Monthly Archives: December 2015

Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus – Galatians 3:23-29

Tonight is a night of death and resurrection. 2015 is dead and buried as of midnight. 2016 rises at that very moment. Every death, whether a day, a year, or a person, brings your death and your judgment to the forefront. Moses writes in Psalm 90, the years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes, it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.

Are you afraid of what comes next, or do you not fear death and judgment? Your answer depends upon whether you remain under the Law or under the promise. Do you seek righteousness, life, and salvation before God by doing the Law as God demands? Or do you trust in the promise of wanting to be justified and saved by faith in Jesus Christ? You are only able to enter into a new year with joy when you believe Jesus Christ has kept the Law for you, in your place, as your Savior.

You are righteous before God by faith in Christ. Outside of Christ you are and remain unrighteous. Either you are saved by works of the Law or by faith in Christ. There is no other option. Granted the Law perhaps can achieve external righteousness before your neighbor. Other people are able to look at your zealous attempt to keep the Law of God and compliment you on your upright life. Yet this is living in prison because the Old Adam despises doing the right thing. In time, all attempts at keeping the Law end in failure. The ultimate failure is death. Saint Paul understands these attempts at clean living when he writes in Galatians chapter three: before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.

All external attempts at righteousness fail because the Law of God expects external and internal righteousness: perfect righteousness within and without. God expects perfect love toward Him and toward your neighbor, yet the Law gives no power for its achievement. Earlier in Galatians chapter three Paul writes, for if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. So the Law reveals your iniquity to all instead of being able to declare you righteous. The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

Follow the chain of passages through Galatians to Romans. Notice the Gospel “buts”. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. But Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

You are a child of God by faith in Christ. No one is a child of God by natural birth. You are a child of God not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. No one is a child of God in the way of the law, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. You are united with Christ by faith. Christ’s righteousness covers you because His blood, His water, and His Spirit cover you. So God does not regard you as you are, but in His Son, as His dear child. This gift of sonship is yours by virtue of your baptism, for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. When the voice from heaven says at Jesus’ baptism, this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; the voice says the same thing about you.

You are an heir of the divine promise by faith in Christ. The Law decides you as unrighteous and worthy of eternal condemnation. Paul recalls Hagar and Sarah in Galatians chapter four as allegories of the Law and the promise. What does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.”

You can’t earn your inheritance. It is a gift that comes in believing Jesus as your only Savior and Redeemer. If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. You are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

There will be suffering this coming year. Every Christian is given crosses to bear. Yet in all the crosses borne, you have a good conscience because Christ first bore the cross for you. Every burden is made light in His burden. Jesus has paid all your debt. Salvation is accomplished. The gift of forgiveness and life is put in your mouth, your ears, and your life. The old has passed. The new has come. The Law is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, Who first shed blood for you this day that you are called His son, His heir, His righteous one.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist – John 21:20-25

Recycled from December 27, 2009.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

“Each call of Christ leads to death.” These words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship are appropriate not only for the Twelve, but also for you and me. When the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith, He bids you leave behind the siren call of the world’s riches and pleasures. He bids you take up your cross and follow Him even to death that you may receive the crown of everlasting life.

Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist was the only one of the Twelve that did not suffer a martyr’s death. Instead of the color red decking the chancel furnishings to proclaim the shedding of blood as a confession of faith, there is white to proclaim victory and purity. Saint John suffered much in his life, including exile to the island of Patmos. It was in exile where Jesus opened heaven for John to write the book of Revelation. While John suffers much, his writings declare comfort found only in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.

John’s words of comfort in Christ are appropriate to hear in this Christmastide. Our Lord’s birth according to the flesh comforts us. This holy Child, conceived without sin, will grow in stature and wisdom before men to suffer a brutal death. So will all but one of His Twelve. The one dying a natural death will suffer too, but in a different way. Perhaps that’s why Peter’s comment in John chapter 21 is striking.

Peter says, Lord, what about [John]? A few verses before today’s Holy Gospel, Peter heard Jesus say “Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” Tradition has it that Peter died on a cross, just like Jesus. Unlike Jesus, Peter was crucified upside down so no one could confuse his death with his Savior’s death. Even in Peter’s final moments he confesses Christ, not Peter, as Savior of the nations.

