Second Sunday after the Epiphany - Come and See the Savior!
Second Sunday after the Epiphany January 17, 2021
Hymns 75, 86, 83
First Lesson 1 Samuel 3:1-10
Psalm 67 (page 91)
Second Lesson 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Gospel Lesson John 1:43-51
Come and See the Savior!
I. He is the center of Scripture
II. He is the Ladder to heaven
In the name of Jesus, the Savior, who speaks to us right here, right now, in His Word, fellow sinners redeemed by His blood,
With cell phones everywhere, recording most everything, interesting videos are accessed by television networks and introduced by anchors saying, “You have to see this!” A ninety-foot shot beats the buzzer for the win. An elk with antlers stuck in a lawn chair. A four-year old saying the alphabet backwards.
There will be no amazing videos during or after the service. That’s because we don’t come here to be entertained, but to be emptied and then filled. The remedy for our sinful lives is not found in stunning videos, but in the saving Word. The constant invitation from God through His Church is not, “Come and see amazing animals and athletes!”, but, “Follow Me…Come and see…greater things (vv. 43,46,50), the Greatest of all!”
Why are we worshiping today? To stay on God’s good side by spending time with Him? God doesn’t deal with us that way. Because we are expected to be here in person or on-line? That’s the devil’s view of worship. We are worshiping today because God invites us, and all the world, “Come and see the Savior! He is the center of Scripture! He is the Ladder to heaven!”
I. He is the center of Scripture
As true God, Jesus had been proclaiming His Word to people ever since He created Adam and Eve on the sixth day of history. But as true man, He was under His own laws for Israel that no man could teach with authority until he was thirty years old. That time in Christ’s earthly life had come – time to step into the spotlight to show who He is and why He had come.
Into the spotlight? That’s not the way it looks here! He wasn’t rubbing shoulders with the leaders of the Jewish religion at the great temple in the capital city of Jerusalem and near the population center of the nation. Jesus was headed to humble Jews in the sparsely-inhabited north country around the village of “Bethsaida” (v. 44) on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.
The previous day Jesus found Andrew, an ordinary fisherman, and told him, “Come and…see (John 1:39) what I have come into the world to do.” Then Andrew brought his brother Simon (we know him better as Peter) to Jesus. “The next day” the Savior found Philip and told him, “Follow Me” (v. 43). Then Philip sought Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew), telling him to “Come and see (v. 46) the Savior, too!”
How was Jesus different than other self-proclaimed preachers? He wasn’t just self-proclaimed. Remember last Sunday’s Gospel Lesson? God the Father proclaimed Jesus, “My Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with (Mark 1:11) Him!” But how could four ordinary Jews know Jesus as the long-promised Savior? Jesus showed them He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, He is the very center of Scripture.
Philip told his friend Nathanael, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (v. 45). For centuries, Jews had heard and read Moses and other prophets of God foretell the Messiah to be God and man. Jesus fulfilled that prophecy! No, He wasn’t the biological“son of Joseph” since Mary’s conceiving Jesus had nothing to do with Joseph. But Joseph was regarded His legal earthly father, and Joseph was from the line of David – as was Mary. Jesus fulfilled prophecies the Messiah would come from King David.
Nathanael’s question, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (v. 46), was good, even necessary. Scripture foretold the Savior to be born in Bethlehem, not Nazareth. Nazareth was considered a place of inferior education and culture. But since Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, that’s where – after the forced trip to Egypt to escape Herod – Jesus lived for more than twenty-seven years. Nazareth was a fitting home town for Jesus. He hadn’t come to wow people with His impressive living, but to save sinners with His humble serving.
Jesus had the answer for Nathanael, and proof He is the center of Scripture. “Nathanael, you are an Israelite in whom there is no deceit…Before Philip called you, while you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (v. 47-48). How could Jesus know Nathanael’s heart wasn’t full of false pride carried by many Jews who thought, We don’t need a Savior. We are good people and God’s chosen people!? How could Jesus know Nathanael’s heart longed to see the Savior? How could Jesus see Nathanael sitting under a tree miles from where Jesus was? To all those questions, one answer – and Nathanael now knew it. He was seeing the Savior! “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” (v. 49)! Only God knows what Jesus knew. The center of Scripture showed Nathanael He is the Savior!
Our congregation’s work in here and in classrooms and via on-line worship does us sinners no good if we give advice about finances or family, but don’t give them the Savior who lived and died and rose to cover all sinners’ sins. God doesn’t have His Church pass on the latest ideas. He has us show from His Word mankind’s damning disobedience and crushing curse, then God’s limitless love and perfect payment for every sin in Jesus. “Come and see the Savior!” That is God’s message for all time and for all people.
For all people! Andrew and Philip had heard that message from Jesus Himself, then told Simon and Nathanael to come with them to see the Savior, the One who is the fulfillment of all the Bible. We regularly study, see, learn, and grow in that message from Jesus Himself, and tell others to come here or use our on-line services to see the Savior, the One who is the fulfillment of all the Bible, the center of all Scripture. The Savior has called us to Himself with His good news. He also calls us to show Him to others by sharing His good news with others.
II. He is the Ladder to heaven
We’ve all felt this way. If only I could see a display of God’s almighty power – in an instant healing Dad’s cancer or granting me money to pay off my thousands of dollars of debts. It would be so much easier then to trust God! Nathanael here did see the miracle of Christ reading his heart. But what did Jesus ultimately tell Nathanael? “Such miracles aren’t the greatest evidence. You will see greater things than that” (v. 50)! What does Jesus tell us all the time in His Word? “Come and see Me as the Savior. I am the Ladder to heaven!”
Do you remember the Old Testament ladder lesson? Jacob, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, was on the run from his twin brother Esau after deceiving Esau. How will this turn out for me?, Jacob wondered. Worse, I am the next in the line of the promised Savior. But I’m running from home and have no prospects for marriage or children! If I die childless, what happens to the promise of the Savior?! Weary from worry, Jacob slept under the stars. God sent him a dream of a stairway between earth and heaven, with “angels of God ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12). In the dream the Lord assured Jacob, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back again into this land. Indeed, I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised to you” (Genesis 28:15). Why would God give such assurance to a deceiving, sinful man? Because Jacob’s sins were already forgiven in the coming work of the coming Savior, the Savior who would come as promised from Jacob’s line!
