4th Sunday of Advent
2 Kings 20:12-19

Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom us the captive Israel! Amen. In the name of Jesus, who humbled himself to save us, dear friends in Christ,

How many of you here today have bought or made gifts for at least one other person for Christmas? How many of you anticipate (whether you want to or not) receiving at least one gift from someone this Christmas? How many of you understand why you’re giving or receiving gifts at Christmas time? What’s the history behind giving gifts? To a secular person who doesn’t believe God’s Word, gift giving at Christmastime supposedly originated with a pagan Roman festival called Saturnalia that was celebrated at the end of December. People would party, become intoxicated, and exchange cheap gifts as a means to secure a prosperous new year. A secular person will claim that Christians hijacked this festival and Christianized it and adopted the act of gift giving so people wouldn’t become upset. As a Christian, however, you can trace gift giving back further than that to the time of the Magi who came with gifts to honor Jesus. But even more importantly at Christmastime we may exchange gifts as a reminder to each other of the greatest gift of all: our Savior.

Well, long before the Roman festival of Saturnalia, before the Magi, even before Jesus’ birth, we’re told here about Hezekiah who received many, many gifts in his life. We’re continuing in our preparation for Christmas with one final week: Self-deprecate.  Our text probably happened actually before the Assyrian’s had invaded Judah and were about to lay siege to Jerusalem (which we looked at last week). Some messengers from Babylon came to Judah to give a gift to Hezekiah. Why would the king of Babylon do this? Well, Babylon is struggling under their enemy, the ruthless Assyrian kingdom. And when the king of Babylon hears that Hezekiah isn’t going to cater to Assyria- this is good news. Any rebellion against Assyria will lighten the pressure that he feels against him from Assyria. So sending messengers was kind of his way to encourage this little insignificant kinglet Hezekiah without making any formal agreement, alliance or commitment.

But what does this mean from Hezekiah’s point of view? This is huge! This is an opportunity that doesn’t come around every day! Little Judah is being favored by the Babylonians! He’s thrilled! If he can curry the favor of the Babylonians, they can be a very useful ally against Assyria or any other major threat. But he’s forgetting about who’s an infinitely greater ally than any nation: God.

So these messengers from Babylon come. Hezekiah has a prime opportunity here. He has right before him a ready made opportunity to glorify God, magnify God’s greatness and glory and grace to these pagan Babylonians. But what does he do? That’s not what he does. Instead he succumbs to glorifying himself and trying to prove to the Babylonians what a worthy partner he could be if they wanted to team up together. And so we get this picture of Hezekiah scuttling and scurrying around showing off his little treasures and the Babylonians are giving their polite approving nod when really they had seen treasures way greater, way bigger in their own nation. It’d be like me trying to show off the glory of my bank account or possessions to millionaire who would politely nod and say, “Very nice.”

Well, what happens next? Isaiah the prophet shows up. Notice that Hezekiah didn’t call upon Isaiah, invite him, summon him. Isaiah just shows up. That must have been somewhat disconcerting to the kings of Israel. At any moment a prophet from God might just show up to call you to account and rebuke you for some sin in the Lord’s name. (How would you like to have your pastor just all of a sudden show up on your doorstep after you commit some sin? J) Isaiah questions Hezekiah: what did those men say? Where did they come from? What did you show them? And how does Hezekiah respond? He knows that he can’t get out of this so all he can do is try to make it look like he was being hospitable. And you can almost sense some defiance from Hezekiah: “They saw everything in my palace…there is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.”

Then Isaiah announces the sad news that one day all the treasure is going to be hauled off to Babylon and Hezekiah’s own descendants are going to be servants to another foreign king.

Hezekiah had a prime opportunity to glorify God, but he didn’t. Instead he was prideful and tried to glorify himself. He wanted to look good to other people. He treasured the gifts and ignored the Giver. Do we do that? Does God give us prime opportunities to glorify him but we take the opportunity to try to glorify ourselves? Do we take credit for what we’ve achieved in life, what we have in life, where we’ve come in life, or does the glory go to the Lord?

Now there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the things you have, enjoying the talents you have, enjoying your life achievements. Provided one thing: provided you acknowledge who has given them all to you, who they all really come from and that’s the Lord. A proud person will take credit for anything they achieve or get in life, a humble person will see it all as a gift from God. Pride is claiming to be the author of that which is really a gift.

But perhaps there’s a more subtle and deeper way that pride infects us. It’s the entire way that you view life. You can either view your life as worse than you deserve or you can view life as better than you deserve. You can go through life with this deep sense of owedness. You can go through life thinking that you deserve it, you’re owed everything. But here’s what will happen: you’ll be miserable. Because either when good things happen to you- you’ll react by saying, “It’s about time, this should have happened sooner.” You won’t even be able to enjoy good times. Or, when bad things happen to you, you’ll react by saying, “I don’t deserve this, this shouldn’t be happening to me, what did I do to deserve this?”

But you know what that is? At the heart that’s exactly the problem Hezekiah had- it’s pride. It’s like sitting around the Christmas tree expecting to get presents, expecting to get certain presents, and being disappointed with your gifts. But, you see, for this whole gift giving thing to work, a gift, by it’s very nature is undeserved, unearned, a surprise.

The reality is, your whole life is a gift. Hezekiah’s life, your life, my life is way, way, way better than what we deserve. What do we deserve? We deserve God’s wrath, His abandonment, we deserve eternal pain and suffering, we deserve punishment for our sins, we deserve eternal death in hell. But that’s not what any of us get! We get a life way, way, way better than what we deserve and way more!

Hezekiah did a foolish, prideful, arrogant thing here. But that’s not to negate the fact that Hezekiah was a good and godly king. But he wasn’t The King. We need someone better than Hezekiah. We need someone who has perfect humility, who did not come to be served but to serve and give his life up as a ransom for many, we need a King who had perfect trust in God and perfectly glorified God. And that’s exactly the gift that God has given to each of us in that tiny baby placed in the manger. In that baby Jesus is the ultimate gift- God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son. With the gift of Jesus, you have life, you have peace, you have joy, you have eternity, you have heaven!

And if that’s all that God gifted us, we’d have more than enough reasons to praise and glorify him for all eternity. But that’s not it! “If God did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Everything you have in life is way better than you deserve, everything you have in life- your spouse, your children, your job, your wealth, your health, your stuff- it’s all a gracious gift from God. It’s all dessert! My wife likes to cook and she’s good at it and I like to eat. But there are times, like on my birthday, where she made this breakfast dessert that my mom used to make growing up- I had no idea that she had made and she surprised me with it- it was great. But that’s exactly what everything you have in life is- it’s all dessert, it’s all a surprise, it’s all undeserved.

Because of that baby in the manger all of life is a gift. It’s all a gift! It’s all mercy! It’s all a surprise! It’s all dessert! And that’s what it means to self-deprecate, to be a gospel humble person: to see everything as a gift from God and glorify Him for it. Because of that baby in a manger you have the greatest gift of all: forgiveness, eternal life – everything else is icing on the cake, frosting, dessert, a gift. So prepare this final week of Advent by being humble, seeing your whole life as a gift. Amen.


3rd Sunday of Advent
2 Chronicles 32;1-9, 16-21

Come, oh come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

Imagine that you were diagnosed with a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine – a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No! It would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. What about prayer? How important is prayer to your daily routine? Is it something that you do once in a while? Is it what you do when you happen to find the time? Is it something that you turn to only when you’re desperate and hopeless – like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life when he’s about to end his life by jumping over the bridge? Is prayer that thing you do that is like children sitting on Santa Claus’s lap spelling out their wish list of all the things they want? What is prayer? How do you view prayer?

We are continuing our advent preparation by preparing with a king, the Old Testament king Hezekiah, for The King, King Jesus. Today we’re learning with Hezekiah how to “supplicate.” In other words, how to pray. And we’re going to specifically focus on three things: The balance of prayer, the basis and objective of prayer, and the power of prayer.

First, the balance of prayer. You notice the context of this event. “After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib, king of Assyria came and invaded Judah.” Remember how faithful Hezekiah was? He returned the people back to worshipping the true God, reopened the temple of the Lord and rededicated it, last week we looked at how he faithfully celebrated the great Passover of the Lord. After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, now he faced the powerful and ruthless king of Assyria. Sennacherib’s father Sargon was the Assyrian king who finished off the northern kingdom of Israel. Apparently after Sargon died and Sennacherib took over many of the nations around Judah chose to rebel to gain their freedom so Sennacherib came with his vast army to put them in their place. In fact, the Hebrew word for Assyrian could be translated “horde.”

Just the word of the Assyrians coming was enough to frighten any king. The Assyrians were known for their inhumane cruelty and bloodshed. And now they were capturing city after city and heading straight for Jerusalem. Where is God in all of this? Why is He permitting this? After all Hezekiah had so faithfully done doesn’t he deserve something from God? Perhaps you’ve had those same kinds of questions when one thing after another just piles up on you in life. Luther says that it’s precisely when God seems hidden that people have the greatest opportunity to exercise their faith in His promises.

So, what does Hezekiah do? He knows he is no match for the Assyrian horde, so he prepares by strengthening his defenses. He stopped up all the springs outside the city so the Assyrians would have trouble getting water, he also dug a channel underneath Jerusalem so they would have water from the Gihon spring, he repaired the wall, built another wall, and had a bunch of weapons and shields made as well as appointed military officers.

So, what’s the proper response to trouble or challenge? Prayer or work? When you’re facing a crisis- what should you do? Should you sit on your hands, pray, and trust that God is going to deliver you? Or do you get busy and do everything you can to fix the problem? Some people are more pragmatist and some are more idealist. The pragmatist insists on getting busy and doing something in the face of a challenge. The idealist insists on simply trusting God and praying. The idealist will look at the pragmatist and say, “You have no faith! Just trust in God!” And the pragmatist will look at the idealist and say, “You’re tempting God!” The pragmatist can easily think that it’s his actions that save him and the idealist can easily become carelessly confident and become lazy.

Hezekiah demonstrates the balance of prayer. Both prayer and work go together. Trust in God and using the means, resources, and abilities He’s given me, go together. Hezekiah both prays and gets to work, but all the while he depends on the Lord’s mighty power to deliver him. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”

That leads to our second point: the basis and objective of prayer. Over the years there have been many military commanders or leaders who have tried to fire up and encourage their troops. Maybe they’ll direct their troops to the glories they will win or to their nationality, like, ‘We’re Americans!’ or to their noble cause, like freedom and liberty. But the basis for Hezekiah’s trust and prayer is the might and strength of the Lord. And his objective is not personal glory, is not a larger kingdom, is not fame, his objective is that “all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.” His objective is God’s glory and His honor.

Sennacherib had sent his messengers to mock, ridicule, and insult the Lord, claiming that the Lord would not be able to help the people of Judah. He meant to crush their spirits, to frighten and terrify them so they would just give up. But Hezekiah bases his prayer and his trust on the Lord’s power and for the Lord’s glory. For no matter how bloodthirsty and terrifying the Assyrians were all they had was the arm of flesh, “but with us is the lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”

I think we all want to pray more and to go deeper in our prayers. We know that a natural outgrowth of reading, studying, learning, meditating on the Lord’s Word and receive the sacraments is a desire to pray. But someone once said that nothing really helps us go deeper in our prayers than simply being hopeless and desperate on our own. The Assyrians had over run every city and were now about to take Jerusalem. Hezekiah probably felt like he was in a pool with the water up to the neck- only the Lord could rescue him from this situation.

We too face many things in life. What Assyrian army is laying siege to your life? What is it that is leading you to be hopeless and desperate on your own? What is it that is stealing away your joy and gladness this Advent season? Is a fear for an uncertain future? Is it some kind of sickness or illness or simply growing old? Is it the terror of loneliness or thinking about spending the holidays with a loved one not present who has passed away?  Is it the threat of Satan’s continuing onslaughts of temptations or your own sinful flesh? What Assyrian army is laying siege to your life and sapping your joy in life, your strength, and making you feel desperate?

With Hezekiah prepare for battle by first turning to the Lord. Why so? With them is only the arm of flesh, but with you is the Lord your God to help you and to fight your battles. Your true King, King Jesus, has come. He has taken everything that condemns you, everything that threatens your eternal life, all your sin upon Himself and won the victory with his death on the cross and His resurrection! He has trampled every enemy underfoot and depending on his strength you win the battle over everything that threatens you. So pray, based on the Lord’s unlimited strength and for His glory.

And how do you know? As you face fears, concerns, worries, troubles this Christmas season, how do you know that the Lord is with you? How do you know that He cares that much about you? How do you know He will deliver you? The Lord has given you the sign: The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – God with us. God Himself became a human being in order to rescue you. So, you live in the city of God and even though the entire world is exploding in chaos around you, you can always enjoy perfect peace- for the Lord is with you, He has rescued you and He will rescue you.

And finally, the power of prayer. Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, trusted in Him and you know what the Lord did? The Lord sent an angel and annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king – 185,000 soldiers died. Sennacherib withdrew in disgrace. Judah was delivered and could live in peace. What is the Lord able to do? Anything. The Lord, the ruler of the universe, takes our prayers into account, chooses to work through our prayers in His master governing of the universe to accomplish His will. That’s power! Luther commented that God’s command and the prayers of His people are the two pillars which support the world. God uses your prayers. If it wasn’t for Christians and their prayers the world would have ceased to exist long ago. Prayers are powerful and God always answers prayers in the best way, he will always answer your prayers in the way that you would have asked if you knew everything He knew. And how do you know that? We look to a different battle, a battle fought in a garden, a battle that involved sweat like drops of blood where God’s own Son pleaded to not drink the cup of God’s wrath for all sins, but only as God wills it and God said no. Since Jesus willingly faced the worst battle ever for you and me, we know God loves us dearly, we know that God will use His power to help us, we know that the prayers of God’s people are powerful and effective.

So this Advent season- supplicate. Pray- balancing trust in God with faithful work, basing your prayer on the incredible strength of God and that he might answer your prayer in a way that gives God glory, and trust in the incredible power of prayer.


1st Sunday of Advent
2 Chronicles 28-29

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, We use words like that all the time, right? Well, what does it mean when we add those two little letters “re” to the front or a word? “re” is a prefix that often indicates that we’re doing something again. So, we have a mechanic “repair” our car- that is, he takes what was broken and he fixes and makes it work again. We take an old piece of furniture to a wood worker to “restores” our furniture – that is, he takes something old and makes it look new again or usable again. If you’re browsing the internet and the webpage you’re on has become outdated or new content has been uploaded, you can press the “refresh” or “reload” button to load the webpage again. We even occasionally have a husband and wife who will “renew” their vows to one another. It doesn’t have to be, but often a renewal of the vows comes after something has broken the relationship or many years have passed that commitment has become somewhat dulled over time and the husband and wife “renew” or “refresh” their promises to one another, recommitting themselves to one another again. We use these “re” words all the time, don’t we?

Well, our text this morning describes a lot of “redoing” – rededicating, re-consecrating, reestablishing – the religious life of the Israelites. But we first need to ask, “Why?” Why did King Hezekiah have to do this?

King Hezekiah ruled about from about 715 BC to 686 BC. He took over being king of Judah after his father, Ahaz died. Remember that about 930 BC is when the kingdom of Israel was divided into two kingdoms after the spiritual rebellion that happened during the reign of king Solomon. So, after that there were two kingdoms – one in the north and one in south. The southern kingdom, also called Judah, continued to carry the line of the promised Savior. The northern kingdom when into a steep spiritual spiral that ended in 722 BC when the Assyrians invaded, demolished, and destroyed it. Unfortunately, the kingdom of Judah was in just about as bad a shape spiritually as the northern kingdom. Ahaz was a terrible king.

What did he do? What are we told?  He did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord.  “He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.”  So what did the Lord do? The Lord allowed the Arameans to defeat Judah and inflict heavy losses on them. And how did Ahaz respond? “In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord. He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus, who had defeated him; for he though, ‘Since the gods of the kings of Aram have helped them, I will sacrifice to them so they will help me.’ But they were his downfall…Ahaz gathered together the furnishings from the temple of God and took them away. He shut the doors of the Lord’s temple and set up altars at every street corner in Jerusalem. In every town in Judah he built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods.” God summarized his rule: “He had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord.”  How might you have felt if you were an Israelite at the time of King Ahaz?  “Can it get any worse than this???”

And then Ahaz, the Israelite king who did all the evil and wickedness we just talked about, died.  His son, Hezekiah, took over and “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.”  Immediately, he re-opened the doors of the temple and repaired them.  He re-consecrated the priests and the Levites (those responsible for leading worship).  He had the priests re-consecrate the whole temple and its furnishings.  He resumed temple worship with blood sacrifices for sin.  He reassembled the people for worship and praise to the true God.  He restored the bringing of sacrifices and offerings.  The people of Judah responded with abundant offerings and sacrifices.  And then at the end of the account of all these reforms we read: “So the service of the temple of the Lord was reestablished. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people, because it was done so quickly.” (2 Chronicles 29:35-36). 

Things got pretty bad in Israel, but are things much different today?  Is there godlessness in the world around us?  We see beautiful blessings of the Lord … murdered in their mothers’ wombs.  Drug deals, murders, theft, and corruption are constantly on the news.  And it seems like the sound of police sirens never stops.  How the world continues to wander away from God!

Yet, before we shake our heads at the Israelites or the world around us we need to take a look at our own lives.  What horror we would feel if all our thoughts for just one day were read aloud for everyone to hear.  What terror ought to loom inside of us when we consider our own altars to the idols of greed, selfishness, and jealousy.  What guilt weighs us down from our many past failures and sins!  How often we have shut the doors of God’s temple inside of us!  How unfaithful we’ve been in our devotion to God and His Word!  How far have we fallen?  Each of us has to ask, “Can it get any worse than this?”  Are we ready for the coming of the King?

The Israelites at the time of Hezekiah weren’t ready for the Lord’s first coming.  Many Israelites had completely rejected the Lord.  They had forsaken God, turned their backs on God, and refused to worship Him.  But what did God do?  He didn’t wipe them off the face of the earth, He didn’t completely annihilate them for their unfaithfulness, and He didn’t even leave them to sit in the stench of their sin.  Instead, in great love God gave the Israelites another day of His grace, another opportunity to rededicate themselves to Him.  And even more than that… God accepted their rededication!

And look at what we have standing before us today…yet another day of God’s grace, another day when God gives us the opportunity to rededicate our lives to Him.  God did not have to accept the Israelite’s rededication, but He did.  The same is true for us, we have no right or reason on our own to be accepted by the Lord, but He has accepted you.  In amazing love God took you where you are, lost in sin every day, and accepted you! Before you were even born, Jesus lived a perfect life for you.  Before you were born Jesus died to pay for each of your sins.  Before you were born Jesus gave you the victory of His resurrection!

God chose you to be His own child and now He gives you another opportunity, another day of grace to be His child, so rededicate!  This is what Advent is all about. Our Savior is coming, are we ready? Take this day of God’s grace and rededicate your life to Him!  Take the opportunity to recommit to living in His Word.  Take the opportunity to replace the sinful habits in your life with godly ones.  Take this opportunity to be reminded who you are, God’s loved child!

The Israelites took the opportunity under King Hezekiah and rededicated their lives back to the Lord.  They consecrated themselves for the Lord’s service, they cleansed the temple of the Lord, and they started worshipping the Lord again.  Very importantly, they also all began to bring offerings and blood sacrifices to the Lord.  With these offerings and sacrifices they were again reminded of the coming Savior.  How blood needed to be shed for the forgiveness of sin, how a sacrifice would bring about the forgiveness of sins, and how it would be a whole and complete sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.  The people responded with their offerings with such generosity and such abundance that the priests could not handle it all by themselves.  And then “Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people.”  Their rededication caused all of them to rejoice!

And you know what?  Rededication does the same for you and for me, too.   It causes us to rejoice, to have joy!  As I prepare for the King and remove the idols of greed and selfishness in my life, I lean more fully on the Lord.  Trust in the Lord replaces anxiousness, security replaces uncertainty, and prayer replaces worry.  As I prepare for the King and am cleansed from the guilt of my past sins, thankfulness replaces regret, kindness replaces anger, and joy replaces sadness.  What joy fills my life as I rededicate my life for the coming King!

And it doesn’t even stop there.  Rejoice!  The more you prepare the more clearly you see God’s love for you.  As you rededicate your life, the more time you’ll want to spend in the Word, and the more time you spend in your devotion to God’s Word the more clearly you’ll see the love of God your Father.  The more clearly you see the love of God, the more you’ll appreciate the first coming of your Savior Jesus!

But are we on our own?  It’s NOT completely up to us to rededicate our lives for the King! Rejoice with the Israelites at what GOD brings about for his people!  Rejoice, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:13).  It is God who works in us through His Word to identify sin in our lives.  It is God who works in us through His Word to convince us that Jesus won forgiveness for all of our sins.  It is God who works in us to give us the strength to reject sin and live the life He wants us to live.

Finally, brothers and sisters, rededicate your lives to the Lord!  Why?  Because that baby in the manger came for YOU!  God has dedicated Himself to YOU in the most wonderful and profound way, He became one of us.  The almighty God was born into this world as YOUR brother.  Jesus dedicated Himself totally to YOU by living His life for you, by dying your death for you, and by rising from the dead so eternal victory is completely yours.  Yes, rededicate!  Because God has already completely dedicated Himself to you!  Amen.