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Epiphany 1 – Luke 2:41-52

by pastorjuhl ~ January 28th, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

The greater majority of the Gospels focus on three years of the thirty-three years Jesus Christ lived among us. Where are the other thirty years? You would think that someone would have written an exhaustive account of the life of Jesus Christ as the God-man. More biographical accounts of what Jesus said and did, especially in His younger years, perhaps would make for a more believable God.

All we receive about Jesus before the age of thirty is that He was born, was visited by wise men around the age of one, fled to Egypt and then to Nazareth in Galilee some time later, and then went with His parents to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover at the age of twelve. The rest of Jesus’ life with His parents is summarized in one verse: And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

All sorts of false gospels proclaim phony stories about Jesus’ childhood. Have you heard the one about Jesus raising one of His playmates from the dead? Or maybe Jesus grabbing a hunk of dirt, fashioning a bird out of the dirt, blowing on the dirt bird, and the bird comes to life and flies out of His hand? There are all sorts of stories you can find about “the missing years” of our Lord’s life on earth. What’s important, what is truly inspired by God, about Jesus’ life is that He increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. In other words, Jesus’ childhood, outside of this one event in Luke chapter two, is mundane…maybe even boring. He obeyed God and His parents, in that order.

A lot of good comes from that obedience to His heavenly Father and His earthly parents. This seems not to be the case when they all go to Jerusalem for Passover. Mary and Joseph are heading back to Nazareth with a group. They get twenty or so miles outside Jerusalem when the worst thing that could happen to them happens. Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it. Today an event like this would get you in trouble with the Department of Children and Family Services. What sort of parents are Joseph and Mary? They are not able to keep track of a twelve-year-old boy. They assume He is among their group. Yet He is not there!

They return to Jerusalem and search for three days. When they do find Jesus, He is in the temple listening to the doctors of the Law and asking questions. It’s as if Jesus is attending catechism instruction, but who is instructing whom? Seems as if Jesus is the one doing the instructing. All who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.

At first glance, this account seems to be a “gotcha”. How can Jesus be obedient to His parents when He abandons them and stays behind in Jerusalem to hear and talk to the teachers in the temple? An obedient child would have been right by His parents’ side. There would be no frantic three-day search in a large city looking for Him. The difficult thing for us to believe about this account is that Jesus is obedient to His heavenly Father and His earthly parents at the same time.

How is this so? It is so because Jesus is, above all things, obedient to His heavenly Father. This is why Jesus is surprised when His parents scold Him about disappearing from them. Our Lord responds, Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Another way to say it is, Did you not know that I must be in the place where My Father is? The heavenly Father dwells in the temple. There the Word of the Law and the prophets reigns supreme. Jesus must be where this Word dwells. He is there not only to hear it, but also learn from it and, when necessary, to correct earthly teachers about what that Word says about Him.

Here we recall the third commandment about preaching and the Word of God. Jesus gladly hears and learns from the Word, even as He is the Word made flesh. Our thoughts and prayers about the Word are soiled in sin. Even when we gladly hear and learn the Word, we still want our itching ears scratched. Perhaps this is why we love to hear stories about so-called Biblical scholars finding new evidence about Jesus that contradicts what Scripture says. This is also why we tend to trust our own thoughts and opinions about God’s Word, especially when it proclaims the free, full forgiveness of sins because of Jesus Christ. We are always on the lookout for something new, something that sets us apart from others.

Though Jesus amazed those who saw Him listening and questioning, it should not amaze us that this is the extraordinary Savior doing something quite ordinary. He is about His Father’s business, just as He would be almost two decades later. He is about His Father’s business by being submissive to His parents. Our sinful selfish nature only cares about ourselves. Jesus, on the other hand, did as He was told by His earthly parents. But what about this incident? He seems to run off and do His own thing. Not so. We must obey God rather than men. His first priority, our first priority, is to hear preaching and the Word of God. Then comes submission to our neighbor. Where these two things are in conflict, submission to God’s Word always comes first.

We fail in both realms of submission. We choose other words over God’s Word. We care about our own self rather than our neighbor. Where we fall short, Jesus does not fall short. His perfect obedience is for our sake. By God’s merciful grace, through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, we receive the benefits of our Lord’s unfailing obedience to both His heavenly Father and His earthly mother and father. When Jesus is about His Father’s business, when He is where His Father is, He is there for us, doing what He is given to do in order to redeem mankind.

His is an extraordinary life wrapped in ordinary flesh. One minute He confounds people in the Jerusalem temple. The next minute He fetches carpentry tools for Joseph and perhaps helps Mary clean up after supper. When our submission to God and to neighbor fails, Christ’s submission to both never fails on our behalf. In Him there is forgiveness and life, even when that life seems all too mundane. Once again, God is at work in the little things of life. In the little things, in hearkening to the Word of God, in water, in bread and wine, there are great things, even forgiveness of sins and perfect righteousness.

Blesséd be the Lord, the God of Israel, Who alone does wondrous things.

 In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Christmas 2 – Matthew 2:13-23

by pastorjuhl ~ January 28th, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

The life of Christ has a twofold purpose. First and foremost, it is substitutionary. Everything that Christ did and suffered happened in our place, for our own good. As a result, we are saved from our sins, reconciled to God, and have true righteousness before God. We are saved by God’s grace and appropriate His salvation in faith.

Now that we are justified by faith and have peace with God, Christ’s life also serves as an example for us. This does not mean that we merely do as Jesus does in holy living, but also in cross and suffering. Everything we suffer redounds to steadfast faith in Christ as we bear the cross, knowing that God brings all suffering to a wonderful, glorious outcome. It is this side of our life in Christ that we consider today as we hear of our Lord’s flight to and from Egypt as well as the slaughter of the Innocents in Bethlehem.

What seems to be another bummer this week actually shows how life as a Christian plays out among us. Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt because King Herod became paranoid that his throne was in jeopardy from an interloper Who was called the King of the Jews. Our Lord’s journey to Egypt was an arduous trip. His life was in danger. It was a long trip. Look at a map of that part of the world and you’ll see just how far it is from modern day Bethlehem to modern day Egypt. There were no airplanes, no trains, no automobiles, and no buses. The family had to stay in Egypt more than just a few days. They had to wait out Herod. When Herod died, an equally evil leader took his place. The family relocated to Nazareth in Galilee to avoid another bloodthirsty leader.

The only-begotten Son of our heavenly Father deserves better than these humble accommodations. He shouldn’t have to flee cities and countries because of a king worried about his earthly throne. Yet Jesus is, as Isaiah prophesied, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. What greater grief to be acquainted with than the death of many innocent children in the search for the Christ Child. Everything seemed destroyed. The joy of Christmas is soaked with blood and humiliation.

That’s the way it is this side of eternity. Consider the great heroes of the Old Testament. They did not walk an easy road to where God wanted them to go. Joseph suffered greatly in prison before becoming the second most powerful man in Egypt. Moses fled the Israelites before meeting the Lord in a burning bush and returning to his own to lead them out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land. King David, after he was anointed King of Israel, had to flee from King Saul as an outlaw. The three young men in Babylon were thrown into a fiery furnace for confessing the true name of God. Daniel was thrown in a lion’s den. Even Saint Paul had to be shown how much he had to suffer for the sake of Christ’s name.

Christian suffering continues today. Instead of everything becoming easier now that Jesus is born, things only seem to get worse. Misfortune is only beginning. As it was with Jesus, so it is with us. Just when we think things should get easier, life becomes more difficult. Where there was once honor, now there is ridicule and shame. Where there was blessing in your vocation, now everything goes against you. Where there was good health, now you have more illness. Where there was once happiness in your family, now there are painful deaths and separations, wayward children, poverty, and debt. In all suffering, God is making you similar to the suffering image of His Son.

There is a silver lining to these dark clouds. Almighty God protected Mary, Joseph, and the little Child Jesus on their journeys to and from Egypt. Three prophecies are fulfilled in today’s Gospel. These are reliable, yes, true indicators that Jesus is the promised Messiah. The blood of the innocent children that died at Herod’s hands confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Their death spares them from all kinds of grief in this life, yet gives them blessed rest as they wait for the return of Messiah to raise the faithful departed.

As God led the innocent children out of this vale of tears, so He will do the same for you. He saves you through the perfect life and all-sufficient death of His Son Jesus. His Word is certain and precious above all things, just as Saint Paul says in Romans chapter eight: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

We have a glimpse of this future glory that awaits us here in the Divine Service. Here we rest in Jesus Christ as He forgives our sins and strengthens our faith in preaching and the Sacrament. When we leave His presence here, we live in His grace as we turn away from worldly things and live in self-denial, patience, and prayer. There is an end of every cross, and it comes in God’s good time. Everything we suffer strengthens faith in Jesus Christ. Consider those Old Testament saints mentioned a bit ago. There was an end to their suffering and an ultimate end to their lives. Yet the ultimate end wasn’t a final end. It was only the beginning. They sleep in peace, awaiting the return of Jesus to raise them from the dead.

