Sermons

Archives - December 2017

Faith in the Preparation

December 31, 2017
By Pastor David French

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Faith in the Preparation
Luke 12:35-40

We have lots of days of celebration and commemoration during the year. As a nation, we remember the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July. We remember the men and women who risked their lives for our safety on Memorial Day. We remember discoverers on Columbus Day. These are but a few of the days we remember as a nation.

The church also has its days of memory: Christmas - God taking on our human flesh in order to save us. Epiphany - the revelation of God in the flesh to the entire world. Good Friday - God in human flesh sacrificing Himself to take away our sin. Easter - God certifying His salvation by rising from the dead. Ascension Day - God in the flesh ascending outward to fill all things. Pentecost - the transformation of the Old Testament church into the New Testament church by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We especially as Americans have a lot of reasons to remember and celebrate both as citizens of this nations and as citizens of Heaven. As far as I can tell, only two holidays in any given year deal specifically with the passage of time. And as with many things our attitude about those days depends on where we are or think we are in life.

Some look to the future with anticipation others see impending doom. One of these days is personal. The other is shared by all. The personal one is your birthday. The shared one is this evening. These two days more than any other remind us of the passage of time.

This evening, we come to the end of another year. Some look forward to the new year with excitement. Others look forward to the new year with dread. And there are good reasons for both. But for the Christian the end of the year is always a good time to look forward to the end of time and the beginning of eternity.

That’s what our Gospel does. Just as there are two ways to look at the changing year, there are two ways to look at the change from time to eternity. In tonight's lesson, Jesus encourages us to be ready for the day when time stops and eternity begins. And He wants us to be ready so that it is a day we greet with joy.

Jesus asked His hearers to imagine the slaves of a household who were waiting for their master to return home from a wedding reception. Remember at that time there was no instant communication. The slaves learned the time their master was coming home when he showed up at the door and knocked.

He also asked them to imagine that coming to be like that of a thief that is completely unexpected. Simply making the point that the end of our time, like Noah’s flood will most likely be a surprise to a vast majority of well humanity.

But then death is often unexpected. From accidents to natural disasters, illness and disease death comes in many ways and most are unexpected. This is one of those rare times that the Bible doesn’t tell us anything that we don't already know from our own experience.

Still there are many who deal with this truth by ignoring it. Everyone knows that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow and yet most people, Christian or not, live as though they’ll never die, at least not until they reach a ripe, old age.

There are those who know of Christ but put off learning about Christ often because they’ve come to believe that being a Christian will take all the fun out of life. It’s an old story, they’ll just put off religion until they’re too old to have fun and then learn about this salvation thing. This evening Jesus in effect says that’s a bad idea. With sin and the death it brought came the need for all of us to prepare for the end of our time on earth.

At first it may seem that preparation is beyond our grasp. We are after all sinners through and through. Preparation for the coming of the Holy One surly requires a holy people. And if we’re honest we don't know what it means to keep our lamps burning or staying awake until the master returns? What don’t sleep until Christ returns … have you figured out how to do that?

And that’s when God reminds us that when it comes to our salvation, He does all that needs to be done, period. You are prepared for the end of your time and the end of all time because God has prepared you. In fact, we just celebrate the beginning of that preparation.

You see God was preparing all of humanity when He took on human flesh and blood. He was making preparation as He began His ministry of healing, preaching, and teaching; a ministry that culminated with His arrest, several mock trials, and a sentence of death by crucifixion. And with His resurrection from the dead and Ascension into heaven all was prepared for His second coming - the day when He will come again to judge the world.

His life as a human was perfect in every way, that’s the life He now offers to you but not you alone. When Jesus took our sins to the cross, He put Himself in the position to take God's penalty for our sin, preparing all to stand sinless in God's sight.

And God not only prepares His gifts for us, but He also prepares our hearts for us. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word and Sacraments to create and sustain faith in our hearts. By grace through that faith He allows us to receive all the gifts of life and salvation that Jesus prepared for us through His life and with His blood on the cross.

What that means is when Jesus asks us to be ready, He’s really only asking us to be the way He made us by the working of His Holy Spirit and His gift of faith. You see we are ready for the end when we believe by faith the Holy Spirt worked in us that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who has paid for all my sins. I’d say that’s it but as we already recognized that preparation is beyond our grasp.

To be ready as Jesus again tells us is to be in Him. As He says in John 15 - Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

Clearly Jesus is telling us that He does the work of providing all that we need to sustain the life we have in Him. And you are in Him as Paul writes to the Galatians: for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

As this year comes to an end, we give thanks to God that on the day of our baptism He made us ready for the end of our time in this world. As the New Year begins, we pray God’s continued blessings as He works through His word and sacrament to keep us ready and working through us to prepare others to see with joy the glory of His return.

In His Name, Amen

Waiting for Messiah

December 31, 2017
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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Waiting for Messiah
Luke 2:22-40

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically the song sung by Simeon upon seeing Jesus and taking Him in his arms, Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen the salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Nunc dimittis. That’s the official Latin name for this wonderful departing proclamation from Simeon, meaning “Now release.” This older man had been waiting, for an undisclosed amount of time, for what Luke calls the consolation of Israel. He had been given a promise by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Christ. Now … finally … as Joseph and Mary have brought this seemingly ordinary Child to the Temple in the normal way that Moses had told them to do with the birth of the firstborn son, Simeon is able to see through the commonness and recognize the Infant Priest for who He is.

Simeon, and a little later, Anna, were able to recognize this Child as the Messiah, God’s holy one, anointed for the purpose of being a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory of … Israel. They knew who He is, the reason He came, and, from the sounds of it, they also had an inkling of what being the Messiah meant in order to be the salvation prepared in the presence of all peoples. Their waiting for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesies about the coming of the Messiah was finally and at long last at an end.

Unfortunately, not everyone knew properly the reason why this long-awaited Messiah was brought into the world. Where all in Israel were, like Simeon and Anna, awaiting the coming of the Messiah, most others thought the coming of YHWH’s anointed one would herald a new age for Israel … but not in the way that we Christians understand it. Specifically, there was the widely-held belief that the Messiah was going to come as a victorious, conquering king, who would drive out the pagan nations that had for centuries imposed their will upon God’s chosen people. He was going to come, and he was going to oust the Romans and the Herodians, all those foreign oppressors from the Promised Land. He was going to bring YHWH’s kingdom down to earth and rule there until all of Judea’s enemies lay at her feet.

That’s what most Judeans expected from the Messiah; that’s also what the enemies of Judea were told to expect. That’s why Herod put to death boys two-years-old and under in Bethlehem when he was duped by visiting Magi. For that matter, it’s why many years later Pilate would ask Jesus if He was a king as He stood on trial for His life. They all feared the ramifications that would come from the Messiah’s advent, but of course, they were all misguided in their conceptions of what the Messiah’s mission actually was. He wasn’t after earthly thrones and glory, all of which are fleeting. He wasn’t going to overthrow governments and kingdoms with political maneuvering and revolution. The temporal rulers of this world needn’t fear the Messiah’s hijacking of their temporal rule. That is not His aim; instead, the Messiah’s purpose was exactly what YHWH had revealed to Simeon: the salvation prepared for all peoples - the light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel.

Simeon knew this truth. Thus, as he held the holy Child in his arms, he proclaimed his recognition of YHWH fulfilling the promise given to him. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. No longer waiting for the Messiah, Simeon could die in peace … but not without a parting word to His earthly parents. Simeon’s words about Jesus to Jesus do not signify the end of his proclamation; Luke records that he also has some words for His parents, specifically spoken to Mary … but they’re not what you may expect. After a blessing upon both parents, he says to Mary, Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.

A sword will pierce through your own soul also? That doesn’t sound like words that should be spoken to a brand-new mother 40 days after the birth of her firstborn son! These are dark, ominous words—not merely about Mary’s soul being pierced, but the fact that Simeon says that her soul will be pierced also. Before the infancy narrative of Jesus even comes to a close, we receive this somewhat darker prophecy. Mary’s soul was to be pierced, yes, but so was the little bundle of joy resting in Simeon’s arms. That’s what the rulers and powers-that-be didn’t know about the Messiah. That’s what the rest of Judea didn’t expect of the Messiah. He would come to them, not proud and mighty, but humble and lowly. He came, not to be served, but to serve. As we heard at Christmas, whilst we marveled at Jesus’ incarnation, He was born literally to die.

But again, that’s what the Messiah came to do, and Simeon and Anna saw this. They knew, even though this Child would die, by His death, YHWH’s salvation would come to all people - not just to Israel, but to all nations! The fulfillment of YHWH’s promises to all of mankind was found in this Child being dedicated in the way Moses had prescribed.

We have no idea how long after this episode occurred that Simeon - or Anna, for that matter - closed their eyes in death. We do, however, have much in common with these faithful saints of old. Where they waited to behold the Messiah before His salvific work, we wait in eager expectation Jesus’ return. We are waiting for the Messiah - not to lighten the Gentiles and Israel, but to put to death the last enemy, Death itself. Yet, in our waiting, we hold to the promises YHWH, the Triune God, has given to us: that our sins are forgiven in Christ, that He is always with us (especially in the Host and Cup of the Supper), and that eternal life is ours - when our eyes are closed in death, or when Christ returns. May that blessed Day come quickly!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

What Now?

December 25, 2017
By Pastor David French

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What Now?
John 1:1-14

You know that feeling you get after all the build-up, all the planning, and all the work for a big event is done? Do you remember what it feels like when the party is over and all the guests have gone home and all your left with is memories and clean-up? That’s how I sometimes feel on Christmas Day. Last night we pulled out all the stops, and now here we sit. It’s somewhat anticlimactic compared to last night. All the anticipation; all the excitement, it’s gone, done for another year. Today kind of feels more like a day after the party.

Now I know there are many Christians who struggle with going out to church on Christmas Day to worship after they just attended Christmas Eve worship. Pastors struggle with this too, especially when it comes to sermon preparation. It’s the same story we just preached on it ten hours ago. Nothing has changed since then.

That’s actually why so many churches are closed today. The rationale goes like this: All the people show up on Christmas Eve. That’s when you get the most opportunity for “return on your effort”. Look around, this is not unusual, Christmas Day as most of you knew before you got here is typically a bit roomier then Christmas Eve.

No doubt many think: Why bother getting out of the PJs and making the kids leave their toys? We’ve already heard the story of Jesus birth. But maybe just maybe we feel this way because we don’t really understand the miracle of God in the flesh for all mankind as well as we think we do.

This morning I’d like you to consider with me the shepherds we read about in our Gospel lesson. We heard a little bit about them last night. They were the very first ones God told about the birth of Jesus. That’s pretty impressive when you consider, despite the way we romanticize them, these guys were considered to among the dregs of society. Truth is shepherds didn’t count.

Not only were they not counted for the census, they weren’t even counted for taxes, and that’s saying something. But that’s how insignificant they were to the rest of their society … the Roman government didn’t even bother with them for taxes. And yet…God tells them about Jesus first. He makes this Good News known to them by filling the night sky with bright angelic choirs, all singing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rest. So God pulls out all the stops to tell some insignificant, know nothing shepherds that He loved them and counted them as worthy of being saved; worthy enough to send His Son to live and die for them.

And what do they do well … they do exactly what faith does: They hear this Good News and say: “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.” Luke tells us that they immediately went without haste. So how does that compare with our own reality? How many Christians around the world heard the Good News last night proclaiming the birth of Jesus? I get that Hollywood’s best would fall far short of the angelic display God put on for the shepherds but still …. how many people heard the exact same words last night? How many do you suppose after hearing that Good News, set out without delay this morning to find Him? If only we ran to church the way children run down the stairs to see if Santa has come.

But here’s the point I’d like you to consider this blessed Christmas Day. Notice what the shepherds do after hearing the Good News and after they go to worship Christ. They go back out into the world; the same world that shunned them. They return to their vocations, and they glorify and praise God for all they have heard and seen, making known to everyone what had been told to them and what they themselves had witnessed and beheld and were a part of. My friends: This is where the “what now?” question just gets absolutely destroyed. What now? Go and tell what God has done for you! Go! Return to your vocations. Return to the callings and offices God has placed you into in order to serve Him and make Him known. Go serve God by serving your neighbor.

Unfortunately, that’s something that a lot of 21st century American Christians with big hearts and good intentions often struggle with. We’ve been duped into believing that we need to find the “secret, higher purpose” that God has for us. We’ve willingly taken the bait—hook, line, and sinker—believing the lie that our everyday vocations at work and home are not enough and if we really want to serve God we need to step up our game. Were led to believe that ordinary life just doesn’t cut it, it’s to ordinary.

But that’s not how God sees it. These lowly shepherds went back to their lowly vocations. They return to nomadic shepherding, only now they’re evangelizing, telling everyone they saw about Jesus. But they didn’t take their sheep into the cities they stayed in the fields where God had first found them. “What now?”

Well like them we share what we know where we are. We share that the Word of God who became flesh and lived among us to die and rise again for us. We share the good news that Jesus the Lamb of God, has taken away the sin of the world. That this same almighty God, still lives with us to feed and forgive us, to nourish and protect us, to deliver us from all evil. We share that God is holding out to all His real and tangible gifts of grace, mercy, and peace. That is after all what the angelic hosts sang about! Here is God’s peace on earth, with you and for you, right now!

It’s that simple, and it’s a profound, yet this joy was never intended to be restricted to one night or one day out of the year. It’s a profound, yet very simple Christ centered joy that is ours each and every day that we live in Christ. That’s what today is about. Today is another opportunity our Lord gives to us to be in His presence, to receive from His own hand, and to celebrate all that He has done for us out of His great love, grace, and mercy for us.

May this gift of Christ to you; the gift of your salvation; the gift of knowing and trusting that God is reconciled to you and at peace with you because of the all-atoning life, suffering, death and resurrection of the Word made flesh. May this gift of God be your joy, your peace, and the reason behind all that you say, think, and do in your daily God-pleasing, family loving, neighbor-serving vocations, until the day we are all together with Him who was born of Mary for us all.

In His Name, Amen.

Child Savior

December 24, 2017
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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Child Savior
Matthew 1:18-25

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation this Christmas Eve comes from our Gospel lesson, especially where Matthew records, But as [Joseph] considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

Nobody would have blamed him, had he gone through with it. From all the evidence, she had betrayed him. Of course, she denied it, but her defense sounded ludicrous; you don’t just become pregnant without some … other activity taking place first. Nevertheless, that was her story, and she was sticking to it. She insisted that she had not been unfaithful, and much as he wanted to believe her, he couldn’t. Her protestations seem to have fallen on deaf ears, and he resolved to divorce her quietly.

We are, of course, talking about the holy family. We’ve got Mary, the virgin Theotokos, the “God-bearer.” We’ve got the yet unborn Holy Child, Jesus who will be called the Christ, Who is still being knit together in His mother’s womb at the time of our reading. Then … we’ve got Joseph, the groom-to-be who finds himself caught in one of the most awkward situations in human history. He was fairly certain that his bride-to-be has cheated on him, and the penalty for such adultery could be as mild as shunning or as severe as death, usually by stoning. But Joseph didn’t want that for Mary; as hurt and betrayed as he undoubtedly felt, Matthew describes Joseph as being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame.

But Mary hadn’t been unfaithful. Her innocence, her chastity, her virginity remained intact. Instead, she had been selected to be the bearer and mother of the incarnate Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit! Enter the mysterious fifth character in our text today, an angel of the LORD. This messenger of good news comes to Joseph in a dream, assuring him of Mary’s innocence, that it was by the working of the Holy Spirit that the Child, the Boy growing in her womb was conceived by the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. Joseph needn’t fear, in spite of what people might say about either of them. They knew the truth of the holy Child yet to be born, and thus he could, should, and would take Mary to be his wife … and raise the holy Babe as his own Son.

Such an unusual, mysterious, holy Child couldn’t be given any ordinary name. He was to be given a special Name, a Name that hearkens back to the writings of the prophets: Yeshua, Jesus, literally meaning, “Savior,” and He was to be given this Name to indicate the purpose for which He was born. He would be called Savior, because, as Matthew records, “[H]e will save his people from their sins.”

Joyous, indeed, is this night as we behold the Babe of Bethlehem, but the angel’s proclamation to Joseph also carries with it a dread reality, a shadow which would hover all His life: from when Mary first placed Him in a manger, through His earthly ministry, even as He marched up a hill outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha. That shadow was in the shape of a cross. This Child, the incarnate Second Person of the Holy Trinity, had taken on human flesh for a purpose. He wasn’t born to just be a cute baby - that happens every day! No this Child was born with a very specific vocation: Jesus was literally born to die. That is how He would save His people from their sins: by taking the sins of the entire world - all people from all time, indeed, the brokenness and sin of all creation - taking that all unto Himself, and killing it the only way it could be killed: by being killed Himself. The self-sacrifice of the Son of God for the restoration of all creation, the redemption and salvation of all Mankind. It could only be done by Immanuel, God literally with us.

But that’s how people are saved from the eternal consequence for their sin. Innocent blood becomes the guiltiest of all, and that blood must be shed. In ancient Israel, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement was one of the holiest days. It was a day of repentance, of fasting and sacrifice, and one of the more well-known sacrifices of that time included the sacrifice of two goats. One of the goats would be sacrificed in the more traditional sense, as a sin offering to YHWH, but the other goat … would have the Levitical priest lay his hands on the head of the animal, cast the sins of the people onto and into the animal, and send it off into the wilderness. This second goat, the “scapegoat,” would bear the sins of the people far away from them and die in oblivion. Both of these animal sacrifices prefigure the ultimate sacrifice - not of a goat, but that of the Lamb of God, Who takes away, not only the sins of Israel, but of the whole world.

That’s the reason behind the joy of Christmas. It is right that tonight we revel in Christ’s incarnation, God stepping from eternity into the time and space of His creation, out of love, in order to saved His hateful creatures, but even on this joyous night, we remember that this Babe came with a mission, revealed in the Name that Joseph was to give Him. That’s what this glorious and holy night is all about! Not the self-centered, rank materialism that our culture associates with Christmas. It’s not even about the gathering together of family and friends for feasting and revelry. Wonderful as those things are, and thankful though we are for them, this night … is all about Jesus. The Name that Joseph gave to that Infant Priest … says everything about Him, and everything about you and me. Into that Name we were baptized, into that Name the sin within us was killed, and into that Name we were raised with Jesus to everlasting life. Harry Belafonte was right when he sang a few decades ago, “Man will live forevermore because of Christmas Day.”

