Monthly Archives: December 2007

First Sunday after Christmas

“Out of Egypt I Called My Son”

Matthew 2:13-23

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“The First Sunday after Christmas.” Seems like sort of a let-down, doesn’t it? All the gifts have been given and received. The paper and ribbon that took, if you’re like me, half an hour to apply, were gone in a matter of seconds. Your family has gone home or you have returned. All that build-up, all that planning and decorating and buying and baking, and here we are, the few left standing.

But don’t take the lights and the tree down just yet; this is not the end. We’re only getting started! That’s the beautiful thing about the Church year: when the stores have moved on to Valentine’s Day, we’re still basking in the light of the life of Jesus. And it’s just starting to get exciting. Even after no room in the inn, fear-inducing angel armies, and joyous shepherds, the toddler Jesus meets magnificent Magi, comes into contact with conspiratorial kings, takes part in a midnight flight for the border, and lives for a time in a foreign land. And those are just the mountaintops! Let’s lean in a little closer as Matthew tells the story: “Now when [the Magi] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet [Hosea (11:1)], ‘Out of Egypt I called my son'” (Matthew 2:13-15). Why did the angel tell Joseph to go to Egypt rather than some other place? There were other countries to the North and to the East to which they could have gone. Perhaps the route to Egypt was the least difficult, but why connect it to prophecy, then? There is something more here than mere ease of travel. It is what Egypt represents that is important. When God gives the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, how does He identify Himself? “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). In Psalm 80, what does the psalmist Asaph give as an example of God’s mercy? “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it” (Psalm 80:8). When their children and grandchildren ask about the celebration of the Passover, what are the people of Israel supposed to tell them? Deuteronomy 6:21: “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” The Exodus becomes a picture of God’s salvation throughout the Scriptures. In fact, Egypt becomes short-hand for “slavery.” And Yahweh is the mighty warrior who rescues His people from that slavery. Continue reading


The Nativity of Our Lord

“Recognizing Him”

John 1:1-18

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

God comes into His world as a Baby. I am shocked anew every time I allow myself to consider it. Jesus, who would save His people from their sins, through whom all things that exist were created, and without whom nothing that has been made was made-this God could not even feed Himself. What Child is this? This Child is your King, because of whom Herod made martyrs of all the baby boys under two who lived in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:16). “Good Christian, fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading” (LSB 370, st. 2). Imagine that! The eternal Word of God, because of whose speaking there is everything rather than nothing, needed to learn how to talk! Fearful, indeed. The God of the universe enfolded in the fragile flesh of a newborn baby.

Good Christian, fear: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (John 1:10, ESV). His own creation, His own creatures made in His image, and they do not know Him from Adam. Here is mystery upon mystery: first, that the Word is made flesh; second, that those whose flesh He took do not recognize Him. They do not grasp Him; they do not comprehend Him; they do not understand Him. What they do is try to overcome Him. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does its best to snuff out the Light. Because the darkness knows that if the Light has its way, and He will, the darkness will be overcome. Darkness and light cannot occupy the same space at the same time. And so the citizens of the darkness pierce the Light and nail Him violently to a cross. Because it is an assault on the kingdom of the darkness, the Kingdom of Light comes violently; the violent take it by force and put its Messenger to death (Matthew 11:12). Continue reading


The Nativity Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

[I preached this tonight at our Christmas Eve service]

I behold a new and wondrous mystery!

My ears resound to the shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn!

The angels sing!   The archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The cherubim resound their joyful praise!     The seraphim exult His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth and man in heaven. He who is above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we, who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy.

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and, in the place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Justice!

Ask now how this was accomplished, for where God wills the order of nature is overturned. For He willed He has the power. He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today, He Who is born. And He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man – while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His.

And so the kings have come and they have seen the heavenly King that is come upon the earth, not bring with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominations, nor powers, nor principalities, but treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God.

And behold the kings have come that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;

Women, so that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child birth to joy;

Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin . . .

Infants that they might adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise;

Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;

Men to Him Who became man that He might heal the miseries of His servants;

Shepherds to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;

Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisidech;

Servants to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom;

Fishermen to the Fisher of humanity;

Publicans, to Him Who from among them named a chosen evangelist;

Sinful women to Him Who exposed His feel to the tears of the repentant woman;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they might look upon the lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world!

Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp, nor with music of the pipes nor holding the torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope!     This is my life!     This is my salvation!     This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels sing: “Glory to God in the Highest,” and with the shepherds: “and on earth peace to men of good will.”

Pr. Timothy Winterstein


Fourth Sunday in Advent

“The Mystery of Immanuel”

Matthew 1:18-25

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“The beginning of Jesus Christ was of this sort:” God gets mixed up with His creation. He is not content to sit back and let people destroy themselves and each other. He has bound Himself up with His creation from the very beginning, ever since He formed Adam from the dust of the earth and Eve from Adam’s rib. There was happiness in that place. Joy and contentment and peace in the presence of God were all that they knew. But then there was sin, and then death. Then there was no longer any room for them in the Garden that God had created for their pleasure. The angel at the entrance made sure that they did not eat too hastily from the Tree of Life, which would mean dying forever, but never dead. But even in that fearful moment, going into a world that was now against them, the promise was there, in the curse on the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, ESV). Eve believed that promise and said when she gave birth to Cain: “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD” (Genesis 4:1, ESV). But Cain was not the One. Neither was Abel. The creation had to wait for another woman and another Son. Four thousand years or more passed before the offspring came who would crush the head of the serpent. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5, ESV). God always makes good on His promises. Continue reading


Children’s Christmas Service

“Come, Lord Jesus”

Acts 1:11; Revelation 22:20

 

“Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest.” If you have been Lutheran for any length of time, or if you spend any time with Lutherans at all, you are probably familiar with that prayer. There’s a reason why it’s called the “common” table prayer. But it is more than a table prayer, asking Jesus to “let these gifts to us be blessed.” It is the prayer on the lips of every Christian since Jesus went up into heaven, and was hidden from the disciples’ eyes. As the angels said to them at that time, “[W]hy do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11, ESV). Generally, our problem is not keeping our eyes on the sky, but buried in our day-to-day lives and on the endless people and tasks that make demands on our time. No matter how busy we are, even at this time of the year, the promise of the angels are still there: “This Jesus…will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven.”

Three times in the last chapter of Revelation, Jesus Himself tells us the same thing: “Behold, I am coming soon”; “Behold, I am coming soon”; “Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20, ESV). And so we wait. And wait. And wait. That is why we have Advent before Christmas. We cannot skip Advent and jump right to Christmas, even if the stores are telling us to do exactly that, beginning the day after Halloween. Nor can we skip living the lives we have been given and jump right to the Second Coming. But, just as assuredly as Christmas comes every December 25th, you can be sure that Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16, ESV).

So here we are, in the last week of Advent, and less than a week to go before we celebrate the birth of Christ in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Tonight we are gathered here to be reminded why it is, exactly, that we continue to celebrate a day called Christ-mass; that is, the Mass of Christ. Because Jesus did not come only once a long time ago. He comes again and again here and every place where His Word and Gifts are present. And He will come finally, not as an infant in the arms of His mother, but as the King of all creation. As you hear the children speak the words of the Gospel, which is good news for you and for all people, hear Jesus’ words, “Surely, I am coming soon.” And all Christians respond with St. John, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20, ESV).

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, when you came as a tiny baby, you entered our darkness as the Light of the world; you grew up into a man and you carried our sin all the way to the cross, where you died because of what we are and what we have done; three days later, you came out of your grave and defeated sin and death forever. As we hear your words in the mouths of these children tonight, we pray that you would give all of us hope and faith to wait patiently for the day when you will come again. Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest, and remain with us until that great Day, as you have promised (Matthew 28:20). Amen.

–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/19/07


Advent Midweek III

“Patience”

James 5:7-11

 

            In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“Be patient, therefore, brothers [and sisters], until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7, ESV).  If you haven’t noticed, it is getting harder to be patient.  Things move so quickly.  News has to be up-to-the-second, even if inaccurate, or it is old news.  No time to process what any piece of news might actually mean.  No time to sit and think.  No time to read a book; we need quickly moving pictures to hold our attention.  I can’t help but suspect that Attention-Deficit Disorder is a distinctly modern phenomenon.  We certainly shouldn’t be surprised to find that children and adults who have flashing images thrown at them every half-second cannot sit patiently and analyze information for anything below the surface.  We live in an age of information, but who knows what the information is good for?  Doesn’t matter; we’ve got to have it, and we’ve got to have it now.

Appropriate, then, that we read the words of St. James in this age: Be patient, therefore, until the coming of the Lord.  We certainly need that reminder.  You can feel the pull of impatience even now.  You are thinking about all that still needs to be done before you leave for your parents’ house, or before your kids come home for Christmas.  You find it difficult to sit for an hour when it doesn’t seem like what you do here has any bearing on your life.  There are no flashing images; no quickly-changing camera angles; nothing aimed at holding your passive attention.  There is silence here.  There are things here that require more than a moment’s observation.  There are hymns and Scripture that cannot be grasped by a second’s glance.  The things of God require patience.

Some have given up trying.  There are churches that have given in to our ADD age, and who bank on sparkle and superficiality.  But the Church of God does not think in nano-seconds.  She thinks in centuries.  She thinks in thousands of years, from a promise in a Garden to a Baby in a manger.  She thinks in thousands of years, from His resurrection to our resurrection.  And so, dear people of God, be patient until the coming of the Lord.  He will not delay.  St. James could say that “the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8, ESV), and we are already two thousand years further on!  But that is because the coming of the Lord is at hand every day.  Because, beloved, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9, ESV).  Be patient, therefore, as the Lord is patient.  His patience means salvation.  Count time as the Lord counts time, and sit for a moment.  Reflect.  Be still and know that He is God-which means that you are not.  Though the world runs head-lessly and heedlessly, collecting bits and bytes of information as if they meant something, your God is a God of the big picture.  A big picture that, nevertheless, includes you and every part of your life.  Do not grow weary; be patient.  The coming of your God, whom you worship as a baby in a manger, is at hand.  Keep waiting, He’ll be right on time.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/20/07

Third Sunday in Advent

“How Do You Know?”

Matthew 11:2-15

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

How do you know that this Jesus is your Savior? How do you know that He is the one for whom creation has waited ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden in shame? There is certainly no shortage of people willing to challenge you on that point. Richard Dawkins says your belief in God is a delusion. Sam Harris prays (well, not really) for the end of your faith. Christopher Hitchens thinks you should know that God is not good. These are only the latest, and not even very good, attempts to shake your faith in and your knowledge of God and His Son Jesus. In the face of their sneering challenges, how do you know? Continue reading