Monday, December 31, 2007

Get Ready, Get Set, …and Wait

New Year’s Eve
Eve of the Name of Jesus
Wednesday, December 31, 2007
Luke 12:35-40

I love paradoxes. A paradox is something that appears to be contradictory but in actuality is true. In the Gospel reading Jesus exhorts us to be dressed for action and only a few words later says that we are to be like those who are waiting for their master to come. Action and waiting are two opposite things. But Jesus is telling us that the way we are to act is by waiting and the way we are to be waiting is by acting.

As odd as it sounds, it’s actually pretty easy to see what Jesus is getting at. The servants are to be waiting for their master to return, that’s easy enough to understand. But does waiting mean standing around doing nothing? Of course not. They are to be waiting by working. There’s stuff to be done before he returns! So they are to act by waiting and wait by acting.

But while that’s easy enough to understand as an analogy of a master and his estate, do we understand it as Jesus Christ’s Church? The purpose of His analogy is to talk about Himself and His Church. He is returning again in glory and we are to wait for Him. But we’re certainly not supposed to sit around and do nothing. We must act. We must work. There’s a lot to be done before He returns!

The last day of the year is a natural time to think about the fact that time is fleeting. That one day God will bring all this to an end. That we are like a puff of smoke in the scheme of things. It might seem like He’s a long time in coming back, but if we laze around we will be surprised by His return in judgment. Either that or our possible untimely death.

The paradoxical way the Scriptures guide us to live in this way, to get ready for action and to wait for our Lord’s Return, is to be in the very Scriptures themselves. Isaiah talks about they that wait upon the Lord—they shall renew their strength. The reason this is paradoxical is because we are acting, we are doing, it takes work. Being in the Word of God takes time and discipline. And yet, it is a passive thing also. We are receiving. We are being blessed by God. We are “waiting” upon the Lord. He is the one doing the actual hard work. He’s busy blessing us and strengthening us.

It’s also paradoxical that this is the business we’re to be about—being in His Word—while waiting for Him to return in glory, when, in fact, He is already coming to us in that very Word. And in His Sacraments. Yes, our Lord loves to deal in paradoxes. Maybe it’s fun for Him. Maybe He just doesn’t want us to get bored. Maybe it’s simply because paradoxes aren’t by nature untrue but true. When we see them for what they really are, we know that they in fact ring true. That they hit home.

We know, don’t we, that life is not one dimensional. God is much deeper than simply being a grandfatherly chap like Santa Claus. He’s rich in character and depth. He also has a mysteriousness about Him. He has a majestic quality. He is, in fact, holy. And yet, He became a man. A human being. A baby. It’s a paradox, but it’s good that He did this! That He’s God and actively accomplishing our salvation, and humble in passively receiving the punishment for our sin.

Paradoxically, though the servants are the ones called upon by the master to get busy, when he comes home and finds them having faithfully done so, he actually tells them to be seated. For he will now serve them. They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength because He will serve them. That is the paradox, the Lord of all waits upon us. He comes to serve us. So when we’re busy about the business of being in His Word we’re actually being served by the Lord Himself.

Tomorrow a new year begins. It’s a good time to get busy. Wait upon the Lord. Be in His Word. Renew your strength by being seated at His Table. He will serve you with His very Body and Blood. As you are served by Him you will see the many opportunities to serve others in your life. It will be in simple things, like helping someone out. Or in being there for them when they’re in great need. But most of all, you will see what a blessing it is to share what the world cannot offer—and that is Christ Himself.

When you point the way to Christ, you will be pointing the way to salvation. That Christ came not to be served but to serve. He gave His life so that all may have salvation. This is the kind of hope Jesus gives us for the new year, but especially for eternity. Amen.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Those Who Seek Life

First Sunday after Christmas
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Matthew 2:13-23

At Christmas we celebrate life. We celebrate the life of the Christ Child. We celebrate the life we receive through the Christ Child. One of the great blessings of the Church Year is that we get to celebrate life no matter where we’re at in the Church Year, no matter what festival we’re celebrating or season we’re in in the Church Year. That’s because the life we celebrate in the Christ Child is the life we celebrate in Christ the Man, Christ the Savior, Christ the Conqueror of the grave.

It’s in our nature to want life. Not only to want to be alive but to live life to the fullest. The question is how we seek that life and life in its fullness. It pains us to see our loved ones suffer in such a way that their quality of life is severely diminished. Our grief is intense when life ends prematurely.

No one should ever say that the Bible is removed from reality. Listen again to these words from the Old Testament in prophecy of those who lost their infants to the brutality of Herod: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” Those who have suffered such loss can certainly identify with such pain. And those of us who haven’t can certainly imagine this kind of grief.

There’s also the questions. Why do our loved ones have to suffer? Why do infants have to die? Why did God allow all those infants to die at the hands of Herod? These questions aren’t easy; no one should pretend that they are. But nor are they off limits. There aren’t 150 Psalms in the Bible for nothing. Many of those are prayers to God asking why. Prayers to God in the throes of grief and pain.

While the answers may not be as easy as the questions, the answers are something we can actually hang on to because they are from God. The questions arise from our hearts, which are not always reliable. But God’s Word is reliable. You see, the questions we ask, though reasonable-sounding to us, are actually quite limited in that the life we seek and its fullness is limited by our perception. When we see someone with a severe disability we think it’s a shame for them because they aren’t able to experience life in its fullness as we are. But who says that’s true? Our perception is that it is, but the reality could be very different. Perhaps they have a much fuller life than those who don’t have disability. Perhaps they have a greater awareness of the wonderful blessings God gives His people than those who have no disability.

In any case, no matter who we are our perception is distorted by our sinful nature. Who always trusts in God fully? Who every turn seeks life in its fullness in accordance with God’s will? Who never seeks fullness of life through their own sinful desires rather than the Ten Commandments? Yes, we all seek life but are so often misguided in our search.

Our distorted perception seeks life in its fullness in this life. God has so much better of a plan! But we’ll get to that in a moment. At the present we need to go back to addressing the matter of suffering and why God allows things like the sad and horrible event of the infants being murdered by Herod. In the Psalms and the rest of God’s Word the way God answers the cries and the pleas of His people is by pointing them to His salvation. Yeah, you may say, okay, that sounds like a standard doctrinal reply. But how is that practical? How does that really help the people of God in their suffering? How are the mothers of the lifeless infants comforted with that answer?

In this way: when God points you to His salvation, He doesn’t direct your attention to glory, or power, or wealth, or the removal of the horrible circumstances. No, He points you to something you would never expect. To something you would never even think would be helpful or comforting at all.

He points you to more suffering. But we have to be specific here. Not just more suffering. A certain suffering. Namely, His own. His own grieving of giving His only-begotten Son up to death. God doesn’t sit up in heaven with no earthly idea of what you’re going through when your pleas ascend to Him. He has every earthly idea. He knows what you’re going through even more than you do. You experience grief—He knows grief like you could never imagine. You endure suffering, your Lord understands suffering as you will never know.

What Christ Himself endured goes far beyond any physical or even mental or emotional disability any of us experience. It surpasses any suffering we would experience. Jesus endured humiliation and physical torture, but that was the tip of the iceberg. What He really came to do was to suffer in such a way that He bore our sin. He bore every evil thought, every sinful action, every selfish motive. He bore every ounce of our guilt for our sin. But if that alone were the extent of His suffering then it would have been all for naught. We are guilty for our sin, but we also receive the punishment for that except that Christ endured that also. He suffered in that He not only bore the burden of our sin and guilt but also the punishment for it.

None of this takes away the pain we feel. It doesn’t remove the hurt or the emotions. But it does put our suffering and pain in perspective. It is of course devastating that Herod murdered those poor children. But that God allows horrible things like that to happen really is not the question. The question really is, why did He allow us to remain on this earth after we fell into sin? It’s purely by His mercy. And we must remember that it was Herod who chose the horrible action of murdering those children, not God. And in this very act we see brought home the very real necessity of God’s action in coming to earth and placing Himself in the hands of murderous men. Sin is not just a theological topic. It’s real. And it damns. Even so, God doesn’t just love us, He does something about it. He comes and saves us. He comes and suffers and dies for us!

Jesus had just been born, and already His life was sought. At the beginning of His life and at the end of His ministry there were those who sought to murder Him. But while murder is solely the work of the murderer, Jesus’ death was actually on His terms. He chose to receive it. He chose to be born in the place where Herod would try to stamp Him out. He chose to go to the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas would know where He was. He chose to walk that path toward crucifixion. But though He chose to endure suffering even unto death He didn’t stay in the grave. He rose from the grave and lives forever.

What does the angel tell Joseph about Herod and his men who tried to kill Jesus? “Those who sought the child’s life are dead.” You see, they’re dead. Herod thought that by getting rid of Jesus he’d be okay. But he wasn’t. The religious leaders that sought to kill Jesus didn’t learn a thing from Herod. They thought exactly the same way and tried the same thing. Actually, they were successful in that they actually got Him killed. But the they’re dead now also, just like Herod. And Jesus remains alive.

It will be true of us one day, also. We will die. It’s true even now. We’re spiritually dead. We seek life, just like they all did. But in our seeking we gain death, not life. Jesus came to bring life by dying in our place. Only in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection do we gain life. So we really ought not to seek life so much as we ought to seek Christ. For in Him is life. Amen.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

God Born of Woman; Man Born of God

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
Sunday, December 25, 2007
John 1:1-18

Usually the best way to tell someone something amazing is to tell them the thing. And if it is indeed amazing, then they’ll be amazed. They’ll probably say themselves that it’s amazing. You don’t even need to tell them that it’s amazing, you can just tell them the thing.

Have you ever noticed how you can hear the Scriptures and not be amazed? True enough, there are things in there that are pretty straightforward. But there’s also some amazing things in there that sometimes go right past us.

Today’s Gospel reading is one such passage. It’s amazing. Okay, now that I’ve done what I said is generally not the best way to do it, let me say again, that what John the apostle says about Christ is amazing. In fact, what he says about us is amazing.

God is born of a woman. Born of flesh. Why? So that we could be born of God. We were born of flesh but because Jesus, God, was born of flesh we may be born of God.

Maybe that’s why John goes on to say that we have received grace upon grace. Maybe that’s why he says that grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. Maybe that’s he why stops short of saying, Let me tell you something amazing and he just goes ahead and tells us the thing.

In the beginning was the Word. And you know what, or rather, who, that Word was? Christ. The Word made flesh. The One in whom and through whom all things came into being. Because the Word is God. Jesus Christ, the eternal God became flesh. Born of a woman. Born under the Law. Born into the confines of this world that is inhabited by mosquitoes and roaches. By pain and suffering. Hunger and thirst. Sin and temptation. He is God. He was born into that.

We were born into it. We don’t know what it’s like to live apart from the frustrations, the aggravations, the things that make us say, Why does it have to be this way? Why do we have to deal with bugs and pain and sin and sorrow? Why do we have to be under the Law? Jesus didn’t, but He chose it. He chose it so that we could have a new birth. A birth in which we are born not of flesh but of God.

Look back two thousand years ago and see that little baby all gooey and purple from just coming out of His mother’s womb. When you do, you will see an amazing thing—you being born of God. That’s why He came. That’s why He went through all that He did. That’s why He chose to become flesh. To be born of a woman. To suffer. To die. To take upon Himself every sin. The sin of the world. The burdens. The guilt. The pain. The sorrow. The questions.

What is amazing is that we miss this. That it goes right past us is sad. It’s pathetic. We shouldn’t have to be told that it’s amazing. But here we are. In the flesh. Sinful. Curved in on ourselves. Always looking around the corner for something exciting; something amazing.

When all we have to do is look at that little baby. The Word made flesh. Born of a woman so that we could be born of God. All we have to do is see in Him that the blood and goo that clung to Him as He came out of Mary’s womb was but a brief glimpse of what He would ultimately do. For He was born of woman so that He could die at the hands of men. And if we are in any doubt as to who really killed Jesus we should be very clear that it was us. Every sinner. Every person who has breathed on this planet took His life.

Amazing then that we are born of God. Born anew because He was born of flesh and died in our place. It’s really amazing that there’s so much talk during Christmas about peace and love and joy and that it’s so often separated from the simple yet profound circumstances of Jesus’ birth. And the reason for His birth. It’s wonderful that He was born!, there’s no doubt. Is it so wonderful why? Do people like to hear talk of the brutality of the cross, the blood and sweat that clung to Him in His crucifixion? None of that sounds very peaceful or joyful.

Ever amazing, though, that’s exactly why Jesus born. Born to die. Born so that we may be born again, born of God. If we think that we should put a damper on Christmas spirit, well, that’s the farthest thing from the truth. That would be the most amazingly ridiculous thing to do. We rejoice in the true peace, love, and joy of Christmas, because we know that His birth means our birth. His death means our life. His resurrection means our eternal celebration. He born of woman so that we may be born of God. Amen!


Monday, December 24, 2007

Are You Just Along for the Ride?

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Eve
Wednesday, December 24, 2007
Luke 2:1-20

Well, you’re here tonight. There’s a lot of people who are celebrating or spending Christmas Eve in some other way. You have at least some sense of what it’s all about. Or you might be wondering why you are here. You might be wondering with a lot of people what Christmas really is all about. Or perhaps you’re here knowing full well what Christmas is all about but still wondering what God is up to; at least, what He’s up to in your life. You know the Christmas story, you know who He is, you believe in Jesus as your Savior, but maybe you feel like you’re just along for the ride.

God is all-powerful—why then is there so much difficulty in your life? God loves you, why then do you struggle with so many problems? Maybe you’re wondering if God really is guiding you and there for you or if you’re just along for the ride.

Well take comfort. I think there was a lot of wondering that night Christ was born. First of all, Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary wondered at everything the shepherds had told them about their newborn son. The shepherds themselves were wondering what in the world was going on when heavenly visitors descended upon them. No, they not only wondered, they were scared half out of their wits! Mary and Joseph must have wondered about the timing of the census declared by Caesar when Mary had just become pregnant. Pregnancy can be difficult enough, let alone when Mary had to make a trek all the way to Bethlehem. They were probably really wondering what was going on when there was no place for them to stay at their destination. God sure had funny ways of bringing about His eternal plans.

It must have seemed for them that they were just along for the ride. They believed in God. They trusted in Him that this miraculous conception was by the hand of God and therefore He would take care of them through the whole ordeal. Well, they made it. Probably not what they had hoped for. But there they were, in a stable. God was born there. Of course, He didn’t look very much like God to Joseph and Mary. Maybe they wondered about that too. God, are You sure you know what You’re doing? Are you sure this is the way it’s supposed to be? You’re going to bring about salvation for the world in this way?

And then some shepherds showed up. What were they doing here? How’d they even know to come here? And then things got really strange! Here they’re telling them all kinds of amazing things about their little baby that had just been born. What was that all about? What was going on? They might have felt even more so that they were just along for the ride and wondering if God would ever provide any direction or at least make some sense of it all.

Of course, at the center of it all was the baby Jesus. And that’s probably where most of our wondering is directed. Jesus, a baby. Jesus, God. God knows everything, and yet, there He was, a baby lying in a manger. Happily oblivious to all that strange stuff going on around Him, because He was, after all, a human being, just like the rest of us. And we human beings when we’re babies have no concrete understanding of what is going on around us. And so our wondering continues—how could God be God and also be in a state where He didn’t know what was going on?

Think about a certain event when He was an adult in full use of His rational capacity. In the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed three times, didn’t He? Father, if there is another way, make it so. If there is any way other than suffering for the sins of the world to bring about salvation, bring it about. Do you think there was some wondering going on there with Jesus? And yet, this wondering was never divorced from the will of His Heavenly Father. His prayer three times concluded with “not My will but Yours be done.” How Jesus remains God even though in a state where He is a man and limited to the things humans are limited to is that He chose to humble Himself to become a man.

Are we wondering why this is so? As a man He placed Himself under the Law. Not just the law that governments establish. God’s Law. The Ten Commandments, which He demands we keep fully. Think about Caesar’s decree. Here he told everyone to go to their hometown to be registered and so God has to go. Not because He had no choice. Because He did choose to submit to this pagan ruler’s decree. Joseph and Mary had no choice, but Jesus did. He chose to become a man and submit not only to the law of the land but to God’s eternal Law.

Though tempted as we are, He kept God’s Law perfectly. He chose also to suffer the consequences of not keeping God’s Law perfectly. He chose this because of His vast love for us. There’s actually no wondering at all on His part, only the wonder on our part of seeing His gift to us in coming as our Savior. Jesus was most certainly not just along for the ride.

But if we nevertheless wonder, we can know that we’re in good company. Joseph and Mary wondered at what the shepherds told them about Jesus. And in the quiet moments she had, Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. It’s not a bad thing to wonder at the work of God in bringing about our salvation through a little baby in Bethlehem. Or in a suffering, bleeding servant on the hill of Calvary. While we will always wonder at how God could love us in such a way we may also see that the wonderment gives way to this: “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

They had wondered along with the rest of them. But they also came to see that they weren’t just along for the ride. And even if they were, that’s a pretty good one to be on. It all goes back to what has been told us. For the shepherds, the angels had pointed the way to Jesus, and they found it just as the angels had said. If we ever feel like we’re just along for the ride, we may see the same thing in the Scriptures. It is all just as God has said it is in His Holy Word.

We will have times in our lives where we wonder where God is going with everything we’re dealing with in life. Does He really know what He’s doing? Is this really the way it’s supposed to come about? Or are we just along for the ride? Well, for Joseph, and Mary, and a few shepherds outside of Bethlehem it was a ride that ultimately took them to heaven. Because God does have a plan. Our wondering is met with the message of God that Jesus has been born. He has suffered and died. And He has risen that we may have life in heaven with Him forever. If this is being along for the ride, then thank God He has brought us along! Amen.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Picture-Perfect Christmas?

Fourth Sunday in Advent
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Matthew 1:18-25

The well known Christmas story is from Luke 2. It’s got all those details we know and love so well. The swaddling clothes, the glory of the angels, the joy of the shepherds, and of course the baby Jesus. The account Matthew gives us, that we heard moments ago, isn’t as well known. It also has some memorable parts to it. But it also has some details that don’t seem to fit with the cozy images we have of Christmas. Think about what Joseph and Mary were dealing with 2000 years ago. Even the Luke account gives us things that don’t seem to fit into the comforting picture we have of Christmas, like a pagan ruler who considered himself to be a god. And then of course there’s the difficult conditions Joseph and Mary struggled through in their trek to Bethlehem and their stay in a stable with animals. Not ideal conditions for the birth of their baby. But we have almost come to romanticize even those details.

What we have in the Matthew account are details that not only don’t seem to fit in with the pleasant scene of Christmas, but things that we normally don’t like to deal with at all: a child out of wedlock, divorce, and an almost cryptic message from an angel. What is Matthew trying to do here, ruin our Christmas? Hasn’t society already done a good enough job of that? Can’t we just stick with the cozy and comfortable picture of Christmas Luke gives us?

We deal with family issues enough in our lives, why do they have to be inserted in here in the joyous event of the birth of the Savior? We deal with unpleasant issues enough throughout the week—do we really have to engage them here on Sunday morning where we’d expect to have sanctuary from them?

I’m sure Mary didn’t want to have to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. God only knows how she dreaded telling her husband-to-be that she was pregnant. I doubt she was mentally or emotionally ready to go through nine months of pregnancy since she and her fiancĂ© were faithfully waiting until their marriage to begin having children.

What do you think Joseph was experiencing? Anger? Betrayal? Depression? We do know that he felt he had to break off the marriage. And we also know that, though he may have struggled with the decision, he resolved to do it in a way to protect Mary.

But then there was more for Joseph to deal with—this crazy dream occurred. What was this all about that what was happening was actually all from God? That Mary was indeed as faithful to him as he had been to her. That he would have a son but in a way he never had dreamed of!

Joseph and Mary were just two ordinary people. Caesar Augustus told them they needed to go to Bethlehem, so they went to Bethlehem. They were told the only place they could spend the night when her delivery was imminent was a stable, so they went in with the sheep. They were told by angels that though the bearing of children is reserved for marriage, this was one conception and birth that would be different.

As much as we have romanticized them, the circumstances of Christ’s birth couldn’t have been more strange. Why would God choose to come to us in this way? If Joseph and Mary were wondering what in the world was going on in their brief life together, what do we possibly think of God that He would enter into such a crazy world that we have? With as many issues we deal with, as many problems we go through, why would God want to become a part of this craziness?

The angel’s quoting of the Scriptures to Joseph says it all: “‘they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Crazy as it seems, God wants to be with us. He wants to come to us. And that didn’t mean sending His angels down to earth to tidy things up first. Straighten out all the political messes. Sweeping up the tragedy of broken families, divorces, arguments, grudges. He sent them instead to simply tell people that He was coming. He would come to deliver us.

And not just from the crud we experience, the difficulties, the struggles. From the sin. The guilt we can’t escape. The angel told Joseph to name His bride-to-be’s son “Jesus”. Why? “He will save His people from their sins.” This is why Jesus came to us, right where we’re at. This is why He chose to be born in, shall we say, less than picture-perfect conditions. This is why He chose anything but a glorious exit, choosing the rejection, humiliation, and even crucifixion of men.

So, yes, this is the place where you come to escape the craziness of your life. But it’s not by ignoring it. Bring it all here with you. Confess your sins where you have done wrong. Bring your petitions to God for others where they have wronged you. Hear the words spoken here to you. They are clear. They are authoritative. They are eternal. They are powerful. They are rich in comfort, grace, and mercy. They are profoundly simple and simply what you need, no matter who you are or where you’re at.

Remember, Christ didn’t get everything fixed up before He came. He just came, in the midst of all the craziness, the crud, and the sin. Here today He comes again. He comes in His Word. His Word is spoken to you: I forgive you all your sins. His Holy Gospel is read and you hear and receive the blessings spoken therein. His Gospel is preached to you and the Holy Spirit enlivens you. At this altar, you receive His very Body and Blood given you for your forgiveness and the strengthening of your faith.

He doesn’t tell you to get everything fixed up in your life before you come here. He simply tells you to come. To receive. To hear. To be blessed. To be comforted. It’s not picture-perfect. It never is. When you get to heaven, yeah, then you will know what perfection is. But not even Christ tried to fix things up when He came to save us. He just came. And He just saved us. He did what needed to be done, though in less than ideal conditions. Good news, actually, as your life is in many ways similar to Joseph and Mary’s. Not always quite what you’d expect, and at times less than ideal. But He came right in the midst of it. So He does with you. Amen.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Messengers and Their Words

Advent Midweek 3
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Luke 1:26-38

The Gospel reading for tonight is more like what we would traditionally use for Advent, being as it’s a text which points toward the birth of Christ. The ones we’ve looked at so far were of what happened after His birth. And yet both have been very helpful in our preparation of our celebration of Christ’s birth. They have given us a better grasp of why Jesus was born. This is helpful in this season of preparation.

Now tonight we have the announcement to Mary of the coming birth. The angel Gabriel is the one bringing the news. The word angel actually means messenger. But there are many kinds of messengers. In the Gospel readings for our Sunday worship services we’ve been hearing a lot about one of the most famous messengers, John the Baptist. Last week we heard about some very interesting people bringing the news of the birth of the new king to the current man in power, Herod. The Magi had themselves heard the message and made their way to see the newborn king. And of course before that we had angels again, the well known messengers of the Good News to the shepherds. After they saw Jesus, the shepherds themselves became messengers.

Gabriel has something in common with all the others and that is the words that he speaks. He speaks words that have been given to him by God. That’s what messengers do, they bring a message from one and speak it to another. In the case of these messengers, the one that gave the message was God. Look at all the different places and the people the messengers were sent to.

John was sent to the masses. The Magi came to the king. The angels came to shepherds out in the fields. The same shepherds then went out and told people. Gabriel was sent to Mary. God’s message is sent out to all kinds of people in all kinds of places. The messengers may vary, but the message remains the same. That’s why Mary could say to Gabriel, “let it be to me according to your word.” What she was saying was, “let it be to me according to the Word of God. (In other words, I believe that the message you are speaking to me is the very Word of God.)”

And this what this Advent has been all about. It has been about Christ. Every season of the Church Year is about Christ. Every message in the Scriptures is about Christ. The word Advent means “coming”. In Advent we prepare for our celebration of the coming of Christ. The messengers we’ve heard about were preparing the people of God for the very coming of Christ. He has now come. He came at Bethlehem.

And now that He has, what do we do? What is the significance of our preparation now that He has come? Well if we go back to the messengers and their message we will see. They not only spoke that Christ was coming, but why He came. It was to forgive sins. But He never intended to come at Bethlehem, to live, suffer, die, rise, and ascend into heaven only to leave us be. When He forgives sins He does it completely. And that’s why when the messengers say that Christ is coming, they mean that He’s coming and that He’ll keep on coming.

He came at Bethlehem, He continues to come today. John the Baptist foreshadowed this in His preaching that Jesus would come to Baptize. That’s exactly how He comes to us today—He comes to us in our Baptism. When Gabriel spoke the message to Mary he was giving us words which direct us to much more than just the conception, nine months of being in the womb, and birth of Christ. He was declaring the very message of God coming in the flesh. Living on this side of the ascension, we see how Christ continues to do that today, in His Holy Supper. He comes in the flesh, His very body and blood bound up in that bread and wine of the altar.

Mary spoke the words of humble faith to Gabriel: “let it be to me according to your word.” We are like Mary, we speak words of humble faith to our Lord: “let it be to me according to Your Word.” When He tells us that He comes to us in the flesh in that bread and wine, we might respond like Mary and question, “how can this be?” But by the grace of God, and according to His Word, we respond in faith, believing that the very Son who gave His life on the cross gives Himself to us in the Supper.

We have seen that all the messengers have something in common: they speak the Word given to them by God. They have something else in common: when they speak their message it is never about them, it is always about Christ. Because while messengers deal in words, the messengers sent by God deal in the Word, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. The messengers of Christ proclaim a message of the Word, Christ, given and born for us; suffered and died, for us; risen and ascended, for us. Always coming to us in His Holy Word and His gracious Sacraments. We rejoice God has sent these messengers to us so that we may hear them again and again, hearing more and more of Christ and His salvation. Amen.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hear and See

Third Sunday in Advent
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Matthew 11:2-15

There are times you come to a Scripture passage and you see good reasons to interpret it one way but also good reasons to interpret it another way. What makes it especially difficult to determine is that both interpretations have value to them. Today’s Gospel reading is one of those passages. Either way you go you’ll be well served because neither interpretation goes against the rest of Scripture. So what do you do?

With today’s Gospel reading you have the question, Is John the Baptist having doubts holed up in that prison and so asks his disciples from Jesus Himself if He really is the one? Or is John holed up there in prison but the consummate teacher of his disciples, having them go to Jesus to find out for themselves that Jesus is in fact the one? There is so much here for us either way. On the one hand, it’s comforting to know that even someone like John falls into times of spiritual crisis and that Jesus is always there for him. How much more so for us! On the other hand, it’s a comfort to know that even when someone like John is in dire straits even that can be used to point to the one who is our only hope. How much more will our Lord continue to send us leaders who will point our way to Jesus!

But there may be a third option. Why can’t it be both? Or maybe another way of saying it is, Maybe God put it in the Scriptures this way so that we are enriched beyond just seeing a passage of Scripture, hearing the interpretation, and learning the lesson of it. Maybe God put it that way so that we must wrestle with it. So that when we come to the conclusion of what the interpretation is we’re forced to see that there’s a lot going for the other one and that we ought to study it more.

But not just study the particular Scripture passage more—study the Bible more. What’s really happening here is that we’re seeing that we need to be in God’s Word, ever more, ever deeper. If John is having doubts and can’t quite see straight, he’s at least sending his disciples to the right place. If he’s more convinced than ever, despite his situation, he’s seeing for himself and guiding his disciples to get into the Word of God, going straight to the source. Each interpretation accomplishes the goal, just from a different perspective. What the third option does is move us beyond just looking at this passage on its own and coming to a decision and moves us to the rest of the Scriptures.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been preparing for a sermon and in my own personal devotions or in studying for something else I have come to an insight on the particular passage I’m going to preach on. That’s because the Word of God is the Word of God. He’s the Author and He’s got it all working together.

He didn’t just give us a simple little booklet that shows us the path to salvation and we’ve got it all figured out, thank you very much. He gives us the Bible that is challenging and at times difficult to understand. But isn’t that exactly what was going on when John was in prison? Whether with John or with his disciples. Or maybe a little of both? John was as certain Jesus was the One as he was that he was in prison; even as there may have been some nagging doubts in the back of his mind there. On the other hand, John may have been genuinely in spiritual distress. It all seemed so clear. He knew Jesus was the One. And yet, now things weren’t seeming quite so clear. Nevertheless, in the back of his mind, there was that still small voice of clarity, of peace, of certainty. He did know that Jesus was the one.

Haven’t there been times when we ourselves have felt one way and at other times the other way? Aren’t there times when we’re not even sure which way we feel? This passage is for you, right where you’re at. Because you don’t necessarily have to have it all figured out. But you do need to keep studying. You do need to go directly to the source. And this is why you need to hear Jesus’ answer to the question: “Tell John what you hear and see.”

The question was asked of Jesus, but the question was asked in doubt, whether by John or his disciples. You know what Jesus does when we’re approaching Him in doubt? He points us to what we hear and see. And what is it we hear? What is it we see? We hear Him. We hear Him when His Holy Word is read. We hear Him when we read it ourselves. We hear Him when the absolution is spoken by His servant. We hear Him when His Gospel is proclaimed or taught by His servant.

When we hear Him in these ways it may not seem as dramatic as when He spoke to the deaf and the blind and the lame. But we hear the same message. We are healed of our infirmity. We are forgiven our sins.

What do we see? We see people at this font before us being Baptized. We see at this altar the bread and wine that is given to us by our Lord Himself, in which He also gives to us His very self, His body and blood. We see our Lord at work. We see our Lord coming to us in His Sacraments.

What was proclaimed in the wilderness in the Old Testament reading is a description that fits us today, with what we hear and see: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Your God… will come and save you.’” Jesus pointed John and his disciples to what they were hearing and seeing, His marvelous acts of compassion and healing. When we hear Him and see His work in His Word and Sacraments we too are strengthened and comforted and healed, forgiven of our sin.

We are feeble. We are weak and often falter. Why did James in our Epistle reading have to say this to Christians: “Do not grumble against one another”? It’s because we’re prone to not see Jesus for who He is and live like it. We have heard and seen, and yet we grumble and doubt. We act as if Jesus isn’t really who He says He is. As if he really didn’t do all those things promised in the Old Testament and accomplished by His own voice and hands. As if He really hasn’t Baptized all those people we’ve seen Baptized. As if the bread and wine on the altar and that we receive is only bread and wine and not the life giving and sustaining Body and Blood of Christ.

What we need to do is what John did. Whether out of doubt or the confident showing of his disciples, we like him need to go to the source. To Jesus Himself. This is where we hear and see. It’s not just stuff we hear “out there”. It’s not just what we see in our day to day life. It’s what we hear and see of Jesus as He is in action. The one who healed the sick is the one who carried our sickness of sin upon Himself in His suffering and death. He continues to act, to do, to deliver His healing to you in His Holy Word. In Holy Baptism. In His Holy Supper.

So hear and see. Your Lord comes to you. You receive Him because He gives you ears to hear and eyes to see. Even when your body is decaying in the ground this hearing and seeing will remain. And when that very body is raised in glory you will hear and see face to face. Amen.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Giving Gifts to the Giver

Advent Midweek 2
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Matthew 2:1-12

The Gospel account of the Magi is always designated for the festival of Epiphany, which comes after Christmas. The event occurred after Christ was born, so that makes sense. But since our Midweek Advent worship services are based on the Quempas Carol, we have this passage before us now.

It’s actually a very helpful thing for us to take a look at it before Christmas. One of the foremost things on people’s minds at this time of year is gift giving and receiving. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. But it can be a distraction. If presents become more exciting than what we’re celebrating at Christmas then we’ve got a problem.

We learn from the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus about gift giving and receiving. There are two key ideas here which help us understand what gift giving and receiving is all about. The first is “worship” and the second is “gifts”.

Both of these ideas seem pretty straight forward, and I suppose, when it comes down to it, they really are. What makes them stand out in the Word of God is who is doing the giving and who is doing the receiving. Or maybe another way of saying it is, why is there giving and receiving going on?

When the Magi come to Jesus to worship Him they are giving something to Him, right? They are worshiping Him. They are in a sacrificial position, of kneeling, of bowing down before Him as King. When they give Him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they are giving Him gifts, right? So Jesus is the one receiving here. He’s the recipient of worship and gifts.

So far so good. They recognized that He was a very special king and so they acted accordingly. They paid homage to Him and presented Him with gifts.

The problem is that we tend to think of this whole situation in the same way that we do with our giving and receiving of gifts at Christmas. It’s completely different. There are similarities. But we’re giving gifts to people that are just like we are, ordinary human beings. The Magi were honoring and giving gifts to a human being who was God. He was not even just a king but the very King of Kings.

The Magi weren’t the primary gift givers here. Sure, their gifts were more immaculate than what most of us could give. But the point in all of this isn’t what the Magi were doing, but what they had received. They were first and foremost the recipients of a gift from the very one they were honoring. It might seem odd that the baby Jesus would be able to give a gift to these men. He, after all, was truly a newborn human being; in need of a lot of care and attention from His parents. But the gift was there in the flesh—Jesus Christ is Himself His gift to all people.

While here at the beginning of His life Gentiles recognized the Gift that was before them, so at the end of His life, while hanging on the cross, another Gentile, the Centurion, also worshiped Him, proclaiming at Jesus’ death: “Truly this was the Son of God.” And there’s your gift, all wrapped up in this one package of the flesh of Jesus Christ. Born and suffering. Laying in a manger and hanging on a cross. Receiving the worship of men because they received His life-giving Spirit.

We are first and foremost recipients of the Gift of Gifts. Jesus is the King of Kings and does deserve our worship and honor. But He didn’t do what He did because we have honored Him so. He did what He did because He is the Giver of good gifts. He gave life at the creation of the world, He gave new life at the cross. He gives us sustaining hope, even as He has risen from the grave, in our Baptism, in His Supper, in the spoken Absolution and the proclaimed Gospel.

In our giving of gifts to each other we can get a sense of what we receive from God. When someone who loves you gives you something you have a tangible measure of that in the gift they gave you. And that hopefully is why we also give gifts to those we love. So our gift giving and receiving is a good thing because ultimately it’s a reminder to us of the tangible way God loves us. He gives us His Son. He gave us His Son at the first Christmas, He gives us His Son in our Baptism, and He gives us His Son in His Holy Supper.

This is why we worship Him. We know who Jesus is. The Magi knew He was a king. We know that He is the King of Kings. We know He is the King of every good gift, especially of Himself. The Magi had spectacular gifts to bring Him. So do we. Ourselves. He created us, after all. He, after all, gave us new life. In Him we live and move and have our being. We love because He first loved us. So also whatever we offer Him is because He has first offered Himself to us so that we may live with Him forever. Amen.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

How Do You Like Your Christianity?

Second Sunday in Advent
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Matthew 3:1-12

If Christianity were like a buffet you could go and pick and choose. You could go back for more of what you like and ignore what you don’t like. Out in the desert John the Baptist was delivering a Christianity that was anything but a buffet. He was the cook serving up three items on the menu: repentance, Baptism, and Jesus Christ. He didn’t ask them what they would like. He didn’t ask them how they would like the items prepared. He simply dished them out.

To be certain, there were some who showed up that didn’t like the way this restaurant was operating. Maybe they didn’t like the cook, or what was on the menu, or simply how it was being served. What is clear is that they would have nothing to do with what John was offering out there in the desert.

This points out to us something very important. How do we want our Christianity? Do we prefer buffet style, where we can pick and choose? Or do we go to the restaurant and simply receive what is dished out? There’s a sharp contrast drawn between those who took the menu as it stood and those who would just as soon have stayed at their own restaurant in Jerusalem. Maybe that’s why John delivered the items on his menu out in the desert—away from Jerusalem and the restaurant of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

There’s no doubt the religious leaders wanted to have their religion their own way. But did all the people who came out to John accept the Christianity John served up exactly as it was on the menu? Three years of Ministry of Jesus show us that they either rejected Him themselves, or simply ignored Him, or at the very least didn’t fully grasp exactly what Christianity was.

Assuming we’re in the category of the crowds and not the Pharisees and Sadducees, we shouldn’t simply assume that we can relax because we don’t fall under the judgment pronounced on the Pharisees and Sadducees. We’re always in danger of falling under it because our Old Adam is always hungry. Our sinful flesh is never satisfied with only what’s on the menu. It always sees something else at the buffet table that looks more appealing.

That’s why the words of John to all the people there—the crowds and religious leaders alike—are words we need to hear for all time. How is this? Because his words never come to a point where they’re no longer applicable in this life. When John said, “Repent”, he meant that this is something we’re continually in need of doing.

We can see how this is so when we look at another command in the Bible: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We don’t hear that and say, “Oh good, I just have to love my neighbor this one time God tells me to love him.” No, we hear it and realize that He is calling us to love our neighbor and keep on loving him. Same here with repent: we don’t just repent the one time we hear this command of God—we repent and keep on repenting. That’s because we’re in continual need of repentance.

John was pointing people to Christ. He was paving the way for the Savior. While John was still out in the wilderness Baptizing and preaching Jesus came on the scene. It’s telling that when Jesus began His Ministry He preached exactly the same thing John did: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom of heaven is always at hand. The good new is that it is always at hand in the wilderness, the desert. In other words, the spiritual desert of our lives. “Heaven” comes to earth in the midst of the wilderness, our spiritual need; right in the middle of our sin and guilt.

So how do you like your Christianity? Do you want to check out what else is on the menu when you are served up a strong dose of Law? When you are called on your sin, do you want to pile on heaping portions of rationalization? When you are called to repent of gossiping and saying things of people that will harm their reputation, do excuse yourself to make another trip to the buffet so that you can find some good reason why you need to talk about people behind their back? This is really the kind of Christianity we prefer, isn’t it? Maybe we’re not so far different from those Pharisees and Sadducees.

Our Old Adam is ravenously hungry for anything that’s not on the menu. Our sinful nature feeds on its own desires. We truly are dead in our trespasses and sins. What can be done? John shows us: Baptism. The old man needs to die. In Baptism our Old Adam is drowned. The Holy Spirit gives us new life in Baptism. While repentance is a continual need, Baptism, like birth, is a one-time occurrence. It’s very much like birth, in fact, in that when you’re born you then grow. We grow in faith by repenting of our sins and being forgiven of them.

Notice how immanently practical John is. He’s not giving some sweet mush that’s palatable to them, but concrete actual stuff. Repentance, Baptism, and what it all is wrapped up in, Christ. What Christianity really is is the serving up of Christ. The Old Testament reading did exactly what John the Baptist was doing, turning our vision toward Him: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” This is a promise of the Messiah, the Savior, in whom we have forgiveness and life. John’s calling us to repentance is repentance that is in keeping with bearing fruit. How this happens is through Jesus, He is the vine and we are the branches. We can do nothing apart from Him.

Our Savior Jesus, as the Old Testament reading also shows us, judges us with righteousness. This is the promise to the Christian. Why would we want anything else served us? We are too often caught up in our version of Christianity that we at times engage in things like gossip and not putting the best construction on other people’s actions. A very different picture of the Christian Church is given by Paul in the Epistle: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is nothing less than a description of the “bearing fruit in keeping with repentance” of the Gospel reading.

The kind of Christianity served up in the Word of God is Christianity that is centered in Christ and comes from Christ, as Paul further goes on to say:

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.

It was to the glory of God that Jesus took on human flesh in His birth. What results in this, our God and Lord serving us by becoming a man, is Paul’s concluding thought in the Epistle: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

You are a child of God. You are a member of His Household. You dine at His Table. You receive abundant portions from His hand. Never think that it is because you are holding on to whatever brand of Christianity you have. John’s warning to those who think they’re in apart from what’s on the menu is sobering: “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”

Repentance is not something we can bring about of our own will or power. That God can raise up children from stones shows us that He can raise us up from our stony unbelief. “He separates the chaff from the wheat and gathers His wheat into the barn.” This is pure Gospel. It is Jesus serving up what only He can serve. He calls to repentance so that He can make alive.

So how do you like your Christianity? How about the way Jesus serves it up to you? He doesn’t give you what you want or what you think you need. He simply gives you what He has: Himself. And that, dear friends in Christ, is Christianity. Amen.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Our Preparing Is Our Preparation

Advent Midweek 1
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Luke 2:8-14

Some things need just as much effort in preparation as they do for the thing itself. If you’re going to mop the floor, you first need to move everything out of the way and then sweep the floor. If you’re going to play a sport you can’t just go out onto the field and play, you first have to practice and work hard. If you’re going to make a presentation at work it’s best not to wing it. Preparation will go a long way toward a good presentation.

Have you ever wondered why we have midweek worship services during Advent and Lent? It’s because they are seasons in the Church Year that are seasons of preparation. We don’t just up and celebrate Christmas because the date on the calendar says December 25. We prepare for our celebration of it. We don’t suddenly rejoice in the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. We prepare our hearts and minds for the observance of Holy Week and the suffering and death of Christ before we celebrate the Resurrection.

We know the story. We know the events of Christ’s life. We know what He has done to accomplish our salvation. Is all this extra preparation necessary? Well, it would be easy to never show up to practice, but playing in the game would show you that you’re not ready to be there. You might know all about your sport. You might know everything you need to do. You might even have tremendous skill and be able to get by to a great degree on that. But ultimately you would find that you really don’t know what it’s all about after all. It’s in the preparation that you are formed for what you do on the field.

In our preparation during Advent we are being prepared. Our preparing is our preparation. This is shown to us in the Gospel reading. Why is it that we need to know about the birth of Jesus? Why didn’t God just have His Book, the Bible, be short and sweet? He could have simply told us that God came down to earth and suffered and died in our place. Why is it necessary to go through the details of His birth and even his Ministry? Why not go right to the heart of things?

Because in giving us these things He’s preparing us. When we are in Advent to prepare for our celebration of Christmas we are actually being prepared by God. He’s doing something a little like what the angels did for the shepherds. The angels were preparing them. Giving them the firsthand news that there was a Savior and He was for them. Could those shepherds just have waited like everyone else until Jesus died and rose and then they’d know they had a Savior? Yeah. But God doesn’t operate that way. He doesn’t just do things for us. He prepares us for them.

That way we don’t just go along thinking we know what we need to know, and isn’t that just dandy? Can you imagine a coach telling his team how excited he is to have guys like them on his team so practice isn’t necessary? The coaches I know expect the team to be there for practice and to work hard. But the athletes aren’t just preparing. They are being prepared. The coach is preparing them. He’s guiding them. He’s stirring them on. He’s giving them the big picture. He’s pointing out small but important things they might have missed otherwise. Their preparing is their preparation.

The collect for the First Sunday in Advent focuses us on this preparation: “Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds.” We ask Him to stir up our hearts. It is by His coming we are enabled to serve Him with pure minds. Our prayer is not simply that we would have the mind to prepare for the celebration of His first coming and that we would continue to prepare for His second Coming in glory. But that He would prepare us through this so that we may see and hear and know what the shepherds did: there is salvation wrapped up in that baby of Bethlehem. There is life in that suffering and death of the Suffering Servant. There is deliverance from all our sins in that Savior who loves to keep coming to us.

Your life in Christ has been one of preparation. Because in your preparing you are being prepared. In your Baptism you are living a new life, one in which you are sustained by Christ Himself in His Word. You confess your sins. You examine yourself. You see where you have fallen short of His glory and His will. You long to receive again and again the food that forgives you and sustains you. And in His Holy Supper your Lord prepares you for new and trusting life in Him by feeding You with Himself.

Just think about it—if you simply rest on “what you know” you’re content to rest in that knowledge. Now, that might sound like a good thing, but it’s really not. It’s really resting in your knowledge. You might think this is splitting hairs, but listen to what the angels were telling the shepherds: Christ has come to you. He is your Savior! It’s not about knowledge, it’s about Christ preparing our hearts and minds for His amazing work of salvation. There can never be enough preparation that takes place. We can never be prepared too much.

That’s a good thing. Because Jesus loves to give. He loves to work for you. He loves to serve you. That’s why we see that the more we sin the more we need Him. The more we live in this world and in our flesh the more we’re tempted to delight in our wants and desires. Spending time in the Word of God; meditating on your Baptism and what it means that you have new life in the midst of this sin-filled world and your Old Adam that hangs on; pondering the mystery that God, who cannot be contained, has chosen to box Himself into the packages of human flesh and bread and wine so that we know exactly how He comes to us.

These are not only the glorious things we prepare for, but are also and always the very things God uses to prepare us for eternal life with Him. Amen.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Get Out of the Way

First Sunday in Advent
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Matthew 21:1-11

You don’t need to wait a month to start the new year, it has come today. Granted, it’s a different kind of year, that of the Church Year. Today’s Gospel reading directs us how to begin it properly.

Very simply, it is that we need to get out of the way. What we learn today on the first day of the Church Year is that it is all about Christ. Not only at the beginning of the year, but throughout our lives and through all eternity. Because it’s all about Christ, we need to get out of the way.

This is shown to us by the Gospel reading that has been designated for the beginning of the Church Year. It’s the account of Palm Sunday. We’re normally used to hearing this Gospel reading at the beginning of the most solemn week of the Church Year, Holy Week. So what’s it doing here at the beginning of the Church Year?

Just this: When we see what Jesus is doing here in riding into Jerusalem we see what it is all about. We see what Christ is all about. He is all about the cross. That’s why He came. He came to go to the cross, and so that’s how we begin. And that is what will be our focus throughout the Church Year and on throughout our lives. It is only through the cross that we have eternal life in Christ.

On the one hand Jesus is specific—He calls on two disciples to go get the donkeys. On the other hand, we’re not told which disciples they were. Why? Because that’s not important. We need to get out of the way.

When the guy asks them why they’re taking the donkey, he lets them go because “the Lord needs it”. That’s enough, the guy has to get out of the way. He’s not the important person here, Jesus is.

Even the donkeys are to get out of the way. Whatever they were doing, whatever they were going to be used for is not important. Jesus needs them and so He’ll use them.

Even a guy who wasn’t there on Palm Sunday is quoted, Zechariah. God inspired him centuries before to prophesy of this event. Zechariah didn’t have a clear picture of how this would come about. He didn’t know the name of the Messiah, that it would be Jesus. But he prophesied it anyway. He knew he simply needed to get out of the way—it was all about the Messiah; which we see here on Palm Sunday is Jesus.

The disciples go get the donkeys for Jesus. They did exactly what He had directed them to do. It wasn’t about them. It was all about Him. They needed to get out of the way.

So they brought the donkeys to Him. And they got out of the way. They put their cloaks on the donkeys. Many put theirs and also branches on the road before Him. Because it wasn’t about them, but Him. And so they acclaimed Him. They shouted their praises to Him.

The only thing about it was that they were the ones doing everything. All Jesus was doing was sitting on a donkey and riding into Jerusalem. Not very stately. Not exactly awe-inspiring or kingly. Rather, what Zechariah had prophesied was coming about: Jesus was beginning His path to the cross humbly. What do you think everyone would have thought if they knew why Jesus was entering into Jerusalem? What do you think they would have done?

They didn’t seem to notice that He was riding in humbly. He made Himself of no reputation. He is the one who said, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Christ becomes lowly Himself so that no burdened sinner is driven away.

Still, who was doing all the work? Was it really all of them? Jesus had it all planned out. Everyone else simply needed to get out of the way. He alone knew why He was there. He alone knew that it was all about Himself—but for quite a different reason than they had all expected: it was to go to the cross.

What a contrast to the picture of the Old Testament reading: “All the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’”

This is a joyous trek, to the Mountain of the Lord! To be in the presence of the glory of God! With Jesus’ trek into Jerusalem He’s going to be brutally treated and suffer death. But it’s only through this tragedy that we may see what it means when the people of God setting their sights on God’s glorious presence seek to be taught by Him and walk in His paths.

It’s only by getting out of the way. We have to let God be God. If we want to begin the Church Year on a note other than the cross then we may as well go home, because we will not make it to the Mountain of the Lord and into His presence. We must get out of the way and hear what He has done for us. That He chose to go the way of the cross. That He chose to come in humility so that we may receive glory.

It’s through the lens of the cross, the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, that Paul says in the Epistle: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the Law... the commandments are summed up in this Word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.”

Another way he might have said this is: “Get out of the way.” Let Christ rule in you. Because He does not rule in power but in love. He comes gently and humbly. He comes that we may begin to see that there really is a serious need we have. We prayed it in the Collect: “Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance.”

It’s loss beyond compare if we can’t get out of the way and see that our sins truly threaten to imperil us to eternal torment in hell. It’s glory beyond compare when we begin to see our sins in the same way Christ does: as brought to their end in His suffering and death on the cross.

Get out of the way. Let Christ be Christ. He is the Lord of all, and yet was content to be hailed simply as the prophet from the backwater town of Nazareth in Galilee. He’s never too proud to simply come to us right where we are, in our need. Don’t get in the way. Confess your sins. Think not on yourself and what you want, but on Him and His grace. On His body and blood which He gives to you to eat and drink. On His death and life which He joins you to in your Baptism. On His simple Word: “Come into the eternal Kingdom My Father has prepared for you.”

He wants you with Him. That happens when you get out of the way and look to Him and His cross. Your risen Lord is humble and powerful to save. He has done so. Amen.