Saturday, December 27, 2008

Luke.2.29-32; First Sunday after Christmas; December 28, 2008

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32 (ESV)

(From “Emmanuel, God With Us”)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The last winter, in South Dakota, my family and I were sitting in the living room enjoying a video. The wind was howling out side and the snow blowing against the window sounded like sand. Just as the credits began to roll, there was a flicker in the lights… then another, and finally the lights went out completely… and it was dark. Not just a little dark either, I mean really dark. Fortunately, the lights were only out a few minutes and they flickered back to life again. After a few other threats, they stayed on for the remainder of the night. You know, there is just something people don’t like about the dark. That’s why night-lights were invented. That’s why the hall light burns out long before the lights in the kid’s rooms. That’s why horror movies are always set at night.

But there is also something we like about the darkness. In the dark, we can’t be seen. We can be quiet and alone. And if you’ve been in the dark for a while you don’t want the light. Think about turning that bedside lamp on first thing in the morning. The alarm has dragged you from sleep, but your still warm and comfortable. Suddenly the light click on and you shield your eyes from its invasion. It almost hurts until you become once again accustomed.

For a long time the whole human race was very much in darkness. People didn’t really know where they were. We didn’t know why. And many people tried to figure out the reasons, but no one found it. Some of the time we were afraid, in the dark, but sometimes we were very comfortable. Then a light did come into our darkness. It shown so brightly that none of the darkness was left at all. Jesus Christ is our Dayspring and the Desire of Nations.

Why is it that there is so much suffering in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is it that so many people wander around their whole lives wondering who they are? What am I suppose to do with my life? Why do people die, especially my close loved ones? Why do I have to die? Life is full of questions like this. Maybe we’ve come to expect them. Maybe we’ve become comfortable with them. But it seems that in a good and perfect world we would not have questions like that to ask. Something’s not right, something is wrong in the world.

Well, the world is in darkness. It’s like a shadow that covers over everything. Just like all darkness it makes it hard to see what’s real. And even though we know there is something wrong we can’t see what it is. Like sitting in a darkened room, you can’t see what’s around you. And you know what it’s like to drive the roads at dark, knowing that lurking in the darkness just outside your headlights are dear waiting to dart out in front of you. It’s dangerous driving.

God’s Word tells us about the darkness in the world. It’s called sin. Sin is a blindness that has affected all people. It ‘got dark’ when Adam and Eve decided that they wanted the ‘knowledge’ to judge good and evil on their own. They thought that that knowledge would let them see more clearly. But in reality, it blinded them to God and His desire for their lives. They separated themselves from God by saying that they wanted to be their own judge of right and wrong. But that’s something that only God can really say, and that separation has been a real part of every human life ever since.

The advent hymn Oh, Come, Oh, Come Emmanuel talks about our Dayspring. Oh Come, Our Dayspring! We sing right here in the middle of our darkness. Oh Come, our Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by your drawing nigh. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Jesus Christ has come into our dark world and He has brought true light. God has always been about bringing light. Remember God’s first words in the bible? Let there be light! Through Jesus God has spoken those words again. Let there be light! Let people see. Let them see that disease and suffering and death are not the way the world is supposed to be. Let them see that things are not right. Go, my beloved Son, and be the light that takes their darkness away. Be their Dayspring.

One of the worst things about darkness it that it hides those we love from us. You know what its like to try to find someone in a crowd; and if the crowd is in a dark room its even harder. Darkness separates from people. In darkness we are alone, stumbling around looking for a friend, a mate, or just someone to talk to. Sin, the real darkness in the world, has made it much harder to find each other.

It’s because of sin that we can’t see each other clearly. We can physically see other people. But we don’t know what they are thinking. We don’t know what people really want from us. How many of you had a crush on someone when you were young? It’s called a crush because is pushes everything else out of your mind. You spend endless hours trying to find answers to your questions of: Does she feel the same? Do he really like me? But primarily the most important thing about a crush, the thing you spend the most energy on is keeping it secret. You don’t want to rush out and speak your feelings, because you don’t want to be seen as foolish. So you keep your secret in the dark. And really all of our relationships are like that. We spend a great deal of time and effort trying to discover what people mean when they say certain things. We argue over the smallest thing because of a simple misunderstanding. Marriages end because the spouses don’t ‘understand’ each other anymore. Without God, without Jesus Christ, people are disconnected from one another, hiding alone, living in darkness.

When the light shines in our darkness, we are not alone anymore, we can find each other again. When we are at one with God, through Jesus, He binds our hearts together as one. Jesus brings light to the troubling questions of life: Who am I? What should I be doing?

Who are we? We are God’s precious creation, loved by Him dearly. He shows us the great extent of His love by sending His only son to die and be separated from Him instead of you and me. He sends His Son into our dark world to shed light on you and show you that you are His. God made you His very own child in baptism. That’s where God snatched you out of darkness into His wonderful light.

Where are we going? We are going to be in the light forever. That is the light of Christ. We are on our way to city where there will never be any darkness. And right now you have a great purpose. You are a light in the dark world. You are a light pointing to Jesus Christ; showing people that their darkness can have an end.

It’s not always easy to see the light. Our lives are full of dark moments that we’d rather not have to live in. But God shines the light of Jesus on your life through His Word and Sacraments. Through these things, He keeps you focused on the true light of the world.

You have been placed in the light through faith in Jesus Christ. He is the Dayspring that will dawn on a new world. He is coming again, and when He does, all that is dark, evil, and sinful will pass away forever. And we will join with all those who have faith in Him, past, present and future, one in the light of Jesus Christ. Amen. Come Lord Jesus, Come! Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Luke.2.1-20; Festival of the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ; December 25, 2008

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:1-20, ESV)

… for unto you…

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Well, It’s finally Christmas time. The time has arrived; the packages and presents will soon be opened. It is a joyous season, a very joyous holiday. It’s nice to have family around, all the holiday hassle seems to be worth it as we see our families sitting with us around the dinner table. The hours of work, Christmas baking, shopping and wrapping are all behind us. It all seems, at that moment, to have been worth it. Next year is a different story… But, now it’s Christmas! It is almost an anti-climax. Our attention has been very focused on our gifts, our families, and wondering if it will really be a ‘white Christmas.’ It’s easy to get wrapped up in the holiday, the family gift exchange, and the Christmas tree. It is wonderful that so many people celebrate this day… the day that a baby was born in Bethlehem. It’s great that people, who don’t even believe, celebrate. It has truly become a part of our American culture.

All the lights, all the carols, all the glitter and decorations, the sense of community… peace on earth. There’s nothing wrong with any of it. It’s great to enjoy it, as a matter of fact we should! We should enjoy it; we should revel in it, even more than anyone else. Because for some this holiday is only a time for family… a time for gift exchanges… a time to wish peace on the world. But, for us it is different. As we listen to this very familiar story we should remember the most important words that are in it.

For unto you… for you…

It is these words that reach out across time and drag us back to the dark fields where shepherds stood and trembled. These words that make the rag wrapped baby shivering in the cold important. It is these words that tell us that something wonderful has truly happened. And that it has happened … for us.

But still the message of Christmas is wrapped up in the tinsel and paper of the season. Sometimes we find it hard to remember what the season really means… for us. Maybe if we were actually there, standing in that field with the Shepherds, we’d have a better appreciation of that message. Maybe if we understood what it meant for the shepherds maybe we’d better understand what it means for us.

The night was dark, not dark like here, where the lights of town fade out the blackness of the sky, but really dark, like black velvet. Each star in the sky can be seen clearly as a pinpoint of light. There is time to notice each one. Shepherds have one single luxury in their lives… time to think, and time to contemplate the universe. Especially their place in it. Because for a shepherd, the world isn’t a very welcome place. It isn’t just the smell of sheep that keeps people away. Their occupation is on the very bottom rung. Little boys didn’t grow up wanting to be a shepherd. People who were shepherds were outcasts. They weren’t welcome in town. They weren’t allowed at social gatherings.

To say that the appearance of an angel to shepherds was surprising is to not say it strong enough. It is nothing short of miraculous. It certainly surprised everyone who heard about it later, And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But maybe the most surprised were the shepherds themselves. They were certainly afraid. They knew their place in the society of the day; they also knew their place before God. Few people would have the perspective of shepherds in that respect. Certainly not people who were accepted.

Maybe this is where we have trouble with the story. Maybe we don’t see ourselves standing there trembling in the presence of God, like they were. Maybe we don’t identify with them. But maybe we should. What they understood, that maybe we don’t, is exactly what it means to be outcasts, to be separated. Most of us have been in the ‘presence of God’ our whole lives. Most of us were baptized as young children and have never felt ‘apart’ from God. But as surly as their social standing kept the shepherds out in the fields, sin pushes human beings away from God.

From that problem we ourselves are not immune. It’s easy to see the ‘shepherds’ around us. Undesirable people… the lazy and unemployed, who spend their money on lottery tickets and cheap beer. People who don’t care about their appearance. We don’t like to see it in ourselves. Our selfishness, our proud attitudes, our tempers… our sin. Sin is no respecter of social class. The sin that plagues ‘shepherds’ plagues you and me. When we stand in the presence of God, our sin deserves punishment. If we understood that clearly we too, would tremble there with the shepherds.

“Don’t be afraid!” the angels said. In spite of what you deserve, there is Good News for you!” It’s good news for shepherds, outcasts from Jewish society. Sinful people keenly aware of their status, keenly aware of their sin. “In fact this Good News is so Good that it is for everyone!” It’s for shepherds… it’s for me… it’s for you!

For you… today… Christmas day… a Savior has been born. God will not tolerate sin and its effects on people. He can not have his beloved people separated, and outcast from him. What makes Christmas day Good News is that Jesus Christ, God’s answer to sin, is born for you! The very same Jesus, found by the shepherds in the stable, is found there for you. The very same Jesus, who gave himself up to the cross for shepherds, has given himself up to the cross for you. Sin that troubles you has lost its power, because of Jesus born to Mary and announced to shepherds. Because of Jesus, whose first home on earth was a place for animals, and whose first visitors were outcast shepherds, you have a place with God, and your sin will not separate you from him.

Do you need more than that? There is more… it’s one thing to look back to a time so far removed from us, to a dark field flooded by the light of angels, and to try to see what that means for us. It is one thing to picture in our minds God made flesh, wiggling in a manger surrounded by shepherds, sheep, and cows. It is quite another thing altogether, to have him here present with us right now. But Jesus Christ is here with us now just as he promises. “I am your Savior, where two or three are gathered in my name I am with you. My very body which was laid in a manger, which was given for shepherds, is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Take it and eat it. Touch it and feel it.”

So what effect did this message have on the shepherds? What did it mean for them that God had sent a savior for them? They went around telling everyone what God had done. They shared it ‘abroad,’ everywhere! People everywhere where amazed. Maybe you can even imagine what they said. “The Savior of the world has come! He has come for us! He has come for you!” Notice how it doesn’t say that the shepherds shared their story with only other shepherds. They shared it with everyone, regardless of social class and status. They may have returned to their sheep, they may have returned to their regular jobs, but they were completely changed. The angels message that first filled them with fear now filled them with joy. That joy overflowed all around them. I can’t imagine the fields around Bethlehem being quite the same ever again.

Have we been changed like the shepherds were? Is our joy in Christmas wrapped up in the gift exchange, the lights and carols? Or do we shout out with joy that a Savior has been born for us. Will we return to our work places the same as we were before, or will we announce to everyone the Good News, like the shepherds did?

Joy to the world the Lord is come! Shout it out loud. Sing it to the rafters. Remember what it means that ‘God and sinners are reconciled.’ Glorify God for what you have seen and heard on this day. This Christmas day when God announces to shepherds and to you that Jesus is born… for you. Amen.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Luke.2.1-20; Christmas Eve; Candlelight Service; December 24, 2008

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:1-20, ESV)

From a sermon by Tim Pauls.

“The Manger”

Go ahead-take a look inside. There's no need for you to be anxious or frightened. Go ahead-take a look: The angels already told you what you will find. You'll find “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

Look there, inside and you’ll see glory, because God is there and wherever God is you’ll see glory. As you look think about the Exodus, when God led His people out of Egypt by a pillar of cloud and fire. Remember how he parted the Red Sea, and gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. There was fire and smoke and lightning. The glory of God can be a terrible and magnificent and wonderful thing. But, the angel said that there is better glory here. God ahead take a look.

Look again, there’s peace on earth there too; and right now with all the talk about war we sure could use some peace. There’s wars on foreign soil, rumors of wars, threats of terrorist attacks with biological and dirty bombs. Or nation is deeply involved in warfare. “Peace through strength,” people say. Peace is just what we need. Look there and see strong peace.

Look inside and you will see goodwill toward men. It’s a tall order these days to even find a “strong will.” Someone who’s willing to stand up against the prevailing culture and speak his mind. Tolerance and acceptance must be accepted at all cost, and disagreement is bigotry. Resolve and purpose are not qualities that are favored these days. And good will… well you’ll be looking for a long time to find someone who has unselfish good will. That really belongs to God alone. It’s ok, look in again. You’ll find good will to men there.

Look in the manger, right there. The angels told you what you’d find: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.

Look inside, what do you see? A baby? But, how can that baby be everything that we’ve been talking about. How can a baby bring help and solutions to the real problems in the world? When you look at a baby you might see hope for the future, but I’m not sure you see, peace and good will.

Babies don’t seem all that glorious either; especially this one, born in a manger with the smell of animals around. His mother is beaming, but the baby in a diaper, breathing quietly, isn’t a commercial for glory.

Maybe peace is found here. After all a sleeping baby may be quite peaceful, for the moment. But the peace can quickly end. Parents know that very well, as they sneak quietly around the house when their children are sleeping. No it doesn’t seem like peace is to be found here either. Not one that ends violence and trouble.

What about good will. You know as well as I do that babies have no will but their own. If your looking for strong resolve for the good of all mankind we don’t see it in a baby either.

You’ve left your flocks, your work behind and walk all the way here looking for what the angels told you you’d find. But you just found a baby. Of course he’s cute, just like any baby is. But the world is full of troubles and problems and you’ve got your share of them. You’ve got sin to deal with too. Satan always makes things harder than they should be. He fills your life with grief, because you all too often listen and believe what he says. Death is out there too keeping track of you. The clock is ticking and every day brings death closer. Babies can’t be of help with problems like that.

It’s time to understand that you are wrong. Instead of living by your ears, and believing what you’ve heard, your living by your eyes. “It’s just a baby!” your eyes tell you, and your experience tells you that babies aren’t much help at all. But your ears have heard differently. The angels sang to you “Glory to God in the highest!” They sang God’s Word to you. Listen to what you’ve heard instead of trusting your eyes.

This baby is glorious, just not terrifying. When God showed himself before he was also terrifying. The baby here hides his true glory in human flesh and blood. His purpose isn’t to terrify, he has come, instead to give glory to God the Father. He is glorious in that manger because he lives up to God’s standards of glory, not human standards. He is glorious in the manger because of what he will do, and because he has humbled himself to do it. His glory will come, as he lives and breaths, like every human being. His glory comes when he suffers and dies on the cross, for every human being. If you think his glory is hard to see now, just wait until he hangs there, on that cross-shaped throne.

This baby brings peace. Not peace through strength, like the world does. The world uses laws that only contain violence. But this baby will destroy evil. He won’t just slow down the devil; he’ll remove him from power completely. He will completely destroy Satan and the curse of sin. He will do that by sacrificing himself on the cross for the sins of the world. That will bring peace between man and God.

And goodwill comes through this baby too. His will is a good will. He will do exactly what he has been sent to do. He will endure hunger in the wilderness, betrayal of his closest friends. He will feel the Roman scourge and the nails that will pierce his hands and feet. This baby is good and his will conform completely to the Father’s will. He is sent to suffer and die for you and for me.

So believe you’re ears, in spite of what your eyes may show you. Your ears have heard the angels song, they tell you what you will find in the manger: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.

Gloria in Excelsis

The good news sung by the angels is far too good to keep just for one day a year. We sing it often, most of the time when we gather for worship. It’s called the Gloria in Excelsis: “Glory to God in the highest.” We sing it all year round and it’s a way of keeping a little bit of Christmas all year round. You see we don’t want to forget the Glory of God found in the manger. We don’t want to forget the Word made flesh, dwelling among us. We sing it so that we remember.

As we’ve said before it’s not just past memory that we remember when we sing these songs of Immanuel. Of course, we rejoice in the Baby in the manger, he’s not there anymore, he grew up, walked among people, healing and teaching. We remember the price he paid for us on the cross, but he no longer hangs there either. We remember Jesus in the tomb, but the tomb is empty, He is risen! We remember in this song of Immanuel how he comes to us today, with glory. “God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

And we still need help: Jesus Christ has conquered sin, death and the devil. But we still deal with their effects every day. Satan tempts us every day. Our weak sinful flesh battles us every day, wanting us to live in sin instead of the forgiveness won by Jesus. We look forward to the day when Jesus finishes what he has begun. We look forward when they are all sent into hell forever.

Jesus promises help for us. He is as much here as he was in that manger. He is God and man, the “Word made flesh.” When His Word is proclaimed He is there. When His Holy Supper is given He is there also. He is present in His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, and for strength and courage to live in the face of sin, death and Satan.

You struggle every day with temptation, sin and guilt and you will as long as you live. Listen to the angel’s hymn gain “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” It rings out to remind us that the Savior is here. He is here to bring peace and goodwill. He comes to you now to bring you the forgiveness he has won for you on the cross.

Today, Christmas day we do rejoice. We gather to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. And even though we only see a baby in a manger, our ears have heard the true story. In that manger is God’s glory. He has come, himself, to bring peace and goodwill, and to reconcile you with God again.

Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. Amen.

The peace that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Isa.61.1-4.8-11; Third Sunday in Advent; December 14, 2008

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; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and 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 the Lord has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Some things seem almost inevitable. If you don’t take care of your body you’ll pay the price… stop eating for a few days and you get hungry… stop sleeping and you get run down and probably sick… too much of anything good has its effect on our waistline… But there are good things that are generally predictable too. If you do a good job on a project you’ll probably feel a sense of accomplishment and joy. If you work hard at work you’ll generally get along with your employer. It happens again and again in life. A certain consequence seems to follow a cause, so naturally and regularly that we even take them for granted.

But, once in a while we are surprised by a totally unexpected result, either pleasantly or unpleasantly. We watch out diet carefully and still get sick. We make mistakes raising our children and yet, they seem to turn out all right. Things in life don’t always turn out how we expect them to.

Spiritual things are no exception. Some results seem inescapable. Violate God’s law and you must pay the price. When you are guilty in God’s eyes, you must suffer punishment and death.

Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, ESV)

But in the face of those terrible threats, the Gospel promises something totally unexpected. We receive an undeserved blessing because of Jesus Christ. That Gospel makes it know to all who will listen, that the Good News is that salvation and rescue are available for all people. In this text for today, God speaks to us through Isaiah, about this very thing; we call it the Great Reversal.

This text in Isaiah is one of the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Isaiah uses this image over and over again in his book. He talks about one who is sent, and anointed by God to do a wonderful, and very unexpected thing. This Servant would deliver God’s people from their suffering. But, amazingly he will do it by suffering himself.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. (v. 1)

Says the Servant. He is anointed by God to preach this good news.

The surprise comes several hundred years later, when Jesus reads these very words in his hometown synagogue.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, ESV)

Calmly Jesus rolled up the scroll, and returned it to its proper place. And he sat down. Then, as was the Jewish custom after reading a scroll, he began to speak about it.

And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21, ESV)

Those around Jesus were shocked, to say the least. “Isn’t this guy Joseph’s son?” Jesus responded,

And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. (Luke 4:24, ESV)

“How can he say that?” they shouted and ran him out to the crest of a hill to throw him down, and kill him. But Jesus simply walked through them. Things weren’t as the people in Nazareth expected them to be. They couldn’t accept that God would not just for them, but for all people.

The unexpected is found in Jesus Christ. God comes to earth as a human being to be, not a great earthly king, to rule over people with his armies. He comes as a lowly baby in a manger. He comes to poor parents in a poorer city. He comes as a servant. He

but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8, ESV)

He doesn’t come to destroy he comes to suffer himself, even death on a cross. It just isn’t what is expected from God. What God accomplishes through Jesus Christ is a Great Reversal.

He comes to change around everything for us. The Suffering Servant in Isaiah says he comes to preach to the poor. He isn’t just talking about earthy poverty. He’s talking about spiritual poverty. He talking about people who would by nature deserve nothing from God but his punishment. Isaiah says in another part of his book:

For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, (Isaiah 26:21a, ESV)

We don’t want to see ourselves as poor. Especially at this time of year, we pride ourselves in giving something to the poor. We puff up with pride when we think that we’ve made a difference in someone else’s Christmas. When we’ve given them something they didn’t have. But, God’s Word tells us that that’s who we are. We don’t possess anything that can help us face up to God when he comes to punish.

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. (Isaiah 64:6, ESV)

In God’s eyes all of the things that we try to do to please him fall well short. When we come to see this we are indeed poor and alone, bruised and broken hearted.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. (1 Corinthians 15:56, ESV)

But, Jesus accomplishes the Great Reversal he comes to bind up the broken heart. We are the poor ones, but he became poor for us.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV)

He stood in our position as one having no right to anything good. And as a matter of fact he became sin for us!

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

He willingly took on himself the punishment of our sin. He, who had no sin of his own, took ours. He suffered our death and punishment on the cross. And in exchange he gives to us his righteousness. It’s as if we had never sinned at all. That’s the unexpected. The perfect one is punished and the sinful ones are made perfect. When Jesus himself proclaims that to us our hearts are soothed.

Jesus Christ comes to proclaim freedom to captives.

And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. (Genesis 8:21, ESV)

Again we are the captives. We are bound to sin. It entangles us in its web of Death. We think that we have free will, but our free will is bound to sin. “Our sins have snatch us like thieves.” Said Martin Luther. And our final destination is death. We know very well what we deserve.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, ESV)

Our lives are continually tied up in it. In fact our whole lives are really lived out beside the grave. No matter how successful we are, no matter how much money we make, or how many bushels per acre we raise, it all ends the same. We can’t effect a change in our day of judgment. Death comes to take us even if we have given our entire fortune to feed the hungry. It would leave us in a state of grief and despair, if it were not for the Great Reversal brought by Jesus Christ. But the web of sin and death are not stronger than he is. When he lay in the tomb cold and dead, he only seemed to be permanently entangled and defeated. He reverses death for us. Through death he makes us alive. He crushes death by dying and by rising again. It is our death that he dies, and his life that we receive, life forever. Isaiah says it like this,

“to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (v.3)

Life doesn’t end in death instead death ends in life. Jesus Christ has turned everything around. He brings to us the unexpected.

So, here we are in Advent. We are sitting here remembering and thinking about what happened in Bethlehem, some 2000 years ago. It was an unexpected thing. Mary was surprised, Joseph was surprised, and the shepherds were certainly surprised. God, himself came in human flesh to do the unexpected. He came to preach Good News to the poor, to bind up broken hearts, and to free captives. That baby born in an unexpected place changed everything around. He came to do a Great Reversal for you and me. Let’s rejoice in that today, as we look forward to Christmas day. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Funeral of Louise Stauffer; December 11, 2008

[Jesus said:] “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:1–6, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

First a few words about Louise. I never had the chance to meet her, and, as I told the family, I’m sure it is my loss. They tell me her family was most important to her, that I think you can see by looking at them. These last few years she’s not been herself. Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease. It takes away a person’s connections to their family; it takes away the past and the future too. So in some ways today’s funeral is an end to suffering. Families in this situation sometimes say that they lost their loved one much earlier.

The death of a loved one causes us to ask many questions.

What happens when we die? Is there an afterlife?  Where do I go?  What is the way?

It is as if at a funeral we are standing in a forest at the cross roads of many paths.  There are all sorts of trail markers indicating the path to take to the mountain top.  We ask ourselves, which one is the right path.

In the bible reading I just read, Jesus is speaking to his disciples. They are troubled because Jesus has told them that they will all say they will fail him when he needs them. They will all say don’t even know him.

Aren’t we always troubled when we look to our own actions to find salvation? That’s because we know our own hearts better than anyone. We may look good on the outside but on the inside we know about our selfishness and our pride. We know what sin is because we live with it every day. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to do the thing we know is the right thing to do. The problem is that God doesn’t require our best effort, he requires perfection. He is perfect and holy. He cannot and will not tolerate sin. God knows our hearts and he doesn’t judge us by our appearance. He judges us by our hearts. When we see this about God, we are rightly troubled. Because try as we may, we cannot be perfect. We are all sinners. One day we will face God’s judgment. On thing funerals do is cause us to ask the question, “What if it were me? Am I ready to face God?” It is troubling to know that you are not ready because you can’t get rid of sin.

The bible tells us a lot about who we are and why we are in this troubling situation. God created people perfectly. It wasn’t just perfect bodies. Adam and Eve the first people had perfect relationship with each other. You married folks understand how much different this is than our lives. They never argued. They always had each other’s best interest at heart. They were never self centered or petty. This was all because the also had a perfect relationship with God. They always happily did what God wanted them to do and never did what God forbid. They didn’t have sinful hearts like you and me. But all that changed when they made a decision to go against what God said. Their relationship with God was broken. Their relationship with each other was broken too. Now every person who is born has a problem with God. We are born not having a perfect relationship with him.

We are troubled in life because of this. We know what our lives should be like. We long to have a perfect relationship with God and perfect relationships with each other. But the world doesn’t work that way. Louise struggled with these things just as much as you and I. She suffered from disease and heartache. And today we are here because of death. This is the biggest problem what we have brought on ourselves. Sin ultimately breaks down everything. Sin causes death. As we see death face to face we are troubled because we all know we will die. And yet, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

Jesus says don’t be troubled by your inability to live perfectly. Don’t be troubled about desiese and death. Don’t be troubled by your broken relationships. These are not were salvation is found. Don’t trust in yourself. “Trust in God, trust also in me.”

“In my fathers house there are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus tells the disciples, Jesus tells us, you know the way.  But Thomas protests, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Days like today make us look for an answer. “What is the way? What way should I go? What path should I follow?” Many people will tell you that there are many paths to God. We want to believe that all the trails lead to him. We want to make our own way. We don’t want to tell anyone that the path they are on is not the right one.

Jesus clears up this confusion. He speaks very clear words that leave no doubt as to the path to God. He says,

“I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the father except through me.”

Jesus is the only way to God. He mends our relationship to God through his death on the cross. What sin deserves is punishment. What you and I deserve for the trouble in our hearts is punishment from God. But Jesus takes our punishment instead.

It is like this. Imagine you are on a path in the jungle. Suddenly as you cross an open field you are surrounded by natives. They haul you off to their village. The chief says that you have walked on their sacred ground and the penalty is death. The prepare everything for the execution. They are ready to drop you into a huge boiling pot of water. Suddenly a young man whispers in the chief’s ear. He turns pale and orders your release. The young man is bound and thrown into the pot instead of you. You are released and sent on your way. When you ask what happened you find out that the young man was the chief’s son. He offered his death in place of yours. The chief has accepted his sacrifice for you.

This is what Jesus has done for you. He died on the cruel cross in your place. He sacrificed himself so that your sin could be forgiven. With your punishment gone, your relationship with God is restored. This is a reality for all who believe that what Jesus did is for them. This is what it means to have faith in Jesus… to say, what Jesus did he did for me.

When we face death, we are trouble when we try to look at ourselves for answers. Jesus tells us not to be troubled because he has made a solution the problem. He is our savior from sin. He has made our time of judgment before God have a different outcome. When we believe Jesus’ death paid the penalty for our sin, God says that we are not guilty anymore.

Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God.  Trust also in Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Isaiah 2:1-5; Weekday Advent Service 2

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. (Isaiah 2:1-5, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace… hey that’s what today’s text is all about peace. “It the last days… They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears in to pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” That sure sounds like peace to me.

It seems to me that this is an especially good time to talk about peace. Our nation is at war, though it hardly seems like it. You don’t get daily updates on the war anymore. We seem to only hear when something bad happens. We don’t even hear much about peace protesters anymore. It’s a far cry from what it was like during the last war, or the one before that even. Today our soldiers go to war and we go shopping. Still, those who support the war and those who are against it have something in common. They all want peace.

This is the season of peace isn’t it? We always talk about peace at this time of year. “Peace on Earth” banners are all around, included in many of your Christmas decorations. “Peace on Earth… good will toward men…” is what the angels sang to the shepherds the night Jesus was born. Peace, we all love to be at peace. But the truth of the matter is this… we are never at peace.

Anyone who studies history at all knows that peace is a very rare commodity. Human history is very often marked and counted by wars. We remember what happened at a certain time because of what war was going on. “I was married at the end of WWII.” “My dad fought in WWII and Korea.” “That was shortly after the evacuation of Hanoi. “Where were you during the Gulf War.” 911 isn’t just the emergency number anymore. Those numbers are permanently engraved on the minds of everyone who saw the towers fall. I’ll always remember my ministry started that year. It was the first major “crisis” I had to deal with in my first congregation.

Time marches on, peace is often outside our grasp. I don’t see much turning swords into plowshares, that this text is talking about. In fact, our government has been spending quite a lot on ‘training for war’. Right now the only way we’d want to turn a sword into a plow is because “If you hit a guy with a plowshare, he really gonna know he’s been hit.”

And yet, at this time of year, as Christmas approaches, we still spout off “Peace on Earth,” and claim that Jesus is the one who brings peace. Jesus is the reason for the season.

Well, maybe we’re talking about a different peace than just the absence of war between nations. Maybe we’re talking about peace between ethnic groups… that hardly seems possible. Look at all the ethnic fighting around the globe. Look at the conflict between India and Pakistan. It is primarily ethnically based. The Arab world against Israel. And how about all the rumors that if Obama wasn’t elected there would be rioting in the streets. There is no peace between ethinc groups and the coming of the little baby in the manger doesn’t seem to have much impact there either.

Let’s look closer to home. Maybe Jesus brings peace to our families. But… I don’t think so. It wasn’t all that long ago when I had a fight with my wife. Are you getting along with all your children? Especially this time of year when we all get extra busy. There is so much to do during the Peace on Earth season, tempers often run a little short. The busier we get the less peace we see. For a season that is about peace that comes through the baby of Bethlehem, it sure seems to bring out the worst in us.

If you want to see a prime example of the lack of peace in families, just look at the divorce rate. It’s staggering! All around us and among us are families torn apart by divorce, children shuffled between households, uncertainty, insecurity, and arguments over child support. And living together before getting married was supposed to be a solution to divorce, a way of testing out the waters, or test driving the car. But couples who live together have a higher divorce rate than those who don’t . There’s no pice here either. Divorce is a declaration of war on the family. Is it any wonder God says, “I hate divorce.” (Mal 2:16)

Well, maybe the peace that it’s talking about is a personal peace. Peace between you and me. You’ve got friends and neighbors… you are at peace with all of them right? No squabbles about fences, his cattle in your field, or letting his trash blow in your yard? My neighbor is alright, if he’d just keep his nose in his own business. Tall fences make good neighbors, we sometimes say. Neighbors sometimes have very strained relationships.

The peace can be broken even in the best relationships… a misspoken word, or with an unintended harsh tone. Feelings are hurt. The friendship is strained, sometimes to the breaking point. Some who were friends haven’t spoke in years. It is easy to see there is not much personal peace either. In fact, when peace is broken on this level the effects are most devastating.

Well maybe the Baby in the Manger brings inner peace. Maybe the peace he brings sooths the inner torment of people. But, a look around will show you troubled people everywhere. Physiologists and psychiatrists have never been busier. Books about curing the troubled heart fill shelf after shelf at the bookstore. If you want to make a mint, come up with a book self help book on better living. On the outside we may be calm, but a storm is brewing… many of us feel on the very brink of disaster. No, peace is not in there either.

“Peace, Peace,” they say when there is no peace. Says the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel, who were living in times much like ours… and there is no peace. Nations fight against nations, clans against clans, families are torn apart, friendships are strained and people are tormented from within; the world is full of broken relationships.

There is not peace because human beings are at war, not only with themselves, their neighbors, and other nations, the real problem is that human beings are at war with God! Our sin, which is the real problem we can’t solve, makes us God’s enemy. God is perfect and holy. He doesn’t tolerate sin. He is perfect and just. Sin is real. God’s punishment of sin is just as real. Hell is hot! It is the final expression of God’s anger over sin. It is the destination of sinful people. It is God’s act of war against sin, and sinners. If you sin, if you have trouble in your relationships with other people, if you belong to a nation that is at war, if you harbor ill thoughts about your neighbor, if you are not perfect, then you are not at peace with God. If any of this is true for you, hell is for you.

And yet we say that Jesus Christ brings peace. Peace, as the bible talks about it, is completeness, wholeness, harmony, and fulfillment. It isn’t just and absence of war, but it is being in perfect relationship with everything around you; a perfect relationship with other people and a perfect relationship with God. Peace, says the bible, has its source in God, himself. And so it only makes sense that when God himself, comes among us, in Jesus Christ, he would be called the Prince of Peace.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6, ESV)

But still the question remains, how does this Prince of Peace bring peace? How is the peace he brings, for us?

St. Paul wrote a letter to the Church at Ephesus. He wrote it because the church was a church at war with itself. They were fighting Jews against Gentiles. The Jewish Christians wanted the Gentile Christians to undergo all that they did, circumcision, the food laws, and all the regulations. “You can’t be a Christian, without them.” They said. But, Paul said, “No! Because of Jesus you are one. He is your peace. He destroys the wall of hostility between you. He has reconciled you to each other… through the cross.”

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:13-16, ESV)

Jesus death brings together warring parties. It restores broken relationships. And it does it because Jesus Christ ended the war between God and man. How? By becoming God’s enemy. That’s right, Jesus Christ the only Son of God himself, became God’s mortal enemy. Even though Jesus was perfect, even though he never in his life, from the time he was born in that dingy stable until he hung on the cross to die, did anything to deserve God’s anger. He became God’s enemy. When it was you and I that deserved God’s anger it was poured out on Jesus on the cross. As he hung there on those nails, as he breathed in agony, as he suffered, he called out to his father, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me!” and God turned away from his enemy and let him die. And with that death, the war ended. “It is finished!” Jesus said, “The war is over.” He told his disciples:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27, ESV)

As amazing and as wonderful as this peace is, it wasn’t the last word on the subject. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the angel asked. “He is risen! God approves of him again. The war is over. God approves of you! Jesus has done all that is required for you to be at peace with God.”

Since Jesus died as God’s enemy, we no longer need to do so. Since Jesus suffered hell on the cross, in God’ rejection of him, we have become his beloved children. That’s what he promises us when we are baptized into his family. We, who were once enemies of God, have gone from enemies to children. Talk about a change in status! There at the font, God wraps us in his loving arms, “You are mine!” and “You are mine!” and “You are mine!” There is no stronger statement of self-worth that can be spoken. Think of it the Creator of the Universe says to you, you are my very own child. What an ultimate statement of inner peace, to be loved and cared for by God, himself. And what God has done for us, he promises to other people, too.

As we live and work with the people around us, we realize that these too are people for whom Jesus died. He loves them so much that they too are children of God when they believe what he has done for them. If he loves them that much how can we, who are also his children do any less. Our togetherness in Christ, because of what he has done for all of us, brings down the walls of hostility. All of our relationships are different because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Instead of raising a sword against each other, peace can grow and flourish. The energy needed to make war can be turned to making peace; building up, instead of tearing down. And the peace that Isaiah is talking about can begin. That’s turning swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. That’s true peace brought to us by the Prince of Peace.

That’s why we remember what happened so many years ago, in a dark stable, in a small corner of the world. That’s why we celebrate the birth of the ‘enemy of God.’ Jesus brings peace. He is peace. Peace, first, between God and man. Peace in our families. Peace among friends and neighbors, and even peace between nations.

And he is coming again. And then the peace we have right now, the peace that he brings will be fully realized. The Prince of Peace becomes the King of Peace. All nations will ‘stream’ to him, just as Isaiah says. And peace will flow like a river.

Whenever we think of Advent we think about looking forward to Christmas. And that’s what advent is all about, but it’s more than that… it’s also looking forward to the time when Jesus will come again. The time when the peace he brings will be everywhere, and there will be no more war only peace. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Monday, December 08, 2008

December 7, 2008; The Second Sunday of Advent; Isaiah 40:1-11

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. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 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. (Isaiah 40:1-11, ESV)

Grace and Peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

3000 years ago, the prophet Isaiah took pen in hand and scratched out those words on a piece of dried calfskin. As he wrote, tears may have welled up in his eyes, because he knew what his beloved people would soon endure. He knew they would be defeated, tortured, beaten, and hauled off into exile by a brutal Babylonian Army. He knew their beloved city, Jerusalem, the center of their national identity, would be leveled and the temple, the very place where God came to be with His people, destroyed. There they were sitting in that city, blissfully rejecting the future. And worst of all, he knew that the destruction was all the result of their own rejection of the one true God. They had rejected their True King, the God who had brought them out of Egypt, and the God who had promised them the land they lived in and the land they loved. They would pay a terrible price for their arrogance. The death and carnage would be devastating. The people would be scattered across the whole world. Families would be divided and uprooted, never to be completely whole again. There would be great suffering…

In the face of that suffering, Isaiah wrote unforgettable words of comfort. He wrote words that from then on would be carved onto the hearts of God’s people; words for exiles to cling to, words to remember that God longs to forgive; not to punish; words to remember that God gives undeserved love to undeserving people; words that show that where there is sin; His grace appears in double, (Rom 5:20) overwhelming sin and pushing it aside forever; words that give comfort to fragile people, ones who’s lives wither away too soon; words that reach out with the loving hands of a shepherd caring for His straying sheep, and comforting them in his strong and protecting arms.

From 3000 years ago the words of comfort reach down from Isaiah’s pen. It is because of Jesus Christ that those words have voice in our lives. It is because of Him that they carry meaning for us. His death on the cross paid for our sins and brings us grace, God’s undeserved love, in double. Jesus Christ is the comfort we all need in a world full of sin, trouble, pain and death.

Ruth placed her hands back in the soapy water. It was not a happy task. Her mind was scrambled with the thoughts of the argument. It was another foolish fight. Like so many before, it drove a wedge between her and Jim. “After ten years of marriage,” she though, “you think we wouldn’t have those stupid arguments any more!” She tried to remember how it started, something about dinner, peas or carrots. It was typical; the subject of the argument wasn’t what the argument was really about. She tried to discover it by analyzing the words, but nothing that was said seemed to shed light on the real trouble. She looked down at the dirty water, scraps of leftover food floated next to her fingers. It was fitting, she thought, my hands belong in this dirty water. “It is just like my life,” she reflected, “dirty, and full of junk. I can’t even live with this man I love without causing pain and trouble.” She splashed the water as a tear slipped from her eye. Her mind returned to the fight. It had begun right after the prayer. “Come Lord Jesus…” If only they had allowed Him to come! “Come Lord Jesus now. Forgive me Lord,” she begged, “Forgive my foolish pride. Forgive my stubbornness.” “Ruth,” came a voice behind her as she was suddenly embraced, “I’m really sorry. Sometimes I’m such a jerk! It’s my fault. Can you forgive me?” She turned, “Oh, Jim, It’s not just you. I was in such a bad mood today… can you forgive me?” The answer came in a long embrace.

Comfort, Comfort my people, says your God. Take comfort in the forgiveness won by my beloved Son. Be comforted knowing there is forgiveness for all your brokenness, forgiveness for all your hurtful pride, forgiveness for all the things that separate you. There is comfort, my people, because your sins are paid for, and grace abounds.

The grass was getting tall. Bud didn’t really want to get out that lawn mower again. He had other things on his mind. But, already it was too tall. The neighbors might not complain, this time, but… it really needed to be cut. Slowly resigned to the task he walked to the garage. He tugged up on the door. It seemed heavier than normal, not really wanting to be lifted. There was a scraping noise that emphasized the resistance. But finally it rose to his knees; he grasped underneath and forced the door, against its will, to the ceiling of the garage. He scanned the clutter; a dozen unfinished projects littered the floors and walls. It was funny, he thought, how the garage was supposed to be for the car, yet it had been relegated to the driveway, in favor of cardboard boxes, the Christmas tree and a pile of lumber wishing it was a new kitchen table. “The mower…” Bud interrupted himself. His eyes moved to the corner where it was kept. If Bud had known the bicycle was there he would have avoided the lawn project altogether. If he had only let the grass grow or listened to the garage door’s protest, he would have been spared the pain. He would not have experienced the re-opening of the wound. But now, it was too late. The bicycle was in view and so too where scenes of a little boy who used to ride it up and down the street. “God!” Bud cried. “Why did he have to die?” The question floated in the darkness of the garage as the memories flooded his brain. The chemotherapy that was supposed to be the cure only drained the boy of life. Bud remembered the helpless feelings, clenching his calloused hands in a vain attempt to do something . . . anything. “What were the words at the funeral?” He pleaded with his memory. What were the words of comfort there? The words that told him his Savior was with him even in that dark hour. Even when the pain was so great he didn’t think he would ever laugh, or smile again. In an instant the words appeared in his mind. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me . . .”

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but word of God’s promise lasts forever. Be comforted my people, when you are faced with the frailness of human existence, when death comes too soon. Take comfort in knowing that I am with you always. Take comfort knowing that your separation will not last forever. You will be together again. Shout the good news, that Jesus Christ has destroyed death’s hold forever.

“Baa, Baa” the bleating went on. Growing louder each passing moment as the little lamb struggled. But, with each pull, push or kick the thorns increased their bite upon the poor little animal. Each place where one of the long thorns stuck into the lamb’s skin there was now a spot of matted blood. The pain was becoming unbearable. All around the lamb could hear the rustling of some hungry predator in the brush. There was no way for the lamb to be calm, danger was everywhere, and death was stalking a helpless victim. Yet, it had come to this difficult place by its own actions. Ever straying from the flock in search of greener grass. Hiding around rocks and ridges, playfully ignoring the danger of being separated from the flock. Many times before the shepherd had chased him back to the fold. He had been struck many times with the shepherd’s rod. Still he would stray. Now, this time he strayed farther than ever before. He had wandered until the sound of the flock was far away. It was exhilarating, running and jumping along as he felt the boundless freedom of his straying. He ate wherever he pleased and moved with complete freedom. As the afternoon ran on, he began to wonder why the shepherd had not come to retrieve him. He shrugged it off and frolicked a little more. The entanglement happened when he was trying to get an extra bite of a small clump of tender grass. He had to stretch between two rocks to reach it. As he did, he didn’t notice the thorny branches beside him. It was only a small tumble, but he found himself square in the middle of the brambles. After several hours of struggle, he began to realize there was no escape from the thorns. The more he struggled the more entangled he became. The more entangled he became the greater the pain. The greater the pain the more he panicked. The more he panicked the more he struggled. And the deadly branches slowly tightened their grip. Like a curious predator exhaustion crept up on him. Engulfing his body in the darkness of sure death. Soon the sun set and darkness closed in on the lamb. Exhausted, it drifted in and out of consciousness. Then it heard the sound, “Snap” like someone, or something stepping on a twig. Then light footsteps. A sudden coldness came over it and the fear reached a climax. Hoping for one last bit of luck it jerked violently in the thorns, hoping to finally be free and away from the fearful approaching animal. But, the plant refused to release it. The lamb opened its eyes in terror gazing in the direction of the approaching danger. But, when it arrived, instead of bloody fangs, the smiling face of the shepherd appeared. “There you are,” said the shepherd. “I’ve been looking for you all night. What a mess you have gotten yourself into.” The shepherd’s voice was quiet and full of comfort. He reached down and began snapping off branches of the bush and untangling legs and wool embraced by thorns. The Shepherd himself began to bleed. Thorns dug into his hands piercing them. Still he persisted. It was a painful job, but necessary. The Shepherd gladly shed his own blood to release the lamb. Finally it was free and the Shepherd folded it into his arms. The lamb could hear the shepherd’s heart beating in his chest and feel his warm breath on him. It was safe, finally. The shepherd had found him. Nothing could hurt him while he was in his savior’s arms. The shepherd spoke comforting words to him, “Quiet, be still. You are with me now, there is nothing to harm you. I have saved you, you are mine… “

Comfort, comfort my little sheep. Says your Shepherd. When you stray, I will find you and bring you home. When you doubt I will assure you. Look for me and I will be there to untangle the trouble you’ve made in your lives. I will take you up and no one can snatch you out of my strong and comforting arms.

We are the exiles. Our own sinfulness is the army that has dragged human beings from their God into painful exile. It has brought with it its own carnage: sickness, separation and death. Thank God, Isaiah wrote words of comfort for exiles. He wrote words of comfort for us! Comfort, Comfort my people… Our God reminds us, through Isaiah’s beautiful words… our exile is over, sin and its power, its carnage, is wiped away forever. Jesus Christ brings comfort, and salvation. The Shepherd has come to untangle and remove the thorns that pierce us. He has laid down his very life for his sheep. Jesus is the comforting Shepherd, folding us in his strong and comforting arms. Forgiving us because of what he has done; because of his great love.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak straight to their hearts. Say to them “I have done everything necessary; I have paid the price for your sin. I have shed my own blood for you. I have gathered you in my arms. I am your Shepherd. I love you.” Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Thanks Bunn-O-Matic!

image Sometimes the neatest things happen. Tonight we were watching the Creston, IA holiday parade. It was cold.  Bunn, the folks who make coffee makers, came by giving out coffee filters. Then out of no where a very nice gal set a 10 cup coffee maker in my lap.  "Merry Christmas!" she said. I was stunned.

For those of you who don't know I love coffee!  This was a great Christmas gift.  Thanks Bunn-O-Matic!

Drop by anytime for a fresh cup!

This is the one they gave me!

Check out the Bunn Web site.

Gen.3.9-15; Weekday Advent Service One; December 3, 2008

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:9-15, ESV)

"Adam, Where are you?"

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Adam and Eve hid cowering among the trees of the Garden. For the first time in their lives they were afraid... afraid of God. They had never been afraid of Him before... never before had the sound of God approaching sent the scurrying for cover. Never before had they needed protection... But now, as they hid trembling, covered in their newly created clothing, they realized that their enemy was approaching. God would be angry. He would be angry at what they had done. Maybe it was a dream... maybe they really didn't take the fruit, but its taste still lingered on their lips, sweet... and bitter. It was not a dream. The shame clung to them, soiled them, so that they couldn't bear even to look at each other. No amount of clothing cover covered it... no amount of washing would remove it... They just wanted to hide, away from each other and away from God.

Why had they listened to the Snake? Why had they believed what was now so clearly lies? He had told them what it would mean... to know good and evil. The Snake was evil. What was it about what he said that was so irresistible? The lies dripped from his flickering tongue like drops of honey, but they held only poison and death. He had brought them to their hiding place with his promise of knowledge. Now they longed to forget. But it was the Snake... his evil... his lies... his deception... his fault. God couldn't blame them. They were too weak to resist. The fruit was too sweet.

Didn't God know that... didn't He know they couldn't stand up to such temptation. Now they were sure that it wasn't so much that they had failed... God had failed.... He should have protected them... He should have told them about the Snake. Clearly God was at fault, anyone could see that. So they crouched there, in their hiding place, blaming God. Hoping that He wouldn't see them, hoping that he would pass them by.

Satan howled in delight to see what he had done. He had driven a wedge between God and his most treasured creation. It had all seemed too easy. The man and the woman were indeed weak and pitiful. A half-hearted promise was all it took; a glimpse of the greener grass... They were so easily led away... And now, they were... lost, enemies of God; sinful creatures cowering among the leaves, hoping for protection from God's wrath. Satan watched in eager expectation, anticipation for what he considered a glorious victory. God was coming to the Garden, the man and his wife would face judgment.

God's heart was broken... He knew what had happened. He knew what Adam and Eve had done... how they had cast aside His love. Instead they believed Satan's lie. After all that He had done for them, they had chosen... the lie. And now, they were afraid... There in their poor hiding place, they were fearful and alone, not able to help each other and not able to turn to Him. The enormity of what they had done escaped them. They only knew their fear. It was right for them to be afraid... His anger burned. The sin in them was intolerable; a dark rotting spot; a self-imposed blemish in His perfect creation. They deserved destruction... but, now was not the time for destruction... now was the time for promise. "Adam... Adam, where are you?” He called to them.

We the people of the jury in the matter of the State of Iowa verses John Doe, find the defendant... guilty. He is guilty, guilty, guilty... guilty, we don't even like the word. We want to pass it over as soon as possible. Push it aside. Get rid of it. To be found guilty is to be discovered, put to shame, and publicly humiliated. Guilty people will go to great lengths to show that they are not guilty. And if they are found guilty, they will do what ever it takes to show they had sufficient reason to do what they are guilty of doing. You see it really wasn't my fault... I was abused as a child... I'm a drug addict... It must be genetic.

So when we see Adam and Eve afraid in the Garden, when we see them hiding from the wrath of God, we may not see what it has to do with us. We know that we sin. We don't have to look very hard at ourselves to see that. We even use it as an excuse. "Well, I'm not perfect. I'd like to seem someone else do better." But we justify ourselves by comparison. “I’m no Sadaam Hussein. I’m no adulterer. I’m no axe murderer. I’m no slacker.” We don’t see ourselves cowering in fear over our sin, it is just an unpleasant fact that we deal with every day. The truth of the matter is we seldom feel guilty about it. And if we do happen to feel guilty we don't feel guilty long... just like our first father and mother our guilt turns to excuses. I did it but... I was pushed into a corner. I did it but... I was only following the crowd. I did it but... I couldn't help it. I'm weak and sick. I did it but... it really isn't my fault. I'm not really guilty. When the finger of guilt points to us we stammer and shake... and push it away. Point that thing at someone else... we don’t care where it points as long as it doesn’t point at me. It is his fault, not mine.

It seems, after all, that we have a lot in common with our relative in the Garden. That's exactly what he did. When God confronted him with his sin, he did the 'manly thing'... he blamed his wife. "She did it... she brought me the fruit. She picked it from the tree... she listened to the snake first... I was influenced by her 'feminine ways'. It isn't my fault. And don't forget, God, you are the one who gave her to me. I think you made her wrong. She's defective. It isn’t my fault." Adam didn't linger long on his own sin. He didn't deny it... he just pushed the finger of guilt out of his face, and he didn't care where it landed. Don't think, though that Eve did any better. When God turned to her, when she was confronted about what she had done... "It was the snake. I was afraid of him. He was too clever for me. He picked the fruit... I mean he knocked it off the tree with his head. He gave it to me... so I ate it... it isn't my fault." It doesn't take much to hear those words in our own mouths.

Our unwillingness to accept blame is really a matter of fear. Fear over the guilt of sin. But, really we’ve tried to forget exactly why we should be afraid when we fall into sin. We’ve change the bible’s picture of God from a God who demands perfection, to a god who’s all excepting, a god who overlooks our little faults and problems. A god who says about our sin, “Well, that’s ok, you did the best you could.” That’s not the God Adam and Eve were rightfully afraid of in the garden. If you want to remind yourself exactly how God’s anger burns against sin, all you have to do is stand at the foot of the cross and see it. The punishment of Jesus is a very clear picture of the wages of sin, a very crisp portrayal of just exactly what our guilt should bring. Just like those two hiding in the garden, we try to cover over the fact that we are guilty. Guilt brings punishment. When they heard God approaching... they knew that he would be angry. They knew they were guilty, and they knew they should be afraid. What their guilt had done was turn the sound of their loving protector and provider in to the terrible sound of coming judgment. They tried to deflect it to each other. They tried to reflect it back on to God himself. That too is just like us. We have done that very thing; blaming God when we are faced with the consequences of our actions. Why did He allow this to happen? Why didn't He stop me? Why didn't He tell me about the Snake?

But this story is more than a story showing us the lousy way we deal with guilt. It is more than a quaint moral tale to show us a part of the human condition. It is the story of how God deals with sin. When He came to the Garden, He found Adam and Eve frightened, but He didn't destroy them. When he called out to Adam, “where are you?” He was calling for him to come out of his hiding place. “Come out here Adam. I have good news for you, instead of bad news.” Instead of destruction and punishment God was bringing a promise. Not a promise to just forget their sin, but a promise to remove it by taking it on Himself.

Think of it this way... There in the quiet darkness of his room sits a boy. He has been sent there to await punishment for something he has done wrong. He has been waiting for what seems like an eternity, dreading the arrival of his father. The silence grows loud as the anticipation of the punishment grows, the longer he has to wait to more terrified he becomes. Then way down the hallway he hears footsteps. Each one brings his dreaded punishment closer until at last they stop outside his door. He watches the doorknob waiting for it to turn... The door opens... Father walks in and sits beside him. "I have good news for you son," he begins, “I have not come to punish you."

That was the Good News in the Garden, too. God did not come to bring punishment. He came to bring a promise. It is that promise that we remember as we light the first candle of the advent wreath. It’s called the ‘prophecy’ candle for that very reason. Our Sunday School children will call it the “Hope” candle. This promise in Genesis 3:15 is the first mention of God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. With this promise Adam, Eve, and all humans began the wait for the promised Savior. We know who the promised Savior is. We know who it is who was bruised by Satan but also who crushed Satan’s head. We know whom it is who came to take away the sins of the world. Adam and his wife put their trust in the promise of God. And because they trusted God and His promise they began to wait.

When God walked into the garden looking for Adam and Eve, instead of coming as their enemy, instead of bringing wrath and punishment, He came with the Good News of their Savior. Jesus Christ the promised one is the one who solves the problem of the guilt of sin. As promised He suffered in shame on the cross, alone and afraid, not able to hide from God’s anger over sin. And even though He was totally innocent, God poured out on Him all His anger over sin. He was declared guilty for us. He bore the punishment that our sin earned. He bore the sin of Adam and Eve. He bore your sin. He bore my sin. We all have sinned but Jesus was made guilty and Jesus was made the punishment. When God pointed the finger of guilt at us, He redirected it and turned it to His Son instead. “No! He is the guilty one, not you.” He said. And we breathe a sigh of relief, as the punishment passes to Jesus and our guilt and punishment goes with Him to the cross. And God says to us, “I’m not here to punish you.”

God called out to Adam in the Garden. “Adam, where are you?” What He wanted was for Adam to turn to Him and say, "Here I am Lord. I am guilty. Please forgive me." Instead Adam did as we often do... "It isn't really my fault." He said. But, Jesus makes everything different. He has taken away the punishment that your sin deserves. So when God calls out to you, “Adam... Adam, Where are you?” Through faith in the promises of God, you respond, "Here I am Lord, I am guilty, please forgive me for Jesus sake." Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.