RSS Feed

Matt 2:13-18 - Comfort in the Midst of Death

Matthew 2:13-18

Christmas Comfort in the Midst of Death

Commemoration of the Holy Innocents

December 28, 2014

Christmas is a joyous, happy holiday. At this time of year we celebrate the “good news of great joy,” that to us is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  Typically, throughout the Christmas season we use the color white on our paraments symbolizing the joy and holiness of the season.  But today, we use red, the color of blood. On this, the fourth day of Christmas, we don’t hear of four calling birds, but rather of the brutal slaughter of children and of weeping mothers.

The background is familiar enough. After Jesus is born in Bethlehem, during the days of King Herod, magi from the east come to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  Now Herod is a devious ruler. He wants the magi to lead him right to the little king. He finds out from the prophecies that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but he wants to know the exact location and the exact child. So he sends them to Bethlehem on the pretense that he wants them to report back to him so he too can go and worship.

Of course it’s a lie. Herod doesn’t want to worship the newborn king, he wants to wipe him out! But the magi are warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, who still doesn’t know which of the baby boys in Bethlehem is the one to eliminate. So just to make sure he gets the right one, Herod orders the death of all of them, probably around 15-20 baby boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, up to two years old.

Herod the Great was a paranoid, brutal, murderous ruler, insanely jealous and protective of his power. He had murdered before, other rivals to his throne, and probably even members of his own family. If he is willing to kill them, what is it to kill some babies?

So, the soldiers are dispatched. The dirty deed is done. This is a crime so unspeakable and heinous, the details are hard to contemplate, much less to describe. What kind of a monster could do such a thing? Try to imagine the sorrow of those mothers in Bethlehem: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Is there any comfort for these mothers of Bethlehem as they hold their dead children in their arms?  Is there ever any comfort for a mother mourning the death of a child? Is there any comfort for people suffering from tragedy and loss? Is there comfort for you, when you lose a loved one or are losing one? Is there any comfort for you, when you come face to face with your own mortality? Yes, there is comfort for them and for you! There is hope for your future, declares the Lord.  This isn’t just some fluffy words you say at a funeral when you don’t know what else to say.  This is the word of the Lord: there is hope and comfort and peace in the baby that got away. 

Joseph is warned in a dream to take Mary and baby Jesus and flee the country. The little Messiah is safely on his way to Egypt. God is not going to have the infant Savior cut down before He can get started.

You know, God had done this sort of thing once before, rescuing an infant savior. Many centuries earlier there was another evil ruler who wanted to kill a bunch of Israelite baby boys. But the Lord rescued the infant Moses, so that years later he would lead God’s people out of slavery and into the promised land.

So it is that Moses foreshadowed and pointed to Jesus.  Jesus is taken to Egypt to reenact, to relive, the life of Israel. But this time He does it right and perfect. Moses led the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. Now, Jesus leads people of all nations out of bondage to sin and death and the power of the devil. That’s why baby Jesus needed to flee from Herod and escape to Egypt.

Around 30 years after God calls His Son out of Egypt, He stands before another Herod--Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas--and before a governor named Pontius Pilate, and at that time and in that place, Jesus would flee away from death, but kill it. His death at the hands of evil men would redeem us from the power of death and deliver us from all evil. So the Christ of Christmas had to live, in order that the Christ of Calvary could die.

Thus the connection between the joy of Christmas and the somber tragedy of the Holy Innocents.  The baby boys of Bethlehem shared in the hope of Israel, the promised Messiah, who would deliver God’s people from sin and death. As do we, and all, who hold this faith in Christ. Christmas is a season of joy, for sure, but not at the expense of the reality.  We do not live in a fantasy world. We don’t pretend that everything is always ok or easy. The Lord speaks a word of deep comfort to those who are suffering, to those who are struggling with the unanswered, and unanswerable, questions of life--and death.

And so Christmas is not a time for artificially trying to block out unpleasant thoughts and put on a happy face. No, Christmas is to be celebrated especially in view of all the tragedy and suffering we experience in life. Because Christmas is when Christ came into the world, and that makes all the difference. For the Christ of Christmas is also the Christ of Calvary. Because of Him and through Him we have a comfort and a hope and a joy that all the Herods of this world cannot destroy.

John 1:1-14 - The Word Works

John 1:1-14

The Word Works

Christmas Day

December 25, 2014

Words mean things. This we all know. On Christmas most of us say some variation of “Merry Christmas” or “Blessed Christmas.”  Words have meaning, and this morning as we hear the nativity story according to St. John, we not just words, but we hear “the Word.” The Word was with God and the Word was God.”  This is the creative word, this is the redemptive Word, this is the Word that delivers what it says. This is the Word that we focus upon this morning.

The Word creates.  “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” The Word of God was present at the beginning of creation, and through the Word creation was spoken into existence.  After creation, God continued to use His Word, speaking to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, walking with them in the light of day. Shortly thereafter, the world fell into darkness because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden.  But the Word would not be silenced.  

So the Word incarnates. Jesus entered our world of darkness literally by becoming one of us. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He was born in a cold stable that he might warm us with the light of His presence.  This is the main focus of Christmas, the main reason why we are here today.  The Word was not content to stay up in heaven, but came down to become one of us.  The Word became flesh, and He is one of us in every way. God uses human words! At many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son (Hebrews 1:1). That same Word which spoke and creation was, that same Word that cried out from the manger, is the same that cried out from the cross, “It is finished.”  Christmas means nothing without Easter.

In fact, this connection is probably why we celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25. There was an ancient view that a person died on the same day that he was conceived.  Thinking that Jesus died on Friday, March 25, and marking that as the day that He was conceived, his birth 9 months later would be celebrated on December 25.  During the darkest part of the year, we celebrate the Light of the World.

The Word brings light to the darkness.  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The Christmas miracle is not just that the Word became flesh, but that this enfleshed Word loves the world to the point of dying for it.  But death cannot silence the Word. The Light of the World is not snuffed out by the darkness of death.  The darkness of your sin, the darkness of those deep secrets and horrible thoughts, the darkness of depression, anxiety, and failure cannot overcome the glory of the Light of the World.  Because His light shines through eternity, so too all who receive Him, who believe in His name, share in His bright and brilliant life and will call us out of the grave to live with Him forever.

The Word delivers. “And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” All that Jesus did and said does us no good unless it all is delivered to us. We can’t travel back in time. We don’t have to, because God delivers to us what He wants us to know about Jesus’ life, works, suffering, death, and resurrection in the words of Holy Scripture. The Spirit takes their words in the Scriptures and creates faith where and when He pleases in those who hear this Good News.  Our faith is founded on God’s Word. The Word that became flesh has written everything down so that we would know and believe in Him.  The Word that opens our mouths so that our lips may declare His praise. The Word combined with the water makes us children of God, born not of the will of flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. The Word combined with the bread and wine offers by the bodily eating and drinking forgiveness, life and salvation are delivered to you personally.

Through these means of grace, the Word delivers the promises of God, His grace upon grace. And specifically, what the Word delivers to you today is a blessed Christmas.  A Christmas that is rich in God’s blessings. A Christmas wherein once again, the Word forgiving your sins, the Word bespeaking you righteous, the Word’s body and blood placed in your mouth. And where the Word is never silenced.  On this joyous day, we celebrate the Word become flesh, who dwelt with us, who speaks to us, whose Light shines throughout the world and who delivers Himself to us. The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds on the Word become flesh, Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Luke 2:1-20 - Christmas Is Jesus For You

Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Is Jesus For You

The Nativity of our Lord - Christmas Eve

December 24, 2014

Beloved in the Lord, on this most holy night in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is the Christ, we do so with all the joy and happiness that the Lord has to give.  There’s a lot that goes into this holiday, expectations and preparations, family and friends, and of course, the presents.

So many times, especially as children, Christmas is viewed as a birthday party for Jesus but where we get the presents. This holy night is so much more than a birthday party.  Our true celebration, one that lasts for the next 12 days, is not a birthday party for Jesus, it’s not just remembering that Jesus was born.  Saving faith is not just believing in the history of the Bible.  The true celebration is the birth of Christ for you!

Consider Isaiah’s prophecy to Ahaz in the Old Testament reading, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  Listen again to the message of the angels to the shepherds, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will bind a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Notice, this is “for you.”  This Child is born for you. The Child is born to bring peace on earth for you.  The Child is born to suffer for you. This Child is born to die for you. This Child is born to be raised from death for you. This Child is the sign for you, God with you.

Christmas is best celebrated not only when our attention is focused on Him, but most importantly is it celebrated because His attention is focused on you, is for you.  The very Son of God came down from heaven and became man for you.  We all too easy brush off Christmas as soon as it’s over. After the presents are opened, the new toys have lost their novelty, when we go back to our everyday lives.  It’s not that every day should be like Christmas. But that Jesus for you doesn’t end in the manger.  Jesus left that manger, He is no longer in that stable.  He does not stay this little child of whom angels sing. This voice that cries out from the manger is the same that cried out from the cross, “It is finished.”

There is a young child at our school, Zion Christian School, who commented just a couple of weeks ago to his teacher, “So let me get this right. On Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus. And Jesus was born just so that He could die.”  Brothers and sisters in Christ, out of the mouth of children, the reason for Christmas is proclaimed.

Just as Jesus doesn’t stay in the manger, neither does He stay on the cross, nor in the grave.  For Christ is risen, He is risen indeed. Alleluia! So rejoice, O people of God, because the Lord is with you, and through faith in Him Jesus is for you. God’s grace and favor are yours in Christ.

Once again heaven comes to earth for you. Not as a child, but still just as humble, through word, water, bread and wine.  You don’t need an angel to bring you good tidings of great joy. You have the very incarnate Word of God speaking through the written Word of God. That’s why Jesus gave the church pastors. To announce God’s Word: The Lord be with you.  And He is because He lives. 

The Lord is for you in the waters of baptism, because the same Holy Spirit who hovered over the waters of creation and overshadowed the womb of Mary now overshadows the baptismal font where you are made a new creation. God’s word and promise make the font the womb of the church.

The Lord is for you in His Holy Supper. His body and blood are enthroned in bread and wine. The King enters the chamber of your mouth to forgive you and bring you tidings of great joy. “Take eat, take drink. This is My body for you. This is My blood for you.”

Through these means, Jesus is for you, but He isn’t offering you magic or quick fixes. He never tells you that the political strife, the ravaging diseases, the economic wreckage, and your personal struggles will all dissolve and blow away immediately because you believe in Him. But He comes with love and mercy for your wrongs. He promises to hear your cries. He helps you hold up under your burdens so they become more bearable.  He delivers Himself to you.

When you believe this, that Jesus is for you, then like the shepherds, you cannot help but go back to your everyday lives with the glory and the praise of God upon your lips for all that we have seen and heard.  Christ’s first coming means that now we live with an eye toward Christ’s second coming. And while we wait, we turn away from the pull of the world, which would pull us away from God and turn us in on ourselves. And by the Spirit of Christ, we are turned this evening first to Christ Himself, and then outward to the world, telling anyone that you meet that Jesus was born for you, that Jesus died for you, that Jesus lives for you. That Christmas is Jesus for you.  

Isaiah 64:1-4 The Great Exchange

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

The Great Exchange

Advent 4B

December 21, 2014

Have you ever gone to a party or get together and realized you were dressed wrong for the occasion.  I remember hearing once that if you find yourself out of place, it is easier to dress down that it is to dress up.  Going to a costume party and having no costume.  Going out to a fancy dinner in tshirt and shorts.

Now imagine this. You’re headed off to a funeral of a close friend. You dress nicely, maybe even in all black. Eyes red because of the tears. Head downcast, the memories, the sense of loss.  It is a hard thing, as most of us know.

Well, imagine that you show up to the church prepared for a funeral and when you get there, you are informed that there was a mistake.  There is no funeral today, instead there’s a wedding!  You’re dressed for the wrong occasion, mind and heart set on sorrow instead of joy, but now everything has changed.  Relief has set in! Sadness turns into joy.  Tears turn into a smile.  And all the while, someone is there with a change of clothes just for you, a change from the black of morning to the white of joy and celebration!

This is the message that Isaiah’s proclaims to us today in the 5th Servant Song. The mourner with ashes on the head, wrapped in sackcloth, and with a spirit crushed with despair is replaced by one who celebrates with a beautiful headdress, smelling of costly oil, and wearing a garment of praise.  Everything is different now, for the time has come for the Lord’s favor to be upon His people.

The day is dawning when those reconciled to the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ, will weep no more.  Reading from the portion of Isaiah, Jesus spoke to those of His hometown Nazareth as recorded in Luke 4.  And what He spoke was this, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).  This is why Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit at His baptism, to carry out this messianic ministry. This was His mission, this is His purpose.

The Servant, the Messiah, advents and brings good news and everlasting joy to the redeemed of Israel.  But make no mistake, Jesus comes only for sinners. He has not come to announce the Gospel to those who are comfortable, in control, and in good health, thinking they have no sin, but to those who know they are mired in sin, guilt, shame, and disease.  No, Jesus comes only for sinners.

Are you poor, poor in spirit, realizing your spiritual poverty before God? Jesus has good news for you. You will share in his riches. Is your heart broken by all the damage that sin has done in your life and in the lives of people all around you? Jesus will bind you up and create in you a clean heart. Are you captive to your sinful nature, or in prison in your thoughts, or in debt up to your eyeballs in God’s heavenly account book? Jesus comes to set you free and to pay off your debts. This is the time of the Lord’s favor. For Jesus ushers in the great year of Jubilee, when all debts are canceled.

What’s more, Jesus takes vengeance on your enemies of sin, death, and the power of the devil. Do you mourn the loss of loved ones who have fallen asleep in the Lord, who you would give almost anything to celebrate Christmas with just one more time? Jesus comforts you with the words of eternal life, that death is not the end, and that there is a great reunion of God’s saints on the way. That day is coming, when Jesus will advent again. 

In the meantime, through His Word and Sacraments, He gathers you of faith into citizens to reside forever in the new Zion’s splendor.  A great reversal happens in the baptismal flood, wherein Jesus changes prisoners of hell into citizens of heaven.  In those blessed waters, you were clothed in the garments of salvation, covered with the robe of righteousness in your Baptism into Christ.  With His Sacramental body and blood, Jesus turns your emptiness to His fullness and your temporary sorrow into everlasting joy.  In the comfort of God’s Absolution, you hear again and again that you have been freed from sin’s death and brought into abundant life. This life is forgiven and free and forever!

Jesus is the One anointed for you, anointed to bring you poor in spirit the good news of Him crucified for your forgiveness, to bind up your broken hearts, to proclaim you justified and free through faith in Him, to open up the prison of hell and unlock the gates of heaven, to proclaim His undeserved favor of good will toward men, to bring His righteous vengeance upon the wicked, to comfort your mourning, and to exchange all sadness for the joy of His righteousness.

So rejoice in the Lord, exult in your God, for He has dressed you in righteousness for the right occasion. For today, you have been invited to both a funeral and to a wedding. The funeral is for that old enemy death, and that wedding is for you. St. John writes in Revelation 19:9, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”   Our Lord adorns you, unworthy as you are, with all that He has to present you to His Father as His holy and pure bride.  The great Christmas gift exchange has taken place, your sin for Jesus. In the name of the Father and the Son T and the Holy Spirit. Amen.  

Commemoration of St. Lucy


Commemoration of St. Lucy

Advent Midweek 3

December 17, 2014

St. Lucy was born in Sicily in the year 283 AD. Her parents were very wealthy – in fact, they were members of the nobility. But Lucy’s father died when she was still very young, so she and her mother, Eutychia, were left alone. Eutychia taught and raised her daughter in the Christian faith, and Lucy was a devout and pious young woman. In fact, even though they still had much wealth, Lucy desired to devote her inheritance to the service of the poor. Her mother, though, didn’t think this was a good idea.

But then something happened that changed her mother’s mind. Eutychia had been suffering for several years from a chronic flow of blood. Lucy prayed for her mother’s healing, and her prayer was answered. The hemorrhage stopped, and her mother was restored to health. In response to this wonderful gift of healing from God, Eutychia allowed Lucy to have her wish and to distribute the vast majority of her share of the family wealth to the poor.

There was just one problem: Lucy had been betrothed to a young Roman man. What her mother did not know when this was arranged was that, like many of the early female martyrs, Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God, vowing that she would never marry so that she could devote her full attention to the service of the Lord.  This young Roman man not only was a pagan, but He actually loved Lucy’s riches more than he loved her. When she gave away her wealth, he was furious, and his greediness moved him to seek revenge. He went to the governor of Sicily and betrayed his fiancée, telling the governor that Lucy was a Christian. This was during the year AD 303, when Christianity was still illegal and Emperor Diocletian’s terrible persecution of the Church was taking place. All that someone had to do was denounce a person as a Christian publicly to the authorities, and that person would be arrested. It was a guilty until proven innocent situation. If the person didn’t deny or recant the faith by cursing Christ and offering incense to Caesar, he or she would be killed.

At 20 years old, Lucy refused to recant or deny her faith in Christ, even under this threat of death. Still refusing to deny Jesus, she was tortured and medieval legend has it (probably 15th c) that her eyes were gouged out. She was then unsuccessfully burned at the stake. Finally she was stabbed to death with a dagger. Her martyr’s death immediately made her famous in Sicily, and the story of her life and death, with some embellishments, lives on to this day.

If you look on the cover of your bulletin, you will see a painting of her from the middle ages, depicting her as a young woman dressed in a white gown, holding a golden platter with her eyes on it. Often times she is depicted holding a dagger or even with the dagger sticking out of her neck.

Particularly in Sweden, Lucy is still remembered by having one of the daughters of the house dress in a white robe with a crown of lighted candles and go singing from room to room early in the morning, while it is still dark, to awaken the other family members and to offer them St. Lucy’s Day buns. The tradition stems from the belief that Lucy once brought bread to needy people who were living in a cave. Even more, this gift also reminds us of Lucy’s faith that Jesus is the bread of life.

Other aspects of this tradition are also meaningful. The white baptismal robe is a reminder of her holiness and of the saints who have died in Christ, and indeed of all those buried with Christ in Baptism. St. Lucy’s, or our, holiness arises not from her own goodness, but through the commendation of the Lord in the washing and renewal of the Holy Spirit in the blood of Christ.

The crown of candles probably the most significant. You see, the name Lucy means light, coming from the Latin word lux, and because of that, festivals of light commemorating her became popular throughout Europe. Her commemoration date is on Dec 13, and until 1582 under the old Julian calendar, that date was also the winter solstice. St. Light celebrated on the day with the least amount of light, to focus on Jesus words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Even when Lucy no longer had eyes, she still had the light of Christ by which to walk. She could yet “see” by faith, far better than any of her persecutors could see. Though physically blind, she had better vision than any unbeliever, for she was enlightened with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The candles worn as a crown are a reminder of the crown of glory that all believers shall inherit through Christ in heaven. Though her life in this world ended in darkness and death, her eternal existence is one of light and life, even as it is for all the faithful.

St. Lucy bore witness to that fact in her life and in her death. In giving away much of her wealth to help the poor, she bore witness to the love of Christ, who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might become rich. She bore witness to a belief in God as the Creator who can and will provide for all of our daily needs. Her virginity was a sign of her devotion and the righteousness she had through faith in Christ. She testified that she loved the Lord and His salvation even more than life itself in this world. And in death Lucy bore witness to the Christ who has conquered death itself.

So it is also for you, especially in this Advent tide as you set your hearts on the coming of the Lord.  As we approach the darkest day of the year, we look to the Light of the World, the light that no darkness can overcome. Not the darkness of your sin, not the darkness of the devil, and not the darkness of this sinful and fallen world. You may not be called to be a martyr, but you are given to bear witness to Christ as the Light of the world, and you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses – prophets and apostles, saints and martyrs. And above all, the One who is the Light of the World, the light that no darkness can overcome. For you have been betrothed to Him, you have been dressed for the occasion in Christ’s righteousness, presented as a pure virgin to Christ as part of His holy Bride, the Church. What is now for us only a candle in the darkness will soon be the dawning of the everlasting day of resurrection at Jesus’ return. Let that joy set before you give you endurance in the faith – just as it gave endurance to St. Lucy.


O Almighty God, by whose grace and power Your holy martyr Lucy triumphed over suffering and remained ever faithful unto death, grant us, who now remember her with thanksgiving, to be so true in our witness to You in this world that we may receive with her new eyes without tears and the crown of light and life

Luke 2.1-21 Zion's Sunday School Christmas

Luke 2.1-21

ZLC Sunday School Christmas

Advent 3B

December 14, 2014


Ah, Sunday School programs, extravagant or simple, great many children or simply a few. There is something about hearing the Christmas story again, especially through the voices of our children. It reminds me of what happens with Jesus right after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Matthew 21:15–16 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that Jesus did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” (Psalm 8:1)

Why do we do this? First, to help our children know the story.  To make them part of the story of God’s salvation in Christ Jesus.  To believe that Christmas is not just some historical event, but matters still today. To join their voices with the angels and the shepherds in proclaiming the wonder of the God become man.

The incarnation of Jesus matters so much, it is so important that we spend 4 weeks preparing for it in the season of Advent and 12 days celebrating it.  We need Advent, we need the preparation, we need to hear the voice of one crying out in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord. We need to hear it again because we are lured into thinking that our sins are neither threatening nor dangerous. Advent is a season not just of preparation and hope and anticipation, but of repentance while we wait for Christ.  Of the recognition that we need the Savior to come into the world, for us men and for our salvation.

So yes, we need to hear this story again and again. To hear it anew. To, like Mary, treasure up all these things, pondering them in our hearts.  The Christian life involves always remembering our Lord Jesus who came, rejoicing as He come now in Word and Sacrament, and preparing our hearts for that time when He will come again on the Last Day.

What a wonderful thing that is! The hear, to remember, to ponder that the King Adventing Himself into the world, especially in such a mundane way, to die such a gruesome death, and to win such a wonderful life. That wonderful good news that apart from all your works, despite all your sin, all your misgivings, all your fears that God would care as much as to send His Son into the world for such a person as you, through faith in Christ, you are forgiven!

For Christ earned salvation for you by living the life you should live before God. From even before His birth, He was working for you. He suffered and died for the life that you don’t live before God. He rose again for your forgiveness on Easter morning. He is seated at the very right hand of God for you. He will come again in glory to snatch you out of this world of sin to be with Him forever in the new heavens and the new earth.

The Gospel never gets old for Jesus. He never tires of remembering all that He did for you. He obeyed all that His Father commanded. Each law, He kept for you. He then brought you out of your slavery to your sins. It is the beginning of everlasting life for you. There never will be any hell for you. There is no judgment for you. That’s for the unbelieving world. Your sinful flesh will never do you in, for it was crucified with Christ. And your eternal life is now secure in the pierced hands of Christ. That life started at the baptismal font and goes on for as long as your Lord Jesus lives. For every last enemy that would harm you is defeated by the Son of God who was born into the world.

That never gets old. You can’t hear that Gospel enough. If it starts to seem a little stale, you need to be prepared for the Lord’s coming by hearing it all over again.  When we, like Mary, ponder, reflect, think about and struggle with, not only about who Jesus was but who Jesus is right now, and how He fits into our life, it cannot get old. When that Word of God is preached and teached, read and inbred into our hearts and minds, of who God is and who Jesus is as it continues to be revealed to us by the working of His Spirit.

The devil, the world, your sinful flesh have all been crushed for you in the death and resurrection of the Son of God. You are baptized. You are absolved. You have been fed the very Body and Blood of Jesus. When Jesus comes, you’ll see for yourself, with your own eyes and not another, the living Redeemer and Savior.  Christ earned your salvation. He won it. He lived as you should live. He died the death you deserve. He rose again. You have been saved. You are saved. You will be saved. For the Savior comes with grace and mercy. That Gospel never gets old.

Commemoration of St. Ambrose

Commemoration of St. Ambrose

Advent Midweek 2

December 10, 2014


“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  There’s a phrase most of us have heard.  Guess what? This actually came from a resolution to a controversy over proper observance in the Christian church.  And the guy who first said it was none other than Ambrose, Bishop of Milan.

Ambrose was born in Trier, Germany in A.D. 340. At that time, this part of Germany was in one of the four large administration areas, called Prefectures, set up by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 337.  His dad was a Praetorium Prefect of the Praetorium Prefecture of Gaul. In other words, Ambrose’s dad was one of the four top officers of the entire Roman Empire.  Trier was the capital city of the Prefecture, and in fact was an imperial residence in the Western Roman Empire and a functional capital city of the Western Roman Empire rather than Rome.

Because of the position of his father, Ambrose was sent to Rome for his education. He rose quickly through the government and political ranks to become the governor of the area of Milan.  A couple years afterward, in the year 374, the Christian bishop of the area died.  This bishop, Auxentius, was an Arian Christian (remember those heretics who St. Nicholas taught against and who said that Jesus was a created being and not equal to God the Father and who the Council of Nicaea rejected).  These Arians still held a lot of sway in the Roman Empire and the debate wasn’t fully settled even after Nicaea almost 50 years earlier).  A great uproar ensued over whether the next bishop of the area would be an Arian Christian or a Trinitarian Christian, and so as the governor of the area, Ambrose intervened to try to calm things down a bit.  As he was giving a public speech to that end, someone yelled out, “Ambrose, bishop!” Ambrose then ran away, but guy who hid him from the crowds later turned him in because he got a letter from the Roman Emperor saying it would all be ok. 

There was just a little problem. You see, Ambrose wasn’t a pastor, he wasn’t trained in the faith, and he wasn’t even baptized, even though he was a catechumen. So, a week later, the 34-year-old Ambrose was baptized in name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit on December 7, which is the day we commemorate him.  Shortly afterward, he was ordained and made bishop of Milan.  Talk about the fast track into the Office of the Ministry!  

So now Ambrose, son of one of the most powerful men in the Empire, former governor, was made a bishop of Milan, which had become the official Western capital of the Roman Empire 80 years earlier by the Emperor Diocletian.  One of the first things that Ambrose does is he gets a hold of the most prestigious professor in the world at the time, a guy name Augustine, yes that St. Augustine, who went to hear Ambrose to study the way he preached, and seven years later baptized by Ambrose himself. Supposedly, he composed the Te Deum that we still use in the Daily Office of Matins, on the occasion of Augustine’s baptism.

It came to be that during some of the controversies of the day, there arose a question about which days were the best to fast. So Augustine writes his friend and mentor, Ambrose, on what to do.  So Ambrose writes to Augustine: "When I'm in Rome I fast on Saturdays (the local Roman custom) and when I'm in Milan I don't. Follow the custom where you are."  This has come down to us in English, as “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

So what does this have to do with much of anything? Well, actually it has to do with a lot.  You see, during the Reformation, as still happens today, people tend to go to one of two extremes: either making the way you worship into a hard and fast law that has to be exactly the same everywhere at all times; or thinking that the way you worship doesn’t really matter, that Christian freedom allows us to do whatever we want when we want, to believe what we want whenever we want.  “When in Rome…” becomes an excuse to turn the Gospel into the Law. But this is not what Ambrose meant.  In matters of humanly devised tradition and custom, sure, follow the tradition of where you are. But in matter of the Gospel, there is no compromise. 

There is no changing things when it comes to the Word of God.  For as Christians, we do as Christ does, and as He bids. This Ambrose knew full well, as did the Lutheran Reformers, and the Lutherans who came over to the United States over 150 years ago.  The Christian faith is not situational, it is not changeable, it is not do as you’d like with it.  The Gospel is not novel, it does not need to be dressed up or made new to reach new.  It is the eternal Gospel, the eternal Good News that sins are forgiven for the sake of the Son of God who died on the cross, and whose coming we eagerly await. For Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

That eternal Gospel is what Ambrose strove the rest of his life to proclaim. The Good News that Jesus, the true Son of God, came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit by the virgin Mary, was made man, suffered and died for the sins of the world, that He was raised three days later to live forever.  This is the source of our salvation.  We see this so clearly in probably the best known hymn that he composed, “Savior of the Nations Come.”  Listen again to verses 5-6, “God the Father was His source, Back to God He ran His course. Into hell His road went down, Back then to His throne and crown.  For You are the Father’s Son Who in flesh the vict’ry won. By Your mighty pow’r make whole All our ills of flesh and soul.”

Throughout his life as a bishop, Ambrose was strong defender of the faith, a fierce opponent against heresy, paganism, and hypocrisy, and he convinced two Roman Emperors to publicly opposed Arianism and affirm the divinity of Jesus.  Ambrose was one of the four great Latin Doctors of the Church (with Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great). His name is also associated with Ambrosian Chant, the style of chanting the ancient liturgy that took hold in the province of Milan.

St. Ambrose died on Good Friday, April 4, 397. God takes an unsuspecting man and uses him to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Isn’t this just how God works? He takes people, unsuspecting, unprepared, unholy, and with water and the Word His Triune Name is placed upon and them and they are placed into the priesthood of all believers. Preparing them to speak the Gospel to those around them. Pointing to Jesus throughout life, and even past death. Ambrose’s body is still buried in the crypt beneath the cathedral in Milan, you can notice that one of his eyes is lower in his head than the other. And he was a SHORT fellow, imperfect, sinful yet big in character, pointing to a bigger and better God.

This is why Ambrose is still remembered, his hymns are still sung, his writings are still read: they point people to the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  To the coming Savior of the nations. To the forgiveness of sins that is yours in Christ.