Author: pastormjc

Sermon for December 24, 2022, Christmas Eve

Luke 2:13-14 (The Nativity of Our Lord—Christmas Eve)

“Gloria in Excelsis Deo”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 24, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the song of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace among men of His favor.”

          Who has been enjoying listening to Christmas music over the past few weeks? It is certainly enjoyable this time of year. Who likes singing Christmas carols? Do any of you go caroling in your neighborhoods? Well, today / tonight and tomorrow we are singing a lot of your favorites in our worship services as we celebrate the yearly remembrance of the Son of God’s birth among us.

          God’s Word, the Bible, is full of songs as well. The Book of Psalms is a book of songs that God’s people sang. The Book of Isaiah has four Servant Songs about the promised Savior. The first two chapters of the Gospel of St. Luke gives us four songs. We find Mary’s song, the Magnificat, in Luke 1:46-55. We can hear her singing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” In Luke 1:68, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist begins to sing the Benedictus, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” (Luke 1:68–71 ESV). In Luke 2:29-32 we find the very familiar words of the Nunc Dimittis, the song of Simeon, “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” (Luke 2:29–32 ESV).

          But people are not the only ones who praise God and sing songs. A multitude of God’s heavenly army sang on the first Christmas words that we still sing in the Divine Service, “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace among people of God’s favor.”

Why should it be, however, that people find favor with God? In the Fall into sin, humanity became God’s enemy. Humanity rebelled against God. Listen to what God says about this in Romans, chapter 1: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

 . . .For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.Claiming to be wise, they became fools,and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. . . .And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:18–32 ESV).

Do these people sound like someone that you’d send a Christmas card and gift to? I’m pretty sure these people wouldn’t be on my Christmas list. But then you and I must realize that you and I are “these people” because of our sinful condition. By nature, we are unrighteous. We do evil. We gossip and covet, hate and despise. We lie and cheat. You and I worship idols of our own making, whether it is money or possessions or positions or simply ourselves. We’re a huge mess! We are God’s sinful enemies who stand condemned under His just and holy Law.

At the end of a year, people sometimes take stock of the year past. Well, as we think over our lives, we see our sinfulness. God said, “Do this,” and we didn’t. God said, “Don’t do that,” and we did. We failed always to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We did not always love our neighbors as ourselves. At times, we’ve been a huge mess. But as we look back on the mess of our sinful lives, we realize the true joy and blessing of Christmas. God has visited His people. He came into the mess of our sin and brought not war and judgment and condemnation, but peace.

In the birth of the Son of God made flesh, the Lord’s mercy has fallen on the world. And it is a mercy for you. It is peace with God for you. It is the cleaning up of the mess of sin and death for you.

Think about the song of the angels. In the birth of Jesus, God’s glory is manifested on earth as peace between God and humanity. By rights, it should not be this way because humanity deserves nothing but punishment and condemnation for our sins. Yet according to God’s gracious favor—His mercy, His undeserved loving-kindness—humanity received the gift of the Son of God, Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. He came not to punish and to destroy, but to save. That’s what His name, Jesus, means, “The Lord saves.” And the salvation Jesus came to give humanity is a salvation from sin, death, and the power of the devil. It is salvation that makes peace with God through the very forgiveness of sins.

Where sins are forgiven, there is no longer enmity or hatred between humanity and God. Where sins are forgiven, there is no longer any punishment or condemnation. Where sins are forgiven, there is no longer eternal death but eternal life. Where sins are forgiven, there is peace with God. But this forgiveness of sins, this rescue from death and the devil, this eternal salvation and peace with God did not come from Bethlehem. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace comes not from a baby lying in a manger. It comes from the grown man, Jesus Christ, who is also true God, hanging on a bloody cross.

The incarnation of the Son of God and the birth of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary is for the purpose of our salvation. It is for the purpose of the cross and the resurrection. God the Son took to Himself a true human body and soul so that He might be capable of living, suffering, and dying in the place of humanity in order to win for everyone the forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. Christ was born of Mary so that He might live a perfect life for us in His flesh and die a perfect sacrificial death for us in His flesh to atone for our sins and the sins of the world. Colossians 1, “For in [Jesus Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col. 1:19–22 ESV).

It is the Son of God and the Son of Mary, Jesus, who gave up His life into death to save you with His precious blood. It is the Son of God and the Son of Mary who then rose from the dead, assuring you of your own victory over sin and death when you will rise again in body and soul from the grave on the Last Day. In Holy Baptism, you have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting in body and soul for eternity with Him. You have peace with God through your Lord, Jesus Christ. And so, in the Lord’s Supper, you commune on Christ’s crucified and risen Body and Blood with the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. As you dine at His Sacramental table, you dine in the surety of peace with your God and Lord in a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come at the Day of the Resurrection.

The forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the peace we have with God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ is truly worthy of our songs of praise. As God the Son was born, the angel host of heaven could not contain their praise and worship of God as they gave Him glory for the joyous good news that to humanity, a Savior is born in Bethlehem. The Son of God made flesh would clean up the huge mess of sin and wash people clean in His blood shed on the cross so that we might be whiter than snow through the forgiveness of sins. It is Jesus who has made us pure and holy to stand before the Lord, at peace with Him. How then can we not sing, “Glory to God in the highest!”? In the Divine Service, God’s forgiven people in Christ join in the song of the angels as we did today / tonight, singing, “Glory to God, we give You thanks and praise; Of heavenly joy and earthly peace we sing. We worship You, to You our hearts we raise, Lord God, almighty Father, heavenly King.”

It is this hymn of praise where we, along with the shepherds, are invited to go and see Jesus. They found Him in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, as the angel had promised. We go and see Him in the Scriptures that we hear after we sing the “Gloria in Excelsis.” And that is right where He has promised to be for us—in His Gospel Word, in Baptism, and in His Supper—with forgiveness, life, and salvation, and a peace that passes all understanding.

Today / tonight we sing! We sing the hymns of Christmas! We sing the song of the angels. We give God the Father all glory, honor and praise for our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord. “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” Glory to God in the highest! Amen.

Sermon for December 18, 2022, Fourth Sunday in Advent

Matthew 1:18-25 (Fourth Sunday in Advent—Series A)

“Conceived by the Holy Spirit; Born of the Virgin Mary”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 18, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The sermon text is the Gospel lesson from Matthew 1:

18This is what happened when Jesus Christ was born. After His mother, Mary, had been betrothed to Jospeh, before they came together, it was found that she was pregnant (from the Holy Spirit). 19And Jospeh, her husband, being a righteous man and not wishing to disgrace her publicly, wanted to divorce her quietly. 20But after he had reflected on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Jospeh, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, for the child that has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21And she will give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22And this whole thing happened in order that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, 23“Behold, the virgin will be pregnant and she will give birth to a son, and they will call his name Emmanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” 24And Jospeh arose from sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and he took his wife into his home, 25and he continued not knowing her until she gave birth to a son, and he called His name Jesus.

The Christian Church confesses in the Apostles’ Creed, “[I believe] in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” As Christians, we believe, teach, and confess that Jesus is true God and true Man. But does it really matter?

          Joseph, a descendant of the great Israelite king, David, had a huge dilemma. He was betrothed to a girl named Mary. Matthew tells us that “before they came together, she was found with child from the Holy Spirit.” But Joseph, at that point, didn’t know the “from the Holy Spirit” part. All he knew was that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant and not by him. According to Jewish custom, betrothal was a legally binding relationship, the first stage of marriage. It was not at all like “engagement” today. Far too many couples who are engaged think it is appropriate to move in with their fiancée and act like a married couple, even with an engagement not being legally binding. Mary and Joseph, St. Matthew makes clear, had not come together in marriage yet. The marriage was consummated only after the brothel period was completed. For a virgin, betrothal usually lasted for about one year. During this time the betrothed girl was legally the man’s wife, even though she was still a virgin, since the marital relation did not begin until the marriage ceremony. Thus, betrothal could be broken only by a formal written divorce.

          Joseph decided to make the divorce happen privately so as not to disgrace Mary any more than the current situation already had. But God intervened and let Joseph in on the Good News that His promise was being fulfilled, “Jospeh, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, for the child that has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. And she will give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Joseph acted in faith, trusting the angel’s command to him. He took Mary as his wife and “he continued not knowing her until she gave birth to a son, and he called His name Jesus.”

          Matthew, writing by the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, goes to great lengths to show his readers the miraculous conception of Jesus. He is very clear that no human father is involved. The words of Gabriel to Mary are confirmed, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:30-35). By God’s grace, both Mary and Joseph were granted trust in God’s Word of promise that the very Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, would take a human nature into His person, being conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of God the Holy Spirit. As the writer to the Hebrews says in chapter 2 verse 14, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things.” The Son of God became flesh; He is true God and true Man. Do you, like Mary and Joseph, trust this Word of God? And does it matter if you do or not?

          It is hard to think about “the how” of Jesus’ Incarnation. The Bible doesn’t share with us this information. The God-breathed Word simply tells us of the fact that Jesus is true God and true Man. In Martin Luther’s beautiful words, Jesus is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary” (Small Catechism). In Christ, God the Son and a true human nature are united in one person. While our brains might not understand it, we can trust that this is most certainly true because the Word of God tells us so. Yes, believing that Jesus Christ is, at the same time, both true God and true Man, is a matter of trusting the Word of God found in Holy Scripture. It is receiving from God the Holy Spirit the gift of faith that the Word of Scripture is true because it is the Truth. Although the devil and the world and our sinful flesh tempt us to think otherwise, God the Holy Spirit, through the Word and the Sacraments of Christ calls, enlightens, makes us holy, and keeps us with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith. May God our Father forgive us for the times that we doubt His Holy Word and grant us grace to believe His promises to us in Jesus Christ, who is true God and true Man, our Lord.

          It is for the very forgiveness of all our sins that God sent His One-of-a-Kind Son to take to Himself a human nature in His Incarnation and so be our Lord. But does it really matter if one believes that Jesus is both God and Man? Could He not be our Lord without being God-made-flesh? No, He could not. Hence Scripture’s insistence that we believe and confess that Jesus Christ, “the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man” (Athanasian Creed).

In order to save us from our sins, the Son of God had to take the place of those He came to save. He had to become the perfect substitute for people. In order to be that perfect substitute, Jesus, true God from eternity, had to take to Himself a true human nature and human flesh. He had to be made just like us, yet without sin, in order to save us (Heb. 2:17; 4:15). Because you and I are not able to keep God’s holy Law perfectly as He demands, Jesus as true God and true Man took this burden on Himself. The Son of God was born of a woman, born under the Law, that He might fulfill God’s Law on our behalf (Gal. 4:4). To satisfy God’s demands for justice, full atonement for the original sin with which we are conceived and born and for all the sins we have committed since needed to be made. The death penalty for humanity’s sin had to be paid. The Son of God had to be true Man so that He might be capable of suffering, shedding His blood, and dying for the sins of the whole world in whose place He hung on the cross. Jesus the Son of God took on flesh and blood so that He might be able to die and so purchase and win the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for each one of you.

If Jesus were not true Man, He could not have accomplished for us this saving work through His perfect life, suffering, and death as humanity’s substitute, as your substitute before God. He kept the Law for you so that you might be credited with having done so. Jesus died your death and suffered hell so that by His blood you might be set free from sin and death.

Now, a mere man, sinner or saint, could have never done this for us. A sinner cannot save himself or herself. A sinner cannot save another sinner. A perfect saint, if one did exist, would be saved, but would not be able to pass his or her perfection on to anyone else. Since it is necessary that you and I be reconciled to God, no one other than God Himself could make that happen. Only God could meet the full demands of His holiness. Only God could save us. The saving work of Jesus in His life and death was sufficient to redeem all people from sin, death, and from the power of the devil since “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19 ESV), because it was God’s blood in Christ that was shed for us. It was God in Christ who fulfilled the Law for us and suffered for our sins. It was God Himself in the person of the God-Man Jesus Christ who reconciled the world to Himself.[1]

Jesus had to be true God and true Man in order to be our Savior. That’s why it

matters that we believe and confess along with the Scriptures that Jesus is both “perfect God and perfect man” (Athanasian Creed). And it is none other than this Jesus—the Son of God and the Son of Mary—who is our Lord! It is this Jesus who “has redeemed [us] from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all evil. . . . For when we had been created by God the Father and had received from Him all kinds of good, the devil came and led us into disobedience, sin, death, and all evil [Genesis 3]. So we fell under God’s wrath and displeasure and were doomed to eternal damnation, just as we had merited and deserved. There was no counsel, help, or comfort until this only and eternal Son of God—in His immeasurable goodness—had compassion upon our misery and wretchedness. He came from heaven to help us [John 1:9].”[2]

The Son of God “became man [John 1:14], was conceived and born without sin [Hebrews 4:15], from the Holy Spirit and from the virgin Mary [Luke 1:35], so that He might overcome sin. . . . He suffered, died, and was buried so that He might make satisfaction for [us] and pay what [we] owe [1 Corinthians 15:3–4], not with silver or gold, but with His own precious blood [1 Peter 1:18–19]. And He did all this in order to become [our] Lord.”[3]

          By the power of the Holy Spirit working through His Means of Grace in Gospel Word and Sacrament, boldly confess this Christmas Season, in your lives and with your words, that Jesus Christ is true God and true Man, your Lord, the Savior of all people! Amen.

     [1] Edward W. A. Koehler, A Summary of Christian Doctrine (St. Louis: Concordia, 1952), 93-94.

     [2] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 401–402.

      [3] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 402.

Sermon for December 11, 2022, Third Sunday in Advent

James 5:7-11 (Third Sunday in Advent—Series A)

“Patient Waiting and Endurance”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 11, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The sermon text today is the Epistle lesson from James 5:

 7Therefore, be patient, brothers, until the Coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient for it, until it receives the early rain and the late rain. 8You also, be patient. Strengthen your hearts because the Coming of the Lord stands near. 9Do not grumble against one another in order that you might not be judged. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10Receive as an example, brothers, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord, who suffered hardship with patience. 11Behold, we consider as blessed those who showed perseverance. You have heard of the endurance of Job and you have seen the outcome of the Lord, that the Lord is very compassionate and full of mercy.

          This poem is titled “It Is as If!”

          It is as if I have never been sad

                   or pained or without hope or lacking in joy.

          It is as if the world had been good

                   and the evil one caged.

          It is as if death never came

                   and sickness and age lacked all substance.

          It is as if fright and rage

                   and loneliness and dullness never existed.

          It is as if life goes on and on

                   in the expectation of the Coming One

                             who was, and is, and is to come.[1]

          These words describe the tension that exists for Christians in this world. The Christ has come. His first coming 2000 years ago as the incarnate Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, has inaugurated a new era that has begun for the people of God. “The reign of the heavens stands near,” John the Baptist proclaimed. Jesus Himself preached, “The reign of God has drawn near and is now here!” It is in this confident hope that we live and move and have our being through faith. It is as if . . . but life goes on and on. We live in a tension between the “already,” the salvation that we have NOW through faith in Christ as His children and the “soon to come,” the completion of all things when Jesus comes again in power and glory on the Last Day. We have NOW the victory of sins forgiven. We have been made “more than conquerors” through Jesus who loved us. We wait with expectant faith and trust in His glorious reappearing. But life goes on and on . . . and we are sad, pained, and feel like with are without hope and joy in this world. Life goes on and on . . . and the culture and our society are becoming ever more corrupt and immoral. Sickness and age intrude into our lives. Fright, rage, and loneliness exist and are real for us. Life does go on and on in the expectation of the Coming On who was, and is, and is to come.

          That’s James’s message to us. We live in between the “already” and the “soon to come.” And for believers it means that you and I accept the suffering and trouble of this fallen world, as well as our own sinfulness, and patiently wait with the endurance of faith until the Coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now, waiting patiently for the Lord’s Coming is one thing. Waiting patiently with endurance is another because that means being steadfast even in the face of suffering. Between the first and second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, even though the reign of God is breaking in through the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting, sin still remains. The consequences and the effects of our sin and the sin of the world remain. James writes in verse 9 of our text, “Do not grumble against one another in order that you might not be judged. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door.” In the middle of life’s challenging circumstances, Christians lash out against one another in frustration. Instead of legitimate complaint to God in faith as one prays for help and strength and endurance when suffering trials, believers might “go after” each other using hate-filled, angry words and actions.

Have we not put others down so that we might look better in the light of a certain circumstance? Have we not used our grumbling and complaints to garner sympathy for our situation, rather than seeking the mutual consolation and support of our sisters and brothers in Christ through their prayers, their aid and counsel and physical help? And do not Christians in their suffering and in the hard times of life sometimes pull away from the church instead of finding in her the blessings of Word and Sacrament where the grace of God in Christ is given to strengthen faith to build endurance while waiting for the Lord’s return? Luther in his lectures on Genesis puts it well, “A faithful friend is a great boon and a precious treasure in any situation of life, not only because of common dangers in which he can be both an aid and a comfort but also because of spiritual trials. Even if one’s heart is well grounded by the Holy Spirit, it remains a great advantage to have a brother with whom one can converse about religion and from whom one can hear words of comfort. . . . When Christ was wrestling with temptation in the garden, we see Him seeking comfort among His three disciples. When Paul, in Acts 28:15, saw the brethren coming to meet him, he took courage from the sight and experienced comfort. Loneliness distresses a person who is solitary and deprived of his intimate friends. He can exert himself and struggle against it, but he does not overcome it without great difficulty. Everything is less burdensome if you have a brother with you; for then the promise applies: “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” Therefore solitude should be shunned and the companionship of familiar people sought, especially in spiritual perils.”[2]

The trials that we go through, the problems that we face, including our sins against one another, are best endured in the harmonious body of Christ, the Church. As believers who are living between the “already” of Jesus’ first advent and the “soon to come” of His second, we are blessed to have one another in the family of faith as we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14 ESV). That goal is the new creation. That prize is the crown of everlasting life which Jesus has already purchased and won for you, which you will enjoy in its fullness in the new creation at the Resurrection. James points us to the prophets who showed perseverance in faith. He points us to the endurance of Job. These are examples of the patient waiting and endurance of the saints, with whom we are united by faith in the one, holy, Christian, and apostolic church. Hebrews 12, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1 ESV).

The “race” is not easy. Here we struggle against temptation and sin. We bear many crosses in this life as we move toward “the life of the world to come.” But we endure. We persevere in faith toward the “soon to come” because of what Christ Jesus has done “already.”

          As true God and true Man, Jesus fulfilled our obligations under God’s Law because we cannot. Jesus kept all of the Commandments for us, being perfectly righteous. And as a gift, Jesus gives to us His righteousness, His perfection. Romans 5:18-19, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Through the gift of saving faith, you have received the righteousness of Christ and the forgiveness of sins won by Christ. We each believe and confess that Jesus “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”

          As Christians, we wait with the patience and the endurance of our most holy faith for our Savior’s Coming at the end of days. And we do so in the midst of troubles and sufferings with the assurance and guarantee that our sufferings, our crosses that we bear, are taken up into Jesus’ cross. He became a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3). Our God and Savior is well aware of the worst we can go through because He has gone through it with us. Christ is with us in our anguish and sorrow and struggle. And He helps us through it by means of His Word and Sacrament and through the support of our brothers and sisters in Christ in His Church.

As believers who suffer hardship in this life, we do so with the patient endurance of faith. We know that what we endure now brings us into a deeper dependence and a more intimate relationship with Jesus, who is very compassionate and full of mercy. As the Apostle Paul wrote, who knew suffering firsthand, “suffering produces endurance,and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3–5 ESV).

          Until the Coming of the Lord, the God who shares your struggles and troubles, the God who redeemed you with the blood of His Son, the God who grants you forgiveness of sins unto life everlasting, is with you. He is strengthening you through His Gospel as you walk together with your sisters and brothers in Christ until that day when we are in the new creation forevermore. By grace through faith in Christ, we can truly say . . .

          It is as if I have never been sad

                   or pained or without hope or lacking in joy.

          It is as if the world had been good

                   and the evil one caged.

          It is as if death never came

                   and sickness and age lacked all substance.

          It is as if fright and rage

                   and loneliness and dullness never existed.

          It is as if life goes on and on

                   in the expectation of the Coming One

                             who was, and is, and is to come. Amen

     [1] Richard C. Eyer, Pastoral Care Under the Cross (St. Louis: Concordia, 1994), 43.

  [2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 2: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 6-14, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 2 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 335.

Sermon for December 4, 2022, Second Sunday in Advent

Matthew 3:1-12 (Second Sunday in Advent—Series A)

“Repentance Unto Life”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 4, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text is the Gospel reading from Matthew 3:

1And in those days John the Baptist appeared preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2and saying, “Repent, for the reign of the heavens stands near.” 3For he is the one spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “A voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight His paths.’” 4And John himself had his clothing from camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the neighboring region of the Jordan began to go out to him, 6and they were being baptized in the Jordan River by him as they were confessing their sins. 7And when he saw that many of the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming out for his baptism, he said to them, “Offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Therefore, bear fruit worthy of repentance 9and do not think that you will go on saying, ‘We have Abraham as father,’ for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise children for Abraham. 10And already the axe is laid to the root of the trees; therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and will be thrown into the fire. 11I myself am baptizing you with water for repentance, but the One who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in His hand and He will cleanse His threshing floor and will gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.

“You are all of no account, whether you are obvious sinners or saints (in your own opinions). You have to become different from what you are now. You have to act differently than you are now acting, whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you can be. Here no one is godly.” . . . “We are completely lost; there is nothing good in us from head to foot; and we must become absolutely new and different people. . . . Everything in us is nothing but sin (there is nothing in us that is not sin and guilt). . . . For we cannot think of any good thing to pay for sin. There is nothing left. There is only a sure despairing about all that we are, think, speak, do, and so on” (SA: III.3, 35-36). This is the repentance John the Baptist preaches as we hear it from Luther’s Smalcald Articles from our Lutheran Confessions.

          We can live in denial, or we can face reality. John the Baptist was not a man to mince words. He was the last of God’s Old Testament prophets, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight His paths.’” He was what we might call a fiery preacher of repentance who would accept nothing less than the people confess the truth of their sinfulness and their sins and turn and be converted, to become once again the flock of the divine Shepherd. John was calling the people away from God’s wrath in the final judgment to conversion and true faith in the God from whom they had wandered. Just because one could claim, “We have Abraham, our father,” got you nowhere. If God wanted to, He could raise up children for Abraham out of the rocks on the wilderness ground. God’s axe is ready to cut down the fruitless trees, people not producing the life of repentance and faith. If there is no repentance, then you will be thrown into the fire of God’s judgment and wrath.

          God’s Word condemns our sins. It reveals that God is angry with sin. The Word shows us that we are by nature sinful and unclean. It reveals that you and I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, “by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault.” Love and trust in God is not always evident in our daily living. We often withhold from God what is rightfully His. We are often lazy, bored, or distracted in our prayers. We sometimes pay little or no attention to God’s Word when it is read or preached. Have we been angry, stubborn, or disrespectful toward those in authority over us—to our parents, teachers, employers, or supervisors? Do we faithfully represent God the Father in disciplining, caring for, and teaching our children? Have you and I always treated our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit, or do we hurt or harm it by gluttony, chemical addiction, or other abuse? Do we commit adultery with others in our hearts by looking at them lustfully? We are not always faithful to the responsibilities of our vocations. We are not always generous givers; rather, we are selfish, stingy, and greedy with our time and money. You and I gossip, listen to rumors, and don’t always speak the truth in love. We are many times discontent with what belongs to us, craving something better, different, or more than what God has given us. So, it is God’s Word that condemns this sin.

          This means that you and I rightly stand condemned. Condemn—“to declare to be reprehensible, wrong, or evil usually after weighing evidence and without reservation; to pronounce guilty; to sentence, to doom.” But, John proclaimed, “The reign of the heavens stands near!” God’s divine action has begun. The God of heaven is going to reign, to act as King, to break into history in judgment against His enemies and in salvation for all who would call upon Him. Hence the urgent message of John, “Repent because the reign of the heavens stands near!” It’s now or never—God is coming! Will you receive His judgment or His salvation?

          We need a change, and we need it now. Sin has to be dealt with; our sin has to be taken care of if we are to stand before the God of heaven who comes. As we have heard God’s Word today, our conscience feels God’s wrath against our sins. We see the corruption of sin in our lives. We seriously grieve that we have sinned. Our conscience runs away from God’s dreadful anger. We, like Adam and Eve, try to hide ourselves and our exposed sins. We seek to cover the nakedness of our sin, but it is all for nothing. God comes looking for His people, “Where are you?” We feel God’s disappointment; we become aware of God’s anger and wrath. And we are terrified. We fall into despair because of the terror of facing the holy God with His righteous and holy judgment.

          But them Someone approaches. He pours water on you, washing you. The filth of sin is being removed. You notice that as He cups His hands to scoop and pour the water that there are bloody nail marks on them. His blood mixes with the water as it cleanses you. This is no mere man who has come to your rescue. It is the Lord Himself, the Father’s One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus Christ. Having washed away your sins, cleansing your consciences from every stain, He puts a white robe on you, dressing your nakedness. It is the garment of salvation, Jesus’ own righteousness and holiness. He breathes on you and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. You are forgiven.” He takes you by the hand and brings you out of hiding. Jesus then presents you to His Father. “Here is your child. I paid for all the sin and evil when I gave up My life into death on the cross. I carried the sin in My body on the tree. Your child has died to sin and now lives to righteousness. By My wounds, this child has been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

          Jesus Christ has delivered your consciences from fear and terror at the wrath of God because of sin. For Jesus’ sake, your sins are forgiven because He died to pay the price—He faced God’s wrath for you and suffered death and hell in your place. It is the forgiveness of Christ and His gift of the Holy Spirit through the washing of water and the Word that has made you absolutely new and different people. You are repentant people! And you are expectant people!

           As repentant people, you recognize, by the power of the Holy Spirit, your sinfulness. You are truly, sincerely, sorry for your sins and look to Christ in faith to grant forgiveness. What follows from repentance and faith are the fruits of repentance and faith. You are not like the Pharisees and Sadducees of John’s day. You have the Holy Spirit who leads you into repentance and you do not reject the new life He gives to you by faith in Christ. Having been rescued from the wrath of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, having the new life of repentant living, you now bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

The good fruit that you produce through the working of the Holy Spirit are “prayer, thanksgiving, the confession of the Gospel, teaching the Gospel, obeying parents and rulers, and being faithful to one’s calling. We should not kill, not hold on to hatred, but we should be forgiving and give to the needy, so far as we can according to our means. We should not commit sexual sins or adultery, but should hold in check, bridle, and chastise the flesh, not for a repayment of eternal punishment, but so as not to obey the devil or offend the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we should speak the truth. These fruits have God’s command and should be produced for the sake of God’s glory and command.” (Ap. AC XII.77)

This life of repentance and producing the fruit of repentance through faith in Christ by the power of the Spirit is what enables you then to be expectant people. You are people who are ready for the King, our Lord Jesus Christ, to come. Through lives of repentance and faith, which God creates in each one of us through our Baptism into Christ, the way of the Lord is prepared in our hearts. We do not fear His judgment because He comes with salvation for those who live by faith in Him. Because of Christ, we are no longer God’s enemies. We are His children of faith. Jesus comes to us in salvation because we call upon Him and live our lives in Jesus’ name and in the Spirit’s power. Look forward, then, to your Lord’s Coming at the Last Day. You have been saved from your sins to stand before the King in righteousness and holiness all your days. Amen.

Sermon for November 27, 2022, First Sunday in Advent

Matthew 24:36-44 (First Sunday in Advent—Series A)

“Watching, Perhaps Today”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 27, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

          A new church year! A new year of being ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in power and glory. The traditional Gospel Reading for this First Sunday in Advent is a text about Jesus’ coming, His coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But that was as close to as an announced coming as you might get. A great crowd was following Jesus when He left the city of Jericho, traveling on the road up to Jerusalem. They knew where He was going. No doubt, word of His traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover spread quickly. This was the man who had recently raised Lazarus from the dead after four days! This was the teacher and preacher from Galilee. He was the healer who had just given sight to blind Bartimaeus as He left Jericho! As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem, now riding a donkey’s colt, the crowd was waiting in anticipation to see Him, to cheer Him, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest.”

          It will not be like this when Jesus comes again on the Last Day. There will be no word of His imminent arrival. There will be no time to plan. Maybe you have heard about or might know a “prepper,” or even be one yourself. A “prepper” is someone with extensive food and emergency supplies always kept ready in case of some catastrophe. Our government has set up “shadow government” facilities and protocols in the event that Washington, DC, is attacked. When, for example, the terror attacks happened in our country on September 11, 2001, some in key military positions were called and given just a few hours to pack and depart for a mission of unknown duration. Yet on the final day, we will not even have that short notice. God’s judgment will overwhelm the unwary, so preoccupied with this world, unmindful of His impending fury. In an instant, Christ “will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thess 4:16). There will be no warning, no time for final preparations. The Day of Judgment at Jesus’ return is certain, but unknown and unknowable. Jesus calls us to prepare by being ready, to keep watching.

          Our text then is the alternate Gospel reading for today, from Matthew 24: “But concerning that day and hour, no one—neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son—knows except the Father only. For just as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day on which Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and took them all, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. At that time two men will be in the field. One will be taken and one will be left. The two women griding at the mill—one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore, keep watching, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But you know this, that if the householder had known at what watch of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. On account of this, also you, keep being ready, because at an hour at which you do not suppose, the Son of Man will come.”

          A winter storm warning is posted because a Nor’easter is heading our way. What do you do? I think we all would make some preparations. We’d make sure to have milk, bread, and toilet paper on hand. We’d have fuel for the snowblower and the power generator, just in case. You watch the radar, listen to the forecasters, and wait to see if it happens. That I would call “faithful watching.” You keep an eye on things, prepare, and wait. Contrast that to an afterthought. A winter storm is on the way and you pay little to no attention, maybe because those weather people are never right anyway. Well, that afterthought might prove to be your undoing when the storm comes, and you’re socked with feet of snow like our friends in Buffalo! What are you going to do then?

          No one is able to anticipate the time when God will fully bring to an end this present fallen age. The day of Christ’s coming is unknown and unknowable as to its timing. This does not mean that, since we don’t know the when, that we should not look for His return or ignore it. Jesus’ coming in glory to raise the dead, to judge, and to make a new creation is something that Jesus’ disciples, His Church, should and must watch for daily and faithfully. Since you and I don’t know the day or the hour of Jesus’ coming, we keep on watching. Or do we?

          The Rev. Dr. Jeff Gibbs, Professor Emeritus of our Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, always encouraged his students, his congregation, and his fellow Christians with the words, “Perhaps today.” What does that mean? It means that the Lord Jesus is coming again in glory with all His angels. Perhaps today. Jesus the Crucified and Risen Lamb of God is coming to raise the dead, to put an end to death forevermore. Perhaps today. Jesus Christ is coming in power and authority to judge both the living and the dead. Perhaps today. The Lord Christ who spoke this first creation into existence “in the beginning” is coming to destroy this fallen world and to make a brand-new heaven and earth where only righteousness will dwell. Perhaps today.

          The early church lived in the expectancy that the Lord Jesus was going to return at any moment. Some 2000 years later, the Church still awaits her King to come. And this anticipation, this waiting, this hopefulness of the day of the resurrection and the new creation ought not be an afterthought. But that’s what it has become for most of us. Oh sure, during the last weeks of the Church Year and at the beginning of Advent, we hear some Bible readings about Jesus’ return. Then we think about it, a little. But we’ve really got Christmas on our minds: Jesus’ incarnation, His birth among us to be our Savior. But being our Savior means not only taking on our human flesh as true God and true Man, not simply being born in Bethlehem, not only living a perfect life, dying on a cross for the sins of the world and rising again. Being our Savior also includes His Ascension into heaven as true God and true Man and His coming again in the same way that the disciples saw Him go into heaven—bodily! (Acts 1:11).

          For the disciples then, Jesus’ return was a forethought, not an afterthought. They preached and proclaimed Jesus, crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins, as if the very world depended on it because this same Jesus was coming back! And the world does depend on that Gospel message today because Jesus is coming again. His return, which is unknown and unknowable as to the day and hour, will happen . . . perhaps today! For us 21st century disciples, this cannot be an afterthought for ourselves or for others to whom we share the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and coming again.

          There was no warning for the inhabitants on earth when the flood came in the days of Noah. (And as an aside, if you think that the story of Noah and the flood is fiction or a fable, Jesus, God Himself, right here in Matthew 24 acknowledges that it really happened.) There is no warning about the moment when the thief breaks into the house. It comes unexpectedly, even with all the alarms and precautions. There is the theme of suddenness and unknowability. But that doesn’t mean we are not ready or unprepared. We are keeping watch for the Lord, perhaps today.

          Now what does this faithful watching and readiness look like? How do we “do it”? Keeping watch and being ready for the Lord’s coming again is a matter of remaining connected to His Word and Sacraments. It’s a matter of knowing and trusting that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary in order to be the world’s Savior. It was through His sacrificial death on a cross that Jesus purchased and won eternal life and salvation from death and hell for everyone. That forgiveness and eternal life are gifts freely given by God the Holy Spirit by the Means of Grace: the Gospel Word, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. The Word of the Gospel gives us Jesus by telling us about Him and what He has done for the world, for you, with His death and resurrection. It is that Gospel Word that promises His coming again to raise our bodies from the dust of death, to change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, and to make for His faithful people a new heaven and earth where we will be together with God the Father, Son, and Spirit forevermore. Through the water and Word in Baptism, we receive forgiveness of sins and the new life of faith as in that Sacrament we are intimately connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection. We die to sin and rise to newness of life to await in faith the day of His coming when He will make all things new. And in the Sacrament of the Altar, the Risen Lord Christ gives us to eat His true body with the bread and to drink His true blood with wine for the forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of our Baptismal faith so that we are empowered by the Spirit to faithfully look forward to, and be well prepared for, the day of the Lord’s coming. Far from being an afterthought, the Holy Supper is indeed a foretaste of the feast to come in God’s new creation when Jesus’ comes again.

          The story is told of a grandmother looking out the front-room window for the family to arrive for dinner on Christmas Day. She is not going to be nearly as ready as the grandmom basting the turkey in the kitchen and only now and then listening for the car coming into the driveway. We can’t always be physically looking heavenward for the personal appearing of our God and Savior Jesus. But by grace, by means of Christ’s Gospel and His Sacraments, you and I are prepared and ready for His coming as we keep watching through our expectant faith that says, “Perhaps today my Lord will come.”

          And that is really the prayer of God’s people in Christ Jesus throughout the ages since St. John first penned it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Revelation 22, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Christ’s coming is what we do look forward to in faith. It’s no accident that the Christian Church confesses in her Creeds that we believe Jesus “will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.” We who believe in “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” look forward to that day as a day of joy and gladness.

          As we keep faithfully waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ – perhaps today – we pray earnestly the prayer of all the faithful, “By Your grace, O Lord, we are ready. Come, Lord Jesus. Come.” Amen.