Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Sermon for Epiphany 2: "All Signs Lead to the Cross"

+ 2ndSunday after the Epiphany – January 20th, 2019 +
Series C: Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

Image result for wedding at cana

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

Driving down Milton Way before or after school you see a flashing light and a sign. School zone. 20 mph. On the road to Mt. Rainier you’ll see several signs: viewpoint ahead, 2 miles. Or when your child or grandchild is dancing in line at Target, you look for signs for the bathroom.

Signs give us information. They draw our attention, though never to the sign itself. Think about how absurd it would be to get out of the car and take a picture by a sign that says “Mt. St. Helens visitor’s center 15 miles”…and then load up the car and head home. Signs point us to something greater than ourselves: safety, a majestic view, relief. Signs lead us to a destination, a terminus, a fulfillment.

In his Gospel, “sign” is John’s go-to word for Jesus’ miracles. Jesus heals the sick- it’s a sign. Jesus walks on water - it’s a sign. Jesus feeds the 5000 - it’s a sign. Jesus gives sight to the blind, makes the lame walk, raises Lazarus from the dead— they’re all signs.  

Like the signs we see every day, Jesus’ signs give us information too. They reveal Jesus to be true God in human flesh for you. But they do more. Jesus’ signs point us to something, and someone, greater than ourselves…to the greatest of all signs: his death and resurrection for us. Jesus’ signs leads us to the destination of his journey to save us, to the cross. Jesus’ signs, as John declares at the end of his Gospel, lead us to Jesus himself. 

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

The same is true as Jesus changes water into wine. This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
In one verse, John tells us everything we need to know about this sign, and more importantly, about the one to whom the sign points: Jesus crucified and risen for you. This entire story is full of signs, all pointing us to Jesus’ greatest sign of all, his dying and rising for you.

Jesus’ presence at this wedding in Cana is a sign. For in the words of the Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, and the prophets, the Lord is the bridegroom; Israel his bride. And even though Israel was a faithless, adulterous bride, the Lord promises to send his Messiah to cleanse her. Make her holy and blameless. 

You shall no more be termed Forsaken     and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, 
    and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you…
    and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,    so shall your God rejoice over you.

Same is true for us, God’s bridegroom, the church. Though our sins are as scarlet, Jesus our bridegroom makes them white as snow. Though we are unfaithful, Jesus is faithful for us. 
So it’s no coincidence that Jesus performs his first sign at a wedding. Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom has come to rescue, redeem, and restore us, his holy bride and holy people. 

Jesus’ words to his mother are also a sign. They have no wine.”Mary tells Jesus. Jesus replies: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

Is Jesus being snippy or rude? No. It’s neither a harsh rebuke, nor a pejorative, but a redirection, a sign pointing to Jesus’ words. “My hour has not yet come.” The next time Jesus addresses Mary this way is at the foot of the cross where he entrusts her to John’s care. “Woman, behold thy son.”That’s his hour. There’s his great glory. His death on the cross for Mary, for you, and for all.

In some way, Mary understands this. Do whatever he tells you, she tells the servants. These are words of faith. Though she doesn’t know how, she knows that someway, somehow Jesus will make things right.

All signs lead to the cross. The healing of the sick points to his crucifixion where he bears our diseases, griefs, and sorrows. The feeding the 5000 points to Jesus, the Bread of Life, who gives his flesh for the life of the world. The water poured into those 6 stone jars turns into wine and points us to the blood of Christ poured out on the cross for you. 

The 6 stone jars are a sign as well. There are 6, one short of 7 the number of completion, fulfillment. Jesus has the servants “fill them to the brim” just as he will fulfill the entire Law, every drop of it for you. The Law we break. The Law that condemns us. The Law that demands purification as it did for Israel - Jesus fills it with his perfect life and his sacrificial death that purifies us, cleanses us from all sin.

And this, like the wine at the wedding, is entirely undeserved. Unmerited. Unexpected. In the Old Testament, wine is a  gift of God that gladdens the hearts of men. Isaiah proclaims that on the mountain of the Lord he will prepare a meal of rich food and fine wine. Amos declares that when the Messiah comes the hills will drip with wine. When Jesus comes, he comes graciously. Abundantly. More than we desire or deserve. 

