Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On the Shedding of Blood

New Year’s Eve
Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus
December 31, 2008
Luke 12:35-40

First let me say, “Happy New Year!”

Now we can get to the actual business of why we can wish each other a Happy New Year. It’s worth our noting that we’re in the House of God on the last day of the year. It’s worth noting that we’re here because we’re Christians. Anyone can wish anyone a Happy New Year, and we shouldn’t deny them that in any way.

But it’s also worth our time to be very specific about why this year ahead is a Happy New Year. It is because of the shedding of blood. It’s not because God will cause you to prosper financially, although if He does, you may certainly count that as a blessing. It’s not because He promises all your children will be healthy and successful, although you ought certainly to thank God if you receive those blessings. It’s not because He promises to bring to an end the wars of this world and the suffering people endure at the hands of tyrants, although anytime those things happen we may rejoice in God’s continued care for His creation.

The reason the new year will be blessed is because of the shedding of blood. The reason we are here is because of the shedding of blood. The reason we have existence in the favor of God is because of the shedding of blood. Not because He brings all wars to an end, because your children are free from sickness, and you have the financial capacity to care for your family. All of those blessings are wonderful, which is why they’re called blessings.

But without the shedding of blood they vanish before you know it. Is it hard to see how fleeting they are? We’re already here to 2009! Where has the time gone? We know at some point it will come to an end, perhaps sooner rather than later. We can rejoice in all the temporal blessings God gives us but we should do so asking Him that He would grant us the peace of always being mindful of and trusting in the eternal blessings He grants to us. Those come through the shedding of blood.

That’s why it’s going to be a Happy New Year. How does our Lord describe Himself in the Gospel reading? As one who serves. He’s not a servant. He’s the Master. And yet, He serves, doesn’t He? How He serves is by coming to those He serves. In the Gospel reading the description points us to His coming again on the Last Day to serve them one last time on this earth. The way He will do that is by taking them from the earth into the eternal glories of heaven. He tells us this beforehand so that we may be ready.

How do we get ready? We get ready by fixing our faith on the shedding of blood. The Bible fixes our focus on the shedding of blood of a specific person—Jesus Himself. He, the Lord, has served us by shedding His blood. The New Year coincides with the festival in the Church Year of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus. We know what circumcision is. There is shedding of blood involved. Even here as an infant, Jesus was already accomplishing His work of salvation, His work of serving us. The shedding of His blood as an infant in His circumcision points to the shedding of His blood on Calvary.

On the eighth day of life Jesus was given His name. Matthew says the reason for the name was because He would forgive His people of their sins. His name and its meaning is tied to the shedding of His blood at His circumcision. All of this points to His shedding of His blood on Calvary and why His blood was shed in that sacrifice. It was for the forgiveness of sins. That means eternal life. We are reconciled with God. It means in the new year we have new life every day. Because Jesus shed His blood you can wake each day in the new year knowing that you are forgiven.

The year ahead is a blessing God gives you to serve you. He came to serve by giving His lifeblood for you. When He comes on the Last Day He will serve you by welcoming you into His eternal home. In the coming year and throughout your life He serves you giving you in His Supper the very blood He shed on the cross. He does this because He has exhorted you to be ready for His coming on the Last Day. How can you be prepared if you’re left to your own will and ability? You can’t, but being forgiven and strengthened by Him serving you you can and will. The year ahead will bring unknowns, challenges, problems, and sadness. Rejoice that despite and even in those things you are forgiven, your Lord who shed His blood for you forgiving you each day and always. Amen.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why We Celebrate Birth

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
December 25, 2008
John 1:1-14

We celebrate birth because with birth there is new life. Where there is new life there is opportunity. There is hope, there is joy. With birth there is the promise of tomorrow.

When life is taken away there is sadness. It seems to suck out our hope. There was potential for so much and now it seems to be gone. There are times where we are relieved that our loved one is now free from tremendous suffering, but when your child is lost in the womb or infancy there doesn’t seem to be any reason for joy or hope. When your loved one is taken in the prime of their life you try to make sense of it. We celebrate birth; we celebrate life—when that is taken away, there is sorrow and sadness. We easily know why we celebrate birth.

But often something happens after that. We celebrate life in the birth of our children, in the birth of our relatives’ and friends’ children. But what happens after their birth? Do we feel that same joy and opportunity as they grow and live their lives? You’re not aware of your own birth, but you’re very aware of the life you live. Do you have joy and see opportunity every day of your life? Or do you just live, trying to get by?

Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter are the three Christian festivals which most distinguish what God says about our lives in comparison with what we often think about our lives. Humans throughout history have sought meaning in their lives in countless ways. How else can you explain the thousands of religions and belief systems? People seek meaning in all kinds of ways, trying to accomplish joy in their lives, seeking to capture the opportunity of life.

Some people gain their significance through their work. Some seek happiness in their children. Some search for contentment in various religions. Some attempt to find meaning in their lives by trying something new, hoping it will give them the joy they are lacking. Although there is variety in these things there is one thing at the center of them: the person seeking fulfillment. We are by nature the center of our own lives. When all is said and done, we seek joy and meaning in ourselves. When a baby is born, guess who’s at the center of attention? The baby is who everybody talks about and ogles over. But as we grow, we continue to make ourselves the center of attention for ourselves.

It’s not that we shouldn’t celebrate birth and life. And it’s not that we shouldn’t seek to be happy and desire fulfillment. It’s that we’re going about it the wrong way. We’re looking inward, when God tells us that we ought to look outside of ourselves. Not by looking for meaning in manmade things, that’s the same as looking within ourselves. By looking at the specific way God gives us true fulfillment, ultimate joy, the greatest opportunity.

That’s why we celebrate Jesus’ birth. That’s why we give thanks for Good Friday. That’s why we rejoice in Easter. God tells us to get off ourselves and latch onto Christ. His birth, His life. Jesus’ birth gives true meaning to our birth. He was born that we may not die. Our birth is something indeed to celebrate, but there is only true opportunity in new birth. The Gospel reading gives true hope because of the second birth God gives us. It comes about because God chose to be born. Jesus was born of Mary so that we may be born of God.

We celebrate life, and we have every reason to. But there is the ultimate lost opportunity if our celebrating and search for meaning is joy apart from the one was born in a stable. There is the ultimate tragedy if our joy is not centered in the one who was born to live in order to die in our place and rise to guarantee us unending joy in heaven.

There’s a lot wrapped up in that little baby lying in a manger. The very Son of God. The salvation of the world. Hope that is secure because it’s hope in Him and not ourselves. True joy, because it’s joy in Him and what He has done for us, not what we seek to do. True life, because it is the life of God Himself, not just a temporal life. We celebrate life, but especially life in Christ. We celebrate being born, but especially being born of God. We celebrate Jesus’ birth because in doing so we celebrate His death and resurrection for our ultimate and eternal joy with God Himself. Amen.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Eve
December 24, 2008
Luke 2:1-20

What are you expecting this Christmas? You have expectations in your life, and certainly at Christmas. You might be expecting a certain gift you’ve been wanting. You might be expecting, or at least hoping, that things will turn better in your life. Whatever your expectations, you are here this evening. You’re here for a reason and you’ve come with your expectations. Are you here because you’re in the Christmas spirit? Maybe you want to get away from all the commercialization of the holiday season. Maybe you’re desperate to take a break from what the world says about Christmas and hear the true meaning of Christmas. Maybe you’re here because you want to hear, once again, that story we know so well of what Christmas really is. You might be here simply because it seems that’s what you should do on Christmas Eve.

Whatever your reasons, whatever your expectations, one thing you do expect is that you will hear that same Christmas story. The Christmas story in Luke starts off with these words: “In those days.” We live in an age where those words aren’t necessarily valued. People love to hear a good story, but some don’t have much regard for what has happened in the past. Especially so long ago and with so much religious baggage. When you come to church and you hear the words, “in those days,” do you find yourself feeling like you’re not hearing something relevant to your life? We know what happened in those days. What about in these days? What does what happened in those days have to do with our lives today? Shouldn’t we be hearing about what God is doing today? How can you know that God has a plan for your life today; that you’re not just hearing stuff that happened long ago and doesn’t apply to your daily life?

The first way is with the words themselves, “in those days.” The use of these words shows us that what is being told really happened. The events are historical. They are no less real than the events that happen today. They may not seem as relevant, but that doesn’t make them any less real. If they don’t seem real it’s because of your expectations. You expect that current events are real but past events, not as much. But as relevant as you think the events that happen now are, the real events that happen in our lives will not be any less real a hundred years from now when someone is hearing about them. They may wonder what they have to do with them, but they don’t have to wonder if they were real. The reason the events being historical matter to you today is because no one can take them away from you. They may deny them, but they can’t change the fact that they are real.

The second way the events of the Christmas Gospel are relevant to you is that they don’t just tell a story. The events are the Gospel itself. The Christmas story isn’t just a story about Jesus being born, it is the very bringing about of the Gospel. The Gospel saves you. There is nothing more relevant than that. What are you expecting? What is Christmas about? It is about salvation.

This is what you expect to hear, isn’t it?— Christmas is all about the spiritual... It’s about the promise of eternal glory in heaven... It’s about what Jesus does for my soul... We expect to hear these things and we so often pass them off because they seem so irrelevant. How does salvation help me now? How does it help me in my life?

Maybe Christmas for you isn’t all joy and good tidings. Maybe you hear the Good News of Jesus’ salvation for you and it falls flat. Maybe during the Christmas season there is sadness for you. Perhaps in the midst of all the joy and the hubbub you are falling into despondency. Maybe your holiday season has been marked in the past by the death of those close to you and your looking forward to this time of year is tempered by the reality of painful memories. Maybe the stresses of your life and of this time of year overwhelm you instead of bringing you contentment.

Your expectations are very different from wanting to hear Good News that your sins are forgiven. But if you see the words of our Christmas Gospel as not just the recounting of a spectacular story that happened back then, but as the very Gospel of life you will see that it impacts your life here, now, every day, for all eternity. You will see that your expectations fall pathetically short of what Gods expects to give you.

That Joseph was of the house and lineage of David means that you are one with him in being an inheritor of the promise of God that He will guard you in all things, whether danger or sadness or seeking. That Jesus was born in a humble manner, in a stable, means that your re-birth of humble manner, water connected with God’s Word, is birth to eternal life, not simply of life on earth. That ordinary shepherds were the first recipients of the news of salvation means that you and I never have to wonder if we are out of the loop with God. He wanted the shepherds to know, He wants you to know, He wants the whole world to know.

Expect, then, what God delivers to you. Salvation. Life. Forgiveness. Expect that it won’t always seem relevant, because your sinful flesh will always want something that makes your life easier and free from pain and loss and sorrow. But He expects to give you His gifts in the midst of those things. He delivered the Savior in a stable two thousand years ago. He delivers Him to you today in His Holy Gospel. He delivered Him to you in your Baptism. He delivers Him to you at this altar in the bread and wine.

Nobody expected Jesus to be born in such a way as He was. Nobody expected Him to suffer and die as He did. Nobody expected Him to rise from the grave. Expect what God gives you: His Son, your Savior. Amen.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

No Place to Call Home

Fourth Sunday in Advent
Thomas, Apostle
December 21, 2008
Luke 1:26-38

“the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Matthew 8:20

You’d think that if God is going to become a man He’d at least find decent living quarters. I’m sure the family He grew up in was loving and He was happy in His modest home. But when it came time for the Ministry, the three years of preaching, teaching, and healing, why was there no place for Him to lay His head? These are His own words: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Jesus was right at home being transient.

He wasn’t here for lounging around. He didn’t come to be served. He came to serve. He didn’t need a mansion. He’s God. He owns everything. He didn’t need a house, He came to earth to be among the people He created. To serve them, to save them. Why does He need a home for that? He is at home being among His people.

God dwells in the heavens, but He has come down to earth. He didn’t live the life of a king, though He is the King of all creation. He had nowhere to lay His head because He didn’t rest until He accomplished salvation. Then His rest was for three days in a tomb. But even there He was at home. Even after dying He was at home descending into hell to proclaim victory over Satan on his home turf. And yet, Jesus was not at home in the tomb because the tomb could not hold Him. Enough resting, Jesus walked out of that tomb so He could continue His work of salvation.

Oh, it was accomplished, all right. Now to the work of delivering it. He is still at home in the heavens. He is still seated at the right hand of God. But He still comes to earth. He loves to dwell among His people. He’s been doing that from the beginning.

In fact, King David has a problem with it. I’m in a palace and the Ark of the Covenant is in a tent. David thinks this is an insult to God so he’s got grand designs for a House just for God. It will be a spectacular temple, dedicated to the one true God, the one who deserves the very best building on the earth. And it was eventually done. God got His temple. And He was at home in the temple. But that wasn’t His home, in that He didn’t really need it. In fact, come forty years after Jesus’ ascension into heaven the temple was destroyed, and God was at home with that as well, because you can’t destroy God’s home. You can destroy a building. The house Jesus grew up in is no longer standing. But God is at home in His creation, even as He is the Lord of the heavens.

God is the Lord of the heavens, but is perfectly at home in humble abodes. When the Israelites wandered in the wilderness He dwelled in a tent. When Joseph and Mary reached Bethlehem there was no vacancy. No problem. God was perfectly at home in a stable. Among animals. Dirt. Smell. Probably cold. The nine months before His birth He was at home in the womb of Mary. Granted, as a human being He was not aware of His nine month stay in the womb, even as none of us were. But God was at home with that, to be one with us in humanity. To not just enter the world as an adult and avoid the being cared for, the puberty, the demands of making a living.

Our Lord was at home in being a Master who wraps a towel around His waist to carry out the work of the slave. Our Lord was content in being ridiculed and taken advantage of. He was at home in being rejected by the very people He created and reached out to in love. He did not long for a quiet, comfortable home to be in when He was beaten and bloodied and mocked. He was at home in suffering for the sin of the world, considering it joy to endure the punishment for our sin. This He is at home with: joy. Joy not of being the Almighty Lord of the universe, but of doing everything He could to save us so that we may be at home with Him.

The Son of Man had no place to lay His head because the Son of Man chose to lay aside His glory. The Son of Man chose to be the Son of Man even though He is the eternal Son of God. How can this be that God would choose to have no place to lay His head when we are so often worried about our material existence? It could be because we so often turn our energy toward our material existence whereas our Lord expends His energy in saving us for our eternal home in heaven.

The promises God gave to King David about how the Savior would reign come to pass in a remarkably unpretentious way. A girl is greeted by an angel and told that she will be the home of God for nine months and the very mother of God. Yet, the promises of God to David were that the Savior would rule. Mary was just trying to figure out how she would give birth being a virgin. The answer was simple: with God nothing is impossible. Mary still didn’t comprehend how God could accomplish such a thing, but she believed it. And we can believe that the promises God gave to David have been fulfilled in this action of God of moving into a very strange home: this earth.

We can believe that God continues to make His home with us, His people, in Baptism. He dwells in us. We are a very strange home for God, but then, Mary thought the same thing. May we believe as she did, not demanding comprehension but simply being grateful for a life of servant-hood to her holy Lord. The One who came in poverty of body and spirit, all in order that we may be rich in grace and mercy. That we may dwell in the mansions of glory in heaven. That we may see that that promise is as astounding as the ones to David and Mary, and yet, just as true and awesome.

This is not our home, in the sense that we don’t belong here forever. Heaven is our home. We’re transients like Jesus in that sense. Here on earth to carry out the work our Lord has given us to do. It’s easily lost in the Christmas season. The world wants to talk about Christmas spirit and love and ignores the glorious temple God chose to dwell in, the baby Jesus. The man who was spat upon and scourged. Who was charged as guilty and condemned to death and damned to hell by God the Father Himself. You won’t hear much talk of that at holiday parties, but here in the House of God it’s the only thing there is to talk about. You may hear that we’re all the children of God, but you won’t hear much talk about Baptism, the very way we become the children of God and are given a place at the Table of God in eternity.

If your joy of Christmas centers in the God who is at home in bread and wine you’ll be scoffed at or maybe just ignored as having strange beliefs. God is obviously at home everywhere since He owns everything, but loves to be at home in the water of Baptism and the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. Since He didn’t have a home, He instituted His Holy Supper at the home of someone else. He doesn’t need a home to save us, He just comes to us right where we’re at. In water with His forgiveness, in bread and wine with nourishment for our souls. He is at home in the flesh. Offering it on the cross for the sin of the world. Giving His Body and Blood to us right here at this very altar. It’s a nice altar, but it’s nothing fancy. And yet, He’s perfectly at home there. Inviting us to His Holy Meal in His Holy House. Preparing a place for us in His Heavenly Home. There’s no place like home. Thank God it’s not a fantasy. Amen.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Prayers of Preparation: the Restoring God

Midweek in Advent 3
December 17, 2008
Psalm 126:1-6

The God who listens to us is the God who has favor on us. He hears our plea for mercy and forgives and saves us. He has favor on us because of His mercy. These are good things to know when it seems like God doesn’t hear us. It’s comforting to know when we wonder if God loves us. What it means day after day is that God doesn’t give up on you. He doesn’t leave you in the lurch. He stays with you no matter what.

Have you seriously messed something up? God doesn’t hold it against you. Have you strained a relationship because you made some assumptions instead of putting the best construction on things? The other person may hold it against you but God will restore you to Himself. Do you find yourself feeling far away from God? He will come near to you when you most need it.

Restoration. One of the most important things we need to know about is God’s work of restoration. During this season of preparation we need to know that God is a restoring God. Our whole lives are lives of preparation, we need God’s work of restoration. We are preparing ultimately for life with God in heaven. The people of God in the Old Testament were preparing for the actual birth of the Savior. Since He has already come we do not need to prepare for that. Our celebration of His birth focuses our attention on Christ. We prepare for our celebration of Christmas by meditating on the reason He came. He came for the cross. Christmas is ultimately about the cross. Without the cross there is no place awaiting us in heaven.

The Old Testament people of God placed their hope in the coming of the Savior. We rejoice that our hope is in the fact that He came. Our hope also looks to the future. To the day when He will return. We will not know glory until that day. That is why preparation is necessary. That is why we pray to our God who listens and ask for His favor upon us. His mercy and love restores us. We are brought back to His loving care. We too often forget the devastation sin wreaks on our lives. We are not in a right relationship with God when we are caught up in our sin. He is constantly calling us to repentance so that He may restore us.

We so often brush our sin aside. We often treat it as a minor defect. Our sin separates us from God. His restoration of us is a serious matter. We need it and He knows that. He also knows that only He can provide it. If He doesn’t act to save us we are eternally lost from Him. His answer to that is His Son. His salvation of us is His pure joy in giving us a gift beyond measure, Jesus the Savior.

The very fact that we can pray to our God in the midst of our sinful lives shows us that God is merciful to us and desires to restore us. He not only desires it, He acts on it. He brings it about. He turns our despair into hope. Our mourning into joy.

The next time we gather here mid-week we will be celebrating the birth of our Savior. It goes without saying that we rejoice in this miraculous event. It also should go without saying that we never cease to rejoice in it. It should go without saying that we never tire of praying to our God, because He never tires of listening to us, of shining His favor upon us, of restoring us to His eternal care. Our preparation is continual because our need is continual.

Our only hope is in the God whose love and favor, mercy and restoration is never-ending. Our only hope is in the God who sent the Savior, accomplishing salvation that never ends. Our only hope is in the God of Bethlehem and Calvary and the Word and Sacraments through which He comes to us. Our only hope is in the God of heaven who has heard, who has shown favor, who has restored us. This is why we believe and rejoice that His coming again on the Last Day will be a day of rejoicing and our ultimate restoration. Amen.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

One You Do Not Know

Third Sunday in Advent
December 14, 2008
John 1:6-8, 19-28

“among you stands one you do not know”

The murder mysteries where everyone is in a mansion and no one can leave are fascinating. Everyone knows that one among them is the murderer, but no one knows who it is. John the Baptist said to the religious leaders that they did not know the one among them he was pointing them to. It was mystery. A mystery that was about to be revealed. We know who He is. They didn’t. But that’s why John the Baptist was there.

How do we know who Jesus is? The way we know is that He comes among us. No one can know who Jesus is apart from Him being among them. It is impossible for you to know Jesus apart from Him coming to you in His Word and Sacraments.

John the Baptist’s interaction with the religious leaders raises questions about Jesus, even though we who know who He is. How do we know who He is? Is there anything about what John the Baptist says to the religious leaders—who didn’t know who Jesus was—that applies to us? If so, how? What do we need to do in order for us to fully know Him?

Reason won’t help here. There is no proof that Jesus is who He says He is. Many people heard John’s proclamation and repented and were Baptized. Many did not. Both groups, though, did not know who Jesus was. John was the one who came to tell them. To point the way. John the apostle says that John the Baptist was “a man sent from God.” For all the crowds knew, he was just another eccentric preacher. For all the religious leaders knew, he was just another pretender.

There was nothing about John that made him special as the Messenger of Jesus Christ, the voice crying in the wilderness. It’s not that he was a powerful preacher, or that he was different, or that he had the credentials. No, it was nothing like that. It was simply that he was sent from God. It was nothing more than that he preached the Word of God. It was nothing else than that he pointed the way to Jesus.

John the Baptist is sent from God. He might have been tempted to think highly of himself for that fact. But being sent from God he realized that it really wasn’t important who he was. It was all-important who the Christ was that he came to point to. The religious leaders wanted him to talk about himself, they wanted to know who he was. But, nope, that’s not what he wanted to talk about. That’s not why he was sent. I’ll tell you who I’m not. And I’ll tell you about another person you do not know.

When John came on the scene no one knew who Jesus was. What does it mean to know Jesus? We cannot know Jesus apart from His revealing Himself to us. That is why He has come among us. We celebrate His birth at Bethlehem for the reason He was born at Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary knew their son. But did they really know Him? Did they look down at their cute little baby and see God? Did they know He was the Promised Savior who would suffer for the sin of the world?

We can’t get into the minds of those people back then. What we know is what we know. And we know who Jesus is. But do we look at the things He’s given us and shrug them off as insignificant? Do we hear His Word as simply a nice message? Do we treat our Baptism as something that happened to us so long ago—and we’re glad it did—but we’re not sure what impact it has on our lives day to day? Do we take the Lord’s Supper for granted, much the way we take many of our meals?

If you are staying away from the Gospel, if you are ignoring your Baptism, if you pass off the Sacrament as merely a ritual, you do not know Christ. These are the only ways you can know Him because these are the only ways He is among you. The religious leaders questioning John not only didn’t know Jesus, but when they were met with Him in the flesh they rejected Him.

What about us? We can handle the baby Jesus in the manger, the healing and preaching Jesus, the suffering Jesus on the cross, and certainly the Jesus who rose from the dead —but what do we make of the Jesus who comes among us in words and water and bread and wine? Is it really Him? It is really the Incarnate God, Jesus, coming to us in those simple ways? Is He really delivering to us in that Word and those Sacraments forgiveness of our sin and eternal salvation? Is He actually coming among us in those means, uniting Himself with us in those ways?

John would say yes. The one he pointed to would say yes. God’s Word says yes. All who point to Jesus say yes, who preach that very same Gospel of one among you who is your Savior. And, yes, you do know Him. You know Him because He is among you. Because He dwells among you in the flesh in His Word and in His Sacraments. You know Him because He knows you and dwells among you. You know Him because He has claimed you as His own in His Gospel, coming to you in your Baptism, coming to you in the Supper He prepares for you. You know Him because you have come to see as John the Baptist did that it’s not about you but always about the one he pointed to.

Jesus knew that when He came He would be rejected by many. That didn’t stop Him from coming. John stayed the course when they tried to steer him off course. There’s a reason God sent John. To show people the among-you-ness of the Gospel. That God sends people in the flesh to bring about salvation. John, coming to people to point them to the One. The One Himself coming in flesh, among us, to be the Gospel incarnate. Coming in the flesh to suffer in the flesh—His body sacrificed, His blood shed. Coming in the flesh in your very life, as you live and breathe by every Word that comes from the mouth of God; the flowing water of life in your Baptism; the Body of Christ sustaining you, His Blood coursing through your veins. He is among you and knows you, even as you know Him. The one among you will come again in glory that you may be with Him in glory forever. Amen.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Prayers of Preparation: the Favorable God

Midweek in Advent 2
December 10, 2008
Psalm 85:1-13

Why dos our Lord look upon us favorably? Is it because there’s something about us that is favorable? Well, as a matter of fact, there is. What it is is that we have been created by Him. He created us because He loves to share the wealth. He owns everything and wants to spread around His abundance to us. He wants us to delight in His joy and glory.

So what it is about us that makes Him favorable toward us is not something of ourselves but of who we are. We are the crown of His creation. He looks upon us with favor even though we have not lived as who we are. He loves us even though we have spurned His love. That is the essence of His favor toward us, it is because of His grace and mercy, not because we deserve it. The fact is, we don’t deserve it.

His favor toward us is in view of Jesus Christ. When God created humans He loved them. Of course He did. When people have children, they love them. When God created us, He loved us. It came naturally to Him. So what was His reaction when Adam and Eve sinned against Him? Did He stop loving them? Did He give up on them? No, His reaction was the same. Love. Compassion. Favor.

But how can this be when He promised them they would die? How was it that He loved them when because of their sin they were separated from Him? The way it is is that His love moved Him to tell them that they were now separated from Him. If He would have ignored their sin they would have been lost forever. To truly love them, to truly help them, He had to confront them and their sin. This is favor. It is compassion which moves you to do those things that are hard, that seem unloving.

But this favor is in view of Jesus Christ, right? So what did that have to do with how God looked with favor upon Adam and Eve? It has to do with who God is. He is the Creator. As the Creator, He is the one who naturally loves us. His love for us moves Him to do all within His eternal power to care for us. In the case of our sin against Him, what that means is action similar to His first action of creating us. We could call it His act of re-creation. That action of God is done in His Son Jesus Christ.

It’s not something that only those during His life on earth and since then receive. God’s act of re-creation in Jesus Christ is for all people of all time. His favor is upon all because of the once for all sacrifice of Jesus. The prayer of the psalmist, and it is the prayer of all the people of God, that God be favorable to us, is a prayer that He would look upon us because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We pray He look favorably upon us because of the righteousness of Christ.

Those who truly desire life, eternal or otherwise, apart from Jesus Christ, desire life apart from God. He will always look with favor upon them but will never force them into His eternal presence. God’s sending of His Son, even as He first promised to Adam and Eve to send Him, is the sign that God is favorable toward all people. God didn’t explain away Adam and Eve’s sin, even as He doesn’t ours. But He did deal with it. He convicted them of their sin to bring them to repentance and the belief that Jesus is their only hope from sin and separation from God. He does the same with us.

During Advent we take time out to ponder the faithfulness of our Lord. In His favor He has blessed us beyond imagination. He promised to bring about salvation and did. He promises that the Savior He sent at Bethlehem will return once again—this time in glory. None of these things are for a select few. They are for all. We can take comfort that God does not favor some over others, that He loves all sinners equally.

Our prayers, then, are always that of sinners pleading to God for mercy because of Jesus Christ. Our prayers are always prayers of forgiven children who look to God in gratitude for His favor in Jesus Christ. The Psalm last week gave us comfort that when our prayers are raised to God, He hears us. He is the Listening God. We are also given comfort that He looks favorably upon us. He created us, He has made us righteous in His Son Jesus Christ. This favor He extends to us in His Word and Sacraments until that day when He will send His Son again to take us home to heaven. Amen.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Continuing with the Beginning

Second Sunday in Advent
December 7, 2008
Mark 1:1-8

We know the way it begins: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. You’d expect the beginning to begin with the beginning. You’d also expect the story to move on from there until it gets to the end. But this story has no end. The story continues; it moves on from the beginning. But what it moves on to is other beginnings. Such as the one we have today in the Gospel reading. Mark tells us that what he is going to tell us is the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We might have expected talk about beginnings last Sunday when we actually began the new Church Year. But here on the second Sunday in the Church Year what is appointed is talk about beginnings. That’s because the story didn’t begin only at Genesis 1:1. The story doesn’t just continue, it continues with beginnings. That’s what this story is, a story of beginnings. There was never supposed to be an end. There was the threat of an end, if Adam and Eve decided they didn’t like the whole idea God set up of living forever in perfection and glory under God’s gracious hand. But even then, when they decided to bring it all to an end, God loved them too much to bring their blessedness to an end. So He created a new beginning.

That new beginning He brought about immediately upon their fall into sin. The beginning of the Gospel Mark is talking about in our Gospel reading was brought about way back there in the Garden of Eden. God promised to save them. He promised to send a Savior. Even though they wouldn’t die then and there, they were condemned in their sin and all their offspring would be born in sin. For the Gospel to be the Gospel, for it to be effective, it had to begin right then and there. When all their hope was lost God brought about hope from the beginning.

You can imagine that with this second chance there was relief on the part of Adam and Eve. Their children and grandchildren and many descendents were grateful that God didn’t bring it all to a halt right then and there when Adam and Eve chose the path of death. You can also imagine that there was much struggling with God and with each other, having inherited the sinful nature Adam and Eve chose for themselves. You can imagine what it was like to wake up each day and still be bound to that Old Adam you were born with. You can imagine what it was like to long for hope even as God gave hope to Adam and Eve when they were in utter despair.

You can see the need for a new beginning. And you can see that it’s needed every day. You can imagine all this and know the need for God’s hope because you live this existence every day, as all who have gone before you have. You know very well how deep it is as you see it on a daily basis in others and as you catch yourself doing things wondering what might have possessed you to do them. You know very well what it is like to hope for a second chance.

This is how the story goes in the Old Testament. God always going back to the promise—the promise of salvation, the promise of the Savior. The story progressing by going back to the promise, which brings about new beginnings. The people of God, just like us today, choosing that path that Adam and Eve chose, and God giving them hope, a new beginning. There are countless examples in the Old Testament, today’s Old Testament reading is one of them. The people of God are the people of God, but they need to be constantly given that hope, constantly given new beginnings.

So Mark begins his Gospel account in that way. He says the Gospel began this way: Centuries before, Isaiah prophesied the messenger to pave the way for Christ. John was preparing the people for a new beginning, he himself the product of the promise of a new beginning—that the Messenger would come. What does the Messenger do? He baptizes. Baptism is all about new beginnings. In Baptism you are given new life. So the way to prepare for the coming of the Savior was to show the people that this was all about new beginnings. Without repentance they would be left in their sins. They would be left for dead spiritually, so they needed a new beginning.

John came preaching. He came baptizing. He came talking about repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The messenger God sent to usher in the Messiah baptized with water. The new beginning would come shortly with the Messiah bringing a Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is Baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This is God’s continuing act of creation in you. It doesn’t take us long for us to mess things up. Adam and Eve managed to take care of that shortly after creation. Our daily lives as Christians are new beginnings. Daily in repentance you are created anew. As He gave you a new beginning in Baptism, He continues to create in you new life daily in repentance and recalling your Baptism.

The Gospel is what saves you. The Gospel is what gives you new life daily. When the breath of our Lord expired on the cross the Holy Spirit took it to breathe it into you in your Baptism. The death of our Lord wasn’t the end, but a beginning. Your Baptism is the beginning for you. Each day in repentance you die to sin and rise to new life, to a new beginning. This is the story. You are very much a part of it because Jesus died for you. He died to give new life to the fallen world. It is the same hope He gave to Adam and Eve. The same salvation. The same joy that has no end. It is ever new and continues forever. Amen.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Prayers of Preparation: The Listening God

Midweek in Advent 1
December 3, 2008
Psalm 80:1-7

Advent is a season of preparation. That doesn’t mean we only prepare during Advent. It means that it is a time in the Church Year that reminds us that our entire lives are that of preparation. How you learn to prepare is by being formed by the Holy Scriptures. Your Lord prepares you to be prepared for Him. He mostly does this by giving you His Gifts. He provides for you and sustains you. He does this through His Gospel and His precious Sacraments.

But there’s even more. He also gives you things that you do in order to be strengthened by Him. One of these is the discipline of prayer. Being the giving God that He is our Lord teaches us to pray. He prepares us to pray to Him. One way He has done this is by giving us the Psalms.

In Psalm 80 we are encouraged to take heart that He is the Listening God. “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,” the Psalmist prays to his God. Why does he want God to listen to him? Because he needs salvation. He prays to his God who is like a shepherd. A shepherd leads his flock. He is the salvation of his sheep. He listens to his sheep. If the sheep are in trouble they will cry out in the hopes that their shepherd will hear them. Sheep who have a faithful shepherd count on their shepherd hearing them.

That is why the Psalmist prays as he does. His Shepherd is faithful. His Shepherd listens. His Shepherd is standing at the ready with salvation. In Advent we learn how to prepare for the way our Lord, our Shepherd, brings to us His salvation. The way He brings His salvation to us is by Himself saving us. A shepherd won’t call across the pasture to his sheep that is in trouble that everything will be all right. The shepherd goes to his sheep and gently pulls him out of being stuck in the fence.

Our Lord has listened to us. He doesn’t speak to us from the Heavenly Realms with soothing words. He comes to us in our need with His salvation, with Himself. So why do we need to be prepared for this? If He comes to us to save us, what do we need to do to get ready? We need to be prepared that it won’t be comfortable. Our Lord saving us doesn’t mean it will be pleasant. We need to be prepared that we are going to be relying on things that go against what seems should be the case. We need to be prepared for our Lord coming to us with His salvation in ways that we would never expect.

We so often treat the ways God comes to us with His salvation as afterthoughts. They are miracles, they just don’t seem like it because they seem so ordinary. We need to be prepared for the fact that when our Lord saves us He does it through humble means. Beginning with Himself. He is All-Powerful but comes in humility. He can do anything but comes as a baby. He alone is Judge but sacrifices Himself in the shedding of His blood. He has power to destroy the earth with a flood but saves you through ordinary water in Baptism. He is the Creator of the universe but feeds your soul with simple bread and wine.

This is where prayer comes in. This is how we prepare for our Lord to bless us in these ways. We pray that He would increase our faith so that we do not go through the motions in repenting of our sins and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ and hearing the Gospel proclaimed, but that we would hunger and thirst for them as if we were hungering and thirsting for water and food in the desert. When we pray that our Lord would listen to us, we pray for Him to prepare us for His coming to us with His salvation. Prayer is formed by our being in the Word of God. When we meditate on His Word He is preparing us for the ways He brings His salvation to us.

He listens to us in our need. The reason we need to be prepared by Him is that He understands our need better than we do. That is why we need to be prepared by Him. When we are prepared by Him then we are able to prepare for Him. We can take comfort in the fact that our God is the Listening God; but He doesn’t just listen to our story and have an understanding of what we want. He listens to us in the best way possible, listening with an ear toward acting toward us in the way that will bring about our greatest good.

His listening to us moves Him in action toward us in His Gospel and His Sacraments. If we doubt He’s listening, then we should turn even more to His precious Word and to our Baptism and to His life-sustaining Body and Blood. When we pray to our God to save us we can be assured He hears us, that’s why He’s given us Himself. That’s why He gives us His Gifts. We’re always in invited to pray and may always rejoice that He hears and answers us in His Son. Amen.