“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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“Advent: Receiving the Coming King” (Luke 19:28-40)

First Sunday in Advent
December 2, 2018

“Advent: Receiving the Coming King” (Luke 19:28-40)

Well, it’s Advent. And you know what that means: We’re beginning the countdown to Christmas. Of course, the world has already been celebrating their Christmas for several weeks now, what with Hallmark Christmas movies, and Christmas TV specials and commercials, and radio stations playing songs about “Santa Baby” and “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” But that’s the world’s Christmas. In the church, though, we get to celebrate the real thing, the true Christmas. And Advent, which begins today, serves as the lead-up to it.

But that’s not all Advent does. Oh, we will be getting ready for Christmas. Our midweek services start this Wednesday, under the theme, “What Child Is This?” And after the service we’ll put up the tree here in church. The Ladies’ Guild is having their Christmas party on Thursday. And later this Advent we’ll be singing hymns like “Savior of the Nations, Come” and “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel.”

So Advent is the lead-up to Christmas. But it’s a lot more than that, too. It’s about how we prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming. It’s about how we welcome him as he comes to us. As we just sang, “O Lord, how shall I meet you, how welcome you aright?” And it’s about the various ways and times our Lord does come to us, then and now and still to come.

The thread that connects all these themes is summed up in the word “Advent” itself. For “Advent” simply means “Coming.” This season is all about Christ coming to us and how we respond to that. Thus our message this morning: “Advent: Receiving the Coming King.”

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Published in: on December 1, 2018 at 10:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Nativity of St. John the Baptist: Born to Forerun” (Luke 1:57-80)

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Sunday, June 24, 2018

“The Nativity of St. John the Baptist: Born to Forerun” (Luke 1:57-80)

Last week I opened the sermon by saying that we are in the “long green meadow” of the church year, that is, the non-festival half of the church year, when the liturgical color is green. But then, here we are today, and the color of the paraments is white! What gives? Well, today is a little exception to that rule, because today, June 24, is one of the more important of the minor festivals, and it happens to fall on a Sunday this year. Today is the day the church celebrates the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. In other words, June 24 is the day for remembering the birth of John the Baptist.

Why June 24? Well, naturally, it’s because it’s six months before Christmas, and John the Baptist was six months older than Jesus. But you say: “Oh, wait, Pastor, if that’s the case, shouldn’t we be celebrating on June the 25th? After all, Christmas is on December 25.” Yes, but due to the way the Romans counted on the calendar, we celebrate John’s birthday on June 24. The Romans counted backward how many days from the start of the next month, and since June has only 30 days, we celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24.

OK, but why white? Why are the paraments white today? Because white is the color of the Christ festivals, and the birth of John was telling us that the birth of Christ would soon follow. You see, John’s whole life, even from his birth–even from before his birth–was defined by his relation to Christ. John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ, in his message and his ministry, in his miraculous birth and his martyr’s death. John was literally “Born to Forerun.”

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Published in: on June 23, 2018 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Annunciation, Acclamation, Crucifixion” (Luke 1:30-33; Mark 11:1-10; 15:1-39)

Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion
March 25, 2018

“Annunciation, Acclamation, Crucifixion” (Luke 1:30-33; Mark 11:1-10; 15:1-39)

Today is a day in the church year that goes by two names, “Palm Sunday” and the “Sunday of the Passion.” This is Palm Sunday, the day when our Lord Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem, and the crowd spread palm branches before him and acclaimed him as their coming king. But today also serves as the Sunday of the Passion, the first day of Holy Week, looking ahead to Christ’s suffering, which will culminate in his crucifixion on Good Friday. The Scripture readings we have had so far in the service today have brought out both of these emphases: the Processional Gospel for Palm Sunday and the Holy Gospel for the Sunday of the Passion.

But did you know that today happens to go by another name also? It is the Annunciation of Our Lord. This one happens just by coincidence of calendar, since today is March 25. Think about it. What other church festival always happens on the 25th of a month? That’s right, Christmas, which always falls on December 25. And since we celebrate our Lord’s birth on December 25, nine months before that, on March 25, is the day we remember when the angel Gabriel announced to the virgin Mary that she would give birth to the Savior. “Conceived by the Holy Spirit” on March 25, “born of the virgin Mary” on December 25, nine months later.

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“From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (Luke 2:1-20)

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
Sunday, December 24, 2017

“From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (Luke 2:1-20)

For our Christmas Eve homily tonight, I thought I’d let Luther lead the way. This is the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, after all, and Martin Luther wrote and preached much on the wonder and the mystery of Christ’s birth. It was a favorite theme of his. So tonight we’ll use Luther’s great Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” as the basis for our meditation. You’ll find it as Hymn 358 in your Lutheran Service Book.

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Published in: on December 24, 2017 at 6:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Gabriel’s Gracious Greeting” (Luke 1:26-38)

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 24, 2017

“Gabriel’s Gracious Greeting” (Luke 1:26-38)

Every year on the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the Holy Gospel is a reading about Mary. Last year it was the message to Joseph that Mary would bear a son. Next year it will be Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth. This year it is the Annunciation to Mary that she will conceive in her womb and bear a son. So each year on this Sunday there’s something about Mary becoming the mother of our Lord, which is most fitting on the Sunday closest to Christmas.

As I say, our text today is the Annunciation, the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary. Gabriel comes to Mary and says to her, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But then Mary’s reaction is a bit puzzling. It says, “She was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” Well, that’s our question, too. What sort of greeting is this? And what sort of meaning does it have for us? That’s what we’ll find out now, as we consider “Gabriel’s Gracious Greeting.”

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Published in: on December 23, 2017 at 10:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Ascension Day, the Forgotten Festival” (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 25, 2017

“Ascension Day, the Forgotten Festival” (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

Welcome to the Forgotten Festival! Today is Ascension Day, or, as it’s more properly called, the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord. But there is reason to call it, as I say, the “Forgotten” Festival. Because even though Ascension Day is classed in the church year as a major festival, which means it’s a day for all churches to hold the Divine Service of Word and Sacrament, the sad fact is that in recent decades many congregations and many Christians have forgotten all about celebrating this important festival.

It used to be that you could go to any Lutheran church–or any liturgical church, for that matter, Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran–and they would have Ascension service on this day. But with the decline of Christian culture in our country, it’s pretty hard to find churches that are having service today. And where you do, it’s usually only the hardy few who turn out. You see, by definition the Ascension of Our Lord always comes forty days after Easter, which means it always falls on a Thursday. And it’s hard enough these days to get people to come to church on a Sunday, let alone on a Thursday.

By the way, there is another major festival in the church year that likewise has fallen on hard times, and that is the Epiphany of Our Lord. Epiphany is twelve days after Christmas, thus it always falls on January 6, which means it almost always falls on a day other than Sunday. Besides which, early January is cold and dark, and that cuts down even further on attendance. So I guess we could say that Epiphany and Ascension are the two Forgotten Festivals.

But happily, we do not forget these festivals here at St. Matthew’s! And today, being Ascension Day, I want you to know why we do not forget this day. For the Ascension of Our Lord is a wonderful, marvelous event, deserving of a day all its own. My goodness, the fact that Christ “ascended into heaven” even rates a line in all three of the ecumenical creeds! Tonight, then, I want to tell you why we remember and rejoice in the Ascension of Our Lord.

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Published in: on May 25, 2017 at 8:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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