Sunday, January 8, 2023

The Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany

The Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany – January 8, 2023
Psalm 100; Isaiah 42:1-9; Romans 12:1-6a
St. Luke 2:42-52

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

On Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation of our Lord and place a special emphasis on the humanity of Jesus. Last Friday, at the Epiphany of our Lord, we celebrated the revelation that this child in the manger is truly God. At the Epiphany, there is a special emphasis on the divinity of Jesus and His kingship over all creation. As the Sundays after the Epiphany progress, the Gospel readings will focus on the miracles of our Lord which reveal His divinity. Epiphany means “to reveal.”

It is then notable and quite interesting that we begin the Sundays after the Epiphany not with a miracle text, but with the only text God has delivered to us which describes our Lord’s boyhood. When Jesus was twelve years old, His family went to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, as was their yearly custom. After the feast, His family departed Jerusalem to return to Nazareth. Since they’ve spent eleven years with Jesus in the family and have come to expect His perfect obedience, they didn’t even bother to check that He was numbered with His brothers. Joseph, Mary, and their relatives departed for Nazareth.

It took an entire day for them to notice that Jesus was not with them. When they returned to Jerusalem to search for Him, it took three more days for them to look in the Temple. At last, when they found Jesus, Mary rebuked Him for making Joseph and her anxious. Jesus responds, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”[1] After this, Jesus went down with them and was subject to Joseph and Mary, increasing in wisdom, stature, and favor in the eyes of God and men.

The first question you may have of this text is how could they forget Jesus for a full day? Remember, Jesus is God in the flesh. They have raised Him for the last twelve years and He is perfectly obedient. Joseph and Mary have left Jesus behind because they’ve grown complacent. Because He is perfectly obedient, they’ve come to expect that He can read their minds. When they forget to tell Him they are leaving town, they expect He will know anyway.

From this, we see that neither Joseph nor Mary is without sin, but Jesus is. Jesus does not sin if Joseph and Mary fail to communicate with Him. Even Mary’s attempt at rebuking Jesus makes it clear that the sin lies with her and Joseph. “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”[2] It is clear that she is at fault for not being a diligent parent and yet to admit as much would be embarrassing. She knows it would be a lie to say, “You hid from us” when the truth is they forgot Him. So she says the next best thing, “why have You done this to us? You made us so anxious.”

Upon further examination, we must learn from the sin of the parents and the sinlessness of our Lord. The sin of the parents is complacency. They have grown so comfortable with the obedience of their Son, they believe He no longer needs parents. They have abdicated their role to train up their Son—whether He is divine or not.

This is the temptation for anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time. It is tempting to become complacent with your faith. It is tempting to believe that you’ve already heard about that stuff and so you don’t need to come to church, or bible study, or read the bible at home, or review the catechism. In fact, there are many in our church body who believe that once you’ve been examined in a confirmation class, you no longer need to do memory work and there is no reason for the Pastor to examine what you know of the Scriptures.

This is complacency. All Christians must be on guard against such complacency because should you fall into this temptation, you won’t even notice that you have left Jesus behind. Joseph and Mary were blessed by God to have remembered after one day of journeying. If you fall into complacency, you have no promise that you will remember after one day or even before your death. The less you attend to your faith, the less you will want to.

On the other hand, the sin of Joseph and Mary speaks specifically to parents. Sending children to school—be it public, private, or otherwise—does not absolve you as being in charge of their education. We do not send children to school to be taught by experts. We send them to school to assist us in our duty to educate them. The same goes for teaching the faith. Catechesis classes at the Church are important but one hour a week at Church will do nothing to foster the faith of anyone. Daily prayer, daily bible reading, daily discussions concerning the Word of God are necessary for raising a child in the faith.

It is necessary that children be present at the Divine Service. Children’s Church is a terrible heresy of the North American church. By distracting children with food and games during the Divine Service is the same as telling them there is nothing here for them. How does a child learn? A child learns by imitation. Repetition is the mother of learning. The youngest among us is learning the faith right now. Sure, the infants in our congregation do not yet understand language, but they are learning the sights, sounds, smells, textures, and even tastes of the church. If we teach children that the church is a place to play and eat, then we can’t be surprised when they leave the church for more entertaining pastures.

We must now turn our attention to Jesus. Whether Joseph and Mary completely forgot to tell Jesus they were leaving or if they simply gave unclear direction, we do not know. We do know that without sin, Jesus remained in Jerusalem. He remained in Jerusalem and went straight to the Temple to learn. Do not misunderstand the text. He is not teaching in the Temple. He is sitting diligently at the feet of the teachers. He is listening to them and asking questions. Those standing around were amazed at what diligent of a student He was.

Imagine a student is perfectly attentive and perfectly obedient. Then imagine the teacher asking a question and this student doesn’t give an inappropriately academic answer, but gives a thorough answer displaying understanding of precisely what the teacher was teaching. This is the boy Jesus in the Temple.

From this, we must first understand that faith in Jesus Christ is not about academic knowledge. The avoidance of sin is not about academic knowledge. Keeping the righteousness of Christ is not about academic knowledge. It is about attentiveness to the Word of God. It is about diligently listening and taking to heart the things of God. It is about trusting the Word of God above your own thoughts and desires.

It is very rare that I share personal stories from the pulpit because you come here to hear the Word of God, but in this case, it is illustrative. Sometime in grade school, we were given an assignment over the weekend to write a story about our summer break. Because the assignment was to write a story, I returned on Monday morning with a fantastical story about falling into a hole in the street and discovering a cave full of treasure. The teacher was delighted but told me I misunderstood the assignment. She was looking for a story about something that really happened.

The point of this anecdote is that in misunderstanding the directions, I did not sin. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, can remain perfectly sinless and perfectly obedient while making a mistake. Mistakes of this nature are not due to sin, but to the imperfection of the world around Him. Thus, it would be entirely possible for Christ to have mis-measured a board in the shop with Joseph or answer a question of the teachers in the Temple incorrectly.

The difference between Jesus and you & me, is that we do not know what it is to make mistakes without sin. I miscut a board because I am in a hurry and didn’t carefully measure. You miss questions in Bible Study because you were busy talking to your neighbor or thinking about lunch. We make mistakes because we are imperfect. He made mistakes because we are imperfect.

This ought to bring you a degree of comfort. Jesus Christ, True Son of God and True Son of Mary, was capable of making mistakes without sinning. He is truly man and is displaying that God is not interested in all Christians having perfect academic records. The Father is interested in diligent study of His Word. Does that mean everyone must know Greek and Hebrew? No. God has given you other vocations. Does it mean that everyone ought to devote more time than you do to God’s Word? Absolutely. Diligent study of God’s Word simply means to read and reread the Word of God so that it becomes a part of you.

Our Lord’s subtle rebuke of Mary is astonishing. “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” It is as if He is calmly saying, “Why didn’t you start by looking in the Temple?” Where else would Jesus be? Joseph and Mary likely went to all of the places a human twelve year old would be found; a twelve year old driven by the passions of his flesh and the desires of a sinful heart. They remembered that Jesus is True Man but had somehow now forgotten that He is True God.

Why be anywhere else? Not all Christians are called by God to spend their days contemplating the Word of God from sunrise to sunset. You have families. You have homes. You have vocations every bit as pious and holy as the Office of the Holy Ministry to attend to.

At the same time, when there is the opportunity to come into the House of the Lord, the Christian heart rejoices. “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the House of the Lord!”[3] It is the complacent hearts of Joseph and Mary who would now say, “But how much do we have to go? Does Thursday count for Sunday?” To ask such a question is to ignore the Gospel. It is not an exercise of Christian freedom to seek the least number of services to attend in order to maintain membership. That is a sin. It is a sin against the Third Commandment and a sin against God’s Word.

Rather, find the joy in receiving God’s Word. Enjoying coming to Church doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy other activities. It means you can enjoy those other activities because God has given them to you. The joy of the Divine Service and the Daily Offices comes not from getting what you want but from receiving what you need.

This is the final lesson to learn from the Boy Jesus. From beginning to end, Jesus displays humble submission in this text. While He is in the Temple, Jesus sits quietly and obediently learns from the teachers. He does not question their authority, even though He has been since before the world began. He does not demand the teachers act according to His expectations or even that they teach the topics He is most interested in. No. The Word through whom creation was made humbly obeys the authority of His teachers and diligently learns from them.

Then, when the Holy Family returns to Nazareth, Jesus is said to be subject to them. In spite of the sins of Joseph and Mary, Jesus is subject to them because they are His parents. God has set the world in order, and it is not always related to ability. God created Adam first and then Eve. Man is the head of woman not by ability but by Divine Order.

  What do I mean not by ability but by Divine Order? It is conceivable that a woman could craft better sermons and teach more effectively in the church than a man. Yet God has strictly forbidden this. Why? Because it is not given to woman to have authority over men. Man is to be the head of woman even as Christ is the head of the Church. If Jesus Christ can submit Himself to His parents, then all women are capable of submitting themselves to the authority of men.

And make no mistake—submission does not mean weakness nor slavery. Submission means recognizing the authority of another and placing yourself under that authority. The one who is in authority must also recognize his duty to lovingly serve and care for those under his authority. No Christian is to lord his authority over another, be it male or female. At the same time, having authority sometimes means rebuke, warning, and exhortation. Sometimes authority means simply to teach. In all cases, him with authority is called to lead by divine right, not by human order.

If Jesus Christ, True Son of God and True Son of Mary, can submit to teachers in the Temple and sinful human parents, then all Christians can follow His example by submitting our wills to His. By such submission, we too will follow our Lord in growing in wisdom, stature, and favor with both God and man.

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] St. Luke 2:49.

[2] St. Luke 2:48.

[3] Psalm 122:1.

Friday, January 6, 2023

The Epiphany of our Lord

The Epiphany of our Lord – January 6, 2023
Psalm 72; Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-12
St. Matthew 2:1-12

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Like many of the events surrounding the birth of our Lord, it is too easy to assume the visit of the Magi is a bygone fact of history.[1] This account of our Lord is certainly true history and happened as it is recorded by the Holy Spirit, however, if that is the only meaning in this text, then there is no point beyond historical curiosity for us to read it. We, too, ought to share in the elation experienced in the hearts of the Magi as they worshipped the One True God made flesh. We, too, come this night to worship the Triune God and to give thanks that He has not only taken our flesh and redeemed us from our sins, but that He has brought this salvation to the nations, to the Gentiles.

It is nothing short of a miracle that these Magi recognized the birth of a foreign king in the appearance of a star. It is no less of a miracle that when they found that king, they knew to worship Him. Despite the lowly state of His birth—the condition of the cattle shed or even shack in which they found Him—the Magi knew this to be a great king. They had even conferred with the nominal king in the land, Herod, yet recognized this child to be greater still.

We are no better off than these Magi except that we have a clearer description of the Son of God. We have the words of the prophets and the fathers, who named Bethlehem great among the cities of Judah;[2] we have the promise of the virgin birth;[3] the promise of the incarnation;[4] and the promise of a Redeemer Kinsman, who will save us from the kingdom of Satan.[5] And yet, these Magi, who were without the Word of God, came to know the Son of God, we are put to shame by their reverence and worship.

We believe that because Christ has died for us, what we wear, how we speak, how we act, and how we conduct ourselves during worship don’t matter. We believe that because these things do not affect our salvation, we may abuse Christian freedom to do whatever we want. Yet these pagan Magi, when coming into the presence of the Almighty God, forsake the falsity of their learning and worldly wisdom. They bow before an infant, proclaiming Him to be God. They offer to Him not what they can afford, not what they can spare, not even the nicest things they can find. They offer gifts to Him that are greater than what they would bestow upon anyone else.

In seeing this miraculous conversion of the pagan, we must be seeing the grace and mercy of God at work. These Magi have no background in Christianity. They are not “spiritual but not religious.” They are unbelieving pagans. Yet the presence of Jesus Christ turns their hearts in an instant, causing them to fall down in worship. Yes, they fell down to worship Jesus. These dignitaries from foreign lands laid themselves on the floor to worship a God they had only just met.

‘In this we see men devoted to worldly wisdom and far from belief in Jesus Christ brought out of the depth of their error and called to an acknowledgment of the true Light. Undoubtedly it is the brightness of Divine Grace at work and when that new light illumines the darkness of their hearts, the same brightness comes this night to illumine yours. That same star, the Light of Life given to men in the flesh of a child, illumines your hearts just as it illumines theirs so that it should move both with wonder and lead both to the adoration of God in the splendor of that True Light. So then, with careful thought, we might see how the threefold gifts of the Magi are also offered by all who come to Christ in faith. He that acknowledges Christ the King of the universe brings gold from the treasure of his heart. He that believes the Only-Begotten of God to have united man’s true nature to Himself, offers myrrh. He that confesses Him to be of the same substance of the Father, in no way inferior to the Father’s majesty, worships Him with incense.’[6]

While we share in the worship of Jesus with the Magi, we also find ourselves in very different times. Herod is actively plotting to kill the infant Jesus. The Church has undergone centuries of open persecution. Today, there are all kinds of attacks on the Church yet even now, our faith is not illegal. We are not at a point where we must meet in secret.

Yet these differences do not mean that Herod, or his coconspirator, Satan, have ceased to work against the Church. They have simply changed tactics. Why make it illegal to go to church when you can simply convince people not to read the Scriptures? Or, why arrest Christian preachers when you can simply convince people not to listen to them? Herod was outraged that someone else would be called ‘king’ in his land, especially one who would claim the title ‘God.’ Such outrage and spite are understandable when people are seeking the Messiah, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

But when even Christians are not worried about seeking the Messiah, Herod has no need to rage. Satan can replace the blow of affliction with the stumbling block of pleasure. Instead of threatening to seize your belongings, Satan tempts you with more. Instead of throwing you into prison for your faith, Satan changes your home into a prison by telling you it is unsafe to leave. Rather than destroy families by putting the father to death, Satan makes sure you can stay connected by never speaking to your family in person—only via screens. Why listen to the Scriptures when you can “follow along”? Why read a book when you can watch the movie? Why listen to the preacher when you can listen to the radio? Why bring up a child in the faith when you can send him to confirmation?

These tactics are indeed Satanic, and they afflict us all. They afflict us all because they are easy. Just as it was easier to offer the pinch of incense to Caesar than to confess the true faith, so too it is easier to placate children than to teach them. It is easier to insist on your way than to submit to authority. Pleasure is easier and provides a tangible reward. Faith is difficult. Faith is uncomfortable. Faith might require you to fall down on your expensive slacks and worship a child sitting in a cattle stall. Faith might require you to do something you don’t like because a superior expects it of you.

The tumult of our world threatens our pleasure but only by threatening to remove our pleasure. The tumult of our world threatens to make our lives difficult so that we will cling to the relative ease we have come to love. The love of ease is dangerous for it plays into the hands of Satan. The faith and hearts of men are shown in works. They are shown in how we engage with the world. This is godliness. This is piety. There are some, as St. Paul says, “who profess that they know God, but deny Him by their deeds.”[7] Denial and hypocrisy are true accusations when the sound of the voice does not match the voice of the conscience. The frailty of man easily leads into faults and because no sin with without its attractiveness, deceptive pleasure is easily fallen into.

But we should run away from satisfying the desire of the flesh and the mind that has knowledge of God should turn away from any evil suggestion of the enemy. In flight from the temptations of sin, turn instead to the steadfast love of God. His mercy endures forever. No matter what sin and no matter how long you’ve found yourself captive to it, God’s love and mercy endure forever. Do not persist in cherishing your sin no put off repentance because you enjoy your sin. Turn and repent at once, that you too might partake of the love and mercy of the Father. Turn and repent because while His mercy endures forever, your life does not. Your life is in the hand of the Father and it is not for you to decide the days of your life.

But for the one who strives against sin, who experiences the restlessness of enduring the sinful flesh while awaiting the joyful release of heaven, receive the mercy of God and pray incessantly that the burden of sin and the chains of evil habit be removed. The prayer of one that confesses will not be in vain since the merciful God “will grant the desire of those that fear Him,” and will give what is asked.[8]

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] This sermon is based on the sixth Epiphany sermon of St. Leo the Great as found at

[2] Micah 5:2.

[3] Isaiah 7:14.

[4] Psalm 8.

[5] Genesis 3:15.

[6] This paragraph is a loose quotation of St. Leo’s sermon, the end of the first paragraph.

[7] Titus 1:16.

[8] Psalm 145:14, 19; St. Matthew 7:7-8.

Monday, December 26, 2022

The Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr

The Feast of St. Stephen – December 26, 2022
Psalm 119; 2 Chronicles 24:17-22; Acts 6:8-7:60
St. Matthew 23:34-39

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Lord has blessed us today, though maybe not in the way you had hoped. A storm descended upon our region, and much of our nation, during the last days leading to Christmas. The days were dark and dreary. When the sun did shine, it was dimmed by clouds and the dust of snow in the air, not to mention the bitter cold.

Although Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were likewise cold, they presented a certain calm in the weather. God gave us a physical picture of what we sang together on Christmas Eve, “When all was still and it was midnight, your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne.”[1] He has continued with His gifts as we heard proclaimed on Christmas Day, “In [the Son of God become the Son of Man] was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”[2]

After celebrating the coming of the True Light into the world, the main body of the storm has passed. The temperatures, although still cold, are slowly rising. The sun has a new glimmer to it. The light seems brighter. In the ordering of the universe, God set the seasons such that the days would begin to lengthen at the same time that His Son descended into the world. The True Light has come, and we can now expect longer days of light.

This evening, we celebrate the faith of St. Stephen. Stephen was one of seven to be ordained deacons in the Acts of the Apostles. He, like the other deacons, set about caring for the sick and the poor, but also preaching, teaching, baptizing, and performing miracles. It is because of his bold preaching and great miracles in the Name of Jesus that the Jews from the Synagogue of the Freedmen seek to have Stephen killed.

In imitation of our Lord, Stephen is dragged before the High Priest and accused of falsehoods with no proof. When his preaching cuts to the hearts of those listening, they grind their teeth in wrath, carry Stephen outside the city, and stone him to death. It is the death of Stephen and the ensuing persecution that led the Church to grow rapidly outside the walls of Jerusalem. In this case, the blood of the martyr is clearly the seed of the church.

The false accusations against Stephen should be no surprise. He is accused of blaspheming against the Temple and against the Law of Moses. He is accused of blaspheming God and proclaiming that Jesus would change the traditions of Moses.[3] These accusations aren’t particularly clever or original. In our times, they rank right up there with “If abortion is murder so is the death penalty. You stupid Christians, you don’t even know your own beliefs.”

While the accusations may be unfounded, St. Stephen takes the time to explain his beliefs. He recounts the history of Israel but more specifically, he recounts the places in which God has been with His people—all prior to the Tabernacle or the Temple. He specifically mentions that God came to Abraham before he dwelt in Haran, while he was yet in Mesopotamia. Father Abraham, although he received great promises from God, did not receive the promised land in his lifetime. He did not see children numbered to rival the stars. He did not see sons as kings. The only land given to him was a tomb in which to bury Sarah.

Then, rather than telling the stories of Isaac or Jacob, Stephen speaks next of the Patriarchs and how they came to dwell in Egypt. What the brothers meant for evil, God meant for good in sending Joseph into Egypt. Israel came to dwell in Egypt and greatly prospered, until the coming of a Pharaoh who did not remember the Patriarchs.

Despite dwelling in Egypt, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob dwelt with His people. He struck Egypt with the plagues and drew His people out of that foreign land. Before He could draw them into the land promised to their fathers, however, the children of Israel rebelled against God. They rebelled against Moses. They desired gods of their own making, worshiping the creations of their hands rather than the hand of the True God who had delivered them.

So you see, the Tabernacle and the Temple are not the exclusive dwelling place of God. It is a true statement to say that God is on the golf course just as much as He is in the Church, or the home, or the restaurant, or the prison cell, or the death bed. Heaven is His throne and the earth His footstool. How could the Almighty God, who places His feet upon the whole earth, be confined to one Temple, Tabernacle, Church, or Cathedral? He cannot.

At the same time, God is the one who commanded the building of the Tabernacle. When David desired to build a home for God, the Lord refused to allow it. It wasn’t until God had given this task to Solomon that the Temple was built. These places were given to man so that man could be confident in the presence of God. Prayers said in the Church building are not more readily heard by God than those said at home. However, as man is a fleshly creature, the Church building is a space that has been set apart for prayer. It has been set apart for the worship of the Triune God. It has been set apart for the receiving of God’s Word and Holy Sacraments.

Thus, the Church building is different from all other buildings. It has its own furniture, features, sights, smells, textures, and sounds. It is different for the sake of man. The Church is built for man, not man for the Church.

As such, it is to be a physical embodiment of God’s Word. This physicality is something objective, brought to you rather than supplied by your desire. To look in any direction ought to direct one’s mind toward the Word of God. The sounds that emanate from the Church should recall nothing but the Word of God, His glory, His grace, and His Sacraments. Even the smells of the Church are to be unique. Scientists will tell us that smell is the sense most closely related to memory. Whether that is true or not, all our sense should be active when we worship God. The totality of our mortal flesh is engaged in this worship. Thanks be to God that He has not forgotten any of our senses when bringing to us His Word and Sacraments.

What, then, is the result of this physical training in the things of God? Why is it beneficial to engage your entire self in receiving God’s Word? There may come a day, and it grows more likely every day, that you are called upon to make a confession like that of Stephen. Perhaps it won’t be so grand. Perhaps it will be while you are ordering a new sofa and the salesman asks what the difference between Lutherans and Catholics is.

In such a situation, you ought to be ready to confess your faith. Every service we confess our faith in the words of either the Nicene or Apostles’ creeds. These are an outstanding place to begin but if you are only practiced at reciting them as part of a large group, it will be difficult to remember in a private conversation. Even if you can remember it at the opportune time, there will inevitably be questions to follow.

Therefore, we must be practiced in our faith. We must spend time reading, hearing, and speaking God’s Word. Begin by having conversations concerning Godly topics with your husband, wife, parents, friends, or neighbors. Having lunch with another member of this church and discussing the sermon or the readings from the previous Sunday is a wonderful opportunity to exercise the faith of your tongue in a safe environment.

 The Word of God and holy conversation are habits. The more you attend to them, the easier they become. The less you attend to them, the easier they become to ignore. We are not given the topics of St. Stephen’s lunch conversations, but we do know that he was full of faith and the Holy Spirit.[4] We know that when called to confess what he believed concerning the Law and the Temple, he was able not only to proclaim the truth of God’s dwelling and righteousness, but also to call the false teachers of the Jews to repentance.

The zeal of the Lord consumed him and for this, the reproaches of those who hate God fell upon him.[5] The wrath of the High Priest and the Jews is directed toward God, not Stephen. He is simply the mouthpiece proclaiming the divine truth. Yes, this hatred fell upon Stephen but not because of his person. This is the reason he can pray for his murderers, even as they bend to pick up the instruments of his death, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”[6]

We have the holy privilege of the same. We have the holy calling to proclaim God’s Word to all. If they hear and receive that Word, thanks be to God! The angels in heaven will rejoice as one sinner repents. But if they reject the words of our mouths, if they spit upon you and shame you, if they cast you into prison, it is not because of you. It is because they hate God. They hate the Word you speak. They have hardened their own hearts against you and against God. For these, there is no hope.

But for you there is. There is certainty. As the mob is grinding their teeth, Stephen looks up and sees the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father.[7] After reciting the many and various places God has dwelt with His people, St. Stephen now sees the Incarnate Lord dwelling with him. He sees the heavens opened and the Son of God welcoming Stephen to his eternal home.

Whether visible to your eyes or not, the same Son of God is near to you. He is with you at home, in the Church, at prayer, and at the hospital bed. He is with you wherever His Word and the Holy Spirit are present. You, beloved of the Lord, are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God has entered your heart and filled you with faith. Treasure up this Word and hold it dear, for it is the certainty that Jesus is with you always, prepared to receive you into glory.

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-15.

[2] St. John 1:4-5.

[3] Acts 6:11-14.

[4] Acts 6:5.

[5] Psalm 69:5-10.

[6] Acts 7:60.

[7] Acts 7:55-56.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas Day

The Nativity of our Lord (Christmas Day) – December 25, 2022
Psalm 98; Isaiah 52:6-10; Hebrews 1:1-12
St. John 1:1-14

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the very familiar words of the beginning of St. John’s Gospel, there is a phrase that sticks out. I think many people pass over it without understanding and don’t give it a second thought. There are also many who have noticed the various translations of the phrase but again, do not bother to inquire. Then, there are those who puzzle over this phrase’s meaning but find so much more to ponder in the rest of the chapter that one confusing phrase is not worth the time to understand.

The phrase of which I speak is “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”[1] You may have read or heard it read as “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[2] In order to understand this sentence, we must identify the light; identify the darkness; and finally, understand the relationship between this darkness and the light. The particular difficulty in this sentence is the word translated either as “comprehend” or “overcome.” Both are valid translations of the Greek word, but neither is particularly helpful in understanding what is being said about the light, the darkness, or their relationship.

First, who or what is the light? The previous sentence tells us that in the Word of God, that is, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, is life and this life is the light of men.[3] Generally speaking, light reveals what is hidden, guides one who is lost, and communicates over distance. In the Son is life, and this life is the light of men. The Life that is in Christ reveals what is hidden in man, guides man who is lost, and communicates to us over the distant gulf created between God and man.

We have already been told that Jesus is the Word of God, who was in the beginning with God and was God. A Word is only beneficial if it is spoken, and used to communicate. In this way, we can see the relationship between Word and Light. If words are taken to heart, if they are received and the one speaking is trusted by the one hearing, then these words will also guide the hearer, just as light guides the one who is lost. Words can also be said to illuminate the mind, revealing knowledge and wisdom that were once hidden. Again, there is a similarity between Word and Light.

But what of life, the life that is in the Son and is the Light of men? The life in the Son is ζωη, the fundamental term for life, without which there is no existence.[4] St. John especially takes this word and turns it into a theological term for that eternal existence which God has placed into creation; that which makes you exist. Hence the life that is in the Son is that essence that gives life to all mankind. It could, quite possibly, be a reference to the Holy Spirit or simply a reference to the origin of all life being within the Godhead, the Holy Trinity.

All life proceeds from God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is nothing in the cosmos that did not originate in God. He created the heavens and the earth. He created you and me. He continues to sustain you, me, the heavens, the earth, and everything that fills them. If it were not for God sustaining the universe, it would cease to exist at this very moment.

“In [the Son of God] was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness.”[5] Who, or what is the darkness? The clearest answer is the darkness of the sinful world. The problem with this answer is that this darkness is then personified, treated like a person, that can either comprehend or overcome.

It is difficult to imagine, but in the beginning, there was nothing, not even darkness. The “nothingness” into which God called creation was not dark. It wasn’t anything. It was not a thing. Into this darkness, God spoke a Word and called forth light. This is the beginning of all things.

Human logic and the world today insist that the world is made of dualities. Everything must be in balance. If there is light, there must be darkness. If there is up, there must be down. If there is life, there must be death. This is the fundamental theology of both Star Wars and the Marvel Universe. If there is Good, there must be equal and opposite Evil. Everything must be in balance.

With God, it is not so. There is no equal but opposite Evil to oppose God. Just so, in the beginning, when God created light, there was no darkness. There was only light. As the week of creation came to an end, certainly, there was a division between day and night, a division between days and seasons. The sun certainly cast shadows from the trees over the fields. Yet these shadows are not the darkness of John’s Gospel.

The darkness into which the Light of Life shines is certainly the sinful world, but it is not an abstract sinful world. Sin did not enter the world as a lifeless contagion, floating on the air and hoping to be breathed in by a passerby. Sin was not an idle thing, activated by the actions of first Eve and then Adam. The first sin was an act of man. Sin is always an act of man. The fall of man introduced sin into the world and the rest of creation fell because of the actions of men.

This is how darkness is personified in the first chapter of John. The darkness is not sin as an abstract concept, personified for the sake of poetry. The darkness is the sin dwelling in the hands and hearts of man. The darkness is the desire to sin, inherited by every son of Adam and daughter of Eve.

If you sit in deep, deep darkness for any length of time, and then someone turns on a bright light, your eyes will burn and immediately you will shut your eyes. Even if the darkness was that of a prisoner’s cell and the light was brought by your liberators, the darkness of your eyelids is more appealing than the light of your salvation.

This is the relationship between the darkness of the sin in your hearts and the light of life that is in Christ Jesus. No one is born inclined toward God. No one is born indifferent to God. All mankind is born hostile to God and His light. Such hostility is against everything God has given to creation.

We, who were born in darkness, are incapable of opening our eyes to the light and desire nothing more than to crawl back into the darkness of our cave. Thus the One in whom dwells the substance of Life, through Whom creation was spoken into existence, has come to dwell in your flesh. He has come into the cave to dwell with you and the darkness of your sin cannot comprehend nor overcome His light.

The word translated as either “comprehend” or “overcome” is based in the word which means “to take” or “to receive.” However, it has a prefix that intensifies the word. When put together, the word καταλαμβανω means “to take or receive from top to bottom; to understand fully; to overtake fully.” The prefix also possibly hints at a level of hostility. Thus, the darkness of sin is hostile toward the Christ, even as it is impossible for sinners to fully understand, fully defeat, or even fully receive Him.

There are those in the world who have refused to receive the light. They prefer to sit in the darkness and dwell in the cave. They are truly God’s own, for all of creation belongs to the Creator. They are His own, but they do not receive Him. They refuse to receive Him. These are not only in the darkness, but by refusing the light, they are of the darkness.

But as many have received this light, all those into whom the Light has shined and not been refused, these have the right to be called children of God. Those who know themselves to be lost in the darkness and welcome the light of life to lead them on the path away from the darkness are given such desire not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but from God. These children of God have believed in the Name of the Son of God, the Name of the Word, the Name of Jesus Christ.

These children have received, believed, and trusted the Light that would never lead them into darkness. These children have trusted the light such that what they might perceive as painful, unpleasant, or even contrary to their own will, so long as the light is leading them, they will submit themselves to Him.

The darkness tried to overcome the Light. Men believed they had killed the light after only a few hours upon a cross. Yet the darkness cannot overcome the light. The darkness cannot comprehend the light. The Light cannot be contained by the darkness for He preexisted the darkness. The Light became flesh and dwelt among man not only to overcome the darkness, but to share His Light with you. He comes to you today that you would edge ever more closely to the Light, leaving the darkness behind.

Behold the glory of God, the glory of the only begotten of the Father. Behold His glory in the flesh given for you and the blood shed for you. Behold the glory of the Light that is the Life of men. Behold the glory of Jesus Christ.

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] St. John 1:5.

[2] Such as in the NIV or ESV.

[3] St. John 1:4.

[4] BDAG, 430-431.

[5] St. John 1:4-5.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Christmas Eve

The Eve of the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas Eve) – December 24, 2022[1]
Psalm 2; Isaiah 9:2, 6-7a; Titus 2:11-15a
St. Luke 2:1-14

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This night, we celebrate the visitation of an angel, that heralds the arrival of the Christ. An angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds in the field and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were afraid.[2] And the angel said to them, “Fear not.” An angel, likely the same angel, appeared to Zachariah, to Joseph, and to Mary herself, announcing the coming of the Lord and each time saying, “Do not be afraid.” These angels came not to bar the gates to eternity, but to announce their being flung open. The Christ child is born in the city of David to bring peace to man.

This peace is brought about through reconciliation. The birth of the Christ brings reconciliation between man and the holy angels. To be reconciled does not mean “to let bygones be bygones.” Reconciliation requires acknowledgment of the harm done, restitution or atonement for that harm, and forgiveness by the one harmed.

The presence of angels almost always strikes fear into the heart of man because angels are the messengers of God and man’s heart is sinful from birth. Our wickedness, our sinfulness, even the inclination to sin is an abuse of the life God has created within us. We have taken His good creation and corrupted it. We have stolen what is rightly His. We have blasphemed His holy name by acting in wickedness. By our actions and our inactions, by our thoughts and lack of prayers, by our own faults, by our own most grievous faults, we have broken the relationship between God and man because we have placed ourselves before Him.

Yet this night, the presence of the angels no longer sparks fear, but joy. The words “Fear not,” are an absolution, words which restore the relationship between two people. The angels have come to announce the coming of the Reconciler, God’s Anointed. “When all was still and it was midnight, [the] Almighty Word…descended from the royal throne.”[3] The cattle, donkeys, and sheep even take notice. These beasts lift their heads in recognition that the Creator has entered creation for the sake of bringing reconciliation to the cosmos.

The reconciliation celebrated by the holy angels is achieved in the flesh of Jesus Christ. The very Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity, unites Himself to us by becoming one of us. His flesh is no different than your flesh or mine. Yet within His flesh dwells the fulness of divinity. He is truly the God-Man. Christ’s divinity and humanity are the significance of the bright shining “glory of God” which shone around the angels when the shepherds saw them.

By taking on our flesh, He not only makes us his brothers and sisters, but He gives us the right to become children of the Father. This right is given to those who receive Christ through faith. No longer are they born of the sinful flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.[4] Your heavenly inheritance is eternal life with Christ.

Already in the manger, the Christ child lays wrapped in swaddling clothes. These clothes point forward to the burial shroud which will again envelop his body. The flesh which Christ has assumed within the Virgin Mother will lay in a virgin tomb for three days. The death of Christ is the necessary condition for reconciliation with the Father. Christ declares He makes a new covenant in His blood and a covenant takes effect only by the shedding of blood. After the three days’ rest, that same flesh rose again, to restore you and all creation to a holy relationship with the Father, and one another.

“If we had not inherited sin, the fellowship of nature would move us so much that everyone would love his neighbor as much as he loved himself, because we would all be of one essence, of one blood and of one relationship. A few sparks of that kind of natural attachment still remain in the love between parents and their children [and] between married couples – whose light of love would be far brighter, had not the darkness of sin overshadowed it. Now Christ’s flesh is a holy flesh, which has not been poisoned by sin in the least; that’s why this fire of love burns in it brightly and undarkened so that Christ heartily and passionately loves us because we are His flesh and blood.”[5]  

Thus the glory of the Lord shone around the holy angels as they visited the shepherds. The angels gather this night, with all the saints of God as we joined them in song, “Glory be to God on High, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”[6] Soon, we will again join them, the angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, singing, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of Sabbaoth. Heaven and earth are full of your glory! Hosanna in the Highest!”[7]

You see, the songs of the angels rejoice at the Incarnation. They rejoice when God comes near to His people, when there is peace is the world. The Son of God becomes the Son of Man that you would have peace with God. We rejoice in the presence of our Lord this very night. He is not locked in heaven as some would imagine. He is here, present for you in Body and Blood. The very flesh by which Jesus won your reconciliation with God is now present for you to be eaten. He has partaken of you in His Incarnation that you might partake of Him in his Exultation.

Bethlehem is not just the site of Jesus’ birth and the city of David. The very name “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” The Bread come down from heaven was born in a manger, that you would find your home with him.[8] He who eats Christ’s flesh and drinks Christ’s blood abides in Him.[9]

The Advent fast has come to an end. With full joy and splendor, we celebrate Christ’s presence among us now and every day until the visible return of Christ in the flesh. We look to the shining light of Christ’s glory found in a chalice and on a paten. Christ is with you. This is the time when Christ was born, when a Savior appeared. This is the time when angels and archangels sing and the righteous exult and proclaim, “Glory to God in the Highest! Alleluia!”  

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] The propers used are appointed for the Christmas Midnight Mass.

[2] St. Luke 2:9-10.

[3] Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-15.

[4] St. John 1:12-13.

[5] Johann Gerhard, “On Holy Christmas Day II,” Postilla, Vol 1 (Malone, TX: The Center for Lutheran Orthodoxy, 2003), 60.

[6] St. Luke 2:14.

[7] Isaiah 6:3 (the Sanctus).

[8] St. John 6:32-33.

[9] St. John 6:56.

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