Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent Midweek 3 December 14, 2011

Luke 1:46-56
“Mary’s Song is our Song”
Advent Midweek 3 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

One of the great things about Christmas programs in the church is that we get to sing our favorite Christian Christmas carols.  And even though we’re still technically in the Advent season, it’s been wonderful to hear our children singing the great songs of our dear Savior’s birth.  Most of these songs we sang when we were in Christmas programs, as did our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.  The classic hymns have been around a long time and I pray that generations of children to come will likewise be able to sing these great songs.  But as long as these hymns have been around, there’s one Christmas hymn that’s even older.  It’s so old in fact that it was sung before Jesus was even born.  The hymn is the Magnificat, and in this hymn of praise the Virgin Mary glorifies God for choosing her to be the mother of His Son.  Unfortunately, we’re not going to sing the Magnificat today, but it is fitting that today we remember this ancient hymn of Mary, because what we’ll learn is that Mary’s song is our song.

If you’ve ever watched a musical, you’ve probably noticed that characters will often just burst into song, it’s what makes them musicals.  Well, Mary today, also just bursts into song.  As she thinks about the baby in her womb, as she contemplates the coming Savior, she’s overcome by the need to praise God for all His blessings to her.  Not only was she blessed to be chosen as the mother of the Son of God, she was blessed because that same baby would one day save her from her sins.  And as she absorbs this whole experience she can’t help but sing.

The first thing that amazes Mary is that God chose her to be the mother of His Son.  Kings are born of kings and royalty are born in castles attended by servants, but not the King of Kings.  This King would be born to a humble girl who called herself a servant, a girl who lived in a small town in a small country, a girl who could probably go through life without attracting too much attention.  And yet, in spite of her position in the world, God chose her and by doing so He showed that He often works in ways that don’t make sense.  He blessed a young girl who sang of Him, “For He has looked on the humble estate of His servant” and He did so simply because He wanted to.  He didn’t have to bless her, but He did, and her life was never the same again.

Now Mary isn’t much different than any of us.  We have nothing to offer God, so we are also of humble estate.”  Like Mary, many of us come from small communities in our small state of Iowa, most of us won’t impact our nation in some amazing way, we’re not rich and powerful.  But, you know, God didn’t choose us because we’re special in some way, nor has He chosen us because we’re rich or famous or smart.  We’re like Mary, we’re just us, but we’ve been chosen by God for no apparent reason.  And really, what could possibly explain why God chose us to be His servants and children?

Mary sings, For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.  And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.”  Well, there’s the explanation!  God chose you because He wanted to.  He’s holy, His name is holy and because He’s holy, He can pick anyone He wants, and He picked you.  He comes to us, on His own, with His mercy, and in His mercy He bestows blessings on us that we can’t earn nor ever deserve. 

Mercy is God sending His Son to heal us of our sin, free us from our prisons, grant us sight to see His presence in this world, restore our hearing so that we might listen to His voice in the Bible, and to give us eternal life in the midst of death.  Everything that Jesus did during His earthly ministry He continues to do for us today through the Bible, through our Baptisms, and through the Body and Blood He gives us in the Lord’s Supper.  Now do we always have physical healing or perfect eyes and ears?  Sadly no, but Christ gives you the spiritual healing you have now as He has come into your lives in unexpected ways with unexpected mercy.

God is really the God of the unexpected, and we see this in the second part of the Magnificat.  Mary sings, He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.”  This sure doesn’t sound like the way it usually works though, does it?  In Mary’s day, just like in ours, it’s almost always the proud, the powerful, the wealthy, the lofty, and the high-ranking that control what happens in our town, our states, our nation, and our world.  Might makes right and we see this over and over as the powerful exploit the weak and the arrogant manipulate the meek.  This is the way it’s always been, and probably will always be.  Well, that’s not entirely true, because in Christ’s birth to a young virgin girl we see that God has always worked in unexpected ways.

When God works in these unexpected ways, we call it the “Great Reversal”.   The Great Reversal is the Lord taking the events and the expected things of this world and turning them on their ear.   In her song Mary sang, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy and in this short phrase Mary remembered all the times that God saved His people when all hope seemed lost.  A baby pulled from the Nile River eventually leads the people of Israel to freedom after four hundred years of slavery in Egypt.  An unknown Persian king lets the Israelites return home after seventy years of exile.  A young man of maybe twenty is chosen to be one of God’s greatest prophets.  A shepherd from the dinky town of Bethlehem becomes the greatest king in Israel’s history.   God worked in these strange ways because He had made a promise to Abraham that was centered purely on His mercy.  And to keep His promises He worked in ways that went contrary to human reasoning.

Take, for example, the birth of Jesus.  Our children sing Away in a Manger and if you think about it, isn’t the fact that the Son of God was born in a cattle stall, a truly Great Reversal?  The Messiah should’ve been born in a palace.  He should’ve been born to royalty.  But He wasn’t because the Savior of the world came as one of those whom He was saving.  Only by being one of His creatures could Jesus do what must be done to save His people and that was to die.  Talk about a Great Reversal!  We were supposed to die and we were supposed to suffer the punishment of Hell.  But Jesus came down as a baby who would grow up to be a man who would turn all of creation on its ear.  Jesus took our place under God’s wrath, He gave up His royalty in order to be mocked as He wore a crown of thorns instead of a crown of gold.  This is a reversal to end all reversals.  What should’ve been ours became His and what was His, His holiness and righteousness, became ours.  What He didn’t deserve, death and punishment, He got and what we didn’t deserve, forgiveness and eternal life, we got.   What wonderful news! 

And what’s even more amazing is that as Jesus hung on the cross, as He hung there seemingly powerless, He was more powerful than anyone could possibly have imagined.  His power couldn’t be seen, but on the cross Jesus was overthrowing Satan by enduring His Father’s anger.  By suffering in the dark and alone, Christ assured that we will never be alone.  By not being forgiven, Jesus earned us forgiveness, and by dying He showed that death had no power over Him and it has no power over us.  This is the greatest of the Great Reversals - where there was once death there is now only life, life for you, life for me, and life for all those who have been blessed by the baby borne by the humble servant Mary.

I think that most of us really enjoy Christmas Carols and it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas without them.  But of all the great hymns, Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, stands out as the most perfect and beautiful expression of God’s love and works in our lives.  But the Magnificat is not just a Christmas hymn, it’s applicable no matter what time of the year it is.  It’s applicable for all of us at all times for these words of a humble young girl were inspired by the Holy Spirit who bids you to know the great things He has done for you.  And knowing those great things God has done, especially the Great Reversal, that brought you salvation, you can, with Mary, also proclaim My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Amen.

Daily Readings December 11-17, 2011

Daily Lectionary For December 11-17, 2011
December 11           Amos 4:1-6:14, Revelation 2:18-3:6, Psalms 130:1-8
December 12              Amos 7:1-9:15, Revelation 3:7-22, Psalms 131:1-3
December 13           Obadiah 1:1-21, Revelation 4:1-11, Psalms 132:1-18
December 14                 Jon 1:1-4:11, Revelation 5:1-14, Psalms 133:1-3
December 15             Micah 1:1-4:13, Revelation 6:1-17, Psalms 134:1-3
December 16           Micah 5:1-7:20, Revelation 7:1-17, Psalms 135:1-21
December 17                                                  Looking ahead to Advent 4      
                           Deuteronomy 18:15–19, Philippians 4:4–7, John 1:19–28

Deuteronomy 18:15–19, Philippians 4:4–7, John 1:19–28
John the Baptizer Points Everyone to the Messiah
The coming of God in all His unveiled power at Mount 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).

Saturday     December 10         5:30 pm                                     Worship Service
Sunday       December 11          9:00 am Children and Youth Christmas Practice
                                            9:00 am                                            Bible Class
                                            10:00 am                                     Worship Service
Tuesday      December 13         2:00 pm                                Virden Food Pantry
Wednesday December 14          8:00 am                                   Concordia Chapel
                                             5:00 pm                                         Confirmation
                                             7:00 pm                        Advent Midweek Vespers
                                             7:30 pm                                                       AA
Thursday    December 15        11:30 am                                                  LWML                          Thanksgiving
Friday        December 16         5:30 pm                                                   Elders
Saturday     December 17        5:30 pm                                     Worship Service

Coffee Break Bible Study
Coffee Break Bible Study meets on Sunday mornings at 9:00 for a lively discussion. We are currently studying, the book of “The Revelation of John.”
            2012 LUTHERAN WITNESS – Renewal rate for 2012 will be $15.75.  If you plan to renew your subscription, please advise Jane Jones as soon as possible.
         LWML will have its annual Christmas gathering on December 15. We will meet at Doc’s Soda Fountain in Girard at 11:30 to eat and play games. At 1:30 we will visit Shut-ins.
         OPEN HOUSE: Pastor and Valerie will once again host an open house for the members of Trinity. It will be on Sunday, December 18th from 2:00 – 5:00 pm.
            ADVENT MIDWEEK SERVICES: Services will be held on Wednesday, December 14, and 21, will begin at 7:00 p.m. Dessert will be provided after the service. This weeks Theme: “Mary’s Song.”
            CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS PROGRAM PRACTICE: The Children’s Christmas program practice will be held each Sunday at 9:00 am. Dress rehearsal is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, December 22, from 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm. A pizza party will follow dress rehearsal.
            CHRISTMAS EVE: Christmas Eve Children’s Service will be at 5:30pm. The Christmas Eve Candlelight Service will be at 11:00 pm.
            CHRISTMAS DAY SERVICE will be at 8:00 a.m.
            Food Pantry Assistance                               
Assist at Virden Food Pantry December  13 2-3 pm.
Assist at Girard Food Pantry December  22 1-3 pm.

Advent 3 Sermon December 10-11, 2011

Advent 3
Matthew 11:2-11
December 10-11, 2011

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

Here we are: overweight, in debt over our heads, and depressed. He we are: divorced, lonely, afraid, worried about the future, addicted, and lonely. Here we are: self-righteous, hypocrites, liars.

And there is John the Baptist, that contrary, extreme figure of yore, in camel's hair coat, with locusts and honey upon his breath, a wild man with a wild look in his eye and a pointing finger. Mama's rules don't apply to prophets.

And here we are. What good is John? His scathing rebukes don't help. They just hurt. Who does he think that he is? He is no better than us! Oh, greatest of those born of women, fine! But he still had a mother, he still inherited from her the corruption and death of sin that infects us all. Here we are: running, hiding, evading, covering, attacking.

And there is John, born into a priestly family from a dead, barren womb, the last of the prophets, the Voice crying in the wilderness, the usher and baptizer of Christ. His Office is as simple as it is impossible: prepare the hearts of men for the Messiah. He is to comfort them by destroying them, tearing down the mountains of pride, building up the debased and dejected, calling them on their warfare with God and their guilt. All this that He might level that accusing finger at Mary's Son and give the Church a new song: “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” In Him, by Him, your warfare is ended, your guilt removed. He does not wither and fade. His promises do not go unfulfilled. His Word is true. He will feed, gather, carry, and lead you.

And thus John winds up in prison. He was no more successful or popular than the prophets before him. His stern, unbending message had cost him. The powers that be would not tolerate his demand for repentance. They balked at his damnation of their impurity. They thought they were above doctrinal review and rebuke. So they resorted to violence. They imprisoned him and they would kill him. From that dungeon, from death row, cries the Voice of Faith. He asks: Are You the Coming One, or do we await another?”

Was John, that icon of conviction, that stern desert preacher, that demander of true repentance, doubting? Perhaps. Perhaps this reed not swayed by the opinions and pressures of men, this uncompromising prophet, this greatest of those born of women, was having a moment of weakness, a nagging doubt about what was happening and why he had been forced to give up his duties for a prison cell. Or maybe the wait itself had finally gotten to him. Exactly why was his Divine Cousin waiting so long? The Kingdom of God is at hand - get at it! It is not hard to see that between the prison food and the precarious guillotine over his head, John had plenty to bring him down. Worst of all scenarios, though, is the thought that might have plagued him that he had  somehow made a mistake, that the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and the Father's booming Voice out of heaven, were but a drunken dream, that Jesus wasn't the Messiah, the One coming to make atonement for the sins of the world.

Here we are. There is John. And perhaps we aren't so different after all. John had his problems, too. I don't know what they were. Maybe his parents were fought. Maybe his girlfriend left him. Maybe he had a habit that he couldn't break. His flesh, like ours, was no more durable than the grass of the fields and his heart, too, was blackened by lust, greed, and hate. And yet, still, in the midst of trouble, from inside Herod's prison, with his own personal package of weaknesses and sins, he had faith. He, who leaped in his mother's womb for the joy of God in Mary's womb, believed that Jesus had the answers. He does not sit back in his prison cell and think on Jesus. Instead, he seeks a Word from Jesus. That is what faith always does. It does not turn in on itself, that is the way of despair. Faith goes to where God promises to be.

Feeling depressed? Read the Bible. Lonely? Read the Bible. Afraid? Worried? Uncertain? Struggling with temptation? Angry? Read the Bible! I went to college to learn this. It isn't that difficult, but still I haven't really learned it. None of us have. Well, John. But he had to have his head separated from his shoulders first. Now he knows it perfectly.

So how and where is the Bible read? In the middle of the night, it is read in your bed. In the middle of the day, it is read at your kitchen table or the couch. But that is not all. For faith goes where God promises to be, where the Bible itself directs us: to confession and absolution, to the Divine liturgy, to the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, to the community of saints and the common prayer.

Sometimes people say to me, “But pastor, I didn't get anything out of Church. I wasn't fed.” Is that so? Well, I've heard this before. I have a 10 year old girl with frostbitten ears who stands in front of a full refrigerator for hours at a time complaining that there is nothing to eat! Imagine thinking that only sugary snacks, empty calories full of chemicals can satisfy you while despising the glory of God's bounty in vitamin packed fruits and vegetables. I don't have to imagine it. I've done it. I bet you have, too. Well, you know what comes next, what always comes next, the preaching of John: Repent!

And listen to how Our Lord responds to John's query. He sends those disciples back to him to comfort that prophet with prophecy fulfilled. Tell him that the darkness is being dispelled by the Light, that creation is being brought back into order, that the fall is being reversed: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the lonely have company, the fearful courage, sinners are forgiven. That is to say, the poor are having Good News, the News of God's self-sacrifice to ransom men back to the Father, preached to them. “You, too, John,” says Our Lord, “I will not forget you. I will not leave you in prison. I love even you. Father knows best. Soon, it will be complete. And I will relieve you of your burdens and give you rest. Your warfare, O greatest of my warriors, is also ended.”

There is John: strengthened by the Word of Christ in prison to face death and the life to come, a prophet of the highest, an example of living faith.

Here we are: forgiven, renewed, restored, in fellowship with John and all the saints before us and with us. Here we are: with the Spirit of Baptism in our hearts, a confession of thanks and joy upon our lips, commended to the Father by Grace, and about to receive the very Body and Blood of Christ into our dying flesh as the seal of the resurrection and life to come.

In + Jesus' Name. Amen.