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|BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz|
Dec 18, 2016 SERMON ARCHIVE
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.
Today is the Fourth Sunday in Advent, that season in which the Church's attention is focused on the coming of her Lord. Today's Gospel reports the fulfillment of "what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
We begin in the name of Jesus, Amen. Dear Christian friends,
On April 9, 1945, Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged to death because of his crimes against the Nazi state in Germany. Yet hanging was not punishment enough, as far as Bonhoeffer's jailers were concerned. The jailers added humiliation and derision to the death sentence. Before he left his cell in the chilly shade of dawn, the jailers ordered Bonhoeffer to remove all of his clothing, parading him fully naked to the scaffold.
Along similar lines, have you ever had one of those disturbing dreams in which you appeared in a public place, such as school or church, wearing no clothing? If you have, you are not alone. The experts say those dreams are very common.
Maybe such dreams reflect our secret feelings of insecurity or inadequacy, or a fear that other people will find out what kind of person I really am. Maybe people who have such dreams are just too self-conscious for their own good.
Then again, maybe the fear of being found naked is a primal fear imbedded in our common ancestry. After all, our first parents Adam and Eve likewise felt exposed and afraid when they saw the first fruit of their rebellion against God:
The eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
No matter what our licentious and promiscuous society may say to he contrary, nakedness is a curse and we all intuitively know it. Nakedness evokes deep feelings of defenselessness, feelings of exposure and humiliation, feelings of disgrace and shame. Even more so, Adam and Eve declare that nakedness also reveals our fear of a well-deserved judgment by God: "the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Yet what does St. Paul say to us? "All of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:27, NIV).
In Baptism, God concealed your sin and your shame by giving you clothing, just as He clothed Adam and Eve in animal skins after their fall into sin (Genesis 3:21). In Baptism, God came to you and covered over your exposed estate in much the same way that Noah's older sons took a garment and "covered the nakedness of their father" (Genesis 9:23) after the old man had fallen into a drunken stupor.
In Baptism, God re-clothed you and restored you to the high place from whence you had fallen, just as the prodigal's father placed upon his returning son "the best robe" (Luke 15:22) in the house, covering over his son's dirt and regret.
God uses His miraculous gift of Baptism to hide you from all accusation and exposure and derision in the same way that Boaz covered Ruth with his own blanket (Ruth 3), protecting her from the leering eyes and the accusing tongues of his hired men.
In Baptism, God speaks individually to you the same words He once spoke through His prophet Isaiah: I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waters roar-and I have. covered you in the shadow of My hand (Isaiah 51:15-16).
"All of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:27, NIV). These words open the door for you to see how today's Gospel is such a beautiful and beneficial Gospel for Baptism. "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)."
Actually, this is a good Baptism Gospel for two reasons: first, this Gospel illustrates the miraculous way your Christ came to you in Baptism; second, this Gospel tells you in clear and simple terms the sort of Christ you are now wearing in Baptism.
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son." Yet such a conception is totally impossible. Mary herself had earlier wondered, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34) The angel's answer to Mary spoke neither of "natural descent nor of human decision or a husband's will" (John 1:13). The angel's answer to Mary spoke of the miraculous power of God working through His Word:
The angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy-the Son of God. nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:25-27).
There you have the divine power of Baptism, dear saints: "Nothing will be impossible with God." Your Baptism into Christ is NO LESS A MIRACLE than the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Virgin Mary's womb. The same powerful Word and promise that enabled "the virgin [to] conceive and bear a son" is the same Word and promise that clothed you with Christ. As it was with St. Mary, so it was and so it is with you: Through NO agency of your own and by NO exercise of your will, Christ came to you by the power of His Word when you were baptized.
"They shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)." Mark these words well, repeating them to your children and writing them on the walls of your houses. "Immanuel. means God with us."
Immanuel does NOT mean "God was once with us," as if He came for a visit and then went away again. Immanuel does NOT mean "God shall be with us again," as if you must wait out your lonely days in God's absence, pining for His return.
"Immanuel. means God with us," right here, right now, continually and eternally. You are wearing Jesus Christ now, and Jesus Christ remains "the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), firmly and baptismally in place upon you "yesterday and today and forever."
So much for being found naked. So much for those feelings of defenselessness and exposure, humiliation and shame, that haunt your dreams. Fear of your nakedness may indeed reflect your ancient guilt before God and your self-consciousness over who you really are.
But, "All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:27, NIV).
In Baptism, Christ became your personal Immanuel and my personal Immanuel-our God with us, each one of us individually. Your Lord Jesus Christ not only dwells within you (Galatians 2:20), but He also lives on you. He covers your nakedness with Himself so that you are now totally free from all accusation and all guilt and all humiliation. Stated another way, your Lord Jesus Christ forgives you all your sins by wrapping Himself around you and hiding your sins beneath His own perfect body.
It is popular among many Christians to refer to Jesus as the greatest Christmas gift you could ever be given. I think that is an understatement. But I also think it is impossible for you fully to comprehend, much less articulate, the endless benefits the miracle of Baptism delivers to you each day.
A mountain of sermons, Bible studies and books would still not get the job done. You probably could spend the rest of your days gaping at God's gift of Baptism, only to become certain again and again that the water in the baptismal font simply runs too deep for you.
A full understanding of Baptism will only happen with a full understanding of the Christmas glory of the Incarnation, when God became flesh. Yet even if you spend the rest of your days on this one topic, it would be time very well spent.
To focus your attention on Baptism is to focus your attention on Jesus. It is written concerning Him, "He shall save His people from their sins." To this, St. Peter has added, "Baptism. now saves you" (1 Peter 3:21).
Christ is Risen. AMEN
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