For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house.” I’m not sure why Jesus bothers with the Parable, because it’s not going to make sense to us anyways. We say we get it, that God gives His grace lavishly, but in the end it’s a concept that we will never wrap our minds around. We rejoice in God’s grace as it is represented in the landowner, but we still don’t get it. We can’t, because our minds are terminally infected by original sin, the prideful, arrogant sin of Satan, that tells us to see ourselves as the most important, the highest judge of all things. God, the rule of nature, everything must be subservient to me, to what I can comprehend, to what I can dictate. And God’s grace does not work in those ways. It is entirely ludicrous to human reason. It works in ways we cannot and never will. But, that’s why Jesus tells the Parable. Not so we can master the concept, but so we can rejoice that our God does not limit Himself to man’s ways, to those things that make sense to us. God’s grace is limitless and gives gifts greater than we could ever deserve.
When Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a cantata for this day in the Church Year, he based the text on St. Simeon’s song. In one movement, he paraphrased what St. Simeon said with this simple phrase: “I have enough.” There is so much more to what St. Simeon said, but it is all well-summarized in those three words.
Today the Church commemorates St. Titus, one of St. Paul’s disciples and the first Bishop of the Greek island of Crete. During Paul’s first missionary journey, young Titus was one of those who heard his preaching and was brought to faith by the Holy Spirit. Paul eventually brought Titus to Jerusalem to show the other Apostles and Jewish believers that a Greek, someone from a heathen background, could believe in Jesus. Titus accompanied Paul on several trips and became a trusted helper, so much so that Paul used him as a messenger of his Epistles to different churches, most notably the second Epistle to the Church in Corinth. While in Corinth, Paul gave Titus the task of attempting to resolve some of the controversies there, something that would require exceptional skill and theological knowledge. After his Roman imprisonment, Paul took Titus to Crete, a place where the message of the Gospel had spread because of Pentecost. Luke records in Acts 2 that Jews from Crete were in Jerusalem for the feast, and we assume took Peter’s preaching home with them. However, the Christians of Crete were incredibly divided and disorganized and were in need of spiritual leadership. Paul had to leave, but ordained Titus as the first Bishop of Crete, the first Gentile to take on a significant leadership role in the Church. Paul requested Titus’s help in Nicopolis, but this meant leaving Crete. So, Paul wrote what is recorded for us as the Epistle to Titus, which lays out the very specific requirements of those who would hold the Pastoral Office. This enabled Titus to appoint Pastors in Crete, so he could assist Paul. After completing the work in Nicopolis, Titus went on to evangelize what today is Croatia before returning home to Crete. By God’s grace Titus was able to live in peace and died in old age, not as a martyr as so many of his brother pastors had. We give thanks to God today for His grace to Titus, the work he did in Crete and elsewhere, and especially for the Holy Spirit’s work through Titus’s preaching and teaching.
This is the event that begins it all. Jesus attends a wedding at Cana, likely for a relative, and performs the first of His signs. That vocabulary is important. This isn’t His first miracle. There have been plenty of those, and we just celebrated them in December. Jesus was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary—a miracle. Aged Zacharias and Elizabeth had a son—a miracle. The wise men were led to the little Boy by a star—a miracle. Even in Jesus’ adulthood He was already performing miracles when He called His first disciples. Though He was nowhere near, He saw Nathaniel under the fig tree. So, while water being changed into wine is certainly a miracle, it is not Jesus’ first.
Monday began a new season in the Church Year as we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord. On January 6, the Church remembers the coming of the wise men from the East. Though that is the historical event celebrated, the meaning behind it is why we really celebrate. We remember the visit of the wise men because it reveals that Christ is the universal Savior. He was not sent only to save the Jewish people, but, as St. John saw in his vision of heaven, people of every “tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). The wise men from the East are representative of all the Gentiles. The Feast is called Epiphany, because the word means “to make manifest” or “to reveal.” On that day, Christ was revealed as the great Light for the people who walked in darkness and dwelt in the land of the shadow of death (Is. 9:2). And now, through the intervening weeks before we begin the season of Lent, Christ is revealed as God and Man. This time in the Church Year uncovers the divinity of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures will lift the earthly veil which hides Incarnate God below. Today we are shown that, even at a young age, Jesus knew who He is and for what reason He came to earth.
Perhaps our culture has lost the depth of meaning in a name. We can forget that names mean something. In Scripture, when someone, something, or someplace is given a name, it is given that name for a reason. That reason is often a confession, not just to tell one person from another. Abram means “exalted father,” but he was renamed Abraham, “father of a multitude,” after God promised him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. Jacob means “deceitful one,” and was given that name for quarreling with his brother from Rebekah’s womb. But after wrestling with him, God gave Jacob the name Israel, which means “the Lord preserves.” After that, Jacob renamed that place Peniel, which is literally “the face of God,” because there he came face-to-face with God and, despite that, his life was preserved.
What do we do we do now that Christmas is over? It really isn’t—today is only the Fifth Day of Christmas—but the world has ended its Christmas, and our lives so easily fall into the world’s cycles and trends. Maybe a better question is, what do we do now that December 25th has passed, that the tree’s days are numbered, the presents have been unwrapped and put away or returned, and the time of Advent preparation and anticipation is behind us? At least liturgically, Advent and its looking forward dominated our lives. What’s the point now that the anticipated event has come and gone?
Why is it that the greatest outpouring of visual art and music the Church and the world have seen is centered on the three greatest events in the life of Christ? Because all of human history was changed when the Word was made flesh, when that flesh died, and when that flesh rose. How was human history changed? Proof was given that God’s promise was true, that He would not destroy His creation, but would redeem it.
We’re not accustomed to thinking of the angels as scary. Think about the way some of our beloved Christmas carols present them:
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell
Still through the cloven skies they come with peaceful wings unfurled
All my heart again rejoices as I hear far and near sweetest angel voices
Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains.
We think of angels as these peaceful, feminine figures in flowing white dresses, with downy wings, and golden harps. What is there to fear?
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.