January 3, 2021: 2nd Sunday after Christmas

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as a new year commences, restore and revive our commitment to You!  Keep us strong in Your Word of truth.  Strengthen our faith.  Guide us in the pathways of righteousness.  And give us new-found confidence that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from Your love for  us.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST WHO RENEWS OUR FAITH!

TEXTS:  Eph. 2: 8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Matthew 15: 27-28: “’Yes, Lord’ she replied, ‘but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith!  Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          2020 is done.  A new year lies before us.  With it comes resolutions to better ourselves.  We’re all sick of being controlled.  Sick of having to wear a face diaper!  Sick of being confined.  We want freedom.  We want liberty.  All this made me ponder this past week and ask: “What CAN we control in our lives?”  People resolve to lose weight, to get healthy, to achieve financial security, to show more kindness towards friends.  Resolutions are endless.  We like to think we can control such things and fulfill them so when 2022 rolls around we can pat ourselves on the back and feel a bit superior.  But if you really think it through, it’s not true.

          Lose weight.  We can control that, right?  Not really.  You may stick to a strict diet, but when some disaster strikes you emotionally, “Ben and Jerry’s where are you?” Get healthy and exercise.  You break your leg and that one goes in the ambulance.  Financial security.  Everything goes along fine unless and until you lose your job.  Kindness.  Too much stress erupts and overcomes good intentions as you lash out at someone over something rather stupid.  We’re human.  We’re weak-willed.  We don’t control anything—that’s God’s job. 

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          But then I thought more about spiritual stuff. Surely we can resolve to get closer to God and strengthen our faith, right?  We can will Him into our hearts and thereby “fix” our deficiencies.  Not really.  And Paul tells us why in Eph. 2:8: “For it is by grace (God’s undeserved love in Christ) you have been saved, through faith—and this NOT OF YOURSELVES, it is a gift from God, not of works, so that no one can boast.”  You see, faith is not something you create or will to happen on your own.  No, it is God’s gift to you, borne of grace.  You cannot chose God and somehow force Him into accepting you into His family.  He does that freely because He  loves you in and through and because of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross.  Recall Jesus saying in John: “You have not chosen Me, I have chosen you.”

          I thought even deeper on the subject of resolutions we actually CAN control and I came up with only one.  Here it is: YOU CAN CONTROL YOUR EXPOSURE TO GOD’S WORD WHICH THEREBY MAKES AND STRENGTHENS YOUR FAITH.    It’s true. Since the Gospel alone saves us and creates  faith, through which we’re linked to God, the more you go to church, have regular home devotions and reading of Scripture, commune regularly, and cogitate on Divine “stuff” via  prayer, well, that opens avenues to God to strengthen and preserve your faith.  This is the whole impetus behind the 3rd commandment.  How do I know this? Because God says so: Isaiah 55: “My Word will not return to me empty, but will prosper  and achieve the purpose unto which I have sent it.”  His purpose in sending Jesus to die for our sins was to save us.  Exposing yourself to that Word is the only way to find out about Jesus, have Him link Himself to our souls via faith, and thus get spiritually stronger and better able to cope with all the awful stuff we’ve been slammed with or will be slammed with.

Never forget, God’s Word, specifically the Gospel, is: ”The power of God unto Salvation to all who believe.”  God’s Word isn’t just a bunch of information that we process, it also has inherent power to make, build-up, and enhance saving faith within.  

II

          I cannot create a stronger faith within, that’s God’s job.  But I can resolve to expose myself to the pathway that leads to Him so as to “eat the crumbs” that fall from my Master’s table!  That passage bespeaks of humility, doesn’t it?  That’s us, hopefully!  Every aspect of your life except this one is out of your control.  But you can swallow your pride and with a broken heart ask for His help.  “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief!”  And when that occurs, in every instance—including here with the Canaanite woman who asked for Jesus’ help with her daughter, the request is granted and God-given faith is commended.  Another example of this would be the Roman centurion who asked Christ to heal his servant.  He didn’t demand it, or resolve it, or order it, he humbly asked for help because he knew it was beyond his own control.  And what did Christ do?  He healed the man and then said of the centurion: “I have not found greater faith in all Israel!” 

          Snowstorms, sickness, occasional work disasters can and do get in the way of going to church.  God knows all this.  But not much else should ever impinge and hinder our commitment to expose ourselves to God’s food for the soul.  Not late nights, not lethargy, not emotional battles, not doubt, not frustration, nor fear.  So, make and then work at keeping the only resolution that you actually can control: putting yourself in a position to have God Almighty build your faith.  He’ll never let you down.  And your life in 2021 will be greatly blest.  How do I know that?  Because Scripture also says: “It is God Who works in us both to will and to do His good pleasure.”  Amen

THE peace of God which…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox 

December 27, 2020: 1st Sunday after Christmas

Let us pray:  Lord, it’s been a hard year.  And yet Christmas came, Your birth was still celebrated, and Your joy came down to each of us.  Enable us to keep all that in mind as we approach a new year.  And come what may, empower all of us to live, act, speak, think, and be good Christians in every way possible.  Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE CHRISTMAS GIFT THAT ALWAYS KEEPS ON GIVING!

TEXT:  Colossians 3: 12-17

Dearly Beloved By Christ: 

          Surly shoppers.  Worn-down workers.  Impatient people.  It’s almost like a negative prophecy, an antithetical to Isaiah’s words which would go like this: “People walking in fear have seen only darkness, among those living amid Covid, frustration has descended.”  And yet, our Savior was still born.  His love shines down upon us this Christmas.  In the words of the great Paul Speratus’ hymn: “Salvation unto us has come, by God’s free grace and favor.” 

          Today’s lesson is a practical application of how to live and survive during the last of 2020 and beyond.  It’s a lesson in how to avoid being over-loaded and burdened by the social degradation we have all endured and are enduring.  It’s a way to hold our heads up in joy, gratitude, and good cheer and feel better about our Christian walk.  Paul begins this primer by saying: “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

          Can you imagine an America in which this was the norm and not the exception?  Can you imagine a country in which people genuinely cared for others and their hurts?  Where kindness was common?  Where humility was never a false front to curry favor?  Where gentleness always seemed to defuse anger?  And where patience showed itself through good manners no matter how stressed you felt?  My friends, we can all have this by embracing the Christ Child as He has embraced us with His grace!

          Paul delves into this longed-for Christian experience even further: “Bear with each other and forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  To truly forgive another and let go of past hurts is the hardest thing anyone can do.  I suppose that’s why God forgave us all our hurts against Him.  We find such forgiveness impossible to achieve on our own.  But God took that burden off us by giving us the Baby Jesus.  A Baby bore our emotional burden and didn’t crumble under it!  No, He arose to life even after death for our sins took His life!  And so, He “forgives our sins and remembers them no more.”  This gift is given to you through faith.  It’s the ultimate Christmas present to everyone.

          “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”  Do you love those check-out people who keep you waiting and waiting, or the persons with a full cart and a fist full of coupons which take extra time to check out?  Do you see them as God’s child, a soul which could benefit from a smile and a prayer?  Do you love that perennially  anger-filled relative who demands from you but seldom gives anything (emotionally) to you?  Love, even non-returned love, is never out-of-style. Instead, it’s the glue that unifies and makes the wounded whole.  God’s love for us is that great unifier.  It’s the Balm of Gilead that takes away the infection of anger and mistrust.  And since we do not come by it naturally, God gives it to us freely in Christ.  So, get rid of your dark thoughts.  “God is love.”  Through faith Christ’s love now dwells in you.

          “Let the peace  of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (don’t be a miser with God’s love as He never runs out!), as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  Jesus is the Prince of peace.  He’s the One Who made peace with God for us.  The entire Body of Christ, the Church, should reflect that between all its members.  We seek to do it because we’re individually thankful to God.  So let’s show even more corporate thankfulness!  You’ll feel better. You’ll look better.  You’ll sleep better.  And words of praise and happiness will flow off your lips.  This is a benefit bestowed upon us because of Christmas. 

          “And whatever you do, whether in word of deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  I’ve learned to read people by their actions coupled with their facial expressions. Upbeat people are easy to spot and depressed people are too.  Even now, at the end of 2020, after all the bad news, Christians are the most blest, the most confident, the most caring and the most sharing folks around.  And why not?  For unto us a Savior has been born Who is Christ the Lord!  Show it!  Show it to others, to yourself, and most  of all to God!  Amen

THE peace of God….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox

December 25, 2020: Christmas Day

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE WORD MADE FLESH TO SAVE US!

TEXT:  John 1: 10:  “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”

Dearly Beloved In the Blessed Christ Child: 

          About 10 days ago I fielded a phone call.  My wife’s former boss called to catch up on our news and wish us a blessed Christmas.  Debra Ann was out walking the dogs, so I filled in for her.  He was interested in how we, and the church, are doing during this pandemic.  I did my usual complaining about not being able to read faces during the service due to the masks.  Then he asked if and how all this has influenced my preaching.  I told him that since Covid I’ve addressed various aspects of: fear.  This is an ongoing topic since: sin and death cause fear.  Then I added: “But we’ve got the solution.”  There was a long, pregnant pause.  Then I added: “The solution is: Christmas, Easter, and Christ’s resurrection from the dead, thus freeing us from the source of all fear which is death.”  After a bit we finished up our conversation.

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          Amid all the news of vaccines, Christ’s birth is getting left in the dust.   In Europe I’ve read of political leaders telling people that they should all: “Cancel Christmas.”  Notice none of them say: “Cancel vaccinations.”  Why not?  Because they don’t believe Christ’s birth is vital to everyone’s emotional, spiritual, AND physical health.  But does not Jesus say: “Man does not live on bread alone, (or on vaccines alone), but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”? 

          How we have divorced ourselves of that truth!  We are comprised of body, soul, and spirit.  God has made us whole and complete, and keeps us healthy and strong, through this triune joining of all these aspects of our being. All good cancer doctors know that emotional and spiritual health are vital in keeping the body healthy enough to battle cancer.  The same goes for battling covid. That’s why the prayers of the faithful for sick folks are so important.  Disease attacks us on many fronts.  So we need to battle it on many fronts, as well. 

II

          Our modern world is myopic to the extreme.  We see a very small slice of reality and think: “That’s all there is.”  And so we flounder in life.  We look for “big picture” answers, but seldom find them because we’re so short-sighted.  But our Almighty God sees the big picture, the total picture.  He sees our need for a total solution to life’s troubles.  And at Christmas with the birth of His Son, He sends us a Solution.  He sends us A Savior who truly is: “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  This myopia of humans is what John addresses in the words of our lesson: “He (Christ) was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”  And so people live in ongoing fear—even over Covid.

          The current vaccines are not God’s real Christmas gift—Jesus Christ is!  He is the eternal Word of God made flesh to save humans from never-ending fear and death.  He’s the One Who gives life and love and hope and joy to God’s people during every circumstance in life’s journey—and then fulfills His promises into eternity.  In Him, “we have seen God’s glory full of grace and truth.”  Yes, if you don’t want to live in fear any more, look to the manger, see God’s love for you,  God’s power and strength meeting you in a humble Baby Who just happens to be the Son of God!

III

          We humans are always looking for quick solutions and easy answers.  “Just take a little jab and all this past year’s nightmare will be over.”  Is that true?  What about mutant strains that will continue to evolve over the years?  What about international terror, cancer, heart disease, famine, or any of those horsemen of the Apocalypse?  Sin and death with always be with  us, until, until Christ’s 2nd coming.  But amid all this, never forget that we don’t have to live in fear over any of it because of His 1st coming!  Christmas is God’s final solution to it all.  And that is why we celebrate, sing carols, and rejoice.  You and I are the people John is referring to when he writes: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”  Yes, the best antidote, the only antidote to fear is:  the birth of our Christmas King, Jesus Christ!  And that’s why we’re here today.  Amen

THE PEACE OF GOD WHICH…..

Pastor Thomas H. Fox  

December 24, 2020: Christmas Eve

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR BLESSED SAVIOR

TEXT:  Luke 2: 1-20

Dearly Beloved By The Christ Child: 

          My parents always told me: “Patience is a virtue.”  They also said: “Jesse, wait on the Lord.”  That’s my name, Jesse, by the way.  You’d think that at age 25, taking care of sheep night and day, I would have learned both lessons.  But no.  I craved excitement, I wanted to feel important and BE someone.  Alas, taking care of a flock was pure boredom.  Every day was the same, every night was cold sleep amid a shuffling flock of sheep under a black sky.  I lived just outside of Bethlehem, the old hometown of my namesake: Jesse the father of the famous David.  I craved to be like David, important and well known.  Instead, I was simply: Jesse the Shepherd.  But then everything changed….

          It was getting close of mid-night.  All the shepherds could tell time by how the sheep settled down more around that time.  We were gathered around the last of the flickering fire.  I’ll tell my story of what happened next in the words of St. Luke whom I originally recounted them to.  “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”  Terror is an understatement.  We jumped out of our skin!  God’s angel appeared to me and the others!  It happened in an instant. The whole sky lit up.  Strangely the sheep and our dogs remained silent—awed by it all.  Because we were all shepherds who were just as sinful as the next person and always thought the worst—terror seized us. 

          But then, the angel spoke to us with words of unmatched comfort that instantly calmed our fears: “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David  Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  It struck me that not even the original Jesse, nor his son David, had an angel talk to them directly like this.  I was blest after all!  I was important, after all.  They had had the Messiah promised to them, but that was 1000 years ago.  I was learning the meaning of God’s patience right here, right now.  And by the angel’s own words, I was told exactly where and how to find Him!

          “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”  Luke captured all the amazing emotions I felt at that sight in those matter-of-fact words.  (He was a physician, a man of learning after all.)  1000’s of unseen angels shed their invisible cocoons and all filled the sky!  They also glowed, brighter than the sun, but differently. For this was God’s eternal light.  We were bathed in their light of grace.  And that light was pulsating with their heavenly hymns of praising the Holy Trinity!  They gave Him glory for bringing us God’s eternal peace in the form of the Christ child, true man and true God joined together to give His favor to fallen, forgotten humans, like me.  Ah, it started to sink in: I really was blest and important after all.  I really was famous because Jesus’ favor was obviously directed to and at me….

          Just like that the angels disappeared in the flash and the dark night returned.  None of us could have dreamed this, because we all saw it.  It left me so flushed with excitement that I was the first to blurt out: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  Yes, we were leaving the sheep, but it was obvious God would take care of them in this instance.  So, we all hurried off and soon found “Mary and Joseph, and the Baby, lying in a manger.”  It was an amazing sight.  God’s Son in the form of a Baby.  God’s Son seemingly defenseless—yet we all knew better.  God’s love was lying right before us.  I was forward enough to pick Him up, and He smiled at me.  Mary and Joseph didn’t seem surprised or concerned either at our appearance, or our tale of what had happened among the sheep.  They told us that God’s plan of human salvation was outlined to each of them, too, and of the angel Gabriel announcing it to them.   They both had learned the irresistible power of God’s love.

          Well, it was getting very late and the sheep needed us.—Just like all humans needed Christ to tend to His flock, us.  With reluctance we left them in body, but not in spirit.  How could we? How could I?  So, literally, for the rest of my earthly days: “we spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”  We also went back to Bethlehem  whenever we could to learn more and bask in His love more.  We did this for over a year until the Holy Family left Bethlehem after the Magi’s visit to escape evil king Herod’s bloodlust.  When you have experienced never-ending joy that fills your whole being and gives you an eternal purpose—you simply cannot stay away! 

          This is not my story, Jesse’s story.  This is simply what I saw, heard, and felt.  No, this is Christ’s story.  This is heavenly truth played out before my eyes.  And because God graciously used St. Luke to interview me and write it down, tonight it is once more played out before you.  So, like me, you’re also blest by the Baby Jesus.  Amen

THE peace of God  which….

Pastor Thomas H. Fox