Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day, 2007, Luke 2:1-20

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. (Luke 2:1-20, NKJV)

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“And it came to pass,” the story begins. We might say, “in those days.” That’s how St. Luke begins the story of Jesus’ birth. It happened in “those days” it’s almost like that movie… “a long long time ago.” The story of Jesus’ birth is a great story that we celebrate every Christmas, but we don’t celebrate it because it is a great story. We celebrate it because it is a true great story. We celebrate it because what happened then means something to us today. It means something to us that Mary and Joseph trekked across Judea to pay their taxes and found shelter for their newborn child in a stable in an overcrowded little town. It means something to us, even though it happened in “those days.”

It is a very special message, too. It is very good news that comes to us from Christmas past to Christmas present. It is Good News that we need especially in these days, when so much seems to be unsure, and so many people seem to be troubled. The story of God’s action in time actually does what it says. It is the way that God does His life saving and life changing work in human history. Whenever we remember what God has done, how He did what was necessary for us to be saved, we rejoice. We have good reason to talk about “Those Days, and these.” Because of what God did then, and what he is still doing now. This is a time of year to rejoice, these days.

How did it happen… in those days? God was involved in human history. Even the Roman government was involved. The decree of the Emperor was in accordance with God’s will. He didn’t know that his decree to count people for taxes was going to bring Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. He had no idea who they were, much less did he care. Yet, it was exactly what God wanted to happen. God was working through the Roman government to make His promises come true. The Messiah, who would save God’s people from their sins, would be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2).

Jesus birth was according to God’s plan in those days. Everything went according to God’s promises. As strange as it seems God’s plan was to save the whole world through a baby born to a poor young mother, in a dirty stable, in a crowed town. This birth was special, just as the Angels announced. This child was the promised Savior. He was sent by God, and set apart for a special purpose. This baby is God in the flesh, just as God had always promised: He, Himself, would come to assure that people would be saved. He shall be called Jesus… his name means “God Saves!” And he was born to save all people. He saves them from sin, from its punishment and its power. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour…”

In those days, the birth of Jesus was celebrated by both angels and people. “Glory to God in highest!” the angles sang. “And peace to men on earth.” And the shepherds couldn’t wait to see what they had been told about. And they couldn’t wait to tell it to everyone they saw. Just the sight of the baby Jesus had a life changing effect on them, they returned to their sheep, “…glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.” They would never be the same again. Indeed no one would ever be the same again.

But, Christmas isn’t just for “those days.” It is very much for us. It is very important to us here in “these days!” When the angel announced, “I bring you good news of great joy…” he said it would be for all people. He didn’t just mean all the people living “in those days.” Jesus Christ saves the sinners in “these days too!” He was born for us, just the same as he was born for shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. He was promised also for us, he came as our Lord, God in human flesh, to live among human beings in our world. He came to save us, in these days.

And save us he did. We need saving, because our worst enemy stalks us, and torments us… sin. Sin drenches everything we do and say. It lives in our thoughts, and often controls our actions. We hate it, and yet we so often bow to its power in our lives. At Christmas we think of children. We want them to feel the love given in a gift. But, just look at the world they are born into these days. A quick look at today’s paper will show you sin out in the open. Bomb threats, murder, theft, shootings in the mall, these are all a part of these days. And while we want to think we are better, we know we are born with that darkness in us. We know that our children are born with sin in them. That’s why, “those days” are so important. That’s why Jesus was born a baby in “those days.” He saves us completely by become completely one of us. He lives in our world subject to the same temptations and troubles as we are. He had relatives who died. He suffered from illness in his family. He knew of corrupt politics and religious leaders who only led people away from God. He heard of murder, and theft and threats to human life. “Those days” where just like “these days.” That little baby that we loving adore in the cradle grew to be a man. He knew the temptations of being a teenager. He lived as a young adult in a small community. He roamed the streets of cities and towns and saw greed and its most direct effect, poverty. He saw first hand the effects of sin on the people around Him. Yet, Jesus lived His life without sin. In spite of all that was around Him, He lived in perfect relationship to God and perfect relationship to everyone around Him in those days.

Jesus lived His perfect life according to God’s will, which led him to the cross. Every step, every word, every action led there. Jesus, completely God and sinless human being was nailed to the cross as a common criminal. It was unjust and yet, God’s way of saving us. Jesus sinless life was sacrificed in place of our sinful one. He hung bleeding and dying on the cross, suffering the punishment deserved for the worst kind of crime. But that wasn’t enough. God heaped on the Baby of Bethlehem the sins of the whole world. Every sin in thought, word and deed, every sin you and I have done and the things we should have done but have left undone, God laid on Jesus’ shoulders. The shear weight of them caused Him to cry out to God in those days, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s because Jesus didn’t just suffer the physical pain of crucifixion, He suffered the spiritual pain of eternal hell, complete rejection by God. That is the punishment that the smallest sin deserves, because it violates God’s design and will for human life. It is a stark contrast from the swaddling cloths to nakedness of the cross. But that my dear Christian friends is what the scene in the manger is all about. Without the cross in those days there is no joy to the world for these days.

Everything Jesus did in “those days” has a lasting impact on us in “these days.” In fact “these days” our lives are completely different. We have so much to celebrate on Christmas. We see the salvation of God in the crib and we see it in the cross. He is our savior from sin in “those days”, in “these days” and for all eternity.

We are happy at what we see in the manger on Christmas. The Shepherds were “in those days.” It’s ok to rejoice in what God has done for them, and for you and me. Today, in these days, we can find Joseph, Mary and the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Shout out with joy what he has done, today! It is indeed good news of great joy for all people. Spread the word in “these days” just as the shepherd did. Express the joy of Christmas. Tell everyone you see as you return home. “Joy to the world the Lord is come!”

It is true: Christmas in those days is Christmas in these days. It is Christmas for us! It isn’t just the celebration of something in the past. It’s the celebration of something God is still doing. He still brings the good news of forgiveness through his word, the story of what he has done. Hear the Good News of Great Joy for all people… for you who live in ‘these days.’ Today, this day, a savior has been born to you who is Christ the Lord. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Eve, 2007, Luke 2.19

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:19, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I once heard about a child who told the story of Christmas. I don’t remember all the ins and outs of it, but I do remember one phrase. Mary treasured up all these things and pounded them into her heart. Well, it makes a certain amount of sense doesn’t it? What second grader is going to know or understand the word pondering? Now, she probably understood the idea of pounding something. If she had brothers, she’d probably even been on the receiving end of a pounding. Her brothers had something they wanted her to know, so they pounded her till she remembered it. That was an object lesson in the making. Mary, the mother of Jesus, pounded these things into her heart. I’m sure she did. All these wonderful events; shepherds, angels, magi, special travel arrangements made in the middle of the night, these things didn’t happen every day. God’s hand in the birth of her child wasn’t subtle. Mary was probably the first human being to really understand the meaning, the reality of God coming into the world in human flesh. She suffered the pains of child birth when God was born. She knew these events were events to be remembered. She pounded them into her heart. When she held the infant Jesus in her arms and fed him at her breast, she must have been overwhelmed to hold God, feed God, and change God’s diapers. She pounded these things into her heart. When she and her husband took him to the temple to be circumcised, on the eight day, when he cried at the pain, at the first shedding of his blood and the prophet told her that her heart would be pierced; she pounded these things into her heart. As he grew, learned to walk and talk, skinned his knees, worked with his Joseph, laughed and played and cried, just like any other completely human growing baby boy; she pounded these things into her heart. When he was twelve and stayed behind in the temple wowing the scribes and the Pharisees with his knowledge of God and his understanding of scripture. She and Joseph were in a panic when they couldn’t find him. They were angry, but soon they understood. Jesus was doing what he had come to do; she pounded these things into her heart. When Jesus ministry began in earnest, when he turned water into wine, when he healed the sick, when he preached to the gathering crowds, he spoke with authority showing he wasn’t just an ordinary prophet; she pounded these things into her heart. She’d need to remember all these things. Her son, isn’t just any human baby, he is the son of God. He wasn’t born to live a life for his own sake. He lived his life for her. He live his life for you. Mary, Jesus’ mother, saw all these things first hand, she saw Jesus living his life for sinful human beings. She saw God’s love expressed in human form. She saw grateful human beings reacting to God, in the flesh; she pounded these things into her heart. So, with Jesus standing bleeding from thorns in his scalp, torn flesh from the Roman scourge, bruises on his face from being pounded with human fists, she recalled the things she had stored up in her heart. She maybe didn’t fully understand why God-in-the-flesh would allow himself to be treated so, but she knew who he was. And so this too, she pounded into her heart. She remembered Simeon’s words about the pain she would endure. With each blow of the hammer that pounded a nail into Jesus hands and feet, she felt the pain she was warned about, a mother’s pain. And yet it was nothing compared to the pain that her son, Jesus bore. You see, this her son, the God-man, Jesus Christ, was born of the virgin for this very purpose. The life he lived, the life Mary pounded into her heart, was lived with the purpose of suffering the guilt and shame of sin. He lived his life to suffer the death of sinful men. What Mary saw on the cross, wasn’t just her son, it was her Savior. With all of his life stored in her heart, what she saw on the cross was the sinless Son of God; God, himself, restoring a relationship to his people. God doing what was necessary, what you and I, (and she) can’t do for ourselves. Jesus Christ, true-God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified dead and buried; And Mary saw it all, and pounded these things in her heart. But it wasn’t over. The joy Mary felt at the birth of God’s son, was given in full measure when he rose again. Then she understood fully what God had done through her son. All that she had pounded in her heart came flowing out in joy.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:4-6, ESV)

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11, ESV)

So, this evening, what are you pounding into your heart? Christmas gifts, or the Christmas gift? As you listen to the account of your Savior, do you hear about the Savior for you? Do you pound Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection for you into your heart?

Think on Jesus, the son of the Virgin, God in the flesh born for you, and pound that into your heart. Think about Jesus keeping God’s law perfectly for you and pound that into your heart. Think of Jesus suffering for you, think of Jesus dying on the cross for you for the forgiveness of your sin, and pound that into your heart. And pound into your heart the joy that Jesus promises to come again. You will live with him forever.

I guess the little girl had it right. Mary kept all these things and pounded them into her heart. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Fourth Sunday in Advent, Dec 23, 2007, Matt 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Mt 1:18-25, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Well, now the time is really getting close. In my house we’ve finally got the tree set up and there are all those pretty packages under it. In just a day or two we’ll tear our presents open with “unbridled avarice” (to quote one of one of my favorite Christmas movies). I know, I know, we all say that Christmas is about giving. We all say that the true joy of Christmas is in giving gifts, “it’s better to give than to receive.” But just ask any third grader who has spent any time salivating over the presents under the tree and they’ll tell you what Christmas is really all about. Christmas is for getting. “It’s better to receive than to give.”

Sometimes, giving is a tricky prospect anyway. Just ask any husband who’s made the fatal mistake of buying the wrong gift. In Reader’s Digest, Herb Forst gives hard learned advice on giving your wife a gift: “Don’t by anything [for your wife] that plugs in, it’s seen as utilitarian. Don’t buy anything with sizes, the chances you’ll get the size right are one in seven thousand. Don’t buy anything useful. Don’t by anything that involves self improvement or weight loss. These things are seen as suggestions. Don’t buy jewelry. You can’t afford the jewelry she wants and she doesn’t want what you can afford.” If the gift wasn’t really important we wouldn’t even think that was funny. (Maybe some of you don’t!) We all know that our hearts are set on the things that we will receive on Christmas. It’s about the getting. An American Express poll showed that “no gift” was preferable to a gift of fruitcake. In our minds “it’s the thought that counts” doesn’t really add up. A gift of clothes given to a child is opened with greater enthusiasm if it is given in a hard box.

Today I want you to set aside all the things you have to do, you know the last minute shopping and the like. I want you to think about what you’re getting for Christmas. Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I’m not saying that giving is unimportant. It’s just that really if we get right down to it, the real meaning of Christmas isn’t found in what we give, it’s found in what we have received. So, I want you to forget, for a moment, that you will be giving gifts to other people in a few days. Forget about all the buying, and the wrapping and the shipping and the delivering. Well, it’s really too late for mailing anything anyway. Today, I want you to think about a gift, for you.

You see, that’s what the text today tells us about. It says, Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. With just that opening phrase we see it already in our minds: The wooden shed, the cattle and sheep, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and the Gift, a baby in a manger. But, the gift of Christmas isn’t that we now have a cute story about an unusual birth to delight children of all ages. The birth of Jesus Christ is about something much more. The gift of Jesus is that God became human flesh and dwelt among us. St. John uses the word “Word” for Jesus.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV)

The gift of Jesus comes out clearly in our text where we read a different name for Jesus. The name is Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23, ESV)

Christmas is about the gift of God, himself, in human flesh. We should be sure we don’t miss that that is what Christmas is all about. Joseph almost missed it himself. He had to be told about Jesus. The angel appeared to him and cleared it up.

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matt 1:21, ESV)

That’s what “God with us” was coming to do.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)

This passage about the Gift of God isn’t about the amount of God’s love, but how He showed it. It isn’t God loved the world “so much” but God love the world this way… that he sent His son.

In 1946 at the Los Alamos atomic laboratory, Dr. Louis Alexander Slotin and seven co-workers were doing experiments with plutonium. The pieces were harmless unless they were put together in the wrong way. Accidentally, that’s exactly what happened. The room was flooded with dangerous radiation. Dr. Slotin acted at once yanking the pieces apart with his bare hands. He knew what he was doing; he knew that he was exposing himself to an overwhelming dose of radiation. But by reacting so quickly he saved the lives of his seven colleagues. Nine days later he died. He loved the people in that way, he gave his life for theirs.

When God became Immanuel—truly, physically, with us as the son of a virgin—he didn’t come into the world as a safe laboratory experiment. He didn’t come here to see how things were going. He became a part of our world—our sinful, corrupt world, dangerous and dripping with death. He came, God with us, to save us from our sin, by taking on himself the poison of it. He came, as our gift from God, to expose himself to the lethal dose of our punishment. He gave his life for ours. (from an illustration by Scott D. Johnson, Conover NC, Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 15, No. 1).

God came among us, in Jesus, to shed his blood on the cross, to suffer and die for the sins that you and I live in every day. As joyful as the season is suppose to be, it’s easy to see our sin as the holiday stress sneaks up on us: A short temper; a misspoken word of hurt; the “Holiday” excuse for neglecting our regular daily tasks; selfishly looking over our gifts with “unbridled avarice”; pushing the limits of credit without means to pay. Leave it to a holiday to bring out the worst in people. But it really only brings to the surface what’s deep inside. To be a sinful human is to live with a selfish heart. To be a sinful human is to struggle to do the right thing when you want to do the wrong thing and to do the wrong thing when you want to do the right thing. To be a sinful human is to live every day with the knowledge that we don’t live up to even our own expectations for ourselves. To be sinful human is to know that the only thing that is ever going to bring all that to an end is death. That’s the nature of sin. Its hold on you, its power over you, is in the fact that it brings death. Old Satan whispers it in your ear every chance he gets. “You’re a sinful person and you deserve to die. God can’t stand sin so he can’t stand you. Your sins are so much worse than any other, God can’t forgive you.”

But that’s what the gift of Jesus is all about. “God with us” came to deal with sin in the only way it can be dealt with. Born in that manger was a man who was God, human in every way except for sin. His perfect life and innocent death was given for your sin. The author of Hebrews says it like this:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb 2:14-15, ESV)

Sin hasn’t any power over you any more because Jesus death for sin is your death for sin.

But you should know “God with us” isn’t just talking about the baby in the stable. It’s not only that Jesus walked and talked and healed and feed people who live at the time when he was born. His perfect life and death weren’t just for people who lived when he lived. He is still with us, today. He talks and heals and feeds us every day. He does it with farmers and medical workers. He does it with waitresses and truck drivers. I know you’ve heard about the gift that keeps on giving. Well, “God with us” is just that, because his gift didn’t end with his death on the cross. He rose again from death. He was dead and buried in the grave, but “God with us” came alive again to be with us always.

God is with us here in his living, breathing, Word. That’s why it is so important to be in worship every Sunday. It’s not just a story about Jesus. It’s not just a tale about his birth and death and resurrection. It’s the truth about what God has done to deal with our sin. When the Word about Jesus fills our ears, the Holy Spirit fills our hearts and minds and gives us faith to believe, and faith to hold on to what Jesus has done. “God with us” is the power to believe, and live according to God’s will for our lives.

And God is with us here in his sacraments, too. These gifts aren’t just empty actions that we do. In fact they are nothing that we do. They are nothing less than “God with us.” When a human pours water on another persons head and speaks God’s Word of forgiveness, God’s name, God is there making the promise of forgiveness true for that person. Again the Holy Spirit creates faith. Again God is the power to believe. And how much more can God be with us than in the Body and Blood of Jesus. Even though we can never understand how it is true, we receive the precious gift of the very blood shed, and the very body beaten for us in the Lord’s Supper. There “God with us” brings forgiveness of sins as we open our mouths and eat and drink.

So that’s what I mean when I say I want us to think about what we are getting at Christmas. That’s what I mean when I say that Christmas isn’t about what we give but what we receive. So, as the day approaches think about Jesus, think about Immanuel, “God with us.” And look forward to getting something wonderful for Christmas. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sermon by Pr. Sturzenbecher.

My good friend Pastor Randy Sturzenbecher at Divine Shepherd Lutheran Church, Blackhawk, SD has a great sermon. Please take a look.

Divine Shepherd<br>Lutheran Church: The simple truth

Friday, December 21, 2007

Advent 3 Weekday Service, December 19, 2007, Ezek 47:1-12

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side. Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to En-eglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:1-12, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus, Christ.

“Come to Calv’ry’s holy mountain, Sinners, ruined by the fall; Here a pure and healing fountain Flows for you, for me, for all, In a full, perpetual tide, Opened when our Savior died” (LSB 435:1).

Christian artists have throughout history painted many different kinds of pictures of Jesus on the cross. They were attempting, in art, to portray the importance of what Jesus did there. How do you make a picture of the forgiveness of sins that comes to us through God’s Word and the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion? Many artists have pictured angels capturing the blood streaming from Jesus hands, feet and side, into Chalices. One picture captures the moment when the soldier pierces Jesus side with a spear, with a chalice collecting Jesus’ blood and the water flowing into a font, a Baptismal font. It’s a vision of God’s gifts to us through Jesus death, delivered to us through the means of Grace.

Well, that’s what Ezekiel’s vision that I’ve just read is about too. Ezekiel sees water flowing from the temple. Notice particularly he describes the water. It starts with a trickle, ankle deep, and then knee deep, then waist deep, then over his head, deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. He calls it living water. It watered trees on the bank, and brought life everywhere it went. There is a connection between Ezekiel’s vision and the water that flowed from Jesus side. Remember Ezekiel describes water flowing from the Temple.

St. John’s is the one who tells us.

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness— his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth— that you also may believe. (John 19:31-35, ESV)

Blood and water flowed from Jesus body. John is also very careful to tell us that Jesus calls himself the temple.

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” he said. The Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:19-21, ESV)

Just like Isaiah the water of life flows from Jesus.

“If anyone thirsts,” our Savior Said, “let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’ ” (John 7:37-38, ESV)

Jesus’ body is the temple. That’s what Ezekiel was talking about. In Jesus very body, God was present in bodily, human form, true God and true man united in a miraculous and mysterious way. When the soldier wanted to make Jesus dead, for sure, he drove the spear into His heart, and out flowed blood and water. I think of the picture from Mel Gibson’s movie, where the man was sprayed, drenched with water. That water, flows into Holy Baptism. That water is the water of live that gives us all that Jesus did; His life, death and resurrection for you and me. When we are drenched with the water of Baptism we are connected right to Jesus on the cross, right to His perfect life, right to His birth in Bethlehem, right to His resurrection, and even more importantly right to His coming again to judge the living and the dead.

Over the years the church has understood this very well. In fact, the early Christians used a symbol to remember their connection to Jesus in a vivid way. You may know that they used a fish to mark their worship places, as a secret symbol to guide each other, and bring them together. The reason they use a fish is because if you take the works Jesus Christ God’s Son, Savior in Greek Iesu~ Cristo~ qeu~ Uio~ Soter. But that’s not all there is to the fish symbol. They were also thinking of Ezekiel’s picture of the water of life.

Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ, oh, so long ago, thought of themselves as little fish who swam in the living water of Jesus, the water of Holy Baptism. One of the early church fathers wrote:

“But we little fish, like our Fish Jesus Christ, are born in water, and it is only by remaining in water that we are safe. Therefore . . . [the enemies of the faith] well knew how to slay the little fish by removing them from the water” (Tertullian, De Baptismo, para. 1; translated Alexander Souter, 1919).

Jesus says a much too.

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16, ESV)

He actually gives His followers a purpose for living, in the water. This is what we are to be about as a church, even right here in Howard. If this purpose isn’t in our hearts, if this isn’t the reason we gather together and make plans and budgets, we are not doing what little fish should be doing.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)

That life giving water flows from Jesus side flows to the whole world. It began as a little trickle. But the flood gates were opened. Peter preached at Pentecost. Repent and be baptized every one of you for the forgiveness of sins. 3000 little fish were born that day. And it didn’t stop there. Paul and Silas baptized the Roman Jailer and his family. And Philip baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch. We could recount each one of you, too. Here at this font you were born, little fish, in the water of Holy Baptism. The water of life flows from Jesus side to this small pan where you were born again into God’s family, having your sins forgiven.

This gift, Holy Baptism, is for you and your children. It is a wonderful gift for you. It is your connection to the Babe in the manger. It is your promise of eternal life through the forgiveness of sin. It is new life that flows from Jesus on the cross to you. Don’t let anyone take you, little fish, out of the water! Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Advent 2 Weekday Service, Dec 12, 2007, Luke 12:50. The Ultimate Exodus

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:50, ESV)

The Ultimate Exodus
(Inspired by a series by Rev. William Weedon.
Concordia Pulpit Resource, Volume 17, Part 4, Series C)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The bible, the book we hold as God’s only true and inspired word, is really built around to big events, two releases, two journeys, two great acts of salvation from slavery, a first and a second Exodus. Ours is the second, Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. It is the second and greater, more important event. Without it all would be lost to sin, and death, and hell and Satan. We would be dead in our trespasses and sins. We would be lost. The first is God’s rescue of His people, the Israelites, from slavery in Egypt. These two events are very closely linked. The first points back to the second as a shadow of what was to come. The second points to the first as the most important event in human history. Now, I’ve heard it said that what happened so long ago can’t have any real importance for you and me, “modern people of the 21st century.” But it does. In fact, how we understand what Jesus has done for us is very deeply rooted in our understanding of what God did, when he rescued his people from Egypt, the Exodus.

First, we start by understanding that we are slaves. Our lives are full of suffering and pain. When a baby is first born it begins to die. Sickness and illness show us how helpless we are to prevent death. But it’s not just death. We are bound to our own selfishness. Inside our hearts are evil thoughts. Our passions lead us to murder, unfaithfulness, lies and death. We cannot escape. We are slaves to being human beings. We are slaves to our broken nature. The human race as always been this way living centuries of death and bloodshed. It cannot be changed. Just as the children who were born to the Jews in Egypt were born into slavery that they couldn’t do anything about, so are we born in slavery to what we can’t do anything about. We are born slaves to sin, death and Satan himself.

This situation is intolerable for us, but it is all we know. God is not content with human suffering. He didn’t create the world for this. He sent Moses to lead the children of Israel out of slavery to Pharaoh. God sends Jesus to free us from our slavery to sin. God led the people of Israel through the waters of the Red Sea to freedom. God leads us through the waters of Holy Baptism into freedom from sin, death, hell and Satan.

Remember back to Sunday school? You learned about the Transfiguration. Jesus stood on a mountain and glowed with the light of God. He was joined by Elijah and Moses. They were having a conversation. St. Luke is sure to tell us what it is about. Most of your bibles will use the word “departure.” But that’s not exactly what Luke said, if you look at the word as he wrote it you’d see it is the word, “Exodus.” Jesus and Moses and Elijah were talking about Jesus and his Exodus. We use these words:

…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

It was these things that made a way for us from our slavery. Jesus didn’t bypass all that we live in every day, he went right through it. He suffered life and death just as you do. Yet, in all that we are told we see Jesus’ great love for us. He doesn’t strike out against those who seek to hurt him. He replaced the severed ear of the servant of the High Priest. “Put away your sword, Peter. This is sin.” “Father forgive them,” he pleads to the Father for those who drove the nails into his hands and feet and mocked him from the foot of the cross. Jesus suffers all, yet he does it willingly. He is on a mission, a journey, an Exodus to open a way for us to eternal life, a life without sin, suffering, death and the control of Satan.

Jesus calls it a Baptism.

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:50, ESV)

His is in blood. His is a baptism of suffering. His is a baptism of death. He goes though all these things to bring us through them to life forever. He does it to make a path, a way, a journey, an Exodus through it all for us.

Now the way through is easier than we think. We don’t have to slog through using our own strength. We don’t have to fight the demons. We don’t have kill the evil thoughts that come from our own hearts. We don’t have to make ourselves better. Jesus does all that for us. He makes it simple as it has to be for us. He calls us to follow him through the path he has made.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:19, ESV)

For us, Baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is our Exodus. It is God working in us faith in what Jesus has done. It is God dragging us through Jesus, life, death and resurrection to the new and promised life. Afterwards we are called only to leave behind what was a part of our life of slavery. St. Paul puts it clearly:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1-4, ESV)

We walk in newness of life, life with Christ our Savior. We follow him. You might not remember you Exodus at this font. You won’t if you were baptized as an infant. The little babies who were carried in their mother’s arms through the parted Red Sea didn’t remember that event either. But they were told about it. They were saved from slavery and Pharaoh’s army nonetheless. You have been told about your Exodus. You don’t have to remember it for it to be important. It is, in fact, the most important event of your life.

Now, it is important to remember that for the people of Israel the promised land, their final destination wasn’t right on the other side of the Red Sea. In fact, it lay a far journey away. They were free from slavery, but they hadn’t reached the Promised Land yet. They had lives to live on the way to where God was taking them. Baptism isn’t the end of your journey either. It is just the beginning. In fact, the most difficult part is ahead; trouble, pain, sorrow will come. But our Savior doesn’t leave us to travel alone. He gives us all that we need. His life sustaining Word. His promises, and food for the journey. In fact, he gives us his very body and blood to nourish us on the way. God fed the people of Israel by sending heavenly bread called manna. He gives us the bread of himself.

In all our journey, our Baptism that marks the beginning is also a promise that we will reach the end. After their long journey the people of Israel stood again on the shore, near water. The Jordan River lie between them and the promised land. God parted the river just as he had the Red Sea. They passed through it on dry ground, God kept his promise. Their journey began and ended with a baptism of water. That’s our journey too. It begins with water poured on our heads in God’s name. It ends with our passing through death, through the Jordan into the land promised to us by God. Joshua led the people through the river. our Joshua leads us through death. Did you know that Jesus and Joshua are really the same name? Yea, Jesus is just the Latin version of the Hebrew name Joshua. It means “God Saves.” That’s what Jesus does. He leads us through death to life forever. He saves us.

Right now we live in between. We are on the journey, the Exodus. We don’t go alone. God has given us all that we need. Here we hear of His promises in Jesus. Here we receive the food we need. Here we have fellowship with others on the journey, too. Slavery is behind us, new life is ahead. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

3rd Sunday in Advent, Matthew 11:2-11, December 16(9)

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Mt 11:2-11, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Do you ever have doubts? Well, I do… I think everybody has doubts of one kind or another. Doubts about family, doubts about our abilities, doubts about the situation of the world, doubts about the economy, and doubts about faith. You pick up a Newsweek or Time magazine and they have an article about Jesus that seems to be so reasonable, yet, it says that most of what you believe about Jesus is made up or wrong. It says that you can’t trust the Bible because it was made up by people with a political agenda. It says that “scholars” agree. It shouldn’t be a surprise, what they says. They look at Jesus through the same old tired eyes every year. Their list of “Biblical Scholars” is hardly mainstream and their “facts” don’t stand up to real historical scrutiny. But I really don’t think they care about the truth. What they really want is to sell magazines. And a provocative story that makes people angry will sell magazines. Lot’s of people will buy the magazine just to see what it says. I’ll bet in fact, that at least one of you was tempted to buy a copy for the pastor. It’s not necessary; I have the internet I can read it for free. (But the truth is I knew exactly what they were going to say before I read it). And still, it’s enough to make you wonder. It’s enough to make you doubt. Doubt is a part of being human. All of us have doubts. Anybody who says they don’t have any doubts at all isn’t being entirely honest.

So what about doubts, especially doubts about our faith? Well, it is OK to have doubts; you might even say that having doubts puts us in pretty great company. What was it that Jesus said about John? Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. That’s pretty high praise! There has not risen anyone greater than John. When we think of John the Baptist we don’t often think of doubt, do we? We saw him last week standing by the Jordan River shouting down the Pharisees and the Sadducees, calling them “You brood of vipers! You hypocrites!” He doesn’t sound much like a guy with many doubts about what he is saying or doing. And people went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. He was a popular guy. He had a hopping river ministry going there by the Jordan. It sure doesn’t sound like the work of a guy who would have doubts.

I think, though, if we look at a few things we can see that maybe John, even though he was a great (the greatest!) prophet, may have indeed had some doubts. Just maybe he was plagued by some of the same thoughts we are. Maybe John was human, too.

First, I want you to remember, again, what we talked about last week. What was John preaching out there in the wilderness? “The ax is at the root of the trees!” he said. “Judgment is coming, especially for those who are hypocritical. I have come to baptize you with water, but he is coming to baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire!” He was saying that God would come to set things right. Fire burns away the chaff and purifies. John knew who he was. He had no identity crisis about himself. He was the ‘voice in the wilderness’ that Isaiah said was coming. He was confident in his calling. He was confident that God was coming to be King over the whole world. And that meant that everything would be different, nothing would be the same. John knew that God’s kingdom was coming.

Now, remembering John’s confidence, look where we find him this morning, in Herod’s prison. That doesn’t sound much like God is reigning over the world. If Jesus says that John is the greatest prophet, what’s he doing in prison? That doesn’t sound much like God is in control. That sounds like King Herod is in control. It sounds like nothing has really changed with Jesus beginning his ministry. After John was arrested, as he must have sat there in his chains in the dark dampness of Herod’s dungeon, wondering if all that he was waiting for had not yet begun. When he heard about Jesus, and there didn’t seem to be much ‘fire’ going on, he may have asked “what’s up with this?” There alone in that prison, he may have begun to wonder, “Why am I in chains?” Why is the king threatening my life? When will God begin doing what I was suppose to tell them was beginning? Maybe I’m wrong about Jesus, being the one who is bringing the kingdom.”

I can relate to John. I think you can, too. If what John said was true and Jesus brings the reigning of God over everything, then why do people have to suffer? Why don’t some people have the food they need? Why do we have wars that kill thousands? Why is there sickness, cancer in my family? Why can’t my community be the way it used to be? Why does everything have to change? Maybe, we wonder, Jesus doesn’t bring the kingdom of God after all. Maybe the baby in the manger isn’t really the answer to the world’s problems. We may ask, just like John, “Is this really the kingdom of God?”

Well, Jesus doesn’t condemn John for his doubts. He doesn’t say, “John can’t you see what’s going on here? Are you so weak in your faith that a little trouble in your life throws you into a panic? No that’s not what he says at all. He tells John, through his messengers, to look at what is happing, to look at what Jesus is doing. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” He gives John just what John needs to hear. He gives confirmation that Jesus is indeed the coming King; confirmation that Jesus is doing everything according to God’s plan. Even if he isn’t acting like John expected, God’s reign is breaking into the world. Things really are changing, and the changes can be seen by anyone who looks to see what Jesus is doing.

Jesus describes to John, what happens when people in need come in contact with a God who loves them. Things begin to return to the way that God intended wants them to be; when the relationship between God and man is restored. God didn’t create eyes to be blind; he created them to see. He didn’t create legs to be crippled, but to walk and run. He didn’t create skin to be full of sores and ears to be unable to hear; or our bodies to be racked by cancer, or other illnesses. He created them to be whole, and he certainly didn’t create human beings to die. Everywhere Jesus went he left in his tracks the signs of the fact that God had come into the world to set it right again. That’s what the Gospel means when it talks about the coming of the Kingdom of God. “And,” Jesus said to John, “the good news about all that I am doing, is being preached to the poor.” At that very moment, John may have very well felt very poor, there in that dank dark prison, alone with his doubts. But Jesus tells him, “don’t worry John; the kingdom of God has come. I am the one who brings it. I am the Messiah!”

Jesus Christ does bring the kingdom of God, he brought it to John. He brought it to all those that were around him, the poor, the lame, the deaf and the blind. And he brings it to you and me. But, he brings it in a way that we would never expect. He brings by his suffering and death. It just doesn’t seem right. We expect a king to establish his kingdom with power. Instead Jesus establishes his in weakness. We expect a king to rule from a jewel encrusted throne. Jesus rules over his kingdom from the cross. It was there that he showed his great love for us. It was there that he came into contact with us for our greatest need. It was there that he mended our broken relationship with God by paying the penalty for our separation. The separation that causes us doubts. He brings his kingdom with his own blood. He restores us to himself in a way that we don’t expect.

We don’t really expect good things to come from suffering. We especially don’t expect God to establish his good and perfect kingdom through suffering. But that is exactly what he did. And it may even look foolish to us. But this is what God’s kingdom looks like: John the Baptist suffers in prison facing sure death, Christians struggle every day with sin and doubt. At those times God’s kingdom doesn’t look at all like we’d expect. It is time like these that we may doubt weather his kingdom has come at all. Maybe that’s what happened to John. But, here again, John can be an example for us. When he doubted he knew where to turn in faith. He knew who would have the answers for his suffering, and his doubts. He turned to Jesus.

When we doubt we turn to Jesus, too. We do it because he is reigning. We do it because his kingdom has come to us. It comes to us here in this place, through his Word where he assures us of his love for us, and what he has done for us to restore us to the kingdom. He does it here in baptism. Where he takes each of us and makes his very own child an heir of his kingdom. He does it by giving us the food of his kingdom, his very own body and blood shed for the restoration of our relationship to him.

We are members of his kingdom and God does reign over the world. And just like Jesus took the signs of God’s kingdom with him wherever he went, the signs of God’s kingdom go with us, too. We can’t help it, because of his love for us, his love flows from us to other people. It flows to our friends here and it flows to our neighbors and coworkers. The good news is being told all around; the kingdom of God has come. It has come in Jesus Christ.

That is the answer to our doubts. To look to Jesus, just like John did. To see all that he has done, the mending of our relationship, and the love that flows from him in this place. Will all our doubt going to go away? Well, not yet. Because even though the kingdom of God is among us, it is still coming. The King, who came wrapped in swaddling cloths, has promised to come again. To make complete all that he has begun. When he comes again he will bring to completion what he has begun. He will finish what he started and what he is doing here in this place every day. Then there will be no more blindness, no crippled, and no more doubt. No more sickness and death. That is what advent is about. Remembering that Jesus Christ, our Lord and King, came to earth in an unexpected way to establish his kingdom, and that he is coming again. Amen.

The Peace that passes all understanding Keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2007

National EMT Certification Exam

I have passed both the Written and Practical exams for becoming an EMT. (http://NREMT.org) It was a very long haul, and I'm glad it is over. I look forward to serving on the Miner County Ambulance.

Thanks for all your prayers and support.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Winter is Here. :-(

I have been in the state of denial for several weeks, but this morning I came to the inescapable conclusion that winter is here. I awoke this morning rubbed the sleep from my eyes and found these trees in my front yard. Beautiful? Yes! but also harbinger of other attributes of winter; more snow, more cold, more... well, winter! Buck up old boy, summer will be hot.

p.s. (Yes, I really know that December 22 is the 'real' first day of winter).

Thursday, December 06, 2007

National EMT Certification Exam.

This Saturday (Dec 8, 2007) I'll be taking the National Registry EMT Certification exam along with the South Dakota practical exam. Upon passing I'll be able to be a volunteer on the Miner County Ambulance.

Please pray that all goes well.

The National Registery is located at NREMT.org

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

First Advent Weekday Service, December 5, 2007, 2 Cor 5:17-21

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, ESV)

The New Creation
(Inspired by a series by Rev. William Weedon.
Concordia Pulpit Resource, Volume 17, Part 4, Series C)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel!

What in the world does Advent, getting ready for Christmas, have to do with Baptism? Pastor I think you’ve lost it. What we need is a little tweaking about selfishness and overspending. What we need is to hear about how the world gets carried away with Christmas, and doesn’t have the right focus. “They’ve forgotten what Christmas is all about!” So that we can feel good about ourselves because we’ve got the right focus. That’s why we’re here tonight to get us in the Christmas mood, to perk up our Christmas spirit, get us in the mood to give gifts instead of receive. What’s all this about Baptism?

Well, Baptism is foundational for our faith. In fact, it is so central we shouldn’t be talking about God’s gifts to us without placing Baptism among the most important. If we believe what we say we believe then our baptism should never be far from out thoughts. That’s why I’ve moved the font front and center this evening. Really, it belongs there all the time, or right in the middle of the entrance. We have the tradition of moving it back when we are not using it. Maybe though, it would be good to put it out front a bit more often.

Take a good look at the font. This one, like most of them, has eight sides. There’s a reason for that, it’s not just a random thing, the way the carpenter decided to make it. He had a reason. There’s a long standing tradition in the church for having them octagonal. Just like so many things, symbols in the church, there is a deeper meaning. And that’s what we are going to look at tonight.

To really get the understanding about what Baptism is all about, and how it connects us to the baby in the manger, we need to go back a ways. Not to Bethlehem. But way back even farther than that, all the way back to the beginning.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2, ESV)

I want you to notice a couple of things here. First, it starts with God… in the beginning, God. No big bang, no aliens, nothing but God. And notice how God is active The Holy Spirit was hovering over the waters. The world begins with water and the Spirit. From the water the Holy Spirit brought life.

The account goes on to explain just how God, the Holy Spirit worked to create everything. And here’s the first hint as to why the font has 8 sides.

  • Day 1: light and darkness, day and night.
  • Day 2: Heaven and earth.
  • Day 3: Land and sea.
  • Day 4: Sun, moon and stars
  • Day 5: Birds and fish.
  • Day 6: Animals and human beings.
  • Day 7: God rested.

It was all good and perfect. No suffering. No pain. No death. Human beings were in perfect relationship with God and everything around them. It was Eden, paradise.

“Seven days of work make one weak” W E A K. That’s not what God intended for us. God set aside one day for rest. He calls it the Sabbath. The confirmation students can tell you what day the Sabbath is. He worked six days, Sunday through Friday and rested one, Saturday, the Sabbath. That’s God’s way of doing things. That’s God plan and order for creation. He made everything, beginning with water.

Water is the key to all life. When the explorers searched the world for new places they spent lots of time searching for water. When scientists look for life on other planets the first thing they look for is water. Nothing can live without water. We need water. Without it we die. We use water for everything. We drink it. We wash with it. We horde it, when it is in short supply. We even play in it. Water is the key to God’s creation.

God’s creation of the Garden of Eden was centered on water. When we think of the best places to be on the earth, we picture peaceful waterfalls and pools of cool clear water. That’s a yearning that comes from deep within us. We know the world isn’t as it should be. “in the beginning” that’s the way it was. Everything was in perfect harmony. Everything was in perfect relationship to everything else. Everything was in perfect relationship to God. We have a built in longing, homesickness to return to that. God’s creation isn’t that anymore. Where once peace was everywhere, now there is only death. Instead of life being in harmony, life is in competition. Instead of time marching toward eternity in perfect peace, it marches only toward death. Seven days at time, week by week we march toward death. An endless series of sevens until death takes away all that we have.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3, 9, 10, NIV)

And yet, there stands our Baptismal font. All eight sides. Right in the middle of meaninglessness. Right in the middle of certain death. Right were we put the coffins. Right where your coffin will be. If the Christian faith means anything it must have something to say about death. If it doesn’t then, you may as well be an atheist.

There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6, NIV)

One baptism connecting us to one Lord, Jesus Christ, sent into the world to set it free form the endless march of seven and seven and seven and seven leading to death. One Lord, Jesus Christ, sent to rescue us from meaningless life.

God created the world in six days. He finished all his work and rested on the seventh day, Saturday. Does it sound familiar? God’s Son did it too. He did his work of salvation. He finished it on the sixth day… a Friday. We call it Good Friday. That day He hung nailed to the cross. He suffered, died and was buried. He restored our relationship to God by removing the punishment for sin. He lived a perfect life for us. He was born, lived a perfect life and died on the cross. His very words were “It is finished!” Dead and in the tomb where we will all be. His body rested in the grave on the seventh day, Saturday. But this is where everything changes. This is where Advent really has some meaning. We look forward to this baby’s birth, but only because the baby died, and rested in the tomb on the Sabbath. But even more so because the baby rose again from death, the next day, Sunday, the first day of the week. Day 1 but a new day too, Day 8, a new day of a new creation. Jesus Christ rose from death, promising to you and me a resurrection. You see the 8 sides of the font? When you were baptized, you were placed into the 8th day of creation. You were given new life in the new creation. Those eight sides are a constant reminder that the old has passed away and the new has come for you.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21, ESV)

That’s what I’m talking about. In the beginning God, the Holy Spirit moved over the water and created life. At this font, God, the Holy Spirit moves over the water and creates life. By His life giving promises God gives you new life, through water and the Word. You have a new beginning. One that doesn’t end in meaningless death, but one that passes through death, with Christ into new life, eternal life. In Baptism God connects you to the baby in the manger. You receive the forgiveness of sins. That means your relationship with God is restored to paradise.

Ah but… there always an “ah but.” As I look at my life, the reality of God’s promise doesn’t seem so sure. I sin. You sin. Relationships fall apart. Death waits for me outside the doors of the church. Work is endless. Week after week an endless progression of seven, seven, seven. Look here. Look at the eight. Don’t think that your baptism is just a one day event. It’s not “I was baptized” it is “I am baptized.” You live every day in the eighth day. Take your sin as God uses his word to point it out and lay it at the stable, the cross and the font. Receive the forgiveness of sins every time. You are a new creation. You are a forgiven child of God.

Eight sides. One for each day of the week and one for the Eighth day, the day of the resurrection, the day of your baptism, the day of your new life. Jesus said it,

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5, ESV)

That newness, is yours through Holy Baptism, into the new life of the eighth day. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Curriculum Vitae

Curriculum Vitae

Rev. Jonathan C. Watt
800 B N. Sumner Ave
Creston, IA 50801
Mobile: (515)462-0566

Master of Divinity, (2001)
Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO

Bachelor of Arts, Computer Science, (1997)
Concordia University Nebraska, Seward, Nebraska

International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights
Strasbourg, France 2011

Professional Experience
Sole Pastor, (2009-present)
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA

Sole Pastor, (2006-2009)
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD

Sole Pastor, (2001-2006)
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Burt, IA

Technical Consultant, (1991-1994)
Personnel Data Systems, 650 Sentry Pky., Blue Bell, PA

Computer Operator, Computer Programmer, Systems Analyst, (1983-1991)
Bryan LGH Medical Center, Lincoln, NE

Watt, J. C. (2007). Planning Your Funeral, The Lutheran Witness, 126, 20-22.

Conference Presentations
Planning Your Christian Funeral. (2001-present)

Technical Training, PDS User Group Conferences and Client Sites

Professional Activities
Chairman, Fall 2007 South Dakota District Pastor’s Conference, (2006-2007)

Education, Board for Parish Services, South Dakota District, LCMS, (2007-present)

Emergency Medical Technician, Basic, Certified, National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (2007)

Vice President, Habitat for Humanity of Union County (2011-present)

Circuit Counselor, Southwest Circuit, Iowa District West (2012-present)

Additional references available on request

The First Sunday in Advent, December 2, 2007, Isa.2.1-5

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Isaiah 2:1-5, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Well, there’s nothing like a fresh snowfall. There are hardly even any footprints even in the snow. I like sitting out in the cold after a snowfall at night and listening to the quiet, peace that seems to cover everything. Grace and peace… hey that’s what today’s text is all about peace. “It the last days… They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears in to pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” That sure sounds like peace to me.

It seems to me that this is an especially good time to talk about peace. Friday we heard wonderful music sung here by the Madison MasterSingers and peace was an important word they sang about. Here we are at the brink of 2008, and who knows what’s in the future. We are a nation at war that hardly seems like a nation at war. Some of you remember WWII and what it was like to have to use rationing stamps to buy sugar. This war is nothing like that. In fact, I read the other day that more military personnel died of accidents within our boarders than died last year in Iraq. It really is a different kind of war. But, even though it’s different we are still not at peace.

We always talk about peace at this time of year. “Peace on Earth” banners are all around. Peace on earth is included in many of your Christmas decorations. “Peace on Earth… good will toward men…” is actually quoting angels. It is what they sang to the shepherds the night Jesus was born. Peace, we all love to be at peace. But the truth of the matter is this… we are never at peace.

Anyone who studies history at all knows that peace is a very rare commodity. Human history is very often marked and counted by war. We remember what happened at a certain time because of what war was going on. “I was married at the end of WWII.” “My dad fought in WWII and Korea.” “That was shortly after the evacuation of Hanoi.” “Where were you during the Gulf War.” “I’ll never forget the day the towers fell.” Even though the current war seems very far away, things are different in our country since the towers fell. We are doing our best for this war, to make it seem like we are not at war at all.

Well, as far as what Isaiah says, I don’t see much turning swords into plowshares that this text is talking about. In fact, our government is beginning to spend more on ‘training for war’ than it has in decades. Right now the only way we’d want to turn a sword into a plow is because “If you hit a guy with a plowshare, he really gonna know he’s been hit.”

And yet, at this time of year, as Christmas approaches, we still spout off “Peace on Earth,” and claim that Jesus brings peace.

Well, maybe we’re talking about a different peace than just the absence of war between nations. Maybe we’re talking about peace between ethnic groups… that hardly seems possible. Look at all the ethnic fighting around the globe. How many of you have any real hope for this new round of mid-east peace talks?” Peace talks are always so fragile; a sideways glance leads to a new round of suicide bombers. There’s riots in France and ethnic cleansing in Africa. The coming of the little baby in the manger doesn’t seem to have much impact in these places.

Let’s look closer to home. Maybe Jesus brings peace to our families. But… I don’t think so. I’m sure you remember the last fight you had with your spouse, I do. Are you getting along with all your children? There is so much to do during the Peace on Earth season, tempers often run a little short. The busier we get the less peace we see. For a season that is about peace that comes through the baby of Bethlehem, it sure seems to bring out the worst in us.

If you want to see a prime example of the lack of peace in families, just look at the divorce rate. It’s staggering! All around us and among us are families torn apart by divorce, children shuffled between households, uncertainty, insecurity, and arguments over child support. Divorce is a declaration of war on the family. Is it any wonder God says, “I hate divorce.” (Mal 2:16)

Well, maybe the peace that Isaiah is talking about is a peace between individual people. Peace between you and me. You’ve got friends and neighbors… you are at peace with all of them right? In Miner County there are no squabbles about fences, are there? Nobodies cattle are in your field, none of the neighbor’s trash is on your property, right? You’ve never heard, “I wanted that land and you knew it, why did you buy it?” Tall fences make good neighbors, we sometimes say. Neighbors sometimes have very strained relationships.

The peace can be broken even in the best relationships… a misspoken word, or with an unintended harsh tone. Feelings are hurt. The friendship is strained, sometimes to the breaking point. Some who were friends haven’t spoke in years. It is easy to see there is not much personal peace either. In fact, when peace is broken on this level the effects are most devastating.

What about inner peace. Maybe what Isaiah means is that the baby brings peace that sooths the inner torment of people. But, a look around will show you troubled people everywhere. Physiologists and psychiatrists have never been busier. On the outside we may be calm, but a storm is brewing… so many people feel on the very brink of disaster. Peace is not in there either.

“‘Peace, Peace’, when there is no peace.” (Jer 6:14, ESV) Says the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel, who were living in times much like ours… and there is no peace. Nations fight against nations, clans against clans, families are torn apart, friendships are strained and people are tormented from within; the world is full of broken relationships.

There is no peace. The real root of the problem is that human beings are at war, not only with themselves, their neighbors, and other nations; the issue is that human beings are at war with God! You see, a perfect God cannot and does not tolerate sin. And the problem is that if you are human you are sinful. So God cannot tolerate sinful human beings, that means God cannot tolerate you! In fact, to be human means to be God’s enemy. Now pastor, you’re not going to make any friends talking like that. Can’t you just fluff over that part and get right to the good stuff. I wouldn’t be pastor if I did. It is my job to remind you, that as a member of the human race, a sinful member of the human race, you deserve only God’s anger and punishment, that when you are born, right out of the gate, you were God’s enemy. God’s enemies deserve his wrath and punishment, God’s act of war against them.

And yet we say that Jesus Christ brings peace. Peace, as the bible talks about it, is completeness, wholeness, harmony, and fulfillment. It isn’t just and absence of war, but it is being in perfect relationship with everything around you; perfect relationship with other people and perfect relationship with God. Peace, says the bible, has its source in God, himself. And so it only makes sense that when God himself, comes among us, in Jesus Christ, he would be called the Prince of Peace.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6, ESV)

But still the question remains, how does this Prince of Peace bring peace? How is the peace he brings, for us?

St. Paul wrote a letter to the Church at Ephesus. He wrote it because the church was a church at war with itself. They were fighting internally, Jews against Gentiles. The Jewish Christians wanted the Gentile Christians to undergo all that they did, circumcision, the food laws, and all the regulations. “You can’t be a Christian, without them.” They said. But, Paul said, “No! Because of Jesus you are one. He is your peace. He destroys the wall of hostility between you. He has reconciled you to each other… through the cross.”

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:13-17, ESV)

Jesus death brings together warring parties. It restores broken relationships. It does it because Jesus Christ ended the war between God and man. How? He did it by becoming God’s enemy. That’s right, Jesus Christ the only Son of God himself, became God’s mortal enemy. Even though Jesus was perfect, even though he never in his life, from the time he was born in that dingy stable until he hung on the cross to die, did anything to deserve God’s anger. He became God’s enemy. When it was you and I that deserved God’s anger it was poured out on Jesus on the cross. As he hung there on those nails, as he breathed in agony, as he suffered, he called out to his father, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me!” and God turned away from his enemy and let him die. And with that death, the war ended. “It is finished!” Jesus said, “The war is over.” He told his disciples:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27, ESV)

As amazing and as wonderful as this peace is, it wasn’t the last word on the subject. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the angel asked. “He is risen! God approves of him again. The war is over. Now God even approves of you! Jesus has done all that is required for you to be at peace with God.”

Since Jesus died as God’s enemy, we no longer need to do so. In fact, we have become his beloved children. That’s what he promises us when we are baptized into his family. We, who were once enemies of God, have gone from enemies to children. Talk about a change in status! There at the font, God wraps us in his loving arms, “You are mine!” and “You are mine!” and “You are mine!” There is no stronger statement of self-worth that can be spoken. Think of it the Creator of the Universe says to you, you are my very own child. What an ultimate statement of inner peace, to be loved and cared for by God, himself. That means that nothing that happens in our lives is beyond his control and purpose. When we suffer, when there is no peace in our lives, God has it well in hand, well under control. He promises that it will all work out for our benefit.

And what God has done for us, he promises to other people, too. As we live and work with the people around us, we realize that these too are people for whom Jesus died. He loves them so much that they too are children of God when they believe what he has done for them. If he loves them that much how can we, who are also his children do any less. Our togetherness in Christ, because of what he has done for all of us, brings down the walls of hostility. All of our relationships are different because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Instead of raising a sword against each other, peace can grow and flourish. The energy needed to make war can be turned to making peace; building up, instead of tearing down. And the peace that Isaiah is talking about can begin. That’s turning swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. That’s true peace brought to us by the Prince of Peace.

That’s why we remember what happened so many years ago, in a dark stable, in a small corner of the world. That’s why we celebrate the birth of the ‘enemy of God.’ Jesus brings peace. He is peace. Peace, first, between God and man. Peace in our families. Peace among friends and neighbors, and even peace between nations.

And he is coming again. And then the peace we have right now, the peace that he brings will be fully realized. The Prince of Peace becomes the King of Peace. All nations will ‘stream’ to him, just as Isaiah says. And peace will flow like a river.

Whenever we think of Advent we think about looking forward to Christmas. And that’s what advent is all about, but it’s more than that… it’s also looking forward to the time when Jesus will come again. The time when the peace he brings will be everywhere, and there will be no more war only peace. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.