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Baptized into Christ (United with Him)

Sermon: “Baptized into Christ (United with Him)”

Lectionary Series A; The Baptism of Our Lord

Sunday, January 12, 2020 

Epistle Reading: Romans 6:1-11

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:3-5).

Today’s sermon is about baptism. I can’t think about baptism and not think about our children. I can’t help but think about Christopher who I baptized in the hospital before he was airlifted to Children’s Hospital not knowing if he would survive. I can’t help but think about William who was baptized right here, and the peace it gave when Pastor Lucas came to minister to us in the hospital when Will was diagnosed with Infantile Spasms, a rare form of epilepsy. I can’t help but think about Nora who was baptized at the outdoor polka service, and the peace it gave us again when Pastor Lucas came to minister to us when she had open heart surgery. I can’t help but think about Lydia who was also baptized here at this very font, in this very chancel.

I can’t think of baptism and not think of all of the people I have baptized right here. There have been over 120 baptisms here at Zion in my time here, many of which I have had the privilege of officiating at. I still remember my first baptism at Zion, Brooke Siegle. Hard to believe she will be going through the Rite of First Communion here in a few months. My how time flies when you are having fun!

I also can’t think of baptism and not think of those babies who were not able to be baptized, like our child that didn’t make it to delivery, and so many countless others. In sorrow such as this, I can’t help but thank God for His mercies that are new every morning. We who grieve rest in the mercies of the Almighty God to save these children, for He loves them even much more than we do.

When it comes to baptism, I can’t help but think about my parents who brought me to the font at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Flushing, MI on April 5, 1981. There I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There I was given the gift of faith to believe in Jesus as my Savior from sin, death, and the devil. What stories have you been told about your baptism?

When it comes to baptism, I can’t help but think about Jesus. The One who was baptized by the John the Baptist in the Jordan River, where the Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove and the Father spoke from the heavens: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

To think that Jesus would willingly be baptized to die…To think that He would voluntarily take our sin upon Himself and into Himself…To think that He would choose to have to face the wrath of God that we were due…It is so impossible to fathom…so impossible to understand.

 

How can we not say that we have a loving God when we truly consider what His baptism meant? His being baptized meant He now would have to die. That’s the price that had to be paid for taking on our sin…death.

And that’s also what I think about when it comes to baptism. I think of the ones who have died in the faith here at Zion. I think of the pall being placed upon their casket reminding us all that they were clothed in a robe of Christ’s righteousness. 

I think of speaking those words before the processional: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” And then the congregation responding: “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

In fact, this is why I wear the robe that I do. It isn’t because it is a fashion trend of some kind. It is to remind us all that we are covered in a robe of Christ’s righteousness. We are made clean, washed in the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Your sins and mine. (Pause)

Now I know this is supposed to be the start of a stewardship initiative. And you might be wondering why all the talk about baptism. But how can we not start at where our life of faith truly began? 

Our life of faith began at baptism. Baptism is where Jesus joined Himself to us. Now it can sometimes be easy to gloss over that reality. But consider the alternative.

If Jesus doesn’t join Himself to us and we are not clothed in His robe of righteousness that He purchased with His own blood, then where does that leave us?

We would be left uncovered, unprotected. We would have nothing to keep us safe from the devil, and even worse, nothing to keep us safe from God’s wrath against sin. We would be left exposed.

But God, in His infinite wisdom sent His Son to be exposed to a world of sin. His baptism makes plain that very reality. He was baptized to take on our sin. And because of that, there would be a day yet coming that God would allow His Son to be exposed to the whole world.

On Calvary, Jesus was left exposed to the world of sin and shame as His robe and clothes were literally stripped from Him. And as He hung subject to scorn and shame, He was also exposed to the fiery wrath of His Father that we were meant to endure because of our sin.

But it was in that great act of love and mercy that the greatest exchange took place. He took on our sin and shame and in turn gave us His robe of righteousness. We are now covered in the shed blood of Jesus.

This is what is given to us at baptism. Now instead of eternal death to look forward to, we have eternal life to look forward to. Just as our text says: For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:5).

In our baptism, our old sinful self was drowned and done away with. And also in our baptism, we were raised and given a new life. Jesus’ life. Jesus is now alive and well within us as He has joined Himself to us.

Our new life is now focused on love for Him and love for neighbors. It is no longer self-centered and self-motivated. As baptized believers, we now live for Him. And that is where our life of stewardship comes in. 

As it says in the Rite of Holy Baptism, we have been made “heirs of all the treasures of heaven.” And not just in heaven, but the fact is that everything we have comes from Him. 

Everything. Think about all that you have. It’s not yours. It’s God’s, and He has blessed you in baptism to put everything He has given you to use to love Him and love your neighbor, to further His kingdom.

So ask yourself: Is that how you are using your God-given gifts in life? Are you using it for self, or for God and His glory? 

Unfortunately, there is not a one of us here that will pass that test with flying colors. We all think far too much of ourselves. We are a me, myself, and I people. And that’s why it is good that we are here.

For here is where we remember our baptism. That’s why we are invited to make the sign of the cross. And that’s why we start each service with confession and absolution to kill the old sinful Adam in us.

We all think far too much of ourselves. When it comes to the way we spend our time, spend our money, and use our God-given gifts. We all need to repent, because we all fall prey to the idolatry of selfishness.

This stewardship initiative is an opportunity to return to our baptism and confess our selfish ways. It is an opportunity to admit that our focus has been far too much on ourselves, and nowhere near the furthering of God’s kingdom.

And I am well aware that no one likes to talk about stewardship. No one likes to talk about money. But stewardship is more than just money. Stewardship is a spiritual reality, a spiritual discipline. It is coming to terms with who it is that I fear, love, and trust. And the way we spend our time, our money, and our talents is a great litmus test of who it is we trust. And all too often, it isn’t God first. It’s us. It’s me, myself, and I.

So here we gather at the font, and here we come to die once again, to kill the Old Adam. Here we come confident as baptized children of the Heavenly Father to rejoice that as we confess our selfishness, so too will we be raised and forgiven.

And that is what you are. You are resurrected and forgiven children of the Heavenly Father named and claimed by Jesus who was baptized to die your death. And that is what He did. For you. And for me. 

As we gather at the font, I also can’t help but think about that reality. We are united to Christ, and we are united to each other. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, you are my brothers and sisters from another mother, but the same Father…the same Heavenly Father. We are brought together to be a family to love God and love others. To Share Hope and Teach Christ. And it is so exciting to think of all that He has called us to do together to further His kingdom.

And that’s where we will pick it up next week, when we focus on being Called to be Saints Together. Join us next week as we continue this journey of faith together rejoicing in the fact that we are United in Christ. 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.

Prophesied Protection Provided

Sermon: “Prophesied Protection Provided”

Lectionary Series A; First Sunday after Christmas

Sunday, December 29, 2019 

Gospel Reading: Matthew 2:13-23

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Today’s text in many ways takes the “Merry” out of “Merry Christmas”. Though we are only four days after the celebration of the birth of Christ, our text for today is unsettling. 

Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Innocents. It is a day that commemorates those who were two years old and younger who died innocently at the hands of King Herod who attempted to kill the Christ-child.

Our American ears hear this, and we do not understand what it means to be attacked by a paranoid, vengeful dictator. We are fortunate enough to live in a land where we are not being forced from our land, or even worse, our life is being threatened. Thankfully, these are not realities for us.

But just imagine the comfort today’s text brings to those who are refugees from other countries. In Kenya, our servant event team met a man by the name of Abai. He is a student at the Lutheran School of Theology studying to become a pastor. He is married now and has one son. Our team actually got to be there on the day of Abai’s confirmation and his son’s baptism.

Abai’s life was not always so nice, nor is it really all that nice now. Abai used to live in Ethiopia. But his tribe was slaughtered in an act of genocide. He and others escaped to a refugee camp in Kenya for safety. Over fifteen years later, he still lives as a refugee. In fact, many of the students we met in Kenya at the Lutheran School of Theology are refugees.

A refugee is one who has been forced to escape, to flee from their home for safety. That’s the way it was for Abai, and that’s the way it was for Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. And just like Abai was protected, so we see in this story of Scripture, God’s prophesied protection was provided for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as well. (Pause)

The magi had just left Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, but word was sent to Joseph in a dream by an angel that it was now time to pack their bags and head south to Egypt. And so that is what they did. They remained there until the death of Herod to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Once they had left, the terrible prophecy of the slaughtering of the innocents took place. This prophecy is recorded in the book of Jeremiah: Thus says the Lord: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).

In a horrific event, those who were boys two years and younger were killed at the hand of a jealous King Herod who constantly lived in fear of losing his throne. Many lost their lives at his hand, and many consider these innocent little boys to be the first martyrs for Christ.

Once Herod had died, another angel appeared to Joseph to take Jesus and Mary back to Israel. But when they found out Herod’s son Archelaus was reigning in his place, God intervened by way of another dream, and in doing so fulfilled Scripture yet again, that He would be called a Nazarene.

God’s prophesied protection was provided. It was provided for Jesus and His parents, and it is also provided for you and me. We see here in this text God’s great provision and protection is provided for us.

Just like Herod was trying to destroy the Christ-child, so we have one who tries to destroy us as well. He is Satan, and he prowls around like a roaring lion, hiding behind every corner trying to destroy our faith.

He lurks in the darkness of deceit and deception with the sole goal of separating us from the Savior and from fellow Christians. That is how the devil operates. He is always looking to separate and isolate.

His desire is to make you and I spiritual refugees, isolated away from the Savior’s care and protection. Just take note of his tactics. Deceit and deception. Satan is a liar. Scripture calls him the father of all lies.

So, what lies is Satan telling you now? What are you being tempted to believe that is not true? How are you being lured away by the devil’s traps and trickery?

For King David, he believed the lie that committing adultery with Bathsheba and killing her husband Uriah was a good idea.

For King Ahab, he believed the lie that stealing a vineyard that belonged to Naboth and then killing him was a good idea.

For the majority of Jacob’s sons, they believed harming their brother Joseph and selling him into slavery was a good idea. 

Scripture’s examples may sound a bit extreme, but when we really examine our hearts, how could we not say that we are guilty of the sins of lust, hatred, coveting, and jealousy? If anything, we would probably have to say that our minds are often consumed with these thoughts.

And that is where the devil begins. The mind. He fills our minds with all sorts of deceptive temptations and lies in an effort to cut us off from others, and ultimately cut us off from God.

This is the tactic that he takes to try and drive us into despair and ultimately destroy our faith. He wants us to think that there is no hope.

For Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, they had every reason to think that there was no hope. They were being stalked by a ruthless king on a power trip. Herod was so extreme in his efforts to kill anyone who would threaten his position…even young boys two years old and younger. How threatening were they really? Would they really take his throne? Herod thought so.

It is hard for us to fathom such a reality. And yet here we are living in a country where abortion is legalized and approximately 60 million babies have been killed since the Roe v. Wade decision. Maybe it is not that unfathomable for us here in America, as innocent children are slaughtered every day.

I know it is hard to believe that we would talk about such things only a few days after Christmas here in the Christmas season. But this is the world that Jesus willingly and voluntarily came into.

We make the story of Jesus being born in a little nativity scene and we have this way of romanticizing it. We often think it just looks like this lovely picture of a loving family in an ever so clean animal shed.

But even if it was a clean stable, it was not a clean world that Jesus came into. It was a world filled with sin and shame. A world with a dictator dead set on killing him. And that wasn’t just Herod, that was the devil himself.

Lurking around every turn, there was Satan, assaulting Jesus with every temptation that he could throw at him. Remember when Jesus was in the wilderness right after He was baptized and had not eaten for forty days. That was a full frontal attack from the evil one that Jesus faced.

We see in that moment that Jesus was tempted just as we are. And He overcame those assaults for you and me. You and I are assaulted by Satan daily. Jesus was assaulted too, but He overcame so that we would have a way out when we are tempted.

A way out is exactly what Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were granted each time Joseph seemed to lay his head on his pillow in our text for today. For there in that sleep, an angel of the Lord came to him to offer the protection that was needed, the protection that had been prophesied.

God had promised all the protection that was provided in our text for today. He promised it, and it came to be, just as it had been foretold.

Just as God had promised Adam and Eve that He would send a Savior to crush the head of the wicked foe. God fulfills His promises. He fulfills his prophecies…for Adam and Eve, for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, and for you and me.

For here in the midst of this tumultuous time of the baby Jesus under attack, there is a beautiful reality present within this story. God protects them in order to protect us. He ensured that His Son would be safe because ultimately He had sent His Son with a mission to accomplish.

He had sent His Son to die. It wasn’t going to be at this time of Herod, but there would be another Herod involved some thirty years later…along with Caiaphas and Pilate, and a host of others all dead set on taking down the Son of God.

Only this time, the Father allowed it. As His Son cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” the Father turned the other way, and let Him die, because that is what it took to save us.

To save us from sin, death, and the attacks of the devil…We who were lost and separated from the Savior and only doomed to death and condemnation…We who were only to be left as refugees in the darkness of hell apart from Christ.

See here this day that God fulfills His prophecies to this little family fleeing Bethlehem so that we would ultimately be saved and protected from the attacks of the evil foe.

We are protected under the outstretched arms of our Savior. The same arms He stretched out on Calvary to save us. His shed blood upon the cross covers us and cleanses us of all the times we have fallen to Satan’s deceit and deception. We are forgiven, and we are freed.

We are released from the hold that Satan had upon us because the Savior of the world has given us a way out. No, it may not be in a dream with an angel like Joseph had. Instead, our way out comes in ways much more simple than that, but no less profound.

In a profound divine mystery, our Savior provides us His protection in the simple means of Words, water, bread, and wine. Through holy absolution, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, our God protects us with Himself from the assaults of the devil.

By our own reason or strength, we can’t fathom how this could be enough. But as we heard in the sermon a few weeks ago, there more here than meets the eye. For there in these means is none other than the crucified and resurrected Savior of the world. The King of all kings, and Lord of all lords. And the devil is simply no match for him.

So as we gather here as those who were once spiritual refugees lost in sin and doomed to death, let us constantly return here to God’s house. For here is where we find our home where His prophecies of protection are provided in His Son Jesus who was born to save us from our sins. Merry Christmas!

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

Gift Wrapped

Sermon: “Gift Wrapped”

Lectionary Series A; Christmas Day

Sunday, December 25, 2019 

Gospel Reading: John 1:14

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

And the Word became flesh. (Pause)

How do you wrap your presents? Some people carefully fold each edge so that no seems are visible. Some people use invisible tape so that the seams are even more invisible. Some people don’t really care about the seams and there is no folding of the edges, and it really doesn’t matter what tape is used. Perhaps these people would be just fine with newspaper and duct tape.

How do you unwrap your presents? Some people are careful about not wanting to rip any of the paper. Secretly, they stash the paper to the side in the hopes that they will be able to use it next year. Others just tear into the paper with reckless abandon. You know the type. Perhaps you are the type.

Some people are wondering what on earth we are talking about. These people are the wise ones who just use gift bags for everything. Gift bags are not only easy for wrapping items, but they also can be reused with ease. (Pause)

No matter how you wrap or unwrap your gifts, today, we look into the manger once again and behold the greatest gift ever given.

There in the manger in the stable in the little town of Bethlehem is the little baby boy ‘wrapped’ in swaddling cloths. And there under those swaddling cloths is the gift of the Son of God ‘wrapped’ in human flesh. The same flesh that you and I are ‘wrapped’ in. After all, the reason Jesus needed to be wrapped in human flesh is because our flesh is weak. 

Our flesh is weak, and it is also very vulnerable. Many of us come here bearing that weakness in our bodies. Some of us  are sick, some are wounded, some are diseased. All of us bear in our bodies the reality of sin’s presence. When it comes to our flesh, all of us are frail and fragile in some capacity.

Our flesh is also very vulnerable. Some of us have endured harm physically and psychologically from others. Things people have said, things people have done. Abuse in any form takes a great toll, and the effects of those realities weighs heavy upon us.

Beneath the flesh, we are also very vulnerable spiritually. Scripture says that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

Be it physically or spiritually, we are all very weak, and we who are flesh don’t stand a chance on our own. We come here having fallen to sin, and so we bear in our bodies the guilt of our disobedience. We also come having been sinned against and so we bear the shame of hurt and embarrassment as our flesh has been defiled by others. In all these respects, we come here with wounded flesh upon us longing for healing and consolation. (Pause)

For some reason, the church gets the reputation that it is only a place for people who have it all together. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are all here because we live in a world of heavy burdens. And where do we turn when we bear such heavy burdens? Even though it may be Christmas, it does not negate the fact that we come here today in need of help.

In fact, this is precisely why we come. We who are weak in the flesh, who don’t have it all together, who are dead in our trespasses and sins need to turn to God for help. But we can’t. We are helpless. After all, what can one who is dead in their trespasses do? Nothing. Yet, by the gracious provision of God, He turns toward us so that we are helped and saved. 

For God so loved you, that He gave…He gave His only Son. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God became man. He was wrapped in flesh. God Himself became one of us.

Scripture says: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2nd Corinthians 5:21).

God came to this earth precisely because of our weakness in the flesh. He knew that we were doomed to die without Him. So He became one of us. He left the halls of heaven and humbled Himself by being born of a virgin to save you and me from sure and certain death. 

Jesus did that with His own death. There in the flesh, His wrappings were taken away on the cross of Calvary. There He was left exposed to shame and abuse so that He could take all of our sins, all of our abuse, all of our hurts upon Himself. There His flesh was pierced for our transgressions. There He was wounded so that we would be healed.

Scripture says it this way in Isaiah 53: He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one form whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:3-5).

Hear those words. They are for you. The death of the Son of God, Immanuel, is totally for you. He was pierced because that is what it took to forgive your sinful flesh, to remove all of your sinful impurities dooming you to death and condemnation. That was the price that had to be paid. And He paid it in full by being pierced in hands and feet for you.

And because of the wounds He bore in His own flesh, Your wounds are healed. For there in those wounds pours out His undying love for you…You who come here wounded and weak, battered and bruised, frail and fragile. All the guilt, all the shame and embarrassment…He takes it all upon Himself and into Himself. It is no longer yours to bear. He bears it all for you. The heavy load you carry has been lifted by the very arms of Your Savior, the same arms that were stretched out on the cross to save you.

That is what we see when we look into the manger once again. We see the glory of the One and only Son of the Father full of grace and truth. We see the greatest gift of God wrapped in swaddling cloths, wrapped in human flesh. We see the love of God poured out upon us so that we have hope as we endure the hurts and hardships of living in this fallen world.

And what we also see is that our God does not abandon us in our fleshly frailty. He comes to us…to die for us…to rise for us. He is the Word of God that became flesh. Our God is not a distant God. He is the incarnate God. Immanuel. God with us.

He so intimately comes to us that He joins His very self to us. In our baptism He covers us with His own precious blood. He ‘wraps’ us in His robe of righteousness…cleansing our sins with forgiveness, and covering our wounds with His great love and care.

Now when the Father looks at us, He sees Jesus, the very ‘gift’ He gave that was ‘wrapped’ in human flesh to save us. When the Father looks at us, He sees His perfect son or daughter. And that is what we are. That is what you are.

No matter the sins that you have committed or the sins that have been committed against you, you have been washed, sanctified, and made clean in none other than the blood of Jesus.

And when your final day comes, you can be assured that He will take you to be with Himself, and there He will wrap you in a warm embrace, comfort you with His presence, and quiet you with His love.

There in His presence forever, all the frailties and fragile realities of this world will fade away. Not only will there be no more sin, but God’s Word says: He will wipe away every tear from your eyes, and death shall be nor more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4). (Pause)

As we await that great and glorious day where we will see our Savior in His glory, our God Immanuel keeps coming to us to strengthen us in body and in soul for the journey that yet remains. 

In a matter of moments, in a divine mystery, our God wraps His flesh and blood under bread and wine. And in that meal is the forgiveness of our sins. In that meal is the healing that brings wholeness that our flesh needs for all the sins we have endured against us in this life.

See here today the gift that He wraps just for you. It is His very self. What greater gift could we ever receive than the Son of God Himself…in the flesh.

So, no matter how you wrap your gifts, when you unwrap your gifts today, take time to remember and give thanks for the One who was wrapped in swaddling cloths and in your very flesh…all to save you. 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.

Good News of Great Joy

Sermon: “Good News of Great Joy”

Lectionary Series A; Christmas Eve

Sunday, December 24, 2019 

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:1-20

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

When I was growing up, our neighborhood had a Bible Club that put on a live nativity. I can’t come to this night of Christmas Eve and not think about it. As many as a thousand people from all over the area would come to watch us kids reenact the story of the Christ-child’s birth. We had an inn, a stable, and the house in Nazareth. We had Mary, Joseph, a doll for baby Jesus, wise men, shepherds, angels, an inn keeper, and numerous animals.

One of the most magnificent parts of the program came when the shepherds would go to see the baby Jesus, this thing that had happened (as Scripture put it). Once they had seen Jesus and knelt and worshiped Him, they went out in the crowd and invited people to come and see Jesus too. I can still remember walking up to people I had never met and inviting them to come and behold Jesus. And even though it was only a doll, there was an awe and wonder to it all as we knelt before the baby Jesus.

Then, once people were done seeing Jesus, we as shepherds, would return to our sheep pen (only a few paces away at our live nativity). But we would do so skipping and singing, “Good news, good news, news of great joy; For unto us in, Bethlehem is, news of great joy.” (Pause)

Why did you come to church tonight? What are you doing here? What did you come to see? What did you come to hear?

We have come here tonight to hear the good news of great joy of the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world. It is such good news that God, in His infinite wisdom, sent His one and only Son down from heaven to earth to become one of us. God became human to save all of humanity.

In the world of newspaper headlines, this would have been a front page article. Or would it have been? Scripture tells us of no people of high repute making their way to a stable in the little town of Bethlehem. Scripture tells us of no one besides a group of shepherds coming to see this babe born in a stable. The wise men came later. The shepherds were hardly people of high repute in those days. If anything, anyone else would have stayed away because they were there. Why go and hang out in a stable of animals with a group of shepherds, no matter what was there? It hardly gave the image of some sort of grand happening.

So, instead of a front page article, perhaps it would have been somewhere in the middle of the paper. After all, this was good news. It should at least get some coverage. Alas, more than likely, had this been in the day and age of the newspaper, this story would have more than likely gotten no coverage at all.

The same is true today. As I wrote this sermon, there were news headlines regarding impeachment, Ukraine, NFL players being investigated in a fraud scheme, people gathering to mourn the shooting in Jersey City, another article about New Zealand’s volcano eruption, and much, much more. None of it was good news. And none of it was about the coming of Jesus as a baby born in Bethlehem.

Sadly, we live in a world of bad news filled with the presence of sin. Not only does the bad news get all of the coverage, but it also has led to the silencing of the good news of great joy. Like there was no room in the inn, there seems to be no room for Jesus in our world today either. 

We are told not to say “Merry Christmas,” because we might offend someone. Companies can’t say it in their commercials. Newspapers can’t have it in their headlines. Instead, everyone is supposed to say “Happy Holidays”. 

Where shepherds once made their way through Bethlehem making known the good news of the Christ-child to everyone’s wonderment, we have instead chosen to silence their message in an effort to be more tolerant.

How sad is it that we now live in a world that won’t tolerate the good news of great joy? How sad is it that we live in a world that won’t tolerate Jesus?

But the truth is, it is not that much different from the world Jesus came into two thousand years ago. Immediately after his birth, Herod tried to kill him. As an adult, his family wanted to arrest him. The religious leaders of the day wanted to as well. In fact, what the religious leaders really wanted was for him to be dead. And in the end, they got what they wanted. 

Where there was no headline of his birth thirty-some years earlier, no doubt this news was on the front page. Those of high repute had gotten their man. The criminal had been tried, convicted, and executed. This was front page news, and in their eyes, it was good news. Good news of great joy. Jesus was dead.

Oh how the perception of news is in the eye of the beholder. Under most circumstances, it would seem that an innocent man being killed on a cross would hardly be good news. But, in their eyes, this was the good news they had been longing for. Jesus, their arch nemesis, was no more. (Pause)

As we gather here in Christmas Eve and listen to the echoes of the voices of those shepherds declaring the good news of great joy that is for all people, we join with those who stood in wonderment at what this news was all about.

This baby born in a stable was not just any baby. He was the Son of God. The Savior of the world. Your Savior and mine. We are invited here tonight to behold Jesus again, as He came to us humble, meek, and mild. But we do so always with the knowledge of why He came. 

Jesus came to die. He came to be the front page news of the Jews who ran Jerusalem. He came to be killed at their hands. And what was good news in their eyes, truly was good news of great joy that was for all people. It may not have looked like it when Jesus was on the cross, but His death was good news nonetheless. 

There on the cross, the Almighty God, the creator of the entire universe, did not stay distant. He is Immanuel, God with us. He came to this world to take on our sin, and to be our Savior. He came to this world to shed His holy, precious blood with His innocent suffering and death.

And the news only became greater, when three days later He rose from the dead. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Jesus has been raised from the dead, and He is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 

Now that is good news for us to cling to in a world of bad news. It is especially good news because the bad news reality that we all have to face is that we are all sinners who deserve to die. Each of us will have to face the reality of our own death. Each of us will have to come to terms with the fact that we are not invincible or immortal. The poison of sin has infected us all, and we will all have to pay the price of our lives. 

We don’t like to face those facts, and especially at Christmas. We want everything to be filled with holly, and spirits to be jolly. But the good news that we gather around to hear is that Jesus came to save sinners.

You’re a sinner. I’m a sinner. We have separated ourselves from God, and we deserve to die because of our sins. But God’s Word tells us in the book of Romans: but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Could there be any greater news for us? We are not left for dead in our trespasses and sins. We do not stand as those who are condemned. Jesus said: For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17).

This means that as we gather here tonight, each of us has been given the good news that God has come in His Son to us to deliver us sure and certain hope. 

Hope is what we long for in a world of bad news. Hope is what we crave in our world of broken families, broken marriages, and broken lives. Hope is what we desperately need when we come to terms with all of the sins we’ve committed, and all of the sins committed that have been committed against us. 

Hope is the message that shepherds spread as they shared the good news of great joy to people’s wonderment. Hope is what they delivered because they had beheld with their own eyes the Savior of the world: Jesus.

Jesus is the One we behold here tonight. Jesus is our hope. Jesus is our good news of great joy. Jesus came to pay the price of His life so that our lives would be saved. Jesus came to forgive sinners like you and me.

You see, God knows full well that we live in a world of bad news. He has been through it, and he has felt it to his very core. He knows many of you come here tonight hurting and in need. Truth is, that’s all of us. But the good news is that He doesn’t look at you and expect you to do anything to save yourself from this world of bad news. He does it for you. He did it for you on Calvary.

Hear the good news: God loves you. And that’s not on the basis of what you have done or what you haven’t done. It’s not on the basis of whether or not your life is all put together or it’s broken to pieces. It’s all on the basis of the fact that when God looks at you He sees His Son. He sees Jesus. And so He can’t help but love you, nor would He want to. You are His beloved child.

That’s why He keeps calling you back here to worship Him, just like the shepherds came and did those many years ago. This is where He binds up broken hearts and heals your wounds. This is where He strengthens and nourishes you with His Word and Sacrament for all that lies ahead.

And with Jesus, there is much that lies ahead. You have been given good news of great joy that is for all people. You now join those shepherds who had much to share when they had beheld Jesus. You are now sent to share the greatest news that has ever been given: For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. May God grant you all a very Merry Christmas!

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

A Change In Plans

Sermon: “A Change in Plans”

Lectionary Series A; Fourth Sunday in Advent

Sunday, December 22, 2019 

Gospel Reading: Matthew 1:18-25

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Have you ever made plans, only to have something come up, and you ended up changing them?

Maybe it was the weather. You were all set to travel to visit family, but then a snowstorm made its way into the area and all of a sudden you had to stay home instead.

Maybe it was a diagnosis. You were all set to continue in life. You had all of these high hopes and aspirations. But then it came. An unexpected diagnosis. Now those plans have to be put on hold, or maybe put to rest.

Maybe it was a death. You were packing your bags for a trip, trying to figure out all of the places you would see, then you got that phone call. Your loved one just died. Now instead of a trip or sightseeing, it would be going to see relatives to grieve at a funeral.

We all make plans. Some of us make more than others. Some of us plan our lives to the point of our last breath. You know the ones, they can’t live without their calendar. Others plan by the seat of their pants. As life comes and goes, they plan accordingly reacting to the world around them. Wherever you might be on that spectrum, one thing is true, we all make plans.

What is also true is that in a world where we make plans, sometimes those plans change. And sometimes they change for the most unforeseen circumstances.

Joseph had made some plans. He had originally planned to marry his betrothed. Mary would be his wife. No doubt it had been arranged by both his parents and her parents. Arranged marriages were common in those days. So, no doubt there was quite a bit of excitement. Weddings often do that. As soon as the engagement is on, plans for the wedding get going.

But the plans Joseph made on one particular night were far different. These plans were in no way exciting. These plans were only going to lead to heart-break and disappointment. But, in his mind, they were plans that had to be made nonetheless.

Mary was pregnant. And they had not yet come together as husband and wife. This could only have meant one thing. Mary had been unfaithful. How could this be? He thought he knew her. His parents knew her. They had arranged a marriage for him with her. But now this! How could this be? How could she have cheated on him?

As much as the hurt and the internal agony tore him up inside, it still did not eliminate his love for her. He loved her so much. She was his betrothed. She was to be his wife. He could not embarrass her. He could not bring shame on her and her family. And in no way did he want any harm to befall her. After all, that is what would happen if this would go public. Mary would be subject to the penalty of stoning for the adultery she had committed.

Joseph could not let this happen. So he had to come up with a plan. And that is what he did. Joseph resolved to divorce Mary quietly. This way, they both could just go their separate ways. She could duck under cover and avoid questions, perhaps even leave the area. They would be able to just move on with their lives without anyone having to know what happened.

It must have been a hard night that night as he tried to sleep this decision off. When unsettling plans are made, it is difficult to get good shut-eye. It’s hard not to try and go over the plan again and again to see if there might be another way. But alas, there just wasn’t. And so, before long, Joseph was asleep.

It was in that sleep that all of Joseph’s so-called plans were changed. For there before him was the angel of the Lord who appeared to him in a dream. 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.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 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 1:20-25).

Joseph went to bed intent on carrying out his plan, and then in the course of one night, all his plans changed. Now instead of divorcing Mary quietly, he would take his place by her side in her pregnancy. He would marry his betrothed and the two would become one flesh as husband and wife. And to top it all, he would be the earthly father of none other than Jesus, the Son of God. 

It was in Joseph’s change in plans, that God saved us from sin and death. And thanks be to God that he did that. Because as we know all too well, our plans are so often not in alignment with God’s. Ever since we were conceived our plans have been fraught with sin and selfishness. We are at enmity with God. In fact, it began even before we were born. All the way back in the Garden of Eden, our first parents had a change of plans that has affected us all. 

There in the Garden of Eden, God gave them a plan. They were to work the land and keep it. And how tough could that have been. With no sin in the world, the land would have just naturally produced vegetation. The work would have produced abundant, never-ending fruit. That is, until Adam and Eve set their sights on the forbidden fruit.

It was there by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that the devil set forth a new plan, and Adam and Eve liked his plan. As they listened, they liked the plan of eating the fruit, because it promised them the knowledge of good and evil. But even better than that, it promised them that they would be like God.

Oh, how some plans can really go awry. And that’s the way it was for Adam and Eve. Where in one moment they were delighting in the creation of God all around them, then with one new plan of their own apart from the plan of God, they were doomed to death.

So it is with us every time we make plans apart from the will of God. Whenever we break God’s Ten Commandments, we are going against God’s plan for our lives. Here He gives these commandments for our good, so that we learn to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. But we all too often think we have a better plan.

Oh, how arrogant we can be in our sin. To think that we know better than the Almighty God. But that is what every sin is. It is a declaration that God is wrong, and we are right. It is saying that God’s plan isn’t good enough for us, and we know better.

Truth is, we should know better. The law has been written upon our hearts. We do know the difference between good and evil. But in the darkness of our hearts, we so often choose the path and plan that leads toward the evil one. And that only leads us to eternal death.

That is where Adam and Eve were headed. So God set forth a plan. In Genesis 3:15 it says, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal.

That offspring that would bruise (or crush, rather) the head of Satan would be none other than the One who was growing in the womb of Mary that Joseph had been told about by the angel in his dream. It was Jesus, the One who would save his people from their sins.

But that crushing of the evil one would come at a price. Genesis calls it the bruising of the heal. We know it as the price of the Son of God’s life. God’s plan was that His Son Jesus would have to die.

This was the only way for humanity to be saved. A human had to die. And not just any human. A perfect human. The Son of God…in the flesh. Immanuel…God with us. (Pause)

The plan that was revealed to Joseph had been set in motion centuries before in the Garden of Eden, and now it was all coming to fruition. And now here we are two thousand years later, blessed to be a part of that plan. Because it was all set in motion to save us…from sin, death, and the devil.

And now thanks to Jesus’ work on the cross which fulfilled God’s plan of salvation, we are called to a new life with a new plan apart from sin and death. God calls us away from the plan of sin and selfishness which only leads to death, to follow His plan which leads to life and salvation.

Scripture says in the book of Jeremiah: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

God’s plan for you and me has always been one with a future and a hope. That’s why He calls upon us to daily die and rise with Him. Daily confess and be forgiven. Because it is his plan that we will be with Him for all eternity. That’s why He sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary. 

As we look into the manger once again, we see that as Joseph’s plans were changed, God’s plans came into fruition. For there in that manger is none other than the Savior of the world. 

Yes, we can and will still be disappointed when our plans don’t work out but we find comfort and hope in God’s plan which center in Jesus Christ. In the midst of all the changes that might take place in our plans, God’s plan never changes.

And that’s what makes this season a season of great joy. It’s what gives us reason to celebrate…that God’s plan was for Mary to give birth the One named Jesus…the One who would save His people from their sins. 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.

More Than Meets The Eye

Sermon: “More Than Meets The Eye”

Lectionary Series A; Third Sunday in Advent

Sunday, December 15, 2019 

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

I had the privilege of driving through the state of Wisconsin twice a couple of weeks ago. And when I say, privilege, that’s not what I really mean. Not only was the drive filled with people who had Packer license plates and decals on their cars, but the view no matter where I looked was absolutely boring. Field after field after field with not a thing in them. For a driver looking for any sort of stimulation to keep him going, it just wasn’t there. It was as close to a desert wasteland as one could get here in the north country. 

At least that is how it appears now. We who live in the north country are well aware that what may look like a wasteland is really anything but. The fields that are tilled and covered with snow are simply resting and recharging for yet another year of planting, growing, and harvesting. It may not look like much now, and yes it may be rather boring to look at, but we know that there is more there than meets the eye. 

So it was as Isaiah spoke of the desert wasteland in our text for today. What may appear as a wilderness wasteland is so much more than meets the eye. But to understand our text for today in Isaiah, chapter thirty-five, we also need to understand chapter thirty-four. And to understand both of those chapters, we need to understand what was going on in the life of God’s people at the time.

Judah was facing the impending doom of the Assyrian nation. Assyria was gaining strength, and the days for little Judah looked numbered. In their fear, they were tempted to seek help from a mighty nation to the south, rather than call upon the name of the Lord. After all, Egypt was strong and could possibly offer the aid that was needed. But Isaiah had warned them: Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord! (Isaiah 31:1). 

Oh, how enticing it must have been for Judah to look to Egypt for help in their time of need. Oh, how easy it would have been to just abandon the Lord and do things their own way. But Isaiah reminded them: The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh, and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and they will all perish together (Isaiah 31:3).

Yes, it may have looked like Egypt was their salvation, but Isaiah makes clear that there was more here than met the eye. To abandon the Lord would mean utter judgment and destruction, and leave them wallowing in a barren wasteland.

Chapter thirty-four describes this wasteland of judgement as a slaughterhouse where the Lord bears His sword. The land is filled with blood, the soil turns into sulfer. Animal scavengers feast on the remains from the corpses, and thorns and nettles infest the ground. (Pause)

We all live in a wasteland of wants and pleasures that are just waiting to be fulfilled. Our sinful flesh can be gratified with any number of delights that promise much, but provides little…or better yet, nothing at all.

Like Judah who was tempted to look to Egypt for help and salvation, so too do we have a tendency to have wandering eyes, much like Adam and Eve had to their dismay in the Garden of Eden. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Genesis 3:6-7).

Here in this season of Advent, our eyes are to be fixed on the coming Jesus and spend our days in repentance and worship. But how often are we looking elsewhere for comfort and consolation? And what do we seek for comfort and consolation apart from the Lord?

Some of us look to pride and self-advancement by overworking and overcommitting ourselves. Some of us look to St. Mattress thinking sleeping in on Sundays is what we need. Some of us look to our anger and bitterness, fearing that if we let go of that, we will lose our so-called control. Some of us look to lusting and pornography justifying that it isn’t an affair, even though Scripture says otherwise. Some of us search social media and engage in whatever gossip we can find because we would much rather talk about others than about ourselves. Some of us can’t ever get enough, so we look in stores and on-line to shop ‘til we drop beyond our financial means racking up debt galore and tell ourselves it’s okay because it’s the American way.

There is not-a-one of us who is immune to looking away from the Lord. There is not-a-one of us who isn’t enticed like Judah was to look elsewhere for comfort and consolation in this life. There is not-a-one of us who doesn’t need to repent for our wandering eyes, our wandering thoughts, and our wandering deeds.

But, we don’t want to do that. More often than not, we want to remain in this desert wasteland because we want to do what we want to do. We look around this world and see all that it has to offer, and we like what we see. We delight in it. But there is more here than meets the eye. This world is like that desert wasteland in chapter thirty-four of Isaiah. It is a slaughterhouse of judgment. If you and I remain in our sin…if we keep our eyes fixed away from the Lord for comfort, consolation, life, and salvation, we will die. We will spend eternity in hell apart from Christ. And there in that desert wasteland, the scavengers will feast upon us in eternal torment.

We don’t like to hear that. But it’s true. And the season of Advent calls upon us all to get serious about the fact that Jesus is coming, and now is the time to repent. Our sins are sure and certain killers. So repent. We are all to turn from our sinful ways, and fix our eyes upon Jesus. Fix our eyes upon Jesus and behold what He has in store for us, because it’s far better than the wasteland of hell.

Scripture says in 1st John: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1st John 2:15-17).

God calls us out of this desert wasteland of a world that only leads to judgment and condemnation to behold a different desert. A desert that may not look like much, but there is indeed much more here than meets the eye.

In Isaiah 35, He speaks of a dry land that will be glad, the desert rejoicing and blossoming like a crocus. He speaks of those whose hands and knees are weak being strengthened, those who are anxious having nothing to fear, the blind having their eyes opened, the deaf being able to hear, the lame leaping like a deer, the mute singing for joy, waters breaking forth in the wilderness and burning sand becoming a pool. 

This is the great reversal that comes thanks to Jesus. We might look around and think that our lives as Christians isn’t that great, and from a worldly perspective, it’s not. There are many-a-day, where it seems that all hope is lost, and we are the ones who will be left for dead in the wilderness as the slaughtered ones. But there is more here than meets the eye thanks to Jesus.

The Apostle Paul even tells us so in Romans, chapter eight: As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:36-39). (Pause)

We may look like losers left alone in a desert wasteland that has nothing to offer, but that is completely false. We are more than conquerors, and nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As Christians, we know that everything in this world will fade away. It is all temporary. It’s pleasures are fleeting. But, not so with our God. All that He gives has eternal significance in our lives. Sure, to the outsider, it may not look like much, but with eyes of faith we have been given to know so much more.

We see in a tiny stable in the little town of Bethlehem a baby in a manger. To anyone else, it was just another baby born during a crazy time of a census to some poor family forced to be put up for the night in a place for animals. But as we look into that manger once again, we see that there is so much more than meets the eye. For there nestled in the hay is none other than the Son of God, the Savior of the world, who came to suffer and die in our place.

And sure, a man nailed to a cross may not look like that much. If anything it looked like an image of sure and certain defeat. Who wins anything by breathing their last breath? But it was in that last breath that there was so much more, so much more than met the eye as He uttered the words, “It is finished.” There Jesus cleansed you and I of all of our sinful wanderings. It was then and there that every time you and I have allowed our eyes to look elsewhere for comfort and consolation in this life that we are forgiven. Our sins are covered in the shed blood of Jesus. 

The same blood that we are given here today. Oh, yes, it may not look like much. Just a wafer and a sip of wine to someone looking from the outside in. But for those of us who know the truth of God’s Word, this is the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for our forgiveness. Oh yes, there is much more here than meets the eye.

For Judah, it looked like sure and certain death was awaiting them as their enemy advanced upon them. But even in the midst of that fear and pending devastation, they had a promise from the Lord what would not fail them, because their Lord would not fail them. In chapter seven, Isaiah said: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).

As we navigate this desert wasteland, and it often appears that all hope is lost, fix your eyes upon Jesus, the One who is Immanuel, God with us. He will bring you everlasting joy and all your sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Oh, it may not look like it now, but Jesus will soon return and once again prove to all…that with Him, there is more than meets the eye. In His name. Amen.

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

 

Comfort in Christ

Sermon: “Comfort in Christ”

Lectionary Series A; Second Sunday in Advent

Sunday, December 8, 2019 

Gospel Reading: Matthew 3:1-12

 

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’” (Matthew 3:1-3).

Comfort. We like to be comfortable. Many us like sitting in that recliner at home by the fire. Or we like snuggling under a blanket on the couch. Or maybe we like that feel of putting on a good ‘ole pair of broken-in jeans. Or we like diving into a meal of comfort food. You know the stuff. The stuff that sticks to your ribs when you eat it. Comfort. We like to be comfortable.

Conversely, we don’t like to be uncomfortable. We don’t like to be bitter cold and we don’t like to be extremely hot either. We don’t appreciate the feel of pants that are far too tight after the Thanksgiving feast. We don’t like when someone makes us do something that is too difficult for us to accomplish. We don’t like someone rocking the boat in any way in our lives. We don’t like to be uncomfortable.

If ever there is a word that would describe the way that John the Baptist’s message is intended to make people feel, the word ‘uncomfortable’ would fit the bill.

After four hundred years of silence from the prophets of God, John the Baptist came on the scene as the fulfillment of the prophecy that one like Elijah would come. And here he was in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey and wearing a camel skin with a belt around his waist. But it wasn’t his apparel or food selections that rocked the boat. It was the words that came out of his mouth.

Repent. In this sense of the word, he was calling the people who came out to hear him to convert. To stop in their tracks and change their sinful ways. 

At the core of the word, repent, it means to change your mind. Change your mind about sin and about God because the direction you are currently headed is going to kill you. 

The response from many who were there was to repent and be baptized. They heard the word, and they didn’t hesitate to listen and obey. John’s message had made them uncomfortable with their sin, and they knew they needed a change. 

That’s what the law does. It makes people uncomfortable. They see their sin for what it truly is. They see that to continue in that sin will only lead to death. So the only response is to repent and seek the true comfort that comes from outside of themselves.

But that was only the response of some who were there that day listening to John the Baptist. There were the Pharisees and Sadducees who were far too comfortable with themselves. So John called them out for their hypocrisy.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-10).

These Pharisees and Sadducees, in their arrogance, saw no need to repent and be baptized. They were convinced that salvation was already theirs to be had. They were thoroughly convinced that they would be saved because they had been grafted into the family of Abraham, and that was all they needed. They didn’t need this call to repentance.

But, that’s just it. We all need this call to repentance. That is the beauty of the season of Advent. Amidst all of the hustle and bustle of this season, John the Baptist stops us in our tracks. He makes clear that this time of year is not about ensuring the comforts of this life are in place. The decorations, the gifts, the baked goods, etc. Those are all well and good. But that is not what we need. We need to be prepared for the coming of Christ. We need to be constantly receiving His Word and Sacrament. And not just at Christmas, but for the Last Day as well.

Advent provides us a time to be honest with ourselves. We are far too comfortable. We are far too comfortable with our sin. In fact, we can be downright arrogant when it comes to our sin. We can be inclined to think that this call to repentance isn’t for us.  We often think it is for someone else. Ever thought: “Wow, I sure hope so and so is listening to this sermon. They really need to hear it.” But the truth is, we all do.

We all need to change. And change is hard. Especially for Lutherans. How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb? Change?

Change can be painful. Change can hurt. Because change starts with an admission that what we are doing is in fact sinful. And we don’t like to call our sin a sin. We prefer to justify our sins. They’re not that bad. It wasn’t as bad as my brother or sister or my neighbor or my co-worker, so it’s alright.

But it’s not alright. Sin is never alright. Just one sin separates us from God. Just one. No matter how big or small the sin may be in our eyes, a sin is a sin is a sin in God’s eyes. And He takes it very seriously. How seriously?

John the Baptist tells us: I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:11-12).

John points us to Jesus to see just how seriously God is about sin. He points us to the fact that for those that repent, they will be gathered into the barn by Jesus, but those that don’t, they will burn with unquenchable fire.

Talk about uncomfortable. You can’t get more graphic and uncomfortable that burning in unquenchable fire. But John’s message is clear. Repent, or else. Or else we face the fires of hell.

So, how have we gotten too comfortable with our sins? How have we compared ourselves to others to justify our sinful actions? How have we told ourselves our sins are not that big of a deal? How have we lied to ourselves about justifying our idolatry, our crass language, our skipping of church, our dishonoring authorities, bearing grudges, lusting, cheating, lying, coveting? 

Now is the time to repent. Repent. Because our sins our like a slippery slope that only leads us away from Jesus. I liken this to my driveway in wintertime. I have often said that my driveway was designed by Satan. I say that in jest, but when there is ice on it, I can’t even stop myself from sliding down the slippery slope that goes into the street. 

That is the way that sin works. It leads us away from Jesus. John points us back to Jesus. He points us to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He points us to where there is true comfort. It doesn’t come from within. It doesn’t come from justifying our sinful actions. It comes from outside of ourselves. From the One who made it very clear that sin is a very big deal. 

Jesus came into this world to bear our sin and be our Savior. He came to quench the unquenchable fires of God’s wrath upon the cross. The fires that should have been ours to bear in the discomfort of hell for all eternity. He came to endure the rejection of God that should have been ours for our sinful failings. His blood shed on Calvary covers all of those failings. His blood covers us and cleanses us.

Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He makes us pure, spotless, cleansed lambs of God. He removes all of the impurities, so that by His grace, we will be able to stand in the presence of the Almighty God.

That day will soon be here. As we find ourselves in the season of Advent, we look not only to Christmas, but to Christ’s final coming. What a comfort it is for us to know that we will not need to approach that day in fear and trepidation. We who have repented of our sins, will approach the throne of God as children of the heavenly Father. We have been made that way by none other than Jesus who suffered and died for us. This is where our comfort resides as we face the coming of that final day. 

Ultimately, our comfort doesn’t come in a warm fire, a blanket, a good ole pair of jeans, or any form of comfort food. Our comfort doesn’t come from a store either. Sure, those things may be nice, but none of it compares to the comfort of knowing that our sins are forgiven and our death is defeated. None of it compares to the comfort that comes in Christ, our coming Savior and Lord. In His 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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