Ephesians 1:3-14 / Christmas 2B / 4 January 2015

A joyous and blessed new year to all of you, and a happy 11th day of Christmas as we make our way with the wise men to Epiphany and then the Baptism of our Lord. By now many of you have packed away Christmas, I’m sure. Those nativity scenes with the baby Jesus have been safely wrapped up and put back in the garage or the attic until next year, though hopefully you haven’t done that with the Gospel of Christmas, the good news of the Word become flesh to save you. That remains when everything else is packed up and over.
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Luke 1:26-38 / Advent 4B / 21 December 2014

It’s beginning to look at least a little bit like Christmas around here. Some Christmasy decorations trickling in on this fourth and last Sunday of Advent. And our Gospel reading shifts from John the Baptist in the Judean wilderness to a young woman named Mary in the north country of Nazareth. Before there is going to be a birth to celebrate, there must be a conception nine months earlier. This is Jesus’ conception story, and it is filled with wonderful things.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.” Luke packs it all into the opening sentence – six wonderful things in two sentences.
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1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 / Advent Vespers 3 / 17 December 2014

The notion of an “end times” and “last days” is the cause of much anxiety, even among believers. Remember Harold Camping a couple of years ago, predicting the end of the world several times? It made the network news, and admit it, it probably caused you to wonder too, didn’t it? Hal Lindsey has made a cottage industry out of being wrong as his “Late, Great Planet Earth” goes into revision after revision. Only in the religion business can you make money by being wrong. People are alternately terrified and mesmerized by the eschatological and the apocalyptic. There are video games built around end times themes.
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John 1:6-8,19-28 / Advent 3B / 14 December 2014

Who are you? That’s the question posed to John by the delegation from Jerusalem, the religious priests and Levites who were sent to investigate this strange wilderness man. Who are you? Or perhaps the question is more aptly put, “Who do you think you are? Calling people to repentance. Baptizing all sorts of filthy sinners – prostitutes and tax agents and riff raff – as if they could take a bath and all would be forgiven. Who are you? Dressed in camel’s hair, eating locusts and wild honey. Calling us a ‘brood of vipers’ and daring to call good, respectable religious people to repentance. Who do you think you are, John?”
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2 Peter 3:13-14 / Advent Vespers 2 / 10 December 2014

Advent Vespers 2
2 Peter 3:13-14

2Pet. 3:13 But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

2Pet. 3:14 Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.

We are time-bound creatures. Time enslaved at times. We are creatures of the clock, chasing the clock through the day and into the night, always asking “What time is it?” anxiously wondering if we have enough time. Our lives are governed by time. We wake up at a certain time of day and go to sleep at a certain time. There are fixed times for meals, for a bath or shower, for most of the things we do in life. It seems we never have enough time.
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Mark 1:1-8 / Advent 2B / 7 December 2014

You know it’s Advent when John the Baptist appears on the scene. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” John is our Advent preacher, calling to us from the wilderness, calling us to the water of Baptism, pointing with that long, bony finger to Christ saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s all John is good for. That’s all he is there for. Preparing a royal highway of repentance. He is God’s bulldozer, leveling the high places and filling in the low ones, making the uneven ground level and the rough places plain.
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1 Cor. 1:3-9 / Advent Vespers 1 / 3 December 2015

1Cor. 1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1Cor. 1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Mark 11:1-10 / Advent 1B / 30 November 2014

It’s beginning to look a lot like Advent. Wow! Thanksgiving dinner is barely digested and it’s Advent this year. What happened? A late Thanksgiving conspired with a mid-week Christmas to bring an early start to the season of Advent, smack on November 30th, the feast of St. Andrew. Not quite on a day and hour no man knows, but certainly a bit earlier than we might otherwise expect. Prepare the royal highway, the King of kings is near. The royal purple paraments are out, a great color if ever there was one. The Advent wreath with its four countdown to Christmas candles is in place.

The traditional Gospel reading for the first Sunday in Advent is the triumphal entry of Jesus into the Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. That seems a bit out of place too. What does Holy Week have to do with Advent? And why are we hearing about Palm Sunday on the First Sunday in Advent?

The key lies in the word “advent,” from the Latin “adventus,” meaning arrival or coming of a dignitary. It’s the Latin word chosen to translate the Greek word “parousia” which usually refers to the coming of Christ in glory on the Last Day. And there’s your connection. The One who came in humility, riding atop a borrowed donkey, will one day soon make His advent on the clouds in great glory, power, and might. And in order to rightly understand that final advent in glory, we need to understand Jesus’ other advents, including His advent in humility.

A borrowed donkey is the main image of the reading. It didn’t belong to Jesus or to His disciples. It was just there. Like a car with the keys in the ignition. And Jesus tells His disciples to untie it and bring it to him. Just drive it off as if you owned it. And if anyone should ask, and who wouldn’t ask, especially if you were the owner of the donkey, they were to just say, “The Lord needs it.” And that was supposed to suffice. Don’t try this at home or in the parking lot of the Vons.

The amazing thing is that this apparently worked. Someone did challenge the disciples and asked them what on earth they were doing, and the disciples said, “The Lord needs it,” and everyone was fine with that. This tells me that there is much more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye, either the disciples’ or ours. The omniscient Lord of all knows that this is OK, and He seems to have hidden disciples lurking about in every corner of Jerusalem, including ones who own donkeys, all unbeknownst to His disciples, reminding each of us never to assume that God hasn’t shown up before we appeared on scene. Did they give the donkey back after the ride, I wonder? I assume they did.

A beggar King on a borrowed donkey. You’d think a horse would be more fitting for the occasion. Proper kings rode horses. Egyptian horses were the best. King Solomon loved to collect Egyptian horses almost as much as he loved collecting wives and concubines. But his father, King David, preferred the steady, stable ride of a donkey to that of a horse. Clearly Jesus is pushing the David buttons here.

The crowd of pro-Jesus supporters picks upon on it. “Hosanna! (Lord, save us!) Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” They recognized and hailed Jesus as the Davidic king who was to come, the promised Son of David who would establish David’s throne and kingdom forever. Their minds were fixed on things temporal – on liberation from Roman rule, on reestablishing the proper throne of David, on reviving the glory of Israel and bringing the kingdom of God to the earth with Jerusalem as the capital city and base of operations. But Jesus’ focus is not on things temporal but things eternal. Not a temporal kingdom on earth but an eternal kingdom that transcends all kingdoms of this earth. He was riding into Jerusalem to die and rise, and in dying and rising to conquer Sin and Death for the entire world.

He wasn’t the sort of King people were expecting, and His advent wasn’t the sort of coming they were looking for: A virgin mother. A manger. A child growing up in Nazareth. A King for a day riding into Jerusalem on a donkey he didn’t own. A cross. A tomb. Not the sort of stuff that kings are made of. Kings have crowns of gold not of thorns. Kings live in palaces and have places to lay their heads. Kings have thrones not crosses. Kings have armies that fight for them. This King comes from above to conquer from below. His victory is His own death and resurrection. He does the fighting and His subjects receive the blessing.

That’s all a matter of history. It happened two thousand years ago halfway around the world, at a time and in a place far removed from our own. It’s the foundation of what we believe, but it’s not how faith comes to us. The same Jesus who rode atop a borrowed donkey to make His advent in Jerusalem, makes His advent among us now by way of Word and sacrament. You might say it’s the same sort of advent. A hidden and humble one. He borrows our words to speak to us. He borrows our water to baptize us. He borrows our bread and wine to feed us His body and blood. “The Lord has need of them.” He humbly uses the stuff of this creation to bring us a taste of eternity, of something more, a foretaste of the feast to come.

This is Jesus’ second advent, in which He comes to us to make us His own, to baptize us into His own death and life, to feed us with His death and life, and so to give us a portion and share of what He won for all on the cross. Just like His first advent, this second advent is humble and rejectable. Jesus forces His presence on no one. You can reject it. You can close your ears to the Word preached to you. You can close your mouths to the Supper offered to you. You can live as though you weren’t baptized. That’s your old Adam, who wants to be king over all and subject to no one. That’s the “sinner” at work in you who wants a power king rather than a crucified one, a king who will solve your problems, do you favors on demand, make your life easy.

But Jesus didn’t come for that, and He doesn’t come for that now. He comes to forgive you. To cover your sin with His own sacrificial blood and righteousness. To justify you. He comes to free you from captivity to Sin and Death so that Sin will no longer have dominion over you and Death will not swallow you up. He comes in the power of His victory over Sin and Death, the power of His own Death and Resurrection, to break the chains that hold you down, to liberate you from fear and dread and terror of judgment, to show you God’s mercy and kindness.

That’s why He sneaks up on you through Word and sign. He doesn’t wish to frighten you off, but to meet you in the most creaturely and humble of ways. And what could be more humble than words spoken into ears, water splashed on heads, than bread and wine given into mouths? Is this any way for your Lord and God to come to you? Yes, it is! In the same way He once came by way of manger and borrowed donkey, He comes to you in borrowed words, water, bread and wine to hear your Hosanna cries and to save you now.

There is a third advent coming. Instead of a borrowed donkey it will be the clouds of heaven. Instead of hidden humility, it will be shining glory. Instead of a cross, there will be a throne. For your sin, there will be forgiveness. For your death, there will be life. For your loss, there will be gain and a kingdom inheritance that has no end.

And so it makes sense to hear of Palm Sunday on this first Advent Sunday. We are an advent people who celebrate the coming of our Savior – who came once in humility, who comes to us in hidden glory, who will come with the clouds on the Last Day.

Once He came in blessing,
All our sins redressing;
Came in likeness lowly,
Son of God most holy;
Bore the cross to save us;
Hope and freedom gave.

Now He gently leads us;
With Himself He feeds us,
Precious Food from heaven,
Pledge of peace here given,
Manna that will nourish
Souls that they may flourish.

Soon will come that hour
When with mighty power
Christ will come in splendor
And will judgment render,
With the faithful sharing
Joy beyond comparing.

In the Name of Jesus,

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

Mark 13:24-37 / Proper 28B / 25 November 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA

What has a beginning also has an ending. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The world as we know it has a beginning. And it also has an ending. As God worked the beginning, so He works the ending.

We’ve come to the end of the church’s calendar. The last Sunday of the church year. Next week a new beginning with Advent. Today a look at the end of all things from the words of Jesus. It’s the end of the world as we know it.
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End Times Birth Pangs

Mark 13:1-13 / Proper 27B / 18 November 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA

Natural disasters. Wars and rumors of wars. False religions. False messiahs. Persecutions. Oh, you thought I was talking about the newspaper this morning. And for all intents and purposes I could have been. But I was actually reviewing this morning Gospel text, the first part of Jesus’ “little apocalypse” from Mark chapter 13. And yet it sounds eerily like the headlines, doesn’t it? Hurricanes, earthquakes, war in the middle east. Hmmmm.
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