January 15, 2017

2nd Sunday after Epiphany + John 2:1-11 + January 15, 2017

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn # 134 Songs of Thankfulness and Praise
Hymn # 129 Hail, Thou Source of Every Blessing
Hymn # 30 Oh, that I Had a Thousand Voices
 

Introit
ALL THE - || earth | shall | wor- | ship | You, *
And sing praises | to | You, | O - | God.
|| They will sing | praise | to | Your | name; *
- | O | — | Most - | High. (Psalm 66:4; 9:2 paraphrase)
|| Make a joyful shout to | God, | all | the | earth! *
Sing out the honor of His name; make | His | praise | glo- - ri- ∙ | ous.
|| Say to God, “How awe- | some | are | Your | works! *
All the earth shall sing | prais- | es | to - | You.”
|| Come and see | the | works | of | God; *
He is awesome in His doing toward | the | sons | of - | men.
|| Bless├Ęd be God, who has not turned | a- | way | my | pray-er, ∙ *
Nor His | mer- | cy | from - | me! (Psalm 66:1–5, 20)
|| All the earth | shall | wor- | ship | You, *
And sing praises | to | You, | O - | God.
|| They will sing | praise | to | Your | name; *
- | O | — | Most - | High. (Psalm 66:4; 9:2 paraphrase)

Collect for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
Almighty and Everlasting God, Who dost govern all things in Heaven and Earth, mercifully hear the supplications of Thy people and grant us Thy peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Readings
Deuteronomy 18:15-19
Romans 12:6-16a
St. John 2:1-11

Sermon on John 2:1-11

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 
1)       Moses says in Deuteronomy 18:15 that “the Lord your god will raise up for you a prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.” All the prophets that came after Moses were, in a sense, like Moses, each one being from among the brethren of the Israelites. But none of the prophets were truly like Moses. Moses was the Lawgiver who received the Ten Commandments on Sinai’s heights. Moses received and established the Divine Service of the Tabernacle and Levitical priesthood. Moses spoke with God face to face. None of the other Old Testament prophets did any of these things. Their preaching always hearkened back to Moses, back to the commandments, and back to the worship God required. Even those prophets who worked signs and wonders were only like Moses to a small degree. The miracles of Elijah and Elisha, for instance, paled in comparison so the signs and wonders Moses did before Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. Elisha purified a pot of poisonous stew for the sons of the prophets. Moses purified the bitter waters at Marah so that all Israel and their livestock could drink. Elijah withheld rain from all Israel for many days. Moses caused burning hail to fall upon the entire land of Egypt. There was never truly a prophet “like” Moses, who gave the Law, who instituted worship, and who worked such miraculous signs and wonders.

2)       The Prophet prophesied by Moses, the one whom the Lord God would raise up from among the children of Israel, the one who be truly be like Moses, is our Lord Jesus Christ. He reveals Himself to be The Prophet at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. St. John specifies that this was the “beginning of signs.” By these words the Evangelist invites us to compare Jesus’ first sign with the first sign Moses worked at the banks of the Nile River. Standing at the banks of the great river, the source of life for all Egypt, and standing in front of the mighty Pharaoh, Moses speaks the Word of the Lord, saying, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD. Behold, I will strike the waters which are in the river with the rod that is in my hand, and they shall be turned to blood. And the fish that are in the river shall die, the river shall stink, and the Egyptians will loathe to drink the water of the river” (Exodus 7:17-18). Moses commanded his brother Aaron to touch the mighty waters with Moses’ staff, “and all the waters that were in the river turned to blood. The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river. So there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7:20-21). The Lord demonstrated His mighty power and established Moses as His chosen servant by this miraculous sign.

3)       This first sign Moses did over all Egypt typifies His entire ministry. Moses’ ministry was one of the Law, that is, Moses was sent to work condemnation upon the Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Moses took what was good and life giving and turned it into putrid undrinkable blood. Where there was life, Moses worked death. This is precisely what the Law of God, given to by God to Moses, would does as well. The Law given to Moses on Sinai shows Israel what God requires of them and what their Lord forbids them to do. In doing this, the Law does much more than simply act as a guide. The Law works condemnation upon all men for there is not a single Israelite who does the works of the Law entirely. The Law condemns all men because there is no man who truly has no other God, for all men place their love and trust too easily and too often in the things of this life. Daily, men make their wealth, their reputation, their desires, or their own selves, into idols. The Law of Moses condemns because no one fulfills it according to the heart. St. Peter, in Acts 15:10 describes the Law of Moses as “a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” The Law is most certainly good because it is God’s will for our behavior. But when it is laid upon sinners it shows us our sins, for no man can measure up to the perfect standard of righteousness in one’s heart and life. It is as St. Paul writes to the Galatians, “by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16). What Moses does to the Nile, He does to all mankind. The Law he gives turns water into undrinkable, putrid blood. The Law he gives continually accuses us our sins in thought, word, and deed, striking us dead.

4)        Now compare this great sign and wonder to the beginning of Jesus’ signs and wonders! Moses turned water into blood. Moses brought condemnation and wrath for all who violate the Law. Moses works death. But Jesus is truly like Moses, doing great signs and wonders, but He brings something entirely different, something far superior than what Moses brought. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” says St. John (John 1:17). Where Moses worked death and brought about undrinkable blood, Jesus works life and brings about wine, the sign of gladness among men! Where Moses brought the Law which condemns all flesh because of its sin, Jesus brings the fulfillment of the Law so that that Law has no authority over the conscience of all who believe the gospel. Consider what Jesus uses to show us this. “Now there were set there six water pots of stone, according to the manner of the purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons a piece.” These were not used to store drinking water. The water contained in these large stone barrel drums was for ritual washings when one became ceremonially unclean. The water housed in this barrels wasn’t to drink, for that would have made that water a source of life. It was water according the Law, so that men and women could cleanse themselves ritually after all sorts of things commanded by Moses. That they are stone also calls to mind that these water pots represent the Mosaic Law, for the commandments themselves were engraved upon tablets of stone. Jesus has the servants fill these up to the brim, because that is what He does throughout His life, suffering and death, to the Law. He fulfills the Law of Moses, every requirement laid upon you, He does fully, to the brim.

5)      It is this water for ritual cleansing according to Moses that Jesus turns into wine. In this Jesus shows us precisely that He is like Moses, except that He is far better to Moses. Jesus does not come to be a new Lawgiver. He does not come to set down ten principles for Christian life. He does not declare ten new commandments for pleasing God and earning God’s favor. He comes to fulfill Moses, to fill all those demands to the brim, so that all who trust in Christ’s work for them, they have precisely what Jesus earns throughout His life. You are not holy, nor will you ever be perfectly holy in this life. You are not sinless and can never be as long as you are in the body. You are not perfect, nor will you come anywhere even close to being perfect in thought, word, and deed. But look into the six stone water pots. They are full. Not only are they full, but they have been transformed into sweet wine, the symbol of joy and gladness, a symbol of prosperity and of peace. Moses brings the Law which brings death. Jesus fulfills the Law and earns life for all men, so that all who trust Christ’s work as their own, all who believe the Gospel that Christ is merciful to them, have everything Jesus earns and acquires, so that they are no longer under the Law.

6)       If you are in Christ by faith, then you possess all that is His. If you possess Christ by faith, His fulfilling of the Law is credited to you. This means that God the Father credits you as having entirely fulfilled the Law. The Law can make no demand upon your conscience, for you possess the righteousness of Christ by faith. Moses can make no claim upon you, for your Lord Jesus Christ has done all things on your behalf. And when you do sin, and you will daily because you are still in the sinful flesh, and when Moses condemns you for what you have done and what you have left undone, you are able to flee to the six stone water pots and there see what Christ does for you. He takes your wrath, your condemnation, your sin against God’s Law, and He removes all of it by His death on the cross. When your conscience terrifies you because of your sins, you are to flee to Christ, your throne of Grace, and seek refuge in Him. And there you will find it. Your sins are forgiven you, be of good cheer. Your faith has saved you, give thanks to Christ! The one to whom you flee is like Moses, powerful and one speaking God’s Word, but He is superior to Moses in every way, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” (John 1:17).

