Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Forgotten Days of Christmass

T'was the night after Christmas and all through the house, all the creatures were stirring, yes even that mouse. The stockings removed from the chimney so bare, in hopes that New Year's soon would be here. The children could not from their toys be disturbed, the next step was the Christmas tree out to the curb. Mother was prancing from sale to sale and Father was watching the pigskin hail. O, what happened to Christmas? A thing of the past. Oh, what happened to Christmas? T'was over too fast.
Well, you get the point. Perhaps this is not how the Christmas season ends in your home. But in the world around us, Christmas ends on December 25th and becomes ancient history by the 26th. With all the sales and parties we are quick to forget the real reason for Christmas: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1). But the Christmas season doesn't begin and end on the 25th of December. It really is just getting started.
Historically the Christian church has celebrated the twelve days of Christmas which actually have nothing to do with golden rings or turtle doves. And who really wants a partridge in a pear tree anyway?! The twelve days stretch from the 25th of December to January 5th, the day before the Epiphany of our Lord, the 6th of January. That's when those wise-guys from the East came to find Mary with the Christ child. But what happens in between Christmas and Epiphany? Since the early days of the Christian Church, there have been several festivals that are celebrated in between Christmas Day and Epiphany. These forgotten days of Christmas are the Feast of St. Stephen on the 26th, the Feast of St. John the Apostle on the 27th, and the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs on the 28th of December. As we approach the celebration of Christ's birth and the redemption won for us by the blood of the cross, these forgotten days of Christmas point us to the work of our Savior in rather unexpected ways. As we celebrate Christmas, let us remember these often neglected days of Christmas.

St. Stephen's Day, on the 26th of December is mentioned on in that Christmas carol classic, "Good King Wenceslas." (that is, if you can get past the first line). So, why do we celebrate the feast of Stephen? St. Stephen was "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 6:5). He had been appointed as one of the Church's first deacons to distribute food and necessities to the poor as the Christian Church in Jerusalem continued to grow (Acts 6:2-5). Stephen also had been given the gift of wisdom by the Spirit and had been given to perform signs among the people. However, some of fellow members of the synagogue had a dispute with Stephen and were unable to overcome his winsome manner of speaking (Acts 6:10). So, they decided to bring false allegations against Stephen to the Sanhedrin. The trumped up charges were blasphemies against Moses (Acts 6:9-14). After being falsely accused, Stephen was allowed to speak and proclaimed a confession of faith covering the story of God's salvation from Genesis to the time of Jesus, the Messiah who had come into human flesh to suffer and die for the sins of the world. This brilliant confession of faith also ended with the accusation against the Sanhedrin that they had put Jesus to death. Stephen was dragged outside the city and stoned to death. Confessing Christ to the death his last words were, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit…do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:59-60). St. Stephen is therefore honored as the first martyr of the Christian Church. And so it is that many of the early Christians would die. While the blood of the martyrs is often called the foundation of the Church it is the martyrs and all faithful Christians who are covered in the blood of Jesus, born to be our Savior.

But not all the apostles were martyred. In fact, St. John the apostle lived to an old age surviving all the apostles to around AD 100, when he died in Ephesus. This is why the color of the church year used on a celebration of St. John's day is white and not red like the other apostles and martyrs. The 27th of December is the appointed day that the Church celebrates the Festival of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. John became known as the "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 21:20). Following our Lord's ascension, John quickly became involved in the church in Jerusalem and the spread of the Gospel to Ephesus. He also was given by the Holy Spirit to write the three epistles that bear his name and the Revelation given to him on the island of Patmos, where according to tradition, he was exiled by Roman emperor Domitian. Of the four Gospels, John gives us a unique glimpse into the life and ministry of Jesus, in particular the prologue in John 1 and the wedding at Cana in John 2.
The last of the three forgotten days of Christmas is probably one of the most overlooked in the twelve days of Christmas. The festival of Holy Innocents, Martyrs is historically celebrated on the 28th of December. "Matthew's Gospel tells of King Herod's vicious plot against infant Jesus after being 'tricked' by the wise men. Threatened by the one 'born King of the Jews,' Herod murdered all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger (Mt. 2:16-18). These 'innocents,' commemorated just three days after the celebration of Jesus' birth, remind us not only of the terrible brutality of which human beings are capable but more significantly of the persecution Jesus endured from the beginning of His earthly life. Although Jesus was providentially spared at this time, many years later, another ruler, Pontius Pilate, would sentence the innocent Jesus to death" (Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH, 2008, p. 1065).

The twelve days of Christmas and these "forgotten days" help us remember that the celebration of Jesus' birth is a daily event, not just a once a year frenzy. So, remember these forgotten days of Christmas as we continue to celebrate throughout the year the life and salvation that come from our Immanuel, God with us, God for us, God who is one of us. A blessed Christmass to you.

By all Your saints in warfare, for all Your saints at rest, Your holy Name, O Jesus, forevermore be blest!  For You have won the battle that they might wear the crown; And now they shine in glory reflected from Your throne. 
"By All Your Saints in Warfare" - LSB 517:1.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Word Remains Flesh

+ The Nativity of Our Lord - Christmass Day, 2010 +
Text: Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-14

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

There’s an apocryphal story that Luther once told:
Once upon a time the devil attended Mass in a church where it was customary in the Creed to sing:  Et homo factus est, that is, “He was made man.”  While they were singing this, the people just remained standing and did not kneel down.  The devil was so incensed, that he slammed his fist into one man’s mouth, saying, “You boorish bum, aren’t you ashamed to just stand there like a post and refuse to kneel for joy?  If God had become our brother, as he did become your brother, our joy would be so great that we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves.”

“And that,” as Linus would say, “is what Christmass is all about.”  Christ becomes our brother.  Jesus Christ…the only begotten Son of God, by whom all things are made.  Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.  For us, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, Jesus comes to make all things new – a new creation shining forth in holy light from the paradise of Bethlehem’s manger.

He is God Himself, not the God who comes to inspire your fear, but the God who hides and conceals everything you might fear about Him, so that He can destroy everything that makes Him seem so fearsome in the first place – your sin that would damn you from His presence if you were left to die in it.  He wraps Himself  – your sin, your damnation, your death – and puts Himself under the curse of the tree.

