Monthly Archives: January 2008

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

“The Light Has Dawned”

Matthew 4:12-25

 

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

So dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face.  So dark that you can’t see where you’re going; for all that it matters, your eyes might as well be closed.  So dark that you could be anywhere, or nowhere.  So dark that all you can do is sit down and wait for morning.  So dark that it feels like death.  Some people don’t want to wait for the light.  They start walking, slowly at first, arms stretched out in front of them.  Then, not encountering any immediate obstacles, they jog, and then they run, faster and faster.  Sooner or later, however, they find themselves face down, bloodied and bruised.  Or they may discover the earth pulled out from under them, falling into the darkness, unable to see the bottom.  “If anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him” (John 11:10, ESV).

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Second Sunday after the Epiphany

“Behold, the Lamb of God”

John 1:29-42a

 

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

Look at John pointing at Jesus. On second thought, don’t look at John. Look at the One to whom he is pointing. And that’s the point about John: he is always pointing, away from himself and toward Another. Look! he says. Here He is! Here’s the One about whom I was talking. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John had a couple disciples who were following him, and after John twice points out Jesus as the Lamb of God, they begin to follow Jesus. This is how it works: people follow other things, someone points out Jesus, and Jesus brings them into the Kingdom. The ones who follow the pointed finger of John all the way to Jesus become Jesus’ followers, and the followers become the pointers. Andrew and Philip become the pointers to Simon and Nathanael. And eventually the pointers reach all the way to the year 2008 and Northern Minnesota. Do you think that John and Andrew and Philip could have imagined such a thing? They didn’t even know that this giant land mass we call the United States existed. But it didn’t matter; they just kept pointing at Jesus, saying, “Look! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

I don’t know if you remember the one who first pointed you to Jesus. My parents, not knowing what would happen in the future, took me to the baptismal font and my grandfather, standing in the place of Jesus Christ, poured some water over my head and said that I was now claimed by Christ for His own. And the reason it doesn’t matter if I remember that moment or not is because God remembers it. God doesn’t forget things like that. He forgets your sins, because they’re removed from you as far as the east is from the west. He forgets that I constantly forget about Him, because that’s the sort of God we have. But He never forgets who His children are. He never forgets the ones whom He has claimed for His own. It could be that your experience is like mine, and you don’t remember when you left the kingdom of darkness and entered the Kingdom of Light. Or maybe you could say definitely: It was that spring day in 1986 that the Holy Spirit called, gathered, and enlightened me by the Gospel. But whether you remember it or not, someone else pointed you to Jesus. Someone else directed your attention to Him. Someone dragged you, kicking and screaming, and threw you down at His feet. So here you are.

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The Baptism of Our Lord

“Allow It For Now”

Matthew 3:13-17

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

Jesus appears, this time at the edge of the Jordan River, moving through the weeping crowds who have gathered to confess their sins and be baptized by John. But why here? This is the last place we would expect Jesus to appear, and it is clear that John feels the same. “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me” (Matthew 3:13, ESV)? Remember, John’s baptism is a baptism for sinners, who then confess their sins. Of what sins shall Jesus repent? What evil has He done? What sin is in Him? None, of course, which is the cause of John’s surprise. John tries to prevent Jesus from being baptized; He tries to prevent Him from entering into that water, black with the sin of Israel. It is not only the last place we would expect Jesus to be, it is the last place He should be. Sinners should be coming to Him; He should not come to sinners. That river of repentance is no place for the Messiah. It is no place for the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But Jesus is not confused; He knows where He is and where He’s supposed to be: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15, ESV). Allow it for now, John. It will not always be this way. But it is necessary now; it is good, right, and salutary for us to fulfill all righteousness in this way.

Maybe you’re a little like John. You don’t think that where you are is any place for God. So you try to prevent Jesus from going there. You try to keep Him out of your life. It would be too much to admit to God, which would also mean admitting it to yourself, that you don’t have everything under control. Maybe it is shame about your life. What does it have to do with Him that you have been abused, or raped, or taken advantage of, or beaten down emotionally? What does it have to do with Him that you are fighting with the little demons who tell you that you are a bad parent or a bad spouse? What does He know about your depression, about how you cry yourself to sleep over nothing in particular? What does He know about how you hate your body? No, your life is no place for Jesus, not with all that. The sinless Lamb of God should not be there.

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Bishop and Christian, January 2008

January is full of feast days (and I don’t mean the sort that go along with bowl games and New Year’s Day parties).  I mean the sort of feast day that moves us through the life of Christ.  We begin on January 1 with the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus.  On this day, we celebrate the fact that God sent Jesus to live under His Law for our sake (Galatians 4:4), as well as His receiving the name that is above every name, Jesus (Philippians 2:9-10).  As the angel said, “For he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

January 6 is a significant date in the life of the Church.  In fact, in the history of the Church, January 6, or the Epiphany of our Lord, was celebrated as “Christmas” before we celebrated December 25, and we still sometimes call it the “Gentile Christmas.”  The Epiphany, or “appearing” of the Lord, commemorates the coming of the Magi to the house (not in the stable, as we often see in Nativity scenes!) where Jesus was with His mother and father (Matthew 2:1-12).  The importance of this date is that the Magi were the first Gentiles, or non-Jews, to bow in reverence before the young Jesus.  Jesus is the Savior of all the nations, even us!  In some parts of the Church, Epiphany is still more significant than Christmas-which might not be a bad practice to recover, considering what Christmas has become for many people.

On January 13, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River.  The sinless Messiah did not only walk around among sinners, He entered into the muddy water of their lives, just as He entered into the muddy Jordan.  John recognized that Jesus did not need to be baptized; rather, Jesus should have baptized him!  But Jesus’ baptism means that He entered into a repentance that He did not need in order to take on sin-our sin-that He did not have.  Further, at every baptism, we should hear the Father’s words to His Son at His baptism: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

Finally, in the month of January we recognize four noteworthy saints, or events in their lives.  First, on January 18, we remember the Confession of St. Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  On this confession, as Jesus promised, He has built His Church, and the gates of hell have not, do not, and shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18; see 16:13-19).

On January 24 and 26, we remember Sts. Timothy and Titus, two pastors of the early Church.  We have three letters of Paul to these pastors.

On January 25, we remember the Conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1ff.).  After Jesus appeared to Paul, this great persecutor of the Church became its greatest missionary, and the author of most of the letters we have in our New Testament.

But even these days on which we remember saints are days not to remember them for how great they were, but for the great things God accomplished through them.  They are examples of what God can do with sinful men and women when the light of Christ shines on them.  In fact, Christ as the Light of the world brings us back to Epiphany.  The Light that enlightens all people (John 1:9) is revealed throughout the rest of the Sundays in January and the first Sunday in February.  As we move through the Sundays after Christmas, the Church’s attention is still focused on God-in-flesh, the Son’s Incarnation (see last month’s newsletter).  The Incarnation is not only about Jesus being born.  It is about His whole life lived in obedience to His Father and lived on our behalf and in our place, all the way to a cross and a grave, and beyond into new life for which we are all meant.  He makes everything wrong right.  He makes everything ugly beautiful.  Behold, He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5).  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord (Matthew 21:9)!  Blessed be the Name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore (Psalm 113:2)!

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

As we pass into the lull after Christmas and before Lent begins, perhaps we have a chance to reflect a little more deeply on the meaning of Christ’s incarnation.  We do not have gifts to buy, cookies to bake, or lights and trees and decorations to put up.  I am sure that, as the winter goes on, I will begin to know the meaning of the phrase “in the bleak midwinter.”  Nevertheless, the dark days and the bitter cold can be an occasion for meditation on the great mystery of the Light who brings both heat and light to our world of sin and death.

It has always intrigued me that the seasons of light and joy (Christmas and Epiphany) fall in the darkest part of the year, while the season of darkness and sorrow (Lent) falls as the earth is beginning to warm and new growth is beginning to appear.  But I do not believe in coincidence where the things of God are concerned.  We are brought to realize that even in the midst of our darkest days, Jesus’ promise still stands good: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  And when we are high on our accomplishments and we might very easily tend to forget that we are sinners in need of a Savior, the season of Lent makes us realize that we are dust and to dust we will return (Genesis 3:19).  But more about Lent next month.

For now, though, we are still in the season of light, and I pray for you a blessed and peaceful month as you live in the Light of Christ-even in this dark world.

Quote for the Month

“The world does not recognize [the God to whom eternity belongs].  But the church believes in him.  She sings her Gloria to him, ‘to the triune God, as he was in the beginning, is now, and shall be now and evermore.’  As in the days of the apostles she prays to the one who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, who was and is and is to come, the Almighty: ‘Maranatha!’  ‘Amen, yes, come, Lord Jesus!’ [Rev. 22:20].  The world trembles before the great day of the Lord.  It lets its philosophers prove that there could be no last day, no judgment.  But the church waits expectantly for the blessed last day.  ‘Zion hears the watchman singing, And in her heart new joy is springing.  She wakes, she rises from her gloom.’ [see LSB 516, v. 2]  She hears the jeering question of the world: ‘Where is his promised advent?  For after the fathers fell asleep, everything has remained as it has been from the beginning of creation’ [2 Pet. 3:4].

The world cannot wait.  It is in a hurry because its time is nearing its end.  It must always have it all, otherwise it is too late.  The church can wait.  She has learned to do so in the course of nineteen centuries.  She has a different relationship to time.  For she belongs to one for whom a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day [2 Pet. 3:8].  She is not anxious in the face of unstoppable, inescapable, unrepeatable time.  She knows she is the possession of him who is the Lord of time, because he is the Lord of eternity.  Therefore when the church crosses the threshold of a new year, she can never do so with the feeling of worldly anxiety which we all know as natural men, the anxiety in the face of an unknown future.  She rather enters the new year in firm faith: ‘My time is in thy hands.’  In this faith the church of God on earth heads into the new year, the year of the Lord 1938 [or 2008!].”  (Hermann Sasse, “The Church at the Turn of the Year,” The Lonely Way, vol. 1 [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2001])

Pr. Timothy Winterstein


The Epiphany of Our Lord

“God Appears”

Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 2

 

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

God appears.  But unexpectedly.  First, as a baby in the womb of a blessed virgin, as a fetus conceived in Mary without a human father.  This Child’s Father is God, but His body is created from nothing.  God appears, born like all babies, amid pain and blood and sweat, perhaps with only the carpenter Joseph as the attending physician.  He does not appear in a white, antiseptic birthing room, but in the dirt and stench of a stable.  Even there, where animals live, the Son of Man is homeless (Matthew 8:20).  He is laid on a cradle of hay, in whatever cloths His parents had with them.  His first visitors are not family and friends, with flowers and balloons, but stinking shepherds, with nothing to give the Savior.  They come anyway, to see “this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15, ESV).  And then they’re gone, telling everyone who will listen, praising God that He had allowed them to be witnesses of the newborn Savior.

God appears, the one for whom righteous men and women have long waited.  After a month or so (Leviticus 12:4) in Bethlehem, God appears in His temple as Mary and Joseph make their way to Jerusalem to offer the appointed sacrifice.  There, in the presence of God and the priests, were Mary and Joseph ashamed that they could not offer an unblemished lamb?  All they could afford were the two pigeons of the poor.  Do not be ashamed, poor parents!  The Child whom you hold is the Lamb who will be slain for the salvation of all.  He is the promised one who appears to Simeon and Anna, that odd, old pair waiting and praying in the courts of the Lord.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, devout Simeon sees the salvation of God prepared in the presence of all peoples, and goes to his death in peace, according to the Lord’s word (Luke 2:29-30).  And the long-widowed Anna, praying and fasting, starts thanking God; see her speaking and pointing to the Baby in Simeon’s arms.  Do you wait for the redemption of Israel? she asks.  Here He is, this infant.  These are the ones to whom God appears, as a baby in the arms of the poor: to animals, to shepherds, and to the old and forgotten.

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Eve of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus

“A Name”

Luke 2:21; 12:35-40

 

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

When I told Tennille that we had a service tonight, she asked, “Is that normal?”  In other words, why are we having a service on New Year’s Eve?  Well, we have conflicting impulses in the church year.  Tonight, we would usually focus on the reminder that Jesus gives us in Luke 12 that no one knows when He will return, so His people should always remain watchful and awake.  “Be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks” (Luke 12:36, ESV).  With one eye on the work that we have been given to do, and one eye on the sky, we wait for our Lord to return.  We can wait without fear or regret of the passing time, knowing that our God is Lord of times and seasons, and that He still rules His creation.  And “blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.  Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (Luke 12:37, ESV).  He may come like a thief, that is, at a time we do not know, but He is no thief.  He is our gracious Lord, who has bought us back with the price of His very life.

Tomorrow, eight days after Christmas, is the actual feast day of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus.  The Gospel for that day is a single verse, Luke 2:21: “And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”  Why do we celebrate that day?  There are a number of reasons that could be given.  Jesus was, as Galatians 4:4 says, born under the law.  He fulfilled the Law of His Father to the very last, on our behalf.  That is why Christians do not require circumcision.  But Christians have always recognized that Jesus’ circumcision was more than just a custom.  The blood that He shed on that day was a hint of what was to come, when He would bleed on the cross for the life of the world, and when He would give His blood for Christians to drink for the forgiveness of their sins.

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