Baptism of Our Lord – “Baptism” (Matthew 3:13-17)

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 Gospel, which was read earlier.

As we go through life, there are certain monumental occasions that we deem to be important: births, graduations, wedding day, deaths, and other days that mark a significant time in our lives. When it comes to Jesus, there are obviously certain events in His life that we could say are monumental, and one such event takes place today – His Baptism.

Why is today such an important day in the life of Jesus? Surely it’s because of what Baptism gives. Luther asks in the Small Catechism, “What benefits does Baptism give?” He answers by saying, “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”

As we look at Luther’s answer, we are quick to identify some problems: Jesus has no sins to forgive! Jesus does not need rescuing from death and devil. Jesus does not need eternal salvation, for He is the Son of God. It seems as if we are left with a conundrum: based on what Luther says Baptism gives, Jesus doesn’t need it, and yet, He insists on being Baptized.

All of this seems out of the norm, for when Jesus comes to John to be baptized, John quickly responds by saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John knows who John is and John knows who Jesus is. John knows that John is a sinner, conceived in sin, born in sin, lives a life of sin, and eventually dies as a sinner. John also knows who Jesus is, that is, the Son of God and therefore, not a sinner. Clearly only one person needs to be baptized, and that person is not Jesus. Does Jesus need to repent? Does Jesus need to be converted from unbelief to faith? Is Jesus among the lost sheep who were no longer members of the true Israel and who needed to be brought back into the family of God? Of course not, and yet Jesus insists upon being baptized by saying, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

What is needed “to fulfill all righteousness” as Jesus tells John? The sinless Son of God receives the baptism meant for sinners because He shall be the sin-bearer. For Jesus, this is what is necessary because it shows perfectly how Jesus will save His people from their sins. Here, Jesus stands in the place of sinful man and is baptized, literally standing in the place of the many. And so here begins the true work and ministry of Jesus Christ.

What takes place after Jesus is baptized identifies for all who are present and for all of creation who Jesus is: “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to reset on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.””

Immediately following Jesus’ baptism, we see the Trinity present. What is the purpose of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus? The Holy Spirit manifests Himself as a dove descending upon the Son. As the symbol of peace, it is a reminder to us that, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. When the voice of God from heaven speaks, He says something very simple, yet very profound: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Son has been obedient to the Father’s will. Here the Father acknowledges that the Son is indeed living a life of perfection and fulfilling the promises given through the prophets. The Father tells us that Jesus is the cause and target of His good pleasure. He tells us that Jesus is His beloved Son.

Since Jesus stands in our place, the Father’s pleasure with His Son is also His pleasure with you and me. Because the Father is pleased with His Son, Jesus, He is pleased with us. We are now the Lord’s beloved child because of the work of Christ.

Here Jesus begins the work of salvation by taking the place of sinners. Here Jesus takes John’s place – your place – my place. Here Jesus takes up the sin of the world and offers us the gift of His holiness. He becomes the greatest sinner of all; not with His own sin, but with our sin. Here He takes up our burden for us. As John performed the simple act of pouring water on Jesus, God poured on Him the iniquity of us all.

St. Paul expanded on this in today’s Epistle: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Here Paul tells us that our baptism joins us to Christ and His baptism. Our sin becomes His and His perfection becomes ours. His innocent suffering and death are credited to our account. The eternal life and salvation that He earned are already ours. We will rise from death to live in eternal joy just as He rose from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. Through His Son, Jesus, God has done everything needed to secure our salvation for us.

Jesus’ baptism identified Him with the world of sinners. Paul describes Christ’s substitution for sinners by telling us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Even though Jesus never sinned, God made Him to be sin. Paul then takes us back to today’s Gospel. Through baptism, we are joined to Christ. His life is for us. His death is for us. His resurrection is for us. Jesus came to John to be baptized for us.

God’s justice requires punishment for sin. Our sin has earned eternal hell for us many times over. God’s love for us seeks to save us from that eternal punishment. The only solution was for God to take up our human flesh so that He could take up our sin. That is what Jesus did. When John baptized Jesus, he baptized the only one who can carry the sin of the world. Jesus carried those sins to the cross. There on the cross, Jesus satisfied both God’s justice and His love. God’s justice was satisfied by punishing our sin IN Jesus Christ. God’s love was satisfied by punishing Jesus Christ instead of us. In this way, God punished our sin without punishing us.

In solidarity, Jesus in the water is one of us. He suffers with us. He died for us. He shows us that He is the sinner’s friend and savior. In His baptism, He publicly continues the work that makes me His own so that I may live with Him forever.

Every time we celebrate a Baptism, the one being Baptized is made a child of God by the waters of Holy Baptism, and every sin that they will ever commit will be washed away by those waters. That person receives sonship in the kingdom of God. Their sins are forgiven. How is this done? It is done by a man named Jesus, sent from God to be our sacrificial Lamb, baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, forever joining Himself to sinful man in order to redeem us. It is accomplished for us by His death on the cross for us sinners. It is accomplished for us only by Jesus who has atoned for all our sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Circumcision and Name of Jesus – “All About the Name” (Luke 2:21)

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

In our Gospel lesson for today, a single verse speaks volumes about what’s in a name: “And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

Going back to the angel’s appearance to Mary, she was told about the Child she was to have, whose name would be Jesus. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Mary already knew what she was to call her Son; Jesus, which means “help of Jehovah” or “savior.” His name signified what His mission in life is: the helper of Jehovah or God, savior of mankind.

The name Jesus was not an uncommon name. It is used of other men in the Bible, most notably and prophetically of the leader of Israel who led the people of God into the promised land of Canaan, Yeshua, or whom we know as Joshua. Here this common name is used for an uncommon person, who is Himself the Lord who saves!

While today is New Year’s Day, it is also the day of Christ’s circumcision, eight days following His birth, where He would receive His name. The circumcision and naming of Jesus is the scriptural subject for the festival of New Year’s Day, a day that has increasingly become more secular than sacred.

The full meaning of Christmas is not just found in the fact that the Word was made flesh, but also in the purpose for which He entered our flesh and blood. Already on the eighth day of His earthly existence, His blood flowed. As it flowed, it was both a sign and promise of the redemptive blood of Calvary, which was the goal and purpose of Bethlehem.

The Child whose birth was recorded in the opening verses of Galatians 4 had come to fulfill the law. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” There we see what Jesus came to do: He fulfilled the Law to establish the Gospel.

This fulfillment was to be perfect. Therefore, meticulous attention to the Lord’s command is revealed with the words, “And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised….  God had said circumcision should be performed on the eighth day dating all the way back to Genesis, so the eighth day it was. He who had come to do His Father’s work did His Father’s will with delight.

Why should we make a big deal about the circumcision of Jesus? What is the significance of that? The rite of circumcision was given to Abram as the sign of the covenant between God and man. Circumcision was a God-ordained sign of the promise of the Savior, an outward sign signifying one’s membership in God’s covenant family. Submitting to circumcision would be an outward confession of faith that one believed God’s promise and wanted to be included among His people. Parents having a child circumcised were likewise confessing their faith in and obedience to God in the same way that Christian parents do when they bring their children to baptism today. In the same way, the Old Testament parents were to train their children to know the Lord whose gracious covenant they had received. They were also to watch that their children reflected their covenant relationship with God by circumcising their lives from sin. Without that inward disposition of the heart, the outward mutilation of the flesh was nothing.

Our Lord Jesus was not born in sin, and did not need that mortification of a corrupt nature, or that renewal unto holiness, which were signified by circumcision. This ordinance was, in His case, a pledge of His future perfect obedience to the whole law, in the midst of sufferings and temptations, even unto death for us. He came to shed His blood for us, to redeem us from sin and death.

The crowning point of everything was not the rite of circumcision itself, but the royal name bestowed upon Him who received it. That name was Jesus, which means Savior, but not merely Savior. It also means “the Lord saves.” And that is what Jesus Christ came to do. He was not born so that He would be a carpenter. While He was the Son of a carpenter, that was not His purpose in life. His purpose was to come into this world, as broken as it may be, and heal it. He came to grant forgiveness of sins and to bring all people into His Father’s house. His life was a selfless life, disregarding His own wants and desires to do His Father’s will: to die, to be resurrected, to grant new life to all those who profess the Name of Jesus Christ.

The name of this Child and the name God or Lord are not just sounds, but sounds filled with meaning. The name of the Lord is His reputation. He made that name known to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

His name tells us what He came to do. Jesus is the one who lived up to His name by living, dying, and rising from the dead. Jesus is the one who saves us from our sins. The little bit of blood that Jesus shed for us at His circumcision was only the beginning. The day would come when He would shed His blood and give up His life. In this way He would save us from our sins, for “the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin.” In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith until life everlasting. Amen.

Nativity of Our Lord – “Evermore” (John 1:1-14)

A 13 Christmas Day  Jn 1 1 14Grace, 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, as well as the hymn, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” These words capture who Jesus Christ is. He is the very Word of God in the flesh. These are not just mere words, but rather words that declare Jesus. Today is all about Jesus, despite what many think. While many are at home with family opening presents galore, we are gathered here today to receive the only present that matters – the gift of forgiveness that comes in Jesus Christ.

 Today we gather in excitement and joy. After all the waiting, Christmas is finally at hand. After spending weeks in preparation, we wonder if we have done everything or if everything we had done was really worth the effort.

That is precisely why we need a word such as this today. It declares a “no” to the empty routine and darkness of the made-upness that Christmas tends to turn into and return the focus to what this day is all about: the birth of Christ.

Christmas is all about God coming to seek and to save us. He does this through the Child that is born today. This is not just any child that is born, but it is the very Son of God, the Word made flesh. John tells us much in our text today, but a key phrase that he returns to is “light.” He calls Jesus the “light of men” and “the true light.”

Thus we focus on Bethlehem and that tiny infant who illumined the whole world with a love that never pales. We see the Virgin tenderly holding her child, and Joseph keeping a watchful eye in that cramped stable, filled as it must have been with barnyard animals. The shepherds arrive with the excitement of children to marvel at what the angels had said and to tell their wondrous story of hearing the heavenly hosts praising God and revealing the birth of the Messiah. Through Bethlehem’s dark fields they stumbled toward the one glowing light, that baby called Jesus, whom Isaiah named Immanuel, “God with us.”

This Jesus, who was promised of long ago, makes His entry into creation, though it is anything but glorious, at least to the outward appearance. Though born in a lowly stable, it is as was foretold. “This is He whom seers in old time/Chanted of with one accord,/Whom the voices of the prophets/Promised in their faithful word.” Everything that the prophets of old had said has been fulfilled. We have the line of David, a virgin birth, born in Bethlehem. Everything is as it should be.

John, in his Gospel, tells us precisely the purpose of the Word: “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.” You have been made children of God, and that means something. It means you have God’s name placed upon you. It means that you belong to Him and receive all that He has for you. God has for you forgiveness. God has for you life. God has for you salvation. All of this comes through the birth of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to receive forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. We can certainly try, but we will never achieve it. We can certainly try, but we will never receive it because it comes from Christ alone.

Here is the glory of God. Here is where grace and truth are found: in the lowly One who is born of Mary, who identifies with sinners, who blesses ordinary things, who calls us to be His servants. Not to see that glory of God is to miss out on Christmas, no matter what we do on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. To see, with John and all God’s people through the centuries, the true glory of Christmas is to recognize that God is among us in the person of Jesus, now and forever.

