Sermo Dei: The Confession of St. Peter

Posted on January 20th, 2015

Dear friends in Christ Jesus, today is a glad day: Benjamin Alexander, son of Aaron, today becomes son of God through the waters of rebirth and renewal.

It is also a sad time. [REDACTED] have lost the child they were expecting. I grieve for them. Many of you have borne similar sorrows. The Word of God to our first mother is true: Conception is now filled with sorrow, and bringing forth children filled with pain.

Yet to our first parents God gave a hope: the promise of a Child who would heal these wounds and repair this world’s brokenness. His nativity we celebrated at Christmas, and in today’s Gospel (St. Mark 8:27—9:1) St. Peter confesses that this Jesus is the Christ, the world-rescuer.

 


 

But the expectation was that the Christ, the Messiah, this Anointed king in the line of David would subdue the world with force. We understand. We want to back a winner. We want our will to prevail. Politics, home life, church: what isn’t tainted with the will to power?

Many longed for—and still long for—a Messianic figure to bring order and peace to the cosmos as other rulers in this world attempt to do.

Jesus upends their expectations just as He overturned tables in the Temple. When Jesus begins talking suffering, sacrifice, and death not for His enemies but for Himself, Peter’s beautiful confession, “You are the Christ,” turns to confusion.

Peter assumes the role of teacher over Christ. After Peter confesses, “You are the Christ,” Jesus “strictly warned them” to keep it to themselves, knowing how people misunderstood the work of the Messiah. That very same term is used then of Peter, here translated rebuke. Jesus speaks of His death, and “Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him.”

The way of the cross was hidden from Peter, as he goes from confession to confusion. Is it much different for us? For you who became Christians as adults, or who had an experience of a renewal of the faith, you know the initial joy that the Gospel brings. But along with it, there is an expectation of success. Everything will be good now. After all, does not God promise great blessings to His children?

Indeed; but like vegetables to children, blessings can seem repugnant when swallowed. We want what tastes good, but it is our sense of taste that needs to be transformed. Meaning: our affections, our passions, our desires are disordered. This is the awful power of the sinful nature. It is present in us from our beginning, which is why we bring Benjamin to baptism, just as he is taken to the physician before he knows to ask for it. He needs the medicine, he needs the work God promises in baptism. St. Peter, after he was transformed and restored by the power of Jesus’ resurrection, preached at Pentecost that the promise of baptism is for us and for our children. God’s power is not dependent upon our wills; indeed, it is to transform and free our broken wills that He comes to us with His gifts and promises.

But the long journey following baptism is the journey of, to, and with the cross. For fighting against this new birth is the Old Adam who clings to us still, the sinful nature who is mindful not “of the things of God, but the things of men.”

Rising from the waters of baptism, Jesus was immediately tempted, harassed by Satan with “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” So it is with you. “Whoever desires to come after Me,” Jesus says, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

What do you most desire? Even the good desires planted in our nature, desires for food, drink, union with the opposite sex, and children – how easily these desires ruin us as we abuse God’s good gifts and measure everything by power and pleasure.

What do you most desire? The path of discipleship is learning to desire nothing but God and His kingdom, and what benefits the neighbor. Outside of this, what will it profit you if you gain the whole world while your soul remains corrupt, filled with bitterness and pride, anger and folly?

 


 

Peter’s confession was true, even if he did not yet fully understand it. Jesus is the Christ. He has come to destroy the works of the devil. The wages of sin is death, and Jesus pays those wages in full by His death on the cross. In Him is our faith, our trust.

But note the renewed and restored Peter’s preaching on faith in his letter read this morning. Our goal is to become “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” You feel those desires yet in you. They are powerful, and this Christian life is spent fighting them. Faith is the beginning, but love is the end.

Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5–7 ESV)

To accomplish this, the Lord sends us times of sadness. They are difficult. But He ends them in His good time, in better ways than we could imagine or devise.

Thus we come to this holy altar for the medicine we need, medicine to give us joy amidst tears, and to check our pride when we prosper in this world. Approaching the altar, we learn from today’s Gospel about the confession of Peter how we should confess: “Dear Lord, I have had in mind the things of men, and not the things of God. I have resented the crosses You send me, and taken credit for Your gifts. I return to You chastened. Your Son is my Christ, my Messiah, my Jesus. I need You more than ever. Abandon me not to my folly, but renew me with the Holy Spirit you poured out this day on little Benjamin. I am Yours; save me.” +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Baptism of Our Lord 2015

Posted on January 16th, 2015

Baptism of the Lord Jesus

Approaching the waters, Jesus announces, “I am a sinner.” John knows better. “No You are not. While in the waters of my mother’s womb I leaped for joy, for the Righteous One has come at last.”

Still Jesus approaches Jordan’s banks. “I am a sinner.” John replies, “Is this some kind of trick? I need to be baptized by You.”

But Jesus insists. Descending into the waters, the sinless One becomes sinner, Life is steeped in death. The logic of the Logos, the orderliness of the Word descends into disorder, chaos.

Into Himself Jesus absorbs all that is broken. He drinks in your pain, He soaks in your sorrow. It is as though every tear streaming from bitter eyes, every drop of blood spilled through injustice and disregard, every plague and contagion, all of humanity’s rage and spite, all of our pus and excrement, everything that soils and infests flows with raging torrent into that river.

The Baptism and the Cross are one. And then comes the preaching: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” The sermon is for you. But what is more, the sermon is about you.

For you too have been baptized. Dr. Luther put it this way: “You should enter into Christ’s baptism with your own baptism, so that Christ’s baptism is your baptism and your baptism is Christ’s baptism and thus there is one baptism” (Luther Brevier, p23).

 


 

Around you, the storms of life still rage. The tears and blood, the dread and melancholy, the real sins and real hurts continue. We were told this would happen, but believed the lie: we expected rewards, blessings without crosses, and seem surprised when the words are proved true again, that only through many hardships do we enter the kingdom of God, and the paradoxical sign of His love is discipline. All this continues, indeed increases until the world finally crashes to its end.

But through it all, the voice of the Father at the Baptism of Jesus rings out as His Word for our baptism: “You are My beloved child. In you I am well pleased.”

Diagnose yourself, and you see nothing but sin and death, a barren wasteland where nothing good grows. Gaze into that mirror and say, “It is true.”

But hasten on to the Jesus who joins you in the wasteland, joins you in the foul and murky waters and says, “I am with you.” Stand with Him there in the waters; say back to Him, “I am with You!” And hear the voice of the Father speak to you both, together as one: “You are My beloved Son. In You I am well pleased.”

You are the Father’s delight. He loves you. After this comes temptation, fasting, affliction, sorrow, whipping, thorns, cross, burial. But through it all, you remain the Father’s delight. He loves you still. Resurrection is coming, when dead things live and barren places bloom. +INJ+

Epiphany 1 Chapel Sermon

Posted on January 15th, 2015

Has anybody ever asked you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” If you had asked me that question when I was a little boy, I would have said that I wanted to operate big construction equipment. I had a book called “Digger Dan the Steam-shovel Man,” and I would make my mom read it to me over and over again. Later I wanted to be a policeman, or an astronaut. Then I decided I was going to be the catcher for the Minnesota Twins. That didn’t work out.

Now stop and think for a moment about the implications of that question, “What do you want to be?” The question assumes that our being, who we are, is defined by what job you have.

 


 

What if we thought about the question very differently? It would be a much better thing to say, “What do I want to be? I want to be a Christian. I want to be a disciple of Jesus.”

Aren’t you that already? When you were baptized, God gave you the gift of the Holy Spirit, He named you His child and said, “I will be your Father.”

So, we already are Christians, we already are disciples of Jesus.

 


 

And yet, we’re not all the way there. Part of our heart, part of our mind, part of our will, does not want to be a Christian. That’s what we call the sinful nature: the heart, the affections, the passions, our desires all keep on trying to make us say “No!” to God and His Word.

 


 

In today’s Bible reading (Luke 2:41-52), Jesus is a boy very close to your own age. He is about twelve years old. Joseph and Mary have taken Jesus to the big city of Jerusalem, to visit the temple and celebrate the Passover.

Jesus had always been a good boy, and Joseph and Mary aren’t worried about Him remembering to come along when their big group of travelers  leaves Jerusalem for the long trip back to Nazareth.

But Jesus stays behind. He wan’t trying to be bad or not obey Joseph and Mary. But already at twelve He knows who He is. He doesn’t say, “One day I want to grow up and die on a cross.” But He does say, “I will be exactly what God the Father wants Me to be, and I will do exactly what God the Father wants Me to do.”

So when Mary and Joseph finally find JESUS on the third day in the temple, they demand an explanation. “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

That’s who Jesus is: the one man who doesn’t think about what He wants to be. The only thing He wants is to be what God the Father wants Him to be. Jesus is what Jesus does: Jesus is our Savior, Jesus does the saving. Jesus is Lord, and He lords us, He cares for us, He protects us, He gives us life.

 


 

Everything we are is wrapped up in Jesus. So if somebody asks you, “Who are you?” you can say, “I am a Christian, I am a child of God, I’m with Jesus.” And that’s also your answer if someone says, “What do you want to be?” You can say, “I want to be a Christian.” Everything else is just details. +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Epiphany 1, 2015

Posted on January 15th, 2015

A friend of mine was unemployed, and he said the hardest thing about meeting people during that period was the second question everyone asks, after your name: “What do you do?” Our work—or business—ends up defining us to others—and to ourselves.

A former professor of mine, now retired, shared with me a similar kind of concern. For years he had described himself as “professor,” and now he was “retired.” Who, what was he?


When Mary and Joseph find JESUS on the third day in the temple, they demand an explanation. “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Gospel for Epiphany I, Luke 2:41-53)

Already at 12, JESUS has a plan. It’s not a career plan. For that, He will follow in His earthly father’s footsteps and become a carpenter like Joseph.

But the identity of Jesus is not wrapped up in a trade or profession. Neither does He define Himself by ethnicity or home city, rooting interests or political affiliations. His identity is defined by being Son and servant of God.

Thus should it also be for us. While JESUS is Son of God by nature, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, we too are adopted as children of God. The Lord’s Prayer invites us to call upon God as “Our Father,” our true Father, and He promises to hear us.

What does this mean for you? You are not an engineer or lawyer, surgeon or soldier, teacher or technician. You are not even mother or father, husband or wife, sister or brother first of all. You are a child of God, redeemed by Him, loved by Him, embraced and accepted by Him.

That’s what JESUS has done for you. That was and is His “business”: your rescue, your redemption, your atonement, your embrace.

That is your identity.


 

But we too have business to do, and it is very much a this-worldly business. The life of faith is not an abstraction, a far-flung spiritual thing away from other people. God gives us mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, pastors and vicars and hearers, crazy people, sad people, broken people, happy people, sick and healthy, smart and struggling, beautiful and misshapen. Each person and moment has purpose and meaning, value and worth, and we find our purpose and meaning in doing what God gives us to do right here and now, today.

We can waste our lives searching or longing for something better on earth, as though wealth and comfort were our true god.

With the Christian faith, there is no longing for any future other than JESUS Christ’s future.

With the Christian faith, there is no longing for any future other than JESUS Christ’s future, His return.

This does not mean being sad, simply accepting how things are. Knowing that your future is JESUS Christ’s future, that His kingdom is certainly your kingdom, that frees you for joy in this moment and every moment. Each good thing in creation to taste or smell; each note that is sung; and also each task, however arduous, the child of God experiences joy in knowing: this is where God wants me to be, this is the work I am to do. Nothing is unimportant, nothing is insignificant if it is done in this faith, a this-worldly faith that sees everything resting under the redemption of Jesus, every undertaking informed and shaped by His Word.

So in each situation we strive to join our will to His. He is our childhood’s pattern, and each of us must each day be converted and become children anew, people who receive today what God gives, people who seek nothing more than the work He gives us to do, and enjoy with all our senses the gifts He freely gives, with thankful and glad hearts.

This is what St. Paul calls our spiritual worship: (Rom. 12.1:) “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Our bodies God calls us to make living sacrifices. This is not a death on an altar, for all of that was completed in the death of Jesus. The world is now your altar, your neighbors an altar whereby you sacrifice by counting their needs more important than your desires. You bear with patience whatever God gives you.

Now your mind is being transformed, away from the pursuit of wealth and status, of meaningless sex and power devoid of compassion. You are a child of God, your future is JESUS Christ’s future. Your sins are forgiven and your body will rise from the dust to praise God. That is the Father’s business, and He will certainly finish it. +INJ+

 January 11, 2015—The First Sunday after the Epiphany

Paying lip-service to the gospel

Posted on January 14th, 2015

In the following passage, Luther expounds on the words of 1 John 3:18, “My little children let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”

The apostle is denouncing those false brothers and hypocritical Christians who only pay lip-service to the Gospel. They retain just the froth together with their presumption that faith and the Gospel are a mere matter of words … yet they believe that no-one else is as zealous as they are. You can see that their doctrines are mere husks and empty shells from the way these people conduct their lives. They have no intention of living in accordance with the Gospel nor do they intend to demonstrate Christian love to show that they really do take the Gospel seriously. That is why they become slothful and refuse to do any works, protesting that their field of action is belief itself so that they grow to be worse even than what they had been before. They live a kind of life that even the world itself finds reprehensible – never mind what will happen when they have to face the living God.

Luther Brevier, p30

Making one what was broken

Posted on January 7th, 2015

I love how Augustine finds the four corners of the world in ADAM, along with the hope that the first-formed is gathered in on the day of judgment:

“For with righteousness shall He judge the world:” not a part of it, for He bought not a part: He will judge the whole, for it was the whole of which He paid the price. Ye have heard the Gospel, where it saith, that when He cometh, “He shall gather together His elect from the four winds.” He gathereth all His elect from the four winds: therefore from the whole world. For Adam himself (this I had said before) signifieth in Greek the whole world; for there are four letters, A, D, A, and M. But as the Greeks speak, the four quarters of the world have these initial letters, ’Ανατολὴ, they call the East; Δύσις, the West; ̓Ἄρκτος, the North; Μεσημβρία, the South: thou hast the word Adam. Adam therefore hath been scattered over the whole world. He was in one place, and fell, and as in a manner broken small, he filled the whole world: but the mercy of God gathered together the fragments from every side, and forged them by the fire of love, and made one what was broken. That Artist knew how to do this; let no one despair: it is indeed a great thing, but reflect who that Artist was. He who made, restored: He who formed, re-formed. What are righteousness and truth? He will gather together His elect with Him to the judgment, but the rest He will separate one from another; for He will place some on the right, others on the left hand. But what is more just, what more true, than that they shall not expect mercy from their Judge, who have refused to act mercifully, before their Judge come? But those who chose to act with mercy, with mercy shall be judged.…

NPNF 1:8 (Expositions on the Psalms)

Sermo Dei: Christmas I (observed)

Posted on January 4th, 2015

With every Bible passage, we have to ask two questions: First, what does it mean? And Second, how does it apply to me? For the first question, What does it mean?, we use grammar, history, and context. But the second question, How does this apply to me?, recognizes that these words are also the Word of God to us and for us. The Apostles tell us that they write these things not only as histories, but to admonish us (1 Cor. 10.11), to instruct us (2 Tim. 3.16). The Law of the Lord changes our soul, gives us wisdom, joy, and enlightenment (Ps. 19.7f), and the testimony of Jesus gives us life (Jn. 20.30f). St. John says that the things they wrote are the things of Jesus they saw and heard, and that hearing them gives us life, eternal life. “These things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 Jn 1.4).

So in every passage of God’s Word, we are looking for instruction in how to live now, and the life that Jesus gives us now and in the world to come.


So let’s apply that to today’s gospel reading (Luke 2:23-30). We have Joseph and Mary coming to the temple, forty days after Jesus was born. There, a mother and her newborn baby would receive a blessing. But a strange blessing they get. A man named Simeon had received a prophecy that he would not die before he saw the Messiah, the Savior promised first to Eve, then to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and down all the way through the family of David, the great king who was from a little town called Bethlehem.

But Simeon was getting old. Day after day, year after year passed without anything happening. Now, in the fullness of time, Joseph and Mary appear. The Holy Spirit indicates to Simeon that this is the Child. So Simeon takes up the infant Jesus, just a little over a month old, and says, “Now I can die in peace.”

That’s the song we sing every Sunday after Communion. The Church’s liturgy is from Scripture, but it isn’t just random bits strung together. One thing leads inexorably to the next: We confess our sins, hear the words of Baptism all over again in our forgiveness “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” then we sing of God’s mercy, the angels announce the birth of Jesus, “Glory to God in the Highest,” and tell us that this means peace to the world. Then after hearing special instruction from God’s Word, we are brought into the presence of God where angels sing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” then it’s Palm Sunday, as we sing with the crowd, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord,” then we hear Jesus tells us that He gives us His body and blood, and John the Baptist points us to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Eating the Lamb as our Passover, and drinking the wine that makes glad the heart of man, then we say with Simeon, “Now I can die in peace.”

You’re not sure what to do about the problems in your family, your work is not everything you wanted, you feel the arthritis setting in, your parents are struggling – but here, in Jesus, is the answer to everything. Now, because of Jesus, I can die in peace.


Those words of Simeon, “Now I can die in peace,” are what Joseph and Mary are marveling at in the first verse of today’s Gospel. Everything seems great. They’ve had visits from Angels and shepherds, and somewhere in that first year Magi, Wise Men worshiping Jesus. Everything seems amazing.

And then the bomb drops. “Behold.” “Behold” in the Bible is like the bell at worship. The bell means, “Quiet down and pay attention, important stuff is happening now.” “Behold” is a giant arrow in the margin of a book, then an underline and a highlight. “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also).”

Joy to the world? Peace on earth? Sign me up!

Babies that don’t cry, gold, and everlasting life? Perfect!

People stumbling and falling? Speaking against, slandering my Baby? Did you say a sword will stab me in the heart? Now wait just a minute!

Well, that’s what I would say. Mary and Joseph say nothing. They don’t always understand, but they always listen, ruminate on God’s Word, and keep it in their hearts.


We know the rest of the story, all the way to the cross and tomb. What about Jesus makes people stumble and fall, or rise? And what does that have to do with me? It’s in the context of a sword piercing Mary’s soul, or heart. I can’t imagine anything breaking a mother’s heart more than seeing her baby boy beaten, laughed at, crowned with thorns, nailed to a tree, and then run through with a spear. Merry Christmas! From angels and shepherds to soldiers and bandits, Simeon sees what’s coming: Not just the fulfillment of the prophecy given to him, but the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah about the Christ,

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Is 53:4–5 NKJV)

Simeon can die in peace, you can die in peace, because this Child takes the chastisement for our peace upon Himself.

So what does this mean for us, that Jesus will be, as Simeon says, for the falling and rising of people?

Our fallen human nature wants to exalt ourselves. Jesus preaches the full extent of sin, not only fornication but the lust of the heart, not only murder but idle words, not only theft of money but the love of it: all damns. And at the same time Jesus says, “Come to Me, for all these sins I have taken on Myself and laid them with Me in the grave. Now come with Me and die, crucify the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5.24). Abandon the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, for all that is empty. In Me is resurrection and life unto the ages.” Against all this, human reason and passion says, “No!” To those who have so exalted themselves, this Child Jesus becomes a stumbling block, and they are cast down from their self-climbed heights.

But to those who confess their sins and say, “I am fallen, made low by my nature and have dug still lower by my own sins; in this hellish world I have made even more hell for myself and others. Dear Jesus, help me, save me, have mercy!”—to these, this Child is for their rising; they stand again by the free gift of Jesus, now in faith and then, though the grave seem to devour them, they stand again at the resurrection.


So whatever hell this world throws at you, whatever rage the devil threatens you with on account of your sins, whatever sword pierces your soul, you have a companion. You have a companion in Mary, who endured the pain while looking to her Son; you have a companion in Simeon, who seeing Jesus said he could die in peace; you have a companion in Anna, who all the way to her very old age gave thanks to God and told everyone of redemption, rescue in Jesus. You have a companion in Joseph, who fulfilled all his duties as a husband and father faithfully. And most especially, you have a companion, friend, and brother in our Lord Jesus, who knows every one of your sufferings and sins, and has already taken them on Himself.

So be glad, dear Christians, this Eleventh Day of Christmas. For Joy to the World still rings out to all the earth, and receiving this Child at His own table, we can with Simeon die in peace. +INJ+

Top 14 of 2014

Posted on December 31st, 2014

Here are the top posts on Esgetology published in 2014:

  1. Lutherans for Life Statement on Thrivent
  2. Sermon before the March for Life
  3. Roots and Orthodoxy
  4. Baccalaureate Vespers 2014
  5. Holy Cross 2014
  6. Adapting the Local Lifestyle
  7. Is There a Patristic Consensus?
  8. Denying the Real Presence Denies the Gospel
  9. Luther on Suicide
  10. Sermo Dei: Ordination of Eric Phillips
  11. Heaven is not for real
  12. It seems almost a miracle
  13. Vocation and Virtue
  14. Sermo Dei: Trinity 22, 2014

The news about Thrivent’s complete institutional capitulation to the culture’s obsession with erotic liberty mirrors the larger cultural issues of the erosion of marriage and the general decline of Christian influence in America.

Along with sermons (4, 5, 10, 14)—hardly a surprise for a pastor’s blog—the things that drew the attention of readers are Life issues (1, 2, 9) and Eastern Orthodoxy (3 & 7).

For 2015, I intend to continue regularly publishing sermons, along with book quotations that interest me. Most of my shorter thoughts are now on Twitter, where you can follow me @esgetology.

Sermo Dei: Christmas Day 2014

Posted on December 25th, 2014

In the beginning, God made us. He made us creatures. We belong to Him.

It was the Word who, in the beginning, made us (John 1:1-14). He made us, creatures. “Without him was not any thing made that was made.”


We became a ruined race; corrupt creatures who love darkness.

The darkness has overcome us.

Though we have seen His great light, too often we have gone back to the darkness, seeking to hide in its shadows. We are afraid of the darkness—but we are also afraid of the light. Men don’t come to the light, because it will expose their deeds, revealing us not as the world sees us, but for who we really are: children of the darkness.


Into this darkness comes the true Light. He is not like us. He does not know the darkness. He is not a creature. He is Son, the only Son of the Father. In the beginning, He already was. He is not a creature; He is the Son.

But for us, the Son becomes a creature. Why? To make us children.

America pictures Christmas as children lost in wonder. We tell children fables to give them a sense of mystery. But it is we adults who need to enter the mystery, to become children again.

What does it mean to become children of God? It is like being a creature, but there is much more: we do not simply have a Creator, but a Father. We do not have only a Lord, but in Jesus a Brother. They, with the Holy Spirit, care for us as only family cares.


We have no right, no claim to this family. We do not belong. We do not belong in the house or at the table. We belong in the darkness, outside. By nature we have no right, for we are just creatures. We can no more expect to be welcomed to God’s house, God’s table, than we could imagine that we could climb into the president’s limousine, or stop by the White House for dinner. These places are closed to us. We do not belong, we have no right.

With God, not only do we have no right, we have been openly hostile to Him. His Word we have disregarded, His Law we have scorned. We have been more concerned with our food and drink, our work and reputations, searching for pleasure and contentment, security and certainty in all the wrong places. We go to the darkness, and emerging say, “Never again!” but still are drawn back to it. We have been overcome by the darkness.


But the darkness did not overcome Him, our Jesus, the Word. He comes to pardon, yes, but something more wonderful than we could imagine: He makes us children. “To them gave He the right to become the children of God.”

It defies all reason. A son, an only son, would not seek brothers and sisters. They would share his inheritance. But this Jesus not only allows it, He embraces it, earnestly desiring to share everything He has and is with us. St. Augustine put it this way:

He was not afraid of having joint heirs, because his inheritance does not become less if its possessors are many. Those very persons, since he is the possessor, become his inheritance, and he in turn becomes their inheritance…. Let us possess him, and let him possess us.

What then could be more sorrowful than these words: “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not”? To miss Jesus is to miss everything. The King invites us to share His palace, yet we prefer the things of the gutter.


Still He comes to us in our darkness, urging us to not remain there. Why should He care? Because He loves us. Love is inexplicable. Much more so God’s love. Parents and siblings love despite arguments and rancor. God’s love in this Child cannot be fathomed. So all St. John can say is, “Look! Can you believe how much He loves us?”

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:1–2 NKJV)

To be named a child of God is to be given everything—everything!—in heaven and earth. It also means that Christmas changes us.

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life. (Philippians 2:14–16 NKJV)

We do not know what is ahead for us in the remaining time of this life. What will the new year bring? Is this Christmas our last? Will I experience success, or be granted the privilege of enduring hardship? All we know is that we have been given the Word of life—but that tells us everything we need to know. We have life, God’s life, given to us. No creature, government, or devil can take that away. What love, that God makes us His children. We have, as His children, what His Son has. Jesus has life, light, love, truth, resurrection. In the Child born for us this day, we have everything already. +INJ+

Sermo Dei: Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols 2014

Posted on December 24th, 2014

After this, we go home. Or maybe to a relative’s, or to a party. Rich food, strong drink, festive music. And gifts.

After this we go home. What if you could not? What if there were no gifts? Would that make it a bad Christmas?

What if you couldn’t go home?

A good Christmas is not something we can have by what we give – or get from other people. Writing from his prison cell in December 1943, German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer remembered fondly the beautiful Christmas celebrations his parents gave him as a child, and how later he greatly enjoyed buying Christmas presents for others. But now, imprisoned by the Nazis for his resistance, Pastor Bonhoeffer wrote,

Now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious. The emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words, “We are beggars, it’s true.” The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.

Cell 92 (Bonhoeffer’s cell) in Tegel prison

After this, we go home. Bonhoeffer never went home, but was executed in a concentration camp.

After this we go home, but there are those who cannot go home. Divorce, broken relations with parents, or death keep us from experiencing community as we wish we could.


Perhaps we can see in all of this – the absences, the brokenness, even our part in all of it, the fault, the responsibility, the guilt we bear – as still doing some good. Good in that it empties our hands, makes us beggars. Our hearts should be Christ’s home. But our hearts are places of cacophony, chaos, greed and discontent. How can my heart be Christ’s home?

How can my heart be Christ’s home?

You don’t make it so by your preparations. Look at Bethlehem. Nothing was prepared. Absolutely nothing. No hotel room, no hospital, no midwife, no medicines. And where is the new-born Jesus laid? In a feeding trough. We’ve sung Away in a Manger so many times, seen creches and pictures of an idyllic nativity that the birth of Jesus has lost all the indignity, even horror. What mother would put her child where the sheep eat?

But He makes this place, this lowest of all places, His home. Later, this Child would say, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” He has no home, because He makes His home with us. He comes to where we are, in barns and caves, mangers and messes. He lodged with squabbling sisters and corrupt government workers. He came to the homes of rough Galilean sailors and rabbis proud and pompous. He comes to us.

He has no home, because He makes His home with us.

Are you ready to meet Him? For this One, who enters the world through the virgin, is your God. He comes to be your judge. This is “frightful news for anyone who has a conscience” (Bonhoeffer). Christmas seems safe, for we look at the Christ Child as something far distant, separated by centuries and oceans. Under such circumstances, we return home unchanged.

But this news, this frightful news that God has come is still for us. He bids us come to the manger not to see one who is cute and cuddly, but to see what our judge makes Himself: weak, despised, disadvantaged. Already His cross has begun. And already His gift to you can be seen. For your judge says, “See what I have made Myself. I have made Myself you. Leave here at My makeshift cradle all your pride, ambition, anxieties, your mumbled prayers and protestations of having made a good attempt.”

Throw all of it down and welcome this God-become-infant into your disordered, deviant heart. He is the Savior of the World. Which means, this Jesus still is what the angels said the first Christmas: He is born for you, He is born to you. Now, whoever you are, however far you have wandered, now through this Child the Father is well-pleased with you.

Now we can go home. Our own homes may be messy – with papers and dishes, or other kinds of messes that are much harder to clean. No matter. This Child has come to take us home to our Father. He takes us with Him from manger to cross to resurrection. In Him we can at last go home.