Category: Sermons

Sermon for January 22, 2023

Isaiah 9:1-4 (Third Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)

“The Light That Grants Us Peace”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 22, 2023

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

Our text is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Isaiah 9:

1For there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. As in the former time He treated with contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time He makes glorious the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those dwelling in a land of gloom, a light has shone upon them. 3You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy. They rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as when they rejoice in their dividing the spoil. 4For the yoke of his burden and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of the one oppressing him, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Here is a letter written to you from an individual who lived in the village of Capernaum, on the Sea of Galilee:

          Shalom! Peace be with you. I can say that with much more confidence now than I ever could before. I now know peace better than ever before because I now know the Light of God.

          Living in the region of Galilee has always been a challenge for God’s people. The allotment of land given to the Tribes of Asher, Manasseh, Zebulun, and Naphtali have bordered what we called “Gentile territory.” These were lands of the non-Israelite people. And so, God’s people there especially lived under the threat of invasion as well as an influx of religious thoughts that ran contrary to God’s Law as He gave it to us through His servant Moses. The Gentiles worshiped false gods, idols. And the nations who adored these idols tempted God’s people to forsake Him and worship them.

          The author of the Book of Judges tells us the sad pattern for God’s people. From chapter 2, “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals.And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the LORD to anger.They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies.Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress” (Judg. 2:11–15 ESV).

          That distress is what came upon the region of Galilee, gloom among the tribes of Manasseh, Zebulun, and Naphtali. Judges 6 tells us, “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them.They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey.For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in.And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD” (Judg. 6:1–6 ESV).

          Can you imagine living in caves? Can you imagine your food and lands being ravaged so fiercely that you had to dwell in mountain dens like a wild animal? And yet that was the Lord’s just punishment against the people who had broken His First Commandment and offered their fear, love, and trust to false gods, forsaking the one, true God. Galilee’s gloom and darkness at the hands of the Midianites was a reflection of their deeper gloom and darkness before God whom they had abandoned.

          But God wouldn’t abandon His covenant people. Out of His mercy and grace, God heard the prayers of His sinful people as they turned to Him in fear over their enemies. The Lord raised up His servant Gideon. And with only 300 men, with the blowing of trumpets and the smashing of jars with torches inside, God defeated the Midianites by turning the Midianites against one another! It was a rout! And the men of Israel came out of the territory of Naphtali and from Manasseh, and they pursued the invaders. God had saved His people, even though they had sinned against Him and turned their backs on Him. A God of steadfast love and underserved kindness is He!

          But the land and people brought into the light of the Lord would return to the darkness of unfaithfulness and idolatry time and time again. God’s prophet Isaiah wrote the word of God you heard this morning after Galilee and all the tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel had succumbed to the Assyrian invaders. Zebulun and Naphtali were first devastated and depopulated by the Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser III. You can read in 2 Kings 15, “In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured . . . Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria” (2 Kings 15:29 ESV).

          This was again God’s judgment against the sins of His covenant people. They worshiped false gods. The people of Israel were corrupt in the marketplace, in politics, in their worship. Despite the word of God from prophet after prophet, the people wouldn’t repent of their sins. They would not turn in faith to the Lord. The northern tribes of Israel, the land of Galilee, would be attacked and conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. God had warned them of the darkness and gloom to come because of their sinful rejection of Him. But they would not return to the Lord in repentance and faith. Once deported by the victors, the survivors of Israel would never return. They would become the famous 10 lost tribes of Israel.

          The story doesn’t get any better, I’m afraid. The Southern Kingdom of Judah would fall in 587 B.C. to the Babylonians. Thankfully, under Cyrus the Persian, the Babylonian exiles would be allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild her walls and temple. But things were never the same in Galilee. The Assyrians resettled their population among the remaining Israelites. They would intermarry and become what you know as the Samaritans, which the Jews termed “half-breeds,” half Jewish, half Gentile, not worthy of God in their eyes. And so, the years passed by. After the Babylonians came the Persians, after the Persians came the Greeks, and after the Greeks we now have the Romans.

          Israel’s brought upon her as a nation the darkness of punishment. Isn’t that what our sin, our individual unfaithfulness to the Lord, also brings upon us?—the darkness and gloom of guilt and shame; the deep darkness of death of hell. This whole world is shrouded in death, evil, and ignorance because of sin. This darkness is painted with the tints of evil and opposition to God and His revealed Word. People aren’t even interested in God’s free gift of salvation through His Anointed One, the Messiah-Savior! And just look at the evil in your own heart. I know, I don’t like looking there myself, but when we hear God’s Word of Law that tells us how we should be and act and think, we fall miserably short. I don’t want my sins exposed, but God’s Word and Spirit convict me. I see the darkness and gloom of my sin.

          But then you and I hear Isaiah’s words. For there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. As in the former time He treated with contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time He makes glorious the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those dwelling in a land of gloom, a light has shone upon them.” Light is the only thing that can penetrate and dispel darkness, for darkness is the absence of light. In the place of calamity and gloom, God promised that His people would see the light of peace and blessing.

          That Light is not a beam or an illumination from a lamp, but a person. Jesus of Nazareth came and lived here in Capernaum. He proclaimed, “Repent, for the reign and rule of heaven is near and is now here!” This Jesus had been teaching in our synagogues and proclaiming the Good News of God’s reign and rule. He proved that Good News by His actions of healing every disease and every affliction among the people. He even cast out demons and healed paralytics (Matt. 4:23-24).

          Jesus is the Light that brings life and immortality to light, dispelling the effects of sin and the deep darkness of our idolatry. This Light appeared to bring the reign and rule of God among us and to us. We have seen a great light. Jesus, the true Light, shines. As on the day of Midian, God has acted for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. God has defeated the powers of sin and Satan. He has brought a crushing blow to death. Our greatest enemies lie in defeat because Jesus the Light of the world gave up His life into death on a Roman cross. The great Light, God’s Son, was enveloped by the darkness of our evil and sin, as He suffered on that cross. Jesus went into the darkness. As the Lamb of God bearing the sins of the world, He became the “darkness of the world” for us so that we might be the “light of the world” in Him by God’s steadfast love, mercy, and grace.

Jesus, the preacher and healer from Galilee, God’s own Son in human flesh and blood, is the Messiah—Savior. He offered Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of His people Israel and for the sins of the nations. Isaiah promised this. He said that God would “multiply the nation.” In chapter 60, the prophet wrote, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Is. 60:1–3 ESV). In Jesus, God has done just that by incorporating the nations into His Israel, the whole people of God who have faith in Jesus Christ, who are washed in His blood, and baptized into His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting.

And that is you. You are the people of God in Christ Jesus. “You were washed, you were [made holy], you were [declared righteous] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11 ESV). Salvation from the darkness and gloom of sin and death have come to you by God’s free grace and favor through our Lord, Jesus Christ. And it is that salvation in the forgiveness of sins that grants us true peace, real shalom. In Jesus, God has given “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace”—the peace of sins forgiven, the peace of victory over death because of the gift of eternal life in the resurrection (Luke 1:79 ESV).

I pray that the Good News of Jesus, the true Light, would always cause you to rejoice in your Savior as you walk by faith and not by sight. Shalom in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Sermon for January 15, 2023, Second Sunday after the Epiphany

John 1:29-42a (Second Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)

“Behold the Lamb—Make Known the Lamb”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 15, 2023

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

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 1:

29The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 30This is He of whom I said ‘a man is coming after me who was before me, because He was first of me.’ 31And I didn’t know Him, but so that He might be made known to Israel, on account of this I came baptizing with water.” 32And John bore witness saying, “I saw the Spirit coming down as a dove out of heaven and remain on Him. 33And I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water, He said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit come down and remain upon Him, He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I have seen and I bear witness that He is the Son of God.” 35The next day again, John was standing with two of his disciples, 36and when he saw Jesus walking, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” 37And when the two disciples heard him speaking, they followed Jesus. 38And Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to Him, “Rabbi,” which says being translated, ‘teacher,’ “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” Then they came and saw where He was staying and remained with Him that day. It was about the tenth hour. 40Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard from John and who followed Him. 41He first found his brother, Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah, which is translated, ‘Christ.’ 42He brought him to Jesus.

          Epiphany and its season is one of the oldest in the Church Year dating back to the second century A.D. when it was observed as both a commemoration of Jesus’ birth and His baptism. The word epiphany emphasizes Jesus’ manifestation, His being made known, as true God and true Man. We find the root of the word epiphany in our text in verse 31 as John the Baptist confessed, “And I didn’t know Him, but so that He might be made known to Israel, on account of this I came baptizing with water.” And what we see happening in this text is Jesus being made known as true God and true Man to John, to John’s disciples, and to us so that we might continue to make Jesus known in our day.

          John’s ministry was to make God’s Son in human flesh known to Israel. That is the reason he came baptizing with water, to reveal Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who is God’s own Son made flesh. There is, then, that perplexing phrase, “And I didn’t know Him.” What did John mean by that? Jesus was John’s cousin. There is every reason to think that John had known Jesus personally since childhood. John probably had his own personal convictions about Jesus. Clearly, John was not clueless as to his work as the forerunner of the promised Messiah. John’s father, Zechariah, sang about John was he was born, that John will be “called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76–77 ESV). John himself told the priests and Levites who had come to the Jordan River from Jerusalem, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said. . . . I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:23–27 ESV). Since absolute certainty about the person and work of the Messiah comes from the Word of God, in order to make Him known to Israel, the certainty about who and what the Messiah was had to be given by God to John. John “was granted the experience to see and to know who Jesus really was, and through the Baptist this knowledge and certainty was to be communicated ‘to Israel.’”[1]

          And so it was that Jesus, true God and true Man, the Messiah, was made known to John with the certainty of God’s Word at our Lord’s baptism, which we observed last Sunday. From today’s Gospel, “And John bore witness saying, ‘I saw the Spirit coming down as a dove out of heaven and remain on Him. And I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water, He said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit come down and remain upon Him, He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and I bear witness that He is the Son of God.’”

          Following our Lord’s baptism, John points to Jesus with familiar words to us, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He points to Jesus, full of the Spirit, who is the Son of God made flesh, who will lift up and carry away all sins. The day following, again John points to Jesus as He was walking along, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” John made Jesus known especially to his disciples, one of whom was Andrew. They heard John’s proclamation about Jesus as the Messiah, anointed with the Holy Spirit, the Son of God, indeed, the Lamb of God who has come into the world to save sinners. Then, Andrew and another disciple of John followed Jesus and spent the day with Him. Andrew next made known what He had heard from John and Jesus. He told his brother Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah!” And Andrew brought Peter to Jesus.

          The Season after the Epiphany, Jesus’ manifestation as the Messiah, His being made known as true God and true Man, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That making known continues today. God made known Jesus with certainty to John. John made known Jesus with certainty to the crowd and to his own disciples. Andrew made Jesus known to his brother Simon Peter. Who has made Jesus known to you? To whom do you make Jesus known as true God and true Man, the Savior of the world?

          God’s chosen course for making the Savior known to the world is the very pattern we have seen in today’s Gospel. God reveals in His Word who Jesus is and what He has done for the world in His perfect life, death, and resurrection. In the holy Scriptures, we behold the Lamb of God. We see His ministry among the people, serving them in love, bringing them to repentance so that they might receive the reign and rule of God that Jesus brings breaking into the world of sin and Satan. Jesus throws out the demons, overthrowing Satan’s reign. He heals the sick, the lame, the blind; He calms the sea, multiplies bread and fish, and feeds a multitude as He overcomes the effects and consequences of sin in the world.

          In the Word of God, we behold the innocent Lamb, the Holy One of God, led to the slaughter of the cross so that He might bear in His sinless body the sins and fallenness of the world. “So they took Jesus,and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them” (John 19:16–18 ESV). Like a sacrificial lamb, without spot or blemish, Jesus gave up His life into death, shedding His holy, precious blood, redeeming everyone from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

          Behold, the Lamb of God! Look at Jesus who is nailed to a cross. He suffers the pain and agony of crucifixion, but also much more and much worse. On the cross, Jesus bears the sins of the world. He takes them upon Himself as if they were His own. On the cross, the sinless Son of God becomes the greatest sinner of all history. This Sin-Bearer is so repugnant to God the Father that the Father turns His back on His One-of-a-kind Son as He is covered in our hatred, our vulgar language, our lust, our greed, our unkindness—all of our sins. The Father removes Himself from Jesus so that He endures hell itself as He bleeds and suffers a God-forsaken death. Behold, the Lamb of God!—His blood poured out on the cross in death to cleanse you from all your sins. His glorious resurrection from the dead in which He left the bloody grave clothes behind in the tomb. Satan is crushed. Sin is forever forgiven. Death has been defeated.

          Forgiveness of sins and life everlasting are now gifted to you and to all people by God the Holy Spirit using the Means of Grace. The Word of the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, deliver to us what Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection won for us. The Good News of “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16 ESV). Through the Gospel Word, the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in a person so that he or she trusts in Jesus’ as their Lord and Savior. That saving faith receives from the Gospel the fruits of Jesus’ saving work—forgiveness and eternal life. As the apostle writes in Romans 10, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17 ESV).

          The Word and the Sacraments of Christ are God’s means of transmitting salvation to us and to all people. It is the Word and the Sacraments that allow us to behold Jesus, the Lamb of God, with the eyes of saving faith, receiving from Him forgiveness of sins and life everlasting in words, water, bread and wine.

And you and I, empowered by the Gospel through the Means of Grace, are called to make Jesus known to others We, like John the Baptist, are the human agents who bring the Good News of Jesus to other people. John witnessed to Jesus and made Him known to the people. He pointed out the Messiah who would take away their sins, saving them from death and hell. John made Jesus known to his disciples and, Andrew, in turn, told Simon Peter. To whom will you make Jesus, the Lamb of God, known?

By the power of the Holy Spirit, as you and I make us of the Means of Grace, we fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord as disciples are made my baptizing and teaching the Word of Christ. We ourselves who behold the Lamb of God in Word and Sign will make Jesus known as the Savior. Through the Gospel, in baptismal waters, in the eating and drinking of the Body and Blood with the bread and wine, behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! And prayerfully ask, “To whom can I make known Jesus this week?” Amen.

     [1] R.C.H. Lenski, John (Hendrickson, 1998), 131.

Sermon for January 8, 2023, The Baptism of Our Lord

Isaiah 42:1-9 (The Baptism of Our Lord—Series A)

“The Servant of Yahweh”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 8, 2023

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

Our text is the Old Testament Lesson from Isaiah 42:

1Behold, my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One in whom I delight. I am placing my Spirit upon Him. He will bring forth the verdict for the nations. 2He will not cry out and He will not raise His voice, and He will not make His voice heard in the street. 3A bruised reed He will not break; a dim wick He will not snuff out. He will faithfully bring forth the verdict. 4He will not grow dim and He will not be crushed until He establishes the verdict on the earth, and the coastlands will wait for His instruction. 5Thus says the God, Yahweh, the Creator of the heavens and the One stretching them out, the One hammering out the earth and what comes forth from it, the One giving breath to the people upon it, and spirit to the ones walking on it: 6 “I am Yahweh, I am calling you in righteousness, and I will seize your hand and I will guard you, and I will appoint you to be a covenant for the people, to be a light for the nations. 7By opening the eyes of the blind, by bringing out the prisoner from the dungeon, from the house of confinement the ones who are living in darkness. 8I am Yahweh; that is my name, and I will not give my glory to another nor my praise to idols. 9The former things—behold—have happened, and new things I am declaring. Before they spring forth, I am making them known to you.”

          If you were here for Christmas Eve, you heard about the song of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest.” But before we dug into that text together, I highlighted other songs in the Bible: the songs in the first two chapters of Luke, the Book of Psalms, and the four Servant Songs in the Book of Isaiah. This morning’s Old Testament text is the First Servant Song. In these songs, Isaiah envisioned one Servant in particular who would set people free and bring about salvation for the world. This Servant would not just redeem Israel but would also bring Yahweh’s salvation to the ends of the earth, setting us all free from sin, death, and Satan. He would lead a new exodus into the new creation, the home of His people forever.

          God had chosen Israel as His servant to share His Word and salvation with the nations. Israel was to announce the Lord’s verdict against idolatry and deliver His Word—His torah, His instruction—among the nations. Yahweh chose Israel with the intention that the covenant people would be in mission to the world as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). At Mt. Sinai, the nation of Israel was commissioned to be the Lord’s “go between,” mediating between God and the nations. Israel was to be a model of what the Lord desires for all people. Israel was chosen to be God’s light to world, not because its people were more important or upright than the rest of the nations. They were not chosen because they were more numerous, mighty, or powerful. Israel was chosen to be the Lord’s servant because of His gracious love. Deuteronomy 7:7-8: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:7–8 ESV).

          Now we are set up for Isaiah’s message. At the end of chapter 41, just before the First Servant Song, the Lord holds council in heaven. He puts the nations and their false gods, idols, on trial and finds them wanting: “Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. . . . Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their metal images are empty wind” (Is. 41:24, 29 ESV). Now it was God’s servant Israel who was to announce this verdict against idolatry and share the Lord’s teaching among the nations. Since false gods do not save, the servant Israel was to bring truth and light to the nations in the Word of the only true God who alone saves. But the nation of Israel was defeated, weary, rebellious, and idolatrous themselves! The people are described as blind prisoners groping about in a dark dungeon. They are self-imprisoned in bondage to other gods and have turned away from faith and trust in the only true God, Yahweh Himself.

          The Lord’s servant Israel had failed in their God-given mission. A new Servant was needed, One who can take the first servant’s place and accomplish what he couldn’t. Israel was not capable of fulfilling its role. But God would remain faithful to His promises, both to Israel and to the world. And so God the Father says, “Behold, my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One in whom I delight. I am placing my Spirit upon Him. He will bring forth the verdict for the nations.”

          By Adam’s disobedience, all people were made sinners. The fruit of this original sin are the evil deeds that are forbidden in the Ten Commandments. These include unbelief, false faith, idolatry, and being without the fear of God. Israel’s malady is also ours. It is the sin-problem that we have all inherited as human beings. It is no wonder, then, that the First Commandment is “You shall have no other gods.” In the Large Catechism we learn that to have a God means trusting and believing Him with all our heart. “Confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.”[1]

          Since Israel put its trust in idols and false gods, the nation was no longer able to bring God’s instruction of Law and Promises to the fallen peoples of the world. God appointed His One-of-a-Kind Son to be the Servant who would fulfill what Israel was unable to do. This Servant would bring Yahweh’s verdict against false worship and idolatry. He would bring it forth in truth and establish it upon the earth. The Lord’s Servant would be a light for Israel to bring them back to Yahweh. He would also be a light for the nations. He would be the Lord’s agent to bring all peoples out of their self-imposed incarceration in bondage to other gods. He would set them free from the prison house of sin and death.

          “Behold, my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One in whom I delight. I am placing my Spirit upon Him. He will bring forth the verdict for the nations.” At Jesus’ baptism, we see the fulfillment of God’s promise to place the Spirit upon His Servant. From today’s Gospel reading, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matt. 3:16–17 ESV).

          God the Father delights in His Son, who took to Himself a true human body and soul, so that He might serve Israel and all humanity. Matthew tells us in chapter 12 of His Gospel that the incarnate Son of God is indeed the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise in this First Servant Song, “And many followed [Jesus], and he healed them all  and ordered them not to make him known.This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles’ (Matt. 12:15–18 ESV). Again, at Jesus’ transfiguration, God the Father identifies His Son, His Servant, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5 ESV).

          We are to listen to the Lord’s Servant, Jesus Christ, who took up His ministry of tenderness and love. As one commentator said it, “God’s answer to the oppressors of the world is not more oppression, nor is his answer to arrogance more arrogance; rather, in quietness, humility, and simplicity, he will take all of the evil into himself and return only grace. That is power.”[2] Our Lord had compassion for “bruised reeds” and “dim wicks.” He talked publicly with immoral women, socialized with sinners and tax collectors. He healed the lame, touched unclean lepers making them clean, and gave sight to the blind. He brought in the in-breaking of the reign and rule of God crashing into the world of idolatry and sin, to people in need of the freedom and the forgiveness that grants new, eternal life. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28 ESV).

          That is why the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 42 is also the Suffering Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53. To free all people from Satan’s bondage, from sin, death, and hell, Jesus, the Servant is abused, killed, and discarded, yet also raised from the dead. Through His sacrificial guilt offering, He gives the verdict of “not guilty” to sinners because He has suffered, died, and is risen again granting perfect forgiveness and rescue from death and the devil. From the Fourth Servant Song we hear these familiar Gospel words about our Servant-Savior, Jesus: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Is. 53:5–11 ESV).

          By grace through faith in Jesus, you have been declared right with God. He has made you righteous through the waters of Holy Baptism, cleansing you with His blood, gifting you with His own righteousness so that you are saved from sin and death forevermore.

          Through His Word and Sacraments today, Jesus serves you in love and mercy so that you hear His Law and receive His Gospel that enables you to turn from your idolatry and sin, and by His grace, embrace through faith the salvation of the one, true God in the forgiveness of sins. Through your baptismal incorporation into Christ and the hearing of the Lord’s Word, as the Holy Spirit sustains faith in Christ by the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the stranglehold of idolatry is broken. Your eyes have been opened to see Christ, the light of world. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8 ESV). He has raised you up out of the prison house of sin and death. He has redeemed you from the house of bondage. The Lord’s Servant—Jesus the Savior—has brought forth the Father’s verdict to you: “Go in peace. You are free.” Amen.

     [1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 359.

     [2] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 2, 211. Quoted in R. Reed Lessing, Concordia Commentary: Isaiah 40-55, (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), 258.

Sermon for December 25, 2022, Christmas Day

John 1:14-18 (The Nativity of Our Lord—Christmas Day)

“Grace and Truth are Your Gifts”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 25, 2022

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

The text for this Christmas Day is from the Gospel reading, John 1:

14The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as that of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15John bears witness concerning Him and has cried out, saying, “This in the One of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for He was first compared with me.’” 16For from His fullness we have all received, indeed, a gift in place of a gift. 17For the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. The One-of-a-Kind [Son], Himself God, who exists in the bosom of the Father, He has made [the Father] known.

          A blessed Christmas Day to all of you in the name of Jesus!

          I would guess that by now most of the presents have been opened, and if not now, by the end of the day as you gather with family and friends. I’ve found it interesting that as we celebrate God’s gift of a Savior that the reception of presents, especially from Santa, is conditional—have you been naughty or have you been nice? There is that part of the gift-giving tradition that suggests that one has to have earned the present throughout the year. Rather than simply letting our gift giving be a reflection of God’s gift of His One-of-a-Kind Son, people have put stipulations on it. If you are nice, you get the good presents. But if you are naughty. . . I suppose that even if you are on the naughty list, you still get a present, albeit a lump of coal or something else undesirable as a sort of punishment for your year-long bad behavior.

          As Christians, however, we think about things differently. The very nature of a gift is that it is not earned. A gift isn’t something that a person merits or deserves. That’s why it’s a gift. Otherwise, it would be a payment or a reward. And who ever heard of getting a Christmas payment for services rendered? What about a Christmas reward for outstanding behavior? No, a present is a gift that is not earned or deserved. Now, if you and I truly got what we deserved . . .

          What should our Father in heaven give to His human creatures? Perhaps our heavenly Father, one day long ago, consulted His angels as they met together in His glorious throne room. “All right, cherubim and seraphim, what shall I give to humanity?” There is silence in the room. Suddenly, an uninvited guest appears, barging in. “I know,” he snarls. “Give them what they deserve!” The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered Him, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” (Job 1:7). “And I know exactly what you should do to those miserable human creatures that YOU created. Punish them. Condemn them to eternal death and hell. Give them all to me because they only deserve the punishment that Your holiness and justice demands.” A big smile crossed the devil’s face. “I had something to do with that. I brought sin against you into the world by tempting Adam and Eve. I brought about jealousy, hatred, spite, and murder. I brought about unfaithfulness and all kinds of forms of spirituality where people don’t even think about You but make for themselves gods of wood and stone; they make themselves god. So punish them. Send them to hell so that they might live under my reign forever and ever. Shall I show you the evidence that I have on these sinners? Not one of them can stand before You. Give them something? Yes, give them what they deserve—condemnation, death forever, suffering eternally without You.”

          Now a conversation like this never took place. But Satan, whose name means “The Accuser,” did have the ability to march into God’s presence, as we read in the Book of Job. And the Accuser’s purpose was just that, to accuse sinful humanity of its failing to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, for its failing to love one another. Satan’s accusing finger points at you and me and says, “You deserve death and hell.” And in that, he is not wrong. Although he is a liar and the father of lies, he rejoices in the fact of our fallen condition. He celebrates every time we are tempted by him, the sinful world, and our sinful flesh, and fall into sin and every great shame and vice. Satan loves nothing more than throw our sins in God our Father’s face, banking on God’s justice and holiness, so that our Father will punish and condemn all humanity to eternal damnation in hell.

          Returning to the question at hand: What is our Father in heaven to give to His fallen, sin-filled human creatures? If the Lord were to give what we deserve, it would not be a gift. Death and hell are what we have earned because of our sins and sinfulness. God’s Word says very clearly, “The payment due for sin is death!” (Rom. 6:23). But God desired to gift humanity what we have not earned, namely, the forgiveness of sins. Our Creator, even before creation, determined to cancel the debt of sin owed by humanity. And what a debt! Add up all the times you failed to do what God demands of you in His Commandments. Yes, calculate all the times that God was not first in your life, all the times you cursed and misused His name, all the times you chose something else rather than attending the Divine Service. How many times have you dishonored parents and authorities, harbored hatred, lusted, coveted, gossiped, cheated, and stolen? It’s a huge debt! And it merits for us eternal death and condemnation. But the good Lord determined to give you the most amazing gift, undeserved, without any merit or worthiness in any of us.

          “No, Satan,” the Father would have thundered from His throne. “I will not pay according to what humanity deserves. Yes, they will be punished for their sins. They will suffer death and hell. But they will have a Substitute who will undergo their punishment in their place. He will keep my Law perfectly on humanity’s behalf because He will be fully human, but without sin. His rightness will be charged to their account because their perfect Substitute will act in their stead. And then humanity’s Substitute will suffer My full wrath against people’s sins. He will be judged guilty of sin for every human who ever existed or will exist. He will die their death. And in so doing, He will shed His blood. That bloody sacrifice will cover over the sins of all people of every time and place. That death, that blood, will satisfy My justice, and humanity shall be declared “Not guilty of sin” because their Substitute has paid for sin in full, completely, once for all.”

          God the Father’s gift to us and all humanity is the Divine Son of God, the Word, who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Many and took to His divine nature a true human body and soul, becoming fully human in the mystery we call the Incarnation. Of course, God’s Spirit says it in the best way, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as that of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

          Grace—gift—not earned, not merited. Freely given to those who do not deserve. Grace—gift—the mercy of God the Father in the person and work of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, our Lord. “ ‘Grace’ means that God is merciful to us, that He deals graciously with us for the sake of Christ our Lord, forgives us all our sins, and that He does not impute them to us or punish us with eternal death. Grace is the forgiveness of sin for Christ’s sake, the covering of all sin. That is grace. When we speak of ‘truth,’ we mean that God not only wants to be gracious and merciful to us and [forgive] our sins but that henceforth our lives must be something precious.”[1]

          You are each so precious to your heavenly Father. And the proof of that is not in beautifully decorated trees and wreaths. It is not found in the exchange of presents or festive meals. The proof of God’s grace and truth in Jesus—God’s gift to you—is in the cross and the empty tomb. God the Father’s loving-kindness is proven to you in that Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Mary, lived a perfect life in your place. Jesus suffered and died on the cross in your place as your Substitute. And this very Jesus rose again from the dead. By means of the Gospel Word, Baptism, and Holy Communion, the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus gives you His righteousness so that you stand before God holy, covered in the Savior’s blood, and wearing His royal garments of salvation. St. Paul, writing by the inspiration of the Spirit, said to the Colossian believers, as well as to us, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with [Jesus], having forgiven us all our trespasses,by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [Jesus]” (Col. 2:13–15 ESV).

          Today, we tell Satan where he can go . . . and without us. He can no longer accuse us before God our Father because our Father has given us the gift of forgiveness of sins through the grace and truth that have come to us by faith through Jesus Christ, our Lord. We are not condemned. We are forgiven. You and I have received eternal life. Death has lost its sting. Christ has died for you. Christ is risen for you. He came into the world and took upon Himself our human nature to redeem us from God’s wrath and to make us children of God so that we might partake of His fullness of grace and truth. And the truth is that Christ is your gift from your heavenly Father, received by the power of the Holy Spirit through your most holy faith in Word and Baptism, and strengthened by Jesus’ Body and Blood with the bread and wine in meal of His Supper. To our gracious God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be all glory and praise, unto the ages of ages, for His immeasurable gift. Amen.

     [1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 22 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1999), 148–149.

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.