Advent 4 – “Blessed”

Text: Luke 1:39-45

C-9 Advent 4 (Lu 1.39-45)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Things are beginning to get serious with the promise of God’s Messiah. To date, an angel has appeared to Zechariah telling him of the birth of John and his role as the forerunner to the Messiah. Zechariah was struck mute until John was born, thus declaring his name John as directed by Gabriel. During that same time, while Elizabeth was six months pregnant, the angel Gabriel appeared to a young girl named Mary telling her that she will be with child and that the child will be called the Son of the Most High. It would almost seem that what God had promised so long ago was now beginning to come together.

Again, we return to Luke’s Gospel and the next part of the story – Mary travelling to Judah to see Elizabeth. Everything to date has seemed incredible to all parties, to Zechariah and Elizabeth that they would have a child at such old ages, that Mary, a virgin, would have a Son and that Son would be God in the flesh. To say that this was a shock to everyone was an understatement, and yet, with a little coaxing for some, they all came to believe what the angel Gabriel had declared.

As Mary arrives at the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped. Maybe it was just the baby kicking as babies in the womb do. Maybe it was due to something that Elizabeth ate that didn’t set well with the baby. Or maybe, just maybe, it had nothing to do with that. Maybe, just maybe, John recognized that he was in the presence of his Lord. Maybe, just maybe, John recognized that the child that Mary was carrying was the One whom he was to set the stage for.

Again, all this from an outsider’s perspective seems to be too incredible to believe. But for those who believe, we recognize that, yes, this is incredible – incredible that the promise of God was being fulfilled as God had said.

As we read this account, we have to wonder why Luke makes a point to show John leaping in the womb in front of Mary. Why should this be a question? Isaiah records, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’” Could it be that being in the presence of Jesus, John showed the proper respect he could by leaping in the womb? In talking about Jesus and His act of humility, Paul says, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Elizabeth responds in a way that is fitting with all that has taken place up to this point in God’s fulfillment of the promise: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” The fruit of Mary’s womb could not be more blessed. That fruit is God in the flesh, the promise fulfilled.

What clearly stands out is the presence of Jesus. Everything that happens is a response to the presence of God in the flesh – the baby inside Mary. The presence of the Lord causes a physical response by the child John in Elizabeth’s womb; the praising of Mary by Elizabeth, and Mary’s beautiful hymn that comes just a few verses later. Elizabeth proclaims Jesus in the womb of Mary to be cause of her blessedness, just as Christ in His Church is the source of her every blessing. Blessedness is a condition for which God alone is responsible. Mary’s blessedness is the result of an act of divine grace which God gives to her as a gift. Mary is blessed because of the presence of Christ in her just as the Church is blessed because Christ dwells in her.

What a feeling to be called blessed by God! It should be noted that Mary is blessed not because of what she has done, but rather what God has done for her. She acknowledges that she is indeed blessed moments later in her song, the Magnificat, but she is not blessed, however, because of who she is. In her hymn, she notes the humble estate of God’s servant. She calls God her Savior because she is a sinful human being like everyone else is, and she knows she is in need of saving. She makes it abundantly clear that it is God who has done great things for her, and so she gives all glory to Him.

What we have to understand is that we as the Church are not blessed because of who we are. Who are we? We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We deserve God’s eternal punishment and death. And yet given who we are, we are blessed. Our blessedness consists in the presence of the incarnate Christ who is the ultimate source of every true blessing. Jesus entered the womb of Mary so that He could be born, live a sinless life and ultimately die on the cross for our sins, only to rise again triumphantly three days later. It is through the death of Christ that takes away our sins that separate us from God and now brings us back into God’s presence now and forevermore.

That happens in our Baptism where we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, forever replacing our sinfulness in the Father’s eyes so that all He sees is the perfection of His Son. That same presence is realized also in the true body and blood of Jesus Christ in His Holy Supper where our Lord comes to us with His gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Being blessed by God is received through faith in the promise of the Child whom Mary bears in her womb. Being blessed by God is received through what God does for us in Christ and not through what we do for ourselves. That is the whole theme behind Mary’s song and it is the whole theme for Christianity with regards to our salvation. There is no chance of salvation by ourselves. Adam and Eve failed to keep God’s Word as do we. Only by keeping God’s Word perfectly can we achieve salvation. That is not something that we can do, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we think we can. Our sole means of salvation comes from the Child that Mary carries. Mary understands God’s grace and finds her peace in the promise of Gabriel’s message.

Just as Mary accepted this message of the Savior through faith, so do we in the Church accept this by faith, faith that comes from the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, we understand and respond in faith to the continued proclamation that our Lord Jesus Christ, who took on human flesh and dwelt among us, is our promised redemption and salvation.

And so here we are. Mary will give birth to her first-born Son. He will grow and become a man, a man who had an appointment with a cross. As God stepped down from heaven into the womb of the Virgin, He took His first step to the cross. The cross is the reason He took up human flesh in the first place. He came to be Mary’s Savior, and not only her Savior, but also the Savior of all mankind. For as He took up human flesh He also humbled Himself under the Law in order to fulfill the Law in our place. Then as He suffered on the cross, He took up the wrath of God that we all earned with our sin. This is the way in which He is Mary’s Savior and the Savior of us all.

We are, on account of Christ, exactly what is attributed to Mary: blessed; blessed for Christ’s sake, blessed for we are in Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 3 – “The One”

Text: Luke 7:18-28

C-6 Advent 3 (LHP) (Lu 7.18-28)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

There’s an important question that needs to be asked, one question that we might not want to ask because we’re afraid to admit that we aren’t sure: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” John had sent his disciples to ask Jesus that question, to see if He really is who He says He is.

The cause of this question is clear – life is unfair, uneven, unreasonable. The godly suffer and the wicked prosper and there is no good explanation as to why. John knew this well. He was the prophet, the forerunner, the voice sent to prepare the way. His entire life was devoted to the coming of the Lord. Jesus Himself said that no one born of woman was greater! Yet there he was, sitting in prison, waiting for Jesus as they sharpened the sword. It is hard to say which would have been worse—that Jesus didn’t seem to notice, or that Jesus noticed and didn’t act.

This account of Holy Scripture might sound a little, well, wrong. Why would John the Baptist be asking such a question like this? When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, it was told to Zechariah, “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord.” When a pregnant Mary appeared at the doorsteps of a pregnant Elizabeth, “the baby leaped in her womb.” That baby was John. John was out in the wilderness, baptizing people and he says, “But he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” And now, you have doubting John?

Now before you go and say that Scripture contradicts itself, rest assured that it is not John asking the question on behalf of himself, but rather he is asking on behalf of his disciples, that they would truly know that Jesus Christ is the One foretold of long ago, the One whom John was destined to prepare the world to receive.

When John’s disciples get to Jesus and ask Him what they were instructed, Jesus responds with a very clear and pointed response to what He has done: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” While Jesus describes what He has done, He doesn’t exactly answer the question they ask. Is Jesus the One or not?

Without answering “yes” or “no” to John’s disciples, Jesus did indeed answer their question. Jesus points to His miracles, including also the raising of the dead at Nain, as evidence that He is the one promised in the Old Testament. His message to John’s disciples and to all of us: don’t look for any other messiah because the true Messiah is here.

The question that John poses is still a valid question for us today. Many today doubt and question whether or not Jesus is who He says He is, if He can do what He says He can do. You have those that doubt that this baby that is born is anything else than just another baby, nothing more, nothing less. You have those that claim that it is impossible that any one person can die for the sins of all of creation. You have those that want to say that if Jesus is who He claims to be, He is just one of many ways to earn salvation.

That line of thinking is no different than the false thoughts the people of Jesus’ day had about Him. The people of Jesus’ time thought of Him as a great earthly king, one who would kick out the Romans and restore Jerusalem to all of its glory from the days of old. Others thought that the Messiah would be a great prophet. Others thought of Him purely as the son of Mary and Joseph, a carpenter’s son. But what about you? What do you think about Jesus? What do we doubt about His life and His ministry? Is He who He says He is? Can He really forgive me my sins like He claims that He can? Can He really give to me everlasting life because of His death and resurrection?

The answer to all of these questions and more is yes. Yes, He is who He claims to be, the Christ, the Son of God. Yes, He can and does forgive you all of your sins. Yes, He can and does give to you everlasting life on account of His life, death, and resurrection.

There should be no doubt as to whether or not Jesus is the one who is to come. John was right all along. Jesus is a prophet, but not just a prophet. He is the prophet. He is the one to whom Zephaniah speaks of in our Old Testament reading for today: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save….”

Jesus fulfills all that had been prophesied about Him. He was born of woman, being one with us sinners. He became the least in the Kingdom of God while on the cross so that He could make us sinners the greatest in the Kingdom by faith. Jesus is the One to whom we can look to for assurance with all our doubts for He has reconciled us to God.

That should be enough for us to accept the fact that Jesus is who He claims to be. After all, His benchmark standard is God’s Word, so how could Jesus, the Logos, the Word, contradict Himself? But, alas, it wasn’t enough for the people of the day. Sure, the miracles that Jesus performed during His three-year ministry were cool and all, but what else can He do? If His everyday miracles with the sick, the blind, the lame, and the deaf weren’t enough, you would think His miracles of raising the dead might be enough to convince the people, to win them over to the truth that Jesus is the Christ who was promised of in Holy Scripture. But even raising people from the dead wasn’t enough for some.

What more could convince the doubters that He was who He said He was? What about His own death upon the cross, which then led to His resurrection from the dead, which then led to His appearing to the multitudes following His resurrection, which ultimately led to His ascension in heaven? Wouldn’t that be enough? For some, yes it was enough. For others, all of that is just too incredible to believe.

For us, the baptized believers, called by God through the Holy Spirit, this is not too incredible for us to accept because we accept this by faith. We believe that Jesus is the one who is to come because God’s Word has declared it to be so. We consider our doubts and other sins. As we consider these sins, their consequences and punishment should terrify us. How wonderful it is to learn that in Jesus Christ we have all of the signs of God’s promise. We have the signs of His miracles and His teaching, but especially we have the sign of His crucifixion and resurrection that earn forgiveness for our sins and give us the promise of life everlasting in His gracious presence.

Today, we rejoice that the Son of God came into the world to offer Himself up for us as our substitute and to take away our sins. We rejoice that by His resurrection, He has opened heaven for us. We rejoice that, although our sin is great, our Savior is greater. We rejoice in the way He came to conquer our sin. We rejoice in the way He now comes to offer forgiveness to all people. We rejoice in the way He will come to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 2 – “Prepare & Repent”

Text: Luke 3:1-14

It’s the season of Advent, a time of preparation before the Christ makes His entry into the world by means of His birth. Last week, we heard of Jesus entering Jerusalem. Today, we shift the focus back to preparation as we hear of John, the forerunner of Jesus.

John was the son of Zechariah, a priest. At and old age and with a barren wife, the angel Gabriel had told him that they would conceive and bear a son who would be named John. What made John special, different than other baby boys of the time, is that he had a particular job: prepare for the arrival of Jesus.

To get the people ready to receive Jesus, a transformation needed to take place in them first. “And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The people needed to change themselves. The needed to go from a state of unrepentance to a state of repentance. They needed to confess their sins and be forgiven. This was nothing new. The people had been sinning from the Fall and needed to be in a state of confession and absolution. This was done in the days of old by sacrifices. Now, John is proclaiming something new, a baptism of repentance.

This was what John was called, destined, prophesied to do, as recorded by Isaiah: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

The Promise of Old is coming. John’s role was to prepare the people to receive the Promise. It was time for them to do what they have done all their lives as Christians – repent. This message that John proclaimed was intended for all peoples. He preached this to anyone and everyone. He didn’t tell this to just Jew or Gentile, Christian or non-Christian. This was a message that everyone needed to hear.

He went in and laid it all on the line to all who heard him: “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.” The sad truth is that more often than not, you and I don’t produce the good fruit our Lord expects. We simply don’t love God with all our heart and soul and strength, much less love our neighbor as ourselves. Despite our best efforts, there are those we have hurt and those we have failed to help. Our thoughts and desires are soiled with sin. There is nothing good within us, in our sinful nature.

That is where preparing the way of the Lord begins. Through the Law, we hear about our sinful nature and what that means for us. It means death and damnation. It means eternal separation from God. But the message that John is preaching about is the sweet sound of the Gospel which we need to hear; that there is One who is coming to save us from our sins. There is One who is coming to give us everlasting life. There is One coming who is forever bridging the gap between God and man, One who will trade His life so that we can have life. It is in John’s message of the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus that we are lifted up and comforted.

Repentance was necessary then and it necessary today. The need for repentance is now. The need to turn from our sinful ways is now. That is the message that John the Baptist comes preaching. His proclamation of repentance begins by making the people aware that they are sinners. What does John say about those who believe that they are already righteous? He calls them a brood of vipers. This is not without significance. It echoes back to the Garden of Eden and man’s fall into sin brought about the serpent. Instead of being righteous, they are instead offspring of Satan.

The reason why the season of Advent is so important is because it shows us the need of a Savior. Hearing John’s message can cause great fear in us, knowing that we might be a tree that does not bear good fruit. Those to whom John is preaching to begin to ask the simple question, “What then shall we do?” The answer is simple: we look to Christ. We look to the cross where Jesus took judgment upon Himself in our place so that we might be forgiven. In our Baptism, we receive the benefits of Christ’s atonement for us, the forgiveness of our sins.

John’s warning was indeed sharp. When the message of love and grace fails to touch the heart, then the Law’s message of judgment upon sin must be proclaimed. And so, John comes proclaiming a baptism of repentance, that the people would turn from their sinful ways and prepare for the arrival of The Messiah that was quickly approaching. And who heard that message but those troubled by their sins.

That’s the message of our text today. Our sin has separated us from God. That’s not a message we want to hear, and neither did those to whom John was preaching to. They had an answer for everything: “We have Abraham as our father.” What does that mean? Who cares if you have Abraham as your father. The bigger question is do you recognize your sin? Are you repentant of your sin? Will claiming Abraham as your father make your sins go away?

If you are sinful, then you need to hear this message. If you are repentant of your sins, then you need to hear this message. There is nothing you can do about your sins, but there is someone who can, and that someone is on His way. He is on His way to the manger to be born. He is on His way to Jerusalem to stand before Pilate to be judged. He is on His way to Golgotha to lay down His life for your sinful life. He’s going to give you all that He is so you may be declared righteous and holy before God. And in doing so, He is going to take all your sins upon Himself so that He may be judged sinful and die, all that you may live.

Even with all of that, that’s not enough for Jesus. He promises to come to you in His holy Word, a word that declares you forgiven for His sake. He comes to you in water so that God’s name may be placed upon you, marking you as God’s beloved and redeemed child. He comes to you in bread and wine, that you may feast upon His body and blood and receive His forgiveness, that you may be strengthened until life everlasting in heaven is yours.

All of this is at the heart of John the Baptist’s message. The message is not his own, but it is God’s message of a promise made a long time ago. John’s presence is to prepare for Christ’s arrival as the Messiah, the promised Savior of long ago. And with that message of John, we look not to ourselves but to only-begotten Son of God, as He comes in a manger, as He comes in Word and Sacrament…as He comes to forgive us our sins and lead us unto Himself. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 1

Text: Luke 19:28-40

Today brings about a change in the Church Year. We leave behind the season of Pentecost, culminating in the Last Sunday of the Church Year and we start anew with the First Sunday in Advent. What better place to start the beginning of the new Church Year than near the end.

Luke’s Gospel today takes us, not to the story of angels and shepherds and the like, but rather to the beginning of Holy Week, Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem. So why would we start Advent, that season before Christmas, with events that happen at the end of our Lord’s life? It’s because the two events share a common thread – the triumphant coming of Jesus the king.

With a king, you inevitably have problems. They demand by their laws, the insist on obedience, they reward the friend and punish the enemy, they are either a blessing or a curse. The power of kings gives shape to the lives of their subjects. With such possibilities for good and evil, we ask ourselves, what kind of king do we want? Or better yet, do we even want a king?

Once upon a time, Israel asked for a king. God had tried to caution them repeatedly that they did not want a king because they would get everything that went along with a king. They wanted a king to judge them “like all the nations.”God cautioned them, sending Samuel to the people to tell them that the king will use their sons to protect himself in batter, take their daughters to be his bakers and cooks, taking their property to enrich his friend and tax them to advance his own wealth. In short, they would be the king’s slaves. And what did they respond: they wanted the king anyways. Their desire for a king was their rejection of God as their king. It didn’t matter that God had saved them from Egypt. Ultimately, they rejected God to be ruled by other gods.

In spite of all that God had done for Israel, God as their king was not good enough. Regardless of Israel’s desires and the king’s actions, God saw fit to send them a new king, a king who would rule them with God’s own mercy and grace. This king was David, a shepherd boy made into a king, exalting the humble. Despite David’s desire to rule in a way that honored God, he would ultimately be a flawed king as the one before him and the ones that would follow.

Through all of this, God was still their God and had promised to provide for them one who would defeat sin and death and, once and for all. Enter Jesus, the antithesis of every king Israel had ever had or would ever see. He was the opposite of Saul. He was not opportunistic, He was not self-serving, He was not grandiose by any means. In fact, He was the epitome of humble. From the humility of divine mercy, God would raise up a humble king.

The humble king would come from a humble town: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.”This humble king would be the true Davidic king: “And he shall stand and shepherd [God’s] flock in the strength of the LORD his God.”The humble king would bring peace, for He would Himself be Israel’s peace: “And [Israel] shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.”All of these definitions of the coming King come from the prophet Micah, something which the people would have been familiar with. And for some, they recognized that King.

When He arrives in Jerusalem, He isn’t seen riding a great white horse with flag-bearers and trumpets before Him. Instead, Jesus rides on a colt on which no one has ridden. Jesus rides in with the people laying their cloaks on the ground. The people shout with exclamations of rejoicing and praise, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Those shouts of joy on Psalm Sunday are just as warranted on the First Sunday in Advent, as they are any time of the Church Year. This King has come to do what no other king could – lay down His life for the sake of the people. This King has come to do what no other king could – forgive our sins. This King has come to do what no other king could – rise triumphant from the dead as the Victor.

The shouts of the people then are the shouts of us today: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”This King comes to judge His temple and week over the city’s rejection; but He is that kind of king who will also be the sacrifice to save it. He is the King who comes to undo the death and destruction man has brought about by sin.

The crowds praised Jesus with these words. Although these words of praise are absolutely true, it is very likely that the crowds had no idea why these words were true. They had no idea what Jesus was about to do that would make these words true. The idea that this man’s death would bring life to all people was not even a thought that entered their minds. Jesus was coming into their lives and they didn’t know why.

During this season of Advent, we prepare ourselves to receive the Newborn King into this world. For the Christian, it is a time to remember that the things of this world are indeed passing away, a time to set our hearts, once more, upon things above – a time to look at the Child who came to be born, to live, to die, and rise again, all for the sake of us mere miserable sinners. We recognize that Christ comes to die for our sins. We remember that we have been baptized and that means that we have been given the name of our heavenly Father.

This King that comes to us in order to give Himself into death as that true sacrifice of our King: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”Into His humble sacrifice, Jesus established a new Jerusalem and a new temple, making us to be His holy people. He comes as a baby to grow into the man who takes all upon Himself. He comes as our King to wash us in His blood.

Through faith, we join the Jerusalem throng of old in their shouts of praise: “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord”as we receive His gift of broken and shed body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

What kind of king is it that we want? Do we want the king of the Old Testament, with all of their sinful and selfish desires? Do we want a king of our own making, one that grants all our wishes and desires, even if they are not the good that God desires for us? The king we want, no, the king we need, is the King who comes in the name of the Lord, the King who lays down His life for us in order that we may be restored to our Heavenly Father in a state of forgiveness, won for us by a humble King who rides into Jerusalem triumphantly for us. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 4 – “Annunciation” (Luke 1:26-38)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Today is a bit of a liturgical crisis. Today is December 24, known to us as Christmas Eve. But today is also the Fourth Sunday in Advent. This morning, we will focus on the theme for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the annunciation by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she will conceive and bear a Son. If you want to hear the account of the birth of Christ, then you will need to come to our Christmas Eve services tonight at 5:00 and 10:00.

“Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” “Do you promise to be my best friend, pinky swear?” We live in a world that is full of promises. Some are kept, many are broken. Where there are large amounts of money or property involved, the promises are defined in long and complicated legal documents full of mumbo jumbo to make sure there’s no wiggle room and no loophole by which one can escape the obligations of his or her problems. We can no longer simply depend on another’s word.

Even in the closest of relationships, promises are broken and people are let down, disappointed, and left feeling betrayed. Maybe you’ve been the victim of a broken promise. Maybe you’re the one who’s broken promises. Fortunately for us, there is One who makes a promise and did not fail to keep it – God, our heavenly Father.

God gives us the promises of His Word at our worst moments. At the Fall, there was nowhere for Adam and Eve to go except down. They had sinned against God. Things were not going to go well for them after God had condemned the serpent. But in that condemnation was a promise, both to the serpent and to Eve as well: “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 heel.” While God pronounced judgment upon sin, He also offered words of hope as He promised to provide a Savior from sin. He established a covenant with Adam and Eve, a relationship built on promises that God had made. That covenant extended to Israel. Even though Israel was so often unfaithful in this covenant relationship with God, God continued to act on their behalf according to the Word that He had spoken. He had made promises and had full divine intent to keep those promises.

Through Old Testament history, the promise of God continued to remain unfulfilled. The people were left waiting and waiting for God to make good on His promise. When would it happen? How would it happen? Would God go back on His promise? As one surveys the Old Testament panorama of God’s Word and promises, it becomes evident that the annunciation to the Virgin Mary is an account of God at work, according to His Word, keeping His promises to redeem fallen mankind.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.” During the pregnancy of Elizabeth, the angel Gabriel came to a lowly and unsuspecting virgin named Mary to deliver a message that had never been nor will ever be again: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

With these words, one begins to get a sense that God is at work according to His Word. We have facts revealed to us from Gabriel that we should pick up on – house of David, virgin birth, the child is a son. This is what Isaiah had foretold of long ago. All that Gabriel proclaims are incredible words of promise!

What is Mary to do with this new information from an angel? Angelic visitations aren’t an everyday occurrence, and here stands an angel before Mary. It would be easy to doubt, easy to dismiss all that was told her. Instead, Luke says this: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” What faith from a young girl! Faith that would accept all that Gabriel had declared – that by the Holy Spirit, she would conceive and bear a child. But not just any child, a son. And not just any son, but the Son of God!

In a few hours, we will hear the familiar account of the birth of Jesus. But for a brief moment, let’s lay aside all tradition and sentimentality about this event. Let’s focus on the Word of God spoken by His messenger Gabriel to Mary. In the next twenty-four hours, we will hear the wondrous account of the Savior’s birth that God kept His promise to Mary. According to His Word, even though she was a virgin, she did conceive; she did bear a Son. This miraculous event invites us to see that God does indeed not only speak a word of promise but fulfills that promise, according to His time and in His way.

By virtue of His virgin birth, Jesus shared in our humanity, but not our sinfulness. Such a perfect, Holy Savior was necessary. It was this Savior who kept the law perfectly in our place and offered Himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Here we once again see God at work to come to us – to be with us – not in condemnation, but in grace. Here we see that the same grace of God that allowed Mary to be the Mother of God is also available to us so that we can be the children of God. The Son of God who took up His humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary also comes to us. He is with us.

The Lord Jesus came into this world for you. On Christmas, we will celebrate the fact that God and man come together in one person – Jesus the Christ, the Son of Mary, the Savior of the world. His conception by the Holy Spirit and His birth of the Virgin are the beginning of His journey to save us. During His journey, He will live a life without sin, He will teach and heal, He will suffer, die, and be buried. He will rise and ascend back to His Father in Heaven. He will do all this so that He could come to us without punishing us for our sin. He will do all this so He could be with us and we could be His favored people.

Gabriel uttered God’s message to Mary over two thousand years ago. The promise in those words has come to pass. The baby was born and Mary named Him Jesus just as Gabriel had said. Jesus kept all the promises that God had made. His life was perfect in every way. Never the less, even though His life was perfect, He suffered the cruelty of death on a cross. Because His death conquered sin, death could not hold Him and He rose from the dead just as He had promised.

Just like Mary, you are the recipient of a miracle. You have received the miracle of life and salvation in Jesus’ name, on account of Him and His sacrifice for you. You have received the gift of forgiveness of all of your sins. This miracle God caused to happen for you, for He has created you. It is by the Babe promised to a young woman named Mary that your miracle has happened: your sins are forgiven and you have been granted everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 3 – “Good Times Cometh” (John 1:6-8, 19-28)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Nostalgia, resignation, and fear. That pretty much sums up how people generally tend to view their lives. How often, in talking about the past, do we hear people long for “the good old days” or lament that “they don’t make things the way they used to.” When it comes to the present, there’s often a general feeling of resignation. As we look at the world around us and our own situation, many generally respond with the well-worn cliché “it is what it is.” As far as the future goes? Most of us don’t want to think about it. Who knows what is going to happen in the political and economic sphere. Who knows whether another war will happen in our generation. Who is to say what the world will look like for our grandchildren.

As we come to the Third Sunday in Advent, the emphasis is on rejoicing, and so our texts tell us of the work and witness of John the Baptist. If you were paying attention last week, the focus was on John the Baptist. In fact, this is John’s parallel account to that found in Mark. So why focus on John the Baptist again? It is because of the message that John proclaims. In the midst of a people who longed for the glory of their past under rulers like David and Solomon, who resented their present situation of being subdued and ruled by the Romans, and who had grave concerns about their future if things didn’t change, John brings God’s message of greater things to come. His message, as one sent from God, was a message of hope and a promise of greater things to come in the coming Savior, which would be cause for great rejoicing.

Things have not played out well for the people of God. While everything was at first perfect, it didn’t last. Sin entered into the equation and God’s creation was thrown for a loop that would have more twists and turns than a roller coaster. There would be good times and there would be bad times. There would be times where God’s people treasured the Word of God and would follow His commands, while at other times God’s Word was despised and God’s people paid the price for their disobedience. But in all of this, God had a made a promise long ago that would make things right again. In fact, it would set creation in a restored relationship with God. But when would it happen? That was the million-dollar question.

God’s people had waited and waited for the promise to be fulfilled. And now, the time was near. A prophet appeared named John the Baptist. Great, another prophet with a message of how God would fulfill His promise in a time that is unknown, a time that is likely far away. But that’s not quite how things played out. John records, “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 the light.”

That sounds like any other prophet, right? The prophet comes with a message about God’s promise, of how it would be fulfilled. But here’s the difference between John and all the other prophets: John has had contact with the Messiah already and that Messiah is around the corner.

In Luke’s Gospel, we hear of Mary visiting her relative Elizabeth, who also happened to be pregnant. When Mary and Elizabeth greet one another, something happened. “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” That baby was John. Elizabeth said, “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” John, meet Jesus, the Savior of the world, the One to whom you will be the herald.

There were those who thought that John the Baptist was the promised Messiah. They went to him to be baptized, seeking something more than he could provide. They expected him to be more than who he was; they expected him to do more than he was capable of doing.  John had one mission: “to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.”

Many times, we often confuse the messenger with the message. If we receive bad news from a doctor, we blame the doctor for our illness, though he has nothing to do with it. John clearly understood that his purpose was not bearing witness to himself and his own greatness, but glorifying the Savior. The spiritual gifts of faith, humility, selflessness, and faithfulness to the great privilege of his calling were expressed in the life of John, for he was true to his conviction: “He must become greater; I must become less.” John’s appearance on the scene, his manner of life, and other features of his ministry were extraordinary. His work had provoked sensational comment and had attracted unusual attention. Curiosity and concern for their own welfare as subjects of Rome prompted the sending of an official fact-finding delegation from Jerusalem.  Their question was simple, “Who do you claim to be, and what place do you aspire to?”

The Messiah was coming, everyone knew that. But for John to appear and speak so intimately about the Messiah, well, that was different. The only way he could speak so intimately about the Messiah was if he was the Messiah. But that’s not John, that’s not what he’s about. He is all about Jesus.

For the Jews, they needed an answer to who this John was. They sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him who he was. John took no pleasure in pretending to be someone whom he was not. He very easily could have said that he was the promised Messiah and no one would have been the wiser, at least for a while. John did what he was called to do: proclaim Christ. He’s not the Christ. He’s not Elijah. He’s not the prophet Moses promised back in Deuteronomy 18, the prophet who would, in fact, be one and the same as the Christ. John was content simply to announce the coming Lamb of God.

In the Church, the talk isn’t about us – it can’t be about us. If it were about us, then there wouldn’t be much to say other than, “I’m a sinner. I deserve death and damnation”; it’s always about another. In the Church, the talk is always about the One who is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” It’s about the One who’s infinitely greater than we, because He was before us all, for we are the work of His hands, even as we are also the creatures of His own redeeming. He came among us as one of us precisely so that He could serve all of us. He shouldered our sins as He carried His cross, and He died our death and shattered our hell, and by overcoming the sharpness of death He opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Truly, the Son of Man did not come among us to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as the ransom for many.

As the season of Advent approaches its midway point, John the Baptist does the Church the service of focusing all the joy of the Church entirely on Christ. John’s words remind us that the joy of the coming days isn’t found in presents, parties, and eggnog, but they are found in the One who came into this world through a manger to meager parents, to be our Immanuel, God with us. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 2 – “Baptism for Repentance” (Mark 1:1-8)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Christmas preparations are in full swing. Decorations are hung. The music is playing. The stores are bustling with people looking to buy presents. By the time Christmas arrives, many people are ready for Christmas to be over. The world observes Christmas in the days leading up to it. It’s as if the birth of Christ takes a back seat to the business of Christmas. Who would celebrate a baby’s birth before the child is even born? It’s an easy answer for those in the Church, for we long for the Christ Child to come, and we keep on celebrating after Jesus arrives, for Jesus is at the very center of Christmas.

What type of preparation is necessary for an event like this, for the arrival of God in the flesh? How should one prepare to meet the Lord? Our text for today tells us how John prepared the way of the Lord for this grand event.

Mark begins his Gospel account about thirty years after the birth of Jesus. While Marks begins by saying, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” he in fact doesn’t begin with Jesus but rather with words from the prophet Isaiah: “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet….” Didn’t Mark say that this was the gospel of Jesus Christ? If that’s true, then why begin all the way back in Isaiah? Mark isn’t wrong with his layout of the gospel of Jesus, because it begins all the way back in the Old Testament.

Isaiah had prophesied of the coming Messiah time and time again. He told the people where the Messiah would come from. He told the people about the purpose of the Messiah. He even prophesied of one would come before Jesus to be His herald, John the Baptist. John has a singular purpose to his being: preparing the people to receive Jesus. Isaiah says of John, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

What does John do that is so important for the coming of Jesus? People sensed that John was indeed a prophet, if not the Messiah himself. John denies the latter while affirming the former. He declares to those that think of him as the Messiah as one who is unworthy to until the sandals of the One to come. This is not about John, not even in the least. It’s all about Jesus. It’s all about preparing the people to receive the long-promised Messiah when He comes. John prepared for Jesus by pointing away from himself and instead to Christ.

That same style of John should be ours as well. John prepares us for Jesus by turning us from our sins to Christ. Sin is a turning in on itself. And we all like to turn inward to ourselves, don’t we? We emphasize how great we are. We downplay all of the sins, I’m sorry, “bad choices,” that we’ve made. We think of ourselves as much better than what we are. We are nothing but a walking pile of sin. John knows that because he too is a walking pile of sin. But “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

One cannot properly prepare themselves to meet Jesus. It is the Lord who graciously calls and comes to us. No sinner can stand in the Lord’s presence in his own strength and character, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. We do all of our good works as if it will earn us merit with God. But none of our works prepare us to stand before the almighty God at His judgement.

John knows that he is not worthy of the Messiah and what He comes to bring and to do. He proclaims a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John’s baptism is unique in its purpose. It is to prepare people to meet the coming Lord. First, one must be washed, that is baptized, to be able to repent and be forgiven. The baptized are washed and covered with the robe of righteousness that comes from Jesus. Being baptized is preparation for the coming One, but it is not our work.

As we see, people from all of Judea and Jerusalem were coming to John to be baptized. They were baptized in the Jordan, confessing their sins. That meant turning from those sins to the One whom John was proclaiming. Though they didn’t know His identity yet, they were trusting that their sins were being forgiven by the Christ, the Messiah. And they were. And ours are. Yours are.

John the Baptist calls on you to trust the Messiah and repent! Get your sins out in the open. Confess them to almighty God. Rely on His mercy. Look to the forgiveness of sins you received through baptism. John comes telling the people that if you have not yet received baptism, then be baptized for the forgiveness of sins!

John exhorted the people to believe in the Messiah who was to come, in fact, who was already there, and who is here for you. This mighty Savior is no one other than Jesus Christ. He is the one whom the prophets proclaimed and He is the one in whom they believed. This mighty Savior is the solution to our problem of sin. He is the one who earned forgiveness for our sins and offers that forgiveness to us for free. He is the one who makes us holy in God’s sight.

How did He do this? As mighty as Jesus is, He demonstrated His might in weakness. Even though we are not worthy to touch His feet, He allowed mere men to nail Him to a cross. It was from the apparent weakness of that cross that Jesus demonstrated His greatest might. In the apparent defeat of death, Christ conquered death. He became the solution for sin by taking our sin onto Himself and paying the price for it. It is only through Him that we receive the forgiveness of sins.

This is the task of John the Baptist, preparing the way. If people are going to rejoice in the Lord’s mercy, they must first understand how much they need it. With physical sickness, it is easy – the leper looks at the decay in his body and earnestly desires a cure. With sin it’s more difficult, because people naturally believe they are good enough. They must hear differently. This is why John the Baptist must preach to them a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. He must tell them of their sin, how they deserve God’s wrath and punishment. When they understand that they do not deserve grace and life, they will be ready to hear that their sins are pardoned. They will be ready to receive what they don’t deserve. They will be ready for the Lord’s mercy.

The Lord comes and John prepares the way. Through the Word of God, we hear His Law and confess our sin; we repent and trust in His Word of grace. Therefore, we are confident that when the Lord comes to be present among us, He comes to be merciful. We cast our cares upon Him, trusting in His mercy, for we hear Him declare these merciful words: “Your iniquity is pardoned, your warfare is over, and you are forgiven for all of your sins.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 1 – “Here Comes Jesus” (Mark 11:1-10)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Jesus is soon to come. In fact, it’s 22 days until Christmas for those keeping track. But we are expecting to receive a newborn baby lying in a manger. Instead, we see an adult Jesus making His way to Jerusalem. That doesn’t sound Christmassy, does it? Of course it doesn’t because that’s what we hear during Holy Week. But this isn’t Christmas, it’s Advent. Advent means “coming into” and that’s what we are doing. The story of Jesus in Advent is the story of hope coming into the world. When the time was just right, God sent His Son, Jesus into the world. We learn how to prepare to receive Jesus, the hope of the world.

And that’s where we find ourselves. We find the people preparing to receive Jesus when He goes to Jerusalem. This isn’t going to be a social visit for Jesus; He has an appointment to keep. His appointment is with the cross.

Jesus sends two of His disciples ahead as the advance preparation team. They are to go into the village ahead. They will find a colt tied, they are to untie it and bring it back with them to Jesus.

This seems to be out of character for Jesus. For three years, Jesus has been teaching and preaching, healing and performing miracles. On more than one occasion, He has been called a King. But this doesn’t seem kingly by any means. When we see royalty of Jesus’ day, they are riding on horseback or chariot, not a donkey. There is great fanfare and pomp and circumstance. Here, there is no fanfare. There is no pomp and circumstance. Rather, there is Jesus riding on a donkey.

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, Jerusalem was poised for the celebration of the Passover. This annual remembrance of God’s act of deliverance of His children from Egypt would have swelled the streets of Jerusalem with holiday crowds. The day of the slaughter of the Passover lambs was fast approaching. People were anticipating the delight of being with family for the Passover feast. But when King Jesus comes into Jerusalem, it interrupts the sort of celebration people are expecting. He comes into Jerusalem, the city of the temple – the place of sacrifice – to suffer and to die as God’s ultimate Passover Lamb. His sacrifice interrupts the monotonous routines of sin and death. Here is a King like no other, for this King comes not in royal splendor or with military might, but in the humility of the Servant who embraces the cross for you.

Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was at best a local news piece. His handlers could have done a much more impressive job of staging the event. The colt takes Jesus along the road at a casual pace. People have gathered along the way. They’re excited to see Jesus, but these aren’t a celebrity audience. Instead, these are mostly plain folks. People from Bethany and the surrounding area were anxious to see Jesus, who raised Lazarus from the dead. He was coming to the Holy City, Jerusalem, where they expected Him to be enthroned and overthrow the despised Romans. The crowd eagerly put their cloaks on the road along with palm branches. Something special was going to take place and they wanted to be a part of it.

We see much the same with Christ at this time of year. We begin celebrating the “real” reason for Christmas: gift giving, parties, but most importantly, gift receiving. We are doing our own thing, enjoying what Christmas is all about, then Christ comes to ruin everything. For all who think like that, just remember one thing: you can’t have Christmas without Christ, no matter how hard you try.

Today, we begin preparing ourselves for Christ’s entry into this world, coming into this world by being born in a stable in the small town of Bethlehem. We prepare our hearts for what Christmas brings: it brings the Savior of the Nations, the Virgin Son who makes His home amongst the chosen people of God, as sinful as we are. God came to His people and lived among them as one of them. As God came to us in flesh and blood, He experienced all the things we experience – gestation and birth, childhood, weeping and laughter, pleasure and pain, and all the other things that make up the human experience. He even experienced temptation, but He never gave in to it.

We wait for Jesus’ coming by observing another season of Advent. We look back at Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem and give thanks. We see the climax of that first coming with His enthronement upon the cross. We celebrate, yet ponder this awe-filled mystery. Jesus came to live and Jesus came to die. He came to give His life as a ransom for all. Gentleness, humility, and meekness marked His first coming, even as He journeyed to Jerusalem to the cross. A crucifixion is the last place one would look for an enthronement, but here is Jesus, crucified for you. All your sins were laid upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. He fulfilled God’s Law completely. His death and resurrection ushered in His coming Kingdom.

All of this, He did for you. He is the Blessed One, for in His saving death, He brings all the blessings of heaven – forgiveness of sins and peace with God – down to earth, down to you. It is no wonder that during the season of Advent, we especially hear that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, God with us. Even as God lives with us, He still comes to us. He comes to us as we read and hear His Word. He also continues to come to us in His flesh and blood as we eat and drink the bread and the wine of His Table.

As He comes to us in His flesh and blood, we eat the very flesh that He sacrificed for us on the cross and the very blood that He shed for us on the cross. However, this flesh and blood are not dead things. For the Son of God did not remain dead and buried in the tomb, but He came to life. He rose from the dead. The flesh and blood He gives to us are not just the flesh and blood of crucifixion, but they are also the flesh and blood of resurrection. In this sacrament, He comes to us with the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Consider God and His coming during this Advent. Consider His coming at Christmas, but don’t limit your consideration just to Christmas. Consider the love that God shows in His coming in that even while sin causes terror and hatred, He continues to come with His love. Consider how He came to save us with His suffering, death, and resurrection. Consider how He now comes in Word and Sacrament. Consider how He will come to take His people home with Him. Consider the blessings that He once gave, that He now gives, and that He will give when He comes again. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 4 – “Grace and Peace” (Romans 1:1-7)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is our Epistle, which was read earlier.

St. Paul’s introduction to the book of Romans might seem out of place in the season of Advent at first glance. There is nothing about Mary, Joseph, a Baby, shepherds or angels. There isn’t anything that would make this about Christmas. If that’s your thinking, then you’re right – this isn’t Christmas, but rather Advent, preparing to receive the infant Jesus. But while you’re right, you are also wrong, for this text does indeed prepare us for what happens in a matter of a few days.

These opening verses of Romans are St. Paul’s greeting to the Church there, but this is much more than a simple greeting. In these few verses St. Paul preaches the Gospel of our Lord and at the same time gives us a summary of the history of God’s dealings with his people.

This Gospel for which St. Paul has been set apart has been promised from of old. The prophets told the people of God the Savior was coming. The faithful people of God throughout the ages longed to see Him, but did so only by faith. But when Jesus finally came, the Gospel of God promised of old arrived in the flesh. The Gospel came to the people of God in the holy incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. This Jesus was no ordinary baby. He was God in flesh made manifest.

What do we know of this promised Jesus? St. Paul says that He was “descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from dead….” Jesus is who the prophecies declare Him to be: descended from David’s line. Long ago, to a people far away and in great anticipation for the Messiah to manifest Himself, Isaiah gives this prophect of who Jesus is and where He comes from. He comes from the line of David, as did His mother Mary and earthly father Joseph. And because He has earthly parents, that means He is of flesh and blood. He is like you and I, with ten fingers and ten toes. He is as much human as you and I. But not only is He man like us, Paul says He “was declared to be the Son of God….”

As much as we think of cute and cuddly Jesus in a manger, we cannot forget that this baby will one day go to the cross for mankind. We know that to be true as Paul tells us. He says that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God, “in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead….” In short, He is none other than Jesus the Messiah—our Lord who is both fully God and fully man.

This is the Lord whose birth we prepare to celebrate this Advent season. He is the everlasting Son of God, begotten of the Father from all eternity. And His birth is the revelation to us that He has willingly taken on our flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary, and come down to earth to save His people.

What is it that we receive through this infant that comes to us? “We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” By Christ’s birth, the saving grace of God makes it entrance into the world. In Christ’s birth, the call to the messengers of God goes out. In Christ’s birth the nations gather and see not only a baby, but also their Savior and their Lord. In Christ’s birth, we see the one who calls us to faith and to everlasting life, and the one to whom we belong for all eternity. In Christ’s birth we hear God’s call to us to be His saints, for from the blessed child in the manger we receive grace and peace from our God and Father.

Finally, we are left with familiar words: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” God gives grace to you. He gives you forgiveness for your sins, and it is wholly undeserved. You don’t work to merit grace. Grace is given to you. Forgiveness is done to you. You couldn’t do it on your own. So you rejoice today that God gives grace to you.

Not only do you have grace, you have peace. He declares that you and He are not opposed, are not at war. This strikes many people as strange: how could you ever be at war with a loving God? Yet Scripture says that you were born as an enemy of God—not because of Him, but because of you. By nature, you’re sinful. By nature, you’re hardwired to do precisely the things that are contrary to God’s will—that oppose His love and His kingdom. By nature, you hear God’s Word and get angry when He shows you your sin. That’s what enemies do. And despite the fact that we are God’s enemies, He grants to us peace. That peace is one that passes all understanding, for there is no way to understand how God could forgive the likes of you and me, and yet He does.

You needed real grace and peace for your body and soul, your thoughts and words and deeds. So Jesus became flesh, to be perfect in body and soul, to think pure thoughts, speak true words and perform godly deeds for you. He has done this to robe you in His righteousness, to give you the credit for His perfection and perfect life. He has done this to die in your place, to take away your sin, so that He might raise you up as He has been raised from the dead. The grace and peace of God is real and tangible—as real as flesh and blood, because Jesus became flesh and blood for you, and He is your grace and your peace.

Jesus came to save the lost. He stepped into your place, by taking humanity into His divinity, and became true Man. He became flesh for you. Jesus took your sins upon His shoulders and He suffered for you. His Father poured out His wrath against your sins which were heaped upon His Son, along with the sins of every man, woman, and child ever born, and Jesus endured it all for you, in your place, unto death, even death on the cross.

Through His suffering and death, Jesus made right that which went so wrong so long ago in the Garden in Eden. When Jesus gave up His spirit on the cross, He justified you before His Father. He declared you not guilty of your sins because He became sin for you and bore your sins and paid the price for them, for by His stripes you are healed.

So, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace and peace are yours this day because your Savior comes to you this day. He is present. He is real. You are filled with His grace. You are blessed with His peace because you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 3 – “Are You the One?” (Matthew 11:2-15)

A 6 Advent 3  Mt 11 2 15

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

God is funny; not funny in a ha-ha kind of way, but funny in an ironic way. What I mean is that God does not act in ways that we expect Him to act. As we look at Israel’s history, they found out firsthand just how God did not act they way they wanted Him to act. God chose the least likely to preach and teach of the coming Messiah. All too often, God didn’t choose the biggest and baddest of them all to lead Israel. For instance, when God delivered Israel from slavery, He chose Moses, not when he was the prince of Egypt but rather when he was reduced to working as a shepherd. When Goliath was defeated, it wasn’t at the hands of Israel’s massive army but by a lowly shepherd named David. The greatest display we see is when God would bring ultimate deliverance to His people, and to all people, it would be in a way that many were not expecting.

Israel had expected God to act in certain ways. The people of Israel expected God’s reign to come in a way that irresistible. There was the expectation that God would kick out Roman authority from Jerusalem and restore it to its glory days of old. That’s what the coming Messiah would do; everyone knew that, or at least had hoped that’s what their version of the Messiah would do.

When God sends forth the Messiah into creation, He doesn’t do it according to the will of man but rather to His own will, the will that is perfect. He sends forth a very simple and unkempt man named John the Baptist to herald the coming of the Messiah. While his appearance and attire were odd to say the least, the message that he was proclaiming was spot on according to the words of the prophets of old. He comes, baptizing the people with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins.

Some time later, John hears while in prison the many deeds of Jesus. He sends his disciples to Jesus to ask a single question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

That’s the question on our minds isn’t it? Is Jesus the one who is to come or should we be looking for another individual claiming to be the Messiah? Is Jesus really Messiah-enough for us? For many, the jury is still out. It’s hard to believe that a little baby born to lowly and insignificant parents would be the Messiah. There’s nothing about Him that screams Messiah from an outward appearance. He’s born in a barn of all places! If He truly is a king, then why isn’t He born in a palace somewhere, with servants waiting on Him hand and foot? Where is His mighty army that will kick Roman authority out of Jerusalem? Where is the kingly garb for Him to wear?

Jesus doesn’t fit the mold of the Messiah because it’s the wrong Messiah. He doesn’t come as a great earthly king like the people want. He comes as the heavenly King that the people need! The way that He makes His entrance into creation is how God had ordained it. While He is indeed the King, the King of Creation, He is not meant to be served, for He Himself says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He has no mighty army because the foe that He faces is not of this world. His foe is Satan himself. The kingly garb He wears is the crown of thorns He wears as He takes creations sins upon Himself.

Returning to John’s disciples’ question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”, Jesus responds by saying, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” This answer isn’t meant to assure John of who Jesus is; John knows that, for he is the herald of the Messiah. The question and answer are meant to assure everyone else of who Jesus is. They need to get out of their minds this messed up and made up notion of the Messiah and accept the Messiah that God sends forth in the person of Jesus Christ.  

The question that was asked of Jesus so long ago is still asked today. Well, it’s not really asked so much as an answer is given to Jesus: “We’ll look for another.” We can thank the world for that answer. The world has perfected that answer to the point that Jesus need not even be considered for salvation. The world won’t go so far as to say Jesus is the Messiah because that would assert that there is a single means of salvation and the world doesn’t want that to happen, lest we offend someone.

For as much as the world puts forth that salvation can be found in anyone or anything other than Jesus, the Church should be the one place where you should be able to find the right answer to John’s question, but unfortunately, even that is not always the case. You will get the prosperity preaching that says believe hard enough, have enough faith and God will bless you. But notice who the subject is: it’s not Jesus but it’s you. You are the one doing the work. But as soon as you are the one doing the work, then you have a problem. It has to be, it must be Jesus who does the work and not us.

For all those times when God’s people wonder whether or not God will keep His Word regarding the Messiah, the time is soon to be fulfilled. When we have our doubts, we return to Jesus’ Word. We return to Jesus’ life. From birth to death, there was a singular mission that He was focused on: the redemption of God’s creation. Everything that was done was done with you in mind. He sends people to proclaim the wonders He has done so that we can hear about them. By this proclamation of His deeds, He sends the Holy Spirit to bear us up and strengthen us as we travel through this sinful world, especially as we travel through those darker times of doubt.

Here is the true antidote for doubt: the proclamation that Jesus forgives sins. We may think that we can take comfort and certainty in the many supernatural attributes of God; His power, His knowledge, His wisdom, His holiness, and so forth, but that is not the case. Without forgiveness, those other attributes only serve to terrify us. If there is no forgiveness, then God’s holiness only sets Him apart from sinful people like us. If there is no forgiveness, then God’s total knowledge reveals our every sin. If there is no forgiveness, then God’s power is there to punish our sin. Without forgiveness, God is simply the ultimate terror.

When there is forgiveness, then God is comfort and assurance. When there is forgiveness, God’s holiness is for us. When there is forgiveness, God’s power protects us. With forgiveness, God is the ultimate comfort. He is the ultimate re-assurance.

We celebrate the coming of our Savior in the manger at Bethlehem because it is through Him that our sins are forgiven and the gates of heaven are opened. Through His atoning death He conquered your death, and raises you to a new life. By faith granted through the Holy Spirit, we now have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He came to His people, He now comes to you, who are His people by faith, and He will come again, that you would need and expect no other. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.