Monthly Archives: December 2007

Advent Midweek II

“Signs”

Isaiah 11:1-10

 

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

There are signs all around us.  Street and traffic signs; signs that advertise and signs that promise; signs of the season and signs of the times.  But there is one more sign, for those who have eyes to see.  A sign that whispers when the world shouts.  A sign that stands firm in the middle of all the rush and the noise.  A sign that cannot be shaken.  A sign that cannot be seen or heard unless time is taken, stillness observed, and grace and faith given.  This sign is called the Root of Jesse.  Jesse was David’s father.  At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people who had once flourished as a great tree became little more than a stump, chopped low by the axe of Assyria.  Beginning about 975 years before Jesus was born, the House of David was divided and destroyed, cut down and conquered.  Nothing left but a seemingly dead stump.  And stumps are not supposed to grow again.  If you cut down a tree, you don’t expect its stump to grow up again into another tree.

But this is no ordinary stump.  This is no remnant of just any people.  It is what’s left of the people of Yahweh, the Creator of heaven and earth and everything in between.  This God does not cut down except to raise up; He does not kill except to bring back from the dead; He does not leave stumps except to bring new growth; and He sets up signs to bring people back to Himself.  Those signs He has set up all point to the one great Sign, the Shoot that comes forth from the stump of Jesse; the One on whom the Spirit of the Lord rests, whose delight is in the fear of the Lord.  “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.  Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins” (Isaiah 11:2-5, ESV).  This Root of Jesse, this Jesus Christ, it is He who shall stand as a “signal”: a sign for the peoples and a banner for the nations.

And no less is He your sign.  Look to Him in newborn infant flesh.  Look to Him, hanging on a cross that towers over the wrecks of time.  Look to Him, risen from the dead.  Look to Him, sitting at the right hand of the Father; thence He shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.  And He is coming as your judge.  Can you be sure that His advent means salvation for you?  Yes, you can.  He has set up Himself as a sign for you and for all sinners.  His signs are everywhere you look in this place.  Water, made holy by His blood and His Word; bread and wine made body and blood because He said “Do this”; words that forgive your sins because He speaks them.  These are the signs He has given; signs of His intentions toward you.  He has come to save and He has come to forgive, and His sign will stand until He returns again.

And this Branch that comes from Jesse’s roots has born fruit.  You are that fruit; you, who have seen the signs of your sin and have looked to the healing sign on the cross.  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man must be lifted up” (John 3:14, ESV).  The people of Israel saw the sign of the bronze serpent on the pole, and God healed them of the venom they had absorbed (Numbers 20:4-9).  You have seen the sign of the God-Man on the cross, and God has healed you from the poison of the serpent, which you have inherited from Adam and Eve.  There are others who have been bitten.  The fangs of the ancient serpent have sunk deep into their flesh, and they will die unless they look upon the one whom they have crucified.  Point them to the Sign of the crucified one so that they might repent and believe.  He is your only salvation and theirs as well.  Because the Day is coming when this Sign will appear in the sky and the nations will mourn because of His wrath.  But the Church, bought with His blood, will rejoice because their salvation has finally come.

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, 12/01/07


Second Sunday in Advent

“Separation Time”

Matthew 3:1-12

 

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

Earlier this fall, I had the chance to ride with a couple people in their combines while they were harvesting wheat. I learned some things about the process: I watched the cutting blade separating the stalks of wheat from the ground, and then I watched the thresher separating the good grain from the not-so-good straw. As much as possible, it is only the grains of wheat that you want in your trucks when they leave for the bins or the elevators. And with modern combines, that’s not too hard to do. It is the grain that is desired; it is the grain that pays. The straw’s no good to make bread; there are few, if any, people paying you for the straw. Maybe you need some straw to keep the soil from blowing away, but most of that straw is not going to help you grow more wheat next year, or the year after, or any year after that. When you’ve separated the grain from the straw, you don’t need the straw anymore. If the wind sweeps it away, you don’t worry too much. Continue reading


Advent Midweek 1

“I Can’t Wait”

Isaiah 2:1-5

 

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

I can’t wait. Around this time of the year, you may be hearing a lot of that from children or grandchildren. I can’t wait! As you get a little older, Christmas loses some of its ability to inspire that “can’t wait” feeling. Perhaps by now you’ve realized that Santa Claus doesn’t pay for the Christmas gifts you are going to give. Maybe Christmas time holds memories for you that you’d rather forget. Whatever it might be, sometimes adults also say, “I can’t wait,” as in, “I can’t wait for it to be over.” Advent, like the Christian life, is both: “I can’t wait;” and “I can’t wait for it to be over.”

“I can’t wait for it to be over.” Or, in other words, “Return, O LORD! How long” (Psalm 90:13, ESV)? Advent, like the Christian life, is a time of repentance and prayer that the Holy Spirit will prepare us for the coming of Christ. You know that this life is rarely easy. And following Jesus doesn’t make you immune to hard times and difficulty. Sometimes everything around you conspires against you, filling your eyes and mind with temptation and doubt. You can feel the conflict between your life as a Christian and the world in which you live. Don’t you just want to shout sometimes, “Return, O LORD! How long?” Jesus lived in this same world. When the disciples could not heal an epileptic boy, Jesus says, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you” (Matthew 17:17, ESV)? Repent. Repent of your contribution to this faithless and twisted generation. Repent that you have made life hard for those around you. Repent that you have so often given into temptation. Repent; He is coming again. I don’t know about you, but as I look at my life and the world around me, sometimes I find myself saying, “I can’t wait for it to be over.” Continue reading


First Sunday in Advent

“Who Is This?”

Matthew 21:1-11

 

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

Who is this? Who is this who enters royal cities on the back of a donkey? He is the promised King of Zion. Hear the Word of Yahweh through the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9, ESV). He is coming to you. To you, who can never quite free yourself from your sinful desires and tendencies. To you, who find it hard to prepare yourself for His weekly coming, let alone His second coming. To you, who reluctantly gather to behold the humble King. To you, who have barred the gates of your home to Him. To you, unrighteous and unworthy of salvation. To all of you, He comes. He is righteous and He has salvation. For you. Rejoice greatly! Shout aloud! He comes for you. Continue reading


Bishop and Christian, December, 2007

God visits His people. A fitting theme for the seasons of Advent and Christmas. A collect for Christmas Eve says, “Purify my conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in me a mansion prepared for himself.” That short prayer sums up the position of the Church and the individual Christian on earth. We live between the comings of Christ. He has come once in humility, hidden in human flesh to be seen only by the eyes of faith. He will come again in glory, at which time every eye will see Him, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess Him as Lord, whether believer or not.

Advent is that time of the Church Year when we are reminded that we live between the comings of Christ. Advent means “coming,” in fact. Even as we look forward to Christmas and remember Jesus’ first coming amidst animals, angels, and shepherds, we also look forward to His second coming in judgment, power and great glory, surrounded by the armies of heaven.

But there is a third coming of Christ, which is connected to the other two. That is the coming of Christ to each one of us. The coming of Christ as an infant in Bethlehem would be only an historical moment (which probably would have been forgotten) if He did not come to us. The second coming of Christ would be an event of horror and judgment against us if He did not come to us individually.

This coming to each human person is bound up with the mystery of the incarnation. “Incarnation” is a word that means “in-flesh-ed.” (To remember it, you might think of chili con carne, that is, chili “with flesh”!) The in-flesh-ment of the Son of God is how He chose to come to us. We do not have a god who sits on a throne, far removed from human life. We do not have a god who created the world and then sat back to see how it would all unfold. Our God is not only the creator of all that exists, but He actually entered His creation as one of its creatures. It is beyond our understanding how such a thing could take place. (Which, incidentally, is why I genuflect [bow] in the middle of the Nicene Creed when we confess, “and was incarnate [there’s that word again!] by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.”)

But Jesus was not only a man among us, He actually becomes part of us, and makes us part of Him. He does this by burying us and raising us with Him. He does this by feeding us His own life in His Body and Blood. He does this by repentance and absolution (the “daily visitation” and drowning of the Old Adam that Luther talks about in the Small Catechism). He keeps us as part of His Body by giving us His word of forgiveness and as the Holy Spirit makes us holy and prepares us for the resurrection. At that time He will complete the work He has begun in you and me. He will bring to fulfillment the incarnation, because we will finally have bodies like His, perfect and holy and working as He intended. The creation will be complete. Our baptism will be complete. When He comes again , He will complete what He started in His first coming, and all things will find their fulfillment in Him.

As you celebrate this time of expectation and hope, pray with the Church of all times and places: “Purify my conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in me a mansion prepared for himself.” And He will find in you a mansion prepared for Himself, because He is the one preparing it.

“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free; from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art, dear desire of ev’ry nation, joy of ev’ry longing heart.

“Born Thy people to deliver; born a child and yet a king. Born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring. By Thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by Thine all-sufficient merit raise us to Thy glorious throne” (“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” LSB 338)

As the days continue to get shorter and the hours of light fewer, the busyness picks up. Many people dread the holiday season, because it reminds them of loved ones who have died, family strife, the stresses of buying gifts and preparing meals. But something I love about Advent and Christmas services is that they slow us down. They make us take time out to meditate and think about what these seasons are really about. “Jesus is the reason for the season” may have become a trite, greeting-card platitude, but it tries to get at the importance of the “Christ” in “Christ-mass.” And Jesus is not only the reason for this season, but He is the reason why there is anything at all, rather than nothing. Even the label “X-mas” cannot get away from Him. The letter “X” is really a Greek letter pronounced “kee.” It is the first letter of “Christ” in Greek [Cristoß].

We will have many opportunities for you to celebrate Jesus’ coming (and His coming again), as well as the Mass of Christ on December 24 and 25:

Advent services will be held at Trinity on Wednesdays, December 5 & 12 and at St. Paul’s on Thursdays, December 6, 13, and 20. The Trinity children’s program will be on Wednesday, December 19 (stay tuned for time); St. Paul’s will hold its children’s program on Sunday, December 23 at 7pm with supper at 5:30pm.

Trinity will have a Christmas Eve service on Monday, December 24 at 5:30pm. On Christmas Day, St. Paul’s will have Divine Service with Holy Communion at 8:15am and Trinity at 10:15am. (If you will have family members in town, please have them speak to me prior to Christmas Day services so that I can explain our Communion practice. Thank you.)

On New Year’s Day, or what is known on the Church Calendar as the Eve of the Naming/Circumcision of Jesus, Trinity will have a service at 7pm. Join us as we celebrate our Savior’s first coming, and anticipate in hope His second coming!

Quote for the Month

Christmas Poem-G.K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wife’s tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

*St. Augustine said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian.”

Pr. Winterstein