Monday, January 10, 2022

Sermon - The Baptism of Our Lord - Luke 3:15-22

 


Luke 3:15-22

The Baptism of Our Lord

The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ is one of those events that becomes more and more profound the more closely we look at it.  Every year we revisit this important marker in our Lord’s ministry.  The first Sunday after Epiphany, we come to the banks of the Jordan and remember our Lord Jesus is baptized at the beginning of his public ministry.  It’s his inauguration, his ordination, if you will, as the Messiah.  The public recognition that this one, Jesus, is the Christ, the Son of God sent to save.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this for us, and each gives a slightly different description.  This year, we hear from Luke, who focuses a bit more on John the Baptist’s role.  But since we’ve considered that recently in the Advent Season, we will focus more of our attention today on the last portion of this reading,  the final paragraph:

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son;3 with you I am well pleased.

Three key elements stand out:

the heavens are opened,

the Spirit descends,

and the voice comes from heaven.

The Heavens are Opened

Heaven, the place of God’s presence, as we normally think of it.  We consider it as Scripture speaks of it as “up”, but not in a purely physical way.  God is above us, if you will, in every way.  And we are below him.  The great separation between creator and creation – a distinction that is built into creation and is very good – testifies to this reality.

But there is also a sense in which that division, that separation, is intensified by sin.  A healthy distinction becomes instead a disastrous alienation between God and man, creator and creature.  No longer are we in right relationship with him.  No longer are we fit for paradise, or even for life.  The doors to Eden are shut.  The seal of the grave is strong.  Man cannot bridge this gap to God, cannot ascend, cannot attain to heaven.  Heaven is shut, closed, the gate barred to sinful man.  In sin, we are like the foolish virgins who are locked out of the great wedding feast – doomed to pine away, looking on from the outside.

But then comes Jesus.  He’s already bridged the gap by his incarnation and birth.  No work or effort of man brought him here.  No force of human will.  But he himself stooped down from heaven’s high throne to be born among us, as one of us.  When the Angel Gabriel spoke the announcement to Mary, heaven was opened and the Son of God came forth.  When Mary gave birth, heaven was opened, and the angelic host sang of his birth.  But now, in his baptism, heaven is opened again – and in Christ – opened to us.

Access to God – a way back to our Creator – this is what Jesus brings.  This is what Jesus accomplishes for us.  Like the stairway to heaven in Jacob’s dream, only Jesus can get us from the here of our sins to the there of paradise the blest.  And it is shown to be so, publicly, at his baptism.

Heaven would again be opened when Jesus ascended there.  And it received him again not only as God but also as man.  In the person of Jesus, humanity has already attained to heaven. 

And in the return of Jesus, his second coming from heaven, all eyes will see him, all ledgers will be balanced, the living and the dead.  We will meet him in the clouds, go home to our eternal rest, paradise will be restored, and his kingdom will have no end.

All of this is hinted at, in his baptism, with the words, “the heavens were opened”.

The Spirit Descends

Next we see the descent of the Spirit.  And Luke mentions the detail, “in bodily form”.  Luke’s extra detail here shows that it wasn’t just a spiritual vision but a physical reality – and one that could be seen.  There’s a part of this event that is meant for us to see – to show us the true reality of what is happening!

Why does Jesus need the Spirit?  Doesn’t he already have the Holy Spirit? (Surely, yes!) But now the Spirit comes upon him with a special purpose – to empower him for his public ministry.  And not just the preaching and healing and miracles he is about to accomplish.  The Spirit will be with Jesus every step of the way to the cross.  And the Spirit will begin that process soon as he drives Jesus into the wilderness, where he will do battle with Satan (and win). 

The same Spirit who empowered Jesus is the Spirit who calls us to faith in Jesus by the good news of the Gospel.  The same Spirit who descended on Jesus in his baptism, we receive in our baptism.  The same Spirit who empowered Jesus for his work, empowers us for our good works that he has prepared for us to do.  Of course we need that Spirit even more than Jesus does.  But Jesus freely and abundantly sends us his Spirit, who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies all Christians.

Interesting that the Spirit appears as a dove.  Recall the other dove of note in Scripture – the one that Noah sent forth, and that came back with the olive branch.  That’s a sign of peace today even among the biblically illiterate.  How much more does the Spirit of Peace bring us peace with God through the baptism and saving work of Jesus, himself the Prince of Peace?

The Voice of the Father

And then finally we have the voice of the Father declaring, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  This declaration forms the first half of a divine set of bookends – as we hear the voice from heaven again at Mt. Transfiguration.  There the message echoes, “This is my son” and the command is then added, “Listen to him.”

But for now it’s enough to know the Father is pleased with his Son.  This Christ, this chosen one, is up to the task.  He is an acceptable champion, a fully capable representative who will accomplish salvation on behalf of all people.  He was appointed to this task, even from the foundation of the world, but now in his baptism, Christ is made know publicly as such.  The tearing of the heavens, the descent of the Spirit and this booming voice from heaven agree and declare it.  A Trinitarian testimony of the Christ as he is set forth on his great mission.

Many have said, and it’s true of course, that the declaration of the Father applies equally to all who are in Christ.  That through Christ, the Father accepts us as beloved sons and daughters.  That through Christ, and only through Christ, is the Father pleased with us.

This is true, because Christ has another baptism to be baptized with.  It is the baptism of the cross.  There, the Son cries out to the Father – “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  But the voice from heaven does not answer.  He is not pleased.  Because God made him, Jesus, who knew no sin, to become sin for us.  And there on Calvary’s cross, that sin was put to death in his body.  There, all the warfare and violence of sin raged to its fullest in the suffering of Christ, until only by his death did he bring peace.  There, the heavens scowled and the sun was darkened as the Son of Righteousness died for the sins of the world.  And only when “it is finished” does Jesus peacefully commit his spirit to the Father once again. 

All of this is running in the background at Jesus’ baptism.  The entirety of Christ’s messianic work and the mystery of his two natures.  The identification of Christ with sinful humans, so that sinful humans may be pleasing to God in Christ.  The great exchange of our sin for his righteousness.

