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The King of the Jews

Matthew 2:1-12

Mt. Zion Lutheran Church/Our Father’s Lutheran Church Joint Epiphany Service

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  That is the question of the Wise Men from the East.  It’s important to note that these Wise Men, these Magi, were probably not worshipers of the true God prior to this time.  They were royal counselors and advisers.  And their title as Magi suggests that the wisdom they offered to the king came at least in part from occult magic, astrology, the seeking of power and knowledge from various sources other than the Word of God–“reading the tea leaves,” reading the stars, and other pagan things.

Of course, they would have had written wisdom, too, and among that wisdom was portions of the Old Testament Scriptures.  For remember where these Magi came from, from the East, from Babylon and Persia east of Israel–the place where the Israelites had been carried away captive as exiles centuries earlier.  Several of those Israelite captives became counselors to the king, Wise Men of sorts–people like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who wouldn’t bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, or Daniel who was thrown into the lion’s den for continuing to pray to the Lord against the official edict.  And those Jewish Wise Men would certainly have brought with them not only the practice of their faith but scrolls containing the words of Moses and other parts of the Old Testament.  

The Jews returned to Israel a few decades later.  But the Gentile Magi surely would have retained copies of those words over the years, such as this prophecy in Numbers 24, “A Star shall come out of Jacob, a [royal] Scepter shall rise out of Israel. . .”  Now the Magi probably only understood that to be about the birth of an important earthly king.  But when this heavenly body appeared at the time of Jesus’ birth, God by His grace still used their imperfect and muddled wisdom to lead them to seek out Him who is Wisdom in the flesh, the King of the Jews, Christ our Lord.  

And that’s one of the first points that we should take out of this Gospel today–by the grace of God, He draws even people like this to Himself: semi-pagan astrologers and Magi, people who are enmeshed in false belief and false religion, and He calls them away from all of that to the Truth. He draws Gentiles like us who fall so easily into superstitious thinking, we who are tempted to look for guidance and power in all sorts of things other than God’s words, we who love to get enmeshed in mystical and spiritual speculation about the spirits of the dead and the supernatural.  Even people like us, with our muddled hearts and minds, God still draws to Himself through His Word, in spite of ourselves, because of His grace and mercy.  It is that grace and mercy that caused the Lord to become flesh in the first place to redeem us and save us, to lead us into all truth.  This epiphany of Jesus to the Wise Men, then, is good news for us, for it shows Jesus to be the fulfillment of Simeon’s words, “a Light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the Glory of God’s people Israel.”

You can tell that the Magi were thinking in terms of an earthly king, because the first place they go in Israel is to the capital city, to Jerusalem.  “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  That’s where they expect to find Him.  But the Messiah King is not one who comes surrounded by the finery and the glories of the capital.  He comes rather in the lowliness of the humble village of Bethlehem.

Our fallen nature thinks God is to be found in places of power, that true religion is about that which brings health and wealth and success and happy feelings.  But that’s not where Jesus is at.  Herod has all that.  Jesus, on the other hand, ends up having to flee from Herod’s murderous scheme, carted by Joseph and Mary to exile in Egypt for a time, living an ordinary and common life for us.  The life of the true and eternal King is marked from the beginning by suffering and the cross.  That’s where Jesus is, not surrounded by earthly glory, but robed in humility for us.  True religion still today is also marked not by political power and victories, but by this humility of Jesus.  The church is not dependent on what happens in the capital but on what happens right here in divine service.

It’s very important to note in this story the difference between the Gentile wise men and the Jewish priests and scribes.  On the one hand, the Jews who possessed the Scriptures in their fullness and knew the prophecies of the Messiah were greatly troubled at the thought that the Messiah was born.  It says here that King Herod and all Jerusalem was troubled by this news.  That seems a little strange, doesn’t it?  You would think they might be glad, joyful.  You would think that they would want to personally escort the wise men to Bethlehem so that they could see for themselves.  Instead, they’re more concerned about how this might upset their lives and the political structure.  Instead, they quote the Scripture they know so well and stay home.  

This still happens today.  Far too many people think that if you just learn enough facts from the Bible, or learn enough morality from the Bible, then you're all good.  You can stay at home with your private spirituality and forsake the presence of Christ in the flesh in His gathered Church.  But such people are sorely deceived; they are not Christian.  We also must guard against priding ourselves on our Bible knowledge or our good living rather than glorying in the One whom the Bible is all about, our Savior Jesus.  We must be careful not to let God’s Word simply become window-dressing in our lives lest we stop praying and meditating upon it.  

The Magi are our example here.  They receive the Word of God properly, in such a way that they are moved to seek out Christ in the flesh.  The Magi rely on the written Word, but they are not content with the Bible for its own sake.  They cling to it for the sake of Christ to whom it leads them.  That is always the purpose of the Word, to lead us to the Word made flesh, Jesus.  He is there for us, too, concretely and tangibly in the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments, no less so than He was for these Wise Men.

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  That title, “King of the Jews” might well spark some connections to Holy Week in your hearts and minds.  It’s actually a title that only shows up in two places in the Gospel–here at the beginning of Jesus’ life, and later at the end of Jesus’ life.  And the two situations are parallel. The Jewish King Herod was envious and tried to protect His power when Jesus was born, seeking to have Him killed; He ordered the deaths of all the boys two years old and under in Bethlehem.  So also in the Passion narrative, we hear of how the Jewish leaders handed Jesus over to Pontius Pilate because of envy.  They, too, wanted to protect their position and political power.  In both cases it’s the Gentiles who see Jesus more clearly as He is.  Pilate finds no fault in Him, and Pilate’s wife even calls Jesus a just Man.  But in the end, Pilate caves to the pressure, and in fulfillment of God’s will, perhaps to mock the Jewish leaders, He places over our Lord’s head the inscription “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”  

So near the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we are given a crystal clear answer to the Magi’s question at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel.  “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  He is there, the humble Child, God in the flesh, the light of God’s love broken into the darkness of our sinful world.  And above all, He is there on the cross, with the inscription over his head declaring it.  He is the King who is given gold for His royal nature but who chooses to wear the crown of thorns.  He is the King who is given incense, used at the time of prayer and sacrifice, who answers our prayers by being the sacrifice for the sins of the world.  He is the King who is given myrrh, a spice used for Jesus’ burial in the grave, which He would conquer in His victorious resurrection.  This Jesus, the King of the Jews, has come to redeem all people–wise men from the east, Roman conquerors from the west, Jew and Gentile, you and me.

God grant that His Word would continually accomplish its purpose of leading you to the Word made flesh in this new year, that with the Magi we might come and kneel before Jesus week by week as He gives His gifts to us, His true body and blood offered up for the forgiveness of sins.  For just as the Wise Men returned home by a different path, walking along a new way, so God gives you also to return by a different path than the old ways of this world.  You are given to return home by Christ Himself, for He is the Way and the Truth and the Life for you.  Behold your King!

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

All-Powerful Weakness

Matthew 2:13-23

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

As we approach the end of the Christmas season on this 9th/10th day of Christmas, we recognize that it is a season of great mysteries.  There are so many things about it which to human logic seem would to contradict each other but are true nonetheless.  A virgin has a baby.  God, whom all the heavens cannot contain, lies contained in a manger.  The exalted King of the universe is first worshiped by lowly shepherds.  And in today’s Gospel, we are presented with another mystery directly related to those:  In Christ, God is both weak and all-powerful.  He is controlled by circumstances, and yet He is in control of everything.  Today we are going to look more deeply at this reality and discover that within this mystery there is a great deal of comfort to be found for our own seemingly contradictory lives.

One thing that comes through loud and clear in this passage is that Jesus was vulnerable, at risk of being hurt or killed.  First, He has to be whisked away in the middle of the night to escape the murderous reach of King Herod, as the angel warned Joseph.  Just imagine that, the Son of God having to escape under the cover of darkness and flee to Egypt!  And then, even after Herod dies, Jesus isn’t completely safe, since Herod’s son Archelaus is on the throne in Judea.  And so, being warned in a dream, Joseph took the child and His mother north, to an area outside of Archelaus’ territory in Nazareth of Galilee.  Clearly, as a true human being, Jesus was vulnerable to danger and death.  By all appearances, it would seem that circumstances were beyond His control.

And yet as we read through this passage we discover that all of this occurred in fulfillment of prophecy, according to God’s plan.  What at first appeared to be an unwanted vacation in Egypt turned out to be a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  God's eternal will was here being carried out.

And this is not just some minor prophetic detail.  The fact that the Messiah was to come out of the land of Egypt was a significant part of God’s plan to save mankind.  For Hosea’s prophecy was originally spoken concerning the entire nation of Israel.  You recall that the Israelites were once a nation of slaves under the rule of the Pharaoh in Egypt.  But despite their condition, God chose them to be His own people and powerfully saved them from their bondage.  He brought them safely out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and finally led them into the Promised Land.

That is why it was important that Jesus also would be called from Egypt.  For it was His task to be the embodiment of God’s people, to do perfectly and without sin what Israel had failed to do.  The children of Israel had grumbled against God and complained and rebelled against Him.  They did not live as His holy people or glorify His name among the nations.  But now the Child of Israel, Jesus, has come to do that perfectly, accomplishing God’s will completely on behalf of Israel and all people.  So in the seeming minor detail of the calling of Jesus out of Egypt, we see that He was fulfilling the Law for us, actively doing all that was necessary to rescue us.  Jesus is the new Jacob, the new Israel, going down to Egypt and coming up again to be our Redeemer.

And we also find that there was an important reason for why the holy family had to live in Nazareth in Galilee.  Though political circumstances seem to have put them there, God reveals to us that all of this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophets, “He will be called a Nazarene.”  Again, we see that God was working in and through the complexity of human events to accomplish His good and perfect will.

But why would it be that Jesus had to be a Nazarene?  Well, in the Old Testament we learn that, paradoxically, the Messiah would be humble and ultimately even despised.  And if there was ever a lowly town in Israel, one that you didn’t want to admit you were from, it was Nazareth.  Because it was an obscure little town and very near Gentile territory, Nazareth and its inhabitants practically became interchangeable with the word “despised.”  Even one of Jesus' own disciples once said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  That is why Jesus was a Nazarene, because the Messiah was to be humble and despised.

All of this, then, brings us to the cross.  For if there is anything in the Scriptures which epitomizes both the all-powerfulness of God and the weakness of God, it is the crucifixion of Jesus.  On the one hand we know that the cross was a part of God’s plan from the beginning.  It was His almighty will that the events of Good Friday take place.  And yet, when it actually happened, God the Son was utterly helpless.  This time He didn’t escape from the murderous authorities.  There He was, so horribly vulnerable to the taunting and the nails and the spear and the death–completely despised and rejected.  Nevertheless, through that all-powerful weakness, God paid the full price for our sins and brought eternal life to all who dare to worship and place their confidence in Him.

And that brings us finally to the place where we can apply all of this very directly to our own lives.  For since we have been joined to Christ by water and the Word, this mystery of Christ’s power and weakness shows in our own lives as well.

We see that first of all in the paradox that we are at the same time both saints and sinners.  No matter how much we may desire to lead God-pleasing lives in thought and word and deed, we know the truth of what St. Paul said in Romans 7, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”  That’s no excuse, but the reality is that we are constantly vulnerable to the attacks and temptations of sin, of failing to do what we should, and of doing what we shouldn’t.  At first glance it would seem as if we are under the same eternal curse as the rest of this fallen world.  And yet God’s almighty Word has declared us righteous and holy for the sake of Christ.  We are saints in God’s sight.  Time and time again in Scripture, the Christians at various churches are referred to as “the saints” in this or that place–because of the holiness of Christ which has been placed upon them and which they trust in.  And so it is with you; you who believe are the saints at Mt. Zion, for you are forgiven and holy in Christ.  Even in that Romans 7 passage where St. Paul is lamenting his sinful condition, he points us to our sure hope when he says, “O wretched man that I am!  Who will save me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord!”  Though you are sinners, you are nevertheless declared to be pure and righteous in Jesus.

The almighty weakness of our lives as children of God also shows itself in everyday events.  Much of what happens to us is beyond our control and seems quite random.  Some have had loved ones die recently.  Others have been having a rough time of it in their families, with their spouse or children or parents.  Still others have been struggling with tough situations at work or in their neighborhoods.  There often doesn’t seem to be much order or purpose to the way things happen.

And yet into the midst of this messy and complex world comes God’s Word to us in Romans 8: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”  Not only in Jesus’ day, but also still today, God is active in human history working out His good and perfect will.  God is certainly not the cause of sin or evil or trouble.  But nevertheless, God is not above delving into this sinful and fallen and troublesome world to direct all things for the sake of His chosen ones.

And so we trust that despite any appearances to the contrary, God is with us and graciously working in our lives.  For we are the called ones, chosen in Holy Baptism, made to be the forgiven children of God.  Even in the midst of your human vulnerability, God is working out His almighty will for your benefit.

As you look back on your lives, I’m sure that you can think of an example where that was the case.  A time of trouble or suffering strengthened your faith in God.  A seeming setback turned out to be an opportunity for something new and better.  A chance meeting brought you your spouse or a good friend.  Whether or not you realize it, you have all experienced God's gracious working in your lives.

And in those times when you can’t make sense of things, when you feel like the parents of Bethlehem, whose infant children were slaughtered before their eyes, when there seems to be no valid purpose or meaning to what’s going on in your lives, God points your eyes again to the cross.  For there in that greatest display of God’s all-powerful weakness, there in that senseless and yet most meaningful death of Jesus, you are assured that God’s love for you is limitless and unshakable.  There is nothing in all of creation that can separate you the love of God in Christ.

In fact, the Lord comes so near to you with His love that He actually gives Himself into you in the Sacrament of the Altar.  He imparts to you His very own life with His body and blood.  If the almighty Lord would go so far as to take on your vulnerable human flesh, to die in the flesh and shed His blood, and then give you His resurrected flesh and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, then certainly you can trust Him even in those times when there seems to be no reasonable answers to your questions.  For in the end, the answer to all of those questions, the solution to all of those problems is the One in the manger and on the cross and under the bread and the wine.  It may not all make logical sense to you, but it is the truth of the mystery of the Gospel.  There in that marvelous paradox of Christ is your strength to live for 2021.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

The Birth of Jesus Restores Your Humanity

Luke 2:1-20

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

People like to say when they make mistakes, “Well, I’m only human!”  But that’s not right.  The problem is not that we’re human.  The problem is that we’re less than human, that we’ve lost our humanity.  Ever since the fall into sin, we’ve become a shadow of what we were created to be–still in the image of God, but now the image is broken, like a cracked mirror.  What we actually need is to become more human, to get our full humanity back.

This Christmas 2020, we are of course still in the midst of a pandemic, which is a living metaphor of what the fall into sin has done to our humanity.  COVID cuts us off from each other.  We can’t shake hands or embrace.  Our faces are covered up so that we don’t truly see each other.  We keep our distance.  There is stress and conflict as we fear our neighbors as if they’re walking bioweapons.  Most importantly of all, many are cut off from the fellowship of the Church, from the communion of the body and blood of Christ.  Of course, the precautions we are taking may indeed be necessary as short-term measures to deal with the virus and to show love to our neighbors–we don’t deny that.  But the effects of the virus physically are a reminder of what has happened to mankind spiritually.  Even for all our efforts to “stay safe” and preserve life, we can sense that we’ve lost some important elements of our humanity along the way.  

"Emmanuel Altarpiece" by Edward Riojas

So perhaps this year more than most years, we can find deeper joy and meaning in the good news of the Christmas message.  For what we are celebrating tonight is not merely a birthday.  We are celebrating the fact that God has embraced our humanity in order to redeem it and ennoble it and raise it up.  The Son of God took up our flesh and blood, our body and soul, and was born of the Virgin Mary in order to sanctify us and make us holy and right again.  He shared fully in our humanity in order that we might share fully in His divine life.  

When it comes right down to it, Jesus is the only one who can say that He is truly human, without any sin polluting or corrupting His nature.  And the joyous message of this night is that by embracing your humanity and joining it His divinity, He has made the way for you to become truly human again.  His birth cleanses you and gives you new birth.  Through faith in Jesus, the image of God is restored to you.   Baptized into His body, you find your humanity again.

That’s what you’re looking at when you see the baby in the manger. You are seeing your life restored to God.  You are seeing peace and reconciliation between God and man.  For Jesus is both God and man in one undivided person.  The unmasked, unveiled face of this holy Child is both the face of God and the face of redeemed humanity.  The breath of this newborn baby brings healing.  For this Jesus will grow up to breathe out words that are spirit and life.  Here is God not keeping His distance from us.  Here is God with us, Emmanuel, God so close to us that He shares in our very life, our flesh and bones.

So the Christmas message is not only given to the shepherds this holy night, it is given to each and every one of you.

To you who are faint-hearted, to you who are weary, to you who feel the burden of your sins: To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who Himself will become weary, who will bear your heavy load to set you free.

To you who are broken-hearted, to you whose loved ones are far away, to you who feel depressed and downcast and taken advantage of: To you is born this day in the city of David of Savior, who is near to those who are have a broken heart and saves those who are crushed in spirit, whose heart will be pierced for you on the cross to mend you.  

To you who are fearful, to you who are burdened by the darkness of doubt, to you who are struggling with bodily pains and chronic ailments: To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who will go through the valley of the shadow of death for you to bring you through it all and into the light of the resurrection of the body.

To you who have wandered from the Lord, to you who have squandered what the Lord has given you, to you who feel useless and cut off: To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, the Shepherd who has become a little lamb in order to restore you to the flock so that you may dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  

And to you who are puffed up and proud, to you who have arrogantly trusted in your own merits and strength: To you also is born this day in the city of David a Savior, born in humility so that you might learn to humble yourselves, that the Lord might lift you up in due time.

To a world full of anger and conflict and anxiety, out of heaven comes the angelic message: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”  God is glorified in the high places by sending His Son to us in the depths.  To you is born this day the Prince of Peace, God and man brought back together in Him.

To the helpless ones is born this day the Helper.  To the sons of Adam is born this day the new Adam.  To those battered by the storms of life is born the One who stilled the storms with a word.  Are you weak? Look, Jesus becomes weak for you!  Are you sad? Look, Jesus comes to share your sadness, and to give you His joy in return!  You who are dying, see in the manger your Life!  You who are lonely, see in the manger the Friend of the outcast and the forsaken!  You who are unrighteous, see in the manger your Righteousness, freely given to you as a gift!  Behold in that feeding trough the Living Bread from heaven, born in Beth-lehem, the house of bread, in order that even beasts like us might feed on Him and become human again and live forever.

So put every dark thought out of your mind this night.  For the Lord has heard your prayers and your cries.  This Child comes to you and says, “Peace be with you! Do not be afraid. I have come for you to save you. You matter to Me.  You are My treasured people. I have come to be your life.  Do not be anxious.  Take heart!”

A blessed and merry Christmas, then, to you all.  For your humanity has been restored in Jesus.  There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠ 

With thanks to Christopher Esget

"Emmanuel Altarpiece" by Edward Riojas

Light in the Darkness

Matthew 11:2-11

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

There is a painting by Matthias Grunewald that depicts Jesus on the cross and John the Baptist to one side.  John had actually already been martyred before Good Friday, but the artist makes an important theological point by depicting John the Baptist with a larger than life hand and finger pointing at Jesus as if to say, “Focus your attention on Him; behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Everything John the Baptist did was about Jesus, even when he was still in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. He leaped for joy when, while yet an unborn child, he heard the greeting of the Blessed Virgin Mary, come to visit her cousin Elizabeth. John knew that his Lord, God in the flesh, was near, and so he danced in her womb, and Elizabeth knew this was no ordinary kicking that a baby does.  John knew the Messiah.

And later, when he made the wilderness his home and made locusts and wild honey his food, despite the crowds that had amassed from all around to hear him preach and receive his baptism–John knew that suffering was in his future.   After all, if Jesus is the Lamb of God who will be sacrificed, what will happen to the forerunner of the Lamb?  John would later say of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

However, when that decrease came, when John was thrown into prison for preaching against King Herod’s adultery, John’s disciples may have become more than a little distraught at what was happening.  John had been languishing there now for many months. “If Jesus were really the Messiah, wouldn’t He free John from prison or do something to help him?  What’s going on?” Such was the darkness of their thoughts.

Our own thoughts are prone to similar darkness. Afflicted with degenerating bodies, strained relationships, or an uncertain economic future, there is the darkness of our hearts, prone from their core towards sin. It is the darkness of lust that drives you like an animal; the darkness of greed and envy that has you measuring life by what you possess and idolizing things; the darkness of loneliness, resentment, bitterness, and despair that has you wondering if the promises of God are real.  Why am I suffering?  Why doesn’t Jesus do something?

The Christmas cookies, the drinks, the sentimental Christmas shows and music, the delivery guy arriving with a package you ordered, that pushes back the darkness, but it is only for a moment. The darkness always returns. And the only ending, it seems, is the final darkness of closed eyes in a casket.  All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers and the flower fades.  

Repent, then; turn from the shallow emptiness of this world, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  The King Himself is near.  There is only one remedy for the darkness of our souls, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. To Him we pray every year during this Advent tide, “Lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.”

That advent, that visitation of our Lord Jesus, is the ultimate cause for all true rejoicing.  This Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday, rejoicing Sunday, for the words of St. Paul ring out in the Introit, “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Rejoice in every circumstance, every time, both good and bad, and especially when the darkness of our hearts seems as if it will suffocate and overwhelm us.

Now that is not to say that the Christian faith is built on the power of positive thinking, on having a “Don’t worry, be happy” attitude.  Rather, we “rejoice in the Lord always” precisely because “the Lord is at hand.”  The Light is here that pierces the darkness, even the darkness of a dungeon.

In the midst of tribulation and uncertainty, John sent his disciples to ask Jesus a question, and by doing that He pointed them to Him.  That’s where he would point us still to this day in the midst of our doubts and troubles and uncertainties.  Look to Jesus.  And so Jesus’ reply in today’s Gospel is for us, too, “Report to John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”  

Notice what kind of people Jesus came for–not those who are proud in their own righteousness and self-sufficiency, but the weak and the helpless and the unrighteous.  Are you beginning to lose your sight or your hearing?  Are your legs and your arms not working like they used to?  Are you contending with some ailment or disease?  Are you living from paycheck to paycheck?  Do you feel unclean?  Do you sense the death in you that sin brings?  Then Jesus is for you.  He took on your flesh and blood in order to redeem your humanity, to cleanse you, to restore you in both body and soul to the fullness of His resurrection life.

In Jesus’ response there was one phrase in particular that both John and his disciples needed to hear.  Our Lord sees into the days ahead when these men will be weeping and brokenhearted, when John is put to death so cruelly and senselessly.  Jesus’ reply contained these precious words:  “and the dead are raised up.”  John would rejoice at those words too, and maybe they were the last words he whispered to himself when the sword was raised to behead him:  “The dead are raised up.”  With their beloved John dead, where else could they turn, but to the One who raises the dead–back to the One whose every deed revealed the secret that He is the Lord in our flesh and blood, the Eternal Son of the Father come to save us from sin and death.

The dead are raised up.  That’s a word that we need to hear, too, especially in these darker days as Christmas approaches when griefs and burdens can weigh heavier.  We remember those we love, whose presence brightened our days who are separated from us either by distance or because they are now departed from this life.  John sends us to Jesus, because only Jesus can give us what we need.  Only He is the God who came to know all our sorrows, who lightens our darkness, who forgives sin and raises the dead.

“Comfort my people,” says your God.  Cry out to the church that her warfare is ended.  All that you’ve been battling–the world and its troubling ways, the devil with His damnable lies, your own flesh that wants you to give in to the enemy–know that the Lord has taken up the battle for you, and in Him the war is already won.  Blessed are all those who take refuge in Him.  

Though the grass withers and the flower fades, Jesus took the withering curse of sin into His own body and He broke the curse, putting it to death on the cross.  All the power of the devil to drag you down to hell, all the power of sin to condemn you was completely destroyed and abolished in Jesus.  Your iniquity is pardoned, freely, abundantly; you have received from the Lord’s hand double forgiveness for all your sins.  That Word of God spoken to you stands forever, even as Jesus Himself stands forever, risen and reigning at the Father’s right hand.  Deliverance is coming!  On the Last Day, the deaf will hear and the blind will see, the lame will run and dance, and the diseased will be healed, for the dead in Christ will rise to everlasting life. No man was greater than John the Baptist, and yet the most insignificant participant in that glorious resurrection is even greater.

Like John’s disciples, then, you are now given a mission.  Go, tell your neighbor, locked in the dungeon of sin and death, what you have seen and heard from the mouth of Jesus: that their sin is covered, that they have been put right with God, that there is light in the darkness, and life in death, and meaning in suffering, and gain in loss all thanks to Jesus. Tell your neighbor about the signs–sinners cleansed from the leprosy of sin in Baptism, the dead raised to life by the word of forgiveness, the hungry and thirsty refreshed by the Body and Blood of the Lamb, given and shed for the life of the world.

Blessed is the one who is not offended because of Jesus or His cross. Blessed is the one who sees the light of Christ in the darkness. Blessed are you, trusting that Jesus is the One who is to come and you need not look for another.  The Lord is at hand, here at the altar. Here is your Comfort.  Here “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(With thanks to the Rev. Christopher Esget)

Jesus and St. Nicholas

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

When you listen to the music of the season on the radio, it’s often hard to tell whose coming we’re getting ready for.  Is it “Santa Claus is coming to town,” or is it “Savior of the Nations, Come”?  Whose arrival are we focused on and most eager for, St. Nick or Jesus?  Of course, I would certainly hope that for you it’s the latter of those two–especially during this Advent tide where we are preparing not only for Jesus’ coming at Christmas but also for His return on the Last Day.  A merely secular observance of the “magic” of Christmas, where everything is about fairy tales and nothing is about the Christ of the Christ mass–that’s ultimately a hollow holiday.  

But perhaps there is a way to recognize both Santa Claus and Jesus today in their proper place.  For December 6th is observed in the church as St. Nicholas Day.  And that, of course, is where the name Santa Claus comes from–Santa is the word for Saint, and Claus comes from a shortened form in Dutch of the word Nicholas.  Santa Claus, St. Nicholas.

Nicholas was an actual person who lived in the late 200's and early 300's A.D.  St. Nicholas was born into a wealthy family in Asia Minor, what is now Turkey.  Having become a Christian, He chose not to pursue a life of riches but instead he devoted himself to the church.  He eventually became bishop of a city called Myra.  Myra was a decadent and corrupt city, and Nicholas became well known for transforming it by his pious hard work and preaching the Word of Christ.

St. Nicholas was also known for his love for those in need, such as poor widows and orphaned children.  As bishop he saw to it that the church worked to care for the needy.  Perhaps his giving of gifts, especially to impoverished children, is part of what formed the Santa Claus tradition.

And there is one story in particular about Nicholas that stands out above the rest and is the  most famous.  There was a very poor man in the city of Myra who had three daughters.  This man did not have any money to provide his daughters with suitable dowries necessary for them to get married.  Without being able to marry, they seemed destined to be sold into slavery or prostitution.  Nicholas was deeply troubled about this and decided to help.  But he did so in a way that wouldn’t draw attention to himself.  Nicholas prepared three small bags of gold.  He went to this man’s house and threw a bag of gold into one of the open windows–enough for the first daughter to be married.  Then, the day after her wedding, he threw a second bag of gold into the window, enough for the second daughter.  And after her marriage, likewise a third bag of gold for the last daughter.  Later on when this story was told in colder regions, Nicholas was portrayed dropping the bags of gold down the chimney.  Still to this day three golden bags or golden spheres are the sign of a pawnbroker, in remembrance of how Nicholas bought these three daughters out of hock, you might say, redeeming and rescuing them from the fate that awaited them.

There are many more accounts of Nicholas helping others, too.  For instance, once there were three men who were falsely accused of a crime and sentenced to death.  But Nicholas stepped in and spoke in their defense and was able to secure their release and give them their lives back.  

It’s interesting that in all the stories of St. Nicholas that I’ve seen, the number three keeps popping up–three daughters without dowries, three falsely accused men, three sailors whom he rescued from drowning.  And this is fitting.  For Nicholas was one who was a defender of the Trinitarian faith, someone who proclaimed belief in the only true God who is threefold, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

In fact, it is quite likely that St. Nicholas was one of the bishops present at the Council of Nicea which defended and confirmed the teaching that Jesus is both true God and true man.  It is from this council in 325 A.D. that we get the Nicene Creed which we confess here each week.  A certain false preacher named Arius was teaching that Jesus was not of the same substance as the Father, that the Son of God was a created being, god-like but not true God.  The Council of Nicea roundly rejected that heresy and reaffirmed the Scriptural position that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human in one undivided person, true God from all eternity.  In fact, there is a story that at the Nicene Council Nicholas became so upset with Arius’s heresy that he slapped him in the face.  The main way to get on the naughty list with St. Nicholas, it seems, is to believe or proclaim false teaching.

This is how we should remember St. Nicholas, as a defender of the Christian faith, faith in Christ the Son of God as the only Savior from sin and death and the devil.  Nicholas preached Jesus, baptized people into Jesus’ body, absolved people of their sins in Jesus’ name, fed them with the life-giving body and blood of Jesus.  That’s the real St. Nicholas.  He wasn’t a Santa Claus taking attention away from Jesus.  He was a preacher drawing everyone’s attention to Jesus, reminding everyone that Christ is coming again.  He wasn’t one making a list and checking it twice to see who was naughty and who was nice.  For he knew that his people were both sinners and saints at the same time and that all desperately needed Christ’s forgiveness and mercy.  

By God’s grace the love of Christ was shown forth both in St. Nicholas’ preaching and also in his life.  We give attention to the generous deeds of Nicholas because that ultimately draws our attention to the infinitely generous love that he himself first received from God.  It was that love of God that was working through Nicholas in his life.  

After all, just consider his deeds.  Nicholas sacrificed and gave of his own resources to save the three daughters.  Is that not what Jesus did for us?  He sacrificed and gave Himself for us to rescue us from being eternally violated by death and the devil.  He redeemed us not with bags of gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  So it is that the church is now worthy and prepared to be His holy bride.

Likewise, Nicholas stood in to defend those facing death, risking his own name and reputation.  Is that not what Jesus did and still does for us?  He stood between us and eternal death on the cross and thereby kept us from having to suffer that most capital of all punishments.  Furthermore, the Scriptures say that even now Jesus is standing before the Father as our advocate, speaking in our defense, responding to every charge laid against us with the merits of His own blood and righteousness.  Through Him we are set free to be people of God.

The same love of Christ that was at work in St. Nicholas is at work also in you.  For in your baptism you were crucified with Christ; and you no longer live, but Christ lives in you and through you.  The Lord is working so that His boundless love which has been shown to you might spill over to others, in the giving of yourself, in the giving of gifts–not so that you can feel good about yourself, but so that your giving might be anonymous and entirely for the good of others, like a bag of gold through an open window at night.  That’s why I think it is a fine tradition for someone who gives an anonymous gift to say that it’s from Santa Claus, St. Nicholas.  For such a gift is given in a spirit that reflects the love of Christ as Nicholas did, and ultimately it seeks to give glory not to ourselves but to God who is the true Giver of every good and perfect gift.  

So if St. Nicholas were here today, he would draw your attention to the Christ child in the manger–given to us almost anonymously, noticed only by shepherds on that night.  But hidden within the wrapping of His lowly humanity dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily full of grace and mercy.  Jesus is Love in the flesh for you.  There is no greater present than that.  That is the ultimate gift St. Nicholas sought to give.

And if Nicholas were here today, he would also draw your attention to the fact that this same Jesus is going to return to judge the living and the dead; He is coming back.  When you see signs of the end, when everything in this world seems to be in a state of upheaval, when creation itself appears to be coming apart at the seams, then look up and lift up your heads.  For this fallen world will finally pass away on the Last Day, the curse of sorrow and death will be lifted, and the new creation which we have set our hearts on will finally come to be.  St. Nicholas would urge you not to be ensnared by the things of this world, but to watch and pray.  “When you see these things happening, look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draws near.”  Your Redeemer is coming; He is at the very gates.

And in fact St. Nicholas actually is here today and every time we gather for divine service.  For in Christ’s presence dwell angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, all the saints and believers who have gone before us.  They gather with us around the altar at the Holy Sacrament. That’s the symbolism of the curved altar rail.  The circle is completed unseen on the other side of the altar.  Thank God that St. Nicholas is no fairy tale, that He is alive in Christ.  He lives forever because, just like you, he was baptized and believed in Jesus, who was born, and died, and rose for us all, and who is coming again to bring our redemption to its fulfillment.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus’ words will by no means pass away.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Content in All Circumstances

Philippians 4:6-13

✠ In the name Jesus ✠

It may feel a little bit strange to be gathering today for a service of Thanksgiving–and not just because everyone’s trying to make you feel like you’re doing something wrong by coming to church. It feels odd because this is 2020.  What are we supposed to be thankful for in this year where everything seems to have come unraveled?  2020 is the year of political upheaval and social conflict and a pandemic that is upending so much of our lives and leaving people feeling isolated and uncertain.  How are we supposed to give thanks in the midst of all that?  

First of all, it may be helpful to remember that this national day of Thanksgiving was established by President Lincoln in 1863, right smack dab in the middle of the Civil War.  We can learn something from that Thanksgiving proclamation.  After recounting all the blessings that the nation was experiencing in spite of the war, Lincoln said:

“No human counsel has devised nor has any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, has nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States . . . to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwells in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation . . .”

Those words are certainly still fitting.  And those words are consistent with what St. Paul says in today’s Epistle reading about giving thanks and being content in all circumstances.  Remember that Paul was in prison at the time he wrote this letter, in chains for preaching the Gospel of Christ.  He was guarded 24 hours a day and was confined to his shackles.  Now how could a man like that ever possibly be content or thankful?  And in the same way how are we to have an attitude of gratitude in the midst of hardship, when we don’t feel the mercy of the Lord?  What about when people have lost loved ones, or when their health is poor, or when relationships are strained, or when the financial situation seems to be in doubt?  What then?  Paul gives his answer, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances . . . whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all things through (Christ) who gives me strength.”

Paul wasn’t just engaging in optimistic thinking or trying to channel some nebulous “positive energy.”  Nor was he looking within himself to find his source of contentment and peace.  There was no “indomitable human spirit” here overcoming adversity.  On the contrary, St. Paul often spoke of his many weaknesses.  Remember that he said, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  The Apostle could be content and thankful even while in custody because he knew that, regardless of the circumstances in which he found himself, he belonged to the Lord Jesus, the One from whom he had received forgiveness of sins and deliverance from death and the devil, the One who had seen him through many difficult times before.  St. Paul wrote elsewhere, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, I am convinced that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Jesus Himself said, “I know My sheep and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”  There’s the source of strength for real thanksgiving to God, the mercy of the Lord which endures forever and which will never pass away.

St. Paul used some very fitting imagery here.  He said, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  The picture that is painted here is that of a military sentry standing watch at his post.  Just as Paul, in a negative sense, was being guarded by the Roman soldiers, so also all believers, in a positive sense, are guarded and watched over by the peace that comes from God.  Those who are in Christ Jesus by faith are in God’s “protective custody.”  And so despite Paul’s imprisonment, he knew that he was being guarded by an even greater force.  He was uplifted and surrounded by the peace of God, just as you are who have been baptized into Christ’s holy name.

And this peace of God is not just a fleeting feeling, either.  Rather, it is the restored relationship that we now have with God, the reconciliation that took place between us and Him through the cross of Christ.  Prior to the redeeming work of Jesus, we were in rebellion against God through our sin.  The status of our relationship with Him was one of war.  We wanted to be independent of Him and govern ourselves.  But then the Prince of Peace came.  By Christ’s sacrificial death at Calvary, all of our war crimes were atoned for.  And by His glorious resurrection, we were raised up into a right and restored relationship with God our Father.

You are at peace with God, then, in Christ.  Your sins have all been answered for by Jesus.  God is on your side.  Heaven is yours in Him who is seated at the right hand of the Father.  Your conscience is at rest by the virtue of His blood.  You know by faith that God will work all things, even the bad things, for your eternal good.  He strengthens and brings you closer to Himself through affliction.  He disciplines the ones He loves, you who are His redeemed children.  That is the true source of your contentment, regardless of your current circumstances in life.  That is the ultimate spring from which your thanksgiving to God flows this day, the peace of God which guards you, the peace of the Lord which is with you always in the holy Eucharist.  As the life-giving body and blood of Christ and His saving Word dwell in you richly, you are made able to give thanks to God the Father always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus.

So if your health is good or has been restored, if you have all that you need of food and clothing and shelter, if you have friends and family to lean on, give thanks to God.  And if your health is not so good and you’re struggling with ongoing physical issues, if you feel isolated or unsettled, if the finances are tight and stressful, give thanks to God, too.  For He is at work with you to accomplish His good and gracious will for you.  The One who suffered for you is with you in your struggles.  He will never leave you or forsake you.  Trust in Him.  You are not alone.  Paul wrote in Romans 5, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Thanks be to God that no matter what your circumstances are, He has given you every blessing and every good gift in Christ the crucified.

At the end of today’s service, we will sing the familiar hymn “Now Thank We All Our God.”  It was written in the early 1600's by a man named Martin Rinckart.  Just like the author of last Sunday’s sermon hymn, Rinckart wrote his hymn during an epidemic in which thousands died, including his own beloved wife.  During those days he lived in desperate circumstances, barely able to provide food and clothing for his children.  But he did not give way to despair.  Trusting in Christ the Redeemer, he was made able even then to praise and thank the Father in heaven, to speak of the “countless gifts of love” of the Lord who “still is ours today.”  Like Job, he was able to say in faith, “The Lord gave; the Lord has taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  Our thanksgiving is not based primarily on the circumstances of our life.  Our thanksgiving is based first and foremost on our fellowship with God, that we have been reconciled to Him through the precious blood of the Lamb.  Every single one of us, then, has reason to give thanks to God this day, because when it comes to the most important things, eternal things, we’ve been blessed beyond our comprehension.

And the fact of the matter is that also when it comes to temporal things, we have been blessed abundantly, too.  We may not have every single thing that we want, but we do have everything that we need.  God provides richly for all of our daily needs, granting us food and medicine and clothing and shelter, in a country which yet remains a great nation, one in which we are still able to worship the true God openly and without fear.  We have much for which to be thankful to God.  And our thanksgiving for these temporal things is deepened and enriched by all of the eternal blessings that are ours through the Word.

May God grant us, then, hearts full of gratitude, so that this day and every day, the words of St. Paul may be our own: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. . .  whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all things through (Christ) who gives me strength.”  

✠ In the name Jesus ✠

A Thief in the Night

I Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:1-13

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

We heard it last week from St. Peter.  We hear it again today from St. Paul.  “The day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night.”  Our Lord Himself says the same thing in the book of Revelation, “Behold, I am coming as a thief.”  That’s an odd sort of image to associate with our Savior Jesus.  But there is something for us to learn from the fact that our Lord comes to us like a bandit, a criminal.  

Thievery is something we would more readily associate with the devil.  For Satan is indeed the thief and swindler of humanity.  He came to us in the garden like a con-man, flattering with his tongue, smooth-talking.  He told our first parents that they were missing out on a great deal that God was keeping to Himself.  If they would just eat of the forbidden fruit, then they would be like God themselves.  Turning them from God’s words to his own deceitful words, the devil robbed them blind.  He stole away their humanity and pilfered the glory in which they were created.  

That’s why you sons of Adam and daughters of Eve find yourselves in your present fallen state.  We are now less than human, a disordered version of what we were created to be.  We can sometimes feel that in our very souls, that things just aren’t right.  Instead of being fully human creatures under our good Creator, and honoring Him above all things, we would rather be like God, running our own lives, doing things our own way, following our own ideas.  The result for us is the same as it was for Adam, a less than human existence too often marked by anger and disrespect and lusts and jealousies and petty grudges and gossip and selfishness.  The human race has been mugged by the serpent and left to die.

However, just as God often punishes one thief by another thief in this world, so that the robber ends up losing what he stole, so also God punishes the devil by sending His Son as a thief.  The Son of God became man for that very purpose, to steal and snatch back our lost humanity from the evil one and to restore us to fellowship with God again.  

Just think of how our Lord entered into this world.  It wasn’t with great fanfare.  Instead, He came like a thief–quietly, hidden in the shadows, with nobody but some shepherds noticing His arrival.  Jesus came on the scene under cover, secretly, like a holy burglar, to win back for you what the devil stole away.  

By becoming human, by taking on your body and soul, Jesus cleansed your humanity with His divine holiness.  God has greatly exalted you by becoming not an angel or any other creature but a human person, your blood brother.  He partook fully of your humanity so that in Him you might become truly human again.  

Jesus was born like a thief, and He also died like a thief.  For He was crucified between two robbers.  And in fact that’s what He was.  Not only did He come to rob the devil of his victory over you, He accomplished that by robbing you of your sin.  He stole away from you every uncleanness, every damnable failure to love, along with every hurtful and evil thing that has been done to you.  He robbed you of it all, took it as His own, and demolished it in His cross.  It was by death that Satan stole away man’s glory; and so it is by the death of Christ and His resurrection to life again that the glory of man is recaptured and that your humanity is restored.  

And today’s Epistle reminds us that there’s one last thing our Lord is going to do like a thief.  He’s going to come back to this world suddenly and unexpectedly.  A robber doesn’t announce when he’s coming.  He tries to catch people unawares.  In fact Jesus once said, “If the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”  

Jesus is coming back to bring judgment on the unbelieving world.  We don’t know when it’s going to be, but He has said, “Surely, I am coming soon.”  We are given to watch for Christ’s return and to be looking out for it as much as if we were on the lookout for a thief who was coming to our house.  We are to be prepared for Jesus’ arrival so that it will a day of joy and not of fear.

Be on guard, then, against being lulled into a sense of complacency while you wait for that Day.  This is what Paul speaks of in the Epistle, “For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman.  And they shall not escape.”  Beware of that worldly way of thinking which lives for the moment without a view to Jesus’ return. For that is precisely the attitude of the five foolish virgins in the Gospel.  They thought they had their bases covered.  They had a little oil in their lamps.  Why overdo it?  Everything’s going to be fine.  Why should I be preoccupied with the coming of the Lord?  I’ve got other priorities in life.”  

The lamps in the parable are the Word of Christ.  For the Psalmist says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet.”  The oil in the lamps is the Holy Spirit, who creates and sustains the flame of faith in Christ.  To be like the foolish is to fail to give proper attention to Christ’s Word and the working of the Holy Spirit.  It is to avoid the Lord’s preaching and the Lord’s Supper, or merely to go through the motions.  When these instruments of the Holy Spirit are neglected, the flame of faith is in danger of going out.  The foolish thought they had their spiritual life all together.  But they were not prepared for a delay; they weren’t ready to watch for the long haul.  And then the call finally comes at midnight; time has run out.  And the foolish are left in a panic, scrambling to get oil, banging on a locked door saying “Lord, Lord, open to us!” and hearing those awful words, “I do not know you.”

Remember that you know neither when Christ is returning, nor when the day of your own death is coming.  Therefore, the Psalmist prays, “Lord make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am.  My age is as nothing before you; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor,” a dark mist.  

But now Christ has enlightened you with the gift of His Spirit in the waters of baptism.  That’s why Paul says in the epistle, “You, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.  You are all sons of light and sons of the day.”  For you have been united with Christ, who is the Son of light.  Therefore, “let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”  

That is the way of the five wise virgins.  Those who are wise act as if there is nothing so important as the arrival of the bridegroom.  As they tend faithfully to their daily callings and enjoy the good gifts of creation, they do so always with a sense that that is secondary to Christ and His return.  That’s what they’re really living for and watching for.  And so they don’t want to cut it close when it comes to the oil in their lamps.  They “devote themselves to the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”

The wise probably seemed way over-prepared, lugging around those extra jars of oil along with their lamps.  But in the end their wisdom was vindicated as they joined in the bridegroom’s procession and entered into the wedding hall.  So also Christians may appear to be overdoing it, going to divine service each week, meditating on God’s Word, praying and watching for Christ’s return, when they could be doing other things.  But in the end, such wisdom will be vindicated, when our Bridegroom returns to bring us into the new heavens and the new earth in which there is no more sorrow or crying or pain or death, but only perfect joy in God’s presence.  So take to heart the beautiful promise which the apostle speaks to you who believe: “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.”

Fellow believers, God has granted you to be among those who are wise.  For the Holy Spirit has made you wise unto salvation through Gospel of Christ the crucified.  “Assuredly,” the Lord says, “I know you in your baptism.  I have forgiven you and redeemed you and claimed you as my own.  I give you freely of My Word and Spirit, so that you may endure in the faith and watch to the very end.  I give you a very real foretaste of the wedding feast in My holy supper.  I am truly  here for you to forgive and sustain you.”  And so the Gospel cry rings out again in this place today, “Behold, the bridegroom is coming!  Wake, awake!  Go out to meet Him at His holy altar!”

The Lord will come like a thief in the night.  Let us watch and be ready that we may rejoice in that day.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit