Monday, December 26, 2011

Sermon - Christmas Day - Isaiah 52:7-10

Christmas Day 2011
Isaiah 52:7–10
All I Want for Christmas are Beautiful Feet”

A blessed Christmas day to you, dear Christians. I hope and pray your celebration of our Lord's birth has been, and will be joyous. I hope you share some time with friends and family. I hope you get some good food to eat. Maybe we can even watch some good football tonight. But most of all I hope you got a nice gift this year. Yes, I know we all did. We always do.

Did you get any socks? Now there's a gift. What's more practical and boring than socks? What's more everyday? What says that special time of year less than socks? Something that goes on your feet – every day. Socks – not the pretty stockings with all the candy and goodies. Socks that cover a rather inglorious part of your body. I can't think of anything I'd rather get, anything less exciting than socks. Socks are boring. Feet are every-day. Except for a day like today.

Isaiah writes: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness”

Picture this. Jerusalem has been at war. It's been a long fought battle. The enemy is relentless. The city is under the cloud of doom. The soldiers march off to battle. The outcome is unknown. The women and children wait in the safety of the city walls – waiting to hear word. Over the mountain, someone will appear. Will it be the enemy flag, raised high in conquering might? Will it be our own bedraggled and defeated soldiers, retreating for one last desperate stand? No.

It's a lone messenger. And he's running. He's exuberant and ebullient. His message is urgent. His news is good. He brings good tidings of great joy. Peace! Victory! The warfare is over. The people are safe. The champion has won! Death does not win the day.

The watchmen on the city walls see him, and they know what it means! They start to sing together – a song of joy – a song that hasn't been heard since this terrible war started. Soon the women and children join in and the whole city raises its voice together, “Our God reigns! He has given us the victory!”

But it all started with those feet. The feet of the messenger. When they crossed the mountaintop. Feet, which are usually dirty and dusty and smelly. But feet which bring good news are a blessed, beautiful sight for sore and weary and fearful eyes.

Jesus Christ is born. He takes on human flesh. He takes a human body. Eyes, ears, mouth, nose, hands, legs... feet. Those precious baby feet stick out of the manger, and they are such good news for us. More innocent than any human babe ever born, this holy one of God is the bearer of the best news ever to touch any mountain or valley. His arrival is the beginning of the good news. God has come to save. To comfort Jerusalem. To redeem his people.

But those baby feet would grow. They would walk the walk of a perfect life, treading where we cannot, though we stumble every day. The thong of his sandal John isn't worthy to untie. But still he walks into the river to be baptized for us. His feet carry him to the wilderness for us. He would go up to Jerusalem for us. His feet would be anointed with a woman's tears and perfume for burial. And those feet would be nailed to a cross for us. But they would also walk him out of the grave for us. And they would ascend in glory for us.

Yes, the serpent bruised his heel, but that same foot would crush the head of our old foe, destroying him and his power over us forever. The warfare is over. Jesus' feet bring peace. They are beautiful feet, indeed.

All I want for Christmas are the beautiful feet of him who brings good news. And that's just what I get, and so do you. All I want is the Gospel, the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, and that is enough. All the presents under the tree will pass away. Moth and rust will do their work. But the word of God stands forever, the promise of Christ stands forever, and we, with our humble but faithful feet, can always stand on that sure rock, forever.

Today we hear that word. Today, and each time we gather in his house, we hear the good news of great joy. We hear it from humble servants whose feet aren't anything special but the message they bring is so sweet. And whether it's the beautiful feet of pastors, teachers, parents or friend, God provides feet to keep his message coming. He sends the messengers to keep bringing that message of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. And no matter how gnarly and dirty and smelly the feet, the feet that bring Christ are beautiful feet indeed.

Our baptism washes us, and not just our filthy feet, but our head and hands, also. And the Lord's Supper feeds us – body and soul – giving strength to believe and live as Christ has promised. Forgiven and freed, we follow his example, and wash feet – serve our neighbor – love one another.

