Thursday, December 27, 2018

Sermon for Christmas Day: "A Well-Wrapped Gift"

+ Christmas Day – December 25th, 2018 +
Series C: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-12; John 1:1-14
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

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

Image result for the word became flesh

I admire anyone who can take wrapping paper, scissors, and a couple pieces of tape and turn it into a work of art. My gift-wrapping skills tend to look more like a toddler’s or perhaps a Picasso. 

But when the folds and lines are clean, the corners crisply pointed, and the ribbon on top forms a perfect tornado of color, well then, there’s something special about a well-wrapped gift. Even eager children approach it slowly, almost reverently. With gentleness, they peel back one piece of tape, a corner here, a seem there; taking their time to unwrap the gift.  

In this we see a picture of God’s well-wrapped gifts to us, many of which take a life-time to unwrap. We see it in God’s gift of marriage and family. Month after month, year after year, anniversary after anniversary, husband and wife unwrap God’s gift of life together in their union. And a relationship that began as high school sweethearts, a blind date, or college friends, turns into more gifts: children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. From an infant’s quivering chin to the first time they open their eyes. As they grow from infant to toddler, into preschool, elementary, teens, and young adults, God’s precious gift of life is unwrapped.

I imagine Mary had many of those same thoughts as she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger. As she treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. As she held in her arms God’s love wrapped in human flesh.

That’s what Christmas is all about, after all. The unwrapping of the greatest Christmas gift of all. God sends us the well-wrapped gift of his only-begotten Son. He is, as Hebrews proclaims, the radiance of the glory of God yet wrapped in humility and bearing our humanity. He is the exact imprint of God’s nature – very God of very God - yet He is also true man, born of the substance of His mother in this age. True God. True man for you. The God who wrapped his glory in the burning bush, in the pillar of smoke and fire, and in the cloud of the tabernacle wraps himself in the temple of human flesh for you. The God who upholds the universe by the word of his power, squawks, squirms, and screams as an infant in Mary’s arms for you.

The Word became flesh because that’s what we are. Flesh. We hurt and we hurt others. We suffer and we cause suffering. We are sinned against and we sin against others. 

And yet, the birth of Jesus is big enough to cover all our sin and death. In his birth and death for us he wraps himself in our hurt, pain, sorrow, suffering, shame, guilt and death, that we might be wrapped in his arms forever.  

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That means, God knows what it is to breath. To hunger and eat. To thirst and drink. To grow fingernails and hair. His beautiful feet have walked in our shoes. He knows what it is to live. To work. To rest. To be rejected and betrayed. To weep. To suffer. To die. All this he has done for you. 

By becoming man, He also took on everything that being human entails. He took onto His shoulders our sickness, grief, and pain. He bears our anger, our selfishness, our pride. He takes responsibility for our hatred, our lust, our murder. Jesus became flesh to bear the sins of our flesh.

And the God who wrapped himself in our humanity still unwraps his gifts for us here. In the Word who became flesh, who dwells among us in the gifts of his body and blood. And who dwells among us in the neighbor whom we serve, as we unwrap God’s love for others.

At Bethlehem, Mary wrapped her Son in swaddling clothes. At Calvary, He was unwrapped for us – stripped by Roman soldiers and nailed to the cross. Yet by this unwrapping, He has wrapped each of you in His own robe of righteousness. And he presents you to His Father as a well-wrapped gift. 

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
For… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

A blessed Christmas to each of you…

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

Sermon for Christmas Midnight: "Unto You"

+ Christmas Midnight - December 24th, 2018 +
Series C: Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Image result for linus christmas speech

When it comes to Christmas movies, it’s hard to pick a favorite. The whimsical Elf. The hilarious trials of Clark Griswold. Ralphy’s quest for the Red-Rider BB gun.

But nothing tops Linus in Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. In the world of Christmas movies, he’s my hero.

For Linus points us to what Christmas is really all about. A humble tree and a simple message of Good News. Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 

Linus doesn’t tell us to skip the Christmas parties, throw out the presents, or toss the tree to the curb. He simply, yet with reverence and joy, reminds us that the Christmas story is not one story among others. This is thestory. The story of Jesus’ birth of us. The story of our Savior born to rescue, redeem, and restore us. The story of Good News of a great joy that is for all people; it is for you. Christ is born to save you. To live for you. To suffer, bleed, and die for you. To rise and live for you. 

We simply cannot hear this story enough. For without this story we would have no Christmas carols or Scriptures like Luke 2 to hear. Without this story we would have no presents, parties, or pageants. Without this story we would remain Charlie Brown trying to put together a Christmas play. We would be helpless, hopeless, and lost forever.  

Finally, Charlie Brown cries out, “Isn’t there anyone who can tell me what Christmas is all about?! 

“Why yes,” says Linus...

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

“And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
He’s right. Christmas is about God’s promises through Isaiah, kept, fulfilled, and revealed in Jesus’ birth.
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Christmas is about Jesus who came to help the helpless by becoming a helpless child for us. Christmas is about Jesus who was born to bear our hopelessness, brokenness, sin and death from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, to cross for us. Christmas is about Jesus who comes to rescue and save poor miserable sinners as surely as he came to proclaim Good News to poor shepherds. Christmas is about Jesus who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession. 
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And that’s what Christmas is all about.

A blessed Christmas to each of you…
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Sermon for Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols: "A Story Behind Every Ornament"

+ Christmas Eve - Service of Lessons and Carols - December 24th, 2018 +
Genesis 3:8-19; Genesis 22:15-19; Isaiah 9:2-7; Isaiah 11:1-9; Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 2:1-12; John 1:1-14
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 
Image result for chrismons

A few weeks ago, shortly after the Christmas tree was put up here in the church, I was talking with one of our elders before Divine Service. We admired the tree; it’s beauty, it’s towering branches and, it’s fresh smell. But most of all the carefully crafted ornaments. 

“There’s a story behind every ornament”, he said. It’s true. Every ornament tells us a story.

I know that’s true in our home, as I’m sure it is for many of you. A little crawling baby that tells us the story of someone’s first Christmas. A wooden sea star that tells the story of a joyful wedding. A sailboat that tells us the story of a loving grandpa and great-grandpa. 
Whether they’re big or small, fragile or cat and toddler-proof, old or new, simple or intricate, there’s a story behind every ornament.

And if that’s true in our own homes, it’s all the more true of our Lord’s house, where the tree and all its ornaments point us to Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection for us. 

The circle with the cross fixed to the top is the world covered by the cross, and it tells us the story of Genesis 3. Adam’s fall into sin which spread sin and death to all men. To us. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.As in Adam we die, so in Christ we are made alive.

The Lamb tells us the story of Genesis 22, how God spared Abraham’s son, his only son whom he loved by providing the sacrifice. And how God would not spare his own son but gave him up for us all. God provides the sacrifice in Jesus. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

The lamp and the candlestick tell us that the words of Isaiah 9 have come true in Jesus’ birth for us. The people who walked in darkness
   have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
   on them has light shone. 
For unto us a child is born.

The crown of thorns tells us the story of Jesus from Isaiah 11. He is the root or shoot of Jesse, the righteous branch that sprouted from the stump of fallen Israel, and one day he will receive the twisted branches of thorns upon his head for you. In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

The dove, looks as if it was descending to us, just as it was promised by God’s Word to Mary through his messenger Gabriel. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

The manger tells us the Christmas story of Luke 2, just as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds. Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
The angels on the tree tell us the story in a song that unites heaven and earth. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

The stars upon the tree tell us the story of the Magi who were led by the light of the star to him who is God of God, Light of light, a lamp unfailing and the very Light of the world in human flesh for you and has brought us from the kingdom of darkness to his marvelous, everlasting light.

The cross and the chalice tell us the story of John 1, that Jesus the Word became flesh and dwelt among usin the crib, on the cross, and in the chalice with his body and blood given and shed for you.

Yes, there’s a story behind every ornament. It is the greatest story of all, for it is the story to which all these ornaments point. It is the story to which all stories in the Scriptures point us. It is the story the angels sang to the shepherds, and that we join in singing and rejoicing in tonight. 

It is the one true and meaningful story of the greatest ornament ever to be placed on a tree. Not a noble, douglas, or grand fir, but the humble tree of the cross, adorned with the greatest ornament of all: Jesus crucified for you.

A blessed Christmas to each of you…

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

Monday, December 24, 2018

Sermon for 4th Sunday in Advent: "Good Things in Small Packages"

+ 4th Sunday in Advent - December 23rd, 2018 +
Series C: Micah 5:2-5; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-56
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

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

Image result for the visitation of mary

Would you like to super-size that? Would you like to upgrade to first class? Would you like to open a credit card with us today and save an extra 20%? 

Seems like everywhere we go, from McDonalds to the movie theater, whether we’re booking airline tickets or buying a car, we’re told: “Why settle for less, when you can have more? Bigger is better. More is merrier.”

No wonder there’s so much confusion this time of the year about what Christmas really means. The world looks for a Clark Griswold Christmas with light displays visible from space, while the prophet Micah proclaims…

From you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
   who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
   one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
   from ancient days.

While the world tries to sell us a bigger, better, and merrier Christmas, today we hear a far different, yet far more glorious, comforting message in Mary’s song, the Magnificat. 

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

Mary’s song is a song of the great reversal Jesus brings us in his birth, life, and death for us. In Jesus the humble are exalted. The hungry are fed. The broken are healed. The weak are strong. The dead are raised. Sinners are forgiven. 

This 4th Sunday in Advent is a blessed reminder that God is the God of the small things…
Of Bethlehem. Of little children, such as our own, who in Jesus’ own words, are a picture of the kingdom of God, and have sung beautifully this morning of the King who comes to save us. Of the unnoticed, the forgotten, lowly, lonely, and least ones. 

It’s certainly true that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, almighty. Yet the joy and mystery of his Advent among us is that this all-powerful God becomes a helpless baby for us. The God of infinite cosmic power resides in the itty bitty living space of Mary’s womb, and a manger for us. The almighty God becomes weak and small for us. Conceived by the Holy Spirit. Born of the Virgin Mary. And crucified for us under Pontius Pilate. And in Jesus’ cross, we who are weighed down by sin are lifted up. We who were dead in trespasses are made alive again in Christ. We who were lost and lowly are found and exalted in Jesus crucified. 

There’s a deep spiritual truth hidden in that old adage: good things come in small packages. God in human cells and tissue and DNA, formed and knit in Mary’s womb. The God who experienced the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd trimester from the inside of his creation for us. God is the God of the small, the least, the lost, and the lowly. 

As the author J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, the wheels of the world’, are often turned not by the Lords and Governors...but by the seemingly unknown and weak. By the small things...

A child in the womb of an unwed teenage mother.
The Lord of heaven and earth resting in a crib of hay in a small, backwater town of Judea.
Three nails.
Simple bread and wine where Jesus is present for you.

The child in Mary’s womb is proof that God has not forgotten or abandoned you. You are not alone or unnoticed. You are not small. In Jesus’ smallness, in his birth and death, you are loved. Redeemed. Rescued. And raised up. 

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Third Midweek Advent Sermon: "Jesus' Advent Future"

+ Advent Midweek 3 - December 19th, 2018 +

Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 21-22:5

Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

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

Wouldn’t it be great... if that new car we bought didn’t lose its value as soon as we drive it off the lot? ...if the latest and greatest iphone or gadget wasn't already out of date the moment we bought it? If our favorite toy didn’t run out of batteries or break? If our knees, hips, and shoulders - or even their replacement didn’t wear out eventually?

“Oh well, that’s just the way it is,” we say. Except it wasn't always that way. Something has gone terribly wrong. Things break, rot, rust, decay, and die. Life isn’t supposed to be this way. The creation God once declared “very good” is full of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.

And so we long for healing. Rest. Peace. Reconciliation. We long for everything to be right again. For the mended world. We long for something new that will stay new. And this is exactly what our Lord promises in Jesus’ advent yet to come.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;

And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;

For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing,

And her people a joy.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem,

And joy in My people;

The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her,

Nor the voice of crying.

 “No more shall an infant from there live but a few days,

Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days;

Sadly, for many Christians, Jesus’ advent yet to come causes panic, dread, and despair instead of the peace, comfort, consolation, and rescue Jesus comes to bring.

So, whenever the End Times comes up, here’s a few quick questions you can ask yourself anytime you hear someone talking about Jesus’ return. Does it point you to Jesus’ promises or away from Jesus’ promises? Does it focus on Jesus’ word and works for you or man’s word and works? Does it give you comfort in Jesus crucified, risen, ascended, and returning or does it cause you fear, anxiety, and despair?

Panicked and afraid, that’s where we find Scrooge near the end of A Christmas Carol as he is met by the spirit of Christmas yet to come. This third messenger - a cold, dark, shadowy, phantom - stretches out his black-robed hand leads Scrooge onward. Pointing him to a sick, lonely, dying man lying on a bed. To a man’s wealth being plundered in death. And finally, to the cold neglected grave of a man who died alone.

Though this 3rd visitor never speaks a word, he reveals Scrooge’s brokenness. God’s Word comes to us in the same way, like the magic mirror in Snow White, only it reveals not our beauty, but the ugliness of our sin. For the wages of sin is death. And, as book of Hebrews says, we are held captive in slavery by the fear of death. This is what sin does, causes us fear, doubt, pain, suffering, sorrow, and finally death.

No wonder Scrooge was surprised when he woke up the next morning. He didn’t know what day it was. He only knew, to his astonishment, that he did not get what he deserved, earned, or expected. Just the opposite in fact.

Christmas changed everything for Scrooge, his past, present, and future – all made new by Christmas. He was no longer a greedy, grumpy, old miser. Now he was generous, joyful, and caring: a prize turkey for Bob Cratchit. A surprise visit to his nephew for dinner. Gifts of charity and joyful greetings. He simply couldn’t contain his joy. He was given new birth, a new creation. “I am quite a new baby” he rejoiced!

The same is true for us too. Christmas changes everything. The birth of Christ for us changes our past, present, and future. In Jesus’ advent past our sins are wiped away, blotted out, covered, cancelled, forgiven; you are redeemed, rescued, and restored. In Jesus’ advent present he comes to us, dwells with us, loves, heals, forgives, restores, and cleanses us, and calls us his children of the heavenly Father. In Jesus’ advent future we dwell safe and secure in the wounds and work of Jesus on the cross.

For Jesus’ advent past set the end of the world in motion. In Bethlehem the judge of the world arrived on the scene, but not as we expect. The face of our judge has a face, arms, and legs like us. His face will bear the blows we deserved. His feet will walk in the ways of the Lord for us. His arms will be stretched out to bear our judgment. For in Jesus our judgment day has already come. It has taken place in his own body on the cross. Jesus has borne it all for you.

The world begins to turn on its hinges in Jesus’ crib and cross. The one who comes to judge the living and the dead is judged for all, in our place…to save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray. Like Scrooge we did not deserve, earn, or expect this. And yet Christmas morning comes to change us all.

Behold, I am making all things new, declares our Lord. Christ’s birth changes everything for us, as it did for Scrooge. And so does Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and glorious return. On that Last Day we need not fear or despair. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. In Jesus’ advent future, he’ll call us from our graves and we’ll awaken to the resurrection like Scrooge on Christmas Day. Full of joy and new life, a new creation.

For…“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Indeed, in Jesus’ advent God has blessed us, every one!

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

Monday, December 17, 2018

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Advent: "Advent Questions"

+ Third Sunday in Advent – December 16th, 2018 +
Series C: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 7:18-35
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

Image result for john the baptist in prison

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

Life is full of questions. At times they’re the simple ordinary questions of daily life: What should I wear today? What would you like in your McDonald’s Happy Meal? What size coffee, the 16 or 20 oz?

Still at other times life’s questions are more serious, personal, even existential. Will I have enough for retirement? Will this illness ever get better? How will I find the right job to pay the bills? When will my broken relationship with a friend or loved one be reconciled? Have I been faithful in my vocations at church, at home, in my community?

Yes, life is full of questions. It’s the answers that prove to be elusive. Whatever questions we find ourselves asking today, we find ourselves in good company with John the Baptist. 

Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? 

It is a question that emerges from the depth of our being and the darkness of Herod’s dungeon. Mounting fears. Nagging doubts. Life is uncertain. Unfair. Uneven. Unreasonable. God’s people suffer. The wicked prosper. And there’s no good answer in sight. 

John knew this well. He wrestled. Struggled. Wondered. He was the Messiah’s forerunner. A faithful preacher. The one of whom Jesus declared: among those born of women none is greater than John. And yet here he is. Sitting in prison, waiting for Jesus as Herod’s guards sharpened the sword. 

This was not the kind of Messiah John expected. Nothing grand and messianic seemed to be happening. Jesus wasn’t doing anything revolutionary or cataclysmic. Where was the powerful Kingdom of God? Where was the power and glory, the triumph and victory? Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? 

Life today hardly seems to have changed much since the days of John the Baptist. We’ve all been where John was when he asked that question. Not in Herod’s prison. But in a much deeper dungeon, sitting a far deeper darkness. Psalm 23 calls it the valley of the shadow of death. St. Paul calls it this present evil age. 

We feel that shadow creep over our hearts, minds, and into our daily lives. A world that that’s falling apart around us: cancer. Abortion. School shootings. Broken homes. Broken lives. Broken marriages. Life is often hard and disappointing. And that’s just the world outside of us. John’s imprisonment reminds us that we are held captive and enslaved to sin. We experience hurt. Pain. Grief.

Like John, we sit in whatever darkness we experience and ask questions that seem to have no good answers. Are you the one who is to come, Jesus? Are you sure? We’ve been waiting in this prison for what seems like an awful long time. Our loved ones are dying. The world is unraveling. And I’m a sinful mess. Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

Jesus answers John in the darkness of prison with the light of His Word. 
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers[e] are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.

Jesus’ answer to John’s question is surprising. Whatever John’s expectations of the Messiah were, whatever our expectations of Jesus are, we receive something far greater. Jesus answers John’s question, and ours, in the most surprising way of all, in the biggest plot twist of the greatest story of all time. A messiah who stands in solidarity with sinners in receiving a sinners baptism. A humble messiah who eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners. A messiah who comes for the least, the lost, the last, and the lowly. A lowly messiah who refused Satan’s temptations to feed himself and establish a self-serving kingdom. A prince of peace who endured every bit of pain and mockery the world could throw at him. A crucified messiah who conquered the darkness by diving headlong into the darkness. A Savior who defeated Death by being swallowed up into Death, and taking the world along for the ride. A Redeemer who takes all of our fears, worries, doubts, questions with him to the cross where he himself cries out a question in the dark for us. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me. 

Of course, life would be far easier if Jesus had promised John and us a life of fluffy kittens, unicorns, and rainbows, that life will always be happy, sunny, and easy. But he did not. For this would be neither true, nor good news. Jesus calls us all to be theologians of the cross, not of glory. For it is only in his cross that we find the answers to our questions, the comfort in our sadness, the forgiveness of our sins, the consolation in our grief, the healing of our fallen minds and bodies, life in death. 

Blessed is the one who is not offended by me. Blessed is the one who does not stumble over Jesus power hidden in weakness, his strength hidden in his suffering, his victory hidden in defeat. Blessed is the one who sees life in Jesus’ death, who sees the kingdom of God in his cross. 

Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

Jesus points us where he pointed John. To his Word and Signs where he joins us in the Advent darkness. A cleansing bath of Baptism. The Body and Blood that bring forgiveness, life, and salvation. The Word the speaks a greater truth than the truth of your sin, your doubt, your despair. Light in the darkness. You are forgiven, my child, you are free. Your God has not abandoned you but has embraced you in these most God-forsaken of times. The Light has not gone out but shines in the darkness beckoning you, 

“Fear not, O Zion;
    let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;

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

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Advent Midweek Sermon: "Jesus' Advent Present"

+Advent Midweek 2 – December 12th, 2018 +
Isaiah 7:10-14; Matthew 1:18-25
Beautiful Savior Lutheran, Milton

Image result for christmas eve truce of 1914

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

In December of 1914 the Great War had been raging across Western Europe for several months. But that Christmas Eve of 1914, something strange happened along parts of the Western Front. Guns fell silent. Officers swallowed their trench whistles. Shells ceased their banshee cries. And in the silence, music filled the air. German soldiers sang Silent Night. British troops responded with The First Noel. No man’s land became a soccer field. Some soldiers even exchanged gifts.

They realized that there was something far greater than past hostilities. That there was something hopeful, far beyond the bleak future of their muddy trenches. Joy in Jesus who came and who still comes among us. Joy in Jesus who was born to die for us. Joy in Jesus’ advent present.

For few hours, Christmas came and interrupted everything they thought important. For a moment that present moment was all there was. 

That’s what Christmas does. Jesus’ birth is God’s great, joyful interruption into the darkness of sin and death. Jesus invades his fallen creation with grace, mercy, and peace in his life and death. Jesus’ birth leads to his death, to the cross where he fought for us the war to end our war against God.
No wonder the angel army proclaimed a jubilant song, Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace among those with whom he is pleased. 

And yet, we do not celebrate Christmas simply because Jesus is the God who came to save us – past tense; but also because he is the God whocomesto save us – present tense. As the angel of the Lord told Joseph.

“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.”All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).

Jesus is our Emmanuel. God with us. Yet not in the consuming fire of the burning bush. Not in his untouchable glory as in the Tabernacle. Not even in the radiancy and brilliant light of his transfiguration.  
God with us as a zygote in The Virgin’s womb. God with us in our flesh and blood and bone. God with us in his hiddenness and humility in ordinary words, water, bread and wine.

Like Scrooge, though, we have a problem with humility. As C.S. Lewis writes, humility isn’t that we think less of ourselves, but that we think of ourselves less. That we stop navel-gazing and look to our neighbor’s needs. That we live in sacrificial love for those God places in our lives. 

And like Scrooge, we have not done this. Our sin, like his greed, spreads misery and pain everywhere we go; it infects everything we say, do, and think. As we confess on Sunday mornings. We have not loved the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. 
The second spirit in A Christmas Carolwas the opposite of everything Scrooge was. He was a miserly, self-absorbed curmudgeon. The spirit of Christmas Present was full of mirth, life and laughter, sprinkling joy everywhere he went. He took Scrooge all over the country showing, to show him his own want and need, but revealing great joy in humility: miners huddled around a fire, sailors at sea, Bob Cratchit and his family, his Nephew and his wife – all of them living in poverty, yet celebrating Christmas with great joy. Having nothing they rejoiced that they had everything in Christmas. 

And in this, we see a picture of Jesus’ great love for us in his Advent Present with us. Jesus’ love for us is the opposite of everything we are. Though we were self-absorbed, he sacrifices himself for us. Though we loved only ourselves, Jesus loves us, his neighbor, as himself. Though we were full of sin and death, Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us 

That is why the joy of Christmas isn’t found in some abstract, nameless, lifeless, wishy-washy “Christmas spirit”, but in Jesus’ Advent present for us. Jesus who is Emmanuel. God with us. 

God with us in life and death.
God with us in joy and sorrow. 
God with us in calm and strife.
God with us in contentment and anxiety.
God with us in health and sickness.
God with us in trust and in doubt.
God with us in times of peace and pain.
God with us in our laughter and our weeping.
God with us on the cross, in the grave, and in His resurrection in which we are baptized.
God with us in his humble words that transform simple water into a flood of forgiveness.
God with us in his humble words that cause ordinary bread and wine to host a Christmas feast of his body and blood. 

You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.This is why Jesus came. For you. To fix what we had broken. To mend what was marred. To find us who were lost. To save us who were perishing. To be our Emmanuel. God with us. Not only in the past. But here. Even now. Today. His name is Jesus for he has saved you from your sin in his advent past. He will save you from your sin in his advent future. And he saves you in his advent present. 

God bless us, everyone, in Jesus’ advent present. In Emmanuel – God with us and for us.

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