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You Have Kept the Good Wine Until Now

John 2:1-11
Epiphany 2

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

We tend to think wrongly about miracles.  We think of them as basically just a bit of divine magic.  Jesus heals someone, or calms a storm, or in today’s case, He does something fun and produces 150 gallons of fine wine.  And our focus is directed almost entirely on the supernatural event rather than on the One who makes it happen and what it means about Him.  We become more enthralled with the spectacle of what Jesus does than with who He is.  And then we begin to wonder, “Well, where’s my miracle?”  We begin to desire something spectacular and miraculous more than we desire the words and the presence of God. We seek an extraordinary experience from Jesus more than we seek Jesus Himself.

And so it’s good to remember that the miracle in today’s Gospel is called a sign.  A sign’s purpose is to direct our attention to something more than itself, to the real presence of the Creator and the Redeemer of the world.  Jesus’ miracles aren’t examples of how if you ask Jesus the right way, you’ll get your miracle too. The miracles aren’t little bits of Jesus interfering with the normal course of events, with the expectation that He’ll do the same for you if you just believe in Him enough.  After all, almost nobody believed in Jesus in today’s Gospel until after the water became wine anyway.  Signs like these reveal Jesus for who He is, namely, the Word who created all things and who upholds everything in Himself.  John even says at the end of his Gospel that Jesus did many more signs, but he wrote down seven of them in His Gospel so that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and have life in His name. And if we take John seriously, (which we should) once you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, there’s no need for miracles any more, is there?  Because you already have the One to whom the signs are pointing.  There’s nothing wrong with praying for God to intervene in our lives to heal or help, even miraculously so if that is His will.  But we always do so with the understanding that we already have everything that we need in the risen Jesus and His words.

So let’s consider this miracle, with our eyes squarely fixed on Jesus to whom this sign is pointing.  First of all, this miracle is not primarily about marriage and how Jesus approves of marriage–although, of course, He does.  He’s the one who invented and instituted marriage.  It’s worth reminding ourselves of that in a world where most people think that it’s just fine to join themselves together sexually without God first joining them together in marriage.  A man and a woman are not to give themselves to each other in this way until God has given them to each other.  It’s as simple as that.  Think of how much heartache and trouble would be avoided if people simply honored marriage in that way.  Marriage is God’s good gift.  To reject it in favor of your own ways of finding sexual fulfillment is to reject God.  Scripture begins with the wedding of Adam and Eve and ends with the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.  And it is especially that marriage of Christ and the Church that the wedding feast at Cana is meant to be a sign of for us.

This miracle is also not about divinely approved drinking, though Jesus certainly is no prohibitionist.  In fact the religious types in His day called Him a glutton and a drunkard, and no doubt they had this incident on their checklist.  150 gallons of wine at a time when the people had already emptied the supply is hardly an endorsement for the use of grape juice.  But this, too, is only incidental.  Wine represents joy, “wine that gladdens the hearts of men” as Scripture puts it.  This is more than Jesus eliminating the middle man and saving them a trip to the liquor store.  This is about joy overflowing in the age of Messiah, when, as Amos said, “the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”  

So back to the story.  Mary tells Jesus, “They have no wine.”  We don’t know how she found out, or if someone in charge tipped her off.  But this rather indirect statement is intended to be a pretty big hint for Jesus, “You could do something about this, if you wanted.”  Jesus seems a little put off by the suggestion, though.  “Woman, what does that have to do with Me?”  Then Jesus says one of those rich, pregnant phrases:  My hour has not yet come.  That term, “hour,” in John’s Gospel refers to the moment when Jesus will bring glory to the Father by laying down His life on the cross for us.  This is a big reminder to us that there is much more to miracles than we realize; they are always connected to His sacrificial death.  For miracles are a setting right of what has gone wrong in this fallen world, even something relatively trivial like running out of wine.  And things are only truly set right when Jesus conquers the curse at Calvary.  

Whatever else Jesus might have said, or whatever look He gave Mary, she seems confident that He will do something, so she says the last words ever recorded from her in the Scriptures:  “Do whatever He tells you,” which isn’t bad advice all the way around.  If you want to know what Mary would tell us today, it’s the same thing:  “Do whatever my Son Jesus tells you.”

So Jesus has them fill six stone jars with water, then draw some of it out, and bring it to the master of the feast.  And when he tastes it, it’s as if he’s popped open a vintage $1000 bottle of wine at a fancy restaurant.  “You have saved the best for last.”  That wasn’t meant to be a compliment, by the way.  The master of the feast was basically calling the bridegroom stupid, wasting the good stuff on people who wouldn’t appreciate it because their taste buds were dulled; the guests had already “well drunk.”  This is how our Lord operates, though.  Even to people who don’t deserve it and who won’t always appreciate it as they should–people like us–He still pours out and offers His gifts, out of love and mercy and grace.

Even if the world thinks that it’s foolish, God had indeed saved the best vintage for last.  The Epistle to the Hebrews says that in the former days, God spoke to His people by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.  John begins his gospel by saying, “The Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  This miracle is a commentary on that.  One greater than Moses and the prophets is here.  The Son of God has appeared.  The Word through whom all things were made has become Flesh and dwells among us.  It is the age of Messiah; the end times have begun–the best for last.

John tells us that this sign happened “on the third day.”  That phrase ought to take you back to Genesis, and the third day of creation, when the Word called forth vegetation from the earth, including the grapevines which still today produce our Cabernets and Merlots and Zinfandels.  It was a kind of “resurrection day,” the day life first rose and sprang up from the earth.  And of course, every Christian who hears that phrase “on the third day,” immediately thinks: “Easter!”  The third day is resurrection day in Christian vocabulary, when He who is the source of the new creation Himself sprang forth from the tomb.  This wedding, then, is a foretaste of the feast to come in the resurrection.