So maybe socks aren't so bad. Maybe feet aren't so everyday. For feet that bring good news like this are beautiful feet. This doesn't happen everyday. Christ is born for us. His work on earth began that day in Bethlehem, and would lead to Calvary and cross. But it is finished. Christ is risen. He has done all things well. So lift up your voices in the victory song, for our God reigns, and gives us all good things. Amen.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Hallelujah" New Lyrics

A while ago I mentioned this song, "Hallelujah" as a favorite of mine.  My kids like it because it was in the movie "Shrek".  I like it because it's pretty and soulful, but the lyrics made no sense to me.  So I re-wrote my own version, the words below.  Here's an instrumental version of it the original song.
The serpent and forbidden tree
The fruit was good to eat, you see
You want to know both good and evil, do you?
She took a look; She took a bite
He ate along then dark as night
The shadow came upon them Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

As they fumbled for a leaf to hide
They heard the footsteps, heard him chide
You ate the fruit, you know you're naked do you?
To serpent then the Father said,
You'll bruise his heel, he'll crush your head
A promise ne'er forgotten Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Pharaoh let my people go
But you chased them to the sea to show
That pharaohs don't give up so easy, do you?
He raised his staff, he stretched his hand
My people walked upon dry land
Then I washed away the chariots Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

On a quiet night in Bethlehem
A baby born, the son of man,
But you don't even have a crib, now do you?
As she wrapped you in your swaddling clothes
The angels sang, the shepherds rose
To come and see and sing their Hallelujahs

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hosanna, save us, so they sing,
Palm branches for the coming king,
In your city, Son of David, yeah, they knew you.
You came to bring a perfect lamb,
A sacrifice of your own hand,
Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Hosanna, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The crowd they chanted crucify,
The women wailed, the darkened sky,
The nails and spear the soldiers pierced right through you.
The bitter drink, the crown of thorns,
So Peter weeps and Mary mourns,
And you shouted “it is finished!” Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

They find a tomb to lay your clay
And seal it for the Sabbath day
But you don't plan to stay there too long, do you?
When Sunday comes, you've had your rest
The angel voice would say it best,
He isn't here, He's risen Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Sermon - Midweek Advent 4 - Luke 1:26-55

Advent Beginnings”
Midweek Advent 4, December 21st 2011
Luke 1:26-55
Jesus the Son of Mary and Son of God

We've heard from 3 of the 4 Gospels already in this Advent series, on the beginnings of the Jesus story. Mark begins abruptly, and emphasizes repentance. John begins profoundly, showing Jesus the Word made flesh. Matthew gives attention to prophecy – and Jesus as its fulfillment. Now finally, Luke. The most “Christmas-y” of the Gospels. We'll actually wait until Christmas Eve to hear Luke's nativity account, that well-loved text that tells of the census, the manger, the angels, the shepherds, and the birth of God's own Son in Bethlehem.

Today, we look more closely at what happens right before this in Luke's Gospel. Luke, a physician, tells us in Chapter 1 that he undertook to carefully write an orderly account based on the eyewitness testimony from the beginning. He has a historian's sense, and you get the impression this was all very thorough and diligent of Luke. So in this Gospel we hear the most detail about Christ's birth and what led up to it. And especially important in this is a virgin from Nazareth named Mary.

In the three episodes from our reading today, we have the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the Magnificat. Each points us to Christ, tells who he is and will be. Each is an important part of the orderly account Luke writes. Each lays the groundwork for Christ's birth. So let's briefly survey these as we prepare to celebrate that blessed event.

The Annuciation was this past Sunday's Gospel reading. Pastor Poppe highlighted those words from the Angel Gabriel – that Mary, highly favored, would bear the savior, and that David's kingdom would be restored through his eternal reign. Yes, with God all things are possible. A virgin giving birth. The eternal, omnipotent God becoming a finite human being. That one man could die and save all people, that his life could count for theirs. It's even possible for Jesus to promise resurrection and then deliver. Not just possible, it all happened.

