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!

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.

Jesus Comes. Are you Ready?

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1st Sunday of Advent
Mark 13:32-37

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus who came once to save us and will come again, dear friends in Christ. Many of you are aware that one of the jobs that I had while I was working my way through school was a job where I cleaned, serviced, delivered, and picked up portable toilets. Many of you probably think that would be a rather gross job to have, but I honestly didn’t mind it and it was a pretty good paying job, my boss was not only a close friend of our family but in my estimation one of the best employers there is. Well, for most of the summer we had a contract with the local Renaissance Fair to provide portable toilets for them and since the Renaissance fair took place on the weekends we had to go there early Sunday morning to service the over 100 porta potties there. We took 3-4 trucks there and most of my co-workers didn’t really mind this because we earned double time pay to do it. Well, I remember hearing a story about one of my co-workers before I worked there, that when he was there he finished his assigned work early, and if you finished early you were supposed to go and help another truck out so everyone could get done. But he didn’t. He took his truck into the parking lot, parked it, sit back, relax, and get paid double for taking a nap. But this particular Sunday morning something very unusual happened. Our boss decided to drive there to see how his men were doing. Well, I think my boss ended up pulling him through the driver’s window of the truck waking him up. He wasn’t ready, he wasn’t prepared. Probably one of the worst things that can happen to an employee is to be found by the boss sleeping on the job. But really, that’s also true of us as Christians. Don’t let the Lord find you sleeping on the job! Be ready! Be focused! Be watchful!

And that’s really the theme of the Advent season: Be ready. Jesus is coming. Jesus came once and He will come again. In our text the disciples had asked Jesus about when the end of the world would happen and about the signs of the end. Jesus described some of the signs when the end would come, but whenever Jesus was asked about the time of the end of the world, his answer was always the same: Watch! Be on guard! Be alert! Why? Because “no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” No one knows when the Lord will return. There is no hidden code we can decipher, no magical formula, no superstitious clue to figure it out. In fact, we’re told that Jesus himself didn’t know. While Jesus lived on earth he set aside the full use of his glory as God for a time and so He chose for a time not to know when the end would happen.

No one knows when Jesus will come a 2nd time. But what’s the purpose? “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” The very fact that no one knows when Jesus will return makes it imperative that everyone be on their guard, be alert, be watchful.

To illustrate this, Jesus told a short parable: “It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back- whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn” A man leaves to go on a journey and its not his duty to tell his servants exactly when he will return. It’s the duty of all of the servants to be actively engaged in their master’s work should he come home suddenly. One special direction is given to the doorkeeper- keep watch so he can be ready to open the door when his master returns. What’s the lesson for us? Throughout our earthly lives God has given each of us tasks that he wants us to be doing. Whether it’s being a Christian father, mother, husband, wife, child, student, employee, employer, citizen, member of a church, etc. God wants each of us to be actively serving him in every calling that we have. Because he may return at any unexpected hour, like any unexpected hour of the night.

If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.” The worst possible scenario for any servant of the Master is to be found sleeping on the job. God doesn’t want any of his servants to stop watching for his return, to grow spiritually dull, unresponsive. Don’t be sleeping on the job when God’s given every person the task of watching for his coming. What Jesus told his disciples is also meant for us: “What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!”

Jesus is coming, He could return at any moment. He wants the world to be focused and to be watchful and ready. But is it? The world at Noah’s time was not focused. God sent Noah to preach God’s Word to the world for 120 years. In incredible patience and love God waited, God did everything to rescue people from the coming judgment. 120 years God waited, but what did the people focus on? Themselves! They were too busy seeking earthly treasures and pleasures. But then God came, He came with waters to save His Church, Noah’s family, and waters to judge the unfaithful servants.

But what about today? Is the world ready for Jesus’ return? Is the world waiting patiently for Jesus’ return, actively seeking God’s will, actively honoring God with their lives? Or, do we see people in the world openly rebelling against God, wanting nothing to do with God. Romans chapter 1 gives us perhaps a good picture of the world we live in: “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strive, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful, they invent ways to do evil.” Or 2 Timothy 3 gives us another picture of what people in the world will look like: “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”

Where are all the people hungering for heavenly treasure? Where are all the people alert and watching and excited and determined and focused on the day when Christ will return? Are they ready? The Master could return at any moment: “If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!”

But then, what about us? Are we ready? Are we focused? Or are we being lulled asleep by the world in which we live? God calls us to live self-sacrificing, grace-filled Christians in every station of life we’re in. But are we? Do coworkers, customers, children, friends, acquaintances, see us as self-less, caring, grace-filled Christians? Or, are we falling asleep on the job? Or maybe it’s a sin that I keep falling into, keep doing, even though I know it’s wrong, but, well, I’ve lost the battle so many times- what’s it hurting anyway? God warns us that He could return at any moment. Are we ready? Will he catch you sleeping on the job? Or maybe I’m harboring some bitterness, anger at someone, refusing to forgive someone in my heart, am I being lulled to sleep by the ways of this world? Am I ready for Jesus’ to return?

The answer is, by myself, no, I’m not ready. I’ve fallen asleep on my Master more times than I could possibly count. I deserve only one thing- to be fired and quite literally to be cast into the fire of eternal death. So, you see, the only way we can be ready for Jesus’ second coming is to be ready for his first coming. While our focus is so often on ourselves or on the glitter of this world, where’s God’s focus? God’s focus has always been and will always be on one place: rescuing sinful people like you and me. At Christmas we celebrate the miracle of God’s love that He came to this earth, He set aside His glory to be born into our world and placed in a manger. In the garden of Gethsemane when his disciples were sleeping on the job he had perfect focus on God and doing God’s will. When His disciples fled from him when he was arrested, he had perfect focus on going to the cross to make the full payment for our sins in full. Jesus never lost his focus, was never distracted, never slept on the job, but perfectly rescued us with his perfect life and death on the cross and glorious resurrection. Knowing that makes you ready for when Jesus will return.

So, take to heart the words of your Savior: What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch! Be ready, He’s coming. Let Him not find you sleeping on the job, but let him find you in sorrow over your sin, let him find you in faith in Jesus as your only Savior, let him find you diligently serving him faithfully at your job, in your home, with your life. Let him find you diligently reaching out to friend, neighbor, relative with the good news of Jesus so they won’t be found sleeping when He comes. As you prepare for Christmas, be ready, be watchful, be focused, He came once to save us, He’ll come again bring us the full reality of what He’s one. Don’t be found sleeping…watch! Amen.

Peace on Earth!

Christmas Day 2016
Luke 2:14

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, our newborn Savior, dear friends in Christ,

Peace. Everybody is longing for peace. We want international peace where there are no more terroristic Islamists killing and murdering and bombing. We want national peace- we live in a country sharply divided by political ideals and we long to be united again and healed from the deep wounds. We long for an end to the riots and the protests and the bloodshed. We want national peace. But we also want relationship peace. We want peace between family members and relatives and coworkers. And finally we want internal peace. We want peace inside ourselves. Peace from worry, peace from anxiety, peace from confusion, peace from frustration. Everybody to some degree or another is looking for peace.

But none of those are the peace that the angels are talking about on Christmas – Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. You see, the opposite of peace is war. And we are at war. But the worst war we’re in is not one with another country, it’s not a war within ourselves, it’s not a war with Satan and the world. We’re at war with God.

It’s a war that began in the Garden of Eden and has been passed down all the way through history to you and me. We were born at war with God; the Bible puts it this way: The sinful mind is hostile to God it does not submit to God’s law nor can it do so. How come we’re enemies of God? God’s Word is absolutely clear about God’s absolute holiness and God’s absolute justice. God is absolutely holy and God is absolutely just. He must punish all who are not perfect and holy like Him. The Bible is also clear about us- we’re wretched, filthy, born in sin. In short, by nature we are God’s complete opposite- He’s holy, we’re sinful; He’s perfect, we’re filthy. And because of that we’re God’s enemies, we’re at war with God.

And we need to be clear about that. Why so? Because if you’re going to receive a gift you first have to admit that you need it. I’ve had to learn this (and still am) with my wife Katie. Over the years I’ve bought her various different gifts and presents for different occasions. There’s been certain gifts that I’ve bought for her, she smiles, she kindly thanks me, she puts it back in the box and at some point it just disappears J. You see, to receive a gift you first have to admit you need it. If someone is very overweight but doesn’t want to admit it, someone gives them a book on weight loss, they’ll look at the book, put it in the box and say, “I don’t need that.” Or someone gives a bald person a bottle of shampoo, they’ll put it in the box and say, “I don’t need that.”

You see, to receive the gift from God, we first have to admit that we need it. That’s the work of God’s law. We’re sinful. We’re corrupt. We’re failures. We can’t save ourselves. We’re at war, we’re at war with God.

But then there’s Christmas. There’s angels who announce: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

What does that mean? In the great Christmas hymn “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” We sing about this: “Peace on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled.” There it is! What is this peace? It’s mercy mild, God and sinners at war, now at peace, reconciled.  This peace is true peace, real peace, absolute peace.

You see, every other peace we have in life will only be partial peace. We can enjoy a time of peace in the world, but give it time and there’ll be another war. We can enjoy partial peace in our families, but sooner or later something is going to happen and there will be conflict. We can enjoy a partial peace in ourselves, but then something will happen to disrupt that peace- a difficulty, challenge, hardship, etc.

But the peace that the angels announce on Christmas is absolute peace. Peace with God is absolute peace. Forgiveness is absolute. “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” and again in Colossians “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies…but now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

That’s why Jesus came. That’s why the eternal God took on physical human flesh, he did so to end the war, he did so to die, to go to a cross, to pay your debt and to give you His perfect life. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That means, because of this baby born in Bethlehem, God right now sees you as perfect, as holy, as without blemish. And you can’t be more perfect, more holy, more blemishless in God’s sight than you are right now!

That’s the peace you have because of Christmas. “Peace on earth and mercy mild; God and sinners reconciled.” And you know what that means? That means you can forgive that person who wronged you, because you have peace with God! That means you can stop worrying about the future because you have peace with God – He will take care of it! That means you can be at peace no matter what’s going on around you- because you have the most important thing in all of eternity- peace with God. That’s true Christmas peace!

So we too sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Amen.

God with us

Christmas Eve Sermonette
Matthew 1:22-23

In the name of Jesus, our newborn Savior, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This evening the theme of our children’s service is “Jesus Name of Wondrous Love.” The names that Scripture gives to Jesus give us a lot of information about who Jesus is and what He came to do. But I just want to focus on one of those names: Immanuel. It’s just one word in Hebrew, but in English it’s three words: God with us. So, what I want to do this evening is break that apart- what does each word mean: God… with… us.
God – Jesus is God. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father who in time took on human flesh and became one of us. We hear it in the angel’s announcement: “A Savior has been born for you; He is Christ the Lord.” So, as we peer into that manger and see a little baby not only are we looking at someone who is fully, 100% human like us, we also see someone who is fully, 100% God Himself. Not just a part of God or a representation of God, but God.
And here’s why that’s so important. Our situation is so dire, is so otherwise completely hopeless, so desperate that the only way to save us was for GOD to come into our world to die on a cross to save us. That’s incredible. Getting to heaven isn’t about living a good life, doing a lot of nice and decent and moral things, it’s not about living up to a certain standard. What this is telling us is that we’re so wretched and helpless that only God Himself could save us!
But this is what’s so beautiful! GOD came to save you! GOD came to rescue you! And that means your salvation is sure and certain because GOD Himself did it! That’s the first point: Jesus is God.
Second, God WITH us. Now, who is God? Do you remember what it was like for the people of Israel when God showed up on Mount Sinai when he gave the ten commandments? Do you know? Thunder, lightning, thick cloud, very loud trumpet blast that kept getting louder, smoke billowing up like a furnace, the whole mountain trembled. The people were terrified. Or, what about when God appeared to Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 6? The Lord seated on His throne, high and exalted, the train of his robe filled the temple, a chorus of angels singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The doorposts and threshold of the temple shook, the temple was filled with smoke. Isaiah was terrified. Why does God’s presence terrify? Because we humans are sinful and corrupt, but God is absolutely holy. We have no right to be in God’s presence, to be with God.
That’s God! Now try looking at the sun. Actually don’t. If you try to look at the sun, at best all you see is a blur, but at worst it will burn out your retina- it’s that powerful, that glorious. But God is infinitely more glorious than the sun! In order to look at the sun you need a filter. In order to see God you need a filter.
“The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” We sing it. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity!”
Our God with us. We need a veil, we need a filter to see God. And so what do we have? He came so lowly. Not in a palace, a mansion, or a castle, but in a stable, a manger and even that he has to borrow from cattle. So small, so fragile, so gentle. Why? Martin Luther said, “There’s nothing to fear in a baby.” Anyone can hold a little baby, it’s one of life’s greatest moments to hold a little sleeping infant baby in your arms. That’s exactly it, right? He didn’t have to, but he came so small, so gently not to frighten or terrify us with His power and might, but He came to woo us, to win us, to draw us to Himself with his compassionate, gracious and forgiving love. He’s God WITH us.
And finally, God with US.
He knew us in all of the ugliness of our sin, He knew what He was getting into, He knew he’d be beaten, spit up on, ignored, betrayed, He knew Roman nails would pierce His hands and feet. He knew He’d die. But He still came.
I know who I am, I know what I’ve done, I know what I’ve failed to do, but then I see it again: For us a child is born to us a Son is given, 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…for…YOU! He knew you in all your sin, in all your filth, in all your weaknesses and failures, and yet, He came. He came for you, He came to live for you, to die for you, to open heaven’s doors for YOU!
God with us. What a name! A name of wondrous love! Look at what God did to get near you- he came all the way from heaven to earth to be near you. Now, what are you doing to get near to him? What are you doing to be with Him? God came all the way from heaven to earth to be near you, claw your way through anything and everything in your life in order to be near him. Amen.

Father, from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise. May we take to heart the words of the children this evening as they share the glorious truth of Christmas- God with us. You came into our world to rescue and save us that we might be with you eternally. As you drew so near to us, move each of us to an ever greater determination to be near to you through your Word and Sacraments. Amen.

Jesus: God’s Son, our Savior


Jesus - Stained Glass

Christmas Day Sermonette
John 1:1, 14

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men….the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Christmas is really about this truth: the miracle of the incarnation. What does incarnation mean? It’s really a Latin term that refers to the mind-boggling truth of the infinite God taking on human flesh and blood. Well, what’s so important about that? What practical difference does it make that Jesus is not just a human being but God himself? What practical difference does it make that Jesus is not just God, but a real human being?

Immanuel. That’s what Jesus is. “God with us.” If this baby born in Bethlehem is God Himself, then what? If Jesus is God, then He is the Almighty, Eternal, transcendent God. Then He deserves not just our complete obedience, not just our total worship, but the absolute first priority of our lives.  If Jesus is God, then we need to stand in absolute awe of who He is and what He does. There’s no place for disobeying Him, no place for questioning His ways, no place for neglecting Him or His Word.

But what’s the reality of our lives? Our lives are full of disobeying God, full of question Him, full of neglect of Him and His Word. All that we can expect is His just punishment, His cold shoulder, His wrath forever. That’s what we deserve.

But then, here it is again: Immanuel. God with us. If this baby born in Bethlehem is God Himself, that means the work that He came to do is of infinite worth.  And what did He come to do? He came to shed His blood as a ransom to pay our sins. But this isn’t just any blood, this is the blood of God Himself! Think about how absolutely priceless that is! One man cannot pay for the sins of another man, I can’t pay for your sins, you can’t pay for my sins, but God? Can God pay for someone else’s sin? Yes! No sin is too great to be forgiven, no evil is too great to be paid for. He is God. Your conscience can rest completely – your sins are forgiven in full, God paid for them!

Finally, if Jesus is God, then salvation is by grace. Think about this, every single other religion than true Christianity says that the founder of their religion was a great person, a great teacher, a great prophet who was sent by God to show people what they must do in order to be saved. But think about that, if our salvation was just something that WE had to do, you know what God could have done? He could have just sent a prophet or an angel to inform us on what we must do to be saved. But that’s not Christmas! This is God Himself coming, He didn’t come in order to tell us what we have to do, but He came to do for us what we could not do ourselves. He came to rescue us with His life and death. That’s grace!

This God, this eternal God, look what He did to come to be with you! Now, what I want to know is what you’re doing to get with Him? What are you doing to be close to Him? What are you allowing to get in the way of spending time with Him in His Word? God didn’t allow anything to get in the way of Him being with you, don’t let anything get in the way of you being with Him. Amen.