Epiphany Gifts for King Jesus

Our text is today’s Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12):   1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem,  2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;  4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 6  “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.  8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”  9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.  12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (ESV)

The wise men in today’s Gospel traveled over a thousand kilometres in search of Christ. It could not have been comfortable traveling across the desert on the back of a camel. But you and I are making an even more rigorous journey. Everyday, rather than scrambling onto a camel’s back, we fall to our knees or at least bow our heads asking God to forgive us all our sins. And rather than shielding our faces from the desert sun and blowing sand, we lift up our heads and voices to God, commending ourselves to His mercy, trusting Him to forgive us for Jesus’ sake.

The wise men traveled several months in search of Christ, but our journey continues until the day we die. We are on the great journey of repentance. Everyday, we confess our sins to God, praying “Father, forgive us as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us!”.  Rather than trying to hide our sins from God, we lay them all out in the open. We cry out: “Behold, God, what a great sinner I am! Dear Father, behold my fears and worries, my lust and greed, my lovelessness and self-centredness, my doubts and unbelief.” This aspect of our journey is called “contrition”, which is the broken-hearted sorrow by which we grieve over our sins. We are sorry for having offended God and hurt others through our sins, and it with such broken-hearted contrition that we confess all our sins to God.  

But, of course, that does NOT mean we trudge through life wearing sad faces, for greater than our sorrow over sin is our joy in being forgiven. That is the most important part of our lifelong journey, that we always trust God to forgive us for the sake of His Son, Jesus. This forgiveness gives joy in such abundance that we can be of good cheer even as we encounter life’s tribulations. Thus, by God’s grace, we trust in Christ’s forgiveness our whole lives long.  

This is our journey—not a trip through the desert on a camel’s back, but the living of a life of repentance. The very first of Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses reads as follows: when our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent”, he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. And so, your life in Christ, from baptism to death, is a journey of confessing your sins and trusting God to forgive you for Jesus’ sake.  

Like the wise men of old, you are on a journey. And though your journey of repentance is not at all like their journey across the desert, your journey does still take you to Christ, whom you worship and to whom you offer gifts. The wise men offered the Christ Child gold and frankincense and myrrh. Your gifts are more in keeping with the spiritual nature of your journey. In one of his Epiphany cantatas, Johann Sebastian Bach mentions three of the most important gifts Christians give to their Lord: O Thou who art my soul’s light, disdain not my heart, which in humility I bring to Thee, along with the fruits of thy Spirit: faith’s gold, the frankincense of prayer, the myrrh of patience—these are my gifts, which Thou shalt have forever as Thy possession, O Jesus (paraphrased from BWV 65). Our faith, our prayers, and our patience—these are the gifts fit to give to the King who has come to save us!

What joy is ours when we give Christ our faith, when we say: “O Lord Jesus, in spite of my many sins and my fears, sorrows, and doubts, I trust You. Jesus, I trust You, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to be the one true God of heaven and earth. I trust You to keep Your promises. I trust You to forgive my sins, to be with me always, to protect, guide, and strengthen me, to provide for my daily needs, and finally to bring me safely home.”  

And what joy is ours when we give Christ our prayers. If we were to give our Lord only the prayer which He first gave us—if the Lord’s Prayer were the only prayer we ever prayed—well, even then, the richness of our prayers would far exceed all the world’s wealth. But of course, we also pray such gems of the liturgy as the Kyrie Eleison. What a prayer to pray in the midst of life’s crises! You do not have spell out all the details to God; simply pray Lord, have mercy! and the Lord will know how to answer such a heartfelt prayer.  

And then there are the Psalms, the Church’s prayerbook. We really should be praying from the Psalms everyday. When we pray the Psalms, we are speaking to God His own words, and these are words of great power and even beauty. Consider this prayer from Psalm 25: Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation;…Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.  Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! So much said in such few words with such great beauty and in the power of the Lord! Oh, learn to speak the Psalms back to God! And as you establish a solid prayer foundation with the Lord’s Prayer, the liturgy, and the Psalms, then you can build on that foundation with your own personal petitions: “Lord, strengthen our marriage.”  “Lord, bring back to the faith my straying child.”  “Lord, take away my cancer.”  “Lord, help me bear my grief.”  “Lord, help me not to be afraid to die.” And then, there are times when we feel so overwhelmed that we cannot not even form our petitions into words; all we can do is sigh. But to the Lord, our sighs are prayers which He hears and answers in His steadfast love. Oh yes, what joy is ours when we give Christ our prayers!

Finally, what joy is ours when we give Christ our patience, when we patiently endure life’s troubles, knowing that we have something better than this world to look forward to. The writer to the Hebrews talks of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises  (6:12). God has promised us a great inheritance, a heavenly home of pure joy and peace that cannot be stained or shattered by sin and death and sorrow; a home where we shall dwell forever in the glorious presence of our Saviour Jesus! But right now, we must wait for our inheritance with great patience. In this world we suffer tribulations and we endure attacks by the evil one. And the truth is, when one is under attack and when one often suffers defeat and failure, it becomes easy to grow weary and discouraged and confused. We all have been there, in that dark corner where everything seems utterly hopeless. But, by God’s grace, we learn to patiently endure life’s trials and to patiently wait for the Day of our inheritance, when we see all of God’s promises coming true in Jesus.

In his Epiphany cantatas, Bach refers to the gifts we give to Christ—the gifts of faith, prayer, and patience. Just as our journey of repentance must continue our whole lives long, so we must ever give to Christ our faith, our prayers ,and our patience. But really, these gifts which we give to Christ are not ours to give. Here is how Bach puts it: Oh Jesus, Thou who art my life, I come to give Thee what Thou has given to me (paraphrased from BWV 248).  This reminds me of how, when I was a little child, I would have to ask my mother for the money to buy her a birthday present! On my own, I had nothing to give! And that is how it is when it comes to our giving to Christ. We can give to Christ only what He has already given us. The faith by which we trust in Him; the prayers by which we ask for His help; the patience by which we endure all obstacles and wait for heaven—all these are gifts which we must first receive from Christ before we can give them to Him. All these gifts are bound up in Christ. You cannot trust and pray and endure apart from Christ. And so the gift you need the most is Christ Himself. Again, Bach puts it so beautifully: O Jesus, give Yourself to me, and then You will make me the richest person on earth (paraphrased from BWV 65). 

Today, we celebrate the Epiphany truth that Jesus gives us Himself as our Saviour. Micah prophesied that from Bethlehem God would bring forth the Messiah from the line of King David: from you [Bethlehem] shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel(5:2). The Christ Child is Ruler, Shepherd AND SAVIOUR!  He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). And not only His people, but ALL people. Micah prophesied that this Messiah wouldbe great to the ends of the earth(5:4). Which means that Jesus would be a Saviour for all of us! For all sinners, Jews AND Gentiles! 

And the wise men know this. And so off they go, guided by the star and the prophetic word of Micah, right to the place where this mighty Ruler, Shepherd, and King of the Jews is, to a  house in the little town of Bethlehem.  

And whom do they see? Jesus with His mother Mary.  And now, what Isaiah prophesied comes to pass: nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.  For here Gentiles from the East have come to worship the promised Messiah. Immediately the wise men bow down and worship the Christ Child. After all, He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word, who took on our flesh (John 1:14), to save both Jews and Gentiles through His bloody death on the cross. This Child who is King of the Jews is also King of the Gentiles. He has come to give His life as a ransom for many. He is the Suffering Servant who will bear the world’s sin in His Body in order to answer for it and all its hellish consequences (Isaiah 52-53). King of the Jews Jesus comes as a pure gift to undeserving sinners.

And the wise men believe this. And having been given the gift of faith by Jesus, they give back to Him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh – traditional treasures of the East.  

The wise men believed, and so here we have a Gentile Christmas. Epiphany:  a festival in which God reveals His love for all people. For you. And for your salvation. Behold, Jesus is born King of the Jews. And King of all the nations. King Jesus reigns in the manger crib, and then from His mother’s lap, and then on the cross with a crown of thorns on His head. And there again the sign: Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.  And your King too.  Bearing all your sin and answering for all of it.

And still Jesus reigns in your midst. For the crucified Jesus is also the risen and ascended King! He comes to you to absolve your sins and to destroy your death and to give you Himself and His salvation in the water of your Baptism and in the bread and wine of His Supper with His Body and Blood. And in giving us Himself and His salvation, Jesus has made us the richest people on earth. So rich are we that we can give to Jesus treasures that far exceed the wealth of this world. With great joy, then, we give to Jesus our faith, our prayers, and our patience. We offer these gifts to Jesus not to win His favour or to bribe or impress Him, but with a humble recognition that we owe everything to Him, that we receive all good gifts from Him, and that this humble Son of Mary is the Son of God—our King, our Lord, our Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer, our Jesus who rules over us in His steadfast love as the Giver of heavenly gifts.

Now that is a King!  A wonderful Saviour!  Happy Epiphany!

Waiting for God’s Consolation

Our text is today’s Gospel (Luke 2:25–40):   25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law,  28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30  for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” 

33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.  34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed  35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” 

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin,  37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.  38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. 

39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.  (ESV)

This past September, as part of our tour of Central Europe, Sandy and I visited Auschwitz in Poland. Walking the grounds of the former concentration camp, one cannot help but be sad and somber as one reflects on the horrors that were committed there. How does one make sense of it all? Well, that morning I encountered two attempts to make sense of suffering.

First, I passed a woman wearing a t-shirt with a slogan emblazoned in large letters. The slogan read: “Follow your dreams and they will come true!”. I felt like stopping that woman in her tracks and saying: “really, of all the things you could have worn to a concentration camp, you chose to wear that? “Follow your dreams”—is that the advice you would have given to the inmates of this camp?”

And then, when our tour group was back on the bus, our tour guide summarized the whole experience by saying: “well, perhaps one thing we can take away from this visit is that no matter how bad you think you may have it, it could always be worse”.

There you have it—two of the world’s attempts to deal with suffering and evil. But in today’s Gospel, we have God’s way, how God would have us live as we journey though the valley of the shadow of death. God gives us two saints of old—Simeon and Anna—to show us the way, how we are to live as God’s holy people in an unholy world. And this way can be summarize in one word: “wait”.

Our lives often revolve around waiting. We are waiting either for the end of some affliction or for the start of something good. Our problem is that we make this earthly waiting the focus of our lives. Our thoughts and emotions are consumed by waiting in dread or waiting in joyful anticipation. Whether we are dreading an upcoming surgery or looking forward to a vacation, our focus is on waiting for something to either end or start.

There are at least two problems with building our lives around earthly waiting. First, we may be utterly disappointed. We wait for an affliction to come to an end, but it may remain with us until we die. We wait for a much-anticipated vacation, but something may happen that forces us to cancel the trip. And then, secondly and more seriously, our focus on earthly waiting takes our focus away from God. We start to think and to live as if earthly matters matter most.

But dear Saint Simeon and Saint Anna are teaching us this morning that earthly matters do not matter most. What truly matters most is the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem. Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel and Anna spoke of the Christ Child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. This is the kind of waiting you and I are to focus on each and every day.

How are we to live as God’s holy people in an unholy world? Earlier, I had given a one-word answer: “wait”. But now I need to expand upon that answer. As we live in Christ, we wait, but we always wait in hope. In this world, we wait sometimes in despair. We wait, hoping for good news from the doctor but perhaps also expecting not-so-good news. But when God tells us to wait for His redemption, then we can rest assured that God intends for us to wait in hope. When it comes to our salvation, there is no despair to our waiting but only hope.

As God’s holy people living in an unholy world, we wait in hope. But there is more. We wait for the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem. Now, of course, we do not mean here modern day Israel and Jerusalem. The resurrection of Jesus has brought about the New Israel, which is the Church of Christ. And His Good News of salvation is for all people—Jews and Gentiles. As Christians, we wait for the same consolation for which God’s people of old were waiting. We wait for all the gifts God gives in giving us the Christ Child. The consolation and redemption God gives us in Christ gives us hope and comfort even in the greatest of afflictions. It is the comfort of sins forgiven, as Isaiah had prophesied: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins (40:1-2).

Now, there is a sense in which we are no longer waiting for God’s consolation. For the

fullness of time [has already] come, God [has already] sent forth his Son…to redeem [us}…[and we have already] receive[d] adoption as sons (Galatians 4: 4-5). We are already redeemed, saved, in Christ. And in Holy Baptism, we have already been adopted as sons of God and heirs of heaven. And thus we have already received God’s consolation.

But there is a sense in which God’s consolation and redemption of sinners in Christ is not yet complete. You see, the full consolation of God and the redemption, the salvation, which Jesus won for us through His death and resurrection—God’s consolation and redemption will only be full and complete when He raises and glorifies our bodies on the Last Day. And so you and I are truly still waiting for God’s consolation and redemption with the same holy longing of Saint Simeon and Saint Anna.

How are we to live as God’s holy people in an unholy world? Well, not by focusing on following earthly dreams or by finding our ultimate comfort and consolation in the things of this world. Rather, in an unholy world filled with great evil, we live as God’s holy people rejoicing in the forgiveness, life, and salvation which we already have now in Christ Jesus. And as we rejoice in God’s gift of salvation now, we also wait in holy longing for the fullness of God’s consolation and redemption. In this world, you have your struggles and sorrows. But as you live confessing that you will be with your Lord Jesus in Paradise on the day you die and that on the Last Day God will raise up and glorify your body and reunite your body and soul for all eternity, then you can cope with the suffering and evil of this fallen world. For you know that your present afflictions cannot compare with the eternal glory which is yours in Christ. 

And with that holy perspective on suffering, you can say with Saint Simeon: Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation. Actually, the English translation is rather weak. What Simeon really said was: Master, now You are setting Your servant free according to Your Word in peace. It is not just that Jesus is letting you depart, as if He were dismissing you from His presence. Rather, Jesus is setting you free. And that is a much stronger image.

For starters, we must consider to whom Simeon is speaking. Normally, he would pray with his eyes looking to heaven and his hands upraised. But right at the moment, his hands are full. He has taken up in his arms the child Jesus. And so, do you see? Simeon is addressing his words to the Child in his arms. Simeon is calling Baby Jesus his Lord and Master, and himself a servant, a slave to Baby Jesus. 

And then, Simeon is attributing great things to this little Child. “Jesus, Master, You are setting me free”. That is why God’s Son became Man, to set us free from condemnation and sin, free from suffering and evil, free from death and hell.

While he speaks these words, Simeon is rejoicing because he knows that God is keeping His Word. “Jesus, Master, You are setting me free according to Your Word. The promise You made long ago to save sinners—that promise is now coming true.”

And finally, Simeon speaks of the peace which the Christ Child came to bring. We like to think of Christ’s peace as a peace for us individually—peace between God and me. But the peace of which Simeon speaks is a cosmic peace. It is a peace greater than just your personal relationship with God, as wonderful as that is. Rather, when you were adopted by God in Holy Baptism, you entered into a peace that pervades the entire Kingdom of God. It is not just peace inside you or even your peace with God. Rather, it is God’s peace that rules throughout His entire Kingdom of grace. Imagine that you are living in a war-torn country. Bullets flying through the air and bombs being dropped from the sky are a daily occurrence, so that you are living under constant distress. But then, someone delivers you out of that war-torn country and brings you safely into a country where peace reigns. Wherever you go throughout that land, you encounter people living in peace. That is what God has done from you— He has delivered [you] from the domain of darkness and transferred [you] to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom [you] have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14). And living in God’s Kingdom of peace, you do not allow your struggles to distress you; rather, the Holy Spirit works in you so that you cry out “Abba! Father!” in the Name of the Son. 

How are we to live as God’s holy people in an unholy world? Well, by God’s grace, we live devout lives as did Simeon and Anna. One aspect of being devout includes being on guard, keeping careful watch. Simeon was devout in his keeping watch for God’s consolation, and Anna kept watch through her fasting and praying. And how do we keep watch? Well, God is calling us to live devout lives by being on guard and keeping careful watch against anything that would lead us away from trusting in God’s consolation. And that is why God calls His children to gather together every Lord’s Day around His Holy Word and Supper. It is the way God would have us live devout lives—by affirming that we are righteous in God’s sight only through Christ, by confessing that we have sinned through our not looking to God for consolation, by trusting that God forgives us for the sake of Christ, and by being renewed through Word and Sacrament so that we look past our struggles and this world’s pleasures to God’s comfort and consolation in Christ. And having been forgiven and renewed in the faith, we tell God once again that we are ready, that He may set us free to depart this world in peace at any time. We may not be alive to receive the Lord’s Supper next Sunday. But that is okay. For we die as we live, rejoicing in and waiting for God’s consolation.

How are we to live as God’s holy people in an unholy world? Well, we live by singing Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis, and confessing Christ’s redemption, as did Anna. And as we join in the song and confession of Simeon and Anna, we receive a joy that no one can take from us, a joy that is mightier than our sorrows and struggles. For by God’s grace, we call Jesus our Master, our Lord, and we confess ourselves to be His servants and God’s adopted sons and thus heirs of heaven. We have already received the consolation of sins forgiven. And we are currently waiting in hope for the consolation of the resurrection of the body to life everlasting. Behold what consolation is ours because the Christ Child laid down His life and bore all our sins on the cross. In Christ, we see the salvation of God, for Christ has set us free from the eternal horror we deserved to suffer. And the day is coming when Christ our Lord will set us free to depart this world in peace, knowing that He will receive us with the eternal consolation of life in heaven with Him. Amen.

For unto you is born… a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord!

Our text is Luke 2:8-14: 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”   (ESV)

In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve as perfect creatures, with a flawless humanity. But then, into their garden home came a thief. He came, flattering with his tongue, smooth with his words, like a con man swindling the unsuspecting out of thousands of hard-earned dollars. This thief told Adam and Eve 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 no longer be merely creatures but divine, like God Himself. Turning them from God’s words to his own deceitful words, this thief, the devil, robbed them blind. Enticing Adam and Eve to think that they could be on the same level as the God who created them, the devil stole away their flawless humanity. He pilfered their very lives.

We sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are in the very same shape. We want to be the gods of our lives; we want to be in complete control, answerable to no one. But we are not gods; we are not even flawless in our humanity, as were Adam and Eve at the dawn of creation. In spite of our abilities and achievements, the fact is that we now possess a flawed humanity; we are a disfigured shadow of the perfect human creatures God had originally created. Our flawed humanity manifests itself in our lovelessness toward others—in our impatience, disrespect, anger, pride, lusts, greed, grudges, and gossip—and also in our unbelief toward God and our attempts to usurp His kingdom, power, and glory by being our own gods. 

God had intended for the human race to live contentedly as God’s creatures, to receive everything from Him according to His will, to love and trust in Him as our good and gracious Creator, and to be dependent on Him for all that we need. But all that changed when the thief, the devil, robbed Adam and Eve of their flawless humanity. Now, by nature, we are at war with God. We do not want to be human in the way God had intended, to live as creatures governed by a Creator. We would rather be independent. We want to be like God, in charge, calling our own shots, doing our own things. The truth is that all of us fell with Adam and Eve. We have been robbed of a flawless humanity; we have been mugged and left to die for a eternity in hell.

But in the Garden of Eden, God promised to send a Saviour, a Child, who would silence the lying tongue of this thief and crush his head and rescue us from his power. God would do all this—defeat the devil and deliver us sinners—by turning the tables on the devil, using Satan’s own tactics against him. Imagine, God acting like a thief, a con man, putting into a play a sting operation, using the same tactics employed by the devil in order to restore fallen sinners to a flawless humanity for all eternity!

Here is how God’s sting operation went down: It was through a virgin, Eve, that the devil worked his thievery. And so it is also through a virgin, Mary, that Christ the Lord enters into the world to undo and destroy the devil’s work. It was in a quiet, subtle, and shrewd manner that the serpent attained his plunder. And so it is in a quiet, subtle, and shrewd manner that the Son of God comes to restore what was take from you, masking Himself within weak flesh and blood, becoming a real baby boy, being laid in a feeding trough.

The Scripture says that our Lord comes as a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 16:15). This is a reference to Jesus’ return on the Last Day. Like a robber in the darkness, Jesus will come suddenly and unexpectedly to judge the living and the dead. But that image of Jesus coming as a thief in the night can also be applied to Jesus’ first coming at Christmas. He comes like a thief in the night, that is, quietly, hidden in the shadows, with almost no one noticing His arrival. The Son of God, who upholds all creation enters into His creation in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary. He travels curled up in her belly to the Holy City of David, where He is born, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger. Do you see? Jesus arrives on the scene undercover, secretly—like a holy burglar—to win back for you what the devil stole away.

Do you understand? The Christmas account is the account of a holy thief retrieving what we had lost in the Garden of Eden. This holy thievery begins when the eternal Son of God becomes Man, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. By taking on a human body and soul, Jesus the Christ has redeemed and cleansed our bodies and souls—our very humanity—with His divine holiness. God’s Son’s taking on human flesh and dwelling among us—His incarnation—permeates and hallows the human race. Looking at the manger, we see Jesus as the new Adam, come to undo the damage caused by the first Adam’s fall into sin. Jesus has come to lift you out of your flawed humanity and to re-create you by His coming in the flesh. As St. Paul writes: as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1Corinthians 15:22). God the Son took your humanity into Himself so that your humanity might be restored and made new. God has greatly exalted you by becoming not an angel or any other creature but a true man, your blood brother. Jesus partakes fully of your humanity so that in Him you might become truly human again, without flaws.

That is why on the night our Saviour was born in Bethlehem, the heavenly host breaks forth in rejoicing. For the beginning of your salvation has been accomplished. Already now, God has begun to break the devil’s hold on you. The birth, the delivery, of baby Jesus is the way God has chosen to deliver you from the shadow of death and from your flawed humanity. In Christ, the flawless humanity which had been lost in the garden through the devil’s thievery is restored and is now given back to you in Holy Baptism. You who fell from God into the hands of darkness have been brought back to your Creator. This is the peace on earth of which the angels sang. God and man come together in Jesus, who is Himself both God and Man. Those who believe and are baptized in the Body of Christ are thereby reunited with God. And so the angels sing Glory to God in the highest! For it is God’s glory to come to your aid, to descend from heaven to help you and to rescue you.

Think of it this way: by uniting your humanity with His divinity, God has made your cause His own. He is your powerful ally who alone has the power to defeat the enemy. Yes, God’s Son becomes Man to undo all that that the devil did to us. But again, our Lord engages the battle undercover. Just as the Son of God was born in a lowly state, so also His divine power to save us will be hidden beneath meekness, humility, and suffering. The tender brow of this little one is being prepared to be pierced with thorns. His fragile hands and feet will feel the hammer’s blow as spikes are driven through them, attaching Him to the cross. This baby’s tiny beating heart will grow to be pierced with a spear, and from it will flow the blood that cleanses us of all sin.

Jesus was crucified between two robbers, as if He were Himself a thief. And, in fact, He was. He came to rob the devil of his victory over the human race, and He accomplished that victory by robbing you of your sin. He stole away from you every uncleanness, every failure to love, along with every hurtful and evil thing that has been said or done to you. He robbed you of it all, took it as His own, and demolished it in His death. It was through the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that Satan conquered the human race. And so, it was also by a tree, the holy cross, that Christ conquered Satan and reconciled humans to God again. It was by death that Satan sought to steal away man’s glory. And so it is by the death of Christ and His resurrection that the glory of humanity is restored.

Listen carefully, then, and hear clearly what the angels declare, and believe it: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. He comes as a thief in the night to take away your sins and to heal your injured flesh and spirit with His own pure flesh and Holy Spirit. He is born to give you second birth to a new and everlasting life with God. He comes to undo all the evil that came into the world through Adam’s fall. In, fact, “the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus means that one day everything sad will come untrue ” (J. R. R. Tolkien).

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Still today you will find the Christ, wrapped in His Word, and wrapped every Lord’s Day in bread and wine, lying on the altar. Let us, then, with His mother, Mary, treasure and ponder these holy mysteries in our hearts. And let us with the shepherds glorify and praise God for all the things we have heard and seen, just as it has been told to us. Amen.

Blessed is He that comes in the name of Lord!

Our text is today’s Gospel (Matthew 21:1–9):   1 When they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,  2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”  4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5 “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ” 

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them.  7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.  8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”  (ESV)

The Advent wreath is up. That means we are expecting something! No, not someTHING but SOMEONE! Someone very, very, very important. Someone royal. Yes, and more. Someone divine!

 

The Lord Jesus, of course! True man and true God! The Word made flesh. Blessed is Jesus who comes in the Name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Yes, as Jesus came to Bethlehem, and the angelic choir sang the Gloria in Excelis: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luke. 2:14), so now He comes into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. And today, He comes in His Word and in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And finally, on the Last Day He will come in glory to judge the living and the dead.

Blessed is Jesus who comes in the Name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Glory and peace. Heaven’s glory! Heaven’s peace! The pure gift of salvation from the Lord Jesus to His sinners that He has come to redeem. All this is ours on this First Sunday in Advent.

 

On Palm Sunday, Glory and Peace, the divine and royal Jesus rides into Jerusalem. On a colt. On a young donkey. To bring to fulfillment all the salvific promises of the Old Testament that go all the way back to Eden. He rides into Jerusalem to overturn the fall of Adam and Eve. He rides the donkey to do a Good Friday Salvation Job! FOR YOU! For all! For every sinner. For every sin.

 

There is a lot of eager anticipation as Jesus approached Jerusalem. Crowds were there to meet Him. Palm branches in hand. Praise on their lips   Their overcoats to pave the highway for this royal arrival. Quite a commotion, with lots of excitement, enthusiasm, exhilaration, and delight. For now.

 

But soon this Palm Sunday crowd will be replaced with another mob. A rabble that will cry out for His Blood. Shouting: Crucify Him! Crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar!

 

Now, what the rabble meant for evil, God uses for good. Your salvational good! Jesus truly is the King. The Messiah. The Saviour. He comes to take all your sin and all its damnation to the cross. If He does not do this, then you are not saved. If He does not bear all your sin and all its condemnation in His Body on the cross, then you would have to suffer it, die with it and be damned with it.

 

Jesus rides a donkey and dies on a cross. His actions look so foolish, so worthless, a waste. Backwards. Of course, from our human perspective, it is foolish. However, donkey riding and cross dying—this is God’s wisdom. His power, might, glory, and peace. FOR YOU!

 

This is why the divine and royal Jesus came to Bethlehem and also to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He came to do His Good Friday salvational work, achieving salvation for you. It’s done—it is finished. Your salvation as a pure gift from Him to you.

 

In the Divine Service, Jesus comes in the Word speaking and giving the very salvation He won on the cross. The Lord Jesus has sent me here to speak His word of forgiveness won for you on the Good Friday cross. YOU ARE FORGIVEN! JESUS DIED FOR YOU! YOU ARE SAVED! JESUS IS YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE GOD! JESUS MAKES YOU RIGHT BEFORE GOD! In the Lord’s Supper we sing the Sanctus: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of Lord. Hosanna in the highest. Yes, we sing the words of the Palm Sunday crowd because Jesus comes to us salvationally, giving us in the bread and wine His Good Friday Body and Blood, the gift of forgiveness, life and salvation.

 

On the Last Day Jesus will return in glory for all to see. He will judge the living and the dead. Until then is the time for holy living. The Epistle speaks of this today. St. Paul gives this admonition: salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Today, Jesus serves you graciously with His Good Friday forgiveness in the absolution, the preached gospel, and the Lord’s Supper. And He not only forgives you, but He also fills you afresh with the Holy Spirt. And you need to be renewed in the Holy Spirit, whom you first received in Holy Baptism. For although the work of winning your salvation was finished by your Saviour Jesus on Good Friday, the living out of your salvation is a work in progress as long as you live in this time between your first becoming God’s child in Baptism and your being received safely into heaven when you die or should the Lord return in your lifetime.

In this in-between time, as we live out our baptism, we are commanded by our Lord to live in this present, fallen world as citizens of a future world, yet unseen—of heaven itself. And so we strive to keep God’s law, but not in order to earn God’s favour or to secure our membership in His Church or to achieve some special status. Rather, our casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light is simply our response to God’s mercy and love in Christ Jesus. Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and making no provision for the flesh is simply how we reflect God’s own character to those around us. Putting on Jesus and not gratifying our sinful desires—that’s repentance talk, that’s baptism talk. And this is what God gives to us as pure gift. Yes, in this in-between time of struggles and sorrows, God gifts us with our identity as His children, who are clothed in the holiness of Jesus and who live out our baptism until the day we stand before the judgment seat of Christ on the Last Day.

Do you see the deep connection between Jesus riding into Jerusalem and your living now as a citizen of heaven? Jesus rode on a donkey and died on the cross in order to give you the glory of heaven and the peace of forgiveness.  And now, He gives you His Holy Spirit. And with the Holy Spirit comes a new way of life. A life of faith in Jesus, God’s Son, a faith that eagerly and gladly receives the Lord’s Holy Word and Supper for salvation. And flowing from our faith in Jesus comes also a different kind of living in the here and now. A life of living as citizens of heaven. A life of holy living, a life of sacrificial love for others because you want to help people. This is what Christians do. And this new life of casting off the works of darkness and of putting on the armor of light so that you live in faith toward God and love toward others, this new life is done according to God’s Word and by God’s grace. And so it is indeed a holy life, a life of faith and love lived out by those who have put on Christ and His holiness in the baptismal waters. Do you see? Jesus uses you, His holy ones, to do holy work. Helping people, loving people, according to His Holy Word and in His Holy Name.

 

This season of Advent is a season for asking God to strengthen us in the new way of life Baptism brings. The new way of living for and loving others in Jesus’ Name. This life of sacrificial love and service to others includes being a faithful husband or wife. Father or mother. Child. Brother or sister. Employer or employee. Citizen. Member of Trinity. Participant in your community. Yes, this new way of living in the light of Christ is the way of dying to your sin, believing in Jesus, and serving others. The Ten Commandments speak of these things. And this is what you gladly want to do as Christ’s holy people. Let us call it Advent living. The word “Advent” means “coming”, and this new way of living in faith in God and in fervent love for others—this is the life we are called to live and which the Holy Spirit empowers us to live as we wait for the coming of our Saviour at our death or on the Last Day. And as, by God’s grace, we live advent-ly in faith and love, we eagerly pray: “Come Lord Jesus! Abide with us. Come in the divine service today. Bless us. Remain with us on the day of our death and bless us with heaven. Then, come on the Last Day and give us, bless us with the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. We trust in You, O Jesus.”  Amen.

Second Article of the Creed

Let us confess the Second Article of the Creed and its meaning:

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.  From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. 

What does this mean? 

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true.