Sunday, December 27, 2020

Isaiah 63:7-14; First Sunday after Christmas; December 27, 2020;

Isaiah 63:7-14; First Sunday after Christmas; December 27, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.” And he became their Savior. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit, who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths? Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble. Like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest. So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name.” (Isaiah 63:7–14, ESV) (from and outline by Joel Biermann, Concordia Journal Fall 2013) Grace and peace to you from our Savior Jesus Christ. Well, it'll be nice to get back to normal won’t it? Christmas is nice, New Years can be fun (if you don't overdo it!), but normal is nice. But who knows when normal will return? What's with this text anyway? It doesn't seem very Christmasy. God giving extraordinary loving kindness to Israel and their response is rebellion. And then returning to the Lord once again and he forgives. It's an endless refrain. A familiar story. But it seems out of season. Let's hear something more about the Baby of Bethlehem. Yes, let's not forget that the Baby was born. Let's also not forget that once the baby arrives there's no going back. Any couple can tell you the baby changes everything. There's a new routine. A new emphasis. This week we still want the baby. But next week when we take down the tree, we might rather pack the baby back in the box with the rest of the Nativity scene and let him stay there till next year. But, this baby, this Christmas baby, won't be packed away. Because this baby is no ordinary baby. The changes he brings are not the same as midnight feedings and new bills. This Baby brings something much more. He has come to stay. And he comes on his own terms. He comes with an agenda. He is the King. He comes to bring his kingdom. A kingdom can only have one King. That's the problem the children of Israel had. They rebelled against their one King. It's an old story. God acts to bring salvation. Human beings rebel. There actually is no choice. It is a consequence of our fallen, sinful nature. Without the baby, we are blind, dead, enemies of God and we want to be our own King, and the new King born in the manger is a threat. We think we can make it on our own. We think we are self-reliant. We think we have charge over our lives. It's an illusion. It's an illusion that began in the garden when Adam and Eve thought they knew what was better for them than God. What they wanted was not theirs to have. They thought they wanted what they didn't actually need. The illusion is brought full force to our eyes and ears through cultural inputs. Movies and television and music assure us that we are the master of our own destiny. And the illusion is so strong that in spite of the evidence, our broken relationships, our inability to do what we know we should do, our lack of care for our neighbors, and our insistence on our own way, that we think we have everything in control. But we fail daily in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and left undone. We fail to love God with our whole heart. And so, we resist the new King is strongly as Herod who sought to kill him, too. Herod is the great evil man in the Christmas story who would dare to strike out and kill a helpless child. He strikes out in a violent attack against the one who would be king in his place. There we stand. In Bethlehem, the baby comes with an agenda. He is the Lord. He is the King. There can be only one. We cannot rule ourselves and bow before the true King. The true King will not be content until he rules all, even every aspect of our own lives. He comes to remove sin from your life and mine. Even the sin I don't want to get rid of. If you think about it, Herod's reaction isn't really that surprising. This baby King changes everything. This baby comes, and makes demands, and someone is going to get hurt. Someone is going to die. There's no getting around it. This baby King threatens to kill my rule over my own kingdom. Actually, this baby King, threatens to kill me. And I won't have it. But maybe I will. Because I need a Savior. I am unable to rule over my own kingdom. My rule leaves my life in shambles. My failures are stacked up. My relationship with God is shattered by sin. Someone is going to get hurt. And if not me than the baby. And he does. In fact, it's why he was born. What Herod tried to do by force, the baby does willingly. He gives himself into death on the cross. In the fight to reign over my own life God will win. He will do whatever is necessary, including sacrificing himself. My sin and rebellion are punished by God in the baby on the cross. And I will die. In Holy Baptism, my old sinful nature is drowned to death. My rebellious nature is killed. And the baby's claim on my life is set forever. I am beat by the baby. All that happened with Israel is repeated. I am raised from death to new life. I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 20, 20208

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 20, 20208 Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.” But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” ’ Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ” (2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “Surprise” You know as I think about how God works in our lives it seems to me that God surprises us all the time. We get settled into our way of doing things and then all of the sudden God hops in and says “Surprise! It’s not going to be that way anymore.” I’ll bet many of you could come up with many more stories of that kind of surprise, than I can. Ask my wife about the surprise of Hannah. She tells the story much better than I ever could tell it. It gets better every time I hear it. Surprise is a part of life, and very often it’s God who’s on the giving end of it. The bible too, is full of folks who were surprised by God. St. Paul is one. He was a deeply religious man, the student of one of the most important Rabbis of the first century. He was sure that he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do. He very zealously sought out, and arrested members of a new “cult” that was causing divisions in the church. He had papers from the highest church officials that allowed him to travel wherever he needed to go to find them and root them out. And he was good at it too. Paul, his name was Saul then found Christians wherever they were. He was even present and approved of the execution of an incredibly famous Christian named Stephen. Saul was certain he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do. But, one day on the road to Damascus Jesus, the one who’s church he was attacking, knocked him off his horse and said “Surprise! You think you’re doing God’s will? Well, you’re not. You’re not persecuting a bunch of religious fanatics you’re persecuting me! It’s time to stop. I’ve chosen you to be my voice and my servant. And not only that; now your going to be called Paul. Surprise!” Paul was indeed surprised. It was a life-changing event for him, and a life changing even for the Church of Jesus Christ. Just imagine the surprise for that young girl in the Gospel for today: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27, ESV) “Greetings,” the angel said to Mary. “Surprise! Things are going to be quite different for you now!” Mary had plans of her own. She was soon to be married to a local businessman. She was young, but that was normal for her day. She soon expected to have children; it was expected of all married couples to have children as soon as possible. “You are a very favored woman.” The angel said to her. “And God himself is with you.” The text says that Mary was troubled at the greeting. Surprised, I’d say, and afraid of what was going to happen to her. But the angel insisted that everything would be ok. “Don’t be afraid… but… Surprise! You’re going to have a son, and he’s not going to be your husband’s son, he’s going to be God’s son. God’s going to give him the throne of David. Surprise! Your son, God’s son, is going to be King!” Of course, Mary didn’t know how this was all going to come about, because although she was engaged, she wasn’t married yet. “Remember what I said, Mary, this child is going to be God’s son. He will be placed into your womb by the Holy Spirit.” Mary was surprised but she allowed her plans to be changed. And the world was changed because of the surprise that God planned for Mary. Another king in Israel was surprised, too. This king was a distant relative of the Surprise King born to Mary. He too, was God’s man. He wasn’t perfect but he lived in God’s forgiveness and God called him a man after His own heart. King David was settled in his palace after God had done everything, he promised to make David king. He was at rest from his enemies, the text says. As he looked around at all that God had done for him, he made some plans of his own. “I live in a great palace that God has given me. It’s time to give something back to God. I’m going to build a house for God. Nathan, God’s prophet, agreed, “Hey,” he might have said, “that sounds like a great idea. Let’s do it!” But that night God said to Nathan, “Surprise! That’s not what’s going to happen. Go tell the king, Surprise!” It wasn’t that what David was planning wasn’t a good thing. It was proper for him to want to give back to God from what he had been given. It was proper to want a beautiful place to worship God. It’s just that God had a different surprise in mind. “Remember David,” Said God though Nathan. “Remember where you came from. You were a shepherd. I took you out of the pasture and made you king. That was big a surprise! Kings don’t come from shepherds, but I made you king anyway. I’ve led you to take care of my people and your descendants will take care of my people forever! You want to make a house for me, well I’m going to make a really great house for you. It’s all going to start with your son Solomon. He’s going to be the one to actually build the temple you’re talking about.” But the surprise wasn’t over. “What’s more, David, the house I build for you is going to be more than just a house of wood and stone. Surprise! Your house is going to last forever.” David may have been a little disappointed, but he listened to God. And God did build a house from David’s son. Solomon builds a beautiful temple, but David’ Greater Son, Jesus Christ built the house of God’s Church. The shepherds sitting on the hillside outside of Jerusalem were surprised, the night that David’s greatest son was born. We know the story well. “Greetings, Surprise!” the angel said. “I bring to you, shepherds (yes you!), good news of great joy. The King and Savior of the world is born for you tonight!” They were surprised and terrified and joyful. And when the sky was filled with the surprise of a “host” of angels. Surprise probably isn’t the word that best describes what the shepherds felt. When it was all over one of the shepherds said, “Hey guys, to you think we ought to go and see this King?” I’m sure the others looked at him with a funny look, of course they were going to go. They were surprised, but they went and found everything just as the angel said they would. But that wasn’t the end of it all for them. When they told other people about everything that had happened to them “everyone” was surprised. “Surprise! God told us shepherds first!” So, God surprises us with Jesus. He was born where no other king would have been born. And he was going to do what no other king could do, build an everlasting kingdom. That kingdom is the church. It’s not liked any other kingdom. God’s people aren’t the “cream of the crop.” We are sinful people. God’s kingdom, in Jesus, is built on the forgiveness of sins. That’s the biggest surprise of Jesus. Our sin should be our death and punishment. Jesus, our king, doesn’t punish us, instead he takes it to the cross. When we gather here on Sunday morning we expect to hear, “Your sins are forgiven.” But it really is a surprise. David’s surprise, Paul’s surprise, the Shepherd’s surprise, and Mary’s surprise are all about this surprise of forgiveness for you and me, in Jesus. But really, I wonder… is it really a surprise? I don’t think so. We really shouldn’t be surprised that God keeps his promises. What should really surprise us is that when human beings broke their relationship with God in the garden, he didn’t kill them on the spot. Instead, he said, “Surprise! I’m going to fix everything. Satan, who tempted you and who will continue to torment you, will be crushed once and for all. I’m going to send a Savior and he’s going to rebuild your relationship with me.” That’s the promise that was fulfilled when Mary gave birth to Jesus in the dirty stable that first Christmas night. It really isn’t a surprise at all. It really wasn’t a surprise that God chose to make the announcement to the shepherds first. God was really fulfilling the promise he made to bless all the world through the Seed of Eve. He just wanted the shepherds to remember (and us too!) that the promise of Jesus Christ is for all people, even those who aren’t very lovable. It wasn’t really a surprise that David wouldn’t build God’s house, either. God was really just trying to show David that he was in charge. He wanted David to remember that even though his son Solomon would bring peace, (that is what Solomon’s name means after all), but that there was going to be an even greater prince, and even greater son who would bring peace. In fact, he would be called the Prince of Peace. Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace who sets right what human beings set wrong. He wins the peace by his suffering and death on the cross. Even Mary’s surprise wasn’t really a surprise at all. All along God promised that he would take care of sin. All along God was promising that he would take care of the “wages of sin.” Every time a sacrifice was made in the temple, it reminded the people that the spilling of blood was necessary to pay the awful price of breaking God’s law. And from the very beginning God promised to come and pay the price himself. It was in God’s promise to another woman, Eve, that God said his own heel would be bruised. When Mary looked at the baby lying in her arms, she was looking at the flesh of God that would pay that price. And as for Paul; no real surprise there either. It was just God making sure his promise went exactly as he planned. That plan included you and me, and Paul was the man who would bring the Good News of God in the flesh, the Good News that God and man are reconciled, to the gentiles. In case you’ve forgotten, we are gentiles. The Good News that Paul preached is for you and me. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Third Sunday in Advent; December 13, 2020;

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Third Sunday in Advent; December 13, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; 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 is 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.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

2 Peter 3:8-14; The Second Sunday in Advent; December 6, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This waiting thing during Advent is a difficult thing, especially these days. Usually, Christmas runs full bore beginning with Black Friday through 9am Christmas morning. But this year, with COVID, things are at a standstill. After that we move into bleak winter, more of the same for this year. 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 Grand Marais.". 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, who 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 whatever 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 you 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.