Sunday, January 27, 2013

Epiphany 3, Series C

Sermon on Luke 4:16-30
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 27, 2012 (Third Sunday after Epiphany)

What sort of a preacher would be so bold as to claim that he, himself, is the unique and final fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy?  After all, those words had, at the time our Gospel lesson takes place, stood as part of the Holy Scriptures themselves, for hundreds of years.  They were quoted from one of the more prominent Old Testament prophets, St. Isaiah.  For Jesus to claim that He was the proper and final fulfillment of this prophecy was to say something rather astounding.  What preacher would dare say such a thing today?

Well, maybe I shouldn’t ask that question.  After all, American Christianity is filled with preachers who are preoccupied with prophecy and the end times, and there are no end of preachers who claim that they, or some modern-day event they alone have figured out, is the unique fulfillment of all sorts of prophecies.  Humility is not, generally speaking, a characteristic of preachers who have a national audience or following.  But Jesus here makes a claim that goes even further than that.  He claims to be the Messiah himself.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me . . .”  That word, anointed, is pronounced “Messiah” in Hebrew and Aramaic, and “Christ” in Greek.  And when you look at the passage Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61 in context, it’s not an isolated prophecy.  It’s connected with all the other prophecies of the promised Messiah.  And so what we see here is one of those instances where Jesus is either an arrogant madman or He is God Himself, become man to save the world.  There is no in between.

Of course, from the perspective of the people of Nazareth, He is naturally going to appear to be an arrogant madman.  After all, they knew Him when He was growing up.  They knew His brothers and sisters.  And while it’s true that He was without sin, the people of Nazareth might not have been aware of that.  Kids blame each other falsely for things all the time.  Jesus was likely blamed for pranks or mishaps or other incidents caused by his brothers or neighbor kids, just as any other child growing up among other children might have been.  In fact, while we don’t have any Biblical records of that sort of thing happening, I would be very surprised if it didn’t happen, since in addition to the fact that it’s very common for sinful children to blame things on each other (after all, Adam and Eve did it first), Jesus came to take our blame upon Himself and thus it wouldn’t be surprising if He bore blame that wasn’t His own for damage caused by a badly thrown ball, a prank that went wrong, a fight that caused someone to get injured, or any of a thousand other things that groups of kids get into all the time.  And so, the residents of Nazareth probably didn’t see Him as the sinless Son of God anyway.

But that didn’t change the fact that He is the Son of God.  And the faulty view that the people of Nazareth had of Him didn’t excuse them for their unbelief.  It’s hard for a preacher to preach in the congregation where he grew up (and usually Seminary graduates aren’t assigned to their home congregations for that reason), because it’s hard to listen to the Word on the lips of someone whom you have seen given a spanking for failing to behave during the Divine Service.  But think about it.  Does the Word cease to be God’s Word because you’re a little bit too familiar with the preacher’s past?  No, it doesn’t.  Does the authority given to the Pastoral Office to forgive and retain sins cease to be the authority given by Christ Himself, just because the man in that office happens to be someone you’ve known since he was a small boy?  No.  The Word and the Office remain what they are despite what we may know about the past (or the present, for that matter) of the man who currently stand in the pulpit.

And that’s a good thing.  Because unlike Jesus, the rest of us pastors are sinners.  It’s not just stuff that happened during our respective childhoods that threaten to distract God’s people from His Word, it’s also sins that those men commit in the here and now.  I hope I haven’t done this in front of any of you, but working at Walmart among a bunch of 20-something college students has not improved my vocabulary.  Tina has had to remind me several times to watch my mouth lest I offend any of you with words I hear commonly used at my other job.  I gossip, I covet, I lust, I get angry without reason, and I at times get lazy in my duties as your pastor.  That’s especially easy to do since I do have Walmart as an excuse.  I stand in need of repentance and forgiveness as much as any of you, if not more.

I said before that it’s a good thing that God’s Word is still God’s Word despite the flaws, real or imagined, of the preacher.  Why is that a good thing?  Because it would be way too easy for Satan to destroy that many more Christians simply by drawing their pastor into sin.  It’s easy enough to tempt many Christians into false belief or despair by means of the sins of pastors (one only needs to look at what is said about the sexual and financial scandals of many televangelists or the pedophilia scandal that has rocked the Roman church over the last decade or so to see that).  It would be even easier if the sins of pastors really did invalidate the word they preached.  All Satan would have to do was tempt a pastor into some gross public sin in order to claim that man’s entire congregation for his own.

But God in His mercy has set things up so that the Word is the Word despite what the man in the office may or may not have done, or what may or may not be going on in his heart and mind.  There was only one perfect pastor in all the world, the One who was known as the Good Pastor, the Good Shepherd.  And even He was rejected by His hometown because the people there thought they knew Him a little too well.  But what God has given us is a Word of promise that your sins are forgiven and you have eternity with Him to look forward to, that is true no matter what the spiritual condition of the preacher.  While there is no such thing as a perfect pastor except for Jesus, there is a perfect promise of God.  What He tells you is firm and certain no matter what the man telling it to you may have done.  God’s promise rests, not on the pastor, but on the authority and integrity of God Himself.  And there is no more certain and sure foundation on which to base His promise of life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Epiphany 2, Series C

Sermon on John 2:1-11
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 20, 2012 (Second Sunday after Epiphany)

God doesn’t always give us everything we pray for.  He knows better than we do what is best for us at any given time in our lives.  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 wine skins 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 13, 2013

Baptism of our Lord, Series C

Sermon on Luke 3:15-22
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 13, 2012 (Baptism of our Lord)

When you have a fire you want to put out, do you put water or gasoline on it?  Obviously, you would put water on it.  If you thought the correct answer was gasoline, remind me to be in the next county the next time you have a fire in your fireplace.  Obviously we put water on a fire we want to put out because water does not burn.  It may evaporate and form steam, but in doing so it takes away heat from the fire so that the fire goes out.  But John says that Christ will baptize us in fire and the Holy Spirit.  Obviously when you and I were baptized it was water that was poured on us, not fire.  But according to John, Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Now, some Christians think that John is talking about some kind of “spiritual” baptism in the form of an emotional experience of some sort, that is separate from baptism in water.  But we Lutherans confess with St. Paul that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.  So there can’t be another, extra baptism that John is talking about; he must be talking about the same Christian baptism we all received.  The key to understanding what John means is to realize that Holy Baptism is not simple water only, but it is water comprehended in and connected with God’s Word.  Another way of saying that, taking our cue from the words of John the Baptist in our text, would be to say that the water of Holy Baptism is a special kind of water.  It is water that burns.

Fire is a useful thing, but it is dangerous if it is not properly contained.  Fire provides heat for our homes, it causes our cars and trucks to move down the road, it is one means by which the power company generates electricity, and it can be very pretty to watch if you have a fireplace or an outdoor campfire or bonfire, as well as being useful for cooking food.  But it provides all these benefits by destroying something, namely the fuel that is given to it.  And of course sometimes fires get out of control and start using as fuel, things that it is not supposed to destroy such as houses and other buildings, or sometimes even dangerous chemicals that give off poisonous chemicals in the smoke when they burn.  Sometimes it may even try to use us as fuel, or suffocate us with the airborne residue we call smoke.  Fire is a dangerous thing, because although it provides us with heat and light, it does so by consuming or destroying its fuel, and sometimes the wrong thing becomes fuel for the fire.

But there are other uses for fire that rely on the fact that fire is destructive.  This is how fire becomes purifying.  When you hold a knife in the flame, the knife doesn’t burn, since it is made of a metal with a very high melting point, but all of the impurities and the germs on the knife are burned away, and so the knife is sterilized.  Metals are refined using extreme heat, because it is only in a molten state that impurities can be removed, and in fact some kinds of impurities burn off when they get too hot.  It is this use of fire that John is talking about when he describes the baptism of Christ as being a baptism in fire.  Our sins, our impurities, are removed from us in Holy Baptism.  When we come forth from the waters of Holy Baptism, that which is not pure in us, the Old sinful Adam, has been put to death and a new, pure man in Christ has been created to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Another way of saying this is to say that we who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death, so that even as Christ is risen from the dead we too should walk in newness of life.  We were buried with Christ by Baptism into death, so that even as Christ is risen from the dead so we also should walk in newness of life.  When you were baptized, you died, in other words.  It sounds pretty harsh to say it that way, but it’s the truth.  When you were baptized, you died, and then you were raised to a new life.  Granted everything that was given you in baptism is still hidden under the cross.  The Old Adam will not be completely killed off until you leave this life, and the New Man in Christ will not be completely whole until you are resurrected on the Last Day.  But nevertheless it is still true that in Baptism you died and were resurrected, because your baptism was not a one-time event but a reality that covers your whole life.  The continuous forgiveness you receive by faith every day, and the forgiveness you receive from my mouth every Sunday in Holy Absolution, are simply part of your Baptism, where the Old Adam is daily drowned so that the New Man can daily come forth and arise.  This is how the water of baptism functions as fire in your life.  It destroys the Old Adam so that the New Man in Christ can arise.

If all of this is true, though, and Baptism purifies us from our sinfulness, then we need to ask, why did Christ need to be Baptized?  After all, He was without sin in the first place.  He didn’t need to be purified of His sins, because He didn’t have any.  In fact, John asks Him this very question when He comes to be baptized.  Our text, which was written by St. Luke, doesn’t record that conversation, but St. Matthew does.  The answer is that just as we were baptized into Christ’s righteousness, He was baptized into our sin.  When He was baptized, He was beginning His public ministry, He was taking on His role as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And He didn’t just make that sin vanish; He took it upon Himself and bore it to the cross.  It was at His Baptism that Christ became the one who takes away our sin, and it is for this reason that His Baptism in the Jordan River is important to us.  Christ was baptized into our sinfulness so that we can be baptized into His righteousness.

This season in the Church Year is known as the season of the Epiphany, after the festival of the Epiphany, also known as the coming of the magi, which we celebrated last Sunday.  The word Epiphany means “shining out” or “shining forth.”  The idea is that the Gospel lessons during the Epiphany season show us how Jesus shines forth as God even though He is also man, and even though He is living as a humble and lowly servant of us all.  Here at Jesus’ Baptism, where He begins His public ministry as the Lamb of God who takes up and takes away the sins of the world, His divine nature shines forth through the testimony that the Father and the Holy Spirit bear of who He is.  He is the Son of God, in whom the Father is well-pleased.  He is the one to whom the Holy Spirit testifies.  He is God become man so that mankind might be restored to fellowship with God.  The Father declares that He is well-pleased with the Son, because the Son is sinless.  And because the Son is sinless, He can carry our sins to the cross and leave them there.  The whole Trinity testifies to the salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus.

This is why, by the way, we were baptized “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  The whole Trinity was involved in our Baptism just as the Trinity was involved in Jesus’ baptism.  Since Jesus is God the Son, we who are baptized into Him are also brought back into fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The Father who sent the Son and who approves of Him now approves of us because we have been clothed with Him.  The Holy Spirit who came down upon Jesus bodily in the form of a dove has entered us and cleansed us from our sins, and He has given us the power to amend our sinful lives.  The presence and the work of the entire Trinity at Jesus’ Baptism tells us that this same Trinity is active in our Baptisms and in the baptismal lives we now live as God’s people.

Since Christ is the Lamb of God, and since He has washed our sins away in Baptism and continues to wash them away as we lead the Baptismal life, He is the one who purifies us.  In a few moments we will eat the same body and drink the same blood which were washed in the Jordan river that day.  He is the one who takes away our sins, and he does so also when we eat and drink of Him.  Some nutrients, when they are eaten, have the effect of stimulating the body to rid itself of the toxins and harmful substances it has accumulated.  The most obvious example, of course, would be eating fiber to keep your “plumbing” in good working order.  Well, since Christ is the Lamb of God, who takes away sin, He also drives out sin when He is eaten and drunk.  His body and blood are known as the “medicine of immortality,” which will give a person eternal life when he eats and drinks of them.  This medicinal food of Christ’s body and blood is available for you here, today.  Come, let us receive Him and so live eternally.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Epiphany

Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 6, 2012 (Epiphany of our Lord)

As we heard on Christmas Day, the message of the Savior’s birth was announced first, not to Herod or Caesar or the high priests, but to lowly shepherds out in their fields that night keeping watch over their sheep.  Now finally Herod and the high priests do find out about it, but not directly from God or from His angels; they find out from Gentile scholars from the east who saw a star in the heavens.  Herod, of course, was not exactly a pious Jew and so he couldn’t care less that it was these Gentiles to whom God had announced the Savior’s birth.  All he knew was that a rival to his power had been born and needed to be eliminated as soon as possible.  But the chief priests and the scribes of Jerusalem were probably very upset.  How dare these Gentiles, these pagans, have the privilege of worshiping the Messiah, when we Jews didn’t even know He had come?  We can imagine that if they had heard about the shepherds worshiping Him on the night of His birth these chief priests and scribes would have been even more upset.

So why did God do this?  Why did He send the angels to common ordinary shepherds and not to the religious or political leaders of the day?  Why did he allow these Gentiles, who lived halfway across the known world at that time, to find out about Jesus’ birth and not the Jewish religious leadership?  After all, the Gentiles were not those to whom the promise of a Savior had been given.  They were not God’s holy people.  They were unclean, foreigners, who did not know how to keep the Law God had given His people.  Why should they hear about the Savior before the Jewish leadership did?  It just doesn’t seem right.

But God did this for a very good reason.  Those who first learned about the birth of the Savior were those who were ready to hear about Him.  Herod didn’t want another king to be born.  History shows that he had several of his own sons killed so that they wouldn’t rise up against him and take the throne from him.  The murder of the Holy Innocents, which takes place only a few verses after today’s Gospel lesson, is also completely in character for Herod.  In fact, Herod’s reign was so bloody that most secular historians back then didn’t think that the murder of all the babies in the Bethlehem area was even noteworthy enough to write about.  The Jewish leaders were convinced of their own righteousness as Jews and didn’t particularly think they needed a savior from sin (though a political savior, to get Rome off their backs, might be nice).  It was the people you wouldn’t expect, common people like Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds, as well as these learned foreigners from the east, who were best able to receive the Christ, because they knew that any standing they had before God was not because what they could do or who they were, but solely by a gift of God.  And the infant Jesus Christ is that gift.

What happens in today’s Gospel lesson is foreshadows what will happen to Christ throughout His life.  He will be rejected by the Jewish nation as a whole, though many individuals will believe in Him, and eventually His message will go to the Gentiles.  Jesus ordered His disciples to preach first in Jerusalem, Judea, and then Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth.  Paul, even though he is known as the apostle to the Gentiles, always starts from the local Jewish synagogue when he goes into a town, as we read in the book of Acts.  The Jews were always the first to receive the message of Christ, since it was to them that the promises of Christ’s coming were entrusted.  But so often they rejected the message of Christ, while the foreigners, the pagans, accepted it with joy.  This pattern is first seen here with the visit of the Gentile scholars from the east who humbly worship Christ while the Jewish leaders are upset by His coming.  The Jews tended to think of the Lord as their own private national God, and forgot that He is the Lord of all the earth and the creator of all people.  They forgot that even though it was to Israel that the promise of a Savior had been given, that Savior was for all nations.  His sacrifice would be for the sins of the whole world.

You and I, of course, have benefitted from this fact.  The Gentile court scholars from the east who came to worship the child Jesus and give Him expensive gifts are our predecessors.  If it had not been for the fact that the message about Christ is for all nations, you and I would not be here today.  After all, we are not descended from the Israelites.  We are Gentiles.  It is only because the message about Christ was sent also to the Gentiles that we have come to know Him and have come to receive His gifts and offer our sacrifice of thanksgiving today.  The visit of the magi is the first time that Gentiles came to worship Christ in the flesh.  They are the first of a long, long line of Gentiles who have been grafted into the tree of God’s people, a line which now includes us today.

But in another sense, we need to examine ourselves to be sure that we do not bear more resemblance to the Jewish scribes and chief priests.  Even though none of us has Israelite blood, we are similar in some ways to the people of Judah and Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ birth.  Many of us have had the Holy Scriptures, and the promises of God’s salvation, since childhood.  Even though our nation’s culture is rapidly degenerating, there are still many elements of our national character that come from the fact that Christianity is still the most dominant of any one religion among our people, and that even the large numbers of unchurched people are more likely to be lapsed Christians who are at least aware of some elements of Christian teaching, than former members of any other religion.  We have advantages in our relationship to our God that the Gentiles of those times did not have, although the Jews did.  It is tempting for this reason to regard ourselves as somehow special in our own right, because of the fact that we come from a largely Christian nation, and have been associated with the Church for a long time, just as the Jews tended to think that it was their status as God’s people, in and of itself, which would save them.

Unfortunately when we begin to think this way we are as wrong as those Jews were.  It is good that we have been granted free and ready access to the Holy Scriptures in our nation; people in some other nations cannot get the Scriptures very easily.  It is good that we have the right to assemble openly as Christians to receive God’s gifts, which is also something that is forbidden in many other places around the world.  But the temptation is there to think that because of our outward association with the Church and being part of an allegedly Christian-dominated nation that we have some special standing before God.  The truth is that our salvation which is given to us in Word and Sacrament is a gift, not something we have earned by our outward association with God’s people.  Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us of this as well, as it was to these sages from the east that the message of Christ was given through the star, and not to the chief priests and the scribes.

Salvation is a free gift from God, and not due to any good works on our part.  This also means that salvation doesn’t come to us as a reward for our association with Christianity.  Salvation comes through God’s Word and Sacraments preached and administered by those He has sent to do so.  This means also that those who have never encountered the Gospel before, those whose nations are still covered completely or mostly in the darkness of paganism, are just as ready to hear the Gospel as we are, and God will save them through it just as readily as He does us.  This is why the Church through the centuries has continuously reached out to those who do not know Christ in order to bring them to the Word and Sacraments through which the Holy Spirit works salvation.  By God’s grace we are involved in this outreach as well through our Synod as well as through our own personal sharing of the Gospel with our friends and neighbors.  Through our efforts and the efforts of many other Christians throughout the world, those who had no previous contact with the Gospel are being incorporated into the Church.  They are receiving the salvation which Christ won by His innocent death and glorious resurrection.  They are receiving Christ Himself through His Word and His body and blood, the same body and blood which Mary cradled and in which the eastern magi worshiped the King of kings.  This same King is present for our salvation too, here, today.  Come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +