Friday, January 13, 2012

John 1:43-51; Second Sunday After Epiphany; January, 15, 2012;

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”” (John 1:43–51, ESV)

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

“I doubt it!” Bobby wasn’t convinced. He heard the story but just couldn’t fit the account into his way of thinking. “No, Bobby it’s really true. I saw it yesterday. She’s back in town and asking for you!”

“I doubt it.” Bob replied, even though he’d been waiting to hear just that for a very long time. “It just isn’t possible. She’s not due back for a month yet. And Besides, why would she ask for me?”

“Well, maybe she changed her mind?” answered his friend. “Women always say that they’re allowed, you know.”

It was all that Bob could do to suppress the hope that was trying to surface. “She’s not going to change her mind! She already told me ‘No.’ and anyway, I’ve already taken the ring back.” It wasn’t exactly the truth; he only quit carrying the ring in his pocket. It had found a new place among the clutter on his dresser. “She knows where I am. If she wants me she can find me.”

“I’m telling you, she wants to talk to you.”

“I doubt it!”

We all have doubts. Not only the kind of doubts Bob has either. We have doubt about our families, weather we are doing our best with our kids. We have doubts about our work, will our job be there tomorrow? We even have doubts about ourselves. “Can I really handle all this pressure?” It’s perfectly natural and human to have doubts.

There is one place though we often don’t admit to having doubts. For some reason when it comes to our faith, we think that we shouldn’t have any doubts at all, when it comes to the things of God. That can be a real problem for us when we think that way, because the truth of the matter is this: everyone in this room has had doubts about their faith. And we are not alone. Our parents had doubts, those German Lutherans who huddled together on the banks of the Mississippi River and founded the churches that became he Missouri Synod had doubts. Martin Luther himself, had doubts about his faith too. You see the people of God have never been with out their doubts, even Jesus disciples. And just look at Nathaniel Jesus would-be-disciple. He has doubts. Philip tells him about Jesus and he says, “I doubt it.” When we have doubt, especially about our faith, we stand in good company.

So what are some of the things that you have doubts about? In regard to your faith? Sometimes doubt comes up in our lives, not because we don’t believe what the bible says, but because people all around tell us we should have doubts. We are educated people. Education is a great thing. It’s a wonderful gift that God has given us. You may even feel that a good education is essential for the world today. A good education can teach us to think logically about things, and even to be a little bit skeptical. It’s good to question the status quo and established norms. It’s one way in which we grow.

Sometimes our education can be the reason for doubt. Miracles, we are told, don’t really happen. Everything has a natural and logical explanation. Educated people believe in the scientific method. Did Jesus really feed five thousand people by a miracle? Did he really multiply five loaves and two fish to a meal for multitude? Isn’t it more logical to think, and believe that his charisma moved the people into sharing the food that they had all already brought? It’s a more logical solution to the miracle problem, after all. Well, the bible says it quite simply. They had five loaves and two fish, and Jesus fed them all with what he had. The bible doesn’t call upon us to believe only the most logical solution, but only to believe what it says. We just don’t see miracles like that around here, and science can’t explain it. So, sometimes, in spite of what we believe, we have our doubts about miracles.

And science has an impact on other teachings of the bible, too. You see, according to most people today, educated people don’t believe in creation, either. They say that the facts point to evolution instead. There’s a prof. at Texas Tech who won’t write recommendations for medical school for students who believe in creation. His criterion for a recommendation letter is simple. Get at least one a in you major class, get to know him, and don’t believe in creation. If you reject evolution you are unfit to practice medicine and you are sure to make ‘bad clinical decisions.’ Pressure like that can make us all wonder what’s going on. It can cause us to doubt the simple Word of God that says He created the world in six days. And even though creation is very well supported by science we still have our doubts.

We have other doubts about God, too. Does he really care about me? If he does why does he allow such bad things to happen to me? Why are there things in my life that hurt so much? Did God really do all those things written in his word? Did Jesus Christ really die on the cross, and did he really do it for me? These and many other questions have crossed all our minds, but we have difficulty admitting our doubts about God. We think that it will show that we have a weak faith. Instead we take Jesus own words to heart. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15 Doesn’t that say that we must be like children, totally believing and without any doubt? Well again, the truth is that we doubt, it can’t be denied or avoided. You have doubt. I have doubt. The only way to deal with it is to go to Jesus and see what he says about it.

Well, first we need to see that Jesus accepts doubt. Look again at our text for today. Here we see that Jesus finds Philip and says to him, “follow me!” Philip reacts to the call of Jesus and runs of to recruit Nathaniel. Nathaniel isn’t so quick to act and believe though.

Philip says, “Nathaniel, we’ve found the Christ, the Messiah!”

“I doubt it.”

From what we know about Nathaniel, he was probably an educated man. He knew about the promises of the Messiah. Jesus saw him “under the fig tree.” In those days “under the fig tree” meant that you were studying God’s word. The teachers of the day said that every man should “study the law under their own vine and fig tree.” So there Nathaniel was reading the bible and Philip comes and says he found the Christ. Nathaniel probably knew what he was talking about. “Can anything good come from Afton?” It was like that any way. He knew the prophecy; they didn’t say anything about Nazareth. It was a question of doubt from an educated man.

And there we are. We too are educated people, sitting under our own fig tree. We know the stories of the bible, the wonderful things God did for his people. We know about the destruction of the evil of the world with the flood. … the way God lead his people out of slavery in Egypt and saved them at the Red Sea. We know about how Jesus healed sick people everywhere he went, and how he tenderly cared for children. We are educated people. But when our lives get difficult and sticky, and God doesn’t act as we expect… we begin to doubt. When the evil of the world seems to triumph time and time again, it seems as if the God we’ve read about isn’t acting as a good God should act. And so we once again have doubts.

But Jesus didn’t scold Nathaniel for his doubts. The conversation didn’t begin like this: “Well, doubter, if you had more faith you’d not have trouble with that doubt.” Jesus didn’t accuse Nathaniel of depending too much on reason. Instead Jesus surprises us all. Nathaniel is given a complement. “Here is an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” (Guile is deceit or lying) Nathaniel didn’t keep his doubts hidden, when he had a problem with what was told to him he said, “I doubt it!” It was healthy skepticism. Nathaniel knew what he was looking for, the true Messiah, no imitation would do. He wanted to be sure that what he was hearing was right before he was going to believe. There are times when doubt has a way of bringing out the truth. “Is it really true?” doubt asks. Jesus sees the usefulness of Nathaniel’s question and his doubt. He knew it was a part of Nathaniel’s growing faith.

Nathaniel didn’t have to remain in his doubt. His question would really be answered. Jesus offered him proof. He took Nathaniel’s doubt and turned it around for his benefit (and he often does the same with you and me!) Notice what Jesus doesn’t say to Nathaniel. It’s not “Look deep into your heart, that’s where you’ll find the truth about me.” He told him that he had miraculously seen him sitting under the fig tree (probably reading about the Messiah!) The proof of our faith doesn’t come from deep in our hearts. It doesn’t come from our feelings. Our feelings and thoughts are often wrong, and very misleading. The proof of the things of God come from outside of us. We find it in His Word. We find it in this room whenever we gather to hear his words of forgiveness for us. We see it, and touch it, and taste it in the very body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.

Nathaniel was impressed that Jesus could see him under the fig tree, even though Jesus wasn’t there. But Jesus says there’s more to be seen, proof of a different kind. “There’s more here than you think.” He says to Nathaniel. “You believe that I am the Messiah, but do you really know what that means? You will see heaven opened!” Nathaniel’s educated ideas about the Messiah were going to be put to the test. “Heaven is going to be opened. Sinners are going to have a right relationship with God once again. Are you ready to see that kind of proof Nathaniel?” I’m sure it’s not the last time Nathaniel had doubts as he walked, and talked with Jesus.

Do we believe in Jesus because he offers us proof? No. Rather we believe in Jesus because of his great love for us. That’s the real proof of who his is. We see his love in the joy of the Christmas child, warm and protected in Mary’s arms. We see his love as he walks dusty roads and calls doubting disciples. We see his love as he tenderly takes helpless people by the hand and heals them. We see his love as he hangs on the cross, bloody and bruised, suffering and dying. If there is doubt about his love for you, just look there, because he died in your place. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 Jesus Christ laid down his life for you. No matter how much doubt you have in your life, no matter how much sin plagues you, no matter what you’ve done in the past, none of it matters to Jesus. His love for you is so great that he chose to die for you. And even more than that, he rose again to life, and he promises that you too will conquer death.

Doubt isn’t something that you’ll ever be able to totally get rid of. But just like you go to the people who love you when you need help, remember how much Jesus loves you, and go to him when you have doubts.

We don’t trust him for answers because he answers all our questions or even because he helps sort out of faith question in our mind. Sometimes we never get some questions answered. We trust him because of what he has done for us. We trust him because he loves us so much that he died for us and rose again. That is love that banishes all doubt. Amen.

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mark.1.4-11; Baptism of Our Lord; January 8, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Mark 1:4–11, ESV)

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

I’ve been read this text over and over again wondering what it's really talking about. Is it about who John the Baptist is? Yep, it surely talks about him, camel’s hair coat and all. We’ve already talked about him before Christmas… It’s interesting that he shows up again here so close after. Is it about the people who came to John, confessing their sins? Sure, it’s important to see that these people came to be baptized, but first they confessed their sins. They knew their place before God. They knew they were sinners needing forgiveness. Is it about the beginning of Jesus earthly ministry? Yea, this is the turning point for Jesus, up until now we’ve heard precious little from the gospel writers about Jesus was doing from the time he was 12 years old. But, now everything is different. Jesus Baptism is where the story really gets going. I’d have to say that this text is surely about that too. This text about Jesus coming to John to be baptized is about all those things. And it’s about something else too. It’s about relationships. There are lots of relationships described here and they’re not as confusing as this is:

76-year-old Bill Baker of London married Edna Harvey. She happened to be his granddaughter’s husband’s mother. That’s where the confusion began, according to Baker’s granddaughter, Lynn.

“My mother-in-law is now my step-grandmother. My grandfather is now my stepfather-in-law. My mom is my sister-in-law and my brother is my nephew. But even crazier is that I’m now married to my uncle and my own children are my cousins.”

From this experience, Lynn should gain profound insight into the theory of relativity.

Our text today speaks about several much simpler relationships. There’s the relationship between John and Jesus. They’re cousins, and yet John knows something more about Jesus, the one whose “sandals he’s not worthy to stoop down and untie.” John knows that God has sent Jesus and that he is the one who will deliver God’s people from their sin. “He will baptize with the Holy Spirit,” says John. And yet Jesus comes to John to be baptized. We read earlier that John’s baptism had to do with repentance and forgiveness. So why is Jesus there to be baptized? According to the writer of Hebrews Jesus is without sin: he was “…tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (4:15) Clearly he doesn’t need to confess his sin and be baptized. So just what does John think he’s doing? Well, he isn’t giving Jesus forgiveness he doesn’t need. Jesus is acting in accordance with God’s plan, and John is simply helping Jesus to do just that. Jesus baptism has everything to do with his relationship to God the Father… and to us.

And that’s the relationship we want to look at next… Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for forgiveness, but we do. Jesus is acting on our behalf. He came to be a God’s servant to people, he didn’t come to be served by people. Jesus said it himself; “… the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 That was his mission. Just like John served Jesus by baptizing him, Jesus serves us by being baptized. You see, no way can God look at us and say, “with this one I am well pleased.” We are sinful people, born into sin because of the sin that came to us from our parents. As soon as we were conceived we were out of relationship with God, and actually object of his wrath. (Eph 2:3) Very often don’t want to follow God’s will for our lives; we want to be in control ourselves. How many of you guys have a hard time letting your wife drive? You may think it’s with good reason… even your wife knows she’s a better driver. But that’s kind of the way it is with our relationship with God. Most of the time we want him along as we speed through life. We want him to call out and tell us what’s ahead to keep us from having an accident. We want to know what’s over the next hill, and where to find the smoothest road. But most of all we want to decide where the car should go. We want to have a hold of the wheel. If God’s way gets a little rough we start looking for that little red button that says, “ejection seat,” so we can get back on a smother road. It’s God’s will bent to our own, instead of our will following God’s.

“You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased,” said the Father of Jesus. Jesus followed God’s will, even though His road was going to be very rough. Jesus followed God’s will even though it meant that people would hate him and try to kill him. Jesus followed God’s will even when it meant that He would have to suffer… even when it meant he would have to die. Instead of going the way that we often do, Jesus went the way of God. He was the perfect servant to you and me. He lived the life that we cannot live, and he died the death that we dare not die. He was perfect but died for our disobedience. We are disobedient but we receive forgiveness because He earned it for us. He earned it by living his life perfectly in the will of God the Father. He let God drive. He also earned it by dying in our place and suffering the punishment that we should have suffered. And God was so pleased with his son that after he had died, He gave him life again, and Jesus rose from the dead. That’s what Jesus relationship is to us. That’s what his baptism was all about, taking our place and being our servant.

You know, that’s what your baptism is about too. It’s about what Jesus Christ did for you. It’s about what Jesus Christ did for your relationship to God the Father. St. Paul wrote that: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Galatians 3:26-27 To be baptized is to become a “son” that God loves. It is to be once again in a relationship with God. To be clothed with Christ is to be seen by God as the Father saw Jesus, a beloved son in whom he is well pleased. That means that God looks at us differently. We are wearing Jesus’ clothes. God sees us like he sees Jesus.

So what exactly does that mean? Well it’s like this. We’ve been driving along minding our own business. Everything seems to be going very well. Suddenly out of nowhere there’s a bump in the road. It’s more than a flat tire; it is actually deep muddy path. At first we think we can get through it. So we press on the gas a little bit more. But the mud cakes up the front end and we can’t steer. Finally, the car comes to a halt buried half up the door in a muddy mess. We’ve made a wrong turn somewhere and gotten into a big mess. We’re buried deep in the mud and there is no way out. That’s when we realize that we’ve left God out all together. We’ve been driving ourselves. We’ve been ignoring his direction because the road seemed to be much easier this way. “God!” we say. “I’ve done it again! I’m stuck in the mud again and I can’t get out. I should have listened to you.” God doesn’t look at you and say, “It serves you right for not listening to me. I ought to just leave you there to suffer on your own.” Instead he says. “You are my beloved child, whom I love. I forgive you. I’ll help you.” He does it because of Jesus. You see, our relationship, the one that was made by Jesus, means that when we sin we can turn to God for forgiveness and he will forgive. Not because we deserve to be forgiven, but because Jesus earned forgiveness for us, and he has given it to us in our baptism.

There’s one more relationship we should talk about today. It’s the relationship we have with everyone else. It has to do with being baptized into Christ Jesus, and being clothed with Christ. Remember how John was a servant to Jesus? And Jesus is a servant to us? Well, being a child of God means that we too are to be servants. We can be servants to others because Jesus Christ is a servant to us. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that we aren’t servants of others already. We do lots of great things right now. Because of Jesus, we are servants to people right here, where God has placed us. Time and time again this church has proved it can do anything it decides to do. I’d like to challenge you to do something special for this community. Something new! Not something to gain new members. But something to show people the love of Jesus Christ, weather they know him or not.

“You are my beloved Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” The Father said to Jesus. Jesus had seen the sign, and now he heard it. He knew what God’s will was for his life, and he followed it. That was his relationship to God, the Father. Everything Jesus did he did for us: his life, death and resurrection. He did it all to make us God’s children, too. Amen.

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

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Luke 2:22-35; First Sunday after Christmas; January 1, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”” (Luke 2:22–35, ESV)

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

Ok, so Christmas is long gone... well, at least in some ways it feels that way.  It's New Year's day and those of you who are here, and not sleeping off New Year's Eve are probably not thinking much about Christmas.  But here in the church it is still Christmas, after all in the church the Christmas Season continues until Jan 6.  So it's been a whole week since you opened your gifts and there's been time for the luster to wear off, and maybe even a few of them are broken, don't fit, or not exactly what you wanted.  Well, your friends and family meant well.  They just missed the mark.  There's always next year... or you can use that gift receipt and try to get something you want for yourself...  In that way, Christmas is always a disappointment.  When we focus on the stuff (and who doesn't!) we are setting ourselves up for it.

Now that's quite a contrast with Simeon.  This is the last real Christmas story in scripture and one of the most important.  He sees the True Gift for what it is, and rejoices.

Here's the picture.  The temple is crowed as usual.  Mary and Joseph are dutiful parents.  They have brought the baby Jesus to the temple to do what the law requires.  Every first born male child in Israel was to be dedicated to the Lord at 40 days old.  This was all set up by God in Exodus (13:1).  It has to do with the Passover.  All those years ago in Egypt, the angel of death took every first born child that was not protected by lamb's blood on the doorpost.  Since God provided for the first born of Israel to be redeemed by the blood of a lamb, he claimed them all has his own.  "Consecrate them to me!" God said.  "Remember that I am the one who redeemed you out of slavery in Egypt." 

And so faithful parents for all those generations packed up the first born and made the offerings at the temple.  Joseph and Mary sacrifice the two doves, because they didn't have the means to sacrifice a lamb (this was allowed for in the law, Lev 12:8).  But when God appears in human flesh nothing is quite that simple.  The couple and the baby enter the temple but they are immediately interrupted.  A man, Simeon, takes the baby from the parents.  Now Simeon is no ordinary man.  He is full of the Holy Spirit.  A devout believer, waiting for the Messiah, "the Consolation of Israel."  That is the "comfort" of Israel.  Think of the words from Isaiah 40. 

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1–2, ESV)

Think forgiveness of sins.  Simeon is holding in his arms the forgiveness of sins for Israel!  He was faithfully waiting, who knows how long.  And he was uniquely gifted to know that he would not die until he had actually seen forgiveness with his own eyes.  So, holding him in his arms and  filled with joy he sings... "Lord now let your servant depart... I've seen what you promised.  I can die in peace."

Now I don't know if you catch what's going on here or not.  In fact, it's been kind of a theme in the Gospel of Luke so far.  It actually beings in the fields, with shepherds watching sheep.  The angels appear and scare the beejesus out of them.  After all the shouting is over (yes the angels probably didn't sing the Gloria they spoke it!).  It ends up like this.  The angel said:

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”” (Luke 2:12, ESV)

Really!  That's the sign?  A baby in diapers!  There's nothing special about that.  And the manger thing is very easily explained.  In fact, there may have been other babies in Bethlehem in mangers that night.  After all it was a crowed town, unable to hold all the visitors.  A manger in an inn would be a perfectly logical place to place a new born.  The sign is nothing.  The baby is doesn't seem like much.  In fact, everyone who hears the story the shepherds told, "wondered" at it, as if to say, "That's the sign?  But that's just a baby!"

That's all that Simeon has too!  A baby, in the crowded temple, among many other babies who were there for the same reason.  Nothing unique.  Nothing special.  Nothing miraculous.  In fact, a bit under-whelming wouldn't you say.  Kinda like the gifts you got for Christmas.  Kinda like the things you went out and bought for yourself.   Kinda like the let down every day of your life because things just don't live up to their promise.  Nothing special.  Nothing unique.  Nothing miraculous.
But, Simeon has eyes to see it differently.  He has eyes of faith.  For him, the baby he is holding is salvation, comfort, and forgiveness.  He sees past the plain everyday looking things to the reality of what is there.  He sees the baby Jesus, but he sees something else. 

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”” (Luke 2:34–35, ESV)

It's a perfect picture of what Jesus would do.  He would be rejected by everyone even to the point of death on the cross.  Jesus, the humble baby in his arms was the "suffering servant" spoken about in Isaiah (53).   But don't forget he also sees baby Jesus as God's salvation for Israel and the whole world. 

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4–5, ESV)

There was nothing in Jesus that would point you to that conclusion.  To look at the baby, in diapers, in the temple was to see what had happened thousands of times over the years.  But, Simeon sees with the eyes of faith.  This is the promised Savior of the world.  The biggest thing in a humble package.  And don't forget why Jesus is there.  He's to be consecrated to the Lord.  Set aside for God's purposes.  It all comes full circle from the Passover.  All the male children were saved by the blood of the lamb, so they are dedicated to the Lord.  Now God-in-the-flesh, baby Jesus, is dedicated as the Lamb of God who sheds his blood to redeem people from slavery to sin.  You can't see it by looking.  But you can see it with the eyes of faith.

Now about Christmas and presents and disappointment and a New Year with failed resolutions already in the works.  When we look back at our Christmas joy from here it just seems a bit foolish, or maybe a bit misguided.  After all, Christmas comes and goes and nothing really changes.  People are still poor.  Car accidents still take lives.  Politicians still lie.  You and me, we can't live up to our expectations.  Our relationships are difficult, at best.  A little Christmas joy didn't really change any of that.  At least that's what it looks like.  But that's only when you see it with your sin-filled eyes.  If you look at it with the eyes of faith you can see something different.  Baby Jesus does make a difference.  His birth is joyful because he is the "Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world."  When we look with the eyes of faith, our...
eyes have seen [God's] salvation [which he has] prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to [God's people]."

You see (you know) that the little joy we have a Christmas is joyful only because it points to a greater joy to come.  Everything that Jesus did, beginning with his birth, his circumcision, his dedication in the temple, his first miracle, his life with his disciples, his passion, death and resurrection are for the purpose of the great restoration yet to come.  The new heavens and the new earth.  Perfect and sinless human bodies.  Perfect and sinless human relationships.  Joy-filled reunions with all those who have died in faith before us.  Not to mention power over sin and Satan right now.  All of it ours, right now, in the forgiveness of sins won for us by the baby grown, crucified, dead, buried and raised on the third day.  All of it seen in the eyes of faith, if not by regular human sight.  It's what makes Christmas more than a fleeting, month long festival of avarice and selfishness.  It's what makes Peace on Earth something real instead of only a human wish.  It's what make Good Will Toward Men something that is true even in the face of bloodshed and violence.

Oh, and don't forget Simeon's song.  Yep, we are going to sing it today.  And not only that but if you look at what God places in the cup and on the platen you'll see...

[God's] salvation [which he has] prepared [for you].

There it is again, something that doesn't look like much.  But with the eyes of faith you see Jesus, God's salvation, in his very body and blood, hanging on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, and placing himself in your mouth to give it to you.  It's God making his promise true for you right now, forgiving your sin, restoring your relationship with him.  Showing you that all that is promised is yours right now.  It's the joy of Christmas.  It's the joy of Christ.  Amen.

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