Stir up your power + Christmas Eve

The coming kingdom of David is at hand. “Come,” the Father said, “Come, it’s time to have compassion—a King to sit on my servant David’s throne forever, God, yet man, to free my people from their sins. To save them—stir up your power and go—have compassion and from sin and sorrow set everyone of them free.” And where did he go?

At once, to find you, to Royal David’s little city… from heaven above to earth below taking on the flesh of you and me, to suffer all things, to take that which he knew not—sin and sorrow—from you. And to save you, he gives you his life by dying your eternal death to bring to you salvation. He comes a baby born to die that you may live with him forever.

But why a king? What need have you for a savior? Why must God be with you?

Evil comes forth despite the good Law of God. Thus God sends a Savior because you have been left for dead, indeed dead in your trespasses, your reason, your will, your power, leaves you fighting for more of your own good pleasure—fighting against God’s judgment, DEAD, a living hell, no good remaining. A flesh that is a full and steady accomplice of your spirit…weak and teetering on hell’s steep cliff. Every good plan, every program—all pushed aside. And thus we wallow in lies told, promises forgotten, anger harbored, and love left undone.

And even then, we’d have Jesus be a king like we have a man be our president. Someone to do our bidding, always under a magnifying glass and prepared to boot him if he doesn’t deliver, waiting for his November. A Jesus like you’d have your holiday season…to be jolly and love everyone, giving no one coal, but things you like and want and covet, and when you’re done with him, push him back up the chimney or over the river and through a different wood until the next time. The religious establishment seconds your thoughts as they implored Jesus, “Make your disciples be quiet!” We don’t like the noise, the ruckus, the hoopla. It’s causing a scene, it’s not always convenient, it’s loud, and the rest of the world doesn’t like it.

Remember when they lined the streets with their cloaks and palm branches, and hailed him as their king? Have you lined his road in your life and then pulled it up again when you noticed he wasn’t the Jesus you thought you needed or wanted?

Repent. The coming kingdom of David is at hand. For God has seen your poor state before the world’s foundation. That’s right. Your state, your sin, your person—personality, heart, and soul… you! And thus he planned to free you, bless you, and save you.  Not from your plans, neighbors, and the things you want in this life, but to save you from sin and death and the devil. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in this one night, in this one child, in this baby born of Mary. GO! My Son, have compassion on the world. Bring to all salvation. From sin and sorrow set them free…from Satan’s cheap tricks, poisoned tongue, and tormenting lies, from your sinful flesh and the temptations of the world—GO! Be their king, their Savior! Slay bitter death, undo Satan, and steal the sting away from death and the grave.

That is exactly what he did. The Son obeyed his Father’s will and was born of Virgin mother. His power? stirred up…complete obedience to his Father’s will, God’s good pleasure to fulfill. Now this changes everything forever. God has flesh and blood, God who is now a man (the God-Man, the Son of Man, the Son of God) now leads the devil captive and came to be our brother. A servants form — just like you and me — he wore to lead away our enemies forever.

A king forever— what is his crown? Thorns. And his throne? A cross. A kingdom forever to make you his own, giving life to the dead, sight to the blind, hearing to the Deaf. He is your rock and your castle, never leaving you, never retreating up up and away, instead always remembering his promises and delivering his life into your midst, things of need, things of salvation, the very things for you.

The world isn’t going to like it. Satan will scowl, fierce as he will. You will even war with your own nature: the old Adam with the new. All kinds of people, places, things, demons, and the like will tell you to put this farce, this hoax, behind you…to grow up and get serious. But the Spirit of God at work in you will not be silenced by that which has been defeated. The faith that is alive in your hearts and in your lives cannot be dismantled by that which is judged and dismantled itself. Don’t listen to the lies of the devil, don’t be coerced by the sweet whispers of a world captivated by sin, don’t let your Old Adam have a word in edgewise. Instead, listen to the God-Man Jesus. Come to him and bring with you all your cares. You who are heaven laden, come! Be gathered to the manger of the newborn King. Rejoice in the death of death and the undoing of the grave. Stand at the feet of the cross of Jesus and be transformed into his image by his work and mercy and love.

And thus the great power of our Lord has been stirred and He has come to us. Like little John the Baptists still in our mother’s womb leaping for joy, our hearts for that very joy must leap and skip at this the Christmas greeting. Our lips cannot silence keep, our tongues with joyous words must sing. Glory to God in the highest heaven, who unto us his Son has given. The end of all time has come. The reign of sin and death has ended. The peace of heaven reigns in our hearts, in this world, and even to highest heaven…and God is born in Bethlehem, a Savior for all the world.

