Saturday, December 24, 2011

Isaiah.40.1-11; The Festival of the Incarnation of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. December 25, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA

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. Go on 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)

From a Series by Dr. Reed Lessing, "Savior of the Nations Come"

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

You know it happens, you fail, you fall, you stop dead in your tracks unable to move forward. "dead as a doornail" "lost cause" "throw in the towel" "mighty Casey has struck out."

Israel was there. They were in exile from their loved land. They rejected God. He sent the Babylonian army to conquer them and drag them into captivity. They had no temple. They had no capital city, Jerusalem. They had no king to rule. The had no hope. "dead as a doornail" "lost cause" "throw in the towel" "mighty Casey has struck out." Isaiah speaks to them.

To those who had thrown in the towel he writes "Comfort, Comfort" He doubles up the word to show how strong the comfort will be. "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." The words explode with comfort from God's promises. As he said when he brought them out of slavery in Egypt, "I will be your God, you will be my people!" (Ex 6:7). "Speak tenderly," he continues. Literally "upon the heart" to bring the comfort right where it is needed most. This text has comfort at the beginning and comfort at the end. Like bookends. Spoken in the beginning and in-fleshed in the Shepherd at the end. Just like the beloved Psalm "The Lord is my shepherd" the image brings the comfort of God's compassion and tenderness that were needed by the exiles. The people, like sheep, had gone astray. God their Shepherd, would fold them in his arms and take them home again.

Now sheep are not very intimidating creatures. In the NFL there are teams called the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions, the Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons. But there isn't, and I dare say, there will never be a team called the Los Angeles Lambs or the San Antonio Sheep.

Sheep are not intimidating creatures. The truth is they are dumb. They graze on the same hills until they turn it to a waste land. They get too close to the water when they drink and the water wicks up into their wool and they fall in, and drown. We aren't like that... are we?

Sheep are dirty. Their wool is a magnet for every foul thing on the ground, dirt, mud, manure, and maggots. Sheep absorb every particle of filth in the atmosphere. We aren't like that... are we?

Sheep are defenseless. They turn over on their back to rest. Then they can't get up. Wild dogs, coyotes and cougars all know that a cast sheep is a sitting duck. But we aren't like that... are we?

Israel had been just like that. They were lost, defenseless. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar set upon them. The towel was thrown in 586 because they were like sheep.

Israel had been dumb. Isaiah 1:3 — “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

God’s people were dirty. Isaiah 64:6 — “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

Israel had been defenseless. Isaiah 1:6 — “From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness; only wounds and welts and open sores.” We're not like that…are we?

Hear the word of the LORD: Isaiah 53:6 — “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” And the result? “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remember Zion.” You and I are living testimonies of lost causes. We are exiled. We are so far from the Father's will and ways…so far from bearing each other's pain and burdens…so far from spouses, children, sisters and brothers. Mighty Casey has struck out!

So what's the Shepherd to do? He only has one option; to become a Lamb. But not any ordinary lamb. “A virgin will conceive and bear a Son and you will call his name Immanuel” (Is 7:14). “His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6).

This was no ordinary baby. Angels sang over him. Shepherds marveled at him. Simeon worshipped him. Mary pondered over these things and stored them up in her heart. Herod plotted to kill him.

But where he failed others would succeed. “He was led like a Lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Is 53:7).

There were no green pastures. Rather spit and blood are caked to his cheeks. Neither were there quiet waters, in fact, no water at all. His lips are cracked and swollen and his throat is parched from the hot Palestinian sun. He's passing through the valley of the shadow of death as pain twangs her morbid melody. There's no rod or staff for comfort. The cup overflows all right…he drinks from the cup of the fury of wrath of God Almighty. Surely goodness and mercy have been twisted and perverted in the most inhumane way. Mary’s little Lamb is crucified, dead and buried.

Isaiah says, though, "The Word of our God stands forever!" The word stands when God burst the people free from exile in Babylon. The word stands when the Babe bursts from Bethlehem. And the word stands when Jesus bursts from three days dead in the tomb.

"Comfort, comfort my people!" That what the shepherd does. When I'm lost and exiled he leaves the 99 and runs after me. When I'm confused by voices of demons and devils he calls me by name and I know that voice. When I'm dirty and full of filth he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. There is a Shepherd who gathers me in his arms until I’m better, holds me until I can live with the hurt, and carries me close to his heart forever!

Dumb, dirty and defenseless. We are like that…aren't we? There is one more word to describe us, though, this Christmas Day. We are delivered! Jesus delivers comfort, like bookends: in the beginning all the way through to the comfort at the end of life…until we dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.

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

Isaiah.40.10-11; The Nativity of Our Lord; December 24, 2011;

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 40:10–11, ESV)

From a Series by Dr. Reed Lessing, "Savior of the Nations Come"

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

A man was walking through a cemetery late one night when he fell into an open grave. Frantically, he began to feel around the walls of the pit. Pretty soon he began trying to jump out. Exhausted after a few minutes he gave up all hope and sat down. Just then he heard someone say, “Forget it pal. You are stuck!” And guess what? Being totally shocked and surprised, the man was out of that grave in no time!

How does it feel when you are stuck in a pit and can't get out? How does it feel to be stuck in a grave, clawing at the walls, only to fall back down again and again?

You now how it feels and so do I.

As we sit in our pit of disappointment people pass by and offer their help. A sensitive person walks by and says, “I feel for you down there. I’ll get around to sending you some flowers real soon!”

A religious person walks by and says, “Only bad people fall into pits. What did you do so wrong to end up so stuck?”

A math teacher walks by and says, “Let me calculate how you fell into the pit.” So he takes out his calculator and crunches some numbers.

A news reporter walks by and says, “Let me do an exclusive story on your pit.”

An IRS man walks by and says, “Hey, are you paying taxes on your pit?”

A friend walks by and says, “Things could be worse.”

A pessimist walks by and says, “Things will get worse.”

The truth is, most of the time we are responsible for being stuck in our own pit, for digging our own grave. You know how it goes. You can't hold your anger. You can't manage your money. You can't tame your tongue. You can't get along with that co-worker. You can't say good things about your neighbor.

The big problem with our pit comes when we get so used to being there we set up housekeeping. We decorate the walls, hang pictures, and wall paper. A couch here, a chair there, a place to pay the bills and it almost looks like home. But it's not!

Isaiah tells us that God comes with his mighty arm. That's what he always does for his people. He is strong to save, defeating enemies and ending conflict. He comes with an outstretched arm a compassionate arm that cares for our needs. What's great about God's work is that it never ends. God is eternal. He reaches out to save and beneath are the everlasting arms.

Back in the pit, night falls. It is an ordinary night with an ordinary sky. There are some ordinary sheep. You hear them from the pit.

And you hear shepherds, plain old, ordinary, smelly, poor shepherds. They smell like sheep, and look like them too.

It all seems like an ordinary night. But God has other plans. The black night explodes with bright light. The sheep begin to get noisy, too. What in the world is going on?

Jesus is coming into our human hell. Jesus is entering into our deep darkness. Jesus is coming into your pit, right where you are.

His arms feel the burn of the whiplash as he is beaten for our sins.

His arms feel the flaming fire of the nails piercing his flesh.

His arms feel the weight of his body as he hangs on the old rugged cross.

His arms feel the warmth of his own blood as it runs from his open wounds.

He is crucified, dead and buried for you. He suffers the pain of our punishment. He is there in our pit to bring us forgiveness and rescue. Underneath us are the everlasting arms. He jumps down into our pit of death and despair. He reaches out and holds grabs us with everlasting arms. These arms, though, dead, are alive again. They are everlasting!

Our Savior’s arms welcome us, hold us, lead us, and guide us forever. And they are there in our pit carrying us up and out. Amen.

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

It's time!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

John.1.6-8.19-28; Third Sunday in Advent; December 11, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. John 1:6-8

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. John 1:19-28

Songs of Emmanuel – The Agnus Dei

From a sermon by Pastor Tim Pauls

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

There’s something compelling about John the Baptizer. Even for you and me, after all what would advent be without taking one Sunday and talking about him. Though, I don’t think that it’s his clothing. Camel’s hair isn’t exactly a popular fashion statement. I don’t think it’s his diet either. When was the last time you heard of a diet guru promoting a diet of locust and wild honey? If that were my diet I’d surely loose weight! But, John is a commanding presence; there must be something about him that draws people’s attention. It has to be because the text says the “all Judea” was going out to see him. They went out to hear his message and to be baptized. Those flocks of people must have seen something more than “John son of Zacharias.”

The Scribes and Pharisees sent people to him because they wanted to know what he was all about. They were probably looking for a reason to kill him for all his attention.

"Are you the Christ?” they ask. He was certainly drawing crowds like they expected the Messiah to do. He had words for even Roman Soldiers. But John answered their question clearly, “I am not the Christ.”

“What then? Are you Elijah?” They wanted to know if John thought he was the great prophet returned from the dead. Elijah was the prophet who spoke God’s word and brought famine, and then again and the rains refreshed the land. He is the one who killed 400 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. And he even raised the dead. Maybe John saw himself as Elijah. “Are you him?” they asked. “I am not.” John says.

“Are you the Prophet?” came the next question. Israel had for millennium expected a prophet greater than Moses to appear; one to preach like Moses; one to lead the people out of slavery like Moses; one to supply them with their needs like Moses did with manna and quail. John was gathering crowds, maybe he thought he was the Prophet Moses promised. “Are you him?” they asked. “No.” said John, simply.

“Then who?” they needed to know. “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?"

John’s answer may have surprised them. “I am The Voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” as the prophet Isaiah said.” Oh, so that’s who he is, they may have said to themselves. For all of his talk, all of his crowd gathering, all of his charisma, he’s just “the voice.” He’s just the preparer. But the voice is preparing the way for Christ himself. John’s isn’t the Messiah but if he is the voice then his message is that the Messiah is coming.

If John draws so much attention what will the Christ, who comes after him, be like? Will he stand out head and shoulders above the crowd? Will he come in power and strength and authority? If John is the voice and he draws this kind of attention, the Messiah that he announces will surely draw even more. The Christ is one who is anointed by God to save his people, and govern them and lift them up forever. He must be a strong and powerful person indeed! If he is coming we’ll know him when we see him, right?

The Pharisees ask one more question: “Why do you baptize if you are not any of these people, sent by God?” John says, “I baptize with water, but there is one who stands with us now, he is the coming one, you don’t see him but he is here. I’m not worthy even to stoop down to take off his shoes.”

Those people must have been scratching their heads and looking around. “You mean he’s here right now? “Standing among us,” you say. But we don’t know him? Why doesn’t he stand out? Don’t you think we’d recognize someone who’s greater than Moses and Elijah? Don’t you think we’d recognize someone greater than the Baptizer? Prophecy tells us that when the Christ comes he’ll flatten mountains and rise up valleys. He’s called the Lion of Judah.”

Jesus was there and quiet. And they don’t recognize him. He’s just a face in the crowd. For the Christ that God did send you can’t go by appearance. If you want to know who this Christ is you have to go by what he says and does. John knows and identifies him. Pointing a finger at Jesus he says “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He was right there with them and John called him the “Lamb of God” not the “Lion of Judah.”

A lamb isn’t what is expected. Lambs don’t bring images of power and glory to mind. They don’t conquer worlds and kingdoms. They are taken care of. They don’t care for others. They are lead to slaughter and sacrifice without putting up even so much as a struggle. But isn’t the Messiah supposed to be strong and powerful, why is he the “Lamb of God?”

He is strong; in fact he is all-powerful. But he is also meek. He is going to conquer his enemies but he will do it by meekness. Just like everyone standing on that riverbank he submits to John’s baptism. He isn’t going to save by being overpowering he is going to save by serving. He will draw his followers by being their servant. He won’t punish his enemies either. Instead he will allow himself to be punished by them. Most of all he will save by sacrifice. He will offer himself as the sacrifice for the whole world’s sins. He will take them to the cross and shed his blood, just like the lambs in the temple. He is indeed the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Many will miss this Savior because he doesn’t look like what they expect. In their eyes he should be a powerful king. He should have a throne of power that people can look up to. People go by appearances, so many reject Jesus out of hand, and pass him by as if he is nothing special.

But there are some who hear his word and believe in him. They don’t care what he looks like, they don’t care if he’s just a face in the crowd. They look on the one who dies on the cross for them and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

"O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.
"O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.
"O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have grant us Thy peace."
"Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John says those words because Jesus was right there the face in the crowd. John spoke what was true; Jesus had come to save the world. He was on his way to the cross to bear the sins of the world and set everything right between God and man.

We don’t repeat John’s song just out of a sense of what God has done for us in the past. We sing it because he is present with us here and now. We sing those words in our worship because the Son of God has become flesh and he promises to be with us here whenever we gather in his name. He is here right now, flesh and blood, just as he was with the people who crowded around John on the banks of the Jordan River.

Jesus Christ conquered sin and death and rose in victory over the grave, he even “sits that right hand of God” and rules all things. But he still comes to you humbly. He still comes to you to serve. He is present here with his Word. He is the Word made flesh, so when his Word is here, he is here. He is present whenever he pours the water of baptism, when he washes away the sins of the world. He is here in bread and wine, giving you himself, his very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

It’s rather a humble way to come, isn’t it? The spoken word, water and wine. These are everyday things you can find in the grocery store. Just in the same way he was quietly standing on the banks of the Jordan, he comes to us humbly in common things. That’s his promise to us that he is with us here in Word and Sacraments.

The problem for us is that we often want to look for God where he isn’t found. Our sin makes us want to see him in less common things. There are plenty of charismatic leaders out there, who proclaim a popular message. We want to see Jesus there, but if they don’t proclaim the Gospel, if they don’t point to what Jesus Christ has done for the world, Jesus isn’t there. We want to see Jesus in our feeling and experiences. We say to ourselves that we need to “feel” the Holy Spirit in our lives to know that God is with us. But Jesus never promises that we will feel any different when we become Christians. We don’t look inside ourselves to prove God’s favor to us, our feelings and experiences can be wrong. We look to Jesus Christ and what he promises to do. We want to see Jesus in powerful, growing, successful churches. We want to see him in big programs that appeal to the “felt needs” of people. But if God’s word isn’t preached and the Sacraments are not administered, if the Gospel isn’t found in those programs, it’s all for nothing. Jesus Christ isn’t there either.

We walk by faith, not by sight. We believe in the Word, not what things look like. That’s why we rejoice in the promises of our Savior. He promises to be here in Baptism, Communion and his Word. They may look like everyday things but everyday we need what God promises to give through them: We need the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross. Our Lord comes humbly as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It doesn’t look very glorious, but it is.

If we think about this just a little more we can see that it explains a lot about our lives, in general. Some people will tell you that when you become a Christian, you should expect an extraordinary life. You should see miracles and wonderful things a proof of God’s love for you. When you hear that and look at your life, that may be very unremarkable, and everyday, you may think that something must be wrong. But, there’s nothing wrong at all. Jesus Christ works in very un-remarkable looking ways for your salvation. He also works in some very ordinary, everyday ways for your other needs also. Instead of using a glorious healing, he may use ordinary doctors and medicine to heal you. Instead of sending manna from heaven he provides you with a job so you can work to provide for your family. These ordinary things don’t point to God’s absence in your life, they in fact point to God working and providing for your every need.

Jesus was just a face in the crowd at the Jordan River, he was unrecognized by the crowds. You too, may live a life that is unrecognizable from people around you. Just as Jesus suffered, you too will suffer. It’s not because Jesus has abandoned you, but because you are his disciple. You are the sheep of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. You are forgiven. You are his. Amen.

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

Saturday, December 03, 2011

2 Peter 3:8-14; The Second Sunday in Advent; December 4, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

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

This waiting thing during Advent is a difficult thing, especially these days. Christmas runs full bore beginning with Black Friday through 9am Christmas morning. And then it should be done. After that we move into bleak winter, or look forward to Valentine's day or spring. The time of "Peace on earth" is over, let's get on to the next thing. But, here in Church we have it all backwards. There's the yearly struggle between Pastor and the Christmas decorations. He says we should wait till the week before Christmas, we need to get it done while people are still in the mood to decorate for Christmas. Pastors can be such Scrooges when it comes to Christmas time. When we talk about waiting, we are trying to swim up stream, kicking against the goads, as Jesus said to Paul. (By the way a goad is a cattle prod). Waiting is the last thing we want to do these days. We want what we want and we want it now! Hey, I'm not just talking about you here. I'm talking about me. It's easy to click that little button on the web order to get the package in 2 days rather than 5 days, the heck with how much it costs. So, when we talk about waiting... When God tells us that we should be waiting, that's hard for us, all of us.

Well, the waiting at Advent isn't about killing the joy of Christmas, or fighting against the culture. It's about reminding ourselves what we are really waiting for and what that waiting is to look like. What St. Peter wrote in his letter he wrote to us, he could have just as well said, "to the church at Creston". He reminds us, those who have obtained faith... by our Lord Jesus Christ (1:1), why we are waiting.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 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. But 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 that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” (2 Peter 3:8–14, ESV)

So, talking about all this burning up and destroying doesn't sound very Christmassy does it. But it is good to remember, that this life that we live is heading somewhere, and that somewhere is the return of Jesus, our Savior. The judgment of the whole world. The setting of all wrongs right. A new heavens and a new earth where there is no more waiting, or pain, or sorrow, or trouble, or death. If we keep our eye on the ball, that is looking toward Jesus return, the ultimate goal of Christians, then everything will make sense. So that's exactly what we are doing during Advent. Christmas Day is a day full of Joy to the World. We have every right to celebrate. God became man in Jesus Christ. The account of his coming is something special. The whole world recognizes that. But we push off the joy just a bit during Advent, just as we are right now waiting for the joy of his coming again. And so St. Peter helps us keep our eye on the ball. Everything he says here could be summed up like this: While you are waiting for the coming of Jesus, live lives of holiness and godliness.

Well, talk about kicking against the goads. Living a life of holiness isn't exactly in vogue. Just a quick example. We all pretend that the great deals we are looking for on Black Friday are for Christmas gifts. But most of the mountain of purchases that packed on already full credit cards this year were not Christmas gifts. They were opened at home right away. We pretend to be in a giving mode but our favorite giftee is us. How quickly the giving season becomes self-centered when there are shiny things to be had. Well that's certainly not being holy, is it?

Let's make sure we understand exactly what the Bible means when it tells us live in holiness. First, we usually think that holy means to be good, or sinless, or perfect. And while that's a part of the meaning, there really isn't an English word that gets it all. In Bible the word holy most often means "set apart for God." The opposite of holy isn't sinful, the opposite of holy is common. That is able to be used by anyone, for anything.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

It means to set aside the Sabbath day for God's use. That's why we come together here, isn't it. We receive the things God promises to give us here, on this day. We set aside this time for God to do what God wants to do. This day, this time, is holy, that is set apart for God's use.

And so St. Peter says that while we wait the coming of the Lord, we are to live lives of holiness, to be holy. So, he means, lives set apart for God. You have already been set apart for God, you are already holy. Another way to say this is to say that you are a 'saint'. Now you know that you are not perfect, or sinless, or better than anyone else. You are a saint, because God says you are. You were made a saint, that is holy, in Holy Baptism. There God declares you his holy, forgiven child, because Jesus' life, death and resurrection are yours. God removes sin from you and sets you apart as his.

In his other letter St. Peter describes you like this:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9–10, ESV)

There we have it. You are holy, that is set apart for God, to "proclaim the excellencies" of God. You are set aside for God, to proclaim the great things that God has done. You have received mercy, forgiveness, life forever, salvation, through God's work in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

You do this by living life as God directs. Because you are set aside for God, you do as God would want. Now that's quite a bit different from what's going on in life around you. People live for themselves. You live for others. People sleep in on Sunday morning. You make Sunday holy to God, set aside for him. People do what ever they think is right. You do what God says is right. It's because you are holy, set aside for God.

Ah, but there it is, isn't it? You don't think your are holy because you don't live up to any of these expectations. You find yourself being selfish. You find yourself skipping church. You find yourself influenced by what the world says is right. You know it isn't as God would have you live. If only you could live a perfectly holy life. Now we go back again to what St. Peter said.

[God] is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

God is not patient because he tolerates sin. He is patient, because he sent Jesus to suffer the punishment for your sin. He doesn't just push sin under the carpet, he pushes sin onto his son, Jesus on the cross. And repentance is just that. Seeing our sin, and pushing it on Jesus on the cross, and receiving forgiveness through faith that Jesus death is my death. His punishment for sin, is my punishment for sin. Because of Jesus I have received mercy! So, I am set aside for God, to do what God would have me do, to be holy as God is holy.

And so, we look forward to a time when we won't have sin to give to Jesus. A time when everything will be perfect and holy. A time when there will be no more waiting and everything that God promises will come to completeness.

Until then we wait. And so we wait at Advent. Looking forward to the coming of Jesus, and the joy of the stable. The joy of the stable, the baby Jesus, is the joy of sins forgiven at the cross. The joy of Christmas is the promise that all things will be made new again, and that Jesus is coming again at any time, in a day or a thousand years. And when he does there will be such joy. Amen.

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