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Perfect Perseverance

Sermon: “Perfect Perseverance”             

LSB Series B; 1st Sunday in Lent

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Epistle Reading: James 1:12-18

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It takes a lot of perseverance to run a marathon. It takes a lot of perseverance to learn a musical instrument. It takes a lot of perseverance to train up children in the way of the Lord so when they are old they will not turn from it.

It takes a lot of perseverance to endure conflict at work or at home. It takes a lot of perseverance to undergo medical testing with no answers in sight. It takes a lot of perseverance to continue receiving cancer treatments while enduring the side effects.

As you no doubt guessed, our sermon for today is about perseverance. Our Scripture reading began with these words: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.

To remain steadfast under trial is to have perseverance. It is to keep going when the odds are against you. 

No one knows this more than Jesus who persevered under the great trial of being tempted in the wilderness by Satan surrounded by wild beasts. Looking at the other Gospel accounts of Jesus’ temptation, we know that He was tempted with bread after forty days of fasting. He was tempted to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple to show His power. He was tempted with power to rule the world if He would just bow down and worship Satan. 

Here we see the very nature of Satan and also the perseverance and steadfastness of our Savior. 

Scripture tells us that Satan only works through deception. He is the father of all lies, and when he lies, he is functioning out of his own character. He is really good at it too. He has been doing it ever since he did it in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. So, he has a lot of practice. He knows all the right buttons to press. What’s more, he is very bold in his deception. If he is willing to go toe to toe with Jesus, then what makes us think that he won’t go at us?

He will, and he does. Ever since the day of our baptism, the devil has been going at us with his temptations. But we have One who stands in our stead. When Jesus took Satan on in the wilderness, He was doing so on our behalf. 

Like the nation of Israel before us who disobeyed God, we also have failed to persevere under every trial and temptation. We have grumbled, complained, and sinned against God time and again. Everything we have to show for in life proves that we are no match for Satan’s attack. So, that means that the crown of life that is given to those that persevere under trial is not ours to be had. We can’t earn it, and we certainly don’t deserve it.

But that doesn’t mean we won’t receive it. We who find ourselves under constant trial and temptation have a Savior who took a crown upon Himself to win for us the crown of life. But where our crown that awaits us is one of heavenly royalty, His was a crown of thorns. Carrying His cross, despising the shame, persevering through mockery and ridicule, He went to Calvary wearing that crown of thorns piercing his brow, and there He bled and died for us.

But that was two thousand years ago. How can that possibly help us now as we endure countless temptations and attacks of the evil foe? The answer comes in your baptism. There at your baptism, the One who perfectly persevered under trial and conquered sin, Satan, and death has joined Himself to you.

That is good news for us to delight in, because we will continue to face temptation after temptation as long as we live on this side of heaven. What temptation do you continually face? What is acting like a trap, and no matter how hard you seem to try, you keep falling right into it?

In our text for today, James likens a temptation to being lured and enticed by his or her own desire. 

My son Will has been fascinated with fishing for quite some time now. I think he asks me to go fishing on almost a weekly basis, sometimes daily. Unfortunately for him, he has a father that knows almost nothing about fishing. 

Several months ago, I took him to the store and we bought him a fishing pole with some birthday money that he had kept saved up. But, you just don’t need a pole, do you? There are hooks, fishing line, and of course, lures.

There are seemingly endless lures that you can buy. And they are all guaranteeing the same thing. Use this lure, and you will be sure to catch the big one, or at the least, you will catch…one.

The purpose of a lure is to do what? It is to trick the fish into thinking that this is a tasty meal to bite into. And as soon as the fish has been “lured” in, the person fishing sets that hook and reels the fish in.

Temptations work the same way. Satan is no dummy. Like a lure with its flashy colors and streamers or whatever the manufacturer puts on those things, Satan uses our own desires and attaches false promises to them. 

“Go ahead, take the bait, it won’t hurt you” … then bam…he’s got you, hook, line and sinker, reels you in and pulls you to your own fate. The wages of sin is death, after all.

James says much the same thing in his text: Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:15).

That is the devil’s goal. Like a person fishing for supper, Satan is going in for the kill. He is not interested in merely stringing you along on the line forever. His ultimate goal is your destruction, specifically the destruction of your faith.

So, James writes: Do not be deceived. Don’t be tricked. Don’t be fooled. Don’t be like that fish that is so easily lured in. Ever caught the same fish before? I have heard the stories. It happens. That’s because those fish are quick to be deceived. The same can be said of us if we do not guard and protect ourselves from the traps of the evil one. 

Like Jesus, when He was tempted in the wilderness by Satan, He used the Word of God to combat the evil foe. That is God’s weapon given to us. Equipped with God’s Word, we are able to discern truth from lie. We are able to see whether it is a lure to reel us in or if it is true food without a hook worth biting into. 

But such equipping takes time. Any outdoors man or woman will tell you that it takes time to hone their craft. They didn’t learn the hotspots and the techniques overnight. It took time and dedication. 

That is even more so true when it comes to faith. As I tell our catechumens, confirmation is not graduation. We are life-long learners of the faith. We are never done learning about Jesus and how He reveals Himself in His Word.

To adopt a mentality where we would think that we are done studying God’s Word is to put ourselves at greater risk of being attacked by the evil foe, and greater risk of falling headfirst into being lured into his lies. That’s because if we can’t distinguish truth and lie and anymore, how are we going to be able to persevere under trial and steer clear of the lies. We won’t know the difference.

So God calls us to gladly hear and learn His Word. James tells us this in the text for today: Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures (James 1:17-18).

Ultimately, that good and perfect gift that came down from the Father is none other than the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. It’s Jesus. He is the Word that remained steadfast in the wilderness and all the way to the empty tomb. And when it comes to our being tempted and lured in by Satan, the only way we can truly combat the devil is by His coming down to earth to fight in our stead. 

You and I are no match for the devil. We are lured in every time. Jesus on the other hand, perseveres perfectly every time. He doesn’t waver. He doesn’t fall. He reigns as champion every time, and the crown of victory He won two thousand years ago, He gives to you.

So, the next time you are tempted to be lured in, turn to the One who perfectly persevered under trial for you. Call on His name. He is your help in every time of need. As our text said: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Are We There Yet?

Sermon: “Are We There Yet?”             

LSB Series B

The Transfiguration of Our Lord; February 14, 2021

Gospel Reading: Mark 9:2-9

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Are we there yet?

It is a common question asked of children when they get in the car no matter how long the trip may be. Some kids may find the trip to Waconia to be one that necessitates this question. To which I say in the words of Linus from the comic Peanuts: “Good grief!”

But most of us would probably agree that we have asked this question at one time or another while traveling. There are times where it just seems that time out on the open road lasts forever. And when that happens, we just want to get to our final destination and be done with it already. “Are we there yet?”

For the apostle Peter, he was content not asking this question. He was content to just stay there, to simply call the top of the mount of Transfiguration the end of his destination. Here he was with James and John and they were seeing Jesus arrayed in this glorious bright white and there beside Him were their two Old Testament heroes: Moses and Elijah. In his mind, life couldn’t get any better than this, so why not stay?

I am guessing that we have all felt that way from time to time. Wonderful mountaintop experiences are hard to depart from. Most youth that I have been blessed to serve with rarely want to return from a servant event or youth gathering. It is a mountaintop experience they don’t want to end. Many of us probably feel that way about vacation. When we feel rested and relaxed, enjoying the pleasures of this life, we don’t usually want the mountaintop experience to end.

So, why not stay on the top of the mountain? This is a good question, especially considering what descending the mountain would mean. In the verses preceding our text for today, Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. He told them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31).

In Peter’s mind, the thought of descending that mountain only meant suffering and death for Jesus. And since he was a follower of Jesus, he must have been wondering what would happen to him as well if he left that mountain. So, again, the question is, why not stay on the mountain? Why not just conclude that they had arrived at their destination and be done with it?

The answer to these questions comes in the answer to why Jesus came. Did He come just to be glorified there on that mountain, or was there a greater purpose? Was this His final destination? Why did Jesus come? 

We know well and good that Jesus didn’t come simply to be transfigured on that mountain. He came to die on another mountain. Mount Calvary. We will soon sing of this as we begin the season of Lent: “Come to Calvary’s holy mountain, sinners, ruined by the fall; Here a pure and healing fountain flows for you, for me, for all, in a full perpetual tide, opened when our Savior died.”

If Jesus stays there on that mount of transfiguration, if He considers that He had arrived at His final destination like Peter desired, then no one would have been saved. 

So, to answer the question of the kids in the back of the car: “Are we there yet”: “No, we are not there yet.” There was still a lot of the journey yet to travel. And that would first start by going down the mountain.

But the question remains: If this wasn’t the final destination, why was Jesus transfigured as He made His way to Calvary? Why the teaser, if you will? Well, this was no teaser. It was God’s way of encouraging His Son for the journey ahead and giving His disciples and us a preview, a foretaste of the feast to come.

Had Peter been paying attention to what Jesus had said earlier before our text for today, he would have heard that even though Jesus would die, three days later He would rise in resurrection glory. This transfigured Jesus was a picture of what was to come. Though they would endure suffering when they descended the mountain, there was glory yet to come, both for Jesus and for them as well.

No, they had not made it to their final destination. They weren’t there yet. But they could be confident that in the end Jesus would win. Though they would watch Him suffer immensely and die in the most horrific way possible, they were shown that in the end, all Jesus does is win. He would be victorious.

And not only would He win, but His resurrection victory would be passed on to them as well. Each of them, including the other disciples would face harsh persecution for their faith. They would suffer, and most of them would die a martyr’s death. But in the end, they too would rise from death. They would behold Jesus again in all of His glory in heaven and on the Last Day.

The same can be said for us. We are about to embark upon a journey through the season of Lent. It is a dark season of grieving our sinfulness and turning to the Lord in repentance. And the darkness will only get darker as we approach Holy Week where Jesus will enter into Jerusalem and journey to the cross to die for the sins of the world on a darkest day ever, on a day that we call Good. But, we aren’t there yet. There is more to the journey. Jesus doesn’t stay dead. He rises in resurrection glory. He returns to His Father to sit on His throne. And one day, He will return in all of His glory to take us to be with Him forever.

But we aren’t there yet, are we? Jesus hasn’t returned, and we may still feel like those impatient children in the back of the car longing to get to the final destination, and asking: “Are we there yet?”

No, we are not. Though our sins are forgiven and our salvation is secured, we are still awaiting Christ’s return. And if there is anything we have probably learned about our ability to be patient is that we aren’t very good at it. And that reality only increases when those times that we are waiting are filled with suffering and hardship.

So as we journey through this valley of the shadow of death, we too, are to keep in mind this image: The image of Christ transfigured on the mountain. Jesus in all of His glory. 

I read the following in a commentary the other day: “Focus on the end and not on the road, on the final glory and not on the suffering, on the triumph and not on the (apparent) defeat” (Mark Commentary, Voelz, p. 657).

Far too often our focus is not on Christ who stands at the finish line awaiting us in eternal glory. Far too often our focus is like Peter. We just want to stay where we are where it’s safe and attempt to avoid all pain and suffering. We don’t want to descend the mountain. We want to think we have arrived, rather than recognize that our journey is not yet over.

Far too long we Christians have enjoyed and taken for granted our barca lounger version of Christianity. We have often gone into a coast or cruise mode rather than take risks in our relationships, homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods and witness our faith to those around us. Like the rest of the world, we have just found it easier to keep our religion to ourselves, because we don’t want to offend anyone. We don’t want to endure rejection. We don’t want to risk upsetting the proverbial apple cart of what we have worked so hard to establish as we cling so tightly to the things of this world. We are content to think that we have arrived at our destination, and there is no need to travel down the mountain where there might be suffering and hardship of any kind.

And who can blame us? Suffering and loss of all kinds stinks. It is no fun. Not at all. But as we watch the scene that is going on around us, the reality of suffering and loss is coming whether we like it or not. The Christianity that our parents and grandparents grew up with and we have taken for granted is fading away. The tolerance of God’s Word and what it truly means to be a Christian and stand on His truth is in many ways a thing of the past.

So, will we keep our faith to ourselves when the going gets tough? Will we remain silent in our witness? Or will we be bold in our faith and stand on the truth of God’s Word and journey down the mountain with Him through whatever suffering may come our way?

Thanks be to God that we have One who journeys both with us and for us down that mountain. Where we have often buckled to fear and chosen to be like Peter and stayed put where life is comfortable and free from suffering, Jesus chose to journey down that mountain and back up Calvary’s mountain for you and for me.

He did so because we are weak and afraid. He did so because we often cave to the comforts of this world and don’t stand up for Him. He did so because we are sinners in need of a Savior, and He is that Savior…your Savior and mine.

And because He is our Savior, our victorious Savior, we don’t have to fear following Him down the mountain in this world. We know the end of the story. We know who does the victory lap and raises the trophy. It’s Jesus, our Savior, and he welcomes us to celebrate the victory with Him. 

So even though we may see the tolerances toward Christianity fade away, God’s Word never does, His promises never do, and He never abandons us. 

Jesus is sitting right now in His glory at the right hand of the Father and He is waiting for us to join Him, calling for us to follow Him. There is no need to fear, Jesus is here…right where He said He would be…in His Word, and in His Sacrament. This is where Jesus is located for us so that we may have the strength to carry on through the suffering, through death, and to the resurrection and the life everlasting. And on that day, there will be no need to ask, “Are we there yet?” For on that day, we will have arrived at our final destination with Jesus. In His name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

God is Faithful

Sermon: “God is Faithful”             

LSB Series B; National Lutheran Schools Week Sunday

Third Sunday after the Epiphany; January 24, 2021

School Theme Verse 2020-2021: Lamentations 3:22-23

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).

You may recall that at the beginning of the year at our opening chapel, I shared that the word that we would be keying in for this year is ‘faithfulness’. It is a word that means “true to one’s word or true to one’s promises.” It means that there is always follow through. God is faithful.

Over the course of this year, in our chapel services, we have focused in on stories from the Bible of God’s faithfulness to His people. We looked at the story of God creating the heavens and earth. We saw how God preserved Noah and his family in the ark during the great flood. We heard of how God protected His people from the angel of death as it ‘passed over’ their houses with doors painted in the blood of the lamb as they ate the Passover. We listened as Goliath threatened God’s people with his size and arrogance, yet young, small David was given by God the ability to defeat the big, evil foe.

Again and again, among many other Bible stories, we have heard how God loves and cares for His people. We have heard that when God makes a promise, He always follows through. He never goes back on His Word. As it says in the book of Titus, chapter one, “God never lies.” No He doesn’t. God is faithful.

In our Old Testament reading, we heard another story of God’s faithfulness. It was the story of Jonah. You students may recall Mr. Baumann leading the chapel message on this very Bible reading right before we went on Christmas break.

Jonah had been directed by God to go to Nineveh, the very enemy of his people, and speak to them a message of repentance that they might turn from their sinful ways. Jonah didn’t want to go. Ever not want to do what you are told? Probably every day, right? Well, that is sinful.

So it was with Jonah. In sin, he ran from God. He got aboard a boat and fled hoping to escape God. But God is everywhere. You can’t run from God. So God caused a storm to toss the boat about. And Jonah came clean. He said that he was the cause of the storm. So they threw him overboard. And a giant fish swallowed him up. 

Inside that fish, Jonah prayed. Jonah repented. Jonah turned from his sinful ways. God forgave him and the fish vomited him up on land. Jonah went to Nineveh and spoke the message of repentance that God told him to speak. And wouldn’t you know it, they repented too. They put on sackcloth and ashes and lamented their sinful actions.

Sackcloth and ashes were put on as a way of grieving and mourning. We should lament as well, just as the people of Judah were directed to do in the book of Lamentations from where our theme verse comes. We should grieve the reality of our sin. Romans, chapter six says, “The wages of sin is death.” We are all doomed to die because of our sin. We are doomed to die because unlike God, we aren’t faithful.

We lie, we cheat, and we steal. We say one thing, and we do another. Students disobey their teachers. Kids disobey their parents. Teachers and parents get impatient with their students and kids and don’t always say things and address things the way that they should. We live in a sinful world. We live in a world of unfaithfulness.

Have we looked around and processed the fact that the reason there is this pestilence of a pandemic, the reason that there is all of this social and political unrest, all this violence and terror on all sides is actually because of us? It is not God’s doing, but ours. We are the unfaithful ones.

Going back to the beginning of the school year, we taught the kids in chapel about the fall from the Garden of Eden. There they were told about Adam and Eve. They were given one command. That command was not to eat the forbidden fruit. It was a command given to establish trust between God and His most prized creation. Unfortunately, that trust was broken. 

Desiring to be like God, they both bit into the fruit with reckless abandon with little care for the consequences. And at that very moment, life as they knew it all came to an end. Literally, at that very point, death entered into the world.

Right now, there is so much fear of death. We see the reports put in our faces again and again about how many people who have died because of the Coronavirus. The numbers are quite staggering, and there is good reason to be careful and cautious in an effort to care for the well-being of others. We give thanks for our School Administrator, teachers, staff, and school board for the great measures they have taken for our kids to learn in person all year in a safe environment. Thanks be to God! (Pause)

But it should also be noted, that no matter how hard we may try, we need to realize that we can’t avoid death. With all the fear of death that is out there because of the virus and those staggering numbers, have any of us considered the staggering numbers of sin? 

Sin kills every time. The numbers are staggering, no, they are downright daunting. Everyone who has ever died has died because of sin. It has a 100% rate of deadliness. And no form of medical care, vaccine, protective wear or otherwise is going to keep you from getting infected by it.

The original sin that was committed by Adam and Eve has been passed down through every generation, through your grandparents, through your parents, and now to you. You have worse than a virus. You have sin in you, and it is deadly. And no matter how hard you may fight to rid yourself of it, there is nothing you can do to save yourselves. You are hopeless, because just like me, you have been faithless. Just like Adam and Eve, and Jonah when he ran from God, and everyone else before you, you have failed to be faithful.

Take a moment right now and consider your lack of faithfulness. Throughout this whole year, you have been reciting the Ten Commandments in chapel. You have been learning God’s Law by heart. Recite those with me now:

Ten Commandments

  1. You shall have no other gods.
  2. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
  3. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
  4. Honor your father and your mother.
  5. You shall not murder.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

How are you doing with God’s commandments? Not too well? Me either. When it comes to being faithless in following God’s commands, we need someone who will be faith-“ful” in every way. We need someone to serve as our substitute to do what we cannot. And God knew that. 

Right after the fall from creation, God promised that an offspring of Eve would come and crush the head of the serpent Satan and defeat him once and for all. We know that offspring to be none other than Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. He is God in the flesh. He is the One who is faithful. As it says in the book of 2nd Timothy: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful” (2nd Timothy 2:13).

Only Jesus can save us from the virus of sin that moves throughout our body. Only He can rid us of the sure and certain killer that was passed on to us from our parents and their parents before them.

And that is why God calls us to repent of our sins. In our Gospel reading we heard Jesus say: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).

Like parents that tell their kids to eat their vegetables for their own good, so repentance is God’s gift to us. Without it, we would be like those in the book of Lamentations who had ignored the need for daily confession and in doing so only doomed themselves to exile and death. 

But we know this from God’s Word: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. [But] If we confess our sins, he is “faithful” and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1st John 1:8-9).

This is the good news that parents have been given to pass on to their children. That even though we pass sin on to our kids, we also have been given the joy and privilege to share with them the faithful forgiveness of our God given in Christ Jesus.

It is the message of our theme verse: The steadfast love of our Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

We have been called upon by God to share the good news of great joy that is for all people. That in a world filled with the reality of fear and the sure and certain killer known as sin, there is yet hope. 

Hope not in vaccines or science or political parties or candidates. All those hopes will fade away. Hope is something much deeper than that as Christians. Hope comes in the love of our Lord who saw us in our deadly disease of sin doomed to death, and He did something about it.

For God so loved the world, He gave…He gave His only Son. That is what a steadfast love is all about. In fact, that Hebrew word for ‘steadfast love’ technically can’t even be translated into English. God’s love is far too great to even be translated. It is unfathomable. It is unending. And it is for you.

In steadfast love for you, God gave His Son. We can’t even begin to imagine giving up our child for another, and yet God did so with His one and only child. He did so willingly, voluntarily, lovingly…because that is what it took to save you and me.

We who failed to be faithful had the perfect substitute sent in our place. It’s no wonder that our theme verse says, his mercies never come to an end. It’s because they don’t.

Mercy is that word that means that God doesn’t give us what we do deserve. Instead of death, we get life. Instead of condemnation, we get salvation. Instead of rejection, we get forgiveness. Forgiveness of the very sins that make us unfaithful. 

See throughout this school year and throughout your whole life how God has been faithful to His promises. What a joy it has been to be able to continue in-person learning. What a blessing it has been to have been kept safe from outbreaks here in our place of learning. But as great as that is, it all pales in comparison to what God did for us on Calvary.

There on the cross we see the mercy of our God. There we see His steadfast love poured out for us. There we see the great sacrifice He was willing to make in our stead to save us. There we see that our God is, and always will be, faithful. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Follow Me

Sermon: “Follow Me”             

LSB Series B

Second Sunday after the Epiphany; January 17, 2021

Gospel Reading: John 1:43-51

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Follow Me.

Jesus’ command sounds so simple as he continues to call His twelve disciples. Yet, we know that it is not. 

In our text for today, Nathanael gives us every impression he has his doubts about following this Jesus.

Why follow this guy from Nazareth? “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael wants to know.

Pastor Lucas used to give me grief with this same line, though he would make one minor change: “Can anything good come out of Michigan?” Perhaps we could nearly all agree if we said, “Can anything good come out of Wisconsin?” But I digress.

Nathanael had in his mind that the Messiah shouldn’t come from a backwater town like Nazareth. As one church father put it: “Jesus’ mode of living was ordinary, and His garments not better than those of the many. He fared like all others, and was present at the feasts of wicked men and publicans, that he might draw them to Him” (Chrysostom). 

Needless to say, Jesus did not meet Nathanael’s expectations as one he would like to follow. Especially when he considered the thought of following someone from ‘that’ place. Nazareth...pathetic.

What about us? Experience would tell us that following is not an easy thing to do. Not when we like to be in the lead. Not when we like to call the shots.

I am reminded of one of my favorite prayers in the front of the hymnal. It goes like this: “Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Though Nathanael did not know where Jesus was expecting him to follow, he quickly learned that the One who was calling him was no loser from some backwater town. He learned, and even confessed, that Jesus is the Son of God, the King of Israel. This One before Him was the promised Messiah who had been foretold of for centuries.

From that point on, Nathanael would follow Jesus as one of His disciples, but it was by no means an easy journey. And though we are not one of His twelve apostles, our following of Jesus is certainly no easy trek either.

Take our Epistle Reading as an example. It tells us to “flee sexual immorality.” Flee, as in run in the opposite direction. Yet, how many of us have all too often run toward it? From sexual promiscuity to the immodest apparel we choose to wear or let our kids wear, to sexual relations outside of wedlock to clicks on the internet pornography sites? God’s Word says: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body.”

Yet far too often we don’t glorify God with our bodies. Far too often we think we know better than God and determine that we can do whatever we want. We think we are in the lead and God is meant to follow us. It’s our body after all.

That’s the abortion argument that is constantly being argued over as well as we mark Life Sunday today. Those who favor the pro-choice argument do so on the basis that a woman has the right to do what she wants with her own body. But what about the life of a child? Does that child not have a living, breathing body? Does that child not have a right to live? Those who are pro-life would argue that from the point of conception on, that child has a right to live. Yet, over sixty million babies have been killed in America alone since the Roe v. Wade decision took place in 1973. Lord, have mercy.

Mercy is exactly what we need as we seek to follow Christ in a world that so easily fails to call sin a sin…in a world that glorifies ungodly sexual practices and the murder of innocent children. How do we navigate this challenging terrain? How do we keep following Jesus? It would seem to be virtually impossible.

Like trying to become a Navy SEAL. Only 6% of those that apply to become a SEAL actually meet the requirements. Of those 6%, only one in four actually become a Navy SEAL.

Now that may sound tough. But following Jesus is actually harder than that. Following Jesus is downright impossible. Whether it is the issue of sexual immorality, life issues, or otherwise, when it comes to following Jesus, we fail…miserably.

You see, all of us have been conceived and born into sin. It is called original sin, and it has been passed down ever since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden through countless generations to our parents, and then to us. We have all missed the mark. In no way can we follow Jesus.

Yet Jesus knows all this. He searches us and knows us. He knows when we sit down or rise up. He knew Nathanael was under that fig tree before they even met. He knows every one of our thoughts. He knows just how sinfully depraved we are in thought, word, and deed. He knows everything about us.

So, in His omniscient, all knowing, wisdom, our God did something about it. He saw the deceit and defilement of our hearts and knew that with sin saturating us, there was no way we could follow Him…not when His demand was perfection.

So God so loved the world that He sent His Son. Conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified, died, and was buried, and the third day He rose.

Jesus came. Though he had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth (Isaiah 53:9b), He came and laid down His life as the perfect sacrifice that had been demanded of us. As the book of Hebrews states it, Jesus was the once for all sacrifice through which we have all be sanctified. We have been made holy in the shed precious blood of Jesus.

For all the times you have failed to follow Him. For all the times you arrogantly thought like Nathanael that God should only function on your terms. For all the times you thought you were the leader and Jesus should be doing the following. For all the times you have fallen into sin in any way, Jesus came to do the will of His Father, to follow in perfect obedience in order to save you.

The result of such a perfect sacrifice is that heaven is now opened for you. Just like Jesus told Nathanael. Listen again: [Jesus said]: “You will see greater things than these. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Yes, now you have access to God the Father because of Jesus. It is like Paul said to the Romans in chapter five: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

We might question how this is all possible. Well, it is only by the grace of God. And that grace was poured out for you here at the font, where water is not just plain water. Where you were named and claimed as Christ’s own. Where you were made a follower of Jesus.

You see, it is not in your power that you follow Jesus. It is rather as Paul said in the Epistle: “You are not your own. You were bought with a price.” That price was the life of Jesus. And with His life joined to yours, you do follow Him.

We don’t know what the future holds as we follow Jesus. If we have learned anything from this last year’s past pandemic and political atmosphere is that we are in for quite a trek ahead of us.

Will the pandemic ever end? What will happen to religious liberty? What will happen to free speech? What will happen to the freedoms we have held dear for so long? I ask these questions because they have come up in many-a-conversation.

No matter what happens, Jesus command remains the same: Follow Me. But not in your own strength and stamina. You don’t have what it takes. Nor do I. Jesus does. He has already journeyed through hell and back, and He did it all for you.

And here at His altar He gives you everything you need so that you may keep following Him. He gives you Himself. His body. His blood. Given and shed for you…so that with His life joined to yours, you may keep following Him…

Follow Him, for He is the ‘Way’, the Truth, and the Life. Follow Him through ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown…not knowing where we go through this world, but trusting that His pierced hand is leading us and His love is holding us all the way to the cross and the empty tomb of the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Baptism Is Not Just Plain Water

Sermon: “Baptism Is Not Just Plain Water”

LSB Series B

The Baptism of our Lord; January 10, 2021

Gospel Reading: Mark 1:4-11

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

(At the font while pouring water)

In the name of the Father (pour), and of the + Son (pour), and of the Holy Spirit (pour). Amen.

What is Baptism? Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word.

Which is that Word of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

What benefits does Baptism give? 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.

Which are these words and promises of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

Where were you baptized? 

Our son Christopher was baptized at Ridgeview Hospital before being airlifted to Children’s Hospital. Will was baptized here at this font. Nora was baptized at this font, but out at the Outdoor Service by the Community Center. Lydia was also baptized right here at this font. Emily was baptized in Howard, South Dakota, and I was baptized in Flushing, Michigan.

In our house, we have the tradition of celebrating baptism the same way we celebrate birthdays. On your baptismal birthday, you get to select all three meals for the day. Then at devotions after supper, we light their baptismal candle and then everyone lines up to give them the baptismal blessing.

Baptism, you see, is a very big deal. It is a day to celebrate when the Lord took you from sure and certain condemnation, to sure and certain salvation. It is the greatest day of your life. It is a day to be celebrated, just like we do every time we make the sign of the cross as we begin worship in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

(Walk to the pulpit.)

As we see in our Gospel reading, Jesus wasn’t baptized at a font in a worship service. He was baptized while surrounded by a crowd at the River Jordan.

As you know from the story of Naaman in the Old Testament, the River Jordan was in no way a pretty river. The prophet Elisha had told Naaman to go wash in the Jordan River and he would be clean of his leprosy. But Naaman wanted nothing to do with that river. It was a dirty river. He wanted a cleaner river to be healed in. Though he eventually did go and was healed as the prophet of God had said.

What Naaman failed to realize is that it is not the quality of the water that matters. It is what is in the water that matters. 

When Christopher was baptized at Ridgeview Hospital, I was handed a bottle that said “holy water”. Had I not been in a state of trauma about to watch my child get airlifted to Children’s, I may have had to laugh a bit. I say that because the water in that bottle was nothing more than ordinary tap water, no matter what the label on the container. It was just plain water.

Now I checked and you can buy water from the Jordan River on Amazon for about twenty bucks. But it doesn’t matter. Even ‘that’ is just plain water.

Aquafina, Dasani, Evian…all of them are still just plain water. What matters is not the kind of the water or from where it came…what matters is what is in the water.

In our Gospel lesson we see that Jesus Himself joins a group of sinners on the bank of the River Jordan. But instead of just standing on the sideline and watching what took place, He joined in by stepping into the water Himself.

As our baptismal rite says in the opening prayer: “Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.”

What sins do we come here with today needing to confess? What sinful behaviors do we need help in changing? Are we seeing the separation that is being caused by our sins? What sins do we need washed away? 

Brothers and sisters in Christ: Rejoice in your baptism. For there, your sins and mine were washed away. But not because of what kind of water it was, but rather who was in the Water. The power in Baptism is the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us. The power for forgiveness and salvation in the water is in the Word…the same word we heard about in the Psalm today.

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty” (Psalm 29:3-4).

The same voice that cast out demons and healed the lame and diseased is in those waters. The same voice that called Lazarus out from the tomb is in those waters. The same voice that called out from the cross “It is finished!” is in those waters. 

And that voice belongs to Jesus. The reason that the water is not plain water is because Jesus is in the water. He has willingly and voluntarily stepped into the water with His very life. When He did that at the Jordan He identified Himself with us. He took on sin, He became our sin, He assumed our death.

Scripture says: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2nd Corinthians 5:21). 

Though He was perfect in every way, He had to take our sins upon Himself and into Himself to save us. And so Jesus was baptized…baptized as a sinner, doomed to die our death.

Yes, Jesus was baptized to die. He didn’t have to. But He chose to. By stepping into those waters, He set in motion His journey to the cross. From that point on, His public ministry began. But it was a constant journey toward Jerusalem, a constant journey to the cross, a constant journey to His death, your death and mine.

We who have been baptized have been joined to Jesus in His death. Just listen to what our Epistle said: “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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:3-5).

So as you can see, there is a lot more going on in this small font of water before us than simply a few drops of water being poured over an infant, child, or adult’s head. 

Heaven is literally being torn open for that person being baptized. It says in our Gospel reading that “when Jesus came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being ‘torn open’ and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:10-11).

You want to know the other place that verb “torn open” is located. It happens when Jesus dies on the cross. And the curtain of the temple was torn open. Torn apart. Ripped in two. And now access to the Father had been granted.

As I heard in one sermon recently, heaven is now only doors and windows. Heaven is now open for you, for all those who have been baptized. 

That is the beauty of our baptismal liturgy when it quotes St. Peter in saying, “Baptism now saves you.” 

Heaven is literally torn open for you. The Spirit has descended upon you. Faith in Christ is now yours.

(Move to the font)

That’s one of the many things I love about this church. Look up here in the chancel and what do you see over the baptismal font? A dove, hovering over the waters just like He did at creation. 

Here at baptism, Jesus has joined you in the waters of your baptism, He has named and claimed you as His own. You now belong to Him. You are now a child of the heavenly Father.

Sin, death, and hell have no hold on you. Jesus holds you in the palm of His righteous right hand, the same hands that were pierced for you on Calvary, and He will never let you go.

Baptism is not just plain water. It is the Word of God in and with the water. And it is in His mighty power, that you are saved. 

Let us pray. (Use the hymnal on the altar.) Gracious Lord, we give thanks that in Holy Baptism we receive forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. Bless us continually by Your Word and Spirit that we may faithfully keep the covenant into which we have been called, boldly confess Jesus as Savior, and finally share with all Your saints the joys of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.          

 

The Present of Presence

Sermon: “The Present of Presence”             

LSB Series B

Christmas Day; December 25, 2020

Gospel Reading: John 1:1-14

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

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 (John 1:14).

What is the greatest Christmas present that you have ever received? What was your reaction to that present? 

I can remember one year when I was quite young, and my mom had set up a surprise for my dad. Since we come from a blended family, being together is rare. Well, on this Christmas, my mom had arranged flights for my older brother and sister to fly to our house in Michigan from Texas. My Dad had no idea, and nor did the three of us younger kids. It was probably good that she didn’t tell us. I am sure one of us would have blown the secret. 

But, wow, was it awesome that moment they walked through the door. And not just for my dad. I can honestly look back and say that was probably the best Christmas present I had ever received, and it technically wasn’t even for me. But, looking back, I can honestly say that the greatest present is the gift of presence.

That is what Jesus gives on Christmas Day. His present is to be present with us. Not on Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime, or anything like that, but in person. It is what is known as the incarnation: God becoming flesh, the Creator becoming a creature…a human.

Just think of what it must have been like for baby Jesus to all of a sudden be an infant in a manger looking up into the eyes of his parents…the parents He had created. Ever since the beginning, the beginning of the universe that is, He had been looking down from His throne in heaven at the world. Now, His perspective had been completely reversed. 

There in that manger though, was the long-awaited and promised Messiah. Like no one seemed to expect, He came to be One of us in order to save us. In fact, He promises to be present with us always.

Our world has in many ways been robbed of incarnational realities. The present of presence has been difficult for us to come by. Words like restrictions, isolation, and quarantine have been such a regular part of our vocabulary, and the unfortunate result is that people are lonelier than ever. Loved ones long to be seen, held, and hugged.

We are a people who crave presence. We covet interaction. We are not meant to function in isolation and separation. That is why this time of this pandemic has been so hard for us. It is against our nature and the makeup of who we are as human beings to not be able to gather as we once did.

At the beginning of the month, I had the wonderful opportunity to see my parents as my father wrestles with Alzheimer’s. While on that same visit, I also got the chance to see my one living grandparent. But it just wasn’t the same. There was my grandmother, and yet we could only speak to each other through the glass of the doors.

I am sure countless people here can relate to this heart-wrenching circumstance. I can honestly say that before this most recent visit, I don’t think there had ever been a time that I had seen my grandma and not given her a hug.

When it really comes down to it, it is not the presents under the tree that we crave, but rather the presence of loved ones near us.

          Hearts ache as loved ones have had to die alone. Hearts ache as families make the hard decisions not to gather as they normally would do. Hearts ache as the gift of presence is robbed of us in this ongoing pandemic.

          Hearts ache, and we hurt. This is a Christmas unlike anything we have personally ever experienced. It is not that pandemics have not occurred. They have. But, for most all of us, we have not experienced this in our lifetime. And with nothing to base this on, we feel the pain of the present circumstance.

          We come here longing for the comfort of God’s presence, longing to be filled with joy and gladness, yet darkness seems to loom large. Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? Where can we find hope as we trudge through constant hopelessness all around us? (Pause)

          As I said before, the greatest present is present with us. He is Immanuel, God with us. Look into that manger again. See that baby gift-wrapped for you in swaddling cloths. As He looks up into His parents eyes, so He looks at you too. He comes here with one mission in mind. To go from His throne in heaven to the throne of the manger to the throne of the cross.

          He is the incarnate God. He is the One who became flesh and dwelt among us. What does that mean? Perhaps an illustration would help.

          Over 100 years ago Father Damien deVeuster, a Belgian priest, began working with lepers on a small Hawaiian island. He lived and worked among them, helping them get fresh water, a sanitation system, and they built a chapel together in which Father Damien would begin each sermon. “You lepers, know that God loves you.” 

This went on for a while. Finally, one Sunday Father Damien began his sermon this way: "We lepers…know that God loves us."

Father Damien decided to dwell among and love people with a contagious, deadly disease. He touched them, ate with them, became one of them, and stayed right there with them until he died. 

Jesus came to dwell with and love people with a contagious, deadly disease. That disease is sin. He touched them, ate with them, became one of them and stayed with them until He died.

Yes, He who knew no sin became sin for us. He couldn’t stand being separated from us, so He endured separation from God for us. And there, under the tree of His cross are presents for us: Forgiveness, life, and salvation. As His blood dripped down beneath Him, so we receive what He shed for us.

          Today, Christmas Day, we gather and receive the blood, along with the body, of the Incarnate God who gave His life into death for us. (Pause)

          Now I could stop and ask you all what your favorite present was this year, but you need look no further than the altar there before you. You need look no further than the manger in Bethlehem. For there is the One Joseph was told to give name Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins. There is the One Mary sang of in her Magnificat as her soul magnified the Lord.

          Well, here today is the Son of God. Here today, through Word and Sacrament, He is ‘really present’ with us in, with, and under the bread and the wine.

          But have you ever noticed that when it comes to presents, there is often the unfortunate reaction of disappointment. All too often, we want more. All too often we think or say: “Is that all?” We are rarely, if ever, are satisfied. 

And that’s the way it can be for us as we gather on Christmas. We see the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and we easily take this good news of great joy for granted. We look at the small wafer of bread and the sip of wine and question if it is enough. We hear the Word spoken to us, and well, it just doesn’t seem to help us like we want to be helped.

Really?! God comes down from heaven to earth and we want more? The Creator of the universe becomes a creature to save creatures like us, and we think it’s not enough? The One through whom everything was made and without Him nothing would have been made takes on our flesh, and we aren’t satisfied?

What is it going to take then, if that is not enough? Oh, how often our sinful selfishness gets the better of us and we totally miss this wonder before us.

This baby in the manger is our sole source of hope when it comes to separation and isolation we have and continue to experience in our lives. This day calls upon us to see that for as much presence that has been robbed of us in this pandemic, we need look no further than the manger.

Just like Mary and Joseph who looked down into the eyes of their beloved Son, so we are to do the same. We see Him as He reveals Himself to us, as He comes to us. Through the Word of God spoken and under the bread and the wine, God delivers Himself to us, and in doing so gives us a present that is more than we could ever ask for or imagine.

He gives us the present of peace. With sins forgiven, our relationship with God is restored. Our aching hearts are healed by the soothing balm of the Savior. And, we are now a part of His family, children of God, never to be abandoned…never to be left alone. 

See here today that this is where the greatest present is given to you. His name is Jesus. And soon He will come again and the separation will be ended forever. Until then, He promises to be with you always…in the Word who was made flesh. So, no need to look further for a greater gift. The hope of Christ’s cross and empty tomb are here…and it is all…for you. 

Merry Christmas!

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Where Jesus Locates Himself For You

Sermon: “Where Jesus Locates Himself For You”             

LSB Series B

First Sunday after Christmas; December 27, 2020

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:22-40

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Merry Christmas! (Pause)

I have told you this before, and I will tell you this again. In fact, it won’t be the last time I tell you. Jesus is the worst at playing hide ‘n’ go seek. He tells you exactly where He is located. He wants you to find Him, and keep finding Him until death parts you from this world. And then, you will see Him for all eternity with your very own eyes.

Jesus Christ locates Himself ‘for you’ in His Word and Sacrament. You have been encouraged for weeks now to take part in the new Discipleship Challenge known as Connected in Christ. This is an opportunity for you to join with fellow saints of Zion to read through God’s Word over the course of two years. This is a great opportunity to see Jesus as He reveals Himself to you and to build on your knowledge of God’s Word that you hear here in God’s house.

Weekly, we offer here at Zion the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Into your body, you receive the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, the ‘resurrected’ body and blood of Jesus Christ. As you dine on this holy delicacy, your sins are forgiven, your faith is strengthened, and you are assured that you too shall be raised to life everlasting.

These gifts of Word and Sacrament are located for you where Jesus locates Himself. In His house. Now it should be said that these are challenging times during this pandemic. There are those that are not able to join us yet in the house of the Lord. Be assured that God’s Word is still being delivered through the livestream to your homes. 

But we all need to be aware that the ‘goal’ is not to stay worshipping this way, but to once again have all the saints of our congregation gather again in the house of the Lord. Scripture tells us not to neglect meeting together, but rather to draw near to where Christ is located (Hebrews 10).

That is what we see in our text for today. Luke’s Gospel reveals to us two faithful followers of Jesus. One is Simeon, the other is Anna.

Simeon was righteous and devout, just waiting on pins and needles for Jesus’ arrival. In some fashion, perhaps a vision, we don’t know, the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the promised Messiah. So, where did he go? He went to the temple. And low and behold, on the day of Mary’s purification and Jesus’ presentation, there He was.

Overwhelmed. Ecstatic. Elated. These words don’t even begin to grasp the joy that came over Simeon when he saw the holy child. There in the temple was the very One who as Scripture tells us was the ‘temple’ that would one day be destroyed, and three days later be raised again. There was the Christ, who would die and rise for the sake of all people.

Well, he just couldn’t help himself. Like a grandma who hasn’t seen her grandbabies in ages, Simeon went up and took that child in his arms and perhaps even hoisted him up in the air. What a sight! As I envision it, there was Simeon lifting up the Messiah like the baboon did in Lion King who lifted up Simba for all the other animals to see. Just like that lion cub would be king, so Jesus is our King…King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

Out of Simeon’s mouth come words that we have heard and uttered before again and again. We know them as the Nunc Dimittis. We speak or sing these words in response to our having just dined on the body and blood of Christ. As our veins now coarse with the blood of Christ, we have only to let out a song of praise.

That is, after all, what worship is all about. As we gather in the house of the Lord and receive His gifts, we have only to respond in praise. Again and again, God gives to us. It’s like Christmas every week here in God’s house. He just can’t help but give His gifts. And as we receive them, in faith, we respond in praise and thanksgiving. 

Just think about it. He comes to us in the Invocation as we call upon His name and we remember our baptism. Then we respond by confessing our sins. He then gives us His holy absolution, forgiving us of our sins. We respond in prayer and praise. Then He comes to us in His Word through the Scripture readings, and we respond by confessing our faith in the creed. He comes to us in the sermon, then we return to Him our prayers and our offerings. He comes to us in the Sacrament of the Altar. We respond with thanks and praise. And then He gets the last word with the blessing.

Back and forth the pattern goes, but all of the gifts flow from Him first. Then in faith, we respond, where even our response that comes from our lips is a gift for us. Without what He gives, we would have nothing of worth to offer. We are sinners after all.

So it was for Simeon as well. As a mere sinner, he had nothing to offer this child he now held in his arms. The only words he could speak were not his own. They were a gift of the Spirit. A gift that has now been passed on to us to speak each time we have held and received Christ in His body and blood.

“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 same joy that penetrated the heart of Simeon also penetrated the heart of Anna. We don’t know much about her other than what Scripture says here in this brief account. She was a prophetess and she was a widow. And for years upon years, day after day, she had been returning to the temple. And when she saw the Christ child with her own eyes, there that day, the Spirit of God worked a response in her as well.

Her response is what we are called upon to do each time we walk out those doors: to share the good news of great joy that is for all people…to be like the shepherds who saw the Christ-child in the manger wrapped in swaddling cloths and then made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.

That is what Anna did. She began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. As she had been filled with Christ to overflowing, she had only to share with others this peace that passes all understanding. We are called upon to do the same.

As we look at Simeon and Anna’s response to the birth of Jesus, we are to note a commonality. Both of them go to where Jesus locates Himself. Both of them, in the power of the Spirit go to the temple.

That is what happens from the day of our baptism on. In the power of the Spirit, we are led to be in the Divine Worship Service, where God serves us His gifts. God directs us to follow the third commandment for our benefit: “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”

To avoid worship is to despise preaching and the Word of God. It is to miss out on the gifts that God gives. None of us would ever dream of missing out on the gifts that are given out at Christmas. Why would we be that way with what God gives in worship?

This child, this little baby boy, is our Savior. When Simeon held Jesus in his arms and hoisted Him in the air and spoke the Nunc Dimittis, it says that his father and mother marveled at what was said about him.

Do we marvel at what God gives? Or have we lost that wonder and excitement? Has the joy of Jesus at Christmas already worn off? If that is the case, we have missed the point entirely of His birth. It is said that every Sunday is a little Easter. Well, every Sunday is also a little Christmas as well as we gather to receive the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.

This child is the Son of God who came from heaven to earth, and it was all for us, and for our comfort and consolation. He didn’t have to come and face the rejection that He did from those that would oppose Him. He didn’t have to journey through a life of mockery and ridicule. He didn’t have to allow Himself to face an unfair trial and an unjust crucifixion. He didn’t have to do any of that.

It’s kind of like when we open a present, and we are taken aback and say, “You shouldn’t have. That’s way too much! You didn’t have to do that!”

And with Jesus, we would be right. He didn’t have to do what He did. But as much as it cost Him, He chose to do it anyway. Willingly and voluntarily, He gave His life for us.

Thirty some years later, Mary would look up and see her Son hoisted up in the air once again. Only this time it would not be Simeon’s arms holding Him there. This time it would be the nails of a Roman soldiers driven through His hands and feet. No Nunc Dimittis would be uttered, only the jeers of those that passed by.

Week after week, we come to behold what Mary beheld. This baby boy would one day be lifted up on a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. And what more can we do than offer Him thanks and praise for all He has done?

And so, like Simeon and Anna, we come to the Divine Service to where Jesus locates Himself so that we too may see our salvation and depart in heavenly peace. Merry Christmas!

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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