Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

Christmas 1 – New Year’s Eve
December 31, 2006
Luke 2:25-38
The Secret is Told!

Introduction: Now that Christmas has come, all the secrets are out to the joy of everyone. Or, are they? Christmas is clothed with mystery – what is the meaning of the virgin birth, the star in the East, an angel’s message to shepherds, a choir of angels singing in the night? Now is the time to see what it is all about. Simeon and Anna in their final years see the secret that explains all in a child - less than six weeks old, being carried into the temple for dedication to God. Simeon and Anna serve as models for us today to understand the true meaning of Christmas – to gain the secret of Christmas we, like Simeon and Anna, must:

Ø       Be looking for a Savior

Ø       Be in the right place

Ø       Be spiritually receptive

Ø       Be guided by the Spirit

Be looking for a Savior – V.25 “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” 

The people of our world habitually seek to find the Savior - yet they hunt for Him where He never will be found. The world seeks a savior which mirrors its own sinful center. Today, the children of men are seeking a savior which bears their own reflection.  People of this world today covet what feels good, what is desirable to the eyes, what  makes one look good, sophisticated, - and wise.[1]  The world seeks pleasure, comfort, - and no commitments. The world desires rigor without submission - Orthodoxy without obedience.[2] This world will attempt to invent its own custom religion with “God” defined as whatever fulfills your needs. The lost souls of this sorry world are forever seeking joy and peace; yet, all the while insistent of the freedom to make whatever choices one desires, - still demanding independence from any unpleasant consequences.      

But this is the amazing thing about our Savior - He chooses to be found in those places the world would least expect. He chooses to reveal Himself in those places the world considers unimportant. He chooses to exert His power in what an unbelieving world considers weak and of little importance.

Transition: Anna and Simeon were looking for the Savior. They were at the right place to receive Him.

2.   Be in the right place – V. 27 “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,” 

The right place to receive and find the Lord is to be open to Him, and then to receive Him in faith.  Where do we find the Savior today? We find Him in those places only the Father has promised we would find Him. We find Him in His message of the Gospel. We find Him in the reading of the Inspired Word. We find Him the waters of Holy Baptism. We find Him in His Meal, in His Word of Absolution, and hidden away in our own hearts.

If you are seeking Christ this Christmas season and in the New Year you will find Him only in those places the Father has promised He would be found.  The Shepherds, Simeon, and Anna found Him – “just as it had been told unto them”.[3] Why then, should you expect anything different?

Transition:  Anna and Simeon were looking for the Savior. They were at the right place to receive Him. They were spiritually receptive.         

3.   Be spiritually receptive – Vv. 25, “Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”

God is completely responsible for your salvation, from front to back. We don’t one day simply wake up and decide to follow Jesus – instead He plants the seed of faith in our heart. He then nourishes that faith by giving us His eternal Word which is able to make us wise unto salvation.

That seed of faith is demonstrated by how we live and treat one another. That’s what you as families do, [either in you immediate family or in our Friedheim family] especially as you care for our elderly – tending to their physical needs - especially in the last months and weeks of life. When you do this, your service and care takes on a spiritual dimension – you are preparing them for their entry into eternity.  Reminding them of the grace of God found in Jesus Christ our Redeemer – who came into this world at Christmas to be our Savior from sin.

One day Jesus happened to visit a family in mourning; the family of Mary and Martha, who were grieving over the loss of their brother Lazarus. As Jesus spoke with them He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Then, He asked them a question, “Do you believe this?” [4]

This is the question we each must ponder…

Is Jesus the resurrection and the life? The testimony of Scripture is undeniable. The early disciples simply said, “We are witnesses of these things!”[5]

Do you believe – that whoever believes in Jesus, even though they die will live and not die?

Scripture does not tell us for how long after this encounter that Anna and Simeon would live. We’re told from Scripture that they were old and advanced in years, and it probably wasn’t too many years before they were translated into glory.  Because Anna and Simeon were spiritually receptive, Simeon was moved to pray a simply yet powerful prayer. It is a prayer you and I sing at every communion service. It is a wonderful prayer for you and I to pray as we close out an old year and anticipate a new year, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.”[6]

Whether you are young or old, - it doesn’t matter - if you believe these words, you, like Simeon of old, are spiritually receptive and well prepared to be received into glory when our King comes.     Believing this reality – that you are a sinner, but also that Christ is compassionate who has promised to forgive our sins – all who have gone before us, dying in the faith, they are alive this day, they are well, they are at peace, they are whole – and if we have this same faith we will see each other again – never to be separated by time, distance, or space.

Transition:  Anna and Simeon were looking for the Savior. They were at the right place to receive Him. They were spiritually receptive, for they were guided by the Spirit.

4.   Be guided by the Spirit – V.27 “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts…”

Three of the hardest words to pray make up the 2nd petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come” The reason we find these words so difficult is because we so often want to force God’s kingdom to come, or for it to be done according to our own agendas and plans. It’s what some folk call “playing church.” We want things done “my way!” That’s why we have to pray the 3rd petition, “Thy will be done, Lord!”

To assure us that God’s kingdom will happen God’s way, we are given a wonderful promise. God’s will is being worked out in your life. How do we know this is so?  He gives us His Holy Spirit. Luther would remind us in the Small Catechism, “The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.”[7]

Conclusion; We come again to the conclusion of another Christmas season and another year. How will 2007 fare? If we take the attitude and posture of these two saints; Anna and Simeon, 2007 will be a banner year. Fair thee well child of God, Fair thee well. And yes, Happy New Year!

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

[1] See the temptation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:6

[2] The premise of  David Brooks’  BOBO’S IN PARIDISE © 2005 Simon & Schuster

[3] Luke 2:20

[4] John 11:25-26

[5] Acts 3:15; 5:32; 10:39

[6] Divine Service, Setting Three from Lutheran Service Book © 2006 Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis pp. 199-200

[7] The Small Catechism from Lutheran Service Book © 2006 Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis pg. 324

Monday, December 25, 2006


Christmas Day
December 25, 2006

Introduction:  The angel’s message to shepherds 2000 years ago comes to us this day. What would it say to us?  It is a message which has changed this world and in fact our very lives – It is a message of confidence and joy.

I.        It is a message of confidence – The angel says: “Do not be afraid!” 

There are many in our world living today in fear – What are the fears people are dealing with these days?

A.     Fear of the future.

1.      Terrorism – We watch nightly on the evening news reports from all over the world where violence is escalating. Many fear what might befall us in the new year where near calamity can come upon us suddenly - at any moment.

2.      Uncertainty of the future – what will befall us next?  The fact that we do not know the future makes some folks immobile, frozen in the present. This is what frustrates so many – we do not know the future. But one thing we do know – He who orders our past will direct our future. The God who entered time and space as a baby will order all of our days.

B.     Worries and disappointments of the past can also   cause some to fear. Each of us has had those moments of which we are not proud. It’s easy to say, “it’s in the past” yet so often our past has a habit of entering our present so that we relive our “times of yore” over and over again as if it were happening presently.

1.      The memory of past sins, failures and disappointments can leave us depressed and discouraged. Not wanting to look forward to the future.

2.      But God has given us Christmas – The Father’s gift of His Son is the solution to our problem with sin, and with guilt. Thus we take comfort in the words of the prophet who says: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…”

Transition: The Angel announces to us, “Be not afraid!” When our fears subside we can truly worship the new born King with joy and peace.

II.     The angel’s message is one of true joy.

A.     “I bring you good tidings of great joy.” says the angel.

1.      These are good tidings – God has come to visit His people – He chooses not to leave us floundering in sin – no, He came to defeat sin and death and Satan’s power by becoming a curse for us.

2.      Having become a curse He exchanges our misery for His own righteousness. No other gift could fit us better. He knows what we need and has given us His best. This day we simply celebrate that God has acted for us – lying in a manger, hanging on a cruel and bloody cross, standing triumphant outside an empty tomb, at the font, in the cup. Real places for real sinners!

B.     These glad tidings are for all people. 

1.      The first Christmas sighting was in late August/early September - with a Christmas display and merchandize ready to be sold - at a Wal-mart store! From the day after Thanksgiving up to today a few local radio stations have played nothing but Christmas music which can leave some overwhelmed by Christmas wishing it would go away as soon as it arrives! 
Yet what an excellent time for us to witness to our family, friends, and neighbors that what the world has been so long expecting has in fact come to be – God and man are reconciled! If a few shop keepers and telecommunications executives want to prolong Christmas – so be it!  At no other time in the year are people talking about Jesus then this present Christmas season. Why shouldn’t we talk of Him whose birth we celebrate this day! 

2.      There is now peace on earth because the Father is at peace. He is at peace with the sending of His Son. He is at peace at what this Savior has accomplished at the bloody cross and empty tomb. He is at peace to bring us home on our last day into mansions glorious.

Conclusion: With confidence and joy we now live for Him who has saved us. Be with me Lord Jesus I ask Thee to stay. Close by me forever and love me I pray. Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care. And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there. Blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Mid-week Advent 3

Advent Mid-week 3
December 20, 2006
Matthew 1:20-23
To Whom Does Jesus Come?

INTRODUCTION: To whom does Jesus come? He comes to people who struggle with their faith. So often in matters of life the issues are not always black and white. Sometimes there is a lot of gray. Often we are forced to struggle and wrestle as we grapple with the question, “Lord what should I do?”  At other times we know intuitively what we should do.  There is no needing to ask: “what shall I do now?” We know, in our gut, with every fiber of our being, what we ought to do. All we need to ask in such instances is for the strength and the will to act. To whom does Jesus come? He comes with enlightenment to him who does not understand.

We consider this evening Joseph. When he learned that Mary was bearing a child, he was understandably disturbed. He knew of two realities. First, Mary to whom he was engaged was expecting a child. He also knows he is not the Father!

Joseph, being a just man, tried to conform his life to the Jewish law. “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (v.19) Here we see Joseph’s dilemma. Whose reputation, he pondered, should be tarnished, Mary’s or his own? That was the issue with which he was wrestling. Joseph felt betrayed; he loved Mary, yet he didn’t want to “expose her to public disgrace.” To whom does Jesus come? He comes to people who struggle with their faith.  He comes with enlightenment to him who does not understand.

1.         In making decisions, of which we do not fully understand all of the circumstances remember it is God who is working behind the scenes to will and to do His perfect good pleasure. Such was the case in the birth of Jesus as Joseph understood it. An angel sent by God had to intervene.  Matthew 1:20  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

2.         Joseph also learned a second valuable lesson. When God is acting for us it is He who will act. Because man is blind, dead, and an enemy of God we need God’s saving work in our lives. This is exactly why Jesus was born in the first place. This is why He came. The angel explains to Joseph specifically why this birth means so much. Matthew 1:21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  

And save us He has. God is at work working out your salvation. Nothing is left to chance. To the contrary He is shaping, molding and using ever circumstance in your life to bring about one reality. He was born to afford you salvation. That is why Jesus came to this earth. He came to save His people from their sins.

3.         Joseph also learned a valuable lesson. The Scriptures cannot be broken. Jesus’ birth was not a mistake, a miscalculation, an inaccuracy. To the contrary it was all mapped out in Scripture. The Savior’s birth had been foretold in sacred Scripture and to Joseph’s amazement these Scriptures were fulfilled in his lifetime. He lived to see them played out right before his eyes! Matthew 1:22-23 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

CONCLUSION: When we must choose – choose wisely. Often we are forced to make decisions in life in which the outcome will not necessarily be pleasant.  When we have to choose “the lesser of two evils” as Joseph, we need to wrestle and pray. Actions do have their consequences. Joseph did not act rashly. Decisions reached hastily are often ill advised. Patience is needed when the situation is serious.            

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Advent mid-week 2

Advent Mid-week 2
December 13, 2006
Luke 1:26, 31-33
To Whom Does Jesus Come?

INTRODUCTION: In the Gospel of Luke the birth of Jesus is foretold. The Lord sends a messenger who comes to Mary the very peasant girl who will give Him birth. To whom does Jesus come?  Jesus comes with comfort to him who waits.

In Luke 1:26  we read: “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,”  The mention of Elizabeth's "sixth month" establishes a link between Jesus and the prophet John the Baptist. Nazareth was a small town off the main trade routes. Its insignificant size contrasts with Jerusalem, where Gabriel's previous appearance had taken place. Jn 1:46 records the negative Judean opinion of Nazareth. “What good ever came out of Nazareth?”  

Likewise, the region of Galilee contrasts with Judea. Surrounded as they were by Gentiles, the Galileans were not necessarily irreligious but many were somewhat lax regarding strict Jewish traditions. And what really is the point? Jesus did not come to the high and mighty, the religious. He came from a region of sinners and a family of sinners to redeem sinful people.

What can we say concerning this Savior? Let’s see what the angel has to say:

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”  Luke 1:31-33

Mary’s Son was to be infinitely greater than John.

(a) His name was to be Jesus, ‘Jehovah is salvation’ (31).

(b) He would be great (32), a title which, unqualified, is usually reserved for God Himself.

(c) As heir to David’s throne He will reign over God’s people (33).

(d) His kingdom will be eternal (33).

CONCLUSION: To whom does Jesus come? He comes to comfort those who wait patiently for Him.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Advent 1 mid-week

Advent Mid-week 1
December 6, 2006
Luke 1:18-20
 “The Promised Savior”
To Whom Does Jesus Come?

INTRODUCTION:  To whom does Jesus come? Does He come only to those who are rich in faith? Does He come only to those who have everything figured out? Does He come only to those who are secure in their beliefs?  What about the Scrooges of this world? Does Jesus come to them also? These Scrooges…they want to believe. They want to get all caught up in the merriment of this holiday season and yet they are reserved… There are those people who simply haven’t finally gotten a full grasp of the Christmas story. Now don’t get me wrong, they know the story inside and out which might be their downfall. They don’t necessary doubt but they have questions. Could the Savior really be born in Bethlehem, in a stable, to a Virgin?  As we consider the question: to whom does Jesus come we will find that Jesus comes with proof to him who has questions.

Ah yes, there are plenty of questions in the Christmas story. The man we will focus on this night is an old man by the name of Zachariah.

We know a little concerning Zachariah the father of John the Baptist. We know that Zachariah was a priest, whose lot it had fallen to offer up prayers at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Jewish exile into Babylon had interrupted the original lines of descent; so once returning to Israel the divisions were regrouped, most of them corresponding to the original in name only. Each of the twenty-four divisions served in the temple for one week, twice a year, as well as at the major festivals.

An individual priest, however, could offer the incense at the daily sacrifice only once in his lifetime since there were so many priests. Therefore this was the climactic moment of Zechariah's priestly career, perhaps the most dramatic moment possible for the event described to have occurred. God was breaking into the ancient routine of Jewish ritual with the word of His decisive saving act and nobody could believe it!

The suddenness of the appearance of the angel in the Holy Place is in agreement with other supernatural events in the Christmas story. Consider the heavenly host that visited the shepherds. (cf. 2:9, 13).

Only a heavenly being had the right to appear in that place with the priest. Zechariah's startled and fearful reaction is not only a natural reaction to such an appearance but is also consistent with what the Gospels say about the response of the disciples and others to the presence of the supernatural. They are - startled and to say the least - apprehensive at best, - doubtful and the worst.

This is the first indication of prayer on the part of Zechariah. The specific petition probably refers to both his lifelong prayer for a child (probably a son) and his just-offered prayer in the temple for the messianic redemption of Israel. Actually, the birth of his child was bound up with redemption in a way far beyond anything Zechariah expected.

As he prays for a son his prayer will be answered. As he prays for the redemption of Israel through the coming of the promised Savior his prayer will be answered!

That the prayer included a petition for a son is substantiated by the further description of the child, beginning with his name "John" (meaning "The Lord is gracious"). John being named before his birth stresses God's amazing mercy and grace in choosing John to be His servant.

To question does not mean doubt! Mary’s question arises from faith (v.45). Mary simply inquired as to the way God would work; Zechariah questioned the truth of the revelation. Zachariah's question, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Luke 1:18 seems oh so innocent, but  it was asked in doubt. In contrast to Mary's question- - "How can I be sure of this?" apparently was a request for a sign. Though we are told that Zechariah was devout (v.6), his quest for confirmation was perilously close to the attitude described by the skeptics, who in Luke 11:29 are searching for confirmation of Jesus’ ministry but find nothing to their satisfaction. “As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”  

In the midst of his skepticism, disbelief, uncertainty and doubt the Lord speaks to Zachariah through the messenger Gabriel. “The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.  And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.” Luke 1:19-20

There you have it! Zachariah is dumbfound by the news and staggers at the very thought that he would be a father in his old age. Thus he will live in silence until the child is born. Yet, the mighty acts of God will be fulfilled in Zachariah’s lifetime. He will have a son, and the promised Savior will be born. John will be His prophet and the holy one of Israel will come to deliver His people. It will happen all as Gabriel had promised.

The Christmas story is just as difficult to imagine as is the birth of John, born to parents well beyond years and yet it all happened as it has been recorded to us in sacred Scripture.

The fact that Zachariah had difficulty believing what his ears were hearing does not mean it is impossible. To the contrary, it reminds us that what is impossible for man is all God’s doing!  If an old couple could cradle in their arms their own son could not God give us His own Son to be conceived of a Virgin, to be born, suffer, be crucified, die and then rise from the dead on the third day?  If you have difficulties grasping the wonder of the Christmas story your in good company with the likes of Zachariah and Thomas and even Peter.   To whom does Jesus come? He comes with proof to him who questions.