Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve

Luke 2:21 - New Years’ Eve - December 31, 2014         
God Names His Children
We name our kids, and then our kids make names for themselves.  Their names stay the same – the outward syllables don’t change.  But in a name is more than what one is called out loud.  In a name is what one is, what he has done, what he’s worth.  One’s works and achievements fill the name he has and give it meaning – whether for good or for bad.  A name serves as a sort of symbol of who one is. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas 1

Luke 2:25-32 - Christmas One - December 28, 2014
The Peace of Christmas
Every Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation of the Son of God.  The word to incarnate simply means to take on flesh and blood.  That’s what God did.  The almighty creator and sustainer of the universe became a Man, born a little Baby to the Virgin Mary, upon whom He relied for His sustenance.  We accept this wonderful mystery in simple faith, because God’s Word clearly teaches it.  Christmas is very readily and joyfully celebrated because God is here presented to man in such a gentle and peaceful manner.  Who could despise this little Baby?  He lies in a manger as a harmless Child surrounded by lowly and gentle barnyard animals.  It is truly a very peaceful way for God to present Himself to us. 
And of course, one can hardly think of Christmas without the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”  This adds to, and in fact establishes, the peaceful atmosphere of Christmas that we all know so well.  Simeon knew this peace very well too.  No, he wasn’t there when the angels appeared to the shepherds singing their beautiful message of goodwill toward men.  But this peace was no less familiar to him because of it.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve Magnificat 4

Luke 1:39-56 - Christmas Eve - December 24, 2014
God Remembers His Merciful Promises
“He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”
It is said that God helps those who help themselves.  It’s a clever little saying.  There’s some truth to it.  But there is also a great error in this way of thinking.  We’ll consider both. 
The truth of the matter is clear: God does help those who help themselves.  We can’t deny it.  We see it happen.  Laziness is met with poverty.  Industry is met with wealth.  This is how God’s world works.  It is tempting God to pray for daily bread, but then refuse to work for it.  It is tempting God to pray for the betterment of your neighbor, and then refuse to assist him yourself when you can.  It is tempting God to pray for your brother’s repentance and conversion, and then refuse to admonish or encourage him to hear the word of God when the occasion arises.  To pray for God’s help is to pray that God might give you the strength and opportunity to do what needs to be done.  God works through means.  You just may be the means through which God desires to work. 
But this does not mean we trust in ourselves.  No, we trust in God.  It is not like God rewards our self-help by helping us the rest of the way.  No!  God just so happens to use our own responsible decisions as a means of blessing us, and others. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent 4

John 1:19-28 - Advent 4 - December 21, 2014
A Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness
What is greater, the sun or the sunshine?  What is greater, the instrument or the music?  What is greater, the messenger or the message?  It’s difficult to even make distinctions between these things since they are so closely associated.  That’s natural.  This is why those sent by the Pharisees were so annoyed by John the Baptist.  John insisted that the distinction must be made between who he was and what he was preaching.  His answers become shorter and shorter.  Did you notice this?  “Who are you?” —“I am not the Christ.”  “Are you Elijah?”—“I am not.”  Are you the Prophet?”—“No.”  John’s answers became shorter and shorter because he was getting tired of talking about himself.  He wasn’t sent to talk about himself.  That would be like a violin screeching out information about violins rather than filling the air with melody, or like a candle radiating factoids about wax and wicks rather than lighting a room.  No, a messenger’s job is not to bear witness of himself, but to bear witness of someone else.  That is what John did.  As the Evangelist writes a few verses earlier:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.  (John 1:6-9) 

When we speak a word with our voice, our voice forms the word and in a sense creates it.  But this is not so with God’s Word.  His Word is eternal.  God’s Word is God himself.  And through his Word, he created all that exists.  He also creates the voices he sends to speak his Word.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advent Magnificat 3

Luke 1:39-56 - Advent 3 Midweek - December 17, 2014
God Exalts the Lowly
“He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.”
When Mary greeted her cousin Elizabeth with the Magnificat, John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb.  “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).  We can think of all sorts of reasons why Jesus would have said this – why this is so.  But I think we have a pretty good answer here.  Even before he was born, John came to saving faith through the spoken word.  And with all his might he confessed his saving faith just as his Aunt Mary had taught him.  Her soul and spirit magnified the Lord and rejoiced in God who saved her.  And so with his entire little body John did the same.  Even before he was born, John was fulfilling his role as a faithful witness of God’s grace and mercy toward sinners. 

God has formed us all, and has known us all even as we were yet unformed (Psalm 139:16).  Because of this, we Christians are able to find hope in the gospel even for babies whose lives are cut short in miscarriage.  Baptism isn’t a clever trick that God uses to keep people out of heaven.  It is the means by which he publicly claims us as his and grants us certainty of our salvation through the forgiveness he attaches to water. 

But Baptism also teaches us what the heart of God is toward us all. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent Magnificat 2

Luke 1:39-56 - Advent 2 Midweek - December 10, 2014
All Generations Call Her Blessed
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.”
We call it the Magnificat, because it is the first word in Latin for “My soul magnifies the Lord.”   It teaches us how to worship God.  It teaches us how to worship by teaching us the faith.  The highest worship that any soul can extend to God is to believe the gospel.  There is no greater way to magnify the Lord than by confessing Christ who saves us.  This beautiful canticle could as easily be called the Exsultavit, which is the first word in “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  True worship is founded in true joy, not forced joy or worldly joy or sentimental joy, but true, godly, Spirit-wrought joy.  Our soul learns to call God great only when our spirit learns to know God’s grace.  We magnify God by rejoicing in him who saves us from our sin. 

When Mary first heard from the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to the Savior of the world, she said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”  This is the response of faith.  This is what we speak to God when his ministers deal with us according to his word.  We first acknowledge that God is speaking to us“Behold the maidservant of the Lord.”  We second acknowledge that what he says to us is both true and beneficial“Let it be done to me according to your word.”  This is what we say to God.  We say Amen and Amen. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent 2

Luke 21:25-28 - Advent 2 - December 7, 2014
Signs in the Sun and Moon and Stars
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 
The day is surely drawing near
When God’s Son, the Anointed,
Shall with great majesty appear
As Judge of all appointed.
All mirth and laughter then shall cease
When flames on flames will still increase,
As Scripture truly teacheth. 
Let us pray:
O Jesus, who my debt didst pay
And for my sin wast smitten,
Within the Book of Life, oh, may
My name be also written!
I will not doubt; I trust in Thee,
From Satan Thou hast made me free
And from all condemnation. Amen. 

“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.”  So said our Lord, Jesus Christ.  His warning is earnest, because he loves us.  Let’s begin this morning by considering why we take heed, how we take heed, and what we take heed of. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent Magnificat 1

Luke 1:39-56 - Advent 1 Midweek - December 3, 2014
What Manner of Greeting is This?
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
During our Advent midweek services and for our Christmas Eve service – so for four weeks – we will be considering the song of Mary in three parts.  We call Mary’s song the Magnificat because it is the first word in Latin for “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  Today we begin with an introduction that focuses on the power and efficacy of God’s spoken word.  Let us consider what happened to Mary that brought her to sing the beautiful hymn that she did. 

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she would give birth to the Savior of the world.  The sight of an angel brings with it the reflected glory of God.  This is not simply a dazzling sight.  This would have been a terrifyingly beautiful sight.  Consider the shepherds and their fear on the night when Jesus was born.  They were sore afraid.  But here we learn nothing of Mary’s fright at the sight of an angel.  Instead we learn that it was the word he spoke that shook her up.  “She was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.”  And a strange greeting it was indeed.  The angel had said: “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” 

What troubled Mary was the incredibility of it all.  How could a poor, lowly, ordinary maiden, with nothing special about her be called highly favored?  How could she, a sinner, be told to rejoice, and be called blessed among women?  She was incredulous.  This stopped her in her tracks and sent her head reeling and her heart pounding: “Who me?  Impossible!”  

But as Mary trembled, the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary.”  This served as an absolution.  For God to tell you not to be afraid means to say that your sins are forgiven.  Of course this is only comforting to those who know enough to be afraid of God’s righteous anger.  Mary knew she was a sinner.  But the angel calls her by name.  So God speaks to us.  He calls us by name in Holy Baptism, where he claims us as his, and from then on every pronouncement of peace and mercy has your name on it.  The angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”  And this is what it means to be forgiven.  It is to have God’s favor, to know that God is graciously disposed toward you.