From the Word

“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.” 
Isaiah 53:4-5
    The words of Isaiah were written nearly 800 years before the death of Jesus.  They remain the most explicit discussion of what Jesus accomplished by his death on the cross, Old Testament or New.  God foretold the time and event that would transform history.  To hear these words as we view the crucifixion is to see the Old Testament mystery of salvation become clear, and to have the death of the Son of God put into a context that makes sense of an otherwise senseless act.
    As we behold this timeless message, we wonder how to tell this message to a changing American society.  Present day America puts the process of dying away from us so that we can escape as much of its’ sting as we can.  We either dress up the bodies, or don’t look at them at all.  This is not necessarily bad, unless we are using it as a means of insolating ourselves from the reality we all must face. 
    To a society running from death, we present the death of Jesus, God incarnate.  His death seems foolish to natural man.  Why would God do such a thing, if indeed God even exists?  With the death of Jesus, we are forced to deal with the reality that brought it about; sin.  Our society doesn’t want to talk about that, but must for the sake of their souls.  Instead of running from what is clearly visible among us, we call those around us to behold the problem in light of the solution. 
    We do not simply apply the Law and leave people in their guilt and despair (contrary to what seems to be popular culture opinion).  With the discussion of the problem of sin comes the message of Isaiah about how the Suffering Servant came to take our sins away.  He came as a substitute, to bear our hell, so that we might live in his grace here, and in the glory of heaven when we die.  Amid the hopelessness of our present age we proclaim Jesus’ death on the cross as God’s timeless solution to the problems we cause in each time of history.  Into the ever changing world views that seek to explain away the problem of sin and death, we proclaim the unchanging message of God swallowing up death that we might live.

 

From the Word 

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from infancy you have known the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”  2 Timothy 3:14-15 

    Times have changed.  To what extent do we change with them?  Do we bury our heads in the sand and try to pretend change has not come?  No.  The issue of change is; what changes and what does not.
    God’s Word remains forever.  That is taught various places in Scripture, including the Isaiah 40 verses in our memory verses for this month.  The Law remains the same no matter the degree to which it is practiced.  We cannot deny or abolish the 6th Commandment simply because our society has elevated sexual sins to acceptable or preferable status.  We must apply the Law to ourselves and our world no less than generations before.
    The Gospel of Jesus is the only teaching by which people are forgiven, brought into right relationship with God, and made heirs of heaven.  The Gospel does not change because society wants to embrace the nonsense of relative truth, meaning all ways are good.  Our society’s rejection of the Gospel must not deter us from sharing it, lest we leave our fellow citizens lost for eternity.  Our society’s call for love and compassion can only be truly accomplished by our proclamation of the truth for the sake of those to whom we proclaim it.
    Does anything about it change?  Clearly how we reach people with the message of Law and Gospel has changed in the past and will continue to do so.  A generation ago Christians most easily reached people by phone and U.S. mail.  Now it is difficult to truly reach many in our society these ways because they don’t place as a great value on these means of communication as they once did.  Many now spend their meaningful efforts at communication on other media that now becomes our mission field to those who “live” there. 
    Another change that we encounter today concerns the assumption of what people already know about the Bible.  In generations past simple biblical knowledge was common even among those not currently attending worship.  We cannot assume that those to whom we witness know anything at all about the Bible.  We need to ascertain what they know, or what they think they know, in order to explain our faith in a way that will impact them.  We will continue to discuss this vital issue.  We will react to the changes we are presently faced with in proclaiming the unchanging truth God has blessed us with in His Word.  We will apply Law/Gospel to ourselves and our families, and look for the open doors to proclaim it to others.

 

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.