Christmas is coming. Think back to your childhood Christmases, when grandma bought you socks. She loved you. She didn’t want you to have cold, wet feet. She didn’t want you to catch pneumonia. At least, that’s what my grandma always told me when, I opened the package intentionally forgotten, hoping I wouldn’t have to open it in front of everyone. Socks are practical. But at Christmas, who wants practical gifts? We want fun gifts—electronics, money, big-ticket items that can impress. But how long after Christmas morning are those gifts forgotten? Socks you wear every day. But that bag of socks is still disappointing.
The Church Year is always preparing us for what lies ahead. Advent prepares us for Christmas and Lent for Easter. The Lectionary, our calendar of readings, has its eyes in two places. First, what we need to know for our Christian life at this moment. Second, what we need to know to be prepared for what is coming. This wisdom of the Church is timeless. We have been using this cycle of readings for well over 1,000 years and they are just as applicable today as they were when the lectionary was assembled, yes, and just as applicable as when the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of these sacred Words a thousand years plus before that. As we march on towards the end of the Church Year our attention shifts. Yes, we still see the focus on growth in the faith, but that focus becomes less general and more specific. Our growth in the faith is precisely because the devil wants to defeat us. Over the next several weeks we will see more and more how the devil is doing his best to try to defeat us. Though, thanks be to God, he lacks God’s omnipotence, he still works in this world just like he did in Eden when he deceived Adam and Eve. Today as we hear the healing of the paralytic, the devil wants us to focus on the wrong things. He wants us to see Jesus as someone who doesn’t listen to us, as He first forgave the man and only after a little bit of outrage gave the man what he really needed—or what everyone thought he really needed. The devil wants us to focus on this body and this life as all there is at the neglect of the life to come. But Jesus has come to precisely to heal us, but to give us forgiveness, the only healing that truly matters.
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.