Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day

Micah 5:2-5a - Christmas Day - December 25, 2016
The Completed Puzzle

“The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).  So it has always been.  God hides his majesty and glory.  He always has.  “If God is real and so powerful – if God wants us to know him so badly and insists that everyone believe in him – why doesn’t he show himself and quit hiding?”  So says the fool.  He is a fool, though, not because such a request is necessarily unreasonable.  If aimed at our would-be rulers, this is a very legitimate question.   But no, he is a fool because he assumes that to know God is like knowing details of a celebrity politician and to scrutinize his credentials.  But God is not our equal.  He does not exist on our plain of existence.  He is not beholden to time or space, let alone scientific investigation.  And furthermore, he has no obligation to lay his cards on the table.  Nor does he want to be known by such minds that would insist that he cater to human demands of proof.  He wants to be known by faith alone.  Faith exists in humility.  To the proud he is terrifying.  So he must remain.  To the humble he is comforting.  And so it shall ever be.  God wants our knowledge of him to consist of humble faith, not impudent demands for evidence.  This is the whole point.  God wills to remain hidden to those who put God on trial.  But he chooses to reveal himself in kindness and love to those who know they’re on trial. 
The word of the cross is of course the message of the atonement. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-20 - Christmas Eve - December 24, 2016
This Thing Which Is Come to Pass
This evening and tomorrow, people all over are celebrating.  Families are gathered.  Presents are opened.  Children are excited.  But what are they celebrating?  Christians celebrate by investigating what all the excitement is about.  We celebrate by hearing the word of God.  That’s how the shepherds celebrated Christmas.  The angel preached that a Savior had been born.  What made it good tidings of great joy was not simply that he was born, but that he was born to you.  He is your Savior.  Added to this wonderful news was the sign that was given.  The angel said: 
“And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” 
The point of the promise was not simply to give them something to ponder.  It was to give them God to worship.  God’s glory that shone around them and frightened them would no longer be found in the glowing or thundering of the sky.  No, the angel said to fear not.  Fear not, for now the glory of God in the highest is made known where he makes peace on earth and reveals his favor and goodwill toward men.  This peace and goodwill were found where God became a man.  His birth changed the Sabaoth of God’s mighty angels into sweet choirs of singing heralds. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Advent Nunc Dimittis

2 Chronicles 6:1-2, 6:41– 7:3, Luke2:25-33
Advent 3 Midweek - December 14, 2016
Nunc Dimittis Servum Tuum
The reason Joseph and Mary came to the temple with baby Jesus was because she had just given birth to a baby boy.  God commanded that any son who is the firstborn child of his mother had to be consecrated to the Lord and redeemed with a sacrifice.  Even among the animals, any firstborn lamb or calf that was male had to be sacrificed.  Certain animals and human sons, which of course God did not accept as sacrifices, were not sacrificed.  Instead they were redeemed with a lamb.  This was not a weird and arbitrary commandment.  It was actually part of their celebration of the annual Passover.  God instituted the Passover.  You will recall that each household was to sacrifice a male lamb and then eat it roasted with bitter herbs.  This was in commemoration of that first Passover when the angel of death killed all the firstborn sons in Egypt, and spared the firstborn sons in those Hebrew homes whose doors were marked with the blood of the lambs they roasted.  This was the Passover.  Thus, from then on all firstborn sons were holy to the Lord and had to be redeemed by blood.  This consecration was to be done as soon as the mother who just gave birth was ceremonially clean.  So 40 days after Jesus was born, Mary went with her husband and son to the temple, first to receive her own purification and also to consecrate her little boy to the Lord.  And they did. 
Two things here are really interesting. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent 3 Gaudete

Matthew 11:2-10 - Advent 3 - December 11, 2016
Refining and Purifying Christian Faith

Last Sunday our sermon dealt with the crosses that Christ lays on his Christians.  Crosses are hard to bear – whether they be something bad that God adds to your life or something good that he takes away.  Generally, because of the pain and personal nature of whatever hurts, folks would rather talk to some sort of professional counselor than to their pastor.  But the highest arts of sociology and psychology fall infinitely short of providing what the Christian most dearly needs in time of deep sorrow.  Oh, a counselor can help.   Please don’t get me wrong.  They are often well trained and experienced and can give wonderful and wise advice.  Sometimes all that’s needed is to have a discreet listener who will let you spill out your heart.  That can be, as they say, cathartic. 
That word cathartic means purifying.  It’s where we get the name Catherine, which means pure – a beautiful name!  God makes things pure by purging them.  Pure and purge come from the word for pyre or fire.  To purge is to cleanse by fire, usually in relation to metals like gold and silver or iron.  The Medieval Church entertained the superstition of purgatory where God, through pain, would purify those who died without being pure enough for heaven.  Of course this isn’t true.  What a terrible attack on the comfort of the gospel!  The Bible teaches that our purity is found in Christ by faith, and that this purity will be perfected in us in the twinkling of an eye on the Last Day when Christ returns.  Our pain doesn’t earn our purity.  Christ’s pain already has! 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Advent Agnus Dei

1 Peter 1:17-25, John 1:29-34
Advent 2 Midweek - December 7, 2016
Agnus Dei, Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi
When God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, it was with little fanfare.  He chose a lowly birth.  He chose lowly people to reveal it to.  An angel gave them a sign and the shepherds followed the sign to the manger where he lay.  The sign was not much to see.  No sign is.  But the promise was wonderful.  It was the promise that compelled them to go and behold the sign.  It was the promise of a Savior who himself was the long awaited Christ, the very Lord God in the flesh.  This was good tidings of great joy to all people.   But all people did not behold him there – only they who had received the sign.  Only they found him and worshiped him and saw that thing which the angels had told them.  Only they, because only they received the sign. 
The angels sang: “Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”  This word for goodwill that the angels sang is the same word that the Father spoke when Jesus was baptized: “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.”  Goodwill, well-pleased, good-pleasure – it’s all the same word.  Jesus said that no one enters the kingdom of heaven unless he is born again.  By being baptized, Jesus provided for us a new birth that links us to his own holy birth.  Baptism gives us peace with God and the Father’s good-pleasure. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent 2 Populus Zion

Luke 21:25-36 - Advent 2 - December 4, 2016
Your Redemption Draws Near

As darkest night must fade and die before the sun’s appearing,
So fades my grief away, when I think on these tidings cheering,
That God from all eternity hath loved the world, and hath on me
Bestowed His grace and favor; I’ll ne’er forget the angels’ strain:
Peace–peace on earth, good will to men, to you is born a Savior! Amen. 
In Jesus’ final beatitude, he said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).  Of all persecutions that we suffer as the children of God, I think about the most painful is when we hear people lie about Jesus – and then by extension when they revile us as well for believing and confessing the truth.  What can be worse than to hear evil spoken against us falsely because of Jesus?  What can be worse than to hear others twist our motives of love and concern as though we were judgmental and hateful bigots when really we just want what Jesus wants: for them to repent and believe the good news that their sins are freely forgiven for Christ’s sake?  What can be worse than when people fundamentally misrepresent this message of the gospel that saves them by adding in false human opinions that rob God our Savior of the glory that belongs to him alone — and then when others for whom the gospel is intended actually believe their lies to the eternal detriment of their souls?  What can be worse?  Yet Jesus says to us who must bear this sorrow, “Blessed are you.”