Monday, December 28, 2015

God's deliverance is not the same as an easy life

Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Out of Egypt I called My Son.  Matthew 2:15 

TODAY, St. Matthew tells us exactly what kind of world Jesus was born into: a world of jealousy, of hate, of sorrow, of deception, of anger, of inconvenience, of trouble, and of fear; or in other words, the world with which we are all too familiar, for do not all these wounds plague you too?  They are the fruits of sin; the sin that continues to make this world quite a different place when compared to what it was created and meant to be.  Remember this?  

"And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, IT WAS VERY GOOD. ...and on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation."  (Genesis 1:31-2:3 ESV)

But God did not get His rest.  Man sinned and God's rest was undone.  Man sampled the low hanging forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil:  fruits that tempt us still today; fruits that look so good and tasty and just what we need, but once we sink our teeth into them, they produce nothing but evil, nothing but bitterness, strife and sadness.

You know it.  Think about it.  The last time you exploded in anger, did that solve your problem?  Really?  The last time you seethed in hatred, did that make things better?   The last time you burned with jealousy, did you get what you wanted?  The last time you stewed in resentment, did that satisfy you?  Yet how often do we do these things, and keep doing them, or have them done to us, causing sadness, causing division, causing fear, and causing so much hurt?

After man's fall into sin, Satan cringed every time a boy was born of a woman.   When Christ was born he switched gears and went after Him with a passion seen most clearly in the slaughter of Bethlehem's boys.

Jesus comes into this world.  He doesn't enter into a peaceful rest with attending angels, shepherds and wise men.  No, He gets our world.  He goes through what we go through, what you go through.  Whatever sin has stung you, Jesus has felt it too.  That is what we hear from Matthew today.  These Bethlehem boys gave their lives so that God, hidden as the Baby born of Mary, could get away for a time to Egypt.  Many years before, God's people went to Egypt to save their lives.  God's people went to Egypt, so God the Son does, too.  His people are brought out of Egypt by God; Jesus too.  They couldn't go home right away, however; Jesus too.  They lived in the midst of their enemies; Jesus too.  They live in the midst of sorrow and death; Jesus too.  The first few years of life for Jesus were spent in travelling and fleeing, living in strange and unusual places, and in fear for life itself.

The Holy Innocents' mothers wept and mourned like "Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted..., because they are no more"  (Jeremiah 31:15).  All this so Jesus, "begotten of the Father from eternity" could live until the proper time when He would in weakness and humility, give up His life for all sinners, including the Bethlehem boys.

Merry Christmas!  Well, yes, actually!  This is, in fact, what makes our Christmases merry: that God came to be with us in all this, that Jesus came to protect and rescue us from all this; from all the sin that plagues us from without and from within!

The truth is God never promised you an easy life, that He would keep all trouble from you, give you all you want, and make you better off than everyone else.  Maybe that's true for you; maybe not, but what He has promised you is what we hear today; that whatever happens to you, He will be with you through it all, and so it is Merry CHristmas!  He is Immanuel:  God with us.

You have heard this haven't you?  Nothing can stop what God has ordained to be.  The beginning of Jesus' life is not trouble or worry free, but He is protected and preserved.  This should tell us something when a few years later, suddenly Jesus is not protected and preserved; when a few years later, one of His own turns on Him, He is arrested, beaten, treated as the worst kind of criminal, and then hung up to die a criminal's death on a cross, a Roman warning to the world:  do not be like this man or this is what will happen to you.  This too then is God's will.  This is the plan:  everything to fulfill God's Word, everything to fulfill God's will.

Immanuel and fulfillment are inseparably linked to Jesus.  Jesus, our Immanuel, is not an accident.  He comes not by chance or fate.  He is God for you, God saving you even if that saving doesn't happen exactly as you think it should.

Those martyred children of Bethlehem remind us that the peace Jesus came to bring is a peace for your heart and for your mind and for your conscience before God.  It is not an earthly peace that frees you from trouble.  In fact, because of Jesus, many people have suffered just because they bear His name.  Just because they are followers of Christ, they are tortured and killed, and it still goes on today. 

What made the Innocents holy is not what they were or what they did but the Holy Trinity.  The Holy Trinity serves us Christians today by making us holy through Jesus Christ in Holy Baptism.  He "has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil."  (Second Article, Meaning)  Each baby was special to Him, each one a child for whom He died.  They are holy because they are His.  You, too.  He died for you.  You are special to Him.  He's not ever going to forget what He did for you.

Now let's make application to your life.  Hold on God, now is not the right time.  This is not the right place.  God, you are not making sense to me!  Lord, I really don't need this cross right now.  Shush!  REPENT!!  You are sounding like Adam and Eve.

Jesus, your Immanuel, has been busy delivering His children for a very long time.  Remember?  God divided the Red Sea.  Moses came back down the mountain with the Word of the Lord.  God provided food and water in the desert.  God defeated those big, bad people in the Promised Land.  God  came as a baby.  God hung on the cross. God died for you.  God rose from the dead for you.  God gives you His Spirit.  God baptized you and made you His child.  God forgives you.  God feeds you here with His Body and Blood.  God gives you parents to protect and raise you.  God gives you friends to help and care for you.  God gives you your body and life and all you have.  God gives you a family and a church.  God is Immanuel, God with us, still.

Not exactly what you had in mind?  Maybe that's a good thing!  You think maybe you've tried your own way long enough?  Maybe it's time to try love instead of anger, confession instead of excuses, forgiveness instead of revenge, gladness instead of jealousy, service instead of selfishness, prayer instead of spite, receiving all this from Him who came to be with us in our sin, and then giving all His forgiveness to us and to those He sends to us now, for as St. Paul said, because of Jesus we are sons of god, through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26).

Yes, Jesus, your Immanuel has fulfilled His Father's plan once and for all.  Now He fulfills it in you.  Amen

~  S.D.G.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Jesus gives us permission to start over


And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. Luke 2:8-9

Caesar Augustus would have made a good modern day ruler. Twenty centuries before “dot” met “com” he hungered for data. He wanted to track how many people made up his far-flung and glorious kingdom, where they lived, and especially how much they earned so that he could get his “fair share.” But instead of sending out census takers he ordered everyone to report to his hometown in order to be “registered.” It was a brilliant plan he was sure, but what Augustus did not know is that it was really God’s plan, God’s design to get Joseph and Mary out of Nazareth where they lived, and into Bethlehem just in time for the Virgin to give birth to her Holy Child, and to fulfill the prophecy that the Son of David should be born in the City of David.

Something similar is going on today. As the world descends into a new Dark Age nearly every trace of the Christ Child has been erased from Christmas. He has been replaced by snow people in colorful scarves and frolicking polar bears in snowflake-speckled stocking caps. But what they forgot to remove are the Christmas lights which for centuries have signaled that Jesus is the Light of the World. They are found adorning houses great and small, on the headquarters of mighty corporations and on the walls of greasy diners – even the White House with its glowing tree announces, without knowing it, that Jesus is the Light of the world.

Why is this True Light so important? Only because there is there is so much darkness, in the world and in each of our hearts. A darkness which Isaiah describes as deep, oppressive, burdening, and enslaving, but on Christmas the Light that scatters all Darkness came into the world. “For to us a child is born, unto us a Son is given!” A human child and a divine Son one and the same! This is shown by His name: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

But you might wonder, how can a child set me free from my darkness? How can a child break the chains forged by my long habits of sin? How can a child drive away present pain and future fear from my trembling heart? Is this really possible? This Child can do it, for in Him the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all men! He comes to purify us from every stain of sin and to reconcile us to God by faith, but He does more: He also teaches us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions so that by the Spirit’s power we might learn to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, and in anticipation of the righteousness, innocence and blessedness that will be ours in the age to come.

If you have tried to walk this way before and failed time after time know that the Child comes to you anew this day to pardon all your sins, and to give you a new beginning and a fresh start. He did not come so that you would stay stuck in your old way of living. What good would that do? He came, instead, to give you salvation, to deliver you from the bondage of sin, to bring you into His Light and to replace the works of the Flesh with the Fruit of the Spirit.
That is why the angels were so joyous on the night of His birth and why their song rang out over the hills and startled the drowsy shepherds. They could scarcely contain their joy at what this Child had come to do, to be the Savior of our fallen race.

Notice that God did not send us a “helper,” someone who might assist us to better manage the darkness, or to cope with it. We need much more than that. We need Someone to shatter the Darkness with the Light of His own Glory and redeeming love and that is what the Christ Child came to do. This is the “good news of great joy for all people,” that God sent His Son into the flesh to assume our flesh into the Godhead. He sent His Son into our flesh so that ours might be cleansed, healed, restored, and raised up. He sent His Son into our flesh so that in the flesh He might carry all human sin to death and leave it behind in the grave! He sent His Son into our own flesh in order to raise our flesh from death, incorruptible, and bring it glorified to the Father’s right hand triumphant over all our enemies. This is why the Angels sang on that holy night and why we repeat their hymn of glory in the Mass still today, because lost men who had wandered off into the deepest possible darkness now have a way back home. The Light in which the angels ever rejoice shines in the darkness of a world gone wrong, so that being joined to His light the children of men might become the children of God. This Child opens the way back to paradise and raises us higher than ever we fell!

As we come today to kneel before Him, the holy Child of Bethlehem, the Man of the Cross, our Risen and Reigning Lord comes to us as silently and wondrously as He came into the world that first Christmas night.  Under the mystery of the bread and wine He gives us the very flesh and blood that He assumed from His Holy Mother and in which He won salvation. He says to us: “I am your light. I will drive away the darkness! I will break the chains of sin! I will make you a people prepared for the joyous Age which is already full in me and will be full in you. How can we respond to such a Gospel but to join with the shepherds and angels, as we fall down before the Holy Child and worship this Living Light, the Light that was before time began and the Light that will be when time is no more – our Jesus, our Emmanuel, our Lord, our God, and our Savior – to whom be glory with the Father and Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages. Amen

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

Friday, December 25, 2015

The service of Christ (Get that? Christ's service to us!)


Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King; Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!"  Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies; with th' angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem!"  (TLH #94 v.1)

TWO hundred seventy years ago God gave a gift to His church that keeps on giving: our beloved hymn Hark the Herald Angels Sing.  The hymn's author, Charles Wesley, wrote over 6,500 hymns and was himself a gift because music and theology are inseparable, and what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

We first encounter music in Genesis 4:21 where a man named Jubal is credited with inventing the world's earliest musical instruments, a flute and a small harp-like instrument known as the lyre.  Music played a vital role in Hebrew religion, even as it has in the New Testament church from the beginning.

The first thing the hymn invites us to do is Hark which means to listen, but not only hear with the ears, but to believe what we hear and to respond in faith, to pay proper and reverent attention, and to joyfully prostrate ourselves at the angelic utterance of the glorious gospel message.  Yes, listen to the Herald Angels as they proclaim their three-fold message:  Glory to the Newborn King, peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled.  Indeed, of all the manifold and wondrous works of God, our Lord's incarnation is the most astonishing and gracious of all.

Creating the universe was a feat.  Combining the art of a thousand Michelangelos and the science of ten thousand Albert Einsteins God fashioned a universe so dappled with beauty and intricate in function that we will never be able to take it all in.  Yet as breath-taking as the creation and preservation of the world are, they are not nearly so glorious as the redemption of the world by the Son of God, Jesus Christ our incarnate Lord and God!  "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in  Him should not perish, but have everlasting life!"  (John 3:16)

Jesus is life, peace and mercy from God incarnate.  By the Holy Birth we celebrate this day, God and sinful man are now reconciled, and that means that we don't need to be afraid any longer:  afraid of God, afraid of sin, afraid of death, afraid of the present, the past or the future.  Neither need we fear God's judgment because the sins that would otherwise condemn us were redressed on the cross and now, by unwavering faith in Jesus, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Next the hymn incites all nations to rise with joy because Jesus is the Savior of all men without exception.  If you are human, Jesus is your Savior and your God.  There is no other.  Though men, nations and even many churches have banished redemption's story, the Holy Spirit continues to use this carol to call men wherever it is heard to rise up from the darkness of death and find life, light and healing in Christ.  What else can make the nations of the earth rise above their never-ending envy, wars and assaults on one another?  Can the United Nations do it?  Can the gambits of global economic and political brinksmanship do it?  Our idolatrous hearts answer "Yes, we can," but oh, how wrong they are!  

What can bring joy to the world and her people?  More technology?  More bombs dropped?  More embargoes against other nations?  Or is universal health coverage the missing piece that will finally bring peace on earth and goodwill to men?

What can lift up your heavy head today?   A new life, new husband or wife, a new job?  Don't count on it, because whatever changes we make, our sinful hearts go with us and will always sabotage our pretty plans.  To coin a phrase:  bloom where you are planted.  Do the work that God has given you to do while it is day, before the night comes when no man can work.

Learn today from this sacred song that only Jesus can bring joy to the world.  He is Immanuel, "God with us," at all times in all places.  He is the Prince of Peace Who breaks the oppressor's rod (Isaiah 9:4).  He is the Sun of Righteousness Who was born to raise the sons of earth, born to give us second birth, so with the angelic hosts, let us too proclaim Christ is born in Bethlehem!

The hymn also invites us to join the triumph being proclaimed in the skies.  This notion that God can be born of a human mother and exist in human form taxes our logic and violates everything our reason tells us.  The idea of a virgin giving birth to God the Son by way of God the Father through God the Holy Spirit is why Christmas is such a wonder.  The instant Mary conceived, the fabric of the universe wonderfully and irrevocably changed and became new!

In one "magic" moment God took on flesh and from that time on God became a man.  In this miracle known as Christmas, God comes to us.  God preaches, heals and works miracles in our midst.  God proclaims His kingdom.  He pardons our transgressions.  He dies an ignoble death on the cross.  He pays the price of the entire world's sin and imparts eternal life to all in fallen creation who believe and are baptized.  God rises bodily from death and continues to be with us by Word and Sacrament and by acts of mercy until the end of the age when "He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead."

What can be our response to the Christmas Gospel?  There's only one:  that we join the triumph in the skies by our faith, our songs, our praise and thanks, and likewise by renouncing worldly passions and living self-controlled, upright and Godly lives in this present age as we wait for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.  Glory to the Newborn King!  Amen.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras

Thursday, December 24, 2015

What Child is This?


"This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing; Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary."  Lutheran Worship Hymn 61 What Child is This?

"What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary's lap is sleeping?"  That, dear Christians, is the question of the ages; the question that has engendered  more faith, hope and charity in men than any other.  It is a beautiful question, a thought provoking question, and there is none more crucial because this Child, and this Child alone, can bring salvation to sinners.

If you know who this Child is, and trust Him with all your heart; if your hope and confidence are founded on Him through all of life's hardships and misfortunes, then God be praised to the highest heavens, for such knowledge is not given you by any man, but by your Father in heaven.

What child is this?  If you have never known the answer before, or if the trials of life make you doubt what you once believed, then may this beloved carol help restore your faith tonight.  May it inspire you to disown your sins, overcome your doubt, and to bring gifts of worship, love and praise to Jesus, your Lord and your God.

What child is this?  When Herod first heard about Mary's Son from the Magi, he knew the answer.  He called a summit of the city's leading theologians to be sure, but he knew.  He was sure that this is the long awaited Messiah that was born in Bethlehem this night, but Herod, like many people today, wanted no such Messiah!  He believed himself to be god and was not about to share his glory with another, so he committed the atrocity the church commemorates every December 28th, the feast of the Holy Innocents.  He ordered the death of every male child in the Little Town of Bethlehem up to two years of age, to insure that there would be  no contenders.

What child is this?  The question is a very old one.  In all four Gospels we hear people ask:  Isn't he Mary's son?  Isn't he the carpenter, the son of Joseph?  How can this man give us his flesh to eat?

What child is this?  Some believed, others did not, but the question was still not settled.  In the church's first four centuries there were great Christological controversies, ones that often turned violent, yet the question at issue was nothing more than the title of our carol tonight:  what child is this?

Many held that our Lord Jesus Christ was merely a man, a very good man to be sure, a very holy man, but only a man and nothing more, for they reasoned God would never do anything so unbecoming as to take on human flesh and submit to suffering and death to expunge the sins of His creatures, but that, Beloved, is exactly what He did!  That is the reason for the unbounded exultation that rings throughout the Christian world tonight, because the case is exactly as our catechism states:  I believe that Jesus Christ true God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man born of the Virgin Mary is my Lord.  These are beautiful words indeed, as are the words of our carol tonight and of the prayers and liturgies that trip off our tongues, but you should know that the liturgy we so easily confess is only possible by the blood, sweat and tears of our fathers in the faith; men who would not give up the fight, whatever the cost, until the orthodox faith was established, and established it is so that now along with William Chatterton Dix, the author of our carol, we too can answer the all important question, "What Child is this," with Dix's own words, "This, this is Christ the King!"

By this carol we confess that this baby, born this night, in this place, to these parents, and to the fanfare of the whole angelic army of heaven, is the Christ of God; the King of the Universe, the Supreme Monarch and Son of the Most High God, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and became man!  That is why He lies in such mean estate, for He is not only our Lord and our God, but our Brother as well Who was not content to observe our problem from afar, for that is not the way our Lord has ever worked.  Instead, His name is Immanuel, "God with us," and THAT is what He will always be for us.  He is the Savior who gets His hands dirty for our cause; dirty with spear and nail and with blood so mighty, blood so holy, blood so invigorating that it cleanses you from every sin, every sorrow, every fear, and renders you without spot or wrinkle before the God of heaven tonight.

As heirs of such an inheritance William Chatterton Dix invites us to bring Him our gifts, even as the Magi did, only ours will be different.  The gold we bring is the gold of love for the Savior Who loved us and gave Himself for us.  The frankincense are the prayers, praise and thanksgiving we offer at all times and in all places, but especially in God's house with all His people on His day.  The myrrh represents suffering and stands for our willingness to live sacrificial lives of love for the good of our fellow man.

How each person will do this cannot be prescribed.  William Dix was a layman who fed his family by working in a marine insurance company.  His days were occupied with rates and risks, cargo and tonnage, but William learned the love of poetry from his father and dedicated his talents to it, yielding not only this classic carol, but many other hymns and poems besides that have helped God's people to worship Mary's Son aright.

If you have such talents, then develop them!  Ask God to bless your efforts and to lead you in them and He will do it, but whatever your talents, be they small or great, use them each day along with your best energies, for the glory of This Child and for the love of the people He has redeemed.  Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Friday, December 18, 2015

We have been told exactly what to expect, so why is it so hard to believe it when we see it?


John called two of his disciples and sent them to Jesus to ask Him, "Are You the Coming One or must we wait for another?" And when the men arrived they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, "Are You the Coming One or must we hope for another?" Then and there He healed many diseases and afflictions and Evil Spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight. And Jesus said to them, "Go and report to John the things you see and hear. That the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the gospel is preached to the poor. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me. Luke 7:18-23

Advent is a season of expectant hope; not the false hopes that dubious messiahs are forever peddling, but the promise that Jesus will come again to deliver full and final salvation to us.

When John the Baptist asked, "Are you the Coming One?" he was employing theological language that Jews had used for a thousand years. He was asking Jesus, are You the One David spoke of in the psalms when he said, "Blessed is He who Comes in the name of the Lord." Are you the One who will intervene and put a stop to the world's madness? Are you the One who will change the course of history and redeem Israel from all his iniquity?

But what made John ask it? he who had been such a stalwart of the faith, whose life was dedicated to one single, burning cause: introducing the Christ to the world. Prison has a way of doing that to people, and each of us is in a sort of prison, even if it has no bars.

Jesus wasted no time. He answered their question with a dramatic display of power. That very hour, St. Luke reports, He began to heal everyone in sight: to give hearing to the deaf, make the lame walk and to expel evil spirits which tormented people day and night. The display was not random. The Lord was showing that He was not only the fulfillment of David's prophecy, but of Isaiah's as well, and He knew that John would understand. Go back, He told the two disciples, and preach to the preacher. Tell him what you have seen and heard from Me and it will be enough. It was. Their report of the Lord's mighty power filled John with joy, and fortified him for his impending death. It seems impossible that anyone could face such a horrible end with calm, but we know that when the time comes the Suffering Servant Serves those who suffer with all the consolation needed, whatever the trial might be. On this we can rely.

No doubt of course, we would like to see the demonstration today that those disciples witnessed, especially when life's troubles pile on, but that's not how God works. The instantaneous miracles we read about here were reserved for a special purpose: to establish who Jesus was and to illustrate what would one day be universally true, but first there was the cross. First there was sin to be rid of, and for that Jesus would have to suffer in ways we cannot imagine. When our Lord says in Matthew 24:21, " For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be," He isn't talking about the end of the world, but about His passion, and the undreamed of struggle that would occur on the cross.

Although our Lord doesn't normally intervene with such breathtaking displays of power today, He is still the Blessed One who "comes in the name of the Lord." There is a reason the church has sung these words in her Eucharistic celebration for 1,700 years. These words best describe what happens in the Sacrament. Jesus comes to us today as surely as He did on the first Christmas, not in weakness now, to suffer or die again. The sin which condemns men to hell, and which is at the root of every distress the world knows, is finished. It is paid for, abolished, dissolved and forgotten, but in this holy meal our Lord gives us the fruits of His passion, to feed our starving souls, quench our thirst for righteousness, and to soothe our psyches as the world spins farther and farther out of control. In the Eucharist we obtain divine amnesty for all of our sins. We might tire of hearing that, and think that there are more advanced subjects to consider in the Mass, but we would be wrong, because without the ongoing blessings of the gospel the Old Adam would rise up and destroy us. Without the spiritual dialysis we submit to each Sunday we would die a thousand deaths. But Jesus intervenes not only with the forgiveness of sin but also, as we learn in the catechism, with Life and Salvation, and this turns our focus to the future, which is a good place to be.

In the words of Saint Augustine the Eucharist "turns us towards the Lord." It enables us to "see and hear" what John could not from his prison cell. It gives us the eyes needed to "look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come." But it does more. This Eucharistic meal, in which we are made One with Christ and one with the Father, also propels us towards our final destination: in the words of St. Peter, "the salvation of our souls." Because Holy Communion is pure Jesus and pure Gospel and untainted holiness it breaks us free, if you like, from the shackles of sin that keep us earthbound. It releases us from this vale of tears, and moves us ever closer to the Lord who will wipe them all away. In the words of St. Paul: our salvation is nearer now, than when we first believed. The night is far gone, and the Day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Jesus is that armor. Jesus is that light. He is coming to save us. There is no need to look for another. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The humble means by which the Lord Jesus has shown us the great things that are to come


And as He came closer…the whole multitude of disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a united voice for all the mighty works they had seen saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest." And some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Him: Teacher, rebuke your disciples. And He answered and said to them, "I tell you that if they were to remain silent the stones would cry out." Luke 19:37-40

Advent is a season of repentance, a time when we consider our sins, their deadly consequences and our great need for the Savior, but Advent is not only that. It is also a season of rejoicing, a time to praise God with united voice because Christ still dwells with us today in the church, and because He will come one more time to deliver full and final salvation to us.

We need to repent because we are like the Pharisees who rejected Jesus that day, and like the disciples who welcomed Him for all the wrong reasons. The Pharisees knew the Scriptures and should have seen Jesus as the Righteous Branch Jeremiah predicted. Anyone who was even slightly familiar with Him knew that He was executing justice and  righteousness in the land, which is biblical code for restoring all that the sin destroyed. He pardoned sinners, healed the sick, and sent the Evil Foe packing. That is what they should have perceived, and maybe they did, but there was another problem. Jesus was interfering with their program, He was cutting into their profits. People were leaving the Pharisees behind and flocking to the Lord in record number. He had to be silenced or He had to go, but that could never happen because if people did not praise Him, the very stones on the ground would rise up to call Him blessed.

The enthusiastic disciples, meanwhile, were not doing much better. They were able to connect some of the dots as they joined the festal procession that day. They realized that in Jesus the Day of the Lord had arrived; that the scourge of sin would be a thing of the past and that from now on illness, poverty, oppression and even death would be terminated by this Blessed King sent from God. But St. Luke makes the point that their praise was in response to the Lord's miraculous deeds and that was as far as they could see. They loved the miracles. How could they not? We do, too, and God still does them for us even today although not the instantaneous type that Jesus did in His earthly ministry: but by so ordering events that all things, even the ones we think most contrary, eventually prove to be for our blessing.

We must keep in mind that the mighty works they loved so much are the fruits of salvation; and that before Justice and Righteousness could again fill the world, as before the Curse, Jesus would first have to do away with sin. There was only one way to do that. St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:13 that: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us; for it is written: cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. He was talking about the cross.

We need not repeat the errors of the past, Dear Christians. Instead let us learn to see Jesus as He wants to be seen and find Him where He wants to be found. He always uses humble means, the kind that baffle human expectations. He likes to do that! On Palm Sunday He entered Jerusalem on a donkey. Today He comes hidden in words, water, bread and wine, but don't judge the book by its cover. When we hear the Word of God -- and the church's entire liturgy is nothing but the word of God -- we are hearing Jesus. It is He Himself who is present among us speaking the absolution, leading us in prayer, increasing our love for one another and establishing our hearts in holiness before our God. The same is true of the Eucharist. We have long learned that the Holy Supper of our Lord forgives our sins, and so it does! In a less enlightened age, Lutherans were sometimes heard to say that if our sins are forgiven in baptism; if believing the Gospel justifies us; if absolution truly pardons us then why do we need the Eucharist? We might just as well ask: If the doctor surgically removes the tumor why bother with chemotherapy, radiation and the whole regiment of other medications? Don't object Fellow Sinners! If God wants to cleanse you, wash you and make you holy in a hundred different ways then let us, too, say, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest." However, the Eucharist is more than remission. It is also the single voice by which God's people, in union with Christ, praise and thank Him most perfectly. There is no better thanks, and no higher worship than to take the cup of salvation believing that it gives us all that Jesus promises. And it is more than thanksgiving. It is also the foretaste of the things to come. It points to the Lord's return when He will restore justice and righteousness throughout all of creation, when He will share His glory with us, when His Spirit will raise up our mortal bodies, and so arrange things that they will never suffer the ravages of sin again. We will not be disembodied spirits in heaven, but will enjoy the same kind of glorified body that Jesus had after His resurrection, and we will know and recognize one another even as we do now, only better. This unique gift does not only anticipate the Lord's return, but propels us towards our final destination. It puts the sin, death and the sorrow of this present world behind us, and the hope of heaven squarely in front of us. It points to a day when Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eyes, a day we will become like Him, because we will see Him as He is.

So let us happily receive Him as He comes to us today in the Word and Sacraments, and let us look forward with joyful anticipation to His final coming, when we will meet the Lord in the air, and so ever be with the Lord. Come quickly Lord Jesus. Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

When the New Man comes along


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with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less
Blessed is he who is not scandalized because of Me.  Matthew 11:6

John was scandalized by Jesus. Does that shock you? If so you are not alone.  Many would deny it and offer other explanations for his question.  Some people say that it was John’s disciples who did not believe, and so John sent them to Jesus to hear the gospel directly from Him, but that is hardly logical.  Far more credible is the fact that John, who according to our Lord’s own words was the “greatest man ever born of woman,” was still a man, and therefore he had his questions.

Some say that his doubts were borne of self-pity because he was now in prison.   No doubt sitting in a first century prison was difficult, but John was well aware of the risks he incurred when he condemned Herod for taking his brother’s wife.   In true prophetic fashion he denounced the king’s adultery.   It cost him his freedom and soon would cost him his life, but John was no softie, and even in his travails he still pointed to Jesus who would also be imprisoned on the cross and innocently put to death for us.

Instead, the thing that tripped up John is the fact that Jesus was not the kind of Messiah he was expecting, but this should not surprise us.   When the Lord predicted His suffering and death at the hands of the gentiles even Peter, His chief disciple, was appalled and swore that he would never let this happen; but that would have been the worst possible thing, because if Jesus had in some way managed to avoid the cross then it would be every man for himself. Every man would be paying the staggering price of his own sins, but that would never do.

If John was dismayed it was because Jesus was not fixing all the world’s problems. He was not doing what weary men have always hoped for, what we mistakenly look to the world’s “movers and shakers” to do even today, namely to make the world a better place to live. John, like every other devout Jew of his day, awaited the Messiah who would make Jerusalem the joy of all the whole earth, and rain down Malachi’s fire on all her enemies. Jesus did not do any of these things.   Instead He displayed His strength by humility and by becoming the Servant of all.  Yes, He did many miraculous signs, things that we would all like to see replicated on a much larger scale.  He healed the sick and raised the dead, but not all of them.  That’s because those miracles were meant to be indicators, signals of what would one day be universally true, but first the problem of sin had to be solved, and that would take the Cross.

It’s not only others who are outraged by the cross, so is our Flesh. It wants nothing to do with self-denial, repentance, suffering or death.   If it must be dragged to God’s house by the New Man, it wants church to be a celebration; a happy time when people leisurely come together to eat bagels, drink coffee, and hear a nice message, spoken from the heart, of an ordinary guy, dressed in soft clothing, about how God can make our lives better, but there was no coffee at Golgotha O Flesh! Only vinegar; vinegar and the full wrath of God being paid out to Jesus who languished on the cross wearing our sins, answering our judgment and dying our death.

This is why Jesus would not let such thoughts stand. He said to John’s disciples: go and tell John what you hear and see, that the lepers are cleansed, the lame can walk and that good news is preached to the poor. What kind of an answer was that? It was code to anyone who knew the Scriptures, which John did, that Jesus was the One Isaiah promised and that he should look for no “other;” nor should we, O Advent Worshippers, because St. Peter teaches us that salvation is to be found in no other, and that there is no other Name given under heaven by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

When Jesus said that whoever is the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John He was talking about us! John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, the metaphorical Elijah, and as such had the unique privilege of first introducing the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” We are part of the New Covenant, ratified in Jesus’ blood, when He poured out His life in order to make us whole, and that is all that really matters. Without unwavering faith in this One Great Act of Salvation, this One Eternal Sacrifice that Jesus made for all sinners we are nothing. Every other thing that we are or know or hope or possess means nothing, because when our expiration date arrives, and we all have one, those things will vanish in the blink of an eye. It is the soul that has been purified by the blood of Jesus, like the Word of our God, that endures forever.

Yes, we are the ones whom Jesus refers to as Blessed because we have been chosen by Him. That’s the word that Scripture uses, Chosen. The Old Man is scandalized by it! He cringes at the thought because he has been taught to be democratic, classless, but we are surely not. Instead we are the Lord’s Blessed ones, not because of any works of righteousness that we have done -- never make that mistake -- but because the Lord’s Incarnation, Death and Resurrection answer for our sins; and because in Holy Baptism the Holy Spirit gives us the faith to believe it, so rather than doubt like John did, or be scandalized at the Blessing with which we have been blessed, let us rejoice on this third Sunday of Advent, on this day when we light the joyous pink candle, on this day when we remember that Advent is not only a season of repentance, and a time to cast away the works of darkness, but also a time of great Joy because Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What does Messiah give to the nations?


"Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th'incarnate Deity
Pleased as Man with men to dwell; Jesus, our Immanuel." 

THERE can be no doubt that Jesus was God Incarnate.  The reason we're all here, not just today but every Sunday, is to remember the incarnation of the Son of God.  The Baby of Bethlehem is our Prophet, Priest, and King.  That's what a Messiah is.  We don't tend to think of the king as a religious office, but the Bible does not separate the departments of life like that.  Psalm 110 describes the Messiah as the Son of David, the King of Israel, and a Priest after Melchizedek, so David's successor, Solomon, offered hundreds of animals when the temple was dedicated.  He wasn't a Levite, let alone an Aaronic priest, but he was king of Jerusalem, a righteous king, and therefore a Melchizedek priest.

The prophet Isaiah uses shepherd imagery here to talk about the Messiah.  Most of us are familiar with Handel's Messiah, and have probably sung the words of this text more often than we have spoken them.  The original David had been a shepherd before he was the king.  He probably saw a lot of similarity between the two jobs, but when we consider the activities of this king - feeding, child-rearing, encouraging - we can't see most Old Testament kings doing those things.  Humility was a rare virtue.  In those times before Christ, humility was often taken for weakness.  Solomon was peaceful and wise, but not known for his humility.  Jesus only mentioned Solomon twice:  once He praised his wisdom that the Queen of Sheba came to witness.  The other time He talked about Solomon's wardrobe, which came in second to a lily.  Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament types.  He fed people in the wilderness like Moses, raised a widow's son like Elijah, stood before kings like Joseph, was sacrificed by His Father like Isaac, and came back from the dead like Jonah, but never did He sit on a throne like Solomon, or judge between people, or wear nice clothes.  Jesus was, as sons of David go, an anti-Solomon.  

If you can only remember one thing that a Messiah does, let it be this:  The Messiah rescues His people.  All mankind was in far worse trouble than the Exile of the Jews.  We were in the clutches of death and the devil.  The Messiah rescued us from that.  Now we are on our way to an inheritance that awaits us in heaven.  We can't find our way there.  A shepherd has to lead us.  He feeds us with the Word and Sacrament.  He looks to the lambs and the mothers - that means the ones who have to go slowly.  He doesn't push anyone, He leads, but He leads gently, as Isaiah also says:  a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not put out.  Jesus is gentle about the way He shepherds His Church, providing a model for us.  We must not be too quick to demand high commitment levels from people, for all need spiritual food no matter how quickly they can walk the walk.  Word and Sacrament are the constant food for the flock.  The ancient church fathers demanded a high commitment level, but they were being persecuted.  We are not.  There are some who can only keep up at a distance.  We must be careful not to lose them.

Today we have an important second question before us:  what good does Messiah do for the Gentiles?  Distress of nations is part of everyone's life.  We can remember the violence of the terrorists, as well as the severe assaults by nature.  Is  Messiah only for the Church?  He has moved beyond saying that He is for "the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  After His resurrection, He sends His Church to the ends of the earth.  God has made His Servant a Light to the Nations.  The prophecy from chapter 60 reads:  The Lord will rise upon you, and His glory will be seen among you, and Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

What does Messiah give to the nations?  He gives us pardon for all our sins,  and with that forgiveness He gives us comfort, peace, and hope.  Make no mistake about it; the whole world needs the Gospel we have.  The Jews need it, the Greeks need it, the Chinese need it, and any other ethnic group you can think of needs it.  See how completely, and in such minute detail, God has fulfilled all the promises that He made through the patriarchs and prophets.  When He told Abraham that in His Seed all the families of the earth would be blessed, He was talking about Jesus.  The Son of David of Psalm 110 was Jesus.  The Suffering Servant of Isaiah was Jesus.  There is no other Messiah.  There will be no Third Temple because Jesus was the Third Temple, destroyed and rebuilt in three days.  God's true Israel today is not a nation.  It is Jesus, the Righteous Remnant reduced to one Man who fulfills all things.  Every promise of Scripture finds its Yea and Amen in Him alone.  There will be no more Sabbath because Jesus is the Sabbath, spending Saturday lifeless in the tomb, fulfilling the Commandment for everyone.  The New Covenant is His Covenant, celebrated with the meal of His Body and Blood.

Is there room in the Messiah's kingdom for us?  We are His flock.  His death and resurrection have rescued us from death and the devil to make us His own.  We are His spiritual body, and thus as much a part of the True Israel as our Head.  That means we have to say some rather hard things - that no one can be part of the kingdom who rejects the King.  Both God's mercy and His justice are products of His love.  The mercy prevails unless one turns from it in arrogance.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the message that quenches all spiritual thirst.  No matter how much commotion is in the world, we have a King who loves us, who feeds us, who teaches us, who encourages us along the way.  His kingdom is not of this world, at least not yet.  Some day His kingdom will be established forever.  Even then, He will still be our Shepherd.  AMEN

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

Monday, December 14, 2015

Visting with the Lord


"Lord Jesus Christ, we implore you to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by your gracious visitation."  Collect 3rd Sunday in Advent

IF you play the stock market there's nothing like having insider information to put you ahead of the competition.  That's what we have with today's Collect.  A prayer we know God will answer because it is based on His revealed will in Holy Scripture.  There is much about God that we do not know and we cannot act on that, but we can have full confidence with a prayer like today's Collect.

The Collect is a special prayer used only in the Western church.  It is called a Collect because it collects the themes of a given Sunday and condenses them into a brief, memorable prayer.  You won't find such a prayer in the Eastern liturgy, but like the Western liturgy itself, the Collect is terse and to the point.  It is the prayer of people who are hounded by enemies and don't have time for a lot of words, but only to cry out for help. We are those people, harassed by sin first by the sin we inherit from Adam -- the original sin that dwells in the heart of every man, that wreaks havoc throughout the world, that robs us of health and happiness and that sabotages our every endeavor -- then by our personal iniquities and sins and by our acts of rebellion and careless abandon as we heedlessly transgress God's will in search of dubious thrills that can never make us happy.

It is true that we cannot help ourselves, but that is an excuse and the fact does not let anyone off the hook on judgment day.  People who have constructed pretty theologies in hopes of being found faultless in the final judgment are in for a rude awakening.  Abandon any such thoughts, O Man, and pray this Collect.  Ask the Lord Jesus Christ to lighten the darkness of your heart by His gracious visitation and He will do it!

We learn in St. John's Revelation that Jesus is "the One who is and who was and who is to come..." and we will consider this threefold visition by our Lord this morning.

When the Lord calls Himself "the one who was," He is speaking about the many previous visitations He made to His fallen world which climaxed with His holy incarnation. 

The entire universe was constructed to be a temple for the honor and glory of God, with Eden as the chancel, as the place of man's holy communion with his God, but when sin entered the equation, rather than abandon His fickle creation or annihilate it, the Lord God set out to redeem us.  He did it with a promise made to the woman that her Seed would come to crush the head of the wicked, murderous and lying Serpent.  The Lord continued to reveal His grace and bit by bit to unfold the promise that would be fulfilled when the Word should become flesh to dwell among us full of grace and truth.

Between the Fall into sin and the birth of the Christ, our Lord made many gracious appearances.  He did it through persons such as Noah, Melchizedek, Moses and King David, and by events such as the Exodus, Elijah's miracles, and by restoration from Babylonian captivity that we hear of in today's Psalm, and by countless prophetic promises like the one we hear in today's Old Testament lesson from Isaiah.  Those divine prophecies became the lifeline of God's Old Testament people.  They were woven into liturgies and became the foundation of Israel's worship.  They were prayed, preached, taught, sung, memorized, confessed and glorified right up to the time of the holy birth, the one we will soon commemorate with solemnity and great joy!  They scattered the darkness and kept faith, hope and charity alive until the Lord should appear in the fullness of time, and appear He did!  Our Lord came, saw and conquered the darkness of night, for in Him there is no darkness at all.  He lived a shining life of perfect love and devotion to God, a life that by God's mercy is attributed to you so that His life is now your life, His record your record, and His slate your slate, and there is nothing better than that.  He died in your place in order to pay the ultimate penalty for your sin, and His death is become your redemption and your salvation; and He sprang again from the ground to give indestructible life to the sons of earth.  You are those sons!

He is not only the One who "was" but also the One who "is."  As He came to St John and His little flock in exile on Patmos, as they celebrated the Eucharist in exile, even so He graciously comes to visit us today.  It happens each Lord's Day in His house where He comes to us dressed in His Word and clothed in the Bread and Wine to grant us pardon for our wrongs, double comfort for all that sin has robbed from us, and to visit us with healing in His wings for our bodies, souls and spirits.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is also "He who is to come."  When He comes again it will not be to deal with sin, for that is done and finished; but rather to "save those who eagerly await Him" (Hebrews 9:28)  We are those people.  Scripture says that when He appears He, "will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body..."  It says further that, "When Christ who is your life appears then you also will appear with Him in Glory."  Further, that "If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."

This, dear Christians, is what we look for:  the Lord's gracious visitation which for us will be "the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come."  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Friday, December 11, 2015

Receiving Joy, Imparting Joy


Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice, let your moderation be known to all men, the Lord is at hand. Philippians 4:4-5

Advent is a season of repentance, but God gives us a great gift in His word today; He gives us both the permission and the power to rejoice, not only in Advent but always.

St. Paul’s words today serve several purposes. They are first of all a directive to rejoice. What is joy? Most people confuse joy with happiness, but they are two very different things. Happiness is external, joy internal. Happiness is temporary, joy is permanent in Christ. Happiness has to do with temporal things like a winning lottery ticket or a good hair day, but joy has to do with our great God and Savior Jesus Christ and the gifts that He gives. Happiness can be pursued and even obtained for short intervals, but joy is a gift that remains with us no matter what happens, because we know that our sins are forgiven and we have peace with God through Christ.

Why do we need this directive, especially since we are new creations in Christ? Because of the usual suspects: sin, death and the devil. Sin leaves us with guilt, and guilt robs us of joy. The world’s catechism works hard to deny guilt but it will never succeed. If sin is the fang of the snake, guilt is the rattle, and wherever the head is the tail is always close behind.

Death also conspires to divest us of joy.  It makes us sick, weak and afraid.  As with guilt, the world tries to put a positive spin on death, but nothing it does can take away its sting.  Only Jesus, who willingly suffered death for our sins, and conquered it by His glorious resurrection can empower us to rejoice even in the face of death.  The Bible says of our Lord that, “for the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, scorned the shame and is seated at the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) With these words: Rejoice in the Lord always, Jesus teaches us to do the same.

And there’s the devil as well who incites so much malice, envy, hatred and revenge among men that finding joy is like looking for a needle in a haystack, so this divine directive, given to Christians of all ages by the pen of St. Paul, is a priceless treasure that cuts through despair and fills us with Advent joy.

God’s word also gives us permission to rejoice. How are we to live our lives as Christians? Should we spend our days and nights anguishing over the sins of our youth? Should we lead drab, austere, celibate lives like the Shakers? Not at all. It’s true that we should regret and confess our sins. They are an affront to God, an assault on our neighbor, and degrading in the extreme to us as children of God, but with these words, "rejoice in the Lord always," God instructs us to put sorrow behind us and to rejoice in Christ our Lord who became incarnate to save us, and fills our lives with the joy of forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life.

Though our faith makes us glad in the extreme our rejoicing isn’t the manufactured optimism of Joel Osteen, or the artificial enthusiasm of the so-called contemporary worship churches. Instead it’s a reverent and sober joy which focuses on Christ crucified for our sins, and raised again for our justification; one that fills us with delight and our devotion to it knows no bounds.

God’s word also gives us the power to rejoice. Paul is writing these words, but God is the one speaking, and we must always remember that His word brings into existence the very thing that it says. As God spoke the world into existence, He likewise speaks joy into our hearts by this word today. Without His gracious word we could search for joy our whole lives and never find it, but with Him, joy is ours.

Scripture also instructs those who rejoice in the Lord to let their moderation be known to all men. Though joy is an internal quality, it can’t help but spill over into the way we live. As God’s people St. Paul charges us to be reasonable and agreeable, gentle with others, tolerant of their weaknesses, and as much as humanly possible live at peace with all men (Romans 12:18). Joy makes this possible, because when we are at peace with God and at peace within, we are eager to be at peace with others as well.

God’s word also gives us a reason to rejoice, namely that the Lord is at hand. What does Paul mean by these words? First He joyously anticipates the Lord’s return because on that day all that Jesus accomplished by His birth, death and resurrection will be delivered to us in full! Graves will be opened. Death will be destroyed. Tears and sorrow will be forgotten and our joy will be full. Whether the day of the Lord is around the corner or many centuries in the future we should be ever mindful of this great event and by faith join the saints of the ages in confessing: the Lord is at hand.

But it’s not just the Lord’s future coming that causes us to rejoice; He’s also close at hand in the word He inspired, and in the sacraments He ordained. Whenever we hear God’s word heralded, whether by Isaiah the Prophet, John the Baptist or by the “called and ordained servant of the Word,” we are hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd. By it He gathers us close to His bosom, carries us through the valley of the shadow of death, leads us into the green pastures of His love and fills our lives with joy. The same is true of the sacraments. In baptism sinners are incorporated into the Triune God and made holy, even as God is Holy. In absolution we receive the continuing therapy we need to be constantly cleansed of our sins, so that even as we struggle with temptation our joy might be full. In the mass we receive the true body and blood of Christ into our own sinful and dying bodies, so that the life of Jesus might be imparted to us in every way.

These things, the Lord’s second advent, His holy word and blessed sacraments cause us to rejoice unceasingly in the Lord, and in the good promises He makes to us. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Do you want to SEE God this Christmas?


Before the days of radio and later of television, war news was hard to get. Unless one of the local boys came home on leave, it was hard to learn anything definite. That is just like our knowledge of God. God is the most important individual, the One who gives our lives purpose, on whom we depend for everything, but we don't know how to know Him. He doesn't have a television show. His number isn't in the phone book, and certain professors have circulated the rumor that He is dead.  Reason, imagination, and insight bring us no closer.  When it comes to knowing God, we are like blind men.

 Now blind men can know some things by touching them.  You can tell whether an object is moving or still, hot or cold, rough or smooth, but you can't tell what color it is, or even what that means.  If it is small you can touch it all.  If it's big, you can only touch one part at a time.  We are limited that way in trying to know God.  We know Somebody put all of this here, Somebody made the rules, and apparently this Somebody has an interest in our affairs, but we cannot tell whether or not He is trying to help us.  He might be toying with us, or passively watching, or perhaps He's bored with us.  As amusing as it is to speculate about such things, all the guesses in the world will not lead us to God.  There are two reasons for this.  First, we are finite, and therefore incapable of comprehending the infinite God.  Second, we are misled by being under the Law.  Everyone is born with a disposition of the heart which we call the opinion of the Law.  It is a kind of sense that God approves of the good and is angry at the evil.  That opinion stands like a thick curtain between every sinner and God.  No one can break through it.  Even the Bible is no help.  If you read it with your native disposition you will never find anything in it but the Law.  Only the Key, Jesus, can open our eyes. Without Him we might learn about God, but we will never know God.

A problem, you say?  Yes, but nothing God can't handle.  He revealed Himself to people who could not conceive of Him.  It's the kind of problem missionaries have when they meet a tribe to whom the term "God" means a mountain or a tree.  When the missionary tells them that God is merciful and forgiving, they are confused because they can't see how a mountain can be merciful, or a tree forgive anything.  So the missionary first has to teach them that God is a Person.  All around us there are people with a similar problem.  They know God isn't a tree, but their hopes and fears are connected to someone named Santa Claus.  Once they stop believing in Santa Claus, they stop believing in anything.  Why should they hold themselves accountable if nobody is making a list of who's naughty and nice?  How brief and desperate life must seem to such people!

God revealed Himself by becoming a man.  This man was the Word, a Person, the Baby of Christmas, the Lord Himself, the Messiah.  Here we see the active Word, the Word made flesh, the Word who approached us because we were too blind to approach Him.  In Him, God is man.  So come, meet the Man.  He revealed to us all we need to believe in Him, and to have eternal life with Him.   He taught us of the kingdom of God, of our need to be born again by water and the Spirit, of His power even over death - for it was He who raised Lazarus.  In fact, He assures us that God's chief purpose is to make us alive to Him.  Jesus was the active Word, living out the ways of God, healing the sick, comforting the troubled, forgiving the sinners, inviting tax collectors to His house for supper, washing the feet of His twelve disciples, even though He knew what one of them was going to do.  They all learned from this experience, remembered it, and wrote it down so that we could learn from it as well.  Jesus loved sinners.  He loved His own enemies.  In time the active Word became the passive Word, the patient, suffering Word.  The crucified and risen Word.  Whether active or passive, we beheld His glory - full of grace and truth.

We know how to know a man, so come, meet the Man. We can approach a man, so approach the Word made flesh. Jesus said, He who has seen Me has seen the Father. St. Paul calls Him the image of the invisible God. How can anything invisible have an image? By becoming man.  The closer we get to Him, the better we can see God.  We can see Jesus with open arms saying Come to me, you who are burdened and troubled, I will give you rest.  St. John bids us to understand, the man with the open arms is God.

In Jesus we have the privilege of seeing God. That does not mean that we know all about Him.  Even with the vision which is His gift, we still see through a glass darkly.  Our native desire for Law makes the picture so dark, but we see a Person, that much is certain.  We see the Creator of all, and Reconciler of all.  Our reason finds no fault with this.  God's revelation is perfectly reasonable. What finds fault is the opinion of the Law. That always wants to make us doubt that God loves us. That is the little voice that asks, Could you possibly be wrong?  Could God really work by the Law rather than by forgiveness?  The answer to that is No!  We definitely cannot be wrong about this!  The Incarnate Word did not even stop at death to reconcile His enemies to Himself, meaning you and me.  Anyone who thinks he can be justified by the Law either doesn't know the Law or doesn't know himself, or perhaps doesn't want to admit what he does know, but with Jesus, there is grace and truth.  You never again have to worry about your sins.  He became a man to get to know you, to deliver you, and to show you that it's all true.  All thanks to God who gives us Himself in the Word. AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross