Sermon for Epiphany 2

Epiphany 2
January 19, 2014
John 2:1-11
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

2.

Water above the firmament:
winter rain descending; the roots of vitis vinifera clutching earth.
Spring warmth:
water drawn through vinestock, stem, and leaf; tendril, flower, fruit.
Summer heat:
sun fierce upon the hills; in the grape now, water, glucose, fructose, tannin, acid; all beneath the thin firmament on            which the Spirit’s brooding leaves behind a bloom of yeast; Saccharomyces ellipsoideus: the thumbprint of the Lord        and Giver of life.
Then autumn:
basket, press, vat; sugar and yeast wantoning; earth’s old September love revived…fermentation; the warm must…            rejoices in the pleasure of good company…
Water come of age
in the vast pots of this old Cana, where the Word, in silence, orders up new wine.
Finally:
racking off, barreling, clearing, bottling; the long wait—for esters: alcohol and acid reconciled, wine bodied forth to          roundness and a nose; for oxidation: tannin and alcohol softened, corners smoothed by the Spirit’s thumb, purple              shaded to brown
Until
(in Heaven it is alwaies Autumne) earth’s last best gift is brought to sere and velvet elegance,
To Wine indeed
To Water in excelsis.

St. John calls the turning of water into wine a sign (shmei,wn)— This Jesus did, the beginning of the signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him (v 11).  The fact that water turned into wine wasn’t all that miraculous—after all, even the first wine at Cana’s wedding started its life as water.  The reason that this first of Jesus signs is called a miracle is because of the way in which it turned from water to wine.

Jesus turning water into wine was pretty miraculous.  But it’s no less miraculous that God turns water into wine all the time.  Clouds rain down water on the hills along the Missouri River, which is drawn through the vine and blooms into flower, then plump fruit.  Then the water is transformed into something altogether new in the grape.  Then miracle upon miracle: infect it with a yeast, and not only does it not spoil, it transforms yet again into something altogether different.  More miracles occur when this new wine is left to rest—it takes on a new character, new and subtler flavors combining and emerging.  The water is now become wine.

At Cana in Galilee, Jesus short-circuited this natural process.  And on the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and His disciples were also called to the wedding.  And when the wine began running short, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They do not have wine.” And Jesus said to her, “What of me and you, woman?  My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”  There were six stone water jars standing there, for the cleansing of the Jews, each containing two or three measures [of about 9 gallons].  Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.”  And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some now and take it to the master of ceremonies.”  And they brought some.  When the master tasted the water that had become wine, and not knowing from where it came—though the servants who had drawn the water had known—the master called out to the groom and said to him, “All men first set out the good wine and when the guests should become drunk, the lesser.  You have guarded the good wine until now (vv 1-10).

When it was in the jars it was water.  When the servants drew it, it was water.  But when the master of ceremonies tasted it, it was wine.  Something happened when the servants drew the water, something was added to it.  By Jesus’ Word and command, Cana’s water was transformed into water in excelsis, water in the highest, a new spirit in those old jars.

This was the beginning of Jesus’ signs.  Signs always point to something.  The first thing to which this sign points is that God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is still actively involved in upholding creation with His almighty Word.  He Who shines with God’s glory and is the Expression of His Being sustains everything by His mighty Word (Heb 1:3 AAT).  It’s not just in Cana of Galilee that Jesus turns water into wine by His Word, but also at Roebbler of New Haven and Stone Hill of Hermann.

The first of Jesus’ signs shows that the Word that He speaks is the same Word of God spoken in the beginning—the Word that creates, the Word that sustains, the Word that accomplishes what it promises.  This is the particular glory of Jesus revealed that day.

1.

In the beginning, God created all things by His Word ex nihilo, out of nothing.  And God said, “Let there be….” and there was.  But ex nihilo, out of nothing, is not the only way that God creates.  There is one particular piece of God’s creation that is different.  God created man from the dust of the earth; He created woman from man.  He shaped him, formed him, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.  God started with something and recreated it into something altogether new.

Which is good news, because we who were created special among God’s creation have been hard at work in every generation trying to undo what His Word commands.  Not in the sense that God created us to subdue and rule over and tend creation, but in the sense that we rebel against the very Word that sustains creation.  We would have ourselves be lords of creation, to tell the author of right and wrong what is right and wrong in our own eyes.  Yet, even though we are the infection that’s causing God’s good creation to spoil and waste away, He doesn’t eradicate us.  He doesn’t sanitize His creation.  He recreates—He produces something new, something altogether different.

Now here is something truly miraculous: just as God uses the infection of yeast to bring about something completely new from the water stored in the grape, so does He use the infection of sin to bring about a new creation.  He actually joins Himself to this mess.  Though He is born without sin, He places Himself smack in the middle of sinful men.  He gives us exactly what we want and allows us to become lords over Him.  He suffers under the same laws.  He receives the same punishment.  He dies the same death.

And then He adds this Word to it: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Lk 23:34 KJV).  This is the Word of the One who called all things into existence from nothing, the Word that still upholds creation, the Word that does what it says.  The is the Word that He speaks to you, the Word that creates something altogether new.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Cana’s best wine started as water before Jesus’ added His Word to it.  Water seems to be one of His favorite means of creation.  They deliberately forget that long ago God’s Word made the sky and formed the earth out of water and with water. Then this water also flooded the world and destroyed it. And the same Word has preserved the present heavens and the earth for the fire and keeps them for the day when the ungodly will be judged and destroyed (2 Peter 3:5-7 AAT).

Christ added His Word of forgiveness to water in order to create in you a New Man, a new spirit, by the working of the Holy Spirit.  By water and His Word, He continues to recreate within this sin-infected world.  And it is for this reason, and this reason alone, that He continues to sustain and uphold this corrupt world by His Word.

When you’re making wine (or, in my case, beer), you have to stop the fermentation at some point, or else your bottles will explode and you’ll have a big mess on your hands.  One way to do that is with heat—you kill the little yeasts with fire.  And with a little age, you’ll have a pretty good wine.  In the same way God will put an end to the infection of sin on the Last Day, and all the evil and wickedness will be burned away.  And that which will be left is something altogether new.

This is the second thing to which the first of Jesus’ signs points:

Christ’s Word Creates a New Spirit in You

A spirit created out of water, a spirit aged to perfection, a spirit that will endure this age, and raised to glory in the age to come.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA


Opening poem from R.F. Capon, The Supper of the Lamb.

Epiphany of Our Lord Sermon

The Epiphany of Our Lord
Matthew 2:1-12
January 6 (transferred to 12), 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Epiphany is often referred to as Christmas for the Gentiles. Matthew begins his Gospel by tracing Jesus’ roots to Abraham to show that He is a true child of the promise, the Descendent who had been promised to Abraham by God, through whom all nations would be blessed.  After showing His lineage, Matthew sort of glosses over His actual birth (he doesn’t give the details that Luke does).  It’s as if he can’t wait to get to the story of the Magi in chapter 2.

Matthew is recognized as being the most “Jewish” of the Gospels, yet the first significant story he tells about Jesus’ childhood is the visit of a band of Gentile foreigners.  The Magi are led by a star to Jesus, and there they worship Him—the first people in Matthew’s Gospel, aside from His parents, to recognize Him for who He is.  But that star that led the Magi wasn’t just for those ancient wise men.  It’s also for you.

The Star Leads the Magi to Christ and Reveals Christ to You

I.

Now, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  For we saw His star in the East and came to worship Him” (vv 1-2).

What is this star?  The Greek word is aster.  In our day, astronomers make a distinction between the several lesser lights in the night sky—stars, planets, comets—but aster encompasses all of these things.  It means a singular star, not a constellation or a conjunction.  It’s also clear that it’s an unusual occurrence and not one of the regularly seen stars that make their course across the night sky—it’s something that moves these Magi to make a cross-country trek to find out what it’s pointing to.

Moderns tend to look at the ancients as a half-step above a Neanderthal when it comes to natural science, but it would be a mistake to equate these wise men with cavemen.  The Magi come from east of Israel, and to the east of Israel is Babylon.  The ancient near-east was a center of knowledge and learning in general, but Babylon is recognized as being the foundation of modern astronomy.  These Magi were not mystical star-gazers, but students of the night sky.  They knew the difference between the stars and the wandering stars (planet means “wanderer”).  They knew of phenomena like comets and meteors.

We can reject that this star was an unnatural phenomena like a hovering UFO that leads the wise men to Jesus—the Magi describe it as a natural, albeit unique, event.  Sometimes the star is equated with the Morning Star, which on occasion will rise in the east just before the sun.  This presents two problems, however.  The Morning Star is actually the planet Venus, and as I said, the Magi were from a place that had detailed charts of the night sky, including the movements of the wandering planets.  It’s highly unlikely that the rising of the Morning Star would have caused them to seek the King of the Jews.  Plus, the Morning Star rises in the East; the Magi were from the East and were led to the West.

The most likely explanation for this astera is a comet. A comet could appear unexpectedly and its movements would be different from that of the stars or the planets, which are quite expected by trained astronomers.  When you go home Google the words, “path of a comet across the night sky.”  You’ll find some very interesting pictures.  On any particular night, a comet looks like it might be pointing to something.  And as it moves, it can also appear to come to a rest before finally disappearing.  And indeed there was a comet that appeared in the year 5 B.C., according to some ancient Chinese records, which would coincide with the time of Jesus’ birth according to other records, such as the death of King Herod in 4 B.C. (the monk who originally set the year to begin AD miscalculated, but it’s stuck for our calendars).

But it was more than a star that led these Magi to seek Jesus.  If the same phenomenon was observed as far away as China, then surely countless people saw the same thing.  Why was it only these Magi that showed up in Israel at the appearance of this astera?  It wasn’t just the star alone, but the star combined with God’s Word.  The Magi knew exactly who they were looking for—the One who has been born King of the Jews.  This is not a conclusion you get from looking at the stars.  This is something that is only revealed by the Word of God.

How did these foreigners, these Gentiles, these Magi get ahold of God’s Word?  If they learned their discipline from the seat of astronomy in Babylon, then it’s also very likely that they were familiar with the Torah—the books of the Law given to Moses.  Because Babylon was not only a place of knowledge and learning, it was also the place where the Jews spent many years in captivity.

The book of Daniel takes place in Babylon.  We all know the story of Daniel and the lions, but there is an interesting aside after that story.  Daniel was elevated to the chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon (Dan 2:48).  Surely Daniel introduced the Babylonian wise men to the Torah, and as lovers of knowledge and wisdom, the text would have been preserved in Babylon—perhaps even a small proselyte church continued preaching in these lands—long after the Jews returned from their exiles.  The Magi knew exactly what they were looking for because they had the Torah, which includes this prophecy from the book of Numbers:  I see Him Who is not here now; I behold Him Who will come later. A Star will come from Jacob, a Scepter will rise from Israel; He will smash Moab’s head and destroy all the sons of Sheth (Num 25:17 AAT). 

The Magi were led to Jesus by the star combined with God’s Word.  And there they presented Him gifts and worshiped Him.

II.

The star has gone away, the Magi have gone home, Jesus has left Bethlehem.  How does this star reveal Jesus to you?  It reveals Him to be the King of the Jews, but the Magi also reveal Him to be the King of the Gentiles—that is, He is also your King.

The phrase King of the Jews would not be uttered again until Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate.  It was the accusation put to Him, the epitaph written above His head as He hung dying on the cross.  He is your King, but in a way that is unlike any other king.  He is the King who suffers, the King who dies, the King who rules by take the scepter from His own hand and allowing Himself to be beaten by it.  So you, His subject, would not have to.

But He is not only the dead King, He is also the risen King.  As the Morning Star rises early before the sun, a bright spot of light in the dark sky, so Christ is risen from the dead, the herald of the new morning that’s to come.

You are led to Christ just as the Magi were led to Christ—by His Word.  Because through His Word, the Holy Spirit works faith in your heart to see what no one else can see—that the crucified One is your King.

The star points to Bethlehem, but Jesus is no longer in David’s city.  He’s no longer in Galilee, He’s no longer in Jerusalem.  He’s ascended to the right hand of the Father.  No star can lead to where He is now.

God connected His Word to a unique and unusual star at Jesus’ birth.  But for you, He connects His Word to something much more plain and simple.  He connects it with water.  But Holy Baptism does no less for you than the star did for the Magi.  Through Baptism, you who are a foreigner, a Gentile, born outside of the family of God, are welcomed into His house.  By Baptism, you are introduced to the One born King of the Jews and Gentiles.

The Magi brought gifts to Jesus, but by Baptism Christ is revealed to be the One who gives gifts to you.  For the worship and divine service of the Gospel is to receive gifts from God.  He has taken you from outside His family and given you a new name.  You are a child of Abraham because you are a child of the promise.  You are brought into the nation that is blessed by Abraham’s Descendent.  The Epiphany is your Christmas, because Christ is revealed by the star—and more so by His Word—to be your King.

In +Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Circumcision and Name of Jesus Sermon

Circumcision and Name of Jesus
Luke 2:21
December 31, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Then God said to Abraham: “You and your descendants in the coming generations should keep My covenant. This is My covenant you and your descendants after you should keep with Me: Circumcise every male. Circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and that will be the mark of My covenant with you. When a boy is eight days old, circumcise every one of your males in the coming generations, whether he is a boy born in the household or bought from any foreigner who is not one of your descendants. Circumcise every boy born in your household or bought with your money. And My covenant in your flesh will be an everlasting covenant. If a man is not circumcised, that person must be cut off from his people. He has broken My covenant (Gen 17:9-14 AAT).

And when eight days were fulfilled for Him to be circumcised, His name was also called Jesus, which He was called by the angel before He was conceived in the womb (Lk 2:21).

Jesus Is Circumcised To Fulfill the Requirement of the Law and the Promise to Which It Points

I.

The command for circumcision precedes the giving of the Law; it was given to Abraham some 430 years before the Law (Gal 3:15-18).  At that time there existed no Ten Commandments, no Levitical priesthood, and no government of Israel.  In fact, Israel (Jacob) had not even been born yet.  The command to circumcise was a sign not of man’s obedience to God, but of God’s promise to man.

However, circumcision was also incorporated into the Levitical law (Lev 12:3), and was expanded to also include all those in the Israelite household, and as a prerequisite for participating in the sacrificial meals (Ex 12:44, 48).

Yet, even though circumcision is a Law, it is also more than a Law.  “Then circumcise your hearts, and don’t be stubborn anymore.”  “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your mind and all your heart and will live” (Dt 10:16; 30:6 AAT).  The Lord promises also to circumcise the heart.  This shows that from the beginning, the Law is not about outward obedience, but about the condition of the heart.

The sign of circumcision is unique in that it requires the shedding of blood.  Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image (Gen 9:6 ESV).  The shedding of innocent blood is a particular abomination in God’s sight.  It poisons the land and has a particular kind of guilt associated with it.  Yet, the sign God chooses is to shed blood.

Circumcision is a sign that no one is born innocent.  The guilt of sin is imputed from generation to generation.  Because of this guilt, the blood of every 8-day-old boy in Israel was shed by a man.  Circumcision was only commanded for male children, which indicates the way in which this guilt is passed down—from the father, who was circumcised before him.

But the sign of circumcision also points to the innocent blood that would be shed.  An 8-day-old boy has no opportunity to commit a crime and is innocent in an outward sense—his only guilt at 8 days is what he has inherited.  Because this bloodshed happens so early in a man’s life, it points ahead to the blood of the guiltless One.  Circumcision points to One who was not born in a natural way—a guilty father begetting a guilty son—but to a Child conceived of God.  Circumcision points us to Christ, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, whose innocent blood was shed on the eighth day after His birth, and again in His adulthood.

II.

The sign of circumcision comes with both a command and a promise.  The command is God’s Law.  St. Paul writes, But before the coming of faith, we were being guarded under the Law, being restrained for the faith that was about to be revealed.  For this reason, the Law has become our pedagogue for Christ, so that we would be justified from faith (Gal 3:23-24).

Christ willingly restrained Himself by being born of a woman, by being born in the flesh, but He also willingly restrained Himself by being born under the Law.  He did not choose to be born a Gentile and outside the regulations that God had given to Abraham and Moses.  The blood that He shed on the eighth day after His birth was in obedience to the command.

But the blood that He shed as an infant would not be the last He would shed under the Law.  Thorns enthroned His sacred head.  Nails, spear pierced Him through.  For Christ is also the fulfillment of the promise.  He is the Innocent One, who kept the Law from His circumcision until adulthood, yet still suffered the Laws threats and punishments.

He is the One for whom the Law prepares us, to whom the Law points.  For the Law does not restrain us for God’s deviant, sadistic pleasure.  It restrains us for the faith that is revealed in Christ.  The Law is our pedagogue, our instructor, our trainer for Christ.  The Law is not an end in itself—the end of the Law, the goal of the Law, the completion of the Law is Christ.

Christ’s perfect obedience has set aside the requirement for outward obedience of this Law.  But the Law is not set aside.  By faith, the new circumcision is that of which the Lord speaks at the end of Deuteronomy—the circumcision of the heart.  To circumcise literally means to “cut around.”  Your heart is circumcised by the Word of God.  His Word is a two-edged surgeon’s knife, a Word that cuts the way of the Law and the way of the Gospel, a Word that removes the callous, hardened heart that bears the guilt of your sin and creates a clean heart within you.

Tonight the world celebrates the end of the old year and the beginning of a new year.  Let us also celebrate the end of the old and the beginning of the new.  For Christ became flesh to put an end to the old testament of obedience to the Law, and begins a new testament of faith in His perfect obedience, that He is the fulfillment of the requirements of the Law and of the promise to which it points.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Christmas 1 Sermon

First Sunday after Christmas
Luke 2:33-35
December 29, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

2.

A good myth can be made even better with a good child prophecy.  All of the mythological collections of antiquity feature a special child who is the fulfillment of prophecy, or about whom prophecies are made.  It’s at this time of year that you’ll hear some self-proclaimed experts, who’ve read an excerpt from a Wikipedia article or two, try to say that Jesus is just one of those myths—that later on in His life, the writers of the Gospels (or even later editors) superimposed these myths of antiquity on His childhood to make Him seem more important and to reinforce their claims that He was God.

Today’s Gospel is one such story.  It’s the account of Joseph and Mary bringing their newborn child to the Temple for His presentation.  This was a common ritual in Israel, commanded by God in Leviticus 12.  The firstborn male child required a sacrifice for purification and atonement for the mother 40 days after his birth.  While Joseph and Mary are in the temple to make this sacrifice, a man by the name of Simeon appears out of nowhere and begins singing.  He prophecies concerning the child, and then another old woman comes up and begins praising God for His great gift.

Here is Simeon’s prophecy: And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother, “Behold, this One is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against—and for you a sword will pierce your own soul—so that the dialogues of many hearts would be revealed” (vv 34-35).

Not a bad job.  This prophecy puts Jesus right up there with the other children of myth and legend who grow to do heroic things.  This One is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel.  A true child of destiny.

Except that Jesus never really quite lives up to the prophecy that’s spoken of Him.

If Jesus behaved like a good myth, He would have come on the scene in His adulthood, gathering a secret army while overcoming a series of obstacles, winning some small victories that led to even greater ones, eventually overthrowing the powers the powers that be in a spectacular coup.  And although He may have sacrificed Himself, maybe even giving Himself into death for the sake of His cause, His followers would have certainly risen to high positions among His people.

But history says otherwise.  Not just the history that’s written in the Holy Gospels, but secular history also attests to Jesus being a supreme failure of a revolutionary hero of legend.

Even before He can walk, Jesus is on the run—fleeing to Egypt in His family’s arms to escape Herod’s death sentence.  After He returns, He grows up in relative obscurity; even the Holy Writers don’t bother telling much about His youth and young adult years.  When He does come on the scene, it’s out in the wilderness getting baptized by John, and He overcomes some obstacles in the form of Satan’s temptations (ok, now we’re starting to get good).

But then it’s remarkable who doesn’t flock to His banners.  No one important.  He gets some fishermen, some peasants, a lot of poor and those who are spiritually oppressed.  He gets sick and lame and lepers.  The few important people in Israelite society who do come to Him, come to Him by night for fear of getting caught.

And then things get real interesting.  He starts to teach with more intensity, saying things like, “My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink” (John 6:55), and most of His followers up and leave.  He makes His way to Jerusalem, and only a few days after His triumphal entry, He’s set before an ad-hoc tribunal, tried, convicted, and crucified in the space of one day.  Herod Antipas accomplishes what his father could not and finally puts this whole Jesus thing to rest.

Then when the stories of His resurrection begin to circulate, thousands flood to the cause.  But instead of rising to positions of respect and admiration, these followers of Christ, these Christians are persecuted, mocked, and martyred much in the same way as their Christ.  In the many years since, the Christians faith has on more than one occasion come within a hair’s breadth of extinction because of heresies, errors, and schisms.

If you’re going to write a myth, you could do a lot better than the story of Jesus.  Because in the secular-political sense, He just doesn’t live up to the prophecies spoken of Him.

1.

However, Simeon makes sure to let us know that this prophecy isn’t really about the falling and rising of many in Israel in the secular-political sense.  This old man is speaking of something other than the movements of earthly kingdoms and rulers.

First, He will be a sign that is spoken against.  He will be a controverted figure, someone who puts the present order of things on its head.  He’s the One who reveals that it’s the poor who are truly rich, the last who are truly first, the weak who are truly strong.  He’s the One who doesn’t even aspire to a high position in Israel, because it’s the lowest positions that are blessed in His kingdom.

He is the one who is continued to be spoken against.  How many people go out of their way to prove that Oedipus, or Horus, or Perseus, or any of the other mythological fantasies are false?  But every year at Christmas, you can be sure to find scores of people rehashing the same, tired arguments as to how this whole Jesus thing is just a made up myth.

How will He cause this falling and rising?  “A sword will pierce your own soul,” Simeon says to Mary.  Remember that Mary’s soul is the one that magnifies the Lord.  He hath shown strength with his arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away.

The work of this God is to raise up that which has fallen.  And there is no deeper depth in which to fall than death.  This sword that will pierce the soul that magnifies the Lord is the crucifixion.  Jesus Himself will fall in death—nails, spear shall pierce Him through.  But He is also the first among many in Israel to rise again.  For the word Simeon chooses in his prophecy is also the word for resurrection.  This child in Mary’s arms is appointed for the falling and the resurrection of many in Israel.

So that the dialogues of many hearts might be revealed.  Again Simeon indicates that this is not a secular-political prophecy, but a spiritual one.  It’s the dialogue of hearts for which Jesus comes, not the diplomacy of nations.  First, this falling and rising is a matter of words—a dialogue.  The falling and rising of many in Israel will be on account of His Word.

The Word of this Child penetrates the heart, dividing joints and marrow; it cuts to the quick.  He speaks harsh condemnation for those who try to exalt themselves with money, power, or ambition.  These are the ones He causes to fall into disgrace and shame—not before the world, but before His Father who is in heaven.  But the ones who are brought low, who are humbled, who are emptied, these are the ones whom His Word raises up.

The rising and falling will take place for many in Israel.  In Jewish thought, many means more than allAll is limited: all of …what?  But many means many and more.  Simeon’s prophecy is for the many in Israel, by which He means the Israel of faith—the many and more that will come to trust in this child.  Simeon’s prophecy is for you.

In a spiritual sense, the Christ child does precisely what Simeon foretells—and He continues to do so in the ministry of the Church.  He is appointed for your falling—to bring you low when you place yourself too high, to tear down the pedestals you raise yourself upon, to crush your pride.  He does this with His Word—He convicts you of your sins and drives you to repentance.  But He is also appointed for your rising, because His last Word is a word that can raise even the dead.  He has come for the lowly, for those who have been humbled, for the penitent.  He raises you up upon your own two feet, which He places in the paths of righteousness.

Christ Is Appointed for Your Falling and Your Rising Again

Because He is the one who fell into death, and rose again on the third day.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Christmas Day Sermon

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
John 1:14
December 25, 2013 (Revised and updated from Dec. 24, 2010)
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

1.

And the Word…  The Son of God is given a peculiar name by St. John.  He is the Word, or in Greek, the Logos.  To the Greek mind, to whom St. John wrote, the Word is much more than a collection of letters that sound a certain way.  The Word is the expression of what is in your heart and in your head.

We can hear this usage in our phrase, “I give you my word.”  That is to say, the intention of my heart is to do what I promised.  Jesus is the Word of God because He is the expression of what is the heart and mind of God.  From the beginning He was with God, and from the beginning He was God.  He is the Divine Intention.

God first gave this Word to men when he promised that the Seed of the woman would come to crush the serpents head.  This Word was given again and again through patriarchs and prophets.  The descendent of Abraham, through whom all nations would be blessed.  The One who brings Light to our darkness.  The One to takes the government upon His shoulder with the cross.  The Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  The Branch from the stump of Jesse.

2.

And the Word became flesh…  This Word is not an ethereal, conceptual, and spiritual reality, but the Word becomes flesh.  The great mystery of the Incarnation is that God joins Himself with that which He created.

When Jesus is born in Bethlehem, we see that the Word and promise of God from the foundation of the World was to become one of us.  In the beginning, God’s intention was to take on flesh.

He is born of the flesh of His mother, yet, because she remained a virgin, He did not inherit the sin that infects all flesh from an earthly father.  He is the Son of His Father in heaven, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

3.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…  The purpose of our Lord’s becoming flesh was to be with us, to live as one of us, to experience what we experience.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15).

The word translated as “dwelt” has a deeper meaning.  Literally, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled with us.”  He pitched His tent with us.  Just as the children of Israel knew that God was to be found in the Holy Tabernacle that travelled with them, so also can we be sure that we can find God in the flesh of the Babe of Bethlehem.  He is not a God who demands us to make our pilgrimages to Him, but He comes to us, He abides with us-our Lord Immanuel.

The account of the building of the Tabernacle concludes the book of Exodus.  Moses begins by setting up the foundations, raising up its frames and pillars.  Then he covers it.  The kind of covering for the tabernacle was a particular kind—a covering of skins, a covering of flesh.

4.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory…  The glory of God was found in the pillar of fire and of cloud when He led His people out of bondage in Egypt.  That is, God made Himself known—made Himself visible through these means.  Later that same glory descended on the Tabernacle and there He was seen.

The Tabernacle was the place where sacrifices were made.  By these sacrifices, the sins of the people were atoned for.  Thus, the glory of God is always where there is the forgiveness of sins.

The glory of God in Jesus Christ is beheld in its fullest sense when He goes to the cross.  There the Son of Man is glorified because He is sacrificed—a sacrifice greater that all the blood of beasts.  For the sacrifices of the Old Testament in the Old Tabernacle did not forgive sins of their own power, but by pointing to the sacrifice that atones for the sins of the whole world.

5.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father…  There is no other who glorifies the Father like His own Son.  In Him the Father is well pleased because He willingly takes the task given to Him.

Yet He is not the only Son of the Father.  He is indeed the only-begotten of the Father, begotten before all worlds, God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father.

As the Father was well pleased with His Son when He was baptized, He also finds pleasure in bestowing adoption as sons to each and every man, woman, and child who is baptized in His name.  In Holy Baptism, the glory of God washes over sinners and covers them with the righteousness of Christ.

6.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  All of this, the Father does through His Son without any merit or worthiness in me.  He does it all by grace.  This is the true gift of Christmas: that the Son of God wraps Himself in human flesh and places Himself under the tree of the cross.

Believe this, for Christ’s sake.  This Word is Truth, for God cannot lie.  Your forgiveness is found in the flesh of Jesus Christ.  Find it in the manger, on the cross, and upon the altar.  For Christ still dwells among His people, in the flesh, under bread and wine.  He comes to make His blessings known, not only on Christmas, but each and every week in the Divine Service.

The true Gift of Christmas is yours by grace, the only-begotten Son of God, whose glory you behold wrapped in the flesh of the eternal Word of God.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Christmas Eve Sermon

Christmas Eve
Luke 2:14
December 24, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Glory to God in highest heav’n
   Who unto us His Son hath giv’n!
While angels sing with pious mirth
   A glad new year to all the earth.

Martin Luther’s children’s Christmas hymn ends with the hymn of the angels, sung for an audience of shepherds:

Glory in the highest for God
and upon earth peace,
among men favor
     -Luke 2:14

Glory to God in highest heav’n.  It is a peculiar glory that comes at Christmas.  The glory of God is a frightening thing.  When God revealed Himself to Moses, He said that His glory is lethal for sinful mean.  When the angels come from heav’n above with heavenly splendor, their glory is enough to make the shepherds quake in their boots—and they are simply God’s servants.  In fact, angels are so frightening, that almost every time they appear in Scripture, the first thing they have to say is “Fear not.”  The glory of God is a frightful thing.  Yet this particular glory of God—the glory of which the angels sing—is a glory that brings peace on earth.

What kind of glory is this, that we sinful men would not fear to behold it?  To you this night is born a child/of Mary chosen virgin mild/This little child of lowly birth/shall be the joy of all the earth.  The glory of God is wrapped up in human flesh, in humility, in weakness.  God makes Himself approachable; He makes Himself a peer, a friend.  Yet the infant child is the full glory of God, Because in Him dwells bodily all the fullness of the divinity (Col. 2:9).

The Son of God makes Himself the Son of Man for a reason; and it is His purpose from the foundation of the earth.  He will Himself your Savior be/From all your sins to set you free.  The one who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a wooden manger would 33 years later be stripped of His clothes and nailed to a wooden pole.  Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest/Through whom the sinful world is blest!/Thou com’st to share my misery/What thanks shall I return to Thee?  Too often our thanks sounds more like the Pharisee’s—I thank You, Lord, that I am not like other men—instead of: I thank You, Lord, that though You are by nature quite unlike other men, You have made Yourself like men, to make peace between God and man.  You have made Yourself like me, to bear my sin and be my Savior.

Even angels marvel that the eternal Son of God would take human flesh, and they sing with pious mirth at the birth of this dear Child.  Yet, it’s not just the song of the angels.  Every week the Holy Christian Church joins Her voice with the angels’ choirs and sings, Glory be to God on high/And on earth peace, goodwill toward men.  For Christ came at Christmas, in the flesh, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and He also comes in the Divine Service, in the flesh, wrapped in bread and wine.

Glory to God in highest heav’n/Who unto us His Son hath giv’n/While angels sing with pious mirth/A glad new year to all the earth.  When I was a child and sang this hymn, I always thought of that last line as a reference to the holiday that happens a week from today.  Happy New Year!  Pop some chapagne!  But now I think it’s more than just ringing out 2013 and ringing in 2014.

The birth of Christ is a singular event in human history.  When God becomes man, nothing can be the same; everything changes.  The birth of Christ is the hinge in human history, upon which the gates of heaven swing open.  Without God in the flesh, man has no access to God.  But through Christ, the doors open.  Not so much that we would enter, but so that God would pour out heaven upon us.

He will on you the gifts bestow/Prepared by God for all below/that in His kingdom, bright and fair/You may with us His glory share.  That’s what the angels mean when they sing

Glory in the highest for God
and upon earth peace,
among men favor

Heaven has opened, and its treasures pour out.  It is indeed a new year, a new age, a new generation, a New Testament.

Merry Christmas.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Advent Midweek 3 Sermon

Sacrament of the Altar

Advent Midweek 3
Christ’s Continued Advent
December 18, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

2.

Christ’s first advent was over 2,000 years ago, a half a world away.  Born as a child in his ancestral town, yet born as a stranger, born to a virgin mother and laid in a manger, the Son of God came in humility as the Son of Man.  Godhead clothed in flesh.  The wood that held His infant body would also hold His mature body—beaten and bloodied for the sake of sinful men.

But the babe who was born in Bethlehem was reborn, in a sense, in Jerusalem.  Three days after He breathed His last, He rose again from the grave.  But no sooner had He come from the grave, He went away again, ascended into heaven on the clouds.  He now sits at the Father’s right hand, from whence He will come in the same way to judge both the quick and the dead.

In the season of Advent, we turn our hearts and minds to Christ’s coming, but the unavoidable, proverbial elephant in the room is that He’s not come, He’s gone.  Gone away.  And because He is gone away, we behave as if He’s nowhere to be found.  And this behavior can be found in two ways.

The first is behaving like rebellious teenagers whose parents are away for the weekend.  They are the ones who treat Christ’s absence as a license to descend into debauched living.  Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow mom and dad come home.

But when He delays His return, they find out how much they’ve come to love His absence.  At first they may try to cover up their excessive indulgences, but soon even that becomes too much of an impediment to what they consider to be a good time.  They are the world, the sons who squander the heavenly Father’s good gifts in prodigal living.

There is another way to treat Christ’s absence—the way of the older brother who follows all the rules.  They are the ones who treat the Word of God as a checklist of rules to keep while mom and dad are away—no parties, no boys in the house, keep your room tidy, don’t take dad’s vintage Ferrari on a joyride through Chicago.  They are the Christian people, the morally upright and outwardly righteous.

These are the ones who treat God as some kind of abstract, spiritual entity, who’s left a set of rules of Christian living, as well as an example of how to follow them.  For these, the essence of Christianity is what they do from day to day, and worship is a time to sing about a pray to a spiritually present, but bodily absent God, in order to thank Him that He has not made them like other men.

Now, you may fall somewhere in between these two poles, between licentiousness and smug self-righteousness.  In reality, human nature is more of a blend of the two.  Your flesh is both inclined to indulge its lusts and to justify itself with the things you imagine would fulfill God’s Law.

Outwardly these two ways of behaving in Christ’s absence appear to be polar opposites, but they are the same at the root.  Both ways of thinking spring from the belief that Christ has gone to God’s right hand and has left you in charge of your own life. But it’s not as if Christ is the bookends of New Testament history, that His only important work is at the beginning and end, leaving you to chart your own course through life.  He has ascended to the Father’s right hand, not to leave you to choose your own adventure, but precisely so that He could come to you again, and again, in grace, to forgive, renew, and strengthen you.

1.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “God works in mysterious ways”?  People say that when something bad ends up being not so bad, or some unlooked for good thing happens.  It’s one of those things that sounds like it should be in the Bible, but it’s really not (like the phrase, “This, too, shall pass”).  It’s really more of a pious cliché than a Word of God.  But I think it can be understood properly.

The Greek word mysterion shows up a few times in the Bible.  When the Greek was translated into Latin, that word mysterion became sacramentum.  A mystery is a sacrament.  So to say that God works in a mysterious way is really to say that God works in a sacramental way.  And that’s true.  His ways are mysterious because He comes in a way that’s hidden to plain sight, but revealed in other ways (that’s what a mysterion is), and through these means by which He hides Himself, He renews His vow to us (that’s what a sacramentum is).

The Sacrament of the Altar is the way in which Jesus continues to come.  In this Sacrament, He hides His true body and blood under the humble external forms of bread and wine.  It is a mysterious union—we can’t see how bread can be body or wine can be blood—but it is revealed to be so by His Word.  Eyes can’t make out this coming, but faith believes what He promises.

Jesus truly comes in the bread and wine.  This is truly a Sacrament—not that you make a vow to God to be obedient, but that He renews His vow to you.  He forgives your sins, creates in you a clean heart and renews a right spirit within you.  He pledges Himself to you again and again.

Jesus is not gone.  He promises His disciples, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” (Matt 28:20), “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” (John 14:8).  He keeps these promises, borne by the Holy Spirit upon the means of grace, to visit you with His favor and forgiveness.  Again and again.

This is the weekly rhythm of the Church from Christ’s ascension until His return.  One of the great comforts of Christ’s continual Advent in the means of grace is that it’s not an earth-shattering event.  Newspapers don’t report it, the television crews are not on hand to record it.  There may be a few random Facebook statuses or tweets, but by and large, Jesus’ sacramental return goes unnoticed.

But the comforting thing is that despite how unremarkable it is, Christ continues to come in these means, every week, on altars and from pulpits across the world.  In New Haven, and outside New Haven off of Beouf Lutheran Road.  In Washington and Hermann, Port Hudson and Beaufort and Union and Drake and Freedom and Owensville and Belle.  In St. Louis and Kansas City and Columbia and Jefferson City.  In Chicago and Milwaukee and Los Angeles and New York City.  In the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, the southwest deserts and the Gulf Coast.  In Germany and Britain and Sweden and Latvia and Russia and Siberia. In Nairobi and Africa’s west coast.  In Singapore and Japan and Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong and Australia and New Zealand.

Christ continues to come upon Christian altars and from Christian pulpits across the world.  He comes to prepare you for His final Advent by delivering what He earned for you by His first Advent.  When He comes on the Last Day, it will not be a day of fear or dread, because you’ve already experience His coming.

Christ Comes Each Week in His Word and Holy Sacrament for Your Continual Preparation

Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Advent 3 Sermon

Third Sunday in Advent
Matthew 11:2-11
December 15, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

3.

Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (played by Morgan Freeman) sits before the parole board in Shawshank prison and they ask him, “Ellis Boyd Redding, your files say you’ve served 40 years of a life sentence. Do you feel you’ve been rehabilitated?”

Ten and twenty years prior to this interview, he was asked a similar question at parole hearings and he eagerly answers with “Yes sir, I am,” and his parole is denied.  But now as an old man, an institutionalized criminal, he gives up all pretenses.

“Rehabilitated?” Red asks.  “Well, now let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means.”

“Well, it means that you’re ready to rejoin society…” the interviewer responds.

“I know what you think it means, sonny. To me it’s just a made up word. A politician’s word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?”

“Well, are you?”

“There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret.” says Red.  “Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time.”

After a moment of silence, digesting Red’s remarks, the parole board stamps “Approved” on his form.

Now I’m far from an expert on modern criminology and penology, but it seems to me that the concept of rehabilitation rests on the belief that a criminal is not a criminal at heart, and that there is a spark of good that can be recovered.  After 40 years in prison, Red understands that he can’t return to what he was, because what he was is what caused him to commit his crime in the first place.

Today’s Gospel also begins in a prison.  John, the forerunner of Christ, is behind bars.  But his imprisonment isn’t for his rehabilitation, to make him a contributing member of society once again.  John is in prison to silence him from preaching the kingdom of heaven.

Later in Matthew’s Gospel, he fleshes out the story of John’s imprisonment.  King Herod, who was actually a tetrarch or a regional ruler, was the son of Herod the Great (the Herod referenced at Jesus’ birth).  The son, Herod Antipas, followed in his father’s footsteps.  Herod the great had taken multiple wives, and begotten many children by them, several of whom he executed for fear of treason.  He was also the one who ordered the slaughter of the holy innocents when Jesus was born.

Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, fancied his brother’s wife Herodias (who also happened to be his half-niece), and arranged a divorce in order that he and Herodias could be married.  Matthew reports that John preached to Herod that this was unlawful, and Herodias wanted him imprisoned.

John’s preaching of the kingdom of heaven had come into a violent clash with the kingdom of man.  John’s imprisonment was not for his rehabilitation, but his fate was Master Hans the executioner.  After one particular raucous party, Herod promised Herodias’ daughter Salome anything she wanted.  She replied that she wanted the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

This is John’s context when he sends his disciples to Jesus.  But after hearing in prison the works of Christ, John sent and said to Him through his disciples, “Are you the Coming One, or shall we wait for a different one?” (vv 2-3).

2.

            Are You the Coming One?  This is a Messianic title that John gives to Jesus.  Although there is not an explicit reference to this title in the Old Testament—like Immanuel—the Hebrew equivalent of this name is found in Isaiah’s and Zechariah’s prophecies, in two different Psalms, in the Song of Solomon, and in 1 Chronicles.

It is a strange question coming from John the Baptist.  He is the one who stood at the banks of the Jordan and pointed to Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who witnessed Jesus’ baptism and the voice from heaven and the dove landing on Him.  He was the one who was filled with the Spirit before birth, who leaped in his mother’s womb in the presence of Jesus in His mother’s womb.

After John’s disciples left Him, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the desert to watch?  A reed that is shaken by the wind? So what did you go out to behold?  A man who is clothed in soft clothes?  Behold, those who dress in soft clothes are in the houses of kings. So what did you go out to behold?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and an extraordinary prophet. This is the one about whom it has been written, ‘Behold I am sending My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your path before You.’ Amen, I say to you, There has not been raised up among those born of women one who is greater than John the Baptist; but the least in the reign of the heavens is greater than he” (vv 7-11).

John was like the prophets of old in his ascetic life and his powerful preaching, but he was also an extraordinary prophet in that he beheld the promised Messiah face to face, flesh to flesh.  The prophets of old were given brief visions of the Messianic age, but John saw it in real time.  And he saw just how ordinary this Messiah was.

John was a preacher of the kingdom of heaven, but Jesus didn’t really seem to be bringing a kingdom with him.  Where were the armies flocking to His banner?  Jesus only had a rag-tag band of fishermen, a tax collector, a failed revolutionary, and some other pretty unremarkable disciples.  Where were the liberators?  Where was the glory?  How long would John have to wait?

There are two competing schools of thought as to why John sent his disciples to Jesus.  The first is that John experienced no doubts of his own, but rather, was sending his disciples to Jesus so that they would stop following John and start following Jesus.  The second is that John was despairing in prison and doubted even his own previous preaching.

I tend to think that both of these things happened in John’s cell.  John was a preacher of the kingdom of heaven, but even he was surprised to find out what it really looked like.  John didn’t despair and lose faith, but what he saw was a sharp distinction from what he believed.  Preachers also need the comfort of the Gospel.  But to get that comfort, John did what he had been doing from the outset.  He pointed to Christ.  He prepared the way for his disciples to become disciples of Jesus.  And John was comforted.  Are You the Coming One, and if so, when will Your kingdom come?

1.

            The kingdom of God certainly comes without our prayers, when our heavenly Father gives us the Holy Spirit, so that we believe His Words—even when those words are contrary to our sight.  And answering [John’s question], Jesus said to them, “When you have gone, report to John what you are hearing and seeing: the blind are looking up and the lame are walking, lepers are being cleansed and the deaf are hearing, and the dead are being raised and the poor are being evangelized, and blessed is whoever is not scandalized in Me” (vv 4-6).

The comfort for John in prison, and for you, is that the kingdom of heaven comes, even when it doesn’t appear so.  In fact, the kingdom of heaven comes particularly hidden under weakness, under plainness, under trials and the cross.  And what’s more, the kingdom of heaven is particularly for those who are suffering.  It’s for the blind and lame, lepers and the deaf, the dead and the poor.  Blessed are you, if you are not scandalized by this kingdom.

The coming of Jesus is the advent of a new creation, not a rehabilitation of the old.  After 40 years in prison, Red understood that you can’t rehabilitate evil men.  Jesus came, and indeed still comes, to raise up good out of evil, to bring sight to the blind, to set the lame on the path of righteousness, to cleanse evil men of all sin, to open ears to hear His Word.  To raise the dead.

This is the Evangel that is preached to the poor.  This is the Good News that is delivered to John.  This is the Gospel that’s for you.  Jesus is the Coming One, the One long promised by prophets, witnessed by John in the flesh.  The One whose kingdom comes under His cross, in the forgiveness of sins.  The One who rose from death to recapitulate all creation. 

The Coming One Comes to Begin a New Creation

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Advent Midweek 2 Sermon

Advent Midweek 2
Christ’s Second Coming
December 11, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

2.

            Clouds in Holy Scripture always indicate the presence of God.  During the Exodus, the Children of Israel were led by a pillar of fire by night and pillar of cloud by day.  When they came to Mount Sinai, the Lord said that He was coming in a thick cloud.  When a cloud was settled on the Tabernacle, they knew the Lord was present; when the cloud was taken up, they knew it was time to leave that place.

In the New Testament as well, you know the presence of God by clouds.  When Jesus was transfigured, a cloud descended upon the mountain.  When Jesus ascended into heaven, a cloud took him from their sight.

These clouds aren’t the cirrus or cumulous clouds that float by high in the sky.  The cloud of the Lord is close, intimate.  It settles in the midst of His people, hiding the fullness of His glory from sinful eyes and hearts, while allowing Him to interact with His beloved people in mercy.

And so, when Jesus was taken up in the cloud at His Ascension, the angel says to the disciples, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into the heavens, will come in the same manner you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11b).

Jesus Himself says of His Second Coming, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And then He will send out the angels and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mark 13:24-27).

            The season of Advent is a season to prepare for Christ’s coming.  But our preparations are not just for His coming as a baby on Christmas—we also prepare for His Second Advent on the Last Day.

On that great day, Jesus will be seen as He truly is with His great power and glory.  He will emerge from the cloud with which He hides Himself and reveal His exalted and glorified humanity.  On that day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Php 2:10-11; Rom 14:10-12).  There will be no more doubt, for all will see Christ as He is.

On that day, those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ and who have disobeyed the Gospel will be handed over to the suffering of eternal punishment, removed from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might (2 Th 1:9).

But the elect, those who are prepared for His Second Advent, will be gathered by the angels into His kingdom.

1.

            How do you prepare for Christ’s Second Coming?  Well, He offers a rehearsal every week.  For even though He has been taken up and removed from our sight in the cloud of the Ascension, He yet comes to us through the Gospel and the Sacraments.

Every time you encounter the Gospel of Christ proclaimed, every time you return to your Baptism through repentance and forgiveness, every time you approach His altar is a rehearsal of Christ’s final coming to judge both the living and the dead.

But, through His holy Word and Sacraments, you have already experienced the Lord’s coming to judge you.  And the judgment He proclaims is, “Not guilty!”  For He Himself came at His First Advent as a baby in Bethlehem to take your guilt and to bear your judgment on the cross.

So, with Christ’s Holy Word and Sacraments you are prepared for Him to come again, whether it’s tonight, in another year, or after your body has been laid to rest in the grave.  Then, on that Last Day, the Son of Man will come with the clouds, and He will gather you together with all the elect to live under Him in His kingdom in righteousness and purity forever.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

Advent 2 Sermon

Advent 2
December 8, 2013
Luke 21:25-36
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1.

            Last week, the Holy Evangelist went out of his way to show Jesus’ humility as He entered Jerusalem to reflect the nature of this king and His kingdom.  His is a kingdom not of this world, a kingdom that is ruled by grace and not by power.  It’s a kingdom hidden under humility, under suffering and the cross.  Its King is robed in mockery, crowned with thorns, and enthroned on a cross.

But today there is a sharp distinction between the kingdom that Christ brings on a donkey and the one He brings on the clouds.  This kingdom shakes the foundations of the world, the heavens shudder at His coming.  This is no kingdom of grace, it’s a kingdom of glory, when Jesus is revealed as He is, and all things are revealed as they are.

2.

            Here’s what will happen when Christ comes again in glory.  And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of the nations in despair of the sound of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and expectation of that which is coming upon the habitation.  For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see for themselves the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and much glory (vv 25-27).

First the signs.  Last year, I drove to meet my friend for the midnight showing of the new Hobbit movie in Indianapolis.  One of the less bright moments of my life was the decision to drive the three hours home when the movie let out around 3 a.m.  But the poor decision for my sleep cycle paid off with a fantastic light show from the Geminid meteor shower.  Some of the falling stars were quite impressive, actually lighting up the night sky like lightning.

Looking up at a calm sky you feel somewhat inferior in this vast creation, but when something unusual happens you definitely get a sense of foreboding.  Even if you know that the eclipse of the moon is caused by the moon passing through the earth’s shadow, to see it happen is a wonder to behold.

These are signs that we are in the days leading to Christ’s return.  But the signs aren’t just in the heavens.  On earth there is distress of a different kind.  Have you ever stood at the edge of the earth in the middle of the night?  You can hear the waves, but you look out and see only black.  A vast emptiness.  And you wonder if at any time the seas might just break their boundaries and swallow you whole.  And they do from time to time.  Typhoon Haiyan and the Japanese tsunami and Hurricane Sandy have all made headlines in recent years, and despite the experts’ attempts to peg these things on global warming Jesus wants you to know that, whether or not they have anything to do with CO2 levels, they still point to His return in glory.

St. Paul writes to the Romans, We know that all of creation continues groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (Rom 8:22).  There may be an ebb and flow to these signs, but they will certainly be increasing until that day when Christ returns.  Because the creation is preparing for Christ to reveal it as it is.

Up to this point God has dealt with His creation in a hidden way.  God hidden in man, power hidden in weakness and humility, victory hidden in suffering and the cross, body hidden in bread, saint hidden in sinner.  But on the last day He will come with power and great glory.  Glory is one of those million-dollar words in Scripture.  It’s peppered throughout the sacred writings, but maybe it’s used so often it gets kind of abstracted.

Glory means visible manifestation.  In the Old Testament, God’s glory was when He appeared—specifically in Exodus in fire by night and cloud by day.  This same cloud settled in the Tabernacle and when the cloud departed, the Israelites knew it was time to move on because God was moving on.  In this same sense, Jesus is the glory of God because He is the revelation of God.  God in flesh made manifest.  But how He truly is, is still hidden under a humble exterior.  There are glimpses in His miracles and His transfiguration, and certainly in His resurrection, but you always get the feeling that He’s holding back.

Not so on the Last Day.  Much glory.  Full glory.  The whole creation will see Jesus as He is.  And the creation will be revealed for what it is.  The sin and corruption on earth will be revealed in such a way that creation itself shudders at the revelation.  It will be a dread and mourning.

3.

            But, When these things begin to happen, straighten up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing near (v 28).  This is another instance of the Divine Irony.  What appears to be the final victory of the kingdom of the evil one—the world trembling in fear and distress—is in actuality, the Advent of your redemption.

Redemption is a term that St. Paul uses often with reference to the body.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23).  This redemption is the resurrection of the dead.  Jesus is the firstfruits of the Spirit, the first body to rise from the dead glorified, revealed as He is.  You, too, will be revealed for what you are—sons of God.

4.

            And He said a parable to them, “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees, when they at last put out leaves, you see for yourselves and know that at last summer is near. In this way also you, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near.  Amen, I say to you, that this generation will certainly not pass away until all has happened. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but My words will certainly not pass away (vv 29-33).

Signs are only as good as what they point to.  Like the buds on trees pointing ahead to summer, so these things that appear outwardly to be the destruction of God’s kingdom point to the hidden reality that will be revealed when Christ comes again.  And here’s the promise.  Amen, I say to you.  Jesus only says that when He has something of particular importance to say—say like the main point of this whole thing.  This generation will certainly not pass away until all has happened. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but My words will certainly not pass away.

This is the promise.  Though you will see signs in the heavens and even more frightening ones upon the earth, though it appears that the evil one is winning the day, this generation will not pass away.  That is to say, this present Kingdom of Grace will not end before Christ comes again.  Hidden under these awful exterior signs is the grace of God.  Why?  Because though even the heavens and the earth pass away, Jesus’ words will certainly not pass away.  The Word of the Lord endures forever.  And because His Word endures, you will endure this present age.

When the Heavens and the Earth Pass Away in God’s Wrath, You Will Endure to Eternity with Christ’s Word

5.

            The problem with words of great comfort is that you may also become too comfortable, so Christ also adds these words.  Watch yourselves, lest your hearts be burdened in intoxication and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day come upon you suddenly, like a trap.  For it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth.  Be alert in all times, praying that you have strength to escape all these things that are going to happen and to stand before the Son of Man (vv 34-36).

Drunkenness dulls the senses.  That’s why drinking and driving are a deadly combination.  You lose sight of things.  Jesus compares the cares of this life to a spiritual drunkenness or intoxication.  I’m not sure if Jesus intended these words to be assigned to the weeks leading up to Christmas, but surely He knew they would.  ‘Tis the season for cares of life.  There’s a lot going on at this time of year, a lot that can cause you to lose sight of things.  Seems like if that day will come suddenly like a trap, the month of December would be the time that He would come again.  Are you prepared?

To be alert for the return of Jesus is to pray.  Pray for strength.  Usually when we pray, we fold our hands and bow our heads.  But that’s not the ancient position for prayer.  The ancient way of praying is to stand up straight, and raise your head, and hold out your hands.  Straighten up.  Raise your head.  And pray.  Pray that the Lord would make you straight by forgiving your sins, that He would lift up your head to watch for His return, that He would send the Spirit to intercede for you with groanings too deep for words.  Because when you have the Word of God hidden in you, you have the work of God hidden in you.  And you will be prepared.

In + Jesus’ name.  Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA