainly committed many shameful acts, the Lord could have simply abandoned us. That is what we deserved. We were supposed to be faithful only to Him. Yet we went running after every false idol that could entice our fickle hearts. We deserved the public disgrace of falling under God’s judgment and being cast away forever. He could have simply acted out of His justice, and given us what we deserve. He could have let His anger break forth against us. He would have been perfectly justified in doing so.

But instead God had compassion on us. Out of love, He did not want to treat us as our sins deserve. He made a plan to rescue us from the disgrace of our sins. It was a secret plan, a mystery hidden for long ages until He revealed it in the Virgin’s Son. God became flesh. God became one of us. God became Man for our sake.

You have a God who loves you: God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. His love for you is deep and vast. Jesus says, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved”, and St. John writes, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [payment] for our sins.” The Babe of Bethlehem would go to the cross at Calvary and die for you and for the life of the world. He bled and died for you, and He rose again for you, that you would have eternal life with Him. Even as Jesus came down from heaven into the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, so also does your Lord come down from heaven into your ears by the power of the Holy Spirit working through His Word, the same Word you heard tonight in the story of your Savior’s birth, from the first promise of the Messiah to the announcement of His birth to the revealing of His incarnation and to the proclamation of Jesus being our Immanuel—our God-with-us, this holy night and always. Amen.