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To Us A Child Is Born

Sermon: “To Us A Child Is Born”             

LSB Series B

Christmas Eve; December 24, 2020

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.

The prophet Isaiah prophesied: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6a).

Tonight we gather to celebrate the fulfillment of this promise. Tonight we rejoice that God keeps His promises. Tonight we look into the manger with shepherds and see that “to us a child is born.”

It all began with a census of the entire Roman world. Joseph, a poor carpenter of Nazareth took his betrothed wife Mary with him to the little town of Bethlehem. Nearing her time of giving birth, the journey must have been very hard: Traveling over rough terrain on foot for some 85-90 miles. Then to make matters worse, they arrived at the land of Joseph’s lineage only to find out they were too late. Too late to get a place to stay. There wasn’t a vacant room to be found. Only a stable. 

A stable would be their resting place. A place for animals, not for humans. Yet for the immediate future, this was the place they would call home. No pictures on the wall. No bed to lay their head. And then…the time came. 

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:6-7).

Luke’s account has a way of putting it so matter of fact, and spares us the details. We know that childbirth is so much more than the baby just being born and placed in a manger. Mary endured great pain, like any other mother does in childbirth. But where women of today have children in the cleanliness of hospitals with medical professionals all around, such was not the case for the mother of the Son of God. 

Though we don’t know for sure, we have only to assume that Joseph was not only husband, but quite possibly would have been birth coach, doctor, and nurse all wrapped up in one. Which is why Joseph may overshadow all other earthly fathers when it comes to the role of coaching his bride through childbirth.

The labor pains continued until finally He came. He came and Joseph and Mary must have been frantic trying to figure out where they would place their newborn son. The ground was no place for a newborn, so only a manger would do. Sometimes we make it out to be that the manger was somehow this nice warm bed that had been prepared for Jesus. Could it not be that it was simply the only option that would keep their baby off of the cold, hard ground?

This child that was born was brought into this world in the greatest of poverty. Where normally princes, the future kings of this world, would be placed in beds that were only befitting of royalty, this bed was a feeding trough for animals, a place no child should ever be laid.

(We hear the first verse of “What Child Is This?)

It is hard for us to fathom such a place for us to see our God and King. How could it have ever come to this? Why such extremes? Why did He have to come in this way?

Shepherds in the field must have asked themselves the same questions as they heard from angels who proclaimed the glory of God. Though their eyes were still trying to adjust from the bright lights that had shone from heaven, their minds were no doubt racing as they were trying to process all that they had just heard and seen. 

The prophecy of old had been fulfilled. “To us a child is born”. He was now here. The wait was finally over. Four hundred years of prophetic silence, and now angels were proclaiming the good news of great joy for all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12).

How could it be that angels would approach them? They were mere shepherds. Oh sure, they had heard of this promised Messiah being foretold of, but like any other time, as lowly shepherds, they figured they would be the last to know when it actually happened. Now the last would be first, as they were being ushered to the front of the line. 

From the halls of heaven, angels of God were proclaiming that they were being given a VIP pass to have front row seats and a backstage pass to the very place where the promised Messiah was to be born. How could this be possible?

As social outcasts, they had to wonder what on earth was going on. They were never in the know. They were never included. There is a reason they were on the outskirts of town. That is where many thought they belonged. But now all of that had changed: The glory of God in the highest had been revealed to them.

In the words of a Lutheran, what did this mean? What kind of child was this?

(We hear the second verse of “What Child Is This?)

They made their way to the stable. Oh, how they must have run as fast as their sandals would take them. Leaving their flocks behind, without a care in the world, they went. There was only one thing on their mind. To see what the angels had told them about. 

When they got there…oh, when they got there…there He was. Jesus. The Son of God. This baby, this child, was the Savior of the world. He was their Savior. They had only to bow down and worship Him. 

Though they didn’t know it then, the little one they saw in swaddling cloths would one day be stripped of His clothing before His death. And it would only be in death where He would be wrapped again in a linen shroud for burial.

Those tiny little fingers and tiny little toes would soon be pierced by nails, fulfilling the Scriptures “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 53:5).

To see that soft baby skin and it would not be long and a soldier would pierce Him in His side. Blood and water would pour out, and the Son of God would be dead, for that is why He came…to be our King…to be our Savior…to die our death.

(We hear the third verse of “What Child Is This?)

To us a child is born. To you. To me. We come here to worship Him. We come here even lower than those lowly shepherds. We are lowly beggars. We have nothing in our hands that we bring. No gold, frankincense, or myrrh like those magi from the East. We have no gift to offer. Only the filth and stench of our sin. And yet we are welcomed into His presence nonetheless. 

We are welcomed to come behold anew that “to us a child is born.” This baby, this child, is the Savior of the world. He is our Savior.

It is safe to say that this past year has been quite a year. But no matter how dark, how much doom, or how much gloom there may be, it doesn’t ever change the fact that this baby placed in a manger came. He came from heaven to earth with one mission in mind…

Ever since the Garden of Eden, our God promised that He would send His Son to save us. It was the same message our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were told. It is the same message that was foretold through the prophets Isaiah and Micah, that we heard from tonight: To us a child is born.

We rejoice here tonight in the joy that Christ is born and God is faithful to His promise. He has sent the babe, the son of Mary. And He has sent Him here…to us…so that through us, we might join with the shepherds and share this good news of great joy that is for all people.

It is like the Apostle John writes: In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1st John 3:9-11).

As you leave here tonight, think to yourselves, who might you share this news that “to us a child is born?” Who do you know, that just like you, is a sinner in need of Savior? Who might there be in your life who would join with you in rejoicing “What Child Is This”?

With that thought in mind, I wish you all a Merry Christmas!

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

The Present of Presence

Sermon: “The Present of Presence”             

LSB Series B

Christmas Day; December 25, 2020

Gospel Reading: John 1:1-14

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).

What is the greatest Christmas present that you have ever received? What was your reaction to that present? 

I can remember one year when I was quite young, and my mom had set up a surprise for my dad. Since we come from a blended family, being together is rare. Well, on this Christmas, my mom had arranged flights for my older brother and sister to fly to our house in Michigan from Texas. My Dad had no idea, and nor did the three of us younger kids. It was probably good that she didn’t tell us. I am sure one of us would have blown the secret. 

But, wow, was it awesome that moment they walked through the door. And not just for my dad. I can honestly look back and say that was probably the best Christmas present I had ever received, and it technically wasn’t even for me. But, looking back, I can honestly say that the greatest present is the gift of presence.

That is what Jesus gives on Christmas Day. His present is to be present with us. Not on Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime, or anything like that, but in person. It is what is known as the incarnation: God becoming flesh, the Creator becoming a creature…a human.

Just think of what it must have been like for baby Jesus to all of a sudden be an infant in a manger looking up into the eyes of his parents…the parents He had created. Ever since the beginning, the beginning of the universe that is, He had been looking down from His throne in heaven at the world. Now, His perspective had been completely reversed. 

There in that manger though, was the long-awaited and promised Messiah. Like no one seemed to expect, He came to be One of us in order to save us. In fact, He promises to be present with us always.

Our world has in many ways been robbed of incarnational realities. The present of presence has been difficult for us to come by. Words like restrictions, isolation, and quarantine have been such a regular part of our vocabulary, and the unfortunate result is that people are lonelier than ever. Loved ones long to be seen, held, and hugged.

We are a people who crave presence. We covet interaction. We are not meant to function in isolation and separation. That is why this time of this pandemic has been so hard for us. It is against our nature and the makeup of who we are as human beings to not be able to gather as we once did.

At the beginning of the month, I had the wonderful opportunity to see my parents as my father wrestles with Alzheimer’s. While on that same visit, I also got the chance to see my one living grandparent. But it just wasn’t the same. There was my grandmother, and yet we could only speak to each other through the glass of the doors.

I am sure countless people here can relate to this heart-wrenching circumstance. I can honestly say that before this most recent visit, I don’t think there had ever been a time that I had seen my grandma and not given her a hug.

When it really comes down to it, it is not the presents under the tree that we crave, but rather the presence of loved ones near us.

          Hearts ache as loved ones have had to die alone. Hearts ache as families make the hard decisions not to gather as they normally would do. Hearts ache as the gift of presence is robbed of us in this ongoing pandemic.

          Hearts ache, and we hurt. This is a Christmas unlike anything we have personally ever experienced. It is not that pandemics have not occurred. They have. But, for most all of us, we have not experienced this in our lifetime. And with nothing to base this on, we feel the pain of the present circumstance.

          We come here longing for the comfort of God’s presence, longing to be filled with joy and gladness, yet darkness seems to loom large. Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? Where can we find hope as we trudge through constant hopelessness all around us? (Pause)

          As I said before, the greatest present is present with us. He is Immanuel, God with us. Look into that manger again. See that baby gift-wrapped for you in swaddling cloths. As He looks up into His parents eyes, so He looks at you too. He comes here with one mission in mind. To go from His throne in heaven to the throne of the manger to the throne of the cross.

          He is the incarnate God. He is the One who became flesh and dwelt among us. What does that mean? Perhaps an illustration would help.

          Over 100 years ago Father Damien deVeuster, a Belgian priest, began working with lepers on a small Hawaiian island. He lived and worked among them, helping them get fresh water, a sanitation system, and they built a chapel together in which Father Damien would begin each sermon. “You lepers, know that God loves you.” 

This went on for a while. Finally, one Sunday Father Damien began his sermon this way: "We lepers…know that God loves us."

Father Damien decided to dwell among and love people with a contagious, deadly disease. He touched them, ate with them, became one of them, and stayed right there with them until he died. 

Jesus came to dwell with and love people with a contagious, deadly disease. That disease is sin. He touched them, ate with them, became one of them and stayed with them until He died.

Yes, He who knew no sin became sin for us. He couldn’t stand being separated from us, so He endured separation from God for us. And there, under the tree of His cross are presents for us: Forgiveness, life, and salvation. As His blood dripped down beneath Him, so we receive what He shed for us.

          Today, Christmas Day, we gather and receive the blood, along with the body, of the Incarnate God who gave His life into death for us. (Pause)

          Now I could stop and ask you all what your favorite present was this year, but you need look no further than the altar there before you. You need look no further than the manger in Bethlehem. For there is the One Joseph was told to give name Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins. There is the One Mary sang of in her Magnificat as her soul magnified the Lord.

          Well, here today is the Son of God. Here today, through Word and Sacrament, He is ‘really present’ with us in, with, and under the bread and the wine.

          But have you ever noticed that when it comes to presents, there is often the unfortunate reaction of disappointment. All too often, we want more. All too often we think or say: “Is that all?” We are rarely, if ever, are satisfied. 

And that’s the way it can be for us as we gather on Christmas. We see the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and we easily take this good news of great joy for granted. We look at the small wafer of bread and the sip of wine and question if it is enough. We hear the Word spoken to us, and well, it just doesn’t seem to help us like we want to be helped.

Really?! God comes down from heaven to earth and we want more? The Creator of the universe becomes a creature to save creatures like us, and we think it’s not enough? The One through whom everything was made and without Him nothing would have been made takes on our flesh, and we aren’t satisfied?

What is it going to take then, if that is not enough? Oh, how often our sinful selfishness gets the better of us and we totally miss this wonder before us.

This baby in the manger is our sole source of hope when it comes to separation and isolation we have and continue to experience in our lives. This day calls upon us to see that for as much presence that has been robbed of us in this pandemic, we need look no further than the manger.

Just like Mary and Joseph who looked down into the eyes of their beloved Son, so we are to do the same. We see Him as He reveals Himself to us, as He comes to us. Through the Word of God spoken and under the bread and the wine, God delivers Himself to us, and in doing so gives us a present that is more than we could ever ask for or imagine.

He gives us the present of peace. With sins forgiven, our relationship with God is restored. Our aching hearts are healed by the soothing balm of the Savior. And, we are now a part of His family, children of God, never to be abandoned…never to be left alone. 

See here today that this is where the greatest present is given to you. His name is Jesus. And soon He will come again and the separation will be ended forever. Until then, He promises to be with you always…in the Word who was made flesh. So, no need to look further for a greater gift. The hope of Christ’s cross and empty tomb are here…and it is all…for you. 

Merry Christmas!

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

Focus on the Light of Christ

Sermon: “Focus on the Light of Christ”             

LSB Series B

3rd Sunday in Advent; December 13, 2020

Gospel Reading: John 1:6-8, 19-28

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

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about that light (John 1:6-8).

Where is your focus these days? 

Whenever you go to the eye doctor, he or she directs you to look straight ahead and fix your eyes on whatever is directly before you. In one of those practices, you are to fix your eye on one letter and determine if the first lens or the second lens provides better vision. This is done again and again in an effort to provide you the most accurate prescription in each eye. 

So, as you consider the lenses you have been given in life, where is your focus these days?

So much of our focus is directed at the world around us. And when we look around us, so much of our focus is filled with fear. We fear getting sick. We fear getting exposed to the virus. We fear being around people, or getting too close to people. We fear what the current President will do. We fear what the President-elect will do. We fear what the next executive order will state. We fear going to the store. We fear going to church. We fear going to work. We fear that the world has forever changed and normal will never return. So much of our focus is on fear.

As pastor, I am left to wonder what this fear has done to our congregation in the long haul? What will this mean for future worship attendance? What will this mean for our ministries? What will this mean for the mission and outreach of the Church at large? Have we lost sight of what it means to be a Church and reach out to the lost? Has fear gripped our focus so tightly that we have become more about self-preservation than sharing the good news of great joy with all people? Time will tell, but we have to be honest that much of the focus is on fear these days. 

To focus on a fear has a way of darkening our spirits and our lives. It can be like this cloud that hovers overhead. And it can be so oppressive that it penetrates our thoughts, our conversations, and even how we feel and act physically.

Just think about it. When was the last time you had a conversation and the pandemic in some nature was not a part of that conversation at some point? (Pause) Do I hear any crickets?

The darkness of fear is running rampant in our lives. In many ways during the Biblical era of our text, the darkness of fear was also running rampant. There was not a pandemic to my knowledge, but there was fear. There was fear of religious and political oppression. There was the heavy burden of a conscious weighed down by unnecessary laws and regulations that had been tacked onto God’s law. There was the constant concern that you weren’t walking in line with what the leaders had mandated. Based upon conversations I have had, perhaps this is somewhat similar to the way we feel today.

It was into this world of the darkness of fear and trepidation that John the Baptist was sent. Clad in camel hair, dining on the delicacy of locusts and wild honey, he was sent with one mission in mind. He was sent to bear witness…to bear witness to the light. Where so much focus was on the darkness of the day, he came on the scene with a message of radical refreshment. 

Four hundred years had gone by since a prophet had walked the land. The silence from God had cast a dark shadow on the world as they waited with anticipation for this coming of Christ. But in waiting, the departure of God’s people from the Lord had only deepened. No longer did they wait in eager excitement for the coming of Christ. They needed someone to wake them up from their apathetic slumber.

So do we. How many of us have grown apathetic in our faith. Let me ask you this. As of late, where has your focus been? Are you focused on confessing your sins, or more focused on fear? Are you focused on God’s Word and Sacrament, or more focused on the political climate around you? Are you more focused on Christ’s second coming, or the pandemic?

See how the circumstances of the day suppress our focus from where it is meant to be. See how we miss out on the real reason for this season. See how Satan has taken a worldwide situation and driven us into the darkness of despair.

John the Baptist redirects our focus here today. Like a journey in a dark tunnel, he tells us to focus on the light…the light at the end of the tunnel. Though darkness abounds, the light wins the day. Pastor Lucas’ line still strikes a chord with me, “the Light always wins.”

Jesus always wins, no matter how dark the world may seem. The devil was defeated two thousand years ago on a cross outside of Jerusalem. Jesus has proclaimed His victory over Satan in hell. The image I have of that victory proclamation is Jesus doing a holy touchdown dance in hell. Jesus wins. Satan loses. Game over. It is finished.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, look where John is pointing. He is not pointing to the circumstances of this world. He is pointing to the One who came to save us. He is pointing to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is our sole source of hope. He is the Light. He is our focus.

But that can be tough when we only focus on ourselves. Whenever fear abounds, we have a tendency only to think of me, myself, and I, that unholy trinity. We also have a tendency to isolate ourselves. That is one of the concerns of this pandemic. All of this isolation can be a feeding frenzy for the appetite of the devil when it comes to the dirty work he likes to do to get us down in the darkness of despair. 

John was tempted to only focus on himself as well. They questioned him again and again. Who are you? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet? Who are you? 

Like a barrage, all of these questions were temptations of Satan for John to say, “Yup! I am Elijah, I am the Prophet, I am the Light.” But to have done so would have only left John and those he was called to witness to in the dark.

That may be the way we feel to some degree, left in the dark. And yet a light at the end of this dark tunnel remains. That light doesn’t come in the political unrest halting. It doesn’t come in pandemics subsiding and health abounding. That light comes in the object of our faith who triumphs over our greatest fears. It is the Light of Christ. It is Jesus.

These may be hard days to focus, but all of us are encouraged to pay heed to John’s direction. Look to Jesus. He has not abandoned His post. He still sits upon His throne at the right hand of God the Father. He is not surprised by what’s going on in our world. He knew it was coming. He has not lost control. He continues to exercise His authority on our behalf and for our benefit. He doesn’t abandon us to the darkness. He is the Light, and He gives us everything we need so that we can make it through to life everlasting.

From His throne of grace and mercy, He shines His light into our lives. That light exposes our sins so that we may confess them in the confidence of His forgiveness. That light drowns out all of the darkness that would doom us to death and hell. That light shines brightly. That light is Jesus, and He has given you the faith you need which conquers your fears.

What’s more, that light shines brightly in you and through you. Don’t let your emotions or fears fool you. The Light of Christ cannot be extinguished…ever. I have always loved the phrase: “Be the moon, reflect the Son.” S-O-N. 

We all have a calling as Christians. We have the Light living in us. And now more than ever is a time for us to join with John and point to Jesus, the One who died, was buried, and rose for us. The light of Easter morning’s open tomb shines brightly and proclaims that there is indeed no reason to fear. Death has been swallowed up in victory.

The light always wins, my beloved brothers and sisters. There is no reason to fear, no matter the circumstances around us. Every need of body and soul will be provided. Our salvation has been secured…secured by our Savior. (Pause)

So, where is our focus these days? John tells us, “I baptize you with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27).

That One who stands among us here today is Jesus. He is the Light, and He welcomes us here to dine at His table, to feast on forgiveness, and then He sends us out to be a light in the darkness of this world.

I would like to close by leaving you with these words from the Gospel of Matthew as the Third Sunday in Advent’s focus is on joy, not on fear…that as we focus on the Light of Christ, may we fearlessly and joyfully reflect His light to others in the confidence of these words of our Savior: You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16).

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

Blessed to Magnify the Lord

Advent Midweek 2

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Blessed to Magnify the Lord

Mary’ Song (The Magnificat): Luke 1:46-56

 

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

          And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Luke 1:46-49).

          My soul magnifies the Lord. To magnify. To make something bigger. Scientists do it with a microscope. NASA does it with a telescope. We do it with two fingers on the screen of our phones. 

Now it is not that Mary made the Lord bigger by her song. But rather by the work of the Spirit as she sang, she now saw more clearly than ever just how big her God truly was.

          Where we might be inclined to think that the song that bears her name is about her, Mary’s song, or the Magnificat, is all about Jesus and what He does for Mary and His people. It is a faith-filled response given to her by none other than God. Conceived in her by the Holy Spirit was none other than the Son of God Himself who was born of the Virgin Mary.

          As Mary rubbed her ever growing belly like all pregnant women seem to do, from the very depths of her soul, she sang this song in praise to her Lord.

          Her song is one of blessing. She is blessed to magnify the Lord. She can’t believe that the Lord selected her, even in her humble estate. We may recall the words of John the Baptist here who said: “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). 

Mary knew that she was a sinner. She knew that she was in no way deserving of this most honorable privilege. She had been conceived and born into sin. She was not worthy. Yet, by no doing of her own, the Creator of the world had selected her to carry the Christ-child.

          She was God’s servant. She would carry Jesus for nine months, through the morning sickness, the night sweats, the late-night cravings, the discomfort, the lack of sleep, the overwhelming fatigue, the labor and delivery, the pain and the joy. She was in it for it all, because she knew her role. She was God’s servant, and that meant whatever God had in store for her, she would do.

          And for all that God had in store for her, she would be called ‘blessed’ by all generations to follow. Blessed not because of who she was or the merits she had accomplished. Blessed because of who it was who would call her womb home over the course of nine months, who it was who would look up into her eyes as He was nursed by her, who it was who would look up and call her “Mommy,” who it was who would look down from the cross and place her into the care of His disciple John before He would breathe His last breath.

          Yes, this child in her womb would be more than her little baby boy, He would be her Savior. Sin, death, and the devil would be defeated for her all because of this little child who came to save her and everyone else from their sins. That ‘everyone else’ includes us.

          We, too, are God’s servants. In no way are we worthy before God. We, too, are in humble estate before the Almighty God, and yet we are blessed to magnify the Lord with Mary. Her song is our song. For like a magnifying glass enlarges an item, so our hearts are enlarged with the love of a Savior who came to this earth, was born of a Virgin, and died in our place.

          He has shown mercy to every generation, and that includes our generation, and all of the ones to follow. We have been blessed like Mary to be welcomed into the story of salvation where we also benefit from the One whose tiny little fingers and tiny little toes were counted by Mary as she held Him in her arms.

          Where He should have left us abandoned to the grave and hell itself, He came to endure what was ours so that we would not get what we do deserve. He has provided us with the greatest reversal, beyond what we ever could have imagined.

          We who are the created ones have had the Creator Himself come to us in the flesh as a creature. Where the Son of God was once exalted on His throne in heaven, hallowed in all of the universe, he would soon be placed into a manger, on a bed of hay, in a lowly feeding trough for animals. 

          This unexpected and great reversal would soon see the exalted be humbled and the humble be exalted. Those in great power and wealth would be brought low. Their pride and arrogance would not serve them or save them at all. Religious and political leaders of the day would see who truly was King of all kings and Lord of all lords. 

But they would see it in such an unexpected fashion. For the throne of this Lord and King would be a cross. The crown upon His head would be made of thorns. And the robe He would wear would be stripped of Him, leaving Him naked and alone, left to die a criminal’s death.

Thirty some years later after his birth, Mary herself would look up and see her son die in the fashion of a criminal. She would hear Him cry out, and like any mother, she would have wanted to reach out and comfort her son…console her son…care for her son. But alas…there was no way to do so.

          What we see in the Magnificat as we look closer and the image becomes largely magnified is that this baby in Mary’s womb would soon die the Savior’s death. And in doing so, He truly would flip the world upside down…for her…and for us.

          Because of the Blessed One in Mary’s womb, we who hunger and thirst for righteousness are filled with good things. Grace, mercy, peace…forgiveness, life, salvation. As it says in the book of Ephesians: “He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3b). These blessings are ours to be had, just as God promised to our forefathers. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, they were all promised that this time would come, and now it was here.

          Now Jesus was here, and come Christmas Day, He would continue His journey from the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross, from the nails He would hand to His daddy in the carpenter shop, to the nails that would pierce His hands and feet.

          It is no wonder that Mary sang as she did. Her heart was overwhelmed with joy and gladness. Why would God do such a wonderful thing for her?

          Why would God do such a wonderful thing for us? Well, take a closer look. Magnify the image of God’s Word and see what Mary saw. Because you too are God’s servants, and the mighty one has done great things for you and me too, and holy is His name.

          His name would be Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins. And His name has been placed upon you…on your forehead and on your heart to mark you as redeemed by Christ the crucified.

          Now death no longer awaits you. Hell has no hold on you. The great reversal of which Mary sang is yours. Life and salvation are yours to be had. And for that, there is great reason to sing. 

Sing and let the world know what you know. Let them hear the good news of great joy that is for all people. Let them hear of the one, true God who came to this earth to save them. Let them hear what a blessing Jesus is in your life. For you truly are blessed…blessed to magnify the Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

          (Singing of the Magnificat – Song of Mary – LSB pgs. 248-249)

Repentant Preparation

Sermon: “Repentant Preparation”             

LSB Series B

2nd Sunday in Advent; December 6, 2020

Gospel Reading: Mark 1:1-8

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

When I was growing up, we had a small sand pit near the edge of the woods where my brother and I would play with our Tonka trucks. We had a bulldozer, a grader, a dump truck, you name it. And they weren’t the plastic ones you see today. No, these were the heavy duty metal ones, the ones that could handle the rough play of two boys that wreaked havoc on just about everything. In fact, if you want to play trucks, feel free to come on over, because I still have them. You know, for the days when I have nothing to do. J

          With those Tonka trucks, my brother and I would fill valleys and level mountains. We would make uneven ground level, and rough places would become a plain. Sound familiar? It should.

          Today’s Gospel lesson is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy in the book of Isaiah. I would like to share the words of the prophet with you once again.

          “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5).

          Like bulldozers that unsettle the land, so this text ought to be unsettling to you and to me. Like tax collectors and soldiers who gathered by the River Jordan and saw their sinful exploitation in light of the coming Savior, so we ought to see ourselves as sinners in need of some construction known as repentance. We, too, are in need of a change of heart about sin and about God as we prepare for the coming of Christ.

          Where the terrain looks vastly different after bulldozers, graders, and dump trucks do their work, so our lives ought to look vastly different as we prepare for the coming of Christ. Our sin has no place as we prepare the way of the Lord.

          John the Baptist’s message is not just a message for those that gathered by the Jordan. His message is for every one of every time period. That includes us. We are in need of repentance.

          Repentance is a reversal. It is an admission that what we are doing is more than just wrong, it is sinful, it is downright deadly. And like anything that would be deadly, we are to steer clear from it as quickly as possible.

          Like a bottle that tells us that something is poisonous if we consume it, like a hot stove that cries out “don’t touch me or else be burned,” like a cliff that screams “turn around or else you are going to fall to your death,” so repentance calls upon us to change our direction. 

          Yes, repentance is confessing our sin, but what also goes with it is an amending of the sinful life. It is a recognition that declares that if we continue in this current path it will only be to our demise and destruction…and if not careful…to our very damnation.

          The good news of John is that he cries out from the wilderness to point us to the only One who can truly save us. John gets our attention as he dons camel’s hair and a leather belt while eating locusts and wild honey, and then appropriately tells us that he is not the one who can save us. Only Jesus can.

It’s kind of like the guy in a construction site with the flag directing us to make a detour or else harm may come to our vehicle, or worse, harm may come to us. John is doing that as he points in the wilderness. He is flagging us down to get our attention with his wild apparel, but he only does so in order to direct us in the way we should go so that we are safe and secure.

But just because the flagger is not the source of salvation, does not negate the importance of the flagger. We need that person to direct us to where salvation is found. We need John the Baptist. He is the final prophet before the coming of the Messiah. We need his audacious apparel to wake us up from an apathetic faith that constantly argues that our sins are not that big of a deal. 

How often have we justified skipping a worship service here and there because we think we don’t need it, or we think remembering the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy is merely a suggestion rather than a command given by God for our benefit? If that is the case, we have not come to terms with the gravity of our sin. If that is the case we have not looked at what it means if we were to continue past the flagger and head in the wrong direction avoiding the detour. If that is the case, then we don’t seem to accept the fact that the wage of sin truly is death.

When are we not in need of what Jesus gives? When are we not in need of forgiveness? The answer is never. The answer is that we are always in need of forgiveness.

Yet, there is a valid concern throughout Christendom that what will come out of this pandemic is that there will no longer be a need to gather as a people of faith. There is a valid concern that even after a vaccine is found and broadly administered, that people will likely find it easy to dismiss being in the house of God to receive His gifts. There is a valid concern that even those who have been back in church have begun to condition themselves away from weekly attendance to much less than that. 

Are we seeing the flagger flying his flag in the air trying to get our attention? Are we seeing the ways that we are possibly being conditioned here in this pandemic? Are we noticing the apathy settling in that runs counter to an active life of faith? Are we noticing the apathy that is settling in and dulling the awareness to our sin and its effects? 

See before you, the flag that John is flying. It is a red flag and it is declaring, “Don’t continue down that path. Don’t go down that road. It is a slippery slope that only leads away from where salvation is truly found.”

John the Baptist comes here today to awaken and enliven us once again, to lead us to live out our baptismal faith in the confidence of a Savior who has leveled the plain for us to the Father. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His name is Jesus. He is the Lord that John was pointing to, and He is your only source of salvation, and He is calling you here today…And whether you are worshipping in person or online, He is calling you to repent.

Now is the time for repentant preparation as we look to the coming of Christ. Now is the time to look in the mirror and see ourselves for the sinners that we truly are. See how the filth of a life spent in greed and hatred and lust and gossip is only driving us farther away from Christ. It will only lead to our destruction and demise. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, repent. Admit your fault. Confess your sin, and rejoice in the sweetest message ever shared. It is just as we hear in the liturgy from Scripture: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [But] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1st John 1:8-9). 

You are forgiven all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

That is what we are. We are forgiven, and nothing separates us from His love. Absolutely nothing. Like those that gathered by the Jordan River confessing their sins, so we have been called here to do the same, and the result is the same. Our life has been made new in the forgiveness of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Now go and sin no more.

Jesus has entered into the wilderness to pave the way for us to follow Him to the cross and the empty tomb. He has gone beyond the measure of a bulldozer, grader, or dump truck. With His holy and precious blood shed on Calvary, He has laid down His life in our stead, and in doing so, He has made our way level to enter into the Promised Land that awaits us. 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 Midweek 1

Advent Midweek I

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

God Fulfills His Promises

The Song of Zechariah: Luke 1:67-80

 

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

          God fulfills His promises. That is what the song of Zechariah is all about. God fulfills His promises. May we as hearers of Zechariah’s song here tonight rejoice with him in God’s faithfulness to His covenant promises so that we may serve the Lord without fear.

          Long before this song was sung, a promise was made to the prophet Abraham. It was right after Abraham had nearly sacrificed his one and only son Isaac at the Lord’s bidding. There in the land of Moriah, the ram that the Lord had provided as a substitute sacrifice in the place of Isaac was burning as an offering unto the Lord. As the smell of the smoke rose into heaven filled Abraham’s nostrils, the Lord spoke to him in the form of an angel. And this is what that angel said:

          “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:16-18).

          That offspring in which all the nations of the earth would be blessed would be the promised Messiah. He would be the One who had been promised ever since that moment right after the fall in the Garden of Eden. It was there as Adam and Eve held their heads down in shame for their sinful disobedience, that the Lord raised up their heads to a promise that would be fulfilled through the offspring of Eve. This is what God said to them:

          “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” (Genesis 3:15).

          That offspring of Eve that would literally crush the head of the serpent Satan was the same promised offspring that would be a blessing to all nations that had been told to Abraham. His name is Jesus.

          God fulfills His promises. And now as Zechariah held the child promised to him, he was witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promise unfold before his very eyes. This child…his child, John, would be the fulfillment of another promise, a promise that would prepare the way for the ultimate promise to be fulfilled. 

          In the book of Isaiah, it was foretold that “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken”” (Isaiah 40:3-5). (Pause)

          Just think of what it meant to Zechariah to hold his baby boy in his arms, something he never thought possible. For he and Elizabeth were well advanced in years. Yet, just as the Lord promised, though Zechariah had doubted it and was silenced until John’s birth, his son still came. And not only did he come, but he was the one who would point the people in the right direction toward the coming Messiah.

          John the Baptist would prepare the way of the Lord. He would be the one to give the people the knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of sins. He would show them where true light was found in the darkness of this world. And now Zechariah was staring into the eyes of this baby in absolute holy fear and awe of God’s promises being fulfilled right here in front of him.

          To think that it would not be long and the promised Messiah would be here. After all this waiting…generations…centuries…millennia. And now it was about to unfold before them.

          A short time after John was born, Jesus would be born. The two would be cousins. But for John, his role was clear. He was not the promised Messiah. He was the last and final prophet. He was to remain in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. And there by the River Jordan, people would come. Sinners, tax collectors, soldiers, religious leaders, they would all come to him and hear him proclaim what he had been born to proclaim: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And that is exactly what he would do.

          Again and again, as we page through the Scriptures, we experience what Zechariah did: God fulfills His promises. And we can rejoice with him, because the promise fulfilled in his life is fulfilled for us as well. Though we live two thousand years later, the message that John proclaimed is also a message for us as well.

          As John gave us knowledge of our sins by pointing out our need to repent, so Jesus came to be the One to take away our sins and grant us salvation. Jesus is the blessing that Abraham spoke of long ago. He is the blessing for Zechariah, and He is the blessing for us.

          Advent gives us all a time to be in awe and wonder as Zechariah was as he sang this song. This time of year gives us the opportunity to look back and see that, yes, God did remember His covenant as Zechariah sang. He remembered every detail so that we will be delivered from our enemies of sin, death, and the devil and so that we may serve him without fear.

          We have been released from the stranglehold of sin and death. We don’t need to be afraid to serve the Lord because Jesus came to bear the cross for us and the tomb is now empty. We may now serve Him in the confidence of His care and boldly share the good news of great joy that is for all people. For all that once doomed us to death has been swallowed up in the victory of Jesus. And it is all given to us because of the tender mercy of our God.

          ‘Mercy’ is that beautiful word that means that God does not give us what we do deserve. We all deserve death, and so did Zechariah. Our sins that we are called upon to repent of by John the Baptist should doom us to eternal condemnation. That should be our fate.

          But God fulfills His promises. He is merciful toward us and does not give us what we do deserve. Instead, He gave what we deserve to His Son. All of His wrath, rejection, and condemnation was placed upon His one and only Son in death. But that is no longer our fate to bear. Jesus bore it for us.

          So, you can see why Zechariah rejoiced in God His Savior as he sang of the fulfilled promise of his son John’s birth. If God was faithful to him in giving him a son, the promised prophet of old, then he had no reason to think that God would not be faithful in sending the promised Messiah.

          So it is with us as we gather here in Advent. As we look back and remember that God was faithful to His covenant to send Jesus the first time, then we have no reason to believe that He will not send Him on the Last Day. In fact, that is the meaning of Advent. It means “Coming”. Jesus has come, and Jesus will come again. Why?

          Because God fulfills His promises. Every time. He never lies. He never goes back on His Word. He is with you as you serve Him no matter where that may be. So don’t be afraid. He remembers His holy covenant, and you are His covenant people for whom His Son bled and died. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

          (Singing of the Benedictus – Song of Zechariah – LSB pgs. 238-240)

The Advent of Jesus

Sermon: “The Advent of Jesus”             

LSB Series B

1st Sunday in Advent; November 29, 2020

Gospel Reading: Mark 11:1-10

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

          As Lutherans, we follow a liturgical calendar that follows the life of Christ. Here at Zion, we use a the three year series, where there is a Series A which primarily follows the book of Matthew, Series B follows the book of Mark, and Series C follows the book of Luke, and then the book of John is peppered throughout the three-year lectionary. As you can see from our Gospel reading today being from the book of Mark, we are beginning series B. 

The Church year begins with the season of Advent. Advent is simply a word that means “coming.” You will notice that the paraments have been changed to the color of blue. Blue is a color of hope-filled anticipation as we look forward to the coming of Christ.

Advent is an exciting time as we look to the coming of Christ, but it is also a time meant to slow us down amidst the hustle and bustle of the season. Where everything would seem to serve to speed us up toward Christmas, Advent presses the pause button for us to take a moment and reflect on the real reason for the season.

This season is meant for penitential reflection, for pondering anew what the Son of God did do. It has little, if anything, to do with packages, boxes, or bags. It has everything to do with preparing our hearts for the Advent of Jesus who came in swaddling cloths and was laid in a manger. It has everything to do with setting our sights on Calvary where the Savior of the world fulfilled our shouts of “Hosanna” by dying on the cross. It has everything to do with setting our sights to the clouds up above as we look to the final Advent of Jesus who will take us to be with Him forever.

So, let’s ask ourselves: Are our priorities in alignment with the ways of the world when it comes to this season, or the ways of God and His Word? Are we driven by this consumer culture or are we moved to our knees in reverence and repentance? Are our thoughts more on what will soon be under the tree, or are they fixed on Jesus who died upon the tree? (Pause)

It is so hard for us to answer these questions. Really, it is. It is for me too. We are so driven by a culture that thinks that this is a time that “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town.”

And why would we think otherwise about this season? Just walk into any store. How much do we see that directs us to the real reason for the season? Or listen to the radio. Any Advent hymns playing, directing us to a life of repentance? No. Not even on Christian radio stations. 

Everyone and everything seems to be in such a hurry to get to Christmas. But it’s not the Christmas of Christ so much. It’s more like the Christmas of Garfield in the Christmas movie that bears his name. When his owner John wakes him up and says, “It’s Christmas morning, and you know what that means?” Garfield responds, “Of course I do, presents, lots and lots of presents!” 

Indeed, Christ’s coming does bring us lots and lots of presents…forgiveness, peace, joy, hope, an eternal home, etc….but that’s not what people expect or even really want. (Pause)

When it comes to the Advent of Jesus, the coming of our Savior, there should be a moment of pause. A moment to ask ourselves if we are ready for His arrival. For it will not be long and the greatest present will be present with us. He is Immanuel, God with us. But why did He come?

The streets of Jerusalem in our text for today give us a preview. There they stood with palm branches in their hands, cloaks on the ground, and all of them were shouting, “Hosanna!” It is a word that means, “Save now!”

But they were not looking for a Savior from sin. They were looking for a Savior from Roman oppression. They were looking for a political leader to drive out the opposition. 

What are we looking for? Someone to save us from political unrest. Someone to end the pandemic. Someone to fix our financial problems? Someone to make us healthy and wealthy and powerful? What are we looking for?

The Advent of Jesus begs all of us to pause and ask, “what does Jesus’ coming mean?” If it’s a chance to get ready to open presents and have a few holiday parties, then we have missed the point entirely. If it’s a chance to finally be able to get all that we want, then we have also missed the point entirely.

That was the way it was for the people who lined the streets of Jerusalem. Their own personal agendas for Jesus had them missing the point entirely on why He came. And that is why it was so easy to turn on Him. When they discovered that He wasn’t who they thought He was supposed to be, well, it was quite easy to discard Him. It was a quick an easy transition to go from shouting “Hosanna” to shouting “Crucify!”

Will we so easily abandon Jesus at His coming? What if the political unrest continues? What if the pandemic persists? What if the financial problems keep going on and we aren’t made healthy, wealthy, and powerful? What if Jesus doesn’t meet our expectations?

When we box Jesus’ into what we think He should be, we will always be left disappointed. And quite frankly, by worldly standards, when Jesus did come in a manger born in a lowly stable for animals, it was disappointing. No pomp and circumstance surrounded Him, just some lowly shepherds, maybe some animals, and a couple of poor parents.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the Advent of Jesus is still the coming of our King. That’s not just a baby who has come into this world that we are preparing for, that is the Son of God who left His throne in heaven for us. That is the Word made flesh who, by His own choosing, came here to dwell with us. He came to put on our skin, and to take on our sin. 

That’s what the angel told Joseph. His name would be Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins. That’s what Advent is all about. It is about Jesus who came to save His people from their sins.

And it doesn’t matter if He was a disappointment to the expectations of those lining the streets of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday or a disappointment to us. None of that deterred Him from doing what He came to do. He pressed forward…through betrayal, through mockery, through beating and whipping, through spitting, through piercing. He pressed forward to the cross, because that is why He came. He came to die. He came to die for sinners. 

People of God, we are those sinners that He came to save. We are those that the Old Testament Reading spoke of when it said, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isaiah 64:6). 

Yes, far too often, we are covered in the filth of being far too consumed with worldly consumption and our minds are polluted with our own agendas for who we think Jesus is and what He should do for us. 

That is why the Advent of Jesus is so vital for us. He came to cleanse us of the pollution and filth that consumed and covered us. He came to be everything we needed, not everything we wanted. He came to give us more than we could ever ask for or imagine. He came not to leave us in doom and decay, instead He came to have the final say. And He said, “It is finished!” Done for is death. Gone is the grave. (Pause)

Over the course of the next few weeks as we approach Christmas together, you and I will be given opportunity after opportunity to pause and shout our own Hosannas as we beg for forgiveness at the foot of our Savior who marched into Jerusalem to save sinners like us. That is why He came. 

And the good news of Advent is that Jesus is coming again. He will come with trumpet sound and He will take us to be with Him forever.

As the hymn so beautifully puts it: “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation; And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart! Then I shall bow in humble adoration; And there proclaim, “My God, how great thou art!””

The season of Advent brings us face to face with just “how great” our God is! Jesus has come. Jesus has died. And Jesus will come again. He is King of all kings and Lord of all lords.  He comes to do what no other king, president, or ruler of any kind could do. He comes to bring peace. Peace not like this world could give. But peace between God and all humanity. Peace in forgiveness. Peace in life and salvation. Peace in Jesus! And so we pray: “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.

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