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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Day (John 1:1-14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candlelight (Luke 2:1-14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Eve (Matthew 1:18-25)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Christmas 1 – “Simeon’s Song” (Luke 2:22-40)

C-15 Christmas 1 (LHP) (Lu 2.22-40)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

The Law of Moses is fairly clear. Concerning the first born, it states: The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”

When God freed the Children of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, He sent the angel of death to slaughter the first born of every man and animal in the land of Egypt. The angel of death only spared those households that had the sign of the blood of the lamb painted on their doorposts. From that moment on, God claimed the firstborn of every man and animal. As Mary’s firstborn, Jesus had to keep this law. The law required Mary and Joseph to bring Jesus to the temple and consecrate Him to the Lord.

The law also spoke about mothers who had just given birth. Concerning these mothers, it states: The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed.”

So, we have one reason for Joseph to take Jesus to the temple, and another reason take Mary to the temple. The simple thing was to kill two birds with one stone: perform the presentation of the firstborn and the purification of the mother on the same day. So it is that today’s Gospel informs us that Joseph brought Mary and Jesus to the temple in order to perform these rituals.

Something ironic happens here. The temple itself is the place where God dwells with His people. That means that the baby that Mary and Joseph carry into the stone temple is, in fact, the living temple of flesh and blood, Immanuel, God with us. So Mary and Joseph are bringing the living, breathing temple into the stone temple. There are all kinds of amazing things happening as the infant Jesus enters His holy temple.

We meet two Old Testament saints waiting for Jesus, Simeon and Anna. The Holy Spirit had given Simeon a special promise: “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Anna, a prophetess, was also ready for “she did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”

People often wonder about the faithful who live at the time of Jesus. The Old Testament Christians are saved by faith in the Christ who will come sometime in their future. The New Testament Christians are saved by faith in the Christ who has already come in their past. But what about the faithful people who lived between the time Jesus was born and the time He ascended. What are they to believe?

Simeon and Anna provide one answer to that question. The Holy Spirit guided Simeon into the temple at the exact right time so that he was waiting for Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought Him into the temple. Anna was always in the temple, so that she was also ready when the Lord came. These two remind us that God never abandons His people, but always preserves them in His salvation.

Apparently Simeon knew exactly who he enfolded in his embrace. As he looked down into the face of this infant, he prayed, not to the heavens, but to the baby in his arms, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Simeon’s faith was in the baby who lay in his arms.

Simeon’s service in the temple as a watchman waiting for the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises is at an end. The watch is over; the servant can retire in peace. With the eyes of faith, Simeon sees more than a babe in his arms; he sees a Savior dying on the cross; he sees salvation for all people, both Israelite and Gentile. This is Simeon saying goodbye. For him, this is a not a sad goodbye, but rather a joyful goodbye. He is able to leave this world now, not in sorrow over what may or may not have occurred, but instead leaving this world in joy at seeing the promised Christ.

How is it that Simeon saw all of this in this child, just a little more than a month old? Mary and Joseph were an obscure poor couple and Jesus looked no different than any other 40-day old male child. Simeon could see all of this because “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” He could sing this wonderful song because God opened his eyes.

Simeon had a word for Mary and Joseph as well. Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Even in this account from Jesus’ infancy, we already see God preparing Mary for the road ahead. The Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of Simeon to begin preparing Mary for that day when she would look upon this Son as He hung on a cross and paid for the sins of the world.

What an example of faith that Simeon had. Simeon fully believed that God was going to make good on His promise and save His people from all their sins through the Savior He would personally send into this world. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, Simeon was promised by God that he would behold the Messiah with his own eyes in his lifetime, before God would call him home to heaven. Simeon waited. He was faithfully patient, trusting that God knew what He was doing and was doing it all according to His divine timeline, working all things for the good of His people. Simeon had faith that God would work this promise and plan when the time was right. Now having personally beheld God’s all-redeeming plan of salvation in the flesh, in his arms, Simeon was joyously relieved. It doesn’t matter whether Simeon was 25 or 95 years old. He could now die perfectly happy and content, fully knowing and trusting that God was keeping His promise and actively saving His people from all sin, death, and damnation. He knew what was really important in terms of life and salvation, and he knew that he was holding it right there in his very arms.

The church today joins Simeon and Anna as we too celebrate the coming of the Lord to His people. We even join in Simeon’s song as we also have seen and even tasted the Lord’s salvation as He comes to us in His body and blood. Just as the Holy Spirit worked in Simeon to bring him into the temple to see the Lord’s Salvation, so also the Lord has given us His Sacrament so that we may also see the Lord’s salvation as we eat His body and drink His blood. So it is that the Lord will always dwell with His people and give them His gifts, gifts that come through His Son, Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Nativity of Our Lord – John 1:1-14

C-14-Christmas-Day-Jn-1.1-14.pngGrace, 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.

This is the most important of all the Gospels of the Church Year, right up there with the birth narrative from Luke’s Gospel. The major theme that John brings out throughout the Gospel account is very much related to today’s celebration of the birth of the Christ child. This theme emphasizes the fact that the little baby whose birth we celebrate on this day, the little baby lying in the manger, is God in the flesh. The little human baby who looks like any other human baby is, in fact, the Lord through whom all things were created.

The Evangelist John, who by divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit penned the words of the Gospel reading appointed for this day, included no account of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. In the opening verses of John’s Gospel, one does not hear of Joseph and the Virgin Mary being visited by the angels. Nor does one hear of the events that took place in Palestine in order to fulfill the prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament. No, John begins his Gospel in a time before the nativity of Christ and even of John the Baptist, for that matter. In fact, the opening words of the Gospel of John are set in a time that precedes the genesis of the universe itself; a time when there was only the Word.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In the very first verse of his Gospel, John cuts to the chase in revealing the identity of the Child who lay in the manger at Bethlehem. He takes his hearers back to creation, and reveals that the Word who was with God was God. He declares that Jesus, the Christ, or Anointed One of God, is the everlasting Son, who was with the Father from all eternity. And John further declares in verse 3 that this same Jesus is the Creator of all things. The little Lord Jesus who lay down his sweet head on the hay in the manger is in fact the Almighty God who fashioned and created the heavens and the earth! The little Child, to whom the wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh in that humble stable at Bethlehem, is the Lord God of Israel, who had chosen the Israelites as his people.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. You can’t get nearer than that. The Word-who was in the beginning with God, who was God, and through whom all things were made-became flesh. Without giving up an ounce of His divinity, He also became fully human, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary, to dwell with us. “Dwelt,” says the English. St. John says it better in the Greek: “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” is what he says. The Lord had been present with His people in the tabernacle for centuries; now He was flesh and blood, living embodied among His people.

The Word became flesh – not just to be nearer, but to fulfill the Word. Long ago, God had promised that the Seed of the woman would be born to save; now the Word was flesh for the salvation of all nations. He preached, He taught, He fed, He healed. He fulfilled prophecy after prophecy, proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that He was in fact the Savior, the Son of God. As He had throughout the centuries, God had come near to save His people.

Therefore on Calvary, man tries to silence the Word once for all. Despite their best efforts of rebellion, rejection, betrayal and scorn, the Lord rises again on the third day. And despite the same, He does rise with a vengeance, but with salvation. He restores His disciples, forgives them for their sins; then He sends them out to all nations, to baptize and teach-to declare His salvation. The Word sends them to proclaim the Word, and He does so with this promise to them and to all His people: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In other words, God still comes near to you.

Despite a world that is hell-bent on rejecting the Savior, the Word made flesh still comes to you. We speak, of course, of His means of grace: The Savior promises that He is present with you, really present, by His Word and Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. This has been the theme of the sermons throughout Advent and Christmas: The Word made flesh is not far away from you. Jesus is present with you in His means of grace, freely giving you salvation.

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

This the miracle in which we constantly rejoice: The Word made flesh still comes near to save-save us by His blood, by His work, by His sacrifice, His grace. The Lord still comes near.

“In the beginning was the Word.” That’s how this sermon began, with the Word with God, being God, creating all things-a bit difficult to grasp. But here is the joy that you have: That almighty Word became flesh to dwell among His people, to go to the cross for you. From the cross, He descended into hell, rose again, and ascended into heaven. His travels for the sake of forgiveness are not done, for He comes near to you. And drawing near, the Word made flesh proclaims His Word 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.