‘Confirmed into Death and Life’
The 2nd Sunday in Christmas | 2 January 2011
Dear S., L., G. and H.,
Today is your confirmation day, your first communion. This is a marvelous gift from the Lord, because He knows how weak you are, how sinful, how much you need His help, and so He gives is.
That, in fact, is what it means to be a Christian, it is to be the recipients of the Lord’s gifts. And the Lord has for us a life-time of gifts; He doesn’t give His gifts to us all at once. He gives us life, and then birth. Then the Lord gives us new birth, life and salvation through baptism. He gives us the ability to talk and sing so that we can pray and sing hymns. The Lord teaches us to understand so we can know His Word. Our Lord Jesus has given us His very body and blood with the promise of the forgiveness of all of our sins. This is the gift that the Lord has for you for the first time today, and it is a time of great rejoicing for you and for the Lord’s Church.
But there are some dangers with confirmation as well. I’m thinking specifically of three dangers. Here they are.
The first is the temptation to think that confirmation adds something to your baptism, or completes your baptism, or makes your baptism matter more. No way. Your baptism was complete the moment it happened. There is nothing you or I can to to add to the work of God, and the miraculous and marvelous work that the Lord did when He baptized each of you, when He put His name on you, doesn’t need any improvement; it can’t get any better. You are baptized, the beloved, saved children of God. You were when you woke up this morning, and you will be when you go to bed tonight.
We are always tempted to think that we are helping God, and this is wrong, and bad. Jesus is the one who helps us.
The second danger with confirmation is to think that you have learned all that you need to know. There’s a joke about the Baptist preacher who has bats in the church, and no matter what he does he can’t get rid of them. One day he sitting with a Lutheran pastor friend and telling him about the bat problem, and the Lutheran pastor says, “No problem, I’ll take care of it.” He walks in to the sanctuary, closes the doors, comes out in five minutes and all the bats fly out behind him. A few weeks latter the two were visiting again and the Baptist preacher says, “It’s amazing, friend, that the bats have never come back. What did you do.” “Simple,” says the Lutheran, “I confirmed them. You’ll never see them again.” … This is funny but also very, very sad. Confirmation is not a graduation. It is not an end, but just a beginning. You have not learned everything you need to know. I have not learned everything that I need to know. No one in this hall, no one on this earth has learned everything we need to know.
Martin Luther, perhaps the greatest teacher in the church since the days of the apostles says, “But for myself I say this: I am also a doctor and preacher, yea, as learned and experienced as all those may be who have such presumption and security; yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism, and ever morning, and whenever I have time, I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, etc. And I must still read and study daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am glad so to remain.” (Large Catechism, Preface, 7-8)
It would be impossible to count the people who have been overcome by this temptation, who have thought once they were confirmed they had learned it all, mastered everything, and were in need of nothing. It is a terrible tragedy that for many people their first communion was also their last, but you four, you dear confirmands, out of everything you have learned in these past year and a half, I pray that you have learned this most of all, that you are a sinner who is forgiven by Jesus. This means we live a life of repentance, S.S.F.F., sorrow over sin and faith in forgiveness.
There’s a little side note to this. It is sometimes understood that your confirmation is when you can make your own decisions, for example, now you can decide whether or not to come to church, or to come to Bible study. This is also not true. You will never have that decision to make; the Lord has made it for you: “Remember the Sabbath Day, and keep it holy.” Even when your 14 or 18 or 21 or 50 or 97, you still won’t be old enough to make that decision. Coming to church and hear the Lord’s word and having the Lord’s Supper is not a choice, it’s a commandment. Got it?
The danger is thinking that we’ve learned enough, and we haven’t. Our whole lives are filled with learning the Lord’s Word, coming to church, eating and drinking the body of our Lord, and prayers.
The third danger is thinking that confirmation makes you worthy to come to the Lord’s Supper. You all have worked hard and studies hard, but you have not, with this work and study, earned something or deserved something, or somehow done something to gain access to the Lord’s Altar. This is a gift, and it will always be a gift, for all of us.
No one has deserved what the Lord gives here. No one has earned it. Week after week you all have watched your parents come to communion, your brothers and sisters in Christ, the members of this congregation come for the Lord’s body and blood, not one of these comes to this altar because they’ve earned the privilege; no one has a right to come to the altar; it is a gift, always a gift for each and every one of us.
Remember the catechism: “He who is truly worthy and well prepared has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’” We are worthy only when we know that we are unworthy, undeserving, unequal to the gifts that the Lord gives, when we know that we desperately need the forgiveness of our sins. Repentance is what makes us worthy in the eyes of God.
These are three dangers: thinking that you are doing something to add to your baptism, thinking that you’ve learned enough, thinking that you have made yourself worthy to come to the Lord’s Supper, and all three of these dangers boil down to one thing: pride. That’s what the devil constantly tempts us towards: pride, thinking more of ourselves than we ought. You, though, are not confirming your pride, but your humility and your faith. You will stand here before the Lord and His people and confess that you know and believe the creed, that you have studies and know the catechism, that you desire to come to the Lord’s Supper, and that you renounce the devil and all his ways.
And you can be sure that when you renounce the devil that the devil is also renouncing you. Being a Christian is a dangerous business. The devil hates you just as much as he hates your Lord Jesus. And this brings us to the text, the Gospel reading for today, the slaughter of the holy innocents. Herod the Great had heard from the wise men that there was a King born, and Herod was an extremely jealous and crazy man. When the wise men didn’t return from Bethlehem Herod sent his soldiers to kill all the little boys two years and younger. The angel had warned Joseph to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, but the rest of the children, the baby boys, did not escape. People have guessed, because of the size of Bethlehem, that there were 15-25 little boys slaughtered on that night.
We call this the slaughter of the innocents not because these children were not sinners, after all, we are all born sinners, but because they had committed no crime deserving death. The church gives them the title of the first Christian martyrs. And they serve as a stark reminder to us that the devil is angry, mad and frothing with rage against our Lord Christ and His church. He wants us dead.
This world is getting darker and darker. The devil knows that his time is short, and that the Lord’s return is at hand, and so he goes about the world in a rage. He can no longer destroy Jesus (who sits at the right hand of the Father), so he madly seeks to devour Christians. He madly seeks to devour you.
I fear that each generation will face challenges and temptations from the devil that the previous generation never knew. More will be asked of you than was asked of your parents and grandparents. The challenges to your faith will be severer; the temptations will come sooner; the assaults of the devil will be fiercer. You children will know the devil’s rage in a way that would make our skin curl. But this is nothing to fear.
If you were to try to navigate this life on your own, you will surely fall. But you are not alone. You belong to Jesus. He loves you. He died for you. He has baptized you and written His name on you and called you to be His own. He is your Protector and Defender and Keeper and Savior. And He even has for you, today and until you die, His very body and blood, given for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.
In these gray and latter days, this, dear confirmands, and dear saints, is your comfort and your peace. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO