Monday, January 20, 2020

Sermon for Epiphany 2: "Behold, the Lamb of God"

+ 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany – January 19th, 2020 +
Series A: Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
Milton, WA

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In May 1971, the Five Man Electrical Band released their hit song “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign”

Life is full of signs, isn’t it. Construction signs as you drive by the Tacoma Dome. Signs directing you where to go at a hospital or airport. Signs of winter weather in the forecast. Signs are everywhere. Signs also point you to something. “Next rest stop, 23 miles. Food, gas, and coffee, next exit. Road closed.” And so on.

John’s Gospel is full of signs as well. In fact, that’s John’s favorite word for miracles in the Gospel. AT the wedding at Cana, when Jesus changed water into wine, John calls it the first of Jesus’ signs. In today’s Gospel reading, the sign, however, isn’t something that Jesus said or did, but something that John the Baptist says about him. 

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

John the Baptist stands by the Jordan River as God’s divinely appointed sign, pointing his hearers then, and today, to Jesus the Lamb of God. That’s John’s calling, to be a human sign, a mouth piece of Gods promises. A witness who testifies to the truth of God come in human flesh. Like all good signs he draws our attention just long enough to get the message and then he gets out of the way. A sign, after all, doesn’t exist for itself, but for the thing it points to. “I must decrease, Jesus must increase,” John declares. So, like the prophets before him, John is constantly speaking and pointing to Jesus, the Messiah, Savior, Redeemer, God in human flesh as the one who has come to deliver God’s promises to you and for you.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Admittedly, this is a bit of a strange sign if you think about it. What kind of sign is a Lamb? We might expect John to call God in human flesh something a bit more dramatic and impressive, a towering grizzly bear or a ferocious tiger perhaps. But a Lamb? That sounds kind of weak. Lowly. Humble. Ordinary. Maybe foolish even. 

And that’s exactly the point. For that is exactly how God works all the time. St. Paul reminds us that God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,  so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

This is how God works in sending Jesus; he’s born in humility, to live in humility, and die in humility for you. His disciples are no different. Fishermen. Tax collectors. Zealots. Quite the motley, yet lowly crew. Jesus comes as one who is lowly, for us who are lowly. He comes in weakness to save us who are weak. He becomes sin to save us from our sin. 

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Out of all God’s creatures John could’ve picked, it’s no accident that John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God. 

When God told Abraham to go to Mt. Moriah and sacrifice his only son, Isaac, he promised to provide the sacrifice. And he did. A ram or a lamb (depending on your translation) that points forward to the Lamb of God that stood before John in the Jordan River. Here is God’s Son, his only Son, whom he loves, and whom he sends to save you because he loves you. 

When the people of Israel were set free from slavery in Egypt, God provided the Passover lamb; they ate its flesh in a holy meal of rescue, and its blood covered their doorposts and death passed over them. John points to Jesus and tells Israel and all of us, behold the Passover Lamb of God. He gives his flesh for a holy meal for you. He sheds his blood that death might pass over you and onto him instead. Your slavery from sin has ended. You are no longer bound or imprisoned by sin and death. You are free. Innocent. Holy. Righteous. Pure and without any spot or blemish – just as the Lamb of God has made you to be in him.

When the prophet Isaiah foretold the coming Messiah, the Suffering Servant who would save Israel and all nations, he declares these comforting words of promise: 

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But 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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
 so he opened not his mouth.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

And if you look at the picture you received with your bulletin this morning, you’ll see one artist’s depiction of John’s words. There, at the center, is the Lamb of God John is pointing to. We know it’s a picture of Jesus because he is the Light no darkness can overcome. He is not just a lamb, but the Lamb of God. He is pierced for our transgressions. He dives headlong into the darkness of sin and death for you. Notice also how Jesus is depicted as the brilliant, radiant white, spotless Lamb, as the swirling, billowing, encompassing darkness surrounds him on our behalf. Jesus, the Lamb of God, is entirely white and shining forth, except for one spot, a crimson sign post of his blood shed for you, his suffering for you, his bearing sin for you. God provides his greater Isaac on the cross for you. The Passover Lamb is sacrificed for you. The Suffering Servant has borne your griefs and carried your sorrows.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Not only does Jesus take away our sin. But he gives us something far greater in its place. He gives us his holiness. His purity. His righteousness. His blessing. His new creation. Jesus baptizes us into his very death and resurrection, making us children of God. Jesus, the Lamb feeds us his own flesh and blood, leads us to streams of living water in the font, and shepherds us by his Word. 

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Epiphany of Our Lord: "A Holy Mystery"

+ The Epiphany of Our Lord (observed) – January 5th, 2020 +
Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
Milton, WA

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There’s something intriguing, suspenseful, and enjoyable about a good mystery story. Whether it’s tracking the crook with Scooby Doo, Shaggy and the gang, reading Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, Father Brown, or Sherlock Holmes, Law and Order, or CSI; maybe even playing Clue with family and friends…we love a good mystery. We want to know, whodunit!? Was it Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick or Miss Scarlett in the kitchen with a lead pipe?

According to Paul in Ephesians 3, there’s an Epiphany mystery afoot. He even uses the Greek word mysterium (mystery) four times.

The prophet Isaiah joins in and gives us a few clues. 

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee… And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

Even St. Matthew plays the part of a good mystery writer and casts the wise men as the inquisitive detectives:

In the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

There’s even a villain in this Christmas caper. Herod will stop at nothing to keep his self-appointed title of “king of the Jews”. He sends the Magi to try and do his dirty work for him and later on orders the murder all males under 2 years old in Bethlehem as the Holy Family escapes to Egypt.

In the Scripture’s way of speaking, a mystery isn’t so much a problem to be solved, but a hidden word and promise revealed by God. So, when St. Paul speaks of a mystery he’s speaking of a revelation, not of information but of the appearance person. Not a case to be closed, but more like a gift to be opened, revealed and received.

The Good News that was hidden before in the prophets has now been revealed in Jesus. As St. Paul declares…

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

According to Paul, in our Lord’s Epiphany, Jesus is Savior who is revealed for all people. Jesus is the Savior revealed to you and for you. 

That’s what that little word “Epiphany” means; to reveal, appear, make known. The star revealed the birth of a king to the wise men. The prophet Micah revealed to Herod and the wise men that the Messiah (the Christ) was to be born, not in Jerusalem, but in Bethlehem. The magi’s gifts and worship reveal their faith in Jesus: Gold confesses Jesus to be a king; Frankincense confesses him to be God in human flesh; and myrrh confesses his death, for he came to be a sacrifice for you. And God’s dream sent to warn the wise men, reveals Herod’s true wickedness.

For just like the wise men, we are blind without God’s Word. As Isaiah reveals for us, the darkness of sin covers the earth. Thick darkness of death, doubt, despair, and wickedness shroud our hearts. Apart from God’s Word, not only are we blind in sin we are blind to the true depth of our sin. There’s a treacherous, wicked king Herod within our own sinful hearts. 

So, if we want to join the wise men in finding Christ, we must close our eyes to all that glitters in the world and find in this humble child our true and only treasure. Put away all selfish desires. Look to the concern of others and count our neighbor as more important than ourselves. 

And rejoice with the wise men in the revelation of the Epiphany mystery. To find in this holy Child the One who finds you and rescues you. In our Lord’s Epiphany, Jesus the Savior is revealed for all people. Jesus the Savior is revealed to you and for you.

And like any good mystery story, our salvation happens in the most unexpected of ways with a most unexpected Savior. 

God becomes man and is born, not only as the King of the Jews, but the Gentiles as well. Jesus is born to lowly, unknown, humble people. The Almighty God and Lord of all is born of a Virgin and laid in a manger for all. Jesus’ birth reveals the kind of Savior he is: Jesus is born for the outsider, the foreigner, the outcast, lowly, losers, and sinners. Jesus is born for you.

To demonstrate his mercy Jesus takes on all our misery. To reveal his grace Jesus bears our guilt. To make known his salvation Jesus becomes our sin. To manifest his deep love for you Jesus dies in your place. And not just for little sins and little sinners, but for the chief of sinners: the likes of Paul and you and me. 

We who were not God’s people are now his children. We who were dead in our trespasses and sin are made alive in Christ Jesus. We who were lost in sin, death and darkness have been found by the Divine Detective himself, Jesus Christ who is the Light of the world. 

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

In our Lord’s Epiphany, Jesus the Savior is revealed for all people. Jesus the Savior is revealed to you and for you.

A blessed Epiphany to each of you…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Day: "Born of God"

+ The Nativity of Our Lord – December 25th, 2019 +

Christmas Day

Series A: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-14

Beautiful Savior Lutheran

Milton, WA

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Some hospitals, like the one Jonah was born in, play a little music whenever a baby is born. And even though it was O-dark thirty, I’ll never forget the moment the nurse wheeled Natasha down the hallway; she pushed that tiny, red button and cued a little lullaby for all the hospital to hear. 

I’ve heard that, or similar music, played many times since, in several hospitals, and often when I’m on my way to or from visiting someone. I heard it again recently while walking to the elevator. A song of joy, hope, and new life in a place of illness, pain, and death.

This is what God does for us at Christmas, in the birth of Jesus. God himself descends into our world of illness, pain, suffering, and death as an infant. Here is joy, hope, and life in newborn flesh. Very God of very God and yet flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. From conception into all eternity, God is man. He shares our DNA. He is human, like you. Born for you. 

In Christ’s birth, a new song is sung. A new day dawns. New life begins. 

In Christ’s birth, God becomes a child. He who made man in the beginning, is made man to save you.

In Christ’s birth, we are given new birth. His birthday becomes our new birthday. We are born again in Jesus who was born for us. 

For, St. John writes, “as many as received Him, to those who believed in His name, to them He gave the right to become children of God: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

John chapter 1 is God’s wonderful and gracious birth announcement. It’s a boy! And he’s born for you. John delivers a birthday card of divine creation, announcing Jesus’ birth and our new birth in him. This good news is written from all eternity, yet made known in time for you. We marvel and rejoice in the mystery and the love of God come down to us in Jesus’ birth. It’s all wrapped up a single, miraculous, mysterious, marvelous sentence:

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. 

We could spend the next twelve days of Christmas diving into this mystery, and still not reach the bottom. The Son of God, eternally Begotten, not made, is born of woman for you. “The Word of the Father, by Whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born in time for us” (Augustine). The firstborn of all creation is Mary’s firstborn Son. The Uncreated became a creature. The Infinite God became finite. The eternal Word was born in the fullness of time for you. The one who formed man from the dust of the earth has come with eyebrows, ears, and eyes. How beautiful are those little feet that bear good news. 

As St. Augustine once wrote, “The Maker of man became Man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at His mother’s breast; that He, the Bread, might hunger; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.”

As profound as this mystery is, it is also historical. It’s true, all of it. Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection happened, St. Luke says, not once upon a time or in a galaxy far, far away, but in the days of Caesar Augustus and Quirinius. Jesus is crucified under Pontius Pilate. 

So, if you want to know what God looks like, look down into the manger. Behold, the face of God. And behold, the face of the first man of a new humanity. Jesus’ birthday becomes our new birthday. We are born again in him.

The Word became flesh because we are flesh. The Second Adam is born for all of us, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. Jesus is born under the Law to redeem us who are under the Law. For us, children of wrath, conceived and born in sin, God becomes a child. 

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In Jesus, God has hair. Fingers. And tiny hands that reach out to his mother, merciful hands that touch leprous skin, sacrificial hands that bleed from nails, and loving hands that baptize us and feed us week after week at the altar. 

For us, “The Master took on the form of a servant. For he became Son of man, who was God’s own Son, in order that he might make the sons of men to be children of God. (Chrysostom). Jesus’ birth is one small step for God, one giant leap for mankind. A fresh start for humanity. New birth. New life. The Son of God became human to be what we are, and being what we are without our sin, He came to save us. Jesus is born as a child to we might become children of God. In a world of pain, suffering, sin, and death, Jesus is, as the old carol goes, “born to raise us sons of earth, born to give us second birth.” That makes the waters of your Holy Baptism your very own Christmas, where you are born again. Born from above in Jesus who was born for you. 

For us, The one who made the wheat and vine comes in bread and wine to you this very day. The Word who became flesh for you gives his flesh and blood to you.

Today, the one who gave us earthly life has come to give us new birth and new life in his life. Today, Jesus’ birthday is your new birthday. Today we are born again in him who was born for us. 

A merry Christmas and a happy new birthday to each of you…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

The Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Midnight: "Out of Darkness"

+ The Nativity of Our Lord – December 24th, 2019 +

Christmas Midnight

Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The people who walked in darkness…

Although Isaiah delivered these words in the 700s BC, they remain a fitting description of life in this world.

The darkness of winter is upon us. We just passed shortest day of the year on Saturday and the darkest day in 20 years.

And yet, we know that Isaiah says isn’t simply giving us the time of day. Darkness in Scripture is always more than the physical absence of light. It is a spiritual darkness too. The presence of disorder, chaos, and wanton evil. The darkness of sin. The shadow of death. The tenebrous shroud that overshadows God’s creation once proclaimed, “very good”. 

Isaiah is right. We live in darkness. A fallen world full of fallen men, who, Jesus declares, “love the darkness rather than the Light.” Humanity follows the broken compass of our fallen flesh, a needle constantly pointed inward by the gravity of our sinful, selfish desires. Such is the darkness of fallen mankind, a mind, will, and heart of darkness whose thoughts are continually evil. No wonder, when C.S. Lewis wrote his science-fiction space trilogy, earth was known as the silent planet. Silent and dark.

We live in darkness. Where everything and everyone, including our every thought word and deed dwells in darkness and the shadow of death. Spiritual darkness of despair and doubt. The black night of mental and physical illness. The gloom of guilt and shame and regret. The dark scarring of old wounds and hurts.

And yet, for all of our sinfulness of thought, word, and deed; for all of humanity’s fallen, benighted ways; for a world perpetually dimmed by the curse of Adam, our Lord begins, and accomplishes some of his most glorious, saving, and gracious work in the dark. When all was still, and it was midnight, your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne. 

O Dayspring, Splendor of the Eternal Light, and Sun of Justice. Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.

In the nothingness and void of creation, God spoke his creative, powerful, living and active Word. A Light in the darkness that spoke light into being. “Let there be light, and it was so.”

In the night skies above Abraham’s head, the Lord spoke and the light of his promise shimmered in myriads and myriads of stars. Look now toward heaven, and number the stars if you are able to.” And the Lord said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

In the burning bush that was aflame, yet unconsumed, the Light of Christ appeared to Moses promising to lead them out of bondage and slavery in Egypt. In the wilderness, the glory of the Lord appeared again in smoke and fiery light, leading Israel on a great exodus from slavery to freedom, from death, through the sea, through the wilderness, to the promised land. A land where the glory of the Lord, the pillar of fire and smoke, would assume our human nature and tabernacle among us. 

In Isaiah and the prophets, down through the years, the Light of Christ grew brighter and brighter, undimmed by sin and rebellion and rejection. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. Arise, shine. For your light has come. And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.

In the darkness of Bethlehem of Judea, a stable becomes the greatest lighthouse the world has ever seen. From the manger newborn light, shines in glory through the night. Radiant beams from Thy holy face. God’s redeeming grace has dawned at last. The Light has come. Jesus who is God of God is born of Mary for you. Jesus who is Light of Light is born in the darkness for you, to bear the darkness for you. “The sun’s light was made by this Light. And the Light who made the sun, under which he also made us, was himself made under the sun for our sake. He hid himself under the cloud of the flesh, not to obscure but to temper his light.” (Augustine)

And in that same country, there were certain shepherds, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

God’s brilliant love for us in Christ does not flicker or fade. God’s radiant redemption cannot be overshadowed. Christ’s peace and mercy is no rolling blackout whose light comes and goes. No. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome. In his birth for us, his life for us, his death and resurrection for us, we have received God’s true, enduring, endless, and eternal Light.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.

For the light of Jesus’ birth reaches all the way from Bethlehem to the cross where Jesus the Light of the world will hang in darkness, to be swallowed up by death. He is born to let the shadow of death overwhelm him and to fill you with his life and light. And his love shines forth all the way from the cross to you. Today. Tonight. Tomorrow. Till he comes again. Jesus’ Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, the true Light that leads us in this darkened world to his table and his supper. 

Christ is born and the True Light of the World has dawned. Christ is born and we are rescued from the night of sin. Christ is born and the ancient darkness is forever banished. Christ is born and the shadow of death is overwhelmed by redeeming Light. Christ is born and Jesus’ manger and cross are the great lampstand where he shines his light and life for you. Christ is born and his light and life are yours.

O God, you make this most holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light. Grant that as we have known the mysteries of that Light on earth we may also come to the fullness of his joys in heaven.

A blessed Christmas to each of you…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols: "Christmas Singing"

+ Christmas Eve, Service of Lessons and Carols – December 24th, 2019 +
Genesis 3:8-19; Genesis 22:15-19; Isaiah 9:2-7; Isaiah 11:1-9; 
Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 2:1-12; John 1:1-14
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
Milton, WA
Image result for glory to god in the highest"

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wherever you find God’s people in Scripture, you’ll find them singing. Shouting God’s praises. Chanting his promises. Bursting into the great song of salvation of Jesus’ birth for us. 

Miriam sings of God’s rescue in the Exodus and through the Red Sea. “I will sing unto the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”

King David plays his harp and sings his psalms. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

Isaiah and the prophets join in their sacred harmonies. For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.

All holy Scripture rings out with the good news. Christmas is for singing this great song of salvation: Christ is born for you.

From Genesis to Revelation, God’s people fill the pages of holy Scriptures like a troop of choristers, a holy band of minstrels, stretched across time, assembled from all people, tribes, languages, all singing with one voice the same good news we hear and sing tonight. The angel chorus cues up the great melody line of the holy Scriptures,

 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”

This is a song our world is in desperate need of hearing. For we live in a noisy world and where we do not hear much good news. Rather, a bedlam of suffering and sorrow bombards us daily. Our ears ring with cries of pain and agony from without and within. The siren’s call of temptation drums in our ears. The din of sin and death throbs in our hearts and minds. If life is a song, all too often it sounds like a funeral dirge, a constant lament. 

But all of that changes tonight. The din of death and sin is drown out by the heavenly chorus, the company of heaven joins in the great song of salvation. The fields, rocks, and hills repeat the sounding joy. The trees and rivers clap their hands.

“For behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,  

 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”

Christmas is for singing this great song of salvation: Christ is born for you. It is a wondrous, joyful mystery. God is made man for you; He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised. God descended for us. He redeemed us. This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. God is man to save you. The Ancient of Days as become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infant’s bands.

When the angels in heaven behold this mystery and reveal it to the lowly shepherds, they can’t help but sing. And neither can we. Christmas is for singing the great song of salvation in Jesus, born for us.

Tonight we sing with Adam and Eve, that the long-expected Seed of the woman is born of the Virgin for you. A second Adam who is born to trample on the serpent and to rescue, redeem, and restore all creation.

Tonight we sing with Abraham and Sarah, that the Lord has provided the sacrifice for us in his only-begotten, eternal Son. A greater Isaac who is Abraham’s offspring, and his Savior and ours. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Tonight we sing with Isaiah and the prophets, that a Righteous Branch has sprouted from the stump of Jesse, the Root and Shoot of Jesse who is born to bear our pain, sorrow, suffering, agony, and sin on the tree of the cross.

Tonight we sing with Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, that the composer and conductor of life and salvation rests, cuddling in Mary’s arms and worshiped by humble shepherds in a feeding trough.

Tonight the angels song is our song. The song of heaven fills the earth, resounds in this place, and echoes in our hearts and voices. Our ears resound with the Shepherd's song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing! The Archangels blend their voices in harmony! The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise! The Seraphim exalt His glory!

Tonight the angelic choir bursts into the night as God fills our ears, hearts, minds, and voices with a new song. Our Lord turns our songs of mourning into joy and gladness. We sing the praises of him who calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light that shines forth from the stable in Bethlehem. 

Christmas is for singing this great song of salvation: Christ is born for you. So, let us join Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, angels, saints in heaven and on earth in singing the unending hymn, our song of hope and joy and salvation:   “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”

A blessed Christmas to each of you…

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fourth Sunday in Advent: "God With Us"

+4th Sunday in Advent – December 22nd, 2019 +
Series A: Isaiah 7:10-17; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
Milton, WA

Image result for Emmanuel God with us"

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When Jesus taught his disciples about the kingdom of God, it’s no accident that he chose a little child for his object lesson. “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

It’s not hard to imagine why Jesus did this. Children are known for their simple, childlike trust and faith, such as we heard confessed earlier. Their joy in praise and singing, such as we heard this morning. Their questions and thoughts about Jesus. So often, children have a way of confessing the faith and speaking wisdom beyond their years. A remarkable way of getting to the heart of the story.

Take for example, the middle schooler at Concordia Lutheran who asked me: “Why were the shepherds the first to see Jesus after he was born?” Or the preschooler last week who, while we were reading a Christmas story with Jesus in the manger, noticed that the iron beams of our church ceiling resembled the wooden beams of the stable. “The church is like the stable,” he said. 

These two children, each in their own way, get to the heart of Christmas story from Matthew’s Gospel. And in doing so, reveal the very heart of the Gospel Jesus delivers to us in his birth.

 “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

God comes to us, of all places, in the form of a little child. God almighty becomes an infant lowly to save us. The Son of God becomes the Son of Mary to save us sons of Adam and make us children of God. God becomes our brother and redeemer that we may call God Father. Jesus is born a helpless child to save us, helpless in our sin. It’s no accident that the first people to greet Jesus are shepherds – the outcasts and the lowest of the low. Jesus came for them, as he comes for us, outcast and lowly in sin. A shepherd for the lost sheep. The Lamb of God for poor shepherds and poor miserable sinners.

All of this was done, Matthew declares, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

There’s an eternity of God’s promises packed into those three words. God with us. Immanuel. God’s presence, peace, and promise. God’s mercy, grace, and love. All of it, wrapped up in the Christ child who’s wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. God with us in human flesh. God with us in hunger, tears, sickness, and health. God with us pain, sorrow, joy, and sadness. God with us in life, death, and resurrection. God with us in the stable, on the cross, in the tomb and out again. 

This is how God is with us still. In humble, hidden, yet glorious ways, just as he was in the manger long ago. God with us in the cradle of his Word where Christ comes to us. God with us in manger of the font where we are born again in Jesus. God with us in the Supper where the Word made flesh feeds us with his flesh and blood. 

That preschooler was right. The church really is the stable. God with us, this Advent and always.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Third Sunday in Advent: "Are You the One?"

+ 3rd Sunday in Advent – December 15th, 2019 +
Series A: Isaiah 35; James 5:7-11; Matthew 11:2-15
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
Milton, WA

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In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

There’s a fun little show my family occasionally watches Netflix, called Nailed It. Even if you’ve never seen it, the premise is simple. Three amateur bakers are given a picture of a dessert, ingredients, recipe, and 40 minutes to match the photo. When finished, the guest says, “nailed it”… even though they clearly didn’t. 

This time of the year can feel like we’re living in an episode of Nailed It. Hopes and expectations run high. We want our Christmas food and festivities, decorations and dinner plans, parties and presents to be just right. And yet so often it feels like the Grinch stole our hopes and expectations.

Maybe our Christmas dessert or decorations turn out nothing like it looks on Pinterest. Maybe we find ourselves like, Ralphie disappointed in his long expected red-ryder bb gun, or flummoxed like Clark W. Griswold’s comedic and disastrous Christmas Vacation. Sooner or later we learn the hard truth; reality doesn’t always live up to our expectations.

In Matthew 11, expectations are high as well. John, no doubt, had certain expectations about the Messiah. The crowds that followed John had certain expectations about this fiery wilderness preacher and the Messiah he was preparing them to receive.

