In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Our text is Alicia’s confirmation verse Isaiah 40:31: “But for those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not faint.” This is our text.
In February we laid to rest Maisie. In November we laid to rest Nana. And now here in December we are back to lay to rest Alicia. Why? How could God do this? I am so angry. It just doesn’t make sense. How can you even believe in a God who would allow my loved one to die? Either the God you believe in is not a God of love as you suggest, or He is not all powerful as you say. So many thoughts, so many angry accusations, so much frustration and struggle. Unfortunately it seems that it is only at the passing of a loved one that we give any thought to our own mortality and then what wells up inside are questions, anger and frustration. I pray that my words this morning, even if they are words from a brother, brother-in-law, uncle, cousin, or simply a stranger might bring you some bit of clarity and comfort.
Let me begin by telling you that it is okay to be angry at God. Being angry at God means two things. First, it means we believe there is a God, after all, how can we be angry in someone we do not believe in and two to some degree being angry at God is acknowledging that we know that He is the one who is in control. And after all, He is a big guy, He can take it. As parents our children get angry at us. As children our parents get angry at us. And yet, we still love each other.
On Christmas morning, a morning of celebration, as is the case with people as we age, I woke early tossing and turning, thoughts of what to say ran through my mind. So, I got up and began working on what I pray will be words that will make you think, it might make some of you angry, of course that is my job to preach to you words of law, it is one of the hazzards of the job I guess, but I also get to preach words of Gospel, that is words that I hope will bring you comfort, clarity, hope, and perhaps even joy.
As I said, in February we laid to rest someone who had not even been born into this world. In November we laid to rest someone who was 82 years old. And now we are laying to rest someone who is not yet 30. Certainly these three events remind us that our time in this world is short and we do not know how much time we will have. The point being, as I continually remind people, we, each one of us needs to be ready at any and all times to meet our Maker. Because it will happen, sooner than we know and sooner than we might imagine as we have seen. Thanks be to God that I believe Alicia was ready. She was given faith at her baptism. She acknowledged her faith at her confirmation and she exercised her faith by being in Divine Service and being given the gifts God had to give to her. Indeed, I believe she is rejoicing in the Lord’s House, with her grandparents, Maisie, and all those loved ones who have already passed on and I believe she would agree with me that God is a great and loving God.
But, you ask, “How can I say that God is a great and loving God? After all, He took my loved one and so young.” I am amazed at how smart we humans tend to think we are in our world today. We think we have all the answers. We think so highly of ourselves. And yet, again, when what we think as something tragic happening we have a tendency to look inside ourselves, as we are encouraged to do through so much of social and secular media and then we find that we really do not have any answers only more questions. And, as I have witnessed over the years, we humans beings tend more often than not to be wrong and we find we do not have the answers, just more questions. Although we may not want to admit it, we find out that we are not as smart as God and as I have said many times, I do not want to be as smart as God, because I do not want the position.
So, why and how could God do this? How can I say that God is love? Simple, my problem is myself and my human thinking. The problem is not God, but me. We just celebrated true love and the greatest love and something that truly does not make sense, humanly speaking. We just celebrate the birth of God in human flesh.
When God created the world He did so because of His great love for us, His creation. When God created the world it was perfect, of course we have no clue what that is like because the world we live in is no longer perfect but is cursed and no, that is not God fault, that is the fault of those God created, Adam and Eve. The one thing God told Adam and Eve to not do, the one thing, that is what they did. They disobeyed God. Kind of like our children constantly do to us as parents. Yet, God did not do what we as parents would like to do, instead, He simply promised that He would take care of the problem. And in case you have forgotten, God had told Adam and Eve that if they did what He told them not to do, the threat was death. Human death for human sin. Yet, again, God said He would take care of that punishment.
So, how can I say that God is love? Do we as parents take the punishment for our children’s disobedience for them, or do we take it out on our children? It really would not make any sense if we did not discipline or punish our children if they broke the rules. They would never learn their lesson if we did. And interestingly enough, God actually knew what was going to happen even before He began creating the world. And this fact that God knew what was going to happen, that He is so much wiser than we humans is how we know that He is true love. He knew that Adam and Eve would disobey Him and would bring sin, death and a curse on the world. He knew that He would have to take care of their punishment because they would not be able to. Yes, God knew that His threat of death for disobedience would have to be fulfilled by Himself. The cost for the sin of disobedience of Adam and Eve, for the cost of sin for human beings is death. Human death for human sin. Why do people die, why is there death in the world? Simply stated, because of sin. Because we are not and cannot be the people God would have us to be and sometimes because we too are like Adam and Eve, we rebel against God. We refuse Him, we reject Him, we deny Him, we act like spoiled children.
Yet, what does God do? How can we say He is a God of love? Well, think about it . . . think about all that God gives and does for us, all that we fail to recognize and acknowledge. Indeed, none of us chose to be born, our birth, our life is a gift from God. And what we are born with and what we take with us when we pass on is what is truly ours. So, nothing is really ours. What God gives to us while we live in this world is simply a trust, on loan to us while we live in this world. The gifts, talents and abilities He gives to us, the ability to work in a job, or a career, truly, all that we have, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, etc., etc., etc., all are gifts from our loving God.
At her conception Alicia was given the gift of life. At her baptism Alicia was given the gift of new life, eternal life in heaven. At her passing the Lord called her home. During her life in this world the Lord gave her a wonderful gift, one I don’t have, the gift of music. And she responded to His gift by playing and giving glory to Him through her playing. Now that she has been called to her true, eternal home in heaven she is giving glory to Him in person. And now too, she is no longer suffering from anything, any of the pain or sorrow of this world. Now she is living in perfection. She is now rejoicing with her grandparents, with Maisie, and with all those who have gone on before.
We live in a world that truly does not know what a great and loving God we have nor what all He does for us and gives to us. We live in a world that would deny, refuse and reject God because He does not fit into our own understanding or misunderstanding of who He should be and what we think He should do. So, instead of rejoicing in all that He does and gives, we attempt to look inside ourselves and then wonder and become angry and frustrated.
Let me assure you, God is great, and God is love. Again, we just celebrated the birth of God’s answer. Last Sunday’s Gospel reading was the account of the presentation of Jesus in the temple and the meeting of Simeon and his words to Mary. Mary, Jesus’ mother, understands what many of us feel today. Mary gave birth to God in flesh. Mary raised a perfect child, of course that is something we cannot relate to, but Mary had to watch as her Son was hated, reviled, mocked, accused, and sentenced to death. Mary had to watch as her Son was crucified, hung on a cross, because of the sins of the world.
Is God a God of love? Most certainly, our problem is that we simply do not understand because of our human nature and point of view. Perhaps this analogy might be helpful. When you look at a piece of cross stitching, you look at it from the top, a beautiful piece of art. But when you turn it over you see all the knots and tangles. We are looking at life from the bottom with all the struggles and pains. God is seeing our life from the top, the beautiful life He is creating for us.
Yes, while we live in this world we will continue to have pain and suffering, heartache and struggles, but that is not God’s fault, that is our own fault. The answer is not inside you. Inside are just questions and struggles. The answer is in the manger. The answer is on the cross. The answer is the greatest love anyone can ever have, to lay down their life for another. The answer is the one who threatened punishment, but took that punishment for us. We do have a God of love. While we live in this world, we are continually reminded, as we need to be reminded, that our time in this world is short. Especially compared to our time in our real world of heaven. And so we all need to be ready.
Do we want to see Alicia again? Then we need to be ready. And we get ready or better said, God gets us ready through the means He has given to get us ready, His means of grace, His Holy Word and His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While we live in this world, the closest we can get to Alice is at the Lord’s Table. When we gather at the Lord’s Table Alicia and all the saints are gathered there with us. No, they cannot see us nor can we see them, but they are there as God promises.
As I have shared with my children, my biggest concern in this world is their eternal salvation, that is that they will be in heaven with me. Personally, I am confident of my salvation. If the Lord were to return today or tomorrow, or if I were to pass on to Him today or tomorrow I know I will be with Him in heaven. To me that is the most important thing in this world, being ready for the real world of forever in heaven, because the alternate would be eternal torment. And so, that is my concern for everyone here who has come to celebrate Alicia’s life. I know where she is, I am confident in her being in heaven. Now more than ever, if anyone is not ready or sure, now is the time to get ready. Because it will happen.
Isaiah’s words have been fulfilled in Alicia, “But for those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Alicia’s hope in the Lord has renewed her strength as she is now perfect in strength. She is now soaring, running and not growing weary, walking and not fainting.
So, let me 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. 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.
Let me assure you that we have forgiveness of sins. Because of what Jesus did, because He lived perfectly for us in our place, because He took all our sins upon Himself, because He suffered the eternal punishment for our sins, because He gave His life for ours, because He paid the price for sin, by faith in Him, which He gives to us as well, we have forgiveness, which means that when God looks at us He sees Christ’s perfection. Notice how I am looking outside myself!
Which means that we are also assured 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. By faith in Jesus, when we pass on from this world, we too will be robed with His robes of righteousness as we are gathered together with Alicia and all the saints in heaven.
This morning we come to be comforted and strengthened because of our loss. I pray that my words and more importantly that God’s Word may give you that comfort, strength and confidence that we will see Alicia again because God is great and God is love. Amen.