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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.

To Us A Child Is Born

Sermon: “To Us A Child Is Born”             

LSB Series B

Christmas Eve; December 24, 2020

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:1-20

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

The prophet Isaiah prophesied: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6a).

Tonight we gather to celebrate the fulfillment of this promise. Tonight we rejoice that God keeps His promises. Tonight we look into the manger with shepherds and see that “to us a child is born.”

It all began with a census of the entire Roman world. Joseph, a poor carpenter of Nazareth took his betrothed wife Mary with him to the little town of Bethlehem. Nearing her time of giving birth, the journey must have been very hard: Traveling over rough terrain on foot for some 85-90 miles. Then to make matters worse, they arrived at the land of Joseph’s lineage only to find out they were too late. Too late to get a place to stay. There wasn’t a vacant room to be found. Only a stable. 

A stable would be their resting place. A place for animals, not for humans. Yet for the immediate future, this was the place they would call home. No pictures on the wall. No bed to lay their head. And then…the time came. 

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 (Luke 2:6-7).

Luke’s account has a way of putting it so matter of fact, and spares us the details. We know that childbirth is so much more than the baby just being born and placed in a manger. Mary endured great pain, like any other mother does in childbirth. But where women of today have children in the cleanliness of hospitals with medical professionals all around, such was not the case for the mother of the Son of God. 

Though we don’t know for sure, we have only to assume that Joseph was not only husband, but quite possibly would have been birth coach, doctor, and nurse all wrapped up in one. Which is why Joseph may overshadow all other earthly fathers when it comes to the role of coaching his bride through childbirth.

The labor pains continued until finally He came. He came and Joseph and Mary must have been frantic trying to figure out where they would place their newborn son. The ground was no place for a newborn, so only a manger would do. Sometimes we make it out to be that the manger was somehow this nice warm bed that had been prepared for Jesus. Could it not be that it was simply the only option that would keep their baby off of the cold, hard ground?

This child that was born was brought into this world in the greatest of poverty. Where normally princes, the future kings of this world, would be placed in beds that were only befitting of royalty, this bed was a feeding trough for animals, a place no child should ever be laid.

(We hear the first verse of “What Child Is This?)

It is hard for us to fathom such a place for us to see our God and King. How could it have ever come to this? Why such extremes? Why did He have to come in this way?

Shepherds in the field must have asked themselves the same questions as they heard from angels who proclaimed the glory of God. Though their eyes were still trying to adjust from the bright lights that had shone from heaven, their minds were no doubt racing as they were trying to process all that they had just heard and seen. 

The prophecy of old had been fulfilled. “To us a child is born”. He was now here. The wait was finally over. Four hundred years of prophetic silence, and now angels were proclaiming the good news of great joy for all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12).

How could it be that angels would approach them? They were mere shepherds. Oh sure, they had heard of this promised Messiah being foretold of, but like any other time, as lowly shepherds, they figured they would be the last to know when it actually happened. Now the last would be first, as they were being ushered to the front of the line. 

From the halls of heaven, angels of God were proclaiming that they were being given a VIP pass to have front row seats and a backstage pass to the very place where the promised Messiah was to be born. How could this be possible?

As social outcasts, they had to wonder what on earth was going on. They were never in the know. They were never included. There is a reason they were on the outskirts of town. That is where many thought they belonged. But now all of that had changed: The glory of God in the highest had been revealed to them.

In the words of a Lutheran, what did this mean? What kind of child was this?

(We hear the second verse of “What Child Is This?)

They made their way to the stable. Oh, how they must have run as fast as their sandals would take them. Leaving their flocks behind, without a care in the world, they went. There was only one thing on their mind. To see what the angels had told them about. 

When they got there…oh, when they got there…there He was. Jesus. The Son of God. This baby, this child, was the Savior of the world. He was their Savior. They had only to bow down and worship Him. 

Though they didn’t know it then, the little one they saw in swaddling cloths would one day be stripped of His clothing before His death. And it would only be in death where He would be wrapped again in a linen shroud for burial.

Those tiny little fingers and tiny little toes would soon be pierced by nails, fulfilling the Scriptures “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

To see that soft baby skin and it would not be long and a soldier would pierce Him in His side. Blood and water would pour out, and the Son of God would be dead, for that is why He came…to be our King…to be our Savior…to die our death.

(We hear the third verse of “What Child Is This?)

To us a child is born. To you. To me. We come here to worship Him. We come here even lower than those lowly shepherds. We are lowly beggars. We have nothing in our hands that we bring. No gold, frankincense, or myrrh like those magi from the East. We have no gift to offer. Only the filth and stench of our sin. And yet we are welcomed into His presence nonetheless. 

We are welcomed to come behold anew that “to us a child is born.” This baby, this child, is the Savior of the world. He is our Savior.

It is safe to say that this past year has been quite a year. But no matter how dark, how much doom, or how much gloom there may be, it doesn’t ever change the fact that this baby placed in a manger came. He came from heaven to earth with one mission in mind…

Ever since the Garden of Eden, our God promised that He would send His Son to save us. It was the same message our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were told. It is the same message that was foretold through the prophets Isaiah and Micah, that we heard from tonight: To us a child is born.

We rejoice here tonight in the joy that Christ is born and God is faithful to His promise. He has sent the babe, the son of Mary. And He has sent Him here…to us…so that through us, we might join with the shepherds and share this good news of great joy that is for all people.

It is like the Apostle John writes: In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1st John 3:9-11).

As you leave here tonight, think to yourselves, who might you share this news that “to us a child is born?” Who do you know, that just like you, is a sinner in need of Savior? Who might there be in your life who would join with you in rejoicing “What Child Is This”?

With that thought in mind, I wish you all a Merry Christmas!

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

Focus on the Light of Christ

Sermon: “Focus on the Light of Christ”             

LSB Series B

3rd Sunday in Advent; December 13, 2020

Gospel Reading: John 1:6-8, 19-28

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

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about that light (John 1:6-8).

Where is your focus these days? 

Whenever you go to the eye doctor, he or she directs you to look straight ahead and fix your eyes on whatever is directly before you. In one of those practices, you are to fix your eye on one letter and determine if the first lens or the second lens provides better vision. This is done again and again in an effort to provide you the most accurate prescription in each eye. 

So, as you consider the lenses you have been given in life, where is your focus these days?

So much of our focus is directed at the world around us. And when we look around us, so much of our focus is filled with fear. We fear getting sick. We fear getting exposed to the virus. We fear being around people, or getting too close to people. We fear what the current President will do. We fear what the President-elect will do. We fear what the next executive order will state. We fear going to the store. We fear going to church. We fear going to work. We fear that the world has forever changed and normal will never return. So much of our focus is on fear.

As pastor, I am left to wonder what this fear has done to our congregation in the long haul? What will this mean for future worship attendance? What will this mean for our ministries? What will this mean for the mission and outreach of the Church at large? Have we lost sight of what it means to be a Church and reach out to the lost? Has fear gripped our focus so tightly that we have become more about self-preservation than sharing the good news of great joy with all people? Time will tell, but we have to be honest that much of the focus is on fear these days. 

To focus on a fear has a way of darkening our spirits and our lives. It can be like this cloud that hovers overhead. And it can be so oppressive that it penetrates our thoughts, our conversations, and even how we feel and act physically.

Just think about it. When was the last time you had a conversation and the pandemic in some nature was not a part of that conversation at some point? (Pause) Do I hear any crickets?

The darkness of fear is running rampant in our lives. In many ways during the Biblical era of our text, the darkness of fear was also running rampant. There was not a pandemic to my knowledge, but there was fear. There was fear of religious and political oppression. There was the heavy burden of a conscious weighed down by unnecessary laws and regulations that had been tacked onto God’s law. There was the constant concern that you weren’t walking in line with what the leaders had mandated. Based upon conversations I have had, perhaps this is somewhat similar to the way we feel today.

