Welcome

Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Angel to Joseph, Leave Nazareth - New Year’s Eve - Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus - December 31, 2012 - Text: Matthew 2:13-15

The angels became very prominent in the work of the Lord at the time of the birth of Jesus. We began the Advent season talking about the angel that God sent to announce to Zachariah the birth of the one who would prepare the way for Jesus, John the Baptist. We went on to talk about the angel sent from the Lord who announced to Mary that she had found favor with God and would be the mother of God. We talked about the angel who was sent in a dream to reassure Joseph that it was okay to take Mary as his wife because what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit. Last week, on Christmas Eve, we moved on to talk about the angel and the angels who were sent to announce the good news of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. And last week on Christmas morning we move on to talk about the angel who was sent to announce to Simeon the birth of the Savior for whom he and the believing Israelites had been waiting, the birth of the Savior of the world. This evening we conclude our series of the work of the angels by talking about the angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream to instruct him in saving Mary and Jesus from the hands of King Herod.
 
Again, as we have done through the Advent season, before we get to the actual announcement, let us take a moment to look at the message receiver. This evening we have the angel again sent to Joseph and again rather than appear to Joseph as he did to Zechariah and Mary in person, the angel appears to Joseph in a dream. Now, remember, the angel had previously appeared to Joseph in a dream to assure him that it was okay to take Mary as his wife because she was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. At this time the angel appears to Joseph in order to save him, Mary and especially the baby Jesus. The message recipient this evening is Joseph, the husband of Mary and father of Jesus.
 
The occasion or what precipitated the necessity of the angel appearing to Joseph was the fact that Herod was after the life of Jesus. Let me refresh your memory. After Jesus was born there were Magi or wise men from the East who saw the special star God put in the heavens to guide them to meet the Savior of the world. These Magi were not Jewish, but were Gentile and so were the first non-Jews to visit the baby Jesus, reminding us that Jesus came to save all people, Jew and Gentile alike. When the Magi came to Jerusalem they were instructed by Herod and his priests as to where the baby Jesus might be found and they were further instructed that after they found Jesus they were to report back to Herod, under the pretense that he wanted to worship the baby as well. After waiting for a length of time, perhaps a year, Herod realized that the Magi, the wise men, had tricked him.
 
As we know, looking back, as the story unfolds, Herod was not looking for the baby Jesus in order to worship Him, rather Herod feared for his throne and was looking for the baby Jesus in order to kill Him. Herod was rather a selfish and paranoid ruler. His life and rule were riddled with murder in order to keep his earthly throne and the search for Jesus was only a part of this miserable life.
 
Because Herod did not know where Jesus was or who He was, in order to destroy this competition for the throne he sent his soldiers to kill all the baby boys in the region where Jesus was born, the region of Bethlehem, that were two years old and under, just to make sure. And so was fulfilled the prophecy of the cry from Bethlehem Ephritha concerning the murder of these infants.
 
The Lord sent the angel to Joseph to deliver a message and the again the angel appears to Joseph in a dream. The message the angel delivered was that Joseph was to take the Child and His mother and leave for Egypt. Notice the Child is mentioned first because all of history is centered on this Child, His life and soon His death, resurrection and ascension.
 
The angel appeared to Joseph, delivered God’s message and Joseph believed the message and obeyed God’s direction through the angel. Joseph packed up his family and all their belongings from the house where they were now staying and began the trip to safety, away from Herod and his murdering soldiers.
 
Joseph took his family and moved to Egypt. Again we are told of the fulfillment of a prophecy concerning the fact that God would call His Son out of Egypt.
 
The typology of these events, the going down to Egypt and the coming up out of Egypt is important. Jesus came to be Israel. He came to do what Israel could not do, and for that matter, what we cannot do. So, just as the Lord sent Israel to Egypt in order to survive the famine and just as the Lord called Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, so now the same is happening to the Lord’s own Son, Jesus.
 
Jesus coming out of Egypt, is the anti-type, except that His is true Israel, perfect in every way. So, Israel is the type and Jesus is the greater anti-type. Israel was called by God and set apart to be His chosen people and the nation through whom the Savior of the world would be born and Jesus is the anti-type, the true Israel who fulfilled all of what God commanded His people to do, but all they could not do.
 
The importance of this going to and coming out of Egypt is seen in typology and is an example and message to us of the same scenario today. Israel was called by God to live perfectly, to inhabit the promised land, to be God’s people and to be the nation through whom the Savior of the world, of all people would be born. Israel failed miserably in their calling from God. We have been called by God to faith. We have been called by God to be His people, to bear witness through our lives, our thoughts, words and actions that we are God’s people and yet we continually fail miserably.
 
And so Jesus came to do for Israel and to do for us what we are unable to do. Jesus came to live perfectly. And He did, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, being born in perfection and never sinning. Jesus came to fulfill all the law and the prophets perfectly. And He did, perfectly obeying all God’s laws and commands and perfectly fulfilling all God’s prophecies and promises concerning the coming Messiah.
 
And Jesus came to pay the price for sin, which He did after living perfectly and after taking all our sins upon Himself. He who was without sin, He who knew no sin became sin for us in our place. And He paid the price, the wage, the cost for our sins which is death, eternal spiritual death and hell for us, for Israel, for all people, of all places, of all times. Jesus suffered and died, and rose again for us. He showed Himself to be alive and then ascended back to the place from which He descended.
 
Jesus came to trade His perfect life for our imperfect life and to robe us with His perfect robes of righteousness. By faith in Jesus, faith given to us through our Baptism as well as through His Word, faith strengthened through confession and absolution as well as remembering our baptism, hearing God’s Word and through His Holy Supper, by faith we are robed in His robes of pure righteousness and we inherit eternal life in heaven.
 
What does this mean? Again we notice this evening, it was not Joseph who approached God. Notice also, it was not because he was blameless that God reassured him. If this statement were true, then we would naturally point to ourselves and we would be the reason that God does what He does. Because we know that we are not the prime movers, but that God is the Prime Mover, we know that it was God who chose Mary and Joseph as her husband. It was God who chose to give him directions in a dream in order to save the baby Jesus and his family by taking them to Egypt and later by bringing them back to Galilee. As always, it always begins with God.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Jesus Is the Christ - December 30, 2012 - First Sunday after Christmas - Text: Luke 2:22-40

Five days ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Today we fast forward forty days to what is called the presentation of Jesus in the temple. The purification rites after the birth of a firstborn child required the mother to wait for forty days before going to the temple to offer her sacrifice for purification. The sacrifice was to be a lamb and a pigeon or dove. If the person could not afford this sacrifice, then the sacrifice could be two pigeons or doves. This morning we journey with Mary and Joseph as they present Jesus in the temple, in accordance with the Law, to fulfill the Law.
 
Our text begins by introducing us to Simeon. Simeon was a righteous man and he was devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel. In other words, he was waiting to see the one promised from God, the Messiah, the Savior. Luke tells us that it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the “Lord’s Christ,” the Savior. By the way Luke recounts these events we would believe that Simeon is now rather old and is waiting to see the Savior so that he might die in peace. And so, not by any coincidence, but by the action of God moving in Simeon, he went to the temple at the same time that Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus and for Mary to make her sacrifice for purification. Have you ever wondered about what we call coincidences? I believe there is no such thing as a coincidence, instead what we are seeing is God’s usually unseen hand acting in our time to make something happen to His glory. Such is the case with the events of our text. Simeon, moved by the Holy Spirit, came into the temple to see the consolation of Israel.
 
As Mary and Joseph enter the temple Simeon, who is the priest on duty and who was moved by the Holy Spirit to be in the temple, is there to receive the child. He takes the child and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit he gives to us the words which we sing in the Nunc Dimmitus, or in English, the Now Dismiss. Simeon praises the Lord because He has allowed him to see the Savior of the world, the one promised in the Garden of Eden. Simeon’s words are words of faith. He is now ready to be dismissed. Literally, He is ready to die and be taken to heaven because he has seen the one who was promised and who was to come to save the world. Notice that Simeon’s words are not just focused on God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, but are words which reveal that Jesus came to save all people, Jew and Gentile alike as he says that Jesus is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.” Jesus came to save all people, even and especially us, you and me.
 
Luke tells us that “the child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.” I think that might have been an understatement. Yes, God had revealed to both Mary and Joseph that Jesus was God born in human flesh, that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world, but still, for Mary and Joseph, these events would all be quite “marvelous,” unexpected and maybe somewhat dumbfounding.
 
But Simeon does not stop with the Nunc Dimmitus, he continues by speaking to Mary and Joseph. He tells Mary in particular that Jesus is “appointed (or as some translations put it, “destined”) for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce your own soul also),  so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Jesus is destined to be the one who will save many people and at the same time, to those who do not believe He will be their fall, they will be doomed to eternal spiritual death because they do not believe, but refuse and reject Him. Jesus is a sign. He is the one who came speaking about His Father and His relationship with His Father. Many would not believe that He was God, that He and the Father were one. The hearts of the unbelievers was shown through their speaking out against Him. And this continues to be the way it is in our world today. Many people do not believe in Jesus still today. Many do not believe He is God in flesh, as He shows and tells us in His Word. Many do not believe and instead are destined to eternal spiritual death.
 
Probably the hardest words that Simeon speaks, however, are the words to Mary that a sword will pierce her own soul too. Mary, who pondered all these things and kept them in her heart is, after all, the mother of this child whose destiny is a cross. She will watch her own child be cursed by others, be hated by others, be deserted by all His friends and be hung on a cross. She will watch her own Son suffer and die, for the sins of all people. Certainly a sword of pain will pierce through her own heart.
 
Luke, the faithful Doctor and Historian shows us that Jesus is the Messiah, but if Simeon’s words are not enough, he also introduces us to Anna, who is also in the temple. About Anna we are told that she was “very old” and that she was a widow since the time of her husband’s death which occurred after only their seventh anniversary and that now she was eighty-four years old. She now lived her life in the temple. Luke tells us “she did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and praying night and day.” And again, like Simeon, she did not come into the temple at this time by accident or coincidence, but by the leading of the Holy Spirit.
 
She came up to Mary and Joseph and said a prayer of thanks to God and spoke about this child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem, that is to all who continued to believe God’s words and promises that He would send a Savior. Like Simeon, her words confirm the fact that Jesus is the one who was sent from God to save, not only the children of Israel, but all people.
 
Finally, our text tells us of one final fulfillment of Holy Scripture, it says that Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth. Luke writes with a purpose. His purpose is to give proof of Jesus and who he is. He shows us that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and that He fulfilled the Law perfectly. His parents did what was required. Again, we are reminded that the fulness of the Gospel is seen in the fact that what Jesus did He did for us, in our place, everything that we are unable to do. He fulfilled the Law perfectly.
 
We are told by Luke that Jesus moved to Nazareth, thus was fulfilled the promise that He would be a Nazarene. And we are told that the child grew and became strong. He was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him. And as we know, as we have seen, as we continue to rehearse in our narrative of the life of Jesus, after this event we do not hear of the events of Jesus’ life until we hear the account of Him in the temple at the age of twelve, but that is for another time.
 
This morning we have Luke’s accurate orderly account of these events as an assurance of our faith in Jesus. Luke’s words assure us that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the one promised by God. He is the one who fulfilled all the law perfectly, for us, in our place, because we are unable to.
 
Luke’s words assure us that Jesus came to give His life. How comforting to know that we will not be held accountable for our sin and their punishment. The wages of sin is death and Jesus paid that price for us.
 
Luke’s words assure us that we have forgiveness of sins. Because of what Jesus did, because He gave His life for ours, because He paid the price for sin, by faith we have forgiveness, which means that when God looks at us He sees Christ’s perfection.
 
Which means that Luke’s words also assure us that we have life, eternal life. By faith in Jesus, His death has become our death, His life has become our life. By faith in Jesus we have forgiveness of sins and life, life in this world and eternal life in the world to come, heaven.
 
This morning we come to worship our Lord. We come to rehearse the events of old. We come to hear the good news of salvation. We come to see, once again, as an assurance of our salvation, that Jesus is the one promised of old. This morning we come to be strengthened in our faith and being strengthened in our faith we say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Past

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the world
No one was expecting, (even though they were told)
The events that were soon to unfold.

The angel appeared to Zechariah and Mary
The angel told Joseph, “Don’t worry”
To Bethlehem town they must go
In order their family to enroll.

The town was so busy
David’s family so big
Everyone else had made it to town
So no place to stay could be found.

A barn was all that remained
For Mary a place to be laid
For the baby now on His way
He was born and laid in the hay.

The shepherds were watching their flock by night
They did not worry, they had not a fright
They had all settled in to watch the sheep
They were never expecting to be woke from their sleep.

The angel appeared and said, “do not fear”
The news that he brought was so great to hear
Then the heavens filled with the Lord’s glory all around
Singing praises to God with a great heavenly sound.

The shepherds did rush, they did not tarry
To the manger they went in such a big hurry
What a wonderful sight were Joseph and Mary
The Savior of all the manger did carry.

They worshiped the new king
Then good tidings went to bring
To all who would listen and hear
They brought the greatest news for all the world to hear.

May the Lord bless and keep you
May He give you the strength
In this world to bear witness in all that we say
To Christ as our Savior, the truth, the life, the way.

Present

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the world
While some were preparing a grand celebration
Others were oblivious to all the sensation.

While some were a rushing here, there, everywhere
Some were working the events of that day to prepare
Some thought of others to their delight
Yet, some thought of nothing but to escape the night.

For some the season is quite a challenge
For others it seems a time to indulge
What if there is no reason for the season
What if the answer is some other reason.

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the world
Some want to celebrate tolerance, diversity
Others don’t want to acknowledge the King of Christianity.

So many things vying for our attention
We get so confused and we get so distracted
We make a witness which makes some people wonder
Do we know what or why we celebrate and ponder.

So what do we do?
How do we respond
Do we get all involved in rites of this life?
Do we stand up for Christ and celebrate His life?

Christmas time is indeed a struggle, a fight
The world is confused and at times in a fright
We can compromise and not share with those that we love
Or we can stand firm with the help of the Spirit above.

Do we celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanza, Santa or Christ
Do we water it all down so as not to offend
With the help of the Lord we can stand up and say
Our hope in one Savior, to heaven, the way.

May the Lord bless and keep you
May He give you the strength
In this world to bear witness in all that we say
To Christ as our Savior, the truth, the life, the way.

Future

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the world
A small few were waiting
While the rest were not caring

Twas the night to celebrate and sing
God in flesh, the birth of the King
It happened so may years long before
Yet into their memory their hopes they did pour.

Twas another night to wait for the Savior’s return
He has been quite patient for unbelievers to turn
He has yet one promise to fulfill
But waiting patiently they are sure of His will.

While too many are dazed and confused
So many are following after false clues
Too many have turned to follow other ways
And many are looking to make it their own way.

In Jesus’ day it was much the same
Some were faithfully waiting, watching and praying
Others put on a spin and too often with a grin
Decided to choose what would give pleasure to them.

In days forward it is certain yet surely not right
But some will be running away from the Light
Some will look for their own way to fulfill
Anyone, anything, except with the Lord to be filled.

Yet we have God’s promise straight from His Word
And some will try following the narrow, straight road
So when it is time for us to be accounted
By the Spirit’s power, we will stand up to be counted.

The future holds naught what we know for sure
For some that brings fear and trembling so pure
But we face forward, with the Lord, ever so bold
We have certainty, in His hand our life He does hold.

May the Lord bless and keep you
May He give you the strength
In this world to bear witness in all that we say
To Christ as our Savior, the truth, the life, the way.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Angel to Simeon - Christmas Day - December 25, 2012 - Text: Luke 2:22-35 (v. 26)

The angels became very prominent in the work of the Lord at the time of the birth of Jesus. We began this Advent season talking about the angel that God sent to announce to Zachariah the birth of the one who would prepare the way for Jesus, John the Baptist. We went on to talk about the angel sent from the Lord who announce to Mary that she had found favor with God and would be the mother of God. We talked about the angel who was sent in a dream to reassure Joseph that it was okay to take Mary as his wife because what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit. Last night we moved on to talk about the angel and the angels who were sent to announce the good news of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. This morning we move on to talk about the angel who was sent to announce to Simeon the birth of the Savior for whom he and the believing Israelites had been waiting, the birth of the Savior of the world, but right off let me confess, I have stretched our theme a bit this morning. As we hear in our text, it was actually God Himself, God the Holy Spirit in this instance that made the announcement to Simeon, not an angel.
 
Again, as we have done through this Advent season, before we get to the actual announcement, let us take a moment to look at the message receiver. Our message receiver this morning is the priest, Simeon. Simeon was from the tribe of Levi and so was serving the Lord in the temple when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus for the purification rite of the firstborn male child. About Simeon we are told that he was a righteous and devout man. He served faithfully in the Lord’s service in His temple.
 
About Simeon we are also told that he was waiting for the consolation of Israel, in other words he was waiting for the promised Messiah, the Savior. Simeon was getting older in years, but God had told him that he would not die before seeing the Savior of the world. And it was for this reason, that God might fulfill His promise to Simeon, that he was on duty in the temple when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus for the purification rite. Notice that this was not a coincidence, but as all seeming coincidences are, this was accomplished by the actions of God.
 
The events which surround the announcement of Jesus’ birth is that Mary and Joseph had come to Jerusalem to perform the purification rite of Mary after she had giving birth to a son, and a the firstborn. The actual rite required that a lamb was to be sacrificed, but if the couple could not afford a lamb, the rite allowed for two turtle doves or pigeons might be sacrificed.
 
So, Mary and Joseph entered the temple with their sacrifice of two turtle doves and they are met by the priest on duty, Simeon. Simeon was in the temple as we are told because he was moved by the Holy Spirit to be in the temple, in the right place at the right time, to meet with Mary and Joseph and to see the baby Jesus, the long awaited Savior of the world. Here again, rather than send His angel, the Lord Himself announces this message to Simeon.
 
As Simeon approaches the couple and the Savior of the world, he is moved by God the Holy Spirit to speak words of joy and words of prophecy. Simeon began by proclaiming that now he was ready to die because he had seen the Messiah. The words he speaks are the words we often sing following our participation in the Lord’s Supper. When we come to the Lord’s Table, we taste and see that the Lord is good. We are given His body and blood to eat and drink, thus participating in His life, death and resurrection and so we too are ready to die, we too are ready to depart in peace from this world, this valley of the shadow of death, in order to be taken to be with the Lord in heaven for eternity.
 
And Simeon also proclaims words of prophecy concerning this Jesus, this Savior of the world, that is that Jesus is the Savior for all nations, Gentiles included. Unfortunately, Simeon also proclaims a bit of not so good news, announcing to Mary and Joseph that this Jesus will cause the rise and fall of many in Israel, in other words there will be those who rise to eternal life by faith in Jesus as the Messiah and those who fall or are eternally condemned because of a lack of faith in Jesus as the Messiah. And just as Jesus will be pierced on the cross, so will Mary’s heart be pierced.
 
The response of Mary and Joseph to the revelation of Simeon is that they marveled at these events. As for Mary, as Simeon spoke of Mary’s own soul being pierced, certainly this might be compared to our hearing how she kept pondering these things and keeping them in her heart. Certainly Mary’s life consisted of the great events of a normal mother and child as well as those greater and marvelous events including Jesus’ opposition, His suffering, death, resurrection and ascension.
 
This morning we celebrate the fact that Jesus was born for the express purpose of being the Savior of the World. We celebrate Simeon and the Lord’s promise and fulfillment to him to be able to see the promised Messiah and we are reminded that every time we come to the Lord’s Table, we taste and see that the Lord is good, we taste and see and participate in Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection, so that His life, His perfect life becomes our perfect life; His death, His perfect death becomes our death; His resurrection becomes our resurrection; and His life, His rising to eternal life is our eternal life.
 
What does this mean? Again we notice this morning, it was not Simeon who approached God. Notice also, it was not because he was blameless that God reassured him. If this statement were true, then we would naturally point to ourselves and we would be the reason that God does what He does. Because we know that we are not the prime movers, but that God is the Prime Mover, we know that it was God who chose Mary to be the mother of God and Joseph to be the adopted father of Jesus. It was God who chose to promise Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Savior of the world. And it was God who kept His promise to Simeon so that he was in the temple when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple. As always, it always begins with God.
 
Throughout the Old Testament God told His people, you and me included, what was going to happen. God continually reiterated His promises, to Abraham, to Isaac, Jacob, Moses, King David and the like. Our church year begins with Advent and the account of the beginning of God’s fulfillment of these promises. Now we can be certain, from the promises and from the fulfillment that Jesus us who He says He is. Jesus is God in flesh. Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world, the one promised in the Garden of Eden. Jesus is God and God with power. Indeed, we can believe what God tells us in His Word. God’s Word is His Word and is a Word with power, the power to do what He says. As we begin our celebration of Jesus’ birth, may we do so in all faith and confidence that this was ordained and accomplished according to God’s good and gracious will and so is efficacious for our salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Angel and Angels to the Shepherds - Christmas Eve - December 24, 2012 - Text: Luke 2:8-20

The angels became very prominent in the work of the Lord at the time of the birth of Jesus. Three weeks ago we talked about the angel that God sent to announce to Zachariah the birth of the one who would prepare the way for Jesus, John the Baptist. Two weeks ago we talked about the angel sent from the Lord who announce to Mary that she had found favor with God and would be the mother of God. Last week we talked about the angel who was sent in a dream to reassure Joseph that it was okay to take Mary as his wife because what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit. This evening we move on to talk about the angel and the angels who were sent to announce the good news of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds.

Again, as we did last week, before we get to the actual announcement, let us take a moment to look at the message receiver. Our message receiver this evening is not one person, but is a group of people. Our message receivers are the shepherds who were out in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night. It is interesting that the first people who are given the good news of the birth of the Messiah are these shepherds, perhaps this is so because Jesus often refers to Himself as a shepherd and even as the Good Shepherd. And Jesus compares us to sheep. We are like sheep. We have a tendency to follow after the ways and whims of the world. And Jesus is our Good Shepherd who leads us through this earth, this valley of the shadow of death, leading us beside quiet waters and green pastures.

These shepherds were ordinary, common people. They lived their lives caring for and tending the sheep. They were always outside. They probably did not smell as nice as the next person, being out in the heat of the day and in good weather and bad. They may not have been the most educated of the world, but they certainly knew how to take care of sheep. Someone suggested that the sheep they tended may have been those used in the temple as sacrificial sheep. I think that suggestion was simply a way to, shall we say, elevate their standing, which, as we will see is not necessary. These were ordinary shepherds taking care of an ordinary flock of sheep.

Now, we turn our attention to the message giver, the angel. Our Bible narrative tells us that at first there was only one angel. This one angel first appeared with the message of the birth of Jesus. As was the case with the appearance of the angel to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph, so here the first thing the angel does is to reassure the shepherds with a message of peace, “Fear not . . .” The angel has not come for judgment but to announce good news.

The message of the angel was the announcement of the birth of a child, a son of David, the One promised of old, even the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Yes, some four thousand years has past since God first promised to send a Messiah. Yes, some five hundred years has passed since the children of Israel were a great nation. Yes, some five hundred years have passed since any in Israel has seen or heard a prophet or any first hand message from God. And yet, there were some in Israel who continued to have faith and hope in the coming of a Messiah.

The angel gives a sign so the shepherds will be able to recognize the child about whom they are speaking. The sign is that the baby will be wrapped in, as we say, swaddling clothes, that is the baby will be wrapped in cloth and even more distinctive, the baby will be lying in a manger which is a feeding trough for animals. I believe the second part of this announcement is the more important part, because I do not believe the shepherds will find many babies lying in a feeding trough.

After the angel makes his announcement, he is joined with a great number of angels as a matter of fact our narrative tells us that he was joined by a host of angels. Now, to make sure we have the picture correct, we must look at the word “host.” This word “host” literally means an army. This was an army of angels. Why an army of angels? Because God is taking on human flesh in the birth of a baby, a helpless baby. Because Satan is alive and well, always prowling around seeking someone to devour and because Satan will do anything to destroy Jesus and God’s plan of salvation for all people, God sent His army of angels to guard and protect the baby Jesus. And this host of angels then speak these words of praise and joy, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

The response of the shepherds to this greeting and these words of good news is that they left the sheep in the field, maybe leaving some of the shepherds behind to tend them, or maybe leaving them in some sort of night time corral, but leaving them they hurried to Bethlehem. We are not told how they searched to find the baby, but we are told they came with haste and they did find the baby as they were certainly lead by God. I would suppose that the birth of a child among relatives would be enough of a scene that they would have no trouble finding the child in the small town of Bethlehem.

They found Mary, Joseph and the baby. The found the baby laying in a manger. It was just as the angel had told them. Certainly their appearance was a surprise to Mary and Joseph. It is no wonder we are told that Mary ponder all these things, all these events and kept them in her heart. I would suggest that for the next thirty-three years and even past Jesus resurrection and ascension that Mary thought about these events and I would further suggest that the Lord comforted her in her pondering.

After the shepherds had an opportunity to greet Mary and Joseph and to pay respect to the new born Savior, they left and as they left they went out telling everyone what they had seen. What exciting good news. How could they keep any of this to themselves? They wanted everyone to know the good news they had heard, seen and witnessed. They wanted the world, or at least their little world to know that the Savior was born.

What does this mean? This means that Jesus who is God, truly God and He had to be truly God in order to be born in perfection, has now been born in human flesh. Jesus is truly human and he had to be human in order to be our substitute, in order to trade His perfect life for our imperfect sinful life.

This means that Jesus came for all people, from the lowest shepherds to the greatest, even for those we deem as the greatest, kings, monarchs and rulers. Jesus came as promised in the Garden of Eden, for all people, of all places, of all times.

This means that Jesus’ birth is a big deal. Jesus’ birth ushered in the end times. We celebrate the beginning of the end. We celebrate that we are living in the last days.

What does this mean? Again we notice this evening, it was not the shepherds who approached God. Notice also, it was not because they were blameless that God reassured them. If this statement were true, then we would naturally point to ourselves and we would be the reason that God does what He does. Because we now that we are not the prime movers, but that God is the Prime Mover, we know that it was God who chose Mary and Joseph as her husband. It was God who chose to announce the birth of His Son first to these lowly shepherds. As always, it always begins with God.

Throughout the Old Testament God told His people, you and me included, what was going to happen. Throughout the Old Testament God reiterated His promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, King David and the like. It was God who sent His angels to announce to Zachariah that Elisabeth would give birth to the one who would prepare the world for Jesus’ work of salvation. God said all these things would happen and now we are getting God’s fulfillment of these promises. Now we can be certain, from the promises and from the fulfillment that Jesus us who He says He is. Jesus is God. He is God with power. God’s Word is a Word with power, the power to do what He says. As we begin celebrating Jesus’ birth, may we do so in all faith and confidence that this was ordained and accomplished according to God’s good and gracious will and so is efficacious for our salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Baby Leaped - December 23, 2012 - Fourth Sunday in Advent - Text: Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

Today is the last Sunday in Advent. We have lighted the last of the four candles around the advent wreath. All that is left to light is the center candle, the Christ candle. We have only one more day to go and tomorrow night on Christmas Eve we will light the Christ candle, recognizing and celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
 
Again this year, as we do every year, we have spent Advent getting ready for Jesus’ coming. We have spent our time with a dual purpose in mind. First, we have been getting our hearts and minds ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth, so long ago, in Bethlehem. And second, we have been getting ourselves, our hearts and our minds, ready for Jesus’ second coming, when He will come to take us from this earth to be with Himself in heaven. Someone once asked me why God did not tell us when He would return. My answer to them and to us is that, if God had told us when He was going to return then we would probably either waste our time worrying about and dreading that day or we would waste our time in frivolous and sinful living until right before the expected day and think that would be enough time to get ready. God does not tell us when He will return because He wants us to understand the need to be ready and the work which goes into getting ready and keeping ready. Furthermore, we are reminded of the importance of getting ready and keeping ready because our lives depend on it. To not be ready is to live in unbelief and to live in unbelief ultimately means eternal spiritual death.
 
We have been getting ourselves ready by looking at the first promises which were made by God and seeing how He has fulfilled those promises, so that we can be sure that in the same way He will keep the promise He made to return. The promises we have seen fulfilled include those of the appearance of the angel to Zechariah in the temple where he promised Zechariah that his wife Elisabeth would conceive and bear a son and that this son would be the way preparer for the Messiah. And she did conceive.
 
We continued to get ourselves ready as we saw the angel appear before Mary and promised her that she would be the mother of God. And by the power of the Holy Spirit she did conceive. The promises God had made so many years ago; the promises which God reiterated throughout the Old Testament; these promises were beginning to be fulfilled. We can rest assured that God’s Word does what it says. If God says it, it will happen, not necessarily when we might expect or think or imagine, but when it pleases Him, according to what He knows best, according to His good and gracious will.
 
In our text for this morning we go with Mary as she makes haste to her cousin Elisabeth’s house. Luke tells us that at Mary’s word of greeting, the baby, John the Baptist, leaps in Elisabeth’s womb. Remember, Elisabeth is about twenty-four weeks further along in her pregnancy than Mary. Certainly we recognize God’s hand in these two children and in the fact that even from the womb John the Baptist knows his place before the King of kings.
 
I find it interesting that here in this passage we have an acknowledgment from God that life begins at conception. The word which Luke uses for the baby in the womb is the same word he uses for the baby when it is outside the womb. In God’s eyes, a baby is a baby, is a baby. A baby is a person, beginning with conception. At conception, each one of us is given a body and a soul and we are living human beings. At conception we are each one an individual person and special in God’s eyes and in His plan for us.
 
Even Elisabeth acknowledges the power of God as she exclaims to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” With humble excitement Elisabeth welcomes the mother of the Savior of the world and her own Savior. And notice her words of faith, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
 
Mary’s response was also a response of faith. At Elisabeth’s greeting, Mary bursts out in song and praises God because of His honoring her humble estate. Mary knows and, although she may not fully understand her role as the Lord’s servant, she humbly accepts her part in God’s plan.
 
Mary praises God because of His mercy which reaches to all generations, through this child she is carrying. I sometimes wonder if Mary understood these most profound words she was saying. This child she would deliver was the Messiah, the Savior, promised so many years ago. This child would not only save the people who had gone on before Him, He would not only save those of His generation, He would also save those who would come after Him. He would save all generations. He would save you and me. By faith in Jesus we are ready for Christ’s return. By faith in Jesus we have life.
 
Mary goes on to acknowledge God’s power and His hand in all of life. Our God is not a God who is a far off, He is also a God who is near, who is right here, He is everywhere present at all times. He is with us when we are happy or sad, when we are lonely or comforted, when we are blessing Him and when we are sinning. Our God is a God who is always with us in all circumstances of life.
 
And Mary praises God for keeping His promises. The promise God made so long ago in the Garden of Eden. The promise God reiterated throughout time. The promise God made to Mary to be the mother of Jesus, all these promises, all the promises of God were coming to fulfillment. And how confident we can be because, as God has kept all His promises, so we know that He will keep His promise to return.
 
As we approach the end of this Advent Season we acknowledge God’s promises and His fulfillment. The last half of the Church year is the Season of Pentecost. Maybe you noticed, the season of Pentecost, from the first Sunday after Pentecost until something like the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost has the color Green to symbolize growth. It is especially during that time of the year that we are to grow in our faith. As we grow in our faith we are continually shown God’s promises and His fulfillment of those promises in the life of His Son. The last three Sundays of the Church Year we focused our attention of the second coming of Jesus. We were reminded of our need to get ready, to be ready and to stay ready for our time to meet Jesus. We were reminded that to not be ready could, ultimately mean eternal spiritual death and separation from Jesus, which is hell. Three Sundays ago, December 2, we began a new Church Year. The Church Year begins with Advent which is the time we use to get ourselves ready to celebrate Jesus’ first coming, as a baby in a manger in the town of Bethlehem. Advent brings one more reminder that God does what He says. God promised to send a Savior and He kept that promise. If God says it, we know it will happen.
 
Through the year we also have the constant reminder of our part in all of God’s planning and promises. It was and is for us that God did what He did. It was because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden and it is because of our sins, that we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, that God made His first promise, to send a Savior, someone who would take care of our sin for us. We may not like to think about it or talk about it, but our Christmas celebration, our celebration of the birthday of Jesus in just two days is always in the shadow of the cross. The reason the baby was born was to suffer and die in order to pay the price for our sins. And thanks be to God that He did so.
 
Advent is the time we acknowledge God’s power and that with God, nothing is impossible. So many promises, so many prophecies. The likelihood that one person would fulfill all those prophecies is beyond imagination and yet, that is what Jesus did. He came, true God, in human flesh and He fulfilled every single prophecy which God had made. Through His many signs and wonders, through the miracles He performed, He continually showed Himself to be the Messiah and then He gave His life for ours.
 
That is why, during Advent we acknowledge Christ as our Savior and King. He is the one promised of old. He is the Great I AM. He is God in human flesh. He is the one who came to give His life for ours. He is your Savior and mine.
 
We have watched as we lit the first Advent candle, the Prophecy Candle, or the Promise Candle as I call it, and were reminded of God’s promise to send a Savior. We watched the second candle being lit and were reminded that it was in Bethlehem that God would fulfill His promise. We watched as the third candle was lit and were reminded of the shepherds out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night. This morning we see the fourth candle lit and we remember the angels who were quite busy during that first Christmas season, announcing the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus. The excitement is mounting as we have just two days to wait and as we look forward even to that evening when we will celebrate the birth of our Savior, Christ the Lord. May the Lord keep you steadfast in your faith so that ultimately we may be found in faith and inherit eternal life. To God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Angel to Joseph - Advent Mid-week 3 - December 19, 2012 - Text: Matthew 1:18-25

The angels became very prominent in the work of the Lord at the time of the birth of Jesus. Two weeks ago we talked about the angel that God sent to announce to Zachariah the birth of the one who would prepare the way for Jesus, John the Baptist. Last week we talked about the angel sent from the Lord who announce to Mary that she had found favor with God and would be the mother of God. In both of those narratives we were told that the angels name was Gabriel. This week we move on to talk about the angel who was sent in a dream to reassure Joseph that it was okay to take Mary as his wife because what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit. This week, for whatever reason, we are not told the angel’s name.
 
Again, as we did last week, before we get to the actual announcement, let us take a moment to look at the message receiver. And interestingly enough, this will not be the only time the angel will appear to Joseph as we will find out later. Anyway, this Joseph of our text, this man chosen to be the father of our Lord, even the father of God, that is the adoptive father of Jesus was himself from the line of David, King David. Now let me remind you that one of the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, the Savior of the world is that He would be from the line of King David and so Joseph meets that requirement. This is important information which substantiates Jesus claim to be the Messiah.
 
Joseph was betrothed to Mary and as we said last week, that meant that he was legally her husband. Even though they had not yet consummated their arranged marriage, they were, in the eyes of the community, in the eyes of God, for all intents and purposes, married. The only way to dissolve such a betrothal would be a legal divorce.
 
And about Joseph, we know that he was a just man. He was a fair man. He always looked to do the right thing. When he found out that his wife to be, his legally betrothed wife, was pregnant, because he loved her, already, he was unwilling to have her put to shame and worse to have her stoned to death which was the punishment for adultery, so he resolved to divorce her quietly. Because they were betrothed and legally married, divorce was his only option for dissolving the betrothal arrangement.
 
Now, for the angel and the angel’s message. Over the past couple of weeks we heard how the angel appeared in person, in flesh, to each of those involved in the announcement and birth of Jesus. This evening we hear that the angel did not appear in person, but in a dream. And please do not ask me why the Lord decided to deal with Joseph in this way, because I do not know, God does not tell us and so I would presume we do not need to know. The fact is that we are told in this narrative that the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.
 
As usual, as we have been hearing over the past couple of weeks, the first thing the angel announces to Joseph is words of comfort and a declaration of peace, to not fear. The angel explains to Joseph that Mary’s pregnancy is not because she has been promiscuous, not because she has committed adultery, but because she has been chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah. Mary has become pregnant by the power of God, by the Holy Spirit. And she has willingly and humbly agreed to take on that responsibility.
 
Further, the angel announced to Joseph the babies name, that is that this baby will be named Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. His name will be Emmanuel which means that God is with us. The angel gives this name to Joseph because he is the one who will be naming the child and in so doing, in naming the child he will be claiming the child as his own, adopting him to be his own son. In giving Jesus the name Emmanuel he will be stating the fact that God has come down, has intervened in human history, that God has taken on flesh and blood so that this child is truly human, born of the woman Mary, and truly divine, conceived by the Holy Spirit. This child will be our substitute and will defeat sin, death and the devil.
 
And as God’s Word always does what it say, the events happened just ast the angel announced. The prophecy of God through the angel was fulfilled. The virgin Mary did conceive, by the power of the Holy Spirit who overshadowed her. The child conceived in Mary’s womb was truly human, conceived of the woman, and truly God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, God Himself.
 
The child was born and the child was given the name, Immanuel, which means God with us. Just as God had promised, since the Garden of Eden; just as God reiterated to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Moses, to King David, all through Israelite history, God is breaking into human history to undo what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. God is intervening to do what humanity could not do, restore our relationship with God Himself.
 
The child is true God taking on human flesh. Jesus is one hundred percent God and one hundred percent human. No other person has ever or will ever be who Jesus is, just as God Himself promised.
 
The result of the action of the angel appearing to Joseph in the dream is that after Joseph awoke, he believed what he saw in his dream, and he obeyed the words of God given to him through the angel in the dream. Joseph took Mary as his wife, yet he did not have any relations with her until after the baby was born. Interestingly enough, God provided that Mary and Joseph should go to Bethlehem to register for the taxes which took them out of their small town and out of the gossip that may be been going around concerning those who did not know God’s plan for Mary and Joseph and may have intended to bring harm to Mary and her child.
 
Joseph cared for Mary his wife as he did for Jesus his adopted son. He provide a house and a home for Mary and Jesus. He labored to provide for food and clothing, just as any good father would. He love Mary and indeed they had other children as the Lord blessed them.
 
And Joseph adopted Jesus as his own son by naming Him. By giving Jesus the name the angel told him to give Him, Jesus announcing that this was his child.
 
What does this mean? Again we notice this evening, it was not Joseph who approached God. Notice also, it was not because he was blameless that God reassured him. If this statement were true, then we would naturally point to ourselves and we would be the reason that God does what He does. Because we now that we are not the prime movers, but that God is the Prime Mover, we know that it was God who chose Mary and now Joseph as her husband. It was God who chose to reassure him in a dream. It was God who chose Joseph for the awesome duty to be the father, albeit the adoptive father of Jesus. It was God who chose to send His unnamed angel to bring him the message of the coming events. As always, it always begins with God.
 
Throughout the Old Testament God told His people, you and me included, what was going to happen. Now we are getting God’s fulfillment of these promises. Now we can be certain, from the promises and from the fulfillment that Jesus is who He says He is. Jesus is God in flesh. Jesus is God who is a God with power. God’s Word is a Word with power, the power to do what He says. As we continue our preparation to celebrate Jesus’ birth, may we do so in all faith and confidence that this was ordained and accomplished according to God’s good and gracious will and so is efficacious for our salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Great in the Kingdom - December 16, 2012 - Third Sunday in Advent - Text: Luke 7:18-28 [29-35]

Today is the third Sunday in Advent, kind of the middle of our preparation as there is only one more candle to light. As we have said and as I continually reiterate, advent is the time we get ourselves, our hearts and minds ready to celebrate God’s fulfillment of His first promise to send a Savior, Christ’s birth on Christmas day. And advent is the time we are reminded and encouraged that just as God kept His first promise and sent Jesus, so He will keep His second promise, to return to gather us and take us to heaven, thus it is imperative that we are ready for His return, or our passing on to Him, because either way, it will happen. We will meet the Lord and I believe it will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might imagine. How do we prepare ourselves? By making regular and diligent use of those means our Lord has given to us to get ready, His means of grace. In particular we ready ourselves by believing God’s Word, which is His Word, and which is a Word that does what it says and gives the gifts it has to give. Our text for today bears witness of the faithfulness of God and His Word.
 
Our text for this morning moves us to the point that John the Baptist has been preparing the way for Jesus and he has already been arrested. John’s disciples had come to visit him in prison and were telling him all the things Jesus was doing. Notice that even in prison John is still pointing to Jesus. John came to prepare the way for Jesus. He came to get the children of Israel ready for the promised Messiah. They had not seen nor heard a prophet in over five hundred years. And so John was sent to get them ready so they did not miss the Savior.
 
John prepared the people by his preaching of the need of the people to repent. As I said last week, how would the people know that they were sinners unless they were told. Likewise, even today we need to be reminded of our own sin so that we too repent. To not repent means our sins remain on us and in our sin we would be eternally lost. But with repentance is forgiveness and with forgiveness is life and salvation.
 
John came calling the people to repent and he came baptizing with a baptism for repentance. John’s baptism was a call to a religious washing, an outward washing as a symbol of one’s sins being washed away. He spoke of the difference between his own baptizing and the baptism that Jesus gave in that Jesus’ baptism was a baptism that would give faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.
 
John did his work and he did it well as a matter of fact he did his work so well, he did such a good job of pointing out sin and calling for repentance that he was imprisoned. Evidently, like politicians in our world today, kings did not like being called sinners in John’s day. So King Herod had John imprisoned.
 
John knew and understood his role as the one who would come to prepare the way for Jesus and so he said that he must decrease and Jesus must increase. John was not envious nor jealous of Jesus and the fact that the people were following Jesus. He saw this as an affirmation that what he was doing was done right.
 
As for John’s disciples, some of his disciples left and followed Jesus. As an optimist I would suggest that this is the case because they did hear and they did believe John’s word. Believing John’s word the natural course of action would be to leave John and to follow Jesus.
 
In our text we are told that two of John’s disciples did not believe or understand, at least not right away. So, these two came to see John in prison and reported all that was happening. John in turn sends these two disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one? Should we expect another.” Now some people have suggested that this showed doubt on John’s part. I would suggest that rather than this showing doubt on John’s part this was John’s way of convincing his disciples who may have had doubts. John wanted his disciples to know Jesus is the One and to follow Him and so He sent them to Jesus.
 
Notice that Jesus does not attempt to debate or argue with John’s disciples. Jesus continues doing the work that He came to do, work that attested to the words He was preaching. John’s disciples come to Jesus and they see Him in action. They see Jesus healing, casting out demons, and preaching the good news. So when John’s disciples questioned Jesus His response was to tell them to look at what He was doing. It was Jesus actions that confirmed John’s words.
 
After John’s disciples left Jesus continued to preach. He spoke about John saying that he was not a preacher swayed by public opinion or popularity. John did not preach what itching ears wanted to hear. John preached the truth. He preached of sin and repentance. He preached against the sins of public figures as well even if it made him unpopular.
 
Mostly John pointed to Jesus. John knew that he was born into this world, sent by God to prepare the way for the One who would bring salvation to the world. About John Jesus said that “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” I think the best explanation of Jesus words are that Jesus meant that John was least in the kingdom of God because he did not see the consummation of his preaching, in other words, John was beheaded before Jesus paid the price for the sins of the world, died and rose.
 
Jesus then explains the schizophrenia of this generation. Jesus explains that John the Baptist came and he did not dance so he was not to be taken seriously. On the other hand, Jesus came and lived a normal life so He was not to be taken seriously. The same schizophrenia can be seen in our world today. People reject Jesus for many and various reasons, claiming Him to be a fake and a fraud, a liar, simply a good man and no more or a good teacher and no more. The rejection of Jesus today continually shows the cursed nature of humanity and man’s desire to seek to save himself.
 
So, as we often do, we ask, what does this mean? Unlike God’s fulfillment of His first promise and the fact that He promised and did send John to prepare the people for Jesus’ birth, God does not promise that someone will come to prepare the way for Jesus’ second coming on the day of judgement. Instead of sending someone to prepare us, God has been giving us signs, such as wars and rumors of wars, nations fighting against nations, earthquakes, wild fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and the like, all these events are signs that are pointing us to take God and His Word serious, to know that we are living in the last days and that our last day will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect.
 
John pointed his disciples to Jesus. Jesus pointed them and us to the signs, wonders and miracles He performed. All of Holy Scripture points to Jesus. All of history points to Jesus. The people of the Old Testament looked forward to the coming of the Savior. They were saved by faith, by believing that God would send a Savior. We, New Testament people, are saved the same way, but faith, faith that Jesus is the one promised by God.
 
Unfortunately, many of the people of Jesus day rejected Him believing Him to be something or someone other than who He said He was, or who John said He was. Yes, there were those who did believe and they were saved by their faith. Interestingly enough most all of the first Christians were of the Jewish faith and culture, yet, their Jewishness meant nothing compared to their faith in Jesus and so they simply dropped their Jewish culture in order to be called Christians. Likewise in our world today, there continue to be to many who reject Jesus and many more simply fall short, only believing what they want to believe. We live in a world that likes to focus on self and too often, even well meaning preachers proclaim a theology of self, pointing people to themselves rather than pointing to Jesus.
 
I would point you to Jesus, just Jesus. I point you to Jesus because Jesus is the Christ and the only way to heaven. We cannot do it ourselves. We are conceived and born in sin. Every inclination of our hearts is evil all the time. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit working through the external means of grace we would deny, refuse and reject Jesus, which is what too many in our world do. It is the Holy Spirit, working through the external means of grace, God’s Word, Holy Baptism, Confession and absolution and the Lord’s Supper who gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. And it is in Divine Service and Bible Class that these means of grace are always and clearly present. This making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, this being in Divine Service whenever offered and being in Bible Class, is how our Lord works to get us ready, to give us the gifts He has to give.
 
We are ready for the Lord’s return, we are ready to celebrate Jesus’ first coming when we know and believe because we have been given faith through the means of grace, as well as forgiveness, strengthening of faith, and eternal life. And all these gifts were earned and paid for by Jesus and are distributed and given out by Jesus through His means of grace.
 
Contrary to the skepticism of the world in which we live, contrary to those who deny and doubt the very Word of God, I am here to tell you that God’s Word is faithful and true and does what it says. If there is ever a question concerning whether or not to believe the thoughts and conclusions of fallible human beings or the Word of God, I will take the word of God anytime.
 
Like John, I will point you to Jesus. I will point you to the signs, wonders and miracles that Jesus performed as proof of His divinity, that is that He is truly God. I will point you to the cross where Jesus paid for our sins and earned our forgiveness. I will point you to His Word which does what it says and gives what it offers. I will point you to your Baptism and remind you that through the water and God’s name put on you you were given faith, forgiveness and life. I will point you to your confession of sins and the words of absolution, that your sins have been forgiven. I will point you to the Lord’s table where you are given His body to eat and His blood to drink and where in you participate in Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection. And I will point you to Jesus who, having fulfilled His first promise has given us His Word that He will return and when He does return He will judge the living and the dead and He will take those whom He has given faith and He will robe us with His robes of righteousness and take us to be with Himself in heaven forever.
 
Jesus is coming and we are ready, by God’s grace through faith in Him. Our response of faith is simply to offer thanks and praise and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Angel to Mary - Advent Mid-week 2 - December 12, 2012 - Text: Luke 1:26-38

As we outlined last week as we began this series on the work of the angels, the angels became very prominent in the work of the Lord at the time of the birth of Jesus. Last week we took up the announcement by the angel that God sent to announce to Zachariah the birth of the one who would prepare the way for Jesus, John the Baptist. This evening we take up the announcement of the angel sent from the Lord to Mary that she had found favor with God and would be the mother of God.
 
Again, as we did last week, before we get to the actual announcement, let us take a moment to look at the message receiver. The one to whom the angel was to announce was Mary, the woman who would be the mother of God Himself, God in flesh. About Mary we know that she was a virgin, a young woman who had never been with a man. She was single and not married. She was young, perhaps between the ages of 13-16. And we are told that she had found favor with God. way we might look at this finding favor is that we might infer that this favor with God was something like the fact that we were told last week that Zachariah and Elizabeth were blameless. The implication is that Mary was a good girl.
 
We also know that she was betrothed, that is she was engaged to be married. Yet, we need to understand that this betrothal was not exactly like our engagement today. To be betrothed meant that the couple was actually married, yet they were not yet living in the same house, nor had they consummated the marriage. This betrothal also meant that if the couple, or better said, if the husband did not desire to be married, the couple would actually have to have a legal divorce to separate the betrothal. So, unlike our engagement, betrothal was legally binding.
 
Mary was betrothed, legally married to Joseph, thus Joseph was her husband. Joseph was of the line of David, the kingly line of David. This information is important to know, because this substantiates the claim of Jesus Messiahship, that He was born of the line of King David.
 
Now, as for the angel, the messenger who was sent to Mary, to announce God’s message to her, we are told that the angels name was Gabriel. Now, I do not know too much about angels, how many angels are named Gabriel, but I would suppose that this angel Gabriel is the same angel Gabriel that was sent to Zechariah.
 
As the angel approaches Mary he greets her. His greetings is an announcement that she has found favor with God. We previously inferred that this greeting may have meant that she was a good girl. Another way to understand these words is that it is Mary who is being given favor. It is not Mary who is giving God favor by her actions. There is an artistic relief in one of the hospitals in Corpus Christi which depicts the angel Gabriel kneeling before Mary and kissing her hand. I really do not see that depicted in this text. It is not Mary who is the prime actor in this text, rather it is God who sends His angel Gabriel who is the prime mover.
 
Gabriel’s words are words of peace, “Do not be afraid;” words of encouragement, “you have found favor with God, or you are being given favor from God;” and words of instruction, “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.”
 
Again, as last week, we have some words of exchange in response to the appearance, greeting and announcement of the angel. Mary asks a question concerning the birth of this child, but unlike Zechariah’s question which was a question stemming from skepticism and doubt, after all he was old and had been praying for a child for many years, Mary’s question was not a question of doubt, but was a question of, shall we say, “mechanics.” Mary knew how children were conceived and so, being a virgin, being betrothed and not yet having consummated the marriage, she was simply asking how the angels announcement would come about.
 
The angel explains to Mary that what will happen will happen by the power of God. Mary will become pregnant, but not in the usual way. God the Holy Spirit will, to use the words of our text, “come upon [her], and the power of the Most High will overshadow [her].” Thus, the child will be truly God, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and truly man, truly human, born of the human woman, Mary.
 
Now, even though Mary’s question was not a question of doubt and did not ask for any proof if you will, just as the angel provided proof for Zachariah, so he provided proof for Mary as well. As “proof” of God’s power and the validity of these events the angel points to Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth who was thought to be barren and beyond child bearing years yet now, by the power of God she is indeed pregnant. As a matter of fact she is six months pregnant according to the angel.
 
Gabriel’s words to Mary are indeed words to us and words for us to remember, especially when we think that something is impossible. As the angel tells Mary, all of these events will take place because “nothing will be impossible with God.” It is God who is in control. It is God who is in charge. It is God who is the prime mover. God has promised that these events will take place and He is now moving these events into happening.
 
Mary’s response is that she concedes and consents to what the angel has said and what God has proposed and is giving to her. She consents to be the handmaiden of God. Obviously she has no idea of what she is doing, what she is getting into, or what will happen and where all this will lead, but, by the power of God, by the moving of the Holy Spirit in her heart, mind and life, she consents to being the mother of God.
 
Mary, chosen by God, impregnated by the Holy Spirit, betrothed to Joseph, a man of honor, is fulfilling God’s promise to send a Messiah, Jesus, Christ the Savior who would be born in nine months, according to the usual, earthy way in which children are born.
 
What does this mean? One thing I hope you noticed again this evening like last week is that it was not Mary who approached God. It was not because she was blameless that God chose her. Again, if both of these statements were true, then we would naturally point to ourselves and we would be the reason that God does what He does. Because we know that we are not the prime movers, but that God is the Prime Mover, we know that it was God who chose Mary. It was God who chose her to fulfill His promises of old. It was God who chose to send His angel, Gabriel to bring her the message of the coming events. As always, it always begins with God.
 
Throughout the Old Testament God told His people, you and me included, what was going to happen. Now we are getting God’s fulfillment of these promises. Now we can be certain, from the promises and from the fulfillment that Jesus us who He says He is. God is a God with power. God’s Word is a Word with power, the power to do what He says. As we continue our preparation to celebrate Jesus’ birth, may we do so in all faith and confidence that this was ordained and accomplished according to God’s good and gracious will and so is efficacious for our salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Preparing the Way - December 9, 2012 - Second Sunday in Advent - Text: Luke 3:1-14 [15-20]

Are you ready? Are you ready for Christmas? Just to ask that questions may bring too many thoughts to your mind. From just a worldly point of view that question asks if we have our Christmas decorations up, if we have our party plans made, if we have our presents purchased and wrapped. However, from our Christian point of view that question asks if we have our hearts and minds prepared for celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Are we ready? The purpose of the season of Advent is that this is the time we use to get ourselves ready.
 
Our text for this morning is the beginning of the work and mission of John the Baptist. His work was to get the world ready for Jesus’ first coming, that is for Jesus’ time of ministry and work on earth. The importance of verses one and two of our text are that they serve to establish the historic fact of Jesus’ life. Make sure you hear this, the importance of verses one and two of our text are that they serve to establish the historic fact of Jesus’ life. The words of our Bible, Holy Scripture are not simply stories disconnected with the so called “real” world. The words of our Bible are God’s Word and are words connected to all of life, and most importantly they are words connected to our eternal life. We do not worship a god who is a myth, a legend, or a tale, we worship a living God who intervened in our history and is a part of our lives. Luke was a doctor and a historian. Time and again we see how he is meticulous in making sure that he gets the facts straight. Indeed, while all the books of human origin, all our so called “books of learning,” may be good books for learning, all these books are tainted with the uncertainty of human nature. Our Bible is God’s Word, a word which is completely faithful and true, a word which has the power to do what it says.
 
Luke puts Jesus in time and history. Let me reiterate, Jesus is not a make believe person. He is not a god like the Greek gods. He is a real historic person. He is a person who was born in time. He was born in a stable in Bethlehem and His first bed was a manger.
 
Luke is meticulous in getting the facts and the details right. It is important that we get these things right. What Luke writes is not a myth, not a tale, not a saga, not a legend, not a story. What Luke writes are the facts. And the facts are these: “1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” (Luke 3:1-2).
 
According to Luke, John’s purpose was to preach a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John was to show the people that they were sinners. How else would the people know of their need to repent of their sins unless their sins are pointed out to them? Likewise, how else would we know of our need to repent unless our sins were pointed out to us? And if we do not know we are sinners, then we would not repent and we would still be in our sins. And if we are still in our sins then we have no forgiveness and no hope of eternal life in heaven, only eternal spiritual death and hell. Thus we see the importance of our own need to be reminded of the Ten Commandments and how we daily break them, how we daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness, so that we might repent and confess our sins and be given God’s gracious gift of forgiveness and with forgiveness, life and salvation.
 
John came to preach a baptism of repentance and to prepare the way for Jesus. Remember, God’s promise to send a Savior was made some 4500 years earlier. By now, too many people had forgotten that promise and too many others, namely the Pharisees and teachers of the Law had changed the promises to be promises of sending a social, political savior. The people were in need of being prepared for the coming of their spiritual Savior lest they remain unprepared and miss Him. Likewise, we continue to need to prepare ourselves for our celebration of our Savior’s birth as well as for His second coming. To not be prepared would mean to miss Him and to miss Him would ultimately mean eternal spiritual death.
 
John came to preach a baptism of repentance, to prepare the way for Jesus and to make sure that all people were ready for the Savior. The people had not seen nor heard a prophet in some 500 years. This was the first prophet in so long that he gained their attention. They came out to hear him and to believe him and to be made ready for the coming of the Savior, the Messiah, the one promised by God to save the world. Likewise, we continue to see our need to be ready. To not be ready means eternal spiritual death. To be ready means to eagerly anticipate, to expectantly wait, to anxiously look forward to Jesus’ return, when He will take us from this earth to be with Himself in heaven for eternity.
 
How did John get the people ready. He got them ready by the message he proclaimed. His message was a fulfillment of Holy Scripture of what was promised. Luke states, “As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:” (Luke 3:4a). John did not come on his own accord. He did not come proclaiming his own message. He came proclaiming the message God gave him to proclaim.
 
And the message God gave John to proclaim was a call to arms, a call to be ready. His message was a message from Holy Scripture that Holy Scripture was about to be fulfilled. The one promised to save all mankind was about to be seen. And all mankind would see God’s salvation.
 
John’s message was that the beginning of the end was in sight. Jesus’ coming ushered in the beginning of the end of the world, at least the end of this world. Jesus’ coming brought salvation to the world, to those who believe on His name, so that they might have life in the world to come, eternal life with Him in heaven.
 
What does this have to do with us? Again we might ask the question, “Are we ready?” And we might ask, “How do we get ready?” I pray that as we have been looking at this text and looking at the getting ready of the children of Israel for Jesus’ first coming, that we might see how our being ready is so important, even how our lives depend on it. For to not be ready means losing everything, even our lives. To not be ready means eternal spiritual death and hell.
 
So as we see, Advent really has a duel purpose. The first purpose of Advent is to get us ready to celebrate the first Christmas and Jesus’ birth in a stable in Bethlehem. We get ready for this celebration by preparing our hearts and minds to once again hear the Christmas message, the Word of God which reminds us that God’s promises have been fulfilled. We get ourselves ready by clearing away the secular distractions that take away from a clear Gospel message. We take the time to read and reread the Christmas story. And I can think of no better way than to read Luke’s account of the events which took place so long ago.
 
The second purpose of Advent is to get us ready for Jesus second coming. Whether we believe it or not, whether we believe it will happen during our own life time or not, Jesus will come again, probably when we least expect it. Thus, it is so important that we get ready and work to stay ready for His second coming. And we get ourselves ready by making regular and diligent use of the means He has given us to get ourselves ready, the means of grace. We get ourselves ready by reading our Bible. We get ourselves ready by remembering our Baptism, by remembering that water and God’s name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been put on us. We get ourselves ready by regularly, every Sunday, attending Divine Service and Bible class. We get ourselves ready by confessing our sins and by hearing the most beautiful words in the world, “Your sins are forgiven,” because we know that when we hear those words we have what they say, forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness is life and salvation. We get ourselves ready by coming to the Lord’s table to partake of His body and blood and hearing the words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins,” and by this we participate in His death and resurrection. His perfect life becomes our perfect life. His perfect death becomes our perfect death. His resurrection becomes our resurrection. And His eternal life becomes our eternal life. It is through these very means that the Lord works in us to get us ready and to keep us ready.
 
Advent is a time to get ready for Jesus’ coming. Advent is a time in which we look back and see that the past is reflected in the present and in the future. Scripture has been fulfilled and Christ was born. Scripture will be fulfilled and Christ will return.
 
The question we ask ourselves again is, “Are we ready?” And we answer that question with a resounding “Yes, with the help of God.” And He does get us ready and we are ready.
 
The month of December is a hectic, event filled month. There are so many parties to attend. There are so many things to do, presents to buy, presents to wrap, decorations to put up, a tree to decorate, so many things are vying for our attention. And now, here we have the pastor trying to get our attention as well. Let me put it into perspective for you. While we are on this earth we may celebrate 80 or more Christmases. We may celebrate 18 or more with our children and fewer with them as little children. The fact of the matter is that we will spend a life of eternity either in eternal sorrow or eternal joy depending on whether or not we are prepared. If we do not get things just right for our earthly Christmas celebration, that is okay, it is just one Christmas and you will possibly have next Christmas to try again. If we do not get things right for getting ready for our eternal life, that is not okay. That could mean eternal spiritual death. Thus, my prayer for each one of you continues to be that the Lord who has already begun His good work in you, would work through His Word to touch your heart to give you an urgency about your faith and your faith life, so that you will be ready, so that when our last hour comes we will all together stand before the Lord’s throne and say, to Him be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Angel to Zachariah - Advent Mid-week 1 - December 5, 2012 - Text: Luke 1:5-25

The angels became very prominent in the work of the Lord at the time of the birth of Jesus. It was the angels that God sent to announce to Zachariah the birth of the one who would prepare the way for Jesus, John the Baptist. It was an angel sent from the Lord who announce to Mary that she had found favor with God and would be the mother of God. It was an angel who was sent in a dream to reassure Joseph that it was okay to take Mary as his wife because what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit. It was an angel and a multitude or rather a host of angels who announced to the Shepherds that Jesus was born. It was an angel that announced to Simeon that he would see the Christ. And it was an angel that warned Joseph to leave Nazareth to go to Egypt for the child’s protection. Angels played a prominent role in the Christmas story and so this year during the season of Advent and Christmas we will take the time to look at the role the angles played and how they were indeed God’s angels, God’s messengers. This evening we take up the angels announcement to Zechariah.
 
Before we get to the messenger and the message, let us take a moment to talk about the message receiver. The message receiver was Zechariah. Zechariah was a priest of the division of Abijah. He was from the line of Jacob’s son, Levi, the tribe set apart to be the priests in the temple of the Lord. For all intents and purposes, he was a regular Israelite. He was a priest and he served God in the temple.
 
Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, we are told from the text, were blameless and at the same time they were barren, which really does not seem to make sense, at least when we understand that in the culture of the day that, to be barren was considered to be a curse from God. So, how could a blameless couple be barren? Of course, we are looking back and we know how these events have panned out and we know that God’s timing is always perfect timing. Elizabeth was barren until the right time, which is the time for the birth of the way preparer for Jesus, John the Baptist. And so, Elizabeth was blameless, which, let me say, was not the reason she was chosen by God. She was chosen, as we all are chosen, by God’s pure grace. Elizabeth was blameless and not cursed, but was blessed according to God’s time with the child, John.
 
As for Zechariah, again he was chosen to serve in the temple on this particular day. He was chosen in the usual way, that is by lot, probably the urim and thummim, the two stones the priest carried for decision making so that indeed he was chosen by God, through the instrument of the urim and thummim to serve at this particular time. Make no mistake, all of these proceedings were directed by the very hand of God.
 
Now, for the angel and his message. Zechariah had been prepared for his service, to attend to the duty of the Holy of Holies, the most holy place. He went through the necessary and prescribe ceremonial preparations so that he might be ritually clean while performing his duty on behalf of the people. And the people were prepared as they prayed while he served. This service was the once a year service that God ordained for service in the temple.
 
While Zechariah was on duty, serving in the most Holy Place, the angel, sent from God,  appeared to him and his first inclination was fear. Which, humanly speaking, makes sense. If I actually saw an angel, and I do believe that there are angels all around us protecting us, I believe we would also be afraid.
 
The angel spoke to Zechariah and the very first words he announced were words of peace, “Do not be afraid.” He knew Zechariah’s fear and thus began by easing his fear with these words of peace. He went on to announce the birth of a son to Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. He announced that the name of his son would be John. And he announced what would be John’s service, to prepare the way for the Messiah.
 
Upon hearing the news, the good news of the angel, the announcement of a child to him and Elizabeth, a child they had been praying for, for so many years, Zechariah relaxed and questioned the angel. Zechariah asked, “How shall I know this is true?” His question was a question of doubt. He did not believe the angel and so he wanted proof from the angel. This questioning we will see is different from when Mary asked the angel a question, later.
 
For proof, the angel tells Zechariah that his name is Gabriel and that he is a messenger from God. He explains that he has been sent by God Himself, meaning that Gabriel is not speaking on his own behalf, but on behalf of God, so these words are not his words but God’s Word and if any Word is a Word that is faithful and true, it is God’s Word.
 
As a sign of proof to Zechariah, Gabriel announces that he will have a lack of speech until the child is born. This is the sign to Zechariah, but will also serve as a sign to all the people who had gathered.
 
And so it was. Zechariah was unable to speak. He completed his work in the temple, which took longer than usual because of his encounter with the angel. And everyone knew that something had happened to Zechariah while he was on duty because they could see it in his face. And they soon discovered that he had seen an angel and had been given an important message. And that he was unable to speak the message. Evidently he had to write out all he wanted to say, at least until the time of the birth of John and Zechariah’s confirmation of his name as John.
 
We are not told exactly what happened following Zechariah’s time of service except that he returned home and that God had removed the reproach of Elizabeth. Certainly for the next nine months he communicated with his wife, through writing, all that had happened in the temple. Certainly he explained to Elizabeth that their son would be named John, John the Baptist and that he would be a special person, even a prophet.
 
Finally, even if Zechariah could not fully explain to Elizabeth and to all the people how their son, John would prepare the way for the Messiah, Jesus, the one for whom they have been waiting for so many years while he remained speechless, after his mouth was opened he most certainly communicated this message to all that would hear.
 
What does this mean? One thing I hope you noticed this evening, it was not Zechariah who approached God, nor was it Elizabeth, although we are told they did bring their prayers before the Lord concerning their desire to have a child. Notice also, it was not because they were blameless that God answered their prayers. If both of these statements were true, then we would naturally point to ourselves and we would be the reason that God does what He does. Because we now that we are not the prime movers, but that God is the Prime Mover, we know that it was God who chose Zechariah and Elizabeth. It was God who chose to answer their prayer. It was God who chose Zechariah to be on duty. It was God who chose to send His angel, Gabriel to bring them the message of the coming events. As always, it always begins with God.
 
Throughout the Old Testament God told His people, you and me included, what was going to happen. Now we are getting God’s fulfillment of these promises. Now we can be certain, from the promises and from the fulfillment that Jesus is who He says He is. God is a God with power. God’s Word is a Word with power, the power to do what He says. As we begin our preparation to celebrate Jesus’ birth, we do so in all faith and confidence that this was ordained and accomplished according to God’s good and gracious will and so is efficacious for our salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Signs - December 2, 2012 - First Sunday in Advent - Text: Luke 21:25-36

Our text for this morning reminds us of signs and the importance of signs. There are signs such as, when you see the buds on the tree you know that Spring is on its way. There are signs of the changing of weather. There are billboard signs and ads. There are street signs to point us in the right direction. There are many signs we depend on in our world.
 
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. The word Advent means “coming.” In particular the season of Advent is the time we set aside to prepare ourselves for our celebration of Jesus’ first coming, as a baby, born in a stable, placed in a manger, in the small town of Bethlehem.
 
Yet, much of our focus, for preparing ourselves for our celebration of Jesus’ first coming, is on Jesus’ second coming. This is true because the events of and Jesus’ first coming have brought us to the beginning of our waiting for His second coming. So, how do we approach these events? In our text, Jesus tells us to approach these events by looking at the signs. The signs will help us to know when these future events will play out. So let us talk a little about the future.
 
One view of the future is what I would call a “doomsday” view. A doomsday view of the future includes prophecies or predictions of the last days and how bad things will be. We see this in the “signs” of what is happening on earth. We see this in the fact that there are wars and rumors of wars, there are nations rising against nations and kingdoms against kingdoms. It seems like the forces of nature, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, monsoons, wildfires and the like, are more and more working to destroy the world.
 
Have you ever watched futuristic movies or television’s view of how bad things will be in the future. I would say that 99% of all movies and television movies depict our future and the end of the world in a very bleak manner. The suggestion has always been that art depicts reality and if that is true then what else could we expect from movies and television? Our nature is that we are sinful from conception. According to our human nature what else could we expect except a bleak future.
 
Why is this bleak view of the future the case? This bleak view of the future is the case, because apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus there is no hope, only despair. Apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus there is only eternal spiritual death. For the unbeliever they only have themselves to depend on and that leaves them only with despair. What happens when a person turns into themselves, looks inside themselves, to find hope? They find more sin. They find sadness and despair. They turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to relive their depression. And it becomes a vicious cycle. The worst of it is the fact that apart from Jesus and faith in Jesus there is only eternal spiritual death and hell.
 
And to this we want to add what our text says.  “25And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (v. 25-26). It does not look good, does it?
 
But, before we despair, before we buy into the rhetoric of the doomsday naysayers of our culture, I think we should take a look at the future from a Christian perspective. As Christians we may dread, not necessarily the end of the world, rather the way the events are to take place. In other words, as a Christian we know that our future is set, yet while we remain in this world we will have to contend with the catastrophic events that await as this cursed world comes to an end.
 
As Christians we see the signs of the times and we may have doubts. We might wonder if God is so powerful, why does He not do something? We might rather give into the beliefs of our society than suffer for our faith. These temptations are great and they will only get worse. Just take a look at how many people, even how many other denominations have succumb to the pull and temptations of our society. Too many churches have exchanged the truth of the Bible for the lies of society. What was once considered sin, according to the morals of society and church, is now considered normal and natural and what was once considered normal and natural is now considered sin. It is getting harder and harder to be a Christian in our world today.
 
But, rather than be dismayed, we take refuge in what our text says. “27And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (v. 27-28). As our Wednesday morning Bible Study came to understand from the book of Job, while things may not always seem fair while we live in this world, while it may appear that the righteous are punished and the unjust are rewarded, the day of Judgement will arrive when God will indeed make all things fair, right and just.
 
And even more, as Christians we take refuge in the fact that we have God’s promise as we read, “33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (33-36).
 
This text sounds a lot like our text from last Sunday. Again we are reminded that God’s Word is sure! God’s Word will never pass away. Heaven and earth, our present physical living quarters may pass away, but God’s Word is permanent. God’s Word will never pass away. We have seen this truth in that God has and continues to keep His promises, the promises made in His Word. As He has kept His promises, especially as He has kept His promise to send a Savior, a Messiah in the life of His Son, Jesus, so He will continue to keep His promises, especially His promise to return on the day of Judgement. These are the signs of the things to come and the signs that He will continue to do what He says in His Word.
 
As Christians we are not to worry about what will occur, rather we are to watch, and pray that our faith may be strengthened so that we might stand firm. Really, there is no other way in which we would be able to stand firm. On our own we would perish. From the moment of our conception we are destined to meet the Lord. So, one question we all need to ask ourselves is the question, “Are we ready to die?” And another question we need to ask ourselves is the question, “Are we ready for Jesus return?” These are the two questions we need to ask ourselves, because either way, at our own passing or at the Lord’s return, we will meet the Lord. As Christians we answer these questions with a resounding “YES!” with the help of God.
 
As Christians we look with joy to the sure hope of the resurrection and to our being in heaven with Jesus, the Son of Man. As Christians, we may struggle with the events which will take place, especially since these events could well include our own suffering, however, we do not despair because we have the hope and the certainty that because of our faith in Jesus, because of His suffering, death and resurrection, because of His giving His life and shedding His blood for us, we have the certainty of eternal life in heaven.
 
Today we begin the season of Advent. Why do we begin Advent talking about the end times? Because Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension ushered in the beginning of the end times. We are living in the last days. As incredible as that may seem and probably as much as we really do not believe it, it is true. Jesus’ promise is that He will return, when we least expect it, and just as He kept His first promise to come and save us, so He will keep His promise to return.
 
We begin Advent talking about the end times because we, as Christians, joyfully look forward and eagerly anticipate the second coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And, unfortunately, very much like the fact that there was only a handful of Israelites who were still looking for the coming of the Savior in Jesus’ day, so by the time Jesus does return there may only be a handful still waiting, anticipating and eagerly expecting His return today. By God’s grace we are a part of that handful.
 
We begin Advent talking about the end times in order to remind ourselves that we do not live in a vacuum, rather our lives, our short life here on this earth and especially our future lives in heaven, have been determined by the past perfect life of Jesus. Unlike the unbeliever who has only to look forward to a future of despair, we have a bright eternal future awaiting us in heaven with Jesus and all the saints who have gone on before us. The signs are all around us. The Word of God gives us faith, forgiveness of sins and strengthens us in our faith so that we do believe the signs. The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts and through the means of grace continues to work strengthening of faith in our hearts, that is why it is imperative that we make regular and diligent use of His means of grace.
 
Advent is a joyous occasion to look back and see all that our Lord has done for us and to look forward and see all the good gifts and blessings He has in store for us. My prayer for each one of you is that you will continue steadfast in your faith so that you are ready, so that we might joyously celebrate Christ’s first coming on Christmas morning, and even more so that we might all be ready for His second coming when He will come to take us all to be with all the saints standing before His throne and saying, “To God be the glory.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.