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Archives - December 2020

Until Tomorrow, Treasure Today

December 31, 2020
By Rev. David French

Both spiritually and liturgically, the season of Christmas is not over, not by a long shot. For the church Christmas is not a day, but a season, and this is very different than a secular or worldly celebration, for the world that looks so forward to such a lucrative time also easily and quickly disposes of this event which is so miraculous and majestic that it truly is beyond our understanding. For the church, for us, Christmas is that celebration of the moment of truth when God became flesh and dwelt among us. He became one of us. The very God of very God, the One who was begotten, not made, actually became a true human being. And not just any human being, He took on the form of a servant. And being one with us, our Savior has lived the full range of human experiences. He’s felt our sorrows and joys. He understands our fears and our weakness. But, He did not come just to be with us, He also came for us. He made His dwelling among us for a reason - that He might save us from the punishment our sins deserve.

But, there’s also the matter of a new year in about four hours. To be sure, the Church calendar doesn’t pay much attention to New Year’s Eve as the ringing in of a new year, but our society certainly does. And, there is that sense of new beginnings that always seems to give us a reason for hope. In some ways I suppose it would be kind of fun to take a peek into the new year—if that were possible—to see what God has in store for us and the Church and our world. On the other hand, to do that would only spoil the fun if the surprises should be pleasant ones. And, what if the year ahead is like this year, filled with turbulence? To know that before its time would only bring premature fear and feelings of futility, so perhaps it’s best that until tomorrow, we treasure today.

In our gospel lesson for this evening, we find dear old St. Simeon, righteous and devout, where he could always be found, in the temple praising God. But, this particular visit to the house of God was especially Spirit led, for he had been told that there he would stand face-to-face with the long-awaited Messiah. Part of Simeon was looking back to a whole host of yesterdays during which he and his people had longed for the day when they would be free from oppression and slavery. It had been a long, painful struggle to remain faithful to the promise of God that they would be delivered from their bondage.

Another part of Simeon was looking ahead to his own eternity. This was no morbid death wish for Simeon, not self-pity; he was not saying, “I have nothing more to live for,” but rather, “All that I’ve lived for, and hoped for, and waited for, has been accomplished!” God has kept His promise. What he had lived for and hoped for and waited for was to hold in his own hands the baby Jesus, the promised Messiah, the Savior of his people and the world. Having done that, he was able to say, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation.” Simeon’s peaceful exit from this world and entrance into the holy house of heaven would come when and as God willed, but until that time, he would rejoice in the moment. That is, until tomorrow he would treasure today.

When Simeon said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,” he was of course saying, “I have seen my Savior and I am ready to die.” Because of those words, we think of Simeon as an old man, but the same words could be spoken if he were young or had a terminal illness. For that matter, he could have been healthy. Certainly, we understand death comes to us all. Young or old, sick or healthy, rich or poor, death makes no distinction. For the Scriptures reveal that “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all have sinned.”

Like Simeon, we can also say, “I am ready to die in peace, not because I have done everything in life that I want to do, but because ‘my eyes, have also seen God’s salvation.’ ” Why do you think we sing these words after communion? Is it not because, like Simeon, we also hold the body and blood of Christ in our hands? Don’t we also see His promised for us fulfilled as we receive the forgiveness of our sins? Do you think that just because Simeon held a child, it was easier for him to believe? Is the mystery of God hidden in flesh easier to believe than God hidden in bread and wine? Just as it was the spirit of God who led Simeon to his confession, so it is the spirit of God who leads us to our confession.

Luke, near the beginning of his gospel, records this account of Simeon seeing his salvation. Later, near the end of his book, tells of two disciples of Jesus whose eyes were kept from seeing. On the afternoon of our Lord’s resurrection, the two were leaving Jerusalem in despair over Christ’s crucifixion. On their way, Jesus joined them, asking why they were so sad. They spoke of deep disappointment that this Jesus, in whom they had placed their trust, was dead. It was then that Jesus explained to them that the Christ had to suffer, die, and rise again. As they came to the end of the day’s journey, they invited Jesus to stay with them. And when Jesus had given thanks, He took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to them. And then, they recognized him. When he was gone, they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he spoke to us on the road?” You see, like those disciples, we also learn of our Savior through the preaching of the Word, and we hold our Savior in the Sacrament of the Altar where He gives us his very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins.

Since we can’t control or manipulate the year that awaits us, why worry about it or even anticipate what may or may not be? Instead, treasure today. Treasure the gifts with which God has surrounded you, for they are many. Treasure the time that God has entrusted to you, for it is precious. Treasure the people with whom God has placed you, for they are beloved. Treasure life, treasure faith, and treasure hope, all of which are yours this very day.

There’s a certain nostalgia related to New Year’s Eve; it is a wonderful time for reflection, for seeing once again how God has taken us by the hand throughout our lifetime. We think about the ages and stages of life and how quickly the years pass and what the future holds, but never forget, until tomorrow, treasure what is yours in Christ today

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Tags: Luke 2:25-40

A New Beginning

December 27, 2020
By Rev. David French

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And, well, you know the story of Genesis. Everything was good. Then everything went wrong. Man, wanting to be like God, rebelled against God. Man lost and has been hiding from God and trying to cover his shame ever since. The result of that one act of rebellion is that man, who was created to live eternally in the joys of paradise, would now toil throughout his life and then die. In the end, all of creation will simply die and pass away.

But, make no mistake. You and I, we’re not just innocent victims of that past event in the Garden. As you stand in the presence of the Lord on this day and you look at your own life, at your many acts of disobedience, you may not like it, but you know in your heart that you also have joined in the rebellion against God. Surely the words, “There is no one righteous, not even one” or “... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” ring as true in your ears as they do in mine.

All of humanity would be destined to eternally suffer the punishment our sins deserve were it not for the grace of God. We read in Titus 3, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

Over the years of teaching both young and old alike, I’ve been asked repeatedly, “Why didn’t God just wipe out Adam and Eve and start over?” Honestly, Christmas is the reason. You see, had God simply destroyed Adam and Eve, He would have destroyed all who would come from Adam and Eve, that is, all of us. But, with the birth of Christ, God put into motion a way to start over without just wiping us out. Instead of simply erasing our world and destroying us fallen creatures, God determined to redeem and to recreate us through his Son.

In the flesh of Jesus, God makes all things new. From the moment of His birth, the world changed, and all who believe in Him are no longer subject to the decay and death that are a part of the old creation. For with Christ’s death and resurrection, the curse of sin has been removed, and in Him, life and immortality are brought to light.

Just as on the first day, God said, “Let there be light.” On Christmas Day the true Light of the world was born. And so, even as this rebellious world continued on its path of destruction, the Son God was born in order to establish a new creation that will never pass away. God did this so that we, who are bound by sin and subject to the old order of things, might be set free from death’s grip and brought into the new and eternal covenant. God did that with the blood of His Son or the little Lamb Simone held in his arms. He who once was laid in a manger, He is the One in whom all things come together. He alone is the door we must pass through if we are to enter God’s kingdom.

So, how do we pass through that door? How are we made to be a part of His new creation? Again, remember the words of Paul writes to Titus, “God saved us by the washing of regeneration.” And while God is the source, that last word, regeneration, is the key to understanding the means God will use. In the Greek, the word for regeneration literally means “to genesis again” or “a new genesis.”

You see, through the waters of our baptism, we are “genesized” again, that is, we are created anew or recreated or reborn. Simply put, we are given new life in Christ. Even now, as we sit here wrapped in sinful flesh resisting His will for our lives, we share in the eternal blessings of the new creation that Christ daily brings to you. And so, just as Christmas is a Genesis event for the world, baptism is a Genesis event for you and me, for the Holy Spirit who hovered over the waters of the first creation is now in the waters of your baptism, working through the Word creating faith, forgiving sins, and grafting us into the very body of Christ.

In this present age between Christ’s first and second comings, the creation of Genesis and the creation of Christmas overlap. We can plainly see and feel that we live in a fallen world, and yet, in Christ, we also live in a world of grace and mercy, a world of repentance and forgiveness, a world of promise and hope as we wait for His return. For now, we are indeed a people who live in two worlds, but on the Last Day, the old order of things will melt away and the full glory of God that is in you will be revealed forever.

There’s a lot at stake with what we confess about this child because we’re talking about our eternity. And if getting to heaven was completely up to me, in all honesty, I would be very worried. But in Christ I don’t worry at all. Instead, I rejoice, for God has revealed that all of the work of salvation, the work of creating and recreating is His work and His alone. Scriptures are clear as we read, “he [that is, God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” And so, He alone is the source of our hope. It’s not our merits, but the merits of Christ by which we will be judged. It’s not that we rise to heaven on the wings of our holiness, but that the Son of God came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. Rejoice, because it is not your goodness that saves you, it is your God who saves you. He who comes to you will bring you to be with Him.

In the end, that new beginning that we all need really is all about our God whose mercies are new every morning. For God, who first created all things by His word; God, who in the fullness of time was conceived in the womb of Mary by that same Word; God, who loves you and gave Himself for you; He is the One who calls you by the gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies you, and keeps you in the one true faith.

We celebrate many things at this time of the year, but daily we live knowing that our God, who kept His promise to send a Savior for all mankind, is faithful. And He will also keep the promises He speaks to you in your baptism, the promise that in Him your sins are forgiven, and even now you are His precious child.

In His name, Amen.

Tags: Luke 2:22-32

The Jesus Tree

December 25, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our mediation on this blessed Christmas morn comes from our Gospel text, especially where John records, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

I would imagine that the first Christmas was a night like many others. Around the world, people were busy doing whatever it was that defined their lives at that moment. For some, it was struggling against hunger, fear, and desperation. For others, it was enjoying their wealth and ease. For yet others, it was simply dealing with the pressures of their lives. But for all, that first Christmas was just another night lived in darkness.

And it was a dark world, indeed. God had created the world to live in union with Him, to have life and light. But darkness came. Those created and loved by God rebelled against Him, bringing a darkness that permeated all creation. Death entered the creation through sin, and as the children of Adam filled the world, they took the darkness with them.

So it was that night in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. It was a world of darkness cut off from the source of all light, the Creator. Yet a light was breaking into the world. A young girl carried in her virgin womb a Son. This daughter of Eve would give birth to the One who would be the light of the world. This infant would reverse forever the horror of humanity’s fall into sin and death and darkness. This was the miracle of miracles: our human sister Mary became, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the mother of God, the bearer of the Savior of the world.

We all know this beautiful and true story, but it doesn’t sound like the one we heard in our Gospel text. Make no mistake – it’s the same story, but John takes a very different – and beautiful – approach … he starts at the beginning. He starts before the creation of the world and in the eternity before time was created.

In soaring rhetoric, the evangelist brings heavenly truth and majesty into human words and the heavenly Lord into human sight. The One of whom John writes is not only the subject of these words but the author of all things. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” This is a “great and mighty wonder”—the Creator, the Word of God, now joins Himself to His broken and hurting creation in order to redeem us all.

