Monday, December 25, 2000


December 25, 2000 
Isaiah 9:2

"Light for the Darkness"

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shines.

Introduction:  It is significant that Jesus was born on a "Silent Night, a Holy Night" He came to a people who walked in darkness. He came as a light to eliminate the darkness. Jesus came to be a light to the people who walk in darkness.

1.     There is darkness. It is the darkness of the world - caused by sin - see 1 John 1:6-7 "If we say that we have fellowship him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not have the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin".

From the time in which our first parents, Adam and Eve fell into sin the people of this world have been living in a dream world.  That dream world consists in this; that the majority of people believe that they can please God even if they continue to walk in the darkness of sin.  This comes in various forms. Hardly any would believe that they are perfect.  Hardly a person on this earth will dare to believe that they are without sin.  But where people deceive themselves and live in denial is when they convince themselves that they can live a life of sin without any consequences.
They believe that God will either make up for their sins and shortcomings or they believe that God will somehow overlook and disregard their sin. But this does not stand the test of every man.  How can we have fellowship with a holy and righteous God when we walk in the shadow and the night of sin? Thus the evangelist John will remind us: "If we say that we have fellowship him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not have the truth."

We can try to fool our neighbors, families, friends and ourselves thinking that all is well. But the testimony of the clear Word of God's Law and the conviction of our own conscience will tells us that we can not stand before a holy and righteous God who is perfection and light.  If we are walking in the darkness of sin we have no fellowship with God.
What can we do? We can not deny the fact that we are sinners, try as we might we can not resist and conquer sin. We are a people walking in darkness, and surrounded by the shadow of death.

Transition:  This is how the world has existed from the time of Adam. But God our Father who has given us His Word and promise has determined to dispel the darkness of sin and death as His light shines upon us. That light came at Christmas and continues to shine ever so brightly as Christ; the light of the world, has shined upon us. "When Jesus enters meek and lowly To fill the home with sweetest peace; When hearts have felt His blessing holy And found from sin complete release, Then light and calm within shall reign And hearts divided love again" {TLH #65 stanza 2}

2.     Jesus is the light of the world - The prophet reminds us: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shines."

Christ has removed the darkness of sin. As He spoke the universe into existence with His Word saying "Let there be light" so He came into this world to shine His light upon a dark and sinful world to take away our sin and misery. 

He is the eternal light and has come to save us from our sin. He does not overlook our sin He eliminates it. He does not blink at sin, but He has entered time and space to be our substitute. He takes unto Himself all of the world's misery and sin and He will carry it to the cross where He will suffer, die and rise again to be victorious.  The miracle of Christmas is that God has made it clear that He is in the business of redeeming and saving His people. As light eliminates the darkness so the coming of Christ bring the dawn of a new day; full of light and life. Upon us the light of Christ has shown brightly eliminating all darkness of sin and error.

Conclusion:  The miracle of Christmas finds its basis in the truth that Christ has come to eliminate sin. As He began the world's creation by producing light on the first day He has shown brightly on this earth once again. In glory there is no need of sun, moon or stars for He will be the eternal light that lights up the entire city.  As He draws us toward His light once more on this Christmas morning may the brightness of Christ burn in your hearts ever more until we are each ushered into His glory. A Blessed Christmas!  Amen.

Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Mid-week Advent 3

Advent 3 Midweek Service
December 20, 2000 
Philippians 4:1-13

"Rejoice in Jesus"

Introduction: During this Advent season may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding be yours today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your lives.  May you know of His peace and joy!  That is my prayer for you this night. Let's see how Paul explains to us that this peace is all made possible.

1.   BE ANXIOUS IN NOTHING; That's not always easy to do is it? We can talk about stress during the holidays and there are considerable stresses, which can come our way during this Advent and Christmas season.  We live in anxious anticipation. We want everything to be "just right" and we can fret about so many things. Like the father Griswald in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation we want everything to work out perfect. As we know, there are going to be interruptions, which come our way that can not be avoided.

Sometimes our anxieties are unfounded. The Christmas cards will be mailed; the gifts will be wrapped. All of the plans, chores and errands will eventually get done. The fact of the matter is that Christmas will come and go whether or not we have everything go according to plan. And yes, there are stresses and strains that come up during the holidays, which simply can not be avoided, and yet we worry so often about the small things.

All that being said, there are sometimes real and legitimate concerns that can plague us during the holiday. I have a friend whose department, for which he had worked at for over twenty-five years, was phased out by the company on Christmas Eve! Now that's anxiety that is founded! Possibly it might be an illness, or a loss which comes upon us, which can not be avoided.

Notice, what Paul does not say. He does not say: "don't be anxious" Cares and concerns will come our way and they have a tendency of coming to us at the most inappropriate times. We will become anxious, we will have concerns.  Rather, Paul warns us to be anxious in nothing. In other words, Paul reminds us that we can not expect to handle our problems by ourselves. Of course not, we’re sinners, and as sinners when we take matters into our own hands we have a tendency to mess things up and make things worse rather then better.  Problems; they tend to loom over us and can drive us to brink of despair. In our lesson for tonight Paul tells us how we should handle those setbacks and hardships, which come our way.  By these words Paul encourages us to…    

2.   BE PRAYERFUL IN EVERYTHING; The old axiom goes: "If your problem is big enough to worry about then it's big enough to pray about; and if it isn't too big to pray about then it certainly isn't anything to worry about".  Do you have concerns worries and anxieties? Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Take everything to God in prayer.  This is what Paul reminds us in our text for this evening. In everything; "by prayer and supplication make your requests known to God".  He already knows your need. You're not fooling Him by not praying about it.  The only one whom you are fooling is yourself. Take everything to God in prayer. We pray for two good reasons; God's command and our need.  Do you have a need then pray about it!

3.   BE THANKFUL IN ANYTHING; This is difficult. Our anxious moments can cause sleepless nights filled with dread, fear and doubt. Paul tells us to be thankful.  Not thankful that we have a weight and burden but because we already know that help is on the way. David reminds us " I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the Lord, who hath made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1) We thank God because He is able to do far more abundantly then we are able to ask or think. We remain thankful for He can will do for us what we are unable to do. 

THE END RESULT... PEACE. What does Paul mean when he tells us that that peace will be ours?  Peace does not mean the elimination of problems. Sometimes our problem might leave. But as we live in an imperfect world there will be other anxieties that will take their place. Rather the peace that Paul speaks of is a peace, which comes in knowing that Christ will always be with us; that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  This is why Jesus came to this earth on the first Christmas. He came to deliver us from our burden and to set us free from sin, death, and the devil. He came to take our burden to Himself. There is now "peace on earth good will toward men" for God is at peace; at peace at what Christ has done for you and me and what He will continue to do for us in the future. He will sustain us. He will guide us. He will uphold and defend us no matter what might come our way.

Conclusion:  What is my prayer for you this night?  May you know of His peace and joy! May the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, be yours tonight, tomorrow, and for the rest of your lives!  Amen.

Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Mid-week Advent 2

Advent 2 Midweek Service 
December 13, 2000 
Epistle Text: Philippians 1:3-11

"Being Thankful to our All-Faithful God"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   Dear friends in Christ, tonight's sermon text is our Epistle lesson from Philippians 1, verses 3-11.  Please join me in a word of prayer.    (Gracious God, our heavenly Father, we ask you to open our hearts and our minds to your precious Word.   Fill us with your truths and nourish our faith through thy Word and Holy Spirit.   Thank you for giving us your Son, Jesus, and thank you for our salvation in Him. Amen.)

Have you ever noticed in our society and country an attitude of unthankfulness and ungratefulness?   It may be quite apparent to some while others are somewhat unaware of it.  We can often observe that many people in our society today do not even give thanks to God for their daily bread.  Also, it is becoming less and less frequent for people in general to even acknowledge a gracious God who blesses, provides and forgives.   According to today's popular culture and contemporary society, it's cool and even right to give ourselves the credit for everything we have.   'You know, all that I have, "I have earned."  I provide for myself.'  As a whole, our society is taking God out of the equation of their lives and replacing Him with anything and everything.    Society is walking further and further away from

God and His truths given in the Holy Bible.   This is evident by the unthankfulness and ungratefulness being manifested in the lives of so many people.

Unfortunately, this is evident in our own lives as well. We too are fallen and sinful beings in total need of God's forgiveness. In our lives there are times when we act unthankful towards God, our family members, and even others.   We are guilty of taking the blessings of God for granted.   We are just as guilty of being selfish and full of pride as everyone else is. The one thing that is true of all us is that we are poor, miserable, sinners.    We are all in need of God's grace, mercy and forgiveness.    Let us give thanks to God for the forgiveness that we have in His Son, Jesus Christ.

In our text for today, the Apostle Paul says that he was thankful to God every time he remembered the saints at Philippi. Paul always prayed joyfully for them because of their partnership in the Gospel.   They were a source of love, support, and assistance for Paul.   For many of us here tonight, there may be a person or a number of people that have helped us in our lives and have really shown us the love of Jesus Christ. Every time we remember them, we can give thanks to God our Heavenly Father.   That's exactly how it was for the Apostle Paul.   Paul thanked God for the provisions and blessings he received from the people of Philippi.   Let us render thanks unto God for all the blessings we have received from Him also.

In light of this, we too, can admit that we have many temporal and eternal blessings in which we can thank God for.  In the temporal aspect of things, we can be thankful for our homes; many are homeless.    We can be thankful for our eyesight; many are blind.    We can be thankful for our food; many are hungry and worse off.    We can be thankful for our families; many are lonely.  We can be thankful for our jobs, many are unemployed. 

God has richly blessed us and for this we need to be thankful.    As believers in Christ we are to bear witness to our faith in the Lord and one easy way to do this is to show gratitude and thankfulness to our Lord.   Where we have fallen short of this by being ungrateful and unthankful, we ask God to forgive us for Christ's sake.

Furthermore, God our Redeemer has blessed us with more than just temporal things.   In Christ Jesus, God has blessed us with heavenly riches, those riches that last forever, eternal riches.  These riches are forgiveness of all our sins, salvation, and eternal life in heaven with Christ.   Like verse 6 tells us, we too can be totally confident that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus; which is the Resurrection.    God who has worked faith in our hearts will sustain such faith unto life everlasting. God does this through His Word and through the Sacraments. It is here that we are fed with the food and power that comes from on High.   God our heavenly Father is faithful to take care of us.   He will not abandon us even when we die.

The Holy Spirit, by the Gospel, keeps us in the true faith.

For this we can be most thankful.   We are indeed blessed by God with many temporal and eternal blessings.   Let us give thanks to God with a grateful heart for all our blessings. Let us give thanks to God for our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

I believe that it was Paul's desire for his audience to grow and mature in their love for one another.  Verse 9 tells us this:  "And this is my prayer - that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight."   In other words, real love does require growth and maturation.   Real love is active.   Real love is Christ who suffered, died, and rose again for our behalf; and for the world's behalf.   Real love is Christ in us.   Paul's charge to the Philippians to grow and mature in their love is our charge also.   This being so that we may be able to discern what is best and may remain pure and blameless until the day of Christ.   May we share together in God's grace, receive His forgiveness by faith, and obtain the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.  It is here in our faith, the faith that God has given to us and sustains that we are enabled to love by being thankful and grateful.   As Psalm 107:1 says, "O Let us give thanks to the Lord, for He is Good!"          Amen.

Jon Smithley

Wednesday, December 6, 2000

Mid-week Advent 1

Advent 1 Midweek Service 
December 6, 2000 
Thessalonians 3: 9-13

In this passage we find the first of two intercessory prayers in the letter (the other begins in 5:23). Obviously Paul is praying for the specific needs and concerns of a unique congregation dealing with specific problems. Because the prayer is so thoroughly rooted in its particular historical circumstances, it is not possible for us simply to repeat after him the words of his prayer (in contrast to the Lord's Prayer, which was given as a model prayer). However, let me not leave you with the impression that the words of the Lord's Prayer are simply to be repeated without thought. The Lord's Prayer unite us as a church. It is the family prayer of the church. In it we acknowledge God, as our Father, thus making us His children. Paul though, wants us to give attention to the pattern of his prayer and its underlying theological themes. Let us not confuse Paul's words with a rigid mold into which our prayers must be poured, for our prayers must be situated in and specific to our time just as Paul's were to his. It does mean, however, that his prayer can serve as a guide after which we might pattern our prayer life.

With respect to its underlying theology, Paul's prayer reminds us of how everything centers around the reality of God. Every time Paul prayed to God, it was an acknowledgment of God's priority over everything else, a remembering that it is "in Him that we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17: 28) In this respect, prayer becomes a means of bringing our vision and desires into line with God's will (rather than visa versa).

In our church, just as in churches of old, we come together on common ground. Our prayers unite us as a people. There is a church in Seoul, South Korea that has recently set all kinds of attendance marks. People have literally flocked to this church to find out its secret. They want to grab hold of that certain something, that same growth inspiring element that seemingly this church has found. Without going into vast detail let me say there are many disagreeable items about this church that one can point to, however, the pastor of this church has said something noteworthy, "We teach the people to pray!" However, their prayer life appears confused at best. For these members are praying for a religious revival, a spiritual awakening, an experience. Contrast that notion with the idea of why we are here this evening. We entered church as beggars, seeking to encounter Christ. There is good news to share with you, our church is a church of salvation, where we come not only looking for Christ, but finding Him. We find Him in baptism, we find Him in the Word, and we find Him at His table. We find His body hung on the cross. This is where we come face to face with the real presence of Christ. This is what Paul was after in this particular passage.

Whether our prayer is intercessory or petitionary, in which we ask God to grant our requests for others and ourselves; the very act of asking "reminds the believer that God is the source of all that is good, and that human beings are utterly dependent and stand in need of everything. We can do nothing without the good favor of God's grace. That grace that took Jesus from the tomb and awakened the world to His glorious resurrection. We are dead to sin. Without Christ's obedience on the cross, we are dead.

Paul's letters are full of his fervent intercessions and petitions for others and for himself. But even as he makes his requests known to God, he recognizes that it is God who is at work in him "to will and act according to his good purpose." (Phil. 2:13)

With respect to the pattern of Paul's prayer, two points stand out, one related to content and one to chronology or time. In terms of content, note that Paul grounds his petitions in thanksgiving, which amounts to both praise and acknowledgment of God as the one ultimately responsible for the blessings and growth the Thessalonians had experienced. Moreover, there is an interesting contrast in his actual petitions. His requests for the Thessalonians (3:12-13) are that they might experience spiritual growth.

Spiritual growth is an interesting topic nowadays. The world tells us to be glamorous, to have zeal and enthusiasm in all that we do. There is a saying that where Christ has built a church, Satan has built a chapel. Satan disguises his chapel to imitate Christ's church. Luther called Satan a monkey, for he knew that just as chimps in a zoo many times will imitate those outside the bars, so to does Satan try to imitate our Christian walk, leading us to believe that what we are doing will certainly be acceptable in God's eye. Satan will lead us into a sinful heap and leave us despondent.

CNN, CBS, ABC, or NBC, if they had covered the Apostolic Council of 49 AD chances are they would have folded their tents and gone home early. There was no social concern to cover, no outbreak of war pending. Yet, these men met in this counsel to fight for something which guns and all the battles of time could not win. They fought for the power of the gospel. These men were literally turning the world upside down with the gospel. The very gospel was at stake, this same gospel was at stake in Paul's day, and it is at stake today.

Paul also prayed that he might be able to minister to the people of Thessalonica (3: 10-11). That is, his prayer, like his behavior described in 2:1-3:5, is primarily other-directed. That is not to say that Paul never prayed for his own concerns, for we know that he did (2 Cor. 12:7-10). It is however, striking that in this letter, even in his prayers for himself, he models the concern for others that he will encourage the Thessalonians to practice (4:9-12).

In terms of chronology or time, we find the same "past-present-future" pattern that turns up elsewhere in the letter (4:13-18 and 5:8-11). That is, Paul rejoices and gives thanks for what God has done in the past (3:9); he prays for God to continue to act in the present (3:10-13a); and he prays for the present in light of what God will do in the future (3:13b). Once again he reminds us that the present is profoundly shaped by what God has done and will do.

And what has God done for us lately? We are transfigured people, changed every time we enter this holy sanctuary. When we confess the Apostle Creed what do we say, we do not say, "I see one holy Christian church, we say, I believe..." That's faith. It is that same faith that Paul spoke of. Many of Jesus' neighbors might be surprised to see Him as their judge. They may only have known Him as the carpenter's son who helped build their house. This faith, is called the invisible mark of the church. We can't see it, we can't lay hold of it, only Christ knows where to find it. This faith resides in our hearts.

Seeking the visible seems to be more appealing to humans. After all, we are visual people. The visible marks of the church are known as the means of grace. These are marks that we can lay hold of, we can employ all of our senses to identify these marks. Hearing His Word, partaking of His Sacraments. That is where we can actually come face to face with Christ.

A story from the Judean hillside where the angels came to proclaim the Christ to the shepherds certainly gives us the visible marks as well. If the angels had told the shepherds to go find their king, on their own, they might have gone to the temple, to Rome, to the universities. Instead, they gave them directions. Look for a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Two marks, swaddling clothes and a manger. That is what they were to look for. We to, this Advent Season look for those same visual cues. It is my prayer, as it was Paul's, and has been throughout the ages, that we would all come to that manger bedside. In Christ name we pray. AMEN!

Robert W. Armao