Friday, December 29, 2006

Sermon - Advent 4 - Micah 5:2-5a

Advent 4
December 24, 2006
Micah 5:2-5a
“Oh Bethlehem”

Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…

Bethlehem, in the region of Ephratha. From you will come forth a ruler over all Israel, with ancient origins. A strong and good shepherd who will bring security and peace. You, the little town of Bethlehem.

You, oh Bethlehem, whose name means, “House of Bread”. From you will come the One who will feed his people with everlasting spiritual bread – mana from Heaven. He, who will also give his own body in the bread of a Holy Sacrament.

You, Oh Bethlehem, the little town where David was born. Little David the shepherd boy, who became great King David, ruler of Israel in its heyday. From you, Oh Bethlehem, will come the Son of David, the shoot from the stump of Jesse. And David’s Son will be David’s Lord.

They will welcome him with shouts and palm branches and fanfare as a king, when he comes to Jerusalem. They will cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David”. But then they will shout, “Crucify!”. And when the Roman ruler asks if the Son of David is truly a king, he will hear, “my kingdom is not of this world”. And when that same ruler sentences the king of heaven to die on a cross, he will post the notice, “This is the king of the Jews”.

Oh Bethlehem, oh little town of Bethlehem. You who are a shepherding town, where sheep and shepherds are born. When David was born in your midst, he was raised a shepherd boy. He even fended off a lion defending the lambs of his flock. But from you, Bethlehem, will come the great Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep. The Good Shepherd who defeats our roaring adversary the Lion, by laying down his life for the sheep.

From you, oh Bethlehem, where lambs are born and raised for the sacrifices, and only the perfect yearlings are led to the temple slaughter. From you will come the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Perfect and without blemish, the once and for all sacrifice to whom all sacrifices pointed forward, and in whom all sacrifices found their power and meaning. From you will come the Great High Priest who offers himself as that sacrifice, and still intercedes for us.

Oh Bethlehem, you who are a small and insignificant town, your honor is made great by the one who was born in your midst. Just as many were surprised that anything good could come from Nazareth. Who but the prophet would predict that you, oh Bethlehem, would bring forth such a ruler?

For the Lord makes low the mighty, but he exalts the humble. He regards the humble state of his servant Mary, so that all generations would call her blessed. He calls poor fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes. He shames the wise things of this world and glorifies the foolish. He turns weeping to joy, sin into righteousness, and death into life.

Oh Bethlehem, Oh little town of Bethlehem, while shepherds still watched over their flocks by night, in your outskirts the song of angels would be heard. As those lowly shepherds went about their everyday business, they would hear the sweetest, most glorious, most important news yet uttered by the lips of angels, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord”. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill toward men on whom his favor rests”.

Oh Bethlehem, did you know that song of the angels echoes even today when Christians gather for worship? God’s glory is still being made manifest, and his peace is still on earth. His favor still rests with men because of the same savior, Christ the Lord. Messengers, now human but not angelic, still tell of his birth, his life, death, resurrection, reign and return. And at this message, this news, his people still wonder.

Oh little town of Bethlehem, in the song and on the Christmas cards, how still we see thee lie… but your peace would be broken when King Herod sent soldiers to kill infants. As he slaughtered your young ones, O Bethlehem, your mothers wept. Herod’s wise men knew the words of prophet Micah. The chief priests and scribes knew, that you, O Bethlehem, would be the town to bring forth the Christ, and yet their wisdom abetted the evil king to do this wicked thing.

Meanwhile, faithful wise men, kings perhaps, brought 3 gifts of honor, to the newborn king. Following the star to you, and to the True Light and Morning star in your midst, they brought not only gifts but also worship and honor. They stood for all the nations who would one day find hope and peace in the babe of Bethlehem.

Oh Bethlehem, when we see you today, like in the days of Herod’s massacre, we find little peace. You are in a land torn apart by religious warfare. Your holy shrines have even become a haven for armed men.

But are you surprised, oh Bethlehem? For you are, yet, like any human town, full of human sinners. Anywhere we humans gather, sin gathers. Towns and cities like Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jerusalem, Rome, Berlin, Washington D.C., Milwaukee, and even Racine, Wisconsin, all are filled with sinners living together, living in an outward peace but never entirely peacefully lying.