Today is indeed a joyous day, and there is something that we should be doing, but not just today but everyday: “O ye heights of heav’n adore Him;/Angel hosts, His praises sing./Pow’rs, dominions, bow before Him/And extol our God and King./Let no tongue on earth be silent,/Ev’ry voice in concert ring/Evermore and evermore.” As we heard in Luke’s Gospel account of our Lord’s birth, the angels in heaven proclaim: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” We, like the shepherds, rejoice at the gift that God gives to His people.

The love of God is an incarnate love; a love our God lived out in flesh and blood. It is among us; it is here, a reality. Love is not an emotion floating around. It is present in Jesus, who reached out to people—even unlovable people. He drew near to sinners; He touched people who were hurting. He touched them and brought them the forgiveness of God. That love of God has touched us and is in us.

Today we rejoice, for the Savior, which is Christ the Lord, is born. He is the Savior, which is Christ the Lord every day of the year and not just on Christmas Day. He was born for our sin and takes away our sin ever day of the year. Because you and I were born in sin, He is born to save us from sin. Because you and I are made of mortal flesh and blood, He becomes flesh and blood to raise us up to immortality. Because you and I face death, He is born to di and rise again to give us new life. He is our Savior, Christ the Lord, and He is born for you and has forgiven us all of our sins. Let this be our focus at Christmas: the Word made flesh in the form of an infant, so that one day, He may die for our sins and open the gates of heaven for us sinners. Let us rejoice in the Gift of all gifts which has been given to us, Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 

Christmas Midnight – “Christmas Joy” (Luke 2:1-14)

A 11 Christmas Midnight  Lu 2 1 14

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.

In a sermon for Christmas Eve, Martin Luther writes the following: “It is written in Haggai 2[:6, 21] that God says: “I will move the heavens and the earth when he will come whom all people desire.” This has been fulfilled today. For the heavens, that is, the angels who are in heaven and who were praising God with their song, and the earth, that is, the people on earth, were moved.” That is precisely what happened on that fateful night all those years ago in a little town called Bethlehem.

As Joseph takes his betrothed wife Mary with him to Bethlehem for a census. This was the first of such kind under Quirinius, governor of Syria. The purpose of this census was for taxation purposes, as well as enrollment in the military. During this time, it was time for Mary to give birth to her firstborn child, a Son. As we hear from St. Matthew’s account, we know this child of Mary is none other than Jesus, the Son of God.

Everything has been insignificant so far. Mary is an insignificant young girl from Nazareth. Joseph was an insignificant carpenter. They end up in the insignificant town of Bethlehem. Even worse, they find themselves in an insignificant house because there was no room for them anywhere. But everything about this night would be far from insignificant.

When Christ is born, He was born in a lowly place to lowly parents. He was wrapped in simple cloths and laid in a lowly manger, nothing more than a trough. And while the birth of yet another child in Bethlehem seems insignificant, all of creation is about to change.

Some distance away, lowly shepherds were out in the fields tending to their flocks. Suddenly, an angel appears overhead with a simple message: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Good news. Good news for all the people. What an understatement! The word “good news” is translated as “Gospel.” That is what we receive, the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. But it is more than just good news. It is incredible news! It is outstanding news! It is fantastic news! This is the news of man’s salvation!

When I say this is the news of man’s salvation, I mean all of creation. I mean personally for you, insert name here. The angel declares, “For unto you.” The angel means that this babe lying in the manger has come for you specifically. It means that the babe lying in the manger has come for you in order to redeem you personally of all of your sins. More importantly, not only has this babe come for you personally, but He has also come for all people of every time and place, of every tribe and race. It means that this newborn babe has come for not only for the Jews, but it means that He has come for the Gentiles as well. It means that He has come for the least likely to be saved. That means that He has come for lowly sinners like you and I in order to redeem us, to buy us back.

The message of the single angel wasn’t enough to convey what God was doing. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”” All of heaven breaks out in joyous chorus for this momentous event of our Lord’s birth, and rightly so. The joyous song of the angels is the joyous song of all of creation, because Christ is for all of creation.

When the shepherds arrived to see the baby Jesus, what is it you think they saw? A baby? Yes, but more than just a baby. They saw the Savior of the nations foretold of long ago. They saw their means of salvation, and not just their salvation, but also the salvation of all of mankind.

Just what takes place in the manger is nothing short of a miracle. We see here how Christ, as it were, takes our birth from us and absorbs it in His birth, and grants us His, that in it we might become pure and holy as if it were our own, so that every Christian may rejoice and glory in Christ’s birth.

This 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.

Following this miracle in creation, Luke records, “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Notice what these shepherds do after hearing the Good News and after they worship Christ in His presence—they return out into the world; the same world that shunned them.  They return to their vocations, and they glorify and praise God for all they have heard and seen, making known to everyone what had been told to them and what they themselves had witnessed and beheld and were a part of.

How difficult must it have been to return to your sheep after hearing such a message and then seeing that message fulfilled? How will you respond to the joyous message that you have heard of our Lord’s birth? For some, the message doesn’t compute because Jesus isn’t the means of salvation. He might be a means, but not the means. For the millions of believers in Christ, tonight is the culmination of much wishing and hoping and waiting. Christmas means that what we yearn for has already come, is here right now: God is present, with us, with an everlasting love in each and every moment of our lives, whether we perceive those moments as good or bad.

The time has come for us. In Jesus, God has entered our world where we are born and die, work and play, love and dream. Let this Christmas time fill our lives with the knowledge that all our days are in God’s hands. Since God joined us in our pain and disappointments, and knows our weakness and death, then let this Christmas time bring us strength, knowing that God’s love is stronger than death, and God is able to bind up all our wounds. Since the time has come and God has rescued us from the sin that enslaves us – from the destruction we do to ourselves, to others, and to creation itself as a result of our sin – let this Christmas time fill us with the will to love and care for all, just as God has come to show love and care for us sinners in our great time of need. Since the time has come and God has visited His people, let us join Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and angels, and all believers everywhere this night to glorify and praise God for the gift of salvation that comes in the form of a babe named Jesus. 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.

 

Christmas Eve – “Joyous Night” (Matthew 1:18-25)

A 10 Christmas Eve  Mt 1 18 25

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.

Children are such a blessing, truly a gift from God. We invest so much time and effort and love into our children. That is often true when it comes to our biological children, but what about when you are a step-parent? Does that mean that you love and care for them any less since they are not your own? Surely not, for you they are much your children as our your biological children.

On this Christmas Eve, we hear of the angelic visitation to Joseph. Joseph was betrothed to Mary and things could not be better. They were going to be married and what a happy and joyous day that would be when they would become husband and wife!

What would be a joyous time for Joseph and Mary was cut short with a startling revelation – Mary, Joseph’s betrothed, was pregnant. Before you say that congratulations are in order, there’s something that you need to know – this is not Joseph’s child!

This was a devastating revelation to Joseph, to hear that your betrothed wife has had sexual relations with another man.  And because she had sexual relations with a man other than her betrothed, the law dictates that she must be put to death, along with the man who impregnated her. Despite what had transpired, Joseph loved his bride to be. He didn’t want to see any harm come to her, let alone see her put to death. So Matthew records that Joseph, “being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” This was not an ideal solution, but it meant sparing her life and the child’s life as well. Mary, the girl Joseph loves, is promised to him but not yet married to him. And now Joseph learns that she is pregnant. She may have tried to convince Joseph that this pregnancy was in fact a gift from God, but Joseph could not see it that way. How could he? What could possibly have prepared him for the events that were happening to him now? What can prepare a person to believe and accept something that has never happened before and will never happen again?

See the anguish in Joseph’s heart! He knows the law requires Mary be put to death. He knows his broken heart does not want to see harm come to Mary or to the child she carries. And so he makes the decision: he will divorce her quietly, not exposing her to public shame or even worse punishment, not forcing her to repeat to anyone else her unbelievable explanation of what happened. And with that, Joseph retires to bed.

What might have seemed cut and dry with regards to Mary’s infidelity was made complicated by what happened to Joseph: “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “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.””

Mary was not unfaithful. Joseph was not going to divorce Mary. Instead, all was according to God’s plan: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means God with us).”

Everything has happened as has been foretold: David’s line, virgin birth, Bethlehem. Jesus is the name given to this child by God through the angel. This child truly will be what His name claims: a Savior, for He will save His people from their sins. As important as that is, and it is the very heart of the Gospel, remember what will happen to this Jesus as He grows up and begins to carry out the work that His Father has given Him to do. The people around Him will say that one day, God will indeed come and save His people. But surely He won’t look like an ordinary man.

The only way we can understand how it is that this man Jesus of Nazareth is true God is by remembering that this man is also rightly called by another man, Immanuel. He is “God with us.” God comes to save us from our sins by becoming one of us and taking our sins upon Himself. God’s loving righteousness will set all things right in a way that is both perfect righteousness and perfect love. He will not destroy His creation and begin anew. Neither will He allow us to perish in our sins. He will come to be with us, to be one of us. He will become man. And He does this, comes as Immanuel, when He comes in the person of Jesus Christ.

All this He does because of two reasons: first, we are His beloved creation. God will go to hell and back for His creation and He does so in Jesus. Secondly, it’s because we are sinners that He goes to such great lengths. We are indeed sinful and under God’s judgment. The name of Jesus does not deny that; rather, it makes it very clear, as His name means “the Lord saves.” But even as it’s reminded us of our need for a Savior, the name Jesus promises us that in this one we find that needed Savior. These are the “wonders of his love” that we sing about when we celebrate this Child’s birth.

This Son born to Joseph and Mary is the Son born to all creation, to you and to me. It is the Son born to live a sinless life in your place. It is the Son born to die in your place. It is the Son born to be raised from the dead. My friends, this Child whose birth we celebrate is like no other child that ever has been, is, or ever will be. This is the very Son of God made flesh for you. This is the very Son of God who came to take your sins upon Himself. This is Jesus, the Lord saves. Jesus came into the world not merely to save one particular people or race. He came to save the crowd, the whole crowd, all the people, the people as a nation. He came to save you. He is the Messiah that the prophet Isaiah had foretold hundreds of years before; He is Immanuel, God with us.

This is the true meaning of Christmas. It is not about receiving lots and lots of presents. It’s about receiving one gift: Jesus Christ. It is not about receiving Christmas cards. It is about the message which the angel proclaimed to Joseph: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” This echoes the words of Luther in his wonderful Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” He writes: “This is the Christ, our God Most High, Who hears your sad and bitter cry; He will Himself your Savior be From all your sins to set you free.”

As we grow nearer to the time of our Lord’s birth, I’m sure there are more things we would like to do before Christmas morning arrives. But what is most important? What absolutely must happen to be ready not only for our homes and also our hearts for Christmas? There is only a single thing that needs to be done – receive the greatest gift that you will ever receive, the gift of the Babe of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 4 – “Grace and Peace” (Romans 1:1-7)

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 our Epistle, which was read earlier.

St. Paul’s introduction to the book of Romans might seem out of place in the season of Advent at first glance. There is nothing about Mary, Joseph, a Baby, shepherds or angels. There isn’t anything that would make this about Christmas. If that’s your thinking, then you’re right – this isn’t Christmas, but rather Advent, preparing to receive the infant Jesus. But while you’re right, you are also wrong, for this text does indeed prepare us for what happens in a matter of a few days.

These opening verses of Romans are St. Paul’s greeting to the Church there, but this is much more than a simple greeting. In these few verses St. Paul preaches the Gospel of our Lord and at the same time gives us a summary of the history of God’s dealings with his people.

This Gospel for which St. Paul has been set apart has been promised from of old. The prophets told the people of God the Savior was coming. The faithful people of God throughout the ages longed to see Him, but did so only by faith. But when Jesus finally came, the Gospel of God promised of old arrived in the flesh. The Gospel came to the people of God in the holy incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. This Jesus was no ordinary baby. He was God in flesh made manifest.

