A Chicken?

Text: Luke 13:31-35

Dear saints and Christ, Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

There are all kinds of images of Jesus that we get from the Bible. Images that we cherish and cling to because they help us to understand a little better who our Lord Jesus is and what He has done for us.

One of those images is of Jesus as a lion. St. John describes Jesus as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” in the book of Revelation. C.S. Lewis even picked that idea up in his famous “Chronicles of Narnia” books portraying Jesus there as a great lion who even dies and rises again to save his people. A mighty, ferocious lion defeating enemies and saving his people. A beautiful image of Jesus.

Another familiar image the Bible gives us is it that of a shepherd. The shepherd who faithfully cares for and tends his flock. The shepherd who protects his sheep from lions and bears like David the shepherd boy did in the Old Testament. The shepherd who, as Jesus says, leaves 99 sheep behind and goes out looking for the one that is lost. The shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who even lays down His life for the sheep in order to save them. Another beautiful image the Scriptures give us of Jesus.

Even the lamb, though less ferocious than a lion and less dedicated than a shepherd, reminds us of who our Lord Jesus is. A lamb, helpless and powerless, but also pure and holy. A lamb ready to be sacrificed. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

All these beautiful images that the scriptures give us of Jesus are near and dear to our hearts, they shape and inform our faith, and we treasure them. In our gospel reading Jesus adds another image to the list, but it is admittedly somewhat less compelling. In our Gospel reading today Jesus described himself as a chicken, a hen.

When I think if chickens the first thing that comes to mind for me is a character in a TV show that my kids watch. In TV show “Paw Patrol” one of the human characters has a pet chicken. To put it bluntly, however, the chicken is a nuisance. Causing more harm than good most of the time. Add to that the fact that when we call someone a chicken we are calling them a coward and you have a rather unusual image with which to image Jesus.

As strange as it may sound, however, the image of chicken, a hen, really is a fitting description of who Jesus is and what Jesus does for us. Jesus uses the hen as an image of His care and protection for us and, even more significantly, His self-sacrificing love for us.

Jesus compares himself to hen here in a conversation with the Pharisees. The Pharisees come to Jesus to warn him that Herod wants to kill him. This isn’t really news to Jesus really, however. Herod has already killed John the Baptist and Herod’s father had tried once already to kill Jesus when Jesus was just a child. Jesus knows that it is necessary for Him to suffer and die and He knows that He will stand trial before Herod when that time comes, but for now, he says, he must carry on His course healing, saving, and casting out demons as He journeys on to Jerusalem.

But as Jesus thinks about Jerusalem and His what will happen there He is filled with sorrow. Not because of what is about to happen to Him, but because of what the people are about to do to themselves. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he says, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often I would have gathered you up as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” And there it is, Jesus comparing Himself to a hen, a chicken.

Jesus desires above all things to gather his people under his wings the way a hen would gather her chicks. He desires to sweep them up under His loving wings and protect them, save them, and love them. “But you would not,” Jesus says. The people of Jerusalem would not be gathered.

Time and time again throughout history God had sought to gather his people Jerusalem back under his wings. He had sent prophets to them. Prophets to preach His Word to them. Prophets to call his people to repentance and to proclaim to them the salvation that he brings. But time and time again, those prophets had been rejected and in some cases even killed by the people of Jerusalem.

We saw play out that in the Old Testament reading we heard this morning. Jeremiah was confronting the people of Jerusalem. He called them to repentance, He called them to return to the Lord their God and be gathered under His wings, and He warned them that if they did not repent, if they did not return, that their city would be desolate, abandoned, and forsaken because of their sin. He called on them to repent and to return to the Lord. How did they respond? By trying to kill him.

Why did they try to kill Him? Because the words Jeremiah was speaking didn’t mesh with their worldview. Because the words Jeremiah was speaking were not the encouraging words they wanted to hear. Because the words Jeremiah was speaking were not a message of good news, but of judgment and they didn’t have ears to hear that.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God sought to gather his people under his wings, but they would not. And so it was in Jesus day as He sought to gather His people under His wings and save them. They would not, they would not be gathered.

This is what Jesus laments. This is what causes His sadness and frustration as He thinks about Jerusalem. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” He says, “how often I would have gathered you up like a hen gathers her brood, but you would not.”

Now, it would be easy to pat ourselves on the back here and to think that we’ve got this much better figured out then the folks in Jerusalem did. After all we haven’t killed any prophets and we are gathered right here, as we speak, under the wings of Jesus to hear His Word and receive His gifts. We would seem to be doing much better than they did!

But it’s important that we recognize that the temptations and sinful desires that brought the people of Jerusalem to the point that they were ready to kill the prophet sent to them by God lurk in our hearts as well. Even we who are gathered here today under the loving wings of our Lord Jesus are tempted to set off on our own, to leave the loving embrace of our Saviour, to make our own way, to strike our own course, and to do it our way.

What is it for you? What tempts you to leave the shelter of the Saviour’s wings? Maybe it’s to go after that pleasures of life that seems so harmless, so insignificant, so innocent, but which actually lead away from the Saviour’s care. Maybe it’s to pursue someone in anger for revenge. Maybe it’s that you’re too busy to stay under the wings. Maybe it’s that those wings seem too confining and you want some freedom. Maybe it’s that you have a problem with some of the others under the wings with you. Maybe it’s that you think you’re mature enough or strong enough to set out on your own now. Maybe these wings just seem silly, or old fashioned, or you just don’t like them all that much. What else? How else does Satan seek to lure you out?

Whatever it is, however it is that Satan seeks to lure you out, the call of the season of Lent is a call to return. Return to the Lord your God. Repent and again take refuge under the wings of His Word and forgiveness, the wings that our Lord spread over you when you were baptized.

Outside the wings of Jesus there is no hope. “Behold, your house is forsaken…” Jesus said about Jerusalem. The city that had time and time again turned its back on its God and rejected His ways would itself be rejected, forsaken. But under the wings of Jesus there is hope and life, under His wings there is forgiveness and under His wings none are forsaken.

Knowing what lay before Him in Jerusalem, knowing that He would be rejected just as all the prophets before Him were, knowing that He would die in that city like the prophets before Him did Jesus continued on His journey. He had to. It was the reason for which He had been born, the purpose of His entire ministry, the goal, the fulfillment of His mission. He had to carry on to Jerusalem.

“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” they shouted as He came to them on Palm Sunday just like Jesus said they would and it seemed as if Jerusalem was finally ready to be gathered under His wings. But the people hadn’t changed and neither had we. They crucified Him there and so did we. But with His arms spread wide like the wings of a mother hen reaching out to gather in her brood, He “drew all people to Himself.” He gathered sinners, one and all, that day under His loving wings securing complete and total forgiveness of all of our sins and giving eternal life to all who trust in Him.

So it really is quite fitting, then, to think of our Lord Jesus as a hen and to add this image of Him alongside all others that we hold so near and dear.

Psalm 63 says, “In the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.”  We sing for joy today because of His wings are spread over us. We sing for joy knowing the fullness of forgiveness and life that His wings provide. We sing for joy because we are blessed to live under His shelter and His care, the care of a hen for her brood, all the days of our lives and into eternity. Thanks be to Jesus who gathers us in! In Jesus name, Amen.

 

 

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Exodus Eavesdropping

Text: Luke 9:28-36

Dear saints in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Eavesdropping. Whether we are ready to admit it or not we all do it. Sometimes it happens unintentionally as we stumble into earshot of a conversation that was never intended for our ears, but other times a conversation is so enticing that we can’t help but weasel our way close enough so that we can try to pick up the gist of what is being said. When I was a kid I remember how I would lay in bed at night and try to listen in on the conversations that my mom and dad were having in the living room below. I could never really make out much of what was being said and knew full well that it really was none of my business, but curiosity always seemed to get the better of me.

I felt the same curiosity, the same urge to know what was being said, this week when I saw a video clip of Donald Trump shaking the hand of North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. During those fake, staged, smile for the camera in front of a wall of flags, kind of handshakes there always seems to be some words exchanged. And as I watched those two I couldn’t help but wonder what they might be saying to each other. Without a doubt, the words exchanged between Trump and Kim Jong Un were probably anything but edifying or meaningful, but my curious mind runs wild nonetheless and I wish I could listen in on their conversations a little bit.

Now normally eavesdropping is rude, a violation of someone’s privacy, but this morning as we consider the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus up on the mountain top we are invited to eavesdrop a little on a much more meaningful conversation than the one between Donald Trump and Kin Jong Un. We are invited to listen in a little on a conversation between Moses and Elijah and Jesus.

Jesus went up the mountain with Peter and James and John in order to pray, but as He was praying something happened. Suddenly Jesus’ appearance changed. His face looked different, it shone with heavenly light, and His clothes became radiantly white, whiter than anyone could ever possibly bleach them. Now Peter and James and John had fallen asleep while Jesus was praying (they have habit of doing that, it seems!), but the shining glory of Jesus as He was transfigured before them and shone like the Sun itself was enough to stir them from their slumber. When they woke they each saw Jesus in His glory, but they also saw two men, Moses and Elijah, two of the great prophets of old, standing with Jesus in glory (although their glory was likely a little different, more like a reflected glory) and they were talking with Jesus.

Now, if there is a conversation worth eavesdropping on, worth tuning into, this is it. Moses was the first leader of the Old Testament people of Israel. He wrote the first 5 books of the Bible and it was through Him that God gave the Ten Commandments to His people. Elijah was one of the greatest of the prophets of the Old Testament. He declared God’s anger against the sins of the people, confronted the wicked King Ahaz about his idolatry, and demonstrated definitively through a contest that Baal, Ahaz and his wife’s preferred god, was, in fact, nothing more than a figment of their imaginations. These two men, two of greatest figures of the Old Testament, are standing in glory talking to Jesus, the very Son of God in human flesh. That is a conversation worth listening to.

The details of what was said back and forth between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are not recorded for us, but the topic of their conversation is. They were discussing, Luke tells us, Jesus’ “departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

Departures were something that Moses and Elijah knew a thing or two about. Both Moses and Elijah made rather dramatic “departures” from life in this world. Moses, as we heard in our Old Testament reading today, went up on Mount Nebo and was never seen by the people of Israel again. God showed Moses the promise land from up there on the mountain top, but Moses would not enter that Promised Land. He died up there that day, “his eyes undimmed and his vigor unabated,” and God Himself buried his body. Quite a departure.

Elijah too made a dramatic departure from this world. Elijah was taken up into heaven, he didn’t even die really, by the chariots and horsemen of God Himself. A whirlwind swept Elijah into heaven. Again, a dramatic departure.

But Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah that day about more than just how to make a memorable exit from this world. The translation that we have in our Bibles here of the subject of their conversation is a little misleading. They were talking about more than Jesus’ “departure” they were talking, in fact, about His “exodus.” The Greek (which is the language of the New Testament) word for departure is “exodus.”

That word “exodus” is a loaded term in the Bible. It means much more than just a departure. The exodus is what we call the great story of salvation in the Old Testament in which God rescued the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The second book of the Bible, the book that tells that story of God saving His people, is called, at least in English, Exodus. So what Jesus is discussing up there on the mountain with Moses and Elijah is much more htan His departure from this world, He is discussing His salvation that He will bring through His departure, through His exodus, as, in Jerusalem, He suffers, dies, and rises from the dead to save us.

There are some marvelous parallels between the Old Testament Exodus and the salvation Jesus brings. I want us to just take a moment or two to think about some of them. First, in the Old Testament story of Exodus the people were saved from slavery, oppression, and hard labour in Egypt. Jesus in bringing His salvation to us saved us from slavery to sin, the oppression of the devil, and the hard labour of meeting the demands of the law. “Anyone who sins is a slave to sin,” Jesus says, but He offers freedom. “If the Son sets you free,” Jesus says, “you will be free indeed.”

In the Old Testament Exodus God overcomes the oppression and hard heartedness of the Pharaoh with a series of plagues. Those plagues brought destruction and death. Water was turned to blood, hail fell from the sky, boils and diseases broke out among the Egyptians, and people died. In His salvation, His exodus, Jesus overcomes and tramples on the power of Satan with miracles, miracles that heal and save. Water is turned to wine, storms stop at His command, lepers are cleansed, paralytics are healed, and the dead are raised.

In the Old Testament Exodus the blood of the Passover lamb marks the doors of the people or Israel when the angel of death passes through the land. In His exodus of salvation the blood of Jesus Himself, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, marks us as His people who are saved from death.

In the Old Testament Exodus God brings His people safely through the waters of the Red Sea on dry ground and, at the same time, washes away the Egyptians who continue to pursue them. In His exodus of salvation Jesus brings us safely through the water of our baptism while, at the same time, washing away the sin and death that plague us so that, rising from the water, we have new life.

Finally, in the Old Testament Exodus God brings His people, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, to their new home in the Promised Land. In His exodus of salvation Jesus brings us, at the conclusion of our lives in this world, into His Promised Land, the eternal life that He has secured for us by His death on the cross.

This conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on the mountaintop is one worth listening to, eavesdropping on even. We only have a snapshot here of what they were talking about and we may very well wish that we could know more, but we know what we need to know: that Jesus in His departure was accomplishing all that was necessary for our salvation from slavery to sin and death, all that was necessary to bring us into His promised land of eternal life.

And it is important that we realize that all of this is not simply empty knowledge, the kind of knowledge you usually pick up by listening to other peoples’ conversations. This is knowledge that is life changing, better yet, knowledge that is death changing. The day will come when it will be time for our departure from this world, there is nothing we can do to avoid that. More than likely our departure from this world will not be dramatic like the departures of Moses and Elijah were. We will not be swept up into heaven by chariots and horsemen and we will not die on a mountain while talking with God. But whether that day is far off in the future or quite near we can approach it with confidence because of what Christ has done for us. Because of His exodus accomplished in Jerusalem on the cross, we will depart from this life to be with Him in His glory. And on that day the glory will not be a temporary, fleeting thing like it was on the mountain, but an eternal glory. On that day we will say with Peter, James, and John “It is GOOD, Lord, to be here” and there will remain eternally, basking and shining in the light of  Jesus’ glory. Thanks be to Jesus for His exodus of salvation accomplished at Jerusalem and thanks be to God for this conversation on which we can eaves drop and learn the good news. In Jesus name. Amen.

Real Blessings

Text: Luke 6:17-26

Dear saints in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I love what St. Paul says at the end of our epistle reading this morning, “If in this life ONLY we have hoped in the Christ we are of all people most to be pitied.”

One of the issues that Paul had to address in writing this letter to the Christians in Corinth is that some of the folks in the congregation had stopped believing in the resurrection of the dead or had at least come to be convinced that the resurrection had somehow already happened. They still saw themselves as Christians and still believed that Jesus rose from the dead, but they had given up any ideas of the rest of us rising from the dead to new life. They had given up on the promises a new heavens and a new earth that run through the Scriptures and the new resurrected life that the Scriptures promise to those who trust in Christ. For them the hope that they had in Christ was restricted to worldly blessing and worldly promises for life in this world. In response to this Paul demonstrates rather emphatically that if Jesus has risen from the dead then we who believe in Him and have been baptized into Him will surely rise too and concludes by essentially saying that, “If we only believe in Jesus and have hope for life in this world then everyone should have pity on us and feel sorry for us because our faith is meaningless and hopeless.”

Our situation 2,000 years later is obviously a little different from what was going on way back then in Corinth, but I think Paul’s words here are still very relevant for us today. I don’t think many of us have given up on the hope (although we too may have our doubts from time to time) that we confess in the Apostles’ Creed when we say that we believe in the resurrection of the body, the hope that Jesus will come again and raise our bodies from the dead, but I do think that there is a very real sense in which we are all tempted to turn our Christian faith into a hope focused mainly on this life in this world and blessings in this life rather than the life to come. Let me explain what I mean.

I want you to think for a minute about the Lord’s Prayer. We traditionally, following Luther’s Small Catechism, divide the Lord’s Prayer into 7 petitions or 7 things we are praying that God might do for us. Those 7 petitions are as follows:

  • Hallowed by Thy name
  • Thy Kingdom come
  • Thy will be done
  • Give us this day our daily bread
  • Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
  • Lead us not into temptation
  • Deliver us from evil.

Think about all those petitions. How many of them deal with worldly, physical things that we need for our life in this world? How many of them focus on our physical needs in this life? The answer, only one: “Give us this day our daily bread.” When we pray “Give us this day our daily bread” we are asking God to take care of all of our earthly, physical needs, but when we pray those other six petitions, from “Hallowed be Thy name” right on through to “Deliver us from evil,” we are asking God to take care of all deal with all of our spiritual needs. The focus in the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught us is on the spiritual, not the physical. The physical is included and is given a special place right there in the very centre of the prayer, but the petitions are 6:1 in favour of spiritual things. Clearly, the emphasis is on the spiritual.

Now, I want you to compare that prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, to your own prayers. When you are praying what do you pray for? What is the focus of your prayers? Is it the physical things of this life or the spiritual things that go beyond this life?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that your prayers probably aren’t all that different than mine. If that is true, if you pray like I do, then your prayers, like mine, are probably somewhat different in focus than the Lord’s Prayer. My prayers tend to focus on the physical things, the needs of the body, the illness, pains, and struggles that people are having in this life. In fact it is these things, the physical things of this life and the want or need or lack of those things, which most often motivate me to pray. I’m in pain or I hear about someone in pain so I pray. I’m hungry or hear about people who don’t have food so I pray. I’m sick or hear about people who are sick so I pray. That’s how it goes for me and I suspect it’s similar for you. More often than not my prayers neglect the spiritual things that Jesus taught us to pray for and instead focus mainly on life in this world.

Please do not misunderstand me here, it is good that we pray for the physical needs of this life and Jesus certainly invites us to do that. It is by no means a sin to pray for these things. But what I want us to see in drawing this all out is the extent to which we have a habit of making God, our prayers to Him, our hope in Him, and the blessings we desire of Him all about our life in this world and somehow improving that life. And I want us all to remember what Paul said in our epistle reading, “If in this life ONLY we have hoped in the Christ we are of all people most to be pitied.”

In our gospel reading we heard Jesus preaching a sermon and pronouncing a series of blessings and woes. The one thing that stands out to us from this list of blessings and woes is that Jesus seems to have it all backwards. Blessed are you who are poor, Jesus says, and woe to you who are rich. Blessed are you who are hungry, Jesus says, and woe to you who are full. Blessed are you who weep, Jesus says, and woe to you who laugh. Blessed are you who are hated, Jesus says, and who to you who are loved. Everything about that is backwards, everything. Poverty is not a blessing. Neither is hunger or sadness. When other people hate us we hardly feel blessed, do we? But these are the things that Jesus calls blessings.

On the flip side, Jesus issues warnings and pronounces woes about the things we would normally think of as blessings: financial stability, a stable food supply, the joy of laughter, and the love of others people. “Watch out for these things,” Jesus is saying, “they aren’t the blessings they seem to be.” Jesus isn’t warning us about these things because there is anything inherently wrong about them, however, He is warning us about all these things because if we set our hearts on them, if we make them the blessings that we seek above all others, we are to be pitied most of all because these things, these worldly blessings will all pass away. In another place Jesus says, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

God our Father has blessed us in and through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, with much more than financial security, a full pantry, laughter and happiness, or the love of other people. He has blessed us, poor, lowly sinners though we are, with the riches of His Kingdom here and now as we rejoice in the forgiveness, life, and salvation won for us by the cross of Christ. He has blessed us, hungry as we are for His salvation, with His Word to be our Bread of Life and the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus to nourish and strengthen us even while He points us forward to the great banquet in heaven where our hunger will truly be satisfied. He has blessed us, even as we mourn and weep, with the comfort and peace of His saving gospel now and the hope of life everlasting, the resurrection of the dead, in Christ Jesus on the Last Day. He has blessed us, reviled and hated though we may be, with His eternal, unchanging love and the riches of heaven itself. He has blessed us, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.He has blessed us with forgiveness, life, and salvation. He has blessed us more than we can begin to understand and He desires to bless us more and more each day with these glorious spiritual blessings.

These are the blessings, brothers and sisters in Christ, which we should set our hearts on, pray earnestly for, and trust our Lord God to give us. These are real blessings. Blessings that will not pass away. Blessings that will endure. The blessing of Christ.

Our faith and our hope are not for “this life only.” Christ is risen from the dead, the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” and we shall arise with Him into a new and glorious life because Christ in His death He has taken our death and in His life He has given us new life. Blessed are we who have such a hope, who have been blessed beyond compare, and blessed is He who has so blessed us. Blessed be the name of the Lord. In Jesus name. Amen.

Isaiah, Peter, and Us

Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8 and Luke 5:1-11

Dear saints in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I’m not normally one to make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I made one. Starting January 1 I began reading from the book of Genesis with the intention that by December 31 of this year I would be finishing up a cover to cover read through of the Bible by reading Revelation 22.

The first month or so of daily Bible readings was a breeze. I woke up each day and read readings from the book of Genesis or eventually Exodus. I read the exciting, enthralling stories of God creating the world, God saving Noah in the ark, God blessing Abraham, God rescuing His people from slavery in Egypt, and so on. Lately, however, the readings have become a bit more difficult to get through. Having read through Genesis and Exodus, I’ve moved now into the book of Leviticus. The stories and the exciting tales of God’s salvation in the first two books of the Bible have given way to God’s giving of somewhat repetitive, decidedly less exciting, legal codes and worship regulations to His people Israel in the third book of the Bible.

As boring as all the legal codes and worship regulations are, however, they are not without a purpose. In the book of Leviticus God is setting up protections for His people. He has rescued them from slavery and made His covenant with them. He has promised to be their God, to dwell in their midst, and to make them His people. He has promised to be with them and bless them. The problem is, however, that God is good and perfect and holy and His people are not, they are sinners, and sinners cannot endure the holy presence of God. For sinners God’s holiness is deadly. Like a satellite, a meteor, or some other piece of space junk that gets too close to the sun and is consumed, sinners who get too close to God’s holiness without the proper protection are likewise destroyed. It is for this reason, for their protection, that God set up these laws, rules and regulations, legal codes and prescribed worship practices for His people. These things were necessary because when sinful human beings cannot stand in the presence of the holiness of God.

This truth is born out also in our Old Testament reading and in our Gospel reading today in which two individuals, Isaiah and Peter, find themselves in the presence of God’s holiness. Isaiah is given a vision of heaven, and the glory and holiness of God. Isaiah sees God sitting on His throne. He sees the train of God’s robe filling the temple. He hears the angels whirling around overhead singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Isaiah sees and hears all of this and he is terrified. He does not try to speak to God or ask anything from Him, he does not join in the song of the angels or praise God, he simply cries out: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah knows he is sinful and unclean. His heart, just like the hearts of all human beings, is unclean and he confesses that the uncleanness of his heart has burst forth from his lips. His sin has not only disqualified him from being in the presence of God, it is a death sentence. “Woe is me,” he says, “I am lost

Peter was in a similar situation in our gospel reading today. Without realizing it at first he too came into the presence of the holiness of God. When Peter lent Jesus his boat so that Jesus could preach to the crowds that had gathered around the shore that day Peter didn’t know exactly who he was dealing with. After they put out a little further into the water and let down the nets, however, Peter realized who Jesus was. This was not just some teacher or master, but the Lord Himself. They had been out fishing all night and caught nothing. Yet at Jesus’ command the fish swim into their nets so that they catch not just a normal amount of fish, but a miraculous catch of fish. And his sinfulness and uncleanness weighing heavy upon him, Peter falls down at Jesus’ knees and says: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

And this same is true for you and me. Who among us is able to come into the presence of a holy God? Our hearts are unclean as we covet and grumble. Our lips are unclean as we speak hurtful and angry words. Our minds are unclean as we think the worst of others. Our bodies and hands and feet are unclean as we do what we should not do and fail to do what we should.

But while Isaiah and Peter were right to confess that they were sinful and unclean, they were also wrong. Isaiah was right he was indeed unclean, but he was not lost. As he stood there trembling in fear, certain that this encounter with the holy God would be the end of him, “one of the seraphim flew to [Him], having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched [Isaiah’s] mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’”  The Lord did not bring Isaiah before him in this vision to destroy him, but to save him. And he is saved by the offering upon the altar. When it touches his lips, his sin and guilt and uncleanness are gone. He is given new life and hope.

And the same happens for Peter. He was right in confessing that he is a sinful man, but Jesus will not depart from him and leave him in his sin. Instead, Jesus says to him: “Do not be afraid.” Or in other words, do not be afraid of being in the presence of the Lord, for Jesus has not come to destroy, but to save. To save by being the offering that touched Isaiah’s lips from the altar of the cross. To save by being the sacrifice for guilt and the atonement for sin as the Lamb of God. To give Peter – and all the world – new life and hope. Peter is a sinful man, but he is forgiven and has no reason to be afraid.

And so it is for you and me. At the beginning of the service this morning, we took our place with Isaiah and Peter and confessed that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We cried out “Woe is me, I am lost.” We confessed that we have no right to be here, and deserve only God’s present and eternal punishment. But just like He did with Isaiah and Peter, our Lord comes to us not to destroy or condemn us, but to forgive and save us. And so like Peter, His words: I forgive you all your sins,” touch our ears and gave us new life and hope. And like Isaiah, the sacrifice from the altar, the fruits from the cross of Christ itself, will touch our lips in just a few moments as we come to His table and we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. Our guilt, our sin, and our uncleanness are gone. Gone, becasue they are taken by our Lord, and we are given His holiness and life.

But it doesn’t stop there. It would be enough, it would seem, if things had been left at that. If Isaiah walked out of the temple that day back to ordinary life that would be enough. Or if Peter after his encounter with Jesus went back to an ordinary life of fishing that would seem to be enough. But that’s not how it went. Isaiah and Peter were transformed to new life.

Isaiah’s “Woe is me!” was replaced with “Here am I! Send me!” Isaiah became a prophet who for years to come and still today as we read his words proclaims God’s salvation to us. He points us to our own sinfulness, our own uncleanness, but also points us to God’s Son who is Immanuel, God with us, and show us how He suffered “for our transgressions” and was “bruised for our iniquities.” He wants us to know that “the chastisement (the punishment) that brought us peace was upon Him” and that “by His stipes we are healed!”

Peter’s “Depart from me” was also transformed. Rather than begging Jesus to leave him, Peter clung to Jesus. He along with his fishing partners James and John left everything, our gospel reading today tells us, and followed Jesus. Peter became a disciple of Jesus, a student, and eventually an apostle, a sent one. He followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem and even though he kept messing up – jumping out of the boat and sinking, rebuking Jesus for talking about dying on a cross, and then denying Him three times, – our Lord Jesus used him in great and wondrous ways. It was Peter who preached the sermon on Pentecost, the very first Christian sermon after the sending of the Holy Spirit. It was Peter who would eventually travel far and wide, going as far as Rome, teaching the good news of sins forgiven in Jesus name. Both Isaiah and Peter were transformed by their encounters with Jesus. Their sins were forgiven and they were called to new lives.

And in the same way have you been mightily transformed and called to a new life. The love, forgiveness, and life of Jesus that He has poured out on you are not powerless. His love, His forgiveness, and His life change us. And though you are not the holiest, the best, the strongest, the most steadfast, or the most righteous – our Lord now uses you. He may not have called you to be a prophet like Isaiah, or an apostle or “fisher of men” like Peter. But our Lord has called you to be a father or mother, and speak His Word to your children. He has called you to be a friend and neighbor, to serve those around you with His love. He has called you to be a worker, to provide for others through your labours. He has called you to be a Christian, to speak His Word of forgiveness to those who suffer under the oppression of sin. And in these vocations, these callings, you are just as important as Isaiah or Peter. And Jesus is using you in ways that are both known to you and unknown to you.

Sinners cannot stand in the presence of the holiness of God, but our holy God is so gracious, so merciful, so abounding in steadfast love, that He comes to poor sinners like us, like Isaiah and like Peter, forgives our sins and tells us not to be afraid. Not only that, He transforms us to new life, gives us a purpose in His Kingdom, and uses us as His instruments of blessing in this world. Wow. What can we say to that other than what the angels in Isaiah’s vision said:  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” In Jesus name. Amen.

Weeping and Rejoicing

Text: Luke 4:16-30 and Nehemiah 8:1-10

Dear saints in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last week in our gospel we heard the story of the first miracle that Jesus performed, the turning of water into wine at the wedding at Cana. Today in our gospel reading we get another first, the first recorded sermon preached by Jesus. I would like us to take some time this morning, then, as we hear and think about Jesus preaching to think about how we hear God’s Word and, in particular, how we respond to it. In order to get us thinking along these lines I want us to take some time to look at how the folks in our gospel lesson and Old Testament lesson reacted to God’s Word.

When Jesus preached this sermon in the synagogue of His hometown of Nazareth He was met with mixed reviews. The people seemed to really like the first half of Jesus’ sermon. He opened up the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and read a portion of Isaiah chapter 61 (adding in a little bit from chapter 58 too) and then preached to the people a sermon about how these words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” were fulfilled that very day in their ears as they heard Him preach.

What Jesus meant by that was that He was the Messiah, the Saviour. Isaiah had prophesied about the Saviour who would come, who would be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord, and would proclaim good news of salvation. In His sermon Jesus says, in no uncertain terms, “I am that Saviour.”

Now if Jesus had stopped there that day everything would have been great. The people were in awe at what Jesus had told them and they marveled at His words. They wondered how Joseph’s son, the son of a carpenter, could have learned such things, but even still they spoke well of Him. They rejoiced that He, the Saviour, came from their own town and they loved the sermon they heard in their synagogue that morning up to that point. Jesus, however, didn’t stop there.

While the people were still in awe and were marveling at His words Jesus launched into part two of His sermon. This part was not so well received. Jesus perceived that in the midst of their excitement and marveling that the people there in the synagogue that day expected Him to perform some kind of sign or miracle. They had heard, apparently, about the miracles that He had done in other places like Capernaum and they expected (or, perhaps more accurately, demanded) that He do those same kinds of miracles there in His home town. They felt entitled as Jesus’ neighbors and family members and friends to such signs or miracles from Jesus. Jesus, however, would have none of it. He condemned them for their feelings of entitlement, their unspoken demands that Jesus perform miracles for them, and preached to them about Elijah and Elisha, two more Old Testament prophets, who performed some of their most significant, well known, miracles far away from their hometowns and for people who were not neighbors or friends but foreigners. Jesus made it clear that He had no intention of performing a miracle or a sign for them people and He condemns them for expecting (demanding!) Him to do so.

The people didn’t take that well. “When they heard these things,” Luke tells us, “all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.” They weren’t just upset, they were filled with wrath! They drove Jesus out of town, to the precipice of the hill on which their town was built, and were prepared to throw Him over the edge. The condemning voice of God’s law, even as preached by Jesus Himself, which called out their sense of entitlement and rebuked them for demanding in their hearts a sign from Jesus, filled them with violent, murderous rage.

Our Old Testament reading today presents us with a very different story and a very different reaction to God’s Word. In Nehemiah chapter 8 we are told about a gathering of God’s people at which the word of God is taught and preached by Ezra the scribe. This gathering of people occurred after the people of Israel had returned from exile and slavery in Babylon. For 70 years God allowed His people to be captives in slaves in Babylon, but then God caused Cyrus, King of the Persians, to conquer Babylon. Cyrus let the people of Israel go home. The people of Israel then, led by Nehemiah their governor, went back to Jerusalem and rebuilt their city. Our reading today occurs shortly after the walls of the city had finally, after much toil and difficulty, been rebuilt. With that project finally complete, being once again safe and secure in their homes, the people desired to hear God’s Word.

Ezra read the book of the Law (the first 5 books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) to the people and “gave the sense” of what the words meant. In other words, he read the Bible and preached to them. Amazingly, this went on “from early morning until midday” and “the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the Law.” Kind of puts us and our hour long church services to shame, doesn’t it?

More significant than the time dedicated to God’s Word and the attentiveness of the people to the Word, however, is the way they responded to that word. “All the people wept,” the text says, “as they heard the words of the Law.” Why did they weep? Well the text doesn’t come right out and say it, but the reason can be easily inferred. The people wept and cried when they heard the words of the Law because as they heard the words of the Law they realized, some of them, perhaps, for the first time, the extent to which they had broken God’s commands, forsaken His Laws, and turned away from Him. They realized that the destruction of their city and their homes, the 70 years of exile that they had spent in Babylon, were the consequences of their own sinful behavior and the wept. They wept in sorrow over their sin. God’s law condemned and they took it to heart.

There is quite a contrast between these two readings and the way in each of them that people respond to God’s word, isn’t there? When Jesus preached in the synagogue at Nazareth and confronted the people about their attitude of entitlement the people responded to this word of law with murderous rage. They refused to repent, refused to turn from their sinful entitlement and demanding of a sign from Jesus, and instead sought to silence the One who had delivered the message once and for all. When the people of Israel, on the other hand, who had returned from exile heard God’s word condemning their sinful thoughts, words, and deeds that had resulted in their suffering and exile they wept and lamented their own sinful behavior. What a contrast!

This contrast should get us thinking. It should get us thinking about how we respond and how we should respond to God’s Word particularly when it proclaims to us a message of law that condemns us in our sin. When we read our Bibles, read devotions, hear Scripture read to us in church, or hear sermons preached to us how do we respond to God’s law that shows us our sin? We might not become filled with murderous rage, but do we take those words to heart? Do we take seriously the condemnation of God’s law as it points out our failures and flaws? Too often, brothers and sisters in Christ, we shut out ears, make excuses for ourselves, blame others, and try to focus the attention of God’s law on someone whose sins we think are worse than our own. This is not the Godly way to respond to God’s Law.

The Godly way to respond to the condemning words the Law is demonstrated for us by the folks in our Old Testament reading. The Godly way to respond to the law as it condemns us is with weeping and sorrow, contrition and repentance, but also with faith.

When the people started weeping and lamenting their own sinfulness Nehemiah, Ezra, and the other priest who had been teaching the people said, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep… Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” When Nehemiah, Ezra, and all the others said this they were not saying it was wrong to weep, but they were pointing the people beyond their weeping, beyond their sorrow. The Lord had already saved them, already redeemed them, already restored them as His people, and already brought them home. It was a holy day, a day of the Lord’s love, mercy, and forgiveness, the day that the Lord had made. And so it is for you and me. We should be sorrowful over our sin. We should be cut to the heart by the commandments we have not kept. We should weep and lament. But we should also rejoice.

You and I, you see, do not simply live in a day that is holy to the Lord, but we live, as Jesus Himself said that day in the synagogue in Nazareth, in the year of the Lord’s favour.” In Nazareth when they wanted to throw Him off the cliff and kill Him Jesus miraculously passed through their midst unharmed. In Jerusalem, however, when the crowds arrested Him, accused Him, tried Him, and called for His crucifixion Jesus did nothing to stop it. Instead, then and there, He paid the price for all of our sin and secured for us the unending year of the Lord’s favour. He brings God’s gracious love, His favour, to us through His death on the cross.

Jesus our Saviour, anointed with the Spirit of the Lord at His baptism, has come to proclaim good news of His cross to poor sinners such as ourselves. He has come to proclaim the liberty of His cross to captives trapped in sin such as ourselves. He has come to set at liberty by His cross we who are oppressed by the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. He brings God’s favor.  So, as Psalm 30 says Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Let us then, as we engage with God’s word here together or on our own at home, weep and lament over our sin, let us  but even more so let us rejoice, give thanks to God, and sing His praises for His beloved Son our Saviour. He turns our mourning into dancing! The joy of the Lord is our strength. In Jesus name, Amen.

More than Water into Wine

Text: John 2:1-11

Dear saints in Christ, grace and peace to You from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” That is how John ends our gospel reading today, by informing us that “this,” the turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana, was the first of the signs that Jesus did manifesting His glory.

I’ve often wondered why Jesus chose this, the turning of water into wine, to be His first sign or miracle. Turning water into wine is certainly impressive and certainly reveals that He has a kind of power that no other human being on earth possesses, but on the surface this doesn’t exactly look like the most significant of Jesus’ miracles, does it? I mean later on in the gospel of John Jesus does other signs that seem to be on a whole other level. Jesus will heal a paralyzed man and make him walk again. Jesus will feed 5,000 people with just a little bread and fish. Jesus will walk on water. Jesus will open the eyes of the blind. Jesus will raise the dead man Lazarus to new life. By comparison changing water into wine and saving a wedding seems to be somewhat insignificant. So why start here? Why did Jesus choose this as His first miracle, His first sign through which He manifested His glory?

If we do a little digging, however, we can soon see that there is more to this miracle at Cana in Galilee than first meets the eye. This is no second rate sign. This is about much more than changing some water into wine.

It all starts when Mary comes to Jesus and simply points out to Him that they have run out of wine for the wedding celebration. Now to us that might not seem like a big deal, but to people in that culture at that time it would be a great source of shame and disgrace to run out of wine at your own wedding. It would be considered a sign of disrespect to your guests (you didn’t care enough about them to make sure they would have enough), a sign of excessive cheapness or frugality (you cared more about the expense than the happiness of your guests), and perhaps even a bad omen for the beginning of this new couple’s life together (imagine the people muttering, “this marriage is off to a good start, isn’t!”). Any couple who had this happen to them in those day would be ashamed and embarrassed.

Jesus takes the shame and disgrace of this situation, however, and transforms it into something much better. Having turned water into wine Jesus told the servants to take some of the wine to the master of the feast. The master of the feast tastes the wine and is amazed. He calls the groom aside, the ashamed groom who has failed to supply enough wine for his own wedding, and says, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” The groom probably thought he was about to get an earful from the master of the feast for not having planned things out better, but instead the master of the feast marvels at his generosity saving the good wine until now. His shame has been turned into honor.

Jesus has done the same for you and me. He has transformed our shame into honor. Our shame is not our social foibles or failures, our failure to meet societal expectations. Our shame is in our repeated, continued, ongoing failure to meet our heavenly Father’s commandments and Law, our failure to live as His holy people. Ashamed and fearful we, like Adam and Eve want to hide ourselves away and cover ourselves with fig leaves thinking that maybe, just maybe God won’t notice our failure, our shame. But Jesus comes to us to take our shame upon Himself. Stripped naked, beaten, and mocked He suffers our shame, our disgrace, our humilation on the cross. And then, risen from the dead, He honors us by giving Himself to us and covering us with Himself, the generosity of His love, so that in the Father’s eyes we are pure, holy and righteous. Jesus turns shame into honor.

And that is just the beginning of this wedding at Cana water into wine story. John makes a point of telling us that the stone water jars that Jesus told the servants to fill with water were for the “Jewish rites of purification.” In the Old Testament times purification and ritual washing were a constant necessity. Sin was an ever present reality and purification for sin needed to be made constantly. Even at a wedding people would need to be washed, purified from sin, before they could take part in the feast. But Jesus changes all that.

When Jesus tells the servants to fill the water jars for purification with water and then transforms that water into wine He is repurposing the jars. They won’t be needed for purification any more. Why? Because He has come to deal with sin. Sin is still an ever present reality, you and I still struggle with sin each and every day, but the payment for sin has been made. By His death on the cross and our baptism into His death Jesus has purified us, once and for all, from sin. We don’t need a ritual washing each and every day to make us clean. We don’t need jars of water on hand at all times to wash away our sin. Jesus’ word, poured out on us in the water of our baptism, makes us clean, perfectly and totally. The jars, then, can be repurposed. Instead of water for washing they can be filled with wine for celebrating. Our life in Christ is a celebratory life of God’s goodness and mercy. A life lived rejoicing in the goodness of God who through washing us with His Son’s blood has made us clean. Jesus turns purification into celebration.

Another thing those stone jars show us is the sheer amount of wine that Jesus produced. The story started with lack, the wine ran out, but it ends with abundance. Those stone water jars, John points out to us, held 20 to 30 gallons each. There were 6 of them. If you do a little math that equals between 120 and 180 gallons. The servants, following Jesus’ instructions, filled those jars to the brim and Jesus turned the water in those jars into wine. How much wine did Jesus produce? 120 to 180 gallons. Based on the standard 750ml bottles of wine that you can buy nowadays that is roughly 600 to 900 bottles of wine. Jesus didn’t just give them enough to get by, He gave them an abundance. He turns lack into abundance.

And Jesus has done the same for you and me as well. Our lack isn’t in wine. With LCBO’s all over the place we have more than enough of that stuff available to us. Our lack is in righteousness, holiness, and goodness. We might look good to other people and maybe even to ourselves, but in God’s eyes we lack righteousness because our lives do not conform to His holy Law. Jesus, however, takes our lack and fills it with His abundance. He has kept God’s Law perfectly and totally. He has suffered the penalty of our sin. He has obeyed the Father. He has loved His neighbour. And He gives all that He has, the superabundance of His goodness, righteousness, and holiness, to us. Our lack has become an abundance.

At the wedding in Cana Jesus did more than turn water into wine. He turned shame into honor, purification into celebration, and lack into abundance. He transformed need into blessing. Sadness into joy. Work into play. Pain into pleasure. Really you could say He transformed earth into heaven, even if only for a few moments. In Revelation chapter 19 John describes heaven like this,

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

Heaven, we see here, is like a marriage feast, a celebration. Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, is the groom and we, the people whose sin He has taken away by His death on the cross, are collectively, altogether, the bride. We, by His gracious invitation, are brought into that feast and blessed to be there at His table forever celebrating, in honor and abundance, His great love for us.

At the wedding in Cana, when He turned the water into wine, Jesus gave His disciples a peak into heaven, the glorious feast that is coming. He manifested His glory to them, His glory that changes our shame into honor, that purifies from sin, that fills us with His abundance, and they believed in Him. Jesus also gives us a peak into heaven, not at wedding and not by turning water into wine, but by giving Himself to us in bread and in wine so that we might have a foretaste, a preview of that heavenly marriage feast. In that bread and in that wine He does the very same things. Taking our shame, purifying us from sin, and filling us with Himself He manifests Himself to us so that we might believe in Him.

Thanks be to God that “this, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory” that we might believe in Him. For Jesus sake. Amen.  

Well Pleased

Dear saints in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

“You’re a bit of a people pleaser, aren’t you?” A registered psychologist said that to me one time. It was when I was in seminary and was meeting with a committee made up of pastors and lay people with all kinds of different backgrounds and experiences (including a psychologist) who met with us students once a year to talk about our progress through seminary and help us work through some of the challenges that they were facing. I had been talking to them about how I struggle with a fear of failing to meet the expectations of other people and a fear of letting other people down when this registered psychologist on the committee called me out for being a people pleaser.

What she meant by that is that I (and other people pleasers like me) spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about what other people think of me and trying to please other people. Now that isn’t altogether a bad thing. Being a people pleaser means I tend to be aware of the feelings, opinions, and expectations of others and pay attention to these things. It means that I try my best to do right by other people most of the time. It also means that I work hard to keep people happy. Those are all, for the most part, good things. The problem with being a people pleaser however, is that it is a life of uncertainty, a life of anxiety and worry, a life of wondering and doubting, because you never know really know the thoughts of other people and you never really know for sure that other people are really, truly pleased with you. If you are a people pleaser like me (and I think we all are to a certain degree) then you know the stress and anxiety this brings. In our gospel reading today, however, we have wonderful good news: While we might not always know what other people think about us, whether or not they are pleased with us, we can know with certainty that God our Father is pleased with us and loves us for the sake of Christ.

In our gospel reading we heard Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus. Before that, however, we heard once again about John the Baptist. We heard about John not long ago in Advent and perhaps you remember his message. John called the people to repentance. He called them to confess their sins, to turn away from their sinful lives and habits, and to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. That same message from John continued in our gospel today.

Today we heard John warn the people about God’s wrath and judgement saying, His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  This message was not one of God’s good pleasure. It was not a message that said God is well pleased with human beings like us. Instead it was a message of God’s anger against sin, our sin, and a warning about God’s wrath and judgement. God’s harvest in coming, John says, and in His harvest God will separate the good from the evil, those who please Him from those who do not please Him.

Now that message doesn’t bring much comfort, does it? No, that message produces more wondering, more anxiety, and more worry. Are we the pleasing ones, the ones that will be gathered in, or are we the unpleasing ones who will be “burned in unquenchable fire”? If we are honest with ourselves about our sins then we know what it is that we deserve and it’s not a very comforting thing to know. But there is hope and comfort here.

After John’s message comes our comfort in the Baptism of Jesus. Luke tells us in the verses that follow that when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Everything that happened at Jesus’ baptism, from the heavens opening to the Spirit descending, to God’s voice booming from heaven, is good news for us. All of it brings comfort. But those last words the Father spoke are particularly beautiful, “with you I am well pleased.”

When God the Father said that, when He said to Jesus “with you I am well pleased,” He was showing us where we find our comfort and peace. We find our comfort and peace in Jesus, the Son of God, who truly pleases the Father in every way.

There are two important ways in which Jesus was well pleasing to God the Father. First of all, God the Father was well pleased with Jesus because He had lived a life that was truly pleasing to God. It seems strange to think this way only a few weeks after Christmas, but at this point in our gospel Jesus was a thirty year old (give or take a few years) man. And in those thirty some odd years of His earthly life Jesus did something that we could never possibly do. He had, in every sense possible, lived a God pleasing life. He had loved the Lord His God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength. He had loved His neighbor as Himself.. He was, in the truest sense possible, a God pleasing man.

It is for that reason that John the Baptist (as Matthew records the story in his gospel) was reluctant to baptize Jesus and suggested instead that Jesus ought to baptize him. “This baptism is for sinners,” John thought to himself, “and this man has no sin. I need to be baptized by Him!” Jesus, however, insisted. “Let it be so now,” Jesus said, “for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” 

That is the second thing about Jesus that pleases the Father. God the Father is pleased that Jesus has submitted Himself to this baptism by John in the Jordan because there, in the water of the Jordan River, He, the very Son of God in human flesh who in every way pleased God with His life and actions, took His place alongside sinners and even took their sins upon Himself so that He could win, once and for all, salvation for all people. By numbering Himself among that sinful multitude, a multitude with which we would fit right in, Jesus came all the way down into our sinful mess, into the brokenness of our lives, and took our sins, the sins of the world, upon Himself. As our sins are washed away by the water of our baptism they are absorbed into Jesus, the sinless Son of God, who paid the price for each and every one of them once and for all taking all the fiery wrath and anger of God that those sins well deserved upon Himself. This, above all things, pleases God that His Son would take our sins upon Himself, suffer and die, and rise again to save us and give us life.

This, then, is our comfort. Our comfort comes in knowing that Jesus is really truly pleasing to God in every sense and that He, the God pleasing Son of God, has Himself taken our sins away. But there is even more here than that. You see, Jesus has not merely taken our sins away. He has also given us His perfect, holy, God-pleasing righteousness to us in the water of Baptism. St. Paul says it this way in Galatians 3, As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” We, then, who are baptised have “put on Christ” we have been clothed with Christ. We have been covered with Jesus. That means when God the Father looks down from heaven at us He does not see sinful chaff that ought to be thrown into the fire, but His own God-pleasing beloved Son. When God looks down from heaven at YOU He says, “With YOU I am well pleased!” And, as Jesus says to His disciples later on, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure (He is well-pleased) to give you the kingdom.” This, brothers and sisters in Christ, is our comfort.

We wonder, we worry, we stress, we doubt, we question what other people think about us, how they feel about us, but thanks be to God that we never have to wonder or worry about what our God thinks of us. He is well pleased with us who have been baptized into His beloved Son. In Jesus name, Amen.

Unexpected

Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Dear saints in Christ, grace and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the short time that they had been parents Mary and Joseph surely had learned to expect the unexpected. Every parent has to learn that, I think. When we were expecting our first child we were given a book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” There’s a whole series of these books, apparently, spanning from the time of pregnancy to the first few years of life. Having been “expecting” 3 times now, however, and having had three children of my own I think I could have saved the folks who write these books some ink. What should you expect? The unexpected.  With children the unexpected is often times more likely to take place than the expected. Mary and Joseph had to learn this truth to an even more significant degree, however, because with Jesus there was a whole new level of unexpected that went on.

It started on the night when He was born. As with any childbirth, it was surely a chaotic and stressful night that night and Mary and Joseph were surely not expecting any visitors, but then, out of nowhere, a whole crew of shepherds come running into the stable from out in their fields asking to see the baby because angels told them about Him. Surely no one was expecting that to happen.

Forty days later when Mary and Joseph took little Jesus to the temple (which we read about last week) the unexpected happened again. Simeon rushed up from among the crowds, grabbed the baby, and praised God for the Saviour who had now come. Surely they were not expecting that either.

Yes, Mary and Joseph learned quickly with Jesus to expect the unexpected. None of this, however, could have prepared them for what happened in our gospel reading today.

Today in our gospel there was a knock at Mary and Joseph’s door. They are obviously not living in the stable anymore, but in a house and some time has passed (perhaps even a year or more) since Jesus was born. He is not a tiny baby anymore. They are at home, then, minding their own business, not expecting much of anything, when they hear the knock.

Mary gets up to answer the door and when she opens it she cannot believe what she is seeing. Wisemen or Magi, perhaps 3 of them or maybe more, standing on her door step. It is clear from looking at them that they aren’t from around here either. “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews,” they say in broken language with heavy accents, perhaps repeating the words they said to Herod in Jerusalem, “We have come to worship Him.”

Now Mary probably had half a mind to close the door and lock it right then and there. First of all, these wisemen or magi were totally unexpected and unannounced. They didn’t exactly call ahead to see if it was alright for them to stop by. Secondly, they were foreigners or gentiles as the Jews called them. Jews didn’t just let gentiles into their homes. Thirdly, these wisemen or magi weren’t exactly the kind of people that good believing folk like Mary and Joseph wanted to be associated with.

The name “wismen” kind of hides who these guys really were, Magi is the real name for them. They were magicians and sorcerers. They were astrologers and star worshippers. They were into horoscopes and fortune telling. Nothing about them was particularly “wise” either. These guys were pagans, pagans of the worst kind. Concerning these types of people the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 18 says this: “There shall not be found among you… anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer… for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.” An abomination to the Lord; that is what these magi were. Mary had three (or more or less, who knows) abominations to the Lord standing on her doorstep wanting to come into her house. I think I would have closed the door if I were her.

Mary, however, seems to have learned to along the way expect the unexpected and to roll with things a little and she lets these magi standing on her doorstep come in. And once they had come in these magi who had bowed down to idols time and time again in throughout their lives bowed down to the ground and worshiped Jesus. These pagans who had offered sacrifices to all kinds of different gods offered their gifts to the Christ. These worshippers of false Gods now worshiped the Lord Jesus Christ, the one true God in human flesh; the Saviour of the world. After that, Matthew says they departed by another way.

Now in a literal, historical sense that just means that they went home by a different route than the one by which they had come, but I wonder if there is a spiritual sense here as well. Not only did they go home a different way, but they went home as different people. Changed people. These pagan idolaters, worshippers of false gods, went home worshippers of the one true God leaving their days of pagan idolatry behind.

The amazing thing about all of this is not that Mary let them into the house or even the transformation of the lives of these men, however. Who knows what Mary’s reasoning was or why she let them in, it doesn’t really matter. And who knows what happened in the lives of these magis after they went home, the Bible simply doesn’t tell us. The amazing thing about all of this is that God calls these people, these magi, who were far off both geographically, being “from the East,” and spiritually, being pagans and worshippers of false gods, to come and worship Jesus the Saviour.

What the Epiphany story, the coming of the magi, teaches us, then, is the height, breadth, depth, and length of God’s love and mercy. God’s love and mercy is not restricted by political, geographical, or ethnic boundaries. All people, far and near, are the recipients of His gracious love in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins won by His death on the cross. As we learn in John 3:16, “God so loved the WORLD that He gave His one and only Son…” And as John the Baptist teaches us, Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the WORLD.” He is the Saviour of the people from the East, the West, the South, and the North. There are none for whom Christ has not come and none for whom He has not died and none for whom He has not risen from the dead. There are none excluded from His love.

God’s love and mercy are likewise not restricted only to nice, god-fearing people with squeaky clean backgrounds. He offers magi, pagans, unworthy idolaters, sinners, the kinds of people that you might make you uncomfortable and that you might not want in your house, people who elsewhere in the Bible are called an abomination to the Lord, the same love and mercy in Christ Jesus that He offered to the shepherds and to Simeon and to you and me. Jesus himself said it, I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

This knowledge, the knowledge of the marvelous, unimaginable, unexpected height and breadth and depth and length of God’s love and mercy changes how we look at things. First of all, it changes how we look at the world out there, at our own city and our own community, our own family and our own circle of friends. There are people out there, people in our own lives maybe, who perhaps seem too far gone, who seem to have gone so far from church, so far from faith, so far from Jesus that there is no hope for them. People who are into stuff that is incompatible with the good news about Jesus like the magi were. People whose track record would seem to be too much to overcome. People who have done things or said things that would seem to exclude them from God’s love and mercy.

The lesson of Epiphany, however, is that nothing could be farther from the truth. The lesson of Epiphany is that God reaches out in love through His Word again and again into the darkness of this world, into the sin, into the idolatry, into the love of self, into the selfishness, blindness, and ignorance of sin calling one and all to come and worship the new born king who bled and died for the salvation of the entire world.

It was through His Word that God called the magi to come and worship Christ. It was from the Word, specifically an Old Testament prophecy in Numbers 24, that they knew the star they saw when it rose was a sign that a king or saviour had been born. It was through the Word, as it was relayed to them by the chief priest and scribes, that they came to know Bethlehem as the place the child had been born. It is through His Word even today that God continues to reach out to the most unlikely, unexpected people with His love and mercy. As we look out at our world, our city, our community, our neighbourhood, our family, and our friends, then, we see how all those people are people to whom God is calling through His Word.

The knowledge of the height and breadth and depth and length of God’s love and mercy also changes how we look at ourselves. In Ephesians 2 (some of the verses leading up to our epistle today) St. Paul says this, “remember that at one time you Gentiles… were… separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

You and I aren’t magi, astrologers, or anything like that and we do not, perhaps, think of ourselves as having been “far off,” but Paul encourages us here (gentiles as we are) to remember that we too are the recipients of God’s love and mercy that crosses the boundaries of race, politics, ethnicity, and geography. That we have been called by God’s Word out of darkness just like the magi were. That according to the mystery of Christ we, who were once far off, who were without hope and without the assurance of God’s love, have ourselves been brought near by the blood of Jesus. You and I, then, are living, breathing, walking, and talking manifestations of God’s love. That He would call us, like the magi, through His Word to worship the Christ-child, to have faith in Jesus as the source of our forgiveness and salvation, and to know the hope of everlasting life is as great a testament to God’s love as any.

We then, who know this love, who have heard His call, and by His grace have believed His Word are called to be witnesses to this glorious love. To be witnesses to the world out there that none are beyond His love. To proclaim to one and all, to each and every, to those near and those far, to those who seem too far gone and to those who have only recently wandered away, the saving love of Christ as we have come to know it in God’s revealed Word. For God has so loved the WORLD, magis and all, that He has given His one and only Son that WHOEVER believes in Him might have eternal life.

May this Epiphany good news, the unexpected love of God as unexpected as the magi themselves, so fill our hearts and minds that, with the Magi, we might “rejoice exceedingly with great joy” and proclaim near and far the saving love of Christ. In Jesus name. Amen.

Son of Kings

Text: Matthew 1:6-11

Dear Saints in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

My father-in-law told me a story one time about a tree in his back yard. The tree was growing near the property line and was causing the fence between his property and the neighbor’s to lean. It had to be cut down. The stump and its roots, however, had grown under the fence so removing them would require tearing down the fence and building a new one. Not wanting to do that, the decision was made cut down the tree but leave the stump where it was.

If you have ever had a tree cut down and left the stump in the ground you might already have an idea what happened next. Within a year or two new sprouts from that stump began to grow. Trees don’t always give up when you cut them down. Even though the tree had been cut off at the ground and only a stump remained new life grew up from the dead stump. Year after year my father-in-law cut back, picked off, and pruned back these sprouts, but they kept coming back. Finally, one year, fed up the continual new growth from the stump, he decided to end it once and for all. He took a drill, drilled a bunch of holes into the stump, and poured motor oil into them. The tree, I was told, hasn’t had any new sprouts since.

As we continue this evening our study of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham and are confronted with the story of another dead stump and the new life that comes from it. Last week we saw how this Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, was the son of sinners. He descended from the family of Abraham, a family that had its share of skeletons in the closet, and He was and is not ashamed to call those sinners, you and I included, His family. This week, in the portion of His genealogy that we will consider this evening, we see that He is the son of kings, the son of kings descended from David, the son of a dead stump.

Our starting point tonight is the end of the gospel reading that we just heard. Matthew ended our reading tonight with these words, “at the time of the deportation to Babylon.” Matthew is referencing here historical event. A significant event in the Biblical history, but one that many are not familiar with. In the year 586 BC, nearly 600 years before the birth of Jesus, the city of Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon. The city was captured, the temple destroyed, and many people (like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and many others) were taken in to exile or slavery in Babylon. Most importantly for our consideration this evening, however, the line of kings descended from King David was effectively brought to an end. It was a low point in the history of God’s Old Testament people and it would seem to run counter to the promise that we heard God make to David in our first lesson today.

In our Old Testament reading we heard God make a promise to King David. When David had secured his reign as king of Israel and had defeated all of his surrounding enemies he got thinking about how to best thank God for the blessings that he had received. David realized that while he lived in a fine palace God, whose presence on earth was represented by the Ark of the Covenant, lived in a tent, a temporary, portable temple called the Tabernacle. David concluded that the right thing to do would be to build a house, a temple, for God.

God, however, had no intentions of letting David build a house for Him. Instead, flipping things around, God said that He would build a house for David. Not a literal house, mind you, David already had one of those, but a family house, a reign, an empire that would extend through His family into eternity, forever. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you,” God said to David, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” It was a glorious promise, but at the time of the deportation to Babylon, when Jerusalem lay in ruins, when the people were being marched off into captivity, and when the line of David had been cut off completely and left like a dead stump in the ground it seemed like an unfulfilled promise. So the question is why did God, the Lord our God who is faithful to all His promises, let this happen?

To find the answer to that question you need look no further than some of the names listed in the genealogy of Jesus. In the portion of the genealogy we read this evening all of the names, from David on down through Jechoniah, are names of kings of Israel/Judah, kings in Jerusalem, kings from the house of David. These kings, however, were not kings after the heart of their father David.

David, as we saw last week, was not so squeaky clean himself, but David, in spite of his great fall into sin, remained faithful. He trusted in the Lord His God for forgiveness and new life and did not bow his knee to false gods. The same can’t be said of his descendants. Solomon, David’s son, married many women as a political arrangement with surrounding kings. That was problematic enough, but he also began to worship the gods of those women he married and was unfaithful to the Lord His God. To make matters worse, his unfaithfulness led the people astray too, they became unfaithful. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, was no better. He too worshiped false Gods. So did most of the kings that followed. Along the way there were some good kings who tried to be faithful, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah to name a few, but most were unfaithful at best and downright evil at worst. The worst of the worst was Manasseh, the 13th king from the line of David to reign in Jerusalem, who was so caught up in the worship of false gods that he sacrificed his own son to one of them. What did God do to these line of kings and the people they led astray into unfaithfulness? Like a problematic tree, He cut them off at the ground and sent them off into captivity in a foreign land. They were reduced to a stump. They were deported to Babylon. But God did not forget His promise to David and the promise was not revoked.

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah centuries before the deportation to Babylon happened, God re-upped His promise to David:

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.  And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth”

 

God promises here a shoot, a branch, from the stump of Jesse (Jesse was the father of King David) that would bear fruit. From the dead stump of that family tree, from a line of kings so corrupt that the only solution to their wickedness and unfaithfulness was the utter destruction of the nation and the cutting off of their family line at the root, God promised to send a King upon whom His Spirit would rest. A king who would rule justly and righteously. A king whose kingdom would never end. Who is that King? Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of kings.

On the first Sunday in Advent we heard about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and contemplated how we prepare our hearts for Him, the King, who comes to us. Tonight it is fitting to do the same. But beyond that it is worth taking the time to think about what God’s sending of His Son to be born of the line of David, even after they had been so unfaithful, means for us.

The fact that Jesus, the very Son of God in human flesh, was born as the son of these wicked, unfaithful kings a sign of God’s faithfulness. The people of Israel, as they were taken away into Babylon, cried out in the words of Psalm 89, Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” They felt as if God had forgotten His promise to David and to them. Where was the king that would reign forever? Where was their kingdom? But in sending His own Son, the son of kings, God demonstrated once and for all His faithfulness. Human sin, human unfaithfulness, even the unfaithfulness of the entire nation, would not derail God’s faithful promise. David’s house is established forever. It is established in Christ who reigns, even now, as our King.

Perhaps there are times in our own lives when we feel as if God has been unfaithful to us. Perhaps there are times in our own lives when it feels like God has forgotten His promises to us. Perhaps we doubt and wonder. This fact, that God faithfully fulfilled His promise to David in spite of the great sin of His descendants, should assure us in these times of God’s faithfulness.

This is also a fitting time to consider our own faithfulness. We have not worshipped false gods or idols or sacrificed our children to them like many of the descendants of did, but have we always been faithful to God in thought, word, and deed? Have we doubted His love? His goodness? Have we chased after the idols or gods of our hearts, pride, prestige, and power? Of course we have. We then should confess our unfaithfulness to the Lord. Why? Because He is faithful. He is faithful to forgive our sins, just as He has promised, for the sake of Christ, the son of kings, who has faithfully come to be our King.

Thanks be to God for Jesus our King. Amen.

The Joy of Jesus

Text: Luke 7:18-28

Dear Saints in Christ, grace and peace to each of you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

For my birthday back in November the kids got me a Lego Advent calendar. Each day on this calendar there is a new window to open and in each window is a set of Lego blocks with instructions for building. It has become a bit of a tradition that every day before supper we take out the box, open another window, and build some Lego together. On Friday, however, after the kids and I opened the window and built what was there for us to build I came to a startling realization: There are (or were at that time) only 10 days until Christmas! The first thought that came to mind next: Am I ready?

So I ask you the same question this morning, are you ready? There are only 8 days left now. Are you ready? To clarify, by ready I don’t mean have you sent all your cards, baked all your goodies, made all your plans, bought all your presents and done all of that kind of stuff. I mean are you ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus?

Advent is all about getting ready. The last two weeks I have talked to you about preparing our hearts for Christ’s coming. This week our readings are different. There isn’t much about preparing here. The theme of our readings today is summed up in the opening line of our epistle reading (which was also the antiphon to the introit), “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice.” Our readings today are about rejoicing, about joy. Joy is part of our preparing for Jesus. So I’ll ask you again, are you ready? Are you ready to joyfully celebrate the birth of Christ?

Perhaps you’re not. Maybe joy seems hard to come by, difficult to muster up, this year. There are plenty of things, an unending number of things it seems, at this time of year and all the year through that can suck the joy right out of life and make it seem nearly impossible to rejoice. Bills. Family stress. World events. Sicknesses. Business. Death. Grief. All of them can leave us feeling anything but joyful.

This morning, then, on the third Sunday in Advent, the Sunday on which we light the pink (or rose!) candle on the Advent wreath and hear these readings focused on joy, it is a day to think about rejoicing and joy and to reclaim the joy that we have in Christ, the joy that Satan our enemy loves to steal away from us.

In our gospel reading today we heard, once again, a story about John the Baptist. John had been arrested by King Herod because he had dared to confront the King about his marriage to his brother’s wife and he was locked up in a dungeon or prison somewhere. It probably wasn’t a very nice place, that prison. It was probably dingy, dark, and downright miserable and John was probably chained up down there for quite some time. John seems to have been allowed visitor however and his disciples, his followers, brought him news about Jesus.

Now John knew who Jesus was, He knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the Saviour that God had promised to send, and he knew that joy that Jesus had come to bring. Before John was even born, when his mother Elizabeth was visited by Mary, the mother of Jesus after she had found out from the angel Gabriel that she was expecting, John leaped for joy in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. We will talk more about that next week, but even then, even as an unborn child, John knew that the child that Mary was carrying was the Saviour and he knew the joy of that Saviour. Later on when both John and Jesus were full grown men John pointed to Jesus one day and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Again, John knew who Jesus was and knew that joy that Jesus brings.

In our gospel reading today, however, as he sat there in prison rotting away John was not so sure anymore if Jesus really was the one and he felt very little joy. When his disciples came to him with news about Jesus, John sent two of them back to Jesus with one question and one question only, “Are you the one to come (the one who brings joy) or should we look for someone else?” What changed? Where has the faith the John had in Jesus and the joy that came from that faith in him gone? Well, it’s only natural, I think, that as John sat there in prison that doubts started to creep in and joy seemed to disappear. It’s hard to be joyful when you are chained to the wall in a cold, dark, prison. So John, unsure of whether or not Jesus was actually the one and feeling anything but joyful, sent two of his disciples to Jesus to get to the bottom of it. “Are you the one to come or should we look for someone else?” they asked.

Notice how Jesus responds to the question that John’s disciples bring Him. Jesus doesn’t scold them or John or chastise them, He doesn’t shake His head in disappointment, and He doesn’t send them back to ask John why he is doubting either. But He also doesn’t run off to the prison where John is and bust him out of there. Instead, Luke says that, In that hour (at that very moment) he (that is Jesus) healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.” In response to John’s question Jesus goes on a miracle spree. He heals a bunch of sick people, casts out demons left, right, and centre, and opens the eyes of those who are blind. Then he sent those disciples that John had sent back to John with an answer to his question, “Go and tell John,” he says, “what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.”  The question is, what good does all of this do for John as he sits there in prison?

Well, John knew His Bible. He knew what the Bible said would happen when the Lord God came to save His people. He knew that the blind would be given sight, the lame would walk, lepers would be cleanse, the dead would be raised up, and the poor would have good news preached to them. By going on this little miracle spree and then sending John’s disciples back to the prison to go tell John about it Jesus is reassuring John that the Lord is at hand, that the Lord is in the midst of His people, and that He, Jesus, was that Lord, the Son of God, the one who was to come. This, for John, was a source of great joy.

Like John as he sat there in prison, when we look around ourselves we can easily see many things that would cause us to feel anything but joy, but like John we also have the reassurance that even in this joyless world the Lord our God is near, in our very midst, and this is a source of great joy.

Satan tempts us to look for joy in all the wrong places. He tempts us to look out our windows, at the world around us, to find joy or happiness. He tempts us to look at things, in particular things that we don’t have but wish we did and try to find our joy in them. He tempts us to look inside us, at our feelings, emotions, and everything else going on inside here, to find joy by following our heart. He wants us to chase after joy in this world, in possessions, and in our hearts so that we inevitably come up empty handed when the things that we thought would produce joy constantly turn out to be fleeting, temporary, and empty. Satan wants to leave us, like John, locked up in a prison of despair wondering why joy in this world is so hard to come by.

Jesus has come, however, and remains with us even now to give us real, lasting joy. The joy that Jesus gives is not a fleeting emotion, a feeling of holiday good cheer, or a warm sentiment. The joy that Jesus gives was proclaimed by the angels that Christmas night as they announced the “good news of great joy that will be for all people” to the shepherds in the field. The joy that Jesus gives wasn’t a new job offer, an upgrade from shepherding, a better life, or anything like that. The joy that Jesus gives the good news of the Saviour who is Christ the Lord who would take away the sin of the world. The joy that Jesus gives was won on the cross where, “For the joy that was set before Him He endure the cross despising the shame.” The joy that Jesus gives is the assurance that “the Lord has taken away the judgements against you,” that your sins are forgiven completely and totally by the blood of Jesus shed for you. The joy that Jesus gives us is the assurance that He, the Son of God, is with us even now in the deep, dark prison of this world and that He has come to save us. The joy that Jesus gives overcomes death and the grave. The joy that Jesus gives is the assurance that the suffering, pain, and sadness that we know all too well in this world (all of which are the outcome of our sinful rebellion against God) and even death itself are not the end of the story but that He, our Lord and our God will come again to take us to be with Him in His Kingdom forever.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the joy that Jesus gives is yours. He gives it to you. He proclaims it to you in His Word, like He did to John, He poured it out on you in your baptism, and He feeds it to you in Holy Communion. The joy of Jesus Himself.

When Paul exhorts us to “rejoice in the Lord always” He is not telling us to cheer up, try to be more joyful, or put on a happy face. He is pointing us to Jesus, begging us to fix our eyes on Him, and encouraging us to find our joy in Him. Thanks be to God that He has given us such a joy and may that joy, the joy of Jesus, fill our hearts and minds this Christmas season and all the year through. In Jesus name. Amen.