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Christmas 1–“Goodbye” (Luke 2:22-40)

C-15 Christmas 1 (LHP) (Lu 2.22-40)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Saying goodbye is always a hard thing to do. I remember when I left Indiana in 2005 and made my way out to Wyoming. I said goodbye to family and friends, to my then-fiancée, and all that I knew that was comfortable to me and entered a world that was unknown. It was difficult to say the least. I knew that I would see family and friends and my fiancée again. I would talk to them, email them, see them on the computer. But it would not be the same as seeing them in person and it didn’t make saying goodbye any easier.

As we look at our Gospel reading for today, we see the time has come for Mary to be purified following her pregnancy and also the presentation of Jesus in the temple. It has been 40 days since Jesus was born and so they make their way to the temple for the necessary rituals. A sacrifice had to be made, either “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” For Jesus, if He were to be given into service of the Lord, He was to be consecrated to the Lord. If the child was not given into the service of the Lord, the parents needed to redeem Him by a payment of five shekels. Mary and Joseph did not make this payment since Jesus was consecrated to the Lord in the fullest way possible. On the 40th day of His life, Jesus is presented to the Lord, as Luke records: “And…the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law.”

How ironic this scene was. The Child Jesus is brought into the temple when He Himself is the very Temple of God. St. John writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” When John says that the Word “dwelt” among us, it literally means that Jesus set up His tabernacle or tent among us. This is a close tie-in to the temple. The people went to the temple because that is where the glory of God dwelled. Here is Jesus, who IS God in the flesh!

As the Holy Family was there in the temple, a man named Simeon enters the temple. He doesn’t enter it on his own accord, but he does so at the urging of the Holy Spirit. Luke says, “And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Simeon enters the temple and sees the Holy Family, goes to the Child and “took him up in his arms and blessed God.” This was an unusual thing to do, as it was the custom for the parents to offer the child to God. But now, here is a stranger that takes Jesus and offers Him to God. What kind of a person would do such a thing? But remember, Simeon did not do this on his own, but rather he did this as he was led by the Holy Spirit.

When Simeon saw that poor young couple coming into the temple to offer a sacrifice according to the Law, and the sacrifice, he knew it was not Mary and Joseph who would redeem their Son with the humble sacrifice. Simeon knew that their Son would redeem them, because He was the sacrifice.

As Simeon takes Jesus, He blesses God and says, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” He isn’t making a request of the Lord for Him to bless Jesus. Rather, he is making a statement of fact: “you are letting your servant depart in peace.” Simeon’s service in the temple as a watchman waiting for the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises is at an end. The watch is over; the servant can retire in peace. With the eyes of faith, Simeon sees more than a babe in his arms; he sees a Savior dying on the cross; he sees salvation for all people, both Israelite and Gentile. This is Simeon saying goodbye. For him, this is a not a sad goodbye, but rather a joyful goodbye. He is able to leave this world now, not in sorrow over what may or may not have occurred, but instead leaving this world in joy at seeing the promised Christ.

How is it that Simeon saw all of this in this child, just a little more than a month old? Mary and Joseph were an obscure poor couple and Jesus looked no different than any other 40-day old male child. Simeon could see all of this because “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” He could sing this wonderful song because God opened his eyes.

Joseph and Mary marveled at the words spoken by Simeon, but he is not finished yet. He shows insight that could come only by special revelation of the Holy Spirit concerning the destiny of this Child. Israel would be divided over Jesus – He would cause some to fall and some to rise. For some, Jesus would be a rock of offense over which they would stumble; for others, He would be the living rock of salvation.

What an example of faith that Simeon had. Simeon fully believed that God was going to make good on His promise and save His people from all their sins through the Savior He would personally send into this world. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, Simeon was promised by God that he would behold the Messiah with his own eyes in his lifetime, before God would call him home to heaven. Simeon waited. He was faithfully patient, trusting that God knew what He was doing and was doing it all according to His divine timeline, working all things for the good of His people. Simeon had faith that God would work this promise and plan when the time was right. Now having personally beheld God’s all-redeeming plan of salvation in the flesh, in his arms, Simeon was joyously relieved. It doesn’t matter whether Simeon was 25 or 95 years old. He could now die perfectly happy and content, fully knowing and trusting that God was keeping His promise and actively saving His people from all sin, death, and damnation. He knew what was really important in terms of life and salvation, and he knew that he was holding it right there in his very arms. 

