“The Handmaid’s Tale” (Luke 1:26-38)

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 20, 2020

“The Handmaid’s Tale” (Luke 1:26-38)

I’ve never seen the program, but I have heard about a television series called “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The premise of the show is that there is a tyrannical, theocratic government that is oppressing women. Of course, the religious people are portrayed as evil. The women that they are oppressing and enslaving are called “handmaids.” Well, the American Left have seized upon this, and in some of their marches, their women dress in the handmaids’ costumes as a way of protesting how religious people in our country are oppressing women.

However, in the Holy Gospel for today, from Luke 1, we meet a young woman who is content with being a handmaid. In fact, she even calls herself by that term: “I am the handmaid of the Lord,” she says. And indeed, she is, as we just sang, a “most highly favored lady.” So let’s hear her story now, under the very good title, “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

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Published in: on December 19, 2020 at 8:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Genealogy of Jesus Christ: From the Deportation to the Christ” (Matthew 1:1, 12-17)

Midweek Advent Matins
Wednesday, December 16, 2020

“The Genealogy of Jesus Christ: From the Deportation to the Christ” (Matthew 1:1, 12-17)

During this Advent season, we are preparing to meet and greet our coming king. The king is coming–to us, for us–coming at Christmas, coming at the end of time, coming now into our midst through Word and Sacrament. So we prepare to meet him–in repentance, in faith, in holy joy. That’s what Advent is all about.

But this king we are preparing to meet–this king who comes to us–this is a lowly king. Lowly, not high. Lowly, humble, coming in a way you might not expect. Our lowly king comes to us in a very surprising way. Surprising, yet faithful to God’s promises. While we may forget God’s promises–when we think God may have forgotten his promises–here comes this surprise. It is a lowly surprise that brings salvation and hope and joy to our hearts. We realize that God does remember. God does keep his promises–even when things are looking their worst.

Lowly, surprising, and faithful–that’s how God works. That’s the message we can take from our text today. At first glance, though, it looks like just a bunch of names–most of which you have never heard of. But when we take a closer look, we see how God deals with us by the gospel. And we gain strength, courage, and confidence in God’s promises.

Our text is “The Genealogy of Jesus Christ,” as recorded in the opening verses of Matthew. More specifically, today we focus on the last third of the genealogy, the part that takes us “From the Deportation to the Christ.”

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Published in: on December 16, 2020 at 5:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Year of the Lord’s Favor” (Isaiah 61:1-4, 10-11)

Third Sunday in Advent
December 13, 2020

“The Year of the Lord’s Favor” (Isaiah 61:1-4, 10-11)

We’re coming to the end of this year, and what a year it has been! 2020–a year that will live in infamy! Our country has had a very tough year: Covid-19, economic shutdowns and lockdowns, people losing their jobs, people losing their businesses, people losing their lives. We had rioting in the streets, looting and burning, and governors and mayors letting it happen. We had a tense election season, with the results very much in dispute. What a year it has been! Those “year in review” retrospectives you’ll see at the end of the month–they will not be a happy trip down memory lane.

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Published in: on December 12, 2020 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Genealogy of Jesus Christ: From David to the Deportation” (Matthew 1:1, 6b-11)

Midweek Advent Matins
Wednesday, December 9, 2020

“The Genealogy of Jesus Christ: From David to the Deportation” (Matthew 1:1, 6b-11)

Last week we began looking at how Matthew begins his gospel. He begins with a genealogy, a genealogy that takes in much of Old Testament history. It is the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. But Jesus was, first of all, the Savior of Israel. He is the promised Messiah, who fulfilled the promises given to Israel’s forefathers. Jesus came into the world as the culmination, the climax, of Israel’s history. And so Matthew writes: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. . . .”

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Published in: on December 10, 2020 at 12:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Messengers Marking Out the Messiah” (Mark 1:1-8)

Second Sunday in Advent
December 6, 2020

“Messengers Marking Out the Messiah” (Mark 1:1-8)

In centuries past, in lands where there were kings, when the king was about to go visit various parts of his realm, messengers would be sent out, heralds, to go ahead to each town and announce the soon arrival of that mighty monarch. “The king is coming! Everybody get ready! The king is on his way!” And the people would know what to do. They would clean up any trash littering their town. If there were potholes in the roads, those would get filled in. Got to have everything in order for the arrival of the king! So those messengers, the heralds, had an important job to do in preparing the way, so the people would be ready for their coming king.

Well, in the Holy Gospel for today, from Mark chapter 1, we meet such a messenger preparing the way for the arrival of a king. In fact, there may be even more than one. And so our theme this morning: “Messengers Marking Out the Messiah.”

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Published in: on December 5, 2020 at 12:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Genealogy of Jesus Christ: From Abraham to David” (Matthew 1:1-6a)

Midweek Advent Matins
Wednesday, December 2, 2020

“The Genealogy of Jesus Christ: From Abraham to David” (Matthew 1:1-6a)

I am interested in family histories and genealogies. My own, for example. I am a direct descendant of Peter Gunnarsson Rambo, one of the first Swedish settlers in America back in 1640 and one of the founders of the colony New Sweden along the east coast. Peter Rambo’s name, by the way, was the inspiration for the movie character Rambo. My maternal grandmother was Grace Rambo Clark, and, through that Clark connection, I am related to William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and governor of Missouri. So some of my family heritage is pretty noble and famous.

On the other hand, some of it is shaded in scandal. My father was put up for adoption in an orphanage in Chicago, probably because he was born out of wedlock. So I joined up with Ancestry.com, and I’m trying to find out who I’m related to by way of my father’s birth name.

Fame and scandal, historical standouts and skeletons in the closet–this is what you find in any person’s family history. And Jesus is no different. The Bible tells us about Jesus’ ancestry. And this Advent we’re going to explore his family history, under the theme, “The Genealogy of Jesus Christ.” We begin today with the section that goes “From Abraham to David.”

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Published in: on December 2, 2020 at 10:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Reserved for a King” (Mark 11:1-10)

First Sunday in Advent
November 29, 2020

“Reserved for a King” (Mark 11:1-10)

Happy New Year! No, I’m not time-traveling ahead to January 1. But it is a new year today. A new church year, that is. Because today is the First Sunday in Advent, and thus the start of a new church year. And every year on the First Sunday in Advent, we have as the Gospel reading an account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Which seems a little odd, doesn’t it? Here we are in Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, and we get a reading for the start of Holy Week, which leads into Good Friday and Easter. But that’s the point. It’s a way of saying that the whole church year is focused on our Lord Jesus Christ going to the cross to die for our salvation and rising from the dead in victory over sin and death. So, this reading today to kick off the church year directs our attention to those central events of the Christian faith.

What’s more, the reading today is a good way to start the season of Advent. The word “Advent” means “coming,” and this is the season in which we anticipate the coming of our King. We are preparing for Christ’s coming at Christmas, and beyond that, we’re preparing for his coming again at the Last Day. Advent prepares us for both, as well as for how our Lord comes to us even now in Word and Sacrament.

Today’s reading serves that Advent purpose well. For in our text from Mark 11, we join with the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem with their joyous cry: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” Truly, this is a welcome fit for a king.

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Published in: on November 28, 2020 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Dreaming of a Savior” (Matthew 1:18-25)

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 22, 2019

“Dreaming of a Savior” (Matthew 1:18-25)

The ancient Romans had a saying, “Nomen est omen.” “Nomen est omen,” which means, “The name,” nomen, “is a sign,” an omen. In other words, a person’s name will sometimes, mysteriously, be a sign of what’s to come for that person. For example, if a baby’s name is George, which means, “one who works the ground,” and that child grows up to be a farmer, well, that’s a case of “Nomen est omen.” The name is a sign of the future for that person.

That saying holds true in our text today, in a way far more important than whether someone named George becomes a farmer. When the angel tells Joseph that his wife is going to have a son and “you shall call his name Jesus,” here too the name is a sign. In fact, you could say that “the name as a sign” thing happens twice in this story. Two names, for two people, bear significance. Their names tell us something about who they are, as God arranges it.

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Published in: on December 21, 2019 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Once He Came in Blessing” (LSB 333)

Midweek Advent Matins
Wednesday, December 18, 2019

“Once He Came in Blessing” (LSB 333)

Today we’re going to take a look at an Advent hymn, one that delivers the goods as far as conveying the message of Advent. It’s the hymn, “Once He Came in Blessing,” hymn 333 in Lutheran Service Book. So please turn there.

Before we get to the various stanzas, let me tell you first a little about the hymn’s history and its author. And there’s only a little to tell. The author was a man by the name of Johann Horn, and he lived around the same time as Luther. He was a supporter of Luther during the Reformation. Johann Horn was part of a community called the Bohemian Brethren, in what is now the Czech Republic. As bishop, he prepared a large hymnal full of hymns for his church. Our hymn today is the only one we have in our book for which he wrote the text; we do have another one for which he wrote the tune.

This hymn, “Once He Came in Blessing,” is a translation of the German text, Gottes Sohn ist kommen, literally, “God’s Son has come.” By the way, the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who was a Lutheran church organist, later composed a work based on this hymn.

Why am I picking this hymn, “Once He Came in Blessing,” for our midweek Advent service today? Because this hymn does a good job in capturing the three aspects of Christ’s coming that we think about during the Advent season: how Christ came to us in the past; how he comes to us in the present; and how Christ will come to us in the future. In fact, these three “comings” of Christ form the first three stanzas of the hymn. That’s the distinctive thing about this hymn. You can even see it in the opening word of each stanza: “Once,” “Now,” “Soon,” past, present, and future. Let’s look at those stanzas now, one at a time.

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Published in: on December 18, 2019 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“What Do You Expect?” (Matthew 11:2-15)

Third Sunday in Advent
December 15, 2019

“What Do You Expect?” (Matthew 11:2-15)

What you expect and when you expect it will determine, to a large extent, whether you are satisfied or disappointed. For example, suppose that for Christmas your true love promises to give to you twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, and so on, all the way down to three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. But now suppose that at the end of the day on December 25 all you’ve received is the partridge in the pear tree. You’re a little disappointed. Maybe you ask yourself: “Did my true love forget about the other stuff? Where are the laying geese and the milking maids and all the rest? Maybe my true love doesn’t truly love me, after all.”

But then, over the next few days, on December 26, 27, 28, you start getting Fed Ex shipments of various calling and non-calling birds. By December 31, you’re up to seven swans a-swimming. Now you’re starting to catch on. Your true love’s word is good. Your true love does truly love you. The promise will be kept in full. You remember now that there are twelve days of Christmas, and so you can expect the rest of the stuff is on the way. It will arrive on time, in due time. So even though you have not yet seen any dancing ladies, you’re satisfied you will see them. In this case, you really can count your chickens before they’re dispatched.

What you expect and when you expect it determine whether you’re satisfied or disappointed. That’s true of Christmas presents, and it’s true of Christ himself. What do you expect of Christ? When do you expect it? This is the question that comes to us this morning, just as it came to John the Baptist: “What Do You Expect?”

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Published in: on December 14, 2019 at 8:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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