The Annuciation reminds us that God alone takes the initiative in our salvation. No man can claim the credit. God chooses Mary, God grants his favor. God establishes his kingdom. God brings salvation. And faith responds, “let it be to me as you have said”.

Jesus comes, without our asking, and he brings salvation. He takes it upon himself, takes our sin upon himself, and he dies, not asking our permission. He does the work, finishes the job, and proclaims “it is finished”. Let it be to us all as he has said.

The Visitation – when Mary then went to visit Elizabeth, herself pregnant with John the Baptist. And at Mary's greeting, the unborn John leapt for joy. Elizabeth, too, confesses faith – that the “mother of her Lord” should come and visit her. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” We can learn from Elizabeth and John – to confess in words and actions our faith in the Son of Mary, and the Son of God. Jesus comes to visit us still, today, brought not in a womb, but by our mother the church – through the vehicles of word and sacrament. This brings us undeserving sinners great joy! This good news compels us to confess all he has done for us.

And for Mary's part, she sings a song. We call it the Magnificat, from the first word in Latin, “Magnify”. “My soul magnifies the Lord...”. Mary's song is worthy of repetition, and so the church echos it forth to this day, just as all generations call her blessed. In this song, she confesses her lowly standing, her humble estate. Mary knew she was a sinner. She needed a savior, too. But lowly Mary believed in the God who spoke to her through the angel and through the prophets of old. She believed the promise of her savior, her son yet unborn. He who is mighty and does great things for his people.

Luke's Gospel, all throughout, takes great care to show Jesus as savior of the whole world, and especially the lowly. Old barren Elizabeth. Humble Mary. Even unborn John the Baptist. The women, the poor, the widow and orphan, the leper and the Samaritan and Roman. All have a place in the kingdom of Christ, this Son of Mary and Son of God.

We are lowly, too. Oh maybe we're better off than others financially. And maybe our health is in better shape. Maybe we've been around the block enough to know many things in this world. But we're all, still, lowly. We are humble beggars who deserve nothing of God's goodness. Our best works are filthy rags. Our good deeds are tarnished and tainted. Our holiness is a thing of the past – we humans are born into sin and death. We can't reach up and grasp God, even if we wanted to. We are lowly. Poor. Humble. Pathetic. We are sinners. And we need a savior.

From his humble beginnings, we can see that he comes down to be lowly and save the lowly. Laid in a manger, no crib for a bed. He becomes sin to save the sinners. He bears God's wrath to save us from God's wrath. The Story of Jesus beginnings is the story of our beginning, in a way. The beginning of our salvation, and reunion with God.

The Annunciaiton – the Visitation – the Magnificat. In these short episodes Luke begins to tell the story of Jesus our savior. With Mary, we too confess faith in our magnificent God, who has done great things for us in Christ – Mary's Son, and Son of God, our savior.

And now with Advent coming to a close, and Christmas Eve just a couple days away, we take a breath and anticipate the celebration of his birth for us lowly sinners. May your soul also magnify the Lord this Christmas and always. In Jesus' holy name.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sermon - Midweek Advent 3 - Matthew 1:1-25

“Advent Beginnings”
Midweek Advent 3, December 14th 2011
Matthew 1:1-25
Jesus the Fulfillment of Prophecy

Savior of the nations come, Virgin's son, make here your home. Marvel now, O heav'n and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth. Amen.

We've been looking at the beginning of each Gospel this Advent series, and examining how the evangelists begin their accounts about Jesus. Mark's beginning is abrupt, and he emphasizes the call to repentance preached by John the baptist. In John's Gospel, the deep and profound mystery of the Word made flesh is revealed, and we see Jesus' as divine with eternal origins.

Today we consider Matthew's beginning, and as Christmas draws nearer so does a more familiar Christmas Gospel. Matthew tells of the birth of Jesus, though not as extensively as Luke does. And as each Gospel writer brings a certain emphasis to the story, a unique perspective, we can see the same with Matthew. Here Jesus is presented as the fulfillment of messianic prophecy.

First Matthew offers a genealogy of Jesus. Luke contains a genealogy, too, which goes back to Adam, and to God. But Matthew's genealogy traces Jesus as far back as Abraham, Issac and Jacob. Matthew is likely written primarily to Jewish Christians, or at least to those early Christians who knew their Old Testament scriptures well. And so Matthew pays attention to show how Jesus is the promised Messiah, the seed of Abraham, the one whose coming has been so long awaited.

He is also descended from David, another giant of the Old Testament, a king and man after God's own heart. Jesus is later hailed as the Son of David, and rightly, for David's son is David's Lord. Though Jesus' kingdom is not of this world, King David pointed forward to the birth of this king of kings.

Why is all this important? Do we really need to know the names of Azor the father of Zadok, the father of Achim, etc? Well, for one, it sets Jesus in a real historical context. These things actually happened. But it also shows how faithful God is in keeping his promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his offspring. And how faithful believers clung to that promise through the generations.

So for us. Though we are children of Adam, conceived and born in sin, we are children of Abraham, by faith in Christ, the promised and fulfilled offspring of Abraham. We are part of the “all nations” who have found blessing in Jesus Christ. And just as the Old Testament believers waited in faith for the fulfillment of God's promises, so do we hold fast to the promises we have yet to see come due. Jesus will come again. We will rise to live in glory. This broken world will pass away, and a new heaven and earth will come forth. These, and so many other promises, we can believe – because we've seen how God kept his promises all along.

And then take Matthew's narrative account of Jesus' birth. He summarizes the key points which we'll see fleshed out even more in Luke. But Matthew relates the virgin birth, and Joseph's dream about it. Very simply, Matthew shows again how Jesus fulfills the word of the prophet (from Isaiah chapter 7) that “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Was it unbelievable that God could bring any descendants from old Abraham and Sarah? Sure. Even nations? More unbelievable. Even the savior of the world? Nigh impossible. Except with God, who keeps his promises.

Was it unbelievable that a virgin could conceive a child? Sure. That the child would be from the Holy Spirit? Amazing. But that the child would be the very son of God, God made flesh, God with us – Immanuel? Only possible if God keeps his promises, which he does.

Jesus, too, would fulfill all prophecies. Everything laid out for him to do, he did. Even down to his declaration, “I thirst”. Matthew's Gospel contains some 68 references to fulfillment of scripture, by one count. Maybe there's even more. The wise men, the flight to Egypt, the slaughter of the innocents, John the Baptist, Jesus ministry in the North, the many healings and miracles, even his triumphal entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. All of this was promised, and fulfilled. He foretells Peter's denial in dramatic fashion. He even foretold the destruction of the temple, which would happen within a generation from his prediction.

But best of all, was his primary work – also promised and fulfilled, by his own mouth. That the son of man would be handed over, that he would suffer, be crucified, and rise on the third day. All of this Jesus does, just as he promised, it is fulfilled. All of this, for you, dear sinner now saint.

And yes, his promises continue. He will come again, like a thief, with power and great glory. He will gather his elect from the four winds, he will welcome his people, the sheep, into their rest.
And Matthew's Gospel ends on another note of promise, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age”. That promise is fulfilled when he is with us in Baptism, when we gather around his word, and when we kneel together at his altar. He is with us, in real ways, fulfilling his promises, and strengthening us in faith to look for the fulfillment of them all.

Though he may seem far off, though he may seem deaf to your prayers, though it may appear that God has forgotten or cast you off – remember his promises. Remember how he brought them to fulfillment in Christ. Look to history, and see him working, for years, centuries, even – and he still did what he said he would. And know that he will not forget his promises to you in your short life.

