Sunday, December 27, 2009

Feast of Saint John

Merry Christmas! Today's readings were Revelation 1:1-6 (sermon text begins at v. 9), 1 John 1:1-2:2, and John 21:20-25.

Here is written that John the Apostle was banished to Isle Patmos (near Turkey) for preaching the Gospel. At the time of revelation, he was in the Spirit on Sunday - the Holy Spirit was moving him to write. First came letters to nearby village congregations to instruct them. All seven, taken together, have in common rebukes, admonition, and encouragement; they make a complete picture of the Church.

The picture of Christ is here too - a man with a white robe and a golden sash, standing among candles - we (traditional worshipers) see that every Sunday! It's not up to us to decide arbitrarily how to worship - let us take Biblical descriptions as our model. There are aspects of Christ's image unique to Him - feet as bronze, eyes as flame, hair as wool, face as the sun - but pastors, too, do have the two-edged sword of the mouth - the Law and Gospel of God.

The glory of God, brighter than the sun, caused John to "die" at His feet. As he did, so must we confess to God all our sin daily (look into the mirror of the Law) and receive absolution for it (let Him lay the hand of fellowship - the Gospel - on us). Why trust Him? Because with the keys He carries, He has locked you out of hell and carried you to heaven! "Fear not." He holds all in His hands.

Soli Deo gloria.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve

Tonight's readings were Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, and Luke 2:1-14 (sermon text).

There are three parts to Christ's birth: introduction (Rome's call), climax (birth), and epilogue (the angels' song). The dual purpose, depending on inflection: to accuse and to forgive us of our sin.

Jesus had an odd connection to Rome: a census at His conception and birth (born under the Law), answering appropriately to Caesar in His ministry (render unto Caesar...), and being put to death by Pontius Pilate. We put Him on the donkey to Bethlehem, our sin necessitating His coming. God, five hundred years previously, had told of His orchestration of Christ's census-undergoing.

He was born. Swaddled. Placed in a manger - not a crib - for our sin and for our forgiveness (His passive obedience). A nondescript birth is the climax of this story - how anticlimactic is that? There was no fanfare for Him...yet. Similarly, the Spirit works quietly in our hearts.

Then the angels sang a fanfare - to shepherds, not to Caesar. Why this audience? All God's plan. The glory of God shone, causing inevitable fear (accusation of sin to sinners who cannot abide His glory) as it will on the Last Day, showing all our sin. But the angel said, "Fear not!" Here is the Gospel for everybody! Give up guilt because God's Son has taken it upon Himself (forgiveness of sins). This Savior was born, innocuously, yet bearing all of God's blessings in His wake! Do not reject Him.

Soli Deo gloria.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent 4

Finally home! On Jan. 3 I return to the icy unnamed institution of higher learning. Today's readings were Micah 5:2-5a, Hebrews 10:5-10, and Luke 1:39-56 (sermon text).

In today's Gospel is Mary's Magnificat. Here are three questions about it...
  1. What is it? "Magnificat" means "magnifies," praise to God. Mary sees both the personal (at the beginning) and the bigger (at the end) picture. In the text is a confession of who God is and a reflection of a life steeped in Scripture--she borrows from several Psalms.
  2. Why does Mary give it to us? God was gracious to her. He broke into her life of anticipating the Messiah--she would bear the Christ! Also miraculously, her cousin would bear the Christ's prophet! During the visit, John recognized God incarnate, and Elizabeth praised God for His gifts.
  3. What do we do with it? We meditate as Mary did. We sing it. Why? Because faith responds to God with song. Paul tells us to sing the Word; God is so gracious to us that sometimes we cannot sing for tears. Singing is double prayer--with our minds and voices we praise God! Let us therefore use song to tell, teach, and rejoice in what He has done for us, for all.
Faith sings prayers--the Lord's Prayer, Kyrie, and Nunc Dimittis.

Faith sings comfort--"Be still, my soul, the Lord is on your side."

Faith sings praise--Magnificat, LSB 941 (a well-known versification of the Te Deum; the linked video features a friend of mine who is now in seminary).

Faith sings to teach--see the depths of the faith set to rhyme in LSB 555!

Faith sings to defy Satan--"A Mighty Fortress" and the Baptismal liturgy.

May we sing this Christmas not for ourselves, but for our Savior. Soli Deo gloria.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent 3: 'Tis the season to be joyful

Today's readings were Zephaniah 3:14-20, Philippians 4:4-7 (sermon text), and Luke 7:18-28. We visited the same church as for Pentecost 23.

Advent, a season of joy, can be stressful as well. It's not the season to be jolly - but it is a season to be joyful, to rejoice in all things. What does this joy look like? Happiness (marked by smiles and laughter, affected by external factors) must be distinguished from joy. Joy is not an emotion, but is a fruit of faith in Christ. Through its lens, we see Jesus. Through it we see and believe that this vale of tears is temporary.

Jesus working in us gives us joy. Behind all disasters, God is still for and always with us. So why do we so often settle for less - pursuing happiness? Happiness is exactly that: a pursuit, nebulous, fleeting, never permanent. Paul, by contrast, had nothing to be happy about - yet he lived in joy. Why? God's wrath for sin was directed at and loaded on Jesus! He took your place and carried your sins. Why? For joy! He rejoices over you!

So we rejoice...in Jesus. Paul follows with "The Lord is near." You are not alone; your joy flows from this fact. He is near.

Soli Deo gloria.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent 2

My dear readers, here are *two* sermons for you today! The first is from a local-to-college church, and the second is from on-campus church. The readings were Malachi 3:1-7b, Philippians 1:2-11, and Luke 3:1-20. Sermon texts were all three at the first church and the Epistle on campus.

Sermon 1:

Nothing in life is easy, although it may seem that way. What about following Jesus Christ. The readings testify that living out a life in Christ is not all roses. Paul wrote Philippians from prison because he was a disciple. John, for obeying Jesus, got imprisoned and beheaded. "Follow Jesus, go to jail"? But our Lord suffered all and died for us. Then He arose and ascended.

Discipleship requires seeing this bigger picture. Is it worth it to stick it out? Yet it's God who signs us up to follow Him. He equips us to follow through on His commitment to us. Is it worth it? God is faithful to His promises: not theology of glory (guaranteed health, wealth, and peace) but theology of the cross (we will be perfected in heaven, our sealed future). The Holy Spirit, our Comforter, keeps us in this true faith. Life has hardships, but eternal life has peace. Though we may feel helpless, we're in for the long haul: heaven with Christ, our eternal Treasure, our true Friend.

Sermon 2:

Advent: a new day dawns. Our alarm tells us: "Awake!" A new church year approaches - the beginning of the end - a cause for alarm? Though Christ came in humility long ago, we pray for Him to come in power. When will this end come? What if He comes today? Are we ready?

We can't tell when He will come. But at every moment we must trust Him to keep us ready. The ultimate purpose of the Word is not to alarm but to strengthen us in our struggle with sin and its guilt. Take heart - the Word became not only man, but also sin for us! We rely on Christ's blamelessness, not ours. Therefore, rest assured of this, but don't roll over. Luther's analogy is of a pig, washed but immediately becoming dirty again. Wake up instead, to tell others about this wonderful Word. No tunnel vision or procrastination. Live while it is yet Today.

Soli Deo gloria.