Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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

+ 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany – January 15th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

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

Ask most kids – or kids at heart – what one of their favorite parts of Christmas is and they’ll probably tell you something like this: giving and receiving gifts. But receiving it is only part of the joy. Look at it, shake it perhaps, and then open it in a flurry of paper, ribbons, and shredded tape. Whether it’s wearing those cozy pajamas, playing with the new Hot Wheels cars, or enjoying a game with family and friends - unwrapping a gift is also part of the joy.
In the Christian Church we experience something similar, but with greater joy. At Christmas God sends us his only begotten Son, the very Word of God, wrapped in human flesh born for you. Epiphany unwraps and reveals the meaning of this gift.

And who better to point us to Jesus than John the Baptist, the great forerunner of his birth who now heralds the beginning of his saving work for you.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 

As John declares, in Epiphany, God reveals his gift to you, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin. An incomparable, incomprehensible, and gracious gift exchange – Jesus takes our unrighteousness, sin, and death, and, in exchange, gives us his righteousness, perfection, and life.

And in the Scriptures, a Lamb means one thing: Sacrifice. Substitute. A life for a life. The innocent for the guilty.

All of the Old Testament sacrifices and prophecies find their fulfillment in John’s words: Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 

After the fall, the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. How did God do this? The first sacrifice. A substitute. An animal gave its life to cover Adam and Eve’s shame and guilt. Some paintings in church history have even depicted a lamb as the animal whose life was given and blood was shed to clothe Adam and Eve.

And though Isaac was spared, there was a sacrifice. God said to Abraham: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” And as they’re heading up the mountain of sacrifice, Isaac says to Abraham, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” And the Lord provided.

Many years later the Lord gave his people the Passover Lamb. There the guilty sinner would place his hands – and his sin - on the Lamb. And the Lamb would die. Sacrifice. Substitute. A life for a life. The innocent for the guilty. Guilt covered. Sins forgiven and atoned for. Blood covered the doorpost. And the people ate the flesh of the Lamb who was slain for them. ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”

The prophet Isaiah also helps us unwrap John’s words. The prophet proclaims a coming servant of the Lord who will carry our griefs and bear our burdens. 

Who would be
 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.
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.

John unwraps all of this for us as he declares: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. If John the Baptist was a compass, his needle would always be pointing to Jesus Crucified for you. Behold, the Lamb of God whose sacrifice covers us from the guilt and shame of Adam. Behold, the Lamb of God, God’s Son, his only Son, the greater Isaac sacrificed for you. Behold the Passover Lamb of God whose blood sets you free. Behold, the Lamb of God who was pierced for our transgressions.

And just like John, this too must be revealed to us, for we are blind in sin, ignorance, and the darkness of death. That’s why John says, “I did not know him”. The Holy Spirit had to reveal who the Messiah was for John, just as he does for you. For without the Holy Spirit our only desire is for us to increase and Jesus to decrease; our every thought word and deed is selfish, self-centered, and self-serving, as if we were the Messiah that John points to. Behold the sin of the world – yours and mine - that takes away the Lamb of God.

This is the Lamb of God the Holy Spirit reveals to John. And the same Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to you. Behold,  the Lamb of God who takes away your sin.  And there’s only one way to take away sin. Blood. Jesus’ blood for your blood. Jesus’ life in place of your life under the Law of God. Jesus is judged in your place. He takes away sin by becoming Sin. He permits it to kill Him and He rises. And in His rising, He becomes the antidote, the medicine. His Blood, His life, for your blood and your life.

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is not simply the redeemer of the redeemable or the savior of the salvageable. He’s not the Lamb who takes away the sin of those who have the good sense to believe in Him. He takes away the sin of the world. No sin unaccounted for, no sinner left out.

In Epiphany, God reveals his gift to you, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin.
In Epiphany we receive God’s gifts. And in Epiphany we also give God’s gifts to others.
The Holy Spirit’s work wasn’t done when John proclaimed Jesus to be the Lamb of God. Jesus invited Andrew: “Come and see”. And Andrew told Peter, his brother: “We have found the Messiah!” and brought him to Jesus.

Jesus also invited Philip: “Follow me”. And Philip invited Nathanael to “Come and see”.
In Epiphany, we invite others to come and see Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away …
Like Andrew and Philip, we tell others we know, “Come and see” Jesus, here for you in his Word; Come and see Jesus who washes away your sin in Holy Baptism; Come and see Jesus present for your forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper.

You see, John’s words are also the church’s words. John’s confession is our confession. Today, Redeemer stands like John in a wilderness: a wilderness that devalues and dehumanizes life from womb to tomb; a wilderness full of creature comforts with little care for the unborn and indefensible, outcast, or homeless; a wilderness that mocks Christianity; a wilderness that revels in man’s increase and Jesus’ decrease.

And so each of us a little “John the Baptizer”, pointing to Jesus and declaring to Huntington Beach, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, and everyone in need: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin.” Each of you is like Andrew and Philip, called to tell your friends and neighbors, “Come and see Jesus”. Evangelism really is that easy.

That’s what our preschool does for children and families. That’s why this congregation supports Vicar Toma and the work he is doing in our community and congregation. That’s what goes on daily in our music academy and Sunday School. That’s why we sing, hold Bible studies, countless activities, and strive to be faithful to our Lord in all we say and do in this congregation.

In every other religion of the world, we offer sacrifices to God. Here, God offers His only Son. God provides the Lamb. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away your sin. In every other religion of the world, man must seek and find God. Here, God seeks and finds you. Here God reveals his gift for you. The Lamb of God who takes away your sin.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Sermon for The Epiphany of Our Lord: "An Epiphany Mystery"

+ The Epiphany of Our Lord – January 6th, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

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, watching NCIS, Law and Order, or CSI, or 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 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 do his dirty work for him and later murders 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 of God that He reveals. 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 the Savior is revealed for all people. Jesus the Savior is 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 reveal Herod’s true wickedness.

And 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 reveals, not only are we blind in sin we are blind to the true depth of our sin. Herod has nothing on our murderous, treacherous, two-faced sinful hearts. If we want to join the wise men in finding Christ, we must close our eyes to all that glitter 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. In other words, to repent.

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 28, 2016

Sermon for Christmas Day: "When God Speaks"

+ The Nativity of our Lord, Christmas Day – December 25th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-14

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

At Christmas, we sing carols, we hear the Christmas story, we send cards, we greet each other with “Merry Christmas”, we watch our favorite movies on TV, we pull out our favorite recipes for dessert or dinner.

But none of these things would be possible without words. No words…no Christmas.
And of course, not just any word will do. After all, when we pound our steering wheel for the red light to turn green, it doesn’t obey the sound of our voice. When we shake our fists at the referees on TV or in person, they don’t change their call because of our beautifully crafted insults. And as nice as it would be, our desks, cars, or homes don’t spontaneously begin to clean themselves the moment we say, “be clean!”

No, when we speak, things don’t always happen the way we want.

God’s Word, on the other hand, is quite different. God’s Word is living and active. God’s Word is a two-edged sword of Law and Gospel. God’s Word kills and makes alive. God’s Word creates life something out of nothingness. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. When God speaks, things happen. The lame walk. The blind see. The wind and waves obey. The dead rise. Sin is forgiven. In the beginning, we hear God’s creative word: “Let there be light!” And it was so.

God’s Word at Christmas is just as creative. The Virgin Mary conceives a child by the Holy Spirit as promised in God’s Word. Mary and Joseph both believe God’s Word. The Angel chorus sings God’s Word. The Shepherds rejoice and run to see Jesus according to God’s Word. The Magi find their way to Jesus because of God’s Word. The prophets’ words are fulfilled as the Eternal Word of God becomes flesh for you.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Everything at Christmas happens by God’s Word. When God speaks, He gives you life in Jesus, the Word made flesh for you.

What a difference from our words.

When we speak, we tear down instead of build up; we lash out at those who hurt us; we spread gossip and insult our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ instead of speaking of them in the kindest way. Out of our mouths come both blessing and curse against God and our neighbor. When we speak, we boast in ourselves; we lie, betray, and destroy. Worse than that, by the time we speak, it’s too late. We have sinned in thought, word, and deed.
God has a Word all our words. Repent. Turn away from your words to God’s Word.

For God’s Words are not our words.

When God speaks, He gives you life in Jesus, the Word made flesh.

On Christmas Day we sing, receive, and rejoice in God’s Word.

On Christmas Day God speaks his Word of rescue, redemption, and restoration to you as he promised throughout his Word in the Old Testament.

When God speaks to Adam and Eve He creates life. The promised child born to silence the devil’s lying tongue once and for all is the Word made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary.

When God speaks to Noah he restores creation. God’s Word is fulfilled in the Word made flesh, whose birth, life, death, and resurrection restores creation far as the curse is found.

When God speaks to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he promises an Offspring. God’s Word is fulfilled in the Word made flesh, Abraham’s offspring through whom we, and all nations, receive the adoption as sons and heirs.

When God speaks to David, he establishes his throne forever. God’s Word is fulfilled in the Word made flesh who is David’s son and David’s Lord, the Son of the Most High whose kingdom and peace will have no end.

When God speaks to Isaiah, he gives a sign. The Virgin shall conceive the Word made flesh, Immanuel: God with you in your humanity. God with you in the manger. God with you on the cross. God with you in his Word. How beautiful are the feet of him who is Good News for you.

In many and various ways, God spoke to his people of old by the prophets. But now in these Last Days, he has spoken to us by his Son.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

God’s Christmas Words to us are as mysterious as they are joyful. The eternal Word through whom all things were made, and in whom all things have their existence, and are held together, the eternal Son of the Father, the Second Person of the undivided Holy Trinity, became “bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.” In Bethlehem, the Lord has bared his holy arms for you in the infant arms of Jesus.
The Creator becomes a creature. The Infinite resides in the finite. The fullness of the Deity dwells among us bodily. God and Man are reconciled. What Adam, and we along with him, lost in corruption, Jesus restores. God sends his Son to make us sons of men God’s children. God is Man and Man is God in this tiny Child born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem.
Today, the Word Made Flesh dwells with us in the same humble, creaturely way.
When God speaks, he drowns our sin and raises us up to new life in Holy Baptism.
When God speaks, he is swaddled for us in the preached word and written word.
When God speaks, he summons pastors and people, like the lowly, humble shepherds to run and tell his Good News of peace and pardon to all who hear.
When God speaks, he comes to you mangered in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper – your house of Bread, your Bethlehem – where the Word remains flesh and dwells with you and for you.
There you will find Him, swaddled in all His enfleshed glory, offering you grace upon grace, today and every day you hear the Lord’s Word. In Jesus’ word we have everything we need for a Merry Christmas.
For when God speaks, He gives you life in Jesus, the Word made flesh 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.

Sermon for Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols: "Christmas is for Hearing and Singing"

+ The Nativity of our Lord, Christmas Eve – December 24th, 2016 +
Service of Lessons and Carols
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

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

As so many of our favorite Christmas teach us, Christmas is for hearing and singing.

Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn King.

On Christmas night, all Christians sing, to hear the news the angels bring.

Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth; Ye who sang creation’s story, now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

Tonight we hear the Good News of great joy: unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And we sing with the angels: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.

We could take away all the trappings of Christmas - as the Grinch tried to do in Dr. Suess’ famous children’s book – and we could still have Christmas. We would stand in our pews or our homes like the Whos down in Whoville in joyful defiance as we join heaven and nature in singing: “Joy to the World, the Lord, our Savior, is come…to save you.

Even in the trenches of WW I, the thunderous chorus of mortars and machine guns were silenced and German and American soldiers filled no man’s land with the sounds of singing, and at least for a short time, it was a Silent Night.

Christmas is for hearing and singing.

And yet, as God’s Word teaches us, hearing and singing God’s Word is difficult, even at Christmas, maybe especially at Christmas.

The sights and sounds of the hectic holiday season surround us. We hear the radio blasting: “have a holly jolly Christmas” but we rarely hear why. Though we live in a land of Christmas lights and decorations that rival Clark Griswold’s display of exterior illumination, Isaiah was right. We dwell in a land of deep darkness. Terror on the news. Tragedy in our communities. Broken homes and marriages. Disease, sin, and death. Despair in our hearts and minds. And the devil, who sang his siren song to Adam and Eve, still chants his funeral dirge in our ears: did God really say?

But all of that changes tonight. Christmas is for hearing and singing.

Tonight we sing with Mary, My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…for the child born of Mary is the child promised to Adam and Eve and all creation. The eternal Word of God who spoke creation into being, is now an infant creature, crying out in his mother’s arms.

Tonight we sing with Abraham and Sarah for God has not withheld his son, his only begotten son from us. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…for you.

Tonight we sing with Isaiah and all the prophets: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwell in the land of deep darkness on them has light shined. For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.

Tonight we rejoice with Joseph in the child named Jesus who saves you from your sins. He is Immanuel, God with us, God one of us. God for us in the manger and on the cross. God is man, man to deliver.

Tonight, at last, the din of Satan’s chaotic lies is drown out by the angel choirs.

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

This song, first heard by the shepherds, was the greatest moment in the history of the angel choirs. They intoned the song of the redeemed of God. They sounded the first note in a long processional of those, including you, who will come out of the great tribulation and join the Christmas choirs of heaven.

From that first note that rang out in the dark, every song, carol, hymn, and canticle we sing, are echoes and antiphons of this eternal hymn: Glory to God in the highest. Heaven’s song comes to earth as Earth’s savior comes from heaven. Glory in the poverty of the manger. Glory in the humble birth. Glory in the forgiveness of sins. Glory the name of Jesus who saves you from your sin. Glory in death on the cross for you.

Tonight the angels song is our song. Heaven and earth join in this song of praise. through life and time and death, through sorrow and pain and tears, until in heaven and on earth there is only one song again and we are singing it with him: Glory to God in the highest.
Christmas is for hearing and singing.

We hear the Good News: Christ the Savior is born for you.

And we sing God’s praises: Glory to God in the highest.

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 19, 2016

3rd Advent Midweek Sermon: "Comfort in Christ Crucified"

+ Advent Midweek 3 – December 14th, 2016 +
Isaiah 40:1-11; Matthew 3:1-12

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

The rock n’ roll legend, Tom Petty was right, “The waiting is the hardest part”.

During this season, we spend a lot of time waiting: in lines at the store, for packages on our doorstep, or on the freeways in traffic. For some of us, this waiting is full of excitement and expectation, like a child who can’t fall asleep Christmas Eve because they’re so antsy waiting for Christmas morning. Still, there are many others who are waiting for the holidays to be over.

In the Lord’s House, Advent is a season of waiting as well. We wait to celebrate Christmas Day and sing with joy: “Glory to God in the highest!” We join the Psalmist in crying out: 

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.

And as we hear God’s Word taught and preached, as we live in the word and water of our Baptism, as we receive Jesus’ body and blood by his Word and promise in Holy Communion, we also wait for Christ to come again on the Last Day.

The people of Israel have a long history of waiting. Waiting on God’s promises is the story of the Old Testament. Israel waited for their exodus from slavery in Egypt to enter the promised land, waited for the glory of the Lord to fill the temple built by Solomon, waited for the promised Messiah to come and crush the serpent’s head once and for all.

YHWH sent Isaiah the prophet to Israel at a time of waiting. The kingdom of Israel, established through David, given the Lord’s splendor and glory through Solomon, was divided. Though a faithful remnant would remain, many did not wait on the Lord and chased the instant gratification of false worship to false gods. Meanwhile, the Babylonian and Assyrian empires waited for an opportune time lay waste to Jerusalem.

In the years after Isaiah, Israel would need the word of the Lord he delivered.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
    double for all her sins.

King Hezekiah foolishly put his trust in the Babylonians to protect Israel from the Assyrians. Isaiah warned of the coming Babylonian exile. But in 587, Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. The Holy City was consumed in destruction. The land, promised by YHWH, was pillaged and devastated. Israel was taken into exile. Ezekiel’s chilling vision had come true. The glory of the Lord departed the temple. And the temple – the place where YHWH dwelled with his people and for his people - was in ruins. No temple, no sacrifice for sin, no liturgy, where YHWH was present for his people in mercy.  

And there in Babylon, far from home and the Lord’s house, Israel waited in lament:

By the waters of Babylon,
    there we sat down and wept,
    when we remembered Zion.

And in many ways, we’re a lot like Israel. Waiting is not something we excel at. If the busy-ness of the holiday season teaches us anything, it’s that we are far too easily frustrated, impatient, and quick to anger and abounding steadfast stubbornness.

Like Hezekiah, we put our hope and trust in the Babylons of this world, in people, places, and things that are temporal. All flesh is grass; it withers and fades away, says Isaiah.
Like Israel, we war with God, we are unfaithful as his bride, chasing our own passions, desires, lusts, and idols.

Like Israel, we live in exile in a fallen world, far from home; in bondage and slavery to sin, in the wilderness awaiting the Promised Land. And we cry out with Isaiah: Woe is me; I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.”

Like Israel, God sends us Isaiah and the prophets, all the way down to John the Baptist, to awaken us in our waiting. Repent. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

But Israel did not wait in vain for the Lord. For neither exile nor captivity could silence the Word of the Lord. After 70 years in captivity, Israel returned to Jerusalem. The walls and temple were rebuilt. The liturgy and sacrifices for sin was restored.

Into the destruction, despair, and desolation of Israel’s exile, the Lord sent his Word, his solemn promise.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
    double for all her sins.

Like Israel, we do not wait in vain. The Messiah that Isaiah foretold came for Israel and for you. The comfort Isaiah declared comes for you in the flesh of Jesus. The forgiveness and pardon promised by God comes for you in Jesus born for you, held captive to sin and death for you, crucified and risen for you.

Into our exile, into our lives broken by sin, into our lives of hopelessness, destruction, disease, and death, the Lord sends Jesus, the Word made flesh for you. For us who sit in exile in this fallen world, Jesus comes and frees you from captivity to sin. For us who are unfaithful in thought, word, and deed, Jesus comes as the faithful Son in your place, always fulfilling the Father’s will and desires for you. For us who were at war with God in our hearts and minds, Jesus wins victory and brings peace to you by his death on the cross. For us who deserved double punishment for our iniquity, Jesus comes and pardons you, gives you double forgiveness, double comfort.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Comfort is a Gospel word, and once is never enough with the Gospel. You simply can’t hear, receive, eat and drink God’s comfort for you in Jesus too much.

So it is this Advent; we wait with Isaiah and Israel who longed for Jesus’ appearing, with Simeon who was awaiting the consolation of Israel, with Anna and all who were waiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

For the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The glory of the Lord has returned and is revealed for you in Jesus. From the tabernacle of Mary’s womb comes forth the temple of Jesus’ body. The glory of the Lord revealed to Moses in the burning bush now manifests his glory from the tree of the cross for you. The glory of the Lord who led Israel by a pillar of smoke and fire now leads us as the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for you. The glory of the Lord that sat between the cherubim on the ark of the covenant, now dwells for you in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, the water of your Baptism, the double forgiveness of Absolution, and the Word of the Lord endures forever for you.

Here in the Lord's House, we have everything Israel had, only infinitely greater: the temple, the liturgy, sacrifice for sin,– it’s all here for us in Jesus, the glory of the Lord in human flesh. Yes, we wait, but not in vain.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
    double for all her sins.

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

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Devotion for Redeemer Lutheran Christmas Concert

Christmas Concert – December 11th, 2016
“Deck the Halls”

Deck the halls. That's tonight's theme. When you hear this song, what comes to mind?

Well, perhaps if you’re a sports fan you think of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto or the Baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown.

If you like good music, such as we’ve heard this evening, you might think of Carnegie hall.

If you’re politically minded, you might think of the halls of congress.

If you’re a Marine, or know someone who is, you might start singing, “from the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli”.

Or if you’re a fan of reading good books you might recall the magical, Great Hall of Hogwarts castle.

But as good as these halls are, it’s not quite what this song or season is about.

And while we’re clearing up misconceptions, Deck the halls is not a call to violent action, even though you may want to deck something or someone else this holiday season. Nor does that little line “Troll the ancient yuletide carol” give us permission to fill Facebook with snarky comments. It has even less to do with actual trolls. And, though it may be obvious, “the blazing Yule” is not talking about Yul Brynner. No, it’s a yule log. So let it be written, so let it be sung.

It is a whimsical, jovial, festive song about Christmas, and one of the common things we all do at Christmas. We gather.

That’s what a hall is for, after all. It is a gathering place: to admire athletic achievement, to listen to good music, to govern, to defend, to dive into an imaginary, magical world.

That’s one of the things we do at Christmas, we gather. In our own homes, many of us gather around the tree, the table, and gifts. And if you do not have a home or friends or family to gather with this holiday season, I hope you’ll come and talk with me or one of our members, we are here to be your family and to share the love of Christ with you.

Here in the Lord’s house we experience something similar, but far better. We also gather - or rather, God gathers us - into the halls of his Church. God gathers us around the tree of Jesus Crucified for you, at the table where Jesus’ body and blood are given for our forgiveness, and where Jesus’ gifts of life and salvation are given freely to you, for you.

This is the real reason God gathers us during the Advent and Christmas seasons, whether it’s for a joyful concert, Sunday services, or the special services on Christmas Eve.

We may not have a yule log (or a fireplace burning - this is Southern California, after all); we may not have wintry wind and weather; and we may never really know what Fa la la la la la la la means; and yet we gather together to deck the halls with the most ancient of yuletide carols. O Come, o come, Immanuel...and ransom captive Israel.

We gather together and hear how Mary rejoiced and sang at the news that she was to be the Mother of God and bear a Son, our Savior. 

We gather together and sing with the angels: Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill towards men. 

We gather together and join the shepherds in beholding the glory of God in an infant child born to save you; and join them in spreading this good news with everyone we know.

We gather together to rejoice in this Prince of Peace who was born for you - not in the great halls of Caesar, or in the halls of Herod’s palace - but in the humble hall of straw and dirt, in a manger in Bethlehem.

And when the Lord decks the halls of Bethlehem he does it in the most unexpected, yet joyful way. Unto us a Son is born, and unto us a Son is given.

At Christmas God gathers us together to rejoice in the great and gracious mystery, that from the pure and kingly hall of the Virgin Mary, was born the Savior of the nations.

At Christmas God gathers us together to announce that God has become man to deliver you from sin, death, and all evil.

At Christmas God gathers us together that to rejoice that in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of His only Son, we become children of God.

At Christmas God gathers us to rejoice with angels, shepherds, family and friends in the good news of great joy for you and all people: unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ your Lord.

At Christmas, we deck the halls of the Lord’s house with thanks and praise to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A blessed Advent and Christmas season to each of you.

In the Name of Jesus.