Jesus was born. Son of Abraham. Child of a virgin. Fulfillment of prophecy. He would continue, and still continues to bring his promises to fruition. And one day he will bring them all to conclusion, when he comes again in glory. Come, Lord Jesus. Come and fulfill your promises in full. We await and watch in faith. Amen.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Sermon - Midweek Advent 2 - John 1:1-14

“Advent Beginnings”
Midweek Advent 2, December 7th 2011
John 1:1-14
Jesus the Word Made Flesh

If Mark's Gospel beginning is abrupt, then John's Gospel beginning is mysterious, ponderous, and profound. Neither Mark nor John offers us anything about Jesus' early life. But what John does is he goes back much further. Into eternity. He echoes the opening words of Genesis, “in the beginning” but brings to them even greater meaning. He shows how Jesus Christ is the eternal, living, word of God made flesh. This is a great and wonderful truth to ponder.

How can a word be alive? To us, words are just things – vessels of meaning thrown around and given little thought. According to one study, the average person speaks about 16,000 words per day. I'm not sure if pastors were included in that or not. But how often do we think about words. They are vessels of meaning. They are agents of our thoughts and intentions. They communicate. They inform. They sometimes even do things.

Ah, but the word of God is in its own class. Here is a perfect and powerful word. A word of creation – first of all. It's from John's Gospel that we learn of Jesus as the agent of all creation: “through him all things were made”. God spoke his word, and that living word was God, and was Christ. But it gets even more profound.

How a word can be alive is mind-bending enough. How can a word become flesh? Something invisible becomes visible. Something infinite becomes finite. This is God we're talking about, and he can do what he wants. So his will is this – to send his living word, his own son, to take on human flesh and “tabernacle' or pitch his tent among us.

One of the Christmas hymn-writers wrestled with this mystery, in the second verse of “What Child Is This”. You know the familiar words:

Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

The silent word – the word made flesh – the babe of Bethlehem. Yes, Jesus Christ our Lord is all of these and much more. But that same hymn verse gets to the even more profound truth behind this word becoming flesh:

Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!
The word became flesh to redeem all flesh. The word became flesh to sacrifice himself for us. The word became flesh to bring a word of comfort, hope and peace – a word of forgiveness – to lost sinners like you and me.
For our flesh is corrupt and dead. You don't have to be 80 or 90 to start with the aches and pains, the bumps and bruises of a flesh that is corrupted by sin. Disease and death don't just take the elderly among us. Even infants are subject to death's dread shadow – because all are conceived and born in sin. We are born into a sort of living death – separated from God, one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel, if you will. Life is short. Sin brings death. None of us can escape it.
And our words are false and failing. We don't say what we mean and mean what we say, so often are our words filled with half-truths and wholesale lies. We use our words for selfish purposes, to cut and hurt and destroy. We gossip under the guise of concern. We boast to inflate our own sense of self. We speak without thinking. We waste our words. And we don't say what we should, or pray as we should. There's a reason the epistle of James compares the tongue to a wild beast and a fire, that it's full of deadly poison.
But the Word made Flesh redeems our corrupt flesh with its wicked words. He proclaims a word of forgiveness, because he declared “it is finished”. He speaks his word even today, through his pastors, absolving sins in his stead and by his command. And his word of promise is our future hope – individually and together, for life forever with God.
A resurrection of the body. Our hope is not simply to die and go to heaven. The resurrection of his flesh shows the future of ours. Death has no hold over him, nor will it on us. When Christ comes in his second advent, and all flesh rises for judgment, and we are made to be like him in our resurrected bodies. Then these temples once profaned by sin will be finally swept clean forever, made holy forever, and will live with him forever in perfect bliss.
The word became flesh. Not just for a time, but forever. Jesus is still, to this day, true God and true man. He united himself with us for eternity.
He is also the true light, the light that enlightens all men. The light the darkness has not and will not overcome.
Such a simple word, light, an everyday thing. But yet so mysterious. Scientists are still struggling to figure out the mysteries of created light, but no one can fathom the fullness of the light of light. We simply bask in his glory, the glory of the one and only son of the Father. By his light alone can we see grace and truth.
Light. There's a Christmas theme, anyway. So let that bring us back. As we hang lights on houses and doors and trees, and prepare to celebrate the birth of the true light, may his word continue to enlighten our lives. He overcomes the darkness of sin and death, now and forever. For he became flesh and dwelt among us, and he offered that flesh on the cross for us. And in him there is and will be life for us, for his word of promise endures. After all, he is the living word. In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, December 05, 2011

