Sunday, December 30, 2012

Created for Purpose

Sunday after Christmas
December 30, 2012
You have some things in common with Jesus. You have a purpose. He did as well. You were born. He was as well. Unless He returns in glory first, you will die some day. Jesus died as well. You will be raised on the Last Day. He was raised from His tomb.

But there are important differences. You are a human being. While Jesus became a human being, He is God. You are sinful. Jesus is holy. You were created. Jesus, as Simeon says in the Gospel reading for today, was appointed.

It’s in this last difference that you meet up with Jesus in the first similarity you have with Him. You were created for purpose. He was appointed for purpose. The similarity here is not just that you have purpose even as your Lord has purpose. You have purpose because He carried out His purpose. That’s why He carried out His purpose, because He created you for purpose. He called you to eternal life so He brought eternal life to you by carrying out the purpose for which He was sent.

Simeon alluded to this: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” The cross has since become the chief sign of Christianity. It is nearly universally recognizable as the symbol for Christianity. So when Simeon pointed to a sign off in the distance in which people would oppose it, we see how extraordinary it is that Jesus carried out His purpose for which He was appointed.

It is all love and mercy toward you. You were created for purpose and He accomplished what was necessary for you to carry out your purpose. The Collect gives guidance here. First there is listening to God. Then there is doing what He has called and given you to do. You were created for purpose. This is what we prayed in the Collect: “O God, our Maker and Redeemer, You wonderfully created us and in the incarnation of Your Son yet more wondrously restored our human nature. Grant that we may ever be alive in Him who made Himself to be like us.”

You were created for purpose, but the Fall changed all that. In Romans 5:12 Paul says that “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” You have veered away from you purpose to which God has called you by your sin. You have rejected His purpose for you by sinning against Him. In the Collect we prayed that just as God has created us for purpose, He has “wondrously restored our human nature.” How He has done this is “in the incarnation of [His] Son.” Our prayer is that He “grant that we may ever be alive in Him who made Himself to be like us.”

He became like you in all respects except for your sin. He took on human flesh but not sinful nature. On the cross He took on Himself all of your sin. This is the purpose for which He was appointed. It is the thing that gives you a re-creation. You are created anew for purpose. This purpose is “that [you] may ever be alive in Him.”

The events after Jesus’ birth are revealing as to what it means in the Collect praying our God to grant “that we may ever be alive in Him.” When Simeon talked of Jesus being appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed, so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed, we are shown how the Law and Gospel do their work. It is clear from the way Luke and the other Gospel writers present the coming of Jesus that He came for the Gospel. He came to bring salvation. He came to bring life.

What this means is that you first must die. When the thoughts of your heart are revealed you are exposed. You are seen for what you are. This is why Jesus came. He knows what is in your heart. At the cross every heart is exposed. Every person is shown for who they are. You are sinful from birth. Your life is one in which you daily live in your sinful flesh. You fall short every day.

This is the work of the Law, and Jesus does not come except for the Law having done its work. He must come with His sword of the Law to pierce you through, otherwise you will die in your sin. When you are pierced through by the Law you are called to repentance. You still die, but you don’t die in your sin. You die to it. Your sinful nature is drowned, crucified, slain in Baptism. When Simeon had spoken his wonderful words of his eyes having seen salvation because he now held the infant Jesus in his arms, Luke says that “his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.” When an infant is Baptized we, too, ought to marvel at what is said about that little baby. “I Baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That baby is joined with Christ in His death and resurrection, the baby’s little life drowned to sin and raised to new life. That is something truly to marvel at.

And so along with the piercing of the Law He brings His precious sweet Gospel. This is, after all, the purpose for which He came! It is what He was appointed for. To bring salvation. To bring forgiveness and life. Even there in the temple when Simeon and Anna were speaking of His glory and His grace, Jesus was in the very act of bringing about salvation. It all culminated in the cross and the empty tomb. But it wasn’t just death and resurrection, it was an entire life, joining our human flesh, fulfilling the holy will and Law of God, bringing about restoration to fallen humanity, and ultimately, taking upon Himself the sin and guilt of fallen humanity.

All of that is the basis for the wonderful prayer we prayed, that our God “grant that we may ever be alive in Him who made Himself to be like us.” You were created for purpose. You were restored in the incarnation of His Son. You now live out this purpose. How? You are ever alive in Him. The Church down through the ages gives us great wisdom. There’s certainly freedom to pray from your heart. There’s also an immense blessing in going back to these prayers, these brief Collects, and being shown the rich wisdom the Church has drawn from the Scriptures in handing down these prayers to us.

Yes, you do good works. Yes, you serve others. Yes, you think and calm down before reacting in anger. Yes, you love and cherish those God has given you to take care of. Yes, you do all of these things and you beat down your sinful flesh instead of giving into it. All of this is good, right, and salutary. It’s also good to be reminded of it now and then; perhaps often. It’s good to be exhorted to these things. And so here you have.

Now hear the wisdom of the Collect of the Day. You don’t just do things. You don’t just strive to carry out your purpose. You don’t even simply try to get better and better. You pray your gracious God to grant you to ever be alive in your Lord, He who made Himself to be like us. This is your purpose! To be alive in Christ! You were crucified to your sinful flesh so that you could be raised to new life in Him. Live in that new life! Don’t just do stuff, live according to your purpose, which your Lord Himself has given you.

This is why you always go back to you Baptism. It’s why you need to partake of the Lord’s Supper often. It’s why you continue to hear the Gospel proclaimed to you. It’s why you confess your sins and receive Absolution of those sins. Without these you will fall back into your sinful flesh. You will be living in death. Your new life in Christ is something you live—He has given you new life—but it’s not something you sustain. The Means of Grace do that. The Gospel and the Sacraments, the very life-giving means He uses, are what brings you continually to new life from your sin.

Paul beautifully brings this out in a tightly-wrapped presentation in the Epistle reading, saying that we were “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

You were created for purpose. You were redeemed in order to be restored to this purpose. You now live in it here on earth and will forever in heaven. Amen.


Sunday After Christmas

The Christmas season begins with the celebration of Christmas. It continues in the twelve days following that. The celebration of the birth of Jesus continues with the celebration of the infant Jesus and all that He has done for us and for our salvation. As everything in the Church Year delivers Christ to us and points us to the cross, so in the Christmas season we are drawn to the cross with the words of Simeon concerning the Christ Child. He was born and He lived a life that we could not, without sin, yet suffering for our sin so that we may have life.

Collect of the Day
O God, our Maker and Redeemer, You wonderfully created us and in the incarnation of Your Son yet more wondrously restored our human nature. Grant that we may ever be alive in Him who made Himself to be like us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Commemoration of David

David, the greatest of Israel's kings, ruled from about 1010 to 970 B.C. The events of his life are found in 1 Samuel 16 through 1 Kings 2 and in 1 Chronicles 10—29. David was also gifted musically. He was skilled in playing the lyre and the author of no less than 73 psalms, including the beloved Psalm 23. His public and private character displayed a mixture of good (for example, his defeat of the giant Goliath, 1 Samuel 17) and evil (as in his adultery with Uriah's wife, followed by his murder of Uriah, 2 Samuel 11). David's greatness lay in his fierce loyalty to God as Israel's military and political leader, coupled with his willingness to acknowledge his sins and ask for God's forgiveness (2 Samuel 12; see also Psalm 51). It was under David's leadership that the people of Israel were united into a single nation with Jerusalem as its capital city. [Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod]

Collect of the Day
God of majesty, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven, we give You thanks for David who, through the Psalter, gave Your people hymns to sing with joy in our worship on earth so that we may glimpse Your beauty. Bring us to the fulfillment of that hope of perfection that will be ours as we stand before Your unveiled glory; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Commemoration of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Matthew’s Gospel tells of King Herod’s vicious plot against the infant Jesus after being “tricked” by the Wise Men. Threatened by the one “born King of the Jews,” Herod murdered all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2:16–18). These “innocents,” commemorated just three days after the celebration of Jesus’ birth, remind us not only of the terrible brutality of which human beings are capable but more significantly of the persecution Jesus endured from the beginning of His earthly life. Although Jesus’ life was providentially spared at this time, many years later, another ruler, Pontius Pilate, would sentence the innocent Jesus to death. [Kinnaman, Scot A. (2008-10-31). Treasury of Daily Prayer (Kindle Locations 32935-32939). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.]

Collect of the Day
Almighty God, the martyred innocents of Bethlehem showed forth Your praise not by speaking but by dying.  Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will that our lives may bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Commemoration of John, Apostle and Evangelist

St. John was a son of Zebedee and brother of James the Elder (whose festival day is July 25). John was among the first disciples to be called by Jesus (Matthew 4:18–22) and became known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” as he refers to himself in the Gospel that bears his name (e.g., John 21:20). Of the Twelve, John alone did not forsake Jesus in the hours of His suffering and death. With the faithful women, he stood at the cross, where our Lord made him the guardian of His mother. After Pentecost, John spent his ministry in Jerusalem and at Ephesus, where tradition says he was bishop. He wrote the fourth Gospel, the three Epistles that bear his name, and the Book of Revelation. Especially memorable in his Gospel are the account of the wedding at Cana (John 2:1–12), the “Gospel in a nutshell” (John 3:16), Jesus’ saying about the Good Shepherd (John 10:11–16), the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11), and Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene on Easter morning (John 20:11–18). According to tradition, John was banished to the island of Patmos (off the coast of Asia Minor) by the Roman emperor Domitian. John lived to a very old age, surviving all the apostles, and died at Ephesus around AD 100. [Kinnaman, Scot A. (2008-10-31). Treasury of Daily Prayer (Kindle Locations 32817-32822). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.]

Collect of the Day
Merciful Lord, cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed in the doctrine of Your blessed apostle and evangelist John, may come to the light of everlasting life; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Commemoration of Stephen, Deacon and Martyr

St. Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), was one of the Church’s first seven deacons. He was appointed by the leaders of the Church to distribute food and other necessities to the poor in the growing Christian community in Jerusalem, thereby giving the apostles more time for their public ministry of proclamation (Acts 6:2–5). He and the other deacons apparently were expected not only to wait on tables but also to teach and preach. When some of his colleagues became jealous of him, they brought Stephen to the Sanhedrin and falsely charged him with blaspheming against Moses (Acts 6:9–14). Stephen’s confession of faith, along with his rebuke of the members of the Sanhedrin for rejecting their Messiah and being responsible for His death, so infuriated them that they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. Stephen is honored as the Church’s first martyr and for his words of commendation and forgiveness as he lay dying: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59–60). [Kinnaman, Scot A. (2008-10-31). Treasury of Daily Prayer (Kindle Locations 32698-32705). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.]

Collect of the Day
Heavenly Father, in the midst of our sufferings for the sake of Christ grant us grace to follow the example of the first martyr, Stephen, that we also may look to the One who suffered and was crucified on our behalf and pray for those who do us wrong; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Why God Was Born

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
December 25, 2012
In the Nicene Creed we declare that the Son of God was begotten, not made. Jesus is true God. He is eternal. He has never had a beginning. He was not created, He is the Creator.

When we think of Christmas we think of Jesus being born. We think of God coming to earth as a man, and that by being born as a baby.

But we usually don’t think in terms of God being born. Jesus was born. But God? How could God be born when God had no beginning; when He’s eternal? We all have been born. We’re not eternal. We all have had a beginning.

Jesus was born in the same we were. But He was begotten, not made. He was conceived, hanging out in Mary’s womb for nine months, and born—and yet was God through it all. God was born.

In the Gospel reading for Christmas Day the apostle John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, makes no attempt to explain this. Simply to declare it. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word was God; the Word became flesh. The eternal God was born.

God did not tell us this with a need to explain it to us. He has no compulsion to tell us how. But He delights in telling us why. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and the Creed goes on to tell us why: He suffered, died, and was buried.

God was born in order to die. God became a man to deliver man. God who has no beginning entered the creation He brought into being. God was born.

And something we really can’t wrap our minds around, God died. This is why He came, why He was born at Christmas. In order to go to Jerusalem, where there was a cross. He was born in order to die.

And even as God has no beginning, He also has no end. He is eternal. So how could it be that on the cross God died? We say and hear all the time that Jesus died on the cross. Jesus is God and He is man. He was nailed to a cross and He died. His life was snuffed out of Him.

But if it is hard to grasp that God was born, how much harder that God died? When we deal with the things of God, the things He has given us in His Word, we are always a step away from going against what He has given us to believe. To believe that God was born could easily lead you into the error that God had a beginning. That Jesus is not true God.

That’s why we must not seek out how to understand it but simply rejoice in it. Jesus is God and He was born. Think in terms of how Mary and Joseph saw it on that night Mary gave birth to Jesus. Undoubtedly they knew that He was no ordinary boy. That they didn’t fully understand exactly what it meant that He was no ordinary boy is safe to assume.

But the point here is that Mary’s Son was born. She and Joseph were not marveling that God was born. But they were marveling at God’s grace. They were rejoicing in new life and that they were privileged to be part of it. Later on that night after a visit from some shepherds who told them amazing things about just who this little baby was, Mary pondered all these things in her heart.

Not long after that she would learn from Simeon that He would be pierced and no doubt Mary pondered long and hard about her child given to her from God.

God was born and Mary was one recipient of the grace that came about through this birth from her very own womb. As she many years later would stand and watch her Son give His life on the cross she would witness the very reason her Son was born. She would eventually come to see that her Son was the very Son of God, as the Gospel reading says, “The only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

This is where what John has told us in the Gospel reading is so valuable. Mary and Joseph didn’t need to understand everything as it was unfolding. As it unfolded they saw more and more who Jesus was, how God had come in the flesh. We look back now upon the birth, upon the suffering, upon the death, upon the resurrection of Jesus, and we see more and more who He is, why He was born, why He did all of that.

And we fill our lives up with that, because that’s what our lives will be filled up with for eternity. God will be there. In fact, God, in the flesh, will be there. Jesus, the one who is true God and true man, will be there, in the flesh. Full of grace and truth. The one who is eternal and who was born. The one who died and the one who rose. The one who did all of this for you.

Which brings us to one more thing on Christmas Day. On this day we obviously celebrate the birth of Christ. But even as we marvel that God was born; and as we rejoice in why, that God the Son died on the cross for all our sins; that’s not all. On Christmas Day we celebrate something else as well. We celebrate another birth. This is the birth that was brought about through God being born. As the Gospel reading says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Why was God born? So that you could be born. The Creator, the one who brought you into existence, is your Savior, the one who gives you new birth. God, who is a spiritual being, became flesh, so that you who are flesh could be born of God.

And even though you had a beginning, you will have no end. You will live eternally because you have been born of God. You have been brought into the life of God through the amazing events of God being born, living, dying, and rising, all for you, all for your eternal life. Amen.


The Nativity of Our Lord; Christmas Day

Advent prepared us for the coming of the Savior, the fulfillment of the promise first made in the Garden of Eden in response to the sin of Adam and Eve. Christmas is the day we celebrate that hope fulfilled. Jesus is the only hope of the world, because Jesus is the only one who could set us free from our sins. The commemoration of the Nativity of Our Lord puts before us once again the story of the long-awaited King who left His heavenly throne to enter time and become human like one of us. When God wanted to save you from your sins, He did not send a prophet or even an angel: He sent His own Son into human flesh just like ours. [Kinnaman, Scot A. (2008-10-31). Treasury of Daily Prayer (Kindle Locations 32576-32580). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.]

Collect of the Day
Almighty God, grant that the birth of Your only-begotten Son in the flesh may set us free from the bondage of sin; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Literally? Figuratively? Definitely.

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Eve
December 24, 2012
Non-Christians view the Bible as just another book. A very good book, but just a book, nonetheless. There are also those who take issue with the Bible because there are many things in there offensive to them. For Christians, the Bible is a book, but more than a book. It’s the Word of God.

But how does one interpret the Word of God? Literally? Figuratively? Some will take, for example, the six days Genesis tells us in which God created the world, literally, whereas others will take it figuratively. Those who take it literally say that the words say what they mean, but those who take it figuratively say the words are meant to symbolize something else. So how do we take it? Literally? Figuratively?

The Christian Church believes that the Word of God is the written words of God, using language as it is normally used. There is narrative, there is statement, there is exhortation, there is poetry, there is history, and there is metaphor. Different parts of Scripture need to be interpreted according to the kind language that is being used. For example, in the case of the Genesis account of creation, this is language that is used in a straightforward manner, telling us what happened, and even describing what each day consisted of—there was evening and there was morning, the first day. In other words, each day was a twenty-four hour time period.

There’s an example on perhaps a less serious scale and may perhaps take a little of the romance out of your picture of how the Christmas event unfolded. “Hark! The Herald, Angels Sing” is a beloved Christmas hymn. However, this is what the words in the Gospel According to Luke actually say: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest.’”

Does that mean we’re wrong in singing in the hymn that the angels sang? Does it, in fact, mean that the angels didn’t sing, but rather spoke? Most people know of the theologian Joseph Ratzinger, although most don’t know him by this name. They know him, rather, as Pope Benedict XVI. Joseph Ratzinger, in a book he has written about Jesus’ birth and infancy, made this wonderful observation: “Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song.”

To be literal is not to be so literal that you miss the point that is being made. An article in the New York Times stated that “most evangelicals describe the Bible as literally true. Yet for many, ‘literally’ often means ‘keep what’s there and add details to make it vivid.’” Some explain how to ‘live the experience’ of Scripture: ‘Smell the sea. Hear the lap of water against the shore. See the crowd. Feel the sun on your head and the hunger in your stomach. Taste the salt in the air. Touch the hem of his garment.’ But is this the point of the words of Scripture?

Language is wonderful and we use it to communicate. That people interpret the Bible in so many different ways shows that it can be tough to understand what someone means when they say something or write something. The Bible is God’s communication to us of who He is and what He has done. While some would take the account of Jesus’ birth as just a story, the way God tells it it is a true story. The details are literally true. The way God works is not mystically but very real and in physical ways. Thus, God came to us as a baby. Mary actually gave birth to a Son. Mary wrapped Him up in actual swaddling cloths. He literally cuddled up in her arms.

The reason all of this happened is because God wanted to actually, literally save us. We, every person, are actually separated from God by our sin. He came to restore us back into an eternal relationship with Him. He came to deal with our sin, to put it away, to forgive us of our sin. The way He did that was by becoming man. And He did it the long, drawn-out way. By being in a womb for nine months. By being born and needing to bed fed and cared for by His mother and by His adoptive father, Joseph. He went through the painful years of adolescence.

He actually traversed places on the map teaching and preaching and healing people. He forgave people of their sins. He taught and called apostles into ministry. At the heart of God’s actions in sending His Son was the cross. Jesus was born, but it was His death thirty-three years later where we see the fruition of God sending His Son. It wasn’t just that He died, He took upon Himself the sin of every person. He died in our place. There is no figurative or metaphorical message here. Jesus actually paid for the sins of the world in His suffering, death, and resurrection.

In the birth of Christ we are shown an important thing about God. That is that the way He comes to us is by actually coming to us. The way He brings salvation to us is by bringing Christ to us. The way He forgives us is by delivering His Son to us.

If all we got were God coming in the flesh, Jesus being born, Jesus going to the cross and walking away from His grave, well, that certainly would have been enough. That would be as much as we need. It would be more than we could ever ask or hope for. But with God, well, He’s not done. It’s not enough for Him. He keeps giving us more Jesus. As He gave His Son at Christmas, He gives Him to us also in our lives. In the same way the birth of Christ, Jesus coming in the flesh, is actual, literal, so is His coming to us in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Rather than attempting to feel the mist of the waves washing up on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the waters of Baptism flow down our head. Instead of placing ourselves in the shoes of the 5,000 people who sat listening to Jesus and feeling the pains of hunger, we are actually given bread and wine in which our Lord gives to us Himself, His body and blood in and with that bread and wine.

This is the reason for the Gospel. The Gospel is the way God brings His Son to you. The way He did it the first time was through the womb of the Virgin Mary. The way He does it now is by delivering the Gospel to you. When the Gospel is proclaimed, Jesus is delivered to you. When you are Baptized, you are united with Christ. When you receive the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, your Lord comes to you.

There are parts to the Bible that are literal. There are parts that are figurative. We interpret them accordingly. The essential point is that it is all true. It is definite. It is definitely true.

If you want to get a feel for what it felt like that night in Bethlehem, in that stable, what Joseph and Mary were experiencing, consider that you actually experience what they did. Not that you can smell the hay or the animals. But God in the flesh was given to them on that night. They were in His presence, they were given God. In Baptism and the Lord’s Supper it is the same thing, God in the flesh is given to you, you are in the presence of God. When the Gospel is proclaimed and is applied to you in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Jesus is delivered to you. The one who was born, who lived, who died, who rose, is the same one who definitely continues to come to you in the means in which He has directed you to.

As for the message of the angels, whether spoken or sung, what they proclaimed is the truth for all time and eternity—that it is the glory of God to bring true peace to you. Peace in the midst of your sins that plague you; peace in the midst of sorrow and pain and hurt. Peace in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


The Nativity of Our Lord; Christmas Eve

The exact date of the birth of Jesus is not known, and during the earliest centuries of the Church it seemed to have little signifi-cance. This followed the Early Church’s tradition of honoring and celebrating a Christian’s death as his or her birth date into eternity and the ongoing presence of Jesus. Likewise the life, work, death, and resurrection of Christ was of much greater importance to early Christians than the earthly details of His life. The earliest nativity feast, Epiphany (January 6), celebrated both the birth and Baptism of Christ. However, in the fourth century great Christological controversies that questioned Christ’s divinity and humanity raced throughout Christianity. By AD 336, December 25 had been established in Rome as the celebration of Christ’s birth, a festival welcomed particularly by orthodox Christians in the West. From Rome, Christ’s natal festival spread throughout the Western Church. In Eastern traditions of the Church, Epiphany remains the principal celebration of the birth of Jesus. [Kinnaman, Scot A. (2008-10-31). Treasury of Daily Prayer (Kindle Locations 32468-32469). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.]

Collect of the Day
O God, You make this most holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light.  Grant that as we have known the mysteries of that Light on earth we may also come to the fullness of His joys in heaven; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Way of the Lord

Fourth Sunday in Advent
Rorate Coeli
December 23, 2012
The day before we celebrate Christmas we observe a man named John. The apostle John, who wrote the Gospel account which today’s Gospel reading is taken from, says that this John he’s telling us about was Baptizing people. We have known him as John the Baptist ever since.

Who was he? Was he the Messiah, the Savior? No, he wasn’t that. Was he the prophet Elijah the Old Testament had prophesied would come before the Messiah would make His way onto the scene? No, he was nothing like that. Well then, was He the Prophet? The one the Old Testament promised would come to take the place of Moses? No, no, no, you’re thinking on too big of a scale.

Who, then? Who was John the Baptist? When asked he made a simple reply: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” I’m not the One. I’m not all the other things you were looking for. I’m just here to do a job and that is to pave the way for the Lord. You see, He’s here, and you don’t know it. The one you’re looking for is in your midst, but you don’t see Him.

So I’m here. I’ve been sent. I’ve been called to make straight the way of the Lord so that you may see. You’re asking me all these questions when you ought to be looking to the one who is the answer to all your questions. You take issue with me Baptizing when you ought to see that in doing so I’m bringing you the forgiveness that He has come to accomplish.

This is the Way of the Lord. But you don’t see that because you go your own way. You say you’re looking for the Messiah, but really you’re just looking to justify yourself. When you see Jesus you’re going to do the same thing. You’re going to question Him. You’re going to take issue with Him. You’re going to oppose Him. Eventually, you are going to set Him up so that He takes the fall for you.

But this is the Way of the Lord. It is His way. And even though you don’t see that, He is going to work salvation through the wicked plans you devise in bringing Him down. He won’t actually be taking the fall for you at all—He’ll be laying down His life for you. He won’t actually be a victim of your cold calculations, He will lay down His life willingly.

The Way of the Lord is that we wait. We don’t jump straight to Christmas as the world does. We go through Advent. Today we come to the point where we have actually gone all the way through it.
We go through Advent because without understanding the Way of the Lord we don’t really understand Christmas at all. Christmas isn’t really about peace on earth insofar as the way of the world. Christmas is about the true peace on earth brought about through the Way of the Lord. While John the Baptist and the religious leaders in our Gospel reading today were butting heads, we see that the coming of the Son of God into the world brought about anything but peace on earth in the world’s eyes. The way of the world wants a god that conforms to its own self-justification. The Way of the Lord is to bring about true Peace, peace that comes from sins forgiven, life restored, being reconciled with God.

The Way of the world brings people to the point where they shed the blood of an innocent person. The Way of the Lord is to willingly sacrifice and offer His blood to be shed, the innocent for the guilty.

This is what John was doing. Paving the way. Making straight the Way of the Lord. How this was done is how it’s still done. It will be this way until our Lord returns again, this time not as one we don’t know but in full view of everyone. Until the Last Day comes the Way of the Lord is made straight by preaching and administering the Sacraments.

The Law is preached in its full force. The Law is preached as if there were no Gospel. John the Baptist did this and he ended up losing his life for it. Countless Christians down through the ages have been martyred for this faith as well. For the message that every person is sinful and has hope of salvation only in Christ. It is plain that this is not the way of the world. It is the Way of the Lord. The Law is preached in such a way as though your heart were stone and the Law were a giant hammer brought down fully to bear so that your notions of righteousness and goodness are shattered.

Is it any wonder the religious leaders didn’t want to hear this from John? Is it any wonder the guy lost his life prematurely? Is it any wonder Jesus, the Messiah Himself, was brought to the same kind of end? Unjustly accused, set up, tortured, and put viciously to death. And lest we think those religious leaders were culpable and thus leaving us off the hook, their hands may have brought about the events, but it is our sin and guilt that worked right along with their evil plans. John proclaimed the Law to them just as every Christian preacher must preach it in each age and to each person.

No one is exempt. And that also tells us something that goes to another aspect of the Way of the Lord, the Gospel. That we are all sinful and in need of salvation is not just the Law that brings us to repentance. It is also the fact that sinners are precisely the people Christ died for. That includes everybody. Everyone is a sinner and Christ died for everyone.

This is the Way of the Lord. It is the Way in which the Lord, the one of whom John said, “the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie,” Himself took His towel off and washed His disciples’ feet. The one who Himself ate with the cast-offs of society. The one who Himself spent countless hours with disciples who often tried to steer Him away from His path and to go the way of the world.

John the Baptist did not see Himself in the way the Old Testament prophesied he would be, the Second Elijah. He saw himself merely as a voice. A voice in the wilderness. A voice who was crying out for all to hear, but knowing that few would listen and take heed and repent. How much he knew, really understood, the Way of the Lord in terms of using humble men of humble estate, doesn’t really matter. John carried out the call he had been given. He made straight the Way of the Lord.

The humble means by which God sent His messenger shows us the way of the Lord. The Way of the Lord is the humble path. That’s why He chose John. A guy who was out in the desert instead of mingling with decent society. A guy who would tell you exactly what the Law of God declared even though you have self-esteem issues, or the opposite problem and believe that you’re above the Law of God. The Way of the Lord is the way of putting to death the way of the world. Now you know why they put Him to death.

The Way of the Lord is the way of God coming. Which sounds exactly like the Way of the Lord. But the Way of the Lord is exactly the opposite of what we’d expect for the way for the Lord to come. He Himself came in humble means, born with no family around. Just Joseph and Mary and some hay for Him to be comfortable on. The Way of the Lord is the way of humility. It is the opposite of the glory you would expect to see from Him. On the Last Day there will be no mistaking the glory.

But until then, it’s the Way of humility. It’s the way in which, when John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”, they look at Him, that is, Jesus, and say, “What are you talking about?” It can’t be Him. It can’t be someone like Him. It’s gotta be someone who will see us religious people as the upstanding people we are. And see the outcasts as the outcasts they are, as the sinners they are. They don’t see Him and His way that He works because they don’t see that He came for sinners, for all sinners. He comes in humility because sinners can’t make their way to Him. His Way is to go to them.

It is the way of repentance, to be sure. It’s tough. It’s not easy. It’s the way of humility, in which you see exactly what John the Baptist proclaimed, you are a sinner. You need to repent. You are like he was and not worthy to be in His presence.

But His Way is a gracious way. It is a merciful way. It’s a way in which He comes to you right in your sin and your unworthiness. It’s the way in which His true glory is seen not in feeding 5,000 men and their families, or in the radiance of the Transfiguration, or in the pristine setting of a baby cuddling up in Mamma’s arms. His true glory is seen in His outstretched arms on the cross. His true radiance is in the blood streaming down His face and His back. His true power is in His putting to death your sin and guilt in His own death.

John the Baptist walked the dusty paths of the Judean desert 2,ooo years ago. He saw himself as one who was there for a simple purpose, make straight the way of the Lord. He doesn’t preach anymore but the work he was called to do is still carried out. The Christian Church still points to Christ, the Lamb of God, the one who takes away the sin of the world. The Gospel is still proclaimed. The waters of Baptism are still applied to people, so that they may be brought to new life. The bread and wine of the Sacrament of the Altar are still given to God’s people so that they may be fed and nourished with the very body and blood of the Lord.

This is the Way of the Lord. It is a way of humility. It is not the way of the world. There is no glory here as we would expect to see it. There is, instead, the questions running through our minds, “That’s it? Words that are preached? Absolution that is pronounced? Water that is poured over a person as a pastor speaks Jesus’ words of Baptism? A piece of bread, a sip of wine? This is the God who comes to me? Isn’t there some greater way He could come to me?”

But the task of making straight the Way of the Lord is to cut all of those questions out and simply look to Him and His Way of doing what He does. In humility He forgives you through the spoken words of the preacher. In simple means He declares you righteous through the simple pronouncement of the Absolution of your sins. In ordinary water He washes away your sins because that water is connected with His word of forgiveness and salvation. In plain old bread and wine he gives you His body and blood, as that bread and wine have been consecrated by the very words of Christ. That bread and wine, and in and with it, His body and blood, are given to you for your forgiveness, for your strength, for your comfort.

Just as the Law is proclaimed as if there were no Gospel, the Gospel is proclaimed and delivered as if there were no Law. John’s call to repentance, bringing the Hammer of the Law down in full force, is followed by His declaration of the Gospel: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And so in the Lord’s Supper, what do you get? No Law, just pure Gospel. “Take and eat, the body of Christ, for you, for the forgiveness of your sins. Take and drink, the blood of Christ, for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.” You are fed and nourished because your Baptized. What did you get in Baptism? “I Baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” There is no Law here, only the purest Gospel. It is all Christ, all the Savior given directly to you.

This is His Way. It is the way of the Gospel. The Way of bringing life to you. The way of bringing salvation to you. The way of bringing forgiveness to you. The way of bringing Himself to you for all of those things. That’s why He came. That is His way. He will come again. In the meantime, He comes to you through the Gospel with His abundant life. Amen.


Fourth Sunday in Advent

The Season of Advent is a time of waiting. The wait is nearly over. What have we been waiting for? We live as those who wait. We prepare to celebrate our Lord’s birth, even as countless people of God in the Old Testament waited for Him to come as Savior. Like them, we wait for His return in glory. John the Baptist pointed people to Him, the “Lamb of God.” The Church continues to point people to Him, for He has taken away the sin of the world. That is truly the joy of Christmas, and why we have spent a period of time preparing and waiting.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Commemoration of Thomas, Apostle

All four Gospels mention St. Thomas as one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. John’s Gospel, which names him “the Twin,” uses Thomas’s questions to reveal truths about Jesus. It is Thomas who says, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” To this question Jesus replies, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:5–6). John’s Gospel also tells how Thomas, on the evening of the day of Jesus’ resurrection, doubts the report of the disciples that they had seen Jesus. Later, “doubting Thomas” becomes “believing Thomas” when he confesses Jesus as “my Lord and my God” (John 20:24–29). According to tradition, Thomas traveled eastward after Pentecost, eventually reaching India, where still today a group of people call themselves “Christians of St. Thomas.” Thomas was martyred for the faith by being speared to death. [Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod]

Collect of the Day
Almighty and ever-living God, You strengthened Your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in the resurrection of Your Son.  Grant us such faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that we may never be found wanting in Your sight; through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Commemoration of Katharina von Bora Luther

Katharina von Bora (1499–1552) was placed in a convent when still a child and became a nun in 1515. In April 1523 she and eight other nuns were rescued from the convent and brought to Wittenberg. There Martin Luther helped return some to their former homes and placed the rest in good families. Katharina and Martin were married on June 13, 1525. Their marriage was a happy one and blessed with six children. Katharina skillfully managed the Luther household, which always seemed to grow because of his generous hospitality. After Luther's death in 1546, Katharina remained in Wittenberg but lived much of the time in poverty. She died in an accident while traveling with her children to Torgau in order to escape the plague. [Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod]

Collect of the Day
O God, our refuge and our strength, You raised up Your servant Katharina to support her husband in the task to reform and renew your Church in the light of Your Word. Defend and purify the Church today and grant that, through faith, we may boldly support and encourage our pastors and teachers of the faith as they proclaim and administer the riches of Your grace made known in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jesus Has Come to Bring

Midweek in Advent3
December 19, 2012
 Advent is in many ways like life. It encompasses both repentance and joy as well as expectation and confidence. It is a time of preparation and a time of waiting. Except for maybe Lent, Advent like no other time shows how the Church really is different from the culture. For this whole month the culture has been talking about the Christmas season and we’re still here in the Church in Advent. We’re still waiting. We’re still focusing on things like repentance and hope and expectation.

But just like in life that it’s not all waiting and solemnity, so in the Church we observe and celebrate and rejoice in the now. We began three Wednesdays ago noting how Jesus has come. He came at Bethlehem. He went to the cross. He came out of the tomb. Last Wednesday we looked ahead to that Day when He will come again. It won’t be to one little town like when He came as a baby. He will come for all to see. All will know. There will be no mistaking His Second Coming. His return in glory will be glorious and it will be when He in His eternal will sees is the right time.

And so we wait. We prepare. We repent. We meditate and ponder. We rejoice even as we hope. We look back to His birth and death and resurrection and we look ahead to His coming again on the Last Day. And as we wait—as we prepare, as we repent and ponder—we receive. Because not only has Jesus come to fulfill, as we saw three weeks ago; not only has He come to deliver, as we saw last week; He has come to bring.

While we wait He brings. He has fulfilled and delivered and now He brings. You see, it’s not just a waiting game. It’s not just us sitting around. It’s us receiving. That’s what happens when someone brings; when they give. When they bring the goods to you they’re yours. You have them. You have received them because they have been brought to you; they have been given to you.

And so we see that the waiting we do is far from a waiting around. It’s a waiting in which we are just waiting for the icing on the cake. The cake He brings to us now. He brings. He gives. As He has delivered salvation in His suffering, death, and resurrection, He delivers to us the forgiveness of that salvation to us in the Gospel and in the Sacraments. He brings. He gives. We receive.

The Ten Commandments showed us how we need this. The Creed showed us how that need is met. The Catechism now moves us into what flows out of this—holy living. A life of prayer. A life in which we live in the grace of our Lord; receiving, repenting, rising to new life, waiting in hope and confidence.

The Lord’s Prayer teaches us this. Our Lord did not give us the words to say for prayer so that we’d simply have words to say when we pray. He was teaching us to pray. Prayer isn’t just telling God what’s up, what He needs to know so things can get better for you. Prayer is living the life your Lord has called you to.

Now how do we understand this this way? 1Thessalonians 5:17. An amazing verse. Pray constantly. A short verse. A thought-provoking verse. Pray constantly. All the time. Without ceasing.

How does one go about this? How does one pray without ceasing? Becoming a monk? That may give you more time with folded hands, but even monks sleep. So they don’t pray without ceasing any more than we do. No, it’s more than folded hands and being engaged in the actual activity of speaking or thinking your words to God. It’s something that is done constantly, without ceasing, because it’s something that God brings about in you. That’s what the Christian life is, God bringing you to new life and giving you the will and the ability to live in that new life.

The Holy Spirit is helpful here, interceding for you with groans that words cannot express. If prayer were just up to you, and it consisted only of you speaking or thinking words to God then you wouldn’t have much of a prayer life. You wouldn’t have what you in fact do, a life of prayer. The key to all of this isn’t to carve out more time in your busy schedule to pray more. The key is to live as your Lord has called you to live. It is living a life of prayer.

The key, then, is to entrust your life to God. He, after all, has come to bring. And He brings you exactly what you need to live a holy life, a life of prayer. Entrust your life to what He brings you. He gives you His Gospel. He gives you new life in Baptism. He gives you His body and blood in His Holy Sacrament. The key to this is just as it was with the first two, in which we see that Jesus has come and that He will come again. The pattern emerges that it is all about Him. It is fully reliant on Him and His coming. He has come in the flesh, He will come again in glory.

Now when we talk about Him coming to us now, it is the same thing. It is about Him and the fact that He comes to us in grace and mercy. So while the world, and even the Church, emphasizes Jesus’ coming at Bethlehem—and it should, and this is good—it sadly doesn’t pay much attention to the fact that the babe that was born in Bethlehem comes to us still. And in the flesh!, just like at Bethlehem. That’s His body and His blood He is coming to you with when He invites you to His Supper. That’s His very self He is uniting you to when you are washed in the waters of Baptism. That’s Him that is being delivered to you when His Gospel is proclaimed and His Absolution is pronounced.

This is sadly not emphasized much at all in the Christian Church today. The Church will proclaim that Christ is going to return in glory—and it should and this is good. But when it comes to proclaiming that He comes to us now, it’s often spoken of with a message that we know that He’s always with us or in directing us to the conviction that He lives in our hearts. While this is true and good, it falls short of how our Lord has promised to come to us and how He actually does it so that we have certainty of it. He comes to us in specific ways, just like He came in a specific way the first time—born in a stable, and laid in a manger. And just like it will be specific in His coming again on Judgment Day, everyone will know.

The specific ways He comes to us are what we refer to as the Means of Grace, the Gospel and the Sacraments. It’s so easy to think of Jesus as a cute little baby. It’s easy to picture Jesus dying on the cross for our sins and stepping out of that tomb, conquering death once and for all. These are the core actions of Christ in fulfilling and accomplishing salvation. He came to save and He delivered. Now, what do we do with that while we wait; while we prepare; while we live holy lives? We receive. We partake of the Gospel and the Sacraments. These are the means, the vehicles, in which the Holy Spirit delivers to us the forgiveness, life, and salvation Christ accomplished on the cross.

What has our Lord given us to pray? Hallowed by Thy Name. His name is hallowed when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity and when we as the children of God also lead holy lives according to it.

Thy Kingdom come. How does God’s Kingdom come? God’s Kingdom comes when He gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we may believe His Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

Thy will be done. How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, so that His Kingdom may come and His will may be done.

We do not pray so that these things may happen. They do. His name is holy, His Kingdom comes, and His will is done—even without our prayer. We pray in these petitions that they may be so among us. That His name may be kept holy among us, that His Kingdom may come to us, that His will may be done among us.

He has come, He will come again, and He comes to us even now in the Gospel and the Sacraments. Because, after all, Jesus has come to fulfill, and He has. He has come to deliver, and He has. He has come to bring, and He does. For you, now and eternally. Amen.


Commemoration of Adam and Eve

Adam was the first man, made in the image of God and given dominion over all the earth (Gen 1:26). Eve was the first woman, formed from one of Adam's ribs to be his companion and helper (2:18–24). God placed them in the Garden of Eden to take care of the creation as his representatives. But they forsook God's Word and plunged the world into sin (3:1–7). For this disobedience God drove them from the Garden. Eve had to suffer the pain of childbirth and be subject to Adam; Adam had to toil amid thorns and thistles and return to the dust of the ground. Yet God promised that the woman's Seed would crush the serpent's head (3:8–24). Sin had entered God's perfect creation and changed it until God would restore it again through Christ. Eve is the mother of the human race, while Adam is representative of all humanity and the Fall, as St. Paul writes, “For in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). [Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod]

Collect of the Day
Lord God, heavenly Father, You created Adam in your image and gave him Eve as his helpmate, and after their fall into sin, You promised them a Savior who would crush the devil's might. By Your mercy, number us among those who have come out of the great tribulation with the seal of the living God on our foreheads and whose robes have been made white in the blood of the Lamb; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Commemoration of Daniel the Prophet and the Three Young Men

Daniel the prophet and the Three Young Men—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were among the leaders of the people of Judah who were taken into captivity in Babylon. Even in that foreign land they remained faithful to the one true God in their piety, prayer, and life. On account of such steadfast faithfulness in the face of pagan idolatry, the Three Young Men were thrown into a fiery furnace, from which they were saved by the Lord and emerged unharmed (Daniel 3). Similarly, Daniel was thrown into a pit of lions, from which he also was saved (Daniel 6). Blessed in all their endeavors by the Lord—and in spite of the hostility of some—Daniel and the Three Young Men were promoted to positions of leadership among the Babylonians (Daniel 2:48–49; 3:30; 6:28). To Daniel in particular the Lord revealed the interpretation of dreams and signs that were given to King Nebuchadnezzar and King Belshazzar (Daniel 2, 4, 5). To Daniel himself the Lord gave visions of the end times. [Commissionon Worship of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod]

Collect of the Day
Lord God, heavenly Father, You rescued Daniel from the lions’ den and the three young men from the fiery furnace through the miraculous intervention of an angel. Save us now through the presence of Jesus, the Lion of Judah, who has conquered all our enemies through His blood and taken away all our sins as the Lamb of God, who now reigns from His heavenly throne with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Are You in a State of Well-Being?

Third  Sunday in Advent
December 16, 2012
The Church Year began in the only way it can, if it is going to do what it is meant to do. And so it began by pointing us to the cross. Jesus is carried into town on a donkey only so that He can die. The Church Year moved us further into itself by very plainly showing us what kind of people we are. We are people of hope. When we see Jesus going into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday we see God’s grace. Because of His grace we have hope. Today the Church Year shows us that we are people of joy. Last week we saw how hope for Christians is a very different thing from simply wishing and hoping things to be true. It’s not that we need to have hope, we do have hope. It’s not that we hope for God’s grace, it’s that He is a gracious God and saves us. Therefore we have hope.

Do we also have joy? We are a people of hope. Are we also a people of joy? In the Introit we were exhorted, “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Do we do that? Do you have joy?—period, end of statement? Do you have joy no matter your feelings, whatever your circumstances, whatever you do or no matter what happens to you? Or, even as you can see holding on to hope, do you see yourself as one who knows you are saved by grace, have the hope of eternal life… but the joy? The joy just isn’t there? Do you see yourself as the recipient of the exhortation to rejoice always, because you don’t?

Even as hope in the world is far different from hope the Scriptures call us to, so it is with joy. True joy is not like joy that the world thinks of. To the world joy is conditional. If things are going well, you have happiness, well-being, joy. Even if you’re in a time of trial but you can see light at the end of the tunnel, you have some reason for being glad because you know your circumstances will change. To be sure, there certainly is a blessing in good circumstances. God has blessed us with abundant blessings and provides for us and gives us things in which we can take pleasure and in which we can be happy. So it’s not that the Bible is telling us we shouldn’t be happy.

But it is telling us that we have true joy. No matter our circumstances we have true joy. No matter what we’re going through we can rejoice in the Lord. The practical question then would be, “How is this so?” How is it possible to be people of joy, to have joy no matter our circumstances? If it’s not tied to my feelings, or my circumstances, what is it tied to?

The answer to that we see from today’s Scripture readings. As is always the case in the Church Year we are shown that we must not get so caught up in our circumstances that we lose sight of Christ. The reason the Church Year does this is because the Bible itself does this. Your circumstances are never so great that the truths of Scripture are diminished by them. You are never in so much need, or suffering from so many trials, that the central message of the Word of God takes a back seat.

The word joy in the Scriptures has an aspect to it of being in a state of well-being. Whereas we often associate it with good feelings and good circumstances the Bible takes it much deeper than that. The well-being we have from God, and the joy we have in God, is a fact of being a child of God; not something that we have only when our circumstances give evidence things are going well or when our feelings match what we consider rejoicing. We struggle with this, though, don’t we, because it seems to go against reality. Or at least reality as it seems to us. And that’s why we must go back to the Scriptures rather than looking at our circumstances or checking how we’re feeling.

As we head toward the end of Advent consider what we are met with when we see the great John the Baptist holed up in a prison. One of the benefits of a free society is that we have a system in which people who commit crimes are punished accordingly, including being locked up for punishment as well as for protection for the rest of us. But here’s John, his only crime that of faithfully carrying out his call from his Lord to prepare the way for his Lord and to proclaim the Gospel of his Lord. What does he get for that? Prison. He gets punishment at the hands of men who deserve more than he does to be in that prison cell. Furthermore, how can he continue his calling of proclaiming the Gospel when he’s limited to his cell?

How do you think John the Baptist’s state of well-being was at that point? I hope I never end up in prison, but if I do I don’t imagine I will feel like my well-being matches what it is when I have a life free to enjoy it freely. Whatever trials and difficulties you are experiencing, do they compare with what John the Baptist experienced? I’m guessing you’re like me and you’d just as soon not have to experience what he did. For another example, on this day in this nation it would be hard to imagine feeling worse than those who lost their children and loved ones in the horrific shooting in Connecticut. But even so, this is not the point. God the Holy Spirit didn’t put that little part in there about John the Baptist being in prison so that we could compare our troubles with his and then come to the conclusion that we may have it bad, but at least we don’t have it that bad. Comparing yourself with others is a road that will only lead you to finding others who are either better or worse off than you are.

What your Lord does is exactly what He did for John. Whether you find yourself in prison or in a fight for your life against cancer or can’t stand the pain you endure, whether it’s physical or emotional, what your Lord is telling you is something that actually might make you feel worse. The reason that is is because of our penchant for viewing things circumstantially and conditional. I have joy because everything’s going great! Or, how can I have joy when things are falling apart! This is the worst thing you can do, but we do it all the time, don’t we?

Jesus teaches us straight out that we are in a state of well-being. There are no conditions. There are no circumstances under which this is not true for you. It’s, Rejoice!, because you have cause for joy. You are a people of joy. Note that Jesus never says anything about feelings. He doesn’t even say anything about circumstances. In fact, that’s the whole key to this, He doesn’t point us to anything within us. Rather, He points us to Himself.

How could John rightly believe that he was in a state of well-being when he was locked up in a cell? As they soon after led him to the chopping block where they severed his head from himself, how could he think that God had him in His care? Because, as Jesus responded to John’s question, He, Jesus, was the One. What was it that John had been doing all that time before they threw his pink little body into prison? Pointing to the One. Proclaiming the Christ. Preparing the way for the Messiah, the Savior. That’s what John had been doing. That’s what it was all about. It never was about John. It never was about his feelings, or his circumstances, or the conditions he would have liked to place on his standard of living or his general assessment of his well-being.

No, it was, and was always, about Christ his Lord. It was always about the fact that John, in prison and out, in good times and bad, in moments of happiness and moments of sadness and despondency, was in fact in a state of well-being. In other words, he had true joy. It all stemmed from God’s grace, and gave him hope, and he was a person of joy. One who could rejoice in all circumstances.

That’s the true beauty of joy and rejoicing. You can do it even when you don’t feel like it. You have joy even when it seems there’s no cause for it. Since it’s not based on your feelings or your circumstances, you can know that you have true joy because it’s something that is entirely from and of your Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s really quite amazing how Jesus preaches a sermon. When you consider that preaching the Gospel is always preaching Christ and the salvation that is in Him alone it’s fascinating to see how Jesus Himself does it. What does He first do? He says very simply in response to John’s question, which is, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”, “Well, John, what am I doing? The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” In other words, Yes. Yes, I’m the one. So there you see how Jesus preaches the Gospel, in the same way every Christian preacher must do it, by preaching Christ.

But then it gets interesting. He then goes on to talk to the people about John. One moment He was proclaiming Himself, and so far so good. But then He goes into a thing about John the Baptist. Wasn’t John the one who was supposed to be proclaiming Christ? And now Jesus is pointing the people to John? But Jesus is the true genius preacher, never preaching anyone but Himself. Whereas every preacher falls short at times, Jesus is the one who always focuses us exactly where our sights need to be set and always proclaims exactly what we need to hear. And what is that? Him. Jesus. The Savior, God in the flesh; the one who came to go to the cross.

So is Jesus really pointing people to John here? No. He’s pointing people to Himself. When He brings up the stuff about John it’s in order to show us who God is and how He works. Namely, God promised the Savior. God promised He would send His messenger before Him. When He is pointing to John, then, as this very messenger He’s not pointing us to John at all. He’s pointing us to Himself. In Him, and only in Him, is true joy. In Him, and in Him alone, is our reason for rejoicing.

Think about what you are doing when you look at your circumstances and do not see cause for joy or when you place conditions on your ability to rejoice. You are looking at things other than the one thing you ought to be looking at, and that is Christ. That is what He Himself does for you—He gives you Himself, He gives you true joy, He makes you a person who is a person of joy.

It never was about John at all. And it is never about you either. It is, and is always, about Christ. Because if it’s about you, well, then, yes, there’s not always cause for joy because you will always find reason for lack of joy. But if it is always about Christ there is reason for joy and rejoicing.

He is the one whose conditions and circumstances turned dramatically to the point where prison would have been a summer home compared to His suffering on the cross. All the sin and guilt of every person was laid upon Him. All the wrath of God against sinners was brought upon Him. The eternal punishment every person deserves was dealt Him. All our suffering and sadness is met in the suffering of Christ on the cross.

This is the heart of the Gospel, for it is the heart of Christ. It is simply an unfathomable fact that He considered going to the cross a joy. He rejoiced in His Heavenly Father’s will to go this path. And that, dear friends, is why we have true joy. Amen.