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.”


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.

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.

Christmas Sermons by Pastor Rank

Christmas Day – December 25, 2006

In Nomine Iesu – Pastor Thomas L. Rank


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.

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.