Text: John 1:43-51
Date: Epiphany II + Confession of St. Peter + 1/18/15
In the beginning of the Gospel we announce with John the Baptist, with the holy evangelists and with the holy Church throughout the world the coming of the Savior of the world, as we say in the creed, coming down from heaven. In this way the scripture says that heaven itself, formerly closed to and against us, was now ripped open by the grace of God breaking through to us. Now today’s sermon title could be taken as a repeat of all that talk about how the heavens were opened. But today when St. John reports Jesus saying, “Truly, truly I say to you, you will see heaven opened,” He means to say that by faith in Christ the heavens have already been opened and stand and remain always open to you. That is, ever since the coming of the Christ—as the Son of Mary in Bethlehem, as the Baptist’s “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” and as He came to you in the water of your holy baptism—ever since Christ came the doors of heaven have stood open to you. They will not be shut until everyone who will has entered. Today we say that for every believer in Christ heaven stands and remains open. Continue reading The Heavens Opened→
Text: Mark 1:9-11
Date: Baptism of Our Lord + Epiphany 1 + 1/11/15
Today is the starting line, the countdown of Advent and Christmas is over, “three, two, one,” and today we hear the gun shot word, “Go!” “Lift off,” “And they’re off!” Do you remember that Advent word? We sang that beautiful hymn “O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide,” expecting and inviting our Savior to “Come down with mighty stride.” It was before Christmas so we were getting in the mood to gather on a silent night, holy night around the tender Christ child in a manger. We sang in images of light and morning dew, clouds and rain, of hill and dale in garb of green and meadow fair. We looked for and expected comfort and joy. So now here we are, ready to go. The Christmas trees and decorations are gone, and we take comfort and hope in the fact that the days are getting longer and the season of Spring is on its way to rescue and liberate us from the harsh, cruel winter. Continue reading O Savior, Rend the Heavens→
We are approaching the great mystery of the incarnation of God. The mystery is that in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth resides two natures; of one with us in His humanity yet above us and at one with the Father in His deity. Many who dismiss this mystery as nothing but a myth have not and do not stop to ponder at all what was really going on here in the Son of Mary. Indeed, to what extent did even Mary herself understand? Nevertheless when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would bear a son, a very special son by the power of the Holy Spirit without a human father, she does not say, “I can’t believe it;” she does not object but says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And that response is as much a miracle as what was happening in her body at that moment. For, as Martin Luther maintained, the Virgin Mary conceived through her ears, that is, by the power of the Word spoken by the angel. She was still a virgin, yet in that instant she became Theotokos, the Mother of God!
So on this last Sunday in Advent we prepare for the celebration of Christmas. The true celebration, however, is in your response to the Word spoken into your ears. No, you will not miraculously conceive a child, but rather faith, the gift and creation of God through the Word in your heart and mind. How do we know you have this gift of faith? The apostle Paul today says that the good news, the gospel of salvation is given to you “to bring about the obedience of faith.”
Faith is not mere knowledge or even a vague hope based on only an emotional religious hunch. “Faith,” says Luther, “is an active, busy thing.” So what is your faith moving you to do?
If you said, “believe,” that’s the correct beginning of the answer. Paul speaks of God as “Him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.” Saving faith is given to those who hear about Jesus Christ. And what about Jesus Christ? Well, first and last, He is the Son of God. He was in the beginning and all things were created through Him. This is not a junior, minor or secondary god, but the one, eternal God Himself; God Himself now in the flesh. So He is also the Son of Mary of Nazareth, of the house and lineage of the great King David according to the promise spoken through Nathan the prophet, saying, “the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house…and your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
Well, David died as all mankind dies. But the promise of his kingdom did not die with
him but reached its goal and summit in the conception of Jesus who was not only the recipient of the throne of his father David, but the ultimate King who would rule forever, “and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
But now He is not ruling over you with rules dictating certain acts or works to be accomplished which, of course, if you fail to accomplish them, you’re out! No, besides knowing His Person as fully human and fully divine you are also told why He took on our human nature.
I mean, why all the bother? Why all the angels and shepherds and manger and wise men, why all those years of silent childhood, why all that Bible study and bar mitzvah, why “confirmation”? Why all the teaching and preaching and healing, why apostles and disciples? Why all the bother? Because God was terribly bothered that His creation was being stolen from Him, was being destroyed by the enemy, was having His gift of eternal life turned temporary. Why all the bother? Because the only way for God to redeem, restore, reclaim His creation was by destroying the enemy and the last enemy is death. Why all the bother? Because on the one hand God’s Law must be kept, must be satisfied. Yet no sinner is able to do that. So He Himself became one of us. In a body just like ours He kept God’s Law so that He became the first man ever who did not sin and therefore would not die, as the wages of sin is death.
But why all the bother? You know. It was so that He could die our death for us, deliver us from the condemnation of God’s Law. Because of His sacrificial death, and more because of His mighty resurrection from the dead, now all who belong to Him, who confess and believe in Him as their Savior, we are freed from sin and death and are born anew to the eternal life God originally intended for us and the whole world. St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria in the early 300s included you in this story of salvation when he wrote, “Whatever Scripture says that the Son has received, it understands as having been received with respect to His body, and that the body is the first-fruits of the Church. Accordingly, God raised up and exalted His own body first, but afterwards the members of His body.” That’s you! That’s why all the trouble; to save, preserve and strengthen you in all your troubles.
And that is the gospel-word which saving faith hears, believes and hangs on to. The obedience of faith is to believe what God has done to save you, to believe that He is strengthening you by forgiving all your sins and creating a new heart within you, and to respond in thankful worship as Mary did, saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
“According to your word.” Indeed everything in life from now on must be according to God’s word, God’s saving, life-giving word. So says St. Paul, this is how God is able to strengthen you, to strengthen you to persevere and to believe even and especially in the face of everything and everyone who speaks against the claims of the gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.
In the obedience of this faith we sing, in the words of today’s psalm, “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.” In the obedience of faith we say of everything God has promised to us, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” So faith says in all of us, “let it be, let it be to me according to your word.” After these words spoken by Mary, “the angel departed from her.” But God did not! And He will not depart from you! For this same incarnate God, this same brother, the man Christ Jesus, says to you, “I am with you always to the end of the age.”
At the beginning of a new Church Year St. Matthew says the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is His incarnation as the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Luke says that the beginning of the gospel is with the conception and birth of John the Baptist, then Jesus. St. John says the beginning is in the mystery of the Word become flesh dwelling among us full of grace and truth. But this year we hear not from Matthew nor Luke nor John but from St. Mark, the writer of the second and shortest Gospel. And if all we had is Mark’s Gospel we would not have our present Christmas at all! For Mark says that “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” happened when John the Baptist appeared on the scene. John is the angel or messenger prophesied by the prophet Isaiah. Dressed in a coat of camel’s hair and leather belt John is obviously to all who saw him the new Elijah promised through the prophet Malachi. Which is one reason everyone got so excited. Continue reading Be Prepared→
Today, November 30, is the day every year holy church commemorates St. Andrew, the first to be called by Jesus to be an apostle. A disciple of John the Baptist, one day he heard his master pointing to Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Andrew first went and found his brother Simon and together they began to follow Jesus. The tradition is that the new church year season of Advent is determined to begin on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew day. Well, you can’t get any closer than this! So today is also the first Sunday of our new year, the beginning of the season of Advent. Continue reading Who's Calling?→