Certainty In The Middle Of The Unknown



Matthew 6:25-34, New International Version
Do Not Worry

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

All Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

To Depart in Peace

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1st Sunday after Christmas
Luke 2:25-40

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those one whom God’s favor rests! In the name of Jesus, our newborn Savior, dear friends in Christ, are you making any New Year’s Resolutions for 2018? Newsweek recently published an article of 15 top ideas to help you in setting goals for 2018, here they are: eat more fish, make meaningful connections, take a warm bath, go to bed early, volunteer, make your own meals, give up soda, hit the gym, don’t eat after 9 pm, pick up a book, eat salad once a week, spend more time outside, get a coloring book, use social media less, and save for the future. A new year presents us with the opportunity to not only reflect on the past year, but to look forward into the next year. So, are you setting any goals or making any resolutions for 2018? Almost every popular list of resolutions people have for a new year are exclusively to do with a person’s outward life. But, as Christians, we know that there is something much more satisfying, much more rewarding, much more lasting than making some outward changes to our lives. Are there any inward or spiritual resolutions that you will be making this coming year?

We obviously don’t know what lies ahead in 2018. Will there be a sudden change to our lives? Will we face some major expense? Will there be some big thing that will happen on the world scale? Will we have some major health issue? Will a close loved one pass away? Will this be the year that we pass away? While we don’t know what will happen in 2018, wouldn’t it be nice to have to peace of Simeon and the joy of Anna? Well, the good news is that because of God’s resolution about us we can have the same peace and the same joy.

Joseph and Mary have taken the baby Jesus to the temple. And while they are there a man named Simeon came up to them. We’re told that Simeon was righteous and devout. The word “righteous” indicates that he was a true believer in the promised Savior. Through faith in the coming Savior God credited him with the righteousness that Jesus came to win. He was also “devout.” That indicates that his faith was evident in his life. He wasn’t just a “religious” person, he honestly lived to serve God giving thanks for the salvation that God had come to win for him.

There was something special about Simeon. It had been revealed to Him by God the Holy Spirit that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah. On one particular day, moved by the Holy Spirit, he entered the temple courts and went up to Joseph and Mary and took the baby Jesus into his arms and praised God with the words of what has come to be called the “Nunc Dimittis” which is Latin for the first words in Latin, “Now you depart.” “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Now, we often assume that Simeon was a very old man and what he is saying here is that he can now die because he has seen Jesus. But we’re not told that specifically. It could be. But that’s not really the focus of his song of praise. For many centuries the Christian church has placed this song of Simeon right after people have received the Lord’s Supper. And that’s a very fitting place. The word translated “dismiss” has the basic meaning of “set free” or “release.” It could be used to set a prisoner free or to a slave being given freedom from his master. Simeon was set free from this intense yearning and waiting to see the Savior from this special promise that the Holy Spirit had given him. Now with the child Jesus in his arms he has seen the salvation that God brought into the world and that spoke peace to his heart.

The same is true for us.  Every time we receive the Lord’s Supper we are receiving in a miraculous way the very same body and blood of this Christ-child, the same body and blood that was nailed to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. And what is our response to that? We may go in peace knowing that our sins, personally, have been forgiven. We have seen our salvation.

Joseph and Mary marveled at what Simeon said about their little child. But then he turned to Mary and said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The purpose of a sign is to tell or reveal something. Jesus has come to reveal God’s grace and salvation for all people. The purpose is fulfilled when people believe and receive Jesus as their Savior. They rise from sin, guilt, death and hell to life, faith, becoming children of God, and heirs of eternal salvation. But he will also cause the falling of many. There are only two reactions to Jesus. He is really the great divider in all humanity. Either you believe in him or you don’t believe in him. Unfortunately many don’t believe in him, many reject him, many don’t want Jesus to be their Savior. Because of their rejection many will face the ultimate falling- spiritual death now and eternal death hereafter. And a sword will pierce Mary’s soul too. Did she remember this as she stood at the foot of the cross watching her son go through inhuman, unbelievable, excruciating pain suffering an eternity of hells for whole mass of all humanity?

Then we hear about Anna who was very old and came up to them gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Can you picture this elderly woman excitedly going up to people telling them about the Christ-child who was born to be their Savior?

Do you have that? Do you have the peace of Simeon? Do you have the joy of Anna?

Here we are on the eve of another new year. Tonight, we will bring 2017 to a close and usher in 2018. We reflect on the joys, challenges, difficulties, struggles, experiences of 2017. We look forward to a new year. What will 2018 bring? We don’t know what lies ahead. We can make our plans, we can make our resolutions, we can anticipate, but in the end, we don’t know what the future will bring. And not knowing can lead us to fear, can lead us to worry, can lead us to anxiousness.

So, how do we have the peace of Simeon and the joy of Anna? How can we, too, say with Simeon, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace”? How can we? Because our eyes, too, have also seen our salvation. Simeon never saw Jesus perform a miracle. Simeon never heard Jesus preach a sermon. Simeon never saw the cross or the empty tomb. But Simeon saw through the eyes of faith that this child was God’s answer. This child came in order to make all things right. This child came to undo what sin had broken. This child came in order to crush the serpent’s head. This child came to win the forgiveness of sins. And knowing that, Simeon could depart in peace. He knew that God had fulfilled His promise to send the deliverer, the rescuer, the redeemer, who would take care of everything that made death terrible. He knew that the punishment for his sin was upon the Messiah and that by the Messiah’s wounds he was healed. He knew that though his sin was as scarlet, because of this Christ-child they would be as white as snow. He knew that death was now the entrance to life eternal. What did he have? Peace.

And you do too. No, we don’t know what lies ahead. We make our plans, but we don’t know how or if they will succeed. We often are left with many questions in this life that is so affected by sin. But through the eyes of faith, we too, have seen our salvation. This baby, this Christ-child, came in order to provide the ultimate answer. He came in order to make us right with God, forgiving our sins and winning eternal life for us. Knowing that we have such a God who would go to such lengths in order to save us really makes our whole lives one long joyful Christmas celebration in which the best present of all will be opened last of all when at last the Lord allows us to depart in peace. Amen.

The Word Became Flesh

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Christmas Day
John 1:14

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, we’ve spent a lot of time this morning reviewing the wondrous history of God’s plan of salvation from the promises in the OT to the fulfillment in the NT. Our final lesson is from the gospel of John. John was written a considerable time after the other gospels were already widespread. So, instead of focusing on the glorious events of Christmas, the Holy Spirit through the apostle John focuses us on the meaning of Christmas. And what I want to do briefly this morning is walk through just one verse, John 1:14: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We’re going to focus on three parts of that verse: The Word, became flesh, and dwelt among us.

First the Word. How do you get to know someone? Well, I suppose there are a couple of ways. You can watch that person from a distance. You can sit at the mall or in Walmart and watch people and you’ll discover some things about them by watching the way they act. But you won’t really get to know them, will you? How do you find out about them? How do you find out where they are from, how do you find out about their family, what their interests, passions, likes, dislikes are? You ask them. The clearest way to get to know someone is through talking with them. To really get to know someone you talk to them. A person’s word is the clearest way we can get to know a person.

Here Jesus is called the “Word.” What do words do? Words communicate. You can know some things about God by inferring them from His creation, right? You can see He’s powerful, He’s wise, He’s creative. But God’s Word reveals to us clearly who God is. And if we want to know what God is like, to whom do we look? We look to Jesus. Jesus is the window into God. And what do we find out? We find out that at the center of this universe is God, and at the center of God is a love so deep that caused God to come into this world in order to rescue humans like you and me so that we might live forever with Him! What grace! Jesus, the Word, reveals the heart of God.

Second, the Word BECAME FLESH. There’s two things this tells us. God became flesh. First, flesh is vulnerable. Part of the reason God took on flesh was so that he could die. The book of Hebrews says that “he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death.” Jesus became human so he could suffer our punishment of death in our place! What grace! But second, he became flesh because we are also human. One of the names for Jesus is “Wonderful Counselor.” You see, the best counselors are those who have gone through what you’re going through and have come out on the other side. They can relate to you and help you. We have a God who knows exactly what it is like to be human because he took on human flesh. He knows hunger, thirst, loneliness, grief, betrayal, pain, rejection. Are you broke? So was he. Are you lonely? So was he. Are you facing death? So did he. You can go to him. He’s the wonderful counselor. Go to him.

Finally, the Word became flesh and MADE HIS DWELLING AMONG US. The word used here isn’t the normal word for “live” or “dwell” it’s actually “tented” or “tabernacled” among us. It brings to mind the OT tabernacle. That was that tent that they had to keep moving around. It was the place where God’s glory lived. It was right with the Israelites…but they couldn’t go in there. They couldn’t go into the Holy of holies and live. The only way that they could go into the Most Holy Place was through the blood of a sacrifice. What Jesus came into the world to do was to offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice to end all sacrifices, by His blood shed on the cross we have access to God forever and will enjoy God’s presence forever in heaven.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. What a glorious truth- The Word – Jesus shows us what’s in the very heart of God, He became flesh – you can go to him with whatever ails you, He has the medicine, and he dwelled among us so that we might dwell with him forever. What grace! Amen.

The Reactions of Christmas

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Christmas Eve Sermonettes
Luke 2:6-19

A blessed Christmas to you! What’s your reaction to Christmas? What’s your reaction to the news of Jesus’ birth? What’s your reaction to the baby born in Bethlehem and placed in a manger? Tonight in our worship we’re going to focus on 4 different reactions to Christmas and see how they apply to our reaction to Christmas.

Rejected – Luke 2:6-7

Bethlehem wasn’t a very big city. In fact, it wasn’t much more than a town or a village. But now, thanks to Caesar Augustus, all the descendants of David had to make their way there in order to register for this census. If you were a person of means or were wealthy enough or fortunate enough you may have been able to secure your own guest room or private quarters somewhere. But most, however, probably had to share some sort of communal sleeping area with many other people. But even that’s no place to have a baby. The impression God gives us here is of Joseph and Mary going around trying to find a place to stay and over and over again being turned down- No room in the inn, no guest room, no vacancy.

So where do they end up going? A stable. A place for animals. And it’s there where Jesus is born. He’s laid in a manger, a small feeding trough, and even that has to be borrowed from animals. But who is this? Who is this little baby? Is this not the Lord? Is this not the Almighty God taking on human flesh? Is this not the one who “fills heaven and earth”? Is this not the one before whom every knee should bow in heaven and earth?

This is so reverse than how it should be, isn’t it? To a world that He made for himself, yet who defies Him with sins, rejects him with unbelief and insults him with indifference, HE should reject us, cast us away, have no room in heaven for us. But that’s not our God. Our God comes so low, so frail, so humbly, that his human creatures can refuse him room. Why so? Because God came not to destroy and reject us, but to save us. He came to lay aside His glory for a time to rescue us. He came not to frighten us with His power and majesty and might, but so small, so gentle, so lowly to woo us, to win us, to draw us to Himself with his amazing compassion, awesome grace, and forgiving love.

Don’t reject him, don’t shut him out of your heart, your life. “Let ev’ry heart prepare him room.” Why so? Because he came to prepare the best room for you. “In my Father’s house are many rooms, I’m going there to prepare a place for you.” He came to live without a room so you might have a room in heaven forever! Amen.

Terrified – Luke 2:8-12

Have you ever felt “gripped with fear”?  Have you felt instant terror? Perhaps startled at some sounds in the night. Perhaps something surprised you suddenly. Perhaps someone or something jumped around the corner at you or you came within a hair’s width from death.

Well, try to imagine what it must have been like to be one of those shepherds on the night Jesus was born. There they were, doing their work, minding their own business, on a calm, still, quiet night…when all of a sudden, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them”! And they were…terrified! Literally, the Greek says that they “Feared fear, GREAT!”  Why did they react that way? Was it because they had been startled? Was it fear of the unknown? Perhaps, but mostly, it was the fear that sinners always feel when they are confronted by the sheer blinding holiness of God. Put yourself in their shoes, how would you have reacted? As that perfection of God surrounded you, what would have seen about yourself?

Perhaps there’s all kinds of things that cause us to be afraid. The world lives in constant fear of another war, another riot, another uprising. What will happen to your finances if the economy tanks? And then there’s a thousand little fears, the cares and anxieties that creep into daily life, how often we say, “I am afraid that…” But the greatest fear is what we see here. Confronted with the holiness and perfection of God, every person is gripped with fear. Why so? It began in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve hid from God, why? “I was afraid, so I hid.” Fear is caused by sin. And so, imagine being one of those shepherds. Confronted with the perfect holiness of God, how do you and I look? We’re sinful, shameful thoughts, disgusting words that have come out of our mouths, we can’t reach perfection in anything. And so we would see our own sinfulness so clearly and we would have reacted just like those shepherds –terrified.

Which makes what the angel said, so, so beautiful. “Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD news of GREAT joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Notice what the angel didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Oh, you’re really not that sinful or as bad as you think.” Nor, “If you would just work harder at being good, then you wouldn’t be so afraid.” “Nor, “Oh, God’s kind of like an old grandfather who just thinks it’s so cute when his kids are naughty.” Nope.

What did the angel say? In essence, “Yep, you’re just as sinful as you think you are. You deserve to go to hell just as much as you think you deserve it, probably even more. But!! God has come to save you! Come to rescue you!

That message – the message that God has come to rescue us – is finally the ONLY message which can really drive fear and doubt out of our hearts and minds. That message – that Jesus has come and has paid for our sins in full – is the only message that can bring peace to our lives of fear.  That baby born in Bethlehem is the Savior or your past. No atoned for sin can rise to frighten you-He paid for them all. He brings peace to your soul through the forgiveness of your sins. Joy replaces fear. That baby is the Savior of your present. All power is His. He rules all. Joy to the world the Savior reigns. He rules your whole life! And that baby is the Savior of your future. He is right now preparing a place for you in the mansions of heaven. Even death has lost its sting, grave its victory. Even in the face of death we too can depart in peace for our eyes have seen our salvation.

So what is it that fills you with fear this Christmas? Listen to the angel, see your God come to save you, and do not be afraid. Amen.

Glorify – Luke 2:13-18

I’ve broken quite a few buckets and boxes in my life. Want to know why? Because something will just be out of reach, I’ll need to stand on something, and instead of getting a step stool I’ll climb on whatever is available like a bucket or a box, but that’s not what that bucket or box was made for and I’ll end up crushing it under my weight. That ever happen to you?

What’s interesting is that this word “glory” in the Hebrew language has the connotation of “weight” to it, putting weight in something. We give glory, fame, recognition to things that can “carry the weight” so to speak. We give glory to sports teams who win, they could handle the weight, if you will. And so, in a way, every time you step on something to hold you, to hold your weight, in a way you’re giving glory to that object.

Here the angels are giving glory to God in the highest. What does that mean? They are ascribing all “weight” in God. He can handle the weight of always keeping His Word. He can handle the weight of all things with his infinite power. And He has the weight of all love because in His grace he came to save people.

But often we put our weight in the wrong things. We glorify the wrong things. How often do we put our weight, our glory in the stuff of this world instead of in God? We do that when we’re more interested, more excited about, more infatuated with something in this life instead of in God. But what’s the problem? It will fail us like a cardboard box trying to be step stool.

There’s only One who will never fail. There is only one on whom you can put all weight. There is only one who deserves all glory, fame, recognition and honor. That’s God. For He is the One who loves us so much He came to save us eternally. Glorify Him. And how do you do that? Trust in Him and do what the angels and shepherds did- spread abroad the good news of what our God did to save us!

Ponder – Luke 2:19

Mary didn’t let the events of Christmas simply leave her unchanged. She remembered, she pondered, she treasured up all these things. Here’s a question for you: What are you going to do with this Christmas message?

Can you really walk away from this evening and this message unchanged? Can you really ponder the mystery of God’s grace for you in this baby born to save you and then return to a life of selfishness, bitterness, envy?

God’s love seen in Mary’s Son our Savior moves us to redirect our lives off of self and on to God and when that happens our entire life focus shifts, life isn’t about me and my wants, it’s about God and what He wants. Life is about serving this God who has come to serve and save us. And how so? Christmas is a time of giving. People are often generously giving of their money for gifts or charity, but one of your most valuable possessions is time. You can get money back, but you can’t get time back.

May this Christmas message move each of us to use our time like Mary to ponder and treasure God’s grace by hearing His Word and may we use our time not to serve ourselves but to serve those people God places in our lives. May this message that we considered again this evening move each of us to react with ponder God’s incredible grace!

Don’t Adapt to Christmas!

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Children Christmas Service
Luke 2:14

In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

Our bodies have this amazing ability to adapt, don’t they? For example, in the fall, when the temperature changes for 60s-70s to 30s-40s we’re freezing, ready for the winter coats. But then in the spring when the weather changes from -20s—30s to 30-40 degrees, we’re ready for shorts and short sleeves, right? Our bodies have a way of adapting, don’t they?

But we can also adapt in such a way that something that at one time gave us such joy and excitement over time perhaps we lose some of our amazement. You might really enjoy a certain movie the first time you watch it, but then, watching it a 2nd or 3rd time, it’s not quite the same.

Does that happen to us about the Christmas account? May it never be so! What we have before us once again this morning is a truth so simple that children can explain it to us and yet so profound and glorious that it will take eternity to fully enjoy.

This year we’ve done some special things to focus our celebration on the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. 500 years ago this year Martin Luther began what would later be called a Reformation. He sought to restore the church back on the right foundation of God’s Word. There were certain phrases that became known through the Reformation and each of them starting with the Latin word “sola.” Sola literally means “alone.”

And what we’re going to look at this morning is the truth that was rediscovered through the Reformation that we are saved, rescued, redeemed by God alone. God alone gets all the credit for our salvation. And that’s wonderful good news! For if it were up to us -even in the slightest bit- we could never have peace, we could never have certainty, we could never rest at night knowing that we are going to heaven when we die. Why not? Because if salvation was up to us, we would always wonder: “Have I done enough? Did I do it right? Have I done it well enough? Will God accept me?” We would never have peace.

But then comes Christmas. Then comes the truth of Christmas that little children can explain to you. Christmas happened because we couldn’t save ourselves. Christmas happened because it takes none other than God Himself to take on our human flesh, to become one of us, in order to rescue us. And He did.

This little baby that we’re going to hear about this morning. This baby Jesus was born for the sole purpose of dying. Jesus was born for the sole purpose of living 33 years and then going to the cross to die for the sins of the world, for your sins, and mine. This little baby was born so that after dying he might rise from the dead and defeat sin and death forever.

In short this little baby was born because we couldn’t save ourselves, but God in incredible grace, wants nothing less than for you and I to spend eternity in heaven with him! And what does knowing that bring? Exactly what the angels announced: “Peace to people on whom His favor rests.” Amen.

The Gifts That Last

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3rd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-1

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, perhaps one of the most common customs that is associated with Christmas is exchanging gifts, giving gifts. Have you bought all your Christmas gifts yet? Or are you going to do some last minute shopping? The stores will help you capitalize on getting your last-minute Christmas gifts bought. Perhaps its children who are most interested in the presents of Christmas. This last week at our chapel service here at school I asked if the children were excited about Christmas and what they were excited about most for Christmas and some of them immediately said, “Presents!” Presents bring children excitement and happiness. But what about you, what’s the best Christmas gift someone has given you? There’s a few things that make a present a good present, right? First, it has to be from someone who cares about you. Second, it has to be something that you really want. And third, there’s perhaps a bit of surprise to the gift, you weren’t expecting it. I still remember when I was 9 years old I was into playing with legos and mostly all we had were the random legos that you had to be pretty creative with, we didn’t have the fancy sets. My mom bought a set of three lego sets that I would have never dreamed they would have spent the 20-30 dollars on. Apparently, she had asked my brother what I would like and he told her. I was so surprised, excited, and happy I had a hard time falling asleep that night. But isn’t that true? In order for something to be a good present it has to come from someone who cares, be something you really want, and have a certain surprise to it. I don’t know what gifts you’re giving or receiving this Christmas, but what we’re going to focus on today are some gifts that are far more wonderful, far more surprising, far more exciting, far more lasting and incredible than any other gifts you could possible get. And they are right before us in our text this morning.

The prophet Isaiah originally wrote these words 700 years before Jesus’ birth. And His words were to serve to give comfort to the people living after him, first the people of God who would spend decades in exile in Babylon, but also for God’s people throughout the ages. And what is the comfort that he gives? He tells about the work of God’s Servant. In the New Testament Jesus directly tells us that these verses are talking about Him and what He came to do and the presents He came to give us. So, first, who are these presents from? God, the Lord.

And who are these presents for? We have a long list here: the poor- those who are so broken by life that they have no more heart to try, who feel like their lives hold nothing more than ashes,  the broken hearted – those whose hearts have been crushed, broken, wounded, the captives and the prisoners – those who are shackled and unable to release themselves and any release seems hopeless, the people who mourn and grieve and wear ashes on their heads – those who have no hope in themselves, and those who have a spirit of despair- who think that the future is only grim and bleak and depressing.

Is that you? Is that me? Yes. It’s all of us. You see, life in this sinful world has a way of reminding us again and again and again of sin and it’s horrid consequences. We are all poor and afflicted. Oh, we may have varying degrees of material wealth, but in what really matters, spiritually, we’re all paupers. God’s demand for entering heaven is a staggering price of which every single person falls short, God’s price in order to go to heaven is perfection and we all fall short of that. We’re poor. We’re also prisoners and captives. There’s a great hymn that says, “Enslaved by sin and bound in chains, beneath its dreadful tyrant sway, and doomed to ever lasting pains we wretched, guilty captives lay.” We lay captive to sin, Satan, and death. And broken-hearted. Who here hasn’t felt the pain of sin or the effects of sin in life? Who here hasn’t shed tears at pain, sickness, loss, and death?  This is us, isn’t it?

But then there’s Christmas presents like none other! “Good news!” To the poor, the lost, the helpless, God’s Messiah comes not only to announce good news but to accomplish the good news. He’s going to “bind up the broken hearted.” Those whose hearts are wounded, crushed, and bleeding – He’s going to bandage and restore. Those who are in bondage to their sin and addictions and sorrow – the Messiah comes with more power than the oppressor to bring freedom and release. He comes to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In the OT the year of Jubilee happened every 50 years where all debts were forgiven and all property had to be returned to the original owner. But here we see not “a” year of God’s favor, but “the” year of God’s favor. In other words, this “year” is going to be a continual, never ending period of God’s favor where debts are forgiven. “A day of vengeance of our God” – all of our enemies, all of the evil that has harassed us will be dealt with by God Himself. And in place of grieving, ashes, mourning, and a spirit of despair, God will give a crown of beauty, the oil of joy, a garment of praise. He clothes us with the garments of salvation and arrays us in the robe of his righteousness so that we delight greatly in the Lord, rejoice in our God, and display His splendor.

Sin and death will be defeated and all mourning one day will end forever. Why? Because God’s Servant will come. That’s exactly what we’re looking forward to at Christmas. You see, we go through life and we don’t have all the answers, we’re often confused, we’re often frustrated, we’re often devastated by our sin, crushed by the effects of sin in the world, we’re mourning and grieving. But then comes Christmas. Remember what the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David and Savior has been born for you. He is Christ the Lord.” And there it is. In the midst of our pain, in the midst of our sadness, in the midst of our slavery to sin and its effects…good news! A Savior has been born for you!

Jesus has come to crush the serpent’s head with vengeance. Jesus has come to bind up the broken hearted with the good news of sins forgiven and eternal life. Jesus has come to release us from the prison and captivity of our sins. Jesus has come to give us comfort in the midst of sadness, to put on our heads a crown of beauty instead of ashes, to clothe us with robe of His perfect righteousness and open eternal paradise in heaven for us. Those are the real gifts of Christmas.

I don’t know what gifts you are giving or receiving this year. I don’t know what the best gifts that you have received are. Many in our world are captivated by the temporary tinsel of this world and they want us to be too. But the gifts the Lord comes to bring you are not tinsel, they are gold. In Jesus you have these precious gifts. Treasure them above all! Cherish them in your heart! And share them with all! Those are the best gifts you can give and receive at Christmas. Amen.

Prepare the Way

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2nd Sunday of Advent
Mark 1:1-8

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, we spend a large percentage of our lives preparing don’t we? Whether we consciously think about it or not, we do a lot of preparing. When your growing up as a child you’re being prepared for many years to learn how to live on your own and function on your own. You go to school to be prepared for life in our society and world, to have a foundation of knowledge. Generally you have to spend time being prepared by someone else for the job or occupation that take on. You prepare to get married, you prepare to have children, you prepare for retirement. And preparations are not just in the big things of life, you prepare meals to eat, you probably did some preparations to come to church this morning, you’re probably making Christmas preparations – setting up a tree, decorating your house, maybe making Christmas treats, organizing plans for who’s coming over. We spend a lot of time preparing, don’t we?

Well, the advent season is also a time when we focus on preparations. But it’s not so much preparations that we make on the outside, but on the inside. How are you preparing for Christmas on the inside? What heart preparations are you making to be prepared for your Savior’s coming? Well, in our text this morning God tells us about how He prepared people to be ready for Jesus’ ministry through the work of John the Baptist. We’ll also see this morning how the Lord wants us to prepare for Jesus’ coming. We’ll take a look at these preparations under three points: Listen to the forerunner, Go out into the wilderness, and Anticipate the King’s arrival.

First, listen to the forerunner. Hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth God’s prophets foretold of the work that John the Baptist would do. “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way – a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” The Prophets had the privilege or preparing the people so that when the Messiah came there would be no confusion as to who he is and what he came to do. “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John the Baptist had the distinct privilege of preparing the way for the Lord, making straight paths for him. Back in these ancient times it was customary that if a king was coming to your territory you would build a highway to honor him. But normally these highways – and this still happens today – would zig-zag around monstrous roadblocks. You know, if you have a huge rock formation and you’re building a road, you’re probably just going to route the road around the rock. But notice what this road is going to be: straight. You know what that means? That means huge valleys- canyons are going to be filled in, rock formations and mountains have to be dug out and removed and leveled.

But now we have to remember that the preparation God is looking for is heart preparation, inward preparation. So what valleys need to be filled in? What mountains need to be leveled in there? The valleys of self-pity and despair need to be filled in. The mountains of pride and arrogance need to be leveled. And what does God use to do that? Notice what John the Baptist is: He’s not a celebrity, not a rock star, not a military hero, he’s not even a mouth or a tongue, just a “voice.” He’s a messenger who came to deliver a message. And what’s his message: “A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Repent of your sins and turn to the Lord for forgiveness. Be washed clean in the waters of your baptism.

God still does this, doesn’t he? He still sends forerunners to help us prepare for Jesus’ coming. Perhaps you had parents who faithfully brought you to the baptismal font where you received the forgiveness of sins as a little child. Perhaps you had teachers or Sunday School teachers or pastors who taught you God’s Word, shared the message of salvation, the law and the gospel with you. Perhaps you still have Christian relatives or Christian friends or a Christian spouse or Christian mentors who continue to confront you when you begin to grow mountains of sin between you and God. Perhaps you still have those same Christian loved ones who fill in the valleys by pointing you to Jesus for full and free forgiveness of sins. Thank the Lord for the forerunners he continues to send in our lives to prepare us for Jesus’ coming. Listen to those forerunners.

Prepare also by going into the wilderness. “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Notice that John the Baptist is in the “wilderness.” That’s not really the best translation for the word, though. When we think of wilderness in northern Minnesota, we think trees, we think wildlife. In our idea of wilderness there’s a lot to sustain life- animals and plants you can eat. Perhaps a better word here would be “desert.” The wilderness in Judea is desert. There’s really no life. Nothing can survive. Nothing can grow. It’s a place of thirst – there’s no water. There’s no food.  It can’t support life.

What’s interesting is that again and again in the Bible, that’s where people encounter the Lord. The Lord appeared to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai – desert, the Lord appeared to Moses – desert, the Lord appeared to Elijah – desert wilderness, the Israelites wandered in the desert wilderness for 40 years. And here, the people had to leave behind their lives and go into the desert wilderness. It was probably like 20 miles away at least for the people to go. They didn’t have cars, they walked. They didn’t have restaurants or rest areas on the way. They had to rearrange their schedule and leave their lives behind in order to hear the message of God’s prophet. No distractions. Not even any distractions from John – he wasn’t anything special – camel’s hair, leather belt, locusts and honey.

There are so many things in life that can pull our hearts away from God. It happens like this, “Lord, I’ll love you if…” Lord, I’ll trust you, if…” “Lord, I’ll follow you if…” And fill the blank: make my life easy, don’t give me these troubles, make my life comfortable, etc. But what is that doing? God is simply becoming an add-on to your life, a vitamin supplement, an app among many on your phone. But what happens when you go into the wilderness? All water dries up, except the water from God. All food runs out, except the food from God. What did God teach the Israelites in the wilderness? Without God they were dead. Without the Lord, we have nothing, are nothing, and we will face nothing good.

How do you prepare for the Lord’s coming? Go into the wilderness. Realize that without the Lord you have nothing and earth is but a desert drear, but with the Lord and with his love you have everything your heart could possibly desire.

And finally, prepare by anticipating the King’s arrival. Notice what John the Baptist said, “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” As John the Baptist considers Jesus’ coming he declares that he’s not even fit to perform the lowest slave’s job for the King – to unloose the straps of his sandals. Why is Jesus so great? Because Jesus came in order to do what only God could do. Jesus came to use His almighty power to lay His life down on the cross, to take upon Himself the sins of the world and therefore your sins and mine, to die for them paying in full God’s punishment of sin, and then gloriously rising from the dead. And all for what purpose? To rescue you and me for all eternity, to fling wide open heaven’s gates. How do we anticipate the arrival of such a King? We bow in honor, we lift up our voices to praise him, and we can’t help but conform our lives to serve Him and give him glory in all things.

I don’t know what outward preparations you are making for Christmas this year, but far more importantly prepare your heart by Listening to the message of salvation by the forerunners God puts into your life, by going into the wilderness realizing that without God you have nothing, but with him you have everything, and anticipating the King’s arrival- He comes with power and grace to save. Prepare the way in your heart for Him! Amen.

God’s Son and sons

1st Sunday after Christmas
Galatians 4:4-7

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests! In the name of Jesus, born to save us, dear friends in Christ,

It’s an eerie feeling, hard to describe. Every couple months I conduct a Bible study at the Beltrami county jail here in Bemidji. In order to do the Bible study I have to enter into the jail.  After checking my ID the guard radios to another guard who electronically unlocks the first door. I walk in and shut the door behind me. Then the next door is unlocked, I walk through and the door is secured behind me. I walk to the room where I have the Bible study and after the inmates have all gathered there is a click in the door and it’s locked. It’s an eerie feeling, hard to describe. When that door is shut, you’re locked in. Thankfully, I can leave whenever I want to. But not the prisoners. They are stuck, locked in, and I get a little feeling of that when the door shuts. What’s it like to be a prisoner? You can’t go wherever you want to go, you can’t do whatever you want to do, you can’t see whomever you want to see, you can’t eat whatever you want to eat.

The truth is, we all were born prisoners. You, me, everyone. We can’t leave whenever we want to. We can’t escape from this prison. We can’t do whatever we want. We were all born into the prison of sin. When you’re a prisoner you have to do whatever the guard tells you to do. You have to go to this cell block, you have to eat at this time, you have to wear these clothes, etc. That’s what it’s like in the prison of sin. We’re stuck. We lie. We cheat. We envy. We’re selfish. We’re self-centered. We’re greedy. We covet what isn’t ours. We fail to be kind. We fail to put others first. We fail to honor those in authority. We fail to help and befriend our neighbor in every bodily need. We fail to love and cherish our spouse. We fail to keep our thoughts, words, and actions pure. We fail to help improve and protect the property of others. We fail to encourage, to speak well of, to defend others. We fail to take someone’s words and actions in the kindest possible way.

And on our own we not only can’t leave this prison of sin but we have no desire to either! I’ve never met a prisoner in the Beltrami Jail who enjoys being there, who wants to be there, who doesn’t want to leave. But sin so depraves our thinking that we think sin is pleasurable, enjoyable, exciting, we run into it, we don’t want to leave it, we say to sin, “Lock me up! Enslave me! Make me your prisoner!”

Now, if you knew someone like that, someone who enjoyed breaking the law, who wanted to go to prison, would you post bail for them? Would you offer to defend them? Would you offer to take their sentence, be punished in their place? It wouldn’t even occur to us, but God did.

God went on a rescue mission. At just the right time God took action. And what did God do? God sent his Son. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. If you had ten sons, you wouldn’t dream of giving one of them up for a law-breakers, a prisoner, a scoundrel, but God gave up His own Son. “Born of a woman.” That baby lying in the manger is the God-man. God took on human flesh. God – who is above every law, because he made every law, God who could never steal because he owns everything, God who could never take any life because he made every life, put himself under the law. For what purpose? “To redeem those under law.” In other words, to liberate, to rescue, to deliver those under the law. To free us from our prison of sin.

And the goal? That we might receive “adoption to sonship.” If you remember the old NIV translation it was “to receive the full rights of sons.” They both say the same thing. But this is astounding. God not only sent Jesus, this baby lying in a manger to liberate us FROM something, but to liberate us FOR something. In the culture of the apostle Paul’s day it could happen that a wealthy individual who had no child could adopt a child. And when it went through there was an immediate legal status change: the new father immediately assumed all responsibility for the new child, all the child’s debts were immediately canceled and all the wealth of the father became the wealth of child’s. The new child became fully a new part of a new family with all the rights and responsibilities and rewards that came with it.

God didn’t just send Jesus to take on our human flesh, to be born of a woman, born under law, in order to liberate us, redeem us FROM our prison and bondage and slavery to sin, He didn’t just come to set us free FROM imprisonment, but He came to redeem us FOR being God’s own sons, God’s own children, to enjoy the full rights of sonship in God’s family.

This is incredible. But do you believe it? Do you think about the incredible ramifications of the fact that because of Jesus, because of this babe born in Bethlehem, you are God’s own son? You are God’s own child? Do you grasp that? Do you live like it? Do you live with the inexpressible joy of being God’s child, an heir of God and co-heir with Christ?

Or do we go through life plagued with guilt? Do we go through life feeling like God is distant, unattached, unconcerned with our lives? Do we go through life filled with fear, worry, anxiousness, concern? What will this new year bring? What difficulties and challenges and disappointments am I going to face? Is God going to finally give me the trouble I deserve for my sins against him?

How could we think that about our God? Look at what he tells us here! God first sent His son on the rescue mission: born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, why so? So that we might enjoy adoption to sonship, full rights of sons, a legal status change: you are God’s own child, you mean just as much to the Father as His own Son Jesus, you’ve been adopted into his family. But God also knows that we struggle with appropriating this to our lives, applying it, and living in it. So God sends someone else. The Holy Spirit.

Imagine a young son and a father walking hand in hand along the side walk. Then all of a sudden the father lifts his boy up and give him a big hug and kiss. The son was no more or less a son of his father when he was walking hand in hand than he was when his father was hugging and kissing him, but he felt it, experienced it, and was deeply reminded of his status as his father embraced and kissed him. The Holy Spirit using His tools- the means of grace – the gospel in Word and Sacrament is the Father embracing and kissing you reminding you of your adoption to sonship in God’s family.

And the Holy Spirit reminds you of two things here: confidence and inheritance. “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” That’s our confidence. The word “abba” was a term of endearment a child had for his father, like dad or daddy. “Abba, I need a drink of water.” “Abba, hold my hand.” “Abba, help me.” Because of Jesus, because of your adoption into God’s family, that’s the closeness and confidence you have with the almighty and everlasting God. You can approach him at any time, with anything on your heart, and trust that He is your dear father in heaven.

And secondly, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son God has made you also an heir.” That means all the Father’s wealth is your wealth. The inheritance is yours. Heaven, the home of God, is your home, forever. Eternal riches, eternal glory, eternal joy- all the wealth of the Father is yours…forever.

The Holy Spirit is the kiss of the Father. In the work of that baby in the manger, God’s eternal Son, you were freed, redeemed, liberated from the prison of sin. Through holy baptism you were adopted as God’s own son and heir. Through the Word you hear again and again the comforting and assuring voice of your Father. Through the Lord’s Supper the Father presses to your lips the very body and blood of His Son as a guarantee that you are part of His family, His own child, His own son, His own heir.

That’s what Christmas is about. When the time had fully come God sent His Son so that you might be His son, His child, His heir forever. Live as God’s child. Amen.