7)       Because your sins are forgiven when you believe the Gospel, because Christ has lifted the yoke and burden of the Law from your necks, rejoice. You are no longer under the Law, but the heart in which faith in Christ dwells will make a beginning at fulfilling the Law in this life. The Ten Commandments become your guide, to show you the good works God desires His baptized children to do. And though you do them imperfectly, your sins are forgiven because of the faith God has implanted in your hearts. The Law will still accuse you. That is its job. When it does, flee to Cana in Galilee. There is a wedding there where Christ provides everything you need, where Christ fulfills the Law in your stead and fills you joy and gladness by forgiving your sins and filling you with the Holy Spirit, so that you begin to walk according to the Law of the Lord through faith in Christ Jesus your Lord. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard you hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

January 08, 2017

1st Sunday after Epiphany + Luke 2:41-52 + January 8, 2017

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn # 1 Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty
Hymn # 133 Within the Father’s House
Hymn # 106 The People That in Darkness Sat 


Introit 

I saw the Lord sitting on a throne
High and lifted up,
And I heard the voice of a great multitude, saying, “Alleluia!
For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! (Isaiah 6:1b; Revelation 19:6a, c)
Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations. (Psalm 100:1-2a, 3a, 4a, 5)
I saw the Lord sitting on a throne,
High and lifted up,
And I heard the voice of a great multitude, saying, “Alleluia!
For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! (Isaiah 6:1b; Revelation 19:6a, c)

Collect for the First Sunday after Epiphany
O Lord, we beseech Thee mercifully to receive the prayers of Thy people who call upon Thee, and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 


Readings
Isaiah 61:1-3
Romans 12:1-5
Luke 2:41-52 

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         The middle and late second century AD, 150 to 200, saw a number of “infancy gospels” of Jesus. Speculation ran wild as people wondered, “Just what was Jesus like as a child?” Some of this was fueled by pious imagination, people who simply loved the Lord and wanted to know more than the Scriptures told. Others, Gnostic heretics, sought to change the shape of Christianity by introducing stories about the boy Jesus that would show an entirely different side of Him. One of the less restrained “infancy gospels” is the “Infancy Story of Thomas.” A few of the imagined tales were harmless enough. Others portrayed Jesus as downright mean in the use of His divine power. One states, “He made soft clay and fashioned from it twelve sparrows. And it was the Sabbath when he did this.” Another tells of a boy that runs into Jesus. “Jesus was exasperated,” the story goes, “and said to him, ‘You shall not go further on your way.’ And the child immediately fell down and died.” In another story, Jesus and friends are playing on the roof of a house when one boy falls off the roof and dies. When a group of adults comes and accuses Jesus of pushing the boy from the roof, the boy Jesus responds, “I did not throw him down.” Then Jesus called out, “’Zenon’ – for that was his name – ‘arise and tell me, did I throw you down?’ And he arose at once and said: ‘No, Lord, you did not throw me down, but raised me up.’”[1] Some of these seem innocent enough while others are outright blasphemous.

2)         The entire reason these infancy gospels found any traction among people was the desire to go beyond the pages of Holy Scripture. People, even repentant, believing, and pious Christians, are tempted to disregard that which is written for our salvation by the prophets and apostles. People want something catchier, something flashier, and something with more pizazz. Perhaps the reason these infancy stories of Jesus arose and stuck was the fact that the four evangelists give us only one event from the childhood of Jesus. After His nativity, the visit of the Magi, His presentation in the temple and flight to Egypt, the gospels are silent about Jesus’ life until He appears at the banks of the Jordan to be baptized by John. It is Luke alone who records this one event from Jesus’ childhood and it is nothing like the fiction cooked up at least one hundred years later. Luke’s account, inspired by the Holy Ghost, is quite tame compared to the man-made, almost Hollywood-esque infancy stories. Jesus does no miracles. The boy does not spend His time using His divine power to entertain Himself or raise fallen playmates. Jesus doesn’t use His divine power at all. Jesus, “being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross,” St. Paul writes in Philippians 2:8. He humbled Himself. He emptied Himself out. He made Himself nothing and though He was the Word of God in human flesh, He did not use His divine power, but hid it underneath the veil of His full humanity. We elsewhere that Jesus was not known to have ever done a miracle before His ministry, for after a miracle a crowds murmured, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary?” (Matthew 13:54-55).

3)         The Jesus that St. Luke presents to us has works of an entirely different caliber. The first thing Luke points out is that as boy, Jesus was faithful to the Law of Moses. The gospel lesson opens with Jesus going to Jerusalem with His parents to celebrate the Feast of Passover. The Lord says in Exodus 23 that three festivals are mandatory: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is Passover, the Feast of Harvest and the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year. The Lord said, “Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD” (Exodus 23:17). Jesus, as the Word of God incarnate, living a fully human life under the Law of God, fulfills the Law perfectly, as we spoke of last week about His circumcision. His circumcision makes Him liable for the entire Law of Moses. This week we see Jesus fulfilling the Law of Moses. The great work that Jesus does here is not miracles, healings, resurrections, and the like. The great work He does on this occasion, and therefore all throughout the rest of His youth, is the work of living under the Law perfectly, spotlessly and blamelessly, not for His own sake, but for ours, so that when we believe in Him, God forgives our sins and credits Christ’s perfect righteousness to us.

4)         We also see the boy Jesus, God in human flesh, being subject to the teachers of the church. When Mary and Joseph find Jesus, He is “in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening and asking them questions.” The boy Jesus was not being belligerent, otherwise He would not have been tolerated in the temple for three days. Rather Jesus was subject to the God-given authority of the Levites, listening to them diligently, learning from them, and respectfully asking questions. Luke writes that “all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” Jesus, living a fully human life in a complete human nature, humbled Himself to be obedient even to men whom God has appointed to teach the Word. This shows us the great humility of Jesus. Christ IS fully God as well as fully man! St. Paul calls “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). Jesus is the Word of God by whom all things were made. Yet the Word of God incarnate humbles Himself to be taught the Word by the teachers of the Law in the temple courts. The Wisdom of God in human flesh condescends to listen to the Wisdom of God in the Holy Scriptures from the mouths of men whom He ordained to teach the faith. Jesus, though He is God, shows us by example the admonition of Hebrews 13:17 which says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” Like His obedience to the Law, so it is with His subjection to the priests and Levites whom God had ordained to teach. It is not a flashy or eye-catching work, but it is one that God has commanded: obedience to spiritual authority.

5)         Finally, we also see the boy Jesus, God in human flesh, being subject to His earthly parents. He made no qualms about obeying the mother that bore Him in the womb and gave birth to Him. He doesn’t, as so many do in our age, snap at Joseph and claim independence from his authority because he’s not His real dad. Quite the opposite. Once Mary and Joseph find the boy Jesus in the temple, about His heavenly Father’s business, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them.” Again we see Jesus doing a great work, a God-commanded and God-pleasing work which we seldom see in our day. He is subject to His parents! The eternal Son of God, who is of the same substance with the Father, the Word who was in the beginning with God and who was God (John 1:1), submits to earthly His earthly parents, both of them, even though He took no part of His flesh from Joseph. This is a God-pleasing work because the Lord commands this to all children in the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). And though this is God-pleasing work, it is one that we hardly see today. Luther extolls this commandment in the Large Catechism. He writes, “We rejoice to show them honor and obedience, because we know it is so highly pleasing to the Divine Majesty and to all angels, and vexes all devils, and is, besides, the highest work which we can do, after the sublime divine worship comprehended in the previous commandments; so that giving of alms and every other good work toward our neighbor are not equal to this. For God has assigned this estate the highest place, yea, has set it up in His own stead, upon earth. This will and pleasure of God ought to be a sufficient reason and incentive to us to do what we can with good will and pleasure.”[2]

6)         The great work that Christ does in His childhood is obedience. He was subject to the Mosaic Law even though He was the One who gave Moses the Law. He was subject to the Priests and Levites even though He was the One who ordained their office and their doctrine. He was subject to His earthly parents even though He was begotten from God the Father from eternity. He does all of this to fulfill the Law of God on our behalf, so that all who believe the gospel have His perfect righteousness credited to us, so that by faith we are righteous before God. He also does this as an example, so that we be subject to God’s Word, to God’s representatives in the church and in the state and in our homes. We need this example, whether we have children at home to raise or not, or parents living whom we must honor, we are all under the fatherhood of a pastor, a Bishop in my case, and the State. And as Luther lamented, this good work is often passed over as a second-class work because it is not catchy, flashy, or much of anything in the eyes of the world.

7)         But this is the good work to which God calls us today and sets before us in the example of the boy Jesus, who did no flashy work in His childhood. He did not great miracle to draw attention to Himself and His divine power as the authors of the “infancy gospels” desired. Instead, He humbled Himself to obedience to His Father’s will so that in all things He was about His heavenly Father’s business. He humbled Himself, living a fully human life on our behalf, growing in stature and wisdom according to the flesh, even as He later would suffer and die according to the flesh to atone for our sins. As we consider Christ’s humility during His childhood in this text, let us be content with what God gives us in His Word about Christ, and let us consider also St. Paul’s words in Philippians 2:5: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, the mind of humility, the mind of obedience to God’s representatives on earth, and the mind which seeks to always be about the business of our Heavenly Father, hearing His Word and gladly learning it. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.



[1] The Infancy Story of Thomas. 2.2; 4.4; 9.1-3.
[2] Large Catechism I.125

January 01, 2017

The Circumcision and Name of Jesus + Luke 2:21 + January 1, 2017


Introit

O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth,
                Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
What is man that You are mindful of him,
                And the son of man that You visit him? (Psalm 8:1, 4)
You, O Lord, are our Father;
               Our Redeemer from everlasting is Your name.
O Lord, why have You made us stray from Your ways, and hardened our heart from Your fear?
               Return for Your servants’ sake, the tribes of Your inheritance.
Your holy people have possessed it but a little while;
              Our adversaries have trodden down Your sanctuary.
We have become like those of old, over whom You never ruled,
              Those who were never called by Your name. (Isaiah 63:16b-19)
O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the | earth,
                Who have set Your glory above | the | heavens!
What is man that You are mindful of him,
                And the son of man that You visit  him? (Psalm 8:1, 4) 

Collect for the Festival of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus
O Lord God, Who for our sakes hast made Thy blessed Son, our Savior, subject to the Law and caused Him to endure the circumcision of the flesh, grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit that our hearts may be pure from all sinful desires and lusts; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Collect for the New YearAlmighty God, our Heavenly Father, we give Thee humble and hearty thanks that Thou hast preserved us during the past year from all evil, and bestowed upon us all manner of good, and dost now permit us to enter into a new year; and we pray that it may please Thee mercifully to crown the same with Thy goodness, to bless us and our households with Thy heavenly gifts, and to grant and preserve unto us whatsoever is necessary for our bodily wants, to avert from us all calamities and evils, and to make this to be unto us a blessed, peaceful, and happy year; for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, our only Savior, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 


Readings
Isaiah 55:1-13
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 2:21 

Sermon on the Holy Gospel and Epistle Lessons

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         On the eight day of Christmas the child of Mary is circumcised and given the name Jesus, the name given to Mary and Joseph before His conception. The circumcision of Jesus is much more than a bland historical event with no real importantanc. This is one of the most important days in the life of Jesus for us. By being circumcised on the eighth day, the child of Mary is incorporated into the children of Israel. Already on His eighth day He fulfills the requirement of the Divine Law. Not only does He fulfill this one requirement though. By accepting circumcision according to the Law, Christ becomes liable for the entire Law. St. Paul writes in Galatians 5:3 that “every man who becomes circumcised is a debtor to keep the whole law.” Jesus places Himself under the Law so that every commandment, every statute, and every ordinance becomes His responsibility. The burden of complete holiness of heart, mind, body, and soul, is placed upon the Christ child as His burden to bear. He accepts this burden willingly. Jesus walks the way of Moses perfectly in the external things Moses commanded. Jesus attended the required Feasts in Jerusalem, observed the Sabbath, didn’t trim the corners of His beard and only ate that which the Lord told Israel to put in their mouths. But that is the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. Christ fulfilled the Law by perfectly walking in love for God His Father with all His heart, soul, and strength. Christ truly loved His neighbor as He loved Himself. The Law says in Leviticus 11:45, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” and Jesus says, “Alright. Holy then I will be.” By being circumcised on the eighth day Jesus fulfills the Law in one point and shoulders the burden of the Law in every point externally according to the mode of life, and internally according the heart.


2)         And what is the purpose of Christ’s walking in the way of Moses, fulfilling the entirety of the Divine Law? By doing the Law perfectly, externally as well as internally, Christ fulfills the Law. He tells us so much in Matthew 5:17 when He says, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” And this fulfillment of the Law is not for Himself, but accomplish our adoption as Sons of God. Being children of those sinners Adam and Eve, we cannot fulfill the Law. We could perhaps look like we fulfill the Law, but an external righteousness is only that of the Scribes and Pharisees. We can never be holy as God is holy because our hearts are by nature sinful and unclean. We could never love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength, because we devote our heart, soul, and strength to ourselves, our possessions and reputations, and our selfish desires, making those things our gods. Christ fulfills the Divine Law not for Himself, but for we who cannot, by nature, fulfill the Divine Law in the least bit. Paul writes that “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). He fulfills the Law in every tiniest bit to free sinners from the curse of the Law which condemns those who do not fulfill the Law themselves. It is as Paul tells the Roman Christians, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).


