Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day, Series B

Sermon on John 1:1-18
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
December 25, 2011 (The Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Day, Series B)

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty,  darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness He called ‘night.’  And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.”  “Now, wait a minute, Pastor,” you might be saying, “this is a Christmas service.  Why are you reading from Genesis?”  The reason is that the creation story in Genesis forms the background to what John tells us about Jesus in our text.

You see, what John gives us is not all the details about Christ’s birth — the census, the stable, the manger, the shepherds, the angels, the star, the wise men (Matthew and Luke tell us about all those things) — rather John tells us “the story behind the story.”  John tells us Who the Baby in the manger really is: the Son of God.  At this point you may be asking, “Well, why doesn’t John just say that?  Why does he use all these other words like Word and Light?”  Remember that John is trying to tell us who the Baby Jesus really is by reminding us of the creation story in Genesis.  His point is that the Son of God existed from eternity.  He is true God as well as true man.  As such, He was the One through whom the Father created everything.

Let us look at two of John’s terms for Christ a little more closely.  John calls Christ the Word, and he calls Him the Light.  What do these two terms tell us about the Baby whose birth we celebrate this morning?  The first thing John calls Christ is the Word.  When someone speaks a word, that word tells others what is in his heart.  Christ is the Word of the Father.  He shows us what is in the Father’s heart.  When God created the Heavens and the Earth, He did so by speaking His word.  It’s just that God is so powerful and so perfect a being that even His Word is a person.  His Word is such a perfect expression of what is in His heart that it is, itself, a person within the Godhead, namely, God the Son.

John also calls Christ the Light.  When God created the physical world, light was the first thing He created.  We could not exist, we could not live, without light.  Not only would we be stumbling around, bumping into things, but we would have no food, because plants need light to grow, we would have no fuel for heat, because fuel comes from plants, and so forth.  The energy for life to exist on earth comes here by means of light from the sun.  This is how God sustains our lives.  Christ is called the Light because it is through Him that the Father gives us what we need to live eternally.

Of course, we all know that even though God created the world perfect it did not stay that way.  Mankind fell into sin.  We remember that Satan tempted Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, telling her, “You will be like God!”  What does that mean, “You will be like God?”  God is the one who gives us everything we need to support this body and life.  This is part of what He does as Creator.  If we think that we are the ones who provide for our own needs, then we are making ourselves into our own gods.  Now, of course, in the physical world God gives sunshine and rain and so forth even to those who think that they don’t need God to provide for them.  But God will not do this forever.  God will eventually destroy this world, and when He does those who rely on themselves will be cut off from God’s help and will go to eternal torment.  These people have cut themselves off from the true source of their light, and so they will find themselves in horrible darkness.

So much for the atheists and the agnostics.  But what about us?  We know there is a God, and we know He gives us everything we need.  Are we any better off?  Well, if we rely on ourselves to please God, no we aren’t.  Not only is God the one who gives us physical life, He is the only one who can save us from the sinful condition we are in.  He is the One who gives us everything we need for our spiritual lives as well as our physical lives.  If we rely on our own good works to try to earn His favor, we are cutting ourselves off from Christ, the Light of the World, and rejecting Him.  How often do we come to Church not to hear the Good News but because we have to?  How often do we try to bribe God to overlook some pet sin by putting more in the offering plate?  (I’m not saying that giving a little extra is wrong — it’s great.  Trying to buy God’s favor with money, however, is wrong.)  God has given His Son to save us.  If we try to save ourselves, we reject Him.  We reject His Light, His Life, as John puts it, and find ourselves in the darkness of sin and death.  We become one with the darkness in our text which rejected Christ.

However, God is so gracious that He sent His Word, His Light, to save us from our sins.  On the cross, Christ took upon Himself the punishment we face for our sins and for our self-righteous attitude.  This was the entire purpose for God to send His Word to take on human flesh and dwell among us.  He became one of us in order to be punished in our place.  By doing this, he showed us the love in the Father’s heart.

When we don’t talk about what is in our heart, our family and friends have no way of knowing what we are thinking.  It’s the same way with God.  If He hadn’t spoken His Word to us, we would have no way of knowing what was in His heart.  Sometimes Christians try to find out what God thinks about them not by looking to His Word but by looking into their own hearts and seeing how they feel about God.  They figure if they have the “right” emotions about God, feelings of peace, joy, love for God or whatever, then God probably loves them.  But there is no way to be sure of this.  Our feelings can and do change, even though God’s love for us does not.  The only way we can be sure that He loves us is that He spoke his Word to us, that is, He sent his Son to bear the punishment for us.

Because Christ has suffered in our place, He is the one we look to for the forgiveness of sins.  Instead of our own good works, we rely on Christ to reconcile us with the Father.  He is the only source we have of spiritual life.  He is the only source we have of eternal life.  That’s why He is called our Light.  When we hear the Word and receive the Sacrament, we receive this Light, which gives us the ability to live.  We receive the ability to do good works and to thank and praise God in truth.  And most importantly, we receive citizenship in that place where there is no darkness at all, because He is our light eternally.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve, Series B

Sermon on Luke 2:1-20
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
December 24, 2011 (The Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Eve, Series B)

“Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  These words are very familiar to us, both as part of the liturgy, and because the King James Version of this Gospel lesson is probably engraved in our memories, although for the younger generation at least, our memory has it associated with the voice of the Peanuts character Linus.  In any case, these words are so familiar to us that we hardly blink when we hear them.  But when the shepherds first heard it, now that was an extraordinary experience.  Think of it.  These words were first said by the angels, not in a synagogue or in the temple, but in the sky above the fields outside the small town of Bethlehem.  They were said, not to the very religious people of the day, the Pharisees, but to ordinary shepherds who were spending yet another night out in their fields making sure their sheep didn’t wander off and get themselves into trouble, or get attacked or stolen as they grazed upon the hillside.  And while the message that the angel had given those shepherds was pretty extraordinary, His birth didn’t look like anything to make a big deal about.  A woman from out of town had given birth in an animal stall, because, not surprisingly given the crowding caused by Caesar’s census, there was no place else for her and her husband to stay.  The whole Christmas story is one paradox right after another, where the extraordinary and the incredible meets the ordinary and the commonplace.

Mary and her husband were pious believers in the promises of the Old Testament, but there were a fair number of Jews who expected the Messiah at the time, as we can see when we look at how many people often came to hear Jesus preach later in the Gospels.  There was nothing special about the Holy Family that made them especially worthy for Christ to come and dwell with them.  And even the Child who was born that night didn’t look all that extraordinary; He looked like an ordinary baby.  More than that, He was really beneath the notice of many people, having been born in the lowliest of places at a highly awkward time for His mother and her husband.  There didn’t seem to be anything special about what happened in that stable that night.

While we all know the story, the paradox that we see in the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ defies comprehension and drives the mind to awe and wonder at what is taking place here.  The Almighty, while He governs heaven and earth, must be breast-fed and have His diaper changed, He is that helpless.  The Light of the World relies on strips of cloth and on His mother’s care to keep Him warm and comfortable in the cold night.  The King of Kings has as His throne a feed-trough for animals.  When you meditate upon what really happened that night in Bethlehem, the mind cannot comprehend it all.  Human words cannot describe the incredible wonder that is shown to us when Christ becomes incarnate and is now born of the Virgin Mary.

And the sense of awe and wonder becomes even deeper when we consider that it was for us that all of this happened.  God the Son became man so that mankind might be restored to fellowship with God.  He was born, grew as a normal human being, bore our sins to the cross, suffered and died, rose again, and ascended to God’s right hand so that humankind, whose nature He now has, might go with Him through it all and be restored to fellowship with our Creator.  All of this He did for us, poor sinful beings.

Even the announcement of His birth is full of paradoxes.  As I mentioned before, the angels come, not to Caesar or Herod or to the High Priest but to simple shepherds outside Bethlehem.  The angels whose song fills the highest heaven with music and praise of the Creator of heaven and earth,  sing for the benefit of the poor, miserable shepherds who have to pull an all-nighter to make sure their flocks stay safe.  The fact that it was the shepherds and not the rulers of the world at that time who heard the angels’ song should be a great comfort to us.  The angels came to those who were best able to receive the message.  It was the common people of that day who were ready for Messiah to come.  The rulers were only upset by the birth of Christ.  The massacre of babies that Herod commanded when he found out about the birth of Christ was only a foretaste of what would happen to Christ throughout His life, leading ultimately to His death on the cross.  The leaders of those times did not want Messiah to come and upset their comfortable lives.  But the common people were ready, and those shepherds were their representatives on this night, as were Mary and Joseph themselves.

Likewise it is to us that the Messiah comes today.  It is not to those who are comfortable in their lives on this earth, who are secure in their sins and think only about life in this world, that Christ comes today.  Rather, He comes to those who know that they are sinners and that they need the forgiveness and salvation that He can bring.  He comes to the common people whose lives aren’t wonderful or perfect, who experience all sorts of trouble and problems.  The reason, of course, is that the forgiveness of sins is only possible where there are sins to forgive.  It is precisely when we confess our sinfulness that we are ready to receive God’s forgiveness.  Absolution, preaching, and especially the Holy Supper are not for people who feel especially good about themselves or who feel especially holy; rather they are for people who know that they are sinners and that they need the forgiveness and healing that only Christ can bring.  It is to the poor in spirit, the meek, the humble, and those who know their true unworthiness to receive Him that Jesus comes.  They are the ones who will welcome Him and let Him be their life and their light.

We can see this by the reactions of the characters in this story.  Mary, evidently a quiet, meditative person, treasured up everything that had happened to her in her heart.  We can imagine that she sang the Magnificat to herself many, many times over the years as she considered how God had blessed her.  The shepherds were bursting at the seams.  They told everyone they could about the tiny Messiah whom they had just bowed down and worshiped.  It is the same way with us today.  We who receive Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith today cannot help but meditate upon His blessings, as Mary did, and declare to all the world what He has done for us, as the shepherds did.  It is to us that Christ has now come through Word and Sacrament.  Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent 4, Series B

Sermon on Luke 1:26-38
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
December 18, 2011 (The Fourth Sunday of Advent, Series B)

Being reminded of our own sinfulness is not pleasant.  Most people go out of their way to avoid it if they can.  Of course, it’s not just the reminders of the end of the world that do this to us.  Our old selves flee from any reminder that God’s Law makes demands of us that we have not, and cannot fulfill.  And this includes the reminders of His Law that come to our minds when we see or encounter one of His messengers.  Even human pastors make some people uncomfortable, because of the reminder we represent, even without saying anything, when someone sees one of us wearing a clerical collar in public, of whatever has been bothering that person’s conscience.  Even my co-workers at Walmart take an extra second or two to recognize me if I stop by the store where I work to pick up something while I’m wearing my clerical collar, because they see that collar and are suddenly blind to everything else about me, including my face.  If that’s the reaction that God’s human messengers get from their fellow sinners,  it’s not surprising that God’s supernatural messengers provoke outright fear in the hearts of those who see them, even in the heart of the virgin Mary.

But Gabriel says to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”  And he then goes on to tell her what will happen to her, that she will become the mother of the boy-child who is God Himself, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.  It is through the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God on the lips of His messenger, His angel, that God the Son comes to dwell within her.  And the Word does what it says, as always.  God the Son does, in fact, come to dwell within her.  He is conceived as an infant in her womb, but He also comes to dwell within her in an even more miraculous way, the same way He comes to dwell within each of us by the power of the Word.  He comes to dwell within her heart, to put to death the fears and doubt that come from her old self, so that a new heart can be created within her, a right spirit renewed within her.

That’s what God’s Word does for us.  Remember, God can’t lie.  Not so much because He’s good and won’t tell a lie, but because His Word is powerful and creative, and whatever He says comes true even if it wasn’t true before.  For those who don’t know or refuse to acknowledge their sin, God’s Law comes and crushes us and causes us to fear God’s wrath and punishment.  But more importantly, the Gospel, the good news of what God has done for us, tell us that we should not be afraid.  The old Adam is right to be afraid; Christ’s coming to us means that he gets drowned underneath the waters of Holy Baptism, and that this old life and the ability to pretend God doesn’t exist and we can continue living comfortably in our sin are themselves temporary.  But what God says to us then is, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.”  And that’s the whole point of what we’re about as the Christian Church.  That’s the whole point of my job as your pastor.  Because of Christ’s innocent life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection, we have found favor with God.  God comes to dwell with us, and we have the promise that we will dwell forever with him.  What happens to Mary physically happens to us spiritually.  God favors us by coming to dwell within us.

As we examine ourselves according to God’s Law, this doesn’t seem possible.  We see our sin, our selfishness, our tendency to do even outwardly good things for the wrong reasons.  We know we aren’t worthy to have God’s messenger speak to us, let alone for Christ to come and dwell with us.  But what is impossible with men is possible with God.  What we couldn’t do for ourselves, He did for us.  He lived a perfect life, died an innocent death, rose again, and ascended into heaven, so that we could die to our sins and live a perfect new life with Him.  For Christ’s sake, we also have found favor with God.  It may look impossible that this could be true, but with God, nothing shall be impossible.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent 3, Series B

Sermon on John 1:6-8, 19-28
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
December 11, 2011 (The Third Sunday of Advent, Series B)

There is something striking about the way John’s testimony is described in this Gospel lesson.  He is asked who he is, and the evangelist tells us that he confessed and did not deny.  What did he confess?  That he is not the Christ!  John’s answer to those who asked him who he is, was to tell them who he is not.  His purpose is not to testify of himself, his purpose is not to give a personal testimony of the great things God had done for him, but to testify of the One who is preferred before him, whose sandal strap he is not even worthy to loose.  That one, of course, is Jesus Christ, the coming Messiah.

John was the last, and the greatest, Old Testament prophet.  Jesus himself pointed out that among those born of women none is greater than John the Baptist.  He was greater than Isaiah, Jeremiah, David, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, and all of them.  This could have been a bragging point.  And yet, he does not brag.  He does not focus on himself.  He focuses on the One coming after him who is preferred before him.  How tempting it must have been for John to toot his own horn when the Pharisees came to ask him about himself.  And it wasn’t just the one question, either.  Even after he denied that he was the Christ, they kept after him to find out who he was.  Are you Elijah?  Are you the Prophet?  Who are you?  And John does not answer other than to say, “No.”  Finally he does answer, but even there his answer doesn’t point to himself, but to the One coming after Him.  He quotes from Isaiah 40:3, which prophesies John the Baptist as one who comes before the Christ, preparing His way.  John’s identity is not his own.  He’s just a voice sent to prepare the way for the Son of God.  Who he is in himself, is not important.

John’s example is of course, one that we do well to follow.  We are not put on this earth to promote ourselves, but to confess in word and deed our Lord Jesus Christ.  And yet we are so often tempted to let our own pride get in the way of that confession.  Even when we think we are proclaiming Jesus, so often we allow ourselves to get in the way, especially when we end up talking primarily about “what Jesus has done in my life” rather than what Jesus has done for all of us on the Cross and through Word and Sacrament.  It may sound at first like we’re giving all the glory to God, but the more we talk about things that are unique to us as individuals, things that relate to blessings we may have received in this life or ways that our own lifestyles have become better, rather than the salvation that has been worked for all mankind in eternity by Christ on the cross, the more we end up sounding like the Pharisee who prayed in the Temple, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other men.”

Of course, there is the opposite error, too.  Satan loves to use this one against us.  The other way of focusing entirely on ourselves is the one which focuses entirely on our sinfulness and the many small and great ways that corruption of our natures has shown itself in our lives.  It is good to examine oneself and know that one is a sinner in need of forgiveness.  But where self-examination becomes morbid self-condemnation, then again you set yourself up against Jesus Christ and try to promote yourself over against Him in a perverse way.  The idea that your sins are too big to be forgiven.  This, too, is a sinful and wrong focus on self.  Jesus has died for your sin, it’s forgiven and forgotten and done away with.  As far as God is concerned it never happened.  That’s what the words “I forgive you” mean.  To continue focusing on our sin after we have heard Christ’s own messenger, sent to prepare His way, say, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” is also to promote yourself at the expense of Christ who has taken your sin and given you His righteousness in its place.

You see, that is the point.  We are nothing, Christ is everything.  Both as sinners and as saints, our focus is not on ourselves.  Who we are doesn’t matter.  Christ and His word of Law, crushing overconfident, self-righteous hearts, and of Gospel, rebuilding those who know their sins and their wretchedness so that they become the saints God created them to be, these things are what matter.  It’s all about God.  It’s all about Christ and His Word.  Even in the Divine Service, we don’t express ourselves, we confess what God has first said to us concerning those great things He has done for all of us.  That’s why, by the way, I wear these robes.  I’m not here as Tim Schellenbach to tell you about Tim Schellenbach.  Tim Schellenbach is nobody.  These robes, and the uniform I wear underneath these robes, the black shirt and white clerical collar, is there to cover me up so that I end up looking like just another pastor.  I’m just a voice, like John the Baptist, calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”

And that is what all of us are as we confess back to God, to each other, and to those around us who do not know Christ yet, the great things God has done for us.  We do not promote ourselves or even our congregation.  Yes, we’re a lot smaller than we once were, and yes, that’s worrisome.  But if someone is brought to faith through our confession of faith to them and they end up hearing God’s Word and receiving His body and blood on a regular basis at Grace or Pentecost or Faith or Messiah or somewhere else, so what?  We’ve done our job.  Whether or not they come to this place to continue to feed on God’s Word is really beside the point, so long as they continue to feed on God’s Word.  We’re not here to promote ourselves but to prepare hearts for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

After all, it’s His coming among us that church is all about.  And thank goodness.  If we came so that we could do something for Him first and foremost, we’d always fall woefully short.  Even the largest churches in our Synod have their share of mistakes and mishaps during the service.  Their organists also play one too many or too few verses sometimes, their pastors also occasionally say things that don’t quite come out right despite the best of intentions, their secretaries also commit typos in the service folder.  And so we shouldn’t be surprised that our little congregation is no different.  We try our best, but our best could never compare to the angels and archangels in heaven if you look and listen with earthly eyes and ears.  But it is the one who comes among us in His body and blood, whose way His messenger stands in the pulpit right now to prepare, who is the real star of this show.  And He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  What He brings to you is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He came, He was born, grew up, lived a perfect life in your place, died for your sins, and rose again for your salvation.  He gives you that perfect life, innocent death, and glorious resurrection to eternal life here and now.  And He will come again in glory to take you to that place where you will experience the fullness of these joys, these blessings, these gifts from His hand.  That’s what this service is all about.  God does it all.  I am merely the voice preparing His way, as are you all as you confess back to Him and to one another what you have heard.  He is the one who is really important.  We aren’t even worthy to loose the straps of His sandals.  And yet, of His mercy, He gives us Himself, for our salvation.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent 2, Series B

Sermon on Mark 1:1-8
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
December 4, 2011 (The Second Sunday of Advent, Series B)

“You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout, I’m telling you why . . .”  A children’s Christmas song, written originally about a legendary figure who will come on Christmas day, rewarding those who do good and punishing those who do evil.  Of course, there’s not much room for forgiveness or the Gospel in the stories we tell children about St. Nicholas, as the difference between toys and a lump of coal is based entirely on how “naughty” or “nice” you’ve been for the past year.  Which, of course, is more than a little bit unfair to poor St. Nicholas.  Santa Claus as we know him today, living at the North Pole, with elves who seem to be exempt from intellectual property laws as they manufacture toys that bear an uncanny resemblance to those produced in China and sold at Walmart, and flying reindeer, one of whom has a rare medical condition that causes his nose to light up, may be a myth, but there really was a Santa Claus, a St. Nicholas, who really did exist, centuries ago.  In Kenosha there’s actually a Greek Orthodox Church named for him, and the Christian Church has traditionally remembered his life and ministry on December 6, just a couple of days from now (which is probably why the Church’s celebration of him became tangled up in the Christmas celebrations over the centuries).  In real life, St. Nicholas was a Christian pastor and bishop, in the Turkish town of Myra, who preached the full and free forgiveness of sins because of the death on the cross of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, the one who came on Christmas Day to give us the biggest and best gift of all, His death on the cross so that we might have life and salvation through the forgiveness of our sins.  The real St. Nicholas, in other words, was not the one coming on Christmas day, but the one who announced His coming.  By the way, he became associated with gifts in stockings because of his charity towards some young women in his congregation who were desperately poor.  He would secretly put gold coins in their stockings when they hung them out to dry at night, so that they would not have to break God’s law in order to survive, thus depicting our Lord’s charity to us despite our spiritual poverty and unworthiness.  The historical Santa Claus was more in line with John the Baptist than he was a competitor to his Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now, at first glance, John the Baptist’s message might sound a bit like the unrelenting  law message of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”  And, of course, there’s an element of truth there.  The purpose of John’s message was the forgiveness of sins, but in order to rightly understand and receive the forgiveness of sins you have to understand your own sinfulness.  A person who thinks his relationship with God is already doing pretty good, isn’t going to think much of the forgiveness of sins.  In fact, he’s going to be downright insulted at it.  “What do you mean, my sins are forgiven?  What makes you think I have sins that need forgiving?  How dare you judge me like that!”  Of course, that’s what the old Adam in all of us thinks about John’s preaching, and about all true Christian preaching of Law and Gospel.  He doesn’t like it, because it means he’s got to admit that things are not okay with God and that he can’t fix the situation on his own.  That’s what the Pharisees thought, and that’s why John in another place calls them a “brood of vipers.”  That’s what many Christians even today think, and why many think that Lutheran preaching is all about the Law precisely when it is the Gospel that is actually being preached.  “He keeps talking about the forgiveness of sins.  He keeps talking about the law, about sin.  I want to hear how I can please God better.  This talk of sins that I can’t fix but only Jesus can, is depressing.  I want to hear what I can do to improve my standing with God.”  And thus the Law gets turned into Gospel, and the Gospel into Law, and the glory goes to the Christian rather than to Christ.  That’s the difference between what the songs tell us about Santa Claus today, and what the real St. Nicholas preached centuries ago in the church at Myra: One tells us that we can and should try to earn the favor of the gift-giver (which is really wrong-headed anyway since gifts and rewards are two very different things), while the other tells us that we are helpless but that the One who is both Giver and Gift has already taken care of it for us.

And so the reminder to examine our lives, to prepare the way of the Lord by recognizing that we are dead in trespasses and sins, is a necessary prelude to the preaching of the Gospel.  The recognition that we are helpless and in need of a Savior is precisely what we need to hear in preparation for His coming among us to forgive us our sins.  John the Baptist points not to himself, but to the one coming after him, whose sandals he is not worthy to untie.  The Law is preached, not as a way of saving ourselves or earning anything from God, but as a way of showing us how much we need the precious Gift that is given to us on Christmas day.  John the Baptist, like Pastor Nicholas, like every true Christian pastor, preaches not himself but the one coming after him.

But the message to repent, by itself, isn’t the point, even though it receives a greater focus during this season of Advent as well as during Lent.  The fact that the kingdom of heaven is near is the real point here.  The Law always serves the Gospel by showing us our need for a Savior.  John prepared the way for Jesus’ earthly ministry among His ancient people, and all Christian pastors prepare their people for His coming again to judge the quick and the dead, by announcing to them the verdict of judgment day, a verdict of “not guilty” which was pronounced already from the cross when He cried out, “It is finished,” and was sealed by His resurrection three days later.

But it’s not just the possibility that Jesus might come soon to judge the living and the dead, nor even the possibility that any of us as individuals could face that judgment at any time because we don’t know the day or hour of our own deaths, that we are prepared for here.  In fact, the verdict of judgment day, which was pronounced on you in Holy Absolution at the beginning of the service, is also given to you as He comes to you now in His body and blood.  Heaven itself is not a far-off reality for Christians, but Christ Himself who is the Kingdom of Heaven personified, comes to us today with His body and blood.  He gives us the heavenly feast of victory, the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end.  Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near, says St. John.  And it is near.  It’s right here in this room, where two or three gather in His name.  Every Sunday, God’s people join with John the Baptist, St. Nicholas, and all the rest of His Christians, along with all the host of heaven, in feasting upon Jesus Himself, the Priest and the Sacrifice, the Giver and the Gift.  Come, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +