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One Starry Night December 24, 2016

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Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2016


Focus:  God took on flesh, born of a virgin, to deliver mankind.

Function:  That the hearers worship their newborn King.

Structure: Dramatic Monologue.


One Starry Night


Welcome.  Thank you, thank you for taking the time to listen to me.  Thank you for hearing me out. I know you all don’t care for me.  I know you look down upon me because I’m not clean, I’m, I’m not well-kept.  I know being around me makes you uncomfortable.  You don’t like shepherds, I get it.  I really do.  But something happened last night that you simply must know.  So I thank you, I thank you for giving me this chance.

Last night, it was, it was just like any other night.  Samuel, Marcus, and I, we, we were just doing what we do.  Keeping the sheep.  Taking turns resting, waking, guarding the sheep, guiding the sheep, making sure the pastures were cared for.

As you well know, it was a peaceful evening.  It may have been crowded in town for the census.  But the fields were as quiet as ever, not even a cloud in the sky.  No storms in sight.  We had a perfect view of the stars dazzling in the night sky.  One of them was even more magnificent than anything any of us had ever seen.  But as I was laying there with one of the injured lambs in my arms, trying to sing it to sleep, the night sky lit up.  It was so bright, so alarming, it was like suddenly, out of nowhere, night had passed away, and it was day.

And I really, I don’t know how to tell you what the three of us saw next.  You already think me a fool.  But I must try.  It was the most terrifying thing any of us had ever seen.  It had the appearance of a man.  In some ways, he looked like you and like me.  But he wasn’t.  He had wings.  Large wings.  Six of them.  He used two to keep himself hovering just above us in the heavens, while he used the other four to partially cover himself.  It was almost like he was shielding us.  Like he knew we were afraid.  And, and for good reason, the very sight of him caused my bones to tremble.  Just as quickly as light lit up the sky, this man, this angel descended from heaven upon us.  Not one of us could even mutter a word.

But this angel wasted no time.  He had a message to deliver to us.  And he did.  I will never forget those words.  They’re seared into my very thoughts.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”


These words melted our hearts.  Just as quickly as we had been seized with fear, as soon as the angel spoke, the fear, it, it just melted away.  There was a sense of overwhelming calm.  We were at peace again.

And oh those words!  Why did the good Lord of heaven and earth choose to speak such words to us?  I mean, just look at me.  I’m worthless.  I’m, I’m an outcast.  Not even the least of you would consider hiring me to serve in your home.  And it’s not just that.  I don’t deserve any of this.  I’m wicked.  I haven’t kept the commands of God.  I haven’t been to the temple any time in recent memory.  I’m not offering sacrifices like I should be.  I’ve hated my brother, I’ve held grudges against all of you for how you’ve treated me.  I’m a sinner, a poor, miserable sinner.

And yet, this angel, this angel came to us.  And he gave us the greatest news we’ve ever heard.  It’s been so long.  Not one of us has even seen a prophet, but the priests and the scribes tell us about them.  They tell us about the promises of God.  How He loves His people.  How He plans to send a Savior to us.

And He did it.  We’ve heard nothing for generations.  Until last night.  The Savior of the world.  Our Messiah.  He’s here.  Just as Samuel said long ago, the Christ would come from David’s house.  Just as Micah said long ago, the Lord of Lords would come from Bethlehem.

The Christ, the one who will save us from sin and death and from this wretched fallen world.  He’s here!  I, I couldn’t believe the news.  As awestruck as we were when this angel had first appeared, even more so now.  Could it be?!  Could it be?!

But before we could even rise to our feet, there was another flash of light, blinding us.  When we looked back up, we no longer saw just one angel.  The heavens were filled with them.  Even if we’d had all night, we never could’ve counted them, it was like an army.  But instead of instruments of war, instead of killing us like we might have first believed, they began singing.

It was the most melodious sound.  The most beautiful song my ears have ever heard.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace

among those with whom he is pleased!”

Peace.  We definitely had peace last night.  It was as though there were no more troubles in all the world.  As though we needn’t worry about anything anymore.  And, and maybe that’s true.  If the Christ really is here, maybe indeed all is well with my soul.

Before, before we could even process everything we had just seen and heard, just as quickly as they’d arrived, they disappeared.  It was night again.  Still a beautiful night, with that bright star almost as though it was pointing the way to Bethlehem.  Almost like it was inviting us, inviting the world to come and see.

I quickly turned to Samuel and Marcus.  And I didn’t have to say anything.  You could see it on their faces.  This wasn’t a dream, I wasn’t just having some crazy dream.  I hadn’t fallen asleep on the job, I promise!  This had been real.  These angels had brought to each of us last night great peace, great joy.  We were so excited.

It was Marcus who broke the silence.  One of us would’ve eventually.  But it was Marcus who suggested it.

“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,

which the Lord has made known to us.”

That was one of those moments that you just knew to be right.  He didn’t have to ask.  We were going.  I gently laid the little lamb down by its mother, and we ran.  It wasn’t far, but we were so excited.  We were just so filled with wonder and amazement that we couldn’t wait.

It seemed like an eternity.  I know it wasn’t, I know it wasn’t far.  But this great gift was finally here.  The trip took forever.  But we arrived.  We arrived in your crowded city last night.  We arrived in the quiet, still of night.

And like I said about that star, it was like we were beckoned.  We didn’t need directions, we simply knew, somehow, we just knew where to go.  With haste, we found the home of Joseph’s relatives.  We found the baby and his parents just inside.

The home was crowded with all the extra guests, the animals were all inside to keep warm.  But right there, right in the manger in the floor where the cow would eat, right there on a fresh bed of hay, it was Him.  It is Him.  There’s no doubt about it.  This little boy is the Savior!  He’s the one, He’s the one we’ve been waiting for all these years!

The craziness, the madness of our sprint was over.  We made our way into the home, we greeted the parents.  Joseph’s love for his young bride is unquestionable.  He had the difficult task of moving her here to town while she was pregnant, and he cared for her every step of the way.  And even since they arrived a few weeks ago, he’s done for her whatever she and the baby needed.

And Mary, well, she’d just given birth.  She had that mother’s glow about her.  You’ve been there, you know the look I’m talking about.  But this joy on her face was like nothing we’d seen before.  It’s obvious that she and Joseph know who this child is.

But we asked any way.  We listened to them as they shared their story.  We listened as they spoke of being visited by angels, too, both of them.  And that the angel had told them that this baby would be the Son of God.  And he told them what to name this boy.  That He would be the Christ and that they should name Him Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins.

I’m just, I’m so excited.  Even now, even here.  I didn’t sleep at all today!  I just can’t.  Jesus is born.  Our King, our Savior has come for us.  Even me, the least of all people, He’s even come to save me.  Thank you for hearing me out.  Thank you for listening.  But there’s no need for me to speak anymore.  Go and see for yourself.  The Christ has come for you, too.





Born of Water and the Spirit May 31, 2015

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John 3:1-17

Trinity Sunday

May 31, 2015

An Updated Version from June 2-3, 2012

Focus: God gave His only Son and poured out His Spirit that we may believe, and that by believing we may live.

Function: That the hearers, by faith in Him, may see the kingdom of God.

Structure: Questions and answers.


Born of Water and the Spirit


The Apostle John is one of the few writers in Scripture who comes right out and tells us his purpose.  Near the end of his gospel, he tells us that these things “are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

John’s gospel is unique in many ways when compared to the other three.  We believe that John wrote sometime in the 80’s near the end of his life, some 50 years after Christ, and a couple of decades after our other gospel writers.  Because of this, he had the opportunity to focus a little differently than the others.  He starts his gospel by opposing Gnosticism, a pagan belief that was creeping its way into Christianity by that time.

But in our text today, we notice another difference.  John didn’t worry about the sacraments.  The other gospel writers tend to be quite clear when they talk about baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  But by this point, the sacraments are so ingrained into the life and practice of the church, John doesn’t have to focus on them.  He can make small references that his readers will pick up on.  For example, in his account of Jesus feeding the five thousand, Jesus tells them that He is “the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”

And in our text today, we’re going to talk about being “born of water and the Spirit.”  Baptism is a vital part of our life as Christians.  Here at St. John’s we are blessed with the number of baptisms we see each and every year.  And we will continue to be blessed with a couple more next weekend.

But when baptism becomes so common, we run the risk of forgetting its importance.  If we don’t stay focused, if we don’t really look at it from time to time, it becomes routine and gets lost in the shuffle.  So today, as John alludes to the importance of baptism, we refocus.

Just prior to this, Jesus had turned water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana.  He cleansed the temple that had become a marketplace.  And He enraged the Pharisees by claiming He could rebuild the temple in three days.  And as John put it, “many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing.”  But Jesus knew their hearts, He knew man.

And so we get a transition, to another man, another Pharisee.  We are introduced to Nicodemus, not just a Jew, not just a Pharisee, but one of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin.  But he’s also not like most of the Pharisees.  He’s starting to believe.  He comes to Jesus and calls Him “Rabbi.”  He admits that Jesus has come from God on account of the miracles he’s witnessed.

Rabbi is one of the many functions Christ had in His ministry.  You and I know all about the others.  But Nicodemus wasn’t quite there yet and so Jesus was fine playing along.  If you want to treat Me as a Rabbi, then I’ll be your Rabbi.  Rabbis teach, so, let Me teach you.

When you know what Rabbis do, Jesus no longer seems to be making some random comment.  Instead, what He says is meant to elicit a question, to bring about the thinking and learning process in Nicodemus.  It wasn’t the part about seeing the kingdom of God that caught Nicodemus’ attention.  It was the phrase “born again.”

Not knowing the gospel as we know it, he comes up with a logical thought.  How can an old man be born again?  If you know how birth works, you know it’s not possible to go back into the womb.  So that’s his question.  And it prompts a teaching moment; it allows Jesus to share the gospel.

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  It’s one of those moments where John points to a sacrament without actually saying it.

So let’s hash it out; what is baptism?  In this text alone, Jesus provides multiple details.  It’s water.  Water is by far the most common thing on this earth.  Something like 60% of our body, as well as 70% of the earth’s surface, is water.  According to health and diet experts, you should probably be drinking at least 64oz. of water a day.  You swim in it and sometimes it even falls on you from the sky.  Another function of water is that we use it regularly to stay clean, from showering to washing our hands.

All of these things correlate to why water is used in baptism.  It’s so common, there’s no excuse to not have any.  As we use it to clean, we can also see in our baptisms a sense of washing, or regeneration, that in our baptisms, our sins are forgiven, and in Christ we have become white as snow.  Martin Luther spoke of baptism as something we should remember daily and that we should daily drown the Old Adam within us, that sinful self.  Professor Kolb at the seminary always reminded his students that your daily time in the shower, as the water pours over you, is a perfect time to remember your baptism, and what it is that Christ has done for you in that water.

Baptism is also Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is strongly at work in baptism.  If the faith is not already present, the Spirit creates it.  If the faith is already present because the Spirit already created it, then the Spirit works in the baptism to strengthen that faith.  As we read last weekend, Jesus told us that it was both necessary and good that He depart from us; because in parting, He would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to us.  He has sent the Spirit to us, who has created faith in us and also sustains it.

The third part that Christ includes in this passage in John is the notion that baptism is necessary.  “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”  We see similar statements elsewhere in Scripture.  And this is precisely why we as Lutherans believe baptism is a sacrament.  We define sacraments as things that meet three criteria.  First, that it was commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ.  Second, that the forgiveness of sins, through Him, is offered.  And third, that it is connected to a visible element.  Thus we come to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

A common question from that: is baptism necessary?  Because Christ commanded it, we say yes.  But truly, it’s the wrong question.  The Ethiopian eunuch got the question right in the book of Acts.  “What prevents me from being baptized?”  If a person doesn’t have faith, the Spirit works through baptism to create it, to begin that new life.  But if they already have faith, baptism should be desired.  If you have faith in Christ, you want the gifts He has to give you, which most definitely includes baptism, faith, forgiveness, and life.

We learn other things about baptism elsewhere in Scripture.  Matthew 28 instructs us to baptize all nations and to do so in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Paul in Romans 6 teaches us that baptism connects us to Christ, that in our baptisms we are buried together with Him.  In baptism, we are bound to Christ’s death on the cross, thus also connected to Him in His resurrection, that we too will be raised and walk in a newness of life.

From passages such as these, we learn that baptism isn’t something we do, but rather something God does to us and for us.  It’s His work, not ours.  He creates and sustains faith through the outpouring of His Spirit.  And He forgives us of our sins through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.  So as we observe Trinity Sunday, we can see the entire Trinity is at work in our baptisms.

As we return for a moment to the text to wrap up, we see that Jesus calls Nicodemus “Israel’s teacher.”  There’s a connection there to Nicodemus calling Him “Rabbi.”  The one responsible for teaching the people needs to know what to teach.  So Jesus gives him another piece.  He tells him that “the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have everlasting life.”  He connects back to Old Testament history with Moses, and forward to Himself on the cross, to the gift of forgiveness that God offers to the world for any who are “born of water and the Spirit.”  And that most definitely includes you and me.  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”