Sunday, January 25, 2009

Epiphany 3

Sermon on Matthew 8:1-13
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
January 25, 2009 (The Third Sunday after the Epiphany)

“Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.” These words, known as the Kyrie when they occur in the Divine Service, are a summary of our entire relationship with God. He is the Giver, we are the receivers. He is perfect and holy, we are sinful and unclean. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and eternal. We are limited and finite and mortal. The only relationship that can exist between us and the almighty God is one that is characterized by mercy on God’s part. Martin Luther, in the last words he wrote before he died, put it this way: “We are all beggars, this is true.” We are all beggars when it comes to our relationship to our God. We cannot do anything for Him or give anything to Him in exchange for what we get from Him. After all, everything we are and everything we have is His already, so there is nothing we could use to bargain with Him. Not our time, talents and treasures, not our good works, nothing earns us any consideration at all before God. Everything we receive from Him is solely the result of His mercy, His charity, His compassion, His love.

In today’s text, we see two examples’ of Christ’s mercy toward those who are afflicted with bodily diseases. The first case, the man with leprosy, reminds us of what the stain of sin has done to all of us as human beings. Leprosy is contagious, incurable, disgusting to look at, and spreads and grows until it ultimately results in death. When you put all of these things together, leprosy isolates those who suffer with it from their fellow human beings. Especially in Jesus’ day lepers were cut off from normal human society, so that they were not able to experience even the normal human compassion that is ordinarily such a comfort to those who are sick and dying. When you think about it, sin is the same way. It disfigures a person on the inside, it is contagious, and there is nothing that any human being can do to remove a person. It results in death. And worst of all, it causes divisions between persons, so that a person who suffers under the guilt of his sins often suffers alone, cut off by the very offensiveness of his behavior and by his own sense of guilt from those he would ordinarily seek out for comfort.


Sin even causes us to doubt that God is merciful towards us, just as the severity and disgusting nature of leprosy caused the leper in today’s text to doubt whether or not Jesus really wanted to heal him. But instead of berating the man for his lack of faith in God’s mercy, Jesus simply and clearly proclaims His mercy to the man once again. “I am willing, be cleansed.” And that is how God deals with our sin, as well. That is how He deals with our lack of faith. Instead of further tearing us down and making us more miserable when we are already tormented and broken by the guilt of our sins, instead of berating us for our lack of faith when we are already feeling guilty and worthless, Jesus simply and clearly proclaims His mercy to us. “I forgive you all your sins.” Our sins have been paid for by Christ on the cross; he bore that guilt and that shame for us. His mercy is unaffected by the severity of our sin, but rather His forgiveness is far more powerful than even our worst and most shameful misdeeds. His mercy will not fail.


In the second part of our text, we see a different picture of how sin has affected us. Where leprosy shows us how guilt of sins we have already committed makes us sickly and disgusting to ourselves, and makes us fear that others see us with the same disgust, paralysis shows us the opposite problem. The fear of doing something wrong often makes us afraid of doing something right. The knowledge that we are sinners, that we have within us the potential for some pretty horrific and hurtful words and actions toward our fellow men, can make us afraid of doing or saying anything at all. And this itself is sin, because by going to such great lengths to avoid doing anything bad, we fail to do that which is good, and so we end up committing the very sins we are afraid of, only in reverse. In the words of the catechism, we may not “hurt or harm our neighbor in his body,” but if we’re paralyzed by the fear of that sin we also don’t “help and support him in every physical need,” either, and so we indirectly hurt him. We may not “take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way,” but if we are paralyzed we also don’t “help him to improve and protect his possessions and income,” and so we are still indirectly stealing. We may not “tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation,” but if we are paralyzed we also don’t “defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way,” either, and so whatever lies are being told about our neighbor are still able to hurt him and destroy his reputation. Paralyzing fear of sin, paradoxically, leads us to commit the very sin that we are afraid of committing.


Even in the midst of this paralysis caused by guilt and fear Jesus comes to us. After all, if all our sins are forgiven we don’t have to be afraid of what we might do in the future. While it is true that we shouldn’t use the Gospel as an excuse to continue doing things we know are sinful, on the other hand the Gospel frees us from the fear of falling into sin accidentally when we are trying to do the right thing. One of my seminary professors, Dr. David Scaer, put it this way in his commentary on the book of James: “Christian freedom means a certain recklessness in doing good. Without the fear of the Law’s accusation in his life, the Christian becomes uninhibited in accomplishing what God wants done in His Law.” The paralysis is broken and we are healed. Absolution applies not only to specific sins in the past, but also to the present and the future. We can move again because Christ removes the fear of sin which holds us down.


The interesting thing about the paralyzed man in our text is that the man who was healed never even saw Jesus come to him. Jesus’ ordinary physical presence on this earth remained distant from the servant. But Jesus did come to that man to heal his paralysis. He may not have entered the house physically through the door, but He did enter the house to heal that man, when he spoke His healing Word. We can’t see Jesus come to us and heal us today either. We see His minister, we hear His Word, we see water, we see bread, we see wine. But we can’t see Jesus in the way His disciples saw Him nearly two thousand years ago. Instead, we must rely on faith in order to apprehend His mercy. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” according to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. We can’t see the forgiveness of sin; even in our own lives it all too often seems like nothing has changed and we are still the same old, rotten, miserable sinners that we always were. But we have His Word of promise that our sins are forgiven. We have His Word which tells us that we really are eating His body and drinking His blood in the Holy Supper, and that through this we are nourished and strengthened and healed of the guilt and fear caused by our sins. All of that is faith. We can’t see it, but we believe it.


Even faith itself is a gift which only comes by God’s mercy. The man whose faith was praised by Jesus here was a Roman centurion, not a member of the chosen people. In fact, He was an officer in an army that was, to the Jewish mind, desecrating the Holy Land by occupying it and governing it from afar. There was no reason why such a man should have had such a great faith toward God. Nothing about who he was or his position in life suggested that. Instead, his faith was a gift from God. Faith is only possible if we have been re-created on the inside, if our old sinful nature has been put to death and a new man come forth and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. This is not something we can do to ourselves. We can try to become better people, but putting ourselves to death and bringing forth in ourselves a whole new, resurrected, completely perfect person? No, we can’t do that. Only God can do that, and it is a mark of His mercy and love toward us that He does so. He grants faith through His Word and Sacraments, when, where, and as He chooses. It is only by His mercy that we will be among those who come from the east and the west and sit at the feast of salvation with Abraham and Isaac. But His mercy is all that we need. Amen.


✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Epiphany 2

Sermon on John 2:1-11
For Our Savior Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
January 18, 2009 (The Second Sunday after the Epiphany)

God does not always give you everything you pray for. He knows better than you do what is best for you at any given time in your life. Yes, He does hear every prayer that we pray to Him for the sake of Jesus Christ in whom we believe, but He doesn’t always answer those prayers the way we might want Him to. Sometimes His answer to a specific prayer might be, “Not yet,” and sometimes the answer might be, “No.” Of course, the fact that God answers prayer according to His will and not our own is one of the basic teachings of our Church. But it is a teaching that is easily forgotten in the midst of the trials and troubles of life in this fallen world. After all, not everything we pray for is selfish and superficial. Some of the things for which we pray are very serious and dear to our hearts. We pray that a loved one would be healed of a life-threatening illness. We pray that we would be able to make it through a financial crunch and not lose our car or our house. We pray that a broken or strained relationship with our loved ones might be healed. It’s hard for us to imagine, often, how God’s will in situations like these could be different from our own, and so if God answers “No” or “Not yet” to these types of prayers, it can be tempting to doubt that God really has in mind what’s best for us, or even whether or not God exists and is able to hear and answer our prayers at all.

In today’s text, those who were catering this wedding feast ran out of wine. This is a more serious problem than it appears at first, since wine was more of a necessity than a luxury back in those days. Modern sanitation methods hadn’t been invented yet, and so the best way to get a disease-free, healthy drink was to drink an alcoholic beverage, since alcohol kills germs. Of course, people back then didn’t know what germs were, but they knew that alcoholic beverages, when used in moderation, didn’t cause the kinds of health problems that the unsanitary water that was available in those days did. For this wedding feast to run out of wine was a serious problem, since it meant that the guests would have nothing sanitary to drink. It would be as if, at a modern wedding reception, there were no drinks at all, alcoholic or otherwise, and that the water lines to the building were shut off besides. It was probably pretty hard to imagine, especially for those who were involved in this wedding feast, how God’s will in this situation could be other than simply to say “Yes” to a prayer for help.


But that is exactly what Christ does in response to His mother Mary’s prayer for help here. He doesn’t immediately say “Yes” to her prayer, but His first answer is, “Not yet,” and along with the “Not yet” is a rebuke besides. It doesn’t seem fair or right, does it? Here is Jesus’ own mother, asking Him, who is also the Lord of heaven and earth, to resolve a serious difficulty with the wedding feast of this couple, who were probably themselves related to Him in some way. And Jesus tells her that it has nothing to do with Him, and that His time has not yet come. How rude! Especially since it’s His own mother doing the asking! And how callous toward those who had run into this serious problem with their wedding feast! That doesn’t seem like a proper response for the God who claims to love us.


Jesus was teaching a very important lesson by his answer to Mary, however. No human being has any claim on God’s blessings. God will bless us and resolve our difficulties in the way that He thinks is best, which is not necessarily the way we think is best. And we can’t claim any special favors by any relationship to Him, either. We can’t try to bribe Him into doing what we want by being “pretty good people,” or by being members of the Church. People sometimes become angry with God if He doesn’t give them what they want or what they think they need for this life, as if God owed them something. Well, I’ve got news for you. He doesn’t. We can’t claim any special favor. He will help us when and how He determines is best, not when and how we think is best.


Mary accepted this. She knew that He has in mind what is best, so even though Jesus rebuked her for her presumption, she still ordered the servants to follow Jesus’ instructions. In this she is a good example for us. Just because God doesn’t always answer our prayers in the way we think He should, doesn’t mean He isn’t watching out for us or taking care of us. He is. Just as Mary did, we trust Him to provide for our needs in the way that is most truly and eternally helpful to us, not just in whatever way looks to our limited human reason like what He should do.


Jesus did, then, provide wine for the wedding feast. But even there He did it in a way that is unexpected. He could just simply wave His hand and cause more wine to appear in the storeroom, or cause the wineskins that were currently running out simply to never actually run out; He had done that before in the case of the widow that the prophet Elijah knew whose jars of oil and flour never ran out. But here he uses a means which is not all that impressive; some might even say it’s disgusting. He uses the jars of water that were used for washing the feet of the guests. Not exactly the most appetizing containers to use for something you’re going to drink. But that’s what He uses. And despite the rather disgusting container, the wine that Jesus makes from the water in those jars is the best wine that the master of the feast has ever tasted.


As I said before God helps us in His way, not the way we think He should. He has treasures to give each one of you that are greater than even what Bill Gates enjoys. He has the treasure of eternal life and fellowship with Himself to give you, the treasure that your sins are forgiven and the slate is wiped clean, that you can live before God in righteousness and purity forever. As He gives us these, His most precious blessings, namely the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, He does so not in the way that seems appropriate to human reason or human emotion. He doesn’t necessarily give us particularly good feelings or emotions to reassure us that we are forgiven. That’s where many Christians look for evidence that God loves and forgives them. They look inside their own hearts to see if they can feel God’s love. But that’s not how God has promised to work with us. Emotions, if they happen, are the result of faith; we should never let them become the cause of it, because then we will have built faith on an uncertain and shaky foundation, like the man who built his house on the sand. Many Christians seem to think that the appropriate way for God to work is totally detached from physical, touchable things, because they think of the physical world as evil and misleading. But it is precisely the real, the physical that God uses to give us His greatest spiritual and eternal blessings, just as He used the somewhat disgusting means of bathing jars to give the guests at the wedding feast the best wine they had ever tasted.


The advantage of using physical means to give us His spiritual blessings is that they are certain and sure. You can see the water being poured on the child. You can hear the words that come out of my mouth telling you that your sins are forgiven. You can see the words on the page of the Bible. You can see, touch, smell, and taste the bread and wine, and hear the Words of Institution which make that bread and wine also the body and blood of our Lord. God works through things that are real and touchable, even though those things may seem to our human way of thinking as somewhat ordinary or even disgusting and inappropriate. But He works in His way, and not in our own. Feelings can change and be misinterpreted, and you can’t directly share them with anyone. But the objective Means of Grace can be seen and witnessed to by everyone. You can remind each other of what has been preached to you and what you have received in water, bread, and wine. The blessings that He gives us here are real. Your sins are no more. You will live forever with God and His Son Jesus Christ in eternal life. All of the suffering and pain and sorrow that you endure in this life will be taken away. In this way all your prayers will be answered, in God’s time, and in God’s way. All of these great blessings are given you right here, right now, through the Word and the Sacraments. Amen.


✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Baptism of our Lord

Sermon on Matthew 3:13-17
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
January 11, 2009 (The Baptism of our Lord)

On the one side is the Son of God, the Lord of heaven and earth, who even as man is perfect and without sin. On the other is John the Baptizer, who, although he is the last and greatest Old Testament prophet and Jesus’ own cousin, is still a sinner who is only saved by God’s grace through faith in the Messiah. The purpose of John’s ministry is to baptize repentant sinners for the remission of their sins. When these two men meet, you would think that Jesus, the perfect Messiah, the Son of God, would be the one to baptize the sinful mortal John. But it is the other way around. Jesus asks to be baptized by John. That doesn’t seem to make sense. And so when we read this passage, we are likely to ask Jesus the question with John: “Why do You need to be baptized? You’re perfect and sinless! You don’t have any sins to wash away! John (and the rest of us) need to be baptized by You! And you want to be baptized by John?”

Jesus answers John, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Remember that the reason why Jesus took on a human nature and humbled Himself to be born of the Virgin Mary was so that He could live our lives, except without sin. He came to this earth to live our life, and to suffer and die in our place to take away our guilt of sin. He is the one who is our head, and we are His members. Wherever He goes, we go with Him. And so, since He wanted us to be baptized, it was necessary for Him to be baptized. It was necessary for Him, who knew no sin, to be baptized as if He were a sinner, because He, here at the beginning of His public ministry, is taking upon Himself the guilt of our sins.


Jesus’ attitude here is something that we do well to ponder, by the way. Jesus was without sin and perfect. In fact, He was more than perfect; He was (and still is) the Son of the living God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. He didn’t need to be baptized. And in fact, by submitting to John’s baptism He made Himself look as if He had sins that needed forgiveness. After all, John’s baptism was for repentance, which implies that the one being baptized has something he needs to repent of, that is, he is a sinner. Jesus Christ made Himself look like a sinner by being baptized, even though He wasn’t one. We might think that this was humiliating to go through. After all, we usually resent it when we have to do something that we consider to be beneath us. It makes us look like we are less than we are, and our pride doesn’t like that. For example, there are those who only go to Church every so often or who only take Holy Communion every so often, because they think that it’s only those who are really sinful who need forgiveness very often. But in fact we are all sinners, and if we don’t recognize this fact and desire God’s forgiveness frequently, then that means that we are not only sinners but that we are in denial about our own condition. Jesus, who was perfect, was willing to appear to be a sinner for our sakes. Can we not admit that we are in fact sinners, if it means that we get to receive Christ’s forgiveness which takes away our sin that much more often?


And so Christ submits to baptism, which He didn’t need for Himself, and thereby makes Himself look like a sinner. But this is what His ministry was about. He who knew no sin became sin for us. Not only was He baptized, but He suffered and even died. Since the wages of sin is death, this really made Jesus look like He, too, was a sinful man like the rest of us. But He willingly submitted to these things so that we might be saved.


When you take a bath or a shower, you wash dirt and grime and sweat off of yourself and into the water. The dirt doesn’t just disappear, it goes into the water and follows the water to the sewage treatment plant, where the water is cleaned. The same is true of your sins. Holy Baptism washes you clean of sins, and you return to that holy washing daily through God’s Word and prayer, and weekly through Holy Absolution, and even in between those things you are still one who is baptized, and so throughout your life, Baptism is continually washing you clean of your sin. Where does the sin go? Getting rid of sin is not just a simple matter of God waving His hand and saying, “Oh, that’s okay,” but rather your sins actually need to go somewhere. When they are washed off of you they are washed onto Jesus Christ. This is another reason He had to be baptized. All the sins that were washed off of us in Holy Baptism became His to bear to the cross when He was baptized. He received your sins on Himself, and in doing that He cleaned the water and sanctified it so that it can clean you of your sins through the power of His Word and Spirit.


And what do you receive in the place of your sins? The white robe of Christ’s righteousness. He declares you to be clean and free from your sins. This is a water that cleanses you better than any other water can, because it’s not just simple water, it is water comprehended in and connected with God’s Word. Even the best detergent soaps and shampoos and other cleansers that modern technology has invented can’t clean us in this way. Those things only clean the outside. God’s Word and Christ’s blood in the water of Holy Baptism clean you on the inside. Because of your Baptism, unless you have renounced it by giving up the faith or falling away from it, you are clean in God’s sight. God declares you to be righteous and pure and holy. And just like in Genesis 1 when God said, “let there be light,” God’s declaration has results. God doesn’t lie about you. He doesn’t pretend you’re holy when you’re not. His Word actually makes you into what He declares you to be through that Word. And so, when God says you are righteous and pure and holy, that means you actually are, despite the sin you still see within yourself while you live in this sin-filled world.


You are joined to Christ in Holy Baptism, just as He was joined to you by being baptized Himself. That means that the things that are true of Christ are also true of you. Look at what happened when Christ was baptized! The heavens opened and the Holy Spirit came down upon Him. The Father spoke and said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The Holy Spirit came down upon you at your baptism. The Father said about you, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” You, like Christ, are now perfect, 100% sinless, even though paradoxically you are still 100% sinful at the same time while you remain in this world. Through Christ you have been brought into the eternal, blessed relationship of the members of the Holy Trinity. You are now caught up in the perfect love and the perfect holiness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The heavens are now opened to you, where once they were closed because of your sinfulness. You have been adopted as sons of the Heavenly Father and coheirs with Christ of His eternal kingdom. You will live forever in the Father’s mansions. Even though you cannot see this with your mortal eyes, you have faith in God’s promises. You have forgiveness and salvation and eternal life, because of what Christ has done, and still does for you as you continue in His Word, through Holy Baptism. You, whether male or female, are God’s beloved sons, the heirs of eternal life, in whom He is well-pleased. Amen.


✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Epiphany

Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12
For Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
January 4, 2009 (The Epiphany of our Lord)

When the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Troubled? Why would he be troubled? The Messiah for whom the world has waited for such a long time is here! That’s not news to be troubled about; it something to rejoice about! The temple courts should have been ringing with songs of praise to God that He has kept His Word and fulfilled His promises. One of our Lutheran hymn-writers has put it this way: “Let the earth now praise the Lord, who has truly kept His word and the sinners’ Help and Friend now at last to us doth send.” Another hymn-writer, not a Lutheran but very familiar to us nonetheless, put it this way: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room and heaven and nature sing.” These are the kinds of things we sing when we celebrate His birth, so why wasn’t this also the reaction of Herod and the leaders of the Jews when they heard about it? Instead of being overjoyed and thankful that they were the ones who had the privilege of “being there” when the promises that filled the entire Old Testament were fulfilled, when the entire nation of Israel has its purpose accomplished, Herod and the other rich and powerful members of Jerusalem society were troubled, and disturbed, and dismayed that the Messiah had been born. Why?

The answer, of course, is that the old Adam doesn’t want Christ to come to us. By nature we would rather that the Son of God stay away from us, since we are sinners, and as far as our old Adam is concerned we’d rather stay that way. Especially in Herod’s case, since not only was he a sinner, he was a bloodthirsty and evil dictator. Any idea that there was a higher power in the universe to which he must answer—other than Rome, of course, since it was Rome that helped him get his throne in the first place—but any spiritual higher power that could possibly call him to account for his abuse of power and his flagrantly sinful lifestyle was a threat to him. And not only that, but the way the wise men had put it when they told him of the newborn King, it sounded to Herod like the Messiah was going to establish a political kingdom and overthrow him.


And so, instead of being joyful and thankful to God for finally sending His Messiah and fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies, the leaders of Judah were upset and agitated and angry that the Christ had been born. We might be tempted to think that we would have reacted differently to Christ’s birth if we had been living back then. Of course, some of the people at that time did react favorably to Christ’s birth. The shepherds who were visited by the angels the night He was born, the wise men who came in today’s Gospel, Simeon and Anna in the temple when He was presented to the Lord, and probably many other pious and faithful Old Testament Christians whose names aren’t recorded for us in the Scriptures, all of these did indeed give Christ the welcome that He deserved as the Savior of mankind from their sins. But if we had lived back then, would we have done so? Hindsight is 20/20, they say, and we like to think that we would have been among those who welcomed Him.


But we can’t be sure of that. It’s easy to welcome Him today, when being a Christian doesn’t cost you that much. Even though far fewer members of our society are active Christians now than in decades past, nevertheless we are still largely a society that is influenced and shaped by Christianity. The only thing you give up for being a Christian often seems to be an hour of your time every week and whatever you decide to give as an offering to support your Church. The rest of the week, many of us can get away with pretending to be just like everyone else in our society, and so it’s easy to become complacent and self-righteous. I’m a good person. I don’t steal or murder or commit adultery. I obey those who are in authority. I go to Church. I’m a good person. Of course, if Christ were born today, I’d be right there with those shepherds or those wise men. I wouldn’t be like Herod.


What we forget when we begin to think this way is that the sinfulness that Herod showed by his bloodthirsty rule and his immoral behavior is the same sinfulness that corrupts our hearts as well. We all have within us the old Adam that gets angry and upset at the coming of Christ among us. We all have within us that old sinful nature that would rather Christ stay safely away. We can talk about Him, we can say all kinds of pious things about Him, but we’d rather not have Him actually be present among us all that often. Christ abstractly “up there” in heaven is not a threat to us. Christ present on the altar and received in our mouths in, with, and under the bread and wine we eat and drink is much more real and personal, and for a sinner, threatening. His presence among us is a threat to our complacency. It is a threat to the idea that we are our own rulers, our own masters. Most of all, Christ’s presence among us is a threat to our illusions that we are “pretty good people.” His coming to us points out the fact that we are in fact sinners who are in need of His healing forgiveness and salvation. And so the fact that Christ has come to earth, and is present among us now, can be disturbing to us the way His presence as a small child in Bethlehem was disturbing to Herod.


But it is precisely because Christ is disturbing to us that we know that we need Him. The fact that we are disturbed by His presence shows that there is too much of Herod in us. It shows that we are in need of putting to death the old Adam and once again clothing ourselves with Christ’s righteousness. The fact that Christ makes us uncomfortable shows us that we are in need of being made uncomfortable. We are uncomfortable because when Christ comes He puts us to death so that He can raise us up again. The old Adam doesn’t want to die, and he fights it with everything he’s got. And that’s why Christ’s presence among us is not the most comfortable news in the world.


But Christ isn’t a bloodthirsty, murdering king like Herod. He doesn’t put us to death for sadistic or selfish reasons. Rather He kills only so that He can raise up from the dead. He drowns the old Adam in the baptismal font so that He can bring forth the new Christ in us to live before Him in righteousness and purity forever. And what He puts us through is nothing compared to what He suffered Himself. He suffered the pains of hell so that we don’t have to. He was stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted because, even though we deserved all that by our sins, He wanted to save us from that and instead took it all upon Himself. In fact, Christ was just the opposite of Herod. Herod put others to death in a vain attempt to save himself. Christ put Himself to death in a victorious attempt to save others.


And the “others” whom Christ came to save was not just the ancient people of Israel, either. They had been chosen to be the nation from whom the Messiah would come, but the Messiah’s purpose was not just to save Israel. It was to save all of humanity. Unfortunately, the people of Israel forgot that time and time again, and God sent prophets and even sometimes conquering nations to remind them of it. Even today their descendants try to claim some special favor with God on the basis of their ancestors despite the fact that they continue to reject the one who was promised to them as the Messiah. But the events of today’s text remind us that the Gentiles have just as much reason to rejoice at the birth of the Savior as the Jews do. In fact, the Jewish leadership had to find out from these pagan wise men that their own Messiah had been born! And we too, who are gentiles, have reason to rejoice today, as we are reminded that Christ came to save all sinners, especially those who have wandered far from God’s ways. We gentiles, we who examine ourselves and know ourselves to be sinners, can receive Christ’s epiphany among us with joy, since His coming among us is our salvation. Amen.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