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Jesus Stands With You and For You - Pastor Gless

 

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:15-17).

Our text begins with, “the people were in expectation.” Having just travelled over two thousand miles to both sides of the family for Christmas, I have the image of ‘expectation’ clearly in my mind. For there under the tree at both homes was a mound of presents expecting to be unwrapped. My kids and their cousins could hardly stand the wait to see what was inside each one.

Expectation is a word that can also be described as ‘sitting on the edge of one’s seat’ or ‘sitting on pins and needles’. It is safe to say either of those lines about my kids and their cousins when it came to presents.

It is also safe to say that about those who gathered to be baptized by John as well. This text, which we just heard a few weeks ago during Advent, says that the people were in ‘expectation.’ They were eagerly and anxiously waiting. They wanted to know, they were on pins and needles, begging to know, who was the One John was talking about. Was it him, or was it someone else?

John made it clear that it was not him at all they were to be expecting. Though he was there to baptize with water, there was One coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He would clear the threshing floor, and He would burn the chaff.

Yet there in that crowd of people filled with expectation, was one man who was most unexpected. This man who had come to receive a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins had no sin. He who knew no sin, became sin.

By joining in that crowd with those to be baptized by John, Jesus identified Himself with sinners. Though He was perfect in every sense of the word, He subjected Himself to a baptism of repentance for sinners.

What we see here is that Jesus, the Son of God, ‘stands with us’. He does not remain distant in any way, shape, or form. He is Immanuel. God with us. And when the fullness of time had come, He was born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law. And now He was here on the scene at the River Jordan to do just that.

Jesus stands with us covered in the filth and stench of our sin. And for agreeing to stand with us, He subjects Himself to the same punishment that we are due. Yes, Jesus stands with us under the wrath of God against sin.

God’s wrath is real people. Scripture describes God’s wrath as a storm, a whirling tempest (Jer. 30:23), a fury (Rev. 19:15), and an unquenchable fire (Luke 3:17).

God’s wrath burns the chaff with unquenchable fire. God hates sin. He abhors it. Every disobedient sinful act we commit, He despises. And every sinful thought, word, or deed, even just one, sentences us to the wrath of God. In no way should we make light of it.

Yet, that is what we do. In some strange way we think that when we tell ourselves that our sins are not that big of a deal, that God must conclude the same thing. This is one of the many ways we justify our sinful actions. It was only a couple of white lies. It was just a few minutes of looking at those videos. It was only a couple of questions that I cheated on. It was only a couple of swear words, and not the really bad ones.

What we think is not that big of a deal is a very big deal to God. When we sin, the fire of His wrath is stoked and He burns with anger. He hates to see His prized creation disregard and disobey Him time and again. God’s wrath is real people. And in no way should we take it lightly.

Jesus certainly didn’t take it lightly as He stood there that day by the Jordan. He knew full well what He was getting Himself into to stand with sinners. He knew that to stand there on the bank of the River Jordan meant much more than met the eye.

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).

What we see here is that as Jesus was baptized and was praying, He wasn’t just standing ‘with sinners’. Jesus was standing ‘for sinners’. He was standing in their place, on their behalf. And in doing so, He was not only subjecting Himself to the wrath of God, but He was agreeing to be the One to meet it head on ‘for’ us sinners.

This is what the Holy Spirit confirms as He descends on Jesus in the form of a dove. And this is what the Father proclaims as He declares Jesus to be His beloved Son. This One, Jesus, and no other one, would stand up for sinners in order to save them from whirling tempest and fury of God’s wrath.

So, as the water is poured over Jesus’ head in the River Jordan, see here that this is Jesus going into battle for us. He steps to the front of the battle lines where the fighting is the fiercest and presses forward.

It all began right after his baptism with the Spirit casting Him out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Forty days with no food with the great deceiver breathing down His neck. The onslaught continued on all sides for the next three years. From family and friends, to church leaders and government officials. Mockery, ridicule, disdain. The attack was relentless. But none of it compared to what was to come.

The baptism of Jesus foreshadows the day of His bloody baptism. Forced to stand trial for crimes He did not commit. Forced to stand pierced upon a cross that should have never been His. Yet, there Jesus willingly, voluntarily, lovingly, stood for you and for me bearing the sins of the whole world. You sins and mine. And for that, the Father unleashed His whirling tempest filled wrath upon Him.

We can’t begin to imagine what it meant to bear that burden. All of the guilt and the shame of all of humanity’s sin from every generation. The weight of the world pressing down upon Him. We can’t begin to imagine what it was like to suffer that separation. To be utterly forsaken, abandoned in the most awful of circumstances. To cry out to God in heaven and get no reply. We can’t even begin to imagine…

And the reason we can’t begin to imagine it, is because of the One who stands with us and for us. The unquenchable fire of God’s furious wrath was quenched by none other than His very own Son. Jesus stood on that cross and breathed His very last breath to drink every last drop of the cup of God’s wrath for you and for me. What He endured, we never will endure. We need not be afraid.

It is as Isaiah wrote in our Old Testament Reading: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Isaiah 43:1b-3a).

Fear not! Jesus stands with you. He will never leave you or forsake you. Fear not! Jesus stands for you. He has redeemed you. He has bought you back from death into life. He has raised you from your own baptismal waters and He calls you by name. You belong to Him. Now what belongs to Him, belongs to you. His perfect life, His death, His resurrection and ascension. It all belongs to you.

So now whenever you fall into sin, and fear God’s wrath, you have only to cry out to God, and He will gladly forgive you. For when He looks at you, He only sees Jesus. The blood of God’s Son covers you and protects you from the God’s fiery wrath and you shall not be burned and the flame will not consume you. You have an advocate with the Father. His name is Jesus, the righteous one.

Now when the Father looks at you, the heavens are opened. No longer are you cut off and separated in your sin. No longer will you have to face God’s wrath. You are a beloved child of God with whom He is well pleased. You have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, the One who stands both with you and for you. In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

December 30 - Pastor Colgrove

Grace and mercy and peace be to you from our God and Jesus Christ, our Lord:  Beloved of Jesus Christ:  The Gospel is our Text.

Everyone needs Redemption!  Let us speak about Redemption.

We say we know that redemption means ‘bought back’; or state of being redeemed; or recovery of what is mortgaged or pawned; or deliverance or the rescue as by a payment of a ransom.  Regardless of meaning, what have you done to pay the ransom, pawned, or bought back, or rescued?

Everyone needs redemption: “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them. “ Lev 18:5 

What does “the redemption of Jerusalem” mean?

One of the problems with our Christmas celebration is that we seem too often to be less than awed by the Word of Christ’s birth!  Let me quickly refresh your memory.

The Angel Gabriel announces to Mary, the virgin of house of David that she is favored by God to bear His Son without the agency of Man.

Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, is pregnant in old age, with John the Baptist, who leaps in her womb at the greeting of the just barely pregnant Mary.

A natal star appears over the Little town of Bethlehem, the house of bread.   

While dirty, stinking shepherds are out tending their flocks at night, an Angel of the Lord appears.  [Devoted shepherds are despised for failure to follow the worship practices.]

The glory of the LORD shown around them and they were afraid.  They heard the angel of the LORD say, Fear Not.  Fear not for I am bringing you Good News, which is for all the people: “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord”.  The angels choir sang: “and Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to among those whom He favors!” Lk 2:10-14

“The shepherds went in haste to find the manger scene and found the child lying in a manger.” 16  They found it so.

On the eighth day, the child, lying in the manger, was taken to the Temple to be circumcised.  “He was called Jesus, the name given to by the angel [Gabriel] before He was conceived in the womb of Mary.” Lk 2.21

Mary pondered all these things in her heart.  [Lk 2:19]

Thirty-two days later, that is after forty days, Mary, Joseph and Jesus go to the Court of the Women at the Temple to be purified according to the Law which Moses had given Israel, the Nation.  They brought Him, the child, [Jesus,] up to Jerusalem, from Bethlehem, to present Him to the LORD.  Where is this written?  In the LAW OF THE LORD.  “Every first-born Male that opens the womb shall be called Holy to the LORD”.  He must be redeemed with a sin offering and a burnt offering, for He belongs to the LORD.  They, being poor, did not offer a donkey nor a lamb, but “A pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons.”  Something must pay the redemption price.  A Son with out the agency of Man, given a name, Jeshua, God is our Savior, “Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

The Scriptures record that Mary and Joseph were amazed at the things which were being said about Him, “Jesus”.  This is the essence of Christmas.  Not the presents, not the holy days, nor the holiday, not the trimmings, but the gift of God’s Son to fallen mankind, this is the awe-maker, He is the new-born REDEEMER.  Here is where the Christmas song of Luther rings in the hearts of believers: 

O dearest Jesus, Holy Child, Prepare Thee a bed, soft, undefiled, A Holy shrine, within my heart, That You and I need never part.  {From Heaven Above, 37, Lutheran Worship]   

Turn this into a daily prayer, to carry Christmas, in your hearts daily.

Remember Jesus’ taking the covenant of Abraham upon Himself, in His flesh, at His circumcision, shedding His first blood, sanctifying our conception, our time in the womb, our birth, that we might be holy and blameless before God through faith in Him who is the Promise and owns the promises.

Redemption means that a sacrifice must be made to cover the debt owed God for our sins, and one which is acceptable to Him. In awe let us go to the Temple to the Court of the Women, with those who are redeeming their first born sons and purifying the mothers.

“And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout” [He was faithful and acceptable to God], and he was “looking for the consolation of Israel, [the promised messiah].   This consolation would be accomplished when the Seed of Abraham who believed God, came.  The Holy Spirit was upon this man.”  He who inspires the Scriptures.  This is awe inspiring testimony.  Simeon is waiting for the promise of God given Israel. The advent waiting has already come!

The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon, that he would not see death before He had seen the Lord’s Christ.  Simeon came to the court of the Women, directed to the couple by the Spirit, when the parents brought Him to carry out the purification and redemption of the first- born Son who opened the womb.  Simeon walked up, took the child into his hands and raised Him up blessing God. [Now let that act cause some awe to take hold]

What does it mean to “bless God?”  It means to praise God for His keeping His promises.  This is the Spirit’s work. 

Simeon was blessing for himself, and for us, as well all who would receive the revelation of the promises in the Gospel.

His prayer we call the Nunc Dimittis.  It is included in our Liturgy at the conclusion of our communion, celebrating our participation receiving the promised body and blood of our Lord.  It is our seeing

“LORD, now You are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel.”   2:29-32

33. And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Jesus.”  Are you being awed also?

This event is for you, folks, Gentiles to receive the Promise and the Promises, incorporation into Jesus, participants in His work and life for your redemption.

Simeon, tells Mary, and a sword will pierce even your own soul, -- to the end that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” These are serious words for Mary to store up in her heart.  A sword will pierce her soul standing at the foot of the cross, looking up at Her Son, The One Who is paying the ransom price, with His body and blood, for the many who will hear the Gospel, believe, and Confess Jesus, as Lord.  It came to pass in awe. 

Let us return to the Nunc Dimittis.  It is found at the dismissal of the communicants in the worship service.  Take careful note that leaving early may reveal the thoughts of one’s heart? 

When we come to faith and are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, we have left behind the rejecting of Jesus and His salva-tion for the Kingdom of grace. We have accepted the gift of faith, that our deeds, which is our goal,  may be seen as wrought by God.  Coming to the Communion Table and singing the Nunc Dimittis is a test in faith and truth.  The Song of Simeon, and the benediction reveal the thoughts of our hearts and our faith in the communion of saints.

Before the effect of Simeon’s words can settle in, the Holy Family are greeted by a prophetess, Anna, “the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.”  She was advanced in years, having lived with a husband seven years after her marriage. [15 plus seven is 22.]  and then as a widow to the age of 84. She can be 84 or 106, the text is not clear. She never left the Temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.  Whatever her age, Luke is intent on impressing her devotion to waiting for the Promise of God.  “At that very moment, she came up and began giving thanks, that is, speaking the praise of God in thanksgiving for what she was seeing.  We are not told how she knows that Simeon and the Child are the one, The Spirit is directing her.  She continued to speak of Him, the Child, to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.  Anna and Simeon, two witnesses to the truth, that the promised Messiah is here in the person and work of the Child, Jesus is evident.  Our Redemption has already come!

What then is our response on this day?  The only true response for Christians hoping to spend eternity with Jesus as their Lord and Savior, is Simeon and Anna’s response, namely, confessing thanks to God for the gift of salvation in the redemption of Israel who is Jesus.  [Jesus, in His circumcision, is the New Israel.]  They went out and spoke to others about This Child.  They acknowledged in confession that this is the Son of God, the redemption of Jerusalem.  He is, “Thy salvation” which Thou hast Prepared before all peoples, a Light to enlighten the Gentiles, that is, call them to faith in Jesus, and the glory of Israel, who preserved the Seed, and remained the people of Israel, God’s people.   This is the gift of grace and God’s favor which is to be received in faith, and acted upon in love, that the world might fall or rise through faith in this sign which is to be opposed.  Jesus is our redemption, He has come to us.  Let us with Simeon and Anna, rejoice and give thanks to God, by carrying His name to the world. Amen.

"The Light of Christmas" 12/25

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

I love Christmas lights. How about you? Growing up, my grandparents were really big into Christmas lights. Their house sat on a five acre plot of land with a ridiculously long driveway. That driveway was lined with mature evergreen trees. Each year, my grandfather would cover those large evergreens with Christmas lights, along with his house and the spare garage as well. Inside the house, Grandma would have Christmas lights up all over, from the tree, to the mantle and all sorts of other places as well. Though in no way do I try to keep up with them, when it comes to the Christmas tree, I just can’t help but put about 500 lights on our tree that is just a bit taller than seven feet. As I said, I love Christmas lights. How about you?

Even though I love Christmas lights, I think what I appreciate most is when I see a nativity scene with a spotlight directed on the manger holding the baby Jesus. It reminds me of my childhood when the kids from our neighborhood Bible Club would put on a live nativity production for the community. Though there were shepherds, wise men, Joseph, Mary, animals and more, the spotlight for the evening was on the baby Jesus. The neighborhood streets were lined with luminaries (candles in milk jugs) directing everyone’s attention to make their way to the One who truly is the Light, the Light no darkness can overcome.

As we gather here on Christmas day, we are invited to behold the birth of the Christ-child in a new light. Where we might think of the angels, shepherds, Joseph, Mary, the stable and the manger, we are directed to so much more. Though we may look into the manger and see a little baby boy with ten tiny fingers, and ten tiny toes, there is much more here than meets the eye. For as we look into His eyes, we see the very One through whom all creation came into existence.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Jesus was there in the beginning along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He is the Word, and as the Word, He was the very instrument used by the Father to bring forth creation. And how amazingly ironic is it that the one who is the Light brought forth the light as the first thing to be created. “Let there be light,” and there was light.

As our eyes are fixed on the Light of Christmas, the baby Jesus, we see that in God’s infinite wisdom He saw fit to have His own Son enter into this world of darkness. Where on the first day, light and darkness were separated, on Christmas day, we see that the Light entered into darkness.

Jesus and His family realized the harsh reality of this darkness from the very beginning of His earthly life. King Herod, in a fit of rage and power ordered that all the male children, two and under, in Bethlehem and the surrounding region be killed. But thanks be to God, an angel intervened who told them to flee to Egypt before Herod’s soldiers came rushing in.

But that didn’t stop the darkness from pressing in. Tempted by Satan in the wilderness with no food for forty days. Rejected by his family who thought He was so crazy they wanted to arrest Him. Pharisees and Sadducees constantly  breathing down His neck with questions and accusations. His own disciple Judas, in the cover of night came and betrayed Him with a kiss. His people shouted for His crucifixion. The government washed their hands of Him as they whipped Him and spat in His face. He was forced to carry His own cross that they nailed him to. And then as darkness hung over the face of the earth from noon until three in the afternoon, His own Father answered His cries with a deafening silence, allowing Him to hang there and breathe His last.

It looked like even though the Light had entered into darkness, the darkness had won. How often do we feel that way? How often does life just seem so dark? Like there is no hope in this world. Like there is no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. That is the unfortunate hold that sin and Satan can have on us when we turn away from the Light. The devil tries to isolate us, to get us to believe that our sins are unforgivable, and that the wounds we bear because of sins committed against us could never be healed. He wants us to go down into the darkness and remain there to the point of death.

But Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. It is as Pastor Lucas often said, that when light enters into darkness, the light always wins.

When he would say that, I would always think about being on vacation taking a tour of a deep cave. The guide would tell us they were going to turn out the lights, and no matter how dark they told us it would be, none of us were prepared for how dark it instantly became. But as soon as they lit a match, it was as if you could see everything. The light always wins.

Jesus did not leave us alone to die in the darkness. No! The very Word which brought forth the light became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) to save us.

We do not have a distant God. Our God comes to us, lives with us, and lays down His life for us. He sees us in our helpless state in this dark valley of the shadow of death, and He enters into it. Where anyone else would fear to tread, He enters into the darkness of death itself, meets the devil face to face, crushes Him with all His might, and proclaims victory over him on his own home turf.

And even though darkness may have hung over the land from the sixth hour to the ninth hour…even though darkness filled the tomb as Pilate ordered it sealed and a guard put in place…it didn’t stop Jesus from bursting out of the tomb alive. It didn’t stop the Easter morning sunlight from shining in and shedding a spotlight on the risen Son of God. Indeed, the Light has won and the victory is now ours.

We each have been given the Light of Christ. His light dwells within us. He has entered into us to expose and extinguish every ounce of darkness within us. From the sins which darken our past to the sinful wounds which darken each day. His light shines and eliminates all of them. It’s what the Light does. The Light defeats the darkness every time.

This is the good news of great joy we have been given to proclaim to all people. This little child with ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes is much more than meets the eye. He is the Light of the World, who brought forth light and life into this world. And now He calls upon us to share His light with others.

As baptized believers, God has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1st Peter 2:9) so that His light may shine before others (Matthew 5:16) and those living in darkness may see His great light (Matthew 4:16) and glory may be given to God (Matthew 5:16). The same glory that shone around the angels as they proclaimed to the shepherds that the Light of Christmas had come, who is Christ the Lord.

What a gift we have been given, and the darkness will not overcome it! A gift we can be reminded of every time we see those Christmas lights all around us. Christ, who is the Light of the world has come to save us. It is a gift for us to receive, to celebrate, and to share. It is indeed a Merry Christmas! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Expectations 12/24/18

 

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way (Matthew 1:18a).

We gather here once again on Christmas Eve to hear the story of how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. We expect to hear the same story of Joseph and Mary making their way to Bethlehem in order to be registered because of the census that was taking place. We expect to hear that because there was no room in the inn, Jesus had to be born in a stable and placed in a manger. We expect to hear about shepherds who were visited by angels and then made their way into Bethlehem to worship the newborn king. We expect to hear of those shepherds departing from there glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. What we expect is the image of the nativity scene that many of us have in our houses, and like we have in the narthex here in the back of church. But the account of Jesus’ birth in the book of Matthew doesn’t give us what we have come to expect on Christmas Eve.

Expectations. We all have them. Some are negative. Some are positive. We came here tonight with expectations for this service. We open presents with expectations. We go to work and school each day with expectations. So, we can most certainly conclude that Joseph had his fair share of expectations as well.

Joseph was betrothed to Mary. Though we might liken that to an engagement today, it was actually a legally binding agreement. But we can certainly guess that Joseph had countless expectations as he thought of his life of being married to Mary. Like an engaged couple today, we can certainly expect that the excitement was building as they looked forward to the consummation of their union as husband and wife on their wedding day. We can expect that plans were being made galore. We might expect that they were discussing where they would settle after the census, what their home might look like together, maybe Joseph was working on a few furniture projects since he was a carpenter…who knows? But we can certainly guess that it was a time of great expectations.

But have any of us here ever had our great expectations in life shattered? The time of Christmas has a way of bringing out a host of emotions when expectations are not met. Many of us expected our situations in life to be far more grand as we sit here tonight. But then all of a sudden, a diagnosis was delivered. Now every conversation is changed and perhaps the outlook is bleak at best. Or perhaps as we sit here side by side, someone who was expected to be here is not, because death reared its ugly head once again. Now that spot where that person was expected to be, is vacant. Or maybe it’s a relationship that didn’t meet expectations. Where we thought ‘til death do us part meant something, now divorce has darkened all that lies ahead.

We all have great expectations in our lives, yet far too often those expectations become like a plate we have dropped on the floor. Shattered, with far too many pieces to ever know how to put it back together again.

We can only imagine that this must have been the way Joseph felt too. Again, our text says: Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. (Pause) When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18). Joseph’s expectations of marriage to Mary had been shattered to pieces.

Mary was expecting a child. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a time of joy and excitement for them as a married couple. In today’s day and age, the whole family would be been called or texted. Pictures of the ultrasound would have been shared on Facebook, and countless people would have responded with their ‘likes’ and various comments congratulating them.

But it was not that way at all for this betrothed couple that had not yet come together as husband and wife. Mary was pregnant…and Joseph was not the father. He must have been devastated as he was only left to conclude that his betrothed bride had been unfaithful. The emotional roller coaster that Joseph went on as he tried to lay his head on the pillow that night must have been nauseating. Anger, sadness, jealousy, sorrow…oh how he must have tossed and turned as he concluded that the only course of action was a quiet divorce. That way, both of their reputations could possibly be saved. They could simply part ways, and Lord willing, Mary would not have to face the stoning that adultery demanded in that day. Yes, a quiet divorce was Joseph’s only solution before he finally drifted off into a deep sleep.

But where Joseph may have expected to awaken to carry out his plan the next day, such plans were met by an angel of the Lord in the depth of a dream. A divine intervention, if you will. For there before him, an angel set forth a new course of action for him to follow with far grander expectations.

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).

Have you ever heard the line: “When we plan, God laughs?” It would seem to be appropriate here with Joseph. He went to bed fully intent on divorcing his wife. But God had a different plan for this marriage, one that went beyond the wildest imagination of Joseph’s expectations for what his life of marriage would be. Joseph and Mary were to be entrusted with the role of parenting the Son of God.

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called His name Jesus (Matthew 1:24-25). (Pause)

In some way or another, we all come here trying to pick up the pieces of shattered expectations in life. Yet we come here in the candlelight of Christmas Eve and we fix our eyes and ears back to Bethlehem. We behold anew how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. And what we see and hear is that even though Matthew doesn’t meet the expectations of all the pomp and circumstance that we find in Luke, we still are met face to face with Jesus who exceeds all of our expectations.

There may be no inn keeper, or manger, or shepherds…but there is Jesus. And where Jesus is, there is the forgiveness of sins. As the angel proclaimed: She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 2:21).

For that is why we came here, is it not? To have our sins forgiven. To once again hear those words that we desperately need to hear again and again. God so loved the world that He sent His Son. He sent His Son to save us from our sins.

This is the truth that provides us a hope and a future in our world of shattered expectations. Be it disease, death, divorce, or any other dark reality of this sin-filled world. This is the truth that we need to hear at this time of year, or any time of year for that matter. Where this world is filled with countless distractions of all sorts telling us what they think Christmas is all about, the book of Matthew directs us clearly to the only One who gives us hope in this life. No packages, boxes, or bags, just Jesus. Because let’s face it, there is not-a-one-of-us here who doesn’t need Jesus in our lives.

Perhaps there are some of us here who haven’t been to church in while. Or perhaps there may be someone who is hearing about this Jesus for the first time. Or maybe some of us have heard this story time and again. No matter where any of us are at, there is one thing that is certain: We all need Jesus, and His divine intervention in our lives.

We gather here to give thanks that our God did not remain distant leaving us to pick up the pieces on our own. No. Jesus came to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy, to be Immanuel, God with us. He joined with us in our life of shattered expectations, and He did far more than we could have ever expected. He endured what we endure. The emotions, the temptations, even death itself.

We may think of Him now as a little infant, weak and crying out to be fed by His mommy. But we know it won’t be long and He will be nailed to a cross, weakened by the whiplashing and loss of blood He had sustained. It will not be long and He will be crying out to His Father, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It will not be long, and He will breathe His last breath for you and for me.

But you see, those last breaths, were taken to ensure that the life He gave on that cross would never be expected of us. Those last breaths were taken to ensure that the peace we have with God truly does surpass all human understanding. And those last breaths were taken to ensure that this Christmas and every one hereafter is indeed a Merry Christmas! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The Blessing of the Presence of Christ”

The word ‘bless’ or ‘blessing’ is used rather loosely these days. In fact, it is so common, it may be difficult to define what a blessing is. What’s more, with our culture of relative truth, where everyone gets to define terms for themselves, the definition of a blessing may have countless possibilities.

Here in America, we have a tendency to define ‘blessing’ in material goods. We view that one is blessed by the ‘food, drink, house, home, and all that we have’ definition. Indeed, these are blessings. They are blessings of the provision of the Lord for which we are to give thanks.

The question arises though, are we more blessed then, because we have more stuff, than say the people of Africa? Does this set us apart? Such a notion seems to feed the myth that somehow America must be a Christian nation because of its many material blessings.

This myth of blessing gives ample preaching material to all evangelists that promote a prosperity Gospel. The prosperity gospel drives home the thought that if one believes in God, or follows a series of steps toward God, that they will be ‘blessed’ by God with health, wealth, stuff, and on and on the list goes.

However, as we look at our text for today, the concept of being ‘blessed’ would have a far different source at its foundation. The word ‘blessed’ is used three times, and in no way does it seem to give credence to this notion of the fact that what makes one blessed is worldly abundance.

So the goal for us today as we draw ever so close to Christmas, with Christmas Eve being tomorrow and Christmas Day being Tuesday, that we would re-evaluate our definition of what a blessing is. Because the truth of the matter is, if we view that we are only blessed by God because of our health and/or wealth, then we run a great risk. For in the fragility and uncertainties of life, all of those things can be stripped away in the blink of an eye.

So let us open our eyes to behold the ‘blessed’ wonder in the making that is the incoming birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. And let us join with Mary, Elizabeth and John in recognizing, rejoicing, and responding to ‘the blessing of the presence of Christ’.

Let’s listen once again to our text for today. 39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:39-45).

Blessed. Blessed. Blessed. And indeed these women were blessed. Elizabeth had been barren, but now she was in the sixth month of her pregnancy with John, the forerunner of Christ. Mary was newly with child, but as the angel had told her, ‘the Holy Spirit had come upon her’ to conceive in her not just any child, but the One who ‘will be called holy—the Son of God.’

So there was no time to lose. When Mary found out from the angel that she was pregnant and her cousin was pregnant at the same time, this moment just had to be shared together. We can envision Mary packing her bags in a sort of frantic excitement as she made her way out the door with a skip in her step. After all the text says, she ‘went with haste’. Then bursting through the door of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home, we can imagine the scene.

A greeting of smiles and laughter and hugs. Maybe Mary reached down and rubbed Elizabeth’s growing belly, because that’s what momma’s do. Oh yes, I’ve seen it before. But it was in that greeting that something quite remarkable took place.

The baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. But then again, babies are always moving in the womb. My wife recently showed me a video on Facebook of an in utero look at the movement of a baby while in the womb. That baby never stopped moving! I was left to wonder, how on earth does a momma get any sleep. But, as I thought about that question, and all the sound nights of sleep I got through our children’s pregnancies, I thought it best not to ask.

The point is though, that since babies are always moving around in the womb, this must have been ‘some’ leap. An extraordinary amount of leaping ability for John. If it hadn’t been for him being called to be the last prophet, perhaps he could have had a future in basketball, had it been invented.

All kidding aside, John’s reaction to the presence of the baby in Mary’s womb was extraordinary. So it goes when One who is extraordinary comes on the scene.

And the extraordinary was just getting started. The text says that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. The Word who had become flesh was now in the room, even though He was still in His momma’s tummy. He was there, and so the Holy Spirit came with Him. Because the Son and the Spirit go together. And filled then with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth let’s out a response. The text says, that she exclaimed with a loud cry. And what is her response filled with? Blessed. Blessed. Blessed. Her response is filled with blessings. Blessings from the Lord.

Listen once again: And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:41b-45).

What a blessing! From the recognition and rejoicing of John the Baptist to the rejoicing and the response of Elizabeth. It all pointed to the One who was residing in the blessed womb of His mother Mary who believed that God would do just what He promised He would do…that God would provide a Savior, and now He was here.

It is all so amazing! For John the Baptist was sent to be the prophet to point the people to the coming of Christ, and he was already doing so before he was born, while he was leaping in the womb. And Elizabeth and Mary got to be the ones to benefit from such a blessing.

And so do we, as we join in believing that God will do all He has promised. For here we are gathered as baptized believers who have been filled with the Holy Spirit to hear the good news of the blessing of the presence of Christ among us. Just like the good news came into the ears of Elizabeth, John, and Mary, so it comes to us. After all, it is as Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28).

So we too are blessed because Christ is the source of every true blessing. In no way are we blessed because of who we are, for we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God. And where it could be so easy at this time of year to think the things we have or receive under the tree are what makes us blessed, God’s Word directs us to the ultimate source of blessing when it comes to Christmas. And in no way does it point us to the things of this world, be it health, wealth, or any kind of stuff we may give or receive in the days to come.

Which reminds me of the classic Christmas story, “The Grinch”. There he was on Mount Crumpit about to throw all of the Whos’ Christmas gifts and decorations off of the cliff. But before doing so, he paused hoping to listen to all the Whos in Whoville cry boohoo.

             “He paused. And the Grinch put a hand to his ear. And he did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started in low...then it started to grow. But this sound wasn't sad. Why, this sound sounded glad. Every Who down in Who-ville,

the tall and the small...was singing without any presents at all. He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming, it came. Somehow or other, it came just the same. And the Grinch, with his Grinch feet ice-cold in the snow...stood puzzling and puzzling. How could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags. He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps,

means a little bit more."”
           The ultimate source and foundation of our being ‘blessed’ is Christ, our Savior and Lord. We gather here today in recognition of this very truth. For Christ, the Son of God came. Though it was into this sin-filled world, He came just the same. He came, into Mary’s womb to be born in a stable and placed in a manger. He came into Jerusalem and was nailed to a cross. He came there to bleed, to suffer, and to die your death and mine. He came to defeat sin, death, and the devil once and for all. He came to rise from the dead, burst forth the grave. He came. He came, and what a blessing it is that He keeps coming to be present with us.

           A blessing that we are still proclaiming here today as we feast on something far grander than any roast beast! For here today, the Son of God humbles Himself by coming to us under simple means of bread and wine so that we may have the blessed gifts of forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation.

           This is where Jesus comes to be present with us, to be present in us. And where the things of this world will rust and decay, these blessings of our Savior will never pass away.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         A blessing we are still who justly deserve God’s present and eternal punishment.

So as we are about to celebrate Christmas, let us open our eyes to behold the ‘blessed’ wonder in the making that is the incoming birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. And in the power of the same Spirit that filled Elizabeth, let us recognize and respond with great joy to ‘the blessing of the presence of Christ’. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

December 16- Pastor Wismar

Advent 3

Luke 7:18-28 (29-35)

          Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our sermon text for this Third Sunday of Advent is the Gospel lesson recorded in the 7th chapter of St. Luke.

          As we begin our time in this text today I would like to share with you a quote from a leadership book I once read, “I know of few afflictions more persistent than discouragement. It’s like a debilitating disease. Rare is the person who can resist or overcome it alone.”

          The quote highlights two things that are explicit in our Gospel reading: First, discouragement is as awful as it is common. No one—and I mean no one—is exempt. Second, the way out of discouragement is not something you can do alone. Or perhaps more precisely—it is not something you can do it all. The only real way out of this common and steady stream of discouragement the world throws at a Christian is rescue—and not just any rescue but the gracious rescue of Jesus Christ himself.

          Let’s examine this debilitating and persistent disease of discouragement. From the point of view of health and strength discouragement of course does not even seem like a possibility. We can even imagine situations that might produce discouragement and in the fashion of a soliloquy laugh the possibility away: “I could handle anything the world throws at me. Financial trouble: Piece of cake. Family Discord: Please, give me a challenge. Pain: No problem. Death: I laugh at death.”

          From the point of view of weakness, however, discouragement quickly becomes not merely a possibility but the debilitating disease that it is. There is an old athlete’s proverb, “fatigue makes cowards of us all.” In sports it works like this: If you’re in good shape, if you are feeling strong than you’re not scared. You’re confident. But if you start to get a little tired. If you start to feel a little weak. You get banged up it becomes harder and harder to put your body on the line and make the play. And in that moment your fatigue has made you afraid. And afraid you recognize you are discouraged—nothing is going your way. And it seems improbable that things will get turned around.

          That’s how fatigue makes cowards of us all in sports. In the Christian faith this fatigue that ushers in the debilitating disease of discouragement looks like this: John the Baptist had come preaching a strong and powerful sermon, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” John had introduced a baptism of repentance and forgiveness and people were listening. They were indeed preparing themselves for the arrival of the Messiah. John was fearless in his preaching. He preached not only to the common man but saved his harshest and most courageous criticism for the leadership of Israel: The Pharisees, the Sadducees and King Herod. Then Jesus himself, The Lamb of God who take away the sin of the world had been baptized by him. The time of the Messiah had arrived. Surely, John as the one who ushered in the arrival of the Messiah should only expect good things to follow—The Reign of God had begun! Of this John and the power of his preaching as the role of the forerunner Jesus says this in our text, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.”

          If ever there was a man who should be immune to this debilitating disease of discouragement it should be John. Again, Jesus said there is no one greater than he—And yet . . . And yet this is exactly the situation that we find John the Baptist in the midst of in our text.

John had been thrown into prison for his bold criticism of King Herod. And it would seem that the rigors of prison life, especially an unjust imprisonment had brought on the persistent and debilitating disease of discouragement. With the fatigue of prison life, fear and doubt began to set in. John was discouraged. Not even he was immune.

And, us lesser humans, can identify I think with what had to be his reasoning: If Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. . . If Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. . .  If Jesus is the Savior ushering in the Kingdom of God’s grace. . . Why had he not been rescued from prison? Why was he being left alone to rot away and die? So John in discouraged desperation sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we look for another?” Ah fatigue, it indeed makes cowards of us all—even the greatest.

John is not alone in his discouragement. In fact, he shares his discouragement with some of the other great ones of Holy Scripture. King Solomon was so discouraged near the end of his reign he wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Meaningless, meaningless says the teacher. All is meaningless. I have seen everything that is done under the sun and behold, all is meaningless and a chasing after the wind.” Elijah, the very one whom John’s ministry was patterned after, was once so discouraged he only wanted to die. In that moment Scripture records the great intensity of this debilitating disease of discouragement, “It is enough; now O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” I think it is safe to say that when you desire for your life to be over that the debilitating disease of discouragement has nearly run its awful course.

Discouragement, the persistent, debilitating disease brought on by the fatigue of life. When you are discouraged you have probably discovered it is hard to get out of that particular funk. And no wonder.

If King Solomon and Elijah and John the Baptist (again whom Jesus counted as the greatest) found it impossible to get themselves out of the funk of discouragement . . . if they could not cure themselves of this debilitating disease then what hope for rescue is there for any of us?

The hope for rescue from the debilitating disease of discouragement begins and ends with the merciful Christ. John’s faith was being undermined by this debilitating disease of discouragement and so he asks in desperation, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” The answer of the merciful Christ is not a simple Yes. John’s faith was weak. It needed something more substantial to rescue it from this persistent discouragement. So Jesus tells John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

There is an old saying, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, must be a duck.” The merciful answer of Jesus Christ to a discouraged John is this, “I look like the Messiah, I talk like the Messiah, I do miracles like the Messiah, I must be the Messiah.”

I have perhaps misled you this morning a little bit in my quote of Jesus when he said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” The reason it was perhaps misleading you is because Jesus goes on to say, “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Who is the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven who is greater than even John? Only one person can be the answer. And that person is the one of whom the great one John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

The one who is least in the kingdom is least for this reason spoken so profoundly in Philippians, “He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the form of the servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

And the reason this one who is the least in the kingdom is ultimately and finally greater than John is because of that death on the cross and so Philippians continues, “Therefore [because of that obedient death on the cross] God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. “

This one who was least in the kingdom of heaven and has become the greatest is Jesus Christ. And this Jesus Christ lives and reigns to all eternity and has promised from that position of power that he is with you always even to the end of the age. Therefore we should not look for another to defeat the debilitating disease of discouragement. Therefore we need not look for another to defeat the debilitating disease of discouragement. It is Jesus alone who rescues us from the darkest moments of the debilitating disease of discouragement.

As discouraged as John was in his imprisonment I believe there is another even darker discouraging moment recorded in the Gospels. It occurs three days after Jesus has been crucified. That morning two of Jesus’ disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus shared with a stranger their discouraged defeat: “Our chief priests and rulers delivered [Jesus] up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

Had hoped, but in the face of that awful death discouragement settled in and their faith was disappearing. But when they had dinner that night with this stranger and that stranger was revealed in the breaking of the bread to be the living Christ their hearts burned within them and in an instant the debilitating disease of discouragement was vanquished.

Thomas didn’t care what any of them said that day. He was so discouraged that he boldly said he would never believe unless he touched the nail marks in Jesus’ hands. And again, as he had been merciful to John and to the Emmaus disciples and countless others he was merciful to Thomas and gave Thomas the opportunity to touch and see. And in that instant the debilitating disease of discouragement was vanquished as Thomas confessed, “My Lord and my God.”

We began with this thought, “I know of few afflictions more persistent than discouragement. It’s like a debilitating disease. Rare is the person who can resist or overcome it alone.” It is true that you cannot overcome or resist this debilitating disease of discouragement alone—no matter who you are. But the good news is precisely this: you are not alone--The living Christ is with you. And this Christ is not only living He is full of mercy and compassion, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. And therefore in your darkest moments overwhelmed by the disease of discouragement you can say with St. Paul, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” For in weakness the living Christ comes and He  lifts you up with His word of life.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear—and be encouraged.” In the name of Jesus, Amen.

 

Because Jesus Did What Had To Be Done

And the crowds asked him [John the Baptist], “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:10-14).

As we prepare for Christmas, most of us still probably have a lot to do. So, what is on your to do list? Cooking, baking, cleaning, buying and wrapping gifts are just a few of the things that may be on our list of to-dos.

As we prepare for the coming of Christ, the question that is at the heart of every person who is crushed by the weight of the law is, “What do I need to do?” What do I need to do to fix the problem? What do I need to do to make things right again? What do I need to do to reconcile this relationship? What do I need to do?

That was their question as they stood on the banks of the Jordan River as this camel-skin covered man who ate locusts and wild honey called out to them to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” Having been baptized, they heard his call, and they all wanted to know what they had to do now.

What is so unique about this text is that he actually tells them what to do. To our ears, that makes almost no sense. We would expect that John the Baptist would respond to their questions of “What do I need to do?” with: “Repent! And keep on repenting!” And though that is true, that isn’t what he tells them. He tells them to be generous. He tells the tax collectors not to be greedy. He tells the soldiers to be content with their wages. He responds to their “What do I need to do?” with something they are ‘supposed to do’.

As Lutherans we believe and confess that we are not saved by what we do. So, is John the Baptist being heretical here? Is he claiming that we can be saved by works righteousness, by what we do? Absolutely not!

Rather, John the Baptist is getting at the heart of what repentance is all about. When he talks about bearing fruit in keeping with repentance, he means for his hearers and for us to fully examine ourselves according to the Law.

The Catechism teaches us to do just that. It asks the question: “How are we to examine ourselves before receiving the Lord’s Supper?” The answer to that question is this: “We are to examine ourselves in light of God’s Word to see whether we are aware of our sins and are sorry for them; we believe in our Savior, Jesus Christ, and in His words in the Sacrament; and we intend, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to live as forgiven sinners resisting the devil, saying no to sinful desires, and walking in the newness of life.”

That last one is what John the Baptist is getting at when he responds to the peoples’ questions. Repentance goes beyond being sorry for our sins. It goes beyond believing that Jesus will forgive us. Repentance is a change of heart about our sin and about God. It is a turning away from sin. Repentance includes that we plan, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to amend, to change our sinful lives.

If we have no desire to amend our sinful lives when we are confronted with the law of God, are we truly sorry for what we have done? Absolutely not! Parents and teachers see this all the time. A kid does something wrong, and the parent says, “Now say you’re sorry.” To which the kid replies “I’m sorry” (sarcastic tone). Then five minutes later, they catch the kid committing the same sin. 

But are ‘we’ any different when it comes to our repentance before God? All too often, we fail to take God’s Word calling us to repentance seriously. All too often we think God’s grace is cheap, and it can be tossed to the side like some sort of unwanted toy we get at Christmas, like it’s not that big of a deal.

But let’s consider that for a moment. Did the forgiveness of sins come at a cheap price? When we consider the story of the passion of Christ, can we honestly say that our forgiveness and salvation came cheaply? As we think about the wounds of Jesus, as we consider deeply His hands and feet that were pierced, we are invited to behold that our very sins are in those wounds. Our very sins caused those wounds. As we ponder anew what the Almighty can and did do, we see that in no way did forgiveness come cheap. We see that it came at the outrageous price of the Son of God’s life. We see that price in full display as He shed His innocent blood on our behalf.

Lest we ever forget that His death should have been our death. For the wages of sin is death. That price had to be paid, and we should have been the ones who paid it. That should have been us on the cross, bleeding, dying, crying out to the Father in heaven to get no reply. That should have been us forsaken by God for all eternity. But it wasn’t.

Willingly, voluntarily, lovingly He came from heaven to earth for just this purpose. He came to earth to die. That was His mission in life so that each of us could have a hope and a future. So that when we would be confronted with the law and the reality of our sin we would not be left to die in those sins, forced to suffer separation from God for all eternity. Jesus endured that separation for us, ahead of us. He did all that was necessary to save us. ‘Jesus did all that had to be done.’

So, when John the Baptist tells the people that they are to do something, he is not telling them to do it to save themselves. No, He is pointing them to Jesus. He said, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier that I is coming, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).

This is why John was called to be the prophet in the wilderness. He was sent to prepare the people for the coming of Christ. To point them in the direction of their salvation.

That’s what repentance and the fruits that come with it are all about. It is all about being directed and pointed to the Savior. “Confession has two parts,” the Catechism tells us. “First that we confess our sins, and second that we receive absolution.”

God loves us enough to show us our sins so that we see our desperate need for a Savior. And through John the Baptist he showed that love by telling the people that once they had repented and been forgiven, now they were to go and sin no more. Just like Jesus told the woman who had been caught in adultery. Go and sin no more.

Besides, if we truly believe that the wages of our sin is death, then why would we want to return to them? If we know something is going to kill us, do we take it? No. If something is poisonous, do we consume it? No. If we know something is dangerous, we run from it. Scripture tells us to flee from our sins. That’s what John the Baptist was directing the people toward when he told them what to do. Flee from your sins and follow Jesus.

          So, if we are being disrespectful toward our parents or our boss, what do we need to do? Honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. If we bear grudges and hatred toward anyone, what do we need to do? Help and support them in every physical need. If we are caught up in an affair or looking at pornography, what do we need to do? Lead a sexually pure and decent life in what say and do, and husband and wife honor each other. If we cheat or steal in any dishonest way, what do we need to do? Help our neighbor to improve and protect their possessions and income. If we lie, gossip, or slander, what do we need to do? Defend others, speak well of them, and explain everything in the kindest way. If we covet what others have and are filled with jealousy, what do we need to do? Help and be of service to them in keeping what rightfully belongs to them.

          We are not called upon to do this in order to save ourselves. We are called upon to do this because everything that had to be done to save us has already been done by Jesus. It is truly the Gospel work of Jesus Christ that brings us to the point of saying to God and meaning it, “What do You want me to do?” As Scripture says, “We are not our own, we were bought with a price, so glorify God....”

Because Jesus did what had to be done, we glorify God by bearing fruit in keeping with repentance and amend our sinful lives. Because Jesus did what had to be done we gladly think, say, and do things that are pleasing to Him. Because Jesus did what had to be done, we glorify God by doing the same thing John the Baptist did. We glorify God by pointing others to the One whose sandal strap we are not worthy to tie. The One who has come and will come again. The One we are called upon to prepare for His arrival. His name is Jesus, and He will soon be here.

Yes, it is great to have a to do list here during the season of Advent as we prepare for Christmas...a to do list from the Holy Spirit to help us live out the faith He has graciously given to us in Christ, our coming King.

Let us pray. Almighty, everlasting God, for our many sins we justly deserve eternal condemnation. In Your mercy You sent Your dear Son, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who won for us forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation. Grant us a true confession that, dead to sin, we may be raised up by Your life-giving absolution. Grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may be ever watchful, amending our sinful ways, and live a true and godly life in Your service. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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