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Christmas Sermons by Pastor Rank

Christmas 2 – January 4, 2004

Pastor Thomas L. Rank

In Nomine Iesu

Text: Matthew 2:13-23

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.” 19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” 21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

The celebration of Christmas seems to be a very benign, inoffensive, harmless activity. After all, millions of people around the world go to church, they listen to the words of St. Luke chapter 2, “and it came to pass in those days…”, they sing hymns of rejoicing, songs of praise and thankfulness. Sunday school Christmas programs are much the same. Children learn by heart some special words and phrases of God’s Word, they practice and learn how to sing a number of Christmas carols. In all these activities around Christmas we see nothing but gentleness, kindness, joy, goodwill, patience, caring, and love: love for God, and a desire to love our neighbor with greater charity in the year to come.

When we celebrate Christmas, we are simply following the example of that first Christmas when shepherds were shown the wonders of heaven through the sights and sounds of the angelic host, and they were directed to the little town of Bethlehem where they could see the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, just as it had been told them by the angel. The shepherds saw the miracle of the birth of the baby Jesus, and returned glorifying and praising God. A silent night became a night of joy and gladness because of the birth of the Savior, Christ the Lord.

Two years later we have another gathering of people around Jesus. Now, instead of shepherds it is the Magi from the East, bringing with them wondrous offerings of precious gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They had come to worship the newborn King of the Jews and they found Him at Bethlehem, attended by His mother Mary, and Joseph. Once more we nothing sinister or hostile here. Simply an act of worship, a confession of faith, gestures of love and gratitude to God. What could be so wrong with all this?

Well, nothing is wrong with any of it. Nothing is wrong with gathering at Christmastime to hear the wonderful news of the birth of the Savior Jesus; nothing is wrong with Sunday school Christmas programs, nor of the shepherds and wise men from the East coming to worship the Christ-child. So why do we read this about King Herod: “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.” Why such a shocking action by the king? Why does Herod respond with murder to the news of the birth of Jesus? Why are children killed when Jesus is born? Why is there weeping, lamentation, and mourning at a time that should bring joy, gladness, and cheerfulness?

Psalm 2 teaches us: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed….” The powers of this world have much to lose if the Christ-child Jesus accomplishes His mission. Jesus came to defeat the power and riches of this world. He came to show that the very things people think are the ways to dominate, control, and live the best way possible are actually unable to do what they promise. No worldly kingdom lasts. No treasures of gold, platinum, stocks and bonds, are able to give what lasts forever. But those who rely on such things, those who have sold their souls for this world, those who do not see the true chains and shackles of sin, Satan, and death, prefer to see the Christ-child as the enemy. They see Jesus as the One who will ruin their lives, upset their kingdoms, and take away their power. Therefore Jesus must die, according to the thinking of this world. And if others must die too, like the baby boys of Bethlehem, so be it. The hatred against Jesus is potent.

While soldiers, the power of the world, seek the life of Jesus, what is Jesus doing? He is resting in the arms of His mother, Mary, traveling to Egypt with no more escort than Joseph. God hereby shows His contempt for the powers that attempt to overwhelm His only-begotten Son. God knows their plans, and He laughs. Kings like Herod and so many others, those who think they know what power and might are, are shown to be ignorant of real power. For the real power, the real might and strength, are there in the baby Jesus who looks so meek and mild. “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty….”

So Jesus will go on His way to Egypt for a time. Like His human ancestors hundreds of years before, He will leave the promised land when death is near, in order to be safe in Egypt for a time. But like Israel led by Moses, Jesus will leave Egypt and return to the promised land. But this Jesus is the One who Moses promised would be greater than himself. And Jesus, despite His meekness, His humility, His lowliness, would take on the powers of the world, the spite of Satan, the cold reality of death, and defeat them. This Christ-child would grow and mature so that He could live and die for you and me, so that we need never fear even death. For our Savior, this Jesus, is the Son of God, who redeemed us by His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death so that we can be His own, and live with Him forever.

“Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” That’s the news that Joseph heard that allowed him to bring Jesus back to Nazareth. For you and me God brings the good news that those who seek our life: sin, the devil, even death, are themselves dead to us. They have no power to rule us or dominate us. Instead, they all had to acknowledge the power of Jesus, who is now our gentle and loving King, our Savior. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Christmas Sermons by Pastor Rank

New Year’s Eve – December 31, 2003

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: Hebrews 13:8-15

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 9 Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. 15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

What’s one of the best things you can say to an old friend you haven’t seen in years? “My, you haven’t changed a bit.” It’s nice to hear, and when we say it we’re not deliberately lying to someone. But in reality it isn’t true. We do change over time, even if just a little to begin with.

As we see another year passing us by this evening, it is not hard to spot the changes that happened this past year. For those of us with young children, we saw many changes in them: for example in size and the ability to communicate. If you hadn’t seem some of your younger relatives for awhile, you may have been amazed at how much they had grown this past year. Each of us also can see in ourselves many changes: some good, some not so good. But the fact remains that as each year goes by change occurs. In people, in the land, in the size of cities and towns, in the world around us: politically and physically.

