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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.

The Lord Is Our Righteousness

The midweek services during Advent are intended to put us in the position of the Old Testament people looking to the coming of the Savior. Tonight we look forward to the coming of the Righteous Branch who gifts us with security and who is our Righteousness. Hear again our text:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’ (Jeremiah 33:14-16).

In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. But as God’s people looked around them, there was no security to be found. The nation of Babylon was breathing down their necks, literally. They looked out beyond the city walls and all the trees had all been cut down (Jeremiah 6:6). Cut down by the enemy to use in battle against them. With no trees, there were no birds chirping (Jeremiah 4:25) to break the silence. It was the calm before the storm. It would not be long and the enemy would lay its crushing blow against God’s people, and Jerusalem would be overrun, and her people would be forced into exile. God’s judgment for His people’s rebellion was about to take place.

Though Jeremiah had made it known that their lives of theft, murder, adultery, swearing falsely, and idolatry (Jeremiah 7:9) would not be tolerated, they still would not listen. Though they had been told that God would not stand for His people’s blatant disobedience, they still did not have ears to hear. So would they even hear the good news of our text for today even as the enemy was advancing?

Do we have ears to hear the good news? It is hard to fathom we can hear anything at all in the season of chaos that Advent has become. We are far too busy shopping in stores that blare countless secular holiday tunes to even pay attention to God’s good news. Instead we fill up on our holiday treats, buy and wrap our presents, and somewhere in the shuffle, we may be able to squeeze in a little time for a worship service or two.

Little do we know, the enemy is advancing from all angles. The devil is prowling around like roaring lion, seeking to devour us. And unlike the days of Jeremiah, he doesn’t have to chop down trees and use combat weaponry to take us down. Instead, he uses the tried and true tactic of busyness and consumption. If he can keep us busy enough and convince us that we don’t have enough, he can keep us from remembering the real reason for the season.

But, then again, that begs the question, what is the reason for this season? It would seem that Christmas has been stretched to absorb Advent so that no longer is Advent recognized at all. As soon as December hits (or perhaps before), we decorate, we shop till we drop, we have our parties, and then come December 26, Christmas is done. But that is not how the church year is laid out for us as Christians.

These weeks of Advent are meant for us to be regularly in worship, daily repenting, and filled with a hope-filled anticipation for the coming of the Christ-child who is our Righteousness. It is a time of preparation as we get ready for the celebration of God coming to earth as one of us in order to save us.

That is what Jeremiah’s message is all about. Though the enemy was advancing and Jerusalem would soon be overrun, there was hope that was yet to come. But that hope went far beyond the promise that the people would be allowed to return back to Jerusalem someday. Though that day would come, there would be a day coming that the fulfillment of a promise that had been set in motion shortly after creation would come to fruition.

In Genesis, chapter three, we are told that from Eve’s offspring, the head of the serpent would be crushed. That is the day that Jeremiah is pointing the people to. Though the trees around them had been cut down by the enemy, and stumps were all they could see, there would be a Righteous Branch that would spring up for David, and He would execute justice and righteousness in the land. His name is Jesus, Immanuel, God with Us, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace.

But how are we to have ears to hear such wonderful news, if we are so caught up in the busyness and consumption all around us? How are we to reorient our focus to the real reason for the season, if we have allowed the secular world to dictate our calendars and credit cards?

Just as it was for the people in Jeremiah’s day, so it is for us. This is a time of repentance. The king is coming. He will soon be wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. Now is the time to prepare for His arrival. Not by consuming ourselves with more stuff and more treats, but rather by confessing our sins to the almighty God.

This is where the people in Jeremiah’s day and in our day find security. Not in packages, boxes, and bags, but in confession and absolution. We don’t need more stuff for storage containers as every commercial and advertisement declares. We are sinners. And sinners need forgiveness. Day in and day out, as baptized believers, we need to repent. And that’s not easy. It goes against the flow of what the culture says this season is all about.

Repentance is taking a hard look at oneself and admitting that we are in the wrong. It is admitting that God’s Word and His commandments are right and for our good, and what we do and fail to do are not for our good. It is a complete 180 degree turn away from focusing on ourselves to the only God who can save us.

It is exactly what the people of God in Jeremiah’s day ignored, and only to their detriment. In a matter of a year, Jerusalem was besieged and her people were in exile.

Therefore, let us not follow their lead and join together in going against the way of the world. Let us throw off the busyness and consumer driven consumption and whatever other sins that so easily entangle us. Let’s retake the real reason for the season of Advent.

What if we put aside several of those things that cause us chaos and stress and replaced them with worship, repentance, and prayer? What would that look like? What would it sound like? I am guessing, it would look and sound a lot like tonight. A moment of pause in the chaos of life to rightly order our day and our week so that we may be prepared by the almighty God for the sending of His Son.

That is exactly where Jeremiah was pointing the people nearly six hundred years before it all happened. Though their world was being rocked by the enemy all around them, there would be a day when justice and righteousness would prevail throughout the land.

Little did they know that such a promise would be fulfilled in the coming of one who had ten tiny little fingers and ten tiny little toes. Little did they know that their righteousness would be secured by a Savior who made a stable His home.

But here we are two thousand years later still making our way to that same stable to pay our respects and offer our praise and thanksgiving. And there before this child, we place before Him all that we have to give. We lay our sins before Him, every last one of them, because that is why He came.

He came not only to be the Righteous Branch, but to be placed upon the branches of a tree. Nailed there to bleed and die our death. And what we see is that for as much as Advent points us to the manger, it also points us to the cross. Because we can’t look at Jesus and not see all that He did to fulfill the promise He made to Israel, to Judah and to us.

The Lord is our Righteousness. This is the message of the season. It has nothing to do with busyness or buying more stuff. It has everything to do with our God who loved us so much that He came here to save us from the enemies of sin, death, and the devil.

Where the enemy once surrounded us on every side, he is now a defeated enemy. His head is crushed. The victory belongs to Jesus. He is the One who was promised ever since the fall from Eden, and now He has come. He has come and accomplished all that was needed so that we would be saved. We may now dwell securely as we look ahead in joy-filled anticipation to when He will come again to take us to be with Him forever. 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.

Advent Is Here - Pastor Gless 12/2

Advent is here. Contrary to popular belief of every retail store and website, Christmas is not here. Advent is here. For Christians in the Church, this is not a time for consumerism and consumption. This is a time for hope-filled anticipation. Advent is here.

Advent is derived from the Latin word which means ‘to come’. In English, it is a noun which means ‘the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.’ For us as Christians, Advent directs us to the coming of Christ on Christmas as well as the coming of Christ on the Last Day.

Advent is the first season in the Church year. We look around and see that the colors of the church year have changed to blue. Blue symbolizes anticipation and hope in our coming King. We also see that the Advent wreath is before us. Each Sunday during Advent an additional candle is lit, marking the passing of time until Christmas. As the candles are lit each week, our anticipation mounts as we look forward to Jesus’ coming. On Christmas we light the Christ candle in the middle as we give thanks for His coming on the first Christmas and look forward to His final coming.

During the season of Advent, our congregation, along with many other congregations, has special midweek services to heighten our awareness and anticipation for the celebration of Christ’s coming in the flesh.

Please join us for all of the Advent worship services as we look to the King who first came to us in Mary’s womb and who will come again with power and might. During this time we pray that His return to bring us safely into His kingdom will be soon and very soon! Yes, Advent is here.

Advent is here, and the text for our sermon is much like we heard last Sunday. And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:25-28).

To our ears, this sounds horrific. It sounds as if the world is completely and totally out of control. It sounds like chaos on a cosmic level where even the very heavenly bodies in the heavens will be shaken. It gives every indication that we should enter into panic mode and sound the alarm.

It would seem that we should join with Chicken Little, who, when struck on the head by an acorn, went and declared that the sky was falling. He told it to Henny Penny, he told it to Ducky Lucky, and he told it to Foxey Loxey before their end finally came as the fox’s lunch.

Yes, it would seem that now is the time to raise the flag of surrender and panic because it looks as if we don’t stand a chance. Though the sky may not be falling, we look around and ask, “What is the world coming to?” There are hurricanes and tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, flooding and droughts. But where the world may declare that we join with Chicken Little in saying that the sky is falling, we Christians have been given to know better.

Advent is here, and our redemption is near. From the very lips of the Son of God Himself, He has made known to us that all of these natural disasters were expected to take place. He knew they would happen because He is in control, and He graciously shared it with us. That way we would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no need to panic. Our redemption is near.

Redemption means to ‘buy back’. The whole point of Jesus’ coming to this earth was to buy us back from death and into life. He did that by coming to this earth as one of us. He became human to save humans. He laid down His life, His perfect life. He endured an innocent suffering and death by shedding His own precious blood to purchase us back from the grip of death and the devil so that we may be secure in the hands of our Savior…the same hands that were stretched out on Calvary to save us.

All of these catastrophic realities around us in our world today are the comforting reminder that He draws near to us once again. So, take comfort, for the time of His return is ever so close. We need not look at such events with fear and trepidation. We expect them to come, so we straighten up in preparing for His arrival.

Think of it this way, when the Commander and Chief of the United States comes on the scene around any military personnel, they do not sit or slouch. They immediately stand up straight and salute. Such an act makes a clear indication of respect and readiness.

So as Advent is now here, the question is, are we ready? Are we ready for the coming of our King? The world would tell us that such readiness comes in packages, boxes, and bags. And by recent retail sale figures, that would seem to be what is true. It is estimated that Black Friday topped a record of over 23 billion dollars in sales. The four day weekend (because Black Friday now starts on Thursday), topped 60 billion dollars in sales. Cyber Monday produced another estimated 8 billion dollars in sales. That’s 68 billion dollars that Americans spent in five days.

To give some perspective on that figure, there are nearly 140 countries in the world that have individual Gross Domestic Products lower than 68 billion dollars. And Americans spent that amount in five days! What’s more, is that for many Americans, the only way to make such purchases is to assume debt. The average American will add over one thousand dollars of credit card debt at the time of these holidays alone. One thousand dollars more debt, added to a national average of $6,375 in credit card debt. And because of that, America can now say that it has topped over 1 trillion dollars in credit card debt.

So, perhaps this is where Chicken Little’s declaration that “the sky is falling” would be more appropriate. Because if we allow greed and covetousness to consume us, we run the risk of not being ready when Jesus does return. Which is exactly why Jesus warns us: But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth (Luke 21:34-35).

In love and care for us, Jesus doesn’t want us to get swept away by the cares of this world. If we get are to get caught up in the sinful consumption of the things of this world, then how will we ever recognize the signs of the time? If we spend more time on our phones, computers, or stores looking for more stuff than we do in the Word of God, then how will we ever recognize what this time of year is really meant to be?

Advent is here. The kingdom of God is near. This is a time of excitement. Just like we are excited to gather with family and friends to arrive at Christmas, this is a time of even greater excitement than that as our King is coming. But where other gatherings demand cooking and cleaning, shopping until there is dropping, Jesus invites us to slow down, to be still and know that He is God and we are not, to pause and to pray.

And so we pray as He has taught us, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come…“Thy Kingdom Come”. The catechism tells us that when we pray this petition, we are praying that “our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

This means that as we gather here today the kingdom of God has come to us. For we have been given the Spirit as His Word has been proclaimed here today forgiving us of all of our sins of greed and coveting. Where we are so often consumed with what we want, He comes to us to fulfill all of our needs. Our God has come from heaven to earth to be present with us here and now. And His presence is far greater and grander than any presents we may give or receive.

So instead of focusing on getting more and more stuff for the garage, let us turn our attention to the coming of the King who graciously comes to us even today. He comes into our ears through His Word which never passes away, and He comes into our mouths through His body and blood. He comes into our lives to redeem our dead bodies back to life.

That is what the season is all about. Advent is here. Our redemption is near. The kingdom of God is near. The signs are all around us. But there is no need to panic. Rather this is a time to straighten up and raise our heads in excitement. This is a time to take comfort in the fact that our King Jesus comes for the sole purpose of saving us. For that is why He came the first time on Christmas, and that is why He will come again when the Last Day comes. So, come Lord Jesus, and come quickly. Amen.

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

Cry For Mercy- Thanksgiving 2018

“Unclean! Unclean!” That was a leper’s cry of warning as it was prescribed in the book of Leviticus. The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp (Leviticus 13:45-46).

Outcasts. Forced to live on the outskirts of town. Cut off from their family, their friends, and most significantly, they were cut off from the worshiping community. Forced to live in exile. There was too much risk that they might infect others. They might make others ceremonially unclean. So, no one wanted to be near them. And if anyone did get too close, this was the warning cry they would hear: “Unclean! Unclean!”

This should have been the cry that Jesus heard as He made His way to Jerusalem. But it wasn’t. As Jesus passed along, ten lepers let it be known that this was no ordinary passerby.

On the way to Jerusalem he [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:11-13).

It is the cry of a beggar. That is what these lepers had been reduced to in their unclean, disease-ridden bodies. Perhaps they had been successful business people before, living the so-called, good life. But now, all of that had been stripped away by the affliction of leprosy.

Leprosy is a disease that starts as spots on the skin leading to numbness in the hands and feet. Muscles start to become paralyzed causing the fingers to curl. The blinking reflex of the eye deteriorates leading to potential blindness. What is most horrific though is that the bacteria attacks nerve endings and destroys the body’s ability to feel pain.

Without feeling pain, people injure themselves and the injuries can become infected, resulting in tissue loss. Fingers and toes become shortened and deformed as the cartilage is absorbed into the body. Repeated injury and infection of numb areas in the fingers or toes can cause the bones to shorten. The tissues around them shrink, making them short. (www.leprosy.org). All because the victim of this disease cannot feel pain.

The inability to feel pain reminds me of something that Tony Dungy, former NFL player, coach, and analyst once wrote in one of his books: His son Jordan has a very rare neurological condition (2-3 cases in the U.S.) called congenital insensitivity to pain. Jordan is missing the conductors that allow the nerve signals to go from his body to his brain. This is absolutely necessary, especially for kids to find out the difference between what's good and what's harmful. For example, Jordan loves cookies. But because he doesn’t know the difference, when his mom is not looking, he will go right into the oven, reach in, take the rack out, take the pan out, burn his hands, eat the cookie that's too hot, burn his tongue and never feel it. And he doesn't know that that's bad for him. When they go to the park, he likes the slide. But to him, it's just as much fun jumping off from the top as it is sliding down it, leading to more injury and pain.

What the Dungys’ have learned from doctors is that pain actually helps the body heal. When someone gets an injury, their brain senses there is pain there, and it sends the right healing agents naturally to that spot because it senses something is wrong. Without that sensation of feeling something is wrong, their son Jordan’s body doesn't send those healing agents and, consequently, he's got cuts from months ago that haven't healed yet.

What the Dungys’ experienced with their son’s inability to feel pain in many ways carries a similarity to the lepers whose nerve endings were failing, robbing them of the ability to feel pain.

So, if they couldn’t feel pain, then why did the lepers cry out? Why cry out if there is no physical pain to tell you to do so? It’s because so many pains in life go beyond skin-deep. Though their skin was infected and their body was deformed, the pain that caused them to cry out for mercy ran much deeper than a fleshly disease. It was a pain that strikes us all at one time or another. The pain of exclusion.

Families exclude, co-workers exclude, kids on the play-ground exclude. We exclude others. And every single form of exclusion hurts. It is painful. From the inside, out. It starts as a pit in the stomach, wells up into a tightness in the chest, and with every ounce of effort trying to push it back down, eventually it is just too much, and all there is left to do is cry out. Sometimes it is accompanied by tears. Other times, it is in fits of rage and anger. But no matter the form, it is indeed a cry. A cry that begs to belong once again.

Ever been there? The popular group avoids you. Co-workers whisper in their corners. So called friends fail to invite you. Family keeps you out of the loop, avoids spending time with you, or maybe doesn’t include you at all. No matter the form, it hurts. Exclusion cuts deep to the heart. Which also begs the question: Who do we exclude in life?

It’s no wonder the lepers who stood at a distance lifted up their voices. They wanted more than just a healing. They wanted to be included again…in their families, in their neighborhoods, in their congregation. From that and so much more, they had been cut off. But then along comes a passerby who could help.

Though He was on His way to Jerusalem, He was not too busy to stop to help these people out in their time of need. How often are we simply too busy to help out those in need? How often do we think that the problems of others are just ‘not my problem.’ Not so with Jesus. Not only does He answer their cry by showing them mercy, but Jesus also is mercy, in the flesh.

He is the walking, talking, breathing, Son of God who came to this earth for the sole reason of making sure that we didn’t get what we deserved. Every last one of us deserves to die. We deserve to be excluded as outcasts, thrown out of heaven into the fires of hell for all eternity. That is what the wage demanded for our sins.

But Jesus came to pay that wage with His innocent suffering and death, with His own precious blood shed on the outskirts of the city of Jerusalem. That’s why Jesus was headed to Jerusalem. To be cast out of the city to Golgotha to die your death and mine. Yet, along the way, He didn’t steer clear of these lepers, no He had mercy upon them.

He sent them to follow the law established in Leviticus to go and show themselves to the priest, to offer sacrifice for their healing. And that is just what happened along the way…they were healed. But the remarkable thing is that only one of them returned to give thanks to the One who is the once for all sacrifice.

In fact, its’ more than remarkable. It’s ironic. Because the one who ‘didn’t’ belong is the only one who turned back, praising God, and fell on his face at Jesus feet. He was a Samaritan. A foreigner. An outcast. Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate. They were enemies. Yet, here was this Samaritan who had at one point stood at a distance was now at the very feet of the Son of God praising Him with a loud voice. His cry of mercy had been traded in for cries of praise.

That’s why we are here today, isn’t it? We are here to offer our shouts of praise and ‘thanksgiving’ to God for healing us, for relieving our pain, for including us back into His family.

We come here contaminated from the inside out, filled with the sins that we have committed and those committed against us. And there is nothing we can do about it. And we have no doubt tried. We have tried to cover up our sins. We have tried to push them down inside hoping they will not well up again. But it’s no use. We are helpless. No matter how hard we try, we are stand condemned, excluded, outcasts forced to cry out from a distance to the almighty God.

It is the cry of a beggar. The cry of a sinner. The cry of one who pleads that they don’t get what they do deserve. It is the cry for mercy. We know it well. It is the Kyrie. “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”

My fellow leper-laden sinners, I have good news for you. Our Savior has heard our cry. We are excluded no longer. We may have to endure exclusion in this world, but this is a place that God Himself welcomes us with open arms. This is where our leprous sins are healed. This is where our uncleanness is made clean.  

It is here in His house that He heals us from the inside out. In the Eucharist, the meal which means to ‘give thanks’, He responds to our cries for mercy and restores us back into His family. By His body and blood given and shed for us, we are cleansed…washed in the blood of Jesus.

If ever there was a man who knew the pain of exclusion, it was Jesus. Rejected by family, friends, the church, the government…He was even rejected by God Himself as He hung on the cross and cried out to His Father, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

But as He received no reply to His cry, that will never happen to any of us. The separation has been ended. For now when we cry to Him for mercy, He hears us. He answers us. He feed us, sends us, and He keeps welcoming us back for more. May we share His mercy by welcoming others that we may have excluded that they too may be comforted by the love of Jesus.

So as we depart back to our homes to continue our Thanksgiving celebrations, let us return thanks for all of the blessings He has given to us. For here today, we have been reminded that our God feels our pain and has given us mercy, cleansing, a healing touch , a place in His family, and the faith that recognizes that He is the giver of all those gifts. What a great day that was back then for the lepers, and what a great day it is for us here today to be cleansed by our God and to return thanks! “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.” Amen.

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

Getting Ready For The Day

How do you get ready for the day? What is the routine for you? My routine consists of hearing the alarm and then pressing the snooze. Grudgingly I get up, use the restroom, put in my contacts, do my devotions, perhaps work in some exercise depending upon the day, shower, get dressed, fix the spikes in my hair, eat breakfast, brush my teeth, and attempt to assist with the craziness of getting the kids ready for the day. That’s getting ready for the day in a nutshell for me. How about for you?

          The writer to the Hebrews takes what we typically understand to be Judgment Day or the Last Day and simply calls it The Day. In those days, The Day was so familiar, so central to their teaching, that when The Day was referenced, people knew what it meant. It shaped their lives and their behaviors. So, how are we ‘Getting Ready for The Day?’

          As The Day draws near, we are directed to draw near to God. This is what we just heard in the confession of our sins. “Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins unto God our Father, beseeching Him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness.”

We get ready for The Day by repenting, by confessing our sins, admitting that we are poor, miserable sinners who have offended God and justly deserve both temporal and eternal punishment. This is our daily routine that we follow as we get ready for The Day. And we do so in ‘full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.’

As baptized believers, day in and day out, we die and rise with Christ. We admit we are wrong (not easy to do), we apologize, we beg for forgiveness, and we ask for help to change our sinful ways.

          Then, in the stead and by the command of the Lord Jesus Christ, the pastor delivers to us the forgiveness of sins. Because “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (Divine Service I).

          So is repentance a part of our daily routine as we get ready for The Day? Is it a priority in the ever busying schedule? Do we take time to examine our thoughts, words, and deeds according to the Ten Commandments, or is that only a Sunday thing? Have we so compartmentalized our lives that we only draw near to God in repentance because it is in the bulletin telling us to do so?

          Because the truth is that God so loves us that He desires to sprinkle our hearts clean and wash our bodies of the filth of sin each and every day. Daily, as we get ready for the day, He delights in our hearing of His words of forgiveness. He wants to shower each of us with His love constantly, which is why He directs inwardly digest His Word as if our life depended upon it. Because it does! He knows full well that the journey is long, and He is here to help us so that we may be faithful to the point of death and so receive the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

          Which brings us to another way we are directed to get ready for The Day. The text tells us to ‘hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.’

          In our baptism, our parents, sponsors, and the congregation spoke on our behalf regarding the faith into which we were baptized. They were not speaking for us, but rather in testimony of the faith that was being given to us on that very day through water and the Word.

          Years after that blessed day of our baptism, we were invited to stand up before the congregation just as many of our confirmands recently did so a few weeks ago on Reformation Sunday. There before the congregation, they publicly affirmed the faith that was given to them in their baptism. In fact one of the questions even asked: “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” To which the Confirmands reply: “I do, by the grace of God.”

          The point was and is that Confirmation is not graduation. It is not the end of the line for the life of faith. It is merely a stepping stone in the life of faith as a baptized believer. Many of us sit here in public testimony to that fact. It was years ago that we publicly confessed our faith at our Confirmation, and yet, here we are by the grace of God still confessing the one, true faith given to us at Baptism. Thanks be to God for that!

           However, would any of us ever say that it was easy? Is the life of faith easy? No doubt, all of us could provide a laundry list of examples where we have been tempted to wander from our faith or abandon it altogether. Perhaps some of us here are in that very moment now as the devil is waging war on our very souls.

          So, it’s no wonder that the writer to the Hebrews instructs us to get ready for the Day by saying that we are to hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering. Because the fact of the matter is that as sinners, we do waver. We do wander. We do get lost, and in those moments we need to be found.

          But thanks be to God, He who promised is faithful. Our God is not a distant God, but rather One who sends His Son to enter into the valley of the shadow of death. And where we might have a hard time holding fast to the confession, He has no problem holding on to us. He is holding us now in the palm of His righteous right hand, and He will not let us go. Those hands that He holds us in were stretched out on Calvary on our behalf, pierced for our very transgressions, so that we may be saved. He is, and always will be faithful.

          He faithfully died for us. He faithfully rose from the grave for us. And He will be faithful to His promise to return when The Day finally arrives. Though we don’t know when that day will be, we can trust that He will be faithful to send His Son back to earth to take us to be with Him.

          I can’t tell you what joy that brings me as a pastor to be given the privilege to proclaim that very truth at funerals here in our congregation. To look into the eyes of those who grieve and mourn, and tell them that for all those who died believing in Jesus, there is a reunion yet to come in the presence of the Son of God. The Day is coming when we will see Him descending from the clouds, the dead in Christ will rise first, then those who are alive will meet with those who have been raised, and we will always be with the Lord. What a day, The Day will be!

          Until The Day arrives though, the writer to the Hebrews continues in saying that we are to ‘stir one another up to love and good works’. As we look at the trend of our day where regular worship attendance is being redefined, now more than ever, we need to be stirring one another up to love and good works. No longer is the Sabbath Day being kept holy. There are other priorities in peoples’ lives. Where Sunday used to be sacred to most companies and organizations, it is now hard to find anyone who still thinks it is a day to be held in the highest regard.

          That’s why now, more than ever, we need to reassess what is most important in life. When I ask the question when I am teaching, “Is there ever a point that we don’t need the forgiveness of sins offered in God’s Word and Sacrament,” everyone responds with “No!” Yet, so often that does not seem true when it comes to weekly routines. Here’s the thing though, if we behave like the world on Sundays, how will the world ever know that Sunday is the day to keep holy? How will they ever know that the reason we prioritize gathering on Sunday is because that is The Day our Savior rose from the dead, and that is the only hope we have for salvation?

          So, it’s no wonder that the writer to the Hebrews tells us to ‘not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as we see The Day drawing near.’

          People of God, we need each other. God brings us into a community of faith so that we may be encouraged to know week in week out that we don’t go it alone. The journey is long and it is tough, but thanks be to God that as He guides us, we have others who are on the same journey. As we look to our left and right in the pews, we see our family. In some cases they are family by blood. In fact, in all cases, we are family by blood. Each of us has been sprinkled by the blood of Jesus cleansing our sins. Each of us has been nourished by the blood of Jesus giving us forgiveness, life, and salvation. Truth is, we are family. God the Father is our heavenly Father, and Jesus is our brother from another mother, but we got the same Father.

          And what a joy it is to be welcomed here into the house of God, to draw near to Him together in the full assurance of faith, confident that as we hear His Word and receive His Sacrament, we are being readied for The Day. And I think I join with all of us in saying, “I can’t wait for The Day to finally be here.” So, “come, Lord Jesus, and come quickly!” And all God’s people said, “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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