Friday, December 12, 2014

Vocation and Incarnation

Baccalaureate Service
Concordia University Chicago
December 12, 2014

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Last weekend at the Lessons and Carols service, we heard the reading from John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  This is a foundational truth of the Christian faith–the Son of God took up into Himself your flesh and blood; He became fully human.  He not only became a man, He became man, mankind, all of humanity joined to His divine nature.  This is why the angels sing of peace on earth, good will toward men.  Where the fellowship of God and man had once been ripped apart by sin and the curse, now God and man are rejoined and brought back together again in Christ, literally; for Jesus is both God and man in one undivided person.  Heaven and earth are reunited in Him.

    “The Word became flesh.”  There is the truth that sets you free.  There is no higher honor that God could give to you than to make your flesh His own and to share in your nature.  Jesus is your flesh and blood, your blood brother.  And that is true, of course, not just of you but of every single human being, every person of every tribe and race and nation and language.  There is no human being whose nature Jesus has not shared in.  All of humanity has been graced and exalted by the incarnation, from the unborn in utero to the dying in their last moments.  For Jesus Himself experienced every stage of life on your behalf–a holy embryo in the womb all the way to a holy corpse in the tomb, now bodily risen and glorified for you and for your salvation. 

    This is in great part what gives your vocation meaning, whether your calling is going to be within the church or outside of it–for everyone here.  Those whom you serve are people whose nature the Son of God shares in, whose flesh He has made to be His own.  As a Christian you know that to care for them, to minister to them, to edify their hearts and minds and lives in your work is done as if to Christ Himself.  Now of course, unlike the sinless Jesus, those whom you serve will be ones frankly just like yourself, whose natures are infected with sin, which will manifest itself in many challenging and sometimes painful ways.  But even and especially then, we see in those suffering from sin the One who suffered for sin, who put it to death in His body on the cross in order to take our sin away.  The incarnation of Jesus demonstrates and shows not only that your lives in the flesh are worth living, but that the flesh and blood people around you are worth loving. 

    This is the first half of my message today, that in your various vocations you look at others with Christian faith to see them in the light of the Word made flesh.  Let your work be enlivened by that truth.  Let your desire be that none dismiss Christ in unbelief and thus lose their humanity apart from Him forever, but rather that they come to share fully in the saving reality of who Jesus is and what He has done for them.

    The second half of today’s message is simply the other side of the same coin–that you see
yourself and who you are in the light of the Word made flesh.  Jesus shared in your human life even to the point of death that you may share bodily in His divine resurrection life.  Christ has taken your place in order that you may take His place.  That’s true first of all in the presence of God the Father.  Scripture says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).  The Father receives you the same as He receives Jesus.  And that’s also true, then, in the presence of your neighbor.  Your calling is to stand in the place of Christ toward your neighbor, to put on the One who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life, a ransom for many.  The Word became your flesh; and now in baptism you have become His flesh.  Baptized into His body, partaking of His body and blood in Holy Communion, you are His flesh and blood to love and serve others. 

    St. Paul uses this sacramental, baptismal language when he says in Galatians 2, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  Christ is at work through you in the callings He gives you.  That may be the most readily apparent for you who are going into church work, as you will be given to preach or teach the words of the Word made flesh or uplift them in music.  Pastors actually get to come right out and say it, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, by His authority, I forgive you all your sins; I baptize you in the name. . .” and so on.  But the fact is that every Christian is given to stand in Christ’s stead according to the duties of your particular calling, to serve as His instruments in both word and deed for the benefit of others and for His glory.

    And once again, at the heart of all of this is the flesh of Christ.  He gives His body and blood for you to consume that you may be filled with His mercy and His life.  And His life is at work in you to offer yourselves to be consumed in merciful, life-giving love.  Romans 12 exhorts us, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

    Your vocation is not simply a matter of what you do; it’s about who you are in Christ, and what He is doing through you by His Word and Spirit.  Christ is all in all.  That’s why Jesus can say, “I am the Light of the world,” and then to His Church, “You are the light of the world.”  The light that is radiated is not yours but Christ’s, the love that is shared is not yours but Christ’s, the life that is given is not yours but Christ’s.  It’s all about Jesus, from beginning to end, Alpha and Omega.

    With that in mind, as we give thanks to God for bringing you to this milestone and for the knowledge and skills and wisdom He has imparted to you here for your calling, let me conclude with these words from 1 Corinthians 1.  That Scripture declares, “You are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God–and righteousness and sanctification and redemption–that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christ and the Burning Bush

Exodus 3:1-14
December 8, 2014
Pastor Aaron A. Koch
Martin Luther High School
Greendale, Wisconsin

    ✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    *Did you ever notice that today’s reading from Exodus sounds a little like the Christmas account from Luke 2?  There was a shepherd abiding in the field at Mt. Horeb, keeping watch over the flock of his father-in-law Jethro by night.  And behold, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.  When shepherd Moses saw it he wondered at the sight; and as he drew near to look, the voice of the Lord came, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  And shepherd Moses trembled and hid his face, for the glory of the Lord shone around him, and he was terrified.  And the Angel of the Lord said to Him, “Fear not, for I have surely seen the ill-treatment of My people that are in Egypt and heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them.  And now come, I will send you to Egypt, and this will be a sign unto you: this bush that burns with fire and yet is not consumed.” 

    If this account and the account of Christmas seem to have some parallels, they should, for it is the same Lord Jesus who is present in both.  This Angel of the Lord is no ordinary angel.  In fact, this was not really an angel at all in the usual sense of that word.  Usually when we hear the word “angel,” we’re thinking of those created, heavenly beings spoken of in the Scriptures who serve God and do His will.  But since the word “angel” also means “messenger” or “one who speaks the words of God,” it can also refer to men, as in Revelation, where the term “angel” is used to refer to the pastors of the churches.  And here, the term “angel” is used to refer to the Son of God Himself, the ultimate messenger and spokesman of the Father.  For Moses consistently refers to this “Angel” as God.  This is the Angel of the Lord, the second person of the Holy Trinity.  This is Jesus Christ before He was conceived and born into this world, sent by the Father to reveal His Word.

    St. John expresses a very similar thought in His Gospel when He refers to Christ as “the Word,” the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us.  As the uncreated, eternal, divine Angel of the Lord, Jesus is both the messenger and the message.  He is God the Father’s Final Word to us, a Word of love and of life.

    So what we have here in this account, then, is the pre-incarnate Jesus speaking to Moses.  Notice how the Son of God here descends to earth as He did at Christmas.  And He does so in a very concrete and physical way.  He appears in a flame of fire and within the branches of a bush.  Didn’t our Lord Jesus call Himself the Light of the world?  Wasn’t He laid in the wood of a manger?  In this bush the eternal and the temporal were joined together in order that the Lord might come into contact with man, just as He did in a complete and permanent way at Bethlehem.  The Lord came down to our level; He took on an earthly form that Moses and, later, we could grasp and receive.  By taking on our flesh, the Creator entered into creation in a such a way that sinful people could approach Him without fear, without being destroyed.  The burning bush, then, is a prophetic event.  It foretells the time when Christ would descend to this world again and permanently take on our human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    And this event in Exodus also foreshadows the reason why our Lord would be born at Christmas.  For the Lord Jesus announces to Moses from the bush that He has come to save His people, to rescue them from their enemies, the Egyptians.  In the same way, Christ came down at Christmas to rescue all of mankind.  Joseph and Mary were told, “You shall call His name ‘Jesus,’ for He will save His people from their sins.”  Our Lord descended to deliver us from our enemies who had enslaved us.  He came to release us from the power of our taskmaster, the devil, and to free us from the harsh bondage of sin and death.  By His holy incarnation, Christ became the New Moses, who leads us out of the kingdom of darkness, through the baptismal waters of the Red Sea, and into the light of the Promised Land of the new creation.  The One who appeared in a flame of fire said, “He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but (shall) have the light of life.”

    When Moses looked at the bush, he saw that it was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed or burnt up.  That tells us two things:  First of all, it teaches us that the union between God and man that took place in the conception and birth of Christ is eternal and everlasting.  Jesus is forever both fully divine and fully human.  Even as the bush never burned up, so the union between God and man in Christ will never end.  He is true man even now as He sits at the right hand of the Father, and He always will be true man, our human brother. 

    Second of all, the fact that the bush was not consumed teaches us that Christ came into our flesh not first of all to bring judgment to mankind but salvation and redemption.  This was not a fire that destroyed.  It was a fire that revealed and proclaimed the words of deliverance and life.  Jesus said, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  It is written in the Scriptures that no sinner can see the holy God and live.  But in the burning bush, and in the holy Child of Mary, sinful man can and does see God, veiled in earthly, human clothing.  And trusting in this God in the flesh, man lives forever.  By taking on our human nature, Jesus did not consume and annihilate us.  Rather, He shared in our life so that we may share in His life.  He became like us so that we may become like Him.

    Finally, the Lord Jesus revealed His name to Moses from the bush.  He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”  Our Savior is the great I AM, the One who was, and who is, and who is to come, the One who said, “I AM the Good Shepherd.”  “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  “I AM the Vine; you are the branches.”  He who revealed Himself to Moses in the branches of a bush has now taken on your flesh and blood in order that you might become His branches, that you might be joined to Him and draw your life from Him.  Jesus Christ is that holy vine spoken of in the Psalms that took root in Bethlehem and has now spread throughout the earth.

    Truly, then, the burning bush is a great sign and living prophecy of our Lord’s coming at Christmas.  As you prepare to celebrate this nativity of our Lord, may He who is the Light of the world cause the flame of holy faith to burn brightly in your hearts.

    ✠ In the name of the Jesus ✠

 (*Note: I adapted this first paragraph from the work of another pastor, but no longer remember who that was!)