For it was by a tree that the curse was extended over all creation.  In the beginning, God was as much at home on earth as He was in heaven.  Genesis 3 changed all that:  Rebellion.  Creation declared war on its Creator.  And Satan set himself up as the ruler of this world –and would not go down alone.  Tempting voice.  Twisted words.  Lies.  Deceit.  Thorns and thistles.  Pain and sorrow.  Suffering and Death.  Welcome to life outside of Eden. Where man rejects God.  Where the world is held captive to sin, death and the devil.  That’s why you’ll never find Christ in Christmass “out there” – He’s not there, at least not for blessing.

For Christmass, you don’t need a god of your own making who’ll satisfy your every wish so long as the level on your naughty-meter is lower than your nice-ometer.  We tried that once in Eden and it didn’t work out so well.  You don’t need a god to fill your burning bosom with Christmas spirit – whatever that means.  No, you do not need the god of myths and legends, but of flesh and blood and history.  Because we need most of all is a new beginning.

And in Jesus, that’s exactly what you have.  In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  It’s no coincidence that John 1 and Genesis 1 begin with the same words.  The Father sends His Son, the Word – Jesus – into human flesh to vanquish Satan’s hold on the world and return to Himself the world that had rejected Him. 
God’s Son from all eternity takes a manger for His throne.  And what a glorious throne it is for in it lays a yet more glorious Savior.  The God who formed Adam of dust and built Eve out of his rib is conceived of the Holy Ghost in the Virgin Mary.  The same Spirit who once hovered over the waters…again, hovers – overshadows one particular cell called an ovum, in Mary, and in this way, the Word was made flesh.
Jesus - flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone.  A world once captured and ruled by Satan is returned to the Father through His Son.  Our flesh, once at odds with God, is taken up by God in the flesh so that we are reunited to the Father through His death on the cross.  As in Adam we die…so, in Christ, we live.  God no longer finds us repulsive.  Creation reclaimed.  Satan defeated.  Life restored.

So, we travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, from Christmas to Lent and Good Friday.  That’s what His birth is all about.  In Jerusalem, God manifests His glory in Christ Crucified.  And all the ends of the earth shall see His salvation.   
His birth and death have cosmic dimensions: The ancient curse is lifted.  The mountains sing and trees clap their hands at the birth of Jesus.  He restores the word – and - in Heaven and earth.  Reconciled.  Brought back to the Father.  Purchased.  Won.  No more thorns and thistles.  No more death and sorrow.  No more curse.  The former things have passed away.  Heaven and nature sing.

 It is good to marvel at creation, and even better to rejoice in our Creator who for us men and for our salvation returned to His creation as a man.   If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus.  For God does not come to us apart from the man Jesus Christ.
Christmass love for you.

The Word became flesh because you are flesh.  Christ became poor and lowly because you are poor and lowly.  Jesus became sin because you are a sinner.  And in Him you see your perfection.  Your brother.  That is why you are able to pray: Our Father, who art in Heaven. 

And if it is good to confess that the Word was made flesh, how much greater, then, to confess that the Word remains flesh.  God takes up permanent residence as man, for man’s sake.  And he will not fore-close on His fleshly dwelling.  No un-becoming man.  He will not evict His humanity and leave us for eternal damnation.

Now, In Christ, God is as much at home with His bride, the Church as He is in Heaven.  The eternal God comes to dwell with man as man, not for His sake, but for ours: merciful, fleshly, blood and guts love.  The Word remains flesh and dwells among us. The Babe of Bethlehem breathes His life giving word from the altar, lectern and pulpit, in water, Word and Absolution. 
    The Incarnate Son of God wades into Jordan’s stream and fills every font with Himself.  Your Baptism day is your Christmass – where you put on Him who put on flesh for us. 
    And the Lord’s Supper is your manger.  There is Immanuel – God with us.  You can’t any get closer to God than eating and drinking with Him at His table – our Lord’s body born of Mary comes to us in His Supper: your Nazaraeth, Bethlehem and Jeruslaem where our Lord is conceived, born died and risen. 

    And though Christmass “out there” winds down today, in Christ’s Church, Christmass is just getting started – 12 days – and an eternity after that.  For God is made man.  The Word remains flesh and we have seen His glory.

    A blessed and joyous Christmass to you all:
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Of Trees and Ornaments

+ The Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Eve, 2010 +
Text: Matthew 1:18-25

Grace Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ + Amen.

Where I grew up – in the Great NW – people are very particular about the kind of tree they bring in their home at Christmass. Scot's Pine and Douglas Fir are "nice," but nothing beats a Noble Fir, evenly spaced, firm branches. And don't even mention the words, "artificial tree," that's pretty close to heresy.
And yet the tree isn't the only thing that matters; you've got to decorate it. Colored or white lights, LED or those big old fashioned lights. Red Wings Hockey ornaments or cute little angels, a dozen nativity scenes and a picture or two of your children with glitter and macaroni noodles. Yes, you can tell a lot about a person by the way they decorate.

The same is true for the church – everything she does –and not just at Christmass – confesses something – the question is, what – or better yet – who are we confessing?
Sad as it is, alongside our devotion to Christ and His birth runs a parallel version of Christmas–started in November and ends tomorrow – you can only take so many drumming drummers and milking maids. In spite of the best attempts at putting Christ back in Christmas – out there – it will never happen, because He's not there, at least not the way He is with His Church.
And that's why our Lord has brought you here tonight. Christmass isn't ours to save. It's the other way around. Tonight – as always - God does the saving. That's what this is really all about: Jesus born to die. Jesus born for you. Christmass comes to save you from darkness and death for life and salvation with Him. We confess and rejoice with Joseph at the angel's announcement: His Name is Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. That's the joy of Christmass.

This is why the preschoolers call that Christmass tree behind us, the Jesus tree. They're right. There're a lot of ornaments on that tree, but they all point to Jesus. We don't have time this evening to go through them all – we'd be here until the midnight mass if I tried to explain everyone to you. So, we'll just stick with two: the manger and the cross. Put the two together and you've got everything you need: Jesus born, Jesus died for you.

For as beautiful as Christmass trees are – in our homes or in our church - they're not the best tree around. God does one better. He searches out the one tree that is cursed and dead in order to decorate it with His Son for the life of the world, for your life. That tree – and all its ornaments – points to this tree (the crucifix) and it's most blessed ornament: Jesus.
Because when it comes down to it, our Lord doesn't care what your house looks like at Christmass. He doesn't care how nice your presents are or what the tree looks like.  He doesn't care what you have for Christmass dinner or whether Aunt Matilda is going to make it out from Minnesota this year. Don't misunderstand. He does care, just not in the way we would have Him. Christmass traditions are fine – even fun, after all, we don't want to deny the very things of this creation that God came to restore – but it's not what our Lord means by rejoicing in Christmass.

Maybe this isn't how you expected Christmass to be. God's eternal gifts at Christmass are anything but expected. Look at Joseph. From our perspective it looks like Joseph's year was ruined: his fiancé is pregnant; he's not the father; but being a just man, Joseph resolves to quietly divorce the woman he loves.
What a strange sense of justice Joseph has. It's not the Law. The Old Testament sentenced adulterers to death by stoning. That would be justice, at least according to our perspective. But Joseph's sense of justice was not his own, it was merciful. But even then, Joseph almost did the right thing for the wrong reason.

But Thankfully, God intervened: "Joseph, Son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you shall call His Name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20-21).

And that's the way our Lord works. Not in mysterious ways, but in unexpected, hidden, seemingly foolish and weak ways, Word made flesh and dwelt among us ways. For us to know His ways, God must come and reveal them to us – as He did for Joseph. Not by our own reason or strength but in the wonder and mystery of Christ's incarnation and the humility of God made man.     Nowhere in the world is there a greater wonder than the Lord Almighty who comes to dwell in a feeding trough with the smell of cattle in the air. He who dwells in unapproachable glory in heaven can now be touched and seen and heard in the glory of the Holy Child. In His tiny clinched-up newborn fist He upholds the existence of all creation. He comes as a child knowing nothing and yet He is the One from whom no thoughts are kept and no secrets are hid.
And if you do not recognize this kind of lowliness, then you will never understand what God is doing in that stable. For what appears to us to be merely a baby is the permanent dwelling of God. He comes to cast out fear and sin and doubt. In this child, all fear of God is hidden beneath His human flesh.
Christmass is only terrifying and gloomy and fearful for those who would cling to their sins and refuse to have Jesus take them. That was Herod's problem. That was Joseph's problem – at least until the angel sorted him out. And that's our problem too. We do not – in fact – cannot find God apart from the man, the baby, Jesus Christ. Outside of Jesus all our thoughts about God are speculation. Those who sit in darkness can only grope in vain for the light. Prisoners can not free themselves from their chains. And the dead will never raise themselves.

Thankfully, God intervenes. Joseph's 1st Christmas begins in unbelief and ends in faith and in Christ, so does yours. He places in that manger exactly what you need: a baby in whom you take refuge. God becomes an 8 pound, 6 ounce squirming child kicking in Mary's lap. It is a great honor, of which the angels in heaven cannot even boast: Christ becomes man. The Lord of all lords becomes the Servant of all servants. God becomes a helpless baby to help the helpless. He is born to save those who could never save themselves.
He is born pure and holy, for you who were born sinful and unholy. He is born a servant for you who were held captive to sin, death and the devil. He is born in darkness for you who sat in the darkness of your sin. Jesus is born, flesh and blood, because you are flesh and blood. That's the kind of Savior you have in Jesus – the God who loves you enough to soil His hands, bleeds and dies.
It all leads to His cross – the place where God's justice and love are both poured out for you in His Son - where all of your sin, your death, your guilt, and fears are laid in Him…drown in the blood of Jesus –your life is found in Him. Your life in the manger – your life on the cross. In the baby boy, God made flesh for you. God on the cross for you.
    O cursed tree, o blessed tree, how lovely are your fleshly branches. The tree of life is decorated with one sacred ornament. His tree bears fruit: the fruit of your redemption, the cup of salvation, the font of forgiveness, the word of pardon.
He is everything you need – a baby in a manger, a body on the cross. God made man and man made children of God.
His Name is Jesus and He saves you from your sin.
You call Him Savior because Joseph called his Name Jesus.

A blessed, holy and joyous Christmass - In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

21st Century Simeon

His name is Merlin, but I call him a modern day Simeon.  You hear this from pastors so often that it's become cliche, but it's still true: most days when we show up for a visit at the hospital, nursing facility or at the "ministering" works both ways.  That's because God hides himself in the masks of Alzheimer and cancer patients, the sick and home bound, the shut-in and those who will never return to their earthly home again.  God is not ashamed of this kind of lowliness, quite the opposite in fact.  He's pleased to work through seemingly weak and frail human instruments to carry His Word to people that need it the most, pastors and patients.  So, some days that means the priests are vested in nursing gowns and bed-pans rather than a stole and alb.

So there I was delivering Christ's Mass to Merlin (no joke, that's really is his name - and a great one at that, for Merlin believes in the "deeper magic" from the dawn of time), reading the Scriptures, praying the liturgy, receiving the incarnate Christ as He comes to us and there Christ was ministering to the both of us in His body and blood in His Word and in His enfleshed proclamation from a pastor to a patient and from patient to pastor.  Talk about the mutual consolation of the brethren!  At the end of my visit - of all things - he thanked me for ministering to him!  And in turn, I told him, "Merlin, thank you for ministering to me."  It wasn't what I was expecting to hear, but it was certainly needed.  And this is what he said:

"You know, I'm 81 years old and no matter how many times I hear the Christmas story, it's always so amazing.  Such amazing love, such hope and promise - that He would do all of that for us.  Christmas is such a joyous time of the year.  You know, when we're younger we're so afraid to die (that's what nailed my old Adam to the wall), but the older you get, the less you worry about that.  I'm not afraid to die; I know where I'm going.  I know the promises of Christ."

"You are Simeon," I simply replied.

"Yes, I suppose that's true."

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem (and in Huntington Beach), whose name was Simeon (or Merlin); and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.  And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel."

For Merlin, Christmas came this afternoon around 1:30 pm as Jesus came swaddled in bread and wine, lying in the manger of his mouth.  Christmas comes in His body and blood - not just on December 25th - but every Christ's Mass!  What a joy.  What amazing love.  Now it is safe to rest, to sleep, to die in Jesus.  And even though there is a part of Merlin that can't stand being dependent on anyone.  By that same Spirit that was upon Simeon, he knows that we are entirely dependent upon the incarnate Christ who comes at Christmas, comes in His Supper, comes again for us in glory and comes upon humble words between a patient and a pastor.  Lord, now lettest thou thy servants depart in peace.  Amen.  Merry Christs's Mass.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In Defense of the Incarnation

+ Saturday of the 3rd Week of Advent +
December 18th, 2010
Morning Prayer at Convocation on the Incarnation, Grace Lutheran, San Diego
Text: 1 John 1:1-4
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

There's an apocryphal story that Luther once told:
Once upon a time the devil attended Mass in a church where it was customary in the Creed to sing: Et homo factus est, that is, "He was made man." While they were singing this, the people just remained standing and did not kneel down. The devil was so incensed, that he slammed his fist into one man's mouth, saying, "You boorish bum, aren't you ashamed to just stand there like a post and refuse to kneel for joy? If God had become our brother, as he did become your brother, our joy would be so great that we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves."

And that's the way most people see the incarnation – a cleverly devised myth. You're busy filling your kids' stockings while the Atheists of America are busy filling up billboards: This season, celebrate reason.
There's just one problem…that's not a very reasonable presupposition. For these events did not occur in a corner. Unlike the pagan pantheons and Egyptian mythic worlds, Yahweh leaves a paper trail – and a reliable one at that:

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete" 1 John 1:1-4.

This is the stuff that makes Lawyers and Classic's scholars envy a Physician and fishermen. You won't hear about it in the latest conspiracy mock-umentaries. But that's what you confess every Sunday in three simple words: Under Pontius Pilate. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us…in history.
The fullness of time arrives in the fullness of Mary's womb. Perfect God and perfect zygote. True God and yet true human embryo. Begotten of the Father before all worlds, yet born of a virgin. The Creator comes swaddled in the stuff of His creation – a diapered deity. Glory to God in the highest…whose birth ward smells of manure and hay.

Do not think that this is somehow beneath God. God is not ashamed of lowliness, quite the opposite in fact. He becomes who you are – a woman's child, born under the Law – so that you can become what He is – no, not gods, but sons of God. So, there's no need to alert St. Nicholas for a bishop slap, isn't that right, Arius?! For He becomes no less, we become infinitely more in Him. He redeems and restores man as God truly intended: a new Adam and Eve, perfect, holy. That's what this is all about. One small step for God, one giant leap for mankind. God takes everything human – body and soul, eyes, ears and all our members – and pulls it into God, not by the conversion of the God-head into flesh, taking humanity into God.

It all comes down to four pivotal words in the creed: He was made man. So, contrary to the popular Christmass hymn: little baby Jesus did cry. That means God cried. God dirtied His diapers. God learned His ABC's. God played in the wood shavings of Joseph's workshop. God suffered for you. God bled for you. God died for you.

You see, God doesn't work in mysterious ways. He works in hidden, seemingly weak and foolish ways, that-which-we-have-seen-heard-and touched ways. After all, God likes matter, He created it.
For if He does not work this way – if He did not come in the flesh - then you are still in need of a substitute, a Savior. And that is your greatest need. You have no need for a burning in the bosom god; or a god who can pull the moon through the sleeve of your tunic; or a god who tells you pain and suffering are only an illusion.
You need the incarnate Son of God, He who was from the beginning, who was seen and heard and touched – whose miracles are vindicated by His resurrection. You do not need the god of myths and legends, but of flesh and blood and history. You need the Babe of Bethlehem, come to save. You need Him who knew no sin to become your sin. And that's exactly what He does on the cross. Jesus takes your sin and He covers you with His righteousness. He takes your pain and suffering, your sin and death and He makes it His own. He stands in the gap and puts His foot in the door that Satan seeks to slam shut, even if it means His own death.

That's the God-made-man you have. You have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, the Mighty One who comes with great miracles and power….yet wields His power in the most unexpected and unusual of ways: suffering and weakness, sorrow and death. He would not have it any other way. Jesus' life begins and ends in joyous catastrophe – and in Him, so does yours. Of the Father's love begotten – He was Made man, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, buried, dead. descended to hell and risen from the dead – for you.

And if it is good to confess that the Word was made flesh, how much greater, then, to confess that the Word remains flesh.

If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus. The eternal God comes to dwell with man as man, not for His sake, but for ours: merciful, fleshly, blood and guts love. God is born. God is crucified. God is with us. Forever, Christ comes to us as true God and true man. The Word remains flesh and dwells among us in that water and Word we see in the font, and His body and blood we touch in the Supper, and His pardon we hear in Absolution. For Christ was made man, and in Him your joy is complete.

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Have Yourself a Lowly Little Christmass

+ Wednesday of the 3rd week of Advent +
Text: 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Luke 1:46-55
Theme: Lowliness and Exaltation

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

In the wilderness John points us to Christ through repentance and forgiveness.  On the mountain, the Lord’s promise to Moses is fulfilled by the Son of God called out of Egypt to lead His people into a new Eden.  Tonight, in the hallowed lowliness of Scripture’s liturgy, Mary sings of the Lord who humbles and exalts.  Bonhoeffer calls the Magnificat the oldest Advent hymn. 
But there’s nothing original about Mary’s song.  She samples the work of Hannah awaiting the birth of Samuel; she echoes Miriam and Deborah praising the Lord’s victory over the Egyptians and Canaanites.  Her heart is the recording studio for the Holy Spirit, and her mouth is our Lord’s phonograph; O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare a divine cover song of His handiwork.   
In this way Bonhoeffer is right.  You see, Mary is greater than Hannah, promised gift of God though Samuel was.  Out of the flesh and bone of Mary God takes on human flesh and bone.  She is rightly called Mother of God.  From her womb came forth a priestly gift to the nations; a sacrificial lamb, whose final victory releases us from enslavement to the Pharaoh of hell and puts an end to eternal Canaanite occupation.
So, Mary doesn’t just sing, she chants.  She rejoices in God her Savior even as her Savior rejoices in dwelling in her womb.  This is what the angel foretold:  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God.” 
In this lowly holy way, Mary is most blessed among women.  Perhaps not by worldly appearances.  She is not Hallmark card Mary– aged and wise, piously dressed in blue – but 14-15 year old, unwed, stump of David’s royal family tree, holy and blessed Mary.  The fact that she is pregnant with God, by God only adds to her lowliness.  And yet there, “In her own body she is experiencing the wonderfully holy ways of God with mankind: that God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions or our views; He does not follow the rules we like to prescribe for Him.” (Bonhoeffer, DBW 13:343).

Mary’s song sounds so glorious and triumphant; it’s biblical class warfare – the rich made poor, the fat and satisfied go away hungry, the powerful brought to ruin – that is until you find out she’s singing about a weak little baby God-man, Jesus. 
Jesus is born the same way you were.  God puts Himself in a box – or better yet – God puts Himself in a womb.  Behind the veil of Mary’s flesh, the fullness of the infinite God and the fullness of finite man all in one divinely fertilized ovum.    Begotten of the Father before all words and born of Mary in Bethlehem.  Perfect God and perfect zygote – true God and yet true human embryo.  Think about that next time you look at a baby.  God takes everything human – body and soul, eyes, ears and all our members – and pulls it into God, not by the conversion of the God-head into flesh, but by the assumption – the taking on – of the humanity into God (as we confess in the Athanasian Creed). 
So, contrary to the hymn, little baby Jesus did cry.  God cried.  God dirtied His diapers.  God learned His ABC’s; God walked and talked and ate; God played in the wood shavings of Joseph’s workshop.  God suffered for you.  God bled for you.  God died for you. 
Truly, the dwelling place of God is with man.  Not in a temple built by human hands, but in a new, fleshly Holy of Holies where a new and greater Temple is woven and knit by the Lord and Giver of Life. 

“And this,” says Bonhoeffer, “is the miracle of all miracles, that God loves the lowly.”  The Lord of heaven and earth loves us enough to come into the midst of our frail, weak and humble lowliness to take on human form and suffer in utter foolish weakness for us; to save us from our captivity and death.  What revolutionary reversal - the Creator of the stars of night wraps Himself in the stuff of His own creation.  In His weakness we are exalted.  Through His lowliness we are made holy.  And when God calls a thing holy; He really means it.
So, do not think that this is beneath God to work this way.  “God is not ashamed of human lowliness  [quite the opposite in fact] …He goes right into the middle of it chooses someone as instrument, and performs the miracles right where they least expected it” (Bonhoeffer, DBW 13:344).  God does not work in mysterious ways; He works in hidden, seemingly weak and foolish ways.

And if God does not work this way – if God did not come in the flesh, if Mary is not His mother - then you are still in need of a Savior to be your perfect substitute.  That is why Mary sings.  She knows better than anyone else what it means to wait for Christ’s coming.

That’s why the question of Advent is not: will you prepare?  Will you repent?  Will you wait patiently?  Will you bend the knee at the crib of your Savior?  Either way we stand condemned – if you say, “no,” you have rejected Him.  If you say, “yes” you are a hypocrite.  You can’t play reindeer games with the Law.  God’s Law will not give you a Merry Christmas no matter how you spell it.  Christ comes to scatter the proud and humble those who have exalted themselves; He comes to kill those who are comfortable in their sin and to make alive those who have been terrified by the Law.  For the throne of God in this world is not found in the thrones of mankind but in humanity’s deepest abyss, the manger and the cross. 

These are the two places in this world where the courage of the great and powerful fails.  “For no one who holds power dares come near the manger; King Herod would not.  For here thrones begin to sway, the powerful fall prostrate in fear for God is there with the lowly.” (Bonhoeffer, DBW 13:345) 
God in the midst of lowliness – that is the joyous Word of Advent.  It begins with Mary, a poor soon to be carpenter’s wife – and it ends…with the lowliness of her Son on the cross. 
There, the judge of all creation becomes the substitute for all mankind. He is the Mighty One with power not only to perform miracles, not only for vengeance and justice, but also with power to stop Hell's claim, to stand in the gap, to stick His foot in the door that Satan seeks to slam shut on us, that we might all escape, even if it kills Him.
But He wields that power in the most unexpected and unusual of ways: in weakness, sorrow, suffering, and death. He will not bend for Hell. He will not go away and be God someplace else and abandon us in our selfish desires, what we lusted for, what we deserve.
God will have none of that.  He comes to do great things for you who have done nothing but great things against Him. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.  Where Christ hangs in foolish shame and the weakness of guilt – there is your exaltation, there is your promised Savior. 

Still He comes to exalt us in the lowly waters of Baptism – where the Holy Spirit overshadows you in water and Word.  He comes with His body and blood to fill the hungry with Himself.  He comes with strength in His arms to lift His absolution and benediction from the weak mouths of His shepherds.  He comes to you - just as He spoke to Abraham and to Hannah and Mary – in lowliness and exalts you, on Christmass and from generation to generation.

No wonder Mary sings.  Yet Mary is no soloist.  In Advent, we join her in lowly, jubilant chorus:  “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God with us – gloriously, as a baby in a manger and a body on the cross.  Indeed, the Mighty One has done great things for you.

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

The Lion, the Witches and the Box Office

We begin with the airing of the grievances: some of the worst movies come out around the holidays.  Remember the classics; the ones you can’t wait to see on TV every year?  You know, Santa Buddies, Home Alone 3 and 4; and who could forget Earnest Saves Christmas?  Exactly.  That's what I thought.  But it’s not all sour eggnog at the cinema during the holiday season.  Personally, my Christmas television viewing experience is not complete unless I watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Merry Christmas Charlie Brown and my newest favorite, Elf. 
What’s so captivating about the movie theater during the holidays?  Why are we so obsessed with the box office from Black Friday to New Year’s Day?  Maybe it’s because relatives and fish are only good for three days.  Maybe it’s because the movies are great way to spend some time cuddled next to your spouse without the phone ringing, the mall clerks asking if you’d like that gift-wrapped, and you can simply laugh (or cry, it’s ok, guys) a little.  Maybe it’s just plain fun and there’s nothing wrong with that – entertainment (with some exceptions, of course) is all part of God’s gift of vocation.  Like Benjamin Franklin said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” 
But maybe, and I could be totally wrong here, just maybe there’s a deeper reason that so many people are attracted to movies this time of the year.  If you could talk someone into a corner I bet you would be surprised what they would say.  If you could get a moment of honest clarity, I think one of the reasons people go to the box office like kids on wrapping paper is because they know something is missing in their Christmass, Festivus, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice or Hanukkah celebrations.
People are looking for escape.  On a certain level, there’s nothing wrong with escape.  J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the fantasy epic, Lord of the Rings, once said, ““Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?  Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about topics other than jailers and prison walls?”[1]  Escape isn’t always shrugging responsibility or running away from your problems.  If the holidays are full of sadness and sorrow it is no wonder people are searching for joy and comfort.  If family life is torn it is no wonder people seek reconciliation anywhere they can get it, even if it is just a few hours in a moderately comfortable stadium seat at Bella Terra.
Think about the kinds of movies that come out this time of time of year: movies about family relationships – love lost and found, old grievances reconciled, the endless search for meaning and happiness,  “chick-flicks” with romance and happily-ever-after endings, and action/adventure movies with battles between good and evil, exemplary displays of self-sacrifice, honor and redemption.  If you ask me, it seems like movies are a pretty good indicator of what is lacking in today’s culture, society, and often closer to home, people’s personal lives. 
In any case, there are hosts of new movies that come out around this time of the year.  Perhaps you’ve been waiting to see Little Fockers, Gulliver’s Travels  or any number of the comic book spin-offs and comfort-movies that are soon to hit the silver screen.  And if you are a bit more on the nerdy side (not that there’s anything wrong with that; it takes one to know one!), you can join in a lively discussion aboutthe Christian themes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or the newest release of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
I think these two, out of all the movies released this holiday season, have the most potential to point people in the right direction this Christmass season.  Both Harry Potter and Dawn Treader have Christian themes and messages, some more obvious and significant than others.  But first, here’s a disclaimer: if we look in the box office (no matter how good the movie) for the answers to what’s missing under the Christmas tree  we will always be sorely disappointed.  If we look to movies, even the ones with Biblical references or Christian themes, etc., we will be looking in the wrong place for the recovery, escape and consolation that we so desperately need.  If you're looking for salvation in the box office, you're in the wrong place.  True recovery of our sinful fallen lives comes only in Christ and the clarity of His Word.  True escape from this sinful world comes with the promise of Advent; the Christ who came in the flesh, comes in His Word and will come again in glory.  And true, everlasting consolation is found is found in the “comfort food” of Jesus’ body and blood and in the water poured over your head in the Triune Name. 
So, here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you sit in the theater waiting for that secret scene after the credits roll.  Was there any Biblical references or imagery in this movie – and if so – does it make the cut when it comes to Scripture’s confession of faith?  What about the Creed or the Small Catechism?  In general, were there any themes of death and resurrection, or self-sacrifice or good versus evil, and of course, the happily-ever-after-ending?  Where exactly do you think these themes are from?  Not to mention, ff you’ve seen or read both The Deathly Hallows and Dawn Treader many of these themes are both on the surface and integral to the sub-plot.  For example, if you see the newest Narnia movie, ask yourself this question: how is Eustace’s “transformation” a good image of Baptism?  Or, in what ways does Reepicheep resemble Elijah?  How is Aslan the Christ figure?  In other words, how do Aslan's words to Lucy and Edmund at the end of Dawn Treader ring true?
  "Dearest," said Aslan very gently, "you and your brother will never come back to Narnia."
"Oh, Aslan!! said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.
"You are too old, children," said Aslan, "and you must begin to come close to your own world now."
"It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy.  "It's you.  We shant meet you there.  And how can we live, never meeting you?"
"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.
"Are - you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.
"I am," said Aslan.  "But there I have another name.  You must learn to know me by that name.  This was the very reason you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little while, you may know me better there."
And if I haven’t lost you by this point, I might as well ask, what is the significance of scenes like the one in the newest Harry Potter movie, where he’s standing by his parent’s headstone staring at the words: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death?”
            The good news is, this Christmass, your happiness, your sanity, your family life and all you have is not dependent upon the box office sales.  True peace and contentment, everlasting consolation and salvation is found in the greatest gift of all time: God wrapped in swaddling clothes, clothed in your humanity, born to suffer and die for you.  From the bosom of the Father to the bosom of Mary, He came in the flesh, He comes in Word and Sacrament and He will come again.  Christmass is all about giving and receiving.  Thanks be to God we are on the receiving end of His abundant mercy.  During this holiday season, rejoice: you are Baptized.  You are God’s own child.  Therefore, everything you say and do is seen, understood and confessed within this identity.  So, when you go to the movies this holiday season – 3-D or not - remember to take your “Lutheran theology glasses” with you.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Deathly Hallows Reprise

Well, it's a bit over-due, but I had to post a few thoughts on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before it was too far removed.  First of all, cinematically speaking, the movie was (as far as books into movies go) very well done.  For the most part the director followed the story line, the characters were aptly portrayed and a great deal of the imagery in the book was carried through in the movie.  Of course, I must make the caveat that as it goes in theology so it goes with literature: details matter.  Theology is in the details.  Good story telling and movie making are in the details.  Details make the books what they are.  Harry Potter's world like Narnia and Middle-earth thrive on the detail, or what Tolkien calls the writer's work of sub-creation, a world with the inner consistency of reality based upon the primary world.  And though Rowling does not often get credit for this, she has mastered this concept well with her use of language, story telling, myth and fantasy. 

So, if there was one detail I was looking for in the movie - and there is - it's the headstone of the Potter family in Godric's Hollow.  Now, this is pivotal and essential in the books.  And again for the most part, the movie highlights the importance of this scene.  They slowed down the pace, the camera focused on Harry and Hermione in the church's cemetery on Christmas Eve, carols were sung in the background and they uncovered the tombstone of James and Lily Potter, murdered by the dark wizard, Voldemort.  (fwiw, I wrote about this in a little more detail prior to the movie in a segment called The Horcrux of the Matter).  And this is the one detail I would have included in the movie.  It's not much.  The essential quotation - The last enemy to be destroyed is death - from 1 Corinthians was there.  But, it would have been great to have seen a few seconds of a zoom in, Ken Burns style, onto the passage.  That would have bumped my movie review from a 4.5 pretty awesome to 5 stars and never looking back.  It's anyone's guess as to the reason it didn't happen.  And while it's a tragic detail to miss, it gives one an opportunity for catechesis, which is exactly what it was in the graveyard for Harry.  Hermione had to explain to him what it meant.  In a sense she was catechizing him on the hope of the resurrection, also another huge theme in the books.  Do I expect Hollywood to do all that?  No.  I'm no dreamer, but a small zoom could only have made a great movie even better.

If you want to hear a very well done and more detailed review, check out this one from Pastor Richard Stuckwisch on Issues Etc. a few weeks ago:

One scene I particularly enjoyed was the treatment of the story of the Three Brothers and how the deathly hallows came to be.  It was quite well animated and it illustrated the other important plot of this final book.  That was a detail they got right.  A detail that also was found in the graveyard not too far from the Potter's headstone in fact.  But for the rest of the story - details and all - we'll have to wait until this summer for Deathly Hallows part 2 or just read the books; it's good for you and then you can be a detail dweeb like me and Hermione.  And that's all I've got to say about that...for now.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Great Advent Expectations

Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Advent
Text: Deuteronomy 32:48-52; John 1:1-18

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

After 40 years of eating manna & quail sandwiches, wandering in the wilderness with whiny, grumbling, stiff-necked people, a little tap tap on a rock for some much needed refreshment doesn’t seem that bad.  Hardly seems fair, does it?  Of all the people that should’ve entered the Promised Land, surely Moses would be the first.

And yet the Lord calls Moses up to Mt. Nebo and speaks: “Go up this mountain and die.”  How’s that for a holly jolly Advent reading?  Care for a little more Deuteronomy with your wassail?  Let’s face it, if we had composed this story, we would’ve made Moses the first to enter the Promised Land, Cecil Demille style – hands waving, sandals stomping, robes flowing.  But there’s no Hollywood ending for Moses; he must wait for the fulfillment of the promise on a greater mountain.  That tap on the rock heard around the wilderness was more than poor plumbing technique; Moses failed to trust God’s Word.  And as good as the promises of the Jordan were, the milk would be richer and the honey sweeter when the long expected years spent yearning for the Messiah were over. 

Last week John taught us to repent; today, Moses teaches us to wait.  Bonhoeffer reminds us, “To celebrate Advent means being able to wait…Those unfamiliar with the bitter bliss of waiting, of doing without while maintaining hope, will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment” (Bonhoeffer, DBW 10:542).  Waiting and fulfillment go together.  The farmer who fails to till the ground, plant the seed, and tend the crops will know nothing of the harvest celebration.  The person who fails to court and nurture their relationships will see little or no value in God’s blessed gifts of marriage, family or friendship.  We must wait for the greatest, most profound, most gentle things in life.
Just ask any mother about waiting and fulfillment, of pain and irreplaceable joy that follows.  No wonder birth pangs and pregnant metaphors are Jesus’ favorite for catechizing us about His second coming – for the His people, Advent is a season of expectant joy.

This is why advent is a serious season.  Not stuffy-pants, Bah-Humbug serious.  But a sanctified seriousness that only comes when the weight of God’s glory presses upon us: the Almighty Word of God in human flesh and bone.  Christ’s expectant return on the Last Day.  His body and blood, Water and Word Advent among us.

Sometimes the Word of the Lord comes and we don’t want to say, Thanks be to God.  We don’t particularly like what he has to say: Go up to the mountain and die; repent; wait; be humbled.  Most days we don’t want to wait on the Word of the Lord.  And our prayers start to sound more like demands to a Cosmic Bell-hop than petitions to our Heavenly Father.  Give me patience, Lord and give it to me now.
In our day of instant gratification, waiting seems downright blasphemous: “How dare you make my Christmass unjoyful.  What do you mean it’s not Christmas yet?  I wanna deck the halls like Chevy Chase, eat, drink and be merry.  And who are you to tell me to repent?  What gives you the right to tell me to wait in Advent?
When it comes to waiting, we are our own worst enemies.  Our old sinful flesh makes a 2-year old toy store tantrum look pretty civilized.  And don’t think the world is going to help you celebrate Advent any time soon.  Greed.  Self-satisfaction.  The world has taught the God’s people a great deal about buying presents to impress people we don’t like with money we don’t have – but have the people of God taught the world how to wait by their own confession in word and deed?
Waiting is so premature to everything our old sinful flesh knows and loves so well, you.  Waiting means denying ourselves.  Waiting means to fear love and trust in God above all things.  We do not like to wait because it is yet another sign that we are utterly dependent upon God.  You see it’s tempting to make Advent all about our repenting, our waiting, our preparing.  Advent is less about you and more about Jesus for you.  We like to be satisfied and yet He makes us hunger; we want to be proud and He comes to humble us; we want God’s fulfillment on our terms and yet He says, go up to the mountain and die.  Die in Advent.  Die to sin.
“Only people who carry a certain restlessness about them can wait,” says Bonhoeffer, “and people who look reverently to the One who is great in the world.  Hence only those whose souls give them no peace are able to celebrate Advent, who feel poor and incomplete and who sense something of the greatness of what is coming, before which one can only bow in humble timidity, in anticipation till God inclines toward us – the Holy One of God in the manger” (Bonhoeffer, DBW 10:542).  The Lord Jesus is coming.  Dear Christians one and all rejoice!  And in your rejoicing, pause to ask yourself:

In Advent, what do you wait for?  Do you wait for reconciliation from a bitter family quarrel?  He comes in perfect humility reconciling the world by His blood.  Do you wait for an age-old grudge between friends to end in peace?  He comes holding no grudge against you who Hated him most of all.  Do you wait for test results from an oncologist or a good diagnosis from the doctor?  He comes as your Great Physician of body and soul.  Do you join creation in its groaning and yearning?  Behold, He comes to make all things new.  Do you wait with the heavy burden of your sin?  He drowns your sorrows in the font and clothes you in His wedding garments. 

Rejoice, greatly O, daughter of Zion. Jesus’ Advent is for you.  Behold, your King comes, righteous and having salvation.  Jesus comes into our world robed in the same flesh and bones as us, into your sin, into your death; to fulfill the Word of the Lord that came to Moses – go up to the mountain and die.   He goes there for Moses.  He goes there for you.   Moses waited.  You wait.  But you do not wait alone.  One moment Moses is lying in his grave on Mt. Nebo and the next he is talking with Jesus and Elijah on the mountain of transfiguration.  One moment our Lord tells Moses to wait in hope of the promise, the next He sends His angels to a hillside where lowly shepherds watch their flocks by night. 
Our Lord brings you, just as He did Moses, from Mt. Sinai to Mt. Nebo and from the mount of Transfiguration to the mount of death…but not your death.  Not on that mountain.  No, that is where Jesus goes up to die and where you are given life.  That is where nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross He borne for me, for you. For you – God’s chosen Israel – Jesus repeats and completes the life of Moses.  For you He obeys God’s Word.  For you He is patient and long-suffering.  For you He was born to die.  For you He will come again.
One day we will lie in our graves as Moses did and before you know how long you’ve slumbered, you will awake to the sound of a new and greater Glory to God in the Highest; you will sing in heaven the song you join the saints here on bended knee: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth, Heaven and Earth are full of your glory. 
In the midst of our Advent waiting, Christ comes.  The night is far gone.  The Day is at hand.  Behold I stand at the door.  The Bridegroom calls us, “come to the wedding feast.  Come, eat, drink and be merry.”  Feast on Christ, the Christmass Lamb caught in the thicket of the cross; His flesh is your Promised Land, and His veins are coursing with the milk and honey of blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.  Waiting Over.  Promise Fulfilled. 

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

NB: The theme (waiting and fulfillment) for this midweek sermon came from a Dietrich Bonhoeffer sermon preached in Havana, Cuba on the 4th Sunday in Advent, December 1930.  The two quotations also came from a Bonhoeffer sermon preached on the first Sunday of Advent in Barcelona, Spain in 1928 on Revelation 3:20.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lo, How His Advent Bloometh

Originally this was written for the LWML 2009 Advent by Candlelight and is re-posted here for the Advent season.  And just like the previous post, Christmass is not misspelled.

Lo, how rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!  Of Jesse’s lineage coming as prophets long have sung, it came a flower bright, amid the cold of winter, when half-spent was the night.
 Isaiah ‘twas foretold it, the rose I have in mind; with Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind/  To show God’s love aright, she bore to us a Savior, when half-spent was the night.
This flow’r whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere.   
True man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us and lightens every load.
O Savior, child of Mary, who felt our human woe; O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know; bring us at length we pray to the bright courts of heaven, and to the endless day.
LSB #359 “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming”
+  +  +
            Every year Christians around the world celebrate Christmass and the birth of Emmanuel, God with us.  This Savior of the nations, came the Heavens adoring as He was born in the Little Town of Bethlehem.  Therefore, we Hark the Glad Sound as we read of Gentle Mary Who Laid Her Child Away in a Manger.  As the Angels from the Realms of Glory once rejoiced, they still call the faithful to look to this Babe of Bethlehem.  O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is, my paradise at which my soul reclineth.  For there, O Lord, doth lie the Word made flesh for us; herein Thy grace forth shineth.  The need for a Savior was great for over all the curse of sin and death extended.    
           But in the midst of the Garden when God’s own created children rebelled against Him, He promised Adam and Eve and all of humanity another child who would crush the head of that ancient serpent, the devil, the great deceiver of the nations.  In the form of a curse, God promised this coming seed:
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” (Gen. 3:15).
Adam and Eve labored in toil and sin but not without God’s gracious promise, the joyous Gospel spoken in the face of such terrible events.  Eve thought that her first-born child was “the man” who would be their savior.  Now most English translations won’t pick this up, but Genesis 4:1 says that when Eve conceived and gave birth to a child she said, “I have begotten a man, the Lord.”  Why would Eve say such a thing?
She understood the promise that God had given.  She understood that deliverance from sin and death could only come by the Lord who would be born as a man.  The promised seed would be both God and man, but Cain was not this promised child.  Following in his parents footsteps He lived in sin and murdered his own brother.  Despite the sin that spread throughout God’s creation His promise remained in place for His people as they clung to this promised child.
Abraham received this promise from the Lord in the form of a blessing: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.  And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 12:2-3).  And so the promise of the Lord continued and the seed was sown through Abraham’s lineage.
As time continued so did God’s promise to His people.  The prophets were heralds of this promise and proclaimed the coming Messiah.  No prophet was more prolific in his writing of this Messiah than Isaiah.  Hear the Word of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah:
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.  Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel."
This is the Son of David of whom the prophet Isaiah foretold:
“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. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.“  (Isaiah 9).
And again the prophet spoke: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.  And the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”  (Isaiah 11).
The prophet Micah also foretold the coming Messiah:
“But 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 origin of from of old, from ancient days.”  (Micah 5:2).
And as the day of the Messiah’s birth drew closer, John the Baptist cried out “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near.”    This Lion of the tribe of Judah is Jesus, whose name means Savior, for He is born to save His people from their sins.
Mary listened faithfully to God’s Word saying “let it be to me according to your Word.”  As the angels sang, and the shepherds wondered, we too sing with joy and behold the great wonder of God in human flesh.  As Simeon beheld this child 8 days after His birth we still have His presence among us in Word and Sacrament.  As He once came wrapped in Human flesh He now wraps Himself in water and word, in bread and wine.  As we hear again this Christmass story, let us look upon this Christ child who is in all ways like us, yet without sin. And at the celebration of His birth we ponder these things and treasure them in our hearts:  The Gospel according to Luke 2 is then read.