Ponder today, Christian, the Jesus who was born for you, baptized for you, died and rose for you.  The Christ Jesus into whom you are baptized!  Give thanks that in him, heaven is opened to you.  That his Spirit is also upon you.  And that in him, the Father makes you his own dear child, and with you he is well pleased. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Sermon - St. Stephen - Acts 6 and 7

 


Acts 6:8-7:2a, 51-60

Feast of St. Stephen

December 26th, 2021

“In His Footsteps”

The Christian Church marks December 26th as a special remembrance for the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen. And so with rare departure from the lectionary today, our sermon will focus on Stephen as a lens through which we may see Christ.  Stephen, like all the saints, serves as a model of faith and as an example of God working powerfully in the life of his people.  We give thanks for the saints, and remember them, chiefly because they point us to Christ.

Stephen was chosen as one of the 7 deacons to assist the 12 apostles in distributing food to the needy, we read how Stephen's bold proclamation of Christ leads to his untimely demise at the hands of angry Jewish opponents. After holding their ears and shouting so as not to hear his message, they stone him to death.  Here’s text from Acts 6 and 7….

Perhaps because St. Stephen was a martyr whose main service (as a deacon) was to help the poor – we have a more recent story about a Christian ruler around 900 A.D., King Wenceslas – who is also remembered for helping the poor. The Christmas hymn in his honor (from the late 1800s) begins:

Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the feast of Stephen

When the snow lay round about

Deep and crisp and even

I won't sing the whole thing... but the hymn goes on to tell of a supposed miracle involving the king, when he went walking through the snow on his way to help a poor peasant. The king's servant found warmth as he followed the king through the snow. The legend tells that the king's footprints radiated heat and kept his servant warm in the bitter cold.

Tradition then tells us that Wenceslas was murdered by his brother, partly because Wenceslas was a proponent of Christianity, and did things like defending priests from persecution. So perhaps, one could say, by helping the poor and dying for his faith, King Wenceslas followed in St. Stephen's footsteps.

Stephen, for his part, is regarded as the first Christian martyr. His symbol includes three stones and a palm branch. Of course, because he was stoned to death, and a palm branch reminding us of how the martyrs are pictured in Revelation – waving palm branches – a symbol of victory even though their blood was shed.

Some might say that we too, should follow in the footsteps of Stephen and Wenceslas, and of course, of Jesus. That the lesson here is for us to feed the poor, do good for the kingdom, proclaim God's word, whatever – to follow in their footsteps. To learn from their example. And while certainly these are good things to do, there's a bit of a problem.

We're not so good at following in those kinds of footsteps. In fact, we more often fall on our faces. Rather than boldly proclaiming God's word, we more often find our foot in our mouth. Think about it.

You feel good about yourself because you made a point of saying Merry Christmas to a store cashier. But then you go home and gossip about your friend. You put a dollar in the red pot with the bell-ringer, but you speak unkindly and think in anger toward your own family. You may blame it on stress, or a long to-do list with little time to do it, but the real problem is that all of us are entangled and tripped up by our own sins. And rather than fancy ourselves graceful footstep followers, we should be honest about our clumsy and wandering ways.

What a wonder that Christ walks in OUR footsteps. His walk is graceful, and it is full of grace for us. He becomes a human, takes on human flesh, body, eyes, ears, hands, feet. He walks a perfect walk of the law, something we could never do. And he walks the way of the cross – a path to face God's wrath, so we don't have to. Whatever we do for him, imperfect as it may be, is only because of what he has done for us.

Stephen did follow in the footsteps of Christ, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. And if we do anything well or good, it is to God's credit and not to ours.

First of all, take Stephen's bold proclamation. No fear stood in the way of his witness. He plainly laid out his proclamation, no matter the consequences. And consequences there were. He followed Christ in this way – who paid the consequences for speaking truth to those same powerful men. Like Christ, Stephen commended his spirit to God, even with his dying breath – and so may we follow in those footsteps in our last hour.

But best of all for Stephen, he trusted in Christ. And here is the ultimate example to follow. That even in the face of death at the hands of evil men, we belong to Christ. That nothing, not even death, can separate us from Christ's love. That our sins are forgiven. Our filthy feet, our guilty hands, indeed our whole body is washed in baptismal water and divine blood

For Stephen's prayer, following in the footsteps of Christ, is answered. “Do not hold this sin against them”. Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them.” Jesus makes that prayer a reality.

So it is for us. Forgive us our trespasses, Lord, as we forgive those who trespass against us. May we follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ. Forgive as we have been forgiven. Love as we have been loved. Give as we have received. And even carry our own crosses.

Following in his footsteps isn't always easy or without pain. Stephen and so many other martyrs found this out the hardest way. But Christ and his cross make even this suffering worthwhile. For we know where the path leads. Our forerunner went from cross to tomb to life again.

Stephen, as he died, saw heaven opened and Jesus at the right hand of God.  And we know that Christ is there preparing a place for us.

And so shall we go, like Stephen – from this world of sorrows, to a blessed death, commending ourselves to his care, to a resurrection in glory and life eternal with him. 

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Christmas Eve - Luke 2:1-14

 


Christmas Eve 2021

Luke 2:1-14

In Rome sat Caesar Augustus.  Rome was the capital city of the great Roman Empire.  A world power with no equal, whose citizens enjoyed all the benefits it offered.  A life of luxury and decadence, many owning slaves. They sat at the top of the heap of the nations, had for many years, and would continue to for many more.

In Bethlehem, things were different.  The little town, small among the clans of Judah, had one claim to fame.  It was the hometown of David, Israel’s greatest king.  But that was a thousand years ago.  And nothing like it had happened since.  They were far overshadowed by nearby Jerusalem, and Jerusalem itself had nowhere near the glory of Rome.

And Caesar Augustus – himself a figure of history.  The grand-nephew and successor of Julius Caesar.  Augustus was a title given him by the senate, it meant “Illustrious One”.  We sometimes refer to a grand gathering today as an “august body”.  He was also called, “Priceps” Which means: first in time or order; the first, foremost, chief, the most eminent, distinguished, or noble; the first man, first person.  It’s the word from which we derive the term, “prince”.

Ah, but down there in lowly Bethlehem is born a baby with no title, no senate, no armies at his command.  At least, so it would appear.  The contrast couldn’t be sharper.  This child has no palace or throne, only a stable and a manger.  No kingly robes, only swaddling clothes.

But there’s more than what appears.  This little child of Mary is the true ruler of all.  He is more august than Augustus.  He is the first in time and first in order, the chief, most eminent, noble.  He is eternal.  And he has a heavenly council of his own, and armies upon armies of angels at his command.  Some of whom announce his birth, but not to Caesars and Kings, rather to poor shepherds in the field at night.

Oh, and though few would know it for a while, Jesus does bear more and better titles than Caesar.  He is the true Prince – the Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and much, much more.

Caesar decreed a tax and a census.  He wanted the people counted, and what a good time to extract some coin while he was at it?  Caesar’s decree was to control and command and take from the people.

But the Christ child, though by rights, as God, he could command and control,  yet he comes in the way of the Gospel.  His decrees run the way of, “It is finished!”, “Your sins are forgiven!”, “If anyone lives and believes in me, he will never die!”

He comes not demanding, but giving and inviting.  He comes humble and lowly.  He comes not to conquer men, but death and devil.  He is born to die, and that death will be for all people. 

Noticed Caesar decreed that “All the world” should be taxed.  But as powerful as he was, Caesar didn’t really rule “all the world”.  Ah, but there is one who does – and who came to rule in a very different way.  A kingdom not like the kingdoms of this world.  And his birth is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

In such a small way God begins the work of his kingdom – with a birth. 

There’s good reason we celebrate the birth of Christ and not the birth of Caesar Augustus.  For all the glory of Rome it faded into history – just like every other human institution and achievement.  But Christ and his church remain.  And the gates of Hell cannot prevail. 

Caesar was, by human measure a great man.  Christ, however, is the God-man.  He is divine.  The Caesars claimed to be gods.  Jesus Christ proved his divinity.  For the Caesars are all dead.  But Christ conquered death, lives now, and will never die.

Our old sinful nature is more of the ilk of Caesar.  We like to think we’re more than we are.  We, by nature, operate in a world of power and control, lording what little we have over whoever has less.  We think in terms of what we can extract from others, more than what we can give.  We are impressed with worldly things, worldly grandeur, worldly riches.  We find it hard to see the value in the unseen, the hidden, the spiritual.  We want to be regarded by the world, and forget how much more important it is to be regarded by our creator.

And with sin comes death.  Just as Caesar and all men great and small one day face the great leveler of the grave – we too will die as the wages of sin come due.  In many ways, we are not very different than Caesar.

But this child born in Bethlehem is a stranger and an alien among us.  Like us in every way, and yet unlike us in one very important way – he is without sin.  And that makes all the difference.

Jesus takes his time and slowly unfolds his saving work, step by step, over the course of years.  When the time came, Mary gave birth.  And in time, Jesus lives a human life to redeem all of human life.  He is conceived and born of a woman to bring salvation to all who are conceived and born of women.  He then submits to every aspect of our human life – he eats and sleeps, he learns to walk, he makes friends, grows and learns.  He lives in a family, and is obedient to his parents.  He grieves and weeps and loves and laughs. He does all things we do – but he does them all well, without sin.  And he does them for us – a representative of us all – before God – earning righteousness through his perfect, sinless life.  And bestowing that righteousness on us sinners.  We couldn’t do it ourselves.  So he does it all for us.

And when the time came for his public ministry to begin, he again identifies with us – though he doesn’t need to – in a baptism.  John was right, he’s the one who should be doing the baptizing, the cleansing, but now to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus who is without sin becomes like a sinner.  Even more, he shoulders up our sins and carries them to his death on the cross.  Yes, he who was without sin was made to BE sin for us.  And there, in his body, sin is destroyed.

And so Jesus does it all.  He redeems and sanctifies all of human life – from cradle to grave, from when he was laid in the manger to when he was laid in the tomb, Jesus does it all for us.

But his time in the grave would be short.  Just three days.  Long enough to fulfill his words.  Long enough to confirm he was truly dead, and not a minute longer than necessary.  Mary’s firstborn now becomes the firstborn of the dead.  Again, only Jesus can do it, but he does it for us.  And just as his perfect life paved the way for us, so his resurrection guarantees our own.  Just as he identified with us as sinners in his earthly life, now we are identified with him, and have a share in his victory over death.  United with Christ in baptism, buried and raised, we need not fear death.  Eternal life is ours!

As any parent will tell you – when a child is born – everything changes.  And sometimes it takes us parents years to understand the full ramifications of such a change.  How much more with the birth of the Christ child? 

Thanks be to God for this great good news.  Thanks be to God for the birth of the Savior, Christ our Lord!  A king greater than any Caesar.  The Son of God in human flesh.  We rejoice that he has come, and that his life and death and resurrection are for us! 

God bless you this Christmas and always, in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Funeral Sermon - Tina Sawall

 1 Corinthians 15:51-57

English Standard Version

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

55 “O death, where is your victory?

    O death, where is your sting?”

 

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

_____________________________________________________________________________

One of the things I spoke with Tina about in the last few weeks was the promise of the resurrection.  I visited her, and of course we prayed for healing, knowing that God does sometimes answer with a miracle.  But we also knew, and Tina was at ease saying, that this disease had no cure, and she knew that in all likelihood her time was limited.  She spoke as one who had faith in Christ, and believed in the promise of the resurrection.  And we talked about how if God doesn’t answer her with healing here and now, he will certainly free her (and all believers) from all troubles in the resurrection.

And so today, we gather because God has called Tina from this earthly life to himself.  Her spirit rests secure in paradise the blest, in the presence of her Savior.  And there she will rest, in peace, until that day when God fulfills the promise of the resurrection to glory.

We read about this promise, especially, in 1 Corinthians 15.  It is often called the “Great Resurrection Chapter” of the Bible.  We heard a part of that chapter already – a few moments ago.  Let us look closer at what St. Paul teaches us about the resurrection, and find comfort in this promise even amidst our grief.

Paul begins, “Behold!”  Anytime scripture invites us to “behold!” it means, “look here!”, “pay attention!” what follows is something very important.

“I tell you a mystery”.  The promise of the resurrection is a mystery.  For Christians, a mystery isn’t something we have to figure out.  It’s not a whodunit murder mystery with plot twists and you find out in the end that the butler did it.  A mystery is a truth of God that we can’t know about on our own.  It has to be revealed.  It is inaccessible to our human powers, apart from God showing us.  The Holy Trinity is a mystery.  The Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar is mystery.  Holy Baptism is a mystery.  Even the way scripture speaks of us Christians as both sinners and saints – it is a mystery.  Tina believed and confessed all these mysteries.  She did so, not because she understood them, but she did so in faith, and that faith itself, a mystery – a gift of God – a work of the Holy Spirit through the Word.

She was baptized at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, in Hazelwood, MO  March 26, 1961.  At 13, she was confirmed at Peace Lutheran Church in Hurst.  And she remained a faithful Lutheran throughout her life, including her 30 years here at Messiah.  How many times in her life did she confess these mysteries, reciting the creeds, One baptism for the remission of sins, The communion of Saints, and also – “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.”

You see, for the Christian, death means something different.  For us who are in Christ, death is swallowed up in victory.  It is swallowed up, by Jesus.

Jesus faced death, and boy did he.  He suffered greatly and died a terrible death by any human standard.  He was a man of sorrows well acquainted with grief.  Even in our Christmas hymns we remember Christ’s suffering for us, “nails, spears, shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you”.  More than that, he bore the sins of the world on that cross – Tina’s sins, yours, mine.  And that’s why his death was so important and so critical to us – this is the mystery – by his death he destroyed death.  He took the sting of death away.  Death has no teeth, no terror anymore, for us who are in Christ.

For us, death has no sting.  Because our sins are forgiven in Christ.  Therefore death is no longer a punishment for Christians.  It isn’t a sign of God’s displeasure.  We do not fear death because we do not fear his judgment.  Our breaking of the law is put away in Christ.  Our sins are as far from us as the east is from the west.  Death is therefore harmless.

Tina’s sins were forgiven in her baptism, both on the day she was washed by the rebirth and renewal of the Spirit, and every day of her Christian life as she drew on that baptismal promise.  She heard, regularly, the words of Christ’s absolution.  She received, often, the very body and blood of Jesus – for the forgiveness of her sins.  There is therefore no sting, no poison left in death for her either.

For us Christians, death becomes instead the gate to eternal life.  And Tina knew this well.  I know she didn’t relish the idea of departing from her family and loved ones.  She wasn’t in a hurry to go.  Indeed, she endured her own share of suffering as she fought this disease for the past year.  Life is a gift, and we treasure the time we have.  But she also had a peace about her - knowing that greater gifts would be revealed, and that her future was secure in her Lord.

Death wasn’t the end of Jesus, and it isn’t the end of Tina, either.  On the third day, Christ rose from the dead, and demonstrated his victory to the women at the tomb, to the bewildered disciples, and eventually even to a crowd of over 500 at one time.  He gave “many convincing proofs” that he was no ghost, but that his body, his flesh and blood, rose from the grave.  “Here, Thomas, stick out your hand – touch the wounds – put your fingers here – stop doubting, and believe!”  He spoke with them, he ate with them, he opened their minds to understand the scriptures – and the mystery – that the Messiah had to suffer, and die, and rise on the third day.

But the resurrection of Christ isn’t just his victory – it is ours, too.  God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, Christ’s resurrection is just the beginning.  He is the first born of the dead, the first fruits of the dead.  That means that others will follow.  One day – on the last day – Christ will return.  He will come again in glory, to judge both the living and the dead.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  And all of us who are in Christ – alive at that time and freshly risen from death – all believers who share in his victory – will be glorified. 

It may be hard, from where we are today, to see that victory.  To stand in the valley of the shadow of death and know that just across the way are green pastures and still waters.  To believe and know that one day we will stand, after we have died and risen from death to glory.  To know that we will see our savior with our own eyes, and not another.  To look forward to that day, when all who are in Christ have a blessed reunion also with those we love who have died in the faith.  And that we will see Tina again.

Behold, I tell you a mystery!  At the last trumpet Tina will be raised incorruptible, and all the saints at rest along with her.  And then the mortal will put on immortality.

In other words, we will live forever.  What a thought.  Not just as a disembodied spirit, but a whole person – body and soul – together again and better than ever.  Never to face death again.  This is our promise and hope in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for us.

And so today we say farewell to dear Tina.  We commend her to the loving arms of the Lord – there to rest and wait with all the faithful who have gone before us.  We know she is with Christ, and she is at peace.  But that’s not the end of the story.  I tell you a mystery.  There is a resurrection coming.  Tina will rise again.  And we who are in Christ the same.  We will see her again, with our Lord, face to face. 

(Obituary)

Sermon - Advent 4 - Luke 1:39-45


Luke 1:39–45

This event, part of Luke’s larger Nativity narrative, in which Mary goes to see her cousin Elizabeth – is known as “The Visitation”.  Mary visits the house of Zechariah, her cousin Elizabeth, and the unborn baby John the Baptist in her womb.  Mary, for her part, bears a brand new pregnancy, having just heard from the angel Gabriel, that the savior would be born of her womb.  And so these two expectant mothers and their unborn baby boys meet and greet, and Luke records it all for us.

As a bit of an aside, but still a very important one, this event teaches us that life and personhood begin even before birth.  As a commentary on the barbaric practice of abortion, this text shows us that unborn baby John leaps for joy – and that implies that he can hear, and has faith – even in utero.  But even more important, Mary is very newly pregnant with Jesus, and John recognizes the personhood of Jesus by his joyous leaping.  I once heard a convincing case that explained here, at the visitation, the embryo Jesus hadn’t even made it down the fallopian tubes and into the uterus yet, and still his life and personhood are causing all this stir.  Why would we not think that any human life, even at this earliest stage, is also a person and worthy of protection?  For Jesus was like us in every way… yet without sin.

But putting that point aside, what else does the Visitation teach us?  It is truly rich in its implications.  There are Old Testament connections.  There’s lessons for the life of faith.  And there’s even liturgical application.  So let’s consider, today, the Visitation.

An interesting story from 2 Samuel has been noted in connection with the Visitation.  There we read of King David’s project to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  Now, at first, it didn’t go very well.  They didn’t follow instructions that the ark should be carried by the priests, and instead they put it on a cart drawn by oxen.  And when one of the oxen stumbled, a man named Uzzah touched the ark so it wouldn’t fall.  But Yahweh had commanded that anyone who touches the ark must die, and so he struck Uzzah dead on the spot.  This caused David great anger and fear – and so he changed his plan.  Instead of bringing the ark to Jerusalem, he left it with a man named Obed-edom the Gittite.

One commentator, (Dr. Just) points out the parallels:

The two stories open with the statement that David and Mary “arose and made a journey” (2 Sam 6:2; Lk 1:39) up into the hill country, into the land of Judah. On arrival, both the Ark and Mary are greeted with “shouts” of joy (2 Sam 6:12, 15; Lk 1:42, 44). The verb used for Elizabeth’s greeting in Lk 1:42, (ἀνεφώνησεν) is, in the Septuagint, used only in connection with liturgical ceremonies centered round the Ark; it is best translated as “intoned”. The Ark, on its way to Jerusalem, was taken into the house of Obededom, and became a source of blessing for his house (2 Sam 6:10–12); Mary’s entry into the house of Elizabeth is also seen as a source of blessing for the house (Lk 1:41, 43–4). David, in terror at the untouchable holiness of the Ark, cried out: “How shall the Ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Sam 6:9); Elizabeth, in awe before the mother of her Lord, says, “Why should this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43). Finally, we read that “the Ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obededom three months” (2 Sam 6:11), and that Mary stayed with Elizabeth “about three months” (Lk 1:56).

So what do we make of these striking parallels?  This much is clear – Mary serves as a sort of living ark – a carrier of the Lord.  Both David and Elizabeth exhibit humility in the face of such an honor – that the Lord would “come to me!”

We could say the same.  Who am I?  Who are you?  That the Lord should come to us?  Who are we?   We are sinners, first of all.  Unworthy to stand in his presence, or to have him come into our midst.  That Jesus would come into our house, the place where we are?  That he would be born on this earth at all is amazing.  And of all people, that he would come to me and you, sinners that we are. That he would promise to be found wherever two or three are gathered in his name.  That he would bless us with his presence, by his Spirit, through his word….  Who are any of us, indeed?  And yet that is just what he does.  In grace and mercy he comes to be with sinners, even under the same roof.

Christ’s coming to the house brings great blessing, just as the presence of Yahweh with the ark blessed the house of Obed-edom.  And his advent among us also brings great blessing.  Our faith also leaps for joy at word of his coming.  We know he is in our midst when 2 or 3 or more gather in his name.  We know his has come to this house with his greeting, and with his peace.  We intone our own shouts of joy for Mary’s son and Mary’s Lord is our Lord, Jesus Christ, come to visit, come to save.

And yet, let us receive him as he comes – and not on our own terms.  This was part of the issue with Uzzah who was struck dead by touching the ark.  He didn’t receive God’s gracious presence with reverence and faith.  He made light of God’s holy things, and hauled the ark on a cart like a common piece of luggage.  Then, when his own shameful treatment of the ark almost led to further catastrophe, and he reached out his hand to fix the problem himself – God struck him down as he had always threatened anyone who touched his holy ark.  We learn a hard lesson and stern warning here about treating the holy things of God with due respect, and receiving God on his own terms.

And one other small Old Testament connection.  Elizabeth calls Mary “blessed among women”.  There’s only one other woman who bears a similar title in the Bible, and that is a woman named Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite.  In the book of Judges, we meet Jael after a great battle.  The enemy of Deborah and Barak, king Sisera is on the run and tries to hide in Jael’s tent.  But Jael takes a hammer and drives a tent peg through his head while he is asleep, and kills him.

Now comes Mary, and the Fruit of her womb, who himself would crush the head of our Ancient enemy.  But Jesus would do it by himself being pierced, head and hands and side.  And Mary would stand at the cross to see it, a sword piercing her own heart.

And finally, let’s consider the mention of “house” in this Visitation reading.  Mary comes into Zechariah’s house. 

You know, in the Old Testament, there word for “temple” is really the same as the word for “house”.  The idea is this – that any house where God is becomes a temple – a “house of God”.  Because otherwise even the grandest of temples or churches is just a building.  Made by human hands, and it will always eventually fall or be torn down.  Zechariah, a priest, worked in the temple, the house of God.  But this day, the Lord God would come to his house, and make it a temple.

But any talk of the temple of God leads us to Jesus’ own words about the temple.  He says, “destroy this temple and I will raise it again in 3 days”.  And the temple he spoke of was his body.  Yes, in a very real sense, the body of Christ is the temple – the very place in which we meet God.  As John’s gospel teaches us, the Word (which was and is God) became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  This of course takes place in the incarnation.  The Son of God receives the body prepared for him – conceived by the Holy Spirit, and in our reading, alive and growing in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

That same body of Christ, that temple, would one day be destroyed at the cross.  There he willingly sacrificed himself for the sanctification of all.  As a grown up John the Baptist would later exclaim, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” so the unborn baby John testifies by his leaping for joy.

And yes, that temple of his flesh, Jesus would rebuild in three days, as his resurrection gives even more cause for joy. 

This Christmas, we prepare again to celebrate the visitation.  Not just the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, or even of 2 unborn miraculous baby boys.  We, humanity, are visited by our God in the flesh of his Son Jesus Christ.  And it’s not a one time visit, either.  He comes among us continually, by his word, and in his sacraments.  He comes among us, though we are not worthy.  He makes his dwelling here, in his people, turning our places of worship and even our very bodies into his own temple.  And at his coming, our hearts leap for joy.  Blessed are we among all people.  And blessed is the fruit of Mary’s womb, even Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Sermon - Advent 3 - Luke 7:18-28

 


Luke 7:18-28

Advent 3

December 12th, 2010

“Look, Listen, Rejoice!”

Last week we saw John the Baptist at the peak of his ministry – preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Today, further in Luke’s Gospel, we find John in a much different place. Prison, in fact. He had criticized King Herod, who had taken his brother's wife, and didn't take kindly to John's finger-pointing. John's hopes for release were slim. And we all know what John's fate would soon be – beheaded at a grisly birthday party for the king. So here John sits, in prison, in the valley of the shadow of death – John sends his followers to ask Jesus, “are you the one, or shall we look for another?”

Today, we light that pink candle in our Advent wreath. It's often called the “shepherds candle” or the candle of Joy. This season of preparation evokes in us many and varied responses – and joy should be one of them. For like the shepherds who first heard the news of Christ's birth, we too believe he is the one who is to come. The Savior who brings peace on earth and God's good will toward man. We have joy, even in our expectation of Christmas. But then there's John, sitting in prison....

A great debate has raged about just what John was thinking when he sent his disciples to Jesus.  On one side, some seem to think John was having a crisis of faith in his prison cell, and that he sent his disciples to Jesus out of his own doubts and fears that maybe Jesus isn’t the Messiah after all.  Many commentators and theologians, including Luther, take the side that John wasn’t doubting Jesus, but rather John’s disciples were.

Whether John doubted or not, you can easily see how someone in his predicament could have.  Hard to have joy when you were in his situation.

John must have looked around his prison cell, and found it a rather joy-less place. We can only imagine what it was like. Probably not the clean and sterile institutional setting of today's prisons – you might imagine a rat scurrying here or there. It was probably a dark place without much sunlight – figurative or literal.

And if we think about what John might have heard in his prison, perhaps it was the moaning of other prisoners. The jingling of jailers' keys. The sharpening of their axes. Or even the silence of his own isolation. In any case, nothing there to be joyful about. A man sitting, thinking, alone with his thoughts, and perhaps his doubts.

We can relate. As we look around, and listen – what do we see and hear this Advent season?

We might look around at the decorations, the bright lights and greenery. Christmas music on the radio.  We might see festivities and activities that make it fill the air with excitement – Christmas parties and holiday programs.  We might see joy on the surface.

But a closer look reveals that all is not right with this world. Sin doesn't stop for the holidays. People don't stop being people just because it's December. In some ways, the stress of the season can make us even more miserable – or make us miserable to be around. We are busy and preoccupied. We are worried and harried. We'd like to take time to reflect on the deeper meaning of it all – but we're so easily distracted by the sights and sounds, or by the worries and cares.

Or perhaps you're more like John, sitting alone with his thoughts. Maybe loneliness or the grief of a lost loved one is your constant companion in this jingle-belled jailhouse. You sit there looking at everyone on the outside going on with life as usual – happy and cheerful it seems, but you're stuck in a place that seems hopeless and joyless.

Give John this. Even if he doubted, he still had some belief. In the depths of his predicament, in the dark hour of his coming demise, he reaches to Jesus through his disciples. He longs to hear a word of hope. He wants them, and maybe also himself, to be re-assured that Jesus really is the one.

And you can say, “What a doubter! Wasn't this the same John who boldly proclaimed Jesus the Lamb of God? Who baptized him and heard the voice and saw heaven open and the dove come down?” Yes. Isn't this the same John of whom Jesus said, “among those born of women, none is greater than John?” Yes. But even the greatest of us still needs the word of Christ. Even the most faithful, the most bold and the strongest Christians need the Gospel. We all face times of joy-less-ness in our messy prison of sin. We all need to be lifted up, to see and hear.... If some reassurance for Jesus was good for the greatest man besides Jesus ever born of women – well then that word of comfort is certainly good for you and me, too.

And Jesus delivers. He sends the message back. Not a promise of earthly deliverance. No get out of jail free card. But a better answer than John could have hoped for. “Look around, John. Listen, John”.

What you see – the signs of the Messiah. The miracles of Jesus point to who he is. Healings and wonders were his calling cards, meant to point to something even greater. Notice the climax of the answer isn't even the raising of the dead. It's that the good news is preached to the poor.

What do you see? What do you hear? When it comes to Jesus – what we see and hear is good news.

John must have found it hard to be joyful in prison, for what he saw and heard was so dismal. But take a look at Calvary. On that dark day, on a hill far away, with suffering and shame on display. Take a look at the bloody, beaten, humiliated man wearing a thorny crown and nailed to an instrument of death. And listen to them jeering and mocking and spitting. See his disciples deserting him, and the soldiers surrounding him, casting lots for his clothing. And hear the women weeping and the silence of God as his own Son suffers.

And then hear these words: “It is finished”.

So often with God things are not what they seem.  It may look bad, but it’s really a Good Friday.  It may sound like the end of Jesus, but really it’s the death of death.

Look what happens next – and see what is not there. He has burst the bonds of death. The prison of his tomb is left, door wide open. And hear the words of angels, “He is risen!”.

If you're like John, stuck in the prison of your sins and the broken sinful prison of life around you. If you're looking for a word of encouragement – a word of joy. Look, and listen. Don't just look to the bright lights, and listen only to the carols piped into the shopping malls. Look to Jesus. Listen to Jesus. Look to his cross and empty tomb. Listen to his promising word, and hear his absolution.

You may not be set free from prison, healed, or granted a miracle. Indeed, like John, you may even face death. But you will know the good news of his truth. And even if you die, you will live. And even in your suffering, you will find joy in him.

For you will look and listen with the eyes and ears of faith – and see a whole different reality. He who has eyes to see, let him see Jesus. He who has ears, let him hear Jesus. The Messiah who comes to save.  Rejoice, In his name, Amen.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Sermon - Advent 2 - Luke 3:1-14


Luke 3:1–14

“The Fruits of Repentance”

I honestly thought of introducing this sermon with the greeting of John the Baptist this morning, “You brood of vipers!”  but then I thought better of it. 

I think most of you would probably know what I was doing if I did that, but maybe it would ruffle some feathers.  And maybe John’s hearers got bothered by it, too.  He said this to the crowds that came to him – not just to the Pharisees.  He called his hearers, his congregation, if you will, a bunch of poisonous snakes.

Maybe this is why so many of us think of John the Baptist as a harsh preacher of the law.  If you had to put his character and person into one word, that word might be, “REPENT!”

And maybe that’s fair.  John did certainly preach repentance.  Soon, we’ll hear from him also about the fruits of repentance.  But sometimes, it seems, we forget the whole message of John as St. Luke summarizes it:

“And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Ah, so John proclaimed really a baptism of repentance FOR the forgiveness of sin.  John was a preacher of both law and gospel!  And why should we expect any different? 

Sure he was a prophet – sometimes called the last of the Old Testament prophets.  But the prophets, too, were preachers of law and gospel.  That’s what God’s word is all about.  Repentance and forgiveness of sins.

That’s what John’s baptism was about – and what Christian baptism is about – repentance and forgiveness of sins.  And it’s what we are about today.

And looking at John a little more broadly, John also preached Christ.  He prepared the way for Christ.  He fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.

Without Jesus, there is no John.  Without Jesus, there is no baptism.  Without Jesus, there is no repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

John certainly called the crowds to repentance, and he would say the same to us.  Turn from your sins, first of all.  That’s the first part of repentance.  Confessing, admitting you are a sinner – and not just in a general sense.  It’s not just “aw shucks, everyone’s a sinner, no one’s perfect”. 

The kind of repentance we want admits we are poor, miserable sinners.  It confesses we are a brood of vipers.  We are full of poison and viciousness – in our thoughts and words and deeds.  Sin isn’t a lack of knowledge, or a harmless character flaw, an annoying but mostly benign condition that we can work around or pretend it’s just fine.  Repentance means coming square up against the mirror of God’s law and seeing in stark and certain terms – the rot staring back at us. 

And to show how serious it is… John paints a picture. 

“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

The implication is clear.  God is the lumberjack and we are the trees.  And he’s cutting down the bad ones – throwing them into fire.  Destruction, condemnation, hell. 

John’s cry to bear fruits in keeping with repentance is a clarion call to avoid such a disastrous spiritual end.  And we do well to listen as well.

Now.  Let’s talk about the phrase, “fruits in keeping with repentance”.  We might think that it’s the fruits that count here.  But that would be a mistake.  Let’s read John in the wider context of his own preaching, and of the Gospels and the entire Scriptures.

In Scripture, fruits are always the outward effects of the inward reality.  A fig tree that bears no fruit is still a fig tree, just not a good one.  But a good tree bears good fruit.

To borrow from Jesus own fruit “tree parables”, we must remember he’s not just the lumberjack, he’s also the farmer.  He sows the seed – the seed of his word by his Spirit.  He tends the trees, waters and prunes them, applies fertilizer.  He cares for the trees – and if they are any good at all – it is to his credit, and not their own.

Rather, he suffered the judgment of being cut off and cut down – at the tree of the cross.  There he bore the brunt of God’s fiery wrath for our sins.  And there, he was forsaken by the Father in our place.  But the fruits of his work there are of great benefit to you and me.  We partake of those fruits in the sacrament even today – the crucified and now risen body and blood of Christ, for the forgiveness of sins. 

So also, baptism, repentance and forgiveness are what make Christians into good trees.  The fruits are just outward evidence of what has happened within.  What he has done, really.  John wants to see the effects of faith in the lives of his people, and we want to see the effects of faith in our own lives. 

So his hearers ask the next sensible question, “now what?”  And we could do the same.  Now, and only now in light of faith, we talk about the fruits in keeping with repentance.

Here a helpful theological category might be the “3rd use of the Law”.  Remember, first, the law curbs sin – keeps sin from getting out of hand, even among unbelievers.  The threat of punishment keeps sin in check.  Secondly, as I already mentioned earlier, the mirror function of the law always shows us our sin.  It evokes in us self-reflection, a mirror to the soul.  God says, “thou shalt not” and you must face the reality - thou does it anyway.

But the Third Use is the “now what?” function.  It is where the Christian who knows his sin, and knows his forgiveness in Christ, asks himself, “how then shall I live?”  The law, in this way, gives us moral guidance and direction.  It teaches us how to live as Christians – especially how to love our neighbor.  When John calls for “fruits in keeping with repentance”, he wants to see the outward evidence of faith lived out in the actions of the believers.  And he gives us a couple of clues of how to apply it.

Notice he speaks to the specific actions of both tax collectors and soldiers.  He tailors his moral guidance to these 2 common professions of the day – 2 notorious for corruption and extortion.  But these are only examples.  The wider principle is one we Lutherans should know well – vocation.

Exercise your faith according to your vocation.  Show your good works toward your neighbor within the vocations to which he has called you.

And so the fruits of repentance will look different according to the vocation. 

Here’s how this works:  If you are a worker, your vocation calls you to do your job well.  If you’re a boss, treat your employees well.  If you’re a parent, love and discipline your children.  If you’re a teacher, teach your children faithfully.  If you are a student, study well and learn as you ought.  If you are a citizen, participate in your civic duties.  If you are a friend, be a good one.  If you are a child, honor your parents. If you are rich, share with those who have less.  If you are a pastor, preach faithfully and care for the sheep.  If you are a hearer of the word, receive it with joy, and support the preaching of it. 

Vocation becomes the lens through which we answer John’s call to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  How do I know what good works I should do?  Well, where has God placed me?  How has he called me?  And in this or that vocation, who is my neighbor, and what are his needs?  Thus vocation gives shape to our love, and teaches us how to love our neighbor.

Will we fail in our vocations?  Certainly.  Will we still sin against our neighbor?  Without a doubt.  And so the life of baptism goes – repentance and forgives, ever again, and spinning out from them the fruits of faith.

All this is just another way of saying – be Christians.  How do we prepare, this Advent, for the celebration of Christ’s birth?  By being Christians.  By doing what Christians do.  Responding to the call of repentance.  Receiving the forgiveness Christ continually bestows.  Living in baptism and receiving Christ’s holy meal.  And yes, being the good trees who produce the good fruit that follows it all.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Sermon - Advent 1 - Luke 19:28-40

 

Luke 19:28–40

“The Messiah Comes to Save”

A blessed Advent season to you.  Advent means “coming”, and of course Christmas is coming – and for many it’s been here since November 1st, especially in our ants-in-the-pants American culture.

But the Church is more patient and orderly.  We take our time approach the celebration of Christ’s birth.  And so, the season of Advent.  A mournful longing that takes us back to join the Old Testament people of God who prayed and waited and watched for the fulfilling of God’s messianic promise.  And much like Lent strikes a sober and even somber note of repentance which prepares us for the seriousness of Holy Week and the joy of Easter – Advent makes us liturgically ready for Christmas joy and celebration.

Advent also carries forward the reminder that yes, Christ has come, and yes, Christ is coming again!  Once he came in humility as the Babe of Bethlehem.  But his Second Advent is at hand – he will come again, but in glory, to judge the living and the dead.  We heard quite a bit about the last day, the end times, and the judgment day in the last few weeks.  Now that same theme reverberates in Advent – Christ is coming, and coming soon.  Here we even use blue paraments, in part, to remind us when he comes again it will be in the sky – and all will see him.

But there are other Advents.  There are the Old Testament advents – when he came and appeared in the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire, and as the Angel of the Lord.  There was the wrestling match with Jacob by the Jabbock River.  There was the visit to Abraham with the two angels.  Even when he stood in the road and blocked Balaam’s donkey.

And then in the New Testament, perhaps you wouldn’t call it an advent but simply an appearance – but the Ascended Christ appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, and to John on the Island of Patmos. 

But today, the lectionary invites us to consider his triumphal advent, his kingly arrival on Palm Sunday.  Accompanied by the fanfare of the crowds, the cries of Hosanna, the palm branches strewn and the garments spread out before him.  He’s welcomed as king – as Son of David – and really, as Messiah.  The one who comes in the name of the Lord!

It’s a beautiful and celebratory event in Christ’s ministry that infects us with joy even today, as we see it as a foreshadowing of his great and final Advent in glory at the close of the age.  Christ is coming, and coming to save.  “Hosanna, save us now!” the church still prays, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus”

And yet not everyone took kindly to such adulation and praise.  The Pharisees said to him, “teacher, rebuke your disciples”.  And this is something maybe we need to examine a little further.

Well, for one thing, Jesus never responds well when other people tell him who to rebuke.  Do you want us to call down fire and brimstone on those cities, Lord?  No.  Send these annoying children away.  Oh, then Jesus gets indignant.  Send this woman away, she keeps crying out after us!  But Jesus engages her in conversation, and eventually grants her petition.  He’s a Lord of mercy, after all, and loves to welcome needy sinners into his good favor.

To be sure, Jesus does rebuke people.  He rebukes Peter, who would point him away from the cross, “no, Lord, this shall never happen to you”, “Oh Yeah?  Get behind me, Satan”.  He rebukes the disciples, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them”.  He rebukes the crowd who wanted to stone the adulterous woman, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone”.  But he will rebuke on his timetable, and in his own way, those who need a rebuking.  Usually it’s those who oppose his word, and would stand in the way of the gospel, or keep people from receiving his grace.  It’s those who, like Satan himself, would turn Jesus away from his mission to the cross – if only they could.

The Pharisees here on Palm Sunday understand well the implications of the crowd’s celebration.  They would have been right in seeing all this messianic hubbub as pure blasphemy – if Jesus wasn’t, in fact, the Messiah.  If he was just some teacher, even a great teacher.  If he was only a man.  If he was anything but the One promised deliverer, David’s Son and David’s Lord.  But he is all that, and much more.  And he deserves the praises of the crowd, and much more.

Palm Sunday, as we’ve said, is a foretaste of the great Second Coming of Christ.  When he comes in glory, and all his angels with him, then the fanfare will be even more – it will be heavenly.  Then he will come to his own, not just his holy city – but to his holy bride. 

Jesus replies to the Pharisees, “If these were silent, even the stones would cry out”  Let’s unpack that a little bit, too.

On one level, he is accepting and validating their worship of him, as he always does.  Jesus rarely claims his divinity directly, but certainly never refuses the worship and praises of the faithful.  He is God, after all, and will never lie about himself. 

But when God is praised and worshipped in the Scriptures, it is less often for who he is, and more often for what he does for his people.  Their shouts of Hosanna, a form of worship, are at the same time a confession that he does, in fact, “save us!”  They may not fully understand how this will happen, they may be confused about what or whom they are being saved from – but the truth still stands.  The Son of David is on the scene.  And he comes to save. 

That we need saving is also part of that confession, and we can say it just as much as the Palm Sunday crowds.  We need saving from sin.  We need saving from death.  We need saving from the devil.  We need him to be the savior because we can’t save ourselves.  And so we rejoice that the Messiah has come to save.

Praises are due.  Worship must be given.  Honors are afforded.  Rejoicing is only natural.  It simply must be said.  And if the people didn’t say it, even nature itself would be forced to bear witness.  The stones would cry out.  The Messiah has come to save.

There’s one more advent we haven’t mentioned, and that is his coming among us today.  Jesus has arrived, and is here.  He is among us, for 2 or 3 and more have gathered in his name.  He is present, by his word of absolution and Holy Gospel.  He is preached and proclaimed to you from this pulpit.  And soon he will be in our midst in a most wonderful way, in, with, and under the bread and wine of his Holy Sacrament.  Here, too, the Messiah has come to save.

And here, today as well, those who are saved break out in songs of praise.  Think about what we do liturgically.  Before we receive Sacrament, we sing the Sanctus, which connects the song of the angels, that God is “holy, holy, holy” with the “Hosanna in the highest” of Palm Sunday.  We’re rehearsing and echoing the song of the crowd that day, in the song of the church through the ages when the Messiah comes to save.  And we sing after – “Lord, let your servant depart in peace…. For my eyes have seen your salvation”.  We depart from his sacramental presence with the peace of his salvation – because here he has come to act – to forgive – to save.

And if we didn’t recognize – even the stones might cry out.  In fact, that’s sort of what happens anyway.  Think about it.  What’s more dead and inert than a stone.  What’s more lacking life, than something like a stone that has never even been alive?  One answer might be:  the human heart, born into the corruption of sin.  And yet our Lord Jesus Christ, by his Spirit working through the Gospel and the water of Baptism, creates in me and you a new heart, and a right spirit.  He brings life from the dead, even, as we are buried and raised with Christ.

John the Baptist once tangled with the Pharisees, too.  He anticipated one of their arguments, “We have Abraham as our father”.  John was not impressed, he said, “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”  And surely, that is what God does, through the miracle of the Gospel.  He raises up hard-hearted, stone-dead people of sin into fully new creations, alive and well, who shout and cry out their hosannas of praise to the Messiah who has come to save.

His Advent is, or should we say his advents are – at hand.  He came in the flesh, he came to his holy city, he came to the cross, he came to life again.  He comes in the word, he comes in the meal, and he will come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead.  But for his people, the Messiah always comes to save.  Thanks be to God.