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Advent 4–“Beauty of Christmas” (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.

Women in our culture today are too often celebrated for what they look like instead of who they are. There are the advertisements that if women were only to take this pill or have that surgery, try this brand of cosmetics or join this exercise club, they could improve their appearance and look like all the women that grace the grocery store magazines.

In today’s Gospel reading, we meet two women. Luke never bothers to tell us what they look like. He doesn’t mention whether or not they are runway model material. He pays no attention to their sense of fashion. Nevertheless, he shows them for what they are: truly beautiful women.

The first woman that we meet in our text is a rather young woman, probably in her teens. Her name is Mary. She was betrothed, or engaged, to a man older than her by the name of Joseph, a carpenter by trade. This might have been a betrothal made in heaven, but there was a complication to all of this: Mary found herself with child. This did not occur because she cheated on her betrothed; rather, the angel proclaimed that her child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary, a virgin, had been chosen to be our Lord’s mother. And she received this news with beautiful humility: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.”

Following this exchange, the angel informed her that her cousin Elizabeth was also pregnant. Elizabeth, being much older than Mary, would have been an ideal mentor for her in her pregnancy so she plans a trip to Elizabeth to tell her of the good news.

Once the two women were together, Mary had to share the good news with her cousin. One can only imagine the sheer excitement that Mary had in telling Elizabeth, not wanting to leave out any of the details of what had transpired, for this truly was a miraculous event that had taken place and that would take place in the near future as well.

As Luke records for us, “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” What an event this little interaction was between the offspring of Elizabeth and Mary’s announcement. John the Baptist was already pointing to the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. John was already looking forward to what the child of Mary would accomplish.

What magnificent imagery we have so far in our text. We have a wonderful announcement from Mary to Elizabeth regarding the birth of the Savior of the world. John the Baptist leaps in the womb of Elizabeth upon Mary’s announcement. Mary and Elizabeth are rejoicing in the news. Then Elizabeth says something that changes the scene: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

Here you have a young pregnant teenager and now all of a sudden, she is blessed among women! And not only is she blessed among women, so is the child that she carries. I don’t know many pregnant teenage girls who are deemed blessed among women. In fact, there are those teenage mothers who would consider themselves anything but blessed among women. But Mary wasn’t considered blessed among women because of who she was or what she had done. Rather, she was blessed among women because God the Father had chosen her to be the bearer of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. Elizabeth praises the faith of Mary. Mary is the object of God’s blessing because God has visited her and she has responded in faith to God’s promises.

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.

As we look at Elizabeth and her words of blessing to Mary, how are we to understand them? Elizabeth says, “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” It refers to Mary’s faithful response to the angel: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Mary receives the word of the angel in faith and places herself in submission to that word. Elizabeth now affirms what Mary said to the angel.

Luke’s record of the Visitation is one that is filled with blessings and honor and glory. But of great importance here is faith. Mary has no proof other than faith in the words of the angel. Elizabeth has no proof except the faith that she has in Mary’s story of the events that brought her to her doorsteps. You and I have no proof other than God’s Word. Does this baby look like a Savior? Does He look like a king or Lord? Maybe all of this is just made up or maybe just dumb luck. Or, this could be how God desired His divine plan of salvation to work out for us.

Our Lord could have chosen to be born in beautiful Jerusalem or maybe even in glorious Rome. Instead, He chose to be born in lowly Bethlehem, the least among the cities of Judah. He could have chosen to enter into the family of the high priest or to be born into royalty. Instead, He chose to be born into the family of a carpenter with a poor young maiden as His mother. Beauty appears to be absent from this scene, especially when we look at the words of Isaiah: “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” But there lies the true beauty. This child would endure the ugliness of the cross, showing to us the true beauty of the Father’s will for us, His beloved children.

Our Lord did not choose to enter into some perfect and ideal world. He chose instead to enter our world, with all of its flaws and blemishes. Why? Because He loves us, with all of our flaws and blemishes. Yes, He comes to wash away the blemish of our sins. He presents us, His Church, as His Bride, clothed in baptismal splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we might be holy, without blemish. This is the true beauty of the incarnation, the true beauty of Christmas. 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 23, 2012 in Advent, Sermons

 

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Advent 3–“No Doubt” (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.

An important question is asked today in our Gospel reading, one which has great ramifications. The question is this: “Are you the one who is the come, or shall we look for another?”

