The First Sunday after Epiphany – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 2:41-52
In Christ Jesus, the Son of Mary, who was manifested as the Son of God by His holy words and deeds, dear fellow redeemed:
If you have ever been left behind somewhere accidentally, you probably remember the feeling. If you have ever lost track of a child, you definitely remember the feeling. First looking where you expect to find him, then widening the search, then becoming more frantic until your child is finally located. We can imagine how Mary and Joseph were feeling when Jesus was not where they expected Him to be. How would small-town Jesus do by Himself in big-city Jerusalem?
While they were searching frantically for Jesus, He was not troubled in the least. He was twelve years old, the age of a seventh grader. This is a time of transition when a child begins to think and act more independently. It is clear that Joseph and Mary allowed Jesus some independence, since they were not concerned to set off for home without knowing exactly where He was. But Jesus was not with the travel group; He was in the temple.
He was hardly noticed as He made His way up the temple steps. Nobody in the temple knew the significance of this Boy. They did not perceive that He was God in the flesh. In Old Testament times, God entered His temple in a cloud of fire. Now He came in humility, His eternal glory hidden, “the whole fullness of deity” dwelling in His twelve-year-old body (Col. 2:9).
If you have ever seen the show, “Undercover Boss,” that is something like the irony of this moment. Jesus quietly took His seat before the temple teachers. They were some of the best and brightest teachers of the Law. But these experts had no idea that the LORD Himself was in their midst. They soon learned that there was something different about this Boy. He showed a depth of understanding they were not used to hearing from students of this age or perhaps any age.
Jesus respectfully asked them questions, and they responded with some questions of their own. “[A]ll who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” They wondered where this Boy got His remarkable knowledge. They probably wanted to know His background: “What did you say Your name was? Where are You from? You say the family trade is carpentry?” It was astonishing that Jesus could come from such humble circumstances and display such understanding.
Jesus sat among the teachers for three days. During that time, Mary and Joseph were retracing their steps to Jerusalem before they eventually found Jesus in the temple. Now His mother had a question for Him: “Son, why have You treated us so?” We can certainly understand the question. If your child decided to spend a couple days at a friend’s house without telling you, you would probably use more pointed words than Mary when you finally found him or her.
But Jesus did not hang His head in shame. He replied calmly with two questions of His own: “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” These are the first words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels. They show that even at age twelve, He was focused on the work He had come to do. He had to be in His Father’s house. He was there to do His Father’s bidding.
The season of Epiphany is about the revealing of Jesus as God’s Son. That’s what “epiphany” means: a revealing or a manifesting. We heard last weekend how Jesus was revealed as the Messiah to the wise men. Next weekend, we will hear how He manifested His divine power by changing water into wine. We know these accounts well, but we cannot fully understand the mystery of God becoming Man. Nor do we fully appreciate what it means for life in this world.
When we are faced with the questions and concerns of the present, like questions about our health, our government, and our society, it is easy to forget that God has become one with us. Unbelievers do not know this. They do not know the Christ and what He has done. It’s no wonder they become so invested in scientific endeavors, political movements, and power plays. These worldly initiatives are their religion, and government officials and other prominent people are their gods.
We need to resist those currents. We do not stand on the eroding sand of human opinions. We stand on the solid rock of Jesus and His Word. The world of men thought it knew what power was. The world thought it was wise. But all of that was exposed as flimsiness and foolishness when the Creator God entered His world as a Man. We cannot make ourselves God, but God made Himself Man.
Who can stand against this God? He said about Himself, “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deu. 32:39). The so-called powerful people of the world would be “shaking in their boots” if they realized what they were up against. “[T]he nations rage and the peoples plot in vain,” says the psalmist; they try to take the glory that belongs to God alone. But “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psa. 2:1-6). God’s Son rules as King over heaven and earth.
But where is the evidence of His rule? Some can’t understand why He allowed the current president to be elected. Others can’t understand why He is letting the new president take office. In all the chaos of today, it can seem like Jesus is missing or that He really isn’t powerful. Can’t He see our troubles? Can’t He see that we are suffering? We start to sound like Mary: “Lord, why have You treated us so? Behold, we have been searching for You in great distress.”
All these anxious cares show that we have our minds set on earthly things and not on “things that are above” (Col. 3:2). Have we forgotten what God’s Son has done? Have we forgotten that He performed countless miracles—even raising people from the dead—while living a perfectly pure life on earth? Have we forgotten that He accepted the punishment for all sin and died on the cross in our place? Have we forgotten that He rose again from the dead just as He predicted? Have we forgotten that our future is inseparably tied to His because we have been buried and raised with Him in Baptism?
When we cry out: “We have been searching for You in great distress!” He says, “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” In other words He says, “You are guilty of looking for Me in the wrong places and not where I have told you to look.” If we think we will find Him in a perfect government on earth or in perfect success or in a life of constant pleasure and happiness, we will not find Him. He will remain hidden from us.
But if we look for Him in His Holy Word and His Holy Sacraments, we will find Him. We will find Him ready to forgive our sins, help us in our afflictions, comfort us in our sorrows, and strengthen us in our trials. Through the means of grace, Jesus is constantly doing the work His Father sent Him to do, the work of bringing us His blessings.
God sent His Son into the world to save the world. That doesn’t mean His Son came to reform the world or improve it or make everything fair and peaceful for everyone who lives on it. God sent His Son to save sinners from the eternal punishment they deserve. By His innocent suffering and death, Jesus did the work to redeem all people. And now He fights to keep believers in the faith and bring others to faith.
Our King is not hiding or missing. He is seated at the right hand of the Father ruling over all things. Nothing is hidden from His view and nothing is beyond His power. He is able to put all our questions to rest, either by answering them or by teaching us to live without the answers. Nothing is hidden from Him, but some things are hidden from us. We do not know what our future holds. We might want to know, but we don’t need to know.
What we do need to know is that no matter what changes around us, His mercy and love toward us will not change. That gives us the confidence to go about our daily tasks with joy and diligence. We are not searching in anguish for some earthly power to save us and make our lives better. Jesus is our Lord who won the victory over sin, death, and devil. And we are His people.
As His people, we abide by His Word and serve according to His direction. We love the family and friends He has given us. We go about our work honestly and faithfully. We care about the needs of our neighbor. Our good efforts may go unnoticed. They may be hidden from most everyone and lost to history. But we are not in it for our glory.
Our eternal glory is already secure in Christ. He fulfilled God’s Holy Law for us, including perfect obedience to His parents and all other authorities. He submitted Himself to the temple teachers and to His imperfect parents, so that we could stand righteous before God.
We have sinned in many ways against our parents, teachers, and other authorities, such as the government officials the Lord in His wisdom has established. But whatever our Fourth Commandment sins may be, Jesus atoned for every single one by His death. And He applies the perfect keeping of the Law to all who trust in Him.
We have many questions about what may happen to us here on earth. But we have no questions about what God has given us in Christ. All the questions that really matter—the questions about our eternal future—are answered by the gracious work of Jesus to save us.
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.
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(picture from “Jesus Among the Doctors” by James Tissot, 1836-1902)
The Fourth Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. John 1:19-28
In Christ Jesus, who freely gives us everything we need for this life and for the life to come, dear fellow redeemed:
The internet gives anyone the ability to connect with a worldwide audience. There are many stories about people who went from total unknowns to walking the red carpet, because they found something to do that others wanted to follow. Imagine if that happened to you. Let’s say you shared something online, maybe a joke or a creative idea or good advice. You thought your friends would appreciate it, but you didn’t expect it to go any further than that. Then others you had never met started reacting to it and sharing it. Before long it had been shared 100 times, then 1,000 times, then 10,000.
How would that make you feel? After getting past the shock, you might start to think about how you could produce more of the same. Receiving such praise would be quite an emotional high, quite an encouragement. It’s nice to be liked. It’s nice to have others validate that there is something special about you, and that you have got a lot to offer. But there are pitfalls here, pitfalls like pride and arrogance. You know what it’s like when an acquaintance or friend gets a little taste of success and then acts like you don’t exist anymore. But when they come back down to earth, then they want to talk to you again.
It’s hard to know how we would react to sudden fame. We hope that we would come away looking like John the Baptizer does in today’s text. John’s star had risen quickly. Once he started preaching his bold message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mat. 3:2), the people started gathering. The crowd got bigger and bigger until the evangelist Matthew could report that “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mat. 3:5-6).
How many baptisms did John do? Do you suppose he kept count? His ministry in the wilderness was so popular that even the religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, came to the Jordan River to be baptized (v. 7). That would be enough to go to anyone’s head. John could look around the crowd and see people hanging on his every word. There were the religious leaders deep in thought. There were the armor-clad soldiers with their heads bowed, listening intently. There were the rich and famous nodding approvingly. There were the young ladies batting their eyelashes and flashing warm smiles.
“Oh, what a great preacher I am! Everyone wants to be connected to me!” Is that what John thought? We cannot say what John was thinking. He was a sinner, so it’s hard to imagine that no pride entered his heart. But what he said was all humility. Today’s text shows us the exchange between John and a group of priests and Levites from Jerusalem. These religious leaders came with a simple enough question for John: “Who are you?” But behind the question was the suggestion that he might be the Christ. Probably many in the crowd were wondering the same thing.
