Life Sunday – 2021 LSB #’s 847 (tune 924), 842, 849
Text – 1 Corinthians 12:22
On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.
FROM INVISIBLE TO INDISPENSABLE
There are a thousand different reasons that something can be invisible. It may be hidden from sight by some barrier or across a vast distance. Sometimes things are just too tiny. An atom or molecule, even most living cells, cannot be seen with the naked eye. Sometimes things are invisible because they are camouflaged. They blend into the background.
Other things are hiding in plain sight. We look at it & see it, but not really, because our eyes are expecting it to look different than it does. Then, there is the mental block that has nothing to do with its size, location, or unexpected form. There are just some things we do not want to see.
The proverb goes: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” All the other kinds of invisibility can be cured. This one cannot – not without a change of heart.
On Sanctity of Life Sunday, all these forms of invisibility are in view. At the very beginning of life, size is the issue. Your first moment was as a single cell – a zygote one tenth of a millimeter across. Barriers were also an issue. Layers deep in the body of your mother you were hidden.
Thirdly, there was your unfamiliar form. Even if we could peer through skin & into the womb, even if we could magnify your size, your shape was not at all like it is today. You would not look at all like our typical image of a human being.
As you grew in size, your form changed. From a round sphere, you came to resemble a mulberry. By the 5th day, you had a few hundred cells that looked like a balloon filled with water. It took five weeks of growing before the first hint of an eye or any protrusions that could be identified as arms or legs were visible. It took two more weeks before you had fingers & toes. By worldly standards, you were not recognizably human until this 7th week of life. But from your own point of view, through all these different appearances, you were still you. You could always say to God, along with Psalm 139:
“You knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (139:13). Invisible, yes – to the world, but not to God. And not invisible to your brothers & sisters who know Him – & you – by faith. In the Bible, to be seen is to be saved.
The Psalmist says, “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:15). When Isaiah prays for God’s mercy, he says, “Look down from heaven & see” (Isaiah 65:15). God told Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people…” (Exodus 3:7). And so, He worked His salvation.
This is not only true of God; it is also true of our neighbors. When people do not see us, we are in grave danger. And when we do not see other people, we can accidentally hurt them or blindly withhold our love & care from them. That’s why, throughout our lives, we do things to make ourselves visible to one another.
We put orange flags on tricycles & bikes to make kids safer. Safety cones & strobe lights multiply all around. You & I do things to be noticed. Hair, clothing, achievements – even mis-achievements – are all motivated by a desire to be seen by our peers, by our parents, & by people that we value.
It should go without saying – but we must remind ourselves – that it is not only the small & young who can suffer from invisibility. The elderly, the poor, those who don’t speak our language, those struggling with sin right before our eyes can all be out of sight & out of mind. We see them, but we don’t see them – sometimes because they are good at hiding; sometimes because we do not want to see. That’s why King David began Psalm 41 with the words, “Blessed is the one who considers the poor!” (41:1).
To be a For Life people is to be a congregation that notices the smallest, the oldest, the weakest, & the neediest. We are called to notice physical needs as well as spiritual needs – the need to be protected from spiritual harm & physical harm. We should consider our neighbor’s need to be healed in body, mind & spirit – to be forgiven & restored.
The flip side of our obligation to “consider the poor” is that when we are blind to any person’s existence or need, we are sinning against that person & against Jesus who created them.
Whether she is a snowflake baby only two tenths of a millimeter across, frozen in liquid nitrogen, or a grown woman suffering the pain of a sin she cannot even admit to herself, God’s people see, & God’s people care.
Whether she is bereft of family & alone in a nursing home, or a young mother surrounded by children & struggling with depression, God’s people see, & God’s people care. And that means consciously taking off the blinders. Examine your own heart to find those sins that are preventing you from seeing your neighbor.
Are you self-absorbed & unwilling to be bothered? Our nation is filled with philosophies that deny the value of human life at its weakest stages – both old & young. It is easy to use empty rhetoric as a cover for disengagement from the struggle. We can shrug our shoulders & pretend that the question is just too complicated to come to a conclusion.
Does desire for the praise of men keep you from defending the lives of others? It’s a powerful temptation. We are well-acquainted with the social shaming that happens when we stand up for life & marriage. Many a Christian is drawn away from the faith through stifling his public confession of the truth of God. He thinks he can hold it secretly without getting into public controversy. Yet, bit by bit the truth is driven out until he no longer believes it, even in his heart. Unbelief seldom appears overnight, but grows slowly in the shadows & the darkness of fear. Maybe it is unconfessed sin in your own life that holds you back from speaking up to warn your neighbor against the same sin.
Maybe, your own dark episode that is too painful to confront keeps you from being a voice for those without a voice. God does not want you to live with that pain. Jesus earnestly desires for you to give it wholly to Him so that your guilt & shame are completely washed away, & you are healed. That’s why God’s Spirit empowers & enables us to repent.
Repentance is not a work of self-harm, but an opportunity for deep cleansing & transformative healing. Repentance seeks the blood of Christ to heal us from all sins. Jesus’ blood not only takes away guilt, it also takes away the shame of sin. Jesus heals everything about us, including blinded eyes that keep us from seeing our neighbor.
That’s why seeing your own sin is the first step in having your eyes opened to see your neighbor. When we frankly repent of ourselves, we recognize what St. John the apostle wrote about all of us: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, & what we will be has not yet appeared” (1 John 3:2). It’s true! We are not, yet, what we will be.
We are small, immature, twisted & broken. But we are also children of God! What an incredibly beautiful passage! We are God’s children even now! Even while we are so far from full maturity. God does not wait until you have reached full maturity as a Christian before He acknowledges you as His own child.
There is no threshold of Christian size or maturity before you have the full rights of the sons of God. There is no vague & fuzzy line between a “baby Christian” & a “real Christian.” Through Baptism God’s Spirit gave you life from heaven (John 3:3). That makes you a full member of the family of God immediately & without qualification, no matter what your struggles are. There is a direct analogy to members of the human family. Becoming human is not a matter of size, strength, place, or usefulness. People don’t grow from baby human beings into real ones. Nor do they gradually weaken into non-human “vegetables.”
People are created whole & entire by being born from above, & they remain people, created in the image of God, for eternity. When we look at zygotes or a blastocysts, we have a difficult time seeing the humanity of our neighbor. They are so extremely immature in comparison to our own body that their value is known only by faith in God.
But when we consider our elder brother, Jesus, so perfect & mature in comparison to us, our value can look awfully small as well. As wildly different as a zygote is from an adult, even more wildly different are we from Jesus. Yet, He sees you & cares for you as a full-fledged child of God. He does not devalue your worth because you haven’t appeared in full maturity.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; & so we are” (1 John 3:1). So we are! Let that sink in. Though you are spiritually tiny & invisible by comparison to your older brother, Jesus sees you & recognizes you as His own. He gives you His full attention. He values you so highly that He gave His life for yours.
The Savior of the world knows that His Father knitted each of us together for a specific purpose out of “fatherly, divine goodness & mercy” (SC II.1). He gladly gives you His mercy & grace. He does not see you, nor anyone, as a life to be tossed aside. He nurtures you, protects you, heals you & attends to your every need. He sees you as utterly indispensable.
You are indispensable to the Father, therefore you are indispensable to His only begotten Son. If you had been the one sinner in the entire world, still Jesus would have seen you. Still Jesus would die for you. When you could do absolutely nothing to protect yourself from the evil assaults of the devil, Jesus offered Himself in your stead & died in your place. That is the foundation of your life in God, & it changes everything about how you see the world. Now that Jesus Christ is your true brother & you are a true Child of God, through the eyes of faith you are given to see the world as Jesus sees the world.
Every person who is alive, from the oldest to the youngest, is living for one reason & one reason only. God Himself wills that life. The Great I Am decided to bring that person into existence. Yahweh alone decides to give one more heartbeat, one more breath, one more day, one more opportunity for true joy. And whatever God wills is the best & greatest gift.
However, life is not only a gift to the one who lives. That person’s life is also God’s gift to you & God’s gift to the entire world. Just as you have gone from invisible to indispensable, God the Holy Spirit has given you new eyes to see your every neighbor. And when you see them as God sees them, they are no longer invisible but indispensable.
Satan is always trying to blind us to the manifold gifts of God. But the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see. On Easter Sunday, “As they sat down to eat, [Jesus] took the bread & blessed it. Then He broke it & gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened & they recognized Him.” (Luke 24:30-31a NLT)
So, also, are your eyes opened in the breaking of the bread. To partake of the Holy Body of Christ is to be given Jesus’ eyes. When God opens our eyes to see the world as it truly is, we no longer see our brothers & sisters as burdens & responsibilities. We see them as gifts – precious & indispensable.
Every time you see your neighbor in this way, you are reminded that God so sees you. You have moved from invisible to indispensable. From worthless to invaluable. From unseen to seen. God sees you. He sees you in your immaturity. He sees you in sickness & sin. He sees you in your guilt & shame & He does not avert His eyes from you but turns His heart toward you. He spends everything He is & everything that He has to protect you, to heal you, to forgive you. God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit gave you life & existence in the 1st place. He wants you to live. He made you to live. He is the one keeping you alive even today.
He sent His only begotten Son into the flesh to suffer, to die, & to rise again for your redemption, forgiveness & healing. He does so because He wants you to live with Him. The prophet Ezekiel wrote, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way & live” (33:11). Jesus died that you might live!
In Baptism Christ Jesus gave you His Holy Spirit & placed you into the Church because He wants you to live forever with His entire family. Life is holy because God is holy. So every life He gives, both now & in eternity, is a gift of the Holy God, the Lord & giver of Life. Amen.
Son of God, eternal Savior, source of life & truth & grace, word made flesh, whose birth among us hallows all our human race, You our Head, who, throned in glory, for Your own will ever plead: Fill us with Your love & pity, heal our wrongs, & help our need. As You, Lord, have lived for others, so may we for others live. Freely have Your gifts been granted; freely may Your servants give. Yours the gold & Yours the silver, Yours the wealth of land & sea; we but stewards of Your bounty held in solemn trust will be. Amen. LSB 842:1-2.
New Year’s Eve – 2020 LSB #’s 672, 673, 680
Text – Revelation 21:1
Then I saw a new heaven & a new earth, for the first heaven & the first earth had passed away, & the sea was no more.
ONE DAY WE TOO SHALL SEE
It’s a common practice at the end of milestones to look back over the past & reflect upon the joy & the success we experienced leading up to that milestone. Often the challenges & struggles have already faded by then into the distance. For this past year – not so much. It seems like, more than in the recent past, the struggles & challenges are ongoing…
In our limited experience, of around 90 years or less, if there has ever been a year that people were looking forward to leave behind it is this year – 2020. No doubt there’ve been far worse years in human history, but the vast majority of us were not alive then, or they’re so long in our past we’ve mostly forgotten what they were like.
For as proud & arrogant as the human spirit can be, this year has been a global wake-up call about the fragile & uncertain nature of life. The intrusion of death into the lives of people around the world highlights the greatest problem that humanity faces. As much as people have tried, in every age of history, no one has eliminated the power of death.
No politician has been able to outlaw death & none of them has been able to protect their citizens from its ability to come & take us whenever & wherever it wills. Death is known as the great equalizer, because even the wealthy & politically well-connected are not able to buy their way out of dying.
People who pride themselves on their ability to control the circumstances of their lives are unable to control death. The young & healthy can be swallowed up by it just as surely as the old & frail. Thousands of years ago, a man named Job was inspired by the Holy Spirit to put the truth into words, & nothing has changed since: “How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble! We blossom like a flower & then wither. Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear. You [Lord] have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, & we are not given a minute longer.” (Job 14:1-2, 5 NLT)
Those who believe that human beings are ultimately good vainly imagine that by means of better education, a better environment, better legislation & a more equitable distribution of wealth they are going to usher in a new era, a golden age, the Utopia of man’s ardent desire.
Their dream remains a dream! Neither economic nor disarmament conferences, neither better schools nor share-the-wealth programs are going to bring about a truly golden age, a new heaven & earth or a new order. It is only God who, through His Spirit, makes things new.
Man tried that at the tower of Babel & God confused their language to break up their human centered dreams of glory. Contrary to human ideas, our hope is NOT in getting to 2021, or faster distribution of the vaccine, or to larger stimulus checks. Free health care & lower taxes are not going to save the human race, nor will they even make life better here on earth.
Even during Christmas, in spite of all the beautiful light decorations, or the quality of family get-togethers, the good news sung during Silent Night is founded only on the empty tomb. If Jesus was merely born to die & stay dead, then His birth would be meaningless. He would be just one more grave in the planet we call earth.
But graves are of the old heaven & earth, the one that itself is in the process of passing away. Out of the death of the 1st heaven & earth a new heaven & a new earth will be raised.
Tomorrow will bring about an entirely new year, & many people are looking forward to it, but it’s going to be the same old same old. When the ball hits the ground at midnight not a single thing that matters will have changed! “The earth mourns & withers; the world languishes & withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, & its inhabitants suffer for their guilt…” (Isaiah 24:4-6 ESV)
As Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1789, “Our new Constitution is now established, & has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death & taxes.” In the new heaven & the new earth there will be neither!
The good news of Christmas, & of the coming new year, is the same. Immanuel has overcome death & has shared His eternal life with you. That is the gift of Christmas which truly matters. In 2020 & through the pandemic, the intrusion of death into the lives of people of all ages highlighted the singular & central significance of Jesus’ resurrection.
Easter morning brought about the new era of which St. John writes in the book of Revelation. To the seers of God, time & eternity, the era of the NT & the eternal heaven, are not sharply distinguished & believers are already now in the heavenlies. We just can’t see it yet.
In principle, that promise runs through Scripture from beginning to end like a golden thread. It is realized even in this life. In perfection it is fulfilled in the next, especially in the new heaven & earth. It is the greatest promise, for it includes all the other promises.
There is a beautiful connection, or golden thread, between Genesis & Revelation that resembles a flower. We find the seed in Genesis, the growing plant in the books lying between, & the fully developed flower in Revelation.
Genesis tells us that God created heaven & earth. Revelation describes the new heaven & earth. In Genesis the sun, moon & stars are called into being. In Revelation we read that the city has no need of the sun nor the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God enlightens it & its lamp is the Lamb. Genesis describes a paradise which was lost. Revelation pictures a paradise restored. Genesis describes the cunning & power of Lucifer. Revelation informs us that the devil was bound & hurled into the lake of fire & brimstone.
Genesis pictures the awful scene of Adam & Eve fleeing from their Creator & hiding themselves from the presence of the Almighty. Revelation gives us the most wonderful communion between God & redeemed mankind: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, & they will be His people…” (Revelation 21:3 ESV)
Finally, where Genesis shows us the tree of life, with an angel to keep man away from it, Revelation rejoices that mankind once again will have the right to eat from the tree of life & live forever. In stark & terrible contrast to that, the last verse of the Epistle reading states:
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters & all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire & sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8 ESV)
As the year 2020 involved massive changes in what we thought was normal, & as 2021 appears it will continue with much the same, God’s plan, though for a while seemingly defeated, in the end will be seen to triumph completely. For now, our eyesight is too corrupted by sin to actually see what God is doing. Only occasionally does He give us miraculous insight.
Revelation 21 portrays the result of God’s redeeming grace & mercy, whether in the present here on earth, or in the future there in heaven. This redeeming grace & transforming power of God must never be viewed as pertaining only to the future – when we die & go to heaven – as Christians even often think of it.
No, here & now, in this present era, even with Covid 19, God’s grace & transforming power are already working. It’s just that we seldom are allowed to see it. So Revelation 21 is not simply speaking of when we die & go to heaven. It is a description of the redeemed universe of the future, yet it is also a description of the redeemed church of today – a church that foreshadows the church, called the New Jerusalem, of the eternal paradise. As poorly as 2020 seems to have gone, Yahweh was still with us, forgiving us, renewing us & leading us so that we may delight in His will & walk in His ways to the glory of His holy name.
The creation of the new heaven & the new earth has in a very real way already begun in the hearts & souls & minds of all who trust in Jesus as their Savior from their sins. As we follow the Lord, this new creation finds expression in our daily lives. Yes, now we see that but dimly. On the Last Day we shall see it with a clarity that for now is incomprehensible.
For now, you & I, & all God’s children on earth, live by faith. In this world of sin that is a serious challenge, filled with dangers all the way. However, because our salvation is entirely dependent upon our Creator & Savior, what truly matters is not what you & I see, but what the heavenly Father sees. And He already sees you & I beautifully:
“…prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2 ESV) And He promises that, “One day we too shall see!” As St. John was inspired to write:
“Then I saw a new heaven & a new earth, for the first heaven & the first earth had passed away, & the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, & they will be His people, & God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, & death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV) Amen.
Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee? When shall my sorrows have an end? Thy joys when shall I see? O happy harbor of the saints, O sweet & pleasant soil! In the no sorrow may be found, no grief, no care, no toil. O Christ, do Thou my soul prepare for that bright home of love that I may see Thee & adore with all Thy saints above. Amen. LSB 673:1-2, 6.
1st Sunday after Christmas – B LSB #’s 370, 375, 770
Text – Luke 2:35
…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.
A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
It’s a figurative way of asking someone to rejoin a conversation. It asks a person lost in thought or otherwise distracted to tell the speaker what they’ve been thinking about or to simply redirect their attention back to the conversation they are supposed to be having. It suggests that the speaker is willing to give the person lost in thought a ‘penny’ to hear what they’re thinking.
It’s not an uncommon experience – wondering what other people are thinking – when it comes to things like our job performance at work or what grade the teacher is giving us in school. What do people think of the car we drive, or the phone we have, or how often we mow the lawn around our home?
What thoughts are going through someone’s mind as they look at you? It can be unnerving when you think too long about that. In the worst case scenario it’s not unheard of for teenagers obsessed with social media to end up taking their own life over the things being said about them online. What thoughts are going through your mind right now?
Thousands of years ago, in Jerusalem, a devout & righteous man was speaking to Joseph & Mary about the thoughts of other people. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Simeon prophesied that Jesus will be a sign that many people will speak against, & then Simeon explained, “…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:35 ESV)
When your thoughts are being revealed to others, without your permission, things can get very uncomfortable very quickly. It’s especially true when those thoughts are manipulative or unkind. In Simeon’s case, those are not the thoughts he’s prophesying about. He’s speaking of a much larger picture, on a much grander scale, as the words of Revelation 12 make clear:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, & on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant & was crying out in birth pains & the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads & ten horns, & on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven & cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God & to His throne, & the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (Rev 12:1-6 ESV)
If you were to retell the story how would you summarize what’s happening? It could be said like this. An important woman is giving birth to a son who is to rule the world, but an evil creature wants to destroy the child. The child is rescued & the woman flees to the wilderness where God is protecting her from the evil creature.
In a sense, all of salvation history is condensed into one brief paragraph. Almost no details are included because the view is from high up in heaven. What’s being portrayed is the cosmic war between God & Satan, a war taking place in the heavens & on earth. This warfare is the source & the cause of all the battles between God’s people on earth & the forces of evil.
In the Gospel reading from St. Luke, the Holy Spirit, through the words of Simeon, pinpoints the cosmic warfare going on & centers it in the child that Simeon is holding in his arms. This is the male child that the red dragon was seeking to devour, & the most important question in all warfare, is this: Whose side are you on?
Since the children of God have both saintly & sinful natures, it is extremely complicated for us to determine whose side any other human being is on. Keep in mind, it’s not our primary purpose here on earth to determine whose side anyone else is on, but the words of Simeon do give us a clue:
…“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall & rising of many in Israel, & for a sign that is opposed, …so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35 ESV) Primarily those words are addressed to each one of us individually. In our thoughts, words & deeds, whose side are we on? We should be asking ourselves that question daily & with every choice we make. And we do so for the purpose of seeing our sins, & then, by the power of Jesus’ forgiveness, we repent of those sins & believe that Jesus has paid their price on our behalf.
Yet, Holy Scripture makes clear that not everyone is ultimately repentant, & that is what determines whose side you are on. The problem is, in this world, we live by faith, not by sight. That’s true because we cannot see the heart of man. We cannot tell if another human being’s heart is oriented towards God, or away from Him.
It’s true, their actions often speak louder than words, but of the trio, thought, word & deed, their thoughts are by far the least visible to us. And the great red dragon is referred to by Jesus as the father of lies. So a person whose heart is oriented away from Yahweh may still claim to believe in & follow Jesus. Satan himself is able to ‘appear’ as an angel of light.
But God has not left us completely in the dark. Through Simeon, we have been given a sign, …“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall & rising of many in Israel, & for a sign that is opposed, …so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35 ESV)
The preaching of Jesus caused humans & demons to reveal their thoughts, by their opposition to Christ. In the Garden of Gethsemane, His disciples fell asleep, & Satan tempted Him to walk away from the cross. Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him. Eventually, humans & demons were allowed to crucify Him.
The season of Christmas, in spite of its brightly lit & often jovial character, is a good time to spot opposition to Jesus. What adult hasn’t heard a story about a child, on Christmas Eve, blurting out, “Where are my presents?” We laugh, at least in part, because we know from experience that it’s all too true, in our own hearts as well. Our prayers often take the form of a demand of God, “Where is my healing, where is my larger house, where is my dream vacation, where are my presents?” But we seldom say those thoughts out loud, especially when other people are around. That’s why we need the sign that Simeon gave us.
For example: People who promote the theory of evolution are opposing Jesus as the author of the universe. People who promote abortion or euthanasia are opposing Jesus as the author of life. People who promote choosing your own gender are opposing Jesus as the author of themselves.
Preaching & teaching in the name of Jesus will cause humans & demons to reveal their thoughts, by their opposition to Christ. Those who oppose Jesus are revealing that they do not believe in Him as the Savior from their sins. Preaching or teaching what Jesus taught will cause others to rise up against you, & that opposition reveals their thoughts of unbelief.
Knowing that we would face opposition on account of Him, Jesus forewarned us of the world’s hatred for us. He told us in advance, what their thoughts would be:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20b ESV)
This talk of opposition can make us uncomfortable. Especially at Christmas, people want happy sermons & happy songs. However, people who exclusively promote happy sermons may be opposing Jesus as the author of division. They are forgetting St. Luke’s quotation of Christ:
“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, & two against – or two in favor & three against.” (12:51-52 NLT)
Jesus is God’s instrument for exposing human resistance to the work of their heavenly
Father. The inner thoughts of people come to the surface when Christ is preached. Many of them manage to keep their evil nature pretty well hidden until then. But through their attitude toward Christ, people reveal what their thoughts are – their thoughts toward God & toward living by faith instead of by sight.
Simeon’s oracle is meant to keep Joseph & Mary from entertaining false hopes about the ministry & the reception of Jesus. He calls Jesus a sign that will be opposed & this is part of God’s plan. The picture is of a banner unfurled, an ensign, that serves as a rallying point for some & for others as the focal point of attack.
The star of the Magi functioned as such. The Wise Men followed it to worship Jesus & Herod followed it to have Jesus killed. What thoughts are going through your mind right now? Those who thoughts toward Jesus are negative doom themselves to eternal death, even though God gave the life of His Son in order to save them.
Neutrality toward Jesus is not an option because there is a war going on & Satan will never surrender. Jesus is the point of decision, precisely because He is the point of salvation. It cannot be another way. Yahweh’s primary will is that all be saved, but He does not impose salvation on anyone. Only sacrificial love, not force, is able to change someone’s heart.
That is the terrible & horrific reality of sin, but that is also why Simeon & Anna were so joyfully proclaiming thanks to God for the unfathomable gift that He gives to us in His Son Jesus Christ. They knew & believed that they were saved by this Child from the terrible & horrific realities of sin.
We too can have this peace by means of the Gospel of Peace preached to us & through the faith it creates in us. As Simeon held Christ in his arms we too can take hold of Jesus in our hands & mouth in Holy Communion. Through His body & blood the Son of God is delivering
you from all your sins, all your failures & all of the shame that hounds you here in this world.
As we leave the Lord’s Supper & as we leave the house of God this morning, along with Simeon we can truly say, “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.” (Luke 2:29-31 ESV) Amen.
Come, your hearts & voices raising, Christ the Lord with gladness praising; loudly sing His love amazing, worthy folk of Christiandom. Christ, from heaven to us descending & in love our race befriending; in our need His help extending, saved us from the wily foe. Jacob’s star in all its splendor beams with comfort sweet & tender, forcing Satan to surrender, breaking all the powers of hell. Oh, the joy beyond expressing when by faith we grasp this blessing, & to You we come confessing that Your love has set us free. Amen. LSB 375:1-3, 5.
Christmas Day – 2020 LSB #’s 380, 370, 384
Text – John 1:14
And the Word became flesh & dwelt among us, & we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace & truth.”
Praying COME, LORD JESUS to Him Who Brings the Enlightening Word
The sublime glow of candlelight at an evening service conveys to many a feeling of peace. The sparkling lights of a Christmas tree can radiate joy & happiness. Shining lights this time of year symbolize an important aspect of the Christmas message – enlightenment!
The good news we celebrate is that Jesus Christ brings true enlightenment – & with it peace & joy. God’s incarnate Word dispels the darkness of sin while bringing the light of grace & saving truth. This connection between word & light is brought out in St. John’s Christmas gospel message. He writes:
“In the beginning was the Word... All things were made through Him... In Him was life & the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, & the darkness has not overcome it... The Word became flesh & dwelt among us, & we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace & truth” (John 1:1, 4, 5, 14).
Jesus brought true light into this sin-darkened world. Jesus gives God’s true enlightenment as the Word of God in the flesh. This morning, we gather to hear God’s word &, like Mary, ponder its enlightening impact in our hearts. The goal of this sermon is that you may learn to believe that God’s word in Jesus Christ brings into your life true enlightenment.
But, do we really have a problem with darkness today? Not in the realm of physical light. In fact, the people of Jesus’ day would not be able to fathom the lighting technology we have. Look at the Christmas lighting options on display this year. But the darkness in John’s Gospel has to do with knowledge. We have long used the term “enlightenment” to refer to knowledge & understanding. In many ways, our modern world is more enlightened than ever. There’s nearly unlimited & virtually instantaneous access to information – not just in written forms but audio & video, as well.
If you need to contact someone who isn’t here, what do you do? Call or text them; or you FaceTime. You need to know something, a piece of information, what do you do? Google it. You need to learn where a place is located or what’s the best restaurant, what do you use? You search with an app. You need to find a certain Christmas recipe? There’s Pinterest.
You need to share Christmas memories? There’s Facebook. You need to figure out how to assemble the new electric scooter you got for Christmas? Go to YouTube. Someone has a video for you to watch. With all of today’s technology, do we need more enlightenment?
Many people would say no. Science has become their god & if all of us would just follow it, everyone would live happily ever after. But in terms of what Jesus came to bring, the people of our nation absolutely need true & godly enlightenment as much as ever!
The basic problem of darkness in the heart & soul of human beings has never been solved by technology in any period of history. The discoveries & devices that humankind has been developing through the ages, have in once sense improved the physical standard of living. But they’ve given us new ways to be selfish, more efficient ways to rob & steal & hurt each other.
Consider all the cybercrime going on. Technology has provided much greater capacity for good, but also for destruction. Why? The problem is sin. It makes us ignorant of God’s true nature, of His will, & of His grace. Sin is rebellion, & the evil foe, Satan himself, is always one step ahead of human beings.
Like a computer hacker, Satan seems to know more about technology’s use for destruction than we do about its capacity for good. The words of St. John reveal the depth of this darkness: “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, & the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, & His own people did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11)
It is incredible to think about! The creation cannot or will not recognize its own Creator. God’s chosen people cannot identify their promised Messiah. The very prophesies of God which He fulfills are not recognized by so-called enlightened, religious experts. That is the problem of darkness. You cannot see, & you don’t even know what you don’t know.
The prince of darkness takes full advantage in playing on the spiritual ignorance of mankind in order to covertly steal, kill & destroy. To counter this, & to rescue us, enter the true light who has come into the world, the word of God made flesh, our Messiah & Savior. As was announced to Joseph when he was in the dark about Mary’s pregnancy, the angel said:
“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, & you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20–21).
And John reports: “In Him was life, & the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, & the darkness has not overcome it... To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:4, 5, 12, 13).
And, in what do the enlightened, those who are born of God, believe? They believe that in the hour of darkness, on Good Friday, the light of the world, defeated the forces of evil as Jesus died on Calvary’s cross for the sins of all mankind. There, when darkness fell, He died for your sins. Every sin of yours & mine were paid for by His death.
When He rose in the glorious light of Easter, God revealed this enlightening truth – in
Jesus Christ God has brought to us the light of eternal life. That is the enlightenment of the word made flesh that we rejoice in today, & we rejoice with confidence in the power of God’s word to overcome all darkness.
As we’ve been reflecting on His word in our Advent & Christmas services this year, we have acknowledged the powerful enemies who want to keep out the enlightening word of God & keep us in sinful ignorance. The unholy trinity of the devil, the sinful nature & the fallen world, work to keep God’s word out of people’s hearts.
Thanks be to Yahweh, the Holy Spirit is also always working through the Word to create faith that bears the fruit of life & salvation. As Jesus says in His parable about hearing the Word of God, the parable of the Sower, “The one who hears the word & understands it... he indeed bears fruit” (Matthew 13:23).
As we confess regarding the Holy Spirit, He uses that word as He “calls, gathers, enlightens & sanctifies us & keeps us with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” That is the enlightenment of Christ that we receive in the ministry of word & sacrament at Christmas.
It is also the enlightenment we can receive in meditation on the word of God & prayer in our daily lives. For that purpose, we can receive the blessing of modern information technology to bring us the enlightening word of God. In our own church heritage, we have an example.
Martin Luther’s use of the printing press brought to the people of his day the word of God in accessible & understandable ways. That was the new information technology that came to the fore during the Reformation 500 years ago. We still benefit from that today as we open our Bibles & read them in homes & work places.
Today, we also have access to the word of God through the various media of digital technology & the internet. You can listen to the word of God while you commute to work or walk on a treadmill. On the Internet, you can look up sermons & Bible studies, or play hymns during family devotions. Various apps & other communication resources can be used to connect with those separated by time & distance, to be together in devotion to God’s word.
The important matter is that we remain focused on God’s word no matter the resources we use, from memorized Bible verses, to reading a printed Bible or a digital one, to hearing a recording of someone sharing God’s word, or being in God’s house in person.
Through the word of God comes true enlightenment revealing the darkness of sin & leading to repentance. Through God’s Word shines forth the gospel that gives faith & guides life in God’s kingdom to bear witness to His saving grace & truth in a world that does not know what it doesn’t know.
As this happens, the body of Christ, His church, continues to bring the light of life & salvation, at Christmas time & throughout the year, until Christ comes again in glory. Amen.
What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping? This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard & angels sing; haste, haste to bring Him laud, the Babe, the son of Mary! Amen. LSB 370:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet