A myHT Fortress

Monday, January 16, 2012

Follow Me: A Homily on John 1:43-51

John 1:43-51

2nd Sunday after Epiphany

15 January 2012

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

"Follow Me." Jesus calls Philip. Jesus is increasing; John the Baptizer is decreasing. The Lord seeks out Philip to follow Him as one of His disciples. The normal process was for men to seek out a rabbi that they admired and agreed with, and followed him. They would choose the teacher.

But Jesus turns that all on its head. The Lord shows that you do not choose Him; He chooses you. You cannot decide to follow Jesus, or "make" Him your Lord and Savior. He calls you, gathers you, enlightens you, and makes you holy, all by the work of His Spirit.

Here He selects Philip, and immediately the Spirit has Philip get Nathanael. You can practically hear the excitement in Philip's voice, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote!" We have found the Christ! St. Philip is even more excited than Lumiere, Cogsworth, and all the servants who speculate that finally, Belle will be the girl who can break the spell and return the Beast to his princely self. But Nathanael is not so easily impressed.

"Nazareth!? Can anything good come from Nazareth?!" That little village of backwater hicks? You have got to be kidding me! Nazareth was not exactly known as a center of religious life, nor did it have a reputation as a great place to be from or move to. It was a simple, rural village.

But Jesus speaks to the self-important Nathanael. He reveals Himself as the Christ who has come, not only for the Jews in Judea, but those living in culturally mixed territories, like Galilee. And in fact, He reveals that He is come for all people, Jew and Gentile alike. The Word of God issues from His mouth of the Word of God. And that Word is a Word of forgiveness and life through the crucifixion and resurrection of "Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote."

Yes, that is right. You just heard Nathanael referred to as "self-important." And you know what? You have a problem with that sin too. You may look to other churches' fashionable buildings, charismatic speakers, and flashy antics, and think you know better than the Lord at this place. You may want to place your trust and interest in the plans and demographics and research of the world, but the Lord knows better. You may just think you are too good for this parish, this neighborhood even, and decide you must move on.

Or even worse, you may find your own thoughts tempted and swayed by the false teaching that says, "no matter what you believe, we are all going to the same place." Not those who have rejected Christ. Not those who have turned their backs on "Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote." If you start imagining yourself to be smarter, savvier, and more "in tune" to things than Jesus, you have a major problem. And if you are pulled away from the truth of Jesus Christ, and you believe the lies taught by those who are against Him, and are comfortable and do not want to change and repent, you are not just someone sitting under a tree, you are lost.

"I saw you sitting under the fig tree." A little strange, you may think. Nathanel too. Was he amazed or just didn't know what to make of that? We don't know what was running through his mind. But Jesus uses the moment to be sure he knows the best is yet to come. He tells him, "You will see greater things than this."

Indeed. For Nathanael's and your sake, "the One of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote" became Man. The Lord God showed Himself as a Man, baptizing your sin onto Himself and releasing you from it. He covered you with His righteousness. And than the greater things started happening. Yes, the miracles, the healings, and even the several people Jesus raised from the dead. But then the suffering and crucifixion, and His glorious resurrection! Christ the Lord rises, appears to many, and then ascends to heaven. Nathanael saw greater things.

Nathanael is referred to by another name elsewhere in the Gospels: Bartholomew. Like the other apostles, Bartholomew preached and taught and baptized, carrying Christ's Gospel around the world. The Spirit completely convinced him that this Jesus of Nazareth was more than some hick preacher. Bartholomew proclaimed Him as who He is: "the One of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote" -- God with us!

Tradition tells us that St. Bartholomew preached boldly until he was killed for it. He was literally skinned alive for preaching Jesus. This apostle, due to the saving work of Jesus, was no longer a doubter, but was forgiven and renewed, and made a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Like Philip, Nathanael Bartholomew followed Jesus, right up to dying for preaching the truth of God. He was faithful unto death, rather than trying to "save his skin" and deny the Lord.

"Follow Me." Whether you see Jesus in His splendid robes and crowned, returning in glory as Christ the King, or the Christ Child wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger, or you see the humble, suffering Jesus enduring it all to pay for your sin, or Jesus preaching to you, baptizing, and feeding you through your pastor, He bids you to follow Him. And since the Holy Spirit has baptized you and brought you to faith, you do. You follow Him to life everlasting! Amen.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hovering Over the Waters: A Homily on Mark 1:4-11

Mark 1:4-11

1st Sunday after the Epiphany

Baptism of Our Lord

8 January 2012

St. John's, Chicago

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

There he was, the LORD God Himself, speaking, doing great things for you, with the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters and directing attention to Christ. But wait, are we talking about Creation, or the Baptism of Our Lord? In a word, "yes."

The Apostle John declares in his opening chapter that Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is the Word that proceeds from the Father. And so when the Father speaks, "Let there be..." Jesus is that very Word coming from the Father, and causing things to be created. And the Spirit is there, attending it all, comforting and helping creation in receiving the Father's Word.

As the Lord God creates, watch what He does. And hear it too! Out of nothing, He makes the waters of the deep. And together, His Word and those waters are used by the Lord to create the world -- indeed, the universe. How about that?! God acts in water and Word to bring forth life.

Right there, in the very first words of Sacred Scripture, you hear of the Holy Trinity. And then again, at the Baptism of Christ Jesus, you see and hear the Holy Trinity plainly revealed, as Jesus takes on your sin.

There at the Jordan, the Holy Spirit was leading people to confess their sin, and through John the Baptizer, He was washing it away. But then, here comes Jesus. He had no sin. And that is what confuses people. Baptism is to "give forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and give eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare."

Yet Jesus needs no forgiveness. He rescues, not needing to be rescued. And Jesus saves, He does not need to be saved. That is the typical thought here. The doubting of God's Word. Jesus doesn't need this! You think you know better than Christ, or His heavenly Father, and are ready to dictate to God what He should be doing. Really?! Do you know better than the Lord? Repent of such arrogance!

What's more, you have times when you think that you yourself need no forgiveness. It is always the other person's fault. "How dare he!" "Can you believe what she did!?" and if you take any time at all to hear the Word of the Lord, you know that isn't true. You have the problem of sin, just as every other man, woman, and child does.

So what is going on? The pure and holy Christ came to John, and was washed into your sin to absorb it all. He confessed to crimes He did not commit. But He is not telling lies. He is taking legal responsibility for all your sin. He is becoming the responsible party, who ends up paying the price for your guilt and shame and corruption.

In Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, you may recall her talking about bath time. The Ingalls, like many 19th century families, would heat bath water, and then the father of the house would take his bath. Without emptying the tub, the mother would simply take the next turn. Then, each of the children would follow with a turn, the water becoming filthier with each person.

With our improved knowledge of health and germs and so on, it is rather unthinkable for an entire family to share bath water in our time. You end up sharing dirt, not being cleansed at all. It would seem ridiculous for the later people to even enter the water, much less wash in it.

Jesus, however, in His baptism, is like that last person. He steps into the water of the Jordan and all the filth and stain of every single person clings to Him. He is like a divine sponge, soaking up your sin, and the sin of the world. But this is not because He is some child who doesn't know any better. Jesus Christ knows full well what He is doing as He enters the baptismal waters to absorb your sin, and then go to the cross to pay for it.

And when Jesus enters that baptismal flood of the Jordan, what happens? The Spirit of God hovers over the face of the waters, and then lands on Jesus, as the Father declares, "You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased."

Now, the Lord has worked a miracle in your life too. When you were baptized, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters, and entered the water, with the Word of God. And at the speaking of His Divine Name, the Lord cleansed you and made you His child. There, at His font, on account of Christ, the Father said of you: "You are My beloved son, with you I am well pleased."

Dear baptized children of God, the Lord has claimed you as His own. He used that hovering Spirit to call you by the Gospel and bring you to this saving, lavish washing away of sin. Whether He prompted you as an adult, of had your parents bring you to His font as a child, He draws you to the water He has drawn for your holy bath.

And when you enter this bathing water, it is not the filth and muck of billions of people that you enter, it is the pure and crystal clear water of cleansing salvation. Jesus has absorbed all of the wretched filthy features in that water. So when you come in, you cannot help, but be purged and cleansed by Him and His water with His Word!

Living in the 21st century, you have a clear understanding of water filters. Filtration systems in the home, whether in a pitcher, or attached to the faucet, serve you to remove impurities and harmful things that do not belong in your water.

In Jesus' Baptism, He acts as the ultimate water filter. As He is baptized, He pulls all those impurities to Himself, which would later be removed from you at your Baptism! Thanks be to God, for filtering, purifying, and cleansing through the sacred washing of Holy Baptism!

Rejoice, dear friends in Christ! Jesus has revealed Himself, indeed, the Holy Trinity showed Himself clearly, at the Baptism of Our Lord! The Epiphany Lord has come for you, and made you His own through this Sacred Washing. Amen.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

In the Stars: A Homily for the Epiphany of Our Lord

Matthew 2:1-12

Epiphany of Our Lord (observed)

01 January 2012

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

Well, here we are -- 2012. This is it. After all, it is "in the stars" or at least in the Mayan calendar, that something big is going to happen that will end the world. Right?

Well, that is what you get when you have a bunch of pagans staring at the heavens and making up their own meaning for what they see. (And, arguably, that isn't even the only logical meaning of the end of that calendar. It could have simply been where they decided to stop on that particular calendar.) Nevertheless, looking to the stars without God will never provide the answers to faith and life.

So where are those answers? The Word of God, of course. When the Wise Men left their homes in the east, it is not likely that they just got out some star charts and looked at each other and said, "Hey, let's go to Palestine!" As learned men, it is more likely that they had read and heard the Word of the Lord given through Moses: "A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel." (Numbers 24:17) These men studied stars and dreams and likely had read wisdom from many cultures around, including Hebrew Scriptures that had some copies scattered since the exile in Babylon.

Whether they knew the Word of God before their journey, or not, these Wise Men would soon be familiar. The expedition may have begun out of scholarly intrigue or eccentric interest, but the Holy Spirit was using the opportunity to proclaim the birth of Jesus Christ.

You don't always begin your journeys with God's Word, either. Like a toddler, you can have an independent, "I do it myself" attitude. And like a toddler, that doesn't work so well for you. You want to rely on your own wisdom, your own knowledge and experience. You might think you can do just fine with your straight-A records or honor roll grades from school, or your Girl Scout Gold Award or Eagle Scout medal. You may rest on your laurels at work, having risen above the ranks. But that does nothing for your eternal life.

Repent! Do not trust in yourself or your own wisdom. Stop relying on your own "stars" and "dreams" that lead you to trust in yourself or look inside for your strength. Many well-meaning friends will have inspirational sayings or words of encouragement that do just that -- look inside and believe in yourself. Sadly, hell is full of successful people who believed in themselves.

But the kingdom of God gives you free wisdom, a blessing and gift that the Lord gives you to look outside of yourself for encouragement, strength, and most importantly forgiveness, life, and salvation!

The kingdom of God comes to Anna Claire this morning, as God gifts her with wisdom to life everlasting. He has drowned her Old Adam which looks to itself or things of this world for wisdom and joy in life. And He raised up a new creature, given the wisdom of Christ, in faith, over which she can always "rejoice with exceedingly great joy!"

In Baptism, just as with Anna, you have been made wise unto salvation, with true wisdom that comes only through Jesus Christ in His Holy Word. The Lord God poured out His saving flood on you, and rescued you, delivering holy wisdom, which is nothing more than saving faith. A gift from God to receive the righteousness He gives you in Christ.

Through the events of today's Gospel, the truth was testified that this was no ordinary search for earthly wisdom or a trek to find a political king. These wise men traveled great distances and then knelt and worshiped the Holy Child. The Holy Spirit gave them faith in true wisdom to see and believe in the Lord Jesus. He changed them from believing in their stars and dreams and themselves into men touched by the presence of God Almighty in the flesh. And when the wicked King Herod tried to trick them into betraying the location of the Christ Child, the Lord gave them faith and courage to obey God rather than men.

Today we rejoice with exceedingly great joy that the Lord Jesus has sent His Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify you. You have the joy of knowing He has placed the Star of His Word in your life, to draw you to Himself. You have the joy of knowing that as your King, and Priest, and Sacrifice, Jesus has died and rose for you, and thus has granted you true wisdom. You have the joy of receiving the One who has been born King of the Jews, the One whose cross would bear witness to that same truth as He gave Himself for you. You have joy that "from ... Bethlehem...in the land of Judah...[came] one who would shepherd [His] people Israel."

Yes, you rejoice with exceedingly great joy, as the Holy Spirit has given you wisdom and given you faith in the Christ who has shepherded and saved you, and lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Become Flesh: A Homily on John 1:1-14

John 1:1-14

Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day

25 December 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

Watch a classic film like Holiday Inn or White Christmas, and you may think the most important thing about Christmas is being with friends to celebrate and sing, or even better, sharing Christmas with someone with whom you are in love. See the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade, and you are caught up in talk of dreams and wishes, and Christmas "magic." The Hallmark Channel on TV has dozens of movies that teach the "Christmas spirit" is all about giving and kindness to all. But is that it? Christmas is still just an empty, earthly celebration if it focuses merely on you and yours.

Of course, another classic film, It's a Wonderful Life, presents a different message. Now, the misinformation about angels needs to be set aside. Instead, think about the idea of, "What would the world be like, had George Bailey never been born?" But instead, the thought is how the world is different because Jesus Christ has been born. Had He not, you would still be in the slavery of sin, owing not merely your homes or town, but the entire debt of life, unable to pay the miserable, Mr. Potter-like devil.

Thanks be to God that you never have to worry what your city, indeed, what your world would be like, had Jesus never been born. "Christ the Savior is born!" "Unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord." Yes. The Father, in His love, has begotten the Son. And Jesus, having become Man for you, is God's perfect Christmas gift.

If Christmas is little more than a day or even twelve days of love and giving, it would be the same as any man-made holiday. But this is the day to celebrate God becoming incarnate. Today is the day that the first promise of the Gospel in Genesis 3 came to pass; "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her Seed. He will crush your head and you shall bruise His heel." When you stop and think about it, that was the first passage in Scripture about Christmas!

This moment impacts all of history. "Of the Father's love begotten, e'er the world began to be, He is Alpha and Omega, He the Source, the Ending He, of the things that are, that have been, And that future years shall see Evermore and Evermore."

"Oh, the birth forever blessed, When the virgin, full of grace, by the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race, And the babe, the world's Redeemer, First revealed His sacred face Evermore and evermore."

Do you realize the impact? Do you understand just how huge this is, and how it completely affects you? God takes on flesh and becomes Man for you. Amazing!

That is why your pastor kneels at those words in the Creed, when you confess, "who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made Man." For centuries, all the people in churches knelt at that moment. Many Lutherans to this day bow at that moment. No matter what you do, your thoughts, your posture, and your words should bear witness to the awe and thanksgiving for God becoming Man for your salvation.

Do they? Do your words and actions show the reaction to your generous, incarnate God? Not always. Not perfectly.

Still, the "little Lord Jesus" did not remain a Baby "asleep on the hay." As a Man, He bore your sin to be your Savior. He removed all sin and guilt, including the sin of lacking perfect awe and respect, or imperfect posture for prayer. He does not keep you or kick you out of church, based on whether you are acting like a humble peasant shepherd, or like a self-important Pharisee, but grants you full and free pardon of all your sin. You are absolved! You are forgiven!

With joy and amazement over your generous God-in-the-flesh, you worship and then go about your daily life in the true Christmas Spirit. That is, the Holy Spirit, who has called you to faith and delivered this forgiveness, life, and salvation, through the Gospel and sacraments, just as your Savior has promised. The Holy Spirit is the One who is giving you joy over the birth of Jesus, and brings you to the deeper understanding that this is all far more than friends and family, gifts and love; this is all about Jesus; God becoming Man for you!

Merry Christmas, you dear, forgiven saints! Merry Christmas, as you celebrate in the true Christmas Spirit, who delivers Jesus to you in His Gifts, "calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies" you and keeps you in the one true faith! He brings you to believe and understand the most profound words about Christmas, which are not even from Luke 2, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Yes, Joy to the world! The Lord is come!" And He will continue to come in His Word and His Sacraments, until He gathers you to Himself in eternity! THAT is an amazing Christmas gift! Merry Christmas! Amen.

The Rev. Richard A. Heinz, Pastor

St. John's Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL

No Room for the Christ Child? A Homily on Luke 2:1-14

Luke 2:1-14

Even of the Nativity of Our Lord

24 December 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

The world has no room for the Christ Child. "No room in the inn." No room for Christ in Christmas. But then again, what kind of "Christ in Christmas" do people want? Many who cry out about Christ not being in people's Christmases do not want the real Jesus as part of the celebration. They want a sentimental picture of a sweet baby, "asleep on the hay." They want a "Little Lord Jesus" who is completely disconnected from the cross, and has no eternal consequences of sin and forgiveness, damnation and salvation. They just want a manger scene in public places, with angels that look more like Disney fairies, and maybe a few churchly ornaments on trees.

How about you? The fact is, often you have no room for the Christ Child. What?! "Pastor! How can you say that?!"

Are you uncomfortable when you focus on that Baby in the manger growing up to suffer and die to be your Savior? Is the Christ in your Christmas just a cute, impoverished Baby, or the Redeemer of the world, God-made-flesh? Guess what? It matters.

That Child is not an ordinary baby. He is not even just a good or righteous child or prophet. He is not simply a man who went about teaching people to love one another. If that is your focus -- if you continue to keep that kind of Christ in Christmas, perhaps it would be better if you were completely secular. Is one worse than the other: being ignorant of God, or demoting Him and teaching falsely about Him? He would tell you the false teaching is worse.

"Bethlehem" is Hebrew for "House of Bread." In this House of Bread, Jesus, the Bread of Life was born. But He was not born in great accommodations, not a palace, not a house of stone or cedar, not a hospital -- not even in an "inn."

Now get this: the word used here is not actually an "inn" as the modern person has in mind. This was a guest room. In fact, it is the same word used for the location of Jesus' Last Supper with the apostles. The location of the institution of His Sacrament, where the body and blood of Christ were located for the Church. God locating Himself for His people.

So go back to that night in Bethlehem, where there was no room in the inn -- the guest rooms. God leads St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin to the humble accommodations with the animals, where He places the body of His Son in the manger. God locates Himself for His people.

In Bethlehem, the "House of Bread," the body of Christ was wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger. Now, the body of Christ awaits you, wrapped in cloths and lying on the altar.

This House of Bread, gathered at the manger of Christ's altar -- that is the true meaning of Christmas! In the end, people tend not to have so much of a problem with keeping Christ in Christmas. They just have the wrong understanding of Christ. What many fail to do is to keep the Mass in Christmass.

I can hear the whispers now. "Did Pastor just say, 'Mass?'" Yes. It is unusual to many Lutherans in the Midwest, but the word "Mass" is still used by other Lutherans around the world when they speak of the Divine Service. It simply means the worship service where the Word of God is proclaimed and His Holy Sacrament is distributed.

While "Christ" is in most peoples' Christmasses, the Mass is not a part of Christmass for many. That is to say, many fail to celebrate the holy day by receiving Jesus in His preached Gospel and in His body and blood, which had been laid in a manger, and now lies on the altar, ready to do what the carol sings of: "the dear Christ enters in."

You see, you can have beautiful, heart-felt Christmas cards, with baby Jesus' picture on them, but that will not forgive your sins. You can have the most elaborate and expensive manger scene, but it cannot absolve you. You can hold a candle and be caught up in the sentiment, but it still has no eternal consequences on your life. You can boldly greet with a "Merry Christmas," and avoid other "holiday" talk, but that still does not bring salvation. Are any of these wrong? Absolutely not! They are joyful reminders of our dear Savior!

However, dear friends in Christ, you are here tonight, and Jesus has gathered you to keep His Mass in Christmass. You cannot go back in time to the manger. Yet the Lord has done something far better! He has brought you to His pulpit. Here, "the dear Christ enters in" your ears, placing His Gospel inside you, forgiving you and strengthening you in body and soul. And He has brought you to His altar. Here, "the dear Christ enters in." Here you eat the body of Christ, born of Mary, given for you, and you drink His blood, shed for you. You are forgiven. You are given life and salvation.

So "come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. O come ye, O come ye," to the House of Bread, given to you from the manger of this altar! Fear not! Your dear Savior isn't stuck, thousands of miles, "away in a manger," He is right here, given for you! Merry Christmas! Amen!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Jesus Shed His Blood For Me: A Homily on the Circumcision of Our Lord

Luke 2:21

Eve of the Circumcision of Our Lord

31 December 2011

St. John's, Chicago, IL

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

"Chief of sinners, though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me." when you hear and sing those words, you tend to have in mind a full-grown Jesus in mind. The Savior, whipped, beaten, and dying on His cross. But that was not the first bloodshed.

At the age of one week, Israelite baby boys were to be circumcised, and at that time, received their names. Their little bodies were permanently marked, as they were brought into the covenant with the Lord, and welcomed into the family of faith. A simple scar would bear witness to the fact that they were forgiven and were made members of God's kingdom.

Later, Jesus' body would be permanently marked by nails and spear, as you were brought into the covenant with the Lord, and welcomed into the family of faith. Simple scars in His wrists and feet and side bear witness to the fact that you are forgiven and have been made members of God's kingdom.

But even earlier, even at this tender age of one week, the Baby Jesus was not merely being cute and sleeping on the hay. He already was submitting Himself to the Law for you. He is God the Son. He has no sin. No reason for him to endure any pain or hardship, and yet He did! The perfectly innocent and holy Christ Child submits to the Law, and the knife, shedding His blood for you.

The people of Israel often did not want to be a part of God's covenant. They desired to be a part of it when it was convenient. When it appeared to make them set apart and better than others. But that is not what it was about. The Old Covenant was about the forgiveness of God that brought them into His kingdom, and anticipated the Christ who would come and bring it all to pass.

Daily, your Old Adam does not want to be a part of the Covenant either. Only when it is convenient. Only when you can look about you in a moment of feeling that being Christian is popular or advantageous -- something it is not in most places around the world. But that is not what the New Covenant is about, either. It is not about a life of ease and glory. It is about the forgiveness of God that brought you into His kingdom, and receives that forgiveness, life, and salvation from Christ, who has brought it all to pass.

Jesus, however, entered that Covenant for you. He kept it for you. He keeps it for you. The Lord knew that even Abraham could not keep His covenant, so He kept it for him. He does the same for you! He perfectly kept the Law, and still gave the sacrifices and shed His own innocent blood, that you might be saved, and made righteous, be resurrected, and live with Him forever.

Tonight, when you hear that this Holy Infant shed His blood for you, these are not words to make you feel guilty, and miserable about how you caused an innocent Child to suffer. No. These are freeing, humble, yet joyful words, proclaiming God's unlimited love for you! Jesus, in His perfection, poured out His boundless love, even as a baby. He took your place in every aspect of keeping God's Law, fulfilling it, and paying its price.

As He did all this, He waged war against Satan, so that you may be redeemed and justified -- made righteous! This warfare -- this battle that our Lord Christ wages on your behalf -- is the heart and core of these Twelve Days of Christmas. Benjamin Britten wrote a lesser-known Christmas carol that speaks of this very thing. Jesus is come to be our Savior, shed His blood, and defeat Satan for you!

This little Babe so few days old,

Is come to rifle Satan's fold;

All hell doth at his presence quake,

Though he himself for cold do shake;

For in this weak unarmed wise

The gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field,

His naked breast stands for a shield;

His battering shot are babish cries,

His arrows made of weeping eyes,

His martial ensigns cold and need,

And feeble flesh his warrior's steed.

His camp is pitched in a stall,

His bulwark but a broken wall;

The crib his trench, haystalks his stakes,

Of shepherds he his muster makes;

And thus as sure his foe to wound,

The Angels' trumps alarum sound.

My soul with Christ join thou in fight,

Stick to the tents that he hath pight;

Within his crib is surest ward,

This little Babe will be thy guard;

If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,

Then flit not from this heavenly boy.

As the Lord has brought you to the safe and blessed completion of yet another year, you can look forward to the Year of Our Lord 2012, assured that Jesus' bloodshed has purchased and won you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. And He will continue to give you His Spirit who keeps you in the one, true faith, until one day He gathers you to Himself.

Merry Christmass! Amen!