Just think what an opportunity this could have been for John. If he let the people imagine he was the Christ, he could have asked anything from them: money, privileges, power. He could have had them eating out of his hand. Instead he confessed: “I am not the Christ.” Well then, was he Elijah come from heaven, that great Old Testament prophet? “I am not,” he said. Was he the Prophet whose coming was foretold by Moses? “No,” he answered.
Claiming any of those titles would have increased his popularity among the people. But John resisted this temptation. “I am nothing,” he said. “I am nothing but a voice.” “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” When Jesus was revealed as the Messiah and some of John’s disciples left him to follow Jesus, John was not jealous. He knew his purpose was to prepare the way for the Savior. It was not to be in the spotlight. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Joh. 3:30), said John.
To leave no room for misunderstanding, the Gospel writer emphatically underscores John’s faithful testimony about Jesus. He wrote that John “confessed, and did not deny, but confessed.” Now often we think of confession in terms of “going to confession,” or admitting our sins. But the word in the Greek language is more general. It means “to speak the same word” or “to speak in agreement.” When we confess our sins, we speak in agreement with what God’s law says about our sinful condition and our wrongs. When we confess the truth, we speak in agreement with what God has promised and fulfilled.
John confessed the truth about himself and about the Savior. “I am not the Christ,” he said. “[B]ut among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” “If you think I’m special,” said John, “wait till you see the coming One! I’m not even worthy to touch His feet and loosen the strap on His sandal!”
John could not properly confess Christ without also confessing something about himself. He could not point out Christ’s holiness without admitting his own unworthiness. He could not shine the light on Jesus without stepping back in the shadows. To make himself out to be more would have been to steal glory from the incarnate Son of God.
But what John did does not come naturally to us. It does not come naturally to deflect praise away from ourselves. We like the spotlight on us, especially when we have accomplished something impressive. We like to be recognized for our good deeds and honored for our success. We like to hear people say, “We could never get along without you!” “You make everything better!” “Nobody could do as well as you have!” “We need more people like you!”
Now it certainly isn’t wrong to be recognized for doing good things. It is important for parents and teachers and employers to build up and congratulate those under their authority. And if you are on the receiving end of praise, it is appropriate to receive it graciously and be grateful for it. But the devil is waiting in the wings. When you are praised, he wants you to think that you are just getting what you deserve. You earned it. You are so very talented. You really are better than others. “Soak it up!” he says. “Command the stage! This is your moment! Pat yourself on your back and give yourself a round of applause!”
That’s the temptation: to take the glory for yourself that belongs to God alone. After all, who is it that gave you your body and soul, eyes, ears and all your members, your reason and all your senses, and still preserves them (Third Article)? Every good thing you possess and every good thing you are able to do can be traced back to God’s work for you, in you, and through you. That’s why John said he was only a “voice.” Even the words that he spoke were God’s words and not his own.
This is why we must “confess, and not deny, but confess,” that we are nothing on our own. Apart from God, we can produce nothing that matters, nothing that will last. Even those who think they have “made it” in this life eventually realize that their fame or power or riches are only temporary. Soon they are going to die, and then they will be forgotten.
Jesus came to save you from all that emptiness and hopelessness. He came to free you from the pressure of having to prove that you are valuable, that your life has a purpose. He came to free you from the burden of a million missed opportunities, a life of regret for not making it big. He came to free you from the temptation of trampling others to try to get to the top.
Everything that you have failed to be, Jesus is for you. He is your goodness. He is your success. He is your life of perfect decisions and no regrets. You are not worthy to loosen His sandal strap, and yet He came down to earth to serve you. He came to atone for your sins of arrogance and pride, for your failure to give Him the glory and the praise for all the good you have and do.
His love for you brought Him down to earth. Sometimes like John, He drew big crowds, but that isn’t why He came. He did not care about earthly popularity. He cared about your soul and the soul of every sinner. He came to offer Himself in your place. He came to endure God’s wrath for your sin and suffer the torments of hell, so you wouldn’t have to. He came to win your forgiveness and eternal life.
Jesus’ greatness was in His sacrifice. His glory was in His humility. We honor Him by living our life in the same way. We sacrifice our own goals and ambitions for the good of those around us, and we humbly serve with no expectation of reward. We need no reward beyond what we already have by faith in Him.
Like John, we at all times keep our focus on Jesus. We live for Him. We hope in Him. If we are praised, we give Him the glory. As John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Joh. 3:30). It isn’t about what we might make of ourselves, but what Jesus has done for us. We Confess Him, Only and Always. And He promises this: “[E]veryone who acknowledges [or confesses] me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God” (Luk. 12:8).
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.
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(picture from “The Preaching of St. John the Baptist” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1565)
Christmas Eve – Pr. Faugstad Homilies
Text: St. Matthew 1:18-25
I. “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.”
We have no record of Joseph and Mary’s courtship beyond what is recorded by the evangelist Matthew. Some speculate that Joseph was a bit older than Mary and that he may have even been married and had children before. Whatever the case, Joseph and Mary now became betrothed to each other. This was something like our modern practice of engagement. It was a public declaration that they intended to be married. But since they were not married yet, Joseph and Mary did not live in the same house or share a bed.
So imagine Joseph’s surprise when Mary told him she was pregnant! She told Joseph how she had been visited by an angel, who informed her that she would conceive a Son. She was to name Him Jesus. The Lord God would give Him the throne of David, and there would be no end to His kingdom. Mary asked the angel how this was possible since she was a virgin. And the angel said that the Holy Spirit would conceive the Child in her womb (Luk. 1:26-35).
That was a lot to process for Joseph and for Mary too! The only proof Joseph had for any of it was that before long Mary’s womb would grow. What should he do? He decided to call off their marriage quietly. But before he did this, the Lord’s angel now appeared to him in a dream. He verified what Mary had said. Her Child was from the Holy Spirit. The Child in her womb was the Son of God incarnate!
TLH #76, 1-2 / ELH #113, 1-2 – “A Great and Mighty Wonder”
II. “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
Just as Mary had been directed, the angel told Joseph that her Child should be named Jesus. So the name for this Baby came from God Himself. This name described what the Child would be and what He was sent to do. The name “Jesus” means “the LORD is salvation,” or “the LORD saves.” “[Y]ou shall call His name Jesus,” said the angel, “for He will save His people from their sins.”
So who exactly were “[this Child’s] people”? First of all, they were the Israelites, the Jewish people. As Jesus said years later during His public work, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mat. 15:24). But while His public activity focused on the Jews, He later sent out the apostles to “make disciples of all nations” (Mat. 28:19)—all people regardless of nationality.
And what did He come to “save His people” from? He came to save them “from their sins.” A sin is anything that is contrary to God’s holy law. It wasn’t just the Jewish people who had sinned, but all people. The apostle Paul writes, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22-23).
Sin requires justice, since God is holy. You and I can’t save ourselves. We are spiritually bankrupt before God. We have nothing to pay our debt to His law. That is why God sent His only Son. He sent Him to take our place, to offer His holy life for us and to die in payment for our sin. The little Lord Jesus came to save you and me. He came to rescue us from eternal damnation. He came to win for us eternal life in heaven.
TLH #94 – “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
ELH #145 – “What Child Is This?”
III. 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).
The first promise of a Savior came right after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and fell into sin. At that time, the LORD told the devil, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). So the Offspring of the woman would stomp on Satan’s head and sustain a bruise on His heel. In other words, the woman’s Offspring would fare much better than the serpent.
Thousands of years later, the LORD delivered another promise through the prophet Isaiah. Like a telescope bringing something far away into focus, the picture of how the Savior would arrive was becoming clearer. Isaiah prophesied that “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” How could that be? How could a virgin conceive a child? The virgin Mary wondered the same thing some 700 years after this prophecy. But “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luk. 1:37).
The Holy Spirit formed an embryo in Mary’s womb who was no ordinary Person. This was Immanuel. This was the Son of God begotten of the Father from eternity, who had come to take on our flesh and blood. He came to take our sin and pain and sorrow to Himself and to die in our place. He came to give us His perfect righteousness and everlasting life. This was Immanuel—not “God far above us” or “God against us”—but “God with us.”
Jesus is “God with us.” He is your Savior, who still comes to take away your sin and pain and sorrow. He comes even now through His Word and Sacraments to give you His grace and salvation.
TLH #647 / ELH #137 – “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
IV. 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.
If you were in Joseph’s position, would you have done what he did? In a certain respect you are faced with the same dilemma he was. The question is whether you believe the Baby in Mary’s womb was conceived in the natural way, or whether you believe He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The way you answer that question matters.
If you say that Jesus was conceived in the natural way and had a biological father, then for you he can be no more than an influential person and a good teacher. He cannot be your Savior. A regular human being cannot save you any more than he can save himself, since all of us are sinners.
But if you believe that Mary was telling the truth, then you do have a Savior. Then you know the God who took on human flesh, so He could save you. Then you know Him who was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4). Then you know the One who offered up His holy body and shed His holy blood on the cross for the full and free forgiveness of all your sins.
The unbelieving world rejects the message of Christmas because it does not agree with reason or common experience. “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1Co. 1:27-28).
God grant us the same confident faith of Joseph and Mary, who believed the Word, who believed that this Child was exactly what the angel said: the holy Son of God.
TLH #81, 1-4 / ELH #161, 1-4 – “O Jesus Christ, Thy Manger Is”
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(painting is “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1592-1656)