Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas 1 A-Sermon

First Sunday of Christmas—Sermon
12/29/13—Year A

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Merry Christmas!  Yes, that’s right, Merry Christmas!!  Though the radio has silenced its holiday tunes and the stores have shuffled out their green and red wares to make room for red hearts and white cupids, we in the Church still say Merry Christmas!  For though the 25th has passed, the season has not ended!  Christmas continues, the hymns keep being sung, the cheer and well wishes continue and the tree stays in its nobel place.  Therefore fear not fellow Christians for there are still days remaining to send out those Christmas cards and letters….for which Alicia and I are always thankful.  With the hustle and bustle of all leading up to the big day, things get overlooked and time eventually runs out, but it is not so in the Church for the season of Christmas is 12 days!  The song, the 12 Days of Christmas, got its cue not from the secular world, but from the actual Calendar of the Church.  Therefore, let us continue to dispel the “Bah Humbugs” and keep witnessing to that eternal and everlasting joy that is ours in the babe born at Bethlehem.  For that is why we are given these 12 days, not to make Christmas a pass-over holiday, but to dwell richly and drink deeply from our Savior’s coming.  To sit and be permeated with the true Truth of Christmas in order that that saving Good news will awaken the light of faith in us so that we might bear witness to Him who is our savior, Jesus Christ.  

In this season we are surrounded by many such witnesses who have gone before us.  December 26th, the day after Christmas, is the Feast Day of St. Stephen the first actual martyr of the Christian faith.  Stephen was ordained a deacon by the apostles in Acts 6 and then carried out his work and ministry, which included the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  He did so with truth and boldness for the faith, not backing down to the darkness which surrounded him as those he preached to took exception to His cutting words.  He shined his light in the darkness, but the darkness did not overtake him, even while Paul held the coats of his attackers.  He with faith and hope of the resurrection, a hope born to the world at Christmas, gave His final breaths proclaiming that Jesus is Lord, as he hid his life in the hand of Christ.  

December 27th is the Feast day of St. John, the evangelist.  The one who did not die a martyrs death, but was no less a witness.  He lived to good age and with each passing day wrote, taught and shared the faith.  It was he who gave literary form to the Word of God in His most powerful Gospel that bears His name.  It is He who wrote, In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the word was with God.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  That Christmas passage that we read just a few nights ago as we turned off the lights and shared the flame of a sing candle to each other, symbolizing the sharing and passing on of our own faith to others.   

December 28th is the Commemoration of the Holy Innocents, those children who succumbed to Herod’s wrath that we heard about this morning.  Whose lives witness not directly to Jesus Christ, but stand as a testament to the true evil and darkness of the world.  A world in which those most precious and innocent, children, bear the wrath of a mad king.  A world of deep darkness, in which our Lord entered, that made Egypt safer for a Jewish boy, than the Jewish town of Bethlehem.  Listening to Matthew’s words this morning, we hear echoes both of Genesis and Exodus.  In Genesis, the homeland of Jacob/Israel and his sons, had become barren and plagued with famine and therefore Joseph led his family to Egypt to save and feed them.  In Exodus, Pharaoh called for the slaughter of the male firstborn sons of Israel and Moses was delivered safe through a basket down the river.  In Matthew, the land of Israel has become barren and a different famine has overtaken it.  The Promised Land of Israel has become it’s worst past, Egypt, with a brutal Pharaoh of its own, Herod. Like a new Moses, Jesus must escape the hand of a brutal king.  Led by a new Joseph, He finds refuge in an ironic way in the Promised Land of Egypt, out of Egypt I called my son.  To this upheaval, this upside down story of Israel, these Holy Innocents bear witness as their lives are taken from them by their own people, as faithful Rachel weeps from the grave for her children, for her exiled people.  These Innocents have always, in the Church’s mind, been given the highest regard and have been understood to wear the crown of martyrs.  In the loss of their lives for the sake of Christ, Jesus will undue what Herod has done, by being First born from the dead and giving life to those other first born sons.  In the course of Jesus’ life, He will wipe away every tear from Rachel’s face.   

Today is December 29th and the 4th day of Christmas.  If we look to the Church’s calendar, we see no major feast days today commemorating the work of evangelists or martyrs.  There is only us.  You and I who stand now before the throne of the Almighty, the manger of His Word and His sacramental presence.  The witness of Christmas event has now fallen to us, as I mentioned Christmas Eve.  We are now the shepherds who witnesses to the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And our own witness finds its counterpart of the saints mentioned, like the Innocents, we witness in our lives to the great upheaval and upside down nature of the world that still plagues our mortal flesh.  We testify by our sin that darkness still lurks, that a promised land can be a place of torture and evil.  We stand as witness that the world, that we ourselves still so desperately need a savior.  One to unite himself to our trials, our travails, our stress, our pain, our suffering, our brokenness and undue the work of our own brutal deeds and words.  And He does in the water of Baptism we were given the promises and assurance of eternal life, we were cleansed saved by the life and death of Jesus Christ.  Through the font we became sons and daughters of the kingdom and by faith we now witness to the forgiveness, grace, mercy and love of Jesus Christ.  In faith, strengthened and replenished by the Holy Word and Holy Sacrament, in lives forgiven and redeemed we are called to join the ranks of St. Stephen and St. John.  

We are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to let the mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ, the joy of Christmas, to be the constant theme and witness of our lives.  For we have been saved.  We have been forgiven and undoubtedly we know people, neighbors, brutal kings of the world, dark powers and principalities in this world that need to be confronted with the Good Christmas News of Jesus Christ.  They need to know and to hear that God will undue every evil that we inflict upon one another, for judgment and righteousness belong to Him alone.  They need to know that there is one who is with them in the midst of their suffering from disease and illness, who has defeated all.  They need to know the peace that is found in the forgiveness of Christ and they will need to hear it and see it from US.  By our mercy and grace, they will know the graciousness of Christ.  By our compassion and love for each other, they will know the compassion of Christ.  By our witness to Jesus Christ in word and deed, even to giving our lives for His sake, they will know the power and eternal life of God.  By our persistent abiding in this Christmas joy, they will know by God’s grace come to know that everlasting joy as well.  So brothers and sisters keep wishing each other Merry Christmas.  Keep sharing and giving gifts and finish those Christmas cards for the world is waiting, our neighborhoods is waiting, our homes, schools, and jobs are waiting for the light of Christ to shine and banish the darkness.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas Eve A- Sermon

Christmas Eve—Sermon
12/24/13—Year A

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

We’ve gathered, under the cover of darkness this night, to set again the cosmic scene for the celebration of our Lord’s nativity.  The night sky is darkened: a mirror of the people to whom Jesus would come, a people who sat in deepest darkness.  Darkened by sin.  Darkened by oppressive Roman rule.  Darkened by the bitter longing for Israel’s redemption.  It had been 600 years since Jerusalem was free from outside forces.  Even longer since the whole people of God, His chosen Israel, had been united as one people under one king.  With each foreign nation after another taking its turn to rule and scatter God’s people, hope seemed grim.  Laments continued to be raised in prayer as messiah after messiah, claiming a secret wisdom or a military prowess, proved again and again to be false and powerless.  Nothing changed.  The poor hungered for food. The blind begged for their sight.  The lame ached to be made whole.  The dead remained silent in their tombs.  Darkness reigned.  Nothing changed.  Until this most holy and joyous night.  The night in which that first-spoken uncreated light from creation entered into the world, taking on our lowly flesh, and shining the brilliance of the divine light upon the world and upon His people.  This great and joyous night is when the word of light is spoken to banish the darkness, not from the eternal realms, but from the cries and whimpers of a new born baby boy.  Light has come upon Israel.  Joy has come to a holy and just family.  The dawn of Salvation has broken upon the world.  

This night is just the first glimpse of what the true messiah of Israel will be and what he will do.  He will be humble.  He will be one of us, a brother to our humanity.  Who will endure all that we ourselves endure.  He will encounter what life in the world and life in this flesh entails, but he will do so as one perfect, spotless, and sinless.  He will fill humanity with divinity, and give us divine wisdom and insight as he preaches and teaches to us spotted and flawed sinners.  He will change water to wine.  He will give sight to the blind.  He will with a word and touch heal the sick, troubled, and lame.  He will welcome the unwelcome and bring in the outcast.  He will give the Bread of Life to the world.  He will unite His people again under a new king.  A king that does not fail or corrupt, but a King Eternal and a kingdom that has no end.  He, this baby boy cooing on his mother’s lap in the cave surrounded by the barnyard critters, will give life to the world.  And what is foreshadowed tonight at Christmas is made clear at Easter.  

Listen closely to the Christmas story that we heard and sang tonight and what do we find?  We find a wooden manger, swaddling cloths, Mary, Joseph, Angels, a Light, and Shepherds singing.  All things that we will hear and see again as our Lord redeems and saves His people.  The wood of the manger, which holds in place this precious sleeping child, will find its counter in the wood of the Cross upon which Jesus is held aloft for the world to see.  The tightly comforting swaddling cloths will be seen wrapped around him again at the last by the women who attend him.  The cave of his birth sees its opposite in the rock hewn tomb.  The Mary who watches with tears of joy as her son gives his first cries, smiles and awaits to hear him utter his first words, mirrors that other Mary, shedding her tears who stands waiting for her beloved Rabbi, Master, and Lord to speak her name just once more.  Joseph the protector of our Lord, who in a dream cares for the Virgin, delivers them from Herod’s arm and keeps Jesus safe, too is met by another Joseph, not of Bethlehem but of Arimathea, who hears the call of God and will once more protect His vulnerable body. The angels who sing His triumphant entry into the world, “Glory to God in the Highest and Peace to His people on earth”, will sing once more upon the stone rolled away, “why do you seek the living among the dead!  He is risen!”  The light of the star brightening the cold dark sky, will be the light of Resurrection bursting forth from the cold dark tomb and will be the life of men.  And the shepherds…what about the shepherds, those unlikely witness to Messiah’s birth, they will be of all people fisherman to whom the Lord will command to be shepherds, “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep.”   Indeed they will be come the most unlikely of people, as they will find their counterpart in us.  

You and I are the objects of tonight’s events.  We are the ones for whom our Lord rent the heavens asunder and came down to love and save.  We are the ones for whom that newborn cries and waits to share the goodness of God.  We are the ones for whom Jesus has come to redeem and to welcome back into paradise.  And as we gather this night, we do so like those shepherds witnessing our Lord’s arrival here among us now.  We are the ones who offer to him our own hymns of praise, joy, and adoration, because He has come.  Because He has conquered all and because He is our true and everlasting joy.  Not presents, not cookies nor cakes, nor holiday meals.  Not trees, nor twinkling lights, nor mistletoe and egg nog.  Jesus alone is where this true Christmas joy is found as His divine light and word dawns upon our lives and breaks through our darkness.  With each coo, with each word spoke, and with each breath given saying to us, I love you, you are mine, come for I am giving you rest from your worries.  You are mine and I will never let you go.  Look and see all that I have given, all that I have done, and all that I am doing for you and for your salvation.  I have come down from heaven and taken for myself, your nature, your flesh so that I can know and save you from your sins.  Look upon my body and my life given and live forever with me.  Cast off your darkness and by faith join me forever in the eternal light of peace, joy, purity, and righteousness.       

Therefore as shepherds, testifying to the miracle of our Saviors work for us, let us never tire of singing the angels' song to Him for on this night, as St. John Chrysostom writes, “the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.”  On this night Salvation has dawned and we who have beheld this glorious event by faith are now shepherds to the world, carrying our little light of faith.  Shining Him wherever darkness gathers, in our work, at our homes, in our towns and communities, and into the whole world, singing “Glory to God in the Highest and peace to His people on earth!”

May the joy of our Lord’s nativity fill your hearts and lives with His eternal and abiding peace.  Amen.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent 4 (A)-Sermon

4th Sunday of Advent—Sermon
12/22/13—Year A

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

The beginning of the end of the beginning. Waiting at the end, before the beginning, all while the end is here, but not yet fully ended, when the final beginning will indeed begin. Past, present, and future all collide with each other as we stand on at the Church’s new year.  No, you have not stepped back into the TARDIS this morning, even though we still are dressed in blue and this box that we gather in is bigger on the inside than it is on the out, filled with the saints, angels and presence of God.  So no, I am sorry to say, we have not traveled back in time, only borrowing old words to further illustrate the season.  If you’re hearing them for the first time, let me just say, we missed you three Sundays ago.  We began Advent by looking to the end of all things, when Christ will come in clouds descending and now we conclude it, having lit our 4 candles, looking to the beginning of our Christian faith, in the first Advent of our Lord.  We await that heavenly day, by looking back to when our Lord came not in power and glory, but in humility and fleshy weakness.  It is in looking to the past, remembering Immanuel, that grounds our hope in the present and makes us wait with joyful anticipation for our future.  

Such remembrance of Immanuel, not only in personified deity, but in etymological reality, God-with-us, is woven throughout the story of our ancestors in the faith.  I would not wager to do a pop quiz on the Ten Commandments right now, but does anyone know how they begin?  They do not being immediately with a commandment, but rather with a word of remembrance, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  Before the Law is revealed it is grounded in the remembrance of who exactly is the One who gives this Law.  It is the One that threw chariot and rider into the sea, who did signs and wonders before Pharaoh, who instituted the Passover and saved His people.  Before the Lord reveals the Law, He reminds Israel of Himself, what He has done for them, and that He is with them.  Moses later preaches to Israel in Deuteronomy 5 and agains remind them by setting the scene, “Hear, O Israel, the statues and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them, The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.  Not with our Fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.  The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of fire, while I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord.”   He brings to their memory how the Lord redeemed them out of Egypt, gave them His promise and His covenant.  In doing so, he calls  Israel to remember.  

Such words of remembrance weave throughout the Old Testament.  The Torah, the books of History, and especially the Psalms, such as 135 & 136 are filled with calling Israel to remember that the God whom they worship is Immanuel.  The One who gave manna in the wilderness, who made them victorious over the pagan kings, and who gave them the Promised Land.  He is the One who opens wide His hand and satisfies the desires of every living creature. God is with Israel through the patriarchs.  God is with them in the Ark and Tabernacle, the giving of His Law and the sacrifices of Old. He is with them in the the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.  He is with them in the Temple and the Holy of Holies.  He is with them in the midst of their enemies, when even their own kin will turn against them, which is the scene of Isaiah’s prophecy.  Syria and Ephraim (that is the Northern Kingdom) have joined forces and are at Judah’s doorstep.  The kingdoms are divided and king Ahaz of Judah is given a sign;  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  He is give a sign to remember the the faithfulness of God, that the Lord is with them.

Israel is told again and again to remember and we are given a son and Savior who himself will call us to remembrance at His new Passover, all because we are so deftly able to forget.  Our first parents forgot the commandment of God.  Israel forgot the goodness of God and His deliverance as they grumbled and mumbled and stumbled their way through the wilderness.  King Solomon forgot the Sixth commandment and thus the first, giving into the pagan gods of his many wives; and Ahaz will forget and the promise of Immanuel meant to be for all, will be given only to a faithful remnant.  We too quickly forget as we lose sight of the commandments of God and fall into sin, temptation, and err.  We quickly forget as we curse our sister, withhold our offering to the poor, and fail to love our brothers.  We quickly forget when our enemies stand at the door step waiting to sweep us away, when the darkness comes and we are surrounded by uncertainty and doubt.  We are quick to forget when we don’t have the right answer or see clearly a path out of our trials and tribulations, out of our diseases, out of the bondage of our financial problems.  We fallen sinners are quick to forget the reality of Immanuel.  

Thus the Law is given with the proclamation of the Lord’s prior work, the prophet’s prophesy of what was and what will be, and the child conceived and born of the Virgin institutes a meal and fellowship grounded and surrounded in remembrance of Him who died and rose again.  Why else do we Christians greet one another so many times throughout the service, “The Lord be with you”?  Because the very mission of the Church is to have our forgetful minds renewed and replenished by the presence of God.  To remember that there is One who forgives sin, who enters into the mess of the world in order to save and redeem it.  To remember that this One who came as flesh and blood into the world, was there before the worlds began, and is now Immanuel with us; in Bread and Wine blessed, broken and poured, in the prayers offered in His name and wherever His body gathers to worship Him.  We are brought together each Sunday that He is with us as His word is read and proclaimed, that He comes to save us and give us His eternal life.  To remember that He is Lord of all things, that He leads us out of the darkness of our sins, trials and tribulations, threats of our enemies, and even out of the problems that we face personally and as a parish all by the light of His resurrection, the Lamp of His word, and the illumination of His sacraments.  Behold, before us this day the prophet’s words, Matthew’s words’ are fulfilled as God is with us, in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  

In the midst of trial it is hard to see exactly where He is, as we often fail to see the forest because of the trees, yet He is there.  As they say, hindsight is 20-20.  On the edge of the Promised Land, Israel could see clearly the Lord’s deliverance and his hand throughout the wilderness, but that only become clearer after they went through the journey.  It was only after the Angel’s message that the Lord’s will became clear to Joseph.  And in our own lives it will become clearer of where our Lord’s hand has been once we have reached the end.  Undoubtedly, we can all look back to our own lives and the struggles and challenges that we faced, and with faith see the fingerprints of Immanuel everywhere.  Leading us, holding us, correcting us, admonishing us and forgiving us, and always working His good for our betterment.  

Last week at the end of worship we were faced with a clear picture of the hardship that our parish is facing.  What has been a long while in the making is now on our front doorstep, as Syria and Israel were at Judah’s.  We too are looking for a path of deliverance.  As our council met Tuesday night, we read today’s Gospel lesson spoke of the Lord’s vision to Joseph in a dream.  When he thought he had come to the best solution in his own mind, the Lord made it clear to him of another way, the Lord’s own way.  He gave Him the assurance and hope of Immanuel.  My brothers and sisters we are on a journey of our own and once through I am sure we will see God’s hand much clearer than we might at this time, but nonetheless He is with us. Though it might be easy to forget, because we always think we can save us from ourselves, Isaiah, Matthew, and our Lord Jesus calls us this day to remember.  To remember how He has delivered us through personal times of hardship, how He has freed us from the bondage to our sins, how He has led Reformation in the past through other hardships, and to trust that He will lead and guide us through this one.  That He is always and forever Immanuel. Therefore let us always and constantly remind one another, “The Lord is With you!”



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent 3 A—Sermon

Third Sunday of Advent—Sermon
12/22/13— Year A

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

It is, as they say, either feast or famine.  In the moment of a quick passing of time from last week to this week, the beloved forerunner, the one above all those born of woman has now found himself in this dichotomy.  Last week it was river front views, water repentant dunks, stirring words spoken to the masses of Jerusalem and Judea, feasting on the delicacies of the wilderness, locusts and honey, and wearing the finest threads of the prophets.  This week it is abandonment, loneliness, the three walls and barred cage of a prison cell.  No scenic view to gaze out upon.  No rays cascading down from the heavens to warm him in the afternoon sun.  No crowds, nor multitude to preach to and the honey which once flowed down like oil upon the beard has dried up and become nothing more than a matted beard of remembrance, bringing tears as glued together follicles snag and pull out.  The locusts remain nothing more than the former feast of nature’s bounty, as that once popular message, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” has become the warrant for his arrest.  The boasts of pride, hope, and faith about the one who is to come after, the one who baptizes with fire, who stands read with ax and winnowing fork to bring judgment and salvation for Israel, has now become a wandering lament, an interrogative whimper, “are you the one, Jesus, or should we look for another?” 

Though I can’t speak from any personal experience, I imagine that prison does that to a person.  Sitting in a darkened cell, remembering what was, while having forced conversations with Herod to pass the time. Knowing that He once proclaimed the Kingdom freely in the light, He now finds himself surrounded by the darkness of the world, and soon by the darkness of a seducer’s dance and a foolish king’s offer.  We cannot know for certain how long before that deadly dance took place that John sent out his disciples, but knowing the word that he had spoken against Herod and Herodias; I have little doubt he knew his days would end in that prison cell.  The night grows darker, the days get shorter and His present reality begins to force the question,  “Are you, Jesus, really the Coming One?”  Perhaps it was power and a show of force he was expecting, like others awaiting the messiah.  Perhaps in his own call for repentance and the bad trees to be cut down, he sits imprisoned awaiting for One who will come and chop down that most fruitless and most pathetic excuse of a tree, Herod.  Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, we hear him  once again this day cry out from another type of wilderness seeking assurance and hope that it all had been for not. 

Perhaps none of us have been in a prison, but undoubtedly at one time or another we have been in that other wilderness as the Baptist.  We have undoubtedly felt the darkness of life, the darkness of the world, or our own most guilty and painful sins surround us.  We have felt the whispers of that evil doer proclaiming his own kingdom, not of light, truth or grace, but of sin and death, pushing us and luring us out of light to join him in the dark.  Causing us to question our faith, our bold convictions of the kingdom, and even making us to doubt the One of whom John himself prepared the way.  Some of you may or may not know this, but the name Ian is Gaelic for John and I know I have found myself in the wilderness with him.  We all have, from sickness to divorce and broken hearts and broken families.  From poverty to the seduction of wealth.  We all encounter that force which stirs in us doubt and lead us on the path to despair.  We do it individually and we do it communally.  We do it as individual members of the body of Christ and we do it as a Congregation of the Lord.  Reformation, like Ian, like John, has no doubt asked the question as it waited 7 years for a pastor, as it endured conflict and anxiety, as it built and now lives with a building.  While the demands press upon us further, we wait we watch for a big act, a showy display of the Lord.  We wait for a miracle, a tree to be cut down before our very eyes, and in the shedding of anxious tears as things look even darker we cry out with John our own questions, “Are you, Jesus, the Coming One or should we look for another somewhere else?”

To which our Lord tells John’s disciples, “Go and tell him the things which you hear and see.  The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”  The kingdom is indeed being revealed, not in great works of offensive power, but in the simple lives of all whom the Lord Jesus encounters.  Our Lord brings in the true Kingdom which the forerunner longed for, but could not see.  Though it looks like darkness in the prison cell, the dawn of the Lord’s salvation is breaking upon Israel as Isaiah’s words are fulfilled by Jesus.  From His word and by His hand a blind man is given sight and the seeing pharisees are made blind.  From His word and hand the lame woman is restored and those who walk well are made to stumble.  By Jesus Christ the unclean are made clean and the poor and broken in spirit are given the good news of God.  The joyous news that they are not abandoned nor forsaken.  That they indeed are truly the greatest in His kingdom, for they are loved and though fasting now they will feast at the banquet which has no end.  Jesus in essence reiterates the prologue of another John’s gospel to give and ground him in hope while he sits in his cell, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot and will not overcome Him.”  

It is that same word that our Lord speaks to us and affirms and confirms in us this day and every Lord’s.  We poor, tired, broken, deaf, lame, lepers are healed, cleansed and this very day have the good news of Jesus Christ proclaimed to us.  We need not wait for another, because He is the One.  The only One who restores and makes whole.  He is the One who conquers every foe would keep us from Him.  And He is the One who will bright light and illuminate our darkness: as a choir sings anew, as the youth continue to unite and grow in our congregation, as conflict resolves and dissonance becomes harmony, as a family feels like a family again, as we have the good news read and preached to us, and as we taste and see the Lord’s goodness around this table.  We need not wait for another, because there is no one other than Jesus Christ who can do these things.  Who does them not only in overly dramatic displays of power, but in the lives and hearts and souls touched, healed, and forgiven by His Word and by his Hand.  Though we go through times of fasting, He alone makes sure that we will feast again!  

