Epiphany 6 – “Spiritual Infants” (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)

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 Epistle, which was read earlier.

We are all babies! Each and every one of us, regardless of our age, are still babies, that is, spiritual babies. Don’t take my word for it; rather, listen to what St. Paul says: “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” Does it sting a little that Paul refers to us as spiritual infants?  What about those who claim that they’ve been a life-long, card-carrying member of the church from the day of their baptism all those years ago? You’re still an infant. What about those who have just confessed their faith in Jesus Christ? You’re still an infant. We are all spiritual infants, regardless of age, regardless of time spent in the church.

As Paul presents the Gospel to the Corinthians, he could not address them as spiritual “but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.” These Corinthians, so fascinated by man’s wisdom, so bent on acquiring it, so vain about the worldly wisdom they possessed, were insisting that Paul also give them God’s deepest wisdom when he preached to them. That sounds wonderful, with great potential to the Corinthians, doesn’t it? Aside from their fascination with worldly wisdom, which, who could blame them since that’s what sinful man tries to attain, they want the fullness of the Gospel preached to them. But there was a problem with their desire – they weren’t ready for it. They were not capable of drinking from the firehose; they needed to drink from the faucet in little bursts.

Paul was faced with a question: how much of God’s wisdom can you feed an infant? The Corinthians were only babes in Christ, too immature spiritually to absorb much heavenly wisdom. They were too worldly; their flesh was too weak to understand more than the basics of Christianity. Paul gives to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ but in a way that they were able to digest. He says, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.” It wasn’t a slight to the Corinthians but an honest evaluation of where they were in their Christian faith. No mother gives her infant solid food when they cannot chew or digest it; so Paul could give the Corinthians only the simplest of spiritual food, that is, spiritual milk. They thought they were ready for the spiritual big leagues when they were yet still a farm team.

It really is no different for us. We think that we are able to absorb all that Scripture has to say. We think that we are great Biblical scholars because we have a Bible or have heard the Word of God preached; that we have the full understanding of all of Christianity. In reality, rarely do we comprehend what God’s Word says to us. Rarely are we able to grasp the tenants of the Christian faith to a point where we are considered a novice, let alone an expert. Truth be told, there’s nothing wrong with that, because we are spiritual infants, ever growing in our understanding of God and His Word, ever growing in our faith.

As if that weren’t bad enough, they started bragging about which teacher they followed. There were those that followed Apollos and thought they were getting some extra blessing that those who followed Paul were not getting and vice versa. For them, it wasn’t so much about the message as to who was preaching the message. Paul seeks to put an end to their egotistical ways. He said with regard to himself and Apollos, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” It wasn’t about the man, it was about the message. That was Paul’s point from our Epistle reading. It was vital for the Corinthians to understand that Paul was a mouth, a speaker of the Gospel. He didn’t add anything to it. What could Paul add? Remember, Paul was the former persecutor of the Church: it’s not like he had years and years of good works and merit saved up that he could hand out to others. Apollos was a former Greek heathen who’d lived as an enemy of God for years too. He had no salvation to contribute to what Jesus had won, either. Had both been saints their entire lives, they’d still have nothing to add to Christ! Both teachers were Christians by the grace of God, chosen by God to speak His Word. Whether it was Paul or Apollos speaking it, what mattered was that it was the Gospel.

We see firsthand here at Corinth what happens when the central focus is on the speaker rather than the Doer. Strip away the speaker and what do you have? You are left with the sweet sound of the Gospel, a saving word for all who believe. Strip away the speaker and you are left with the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ and He alone. It’s not the speaker that matters; rather what matters is what is spoken. And so Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

It was a simple truth, but such an important one for the Corinthians to believe. Why? Because as long as they thought Paul was something they needed, they would think that Christ was less than sufficient to save them. But once they realized that Paul and Apollos were simply the messengers of the King, they were ready to rejoice in Christ and Him crucified, that Jesus had done everything necessary for their salvation.

