The Infancy of Jesus – Pr. Faugstad homily
St. Luke 2:21 – Circumcision/Naming of Jesus (8 days from birth)
Prayer: O Lord God, for our sakes You made Your blessed Son, our Savior, subject to the law and caused Him to endure the circumcision of the flesh: Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit, that our hearts may be pure from all sinful desires and lusts; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn #158 – “The Ancient Law Departs”
St. Luke 2:22-38 – Presentation in Temple (40 days from birth)
Prayer: O God our heavenly Father, You have shown Your love toward us by sending Your only-begotten Son into the world, that all might have life through Him: We pray that You would speed forth these good tidings of great joy to every nation, that the people who sit in darkness may see the great Light and may come to worship Him who is called Wonderful, even our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hymn #151.1-4 – “Thou Light of Gentile Nations”
St. Matthew 2:1-12 – Wise Men Visit (about a year from birth)
Prayer: O God, by the leading of a star You manifested Your only-begotten Son to the Gentiles: Mercifully grant that we, who know You now by faith, may after this life enjoy the fullness of Your glorious Godhead; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn #120.1-4 – “Bright and Glorious Is the Sky”
St. Matthew 2:13-23 – Move to Egypt and Nazareth (first years of Jesus’ life)
Prayer: O Lord God, heavenly Father, You allowed Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, to become a stranger and a sojourner in Egypt for our sakes, and led Him safely home to His fatherland: Mercifully grant that we poor sinners, who are strangers and sojourners in this perilous world, may soon be called home to our true fatherland, the kingdom of heaven, where we shall live in eternal joy and glory; through the same, Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn #173.1-2, 5 – “The Star Proclaims the King Is Here”
In Christ Jesus, who “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phi. 2:7) in order to be our Savior, dear fellow redeemed:
When we hear about the infancy and early childhood of Jesus, there is nothing impressive about the way He is described. His skin did not glow with an inner light, and His face did not shine like the sun. Any of the local people who saw Him in Mary’s arms would have concluded that He was just another little boy.
This is such a great mystery. Because the Boy in Mary’s arms was the eternal Son of God! “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (Joh. 1:3). He was Mary’s God who gave her life, and yet now she had given birth to Him, the Christ-Child. He was willing to be fed by her and be rocked to sleep. She changed His diapers and kept Him from wandering off when He started using His toddler legs.
During His early years, Jesus doesn’t look like much of a Savior. In today’s readings, the emphasis is on what was done for Him. Jesus appears totally helpless, totally passive. Eight days from His birth, His skin was cut at His circumcision and He bled. Forty days from His birth, Joseph and Mary brought Him to the temple where Simeon took the Baby into his arms. Within the next year or so, the wise men knelt before Jesus and gave Him gifts. And then Joseph had to rush his family away from Bethlehem to escape the jealous rage of Herod.
But while Jesus appeared to be passive in all these events, He was fully engaged in them. All these things were happening according to the will of God the Father, and His Son was in perfect obedience to His will. Jesus was circumcised so that He would be bound to keep the Law of God to the smallest detail. He was presented in the temple to show that He was set apart for the Lord’s work. He drew the wise men by a star to Bethlehem to prove that He had come not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. He traveled to Egypt and then back to Nazareth in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Hos. 11:1, Isa. 11:1).
Everything in His early years had a purpose. All of it was focused on the salvation of sinners, even though His ultimate sacrifice on the cross would not come for some thirty years. He came in total humility, not making full use of His divine powers. This is why the knife cut into His flesh at His circumcision. This is why He remained silent while Simeon and Anna identified Him as the Messiah. This is why He did not show His glory to the wise men. This is why He relied on Joseph to lead the family to safety.
God’s Son humbled Himself, so we would be exalted. As the apostle Paul wrote: “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). Jesus put Himself under the Law to redeem us, to buy us back from eternal death. We have all sinned against the Law of God, breaking it in every way, and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
But because Jesus kept the Law perfectly for us, we are now counted as righteous before God. If Jesus had only been a perfect Man, His keeping of the Law could only count for Him. But He is also true God. That means when He kept the Law perfectly as a Man, it counted for all men. And we have received adoption as sons of God, because our Brother Jesus gave His life for ours on the cross. He paid the penalty for our sin. He endured His Father’s righteous wrath in our place.
That little Baby may not have looked like our Savior, but He was. Because of His perfect life and death for us, we know we enter this New Year with God’s favor. Jesus’ holy blood cleanses us from every sin, and His perfect righteousness covers us, so that no spot or blemish can be seen on us anymore. So with the hymnwriter we give thanks to Him and pray:
I am pure, in Thee believing,
From Thy store
Righteous robes receiving.
In my heart I will enfold Thee,
Let me there,
Loving, ever hold Thee. Amen.
(Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary #115, v. 14)
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
+ + +
(stained glass picture from St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto)
The Nativity of St. John the Baptizer (June 24)
Text: St. Luke 1:57-80
In Christ Jesus, whose success is our success, whose life is our life, whose victory is our victory, dear fellow redeemed:
When I was in high school, my English teacher gave us the assignment of writing down what we expected to be doing in ten or fifteen years. I do not remember exactly what I wrote, though I know my future plans included finding a wife and having a family. Like a typical high schooler, I’m sure I also hoped to have a good-paying job through which I could live comfortably and make a difference in the world. I never ruled out becoming a pastor, but that is not what I planned to do with my life. I would not have guessed that this is the purpose God was preparing me for from childhood on.
How about you? Has your life played out like you expected? Would you rather have the life you have now, or the one you dreamed of having as a child? If you are still young, how set are you on your plans for the future? Would you be disappointed if you don’t end up getting a job in the field you have trained for?
Some people are so eager to know their future that they even use questionable means to try to get this information. They might visit psychics or other “spiritualists” who claim to receive messages from another realm. Or they might trust their daily horoscope to give them answers that supposedly come from the stars. But believers in Christ do not need to use these methods. They know that the Lord holds their future and that He will turn even their bad experiences into something good (Rom. 8:28).
Still, you may wonder what plans God has for you. You don’t want to waste time and energy pursing things that are not part of His plan. If only all children born into the world came with a general indication of their future attached: “This child will be a farmer.” “This child will work for the government.” “This child will serve in the church.” “This child will be a business owner.” “This child will be a homemaker.” Even those general descriptions would help children to focus on those areas of work and study which would best fit their future occupations.
John the Baptizer had the benefit of something like this. When the Israelite priest Zechariah was serving in the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him. He said that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth would have a son even in their old age. They were to call him “John,” a name meaning, “The LORD is gracious.” The angel said that “he will be great before the Lord,” and “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Lk. 1:15-17). John would know that the LORD was calling him to do special work. He would be a prophet of the Lord like Elijah was, and he would prepare the way for the Messiah.
Then after his birth, his father, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” spoke another prophecy about his life. Zechariah declared, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins.” John had a clear knowledge of his purpose in life. He did not need to try different occupations to see what fit. God had determined what He should do. Trusting this plan, John “became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.”
John knew what he was supposed to do, but that didn’t take away all uncertainty. He was sent to prepare people for a Messiah that for a long time he could not identify himself. Later, when Jesus was revealed as that Messiah through baptism, John said, “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel” (Jn. 1:31). John also could not have guessed how quickly his work in the wilderness would come to an end. Yes, he had said about Jesus that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). But did John really expect to be put away in Herod’s prison just as the Messiah was being revealed to the world? Is this the future he imagined when he was specially called to be the LORD’s prophet?
Then due to a foolish promise made by Herod, John was beheaded (Jn. 6:21-28). His prominent and promising earthly life had suddenly ended when he was only about thirty years old. It seems so tragic. We imagine he would have accomplished many more great things through his bold preaching and humble example.
If John had been able to see exactly how his life would play out, do you think it would have changed anything? If he knew Jesus was the Messiah when they were adolescents or teenagers, would he have been tempted to reveal this information before the appointed time? If he knew he would be arrested and beheaded, would he have checked his criticism of the king?
It is better for the details of our life to be unknown to us until they take place. If we knew what was coming, we would feel like we were in control of our future. We would also try our utmost to alter or adjust the future that is revealed. There are many things in our lives that we wish had never happened. We wish we made better decisions in our younger years. We wish we had not entered into relationships that brought us pain and heartache. We wish we had spent our money more wisely. We wish we had not let one opportunity or another pass us by. We wish we had not lost people we love.
But God has not given us the ability to know the future or to change the past. What He calls us to do is to trust Him—to trust Him who knew us even before the world was made, who formed us in our mother’s womb, who called us out of the darkness of unbelief to the light of salvation by the power of His holy Word, who abides with us still, and who guides us all along the path to heaven. If our trust in Him were perfect, we would feel no discontent about our present situation. We would feel no guilt about the past and no fear about the future. We would know that the Lord sets everything right, and that He will not fail to work good out of even the most difficult situations.
But trusting in the Lord with all our heart (Pro. 3:5) seems too inadequate and risky. We want to have some control. We want to do things that are personally fulfilling, even if they are not exactly God-pleasing. In this way, the human will and human desire are elevated to the position of all authority. But why should your plan for your life be better than God’s plan for your life? How many times have you made a bad decision? How many times have you chosen the wrong path?
God has never done anything wrong. He has never made a bad decision. He is perfect. All His plans are right, and they are always geared toward your salvation. If you wonder whether God has a plan for your life, you need look no further than Jesus. Jesus is the irrefutable proof that your life has purpose and that God cares about you. No other conclusion can be reached than this one. Why else would the eternal, all-powerful God take on human flesh—your flesh? If the one and only God became a man, then mankind must matter—then you must matter.
And you do. God’s Son became Man to give you a future. He came to fulfill the holy law in your place and to pay the penalty for your sin. He came to set your life on a very different course than you were on by nature. By nature, you were destined to live a meaningless life and to spend eternity in hell. But in Christ, even the smallest details and movements of your life now have meaning. No matter how much you have deviated from the right path, no matter how often you have put your desires before God’s will, your Savior forgives you. He redeemed your soul through the shedding of His holy, precious blood.
It is not what you do with your life that counts for your salvation, but what Jesus did with His life. When you were baptized, you died to the world. You died to its plans. You died to its promises. At the same time, you were made alive in Christ. You were given His holiness and His victory. The Apostle Paul states that “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).
What Is Your Life’s Purpose? It is to remain in Christ by faith in Him. It is to gladly hear and learn His Word. It is to love your neighbor as Jesus loves. It is to serve as He serves. This is why John’s life had purpose and was tremendously important, even though it ended quickly. His life was not about him. It was about Jesus. John’s calling was to point to Him. With that accomplished, God called John’s soul to its heavenly home. His life was not a failure. It did not end too soon. He lived out the purpose God had given to him for as long as God had planned.
You are living out your purpose in life right now. You can serve God and your neighbor wherever you are and in whatever station He has given you. It may not be what you imagined when you were younger, but your life and purpose are not about you. They are about Jesus, who loves you with an undying love, and who will bring you when your days are ended to Himself.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
+ + +
(excerpt of “The Beheading of John the Baptist” by Puvis de Chavannes, c. 1869)