Saying goodbye is always hard. It is often filled with emotion and uncertainty of what is to come. Israel had no idea of what was to come in the years ahead when this Child would begin His ministry. However, Simeon was able to say goodbye without fear of what was to come because he saw God in the Christ child. Today, we are able to say goodbye without fear because we have seen Christ as well, in both His Word and in His blessed Sacrament of His body and blood. We sing this song of faith with all of the Church, both here and in heaven, as we leave our Lord’s Table from where He feeds us. There is only thing left for us to say: goodbye. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Christmas, Sermons

 

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Christmas Day–“Light” (John 1:1-14)

C-14 Christmas Day (Jn 1.1-14)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

There are certain words of our text that leap off the page to get your attention: “In the beginning, the Word, God, life, light.” As you begin to delve deep in John’s writings, you feel you have entered a new level of God’s truth in Jesus Christ. John’s Gospel is unlike Matthew, Mark or Luke’s Gospels. He trumpets the Christ and the glory of God in Him. He switches on the floodlights and opens the drama of God’s work of salvation.

The drama starts “in the beginning,” before anything existed. We are reminded of the opening words of Scripture: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This speaks of the same period when only God existed and all creation was but a page in His eternal plan. But now, we have a new reference point: “In the beginning was the Word….” At first glance, “the Word” is abstract, with no definition of what John means by it. Within a few words of this opening verse of his Gospel, John identifies what he means by “the Word:” “…and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “The Word” is the Lord Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity. This is a title for Jesus and tells us important things about Him: it tells us that Jesus is God. Even before John says “the Word was God,” we know Jesus was because He was “in the beginning” when only God existed. Not only was the Word God, He was “with God.”

Today we gather in excitement and joy. After all the waiting, Christmas is finally at hand. After spending weeks in preparation, we wonder if we have done everything or if everything we had done was really worth the effort.

That is precisely why we need a word such as this today. It declares a “no” to the empty routine and darkness of the made-upness that Christmas tends to turn into and return the focus to what this day is all about: the birth of Christ.

Christmas is all about God coming to seek and to save us. He does this through the Child that is born today. This is not just any child that is born, but it is the very Son of God, the Word made flesh. John tells us much in our text today, but a key phrase that he returns to is “light.” He calls Jesus the “light of men” and “the true light.”

God, compassionately viewing His creation, saw humanity cowering in the gloom of sin. He saw us tumbling to our deaths in the moral and spiritual darkness that engulfed us. He who once said, “Let there be light” as the universe was created, echoed that command anew to bring to this planet a Light more powerful than the sun. It was to be His Son, in whom indeed there would be life—life that He would live; life meant for now, and a life that would go on forever. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” He said. “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Because of Him, we need not stumble in the darkness any longer, for Jesus lights the way.

Thus we focus on Bethlehem and that tiny infant who illumined the whole world with a love that never pales. We see the Virgin tenderly holding her child, and Joseph keeping a watchful eye in that cramped stable, filled as it must have been with barnyard animals. The shepherds arrive with the excitement of children to marvel at what the angels had said and to tell their wondrous story of hearing the heavenly hosts praising God and revealing the birth of the Messiah. Through Bethlehem’s dark fields they stumbled toward the one glowing light, that baby called Jesus, whom Isaiah named Immanuel, “God with us.”

There in that manger, the battle between light and dark was joined, the war between life and death encountered. Isaiah foretold centuries before, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” But Jesus Himself put it more simply, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

And so the light is shining in the darkness. The Savior is born this day, revealing to all His purpose: for the world to receive Him in order to become children of God. However, John doesn’t record that everything worked out that simple. He says, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” Did the world rejoice that its creator came for a visit? Was there dancing in the streets? Was there a proper welcome for the Lord? Sadly, no! In fact, this very Gospel account will go on to tell us that God’s creation reacted to God’s arrival by resolving to kill Him.

In spite of the fact that creation rejected its creator there are some who receive Him by faith. Although the world rejects the Eternal Word who is the light of life, the Holy Spirit does produce faith in some. This faith is a new birth that gives believers the right to call themselves children of God.

How does the Eternal Word do all this? Today’s Gospel has the answer. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Here is Immanuel. Here is salvation.

Here is the glory of God. Here is where grace and truth are found: in the lowly One who is born of Mary, who identifies with sinners, who blesses ordinary things, who calls us to be His servants. Not to see that glory of God is to miss out on Christmas, no matter what we do on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. To see, with John and all God’s people through the centuries, the true glory of Christmas is to recognize that God is among us in the person of Jesus, now and forever.

May the light of Jesus bring life to you this Christmas. May His sparkle gleam within your soul, and may the devilish darkness that threatens us be banished by the true light that never fades. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2012 in Christmas, Sermons

 

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Christmas Day–“The Word” (John 1:1-14)

B-13 Christmas Day (Jn 1.1-14)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for our sermon comes from the Gospel which was read earlier.

Few words in Scripture have gripped the human mind with the power of the opening lines of our text: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The language is simple, yet the thoughts are so vast that the words seem to have a magical power. The Western Church used it for centuries as a blessing for the sick and for the newly baptized children. It was even placed in amulets and hung around the next to protect one from sickness. It’s seductive, though, to be so entranced by the mysterious repetition and simplicity of these words, that we forget their importance.

