Second Sunday after Epiphany - The Wonder of Christ’s Miracles Continues
Second Sunday after Epiphany January 16, 2022
Hymns 714, 375, 855, 350
First Lesson Isaiah 62:1-5
Second Lesson Ephesians 3:14-21
Gospel Lesson John 2:1-11
The Wonder of Christ’s Miracles Continues
I. His glory
II. His mercy
III. His company
In the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior, dear fellow redeemed,
Alcohol abuse, broken marriages. Homelessness, starvation. Covid, cancer, heart failure, crippling arthritis, dementia. Congregational struggles, workplace tension, political division, terror threats. Some of that people bring on themselves with destructive behavior or disastrous choices. Some of that happens for no obvious reason. But all of that Christ could cure. He could snap His powerful fingers, tap His holy foot, think His divine thoughts and miraculously all of that could be gone.
But He doesn’t. Rotten stuff still messes up our lives. Why?, we wonder. Why aren’t miracles around anymore? Why don’t they abound anymore like they did in our Savior’s day?
They do! God’s miracles surround us every day. The problem is we look in the wrong places, for the wrong miracles, the wrong reasons, the wrong results. Do you want to see His miracles every day? Here’s the key: “This, the beginning of His miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He revealed His glory, and His disciples believed in Him” (v. 11).
Did you catch it? The Lord wants us looking not just at what miracles Christ performed, but even more at why Christ did them. When we grasp that in faith, then the wonder of Christ’s miracles continues in us: the wonder of His glory, the wonder of His mercy, and the wonder of His company.
I. His glory
Jesus and His mother Mary were invited to what we’d call a wedding reception. There was a problem. Jesus heard about it. There was a solution to that problem. Jesus provided it. Like all His miracles, His solution declared His glory. We don’t read that the reception went on and all had a great time after Jesus performed His miracle. We read that “He revealed His glory”.
Jesus provided the solution to an embarrassing shortage of wine. Mary told the servants to do whatever Jesus instructed them to do. Jesus commanded them to fill with water “six stone water jars…each holding twenty or thirty gallons” (v. 6). Did you do the easy math? That’s between one hundred twenty and one hundred eighty gallons total!
Suppose you were one of those servants. Would you have whispered to your fellow reception worker, “Is He crazy? There’s nothing in these huge, heavy jars but water. What is the head caterer going to think when we bring him all this water? The guests aren’t expecting water. They want wine!”
You know that Jesus turned all that water into the highest quality wine. Some suggest Jesus secretly dumped a little fine wine in the jars, which was then mixed with the water as the servants lugged the jars to the caterer and the liquid sloshed around. That, they say, is the reason for the wine taste. But that can’t be the explanation! Jesus had them put water “to the brim” (v. 7) of the jars; there wasn’t room for any wine to be added. And would one gallon of wine mixed with nineteen gallons of water have produced “good wine” (v. 10)? Never!
This was a miracle. This was Jesus working as the Lord of nature, controlling nature for “His glory”. This was Jesus displaying Himself as the King of creation, showing He can bend or set aside the laws of nature for “His glory”. For His glory! His first miracle wasn’t providing loaves of bread for people’s nourishment, but jars of wine for people’s enjoyment. We’ve never seen anything like that at any reception or reunion we’ve attended, have we? But the wonder of Christ’s miracles continues in us. How? We still have “His glory”!
To His glory He gives daily bread for our bodies and daily opportunities for us to have Godly fun. And He gives us so much more! He entered our world to supply our greatest need: daily forgiveness of our daily sins. Our sins doom us, and we are powerless to provide our own escape. So, in our place, Jesus lived the life of perfect love His law demands. And in our place Christ suffered the punishment of hell we deserved. And to guarantee all that, He rose from the dead. Miracles? Yes, all of that! And for what? For our salvation and His great “glory”!
II. His mercy
The ills in the list with which we started are all serious matters. A wine shortage? It seems almost laughable in comparison. There has to be more to this lesson than taking care of a wine shortage at a wedding reception – and there is. What Jesus did – and does – continues the wonder of His miracles among us, including the wonder that is His mercy.
Why were Mary and Jesus “invited”? We’re not told. A possible explanation: Cana wasn’t far from Nazareth, their home town. Were the bride and her family, or the groom and his family, friends of Mary? Maybe. Why was Mary so assertive here? Telling Jesus, “They have no wine” (v. 3). Suggesting to Jesus, “Do something about it.” Ordering the servants, “Do whatever He tells you” (v. 5). Maybe Mary had been asked to be a special attendant at the reception. It doesn’t really matter.
What really matters is that the Savior’s reply to Mary gives us another look at the wonder of His miracles. Jesus didn’t jump right into action. In fact, it sounds like the sinless Son of God came close to being disrespectful, doesn’t it? “Woman, what does that have to do with you and me” (v. 4)? But that wasn’t an insensitive scolding. Jesus called Mary “Woman” here to remind her their relationship ran deeper than mother and son; it was also, and most importantly!, sinner and Savior.
That’s why Jesus said, “My time has not come yet” (v. 4). His most useful time and work wasn’t as a reception-saver, but as the sinners’ Savior. He entered our world to lay down His life for sinners, including Mary. That’s His mercy, grace, undeserved love for us, too. His greatest help and mercy would be at Calvary’s cross, not in front of water-turned-into-wine jars.
That’s the continuing wonder of Christ’s miracles. His mercy never ends; His salvation is ever ours! Jesus didn’t ignore Mary’s request and the guests’ desires. He helped with that minor matter when He determined the time was right to do so.
His mercy, His help, His grace never run out. In your prayers, tell Him your troubles, your disappointments, your temptations. He will help! He may not follow your schedule or carry out your plan just the way you draw it up. But in His time and in His way, He will do what you need done to assure your life with Him forever. That is His greatest mercy! And the miracle of that great mercy of Christ is given us every day in His Word!
III. His company
The greatest miracle that day was an invisible one. It wasn’t water-into-wine. It was what He did for His disciples of all time, including us. “His disciples believed in Him”. That wonder of Christ’s miracles continues among us through His company, that is, through His being with us.
Jesus was at the reception in Cana because He had “been invited” (v. 2). We aren’t told what His connection was to the bride or groom; we don’t need to know that. But the presence of Jesus at that wedding celebration says much about marriage being God’s gift. God’s gift of marriage between one man and one woman and God’s gift of family life can be soured by selfishness or it can be sanctified by God being the most important person in the marriage and the family. Is He that in our homes?
Christ’s company at that reception says that wine is one of His gifts, too. We see evidence all around us that some abuse God’s gift of wine. But some abuse God’s gifts of money and TV and computers and food and sports and vehicles, too, don’t they? When used the way God desires, wine and beer, medicine and drugs, money and appliances are Hs rich gifts to us. The key is to use them realizing our God is with us and He wants to be honored in the way we use what He gives us.
Do we see what Jesus did for His disciples with this first of His miracles? They “believed in Him” (v. 11). He strengthened their faith in Him as the Savior. Do we see what Jesus does for us disciples of His with this report of the first of His miracles? He strengthens our faith in Him as the Savior.
He doesn’t do that by turning snowflakes into dollar bills or ordinary gravel into nutritious vitamins. He does it with His company, His presence. The world despises His company. Even some of His lukewarm friends – does that describe any of us? – disregard His company, don’t want Him too close to them because some of their life would sicken and anger Him. Through His Word heard here and read at home (or do we claim to be too busy for that?), taught in our classrooms here and there, we have the very real company of Christ! If that isn’t a miracle we marvel at, we need to wake up spiritually.
By His saving washing of Holy Baptism, He sets up His saving kingdom in the hearts of the tiniest of infants. He blesses our lives with His company, living and reigning in us through His Word about His salvation. In His sacramental supper, He gives Himself to us communicants. The wonder of His miracles continues among us – and we cherish His company among us!
Christ comes not as a guest who visits briefly, but as constant company who never wants to leave. And that’s good, an eternal blessing for us! Because of who He is and what He’s done, He has rescued us. He is with us always. Do we want Him with us always? Or are there times we hope He isn’t around because of what we’re thinking, what we’re viewing, what we’re doing?
The eternal Jesus is with us and talks to us and gives Himself for us, for us sinners?! It doesn’t get any more miraculous than that, does it? And that is the wonder of Christ’s miracles continuing among us! Amen.
Pastor David A. Voss
First Sunday after Epiphany - The Baptism of Our Lord - Two Miraculous Births Have Changed Us Forever
First Sunday after Epiphany – Baptism of Our Lord January 9, 2022
Hymns 354, 377, 356
First Lesson 1 Samuel 16:1-13
Second Lesson Titus 3:4-7
Gospel Lesson Luke 3:15-17,21-22
Two Miraculous Births Have Changed Us Forever
I. Christ’s physical birth
II. Our spiritual birth
In the name of the Epiphany Savior for all, Jesus Christ, dear fellow sinners redeemed by God’s grace in Christ,
No more lessons this winter about the little Lord Jesus or the boy Jesus. Today’s Gospel Lesson gives us the thirty-year-old Jesus. But we still rejoice in Christ’s arrival on earth in birth of a virgin mother. Though there’s no mention of Mary, manger, or Magi here, this lesson does declare Christ’s “appearing” (v. 4) on earth. In fact, this lesson leads us to celebrate two births – Christ’s and ours! Well, not our birth, but our rebirth.
Christ’s physical birth and our spiritual birth are very closely connected. His physical birth paved the way for our spiritual birth. Those two miraculous births have changed us forever!
I. Christ’s physical birth
Why was Jesus born? Why didn’t He remain true God instead of becoming also true man? His physical birth was the “love of God our Savior…appearing” (v. 4) to people who needed love from God more than anything else. The word for “love” here is philanthropia. What kind of person is known as a philanthropist? A person who hands out money, large amounts of money, from the goodness of her heart to people to whom she has no logical reason to be generous.
Doesn’t that describe Christmas? Why should God love us? Why should Jesus be born for us? Did He owe us a favor? No! Right before this lesson is the truth that “At one time we ourselves were also foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by many kinds of evil desires and pleasures, living in malice and jealousy, being hated and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Without Jesus, that is what we were! Why should God be a philanthropist to sinners like us who anger Him so?
Why? Because He loves us! “This is how God’s love for us was revealed: God has sent His only-begotten Son into the world so that we may live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). That’s why Jesus was born! His birth is God’s love “toward mankind” (v. 4) flowing from heaven to bless all people!
Christ’s physical birth is also “the kindness…of God our Savior appearing” (v. 4) to people who needed the kindness of God more than anything else. Are we kind to those who cut in front of us in line, pick on us at school, spread awful rumors about us at work? Maybe we don’t retaliate with punches that hurt, but we do with looks that could kill. “Kindness”, doing what is good and useful for another, doesn’t often flow from the one who was wronged to the wrongdoers.
But God has been kind to us who cut in front of Him by putting our will ahead of His; who slap Him in the face with our brazen, sinful thoughts; who offend Him by using His holy name in angrily wicked, or foolishly useless, ways. The miraculous physical birth of Jesus is part of His great love that changes us!
The physical birth of our Savior is an act of God’s grace, God’s mercy. “He saved us because of His mercy” (v. 5), shown to people who needed His mercy more than anything else. Not our might saved us, but His mercy! We still look at the manger in wonder – not because it is occupied by a human infant, but in faith-given wonder because the holy Child is God come to earth in such humility to rescue us!
Our God “is rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). That’s what stirs our hearts and raises our praises as we ponder the miracle that the Savior was born for us, as we ponder this morning’s scene at the Jordan where Jesus graciously allowed Himself to be baptized to assure us He has come to be our Deliverer, as we ponder the events at Gethsemane where God agreed to be arrested and led to death for us, as we ponder the sacrifice on Calvary where the holy God suffered our hell.
Christ’s physical birth has changed us forever! Do we rejoice when someone pays us back the fifty dollars he borrowed from us? Not really, because we deserved to get that money. But a gift given out of the blue from one we offended terribly – and terribly often? That floors us! We had deserved nothing from the holy, mighty God but trouble and death and hell because of our sins. The physical birth of Jesus is God giving Himself to us for forgiveness and heaven! That has changed us forever!
II. Our spiritual birth
How could I, a lost and condemned sinner, receive the amazing gift of Christ’s daily forgiveness and eternal life? Decide to lift myself off the heap of sinful unbelievers and make the great leap over to the side of the holy God? No way! I was “dead in my transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Can a dead person do anything? Not unless God brings him back to life. Can a spiritually dead person do anything good spiritually? Not until God gives him spiritual life. That’s the remedy to our deserved damnation. Two miraculous births have changed us forever – Christ’s physical birth and our spiritual birth.
Our spiritual birth isn’t something we had anything to do with any more than we caused our physical birth. God“saved us – not by righteous works that we did ourselves, but because of His mercy” (v. 5). Nothing good in us moved God to save us. We read again the verse before the lesson. “At one time we ourselves were also foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by many kinds of evil desires and pleasures, living in malice and jealousy, being hated and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). There’s no way we did anything, could do anything, to be saved, to make ourselves alive spiritually in Jesus.
It’s not our effort, but God’s work! He does His work in us by His good news – His great news of what the Father did to plan the world’s salvation, of what the Son has done to be the world’s salvation, of what the Spirit has done to make God’s salvation our personal, prized-above-all-else, possession.
You don’t walk around beating your head against the wall in sorrow, I don’t pull out my hair in horror, we don’t toss and turn at night in terror, wondering and worrying, What must I do to come to Christ, to get God to love me? God has already done that for us! “God saved us – not by righteous works that we did ourselves, but because of His mercy” (v. 5). That’s not just Jesus living and dying and rising for us. That’s also what the Spirit did to put the blessings of Jesus and His work in us, keep them in us, have us value them as our dearest treasure!
When we take seriously and at faith value God’s truth about us that at our first moment we were conceived sinful and thus from conception we considered God our enemy, then we realize that even coming to trust in Jesus is something we couldn’t accomplish. We didn’t have that power or desire. God consistently tells us His is the power which has done, and still does, that in us. “God saved us through the washing of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (vv. 5-6).
That “washing” wasn’t a shower this morning or a bath last night or swimming last summer. That “washing” scrubbed away sin. That “washing” isn’t merely symbolic; that “washing” is Baptism that “now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). That “washing” dresses us filthy sinners in the perfect clothing of Christ. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
Our spiritual birth has changed us forever! By the faith in Jesus that God gave us when we were born again, God brought us into a loving relationship with Him – the glorious opposite of what we were from conception and birth. Our “rebirth” (v. 5) is the way we’ve “been justified by God’s grace, so that we might become heirs in keeping with the hope of eternal life” (v. 7). Our rebirth is the way God says to us, “I justify you! I declare you, a sinner who justly deserves hell, ‘Not guilty!’ for the sake of My Son, Your Savior, Christ Jesus! I do that for you; you don’t do that to yourself! I make you My heirs who will be with Me forever in heaven!”
Do we shrug off our Baptism with a yawning, “Yeah, I guess I was baptized once!”? No! We put the power of our Baptism into practice each day as we live the changed life God has given us! Our rebirth means that “in Christ we are a new creation. The old has passed away. The new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17)! What God teaches about the great renewing power of our rebirth is why Luther stressed remembering daily our Baptism. He said, “First thing each morning, look in the mirror and say, ‘I am a baptized child of God!’” That does two things. It tells us who we are every day – people who belong to the Lord through faith in Christ. It also tells us what we will do every day – live for the Lord who has changed our life forever.
Loving parents say, “The birth of our children changed our lives forever! Yes, added responsibility. But also unspeakable joy and unlimited opportunities to love our children!” Do we say, “The birth of God our Savior has changed my life forever!”? When was the last time we thought, The greatest event that has ever happened to me was my spiritual birth!”? What strength and comfort and purpose Baptism is for us every day! It drives what we do to honor God and steer clear of temptation. It determines what we think about Him, about ourselves, about others. It delivers the good news of forgiveness and “kindness and love” that we speak to others.
The joy of the holidays – the holy days – is still with us and in us. The joy is Jesus! His physical birth – necessary for His sacrificial death – for us and the “rebirth” He works in us combine to be our greatest Christmas Gift ever! Our lives today, and for the rest of our days on earth, give evidence that Christ’s physical birth and our spiritual birth, our “rebirth”, have changed us forever. Amen.
Pastor David A. Voss
The Epiphany of Our Lord - We Look for Christ in His Word All Year Long
Epiphany of Our Lord January 2, 2022
Hymns 351, 370, 334, 332
First Lesson 1 Kings 10:1-9
Psalm 72 (read verses responsively)
Second Lesson Acts 13:46-49
Gospel Lesson Matthew 2:1-12
We Look for Christ in His Word All Year Long
I. To grow in knowing who He is
II. To grow in knowing what He does
III. To grow in knowing how He’s honored
In the name of our newborn Savior, fellow redeemed,
There are questions connected to this dearly loved lesson. How old was Jesus here? Why didn’t the Jewish religious leaders go with the Wise Men to Bethlehem to see the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy they cited? Why didn’t Herod send soldiers with the Wise Men to kill the baby Herod feared as a rival? Why did the Wise Men leave their Savior there after God used a dream to warn them about Herod? What was this star?
Some answers. This was not the night Christ was born because the Wise Men found Him in a “house” (v 11), not in a feed box for animals. The star was not a confluence of two planets since “it stood over the place where the child was” (v. 9), and thus was very, very low in the sky. It was a miracle star.
We are careful not to say more about Bible lessons than the Bible says. We need to look diligently in God’s Word, not rely on our imagination or centuries of tradition, to anchor our beliefs and shape our lives as God’s people. This first Sunday of 2022 the Lord uses this lesson to tell us to look for the Christ – and resolve to do so all year long. Where will we find Him? What will we believe about Him? We look for the Christ in His Word all year long to grow in knowing who He is, to grow in knowing what He does, to grow in knowing how He’s honored.
I. To grow in knowing who He is
How did the “Wise Men” (v. 1) from a foreign land find out Jesus was born? Their job included observing stars and other heavenly bodies to note new patterns and phenomena. “Wise men” is similar to a term for people in the court of the King of Babylon we read about in the Old Testament book of Daniel. If these visitors came from there, they could have heard prophecies about the Messiah from Jewish exiles in their land.
Remember Daniel and Queen Esther? They were two of many Jews who had been taken from Israel to Babylon when King Nebuchadnezzar’s army destroyed Jerusalem. Some exiles returned to the Holy Land when King Cyrus of Persia allowed them to do so. But some Jews had purchased land, built homes, established businesses there, and so they stayed there. Had faithful Jews spoken to others there about God’s promises in God’s Word to send the world’s Savior from the Jews and to be born in the land of the Jews? Is that how the “Wise Men” heard about the Christ to be born? One Old Testament prophecy foretold, “A star will come out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). Did that lead them to connect the appearance of God’s miracle star with the birth of God’s long-promised Savior?
The “Wise Men” went to Jerusalem when the star led them to Israel. They thought, Where else would the “King of the Jews”(v. 2) be born but in the capital city? They announced their quest by asking, “Where is He? We saw His star…and have come to worship Him” (v. 2). When Herod got word a king of the Jews was born, he did the right thing. He asked the Jewish Bible “experts, ‘Where?’” (v. 4), though he did it for the wrong reason. The Bible experts knew the prophecy from Micah we heard two weeks ago: “in Bethlehem…of Judah” (v. 5), six miles south of Jerusalem. The Wise Men left, led again by “His star” now to “the house” where Jesus lay under the loving care of Mary and concerned protection of Joseph.
The “Wise Men” were ancient scientists. But science reveals only so much by observation and speculation. We look in God’s Word for life’s most important truths. Even to those who confess God exists because of what they see, nature never reveals God’s grace, the King in His full identity. Reveal. That’s the theme of this Epiphany season. God’s Word reveals Jesus as the Savior of Jews – and Gentiles, like the Wise men and us.
Only God’s Word reveals that. Only His Word tells us who He is. He uses His Word to tell us He is true God and true man, come to pay the penalty for every sinner, to purchase us to be His own. He uses Baptism, where the power is His Word, to make people who by nature hate Him His adopted children and heirs of heaven. He gives us His body and blood in Communion, where His Word provides the power for His forgiveness.
We could look all over God’s creation for the Christ. All this year will find Him in His Word! We do so to grow in knowing who He is: our Brother, our Savior, God’s Son.
II. To grow in knowing what He does
Even the devil knows who Jesus is, but that does the devil no good. We also need to know what the Christ does. There are many ideas about what He did and what it means. But people’s ideas and opinions are often wrong. We look for the Christ in His Word all year long to grow in knowing what He does.
The prophecy cited by the Jewish religious “experts” to answer both the Wise Men and Herod gives more than the place of the Savior’s birth. From Bethlehem “will come a ruler, who will shepherd My people, Israel” (v. 6).
Herod was disturbed by the Wise Men’s news there was a new King of the Jews. The prophecy added to his paranoia. “A ruler? I’m the ruler, and I won’t give up my rule!” Though Herod had looked in the Word for word about the Christ, he didn’t really look in the Word. He sought information, but not the truth. Had he looked spiritually and humbly, the Holy Spirit would have led Herod to see and trust what the Wise Men were being led to see and trust about the Christ. He is“a ruler” though still a baby. He is the sinner’s Good Shepherd to take His sheep where they are well fed and saved.
The world says a lot about what Jesus has done and still does. To most, He did His best by being an example of humble, loving living. Jesus did live that way. We are to follow His perfect life. But Christ’s humble, sinless life and His powerful, innocent death as God and man win salvation for all sinners. We look for the Christ in His Word all year long to grow in knowing why He was born in humility, lived in poverty, suffered hell on that hill. He did it to rescue us from hell. And the Shepherd still feeds us daily. Looking in His Word for the real Christ and His saving work is Job One for us all year long!
III. To grow in knowing how He’s honored
Because He tells us, we know who the Christ is, what He has done and still does for us. We don’t have to guess. Children of God who take those truths to heart ask, “How can we ever thank You, Lord?” Part of His answer is here. We look for the Christ in His Word all year long to grow in knowing how He is to be honored, adored, praised, and worshiped.
Herod sent the “Wise Men” on a pious-sounding mission. But we know his terrible intent. Later came Herod’s barbaric edict to kill all baby boys born in Bethlehem the previous twenty-four months to make sure the Infant he thought a threat to his rule would be one of the dozens of baby boys butchered. “So that I may also go and worship Him” (v. 8). What hypocrisy!
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with overwhelming joy. After they went into the house and saw the Child with Mary, His mother, they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and offered Him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (vv. 10-11). What heartfelt honor and awe-struck adoration! Our Savior!
Picture the sight! Grown men from a foreign country, after spending weeks – maybe months – traveling, knelt to worship a baby! The Spirit used the power of His Word to convince the Wise Men the Child born of Mary is not only a flesh-and-blood human, but also Immanuel, the eternal God Himself with us!
Is our worship, is our honoring the Christ, such a beautiful sight before the all-seeing, all-knowing God? What strikes us, and also must have struck the “Wise Men”, is how Herod and many in Jerusalem didn’t know about the long-promised and anxiously-awaited Messiah’s birth. They weren’t watching and waiting for the Savior to come from their own, while Gentiles from a foreign country were! Are things any different today?
We are not to worship God on our terms, but on His! He wants all our hearts in all our weekly worship here. He wants all our family bowing before Him in reverent devotion at home. He wants all our lives devoted to Him as we set goals and schedules for this new year. If we figure we’ve done our part by worshipping Christ at His birth and now can ignore worship for a while, we need to look in His Word. Here the Christ corrects us and gives us again His expectations for our worship of Him.
We look in His Word all year long to grow in knowing how the Christ is to be honored. With all we do, think, and say each day (not just Sunday), we honor the One born our King and come to earth to die for us. Does this Word about worship of the Savior describe our lives? When we recognize the darkness of our sin and the staggering penalty for our guilt, the light of Christ gives us the same joy it He gave the Wise Men. It also cancels yawns of Big deal! about worshipping God daily all year long.
There is no more important resolution for anyone in 2022 than the lesson in this well-known lesson. We look for the Christ in the Word all year long. Here is the truth about who He is. Here is the truth about what He does. Here the truth about how He’s honored. Satan whispers, You know all that already! Of course that’s true! But we need to grow in knowing all of that lest we lose any of that. We will spend all this year looking in the Word for the Christ, the Christ who was born to save us! Amen.
Pastor David A. Voss
Fourth Sunday in Advent - Prepare Your Hearts!
Fourth Sunday in Advent December 19, 2021
Hymns 487, 327, 328, 548
First Lesson Micah 5:2-5a
Psalm 85 (read verses responsively)
Second Lesson Hebrews 10:5-10
Gospel Lesson Luke 1:39-55
Prepare Your Hearts!
I. For the ruler from Bethlehem
II. For the shepherd for all people
In the name of Jesus Christ, our promised Savior and our coming King, fellow Advent believers waiting to celebrate His birth and longing for His return,
We’ve watched, over the last generation or so, the Christmas season get started earlier and earlier. We’ve noticed, over the last twenty years or so, that December 25th marks the end, not the beginning, of Christmas for many. Of course, that’s not the real Christmas. And maybe it’s good that all the frenzy gets out of the way just in time for the real Christmas to start.
Why? Even if our holiday plans aren’t panning out as we had hoped in mid-November, if the house isn’t getting as clean as we wanted it and the year end projects aren’t going to get finished, and especially if our spiritual preparation for the real Christmas has fallen short, God has good news for us in His house and from His Word this morning. Though we are running out of time to complete our holiday plans, are weighed down by unrealistic expectations, are frustrated that we didn’t do better, none of that removes us from God’s attention. He speaks to us today to give us what we need: prepared hearts!
What happens in this service won’t get your Christmas cards sent or gifts delivered or travel confirmed. What happens in this service prepares our hearts for the real Christmas. The One whose coming we celebrate isn’t checking to see if the furniture is dusty or the cookies are fresh or the house is in order. The One who is coming is the same One who prepares our hearts for Him to enter. What matters is that we prepare our hearts to receive the real Christmas Gift – the ruler from Bethlehem and the shepherd for all people.
I. For the ruler from Bethlehem
Jesus was not the first king born in Bethlehem. The greatest human king of the Jews was born in Bethlehem: David. Remember how the prophet Samuel went to Bethlehem at God’s command to anoint God’s choice as the second king of Israel because God had rejected King Saul? Recall how Samuel went through seven sons of Jesse in Bethlehem before the Lord told His prophet, “This youngest son is the one who will be the next ruler of My people”? David’s brothers had to call him in from tending the sheep outside the village of Bethlehem, maybe from the same hilly area where heavenly angels would call from the sky to shepherds one thousand years later. Such an unlikely teenager from such an unassuming village became Israel’s greatest human ruler!
The Lord had promised David, “Your house will stand firm, and your kingdom will endure forever before you” (2 Samuel 7:16). But the same Lord God also predicted through His prophet Micah here, “I will give the people of Israel up (v. 3) to foreigners. The nation will be abandoned.” Though King David didn’t live to see it, his line of royalty was cut off when the people were hauled away as prisoners of war by a foreign power. That seems to present a problem. Was the Lord mistaken? Did God lie when He promised King David that David’s line would rule “forever”?
Never! The Lord speaks nothing but truth and cannot lie. The solution to what appears to be the Lord contradicting Himself lies in the One for whom we prepare our hearts. The ruler who would rule “forever” would be born after the Israelites were allowed to return from exile to the Promised Land. “The Lord will give them up to exile, until the time when the woman who is in labor bears a child” (v. 3). That, of course, would be Mary, whose great-great-great – well, thirty-nine times great – grandfather was David. It was through Jesus that King David’s family would reign “forever”. Humanly speaking, Jesus was David’s descendant, even born in David’s village to make the connection more certain. We prepare our hearts to receive the ruler from Bethlehem – not David, but Christ the Lord!
Jesus is both true man and true God in one person. As we will hear in greater detail Saturday morning, Jesus didn’t stop being true God for the thirty-three years He lived among us. He who is God from before time began became man at His conception in Mary’s womb and was shown to the world as man for the first time in a Bethlehem manger. What kind of a town, what kind of a place, is that for a ruler to be born? The perfect town, the perfect place for the birth of the ruler foretold, the ruler we need! We grasp in our minds and hold dear in our hearts the truth that our Savior’s “goings forth”, His origins, “are from the beginning, from the days of eternity” (v. 2)! The ruler born in David’s town has been true God forever.
Jesus is the ruler from Bethlehem we need: God and man! He came to our world for His subjects who would be headed to hell without Him and His rule. The ruler didn’t send His soldiers to do battle to free His people. The ruler fought the war Himself! We don’t need a ruler who came to live in royalty among us and expects us to do His bidding to earn His favor. We need the ruler from Bethlehem who lived humbly here, then suffered the worst in the universe for us: hell at the cross. We prepare our hearts to celebrate His birth more anything else we will celebrate Friday night and Saturday morning.
II. For the shepherd for all people
You realize, don’t you?, that these aren’t words Micah came up with on his own. Through His prophet Micah God also said, “from you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, will go out the One who will be the ruler for Me in Israel” (v. 2). We prepare our hearts, in these last minutes of public worship before the real Christmas starts, for the Savior who came to carry out the Triune God’s desire – to be the shepherd for all people.
Advent and Christmas Christians trust God’s plan to save us lost and condemned sinners. “He will stand and shepherd” (v. 4) His flock. The ancient shepherd did more than lead his sheep to green pasture and pure water. The ancient shepherd defended his flock from wolves and other dangers, putting himself between ferocious beasts and his helpless sheep. Our coming Savior’s mission accomplished exactly that – except it was not for four-legged sheep, but for two-legged sheep, for you and me and all sinners. He willingly gave up His life so we wouldn’t be sent off to what we rebels deserve – damnation forever in hell. Jesus survived that awful ordeal because our Shepherd carried out His mission “with the strength of the Lord” (v. 4). Jesus was successful because He always works “in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God” (v. 4). That means Jesus came in connection with the reputation and glory and mission of the only true God of salvation.
Few rulers in history have jeopardized their lives to rescue their subjects, the citizens of their kingdom. But Jesus isn’t just any ruler. We prepare our hearts to welcome Him who is our Shepherd, who is committed to deliver His people, all people, people “to the ends of the earth” (v. 4). What He was born to do, He did completely and perfectly. In Jesus we sheep “live securely” because our foe in hell can’t touch Him, and can’t have those who are connected to Him through faith.
“This One will be their peace” (v. 5a). We prepare our hearts to mark more than a special birth. We prepare to celebrate an entire mission on earth. Do you remember what we asked the first morning of this Advent season? What good is Christmas if Christ isn’t coming back? He is coming back – suddenly, and at an unannounced moment. When He does, we will stand in His presence as His beloved sheep because of His work to cover our guilt and to join us to Him as we trust in Him.
For some of you, this Christmas will be the first one without the loved one whose soul was taken to heaven by the coming Savior since last Christmas. It’s understandable your hearts are heavy with sadness as you recall what role your departed loved one had in the various activities of the season. But the coming Savior is your“peace”, too. You know where your loved one is – in heaven through faith in the coming Savior, with whom the soul of your loved one rests – the Triune God, and what your future is forever – the glory of Paradise with Jesus. That “peace” won by Christ endures forever.
As we head home this morning and tend to numerous Christmas-related details today through Friday, we won’t overlook the Christmas doctrine and detail: Jesus was born for us! We prepare our hearts for the ruler from Bethlehem who is also the shepherd for all people. We prepare our hearts to welcome the ruler who will rule His humble people not with an iron club but with a shepherd’s staff. We prepare our hearts to welcome Him who doesn’t come to bring peace to His people, but who Himself is “their peace”. We prepare our hearts for Jesus to come with the blessings of forgiveness and life that are found nowhere else but in Him – His lowly birth and His obedient life and His sacrificial death as our Substitute. Then we will come back to His house Friday night and Saturday morning to see in greater detail and to worship in greater wonder the greatest Gift of all! Lord Jesus, help us prepare our hearts for You! Amen.
Pastor David A. Voss
Third Sunday in Advent - The Lord is Near
Third Sunday in Advent December 12, 2021
Hymns 318, 310, 309
First Lesson Zephaniah 3:14-17
Psalm 130 (read verses responsively as instructed)
Second Lesson Philippians 4:4-7
Gospel Lesson Luke 3:7-18
The Lord Is Near
I. Rejoice in Him
II. Rely on Him
In the name of Jesus, whose arrival at the end of time draws nearer every day and whose first coming we celebrate soon, fellow sinners redeemed by His life and death for us,
The teacher’s coming! is a warning that sends students back to their desks after horsing around while she was out of the room. There’s a squad car! is a phrase that puts the brakes on a driver’s hurry to get somewhere faster than the law allows. Mom and Dad are home! is a shout that changes battling brothers into best friends, lest they be grounded for fighting.
“The Lord is near” (v. 5) is true every moment. But the Lord doesn’t say that here as a warning, scolding, Watch out or else! ultimatum. Look at the surrounding words in the lesson: “rejoice” (v. 4) twice, “gentleness” (v. 5), “thanksgiving” (v. 6), “the peace of God” (v. 7). This isn’t a stern rebuke. This is the Lord’s loving encouragement for His people, for us. “The Lord is near” influences how we live. It’s His reminder as we get ready for our Christmas celebration and the Lord’s return. “The Lord is near”. What do we do? Sit around and wait for the moment He appears? No! The Lord who is near tells us that those who know He “is near” rejoice in Him and rely on Him.
I. Rejoice in Him
Remember the Don’t Worry, Be Happy song some thirty-five years ago? The rhythmic Jamaican beat and simple melody made listeners imagine lying on white sand under shady palm trees. But I can’t recall any other words in the song. Why won’t we worry? Why will we be happy? When happy? How happy?
No secular song can correctly answer those questions. God can. God does! “Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again: Rejoice” (v. 4)! Is it a challenge to rejoice today? Senseless shootings. Hospitals full of Covid cases. Only twelve shopping days left. A number of functions to attend and so many things to do – and fewer than two weeks to do them. Rejoice, Lord?
The Lord isn’t suggesting we try to rejoice. God tell us, “Rejoicing is what My people always do!” God doesn’t call for a goofy grin no matter what happens, for silly numbness in sad circumstances, for giddy insensitivity to others’ troubles. A believer’s emotional or physical pain is still pain. Hurts, whether ours or another’s, still hurt. What comforts distress, enhances happiness, and lifts the in-between times to a higher level is the power of our faith and life. It is not the way we believe and live. It is the certainty of being “in the Lord”, of being connected through faith to God’s gracious forgiveness of sins.
“The Lord is near”. So what do we do? Run for cover to hide from His holiness? Shake in our shoes? Start being real nice until He returns? None of that! We “rejoice in the Lord”! We live confident lives because we know where we stand with God – sinners made His blood-bought children here and forever His own in heaven. Paul wrote so confidently to the believers in Philippi, though his prison chains rattled with his every movement, because he was “in the Lord”. We live that confidence, though our problems still swirl all around us, because we sinners, like Paul, are “in the Lord”.
Ours is not a weary sigh, Well, at least I still have my faith! when sadness or setbacks sour our life. “Rejoice in the Lord always” means ours is the attitude, even in tears, that knows and trusts and says, “God is still very good to me. He has given His life for mine to rescue me from the hell I deserve. That joy can never be taken from me!”
Our rejoicing looks to the evidence of God’s grace and for ways to express our thankfulness for His gifts. In other words, because “the Lord is near” and hasn’t forgotten us but has sacrificed Himself for us, we don’t need a command to rejoice. We wear rejoicing like a precious piece of jewelry. It shows in our life that lets our “gentleness be known to everyone” (v. 5). Hold it! Even to those who’ve wronged us? Yes! Especially to those who’ve wronged us! God graciously forgives us, so we forgive others. We do so not in a weak, You can walk all over me way, but in a loving, I’m putting your needs first way. That, too, is rejoicing in the Lord who “is near”.
II. Rely on Him
In our world when time-saving technology just quickens the frantic pace of life, in our society emphasizing and applauding man’s achievements, with our sinful self thinking we can solve our spiritual dilemmas, we focus on “the Lord” as the source of all we have and are in Him. Because gadgets and gimmicks and loved ones and long-trusted friends are frail and can fail us, there must be more for us. There is! As we look for the Lord, who is already “near”, to appear, we rely on Him alone.
God gives us the privilege to express our trust in Him by praying to Him. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (v. 6). The word for “worry” carries the idea of distraction, of being pulled in different directions at the same time. That is most certainly true of our lives in this sinful, busy world. Money matters, career questions, family friction, health worries, school exams, and so much more distract and bother us, “worry” us.
Still, God tells us, “Do not worry. You don’t face anything without hope. Bring everything, every concern and worry, to Me. Don’t just bring the big headaches and crushing heartaches to Me. In everything…let your requests be made known to Me. I am near. That’s not just the Last Day. That’s also My help, My love, My power, My grace near you every day!”
You must tell your doctor what hurts or seems wrong before he knows what medicine or treatment to use to help you. You must let your counselor know your struggles before she knows what advice to give you. God isn’t like that! “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). Even before disaster barrels into your life, God is aware it’s coming. Even before damage hits, He knows it’s lurking.
Then why bother “letting our requests be made known to God” if God already knows what’s keeping us awake at night? Because it shows we rely on Him. Prayer is a way we express our inability to help ourselves and to show our confidence God not only can help us, but “is able…to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
Yes, “the Lord is near”! And until He comes to take us to Himself, God will answer all our prayers. His answer may be, “Here is what you asked for.” It may be, “Wait a while – or a long time!” He may answer, “I’ll lighten your load a little, but not completely – for reasons you’ll see in the future.” And, of course, the all-knowing, ever-perfect Lord sometimes answers, “No, I won’t give you what you’re asking for because I know that it’s best this be done My way, not your way.” Who of us will argue with God about that?
We won’t, because we know and trust and rely on the truth that “The peace of God…surpasses all understanding” (v. 7). The only peace that counts and lasts forever is God’s peace. His peace goes beyond anyone’s intellect because it flows from the wisdom and love that led Him to send His Son as the sacrificial Lamb for all the world. It is the wisdom and love that the world considers foolish, weak, and a waste of time. But pushing aside “the peace of God” in Christ, and relying on another, will land every sinner who does so in hell forever.
No knowledge – no matter how deep, no power – no matter how strong, can grant the peace that Christ won. The peace of God, by God, and with God is the peace God Himself established when He bought the world’s forgiveness with His life. Peace is ours because God no longer demands we pay the price.
We hear many wishes for peace between people this time of year. But the peace the angels announced is this peace, peace between the holy God and us sinners, peace established by God come to earth in the flesh. We rely on “the peace of God” He won. That unending, perfect “peace” is Christmas.
The peace of God “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). The Lord is near. But until He returns in glory, we need Him to strengthen, keep, and “guard” our hearts from whatever may drive us away from our Redeemer. When Satan sneaks in the back door of our heart to suggest, “God doesn’t love you because He allows bad things to happen to you”, God shouts in His “peace”, “I do love you, and I gave My life for you, and I’ll never leave you!” When troubles tempt us to look elsewhere for help, God’s “peace” in Christ fixes the eyes of our hearts on Him who has taken care of our deepest needs and tells us daily, “I am near you. Rely on Me!”
At the end of sermons here we hear God say, “My peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. How fitting! In each sermon here we hear about our wretched sinfulness and utter helplessness, then hear of God’s great and unlimited love. In each sermon here the eyes of our faith are directed by God to the Savior who promised just before going to the cross, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you” (John 14:27). At the end of each sermon here, we are wished God’s peace, and are placed into the peace-giving, great, and guarding arms of God.
In two weekends we’ll sing about the Lord come to earth at Bethlehem. But at the same time, we’ll be thinking, “The Lord is near, and could return any moment!” As we celebrate His first coming, we “rejoice in” Him always because His second coming won’t be bad news for believers. As we celebrate His first coming, we rely on Him because His payment will stand for us at His second coming. “The Lord is near”! Amen.
Pastor David A. Voss
Second Sunday in Advent - Listen to the Voice of the Lord
Second Sunday in Advent December 5, 2021
Hymns 1, 16, 4, 551: stanzas 1,12,3
First Lesson Malachi 3:1-7b
Psalm 24 (page 73)
Second Lesson Philippians 1:3-1
Gospel Lesson Luke 3:1-6
Listen to the Voice of the Lord
In the name of Jesus, our coming Savior, dear fellow redeemed,
So many folks are so eager to listen to songs of the season that some stations play holiday music 24 hours a day from early November through Christmas Day. But the foolish, forced rhyme, “From Atlantic to Pacific, Oh the traffic is terrific!” and Grandma’s encounter with reindeer get old before long.
In these weeks before Christmas are we eager to hear the voice of the last Advent spokesman God sent? Or does this, too, get old to us? John the Baptist’s words aren’t cozy ones about chestnuts roasting or sleigh bells ringing. But his words – even the harsh ones – need to be heeded by every sinner. Why? Because they aren’t John’s words. They are God’s words. “The word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah” (v. 2).
It’s not wrong to listen to secular songs of the season. But what are we listening to most – now and all year long? We listen this morning, this Advent season, all year long, to the voice of the Lord. His message to us is, “Repent! Forgiven! Prepare!”
The December 1 snow cover in the US is the least it’s been in eighteen years. But snow cover, so we can have a white Christmas, doesn’t matter. What matters isn’t snow God chooses to send – or not. What matters is what God says to sinners.
It had been four hundred years since God had sent Israel a message from the prophet Malachi. After four hundred years of silence, God chose John and sent him to a not-so-Christmas-like setting to give God’s last words before the Savior stepped forward to do His work in public. The area where John worked is a “wilderness” (v. 2) – few trees, mostly brown landscape, lots of rocks, steep terrain. Still, crowds made the difficult trip from Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel to hear what this man who dressed in strange clothes and ate odd food had to say.
The setting, as well as John’s clothing and diet, matched John’s message. God sent John to proclaim no-nonsense words – nothing about making snowmen or wanting a hippopotamus for Christmas. Unlike the Jewish religious teachers who rambled on and on about keeping laws and staying clean, John preached “repentance” (v. 3). The voice of the Lord through John said, “There’s something seriously wrong with us: sin!”
“Repent!” Repent is used two ways in God’s Word. Sometimes it means be sorry for your sins. But literally repent means to have a different mind. “Repent!”, the voice of the Lord says. “Have a change of heart and mind about sin – not staying comfortable with sin, but getting rid of sin!” And “Repent!”, God says. “Have a change of heart and mind about the Savior – not ignoring Him, but loving, trusting, and serving Him!”
Do you get what it means, then, that John was “preaching a baptism of repentance” (v. 3)? The Holy Spirit had Matthew write about John’s work, “They were baptized by John in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins” (Matthew 3:6). Those who repented of their sins, who expressed a change of heart, were baptized in preparation for the Savior’s coming.
We listen to the voice of the Lord calling to us every day, “Repent! No longer find joy in sin, but with My help given in My Word get rid of sin in your life – all of it, even your pet sins! No longer keep in your heart deep grudges and secret sins you think you can hide from Me. I see them all! Get rid of them, all of them. Get rid, as well, of the delight you once found in sins!”
Sometimes it seems that “Repent!” is something we need to do before the Lord and before the coming of the great day of the Lord. But by ourselves, we have no desire to get rid of sin; we want to keep enjoying sin. God’s voice is the power of repentance in our lives. God works repentance – not in sentimental holiday songs, but by His powerful Word, “Turn from sin!”
If “Repent!” were a song of the season, it wouldn’t get much air time, certainly wouldn’t sell many CDs. But “Repent!” is God’s message that shows us how much we need the Gift. That’s why the voice of the Lord announces and proclaims not just, “Repent! Get rid of your sins!”, but also, “Rejoice! Forgiven! Dress in the salvation won by the only Savior, Jesus!”
John the Baptist didn’t shake a scolding finger at and say to sinners, “Bad people! Clean up the mess you made with your sins!” He proclaimed “the word of God” that is also real, lasting, eternal joy. “Good news, adults and children and everyone (v. 6)! You are forgiven!”
How do we forgive our sins? We don’t. We can’t. We couldn’t. But Jesus did and does and will. Forgiveness isn’t something we earn with God. It is the greatest gift God gives us.
In nineteen nights and twenty mornings we’ll hear the voice of the Lord declare to us the Savior’s birth in Bethlehem as the Lord foretold with ever-increasing details throughout the four thousand years of the Old Testament. Just as God planned and predicted, Jesus came from the family of Israel. Just as God planned and predicted, Jesus came in humility though He is the Mighty God. Just as God planned and predicted, Jesus was born of a virgin woman, suffered at the hands of men, then shed His blood to wash away our guilt before the Lord. “Forgiven!”
We beg, “Give us this forgiveness, God!” He answers, “Listen to My voice! I give you My forgiveness of your sins through My Word!” John wasn’t an eccentric figure preaching a harsh message in a barren area. John was the messenger of the Lord with the message of the Lord to rescue people drowning in sin: “Your sins are forgiven and salvation is yours in Christ!”
Worship services, Bible classes, and our Lutheran school and preschool aren’t activities our congregation is expected to carry out. All of those center on the same power: the message of God about the Son of God who did His work to send our sins out of His sight by His own payment: the penalty of hell we deserve. “Your sins are forgiven through the work of the Savior who came into your world to carry your guilt on His holy soul!”
Home for Christmas, if only in my dreams? A blue Christmas if loved ones won’t be with us? Some songs we hear this time of year express such thoughts. We listen far more closely and often to the voice of the Lord in His Word, “Forgiven in Christ! You will be home with Me where there will be nothing to be blue or sad about ever! Salvation is yours in heaven forever!”
There are a lot of wonderful things to look at and listen to this time of year. They’re not sinful – unless we let them crowd Christ out of our hearts. To keep that from happening, we listen this special season before Christmas most of all to the voice of the Lord. He also says to us through John the Baptist, who spoke to people in the wilderness the same Word God seven hundred years earlier had given Isaiah the prophet, “Prepare!”
Prepare? Prepare for what or for whom? How prepare?“Prepare the way of the Lord! Make His paths straight” (v. 4). Ancient kings sent advance teams to cities and regions to make sure the king’s coming soon to those cities and regions wouldn’t be slowed or detoured by difficult travel. As the Lord Jesus comes to us in His Word, as we prepare to celebrate His coming to earth at His birth, are there tight turns He needs to negotiate in our hearts? Any sharp curves of deception with favorite sins we’re not ready to quit? Any dangerous roundabouts of putting other things ahead of His Word or other people ahead of Him who is the Lord – even for a short time?
“Make His paths straight”. That’s only fitting. The Savior never veered on His way of humility in our world and to suffering at the cross. No work schedules or errands, no busyness with children’s practices or games, get in the way of making Jesus Number One in everything. No holiday gathering or decorating, no hectic season or frantic shopping prevent us from quiet time daily with Christ to prepare to celebrate His birth, daily with Christ to prepare for His return on the Last Day.
“Every valley will be filled” (v. 5). Modern motorists avoid potholes on city streets and tire tread shreds on freeways, are annoyed by speed bumps in parking lots. As the Lord Jesus comes to us, He wants to encounter no holes of despair in our lives, holes the devil digs by whispering How can the holy God ever let a sinner like you into His heaven, even want you in His family?! Let the Lord fill those holes in our lives with His Word, “I made you Mine by My life, death, and rising for you!”
“Every mountain and hill will be made low” As the Lord Jesus comes to us, He doesn’t want to bump up hills of our pride – the ones Satan builds in us by shouting, “You are so good to others and so frequently go to church that you don’t a savior!” Let the Lord level those hills in us by telling us His blessed truth, “You were dead to me in your transgressions and sins. But the Triune God has made you alive by bringing you to trust the Savior and His work. You are saved!”
“The crooked will become straight, and the rough ways smooth” (v. 5). We don’t have the strength or equipment to do that spiritual road construction. But God supplies the power in the equipment of His Word and His sacraments. Listen to the voice of the Lord tell us, “Prepare! Prepare to celebrate the real Christmas, the birth and life and death and rising of your Savior. Prepare! Prepare to be in your real home for eternal Christmas when I return to take you to heaven, won by your Savior!”
Is the voice of the Lord heard at home as you open His Word there about the real Christmas and why we sinners need it? Are you gathering, with or without an Advent wreath, at home to hear what God promised to do, has given us sinners in His Son, and where we will be forever in Christ? If not, you know what God wants you to be doing daily at home.
Most songs of this season are delightful. But far better and more important is the voice of the Lord. The voice of the Lord wasn’t just for those who heard the Baptist in the wilderness. “Everyone will see the salvation of God” (v. 6). Invite friends and loved ones to come here to hear with you the voice of the Lord about His “salvation” come to earth in the Baby at Bethlehem. Tell your loved ones as you gather this month that “the salvation of God” is embodied in the Christchild. We listen to the voice of the Lord – and serve as His voice to others. Amen.
Pastor David A. Voss
First Sunday in Advent - What Good Is Christmas If Christ Isn't Coming Back?
First Sunday in Advent November 28, 2021
Hymns 2, 376, 219
First Lesson Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25 (page 74)
Second Lesson 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Gospel Lesson Luke 21:25-36
What Good Is Christmas If Christ Isn’t Coming Back?
I. But He is – so be ready!
II. But He is – so be joyful!
In the name of Jesus, our gracious Savior, fellow redeemed,
It’s happened more than a few times. People have died when flames engulfed their house which had no working batteries in the smoke detector. People have drowned when their boat took on water because they weren’t wearing life jackets. What good is a smoke detector if you don’t have working batteries in it? What good is a life jacket if you don’t wear it in the boat?
As we put up decorations, prepare for parties, and shop for gifts, we remind ourselves, “Christmas isn’t all there is! Even the birth of Jesus isn’t an end in itself. There’s more to this season than busyness. There’s more to religion than Christmas. In fact, what good is Christmas if Christ isn’t coming back?”
Satan knows he can’t keep us from celebrating Christ’s birth. So his plan is to get us to look back but not ahead; to celebrate an event two thousand years ago, but not be ready for what is coming. Don’t listen to him! Listen to the Lord who tells us here how certain His return is and what will happen then. That way, we both celebrate and anticipate. What good is Christmas if Christ isn’t coming back? Christ Himself tells us here, “I am coming back – so be ready! I am coming back – so be joyful!”
I. But He is – so be ready!
Christmas means much to us. It celebrates the arrival on earth of Him who came to die for us sinners – and is coming back to get us. Jesus doesn’t tell us when He will return. But He does give us signs. “There will be earthquakes and famines” (Luke 21:11). Check. Those have been happening since – even before – Jesus spoke about them that Tuesday before He died. “Nation will rise against nation” (Luke 21:10). Check. That has been happening ever since – even before – Jesus said that. “The love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12) toward others, and especially toward the Lord. “Many will fall away from faith…Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” (Matthew 24:10-11). Check and check. Those have been happening ever since – even before – Jesus said that, and they certainly seem to be increasing now. But since they are already happening, what help are they for us about Christ coming back? They are repeated reminders. Every time those things are reported in the news and arise in our lives, we recall Christ’s words about the end of the world. At least, we should.
These verses give other signs. “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars…On the earth nations will be in anguish, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the surging waves …the heavens will be shaken” (vv. 25-26). Such signs are not constantly occurring. There are eclipses of the sun and moon; but eclipses are predictable because God made the planets and moon to revolve predictably around the sun. At the end of time, however, planets will fall out of their orbits, stars will collide, and waves will crash violently. Christ says all that is coming.
How long will those signs last? For years before the Last Day? No. God promises, as some of us heard Thanksgiving Eve, the steady progression of seasons and days right up to the end. The Word makes it sound like for a brief time on the Last Day before Christ comes back it will seem the universe is coming apart at its seams! He is coming back – so all need to be ready.
When all that starts happening, what will the reaction be? Some “will be in anguish, in perplexity...fainting from fear…of the things coming on the world” (vv. 25-26). Hearts will be squeezed at the “anguish” – a Last Day panic attack. Minds will be “in perplexity” – confused about where to turn for answers. People will be “fainting” – weak in the knees from the destruction unfolding before them as their misplaced courage melts and self-centered pride is smashed.
But on that day not all will react, “Run for your lives!”, or, “What in all the world is going on?!” To those who are expecting His return, the Savior says, “You will stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near” (v. 28)! To avoid heart-squeezing, mind-confusing, courage-melting terror, Christ says, “Stay alert all the time (v. 36)! Be ready!”
Jesus added, “This generation will not pass away until all these things happen” (v. 32). But the people who heard Jesus say that have long since died. Did Jesus lie? Never! The words “This generation” can also mean this kind of people. It wasn’t just in Jesus’ day that people hated Him for claiming He is the promised Messiah. There will be people alive at the last ticks of time who reject Jesus as the Savior.
Christ is coming back – so let’s be ready! “Watch yourselves or else your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the worries of this life, and that day may come on you suddenly” (v. 34). Tomorrow will you walk into school or work with a ten-pound weight on each leg? Let’s not walk tomorrow – or any day! – with wicked weights hindering our walk with God. Not even the unnecessary weight of the secular holidays should distract us from knowing that just as surely as Christ came to earth once, so He is coming back. Be ready! God won’t accept excuses for not being ready by those too caught up in the holidays or college classes or weekend fun or career pursuits or family ties or anything else. Be ready!
II. But He is – so be joyful!
This isn’t a happy holiday scene. But we and all sinners need the emphasis of the first three Sundays in Advent, the same emphasis we heard the last three Sundays of End Time. Christ is coming back! We need that to be ready, even as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. But it’s not gloom -and-doom preparation. Christ has more to say about His return than, “It’s going to be bad for some!” Christ is coming back – so we are joyful!
Those who ignore Jesus, His cross, and His Word will say as He returns, “I’m doomed!” But we who consider Christ the center of our lives and Savior of our souls will say when He returns, “Yes! Our redemption is near” (v. 28)!
It’s true we are already redeemed, bought back. We trust the holy life of Christ, the precious blood of Christ, the innocent sufferings and death of Christ to be the “redemption” price Christ paid in full to rescue us from the damnation we deserve.
Then how is it that on the Last Day our “redemption is near”? On that day everything connected to our “redemption” will be ours completely. Heaven, perfection, unending and uninterrupted joy. Life in God’s glorious presence, with the angels, among our loved ones who also left this life trusting Christ – all of that ours! Christ is coming back – so we are joyful!
What good is Christmas if Christ isn’t coming back? Thanks to Him we don’t have to answer the question. He who is our hope and joy is coming back. Is the Christmas we are preparing to celebrate about a baby born humbly? Yes. But it’s much more than that! The One laid in a manger will come back “in a cloud with power and great glory” (v. 27). We are joyful!
Is the Christmas we are preparing to celebrate about a miracle child? Yes. But it’s much more than that! The miracle Child is God and man in one person, the Savior for every sinner who was thinking about you individually when He lay in the manger and hung on the cross to cover every sin ever. We are joyful!
Is the Christmas we are preparing to celebrate about a virgin giving birth? Yes. But it’s so much more than that! The woman who bore the baby was herself a sinner and was forgiven by the life, death, and rising of the baby, and will herself – with us – be brought into glory by her son and God’s Son. We are joyful!
If Christmas were the high point in Christian history, then celebrating Christ’s birth each December would be worth no more than celebrating the birthdays of Presidents Washington and Lincoln each February. But Christmas and Epiphany lead to Lent and Good Friday which lead to Resurrection Sunday which leads to Ascension which leads to Pentecost which leads to the Last Day. We will enjoy hearing and singing Christmas hymns four weekends from now. But on the Last Day our hearing and singing Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Will take on a whole new joyful meaning, won’t it?
The signs and events Christ described here grab our attention. But for us who trust Him alone for life and forgiveness and heaven, these signs and events are welcome news. “As soon as the trees are sprouting leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is actually near. So also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near” (v. 31). Who sees signs of spring and warm weather and says, “Oh no! Not summer!”? No one! We’re happy to welcome summer after winter cold and snow. In a much more wonderful way, we won’t be anything but joyful at these signs.
Martin Luther wrote about these signs in these verses, “We are able to picture these signs before us in such a comforting way, and look upon them and judge them according to the Word. If we follow our reason and wisdom, we can do nothing but become terrified and flee before them. Our reason does not like to see things appear dark and unpleasant, that it lightnings and thunders, that it roars and is noisy, as though everything would be turned upside down. But a Christian should take hold of the Word, with which God wants to open our eyes and explain how He means it, as though we were approaching the beautiful summertime, and as though there were nothing but beautiful roses and lilies that bloom to delight the eye, and that nothing but joy and delight will come after this abominable evil and misfortune in which we now are.”
What good is Christmas if Christ isn’t coming back? No good at all, right? But He is coming back! This Advent season prepares us to celebrate His first coming – in Bethlehem, as well as to anticipate His second coming – in glory on the Last Day. Christ is coming back! We are ready for it. We are joyful about it. And it makes the real Christmas that much sweeter! Amen.