Thursday, December 31, 2009

In Time and Eternity

New Year’s Eve
December 31, 2009
Luke 12:35-40

The Gospel reading for the last day of the year has a pretty straightforward message to Christians: be ready. Be aware that your Lord is coming again in glory.

What can easily be lost is that it has a remarkable message about our Lord. We need to be told to be ready. Jesus doesn’t need to be told to do anything. What the Gospel reading does though, is tell us what our Lord does. It’s not what He needs to do. It’s not what He’d better do or else.

It’s simply what He does.

What He does is serve. What He does is what we ought to do. Not that we no longer need to do it since He does. But His serving us is what make it possible for us to serve Him.

We are in this life for a short time. We’re about to enter a new year and not only that but it’s hard to believe that another decade has gone by. We are very much in time. God is outside of time but comes to us in time. He comes to us in this life to serve us.

The Gospel reading says that He will dress Himself for service and then have us recline at the table so that He can come and serve us. He dressed Himself for service by becoming a baby. He took on the role of servant by keeping the Law of God perfectly, something we have not done. He has come to serve us by going to the cross to suffer the punishment for sin and the wrath of God toward sinners.

We may recline at His table. We may feast at his Banquet. He will serve us what we need. We don’t serve Him in this life in order to earn heaven. He serves us in this life so that we may enjoy the glories of heaven eternally.

This helps us understand what it means for us to do what God calls on us to do in this Gospel reading. We wait. We stay alert. We’re needing to be prepared for the day when Jesus returns in glory. But that doesn’t mean that we sit around. It means we involve ourselves in the things He has called us to do. We serve in the various ways God has called us to serve. Remarkably, Jesus is always the one doing the stuff He has called us to do. He’s serving us. He’s bidding us to recline at His Table, so that we may be forgiven, so that we may be washed clean with His righteousness, so that we may partake of His very Body and Blood.

He is in eternity but He comes to us in time. He longs for us to be with Him in eternity. He comes to us so that we may be with Him in eternal life in heaven. Not eternal death, not eternal suffering in hell. If we are not prepared that’s where we will land. That’s why He tells us now. So that we know now. So that we don’t find out when it’s too late.

So notice what you are to do. And then notice what He does. Notice that your being ready, your serving, your abiding by His will is possible because of Him serving you. Never hear His call to you to do His bidding as anything but His loving act of reaching out to you so that you may know that you will be with Him forever in eternity. If you ever do doubt, just look to what He has accomplished on the cross in the ultimate serving of mankind. Know that Him serving you in time in this way has eternal ramifications. Know that He blesses you in Baptism and His Holy Supper here in time so that you may be with Him in His Heavenly Kingdom in eternity.

You will be waiting for many things in the new year. Test results from the doctor, your loved ones to arrive during bad weather. You will get ready for many things. Some in our congregation will be getting to get confirmed in the faith. You might be getting ready for a new job or a new area of serving in your life. God will guide you in these things, He will serve you by giving you the strength you need. In all of the things you will face in the coming year, don’t forget the one Jesus focuses you on in the Gospel reading: His return in glory. Be ready for that by partaking of those ways He comes to you to serve you: His Word and Sacraments. Amen.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Seeing Salvation

First Sunday after Christmas
John, Apostle and Evangelist
December 27, 2009
Luke 2:22-40

There are a lot of unknowns about death. We don’t know what it’s like after we die. We don’t know what it’s like to die. Even if you see someone die you can’t know what you go through until you have yourself. Death is a part of this world. When sin came into the world, so did death. Now we all face death, just as we all daily struggle with sin.

Death may be an unknown. It may not be the way God designed things. But death for the Christian is actually a blessed thing in God’s eyes. When a Christian dies his eyes are opened to the wonders of eternal life. Life with God in heaven is without sin and sorrow, without struggle and pain.

But for now there are the unknowns. When we will die. What it will be like. How we’ll manage if our children die before us. What we’ll do if Mom or Dad die before we do. We face unknowns but want to see clearly.

Paul says that now we see in a mirror dimly, then we will see face to face. We will see salvation in all its glory, as God designed it, when we get to heaven. Paul also says that we don’t walk by sight but by faith. We walk a path in which we can’t see the end. This is really hard to do when your loved one is laying on the table facing surgery or on their death bed or you get a call that they’ve been in a horrible car accident.

Death is staring us in the face in those times. Death seems the more powerful one to follow if we go on what we can see. We can’t see God. We can’t see the salvation He has promised us.

But actually we can. And actually we do. You see, sin is not the only thing that entered the world. God Himself has entered the world. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come and many people saw Him. You can’t see salvation in all its glory, but you can see it. And you do.

Simeon is the one who shows us how this is true. When he sees Jesus he sees his salvation. Jesus is the salvation of the world. Luke tells us that it had been revealed to Simeon “by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Simeon didn’t know when his death would come. He didn’t know what it would be like. But he knew he would see the Messiah. He knew he would see the One God would send as the Savior for the world.

When Simeon saw Him he didn’t say, Lord, now I have seen your Savior. He said: “my eyes have seen Your salvation.” In seeing the Savior he was seeing salvation. He spoke a prayer of praise and thanks that is well known to us: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”

It’s well known to us because we sing these words after we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This is what the Scriptures mean by walking by faith and not by sight. Your Savior comes to you and you have salvation. When you see your Savior you are seeing salvation. If He were easily identifiable there would be no reason for faith. We couldn’t really trust in Him because we would rely on our own ideas of what our Savior should be like. We would want to determine how our salvation is brought about.

But how does our Savior come? How is it we see our salvation? In an infant being brought to the temple. Simeon rejoiced at seeing the infant Christ. After his many years of living on this earth; having been brought to the point where he knew death was drawing near, he could have seen that little child and wondered, God is this all you have to offer? You’re going to save the world through this?

It’s the same way for us. When we see the bread and wine on this altar do we see our Savior? Do we rejoice in seeing our very salvation? The bread and wine that has been consecrated by His sacred words are His very Body and Blood. We literally see our salvation, just as Simeon did. He was looking at a baby, we bread and wine.

Simeon even saw why He was looking at the salvation of the world. Mary was bringing her infant Son to the temple that day to fulfill the Law of God. Imagine what she felt when she heard the next words of Simeon: “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Thirty-three years later she would not be holding her precious infant Son. She would be standing before Him as He was hanging and bleeding on a cross. She would be seeing salvation with her very own eyes, a sword piercing her soul as she saw her Son suffering on behalf of the world.

We don’t want to see our salvation in the way God brings it. We want it painless. That’s how we think of salvation, as release from our pain and suffering. But God brings His salvation to us through suffering, but specifically through the Suffering of His Son. He is our salvation. When we look to the cross we see our salvation. When we look to the place where He comes to us we see our salvation. His body was sacrificed on the cross and is given for you for your forgiveness in His Holy Supper. His blood was shed on the cross and is delivered to you for your forgiveness in His Sacred Meal.

We may depart in peace as Simeon did. Whether that be at the end of our life as it was with him or whether simply at the end of the worship service. We’re like Simeon as we await the day when Christ will come to us again in glory. Most people don’t recognize Jesus when He comes. They don’t see their Savior lying in a manger. They don’t see their salvation hanging on the cross. They don’t believe they receive forgiveness and salvation in Christ’s Holy Supper. But on the Last Day there will no mistaking Him. In the Introit we spoke these words: “and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. The Lord has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations.”

Most people don’t know this. We do. Even Mary and Joseph needed a little education on their infant Son from Simeon. We depart in peace from here having seen our salvation so that we may make it known to those who do not know it. And even those who do but are struggling in their faith. And when we ourselves run into these struggles, when we’re facing death or difficulties, we may rejoice that we have seen our salvation. We may rejoice that He will bring us to a blessed end where we will see face to face in eternal glory. Amen.


Friday, December 25, 2009


The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day
December 25, 2009
Luke 2:1-20

We’re here today to celebrate the birth of Christ. That’s what people do. On their birthday they celebrate their birth. December 25 is the date for celebrating Jesus being born. Some people don’t give it a second thought of why this is the date for Christmas. Others have tried to find out why this date has been chosen. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what the actual date was. The Bible doesn’t tell us, so we don’t know for sure.

But just because it doesn’t ultimately matter doesn’t mean it’s not important. In fact, there are some Christians down through the ages who saw great importance to the actual date of December 25. And even though Luke doesn’t give us the date, he does give us historical details surrounding the birth of Christ. They don’t help us nail down the date, but they do show us something important about God and how He has chosen to make His salvation known.

Through history.

The Bible is a historical document. It documents historical events and people. Luke even tells us that this is what he has set out to do in writing the account of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In giving us the account of the birth of Christ he gives us the historical setting of this. We don’t know all the details but we know some of them. And they’re important.

Not only theologians but also historians love the historical details given in the Scriptures. Historians use ancient writings and archaeological findings to analyze what was going on in the world of the Scriptures and why. Christians do this too. But even more importantly, they hold to the Scriptures as those words which give eternal life. The Bible is not just history, it is salvation history.

Some people have believed that Jesus was born on the actual date of December 25. But historians have noticed that this day was high festival of pagan religion. It was a celebration of the sun and the winter solstice. Some people think that Christians realized that since they worshiped something far greater than the sun which lights our days, that the Son of God is the Light of the World, what better way to overshadow this pagan celebration than to celebrate their own festival in the Christian Church on the same day. Christians have done these kinds of things over the centuries. For example, taking the secular word gospel, which means “good news,” and using it as the core teaching of Christianity—the Good News of salvation. So it’s perfectly reasonable that Christians made December 25 the date to celebrate Christmas as a response to the false religion of paganism.

But there’s another possibility. And whether or not it’s true, it shows us the purpose of Christmas. There was a belief by some in the ancient world that you die on the same date as your conception. What this means for the date of December 25, the Early Church Father Tetullian determined from John’s Gospel account of the suffering of Jesus that the date He died was March 25. This would mean His conception was on March 25 as well and therefore, in line with the belief that you die on the date of your conception, Jesus was born nine months later, on December 25.

This tells us something extremely important about Christmas. It’s not so much about Jesus’ birth as it is about His death. Jesus was born in order to die. Not that it’s not important that He was born. It is vitally important. Really, you can’t separate His birth from His death; just as you can’t separate His death from His resurrection. But we miss the whole point of Jesus being born if there’s no application of His suffering on the cross.

The Scriptures alone are our source for what we believe, teach, and confess. They alone are our source for what we need to know for salvation. But there are ripples in history that bear witness to the truth of the Word of God. There’s no reason to ignore them. And that’s why it’s so fascinating for us to see the possibility of why December 25 might have been chosen.

These kinds of things still happen today. Even in current culture. Do you know what the word “invictus” means? I’ve seen the previews for the new movie Invictus with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon about Nelson Mandela and the South African rugby team. I didn’t know anything about the history of that incident. Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison reached out with an olive branch to those who sought ill will toward his fellow black countrymen. He urged his countrymen to forgive those who oppressed them. He said that the way they should fight back was to offer forgiveness. One of the ways he did this was to get the country to get behind the all-white national rugby team. I haven’t seen the movie so I don’t know how it all turns out, but I wondered why the movie was titled “Invictus.” And since I never checked into it I still didn’t know.

But in learning about the theory of why December 25 was chosen as the date for Christmas I found out. The pagan festival was “Sol Invictus,” Sol referring to the Roman Sun god, Invictus meaning unconquered—the Unconquered Sun. Jesus you could say was conquered on the cross. But you could also say that on the cross He was invictus, unconquered. It was in that sacrifice that victory was made. All other religions are conquered in that suffering and death of the Son of God. Sin and death and the Father of Lies, the devil, are defeated. That’s where and how forgiveness is won.

All of this is in view in the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. The false gods of pagan Rome and Greece, and of every other religion never came down to earth to bring salvation. Christ alone has done that. In the birth of Christ we see the truth of Christianity and of salvation for the world. That’s why Paul says that we are more than conquerors. We are joined with Christ in Baptism and therefore become as He is, invictus, unconquered. Amen.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Scandal of Particularity

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Eve
December 24, 2009
Luke 2:1-20

You’ve come here tonight because it makes you feel good. You want to hear the wonderful story of the birth of Jesus. You want to see the sights and hear the sounds of Christmas. Perhaps you’ve come with your family members during this special celebration. Perhaps in the midst of difficult times some are experiencing in our country and many around the world, you want to have a reprieve from that for a short time. Or it’s in your own personal life that you’re struggling during this time of year that’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. You’ve come because you want a break from those struggles.

You probably didn’t come here for more; to endure more struggles. Certainly not to be scandalized. Christmas is about love and peace and joy. It’s not about scandal, is it? The account of the birth of Christ from Luke is one of those well-known passages that even the nominal Christian is familiar with it. It is a beautiful, wonderful story and one that makes us feel good.

But Luke also wrote it to scandalize us. That’s what happens when you’re inspired by the Holy Spirit to write Scripture. You don’t write things the way you would have done it but the way God wants it.

And what does God want to do through this Gospel account of the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve? He wants to scandalize you.

Does it really bring a warm and fuzzy feeling to know that the birth of the Savior came about through a pagan and anti-Christian emperor calling on ordinary citizens to drop everything and make a difficult trip only to bring more power to himself? Does it really create a peaceful and joyful mood when Luke begins his story by telling about Caesar and a census and about this other guy who’s a governor? And what about the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy? We don’t think much about it because we know the reason why she was pregnant out of wedlock and how it was a godly thing, not against the sixth commandment at all. But it’s still a jarring thing to see Joseph and his pregnant fiancĂ©e.

And have you ever noticed that in all the twenty verses of Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus that there’s only one that gives details of the actual birth itself? This is all we get: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Why is there so much attention given to everything else and only one sentence to the actual birth of Christ? And of the details given there, why are they so very unspectacular in comparison with the majesty of the emperor Caesar or the governor Quirinius? All we get are swaddling cloths and being placed in a feeding trough because there was no room for them in the inn.

And the people who come into the picture next aren’t as glamorous as an emperor. Shepherds were just ordinary men who did an ordinary job. The angels are spectacular enough. There we see glory and majesty as we would expect for the arrival of God to this earth. But why did they come to lowly shepherds? Why just to a few people? Why wasn’t there an effort to make this known to more people so that more people could witness this great event?

God is the Almighty Lord and Savior.. He is holy, He is powerful, He is almighty. These are the broad things about God that are true and wonderful but on their own do nothing for us and even are our undoing as we are not worthy to be in the presence of the holy eternal God.

Do we need to concern ourselves with these aspects of God as powerful and holy? Can’t we just go with the mood of society and let the thoughts of peace and joy and love dance around in our heads and with a smile wish everyone a Merry Christmas?

No, Luke won’t let us do that. Luke writing the Scriptures won’t let us go away with just feelings. He introduces scandal into the picture because it’s the only way we can be saved from our feeble attempts at reducing Christmas to simply a lovely season about decorations and goodwill toward men, and for that matter, Christianity, to be simply about loving others. Scripture’s telling of the Christmas story is the scandal of particularity.

God is using Luke here to craft a simple yet profound message. We’re not free to talk about the peace on earth of Christmas apart from the fact that there will never be peace among people because we are all infested with sin—in our thoughts, our words, and in our actions. We’re not free to rejoice in Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year apart from the fact that eternity apart from God is suffering beyond what we can imagine.

And that is why God is so very particular. The fact that He is is scandalous to us. But, His scandalizing us in this way is completely out of His eternal love for us. His eternal love for us brings us true peace; peace which reconciles Himself to us through the forgiveness of our sins.

If we think of the Christmas story as a lovely little story we miss what God is really doing here. Caesar is in there because he, like us, is part of this messed up fallen world made up of messed up fallen people like you and me. God uses even a man like Caesar to bring about His eternal plan of salvation. He gives us few and simple details of Jesus’ birth to show us that Jesus’ salvation for us is in a simple, but utterly particular way: the Person and work of Jesus. As His birth was humble, so was His suffering and death. His being born was for the purpose of suffering and dying on the cross.

You may have come here because it makes you feel good. God has invited you here to hear what He has done. In no one or nothing else but only through His Son He has brought you the gift of eternal life. It’s wrapped up in swaddling cloths. It’s found in the humble bed of a manger. It’s found scourged and bleeding on the cross.

It’s not really an ‘it’, at all. It’s Him. It’s your Salvation. It’s Jesus Christ, born to suffer for the sins of the world. To give to all true peace. Peace from the condemnation of sin and the Law and the devil. Joy that finds itself in God becoming a baby so that He could take your place in being stricken by the Holy God so that you may stand before Him without fear, your sins taken away, an eternal mansion prepared for you. Amen.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Journey of Humility

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 20, 2009
Luke 1:39-45

Living as a Christian is a journey of humility. It is a journey because you’re always on the way. When you get to heaven I imagine there won’t be any need for sermons on humility. But here, we’re constantly needing to be brought down by our Lord because by nature we are not humble.

This last part of Luke’s telling of events that led up to the birth of our Lord begins with a journey. It is a journey of humility. A simple girl traveling a few days down the road to visit with her cousin so that they may share some time together in their newfound pregnant-hood.

This is a microcosm of the journey God has set His people on down through the ages. It didn’t start out that way. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were in perfect consonance with God. But placing themselves above His Word brought an end to that and His people have been battling against God and His Word ever since.

God in His majesty could simply have given up on them, but there’s just one problem. He loves His people too much to do that. So humility is the course for the day and the ages. The God of all majesty and power expresses His love by loving all, from greatest to least. Here’s how the Old Testament reading exprsses it: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One who is to be ruler in Israel.”

He doesn’t save the world through power but through humility. Bethlehem isn’t much, but it becomes the center of the world when God is born there. Mary becoming pregnant is just like any other woman becoming pregnant except that she has become pregnant with God.

She journeys down to Elizabeth and Elizabeth sets the tone for the humility of the setting. “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” We don’t know what Zechariah might have said had he been able to talk. I’m sure he had done plenty of thinking and praying about the truth and power of the words of the angel Gabriel over the past six months since his elderly wife became pregnant.

But Elizabeth, she could talk. And what she said reflects the humility all of us should have. I don’t deserve to be in the presence of the bearer of the Lord. It’s like the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, if you touch it you die. Why should Elizabeth be privileged to be the one Mary came to? There was no envy on her part, Why was my little cousin so privileged by God, why not me?

While her husband had to learn humility the hard way, her unborn baby boy followed in her humble path: when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary Jesus’ older cousin John leaped for joy. I remember going to the farm each year growing up and looking up to my older cousins, respecting them with a certain awe. While at the same time feeling a little superior to my younger cousins. That’s not what we have here with John the Baptist. Even in the womb he’s pointing the way to Jesus.

Mary perhaps more than any person who has ever lived, other than Jesus of course, exhibited the kind of humility our Lord calls us to. She perhaps more than anyone had the clearest awareness of who that child of hers was. She most certainly was like you and me and everyone else in that she was a sinner and in need of the salvation her Son came to bring. But she was a model for the journey God sets each one of us on and sets us as the Christian Church on as a whole.

From the first surprising twist to her life, that if Bethlehem was too little to be among the clans of Judah and yet from it would come the Savior, surely she was too insignificant among the people of Nazareth and yet from her would come the Savior. She responded in humility—let it be to me according to the Word of God. Elizabeth was dead on in what she said of Mary: “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Mary was a living example of the way Paul spoke about the servants of the Lord, simply earthen vessels, jars of clay. She was the vessel that carried God in the flesh. How many times a day do you think Mary wondered why God had chosen her? How many times she marveled that she was unworthy of this blessing? And yet, still in humility, rejoicing in this grace of God, rejoicing God had blessed her in such a way.

Sometimes we need to be knocked over the side of the head like Zechariah in order to learn humility. Other times purely out of the grace of God we live out this journey of humility as Elizabeth and John and Mary did. This Thursday and Friday on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we are going to be rejoicing as Elizabeth and John and Mary and even Zechariah did. Expressing our joy in the God who came in the flesh. God in the flesh is what makes the journey possible. There was nothing inherently good within Elizabeth or John or even Mary, and there isn’t with us either.

We could move on our journey of humility simply with these saints of old as our example. And they are that. And we’re grateful for that. But there’s one other person in the Gospel reading that we haven’t gotten to yet. He’s the main one. Even though He’s the one that doesn’t do any of the talking or any of the action, He’s the reason they’re all there and He’s the one they’re all responding to.

Jesus, the one in the womb of Mary, is the most humble of them all. The one that they are humbling themselves before is the one who has come to be their servant. That’s why He’s in the womb of Mary. That’s why He’s willing—and not just willing, but joyful—to be in the womb of a girl for nine months. That’s why it is His joy to be born as we are. And not just born, but born in humble circumstances. That’s why it is His desire to make His journey as a man, as a human being, to the cross and to suffer for the sins of the world.

The journey of humility we travel is on account of the journey He traveled to the cross. The epistle reading expresses this path of humility taken by our Lord. He came in humility and said to His Heavenly Father, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” The author of Hebrews then shows us what this journey Jesus took was for: “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

He sustains us on our journey of humility with food. But it is not temporal food. It is heavenly food. It is the Bread of Life. It is Himself. Don’t be surprised that He feeds us with His Heavenly Food, Himself, His Body and Blood, in humble circumstances, in simple bread and wine at this altar. Don’t be surprised. Simply rejoice. The journey of humility you’re on will give way to eternal glory in the presence of Jesus in the flesh in the mansions of heaven. Amen.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Daniel and the Three Young Men

Today is the Commemoration of Lucia. Here is the summary from the Commission on Worship of the LCMS (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) on Daniel and the Three Young Men:

Daniel the prophet and the Three Young Men—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were among the leaders of the people of Judah who were taken into captivity in Babylon. Even in that foreign land they remained faithful to the one true God in their piety, prayer, and life. On account of such steadfast faithfulness in the face of pagan idolatry, the Three Young Men were thrown into a fiery furnace, from which they were saved by the Lord and emerged unharmed (Daniel 3). Similarly, Daniel was thrown into a pit of lions, from which he also was saved (Daniel 6). Blessed in all their endeavors by the Lord—and in spite of the hostility of some—Daniel and the Three Young Men were promoted to positions of leadership among the Babylonians (Dan 2:48–49; 3:30; 6:28). To Daniel in particular the Lord revealed the interpretation of dreams and signs that were given to King Nebuchadnezzar and King Belshazzar (Daniel 2, 4, 5). To Daniel himself the Lord gave visions of the end times.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Preparation: Part 3—Discipline

Midweek Advent 3
December 16, 2009
Luke 1:57-80

Listening and humility go together. That’s what we have seen in our learning of preparation from Luke’s account of the events that preceded Christ’s birth. Now we see another element in preparation, discipline. Discipline is where listening and humility bring us.

It is in the consistent doing of something worthwhile that we begin to see that it’s good for us. In the going through of it we come to points where we see that we’d just as soon give it up, or that it be easier in some way, that’s when we can come to see that in the continuing to go through with it we are better off because of it.

These midweek Advent worship services are an exercise in discipline. Aren’t there times when you’re at home and you would be much more comfortable staying home for the evening than coming all the way over here for the midweek worship service? Then the questions come. Why is it we do this? It’s not required. We’re not less of Christians if we don’t come. Are we really better off if we do? But when we think these things and still come we begin to see that the discipline of it brings more to our lives than if we keep it out of our lives.

Think about the people of God prior to Jesus’ birth. They were waiting. They were holding on to the hope of the coming of the Savior. The discipline of holding on to this hope, of being patient year after year, century after century, certainly caused them to wonder at times why they were doing it rather than just giving up on it all.

But that’s where the listening comes in. That’s where the humility keeps you in the state you need to be in. Listening to the Word of God, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, and for the Church, across the centuries. Humbling yourself to submit to the will of God as you come to know it through His Word. These things form the basis of discipline. When you enter into a pattern of discipline you also learn more and more of listening and humility.

So when you come to that point where you’d just as soon do the comfortable thing, you instead do the thing you need and come to church so that you may hear the Word of God and pray with your brother and sister Christians in a setting that gives you a glimpse of eternity.

This really is just following the pattern shown in the Scriptures. The people of God have always gathered around His Word and the blessings He imparts through the means He has promised to work through. This is brought home in the account of the birth of John the Baptist. The birth of Christ is not gotten to in Luke’s Gospel account without the discipline of rehearsing the salvation history of God for His people and giving the prelude of Jesus’ birth in the birth of His Forerunner, John.

Even with the pregnancy of Elizabeth itself you have a discipline. In nine months of pregnancy you learn the discipline of patience. Especially if it’s an uncomfortable or painful pregnancy. Those nine months are a long and arduous nine months. You can only hold out hope that in the worth of it all in the beautiful life that is born at the end of it. In discipline we learn about the mercy of the Lord, that’s what Elizabeth’s neighbor’s rejoiced in: “her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.”

There is the further discipline of simply doing things the way God has set them out: “And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child.” This is the way God had promised to keep His people in His covenant, and so this is what Zechariah and Elizabeth did with their son. Discipline further calls for keeping with the plan and not the tide of public opinion or feelings. Or even your own. “And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, ‘No; he shall be called John.’ And they said to her, ‘None of your relatives is called by this name.’ And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they all wondered.”

Discipline gives the greater blessings. “And immediately [Zechariah’s] mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, ‘What then will this child be?’ For the hand of the Lord was with him.”

Zechariah puts this all into perspective in his response to the birth of his son and the wondering of the neighbors: “His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.’” Zechariah goes on to lay out how God made His promises in the Old Testament. How he was now bringing these promises about in the events that were happening. For centuries the people of God kept the faith—it had now brought them to this point.

Zechariah continued: “…to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath that He swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Listening, humility, and discipline had brought them to this point where they could rejoice. Luke closes out our look at the events that preceded the birth of Christ with these words: “And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” What was ahead for John the Baptist was discipline. His discipline would always be focused on Christ. On the day of his public appearance he would point people to the one who came to suffer on behalf of the world, for salvation for the world. This is our Advent preparation, our lifelong preparation, and our eternal joy. Amen.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Preparation: Part 2—Humility

Midweek Advent 2
December 9, 2009
Luke 1:26-38

The second part of preparation is humility. The first part was listening, and if listening is hard, humility is harder. Then again, it’s pretty hard to listen when you are not humble. Zechariah took it upon himself to determine whether or not his wife could become pregnant. Mary listened to the Word of God because she was humble.

Zechariah lived a life in which he was serving God in the worship life of the Church. If anyone would have listened to God it should have been him. Mary was a simple peasant girl. Perhaps because of her ordinary status she was more inclined to listen. Her humble surroundings perhaps made her realize that she herself was not really much in comparison to the glory of God.

And yet her visitor startled her. What did that mean that she was favored by God? We might consider her response to the angel Gabriel as similar to Zechariah’s, but the fact that Mary questioned Gabriel on her status as being favored shows her humility. I’m reminded of the tax collector Jesus talks about who couldn’t even bring himself to stand before the altar of God but simply pleaded to Him for mercy: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

So with Mary’s questioning of herself being favored by God—why would God favor her? What had she done to deserve it? Nothing, and thus she was perplexed.

And this news that she would be the recipient of such a gift as being the bearer of the Son of God. How would it happen since she was a virgin? Oh, she was listening all right to the word of Gabriel, and that’s why she continued to be perplexed. She was not about to go breaking the Sixth Commandment, so how would it come about that she would become pregnant and give birth to the Savior?

“And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’” The answer is, of course, God. God would bring it about. He would make it happen. He would accomplish this. And He would do it in a way that would have her breaking no commandments. A way that would show that He blessed her with this gift purely out of His favor; or we could say His grace and mercy toward her. He was doing this purely out of His character of being a gift giver.

When she heard these words of the angel, there was no trying to wrap her mind around them. She certainly did not comprehend how it would happen. Her belief that God would accomplish these things wasn’t because now she had comprehension of how God would do it. It was simply because of belief. It was humility that saw herself as a servant of the Most High God. Of the One who when He shines His favor upon you, the appropriate response is assent: “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’”

It takes a lot of humility to listen. To put yourself out of the picture and receive what God has to say to you. When you realize that you are simply a servant of the Lord then you realize that the very best thing is to let things be to you according to God’s Word. You begin to see that though you are a servant, Almighty God shines His favor upon you as His own son or daughter. That His favor toward you is purely out of His favor, that you are simply the recipient of an eternal gift from God.

You begin to realize that you don’t really have anything to offer God, that you can’t really reach up to Him, that you have nothing of yourself you can hang your hat on. You begin to realize that the Lord of all creation, the King of all, is the one who humbled Himself to be in the womb of a young girl for nine months. That He willingly chose to be born in a lowly manner. He humbly walked the earth not for fame or fortune, but to go to the cross.

You begin to realize that this is the source of God’s favor resting upon you. That humility is preparation for eternity, because eternity has come to you in the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary. That you deserve nothing but receive everything in Him. No matter who you are. Whether you’re the professional like Zechariah, or the simple person like Mary. Whether you’re you or me. Jesus died for all. He pours out His grace upon all. In humility, we pray our Lord that we would simply say: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your Word.” Amen.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Shall We Look for Another?

Third Sunday in Advent
December 13, 2009
Luke 7:18-28

John sends his disciples to Jesus with a question. But he sends them to Jesus. The question he sends them with: “Are You the one or should we be looking for another?” But, he is sending them to Jesus. He’s sending them to the right one.

John was the one who came for this purpose. To send people to Jesus. To point them to Him as the One. Now he finds himself in prison, never to be out again. Never to be out there, paving the way, pointing people to Jesus. He is there, in fact, only to wait for the day when he will lose his head for being a prophet.

And yet, there in prison he continues to do the very thing he was sent to do. Doing the thing he had always done. Sending people to Jesus. Pointing the way to him.

There were plenty who wondered. Many who wondered if Jesus was the one, or if they should look for another. Not everyone believed in Jesus. Not everyone believed He was the one. Many were looking for another. John sent his disciples to the source. To the One. Jesus doesn’t immediately respond to the question of John’s disciples. At least, not with words. Rather, He acts. He accomplished those things in the Old Testament reading that had been promised that the Savior would do: “Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise.”

Then come the words: Tell John what you have seen. Tell him what you have heard. What you have seen and heard will tell you who I am. These things will tell you not to look for another.

John’s action here in prison tells us what we need to know for our own lives. For our own difficulties we find ourselves in. For our own struggles with sin. Our own questions; even doubts. He’s in prison, he can’t do much preaching there. He can’t do much of anything there. But he can do one thing. And that is send people to Jesus. What he does there in prison is what we ought to do in our lives, whether we find ourselves in prison or any situation we’re in.

When you look at Jesus what do you see? Do you see the one, or are you looking for another? When you’re lying sleepless at night after hearing the doctor tell you that you have a tumor, who are you looking to? Are you looking for God to come in between you and the doctor and remove that tumor before it gets a hold of you? When you’re with your spouse or your child or your parent and you feel alone because you’ve spoken hastily rather than patiently and lovingly, are you looking to Christ, or a way to change the other person so that you don’t have to repent yourself? When you’re looking in the mirror and wondering why it is you made a stand for Christ when all it has brought you is broken friendships and the dragging of your reputation through the mud are you looking to Christ or for an easier life as a follower of Christ?

John points others to Jesus. Jesus points to the things He has done. The things He has spoken. Then He says something that goes to the heart of our problem: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” Isn’t this our problem? Isn’t this why we continue to sin? Isn’t this why we hold on to our grudges, our lusts, our covetous desires, our doubts, our laziness? We’re offended by Jesus. We’re constantly looking elsewhere. We’re looking for another to bring us the peace we desire, the fulfillment we crave, the swift end to our problems we think we deserve.

We’re offended by the one who has come in such a way that He doesn’t appear to be much help at all in our struggles, our trials, our needs, certainly our wants. We appear weak when we’re holding out hope for God to help us in our fight against terminal illness, our financial struggles, our constant battle against temptation. When we’re struggling it doesn’t seem like Christ is the One and that there is no other. Too often our response is to look for another. We too often search for a more emotionally fulfilling spirituality. We can so easily give in to our temptations.

What would you have done if you were Mary or Joseph? Or the shepherds who came to the baby Jesus? What would you have done if you were told that this baby born in a stable was God? Oh, and not only that, the only one who could save everyone from their sins and eternal damnation.

Would you have believed it if someone told you that your neighbor down the street, you know, the teenager who was taking up the trade of his father Joseph as a carpenter, was God? What would you have said to the ridiculous claim that this teenager had never committed any sins; that He, in fact, would deliver people from their sins?

What would you have thought of those people, like, say, John, who in prison, was pointing people to this man, who, admittedly was doing some spectacular things, and yet was not delivering everyone from their illnesses, everyone from their blindness, everyone from their problems? Would you have looked to that one also, or would you have looked for another?

Would you have been where everyone else was when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane? In other words, not with Jesus. Getting as far away from Him as you could, leaving Him alone, to be delivered over to be crucified? What would you have thought of Him if you looked at Him as He hung on the cross like a common criminal, among common criminals? Would you have seen God, or a man who was a tragic figure? Would you have seen your Savior, or a man who meant well and indeed did many wonderful things, setting an example for us all?

How would you have handled it if you had seen Him as He had risen from the grave, taught once again, showed Himself this time in glory, and then suddenly ascended into heaven, no longer being present in that state, walking among you, talking with you, being with you? What do you really think of the one who says that He is present with you through a Baptismal washing you underwent at one point in your life and because of that you are united with Him fully? Is your real hunger for His very Body and His very Blood in His Holy Supper, or do you look elsewhere to satisfy your desires and meet your needs?

Maybe the best thing that could have happened to John was to be locked up in a cell. Because it was there that he still saw that something he could do was send people to the One. The one in whom is the answer to all of our struggles, our problems, our sins. Maybe the reason John found himself holed up in prison was not just for his sake, but for ours as well. So that Jesus could be the focus of our lives.

He said that “among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.” Maybe in all of the stuff going on in your life you feel like you’re the least. And not just in the eyes of the world or even yourself. But even in the eyes of God. Maybe it seems like He doesn’t care or isn’t doing much for you. Well, what Jesus is saying here is that you’re exactly in the right place. The least is the greatest of all. Your Lord lifts you up to the highest place. And how does He do this? He who is the greatest of all became the least. He came not to be served but to serve. He lifts you up because He comes down to you right where you are.

Should you look for another? No, there’s no need. He’s right where He said He would be, coming right to you to save you and keep you in His eternal care. The one who came at Bethlehem and worked alongside His dad, and healed the sick and raised the dead, and who Himself suffered, died and rose, has come to you in your Baptism and offers Himself to you in His Holy Supper. Hear what He has done. Receive what He does. What He gives you for your salvation. Amen.


Lucia, Martyr

Today is the Commemoration of Lucia. Here is the summary from the Commission on Worship of the LCMS (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) on Lucia:

One of the victims of the great persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian, Lucia met her death at Syracuse on the island of Sicily in the year A.D. 304, because of her Christian faith. Known for her charity, “Santa Lucia” (as she is called in Italy) gave away her dowry and remained a virgin until her execution by the sword. The name Lucia means “light,” and, because of that, festivals of light commemorating her became popular throughout Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries. There her feast day corresponds with the time of year when there is the least amount of daylight. In artistic expression she is often portrayed in a white baptismal gown, wearing a wreath of candles on her head.

Third Sunday in Advent

At this point in the season of Advent we’re expectant. The season of Advent as a season of preparation may not be long but it seems long, as the world is already celebrating Christmas and Christians are good and ready to. But we’re not there yet. But we’re expectant. It’s coming soon. Preparing and being expectant keep us mindful of our life-long need for repenting of our sins and expecting our Lord to come on the Last Day. As we await that day and are in a constant state of expectation we also rejoice that our celebration of the birth of our Savior is almost here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymn writer

Today is the Commemoration of Ambrose of Milan. Here is the summary from the Commission on Worship of the LCMS (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) on Ambrose:

Born in Trier in A.D. 340, Ambrose was one of the four great Latin Doctors of the Church (with Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great). He was a prolific author of hymns, the most common of which is Veni, Redemptor gentium (“Savior of the Nations, Come”). His name is also associated with Ambrosian Chant, the style of chanting the ancient liturgy that took hold in the province of Milan. While serving as a civil governor, Ambrose sought to bring peace among Christians in Milan who were divided into quarreling factions. When a new bishop was to be elected in 374, Ambrose addressed the crowd, and someone cried out, “Ambrose, bishop!” The entire gathering gave their support. This acclaim of Ambrose, a 34-year-old catechumen, led to his baptism on December 7, after which he was consecrated bishop of Milan. A strong defender of the faith, Ambrose convinced the Roman emperor Gratian in 379 to forbid the Arian heresy in the West. At Ambrose's urging, Gratian's successor, Theodosius, also publicly opposed Arianism. Ambrose died on Good Friday, April 4, 397. As a courageous doctor and musician he upheld the truth of God's Word.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Nicholas of Myra, Pastor

Today is the Commemoration of Nicholas of Myra. Here is the summary from the Commission on Worship of the LCMS (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) on Nicholas:

Of the many saints commemorated by the Christian Church, Nicholas (d. A.D. 342) is one of the best known. Very little is known historically of him, although there was a church of Saint Nicholas in Constantinople as early as the sixth century. Research has affirmed that there was a bishop by the name of Nicholas in the city of Myra in Lycia (part of Turkey today) in the fourth century. From that coastal location, legends about Nicholas have traveled throughout time and space. He is associated with charitable giving in many countries around the world and is portrayed as the rescuer of sailors, the protector of children, and the friend of people in distress or need. In commemoration of “Sinte Klaas” (Dutch for Saint Nicholas, in English “Santa Claus”), December 6 is a day for giving and receiving gifts in many parts of Europe.

Is the Preaching of Repentance Relevant for Today?

Second Sunday in Advent
December 6, 2009
Luke 3:1-20

Before we get to Christ, we get John. That guy who was out there in the desert preaching a thing called repentance.

Before we celebrate the birth of Christ we observe a strange man who’s telling us about our sins.

Before we sing those beloved Christmas hymns and carols of peace on earth and goodwill toward men we are struck by the nature of John the Baptist’s preaching: loaded with Law and Judgment and Exhortation of how to live.

Is any of this relevant today? Can we just skip all that and think about how Jesus was born in a stable? The answer to the first question is that the Law and repentance are as relevant today as they were on the day John preached in today’s Gospel reading. The answer to the second is that we cannot just go straight to the manger and baby Jesus. Even though John is here preparing the way for Jesus in His three year ministry, before Jesus was born God was paving the way for it with the coming of John as a baby.

You can’t get to Jesus without going through John. Another way of saying it is that you can’t get to Jesus without going through the Law. That doesn’t mean, though, that John was all Law. He was very much a preacher of the Gospel, as Luke makes clear in the Gospel reading: at the beginning saying that he was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, in the middle when he quotes Isaiah that John would be preaching so that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God,” and at the end where we’re told that “he preached good news to the people.”

We see from this that John was a preacher of the Gospel. What we see is that you can’t preach the Gospel without preaching repentance. The Gospel can only be received if the Law has done its work. John preached the Law because it was the only way people could be prepared for the one for whom he was preparing the way. If anyone thinks repentance is not relevant today then they’re saying that the Gospel is not relevant. While the unbelieving world may not see the Gospel as relevant, Christians know the truth: salvation from sin and hell is very relevant. So we have to have the Law. We must repent otherwise there is no Gospel that can save us.

We can’t just be happy about Jesus being born in a stable and bringing peace on earth. He was born in order to die for the sins of the world. The peace He brings is peace of the forgiveness of sins. He has a funny way of bringing it about though. At least, it seems odd to us. All this Law and judgment and talk of eternal punishment. Do people want to hear this: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Or this, John’s words about Jesus: “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Maybe the reason people don’t think this preaching of repentance is relevant today is because they don’t want to hear it. They’ll hear the call to repentance as an ancient one that doesn’t speak to us today in our enlightened age. We can look all around us and see many well meaning people doing many humanitarian acts even though they aren’t Christians. Why would they need to repent?

And how about us Christians? We can easily rest on our laurels. When was the last time you asked what those baptized by John asked: “What shall we do?” When was the last time you admitted you have fallen short of God’s glory rather than patting yourself on the back for obeying His commandments? How often do you shrink in terror at what you rightfully deserve, eternal separation and punishment from God? What will it take for you to see that you keep falling into the same temptations and committing the same sins that you try so desperately to stop doing?

You don’t want to find out on Judgment Day that you are weighed in the balance and found wanting. You need to know now. That is why the Lord calls you to repentance. It’s as relevant as ever. He wants you in eternity with Him, not without. Here’s the way Paul describes it in the Epistle reading: “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” How is it that you can be found pure and blameless for the Day of Christ—Judgment Day? Because you have been called to repentance and have seen that your only hope is in Christ.

When someone tells you what to do, does it dig under your skin? Who are they to tell you what to do? When you are called to repentance are you wondering why anyone has the right to condemn you as a sinner? There are plenty of people in our lives who take it upon themselves to tell others how to live. They may genuinely be trying to help you, they may simply be convinced they know better than you. But when God tells us what to do it’s even harder to take to heart. Because it means repentance.

But don’t look at repentance as something that is bad. It is good for you. This changing of your mind and heart and life, this looking to Christ and His cross, is something He does require of you—but it’s also something He brings about in you through His holy and eternal and effective Word. Paul also says in the Epistle reading: “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

There is hope because God is the one who makes it all possible. The repentance, the turning from sin, the being forgiven and being saved, and even the good works to which He has called you—they’re all from Him, of Him, by Him, and on account of Christ and His suffering, death, and resurrection. There is no Gospel without Law, no forgiveness without repentance. It may rub us the wrong way to be called to repentance, but God loves us too much to leave us in our sin.

So flee temptation, turn from sin, and know that He has Baptized you, given you salvation in that being born again. Come to His Table and partake of the salvation offered into your mouth and for your body and soul, His very Body, His very Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins, for your life, your hope, your help. That’s His gift to you. It’s relevant and it’s for you, forever. Amen.


Second Sunday in Advent

In the Second Sunday in Advent we move into the middle portion of Advent where the focus is on John the Baptist. And yet, the focus is not really on John the Baptist. The focus is really, as always, on Jesus Christ. In the Second and Third Sundays in Advent where we see John at the forefront of the Gospel reading, we should think of him as He is: the Forerunner. (Not at the forefront, but as the Forerunner of Christ.) He was always pointing people to Christ. As the last of the Old Testament prophets (even though he shows up in the New Testament) John followed along in what all the other Old Testament prophets did: point people to Christ.

No, the middle part of Advent is not really about John. It’s really about Christ. The Church Year is always about Christ—the entire thing and every portion of it. John the Baptist makes that clear. He himself said that he must decrease while Christ must increase.

May it be so among us.

Friday, December 4, 2009

John of Damascus

Today is the Commemoration of John of Damascus. Here is the summary from the Commission on Worship of the LCMS (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) on John:

John (ca. 675–749) is known as the great compiler and summarizer of the orthodox faith and the last great Greek theologian. Born in Damascus, John gave up an influential position in the Islamic court to devote himself to the Christian faith. Around 716 he entered a monastery outside of Jerusalem and was ordained a priest. When the Byzantine emperor Leo the Isaurian in 726 issued a decree forbidding images (icons), John forcefully resisted. In his Apostolic Discourses he argued for the legitimacy of the veneration of images, which earned him the condemnation of the Iconoclast Council in 754. John also wrote defenses of the orthodox faith against contemporary heresies. In addition, he was a gifted hymn writer (“Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain”) and contributed to the liturgy of the Byzantine churches. His greatest work was the Fount of Wisdom which was a massive compendium of truth from previous Christian theologians, covering practically every conceivable doctrinal topic. John's summary of the orthodox faith left a lasting stamp on both the Eastern and Western churches.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Preparation: Part 1—Listening

Midweek Advent 1
December 2, 2009
Luke 1:1-25

The season of Advent is a season of preparation. Certain things need to be done with preparation. We expect a surgeon and his or her medical team to prepare rather than diving right into the surgery. Teachers need to prepare ahead of time what they will teach their students. While there are some things you can just dive into, many things, especially important things, need preparation. Too often we dive right into certain things without taking the time to prepare for them.

Advent is one of the times in the Church Year that helps us out in this area. When we think of the month of December as Christmastime we go right into the celebration of Christmas without taking the time to prepare for it. Most of December actually is the observance of Advent, with the celebration of Christmas toward the end.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas during all of December. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating it anytime! But there’s also nothing wrong with preparing for it. There’s value in it that you might not otherwise see if you skip the preparation and jump right into Christmas. The Scripture readings from Luke during these Midweek Advent worship services guide us in preparation for our celebration of the birth of Christ.

The first reading from Luke tells us about Zechariah. He is the father of John the Baptist. Although, if it had been left up to Zechariah, he wouldn’t have been John’s father at all. He wanted to listen to reason. It obviously was impossible for him and his wife Elizabeth to have a baby at their advanced age. Fortunately, God doesn’t always listen to us, in terms of doing what we want, and does what is best for us. So Zechariah, though he didn’t listen to the Word of God, still became the father of John the Baptist.

The first part of preparation, then, is listening. To be more specific, listening to the Word of God. Zechariah didn’t do that. His preparation for the birth of Christ would have been a whole lot better had he listened to the word of the angel Gabriel. As it was, he spent nine months of it not being able to speak. While his wife Elizabeth might have enjoyed this silence of her husband during her pregnancy, I imagine he wasn’t thrilled at being penalized in such a way.

It did drive home the point though: he was now in a better position to listen. Not being able to speak, all he could do was listen. I can imagine he spent many hours at nights going over that conversation he had had with Gabriel, the words the angel had spoken to him, his own refusal to take them for what they were—the very Word of God. If he hadn’t believed then, he surely did now, as he lay there night after night next to his elderly, but very pregnant, wife. He would be sure to listen from now on.

Do you and I have the same trouble today? We don’t need to receive the Word of God in a dramatic way as Zechariah did to hear it. We hear the Word of God just as he did back then. But do we listen? Do we believe the Word we are hearing? Or do we listen to reason? Do we go with that rather than the straightforward Word of God?

The problem with jumping straight into Christmas is that we miss all the stuff about John the Baptist. When God sent the Savior into the world He didn’t just up and do it. He prepared the world first. He sent John first. He sent the one who would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, [who would] go before [the Messiah] in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

God was preparing Zechariah, but Zechariah didn’t want to listen. We must listen. Preparing means first listening. God wants to prepare our hearts and minds for His Son to come into our lives. If we don’t listen how will we be prepared by Him? God came to Zechariah with Good News. “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”

If Zechariah had simply listened to this word from God he would have been prepared for what God was bringing about for him. God comes to us with Good News also. Will we listen to it? Will we trust Him as Zechariah should have done that He can bring things about in ways that we can’t understand but that are exactly what we need? In preparing to celebrate Christmas, we spend a period of time somewhat like a mini-Lenten season of repentance and meditating on what brought about God to send His only-begotten Son into the world.

It was, of course, His eternal love and mercy toward the people He created. It was love that moved Him to forgive our sins and restore us to eternal fellowship with Him. We need to acknowledge that we are in need of salvation. That apart from the Savior who came to earth at Bethlehem we stand condemned and will be judged so on Judgment Day when Christ returns again in glory.

But if we take some time to be silent before God and listen to Him we will hear His gracious word to us: we have full salvation in His Son through His life and suffering for the sins of the world. Amen.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thy Kingdom Come

“Thy Kingdom come” stands at the center of the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer—Our Father, who art in heaven, [1] hallowed by Thy name, [2] Thy Kingdom come, [3] Thy will be done.

What are we praying for when we pray this petition? The Catechism reminds us that “the Kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer.” God is the King of Kings whether people believe Him to be or not. He reigns whether we pray for Him to or not.

The Catechism goes on to teach that “we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.” In praying the second petition we pray that we may recognize that God comes to us with His blessings.

The natural question then would be, as the Catechism poses it: “How does God’s Kingdom come?” Its answer is: “God’s Kingdom comes when our Heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit.”

The Heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit in the Gospel and the Sacraments. This really is what Advent is all about. This ultimately is what God coming to us is all about.

“Advent” means coming. Christ will return again on the Last Day in glory to raise all the dead and take His people home to heaven with Him. His first Advent was His birth. He came then in humility, He will return again in glory. He came first to suffer on behalf of the world, He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

But Advent isn’t just about waiting around for Him to come again, knowing that He has already come the first time. Advent is about preparation. Advent is about the in between time of His First and Second Comings. What happens while we await Christ’s Return in glory?

We prepare. We receive. We rejoice in “our Heavenly Father giving us His Holy Spirit.” He comes to us in the Gospel and in the Sacraments. He does this, as the Catechism goes on to say, “so that by His grace we believe His Holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

So when you pray the Lord’s Prayer and you come to the second petition “Thy Kingdom come” think Advent. Think Christ coming to you in His Word and Sacraments for the forgiveness of your sins, for your salvation. Think His birth, His suffering and death, His resurrection, His Return in glory—all for you, His Kingdom, coming to you.