God has had compassion on you. The great power of the living God has been stirred and he has come. This shall be a sign unto you… you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, teaching the priests in the temple, announcing the year of the Lord’s favor to the crowds, feeding thousands, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, giving hearing to the deaf, crucified to a cross on Golgotha, raised from his tomb, present in the preaching of this Gospel, in the water of Baptism, and the bread and wine of his supper. The compassion of our God is found in this Jesus who has saved you from your sins and now dwells here with you.

Happy Christmas! Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace and good will among men!

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Midweek Advent 3

The work of the church revolves around the absolute truth of God’s Word and his work in the creation. It has been kept from some and revealed to others, made manifest to gentiles and Greeks, even to the far ends of the world. Saint Paul calls them mysteries… and this is true: God has sent servants, stewards, to minister to you with an unchanging, unbudging, performative, and absolute truth. Therefore, the work of a pastor and the content of what goes on in the church is the truth and a pastor must be trustworthy. The work is dependent upon a foundation that was laid by God himself and maintained by the God who has been born of the woman.

That makes the work of these stewards the work of the Word of God in this place. We would like to interject reason and feelings. We would be sensitive to whether or not we understand the things of God and whether or not reason can properly tear apart the things revealed in Holy Writ. Preachers and pastors tossed to and fro by every whim of the world, of reason, and popularity contests will do much harm to the flock of God.

The Word of God has been under attack by the devil and the world since the Garden of Eden. The very word, “Satan,” means deceiver. The truth is something that Satan wants you to think is malleable. Opinion is something that weighs at or above what we know to be true and the idea, the thought, that someone can be judged or weighed against something outside of themselves is absurd to today’s world. We are labeled haters and bigots.

But the Word of God is not malleable and the work of that Word in the lives of Christians makes us different from the world. It makes the judgment of the world a small thing… it focuses us on the very gifts that come from heaven and the love that is manifest by the Babe of Bethlehem —crucified on Calvary’s cross.

And this truth, these mysteries are proclaimed here today. The absolute truth of God’s work for sinners is shown as that Word breaks into the darkness and tears apart the reign of death and the devil… Jesus proclaims the victory won and the devil a footstool.

This is the great absolute truth seen and made known, proclaimed and preached, to the world tonight. God has united with Benjamin and Logan and with you against the tyranny of Satan and death in the waters of Baptism. Baptism now saves! Baptism unites sinners to the death of Christ, destroying the debt of sin, Baptism unites sinners to the resurrection of Christ, giving the life of Jesus to you and me.

Today the mysteries of God are made known to you! Christ our Lord has done a great work. Satan cannot accuse you and neither can the Law or the world, culture, or any enemy. Death cannot end your gladness. When you die, you leave all sadness to inherit paradise. You inherit paradise, a child of God. An absolute truth is proclaimed, an absolute truth is made known. Angels rejoice and the whole cloud of heavenly witnesses rejoice… You have a treasure worth more than anything… it has brought you salvation free lasting to eternity, Jesus has made you his own and forgiven all your sin.

In the name of +Jesus. Amen

Gaudete (Matthew 11:2-11)

A voice cries out to you.  Can you hear it?  No longer is it coming from the wilderness, but it still has the same purpose…a voice carrying the Word of God to your ears.  John the Baptizer is now behind Herod’s bars in prison.  Being deprived of his beloved Jordan river and his locusts do not put an end to his vocation.  Advent is not over and his God given purpose has not come to an end even as Herod has locked him up behind bars.  He will not rest until the path is straight.  He will not stop until the way is prepared.  And his tool, his weapon, is not stopped by handcuffs and prison food.  Can you hear it?

The Baptizer continues to decrease, but the Lord continues to open his lips and through his mouth the Lord Christ continues to increase.  The world insists on clinging to false prophets and Satan’s deceptions – idols that cannot guarantee anything.  The Lord knows that you have succumbed to the work of the Devil and his demons.  He knows that you don’t believe how deep and powerful his deceptions are.  The heavenly Father knows that you make more friends and influence more people with fine clothes and king’s palaces.  Gold and silver will turn more heads but it is the Word of God that will carry you out of eternal damnation.  Advent is not over, you are not done waiting for the LORD to judge the living and the dead.  And therefore the voice will not end.  Can you hear it?

Do the conveniences of life impress you?  Do the worries of earthly incidentals pull you away from the love of God with your whole heart and soul and mind?  What about loving your neighbors as yourself?  All of your neighbors…your brothers and sisters in Christ, every last one of them?  Do you love them as yourself?  I know I don’t.  I would never treat myself the way I have treated others.  You all love yourselves.  But Satan has tricked you into using your voice, your thoughts, and your actions to show hate instead of love.  To show a connection to condemnation rather than eternal life under the heavenly Father who is only LOVE.  But this earth and its gold and silver – its iron bars, and even a word given by a king to execute will not silence the Word of God.

Repent!  The Kingdom of God is near!  Repent and listen…can you hear the voice?  The eternal Son of God has redeemed you, a lost and condemned person…he has purchased and won you from all your sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.  He did not use gold or silver, but his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death he lifted you out of condemnation and eternal damnation.  It is the voice of God…the Word that became flesh and dwells among you.  God spoke and it happened.  The Father opened his lips and Christ – who filled his mouth – came forth for you to hear, to see, to feel, and to taste.  God, who’s Word formed you, fills you.  He desires that nothing have your attention but himself.  And so your ears are filled with the preached Word of forgiveness, while you feel his Word mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified and the coolness of that heavenly water runs down your cheeks…and your same tongue that sings his praise with hymns and psalms tastes your salvation.  It forms you and completes you.

God made you and all creatures.  His Word performed the work.  It came with a purpose and it did not leave without accomplishing what it came to do.  Herod’s ax was laid at the root of John’s tree but that ax did not silence God’s Word.  Can you hear the voice?  The voice is crying out to you!  It defends you from all danger and guards and protects you from all evil.  It calls you with Good News…and that Good News breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and your sinful nature.

Combined with water it works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe…certainly it is not just water, but the Word of God in and with the water that does these things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water.  There in the font, the voice of God has made you his child.  He has given you Christ’s crucifixion: and through Christ you are no longer blind.  You who were lame and dependent upon the world’s crutches now walk again…and you are made whole.  No longer dead, but raised…Blessed are you!

The Word of God continues to come to you to deliver absolution, that is, forgiveness, from your pastor as from God himself.  Can you hear the voice?  It is calling for you.  The Holy Spirit brings it here to you.  To the body of Christ.  Advent is not over and you continue to wait for the Christ to come to judge the world…but until that time, nothing will silence the voice of God.  It prepares you for the way of the LORD…it makes your way straight – mountains low and valleys high.

Even from prison, John pointed all people away from himself, away from the earth and their worldly fortunes and filled them with the heavenly riches of Christ’s body and blood.  Christ is the one that has come for you!  His voice is crying out to you and he gives his Word to you.  From pastors and preachers his Word comes to you to make your way straight and to lead you from the valley to the Mountain – for on Mount Calvary, Christ shed his blood to forgive you and release you from the Devil.

His Word of forgiveness endures forever…and forever you have the assurance of your baptism: where Word and water have made you heirs to the Heavenly Kingdom.  Children of God traveling through this advent…waiting for the judgment.  The true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ will sustain you.  God’s voice, his Word combined to bread and wine, gives you the very thing that forgave you in the first place…the body and blood of God.  Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Expect no one else…you are renewed, prepared, and forgiven!  Can you hear the voice?  It speaks here to you!

In the Name of +Jesus. Amen.

Midweek Advent One

The time is at hand for you to be ready. No more sleeping. Your salvation is nearer to you than when you first believed. Be active and watchful! Saint Paul calls us forth out of our slumbers, out of the darkness of sin into the marvelous light of Jesus. The readings for the end of the church year prepared you for the readings of Advent. The end harkens to the beginning. And the beginning, our Advent together (this Advent), harkens us to the Cross and the work of Jesus in the midst of us.

Wake, awake, the time has come for you to be serious. For you to be about the work you have been given to do. The watchmen on the heights are crying… the Bridegroom is at hand…and the enemy is on the prowl. The night is far gone, and yet we pretend that it is still upon us. The work is at hand and yet we pretend that we can lollygag around and not be concerned for our spiritual situation or those of our neighbors and enemies, our family and friends. We act like we know when the Master of the house will return. We act like we have time to clean up our own messes or accumulate enough to satisfy our debts with God. But we don’t know the time or the hour.

But we do know the enemy prowls around like a hungry lion, looking for someone to devour. His work is serious. The devil knows that you are a tasty meal, ripe for the kill. In fact, he has marked you with a target clearly seen by all your enemies and they want to take you down. The problem is that you can’t see all them… and the ones you can see, the ones you interact with, are good at deception. But if we could see all the darts, daggers, swords, guns, and evil things pointed at us, we would desire the sure and ready Sword of the Word of God and his Sacraments every time it was offered, everyday, every hour, every minute.

Repent, your salvation is at hand. Do not worry. Cast your anxiety on the Lord himself, for he cares for you every hour and every minute. Don’t worry about the heaviness of your eyelids…or the devil and his accomplices. He has been judged and the deed is done. He may show his fangs, but they will not be able to destroy you. He may scowl fierce as he will, but he will not devour you. It is the Lord Jesus that has come for you. He cares for you this way: he brings the light of heaven into the darkness of sin and death. He unravels death and steals away its sting, the grave is now just a bedroom and death a sleep. And as for you, Jesus has clothed you in the righteousness of heaven. You are wrapped in the clothing of Christ. You’re being cleansed in the blood of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

The armor of light has been prepared for you. You have been dressed by the Son of God himself with protection for the fight. Know this: it is a fight. The devil is real; his minions are all around you. The world hates you. Your old Adam is fighting to live every day of your life. The situation is serious. The enemies are more real than anything you have ever met. But you have a Lord and Savior that is far more strong that any devil or demon. He has washed you in his blood, named you with the name that is above every name, vested you with heavenly armor, and marches with you on the plain. He feeds you with food fit for angels and saints triumphant; binds up your hurts and patches your wounds with the oil of heaven.

You have this promise: The cross of Jesus has undone Satan and destroyed your sins. The Law and all your enemies can no longer accuse you. Every provision has been made for you. You will not fight alone and you will not lose. God is with you in your sorrow and this Jesus will not forsake you in your pain. The hour is here. Come, feast with the Lord, let him feed you with his body and blood again. Partake of your salvation, your sins are forgiven and God has made you citizens of the light… the Light of the World.

Ad Te Levavi Sermon

The end harkens back to the beginning and the beginning to the end. Watch, be awake, be ready, for the end is drawing nigh. The first day of the church year can only be seen in the shadow of Good Friday…where your sin, the reign of death, Satan— meets its match. The end is drawing nigh. So the King comes to you. He comes lowly, humble, riding on a beast of burden. He comes triumphant into the holy city, but he comes unlike any other king would. He comes unlike any other god would. This is the Savior of the Nations, the God of Creation, the government is on his shoulder, but he will not over throw Caesar. The emperor’s government will be an instrument to free the world and you from sin and death. “Hail to the Son of David, Hosanna!” the people shout.

So it is that the ancient Gospel text for the first Sunday in Advent (Ad Te Levavi) is the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. The characteristic of the coming Babe of Bethlehem is defined by this. Your God comes to you: Lowly and humble. Advent is a season of preparation, but its name confuses it. Advent is Latin for “I come.” Jesus comes to his people. The Second Person of the Trinity is the great apostle, having been sent to interrupt the monotony of the world…to destroy the reign of a thief prince, to destroy lies, and to establish truth. He walks in the cool of the Garden of Eden, he comes down to see the Tower of Babel, he hears the cries of his people and comes to Moses in the burning bush to rescue and make well. Immanuel is God with Us…God visiting us, God keeping his promises. He rides into the holy city to die for your sins. He comes to Roswell even to have you for himself.

A God that throws off all conceptions of what God is. Not a divine watch maker that creates the heavens and the earth and then once the machine has been set in motion, goes to start another project. Not a god that needs to be found, approached, and appeased. He’s not abstract and unique to each person and their feelings. He is the true God that comes to find you. Seeks you out and comes. He is the God that is always revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. The face of Trinity is the blooded God-Man on the cross of Calvary…and there is no other god.

Whatever the reason the people filled the streets that day, they did not think they were participating in a funeral march. Perhaps they thought it was their freedom from Roman oppression or from the oppression of the Sadducees. It makes no difference. Not even the disciples of Jesus really knew what was going on. They had been in Jerusalem many times before and this had never happened. But this is the end. The beginning of our church year is informed and defined by that end. What is that end? It is the Good Friday, death on the cross, end. We will celebrate, but we will get the focus wrong from time to time, too. Crosses are gory. Death is usually an unpleasant topic. The temptation will be to forget your God: Jesus Christ and his coming, despite this season of piped-in Christmas music and crazy shopping. Satan will try to steal away the real reason you gather week in and week out. The world will try to convince you that you are on the “nice list” and that there is no reason to worry about payment for sin, crosses, and propitiation.

Nonetheless, the people shouted, Hosanna! It means, “Save us!” The people need saving. You shout, “Hosanna!” You need saving, too. And even if you were silent, the very stones would cry out. The Savior comes, the Son of David comes, to his creation, to his people. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! They sang. A people informed by the Holy Spirit. It was not flesh and blood that revealed this to them, but the very Spirit of the Living God. The Son of David comes in the name of the Lord to save his people from their sins. Jesus means “God saves!” The words of their cry were a people, a creation, a world reminding God of his promises.

Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we sing the Words of that Triumphal Entry. You will sing them again today, in fact. The liturgy, the great cloud of witnesses, you, the Church will remind God again that he is the God that Saves. You will put your hope in the God that comes. You will delight with the saints of all time that your God comes to you, lowly and humble, riding no longer on a donkey, but on bread and wine.

Once they were in the holy city, Jesus told his disciples that they would not see him again until they said, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” You celebrate again today with the King that comes to find you and destroy your sins, to establish the truth of his victory over death and Satan…and you see him again. The words of our Lord come true, as you partake of his very body and his blood. You sing, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” with all the church with the saints of all time, with the great cloud of heavenly witnesses. You sing the acknowledgement of a God that saved and yet still comes. You sing of a God that washes you in that blood, makes you righteous, and names you with his name.

That means that the end harkens back to the beginning. Your end, your death, was your beginning, for you are the baptized of God. You have been marked by the blood of the Crucified One and Jesus has saved you from all your sins. He gives you his name. The cross is now your life. You have been made like him…redeemed by Christ the crucified.

Now the beginning of the Church year, that we celebrate today, is again the end of sin and death. And the characteristic coming of Jesus is not over, but new again today. He comes. Once he came in blessing, all our sins redressing; came in likeness lowly, Son of God most holy; Bore the cross to save us; Hope and freedom gave us. Today he comes in Word preached and Sacrament given: all our sins destroying; came by means of his Spirit; Son of God most lowly. The bread of life to give us!

In the name of +Jesus. Amen.

 

In the boat

The prophet was asleep in the bow. Jonah didn’t want God’s mercy to fall upon people that he didn’t feel deserved it. You and I have felt the same way before… or maybe you feel it right now. A grudge, a heart filled with anger or resentment… you would have done it different if you were God. And like Jonah, you are okay with yourself, so okay — to sleep while the world falls to pieces above you. Jonah trusted in his plan instead of God. He thought the boat would get to Tarshish. You don’t ever expect that the weather will divert your plans and tear apart your escape route. And so the sailors needed to wake him up. God pursued him and he ended up in the depths of a stomach—for three long days and nights.

The human existence is marred with anger and murder. We’d not love our neighbor as our self. We’d be judge of those who sin just like us and send them all to the belly of the lake of fire BUT instead our desire to hold on to this sin will send the clouds and storms of the skies or the storms of war upon us. Without the law, we would just be comfortable like Jonah, asleep in the bow of a boat heading out on a pleasure cruise. But the storms of God’s law find us anywhere we choose to hide. We won’t be able to hide from God’s Word. We won’t be able to sleep through the storm or dream through the pain. Nothing will save you. No ship, no plan, no work, no coma… the only answer is to be cast into the depth of God’s Word.

Repent. The Word of God is asleep in the bow of your boat.

What seemed like a disaster to the disciples was nothing in the eyes of faith. The one who spoke the clouds into existence would speak them into good behavior. Nothing in all the world would keep him from granting MERCY upon you and all your foes, even those we don’t feel deserve it. For Jesus, he is so comfortable with the plan set forth for him, a storm is just a normal occurrence on his daily schedule. He comes that the human existence would be rewritten. No longer will you and I be riddled by the reign of our sinful nature. No longer will Satan have dominion over us. Jesus will not let the world use its wind and rain and hail to divert us into fear and trembling. God is pursuing you and all your sin and he ended up upon a cross, died, and in the depths of a tomb—for three long days and nights.

That is your freedom, your life, your forgiveness, and your salvation. God has spoken —to the wind and the waves, to Satan, and to death. Their reign is over. Now is the reign of the Son of God and of this Immanuel, and his throne and dominion and power, there is no end.

Jesus does all things well. You can sleep secure in his loving embrace.

Amen.

The Feast of Saint Matthew

We would require sacrifice. Our heart’s desire is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We are very good at seeking out vengeance. And we’re willing to be a Matthew, a tax collector, a cheat, a liar, or a thief as long as we get a fat wallet or can stick it to the man. It’s the heart of each of us that is the problem.

“Why do you think evil in your hearts?”

And we are the ones that complain about a God that includes the less fortunate, the poor, the ones that dress differently than us, the ones that talk differently than us, the ones that we don’t like. And yet it is everyone of us that have fallen short of God’s desire. His image shattered and his likeness lost on a people that thrive on boasting, pride, covetousness, and all those things. We are a sick people.

Repent.

It won’t get any better for you on your own. You need a doctor. Rejoice with me, God has sent one to you and to me. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, if there were such a one. He did not come to yuck it up with the experts on prayer and keeping the law. Rather, he came to the sick… to you and to me. He comes to rip from your chest the heart that causes all your evil desires. He comes to give you a new heart, a right spirit. And with that clean heart, then he eats with you, rejoices with you, prepares you for the battle to come, and goes out into it with you.

He comes to the most unlikely—to the ones that don’t deserve it and makes us worthy, he comes to the sick to call us righteous. That he did at your baptism as he clothed you in the blood that he shed on the cross. That he does today as he gives you that body and blood again for your forgiveness and life. You see, the cross is his death, but your life. When he dies, he brings and end to the reign of boasting, of death, of graves, and sin. As a sacrifice, he shows his mercy… his long suffering love. For it is showered down on you today. Love calling your righteous, holy, and forgiven.

The Authority of True Love

We have the right to remain silent, but it will not help us, anything we have said, done, or thought can be used against us in the court of LAW. We have no right to an attorney present now or during any future questioning, but of course we cannot afford an attorney, anyway. O, what a burden the LAW is. Our so called rights we hold dear, that we claim are inalienable, mean nothing here… mean nothing now. Our God is staring us down, standing before us. “Let the hills hear what you have to say!” The LORD has lodged a charge against his people, he has a case against his Israel… his Church… his you.

JESUS of Nazareth, what have you to do with us??!

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Many of you were infants… some of you were teenagers, young adults, or full grown responsible types. “Not many of us were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” But how would that have helped us anyway? Who were we? We were poor in spirit (or rather lacked any spirit at all)! Day and night we mourned with all of creation from the pain of sin and the suffering that is all around us. And we were liars. We told the world that we could do it all ourselves and that we would do it all by love. But we had no love. We were like a clanging cymbal. We told our family and our friends that we were strong and that they could depend on us and our possessions… but we did not mention our God, not once did we give any credit to anyone else, let alone God! Our money, our influence, and our rights have made us thing we are powerful…authoritative… and then we lied even to ourselves.

We tell ourselves that we are powerful. We are influential and wise on our own. We boasted in ourselves and falsely built stability where there was none. God was not good enough for us. Oh what a burden he has become. Droughts here, flooding there, sickness here, disease there… he has stripped us of our rights. We deserve to be honored and loved, all the while forgetting to love and even what it means to love. We have the right to be given rain (when it’s needed), good crops, good health, and we should be showered with intelligence and with gifted children. After all we have claimed him as our God. What good is a God that cannot help us and defend our inalienable rights we have as men. We have the right to come before him when we want to… we have the right to receive his gifts when we feel we need them… and when we are happy and it is time to celebrate we might invite him when we remember to.

Repent. The Kingdom of Heaven is here. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God is not interested in burnt offerings, or sacrifices of a thousand rams. He is interested in you, his holy people. Humans have one right… it is the right to die. You have done enough on your own to deserve that one right… in your sin, you deserve death—for the wages of sin is death.

God has no current suit against the angels or the trees. The dogs and cats of the world have nothing to worry about. It’s his people, human beings, you — that he confronts concerning sin. But before you can answer, one man stands up. Even though you can afford no attorney, one stands in your place. One man stands before the mountains and before the face of the Heavenly Father and says unto the Lord, “O Father, you have picked your people up out of their and have placed them on dry ground. You have fed them and nourished them and guided them. In the darkness you have sent light—a bright Morning Star to guide their way and to teach them your path. I will pay for their rebellion. Upon the cross, I — the God Man Jesus — shed my blood and receive the death man deserves, I die for their transgressions.”

Before another can stand, before any other —even you— can speak, the voice from heaven declares, “Guilty! Guilty as charged!” And there before you all, that man Jesus, your attorney, your stand in, your sacrifice, your Savior makes you his brother and sister, as the nails dug into his hands and feet and the spear into his side. The blood and water ran down and filled the font—Jesus, claiming you as his brother… his sister… showing you what love really is. Showing the world how true authority is exercised. And so in that font he claimed you as his own and washed you there — stripping you of all your sins. He dried you off and gave you robes of noble birth. Christ calls you to his house (here), to nourish you and to feed you. He bids you come to his table to receive his life giving body and blood—the medicine of immortality.

You have the right to remain silent, but which of you can?? God drives you forward with his Word. He has given you his life, his Son, his everything. He lights your way and teaches you his path. He gives a perfect picture of a Love that bears all things, that does not boast, a love that is not arrogant or rude, a love that never ends. Rejoice and be glad, for Christ Jesus is your great reward and he calls you. He is faithful and he will do it.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev. Steven Thomas Cholak

Christmass Morning

maryhadalittlelion

In the beginning was the Word and the Word created the heavens and the earth. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. Now the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep. In the Word was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Genesis and John speak of beginnings (Genesis and John speak of the same things?), the beginning of man and the beginning of sin…of death…and of darkness. We learn of darkness that continues on in every person’s life…even the lives of you and me. As Adam and Eve took the fruit all men entered with Adam into sin and death and the darkness that is such a favorite of Satan. All men entered into sin, even the Psalmist reminds us, “in sin my mother conceived me.”

Can you comprehend this idea of darkness and sin? For the action of Adam and Eve that brought sin into the world…is just like darkness. If you walk into a room and turn off the light, does only the area of the room by the lamp get dark? No…the whole room falls under the vale of darkness. It is also the case with sin, the corruption and death and darkness that entered the world affected the whole world, all the world. The entire wonderful creation, all of its beauty, all of the paradise, everything was and is tainted. It was all darkened by sin, darkened in the shadow of death – stuck in the bondage of the devil…stuck in the darkness.

But it gets worse… Like unto the darkness of the ninth plague of Egypt that preceded the Exodus… John uses a word for darkness that means a darkness that most of us don’t quite get. It is a darkness that is heavy, that you can reach out and touch, pull on, and wrap yourself in. It is a tangible darkness… a darkness that has a punch. That’s your sin, my sin, the sin of the world is a weight that wraps us up and weighs us down— not like a blanket on a cold night, but like a lead apron you must wear to have an x-ray taken, like a ball and chain, like sickness and death that plops down upon you and sucks the life from you. At first it seems fun, but then…

Even we are not immune from the shackles of death, from this darkness. St. Paul reminds us that we are all sinful and fall short of the glory of God. That means us, that means darkness, that means eternal damnation and nothing we can conjure up can save us from it. It tricks us and deceives us…we think we know better than God. Even Adam thought he knew more than God…even the Israelites thought they knew more then God as they molded their golden calf.

Repent. The kingdom of God is with us. God never fails. He continued to assure his people of Christmass. He assures his people of his Word that is life and that life is the LIGHT of men. He assures his people of the light that would overcome, conquer, and stomp out the darkness. God’s people knew of Christmas. God gave a promise of a light, a light so bright that nothing would overtake it!

And the darkness did not and could not overcome the LIGHT. The darkness will never overcome it. From the very beginning, this Christ has been the light of the world and this Christ has been our light. And this Christ has become man. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. It was in familiar ways with familiar things that God came to his people and Christmas was no exception. Christ came as baby – with skin and bones and crying set of lungs. He came as human flesh and blood to be like us, to be for us and to be with us.

But how so for us? For us on on a cross for us. He came that man’s debt would be paid and the curse of sin would be removed. He came so that he would die on the cross of Calvary and would rise again to destroy darkness and its sting. So the manger, the beginning of Jesus ministry, always sits in the shadow of the cross. But from the cross forward there are no shadows. The valley of the shadow of death all comes undone there. The sun and the stars didn’t give their light, but Christ still shined through as he conquered your sin and made the world new again.

And so this is the fullness of time, Christ still comes to us for us in familiar ways. It is here in the font with water and with Word – in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, that we have been joined to the death—the cross of the Lamb of God— and to the resurrection of Christ and freed from the darkness. With ordinary Words preached and proclaimed into our ears…we are joined to the one who was nailed to the cross for our transgression, the one that said from that cross, “It is finished!” The darkness no longer has a hold on us. It is this death of Christ that makes us alive. Alive! With bread and wine he combines his Word to give you food and drink from heaven. He comes not to better himself, but to bring light to you and me. He comes as man because of his great love. He comes out of great love—for us! Here today we have Christ! Here today we have the forgiveness of our sins! Here today we can celebrate in the light that never fades.

Christ is the light that shines on as a beacon this Christmas. Christ shines on for us! Christ who was, who is, and who always, always will be! Rejoice! Merry Christmas! The LIGHT shines!

Stones for Abraham

What did you go out into the wilderness to see? What did you wake up early on a Sunday morning to see? Was it just a man or is it something more?

John was the first to leap for joy at the coming of the Christ. But the herald of Advent, its great messenger sent from above uses his voice to prepare you and to give you the advent you need. “But among you stands one you do not know,” he says. Among you God comes to dwell. The great I AM that created you and gave you all things comes to stand among you. But you don’t know him. Your path is not straight and there seems to be too much in your way. Christ is in your way or maybe it’s his bride—the church? Maybe the Ho, Ho, Ho of Santa Claus has removed what the Holy Spirit has worked to proclaim in the wilderness?

And so God sends you John and he sends you advent. He sends you four weeks of preparation, prayer, and repentance at the voice of the Prophet John. He is not the Christ. He isn’t even the prophet or Elijah (except he is)! He wants no attention of his own but instead wants you to see God Almighty —Jesus Christ—who stands among you. He will splash the water of the Jordan river and speak the Word of the Lord as he points you to this. one. man. He came to his own and his own did not know him… yet He stands here, not by virtue of your faith or your good works or your reputation, or your building, BUT —by virtue of His Word proclaimed and his sacraments administered. John is not worthy to untie his sandals and you to be called by his name and yet he comes to serve you with his life.

A brood of vipers then —gathered at the banks of the Jordan river—a brood of vipers now. Time does nothing to cleanse and change the human nature. We are sick in our sin and dead to God because of it.

Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?

How do you deal with your sin? How do you deal with your brothers and sisters when they sin against you? How do you deal with it when you sin against others…or even against someone you love??!! Do you try to reconcile yourself with some gods of your own liking? God is not mocked. Your sin, all of your sin, deserves punishment. You can’t justify it away with circumstance, logic theory, or memory loss. You are a sinner and nothing you can do about it can change it. And don’t begin to say to yourself that you are a Christian… that you have been a member of the Lutheran church for a month or two—or well, your whole life! God is able to make Lutherans out of the very stones in the parking lot. Every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. You can’t deal with your sin. It is too much for you. Stop trying. Stop telling yourself that you don’t need the Word of God, stop insisting that you can go a week without the holy communion… stop thinking that you can keep some sins from God and tell him only the ones for which you’ve worked out the plan! Stop reasoning that you don’t really need to hear absolution for that sin, that the one thats burning you up inside, doesn’t need the certainty of the Word preached to its context and circumstance.

Stop listening to Satan and the world tell you to forget this Christ since you don’t even know him. The message of the devil is that you will find the comfort of Christmas in your homes with family or in reindeer or in a jolly old elf or in red cheery coffee cups, but not in the Word of God and in our Lord’s holy Sacraments. The preaching of the Cross of Jesus and the celebrating of his sacraments gets in the way of the devil’s agenda.

Repent! The kingdom of God is near! The voice of one calling from the Jordan makes straight the way of the LORD. An Advent for you! The Word of God opened the lips of John the Baptizer as he stood in the Jordan’s water and drenched us in the Word of God. The Word of God comes here, too. The Holy Spirit calls you by name and leads you in a straight path…and so it is that every preacher since John has preached by the water… for in your Baptism the Old Adam in you by daily contrition and repentance is drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires, and a new man daily emerges from that water and rises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

And God keeps sending his Word to you. He will not allow the world to hide this great gift from you. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He came for broods of vipers. He only comes for sinners. You have to be a sinner to qualify. Thanks be to God that he sent his Son—that dying on the CROSS, all sin would be destroyed, the power of Satan unraveled, and the sting of death removed.

God gives you Advent, he gives you John, he gives you your pastors and he marks his Word upon you. Christ stands here among y’all and the voice of his Word shouts in this wilderness called life. And it shouts through Water, through called and ordained preachers, through bread and wine, that Christ died upon his cross and with his blood he paid the ransom that gives you life eternal. So Advent prepares you for this life eternal. Advent is the Word of God coming to you to make Jesus Christ known to you as you live in this busy life. Advent is God giving life and salvation to you.

The font is in a slightly different spot because of the Christmas tree…which I think is good because when you stumble into it, you remember that God has made you his child and an heir to the Heavenly kingdom. Water to remind you that you have been washed from your sins and made clean by the blood of the Lamb. An altar for you to see and know that God makes his dwelling with you. A pulpit to give you the assurance that God’s Word is not hidden but heard. The Holy Spirit knows that you need this Christ and gives you his body and blood in the bread and wine and there you have forgiveness. There is Christ. That is Christmas. God dwelling here for you, in you, to forgive you. Happy and Blessed Advent. God has made your way straight and given Jesus to you. He is yours, not just today, not just December 25, but always. He is not far from you, but always with you and you know him. And because of his love…you are forgiven.