It was into this world of the darkness of fear and trepidation that John the Baptist was sent. Clad in camel hair, dining on the delicacy of locusts and wild honey, he was sent with one mission in mind. He was sent to bear witness…to bear witness to the light. Where so much focus was on the darkness of the day, he came on the scene with a message of radical refreshment. 

Four hundred years had gone by since a prophet had walked the land. The silence from God had cast a dark shadow on the world as they waited with anticipation for this coming of Christ. But in waiting, the departure of God’s people from the Lord had only deepened. No longer did they wait in eager excitement for the coming of Christ. They needed someone to wake them up from their apathetic slumber.

So do we. How many of us have grown apathetic in our faith. Let me ask you this. As of late, where has your focus been? Are you focused on confessing your sins, or more focused on fear? Are you focused on God’s Word and Sacrament, or more focused on the political climate around you? Are you more focused on Christ’s second coming, or the pandemic?

See how the circumstances of the day suppress our focus from where it is meant to be. See how we miss out on the real reason for this season. See how Satan has taken a worldwide situation and driven us into the darkness of despair.

John the Baptist redirects our focus here today. Like a journey in a dark tunnel, he tells us to focus on the light…the light at the end of the tunnel. Though darkness abounds, the light wins the day. Pastor Lucas’ line still strikes a chord with me, “the Light always wins.”

Jesus always wins, no matter how dark the world may seem. The devil was defeated two thousand years ago on a cross outside of Jerusalem. Jesus has proclaimed His victory over Satan in hell. The image I have of that victory proclamation is Jesus doing a holy touchdown dance in hell. Jesus wins. Satan loses. Game over. It is finished.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, look where John is pointing. He is not pointing to the circumstances of this world. He is pointing to the One who came to save us. He is pointing to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is our sole source of hope. He is the Light. He is our focus.

But that can be tough when we only focus on ourselves. Whenever fear abounds, we have a tendency only to think of me, myself, and I, that unholy trinity. We also have a tendency to isolate ourselves. That is one of the concerns of this pandemic. All of this isolation can be a feeding frenzy for the appetite of the devil when it comes to the dirty work he likes to do to get us down in the darkness of despair. 

John was tempted to only focus on himself as well. They questioned him again and again. Who are you? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet? Who are you? 

Like a barrage, all of these questions were temptations of Satan for John to say, “Yup! I am Elijah, I am the Prophet, I am the Light.” But to have done so would have only left John and those he was called to witness to in the dark.

That may be the way we feel to some degree, left in the dark. And yet a light at the end of this dark tunnel remains. That light doesn’t come in the political unrest halting. It doesn’t come in pandemics subsiding and health abounding. That light comes in the object of our faith who triumphs over our greatest fears. It is the Light of Christ. It is Jesus.

These may be hard days to focus, but all of us are encouraged to pay heed to John’s direction. Look to Jesus. He has not abandoned His post. He still sits upon His throne at the right hand of God the Father. He is not surprised by what’s going on in our world. He knew it was coming. He has not lost control. He continues to exercise His authority on our behalf and for our benefit. He doesn’t abandon us to the darkness. He is the Light, and He gives us everything we need so that we can make it through to life everlasting.

From His throne of grace and mercy, He shines His light into our lives. That light exposes our sins so that we may confess them in the confidence of His forgiveness. That light drowns out all of the darkness that would doom us to death and hell. That light shines brightly. That light is Jesus, and He has given you the faith you need which conquers your fears.

What’s more, that light shines brightly in you and through you. Don’t let your emotions or fears fool you. The Light of Christ cannot be extinguished…ever. I have always loved the phrase: “Be the moon, reflect the Son.” S-O-N. 

We all have a calling as Christians. We have the Light living in us. And now more than ever is a time for us to join with John and point to Jesus, the One who died, was buried, and rose for us. The light of Easter morning’s open tomb shines brightly and proclaims that there is indeed no reason to fear. Death has been swallowed up in victory.

The light always wins, my beloved brothers and sisters. There is no reason to fear, no matter the circumstances around us. Every need of body and soul will be provided. Our salvation has been secured…secured by our Savior. (Pause)

So, where is our focus these days? John tells us, “I baptize you with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27).

That One who stands among us here today is Jesus. He is the Light, and He welcomes us here to dine at His table, to feast on forgiveness, and then He sends us out to be a light in the darkness of this world.

I would like to close by leaving you with these words from the Gospel of Matthew as the Third Sunday in Advent’s focus is on joy, not on fear…that as we focus on the Light of Christ, may we fearlessly and joyfully reflect His light to others in the confidence of these words of our Savior: You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

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

Blessed to Magnify the Lord

Advent Midweek 2

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Blessed to Magnify the Lord

Mary’ Song (The Magnificat): Luke 1:46-56

 

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

          And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:46-49).

          My soul magnifies the Lord. To magnify. To make something bigger. Scientists do it with a microscope. NASA does it with a telescope. We do it with two fingers on the screen of our phones. 

Now it is not that Mary made the Lord bigger by her song. But rather by the work of the Spirit as she sang, she now saw more clearly than ever just how big her God truly was.

          Where we might be inclined to think that the song that bears her name is about her, Mary’s song, or the Magnificat, is all about Jesus and what He does for Mary and His people. It is a faith-filled response given to her by none other than God. Conceived in her by the Holy Spirit was none other than the Son of God Himself who was born of the Virgin Mary.

          As Mary rubbed her ever growing belly like all pregnant women seem to do, from the very depths of her soul, she sang this song in praise to her Lord.

          Her song is one of blessing. She is blessed to magnify the Lord. She can’t believe that the Lord selected her, even in her humble estate. We may recall the words of John the Baptist here who said: “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). 

Mary knew that she was a sinner. She knew that she was in no way deserving of this most honorable privilege. She had been conceived and born into sin. She was not worthy. Yet, by no doing of her own, the Creator of the world had selected her to carry the Christ-child.

          She was God’s servant. She would carry Jesus for nine months, through the morning sickness, the night sweats, the late-night cravings, the discomfort, the lack of sleep, the overwhelming fatigue, the labor and delivery, the pain and the joy. She was in it for it all, because she knew her role. She was God’s servant, and that meant whatever God had in store for her, she would do.

          And for all that God had in store for her, she would be called ‘blessed’ by all generations to follow. Blessed not because of who she was or the merits she had accomplished. Blessed because of who it was who would call her womb home over the course of nine months, who it was who would look up into her eyes as He was nursed by her, who it was who would look up and call her “Mommy,” who it was who would look down from the cross and place her into the care of His disciple John before He would breathe His last breath.

          Yes, this child in her womb would be more than her little baby boy, He would be her Savior. Sin, death, and the devil would be defeated for her all because of this little child who came to save her and everyone else from their sins. That ‘everyone else’ includes us.

          We, too, are God’s servants. In no way are we worthy before God. We, too, are in humble estate before the Almighty God, and yet we are blessed to magnify the Lord with Mary. Her song is our song. For like a magnifying glass enlarges an item, so our hearts are enlarged with the love of a Savior who came to this earth, was born of a Virgin, and died in our place.

          He has shown mercy to every generation, and that includes our generation, and all of the ones to follow. We have been blessed like Mary to be welcomed into the story of salvation where we also benefit from the One whose tiny little fingers and tiny little toes were counted by Mary as she held Him in her arms.

          Where He should have left us abandoned to the grave and hell itself, He came to endure what was ours so that we would not get what we do deserve. He has provided us with the greatest reversal, beyond what we ever could have imagined.

          We who are the created ones have had the Creator Himself come to us in the flesh as a creature. Where the Son of God was once exalted on His throne in heaven, hallowed in all of the universe, he would soon be placed into a manger, on a bed of hay, in a lowly feeding trough for animals. 

          This unexpected and great reversal would soon see the exalted be humbled and the humble be exalted. Those in great power and wealth would be brought low. Their pride and arrogance would not serve them or save them at all. Religious and political leaders of the day would see who truly was King of all kings and Lord of all lords. 

But they would see it in such an unexpected fashion. For the throne of this Lord and King would be a cross. The crown upon His head would be made of thorns. And the robe He would wear would be stripped of Him, leaving Him naked and alone, left to die a criminal’s death.

Thirty some years later after his birth, Mary herself would look up and see her son die in the fashion of a criminal. She would hear Him cry out, and like any mother, she would have wanted to reach out and comfort her son…console her son…care for her son. But alas…there was no way to do so.

          What we see in the Magnificat as we look closer and the image becomes largely magnified is that this baby in Mary’s womb would soon die the Savior’s death. And in doing so, He truly would flip the world upside down…for her…and for us.

          Because of the Blessed One in Mary’s womb, we who hunger and thirst for righteousness are filled with good things. Grace, mercy, peace…forgiveness, life, salvation. As it says in the book of Ephesians: “He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3b). These blessings are ours to be had, just as God promised to our forefathers. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, they were all promised that this time would come, and now it was here.

          Now Jesus was here, and come Christmas Day, He would continue His journey from the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross, from the nails He would hand to His daddy in the carpenter shop, to the nails that would pierce His hands and feet.

          It is no wonder that Mary sang as she did. Her heart was overwhelmed with joy and gladness. Why would God do such a wonderful thing for her?

          Why would God do such a wonderful thing for us? Well, take a closer look. Magnify the image of God’s Word and see what Mary saw. Because you too are God’s servants, and the mighty one has done great things for you and me too, and holy is His name.

          His name would be Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins. And His name has been placed upon you…on your forehead and on your heart to mark you as redeemed by Christ the crucified.

          Now death no longer awaits you. Hell has no hold on you. The great reversal of which Mary sang is yours. Life and salvation are yours to be had. And for that, there is great reason to sing. 

Sing and let the world know what you know. Let them hear the good news of great joy that is for all people. Let them hear of the one, true God who came to this earth to save them. Let them hear what a blessing Jesus is in your life. For you truly are blessed…blessed to magnify the Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

          (Singing of the Magnificat – Song of Mary – LSB pgs. 248-249)

Repentant Preparation

Sermon: “Repentant Preparation”             

LSB Series B

2nd Sunday in Advent; December 6, 2020

Gospel Reading: Mark 1:1-8

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

When I was growing up, we had a small sand pit near the edge of the woods where my brother and I would play with our Tonka trucks. We had a bulldozer, a grader, a dump truck, you name it. And they weren’t the plastic ones you see today. No, these were the heavy duty metal ones, the ones that could handle the rough play of two boys that wreaked havoc on just about everything. In fact, if you want to play trucks, feel free to come on over, because I still have them. You know, for the days when I have nothing to do. J

          With those Tonka trucks, my brother and I would fill valleys and level mountains. We would make uneven ground level, and rough places would become a plain. Sound familiar? It should.

          Today’s Gospel lesson is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy in the book of Isaiah. I would like to share the words of the prophet with you once again.

          “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5).

          Like bulldozers that unsettle the land, so this text ought to be unsettling to you and to me. Like tax collectors and soldiers who gathered by the River Jordan and saw their sinful exploitation in light of the coming Savior, so we ought to see ourselves as sinners in need of some construction known as repentance. We, too, are in need of a change of heart about sin and about God as we prepare for the coming of Christ.

          Where the terrain looks vastly different after bulldozers, graders, and dump trucks do their work, so our lives ought to look vastly different as we prepare for the coming of Christ. Our sin has no place as we prepare the way of the Lord.

          John the Baptist’s message is not just a message for those that gathered by the Jordan. His message is for every one of every time period. That includes us. We are in need of repentance.

          Repentance is a reversal. It is an admission that what we are doing is more than just wrong, it is sinful, it is downright deadly. And like anything that would be deadly, we are to steer clear from it as quickly as possible.

          Like a bottle that tells us that something is poisonous if we consume it, like a hot stove that cries out “don’t touch me or else be burned,” like a cliff that screams “turn around or else you are going to fall to your death,” so repentance calls upon us to change our direction. 

          Yes, repentance is confessing our sin, but what also goes with it is an amending of the sinful life. It is a recognition that declares that if we continue in this current path it will only be to our demise and destruction…and if not careful…to our very damnation.

          The good news of John is that he cries out from the wilderness to point us to the only One who can truly save us. John gets our attention as he dons camel’s hair and a leather belt while eating locusts and wild honey, and then appropriately tells us that he is not the one who can save us. Only Jesus can.

It’s kind of like the guy in a construction site with the flag directing us to make a detour or else harm may come to our vehicle, or worse, harm may come to us. John is doing that as he points in the wilderness. He is flagging us down to get our attention with his wild apparel, but he only does so in order to direct us in the way we should go so that we are safe and secure.

But just because the flagger is not the source of salvation, does not negate the importance of the flagger. We need that person to direct us to where salvation is found. We need John the Baptist. He is the final prophet before the coming of the Messiah. We need his audacious apparel to wake us up from an apathetic faith that constantly argues that our sins are not that big of a deal. 

How often have we justified skipping a worship service here and there because we think we don’t need it, or we think remembering the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy is merely a suggestion rather than a command given by God for our benefit? If that is the case, we have not come to terms with the gravity of our sin. If that is the case we have not looked at what it means if we were to continue past the flagger and head in the wrong direction avoiding the detour. If that is the case, then we don’t seem to accept the fact that the wage of sin truly is death.

When are we not in need of what Jesus gives? When are we not in need of forgiveness? The answer is never. The answer is that we are always in need of forgiveness.

Yet, there is a valid concern throughout Christendom that what will come out of this pandemic is that there will no longer be a need to gather as a people of faith. There is a valid concern that even after a vaccine is found and broadly administered, that people will likely find it easy to dismiss being in the house of God to receive His gifts. There is a valid concern that even those who have been back in church have begun to condition themselves away from weekly attendance to much less than that. 

Are we seeing the flagger flying his flag in the air trying to get our attention? Are we seeing the ways that we are possibly being conditioned here in this pandemic? Are we noticing the apathy settling in that runs counter to an active life of faith? Are we noticing the apathy that is settling in and dulling the awareness to our sin and its effects? 

See before you, the flag that John is flying. It is a red flag and it is declaring, “Don’t continue down that path. Don’t go down that road. It is a slippery slope that only leads away from where salvation is truly found.”

John the Baptist comes here today to awaken and enliven us once again, to lead us to live out our baptismal faith in the confidence of a Savior who has leveled the plain for us to the Father. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His name is Jesus. He is the Lord that John was pointing to, and He is your only source of salvation, and He is calling you here today…And whether you are worshipping in person or online, He is calling you to repent.

Now is the time for repentant preparation as we look to the coming of Christ. Now is the time to look in the mirror and see ourselves for the sinners that we truly are. See how the filth of a life spent in greed and hatred and lust and gossip is only driving us farther away from Christ. It will only lead to our destruction and demise. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, repent. Admit your fault. Confess your sin, and rejoice in the sweetest message ever shared. It is just as we hear in the liturgy from Scripture: “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 us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1st John 1:8-9). 

You are forgiven all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

That is what we are. We are forgiven, and nothing separates us from His love. Absolutely nothing. Like those that gathered by the Jordan River confessing their sins, so we have been called here to do the same, and the result is the same. Our life has been made new in the forgiveness of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Now go and sin no more.

Jesus has entered into the wilderness to pave the way for us to follow Him to the cross and the empty tomb. He has gone beyond the measure of a bulldozer, grader, or dump truck. With His holy and precious blood shed on Calvary, He has laid down His life in our stead, and in doing so, He has made our way level to enter into the Promised Land that awaits us. 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.

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