This was what God had promised from the beginning. From that cursed day in which human sin broke the perfection of Eden … through the patriarchs and prophets and kings … through a humble man named Jesse and the tree that would sprout through his son David, one golden thread unites it all. This day, this blessed Festival of the Nativity of Our Lord, this holy Christmas, we see the descendant of Jesse, the Virgin Mary, bringing into the world a baby who would forever change the universe.

The prophets of God had foretold Christmas. Yet those who read the prophets still did not understand or see the presence of the fulfillment of the prophetic word. John tells us, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” God does not choose visibly great and mighty people and things to work His great and mighty wonder. He chooses what is humble and hidden to human eyes … like a modest peasant girl, surrounded by scandal, giving birth in a stable. There, in those humble circumstances, was born the Babe. There was the golden thread, hidden in the tree of Jesse, into such a dark … dark world.

In that regard, not much has changed. Humanity continues living in a world defined not by life but by death. The sanctity of life is denied and mocked. Homicides and suicides have skyrocketed. Nation rises against nation as our warring madness reaches fever-pitch. Death is a darkness that permeates all of human history and, unless we are alive at the second coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords, it will permeate our own personal history as well.

It is into the grim reality of this fallen creation that John’s words ring out with a hope and certainty, defying the power of death. This Word of God, who created all things, also changes all things! “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Yes, it is a dark world. Yes, all of us have sinned and therefore we all deserve death – temporal and eternal. And yet, the Creator so loves us that He has taken the darkness and destroyed it with His own light. And where His light is, it is life that reigns, not death. That’s what we see in the Christmas narrative: the love of the Creator so perfect and complete, that He stepped into His now dark, cold creation, bringing the light of His salvation. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

No human eye could perceive it that night. All that could be seen was yet another helpless child. But this Child would forever destroy the darkness mankind wrought upon this world. He brought life into death, and His light was to be the light of the world. Every force of Satan would seek to snuff that light out. Herod would attempt to destroy Him by killing every male infant. Scribes and Pharisees would seek to silence Him as He spoke words of life. Failing to silence Him, they would seek to kill Him. Some thirty-three years after the first Christmas, the Babe of Bethlehem would be nailed to a cross. But this is what He had come to do. The Christmas story is about a baby … born to die—yet not just to die but to be placed in the utter darkness of a tomb and on Easter morning burst forth, resurrected and victorious! When the Child of Mary rose from the grave, the light that began at Bethlehem shone so brightly that none could extinguish it … and none ever will.

That light still shines in the darkness of our time and place … AND IT REMAINS the light that neither the world nor Satan can or will ever snuff out! It flashes the instant forgiveness of sins, first applied in the blessed flood of the baptismal font! It pulses and radiates as the Babe of Bethlehem gives you His own true body and blood for heavenly food! It shines on you this blessed Christmas morn, a light that continues to beam tomorrow and into the eternity He has prepared for you!

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

Tags: John 1:1-18

Unto You

December 24, 2020
By Rev. David French

The shepherds expected it to be a night like most others. They had gathered the sheep into their pens and were prepared for a long and boring night. Boring was actually a good thing though, because when there was excitement, it usually meant that a thief or a wolf had gotten into the pens and the sheep were in a panic, which, of course, was not good.

But, this would not be a night like most others, or any other; nor would it be boring, because the time had come and God was about to fulfill His promise to send a Savior. God does that a lot, bring good out of darkness, I mean. For example, creation was in complete darkness when God said, “Let there be light.” The children of Israel were locked inside their homes at night when the angel of death passed over the doors sprinkled with the blood of the Passover lamb. A night that lead to their exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. And before sunrise, while it was still dark, our Lord rose from the dead on the first Easter morning.

And now, on this night, when most of Bethlehem was asleep, an angel appears to the shepherds in their fields with the long-awaited announcement, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” That announcement and everything that followed is what we and Christians the world over celebrate this evening. We celebrate because Jesus, the promised Messiah, was delivered as a gift from God to you.

Christmas celebrations have varied a great deal throughout the ages and from place to place. For example, there’s the wide variety of Christmas hymns and carols used throughout the world that most of us have never even heard. In Western cultures, Christmas celebrations include parties and plays, church and school events, caroling and cards, lights and trees, candles, and gifts and big Christmas dinners as families gather together, just to name a few.

And, while we’ve been able to handle, in one way or another, the suggested restrictions for Christmas this year, we do that believing this is all temporary. But, what if we strike at the supposed heart of Christmas? What if we could no longer give or receive gifts? That is, what if there was no economic benefit to Christmas? I think we all know that, as far as the national celebration goes, take out the gifts and that would be the end of Christmas as many in our country know it. But, you’re here because you know that gifts don’t make Christmas any more than candles and cake make a birthday. You know that Christmas is all about Jesus, and He really is the only gift that matters.

And, while the angels were frightening to the shepherds, the message they brought was also very inviting. Everything they had been waiting for, from the time they could first remember, was happening in the City of David not far from their fields. So, while they may not have fully understood, they did have to go see for themselves this thing the Lord had told them. And so, they went to find their “Savior, who is Christ the Lord … wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

What God had promised to Adam and Eve, what He swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, what He kept repeating through the prophets again and again for centuries, had finally come to pass. “Christ the Lord (was) born.” That Christ should be born of a virgin is certainly part of the miracle, but that miracle began with His conception and continued in the womb of the virgin until the time came for Him to be born into the world.

But, it was, no doubt, the words of another angel that filled Joseph’s mind at that time, “You shall call his name Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins.” Did you notice the future tense in that verb “… for He will save his people”? That is the birth of Jesus itself is not what saves us. It was certainly God keeping His promise, but it wasn’t the final fulfillment of that promise. Jesus still had to grow from a child to a man. He still had to fulfill the prophecies of miracles and live a life without sin. He still had to teach about the kingdom of God and train His apostles all before He went to the cross to offer Himself as payment for the sin of the world, bringing to complete fulfillment God’s promise of salvation for mankind.

Our opening hymn asked the question, “What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?” And then answers, “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.” And then we sang, “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you,” reminding us, even on this holy night, what it means that Jesus humbled Himself in order to save us from what we continue to earn. After years of speaking the truth about God’s kingdom to His own, His own became so blinded by greed and hate that they handed Him over to be viciously tortured and finally nailed to a cross and left to die. But what they couldn’t see was that with His innocent blood, Jesus was paying the debt owed for sin by all of humanity.

And so this evening, all who by God’s grace and the working of the Holy Spirit believe His promise of forgiveness for Christ’s sake, receive through His Word and Sacrament that promised forgiveness. You see, your forgiveness was purchased by God, so it can be given by God to you as a gift. But, of all that the angels said that silent night, perhaps nothing is more important than the two simple words “unto you.” Because, honestly, who cares about a gift, even one from God if it’s not for you?

But you – you have been blessed. You know and believe that everything Jesus did, He did for you. His perfect obedience to the Law was for you, His innocent suffering and death were for you, and His glorious resurrection and ascension are for you. His promise to return to bring His children to be with Him in heaven is spoken to you. Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, this gift of a Savior is for you, and was given to you by name on the day of your baptism. It doesn’t matter who you are, I can assure you. Christ is the most precious gift you have ever been given. Remember, God said, “Unto [each and every one of] you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

He may not take away your illness or loneliness, or fill your stomach or your bank account, and there will be crosses to bear. But, God has promised that He will always be with you. The truth really is, as you continue on your earthly journey, there is only one thing needful for this life and the next, and that is the gift God has already given to you in a manger and for you on the cross ... that He might return you the Father who created you and still calls you His precious child.

And now, may God richly bless you and grant you a very merry Christmas.

In His holy name, Amen.

Tags: Luke 2:10-12

Not Your Ways

December 20, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

 

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our mediation on this fourth weekend/Sunday of Advent comes from our Old Testament text, especially where we hear God’s word to David through Nathan, “Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

David had plans. BIG plans. He was pretty pumped about a new passion project he wanted to undertake. He’d exclaimed to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” You can hear him say. “All that God has done for me … giving me rest from my enemies, allowing peace to predominate in this land He promised to give us (and did), blessing me with a luxurious house, made of fine materials … and His ark … is in a tent! It ain’t right! I need to do something about this!” Nathan is sympathetic to David’s thoughts, replying, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”

Well, he may have spoken prematurely. That very night, YHWH Elohim speaks to the prophet, bringing him a word to give to the king: he would not build a house for YHWH Elohim. He says, “Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’”

The plans David had … were no more. Was he disappointed in the moment YHWH’s words escaped Nathan’s lips? Who can say? But that was not the end of the message that the prophet was sent to relay. He continues YHWH’s message: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

David had plans … big plans … but they were not meant to be … because God had different plans. Bigger plans. David had wanted to build a house, a temple for YHWH his God, but instead, God would build for him a house, an everlasting kingdom, through a son yet to come. No, God wasn’t speaking of Solomon, the son of wisdom (and scandal) who would actually build a temple for YHWH Elohim in Jerusalem. It wasn’t Rehoboam, the man of blood, who warred with his northern brethren. It wasn’t even Hezekiah or Josiah, the few kings of Judah who followed after YHWH their God. No, the plans that YHWH had for David’s house started far earlier – mere moments after Adam and Eve’s fall into sin – and would be realized nearly a millennium later.

The house, the kingdom of God’s design didn’t have grandeur and opulence. It didn’t feature pillared columns or gold plating. It wasn’t all that inspiring, nor was it beloved by all who saw it. This house for David … a child born in his city of Bethlehem. He was unassuming enough – no fanfare to welcome this return of the king, only the various sounds of the barnyard. As He grew, it was obvious that He was special, but as a grown man, many despised Him. Many rejected Him. They hated Him enough to set wheels in motion that would lead to His lifeless body hanging upon a cross outside the city walls of royal Jerusalem. He may not have looked extravagant or resplendent as He gasped His final words, “It is finished,” but make no mistake: what we see in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is the majesty and divinity of God put on display, as He bleeds and dies to save you and me from the righteous wrath of God on account of our sins. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, the very Son of God, we see plans of God for David come to fruition … and it was infinitely more than David could have ever hoped for. Any temple or house built by David would have paled in comparison, whether it was made of cedars or diamonds.

The prophet Isaiah would relay the Word of YHWH a few centuries after David’s reign, writing, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” No, David didn’t get to build God a temple, a house of worship, and he may have been a little bummed out about that. You wouldn’t know it, though, from his response to Nathan’s relaying of YHWH’s word: “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant's house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God! … And now, O Lord God, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.”

God’s plans for David were far greater than the king could have ever imagined. Likewise, God’s plans for you are far greater than you could ever imagine. They may not be filled with gold and possessions. They may not be filled with pleasantries and easy-living. They may very well include pain and suffering, woe and want. But make no mistake: His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways, His plans are higher than our plans, because His plans revolve, first and foremost, around the salvation that Jesus won for you. That’s His plan, and it is much higher than anything we could imagine.

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

Jesus: The Son of Joseph

December 16, 2020
By Rev. David French

During the 2008 presidential election, fame fell on Joseph Wurzelbacher, or as he became known, “Joe the Plumber,” as a symbol of the common, ordinary citizen. He would be referenced in debates and stump speeches by the candidates who tried to appeal to the “average Joe.” For a brief moment, this plumber from Ohio became a household name that would slip back into obscurity after the election.

Every family tree has members who have been forgotten over time. After the third or fourth generation, their memory is gone. It’s only when someone begins the process of constructing the family tree that their names and places in the family history are recalled, but their lives are remembered by little more than the dash between two dates. For those who research their family genealogies, their computer files are mostly pages of names and descendants, not unlike what Matthew has constructed for us by introducing Jesus as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham.

One of the last names in that family tree is Joseph. While Mary is a key figure in the life and ministry of Jesus, Joseph is barely remembered. He is the ultimate “average Joe.” The evangelist Mark doesn’t refer to him at all. Outside of the birth accounts in Matthew and Luke, the only recorded mention of Joseph is when he and Mary took twelve-year-old Jesus to Jerusalem for Passover. When Jesus went missing, it’s not Joseph who scolds him, but Mary. Then it was Joseph who went missing, never to be heard from again.

Jesus is called the Son of David fifteen times throughout the Gospels. Some thirty times, Jews and Gentiles, clean and unclean, and even demons would call Jesus the Son of God. And the messianic title Jesus used of himself nearly eighty times was the Son of Man. But Jesus is only referred to as Joseph’s son or the carpenter’s son four times. When Luke references Joseph in his genealogy, he refers to Jesus as “the son (as was supposed) of Joseph” (3:23).

For Luke, Joseph is like one in so many other family trees, the relative who’s not exactly a relative and little more than a footnote scribbled off to the side in someone’s tattered family Bible. Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus, however, is different from that traditional scene. It has no shepherds and only one angel. There’s no innkeeper, no stable, no manger. There’s no burdensome journey to Bethlehem. Matthew actually focuses on the events leading to the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s perspective.

When Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant, and knowing that he’s not the father, he can only conclude that Mary has been unfaithful. Now, Joseph had the right, according to Old Testament law, to have her put to death for her sin. But Matthew tells us that Joseph was a righteous man, so while he didn’t want to publicly shame himself, he also didn’t want such punishment for Mary either. Instead, he decided to have the marriage dissolved quietly on account of her sin and then go his own way.

Joseph’s plan shows us why God in his infinite wisdom chose Joseph to raise his Son, Jesus: Joseph is a compassionate man who seeks to do the Lord’s will. Rather than lashing out at Mary in anger and vengeance, Joseph sought to show her mercy and compassion, while still being faithful to God and turning away from sin.

But an angel appeared to Joseph and told him that this child in Mary was not the result of sin, but of God’s grace. The angel told Joseph that he was to name the child Jesus because he would save his people from their sins. This had not been an ordinary conception, and this was no ordinary child. He would be given the name Jesus not as some testimony about the character of God, as was the case with so many Hebrew names, but because He was the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Messiah.

This name was not to symbolize the idea that Yahweh saves his people like at the Red Sea or in bringing them back from exile. This child would be the very heart of God’s plan of salvation, saving them from more than just oppression and suffering. He had come to be the Savior of all from sin and death. He was the Messiah, the Anointed One. This child would be the one who would rescue and redeem God’s people from death.

Without a word, Joseph simply did what the angel commanded him to do. He took Mary home as his wife and cared for her. And when she gave birth to a son, Joseph called him Jesus. It certainly wasn’t the kind of thing Joseph ever expected to hear. But God had a plan, and the angel revealed that perfect plan of salvation to Joseph, and Joseph believed.

Matthew doesn’t tell us how Joseph felt about what he was told. Matthew simply states that Joseph did exactly what the angel told him to do. He took Mary home as his wife, and when the child was born, he named him Jesus, no doubt with the words “He will save his people from their sins” filling his mind.

The angel of the Lord would appear to Joseph two more times. First, to tell him to take his family to Egypt to protect his adopted son from the murderous King Herod. Then, after Herod’s death, to return to Israel, and he once again settled in Nazareth. No objections. No debate. Not a word recorded. Joseph simply did what he was told to do.

Many of us have felt like Joseph. We’ve felt forgotten by people, or at the very least, like we don’t get the recognition we deserve. No one wants to be just an “average Joe.” We want to be remembered. We want to be someone who leaves his or her mark in the world. But the marks we ultimately leave on those around us are the stain of sin.

The truth is, hope and peace are not found in being remembered by future generations, but in being remembered by our merciful God who, in His infinite wisdom, sent His Son to pay for our sins. We can find solace in knowing that God put his name on us in the waters of Holy Baptism and He sealed us with the Holy Spirit as a deposit and guarantee of God’s promise - to remember us in His kingdom.

In His name. Amen.

Tags: Matthew 1:16

The Scallop Shell

December 13, 2020
By Rev. David French

A Seed was promised at the beginning of our salvation story. That Seed was preserved when God protected the life of Isaac, the promised son of Abraham and the bearer of the promise of the Seed of woman. Through the centuries, God had protected His wayward chosen line, from Jesse, the descendant of Abraham and Isaac, to David, the son of Jesse and the great king of Israel. The promise of the seed of woman continued to be the hope of Israel for generation after generation.

During their darkest days, when the promises of God seemed to be nothing more than a distant sound echoing to deaf ears, a daughter of Adam, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jesse, and of David brought forth a Son. This Son grew to be a man and lived among His creation. Not as a mighty king like David. Not in the palaces of the powerful. But as one who was from the backwater village of Nazareth, unknown, unacclaimed, unheralded.

On the Jesse Tree is a scallop shell, an ancient symbol of Holy Baptism. It reminds us not only of our baptism, but also of the One whose Baptism sanctifies our baptisms. John the Baptist was the last prophet who proclaimed the kingdom of God was coming into the world. And then, Jesus appeared on the bank of the Jordan River to be baptized … by John. As Jesus was baptized, the Spirit descended as a dove upon Him and a voice proclaimed Him to be not just Mary’s Son, but the very Son of God. Here at last was the Seed promised at the time sin came into the world.

Though He lived among His own, His own could not see who Jesus really was. For Israel, their present circumstance was a daily grim reminder of a much more glorious past. They remembered the days of David and Solomon when they were a mighty nation, united and powerful. But that was then. Now they were under the boot of the Roman Empire.

What they did not and could not see was who this man who came to the Jordan to be baptized really was. By all outward appearances, He was just another man, a commoner with less ranking than most, simply because He was from the little village of Nazareth. When Jesus called Philip to follow Him and Philip went to tell Nathanael about Jesus, Nathanael’s response sums up the social standing of Jesus of Nazareth: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Yet here He was, the Seed and Root of Jesse’s tree. Hidden from the human eye, but still standing right in front of them was One who gave purpose and life to the tree of Jesse.

The Lord God had raised up a prophet named John to prepare the way of the Christ through the preaching of repentance and baptism. The Jordan River which runs through the land of Palestine is a source of life in that region as its waters irrigated land and quenched the thirst of all. It was at this river that John stood and preached repentance, and in this river that he baptized all who came to him from “… the whole region f the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”

Then one day, Jesus comes to be baptized by John, who recognizes Him, and knows that he should be baptized by Him (Matthew 3:13–14). True, but as Jesus reminds John, it had to be this way “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). And Matthew continues, “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’” (Matthew 3:16–17).

Human life can feel like it just takes its toll on us. We may find ourselves longing for the “good old days,” but the truth is, those days were no different than today. Then, like now, people struggled to find meaning and hope for their lives. Society wrestled with morality and oppression. The Church struggled to find her voice and identity in the midst of an unbelieving world. You know the old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Yet, just as the Jordan was a source of life-giving water in Palestine, so also the Christ is the source of life-giving water in the Church. For even in her darkest days, the water and Word of the font have brought life to those who thirst for righteousness. Certainly (right there) ordinary water is applied by these all-too-human hands at the command of the One baptized in the Jordan. And just as the glory of Jesus was hidden in human flesh, so the glory of baptism is hidden in plain water.

And yet, about baptism God reveals through St. Paul: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). You see, true life comes from water sanctified by the One who is the life of Jesse’s tree. He is the life of the world!

When the horror and darkness of human sin came into the world, a promise was made by God—a promise of redemption and life while they were in the midst of death. As Abraham prepared to offer up his “son of promise” to the Lord, God Himself prepared a substitute. As generations passed, the promise of redemption was never rescinded. A promised Seed was carried by the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through Jesse and David to Mary, their daughter. And in Jesus, son of Mary and Son of God, our Redeemer came to heal His broken world. In the midst of death, He came as the true life and light of mankind.

His is the life that defines you and me in a world of death and sin. It is a life that comes from being reunited with our Creator. It is the life that nourishes the children of God as His Word is proclaimed. It is the life that comes to every altar in every place as the Church gathers to celebrate His Holy Supper with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. It is a life that has already defeated death.

As Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, our own baptism is made a sure and certain union with Christ in His death and resurrection. “For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:5). Through Jesse’s tree came the life of the world, and now that life comes to you and to me!

In His name, Amen

Jesus: The Son of Scancal

December 09, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

Shannon LaNier is a television news anchor in Houston, the seventh-largest television market in the United States. But he’s also known for being the fifth great-grandson of Madison Hemings, a son of scandal. Like so many family trees, LaNier’s family had a scandal in its past, and this scandal was a skeleton in the closet of one of our nation’s founding fathers.

On July 4, 1826, fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, its author, Thomas Jefferson, died after months of failing health. His contributions to the fledgling nation were many. Architecture, agriculture, law, and education were just a few of Jefferson’s diverse interests. He would bear the titles of governor, congressman, secretary of state, vice president, and eventually president. Both the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark’s expedition would happen during his administration. His gravestone only notes his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and his being the “father of the University of Virginia.” Thomas Jefferson was one of the founding fathers of our nation and left a legacy that remains to this day through the principles embedded within the Declaration of Independence.

But in recent years, Thomas Jefferson has also been remembered for scandal. After the death of his wife, Martha, Jefferson began a relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. Their relationship would yield four children who lived into adulthood, one of whom was Madison Hemings, Shannon LaNier’s forebear. All of Sally Hemings’s adult children were eventually freed by Jefferson, and the last two were only freed upon his death. The author of the most famous document defending freedom … for years kept enslaved those who were his own blood. In classic American form, Thomas Jefferson is the flawed hero, remembered for both his great accomplishments and this salacious scandal.

Jesus’s genealogy recorded in Matthew’s gospel account is very unique. How? New Testament scholar D. A. Carson writes, “Most Jewish genealogies did not include women. More important, the choice of these particular women, instead of such great matriarchs as Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah, proves Matthew was giving us something more than merely biological information.” These women … were surrounded with scandal.

Tamar’s husband had been killed by the Lord because of his evil ways. Judah did not keep his promise to Tamar to provide her another husband, so she disguised herself as a harlot and conceived twins with her own father-in-law, now a widower, Judah. One of those twins would be an ancestor of Christ. Rahab had been a prostitute in Jericho who kept the Israelite spies in safety as they surveyed the city before taking possession of the Promised Land. But Rahab would also become an ancestor of the Savior to come. Ruth was from Moab, a Gentile who became grafted into the messianic line. Even David’s illicit relationship with Bathsheba would lead to a second son, Solomon. … God chose these four women to be part of his Son’s lineage.

Now, it’s true, many family trees have scandalous individuals within their branches, but this genealogy given isn’t like any other family tree; it’s Holy Scripture. This is God’s special revelation about himself, his Son, and his plan of salvation. And yet, this family tree includes incest, prostitution, adultery, and murder! That doesn’t sound like a pedigree anyone would be proud of, and yet through His instrument Matthew, God intentionally includes these four women and their scandalous circumstances. What the world looks on and sees as scandal … was actually God at work in bringing about his perfect plan of the salvation of His people. They reveal that no one is beyond His grace.

We look upon such scandals with derision and revulsion – and rightly so, but lest we think ourselves above it, consider your own thoughts, words, and deeds, the things you think, say, and do for which you are ashamed. Our own actions have estranged us from God. We are all prodigal sons and daughters who have rejected our father. We have not hungered and thirsted for righteousness, filling ourselves instead with the temporary pleasures of what this world offers. We, too, were once enemies of Christ. Our gods were our stomachs, and we did not serve the true God but our own sinful appetites. We were no better than Judah or Tamar, Rahab or Ruth, or Bathsheba or David, for we share in their humanity and their sin.

But we received the Spirit of adoption as sons so that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. As St. Paul wrote to Titus, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared”—the goodness and loving kindness that caused Jesus to go to the cross—“he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” For what God the Father said of Jesus when Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan, he ultimately declares to all his children in the waters of holy baptism. Baptized into Jesus’s death, the Father also declares over you, “you are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

That’s right, by the grace of God, we have been adopted into this scandalous family, and invited to the great banquet. For we are the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind on account of our sin. But see what kind of love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are. Therefore, by his grace, God has even welcomed us to the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which has no end. At this family reunion, there are people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.

It’s a family reunion that includes liars, cheats, thieves, adulterers, murderers, and meddlers. Con artists and addicts. The arrogant and the ignorant. Hardheaded and hard-nosed. The greedy and needy. All kinds of people with all their warts and bruises and scandals and skeletons and other things from their pasts. We are all one family in Christ, united through Jesus’s death and resurrection as we look forward to this blessed reunion in heaven with those who have gone before us. This is the inheritance to which we can look forward. It is never earned, but only given by the grace of God.

Studying family genealogy can be a fascinating and emotional endeavor for people. But learning about Jesus’s tree is not just a moving experience; it is life! We have been adopted into this family and made heirs of the glorious inheritance that is eternal life. Jesus’s family tree is ours, and it is in the shape of a cross upon which God Himself died for his family. During this Advent season, what a blessing it is to remember that, like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, we scandalous sinners are all part of this family by God’s grace.

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

Tags: Matthew 1

The Ram in the Thicket

December 06, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our mediation on this second Sunday of Advent comes from our Old Testament text where we hear, “And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Modern genetics can tell you a lot about who your ancestors were. A few years ago, the remains of a fifteenth-century English king, Richard III, were discovered under a parking lot. How did archaeologists confirm the identity of the bones? By comparing the DNA in the bones to the DNA of a known twenty-first-century descendant of Richard III’s brother! Hidden to the eye is the link that extends from generation to generation. But it is there.

In the Garden of Eden, as man and woman fell into sin, their Creator had immediately promised that One who was the “Seed” of the woman would defeat the serpent. Through the generations, God had preserved the human race, and the world was populated. Generations later, a man by the name of Abram was called by God from the idolatry of humanity to a relationship with Him. And then God made a promise—to Abram, now to be called Abraham, and to his wife, Sarah, would be born a son.

The challenging part of God’s promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah was that they were long past the age for bearing children. Though married for years, Sarah had never conceived a child. The very idea of having a son at their age would be … well, impossible. Yes, impossible—except for one thing. It was not man, but God who made the promise, and with Him, nothing is impossible.

This promised son was to be named Isaac. But more important than his name was his role in God’s redemption of all humanity. Isaac was to be the bearer of a seed and the father of nations. From Isaac would come Jacob. From Jacob would come Judah. From Judah would come Jesse. From Jesse would come David. And from David would come Mary. And, miracle of miracles, from Mary, the virgin mother, would come the Christ, the Seed promised to our first parents at the fall. Impossible? Not with God.

It is hard to imagine what Abraham must have felt as he heard the promise of the Lord, who gave him Isaac. Oh, the joy he and Sarah must have experienced when their son, Isaac, was born! Surely, like any parents, they invested much of themselves in this son of promise as he grew from infancy to childhood. This promised son must have been the center of their world.

Thus, we can only imagine what must have gone through Abraham’s head at the beginning of our text as he hears this same Lord, YHWH Elohim, tell him, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” How could this be?! The child of promise … to be killed at the behest of the God who miraculously created him?! It certainly sounds like more than any parent could bear, but in an amazing act of obedience, Abraham prepared to fulfill this demand. He prepared the wood, the fire, and the knife. And there was his son, Isaac, the son of promise, bound on the altar and wood. In Abraham’s hand was the knife as he prepared to kill his son.

That is, until God stopped him and said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” Imagine that scene! The hopes and dreams, the promise of Satan’s defeat and the forgiveness of sins, the future, was bound on that wooden altar, a second away from being sacrificed. Had the deed been done, the future would have appeared dark, bleak, horrifying … except for one thing.

Abraham, as the writer to the Hebrews would express it, “considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Abraham could not see the future, but he trusted the Lord, who held the future, and knew that with God, all things were possible.

God’s promises can never fail. Abraham knew that, as do we—though we do have the benefit of knowing what happens to and through this son of promise, Isaac. He lives, and though he fails and fails over and over, he still fulfills God’s purpose. The generations of Isaac’s descendants continue through the centuries. The promised Seed remains in the line God had chosen to bear a Savior, not just for that family, but for all the children of Adam. Abraham rejoiced when his son was born. He rejoiced when his son was spared. And, he rejoiced at the promise of a Son yet to come.

And we rejoice also in the promised Seed, who, as the angel would declare, we call by the name Jesus. He is the Seed promised. He is the Root from which Jesse’s tree grows. He is the reconciler of the past, the redeemer of the present, the hope of the future.

In Isaac was a Seed, and we know that Seed in human form in the virgin-born Son of God. There is the very Lamb of God. When Isaac was spared from Abraham’s knife, the Lord provided a sacrifice in Isaac’s place—a ram caught in a thicket. So He provides a substitute for you and for me and for all humanity—Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. One sacrifice for all time and all people. One death in place of our deaths. One tomb in place of our tombs. And one resurrection by which we, too, shall be raised on the Last Day. One Baptism that we share. One Supper where He brings life, forgiveness, and peace. Hope, joy, and certainty—it is all in Jesus.

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

Jesus: The Son of Abraham

December 02, 2020
By Rev. David French

People who research their ancestry often hope to discover that they’re related to some well-known historical figure. In general, genealogical searches are fueled by a curiosity, to see how far back into history you can go. Jesus’s family history in Matthew goes back some two thousand years to Abraham. Not only is Jesus a descendant of King David, but his line goes straight back to Father Abraham. It’s the kind of genealogy that would thrill the most casual observer, two thousand years, that would take us back to the birth of Christ!

The tracing of Jesus’s lineage back to Abraham would certainly be a great source of pride for any Jew of Jesus’s day. It was from that lineage that they had long ago received the land in which they were living. But for those who believed, it wasn’t the land but Jesus who was the Christ who mattered. And Matthew traces His genealogy back to Abraham just to make that point.

God’s plan to make Abraham the father of many nations seemed ridiculous. The Lord God called Abram from the land of Haran and told him to go to a new land where he would make him into a great nation. In fact, God goes so far as to tell Abram that all families of the earth would be blessed through him. Then, God promised Abram that Sarai would give birth to a son and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. And this when Abram was old and Sarai was considered barren.

All the evidence indicated that this would not be possible. But then all things are possible with God. Abram believed God’s promise, and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness. From Abraham would come Isaac, then Esau and Jacob, and then his descendants would continue to grow in number all the way to the child born to Joseph and Mary, fulfilling God’s promise to the patriarch Abraham.

Most people who spend time researching their ancestry are disappointed to find there’s no one particularly famous in their family tree at all. Their ancestors were all common, ordinary people. The same can be said for Jesus. Abraham was actually nothing special. He repeatedly would claim Sarah was his sister rather than stand up to defend her honor. He failed to honor their marriage and instead had a child outside of God’s plan, an unsurprisingly common discovery in family trees. The father of many nations also passed on to his descendants a legacy of lies and lust, deceit and adultery. Father Abraham really was no one special. He was just another sinner who would pass on to those who would come from his seed a heritage of hard hearts and sinful deeds.

In Jesus’s day, there were definitely those who found security in the fact that they were descendants of Abraham and felt that was the source of special standing before God. Those who claimed to be the offspring of Abraham were certain that they would never be the slaves of anyone, yet failed to see how they had been enslaved by their own sin. It wasn’t that the promise of God would fail them, but that the descendants of Abraham had failed by rejecting both the promise and the Promised One of God.

We also are indeed children of Abraham because we also cannot be saved by our lineage, our obedience, or our good deeds. Like Abraham, we’ve failed again and again, fallen into the same sins repeatedly, and, like the Pharisees, we’ve trusted in our family or our status as a Christian. The only difference between Abraham and the Pharisees was faith. They were all sinners, but Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:21). Abraham is therefore a lesson in humility for all of us. We do not place our hope and trust in a birthright, but in the One who was born for us.

God looked upon Abram and Sarai and their need, and, in love, he promised them a son. God looked upon the need of all his beloved children, and his solution, was to promise His Son. The promise that God made to Abraham is fulfilled each time a child is marked with the sign of the cross on the forehead and heart and baptized into the name of the triune God. It’s also fulfilled when the promises of God are proclaimed and the Holy Spirit works saving faith in the hearts of unbelievers. For all the promises of God find their yes in Jesus.

During World War II in England between 1940 and 1941, the most frightening sound you could hear was the air raid siren. The constant threat of the sirens over those months led to dread every evening as the sun would set. It was during that time that Rev. Eric Milner-White, understanding the fear that gripped the people, wrote a prayer befitting their uncertainty. He wrote, “Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.” These words describe the uncertain path that Abraham walked as he headed toward a new, unseen land that God had promised. Walking by faith and not by sight he went forward, trusting that God was leading him and with His love supporting him.

This year, more than usual, we also find ourselves living with anxiety over our uncertain future. But, take heart. God, for the sake of Jesus, daily forgives us for the fears and doubts we hide. His Holy Spirit, the sanctifier, mercifully keeps us in the one true faith, even when all around us are things that could drive us to despair. But we are also looking forward to a better land, the Father’s land, our heavenly home. For now, we meet each day encouraged by the promise of God, as we now walk by faith and not by sight, looking forward to the fulfillment of that promised land that lies before us and will welcome us at the resurrection of all flesh on that last and glorious day when Christ returns.

In His name, Amen.

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