The master of the feast gets it. When he tasted the water now become wine, he called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 

It’s unexpected. Undeserved. Unmerited. Just like the sign to which Cana points – the cross. You have kept the good wine until now.” The best for last. God has reserved the best for last, pouring out the finest vintage at the end. Every sign at Cana points to the greatest of all signs. God’s vintage wine is Jesus Himself, poured out for the life of the world in His death, in the water and the blood that came from His side that fills the baptismal font with washing water and fills the chalice with wine from heaven.
In our everyday life, signs come in all shapes and sizes: arrows, octagons, and rectangles. Jesus’ signs have a shape too. All signs lead to the cross. To Jesus crucified for you.

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord: "Jordan River Gift Exchange"

+ The Baptism of Our Lord – January 13th, 2019 +
Series C: Isaiah 43:1-7; Romans 6:1-11; Luke 3:15-22
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton
 Image result for baptism of Jesus

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

No matter our age, we love receiving gifts. There’s nothing quite like a gift exchange to awaken the kid at heart, even for the toughest or gruffest among us. The mystery of the wrapped gift before you. Watching the gift you want get passed: left-right-left-right…no not left again! Wondering who drew your name in the family gift exchange. 

If Christmas celebrates the Father’s giving of the gift of Christ Jesus to us sinners, then Epiphany is the unwrapping of God’s gift for us in his beloved Son. 

So it is with Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River. It may have looked just like every other river, full of plain, ordinary water. But there was something truly extraordinary happening in that ordinary water. Jesus comes to the Jordan River. The place where Joshua and Israel crossed into the promised land. The place where Namaan was washed of his leprosy. The place where John preaches: behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 

Here in Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River is God’s gift exchange with us. And it’s the greatest of all gift exchanges. For it is entirely unexpected and surprising.

The Christ, the Savior, the long-expected Messiah foretold by Isaiah and the prophets, the very Son of God in human flesh, stands in line with sinners to receive a sinner’s baptism. Jesus has no sin and yet willingly, lovingly, and graciously takes his place among sinners. 

To see how mind-boggling, and yet marvelous this gift exchange is, we must see it from John’s point of view. John beholds the One who is to judge the world with unquenchable fire, to lay the axe to the root of the tree, and carry the winnowing fork of judgment. And yet, Jesus comes empty handed to make God’s gift exchange with all humanity. No fire. No axe. No winnowing fork. Open hands that will be defiled by our sin. Open hands that will bear the nails for us. Open hands that will take all that has gone wrong with us – all our sin – and in exchange, give us his perfect life. His death for us. His Word. Promise. Body and blood.

Jesus stands in the Jordan River as the Son of Mary and the Son of God ,true God and true Man for you born, baptized, crucified, and risen for you. Jesus stands in the Jordan River as the Father declares: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased”so that the Father is well-pleased with you through His Son. Jesus stands in the Jordan River and heaven is opened for you. 

Jesus stands in the Jordan River as he will stand upon the cross – in solidarity with us. As a substitute for us. As God’s great, gracious gift exchange for us. 

A gift exchange that is yours in Holy Baptism. As St. Paul proclaims: 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.

You see, there’s a grand, gracious gift exchange in our baptism too. Plain, ordinary water yet God gives us his extraordinary forgiveness in this gift. Jesus takes our sin and death, and in exchange, gives us everything He did in his Baptism, crucifixion, and resurrection as he gives you his gifts of water, word, and the Holy Spirit. 

Baptism makes us God’s chosen, beloved, holy, children. We are not some random, meaningless, hopeless, bunch of atoms bouncing around in space, but a chosen, holy people, loved by God. Like Andy would inscribe his name upon his toys in Disney’s Toy Story, marking them as special, we are God’s great possession, and we have something greater written upon us by water and word, the saving name of Jesus. 

Jesus, our greater Joshua ,who leads us into the promised land through the Jordan River of our Baptism. Jesus, our greater Elisha, who washes all of us Naamans in the cleansing waters of the font. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus, God’s great gift exchange for us.

The Sinless for us sinners. The Holy One for us unholy. The Righteous for the unrighteous. The Son of God for us sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. 

Everything that is his is now yours. Jesus is baptized and crucified to fill your baptism with his death and life for you. Jesus is baptized so that the Father who delights in him will delight in you too. Jesus is baptized so that what the Lord promised Israel, he promises you as well:

thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.

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

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Sermon for 1st Sunday after Christmas: "Always Christmas"

+ 1st Sunday after Christmas - December 30th, 2018 +
Series C: Exodus 13:1-15; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:22-40
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton
Image result for simeon

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

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis tells the reader that in Narnia it was “Always winter and never Christmas.” These days in the Christmas season sometimes feel like that in our world. Everything is labeled “after-Christmas”. The music fades. Unwanted presents are returned. Christmas comes down and the New Year’s signs go up.

But here in Christ’s Church, Christmas continues, a bit like our family holiday schedules: a few hours one evening with Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem – everyone has to see the baby! The obligatory time with your gruff, oddly dressed uncles, the Shepherds. Next weekend the Magi’s visit; because even God’s family table has room for outsiders.

Christmas continues today with Simeon and Anna. Anna leaves the temple like grandma scurrying about the delivery room, phone in one hand, camera in the other: did you hear the good news? It’s a baby boy…and he’s the Messiah! The wait is finally over.

Simeon was waiting… Not twiddling-his-thumbs or yawning away the hours, but the kind of waiting that knows that, sooner or later, God will make good on his promise. And this was the Lord’s promise: before he saw death, he would see the Lord’s Christ. The Seed that Adam longed to see sprout. The Rest Noah longed for. The everlasting on David’s throne. The child born of a Virgin whom Isaiah prophesied. This One, Simeon cradled in his arms.

Even Simeon’s name points to the momentous occasion. Simeon means, “He has heard.” Simeon’s name comes from the same word in the great OT creed: “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

The Lord had heard Simeon’s cry for rescue. And already at 40 days old, your pleas for mercy, your cries of distress at sin’s torture and the prayers of the faithful – “Come quickly, Lord Jesus” – fill the ears of the child held in Simeon’s arms.

God’s promise fulfilled. The Christ had come. No more waiting. Simeon was free to die in peace.

 “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”


Yes, there is marvelous joy in Simeon’s words. And yet Simeon knew that waiting comes before fulfillment…falling comes before rising. That Jesus’ cross is at the heart of Christmas.

Falling and rising. Those were Simeon’s words to Mary: “This Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Simeon wields God’s two-edged sword, skillfully piercing our hearts, slashing away everything that stands between you and Christ. For we must be like Simeon, ready to die. It’s the only way to depart in peace. Drop the charade of self-devotion and self-righteousness. For you cannot cling to sin and expect to stand with Simeon holding the Christ in your arms. Fall, that you might rise. Die that you might live.

At first, Simeon’s words don’t sound very Christmasy. We’d rather pack him and his words up and send him out to the curb along with all the Christmas clutter. But as the world tries to forget Christmas, Simeon comes along to remind us that hidden under that weak and helpless baby in his arms was the truth about Christmas: this Child was born to fall and rise for you.


And that’s precisely what Jesus is doing in the temple that day for Simeon and you. He came to bear the cross for you. His name is Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. He sheds his blood at 8 day old, bearing the Law in his flesh. At 40 days old the Firstborn who needs no redemption comes to redeem you. The Lord of all becomes the Servant of all. The Law giver becomes the Law bearer. Jesus does what you cannot and will not do, crawls under the Law’s demands and curse in order to lift them off your shoulders and onto his. And all while being held in the arms of Simeon.

And where the world only sees a powerless infant, Simeon holds the power of God hidden in human flesh. He came this way for you as an infant and he goes this way for you to the cross. Here, in God’s lowly, weak and beggarly ways…he hides his love and mercy for you.

Behold, this child is appointed for the falling and rising of many – for Simeon and for you. Christ falls in order to raise you up.  For all that we have spoken against…he speaks for us. For all of the sinful thoughts of our heart revealed by his Word, Jesus reveals God’s heart of mercy and peace and redeeming love. The sword that pierces Mary’s soul and ours first pierced Jesus with nails and spear. Christ departs in shame and guilt and sin so that we depart in peace made by his blood. Jesus’ eyes are closed by bloody, sweaty death so that our eyes are opened to find salvation in this Child and his cross.  Jesus is held in the arms of the cross in the darkness in order to embrace you and all nations in the everlasting light of Christ’s salvation. Jesus becomes the despised, scorned and rejected in order to make you a people of his Father’s glory.

This is the way God works. He hides himself in the opposite. The eternal God is hidden within the flesh of an ordinary, helpless baby. Simeon embraced the Savior of the world who came to embrace his death and bring salvation to all, to you. God’s greatest glory is found hidden in the weakness and suffering of the cross.

And Jesus works the same today: Ordinary words of sinful preachers are vehicles for Christ’s eternal absolution. Ordinary water is blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin. Ordinary bread and wine hide the flesh and blood of Jesus your Savior.

That’s why we sing Simeon’s song after communion. Here, you stand on heaven’s threshold and hold the Christ Child in your arms, in your ears and in your mouth. At the Altar you see the Lord's salvation, which He has prepared before the face of all people.

Here in Christ’s Church, Christmas isn’t packed away and saved for next year. There are no such things as “after-Christmas” sales in Christ’s Church. Here at Christ’s table, in His Supper, it’s always Christmas.

In a way, we’re all 21st century Simeons and Annas in the temple, watching, waiting for that Day when Christ’s salvation becomes visible to our resurrected eyes. And as we wait, God gives us his signs to cling to - Baptism, His Word, His Body and Blood. We embrace Him as old Simeon and Anna once did.  And we take up Simeon's song and make it our own: "Lord now let your servant depart in peace according to your Word. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people. A Light for revelation to the Gentiles, the Glory of your people Israel."

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

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Sermon for Christmas Day: "A Well-Wrapped Gift"

+ Christmas Day – December 25th, 2018 +
Series C: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-14
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

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

Image result for the word became flesh

I admire anyone who can take wrapping paper, scissors, and a couple pieces of tape and turn it into a work of art. My gift-wrapping skills tend to look more like a toddler’s or perhaps a Picasso. 

But when the folds and lines are clean, the corners crisply pointed, and the ribbon on top forms a perfect tornado of color, well then, there’s something special about a well-wrapped gift. Even eager children approach it slowly, almost reverently. With gentleness, they peel back one piece of tape, a corner here, a seem there; taking their time to unwrap the gift.  

In this we see a picture of God’s well-wrapped gifts to us, many of which take a life-time to unwrap. We see it in God’s gift of marriage and family. Month after month, year after year, anniversary after anniversary, husband and wife unwrap God’s gift of life together in their union. And a relationship that began as high school sweethearts, a blind date, or college friends, turns into more gifts: children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. From an infant’s quivering chin to the first time they open their eyes. As they grow from infant to toddler, into preschool, elementary, teens, and young adults, God’s precious gift of life is unwrapped.

I imagine Mary had many of those same thoughts as she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger. As she treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. As she held in her arms God’s love wrapped in human flesh.

That’s what Christmas is all about, after all. The unwrapping of the greatest Christmas gift of all. God sends us the well-wrapped gift of his only-begotten Son. He is, as Hebrews proclaims, the radiance of the glory of God yet wrapped in humility and bearing our humanity. He is the exact imprint of God’s nature – very God of very God - yet He is also true man, born of the substance of His mother in this age. True God. True man for you. The God who wrapped his glory in the burning bush, in the pillar of smoke and fire, and in the cloud of the tabernacle wraps himself in the temple of human flesh for you. The God who upholds the universe by the word of his power, squawks, squirms, and screams as an infant in Mary’s arms for you.

The Word became flesh because that’s what we are. Flesh. We hurt and we hurt others. We suffer and we cause suffering. We are sinned against and we sin against others. 

And yet, the birth of Jesus is big enough to cover all our sin and death. In his birth and death for us he wraps himself in our hurt, pain, sorrow, suffering, shame, guilt and death, that we might be wrapped in his arms forever.  

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That means, God knows what it is to breath. To hunger and eat. To thirst and drink. To grow fingernails and hair. His beautiful feet have walked in our shoes. He knows what it is to live. To work. To rest. To be rejected and betrayed. To weep. To suffer. To die. All this he has done for you. 

By becoming man, He also took on everything that being human entails. He took onto His shoulders our sickness, grief, and pain. He bears our anger, our selfishness, our pride. He takes responsibility for our hatred, our lust, our murder. Jesus became flesh to bear the sins of our flesh.

And the God who wrapped himself in our humanity still unwraps his gifts for us here. In the Word who became flesh, who dwells among us in the gifts of his body and blood. And who dwells among us in the neighbor whom we serve, as we unwrap God’s love for others.

At Bethlehem, Mary wrapped her Son in swaddling clothes. At Calvary, He was unwrapped for us – stripped by Roman soldiers and nailed to the cross. Yet by this unwrapping, He has wrapped each of you in His own robe of righteousness. And he presents you to His Father as a well-wrapped gift. 

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, 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.
For… 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.

A blessed Christmas to each of you…

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

Sermon for Christmas Midnight: "Unto You"

+ Christmas Midnight - December 24th, 2018 +
Series C: Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Image result for linus christmas speech

When it comes to Christmas movies, it’s hard to pick a favorite. The whimsical Elf. The hilarious trials of Clark Griswold. Ralphy’s quest for the Red-Rider BB gun.

But nothing tops Linus in Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. In the world of Christmas movies, he’s my hero.

For Linus points us to what Christmas is really all about. A humble tree and a simple message of Good News. Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 

Linus doesn’t tell us to skip the Christmas parties, throw out the presents, or toss the tree to the curb. He simply, yet with reverence and joy, reminds us that the Christmas story is not one story among others. This is thestory. The story of Jesus’ birth of us. The story of our Savior born to rescue, redeem, and restore us. The story of Good News of a great joy that is for all people; it is for you. Christ is born to save you. To live for you. To suffer, bleed, and die for you. To rise and live for you. 

We simply cannot hear this story enough. For without this story we would have no Christmas carols or Scriptures like Luke 2 to hear. Without this story we would have no presents, parties, or pageants. Without this story we would remain Charlie Brown trying to put together a Christmas play. We would be helpless, hopeless, and lost forever.  

Finally, Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?! 

“Why yes,” says Linus...

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, 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.

“And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
He’s right. Christmas is about God’s promises through Isaiah, kept, fulfilled, and revealed in Jesus’ birth.
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Christmas is about Jesus who came to help the helpless by becoming a helpless child for us. Christmas is about Jesus who was born to bear our hopelessness, brokenness, sin and death from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, to cross for us. Christmas is about Jesus who comes to rescue and save poor miserable sinners as surely as he came to proclaim Good News to poor shepherds. Christmas is about Jesus who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession. 
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And that’s what Christmas is all about.

A blessed Christmas to each of you…
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Sermon for Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols: "A Story Behind Every Ornament"

+ Christmas Eve - Service of Lessons and Carols - December 24th, 2018 +
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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 
Image result for chrismons

A few weeks ago, shortly after the Christmas tree was put up here in the church, I was talking with one of our elders before Divine Service. We admired the tree; it’s beauty, it’s towering branches and, it’s fresh smell. But most of all the carefully crafted ornaments. 

“There’s a story behind every ornament”, he said. It’s true. Every ornament tells us a story.

I know that’s true in our home, as I’m sure it is for many of you. A little crawling baby that tells us the story of someone’s first Christmas. A wooden sea star that tells the story of a joyful wedding. A sailboat that tells us the story of a loving grandpa and great-grandpa. 
Whether they’re big or small, fragile or cat and toddler-proof, old or new, simple or intricate, there’s a story behind every ornament.

And if that’s true in our own homes, it’s all the more true of our Lord’s house, where the tree and all its ornaments point us to Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection for us. 

The circle with the cross fixed to the top is the world covered by the cross, and it tells us the story of Genesis 3. Adam’s fall into sin which spread sin and death to all men. To us. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.As in Adam we die, so in Christ we are made alive.

The Lamb tells us the story of Genesis 22, how God spared Abraham’s son, his only son whom he loved by providing the sacrifice. And how God would not spare his own son but gave him up for us all. God provides the sacrifice in Jesus. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

The lamp and the candlestick tell us that the words of Isaiah 9 have come true in Jesus’ birth for us. The people who walked in darkness
   have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
   on them has light shone. 
For unto us a child is born.

The crown of thorns tells us the story of Jesus from Isaiah 11. He is the root or shoot of Jesse, the righteous branch that sprouted from the stump of fallen Israel, and one day he will receive the twisted branches of thorns upon his head for you. In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

The dove, looks as if it was descending to us, just as it was promised by God’s Word to Mary through his messenger Gabriel. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

The manger tells us the Christmas story of Luke 2, just as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds. 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.
The angels on the tree tell us the story in a song that unites heaven and earth. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

The stars upon the tree tell us the story of the Magi who were led by the light of the star to him who is God of God, Light of light, a lamp unfailing and the very Light of the world in human flesh for you and has brought us from the kingdom of darkness to his marvelous, everlasting light.

The cross and the chalice tell us the story of John 1, that Jesus the Word became flesh and dwelt among usin the crib, on the cross, and in the chalice with his body and blood given and shed for you.

Yes, there’s a story behind every ornament. It is the greatest story of all, for it is the story to which all these ornaments point. It is the story to which all stories in the Scriptures point us. It is the story the angels sang to the shepherds, and that we join in singing and rejoicing in tonight. 

It is the one true and meaningful story of the greatest ornament ever to be placed on a tree. Not a noble, douglas, or grand fir, but the humble tree of the cross, adorned with the greatest ornament of all: Jesus crucified for you.

A blessed Christmas to each of you…

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

Monday, December 24, 2018

Sermon for 4th Sunday in Advent: "Good Things in Small Packages"

+ 4th Sunday in Advent - December 23rd, 2018 +
Series C: Micah 5:2-5; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-56
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

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

Image result for the visitation of mary

Would you like to super-size that? Would you like to upgrade to first class? Would you like to open a credit card with us today and save an extra 20%? 

Seems like everywhere we go, from McDonalds to the movie theater, whether we’re booking airline tickets or buying a car, we’re told: “Why settle for less, when you can have more? Bigger is better. More is merrier.”

No wonder there’s so much confusion this time of the year about what Christmas really means. The world looks for a Clark Griswold Christmas with light displays visible from space, while the prophet Micah proclaims…

From you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
   who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
   one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
   from ancient days.

While the world tries to sell us a bigger, better, and merrier Christmas, today we hear a far different, yet far more glorious, comforting message in Mary’s song, the Magnificat. 

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

Mary’s song is a song of the great reversal Jesus brings us in his birth, life, and death for us. In Jesus the humble are exalted. The hungry are fed. The broken are healed. The weak are strong. The dead are raised. Sinners are forgiven. 

This 4th Sunday in Advent is a blessed reminder that God is the God of the small things…
Of Bethlehem. Of little children, such as our own, who in Jesus’ own words, are a picture of the kingdom of God, and have sung beautifully this morning of the King who comes to save us. Of the unnoticed, the forgotten, lowly, lonely, and least ones. 

It’s certainly true that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, almighty. Yet the joy and mystery of his Advent among us is that this all-powerful God becomes a helpless baby for us. The God of infinite cosmic power resides in the itty bitty living space of Mary’s womb, and a manger for us. The almighty God becomes weak and small for us. Conceived by the Holy Spirit. Born of the Virgin Mary. And crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. And in Jesus’ cross, we who are weighed down by sin are lifted up. We who were dead in trespasses are made alive again in Christ. We who were lost and lowly are found and exalted in Jesus crucified. 

There’s a deep spiritual truth hidden in that old adage: good things come in small packages. God in human cells and tissue and DNA, formed and knit in Mary’s womb. The God who experienced the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd trimester from the inside of his creation for us. God is the God of the small, the least, the lost, and the lowly. 

As the author J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, the wheels of the world’, are often turned not by the Lords and Governors...but by the seemingly unknown and weak. By the small things...

A child in the womb of an unwed teenage mother.
The Lord of heaven and earth resting in a crib of hay in a small, backwater town of Judea.
Three nails.
Simple bread and wine where Jesus is present for you.

The child in Mary’s womb is proof that God has not forgotten or abandoned you. You are not alone or unnoticed. You are not small. In Jesus’ smallness, in his birth and death, you are loved. Redeemed. Rescued. And raised up. 

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