A myHT Fortress

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Baby Jesus Shed His Blood for You: A Homily on the Circumcision of Our Lord

Luke 2:21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jesus shed His blood for you! Sure, you say, over 30 years after He was born. Yes. That is true. But there is even more to ponder and treasure up in your heart.

At the tender age of one week, Joseph and the Blessed Virgin had her Child circumcised. He was keeping the Law – and shedding His blood in order to keep that Law. He was not keeping it for Himself. He did not bleed for Himself. He did it all for you. And as He suffered that brief moment, there was a foreshadowing of how someday He would suffer and bleed and die for all.

Stop and think about that. Even as a Baby, Jesus Christ keeps the Law for you, doing all that is required. And even as a baby, Jesus Christ sheds His blood for you. He takes it all upon Himself to redeem you, having His body permanently marked, to witness God’s covenant with His Church.

This was also the moment when He received His name—the most holy Name – the Name which is above every name. Jesus! The Lord saves! Imagine: every time they called out His

Name, a mini-sermon was preached – “The Lord saves!”

He has come to you at your Baptism, where He brought you forgiveness, rescue, and the promise of eternal salvation. There, you were permanently marked as His own, witnessing God’s covenant with His Church. There you too were marked with His most holy Name. Christ christened you as a Christian! Bathed in the cleansing water and blood from His pierced side, you were given your personal name and placed into Jesus!

As you look back across this past year, you will find mistakes too numerous to count, words too harsh to repeat, thoughts too vile to resurface, actions too hurtful to recall. You have not lived up to the Name placed upon you at Baptism. You have failed our Holy Redeemer.

And at this time of year, we usually hop on the bandwagon and say it is now time to make some resolutions. Promises to do better in the coming year. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But after a week or two, we find ourselves back in the same messes. Now I am not saying, “Don’t even try.” But I am saying you are a human, and a poor, miserable sinner. So when you fail – and you will – then there is only One who can make the difference: the One with a Name above every name – Jesus!

Our blessed Lord comes to you and rescues you from yourself! His body bears the marks of keeping the Law and being punished for those who have not. He forgives and removes the sin. The blood He shed washes you and makes you whiter than snow.

Tonight we thank God for all the blessings of this past year. At the same time, we look forward to the Year of Our Lord 2010, and all the blessings of body and soul that the Lord of History will bring. Our loving Father will continue to provide for you, body and soul, giving all that you truly need. The Holy Spirit will continue to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify you, keeping you in the one true faith. And our Lord Jesus continues to deliver His Body wounded and Blood shed for you, that you may receive Him again and again for your salvation.

In 2010, as always, many will continue to try to sway you from God’s Word and His Holy Sacraments. Whether by television, by tracts, or by talking, they will try to get you to trust in yourself, in some ability to choose Christ, as if you yourself can actually decide to make Him your Lord and Savior. Beware of false teachings, and stick to His Holy Gifts. The Spirit alone calls you to faith and brings you to Christ, whose Blood redeems you.

In 2010, many will try to make you afraid and uncertain as you face the future. Whether the media with their various agendas, politicians grasping for your support, or others simply preying upon you and your wallet, many want you to live in fear. But our Lord says: “Fear not!” He comes in the flesh to bear your sin and be your Savior. He removes every threat, or takes them on Himself, that you need not fear.

In 2010, you will face trials and heartaches, as always. Jesus does not simply remove suffering from your lives. But He is with you every second. He endures it all, that you are not alone. He has suffered all, that you may receive His comfort and joy. And you have His certain promise that He will bring good out of every evil that faces you.

In 2010, the devil will try to convince you that there is too much debt at St. John’s, that drastic steps must be taken in reducing staff or property. Satan thinks that is pretty funny. He wants some fear and unease. Wherever the Gospel is being proclaimed and Christ’s little lambs are being well fed, Satan is deeply disturbed. So he works very hard at getting people to fear and doubt, hoping they will give up.

Do NOT give up. Fear not! There is no denying that there are challenges. But there is also great joy in the success of the Gospel here, and a fabulous cause for which we “dig deeper” and call out to one another for financial support. And even more importantly, we call on the Name of the Lord to provide people and resources here at St. John’s to boldly proclaim His Gospel of forgiveness, through the Blood of Jesus Christ, for years to come!

The Blood of the week-old Christ was shed for you. The Blood of our grown Lord on the cross was shed for you. The same blood, filling this chalice is given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. In a matter of moments, you will have the privilege and joy of tasting and swallowing life itself, as the holy and precious Blood of Jesus, shed for you, enters you and gives you strength and hope to face the coming year.

You Belong to the Lord: A Homily for Christmas 1 (or Presentation of Our Lord)

Luke 2:22-40

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

You belong to the Lord. For parents of ancient Israel’s firstborn sons, 40 days after their births, this was a solemn reminder. The baby boys were brought to the Temple and redeemed. God said they belonged to Him. But instead of demanding their service, He chose the tribe of Levi to serve as the priests and servers in the Temple. So to recognize and celebrate this substitute, parents would bring their firstborn sons to be presented to the Lord, and to offer a sacrifice on their behalf.

You belong to the Lord. That can be a reminder of God’s Law. Because of that, you dare not drag His Name through the mud by filthy words or actions, sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.

But you can’t stop. You are unable to perfectly honor Him at every moment. You fail to recognize that you are His, and end up blaming Him for all the bad things in your life. You turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the Consolation He sends in your life, and find yourself completely forgetting that you belong to the Lord.

Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary took the Christ Child to the Temple when He was 40 days old. Mary underwent the purification rites that followed childbirth, so that she could again participate in the Temple liturgies. And they brought the two turtledoves as the sacrifice for Jesus’ presentation.

And then there’s Saint Simeon. Out of the crowds in the Temple courts that day, Simeon comes forward and scoops up Baby Jesus in his arms. Simeon recognizes the mysterious truth that this Child does not belong to the Lord – this Child IS the Lord!

That precious truth changes everything for Simeon. You see, this saintly old man had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before He had seen life. He would behold the Savior before He passed into Paradise to dwell with the Lord. As Mary and Joseph walk through the Temple courts, God reveals to Simeon that this is the One! This Baby is the Savior – the Redeemer – the Holy One of Israel!

That is when Simeon breaks into song, praising God and declaring that he can now die a happy man, since he has seen the Savior and witnessed God keeping His great promise. He is saying, “You can take me now, God. I’ve seen it all! I knew You would keep Your promise, and now it is complete! I’m ready, Lord – come and get me, for I belong to the Lord!”

You belong to the Lord. St. Simeon recognizes that this is wonderful, comforting Gospel! Try as he might, the devil cannot snatch you out of the Father’s hand. The secular world tries to sway you into the charms and desires of a Christ-less Christmas, but our dear, loving God is preserving you with His Gifts.

You belong to the Lord. At Baptism, the Savior forgave, rescued and gave you salvation! As He cleansed you, body and soul, He claimed you as His own. God presented you to Himself, and gathered you into His family and kingdom. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” You were filled with sin as a baby inside your mother. You belonged to sin and death. But God changed all that. He brought you into His presence with His Word, as it was proclaimed to your expecting mother. Then, more fully and clearly, He publicly displayed that you belong to the Lord as He baptized you.

You belong to the Lord. No matter what hardships you face, no matter what sufferings you endure, no matter how tough life seems, you have the sweet comfort that you are not left alone; Christ the Savior is born, and you are His! He does not abandon you to the darkness of this world, but is the “Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of [God’s] people, Israel.”

You belong to the Lord. Anna came across the Holy Family, and was filled with joy and witnessing. This senior-citizen-evangelist told anyone who would listen about the Christ Child she had seen.

You too are a witness. No, you are not running around the Temple. Even so, our gracious God feeds you His Holy Word and Sacrament week after week, and places you in various stations in life. He uses you to speak His Gospel. No sermons needed. He gives you to be His walking invitations. Welcome your friends and family to come worship with you. Encourage them to come and bask in the Light that lightens us Gentiles. Are you scared you won’t know what to say? Then just say you would love for them to come and hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ here at Saint John’s. Let them know you will sit with them and they can follow along in your hymnal. Just a simple: “Welcome!”

Do you do this all the time, as you should? No. Do you shy away from such invitations? If you are like most, then no. And you fail the Bethlehem Baby. However, I have good news of great joy which is for all people – you belong to the Lord. He does not keep you bound to the sins of refraining from inviting others. He frees you from the guilt of being too shy or too exclusive. You belong to Him and He showers you with His forgiving love!

Dear friends in Christ, rejoice this morning! Our Lord has not left you stuck in your sin. He was presented for you. He has redeemed you. He is risen for you. And you belong to the Lord! Amen.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Word Became Flesh: A Homily for Christmas Day

John 1:1-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

So what IS the true meaning of Christmas? If you watch the animated special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” you are told that Christmas is all about having a big heart, promoting Christmas cheer, and having peace on earth. Well, those things are nice, and they are wonderful side-effects, but they are not the true meaning.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” will show you how every person makes a difference to those around him, sharing love with family and friends, and realizing that Christmas is a great time to remember the good deeds that our friends have done. Again, none of those things are bad, but they are not the true meaning of Christmas.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” teaches acceptance and avoiding the judging of others on the basis of externals. Sure, that is a good lesson too, but it is not the true meaning of Christmas.

“A Christmas Carol” shows one being rescued and redeemed from the depths of self-worship and idolatry to showering others with love, earthly treasures, and “Christmas Spirit.” This comes the closest, yet the source of the redemption is still not clear.

Saint John tells us what Christmas is truly about. While Saint Matthew tells of the Wise Men and the Flight to Egypt, and Saint Luke fills us in on the birth of Jesus, the words and deeds of the Blessed Virgin, the shepherds, and angels. But John tells us the theology behind it all.

Christmas is all about God becoming Man. The Lord takes on human flesh to bear our sin and be our Savior. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

That is it! THAT is the true meaning. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us – because we needed the forgiveness, rescue, and salvation that He brings. And it is a meaning that escapes virtually every Christmas story. You see, a common theme runs throughout many of these films and books – a theme of making choices of words and deeds that make a difference for you and those around you.

But that is sinful in itself, holding to the idea that these choices are in your power. If these fictional characters were real, Ebenezer Scrooge could change himself. Only the Holy Spirit could reach out and rescue him from himself.

Are you an Ebenezer? Do you think you can save yourself by your miserly stewardship? Or are you a reformed Ebenezer? Do you think you can literally have the devil scared out of you, and rescue yourself with a long list of good deeds? The Grinch is the same way. It is as if his sudden change of heart redeems himself in the eyes of others. For that matter, George Bailey has all sorts of people praising his love and good deeds, as if they are what makes him good. And while it is sweet to realize how our lives touch so many others in ways we never comprehend, it could never do a thing for his standing before God.

All of these attitudes are wrong. They rely on one’s self and deny grace. If you foster these attitudes, you are rejecting salvation through Jesus Christ alone. Repent. You don’t need some ghosts to scare you into being good. “Keeping Christmas” by counting your good works won’t earn heaven. Don’t remain in your darkness of sin, death, and the devil.

If you remain in the mindset that you can work your way into heavenly peace, you are stuck in the same darkness as the rest of mankind, and only the Light of whom John speaks can bring you out of it. You end up right alongside His own [who] received Him not, and join in their rejection of the Light.

That Light is Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh. And coming in the flesh, we see His glory. Christ is the Glory of God in the flesh, revealing that glory in manger, cross, and empty tomb. God enters time and space, becoming a Baby for you. Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

He grows and suffers and dies for you. He brings you to the ultimate gift exchange, where you give Him all your sin, sickness, and darkness, and He gives you His health, righteousness and perfection.

Christmas is a time to celebrate that God has become Man, and because of this miracle, you are rescued. This morning you rejoice that He has done everything to save you, and nothing depends on how good you act. You are forgiven for all your failures and shortcomings. You are saved by Christ, and even taste Him who comes to you now, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of these linens, and laid on the manger of the altar.

So what is the true meaning of Christmas? “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/hail the incarnate Deity/ Pleased as Man with man to dwell/Jesus our Immanuel/Hark the herald angels sing/Glory to the newborn King.”

Rejoice with all of heaven and earth this morning, as God our Savior has come to earth. He became one of us, and lived among us, and died among us, and rose among us – all so we can live with Him forever!

Merry Christmas! Amen.

When All Was Still and It Was Midnight: A Homily for Christmas Eve "Midnight Mass"

Luke 2:1-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Think of the noise, the activity, the busy people rushing around as a 21st century mother gives birth. Monitors beep. Doctors attend and nurses assist the laboring mother. Fathers nervously await the child, trying to comfort the woman in her most uncomfortable time. There seems to be a lot of chaos and noise welcoming the child! This scene is quite different from the birth of our Lord.

When all was still and it was midnight, your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne. (Wisdom 18:14-15) (Antiphon for the Christmas Midnight Introit.) The Word made flesh descends from heaven, and after a brief nine months in the womb of His Blessed Mother, He is born to you in the city of David. Saint Luke speaks of shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night, but nothing more is spoken regarding the time of day of the holy birth. But nearly a thousand years earlier, King Solomon spoke these words which speak to the occasion.

When all was still and it was midnight, your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne. But we are not always keepers of the sacred stillness. You and I daily contribute to chaos. We find ourselves serving our own wants, needs, and desires. We are all self-centered to one degree or another, and that is quite damning. If we read Luke 2 and treat it as a mere history lesson, we are not humble shepherds, but more like Herod’s henchmen. If we get wrapped up in the food, gifts, and loved ones at Christmas, and quickly rid our minds of the Divine Service and the Holy Gifts Jesus gives there, then we reject our Lord. It’s like receiving His gift and immediately taking it to K-mart to exchange it for some junk.

So what do we do? Nothing. You and I can do nothing. But our Savior does! He is living and active, assuring you that He is far more than a history lesson. He is here, now.

When all was still and it was midnight, your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne. Here we are, nearing midnight over 2,000 years later. We keep speaking of Christ being born tonight. But wasn’t it a long time ago? Caesar Augustus is long dead. So are Herod the Great and Quirinius, the Governor of Syria. Two millennia have passed since these events unfolded.

When all was still and it was midnight, your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne. The Almighty Word comes to you. He makes Himself present for you. The Son of David born during that 1st century census makes Himself bodily present to release you from your sin and deliver you from death and the devil.

When all was still and it was midnight, your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne. The manger lays before you tonight. Only here at Saint John’s, the manger is not a simple stone trough or wooden box; the manger here is tall and wooden and painted white, with an image of the Baby grown to manhood. On it is laid the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes – these linens will drape the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for you.

Instead of hay or straw in the manger, this holy night we find Bread! And not just any bread. The Bread of Life is born this night in Bethlehem, the House of Bread. He bids you to come and feast.

When all was still and it was midnight, your almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne. The Almighty Word is about to enter this Bread and Wine to become His Body and Blood. Guess what? It will be still and it will be midnight as the Almighty Word descends from His royal throne to your mouth!

I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Amen.