Advent 4A

Text: Isaiah 7:10-17

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.

We are big on signs. They tell us important information. They tell us where to go or where not to go. They tell us what to do or what not to do. We like signs. And what better place to have a sign than from God, a big flashy, neon sign, telling us whether or not I should choose A or B, to do this or do that. All would be well with the world if God would just give us some sort of sign. And believe it or not, God does give us a sign, one we would do well not to miss.

As we hear from our text for today, the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” Here, God is speaking to Ahaz. Faced with the silent rejection of Ahaz, God did not remain silent. Through His prophet, the Lord offered the king one more opportunity to repent and trust in Him. God commanded Ahaz to ask for anything; He invited the king to ask for a sign, a miracle. The king could prove the reliability of God’s Word by requesting anything at all.

This is a very decisive moment for Ahaz. Ahaz remained in unbelief and said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” Clearly, Ahaz had no regard for the Lord, His prophet, or for the promises of protection that God would grant. This would not go well for Ahaz. When God offered such a sign, it was an insult to refuse. Worse than an insult, it was arrogant for this king of Judah to tell the Lord that he did not need or want God’s promises. This act of unbelief of Ahaz and ultimately, throughout the land of Judah, could have only one outcome – the judgment of the Lord.

By the time Isaiah is recorded, God’s people had seen their fair share of belief and unbelief towards God. God’s people had seen their fair share of times of prosper and plenty and of need and lacking. God’s people had seen their fair share of blessings and cursing from God. God had graciously promised deliverance to Ahaz and his people from the threat of the two northern kings. The deliverance would come; God would not void this or any of His promises. And even with God’s promises of deliverance, Ahaz responded negatively to the Lord’s gracious offer of a miracle. God was going to give Ahaz a sign, whether he wanted it or not: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

That’s the kind of sign we want to hear, right? That’s the sign of God keeping His promise to Adam and Eve. Ahaz should be rejoicing; we should be rejoicing. But Ahaz isn’t really rejoicing. And sadly, we’re not rejoicing either. We’re left wondering what kind of sign this will be for us. Unfortunately for Ahaz, this was bad news because he didn’t believe God and worse trouble would befall him. The sign of Immanuel was a sign of judgment for him because he saw the sign as an inconvenience. Ultimately, what a sign means depends on how you see it.

Ahaz failed to see Isaiah’s prophecy as a good sign. What should have been a good sign turned out to be one of inconvenience and annoyance. The true meaning of the sign was lost, at least for Ahaz. Fast forward to two of the most insignificant people you could find and this sign of Immanuel was good news, great news, for Joseph and Mary. They lived in a time of fear and doubt. They lived in an occupied country, a people oppressed by Roman rule. But while this was good news, times were still uncertain for both of them. Mary was pregnant but not yet married, only engaged. Joseph assumed Mary had been unfaithful to him. Joseph was considering divorce, breaking off the engagement. But God had different plans.

God brought the prophecy of old to fruition in Jesus. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This was as much for Mary as it was for every person in creation. Mary was going to be the mother of God. This child that was conceived in her would be as much for her salvation as it would be for anyone. To conceive a child was nothing, but to bear the Son of God was indeed something, something that would turn all of creation upside-down.

God’s promise, made hundreds of years ago was now coming to fruition. The promise of a Savior, one who would undo the damages of sin, was soon to make His grand entrance, but it wouldn’t be grand. He would be born to lowly parents, in a barn, surrounded by animals. But none of that mattered. What mattered was the promise was being fulfilled. What mattered was this Child would be Immanuel, God with us. He would be God with us as He became one of us, lived among us, ultimately to die, not just among us but for us. For Joseph and Mary, the sign of Immanuel was a gift of forgiveness and promise, because what the sign means depends on how you see it.

What does the sign of Immanuel mean for you? We live in a time of fear and doubt. Our lives are full of uncertainty. Wars, famine, economic woes, lost jobs. Many people have anxiety and fear, because they cling to false gods and idols of this world instead of fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things. But more than that, there is an even greater problem. Despite all of the world problems, our greatest problem is sin, the reason God gives us the sign of Immanuel.

Jesus is God in human flesh, Immanuel, “God with us.” And by coming in the flesh, God took our fears, our conflicts, our sins on Himself. Then that flesh, God with us in the flesh, was killed to take them all away. Still, Jesus is present with us. He is present with us in His Word and Sacraments. He is present with the forgiveness He brings to us. The sign of Immanuel is good news, great news for us. What the sign means depends on how you see it. For you, the message of Immanuel brings you great joy, as it did for Joseph and Mary. God is with you, with His forgiveness and His mercy. Rejoice, for God’s promise has been fulfilled for you. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 3A

Text: Matthew 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.

There’s one burning question that is being asked today in our Gospel text for today: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” That was the question that had been asked for generations, from the moment the promise was given to Adam and Eve. Isaiah had foretold of the coming Messiah, but He was nowhere to be found. When the promised Messiah arrived in the presence of Jesus, He wasn’t the one believed to be the Messiah. He didn’t fit the preconceived notion of what the Messiah would look like. He wasn’t strong and mighty. He wasn’t royalty. He wasn’t commander in chief of a large army that would kick out the Romans. Let’s face it, He was the son of a carpenter and so there had to be someone else who was the Messiah.

Who could the mysterious Messiah be? Some thought that John the Baptist might have been the promised Messiah, but from last week’s Gospel reading, we know that to be false. John comes as the herald to the Messiah, to prepare for His arrival. So, we’re back to square one as to who the Messiah is or isn’t. Turning to Matthew’s Gospel, we hear the following: “When John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”” Why would John the Baptist, the herald of the Messiah, be asking such a question? If there is anyone who knows who the Messiah is, it would be John. He knew the Messiah while in Elizabeth’s womb, so it would seem out of place for him to be asking such a question of Jesus… unless He’s not asking for himself, but for someone else; in this case, for his disciples.

When these disciples came to Jesus, they found Him in the midst of performing miracles and preaching. And having not yet been convinced, they asked him their assigned question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” This is a yes or no question. Yet this is not how Jesus answers. Rather, He told them to go back and report to John what they are seeing with their own eyes—blind people receiving their sight and the lame walking; leprous people being cleansed and deaf people beginning to hear. They even saw Jesus raise some from the dead, and He preached the Gospel to the poor. He said to them, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

So, the disciples left Him and returned to report to John and those with him about the works of God that Jesus had done—the compassion He showed and the sweet Gospel He proclaimed, as well as His stern warning not to stumble over His lowliness, when one would expect such a person to be residing in a king’s palace.

Sadly, that question is still asked today, though in slightly different forms. Is Jesus necessarily the promised Messiah or can we find the same thing in the world? Does Jesus have to be the Messiah or can I just rely on myself and my good works? Is Jesus the only Messiah or can there be other things as a substitution for Jesus? Does Jesus really do everything as the Messiah or do I need to do something to help Him out?

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

For 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.

Jesus was the coming one, He is the coming one, He will be the coming one, and we shall be expecting no other. He came to His people through the Old Testament Scriptures, as the one who would crush the head of the serpent. He would be called Immanuel—God with us. He would be named Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins. And when the fullness of time had come, He came in the flesh, born of Mary at Bethlehem. He walked the earth as one of us, He performed miracles to fulfill what had been foretold, and He went to the cross to die for the sins of the world.

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.

Advent 2A

Text: Matthew 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.

With this being the Second Sunday in Advent, we hear one of the nasty little words that we don’t like to hear, one we hate to do even more – repent. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.””

Repent doesn’t sound like a dirty word, as long as it applies to someone other than you. But that’s not what John the Baptist had in mind when he said what he did. The cry to repent was intended for all people, not for those people who knew of other people that needed to repent. There was a need for repentance on the part of all people whether they thought it applied to them or not, whether they wanted to do it or not. Repentance is what is needed for those who have sinned, and that applies to everyone. Now, more than ever, was repentance necessary because as John said, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Something was going to take place that would change the world forever.

Just what was it that John was talking about? What was his purpose in all of this? Did John have a purpose? John goes on to quote from the prophet Isaiah, words that every Jew should be familiar with: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” All of this centered upon the Lord. If you had to prepare the way of the Lord, then it meant that the Lord’s coming was soon to occur. But these words of Isaiah had been spoken nearly 700 years before John. Shouldn’t the Lord have come by then? What was the holdup, especially if these words are hundreds of years old? While Isaiah spoke these words hundreds of years before, God never set a time when the promised Messiah would come into creation. God had only made the promise, never the time. That’s how God works, according to His own divine timetable, not that of man.

Now, hundreds of years later, John the Baptist sees the words of Isaiah drawing ever closer. The Messiah had been revealed to his mother Elizabeth, and in turn, to John while in his mother’s womb. The time for the Messiah to enter the scene was almost here. And because His arrival was so close, “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

Repentance was something the people were familiar with, or should have been familiar with. Repentance was something God’s people had practiced for generations. The scene was commonplace for them: sin, repent, be forgiven, repeat. God had promised to be their God even when the people did not want God as their God. God had promised to forgive them their sins when they came to Him in repentance and sorrow for their sins. They knew how to repent, even if they didn’t want to repent. But as we see from Matthew’s account, there were plenty of people who saw their sinfulness and had an earnest desire to repent of their sin.

What sort of message would draw the people from all over Jerusalem and Judea to come to John? Certainly, it wasn’t his attire, or was it? This was the normal dress of a prophet, one who spoke God’s Word to the people. It wasn’t John’s personality that drew the crowds, but rather the message he spoke, the message was simple – Jesus was coming.

That is the same thing that drew you here today. It wasn’t my beaming personality or the blue stole I’m wearing. What brought you here was the Word of God, a word that promised forgiveness of your sins, a word that promised salvation to you by Jesus.

John called the people to repent and invited them to be baptized so that their sin might be washed away. Many responded to the call. They confessed that they were sinners and received baptism. They came to receive forgiveness, something they saw that they needed.

But Matthew records something else about this encounter, something which angered John: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!”” Why were they coming? Was it because they saw a need for repentance? Were they contrite? Many of the leaders went out to hear John and to be baptized by him. They felt that they had a responsibility to review what he was teaching. They also believed that they were entitled to receive the rite of baptism. They apparently wanted to assure the people that they were still in charge.

But why revile the Pharisees and Sadducees, threatening them with the fiery judgment of the Last Day? Why make such a big deal of their coming to be baptized? The key lies in his statement, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abrahams as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” John has called the people out to a new exodus through the waters of the Jordan – in short, to conversion and faith again in the God who is about to manifest His reign on the earth in His Son. Physical descent from Abraham is not a substitute for a lack of confession of sin. These men were at the root of the problem. They were called to lead the people in the way of righteousness. Instead, they were leading men down a path of self-righteousness which could only lead to destruction. They will not be saved just because of their ancestry, but rather because of the coming Messiah that John is preaching about to the people.

John’s baptism was a means of grace. It was a means whereby people were led to repent of their sins and receive forgiveness. The Holy Spirit moves the hearts of people to confess their sins and find forgiveness in baptism. The guilt of sin is washed away. With his reference to “one who is more powerful,” John was not taking anything away from his baptism, but rather pointing to the source of its power: Jesus.

Just as Jesus was coming into the world, He was coming with purpose. John says, “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.

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!”

The message that John preaches is one of repentance for us. He preaches the message of Jesus. He comes with grace – to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, to prepare you for everlasting life. Jesus 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.

Advent 1A

Text: Matthew 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.

Listen to these words: “The day is surely drawing near/ When Jesus, God’s anointed,/ In all His power shall appear/ As judge whom God appointed.” Well, we see that today with Jesus entering Jerusalem. This is Advent, not Lent, and yet we don’t hear about a coming baby Jesus, but rather an adult Jesus beginning His journey to the cross. So here in Advent we’re not just getting ready to celebrate Christmas. At Advent, we’re preparing for the Coming of the Kingdom of God.

Here comes Jesus, into Jerusalem, with a purpose. Jesus is coming from Jericho on his final journey. As a person approaches Jerusalem from the east, the city is not visible, since it is hidden behind the Mount of Olives. Upon reaching the crest of the mount, however, the traveler suddenly finds the whole city spread out before him. It is not hard to imagine bands of weary pilgrims joining in a psalm of joyful thanksgiving at this point.

As Jesus nears Jerusalem, He is in need of something to make His journey complete – a donkey. While a donkey sounds strange, it is in keeping with Scripture: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” This is what is needed because it is in line with the prophecies of the coming Savior.

As the season of Advent begins, we must remember who it is that is coming. A baby is coming, but not just a baby. The baby is the long-promised Savior. This is their King, whether they know it or not, whether they want it to be true or not.

Notice the many double-sided issues in these few verses. Jerusalem is at once the holy city and “the city that kills the prophets.” Jesus sends two disciples to get two animals when He can clearly ride only one. Do events happen by previous planning or divine knowledge? In all of these, Matthew is seeking to convey the two natures of Christ—fully human and fully divine. Both aspects must be held in mind together if Jesus is to be comprehended in full. Jesus is “the Crucified Messiah, the Modest King, the Lowly Lord, the Human God.”

Once the animals are secured, the two disciples put their cloaks on both donkey and colt and Jesus sits on the garments. Some of those coming to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration join the procession as Jesus descends from the Mount of Olives. Though He rides on a donkey rather than a warhorse, thereby symbolizing peace rather than militarism, the crowd seems to catch the royal symbolism of the act and carpets His path with their cloaks and branches cut from trees. The donkey Jesus rides is a beast of the people, a working beast that identifies Jesus as being in solidarity with those familiar with the animal. It is humble and stubborn in the burden it is bearing, even as the one who rides it this day is humble and determined to fulfill His calling.

They people are seeing something occur that they don’t fully understand, but yet recognize as important. The people shout out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” This underscores Jesus’ identity as being in accord with the great king whose city He is entering. The “Hosanna” can be understood as both a prayer and as an acclamation of praise. The shouts are nothing more than “save us” from the people. But save us from what? Do they have any idea why Jesus has come? Do they even care?

Is that not what you and I cry out on a daily basis – Hosanna, save us? That should be our daily cry because we need saving, but we don’t want to cry out because we don’t think we need saving? We don’t think we’re as bad as what people want to say we are or what the Church wants to say about us. But the fact of the matter is we are as bad as what people and the Church wants to say about us. That’s why God sends Jesus to us, because we do need God to save us, and save us He does.

He comes in Advent in order to be the sacrifice that is needed on Palm Sunday to be the answer to the people’s cries on Good Friday. But it wasn’t as simple as that. Matthew records, “the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”” The “whole city” in its ignorance stands in contrast to “the crowds” who knew Jesus to be at least a prophet “from Nazareth in Galilee.” Both groups will be presented with the opportunity to learn that Jesus is more than a human prophet or human king in days to come. They will quickly find out on Good Friday, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

The people looked for a deliverer based on their trust in God’s promises borne to them by their prophetic sacred writings. But the given Messiah does not, as is often noted, fulfill popular expectations. Not only was that true then, it is true now. “Who is the Christ?” is the question behind this text, and the answer is of the both/and variety: both human and divine, both militant and nonviolent, both crucified and resurrected, both obedient and triumphant, both royal and humble, both empowering and not overpowering.

“Behold, your king is coming to you…” The humble King who rode into Jerusalem in humility comes to us. In a manner of true repentance, we meet our Savior. 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.

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.

There’s never been anything especially impressive about the ways that Jesus comes to His people, at least not by our worldly standards. But He never had our impressions in mind. He came to His people under the most humble circumstances and in the most humble ways to save them. He comes to you through His humble, chosen means. And He promises to be with you according to His humble grace and mercy until He comes again, only then it will be in power and might.

And we keep faith with the people of God throughout the ages and wait and watch for the advent of our King, a coming promised so long ago. But we wait with true faith, for we know who is coming, and what He has done, and we know what He has promised to do when He comes to bring us to eternal life, and destroy sin and death forever. And so, we watch and pray and wait faithfully, observing the promise of Advent all the year long: “Behold, your king is coming to you.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 4 – “Blessed”

Text: Luke 1:39-45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent 3 – “The One”

Text: Luke 7:18-28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent 2 – “Prepare & Repent”

Text: Luke 3:1-14
It’s the season of Advent, a time of preparation before the Christ makes His entry into the world by means of His birth. Last week, we heard of Jesus entering Jerusalem. Today, we shift the focus back to preparation as we hear of John, the forerunner of Jesus. John was the son of Zechariah, a priest. At and old age and with a barren wife, the angel Gabriel had told him that they would conceive and bear a son who would be named John. What made John special, different than other baby boys of the time, is that he had a particular job: prepare for the arrival of Jesus. To get the people ready to receive Jesus, a transformation needed to take place in them first. “And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The people needed to change themselves. The needed to go from a state of unrepentance to a state of repentance. They needed to confess their sins and be forgiven. This was nothing new. The people had been sinning from the Fall and needed to be in a state of confession and absolution. This was done in the days of old by sacrifices. Now, John is proclaiming something new, a baptism of repentance. This was what John was called, destined, prophesied to do, as recorded by Isaiah: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” The Promise of Old is coming. John’s role was to prepare the people to receive the Promise. It was time for them to do what they have done all their lives as Christians – repent. This message that John proclaimed was intended for all peoples. He preached this to anyone and everyone. He didn’t tell this to just Jew or Gentile, Christian or non-Christian. This was a message that everyone needed to hear. He went in and laid it all on the line to all who heard him: “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” The sad truth is that more often than not, you and I don’t produce the good fruit our Lord expects. We simply don’t love God with all our heart and soul and strength, much less love our neighbor as ourselves. Despite our best efforts, there are those we have hurt and those we have failed to help. Our thoughts and desires are soiled with sin. There is nothing good within us, in our sinful nature. That is where preparing the way of the Lord begins. Through the Law, we hear about our sinful nature and what that means for us. It means death and damnation. It means eternal separation from God. But the message that John is preaching about is the sweet sound of the Gospel which we need to hear; that there is One who is coming to save us from our sins. There is One who is coming to give us everlasting life. There is One coming who is forever bridging the gap between God and man, One who will trade His life so that we can have life. It is in John’s message of the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus that we are lifted up and comforted. Repentance was necessary then and it necessary today. The need for repentance is now. The need to turn from our sinful ways is now. That is the message that John the Baptist comes preaching. His proclamation of repentance begins by making the people aware that they are sinners. What does John say about those who believe that they are already righteous? He calls them a brood of vipers. This is not without significance. It echoes back to the Garden of Eden and man’s fall into sin brought about the serpent. Instead of being righteous, they are instead offspring of Satan. The reason why the season of Advent is so important is because it shows us the need of a Savior. Hearing John’s message can cause great fear in us, knowing that we might be a tree that does not bear good fruit. Those to whom John is preaching to begin to ask the simple question, “What then shall we do?” The answer is simple: we look to Christ. We look to the cross where Jesus took judgment upon Himself in our place so that we might be forgiven. In our Baptism, we receive the benefits of Christ’s atonement for us, the forgiveness of our sins. John’s warning was indeed sharp. When the message of love and grace fails to touch the heart, then the Law’s message of judgment upon sin must be proclaimed. And so, John comes proclaiming a baptism of repentance, that the people would turn from their sinful ways and prepare for the arrival of The Messiah that was quickly approaching. And who heard that message but those troubled by their sins. That’s the message of our text today. Our sin has separated us from God. That’s not a message we want to hear, and neither did those to whom John was preaching to. They had an answer for everything: “We have Abraham as our father.” What does that mean? Who cares if you have Abraham as your father. The bigger question is do you recognize your sin? Are you repentant of your sin? Will claiming Abraham as your father make your sins go away? If you are sinful, then you need to hear this message. If you are repentant of your sins, then you need to hear this message. There is nothing you can do about your sins, but there is someone who can, and that someone is on His way. He is on His way to the manger to be born. He is on His way to Jerusalem to stand before Pilate to be judged. He is on His way to Golgotha to lay down His life for your sinful life. He’s going to give you all that He is so you may be declared righteous and holy before God. And in doing so, He is going to take all your sins upon Himself so that He may be judged sinful and die, all that you may live. Even with all of that, that’s not enough for Jesus. He promises to come to you in His holy Word, a word that declares you forgiven for His sake. He comes to you in water so that God’s name may be placed upon you, marking you as God’s beloved and redeemed child. He comes to you in bread and wine, that you may feast upon His body and blood and receive His forgiveness, that you may be strengthened until life everlasting in heaven is yours. All of this is at the heart of John the Baptist’s message. The message is not his own, but it is God’s message of a promise made a long time ago. John’s presence is to prepare for Christ’s arrival as the Messiah, the promised Savior of long ago. And with that message of John, we look not to ourselves but to only-begotten Son of God, as He comes in a manger, as He comes in Word and Sacrament…as He comes to forgive us our sins and lead us unto Himself. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 1

Text: Luke 19:28-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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