His light shines in the depth of our darkness and He will always out last it.  In the light of the resurrection He will completely and forever obliterate it.  That is why this Sunday is marked by a Rose candle, and if I had the money I’d be wearing Rose colored vestments today, for this Third Sunday of Advent is known by its Latin name, Gaudete Sunday.  That is, Rejoice Sunday.  Though the night grows longer and the days get shorter we rejoice in the Lord always, because this is why He first entered into this world.  He came to shine into our darkness and He will come again at the last to turn every night into an everlasting day.  For He always and forever wins, having defeated every enemy of God and man by His death and resurrection.  United to Him by faith we too will at the last wear the victor’s crown.  Nothing and no one can ever over take us, for we have already been overtaken by Christ.  Our darkness is removed as our sins are forgiven and the Holy Spirit moves and implants faith in us working His will in our lives.  In Christ, we are sons and daughters of the eternal Kingdom and by Him we are brothers and sisters of the King!  

Therefore Rejoice in this season of Advent as we wait.  In a few short days we will gather under the cover of darkness set the cosmic scene for our celebration of our Lord’s birth and we will sing with the angels.  And as we do, as we make our Christmas preparations in this season we do so with our lighted candle, with the little light of faith, renewed and strengthened by the Word of Christ to John, knowing that in Him the prophets have been fulfilled.  Knowing that there is absolutely no other for whom we could wait, because Christ alone has the Word of eternal life (which is why we sing it every Sunday!).  A Word that speaks into our darkness, which comforts us with His presence as it did to St. John the Baptist.  Who now has received the promise fulfilled, that the dead are indeed raised, and that true and everlasting feasting has returned to him. That feast of which we ourselves long to return to us  while we wait, keep watch, pray, beg, and plead:  

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Advent 2 (A)-Sermon

Advent 2—Sermon
12/08/13—Year A

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the coming Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  With the kids jingle belling;  And everyone tell you “Be of Good cheer”.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year.  It’s the hap-happiest season of all;  With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings;  When friends come to call;  It’s the hap-happiest season of all. There’ll be parties for hosting;  Marshmallows for toasting; And caroling out in the snow;  There’ll be scary ghost stories And tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year…. 

Therefore….Repent, You Brood of Vipers, for the Kingdom of heaven is near!  Like a freight train this morning’s Gospel lesson runs us over amidst the jubilee around us.  The tree is up, the lights are around us….the Christmas music is pumping through the radio stations and our CD players, or for those more techy our iPods.  The holiday notes and jingle jangles filled our own house as we began to prepare for Christmas.  And, finally the weather is getting to feel right.  I woke up early this morning stepped out into the garage and I was actually cold!  It felt great and wonderful!  The proper temperature to surround the holiday season with.  It’s all beginning to look and feel an awfully lot like Christmas, as another caroler might sing.  Though I suppose a White Christmas is quite out of the picture this year.  We might even come to Church to hear the same sort of themes that fill the world around us.  Yet before it all, here stands John with sharp words of repentance and in break-neck speed we seem to find ourselves in what seems more like Lent rather than Advent.  

Before we hear of sheep, oxen, shepherds and angels, we hear the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the testimony of John the Baptist.  He is the precursor, the Forerunner.  That last of the great prophets bridging the prophets of Old to Jesus Christ.  John himself was foretold of by Isaiah, “A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.”  And we see Him this morning, standing in the wilderness, on the banks of the Jordan, wearing His finest Christmas sweater of camel’s hair, chomping on his favorite chocolate covered locusts that are in the stores about now, while sipping His wild honey egg nog, and speaking words of preparation to the masses.  From Jerusalem all of Judea and the whole region of the Jordan the people of Israel came to Him to hear him speak and to point to the One in whom the Kingdom itself was drawing near.  The other whom Isaiah foretold, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse…and the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon Him.”  

        Because He is coming.  Because He has already come and has drawn near.  John speaks words of repentance so that they might see Jesus and receive Him as the Christ of whom all Israel had been waiting and watching.  John calls them to turn away from doing what is right in their own eyes—that ancient judgment against Israel and her kings—and to look to Christ who himself is approaching, who stands with winnowing fork in hand, and as we spoke of last week, who’s very presence brings judgment and salvation.  He calls them to repentance, in order that they might receive Jesus as he approaches them, by faith.

Darkness comes before the light.  Evening precedes the morning.  Repentance brings about the coming of faith.  The Law is spoken always before the Gospel, as the Law itself reveals to us the very purpose, the very need of that saving word of Grace.  This is why we hear such words from John this morning in the midst of Advent, and holiday preparations.  So that we might with true joy celebrate the reason for the season.  That we enter into Christmas not with mere holiday sentimentality, but that we come to Christmas with faith in that one born of Mary.  Here through the Word of God, read and proclaimed, that prophet of old is still preparing the Lord’s way to us.  John’s call to Israel is still a call for each of us to repent.  To turn away from our sins.  To turn away from doing what is right in our own eyes and towards the coming King who day by day draws ever closer.  In this way Advent does mirror that other repentant season of Lent.  They are sisters in the Church’s calendar to shake and jar us from our complacency with sin and reawaken the gift of faith in us.  For in spite of all the happy Christmas songs and feel-good Christmas moves, the Word of God reminds us still of our need in this season and every season to repent.  Having just put up a real tree for our house and trying to get it to fit into the stand, trust me….there is much still I need to repent.  Not to mention the gluttony of Christmas goodies that are always before us, while others lack basic food.    

It is John’s first call, that will become Jesus’ own in the following chapter of Matthew’s gospel, which Luther picked up on in His 95-Theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, said, “repent” he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  Repentance is the very ground and soil of our Christmas preparation.  It is the straight path upon which our Lord walks to meet us.  For as He comes, he purges away sin, that deep darkness of our hearts and lives, which can not withstand the divine light of His presence.  In the purging and death of sin in us, that sin which itself brings death, there is the true joy of this season to be found.  It is in Christ Jesus and what He alone has done that makes this the most wonderful time of year!  Therefore with repentant lives and eyes turned towards Jesus, we put up our Christmas trees as a reminder of that wood upon which our Lord hung for us.  We string our lights in remembrance of the everlasting light of the World that banishes every darkness, risen from the dead.  Our salvation has come in the flesh of the God-child, in the lifting up of the cross, in the harrowing of hell, the ascension into heaven.  Our God and Lord draws nigh and His kingdom is come.  That is the reason we hear of John this morning, so that we see our salvation standing before us.  That we in faith may gaze upon all His mighty work and revel in it.  Swirl, sing, and dance in the splendor of Christ, what He has done, is doing, and promises yet to do.  That in faith we can in joy receive Him as King of kings, God and Lord, who comes to meet us now in the manger of His Word and the stable of His Sacrament.  Who comes to bring forth His good fruit in our lives, so that we might prepare His way for others.  

The liturgy at Matins each morning includes, as the Gospel Canticle, the song of Zachariah.  The song John’s father sang after John’s birth.  During the Church’s song, the congregation’s voice falls away, while a lone voice sings aloud, “You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.”  These words are sung not only to transmit the words of a father to his new born son, but to become the words of the Divine Father singing to us His children.  You, my children, will be prophets of the Most High, because you have received and seen my salvation.  You, my children, will join in the prophet’s work, going before the Lord to prepare His way, in the lives of each other, in the lives of those who do not yet know him, and into our community.  You, my children, prepare my way, by speaking my words of grace, by inviting those outside in to taste and see the goodness of the Lord given at salvation’s table, and spread the knowledge that here in this place the dawn from on high has broken upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.  Not only this morning do we to hear the prophet’s words, but we are made to become them;  speaking and singing the words of salvation.  That every season in the Church, is the most wonderful time of the year, because it is filled with the joy and love of God’s salvation.  Therefore, let us prepare His way, as we await and pray:  Amen.  Come Lord Jesus  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent 1A-Sermon

First Sunday of Advent–Sermon
12/1/13–Year A

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

The beginning of the end of the beginning. Waiting at the end, before the beginning, all the while the end is here, but not yet fully ended, when the final beginning will indeed begin. Past, present, and future all collide with each other as we stand on this beginning of the Church’s new year.   This twisting and turning of time outside of our normal linear approach to time sounds more like a good Dr. Who episode, than a Sunday morning worship service.  We even find our pastor and sanctuary dressed in royal or is it TARDIS Blue?  Perhaps that’s the real reason the color of this season changed from Royal Purple to Blue during the 60’s and 70’s.  Or perhaps I’ve just been watching too much Dr. Who lately—thanks to Netflix—and my mind is occupied with fights of time, space, and multi-dimensional science fiction.  And for those of you who understand these references you’ve outed yourself as a nerd.  And for the one who used this illustration in a sermon, you’ve outed yourself as a bigger nerd.  

  Yet we begin our year in blue and with a word that accompanies this season.  A word which distinguishes it from all the other seasons of the Church year, but also describes every one of them as well.  If the Church kept to a strictly linear convention of time then it would perhaps make more sense to begin the year at Christmas or Easter.  Those two key events—the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and His rising from the tomb being victor over the grave and making the Church even possible— are certainly natural beginning points of our faith. But we don’t.  We start in this ever so brief, yet ever so rich and powerful season with its even more rich and powerful name, Advent. 

  This little season of blue reminds me of the line my 4’11” mother always said when I made a comment about her height, “Good things come in small packages.”  Indeed, they do!  Unfortunately brevity can also cause something to be overlooked, or under appreciated.  That has happened often with this little season.  Christians have been quick to run over this season on its mad dash—with the rest of the world—to get to Christmas.  Rumors of decorations already out in the stores before Halloween primes our minds to rush to Christmas and that rush is carried along by the streams of Christmas songs that flood the airwaves.  We have been primed since birth to get ready for the joy and celebration of cookies and candies, red suit and reindeer, and of course the presents that surround the commemoration of our Lord’s Nativity. The commemoration of that day so long ago in history and yet so foundational to our Christian faith.  But before we get there, as a prologue to Christmas and the rest of the year, we focus and ground our celebrations in Advent.  Listen closely to the hymns and prayers that mark the season.  “Stir up your power, O Lord, and come.”  “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel.” “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus." "Savior of the Nations, Come”  "Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending"  Before we celebrate our Lord’s birthday, we begin waiting and praying, patiently expecting His second advent.  Here we see the season is not primarily about looking back to the manger though we will certainly do that, but looking forward.  We begin the year waiting for the end of all years.  We wait and look forward to the end, which is the beginning of life eternal that has already begun now here at this end of all the ages.  I told you this Church stuff would make a good Dr. Who episode.  In Advent and really in all of our seasons that mark the year– the past, present, and future all collide in our life with the Lord of Time.  

Looking to our Lord's words for us this morning in the Gospel of Matthew (which by the way is the Gospel that will primarily be the Gospel lessons for the rest of this year, so I would urge you to take a read through Matthew) we see how true this reality is.  Even the lectionary does us well to begin our year with a word about the end.  Concerning that day (i.e. the day of the Lord's return) and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.  In the final moments before the great and solemn events of Holy Week, we hear our Lord Jesus in the present speaking to his disciples about the future.  It is the beginning of a promise and pledge that this world will meet its end.  And end who is none other than Jesus Christ Himself.  He promises to His disciples that there will be a moment—a day and hour— when the Father of all eternity will speak again His word, His divine Son, to go and enter into our world fully and completely.  And He will.  

But notice our Lord does a curious thing, when speaking about the future.  He does it in terms of the past.  For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man.  We all remember the story of Noah, which to the dismay of children's books, toys, and baby room decorations has little to really do with animals. Rather it is about the judgement and mercy of God.  The days of Noah were filled with an evil humanity bent on its own inevitable destruction and the presence of those waters were the means by which God revealed His judgment.  Yet those same waters also revealed the salvation of God as they bore Noah and his family safely on the ark.  The days of Noah revealed God’s judgment and grace.  He condemned the wicked and saved the righteous and to this day we still see that great and abiding sign of His salvation betwixt the clouds, the rainbow.  As it was of old, so it will be in the future.  In our Lord's return we too will see that same judgment and mercy of God in Christ.  Every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth at the presence of Jesus Christ.  Some in saving faith and yet others by angelic compulsion.  As the water brought forth judgment and salvation so too will Jesus Christ when he comes in His glory: judgment to the wicked and salvation to the penitent.          

The past bespeaks the future and the future will fully live out the past.  All while we are caught in this moment, this sliver of time in the present.  And to this time our Lord speaks again, Therefore, stay awake (!), for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming….Therefore, be ready (!), for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. In these words our Lord sums up the very essence of Advent!  Of staying awake and preparing ourselves for that very future that is to come!  That very future that is now come.  And that is an added wrinkle in this time of Advent.  Yes, we confess that He will come again to judge the living and the dead, but we also confess that He is come now.  Wherever two or three are gathered there He is.  As often as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we share in the His presence among us.  These precious Words of our Lord are not only a call to wait for His coming again, but to here and now see with eyes of faith His presence already among us.  As it was in the days of Noah so it is now.  We too are to keep time with Noah while He waits the flood, by keeping time with the presence of God among us.  Our Lord calls us to keep the eyes of faith always open, so that we do not miss His face; His presence among us here and now.  While the world looks inward, our Lord calls us to lift our eyes up to the Hills to wait and watch for Him. 

This is the beauty and splendor of this little season.  It listens to the voice of the Lord of Time and calls us to spend our days, our year, keeping watch for Him, who has fulfilled all things as He is fulfilling all things in us; purging and forgiving sin, bringing about life and salvation, and  making us ready for the marriage feast of the Lamb. In Him past, present and future collide and living in Him they collide in us.  Advent is not like the bumper sticker that I find so very humorous, "Jesus is coming, look busy.”  It is seeing His presence here and now by faith, while we await, plead, beg, long for, and desire the Day and Hour when He will come again. While we wait, we keep watch for our Lord in every place that He has promised to meet us.  In Word and Sacrament  In the face of a fellow human being for whom He died.  In the agony of sickness and the face of death.  In the pain of heartbreak and loneliness.  In the confession of our most devious and deadly sins.  In the lowliest and poorest among us.  For hereditary and now our Lord is, working out the reality of His kingdom as in the days of Noah, judgment and grace, Law and Gospel.  Therefore, let us then enter into this wonderful, holy, and joyful season looking everywhere for our Lord's presence among us, yet always keeping an eye heavenward as we await His return, all while making our preparations to celebrate the past of His birth.  Keeping our prayers with St. John and the whole Church.  

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!