John’s Gospel is not the first place where we hear these famous words, “In the beginning….” The very first words of Scripture begin the same way: “In the beginning….” We find God in the beginning: uncreated, infinite, and eternal. He always has been and He always will be. He is without beginning and without end. Prior to creation, when there was nothing besides God, there was God’s Word. It is this Word that we gather around this morning, the Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us.” This Word is Jesus, the Babe in the manger.

Prior to our Lord’s incarnation, prior to His coming on Christmas Day, the Word was with God. St. John says that “all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” He was the agent by whom God spoke the entire creation into being. Light and life have their beginning and source in Him. It was this Word that created life, that created you.

Now let us fast forward to today. Things are far different than what they were at creation. Creation was deemed “very good” but would we call creation “very good” today? What is “very good” about it? There is nothing that is still “very good” according to God’s declaration. Look at this world that we live in. It is a world of darkness, a world that is spiritually ignorant and blind to God and His Word. It cannot recognize God for who He is, though His imprint is still evident of creation. With a single word, “darkness,” John describes creation’s fall, sin, death, and hell. The word “darkness” captures the confusion and misunderstanding and futility around us and even in us.

If the creation were to be redeemed, saved, rescued from this darkness of sin and death, then God would have to make Himself known, point Himself out, reveal Himself to us. But how would God do this? God would come to the place where we are, descend to earth, enter His creation so that we lost and condemned creatures might know Him and have communion with Him, the way we were meant to exist.

This is the true and wonderful meaning of Christmas. It is God coming to us and He has in the form of a Babe whose birth we celebrate today. God shows up in a place where we don’t expect to find Him: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God the Word, who was there in the beginning and participated in the creation of all things, took on a human nature like yours. God became man. What was eternal now became finite in the person of Jesus. The Word became flesh, Jesus Christ, true God and true man in one person.

The glory of God is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. He is the light of the world, the light that shines in our darkness, the light no darkness can overcome.

Think about it. When Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds looked into the manger, they were looking at God. When anyone saw they face of Jesus, they saw the face of God. The little child who lay in the manger is the same one who created Adam out of the dust of the ground. The one whom Mary wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger is the one who was before Abraham – more than that, He was before Adam. He is the uncreated one who is before time itself was created.

Think about it. The little one in the manger is the one who would one day hang from a tree that He created. The little one wrapped in swaddling cloths is the one who would one day be wrapped in burial cloths and laid in a tomb carved from the rock He created. Because He is the creator of all things, the life, suffering, and death of this little one will be more than enough to pay for your sins. The little one in the manger is the one who would one day burst forth from the tomb to proclaim His salvation for all people.

For God the Word who was in the beginning is now and forever incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. That makes Christmas a blessed surprise: the uncreated, eternal, and infinite God comes right here among us as our light and our life.

Today we rejoice, for the Savior, which is Christ the Lord, is born. He is the Savior, which is Christ the Lord every day of the year and not just on Christmas Day. He was born for our sin and takes away our sin ever day of the year. Because you and I were born in sin, He is born to save us from sin. Because you and I are made of mortal flesh and blood, He becomes flesh and blood to raise us up to immortality. Because you and I face death, He is born to die and rise again to give us new life. He is our Savior, Christ the Lord, and He is born for you and has forgiven us all of our sins. Let this be our focus at Christmas: the Word made flesh in the form of an infant, so that one day, He may die for our sins and open the gates of heaven for us sinners. Let us rejoice in the Gift of all gifts which has been given to us, Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2011 in Christmas, Sermons

 

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A Christmas hymn–“Of the Father’s Love Begotten”

This afternoon, I played this hymn, “Christians to the Paschal Victim” and “We Praise You and Acknowledge You” on repeat for at least a good 45 minutes. Yes, two out of three hymns are out of season. But I don’t care, they’re good hymns.

I know we’re in the season of Epiphany, but I love the hymn, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” The text is great, the tune is great. Below are the words of the hymn as they appear in our latest hymnal, Lutheran Service Book.

1 Of the Father’s love begotten
Ere the worlds 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.

2 Oh, that 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.

3 This is He whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord,
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word.
Now He shines, the long-expected;
Let creation praise its Lord
Evermore and evermore.

4 O ye heights of heav’n adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing,
Pow’rs, dominions, bow before Him
And extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Ev’ry voice in concert ring
Evermore and evermore.

5 Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unending praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore.

Amen.

To hear an excellent hymn study of this, click here.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2011 in Christmas, Epiphany, Hymnody

 

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Collect for the Second Sunday after Christmas

Almighty God, You have poured into our hearts the true Light of Your incarnate Word.  Grant that this Light may shine forth in our lives; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2011 in Christmas, Church Year, Prayer

 

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