Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Letter of Encouragement to Parents of Young Children

We just wanted to take a moment as a congregation to thank you for bringing your children (or grandchildren) to church! We know it’s not easy to leave the house early in the morning, especially on the weekend, and schlep the kids to church and Sunday School. We know it would be easier for you to sleep in but you chose not to. You chose to bring your children to Jesus and we are so grateful. We don’t often think of the words to encourage you even though we know you could use it.

We know children get fussy, sometimes whine, and get fidgety. We know sometimes you might feel embarrassed but don’t! If it feels like all eyes are on you during the service it’s only because we love to see you and your children. We are just so happy that you are part of our family. We know children are filled with wiggles and we don’t mind if they make some extra noise! We know that’s just the way God made them, and we much prefer a noisy church to a silent one!

So, we just want to encourage you. Nothing is more important in this whole world than bringing children to Jesus. The presence of your children is a gift to our church and a reminder that our church is growing. We remember the words of Jesus who said “Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven,” and “one must become like a little child to inherit the kingdom of God.”

We don’t expect any of our little ones at St. Paul to sit in their pew the entire time as little cherubs. We wouldn't want that anyways!  In between the whining, the crushed pretzel on the floor, your frequent running off to the nursery and the outburst at the communion rail when Pastor Larson was blessing your child, we just want you to know that we are all cheering you on!

And know that it’s not just us smiling when you bring your wiggling and fidgeting children to weekly worship. Your heavenly Father is smiling too and all the holy angels with him because your son or daughter, in between the outburst, crying, and communion cards strewn on the floor is growing in their faith and love for Jesus, who died for their sins too.

So relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy the service. And if you are tired and just need an extra hand don’t be afraid to ask for help. We know its exhausting work. Most of all, thank you for not giving up. Thank you for bringing your children to church. Thank you for the blessings that you provide for all of us. Thank you for being a part of our family.

your congregation at St. Paul
Wittenberg, WI

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Homily for Our Lord's Transfiguration

Holy Gospel: St. Matthew 17:1-9
Theme: Our Lord's Transfiguration

A poll came out several months ago showing that among those who call themselves Christians nearly all believe in heaven or some form of “afterlife” which is understandable. But shockingly only 30% believe in a physical, bodily, resurrection from the grave.

Which is to say, generally, people are on board with the idea of heaven or some sort of after-life but start talking about bodies walking out of the grave, trumpets blasting, and Jesus descending from the clouds with armies of angels – then people check out. Thanks but no thanks, I’ll stick with my idea of heaven! That resurrection stuff is going just a little too far for me! 

This is a discouraging sign because if Christianity is not about Jesus resurrection - if we are not about the defeat of death, and the resurrection of all flesh, then we are totally missing the boat – and frankly it’s not Christianity anymore.

Even the pagan philosophers believed in an afterlife or some vague notion of heaven. Jews believe in it. Even Muslims believe in heaven. But that doesn’t mean they are saved.  

What sets Christians apart is that we believe that God Himself takes on human flesh. God walks around in a body – a flesh and blood body – and that very body, bearing the sins of the world is nailed to a tree. The Body of the Lord is wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger of the earth but God raises His Son from the dead. His body awakens – and walks out of the grave. He is seen by thousands.

The Risen Christ, fresh from the grave, sends out the apostles – the first pastors - to go to the ends of the earth and preach the Gospel, healing the sick, forgiving sins, raising the dead. 

His body ascends to heaven to the right hand of the Father and he continues to dwell with us weekly in the Divine Service, where God meets us in love – His body and blood given and shed for you. 

Today we celebrate the festival of the Transfiguration – it is the climax of the Epiphany season. Jesus takes Peter and James and John up to a high mountain and He is transfigured before them – his face shone like the sun, his clothing became white as light. They see Jesus in his glorified state – God of God – light of light – very God of very God. Moses and Elijah who lived 1000 years before Jesus was born are standing with him. Moses represents the Law and the first five books of the Bible. Elijah represents all the prophets who were preparing the way for the coming Christ. 

They are both talking with Jesus. It’s a huddle of sorts but they’re not talking football. They’re not talking about the super bowl. They are talking about the glorious cross. They are talking about Jesus storming the gates of hell by his atoning death. They are talking about Jesus resurrection and Moses and Elijah are cheering Jesus on. They urge him on in His glorious mission, the completion of God’s plan to love man and restore a communion of love – broken by the fall into sin. 

Moses and Elijah are giddy about the death of Jesus. They are not sad they are thrilled because Jesus will walk down this mountain and walk up another. His face, shining brightly like the Sun on the mount of transfiguration will be disfigured, blackened and bloodied by our own sins. His bright shining clothing, like Joseph, will stripped from him by his own brothers. He will be thrown in a pit – hung from a tree – and left to die but Heaven rejoices for the sake of Jesus cross. That ugly bloody Friday we call good.

But up on this mountain Peter is not thinking about these things nor does he want to. Just like last week, he doesn’t get it. He wants to stay up there with Moses and Elijah. He’s a little star-struck if you will – with some celebrities of the Old Testament so Peter wants to build tents to stay up there, in glory. Who can blame Him?

At that moment a cloud overshadows them and the Father’s voice from heaven said, “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Arise, have no fear.” And when the disciples lifted their eyes, all they saw was Jesus. Moses and Elijah fade away. Jesus immediately sets his face toward Jerusalem - sets his eyes upon the cross. 

The popular saying is true, “no pain, no gain,” and what pain he endured for your sake. When Jesus breathed His last, Holy Scriptures testifies that the earth shook, the tombs were opened, and people walked out of their graves into the new and greater Jerusalem. 

When we walk to the altar and come to the communion rail we join them. We bring our children. Some of us hold hands. Our bodies are joined to His. His blood is mingled with ours. 

We see Jesus. We behold His love and our faces shine like the Sun. Not even death can end our gladness because we know that our graves will not stay closed. We know that Christ will lead us out.  So frankly, we don’t need a super bowl. We have a victory much better and even more satisfying. We believe that we will be transfigured from one degree of glory to another. We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Homily for the Confession of St. Peter

(crucifixion of St. Peter - Caravaggio 1600) 

“But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:27-35).

Peter sometimes gets it and sometimes he doesn’t. When Jesus tells him he will be a fisher of men he drops his net and follows.  He walks on water but his faith fails and he sinks. Peter is the first to confess with his mouth that Jesus is the Christ but then immediately afterward in our reading this morning he tries desperately to persuade Jesus not to suffer and die as the Christ. Jesus actually calls Peter the devil himself, because of his sinister plan to have Jesus avoid going to the cross.  

When Jesus is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, Peter is the only one to unsheathe his sword, ready to defend Jesus and take on the whole roman army, but several hours later, when Jesus is being mocked and  beaten in Pilates dungeon, a peasant girl recognizes Peter while warming himself at the fire. Scared and feeling his life in danger he denies Jesus three times. The rooster crows and Peter realizes what he has done. After Jesus resurrection Peter is restored to faith in the gospel through the forgiveness of sins. 

Today in our first reading, in the book of Acts, we see Peter preaching a magnificent sermon. Preaching and confessing and believing that Jesus is the only thing that matters. Peter is on fire for the Gospel – he takes the message of Christ out into the whole world.   

So we see that Peter is either hot or cold. He is either believing or unbelieving or believing again. Sometimes he is going forward, other times he is going backward.  In terms of his faith, he oscillates. He goes back and forth. He falters as a disciple of Christ. 

But what kind of disciple have you been? You look and sound great Sunday mornings but when was the last time you talked to your own friends or coworkers about what Jesus has done for you? Like Peter, at times you can be zealous for the Gospel. Other times you have fallen off the wagon. 

Like Peter in the garden of Gethsemane, on your confirmation day you stood tall and proud in your white robe.  You unsheathed your sword, held unto your bible, and promised before God and whole congregation that you would be present every Sunday at the Divine Service. And where is that Bible?

What happened? Like Peter, warming himself around the fire, you too have a tendency to get too cozy in the comforts of this passing world, rather than finding true and lasting security in the eternal love of God. By our own words, thoughts, and deeds we have denied Jesus far more than a mere three times. We’ve said ridiculous things like all denominations are basically the same or all religions are just different ways to the same destination. What nonsense! The things we say to fit in with a crowd.   

Like Peter, you’re intentions are good. You wish you could walk on water to meet Him, but your faith falters. Your flesh is corrupt. You sink. You fail. You sin.   

Being a disciple is a lot like Peter. It’s a mixed bag. It’s a struggle between faith and unbelief. A fight between the desires of the spirit and the desires of your sinful flesh. Being a disciple is a constant conflict between making a home here in this fleeting world, and preparing for your eternal home in the Kingdom of God. Peter too knew this conflict.

Jesus knew Peter would betray him and deny him – Jesus knew Peter’s weaknesses. Jesus knows your weaknesses too. He’s even seen your denials. He sees your hesitancy to confess him before others. He has seen you give into temptation too easily – not with a fight and barely with a whimper. It’s no secret we can all be fairweather disciples. 

But God be praised Jesus lays down his life for fair-weather disciples. Jesus nevertheless loved Peter and Jesus loves you too. He even tells Peter this morning in our Gospel text precisely how he will love his disciples. Jesus taught them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.   

And there you have it! Jesus dies for shifty disciples, and fair-weather friends! He gives his life for all of us. Peter is not the rock. You are not the rock. Jesus is the rock. And our church is built upon Him alone. 

Unlike us, Jesus is not a fair-weather friend. He is not shifty, He does not falter, He does not waver in his love and commitment. He has proved this by his life, completed it by his death, verified it by his resurrection, and now, gives you rock solid evidence that your sins are forgiven – your denials – your betrayals – and your fair-weather trust in him – all forgiven – by His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  

Jesus says to Peter “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

When Peter found out that he was to be crucified, he begged his own executioners that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. So they mockingly crucified him upside down, and Peter, through the most bitter suffering entered into glory.

Jesus speaks to you too this morning. You too have a heavy cross to bear. Your health is more than a little shakey. Work is exhausting and people are too critical of you.  Being a kid in school and enduring cliques, cruelty, and bullying is as painful as anything in the whole world. Just old age, aches, new pains, and loneliness takes a tremendous amount of courage to withstand and press on. 

But this morning, it’s enough that you are simply a Christian. It’s enough that you listen to the voice of Jesus, and give your loud amen during the service. It’s enough that you, like Peter, believe in your heart that Jesus is the Christ. 

This simply means that you are a disciple. You bear the name, Christian. You follow Jesus. And your strengths are made perfect in weakness. So humble yourself under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your cares and anxieties upon him. 

Like Peter, even if you find yourself rejected by the whole world, don’t be discouraged. You are accepted and approved of by God, welcomed by angels, and carried by the cross of Christ into everlasting life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Homily for The Baptism of Our Lord

"And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”' (Mt. 3).

We have all been trained by experience to understand that if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is. We’ve all been bamboozled too many times. We’ve been swindled at one time or another, maybe even joined a pyramid scheme or two. Who hasn’t ordered something on an infomercial only to find out that when it actually arrived, that it was really just a cheap piece of junk.

Yes, we have all learned that if something sounds too good to be true then it most certainly is. And this is how we live our lives – always slightly suspicious of things that sounds really good.

Perhaps this is part of the problem why we don’t talk about our baptisms enough. The Scriptures say that baptism rescues us from death and hell itself, saves us from the power of the devil. Baptism delivers the forgiveness of sins and gives eternal salvation to all who believe. In baptism we become children of God. We receive new birth from heaven above, joined to the very death and resurrection of Jesus Himself, as we learn in Romans chapter 6.

Because we have been taught by experience to be suspicious of things that sound too good to be true – it’s easy to dismiss baptism as just another extravagant offer with no real guarantee. Ask yourself, when was the last time you opened your mouth to thank God at all for being baptized. Woe to us who make such a mistake and disregard this precious gift which delivers heavenly treasures!

Today we observe the historic feast day of the Baptism of Our Lord. We see our Lord Jesus march to the Jordan River to be baptized by John and John asks Jesus a very good question, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John had earlier said he was not worthy to untie the strap of his sandles but now John is asked by the incarnate Son of God to baptize him. John perhaps was wondering in his head why Jesus would need a baptism if he was sinless – what sins would he need washed away at all? But Jesus replies “Let is be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.”

When Jesus was baptized he arose out of the water, and the heavens were opened to him and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and rested upon him, and the Father’s voice from heaven rang out, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In the Old Testament, on the Day of Atonement, one day a year, all of the people of Israel would confess their sins to the priests in the temple. Then they would take the scapegoat, and the high priest would confess over its head all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites – all their sins – and place those sins on the animal. There were altogether two goats – one was slaughtered and its blood was used to make payment for the sins of its people – it’s blood would be placed on the altar in the temple to cleanse the sanctuary so that God could come and dwell with his people.

The other goat, carrying the sins of the people, would be sent out to a remote place to be released in the wilderness. The scapegoat carries off the sins of the people.

Maybe this all sounds strange but it’s not strange when we see what happening when Jesus is baptized. You see, the people who were coming to John the Baptist were first confessing their sins – confessing their adultery – their gossip, their rebellion against God and His commandments. They are waiting for the Messiah – the scapegoat who will carry all their sins away.

When Jesus comes to the Jordan River he’s not coming to have his sins forgiven. He’s not coming to be washed. Jesus is coming to get dirty. Because when Jesus descends into the Jordan River to be baptized, what’s really happening is that he is being baptized into your sins. He is showing himself to be the scapegoat by immersing himself in the sins of the world – including your sins. John, anoints Jesus as the Messiah – anoints him as the sin bearer – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He comes out of the water - the heavens are opened and the Spirit descends. The Father speaks from heaven “This is my beloved Son” – precisely because his Son is carrying your sins steadily to the cross – bringing about the salvation of the whole world.

Like the scapegoat the next thing that happens is that Jesus is led into the wilderness to show us that he will destroy the power of the devil and banish our sins from existence through his blood soaked cross.

Jesus is not baptized to be cleansed. He is baptized to become dirty with your sins all so that you would be washed clean. He becomes the guilty party that you would be pronounced innocent. He is wrapped in your rebellion that you would bask in his love.

In baptism Jesus takes everything that belongs to you – your sin, your rebellion, your death – and in exchange you receive his holiness, his righteousness, his innocence. He exchanges your death for his life – your hell for his heaven. He takes away from you everything that stands in the way of your relationship with God – your mistrust, your spiritual apathy, the sins of your youth, and your ongoing sins that trouble you. He takes it all as your scapegoat.

And everything that rightfully belongs to Jesus he gives freely to you in your baptism. His loveliness, his purity, his perfect obedience to God. All those things are credited to you freely through your baptism into Christ and your faith in him. It’s all free folks. A free gift!

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. When you were baptized something truly wonderful happened – and something wonderful happens now, all again. You are baptized. The heavens are opened. The Holy Spirit descends upon you. The Father speaks to you from heaven “You are my beloved Son, you are my beloved daughter with whom I am well pleased…your sins are forgiven.” Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, you too may live a new life – living before God in righteousness and purity forever!

A couple years ago the elders and I studied Luther’s Small Catechism on baptism at our meetings. It was decided it would be a good idea to push the baptismal font from the side of the church to the center. It was the elders hope that you would approach the altar and come before God’s presence always remembering your baptism. You walk right past the font. You can even touch it if you like, remembering that you belong to him, remembering that your sins are washed away. Knowing and rejoicing that you are still just children of God whom are pleasing to Him on account of Christ.

So this morning when you come to the altar for communion with God, don’t think of your sins. Don’t think of what you see in yourself. St. Paul says in Romans chapter 7 that nothing good dwells within us. And of course we know exactly how true that is. But now, don’t consider any of those things. Think only about what God sees in you. See yourself only from his perspective. Because when he looks at you he sees you baptized and he likes what he sees. A child who is now forgiven, washed in the blood of Christ. He sees a Christian, one declared innocent before the gates of heaven.

All of this you have received in your baptism. So what do you think? Is it all too good to be true? No way! In fact, when it comes to the things of God you can take the old adage and turn it all around. If it sounds too good to be true, believe it all the more, and be glad that God is so kind, gracious, and unbelievably good! In the name of Jesus. Amen.   

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Christ-Child in Egypt - The Second Sunday of Christmas

In the Old Testament, in Egypt, Pharaoh set out to kill the one who would rise up and deliver God’s people from bondage. He had the little boy babies thrown into the Nile River to drown them but Moses life was spared. He escaped – was brought into the royal family – and ascended to the right hand of power in Egypt. When the time was right He became God’s agent to deliver God’s people from bondage by striking and parting the Red Sea.

Now in the New Testament there is another Joseph who has strange dreams. There is a new evil pharaoh named Herod – who is plotting to kill the coming Savior. This Joseph is not dreaming about ladders to heaven, skinny or fat cows, but is told by an angel about Herod’s evil plan to destroy Jesus. So Joseph and Mary escape in the middle of the night and begin their long journey to Egypt – the ancient place of bondage – all in order to escape Herod’s murderous plans. But the boys of Bethlehem are not spared. Herod’s executioners storm through Bethlehem and slaughter all the baby boys under the age of two. It’s a horrific and terrifying scene with enough tears and blood to drown the whole village. 

This is part of the Christmas story but I don’t know of any children’s Christmas pageants that go into any bit of detail of this part of the story. That just wouldn't really work. This reading for today comes a week and a half after Christmas to remind us that this world is still ruled by sin, death, and the devil.  

What Pharaoh and Herod meant for evil God meant for good. The boys from Bethlehem died that night so that Jesus would escape and return to die and rise for them. Nothing is as it seems. 
What Herod meant for evil, God meant for good. The babies worshiped God not by speaking but by dying. Those little babies violently stolen from their mother’s breast were carried to heaven to live with God – where there is no crying or sadness- only infinite joy – peace, and gladness. A much happier and brighter place. A place perfectly suited for children – and perfectly safe for them too.

This part of the Christmas story doesn't get much attention but it ought to because this is still the world in which we live. A world from which we still need to be delivered. The streets of Bethlehem were soaked in blood and tears that night and maybe in some way you can relate. Babies are still unfairly stolen from their mother’s wombs. Children are still kidnapped or abused. Herod’s murderous henchmen still roam around. Husbands and wives still fight and children rebel and Pharaoh still works to keep you in bondage to sin – a slave to addictions that hold you captive. 

Like Mary and Joseph, perhaps you too have had to pack your bags for a dangerous journey into the great unknown. A new job. Moving to a new place. Even retirement these days can be far from certain.   

Through all of these things you have a Savior. Moses interceded for the Israelites and brought them through the Red Sea on dry ground. He fed them by bringing them bread from heaven and water from the rock. Like Moses, Jesus was brought out of water at the Jordan to give you a safe journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Jesus has gone down to Egypt on your behalf – he descended to hell – the place of slavery to set the prisoners free. He ascended to heaven to lead the way for us all. 

Through the holy cross you have a save passage through this life by the Red Sea of Christ’s blood, poured out from the chalice – forgiving sins. You have eternal manna – bread from heaven. A Passover feast where the angel of death passes over and children are saved. 

Pharaoh, his armies and chariots are all drowned at the bottom of the sea. Herod and his henchmen do not win the day. The Bethlehem babies do not die but they live. And even now Satan and hell’s satanic crew, though they surround you, are stripped of their power and disarmed before Christ our Lord who lives and reigns even now.

As you begin a new year, and a new journey begins, take comfort that this child was born for you. His birth for you. His death for you. His Life for you. His love for you. His victory for you. Who knows what the new year will bring? Maybe it will be your most trying and challenging year yet.

But so what? A Savior has been born. The devil has been tricked. Pharaoh, Herod, and Satan have all been routed. And even your own sin, death, and hell have been vanquished. So what’s to fear?  

Nothing really. The message of today’s readings more than anything is simply to teach us all that God is on our side – no matter what we face. And if God is with us who can be against us? In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Love is Born at Christmas - A Christmas Eve Homily

American author Henry David Thoreau wrote that most men live lives of quiet desperation.
MacBeth, in Shakespeares famous play cries out in despearation “To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! (Life is) but a walking shadow, a poor actor, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. Life, it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." So says MacBeth.

Perhaps none of us have such a dismal view of human existence. But let’s be honest. life takes a toll on us. We get tired, discouraged, down right tired and we are running ragged. Even the most spiritually zealous among us wonder what the point of it all is.

Sometimes maybe we even feel like MacBeth, that life itself is simply a bad play which eventually ends and the curtain comes down. And that’s that.

But tonight everyone expects something great on Christmas Eve – even the most grumpy, cynical, and non-religious among us. Everyone, no matter how cold or callous holds on to at least some degree of hope, however small that hope may be, that something wonderful can still happen. That things can be better. And dearly beloved, your hopes are not in vain.

This Christ – this Jesus is born for you. Tonight we cast away and disperse every cloud of sadness and put away every shadow of despair. We let the light of Christ shine in the darkness and warm our hearts. Life is not full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Because Life itself became incarnate. Loves comes down from heaven. The baby sleeping in Mary’s lap is the Lord not born for angels but born for you.

Tonight in our second reading we read quite simply that “God is love,” and we see this so clearly tonight on Christmas Eve. The Lord has stepped down from his throne in heaven to come down here among us.

He who made the heavens and earth He is helpless. God is having his diaper changed, nursing from his exhausted young mother after giving birth all alone in a cold, dark barn, in winter. He sleeps in a manger not because it’s cute but because her arms are too exhausted after birth to physically hold him. And so he lies in a manger – in a feed trough – because he is the living bread from heaven. 

Love is born tonight in Bethlehem. This baby will grow into a man. He will plant his feet in the Jordan River to be baptized into your sins – The Father will say “this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” The Holy Ghost who hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation will descend upon this prince of Peace. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He will be driven into the wilderness as the scapegoat – He will battle Satan for every time the people of Israel and you gave into temptation. He will not give an inch.  

He will stand before Pilate silent as a Lamb led to the slaughter. He will let himself be condemned for sins he didn’t commit and you and Barabbas go free – Like Isaac he will carry the wood on his back up the mountain and will lay down on the altar that Isaac escaped from. The sacrifice is provided. Jesus, God’s Son - caught in a thicket – wearing a crown of thorns.

By the red sea of Christ’s blood all sins are forgiven. By the flood of water from his pierced side – sins are washed away drowned in holy baptism.   

And those little baby feet nestled quietly in a wooden manger will one day be driven with nails into a wooden cross. A child given and shed for you. By this we know love. This is why the angels come to the shepherds with their flocks in the first place. Saying Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.  

The Savior of this whole world has come. Life is not just a bad play – filled with sound and fury – signifying nothing. The curtain does not come down. The curtain is torn from top to bottom. And everything that separated sinful man from the God of love has been torn apart.  Jesus takes center stage. He walks out of the grave accompanied by angels. He will stand up in the resurrection and so shall you. See how much God loves you. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Tonight be like the shepherds and run to see Him. Peer into the stable and see how tender God is to you. See how he loves you – even now. He is, after all, as gentle as a baby – softer than a lamb – whose fleece is white as snow.

Cradle him in your hands and hold him in the manger of your heart. He is Immanuel – which means “God with you.” Body and blood given and shed for you. Present under bread and wine to give you a Christmas supper to refresh your weary soul. Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the age.

Love was born at Christmas.  Jesus, who is love, gives life its marrow and its fullness. Love is itself the mighty star in the night sky which leads us back to God. Let the scales fall from your eyes and bask in the love of Christ. Your sins are forgiven. God approves of you. He is pleased with you. You belong to Him and no other. The heavens open – the angels sing – and the Father says of you “You are my beloved Son – My beloved daughter with whom I am well pleased.”

This heavenly message of God’s love on Christmas is enough to soften our hearts and give us joy. And so like Ebenezer scrooge, we too can all come around, be kinder and gentler to one another, and turn every bah humbug into an alleluia as we remember what God has done for us in sending us His beloved Son. In the name of Jesus. Amen.