From the Word 

“No one has ever seen God.  The only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.”  John 1:18 

    In the beginning there was God.  He did not have to make Himself known to His perfect creation, because they walked with Him in perfect harmony.  But since the fall into sin, people have been wrong about God, or not known Him at all.  The problem has never been God, since He has not changed.  The problem is sinful people.
    Since God has not changed, some would assume that explaining Him has not changed either.  That is not the case.  In various generations there was a general agreement that there is a god, so teaching people about Him was simply building on what they already knew.  Most people in various eras of history saw the wonder of creation and assumed there was a god who made it all.  Christians in those generations simply had to introduce them to the one true God, of whom they had natural knowledge.  That introduction was God’s self-revelation in Jesus.
    God is no different in our generation, but the challenge of presenting Him to those around us is.  People in our generation have made a concerted effort to deny any knowledge of God, including the natural assumption that there is one.  Nature has become an end to itself, becoming the explanation for all things, even though that explanation defies the complexity of what we see.  Natural knowledge of God is shot down by so-called scientific knowledge.  These voices who scream for us Christians to be tolerant of their viewpoints are unwilling to listen to dissent, let alone tolerate it.
    Even though God has not changed, we are called to change how we witness of Him.  We are no longer explaining one of whom they have some prior knowledge.  We are now introducing a new idea.  Thankfully, the key to explaining God without prior knowledge leads us to the same source; Jesus. 
    God cannot be truly known apart from His self-revelation.  That revelation comes in His Word, centered on God incarnate, who was promised, came, and dwells with us.  This is Jesus.  We cannot understand God apart from Jesus, He is simply too mysterious.  What we know about God, we know because of Jesus.  So our task is to introduce the idea, and reality, of God in Jesus.  We will tell them, and teach them, about Jesus; the unchanging God in a changing world.

 

From the Word 

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”  Isaiah 60:1 

  I greatly appreciate the symbolism of Christmas decorations.  I also think we should use them as a witness to our community of how they point us to Jesus, because, as I have said on many occasions, they are putting our stuff up all over town.  However, this article is not about all those symbols, but one of them.
  Of all the Christmas symbols, my favorite from an aesthetic point of view is light.  It can be lights on the tree, candles on the Advent wreath, or any of the other lights we routinely display at Christmas.  I enjoy looking at them.  I enjoy the glow effect of the Christmas tree in our home, and the candles we light in our Christmas Eve worship.
  The very first thing God created was light (see Genesis 1).  The new creation was ushered in by the arrival of the light of God’s grace, Jesus Christ.  John 1 says, “In him was life and the life was the light of men.  The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.”  One has to be impressed by the inability of darkness to dim even a small light from a candle or a match.  How much more is the darkness of sin unable to dim the light of God’s grace to us in Jesus.
  The gift of faith embraces the light of Jesus just as we experience the warmth and comfort of Christmas lights.  But in this season, we cannot simply bask in that light, but shine it to our neighbors and friends.  They too need to know the comfort of God’s grace and mercy that has lit up our lives in our Savior.  Jesus called us to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
  Many people will sit in their homes, possibly amid the glow of Christmas lights, but will be engulfed in the darkness of sin.  The lights in homes this Christmas may not be an indication of the Light in the hearts of the homeowners.  Our prayer is that, as people put up their lights, that the “Light that lightens every man” (John 1) may come to glow in them by faith.  Part of that prayer is our commitment to tell them about the Light, or to bring them to God’s house this Christmas to hear God declare to them as He has to His people for millennial generations, “Arise, shine, for your Light has come.”

 

From the Word 

“and behold I AM with you I AM all the days even to the end of the age.” 
Matthew 28:20 

    Pastor, that’s not what it says!  It is if you read it in Greek.  We have spent this church year reading and contemplating Jesus’ “I AM” statements.  We have read how He is Yahweh (I AM IAM), and what that means to each of the occasions He used it.  We have seen how He is Living Water, Bread of Life, Light, Resurrection and Life, and many more.  Yahweh became flesh to save us and touches our lives in so many ways.
    Our final focus is on his presence.  The context of these words is the Great Commission, to go and make disciples by baptizing and by teaching.  God promises to send the Spirit to accomplish this work.  We are the instruments of His baptizing and his teaching.  But this task seems beyond daunting, so Jesus gives us the promise of his divine presence.
    It’s easy for us to think that we are coming into his presence as we gather for worship.  We are less inclined to think that He comes into our presence all the days of our lives.  There are times we try to hide from Him because we sin, but He is present.  So we come in confession, confident that He has already accomplished our forgiveness.
    He is not only present as we baptize, He is present in Baptism.  He brings the blessings of His death and resurrection to the water and Word that the pastor applies in Baptism.  Those blessings are what the Spirit uses to make us new, and dwell in us by faith. 
    He is not only present as we teach His Word, He is the incarnate Word who has come to make us, and those we teach, His own.  He is the subject and content of the Word.  But more than that, John 1 teaches us that He is the Word who comes forth from God to bring about our creation and new creation.  He is Yahweh, the sum and substance of God’s self-revelation.  He is the one who communicates God’s Word of grace, and God’s touch of grace given us in Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.
    When we say that Jesus is with us, it is not a metaphor or any other figure of speech.  He is as present with us as He was at the burning bush, in the Tabernacle and Temple, in the fire and cloud, and all other ways He visited His Old Testament people.  He is as present with us as was in the manger, the mount of transfiguration, and at his ascension.  His real, tangible presence surrounds us as we baptize, teach and live.  I AM I AM.

 

 

 

From the Word 

“When Jesus said to them “I AM I AM,” they drew back and fell to the ground.”  John 18:6 

    Hold it Pastor!  My translation has Jesus saying, “I am He.”  That is how most translations have it, because I AM I AM doesn’t make sense in the English sentence.  The words in Greek are the same as all the other I AM statements in John.  The text says, evgw, eivmi, which is the use of the two Greek words for “I am.”  Everywhere that we have Jesus claim to be Yahweh (Hebrew I AM I AM), these two Greek words are used.     The use of I AM I AM in John 18:1-8 (v 5, 6, 8) explains why they fell to the ground.  He used the name they were commanded not to take in vain (2nd Commandment).  Such was their fear of taking it in vain that most people in Jesus day didn’t actually say it, instead substituting the word for earthly lord.  They were seeking Jesus of Nazareth.  They found I AM I AM.
    The awe of the moment is short lived.  They deliver Jesus over to be crucified, as was their purpose.  Unbeknownst to them it was also His purpose.  I AM I AM came out from behind the curtain in the Temple to forever tear open that curtain by His death for our sins.  Our sins separated us from Him (hence the curtain).  That separation is forever torn apart by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We have full and free access to Yahweh because Jesus (Yahweh saves) has removed all barriers. 
    What are we to glean from this lesson?  We still approach God with a certain awe, since He is our awesome God.  We primarily think of God as awesome because of His work in creating the universe and the complexity of everything in it.  But what He has done for us in saving us is even more awesome.  It is one thing to come into contact with what He has made.  It is another thing to come into contact with Him.  We gather for worship in the full assurance that He is in the room.  We know this, not from our view of what He has created, but because Jesus promised to be among us with, and in, the Word and Sacraments.  Where the people in our text fell to the ground at the mention of His name, we stand in the fullness of His presence because I AM I AM came as “Yahweh saves” to make us His forever.  AWESOME!

 

From the Word 

“I Am I Am the Vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5 

    We had a grape arbor in our back yard when I was little.  Mom made us wait to eat the grapes until after she had enough for jelly.  Then we ate ourselves sick.  I’m sure I heard the words of Jesus in this text back then, but never stopped to consider how His words were true.  Let’s take time now.
    Vines are the source of life to the branches.  The vine pulls the moisture and the nutrients from the ground and delivers them to the branches so that the branches can grow.  There is no concept of a living branch apart from the vine.
    Jesus is our life and new life.  He is the incarnate Word through whom the Father created all things, thus us.  In an even greater way, He is the only source of eternal life in God’s kingdom.  Those who are not found in Him, by faith, are dead branches to be thrown into the fires of hell.  There are not many sources of eternal life in heaven, there is one.  He has left us with His gifts of Word and Sacraments so that we may receive what we need to be sustained and to grow.
    Unless the vine provides this nourishment to the branches, they cannot produce fruit.  When the fruit is picked, the branches seem most important, but the truly important source of the fruit is the vine.
    The fruit in this analogy is the work produced in us by faith in Jesus.  These are the contributions we make to people’s lives that God magnifies in wondrous blessings.  We do simple things and God makes them wondrous.  It is very easy to puff ourselves up and take credit for what is a blessing to others.  But in reality, we come back to the fact that, without the sustenance of the Vine, there would be no branch, let alone fruit.  We come in humble thanks for the blessings we have received through the fruit of others, and pray that God would produce fruit in us to be such a blessing to others.  We can also be sure that God will use the fruit produced now to continue to bless generations ahead.  Fruit has been picked off this vine since the world began, and will continue until the last day, when we will receive the fruit of His life, death, and resurrection in the glory of heaven.
    Consider the Vine.  We are the branches.