What do we know of this promised Jesus? St. Paul says that He was “descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from dead….” Jesus is who the prophecies declare Him to be: descended from David’s line. Long ago, to a people far away and in great anticipation for the Messiah to manifest Himself, Isaiah gives this prophect of who Jesus is and where He comes from. He comes from the line of David, as did His mother Mary and earthly father Joseph. And because He has earthly parents, that means He is of flesh and blood. He is like you and I, with ten fingers and ten toes. He is as much human as you and I. But not only is He man like us, Paul says He “was declared to be the Son of God….”

As much as we think of cute and cuddly Jesus in a manger, we cannot forget that this baby will one day go to the cross for mankind. We know that to be true as Paul tells us. He says that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God, “in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead….” In short, He is none other than Jesus the Messiah—our Lord who is both fully God and fully man.

This is the Lord whose birth we prepare to celebrate this Advent season. He is the everlasting Son of God, begotten of the Father from all eternity. And His birth is the revelation to us that He has willingly taken on our flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary, and come down to earth to save His people.

What is it that we receive through this infant that comes to us? “We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” By Christ’s birth, the saving grace of God makes it entrance into the world. In Christ’s birth, the call to the messengers of God goes out. In Christ’s birth the nations gather and see not only a baby, but also their Savior and their Lord. In Christ’s birth, we see the one who calls us to faith and to everlasting life, and the one to whom we belong for all eternity. In Christ’s birth we hear God’s call to us to be His saints, for from the blessed child in the manger we receive grace and peace from our God and Father.

Finally, we are left with familiar words: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” God gives grace to you. He gives you forgiveness for your sins, and it is wholly undeserved. You don’t work to merit grace. Grace is given to you. Forgiveness is done to you. You couldn’t do it on your own. So you rejoice today that God gives grace to you.

Not only do you have grace, you have peace. He declares that you and He are not opposed, are not at war. This strikes many people as strange: how could you ever be at war with a loving God? Yet Scripture says that you were born as an enemy of God—not because of Him, but because of you. By nature, you’re sinful. By nature, you’re hardwired to do precisely the things that are contrary to God’s will—that oppose His love and His kingdom. By nature, you hear God’s Word and get angry when He shows you your sin. That’s what enemies do. And despite the fact that we are God’s enemies, He grants to us peace. That peace is one that passes all understanding, for there is no way to understand how God could forgive the likes of you and me, and yet He does.

You needed real grace and peace for your body and soul, your thoughts and words and deeds. So Jesus became flesh, to be perfect in body and soul, to think pure thoughts, speak true words and perform godly deeds for you. He has done this to robe you in His righteousness, to give you the credit for His perfection and perfect life. He has done this to die in your place, to take away your sin, so that He might raise you up as He has been raised from the dead. The grace and peace of God is real and tangible—as real as flesh and blood, because Jesus became flesh and blood for you, and He is your grace and your peace.

Jesus came to save the lost. He stepped into your place, by taking humanity into His divinity, and became true Man. He became flesh for you. Jesus took your sins upon His shoulders and He suffered for you. His Father poured out His wrath against your sins which were heaped upon His Son, along with the sins of every man, woman, and child ever born, and Jesus endured it all for you, in your place, unto death, even death on the cross.

Through His suffering and death, Jesus made right that which went so wrong so long ago in the Garden in Eden. When Jesus gave up His spirit on the cross, He justified you before His Father. He declared you not guilty of your sins because He became sin for you and bore your sins and paid the price for them, for by His stripes you are healed.

So, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace and peace are yours this day because your Savior comes to you this day. He is present. He is real. You are filled with His grace. You are blessed with His peace because you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 3 – “Are You the One?” (Matthew 11:2-15)

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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.

God is funny; not funny in a ha-ha kind of way, but funny in an ironic way. What I mean is that God does not act in ways that we expect Him to act. As we look at Israel’s history, they found out firsthand just how God did not act they way they wanted Him to act. God chose the least likely to preach and teach of the coming Messiah. All too often, God didn’t choose the biggest and baddest of them all to lead Israel. For instance, when God delivered Israel from slavery, He chose Moses, not when he was the prince of Egypt but rather when he was reduced to working as a shepherd. When Goliath was defeated, it wasn’t at the hands of Israel’s massive army but by a lowly shepherd named David. The greatest display we see is when God would bring ultimate deliverance to His people, and to all people, it would be in a way that many were not expecting.

Israel had expected God to act in certain ways. The people of Israel expected God’s reign to come in a way that irresistible. There was the expectation that God would kick out Roman authority from Jerusalem and restore it to its glory days of old. That’s what the coming Messiah would do; everyone knew that, or at least had hoped that’s what their version of the Messiah would do.

When God sends forth the Messiah into creation, He doesn’t do it according to the will of man but rather to His own will, the will that is perfect. He sends forth a very simple and unkempt man named John the Baptist to herald the coming of the Messiah. While his appearance and attire were odd to say the least, the message that he was proclaiming was spot on according to the words of the prophets of old. He comes, baptizing the people with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins.

Some time later, John hears while in prison the many deeds of Jesus. He sends his disciples to Jesus to ask a single question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

That’s the question on our minds isn’t it? Is Jesus the one who is to come or should we be looking for another individual claiming to be the Messiah? Is Jesus really Messiah-enough for us? For many, the jury is still out. It’s hard to believe that a little baby born to lowly and insignificant parents would be the Messiah. There’s nothing about Him that screams Messiah from an outward appearance. He’s born in a barn of all places! If He truly is a king, then why isn’t He born in a palace somewhere, with servants waiting on Him hand and foot? Where is His mighty army that will kick Roman authority out of Jerusalem? Where is the kingly garb for Him to wear?

Jesus doesn’t fit the mold of the Messiah because it’s the wrong Messiah. He doesn’t come as a great earthly king like the people want. He comes as the heavenly King that the people need! The way that He makes His entrance into creation is how God had ordained it. While He is indeed the King, the King of Creation, He is not meant to be served, for He Himself says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He has no mighty army because the foe that He faces is not of this world. His foe is Satan himself. The kingly garb He wears is the crown of thorns He wears as He takes creations sins upon Himself.

Returning to John’s disciples’ question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”, Jesus responds by saying, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” This answer isn’t meant to assure John of who Jesus is; John knows that, for he is the herald of the Messiah. The question and answer are meant to assure everyone else of who Jesus is. They need to get out of their minds this messed up and made up notion of the Messiah and accept the Messiah that God sends forth in the person of Jesus Christ.  

The question that was asked of Jesus so long ago is still asked today. Well, it’s not really asked so much as an answer is given to Jesus: “We’ll look for another.” We can thank the world for that answer. The world has perfected that answer to the point that Jesus need not even be considered for salvation. The world won’t go so far as to say Jesus is the Messiah because that would assert that there is a single means of salvation and the world doesn’t want that to happen, lest we offend someone.

For as much as the world puts forth that salvation can be found in anyone or anything other than Jesus, the Church should be the one place where you should be able to find the right answer to John’s question, but unfortunately, even that is not always the case. You will get the prosperity preaching that says believe hard enough, have enough faith and God will bless you. But notice who the subject is: it’s not Jesus but it’s you. You are the one doing the work. But as soon as you are the one doing the work, then you have a problem. It has to be, it must be Jesus who does the work and not us.

For all those times when God’s people wonder whether or not God will keep His Word regarding the Messiah, the time is soon to be fulfilled. When we have our doubts, we return to Jesus’ Word. We return to Jesus’ life. From birth to death, there was a singular mission that He was focused on: the redemption of God’s creation. Everything that was done was done with you in mind. He sends people to proclaim the wonders He has done so that we can hear about them. By this proclamation of His deeds, He sends the Holy Spirit to bear us up and strengthen us as we travel through this sinful world, especially as we travel through those darker times of doubt.

Here is the true antidote for doubt: the proclamation that Jesus forgives sins. We may think that we can take comfort and certainty in the many supernatural attributes of God; His power, His knowledge, His wisdom, His holiness, and so forth, but that is not the case. Without forgiveness, those other attributes only serve to terrify us. If there is no forgiveness, then God’s holiness only sets Him apart from sinful people like us. If there is no forgiveness, then God’s total knowledge reveals our every sin. If there is no forgiveness, then God’s power is there to punish our sin. Without forgiveness, God is simply the ultimate terror.

When there is forgiveness, then God is comfort and assurance. When there is forgiveness, God’s holiness is for us. When there is forgiveness, God’s power protects us. With forgiveness, God is the ultimate comfort. He is the ultimate re-assurance.

We celebrate the coming of our Savior in the manger at Bethlehem because it is through Him that our sins are forgiven and the gates of heaven are opened. Through His atoning death He conquered your death, and raises you to a new life. By faith granted through the Holy Spirit, we now have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He came to His people, He now comes to you, who are His people by faith, and He will come again, that you would need and expect no other. 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.

 

Funeral for + Larry Owen Stevens +

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The text that Larry chose for his funeral is 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

[20] But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [23] But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. [24] Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. [25] For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. [26] The last enemy to be destroyed is death. [27] For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. [28] When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

Here ends the text.

Shirley, James, Gary, Shana, Craig, Paulanne and Desi, family and friends of Larry, there is nothing I can say or do to change what happened Thursday morning. If I could, I’m not sure that I would change anything. The reason is this: Larry has received the crown of life won for Him by Jesus Christ. As much as we all want Larry to be with us today, it doesn’t seem right that he’s not. And you’re right, it doesn’t seem right because it’s not right. In fact, none of this is right. The reason why none of this is right is because of what Paul says: “For as by a man came death… For as in Adam all die….” The whole reason why we are here is because of death. God did not design creation to be in this state of sin and death. In fact, it was God’s plan for us to be in His presence for all of time. Unfortunately, due to Satan’s temptation of man, God and man would be separated. Because of Adam’s sin, that’s where we find ourselves, separated from God. But God would not be content in leaving us in that state of death.

Listen to what St. Paul writes regarding the resurrection: …by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead…. so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”Today is indeed a somber day but also a day of rejoicing, for Larry has been raised from the dead by Jesus Christ and His resurrection. And if that isn’t enough good news, you too will be raised from the dead by Jesus Christ, for He makes that promises to all those who believe in Him and call upon His name.

Christ our Lord has conquered death, once and for all. Throughout His earthly life, He faced many a foe bent on His destruction. They wanted nothing more than to see Jesus go away, and the only way to make sure He went away and stayed gone was by killing Him. That is the same thing that Satan wants of God’s creation, that they would die and stay dead. And so Satan becomes the great enemy of God and of the Christian. To that end, life becomes a great battlefield, with God on one side and Satan on the other. The prize: man’s eternal soul.

That battle between God and Satan is one that rages throughout all of creation. But that battle has been won. The Victor is none other than Jesus Christ, Son of God and creation’s Savior. Death was slain for Larry many years ago in His Baptism as God placed His name upon Larry and marked him as His very own child. But as Luther says, the Old Adam in us loves to pop his head up and remind us that we are very much a sinner. And so he writes, “…the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

But lest we think too highly of Larry and how great he was, he would be the first to tell us that he wasn’t anyone special. He wasn’t a saint in the sense that all he did was good and perfect; he would remind you that he wasn’t a saint. But at the same time, he was indeed a saint, a blood-bought and redeemed child of God, forgiven of all his sins. He never forgot that he belonged to God. He never forgot that he was forgiven. Week in and week out, he and Shirley would take their rightful place in their pew and hear that they were sinners condemned to die. But week in and week out, he and Shirley would take their rightful place in their pew and hear that they were sinners made clean by the blood of the Lamb.

And so here we are today. Gathered here, we see the full effects of sin at work in God’s creation as we come to the realization and fact that sin has claimed another, namely Larry. And if that isn’t depressing enough, one day, death will come for you and I as well. Death sweeps through all of creation, taking anyone and everyone with it. Not a single one of us will be spared from death, for death truly is the last enemy.

While death is the last enemy, death is not the victor; that tile goes to Jesus Christ. St. Paul says, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Jesus defeats death, once and for all. Yes, we will certainly die an earthly death; there is no way of getting around that. In the early hours of Thursday morning, Larry succumbed to death. For as tragic as that was, Larry was the victor. Christ has been raised from the dead! He bore the sins of all to the cross and died, but rose again three days later. Larry’s sins, your sins, my sins, they alone are enough to keep you in the grave, but the sins of the world could not keep your Savior in the tomb. His resurrection proves that He has defeated sin and death.

Risen from the dead, He is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. The firstfruits, meaning there are more to follow, namely all who trust in Him. For the one who dies, death is but a sleep. It is not the beginning of eternal loss, but a transition to eternal life. You and I see only grievous loss and separation, but death is defeated. Those who die in Christ are only sleeping.

As we mourn today, we also rejoice. Death, devil and the world are defeated, though not yet destroyed. You are living in between the defeat of your enemies and their destruction. You’re no match for them, but they’re no match for your Savior. Larry was no match for sin and death; he didn’t need to be, for in his place stood God in the flesh of Jesus Christ, with His blood washing over Larry, forgiving his sins, establishing a place for him in His eternal kingdom. Rejoice, for though Larry has died, he lives in all glory and splendor with the Holy Trinity and with all those saints who have gone before him, awaiting that great day when Christ our Lord calls all believers unto Him. Amen.

Advent 2 – “Repent” (Matthew 3:1-12)

 A 4 Advent 2  Mt 3 1 12Grace, 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.

There is recorded for us in today’s Gospel account from St. Matthew one of the most vulgar sounding words to our ears. It’s a word that we don’t’ like to hear, especially when directed at ourselves. That nasty and vulgar word is “repent.”

When John the Baptist makes his appearance, it is not the kind of appearance that you want to see. He goes into the wilderness of Judea with a singular message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John the Baptist is the son of Zechariah the prophet, making him the last of the Old Testament prophets. The prophets’ job was to prophesy of the coming of God’s Messiah. These prophecies had been spoken for hundreds of years so the people would have been familiar with who this coming Messiah is and what it would mean. But when John the Baptist makes this revelation about the coming kingdom of heaven, just what did that mean?

It would mean that God’s promise is about to be fulfilled. It means that the Savior of creation was about to make His grand entrance into the creation He was going to save. It meant that creation needed to prepare itself for the arrival of the Messiah, and what better way to prepare oneself than to repent of your sins.

How is one to repent? What is it that they are supposed to do? What does it mean to repent? We normally think of repenting as being sorry for our sins. This is true enough, but there’s more depth to it than that. To “repent” in the Greek means literally to “change one’s mind.” You can see the obvious: when you repent of sin, you’re saying, “I thought it was a good thing, but now I know it’s not.” That’s a repentant mind-change that happens only by the grace of God. But again, there’s a greater depth to repentance because there’s a greater depth to sin.  When John calls the people to repent, he is calling them to repent of all of their misconceptions and wrong ideas about the Savior. If they have the wrong idea of who the Savior is supposed to be, then they’re not going to like the Savior for who He truly is. If they’re looking for the wrong things in a Messiah, then they’re not going to recognize Him when He makes His appearance.  Remember, John the Baptist is called by God to prepare the way of the Lord. He therefore prepares the people by teaching them the true nature of their sinfulness, so that they see the need for the Savior; and he prepares them by teaching them who the Savior is, and what He will do.

People from the region of Jerusalem and Judea and the Jordan were coming to John the Baptist to be baptized and confessing their sins. For the people who came to John the Baptist, they were contrite and believed. They desired to repent, to change their minds, but more importantly, they desired to hear the message of the coming Messiah. 

This Adventide, it is important for us to heed the words of John the Baptist, as did the people of old. We must repent of our sins, repent of our false perceptions of who the Messiah is, and is not. We must repent of our false perception of ourselves and come to grips with the reality that we are a people in need of a Savior.

This is what John prophesies about to the people. His singular goal is the preparation of God’s people to receive the Messiah when He comes. Despite his best efforts, not all of the people were convinced of the message that he was proclaiming. Believe it or not, we’re not fully convinced of his message either.

Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, we make excuses to our behavior. They make the claim, “We have Abraham as our father.” Abraham was a God-fearing man. He followed the law of God. But just because they descended from Abraham, did that make them any less of a sinner? No it did not. To be honest, the statement that the Pharisees and Sadducees and all of mankind should make is “We have Adam as our father.” We don’t want to make that statement because if we do, then we acknowledge “that we are sinful and unclean.” We acknowledge that we have sinned against God “in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” No one wants to admit that fact. We would much rather say that we have Abraham as our father because Abraham was “good.” If we say that we have Adam as our father, that’s a black mark because Adam was “bad,” and let’s face it: we would much rather be “good” than “bad.”

What we fail to understand, just as did the Pharisees and Sadducees, is that we are not “good” because of our sinful nature; we are like the tree that does not bear good fruit; it is cut down and thrown into the fire. We have all shared in Adam and Eve’s sampling of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a result, our lives are unfruitful: we do not do the works that God requires; in fact, we cannot do them. God’s righteous judgment comes down upon Israel and it comes down also upon us. But instead of leaving us with just judgment, doom and gloom, John the Baptist also promises something beyond our wildest imaginations: the coming of the Savior.

Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” John the Baptist is the one crying in the wilderness of the coming Messiah. He is making the paths straight by preaching a message of repentance to the people, to prepare them for Christ’s arrival. John the Baptist comes to lead people to repentance, to baptize with water. When Jesus arrives, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” He is coming to do something far greater than John the Baptist, the Pharisees, Sadducees or we could ever do: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

While everything about John seems to be crazy, the message he preaches is anything but crazy. It is a message that draws the people from all over, drawing them to repent of their sins and to be baptized. For as much as John the Baptist seems out of place in the coming Nativity of our Lord, the message is very much appropriate: He comes with grace – to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, to prepare you for everlasting life. Even now in Word and Sacrament we feast upon Christ as our tree of life. He is the vine and we are the branches. By Word and Sacrament, we bring forth the fruit of repentance and live in trust and obedience. He declares to you even now, “Repent, because I am at hand; and because I am here, you are forgiven for all of your sins.” 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.

Advent 1 – “Behold Your King” (Matthew 21:1-11)

A 1 Advent 1  LHP  Mt 21 1 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.

            Preparations need to be made for the arrival of guests, especially since you know they’re coming. If you have a dirty house, you clean it. You make sure that the house is spotless, almost to the point that the house is sterile and might even seem as if no ones lives there, for everything is perfectly in its place. Once you have a clean house, the best china laid out, then it is okay to entertain guests. To make sure you are ready, listen to me now: you have a guest coming!

             What kind of guest is coming, you might ask? The Introit for today tells us what kind of guest is coming: Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation.” We have a King coming! Some of you may respond, “Pastor, that’s old news. Of course our King has come. Jesus came, died, rose again, and ascended. Tell us something we don’t already know.”

            We all know that long before Jesus was born and long before Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem as the Son of God, the prophet Zechariah had given Israel advance notice: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a best of burden.” We see Zechariah’s prophecy fulfilled. It happens much later in the Church Year. It happens on Palm Sunday as Jesus enters triumphantly into Jerusalem. That same account is the basis for the Gospel reading on the First Sunday in Advent. Why would that be? We’re getting ready for baby Jesus to come into the world, not adult Jesus make His exit in the world.

            As we begin the season of Advent, we mark a time of waiting and preparing. We wait for our expectant King to arrive; and while we wait, we prepare. We prepare to receive Him as He comes. How does He come? According to our Gospel account for today, our expectant King comes in a very humble fashion. There is no great pomp and circumstance to our Lord’s arrival. If you want pomp and circumstance, the only thing you have is a star to guide the shepherds and the magi to find the infant Jesus. We prepare for the remembrance of the first coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we hear that our King is coming, this message is the call to prepare by opening our hearts to His grace. We need not fear, for He comes in meekness and lowliness. But He comes as King, mighty to save, full of grace and truth.

            When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, Jerusalem was poised for the celebration of the Passover. This annual remembrance of God’s act of deliverance of His children from Egypt would have swelled the streets of Jerusalem with holiday crowds. The day of the slaughter of the Passover lambs was fast approaching. People were anticipating the delight of being with family for the Passover feast. But when King Jesus comes into Jerusalem, it interrupts the sort of celebration people are expecting.

            We see much the same with Christ at this time of year. We begin celebrating the “real” reason for Christmas: gift giving, parties, but most importantly, gift receiving. We are doing our own thing, enjoying what Christmas is all about, and then Christ comes to ruin everything. For all who think like that, just remember one thing: you can’t have Christmas without Christ, no matter how hard you try.

            When Christ does make His appearance in this earthly life, it isn’t with great pomp and circumstance. He is born to lowly parents in very circumstances. It should be no surprise that when Christ enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He does so in a very unexpected way. He doesn’t enter with trumpets blaring behind a large processional. Rather, He comes riding on a donkey. This is done also to fulfill what the prophet wrote: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” You see, whatever perception the people had of the Messiah and what He would look like and what He would do, Zechariah puts them to rest several hundreds year before the Messiah first graces us with His presence. He comes into Jerusalem, the city of the temple – the place of sacrifice – to suffer and to die as God’s ultimate Passover Lamb. His sacrifice interrupts the monotonous routines of sin and death. Here is a King like no other, for this King comes not in royal splendor or with military might, but in the humility of the Servant who embraces the cross for you.

            Today, we begin preparing ourselves for Christ’s entry into this world, coming into this world by being born in a stable in the small town of Bethlehem. We prepare our hearts for what Christmas brings: it brings the Savior of the Nations, the Virgin Son who makes His home amongst the chosen people of God, as sinful as we are. God came to His people and lived among them as one of them. As God came to us in flesh and blood, He experienced all the things we experience – gestation and birth, childhood, weeping and laughter, pleasure and pain, and all the other things that make up the human experience. He even experienced temptation, but He never gave in to it.

            All of this, He did for you. He is the Blessed One, for in His saving death, He brings all the blessings of heaven – forgiveness of sins and peace with God – down to earth, down to you. It is no wonder that during the season of Advent, we especially hear that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, God with us. Even as God lives with us, He still comes to us. He comes to us as we read and hear His Word. He also continues to come to us in His flesh and blood as we eat and drink the bread and the wine of His Table. 

            That is what Advent is really all about. It is a season of repentance and belief while Jesus serves us with His coming. Just as Lent is a season of repentance and belief in preparation for Good Friday, so also Advent is a season of repentance and belief in preparation for the coming of Jesus, not just as He came at Christmas, but also as He comes to us now and will come to raise us from the dead and live with us forever.

            Consider God and His coming during this Advent. Consider His coming at Christmas, but don’t limit your consideration just to Christmas. Consider the love that God shows in His coming in that even while sin causes terror and hatred, He continues to come with His love. Consider how He came to save us with His suffering, death, and resurrection. Consider how He now comes in Word and Sacrament. Consider how He will come to take His people home with Him. Consider the blessings that He once gave, that He now gives, and that He will give when He comes again. In Jesus name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.