Thursday, December 25, 2003


December 25, 2003
Luke 2:10
A Heavenly Message

“Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy"

INTRODUCTION: The message of the angel to the shepherds was significant to say the least. The angel said “behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy” The same message which came to these watchers has come to us this day. What would this message say to us today?

I.        The message comes to men who were wide-awake.

A.     They were “keeping watch” over their flocks. That was their vocation, their job, their life’s calling. When the message came to them they were found faithfully performing the duties of their chosen craft. Where have you been placed?  The Gospel message is not for only one small aspect of our lives.

We cannot compartmentalize, placing Christ’s birth into only one small portion of our complicated life. Christ came to men, as they were busy doing their job, performing their task. The message of salvation was given to theses men where they lived. It fit into the environment into which they lived. Likewise, the significance and importance of Christ’s birth comes to you and me in our life, where we live and work.

B.     The time for the appointed message had come and it was given. It was given to them that they might believe. Likewise the message of the Savior’s birth has been given to you and to me, at this time and for this same reason that we might believe and live.

C.     God did not wait for the world to wake up. The angel would herald the message of Jesus’ birth without warning and it was given directly to these shepherds. It was important that these men knew that the Savior was born – immediately the message went out.

In your life, the Savior did not wait for another opportune time for you to hear this message of salvation. At the appointed time at the acceptable hour this message of salvation was given to you for your redemption and life. It was given to you directly – through the clear message of the Gospel – which is found in the pages of Scriptures and in the blessed Sacraments.

D.     If men sleep when the Lord comes, it is not His fault. The message of salvation has been delivered at the proper time. The carols, the greeting of this season; “merry, happy and blessed Christmas” as an expression is direct that all might know and believe that the Savior has been born, and has come to us for our salvation. The message is clear – Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy - for you a child is born, for you a son is given”, still many refuse to receive this message with joy.

II.     The message came to disinterested workers

A.     These men loved their flocks more then their own comforts. They worked the long hours because they felt a sense of duty and obligation to their jobs. Not much has changed over the years. There are countless people dedicating themselves to their jobs because they too feel a sense of obligation and purpose. Like these shepherds there are many people putting in long and tedious hours working at lonely and isolated jobs because of a sense of obligation and duty.

B.     The visions that have blessed the world came to these men who watched while nations slept!  The world hardly noticed that its Savior had been born. These men watch in wonder as the rest of the world slept. To us the announcement of Savior’s birth has been given. Does the world notice? Does this world seem to care? The only way in which the people of this world will know that to us a child is born and unto us a Son is given is for the Christian citizens to respond as these shepherds.

As nations slept these shepherds watched.  As this world sleeps we need to be vigilant waiting for our Savior’s visitation, and then telling other of the wonderful things we have heard and seen. As these same shepherds returned back to their jobs, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen as it was told unto them” we in kind respond with the same message.

III.   Is the fact significant that the message came to shepherds?

A.     What inference should we draw from this fact?  The Scripture is quite clear. “The Lord opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. While James mentions that God has chosen those who are “poor” in the eyes of this world to be rich in faith. (2:5)

Paul explains in 1Corinthians 1 “Brothers think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; nor many influential; not many were of noble birth…But God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one many boast before Him” (vv.26-29)

These shepherds were by no means wise, or influential by the world’s standards, nor would we guess that they were of noble birth.  By the world’s standards the Savior was none of these either! Yet, the Savior makes Himself known to us in these hidden ways so that “no on may boast before Him”. No one would guess that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. No one would guess that He would be born in a stable. And no one would guess that His birth would be announced to shepherds. 

But that was exactly the way in which He chose to make Himself known – in these hidden ways; in words from the pages of Scripture, in the water of baptism, in elements of bread and wine; in absolution, which is spoken.

B.     This message has changed us. It certainly changed the shepherd’s lives. They had been told and they beheld the King, the Savior of the world, “wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger”. We too have heard and believe. For He has changed our life – as we have been drawn to Him.

CONCLUSION:  The message the shepherds received is for you this day “Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy…” To common shepherds this message was given. To people of a common faith we hear and believe. A blessed Christmas in Jesus’ Name.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

mid-week Advent 3

Advent Mid-week 3
December 17, 2003
Zephaniah 3:14-15
“Rejoicing in God’s Mercy"

INTRODUCTION: The times in which the prophet Zephaniah lived were filled with challenge and intrigue – similar to our life and time. Sitting on the throne over Judah was a young king by the name of Josiah. He served at a time when the people’s hearts had grown cold as they had wandered far away from the Lord.

