23 January 2017

Homily for Epiphany 3 - 2017

"Bringing Good from Ill"
Matthew 8:1-13

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“Manifest in making whole
Palsied limbs and fainting soul;
Manifest in valiant fight,
Quelling all the devil’s might;
Manifest in gracious will,
Ever bringing good from ill;
Anthems be to Thee addressed,
God in man made manifest.” (LSB 394:3)

So we sing in that wonderful hymn that summarizes the whole story arc of the Epiphany season. When Jesus reveals Himself to be God-in-the-Flesh—our Rescuer from sin and death—He reveals Himself as the One—the only One—who brings good from ill.

Let’s put ourselves in the place of the poor leper who came to Jesus and knelt before Him. Let’s learn to live all of our lives pleading what that leper pleaded: “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” No presumption. No demanding. No claiming any “rights and privileges.” Just a simple, humble request. “Lord, if you will it. Thy will, not my will, be done, Lord.” Then the leper says, “you can make me clean.” Let’s strengthen that. It’s more than a mere possibility, more than an uncertain wish. The original Greek indicates a bold statement: “You ARE ABLE to make me clean.” It’s a strong confession of faith, a firm conviction. Jesus—God in man made manifest—IS all-powerful, all-merciful, and can do, and does do, anything He wills. Of course He is able to make the leper clean! Of course He has the authority to heal and make whole! The real question—and the leper knows it, asks it, and reveals it—is this: does the Lord will it, at this time, in this place, to reveal Himself, to be received by faith?

Now, before we presume to know what the Lord wills, let’s consider the other leper we hear about today—Naaman, the Syrian army commander. He also sought healing from his illness. But he was presumptuous. He was prideful. He found out about the prophet in Israel. Then, like the rich and powerful in our day, he reallocated some of his vast wealth to pay for only the best medical care. And when he finally came to the prophet’s doorstep—with wealth in hand and prideful self-importance in high gear—Elisha did not even greet him. Instead, he sent an an assistant, an underling. What an insult for someone so self-important, so presumptuous! Naaman went away fuming. “How dare he not come out to me! How dare he not wave his hand and heal me right here, right now, on the spot, for all to see!” Presumption and pride will do that to you.

It took one of Naaman’s own underlings to whittle him down to size, to show him how to be a humble receiver of God’s mercy. “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it?” “Master, the prophet has told you how to be cleansed. He’s the one in charge here.” Then the Lord, not the prophet, brought good from Naaman’s ill. Naaman “dipped himself seven times in the Jordan…and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” The Lord did will it—on His terms, in His way, in His time, according to His Word and promise.

And that brings us back to the leper in our Gospel reading. The Lord did will it. “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will [it]; be [cleansed].” Jesus touches this unclean leper and takes that leprous uncleanness into Himself. Jesus makes Himself the unclean one. It’s sort of like a sponge soaking up an icky, messy spill. And in exchange, with that touch Jesus gave His very own cleanness to the leper. Wholeness and healing took the place of the itchy, mottled skin. Restoration to the community took the place of being isolated in the leper colony. God-in-man-made-manifest brought good out of this leper’s ill, and with only a simple touch.

Your Epiphany Lord does will to heal and cleanse you as well. He reaches out and touches you in your Baptism, soaking up your sin, your doubt, your pride, your presumption--all of it into Himself. And then He gives you His very own cleanness. He also touches you when He places His very Body and Blood on your tongue, again, cleansing you, making you whole, and strengthening you in body and soul. Not only is He able to do it; He truly wills to do it—“ever bringing good from ill.”

And now notice how our Epiphany Lord works with the Gentile centurion. The centurion knows he has no rights and privileges before Jesus. No presumption, no pride—all despite his high rank and his reputation for power and might. His sick servant reveals his powerlessness. Isn’t that the way it works for us too? Illness comes. We are powerless. We merely suffer it, endure it, wait for it to run its course, or submit ourselves to medications, therapies or treatments. So the centurion appeals to Jesus: “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” We can almost hear and feel his angst seeping through the words. “And, Lord, I cannot do anything about it.”

Our English translations put Jesus’ words in the form of a statement: “I will come and heal him.” The Greek grammar actually lends itself to more of a question: “Shall I Myself come and heal him?” No, Jesus is not reluctant to heal the poor lad. After all, He had just brought good from the leper’s ill. But it would be quite unexpected for Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, to enter the home of a Gentile soldier. So the question behind Jesus’ question would be more like: “Are you, a Gentile, actually asking Me, the Messiah of Israel, to come to your house?” Jesus wants to peel back the outer skin of the centurion’s plea to see what fruit of faith lies underneath. After all, the Gentile centurion did call Him “Lord,” the name used of the God of Israel.

A little speech on knowing authority, and then Jesus marvels and smiles and goes into teaching mode. “I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” Translation: “This centurion—this Gentile—gets it!” This centurion has no authority before the Lord. The Lord Jesus has all the authority. This Gentile centurion needs the mercy and healing that only the God of Israel—only God-in-man-made-manifest—can give. And the Lord gives it! Authoritatively. Mercifully. Graciously. “Go; let it be done for you has you have believed.” That’s the way of our Epiphany Lord. “Ever bringing good from ill.”

Our “God-in-man-made-manifest” takes our sins, our sicknesses, our fears, our powerlessness into Himself. He Himself brings the greatest good from our greatest ill. Isaiah said it this way: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:4-5). That’s what the Lord came to do. His authority is most clearly revealed on a cross. His will was and is to come “from His home on high, in human flesh He came to die” (LSB 401:2). That’s what heals you and me and makes us clean. It is done as for us as we have believed. “For [the Gospel] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).

And this is great Good News on this 44th anniversary of the legalized holocaust we know as Roe v. Wade and abortion. What an ill that has been thrust upon our land! Well over 58,000,000 innocent lives snuffed out in those 44 years under the cloak of legality. Many of those mothers also suffering physically, emotionally and mentally as a result. But…yes, but…our Epiphany Lord still knows how to bring good from ill. The numbers of abortions each year are indeed dropping. That’s great news! Yes, even one aborted baby is one too many, but we can thank our Lord for the good trend. We can also plead to Him: “If You will it, You are able to heal this ill.”

We can also thank our Lord who brings good from ill for another trend that’s very much related. One headline this past week read, “Study finds skyrocketing rate of abstinence among Millennials.” The study focuses on young people in their early twenties; perhaps it’s also true of those in their upper twenties and even into their thirties. Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse was quoted: “I think a lot of them are watching the adults around them and concluding that sex without limits is not making people happy,” particularly “parents with multiple marriages and divorces.” Again, we can thank our Lord for this good trend. Again, let’s plead to our Lord: “If You will it, You are able to heal this as well.”

Living the way God designed us to live is the greatest good. We know we don’t, we know we can't, even we who humbly appeal to our Epiphany Lord for His healing and help. But the take-away for today is this: Our Lord Jesus IS able to cleanse and heal. Our Lord Jesus DOES come under our roof to restore and make whole, “ever bringing good from ill.” He alone has the authority, and He does will it. So we pray as we’re about to sing:

“Lord, once You came to earth’s domain
And, we believe, shall come again;
Be with us on the battlefield,
From ev’ry harm Your people shield.” (LSB 401:5)


09 January 2017

Homily for the Baptism of Our Lord - 2017

"About Being 'Sinner'"
Matthew 3:13-17

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Epiphany—revealing—continues today with the Lord Jesus being baptized. Jesus went to His pastor, John the son of Zechariah, and asked to be baptized. Today commemorates Jesus’ own “baptismal birthday.” But if you think about it, something awfully strange is going on. Why would Jesus need to be baptized? The answer really has two parts: 1) to reveal Himself publicly as the Savior, and 2) to show Himself to be a “sinner.” Jesus’ baptism is the first time He comes out publicly to begin His ministry among people. And in that revealing, in that coming out, Jesus identifies Himself as a “sinner.”

First, bear in mind the message Jesus sent just by going to John for baptism. John preached and practiced “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk. 3:3). As John was preaching, he was calling sinners to repentance. He was boldly confronting people with the truth: they were sinners who sinned; they were sinners who truly needed help and rescue. John called for repentance—“a new thinking”—as the way to receive the revealed Messiah.

The Greek word for “repentance” quite simply means “a new mind-set," or "a new way of thinking.” This is not a new thinking that you can conjure up on your own. Here’s why. We have to go back to the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve fell into sin. There we see God’s original thinking. He wanted all creatures to live and exist for His praise and glory. Humans were the crown of His creation. He would graciously provide everything for them. He would be in the closest, purest relationship with His people, and His created people would trust and worship Him alone.

But something went tragically wrong. Adam and Eve conjured up a thinking of their own. Let’s call it a “free-thinking.” Adam and Eve thought, and then acted, as if no one—not even their God and Creator—should tell them what to do. “I’m free, man; don’t tell me what to do. Don’t bind me with your notions of good or bad, right or wrong. Life is about what feels good to me.” Sounds like our “free-thinking” today, doesn’t it? Now, Eve could rightly say the devil made her do it. But that was no excuse for having a “free-thinking” that led her into the prison cell of sin and death. It’s no excuse for you either. Freedom from the God who made you and loves you is really no freedom at all! Instead, it’s a curse…on you, me, and all humanity.

Then an amazing thing happened. God decided He would not throw out the whole dead, rotten, sinful mess. No, He decided to cleanse it, purify it, and give it a new thinking—a thinking that would return Adam and Eve, and you and me, to His original thinking.

When Jesus is baptized, we see that plan kicking into high gear. But baptism is only for sinners, not for “good, upright people.” Only sinners, only Satan-seduced “free thinkers,” need baptism. Remember how John the Baptizer chastised the “good” Pharisees when they showed up. They weren’t looking to be baptized; they were merely curious. Besides, the “good, upright” Pharisees themselves would never dare be baptized. That would mean they’d have to confess their sins. After all, they just knew—they presumed—that God saved them without worrying about that messy, ordinary water stuff.

So when Jesus shows up and asks to be baptized by John, John did not want to baptize Him. John knew that Jesus was not a “sinner.” He was without sin, after all! Despite John’s protests, though, Jesus said, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus also knew He had no sin, but He was making Himself a sinner by being baptized.

Yes, you heard that right. Jesus made Himself a “sinner.” He made Himself the chief of sinners. Jesus’ baptism is about Him identifying Himself as “sinner.” You see, Jesus becomes sinner for the benefit of all sinners. Not only does Jesus take on our flesh and blood, and everything about us, but He also takes on our sin, our guilt, our curse. This was to “fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus does this to identify Himself with the cesspool of our lives. Not just the rotten things we do or say or think—that’s too shallow and superficial. Jesus identifies Himself with the rottenness and corruption that dwells within us, within our heart.

You and I could never fulfill all of God’s righteousness. Even if you and I lived a thousand lives and died a million deaths, we could never fulfill God’s justice. When a crime is committed, we want justice to be served. We want the murderer or the thief or the vandal to be arrested, convicted, and sentenced. Rightly so. The same holds for God’s justice. A crime was committed—on God’s perfect creation, on God’s loving care, on whole-hearted trust in God. And we—you and I—are the culprits. There must be justice. Sinners must pay. So Jesus identifies Himself as a sinner by being baptized. He would, and later did, receive the full, crushing weight of God’s arrest, conviction, and sentencing—God’s wrath. When He was baptized, Jesus was marked for death all the way to the bloody cross. And here’s why: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Cor. 5:21).

In His baptism Jesus made Himself a dirty sinner, so that in our Baptism He might make us clean saints. When Jesus goes through baptism, He hallows it and holds it up as a treasure for us. And, at the same time, our Baptism teaches us to be “sinners.” Ponder that for a moment. When you were baptized, you were identified for all of life as a sinner who needs daily forgiveness. This is the “new thinking” of repentance. You are freed to admit it—you are “sinner.” You cannot save yourself. And once saved, you cannot keep yourself saved. Because of your sinful flesh you are too weak to do that. And so, you need Jesus. You need His Baptism.

It’s a bit like the Alcoholics Anonymous routine. Their first step—and it’s a good one—is for an alcoholic to admit that he/she is an alcoholic. Denying it or avoiding it only prevents the help. The same is true—even more so—for baptized Christians. What does such baptizing with water indicate? “It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

Remember, sinless Jesus made Himself the chief of sinners for you. You and I have nothing to lose by daily admitting we are sinners who constantly sin in all we do or say or think. In fact, we have everything to gain. The “new thinking” of repentance also includes Jesus’ forgiveness in Baptism. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4). That newness of life is the life of forgiveness—confessing you need it and receiving it in all the ways that God gives it: in water, in words, and in bread and wine. “Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).

This is how Baptism opens heaven for “sinners”—for you, for me. As Matthew tells us, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus as a dove, and the Father’s voice was heard: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” In your Baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on you in His gentleness and peace. Now that same Spirit leads you in all of your believing and living. In your Baptism, the Father speaks for you just as He spoke for Jesus. Your Father tells you, “You are My beloved son or daughter. I am pleased with you.” How can God say that? Because you are joined to Jesus in that Baptism.

It’s all about being “sinner.” When Jesus was baptized, He identified and revealed Himself as “sinner.” He made Himself one of us so that He might make us like Himself: beloved children of God our Father. Amen.

06 January 2017

Homily for the Epiphany of Our Lord - 2017

"Gifts for the King Who Has Everything"
Matthew 2:1-12
Delivered at the International Center of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, 6 January 2017.

What do you get for the person who has everything? Perhaps you asked that question during your Christmas shopping. On this Epiphany, let’s ask the same thing of the Christ Child. What do you give to the King who has everything? Even as young child, King Jesus already owns everything, doesn’t He? “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). This Word-made-Flesh made all things long before He took on Flesh, “and without Him was not anything made that was made” (Jn. 1:3). What do you give to the King who literally does have everything?

The Magi came all the way from Persia (modern-day Iraq). Perhaps they learned of the coming Messiah from Daniel and other exiles over five centuries before Christ came. Perhaps they figured out the coming of the Bright Morning Star from studying the stars themselves. But come they did. They came specifically to worship the Newborn King. Once in the house with the Virgin and the Child, they gave their gifts. We sing of the gold, and frankincense, and myrrh, but let’s not forget the worship. First, “they fell down and worshiped Him,” and then they opened “their treasures.”

What do you get for the King who has everything? Gifts that honor who He is, of course. After all, He is God and Man in one Person. Incense is a gift for God. It speaks of the gifts of faith and prayer ascending to God in response to His goodness. Myrrh is a gift for a Man. This gift looks ahead to the death of Jesus, true God and true Man, on the cross and His proper burial. And gold—it’s the gift fit for a king. Some say that this gold may have supplied the needs of the humble Holy Family for many years.

But the Magi offered much more than material gifts; they offered their faith and their worship. The incense, the myrrh, and the gold were simply the first fruits of that faith. The Magi fell down and worshiped Him. You see, they trusted in the promise of God’s Savior who would come into the world to restore all humanity to God Himself. Physically, the Magi saw a humble infant in “such mean estate.” But their eyes of faith saw beyond the lowliness. They saw the God who came to make all people rich in His mercy.

The Magi saw in this humble Child “the Sun of righteousness” Who rises “with healing in His wings” (Mal. 4:2). This holy Infant would heal all people from the wounds, the sores, and the scars of their sins. The warmth of His mercy and forgiveness would radiate out for all to enjoy. He would heal the breach between Jew and Gentile; He would make them one nation in His Church.

When the Magi looked at this holy Son of Mary, they saw “His glory from the rising of the sun” (Is. 59:19). Their eyes of faith could see that God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). And why did He come? “To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Lk. 1:78-79, NKJV). Even as you face the darkness of death—in ill-health or time of sorrow, in anxiety or depression, in conflict or disappointment—the dawn of a new day has come. This holy Child brings the new day of life with God and resurrection from the dead. This holy Child is your “bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16).

The best gift the Magi bring to this King of the universe in humble guise is their faith. So, what will you give to the King who has everything, the Child who radiates God’s boundless mercy and gives you peace with God? What will you give to the Word made Flesh who heals you from the sores of your sins and your disease of death?

You could offer Him gold, the gift befitting a King. But all wealth and all things already belong to Him. Your Lord bids you to give Him gold by giving it to the poor. As Jesus will say, when you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, you do it to Him. What better way to give your gold to your King than to the poor in your own midst, in His family, the Church.

You could still give incense, both literally and figuratively. As we sing in Evening Prayer, “Let my prayer rise before you as incense.” Offer your prayers to the God who promises to hear you and answer you, because He identifies with you and with your troubles in this world. The Son of God enjoys the sweet fragrance that accompanies your prayers. That’s why we offer up to our God and Savior prayers on behalf of the Church, the world, and all sorts of needs.

As for myrrh, that’s definitely not necessary. The myrrh was for His crucifixion and burial. And since “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10), He does not need to die again. “The death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives, He lives to God” (Rom. 6:10). And because of Jesus’ one-time sacrifice, you get to “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).

What can you give to the King who has everything? Most of all, give Him your faith and your worship, just as the Magi did. Just as they left their country in the East, you can leave the country of your self-serving desires and sinful ways. Just as they endured the arduous journey, you can endure the trials of your journey through life, learning to trust your Savior. And just as they bowed down to the Almighty King when they saw Him in humble guise, you can bow down to your God who still comes to you in humble ways.

Behind the humble water, you can see God’s life-changing washing of forgiveness and life. Behind the humble words from your pastor’s mouth—in sermons and in the Absolution—you can hear and recognize the voice of your Savior who heals you from all sins and enables you to live with God again. And behind the humble bread and wine, you can see Jesus coming to you in the Body and Blood that He assumed from His Virgin Mother—the same Body broken in suffering and the same Blood shed from a cross, the same Body and Blood that are now the “medicine of immortality.”

Just as the Wise Men saw the Child Jesus sitting on His Mother’s lap, we get to see Jesus in the bosom of His Church, our mother in the faith and life with God. So, the best thing you can give to this King is … yourself, your faith, your worship, your whole life. After all, that’s what He has done for you. “For Christ goes with us all the way—Today, tomorrow, ev’ry day! His love is never ending!” (LSB 395:5). Amen.

02 January 2017

Homily for the Circumcision and Name of Jesus

"What's in a Name?"
Luke 2:21

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What’s in a name? In our culture, we use a name when we want to identify someone. When you talk about the Jones family, obviously you are not talking about the Smith family. Your name is your identity. If your name is George, chances are you will not respond if someone tries to get your attention, saying, “Hey, Martha.” In our culture, we use names chiefly for identity.

What’s in Jesus’ name? Today we celebrate the circumcision and naming of our Lord Jesus Christ. When Infant Jesus was eight days old, He was circumcised to fulfill the Law and He was given His name that points us to the Gospel. Remember what the angel told Joseph even before Jesus was born: “You shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). What’s in that name, “Jesus”? Let’s explore the name “Jesus” and how it gives us God’s holy name.

Before we look at the name “Jesus” itself, let’s figure out the importance of God’s Name. About 960 years before Jesus was born, King Solomon built the Temple for the worship of God. Until that time the people of God had only a portable tent—the Tabernacle—as a place for worship. The Tabernacle was where God chose to dwell with His people. God chose to be in that specific place to bless His people. The permanent Temple built by King Solomon was again the place where God would dwell with His people. After Solomon dedicated the Temple, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” (1 Kgs. 9:3). God made the Temple a holy place by putting His Name there. Where God puts His Name, that’s where He chooses to dwell for the benefit of His people. God likes to be in specific locations to bless His people.

What does this have to do with the name “Jesus”? When God sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, He was dwelling in a specific place. Remember what we heard on Christmas Day: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn. 1:14). When the Son of God—the Word—took on human flesh, He was God dwelling with us. In fact, the word for dwelling is the same word for “tent” or “tabernacle” in the Old Testament. In the Person named “Jesus” God is dwelling with His people to bless them by saving them.

Now to the name “Jesus” itself. Jesus’ name is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Joshua.” The name very simply means “God saves” or “God is salvation.” This tells you two things about Jesus. First, it tells you who He is. He is God. Yes, He has a common, human name, but He is also God, God in the flesh. He is God living among His people in a particular place. Second, Jesus’ name tells you what He does. He saves. He does much more than just give you some good moral teaching. He doesn’t merely give rules or principles for living. No, He saves. “He will save His people from their sins.”

When the Bible talks about Jesus’ people, it’s talking about His race of people, His community of people, His Church. Yes, it’s talking about you. Jesus saves you from your own sins. He also saves you from the sins in which you are sinned against. Today, let’s focus on the ways we sin against God’s Name.

God teaches us about His Name in the Second Commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” As you look back on the year just past, no doubt you have shattered this commandment. When troubles came, you did not pray, praise, or give thanks—certainly not all the time. Instead, you worried. You fretted. You practiced the fine art of wringing your hands. And when something good happened, or when you narrowly escaped some tragedy, such as a fender bender, perhaps you gave credit to “good luck.” Or think back on ways you failed to pray, praise, or give thanks in general. Chances are that you did not use your mouth to bring glory to God alone. All of this is your sin against the Name of God.

God also teaches us how to use His Name in the First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Hallowed by Thy name. What does this mean? God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also. How is God’s name kept holy? God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!

You and I certainly need help in keeping God’s name holy! We cannot do it by relying on ourselves. Our sinful nature does not want God’s Word taught in its truth and purity. When God shows you your sin, your sinful flesh does not want to admit it. In fact, chances are, you really don’t want to admit that you are a sinner, or that you have specific sins to confess. But that’s going against God’s Word. And when it comes to God’s forgiveness, you may want to take it for granted. “Well, I know I’m forgiven. Now tell me something else.” Yes, you and I have profaned God’s Name this past year, and, no doubt, we’ll do it again and again in this coming year.

But this morning let God’s Name be your help and your comfort. After all, our Lord was given the name “Jesus” because “He will save His people from their sins.” Here’s how the Name of Jesus cleanses you and forgives you all your sins. When Jesus was given His name, He was also circumcised. This happened so that Jesus would fulfill the whole Law for you. Even at only eight days old, Jesus is perfectly keeping God’s Law. But there’s also wonderful Gospel comfort in that circumcision. Already when Infant Jesus was only eight days old, He shed His blood for you. Jesus’ circumcision was the first time He shed His blood for the good of His people. It was the same blood that He would later shed on the cross. It is the same blood that He gives you even now in His Supper. And we know that wherever the Blood of Jesus is, there is forgiveness, life, and salvation.

And there’s more. God is very rich in His grace and forgiveness. Jesus takes His name and puts it on you in your Baptism. It’s just like being born into your earthly family. When you’re born, you are given the family name. As you grow up, you learn to wear that family name with pride and honor. That is your identity. In the same way, when you are baptized, you are born into the family of God. In Baptism, God literally puts His name on you: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” That’s your identity as a member of the family of Christ. You are given a name. You are called “Christian.” You get to bear the heavenly family name with pride and honor, because you are saved and made alive by Jesus Himself.

This name that you receive in your Baptism also unites you with each other and with the whole Christian Church. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Mt. 18:20). Where God puts His Name, there He is to bless His people, His family, His Church. You see, God works the same way today as He did in Solomon’s day. He chooses specific places to dwell with His people—the font, the pulpit and the altar. Yes, in these very places, Jesus gathers you in His name and He is right here in our midst. When you hear the words of Absolution, remember that they are Jesus’ words. In a few minutes you will receive Christ’s very Body and Blood into your mouths. That’s also Jesus’ forgiveness. As Christ’s holy people, you may trust that Word of God with all of your heart, soul, and strength.

Today we begin another year in Jesus’ Name. Remember the meaning and importance of Jesus’ name for you. Yes, He is God with you, and, yes, He saves you from your sins—the sins of this past year and the sins yet to come in the new year. Amen.