Jesus’ words to Peter have great meaning for you too. When the Holy Spirit calls you to follow Jesus, He girds you and carries you where you do not wish. A child of God does not live for himself. A child of God lives for God. Nevertheless, you want control. You, perhaps like Peter, are concerned with other people’s business rather than concerned about hearing and keeping God’s Word. A child of God is concerned about the needs of others, but not so that you can take advantage of a particular situation.

Peter would die contending for the faith. John would also die, but not in a dramatic fashion as Peter and the rest of the Twelve would die. What is that to you? It’s not given to you to worry about other people’s lives so that you can control what happens to them as well as to you. What’s important to our Lord is to heed His call to Peter, to John, and to you: Follow Me.

When you follow Jesus, even to death, you come to the light of everlasting life. You come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

Around 75 percent of John’s Gospel is unique to John’s Gospel. John focuses on the miracles of Jesus Christ. John also focuses on our Lord’s fulfillment of the Jewish festivals, especially Passover. Jesus is the Passover Lamb. Christ’s blood is the testimony of our heavenly Father’s favor toward mankind. Here’s how John puts it in the Epistle: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.

Your joy is full because Jesus Christ fills the manger with His Body. The love of the Father is born to wash you from your sins in His own blood. Jesus makes you kings and priests to His God and Father by adopting you, calling you by name and putting His Name upon you through water and His Word. He nourishes you through the preaching and teaching of His Word. He gives His True Body and Blood as your food and drink in His Holy Supper. When you fall short of the glory of God because of sin, you have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

John’s words remain with us today because his words are Christ’s Words. John’s words show us the Savior who does miraculous things: changing water into wine, healing a man at the pool of Bethesda, multiplying five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 men, healing a man born blind and raising Lazarus from the dead. All these miracles point to the greatest miracle of all: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. What is that to you? That is your hope for eternal life. That is Peter’s hope and John’s hope too. Your hope and their hope begins in a stable and ends with an empty tomb. You have this hope written in the words of Holy Scripture, penned by men who wrote as the Holy Spirit gave them words to write. Praise God for Saint John, whose words bring comfort as you bear the cross of Christ through death to life everlasting.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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Christmas Midnight at 6:00 P.M. – Luke 2:1-20

Two of the stanzas in the hymn “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” end with the phrase “When half spent was the night.” Later we will sing “Silent Night”. Another favorite Christmas carol is “O Holy Night”. A forgotten German Christmas carol begins “Behold, behold, what wonder’s here! The gloomy night turns bright and clear”. Do you get the theme? The birth of Jesus and night time goes hand-in-hand. People flock to church, sometimes at a very late hour, in order to welcome Jesus anew into the world.

Why did our Savior want to be born at night? The smart money is on a birth in broad daylight in an easily recognized place. Instead Jesus is born at night in a small town far from where His earthly parents live. His birth is noted by shepherds who leave their flocks to see this thing that has happened. Angels announce His birth and a star leads those who seek Him to the place of His birth. All these things happen at night, not in broad daylight.

The world is in darkness without Jesus. The world lies in the darkness of ignorance about His birth, just as many were ignorant of His birth in those days. The Jewish people knew that one sent from God would come to them in the fullness of time. What some did not realize is that the fullness of time was not determined by their convenience. They have no control over when Messiah appeared.

As it was then, so it remains now. The world lies in darkness of ignorance. For some the ignorance is real. There are those who know nothing about Jesus and His miraculous birth, not to mention His perfect life, innocent death, and glorious resurrection from the dead. For many others the ignorance is self-manufactured. Many want to know nothing about Jesus. They are happy to celebrate Christmas as a family holiday of giving presents and being with family, but you could do that practically any day of the year. The birth of the Savior of the Jew and Gentile is an inconvenient truth. His birth gets in the way of revelry, or perhaps triggers bad memories of Christmases past that don’t need to be replayed.

The world also walks in the darkness that Isaiah foretells in the Old Testament reading. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. They see a great light, but the light shines too bright on their sin. It’s better to dwell in deep darkness than admit a light needs to shine on their sin in order for Jesus to take that sin away. Outside of Christ there is only eternal darkness, not only now, but also forever. The darkness of death brought about by sin remains. Eternal darkness is your only hope when there is no Savior.

Eternal darkness is shattered by the Light of the Savior. The yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. Your burden is light, for Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, bears that burden for you. He becomes flesh and dwells among us to bear the burden of sin and death for us. He bears it all the way to the cross and out of the tomb. He is forsaken by His Father in order that the Father does not forsake you.

The Holy Spirit working through the Word of the Father proclaims this truth to you, especially tonight as we rejoice in Messiah’s birth. In Christ alone, the Anointed One from the Father, do you obtain the light of saving knowledge. To know Jesus is to know the Father. To know the Father is to know His love for you. His love for you is to send His Son to suffer and die for your sake, and to rise from the dead triumphant over death so that you live with Him forever. That is the light of saving knowledge, for that is why Christ becomes man for you.

Saint John writes in his first epistle, if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. Sounds more like a Good Friday message than a Christmas message, don’t it. That’s the point. You can’t separate Christmas from Good Friday, just as you can’t separate Easter from Good Friday. Even tonight and tomorrow prepares you for the reason Jesus is born a man. He comes to sit upon His throne: the throne of the cross. He comes to suffer humiliation, even being forsaken by His own Father in heaven. Through His passion and death you have forgiveness of sins. You have a good conscience. You have reconciliation with your heavenly Father. He sees you guiltless in the guilty Lamb of God.

No wonder angels sing. No wonder a star shines in the darkness. No wonder Mary ponders everything that happens and treasures them in her heart. The Savior of the Nations, long foretold by prophets and patriarchs, has come to His people as a man born of woman, born under the Law, in order to fulfill the Law for us and redeem us from death, hell, and sin. The gloomy night turns bright and clear when you behold Who lays in the manger. Jesus lays there for you.

Come, then, banish all your sadness!
One and all,
Great and small,
Come with songs of gladness.
We shall live with Him forever
There on high
In that joy
Which will vanish never. (LSB 360:6)

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Fourth Sunday in Advent – John 1:19-28

This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem: No. Here ends the testimony. Well, it’s not quite the end of his testimony, but it describes who John is and why he says and does what he says and does.

A negative says so much, especially when people come loaded with all the wrong questions. Who are you? John is not who you think he is. In fact, the one for whom he prepares the way is one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. The word know here is not head knowledge knowing, but a personal knowing. John is saying to those sent from the Pharisees that they don’t have a clue who stands among them. Jesus, to them, is the X-factor. He is an unknown entity to them because they have strayed so far from the voices that have called to those who have ears to hear their cry.

John says about himself that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” The definite article the is not the best choice here. Perhaps it’s better to hear John use the indefinite article. He is a voice one crying in the wilderness. John confesses, does not deny, but confesses that he is, so to speak, another brick in the wall. He stands in a long line of confessors who are not the Christ, not the Prophet promised by Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 18, or even Elijah who is to come from Malachi chapter four. John is a voice.

The voice of the many voices says Make straight the way of the Lord. Clear out of the way everything that gets in the way of welcoming Messiah among His people. That’s the message of Advent in a nutshell: Make straight the way of the Lord. Now is not the time for asking questions, judging motives, or making everything just so for the hap-hap-happiest Christmas of all. Now is the time to let everything go that gets in the way of Jesus coming to see you in order to save you from sin, death, and the devil.

Saint Paul says in the Epistle: do not be anxious about anything. If this month, this season, is about anything, it is about anxiety. Even if you think you have this whole Christmas thing down pat, you will have plenty of knuckle balls thrown your way from places you never saw it coming. Then there are those who dread these December days for reasons of their own. A family member won’t be around this year, perhaps that one special family member whose presence made the holidays worth celebrating. All the preparations for a few hours of greeting card-like feelings and good spirits get blown up by one little thing that gets in the way of the roles you expect everyone to play.

There’s no need to recast every scene. Throw the script away. Throw the movie in the trash. Push everything to the side that is outside of Christ and His joy for you. It’s not an easy chore, especially if you think you have to live up to some false expectation welling up inside of you. Satan paints what looks like a masterpiece in your head, only to look like a portrait of horror and fear.

It’s enough to make you look at the scene here at church and say, as the priests and Levites say to John, who are you? Who are you, Lord? Why does December bring so much heartache when it’s supposed to be a season of joyful expectation and fulfillment? What got in my way again this year?

Confess, do not deny, but confess that you have not heard a voice crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord. The way is made straight through the Holy Spirit repenting you in the good and wise Law of God. The Law says you cannot save yourself. You cannot shed your own blood in order to pay for your sin. Currier and Ives, Country Sampler, even Parade Magazine’s helpful hints for a stress-free Christmas won’t get you through these days.

The message of John the Baptist that points to Jesus Christ gets you through the heartache and hurt of sin and regrets. Make straight the way of the Lord. Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. Ransom me, Lord, from the prison of death and hell that my sin has brought upon me.

Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel. Emmanuel, God with us, comes to you today with joyous news. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. The peace of God, spoken of by countless voices through the centuries, has come in Jesus Christ. Jesus takes on our flesh, becomes one like us, yet without sin, in order to buy us back from the devil and from hell.

The Christ, the Elijah, the Prophet whom the Pharisees and all Israel are waiting for is now among them. None of them, none of you, are worthy to loosen the strap of His sandal. Yet He deigns to dwell with men in their own skin. He dwells among us to set us free. He dwells among us to die, and yet to live in order that you live with Him.

He dwells among us in His Word, the Word that declares you free from everlasting death. He dwells among us in His Word under bread and wine: This is My Body…this is My Blood…given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. He dwells among us in water and His Word, rescuing us through water from death to life. He dwells among us as our hands, feet, hearts, and lives embrace our neighbor’s every need.

You may not know Him as well as you think you know Him, but He knows you. He knows that you are in need of salvation. So Jesus comes, just as those voices crying said He would come. He comes to set you free from your own expectations, especially your own personal hell that you built for yourself. Jesus knocks that down, pulls you up on His shoulders, and carries you home, a lost lamb, washed, robed, fed, and declared righteous for His sake.

Rejoice! The Lord is at hand for you.

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Make Straight the Way of the Lord

This, then, is the preparation of Christ’s way and John’s proper office. He is to humble all the world, and proclaim that they are all sinners – lost, damned, poor, miserable, pitiable people; that there is no life, work, or rank however holy, beautiful and good it may appear, but is damnable unless Christ our God dwell therein, unless he work, walk, live, be and do everything through faith in him; in short, that they all need Christ and should anxiously strive to share his grace.

Behold, where this is practiced, namely, that all man’s work and life is as nothing, there you have the true crying of John in the wilderness and the pure and clear truth of Christianity, as St. Paul shows: “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) This is truly to humiliate man, to cut out and annihilate his presumption. Aye, this is indeed to prepare the way of the Lord, to give room and to make way….

The way of the Lord, as you have heard, is that he does all things within you, so that all our works are not ours but his, which comes by faith….

A spiritual preparation is meant, consisting in a thoroughgoing knowledge and confession of your being unfit, a sinner, poor, damned, and miserable, with all the works you may perform. The more a heart is thus minded, the better it prepares the way of the Lord, although meanwhile possibly drinking fine wines, walking on roses, and not praying a word.

The hindrance, however, which obstructs the Lord’s way, is formed not only in the coarse and palpable sin of adultery, wrath, haughtiness, avarice, etc., but rather in spiritual conceit and pharisaical pride, which thinks highly of its own life and good works, feels secure, does not condemn itself, and would remain uncondemned by another.

Such, then, is the other class of men, namely, those that do not believe the crying of John, but call it the devil’s, since it forbids good works and condemns the service of God, as they say. These are the people to whom most of all and most urgently it is said, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” and who least of all accept it.

Martin Luther, Church Postil for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (John 1:19-28)

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Third Sunday in Advent – Matthew 11:2-11

You’ve seen it happen. You’ve probably done it yourself. Someone shows you something and you respond, “That’s nice”, but on the inside you find the whole thing tedious. Why do you have to go through a tour of someone’s house, or looking at their paper clip collection, or some other point of pride in their life? That’s not your thing, but you go through with it, say your pious platitudes, and wait for your opportunity to get out of there.

Translate tedious experiences to the Christian faith. It is clear and certain that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. Jesus proves this to the entire world by His miracles and deeds and by His preaching. Yet many hear His preaching, read His words, even attend church after being invited to worship, say, “That’s nice”, and want nothing more to do with Jesus.

His little band of disciples is so small. Yes, there are those congregations that meet in former sports arenas and other large buildings. But most Christian congregations are small. If Jesus says He is Who He is, and John the Baptist prepares His way like no other prophet, then why doesn’t everyone get on board with Jesus? If such a small crowd of people cling to Him as their Savior, then there’s no opportunity to get lost in the crowd. That’s nice, Christians. You have a Savior. Now where’s the door?

Such a reaction ought to be proof that Jesus is the promised Messiah. It’s scandalous to be a Christian. Consider the disciples of John who are still offended at Jesus. They wanted to cling to John as long as possible. This newcomer Jesus was raining on their man’s parade. So John sends two of His disciples asking Jesus, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? Take a look at all He has done and preached. You’ll find your answer there. Jesus is nice enough to add, Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.

What was the offense? Consider both Jesus and John and their lives to this point. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. John was from a priestly family. Jesus looked like your typical Jew and preached a message that sounded unlike anything anyone had ever heard. John was scraggly, but was an earnest preacher of repentance in the wilderness. Jesus had a small following, but John stood in high prestige among all the people. Even the high priests and elders thought well of John, as we’ll hear in next week’s Gospel.

What is the offense today? People are willing to believe Jesus’ preaching as long as it doesn’t offend them or their neighbor. People love to hear Jesus help the poor and downtrodden of society, but when it comes to preaching forgiveness of sins and eternal life to the poor and downtrodden, especially to the outcasts of society, that’s out of line. Who doesn’t love the parable of the Good Samaritan? Jesus tells a story about a Samaritan helping a Jew when other Jews won’t help. Helping your neighbor in such a circumstance is a good thing. Yet there’s more to the story than merely helping the hurting neighbor. Consider that the Samaritan helping the Jew is an outrageous scandal. A Jew is supposed to ignore the Samaritan and let that person die.

“That’s nice.” Jesus died for your sins by shedding His blood for you. “That’s nice.” Jesus comes today through humble preaching of the Word and the inconspicuous Sacraments. “That’s nice.” No matter the size of a congregation, Jesus is there giving out His gifts to the poor and lowly, using a poor and lowly man standing in His stead to give the Gifts. “That’s nice.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ wrecks all wisdom and righteousness of this world. His all-availing sacrifice upon the cross and His resurrection from the dead is for every human being, even the worst of humanity, even the vilest of all sinners. “That’s nice.”

There must be offense at the preaching of Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah says, [The Lord of hosts] will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The apostles are told early in the book of Acts to stop preaching the resurrection of Jesus. These words, among many others, along with the offense of many at the mere speaking of Jesus’ name, are proof that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.

If it were not so, then churches would be full and no one would get angry at the proclamation of the Gospel. That’s the way it is among many. The Scriptures promised it. Jesus shows it as many come to Him to try to trick Him or try to trap Him. Ultimately Jesus is betrayed into the hands of men, suffers cruel torture, and dies for the sin of the world. Those who sent Him to the cross have their sin forgiven in the shedding of His blood. They tried to silence His voice, but they could not silence the shedding of His blood for their sake.

The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me. Amid the indifference of the world to the Good News of forgiveness of sins and eternal life, you find joy in this Good News. It would be nice for the entire world to believe this message of hope.

Yet there remains many who will openly reject it or merely give it a “That’s nice” and go on about their business. In this disappointing response you have confirmation that Jesus is the Savior of the world, your Savior, in Whom you are not offended. You find instead life and salvation in Jesus Christ. John prophecies it. Jesus delivers it. You receive it in His preaching, His baptism, and His Supper. Forgiveness is yours. New life is yours. Jesus gives you every good and eternal thing as a gift. He does all the work of saving you. You receive all the benefits of His saving work on your behalf.

Yes, that is nice. It’s also life-saving, life-giving Good News from a giving God to a needy people. People went out into the wilderness to hear John prepare the way for that News. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for you.

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The Offense of Jesus Christ

And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” – Matthew 11:6 ESV

The force and significance of the preceding sentence must be carefully dwelt on; on that, namely, which is preached to the poor; that is, they who have laid down their lives, who have taken up the cross and followed after, who have become humble in spirit, for these a kingdom is prepared in heaven. Therefore, because this universality of suffering was to be fulfilled in Christ Himself, and because His Cross would become a stumbling-block to many (1 Corinthians 1:23), He now declares that they are blessed to whom His Cross, His death, and Burial, will offer no trial of faith. So He makes clear that of which already, earlier, John has himself warned them, saying that blessed are they in whom there would be nothing of scandal concerning Himself. For it was through fear of this that John had sent his disciples, so that they might see and hear Christ.

St. Hilary of Poitiers

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Second Sunday in Advent – Luke 21:25-36

The words Judgment Day either strike fear into a person’s heart, or remind them of a movie title. Both responses tend to run hand-in-hand. Judgment Day for that person, the second-coming of Christ in judgment, scares them so much, even if that person won’t admit it, that it isn’t going to happen. A person has to think that if Jesus hasn’t come yet to stop this mess, especially the mess in the news this week in San Bernardino, California, then He’s a definite no-show.

There is a third option: the option of being at peace and even longing for Judgment Day. Christians once began their day by praying, “Let me expect the dear Day of Judgment with longing and pleasure.” Why would anyone think of praying for the world to end with Jesus appearing to judge the living and the dead? We confess it every week in the Creed, but do the words we confess hit home for us? Jesus is coming to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom never ends.

Just the mere thought of what lies beyond Judgment Day is enough to keep you up at night. The New Creation is so new, so beyond our understanding, that thinking about it blows your mind. That’s the point. It wouldn’t be called the New Creation if you knew exactly what was coming. There is a picture of what’s coming in today’s Gospel when Jesus says the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Jesus also says, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. There is a waiting through and from faith in Christ’s words here and elsewhere in the Gospels. Jesus has never lied to you. He keeps every promise He makes. He will keep this promise to you as well: your redemption is drawing near.

Your redemption is drawing near every time you see signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Another sign happened this past week with a mass shooting in California and flooding in southeastern India. It’s enough to make you ask, “When is Jesus going to put an end to this mess?”

That’s a good question. The answer is “All in good time.” Just because the times are bad now doesn’t mean the times haven’t been worse in the past. Natural disasters and random acts of violence show us that we live in a sinful world. What has happened before continues to happen today. Today will end and tomorrow will come, as the Lord wills. Something awful will happen to someone tomorrow as it happened today. It may be your turn tomorrow.

Our heavenly Father does not merely make a random selection of whom to zap with bad things. He doesn’t have a list of who has been naughty and nice. He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. The difference is whether or not you recognize these signs as a call to repentance or as the acts of a clockmaker God Who hides Himself from His creation and is mad at what we’ve done with His stuff.

Do not ignore the signs. Judgment Day is surely near. Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

Okay, Jesus says to watch and stay awake and all times. How does that happen? It happens in patient waiting, a waiting with expectation. You bake cookies or grill a steak knowing that, if you watch what you’re doing, you’ll have something good to eat.

Saint Paul tells Saint Titus, the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

God’s grace is His undeserved love given to us through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus applies the Father’s love to us in His Gifts that He gives His Church. His Word proclaims you not guilty of sin because of Christ’s innocent suffering and death. Jesus’ blood completely covers every sin. You are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. Robed in His righteousness, you live as one who receives good things from God. His grace gives you patience and hope, two things you can’t get anywhere else. Eating and drinking Christ’s Body and Blood, you live through the random events of life keeping your focus on Jesus and His promise of His Advent now in the Gifts and later in His bodily appearance to raise the dead and take His beloved into the New Creation.

You long for Judgment Day because that day brings you total redemption. All consequences of sin, together with our last enemy, death, will be removed. Saint John’s words in his first epistle will come true: beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

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