There were six stone jars waiting to be filled.  Six is not quite a fulfilled seven.  The Law of Moses can only get you so far, but not far enough.  Washing water, but not wedding wine.  You may try to keep the Law, and you should, but your commandment keeping will always come up short.  Moses can tell you to wash your hands before dinner, but only Jesus can fill your glass with joy–the joy of undeserved kindness, of sins forgiven freely, of deliverance from death and condemnation.  Man was created on the 6th day.  And on another 6th day, that Good Friday, Jesus recreated and redeemed mankind by His sacrifice and the cleansing blood and water that poured from His side.

“You have saved the best for last.”  In the fulness of time, when everything was perfectly aligned, God uncorked His finest vintage, He sent His Son to be born of a virgin mother to redeem fallen humanity from sin and death.  We are like that wedding feast run dry.  Without joy, without cause for celebration, without wine.  Sin has left us parched and weary, and the best we have by our own spirituality is six stone jars full of commandments, and how-to manuals, and principles for living that cannot impart life, that cannot save.

However, into our dry and dreary lives, Jesus has come.  He took up your humanity in His conception and birth.  He came to have fellowship with you, to sit at the table with you.  And He brings the good stuff, the finest vintage there is.  God saves the best for last.  When people have drunk their fill of principles and methods and how-to rules, when they’ve had all the commandment-keeping and positive thinking philosophy that they can swallow, Jesus comes to bring true joy, a joy that can be found nowhere else but in Him.

The wedding at Cana is still going on; it continues among us. We have the sacramental sign of water, which is more than water, the baptismal washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.  We have the sacramental sign of bread and wine which is more than bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ given and shed for our forgiveness. In that sense, then, we see miraculous signs all the time, signs that reveal the real presence of Christ among us, that we might believe in Him and have life in His name.  He reveals to you His glory, the glory of His death that  makes you His own. This is His wedding party where He is the Groom, and the master of the feast, and the wine, and you all together are His Churchly Bride.

Our Lord has one more vintage that He will give to you on the Last Day.  Soon this world’s party will permanently run dry, and Jesus will appear in glory to raise the dead to life.  And then with a new, resurrected body and a life forgiven and restored and joy overflowing, you will see that God truly has saved the best for last for you in Jesus.

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

(With thanks to the Rev. William Cwirla)

Losing Track of Jesus

Luke 2:41-52

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

The Gospel of Luke gives us more detail about Jesus’ childhood than any other Gospel.  Luke begins his Gospel by telling us that his account is an orderly and careful narrative based on eyewitness testimony.  We get a strong hint as to who one of those eyewitnesses is in today’s reading.  Luke points out that “His mother kept all these things in her heart”–just as earlier we heard at Jesus’ birth when the shepherds came that “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  Luke is able to give us these details because Mary was there for it all, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit Luke recounts her true story.  

This story has the ring of truth to it all the more since Mary doesn’t make herself look particularly good.  She, along with Joseph, lost track of Jesus for an entire day before they even noticed that He wasn’t there!  Think about that.  Mary and Joseph were faithful parents, but also parents of a sinless child–one who did what He was supposed to do, who honored and obeyed and never rebelled against His mother or father.  So perhaps they became a bit lax here.  You can understand how it would have been easy for them to take for granted that Jesus was where He was supposed to be on that journey home–in the large caravan of family and friends that they were traveling in for safety’s sake.

Have you ever done that–taken Jesus for granted and not paid attention to Him like you should?  It can be easy to get lax and lazy about looking to Christ, meditating on His Word, praying to Him. You figure you know enough about Jesus; you don’t really need Bible class, you went to Sunday School!  It’ll be fine if you don’t have daily devotions or give attention to Jesus’ Word for a while.  As you travel through life and go along with the crowd you turn your attention elsewhere and leave Jesus behind.  Next thing you know, you’ve journeyed a long way from your Lord.  Perhaps the fear has even struck you, “What if there’s no way back and I’m cut off from Him?  What if I’m the one who’s lost because I lost Him?”  You can understand Mary’s panic that she had lost track of the Savior Himself.  Perhaps the anxiety we often feel in our own life comes from the distance we’ve built up between ourselves and Jesus.

And then Mary does something that we also do in the midst of our worry and anxiety and stress; she says to Jesus, “Why have you done this to us?”  Even though it’s our own neglect or failings, we still want to blame the Lord for what we endure, as if the sinless One has somehow not done the right thing by us.  When we go through hard or stressful times, we can be tempted to say, “Lord, why did you do this to me?” as if the consequences of our fall into sin were His fault.  Of course, you can also hear the good motherly tone in Mary’s voice, which is not simply expressing anger but relief at finding Him, and wonder at what He was doing there.

Jesus’ response to His mother indicates that they should’ve known all along that He would’ve been in His Father’s house.  “Why did you seek Me?” He said.  This was an easy one.  And yet it clearly illustrates how we fallen human beings tend to search for God and seek His presence in the wrong places.  We think we can get closer to Him by going out into nature.  We think we can get closer to Him through spiritualized self-help philosophies, in superstitious experiences, in the emotions of the heart.  But that’s not where God has promised to be with His grace.

The Lord is to be found in His temple.  And Jesus begins to reveal to us here that the temple, the true and abiding dwelling place of God is not a building but the eternal flesh of Christ.  Jesus is Himself the temple.  For it is written that in Christ all the fullness of God dwells in bodily form.  Therefore, if you wish to seek God, you must seek Christ and nothing else.  And if you are seeking Christ, you must look for Him according to His human nature; in those physical, audible, concrete places where He is present for you.  Seek Him in His Word and preaching.  Listen for His help in confession and absolution.  Find Him in the supper of His body and blood, given for your forgiveness and healing.  Jesus is still about His Father’s business, teaching us and comforting us and giving out His gifts of life and deliverance and hope.

The human nature of Jesus here is the key thing.  You may be wondering, if Jesus is God–and He is–why would He be asking the teachers questions, as the Gospel says.  How could He grow in wisdom if He already knows all things? Well, remember that prior to His resurrection, Jesus was in what we call the state of humiliation.  In other words, He didn’t make use of His divine knowledge; He had emptied Himself of His powers as God.  So when Jesus amazes the teachers, it wasn’t as if He was cheating and using His divine omniscience.  Rather, right there before the teachers is perfect humanity, a boy who loves His heavenly Father and who is absolutely enthralled with pondering the Scriptures, who has no sin to cloud His understanding and insight.  Jesus had been hearing and learning the Scriptures all His life and was growing up with a perfect, sinless grasp of them as a true human being.  Jesus was living that perfect and holy life for us so that He might give us His holiness as a gift and make us perfectly human again.  In Jesus, we learn to love the Word of God and to ponder it and meditate on it just as He did.

All of this happens when Jesus is at the age of twelve.  At this age, Jewish boys would begin to leave the society of women and enter the society of men. The rabbis instructed Jewish fathers to be gentle with their boys until age twelve, and then begin to teach them the way of manly living, including strict discipline if necessary. Probably at this point, Joseph would have begun serious teaching of his carpentry trade to Jesus. The twelve-year old Jesus was now being treated as a man, and that is why He went up with Joseph to Jerusalem for the Passover.

The point is, a Jewish boy begins to do his work at age 12. And at twelve, we see Jesus already apply Himself to His proper work – not only the things of His guardian-father, Joseph, but especially the things of His heavenly Father.  For He says to Mary His mother, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” Conceived without the aid of a man in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary, God the Father is Jesus’ Father–in a way that is different than God is our Father. Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God, of one substance with the Father.  Jesus is the Son of God by nature; we are children of God by grace through faith in Him.

So now Jesus begins to apply Himself to the work that the Father has given Him to do, and He will keep on working until that work is perfected.  In Jerusalem 21 years later, He will say, “It is finished.”  Remember that Jesus is in the temple, the place where sacrifices would occur.  It was the time of the Passover, when the lamb would be offered up and it’s blood shed in remembrance of how death passed over God’s people in Egypt.  Jesus is the Lamb of God, whose shed blood causes eternal death to pass over you, whose holy cross takes away the sins of the world.  

So twice Mary would have to feel the loss of her Son, when He had to be about His Father’s business.  Mary surely recalled this day in the temple as she stood at the foot of her Son’s cross, and lost Him again, this time to death and the grave, only to receive Him back again on the third day, risen from the dead.  Here Jesus said, “Why did you seek me?”  Later angels would announce to the women at the tomb, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  The cross and resurrection were etched into Jesus’ entire life.  Jesus had to be about His Father’s business, dying and rising, to rescue Mary and you and me and the world from sin and death.  He is alive to lift you from emptiness and despair and to give His life and His mercy to you.

You may sometimes lose track of Jesus, but He never loses track of you.  He grows in wisdom and stature to perfectly restore your humanity and to bring you back again into the Father’s good graces.  Jesus lived your whole life for you, even the challenging years of young adulthood, in order to give you new life with God.  Your hold on Him may grow weak; but His baptismal hold on you is strong and sure.  He put His saving name on you, and He’s not going to go back on His Word.  You can count on this Jesus, true God in the flesh, who already as a Boy is applying Himself to His work on your behalf.

So then, brothers and sisters of Christ, let us now be about our Father’s temple business in this new year.  Let us not be conformed to this world and drift with the crowd away from Christ Jesus.  But rather let us be transformed by His words and sacraments, treasuring them up in our hearts, growing up into Him who is our Head.  By the mercies of God, offer up your bodies as living sacrifices in love for one another, holy and acceptable to God in Christ.  Seek the Lord in His holy house, until we finally come to the stature of the fullness of Christ on the Last Day.

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

Your Brother in the Flesh Stands Up for You

Acts 6:8 - 7:2a; 7:51-60
St. Stephen’s Day

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

It really is a little bit jarring to hear readings like those appointed for this day, St. Stephen’s Day.  In a season normally associated with merriment and good cheer, in the midst of our specially decorated churches, it seems strange at first that this 2nd day of Christmas, the season marking Christ’s birth, should be devoted to meditating on a martyr’s death.  The message of the angels was, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”  There doesn’t appear to be either peace or good will in Stephen’s bloody murder.

The holy Child Jesus has indeed brought peace between God and man.  For God and man have been brought together again quite literally in Jesus.  That’s why He is the only Way for you to be reconciled to God; He alone bridges and rejoins heaven and earth in Himself.  But Christ Jesus was delivered and born of woman in order that He might be delivered into the hands of sinful men; God’s good will toward men is manifested in how He was willing to be despised and rejected by men to win our forgiveness.  The wisdom of the church’s calendar reminds us today that those who follow and cling to this Jesus can expect the possibility of similar despising and rejection in this world.  Our Lord said in Luke 12, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”  How’s that for an inspirational message from Jesus!  Peace with God means enmity with the world.  The righteousness of Christ given as a free gift will always be at odds with the righteousness that man tries to achieve for Himself through his own spirituality.

We see this division, this enmity very clearly as Stephen stands before the Sanhedrin.  Stephen speaks the truth to them, the truth of how they resist the Holy Spirit, who calls them to repentance, to turn from their works to Christ’s that they might be saved.  Earlier at Pentecost, the hearers of Peter’s preaching were cut and pierced to the heart, and they said, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”  They were brought to repentance and were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.  Now, these members of the Sanhedrin are also cut to the heart it says by Stephen’s preaching.  But a different word is used here showing that their stony hearts were not pierced–like seed on the hardened path.  For it says they gnashed their teeth at him–gritting their teeth and growling like the beasts their sin had reduced them to.  One cannot help but think about our Lord’s words regarding those who reject Him in unbelief–for them there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth forever.