Faithful Jews like Nathanael longed for Jacob’s Descendant to descend from heaven to earth for the rescue from hell for all sinners. Faithful Jews like Nathanael knew that ladder lesson. Now Nathanael heard from Jesus, “I am the promised Savior, the Ladder to heaven for sinners. You believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that!...You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (vv. 50-51). I am the Son of Man, your Savior!”
The “opened heaven” is what sinners need most! The Jesus who saw Nathanael from a distance and read his heart is the Jesus who sees our sins and reads our hearts. There is no hiding from Him, no mask to make us look better to Him, no covering up our transgressions before He sees them. Our sins lock the doors of heaven to us because God demands perfection from us. We can’t deliver perfection. But Jesus can! He has! He does! With His holy life credited to our account, with His innocent death lifting our guilt off us, heaven is open to us! “Come and see” Jesus. He is the Ladder to heaven for us!
Not just Nathanael, but all of us “see greater things…see heaven opened”. You can’t tell from the English, but both times the Greek word for “You will see” here is plural, more than one “You”. This is Christ’s invitation to all sinners, “Come and see Me, your Ladder to heaven!” We come and see Jesus in His Word. That’s why we take time to hear it every Sunday and to be in His Word at home every day.
Jesus sends His angels down through Himself to protect us until the day He comes with His angels to take our soul to heaven up the Ladder of salvation, Himself! His work for us sinners is also the reason our Father in heaven allows our prayers to go up the Ladder of salvation, Jesus, to His throne in heaven. Only Jesus is the sinner’s access to God’s blessings and salvation!
God’s message for sinners, God’s purpose for His Church, hasn’t changed one bit from that day in Israel to this day in mid-Michigan. God still says to humble sinners, “Come and see the Savior who is the Ladder to heaven, then go and tell others about the Savior who is the Ladder to heaven.” We see and speak about the Savior who sacrificed Himself to win our forgiveness. We praise Him as our only entrance to life with God. Why would we want to deprive ourselves of any opportunities weekly and daily to “Come and see the Savior!”?!
There’s been nothing in these minutes about the inauguration or the tensions that still boil in our land (though there will be in two minutes a prayer about that to our Father through the Ladder who is His Son). But these minutes have given us the “greater things”, the things that last forever – will last long after nations and rulers have been wiped from the earth. That’s the message, and the mission, God gives His Church. “Come and see the Savior, greater than the most amazing video you’ll ever see. Go and tell the world about Him, too!” Amen.
Pastor David A. Voss
First Sunday after the Epiphany - The Baptism of Our Lord
First Sunday after the Epiphany – The Baptism of Our Lord January 10, 2021
Hymns 229, 89, 68
First Lesson Isaiah 49:1-6
Psalm 2 (page 65)
Second Lesson Acts 16:25-34
Gospel Lesson Mark 1:4-11
God Reveals His Power for His Purposes
I. It leads sinners to ask about salvation
II. It leads sinners to their only Savior
In the name of the only Savior, Christ the Lord, fellow redeemed, fellow sinners made saints by God through Baptism,
Lord, show us Your power! In distressing times, we’ve said that. But none of us have been where Paul and Silas were that night. They were for the first time in Europe with the good news of salvation, having been given by God a vision to begin mission work in northern Greece. They had spent a few weeks in Philippi where they had met a group of women, including Lydia, worshiping the one true God at the river outside of town. While there, a servant girl afflicted by an evil spirit confronted them, and they used the name of the Savior to drive the evil spirit out of her. Good, right? Not for the girl’s owners! The evil spirit had allowed her to tell the future, and thus make money for the men who controlled her. Furious that their source of easy income was gone, those men prodded Philippi’s leaders to order the Savior’s missionaries be beaten “severely” (Acts 16:23), then thrown into prison under maximum security. Lord, show us Your power!, Paul and Silas might have prayed from prison. Then there’s this jailer. With his life in danger, he asked, “What power of mine do I use to be saved (v. 30)?”
Epiphany means revealing. It’s Jesus revealing Himself as the Savior. That’s here. This First Sunday after Epiphany focuses on The Baptism of Our Lord. God’s Word before us this Sunday show us God’s blessings, God’s power, revealed and given to us in Christ’s baptism and in ours. That’s here, too, isn’t it?
God’s people pray, Lord, show us Your power! But we won’t demand the form His power will take, nor the blessings He will grant. God reveals His power in His world and from His Word and for His purposes: to lead sinners to ask about salvation, and to lead sinners to their only Savior.
I. It leads sinners to ask about salvation
Remember the tsunami that barreled on shore in Thailand the day after Christmas 2004? Video footage from upper floors of seaside hotels showed people being swallowed by the massive wave. What were the thousands of victims thinking when they saw the wall of water closing in on them so suddenly? God doesn’t usually use a tsunami to reveal His power and get the sinner’s attention. Here, the earthquake didn’t kill anyone. But it was God revealing His power to get the jailer’s attention.
He had fallen asleep to the sound of Paul and Silas “praying and singing hymns (probably Old Testament psalms) to God” (v. 25), words and songs to which the other prisoners were listening. What trust in and love for the Lord! Paul and Silas were praising God rather than feeling sorry for themselves, or blaming God that His Word and His work had them put in prison.
The earthquake that woke the jailer was powerful. It shook the building “foundations” (v. 26). But God’s power also left the building standing so sinners God wanted to reach didn’t die. It sprang open the prison doors. But God’s power also kept all the prisoners from making a run for freedom.
All impressive, right? But most impressive was God’s power that led the jailer to ask about being saved. Figuring he’d be tortured and executed for prisoners escaping on his watch, the jailer “was about to kill himself” (v. 27) quickly by his own hand and dagger. Paul shouted one of the most important sentences the jailer had ever heard, “Don’t harm yourself, because we are all here” (v. 28)!
Clearly, the jailer thought, That was close! I was almost a goner! Moved by God’s power used for God’s purpose, the jailer asked God’s apostles, “What must I do to be saved” (v. 30)? What he hadn’t considered before, now – by God’s power for God’s purpose – he did. I am in trouble with the God who caused the earthquake, the God to whom these prisoners sang praises about being saved. What do I need to do to be saved?!
God doesn’t use an earthquake with many people. But He does use what is far more powerful with all people: His Law! The key question people ponder, particularly when faced with their own mortality – death!, is, How do I escape what my conscience tells me I deserve? We won’t wait for a tsunami or earthquake, tornado or riot to get our attention. Even when the weather is calm, our health is fine, and no threats thunder on the horizon of our life, God’s Law lays before us the horrible realization the jailer felt that midnight, A powerful deity has every right to destroy me forever. How can I be saved?!
Your commitment to worship this morning likely means you are aware of all that. But don’t get complacent about that. And don’t let the devil’s lie Sin is no big deal! drown out the alarms God’s Law sends screaming into our hearts about that. The Law is not just the Lord’s list of Dos and Don’ts. The Law is also God’s judgment, “If you disobey Me, you will die and be damned!” No, that’s not a feel-good message. But it is God’s message. And it is God’s power to lead us to ask about salvation. I won’t live forever! How can I be saved when I die?!
II. It leads sinners to their only Savior
How can I stand before God today, and then when I die? That is the most important question. A lot of answers are given. God is love and will take all in love to heaven. Any god will do; just make sure you trust a god. God saves good people, so try hard to live right. Those answers sound nice, logical, even good. But none of those answers are correct. How do we know? None of those are God’s answers. The only correct answer, the one God used His called workers in this lesson to give to the jailer’s question, is the answer by which God reveals His power for His purpose: to lead sinners to their only Savior.
The sinner’s only Savior is “the Lord Jesus” (v. 31). We still thrill to hear that He “was born for” (Luke 2:12) people like you and me, Paul and Silas, the jailer and the members of the jailer’s family. The Son of God came to earth, revealed when delivered from a virgin woman’s womb. He was born for us who defy and rebel against Him every day, every hour, every minute. “The Lord Jesus” lived on earth for us, obeying without a second of sinning His own laws. He did so in our place.
On this day we mark the Baptism of our Lord, He tells us, “I was baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). Your Baptism, dear child, gave you My forgiveness of your sins. I have no sins. That’s why John tried to stop Me from having him baptize Me. But My Baptism was to show you and every sinner ever that I came to take the sinner’s place.”
How does that work? “The Lord Jesus” remained fully God even as He became fully man. Thus, what He did by His power as God and man is good for every sinner ever. His holy life: ours through our Brother. His payment of hell in His holy death: ours by our Substitute. God’s power is revealed in “the Lord Jesus” and His work for God’s purpose: to save sinners who don’t have the power to save themselves. Glory be to God!
“What must I do to be saved?” was the jailer’s question. “Here’s what you must do: believe!” was Paul and Silas’ answer, right? No, it was not! Their answer was, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (v. 31).
God’s answer through His workers has been misused by many for centuries. The misunderstanding goes like this. Jesus, true God from before time began and also true man from the time He was conceived miraculously in Mary’s womb, lived a perfect life on earth, endured hell on the cross for sinners, then rose from the dead to prove it’s all true. So far, so good, right? He did His part. Now we must do ours, do what Paul and Silas urged the jailer at Philippi to do: believe! There’s the error!
Remember the jailer’s question when confronted with his mortality. “What must Ido to be saved?” Paul and Silas faithfully answered, “Forget about what you must do. You can’t do anything to be saved. But here’s good news, the best news you’ve ever heard; it’s better even than when we told you none of us prisoners has escaped. Everything you need done to save you has been done for you by the Lord Jesus! He did what you could never do: paid for all your guilt before God and paid it in full! The Lord Jesus lived, died, and rose for you!”
Oh, it’s true that without believing in “the Lord Jesus” as the sinner’s only Savior there is no salvation. But believing in Jesus isn’t our doing. “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). The Holy Spirit is God. He uses His power for His saving purpose: to lead sinners to their only Savior! Paul and Silas were used by the Holy Spirit to extend the blessed power of God to the jailer who was ready to commit suicide in hopelessness. They didn’t grab him by the robe and shout, “Come on! Believe!” In the words of our professor, they didn’t put before the beggar the Bread and pester him to eat. They put before the beggar the saving Bread and trusted the Bread’s power to lead the beggar to eat it.
Not just the jailer, but his “household” (v. 31) came to faith in the Savior. How? Another earthquake? More power than that! Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to the jailer and everyone in his home” (v. 32) After they heard the Word about Jesus, they received the power of salvation in an another way. They “were baptized” (v. 33). Again, that wasn’t what they did. God was at work in them with His great power. The jailer “rejoiced, because he and his whole household had come to believe in God” (v. 34) by the power of God.
That’s our story, too, to God’s glory! The “Word of the Lord” that family heard is the same “Word of Lord” we have heard and are hearing right now. The Word centers on the greatest power play in the world: the sinless Savior sacrificed Himself for every sinner. The Word is the power in what many see as a wimpy washing, Baptism, by which the Spirit led many of us first to trust “in the Lord Jesus”. The Word is the power in what most see as a measly meal, Communion, by which the Spirit keeps us communicants trusting “in the Lord Jesus”.
Epiphany means revealing. God’s power is revealed in Jesus who was on earth a lowly human, but is also the all-powerful God and the sinner’s only Savior! And God reveals His power in what seems to the world a dusty old book and a couple of curious church ceremonies. Do you know the date of your Baptism? It’s every bit as significant as your birth date. It is the day God first revealed the power of His salvation to you and placed His salvation blessings through “the Lord Jesus” in you!
Lord, show us Your power! We often wish God would display His power in our ways: change the weather instantly, provide more money, get rid of widespread illness. But that is only for this life, and depends on God’s plans He hasn’t revealed for our earthly existence. God reveals His power for His purposes that bless us sinners forever: to see our need for salvation and to give us sinners the only Savior, “the Lord Jesus”. Amen.