John the Baptist correctly identified Jesus as the Coming One, the Messiah. And yet, what he sees and hears doesn’t seem to match his preaching. Instead of judgment, a winnowing fork, and unquenchable fire, Jesus comes with compassion, humility, and in weakness. John’s expectations don’t seem to match the reality of Jesus’ work. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

The crowds have expectations of their as well. They heard John’s fiery preaching of repentance and forgiveness and the arrival of God’s kingdom and reign in Jesus. And yet “What did you expect to see out there in wilderness?”, asks Jesus. A celebrity? A wilderness sideshow? No. A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

Jesus doesn’t come always come as we, or John, or the crowds expect him to. But therein lies the good news. Even though Jesus doesn’t come as we expect, his unexpected coming gives us everything we need, and more: his unexpected mercy; his undeserved grace; his unconditional love in his birth for us, his life laid down for us, his rising from the dead for us. A happy ending far greater than we could have ever imagined or expected.

Still, our expectations don’t always match God’s reality. It’s not hard to imagine why John asks his question. He’s in prison. Wrestling. Doubting. Wondering. Asking. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” “I said the right things. Did what God had sent me to do. Proclaimed Jesus as the coming Messiah. I was at the Jordan when the heavens opened. I heard the Father’s voice. I saw the dove descend. Yet, here I sit, in prison. Are you the one?”

At some point we’ve all been where John was. Sitting in some kind of prison, be it physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. We’ve all been there with John, in the dark. Wrestling. Doubting. Wondering. Asking: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

And so often our expectations seem to be greeted with disappointment from within, from others, and sometimes, so it feels, even from God himself. When the cancer doesn’t go away. When the job interview doesn’t go well. When the marriage, family, or close friendship falls apart. When guilt and shame weigh us down. John’s question give voice to our own questions. Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

When everything looks hopeless, and all our expectations have failed, that’s when God does his greatest work. That’s when God does what He always does, when creates something out of nothing. A light in the darkness. Hope for the hopeless. The power, glory, and majesty of God himself, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, and his arms stretched out on the cross…for you.

Jesus doesn’t leave us, or John, in the darkness. Jesus responds with the signs. signs of healing and new creation. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the unclean are clean again, the dead rise, the poor hear good news. The signs reveal to faith what the eye cannot see and the ear cannot hear.

The kingdom of God has come in Jesus. The Son of God has come in the flesh. The age of Messiah has dawned. His light shines in the darkness, even as the darkness seems to prevail and have the upper hand. Herod holds John in prison. He may temporarily silence the preacher of repentance. But the Lion of Judah is running loose in Herod’s kingdom. He has come to deal with Sin and Death once and for all by His own dying and rising. 

Whatever John’s expectations of the Messiah were, whatever our expectations of Jesus are, we receive something far greater in Jesus. A Messiah who receives a sinners’ baptism. A humble Savior who eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners. The Alpha and Omega who comes for the least, the lost, the last, and the lowly. The Lord of Life who conquered death by diving headlong into the darkness. 

Is there power in the reign of Jesus? Yes, power in his Word of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, in humble and hidden forms of water, word, bread and wine. Is there glory in the reign of Jesus? Yes, glory in the most unexpected place of all, in Jesus’ death on the cross. Will Jesus’ glory be seen throughout all creation? Yes, one day, but not yet. 

In these dark and latter days, we too may doubt and wonder if Jesus is the one. Faith and doubt go together as saint and sinner. Doubt comes with waiting, with unfulfilled expectations, with delayed gratifications, with living in the “now” of Jesus’ death and resurrection, while waiting for the “not yet” of the final resurrection.

So, whether it’s today, tomorrow, next week, or next year - whenever you find yourself asking John’s question: “Are you the One, Jesus?” Jesus has the same answer for us as he did for John. YES! 

Take in the signs. We who are sin-deafened receive forgiveness. We who were dead are raised to life in Baptism. We who were imprisoned by sin are set free and forgiven. Our eyes of unbelief are opened. We who are poor in spirit hear the Good News. Jesus has come for you. Jesus comes for you, today. And he will come again for you.

Jesus may not come as we expect, but in his unexpected coming he gives us everything we need, and more: his unexpected mercy; his undeserved grace; his unconditional love.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.