Stephen also testified to the truth of what he saw in that moment: the heavens were opened and Jesus was standing at God’s right hand.  The Sanhedrin–the same council that had condemned our Lord–when they heard Stephen say this, they stopped their ears, literally putting their hands to the sides of their heads, and they rushed at him with one accord, cast him out of the city, and stoned him to death.

There are several things we should learn from this.  To begin with, we must confess that we also don’t like it when our sin is laid before our eyes and we are called to turn from it.  Our old Adam is a one-man Sanhedrin, who tries to silence the ones calling us to repentance–either by verbally stoning them and attacking them or just by covering our ears, so to speak, ignoring the truth.  God grant that when you are confronted with His Word of truth and cut to the heart, you will be pierced and given repentance, that He will unclench your jaw and unstop your ears, and create in you a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you.

Most clearly, though, we learn from Stephen’s martyrdom how this fallen world, with the powers that uphold its false spiritualities, is a Sanhedrin to Christ’s church.  The world does not want to hear the words of God and wants to silence the voice of those who confess the Christian faith and the saving name of Jesus.  Whether it’s in matters of the teaching on creation, or sexuality and marriage or, above all, in matters of salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, the world stops its ears to the truth, it mocks and marginalizes the faithful, and where possible it tries to cast them out as hateful blasphemers of the cultural dogma and underminers of society.  We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we’ve yet been persecuted in any way approaching that of the early church.  But many of you have been given to glimpse and to experience not just disagreement but the utter disdain the world has for you and your beliefs and your Lord Jesus who said, “If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

So let us take to heart the words of 1 Peter 4, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”  

Stephen was blessed by God in this way, rejoicing even in the face of his mortal enemies.  It is written that his face was like the face of an angel.  What does that mean?  Well, where are the angels’ faces turned?  Jesus said that they always see the face of His Father in heaven.  The angels reflect His glory.  So it is also with Stephen.  His face reflects the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  We become like that which we fix our eyes on.  Wasn’t Stephen like Jesus here, asking forgiveness for his enemies, commending his spirit into God’s hands?  We have the sure promise of Scripture, “When [Jesus] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

Stephen speaks as one baptized.  For He saw the heavens opened, as they were at Jesus’ baptism.  The heavens are opened for all who are baptized into Him, for you.  And in these opened heavens, what does Stephen see but Jesus standing at God’s right hand.  Ordinarily, we use the language of the creed, that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, the position of ruling and reigning.  But here He is standing.  This is important to note.  For consider that Stephen is on trial here.  This is a courtroom scene.  Though he is condemned to death by the Sanhedrin, there is One who stands in his defense, who intercedes and speaks on His behalf before the court of the Most High, and who will deliver Stephen from the judgment of ungodly men.

And so it is also for you.  Jesus stood in for you in death as your substitute, and now He stands up for you as your Intercessor and Advocate and Defender.  It is written in Romans 8, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  Sin and Satan and the world may condemn and attack you, but you have a mighty Defender and Advocate before the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.  He Himself was cut to the heart for you, pierced with a spear, and the blood and water that flowed cleanses you and protects you.  It is good that we stand up for Jesus and confess our faith in Him as Stephen certainly did here.  But what finally counts in the end is that Jesus stands up for you, the incarnate and risen Lord, who has human feet and legs to stand with, your blood Brother, the Almighty Son of God.  

And if I may carry this one final step further: standing is also a sign of honor.  Jesus here is honoring Stephen; He stands as if to receive Stephen out of this world and unto Himself.  The psalmist prays, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”  So it is for you.  Jesus honors you.  He stands for you, as a Gentleman for His elect Lady, His holy Church.

This is where we find our strength to confess the faith boldly as Stephen did, whether it affects our social standing or our economic standing or our very lives.  We confess Jesus before men in the sure confidence that He will rise to His feet and confess us before His Father in heaven.  

Though it may not appear so, Stephen was granted a blessed end.  Though it was not painless, it was blessed, for he fell asleep in Christ, looking to Him who is the Victor over death.  God grant that whether our end is violent or peaceful, that we may die as Stephen did, with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  He is your Brother in the flesh who stands up for you.

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

Christmas is a New Genesis

Titus 3

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  You know the account in Genesis.  Everything was good.  Then everything went wrong.  Man, wanting to like God, rebelled against God.  Man fell.  With him all creation fell.  Now, because of sin, man dies.  In the end this creation, too, will die and pass away.

We are not mere victims of that past event in the garden, for we have been participants in the rebellion of Adam and Eve; we have shared in the same deeds.  Titus 3 says,“We ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful.”  

We would be destined to perish eternally, except for the fact that the kindness and love for mankind of God our Savior has appeared in the person of Jesus Christ.  Instead of simply erasing this creation and destroying us fallen creatures, God has set out to redeem and recreate us through His Son.  Christmas is about God inaugurating a new creation in Jesus.  That’s why John’s Gospel starts out, “In the beginning was the Word . . .  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  In the flesh of Jesus God has made a new beginning, a new world, a new creation that is not subject to decay and death.  Christ’s death and resurrection in the flesh broke the curse of sin and brought life and immortality to light.  

Christmas, then, is like a second Genesis.  It is as if the very first day were happening all over again.  God said, “Let there be light.”  And the Light of the world was born.  Before the old creation passes away, God the Son has entered into this world in order to make a new Genesis that will never pass away.  He has done this so that we who are subject to the old order of things might be released from it and made to be participants in the new and eternal order of things.  And it is only through the body of Jesus that this takes place, He who once was laid in a manger.  He is the point of contact between the old and the new.  He is the only portal, the only passageway from this fallen creation into the everlasting creation.

So how do we pass through that portal?  How are we made to be participants in this new creation?  Paul answers that question in Titus 3 when he says, “God saved us through the washing of regeneration.”  That last word, regeneration, is especially significant.  In the Greek “regeneration” literally means “genesis again,” “a new genesis.”  Do you see?  Through baptism we are recreated, given a new life in Christ.  We are made to share in the eternal blessings of the new world that Christ brings into being.  Even as Christmas is a Genesis event, so also Baptism is a Genesis event.  For God’s creative power is at work–not only to wash away our sins, but also to join us to Christ, who gives us entrance to the new heavens and the new earth.  It is just as Jesus said in John 3, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters in the first genesis, so also He hovers over the waters of baptism to bring about the second genesis, the new birth into the kingdom of God.

Christmas continues to happen, then, every time someone is baptized.  For what takes place in the water but that someone is born as a member of the body of Christ?  So in a very real way, the Word is still becoming flesh as He draws more and more people to Himself by water and the Spirit, those who have their life in Him.  

In this present age between Christ’s first and second comings, the old creation of Genesis and the new creation of Christmas overlap.  We still live in this fallen world of tragedy and pain and disease and death.  And yet we are also given entrance into the new world by our baptism into Christ’s body.  Both are now going on at once, and we feel that conflict.  But on the Last Day the old order of things will utterly and completely pass away, and the full glory of the new will be revealed forever.

And please note that all of this creating and saving work is entirely God’s doing.  Paul makes this clear when he says here, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.”  It’s not our merits, it’s the merits of Christ by which we have forgiveness and life.  It’s not because we climbed up to heaven by our superior spirituality, it’s because the Son of God came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.  Christmas is the paradigm and pattern of our salvation.  God comes right down to where we’re at in order to save us.  He doesn’t do part and then require us to do the rest.  He goes all the way, 100%, even to the point of becoming one of us.  He descended to us in order that we may ascend with Him.

It’s all God’s doing.  The first creation was made by His power alone.  Christ’s coming at Christmas to inaugurate the new creation occurred without our help.  And even our entering into that new life through baptism is entirely by the Lord’s action.  When it comes to the Gospel, God is the one who does all the verbs.  “He saved . . .”  “He poured out . . .”  And when the verbs are applied to us, they’re in the passive voice, “We have been justified by His grace.”  God has justified us, He has declared us righteous through Christ, the righteous one.  He has made us His heirs having the hope of eternal life.  All this purely as a gift of His grace.  Only by this grace are we able to do as Paul says here and “maintain good works” for the good of our fellow man.

So then, as Paul reminds Titus here, don’t engage in useless discussion with those who deny this, who enjoy religious debate simply for the sake of hearing themselves talk.  After admonishing such people the first and second time, reject them, he says.  They are self condemned.  Don’t get drawn in to all their contentions and strivings about the Law.

For St. Paul concludes, “This is a faithful saying.”  Our salvation and re-creation by God’s grace alone in Christ is trustworthy, rock solid, reliable.  The same God who kept His promise to send a Savior will surely keep the promises that He made to you in your baptism.  The Lord is faithful, and He will do it.  Trust solely in Him.  Grace be with you all.

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

Repent, For the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

Isaiah 40:1-8; Matthew 3:1-12
Advent 3

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

We fallen human beings instinctively go at life backwards. We listen to those who preach that we should believe in ourselves, when in truth we should believe only in God. We fear crime, loss of income and benefits, illness, or some big tragedy, when we should really fear nothing except the Lord and losing life with Him. And we focus on the things this world gives—things that easily break or get used up, pleasures that quickly fade away, experiences whose glory and benefit are fleeting—when we should really focus on nothing other than attaining the kingdom of heaven.

So during the four weeks of Advent, through prophets and apostles and preachers and hymns and prayers and liturgy, God pleads with us to get our thinking straight. And not just our thinking, but also our believing. And not just our believing, but also our behaving. And not just our behaving, but also our entire being. A change of mind, a change of heart, a change of how we see ourselves and the world, a change of all we are and all we hope to be—that is the Church’s plea; and her prayer; and her heartfelt invitation. And that invitation is summed up in one word: Repent.

St. John the Baptizer prepares the way of the Lord by preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  “The kingdom is near, for Jesus the King is near.  So turn away from your worldly loves, the things that keep you from devoting yourself to His Word, the stuff and the activities that you let take precedence over His divine service.  No longer live for yourself.  No longer live controlled by your fears or your appetites.  No longer live pushing your agenda, making things happen, and acting as if it all depends on you.  Instead, live for the kingdom of heaven.  Live within the Life of God, and the Life that God wants to live in you and through you.  Live for unending communion with God.  For nothing else matters.  Everything else is expendable.  So discipline your body, reform your habits, put to death your inborn tendencies, change your hopes and prayers, and stop obsessing about the things you think matter so much.  For you don’t want to miss this.  You don’t want to miss out on the kingdom of God, which is so close you can taste it.”

And yet, even in this, we sometimes hear things backwards.  We hear St John say, “Repent,” and we say, “I can’t” or “that’s not realistic” or “I’ll think about it.”  Or we hear St John say, “Repent,” and we say, “Alright, let’s roll.” “I’ll do that right now”—and then get frustrated when things don’t change overnight.  What we forget is what fuels St John’s preaching, what it is that gives legs to true repentance.

And that is Mercy, the Lord’s mercy, the Lord’s never-ending, constantly renewing, life-preserving mercy.  That’s what’s imbedded in the word “Repent.”  It is the mercy that moves the Lord to say, “You are worth redeeming, worth saving, worth loving, worth transforming.”  Mercy that transfigures you so that you no longer live your old life, but now live the Life of the Lord Jesus, the Life that He freely gives to you.  Mercy that pulls you out of the pits you have dug, away from the messes you’ve made of life.  Mercy that calls you from death to life.

So behind and within St John’s “Repent,” is Our Lord Jesus saying, “Come.  Come, live life not on your terms, but the way I give it.  Come, not with conditions attached, but trusting that my promise is good, that my kingdom is yours.  Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

That is how John’s ultimate message is summarized in the OT reading: “Comfort, yes comfort My people!”  Speak tenderly and lovingly to the Church, speak to the heart of my bride, and preach kind words to her.  Tell her that she is forgiven.  Your exile is nearly over.  The end of all things is close at hand.  The Day of the Lord is coming soon. The Law no longer condemns you. Your iniquity is paid for and pardoned.  For you have received from the Lord’s hand double for all your sins.  John consoles you by always pointing to Christ and saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Notice that our Lord’s mercy doesn’t provide just enough forgiveness, but double forgiveness.  That’s how it is with the Gospel–the Lord lavishes on you more forgiveness than you have sins to forgive.  It’s not as if the Lord is miserly with His mercy, giving you just barely enough to cover your need.  No, the Lord is marvelously redundant and wonderfully excessive in His grace, so that you may know that there is no sin so great that Jesus didn’t atone for it on the cross, no life so messed-up that He could not redeem it.  You have been given twice as much forgiveness as you need.  Your cup runs over.  No matter what is there in your past, or in your present, there is more than enough mercy in Jesus to restore you and save you.  Your debt has been paid.  You have been set free.  How can you be certain of this?  Because it is written, “the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.”  And what He speaks is done and delivered for sure.

That is real peace that will not pass away, even when Christmas is long over with.  All that burdens you, all that saddens you, all that dries the life out of your bodies and souls, Jesus took upon Himself and suffered to death.  Through the risen Christ you are now released from the power of the grave; you are restored to God the Father in Him who is the Prince of Peace.  Trusting in the merits of Christ alone, being baptized into Him who is fully human and fully divine, you are brought into communion and fellowship with God.  

At this time of year, you know that there are all sorts of folks in the media giving their version of the “real meaning” of Christmas.  They talk about togetherness and family, giving and sharing and love–all good things.  But Christmas is about a whole lot more than that.  It’s ultimately about the fact that the Word became flesh, God became man.  The Lord literally became one of us in order to restore us to the image of God and make us holy.  He came down to rescue us and raise us up to everlasting life.  That’s what Christmas is all about.  Christ took on our flesh and blood in order that He might die in the flesh as our substitute and shed His blood as our ransom price.  The true wonder and mystery that we should meditate on is this: that the baby in the manger is the Lord of the universe, that He created the mother who gave Him birth, that He redeemed your humanity by sharing in it fully.  All the other stuff is just withering grass compared to Christ.

“All flesh is grass, and all it’s loveliness is like the flower of the field. . .  The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”  What Jesus says and promises endures.  And His Word has been spoken and applied to you, so that now, as I Peter says, “You have been born anew, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.”  By His words and sacraments Christ has planted new and everlasting life in you.  So even though you are nothing but withering grass by nature, just a fleeting mist, in Christ the Scriptures now call you “oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified”  (Isaiah 61:3).  Though all flesh must die because of sin, yet through faith in Jesus you have the resurrection and the restoration of the body.  He has poured out on your dry bones the living water of His Spirit, so that you may have real life, the abundant life of Christ that never ends.

The spirit of Christmas, then, is the spirit of humble penitence before God which acknowledges our lost condition.  And it is the spirit of confident faith in Christ who seeks us out and saves us.  It is the same spirit that we shall again give voice to in preparation for Holy Communion, as we echo the words of John the Baptist, “O Christ the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. . . grant us your peace.”  That prayer finds a rich answer in His very body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

So, enjoy all the stuff of this season; but don’t let it distract you from the heart of the Christ-mass or keep you from your Advent preparations for it.  Instead, let the evergreen of the Christmas trees remind you of the everlasting love of God for you.  Let the lights draw your attention to the true Light who conquers all the darkness of this world.  Let the presents be symbols of Him who is the perfect gift wrapped in swaddling clothes.  And remember, as always, that the only way to be close to the child in the manger is on your knees.

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

(With thanks to John Fenton)

Adorning the Doctrine of God our Savior

Titus 2
Advent Midweek 2

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

At Christmas we celebrate the fact that the Word became flesh, God the Son took on our body and soul, true God became true man in our Savior Jesus Christ.  We know that this doctrine is at the very heart of our faith.  For apart from this incarnation of our Lord, He could not have taken our place under the Law; He could not have been our substitute in death to rescue us from our sins.

But even so, some might still fail to see how Christmas connects with their lives “out there” in the world.  You might ask, “What does Christ’s coming in the flesh mean for my day to day living?”  Titus 2 helps us to make that connection.  For it joins how we are given to conduct ourselves with the birth of Jesus.  St. Paul says, “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”

You see, the Word became flesh in order to redeem our lives in the flesh.  If our bodily, physical lives were not spiritually significant, if the material world was not good, then Jesus would not have spent nine months in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, nor slept in a dirty cattle feeder, nor suffered in the flesh on the cross, nor been bodily raised from the dead.  But the same God who pronounced the material creation “good” in the beginning confirmed that pronouncement at Christmas in the true humanity of Jesus.  Jesus came to restore our humanity that was lost in the fall, to lift us up again to what it means to be truly human.  He came to renew us–not just our spirits, but our entire beings–in His own sinless body.  Christmas tells us that our lives in the flesh matter.

That’s why Paul gives several specific instructions about how our life in Christ is to be conducted in the flesh.  First of all, he gives directions to the older men.  They are to be sober, ones who show restraint in indulging their desires.  The older men are also to be reverent and dignified in their conduct.  They are to be “sound in the faith.”  The word “sound” here literally means healthy.  It’s the same word that was used just the verse before in referring to “sound doctrine,” “healthy doctrine.”  In other words the older men are to hold firmly to the truth of God’s Word, not accepting even the smallest virus of false teaching, but holding to the true doctrine that brings eternal health in both body and soul.  Being mature in years, they are to be mature in faith and in understanding of the Scriptures, showing patience and love as an example to the whole congregation.

To the older women Paul gives these instructions.  They are likewise to be reverent in their behavior.  But the word that is used here for “reverent” is a special word meaning literally “temple-like.”  In other words, the older women are always to be conducting themselves in a manner suitable for a temple, worthy of holiness.  Their daily duties are to be carried out as a matter of sacred service towards God and towards those whom God has given them to serve.  Their entire life has been made like a holy temple by the sanctifying presence of Christ.  Therefore, they are not to be slanderers–gossips, rumor-mongers, back-biters.  Nor are they to be ones who drink too much.  Rather, they are to be ones who teach good things to others, both by their words and by their actions.

Specifically they are to be ones who direct and counsel the younger women in godly ways, whether they are daughters or granddaughters or simply another believer.  According to Titus 2 these younger women are to be taught to love their husbands and their children–that is, to be devoted and committed to their spouse and family as that which God has graciously given them, and not to neglect them for the sake of something they think will be better for themselves.  It is in that context of husband and children above all that they are to live out their life of Christian service.  This is emphasized by the fact that the young women are here directed to be homemakers–literally, ones working at home, tending to the many and varied needs of the household.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a sin for them to work outside the home.  But by God’s design their first calling is to be wives and mothers, exercising discretion, purity, goodness, and faithfulness to their husbands.  

So also, Paul directs Titus to exhort the young men to be sober-minded.  Like the younger women, they too are to practice discretion and sound-mindedness and self-control, not recklessly indulging every whim but showing sensibility in their behavior.  And Paul applies all of this especially to Titus.  For Titus himself was a young man–or at least young for his position as bishop of Crete–probably around 30 or so.  This may be why Paul tells him at the end of chapter 2, “Let no one despise you.”  Rather in all things, Titus was to be a pattern of good works to the church, showing integrity in his doctrine and teaching, not being corrupted by desire for worldly gain or respect, but conducting himself in such a way that his opponents are put to shame, because they have nothing evil to say of him.

Finally, the Apostle teaches that bond-servants are to be obedient to their own masters.  In the first century in the Roman empire, slavery was still a very common practice.  But Paul does not encourage such bond-servants to assert their so-called “rights” and rebel against their masters and throw off their servitude.  For that is not the way of Christ, who has established earthly authorities to be honored, even the authority of a master over a servant, or in our case an employer over an employee. No, the way of the cross is patient endurance and a willingness to serve and to suffer if needs be until the deliverance of the Lord comes.  Therefore, bond-servants were exhorted to be well-pleasing to their masters in all things, not talking back to them, not stealing from them secretly, but being faithful to them.

Now, why does Paul give all these specific guidelines for how Christians are to live?  Why does he want believers to be zealous for good works?  Is it so that we can merit something from God by our goodness?  Is it so that we can earn for ourselves a special spot in heaven?  No, the Scriptures say the only wages we’ve earned for ourselves is death.  So why are we to conduct ourselves in this way?  Paul gives two answers: first, so that the word of God may not be blasphemed; and second, to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.  Do you see?  The motivation, the reason for good works in God’s sight is not to draw attention to ourselves or to win something for ourselves, but rather to draw attention to the Gospel by which all things have already been won for us in Christ, to decorate and ornament that saving doctrine of God.  We are to live this way in the flesh in order to bring glory to Christ, the Word made flesh. The way we live in the body bears witness to what Jesus did for us in His body and blood by His birth and death and resurrection.  For we have been baptized into His body.  It is as the Small Catechism confesses in the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “How is God’s name kept holy?  God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it.  Help us to do this dear Father in heaven!”  

This second chapter of Titus proclaims to you that Christ came into this world and gave Himself for you to redeem you from every lawless deed.  He bought you with the price of His precious blood to release you from the bondage of unholy living.  He has ransomed you by His holy cross and purified you by His Word and Spirit to be His own special people, set apart by His gracious forgiveness and mercy, called out of darkness into His marvelous light.  You belong to the Lord; you are holy in His sight.  God grant you to live in that holiness as you look for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ on the Last Day.

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

There Will Be Signs

Luke 21:25-36

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

It’s interesting the way Jesus talks about signs in Scripture.  On the one hand, He says that it is an evil and adulterous generation that seeks a sign.  People that need signs to prove God’s existence or to verify the truth of His Word are only exhibiting their unbelief.  If you insist upon a sign or some special experience, if God has to jump through your hoops before you’ll trust Him or follow Him, that only reveals an absence of faith.  Faith is believing without seeing, knowing that you have a trustworthy Source who is speaking to you.  Sign-seeking is adulterous, going after what fulfills your spiritual lusts and desires.  To those who were seeking a sign, Jesus said that the only one they would be given was the sign of Jonah, a man “buried” in the watery depths but who comes forth to a new life on the third day.  Jonah points us to Jesus, whose death and resurrection is our true and ultimate sign, the sign that our sins have been fully paid for, that He has conquered the power of the grave and brings us resurrection and life immortal.  We need nothing more than that Word of good news, the Gospel, to bring us to faith and save us.

However, to Jesus’ disciples, to those who believe and don’t require signs, Jesus still actually gives many signs.  Not only did He perform a multitude of miracles in His ministry, signs that proved He truly was the Messiah, not only do we presently see many signs of His loving kindness toward us even in the midst of this fallen and broken world, but He also gives us an abundance of signs of His second coming and the end of this world.

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks in particular about signs in creation, in the sun, moon, and stars, and even climate and weather-related signs.  After mentioning the fig tree and all the trees budding, Jesus speaks of the sea and the waves roaring, nations in distress, and people in perplexity as the powers of creation are shaken.  In other words, nature itself will give us signs that the return of Jesus is almost upon us.

The problem is that unbelief misreads the signs.  This happens all the time; people see the signs in creation, like earthquakes, like variations in climate and weather, like floods and fires and storms and droughts, and instead of reading these things as a call to repentance and to faithful watching for the Lord of creation to return, they see it as a call to preach the gospel of climate change  and to worship creation itself as their lord.  And so the signs don’t help them.  Signs only help the faithful.

The world misreads the signs, and so they have the wrong diagnosis of the situation.  They know that there’s a problem, that things aren’t right.  Even unbelievers sense that things are messed up in the world and need to be fixed.  But they misidentify the enemy and the source of the problem, and so they also misidentify the solution.  Virtually every political cause that is out there does this.  For environmentalists, the enemy is fossil fuels and overpopulation.  For feminists, it’s men and the patriarchy.  For socialists, it’s capitalism (and vice versa), for conservatives, it’s progressives (and vice versa), for those feeling oppressed, it’s racial privilege or gender conformity or big corporations or big government.  And the list goes on.  We have this intrinsic spiritual need to set up a system of good and evil that explains why reality is the way it is.  But when we do that apart from God’s Word, we end up with a system that is comprised of half truths (at best), and people end up embracing delusions and lies.  Scripture tells us that the real issue, the real enemies are the devil, the unbelieving world, and our own sinful nature.  But we don’t like that diagnosis.  Because it means that the problem is not just some neatly defined external system or group of people that we can blame.  It’s a deeper, spiritual matter, and it involves a sickness that is actually inside every one of us.  Worldly groups and causes only address symptoms and not the disease.  Only Jesus, our coming Lord, gets to the heart of the matter.

Jesus once commented on people misinterpreting the signs of the times in Luke 12.  He said, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Christians know that when creation seems to be coming apart, that’s because it’s a fallen creation, in bondage to decay under the curse of sin.  Christians aren’t surprised by the upheavals of creation because they know that this creation is passing away, as Jesus said, “The heavens and the earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”  Just like us, creation is wearing down and wearing out.  It has to die in order to rise again as the new heavens and the new earth, which God is preparing to be our eternal dwelling with Him.  Romans 8 says, “the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.”  Creation itself trembles with anticipation of Christ’s return, when the hidden things of our salvation will finally be uncovered and brought to fulfillment, and all things will be made new.  Until that day we cling to Jesus’ words, which endure forever, and which will surely deliver what they say.

So when we see the signs of the end, our reaction as Christians is different from the unbelieving world.  To the faithless, these signs bring pessimism and panic.  Jesus says here that men’s hearts will fail them from fear.  There will be a sense of retreat, that things are spiraling downward.  Our pop culture reflects this with the incredible number of movies and shows that focus on a dystopian future world, after some apocalypse occurs because of disease or war or climate catastrophe.  Creating these scenarios is almost like therapy to deal with this dread of what’s coming.

Of course, Jesus also warns against another way that people deal try to with this.  He says, “Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.”  Some people think to themselves, “Hey, everything’s going downhill; I might as well have some fun while I can.  Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  Indulging in food and drink and pleasure, throwing yourself into your work or your hobby helps you to forget about this looming future.

But our reaction as believers is quite different.  For these signs are not just pointing to the end but to a new beginning.  And above all they are pointing to the return of our Savior.  Whereas the world is weighed down with anxiety as things come apart, Jesus tells you that when you see these signs, “look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”  These signs are actually good news in that they point us to Him.  We can have peace even in the midst of the chaos, because we know what this is all leading to.  We can deny ourselves the sinful pleasures of this world, because we know there is much greater joy and holy delight to come in the presence of our gracious Lord.  Your future is assured in Jesus.  Your merciful Lord is coming.  Your redemption draws near.

That’s really how we should think of the Last Day, not as doomsday, not only as Judgment day, but as Redemption Day.  It’s a good day that is coming, “the great and dreadful day of the Lord” as Malachi puts it–great for those who are in Christ, dreadful for those who aren’t.  Judgment day has already taken place for us.  For we are baptized into Christ, and He bore all of the judgment against our sin on the cross, on that great and dreadful day, Good Friday.  Remember that there were great signs in creation on that day: the sun was darkened for three hours, and the earth quaked at the death of the Son of God.  For the curse on this old creation was broken, and a new creation was dawning in Christ.  As a result of that, Romans 8 says that we are  “eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”  So the punishment and the condemnation is all done for you now.  It’s all taken care of.  You’re redeemed by the blood of Christ.  It’s just a matter of time before your Redeemer returns to reveal that truth before the world, so that you may enjoy it in all its fullness.  

Jesus urges you today in the Gospel, “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”  Lift up your heads in watchfulness and prayer, keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.  For it is only through Him that you are worthy; it is only through Him that you can stand in the final Judgment without fear.  Psalm 130 prays, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?”  Not a single one of us could.  However, the psalm continues, “But with you, Lord, there is forgiveness.  Therefore you are revered.”  Jesus Himself makes you worthy to stand tall in His presence, not in pride because of your merits but because of His cleansing forgiveness, poured out upon you in your baptism.

So lift up your heads, then, and lift up your hearts to see the sign that the Lord is giving to you today, the holy Sacrament of the Altar.  To the unbeliever it seems like nothing all that important.  But to you who believe and are baptized, it is a marvelous sign.  For it assures you that the One who comes to you now hiddenly with His body and blood for your forgiveness will come again visibly on the clouds with power and great glory to deliver you.  It is written, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  And so the church continually prays, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

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