A myHT Fortress

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

THE Birth Announcement: A Homily on Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:26-38

4th Sunday in Advent

18 December 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

Ben was born around 9:30 at night, so when the excitement and activity was over, we fell asleep somewhere around midnight. The next morning, Kristi was up and eagerly addressing birth announcements between 5 and 6 a.m. She had already cut the blue paper and the white paper, rubber stamped the design, and layered the cut-outs. We knew he was a boy, and so already had his name printed on the cards. Only the details of his length and weight and so on, needed to be completed. Soon, dozens of friends would know!

Of course now, with Facebook, there are births that several hundred people find out about, perhaps within moments of their occurrences. We need look no further back than the last week or two. Just think for a minute how many people -- around the world! -- knew about Xander Fasshauer's and Anna Wier's births, within hours! So instantaneous! Still, in either of these situations, the baby is "announced" following the birth.

When was Jesus' birth announced? Well, angels filled the sky, praising God in the sight of the Bethlehem shepherds right away that night. A star was placed by God, so that the wise men would see it and come. But you know, even before it happened, God was at work to announce the Savior's birth.

This morning we hear the greatest birth in history, being announced nine months before it happened! The archangel Gabriel had the honor of being the one sent by God to the Blessed Virgin Mary, proclaiming to her that she would have the amazing blessing of being the Mother of God the Son. And she has a very different reaction than her cousin-in-law, Zechariah.

Zechariah had also received a visit from Gabriel. About six months earlier. But when he heard that he and his wife, in their advanced age, were finally going to have a baby, he reacted with the unbelief of his ancestor Sarah, the wife of Abraham. He might not have laughed, but he thought it ridiculously impossible. But Gabriel reminds us, "With God, nothing shall be impossible."

You often join Zechariah in unbelief. Something is too good to be true. Or specifically, the Word of the Lord speaks something that is too amazing, too wonderful to really come to pass. And so it is easier to doubt or deny the Word of God than to believe it. The devil, the world, and your sinful self can work at you until you weary and fade into such unbelief. Anyone can fall prey to them. Look! Zechariah was even a faithful priest, who knew God's Word! And he still doubted when an angel preached to him, at the temple!

But then there is Mary. The Blessed Virgin hears the Word of the Lord, proclaimed by the angel, and believes it. Unlike Zechariah who doubts and disbelieves, Mary is in awe and amazement, yet welcomes this miracle, "Let it be to me, according to your word."

Zechariah, it would seem, is like your Old Adam. He hears the Word of God, but doubts. He chuckles and says, "That would be great, but it'll never happen." Of all people, one of God's priests should hear and believe His Word, but Zechariah falls into the same damning disbelief as you and the rest of the world.

On the other hand, the Virgin Mary is like the new creature that God made you at Baptism. In fact, often Mary is spoken of as a symbol for the entire Church. She receives the Word of God and believes it. She ponders it. Treasures it. She hears the blessed preaching of the angel, and in essence joins the prayer, "O come, o come, Emmanuel!"

Baptized into Christ, you have been given this faith. You hear the Word of God, and receive it. You now kneel with Mary, and eat and drink the Body and Blood of her Son, whom you adore, at His altar.

At the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin Mary received Him into her body, as a tiny cell placed in her womb. He entered human flesh, to bring forgiveness and life and salvation for all. Now you receive Him into your body -- Him who came into the flesh for you! He enters you and transforms you, forgiving you, and bringing life and salvation.

How amazing! The Lord God forgives and renews you in the annunciation of His Gospel, whether preached by Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin, or by generations of pastors to you, His Church. And he forgives and renews as He continually enters human flesh, from that first moment as Gabriel spoke to Mary, to now at His Holy Eucharist, to the day when we see Him in His fulfilled glory.

Yes, in this advent season, you hear, receive, and celebrate your Savior whose birth was announced by the angel, even as He was conceived. You rejoice that He who came, comes even now in His Holy Word and Sacraments, and will come again, to gather you into His everlasting Kingdom. "Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!" Amen.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Be Prepared: A Homily on Mark 1:1-8

Mark 1:1-8

2nd Sunday in Advent

4 December 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

"Be prepared!" Lord Robert Baden-Powell, when he founded the Boy Scout movement 104 years ago, found this an important concept. When choosing a motto for his organization of providing training for boys to grow in maturity, citizenship, outdoor skills, and service, this simple phrase was chosen: "Be prepared."

While serving in the British army in 1890's South Africa, Baden-Powell recruited youths to be "scouts" -- boys who aided the military troops as messengers, and who were being prepared for the conditions they were facing against the Dutch.

Saint John the Baptizer was not a Boy Scout. Although he was all about preparing. He was sent by the Father in heaven to "prepare the way of the Lord." When the Angel Gabriel prophesied his birth, already it was clear that John's life's work would be to "prepare the way of the Lord."

So how is the Lord's way prepared? I know. You try to prepare. You try to "make His paths straight" in your home and life. But how do you prepare? Are you better prepared when you put all your effort and concentration into serving God? Are you better prepared by listening only to "Christian radio," or watching only certain films or TV programs? Are you better prepared with only associating with the rights people, and not "sinners?"

Stop and listen to all that, for a moment. Sound familiar? It was a common sin among the Pharisees whom John was calling to repent! The Pharisees felt they could "prepare the way of the Lord" by doing the right thing and associating with the right people. They trusted in their own preparations. And John knew they were on not the straight path of the Christ, but the wide, easy, yet crooked path leading to hell. Don't be a condescending Pharisee! Your attitude can quickly fall into that same trap, and your trust ends up in yourself, not Jesus.

Trusting your own preparations will not get you into God's kingdom. It will help you fall short. It is the same problem that plagued many medieval monasteries; monks were often taught to be comforted in their many prayers and works -- their own preparations, rather than solely in the blood of Jesus.

Trusting in your own preparations makes as much sense as a pre-born baby getting her family ready for her own arrival. She cannot get a nursery ready, purchase diapers and other supplies, strap in a car seat, and get the house baby-proofed, all while still in the womb. Neither can a person prepare himself or herself for the Lord.

But St. John the Baptizer brings a different kind of preparation. He does not have you prepare yourself. He does not give you false hope in segregating and separating from the "undesirables" and sinners around you. He shows you that you cannot save yourself.

That is why "all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem" sought out John. They were cut to the heart by his message, and the Holy Spirit led them to realize that they could not save themselves. They could not even prepare themselves!

Instead, the Lord uses John to bring His preparation. He boldly proclaims God's Law, in order that the crushed sinner may be healed and restored with the Gospel. He baptizes that people may be given "forgiveness of sin, rescue[d] from death and the devil, and give[n] eternal salvation, as the words and promises of God declare."

Yes, John's baptism brought these precious gifts of God, because it wasn't really "John's" baptism, it was the Lord's! And the Word of God, as it attends that water, does what He says. He forgave, rescued, and saved the repentant Judeans who came out and heard the Lord's Word preached, and were cleansed in the Jordan by water and the Word. Just as your Father in heaven forgave, rescued, and saved you through that sacred washing in His font!

Today we welcome a number of brothers and sisters in Christ, who are now officially attaching themselves to St. John's. They have been baptized and received the preaching of Christ's Law and Gospel. They are forgiven, rescued, and saved. They are prepared.

The Holy Spirit has gathered each of you at this specific time, in this specific parish, to be prepared. He is the One making you prepared, as you could never hope to do. He removes your sin and guilt, and cleanses you, making you holy, in Christ.

What amazing joy, dear friends in Christ! The Lord, in His wonderful wisdom and gracious giving, has brought you together as His people here. He prepares you as individuals to receive and be strengthened in His faith, and gives you hope and confidence in His ongoing care and coming in His gifts, as well as the longing for His return in glory.

As you await our Coming King, it is a blessed, hope-filled waiting. He has sent John the Baptizer, and all His other prophets and apostles, indeed all your pastors in your life, to proclaim His Word to you and to prepare you. You are prepared. You are forgiven. You are called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified. You are ready to come to His Table and excitedly exclaim, "Come, Lord Jesus!" Amen!