There is a single, all-important fact that we must be aware of, even if we forget it from time to time: we are a people of the flesh who need to hear that there is One who became flesh for all people. That One is Jesus Christ, the very Word of God made flesh. Christ, the unchanging God, became flesh for all of our fleshly sins, for all jealousy, for all strife, for all who are behaving only in a sinful and human way. The wages of our sins is death, but the wages of Christ’s labor on the cross is full and free forgiveness. The wages of Christ’s labor is new life and a never-ending salvation. These gifts of God come to us in the simplest of means – in the water and Word of Holy Baptism, in the precious body and blood of Jesus in His Supper. This is the food that we need to grow spiritually and it is the food that our gracious God provides for us at the expense of His Son.

The Lord gives the growth, and the Lord is faithful. By His Word which endures forever, He has made you His field, His building, His holy people. He feeds you with what you need, the spiritual milk that comes through His precious Word and Sacraments. By that eternal Word, you are forgiven 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.

Epiphany 4 – “Foolishness Saves” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

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 Epistle, which was read earlier.

Living in the sinful world that we do, we are bound to experience conflict. Conflict can be defined as controversy, quarrel, or discord of action, feeling, or thought. We are going to quarrel, for that is a sin, and we are at heart sinners living in a sinful world. We know that conflict is not what God designed or desires, and yet we engage in conflict as if it comes second-nature to us. When we read the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, we see that Christ has called us out of conflict to be what we could never be on our own.

Conflict arises when we think we are something on our own, when we think we are something that we are not. Conflict is nothing new, for we see that it is as old as our human pride. It was a wounded pride that stirred Cain to murder his brother Abel. The church at Corinth was too focused on boasting about whose leader or teacher was the best rather than focusing on the fact that they are all united in Christ. Each member of the Corinthian church had the same Christ, and that fact should have made them equally something – brothers and sisters in Christ. But instead, by thinking that they were more important than others or that they were more right because of the leader or teacher, they failed to see who they were in Christ.

Our conflicts are no different than that of mankind’s history. We are quick to engage in conflict if for no other reason than to prove that we are right and the other is wrong. We are quick to engage in conflict in order to put our own needs above others, to see great attention and love come our way.

The words that St. Paul writes to the Corinthians are words that should bring the focus and attention back to Christ and off of themselves and the conflict and divisions they have. For as many as confessed in Christ, there were just as many as saw this new teaching of Christ as nothing but rubbish and nonsense. That’s why Paul says, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Those outside of Christ see Christ and all that He says and does as nothing more than folly, utter foolishness. Quoting from the prophets of old, Paul says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” The so-called “wisdom of the wise” would lead them to hell, for they were perishing in their wisdom. They were so sure that they knew what God was like and how to deal with Him. They were so confident that they had the answers to the problems of sin and guilt that they automatically rejected what God had to say about their salvation through the cross of Christ.

If this is how you thought, Paul is saying that you don’t want to be in this camp, for all the wisdom in the world will not save you unless one has Christ. And so we have conflict. We’re left with one of two choices: go it alone and rely on our wisdom or give in to the foolishness of Christ. The reason why Christ was the foolish option was because how can the salvation of mankind rely upon a single human being. But right there you have a problem. Christ is not just your average run of the mill human being. While He is indeed man, He is also God, and by His perfect life, by His actions upon the cross and by His resurrection, He has won salvation for all who believe in Him.

The problem in Corinth was that they proved to be fools because they, along with all their wisdom, rejected the only way of salvation – Jesus of Nazareth dying on the cross for their sins. But this was not only happening to those within the Corinthian church. It was happening all around the church, the push from outside to conform to worldly wisdom and the like. Paul continues by saying, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom….” Signs and wisdom do not communicate the saving work of Jesus Christ. But Paul knows what does communicate the saving work of Jesus. He continues by saying, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

That saving Good News of Jesus would appall the audience. A crucified Savior? It didn’t make sense. For the Greeks with their logic and fairness and wisdom, it didn’t make sense that God would die so that man was pardoned for sin. But there was something worse — that cross again. In the Roman Empire, only two sorts of people were ever crucified —criminals and disobedient slaves. The idea that the Son of God would submit to such a death was intolerable to the Greeks; to the Romans, it was understood that crucifixion was such a hideous death that it simply wasn’t to be talked about.

No doubt, Paul would explain further. He’d explain that Jesus had accepted the cross to die a criminal’s death — to die at God’s hand for all the crimes and all the sins of all the world. He’d declare that Jesus had been sold for thirty pieces of silver—the price of a slave, and then died for all the disobedience of mankind. But again, the idea was too much. Christ’s death on the cross was a stumbling block for Greeks and Romans — it was too repulsive to mention in polite conversation, much less preach as the centerpiece of the faith.

But to those who believed, this foolishness of Christ crucified was indeed their salvation. This was God’s wisdom, granting mercy and grace for the sake of His Son’s suffering and death.

Make no mistake, when Paul preached Christ crucified, it wasn’t a popular message. It sounded foolish and weak, even scandalous. But Paul continued to proclaim it; because no matter how foolish it sounded to unbelievers, Jesus Christ — crucified and risen — was Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

And so, for us and for the world, we preach Christ-crucified, even though it isn’t, never has been and never will be, a popular message. By faith, we acknowledge that what we believe is foolishness apart from faith. But we proclaim it anyway. Why? For all sorts of reasons. We preach Christ-crucified because we can—because the Lord has given us the privilege of declaring His praises. We preach Christ-crucified because, even though it’s foolishness to the unbeliever, it is the power and wisdom of God for salvation to all those who believe. We preach Christ-crucified and risen for our salvation—because He was cursed by God in our place; because He died for our enslavement to sin; and because He suffered the cross for our crimes.

Christ has died for your sins on the cross and Christ is risen again. That is what we proclaim, because that is the power of salvation for all those who believe. The devil, the world and your own sinful flesh will work overtime to convince you that it’s nothing but irrelevant foolishness and weakness, but by the grace of God you know better: it is only because Christ was crucified that 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.

Epiphany 3 – “Divisions” (1 Corinthians 1:10-18)

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 Epistle, which was read earlier.

Wherever you go, you will find divisions. There are divisions among sports teams, there are divisions in politics, there are divisions in gender and color. In the Church, you will even find divisions. There are multiple denominations and even divisions amongst the denominations. Division in the Church is nothing new, as we see in our Epistle for today. St. Paul addresses the Corinthian Church by saying, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

Here’s where we find ourselves. The fact that Paul appeals to the Corinthians to not have divisions means that there are indeed divisions at Corinth. Since Paul is writing to the Christians, they should all be unified under the head of Christ, and yet, it appears that they are not. What is it that could be dividing the Corinthian Church? Aside from the teaching of the Pharisees, you had divisions among who to listen to in the church. According to Chloe’s people, there was quarreling among the people, for some were saying, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Instead of focusing on the message, they were too focused on the messenger. The problem that the Corinthians faced was that they were following others rather than Christ and accepting teachings other than Christ’s teachings. By creating factions in the names of these men and in the name of Christ Himself they were actually undermining the work of Christ’s Church.

Paul’s overarching concern was the division happening over following other’s teachings. It was something so divisive that it could split the Church at Corinth, and if left unchecked, it could split the entire Christian Church. So what choice did Paul have other than to address the issue at hand?

We all know the saying, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” That same saying applies to the Church as well. The message that Paul is giving to the Corinthians is one of unity, not of division. Under the heading of religion these people think there is room for doctrinal variety, as if the Lord allows two diverse understandings to be true at the same time! That may apply to the philosophy and human ethics of some, but not so with our Lord. He is a God of order. There is only one way that is God’s way. There is only one doctrine and that is what is found in the Word of God. We can try to make our own doctrine. We can try to make the Word of God say what we want it to say, but in the end it remains the Word of God. The Word of God doesn’t change. It has been the same Word of God for 2000 years and will continue to remain the Word of God long after us.

We can understand why Paul was so troubled as he wrote to the church at Corinth. Word had come to him that this fragile church, barely on its feet, was torn by dissension. The people were not getting along together. They were dividing into competing groups, based on which apostle had led them to faith. One group identified with Paul, another Apollos, another Peter, and another, as a smack in everyone’s face, claimed they belonged to Christ. Instead of rejoicing in their oneness in Christ, they were splitting off into separate groups, each one uncertain about the integrity of the other.

Paul could see that the future of that congregation, set within the turbulent environment of bustling Corinth, was threatened. Paul was not just offering some sound advice, but was calling upon the authority of Christ Himself to set things right. It was immaterial who baptized them; the overriding truth was that they had come into a new kingdom of love and grace, and this determined that they should live in peace and harmony with each other in the name of Jesus Christ.

When we look at the history of the Christian Church from Paul to present day, nothing has changed all that much. There are many and various Christian denominations. These are largely based on doctrinal issues, though not always. When one takes a hard look at the doctrinal issues, they all go back to the teaching of Christ and the teaching that is found in the Holy Scriptures. What is the sole source of doctrine in the Church? It is the Bible and the Bible alone. God’s Word is the pure fountain and source of God’s truth.

Whenever the Church deviates from the Bible, then that is when the Church will have trouble. The Church at Corinth began to face troubles because they began to deviate from the teaching of Christ. Paul sought to bring them back to what the Church is founded upon: Christ and the Gospel.

Why is it so important that you and all God’s people throughout time continually hear one and the same message from Jesus Christ? Only from Jesus Christ do we receive forgiveness of our sins, accomplished for us by His death on the cross and His triumphant resurrection from the dead. No other teaching can give to us what Christ has given. In the case of Corinth, the teachings of Paul, Apollos, or Cephas could prove to be devastating should those teachings be different than the teachings of Christ. The young Corinthian congregation could have been torn apart by conflicting teachings of doctrine that may or may not have been centered on Christ and His teachings. Unfortunately, that same concern is very much present today. How a church body interprets Scripture; how a church body views Christ; how a church body views teachings of man in relation to the teachings of Christ – all of this can lead to the devastating destruction of the Church of Christ.

The question for Paul and the question for all of us is this: “Is Christ divided?” Paul set out to make sure that the answer to that question was no. So it is today. We as the Church seek out to answer Paul’s question, that no, Christ is not divided; for Christ is still the head of the Church and His teaching still reigns as the only rule and norm of the Christian faith. The Church continues “to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Whenever Christ is not proclaimed, whenever Christ is diminished, then Christ means nothing. But when the Word is God is proclaimed and upheld, then it is the power to save.

For those who are resting securely in Christ’s forgiveness, given to us through His life, death and resurrection, given to us at our baptism, given to us through Word and Sacrament, Christ cannot be divided because it is Christ and Christ alone who saves. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Epiphany 2 – “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:29-42a)

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.

How would someone describe you? You might be described as a father or mother, a son or daughter. You might be described as a husband or wife, a doctor or teacher. Those words describe the role you serve. They define who you are to an extent. As we see in our Gospel for today, John describes who Jesus is and the role He performs with just a single verse: “The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!””

Is there any better description in all of Scripture that defines who Jesus Christ and what His purpose and function is than this verse? If you could understand everything there is to know about this sentence, you would be worthy of the title Doctor of Theology many times over. This sentence from John the Baptist is one of the most powerful expressions of the Gospel in the Bible. John is able to capture all of Jesus with this verse. Within the full meaning of these words are all the sentences of all the Creeds of the Church.

Let’s dissect what John says here. “Behold” The word Behold is an epiphany word. It means look here; I want to show you something. John uses this word so that he can show Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, to his listeners and to us. He had already received an epiphany from God. Last week we learned that after John baptized Jesus, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended like a dove, and the voice declared that this Jesus was God’s beloved Son. Now John is proclaiming this epiphany to his listeners. He is doing the work of a prophet and pointing to Jesus Christ, the Son of God and savior of the world.

“The Lamb of God” Now, although some sacrifices required bulls, goats, or birds, the lamb more than any other animal was the animal required by most of the sacrificial regulations of the ceremonial law. The word Lamb as it is used in this sentence brings to mind the continuous flow of blood from the altar in Jerusalem. This image was so strong that God often referred to the people as His sheep with Himself as their Shepherd. They understood that the sacrificial lamb was taking their place. Now John was saying that this man who was the Shepherd had become a Lamb in order to become the sacrifice for them. The word Lamb reminds us of the sacrifice that was made in our place.

John is saying that this man is God’s Lamb. He is not just close to perfect. He is perfect. He is the culmination of all the sacrifices of all time. He is the sacrifice that fulfills the first sacrifice that God made when He killed some animals to provide the skins that covered Adam and Eve after they sinned. He fulfills the sacrifice that Abel offered and He fulfills the sacrifices that Noah offered after he landed safely in the ark. He fulfills the sacrifices of Abraham including the sacrifice he made after he nearly sacrificed his own son, Isaac. He is the one time for all sacrifice that makes all the other sacrifices meaningful.

“The sin of the world” These words gather the stench of sin into one disgusting mass of evil. It includes all the sinful thoughts, words, and deeds that anyone at any time has ever had. It includes the sinful nature that we were born with. These words mean that the work of God’s Lamb, Jesus Christ is good for the whole world, not just those who believe. The word here for world in this sentence is the root for the word cosmos. This word means everything that God has created, everything that God has brought into being by the command of His Word.

And so Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus lived in the flesh without sin, “a lamb without blemish or spot,” thus fulfilling God’s Law in our stead. How does He do this? He does this through His bloody sacrifice on the cross. There, the Lamb of God, who came from God and who was God, satisfied God’s wrath against the sin of the world, against your sin. This is done to fulfill all righteousness, to fulfill God’s plan of salvation for the sinner.

What insight John had! However, the Pharisees of the day did not have that insight. Many people of the day did not have that insight, comparing Jesus to Moses, Elijah or a prophet. And still many today do not have that insight that John had, looking to Christ as nothing more than a moral example to follow, but definitely not the Son of God.

John goes on to further state whom Jesus is, by recounting what He saw at Jesus’ Baptism. He says, “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” Up until now, no one has made that claim except one person: God the Father at Jesus’ Baptism. Not even Jesus Himself has made that claim. So how is John able to make such a claim? John can make such a claim because he was in the presence of the Trinity at Jesus’ Baptism. He saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus. He heard the voice of the Father declare that Jesus is His beloved Son.

Let us stop and think about what it means that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This means that the Lamb takes the load, the curse, the damnation of the total massive amount of sin onto himself. He lifts the awful burden from us and carries it to the cross. There our sin is crucified with the Lamb. There our sin is put to death. This one act of lifting and carrying away our sin is good for all time.

When John said these words, he considered the taking away to already be a done deal. The forgiveness of sins that comes as a result of the Lamb’s sacrifice was already available to all. All the saints of the Old Testament received salvation because this Lamb’s sacrifice is good for all time and all places and all people. God’s promise is as if John had already heard Jesus declare his victory from the cross with the words, “It is finished.”

Jesus is the Savior, and the Savior is the Lamb of God. The Lamb is destined to suffer and die. Who’s going to follow a Savior like that? By faith, John’s disciples do. Trusting in the Word of the Lord proclaimed by John, they are willing to abandon all and follow Him. They don’t keep it to themselves, either: right away, Andrew is telling Peter. It doesn’t seem to make sense: They follow a Savior who will never amount to much in worldly terms, a King who will never gather an army to fight and conquer. They’ll put their trust in the Son of God who will allow Himself to be arrested, beaten, spat upon and killed. And after He is risen, what will happen to His disciples? They’ll tell others of Jesus, and they too will be arrested, beaten, spat upon and killed. Not real attractive to the world.

But that is how Jesus saves. He doesn’t save through worldly means, but with His shed blood on the cross. The only way to make peace between God and man is for Jesus to sacrifice Himself. And so He does what is required of you and I. He does what is necessary and He goes to do what only He can – He gives Himself as a sacrifice. He is the perfect Lamb who goes to slaughter.

All of this was done for you, with you in mind. We are able to echo the words of Andrew, “We have found the Messiah.” We have found Him doing what he John says He will: taking away the sins of the world. The Son of God is with us to give us life, both now and forever. Behold. The Lamb of God declares to you that 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.

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.