Monday, December 23, 2013

Sermon for Advent 4: "Jesus' Advent in Human Flesh"

+ Advent 4 – December 22nd, 2013 +

Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Isaiah 7:10-17; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come and help us by Your might, that the sins which weigh us down may be quickly lifted by Your grace and mercy…

These are no ordinary words. The words of this prayer call our Lord to action: Come. Rescue. Lord, save us. These words call our Lord to be faithful to his promises, promises he spoke in words, promises given to prophets and apostles who fixed these words with ink on papyrus and animal skins and handed them down (faithfully and reliably I might add) through history for our benefit. These words point us to God’s Words.
Words the Lord spoke to Adam and Eve about a Son who would crush the serpent’s head. Words the Lord promised Abraham that from his offspring would come one who would bless all nations. Words the Lord promised David that from his lineage would come a King who would deliver his people and reign forever in mercy.

This should stop and make you think: What would you do without words or language? Of course there are plenty of creatures who communicate without words. But that doesn’t mean we should go running around smelling each other like dogs or licking people’s ears like rabbits. That would be absurd…not to mention disgusting!

Words communicate. Words confess. We live by words: whether it’s a stop sign or here in Church. But especially here in the Lord’s house: “Give me life according to Your word,” the Psalmist prays (119:25). And so do we.

We’ve heard, prayed, and sung a lot of words this Advent season: The Word of God’s  promises through Isaiah fulfilled in Jesus’ birth at the Wednesday services. The words of God through John the Baptizer announcing Jesus’ coming. The words of Christ preparing us to be ready for his coming in glory. God’s word put to music in the sublime hymns of Advent. God’s Word that makes ordinary water a fountain of life. God’s word placed upon the lips of your pastor to pardon all your iniquity. God’s word that makes bread and wine the Bread of Life and the Cup of Blessing.  

Advent is a season of Words – Christ’s words - leading up to another great season of words: Christmas – the eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

This was the same Word of the Lord who came to Isaiah and promised that a virgin would conceive and bear a son who is Immanuel, God with us. God with us in words. God with us in flesh and blood. God with us in Jesus.

The same Word of the Lord which came to Paul and made him an apostle. That he would preach the gospel of God, which was promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David.  

That’s what prophets and apostles do. Hear the Word of the Lord. Speak the Word of the Lord.
But before Joseph could speak the Word of the Lord. He needed to hear it and believe it.

We’re not told how Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, but one thing’s for sure: he didn’t believe Mary’s word about the child she was bearing.  Matthew let’s the reader in on the Divine playbook: “she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” Joseph, however, had to contemplate…

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

No matter how Joseph found out, And notice what Matthew says Joseph was a just man, a righteous man. He had a rather odd sense of justice, at least by the world’s standards. You see, betrothal – while not yet a consummated marriage – was still a legally binding status in Israel. Joseph’s only conclusion at that point was that Mary had been unfaithful. According to the Law of Moses death by stoning was the punishment for guilty of adultery. That would’ve been justice in the eyes of the world. But Joseph was operating with God’s righteousness, not his own. His action was merciful. A quiet divorce, also allowed by the Law of Moses. A great foreshadowing of the cross: God’s justice satisfied in mercy. 

But all that changed when an angel of the Lord showed up in Joseph’s dream. For as he 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.

There are (at least) two great miracles in the Christmas story. The first, of course, is that a virgin conceives. It’s biologically impossible, but with God nothing is impossible. The second is that Joseph believed it. That’s the miracle of faith. That’s God’s Word at work. Joseph heard the Word and the Word worked faith and the obedience of faith. And unlike King Ahaz, Joseph didn’t reject the sign but received it. He took Mary to be his lawfully wedded wife. And he called His name Jesus, as he was told. Joseph heard and believed, and out of faith he obeyed. He did what the Lord asked of him.

And what about us, where would we be without words? Probably the same place we found Joseph before the Word of the Lord came to him. Doubt and unbelief. 

Without God’s Word we follow our own words. There’s an unbelieving Ahaz and a doubting Joseph in each of us. Like Saul before his conversion our sinful flesh wars and rebels against God’s Word. Like Israel we grumble against God’s Word and disobey his commands, every last word. Like Sarah we laugh at the absurd graciousness of God’s promises. Like Moses and Elijah we doubt whether or not we really are called to speak God’s Word to others. Like Jonah we hear God’s word and pound sand in the opposite direction. Like David God’s Word comes to convict us of our sin: you are the man. 

And like Joseph, God intervenes for you. And he does it the same way he did for Joseph –by His Word. 

You don’t have to go looking in your dreams for Jesus – and I strongly suggest that you don’t - you go to his Word, or rather, He comes to you in His Word. Like Mary, God’s Word comes to your ears and creates faith in his promises. Like Abraham God’s Word declares you righteous. Like Paul God’s Word turns the hearts of sinful men away ourselves and onto Christ Crucified. Like Noah God’s Word delivers you from judgment by water and the Spirit. Like the apostles, God’s Word opens your lips so that your mouth declares His praise. Like the prophet Isaiah, God’s Word comes to you and proclaims that the Virgin’s Son is Immanuel, God with us.

And this is most surprising – God is with us. He should be against us…the way we’ve neglected, stomped, mocked, broken, and ignored His Word. He has every reason to set His Word against us. But he doesn’t. Once again God intervenes. He sends no angel. He sends his Word in human skin and bones. He sends a child. Immanuel, God with us.

That is the great Word of Advent and Christmas. God is with us. And not just with us in a nice figurative Hallmark-card kind of way. No, as close as your humanity. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.

Love caused Your incarnation;
Love brought You down to me.
Your thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
Oh, love beyond all telling,
That led You to embrace
In love, all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race.  (LSB 334:4)

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

His Name is Jesus, YHWH saves. His Word is as good as his saving name: He saves you from your sins. Your loss is his loss. Your sin is His sin. Your suffering is His suffering. Your death is His death. All so that through the cross Jesus’ life is your life. Jesus’ righteousness is your righteousness. Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection. Jesus’ Word is your life.

And this Advent the great miracles of Jesus’ Word continually come to you in no less spectacular ways, just as God did for Joseph.

Jesus, Immanuel, God-with-us. God with us in the Word of forgiveness. God with us in our sin and doubt, our grief and shame. God with us in our Baptism: faith conceived by the Holy Spirit. God with us in this congregation by the same Word given to prophets and apostles. God with us in this congregation in these times of change and transition. For God is with us at the altar. God with us in the Word made flesh in the bread and wine. And when you leave here, God with us as you proclaim the Gospel to your neighbor. God with us in our vocations, wherever he calls us. God is with us.

For His name is Jesus, he saves you from your sin.

And these are no ordinary words.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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