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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A-6 Advent 3 (Mt 11.2-15)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A-4 Advent 2 (Mt 3.1-12)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent 1 – “He’s Coming!” (Matthew 21:1-11)

A-1 Advent 1 (LHP) (Mt 21.1-11)

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

One of my favorite Christmas movies to watch is the movie “Elf.” When Buddy the Elf finds out that Santa is coming to the department store, he exclaims, “Santa’s coming! I know him! I know him!” That seems to the focus right now, isn’t it? It’s all about Santa coming. But the season of Advent isn’t about the coming of Santa Claus; it’s about preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ.

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 prophet Zechariah, “Behold, your king is coming to you.”

In these weeks leading up to Christmas, the world will offer us, with a vigor that is unique to this season, what we should be doing between Black Friday and December 25: shop!  New toys for both young and old will be dangled before our eyes, each one promising to make us better or happier. That’s the focus of the world in this season of Advent – the coming of great deals and bargains for Christmas gifts. But there is more to the season of Advent than deals and bargains. Advent is a season of preparing. We prepare for the remembrance of the first coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we hear that our King is coming, this message is the call to prepare by opening our hearts to His grace. We need not fear, for He comes in meekness and lowliness. But He comes as King, mighty to save, full of grace and truth.

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, Jerusalem was poised for the celebration of the Passover. This annual remembrance of God’s act of deliverance of His children from Egypt would have swelled the streets of Jerusalem with holiday crowds. The day of the slaughter of the Passover lambs was fast approaching. People were anticipating the delight of being with family for the Passover feast. But when King Jesus comes into Jerusalem, it interrupts the sort of celebration people are expecting.

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

When Christ does make His appearance in this earthly life, it isn’t with great pomp and circumstance. He is born to lowly parents in very circumstances. It should be no surprise that when Christ enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He does so in a very unexpected way. He doesn’t enter with trumpets blaring behind a large processional. Rather, He comes riding on a donkey. This is done also to fulfill what the prophet wrote: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” You see, whatever perception the people had of the Messiah and what He would look like and what He would do, Zechariah puts them to rest several hundreds year before the Messiah first graces us with His presence. He comes into Jerusalem, the city of the temple – the place of sacrifice – to suffer and to die as God’s ultimate Passover Lamb. His sacrifice interrupts the monotonous routines of sin and death. Here is a King like no other, for this King comes not in royal splendor or with military might, but in the humility of the Servant who embraces the cross for you.

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

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

Later on this month, we will remember how the Kingdom of God came to a virgin named Mary as the Son of God took on human flesh in her womb. We will remember how the Son of God came as a baby in a manger. This is God’s Kingdom coming to restore peace. Today’s Gospel reminds us that the Son of God took on human flesh in Mary’s womb in order to come to Jerusalem and die. His death is the way He makes it possible for the Kingdom of God to come in peace.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.