At first glance, it might not seem like that big of a question at all. Or, on the other hand, this could be about as big of a question as one could ask, for you see, the answer that we give to this question on the day of our death reveals our eternal destination.

Leading up to our text for today, we see Jesus coming onto the scene in a very big way. Following His Baptism, Jesus is tempted into the wilderness by the devil. As He begins His ministry, He heals a man with an unclean demon, many who are sick that have been brought to Him, He calls His disciples and He begins His preaching ministry. He heals more individuals and eventually raises a widow’s son from the dead. News had spread of what Jesus had done and the disciples of John come and report all that has happened to him. John calls two of his disciples and sends them to Jesus to ask if Jesus is the one who is to come or should they look for someone else.

This question has been interpreted in two ways. First, some hold that John himself was still convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Coming One, but he wanted to renew the faith of his disciples and therefore sent them to Jesus to be strengthened. Others see this questions as an example of how even such a person as John, the herald of Christ, could waver. As a prisoner, isolated and cut off, he might have fallen prey to doubts. In either case, the question John asks through his disciples gives Jesus the opportunity to again point out his role as the Messiah, the servant of God.

Jesus sends the disciples back to John, instructing them to report what they had heard and seen. 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 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. Jesus responded to John’s question with more than just “yes” or “no.” He showed those who were there that He was the fulfillment of the promises that God had made long ago through the prophets. Jesus showed that He is the Messiah by the signs of His healing and His preaching.

What faulty expectations might we have about Jesus? 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. But for us today, who do we think Jesus is? 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.

Here is a question: Are you—right now—under the reign and rule of Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior and King? The answer, of course, is “yes.” You see, from the perspective of history, we are greater than John the Baptist because we know and hold to the whole salvation story. We know the truth that “It is finished.” We know that Christ Jesus accomplished all of salvation in His all-redeeming life, death, and resurrection. Not even John the Baptist understood all that. Remember: John, the greatest of anyone on earth, still didn’t fully understand what Christ and His ministry was all about. He didn’t understand that Christ’s glory necessarily involved a cross. John only saw the victorious, glorified Jesus at the end of salvation history. He only understood the triumphant Christ, who would bear the righteous winnowing fork and put the axe to the tree. He didn’t get that this same victorious Christ had to first suffer and die. As a consequence of this misunderstanding, John struggled. When times got really tough and he was languishing on death row in prison he struggled and wavered and doubted, and understandably so. 

During this Advent season of penitential preparation, 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.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2012 in Advent, Sermons

 

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Advent 2 – "Prepare" (Luke 3:1-14)

C-4 Advent 2 (Lu 3.1-6)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.

“Hear ye, hear ye.” Those are familiar words in times of the medieval courts when the herald would announce the arrival of royalty. The herald had no other job than to announce when certain individuals would enter a place, making it known to all that the highly esteemed individual is here. In today’s Gospel reading, we see the same thing taking place. John the Baptist comes onto the scene as the herald of all heralds. His announcement trumps any announcement that has ever been made or that will ever be made, for he comes as the herald of Jesus Christ.

When we last see John, Luke reports, “And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” Now, John makes his public appearance. It is not initiated by John but by the Word of God that came to him. God called on John to prepare the way for Jesus.

John had a mission: “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Zechariah, John’s father realized that John was destined for something special. He says, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins….” John did exactly what his father said that he would do. He did exactly what God had called him to do.

John the Baptist was the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets. As an Old Testament prophet, he pointed forward to the coming Messiah, the Christ. John himself fulfills some of the prophecies of the Old Testament, as we see in today’s Old Testament reading from Malachi. John himself was a sign that the Savior was about to appear on the scene in a very public way.

John did what prophets do. He spoke the truth concerning the coming of Christ. He didn’t try to win friends. He wasn’t interested in popularity contests. He knew that his calling was to proclaim Christ, not himself. What John preached was not always popular, not always nice. He was the perfect forerunner to Christ because not everything He preached was always popular or nice either.

While many thought that John might be the Christ, he is only the herald of the new covenant established by Jesus. He directs the people’s attention to one “more powerful” than him who is come. John enables us to prepare and be prepared for the way of the Lord. He does that by the message that he preaches.

John’s message is one of repentance and forgiveness. Those listening to John’s message believed that their status with God was secured because they were Abraham’s offspring. That meant that their salvation was forever set in stone. Who needs repentance if they already have salvation? If salvation were already secured for the descendants of Abraham, there would be no need for John to be a herald because there would be no Christ to herald about.

Repentance was necessary then and it necessary today. As he says, “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 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.

It is harsh to hear that we are not righteous. It is even more harsh to hear that we are sinners. But that is exactly who we are: sinners in need of repentance. That is why John’s message is so important: it begs repentance. It begs for forgiveness. We hear all about our sinful nature and what that means for us. It means death and damnation. It means eternal separation from God. John’s message is one of sweet Gospel to our ears. There is One who is coming to save us from our sins. There is One who is coming to give to 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. That forgiveness comes in the form of Jesus, of whom John is preparing the way for.

John’s warning was indeed sharp. The purpose of the message was to strike fear in man’s conscience so that he might stop realize his lost condition. The only one who is capable of repairing that lost condition of man is Christ.

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.

All of this, as John says, leads to fruits in keeping with repentance. It leads to actions of love towards our neighbor. This is mercy; mercy that we show to one another as God has shown His mercy towards us through Christ.

The message of John seemed much like the coming message of Christ, the message foretold in prophecies of old. It was only logical for them to ask if John was the Christ. He preached with such great power that many people thought that he might be the Christ. He points to one more powerful than he who is coming soon, Jesus Himself.

For as great as he was, John the Baptist was nothing more than a prophet. He points to Jesus, the One who took our sins to the cross and exchanged them for righteousness. He baptizes with water and the Word for the forgiveness of our sins. He is the One who comes to us still today through His body and blood, making you new, clean by the blood of the Lamb, freeing you from your sin by His death and resurrection. 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 9, 2012 in Advent, Sermons

 

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Advent 1 – "Bookends" (Luke 19:28-40)

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.

It’s the beginning of the end. Or is it the end of the beginning? Today’s Gospel reading comes up twice in the Church Year: the First Sunday of Advent, today, and Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, leading up to the death of Jesus. Though we see on Palm Sunday Christ’s entrance to Jerusalem marking His impending death, we see in our text for today the beginning of a new Church Year, and in its beginning, it points the Church toward Calvary.

For the Christian, we begin the season of Advent today. It is the period of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus, in other words, the period immediately before Christmas. If there is one word that best captures the meaning of the season of Advent, it is probably waiting. During Advent the church confesses the wisdom that Jeremiah spoke so long ago: “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

The Church this First Sunday in Advent directs her attention to the final chapter in the saga of salvation. And that is as it should be, for crib and cross go together. You cannot have one without the other. This astounding little bundle of joy was born to save, in other words, to die, and to lay down His life in payment for the sins of the entire world.

Likewise, there is no salvation apart from God in the flesh of Jesus. It was no heavenly principle or concept that died, but a real man, with real flesh and blood like ours. In order to remove the just penalty for our sin, He first took on a human body, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Crib and cross, cross and crib; like bookends, they enclose the whole story of God’s salvation in His incarnate Son.

On the scale of human events, this Palm Sunday ride doesn’t really seem so big. It was humble. Jesus rode on a donkey. He sat on a saddle of outer garments, actually, which served as coats, and cloaks, and blankets at night, and protection against sand storms, and as an all-around, multi-purpose garment. That is what the disciples threw on the backs of the donkey. Others lined the road with their cloaks, and still others cut branches off of the local palm trees and carpeted the path of Jesus with those. Some took the palm branches and waved them and called out “Hosanna.” It wasn’t as impressive as we might think, but there was more here than meets the eye.

In Advent, we look forward to the coming of the King, and we remember how He came. We look forward by looking back. It doesn’t matter that the crowd was small, or large. The crowd proclaimed the truth that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the promises of the prophets. Their testimony tells us that we are awaiting the coming of He who will fulfills the promise to us. We aren’t looking forward to His death, or the work of redemption. They were, but we do not look forward to that because we can see by looking back that He has already done it. Rather, we focus on the words of the people, “Behold, your king is coming to you.”

That is what Advent prepares us for, the coming of in the infant Jesus. During this season, we take the time to have a history lesson of our faith. We take a little time to refocus and reorient ourselves to God’s interaction with us—the coming of our Lord and Savior to us and for us for the sole purpose of living and dying for us and our sins. The nativity of our Lord certainly is an important part of this divine and compassionate interaction. The womb of Mary and the Bethlehem manger are the starting points for Jesus Christ’s long, purposeful march to Calvary for our salvation. But that’s just it. These are the starting points of our salvation history. These are not ending points for a different Bible story. All too often mankind’s salvation is treated as two separate historical narratives though. A baby named Jesus was born at Christmas time and that means joy and peace on earth. Coincidentally, we also celebrate a thirty-three year old man named Jesus who suffered, died, and was resurrected at Easter time, which means peace in heaven and forgiveness for all mankind. However, today, we look not at the cross as much as we do the crib.

Why was Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary in a humble little stable in Bethlehem? Because of our sin; because of our complete inability to bring about our own salvation in any way, shape, or form! This is precisely what makes Advent a penitential season no different than Lent. This is precisely why the Palm Sunday account has been the traditional Gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Advent for centuries. This account serves to take us back to the real reason for the season. The manger only makes sense when understood through the lens of the cross. 

In this season of Advent, we prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming. It is a time of repentance, a time of sadness over sin, for it is our sin that made it necessary for the Son of God to come into the world in the first place. But while it is a time of repentance, it is also a time of hope and joy. Since we are sinners, we have a Savior to redeem us. Just as we have seen the end of another Church Year, we mark the beginning of a new one, but it also marks the beginning of a new era for us all: an era that has Christ as its Head, and we as His redeemed children.

Advent is the spark of hope in the darkness of sin. It is the anticipation of rescue from the pit of despair. It is generation after generation of sacrifices that remind us of our sin and also point forward to the Savior from that sin. It is an emptiness waiting to be filled.  The traditional Advent is a time of repentance that prepares us for Christmas in much the same way that Lent prepares us for Easter. It is a time for examining oneself and finding sin.  It is a time to contemplate the idea that we desperately need God to come into this world and rescue us.

Therefore, in this season of Advent, let us prepare our hearts once more for our Lord’s coming. We can enjoy the many traditions in this world that have sprung up around Christmas, but let us also hold fast to the eternal meaning of Advent. We are sinners and we need a Savior. God the Son came to take on human flesh in order to be that Savior. He still comes in order to offer His salvation. On the Last Day His coming will raise all the dead and all who believe in Him will live with Him forever in a new world of eternal joy and peace. During this Advent let us remember how He came, how He will come, and how He now comes. 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 2, 2012 in Advent, Sermons

 

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Advent 4–“Miracle” (Luke 1:26-38)

B-8 Advent 4 (Lu 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 this morning is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Have you ever seen, witnessed, or experienced a miracle before? When I say miracle, I mean a full-blown, only Jesus could do this, miracle. Chances are, you probably haven’t. There once was a TV evangelist who was a miracle worker. He would bring people up on stage and heal them of their various maladies or infirmities, freeing those individuals from pain or suffering some sort of physical problem. Everyone thought that he truly was a miracle worker. However, it was later revealed that it was all an act, that those individuals who came forward were indeed healthy. He was proven to be a con-artist and there were no miracles.

When we read our Gospel for today, we see a modern-day miracle occur: a virgin is impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Here, in a little town called Nazareth, an angel of the Lord came to a virgin to tell her she was to be the mother of God’s Son.

Nazareth was a small town, north of Jerusalem and west of the Sea of Galilee. In a sense, there isn’t anything fascinating about Nazareth. St. John tells us of a discussion between Nathanael and Philip when they are called by Jesus to be disciples: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Obviously the locals did not care much for the town. As far as the general public was concerned, it was impossible for anything to come out of Nazareth. Philip answered, “Come and see.” It is here in Nazareth where the angel Gabriel came to a virgin named Mary. Gabriel said to her, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” O favored one? Really? Mary must be asking herself what makes her so special. She is simply a young woman. There are many women in Nazareth so why is this angel coming to her? Imagine the reaction if Mary were to go next door and told someone that she saw an angel. They would say that it was impossible, yet it was an act of God’s desiring.

However, for Mary, Luke says she was “greatly troubled at the saying, and she tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” Doubt is going on in Mary’s mind. First an angel appeared to her. Angels don’t make everyday appearances, especially to someone as lowly as Mary. All that she knew was that she was favored and the Lord was with her. But why her? What made her any more special than any other young woman? What could the Lord have in store for this young woman from Nazareth?

Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive in her womb and bear a son, “the Son of the Most High.” She will be the God-bearer, the one who will give birth to the Savior of the world. The miracle of miracles was to happen to Mary, to this unassuming girl from Nazareth: from her would come the Son of God, the One sent to redeem all from their sins. From Mary would come the Christ, who would put our sins on Himself and be the sin sacrifice for us all. All of this was done to fulfill what the prophet Isaiah had written, “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

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.

In this miracle, we already see our salvation at work. After all, the Bible tells us that Mary, like all human beings, was born in sin. Like all human beings, she deserved eternal punishment. The Holiness of God in her womb should have destroyed her sin and her along with it, but it did not. Instead, God came to be with her to bless her. The Holy Son of God had taken up His human flesh inside of her. He had already taken His first step on the road to the cross. The salvation He earned on the cross as both God and Man was already at work protecting Mary from the condemnation she deserved because of her sin.

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.

If you were Mary, all of this would have probably been hard to take in, yet Luke leaves us with a few words of Mary: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” As far-fetched as this might have been to Mary, she believed. She believed in the words of the angel Gabriel as the words of God Himself. Mary’s faithful response is clear evidence of God’s grace in her life. Her God-given faith allows her to accept the angel’s message without question and humbly place herself in the Lord’s service. The final miracle has happened: a miracle accepted by faith. Our human reason may not be able to comprehend the miracle of the virgin birth; but we accept it by faith, just as Mary did.

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.

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2011 in Advent, Sermons

 

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Advent 3–“Who are you?” (John 1:6-8, 19-28)

B-6 Advent 3 (Jn 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 this morning is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

In a popular song by The Who called “Who Are You”, the chorus repeats a line time and time again: “Who are you?” That is the question that is asked to John the Baptist in our Gospel reading for today. As we see in the text, it tells us who John the Baptist is: “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” Even though John the Baptist is not Jesus, there seems to be an identity crisis on behalf of the priests and Levites. 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. But he had a single mission: “to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.”

There are many times where we confuse the messenger with the message. If we receive bad news from a doctor, we often blame the doctor for the illness, even though he has nothing to do with. John the Baptist clearly understood that his purpose was not bearing witness to himself and his own greatness, but glorifying the Savior. The great privilege of his calling was expressed in the life of John, for he was true to his conviction: “He must become greater; I must become less.” But for the priests and Levities, they wanted to know exactly who he claimed to be and what it was that he was going to do.

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 – not trying to trap John in what he says but instead merely wanting to know who he is and what he is about. 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 John, we see a prophet doing what he is supposed to do. A prophet is supposed to confess the Christ. When the priests and Levites from Jerusalem asked him, “Who are you?” he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” A true prophet is a true prophet because he proclaims the truth. He proclaims the truth because that is what God gave him to proclaim. The truth might make people sad. The truth might terrify people. The truth might make people angry. In fact, the truth might make people angry enough to kill the prophet. Nevertheless, the prophet tells the truth that he received from God. What is that truth that John received from God? “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

The sad thing in today’s Gospel is that the men in the delegations wanted to know who John was, but they didn’t want to hear his message. When John told them that the Lord was in the crowd standing among the people, they weren’t impressed. As far as they were concerned, no one in the crowd looked especially Messianic. Jesus has no special form or comeliness that makes Him stand out; apparently, there is no beauty about Him that makes Him attractive or desirable. Jesus is just another face in the crowd, and a face in the crowd simply couldn’t be the Messiah. Their problem was that they had preconceived notions of who the Messiah was to be and Jesus didn’t fit the bill. John, the forerunner of Christ wasn’t who they thought the herald of the Messiah would be. Here stood before them a man eating wild honey and locusts. He probably was more unkempt than others were. He didn’t exactly shout forerunner of Christ. Their preconceived notions blinded them to John and his message of Jesus. Their preconceived notions blinded them to Jesus, the one who would save them from their sins.

Nothing has changed in 2000 years. There are still those today whose preconceived notions dictate to them who Jesus is and what He has come to do. People see Jesus as a great moral teacher, but nothing more. People see Jesus as just one of the many ways to heaven. People see Jesus as an example to live by. People see Jesus as their personal life coach. Jesus is not a moral teacher. Jesus is not one of the many ways to heaven. He is not an example to live by. Jesus is not a life coach. Jesus is the Babe in the manger, come to live a sinless life for you. Jesus is the Babe in the manger, come to die on the cross on behalf of you to forgive you all of your sins. That is who Jesus is and that is what John the Baptist came proclaiming.

Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John’s message is 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 and a jolly man in a red suit, but the unspeakable joy is found in the One who came into this world through a manger to meager parents, to be our Immanuel, God with us. It is this Jesus who was the unexpected Messiah, who came to give you life in His 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 11, 2011 in Advent, Sermons

 

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Advent 2 – “The Way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:1-11)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning is the Old Testament which was read earlier.
The prophecy was told of long ago in Isaiah: a Savior was coming. Today is about John the Baptist. Today is about the message that he is proclaiming: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The message that John the Baptist is one “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John is the one who is coming to herald the coming of Christ. As you can imagine, this must be a daunting task. Just for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of John, proclaiming the coming of Christ. You are the forerunner to the Christ. You are the opening act with Jesus as the headliner. The message that you proclaim is one that needs to be less about you and more about Christ. That is exactly what John the Baptist did.
For the Israelites of old, they were in exile in Babylon. They were displaced and unhappy. Many of them were without hope. They recognized that God was punishing them but believed this was only temporary. Everything that God had promised to them now lay in ruins. Surely God would not allow this to go on forever. But as one generation passed, and then another, the Israelites’ hope dwindled. Some argued that God cannot keep His promises. Others said that it was even worse than that, that God had cast them off forever. Ultimately, there was little hope that God would take action and rescue them.
What the Israelites failed to realize was that everything happened on God’s timetable and not theirs. Isaiah records, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” Not only did God not abandon them, God continued to provide and care for them. And to make things all the richer for the Israelites, God is giving them double for the sins they have committed!
Now if you’re an Israelite, then this is very good news for you. It means that God has not forsaken them as they had thought. It means that not only has God forgiven them of their sins, He grants to them double. How strange that must sound. For every sin that they had committed, God grants to them twice the blessing. Things can’t get any better for them, or can they?
This message of Isaiah to the Israelites is also a message of hope and comfort to you as well. This tiny Baby who will be born in a manger has come for you. He has come to pardon your iniquity. He has come to give to you double for all of your sins. That message is what John the Baptist came preaching.
God did not want His people Israel in exile to despair. He sent His prophet with a message of great hope and comfort to them. The prophet called for Israel to look forward eagerly, to expect God to return them from exile and set up His rule and glory for all to see. What a remarkable message – if you could dare to belief it!
Why couldn’t they belief it? This was what had been promised for so long. When did God ever go back on His promise? When did God ever totally abandon His people? There was no reason why they should doubt it. Isaiah’s message was a message to remind them of God’s promises.
What was the message that Isaiah preached? It was the message of Jesus. It was the message of a Savior. As Isaiah records, “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” These weren’t just foolish dreams and wild musings on the part of Isaiah. These were the prophecies that God revealed to him. It can’t be foolish dreams and wild musings if they come from God. God gave Israel a new lease on life, and vindicated His prophet who dared Israel to hope.
John the Baptist took these words to heart. Actually, John reinforced these ideas for the people. He proclaimed that he was himself “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD,” not by making himself the focus but by turning to the Lord, by turning to the One whom the Lord had spoken of, Jesus Christ. John the Baptist came “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Then, the glory of God came in the person of Jesus. God sent to us His Son to live and to die a criminal’s death. Does that sound like God’s glory to you? Yes it is! It is the glorious suffering that Isaiah speaks of in chapter 53: “he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” This is what Christ came to do. This was what John the Baptist came preaching and this is what Isaiah prophesied.
God called on His people in exile to take comfort and hope in His impending rescue. Today, He calls on us as well to take heart, for He is taking over and caring for His people throughout history since the promise was made in the Garden.
When we are a people in exile, where God’s promises and power seem far from us, where shall we find hope? The answer is in God, of course. In the hints of His glory that is breaking through, one sees the face of Jesus. In Him, God’s glory is breaking in, setting up God’s rule. God’s love pours through the lives of His people in the promised Savior, Jesus.
The Gospel is our hope and our comfort, and the changing winds of time cannot touch it. People come and go, but God’s Word is true, His promises are unchanging, just as Isaiah says: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Our salvation is sure because God is guaranteeing it. Our sins have been forgiven. This comfort doesn’t rest upon us or our opinions. It isn’t a fad or a fashion or some other creature of time. It is the Word of God. It is the truth of God. It is the gift of God. It is the Gospel, and it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe!
It cannot be changed. Don’t get me wrong, people are always trying to change it. But, if we change it, it is no longer the Gospel! It doesn’t need to be improved. It cannot be destroyed. We can abandon it, but it will not abandon us. We can mess it up, and proclaim something else much more in keeping with the times – but that ‘something else’ won’t have the power to save. It won’t have God’s promise of salvation. It won’t have the power to comfort anyone. And God calls to us through the centuries, through His unchanging Word, to proclaim His Comfort. The Comfort we are looking for, the Comfort that we need comes to us in Jesus, heralded by John the Baptist, prophesied by Isaiah, given to you in a manger. 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 4, 2011 in Advent, Sermons

 

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Advent 1–“Hosanna in the Highest” (Mark 11:1-10)

B-1 Advent 1 (LHP) (Mk 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.

Welcome to the beginning of a new year. I know it’s only November 27. I know January is still over a month away. I’m not talking about the normal calendar year, but we have come to the beginning of a new Church Year. And what better way to start the Church Year than with the story of Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday, we hear of Christ’s entrance to Jerusalem, marking His impending death. Today, when we read our text, we read it in light of the new Church Year and its beginning, pointing us to the manger which will point us to Calvary.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “appearing” or “coming,” referring to the appearing of a great king or even a god. In Christian usage, it refers to the appearing of Jesus Christ in two ways – His first appearing as the Child born of the Virgin Mary and His second appearing in glory on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. You see, Advent isn’t only about getting ready for Christmas; it’s also about getting ready for Jesus’ final appearing in glory only the Last Day.

The prophet Jeremiah writes, “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” But there’s a problem: we don’t like to wait. With the hustle and bustle leading up to Christmas, waiting is the last thing that we want to do. And so, the day after Thanksgiving, the trees go up and the Christmas music begins playing, officially, until Christmas Day. But once the sun sets on December 25, so does Christmas and its true meaning, if we even focus on its meaning.

So what do we mean when we speak of Advent as a season for waiting? In a sense, the weeks leading up to Christmas are intended as a training ground. Yes, we are preparing for another commemoration of our Savior’s birth. But it’s much more than that. In one sense, we join with the ancient Israelites who waited for centuries for God’s light to shine forth in the person of His Son. But our waiting also focuses on Christ’s promise that He will return. Our Lord gives us neither the day nor the hour, but only His sure and certain promise. And He commands us to be watchful and ready.

For us, we need the season of Advent. We are acutely aware of the busyness of the Christmas season, even though we haven’t gotten there yet, as these few weeks speed away ever so quickly. With preparations for holiday celebrations, the pace of an already hectic life tends to accelerate as we rush from one thing to the next. There are projects to complete, appointments to keep, and commitments to honor. There are parties to plan, gifts to buy, and cards to send. We need Advent as somewhat of a liturgical speed bump to slow us down so that we do not miss what Christmas is truly about, the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

On Palm Sunday, our Lord arrives in Jerusalem ready to celebrate Passover. The streets are littered with people celebrating this great festival. Then, Jesus arrives and things begin to get interesting.

When Jesus arrives, it’s not with pomp and circumstance, but instead, He arrives on a lowly beast of burden. As Jesus makes His way down the streets of Jerusalem, the crowd erupts in a wonderful chorus of words they don’t understand: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

Like most people, those on the streets of Jerusalem had no idea what it was they were saying. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Not only is this the one “who comes in the name of the Lord,” this is the Lord! This is the one that the people have been waiting for since Adam and Eve received that promise from God so long ago, the promise of a Savior. This is the one who was promised to come and crush Satan’s head. The worst part of it: most of them don’t even know it! They quite rightly called Jesus their Messiah, but they would not know what that meant until the coming week was over. For Jesus, God in the flesh, had come to die. He had come to Jerusalem to offer Himself up as the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world.

What is even worse is that most people today don’t even know it. They think of Christmas as the time where they receive presents from Santa Claus and sip on eggnog at Christmas parties. Christmas is more than presents and parties. Christmas is the celebration of God taking the form of human flesh in order to live and die for your sins. That is made clear to us in our text as Jesus comes to Jerusalem to experience once and for all the full guilt of our sin and take the punishment for that guilt. He had come to remove the guilt that caused our terror at His coming. He had come to grant us the gift of His righteous life. Jesus came to Jerusalem on that Sunday so that on that Friday He could suffer and die on a Roman cross and so make the full payment for the sins of the world.

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 – 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. 

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 27, 2011 in Sermons

 

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