3)         This is the point of the Epistle lesson appointed for this Festival. Paul tells the Galatians, “Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:23-26). The Law was never meant to justify sinners and make men righteous. The Law as given as a prison to confine all men in their sins, that is, to show all men their sins and their sinfulness until the gospel was revealed. The Lord never intended the Law to be the way that sinners gained God’s favor. Quite the opposite. The Law was to be a tutor, not as we think of tutors today, but tutors according to ancient Roman custom. A master would place his son under the care of a tutor, who was usually a trustworthy slave in the household. The tutor’s only job was to train the child in morals and right actions. This also meant that is was the tutor’s responsibility to restrain the child from doing wicked things by any means necessary. So it is for the Law. God places the Law over all mankind as a tutor to restrain man’s inherent wickedness with the threat of wrath and punishment. The Law tutors sinners in what is good and right, though it gives them no power to do what is good and right, because fulfilling the Law’s requirements can only be done when they are done from the heart. So that Law is the tutor of mankind, to restrain our wickedness and show us what is God’s will.


4)         In the ancient Roman way of doing things, the child was only to be under the tutor’s care for a period of time while the son grew into maturity. The tutor was only a restraint. The tutor did not teach the Son anything else. So it is with the Law, Paul says. It was our tutor, restraining our sins and showing us our sins, but only until Christ was revealed as the fulfillment and end of the Law. “Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.” When Christ comes onto the scene, beginning with His circumcision, fulfilling the Law on our behalf, the faith is being revealed. For faith in Christ justifies sinners and frees them from the demands of the Law and its threats of wrath and punishment for failing to do the Law from the heart. “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor,” Paul writes. Faith in Christ’s merits and atoning death is what justifies. The merit of Christ that we look to in faith is His life lived perfectly and righteousness. Faith grasps Christ’s merit as our own and says, “Though Christ did all that, He did it for me, so that all His righteousness and goodness is mine.” Faith looks to the cross, the innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Christ, and grasps that suffering and death and says, “All that is done for me, to atone for my sins so that they are no more.” This faith justifies us before God and makes us into Sons of God as Paul proclaims: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.


5)         When Christ came, He revealed the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of faith, so that for all who believe in Christ, the Law has no power over their conscience. The Christian begins to fulfill the Law in this life, though that doing of the Law is incomplete. Faith transforms the heart and makes it new so that the Christian spontaneously begins to do good works of love for neighbor, even as faith makes the heart love God with all one’s heart, soul, and strength. But this does not mean that we are entirely free from the Law in this life because we still live in the sinful flesh. The Law still makes is demands upon our flesh. The Law still shows us our sins when we look into the spotless mirror of the Ten Commandments, for there we see how we still fail to love our neighbor as ourselves and how we fail to love God above all things perfectly in this life. As long as we live in the flesh, the Law will daily shows our sins of thought, word, and deed against God and neighbor. Even though we, according to conscience, are free from the Law, the Law still rules over our flesh as a tutor, restraining our sinful actions and condemning us for our sins. According to our flesh we see that we are still “kept under guard by the law.” The Law still threatens us with punishment when we sin. The Law still accuses us and condemns us because of our sins. The Law still humbles us and leads us to acknowledge our sins. When this happens to us and we experience this in our hearts, we feel the time of the Law.  


6)         But what Paul says to the Galatians about the Law applies to us in this way also: that when we feel our sins and the threat and punishment of the Law, it is simply doing its job to bring us to Christ. “Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us Christ, that we might be justified by faith. The Law still does its work in our hearts and minds, but that work always should lead us to Christ, not to despair of our sins and not towards feelings of self-righteousness against the Law. When our sins accuse us and Law presses down heavy on our hearts, it is pointing us to the Faith revealed: the gospel that in Christ, all the Law’s demands have been fulfilled so that we free of them and that our sins of all who believe are forgiven. Luther wrote that when we find ourselves in that time of the Law, crushed by the weight of our guilt, we are look to Christ and experience the time of grace, and that these two times happen in constant alternation. We daily feel the pangs of the Law and its threats for our sins, so we ought to daily train ourselves so that when we experience the Law’s threats, we know to turn to Christ and the gospel of the righteousness of faith, that our hearts may be comforted by His fulfilling of the Law in our place, and so that our consciences might be consoled by the forgiveness of our sins.


7)         All this makes the circumcision of Jesus on the eighth day a great comfort to Christians. Christ willingly goes under the knife, and thus under the entire Law, to fulfill every drop of the Law. He does this so that by faith He might be the end of the Law for you in your conscience. When the Law accuses you of your sins, it is doing so to drive you to Christ, the One who fulfilled the entire Law for you. When the time of the Law weighs heavy upon your soul, call to mind the time of grace, the Gospel. Remember that the Law was not given to justify you from your sins, but to show your sins and point you to Christ, so that by faith in Him you receive the forgiveness of those sins and experience the end of the Law’s accusations and threats. By faith you are no longer under the tutor, but under Christ, and therefore you are children of the heavenly Father, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” And if Sons, then heirs of all the heavenly blessings Christ your brother earned for you, beginning with His work on the eight day. Amen


May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

December 28, 2016

The Nativity of Our Lord + John 1:1-14 + December 25, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn #102 Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful
Hymn #105 Praise God the Lord, Ye Sons of Men
Hymn #98 Of the Father's Love Begotten

Introit

Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God,
The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
The Lord has made known His salvation;
His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises. (Psalm 98:1–4)

Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given;

And the government will be upon His shoulder.
His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God,
The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)


Collect for the Nativity of Our Lord

Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the new birth of Thine Only-Begotten Son in the flesh may set us free, who are held in the old bondage under the yoke of sin; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 

Readings
Isaiah 7:10-14
Hebrews 1:1-12
John 1:1-14

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


 1)         St. Paul exhorts us in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” While that is the will of God for us every day, we ought to rejoice all the more on this day of our Lord’s nativity. The child born to the Blessed Virgin Mary is a special child in that He is given from God not just to Mary but to all mankind. It is as the prophet Isaiah foretold in his ninth chapter, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” The child that is born for us, this Son that is given to us is no mere child, just as His birth is no ordinary birth. This child who comes into the world is God’s Son and God Himself. The child born of the Virgin Mary, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manager is God the Word, the one of whom St. John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is eternal, being with God from the beginning. The Word was God, John says. He does not say that the Word became God, or that the Word was created by God in the beginning to stand alongside God or next to God. The Word was not fashioned like the rest of creation. The Word simply was. He has always existed, being eternally generated from the God the Father in a way that is ineffable and indescribable and unfathomable to our finite minds. The Word is intrinsic to God’s nature. Paul describes Him in a similar fashion in this morning’s Epistle lesson. He is “the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3). As light without brightness is not light, so God without the Word cannot be, for “the Word was God.” Nor could a created being ever suffice to be God’s radiance and brightness, nor could a creature ever faithfully reflect the invisible God as the “express image of His person.”

2)         This is the One who is born in human flesh on this day. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The eternal Word of God, the brightness of the everlasting Light, the One by whom all things were made that were made, comes into the world through the womb of the Virgin Mary. In Him we see “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” So the One born of Mary is eternal Word of the Father, brightness of the Father’s light, and the Only-Begotten Son of God, begotten before all worlds, God from God, light from light, very God from very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. The Son born of Mary is therefore the Only-Begotten Son of God. This is why we ought to doubly rejoice on this day: The Son of God becomes a Son of Man. He does not become flesh by changing from God into man, so that He ceases to be God, nor does He become a third thing, a hybrid of God and Man. The Word became flesh, that is, the eternal Word wrapped Himself in human flesh and clothed Himself with our full humanity in the womb of Mary.  As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, Christ, “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:6-7). The Word becomes flesh. The whole human existence. Human body. Human soul. To do this, He empties Himself of all divine prerogative and condescends to live a fully human life, hungering, thirsting, being tempted, growing weary, and even suffering and dying in the flesh. He becomes like us in every aspect, except that He is without sin. He assumes a full humanity, body and soul, a whole humanity, so that He might save every part of our humanity.


3)         The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He doesn’t do this out of necessity, as if His nature drove Him to become man. He doesn’t assume human flesh to be a tourist among us to see what its like to be man. Everything the eternal Word does is for us and our salvation. The Son of God becomes a Son of Man so that all men who believe in Him might become sons of God. Mankind rebelled against God the Lord in the Garden of Eden and that sin of Adam and Eve is passed on through every successive generation, so that all are sinners and therefore all continue in sin. Adam and Eve’s transgression brought corruption into their souls and death to their bodies. The corruption of sin infects everyone throughout human history who is born in the natural way, of the seed of woman and the seed of man. Death, which is the earned wage of sin, stalks all humanity, a fact which we are all too familiar with in our own lives. We die because we sin. We sin because we are born of the line of Adam and Eve. Without a gracious God to intervene, all humanity would be lost in sin, death, and remain forever in the thralldom of the devil. This is the reason for the incarnation, the enfleshment, of the eternal Son of God. In love for His creation, God the Father would not allow the creation to languish in sin and its corruption. In compassion for poor sinners, God the Father sends God the Son into world to redeem the world. In mercy, God the Father sends God the Son to become flesh so that through Him, all flesh might made incorruptible and taste everlasting life once again. “For God so love the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son” to become flesh, to become man, to redeem man from sin and death.


4)         We rejoice in this incarnation of the eternal Son of God because by it, He becomes our brother in this life, made like us every way, excepting sin. And as our brother in the flesh He does what Adam and all sons of Adam are unable to do. He becomes like us in every way, excepting sin, so that He might suffer and die in your place to atone for our sin. Paul says again that “We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). God the Son was made a little lower than the angels, meaning He was made man so that He might suffer and “taste death for everyone.” He tastes death upon the cross for all mankind to atone for the sins of the all mankind. For “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The sacrifice of a mere man could never suffice to pay the debt of even that man’s sin. The death of a creature, someone created by God, would never suffice as the propitiation for the sins of the entire world. Therefore it must be God’s blood that is spilled and God’s death as payment for men’s sins. This is why He becomes flesh, so that He might suffer in the flesh for all your sins, die in the flesh for all your transgressions, and atone for the corruption which sin has brought about in your flesh to do away with all of it.


5)         That atonement which the incarnate God wins upon the cross He then gives to all who believe in His Gospel. This atonement acquired by God the Son through His innocent, bitter sufferings and death, is presented to you in the Gospel and is received by faith. St. John writes, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” There will always be men who reject the Gospel and cast it aside in unbelief. Those who do not believe the Gospel will not be justified before God. Their sins are not forgiven because they disbelieve the Gospel. But all who receive the Him in the Gospel and believe that in Christ God is gracious to them and desires to forgive their sins, they have as they believe.


6)         Faith is what grabs hold of the gifts Christ wins for us in the flesh. Faith is how we receive the promise of the Gospel that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By faith we receive the forgiveness of all of our sins, eternal life, and the adoption as sons, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). This is what St. John means when he writes, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” Through faith in Christ and His atonement – that His work is for me and my salvation – that is what makes one a child of God. This means that the Son of God became man so that all who believe in Him might become sons of God and enjoy all the blessings of divine sonship. Faith makes you into a Son of God, not in the same way that Christ is the Son of God. He is the Son of God by nature and essence. But you are sons of God through faith, adopted into the heavenly family. In this adoption Christ gives you the forgiveness of all your sins. By faith He gives you a new, incorruptible heart in which the Triune God dwells. Because you are a son of God by faith, you share in all the divine blessings which Christ has by nature, so that you are a joint-heir with Christ of His heavenly innocence, righteousness and blessedness.


7)         This is why rejoice at the incarnation of the Son of God. God the Son takes on our flesh to purify human flesh from the corruption of sin. He tastes death for us so that all who believe His Gospel will have life even though they die. This is the reason we join with angel choirs and praise God for His great work of salvation. God the Word becomes man to suffer and die to atone for our sins so that when we believe that our sins are forgiven, they are no more. This is why we rush to Bethlehem with the shepherds to “see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15). God the Son becomes man so that all who believe in Him might become sons of God by faith, sons that enjoy all the eternal inheritance of Christ for our salvation and His eternal glory. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” But rejoice especially today that Christ has assume our flesh and made us, by faith, into Sons of God. Amen. 



May the peace of God which passes human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.