Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Third Sunday after Epiphany

Light, Life, Darkness, and the Shadow of Death”

Matthew 4:12-25

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

People often say that it’s always darkest right before the dawn. It’s meant to be helpful. It’s said to people who are struggling, or grieving, or suffering. And often it is true. Perhaps you’ve experienced a darkness so deep you thought you’d never come out, and then, right when you think it can’t get worse, the sun is rising, and it’s a new day. Perhaps it’s true. St. John Chrysostom said, “For in truth the condition of men was at the worst before Christ’s coming” (Homily XIV:1 [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf110.iii.XIV.html]). Even in the book of the prophet Isaiah, right before the section Matthew quotes, Isaiah says about the people of Israel: “They will pass through the land hard-pressed and famished, and it will turn out that when they are hungry, they will be enraged and curse their king and their God as they face upward. Then they will look to the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be driven away into darkness” (Isaiah 8:21-22, NASB). Not only that, but Matthew quotes Isaiah not that the people are walking in darkness, but sitting in darkness. If you’re moving, at least you have some hope of getting out of the black, but if you’re just sitting there, blind and motionless, what hope is there until morning comes?

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The Second Sunday after Epiphany

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Bishop and Christian*, January 2011

As we begin another calendar year, the Church is already in full celebration mode, with the Circumcision and Name of Jesus (Jan. 1), Epiphany (Jan. 6), and the Baptism of Our Lord (celebrated Jan. 9).

Everywhere, people are talking about New Year’s Resolutions, which no one expects to keep and which no one really wants to, anyway. They are always distasteful things, which is why we always say things like, “When the holidays are over, then I’ll…”; they are things which we do not want to begin until there’s nothing better to do in the long winter months of January and February.

I have no resolutions, nor will I make any. Not that I don’t have things on which I could improve, or things that I will try to do better this year. The things for which everyone else will once again make (futile?) resolutions are what we simply call “vocation”: The things that are required of you and me in the particular situations in which God has put us (which probably isn’t changing all that much just because you put up a new calendar); the things that the love of God for your neighbor demand; the things for which you, with your gifts, talents, experience, and job, are uniquely placed. The Christian doesn’t wait until “after the holidays” or until January 1 to work at these; the definition of vocation is that you are in it every day, all year long.

I don’t know about you, but that creates in me two separate, and often opposing, feelings. First, an excitement and freedom that God has put me here, at this time and in this place, to be His “mask” as He serves others through me. What greater opportunity could a baptized child of God have? (That is the good gift of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.) But it also creates in me a feeling of tremendous and nearly complete inadequacy. There is simply no way I can ever accomplish the tasks that love requires. I fail miserably, and multiple times, every single day. This brings me to despair of myself and my own abilities. (That is also the good work of the Holy Spirit through the Law.) I need the saving and forgiving work of Jesus as much this year as ever. I have not yet ceased to be a sinner, and 2011 won’t be the year that I do (unless Christ returns). But I know, because I am baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection (see Jan. 9!), because He fulfilled the righteous Law of God completely in my place (see Jan. 1 and 9!), and because He has been revealed before all nations as their, and my, Savior from sin and its consequences (see Jan. 6!), that I am free from worry about whether this year I will be able to please God. He has said to me, and to you, exactly what He says to His Son (because we are in His Son!): “This is My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

So don’t worry about resolutions; just practice the Faith: confess your sin, receive Christ’s Absolution (which is a return to your baptism), gather weekly around His Word, and receive His Body and Blood in the Supper. The calendar may change, but the grace of God for you never does.

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”


The Baptism of Our Lord

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The Epiphany of Our Lord

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The Second Sunday of Christmas

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