By Paul Koch

When you go to a church, not just this church but really any church, you enter a place that is intentionally designed and laid out for a specific purpose. There are places to sit, these days padded pews or even chairs that are designed to keep you engaged and comfortable but not drowsy. There are the places where music is played and where the word is preached. There may or may not be various symbols of the faith in a church, there to give the wandering eyes something to focus on. Often times there is a large cross that serves as a focal point. There could be screens upon which images are projected that are used to help convey the message and set the mood, to keep the hearers up to speed on what is coming next. We have things like air conditioning for the warms summer days and heaters to keep us toasty during the winter. All in all, church is something we’ve come to see as a comfortable, predictable, reliable place—something that is well established and controlled.

By Paul Koch

The moment when our Lord steps into the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized by John is of great significance for the understanding of our faith. Here the identity and purpose of our Lord’s arrival come into focus. John the Baptist is doing what his namesake calls for him to do: He is baptizing. He is washing the repentant children of God in the Jordan River as a testimony of their confession of sins and their longing for a new hope in the coming Messiah. Remember, John is preparing the way for the Messiah. He is the voice calling out in the wilderness. Things are going well. People are flocking out to him, to be part of this new thing. But all of it takes a strange turn when Jesus enters into those waters. The people had been entering the water to repent and so be ready to receive the Christ, but why does Jesus enter? What does he have to repent of? What sins does he confess?

By Paul Koch

Once a month I gather with a group of my local colleagues. These fellow pastors in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod come together to worship and study and discuss any pressing issues that need our attention. It is a gathering that I rarely miss. Not that it is always inspiring, but it is important to gather together to receive the gifts of our Lord and discuss contemporary issues facing the children of God. And it quite often turns out to be inspiring, or at least we manage to go out for a few beers when we’re all done, and that is inspiring.

By Paul Koch

Today we arrive at the twelfth day of Christmas. On the first day of Christmas, we celebrated the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ, a partridge in a pear tree, born of Mary in the little town of Bethlehem. He came with the herald of God’s angels, appearing to shepherds tending their flocks by night. God had come to his people, and his people worshiped him. This was the long-awaited Messiah, and as we learn from the story of Simeon in the temple, the arrival of Jesus was the arrival of the consolation of Israel. Here was hope and assurance, comfort and promise. However, on the twelfth day of Christmas, we recall another group that came to worship our Lord, a band of unlikely guests that search him out and bring their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

By Paul Koch

When I was a child, I disliked clothes shopping. You remember the days when mom would hold up outfit after outfit and have you try them on one after another to try to get the perfect size (which was usually just a little too big so that you had room to grow). Getting new clothes back then was necessary, but it wasn’t all that memorable. However, these days, getting new clothes is a lot of fun. While it’s been a while since I’ve bought a new suit, there is an awesome feeling when you wear a new outfit. The clothes can actually make you feel better. Perhaps they make you feel more accomplished or more respectable. You can buy clothes that make you feel more free or spontaneous. Clothes go far beyond being practical and protective. They can make a statement or even help you achieve your goals. There is truth in that old saying that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that clothes are the driving force in your life, but they aren’t impartial to who you are or what you want to be, or at least they can be.

By Joel A. Hess

Every year, a little bit of my love for Christmas dies. I don’t want it to. I hold on tightly in November. I turn up the tunes and decorate my office right after Thanksgiving. Each year, the tree goes up faster and with less ceremony. Each year, I pause less with each ornament. Each year, the season goes by faster. I barely have time to be anxious, excited, or even mournful.

By Paul Koch

There is nothing worse than the feeling that comes over you when reality beats back your wish dreams. When you imagine what something would be like—how it would look, act, or feel—and then you experience it in real life and finally take it all in only to find that it’s not what you imagined. In that moment, your expectations, your ideal is shattered. And in a way, a big part of what our Lord does as he walks the earth is tear down the images and dreams people had concerning the Messiah. Everyone was waiting for the Messiah, eager to receive the Anointed One, and they all had their own detailed understanding of just how he would act and what sort of things he would accomplish. Would he be compassionate, kind, and forgiving? Would he be a critical judge and immovable threat? A liberator of the people of God? A deliverer from oppression or a political king? Everyone took the title of Messiah and filled it with their own wish dreams, and everything went along wonderfully until it crashed into reality.