Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
When the Lord Calls (Through His Word) - January 14, 2018 - Second Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Today is the second Sunday after the Epiphany. And again, as you may remember, Epiphany is our celebration of the Magi or the wise men who came to bring the child Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, gifts for a prophet, priest and king. Epiphany is recognized as the Gentile Christmas because this was the first appearing of Jesus to non-jews, to Gentiles. In our Epistle lesson Paul reminds us that we are not our own but we were bought with a price, the price of Jesus’ blood. In our Gospel reading we hear Jesus calling His disciples and in particular Philip and Nathanael. In our text for this morning we see how even from an early age we may be of service to the Lord in His kingdom, as we see in the life of the child Samuel. So, let us get to our text.
We live in a world of mass communications. We can be reached through the telephone, through e-mail, through a wed-site, through our pager, by our cellular phone, by voice mail, by regular mail, by our watch phone, by our computer phone, by fax, by skype, twitter, snapchat, and maybe even in rare instances face to face. And yet, in this world of mass communications and often mass chaos, there are many people who are looking for some peace and quiet; there are many who are looking for meaning to life; there are many who are looking for a vague concept of God. As we get to our text from first Samuel we will see that even though our means of communications have changed, when it comes to God’s Word things are not much different today than they were in Samuel’s day.
Our text begins by telling us that the Word of the Lord was rare. We read verse one, “1Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision” (v.1). It is not that God’s Word was not with the people, for God’s promise is always to give His Word to His people. The statement that God’s Word was rare means that, other than His written Word, the Lord did not regularly show Himself visibly or audibly to His people as He had done in the past.
The context of our text reminds us that the giving of God’s Word presumes the receiving and the non refusal of God’s Word. In other words, why should God give His Word to a people who do not want His Word? Why should God cast the pearls of His Word before the heathen swine who want nothing to do with His precious Word? Food for thought in the world in which we live.
Our text continues with the account of the call of Samuel. We read of God’s first call in picking up at verse two, “2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. 3The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down” (v.2-5).
Our text begins in the evening. Eli and Samuel had gone to bed. They were lying in their usual places, in the temple, and maybe they were just lying there thinking. You know how it is when you just get into bed and you lay awake for a few minutes thinking about the day or tomorrow, or whatever else is on your mind. As they were lying there, the Lord came to Samuel and called him. Samuel ran to Eli, thinking he had called him.
About Eli we are told that his eyes had become so weak that he could barely see. I think we are told this in order to remind us of how long Eli had been serving in the temple and yet, even with his number of years of experience he did not realize the Lord’s calling. He tells Samuel to go back and lie down because he did not call him.
The Lord calls a second time. We pick up at verse six, “6And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (v.6-7). The same thing happens again, the Lord comes and calls Samuel. Samuel runs to Eli. Eli does not realize that it is the Lord. He tells Samuel to go back and lie down.
We have grown up with the understanding that the third time is the charm. We read of the Lord’s third call in verse eight, “8And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the young man” (v.8). Even though Samuel has not realized it is the Lord who is calling, Eli finally does.
Finally we have the fourth calling, Samuel’s calling, picking up at verse nine, “9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant hears’” (v.9-10).
This time, this fourth time the Lord calls, we are told that He comes and stands there and calls Samuel. The Lord appears, reveals Himself to Samuel and calls him. And when He calls him He calls him with the double call, “Samuel, Samuel.” As we read the book of Samuel we come to learn that the Lord calls Samuel for service. The Lord has work for Samuel to do. He is to be a prophet for the Lord.
In his excitement we hear Samuel answer, “Speak, for your servant hears.” Samuel forgot the part about “the Lord,” “speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” It could be that because the Word of the Lord was rare that Samuel was yet unsure if this were the Lord speaking to him, because why would the Lord speak to him and not the High Priest. And yet, Samuel’s words are words which we would do well to make as our example, “your servant hears.” Samuel was eager, glad, ready, and willing, to hear the Lord and to serve Him.
But what about us and our calling today? It would seem that there is a difference between our day and Samuel’s day. In our world today there is a plethora of God’s Word. The Bible, good translations of the Bible, are in an abundance. The Bible can be bought on cassette, on computer disk, in many forms, styles, colors, and with many added features. And yet, with this abundance of God’s Word, people are still starving for it, because people, although seeming to be looking for it, are instead running from it, looking for it in the wrong places, or trying to change it to fit their understanding of who or what God is and does, as opposed to letting God be God.
God is with us. He does stand and call us. He is with us as He comes to us through His Word and Sacraments. He comes to us through these means to show Himself to us and to give to us the gifts He has to give to us. Unfortunately, just as He comes to us through these means there are many of us who run away from these means and instead go looking for the Lord in other places, places where He cannot be found. We run away from the Lord when we stay away from His means of grace or when we choose to be someplace other than in Divine Service on Sunday morning, breaking not only the third, but also the first and second commandments as well. We run away when we twist God’s Word to mean what we want it to mean. We run away when we stay away from reading our Bibles, from having personal and family devotions, from taking part in Bible Studies. We run away when we fail to remember our Baptism and when we fail to confess all our sins, even those which we do not know we have committed, and when we fail to hear the Lord’s Word of absolution. We run away when we stay away from the Lord’s Supper. It is just like, if you do not go to the grocery store regularly to buy food to eat, you will starve, so too, if you do not partake of the Lord’s means of grace, Word and Sacrament, regularly, you will starve spiritually.
God comes to us through His means of grace to make us His children, to put faith in our hearts. God also comes to us to call us to our vocation, that is to our work. I do not mean that God calls us to work for a certain company, rather He calls us to work in whatever vocation, whatever job we do, to work for Him, to do our job as if He were the owner of the company, as if we were working for Him personally. This is what we call being a part of the priesthood of all believers. Remember, the role of the priest was to make sacrifices. As Christians, as members of the priesthood of all believers we are to live our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord. We are not all ministers or called to any particular ministry, as if we need such a calling or title to make our lives seem more sanctified. Rather, we are all priests and so our lives have meaning as we live lives of faith.
And through our congregation, God calls some men to serve Him as pastors, in the office of Holy Ministry. We, the people, the members of this congregation are the ones who make up this church in this place. This church operates because we do the work that the Lord would have us to do. We could say that everything is the pastor’s job, but that would limit what the Lord, working through all of us, could do. No, the pastor’s job is to proclaim God’s Word, to administer that Sacraments, to forgive and retain sins and to admonish us when we err. For all of us our job is to hear the Word of the Lord and to respond as Samuel, “speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”
I hope that if you have been paying attention that you are at the point of asking, “all of what you said is good, pastor, but you have not taken us to the cross, where is the cross, where is the gospel in all this?” And I am glad you asked. The gospel is where it was in Samuel’s day. The Gospel, the good news of Jesus’ life, death on the cross for our sins, in where it always is, in the Word and the Sacraments. That is why our liturgy is filled with the Word; from the Invocation where we invite the Lord to be a part of our service, to the Confession and Absolution where we are given the forgiveness that Jesus won for us on the cross, to the readings where we hear of what our Lord does and gives to us and the Lord’s Supper where our Lord gives Himself to us in His body and blood, to the Benediction where we are given the Lord’s blessing for the day and the week. It is through the Word and the Sacraments that God comes to us, that He presents Himself to us, and that He gives us His gifts of faith, strengthening of faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. And He moves in us to respond by living our lives with the words, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, January 7, 2018
And God Said - January 7, 2018 - The Baptism of Our Lord/1st Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Genesis 1:1-5
Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany which was celebrated yesterday with little or no fanfare. Epiphany is one of those holy days that gets little attention. In my cynicism I would suggest it gets little or no fanfare because it is not a sellable holiday, in other words what can you sell to celebrate epiphany? Although, having said that, there is the sale of the “Kings” cake which is a cake that has a baby baked inside, obviously not a real baby. The one who finds the baby gets to host the Presentation of Jesus party on Feb. 2.
For us Christians, Epiphany has always been a special holy day. For many years epiphany was known as the gentile Christmas because this was the first appearing of the Savior of the world to gentiles, to non-Jews people. Epiphany is an important holiday, no matter how little fanfare it receives, because it is the day we gentile Christians are reminded that the covenant God made back in Genesis was a covenant for all people. We may further be reminded that although the Lord narrowed the line of the fulfillment of His covenant, His covenant never changed and we may be reminded that His covenant with Israel was not a new or second or different covenant, but was a covenant of the line of fulfillment. This covenant issue is what drives the heterodox teachings of millennialism as well as the politics of the Middle East, but that is not really for a sermon, rather that may be for a discussion for Bible Class.
This morning we move forward some 30 years to celebrate the baptism of our Lord. Jesus’ baptism was important because through His baptism He was ordained into His earthly Ministry, He identified with us, and this was the beginning of His earthly work. Our text for this morning takes us back to the beginning reminding us that this Christ who was baptized is also God who created all things out of nothing.
In our text we see the trinity of God way back in the beginning in Genesis. “1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The 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” (v. 1-2). Notice how we are told that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters”? This Spirit of God is indeed the Holy Spirit. What you do not notice in the English text is that the word “God” is in the plural. Now, do not misunderstand, we are not polytheistic that is we do not worship many gods, but we worship a God, one God who shows Himself to us as a plurality of God, that is that He is three persons in one Godhead as we humanly describe Him.
In Genesis Chapter two, in speaking of Himself, God says, “Let us.” this is another example of the plurality of God. In Deuteronomy the Lord tells us that although He is a plurality, He is one. We hear this in what is called the great shema which means “hear.” “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). In this statement the word “God” is also in the plural and so God, in the plural, states that He is One.
What we are seeing here in Genesis is what we are shown throughout the Word of God, that God is a triune, a three-in-one God. What we see is also the fact that the trinity of the Godhead is never separate. God is always God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus this morning, we also celebrate that fact that Jesus was also with the Father and the Holy Spirit at the creation of the world. To deny the trinity of God is to deny the very essence of God and brings eternal judgement.
Moving on in our text we see God’s power and the power of His Word. “3And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness” (v. 3-4). Contrary to the evolutionists belief and the religion of Darwinism, all things did not simply come into being by itself. As a matter of fact, no one has ever observed anything spontaneously appearing out of nothing. There is no evidence for this assertion. However, there is the fact that God tells us what happened at the creation of the world and since He was there we know we can trust His Word. God tells us what happened at the creation of the world, that is that God spoke and it happened, exactly as He said. God said “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God tells us that He created light and He separated it from darkness. These words remind us that before God created anything there was only darkness and a void or as some translations put it, chaos. The first thing God created or called into existence was light. Perhaps light was the first thing God created, because light is necessary for life. Interestingly enough, Jesus is often called the “Light of the world,” and no that does not mean He was created, rather it is a fitting title, because if light is necessary for life, Jesus, the Light of the world is necessary for eternal life.
Continuing on in our text, we have God giving us the framework of time. This framework of time often brings the question of what is meant by “a day.” “5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (v. 5). I find it quite interesting that although the Sun was not created until day four, God gives the framework of a day on day one. So, when God finally created the Sun on the fourth day, He placed the Sun and the revolution of the earth into the predetermined time framework He had already created on day one. As for the question of what is a day, in the Bible, a day is always in reference to a 24 hour period of time. We have talked about this in Bible class that all the times the word “day” is used in the Bible, and the reference is always a 24 hour period. A day is a day. Those who would propose otherwise are very much like Satan and his first temptation of Adam and Eve when Satan asked, “Did God really say . . .?”
Just as a brief aside, let me encourage you in your faith and trust in God’s Word. Although so called human, earthly scientists would like to theorize and even suggest that it is a fact that the world is millions, even billions of years old and that all this came about by itself by millions, even billions of accidental mutations, which always made things better and even though they would present “evidence” for these datings, understand this, they were not there, they have never observed what they are suggesting happened, and their methods of dating are very unreliable. As we have heard in Bible Class there are more reliable methods for dating and the most reliable methods for dating give the earth a young date, but since this does not fit the paradigm of the evolutionist, this is not what we are publicly given. God was there. He saw how He created all things out of nothing and He tells us how He accomplished creation. The Bible traces the age of the earth through the genealogies so we know and we can believe and trust God and His word.
Contrary to the wisdom of the world, which we often see is foolishness, God’s wisdom is seen in His creation. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Just look at the complexity of this world in which we live, a world which literally takes care of itself, within the always present all preserving hand of its Maker.
What does this mean, say, suggest, or tell us today? First and foremost, we know that God’s Word is true and it can be trusted. We need this reminder and encouragement quite often because of our constant doubt and unbelief. Not that this is necessary for our faith, but of all the findings of archeology none have ever disproved the Bible, as a matter of fact all have confirmed what is in the Word of God. Likewise, when creationist, that is the name given to scientists who actually believe the Bible and the fact that God created the world and so use the Bible as a starting point in helping to unlock and explain the world, when creationists look at the same evidence, which does not speak bu must be interpreted, that the evolutionist have, the explanation of the creationist is more consistent and more logical than that of the evolutionists who very often must change and continue to change their explanations as new discoveries are found. And we should admit, to deny God’s Word here in Genesis as trustworthy and true is to deny all of His Word as trustworthy and true. If God lied in Genesis, what is to say He did not lie in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John? This is indeed a foundational issue and we can either believe God and His Word or the word of fallen, sinful human reasoning. Indeed this was what Luther was fighting, for the authority of the Word of God.
God’s Word is true. Thus, God does not lie. When God speaks to us we know we can believe Him because He is God and He speaks truth. As Jesus said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus is God, Jesus is truth, God is truth.
Not only is God’s Word truth, God’s Word does what it says. There is a distinct difference between the Bible and all the other books in the world. God’s Word does what it says. When God speaks it happens, just as He speaks it. We see this in our text for today, in the beginning God spoke all things into being. We saw God’s Word doing what it says this morning when we confessed our sins and heard those most beautiful words, “your sins are forgiven,” and we know that is exactly what happened, our sins were forgiven. We see this happen at the Lord’s table wherein we are given His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. We see this happen every time we bear witness of a baptism how God creates faith. We see this happen in our lives as we read and hear His Word and as His Word has its way with us.
God’s Word has power. Unlike all the other books in the world, God’s Word has power. An ordinary book can only present you with information. Certainly you may be moved emotionally, but no book, except God’s Word has the power to do anything. God’s Word is a Word with power, power to do what it says. Again we saw this power this morning in our Old Testament lesson, in our text, so that when God said let there be, there was.
Best and most important is the fact that God’s Word gives gifts. We see this especially in the Epistle, and in the Gospel lessons for this morning. Through the very means of Grace, that is through God’s Word, through Holy Baptism which is water connected with God’s Word, through the Lord’s Supper which is bread and wine connected with God’s Word, through confession and absolution, which is God’s Word, God does great things and gives great gifts, faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. And in all these things it is God who is active and we who are passive. When it comes to our salvation, when it comes to good theology, we remember that God is the one who is always doing the doing and we are the ones who are always being done to.
Perhaps you have heard the old adage, “God said it, I believe, that settles it.” I believe the adage adds too much baggage and gives me too much credit. Why should I impose myself onto what God can do? We do so because of our nature, that is because we have a hard time believing in God’s perfect grace. The fact of the matter is that “God said it and that settles it.” It does not matter what we do or do not do. As a matter of fact, it does not even matter how we might get in the way in attempting to impose ourselves on what God can do and does. God does because He is God. God gives because He is God. And we are done to and given to because we need to be done to and given to. Thanks be to God. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, December 31, 2017
This year, in keeping with the celebration of the 500 anniversary of the Reformation, for the Advent through New Year’s Eve services we have been looking at the main emphasis of the Reformation, which is the authority of the Word of God and the article of the confessions on which the church stands or falls, the article on justification by grace through faith in Jesus alone. We have been looking at justification in the way of the six chief parts of Luther’s Small Catechism and prayerfully we have been connecting this justification to our Christmas, birth of Jesus celebration and finally, this evening, our New Year’s celebration as well.
Today we conclude our series by looking at the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In order to better understand the Lord’s Supper we will want to look at what Jesus was doing when He gave us His Holy Meal. When Jesus gave us His Holy Supper He was celebrating the Passover with His Apostles. As you remember, the Passover happened when the children of Israel were in Egypt. As God was rescuing them from their bondage of slavery in Egypt, when He sent the Angel of Death to kill the firstborn in Egypt, God gave the Israelites special instructions so that the firstborn in Israel might be spared. These instructions were given so that the Angel of Death would pass over the houses of the Israelites and spare their firstborn. Following their deliverance God gave the Passover as a meal of remembrance. During the Passover He gave them instructions for the celebration and this Passover meal which would become a precursor to its fulfillment in the Lord’s Supper.
God gave the instructions that on the tenth day of the month a lamb, a spotless lamb was to be chosen and then on the fourteenth day of the month the lamb was to be slaughtered at twilight. The blood of the lamb was to be caught and then painted on the doorpost and lintel of the door marking the house as a house in which the lamb was eaten.
The children of Israel were to eat the lamb roasted over fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They were not to leave any until morning, but burn what was left and they were to eat it standing with their belt fastened, their sandals on and their staff in their hand. Later, after they had exited Egypt as they celebrated the Passover on a yearly basis they were to eat it in a more relaxed manner, not in haste, yet still consuming the lamb and drinking wine as well as unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
The instructions that God gave were so that preparation was made so that the Angel of Death that would be passing over Egypt killing the firstborn of every family would pass over the houses marked with the blood of the lamb, which was eaten in those houses marked by the blood. It was the blood of the lamb sacrificed for those in the house and the eating of the lamb that brought life to those in the house.
Fast forward to Jesus and the Maundy Thursday before His arrest, trials and crucifixion. As John the Baptist pointed out many times when He would see Jesus, he would say, “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus is the spotless Lamb of God conceived by the Holy Spirit, thus born in perfection, born of the woman, Mary, thus being completely human. Jesus is the Lamb of God chosen to shed His blood for all mankind.
Jesus shed His blood on the cross marking those of faith with His blood. As the painting of the blood of the lamb in Egypt on the door post and lintel in essence made the sign of the cross with the up and down and sideways painting, so with the trunk of the cross and the cross bar on which Jesus was nailed we are marked with the blood He shed.
During the Passover Seder there are three pieces of matzah or unleavened bread that are placed in a burse which is a pouch with three slots. The middle matzah is broken and half is hidden until it is later found and brought back. This middle matzah, which the Jews today cannot figure out what it means thinking perhaps the three matzahs mean Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, yet we rightly understand that the three matzah truly are God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This middle matzah, and if you have ever seen matzah it is a flat bread, a cracker which has holes pierced in it and has black burn marks or stripes, this middle matzah is Jesus who was broken, by whose stripes we are healed, who was pierced for our transgressions, who was buried, was risen, and given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. This is the bread Jesus held, blessed and broke give it to His apostles with the words, Take and eat, this is my body given for you.
During the Passover Seder celebration four cups of wine are consumed. It is the third cup, the cup of redemption which is what Jesus took and gave to His apostles with the words, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” As the apostles ate the lamb, the unleavened bread and drink the wine they were marked with the blood of the Lamb so that the angel of eternal spiritual death would pass over them.
What does this mean? During the original Passover the children of Israel did not consume a symbolic lamb, they ate a real lamb. The lamb became a part of them, a physical part of them as they ate the flesh of the lamb. As Jesus gives us His Holy Supper from this Passover celebration when He takes the bread He tells us that it is His body. He does not tell us that it is changed into nor symbolizes His body but is His body so that we are not symbolically eating His body so that it has no affect on us but that we are truly eating His body so that it is a real physical part of us. When Jesus takes the cup of wine He does not say that it symbolizes nor is changed into His blood, but that it is His blood so that His blood becomes a part of those who drink His blood marking them with His blood. As Jesus says, and even if we may not completely comprehend, nor logically understand, yet we believe it is because Jesus says, this is, not this symbolizes, not this is turned into, but this is, with bread and wine, His body and His blood.
The importance of this bread and wine being the true body and blood of Jesus is that if it is not His true body and blood then we miss the important part of participating in Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection. Indeed, as we consume the true body and true blood we are participating in Him. His life, His perfect life becomes our life, our perfect life. His suffering, His perfect suffering, His complete suffering of eternal spiritual death becomes our suffering, our complete and perfect suffering of eternal spiritual death, the price for sin. His death and resurrection become our death and resurrection. His eternal salvation become our eternal salvation.
This is not a symbolic participation for what would a symbolic participation be? Indeed, how can one symbolically participate in something and expect it to be something that is real? Does one symbolically run a race or win a race? Does one symbolically eat a meal so that is sustains them in the flesh? Does one symbolically believe in Jesus as their Savior and if only symbolically does that mean that one only has a symbolic salvation and eternal life in heaven? No, this participation is a real participation, so that Jesus becomes one with us and we with Him.
As we eat His body and drink His blood we have forgiveness of sins. Our faith is strengthening, and we know we have life, eternal life.
And best of all, this sacrament is all gift. God gives and we are given to. We come to the table as sinners, confessing our sins and rejoicing in the forgiveness that He gives to us. We come to the table where He is the host and He is the very meal itself. We come to the table, we open our mouths, we are given the Lord’s body and blood, we hear the words, for you for the forgiveness of your sins and we know that He becomes a part of us so that we have forgiveness, life and salvation and we rejoice and respond in faith, “Amen!”
During Advent through Christmas and now as we are on the verge of a beginning a new year, we are reminded of the forgiveness of sins Jesus gives to us and our participation in Him through our eating His body and drinking His blood in His Holy Supper for the forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness is life and salvation.
How wonderful it is for us as Christians to begin and end a year pointing to Jesus. We come in our sin and we are pointed to Jesus who gives us forgiveness of sins. We are pointed to Jesus who has brought us back into a right relationship with Himself, who makes us just and right in God’s eyes. We are pointed to Jesus and we give Him thanks and praise for His good gifts and blessings. Indeed, we respond and say, to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Today is the first Sunday after Christmas. For too many people this has usually been a kind of an in-between Sunday, in-between Christmas and New Years. This year this in-between Sunday is New Years Eve, which we celebrate tonight. The children have been out of school. Some people have been off work. For many work seemed to simply slow down as we wait to get ready for the new year. For us, this is the seventh day of Christmas. Remember, Christmas lasts for twelve days, from December 25 to January 6, the day in which we celebrate Epiphany, the visit of the Magi or wise men, and the beginning of the Epiphany season. So, although the radio stations have ceased playing Christmas music and the stores are stocking their shelves for Valentines day, I guess, which by the way is on Ash Wednesday this year, truly for us Christians, we are really in the middle of our Christmas celebration.
Our readings for this morning speak of joy, true joy. We have joy, true joy because in the birth of Christ Jesus we have forgiveness of sins, we have righteousness, hope and grace which have been given to us by God. Christmas is a time of gift giving and I distinguish gift giving from present exchanging in that what we often do is simply exchange presents, that is I give you a present and you give me a present, which is a nice custom, whereas gift giving is what God does, that is He gives gifts without expecting anything in return; thus, it is God who is the Gift Giver and we who are the ones who are given to. This morning we continue to celebrate the gifts our great God gives to us.
In our text Isaiah rejoices in the Lord. Isaiah rejoices because of the Lord’s promised salvation, as he says, “61:10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (v. 10). By faith in Jesus, the Lord’s promised salvation, whose birth we celebrated just six days ago, by faith in Jesus we wear, not our robes of sins but we are clothed with Jesus’ robes of righteousness. By faith in Jesus, when God looks at us, He sees, not our sin, but Jesus’ perfection. By faith in Jesus, we are clothed in our heavenly wedding garments, in His garments of salvation.
Notice how Isaiah gives credit where credit is due. “11For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations” (v. 11). It is the Lord, or as Isaiah says, the Lord God, who motivates our rejoicing. Because of our sinful nature, because we are conceived and born in sin and because we continue to sin we cannot rejoice on our own, thus it is the Lord God who stirs this rejoicing in us. And Isaiah states this for us clearly reminding us that it is the Lord God who makes righteousness and praise spring up in us.
And notice who it is that is saved. Jesus came, not just to save the children of Israel, but to save all people. Isaiah tells us that the Lord brings salvation to all nations. We are included in the all nations. Jesus was born to be the Savior for all people, of all places, of all times, that is what we call universal atonement, Jesus died for the universe. Just as important, and even more important to each one of us, however, is what we call vicarious atonement, that is that Jesus came to be my Savior, for me, in my place. That is what vicarious atonement means, that Jesus came to atone for each one of us personally in our place, that Jesus is our Savior, your Savior and mine.
Following Isaiah’s words, the Lord speaks. We pick up at verse one, “62:1For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. 2The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. 3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God” (v. 1-3). Because of His great love for us, Isaiah tells us that the Lord will send a Savior and will call all people to faith in His Savior. The Lord promised to send a Savior and He specifically made His promise to Abram, whose name He changed to Abraham. Through Abraham, all nations will be blessed. Through the children of Israel, the Lord would send a Savior for the world. Jesus came as an Israelite. He came to fulfill God’s promise to send a Savior. By faith in Jesus all people who believe in Him will be clothed in the righteousness won by Him on the cross.
Jesus is the Savior who came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. Many among the children of Israel rejected Him as their Savior, as John tells us in His Gospel, but to those who received Him, to those who believed on Him, they have been given life, new life, eternal life. The plans of God were that the children of Israel were to be a light for all nations. They were not to refuse the Savior, but they were to be the ones through whom the Savior came and through whom the message of salvation went out into the rest of the world.
The faithful, those who believe in Jesus, are to be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand. We Christians, believers in Jesus, are a crown of splendor. We are the recipients of all God’s good gifts and blessings. By faith in Jesus we are clothed with His robes of righteousness, we are seen as perfect before God in heaven, we are given abundant life in this world and life in the world to come, even eternal life in heaven. As John says we are given blessings upon blessings.
What does all this mean? Our lessons for this morning remind us of all that we have recently celebrated, namely the fulfillment of all these words in the birth of Jesus. We celebrate that we have seen the Lord’s righteousness. We have seen the Lord’s salvation. We have seen and we bear witness of the Savior of the world, Christ Jesus, the Lord.
This morning we are reminded that we celebrated, not the trappings of Christmas, but the Christ of Christmas. As John tells us in his “Christmas” account, the Word, God, became flesh, and made His dwelling among us. God tented among us for a short time, long enough to take care of our salvation. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only, God Himself. When we are asked, “what is God like?” We can give an answer, because we have seen God. We have seen God in Jesus, who is true God.
This morning we continue to celebrated the gift of the Baby. And as we celebrate the gift of the Baby, we are reminded, once again, that our celebration of this Child is always a celebration in the shadow of the cross, because this Baby was born for a purpose, this Baby was born to die. Which brings us back to our first statement, that our readings are readings of joy. We do not think very much joy is to be had in death, but it is only because of the death of Jesus that we can have joy; joy of forgiveness and joy of eternal life.
How is this done? This is done by the Lord as we said earlier. First, it is the Lord who makes the promises to us. He made the first promise in the Garden of Eden and continued to reiterate His promise to us through time. His promise was that He would send a Savior for all people, all nations. Yes, He narrowed the line of fulfillment of His promise, that He would fulfill His promise through the Children of Israel, but He never narrowed His promise of who would be saved, that is that the Savior would be the Savior of all people.
It is also the Lord who fulfills the promises He makes. He is the one who gave His Son, true God, to be born of a woman, to become true man. He is the one who put all our sins on His Son. He is the one who took out the punishment for all our sins on His Son. He is the one who did what needed to be done in order to bring us back into a right relationship with Himself. He is the one who showed His great love for us.
It is the Lord who gives us the rewards of the promise. Sin separates us from God. God sends His Son to take care of our sins. With our sins paid for, and by faith in Jesus, we are seen by God as being righteous and holy, sinless and perfect. Being clothed in Christ’s perfection, when God looks at us He sees us as being perfect and invites us into His heavenly mansions to be given eternal joy, forever.
Finally, it is the Lord who gives us to rejoice in His rewards. Again, as we read earlier in Isaiah, it is the Lord who makes praise spring up in us, to give praise to the Lord for all He has done, does and continues to do for us. Notice it is the Lord who does and gives all things for us, and sometimes we might imagine, in spite of us. God gives and we are given to. God gives His Son. He gives us faith in His Son. He strengthens and keeps us in faith in His Son. He clothes us with His Son’s robes of righteousness. He gives us heaven because of the faith He gives us in His Son. He even gives us the ability and moves in us to speak words of thanks for all that He does for us. He gives and we are given to.
Let us rejoice and give thanks to God. And I say that as a Gospel imperative. As we have seen, it is not we, of ourselves who do the things we do, but it is the Lord who works and stirs in us to do the things we do. With that in mind, then I say, let us, with the help and by the motivation of the Lord, give thanks to the Lord. Let us, with the help and by the motivation of the Lord, say together, to Him be the glory, forever. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.