Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sermon - Christmas 1 - Luke 2:22-38

Sermon – Christmas 1 – Luke 2:22-38
Trinity Lutheran, Sheboygan, WI
“Depart in Peace”

The family is all gathered around. The doctors have given the grave news. “Time is short. Say your goodbyes.” The pastor is called, and he comes to the hospital. He, too, knew this might be coming. This faithful child of God, who had so often heard the word and received the gifts in the local communion of saints... was now going to join the communion of saints that rest in Christ. God's name is invoked. Scriptures are read. Prayers are said. Then the pastor sings a familiar little song,

Lord now lettest thou thy servant, depart in peace, according to Thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people. A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end, amen.”

That child of God, that saint of God, departs in peace. That loved one leaves the family, and enters into a blessed rest, today with Christ, in paradise. Because of the promises of God in Jesus Christ, it is a departure in peace. It is sorrow, but sweet sorrow, grief, but not without hope.

We don't know much about Simeon. He was righteous, which meant he had faith in God's word. Perhaps he was a priest in the temple, or maybe just a regular fellow. We get the impression he was old, but it doesn't say exactly how old. But we know he'd been waiting. It was revealed to him by the Spirit that he would not die until he met the Messiah. Quite an unusual promise. And so those days, perhaps years of waiting made it all the more joyful when he saw the infant Lord, and he couldn't help but take the baby up in his arms. And he prayed, he sang in joy, that now he could die in peace. For I have seen your salvation, Lord, with my own eyes. And your salvation is here in this child.

God keeps his promises. He kept his promise to Simeon, and to all the people of Israel.

To get a better sense of this event, we should also understand what happened in Ezekiel 8 to 11. God's presence had been with his people – his glory – manifest among them for many years. He appeared to Moses in the burning bush. He went before them in the wilderness – a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. And when the temple was built by Solomon, God's presence, his glory, shrouded in a cloud came to dwell in that temple. It was an ongoing miracle and blessing that God would dwell among his people, in his temple.

But the time came when God withdrew that presence, that glory, and Ezekiel saw the cloud depart from the temple. An ominous day, for God departing was a sign of his wrath and judgment. The Abominations they were doing in his presence “drove him” away, and he showed Ezekiel, in a vision, how he was leaving the temple and saying to the people, “you're on your own”. Without God's protection, calamity would be just around the corner.

What sins of yours are an abomination before God? Oh, is that too strong a word for you? Would you prefer “character flaw” or “foible” or “peccadillo”? Perhaps a milk-toast admission that nobody is perfect and oh, gosh golly, we're all sinners so move on to the Gospel, pastor. But think for a moment of the gravity of your sin – each and every sin – which sends a message to God, “I don't want you. I don't need you. Go away. I'll make my own rules. I'll decide what's best, and it's some other god over here, thank you.”

Each and every sin is worthy of God withdrawing his presence from you. From our first parents who ate a forbidden fruit and were cast out of God's paradise, to you and I who drag his commandments through the mud on a daily basis. We don't deserve God in our life, in our world, in our presence. Our thoughts, words, and deeds tell him “Get out. Go away. Drop dead.”

And so God forsakes us, like he withdrew his presence from the temple long ago... or does he? No, instead he has forsaken Christ. He has left his own son alone to suffer the punishments of the cross. To take once for all the forsaking of God that all deserve. In the great mystery of Christ on the cross, God turned his back on his own Son, giving him over to a punishment that you and I deserve. To forgive all sins, little and big, peccadillo and abomination. And to bring us eternally to his presence through the blood of Christ.

Even after the exile ended and the temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt, God's glory, the cloud of his presence, didn't return. Yet his promise remained that one day his glory would return to the temple. And Simeon, in particular, was promised he would see it. What a surprise then, that God did return to his temple – not in a pillar of fire or cloud, not in a blazing chariot or bolt of lightning, but in a little baby, 40 days old. In the humility of a lowly infant, the Lord of Glory returns to his temple, to dwell with his people. “My eyes have seen your salvation” Simeon says, yes, and my hands have held him. “The Light to the Nations” Jesus, the Light of the World, and the “Glory of Israel” - the glory of God now returns.

But even more. For not only did he dwell in the building for a short time, a building which is now destroyed.... but He himself becomes the true temple, the true dwelling of God with man. In the flesh of the man, Jesus Christ, God dwells with his people forever. His permanent residence is as a human being, one of us, standing in the place of all of us. Fulfilling the law for us. Dying as a sacrifice for us. But as that temple of his body was destroyed, yes, in three days it was restored, and a new aspect of God's glory was revealed. For now not even death can contain his glory, nor can it contain the life of those who live and die in him. Jesus lives forever. We will live forever, in him.

Now that all the wrapping paper is put away and the decorations are coming down, now that all the shopping malls are putting up hearts for valentines day, and radio stations are back to their purely secular format, now that the world outside the walls of the church has moved on from Christmas – perhaps we can focus with even clearer vision. Let our eyes see, along with Simeon's, the salvation that God reveals to us in Jesus Christ.

For like Simeon, we get to see him, hold him, touch him. Not as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes presented at the temple. But as a crucified and risen and ascended Lord, who still comes under the humble forms of bread and wine. When you receive the sacrament this day, you can sing with Simeon, “Lord, you now let your servant depart in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation”. Yes, in the bread and wine that are Christ's body and blood, we have the salvation he promises and accomplishes. In this simple receiving of his gifts in faith, He gives Light and Glory to all. Forgiveness, life, salvation – blessings too great to fathom, to deep to ponder.

And having been so blessed, we can, and we do, depart in peace. We depart in peace from this altar – strengthened for service in our daily vocations. We depart in peace from each other and God, knowing all is forgiven in Christ. And we are even prepared to depart from this world, like Simeon, we can die in peace, knowing our sins are forgiven and our debt is paid. Yes, even if I die today, I know my salvation is sure in Jesus Christ.

Depart in peace. Depart in peace and faith and hope and joy, Christians. For you have seen his glory, the light of the world, the salvation of our God in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sermon - Advent 4 - Luke 1:39-45

Sermon – Advent 4 – Luke 1:39-45
Grace Lutheran Church, Racine, WI
“The Visitation”

Dear friends in Christ, it's good to be here this morning with my favorite congregation. Since I ended my service as pastor here in August, I've been busy visiting lots of LCMS congregations, building a network of support for my upcoming work as missionary to Singapore. It's been a lot of fun, actually, to see with each visit, a different congregation with a different personality and different circumstances, yet all of us united in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and our desire to share that Gospel with the world. Visits, visits, visits, and so today it's good to be here, which I consider less a visit and more a chance to “stay home”.

Today, as we stand on the brink of Christmas, the Gospel reading is from Luke 1, an episode called “The Visitation”. Mary, the mother of our Lord, visits her cousin Elizabeth. And miraculous words and actions take place. Elizabeth confesses her faith, by the Holy Spirit, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”. But the unborn John who can't speak also confesses his faith, and “leaps for joy” in the womb. The Greek word actually means he “skipped”. In word and deed, they welcome the Christ, who is about to appear in the flesh.

But not all visits go so well. In this holiday season, we probably have more visits than any other time of year. As family and friends stop by, or else we go to visit them – a short visit can be a good time, or it can be another stressful obligation in a busy season. Maybe your in-laws seem more like outlaws. Maybe you're on the opposite side of politics with that certain someone. Or maybe it's just an overbearing personality or two that gets under your skin. Sinners get on each others nerves, but after all, it's just a short visit. What's the big deal?

If a visit is a temporary thing, then couldn't we say we're all visitors here on earth? None of us will be here forever. We're all short-timers. We weep with those whose lives are cut short, like the children in Connecticut. But really, death could come and visit any of us on any day, even at Christmas. Our problems as sinners in the world go far beyond not getting along with visiting relatives. We are at odds with creation, with each other, with ourselves, and our God.

Sinful man doesn't want a visit from God, either. God's holy presence terrifies our old Adam. The original Adam and Eve hid in the garden when they had sinned, and God came to visit. Peter fell on his face before Jesus after the miraculous catch of fish. Isaiah saw God in the temple and cried out, “I am ruined!”. Even today, some people don't or won't come to church out of a sense of unworthiness. They joke, “Lightning would probably strike me if I set foot in there”. But there's a seriousness behind it, an admission of sin, a wariness of the holy.

Maybe you and I should have a little more of that wariness. A little more sense of fear and awe that we, sinners, also approach Holy God. Perhaps we take our confession a bit for granted, that we are deserving of temporal and eternal punishment. Let's not just mouth the words, but let's mean them. We, too, deserve the lightning strike, and much worse.

But there's a difference when God visits people who have faith. Like Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit. Like you and me, as we gather in God's presence each week. He comes to us, he visits us, not in judgment but in mercy. Not in wrath, but in kindness. Not with punishment, but with the forgiveness of sins won by Christ at the cross.

Because Jesus has visited our earth, visited his people, and not just for a pleasant hello and goodbye. His temporary time on earth was purposeful and meaningful. He had a job to do, and he did it. He had a life to give, and he gave it. His visit ended in his death, and his resurrection to glory. And those 33 years bring eternal blessings to all who trust in him. For he now prepares for us mansions in heaven, a permanent place for each of us.

But back to Elizabeth and Mary. This short visit before each woman gives birth reminds us that even a brief visit with Jesus is cause to leap for joy. Just the sound of Mary's greeting was enough for unborn baby John to react. What about the sound of our Lord's greeting, through the ones who bear him today? When the pastor invokes God's name, and Christ is present according to his promise? What a cause for joy! When the sins we confess are forgiven and absolved, by the pastor, as if by Christ himself in the flesh, we could leap for joy. When we hear God's voice in his holy word, equipping us with righteousness and showing us Christ, we rejoice all the more. And when we receive the very body and blood of Christ – when we taste and see and touch, if only for that brief moment, our soul could and should skip for joy within us. But not of our own reason or strength, but only through his Holy Spirit at work in us.

What blessings should come to me, poor, sinful, little old me, that God himself comes to visit me, and give his own body and blood for me, and give to me, yes, even me, his grace and mercy and love! So confess your faith in Christ by word and action. And may your frequent visits to his house make this place seem more like your home, and remind you of the eternal home he is preparing for you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sermon - Jeremiah 33:14-16

Zion Lutheran Church, Marengo, IL
December 16th, 2012
Jer. 33:14-16
“A Very Jeremiah Advent”
Perhaps you remember an annual television special that hopefully isn't on much anymore, “A Very Brady Christmas”. Well it wasn't my idea of an enduring Christmas tradition, as I don't really associate the Brady Bunch with the holidays. But whatever.

I suppose you might say something similar about the prophet Jeremiah and the season of Advent. Sure, John the Baptist – he prepared the way for Jesus. He's a sensible figure to appear in this season of preparation for Christmas. Shepherds, Angels, these are the sorts of characters we expect. But Jeremiah? The one called the “weeping prophet”? The one who witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the sacking and demolishing of the temple? Who saw the people of God carried off into exile by the waters of the Euphrates, presumably never to be seen in the promised land again? That Jeremiah?

But listen to his words. For after all the smoke and dust of the Babylonian conquest settles, and after all of the weeping tears have been cried out, Jeremiah offers precious promises, and a joyful hope that very much fits in with Advent, and finds ultimate fulfillment in Christ.

Have you ever had your world come crashing down? It's bound to happen sooner or later in this sinful world. Either by our own sins, ths sins of others, or the brokenness of creation itself – tragedies are bound to come. The new from Connecticut this week was a shock to all of us, and a stark reminder that our world, and the human heart, is darkened by sin. Sometimes, with or without warning, death breaks through our day to day existence, and your world comes crashing down.

That's what happened to the Jews about 587 years before Jesus' birth. They had survived the threat of the Assyrians some 150 years earlier, who had wiped out the northern 10 tribes of Israel. And as empires rise and fall, now the Babylonians were in power, and the Jewish leaders felt fairly safe. They rested on their laurels, and corruption and false worship began to creep in and eventually flourish. Even when the clouds of danger arose, and wiser men would have seen the impending doom, the Jews enjoyed a false sense of security. They reasoned, “No one can touch us, because we have the temple. God will protect us. We're safe and sound.”

Jeremiah warned them. Jeremiah chapter 13 is his great temple sermon, in which he warns them not to trust the popular slogan, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” It's a classic call to repentance.

Advent is a season of waiting and preparation, but it also has a penitential character. Some churches use the same purple paraments of Lent during Advent to highlight this. There is a sense of joy and eagerness of Christ's coming, but also a keen awareness that we don't deserve such gifts. We are unworthy sinners, who should shudder at the thought of God himself coming near us. If not for his grace and mercy in Christ, we would be ruined! We should never rest on a false sense of security in our own works of righteousness. We should never think that we are just fine or anywhere near ok without the constant grace of God. We should grieve our sins, each and every day, and pray that God would save us from the devil, this wicked world, and even our own sinful selves. That he would bring all enemies under his feet at last, as he promised us he will.

So turn from your sin, and look to Christ in faith. Be sorry for all the sins of this past year, and bring them not only to the manger, but the cross. Repent, believe and be saved. Trust in the one who died the most earthshaking death of all to save all of us from this world that is groaning, suffering, broken, and will pass away.

The Jews of Jeremiah's day would not repent, and the destruction did fall on them, temple and all. They were marched off to Babylon, and even the ark of the covenant was evidently captured and destroyed (sorry, Indiana Jones). But still, Jeremiah was not just a prophet of the law. He held out hope for a time to come, in which even though these people were unfaithful, God would be faithful and keep his covenant. He would remember his promise to David. To Abraham, and Adam and Eve, and for that matter, to you.

A leader was coming, he promised, would execute justice in the land. But not the way they thought. A leader was coming, to bring righteousness, but different than many expected. A branch, a descendant of David... a shoot from the stump of Jesse (David's father), a Davidic king would come and rule and reign and everything would be ok again.

Which happened. Sort of. And sort of not. There really was no descendant of David on a earthly throne in Jerusalem ever again. And while the people returned from exile and rebuilt the city and the temple, could you really say they dwelt securely? For Alexander the Great, Antiochus Epiphanes, and the Roman general Pompey all conquered Jerusalem in turn. Eventually, in 70 AD, Roman general Titus destroyed Jerusalem and its temple once and for all. And even now with the modern nation state of Israel, what security is there for the Jews? Certainly there is no Davidic king, and the temple is replaced by a Muslim shrine.

So did God break his eternal covenant? Where is this king? Where is this peace and security for his people? Where is God's righteousness to be found? I think you know... it is all fulfilled in Christ. For David, for the Jews who believe in him, and for you and me.

All of these prophecies, and all of this history... it all leads up to Jesus, which is why it matters for you and me.

Jesus is the Son of David, who came to his holy city riding on a donkey. But not a conquering king, instead a dying savior, a lamb of sacrifice for the sins of the world. “My kingdom is not of this world” he told Pilate, the nearest thing they had to an earthly king.

Jesus is the Son of Man, the stand in for all men, who took on flesh to redeem all flesh, shed his blood to cover your sins in it.

Jesus is the Son of God, the king of kings, who will come again to judge the living and the dead and put all his enemies under his feet, and bring you to reign with him forever.

Jeremiah is a very Advent kind of guy, as he tells of the coming salvation, the coming king, the coming righteousness – that is fulfilled not in earthly terms of thrones and power, but in the throne of the cross, and in the glory that is yet to be revealed. Jeremiah's king is Jesus, who fulfills God's promises of old, and God's promises to you.

As you observe this Advent, repent and rejoice, and trust in God's promises, which he always keeps. Look to David's Son and David's Lord for your salvation. Celebrate his first coming. Look forward to his second coming. And have a very Jeremiah Advent. In Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.  

Friday, December 07, 2012

Sermon - Advent 2 - Malachi 4:1-6

Advent 2
Malachi 4:1-6

Today we turn our attention to the Old Testament Reading from Malachi 4. Some of the last words of the Old Testament, in fact, the words that are in a sense “hanging in the air” as the people of God waited some 400 more years for the Messiah to arrive. But it's not like nothing happened until then. It was an action-packed time for Israel.

Alexander the Great came and conquered, bringing with him the Greek language and culture. And after his death, when rulership passed to his generals and their dynasties, the Jews experienced bitter persecutions. Antiochus Ephiphanes, one of the Greek rulers during that time, was a particularly nasty fellow. He went to war and almost defeated the Egyptians, and was the first king to put his own face on coinage (along with the words, “Manifest God”). But he is most notorious for his sack of Jerusalem and desecration of the temple.

We read from the inter-testamental literature of the time, that when Antiochus was defeated in Egypt, he returned to Jerusalem in rage:

When these happenings were reported to the king, he thought that Judea was in revolt. Raging like a wild animal, he set out f rom Egypt and took Jerusalem by storm. He ordered his soldiers to cut down without mercy those whom they met and to slay those who took refuge in their houses. There was a massacre of young and old, a killing of women and children, a slaughter of virgins and infants. In the space of three days, eighty thousand were lost, forty thousand meeting a violent death, and the same number being sold into slavery.

We learn that he then desecrated the temple, by setting up an altar to Zeus there and sacrificing a pig on the altar. This grievous offense became know as the “Abomination of desolation”.

I tell you all this, not just as a history lesson, but to give an idea of what kinds of wickedness the people of God had to endure in the times leading up to Christ's birth. These were days of great wickedness and evil men doing terrible things. They are days in which it must have seemed like all hope was lost, and that God had forgotten and forsaken his people.

But God would soon act. He promised, through the prophet Malachi, that the day was coming. “The day in which I act”, says the Lord.

And like so many Old Testament passages, we find the principle of “Bad news for my enemy is good news for me”. God will destroy the wicked, setting them ablaze. Like a tree that is not just singed on the leaves, but burned to a crisp all the way down to its roots. Total destruction of the wicked. But this terrible purging fire will be ONLY for the wicked, and not for God's own. His people will survive, on that day when he acts. The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And they'll jump for joy like calves leaping from the stall – overjoyed to be set free from captivity, free and at peace.

It is Advent, the season of hope and expectation, when we remember the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the long-promised Savior. His forerunner Elijah did come, in the form of John the Baptist. And in Jesus Christ, God himself had come to act. But perhaps not how you might expect.

For he destroys his enemies, by being destroyed. Sin, death, and the power of the devil are destroyed when the Son of Man and Son of God meets his own death on the cross. And this bad news for our old enemies is good news for us. At the cross, Jesus crushes the head of the serpent so that we can trample on the ashes of our sins. He is judged who had no sins so you are not judged for your sins.

He sanctifies the world by being desecrated. The Holy One of God is spit on, stripped, struck, and condemned... publicly slaughtered on the cross. He, Jesus, is the true temple, the ultimate dwelling of God with man, in the flesh of his body – which was treated shamefully in the greatest abomination of desolation imaginable. But God's great and wonderful and surprising action is that through such horror as the cross, he brings his righteousness and salvation. As Jesus is lifted up on that tree, the sun of righteousness dawns on us, and with his stripes, we are healed.
At this we leap for joy. All the more that he himself conquered death and rose to life again. And even more that his promise of life beyond the grave is also for us. For the Lord of Hosts will come again, once more to act, once more for us.

Advent points us to Christ's first coming, and to his Second Coming. It reminds us that the one who came in humility will also come again in glory. It promises us that he who came to accomplish our salvation at the cross will come again in the clouds to bring an end to all wickedness, brokenness, and sorrow. And we will live and reign with him forever. On that day when he acts, all will be finally fulfilled.

But until then, it's not as if he is far off. He's with you always, even to the end of the age. Even in the wickedness of this world. Even in the abominations and desolations of your day to day struggles with sin and death. He's with you, so he promises. And he acts.

He acts to forgive your sins, through the daily renewal of your baptism, and the word of absolution you hear and believe. He acts, to strengthen your faith, reminding you of his promises, and feeding you with his own body and blood. He acts. Today, even here and now, our Advent Lord comes – through the means of grace, to deliver you the fruits of his cross.

Though your sins are an abomination to God, through Christ's desecration you are made holy. Rejoice, and leap for joy, you his people, as you celebrate his coming and look forward to his return. In Jesus Christ, Amen.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Sermon - Matthew 6:25-34 - Advent Midweek

Trinity Lutheran Church, Beloit, WI
December 5th, 2012
Midweek Advent Divine Service
Matthew 6:25-34

“The future in faith”
Introductions, etc...

Today's Gospel reading includes Jesus' familiar words about worry. Look at the birds of the air and lilies of the field, and don't worry. You're worth more to God than they are. Each day has enough trouble of its own. The Gentiles run after all these things, but you, Christians, seek the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you. Familiar words. Words which, I have to admit, hit home for me.

We all worry, don't we? The future is uncertain. Cloudy. What will tomorrow bring? And we have enough experience in this sinful, broken, world, to know that things don't always turn out the way we want. Disasters strike without warning. Frustrations arise. Our best laid plans... well, you know how it goes. Disappointment after disappointment teaches us that tomorrow is a thing to be feared. That heartache and trouble lurk just around the corner. And so we worry.

What will we eat? What will we wear? Where will we live? Will we have enough money to pay the bills? Will I have a job? Will my retirement funds hold up? What if I get sick? What if I am sick, can the doctors help me? What about my children? Will they be ok? Will they grow up to be responsible, respectable, and live a good life? Or will they make mistakes, get in trouble, or turn away from my values? There are worries about the world at large – wars and rumors of wars. There are worries about the economy. And if that's not enough you can worry about a silly ancient calendar that ends on December 21st this year.

I have to admit, being a missionary doesn't make you immune to worry. We can worry about where we'll be living, what we'll be eating, how we'll adjust to a new country. We can worry about what we'll eat, and can we afford it, and how will our children fare? When will we leave, when will we return, what does the future hold for us? And what about this new congregation – will it grow? Will people respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Or will it be a long, hard slog with little to show for our time and energy?

I don't know what your worries are, but I certainly know mine. I don't know what your worries are, but I know the human condition. Jesus tells us not to worry for a reason. He knows our weakness.

Jesus tells us not to worry. He calls us to repent of serving that other master – the mammon, the material, the things of the world. Turn away from the false gods of money and food and house and home, even friends and family. Nothing should come before the true God. Nothing should concern us as much as his will for our lives. And no one should worry about these earthly things, when the heavenly things are what truly matter.

But even in this call to repentance is a gentleness, a kindness, for his little ones of little faith. These words of Jesus don't come across as an angry diatribe against you tedious little sinners who will never get it through your thick skulls..... instead, he speaks tenderly, about the Father's love for us – far more than the birds or the flowers, and of our great value to him. He knows our needs, better than we do. And if he cares for them, won't he care for us?

Jesus knows well to what lengths the Father would go to care for our needs. And our greatest need, all the more. We need to be redeemed, saved, snatched from the jaws of sin and death. We need a savior. And our God provides, richly. He sends his own Son.

To Adam and Eve who worried about their frightful life in the newly fallen world, God promised a savior who would crush the serpent's head. To Abraham, who worried that he would see no heir, and would have to leave everything to his servants, God promised descendants more numerous than the stars, and one descendent through whom all nations would be blessed. The Old Testament believers, though they worried about their tomorrows, also looked in faith and hope, trusting the promises of God, that he would provide, that he would save.

The long awaited Advent of the Christ was fulfilled in the little town of Bethlehem. The king then came to his holy city, riding on a donkey. And his work reached its climax when he came to the place of the skull and was crucified. He came, he accomplished salvation, he provided for our need.

For our part, we have a future that is secure in him. A future that leaves us no need to worry. We have the promise of his return. We have the promise of our own resurrection. And we have the promise of a forever home in his presence, where God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes. Don't worry about tomorrow, because God holds your future in his hands. Don't worry about the things of this world, but trust him who created it all for your good, and will one day restore to you all things. In this world, troubles will come, but this world is not where our future lies. We who live in Christ, die in Christ, and rest from our labors, only to live in Christ forever.

As you prepare for the celebration of his birth, don't worry about the little things or the big things. As you look forward to his second Advent, the advice and encouragement is the same. Don't be anxious about tomorrow. For the same God who provided even his only Son to die for you – is the God who will care for you tomorrow and always. In Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Sermon - Advent 1 - Luke 21:25-36

Advent 1, December 2nd, 2012
Bethel Lutheran Church, Gurnee, IL
Luke 21:25-36
“Advent Q&A”

Introductions, etc...

A happy and blessed Advent to you, and as well a new church year. The season of Advent is a time of expectation and preparation for the celebration of Jesus' birth. It's a nice contrast to the hustle bustle of the secular world preparing for its mostly secular Christmas. Advent calls us to stop and think, meditate, listen, and pray. It is a bit of an alien idea to the world around us whose commercialized festivities seem to be encroaching earlier and earlier. But Advent says, “Wait. Watch. Repent. Pray.”

Even the word “Advent” is one of those church words you don't hear too often outside of the sanctuary. It simply means “coming”. But if you told someone we're observing the season of “Coming”, that might lead to a few questions. Maybe it's good to remind ourselves, too, this morning, of some Advent Q&A, questions and answers....

Who's coming?” Well, maybe that's the first and most obvious question, but then again maybe not. Of course, Jesus is coming. But do people believe it? Do we even believe it? How different would our lives look if we took seriously Jesus' words about his return? What would it look like if we really did “stay awake” as he tells us in our Gospel reading?

This is Jesus, who is coming, not some fat man in a red suit. He is the Lord of all creation, God of God, light of light, very God of very God. He is the Good Shepherd, the True Vine, the Light of the World.

He is the one who once came in lowly fashion, was swaddled up and laid in a manger. But he is coming again in glory, to judge both the living and the dead. He's the judge, you see, and the conqueror who will put all enemies under his feet. He is master and commander of all the angels. He is Yaweh Sabbaoth, Lord of Hosts.

When such an important person is coming, another question becomes very important.

Why is he coming?”
Anytime finite and sinful man encounters infinite and holy God, you get a reaction. Isaiah cried out, “woe is me, I am ruined!”. Peter exclaimed, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”. Sinners cannot bear his holiness any more than his holiness will tolerate sin. So his coming presents a problem for sinners.

If this Jesus really is the judge coming to proclaim a final judgment, must I not be judged for all my sins? Who can stand in the judgment? If he really is God of Gods, and knows all things, then doesn't he know my sins (and yours)? Like the demons who shrieked when Jesus confronted them, our sinful nature might also cry out, “why have you come here Jesus, to destroy me?”

But that's not the answer, at least for us. As Christians we have the blessed assurance of the Gospel, and that makes all the difference in the “why” of his Advent. “Why has he come?” To save us. And “Why is he coming again?” To save us.

He came once to procure salvation. To live a perfect life in our place. To defeat all the temptations of the evil one, a Second Adam, who succeeded where the First Adam failed. He kept God's holy law, which we cannot. He perfectly submitted to his Father's will, in place of us who can only rebel against it. He did all things well, and he did them for us.

And he came to die. To suffer and die, cursed on a cross, becoming sin for the sake of all sinners. He came, the Lamb of God, to take away the sins of the world. He came to shed his holy precious blood, his life for ours. He came to destroy death by his death, to take the curse by being cursed, and to secure us the victory through his most bitter humiliation. That's why he came. That's why Christmas matters. Because of the cross.

When is he coming?” Surely the Old Testament believers waited with eager anticipation for the Messiah. The air was thick with that hope when Jesus came on the scene, even if they got the “why” question wrong. But his second Advent is also to be eagerly anticipated. His disciples wanted to know when all of these things would happen.... and so do many today.

Jesus is coming, but we don't know when. Like a thief, suddenly, at just the right time, in His time, not ours. But we know this. It will be good. It will be good for us, his people. Lift up your heads, your redemption draws near. Wait with bated breath, on the edge of your seat, for it will be... like Christmas. Wait for his coming with all the joy of every child who ever hoped for presents under the tree. Wait for his coming with faith and trust and hope that he who has won your salvation will deliver it in person. Wait for his second Advent, even as you celebrate his first, and rejoice in the surpassing riches of his grace.

But know this – he also comes today. He comes to strengthen and awaken us for that day. He comes to his people, wrapped not in swaddling clothes but by his Spirit in words of law and gospel. He comes, even today, not across the Jordan, but in the waters of holy baptism. He comes, even today, even here to you – under the forms of bread and wine which he promises are his true body and blood... for you.

When is his Advent? Bethlehem, long ago? Yes. In glory, someday to come? Yes. But also here, now, today – the day of salvation.

He comes to all who hear his word and receive his gifts, in Gurnee, in Illinois, and across the world – even in Singapore. God grant a continual Advent of Christ to sinners in need of saving, that we may all come with him to glory on that day when he returns.