31 December 2023

Homily for Christmas I

This past week, people loved by God, we celebrated together the what of Christmas and the Who: the events around the birth of the holy Child. This past week we heard the angel’s message and the host of heaven sing their song. This past week we saw the shepherds hurry to Bethlehem to see this thing which had come to pass, the Babe lying in a manger. This past week we gazed in awe at the little one and said to one another: “This is Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary.” So we celebrated the what of Christmas and the who. What? A Savior is born. Who is He? Christ the Lord, true God and true Man.

This morning, however, St. Paul invites us to go even further. To go beyond the what and the who and to rejoice in the why. The why of the what. The why of the Who. Why did all that happen in Bethlehem so long ago? Why did the Son of God become a little child? Here’s the simple yet profound answer Paul gives: Galatians 4:4-5 (ESV) 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Behold the why of Christ’s coming! He came that we might be adopted and received by God the Father as His own children. He came that we might have a place in the heavenly Father’s home forever. He become a child of man to make the lost children of men into the true children of God! Behold, the why!

St. Paul sets slaves in opposition to children. For that is the rock bottom reality of life. Either you are a slave under the law or you are living in the freedom of the children of God—the freedom Christ came to give. The thing about slaves is that they don’t have a permanent place in the house. They work for hire. They know that their position in the household depends solely on their performance of the duties assigned them. If they fail to perform, out they go. They have no permanent place in the house, and so their lives tend to be eaten up with anxiety about their standing.

How different the situation of children! They know that their place in the house is utterly secure. They have no fear of being tossed out. They belong there. It’s their home. They stand in a totally different relationship with the master of the house than the slave does. Nothing shows the difference better than what they call the same person. A slave calls the Lord of the manor, Master. But what does a child call the Lord of the manor? He calls him daddy.

“And because you are sons God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba! Father!’” Abba is the daddy or papa word in Aramaic. It is peculiarly Jesus’ own term of address for the heavenly Father. For you see what happened, don’t you? Jesus Christ came into this world to give us nothing less than His own relationship with His Father. As He was the beloved Son of the Father, so He calls us into such a relationship with Him that we might be called and be “beloved children of the Father.” And children call out to their dear Father with all confidence, “Abba!”

From the Catechism: “Our Father who art in heaven. What does this mean? With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father.”

We’d never dare to pray like that unless Jesus had invited us to. And the “our” there is to be noted. Our Father. He gets to be “ours” —that is, yours and mine—only because Jesus shares Him with us. Gives Him us as our own. Do you remember the scene after the Resurrection when Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene as she wept outside the tomb? Jesus gave her some awesome news. “Go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” He can send them this news on the basis of what He has accomplished on Calvary and sealed in His resurrection. He has made His Father ours!

Our hymn of the day originally put this most powerfully: Er wechselt mit uns wunderlich / unser Fleisch und Blut nimmt an / Und gibt uns in sein Vater’s reich / die klare Gottheit d’ran / die klare Gottheit d’ran. He changes with us wondrously, our flesh and blood takes on, to give us in His Father’s realm the luminous divinity. 

But how does He give the benefit of that to us? We know that He came to make us the children of God. But how does He accomplish this in our lives? If we were reading straight through Galatians we would already know, for Paul has just made it clear in the verses right before our second reading: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:26, 27)

Baptism! That is how Christ makes us children and heirs of His Father. Now you know why Christ said: “You must be born again.” We need a new birth to free us from slavery, free us from the uncertainty of our place in the household, free us from the idea that we have to earn our keep. So christ gives Baptism to us. In the water we are given a new birth. In the water we are adopted by god as His own children. In the washing of water with the Word, the Holy Spirit Himself is given to us, the Spirit who cries out “Abba, Father!” The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God and heirs with Christ. 

Of course Baptism only benefits those who believe. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Look, Baptism promises you an eternal inheritance. It makes you a child of God and gives you a place in the Father’s house for all eternity. But only as you believe. 

Think of it like this. One day you get a letter in the mail from a lawyer who told you that your great Aunt Mathilde (whom you never knew about) has died and left you her entire estate worth, let’s say, 30 million dollars. What good would that estate do you if you tore up the letter and said: “Nope. This is some scam and I’m not going to fall for it. This is just some way to get me to spend my own money.” By not believing the inheritance was yours, you could live and die a pauper, when in fact you were a multimillionaire. And how sad that would be! To reap Baptism’s benefits the promises God makes you in that water must be believed. Sad to say, there are many baptismal millionaires, children and heirs of the heavenly Father, who live and die as slaves and never once in time or eternity enjoy what their baptism most surely bestowed upon them. 

What utter joy would fill our hearts if we always kept this in mind at all times. If we woke up every morning and said: “Father in heaven, thank you for making me your child in Baptism.” If we went to bed every night certain that our sins had all been forgiven through Jesus’ blood and that our bodies and souls were secure in His care and keeping. It was to keep such joy front and center that Dr. Luther wrote his suggestions for morning and evening prayer. That’s why he bids you begin with the sign of the holy cross (for you now belong to Christ the Crucified) and to say the words of our baptism. That is why he teaches us to pray every morning and every night: “I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ.”

Children and heirs. That is what Christ makes us in Baptism. That is the life which He calls us to as His brothers and sisters. It was to give us this priceless gift that He came among us. For this He was born at Bethlehem. That we might walk all our days in this life in the joy of having a heavenly Father and an eternal home and “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, kept in heaven for us.” (1 Peter 1:4)  

P.S. Pastor Mark Preus offered this absolutely inspired “fix” to the problematic stanza in LSB:

A wondrous change with Him we share:

Our flesh and blood takes He,

And bids us in God’s kingdom wear

His bright divinity.

His bright divinity. 

28 December 2023

And welcome, Grandchild #13!

We got a call from Lauren on Christmas night, just before midnight. So we headed over to Dieterich to watch the other children so Dean could join his wife at the hospital. She took her sweet time getting here, but on the late afternoon of St. Stephen’s day, Winnie Mae was born and arrived sunny side up! Her rebirth is scheduled for January 7th. Here is a pic of her with her Nana:

P.S. If you’re having trouble keeping track: Kloe, Sawyer, Annabelle, Lydia, Flynn, Henry, Felicity, Oliver, Evangeline, Griffin, Chancellor, Emmett, and Winnie.

23 December 2023

Our Family Christmas…

…was anticipatory this year (due to a baby being due on Dec. 27th). We gathered at the Ibisch’s home for a delightful evening. Appetizers included pomegranate, blueberries, strawberries, assorted cheeses and summer sausage and cold-cuts; Beef Tenderloin was the main dish served along with tortellini in alfredo sauce, gravy, hollandaise (almost…I forgot the lemon!), mushrooms and bacon in alfredo, mashed potatoes, sweet potato soufflé in paleo and sugared varieties, cranberry sauce; desserts were assorted chocolates and cookies, apple pie, pecan pie, and two chocolate pies. Some pictures of the festivities:

20 December 2023

Homily for Advent Ember Wednesday

Isaiah 7:10-15 / Luke 1:26-38

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

Can you even picture the scene in heaven, when God summoned Gabriel this time? “Gabriel, I have another job for you to do.” “Master, you know it is my delight to do whatever you command. Give me my orders.” “Do you see that young virgin down there, praying in Nazareth?” “Yes, Lord.” “Her name is Mary and I have some tidings for you to bring to her, like you did to Zechariah not too long ago.” “Gladly will I obey. What is the message?” Now, then, stop for a second and try to picture the growing look of astonishment upon Gabriel’s face as God tells him what he’s to say to her.

“Master, please pardon me. I don’t want to get this message wrong. Did you actually just say that I was to tell her that, uh, she was going to be the mother of… of Your own eternal Son?” “Why, yes, Gabriel. That is EXACTLY what I said.”

“Master, You are all knowing. You are truth itself. But… but… I must not be understanding what you are telling me to announce. That would make the Eternal and Infinite One, who is blessed forever and exalted in the highest, it would make Him be one of…them, of those things.”

“Oh, yes, Gabriel. You are understanding. Understanding exactly what I am saying.” 

I am not sure if angels would ever have the cheek to ask: “Are you sure?” But if they do, that would have been the moment.

“But, Master, what if, what if she asks me how? What answer am I to give her?”

“You will tell her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her. You will tell her that the power of the Most High will overshadow her. And so it will be that the little One who will be born from her will be called and will be the Son of God.”

Gabriel nods his head, trying not to let it explode. And then God adds: “Oh, and women need a consolation from other woman. Don’t forget to tell her about Elizabeth and her conception and how she’s now six months along. There, now. Off you go.”

Poor Gabriel. When he came into the room where she was and showed himself to her, he was rather overcome. He cried out: “Rejoice, Mary! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” He is overawed at being in the presence of the One who will become the Mother of God the Son. But he sees her troubled face.

Now usually, when an angel bops in in the Bible, it’s the presence of the angel itself that troubles. That’s not the case here. Mary is troubled not by Gabriel’s presence, but by his words. Why should she rejoice? What does he mean that the Lord is with her? How is she blessed among women? Gabriel, in his angelic wisdom, reads her like a book. He tells her not to be afraid, but then proceeds to lay on her the most shocking news any human being would ever hear. “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father, David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever - through endless days - for His kingdom will have no end. And you do realize, yes, that that means His life, His very human life that he will receive in your womb, will have no end. How could it? He is the Son of God! The One who WAS before the worlds began.” 

When Gabriel had come to Zechariah, he saw the disbelief dance across the old man’s face at his tidings. That’s not the case now. It’s not that Mary disbelieves. It’s that she’s curious how. “How will be this be” (not how CAN this be) since I know not a man?” 

The angel had been supplied with the answer. “The Holy Spirit. He will do it. He who is the Power of the Most High will overshadow you, and so the child to be born of you will be holy, the Holy, Holy, Holy One, the very Son of God.” Yes, Mary, you are the Woman of Genesis 3:15. You are the Virgin of Isaiah 7. Your child will be Emmanuel: God with us! As the wonder remains on Mary’s face, the Angel remembers to add: “Oh, and Elizabeth, your kinswoman, she who was called barren, she is now in her sixth month.” 

And then Gabriel added the truth that is above all truths: “It is not possible for any Word of God to fail.” Long ages has Gabriel served the King of heaven, and this he knew with every fibre of his being: God’s every word is truth. What He promises always comes to pass, even when it sounds unbelievable and utterly impossible. His Word would not fail now either.

How long did the silence last after he finished delivering his embassy? At last, Mary speaks. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your Word.” And with that he was gone. He departed back to the realms of light, perhaps to await the passage of nine months when he would tear the skies apart with glory over the heads of the shepherds. Did Mary wonder, though, “Where did you go? Why could you not tell Joseph? Or my parents?” Still, she knew what to do. The angel had pointed her in the right direction. Elizabeth. That’s where she would find comfort and the confirmation of everything she’d just heard. She headed out for the Judean hills, and already her womb had become the Ark of the Living God, though no one else knew of her fearful secret, not till Elizabeth greeted her. 

Gabriel back in heaven: “Well, I told her.” “Ah, and how did it go.” “Lord, you know all things. You already know. She believed. She said Amen to Your Word.” “Splendid,” said the Master, “and now we wait, but it won’t be long.”

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

18 December 2023

Homily at Monday Matins

Text: Isaiah 40:1-8

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

Boys and girls, did you know that when the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible, they were prompted to write down words and letters, but no punctuation? No periods. No commas or semicolons, and certainly no quotes. I still like the fact that the old King James Bible doesn’t bother with trying to put in quotes. I think they can be misleading, and today’s reading from Isaiah 40 is a case in point. 

I’m thinking particularly about the ending of the reading. Suddenly the prophet hears a voice. The voice says: Cry! But the prophet, no doubt in a bit of a discouraged tone, answers back: And what exactly am I supposed to cry out? And then I believe it is the prophet who goes on, explaining his frustration: All flesh is grass, and all its beauty like the flower of the field. He means, of course, none of us last very long. Just like the grass can be burnt to a crisp in the heat of a dry summer afternoon, and fade from vibrant green to dead yellow and brown, or just like one day you see a pretty dandelion standing there like a little sun, but the next day it’s nothing but a puff head of spores, and then when the wind goes over it, it’s just a bare stalk. 

The prophet was thinking that’s how it is with US. So he adds on: The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows upon us. Surely the people is grass. 

I think his point, answering the voice of God telling him to cry out, was: “What’s the use? We’re all here for such a short time and before we know it, our life is cut off and we’re gone. What is there then that’s WORTH crying out about? What’s the point of preaching when everyone you’re preaching to is headed to the grave: some sooner, some later, but all of us worm food in end. What’s the point of preaching? Why not just shut up and be sad. 

But GOD has answer for his reluctant prophet. He agrees with him that it is true that grass withers. It’s true that the flower fades. It’s true that the human life span can seem so very painfully short. Maybe some of you have already had to say goodbye to people that you very much loved, but whose earthly time had come to an end. It’s hard. And what goes for people goes also for nations. Isaiah had made no bones about it: Israel, the nation, was going to come to pieces and be swallowed whole by the Babylonian empire. Nations come and nations go just like people do. The grass withers. The flower fades. And then God speaks His great adversative: BUT. But? Have you ever noticed how but wipes out what came in front? BUT there is something that doesn’t wither. BUT there IS something that never fades. BUT The Word of our God will stand forever.

When Israel went into Exile, the people carried not much besides their scrolls. They would gather in Babylon and read the beautiful words and the weirdest thing happened as they listened to God’s prophets and His promises. Hope was rekindled, faith was born in them, despair was chased away. They couldn’t figure out for the life of them HOW God was going to save and rescue them, but when they read and proclaimed to each other the promises, they were comforted and came to believe that what God said would indeed take place, no matter how impossible it seemed. His word, the only thing they carried with them into exile, the only thing that the Babylonians didn’t take away from them because they didn’t think it was worth anything, would prove to be the one thing that really lasts. People come and go. Nations and rise and fall. And here we sit 2,700 years AFTER Isaiah’s time and we’re still listening to the Words and they still do the job. They go into us and give us faith. They point us to our Jesus and His promise that though heaven and earth pass away, these, His words (and Isaiah’s words ARE His words) will NEVER pass away. 

What’s more ephemeral than a word? You speak and it’s gone. But that’s just our words. God speaks a word and what He speaks He causes to be. 

God says: Let there be, and it was. God says: this bread is my body and His word causes it to be His body. God says: this wine is my blood that was shed for you for the wiping out of your sins, and His word causes it to be the blood that atoned for the sin of the whole world. His words says: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. And it causes what He promises to be. You, who have been baptized into Him, HIS word will not let you down. It will give you everlasting salvation.

So, when the preacher is bumming about the way things are going, and is worried, God reminds him: DUDE, YOU have the Word that I have put into your mouth. It will stand forever. And so when you give it to the people, you are giving them that by which they can live forevermore! Think of it. Every promise of God’s Word to you is an eternal promise. It will come true. Heaven and earth will pass away; but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

How wise our Lutheran forebears were at the time of the Reformation to make that be their sort of motto. VDMA. Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum. The Word of the Lord endures forever. And THAT my friends is worth crying out about. God’s Word is our great heritage and shall be ours forever. To spread its light from age to age shall be our chief endeavor. In life it guides our way. In death it is our stay. Grant, Lord, while worlds endure, we keep its teachings pure throughout all generations. 

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

15 December 2023

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

I remember when it was rule that we didn’t set up the Christmas tree (which was always a cedar) before your birthday, and I will never cease to marvel at your infinite patience in putting the icicles on so carefully, one per branch. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around it, but this coming January it will be 44 years since we saw you, heard your voice. So happy 103rd today in heaven!  Your great grandson (Sis’s grandson), by the way, is a dead-ringer for you! Miss you more with each passing year and can’t wait to see you once again.

11 December 2023

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

To the Hebrews, justice often signifies gentleness, lenience, permissiveness, which forgives something regarding their law.—Martin Chemnitz, Harmony of the Gospels I:147. [This in connection with Joseph not wishing to expose Mary to public disgrace when she was found to be with child and yet described as a just man.]

10 December 2023

Ah, just what the doctor ordered…

…a delightful evening with Klingers and VanUlfts at Klingers yesterday. And yes, the MEN won at pinochle (it is about time!!!). 

02 December 2023

For that perennial pesky problem…

…of helping the acolytes light the correct candle on which day in the Advent wreath, Pr. Ball has an ingenious solution. He literally turns the candles not to be lighted UPSIDE DOWN. Check it out: