Monday, January 30, 2012

Sanctity of Life Sunday (Luke 1:39-45)

“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Sanctity of Life Sunday comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, there once was a pregnant teenager. Only fifteen years old, without a job, without money, without much hope. She is scorned by the world around her, looked down upon by her friends and neighbors. Her parents are furious, upset that their daughter has brought shame on the entire family. Her fiancĂ© should be angry, but he is more sad than anything else. He had worked so hard to remain pure, to do things in this relationship the way that God wanted, and he thought that she was the same. But not only had she apparently cheated on him, now she was pregnant. He clearly can’t stay with her; he must go his own way. With one announcement, one moment, everything has fallen apart for this young girl. She feels completely alone.

There are plenty of voices in this world that would be glad to help her in her difficult situation. The advice comes from doctors, from the media, from intellectuals, from the family planning clinics we find throughout our country. The first statement is the most basic: “that isn’t a real person in your womb.” It’s a potential person, sure, if it ever sees the light of day, but now it’s just a glob of tissue. Some of the more extreme feminists will even call it a parasite, something growing within her that simply takes nutrients away and contributes nothing to her health. They use sterile terms like ‘zygote,’ ‘embryo,’ or ‘fetus’- anything but ‘person’ or ‘baby.’ If it isn’t a person, then it isn’t murder, it’s just a medical procedure, like removing a tumor. It’s your body, to do with what you want; no one should be able to tell you what to do with what is your own. 

The world says the same thing to the medical researcher about to destroy a human embryo: “That isn’t a real person in the petri dish.” That embryo is just genetic material, ripe to be harvested for the good of others, to cure diseases; who could argue with that? A family gathered around a hospital or nursing home bed hears the same message: “That isn’t a real person laying there.” The person you knew is long gone; now they are simply a drain on resources, a burden on you. People are protected, but a fetus, an embryo, the elderly or infirm? They exist only as long as they are useful to us.

These voices want her to be selfish, to look out for her own needs. They want her to give into her fears and take the steps necessary to eliminate the source of that fear. They don’t want her to place her trust in anyone else, certainly not God. Abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell treatments are all done out of fear and a lack of trust in God. People are afraid of the burden of life, the burden of an unwanted child or the burden of an elderly or infirm relative. Their trust isn’t in the God who provides, the God who has promised to take care of His people, but instead their only trust is in themselves. They will do what’s good for them, seeking their own needs first, not the good of what dwells in the womb, in the researcher’s lab, or on the hospital bed. They want control, they want to be in charge. They want to be God. Satan’s temptation is heard in abortion clinics, labs, and hospitals throughout the world: “You will be like God.” 

We have wanted control from the very beginning, and in a world of abortion on demand, we have it in a crucial area of our lives. God no longer gives children where and when He pleases; we have become gods, we control over when and whether we give birth. Sex doesn’t need to have any connection with children anymore through birth control and abortion. Through those twin tools, we have become gods, we have conquered nature and its Creator. And we extend that control to the end of life. We can control when someone dies, when their time has come and they are no longer useful to us or deserving of life. The beginning of life and the end of life is in our hands; we don’t have to trust anyone but ourselves, because we are in the driver’s seat, we have become gods.

As this world tells that pregnant teenager to take her rightful place as a god, it tells her friends, her family, her fellow citizens, you and me, not to interfere. In many and various ways, our world tells us, “There’s other issues more important than life.” Surely the economy is more important right now than abortion or euthanasia, surely the threat of terrorism is more immediate, right? For forty years we have lived under the horror of Roe vs. Wade. Many of us here have never lived in a time when the womb was a place of safety. The death toll in our country alone is over fifty million. We live in a nation where the most vulnerable are killed for convenience, for a variety of reasons or for no reason at all. And we as Christians have failed to hold our leaders fully accountable for the slaughter. We have failed to realize that while life isn’t the only issue, it is the fundamental issue. A society cannot adequately protect any other right unless it protects life; a country has no right to condemn any other act of violence while it slaughters its children. This entire nation has blood on its hands, you, me, and all of our fellow citizens.

If that pregnant teenager had lived today, she would’ve heard each of those voices, and perhaps she would’ve given in, perhaps her child would’ve been killed. This girl’s name was Mary, and her child? Jesus. Think about it: if Jesus had been conceived today, He may have been aborted. But while Mary was afraid, but she didn’t put her trust in herself, she didn’t seek control, instead she placed herself into the hands of the Lord. Elizabeth said of her, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Our God spent nine months in the womb of Mary, sanctifying the womb and every stage of life by passing through it just like you and me. Christ’s work of salvation didn’t begin on Christmas Eve, but instead it began at the moment of His conception. Our text clearly teaches that every child in the womb is a person, because in the womb of Elizabeth, that glob of tissue, that parasite, that ‘fetus’ leaped for joy when he heard the voice of Mary. Even in the womb, John pointed to Jesus, who even in Mary’s womb is our Lord and Savior, the Son of God. In God’s eyes, we are persons, members of the human family, and His precious creation from the moment of conception, and He proved it with His own journey from zygote to Bethlehem.

Life was Christ’s most important issue; that is the reason why He came. He came to bring life, because death reigned since Adam and Eve followed Satan’s advice and tried to become like God. It is a scourge on our planet, our greatest enemy, for which we have no solution. Abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research are tragic attempts to wield our greatest enemy as a tool, an instrument to solve our problems. These attempts are doomed to failure; there is only one who could use death as a tool, and that was Jesus Christ. He used death against itself; when death thought that it had claimed God’s Son, Jesus burst forth from the tomb, victorious over it. In the moment of His death, Jesus broke the bonds of death, for His death satisfied God’s wrath, His death paid the price for the sin of the world. He gave Himself up willingly to death in your place, in my place, in the place of all. Without sin, death is powerless, an empty shell; His resurrection proves it. Now death is His tool, His instrument to bring His children to Himself. [He did this earlier this morning, as He drowned the old Adam in Tyler, forgiving his sin, destroying the power of death over him, and claiming Tyler as His own.] When a Christian dies, they don’t endure eternal death, but they have passed from death to life. Jesus uses death as the doorway to eternal life, the path which brings His beloved children, you and me, to the glories of heaven. His gift is life, life which conquers and destroys death.

He can only give life because He gives forgiveness. That is what pours into our hearts through Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper; forgiveness of all of our sins, the forgiveness that reconciles us with our God, the forgiveness which opens heaven to us. And the good news this Life Sunday is that this forgiveness is for all sinners, even those who have acted to destroy life. If you are filled with the guilt of a past abortion, these words are for you: you are forgiven! Christ died for you, He shed His blood for you, He has taken your guilt upon Himself, He has washed away your sin. If you have pressured someone to have an abortion, as a boyfriend, fiancĂ©, or husband, or as a father or mother, you are forgiven! If you have participated in ending the life of the elderly or infirm, then you too have forgiveness of your guilt. Christ bore those sins to the cross with all the rest! Even doctors and nurses who have participated in abortion or euthanasia are forgiven by the shed blood of Christ, the same forgiveness that you and I have! And if you have failed to stand up for life in our country, holding your leaders accountable, then, dear friends in Christ, I have good news for you: you are forgiven!

It is the message of forgiveness, of love, of grace, that we bring to those who face the challenges and burdens of an unexpected pregnancy or an infirm relative. We proclaim to them a God who they can trust to provide, who gives great gifts to His people. We speak the word of Law that must be spoken, but then we proclaim the love of a God who bore all of their sins to the cross and paid for them there. Our God is a God of life, life for the unborn child and eternal life for the repentant sinner, for the woman who has committed an abortion, for you, for me, for all people. In the Name of the One who sanctified all life by dwelling in Mary’s womb, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Why do we give offering?

I teach my confimation students to answer to this basic question: "What is worship?"  The answer I'm looking for is something like, "God gives us gifts--we give Him thanks and praise."  Worship is a rythmn, a back and forth relationship, with God Himself taking the position of primacy.  His gifts are what make the Divine Service, they are the most important, they are what come first.  But within the Divine Service, we have the opportunity to adore Him, to thank Him for those great gifts, to praise Him for His salvation.

Where does the offering fit in that spectrum?  Well, it obviously seems to fall on the end of 'we give Him thanks and praise.'  God has blessed us with the First Article gifts of this earth, and we respond by presenting to Him our firstfruits for the work of the Church in our community and around the world.

Why do we give offering?  The answer we most often give is, 'So the church can pay for things.'  True enough.  The congregation does need to pay for a lot of things: pastor's salary, the light bill, insurance, etc.  The congregation also has responsibilities to support the work of the church throughout the world, by supporting distict, synod, and missionaries.

But is that really the answer to why we give offerings?  Unfortunately, and I know this as a pastor of small, financially struggling congregations, we can get caught up in thinking only in those terms.  People give so that we can keep the doors open.  But that isn't truly why we give; if we stay focused on the bills, then we lose sight of our end of the back and forth of worship described above.  God gives us gifts and we give Him thanks and praise.  We give offerings because God has blessed us.  Indeed, we give in proportion to how God has blessed us.  And we give especially because He who was rich became poor for us; we give in grateful thanksgiving for salvation and forgiveness.

We don't give so that the congregation can pay its bills, we don't give to a budget, we give according to how God has blessed us, whether little or much.  God doesn't need our money, but we need His forgiveness, and then in gratefulness for that gift, we have the privilege to support the work of His Church

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Epiphany 2 of Series B (John 1:43-51)

“Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said to you, “I saw you under the fig tree,” do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this second Sunday after the Epiphany comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, Philip’s very first act as a Christian was to tell someone else about Jesus. He didn’t even give Jesus an answer, but as soon as our Lord said the words, “Follow me,” Philip turned tail and ran to his friend Nathanael. He couldn’t contain his joy; he had to tell someone about Jesus. This took priority over everything else- Nathanael had to know before he did anything else. See how much joy the call to faith brought into Philip’s life! See how much he cared for Nathanael that he would waste no time in bringing that joy to him! This joy, this desire to bring others to Jesus, is unfortunately often missing in modern Christians. Sure, we can speak about Jesus with confidence here within these four walls, but out in this world, politics, sports, and even gossip flow more freely. In place of Philip’s boldness, we have meekness; in place of his confession, we say little at all. We are worried about what others will think, we don’t want to risk our reputation or a friendship over something as divisive as religion. Our world tells us to be quiet about our faith, and we are often all too happy to oblige.

But not Philip. Even though he probably knows the response, he boldly confesses Jesus to Nathanael. Though he has only been a follower of Jesus for mere minutes, he declares to his friend, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip confesses that Jesus is the One proclaimed in the Scriptures, the Messiah promised to God’s beloved people. But Nathanael is skeptical; he takes offense at Jesus’ origins. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael has found it hard to believe the claims of Jesus. He takes offense at this carpenter from Nazareth- how can He be God’s promised Messiah? The Savior of God’s people surely wouldn’t come from a no-name town in Galilee. Nathanael’s skepticism was met not with an argument, but with words of invitation: “Come and see.” Philip doesn’t think that his words can convince his friend; instead, Nathanael needs to see Jesus for himself. The Church does the same. We can argue with non-believers all we want to, but ultimately Christians simply invite the world to come and see Jesus. This is much simpler than trying to argue someone into the faith, but do we even do this? When was the last time that you invited someone to ‘come and see’ Jesus? And I’m not even talking only about your non-Christian neighbor or co-worker; when was the last time you invited one of our inactive members to ‘come and see’ Jesus?

This is by no means easy- both the world and even Christians have plenty of excuses for not coming and seeing Jesus. Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The world is like Nathanael, it has little use for Jesus. Sure, He was a pretty good guy, had some nice things to say, but the Messiah? I don’t need salvation from anything, and even if I did, would I believe that some desert rabbi was my savior? They take offense at the stable, at the cross; they take offense at Bethlehem and Nazareth. They understand the language of power and wealth, and this carpenter’s son seems to have neither. They take offense at the implication that they need salvation; they don’t think that sin is that big of a deal, and therefore they don’t really need forgiveness. But what offends them the most is the declaration that Jesus is the only way, the only solution to sin and death. The world refuses to come and see Jesus because they cannot imagine that He has anything to give them, at least not anything they can’t get somewhere else.

 For Christians, many other things take priority over Christ: work, school, sports, and recreation. If there is time left after everything else, then maybe we can squeeze in our Lord, but we’ll see. Jesus has to fit into my schedule, not the other way around. The busyness of our lives in this world can crowd out Christ until we have no room left for Him. We can also fall into the trap of the world, deceived into thinking either that we don’t have a sin problem, or that it isn’t such a big deal. If you truly know and feel your sin, you will run to Jesus for forgiveness every week. But if you don’t have sin, or if you don’t think sin is a problem, then you don’t need Jesus, certainly not on a regular basis. Finally, the same apathy that keeps us from calling on others to come and see can keep us from coming and seeing for ourselves. And that is exactly where Satan wants us. Either he wants to keep us away from Jesus, or if he can’t do that, he wants us to keep Jesus locked up inside us where He belongs, not out in the world where He might actually create faith.

The Church combats Satan by continuing to call on all people, the stubborn world and its own members, to come and see Jesus. Today the invitation of Philip sounds forth from a pulpit in Iowa: “Come and see Jesus!” Come and see the One whom doubting Nathanael saw, the One who knew him intimately: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’” Come and see the One who knows you inside and out, each and every one of you. He knows your joys and your struggles, He knows your failures and your excuses. In fact, He came because He knew that you were sinful. He came to conquer sin, He came to destroy death. That is who Philip invited Nathanael to come and see; that is who I call on you to come and see today.

Nathanael didn’t need much convincing to turn from skepticism to a bold confession: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus tells him to calm down a bit: “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” For Nathanael, the wonders were just beginning. Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Come and see Jesus, for He joins earth to heaven! He is the link between God and man, because He is true God and He is also true man. You can only come and see a God who has taken flesh. He has come to bring God and man together once again, the way it was intended from the beginning. The great divide between us and our Creator is bridged by Jesus’ shed blood; when He was exalted on the cross, heaven and earth were reconciled. Sin has been abolished by His sacrifice in your place; death has been destroyed by His resurrection. As we heard last week, heaven is opened never to be closed again. Through His sacrifice on Good Friday, Christ opens heaven to us, He provides access to the Father’s presence forever. He is the connection to heaven; where Jesus is, there heaven is brought close to this earth, people are reconciled with their God, sin is forgiven and death is destroyed.

Heaven touched this earth when water touched your head; in Baptism, Jesus opens heaven to a sinful human by joining them with Himself. Heaven also touches this earth when the Word of God is read and proclaimed in this place. Jesus promises to be present in His Word, and wherever Jesus is present, there heaven comes down to earth. Heaven comes near to this earth, it touches your lips in the Lord’s Supper. The Word who became flesh gives His flesh and blood to you to eat and to drink. When you come to this altar, you are participating in heaven itself, the foretaste of the feast to come. In the gifts of Christ, you see Him with the eyes of faith, for in those gifts He is just as truly present as He was two thousand years ago when He spoke to Philip and Nathanael.

So come to this place and see heaven touch this earth, come and see Jesus as He comes to you in the Divine Service! Heaven and earth are joined together through the blood of His cross, and Jesus extends that union, that reconciliation to you each and every time you gather to worship here. In this place, an ordinary building in an ordinary town, heaven touches earth, the gifts of forgiveness, life, and immortality are given. “What good can come out of Kiron or Deloit?” Salvation itself, the gift of eternal life, the promise that you will live, even though you die. All that heaven offers is given to you on Sunday mornings here in this place, a place made holy by the gifts of Christ. Here you truly see “the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Where Jesus is, earth and heaven are connected again, and He is present here to give you all that He won through the cross and empty tomb.
We are here to come and see Jesus because we need Him, we need His forgiveness for when we fail to confess Him before the world, we need His forgiveness for when we have failed to come and see Him revealed in His gifts. We are here because with the eyes of faith we see Jesus as the link between earth and heaven, the One who reconciled us with our God, so that we wouldn’t die eternally. “Truly, truly I say to you, you will see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Philip and Nathanael both saw Jesus and confessed Him, declaring to the world that this Jesus was the promised Messiah, the One who had come to defeat both sin and death. We follow their pattern, going forth into our lives in this world with the same bold confession that in Christ, heaven and earth are reconciled, that on Sunday mornings, heaven touches this earth for the salvation of all. Come and see! Come and see the Jesus who died for you, who rose for you, who forgives your sins and gives you everlasting life. Today you come and see with the eyes of faith; in the new heavens and the new earth, you will see your Savior face to face for eternity. Come and see! In the Name of the one who connects earth to heaven through His shed blood, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

The Baptism of our Lord (Mark 1:4-11)

“And when [Jesus] came up out of the water, immediately He saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending of Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning, the Baptism of our Lord, comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, at one point in the wonderful series The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, books that I strongly encourage all Christians to read, one of the children ask about Aslan, the mighty lion who we are to see as a picture of God. “Is He quite safe?” The answer is given with a nervous laugh. “’Course He isn’t safe. But He’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” In the same way the citizens of Narnia declare over and over again in these books that Aslan is “not a tame lion.” C.S. Lewis was onto something when He portrayed God as a lion. Each of the four Gospel writers has been symbolized in Christian art throughout history with a different creature; Saint Mark is the lion. That is because he gives us the most ‘raw,’ unpredictable, and perhaps even ‘violent’ picture of Jesus. Our God isn’t tame, He isn’t safe or comfortable, He isn’t even ‘nice’ in the way that we often think of that word. We do not have a tame God, and no event demonstrates this better than the Baptism of our Lord.
As Jesus comes up out of water, our text declares, “Immediately He saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove.” This translation doesn’t fully express what Mark writes; the heavens didn’t ‘open’ like you would open a door or the curtains. No, Mark tells us that they were ‘torn open,’ they were ripped violently apart, as you would tear a shirt apart to make rags, or as a lion tears apart the carcass of an antelope. God violently broke into our world, fulfilling the cry of Isaiah, in chapter sixty-four of his prophecy: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence!” An opened door can be closed; you can pull back the curtains. But what is torn apart cannot easily be restored. God tore open the heavens so that they would not be shut again. With Christ’s baptism, the barrier between God and man came crashing down; God was acting to restore His beloved creation to Himself. He who has no sin is standing in that muddy river in the place of sinners as the heavens are ripped apart, declaring that He has come to bear all sin. He submitted Himself to the baptism of sinners in order to destroy sin itself. This man from Nazareth is God in the flesh, come to conquer sin, Satan, and death. God has broken into our world with salvation, and He will not leave until all of our enemies are placed in submission under His feet. At Jesus’ Baptism, God tore open the very heavens, pouring out His Spirit and sounding forth His voice. We do not have a tame God!
When you were brought to the blessed font, to be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, the lion roared. God ripped you out of the hands of Satan, tearing you away from the clutches of sin and death. The devil wanted you for his own, and he desperately wants you back, but in your baptism, and every day afterward, the lion roars and God declares, “This one is mine! Go back to hell where you belong!” For the heavens were torn at your baptism; there the barrier between you and God violently came crashing down. You are His own because nothing separates you from Him anymore; you are united with God the way it was intended from the beginning. God has broken into your heart with salvation; He has forced His way into your hardened, sinful soul and established faith, faith which clings to Him, faith which saves. You were in rebellion, separated from Him by the sin you inherited from your first parents, but we do not have a tame God; we have a God who rent the heavens and came down, into our world and into your heart, to seize you from Satan, to tear down the barrier between you and His love and grace. The heavens were torn for you, so that you would never be divided from God again.
As you can see, baptism is dangerous, even violent business. It is dangerous for the enemies of God, who are served notice that their time is coming, that their defeat is near. But baptism is just as dangerous for the one who is baptized. The Words of the Father to Jesus seem glorious, but they bring with them darker tidings. “And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” The first part of this declaration, “You are my beloved Son,” is the words of Psalm two, part of which is our Introit for today. With these words God reveals His Messiah before the world, as He did at Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan. This one, the one standing in Jordan’s stream, the one on whom the Holy Spirit descends, is God’s chosen King, indeed His only-begotten Son! Bow down and worship, as the wise men did so long ago! But the nations of the world do not respond kindly to God’s Messiah, as David predicted long ago: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’” God’s only Son, the chosen King, the Messiah promised of old, will be opposed by the rulers of this world. They will set themselves against both God and His Anointed, and will be determined to destroy them. The baptism of Jesus places a target on His back; the only question is, will they succeed in putting God’s Messiah to death?

The second part of God’s declaration, “with you I am well-pleased,” answers that question. It points us to another place in the Old Testament, our Antiphon for today from Isaiah forty-two. “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” This Jesus isn’t only the Messiah David proclaimed, He is God’s beloved Servant prophesied by Isaiah. And Isaiah promised that God’s servant would suffer. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” All would reject Him, they would cry out for His death, and the rulers of this world would accommodate their blood-thirsty desires. The One proclaimed by God Himself at the waters of the Jordan river- “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well-pleased”- would be nailed to a cross, beaten and mocked by the soldiers and the crowds, put to death like a criminal. But this was all to fulfill His Baptism; He stood in the Jordan in the place of sinners, in the place of you and me to declare Himself as the sin-bearer. And so He bore our sin to the cross in order to destroy it there, to fulfill what He began on His baptism day. Isaiah prophesied it: “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 crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.”
We do not have a tame God! Death found that it had swallowed poison when it tried to claim Jesus, and on Easter morning the lion roared once again, for Christ had destroyed sin, death, and the devil. God has ripped you from the hands of Satan because Christ died bearing your sin, the heavens are torn open for you because Jesus rose again for you, He breaks into your heart with salvation because Jesus fulfilled His baptism. You do not have a tame God, but one who freely accepted the consequences of His baptism in order to do battle with your enemies and defeat them for you!
Baptism was dangerous business for Jesus, and it is dangerous business for you and me. On your baptism day, God said to you, “You are my beloved child; in you I am well-pleased!” As Christ faced the consequences of these words, so must you and I. We too will sacrifice and suffer because of our Baptism. The world will hate us, and Satan will rage against us, desperately trying to bring us back into His fold. Baptism is dangerous because it gives us enemies. Our baptism is also dangerous because now we are claimed by a God who is anything but tame. He has made us His own, and He doesn’t do this lightly. When the baptized children of God live in open and unrepentant sin, when they refuse to feed the faith given them in that baptism by regularly coming to worship and the Lord’s Table, they are putting God to the test. They are daring God to condemn them, they are mocking the gifts He has given to them at the font. It is dangerous to play games with the living God; He is not tame! Saint Paul declares in our Epistle lesson: “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” He who tore the heavens open to bring salvation takes Baptism seriously, and we should do the same. Baptism isn’t just a ceremony, it isn’t symbolic, it is the action of God Himself breaking into this world with salvation, ripping you from Satan’s clutches and making you His own. It is dangerous, indeed the highest and most tragic form of rebellion, to despise the gifts God gave you there.
We do not have a tame God. He is stronger than we are, He is dangerous to His enemies, He violently broke into our world to accomplish salvation. But while He is not tame, He is good. His roar is terrifying, but only to His enemies, those who have rejected His grace. Repent! Repent whenever you despise your baptism, whenever you put God to the test. Repent and cling to the very promises Christ gave through that blessed washing! As Jesus drew comfort in the midst of affliction from the declaration of the Father at His baptism, we rest in our own baptism each and every day, when we are afflicted by the hatred of the world, and when we through sin despise the gifts God gave us there. We cling to our Baptism because while our God is not tame, He is good, and He pours out forgiveness in abundance upon repentant sinners. On your Baptism day God tore down the barrier of sin that separated you from Him and declared you His own beloved child. He is faithful to His promises; He will forgive you for the sake of Christ. You are His beloved child; with you He is well-pleased! In the Name of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the beloved Son of the heavenly Father, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Circumcision and Naming of Jesus (Numbers 6:22-27)

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning, the commemoration of the circumcision and naming of our Lord, comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the sixth chapter of the book of Numbers. Dear friends in Christ, what do you think about the Benediction? To most people, the Benediction is not all that important. It seems nice for the pastor to send us home with a blessing, and it sounds like an appropriate way to end the service. That’s the key, isn’t it? The Benediction means that the service is almost over, it’s almost time to head home and relax. And so, where are your thoughts during the Benediction? Are you focusing on the words that the pastor is speaking, or are you thinking of lunch, a recliner, and a TV? A fellow pastor once told me that as he pronounced the Benediction, he actually saw one of his members using a remote to start his car. Most Christians think of the Benediction as an add-on, a signal that it’s time to go, a chance to think about the rest of the day. Of all the parts of the Sunday morning Divine Service, surely the Benediction is the least important.
But that’s not the way our Lord sees it. We learn in our Old Testament lesson this morning that the Benediction is quite ancient, thousands of years old, in fact. These words were given to Aaron and his sons by God Himself: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, “Thus you shall bless the people of Israel.”’” Though we are far removed from God’s wandering people in time and geography, we are still speaking these ancient words. But we don’t end every Sunday morning service with these words simply because they are ancient; dear friends in Christ, we don’t do anything in the Church because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it!’ Those words have been used to justify a whole pile of bad practices in the history of the Church. That’s not why we worship the same way the Church has for centuries, that’s not why I dress the way I do on Sunday morning, and that’s not why still use Aaron’s Benediction. We do those things because they are good, right, and salutary, we do these things because the Church in her wisdom has handed them down to us, we do these things because they serve the Gospel.
God Himself tells us why the Benediction is so important at the end of our text. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” With the Benediction, God places His Name upon us, and God’s Name can never be an insignificant thing. The Name of God declared the nation of Israel to be God’s people, His treasured possession. The Name of God placed upon this congregation in the Benediction declares that we are just as truly His people. His Name is powerful, for the Name of God brings with it the very presence of God. The Name of God brings to us all that God is and all that God gives. He placed that Name upon you in your Baptism, claiming you as His very own child, bestowing on you forgiveness, life, and salvation. Because you bear the Name of God, you will receive the inheritance God has prepared for you. The gifts of God are for His children, those who bear His Name.

And we bear God’s Name only because Jesus bore His. Every New Year’s Day the Church commemorates the circumcision and naming of Jesus. This seems like a pretty minor event, described in only one verse of Scripture, from Luke chapter two: “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.” You wonder why Luke would even bother to include such an insignificant detail; every Jewish boy was circumcised and named on the eighth day. And that’s exactly the point. Jesus, born of a virgin, born as the Son of God, was placed under the Law as every other Jewish boy was. In fact, He was placed under the Law as every human being is under the Law. He was placed under the Law to keep it, to fulfill it on your behalf. Jesus didn’t get to skip any part of being human; while He was conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit, He was carried in the womb and born just like you and me. And then, on the eighth day, He was circumcised, placed under the authority of the Law. He would spend His life keeping that Law for you, living the perfect life that you were unable to, living a perfect life for you.

This was all to fulfill His Name. The angel told Joseph, “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” On the eighth day, that Name was placed upon the child born of a virgin, and He spent the rest of His life doing what that Name required, saving us from our sin. His circumcision teaches us how Jesus would do this. As we’ve already said, at His circumcision Jesus was placed under the Law, to fulfill it for us, to live the perfect life we couldn’t. And at His circumcision, Jesus shed His blood for the first time, pointing forward to His death on our behalf. A perfect life lived under the Law means nothing to us if the perfect and sinless one didn’t then die in our place. Jesus had to live the life we couldn’t, then He had to die the death that we deserved. Only in this way could He be our substitute, only in this way could He fulfill His Name. He was born to save His people from their sins, and His shed blood would accomplish that great task. The child who would shed His blood to fulfill the Law on His circumcision day would shed His blood on Good Friday to fulfill all of the Law for you.
You bear God’s Name only because Jesus bore His, fulfilling His Name by saving His people from their sins. He rose again on Easter morning to prove it, to declare His victory on your behalf. The Law has been fulfilled; it can no longer accuse you. Sin has been eliminated; Christ paid what you owed with His own blood. Death has been defeated; Christ’s resurrection will one day be yours. All this is given to you through the Name of God. This Name is God’s gift to you only because of Jesus. You are a child of God because the Son of God died for you, as Saint Paul writes: “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The Name of God is never insignificant, because when you bear it, you are marked as one of God’s people, as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. Everyone who bears God’s Name through baptism inherits all the good things that He gives through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
In the Benediction, the Lord pours out in abundance all the gifts that Christ won for you. God said to Moses, “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” You bear God’s Name only because Jesus bore His, and those who bear God’s Name are blessed. The first phrase of the Benediction, “The Lord bless you and keep you,” speaks of God’s protection in the midst of all that threatens your faith. Your belief in Christ is attacked in so many ways in this world of sin: by the media, by your friends, by your family, by the doubts that fill your mind. The Benediction promises that God will not leave you nor forsake you. You are His child, and He will work each and every day to strengthen your faith through the power of His Word.

The second phrase, “The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you,” declares the forgiveness won by Christ. God’s face was turned away from you because of your sin, He held only wrath for His beloved people, for a holy God couldn’t abide the presence of sin. You and I deserved death and hell for our transgressions. But God didn’t turn away from you, He turned away from Christ on the cross, letting Jesus suffer His wrath in your place. Now, God looks on you in love because of Jesus; He will show you grace and favor because His Son died and rose again for you. He shines His face toward you, giving you grace and favor through the forgiveness of sins, poured out in abundance here in this place through water and Word, Body and Blood.

The final phrase of the Benediction, “The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace,” points us to Christmas and Easter. In those twin events peace was won, peace between God and man, the only peace that matters. The very last word of the Divine Service is ‘peace,’ the same word declared by the angels to the shepherds, the same word declared by Jesus as He showed to His disciples His hands and side. Peace is hard to come by in this world; in fact, it seems impossible. But the Benediction gives to you the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that is everlasting, the peace that endures despite all that happens in this world. God sends you from this place in peace.
The Benediction isn’t just a nice way to end the service, nor is it simply a wish by the pastor that things would go well this week. No, the Benediction is the declaration of the living God that He has blessed you through the sacrifice of His Son. With these words, God places His Name upon you once again, sending you out from this place as His child, as one of those claimed by the blood of Jesus. His Word does what it says; the Benediction gives you all the benefits that Christ won through the cross and empty tomb. Cling tightly to every word of promise that God gives there, for these words are for you, one who bears the Name of God through you baptism into Christ. There is a reason that a pastor proclaims the Benediction at a sickbed, as someone is dying, or to a grieving family. These are powerful words, which do exactly what they say: they give you the very blessings of God as you live and work in this world of sin. Today, do not begin the new year with some vague wish that things will go well in 2012, leave with the blessing of God Himself: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” Amen.

Christmas Day (John 1:1-14)

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” The Word gives life, for the Word is God. The Word shouted into the darkness, “Let there be light,” and there was light. The light was good, for the Word brought it into being. The Word sounded forth for five days, calling into existence land and sea, the moon and stars, plants and animals. Then on the sixth day, the Word spoke to crown this creation. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The Word spoke, and the Father bent down into His creation and formed man from the dust of the earth. He breathed into his nostrils the very breath of life, and the man became a living being. Through the Word all things have life; nothing was made without the Word, not you, not me. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” There is no life apart from the Word, the Word who is with God, the Word who is God. This Word who had created all spoke again and again throughout history, proclaiming the things of God to His now fallen, broken creation. And when the time was right, God sent the Word to deliver this creation from its bondage. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
This is the mystery of Christmas. The Word, by whom all things were made, true God from eternity, takes on human flesh. The Creator comes to His creation as the angels sing His praises. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.” God has come to His people as a man! Let the shepherds hear it in the night, may those lowliest of men be the first to praise the mystery of the Word becoming flesh! Lying in that manger outside Bethlehem is the Word which spoke our universe into being; even now, this baby, weak and helpless, is upholding the world through His power and majesty. In this dark night, “the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
This world is darkened because of sin; the Word declared “Let there be light,” but that light has been dimmed. Man was created in His image and likeness, but that image has been obscured, that likeness has been horribly corrupted. This world is dying, and man is blind. The Light shines in the darkness to drive it away. The Light shines in the darkness to restore the fallen creation, to make right what had gone so horribly wrong. The Light shines in the darkness to save us. But we would not receive Him. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him.” The world didn’t recognize the Word come in the flesh, and so it rejected Him. The Creator came to His creation, and the creation refused to know Him. They denied that they were blind, walking in darkness, and so they saw no need of the Light. There was no room at Bethlehem’s inn for Mary and Joseph; there was no room in darkened hearts for the Light of the world.
Misunderstanding and confusion leads to anger and hostility; the creation not only failed to recognize its Creator, but it attempted to destroy Him, it attempted to silence the Word, it attempted to snuff out the Light. “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” The Word had spoken to the people of Israel throughout history; He had made them His own, His treasured possession. They had privileged status among all the nations of the world; He fought their battles, He delivered them again and again. They had one purpose, one reason for their existence: to bring the Light into the world. But when the Light shone in the hills of Bethlehem, they rejected it. They chose the ways of darkness instead of the beautiful Light, they chose blindness instead of sight. And so they raged against the Light.
The creation shouted out against the Creator, “Crucify, crucify!” The sheep chained up their Shepherd, the subjects murdered their King. He came for their salvation; they nailed Him to a tree. The darkness surrounded the Light, seeking only its destruction. The sun itself refused to shine as man rejected the deliverance of God. The One who gives and sustains all life was subjected to death. As darkness covered the earth that Friday afternoon, the world thought that the Light had been extinguished. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word dwelt among us, and we snuffed out His glory, crucifying God in the flesh. Darkness had overcome the Light.

Three days later, the darkness still sat in victory. Even though the sun rose that morning, clear and bright, the earth stood under the shadow of endless night. But the rays of early morning light shone upon an empty tomb. “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!” The Light isn’t snuffed out, the Light isn’t extinguished, the Light isn’t defeated. The Light shines forth again, brighter than ever, because the Light has triumphed over the darkness. The darkness raged against the Light and was itself overcome. For the Light gave Himself up into death to defeat the darkness, the Word became flesh to offer up that flesh on the altar of the cross. This was the only way that the darkness could be overcome. The Light took all of our darkness, all of our blindness, upon Himself, and bore it to the cross to destroy it there. There, in the midst of its greatest victory, the darkness found itself defeated. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Christmas points to Easter; the only reason the angels can acclaim the birth of Jesus is because this child will go to the cross to defeat the darkness. The victory cry rings out from Isaiah: “Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted His people; He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” Christmas is about victory; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in order to conquer the darkness of sin and death. We have seen His glory, “glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” We have seen His glory, revealed in a humble manger in Bethlehem, shown in the suffering of the cross, and trumpeted on Easter morning, when the Light declared that the darkness was defeated. The Light shone into the darkness of this world and was not overcome.
Now the Light shines in darkened hearts. “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” No one else brings light in the midst of darkness, only the Word made flesh. He brought the Light into the world, and He brings the Light into darkened hearts. Your heart was dark, filled with sin, condemned to death, but the Light shone in the midst of the darkness. He enlightened you, healing your blindness, driving the darkness away forever. He gave you a new birth. “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Your first birth was a birth of darkness, a birth that could only bring death. You needed a new birth, a birth of Light, the only birth that brings life. The children of light are not born of the flesh but of the Spirit of the living God. The Word alone gives the right of new birth; it is only through Him that life is given. [Today Nathyn received this new birth; he had the darkness driven out of His heart by the power of the Light.] Baptism brings the Light into dark hearts; it changes children of darkness, children of the flesh, into children of God. The same Word which called for all things into being is the Word which gives you the new birth of the Spirit. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” You have seen His glory with the eyes of faith, for you have been baptized into His Name. In your Baptism, you have knelt at the manger, you have stood at the cross, you have peered into the empty tomb. All that He won for you is given in those blessed waters, for the Word remains the giver of life: at the beginning, now, and for eternity.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The Word has never done anything else but give life. That was His task in the beginning, and that is why He took on our flesh and blood and became man. The Word won life through the cross and empty tomb; He gives life, eternal life, by enlightening darkened hearts. He brought light into your heart, giving you a new birth that endures forever. He sustains that life by feeding you with His Word, giving you the same Body and Blood that He assumed for your salvation. And He will raise you up to live forever without sin, the way it was intended at the beginning. The Word sustains life in this world, and He will continue to uphold all things for eternity. 

 Christmas means that you will live even though you die; a child was born that night so that you will not die eternally. On this Christmas Day, gather around the manger, look in on the mystery of the Word becoming flesh. The Creator has come to His creation in order to save it, the Light has shone in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it. In the words of the Psalm of Christmas, our Introit for today: “He has remembered His steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her king! Amen.

Christmas Eve (Luke 2:1-20)

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this blessed Christmas Eve comes from the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, when all was still, when it was midnight, the Almighty Word descended from His holy throne. He came not in majesty and glory, but in humility, born in a stable, wrapped in rags, laid in a manger. Yes, there were angels, but they didn’t appear to the rich and powerful. The first to hear of the birth of the Son of God were shepherds, “keeping watch over their flock by night.” This child wasn’t born for the elite, He was born for all. He was born to raise up the downtrodden and exalt the humble. He was born as the Son of David, who tended sheep hundreds of years earlier on those same hills. He was born as the Good Shepherd, and so shepherds would be given the privilege to announce His coming. The angels appeared that night with a glorious message. This child was Christ the Lord, the Savior. And then the heavenly host breaks into song, the most beautiful music ever heard on this earth, a foretaste of heaven. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

 Peace on earth. This song has rung out every Christmas since. This is the song that defines Christmas, that has been the very lifeblood of the Church for two thousand years. Peace on earth. But there is no peace on earth, for hate is strong and mocks the song of the angels. There is no peace in our lives, no peace in our families, no peace in our communities, no peace in our world. We struggle against sin, we struggle against illness, we struggle against death. In this past year, we have lost loved ones, we have fought disease, we have been afflicted with problems too numerous to count. Some of you have been overwhelmed as the struggles of this life pile upon you. Peace on earth? Our lives in this world mock the song of the angels. There is crime in our communities, even in our small towns. There are conflicts between parents and children, between siblings, between those who are members together in the body of Christ. Peace on earth? Where is peace when our soldiers come back in flag-draped caskets? Where is peace when we live under the threat of terrorism, a faceless fear reaching out to strike us where we live and work? Where is peace as Christians continue to die for their faith all around the world?

 Peace on earth? Where was peace for the child sleeping in a manger that first Christmas Eve? When Herod found out about His birth, the king would in a rage send his soldiers to the City of David. The children of Bethlehem would be the first ones to die for the sake of Jesus, and He would barely escape with His own life, spending time in Egyptian exile. Jesus would be opposed from the manger, pursued by the religious and secular leaders, those threatened by Him. Peace on earth? The song of the angels seemed far away as Jesus was scourged by the soldiers, as He carried the cross to Golgotha. In Psalm 2 we read, “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His anointed.” The world raged against that child, putting Him to death for the crime of claiming to be God. The soldiers spit in His face, the crowds mocked Him, even the thief next to Him hurled insults. Peace on earth? Nothing was further from the truth as the limp body of Jesus was laid into a tomb.

 But the angels refuse to stop their song; if anything, they sing even louder. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among those with whom He is pleased.” God is not dead, nor does He sleep. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the angels asked the women on Sunday morning. Christ was not defeated on the cross: He has risen in victory! God is not dead, nor does He sleep! He is living, walking this earth again, bearing the same flesh and blood that came into this world on Christmas Eve. His resurrection proves that His bloody suffering and death was not simply the greatest injustice that the world has ever known. His death was how Jesus would fulfill the message of the angels. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” 

 Everything this child would do was ‘unto you.’ He was born unto you, He lived a perfect life unto you, and He died unto you. He kept the Law where you couldn’t; He died the death you deserved. He did all of this for you, because He loved you from the very foundation of the world. He is truly a Savior, but not the kind of Savior that we would expect. He was a Savior who would operate in humility. The shepherds were not told to look for a glowing baby, piles of gold, or a glorious throne; they were sent to look for a child born in a barn and placed in a manger. This Savior, born in humility, would deliver His people by offering Himself as the acceptable sacrifice for the sins of the world. The angel told Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” He was born for you; He died for you. God is pleased with you for the sake of Jesus.

 The angels sing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” The song of the angels rings out in your life, in the midst of all that is not peaceful. God is not dead, nor does He sleep! He lives, triumphant over sin and death, and so He is not absent as you struggle in a world filled with sin, a world that seems completely devoid of peace. You have the promise that because Christ Himself stands by your side the wrong will fail and the right prevail on the Last Day. God is pleased with you because Jesus died with you. God is pleased with you because Christ’s victory on Easter morning is your victory. You cannot commit a sin that Christ cannot forgive. Those who belong to Christ have peace on earth, the peace which surpasses all understanding, the peace that often seems hidden in this world. You have peace with your God, for Jesus Christ was born to remove the penalty you owed for your sin, He was born to defeat death for you. You have peace that will last forever, the peace that characterizes eternity. This is the peace of the resurrection; when Jesus came to the disciples on Easter evening, He declared the same message as the angels thirty years earlier: “Peace be with you!” Jesus came to win peace, not the absence of conflict in this life, but eternal peace with your God, peace which sustains you as you face the sin of this world.
That is the message the Church is privileged to proclaim this day and every day. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.” Our God is not dead, nor does He sleep! He is living and active, bringing peace to troubled hearts, forgiving sins and defeating death. To the world, the Church is an object of scorn. They mock the message of the angels, they are disgusted with the humility of the manger and the cross. But God choose the weak to shame the strong. He who proclaimed Christ’s birth to poor shepherds will proclaim peace through the weakness of the Church. He exalts the humble to His right hand in the throne room of heaven; in His great reversal the last will be first. Despite all appearances to the contrary, despite the opinion of the world, the Church proclaims peace on earth. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Christ’s birth brought glory to heaven, for He was born in accordance with God’s plan for our salvation. Christ’s birth brought peace to earth, for He was born to win peace between God and man. Jesus was born so that God would be pleased with you, not because of anything you have done, but solely for the sake of Christ’s death and resurrection. That is the message we preach to the world and against the world. Despite all that we see in this world of sin, the angels declare to us this night that peace has come, for our Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord. “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people!” God is not dead, nor does He sleep! Amen.

Walking in the darkened valley

"Behold, a host arrayed in white, like thousand snowclad mountains bright..."

The Church is at its best at the time of death. The best hymns, the best texts, the best sermons all come when the Church comes face to face with its most ancient enemy. This was impressed upon me as I sat in Kramer Chapel on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, at an evening chapel service. We sang (with tears in many eyes) the great hymn quoted above; we heard the great texts from Revelation 21 and 22, and we heard a sermon that proclaimed comfort to all those who mourned the loss of loved ones in the year that had passed. The Church is at its best at the time of death.

The Bible could be subtitled: "A Book on Death." In its sacred pages, we learn the cause of death, and its tragic results. We hear the people of God cry out in anguish against the terror that is death. Then, piece by piece, starting from the very day in which death came, we begin to see the solution to death come together. God's answer to death is Christmas, it is Good Friday, it is Easter. God's answer to death is Jesus.

Jesus is all about defeating death. That is why He came, that is why He died.

Death was undone by the death of Christ. The Church therefore should be at its best when facing the reality of death. Not because death isn't a big deal, not because its 'just a part of life' or any of the other lies our world tells us. The Church is at its best at the time of death because it proclaims the solution, the answer, the victory. The Church preaches against death, the Church sings against death, the Church shows the risen Christ to a dying world and to death itself. "Where, O death, is thy sting? Where thy victory, O grave?"