Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent 4 Sermon -- Luke 1:26-38 (LSB Advent 4A)

December 21, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

The angel said to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus.”

With those words spoken by the angel Gabriel, the hopes of countless numbers of the Lord God’s people began to be met. For millennia, the people of God had heard divine messages brought by angels, prophets, seers, and patriarchs, all of them speaking what the Lord God had given them to say. They had longed for the Messiah, the Promised One who would deliver them. And in their longing, there was more than an ounce of doubt and frustration: (when) will this ever take place? But as the years passed more and more details about the Promised One were given: “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son; I will establish [David’s] offspring forever, and build [David’s] throne for all generations; the Lord will come with His might, and so on.”

The people of God listened and believed what was spoken. They latched onto every new detail given, with each bit of information assuaging their doubts and boosting their faith. And in the fullness of time, what the Lord God had spoken comes to pass: Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son,” the one who would prepare the Lord’s way. “And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.”

Here all the requisite conditions are found: what was needed for the Old Testament prophecies to come to fruition is located in that city of Galilee. And in divine wisdom and providence which had arranged for this to be so, “[the angel] came to her and said: ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’” Gabriel discloses that this humble Maiden of Nazareth will be the greatest instrument through which the Promised Savior will enter the world: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

The word of the Lord spoken by the angel brings this about. The seemingly impossible, let alone implausible, takes place because the Lord God has spoken it. The Lord God says: “Make it so,” and all the cosmos obeys, even the human beings who dwell in it. Nothing will stand in the way of His fulfilling and accomplishing His will and purpose. Where by nature none of this should take place—“How can this be, since I know no man?”—the Lord God’s word generates life.

You see this in the answer the angel Gabriel gives in reply to Mary’s question of how this would take place: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” The angel’s words carry the Holy Spirit. As they strike the eardrums of Mary, she conceives her son, God’s Son. The Child’s guardian Joseph will give Him the legal claim to David’s throne in fulfillment of the Lord God’s promise. “The virgin conceives and bears a Son who is God with us” in fulfillment of the Lord God’s promise. The power of God is used to accomplish salvation, to do the impossible, even to make Mary the Mother of God, in fulfillment of His promise.

Where promises are made, the Lord God keeps them. His word makes it so, even in spite of humanity’s doubts or misgivings. The angel Gabriel discloses that fact in simple eloquence: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” As those words strike your ears, they bring to you the power of God which makes all things possible, even your salvation. That is the first and important thing to take from this Gospel Reading. What transpired in Nazareth was not done as an exhibition of divine ability without purpose. Rather, it was to bring your Redeemer into the world, the One whose name is Jesus, the Son of the Most High. For it is through Him that even more impossible things take place.

Consider what this Son of the Most High would accomplish. He speaks and nature obeys Him: water changes to wine, winds and waves are calmed. He speaks and people are restored: lepers are cleansed, paralytics rise and walk. He speaks and righteousness is given: sinners are forgiven, lowly humans learn divine truth. He speaks and life is generated again: a dead girl rises from her bed, a dead man leaves his tomb. “For nothing will be impossible with God,” when He opens His mouth and His Spirit-carrying word comes forth.

But the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High are neither antiquated ideas nor figures of the past. Ancient Israel is not the only venue where the Lord God’s word accomplishes such great things. The same word that came to Mary’s ears, which designated her as “the servant of the Lord” and the Mother of God, sounds in your day and age. It is present here among you, bearing all the power of the Most High while carrying the Holy Spirit. And it brings to fulfillment what the Lord God promises.

Again, the events of Nazareth were not displays of the Lord God’s raw power solely meant to trouble the humble maiden. It was power exercised to accomplish what the Lord God had determined to take place for the salvation of the world. Likewise, what the word of God does in your lives is to fulfill what has been promised to you, what the Lord God in His wisdom has destined for you.

The Lord God speaks and you hear how sinful you are: your unrighteousness is put on display for you to see. But He speaks again and you hear of the great and mighty deeds of Jesus Christ: the Lord God who came in His might. He continues to speak and faith in what has been done by Christ is created in you. The Lord God speaks and nature obeys: simple water is turned into an eternal life-giving bath, bread and wine are changed to be Christ’s Body and Blood and a heavenly meal. He speaks and you who were dead in sins rise to newness of life. He speaks and you are made His servants and given a share of salvation. “For nothing will be impossible with God.” When “the Holy Spirit comes upon you and the power of the Most High overshadows you,” what the Lord God desires to occur for you actually happens.

For you who have been chosen to be the Lord’s servants, the events of the Annunciation give you a glimpse of what happened to you. True, none of you are destined to be the Mother of God: that is an honor reserved for the Blessed Virgin Mary as she was selected in God’s wisdom, even before the world began. But you also “have found favor with God” to alleviate fear about your ultimate destiny. “You have found favor with God,” as you share in the salvation that the Son of the Most High has earned for you by taking upon Himself the wrath of God. “You have found favor with God,” as you have faith in what this Jesus has done created in you. “You have found favor with God,” as you have the merits of Christ delivered to you. All of this has taken place as the Annunciation of good news, the Gospel, has come to you, as the Lord God’s word has struck your eardrums.

For where no life should exist by nature—in your sin-corrupted hearts, minds, souls, and bodies—the Lord God’s word has generated it. Where no honor should exist—in this world of depravity and degradation—the Lord God has created a royal priesthood and holy race, making you part of it. Where no obedience should be found—among rebellious people with unclean hands and unclean lips—the Lord God has instilled a love for His will and a desire and ability to conform to it. Why is this so? “For nothing will impossible with God,” the One who has shown you His great favor by bringing His word to your ears.

This is what St. Paul alluded to in the Epistle Reading for today: “[He] is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writing has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith.” Your salvation really is all about those divine words coming to you and accomplishing their purpose, the Lord God’s purpose, for you.

So you see it in the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Lord God’s purpose. And so you shall see it in your lives, as you respond in the same way as this greatest daughter of the Lord spoke in her humility: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your word.” May it be so for you, as what the Lord God desires for your lives takes place according to His word—the great statements of good news of eternal salvation for you, His servants.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advent Midweek 3 Sermon -- Psalm 85 (LSB Advent 3H)

December 17, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

“Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away Your indignation toward us!”

That is not the cry of one who is safe and secure. No, that is the statement of one who is desperate, one who perceives the weight of God’s wrath and displeasure. So the psalmist captures the feeling of the Lord God’s people, all those who dwell on earth and who feel the grips of sin, death, and Satan in their lives.

The psalmist calls for divine aid, for an end to the wrath and displeasure that strikes his sinfulness and the sinfulness of his fellow people: “Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” You can sense the frustration issuing from the psalmist’s heart, mind, and soul. He wants a different exhibition of the Lord God’s feeling toward him and his fellow people: “Show us Your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us Your salvation!”

What the psalmist desires is what the Lord God has promised to deliver. The Lord God speaks through the prophet: “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” The Lord God does not want His people mired in frustration, but to have them receive His steadfast love and salvation. And as proof of His true feelings for them, He sends the Promised One; He makes good on His promises.

That is how the people’s call for restoration will be answered by the Lord God. The Christ in His redemptive work brings salvation. He does not show indignation, but compassion to the world. The prophet says: “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him.” But this is not the work of a tyrant. The Lord God comes with might, not in brutal conquest, but in liberation and deliverance.

You have heard how the Lord God’s might was used: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” The work of Jesus is steadfast love and salvation. What He provides is the restoration that the psalmist could only partially dream of. Christ’s compassion puts away divine indignation by Himself receiving it in His crucifixion, so that the Lord God could redeem people and deliver them.

But remember how the psalmist begins his lament: “Lord, You were favorable to Your land; You restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin. You withdrew all Your wrath; You turned from Your hot anger.” What the psalmist describes are all past events. In fact, what Jesus describes as taking place to answer John’s lament is also in the past. There was favor and restoration. There was deliverance and forgiveness. But the psalmist feels beaten down, just as John did in prison; he feels wrath and indignation. And how similar you are to John and Isaiah and the psalmist!

You can take the psalmist’s words and make them your own, for your sin and its effects in your lives will make you likewise cry out for deliverance. Like the psalmist, you ask: “Will You be angry with us forever?” Like the psalmist, your need for forgiveness makes you scream: “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away Your indignation toward us!” The hurt and damage and pain that this world inflicts, both physically and spiritually, brings forth the prayer: “Show us Your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us Your salvation.”

But will the Lord God remain silent? Will He ignore your pleas? The answer is no, but his answer is not always in the way you want or expect. The Lord God answers the same way as He spoke to His people of old: “Comfort, My people. Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned.” He attaches His promise of what will happen for you: “The Lord God comes with His might, and His arm rules for Him.” And the promise of return is what undergirds the response of faith and hope that the psalmist and all of the Lord God’s people make: “Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land.”

