Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve

Luke 2:21- New Year’s (Eve) - December 31, 2012
According to the Law

It’s the last day of 2012.  Another year is passed.  For better or worse, this mile marker measures the accomplishments and events of our lives.  But I suppose we could use any other day as a mile marker.  Think of all the other calendars that measure the year.  There’s the fiscal year.  That’s important to some people.  There’s the academic year.  This is engraved in the mind of anyone who’s been a student.  There is, of course, the church year.  This is the one that governs what we celebrate here in church.  And finally there is the legal year, the one we’re all about to celebrate tonight, which runs from January 1st – December 31st. 
Legal year.  That makes it sound kind of unexciting.  But I call it the legal year, because that’s exactly what it is.  What else is it?  Tomorrow is legally, according to the law, 2013.  2012 will legally be over.  There’s no avoiding or undoing the passage of time.  We know that.  The law, however, with its legal years, makes sure that we don’t forget it either.  That’s what the law does in all of its forms.  It doesn’t make anything so.  It just tells you what’s what.   2012 will soon be over and it will be too late to make 2012 anything other than what it was.  That’s the law. 
Tonight we close a year lived under God’s grace by commending a new year into His care.   But consider what else brings us here tonight.  January 1st just so happens to mark that day when the legal calendar intersects perfectly with the church calendar.  It’s really kind of neat.  Consider the theme.  Just as the year begins on January 1st, according to the law, so also, for the church year, it is on January 1st that we celebrate how Jesus placed Himself under the law.  In His birth, God submitted to our physical limitations.  That’s Christmas.  Eight days later, in His circumcision, God submitted to our legal restrictions.  That’s New Year’s. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas 1

Luke 2: [22-32] 33-40 - Christmas I - December 30, 2012
Remembering and Waiting for Christmas

Simeon was just and devout.  Of course, his justness—his righteousness he got in the same way that we get ours.  He believed the Gospel.  That’s what it means to be devout: To be devout is to make faithful use of the Means of Grace.  It is to go to church and hear the word of God, knowing and believing that that is where you receive the righteousness of Christ.  Being just and being devout go hand in hand.  Simeon waited for what God promised in His word, and God counted this faith to him as righteousness in His sight. 
Simeon waited for God to redeem Israel.  He waited for God to bring salvation to the Gentiles.  He waited for the Temple once again to be filled by the Glory of the Lord.   He waited for what God had promised.
But, unlike his fathers who went before him, to Simeon the Holy Spirit actually revealed that before he died, he would see with his own eyes the promised Messiah.  And he finally did.  And when he did, he gave two blessings.  He blessed God.  And he blessed Mary and Joseph.  I’d like to consider both of these blessings this morning. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Day

John 1:1-14 - Christmas Day - December 25, 2012
The Word Remains Flesh
In Jesus Christ, God Has Come to Stay

At the risk of spoiling whatever rhetorical force these opening words might have had, I would like to encourage you all to pay close attention and learn – learn about Christmas.  This will not be a fluffy sermon.  But it will be true …
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 
 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee. How much less this temple which I have built!” 
So said Solomon, the son of King David when he dedicated the first and greatest Temple in Jerusalem that was constructed under his peaceful reign.  It was beautiful.  It has been called the eighth wonder of the ancient world.  If the gold and silver and other precious materials used in its construction were valued today – just the materials – it would amount to as much as $200 billion.  The nations gathered to hear Solomon’s wisdom and to marvel at the Temple he built as a dwelling place for the Lord God of Israel.  Heaven and earth couldn’t contain Him – hence Solomon’s exclamation of marvel – yet God chose so kindly to be available exclusively there where He said He would dwell. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

Luke 2:11-12 - Christmas Eve - December 24, 2012
Word & Sign: Finding God’s Glory

There is something very peaceful about the image of the shepherds watching their flocks by night.  How relaxing.  What opportunity for contemplation.  What time for staring at the stars and considering those words of Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.”  Ah, the glory of God.  So gentle.  So sweet.  There’s something kind of romantic about the scene.  Peaceful. Uneventful. But then the sky cracked.  An angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around him.  And they were greatly afraid.  And they should have been.  The glory of God, the thing of thoughts and musings turned out to be terrifying.  But what did the angel say to them?  “Do not be afraid.”  
They needed to hear that word.  The glory of God seems to be synonymous in our minds with, maybe beauty, or amazingness.  But the glory of God reveals man’s unworthiness.  The glory of God causes fear in man, because it reveals how far we have fallen.  Only when God assures us that His glory is present for a peaceful purpose can the heart take courage.  The Gospel tells us not to be afraid. 
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent 4

John 1:19-28 - Advent IV - December 23, 2012
Rejoicing in the Power of Our Baptism

Last week our Introit began with those words from Philippians 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  And now today these same words serve as our Epistle Lesson: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  It’s the same theme.  That’s OK.  It’s fitting that two Sundays in a row address the theme of rejoicing, because both these Sundays’ Gospel lessons deal with the same theme of faithful Gospel proclamation.  Again and again the preacher preaches what needs to be heard.  Again and again you gather to hear the same thing.  You don’t fill your quota for the month or season.  No.  You gather regularly to hear the good news that brings you to heaven where true joy neither dims nor dies.  You come to receive Jesus – because in Him alone we rejoice.  And again, and again, we rejoice. 

John the Baptist was teaching who Jesus was, and what He came to do.  And his instruction can be summarized under three topics: 1) He preached repentance.  2) He baptized.  3) He pointed to Jesus.  Now all of these three, of course, go together. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent 3

Matthew 11:2-11 - Advent 3 - December 16, 2012
What We Come to See and Hear

John was a preacher.  Faithful preaching can have various effects on people.  Some people love it.  Some people put up with it.  Some people hate it.  It’s not the fault of the preacher.  The preacher’s job is to preach.  They’re not his words – at least not if he’s doing his job.  They’re the words of God.  A faithful preacher preaches the message of another.  He is a steward.  A steward is one whose job it is to administer his master’s goods.  It is not the preacher’s job to avoid offense in his preaching.  It’s his job to preach clearly what God gave him to preach.   It’s not the preacher’s job to figure out what his hearers want to hear.  It’s his job to preach what God wants his hearers to hear.  It’s not required of a preacher that he be likeable, handsome, or good with the youth.  It’s not required of a preacher to smile when he preaches or to engage lazy minds with clever rhetoric or trite illustrations.  No.  Of course, God can and just may use any number of a preacher’s personal strengths in order to further His kingdom.  But they are God’s to use.  It is God’s kingdom. 

But what is required?  What does God require of His preachers?  He requires that they be servants of Christ.  He requires that they be stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.  That's what God tells us.  It’s the job of the preacher to preach the kingdom of God and to do it faithfully. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent 2

Luke 21:25-36 - Advent 2 - December 9, 2012
Our Redemption Draws Near
In the news lately, I’ve read, and maybe you’ve read also, that there’s been some roused concern over the end of the world (as we know it) supposedly predicted by the ancient Mayans.  Maybe you haven’t noticed the stories.  It’s not like it’s really big news.  After all, how many kooks rise up here and there claiming to know when the end of the world will be, even being so bold as to set dates and times?  We know it’s a hoax every time.  Doesn’t Jesus Himself tell us? “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”   Now if not even Jesus, according to His humbled human nature, is privy to the knowledge of that exact day, certainly no other man will be either. 

This Mayan prediction, though, is a little different from that.  It’s no less ridiculous – don’t get me wrong.  But it doesn’t really predict the end of the world per se – it doesn’t say that judgment day is coming or that Jesus is returning.  It’s just that their calendar, prepared centuries ago, which spans 5,125 years from beginning to end suddenly, on December 21, 2012, just stops.  Why?  Why so precise?  Weird, huh?  It’s allure, I suppose, lies in the fact that so much is left to the imagination.  Could it be the end … of something?  Could it be a meteor?  Could it be economic collapse?  Could it be the fall of America?  Could it be the rise of another superpower?  Could it be some sort of catastrophe that the devil has been brewing up and saving for December 21 of this year for a really long time now?  Could it be?   It doesn’t matter.  And there’s a couple of reasons why it doesn’t matter. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent 1

Jeremiah 23:5-8 - Advent 1 Midweek - December 5, 2012
  The Lord our Righteousness

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ gathered here this evening, grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

We are gathered in Jesus name.  We are gathered in Jesus’ name because it is Jesus Himself who gathers us.  He is our Shepherd.  We hear His voice, and follow Him, and no one will snatch us out of His hand.  Scripture frequently compares Jesus to a shepherd tending his sheep.  Psalm 23 comes to mind.  So also, because our Lord leads us by speaking His word, Scripture also calls those men shepherds who speak God’s word on His behalf.  This is where we get the word pastor.  A shepherd’s job is to lead sheep away from danger and into safety – to make sure that they have what they need to live.  If trouble is near, the worst thing for shepherds to do is to pretend that all is safe. 

In the context surrounding our text this evening, God, through the prophet Jeremiah, chastised the shepherds/ pastors, of the day who led the sheep astray by preaching peace when there was no peace.  God said He would destroy these lying pastors.  And He did.  They now await the resurrection of all flesh when they will be judged by the stern pronouncement of Christ whose advent they failed to preach.  Think of that.  What made them unfaithful, what incited God’s wrath against them, was the fact that they did not preach Christ.  They preached about a peace with God apart from Him who reconciles God to sinners: Jesus.  Woe to the preacher who does not preach Jesus.   

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent 1

Matthew 21:1-9 - Advent 1 - December 2, 2012
  Blessed is He who Comes in the Name of the Lord

Christmas is coming.  But it’s not Christmas yet.  The church here is decorated for Christmas.  Your homes are probably decorated for Christmas, and I’m sure ours will be looking pretty Christmassy soon as well.  Our favorite department stores have been decorated for Christmas since like October 20th, I think.   Christmas is coming.  But it’s not Christmas yet.  It’s coming.  That’s what the word “Advent” means: “coming”. 

Today is the first day of Advent.  We shouldn’t forget about this season, because during this season of the Church year, we Christians prepare for the celebration of our Savior’s birth.  Preparation is a good thing.  It’s necessary in fact.  And so I’d like to say a few things this morning about the season of Advent, because in order to know what it means to prepare for Jesus to come to us, there are three comings or advents of Jesus that we first need to consider.