Yet, often we find that men are chosen in history to live and serve and lead at such critical times. It was during King Josiah’s reign that the book of the Law was discovered. Josiah found the long-lost books of the Law just before the faith in the land would have been snuffed out.

It was Josiah’s task to reform the people back to God and for this challenge God raised up the prophet Zephaniah as part of the effort to call Judah and especially Jerusalem back to God. It is within this context that our text for tonight was recorded in sacred Scripture.

As we are counting down the days before Christmas parties are in full gear – there are office parties, club and classroom celebrations not to mention family gatherings that are soon to commence. 

Yet how many times do people have parties only to complain about the company! “Did you see what she wore? How cheap could he be - serving that! Who do you think they were truing to impress? They only show up when they want something!  Sound familiar? Sadly it is true - people simply do not have reconciliation parties to celebrate true joy.

Turning to our text for tonight the prophet Zephaniah describes Judah as a young girl who should be at a party. The prophet writes, “Sing, O daughter of Zion, shout aloud, O Israel – Be glad and rejoice with all your heart O daughter of Jerusalem.” (Vs. 14)

There is true joy to be found when God and people are brought together and reconciled. The words of our text express the true spirit of Christmas as we find God’s joy over the return of His people. Advent is not all solemnity –there are reasons for us to rejoice. This evening lets concentrate on three good reasons for us to rejoice.

1.         Danger has passed – “the Lord has taken away your punishment.” (Vs. 15a)  At Christmas we rejoice that God has come to visit His people. At Christmas God broke into time and space to take upon Himself the burden of our sin. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary Christ took on flesh and dwelt among us.  He took on flesh to be our substitute. He was human in every respect yet without sin. Thus He is perfectly equipped to take away our punishment. Where Adam fell Jesus triumphed. Where Adam gave into temptation Jesus stood up to the test even the last temptation. “If you are the Son of God come down from the cross and even now we will believe in you!” 

Transition: “The Lord has taken away your punishment.” The danger has passed because Jesus has conquered and triumphed- taking our punishment that we deserved. With the punishment taken away our enemies are defeated.

2.         Our enemies are gone – “He has turned back your enemies” (Vs. 15b) Our enemies are numerous. Sin, death, the world and our own flesh, they all rise up to condemn us. The last enemy to be defeated is death. Death awaits us all – sacred Scripture is quite clear on the matter. “The soul that sins it shall die” and “The wages of sin is death”

Working behind these evil minions, forces and sources is the Devil himself “the father of lies” who deceives the whole earth.  “And there was a war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. And the dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the Devil and Satan, he was thrown down to the earth and his angels were thrown down with him.” [Revelation 12:7-9]  “For God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.” [2 Peter 2:4] “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day” [Jude 6]

The Devil was no match for the Savior. Advent’s rejoicing and Christmas joy only makes sense with a clear view of the bloody cross. Matthew explains it this way: “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of their tombs and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” [Matthew 27:50-53]

Transition: There is reason for us to rejoice! Danger has now past, our enemies are gone. Out God reigns!

3.         God is in our midst – “The Lord the King of Israel is with you – never again will you fear any harm” (Vs. 15c)

Jesus has given us His promise. Never will I leave you – never will I forsake you. This is the promise conferred to us. Most promises we make are made with the best of intentions but they leave us disappointed and disturbed when they are broken. Christ can not break His promises. He is bound to keep them. He can never go back on His Word. To the contrary he has bound Himself to His word. When God’s Word is preached, read, shared or applied in Baptism and consumed in the Supper there God is conferring to us His promises – promises to bless us, to guide and sustain us. He bestows on us His blessings – forgiveness, life salvation. They can never be separated! Where there is the forgiveness of sins there is always life and salvation.

God is with us. Because He is in our midst, never again, never, ever will you fear any harm. Our enemies are defeated, danger is past us – God remains with us to bless and keep us. His gift, His blessings, His benediction turns the glow of Advent promises into the brilliance of Christmas fulfillment!

CONCLUSION: How long did the rejoicing in Judah and Israel last? About 20 years – Josiah’s 30 years of reforms bought Judah and Israel just a little bit of time [about two decades] before Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians. Over time Judah and Israel fell back into idol worship. Their rejoicing lasted but a season. For our rejoicing to be significant and lasting may our focus remain on Christ who alone has borne our sin reconciled us to the Father and also to each other.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Mid-week Advent 2

Advent Mid-week 2
December 10, 2003
Malachi 3: 1-4

The second candle is lit!  We are less than two weeks away from the birth of our Lord and Savior!  We are waiting with expectation!  I am like the little boy who is watching Mom put presents under the tree!  Wanting to open all the presents that belong to me, and to help others open their presents, just in case they don’t want to open theirs right away. 

We are waiting patently, but we are impatient!  Who can take the coming of Christ at Christmas?  Each year, Christmas is becoming more and more difficult to endure.  We all have experienced it with the buying and the exchanging of gifts, the cost of the gifts, what should you get that one member of the family who is so difficult to buy for, or, who seems to have everything.  And, if that were not enough, there are all the stresses and strains which come along during Christmas.  Social agencies report that at Christmas there are more personal problems that occur than at any other time of year.  It seems at Christmas there are more loneliness, more heartaches, and more disappointments.  Who can take Christmas!?

Our text from which our thoughts will focus, cuts away the fluff and focus on the real issue which is at hand, and that is the problem which all of us must deal with and that is how do you and I rest and find peace when we know that the Lord will return?  Malachi in verse two of our text asks us, “But who can endure the day of His coming?”

[1]    The first thing we must ask ourselves is this: can we endure the secularization of Christmas?  In a sense we can say that it is easy to endure the secularization of Christmas because Christians have been doing that for centuries.  The celebration of Christ’s coming to our world was introduced to the world because already pagans were celebrating the coming of Winter.  (December 21, “Winter Madness”) And times have not changed much over the years. 

It was Lutheran Christians who brought the celebration of our Lord’s natal day to Fort Wayne and the surrounding areas.  Soldiers at the fort saw December 25th, as just another day.  And other religious groups in the area believed that any type of celebration as pious and as Christianized as it was, was just not proper.

Today, it seems that merchants and store keepers, and internet businesses try to get as much “bang” for their buck as possible, offering sales and displays for their customers long before December, and in some locations long before November, or September!

Yes, it is easy for some to be distracted, and it is easy for one to focus on all of the lights, and trappings of the season, forgetting the reason for the season.  But you and I can endure the secularization of Christmas for as soon as December 25th comes around, the shopping frenzy will be over!  The real question for us is this: can we endure the refiner’s fire of cleansing of sin?  In short, can we take and can we endure the Holy presence of Jesus Christ?  That is the question, that is the issue which we must face!

[2]    When Malachi wrote this verse, he saw the coming of Christ.  He saw the Lord coming to the world, not as a baby, but as the King and Judge of all.  This is how we must see Him too!  We must see Him as Judge and King!

No wonder some are so miserable during this time of the year!  They look at their sin and they see nothing but despair and misery.  They try to be happy but they can’t.  The reality of their sinful condition jaunts them.  Who can endure the coming of the Lord?  The answer short and sweet is, NO ONE CAN!!  No one can stand before Jesus for He is a  holy and a perfect God.  Malachi tells us that.  He is a consuming and purifying fire.

That is why we need to look and see just who it is who was born there in the small city of Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago.  Yes!  It is a baby which we worship, but He is more than just a baby.  He is at the same time God made flesh.  He did not stay in the crib, but grew up to be a man.  He lived and died in our place, that we might be freed from sin and restored to be the children of God as we were created to be in the first place.

Without forgiveness we cannot come into the holy presence of our Lord.  We could not endure the refiner’s fire.  We could not endure His holy presence.  That is why if you and I are to make any sense of this celebration of Christmas – if we are to endure this season – we must look beyond the trappings and the lights and the sentimental sounds and realize with Simeon of old, that there is this little boy is all of God’s promise, all of God’s forgiveness, all of the remedies of our sin!

This is a merry Christmas for you and for me, for only one reason . . . and that is, that we see in the baby the answer to all our prayers; the solution for all of our problems; the only way out for our problem with sin.

If we focus only on trappings and the wrapping, and we cannot see God’s miracle of stamping out sin in this baby – then the misery and the pre and post Christmas blues will probably continue.

But our text reminds us to wake up and sing, rejoice, and shout!  For God has come to you!  He has been set to restore and rescue you!  He has come to bring you and me salvation and eternal life!  You and I will have a merry Christmas for here we stand, redeemed and saved and restored by a Savior who loves us with an everlasting love, who has promised to never leave us nor forsake us!

Who has promised to walk with us each day of our life!  In these days and weeks of preparation may we each see that the cross is only a few weeks away from the Creche and the cradle.  For it was at the cross, there at Golgotha, that salvation was completed.  When we do that, we will be able to take Christmas.  We will be able to enjoy the season.  And we will be able to understand that YES, in the baby Jesus, there really is PEACE on Earth and Good will to Men.  There is peace and safety for all who believe.

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord, to everlasting life.  Amen.