A Parent's Prayer

On my oldest daughter's 10th birthday, a prayer from Starck's Prayer Book:
Lord, almighty God, Father of mercies, among other gifts of Your grace You have given me my children, and for such a blessing I heartily praise and magnify You. Yet I regard these children of mine as precious pledges, and know that You have entrusted them to me and will require them at my hand. I regard them as souls that Jesus has purchased with His holy blood, the Holy Spirit has sanctified in Holy Baptism, and You have adopted as Your own children. I am, then, concerned lest any of them be lost through my own fault. You tell me and all parents: Take care of this child; if it is missed, your soul shall answer for its soul.

And so, O Father of all grace, I come to You and in heartfelt prayer commend to you my children. I will do what I can: I will bring them up for Your honor, admonish them, correct them, instruct them, and pray for them. But, O Lord, in all my efforts You must perform the most important part. Immediately after their natural birth I placed them into the arms of Your mercy in Holy Baptism. Behold, I now do the same in my prayer. Bless my children. Attend them at their going out and their coming in. Keep them in Your holy fear, that they may never burden their conscience with sins, nor offend You, nor worst of all, fall from Your grace. Give them believing, humble, obedient and godly hearts, that, like the child Jesus, they may increase in stature, wisdom, and favor with God and men. Imprint on their hearts the image of Jesus in order that they may always keep, until their blessed end, a gracious God and an unstained conscience.

Let my children be devout at their prayers, well-grounded in their Christian faith, steadfast and zealous in worship, chaste in their living, godly in their conversation, so that by their words and actions they may give offense to no one and thus bring upon themselves a fearful judgment. Preserve them from temptations and evil company. By Your Holy Spirit keep them constantly in mind of Your most holy presence, so that they remember that You are with them at home and away, in their room, by day and by night, in company with others and when they are alone. Let Your holy angel be with them when they go out and when they come in. Let Your angel guard them when they travel, pursuing their business, or journeying to foreign lands. Give them Your holy angels as their companions, as You did to young Tobit. By their aid rescue them from dangers, as You did with Lot. Let them, like Jacob, live under the angels’ watchful care.

But if it should please You to make my children a cross to me, either by their sickness, or death, or any other calamity that I might have to see them suffer, grant me patience in such affliction, and remind me that nothing happens without Your divine direction, that my children were Yours before they were mine, and that You have sovereign power to take them again to Yourself. But if it is Your design by the suffering, misfortune, and death of my children to draw me to You, in order that I may recognize also in them that Your visible gifts are perishable, to stir me up to love You alone, the true and perfect Good, keep me while traveling this thorny path in firm confidence and hope in Your almighty power, which can end and mend all things, even the crosses of my children.

Impart Your blessing to them also in their temporal affairs. Care for them, provide for them, give them food and clothing, and deal with them as their mighty heavenly Father. Be their Helper in dangers and calamities, their Physician in sickness, and their Counselor whenever they are in need of good advice. Give to my children a pious soul, a healthy body, and a sound mind, and let them live in Your sight, in order that they may at all times honor and praise You. Implant in their hearts true godliness and continue Your blessing on them that I may have comfort and joy in them.

O God, hear my prayer, and remember that they are Your children as well as mine. Therefore be pleased to hear my supplication on their behalf at the throne of Your grace. Preserve me, O God, from being brought into shame by my children, either during my lifetime or after my death. On the last day let me stand at Your right hand with all my children and say to the praise of Your holy name: “Behold, here I am, my God, and the children which You have given to me; I have lost none of them.” Yes, my God, grant me Your divine favor to this end, that none of my children may be lost, but that they may all enter with me, and I with them, into Your glory.

 HT: Weedon's Blog