Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

Monthly Archives: December 2014

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 460 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 8 trips to carry that many people.

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Feasting with God #6 – Laid in a Manger

Feasting with God #6

Laid in a Manger

Luke 2:1-7

1In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  3And all went to be registered, each to his own town.  4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 

Nativity scenes are common around this time of year.  Made of wood, ceramic, felt, or other materials, we place them on our mantles, on our coffee tables, or under our trees.  Sometimes we have people dressed as the various characters in the Nativity – three wise men bearing gifts, a few shepherds with staffs and stuffed sheep, perhaps an angel or two, and Mary and Joseph with a baby doll in a manger.  It is indeed a picture that says “Christmas” even better than a fat Santa Claus in a red suit.  But do we really understand the significance of this baby that was born and placed in a manger for his crib?

A manger is a feeding trough.  It would have been a soft bed for the Christ-child because of all the hay that rested inside it, but that hay was there for the stabled animals to eat.  Parents nowadays will usually go on a shopping spree to find just the right crib for their newborn – one that’s safe, soft, and built to last.  Mary and Joseph couldn’t find any good bed for this child.  Perhaps Joseph, as the carpenter that he was, had been working on a crib for Mary’s soon-to-be-born son, but that would not have been part of their packing for this trip to Bethlehem.  So they had to settle with what they had, and what they had was the feeding trough of barn animals.

More than anything this demonstrates the humility of God becoming man: not only did the Almighty lower himself so much to become a full human being, but he became one who was willing to sleep in the lowliest of places.  But this would only be a foreshadowing of the deep humility of his that was to come.  Jesus Christ was to live a complete human life, and in that time be hated by men, betrayed, arrested, tortured, and executed like a slave or a criminal.  He was to do all of this purely out of love for us, so that we could be saved by believing in him.

That humility could be seen beginning here, where he slept in a manger.  But there’s another way to look at that manger.  It was humble, yes, but it was also the greatest gift available for Mary and Joseph – and indeed for the animals in that stable – to give to their God made flesh.  What gifts are we really able to give to God, who already has everything?  He has given us salvation, and what do we give in response?  Only things as insignificant as a barn-animal’s feeding trough.  But because these gifts are given out of love, and out of thankfulness to that God who gave us everything, our gifts are in his eyes as glorious as feasts.

Dear Father in heaven, on this Christmas Day we remember and celebrate the birth of your Son who humbled himself to become a man, to live and to die for us.  Lead us to see what a great gift we have been given, and lead us to thank and praise you for it.  In that thankfulness, enable us to have truly giving hearts, hearts that give to one another, and especially give to you.  In your Son’s name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #5 – Bread from Heaven

Feasting with God #5

Bread from Heaven

Exodus 16:11-15

11And the Lord said to Moses, 12“I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel.  Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread.  Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”  13In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp.  14And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground.  15When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.  And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

“What is it?” asked the Israelites – in Hebrew this question would have sounded like, “Manna?”  Hence, from that time forward, Israel referred to this miraculous bread from heaven as “manna” (Ex. 16:31).  Its name is quite telling.  “What is it?”  It is unknown, incomprehensible, incredible, miraculous.  What else can we call it but “what-is-it”?

Of course, we do not currently receive this miraculous bread provided by God.  Nevertheless, we do receive our daily bread from him.  How easy isn’t it to fall into the same pattern that the Israelites did?  Their God had miraculously rescued them after inflicting Egypt with ten plagues, divided the waters of the Red Sea so that they could pass by on dry land, and led them in the form of a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.  But now Israel began to grumble: “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt!” (Ex. 16:3).  How often don’t we see the occasional pangs of hunger rather than the countless blessings we receive?  Do we know better than God?  We so often do exactly what Israel did, and instead of thank God for his blessings, we complain to him about what we don’t have.

But nevertheless God is merciful.  Even as Israel complained, God “heard the grumbling of the people of Israel,” and provided for them.  He does the same for us.  Even as we grumble and complain about the injustice of God for not giving us what we want, he continues to give us what we need to live.  And more than this, he has given us already the very thing we needed for our spiritual survival.  As the manna was sent down from heaven into the wilderness, so into the wilderness of this world where “there is none who does good, not even one” (Ps. 14:3) the true Bread of Life came down from heaven to feed our souls.  As the Israelites could daily go out and gather the food they needed to live out of God’s providence, so in his Son God gave us the one who said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).  We hunger in our bellies, but God fills us with even greater things than earthly bread, filling even our souls.

So we can continue to call upon God, and beg him to provide for us.  The Israelites complained out of the wickedness of their hearts, and yet God provided for them.  How much more won’t God provide for us when we cry out to him in faith, knowing that he can and will give us what we need?

O Lord, as we come to you often complaining and burdened by the wearisome things of this world, do not turn away from us in anger, but hear our complaints and provide for us, as you have done, and as we know you will continue to do.  Provide indeed our daily bread which we need to live in this life, but even more so, provide our spiritual nourishment, which you give us through faith in your Son, the true Manna from Heaven.  Through his name we pray in confidence.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #4 – Prepare a Feast for the Coming King

Feasting with God #4

Prepare a Feast for the Coming King

Luke 22:15-18

15And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  16For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”  17And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.  18For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

Last week we read about the institution of the Lord’s Supper, in which we are given the forgiveness of sins.  In Luke’s Gospel today we see another portion of that institution, when Jesus speaks with his disciples in what must have been a very sad tone.  He knows that this is the last time he will eat the Passover with his friends, and the last time he will drink wine with them, “until the kingdom of God comes.”

The day before Jesus died, he and his disciples were celebrating the Jewish festival of the Passover, which was a remembrance of the time in Egypt when God sent the angel of death to kill all the firstborn in that country, but those who spread the blood of a lamb according to God’s command on the doorposts were spared, and the angel “passed over” their houses (Ex. 12:1-51).  Now it would become connected to the fulfillment of the Passover, when the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, would cause eternal death to pass over all who believe in him.

But there is yet more.  This meal was to be a sort of good-bye party for Jesus.  His disciples were all gathered around, and although they refused to acknowledge it, they had heard Jesus tell them over and over that he was going to die very soon.  As with all good-bye parties, the loved ones gathered around are saddened at the separation to come, but look longingly and hopefully towards that time when they can be reunited.

This is what Jesus meant when he said, “From now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  He was telling his disciples what to look for, what to wait for – to wait for his return.  And the Church has waited and waited for two thousand years.

We still wait.  We do not wait with despair, but we wait because we hope, and because we know that Christ will do as he promised: he will return.  The anxiousness is almost too much to bear, so that we hope for him to come now, immediately, post-haste so that we can see him and be in joy and glory with him!  But we must be patient, for he will come in his appointed time.  In this patience, we prepare.

Rather than sit idly throughout these ages, we have things to do.  Jesus asked his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).  We have the task of telling others about him.  We have the task of worshiping together, of reading his Word, so that we can be strengthened and ready when he comes.  But we have also been given a gift to help us prepare.  This is the gift of that same Supper.  We eat this feast in the Church together as a preparation for the coming of the King.  As we partake of it now, we eat with the saints who have already gone before us into heaven, and we remember Jesus’ words that he will come again.  Eating this Supper, we look back at what Jesus has done to save us, but we also look ever forward at when he will come back.  It strengthens us and feeds us on our journey through life until we reach heaven, and when Christ comes, we all will have another, wondrous feast, a feast of glory, a feast fit for a king.

O Jesus, come in glory now, fulfill our expectation.  We hold our faith which you endow, through joy or tribulation.  We eat this very feast you gave, with your own blood that us did save, and praise you for salvation.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #3 – Forgiveness in the Meal

Feasting with God #3

“Forgiveness in the Meal”

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Matthew 26:26-28

26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

For almost two whole millennia people have been partaking of the blessed meal known variously as the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, and the Sacrament of the Altar.  This sacrament Martin Luther described as “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself, for us Christians to eat and drink” (Luther’s Small Catechism).  Yes, we eat bread and wine in this meal, but also, through a miraculous means that we cannot understand, also the body and blood of Christ.  We Lutherans are accustomed to saying that the body that we eat is the very body born of Mary, and that the blood that we drink is the very blood shed on the cross.

The Church has been mocked for its entire existence on account of this meal.  The Romans used to persecute those in the Church for being cannibals, for they heard that Christians would eat a baby in their secret worship meetings.  But despite the ridicule of centuries, Christians still eat the body of Christ and drink his blood.  Why?

Jesus’ own words give us the answer: “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  Forgiveness itself is given to us in this meal!  The blood of Christ, which justifies us – “we have been justified by his blood” (Rom. 5:9) – this very same blood is now given to us where we can see it, feel it, smell it, and taste it.  It is fed to us so that it becomes a part of us, nourishing our souls even as worldly food nourishes our bodies.

And notice as well that we did not take this blood.  Blood is taken by murderers and executioners, such as when Cain murdered Abel, and Abel’s blood was “crying to [God] from the ground” (Gen. 4:10).  Blood taken unjustly highlights the sin.  How many murder weapons haven’t been found with the blood still on them?  To be “caught red-handed” is to be found with the blood of your victim still on your hands.  But the blood of Jesus is different.  We already had blood on our hands.  Our sins stained us from the moment we were conceived, and like layers of grime only grew thicker and thicker as we continued through life.  We by nature are red-handed murderers, sinners and rebels to God.  Our very inmost thoughts are only selfishness and evil against him.

Jesus Christ’s blood became the universal solvent, cleaning that grime of sin away more quickly than the fastest-acting soap.  That blood and that body are given to us as a gift in this Supper of our Lord.  What a gift!  And certainly it is worth all the ridicule of the world.

Lord Jesus Christ, as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, let us remember your death and the shedding of that blood, by which you freely gave us the forgiveness of every one of our sins.  Help us to see that we daily sin much, and much need the forgiveness you give, so that we can learn better to put our full trust in you and in your promises.  As you promise to give us forgiveness in this holy meal, let us come to it with joy.  Continue to give to us your promised forgiveness.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.