Gospel of the Week – January 6th

Matthew 2:1-12 – The Visit of the Wise Men

And now we’ve reached the “A-HA!” moment of the season of Christmas. It’s the moment that Christ is revealed, not just to the Jews, but to all the nations! This is Epiphany! It is the “Second Christmas” of our Lord. For the Gentiles have now come to see the Christ and to worship Him.

The Magi, wise men from the east, have come across from distant lands following “His star” (v. 2). They meet up with Herod the king and ask where the child is. Herod, as one would expect, is upset that there is a child out there who would be considered a king, and could come to take his throne. For Herod, a wicked ruler, was ruthless and was determined to kill off any who would seek to take his power from him. So he attempted to trick the wise men into thinking he wanted to worship the child, and sent them off with instructions to find the baby and tell him where the child was. God, however, had other ideas, and after leading the wise men to Jesus, warned them to go home a different way.

You might ask, if Herod was such an evil man, why the Magi would go to him first? Surely, they had to know who he was. Someone would have let them in on what Herod was like. It is the gifts of the Magi that tell us so much. They brought with them gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These are the gifts worthy of a king, and one would expect to go to Herod the King to give the gifts.

But, Jesus wasn’t with the king. He wasn’t even in a palace. This was the same Jesus who was born in a dirty manger, in a cave, behind a hotel, in the middle of a nowhere town like Bethlehem. This was the king they came to see. You would imagine they would be surprised to find a poor carpenter, his wife, and child. After all, it’s just Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, a little family in a backwater town in Judea.

And yet they worshipped Him. They “fell down,” as verse 11 says, and presented Him and His mother with the finest of gifts. They came in faith to be in the presence of Jesus. It was faith that led them to follow the star, faith in the Word of God from verse 6 (taken from Micah 5:2), faith in the dream given them by the Lord to protect the Son. The Holy Spirit worked faith even in strangers from distant lands, who traveled to be with Jesus. Faith to find the King in a poor man’s house, and to worship Him.

The Spirit works faith in us, too. Faith that brings us to church on Sunday; faith that walks with us to the font and the rail; faith that puts us in presence of Christ in our Baptism and in the Holy Supper; faith in Christ, given by the Spirit through the Word. Galatians 3:26, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”

Come and worship the Christ. Live in faith like the Magi, and the words of the Venite in Matins:

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

Psalm 95:1-7

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Gospel of the Week – December 30

Luke 2:22-40 – Jesus Presented at the Temple

Jesus’ parents, being good Jews, proceeded to the temple after the appointed time of cleansing (Leviticus 12) to make a sacrifice. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are Jews, and, as such, are required to fulfill the Law of Moses, and have come to the temple to sacrifice two turtledoves.

It’s good to note here that the public life of Jesus begins with a sacrifice for His mother as required by Jewish law, to atone for sins and provide satisfaction. And His life ends with a sacrifice to remove the requirements of Jewish law and atone for all sins, including those of His mother.

Here at the temple, they meet Simeon, a fellow Jew and a righteous man, who has been awaiting the Messiah. When Jesus arrives, Simeon is filled with the Holy Spirit, takes Jesus into his arms and praised the Lord for what He had done for Simeon. For Simeon had met the “salvation” (v.30) for all people, both Jew and Gentile, to deliver all mankind. And then another Jew, this time Anna, a prophetess of the Lord, began praising the Lord as well, for God had brought to them “the redemption of Jerusalem” (v.38).

God uses many people to give thanks and praise for Jesus. He sends His Holy Spirit to those who are called to tell of Him who will redeem all men, and bring salvation. He even calls us to praise Him as well when we hold Jesus in our hands and our very mouths when we partake of the Holy Supper. That is why we sing the song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis (Latin for “Now dimiss”), after the distribution and dismissal at the communion rail.

O Lord, now let Your servant
Depart in heav’nly peace,
For I have seen the glory
Of Your redeeming grace;
A light to lead the Gentiles
Unto Your holy hill,
The glory of Your people,
Your chosen Israel.

All glory to the Father,
All glory to the Son,
All glory to the Spirit,
Forever Three in One;
For as in the beginning,
Is now, shall ever be,
God’s triune name resounding
Through all eternity.

LSB p.211

We sing with Simeon, two-thousand years later, because we share with him the presence of our Savior. We give thanks to God with Anna, because the redemption of Jerusalem has arrived and is with us. Advent is over, our preparations have ended, and the time of Christ is here!

Praise the Lord!

Gospel of the Week – December 23

Luke 1:39-45 – Mary Goes to See Elizabeth, and John and Jesus Meet for the First Time

Here we are, in Luke 1. Zechariah has gone mute because he doubted the words of the angel of the Lord, Elizabeth has been hiding out at home because she got pregnant at what Zechariah delicately describes as “advanced in years,” and now Mary has her own angel give her the good news that she is going to, despite her rampant virginity, bear the Son of God, the Christ, the Savior of the World. Needless to say, it’s been busy. All these adults running around, finding out that “Nothing will be impossible with God” in Luke 1:37.

So Mary goes to see Elizabeth, a close relative, with all haste because, frankly, this needs to be discussed. Imagine an angel of the Lord appears to your 70 year-old grandmother and your 13 year-old niece and tells them both that they’re pregnant, one with the greatest prophet to ever walk the Earth, and the other the Son of God Himself. Oh, and both women, one barren and the other a virgin, are having their first child. You can bet these women want to get together and talk this whole situation out.

As Mary approaches the house of Elizabeth, she calls out a greeting. Immediately, John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. Note here that John doesn’t shift, he doesn’t move slightly, Elizabeth doesn’t get a cramp that might be the baby; John leaps! And Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, gives it to Mary straight. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, has arrived in Elizabeth’s house!

Let’s note the importance of what is going on here. The Gospel lesson is not about two women getting together over tea to hash out the problems in their lives. They are not meeting up to knit a couple of pairs of socks for the babies-to-come. They only get out a word edge-wise, and the children, who are still unborn, are already part of the act. These unborn infants, which today we have come to call fetuses, are participating in the world, and have stories to tell. John proclaims the Gospel to his mother with his leaping. Elizabeth recognizes that the child growing in Mary is a person, and of the Most High Importance. These are not medical conditions that these women have. They bear blessings for all mankind. One is the preface and prophet to the Greatest Story Ever Told, and the other IS that Story. He, Christ Jesus, is All-Atoning Sacrifice for all humanity, come to bear our sins away on the cross. His mother, Mary, is proclaimed by the Holy Spirit through Elizabeth to be blessed, as she carries in her womb the Son of God. And we are the recipients of the blessing her womb bore.

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Remember that despise our needs, wants, or desires, life begins when God places it there.  He is the Giver of all life, the Planter of the seed which grows and blooms, and He is the One who shows time and again that we must respect the life He grants.  Amen.