That promise is what you cling to, as it is the only hope for those plagued by sin, illness, and the looming specter of death. The nearness of salvation invigorates the weak and gives courage to the fearful. Christ says: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” And that extends to those who place their trust in the promise of His return, those who hold on to that hope in the midst of the toil and troubles of this life. Blessedness comes to those who take no offense at Christ, even as the wait for His return lingers on.

You cry out: “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away Your indignation toward us!” And the Lord God says: “I have already done so. Your pardon and peace have been given; they continue to be given to you as you wait. You have My promise and My guarantee. Believe them.” The Lord God knows your weakness and frailty: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flowers of the field.” But the Lord God has given you something more secure: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.”

That Word says to you: “Your sins are forgiven.” That Word says to you: “You shall have life and have it abundantly.” That Word says to you: “The oppression of sin, death, and Satan will come to an end.” That Word says to you: “Surely salvation is near to those who fear Him, that glory may dwell in our land.” The Lord God’s salvation is one year, one month, one day, nearer to you. So rejoice and take comfort, for what was first promised has already come true: “Blind men see, lame men walk, lepers are clean, deaf men hear, dead men live, poor men are comforted.”

Because “the Word of our God will stand forever,” His second promise will also be fulfilled. That is the message of Advent. Forgiveness, life, and salvation will be yours to keep after this world and all its troubles has ended. Your desperation for divine aid will be met with Christ’s glorious return. For then, the God of your salvation will restore you and His indignation will be put away from you forever.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Advent 3 Sermon -- John 1:6-8, 19-28 (LSB Advent 3B)

December 14, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

Identity and authority are important. You see just how important they are in the dialogue between John and the priests and Levites. You have already heard that John “came as a witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” John’s job is to speak the truth about the Coming Christ. For as you heard last week, John is the forerunner of the Christ, the one who comes to prepare the way of the Lord, just as is written by the prophet Isaiah. As the forerunner, John proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

But John’s activity and its success bring questions from the Jerusalem authorities: “The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” The Evangelist even drops a bit of information about them: “Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.” The Temple authorities—the priests and Levites—demand to know why John is baptizing. The teachers of the Law—the Pharisees—demand to know why John is preaching.

And so they ask: “Who are you?” They want John’s credentials. They want John to state his authority. After John says: “I am not the Christ,” these Jerusalem leaders ask if John is one of the promised Old Testament figures who were to come: “What then? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet?” But each time John says: “No.” John speaks as his father Zacharias did at his birth. Told by an angel of the Lord that his son John would be the forerunner, Zacharias says about him: “You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways.” And so the Baptizer simply confesses what he knows about himself, what has been told about him by the angel and his father: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

But the Evangelist tells you that such a claim of authority was dismissed by the priests and Levites: “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” Though John claims to be the fulfillment of the Lord God’s promise given through the prophet Isaiah, the Jerusalem leaders reject him. They do not accept what John says about himself (which is nothing other than what the Lord God says about John), a preview of how they would reject the Greater One (and what the Lord God says about Him) who comes after John. And the Baptizer declares it to them: “I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the straps of whose sandal I am unworthy to untie.”

All this is what happens to the one who “came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” Rejection is what John receives on this day. It is the opposite of other times when he had all sorts of Judeans and Jerusalemites going out to him, hearing his message about repentance, believing it, and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Some are called by the Lord God to belief and others are not. But John speaks regardless of the audience.

This incident reveals something about your identity and your authority. You have been called by the Lord God to believe. As the Holy Spirit has come to you by the preaching of Christ’s Word and by that same Word connected to water in Holy Baptism, you have been made believers. You know what the Baptizer knows about the way of the Lord. You know who comes after John, “the One whose sandals [you and John] are unworthy to untie.” But you do not simply know who Jesus is, you know Him to be your Lord and Savior, the One who has redeemed you and brought you out of death to life.

It wasn’t always this way. Before that work of the Holy Spirit, you had the same reaction as the priests, Levites, and Pharisees: unbelief in what the messengers of the Lord God were speaking, rejection of the authority they carried. That same unbelief can creep back into your lives as Satan and your own sinful nature and their sinful allies in the world want to strip you of your identity. They want you to ask the questions that the priests and Levites ask, those which bring into doubt what the Church does: “Why do baptize, why do you preach, why do you speak about sin and forgiveness, why do you conform to the Lord God’s ways?”

That is the reaction the world gives to those whom the Lord God has called. You heard Isaiah’s prophecy: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn . . . .” This speaks first and foremost about Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One. But it also describes Isaiah, John, and you who have been given the Holy Spirit.

But what happens when you begin to do what Isaiah describes? When you speak about Christ and the good news of His salvation, do you get the same reaction as the priests and Levites gave to John? Are you asked: “Why do you talk about that? Do you believe that rubbish, that old-fashioned, unenlightened drivel about God?” Or perhaps you are asked: “Who made you God’s spokesman? Who are you to tell me about sin, let alone forgiveness? How can you talk about holiness, if you’re no saint yourself?” This is how the world treats those whom they do not know, even Christ Himself.

What happens when you begin to do what Isaiah describes? That is a good question to ask. But another needs to be put forward: Do you do what Isaiah describes? Do you speak about Christ and the good news of His salvific work for you? Or do you get the reaction from your own self: “Who am I to speak about the Lord God? Do I believe and know the Greater One that John spoke of?” It is at those moments that a return to the witness that the Holy Spirit has worked through Isaiah, John, and the other Scripture writers about Christ and His work in you is in order.

The Lord God calls you back in repentance: to turn your minds away from the sinfulness of the world, even the doubt it causes in you, and to return to His good news of forgiveness and salvation for you. In that your identity and authority are found: you have been set free; the Lord God’s favor has been given to you; you have been anointed with the Holy Spirit; and so you can proclaim the goodness of what has been done for you. The Apostle Paul reminds you of this identity and what the Lord God will do for you: “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will surely do it.”

The Lord God who has called you to faith is faithful to you. He has made you His own. The world will not accept you or your Lord, but the Lord Jesus knows you and calls you by name. When you speak about Him, there will be people like the priests and Levites who will reject you and the Lord God. Some will even dismiss you and everything you say; others may even insult and degrade you. But remember what your Lord says: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

“Rejoice and be glad.” It seems odd, but it is true. You have been given the identity as the Lord God’s people. You have been anointed with the Holy Spirit and been given the authority to proclaim the goodness that you have received from Him. It is true that you are unworthy to untie Christ’s sandals, and yet He calls you His servants, His friends, and even His brothers. The world may reject and revile you—just as they did to Isaiah, Paul, and John—because the world does not know Christ, but it does know that you are different, that you are odd and strange compared to it. You are different because Christ has given you a new life as He has connected you to His death and resurrection for your salvation.

But the difference that has been given to you does not end with being rejected or reviled or questioned like the Baptizer. There is a great promise given to those who have been made the Lord God’s people and anointed with His Holy Spirit. A day is coming when the difference in you will not be considered odd, but will be recognized as something great, something that the sinful world will even desire but will not receive. For you heard the Lord God speak through Isaiah: “I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring that the Lord has blessed.”

That is what has been promised to you, as you have been anointed by the Holy Spirit: “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” But it is also promised to those who hear and believe what you say about the Lord God, as you speak about what you have received from Christ. For not everyone will reject you; some will believe, just as they believed Isaiah, Paul, and John. The “everlasting covenant” is not yours and yours alone, it is meant for everyone who has been given the new identity as the people whom Christ has redeemed.

So tell out the goodness of the Christ done for you, just as John prepared the way for His arrival. For you have been made voices to cry out in the wilderness of this world to lead others to belief. You have been anointed by the Holy Spirit and made witnesses about the light that Christ has shone in the darkness of your lives, that all might believe through you.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advent 2 Midweek Sermon -- Psalm 50:1-15 (LSB Advent 2H)

December 10, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

“Our God comes; He does not keep silence; before Him is a devouring fire, around Him a mighty tempest. He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that He may judge His people.”

So what will it be like when the Lord God speaks as a judge, when “He speaks and summons the earth”? The Psalmist tells us: “The heavens declare His righteousness, for God Himself is judge.” The Christ says: “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” Because it knows its futility, the cosmos tells of its Creator’s righteousness: “[It] groans in expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.”

But the real judgment will be against humanity. So the prophet Malachi says: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” The prophet echoes the Psalmist’s words about “a devouring fire, around [the Lord] a mighty tempest.” And the last thing you want to be is Ablaze! For what the Almighty God consumes is taken completely.

However, you heard that the Lord God does not limit His indictment to those who are clearly arrogant and practitioners of evil. The Lord God speaks in the psalm: “Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.” For what reason does the Lord testify against His people, those whom He had delivered? “Not for your sacrifices . . . for they are continually before Me.” He does not criticize them for their ritual acts of piety, but for the lack of faith that should be accompanying them.

The lack of true belief is what condemns. And that is a sin which is most serious, for it brings into doubt the identity of the Lord God. It makes Him out to be a liar and deceiver. Unbelief can be seen in actions, as with the arrogant who think themselves to be righteous by their own deeds or with the evildoers who do not think that the Lord God can issue a law or enforce it. But it is most egregious when the people whom the Lord God has chosen believe that their status is an entitlement or something they have achieved.

Haughtiness, pride, and delusions of grandeur: these receive the Lord God’s criticism. That is what stands behind His words: “I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the field is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is Mine.” To claim ownership of the things of the earth and to think that you deign to show generosity to the Lord God by your offerings—that you do Him a favor—will bring His indictment against you, especially on the Day of Judgment.

But when your hearts are right, when they lay claim to the righteousness of God that He graciously offers as a gift, you will receive His mercy. The Lord God is pleased when you recognize and take ownership of your futility and helplessness and turn to Him. So He speaks in the psalm: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” There is a turn of heart to be seen, a repentance: no claim to your own righteousness, but a throwing-yourself-at-the-feet-of-Christ who has given Himself for your redemption.

To turn your heart, the Lord God sends His prophets: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” The turning of hearts to the Lord God and His ways is what spares you from condemnation in the Day of Judgment. It also keeps you from being caught unawares. For Christ says: “Watch yourself lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”

The fate of destruction should be avoided by you. And it will, if you have your hearts and minds and souls set on what the Lord God has done for you. For those who have the works of Christ on their minds, on their lips, and in their hearts, there is everlasting life to come on the Day of the Lord. The Day of Judgment comes, but as you have heard before: “The King will say to those on His right: ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”

So you have likewise heard this day. The Lord God will say: “Gather to Me My faithful ones, who made a covenant with Me by sacrifice!” And on that day of gathering, it will be good for those who have believed their own sinfulness and in the forgiveness that only the Lord God mercifully provides. For the Psalmist says: “The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.” But you also have the divine promise about the Day of Judgment: “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.”

Know that when that day comes, your promised kingdom of God is near.” For it has been made so for all those who have been chosen to share in the mercy of God, for those who have been humbled by Him and lifted up again. May it be so for you who “call upon [the Lord] in the day of trouble; [He] will deliver you, and you will glorify [Him].”

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Advent 2 Sermon -- Mark 1:1-8 (LSB Proper 2B)

December 7, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’”

So the Evangelist begins his gospel account of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He takes the people back to the prophets, back to the Old Testament promises of the Messiah. The Coming One would not arrive unannounced. Instead, the people would be prepared for His arrival. One would go before Him, preparing His way, making ready the people.

And so you hear of John, your Advent friend and fellow believer. He is an odd sort: “baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Not the typical occupation of ancient Israel, let alone for one who is the son of a priest. Even stranger was his public appearance: “clothed in camel’s hair, wearing a leather belt around his waist, eating locusts and wild honey.” But this is the forerunner, the second Elijah who comes before the day of the Lord, as Malachi declared. He is the messenger “as is written in Isaiah the prophet.”

From the very start, the oddity of everything connected with the Messiah’s ministry is seen. His herald is most bizarre, as were many of the prophets of old. And yet, it did not cause negative effect. For you heard how the people of God responded to this unique preacher: “All the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins.” This is the response that the Lord God’s word of truth can inspire, even with a preacher who would make everyone’s worst dressed list and forsook the prominent social circles to which his bloodline entitled him.

The Baptizer fulfills his role perfectly, preparing the way for Christ. He does what the prophet Isaiah said he would: “making straight the highway, lifting up the valleys, lowering the hills, leveling the uneven ground, smoothing the rough places.” For what Isaiah prophesied is not a work order for the road commission, but what “the word of our God [that] will stand forever” accomplishes in the hearts, minds, and souls of the Lord God’s people. The prophet depicts with words what the Word does to bring about repentance: the Law of God striking sinners, removing all pretenses and impediments, so that they can be “spoken to tenderly” and hear that their “iniquity is pardoned.”

This is what took place in Judea as “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The Judeans and Jerusalemites were prepared for the Christ’s arrival. They were pointed back to the covenant promises that the Lord God had made with them and their ancestors. As they had their belief renewed, even in the condemnation of their sin, the people were ready to receive the Christ. John would raise his finger and “say to the cities of Judah: ‘Behold your God!’” as Jesus Himself would step into the Jordan. And those who were prepared by “the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” would receive the Promised One and the promise of salvation that He would bring.

It is by the same process—proclamation of God’s Law, repentance of sins, reception of Christ and His forgiveness—that you also have been prepared for the Coming Christ. For ancient Israel, there would be no surprise: John had prepared the way of Christ the Lord. The people were ready to receive the salvation that He brings by hearing the Word of the Lord from His unworthy servant. Jesus does not sneak up on them, but has a herald run before Him. This was so for His first appearance.

But you have heard the Christ promise a second coming. And you have heard, as you did this morning from the Apostle Peter: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works done on it will be exposed.” It sounds like it will come with people unaware, that there will be no preparation as ancient Israel received from John. But that is not so. For the Lord God sent John to make His people ready, and the same task continues today to prepare you for the arrival of Christ.

Even the Apostle Peter told you, the Church: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” In order for that to take place, the Lord God has “baptized you with the Holy Spirit.” And He has also provided for the proclamation of His Word to lead you to repent of your sins and receive His forgiveness.

Like the people of Judea and Jerusalem, you are called back to the covenant the Lord God has made with you. His terms are clear: you have failed to live up to the standard of holiness that He has set and given to you. You have been lax in your discipline, false in your piety, negligent in your duty, and prideful in your life. You have not loved the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and mind. You have not loved your neighbor as yourself. These two pillars of the Lord God’s covenant have toppled among you.

So the message goes out to you: Repent. Admit the guilt. Do not hide what you have done. Turn back to the promises of your baptismal covenant and drown the Old Adam in you. For this is the Lord God’s work for your benefit. You have been baptized with the Holy Spirit. He still is present with you to deliver forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. This is why you receive today the Christ who has already come with His merits and His teaching. You even receive Him who comes today in His Body and blood as His covenant declares.

But all of this is meant to prepare you for the Christ who is yet to come. The remembrance of the past is to prepare you for the future. This is why Peter said the Lord delays “so that all should reach repentance.” He tells you what John told the Israelites of old: “Since all these things [heaven and earth] are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming day of God. . . . According to His promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

What happens then and now prepares you for this life of the world to come. Hearing what the Lord God has done for you restores your trust in Him for your salvation and encourages you to do so going forward. This is the dynamic seen in the psalm for today: “O Lord, You were favorable to Your land; You restored the fortune of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin. You withdrew all Your wrath; You turned from Your hot anger. Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away Your indignation toward us!” As you go forward in your restoration, forgiven by the Lord God, you are ready to receive Christ in His glorious return. As you share in Christ’s righteousness, your place is in the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells. And it will be when He returns.

The Lord God through His Word will prepare His way in you. As you hear the proclamation of repentance and salvation, your crooked ways will be straightened, your valleys of fault will be raised, your mountains of pride will be lowered, your unevenness of doubt will be leveled, and your rough places of iniquity will be planed. This is what will make you ready to stand as the Christ returns and His angels declare: “Behold your God!”

That work of the Lord God’s Word in you may be unpleasant. It smarts when you are pruned by His Law. Being governed and disciplined by His statutes and precepts brings about a forced conformity. Your sinful selves will hate it. But when it is complete, then you will understand the message that was brought to the Lord God’s people of old and to you: “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. . . . Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned. You have received double from My hand for all your sins.” And then you will receive the promised action that the returning Christ will bring: “He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

That is promised to you, as you have heard the proclamation of repentance and believed it, as you have received Christ’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins. For He has come and baptized you with the Holy Spirit: He convicts you of your sin, but also delivers the merits of Christ’s redemption, and He convinces you of the salvation you have been given. And so you will receive what the Christ has earned for you. Remember well and cling to what the prophet says about the Coming Christ: “Behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.” That reward and recompense is everlasting life in “the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

So it is meant for you who have heard, believed, acted upon the Word of the Lord that His messengers bring and continue to be shaped by it. For as the highways of your hearts are prepared by the Holy Spirit who works through that eternal Word, then you are ready for the return of Christ and the welcome that the Eternal Father will give to you, His reconciled children.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Advent 1 Midweek Sermon -- Psalm 24 (LSB Advent 1H)

December 3, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

“Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.”

The gates must be opened to the Coming One, the King of glory. So the Psalmist tells us. They are to be open for the Promised One’s arrival, “He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Open the gates, for this King has come to accomplish great and mighty things.

The prophet Jeremiah tells the people of the Lord: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” What the prophet describes is the same King of glory of whom the Psalmist writes.

“Who is this King of glory?” the Psalmist asks. He answers: “The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.” This is “the Lord [who] is our righteousness.” How is He our righteousness? What will this King do? He will “ascend the hill of the Lord.” He will “stand in the His Holy Place.” So the Christ will do in order to “execute justice and righteousness in the land.” This He will do, for there is none other who can.

The Psalmist says: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” How poorly this describes you. Your hands are stained with the blood of those whom you hate and your heart is soiled with the guilt of lusts and avarice. Your soul clings to its false gods and you pledge to do what you will not. The hill of the Lord and His Holy Place are off-limits to you.

But the King of glory who comes has a rightful claim to them. The Lord of Hosts who comes in the flesh can climb the Temple Mount and enter the Holy of Holies. Though when He does so, when Jesus fulfills what the psalm describes, He goes to accomplish salvation for you. He goes up with His clean hands, pure heart, righteous soul, and truthful mouth. These He offers as sacrifice for you, for your salvation. That is the King of glory, even in the midst of humility. That is the Lord of Hosts to whom Jerusalem’s gates open, as “He comes in the name of the Lord.”

This the Christ does, so that “[you] will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of [your] salvation.” This Jesus accomplishes, so that you might be made part of “the generation of those who seek Him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” The King of glory comes to redeem the world that “He founded upon the seas and established upon the rivers.” All this He achieved when He arrived to the crowds’ song: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

But the same King of glory promises a return. For a second time the cry will go out: “Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” This time, there will be no mistaking His identity. Jesus will appear, and at His name “every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” The prophet tells us: “The days are coming . . . when they will say: ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where He had driven them.’” He promises: “Then they shall dwell in their own land.”

That is yet to come, what shall transpire. You do not anticipate an atoning sacrifice, but the King of glory to return. You await the appearance of the Christ who will take you up to “the hill of the Lord,” who will make you stand in “His Holy Place.” For His promise to you is a place that He has prepared for you. He promises that He will come and take you to be with Him, so that where He is, His servant may be also. And this shall be so, because the King of glory has made your hands clean, purified your hearts, made your soul righteous, and placed His truth in your mouths, so that you may call Him: “the Lord is our righteousness.”

A place on the Lord God’s holy hill and in His Holy Place awaits you because the King of glory has made you His own. So you will receive His blessing as you seek Him where He can be found in this world. His Spirit calls out to you: “Open your soul’s gates, so that the King of glory may enter in. Unstop your ears, so that you may hear His words of blessing. Open your mouths, so that you may taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Lift up your heads, O people, for the Lord of Hosts is coming. He has already been “strong and mighty in battle” against your enemies, routing sin, death, and Satan. And now the Victorious Christ comes to gather you, His people, for He is your righteousness. Thus you will dwell securely as He reigns as King of glory and deals wisely with you. Lift up your heads, so that Christ may come to you in this Adventide and on the day when He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Advent 1 Sermon -- Mark 11:1-10 (LSB Advent 1B)

November 30, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

Those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

The Triumphal Entry of Jesus is the event in the Scriptures that is closest to how it will be when Christ returns in glory. Thus, it is good and right that you hear about it today on this First Sunday in Advent. For this season is all about the arrival of Jesus. But the arrival of Jesus will not be in humility, but in the fullness of His glory.

Though the Triumphal Entry is a glorious event, with the crowds’ waving of palm branches and their singing, it is still veiled in humility. There is the expectation of someone and something great, as you hear in the shouts of the crowds: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” But look to whom they sing these words: a man from Nazareth riding a borrowed colt.

The Gospel writer wants you to note this, as he includes many details about it: “Jesus sent two of His disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” say, “The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.”’” In order for Jesus to fulfill the prophet’s words about how He would enter Jerusalem, He must use someone else’s animal; He must have someone else’s permission. It is not the expected means of arrival for a monarch.

Despite the unorthodox means of transportation used by Jesus, the crowds recognize His identity. Their songs are a confession of their faith, their belief in who Jesus is and what He would bring. They proclaim Jesus to be the Christ, the promised Messiah: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The faithful Israelites, the ones whose faith clung to the divine promise given through the prophets, referred to the Messiah as “the One who is to come” or “the Coming One.” As Jesus enters Jerusalem, these faithful people of the Lord God point to Him and say that He is it. But not only do they make this confession, they also believe that Jesus is bringing in the promised kingdom and He would eternally sit on the Davidic throne: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

And so it is that the Jerusalem crowds accompany their confessions of faith and their acclamations of Jesus with a devout prayer. Framing their statements of belief are the words: “Hosanna” and “Hosanna in the highest.” The crowds make known to Jesus what they want: divine deliverance. They want all the promises fulfilled, including those that referred to a restoration of Israel’s fortune. They had often sung the verses of the psalm that you have prayed this day: Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your might and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let Your face shine, that we may be saved!”

This prayer for deliverance is the same prayer that the Church offers in this age. The season of Advent brings this prayer to the forefront in a most deliberate way. With the focus on the arrival of Jesus come the Church’s petitions that He would make good on His promises. Though you do not need the Christ to come to bring you redemption, for your sins have already been atoned for by His sacrificial death, you do need Him to return. For all you have is a promise of resurrection: a promise without fulfillment is of no value. And so you pray like the Israelites did in the psalm and as they did on Palm Sunday: “Hosanna! Save us now!”

What you want is exactly what the prophet Isaiah, another faithful Israelite and believer in the Lord God’s promises, desired: Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make Your name known to Your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at Your presence!” This type of arrival, veiled in no way, brings the fulfillment of the promise of resurrection given to you. For that would be a glorious return, a return with all of Christ’s authority and power, even His power over death and the grave. That is what the Lord God’s faithful people desperately want.

So you have heard a foreshadowing of it with Christ’s Triumphal Entry. But with that desire and expectation comes the preparation that this Advent season brings. The prayer for Christ’s return and His salvation is always made with the recognition of sinfulness. So it was for Isaiah: But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we are all the work of Your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all Your people.” Likewise you have prayed already this morning: “Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance.” The prayer calls for divine deliverance from what still plagues you. It is offered with the expectation that it will be heard.

That is the purpose of this Advent season: to give the expectation of deliverance from sin and all its effects. Like Isaiah, the Church always confesses: We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” But also like the Israelites in Jerusalem, the Church also shouts aloud: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” Sinfulness is recognized and followed quickly with the petition to Christ: Save us now, Lord!

Such is the penitential life that you are called to. It is for your salvation. For the day will come when Jesus arrives to His Holy City without sitting on His disciples’ cloaks on top of a borrowed colt. Instead, Christ will come, sitting on His glorious throne and having all His angels accompanying Him. You must be prepared for such an arrival. For those who are, then great things will be given. So the prophet tells you about your God: “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides You, who acts for those who wait for Him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember You in Your ways.”

So you will have the opportunity to be ready, to remember the Lord God in His ways, during this Advent season. You will hear again the promises of Christ’s return. You will hear the call of the prophets and John the Baptizer to put away your sin and to turn back to the way of righteousness. You will hear the exhortation to holy living. All this is to prepare you for Christmas, when the Church remembers and rejoices at the first arrival of Christ, but more importantly for the day of His Second Coming.

Thus the preparations begin with hearing about the Triumphal Entry. For there is no better way to be ready for something than to have a preview of it. To be ready for the Second Coming of Christ, pay attention to the events of the Triumphal Entry. Remember what the Lord God’s faithful people did: “Those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!’” These will be your actions from this day until the time of Christ’s return. Your sinfulness and weaknesses will impel you to call out to Christ: “Hosanna! Save us now!” Your faithful following of Christ’s institution will lead you to the Lord’s Supper, where “He who comes in the name of the Lord” is present for your forgiveness. And your hope will be for “the coming kingdom” that Christ will bring for your everlasting life.

This is what you are preparing for during this Advent season. Even more importantly, this is what your Lord is preparing you for. So it was told to you this morning: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” His people will be prepared for His arrival and will welcome it, just as the Israelites welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. That is what He will use His power to do, delivering you from your sin as you call out for His aid. For Christ will not let His people’s cries go unheard. Hosanna will ring out in the highest heavens and He will hear it. And then, as He has promised, “God will work for those who wait for Him.” So may it be for all those who call on Christ to save us now.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.