Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent 4 Sermon

December 20-21, 2009 Advent 4 John 1:19-28 Who Are You?

The bigwigs from Jerusalem went down to the river to investigate John the Baptist and they asked him, “Who are you?” John´s answer was very strange. He said, “I am not the Christ.” Isn´t that a funny way to respond? It´d be like if someone said, “Who are you?” and you said, “I´m not the president of the united states.” They asked, “Who are you?” and he answered, “I am not the Christ.” We can deduce from John´s response that there were some people who thought he might be the Christ.

John was the forerunner anointed by God to prepare the people for the coming of the Christ, but he is very clear from the outset saying of himself, “I am not the Christ.” In fact, much of John´s ministry was about demonstrating who he was not. He is not the light. He is not the Christ. He is not Elijah. He is not the Prophet. He is not worthy to untie the Christ´s sandals. It is a wise individual who can accurately describe what he or she is not.

If he were hungry for honor and adulation, this would have been the perfect opportunity for John to promote himself. The Scriptures tell us that John as already extremely popular with common folk. All of Judea was flocking out to see him and be baptized. His sermons were impressive and rumors were circulating that this man was special.

The people of Israel during the Second Temple period, the period during which the Gospels were written, were deeply tuned in to the promises of a coming Liberator, one like Moses, who would bring liberty to captives and good tidings to the poor. There was a strong sense of expectation in the atmosphere. Around the time of John the Baptist and Jesus, there were numerous charismatic figures attracting followers and promising change. There were wonderworkers claiming to bring healing and deliverance from devils. There were messianic political agitators gaining traction in their campaigns to upset the tyranny of the Roman occupiers.

It was John´s role in those turbulent times to call men to repentance, to point out that our sins have alienated us from our Creator and that all of us are in desperate need of reconciliation.

The best time to hear about a Liberator is when you are in prison. You are never more receptive to the promise of freedom than when you are a slave. Most of us will never know the feeling of being bound by chains of iron but there is more than one form of bondage. It is easier to bend metal bars than to set yourself free from incarceration by lust or selfishness or malice. Nothing locks you down as firmly as guilt.

As the heirs of Adam´s rebellion, all of us are enslaved not only by sin but by the decay of death. Death is the fruit of sin. Not only the deaths of our bodies, but the brutal corruption of every aspect of human existence. In other words, life on earth is not the garden of delights it was meant to be.

It is a sign of wisdom when a person begins to know the world for the cruel merciless place it is. And this awakening, if not understood within the context of Christian hope, is devastating. The crushing realization that you won´t achieve most of your goals; you won´t realize most of the things you hope for; mothers don´t really love their sons; people are essentially selfish and the world basically does not care. These are the realizations that drive men to seek some sense of relief in drugs or alcohol or illicit sexual encounters, in gambling and addictions and shirking one´s duties through excessive escapist entertainments.

No sentient creature is so polluted that it does not know the difference between bondage and freedom. A fox caught in a steel jaw will chew off his leg to get away. Even men who have never heard the gospel message of forgiveness and eternal life hope for a better day. It is the instinctual will to survive. We need to be saved from the darkening powers which crowd us if we are to live.

For several weeks or months, we´ve been preparing for Christmas. For many of us, that means spending money we don´t have as much in the spirit of consumption as in the spirit of giving. Very soon, we´ll all be gathered around the trees in our living rooms exchanging gifts, drinking eggnog, taking pictures while ooh-ing and aah-ing over clothing and trinkets and gadgets we don´t need and will never use. Then the excitement will be over and for many of us there will be a sense of letdown as we go back to our routines with renewed awareness that our families are imperfect, there is no peace on earth nor goodwill toward men.

Christmas is a time when many Americans feel nostalgic for a simpler day. Coca-Cola advertisements set in the 1940s and 50s show Santa Claus bringing presents to children whose faces are lit with innocent joy. The implication is that those were better days but it´s a false misleading dream. What is better for some is worse for others. There was never a time in since the fall of such carefree happiness.

Nostalgia is a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former time. A bittersweet longing for the way things never were but should have been. Interestingly, the Greek root for the word “nostalgia” means “to return home.” In general usage, nostalgia looks to the past, but at an even more basic level, I think we are nostalgic for something yet to come.

The Christian never feels truly at home in this world. We are always strangers in a strange land, pilgrims journeying to a better destination. There are many signposts along the way telling us that we are getting closer to our destination. There are signs that we are nearing the closing of this age. And by God´s mercy, there are frequent indications of the beauty and glory of that future home.