We may not be shooting each other, but we are caught up, too often, in our own little worlds. We forget the one born and laid in a manger, and think only of the one we see in the mirror. We live for things that don’t matter, stress over things that will surely pass away, and ignore things eternal. We pay no heed to the angelic news that a savior is born to us, and we fail to wonder at what we have seen and heard, or treasure these things in our hearts.

Except when Racine comes to Bethlehem, and when we, like the shepherds, come to “see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about”. For there we find peace, hope, joy, love, forgiveness, life, righteousness, innocence, blessedness, and the Good News that heaven has been opened, God is now dwelling with man, and on us his favor rests.

Some come, all ye faithful, come to the little town of Bethlehem.
Oh come and adore him:
Born the King of angels,
Highest, Most holy,
Light of light eternal,
Son of the Father,
Now in flesh appearing,
Christ the Lord.

Sing, you citizens of heav’n above. Sing you citizens of Racine, below. For born to you this day in the city of David is a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Alleluia. Amen.

Sermon - Christmas Eve - Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Eve 2006
Luke 2:1-20
“Christmas Light”

Tonight we celebrate Christmas Eve with a “service of light”. We light candles, especially that white Christ candle in the center of the advent wreath.

Later in the service, we will all hold a lighted candle and sing “Silent Night”, which includes the line, “Son of God, love’s pure light”. So many of our other Christmas hymns mention light somehow too. “In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light”, “Break forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light”, “Light and Life to all he brings”, etc. etc…

Most of our homes have some sort of Christmas lights up for decoration. Sometimes we even drive through certain neighborhoods known for elaborate Christmas light displays. Christmas and light seem to go together.

Light is one of the foundational symbols of the Christian faith. Scripture begins and ends with light. God’s first recorded words, “Let there be light” open up the creation account, just as Revelation closes with the promise that there will be no more night in Heaven, for the Lord Almighty and the Lamb shall be our light.

Light also stands for all that is good and right and holy, as opposed to darkness, which stands for all that is sinful and evil and to be feared.

Jesus called himself the “Light of the World”. And in our Nicene Creed we confess him as God of God, Light of Light. For all the good things that light stands for, Jesus fulfills them most perfectly. He is the light in the midst of the darkness.

Just a few days ago, meteorologists reminded us of the Winter Solstice – the “shortest day” of the year. Only 9 hours of daylight on December 21st. But from that day on, the hours of daylight have been getting longer. Is it any coincidence the ancient church chose this time of year, in which the “light begins returning” to celebrate the arrival of the true light of the world, Jesus Christ, and his birth in Bethlehem? The truth is we don’t know exactly when Jesus was born, whether December 25th or some other day. But the when isn’t nearly as important as the what and the why and the who. Jesus, the Light of the World, was born to dispel the darkness of sin – of our sin.

It was a dark time, when Jesus was born. Luke records how Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem because of the Roman Emperor’s decree. Roman rule was a burden on the faithful people of God, who chaffed at the Romans’ pagan religion and totalitarian regime. The Jews longed for the days of King David, when they governed themselves, no answering to some foreigners. They longed for a Messiah to save them from such tyranny. And though the light had come, he came to deliver from a different kind of darkness.

As we go about our Christmas celebrations, the darkness is never far, is it? The darkness of strained family relationships. The darkness of the stressful demands on our time. The darkness of a loneliness in this supposed happiest time of the year. The darkness of guilt looking back on a year full of mistakes. The darkness. The lurking knowledge that even though it seems like the rest of the world is all smiles and candy-canes, it’s a thin veneer that is easily shattered.

It was a dark time, in the Judean night, as the shepherds went about their business. Watching over the flocks, protecting them from predators and thieves, it was business as usual for those ancient sheep-herders. Until light broke into their night. “The glory of the Lord” shone, or shined, around the angels. And the light they could see was overshadowed by the light that they heard – the message of the angels, “Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”.

But the greatest light the Shepherds saw that night was not the angelic choirs singing God’s praises. The greatest light was a baby wrapped up and lying in a manger. The light that had dawned on this world now in human form.

Light. Heavenly light. Light which would be seen more clearly by three disciples gathered on a mountaintop. There the Light of the World would pull back the veil on his true nature, and they would glimpse the glory hidden beneath. There Jesus was transfigured, and he shined like flashing lightning.

The Light the darkness sought to snuff out. In the dark of the night, in Dark Gethsemane, was the hour of the powers of darkness. They arrested him, brought him to illegal trial under cover of darkness, and at break of dawn he was already on the way to the cross. And as he hung, suffering, dying, even the sun itself stopped giving light. Then the darkness of death took hold.

But such light the darkness cannot contain. For at the dawn of Easter morn, the Light of the World broke forth from the darkness of death, shattering the powers of evil, sin and death itself. Much as his birth into the dark Judean night gave hope and peace, so also his resurrection took away the fear of all the darkness – even of death itself.

Those shepherds who had heard and seen and been so enlightened, they did what we all do when we see the light. They rejoiced. The praised God. And they shared the light. They went and told all who would hear what they saw and heard. So too, when disciples of Jesus saw him raised from the dead, they shared the light of his salvation – preaching, teaching, witnessing. So too, do we, his modern disciples, share the light as we have opportunity. We speak by word and by example to those still in the darkness, pointing to the light, the True Light, the Light of Lights, our Lord Jesus.

Tonight we light our candles, and pass the light from one to the other, in much the same way Christians share the light and love of Christ with each other and with the world. It will all start with the Christ candle, for he is always the source of our light. And though these candles will soon be extinguished as we go on our way, we know the true light can never be snuffed out. His light is eternal. His love never ends.

Light. In all the Christmas lights and candles we see this season, may we see reminders of the True Light, Jesus Christ, who has come to chase away the darkness of sin, and bring us into his light for eternity. And may we share that light until the day that we all shine like stars in his heavenly presence forever.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Saturday, December 23, 2006

More Baby Pics

Go to ImageShack® to Create your own Slideshow

Our New Arrival

Born this morning, Morgan Faith Chryst

7 lbs, 10 oz. 19" long.

Mother and baby are both doing fine!

Thank God for his many blessings.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sermon - Advent 3 - Phillipians 4:4-7

Sermon – Advent 3
December 17th, 2006
Phillipians 4:4-7
“Advent Anxiety?”

As we have said many times, Advent means “coming”. And so Advent is a season of expectation, and watching, and waiting. Waiting. And more waiting.

Waiting isn’t always easy. We wait in line at the post office to mail our cards and packages. We wait in line at the grocery store behind the person with too many items in the express lane. We wait for the traffic light to turn green, and hope that the car ahead of us will hurry up so we can make it too. We wait. We wait for our loved ones to call or write or visit. We wait in the doctor’s office and then we wait for the test results.

We wait for God to answer our prayers and give us what we think we need, want, or even deserve. We wait for Christmas to come. And sometimes we want it to come quick, sometimes we want to get it over with, and sometimes we would just as soon not have it at all. But we can only wait, and watch, and wait some more.

One of the sinful human reactions to waiting is to become anxious. Anxieties about the future and what it will hold. Anxieties for our family and friends and ourselves. We worry that things won’t turn out like we plan, and that our worst fears will come true.

The Old Testament people of Israel knew the anxieties of waiting. They had plenty to worry about. Would their enemies destroy them? Would they ever be freed from slavery, or later, from exile? When would the promised Messiah come? And when he came, how would they know it was him?

John the Baptist seemed to share in those anxieties when he sent messengers to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. “Are you the one to come, or should we expect another?” Strange that John - who boldly proclaimed Christ to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” - strange that he would now second-guess himself. He grew anxious, perhaps, that Jesus’ salvation wasn’t coming as he expected. If anyone had reason to be anxious, though, it was John, who was sitting in Herod’s dungeon and would eventually be executed. Time was short for John. Business was urgent. Jesus, are you the one, or what?

And Jesus’ beautiful answer, more than a simple yes, points to the evidence that he is, in fact, the one who was to come. The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf here, the dead are raised, and (most importantly) the good news is preached to the poor. All these were signs that the Old Testament prophets connected with the Messiah. And Jesus fulfilled them all.

Jesus is always the answer to our anxieties. Paul knew that when he wrote to the Phillipians. Because “the Lord is at hand”, Paul said, “do not be anxious about anything”. Because Jesus is coming, and coming soon, we have no need to fear. We have no need to worry and wonder. We are called to simply trust in him and be at peace.

How can we, in the midst of all this waiting, do that? How can we NOT be anxious? How can we always rejoice? How can we have peace? Answer: in Christ.

Now please don’t think that the point of this passage is simplistic and trite. This is not Christianity’s version of , “Don’t worry be happy. Turn that frown upside-down”. “Rejoice in the Lord always” doesn’t mean that Christians have to be or act like super-happy-go-lucky euphoric smiley faces who are always on cloud 9. This is not so much an admonition of how we should feel, emotionally. But just as the peace of God passes our understanding, so too does the joy of God surpass what is in our hearts and minds.

For our hearts are, by nature, full of all kinds of junk. Sin and the swirling emotions, often conflicting, that it brings. We are fickle creatures who are easily upset and easily satisfied with the smallest things. Our emotions are not trustworthy, and they often fail us. Sometimes our head even knows better than what our heart is telling us, and we follow the heart for some reason anyway. Sometimes we know there is nothing to fear, and yet anxiety still rules us. Jesus knows this. He knows the heart is the source of all kinds of mischief for us.

"What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” (Mark 7:20-22)

Our culture wants us to follow our hearts, and listen to our hearts. But our hearts are the problem. So we would pray with the Psalmist, “create in me a clean heart, oh God.”

And God does just that in Jesus Christ. Jesus gives us true reason to rejoice. Jesus gives us a clean heart, a peace that passes understanding. Jesus guards our hearts and minds. He takes away our fears and anxieties, and hears our prayers.

It all started in the heart of God, which held so much love for a sinful world. He so loved this world, that he sent his only Son, so whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. He sent his only Son to show compassion on the sick, the weak, the poor. To show them who he was in his miracles, but also to preach the good news to all. God sent his Son, born of a woman, born as a human. And our Lord Jesus Christ lived a perfect human life and died a sacrificial death to take away the sins of the world. Through him and his work, we have peace with God. Through him we have a future with God. And in him, we can and do rejoice, always.

I once had a teacher who joked at the beginning of class, “The mandatory fun will now begin”. Some might think that the life of a Christian is some sort of mandatory happiness. It’s not. Paul’s words to the Phillipians are not words of “you must” so much as they are words of “you get to”. Hear it as good news. Hear it as encouragement. Not, “don’t be anxious OR ELSE!”. But instead, “you don’t have to be anxious any more.” You “get to” rejoice always!

Trusting in Christ frees us from so much anxiety and fear. It brings a peace that surpasses the conflict on the surface, a peace that goes to the core of our being. It brings a rejoicing that is deeper than a smile on our face or a spring in our step. It is a joy and peace that begin at the cross, run through the open tomb, and derive from the one now seated on Heaven’s high throne. It is a joy and peace that look forward in trust and faith to the day when he comes again. It is a joy and peace that waits, not in fear, but in hopeful expectation of that day. This is the good news that Jesus brought, and that Jesus still brings today. It is for all people, and it is for you.

And so we wait. We wait for Christmas. We wait for answer to our petitions and prayers. We wait… for whatever… in joy and peace. And we wait also for that day when all the waiting is over, and all anxiety is put away forever.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, until that day… Amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Lutheran Survivor Nail-Biter!!!

The finals of "Lutheran Survivor: Politicians" have been quite interesting. Two remaining players, Muhlenberg and Preus are locked in a duel to the death. Ok, they're both already dead. But you know what I mean. It's going to be a photo-finish! As of this blog posting, the votes are tied at 50% each!

If you haven't already voted, get over to Lutheran Survivor! DO IT NOW!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Know Thine Enemy...

I am a firm believer in the aphorism, "Know Thine Enemy". I believe Christians need to be informed about those whose teachings oppose the truth. Especially those with a wide following and deep influence. It is important to understand these falsehoods so that we can better combat them with the truth.

In that vein, I have been viewing some interesting videos online. The very popular work, "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, is a recent bestseller. But there is also a free full-length PBS version of Dawkins' presentation, available here. Particularly fun is his confrontation with recently disgraced Evangelical leader Ted Haggard. The second part of the series is found here. If you have about 90 minutes and are interested in what the "other side" has to say, this could be a good use of your time.

Caution: There are some real howlers in here. Like, "Religious upbringing is child abuse" and "religion is a virus" and such.

But Dawkins does pick some interesting case studies. In fact, many of his opponents, we Lutherans would also oppose (though on entirely different grounds). Roman Catholic mystics, Evangelicals (Ted Haggard compared his services to a "rock concert"). A Jew who had converted to Islam. An Orthodox Jewish Rabbai. All go toe-to-toe with Dawkins, with varying but always interesting results.

It's also interesting how Dawkins demolishes some of the compromising views of Theistic Evolution. For instance, in episode two, around minute 30, he questions why Jesus would have himself "tortured and executed for a symbolic sin by a nonexistant man [Adam]"

What a scream when Dawkins sits down with a liberal Anglican. "You are much closer to what I would believe..."!!! "This of course is all music to my ears!" Dawkins gushes. Still, he rightly criticizes, "how do they decide which parts of the Bible to interpret literally...?"

LCMS Hispanic Mission Posada

A grand posada: Church brings Mexican holiday tradition to Racine

Our local (Racine) LCMS Hispanic congregation, Primera Iglesia Luterana, made the local paper today with this story. Check it out.

Technical Difficulties

I had to bring my notebook computer into Best Buy for repairs, and the "Geek Squad" tells me it will be 3 weeks or so before I get it back. The good news is, it's under warranty. The bad news is, I may not be blogging or online as much for a while. Well, maybe that's not so bad. Everyone needs to take a break sometime, eh?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"God in a Box"

I've heard, and so have you, the warning against trying to put "God in a box". It's a fair enough warning, though used by many people to dispute someone else's conception of who God is, what he says and does and expects.

To be sure, we can't put God in a box. He is above and beyond us. And we do have a tendency to want to limit him. We think God thinks like we do, rather than acknowledging his ways are higher than ours, and his thoughts are greater than ours. If God isn't answering my prayer the way I want it, then God must be wrong, not me, we think. If there's suffering in the world, or more importanly, in MY world, then God must either not care or not know what to do. We shrink God down to be someone who should take orders from the likes of us. We make ourselves "bigger" than him. We "put God in a box".

But the great irony of God is that he, himself, puts limitations on himself. "God in a box" might make us think of the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant. That physical "box" became the throne of God on Earth - the touchstone of Heaven. There God dwelled mercifully, he who fills all of creation, in a specific physical location, for his people.

Then God limited himself to that certain place called the Temple. There in the holy of holies, a cube-shaped room, the Ark and the glory of God resided. Limited to that place, yet there he was accesible to his people in his prescribed way.

But the ultimate "God in a box" is Christ's incarnation - what we celebrate at Christmas - quite literally the festival of "God in a box".

The Incarnation puts God the Son "in a box". It puts him in the box of human flesh. It puts him in the limited locale of the virgin's womb. And when he is born, he is placed in a manger - a cattle feeding box.

And there, located physically in a human body in a human town, in a very physical and real place in space and time, God who created all of this became present - in a special way - for us.

In thus limiting himself he becomes available to all.
"Don't put God in a box". But receive him as he has given himself to you - "in a box". In the flesh of Jesus Christ, born of Mary, laid in a manger, sacrificed on the cross.
And there was one "box" that couldn't hold God the Son. It was the container of death - the grave itself. He burst forth from that limitation on Easter morn, and so too will he call us from our graves.

"Just throw me in a pine box", some say about their funeral arrangements. For some, it's an expression of hopelessness, that death has won, that it's all over. But for others, it's a statement of faith that though the body dies, the soul lives on with the Lord. Yet the final hope is that when Christ comes again, our graves will be opened, the Earth will give forth its dead, and we will live victorious with Christ forever.
Yes, death, the final box, the final limitation, loses its power for us who trust in the "God in a box".

Monday, December 11, 2006


I have officially dumped Firefox. I am sick of losing all my preferences every time it updates.

Plus, now Explorer does tabs anyway...

Sermon - Advent 2 - Luke 3:1-20

Advent 2
December 10, 2006
Luke 3:1-20
“A Fire and Brimstone Preacher”

One of the Bible personalities we expect to see this time of year is John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus. John was an odd character to say the least. His unusual fashion sense (camel skins), his different diet (locusts and wild honey), his solitary lifestyle in the wilderness. If John the Baptist were to walk into our church today, you’d probably hope he didn’t sit in your pew. John is kind of a scary guy.

When I lived in Detroit for a year the church I served as a vicar had an annual drama, presenting the life of Jesus. It was very elaborate, with church members all in character and costume. The man chosen to play John the Baptist was a police officer with a commanding voice. And I will never forget when he appeared at the back of the room, bellowing out, “REPENT! REPENT!”. His deep, loud, voice startled the adults and actually made one little girl cry. He was a good John. He was scary.

But what is most fearful about John is not his eating or dressing habits, or (as we might imagine) his loud booming voice. It’s the message he brings. It’s a fire and brimstone sermon. It’s a preaching of Law that pulls no punches. And it can be terrifying.

But that’s not all there is to John either. As we hear from this final prophet today, listen carefully to his message of fire and brimstone, but also the promise of the Savior, who was coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Fire and Brimstone
“You brood of vipers!”. That’s how John started his address to the crowds who came to hear him. Nice, huh? Imagine if instead of a pastoral welcome and the usual announcements, Pastor Poppe greeted you this morning, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” You might think there was something wrong with Pastor Poppe.

But even though John was talking to the ancient Jews, and the Saduceess in particular, those words of judgment apply to us too. We are a brood of vipers, in our sin. We deserve God’s wrath and punishment. When the law speaks its stark and harsh judgment to us, we too might feel the need to flee.

We are a brood of vipers, who have been poisoned by sin. Ever since the serpent slithered into the garden, and our first-parents bit the forbidden fruit, we have sinfully slithered in their tracks. We are poisoned, but we also spit that venom at others, and at our God. Anger, selfishness, arrogance, gossip, apathy, laziness, whatever our pet sins… they are a poison, but they are a part of us.

And we deserve to be thrown into the fire. And not just all of us, but each of us. YOU deserve such punishment. Your sins are worthy of God’s wrath.

John’s fire and brimstone preaching uses the metaphor of a man sifting wheat from chaff – and burning the chaff in the fire. How can we not think, here, of the fires of hell? With their tongues of flame licking our toes, as we dangle above? “The unquenchable fire”, John calls it – a just eternal punishment for our offenses against the Holy and eternal God.

This is the fear that John’s message should invoke in us – a fear for our very souls.

But John’s message is not all bad news. In fact, Luke says that John’s message, as a whole, was good news.

John’s message was, ultimately, like every prophet, all about Jesus. The Christ. Son of God and Messiah, who was coming with a baptism (a cleansing) of his own. John said, “I baptize with water, he will baptize with The Holy Spirit and fire”. John said he was not worthy to untie the sandal of the one who comes after him.
And when John did see Jesus, rightly called him, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.

John’s “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”, really is the same as Christian baptism. It points forward to the ultimate baptism, the universal washing of sin that Jesus did by his blood shed at the cross. It is rooted in that saving sacrifice, just as your baptism and mine is. We are “baptized INTO Christ’s death and resurrection”. It is a washing of rebirth and renewal – in a sense, it is our first resurrection. It is the baptism in water, by the Holy Spirit. And it is a baptism of fire.

It’s interesting that fire is mentioned several times in this passage. In one sense, fire represents judgment, wrath, punishment, hell. But fire is also a refining agent. In metal-working, fire separates out the impurities. So the baptism of fire that Jesus brings takes the impurities away – takes the sin – and leaves a pure and clean person behind. John’s not referring to the day of Pentecost here, but to the baptism of Jesus – the purification he gives to all believers.

John’s words of hope regarding baptism stand in stark contrast to his fire and brimstone message of repentance. But knowing how fierce is the judgment we deserve – we appreciate all the more that Christ rescues us from that judgment.

What a joy to live, knowing that the fires of Hell are nothing to fear – because in Christ we are baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire. It changes everything. God changes everything. He changes our future. But He also, by that Spirit, changes how we live, even now.

What Shall We Do?
The people to whom John preached had been struck by his fire and brimstone law. But they also believed in his message of hope, and many were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. But then they asked John, each in turn, “what shall we (now) do?”.

Not what shall we do to BE saved, mind you. But what shall we do, especially since the Lord is coming soon?

Here we could ask the same: “What shall we do?” What shall we, who are baptized, believing, and forgiven people of God, what shall we do, especially since the Lord is coming soon?John’s answer to such questions was simple. It always had to do with whatever someone’s role or vocation happened to be. The advice was always the same – turn from sin. Tax collectors – avoid the pet sins of tax collectors. Soldiers – avoid the pet sins of soldiers. Those who are rich should share with the less fortunate. Turning from sin - and doing good instead - is part of true repentance. Or as John calls it, “fruit in keeping with repentance”.

Wherever and whatever you are in life – a mother or father or child, student or teacher, worker, boss, pastor or layperson, young or old, rich or poor, you will have temptations to sin. But for the believer, we take John’s guidance to heart – and turn, more and more from these, OUR pet sins. We do it, not to earn heaven; that is already ours. We do it, not by our own strength, but by the Spirit’s. And we do it, never perfectly, but always forgiven and yet still striving “more and more as we see the day approaching”.

Christ is coming. His advent is at hand. As we look forward to that day, may our hearts continually be prepared by his Spirit, and may our lives show the fruits of repentance. For we have been baptized with His Spirit and with fire. And we stand pure in his sight forever. Amen.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

To Quote "The Matrix: Reloaded"

"Hm. Updates."

I've taken the plunge, as it was finally offered today, and switched over my blogs to the new Blogger Beta. So far, so good.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Sermon - Advent 1 - Luke 19:28-40

Advent 1
December 3, 2006
Luke 19:28-40
“Palm Sunday in December”

Now that the holiday season is upon us, and American consumerism is in full swing, the stores have trotted out their decorations and touted their Christmas bargains. Yet some stores and specialties businesses (I can think of two here in Wisconsin) are open year-round with a specific Christmas theme. I don’t know how they stay in business. Who wants to buy ornaments for the tree in the middle of the summer? Likewise, I’ve never understood the point of having “Christmas in July” sales. But yet it seems during the hottest days of the year some car salesman is dressed in a Santa suit to sell some cars.

Today we have another somewhat strange combined occasion. For here we are on the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Church Calendar, with our eyes on December 25th just a few weeks away – and suddenly – our reading from Luke takes us to Palm Sunday. Jesus, riding on a colt, makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. He is welcomed and cheered as a king. The people sing “Hosanna!”. What is this reading doing here? Did someone print the wrong bulletin, or what?

In fact it makes perfect sense to observe Palm Sunday in Advent. Because both occasions highlight this simple theme: “The King is Coming”. He is coming to be born in Bethlehem. He is coming in the clouds to judge the nations. He is coming, riding on a lowly donkey, to Jerusalem. And when Jesus comes, he brings with him salvation.

The King is coming: who invited him?
Around this time of year, with all the parties and get-togethers, there will be lots of invitations sent out, and lots of invitations received. Maybe you are having a party and have made your guest list. But imagine what it would be like if someone came who wasn’t on the list. Someone you didn’t invite. It would be strange.

One thing you might notice about all of Jesus’ various arrivals, is that he is not the one being invited. No, it’s just the opposite, he invites himself. No one asked Jesus to come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey. In fact, it was he alone who made the arrangements – down to the last detail.

Just like no one invited him to be born a human child in Bethlehem. No act of human will brought him to our world. It was the work of the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary – at the initiative of God alone.

Just like the day and time of his promised return are already appointed, and though we pray, “come quickly, Lord Jesus”, he will come in his time, according to his will.

And though some preach and teach otherwise, we do not invite Jesus into our hearts. We don’t open the door of our heart, or purify ourselves, or make ourselves worthy of his coming to us, individually. He takes the initiative. He calls us, invites us, by his Gospel. He makes us pure, and worthy, and he enters our hearts by his own divine mercy and grace. An uninvited but welcome guest is our King, Jesus!

Jesus is coming: Look Busy?
The king is coming. Jesus is coming. A certain bumper sticker message seeks to poke fun at this reality, and reads, “Jesus is coming: Look Busy!” As if the boss is away at a meeting, and we his employees have to fool him, when he returns, into thinking we’ve been hard at work. But God cannot be mocked. Jesus is coming. And we haven’t been busy.

Well, we haven’t been busy doing what we should. But we’ve been plenty busy doing what we shouldn’t. In this busy season of the busy year – stop and ponder how you’ve been using or abusing your time. None of us have perfect priorities. We don’t always balance too well the many demands on our time – so many of which we put on ourselves. Sometimes we are over-burdened with things that matter little, and neglect those that matter most. We may appear busy; we may feel busy; but we are often simply distracted.

No amount of “looking busy” or “trying to get busy” will suffice when our king comes. He knows the truth.

Jesus is coming: Shout Hosanna!
But as we read the Palm Sunday account, it seems people were busy in a godly way. They were busy welcoming the coming king. The disciples followed his instructions – and brought him the donkey. The crowds following him and welcoming him shouted and sang his praises.

Some of the Pharisees told Jesus to have his disciples settle down. “We don’t want to give the Romans a reason to be angry. They might see all this fanfare as a sign of unrest – and people could get hurt, Jesus! Tell them to be quiet. Rebuke them. Cut it out!”

But Jesus, who accepted the praises rightly due to him, answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out”. The king is coming, you see. And a king deserves praise. If his people didn’t give it, his creation would have. It was inevitable.

And so they shouted, “Hosanna!” which means, “Save us now!” They knew, in some way, that the king had come. It was the miracles, Luke tells us, the mighty works that they had seen, that caused such a reaction. The recent raising of Lazarus, in particular, was still all the talk, and word must have traveled fast. A miracle worker. A maker of wonders. A great king, yes, the king has come to save us!

If they only knew. For he had come to save them – from their sin. He had invited himself, as he always does, for the great Passover feast. He soon told his disciples to go make preparations in that upper room. And for the few days leading up to the Passover, Jesus the King, Jesus the Lamb of God, would stay in his holy city, with his people. Just like the Passover lamb, according to the custom, was to be kept in the home for several days before it was slaughtered and sacrificed. So the crowds that sang his praises would soon cry for his blood, as “hosanna!” became “crucify!”.

But it was in the crucifixion that he did, in fact, “save us”. That’s why our king came, after all. It’s why he came to Jerusalem. It’s why he came to Bethlehem. He came to save. And because he has died and because is risen, and because he has promised… he will come again to make his salvation complete.

Advent means coming – but here we mean not only his first coming, his coming as a babe in Bethlehem, or even his coming as a humble king on Palm Sunday – but also his second coming which has been promised. The color of Advent is blue – because Jesus will come again from the sky. The tone of Advent is expectant – not because we’re waiting for Christmas – we know when that will be. We wait for the salvation of the Lord to be made complete on that, the last day, whenever it may be.

The king is coming. He doesn’t need an invitation, because it’s his party. The king is coming. Don’t just look busy – you can’t fool him anyway. The king is coming. So shout Hosanna to the one, Jesus Christ, who came once, and will come again, to save us. His Advent is at hand.


Friday, December 01, 2006


The Pope, on his visit to Turkey, wrapped things up by praying in the direction of Mecca, like Muslims do.

I can't tell you how disturbing this is.

This action of the pope is disturbing, disgusting, cowardly, and drags the First Commandment right through the mud.

And to think that the pope had a golden opportunity to proclaim Christ on his visit to Turkey in a way that no one else would have been allowed to do. And he chooses instead to do this. Terrible.

This is just as bad as when John Paul II kissed the Koran. Seems the pontiffs have become universalist sell-outs.

HT: Texas Hold'em Blogger

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