Sunday, December 25, 2022

Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Day - Jn 1:1-14


Christmas Day

                                                                                      Jn 1:1-14



          The pastoral ministry deals with life and death.  The longer I serve in the Office of the Ministry, the more I am struck by this.  Pastors deal with life as it begins.  The second floor at Memorial Hospital in Carbondale is the only part of a hospital in our area that I like to visit, because that is where babies are born.  I recently visited there as I saw Austin Mallow and his new born son.  I was reminded again about how tiny human beings start out as I looked at little Grayson.

          Much of the ministry deals with death.  Pastors care for people in the midst of physical conditions that bring the threat of death.  We usually stay very well informed about the situation of members with a serious illness like cancer.  Because the wages of sin is death, we know that apart from the return of Christ, these congregation members will eventually die. It is not a question of if, but rather when.  Often the pastor is there at the end, or very close to it.  Then the final act of pastoral care takes place in the funeral service and the committal at the cemetery.

          At the same time, pastors deal with life and death in another way.  We encounter people who are dead – they are spiritually cut off from God.  Through the word of God and the waters of baptism they receive new life. They are born again. And then on the other hand, we see people who have received new life in Christ slip back into spiritual death as they cease to be fed with the Means of Grace and adopt the world’s view of Christ.

          The Gospel lesson for Christmas Day speaks about life and being born as a child of God.  It also speaks about those who do not receive Christ and believe in him. These are people who are trapped in death.  As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, John tells us the incredible truth about the baby in the manger.  He teaches us to recognize that how we view this child – who he is and what he has done – is a matter of life and death.

          Our Gospel lesson begins with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” John starts the Gospel with words the recall Genesis chapter one.  He speaks about the second person of the Trinity and refers to him as “the Word.”  This is a term that has a rich background in the Old Testament for it describes God’s powerful self-expression in creation and revelation. At the same time, it was a word that was used in the Greek world to describe the ordering principle of the universe.

          John says that this One was in the beginning and was with God. More than that, he was God and all things were created through him.  John’s language brings us into the mystery of the Holy Trinity, because we learn that there is a complexity to God. There is only One God, and yet we hear about relationships within God himself. John can refer to the Word separately, and then at the same time tell us the Word is God.

          Then the apostle tells us, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  In the Word we find life. He has brought life as the Creator. We learn in the Gospel that he also brings life as the One who rescues us from the devil and sin.  This life is described as a light that shines in the darkness. 

          John says in our text that, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”  That is what we celebrate today. The Word – the true light that brings life – came into the world. Yet he did it in the most mysterious and unexpected way, for John tell us at the end of our text: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

          We learn that the Son of God – the Word who made the creation – entered into that creation as he became flesh and dwelt among us.  In these words, the Holy Sprit expresses the mystery of the incarnation.  God is spirit.  And yet, God took on flesh – he became man without ceasing to be God.  The baby lying in the manger on Christmas morning was not just a baby.  He was the Creator of the universe.

          The Son of God did this to rescue us from the devil and sin.  He did it to rescue us from death.  The Father sent forth the Son to be incarnate by the work of the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary. He acted in this way because of what sin had done to us.  Jesus says to Nicodemus in chapter three, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodeus is confused and asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

          Flesh here does not refer to created humanity as it does in our text.  Instead, set in opposition to Spirit, it means the sinful, fallen nature.  Sinful fallen people give birth to sinful fallen people.  This means that all people are born as slaves of sin. All people are trapped in death because of that sin.  The only thing that can change this is new birth – new life that comes from God.

          That is why the Son of God entered into the world – why he became flesh. He was in the world in order to rescue us from sin, the death, and the devil. Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  Jesus was in the flesh in order to be the sacrifice that has won forgiveness for us.  John the Baptist declared when he saw Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

          The Son of God became flesh to be nailed to a cross. Our Lord said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  Lifted up on the cross in the flesh the Word that created the world – who created life – died in order to free us from sin.  He died to make real life - life in fellowship with God - possible.

          Dead and buried in a tomb, on the third day Jesus rose from the dead.  Crucified in the flesh, he rose from the dead in the flesh.  The risen Lord invited Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.” Because of his death and resurrection, Jesus is now the source of life. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” 

          Because of Jesus we already have eternal life now instead of God’s judgment.  John’s Gospel states in chapter three, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”  And we will also have resurrection life on the Last Day. Our Lord declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”

          You are here this morning because God has given you new life through Christ.  John says in our text, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  God has made you the children of God. He has called you as his own. This had nothing to do with your own reason or strength.  Instead, it is God who did this.  He gave you new life as you were born again of water and the Spirit.

          Because this is true, we are able to say the words from First John at the beginning of the Divine Service with confidence: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  We live in the assurance that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life with God. We have a life that not even death can stop.  And we also know that we will have the final and complete life God intends on the Last Day, for Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

          This is the love that the Son of God has revealed for us.  He was willing to enter our world and become flesh. He was willing to take our sin, and to suffer and die as the sacrifice for us.  He served us.  And now he calls us to share this love with one another – especially with fellow believers.  Our Lord said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. 

Love – caring for others and putting their needs before our own becomes the defining feature of our lives as Christians. As John states in his First Epistle: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 

On this Christmas Day we give thanks for the baby in the manger.  He is the Word – the Son of God who created the universe.  But he is the Word become flesh, for he has taken on humanity, and is true God and true man.  He became flesh to give us life by his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Because of this, we are now able to be the children of God.  We have been born of God as we were born again in Holy Baptism.  Forgiven and having received life from God, we have eternal life now, and the assurance of sharing in Christ’s resurrection on the Last Day.  Because this is so, we live in the present sharing the love of Jesus Christ with those around us.


















Saturday, December 24, 2022

Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Eve - Isa 9:2-7


Christmas Eve

                                                                                      Isa 9:2-7



          No one chooses to start a war in the expectation that it will be a failure.  War is too costly, and the loss of a war is too detrimental to leaders and nations to start a war you expect to lose.  When Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 of this year, her leader Vladimir Putin certainly did not expect the situation to look like it does today.  He did not expect the results that now exist.

          In truth, nobody did.  Putin and Russia had spent billions of dollars upgrading the equipment of the Russian army and increasing the level of its training.  Western observers believed that an invasion would result in an easy Russian victory in about a week. Russia expected the invasion to last three to five days.

          But wars are unpredictable, and the other side gets a say in the outcome.  Ukraine has put up a brave and skilled defense which has required great sacrifice. The U.S. and NATO countries have provided massive military aid to Ukraine. Russian plans and tactics have been poor, and the general combat readiness of the Russian military has been revealed as very lacking.

          The results are not what Putin expected.  Russia has suffered major defeats on the battlefield and much of that new military hardware in the Russian army is now burnt out scrap metal.  Russia has been forced into a largely defensive position, trying to hold on to the parts of Ukraine it still controls. There is the real possibility that as the war goes on, Ukraine may even be able to retake the Crimean peninsula that Russia had occupied in 2014.  In response to the Russian invasion, Sweden and Finland have taken the previously unimaginable step of applying for membership in NATO.  None of this is what Putin intended or expected.

          Our text this evening comes from Isaiah’s prophecy in the eighth century B.C.  He wrote in the midst of a time of war – war that brought unexpected outcomes. It was apparent that Assyria – modern day northern Iraq – was the rising power in the Near East that was a threat to her neighbors.  In response, Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel wanted the southern kingdom of Judah to enter into a military alliance against the Assyrians. Judah refused, so around 735 B.C. Syria and Israel attacked Judah.

          Judah appeared to have no chance.  Isaiah told king Ahaz to trust in Yahweh, for he would defend Judah.  The prophet warned the king, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”  But Ahaz did not believe in Yahweh, and so he made his own plans.  He asked the king of Assyria to help him.

          The war of Syria and Israel against Judah did not produce the results anyone expected.  Syria and Israel were both defeated by Assyria.  In 722 B.C. the Assyrians took Israel into exile. Yet in the previous chapter Isaiah warned that because Judah had refused Yahweh’s help, now Assyria would invade them as well.  He said, “therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck.” The Assyrians overran the country and lay siege to Jerusalem.

          This is the situation that Isaiah addresses in our text.  Yet rather than darkness and sorrow, the prophet speaks of light and joy.  Our text begins by saying, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.”

          These are words that include not just Judah, but also the northern kingdom of Israel, for the verse before our text explicitly refers to the northern lands of Israel who were the first to receive the blow of Assyria’s attack.  There Isaiah writes, “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.”

          God promised joy like that of the harvest time or when the spoil is divided.  Why was there going to be joy? It was because the oppressor would be removed and war itself would be ended.  Isaiah states, “For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.”

          And how was this going to happen?  It was going to happen through the work of God’s Messiah – a Messiah described in a very surprising way.  Isaiah declares, For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor,  Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

          Isaiah had already spoken about a child. In chapter seven he had rebuked King Ahaz for refusing to trust in Yahweh.  He said, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  God said that before this child was old enough to know right and wrong, the threat of Syria and Israel would be gone. Isaiah’s words referred to a child born in the normal fashion. But the ultimate fulfillment – the child mentioned in our text – would be someone far more than a human being.

          God acted in a mighty way to deliver Judah.  The Assyrians lay siege to Jerusalem.  They mocked Yahweh.  The Assyrian king Sennacherib sent a letter to Hezekiah insulting the king for trusting in Yahweh.  In response, the angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a night.  The Assyrians were forced to withdraw.

          God provided deliverance to Judah during Isaiah’s day.  Yet this action by God pointed forward to something even greater that he would do through Israel’s Messiah.  It pointed to his saving action that would rescue us from the sin that has invaded our world through the Fall.  Tempted by Satan, Adam and Eve disobeyed God.  They brought sin into the world – sin that has ruled every person born since.  We are conceived and born as sinners.  We are people who sin against God in thought, word, and deed.  Left to ourselves we can only expect to receive God’s judgment and damnation.

          Yet Isaiah says in our text, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, 

Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” We learn that this child to be born will be called “Mighty God.”  Isaiah had already said the virgin would conceive and bear a son, and call his name Immanuel – which means “God with us.”

We are celebrating that birth tonight.  Jesus Christ was born to the virgin Mary.  Joseph, who descended from King David, took him to be his own son and so included him in the line of David. That is why Jesus can be the fulfillment of what Isaiah says in our text: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”

But Joseph was not Jesus’ father.  Instead, Jesus had been conceived through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Gabriel had told Mary: “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.”  It was a real baby whom Mary placed in the manger – a real human being.  But Jesus was not just a man, he was also the Son of God. He was true God and true man at the same time.

Jesus Christ was conceived and born in this world to be what Isaiah describes in our text: the Prince of peace.  In order for there to be peace with God, our sin had to be judged and punished.  Christ took our place as he was judged and condemned for our sin when he died on the cross. But death and judgment was not the final word from God. Instead, he raised Jesus from the dead on the third day and exalted him as he ascended into heaven.

Jesus Christ is Immanuel – he is God with us.  He is the child born who is Mighty God and the Prince of peace.  Matthew tells us that when Jesus began his ministry he lived in Capernaum – in Galilee, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali – in order to fulfill the words Isaiah chapter 9.  Jesus was the great light seen by the people dwelling in darkness, and the light dawning in the region and shadow of death.

He is that light for us as well.  His forgiving and saving ministry continue in our midst through his Means of Grace. The risen Lord comes to us through his Word, and through his true body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar to give us forgiveness and life.  Because of Jesus we know that we are forgiven, and death has been defeated.

And we also know that the risen and ascended Lord will come again in glory. The Son of God entered into this world in the incarnation to win forgiveness for us.  He did this when he came as a helpless baby in a manger.  Yet as we see in the war between Russia and Ukraine, he has not brought final and complete peace to this world.

This he will do on the Last Day. Jesus Christ will return in might and power.  He will raise the dead and pronounce the final judgment which will be vindication for us who trusted in him.  He will renew creation – the very good creation in which we will live with him forever. All sin and evil will be destroyed. And so Isaiah’s words in our text will find their final and complete, fulfillment: Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”









Sunday, December 18, 2022

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent - Rorate Coeli - Dt 18:15-19


Advent 4

                                                                                Deut 18:15-19



          Don’t kid yourself.  You would have done it too. The arrival of Yahweh on top of Mt Sinai was a fearsome and awesome experience.  God had rescued Israel from Egypt in the exodus.  He had brought them through the Red Sea, and now they had arrived at Mt Sinai where Yahweh was going to take them into a covenant with himself.

          Three days before the event, God had commanded the people to consecrate themselves and wash their garments.  Then he had Moses tell the people, “Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it.  Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.”

          Then we are learn that on the third day there were thunder and lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain.  There was a very loud trumpet blast so that people trembled.  Moses brought them to meet God at the foot of the mountain. Mt Sinai was wrapped in smoke because Yahweh descended upon it in fire. The smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.  The sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder as God came down upon Sinai.

          Yahweh said, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  Then he gave them the Ten Commandments. But when the people saw the thunder and lightning, and the mountain smoking they were afraid and trembled. They stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”  Confronted by the fearsome and awesome presence of the holy God, the people wanted no more.  Don’t kid yourself. You would have done it too.

          Confronted by the holy God, Israel was overwhelmed and wanted no more of it.  Instead, they wanted Moses to interact with Yahweh and to speak his word to them.  God didn’t judge this to be unfaithful.  Instead we learn in our text that he said, “They are right in what they have spoken.”

          Moses took on the role of interacting with God.  During the rest of his life, as Israel wandered in the wilderness, he entered into the presence of God and talked with him. When he left, the skin of his face was shining. The glory of the Lord left this residual effect on him, and because the people were afraid to come near him, Moses took up the practice of wearing a veil over his face.

          We usually think of Moses as being the “law giver.”  However, instead, our text refers to him as a prophet.  The end of Deuteronomy says: “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israe like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of Israel.”

          What Deuteronomy says continued to be true throughout Israel’s history.  There was no other prophet like Moses.  When it came to mighty deeds, the next greatest was Elijah.  Yet when Elijah wanted to see God, he was only permitted to see God’s “back” – he was only granted an indirect perception of God and not the “face to face” encounter of Moses that left his skin shining.  Elijah did great miracles, but nothing he did could compare to the miracle at the Red Sea.

          However, in our text we learn that God promised to raise up a prophet like Moses.  He says, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among your brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.”  God promised to send another prophet who would be mighty in the way that Moses was. This prophet would speak God’s word faithfully, and the people were to listen to him.  If a person did not, he or she would receive God’s judgment.

          During Advent we are preparing to celebrate the fact that God did send forth the promised prophet like Moses. In Acts chapter 3 Peter talks about the ascended Lord Jesus and declares, “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him whatever he tells you.”  Jesus Christ was the prophet like Moses sent forth by God.

          Obviously, Jesus did mighty deeds. We heard last week that when John sent the question, “Are you the coming One, or should we look for another?”, Jesus responded, “God and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”  Moses followed God’s command to part the Red Sea.  Jesus spoke by his own authority as twice he commanded the storms on the Sea of Galilee to be still.

          Jesus performed mighty deeds.  He also spoke God’s word, just as Moses describes in our text.  On the night when he was betrayed, Jesus said to the Father, “For I have given them the words that you gave me.”  Jesus’ ministry was characterized by his powerful teaching – a teaching that revealed the true depths of God’s will.  In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord repeatedly contrasted his declaration of God’s will with that which was commonly believed in his day.  Six times he repeated, “You have that it was said … but I say to you.”

          Jesus is the prophet like Moses sent by God.  In our text, God says, “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.”

The question then, is whether we are listening to Jesus. He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”  He said, “Do no lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He said, “But I say to you, that everyone who looks at a women with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

So how well are you listening?  Unless you are a liar, the answer for each one of us is that we often do not. Jesus is the prophet like Moses sent by God. God says, “And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.”  And remember, the One who will require it of you is same holy God who descended on Mt. Sinai in fire.  He is the same One who caused the people to say to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Left on your own, there is nothing that awaits you except God’s judgment and wrath.

Yet the good news – the Gospel – is that Jesus is the prophet like Moses.  Prophets performed mighty miracles. Prophets spoke God’s word. And prophets also suffered. Prophets were killed. 

Last Sunday and now today we hear about John the Baptist.  John the Baptist stands out because he was the “prophesied prophet.”  Both Isaiah and Malachi spoke about him. We learn that he is the Elijah promised by God – the one who prepares the way for the Lord.  Yet, last Sunday we saw that John the Baptist was in prison because he had spoken God’s word to King Herod Antipas.  In the end, his vengeful wife Herodias engineered the beheading of John the Baptist by using her own daughter.

Jesus Christ came as the prophet like Moses whose mission was to suffer and die for us.  Jesus was a prophet. But he was not like any prophet who ever lived.  During Advent we are preparing to celebrate the fact that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  Jesus is the Son of God.  He is true God and true man at the same time.  For this reason, his death had a value and purpose that goes beyond any human being.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus came to speak God’s word.  He also came to fulfill God’s saving will.  He came to drink the cup of God’s wrath against our sin. He came to be judged – to be damned – on the cross in our place. In this way God justly judged sin, and also gave us forgiveness for all of the ways we have not listened to his word.

The Jewish historian Josephus tells us about other “prophets” who showed up during the first century. They usually appeared in the wilderness and promised deliverance.  One promised to part the Jordan River.  Others promised to make the walls of Jerusalem fall, just as God had done to Jericho. Yet the end result was always the same.  The Romans sent troops who killed the “prophet” and his followers.  And that was the end.

But Jesus the prophet was different.  His death was not failure, but instead was the very purpose for which he was in the world. He won forgiveness for us by dying on the cross, and then on the third day God the Father vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. His death was the means by which God defeated death. His resurrection was the beginning of our resurrection, for he is the first born from the dead. Because Jesus has risen from the dead, we will too when he returns in glory on the Last Day.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, you have forgiveness for every way that you fail to listen to him.  In Holy Baptism, God washed way every sin.  In God’s eyes you are holy because of what Jesus has done for you. He will not require it of you, because he already did of Jesus.

We look to the day of our Lord’s return, and when he does we will not be like the people of Israel saying, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”  Instead, we will live in the renewed creation – the new heaven and the new earth seen by John in the Book of Revelation.  When he saw them he heard the cry: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

In the present you have forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life.  In future you will have resurrection and life in the presence of God in the new creation.  These are yours through faith – faith in Jesus Christ the prophet like Moses.

This is faith that the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Christ – has worked in you. And because he has, we return to the words of Jesus. Led and strengthened by the Spirit, as the people of God we seek to live in ways that love our enemies.  More and more we put God first, and wealth in its proper place. We resist sexual temptations. We take up the cross of confessing Christ wherever we are called to do so.  We listen to the word of God delivered by the prophet like Moses, for by the work of the Spirit he enables us more and more to put those words into practice.

Today we hear God promise, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among your brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”  God fulfilled his word in our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the prophet like Moses whose suffered and died just as the prophets did.  Yet because the incarnate Son of God is more than just a prophet, his death has won for us the forgiveness of sins.  His resurrection has begun the new life that will be ours on the Last Day – a new life that is already ours through the work of the Spirit.  And so we say with the prophet Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant listens.”









Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Sermon for the third mid-week Advent services - Lk 1:26-38


Mid-Advent 3

                                                                                       Lk 1:26-38



          In the course of doing some research, I learned recently that unwed teen pregnancy was virtually unknown in the Greco-Roman world.  The reason was that girls married as soon as they were able to have children – usually at twelve or thirteen years old.  There simply wasn’t time and opportunity between when they were able to become pregnant and being marriage to have a child outside of marriage.  What was true of the Greco-Roman world, was also true of the first century Jewish world for the very same reason.

          We think of infant mortality as being a something of the ancient past.  But it was still a significant factor not that long ago.  Around 1870 two of my great great aunts went to visit their parents in St. Louis.  Both women had a child who was a little over a year old. While visiting there, both of these children died from what was then called “Second Summer Disease.”  Toddlers who were no longer nursing were given milk. This unpasteurized milk was delivered outside the door in the summer heat.  The milk gave children an intestinal infection that ultimately killed them.

Because ancient people lived in a world where infant and child mortality was extremely high, the Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures had girls marry and begin having children as soon as possible.  In order to maintain the population in the face of these losses, females needed to have as many children as they could.

In our text tonight, Mary learns the shocking news that she is going to be pregnant when not married. We recognize that this would make her appear to be guilty of breaking the Sixth Commandment. But we also need to understand how unusual her situation would be – how much it would make her stand out in that culture as a violator of God’s law.

          Our text begins by telling us that Mary was a girl who lived in Nazareth, a city in Galilee.  She was a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of King David. As I just described, Mary would have most likely been twelve or thirteen years old. She was betrothed to David. This was more than our engagement – it was in fact a legal status. However, she and Joseph were not yet married.

          We learn that the angel Gabriel was sent to Mary in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. He said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” The angel announced that Mary had been shown favor by God, and that Lord was with her. This was a greeting that announced blessing.  But Mary was no more used to seeing angels than you or I, and she was greatly troubled at the saying, as she tried to discern what sort of greeting this was.

Gabriel responded to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

          These are words that are based on what God had said to King David through the prophet Nathan.  In Second Samuel chapter seven, God had promised, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”  This was the foundational promise that the Messiah would descend from David.  It is this promise that the prophets later explain further such as when Isaiah said in chapter eleven that one from the line of David would have the Spirit upon him as he judged righteously, killed the wicked with the breath of his lips, and ushered in the time of peace when the wolf would dwell with the lamb.

          Gabriel was telling Mary the that her son would be the Messiah – the One who would bring God’s end time reign. This was overwhelming news! Yet Mary raised a rather obvious question as she asked: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  Unlike Zechariah’s question last week, this was not a doubting question of unbelief.  Instead, it was the faithful attempt to receive an explanation for something that seemed like it could not happen. Virgins, after all, don’t have children.

Gabriel replied to Mary, “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.”  Earlier Gabriel had stated that Jesus would be Son of the Most High.  The kings that descended from David were described as God’s “son” in an adopted sense. But now it became clear that Gabriel meant something far more.  The Holy Spirit was going to cause Mary – a virgin – to conceive.  This child would be unlike any other child because he would be holy - he would be the Son of God.  He would be true God and true man at the same time.

This had never happened before.  But in order to demonstrate that God really was going to do it, Gabriel went on to say, “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.”  God had made the supposedly dead womb of Elizabeth pregnant with a child.  The Spirit of God could certainly cause a virgin to become pregnant with the Son of God, because nothing will be impossible with God.

Mary had heard that God was going to do what seemed impossible.  But her response was one of faith and trust. She said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” She not only trusted that God would do it, but she also submitted herself to God’s will and plan. 

There are times when God’s will and plan for our life do not go according to our script. There are unexpected setbacks. There are delays that we do not want. There is real uncertainty about the future, and how exactly things are going to turn out.  As we face these things, it becomes easy for the old Adam in us to raise questions about whether God really is in charge.  We are tempted to doubt God’s love and care.

Gabriel told Mary, “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.” That is what happened as she became pregnant and gave birth to the incarnate Son of God.  Gabriel told Mary about Jesus, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” That is what God did, for on Pentecost Peter proclaimed about the Jesus and the events happening that day: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”

Yet before this happened, Jesus suffered and died on the cross. As Isaiah had foretold, God did put his Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism and identify him – the One descended from David – as the Messiah.  But in having the Spirit placed upon him, Jesus was also designated as the Servant of the Lord – the Suffering Servant. At the Last Supper Jesus quoted Isaiah chapter fifty three and applied it to himself as he said, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”

Jesus Christ suffered and died as the sacrifice for our sin. He was numbered with the transgressors as he took our place.  He received the judgment against sin that should have been ours. But if things had ended there, he could not have been the One described by Gabriel whose kingdom – whose reign – has no end.  On the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  As the risen Lord told the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

On Good Friday, it did not look like God was in charge.  The One designated as the Messiah was crucified. He died in shame, weakness, and humiliation.  It did not look like God was doing anything. But on Easter we learned that the cross was in fact God’s powerful action to save us. Jesus was both the Suffering Servant and the Messiah.  God has acted through the cross to give us forgiveness.  And by dying, Jesus the risen Lord has defeated death.

This changes the way we look at everything.  It gives us confidence that we can trust in God no matter what things may look like.  The cross and resurrection of Jesus become the lens through which we see all of life.  God achieved our salvation in a way that did not look like he was doing anything.  Yet because of the resurrection we now have everything. When faced with those times that can cause us to doubt God, we need remember the resurrection of Jesus.  It says that God is still in charge and that his loving care for us will not fail. It will not, because nothing is impossible for God, and he has shown us this in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.