Pastor David A. Voss
The Epiphany of Our Lord - We look for the Christ in His Word All Year Long!
The Epiphany of Our Lord January 3, 2021
Hymns 79, 64
First Lesson Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72 (page 93)
Second Lesson Ephesians 3:2-12
Gospel Lesson Matthew 2:1-12
We Look for the 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, Christ the Lord, dear fellow redeemed,
There are questions connected to this dearly loved lesson. How old was Jesus here? Why didn’t the Jewish religious leaders run with the Wise Men to Bethlehem to see the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy they had 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 the Savior there when God had used a dream to warn them about Herod? Many asked right before Christmas two weeks ago when Jupiter and Saturn lined up in the western sky: What was this special star?
A couple answers. This was not the night Christ was born because the Wise Men found Him in a “house” (v. 11), not at a shelter for animals. The star was not a confluence of two planets in the sky because “it stood still over the place where the child was” (v. 9), and thus was very, very, very low in the sky – over that house and not over the house right next door.
We need to be careful we don’t say more about Bible lessons than the Bible says. We need to be diligently looking in God’s Word, not relying on our imagination or centuries of tradition, to anchor our beliefs and shape our behavior as God’s people.
This first Sunday of 2021 the Lord uses this lesson to tell us to look for the Christ – and to 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 our knowing who He is, what He does, and how He’s honored.
I. To grow in knowing who He is
How did astrologers (a good guess about what these visitors from the east did for a living) from a foreign land find out Christ was born? Their job was to observe stars and other heavenly bodies, noting new patterns and phenomena. The term “Wise Men” (v. 1) here is similar to terms for people in the court of the King of Babylon – as we read in the book of Daniel. If these visitors came from that area, they could have heard prophecies about the Messiah from Jewish exiles in their land.
Remember Daniel and Queen Esther? They were two of thousands of Jews who had been taken to Babylon from Israel when King Nebuchadnezzar’s army destroyed Jerusalem. Some of those exiles returned to Israel when King Cyrus of Persia allowed them to do so seventy years later. But many 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 in the land of the Jews? Is that how the Wise Men heard about the Christ to be born? One of the Old Testament prophecies was, “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 promised Savior?
The Wise Men went to Jerusalem when the star led them to Israel. Where else, they thought, would the “King of the Jews”(v. 2) be born but in the capital city? They announced their arrival and their quest, asking, “Where is He? We saw His star…and have come to worship Him” (v. 2). When Herod got word that a king of the Jews had been born, he did the right thing; he asked Jewish Bible “experts” (v. 4), “Where” (v. 4)? He did it for the wrong reason; more about that later. The Bible experts knew the prophecy from Old Testament prophet Micah’s book: “in Bethlehem of Judea” (v. 5), the town of David a few miles south of Jerusalem. The Wise Men set out again, led again by “His star”. This time “it stood over the place where the Child was…the house” (vv. 9-10) where Jesus lay under the loving care of Mary and the concerned protection of Joseph. “The Child” was no longer in a manger.
The Wise Men were ancient scientists. But science reveals only so much by observation and speculation. We need to look in God’s Word for life’s most important information. Even to those who confess God exists because of what they see, nature doesn’t ever reveal the grace of God, doesn’t reveal the King of the Jews in His full identity. Reveal. That’s the theme of the Epiphany season we enter today. 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 tell us He is true God and true man, come to pay the penalty for us sinners, to purchase us to be His own. He uses Baptism, where the power source is His Word, to make people who by nature hate Him His adopted children and heirs of His heaven. He gives us His body and blood in Communion, where His Word provides the power of His forgiveness.
We could look all over God’s creation for the Christ. All this new year long we 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
But there’s more to Jesus than who He is. Even Satan knows who Jesus is, but that does the head of hell no good. We also need to know what the Christ does. There are a lot of ideas about what He did and what it means. But people’s ideas and human 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 “chief priests and experts in the law” (v. 4) 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 announcement 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 Jesus, he didn’t really look into the Word. He sought information, but not the truth. Had he looked spiritually, diligently, 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 Savior. He is a ruler, though He was a tiny 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. True, Jesus lived that way. And true, 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 this new year long to grow in knowing why He was born in humility, lived in poverty, suffered hell on that hill. He did it to save us. And the Shepherd still feeds us daily. Looking in the 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. And true children of God who take those truths to heart ask, “How can we ever thank You, God?” Part of His answer is on this page of His Word. Sadly, too many of those who claim to be His people don’t want this part of His Word. We look for the Christ in His Word all year long to grow in knowing how He is to be honored, adored, worshiped, and praised.
Herod sent the Wise Men on a pious-sounding mission. But we know his horrible intent. Because we observe the Epiphany of our Lord today, we didn’t read the Gospel Lesson for this Second Sunday after Christmas: Herod’s barbaric edict to kill all baby boys born in Bethlehem the previous twenty-four months to make sure the infant he considered a threat to his reign would be one of the dozens of baby boys destroyed. “…so that I may also go and worship Him” (v. 8). What hypocrisy!
“When the Wise Men 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 that the Child born of Mary is not only a flesh-and-blood human, but also Emmanuel, God Himself with us!
Is our worship, is our honoring the Christ, such a beautiful sight before the all-seeing God? What strikes us, and also must have struck the Wise Men, is how Herod and all Jerusalem were in the dark about the long promised and anxiously awaited Messiah’s birth. They weren’t watching and waiting for the Savior to come to their own land. But Gentiles from a foreign land were! Are things any different today?
We won’t let the current caution about gathering lead us people of God to become lazy about worshipping the Lord the way He wants to be worshipped. He wants all our hearts in all our weekly worship. He wants all our family bowing before Him in reverent devotion at home. He wants all our lives given to Him as we set goals and schedules for this new year. If we figure we’ve done our part by worshipping the Savior at His birth, so now we can set that aside for a while, may the worship of the Christ we find in the Word of Christ correct us, then drive us daily to His Word and weekly to His worship.
We look to the Word all year long to grow in knowing how the Christ is to be adored. With all we do and think and say each day – not just Sunday morning – we honor the one born our King and born to die for us. Does that Word about worship of the Savior describe our lives? When we recognize the darkness of our sin and staggering penalty for our guilt, the light of Christ brings us the joy of the Wise men and does away with yawns of indifference about worshipping God all year long.
There is no more important resolution for 2021 than the lesson in this well-known lesson. We look for the Christ in His Word all year long. Here is the truth about who He is, what He does, and how He’s honored. What’s that? We know that already! Great! But we need to grow in knowing all of that so we don’t lose any of that or all of that. We look for the Christ in His Word all year long – the Christ who was born to save us. Amen.
Pastor David A. Voss
New Year's Eve - Change Years God's Way
New Year’s Eve December 31, 2020
CHANGE YEARS GOD’S WAY
I. Look up, not down
II. Look back, then ahead
In the name of Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever, our Savior, fellow redeemed ready to enter a new year,
Most years the change at midnight December 31st is little more than a reminder to write the correct number on checks or school assignments. This year, many want to bury – or smash to bits! – the old year. But that wouldn’t change the hardships faced in the past year, nor assure us there won’t be trouble in 2021. Few knew three hundred sixty-six nights ago what 2020 would bring. Who knows what lurks in the new year this time around?
Who knows? That’s why we’re worshiping God right now. God knows what the new year will bring. He isn’t giving us new year details. But He is giving us new year direction. The Holy Spirit didn’t inspire the writing of this psalm for an Old Testament New Year’s Eve service. But the simple truths in these familiar verses apply to our lives as we change years. God teaches us here to change years His way. And how is that? By looking up, not down – and by looking back, then ahead.
I. Look up, not down
It’s not easy to look up. We’d much rather look down at ourselves – in pity about our plight in the past year, and then in pride about our ability to get things done in the new year. We learned from little on to do so. “I do it myself,” pouts the little one as mom tries to tie her shoes. “Leave me alone,” snaps the teen to whom we want to give advice. “That’s not the way we do it,” object church members, office workers, or students when changes are announced. Human beings, including us believers, tend to look down at themselves, at ourselves.
Let’s listen again to the psalmist. God didn’t have him write, “My help comes from me,” but, “My help comes from the Lord” (v. 2). Forget that, and we are in trouble. Who are we that we can help ourselves? How mighty is our right arm and how foolproof our plans? The last nine and one-half months have shown us how powerless we are to control things. Too often we fretted because we looked only down. Are we fearful for the future year? If so, it’s because we are changing years man’s way, not God’s: looking down at us or others, not up at the mighty God and loving Lord.
We change years the right way by looking up – at God. He made “heaven and earth” (v. 2). He surely can and will take care of us. He has proved that by creating earth a perfect paradise. He has proved that by promising the Savior as soon as the first humans ruined perfection with sin. He has proved it by coming as promised, the birth we marked seven nights ago. He has proved it by providing for every one of our needs for body and soul again in 2020 – a year labeled a disaster by many. “I lift up my eyes to the mountains. Where does my help come from?” (v. 1) To the Old Testament Jews there was a bit of suspense in those opening lines of Psalm 121. Hills and mountains were home to wild animals like lions. Hills and mountains were hideouts for robbers and muggers who jumped unsuspecting travelers. But hills and mountains were also symbols of strength and security. Which did the psalmist mean?
Do we seek security for the new year by hiking up a fourteen thousand footer in the Rockies? No. God used the psalmist to teach us every day, including this last night of a long year, to look up to Him! Our “help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”. That’s God’s way for us to change years! We look up at Him, not down at ourselves.
II. Look back, then ahead
But if we change years only by looking up at the Lord (instead of down at ourselves), we miss some important lessons. We change years God’s way when we also look back, then ahead.
It does us good, spiritual good, to look back at 2020. Were there no joys in the year that now, thankfully, some say, has only hours left in it? No moments of meaningful love shared with spouse and other loved ones, even if by phone? No lighter moments that refreshed the mind and recharged the body at the lake or with a hobby? Let’s not forget that God’s blessings still flowed to us in 2020, and will flow from Him again in 2021 for our good and to His glory.
Of course, our look back at 2020 involves the pain of a pandemic and rash of related restrictions and interruptions. But how about the times we messed up our dealings with others, even ones close to us? The times we fell back into sin’s old ruts to our shocking shame and damning guilt before God? Some of us watched loved ones get sick and suffer. Others felt a load of trouble or sorrow that seemed tons heavier than you could carry or so deep you thought it would drown you.
Where are those problems now? Some linger, but no longer seem overwhelming. Others are gone, lifted by the loving hand of our all-powerful God, who remains in constant control of all things. Not just Jews gathered outside the temple in Jerusalem three thousand years ago, but also we Gentiles gathered at home this last day of 2020, say, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”.
With His help, we made it through a year of challenges in health, education, politics and more on the national scene. On a personal level, surgery may not have removed pain; arthritic joints may be even stiffer or eyesight dimmer than last New Year’s Eve. You may be without steady income or in danger of losing your job. But our gracious “Lord” has helped us bear all our troubles. Most important, He has kept us trusting Him and His blood-bought forgiveness and life in spite of our sins and guilt. We’ve learned to lean on “the Lord”.
There is no chance “the Lord” will forsake us in 2021! “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), He promises. Will He leave us to fend for ourselves when dangers bang at the door of our lives in 2021? No! “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be overwhelmed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10-11).
We change years God’s way when we look back, then ahead. We look back at the worst of 2020. No, not the pandemic and related restrictions. No, not the bitter bickering and political fighting. But our putrid filth of sins against God, our continuous trail of transgressions when we knew better, but defied God anyhow. A horrible look! Yet we also see the unbroken rope of Christ’s lifeline next to us every step of the way every day. Not once did He throw up His hands in frustration to say, “Won’t he ever learn?! Isn’t she ever sincere?! They keep right on sinning! I give up on them!” He has maintained His undeserved, forgiving love to us for every one of the thirty-one million, six hundred twenty-two thousand, four hundred seconds of 2020.
Will any one of the three hundred sixty-five days of 2021 be any different? Will our “Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”, take a week off? Never! Our changing years by looking back helps us look ahead. We look forward to the new year assured we aren’t stepping blindly into a black hole or onto thin ice, but that we move ahead with God beside us to protect us and over us to watch us. And all the while we remember His unfailing promise to forgive us all our sins because He has made the payment for all our sins.
We don’t know what will happen to us in 2021. We don’t know who of us will still be here next New Year’s Eve. And we don’t need to know. We know who holds us up as we change years: “the Lord” who made the universe, then left His heaven to redeem the world of sinners. He will supply what He knows is good and best for us. His love and forgiveness and care and concern do not change when we change years.
When we look up to Him, not down at ourselves, changing years isn’t that big a deal. When we look back at all He’s done for us, then ahead to His promises for our future, changing years is exciting! “Lord, with You in charge, I can handle whatever the new year brings!”
Though Covid vaccine doses are being administered, medical experts warn we’re not in the clear. How long will things remain uncertain, uneasy, uncomfortable in matters of health, employment, education, politics, and more? It’s enough to make an American crawl into a cave to hide from the new year.
But not the God-honoring, Savior-trusting American! Change years God’s way! Look not down to yourself, but up to Him for help in 2021 just as you’ve done in the past. Look back at all His blessings that have gone before, then ahead in trust at His blessings for the future. That way, we are ready to work together in His kingdom for the salvation of many more souls for as many more days or years He has set for us. Amen.
Pastor David A. Voss
The First Sunday after Christmas - We Use Our Christmas Gift
First Sunday after Christmas December 27, 2020
Hymns 52, 36, 46
First Lesson Isaiah 45:20-25
Psalm 111 (page 106)
Second Lesson Colossians 3:12-17
Gospel Lesson Luke 2:25-40
We Use Our Christmas Gift
I. By whom we are saved
II. From whom we are blessed
III. For whom we are living
In the name of Jesus, Christ the Lord, the long promised and graciously delivered Savior, fellow Christmas Christians, still thrilled about His coming to earth to rescue us,
We all received them. Some of us sent them. Christmas letters. The ones we received weren’t as great as the ones we sent. Do we really need to know Aunt Sally had trouble passing gall stones and nephew Nick finished fourth in a spelling bee? But, of course, our relatives and friends need to know how adorable and smart our children and grandchildren are. We won’t keep the Christmas letters others sent us. But we expect the Christmas letters we sent others will be cherished and re-read, right?
We have before us today a Christmas – no, a Christmas – letter. Satan’s suggestion is that we shrug it off or toss it out after we read it. There’s no mention here of a baby in a manger, angels in the sky, shepherds in the field. Move on! Clearly, Christmas is over! The Spirit’s direction is that we take this letter to heart, and that this letter is more important than instructions for the most complicated gift you opened two days ago. The Christmas Gift – the Lord Jesus, God with us, our Savior – come to earth is one of twoChristmas miracles. The other miracle is that God gives us the benefits of the Gift. This isn’t a boring Christmas letter. It is God showing us how to use our Christmas Gift – the Gift by whom we are saved, the Gift from whom we are blessed, and the Gift for whom we are living.
I. By whom we are saved
The Holy Spirit didn’t have Paul write this letter for a Christmas season service, but for a struggling Christian congregation. Epaphras had met Paul in Ephesus, where Epaphras had traveled one hundred miles from his home in Colosse to hear about the Savior from Paul. Epaphras took to Colosse the good news of salvation for sinners won by Christ the Lord in life and death and resurrection. The Lord of the Church used the good news about God’s work to form a congregation in Colosse.
Over time some church members there started promoting false teachings to the spiritual harm of all the members there. The false teachers tried to convince the congregation Jesus isn’t fully God, and that God’s people can rely on some human tradition and ideas rather than on all of God’s Word. So Epaphras traveled to seek Godly direction from Paul, this time in Rome where Paul was under house arrest for teaching the pure truth of God. This letter is God’s Word for the Colossians – and us.
The Christmas Gift is fully God, is fully and perfectly complete as our Savior, and thus is perfect for us and our salvation. Unlike Christmas gifts, Christ doesn’t break, can’t be outgrown, won’t become outdated. He is Emanuel, God with us, the One who came from heaven to rescue us from what we deserved for all our sins, the One by whom alone we are saved from hell.
We are the Triune God’s “elect” (v. 12). Without any input from us or merit shown by us, God chose us before time, in Christ and His work, by His undeserved love for us, to be His own. We are “holy” (v. 12). Hold it! Didn’t we earlier confess our sins? We did! And God knows our every sin. We can’t hide anything from Him. But the Christmas Gift entered our world to pay our penalty and to take our curse on Himself. We are “holy” by His blood shed for us, and set apart by God from those who reject His redeeming work. We are “loved” (v. 12). No matter how lonely or unfulfilling your pandemic holiday might be, you are “loved” by the Christmas Gift who gave Himself for you before you even existed.
Now, the Christmas Gift tells us in His Christmas letter how to dress because He saved us. “Clothe yourselves with heartfelt compassion” (v. 13) that sees the hurt of others and does something about it. “With…kindness” (v. 13) that forgives others, “just as Christ forgave you” (v. 13). “With… humility” (v. 13) that considers others over ourselves. “With …gentleness” (v. 13) that refuses to push others away. “With …patience” (v. 13) that is willing to suffer, even when we know we’ve been wronged. “With…forgiving each other if anyone has a complaint against anyone else” (v. 13). That’s quite a list. And the Christmas Gift wraps it all up with the bow of “love” (v. 14) that has no strings attached to it, “love” that springs into action for those whom we love – the “love” given by Him who loved us first as He sprang into action to save us.
The Christmas Gift we’ve been given saved us by using all those qualities in His mission to rescue every sinner. As His saved people, we “clothe” ourselves with Him who saved us. We do so to show Him and others we know it wasn’t our efforts that saved us, but His work of “love”.
II. From whom we are blessed
How did your Christmas gifts get to you? Either by personal delivery or via the mail, FedEx, UPS, or Prime. How did the Christmas Gift get to you, to me, and to the world? God used the Word and the sacraments to deliver Christ to our hearts. We use our Christmas Gift, the One from whom we are blessed.
Dressing ourselves the way God just instructed isn’t easy because of the selfish people we are and the irritating people others are to us. So what’s the key? “Let the peace of Christ control your hearts” (v. 15). The word translated here “control” means to act the part of an umpire. The Colossians didn’t know baseball. But they would have been familiar with officials at Olympic events contested just across the Aegean Sea from them in northern Greece. Christ’s peace settles things. It’s the peace He won with His life and death and rising on earth – “peace” between the holy God and us sinners. Christ’s peace determines and announces the outcome in our struggle against Satan and sin, death and hell.
It also then settles things among believers in Christ’s congregations. The “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) signed the peace treaty for us sinners, using the ink of His blood to satisfy the holy God that all is paid in full. Since it is from the Christmas Gift that we have the blessing of “peace” with God, how can God’s people be at war with each other in His congregations?!
That sounds nice. But when strife arises between believers, who is right? You? Or I? Neither of us may be right. But God is always right, and the one of us on His side as given in His Word has it God’s way, the only correct way. That’s why the Christmas Gift, the One from whom we are blessed, tells us who have received Him as the Christmas Gift, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in yourichly as youteach and admonish oneanother in all wisdom” (v. 16a), with all God’s wisdom!
We use the Christmas Gift His way, the only correct way, when we are richly and daily in His Word, not only occasionally or rarely in it. We haven’t already forgotten the glorious Christmas morning Gospel Lesson, have we? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and dwelled among us” (John 1:1,14). How can we not“let His Word dwell in us richly” when the Word is Jesus in the flesh, not a book on a shelf? Will we put the Word in storage until next December? That’s not using the Christmas Gift! Will we, like some of the Colossians, figure that we can devise our own agendas and strategies to live as God’s people? That’s not using the Christmas Gift from whom we are so richly blessed! Here He shows us our sins and what we deserve for them. Here He shows us our salvation and the heaven that is His free gift to us sinners. Here He shows us how His people live, what His people teach and confess, who we are in Him.
It happens every year. Christmas niceness ends, and many people go back to being grumpy and cranky or worse. We won’t. We use the Christmas Gift who keeps blessing us in His Word and blessing others as we use with them His Word of peace and truth to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom”, all Godly wisdom, wisdom given in God’s Word.
III. For whom we are living
If we regard Him as just a cute baby lying in a manger, that cuteness of Christmas will wear off. But He’s so much more. Jesus is Emanuel, God with us. He who was in the manger made us and gave us life. He who was in the manger is the holy God who gave Himself for us sinners. Store Him for next Christmas? Never! We live for Him every day!
We’ve done a lot of this this week: “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (v. 16b). But that was only noise unless it was done “with gratitude in our hearts to God” (v. 16b). We don’t know enough about the different kinds of music mentioned here to say how “hymns” were different than “spiritual songs”. We do know why and how we sing them: as a way to live thanks to Him who gave His life to set us free. At this time when many of our members aren’t comfortable gathering in church, we continue to provide ways for you to “sing…with gratitude in your hearts to God” via our online services. That worship is part of our living for the Christmas Gift.
But weekly worship is only part of our living for the Christmas Gift. “And everything you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (v. 17). When He brought us to faith in the Christmas Gift for forgiveness and heaven, the Holy Spirit put “the name of the Lord Jesus” on us. Now that we wear God’s name as people who belong to Him, our words and deeds will show others we belong to Him. Or does that seem like too inconvenient, too confining, a Christmas commitment? “Everything, God? Won’t that get in the way of my fun?” We know God’s answer. “Everything” in our lives will use properly the Christmas Gift who left the glory of heaven to live every one of His minutes on earth to rescue us.
God’s Christmas letter to us here tells us so richly, so clearly, so lovingly that the Christmas Gift isn’t a decoration. Christ Jesus is Himself His gift to His fallen world. We use Him His way as His way to bless us and others until we are with Him forever. Amen.
Pastor David A. Voss
The Nativity of Our Lord - There is no Christmas Without Christ
The Nativity of Our Lord
December 25, 2020
THERE IS NO CHRISTMAS WITHOUT CHRIST
I. His humble deity (vv. 1-7)
II. His perfect victory (vv. 8-14)
III. His joyous ministry (vv. 15-20)
In the name of Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, the world’s Savior, God with us, fellow Christmas Christians,
The preschooler got it right. Why does that Christmas music station play more songs about Santa than about Jesus? That’s pretty perceptive! It’s no secret there are different ideas about the holidays. The stress on getting or receiving the right gifts ought to be called Giftsmas, I suppose. The days off from school and work so people can be together might more properly be Familymas break. The desire to be cozy inside and go sledding and skating outside could labeled Wintermas.
Then there’s this. “She gave birth to her firstborn son…‘Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord’…When the shepherds had seen Him, they told others the message they had been told about this child” (Luke 2;7,11,17). This is properly Christmas, the celebration – mass, with 2 ses – of Christ’s birth for the world’s salvation.
In its essence, Christmas isn’t about swaddling cloths, animals at a stable or sheep in fields, angels in the sky or shepherds with their flocks. The Lord used strips of cloth and a feeding trough as props for the real Christmas, used angels and shepherds as proclaimers of the real Christmas. The real Christmas is The long promised and desperately needed Savior was born for you! He is Christ the Lord! This festive morning we see how true it is that there is no Christmas without Christ – His humble deity, His perfect victory, and His joyous ministry.
I. His humble deity (vv. 1-7)
Do we need to go into detail about the first Christmas details? We read them responsively in last evening’s service. We know what happened in Bethlehem and in the skies outside that little town the first Christmas. But what do those events mean? How does it impact us that God came to earth, conceived in a virgin woman’s womb? All of that shows us His humble deity.
Humble deity? Many of the Jews were looking for a powerful Messiah to make their earthly lives better by breaking the hold of the hated Romans on them. For centuries, most Jews had not been looking for the spiritual Messiah whom the loving Lord had promised to send. “Our Messiah will be born a king! He will make us a great nation again, God’s chosen people!”
People today, too, want to shape Jesus into their own kind of Messiah. “If He really loved us, He would put an end to the pandemic!”, a bitter, cynical view some have at Christmas 2020. “If He really were the Son of God, would He have been born there? Would He have lived in all that poverty?”, a rational, but still unbelieving, view many have each Christmas.
Yes! This is the promised Messiah. “She gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (v. 7). This is the real Christmas because this is what we need – humble deity! Jesus didn’t leave heaven and come to earth to sit on a throne and have people wait on Him. He left heaven and was born of a lowly virgin peasant to live in humility and serve us sinners with what we need, not what we want.
The nativity isn’t a curious novelty – a baby born among animals. This is humble deity! The One who is truly and powerfully God from forever also became truly and humbly man. As true man, Jesus kept His own commandments in our place – perfectly so; as true God, His obedience is the power of holiness for every sinner. As true man, He suffered hell on the cross as our Substitute – completely condemned in our place; as true God, His death is the complete payment applied to every sinner’s account. Too many wave that off by saying, “I don’t need this Jesus! I don’t want this Jesus!” But there is no Christmas without this Jesus, this Anointed One, this Christ.
Why not? This is Christmas: true God taking on our flesh and blood in one person. This is Christmas: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). This is Christmas: the true God comes in humility. We are not ashamed of this Savior come in humility. We rejoice in Him and praise Him for coming just so as we sing Hymn 34, stanzas 1 and 3.
II. His perfect victory (vv. 8-14)
A song heard over and over for the last month and more sings over and over, And so this is Christmas. But the song mentions nothing deeper than another year over and no more war. Other songs and sentiments of the season urge feeding the hungry and giving to the less fortunate. That’s all wonderful. But just for this season? Why not all the time?
With no apologies to John Lennon, and with every desire to get the real Christmas right, we go to Christ’s Word. “Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord…Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward mankind” (vv. 11,14). Without Christ there is no perfect victory.
Christmas is the Savior born for us – the Savior we desperately need. We love to call Jesus our Savior. But do we realize what we say about ourselves when we call Him our Savior? We are saying, “I need to be saved!” We have no Christmas if we see no crisis, the crisis. I am a sinner who angers the mighty God countless times every day. I deserve Him to punish me in hell for my every sin. I agree that a just God can’t overlook my sins.
What will we do about that terrifying truth threatening to ruin this glorious Christmas morning? We can’t do anything to cover our sins, remove our guilt, pay for even a portion of our trespasses. But Jesus was born for us: “a Savior…Christ the Lord”. His perfect life that begins at Christmas in a manger is credited as our holiness. His sacrifice on the cross is counted by God as our payment. His mighty rising from the dead is His guarantee we’ll rise from our graves to live with Him forever.
This is Christmas: the Savior was born for us to win for us His perfect victory. He knew as an infant what would happen to Him at that altar, and still He lived on earth to win our victory! He committed His life on earth to walk right into the worst that anyone ever endured – hell, forsaken by His Father for those six hours, so we will have the perfect victory with Him for time without end! He lives His love for those who sin against Him every moment so that there is “peace on earth”. Not peace between nations or political parties; He tells there will be war and dissension right up to last second of time on earth. But “peace on earth” for us sinners with the holy God!
Christmas is the declaration of Christ’s perfect victory won for us condemned sinners. We sing a summary of that victory with the words of Hymn 65, stanzas 2 and 4.
III. His joyous ministry (vv. 15-20)
Is Christmas a feel-good season? Sure! But the good feelings fade when work resumes and schools reopen, when loved ones leave town and decorations come down. Can’t we take the joy we feel today and make it last? Not if it’s just a feeling. But it’s not just a feeling when Christ is at the center of everything. “When they had seen Him, they told others the message they had been told about this child…Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (vv. 17,19). There is no Christmas without His joyous ministry!
This is all we hear about those shepherds. Don’t you wonder what their lives were like after the first Christmas night? But they didn’t shrug off the angels’ message as an interruption of their work. Astounded by the news from heaven’s angel that the long-awaited Messiah had come to earth and was lying in a nearby manger, they said, “We have to see Him! Let’s go!” (v. 15) After they had seen the Savior, “they told others the message they had been told about this child” (v. 17).
Mary did much the same. She pondered what God’s Old Testament prophets had foretold about the Savior now sent to the world from her womb. Christ filled His mother and ordinary shepherds with the “good news of great joy…for all the people” (v. 10).
This keeps Christmas going all year long. We keep hearing “the message” about the Savior. We keep telling others “the good news of great joy…for all the people”. That’s His joyous ministry carried out through us joyous Christmas believers.
Ministry means service. Whether it’s the pastor or teachers or parents or children, we serve Him who entered our world to save us. There is no Christmas without the message from Christ about Christ spread by Christ’s chosen instruments: us!
After the holidays are done, what will we talk about most at home? How great it was to spend time together? Or how great it is that the Christ came to earth to rescue every sinner? We know which message is more important. That message isn’t spread by accident. It’s spread by what the shepherds and Mary did: using “the message” that the Lord gives us to spread in His joyous ministry, which becomes also our joyous ministry.
After the holidays are done, what will your joy be, fellow members of Memorial? Or won’t you worship again in person or online until Easter? “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (v. 20). We return to our lives after the holidays giving glory to God in all our decisions made and priorities set, putting God and His truth as the goal and guide for everything. We ponder and treasure His Word everywhere and every day to better tell others “the message” from the Christ and about the Christ. That is His joyous ministry given to us, His Christmas people!
It’s been a different season, this pandemic December. But in the most important ways, there is no difference at all this year. It is still Christmas, still the celebration of the deity of God come in stunning humility, of the perfect victory over sin and death and Satan and hell won by the Son of God come to earth for us, of the joyous ministry God gives us to tell others what He has told us and given us in Christ, the only Savior for us sinners. Nothing out there can end the real Christmas in our lives! We will be real Christmas Christians – Christ ones – who always put the Christmas Savior and His Word first in everything, who are always equipped and ready to tell others “the good news of great joy for all the people: Christ was born to save us all!” Amen.
Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.