So it is with us and our faithful loved ones. They wait in hope. We wait in hope. We wait in the promise that all crosses have an end in Jesus Christ. He is well acquainted with suffering. He knows what it is like to walk the lonely way, a more lonely way than we’ll ever walk. So we cling to Him above all things, believing that patient endurance brings everlasting hope. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Advent 4 – John 1:19-28

by pastorjuhl ~ January 28th, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            Haul out the holly! Put up the tree before my spirit falls again. Fill up the stockings. I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again NOW.

The rush has been on since November 1, or even earlier. We need a little Christmas this time of year. Actually, we need a whole lot of Christmas. But come about 3:00 Christmas afternoon we will be ready to shove the decorations and carols and all the Christmas claptrap back in boxes until next year. We’ve had enough of Christmas, right this very minute.

Perhaps one reason why we’ve had enough of Christmas is that we haven’t taken the time to prepare for the big day. You may think I’m crazy for saying that because you’ve been baking, decorating, and getting ready for weeks now. Christmas is all about preparation! That’s true, but what kind of preparation is necessary for December 25?

Children of the world aren’t expecting a Redeemer. They know of no reason why they should prepare for His coming. Christmas has no other meaning for so many people than a mere external, ceremonial meaning. It’s an end of the year custom to deck the halls with hundreds, if not thousands, of twinkling lights and tinsel. Oh, sure, there will be the customary nativity scene, too. But look at that tree! Look at the dozens of cookies and candy in the freezer just waiting for the big day!

How about we put the brakes on baking, decorating, and listening to Christmas songs on the radio for a few minutes? How about we take a trip to the Judean wilderness, to the banks of the Jordan River and hear how John, the forerunner of the Lord, preaches to the entire world about the right preparation for the Lord’s coming.

It was a blessed time in Israel as the Lord gave His bodily Advent. John the Baptist was His forerunner, His “angel”, so to speak. As we heard Jesus say in last week’s Gospel reading: This is he of whom it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” Four hundred plus years before, the prophet Malachi proclaimed, Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. John faithfully carried out his calling as messenger. He took all eyes off himself and directed them solely to the Lord.

John confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.””Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” Sounds like a lot of denials and not much confessing. In all the denials is a confession of who John is and, more importantly, who Jesus is. John is not the Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah, the One among them the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.

It’s easy to get caught up in celebrating Christmas for all the wrong reasons. That is why it is good to get away from the busy activities of this season and listen to John the Baptist confess who he is by confessing who he is not. John puts everything into perspective. It is the Lord’s advent among us according to the flesh that we’ve spent these last few weeks considering. This is our greatest desire as Christians. By all means, haul out the holly and put up the tree. But take some time to examine yourself and discover anew why there is a season of Advent and Christmas.

Take some time to hear the message of John: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Cast away the works of darkness, as we sang last week in “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding”. The greatest desire of this season is not getting everything you want on your Christmas list. It is receiving the Lord Jesus among us as a living, breathing, crying, fussing, smiling, strapping Baby Boy. As Saint Paul told us three weeks ago, the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

What does it mean to put on the Lord Jesus Christ? Putting on Christ means to stop walking in the way of death and walk instead in the way of life. The high mountains must be made low and the crooked way made plain. Consider John the Baptist as the prime example of putting on Christ. He is humble before God and man. A fruit of repentance is humility. He knows he is sinful. He knows he deserves nothing but everlasting death and torment. Nevertheless, he trusts in Jesus alone as his Savior from everlasting death and torment.

With repentance comes true faith in Jesus Christ and an ardent desire for His gracious presence. Consider the account of John’s mother Elisabeth and Mary the Mother of God. When Elisabeth heard Mary’s greeting, John leapt in his mother’s womb. He leapt because he was in the presence of the Most High God, now gestating in His earthly mother’s womb. Years later, John confesses His Savior in a dispute between his disciples and a Jewish man. Everyone was starting to flock to Jesus over John. Didn’t this make John upset? Not so. John responds, The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.

There’s the secret not only of Advent and Christmas, but every day of the year. The Lord Christ must increase, and I must decrease. The Lord Christ increases in you when you remain steadfast in the teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ. You trust His Word when everything else points against it. You cling to Jesus alone when others helpers fail and comforts flee. Jesus has come to shed His blood for you in order that you are ransomed, bought back, from the powers of hell. He calls you to follow Him, to die to this world and live in His gracious presence in the preaching of His Word and the giving of His Gifts under water, Word, bread, and wine. Christ now dwells in you and you in Him. You cannot help but show His love in all you say and do.

When do we not need a little Christmas? The answer is “never.” There’s always a need for Christmas, just as there’s always a need for Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and all ecclesiastical seasons. It’s good to prepare for the big day, but don’t forget the most important preparation: your preparation to receive Jesus the Savior-King according to the flesh. He comes to take your sin and give you His righteousness. Believe it for His sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit