Showing posts from December, 2013

Sermon on Matthew 2:13-23, for the 1st Sunday after Christmas, "Not in vain"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. It’s often said that the holidays are often marked by sharp contrasts in emotions. For some Christians, Christmas is the peak of joy and anticipation for the year, with Easter as well. And rightly so. These two Christian feasts are meant for celebration—and we aren’t going to stop celebrating Christmas yet! We can continue to revel in the joy of Christ’s birth for us, and stretch out our celebration while the world moves on and tunes out. But just as quickly as we’ve heard the marvelous Christmas gospel, we’re hit with Jesus’ narrow escape from death at the hand of Herod’s soldiers, and the brutal massacre of Bethlehem’s innocent sons. And it’s not an accident of the calendar of readings, but how Matthew himself finishes the story of Jesus’ birth and childhood. Why such a swing from amazing good news to such a grim story? Couldn’t we keep this story in the shadows, and just stick to the joyful Christmas message?

Sermon on John 1:1-14 for Christmas Day, "Tabernacled among us"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Christmas is here! Today we celebrate Jesus’ birth. The Bible tells about Jesus’ birth from several different angles. Matthew’s Gospel tells of Mary and Joseph, the promise of the Virgin birth, the visit of the Wise Men and the terror of King Herod. Luke’s Gospel, which you likely heard last night, tells of the census, Bethlehem, the shepherds, the angels, and Jesus laid in the manger. The Gospel of John also tells the Christmas story, but in a very different way. He focuses not so much on the human participants and the locations, as on the grand themes of what God was at work doing, and the coming of Jesus into the world. John 1 is the Christmas’ story told from God’s perspective, showing Jesus’ relationship to God and His incarnation, His coming into human flesh right here in the world. All this unfolded in the midst of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and wise men’s lives, but John tells how it fits in the grand scheme

Sermon on Matthew 1:18-25 for the 4th Sunday in Advent, "God with us"

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. What does “Emmanuel” mean? It’s the name of our church, and the title given to Christ in our Gospel reading. It means “God with us.” But in what sense? God with us could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. People are often quite content to speak about God being with them in the beauty of nature, in the whisper of the breeze, or in the bliss of a memorable moment. But is that what “Emmanuel” means in the Bible? Far from it. While we might be able to admire the beauty of God’s handiwork in nature, or sense peace or joy from certain restful or happy moments, that fleeting experience is not what God’s presence means. Neither is this the presence of the God who speaks to us. So where do we find the God who speaks to us? Or what happens when we are faced with the ugliness or brutality of life, in the cancer ward, or in the dangerous part of town? What about when sorrow wrenches all our joy and

Sermon on Psalm 136 for Advent Midweek 3, "God's Never-ending Story"

*Note: this sermon is my own composition, but the idea and a couple of borrowed phrases come from the preaching series we used this year for Advent, which was from Concordia Seminary St. Louis, called "Beautiful Savior" and based on themes in the Psalms.  Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Our sermon is based on Psalm 136, a song of praise to God, with the constant refrain that “His steadfast love endures forever.” The Psalm begins by recounting God’s goodness and His superiority over all other gods and lords, and quickly moves to the wonder of God’s creation. It continues by recounting God’s wonders in redeeming His people Israel from Egypt and settling them in their land, and finally the psalm concludes by remembering how God provides for and remembers us, and finally feeds us and all living things. In proclaiming repeatedly that “His steadfast love endures forever”—and also in ending “at the dinner tabl

Sermon on Matthew 11:2-15 for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, "Doubts and Expectations"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Our Gospel reading shows a surprising show of doubt or uncertainty, from one we might expect to be above such things—John the Baptist, the greatest prophet and greatest among men. As someone who experienced direct revelation from God, shouldn’t he have been immune to doubts? Don’t we often imagine that would be the sure ticket to certainty of faith for us? But John sends his disciples with a message to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Of course it’s not hard to guess why John might have experienced doubts. He was in prison for teaching the word of God, unwilling to back down from a tyrant like Herod Antipas. In prison for that? He might have expected. But did he expect something more, or different from Jesus? What made John ask? While I thank God that none of you are locked up in prison for your faith, or for your confession of Jesus Christ—does

Sermon on Matthew 3:1-12, for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, "Wouldn't be the same..."

            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Each year as we reach the season of Advent, John the Baptist greets us as a familiar figure in the readings. He is the voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.” Besides having a full beard, he probably has nothing in common with Santa Claus. And he gets far less notice. But in the Christian church, John teaches us far more about the proper celebration of Advent and Christmas than does Santa Claus. But we often need reminders that the Christmas celebrated by the world can so easily distract from and obscure how Christ is the heart and reason for the season. Are we aware of what makes Christmas distinctively Christian, or do we secretly prefer the version that is all about over-spending, self-indulgence, and all the holiday trappings, but is devoid of Jesus?             We all grew up with various memories and associations of wh