+ In that holy Name of Jesus, that Name that is above every name. + Amen, and merry Christmas.

 

Savior, Christ, and Lord

December 24, 2017
By Pastor David French

 

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Savior, Christ, and Lord
Luke 2:1-14

Jesus was born before there were birth certificates. At that time the idea of a birthday celebration was reserved for royalty. Most people had no idea when they were born or the exact date of their birth.

From time-to-time a person of common birth would grow up to become a person of historic significance. People would want to celebrate the historical significance of this person’s birth, but because no one knew the date of his or her birth, the cultures of the day came up with a formula for those whose birthdate was unknown.

This tradition proposed that the date of conception was the same as the date of death. So if a person died on January 1, they would say that he was conceived on January 1, and his birthday would be nine months later on October 1. In reality, they had no idea when the actual date of his or her birth was, but would celebrate their birth from that point on every year on October 1.

That’s how it was with Jesus. The early church focused on the day of His crucifixion and the day of His resurrection. By the time people thought it would be good to celebrate His birth as well they had long ago forgotten the date. But … they did know that Jesus had died on Passover.

The problem with Passover is that it always comes on a full moon which means it’s on a different day every year. And so the church did its best to figure out when Passover was during the year that Jesus died and set nine months later as Christmas.

As time went on, people started to notice that spring came a little bit later than it used to. At about the same time astronomers had figured out that an extra day needed to add to the calendar every four years in order to keep the calendar in sync with the seasons. Since there had been no “leap year” before they decided to add a dozen leap days in one year to get things back on track.

That led to the church having to decide: Do we adjust all the church holidays because of these extra leaps days, or should we keep them the same? The church in the East, decided one way and the church in the West the other. So, today the Western church celebrates December 25 as Christmas while the church in the East celebrates Christmas on January 6. The difference is twelve days or what we know as the Twelve days of Christmas.

Today we understand that the miracle of Jesus’s birth is the same miracle that takes place every time a baby is conceived. A single human cell within the womb of the virgin Mary began the process of dividing first into two cells, then four, then eight, for the next nine months. The unique thing is that even as one cell, God was present in all of His fullness.

And so Mary gave birth to God the Savior who would one day crush the serpent’s head lays sleeping in a manger. And satan, the world, and our own sinful flesh want to keep this child right where you see Him, that is in the manger. The last thing satan wants is for us to remember that this child who rests in Mary’s arms will one day hang from the arms of a cross as a sin offering.

The world works hard to produce a flashy, entertaining Christmas holiday. The world would be happy if the only image you had of your savior was that of a baby peacefully sleeping in a manger surrounded by His mom, dad and some adoring shepherds, and that’s all there is to it. The world would truly celebrate if the holiday of Christmas was all that you knew about Jesus.

And the world uses some of the best traditions to take our minds off the savior. The world would have us believe that getting together as a family is the main reason for Christmas, but it’s not. The world would have us believe that generosity is the main reason for Christmas, but it’s not. There are all kinds of good and noble traditions associated with Christmas and the world stands ready to push them all in order to divert our thinking from the true meaning of Christmas.

My friends it’s the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds that warns us about those traps. From them we learn that there is more to this child than just a baby in the manger. Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

The angel used the words: Savior, Christ, and Lord. Savior from what? Well the Scriptures teach that we’re all conceived and born sinful and would be lost forever unless delivered from that sin and the condemnation it brings. The angel wants us to know that this One who is born in the City of David is that promised Savior.

The title Christ means the anointed one. Here the angel tells that this new born in the City of David is anointed to an office. In fact, it’s the three-fold office, that of prophet, priest, and king.

As prophet He speaks for God. And who better suited to speak for God than God Himself. Even then Jesus is more than a prophet. When prophets speak for God they revealed promises of God. Jesus not only makes Divine promises, but He fulfills them as well.

The King is the One who reigns. As Christ, this baby born in the manger is anointed to reign over all things. The one who reigns makes the rules. But most Kings set themselves above the rules. Not so with Jesus He was as God reveals through St. Paul … born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

A priest is a mediator between God and man. He prays to God for the people. He also offers up sacrifices on their behalf. As the Christ, this baby in the manger is the one, true mediator between God and man. He not only prays for the people, but He is the answer to our prayers. He not only offers up a sacrifice for the people, but He Himself is the sacrifice for all people. When the angel proclaims the birth of Christ, he is pointing us to the cross.

The angel called Him Lord. That is the baby lying in the manger is more than just a human being. He is God in human flesh. He was anointed to fulfill the promises of the prophets, keep the laws of the king, and offer Himself as the sacrifice that washes away all sin. The angels carry with them the truth in a manger for all the world to see, is God in the flesh who has come to save His people from their sin.

see even on this night we are reminded that all of us are conceived and born of sin and walk the road that leads to death. But we are also reminded that it was on a night like this that God who took on human flesh and blood was born into His creation that He might walk that road of death and die in our place so that by grace we might live eternally with Him who was born this night for us all.

In the Name of Him who saves us, Amen.

Many Lights Are Brighter Together

December 20, 2017
By Pastor David French

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Many Lights Are Brighter Together
Romans 15:4-7

Last week, we heard about one of Pastor Heckert’s routines to prepare for Christmas. He talked about choosing the right tree, putting it in the stand, positioning it just right, admiring its natural state and aroma, and then putting on the lights.

We heard how difficult it was to get the lights just right. How when they were finally balanced there wasn’t just a feeling good that it was done … the tree, really was a beautiful sight. I’ve certainly noticed this year how the tree is the only light turned on in the room in our home. It’s true a well-lit Christmas tree brings more joy to a darkened room than a single light bulb. Certainly, a single bulb can be bright enough on its own, but when even much dimmer lights are joined by the hundreds, their brilliance and glow just fill a room in a different way and touches everyone who sees them. It’s not magic or anything like that … it’s just nice.

Last week, we also heard St. Paul speak of a routine as we prepare for Christ, the light of the world. His words gave us encouragement as we prepare and live spiritually for his second coming. In our text today, we hear Paul’s conclusion about quarrels over different opinions among the Christians in Rome.

There were those who believed they could eat anything, while others believed they could eat only vegetables. Some wanted to observe the Old Testament festivals, while others considered every day the same. Paul wrote to settle these disputes and perhaps more importantly he wrote to teach how to receive and welcome one another, that they might shine in unity, because many lights are brighter - together!

Many lights together bring praise to God, and that because Jesus, has united all God’s children in hope through His sinless life and sacrificial death. That hope is the reason His church has been able to shine bright enough for all the world to see.

And that hope is written in the Old Testament. Paul begins our text: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Sadly, there are many today who shy away from the Old Testament, because well it can be difficult to see or understand the hope that is promised there.

My friends without that hope, we’re like lights hung on a tree that aren’t plugged in. When we look to ourselves for hope, we find only darkness. Without hope, we are blind and unable to see God’s gracious light, a light that lightens the pathway to forgiveness and so to Him.

In Christ, we are given hope through God’s Word. In this hope, we receive the confidence and encouragement to confess and repent of our sins, knowing that we are already forgiven and will be strengthened.

In God’s Word, we can look to the prophets for instruction; there, we’re given many many examples of suffering and endurance. As a pastor, I can’t imagine preaching the last twenty-five years and receiving nothing but negative feedback from everyone like for ex: Jeremiah. And yet, Jeremiah persevered and kept proclaiming the Word of God. He also persevered through physical persecution: beatings, imprisonment, being thrown into a muddy cistern. Me I’ve never even been threatened.

Jeremiah also had false prophets to deal with as they preached only what the people wanted to hear instead of what they needed to hear. And in the midst of it all Jeremiah was still able to write: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him. (Lam 3:22–24).

Clearly Jeremiah understood that when God is the source of your strength, you have everything you need … even in the midst of hardships. I understand that sounds easier said than done but you don’t have any choice in the hardship part, you only have a choice in how you handle it and when God is your strength it does make a difference. That too is not magic it’s His promise.

So it’s our hope in Jesus that unites us to God, and so Jesus who is the source of our strength, life, and salvation, it is Jesus who unites all who are the family of God. In the Gospel of Luke, after he had risen from the dead, Jesus explained to the disciples the entire meaning of the Old Testament as he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Lk 24:45–47).

That is the Old Testament is all about Jesus, our Savior, the hope of the world. Our hope that was once prophesied through Isaiah when he wrote: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6).

Our hope, Jesus is the Lamb of God who offered Himself as the sacrifice for the sins of all people, of all times and places. And God’s plan of salvation would come to its completion when Jesus was raised from the dead and unite us to Himself through his blood.

Just as many lights on a Christmas tree are brighter together, so are the united praises of God’s people. And as the many lights are joined by one strand, we, too, are joined together by the One who is called Jesus. We’re joined through the gift of our salvation that is found in Christ and offered to us and to all by the grace of God through the Good News that our sins are forgiven by his blood and we are clothed with His righteousness, together gifted to us in our Baptism, and strengthened in us as we receive His very body and blood.

Therefore (Paul writes) Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. But it’s not always easy to welcome one another as fellow members of the family of Christ. Paul knew this to be true for the Romans and for all would read his words after them and so he continued to encourage them and us to live in the love and righteousness purchased by Christ. Paul knew pride is a terrible thing to let stand between Christian brothers and sisters.

He also knew that the darkness that once filled the world has been pierced by the light of Christ. Yes, the world has seen a great light, enlightening our lives with grace and mercy, making us one in Him who loves us and gave Himself for us all.

In His Name, Amen.

 

The Great "I Am"

December 17, 2017
By Pastor David French

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The Great "I Am"
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Today’s Gospel lesson is in some ways a repeat of what we heard in last week’s Gospel reading. Last week we heard about John the Baptist according to Gospel of Mark. Today, we hear about John the Baptist according to the Gospel of the apostle John.

Now John in today’s reading has left us a good example of something that literary professors call step-parallelism. While parallelism compares two people or things that have similar characteristics, step-parallelism uses this comparison to show that the second person or object has these characteristics in a way that is greater than our understanding. That is, we build up someone and then we show that a second someone is even greater.

In today’s lesson John the Baptist is described as an honest, faithful prophet who preached the words that the Holy Spirit gave him to preach. He was even prophesied about by Isaiah who some 700 years earlier wrote: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” John says of himself: “I am that voice.”

In his gospel the apostle makes it very clear that the Baptist is faithful, honest, driven, and fearless. That John the Baptist is a great man and a very real force of history. Now comes the step- parallelism. When John the Baptist had the opportunity to describe the One who came after him, He said: “I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal.”

Now we can easily make the case that John the Baptist was the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets. And yet, he says he’s not worthy to even bow down and untie the sandals of the One he was sent to reveal. The step-parallelism seen in our lesson says that John the Baptist is great, but he’s nothing when compared to the One who already stood among them.

You see, there’s one little three-letter word that describes the difference between John the Baptist and the One who followed him. That word is “NOT.” When the Jewish authorities came to investigate John, they asked, “Who are you?” He freely confessed, “I am not the Christ.” Those three words: “I am not,” are the great difference between him and the One who followed him.

The One who followed him would say, [John 8:58] “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” He would also say, [John 6:35] “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” [John 8:12] “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” [John 10:11] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” [John 11:25–26] “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” [John 14:6] “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The One who followed John is the One who spoke to Moses from the burning bush and said, [Exodus 3:14] “I AM WHO I AM.” The great prophet John the Baptist could proclaim the blessings, but the blessings became reality only in the One who followed him … the great “I AM. “

But the One who followed John did not come in the expected way. We expect important people to come in important ways. We expect servants. We expect wealth. Important people demand service and they get it. Nevertheless, this One who followed John … who was more important than John said, [Mark 10:45] “[I] came not to be served but to serve, and to give [My] life as a ransom for many.”

The One whose sandal John was not worthy to untie came to serve you. St. Paul certainly writes the same thing to the Philippians as God reveals though him: “He (Jesus) humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” That is, Jesus came to die for you. He came to ransom you. He came to earn eternal life for you and for all who live under the law.

The delegation that came from Jerusalem to check on John had its answers. The sad thing in today’s lesson is that the men in the delegation wanted to know who John was, but they didn’t want to hear his message or the One he spoke about. When John told them about the Greater One who was already in the crowd, right then standing among the people, they weren’t impressed. As far as they were concerned, no one in the crowd looked very Messianic.

The problem is that the men in the delegations had preconceived notions about the coming Messiah and His messenger. John didn’t measure up either. I’d say again but really, he’s first. He was the first not to be what the leaders of Israel expected. They were looking for the Messiah to reveal Himself in worldly glory and power.

They expected the Messiah’s messenger to be a reflection of that glory and power. This shaggy beard, camelhair coat wearing eccentric just did not fit their preconceived notion of the prophet of the Messiah. Their preconceived notions blinded them to the blessings that God wanted to give them through His servant John the Baptist.

John the Evangelist, his brother James, and all the other disciples of the Baptist would soon meet the Christ, but the men in these delegations would miss out. They passed up the opportunity of a lifetime because John the Baptist didn’t meet their expectations.

And the sad truth is nothing has changed in over two thousand years. We still let our expectations block or limit our relationship with God. We expect our religion to teach us how to get along with others even though thousands of years of human history show us that it can’t be done. We expect our religion to teach us how to lead an honorable life even though we have inherited the curse of sin from our parents.

We expect our religion to make us happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise. In short, we expect our religion to teach us how to live happy and prosperous lives here on this earth and how to earn our way into heaven when we leave this world. We conveniently forget or ignore that the Scriptures, the very word of the One true God, clearly teaches that this is impossible. It seems that we, in our heart of hearts, would rather pretend than repent and trust God to work His will in our lives.

You see, the salvation God earned for us is unexpected. That the true God, the Almighty Lord and creator of all things would pay the price of salvation for such rebellious people, simply makes no sense. Who would expect Him to then offer this gift of life to all … for free? Who would expect God to leave His throne of glory and take on human flesh and blood and live under the authority of the law?

Who would expect our Savior to hide His divinity in the womb of a virgin? Who would expect a savior that was so poor that even in His death He had to be laid in a borrowed tomb? Who would expect salvation to come from the blood of one stretched out on a cross? Who would expect this dead so called “author of this salvation” to rise from the dead or to ascend into heaven?

And yet this is the salvation promised in the Scriptures and provided for all by the One who followed John the Baptist, the One who is for you and for all the great “I AM.”

In His Name, Amen

Put on the Light

December 13, 2017
By Pastor Peter Heckert

 

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Put on the Light
Romans 13:11-14

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from Paul’s letter to the Romans, the section read a few moments ago.

Call me weird, but I love putting up Christmas decorations. I always have; I remember putting up decorations and especially the lights outside our home with my dad, just the two of us in the bitter cold, and while he may not have wholeheartedly shared my enthusiasm for Christmas decorating, we would still always have a good time. I also remember quite vividly the first time I didn’t help decorate the home I grew up in. Instead, I helped my then-future-father-in-law decorate their house at my first Thanksgiving with my then-future-wife. Not surprisingly, I was called upon to help string up the lights, which I was happy to do, but in the front yard, there are some shrubs that I’ve never been that fond of. These shrubs have branches that are tight-knit and making matters worse, they also have these gnarly thorns all over the place. You can imagine who was called upon to string the lights in those bushes. Numerous punctures and some bloodshed later, I got the lights nicely nestled among those thorns, bringing beauty and light to an otherwise hostile piece of shrubbery, an image whose metaphor has stuck with me to this day.

That image reminds me a bit of the text we are looking at today. Paul speaks of Christ as the light of the world, and that we are to prepare for the Day of His coming. However, Paul’s not talking about Christmas, since that’s an event that has already happened. He’s not concerned with trees, decorations, or even our sort of light. Instead, he desires to focus on the anticipated light of Christ’s Second Advent, the Day when Christ comes in all his splendor, power, and glory, with all the heavenly angels, banishing the darkness with His victorious light. We eagerly anticipate this unknown Day, knowing how God loved each and every one of us so, that He sent His only Son, Jesus, into this world of darkness to be our hope and light of eternal joy - the Light among thorns and darkness.

Problem is, humans beings, by our very broken nature, love the thorns and darkness; after all, we are sinners, and all sinners love darkness and decadence and death. Even as God’s dearly-loved children who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light, it is so difficult to live as we should. After all, we are simultaneously saints and sinners, living in a world of darkness that neverthless charms and lures our sinful flesh to be captivated by its intrigue and sinister beauty.

I’m sure you’d agree that nothing good happens in the darkness of this world. So many of the sins we commit happen in the dark, where and when no one else can see them. This is what Paul is talking about in our text. He’s encouraging Christians to put away the works that need to be hidden by darkness: sexual vices, drunkenness, quarreling, and jealousy. His list is, by no means, exhaustive; you could very well insert your own pet sin into this list: alcohol abuse, pornography use, hatred, embezzlement, gossip, the list goes on.

Instead, in the verses that precede our text, Paul speaks to us about loving one another, for the entire Law of God can be summed up in one simple statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Rom 13:9). Through God’s Law, we know our sinfulness. But His love is the fulfillment of the Law in and through His Son, Jesus, born to be the Savior of all the nations. He was born to pierce the darkness, and under the darkened afternoon sky on Good Friday, He did. Jesus’ death is the ultimate glorious light of God’s love.

And God’s love for us did not end when Christ died on the cross. His love continued to shine through Christ as He bestows upon us the Holy Spirit, in Word and Sacrament, to bring us the gift of saving faith. Faith that clings to the blood and righteousness of Jesus that covers our individual sinful lives and unites us as believers. As sinners who have received this righteousness of Christ, we live lives redeemed out of the darkness, not by anything we’ve done, but purely by God’s free and loving gift, which cleanses us from all our sins and enables us to love as he has loved us. And this is what we do, as those who have been called out of the darkness and into his marvelous light. We desire to follow in the way of Christ, obedient and loving, not out of fear but because of his love for us first.

Through God’s Law, we know our sinfulness and our inability to escape the captivity of sin’s darkness. Through God’s grace, we know we’ve been forgiven and empowered to live in the righteous life of Christ. It is in this grace that we put on the armor of light that Paul talks about. We openly and honestly love our neighbors, living joy-filled lives. We enjoy peace in our families, exhibiting patience with our children. We express kindness, goodness, and gentleness with those who hurt us, and have more self-control with those who differ with us. Truly, this armor of light is by far brighter and stronger than any light man can imagine, for it is Christ Himself, the Light of the world, shining through. We put on Jesus as our armor of light to protect us from the darkness of this world and the temptation of the devil. Strengthened, daily, by the power of Christ’s Word and Sacraments to live and radiate his armor of light, adorned with his glory, we stand ready for his second and final coming.

Through the gracious love of our heavenly Father, who sent his only Son to be born and suffer death for us, we have been called out of the darkness of sin and into the marvelous light of Christ. “The night is far gone; the day is at hand.” Put on the light of Christ, and as we wait in eager expectation for His Second Advent, shine in His glory through the darkness and thorns of this world.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

God Comes - Peace and Comfort

December 10, 2017
By Pastor Peter Heckert

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God Comes - Peace and Comfort
Isaiah 40:1-11

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Old Testament lesson, especially where YHWH speaks through His prophet Isaiah, Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. … Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news, lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

It’s that wonderful time of year again, my friends. It’s Advent, that blessed season of the Church Year that anticipates Jesus’ coming -- first in His incarnation when He was born as a baby in Bethlehem, and when He will come again in glory, as Judge and Restorer of all creation. This second weekend in Advent is all about peace -- not in the “peace, man” way seen in the mid- to late-60s, but more in the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, that comfort from God which cannot be understood.

Isaiah certainly is on-board with this idea of peace and comfort. In some of the tenderest words we find in Scripture, we hear YHWH speak through him, Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. These words also represent one of the greatest twists and marked shift in Scripture -- so much so, that some scholars (irreverently, I must say) have suggested that it represents a second author, a second Isaiah, an idea which we know to be unmitigated hogwash. It’s a twist because these incredible, sweet words in our text for today follow on the heels of a rather tense (and less than hopeful) interaction between the prophet and King Hezekiah of Judah; in fact, the chapters preceding our text are quite the roller coaster ride.

In chapter 36, we saw the Rabshakeh (a military officer like a colonel or general), the leader of Assyria’s armies standing outside Jerusalem’s walls, proclaiming to all Jerusalem and especially King Hezekiah that Jerusalem’s destruction is assured, since they were on a mission from the LORD. Chapter 37 saw Hezekiah humble himself, pray for deliverance through Isaiah’s prompting, and the overnight destruction of the entire Assyrian army, as well as mention of the assassination of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib. Then, in chapter 38, Hezekiah caught a disease which Isaiah told him that he would not recover from. Hezekiah again humbled himself before YHWH his God, prayed (no doubt for recovery), and wept bitterly. YHWH heard his prayer, and healed the king of Judah.

Finally, in chapter 39, right before our text, we have, honestly, a rather embarrassing moment. After all that YHWH had done to guard and protect the life of Hezekiah -- indeed, of all Jerusalem, the undoubtedly well-intentioned king commits a grievous faux-pas: Hezekiah entertains envoys from BABYLON, not withholding anything on his tour of all the royal property. Isaiah approaches Hezekiah and asks (probably incredulously) what had transpired. Hezekiah tells him (probably nonchalantly) what happened, not even realizing the floodgates of doom he had opened. Isaiah replies how the days were coming that all his household, all of the wealth of Judah, would be carted off to Babylon, where his offspring would become eunuchs in service to the Babylonian king. And how does this dunce Judahite reply to this horrific prophecy?? The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good, thinking to himself, “Hey, at least it ain’t me! There will be peace and security in my days.” Not exactly words of comfort or peace here -- just a blissfully unaware king who is only concerned with his own comfort and peace.

Here’s where things get interesting. Literally the next sentence in Isaiah’s prophecy is our text for the day, starting with Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. I hope you caught the disconnect. You go from the blissful and damnable ignorance of a Judahite king, whose descendents were destined to be castrated and enslaved in service to a pagan nation … to words which express the peace and comfort that only comes from YHWH of Hosts, the only true God. In this section of his prophecy, Isaiah wrote that YHWH was coming, and in many of the Old Testament prophecies, this would not be a good thing. The Day of YHWH, the Day on which He would come, was usually described as a day of judgment and darkness, of bitterness and destruction and death. It’s usually described as a Day when YHWH would pour out His wrath upon evildoers and wicked nations, and Judah would certainly fall into that category.

Early in his prophetic writings, Isaiah calls Israel (both kingdoms) a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! These are people who long before had abandoned any of the true comfort that came in YHWH’s covenant and promises, and instead chose their own way. They wanted peace and comfort on their own terms. They wanted to have their cake and eat it, too - to hold to the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but live like Canaan, Moab, and Egypt. They wanted the security of YHWH, but the perceived perks of Baal and Moloch. Make no mistake, folks: Judah deserved the punishment YHWH would visit upon them over a century later. Judah deserved exile into Babylon, the land that Hezekiah thought would bring him peace and security and comfort.

Usually, this is how the Prophets speak about YHWH’s advent, His coming, so why … why is this advent message in our Isaiah text good news?? Why is it a comfort, when Isaiah says, Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news, lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ “’Behold your God’?? Last time we did that, we were carted off to Babylon!” you can imagine the former residents of Jerusalem saying. Why is today’s text a proclamation of Gospel, and not a terrifying condemnation of Law?

Because of the God Who is speaking through Isaiah. It’s not Baal or Moloch, who would accept the human sacrifices of first-born sons. No, Isaiah is speaking for YHWH, the true God Who, in the fullness of time, would send His only-begotten Son to take on human flesh and die, bearing the sins of all people! He’s the same God Who had delivered His people from the bondage of Egypt, the same Lord Who would use the Persian king Cyrus to liberate His people from exile in Babylon. These are words which are coming from the God Who proclaims, Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. He’s the One Isaiah spoke of when he wrote, Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. This is coming from the just God, who rightly punishes sins … but pours His justified wrath upon His innocent, incarnate Son for our sake. This is the God Who came, not to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him, the God of mercy, of love. The same God Who saved us through the waters of holy baptism, Who gave us faith, Who feeds us with His very Body and Blood on a weekly basis! The same God Who is coming again, as Judge and Restorer of creation, the death of death!

Truly, friends, this is a blessed time of year, a time of hope, peace, and comfort, and that comfort comes from the One Who loved us so much, that He did not withhold His Son for our sake. This is why Isaiah, and later John the Baptist, declare, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” So, yes, behold your God -- as a newborn Babe in a manger, as your Redeemer hanging upon a cross, and returning as your King. There is peace and comfort in this advent of our God.

+ In His holy and precious Name. + Amen.

Think About It

December 03, 2017
By Pastor David French

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Think About It
Mark 11:1-10

While last Sunday was the last Sunday of the church year and today the first Sunday of a new church year, the readings for these two Sundays contain a common theme, that is: The Coming of the Christ. Last Sunday, we focused on the final coming of Christ … the day when He will come to re-create a new heaven and a new earth and fully reveal Himself to us for all eternity.

In the Sundays leading up to the end of the church year, we once again heard that not everyone will look at His final coming the same way. Some will see Him and be fill with joy and others with great fear.

As we begin this new church year, we focus on the three-fold coming of our Lord. First of all, we’ll consider how He came to earn forgiveness for us with His holy life and His sacrificial death. Secondly, we’ll consider how He now comes to deliver that forgiveness to us through Word and Sacrament. Finally, we’ll consider Christ coming to destroying of this sinful world and creating a new heaven and a new earth.

The central theme for all three of Christ comings is forgiveness which should remind us we are sinners in need of forgiveness. You see there is no reason for this three-fold coming of Christ except our sin. I mean if it weren’t for sin God would to this very day still be revealing Himself openly as He did in the days of Adam and Eve.

But the truth is we did and do sin and so in mercy God veiled His presence so that His glory would not destroy us. But at a time God had chosen, He sent His Son who took on our humanity and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus the One who came, who is coming, and who will come again. During this season we focus on our repentance for the sin that caused God to hide His face from us. And so even now our joy is tempered.

Today’s Gospel reading is Mark’s account of Jesus coming to Jerusalem. He’s entering Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and to be the Passover Lamb whose blood would earn salvation for all people. You see it’s part of God’s nature to come and be with His people. We can see the coming of God throughout Holy Scripture. Clear back in Genesis we see God’s desire is to be with us as He was with Adam in Eden in the garden.

And sadly, since that day in Eden when Adam and Eve first disobeyed God … all of humanity has been afraid of and hated God. Since that day the last thing our sinful nature wants is for God to come to us. Even though God has nothing but love for us, our sin and its guilt produce in us fear and hatred of Him who created us.

Throughout the centuries, God continued to come in love to His people, but always in a way that was hidden so that His holy presence wouldn’t overwhelm them. He was there in tabernacle and Ark and eventually in the temple – always with them, but always hidden. Only with sacrifice could God’s people come into His presence and even then, it was one person who went into the Holy of Holies and that just once a year. Finally, when the time had come, God came to His people in a temple was that not made with stone, but was made of human flesh and blood.

In today’s reading, we see God coming that He might fulfill His work and offer Himself up as a sacrifice for all sin. God in His temple of humanness is coming to the temple of His hiddenness. And in His temple of flesh and blood, Christ will die in order to fulfill the promise of the sacrifices made on the altar in the temple of His hidden presence that is the temple of stone.

As the Son of God entered Jerusalem the Passover Pilgrims shouted His praise. Chances are good that few if any understood the full meaning of Christ’s coming. Although their songs spoke of coming in the name of the Lord and the kingdom of David, they did not understand what they were saying. They quite rightly called Jesus their Messiah, but they would not know what that meant for another week. Because as you know, Jesus had come to die. He had come to Jerusalem to offer Himself as the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world. His being, lifted up upon the cross, was the culmination of His first coming.

The Son of God had taken on human flesh that He might take our place. He had come to Jerusalem to experience the fullness of our sin and take our punishment. That is He came to take away the guilt that causes our fear at His coming. Jesus came to Jerusalem on that Sunday so that on that Friday He could suffer and die on a cross and so atone or pay for the sins of the world.

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross changed the temple of stone as well. When Christ conquered sin, death, and the devil on the cross, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom and God was no longer hidden from His people.

As God lead St. Paul to write: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? That is with the sacrifice of Christ and the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith, God now makes His temple in you and all who believe in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.

And now, as only He can, God lives within us even as He continues to come to us. As a pastor speaks the words of absolution, we hear Jesus offering us forgiveness. As a pastor reads the Scriptures and preaches on that Word, Jesus works in our hearts the confidence, comfort, and assurance that all of His promises are true.

As we come to His Table we take and eat the very flesh that Christ sacrificed for us and drink the blood that He shed for us and for all on the cross. But remember this flesh and blood are not dead things. For the Son of God did not remain dead but He rose from the dead. The flesh and blood He now gives to us are not just the flesh and blood of crucifixion, they are also the flesh and blood of resurrection.

And God will continue to come for all people until that final day when He comes to bring all who trusted in His salvation to be with Him in both body and soul to our heavenly home. On that day He will reveal Himself to all flesh both the living and the dead and He will send away those who refused to listen to Him. And they will experience the wrath of God as they suffer the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. But those who listened to Him will received the gift of His coming with pure joy and will be with and worship Him for all eternity.

So take some time during this Advent season and actually stop and think about God and His comings. Think about the love that He showed by His coming into a world that you well know is filled with the fear and hatred sin brings with it. Think about how He continues to come to you in love through His Means of Grace that is His Word and Sacraments bringing life and salvation. Think about the suffering and death Christ endured in your place and His resurrection that is your justification. Think about the blessings that He gave when He first came into the world … the blessings of forgiveness that He gives now … and the blessing of life as He intended it to be when He comes again.

In His Name, Amen.

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7/15/18 - By Pastor Peter Heckert

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