Everything in this world that can be called good is a glimpse of something better. Music that makes you tap your toe, strong coffee on a cold morning, being hugged unexpectedly, the savory goodness of ham, sweet potatoes and stuffing, the inviting comfort of a soft bed, being entranced by a well told story, seeing your son´s face light up when you bring him a present, the loyal companionship of a dog. All those things are just the tip of the iceberg. They are merely shadows of something more substantial on its way. C.S. Lewis once wrote that the wholesome delights of this life “are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have not visited.”

John the Baptist lived to point us to the Christ, the one and only answer for our bewilderment. Jesus is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome. There is never a recorded incident in the four Gospels of Jesus ever turning a sinner away. There is never a recorded incident of Jesus refusing a sincere plea for healing, for deliverance or for redemption. Nor will he turn you away. Nor will he refuse your plea.

Examine yourselves according to the Ten Commandments as you have been taught. Look in the mirror of God´s Law to see yourself as you truly are. Have you loved God above all things? Have you neglected His Word? Have you honored authority? Have you helped your neighbor in all of his needs? Have you lusted or coveted for what God has not given?

God has seen your situation. He has heard your sobbing. And He has done something about it. The unique eternal Son of God has stepped down from his majestic throne to enter our world as one of us. And he has miraculously taken upon himself the guilt of our sin. Upon the cross hung the vilest, most repulsive scoundrel that has ever lived. Upon the cross hung the most perverted adulterer, the vilest offender, the most sadistic murderer of them all, Jesus Christ. He had no sin of his own but he took upon himself the full guilt of the sin of all, a scene so repugnant that even the sun turned dark, the earth shook and God cursed Him. All this Jesus did willingly out of supreme love for you. The Father´s wrath has been extinguished. The righteous anger of God was exhausted upon the Son so that we who are in Christ might be pardoned and cleansed, justified and set free from all condemnation.

So come to the Lord´s table of celebration to receive the very antidote to death. And sing, for in truth the Lord Jesus is coming again to take us up out of this vale of tears to dwell with him in glory forever. In Jesus´ name. Amen.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Daily Readings December 20 - 26, 2009

Daily Lectionary

December 20 Isaiah 40:18—41:10; Revelation 8:1–13

December 21 (St Thomas) Isaiah 42:1–25; Revelation 9:1–12

December 22 Isaiah 43:1–24; Revelation 9:13—10:11

December 23 Isaiah 43:25—44:20; Revelation 11:1–19

December 24 Isaiah 44:21—45:13, 20–25; Revelation 12:1–17

December 25 (Nativity of Our Lord) Isaiah 49:1–18; Matthew 1:1–17

December 26 (St Stephen) Isaiah 49:22–26; 50:4—51:8, 12–16; Matthew 1:18–25


A Rod has come forth from the stem of Jesse (Isaiah 11:15), the Seed of David whose kingdom shall be established forever (2 Samuel 7:116). In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son Jesus to redeem us from the judgment of the Law (Galatians 4:17). Now He is presented in the temple in fulfillment of the Law and revealed to be “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of the people of Israel” (Luke 2:2240). Christ has enlightened us in baptism, giving us to be adopted as sons of God and heirs of eternal life. Receiving the holy Sacrament of His body and blood, we are prepared to depart this world in peace, for our eyes have seen the salvation of God in Him.


O heavenly Father,, as You gladden our hearts again to celebrate the birth of Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, mercifully bestow on us the joy to receive Him as our Redeemer and so welcome Him when He comes again to be our judge; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Almighty eternal God, we heartily implore You, grant that we may know and praise Your dear Son as did Simeon, who took Him up in his arms and faithfully knew and confessed Him; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Luther)

Old Testament: Isaiah 11:1–5 [The rod of Jesse’s stem]

Epistle: Galatians 4:1–7 [The fullness of time]

Holy Gospel: Luke 2:22–40 [The consolation of Israel]

December 13 - 19 Daily Readings

Daily Lectionary

December 13 Isaiah 29:15—30:14; Revelation 1:1–19

December 14 Isaiah 30:15–26; Revelation 2:1–29

December 15 Isaiah 30:27—31:9; Revelation 3:1–22

December 16 Isaiah 32:1–20; Revelation 4:1–11

December 17 Isaiah 33:1–24; Revelation 5:1–14

December 18 Isaiah 34:1–2, 8—35:10; Revelation 6:1–17

December 19 Isaiah 40:1–17; Revelation 7:1–17


The coming of God in all His unveiled power at Mt. Sinai was terrifying to the people of Israel. The thundering voice of the Lord puts sinners in fear of death (Deuteronomy 18:1519). God, therefore, raised up a prophet like Moses, the Messiah, the Christ. God came to His people veiled in human flesh. The skies poured down the Righteous One from heaven; the earth opened her womb and brought forth Salvation (Introit) through the blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of the Lord (Luke 1:3956). The fruit of her womb is the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the One whose sandal strap John was not worthy to loose (John 1:1928). In Jesus we are delivered from fear and anxiety. In Him alone we have the peace of God which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:47).


Most merciful God, who has given Your eternal Word to be made incarnate of the pure Virgin, grant grace to Your people to put away fleshly lusts so that they may be ready for Your visitation; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Old Testament: Deuteronomy 18:15–19 [A Prophet like Moses]

Epistle: Philippians 4:4–7 [Rejoice in the Lord always]

Holy Gospel: Luke 1:39–56 [Mary visits Elizabeth]

Advent Midweek 3 Sermon

DECEMBER 16, 2009

Advent is a time of preparation. It is the season that is set aside for us to ponder the greatness of our Lord—the miracle of the incarnation; begotten of His Father before all worlds. He is the Word now made flesh; the Word which speaks all life into being.

Advent is the time to think about the infant but also the man. Advent reminds us who this Jesus of Nazareth is and what His life and ministry were about. This was a child conceived in the throne of the Virgin’s womb, who died in our frail flesh that He might sit upon the throne crowned in glory.

Oh, to be the king! Even for just one day. Think of the pomp and power, the prestige and wealth. Oh, to be served! How we would welcome that! But kingdoms rise and fall: imperial and personal. The kingdoms of this world: private or political, powerful or puny, do not stand forever. Ours will not either.

Jesus was not the king the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were awaiting. They wanted one who was strong, mighty, and powerful. They wanted one who would rise to political power. They wanted one who would bring wealth and riches to the nations. They found none of this in Jesus.

What sort of King is born in a dirty stable to peasant parents? What sort of King calls fishermen and tax collectors to be His disciples? What sort of King goes to a Samaritan woman and forgives her sins? What sort of King kneels down with an adulterous woman and challenges the Pharisees and Sadducees to acknowledge their own sin? What sort of a King is Jesus?

Jesus is not the King that the world is looking for. In a day and age of self-help books, quick fixes, and easy solutions, no one wants to talk about real problems and real solutions. Sin, death, and the devil have become naughty words. Why do we need Jesus when we can fix ourselves and the world around us?

The truth is we cannot fix ourselves or the world around us. The harder we try to fix things, the worse they seem to become. Left to ourselves, we will surely die. Jesus was the King that the dying world had to have. There was no other way than the way that Jesus walked.

He was the King who cared enough to leave His throne in heaven to take on the flesh of a man. He was the King who would give life to the dead. He was the King that healed every disease and cast out demons. He was the King that the world needed.

And He was clearly our King, clearly our Jesus, in those moments when the world would see His weakness.

A King when He was led before Pilate. A King when the soldiers beat Him with a whip. A King when the crowds taunted and jeered Him. A King when they mocked Him, putting a crown of thorns on His head, a staff in His hand and a purple robe on His back. A King when He carried His cross. A King when He forgave the sins of the thief and promised him eternal life. A King when He cried and out to His Father in pain and anguish and gave up His Spirit.

The world will see the last days of Jesus as far from kingship. But there was no other way to save a dying world. The King had to do the unthinkable. The King had to die. That is why our Advent King came not with pomp, power, prestige, and possessions but to show His great love. Not to be served but to serve us in His suffering and death.

Because of the kind of King that Jesus is, we should not be surprised with the kind of kingdom He has established. His kingdom is not of this world. This earth and this life are only the beginning, not the end. We are told to be in the world but not of the world. For our home is in the kingdom of heaven, where there will be no more death.

As you read Luther’s catechism, you make an amazing discovery. The catechism is no do-it-yourself manual. Rather, as Christians we are taught to pray and live as baptized children of the King. And as His children, we know that our King delights in bringing His gifts to His people still today: In the voice of your pastor granting you forgiveness as from the mouth of Christ Himself. Through the life-giving waters of Holy Baptism, claiming you as the Fathers own child and bringing you into His kingdom. Bread and wine, now body and blood, for us Christians to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Oh, to be the King? Even for just one day. Think of the pomp and power, the prestige and possessions. No, not to be the King. But to know the heavenly King and to know that through His suffering and death, through His Holy Sacraments, He continues daily to call each one of us to be kings with Him. Amen.

Advent 3 Sermon

December 12-13, 2009

Advent 3

Matthew 11:2-11, John 8

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

Girard, IL

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Are You the Coming One or not? Do we look for another? Will You stay in heaven or come to us?Are you the Lamb of God who takes, and not just took, away the sins of the world? We have sins -- as many as those people then. We need them taken away. Are You the Lamb who takes away sins?

Have you forgotten about us? Do you know how cold it is? How sad we are? How lonely and afraid? Do you know our hearts are broken and our families are in distress? Do You know about divorce? About garnished wages? About visitation rights? Do you know about addiction and betrayal and neglect? We are hurting inside and out. Where are you?

And what of those at war, who confessed Your Name, last week and died at the hands of violent terrorists? Where were you then?

We did not see, but we have heard, that the blind once were made to see, the lame to walk, and the lepers were cleansed. We did not see, but we heard, that the dead were raised.

So, too, we have heard your Gospel with our own ears. Though we are poor, not much noticed in this city or state or country, though we are not important or powerful or famous, Your Gospel has been preached to us. We have heard what others saw.

We have heard the Good News of Your coming in the Flesh, of angelic choirs singing to Shepherds, of wise men coming from the East. We have heard of Herod's wicked jealousy, of a nighttime flight to Egypt, and of a detour back to Nazareth. We have heard that you were Baptized by John and crossed the Jordan. We have heard the heavens were opened, that the Spirit lit upon You, and that the Father said, “This is My Son with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him.” We have heard. We are listening. Are you the Coming One or not?

We have heard how You endured temptations in the desert, how the crowds followed You while you taught and healed and fed them. We have heard of those you loved: of John and James and Peter, of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Do You also love us? Do you weep when we die? Are You the Coming One? Are You coming?

We have heard you were betrayed by a friend, a man you loved, perhaps he was a zealot, over-eager for the end, pushing You to do do what You came to do. Did he lose his faith because You did not move fast enough to satisfy his fallen flesh? Did his remorse, his feeble attempt to give the money back, make you weep as you wept for Jerusalem? And when his intestines spilled out onto the ground, when the devil finally had his way with him, did that small justice make the betrayal any less? Are You the Coming One? Like Judas we have waited. When will You show Your hand? When will You take up Your power and reign? We are besought with temptations and doubt. This is a dangerous place for faith. What will keep us from Judas' fate? When will we be free?

We have heard how You suffered, of sweat like blood and cups of Wrath. We have heard of soldier's scourges and crossed beams outside the city gates. We have heard of pain and sorrow and a desire to gather like a hen gathers her chicks to herself, and of grief for a city that knows not what makes for peace. We have heard how you groaned and died. We know the promise: “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” the gentle care You showed, “Woman, here is your son.” We know the cries: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” and “I thirst.” We have heard You said: “It is finished” and then commended Your Spirit into Your Father's hands. You went to Him. Will You come to us?

We have heard how the centurion sank his killing spear into Your side to make sure that You were dead. We have heard that blood and water came out, that Your Life poured on him and that he said “Surely this Man was the Son of a God.” Are you still the Son of God? We have heard the Temple veil was torn in two and the dead of Jerusalem got up alive. We have heard that you were laid to rest in Joseph's tomb hewn from virgin rock. Nietzsche wasn't the first to say that God was dead. You were dead, and buried, and thus Your Coming in the Flesh came to an end.

Will You now come to us? For we have heard the tomb was empty but for the burial clothes three days after You were put to death. We have heard of unused myrrh and women full of fear. We have heard that You were thought a gardener and that You opened eyes in Emmaus at the breaking of the bread. We have heard how you breathed the Spirit out into the Apostles and bestowed peace upon them. We have heard that You gave them the keys to heaven and sent them to open it for men, to preach and to baptize, to make disciples of all the creatures of the earth.

We have heard, by their preaching and their writing, what others saw. We have been absolved at their hands, had the keys applied to us, and heard Your Voice in them. And now we ask again: Are You the Coming One or not? Will You come to us? Will you open our eyes, give motion to our lame limbs, put words of praise into our mouths, and cleanse us of all our sins? Will you bestow the peace that passes all understanding? Will You make us the friends of God again? Will you preach to us poor sinners Good News of righteousness? Will you makes us Yours and remember promises made to Abraham for our good? Will you give us faith, see us through, teach us to wait and hope and pray and lift up our heads as the end draws near? Will You be Our Lord? Will You come to us?

Are you the Coming One, O Lord? Are You coming for us as You came for them?

Yes. You are. Though we are weak, though we are frustrated and unsure and full of doubt, though we are dying and afflicted by death, by Your grace we believe that You are. You come in Word. You come in Sacrament. You come to and for us. You take away our sins. You make us Yours. We are Yours. There is much we do not know and do not understand, but we are Yours. We have heard Your Voice. It has spoken us clean. We are washed in Your Blood. We are joined to You in the Holy Communion. We are Yours! Give us patience, Lord. Give us Faith. And come Lord Jesus. Come quickly! Amen.