Because of the process of change which is so familiar to us, it is good to take careful notice of the fact that the author of Hebrews teaches us: “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.” This unchangeableness of Jesus is about both His divine nature, that is, the fact that He is true God, and also about His teaching. He does not change, and we are warned: “do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines.”

In a world that is filled with change and the subsequent instability it brings, the Christian Church is blessed to announce to the world the truth that our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the Rock, the stable foundation on which we truly can build our hope for this life and for eternal life. As we heard: “here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.” Our efforts finally will not keep us from leaving this world. Therefore we seek that which is to come, the New Jerusalem, the heavenly mansions, the promised eternity with the living God, through our Savior Jesus Christ.

Why should stability and unchangeableness be desired by us? Well, let us look at why we are changing each day. Isn’t it because of the fact that each day we age, and each day we come closer the grave? We change physically in ways that start off good, but soon become detrimental. The bodies we have here and now will not last. The process of death is at work within us – it is change from life to death. This is something we cannot escape. We see this type of change in people of all times and all places. When we find ancient civilizations what do they all have in common? The people are all dead, all that’s left is bones. In the hymn, “Abide with Me,” one of the verses states it this way: “change and decay in all around I see, oh Thou who changest not, abide with me.” (ELH 561:2)

As we comprehend the deadly reason for change in us, the desire not to change increases in us. We do not want to change. Why is it that this time of year is a bonanza for weight loss clinics and programs? It is because we see our bodies change, and we don’t like it, so we want to put off, as long as we can, the change and decay that come to all. Now, on the one hand, it is a good use of our time to do that which is healthy for our bodies: eat healthy, exercise, and so on; on the other hand, we must know that such efforts only work for a brief time. Despite the advances of medicine, our bodies keep showing our age. The most beautiful actress of today will look different in 50 years: no matter how much money she spends, no matter how well her doctors do plastic surgery.

The predicament of all attempts to keep from looking old is that only the symptoms are treated. The underlying reason for our aging and the approach of death cannot be treated with silicon, botox, or the most careful surgery. This is true because our problem finally is not physical, but spiritual.

This is where the truth of Jesus Christ impacts us. He is the one who does not change, and He comes to us with the very help we need for our spiritual lives. Our spiritual death because of sin is reversed by the life and death of Jesus. By faith in our Savior we are re-born spiritually, with the promise of a new and glorious body in the life to come. Jesus took on the changes of this life. He went through our changes as He took on our human flesh and blood. By His perfect life and by His death as our Substitute Jesus has done what no surgery or medicine or diet or exercise can do: He changed us so that we will not change again. Our death has become the way by which this mortal puts on immortality, and this body that decays is changed for a body that will never decay. This is what is ours because of Jesus, as we believe the forgiveness He bought for us, by His own blood, suffering “outside the gate,” like the sacrificial animals of the Old Testament.

As we prepare for a new year, may God help us to prepare for the changes that come our way, as we cling to the One who does not change: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.

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Christmas Sermons by Pastor Rank

Christmas Day – December 25, 2006

In Nomine Iesu – Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Exordium

We who are described by Isaiah as the grass that grows and then withers and is cut down and dies are allowed this day, and for all eternity, to rejoice that the One who created all things, the Most High God, has taken on our frailty, our humanity. He has done so in order to save us from the withering and dying that is our lot as humans. He became the baby boy born in the manger in order to save you and me from all that death and hell and devil want to accomplish against us. He will go in our place to the place of evil and death. He will go for you and me, so that we might become His adopted brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters of the Most High. That is what we receive through faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is due to this great act of love on the part of God that we rejoice today. This is no small thing that God has done. It is greater than even we can comprehend. It is more far-reaching in its importance than the most longed for peace treaty between nations. It is more life-giving than the most important breakthrough in medical history can ever be.  Here we have the way to a life that never ends; here we have an end to sin and sickness; here we have an end to death. And it all became focused on that small and insignificant manger in Bethlehem so long ago. Let us then rejoice today over the wonders and blessings God showers upon us in His mercy and grace, in Jesus, our Savior. Let us rise and sing:

Exordium Hymn – ELH 142 “Rejoice, Rejoice, This Happy Morn”

Text: St. John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our new-born King,

If you want to know God the Father, you must know the Son. It is the Son, Jesus Christ, through whom only we have access to true knowledge about God the Father. We cannot come to the Father except through the Son. This fact of Holy Scripture puts the whole Christmas story in its proper place. It puts it in the place of being one of the key events by which God wills us to know who He is and what He does on our behalf and on behalf of the whole world. To lose this aspect of Christmas is to lose it in its entirety. This is no story about snowmen or Santa Claus or reindeer. The Son takes on our humanity to accommodate our weakness. He becomes one of us so that we might truly know and believe the love of God for us.

The darkness of sin obscures this light of Jesus Christ which came into the world. Sin makes us blind to God. Sin covers our eyes with false gods and goddesses. Sin puts ourselves and all other manner of deities in the place of the one true God.

Many are content with such false gods. Many find comfort in them because they are familiar gods, gods that do not make us squirm too much. Last week in Bible class we heard a quotation from Mark Twain, and it fits here as well: “In the beginning God made man in His own image, and man has been returning the favor ever since.” We like to have gods that are like us. The gods of the ancient world, despite various super powers, remained gods and goddesses with the same vanities and selfish desires that we have. Those are the deities we create for ourselves when act like Adam and Eve did: we seek to be like God.

But these words of John point us away from ourselves and our self-created gods; and they seek to shine into the darkness of our lives with the Light of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. We need this light. We need the work of God to break into our sin-darkened lives. And that is what Jesus came to do. He came as the Word made flesh, as the power of God for salvation. And He came as the One who would shine in our hearts with the forgiveness of sins through His death on the cross.

Our need for this work of God for us is total. We have nothing by which to come to God on our own. We need Him. Martin Luther makes this clear in very pointed language from a Christmas sermon he preached in 1534:

Here was the reason why [we need God’s help]: The devil had subjected all mankind under sin and caused terrible, incalculable grief beyond human comprehension. In the first place he precipitated us into original sin, including death with it, and not only death but also all manner of evil. Daily in this world we live with murder, lying, betrayal, stealing, robbing, and all manner of shameful evil, depravity, and vexation, so that literally no one’s life or property are safe for a moment, but everything is in terrible turmoil! But beyond such evil there is even a greater one, as God’s Word tells [us], in that the devil takes hold of people so totally that they become mad and foolish. As a result of this wickedness and sin, the human race has become little more than a stinking, shameful, disguised tool of the devil. So despicable has he made mankind through sin that we could not possibly become more base. Eternal death and God’s wrath take us by the throat; we are never at peace but constantly plagued in body and soul here on earth, making it an enormous, woeful, fear-ridden kingdom of the devil.

That is the darkness under which we operate in our human condition of sin.

It was against this very darkness that Jesus came to fight for us. He did so out of His great love for us. And so:

Still all the law fulfilled must be,

Else we were lost forever,

Then God His Son sent down that He

Might us from doom deliver;

He all the law for us fulfilled

And thus His Father’s anger stilled

Which over us impended.

[ELH 227, v. 5]

The righteous anger of God against our sin has been laid to rest through Jesus Christ taking it willingly upon Himself, so that it does not fall upon us, as much as it deserves to.

This is the reason for the Incarnation of the Son of God. He became flesh to take this on. He put on our weakness of human flesh, to be tempted like us, to be subject to hunger and thirst, to grow tired, to be tempted by the devil even, and finally to bring this body brought forth into this world on Christmas Eve to the death on Golgotha. All this is why the Word that is God, the Word through whom all things were created, becomes flesh, so that you and I can be saved.

At stake at Christmas time is more than most people realize. We get too caught up in the many “cute” aspects of a 21st century Christmas. But the stakes were high on that first Christmas. The enemies arrayed against that Christ-child were mighty, too strong for us humans, even if we would have combined all our strength against them. We cannot fight and win against sin, yet the Word made flesh would do so. We cannot fight and win against death, yet Jesus would do so. We cannot fight and win against the devil, yet the baby born in Bethlehem would do so, crushing the head of the serpent even as He was nailed to the cross. That is the wonder of Christmas; that is what was at stake.

The fight against sin, death, and devil remains with us still today. True, they are held at bay by the power of the Son of God. He has won the victory. But we continue to struggle with them as we are tempted to draw near them, as one devotional writer recently wrote:

Satan is ever angling to steal…a kiss from the bride of Christ, that he might divorce her from the heart of her gracious Lord. She fends off the advances of every false Christ and every angel of light beckoning to a better life than the one her Bridegroom has given at the cost of His own life.

Because of the tenacity of our seeming-pleasant enemy, we will always find ourselves in the midst of a hidden, but very real war. If there is to be a superficial peace the capitulation must come from our side. Our enemy will never give up. His rage and spite against the Christ and His Church will never diminish, only the tactics will evolve. Often people will blame the Church for the war that is waged against her. This is akin to blaming Poland for the outbreak of World War II. The Church would desire to live in external peace, but Satan will have none of it. So while she has a peace that surpasses human understanding, she will always live at war.

This is the true nature of the life of the Church in this world, and of the life of we who are called to be the children of God here and now.

But despite such darkness, we are given the Light of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Never forget that the baby of Bethlehem is stronger than the devil. Never forget that that small child is true God, the God who would not let death keep Him in the grave, but rose triumphant Easter morning. Never forget that this Christ-child is the One who says to you: Your sins are forgiven. Those are the words that are the power of God for salvation. Trust them, and learn that the Light of the grace of God shines brighter than any powers of hell.

Christmas shows us that start of the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for us all. It shows us the seriousness of God’s promises to provide us with salvation and eternal life. He sends His best for us, and it never fails. Believe in the name of this Jesus Christ. Know that you are born by the will of God, and are His beloved children. For you He desires life and salvation, through the forgiveness of sins. For you this Jesus was born, so that you receive from the Word made flesh such great gifts, and in whom we have the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth. Amen.

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Christmas Sermons by Pastor Rank

Scarville Sunday School Christmas Program December 16, 2007

In Nomine Iesu – Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: Matthew 1:20-23

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

The other day I started thinking about why we have so many singers of all types who put out Christmas albums, year after year. Yet these same people do not put out Good Friday or Easter albums. Mannheim Steamroller has many CDs for Christmas; any number of singers and choirs put out dozens and dozens of Christmas related music. There’s even an ogre with a Christmas CD. But nothing for Good Friday or Easter. So, why is this?

The conclusion I reached is that since the main event of Christmas is the birth of a baby boy it is something that people can easily relate to. The birth of a baby is a great event in the life of a family, something cherished, something remembered, something about which to rejoice. The birth of Jesus can be celebrated and sung about without really paying too much attention to the reason why. That is not the case with Good Friday and Easter.

Good Friday is centered on the death of Jesus on the cross. Easter is centered on the resurrection of the dead by that same Jesus. Those events are not easily disguised or changed into celebrations that everyone can sing about. To sing about Good Friday is to sing about a very gory public execution. To sing about Easter means that you have to talk about something that is not compatible with human experience or human wisdom. Whereas Christmas has been given a makeover that allows people of many backgrounds to sing carols and hymns about Jesus, despite the fact of what those songs are all about.

Yet, when we look at Christmas with the words of Scripture ringing in our ears we learn that the event of Christmas is also something that is outside human experience and human reason. Christmas is the birth of the baby who Holy Scripture declares was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph was told: “that which is conceived in [Mary] is of the Holy Spirit.” And even more, we are told that this child shall be named: Immanuel. St. Matthew does us the favor of translating that Hebrew word for us: Immanuel means, God with us.

To top it all off we’re told why this baby was born: to save people from sin. And there’s something none of us like to hear about. Talk about sin during Christmas is pretty depressing. Why bring up that topic when there are enough hassles and headaches this time of year? We have to talk about it because that’s what Jesus came to solve for us. Sin is what we have, what we’ve been born into, what chases us and ruins lives again and again. But this sin is what Jesus, the Savior, born of the virgin Mary, came to undo. That is why Christians write Christmas hymns. That is why those who gather in Christian churches sing Christmas hymns. The purpose is to proclaim who this Jesus is, what He came to do, and why we so desperately need it.

Much of the music you’ll hear on the radio over the next few weeks will probably not focus too much on that side of Christmas. And we shouldn’t expect our society to get Christmas right. But let us make sure we do. Let’s make sure we learn about Jesus born in Bethlehem, because we sinners need this Savior. We need Him and He has come to us out of great love, taking on our humanity, to defeat sin, to bring us forgiveness. This great work of Jesus made a beginning in a little stable, far across the sea. But the finished work would be done on a hill outside of Jerusalem, where He would be pierced through by nail and spear as He hung on a cross, for me, for you. In His death He would defeat death; with our sin on Him He would go to the grave, yet rise on Easter Sunday with no sin – all gone, wiped clean by His sacrifice for us.

Christmas is much more than the birth of a son. It is the birth of a unique baby in all human history, a boy called Jesus, the Savior, Immanuel, God-with-us. God grant that as we gather in the coming weeks to celebrate here in church, and with our families wherever they may be, that we center on the fact that Christmas is about the Christ who forgives us our sins – born for us, to die for us, and to rise again for our justification, so we receive the righteousness, the holiness and purity of being God’s sons and daughters, through faith in Jesus Christ. God grant this for you all, in the name of Immanuel. Amen.

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Advent Sermons by Pastor Rank

Advent 3 – December 14, 2003

In Nomine Iesu Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: Matthew 11:11-15

Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER; SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

Dear friends in Christ,

The Jews in Jesus’ lifetime understood that before they looked for the Messiah, the one who would save them, they needed to look for a second Elijah. They knew this because of the words of the last prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi. There we find this word of the Lord: “Behold, I will send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”

The first Elijah had lived during the days of the wicked King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. These two had introduced a renunciation of the true worship of God unequaled in the history of Israel. Hundreds of false prophets of Baal had been given government approval to spread their false teaching throughout the land. Altars and high places were built; even the sacrifice of children in fire was allowed. Into this cesspool of idolatry God placed His prophet Elijah. Elijah’s first task was to proclaim a drought, a time of famine for the people because of their rejection of the true God. Elijah’s message was one of repentance. He was to turn the people away from their sin by a strong preaching of the Law, pointing out to king and queen, to all people, the way of the true God in clear distinction from the false way of the idols. For this Elijah was attacked, rejected, forced to flee for his life as especially the queen sought to destroy him. The violent used violence against Elijah to try and silence this unwelcome prophet.

John the Baptist is the second Elijah, as Jesus says: “he is Elijah who is to come.” John does not come into the blatantly idolatrous times as did Elijah. Yet there was a clear need for his ministry. God placed John at the right time and the right place in order to point to the Messiah, to the Christ, Jesus.

The understanding of the real work the Messiah was to do had become confused. For many of the Jews their Messiah was to be a political leader, someone who would come to free them from the oppression of the despised and hated Roman government. They did not realize that the ministry of the Messiah and His kingdom were not about the power and glory of this world. Therefore John needed to teach the people repentance. In other words, the work was the preaching of the Law, it was about pointing out sin, about condemning the rebellion against God and His laws. It was not about the programs and agendas of this world. John came to prepare the hearts and minds of the people for the true work of the Messiah, the coming of the kingdom of God in the person of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

For this work John would suffer. Like Elijah, the leaders of his day would be pricked by the prickly law he preached. Like Elijah, John would not hesitate to preach against the high and mighty of his day. Like Elijah, John would feel the violence of the violent opponents of the kingdom of God and His Messiah. John’s preaching would stir up hearts, some to repentance, but also many to hardness and rejection. John would be arrested, imprisoned, and killed, dying a violent death.

John did the work assigned to him by God. He preached the word boldly, without being afraid of the cost. His message was not an easy one. He could not massage the egos of the crowd by telling them that their chosen lifestyles were of no matter. He could not say “yes” to behavior about which God said “no.” To do that would have been a betrayal of his office as prophet. To do that would be to work against the Messiah, the coming Savior of the world, and John would not go that way. Instead, he would preach: “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance….even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Those were John’s words to the spiritual leaders of his day, the Pharisees and Sadducees. You can understand why they would not be to eager to protect him or support him.

John’s death was a warning to Jesus from the powers of this world. This world and its satanic agenda let Jesus know that the same fate awaited Him if He continued to preach and teach as He did. John prepared the way for Jesus not only by his preaching repentance. He prepared the way by dying first and pointing the people to the truth that the kingdom of God suffers violence, even the death of the King’s messenger. And as it went for the messenger, so it would go for the King Himself. John’s death is the prologue to the death of Jesus. As John was killed for preaching the Law and pointing to the need for the Messiah, so Jesus would die by doing the work of the Messiah, and thereby showing Himself to be the Savior, the Son of God come into this world.

As we prepare for Christmas during this Advent time, we are reminded that Christmas, the birth of Jesus, is not a time of cuteness or shallow and trivial displays of sentiment. There is a reason we sing strong hymns and hear strong words at this time of year. The birth of Jesus is about warfare, it is about battles lost and won, it is about suffering, death. It is about what Jesus says: “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”

Therefore a right preparation for Christmas includes a sober understanding of what this means. It does not mean a lessening of our Christmas joy, but a heightening of our appreciation for such a gift. This gift of the Christ-child does not come to us without suffering, a suffering that we cannot imagine – suffering for all sins, for all betrayals, all deceit, all traitorous acts, all cowardice, all weakness. These sins in all their fullness, your sins and mine, are on Jesus as He comes to us through the Virgin Mary and begins His way to the violence of the cross of Golgotha.

The ministry of Elijah had to deal with this violence, it was part of the burden of prophet. The ministry of John had to deal with this violence, it was part of the burden of being the Forerunner of the Messiah. The ministry of Jesus had to deal with this violence to such a degree that it is beyond our comprehension; He came to die because of our sins. How can we forget that when we sing and rejoice at His birth? Doesn’t it cheapen our praise of God if our hymns and worship gloss over this truth? The ministry of the apostles and of pastors to this day has to deal with this violence, it is part of the burden of being placed in the Office of the Holy Ministry.

The second Elijah has come. He did his work by pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He pointed to Jesus. And even with the word “lamb” we are given a clue about Jesus: lambs are killed for the Passover. Today you are again pointed to Jesus. Despite the violence directed against God’s kingdom it does not fall or fail. You who are brought into this kingdom by God’s work of salvation need not fear any violence. Not that it may not happen, but that no violence is able to overcome the Christ. No matter how strong the enemies of God are, our Christ is always the stronger man. He showed that by His resurrection from the dead. Even the violence of death could not keep Him down.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through

The cross be borne for me, for you;

Hail, hail the Word made flesh,

The Babe, the Son of Mary! (ELH 145:2)

Neither will death in its violence keep you down. Jesus has done the work needed to save you from it all. Trust this strong Savior, and rejoice as we prepare to celebrate His wonderful birth once more. God grant this to you all in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Categories
Advent Sermons by Pastor Rank

Advent 2 – December 7, 2003

In Nomine Iesu – Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: Luke 12:35-40

Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning: and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and finds them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER; SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

There is much that weighs us down and entangles us these days. The cares and anxieties of life burden us. The possessions of this life entangle us. The result is that the watchfulness to which the Lord calls us is diminished.

Our Lord begins by telling us to have our waists girded. What we should have in mind with these words is the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. As the children of Israel prepared to eat the Passover meal of the lamb whose blood marked their door to keep the angel of death away, they were told: “And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste.” They were to be ready to leave the land of slavery at a moment’s notice, and to be ready for the journey to the Promised Land. This was not a time for relaxing and being nonchalant. Rather, these were days of readiness, of watching for the Lord to keep His promise of coming to set them free from their centuries of bondage.

To have your waist girded is to be ready to move without tripping over your robes. It means you are prepared. But what does this mean for us spiritually? It means first that we mark and avoid those things which we know hinder us or which entangle us. In the Gospel for today we heard: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life.” These are things that prevent us from being ready and waiting for the return of the Lord. They do so by numbing our hearts and minds. Like a shot of Novocaine from the dentist, these activities serve to dull our senses so that we do not pay attention to the times, so that we lose awareness of the condition of our souls, leaving us open to the temptations and lusts of the world.

Remember, repentance and faith are not one time happenings in our lives. But they are the on-going life of the Christian. Each and every day we return to our Baptism by drowning the old man with all his sin and evil lusts, and a new man daily comes forth and arises. This cycle of drowning and rising is the way sin is kept in check and we ourselves grow in readiness and watchfulness. This watchful condition is one that understands sin to be the great obstacle to salvation that it truly is. It is not a matter of making excuses our for sin, but it is a matter of confessing it. Martin Luther emphasized this in the Large Catechism:

Forgiveness is constantly needed, for although God’s grace has been acquired by Christ, and holiness has been wrought by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word in the unity of the Christian Church, yet we are never without sin because we carry our flesh around our necks (LC II, 54).

When we make excuses for our sins we are really saying we don’t need forgiveness for them because they’re not our fault. Then carousing, drunkenness, and the cares of this life have their way with us. Then such things lead us to spiritual apathy – the uncaring life that finally results in not being ready for the Lord’s coming on the Last Day, Judgment Day.

And it is that Day, the Last Day, that the Lord wants us ready for. The first time Jesus came to this world, that first Christmas 2,000 years ago, He came in humility, born of the Virgin Mary, in the little town of Bethlehem. His Second Coming will not be in humility, but in all the glory and power rightfully His as the One who has all authority in heaven and earth. Then He will judge the living and the dead. This is what we watch for. And this is what our Lord is telling us about right now, so that we can be ready and waiting when our Lord comes and knocks at the door. We will be ready to open the door immediately.

There is a great difference between being ready for something about which we know the exact time, and being ready for something that has no specific time frame. Right now most of you have a pretty exact time for your Christmas celebrations. You know that you will meet at a certain time and place. Or you know that your guests will arrive at your house at 1 o’clock on Christmas Day. This allows you to have a definite goal in sight. And you will be sure to have everything ready and waiting for the guests. I doubt that those of us expecting guests at Christmas time wait until they show up and then start cleaning and defrosting some food from the freezer for them. No, we’ve been getting ready for days in advance.

Compare that to being ready for something that doesn’t have a definite time. Perhaps our own death is the ultimate example of that. We know that we all have a 100% chance of dying. That’s just the way it is. But we don’t know the time. The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is just as certain. Yet, without that definite time we are told and encouraged to be ready always.

It is just at that point that trouble arises for us. It is hard to be ready always. Our Lord knows that about you and me. That is why He made sure to warn us, not just once, but many times throughout Holy Scripture. He made sure that there would be pastors to preach that Word, to baptize, to administer Holy Communion, to absolve, all so that people would be ready for His Second Coming, His Second Advent. The forgiveness of sins makes you ready for the coming of Christ, for Judgment Day. That great work of God for you, the granting of forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, is what prepares your hearts and minds so that you may stand with confidence on the Last Day, knowing that in Christ you are holy and pure, by God’s grace alone.

So we continue to gather, to hear the preaching of God’s Word. God works among us even today, readying us for the Second Advent so that we will not be overtaken, so that day will not take us by surprise. “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He comes, will find watching.” Amen.

Categories
Advent Sermons by Pastor Rank

Advent 1 – November 30, 2003

In Nomine Iesu – Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: John 18:33-37

Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. if My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; not now My kingdom is not from here.” Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are you a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.

Dear friends in Christ,

Jesus is a king. What does this mean? We normally think of a king as someone who has great political power in his country. A king is the one who has control; he is the one who has the money, the army; and he can use that power to achieve whatever he wants. There is no one higher than the king in his country. Everyone else is subordinate to the king. These subjects of the king must do his bidding or fear his wrath. Is this the kind of king Jesus is?

On Palm Sunday it sort of looked like it. After all, you have Jesus being cheered by a huge crowd. They ask Him to save them: “Hosanna!” They say that He comes in the name of the Lord. But despite the cheering crowds Jesus does not look like a king. He comes into Jerusalem by Himself. No great army marches with Him. There is no show of great riches or power. All you see is Jesus, sitting on the back of a small donkey.

Four days later Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. There is no crowd cheering Jesus and praying for His help. Instead He has been arrested, slandered, beaten. As Pilate says, “Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me.” It doesn’t sound as if Jesus has a country to be king of. It doesn’t look like Jesus has followers that will defend Him and raise Him up as their king and leader. So what kind of king is Jesus?

“My kingdom is not of this world.” Here Jesus separates His kingdom from all earthly kingdoms. His kingdom is different. He doesn’t mean it is in outer space. But rather it is not a kingdom that can be defined by borders on a map. His kingdom does not have the agendas of worldly kingdoms: the point is not to amass riches, nor to become the strongest, nor to conquer all other countries so that Jesus is the great political leader of a vast kingdom here on earth. None of that. Jesus’ kingdom is the kingdom of “truth.”

Earlier Jesus had told Thomas: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.” Jesus is the truth, and He is opposed to the ‘lie.’ The ‘lie’ was first spoken to Eve when Satan said: “You can be like God.” This great lie continues to bring ruin and death to people of all races, of all countries. This great lie is at the heart of all human attempts to achieve spirituality of some kind or another.

When Jesus tells Pilate: “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice,” He is telling Pilate what His kingdom is about. This kingdom first of all is dependent upon Jesus, upon His witness, upon His voice. Without the voice of Jesus there is no kingdom of Jesus. Without the voice of Jesus there is no truth. This makes the kingdom of Jesus exclusive; in other words, the only kingdom that lasts is that of Jesus, no other kingdom, no other religion, will stand. They will all fall. But not through the power of the sword. The kingdom of Jesus does not come when people decide to blow themselves up and kill others along with them. Jesus had told Peter to put away his sword. And Jesus tells Pilate: “if My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight.” The kingdom of Jesus does not come when we are able to get the right laws passed in the United States congress, nor does the kingdom disappear if the wrong laws are passed. The kingdom of Jesus does not come when we keep the nation of Israel safe from her enemies. These are all kingdom of the world issues. They have importance, politically; and they impact us, our society. But not spiritually, not eternally.

It is the voice of Jesus that brings truth, and where that truth is, there you will find the kingdom of Jesus. Remember the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer:

Thy Kingdom come. What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes of itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. How does God’s kingdom come? The kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.

The voice of Jesus is the Word of God. He is the Word that became flesh. And the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God so that we believe the Word and live godly lives.

It is easy to become seduced by the ways of this world and its kingdoms. It is easy to think of the kingdom of Jesus in terms that apply to this world. Think of the churches that are attractive to the world. They are the big churches. They are the churches where you can be influential in your community through the contacts you make there. They are the churches that have great outward displays of wealth and power. Think of the Crystal Cathedral in California, think of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, or consider local churches. If you were to list the influential churches in Winnebago county, the ones that you join in order to have influence and to make good business and social connections, where do you go?

It is easy to question the rightness of what we believe when it looks like all that happens is that we get smaller and smaller. This does not excuse us from doing all we can to spread the truth, to preach Christ, to pray for the kingdom of God to grow so that others will know and believe in the Savior. This also does not mean smaller churches are holier or better. But the point is: don’t look at size, listen to the voice. Do you hear the voice of Jesus? Is His word in its truth and purity the center? That voice alone is what defines the Christian Church, the kingdom of Jesus. We do not want that voice of Jesus muted or distorted. For that voice is truth. Nothing else is truth.

Today we start a new church year. Today is the start of Advent, the time of preparation for the great festival of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, born of the virgin Mary. We use these days before Christmas to prepare our hearts and minds by heeding the voice of Jesus. This voice keeps calling us to repentance, to put aside the seduction of the kingdoms of this world with their riches and power, to gather around the Word of God, preaching, sacraments.

Jesus is a king. This king works among us now by His grace, by bringing us forgiveness for our sins of envy for the power and riches of the world, forgiveness for our lack of love for His kingdom, forgiveness for all sin. This is what the kingdom of Jesus is all about. And that is why at the start of this new church year we always see Christ on the cross looming in the distance. That is where Jesus would end up after talking to Pilate. And that is why He came: forgiveness comes with that cost of Jesus – death on the cross . He paid. We’re saved. “The kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.” That is our prayer at the start of Advent. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Categories
School News

2020 Open House & Kindergarten Roundup

Friday, March 6, 2020 at 5:30 PM – 7 PM

pinScarville Lutheran School411 Logan St, Scarville, Iowa 50473

The annual Open House and Kindergarten Roundup will take place Friday, March 6th. Children grades K-8th and their families are welcome to join us for food, fellowship, and a few facts about Christian Education!

All are welcome to attend!

Questions? Call: 641-568-3372
Categories
2019 Sermons Pre-Lent

Baptism of our Lord – 2019 Matthew 3.13-17

Sermon – Matthew 3.13-17 (Baptism of our Lord – 2019)

Let us pray: Lord God, heavenly Father, You manifested Yourself, with the Holy Spirit, in the fullness of grace at the baptism of Your dear Son, and with Your voice directed us to Him who has borne our sins, that we might receive grace and the remission of sins: Keep us, we beseech You, in the true faith; and inasmuch as we have been baptized in accordance with Your command, and the example of Your dear Son, we pray You to strengthen our faith by Your Holy Spirit, and lead us to everlasting life and salvation; through Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.

 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”

 15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.

 16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.

 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed,

A few years back, I listened to a presentation by one of the foreign mission board members about the work of our sister church body in India, the Lutheran Mission of Salvation-India. They not only talked about their ministry there, but also about the culture and the features of the life and religion of the people in India. Hinduism is the chief religion there, and of great importance for them is the Ganges River. It is almost like a god to them. They think that washing in the river washes them of their sins, but, of course, the water there is just plain water. Though if you can say anything about the river, you can say that it is filthy. It is heavily contaminated with sewage. The mission board member was talking about a crematory on the river. There they daily cast heaps of ashes of the deceased in the river. And then downstream you see the people wading in the river, washing clothes, washing themselves, brushing their teeth and collecting water for drinking. 

As filthy as that river was, it doesn’t hold a candle to the filthiness of the Jordan River on one particular day.

Let’s talk about that day. It’s the day portrayed in our gospel reading. John had been performing his preparatory work, preaching repentance to the people, that they may be ready to receive Jesus as their Savior. He was baptizing people in the Jordan River. It was a “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,” as Mark’s Gospel says. It was a baptism of grace that gave the forgiveness of sins.

Many came out from Jerusalem, from Judea and from all over the region to see John at the Jordan. They heard John’s preaching. They repented and they were baptized. And among the sinners that came to see John was Jesus. And Jesus’ request was just like everyone elses. He wished to be baptized.

But John knew Jesus, and knew He was different than the rest of the crowd. Jesus was the righteous Son of God. Jesus was the one whose sandals John was unworthy even to untie. John was the unworthy servant, Jesus, the holy and righteous Lord. He was without sin. He had no need to repent, nor did He need forgiveness. He was the one who would save the world from its sins. The next day, John identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. So it would be more fitting for holy Jesus to baptize John with the baptism that grants the remission of sin.

But Jesus insisted, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” 

And so John the servant of the Lord is obedient to His master. And Jesus, in His humility, is obedient to His Father, and in so doing, they fulfill all righteousness. Jesus is baptized. But what exactly is going on here? Jesus enters the Jordan River, and in those waters, He gets filthy. No the water isn’t dirty with fecal matter and the ashes of the dead and other pollutants. No, it is much worse. He enters into the water to get filthy with our sins. It is not ashes of the dead bodies, but the sins of our body of death. “He who knew no sin became sin for us.” He becomes the bearer of our sins. The vulgarities and lies that comes from our mouths, the perversity and selfishness of our minds, and the wretched deeds of our hands are all in that water, and Jesus doesn’t shy away from the filth, but in love for you, He is baptized, He takes those filthy sins unto Himself that they may become as His own.

He attaches Himself to our sins through His baptism, and there he takes in hand the cup of suffering that he will be drinking 3 years later. For He was baptized, covering Himselfl in our sins, accepting the punishment for them that He will pay on the cross. There the Holy One would hang on the cross covered in our filth, and the Father, looks with disgust and holy indignation at His own Son. He suffers hell and gives His life as the payment price for our sins. And Jesus resurrection is proof that the price is paid in full. Sin is removed, peace with God is made.

When Jesus was baptized, taking our sins and beginning His path to the cross, He obeys the Father and begins to fulfill all righteousness for us! And see how pleased the Father is in what His Son is doing! He even speaks from heaven in this beautiful manifestation of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father loves His Son, and is pleased that He takes up the work of our salvation. And the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove, anointing Jesus for His work of making peace between us and God. God is fully committed to our salvation!

And as He connected Himself to us taking our sins through His baptism, He connects us to Himself and cleanses us of our sins through the waters in which we were baptized. Though it is plain water that comes from the tap, connected with the Word, it is a sanctifying water, that cleanses us and gives us life and salvation, gifts that Christ has won for us. As Luther says in the Small Catechism, “It is not the water that does these things, but the Word of God which is in and with the water, and faith which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without the Word of God the water is simply water, and no baptism; but with the Word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit.”

And as at Jesus’ baptism, so also at ours, the Triune God is present as we are baptized in His name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is pleased to call us to Himself, to wash us clean of our sins, and make us His own children through faith.

And in baptism, we are given new life! Christ has joined to His death and resurrection, and thus we the old is put away, it is drowned, and we now live in the forgiven and free life that He has newly created for us! This is why we do not say, “I was baptized,” but rather, “I am baptized.” Like a married person would not say, “I was married,” but “I am married.” I am baptized as the hymn says. We live each day as God’s adopted children, clothed in Christ, washed of our sins, having peace with God. For that is what baptism gives, as it says in Peter’s epistle. It’s a cleansing water, not the removal of filth of our flesh, but the removal of our sins, so that our conscience may be at peace with God. It doesn’t wash us only 99.99% clean, but it gives us the total 100% forgiveness of all our sins paid for by the all sufficient, once for all sacrifice of Jesus, our Savior.

And so we live out this new baptismal life by drowning that Old Adam in us in repentance, and believing that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. 

May God preserve us from forsaking this gift of baptism, by impenitence and unbelief. We’re set free from sin, so we do not go jump headlong back into our filth. But by God’s grace, we live in repentance, living in those cleansing waters of baptism as we hear the word of forgiveness in absolution, and receive the body and blood of Christ for the remission of our sins.

And in this new life, set free from sin, we then go about our lives as God’s baptized and forgiven people, a people He has claimed as His own in baptism and upon which He has put His name. We begin each day in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And thus we get to conduct ourselves in our vocations in life with confidence and comfort! This we joyfully do to the glory of Christ, who by His baptism made Himself dirty, that we in our baptisms may be made clean. Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.