Epiphany 2012 – Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

06. January 2013
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew  2:1-12

I had an epiphany. The light bulb went on. New evidence was brought to light. I was enlightened. I was no longer in the dark. I can see clearly now. The festival season of Epiphany is about God shining His heavenly light into the darkness of this life. He opens our eyes to His eternal reality. We are enlightened by His Word through the Holy Spirit. We are given an epiphany. The light bulb (of God’s sort) goes on. We are given new eyes to perceive [the] insight into the mystery of Christ.

The child born of Mary on Christmas is now on Epiphany revealed as God in the flesh. God is not only for the Jew but for the Gentile. This mystery was not known to the sons of men but has now been revealed to you through the mouth of the holy prophets and apostles by the Spirit. We have seen His star as it rose upon us. The glory of God is revealed in the flesh of the son of Mary.

The prophecy from Isaiah today reminds us how radical Jesus’ incarnation and salvation is. We’ve heard about Jesus incarnate, crucified, risen, and ascended for the salvation of the whole world. Now that that problem is taken care of what next? Two thousand years can breed complacency. We can easily become bored with the Jesus of the Scriptures.  Jesus still is not what anyone expects. It takes a prophecy to overcome our natural inclinations for godly expectations.

Just like our fathers of old, we like to think of Christianity as private social club with Jesus as our team captain. You’ve got to be in-the-know and have the secret passcode. Oh, and don’t forget the necessary birthright. Others need not apply. But Isaiah calls this a darkness covering the earth and thick darkness the peoples. No one is enlightened, in-the-know, or extra special. All require this light of the LORD to arise upon them, for His glory to be seen.

And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Magi for the east come to Jerusalem looking for this light, following His star. Two thousand years of Gentiles have received this gift of Christ for their salvation. Two thousand years of outsiders being enlightened. God shines His divine lightbulb into their hearts. The star of God’s Word still leads those who sit in darkness into His glorious light.

Necessary to enlightenment is the banishment of darkness. The Magi had expectations but they were confused, muddled, in the shadows. Their expertise in stargazing led them to recognize that a new king was born to the Jews. “We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Where did they go to find Him but to the obvious Jerusalem, with palace and temple. The Spirit of Jesus had guided them to the right land but not to the right home.

They needed further light. They receive this enlightenment from the same place we do—the Scriptures. Even Herod and all Jerusalem need this lightbulb to go on. After Herod assembles all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. Where is the answer? Where is the Christ to be found? In Bethlehem of Judea (of course), for so it is written by the prophet. The prophet Micah prophesied the unexpected. Not Jerusalem but Bethlehem, a little town of insignificance (apart from being the town of David.)

By God’s Holy Word, the magi’s eyes are opened and they learn the true location of Christ. A simple light in the sky only led to them Jerusalem but God’s Word leads them to Christ’s home. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. The light in the heavens was a reflection of the true light, the child born of woman and begotten of God. To follow the light isn’t merely to set your life on a trajectory more or less toward heaven but to gather around Jesus. Lift up your eyes all around and see. Just as promised, Christ has gathered unto Himself a holy people illuminated by His rising.

To be a merely magi—full of wisdom and knowledge—is not the same as being a Christian. Magi are like every noble and virtuous person of ages past and years to come. They look good to their neighbor. They fit our expectations for how God wants us to live. They may even speak with helpful lessons for family, work, or self-improvement. They’re good Christian people. But something is still missing.

Do you have that empty feeling? Does it seem like no matter how hard you try you can’t find fulfillment in this life? Does it seem something is missing? Is there no joy in your work, your parenting, or your marriage? Is life mundane and without thrill and happiness? Is your worship lacking?

Learn from the magi. Seek the Light where He has promised to be found. Do not go to Jerusalem, the place of earthly glory and wisdom. The wisdom of this world is foolishness and can bring no true joy. You can’t find God by trying harder to follow a set of practical rules. You can’t find God in nature, in hard work, or in practical religion.

The magi looked to the star and it wasn’t enough. They went to the earthly king and were unfulfilled. But when Micah spoke “O Bethlehem” their eyes were opened. Only when Herod sent them to find this King did they receive Him as He wanted to be found. Not until the knelt face down before the infant King of the Universe did they find what they were looking for.

You can only find Christ in His Word. Lift up your eyes all around and see. A heavenly host has gathered together in this place at the feet of Jesus. To listen to Him. To receive Him. There is not fulfillment in empty words of the world. But when Jesus says, “I forgive you!” it is done. Earthly washings cannot remove the soil of sin. But when He washes with water and Word, sins are washed away forever. The unquenchable hunger and thirst for righteousness is never met by all our efforts, works, and virtuous living. But our Lord feeds us with food that makes us righteous in His own body and blood.

Gathered together here, prophets, apostles, magi, and you witness the glory of the Lord. In the most Holy Supper, the glory of the God is revealed. He has brought to light for everyone the plan of the mystery hidden for ages. Christ Jesus is the epiphany of true wisdom. We are all children of God, fellow heirs in the body of Christ. Christ is our king, our priest, and our salvation.

And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. The answer to the darkness is to gather to the light. God has accepted you—not by birthright, nor by wisdom and knowledge, but by grace in Jesus Christ. He has called you by His Holy Spirit and reveals Himself to you in Holy Gospel.

Then you [with Christ] shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult. Your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. Like the magi of old let us cling to the holy child and receive forgiveness and eternal life in him. The answer to this life’s emptiness, joylessness, and boredom is Jesus. Simple as Him. Follow the star. God to His house. Receive Him. Worship Him. Rejoice!

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

“Light Everlasting” – Christmas Eve – Isaiah 9:2-7


24. December 2012
Christmas Eve
Isaiah 9:2-7

The One whom prophets foretold has appeared. His infant face now shines upon us. He is the true Light who shines into our darkness. A heavy shadow hangs over His creation and He will not ignore it. His land is shrouded with suffocating dark and He will not let it be. Praise the One who breaks the darkness with His redeeming Light!

This darkness fell in Eden. Through one man’s rejection of God in His Word, death became reality. Haunted are the sons and daughters of Adam. Terrorized by evil. Tormented by guilt and shame. Weighted down by grief. Mortified by death. Only brief glimmers of daylight shine through the ever present storm clouds. Brief glimmers of God’s promise give us hope.

On this holy night 2000 years ago, a thick curtain of darkness hovered over a Bethlehem stable. A shunned mother with a seeming illegitimate son is sheltered with a reluctant surrogate father. No family will take them in. No light shines from on high. No midwives standing at the ready. Not even a proper birthing bed or cradle for the child. For this young woman and her infant son the world is broken. A tragic struggle for an unwed mother. The surrogate father will always be doubted. The son Himself will be considered nobody. Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Eyes of man cannot see reality through these unlit days. We see only darkness in our world, in our life, and in ourselves. But when gathered together in this sanctuary our eyes are truly opened. We are given hope. You are enlightened with eyes of faith, illuminated by the Word of Promise. Something about tonight calls even the most despairing out of the woodwork. Much like Easter, you know you won’t be let down by this holy night. Amongst readings and carols, Sacrament and candles, you know the central truth of the Christian faith will be proclaimed.

Jesus Christ our Savior has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. It is a Gospel night! In the midst of darkness, a light has burst forth. The heavens have opened and the glory of God appeared. The storm clouds break and the darkness scatters. The glory of God shines from a stable stall, from a lowly manger, from a virgin mother, from a small child named Jesus. Hope bursts onto the scene. The only-begotten Son of God took on flesh and was born of earthly mother. Born like us so that we like Him will never die.

Did anyone notice? It seemed just another dark chapter in the dismal history of man. Our LORD is born in utter humility. God was made creature amongst creation in Jesus. Living amongst animals, resting in a manger bed. We esteeemed Him not, said Isaiah. Such it began and such it continued. The boy caught an ear or two when He spoke in the temple. Some took notice of the carpenter’s son. Multitudes would gather to hear Him speak. Many would be fed by His miraculous feeding. Are you the one or should we wait for another? But when push came to shove nearly everyone scattered. Who stayed by Jesus until the bitter end but only the women and St John. The rest of the world rejected Christ at the cross just as they ignored Him in the manger.

Well, not quite everyone. From this lowly cattle shed began a new Israel. From a holy family is multiplied a holy nation. The message reaches shepherds in the field. Angels from the realms of glory shone with the brightness of Christ’s own light. Shepherds are given the sign of the Good Shepherd. First, Mary and Joseph worship their newborn King (and son). Then shepherds join them in holy adoration. Magi in twelve days greet Him from afar. Disciples and Apostles gather to Him. And when He sent His Spirit a great heavenly host joins angels and archangels in praising God. Christ establishes by His birth and resurrection a holy nation and priesthood, a church of His own body.

We remember tonight the beginning of the end. The darkness is defeated. You are redeemed. Your yoke of burden is broken. The staff of the command is cracked. The rod of the oppressor is shattered. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The King has come, infant lowly and nothing much to look at. But He is true heir of David whose kingdom will never end. He shines with everlasting light, banishing all gloom and sadness, and enlightening the hearts of all mankind.

Within these hallowed halls, Christ Jesus never ceases to shine. You know this would be true tonight. How could any Christian avoid the brilliance of Jesus? It’s pretty hard to wreck Christmas. All you have to do is sing a carol or two and the true light shines through. But did you know that we rejoice this way every week? Every week we sing “Glory to God on the highest!” Did you know that Christ conceived, born, suffered, died, risen, and ascended rules over this kingdom each week?

Our Lord sits here upon His throne, dispensing His own blood-bought righteousness for you, His holy subjects. In His holy church Christ governs the hearts of men with His holy Word. He establishes His holy habitation here and upholds it with His justice and righteousness. Sins are forgiven, life given, and salvation won. Darkness can no longer abide. The brilliance of Christ’s mercy banishes the darkness to the depths of hell.

While our lives still have darkness now, we know where to go for the true light. We know that while we remain here in the flesh the light only peeks through when Christ is heard and received. We are not without hope for we know and receive the true Light. We know where He dwells with us and us with Him.  Here heaven and earth kiss each other. We receive now in part and then will know fully. In the end darkness will scatter, sadness banished, and all sorrow cease. Only the Light of this infant babe will be everlasting. Of His peace there will be no end.

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Trinity 21
 2011 – John 4:46-54

16. October 2011
Trinity 21
John 4:46-54

St. John the Evangelist records three expressions of faith in the official nobleman of today’s Gospel. First, the official comes to Jesus after hearing “that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, and he went to Him and asked Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.” This is the first expression of the official’s faith by coming to Jesus for healing for his son.

Second, after Jesus tested him and received the good confession, the man demanded in yet stronger faith: Sir, come down before my child dies. Jesus spoke these words: “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. Once again, the man expressed his faith, this time hearing and trusting in the Word of Jesus.

Third, after recognizing the healing promised by Jesus at the seventh hour of 1 pm,  the official confessed all the more boldly what he had received. This time he himself believed, and all his household.

From these three expressions, we see how Jesus takes our weak faith that is barely a glowing ember and tends it by His Word of promise until it is a glowing flame, in order that the household and the world will see. It begins with simple faith: a belief that Jesus is the source of God’s gifts. Then Jesus will take the hungry heart of faith challenges it with trial and quickens it by the Word and Spirit. The believer who once sought only benefits in Jesus Christ now finds his every hope in Jesus. This living faith burns hot and bright until it cannot be contained and shines forth to household and neighbor.

This is precisely how God works, most evident in the precious Gospel. After hearing one sermon, likely second-hand, and witnessing one miracle at the wedding at Cana, the certain nobleman and official for King Herod seeks after Christ. Every earthly solution for his son’s sickness had availed him nothing. Now, he must act in faith. Having heard of Christ and his benefits and feeling need that cannot be met by the gifts of this world, he seeks after the bread of life come down from heaven. His faith is weak, for he demands that Jesus must “come down and heal his son.” We know such a demand of the Lord of the universe is utterly unnecessary. Like the centurion, we know that for Jesus, speak the Word only and my servant will be healed.

Therefore, Jesus knows this man’s faith is weak. But rather than stoke it with platitudes or a journey to this man’s house, He instead rebukes him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” No doubt, the man’s heart was set on miracles from Christ. But his faith needed suffering, a cross, to kindle it into a flame. Isaiah says, “A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). Surely such a rebuke would destroy this man and cause him to despair?

Our instinct is wrong. Jesus doesn’t want faith that weakly holds onto him as long as things go well. He wants a faith that is firmly grounded on Him and in His Word. He sends suffering, trials, and crosses your way not to snuff out the flickering flame but to cause it to burn bright. The Lutherans used to call this anfechtung. God sends trials our way, allows the devils to haunt us, and even permits Satan to torment us, just like Job.

This seems utterly stupid. God the Father is out of his mind. Or so it would seem, if not for Jesus. When the going gets rough, the rough get going… in faith in Christ. When you suffer under crosses that try your faith, run to the cross of Christ. When your lives seem beaten and broken, run to the one who was beaten and broken for you. When it seems your blood is being spilled all day long, run to the Divine Service, where Christ’s blood is poured out for you and in you. We have a reason to hope.

… Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

When the light of faith wanes, the Father applies a cross to us, to kindle it, brighter and brighter. We don’t need to look far to see that this is how God acts, whether in our own lives, the lives of this church, the lives of the apostles, or the lives of the patriarchs. When the faithfulness of God’s people wanes, he burdens them with trials, exile, destructing, and even great suffering and death.

By means of our crosses, He means to teach us about how dark reality is apart from Him. Our flesh and blood hates Him and and His Word. Our reason opposes faith in that which is not seen. Our heart is full of dark evil and malice. Our desires are for wickedness all the day long.

When we fail to trust in our LORD completely for redemption, when we fail to call upon Him in every trial and need, when we act as though we don’t need a gracious God in our worship, our work, or our play, that’s when we allow the darkness in. Our flesh wants it and loves the dark. Our loving Father even allows us to suffer it. He wants us to know the darkness, to despair of it, and to turn to Him (Ephesians 4:18).

Jesus is the light who shines into darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. He is the voice of creation, begotten of the Father from eternity, spoken to create life, the universe, and everything where there was once nothing (Genesis 1:1ff). Just as then, it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6).

Weakness of faith is nothing for Jesus. That’s why weak faith is no barrier to fellowship. St. Paul even stipulated that the church in Rome Receive one who is weak in the faith (Romans 14:1). Why? Because no one becomes a Christian, instantly burning bright. First, the witness and their need compels them to seek Christ where He is found. Then, He kindles this flame with His Word and trials. Faith must rely upon Jesus, even in the midst of the worst of times. Only then does faith give hope and hope give way to trust. Faith does not trust feelings or thoughts or even the eyes. Faith trusts the ears which receive the Word of salvation.

Those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death have seen a great light. The darkened vision of our lives and our future are a result of sin. Clarity comes from light and the light is Christ. Clarity comes by faith through the hearing of the WORD.

Consider the Word of the sacraments. In Holy Baptism., you see plain water but the Word attached to the water makes it a washing of rebirth in the Holy Spirit. In Holy Absolution, you see only a man dressed in silly robes but the Word of promise is that his voice declares forgiveness as from God himself. In the Holy Supper, you see mere bread and wine but the Word of Promise declares: This is my body… this is My blood… for the forgiveness of sins.

Our LORD keeps his promises. We have heard them. Our hope is in them. Our trust remains on Jesus until our dying day. Don’t let go of the promise and until you receive the blessing. It is true, the LORD visits His people with chastisement and discipline, crushing your ego and your will until you utterly despair of yourself. It is also true, the LORD visits His people with mercy and grace, founded in Jesus, testified in the Word, and believed in Holy Spirit-inspired faith.

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).

Build upon this foundation. Trust not your eyes but trust your ears. Diligently hear the Word, meditate upon it day and night, apply it to your daily life, and let it bring you the joy it promises. This light shines into even the darkest place, kindling your smoldering wick into a bright burning flame. The Word calls you to repentance and grants you faith, transforming you from death to life, from darkness to the brilliance of the Son of God.

Your sorrow has been turned into joy. The good work of faith has been given to you in Baptism, renewed in Absolution, and strengthened in the blessed Communion. Be like the nobleman, the official of Herod. Having heard the Word of Good News, confess with your mouth, believe both you and your household. Do not wait to feel the joy. Hear, know, believe, and trust that peace with God is once more made for you.

Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-4).

Persevere in God’s gracious promise, so that whether you live or die. Hold tight to him and never let go. God has justified you and will save you.Even when he sends trial, he will help you in every need, never leaving you or forsaking you, but stoking you still small flame until it burns bright in him.

Jesus said: You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

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

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana