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Advent 2 – “Repent” (Matthew 3:1-12)

 A 4 Advent 2  Mt 3 1 12Grace, 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 is recorded for us in today’s Gospel account from St. Matthew one of the most vulgar sounding words to our ears. It’s a word that we don’t’ like to hear, especially when directed at ourselves. That nasty and vulgar word is “repent.”

When John the Baptist makes his appearance, it is not the kind of appearance that you want to see. He goes into the wilderness of Judea with a singular message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John the Baptist is the son of Zechariah the prophet, making him the last of the Old Testament prophets. The prophets’ job was to prophesy of the coming of God’s Messiah. These prophecies had been spoken for hundreds of years so the people would have been familiar with who this coming Messiah is and what it would mean. But when John the Baptist makes this revelation about the coming kingdom of heaven, just what did that mean?

It would mean that God’s promise is about to be fulfilled. It means that the Savior of creation was about to make His grand entrance into the creation He was going to save. It meant that creation needed to prepare itself for the arrival of the Messiah, and what better way to prepare oneself than to repent of your sins.

How is one to repent? What is it that they are supposed to do? What does it mean to repent? We normally think of repenting as being sorry for our sins. This is true enough, but there’s more depth to it than that. To “repent” in the Greek means literally to “change one’s mind.” You can see the obvious: when you repent of sin, you’re saying, “I thought it was a good thing, but now I know it’s not.” That’s a repentant mind-change that happens only by the grace of God. But again, there’s a greater depth to repentance because there’s a greater depth to sin.  When John calls the people to repent, he is calling them to repent of all of their misconceptions and wrong ideas about the Savior. If they have the wrong idea of who the Savior is supposed to be, then they’re not going to like the Savior for who He truly is. If they’re looking for the wrong things in a Messiah, then they’re not going to recognize Him when He makes His appearance.  Remember, John the Baptist is called by God to prepare the way of the Lord. He therefore prepares the people by teaching them the true nature of their sinfulness, so that they see the need for the Savior; and he prepares them by teaching them who the Savior is, and what He will do.

People from the region of Jerusalem and Judea and the Jordan were coming to John the Baptist to be baptized and confessing their sins. For the people who came to John the Baptist, they were contrite and believed. They desired to repent, to change their minds, but more importantly, they desired to hear the message of the coming Messiah. 

This Adventide, it is important for us to heed the words of John the Baptist, as did the people of old. We must repent of our sins, repent of our false perceptions of who the Messiah is, and is not. We must repent of our false perception of ourselves and come to grips with the reality that we are a people in need of a Savior.

This is what John prophesies about to the people. His singular goal is the preparation of God’s people to receive the Messiah when He comes. Despite his best efforts, not all of the people were convinced of the message that he was proclaiming. Believe it or not, we’re not fully convinced of his message either.

Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, we make excuses to our behavior. They make the claim, “We have Abraham as our father.” Abraham was a God-fearing man. He followed the law of God. But just because they descended from Abraham, did that make them any less of a sinner? No it did not. To be honest, the statement that the Pharisees and Sadducees and all of mankind should make is “We have Adam as our father.” We don’t want to make that statement because if we do, then we acknowledge “that we are sinful and unclean.” We acknowledge that we have sinned against God “in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” No one wants to admit that fact. We would much rather say that we have Abraham as our father because Abraham was “good.” If we say that we have Adam as our father, that’s a black mark because Adam was “bad,” and let’s face it: we would much rather be “good” than “bad.”

What we fail to understand, just as did the Pharisees and Sadducees, is that we are not “good” because of our sinful nature; we are like the tree that does not bear good fruit; it is cut down and thrown into the fire. We have all shared in Adam and Eve’s sampling of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a result, our lives are unfruitful: we do not do the works that God requires; in fact, we cannot do them. God’s righteous judgment comes down upon Israel and it comes down also upon us. But instead of leaving us with just judgment, doom and gloom, John the Baptist also promises something beyond our wildest imaginations: the coming of the Savior.

Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” John the Baptist is the one crying in the wilderness of the coming Messiah. He is making the paths straight by preaching a message of repentance to the people, to prepare them for Christ’s arrival. John the Baptist comes to lead people to repentance, to baptize with water. When Jesus arrives, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” He is coming to do something far greater than John the Baptist, the Pharisees, Sadducees or we could ever do: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

While everything about John seems to be crazy, the message he preaches is anything but crazy. It is a message that draws the people from all over, drawing them to repent of their sins and to be baptized. For as much as John the Baptist seems out of place in the coming Nativity of our Lord, the message is very much appropriate: He comes with grace – to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, to prepare you for everlasting life. Even now in Word and Sacrament we feast upon Christ as our tree of life. He is the vine and we are the branches. By Word and Sacrament, we bring forth the fruit of repentance and live in trust and obedience. He declares to you even now, “Repent, because I am at hand; and because I am here, you are forgiven for all of your sins.” 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.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2016 in Advent, Sermons

 

Advent 1 – “Behold Your King” (Matthew 21:1-11)

A 1 Advent 1  LHP  Mt 21 1 11            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.

            Preparations need to be made for the arrival of guests, especially since you know they’re coming. If you have a dirty house, you clean it. You make sure that the house is spotless, almost to the point that the house is sterile and might even seem as if no ones lives there, for everything is perfectly in its place. Once you have a clean house, the best china laid out, then it is okay to entertain guests. To make sure you are ready, listen to me now: you have a guest coming!

             What kind of guest is coming, you might ask? The Introit for today tells us what kind of guest is coming: Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation.” We have a King coming! Some of you may respond, “Pastor, that’s old news. Of course our King has come. Jesus came, died, rose again, and ascended. Tell us something we don’t already know.”

            We all know that long before Jesus was born and long before Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem as the Son of God, the prophet Zechariah had given Israel advance notice: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a best of burden.” We see Zechariah’s prophecy fulfilled. It happens much later in the Church Year. It happens on Palm Sunday as Jesus enters triumphantly into Jerusalem. That same account is the basis for the Gospel reading on the First Sunday in Advent. Why would that be? We’re getting ready for baby Jesus to come into the world, not adult Jesus make His exit in the world.

            As we begin the season of Advent, we mark a time of waiting and preparing. We wait for our expectant King to arrive; and while we wait, we prepare. We prepare to receive Him as He comes. How does He come? According to our Gospel account for today, our expectant King comes in a very humble fashion. There is no great pomp and circumstance to our Lord’s arrival. If you want pomp and circumstance, the only thing you have is a star to guide the shepherds and the magi to find the infant Jesus. We prepare for the remembrance of the first coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we hear that our King is coming, this message is the call to prepare by opening our hearts to His grace. We need not fear, for He comes in meekness and lowliness. But He comes as King, mighty to save, full of grace and truth.

            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.

            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, and 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.

            When Christ does make His appearance in this earthly life, it isn’t with great pomp and circumstance. He is born to lowly parents in very circumstances. It should be no surprise that when Christ enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He does so in a very unexpected way. He doesn’t enter with trumpets blaring behind a large processional. Rather, He comes riding on a donkey. This is done also to fulfill what the prophet wrote: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” You see, whatever perception the people had of the Messiah and what He would look like and what He would do, Zechariah puts them to rest several hundreds year before the Messiah first graces us with His presence. 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.

            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.

            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. 

            That is what Advent is really all about. It is a season of repentance and belief while Jesus serves us with His coming. Just as Lent is a season of repentance and belief in preparation for Good Friday, so also Advent is a season of repentance and belief in preparation for the coming of Jesus, not just as He came at Christmas, but also as He comes to us now and will come to raise us from the dead and live with us forever.

            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.

 

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2016 in Advent, Sermons

 

Christmas 2 – “In My Father’s House” (Luke 2:40-52)

C-17 Christmas 2 (LHP) (Lu 2.41-52)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.

When we last left the Holy Family, they had just gone to the temple to purify Mary and to consecrate Jesus. Simeon and Anna saw God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Since that time, twelve years have passed and it is the Feast of the Passover. This was one of the major feasts for the Jews. Every Jew who was able would journey to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, marking the yearly remembrance of how God spared His people from the devastating plagues while they were slaves in Egypt.

When the feast had ended, the Holy Family did what everyone else did: pack up and head home. They were traveling in a large caravan with other family and friends on the multiple day journey and after a days worth of travel, Joseph and Mary noticed that Jesus was not with them. Was this something to be alarmed about? No. Traveling in a caravan like this, if Jesus wasn’t with His parents, then He was surely with other family members in another part of the caravan. It was likely that they didn’t see other members of their extended family very often so why not let Jesus play with His other family members? Eventually it was determined that Jesus was nowhere in the caravan and so Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem in search for Jesus.

Even after the Passover busyness had ended, Jerusalem was still full of people and that meant because of the crowds, it would take a while to find Jesus. After the first day of searching, there was no sign of Jesus. After the second day of searching, still no Jesus. Surely their luck was going to improve on the third day. Luke doesn’t record when on the third day they found Jesus, other than the fact He was found. Where He was found might have seemed like an unlikely place for some, but the obvious place for others. He was found in the temple.

While Jesus was in the temple, just what was He doing? According to Luke, Jesus was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Now, the first part of what Luke says wasn’t surprising. Jesus was 12 years old. That meant He would have been of the age of study so listening to the teachers of the law and asking questions would not have been out place. However, it’s the second part of Luke’s account that is out of place. Everyone who heard Jesus was amazed at His understanding and answers. Jesus was nothing more than a mere child. He had no right to be doing anything other than listening and definitely not doing anything resembling teaching.

Jesus had no authority to be teaching anything, especially teaching the teachers of the Law. Not only was He teaching them, they were amazed at what He said. One can imagine the teachers hanging on every word that Jesus spoke. Out of the mouth of a twelve-year old boy came such great wisdom. In one sense, you wouldn’t expect much to come out of Jesus because of His age. He was nothing more than a boy who is at the right age to study in the synagogue. Yet on the other hand, He was the Son of God who had all the answers because He knew all the questions. Everything that the teachers and those gathered could ask, Jesus had an answer for them. Jesus has come of age. He has found His voice and taken His place. And that voice and place, we learn, are “in my Father’s house.”

