Advent – Christ’s Coming Micah 5:2
The first season of the Christian church year is Advent. The word means: “coming.” During the season of Advent we wait and watch for three “comings” of Christ. 1) Jesus came in the flesh at Christmas. These four weeks remind us of the approximately 4000 years Old Testament believers waited for God to keep his promise to send a Messiah. Today, while most people are simply waiting for gifts, we are waiting for a Savior from sin, death, and the devil. 2) Jesus comes to us today in Word and Sacrament. The Savior who once came in lowliness as a helpless baby still comes to us in the lowly and ordinary means of grace: the Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As we review the church year we are reminded to repent for the times that we have failed to appreciate Christ’s coming to us in these means of grace; for despising and neglecting them. And, while the Law leads us to sorrow and repentance, the Gospel leads us to take refuge and find forgiveness in the cross of Christ. 3) Finally, we look for Jesus to come again in glory at the end of time. In Micah chapter 5, we are shown how God chooses to reveal his mercy and his power most often in humble, simple ways: most importantly, by becoming one of us in the small, insignificant town of Bethlehem.
Hymn 1 The Advent of Our King
Christmas – Christ’s Incarnation John 1:1, 14
In the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas comes at the time of deepest darkness – just 4 days after the longest night of the year. This reflects the truth that God sent his Son into a world of darkness, a world of sin, despair, loneliness and hopelessness. Into this world, Jesus came to bring light. For this was no normal child born to Mary in Bethlehem, he was the Son of God, who was God and was with God from the beginning. Christmas is what makes the Christian faith truly unique and the only true faith because on Christmas God became one of us, flesh and blood. Why? Only as true man could Jesus take our place under God’s law and die; only as true God could he live a perfect life and take our burden of sin to the cross to pay for it. Christmas means Jesus is true man. Christmas means Jesus is true God. He comes in time, and yet he is eternal. He is rejected and despised by men, yet he the purest and fullest expression of God’s love for us. A mystery? Yes. A miracle? Yes. Our salvation? Thanks be to God, yes!
Hymn 36 A Great and Mighty Wonder (st. 1-2, 4)
Epiphany – Christ’s Appearing John 2:11
You probably know the familiar song The Twelve Days of Christmas (partridges and pear trees and so forth). But do you know where that song came from? It resulted from the fact that the better part of 2000 years the Christian church celebrated Christmas for 12 days, from December 25 to January 6. January 6, then, marked Jesus’ epiphany, literally his “appearing” or unveiling. The church celebrates two “appearances” of our Lord. First, He appears as the Savior of all people, not just the Jews. This is declared most clearly in the Gospel reading for Epiphany: the coming of the Magi – Gentiles from the east who came to worship Jesus as their Savior too. The second appearing is the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God. On Christmas, Jesus appears in deep humility: born in a manger, wrapped in strips of cloth, praised only by farm animals and shepherds. But during Epiphany, Jesus’ nature as the Son of God is revealed by his baptism, his authoritative preaching and his powerful miracles. Epiphany will have served its purpose in our lives when what we read in John 2 is true of us also.
Hymn 93 Hail to the Lord’s Anointed (st. 1-2)
Lent/Holy Week – Christ’s Suffering and Death Isaiah 53:5-6
Lent, the season that stretches from Epiphany to Easter, is 40 days long, beginning with Ash Wednesday and concluding with Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The word lent comes from the Old English word for spring (“lengten,” the time of year when the days grow longer). For Christians the Lenten season is a time to meditate deeply on Christ’s suffering and death for our salvation as well as a time in which to concentrate on the continuing importance of confessing our sins and finding comfort in our Savior’s cross. The season of Lent reminds us of the reason for Christmas – the eternal Son of God took on our human flesh and blood so that he could bleed and die for our sins. Here we see God’s eternal plan of salvation worked out in history as the Lamb of God suffers as our substitute. In Lent we stand with St. Paul at the foot of the cross and confess: the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Hymn 105 O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (st. 1,3,5,7)
Easter – Christ’s Resurrection 1 Corinthians 15:17, 20
Easter is the high point of our journey with Jesus. On Good Friday our Savior’s lifeless body was laid in a grave. Good Friday left us with questions: Is he the Son of God or a delusional imposter? Are our sins forgiven or are we still guilty before God? What happens to us when we die? Will we rise again or will our bodies turn to dust and stay that way? Easter answers those questions. When Jesus’ disciples returned to the tomb early on Easter Sunday morning they found it empty. Later, the risen Savior appeared to them to dispel their confusion, doubts, and fears – to tell them and show them that he had risen. Easter removes the awful “if” about our faith, our forgiveness and our future. Easter proves that Jesus is God’s Son, he is our Savior, our sins are forgiven and our future is in heaven. As St. Paul says so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 15: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…but Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Hymn 158 I Am Content! My Jesus Lives Again (st. 1, 4)
Ascension – Christ’s Coronation Ephesians 1:22-23
For 40 days after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples to convince them that he had indeed conquered our final, greatest enemy: death. They needed to be certain because he had appointed them to serve as his witnesses to the world once he was gone. At the end of those forty days he took them to the Mt. of Olives where he ascended out of sight into heaven. But though he was gone from their sight, he did not leave them alone, he left them with a promise: surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) Our ascended Savior is still with us today, but he reigns in heaven, at God’s right hand, where all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. (Matthew 28:18) Today, as we live and witness for our Savior, the Ascension reminds us that we go with the assurance of his presence and his power that he controls all things and uses everything to work for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28)
Hymn 169 Alleluia! Sing to Jesus
Pentecost – Christ Sends the Holy Spirit Acts 2:32-33
Pentecost is a Greek word meaning 50 (5 times 10). 50 days after his resurrection Jesus sent the promised Holy Spirit to his disciples accompanied with amazing signs and wonders. The disciples desperately needed the Spirit’s power and guidance because they were to be witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection throughout the world – but they were often slow to believe and hesitant to speak. St. Paul explains the Spirit’s power and purpose in 1 Corinthians 2: we have not received the spirit of the world but the spirit that comes from God so that we may understand what God has freely given us. (1 Corinthians 2:12) To put it simply, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit so that we would know and believe the Gospel – and have the courage to share it. In Acts chapter 2, we hear from Simon Peter, the man who was previously so timid, so slow to believe and at times rash and foolish, now filled with the power of the Spirit which enabled him to see God’s ways clearly and proclaim the Gospel boldly.
Hymn 177 Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest (st. 1,3,5-6)
Sundays After Pentecost – Christ in the Lives of His People Romans 12:1
“Therefore.” That word appears with regularity in the letters of St. Paul. He uses it to form a bridge between the so-called doctrinal and practical parts of his letters. “Therefore” invites us to look back at all God has done for us in his mercy; it reminds us that God chose us to be his own, washed us in the blood of his Son and keeps us in faith by his Holy Spirit. “Therefore” also asks us to look at our own lives and ask that uniquely Lutheran question: what does this mean? What does all that God has done for me mean to me and for my life? Paul gives us the answer. While in the OT believers offered a whole lamb to the Lord as a sacrifice at the beginning and ending of each day, we offer ourselves, our bodies and souls, our time, talents, and treasures to the Savior who died for us so that we should no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died for us and was raised again.
Hymn 467 May the Mind of Christ My Savior
End Time – The Christian Waits for Christ’s Return Revelation 22:20
The last four Sundays of the church year make up the season of End Time. Beginning with Reformation Sunday and including the Sunday’s of Last Judgment, Saints Triumphant, and Christ the King – this season reminds us that this life and this world is not all that there is, that we are eagerly waiting for Jesus to return to make all things right, to punish unbelief with everlasting fire and to deliver believers, once and for all, to the paradise of heaven. Since perhaps no part of Christian doctrine is more misunderstood and falsely taught than the doctrine of the end times, we also take special care during this season to see exactly what we are watching and waiting for. When we understand what God wants us to know about the end, whether we are anticipating the end of the world or the end of our own lives, we will look forward to being reunited with Jesus with the solemn yet confident prayer: Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20)
Hymn 214 Jerusalem the Golden (st. 1, 4)