“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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“Behold, Your King Is Coming to You” (Matthew 21:1-11)

First Sunday in Advent
December 1, 2019

“Behold, Your King Is Coming to You” (Matthew 21:1-11)

In the Holy Gospel for today, St. Matthew writes: “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”’” But this raises some questions: How does this event from Jesus’ life, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey–how does this “fulfill what was spoken by the prophet”? Or another question: What does this Palm Sunday account have to do with Advent? And the even more important question: What does all of this have to do with us? Let’s get some answers now, under the theme, “Behold, Your King Is Coming to You.”

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Published in: on November 30, 2019 at 5:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (O Antiphons)

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 23, 2018

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (O Antiphons)

The Hymn of the Day today for this Fourth Sunday in Advent is hymn 357 in Lutheran Service Book, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Please turn there now and maybe even mark it with the ribbon, because we’ll be referring to it throughout the sermon.

You’ll notice on the page facing the hymn that there is a heading, “The Great ‘O’ Antiphons.” And there you will see seven such antiphons, listed by date, starting on December 17 and ending today, December 23. They’re called the “O” Antiphons, because each one starts with an “O,” which you use when you’re addressing someone, followed by a particular title addressing Christ: O Wisdom, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, and so on. And they are antiphons, which are little framing verses used in the liturgy. In this case, they were used to frame the Magnificat, during Vespers over the last seven evenings before Christmas Eve.

Now if you compare these “O Antiphons” to the hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” you will see that these seven antiphons were the basis for the seven stanzas of the hymn. The only difference is that we sing the Emmanuel hymn stanza first, whereas the Emmanuel antiphon actually comes last–today, on December 23.

The O Antiphons are prayers to Christ, in anticipation of his coming at Christmas, each one using a different messianic title. These titles each have their own background in the Old Testament, and they are fulfilled in the New Testament in the coming of Christ. And so there is a message for us in these seven antiphons, because each one tells us something about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And who Jesus is, and who he is for us, makes all the difference in the world–indeed, in this world and the next. So let’s find out what that message is. And, in fact, there is even a hidden message here, which we’ll get to at the end.

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Published in: on December 21, 2018 at 10:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Meeting of the Moms” (Luke 1:39-45)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 19, 2018

“The Meeting of the Moms” (Luke 1:39-45)

Over these three midweek Advent services, we’ve been looking at readings from Luke chapter one, which is the lead-up to the Christmas Gospel itself in chapter two. Back in our first midweek service, we heard the angel Gabriel announce to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a child named John, John the Baptist. Then last week we heard Gabriel announce to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Now today these two storylines intersect. Mary goes to visit her relative Elizabeth. It’s the account of “The Visitation,” that is, the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, while both women were expecting their very special children. I’m calling this story “The Meeting of the Moms.”

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Published in: on December 19, 2018 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Problem of Perplexity and the Promise of Hope” (Luke 7:18-28)

Third Sunday in Advent
December 16, 2018

“The Problem of Perplexity and the Promise of Hope” (Luke 7:18-28)

What happens when something you’ve been hoping for, something you’ve been waiting for eagerly and expectantly, what happens when it finally arrives, and your life still doesn’t get any better? In fact, it may even get worse. What then? Well, it can be rather perplexing. You may ask yourself: “Is there any hope for me to hold on to? Has God forgotten about me? Why is he letting this happen?” If you’ve ever felt like that, then our message today is just for you. And so our theme: “The Problem of Perplexity and the Promise of Hope.”

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Published in: on December 15, 2018 at 1:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“An Impossible Son, an Impossible Deliverance” (Judges 13:2-7; Luke 1:26-38)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 12, 2018

“An Impossible Son, an Impossible Deliverance” (Judges 13:2-7; Luke 1:26-38)

It was an impossible situation. For forty years, Israel had been suffering under the oppression of the Philistines. The Philistines were looting their cities and ravaging their countryside. It was a period of great distress. Israel was in a dark and hopeless time. Often, though, in God’s way of doing things, dark and hopeless times give birth to new hope and renewed faith. So the Lord heard the Israelites’ cries of distress and did for them what was humanly impossible: He delivered them from the hand of the Philistines.

But God’s rescue plan did not involve gathering an army or amassing the weapons you would expect. God’s plan in this case centered on one man. An army of one, you might say. One man who singlehandedly would rescue Israel without touching a conventional weapon of war.

What’s more, God’s rescue plan began in circumstances that also seemed impossible: A barren woman would give birth. The angel of the Lord spoke to the wife of Manoah. “Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son,” the angel said. Earlier in Israel’s history, the Lord had done great things through the barren wombs of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel. Sarah gave birth to the patriarch Isaac. Rebekah gave birth to the patriarch Jacob. Rachel, to Joseph and Benjamin. Later on, the Lord again would do great things through the womb of Hannah. She would give birth to the prophet Samuel. And much later, it would be the aged Elizabeth who gave birth to John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. But now in the Book of Judges, the Lord will do the impossible through the barren wife of Manoah. She will give birth to Samson, a mighty deliverer who, in some ways, is a type of an even greater Deliverer to come. And so our theme tonight: “An Impossible Son, an Impossible Deliverance.”

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Published in: on December 12, 2018 at 1:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Way of Repentance” (Luke 3:1-14)

Second Sunday in Advent
December 9, 2018

“The Way of Repentance” (Luke 3:1-14)

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the Baptist in the wilderness. And every year, in the month of December, during the season of Advent, the word of God comes to us through John here in church. Yes, every year at this time, on the second Sunday in Advent, we always have a Gospel reading in which John the Baptist preaches God’s word to us.

And what is he preaching? Our text tells us: John went about “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And this applies to us, as well. For God’s word tells us that we have been baptized into a life of repentance. We too have been baptized for the forgiveness of sins. John is preaching that message to us today. And so our theme this morning: “The Way of Repentance.”

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Published in: on December 8, 2018 at 10:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Child Who Is Zechariah’s Hope” (Luke 1:5-25)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 5, 2018

“The Child Who Is Zechariah’s Hope” (Luke 1:5-25)

“What Child Is This?” That’s the theme of our midweek Advent series this year, picking up on the title of the hymn we sang. “What Child Is This?” Of course, the child we sing about in that hymn is the Christ child, Jesus, the Savior sent from heaven. But there is another child we consider first, one who prepares the way for Jesus, both later on in his ministry, but also even here in his birth. And that child is John, John the Baptist. And because our text today is about John the Baptist, it is therefore about Jesus. Because John’s whole purpose in life was to point people to Jesus. And God arranged for John to do that, even in his birth.

Our text is the story of the angel Gabriel announcing to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son with that special purpose in life, to prepare the way of the Lord. Zechariah faltered at believing that message, and so the Lord struck him unable to speak for a time. But the Lord did not cast Zechariah aside or give up on him. For the child to be born after John, Jesus, would be the one who forgives Zechariah’s sins–and ours too–and restores us and gives us hope. So our message tonight is really about Jesus, “The Child Who Is Zechariah’s Hope.”

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Published in: on December 5, 2018 at 8:26 pm  Comments (1)  
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