When Mary makes a fuss of looking for Jesus and how they were treated, He responds, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” In these short utterances of Jesus we see the beginning of His break away from familial attachments in order to identify more intimately with God the Father. He is doing so in the immediate presence of His parents, presumably for the first time. His commitment to the Father now transcends His love for the family. Jesus knows that He is here for a purpose – to do the Father’s will.

To do the Father’s will. One can imagine the pressure placed upon Jesus. Here is a boy who could appear to be torn but in reality is not. To do the Father’s will may mean continue in the family business as a carpenter, since after all, Joseph is a carpenter. It would make sense for Jesus to continue in His father’s footsteps. But Jesus is not talking about being in His earthly father’s house. Rather, He meant being in His heavenly Father’s house, in the temple. And what does that mean? It means doing all that God had ordained for Him to do. That means living a sinless life among a world of sinners. That means facing the scorn of humanity when He did nothing wrong. That means accepting the sins of all when He committed no sin. That means going to cross and dying in order to redeem creation. For all of that and more, that’s why Mary and Joseph find Jesus in His Father’s house.

Jesus’ words not only convict Mary and Joseph, but they also convict us. We too try to search for Jesus and can’t find Him. We find ourselves with Mary and Joseph in that we too are looking in the wrong places. Jesus said, “ I must be in my Father’s house.” Never the less, we look among the things of this world. We look to earthly security, wealth, power, popularity, and so forth. We look for Jesus everywhere He is not.

Today, we must be our Father’s house looking for Jesus. We need to look for Him in worship, where His Word is proclaimed, and His gifts are given – in the absolution, in the waters of Baptism, and in the Holy Supper, which He lays before us every Sunday for our refreshment, and for our forgiveness, and for our blessing, and our strengthening. Here, in His holy Word. Here, in His body and blood is where you need to look. Here in the fellowship of His people – His holy body – is where He is to be found, and nowhere else.

All the work that Christ does for the Father culminates on the cross. That’s where the true intersection takes place between God and man. It takes place in Christ on the cross. Holy, perfect, and almighty God Himself gave up all of heaven in order to come down to this fallen and sinful world and take on our fallen and sinful flesh. However, Christ—in the flesh—did what fallen and sinful man can never do, no matter how hard we try. Christ Jesus lived the perfect life. He kept every one of God’s laws perfectly. He did this for us, in our place, precisely because we cannot do this. Christ Jesus took every single sin of the entire world upon Himself, taking every single one of those sins to the cross so that they would be put to death, once and for all.

This account of Jesus today gives for us a wonderful illustration of Jesus and His dedication to the work of His Father, even from the earliest of ages. He is about the Father’s work from the very beginning of His life until His death. In today’s Gospel, we might be tempted to say that Jesus was lost. In fact, Jesus was exactly where He was supposed to be. It was really Mary and Joseph who were lost. In a similar way, we are also lost – lost in our trespasses and sins. It is God who finds us and places us among the things of the Father. There the Holy Spirit works faith and makes us people of the Father. Since Jesus said, “ I must be in my Father’s house,” that means we are with Jesus. That is exactly where we are supposed to be. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2016 in Advent, Sermons

 

Advent 4C – “Blessed” (Luke 1:39-56)

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.

Have you heard the phrase, “Count your blessings” before? I’m sure you have. The idea behind it is to be grateful for all you have, all that God has given you. This isn’t bad advice, but this also presents a problem. How many individually identified blessings count as being highly blessed? Think about this: are wealthy people more blessed than poor people? What do we count as a blessing? Counting one’s blessings may actually miss the point of what it means to be blessed by God. In our Gospel today, Mary and Elizabeth help us see the true nature of blessedness: we are blessed by God through the presence of Christ.

To be blessed by God comes from the presence of the incarnate Christ. To be blessed by God does not come from ourselves. The angel Gabriel had visited Mary and what took place was nothing short of a miracle. He came to her to tell her that she had found favor with God. What exactly does that mean to find favor with God? It means that God shows His grace upon us. In Mary’s case, Gabriel shares with her great news: “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.” She will conceive and bear the Son of God.

No sooner had Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Savior world, she hurried off to visit a woman she knew who would understand and share her joy: her relative Elizabeth. What made Mary think that Elizabeth would know what she’s going through? It comes from what Gabriel shared: “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” A miracle was happening to Elizabeth just as it was for Mary.

As Mary arrives at the house of Elizabeth, upon being greeted, the baby who would be known as John the Baptist leaped in the womb because he was in the presence of his Savior. Elizabeth declares something to Mary, something that is not to be glanced over by any means: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!… And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

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.

Unlike some teachings, Mary wasn’t blessed because she was sinless. Mary wasn’t blessed because she was somehow better than another young girl her age. Mary is blessed, as Elizabeth tells us, because of the blessedness of the “fruit” of her womb. What made Mary blessed is the presence of Christ within her womb. And because of the Child that Mary bears in her womb, we, the Church, are blessed as well.

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.

Listen to these words from the Magnificat: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” What Mary says is a direct fulfillment of God’s prophetic promises made long ago. She believed in the promise made by God so long ago and now she sees it being fulfilled in her own life and it comes through the fruit of her womb.

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.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2015 in Advent, Sermons

 

Advent 3C – “Rejoice” (Zephaniah 3:14-20)

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 Old Testament, which was read earlier.

Are you depressed, feeling blue, stressed out or frustrated? Those are not words we use to describe a joyful time such as Christmas, yet some people feel this way at this time of year. Part of it comes from unrealistic expectations. Part of it comes from a misunderstanding of what this season is all about. Part of it comes from cramming too much activity into too little time.

Still, we come to church and hear God calling us to rejoice and be glad. That’s easy for Him to say! He’s up there in heaven, where everything’s safe and bright, unhurried, unhassled. Let Him come down here and see how it feels in this world. Then we’ll see who’s rejoicing and celebrating!

As we see in our text this morning, the prophet Zephaniah gives us God’s answer: God did come down here and God does celebrate and because of that, we can surely celebrate because the Lord came here and celebrates over us.

Today is the Third Sunday in Advent, what in Latin is called Gaudete, which means, “rejoice.” And that is what we do today and always, rejoice! But it would seem we have many reasons not to rejoice. We have sinned, and that is definitely not a reason to celebrate and rejoice. The people of Zephaniah’s time stood under the threat of judgment for their sinful rebellion. He begins this chapter by saying to the people, “Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city! She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD; she does not draw near to her God.” Zephaniah warns Jerusalem of God’s wrath and calls her to repent, that same warning we have received.

Heeding Zephaniah’s warning, we realize our own sinfulness and our ongoing failure to live up to the standards of God’s holy expectations. We are reminded of Jesus’ words: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That is something we cannot be and so we are reminded that we are much like God’s rebellious people of old, able to do nothing to save ourselves.

We live in a sin-stained and sin-infested world, a fact that is not worth rejoicing over. Because of sin, we suffer physically, mentally, and spiritually. We face the effects of sin in the form of death, a death that manifests itself both physically and spiritually. We fight daily against evil. All one has to do is look at the world around them and see that Satan is still alive and well seeking to destroy God’s kingdom. There is no worth in rejoicing because all we are left to rejoice in is our sin.

God came here and causes us to celebrate. God does not treat us as our sins deserve. Rather, He cares for us as His own. Zephaniah writes, “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” God calls the Israelites the “daughter of Zion” and “daughter of Jerusalem.” They are the dear ones to Him, for they are His beloved children. That trickles down the ages to us as well. We are the beloved children of God, and for that reason, we are able to rejoice and be glad.

The reason why is because He came here and took away the judgment against our sins. In love, God came in the flesh in the birth of His Son to live among us, to live “in your midst” to save us from sin and death. That happened as Christ grew in stature of man and became our sacrifice upon the cross. And for that fact, we are forgiven all our sins, and that fact alone is cause for us to rejoice this day and always.

Zephaniah makes a point that Jerusalem failed to understand because of their limited thinking: “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies.” Jerusalem was surround by enemies throughout her history, and because of that, they did not think that what Zephaniah declared was true. How has God cleared away Jerusalem’s enemies if they continued to attack Jerusalem time and time again? But what Zephaniah speaks of is beyond the temporal world. God defeats our enemies of sin, death, and the devil through the gift that He gives through His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus knows our world’s enemies because He has been there and fought against them on our behalf. Therefore, we need fear no evil that would befall us because Christ has proven to be the Victor once and for all, causing us to rejoice.

Everything that Zephaniah writes of in our text is fulfilled in Christ, for Christ is the cause for us to rejoice. He gathers us unto Himself through His Word and Sacraments to forgive you your sins. He takes away all that keeps us separated from God and unites us to God the way God had intended from the beginning. That assurance is made for us by God through the words of His servant Zephaniah: “At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes.”

This is what the long-promised Messiah has done for us. He has gathered us unto Himself by the blood He pours out upon Calvary’s cross. He has gathered us unto Himself in the saving act of His death and resurrection.

We rejoice now for what Christ has come to do, just as we rejoice for what Christ has already done for us. We celebrate in anticipation of what we know is ours, a life that transcends this veil of tears in which we live in and grants to us a new life, a life united with Christ that grants forgiveness of sins and unites us to our heavenly Father once again.

What God promised through the prophet Zephaniah has been made ours. It is not something that requires our doing, but rather requires God to do all the work, and He does through Jesus.

He has come to do what Zephaniah and all the prophets of old foretold: be the Savior that God has promised. He has come to do for us what we could not do. He comes to forgive and make new what was once destroyed. He causes us to rejoice in all that He has done, just as today is meant to be: Gaudete, that is, rejoice. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2015 in Advent, Sermons

 

Advent 2C – “Make Ready” (Luke 3:1-14)

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.

Imagine for a moment that your life is not your own. Whatever you do is not meant for you; rather, it’s meant for someone else. What would that life look like? Would it be a life worth living or is your life pointless, as you receive no gain in your life? We should ask John the Baptist about that, because his life was not his own – his being was to point to a promise God made ages and ages ago.

John the Baptist is a strange man in a strange time. He has one foot in the Old Testament while the other foot is ushering in the New Testament. He looks out of place because he is out of place. John is a man on a mission from God, literally. The question is: what is that mission?

John’s mission is not about living a life that’s all about him. His mission is not to make a mark in the pages of history because of what he did, though he does leave a mark. His mission is to step back, to take the back seat, all in order to tell people about a promise God made. That promise comes in Jesus, his cousin. That promise comes in Jesus, his Savior.

To teach people about this promise, John has to lay the ground work. His message is one of repentance. He proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. What a message John has to proclaim!

Unfortunately, John the Baptist has a problem. The problem is that no one wants to hear what he has to say. No one wants to hear about repentance. No one wants to hear of the promised Messiah. The people want things to be the way they are, to stay the status quo. But the status quo is not good enough for John, especially when the message he is proclaiming is a message that speaks of mankind’s salvation.

Quoted in our Gospel today is some prophecy about John the Baptist and what he will say and what will come about: “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.’”

John is the voice in the wilderness proclaiming, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” And John is going to make sure that everyone hears that message. He doesn’t want to leave anyone out. He wants to ensure that all hear of the coming of God’s promised Messiah. And why wouldn’t he? First, that’s his job as the herald of Jesus Christ. Second, who would not want to hear of God’s promise of salvation coming to the people in such a short amount of time? Everyone would want to hear that, unless you are a Pharisee. God’s Word and Pharisees don’t often tend to play well together. But John’s message was especially for the Pharisees, as they had determined there was a different way to earn salvation – through their own works and keeping of the Law.

John the Baptist comes in preaching very harsh words, words that the people didn’t want to hear then and words that we probably don’t want to hear now: “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 that 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 and there is nothing good within us due to our sinful nature.

That’s where John’s message is so important. We hear 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 that message that John is preaching about is the sweet sound of the Gospel that 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.

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.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2015 in Advent, Sermons

 

Advent 1C – “Promised Peace” (Jeremiah 33:14-16)

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 Old Testament, which was read earlier.

What shakes up your world? What makes you uneasy and anxious? Is it an unstable stock market? Is it world events or natural disasters? What about a warning or report from your doctor? Each of us is no doubt shaken in different ways by different developments in our lives. For some, it’s the loss of a loved one at Christmas. It might be the possibility of losing ones job or mountains of debt that you never think you’ll get out from underneath. Whatever your anxieties, Jeremiah would understanding your condition. He was shaken by a number of things in his world.

First, God had called him to be a prophet and to speak God’s Word in a time when people refused and resented God’s messengers. (Not much has changed today with regards to that sentiment by the world). At least twice there were attempts on his life. The refusal and violent reactions to his messages caused him great anguish. Jeremiah shares his frustration as he prays to God: “O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Everything around Jeremiah was falling apart. The Babylonians were about to conquer Jerusalem and enslave its population. Jeremiah was at a crossroads: he was called to announce that this would all happen because the people had so completely rejected the God who had given them the land, the temple, Zion, and Jerusalem.

Regardless of all that was going on in Jeremiah’s life, no matter the fear of what tomorrow would bring, Jeremiah has words for God’s people: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”

Here is a calming and healing word for God’s people. Here is a restoring and refreshing word for a people a people who had rejected God. This is a reiteration of the promise made to Adam and Eve. This is the promise of a Savior. This is the promise of Jesus. Jeremiah describes the coming of one who would reverse the curse of the people’s rejection of their faith and their idolatrous ways. The Jerusalem that would experience violence, bloodshed, anguish, and enslavement would once again dwell in security and enjoy wonderful prosperity. God’s blessings would be lavished upon her once again.

This great reversal would be brought about by the presence of the one who would bring justice and righteousness. David’s seed, Jesus of Nazareth, fulfills this wonderful word precisely as Jeremiah promised.

And so we see in our Gospel reading the same account as we do for Palm Sunday – the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. And what do the people shout: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” That is what we proclaim today, preparing for the arrival of the infant Jesus in the manger. Listen to what Luther writes when speaking of Christ’s triumphant entry: “This is what is meant by ‘Thy king cometh.’ You do not seek him, but he seeks you. You do not find him, he finds you. For preachers come from him, not from you; their sermons come from him, not from you; your faith comes from him, not from you; and where he does not come, you remain outside; and where there is no Gospel there is no God, but only sin and damnation, free will may do, suffer, work, and live as it may and can. Therefore you should not ask, where to begin to be godly; there is no beginning, except where the king enters and is proclaimed.”

You see, everything centers on the coming of Christ into our sinful and fallen world. You want to be sinless? You can’t. You want to be righteous? You can’t. You want to save yourself? You can’t. You want to be godly, as Luther says? You can’t. But with the coming of Christ, you are made sinless. With the coming of Christ you are declared righteous. With the coming of Christ, you have been saved. Everything centers on Christ and what He does.

Here in this House, the Branch of Righteousness also springs forth today. He comes to speak salvation from Satan and death. He comes to give out His righteousness through His mighty Word. All mankind needs this coming of the Branch. All men are sinful, and therefore need this Savior to come into their midst to give out His forgiveness. But many have given up hope. Many have stopped believing in the coming of Messiah among men through Word and Sacrament. Many think that Christ is far distant in heaven, and does not come among men. We forget that He is here, the King of the universe, the Son of David, in our midst. Our spirits are slow and cold too often, as if He does not come.

But He comes here indeed, since He has prophesied and promised it. He has said He would be here, and He does not break His promises, made some two thousand years ago. Here He is in His Body and Blood. Here He is speaking, since He who hears His servants is hearing Him. Here He is in the midst of us, where two or three gather together. He shall come in this way to be with us always, until the very end of the age. Although our sinful souls are not worthy of His coming, He comes anyway, to give us grace.

Jeremiah spoke that message to his contemporaries. He faithfully spoke God’s Holy Word. The majority rejected his message, but a significant minority listened and believed. They saw reality for what it was. They saw the beauty and wonder of the God who made a promise and reinforced that promise. They confessed their sins and rejoice in God’s forgiveness for the sake of David’s Seed, Jesus.

So today we rejoice with Jeremiah. Beyond the disappointment and challenges of this world, the Seed of David brings a peace that the world cannot replicate, for this peace is the peace that knows on account of Christ, our sins have been forgiven and we have life everlasting in the promised Messiah. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2015 in Advent, Sermons

 

Advent 4 – “Jesus: He is Immanuel” (Matthew 1:18-25)

A-8 Advent 4 (Mt 1.18-25)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning comes from the Gospel, which was read earlier.

The wait is almost over. Soon will be the big day. Everything is falling into place.  Everything is going just as planned. Just a little more time of waiting and Mary and Joseph will be married. However, one problem just arose and it’s not a small problem either. Mary, Joseph’s wife-to-be is pregnant. What’s worse: it’s not Joseph’s Child! She cheated on him with another man. There is one thing and one thing only to do: divorce her quietly. While not married technically yet, they were married in the eyes of God because of their betrothal.

For Mary to have sexual relations with another man before she had them with her husband-to-be was inconceivable. The only way to make this right would be to divorce her so that she can become betrothed to the father of her Child and then marry him.

Joseph was a righteous and just man. This meant that Joseph was one who observed divine and human laws. Like everyone else, Joseph was far from perfect, but as a child of God he had used the law of God as a rule by which to live his life, to express his thankfulness for God’s blessings. Joseph knew what the law of God said about unfaithfulness on the part of a wife, but at the same time he was concerned about the welfare of Mary. He could have brought their situation before the proper authorities and demanded that the law take its course. According to Deuteronomy 22, the life of Mary, and ultimately Jesus, could have been in jeopardy if Joseph had wanted to press the issue; yet Joseph showed a deep concern for Mary and for the Child that she carries by an unknown man. We see that concern for Mary in that Joseph thought long and hard about what to do, for both his sake and for Mary and the Child.

While considering his options, an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Here we see how an angel served the Lord while He was still in Mary’s womb. The angel redirected Joseph’s intended course of action. The angel reminded Joseph that he was a son of David. It was implied in those words that if the Savior were to come from David’s line as promised, Mary and he needed to remain together as husband and wife. Joseph was prevented from jumping to any more false conclusions about Mary by being informed about the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit within her. Joseph’s unbelief is overcome by a dream, and he takes Mary as his wife and assumes the paternity of Jesus.

What a moving picture of the sanctity of life we have here. Not only is this the promotion of the life of Jesus, but of life as a whole. Life is superior above all other options, even those that would bring the least amount of shame upon a person. This shouldn’t go unnoticed. All life is created by God for God’s purpose. Of all of God’s purposes is summed up in two parts, with the first beginning in just a few days.

This child that was given to Joseph and Mary is given to you and me also. It is Jesus, the One who will save us from our sins. It is Immanuel, God with us; here with us in the flesh as true God and true man, who lived an earthly life. Jesus is the New Testament counterpart of Joshua, “the Lord saves.” Just as Joshua led God’s Old Testament people into the promised land of Canaan, so Jesus came into the world to lead His followers to the heavenly Canaan.

This is the true meaning of Christmas. It is not about receiving lots and lots of presents.  It is about receiving one gift: Jesus Christ. It is not about receiving Christmas cards. It is about the message which the angel proclaimed to Joseph: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Martin Luther, in his Christmas hymn From Heaven Above to Earth I Come, sums up what Jesus did for us: “You came to share my misery/That You might share Your joy with me.”  He came into this world because of our misery. That misery is sin. He came to take away all sin from you and I and all people. Jesus became flesh to fulfill God’s Law and redeem you. He came to live a life of perfect obedience to all of God’s commands so that He might be the sinless sacrifice in your place.

Some will say that Christmas is all about receiving. However, Christmas is more about giving than it is about receiving. It is about God giving to us His one and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. It is about God giving to us the Savior of our race. It is about God giving to each and every one of us the right to be called sons and daughters of God and be seen through the eyes of God, sinless, because of what His Son has done for us.

But Christmas is also about receiving, though we continue to receive from God each and every day, not just on Christmas Day. It is about receiving the greatest gift, the only gift that we could ever need. It is about receiving all that God has to give to us: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. It is about receiving that gift of Holy Baptism that saves us as Peter says. It is about receiving the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, which strengthens our faith and keeps us in our faith. It is about receiving that Word of God, preached to us, where we hear that we are indeed sinners but that all of our sins have been forgiven.

Lives were turned upside down because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Joseph almost divorced Mary. Both Joseph and Mary had to endure the condemnation of the community.

At the same time, these words are necessary for our salvation. These words tell us that Jesus is both God and man. Because Jesus is both God and man, when Jesus died, God died. Because Jesus is both God and man, His death paid for the sins of the entire world. Because Jesus is both God and man, He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Because Jesus is both God and man, a human being rules both heaven and earth. Because Jesus is both God and man, His human body and blood are available on altars everywhere at the same time for us Christians to eat and to drink. The Son of God took on our human flesh so that we may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom.

As we anticipate the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we focus on the message of the angel to Joseph: “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…he will save his people from their sins.” The Lord speaks His saving truth, which remains true even when all appearances point to the contrary. His Word is sure. No matter the humble manger: the Infant born to Mary is your Savior. No matter the ordinary appearance of Word and Sacrament: they still deliver forgiveness, life and salvation. No matter the whispers of the devil, the world and your own sinful flesh: your Savior declares that you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2013 in Advent, Sermons

 

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.

Last Sunday, we heard of the last of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, and the message that He proclaimed: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…. I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” Everything was pointing to Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah of old. Today, we find John the Baptist again; not preaching and baptizing, but in prison.

While in prison, John heard about Jesus’ activities and he was somewhat puzzled or confused. He sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Was it possible that John really was unsure about Jesus at this time? If not, why would he send two of his disciples to ask Jesus this question? There are two possibilities. The first: it was possible that John’s disciples were discouraged at the fact that Jesus had done nothing to get John out of prison. They might have wondered whether John really was God’s special messenger. If they had doubts about John, they would have doubts about Jesus, whom John had pointed to as the promised Messiah. It is possible that John wanted his disciples to go to Jesus for reassurance, even though John himself had no doubts about Jesus.

The second possibility was that John himself was troubled and unsure of whom Jesus was. It was, after all, John who was asking the question, albeit indirectly through his disciples. Doubt could have plagued John following our account last week. John gives a rather vivid account of the work of the coming Messiah, that is, gathering the wheat and burning the chaff. In other words, separating believer from unbeliever. However, that has not happened yet and could make John wonder whether or not he had the Messiah right.

In either case, can you really blame John or his disciples? John had done what he was supposed to do. He was already a prophet in his mother’s womb as he leapt for joy when Mary approached bearing Jesus in her womb. He had baptized thousands for repentance in anticipation of the coming Messiah. He had done everything he was supposed to do and yet, he ended up in jail. You can’t blame him for looking back over his ministry and wondering if it was all worth it. The disciples of John followed his teaching but when their leader ended up in prison with the Messiah doing nothing, it would be easy to doubt.

The question that was asked of Jesus so long ago is still asked today. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 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.

When John’s disciples came to Jesus, He answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” Jesus understood John’s doubts. He understood the doubts of John’s disciples. He understands the doubts that we have. He understood that John needed assurance. He understood that John’s disciples needed assurance. He understands that we need assurance. Dear saints of God, that assurance is coming for you. The promise that God made so long ago is to be fulfilled in the birth of His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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.

One thing that we must remember is that forgiveness does not come cheap. The one who earns forgiveness must satisfy God’s justice and God’s justice requires the punishment of sin. That is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus took your sin into Himself. Then, when God punished your sin, the punishment fell on Jesus and not on you. When Jesus hung on the cross, He took your place as the target of God’s just punishment of sin. This is nothing other than God’s perfect love enduring God’s perfect justice for you. This is Jesus earning forgiveness for you.

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.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2013 in Advent, Sermons

 

Advent 2 – “Crazy Times” (Matthew 3:1-12)

A-4 Advent 2 (Mt 3.1-12)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’s Gospel account is brought to you by crazy. Everything about today’s account is crazy. The first part of the account focuses on a man named John the Baptist. The message that he comes proclaiming is one that is pure crazy talk: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That is pure crazy talk! Whatever could he mean that the kingdom of heaven is at hand? He appeared rather abruptly in the desert areas of Judea. It was as if he appeared out of nowhere. He was not trained by the accepted religious teachers. He had no credentials. He simply appeared and began preaching. Who did he think he was? John was somebody, somebody important. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets. The Lord sent John out into the desert. He did not appear in the synagogue or in the temple where the other religious teachers were to be found. He was to carry out his ministry in a place apart. The present system was corrupt. The Lord wanted His people to take a fresh look at their relationship with Him. The wilderness was to become a fruitful field.

John wasn’t just a crazy man running around preaching anything he wanted to. He was the one whom Isaiah spoke of: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” However, when you saw John in the flesh, he looks every bit the part of crazy, acts every bit the part of crazy. Here is a man who walks around in “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” Needless to say, this was not normal attire for anyone, nor was this the food of the everyday person. The clothing was reminiscent of the prophets, of which John is the last. It would have been very easy to write John the Baptist off as crazy based upon his looks. However, the people didn’t write John off as crazy. Instead, they went out to him in order to be baptized by him and to confess their sins.

For someone who looks like a crazy man, the people come to him in large numbers from all over the place. When John calls the people to repent, he is calling them to not only repent of their sins, but also to repent of all of their misconceptions and wrong ideas about the Savior. If they have the wrong idea of who the Savior is supposed to be, then they’re not going to like the Savior for who He truly is. If they’re looking for the wrong things in a Messiah, then they’re not going to recognize Him when He makes His appearance. John prepares the people by teaching them the true nature of their sinfulness, so that they see the need for the Savior; he prepares them by teaching them who the Savior is and what He will come to do.

John called the people to repent and invited them to be baptized so that their guilt might be washed away. Many responded to the call. They confessed that they were sinners and received baptism. He baptized in anticipation of Jesus’ saving work.

As we prepare for the Nativity of our Lord, are we eager to do as John says, to repent? It’s not something that comes easy to us. It’s not something that we like to admit, that we did something wrong, that we are a sinner and that we need to repent, to ask for forgiveness. However, that is exactly what we are supposed to do.

Repentance involves a change of mind and heart and a change of direction in daily behavior and life. The full definition of repentance includes recognizing your sin as disobedience to God’s commandments, feeling truly sorry for your sin, having the sincere desire to amend your sinful ways, and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness and salvation. Repentance is not a one-time act. In his famous Ninety-Five Theses, Martin Luther declared that the entire life of a Christian is to be characterized by repentance. In his Small Catechism, Luther tells us that our baptism should remind us to drown our old Adam by daily contrition and repentance. Repentance includes all our sins, even those of which we are not aware of, and Jesus’ forgiveness is total.

For as many who came to John in order to be baptized, there were also those who came for another reason. Matthew records that while John was baptizing, Pharisees and Sadducees were also coming to be baptized, though he did not baptize them. He commanded those who desired to be baptized to repent and bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The Pharisees and Sadducees did neither. The Pharisees believed they were righteous in God’s sight because they kept the Law. Repentance was fine for others, but not for them. The Sadducees, on the other hand, did not believe in any resurrection. They were concerned only about this life and this world. They had no interest in the kingdom of heaven that John was proclaiming.

The message was stern to them: “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” In other words, those who are not repentant have no place in the kingdom of God.

That same message applies to us today. If we insist on going our own way or trying to get into heaven on our own terms, God will reject us and find plenty of other people to populate heaven. We must not imagine that God needs us, but we would be wise to remember that He wants us and that Jesus has done everything necessary for our eternal salvation. The only thing that is necessary on our part is repentance.

As far as some are concerned, we believe that we are right with God. We can do no wrong. We are not sinners. But where do we get that notion? We don’t get it from Scripture because Scripture says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We can deceive ourselves into thinking that we are not sinful, but that is all that it is, a deception. As a result, our lives are unfruitful, are sinful. We do not do the works that God requires; in fact, we cannot do them. God’s righteous judgment comes down upon Israel and it comes down also upon us.

Instead of leaving us with judgment, doom and gloom, John the Baptist also promises something beyond our wildest imaginations: the coming of the Savior. John the Baptist is the one crying in the wilderness of the coming Messiah. He is making the paths straight by preaching a message of repentance to the people, to prepare them for Christ’s arrival. John the Baptist comes to lead people to repentance, to baptize with water. When Jesus arrives, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” He is coming to do something far greater than John the Baptist, the Pharisees, Sadducees or we could ever do: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

While everything about John seems to be crazy, the message he preaches is anything but crazy. It is a message that draws the people from all over, drawing them to repent of their sins and to be baptized. For as much as John the Baptist seems out of place in the coming Nativity of our Lord, the message is very much appropriate: He comes with grace – to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, to prepare you for everlasting life. Even now in Word and Sacrament we feast upon Christ as our tree of life. He is the vine and we are the branches. By Word and Sacrament, we bring forth the fruit of repentance and live in trust and obedience. He declares to you even now, “Repent, because I am at hand; and because I am here, you are forgiven for all of your sins.” 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.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2013 in Advent, Sermons

 
 
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