Sunday, December 31, 2023

Sermon for Christmas 1: "The Song of Simeon: Seeing the Lord's Salvation" (Luke 2:22-40)

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen! Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

Merry Christmas! Happy Seventh Day of Christmas! Today, as the carol proclaims, “On the Seventh Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: seven swans a-swimming,” which are the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:1-2).


Part of what makes Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so meaningful is that it is easy to locate Jesus – and with Him, God’s grace and salvation on these holy days. We know exactly where to look. Our Savior is in O Little Town of BethlehemAway in a Manger where Gentle Mary Laid Her Child.


But what about this morning? The infant Jesus is no longer in Bethlehem. The angels have departed, and the shepherds have returned to their fields. The days and weeks following Christmas Eve and Christmas Day can leave us feeling disoriented, confused (what day is it?), and even depressed (the parties are over). Your family has returned home. Despite it still being the Christmas season, the Christmas music on the radio has returned to ‘80s and ‘90s pop. The days leading up to Christmas were shiny and bright, but now we are back to normal, we are back to work, and that can lead to depression.


Where do we find Jesus? To find Jesus, we must travel with Joseph and Mary from the manger to the temple. Today may be the Seventh Day of Christmas, but we are moving forward in time to the 40thday of Jesus’ earthly life. So, today, we find Joseph, Mary, and the 40-day-old infant Jesus in Jerusalem at the temple. They are there for the purification of the mother, which must be done on the 40th day since the birth of a child according to Jewish ceremonial Law, so that she shall be clean. But we also see on this day, that Joseph and Mary are not wealthy, as they give the alternate sacrifice: “a pair of two turtledoves, or two young pigeons” in place of a lamb (Leviticus 12:8; Luke 2:24). But at that moment, we can also see that no lamb for sacrifice was necessary, because already here at 40 days old, Jesus is the Lamb of God brought to His temple for sacrifice.


Now, while at the temple, Joseph and Mary meet a man named Simeon. There is nothing great or wonderful about Simeon. He has no high office. He has no standing or power. He is just a man. But is he just any ordinary man? 

In fact, Simeon was led by the Holy Spirit. By faith in the promise, Simeon was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. Through the Holy Spirit, it was revealed to him that he would not taste death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.


So, as Simeon was waiting at the temple, all of a sudden, the Holy Spirit leads him to Joseph and Mary, who is holding Jesus. Then he asks Mary is he can hold the Child, and then he speaks what is known as the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon:

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


Oftentimes, we get so used to the liturgy. Sometimes, when we sing the Nunc Dimittis, we sing it just from wrote memory while not really understanding what we are singing. As sinners, we can easily daydream while we sing or say the liturgy.


So, what are we saying when we sing the Nunc Dimittis? First, what does “Nunc Dimittis” mean? Well, Nunc Dimittis is from Latin, which are the first words of Simeon’s Song: “Now you dismiss.”


As Simeon spoke the Nunc Dimittis to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, he wasn’t making a request of the Lord. Rather, Simeon was making a statement of fact: “You now dismiss your servant in peace.”


After years of waiting at the Jerusalem temple as a watchman waiting for the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise, Simeon’s service was now at an end. The watch is over. He can now retire in peace. With his eyes of faith, Simeon sees more than just an infant in his arms, he sees the Savior dying on the cross, he sees salvation for all people, both Jew and Gentile.


Joseph and Mary marveled at the words spoken by Simeon. But Simeon was not finished. He blessed the Holy Family and then said to Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).


Through the Holy Spirit, Simeon received a special revelation concerning the destiny of the infant Jesus. Israel would be divided over Him. Jesus would cause some to fall and some to rise. Jesus would be a rock of offense over which many would stumble. But for others, Jesus would be the Living Stone of salvation. 


Maybe, Simeon spoke these words directly to Mary as he knew that she, not Joseph, would witness their Son’s suffering and death on the cross, and her own soul would be crushed in witnessing her Son’s death.


So, Simeon’s words must have caused Joseph and Mary to marvel at what was said about the infant Jesus. Simeon’s words added to what they had already seen and heard from the angel Gabriel and the shepherds.


But that day wasn’t over quite yet for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. An elderly woman named Anna was also waiting for salvation. And unlike Simeon, who came and went from the temple, Anna remained at the temple grounds as she worshipped with fasting and prayer, night and day. She, too, came up to the Holy Family and gave thanks to God and later spoke of the infant Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. So, you could say, Anna was the first missionary.


But what about us this morning? Where do we find Christ? Well, think of the Nunc Dimittis. 


In the Nunc Dimittis, we sing the words that Simeon spoke as he held the infant Jesus in his arms in the temple. These very words:

C  Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word,

for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people,

a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost;

as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.


So, on this Seventh Day of Christmas and at every Divine Service, we find Jesus in His temple – where He promises to be – in our holy places of worship. He had deigned graciously to meet us here in His Means of Grace, His Holy Word and Sacraments.


We find Christ in His Word, which we read here; which you read in your homes; which you carry with you in your memory, thoughts, and prayers. 


We find Christ in the absolution and the Gospel proclamation throughout the Divine Service. 


We find Christ in His Holy Sacraments. Through Confession and Absolution, we are strengthened in our baptismal unity with Christ, and are assured once again that “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16a).


But most importantly, we find Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Here, we find our Savior from sin in the most concrete, specific, and intimate way. This is why the Nunc Dimittis is sung immediately after the Lord’s Supper. 


Simeon held the incarnate Son of God in his arms. In the Sacrament, we, too, hold the incarnate Son. Yet, our “seeing” of God’s salvation is done by faith. Simeon spoke these words about nothing more than an Infant. We now sing these words about the Lord, who is bodily present in, with, and under bread and wine in the Sacrament.


Just as Simeon could say his eyes had seen the Lord’s salvation in the infant Jesus, we too sing those words because in the Sacrament of the Altar, we have seen, held, and tasted the Lord’s salvation: the Body and Blood of Christ given and shed for us for the forgiveness of all our sin. 


So, there should not be any confusion about where to look for God’s grace and His presence. God is with us. He is Emmanuel. God is incarnate in Jesus Christ, who is with us through His Means of Grace. He is here – as He has promised to be wherever two or three of his people gather in His name, and where His word of forgiveness and life is proclaimed. Christ is the true and permanent Temple, who brings His light of salvation to us at each Divine Service.


Christ is here for all those who are searching. The Holy Spirit led Simeon to the temple and He leads us to this place where we embrace the Messiah, praise Him, and bring our needs before Him, and, with Anna, we bear witness of His salvation to others. Amen.


The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.  


Monday, December 25, 2023

Sermon for Christmas Day: "The Diamond Found in the Manger" (John 1:1-14; Luke 2:8-20)

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen! Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. … The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14).


Merry Christmas! Christmas is more than one day. Christmas is twelve days. And those days only began today. So, as the world will move on from Christmas tomorrow, the Christmas celebration continues until January 5th!


Today, on the first day of Christmas as the carol proclaims: “my true love gave to me: a partridge in a pear tree.” This partridge is none other than the Son of God, who became flesh and dwelt among us as the Savior. He came in order to fulfill the Law, and to suffer and die our punishment and rise again, so that all who cling to Him would have the victory over our evil foes: sin, eternal death, and Satan. God became man for us and for our salvation.


But on this Christmas Day, we will focus on today. Christmas Day has so many little pieces that are important, no matter how small. Every parent has to assemble a toy that has bags of tiny pieces and an instruction manual with seemingly never-ending steps. Add an eager child helping to open those bags and spread out those parts, and you’ve got some excitement on Christmas.


It’s easy to lose a piece or two in all that. Especially when you are battling it out with layers of crumpled Christmas wrapping paper and a piece or two could end up in the trash can. It is often the piece that’s really needed.


But what if the missing piece is more than that one tiny piece of plastic? What if it’s a diamond engagement ring with all the promises of love and life together? What if that diamond is suddenly missing from the ring? Somehow it fell out of the setting and is lost among all the wrapping papers, boxes, plastic, and directions. Stop everything and start looking! We need to find that diamond!


That’s our situation on Christmas. Christmas comes with God’s wonderful news of a lasting relationship – the piece that joins us with Him for all time. In all the excitement of Christmas, we might miss that diamond and have only the outward setting but not the treasure of His love and peace. We can find so many small pieces this Christmas, but only one piece, one treasure, is truly needed.


This is what completes our star of piece. Throughout our Advent midweeks, we were seeking peace with the five points of the star. We imagined that peace can be found if we get enough possessions, or peace might come if we can escape to a far-away retreat on a lake, or lock out our past equally far away. We’ve tried to find peace in having control of our world, and we’ve tried to find our purpose in directing others. But in every case, God stops us before we go too far on a hopeless tangent. 


At each point of the star, God gives us His own distinct peace. Left to ourselves, we would go off on a search that would never end. There will never be enough stuff or distance or control. But with Him, we find peace here and now.


That’s especially true this morning. Our peace is in the Treasure in the manger. That Treasure who created all things. That Treasure who became flesh.


When we highlight the center of our Christmas star, the star becomes a picture of the manger. In the center of that manger is the diamond of His gift. You see, finding peace is not seeking a needle in a haystack. Peace is found in the diamond of the Son of God in the straw of the manger. That diamond is the very Son of God. He isn’t lost in the manger. He is purposely in the manger so that He would be found. Likewise, He is purposefully in Word and Sacrament – His Means of Grace – so that He would be found by us.


Who else would do this but God? We treasure our important gifts and know where they are. I can’t imagine a young woman who has gotten her engagement ring on Christmas Eve to only lose it. She’s not taking it off for any reason. Don’t ask her to wash the dishes tonight. That diamond is the center of her world, and she is keeping it safe.


God’s Treasure has come to be the center of our world. What a wonder that the One true God puts the center of the universe, His only-begotten Son, into the setting of the manger. He doesn’t put Him safely in the Most Holy Place in the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus isn’t placed on the golden throne of a king. He doesn’t have Jesus hover over us. All of those would make sense as the greatness of this Gift should be seen and protected. The Son of God coming into the world rightly comes with the brilliant light of the glory of God and the chorus of angels singing. It is right that shepherds – along with us – hear them and are stunned by the brightness and the message of the Savior born to save a sin-filled world.


But that outward glory is brought into one small, almost-hidden spot – the manger. There we find the great gift of peace, like a diamond set within the arms of the manger. We have looked often at the star as it promises different points and directions of peace, but it is not a tangent of distance and discovery that brings us peace. Peace is the diamond held within the manger. That infant Son of God, so small that He could be ignored by many, is the only hope for peace.


We are all invited to hear this true story again this morning just as we have every Christmas. This true story of how the Savior came to the world. The Savior that the fallen world did not recognize. The Savior who would die in order to save you!


Remember how we turned the star of peace into the manger? But now, the arms of the manger are briefly replaced. The arms of the manger are now your arms as you hold the Infant Savior. Look at Him and see the gift of peace that the angels declared. Here is peace to the world, not a mere wish, but the living Christ who caused His birth in this way. He came so that He could be held in the arms of the manger, the arms of His mother, the arms of the shepherds, and the arms of all people.


Holding the Son is the enduring gift of Christmas peace. We’ll shake out the wrapping paper in case there is something hidden. Some of us will attempt to re-use the wrapping paper for another year. Most of the parts for the toys will be found. Eventually, the toys will be assembled and look pretty much like the pictures on the boxes. The many parts of Christmas will be put away, and the important pieces will remain.


That is especially true of the true gift of Christmas, the Savior, and the peace that He brings. In all our pursuit of peace, He is always the answer. He is the peace that passes our understanding, but He is also the Peace that perfectly understands us since He came to be one of us. His peace ends our hopeless pursuits for possessions and power.

True peace is the Lamb of God held by shepherds, the infant Son in His mother’s arms, and that same Savior held by us in His Means of Grace, His Word and Sacrament. Here is the gift of God, the diamond of His relationship with us, and the treasure in the arms of the manger. Merry Christmas! Amen.


The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.  



Sunday, December 24, 2023

Sermon for Christmas Eve: "No Room in the Inn" (Luke 2:1-20)

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen! Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:4-7).


When we think of Christmas, it’s easy to think of miracles. Angels make special appearances to Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and to shepherds in a field.


Then there are miracles that don’t appear to be miracles. From what seems to be a typical government ordeal turns out to be arranged by God Himself. Remember, Mary and Joseph did not live in Bethlehem; they lived some 80 miles away in Nazareth. But they had to return to their ancestorial hometown to be registered for the census. And it was the Prophet Micah who prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).


Of course, the greatest miracle of miracles is how God became man: Emmanuel, God with us! This Child was born of a virgin. This Child born is none other than the eternal God.


And no event in human history has been so celebrated in word and song than that of the birth of Jesus Christ! As the world celebrates “Happy Holidays,” we know what holiday is being celebrated. Yes, Hanukkah and Kwanza are among these days, but Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday and Kwanza is a made-up American day. The real holiday is Christmas, for which we remember the birth of the Savior from our sins.


But as it was then on this night in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago, there was no fanfare. The Savior had been born and there was no parade. There was no festival. There was no room. A census was being taken, so there was a great influx of people into Bethlehem, and Bethlehem was not exactly a large town. It was a small town with no surplus of lodging available to visitors. 

So, it would not be surprising that Mary and Joseph had difficulty in getting a room for they were not alone in losing out in supply and demand.


What is truly astonishing is that the Almighty God would choose such circumstances for the birth of the Messiah. The Savior of the world is to be born, the One who came to take upon Himself the guilt and sin of the entire world, the One who came to conquer death and open the gates of heaven to all who would cling to Him. How could there be no room?


This Child is the Creator of heaven and earth. He created all things. He is the One who gives breath to all, food to all who eat. How can this Child be born in a manger, a feeding trough, as His crib? This is just wrong that God would be received by His own creation in such a way. How can there be no room for Him?


There is no room in Bethlehem for the Creator of the world and true King of Israel. But what happened in Bethlehem on the night of His birth would become the theme for His earthly life. When the Magi would later arrive with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and worshipped Him, Mary and Joseph found a place for their small family in a house in Bethlehem. But shortly after the Magi left, the wrath of Herod the Great made it clear again that there was no room in Bethlehem for this holy Child. So, Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to protect their Son from Herod’s murdering soldiers. Again, there was no room for Jesus in Bethlehem.


After some time in Egypt, the Holy Family returned to Nazareth, where Jesus would grow up. Now that Jesus is in Nazareth, there must be room for Him there! One Sabbath at the Nazareth synagogue, Jesus was given the scroll of Isaiah. But when He proclaimed to the people of Nazareth the precious news of the Gospel, when He said that the promised Savior had come “to bring good news to the poor” (Isaiah 61:1), what did they do? They rejected Him. They rose up and drove Him out of Nazareth and tried to throw Him off a cliff. So, there was no room for Jesus in Nazareth.


From here, Jesus went north to Capernaum. While living there, He crossed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to the country of the Gadarenes. There, Jesus cast out demons from two possessed men and sent them into a herd of pigs. When the demons were cast into the herd of pigs, they all rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. When the people heard about this, they came to Jesus and begged Him to leave (Matthew 8:28-34). So, there was no room for Jesus among the Gedarenes.


Later, on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through Samaria. He sent messengers ahead to find a place to stay, but the people of Samaria made it clear that they didn’t want Jesus there. Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). So, there was no room for Jesus in Samaria.


Next, we come to Palm Sunday. The crowds came out to meet Jesus. Men, women, and children sang the praises of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). They were welcoming Jesus as their King! But by the end of the week, the crowds were shouting something quite different, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” (John 19:6). Now they were crying out to Pontius Pilate against Jesus. And rather than see Jesus let go, they demanded the freedom of Barabbas, who was a murderer, a robber, and an insurrectionist. There was no room for Jesus in Jerusalem.


Now, Pilate wanted to let Jesus go as he insisted that he had found no guilt in Jesus. But to show the sheer strength of the Roman Empire, Pilate, despite finding no guilt, would still whip Jesus. And in order to keep his position safe, Pilate released Barabbas and Jesus would be crucified. No room for Jesus on earth.


As Jesus is nailed to a cross, He is wracked by pain, thirst, and insults. Then it goes from horrible to worse. Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me” (Matthew 27:46). God the Father pours out His righteous anger on Jesus, the One who has come to bear the sin and the guilt of the world. Jesus would face the punishment for all the sins of every man, woman, and child who would ever live. God the Father punishes Jesus, who knew no sin, for the sins of all the world. Jesus dies for you and me on that cross. He is abandoned by God the Father.


There is no room for Jesus. It all began in Bethlehem, and it continued all the way through His earthly life until He died on the cross. Why? Why did it have to be this way? 


This was the only way. This was the only way that you and me could be saved from the power of sin, death, hell, and Satan. Christ took our place in what should have been our death, because of our sin. Christ was obedient, even to the point of death. Christ was obedient, honest, and truthful where we are not. He took upon Himself our sin and suffered for it. He was rejected and despised so that our Father in heaven could look at you and say, “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.”

Because there was no room for Jesus in Bethlehem, in Nazareth, in Samaria, in Jerusalem, there is now room for you. There is always room in the Church for you. No matter your past, no matter how you have failed, there is room here for you. No matter how long you have strayed from Jesus, no matter how greatly you have sinned against God, there is room for you here. And there will always be room here. For this place is the hospital for sinners that is doctored by the Great Physician Jesus, who not only died, but rose from the dead, and lives and reigns to this day. It is He who gives us His medicine of immortality in His Means of Grace: His Word and Sacrament.


So, how sad it is when not all humanity is open to Jesus. How tragic it is that so many say that they have no room for Jesus in their lives.


Even in the celebration of His birth, Jesus is crowded out to make room for reindeer, snowmen, and Christmas songs that have nothing to do with Jesus, whose birth we celebrate this evening. More and more there is no room for Jesus in our lives.


May it never be so with us! May we be willing to lose every secular and cultural attachment to this holiday if only we keep the baby Jesus. Let them take our trees, let them take our presents, let them take our snowmen as long as we can keep Christ, the Lord, born to the virgin Mary in Bethlehem to be the Savior of the world.


So, may there always be room in our hearts for this Christ Child who brings salvation and life to all who cling to Him. May the Holy Spirit so work in us that we always belong to Christ. Let us join the angelic choirs to praise Him not just this evening, but at every Divine Service and every day of our life, for He freely gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation and all by grace through faith in Him! Merry Christmas! Amen! 


The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.   


Sermon for Advent 4: "According to Your Word" (Luke 1:26-38)

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen! Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

We confess: “[I believe in] one Lord Jesus Christ, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.” (Second Article of the Nicene Creed)


“Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” “Do you promise to love, honor, and cherish, for better or for worse, till death parts you?” “Do you promise to be my best friend, pinky swear?”


We live in a world of promises. Some promises are kept, but so many promises are broken. 


It used to be that a simple handshake would be all that was needed for a promise. But we know that this is no longer the case. Today, so many promises have to be backed up with long and often complicated legal documents to make sure that there will be no wiggle room and no loophole by which one in the promise can escape the obligations of that promise. Today, it is simply not sufficient to just depend on another’s word.


Even in the closest of relationships, promises are broken, and people are let down, disappointed, and left feeling betrayed. A father tells his son, “I know I promised to be at your game, but something came up.” A man tells his wife, “There’s someone else.” A politician tells his constituent, “I know I said I would never vote to increase taxes, but I did it anyway.” One nation tells another, “We will not honor our trade agreement.” Maybe you’ve been the victim of a broken promise. Or perhaps, you’re the one who has broken a promise.


Our text this morning is the annunciation by the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary that she will conceive and bear a son. This great announcement to Mary and, ultimately, to us some 2,000 years later is part of the ongoing fulfillment of God’s promises. So, today on this Fourth Sunday in Advent, we have the assurance that we can always trust God, for He acts according to His Word.


God gives us the promise of His Word even at our worst moments. At the Fall into sin, when Adam and Eve deserved nothing but condemnation and death because of their disobedience toward God, the Lord gave the first promise of the Savior. While God pronounced judgment upon sin, He also offered words of hope as He promised to provide the Savior from sin. 


God established a covenant relationship with the children of Israel – in other words, this is a relationship built on promises that God has made. Even though Israel was often unfaithful in this covenant relationship, God continued to act on their behalf according to the Word that He spoke. He made promises and He was divinely bound to keep those promises.


But why? Why does God need to keep His promise if those to whom He promised were unfaithful to Him? Afterall, God’s chosen people often worshiped false gods, false idols. God’s chosen people repeatedly ignored God’s Law. They kept doing what they thought was right in their own eyes (Judges 17:6). We keep doing things that we shouldn’t do and keep on doing them. Why would God remain loyal to them? Why would God remain loyal to us? Well, God chose them, and God chose us as His treasured possession.


So, what does all of this have to do with the annunciation to Mary? Well, again, God was keeping His promise. He promised the Savior to redeem fallen mankind.


“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in 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).


Six months earlier, the angel Gabriel made the announcement to Zechariah that he in his old age would be a father to John the Baptist. He was greatly troubled. Now, six months later this same angel visits a virgin named Mary and announces to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus” (Luke 1:30-31).


Mary, too, was greatly troubled. She likely thought, “How could this be an honor? Who am I? I’m just an average woman. I’m not from Jerusalem. Plus, what will people say about me? I am not even married. How could I bear a son?”


As in Zechariah’s case, Gabriel first calmed Mary’s fears and assured her that she had found favor with God. Then Gabriel imparted to her the astounding news that she would conceive and bear a son and call His name Jesus. Jesus is the same name as “Joshua” in the Hebrew, and every devout Jew knew what that name meant. 


Mary knew. She was a Jew who believed in the promised Savior. And “Jesus” was not just a mere name. She knew exactly what “Jesus” meant. Jesus means “Yahweh is salvation” and even more “the One through whom Yahweh brings salvation.”


If Mary had entered any thought that her son would be like the renowned Joshua of old, the godly, courageous, resourceful leader and commander of Israel, the successor of Moses, Gabriel’s next words would dispel that idea, for he said, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).


So, Jesus will be infinitely greater than the famous commander of Israel. Mary’s son will also be called “the Son of the Most High.” Jesus is the very Son of God and His kingdom will have no end.


Now, like all Jewish girls, they all hoped that they would be given the honor to be the mother of the promised Savior, but Mary never expected this honor to be given to her. Yes, she was a descendant of David, just as Joseph was. But they were average folks. They didn’t live in any palace. They lived in the backwater and forgotten town of Nazareth. “What good could come from there?”


But Mary acted different than Zechariah. She never doubted God’s promises. She only questioned the how. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)


But every promise of God is aimed at faith. Every divine promise is intended to generate faith in the promise or to nourish the faith which embraces God’s promises. Mary never responded with disbelief as Zechariah did. Mary believed that God would give her such a wondrous son, and she was willing to be the mother of that great Son, the Messiah.


Mary has faith in God, but how is God going to do this? She knew how children were conceived. But she had not entered into any such a relationship with Joseph or any other man. So, how could this be?


Gabriel gave her the answer. He told Mary that she would conceive in a supernatural way. She would conceive the Messiah by the Holy Spirit. Now, human reason would balk at that, but Mary believed. And to strengthen Mary’s faith, Gabriel gave further proof. He directed her attention to her relative Elizabeth. A wonder had taken place in Elizabeth. She was barren and in advanced age but is now pregnant. So, this same God who had brought that about for Elizabeth would perform an even greater miracle in Mary, since nothing is impossible with God.


So, how could all of this happen? Only God could make it happen. Only God could give a barren woman a child. Only God could give a virgin a child. So, Mary says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your Word” (Luke 1:38).


We are all constantly exposed to human rationalism. So many today say that what happened to Mary and Elizabeth was impossible. Their rationale is that they have never seen such a miracle. But just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t make it impossible. God is God and He works wonders. He makes the impossible, possible. And He always keeps His Word. After the Fall in the Garden, He promised the coming Savior and when it was the fullness of time, He would send the Savior for sinful mankind. He would send Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us!


Perhaps, you’ve been the victim of someone who didn’t keep his word and you’ve experienced loss and pain as a result. Maybe you’re the one who hasn’t kept your word. Maybe, you have broken promises, and you’ve betrayed trusts. But God invites us to come to Him for forgiveness.


Mary would bear the fullness of God in her womb. This Child is the very Savior of our sins. This Child became incarnate to suffer and die our punishment, so that all who would trust in Him would live forever!


In the fullness of time, this Child in Mary’s womb would do everything necessary for your salvation. He continues to save us today through His Word and Sacrament. And He will return in glory on the Last Day! God always keeps His Word. He always keeps His promises. May we always respond to God in faith and say with Mary, “Let it be to me according to Your Word.” Amen.


The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.   


Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Sermon for Advent Midweek 3: "Our Peace Rests on Him Alone" (Isaiah 9:1-7)

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen! Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:


When we are young, wrapping paper on a gift means nothing. Bows are made to be thrown away and paper is made to be torn in a second. Ripping open that box and getting to the gift inside is our goal.


But when we are older, we pause over the wrapping paper and the bow. If it’s a child’s first attempt to wrap a gift, we admire how well he did and how secure it’s all taped. He must have used half a roll of tape to make sure it stayed together. Or, if the wrapping is a true work of art, tell them that he has outdone himself this year. It’s almost too perfect to open. The gift inside is important, but at first, we can pause to appreciate the wrapping. But as we age, we may attempt to open that gift wrapping a bit slower in hopes of re-using it next year.


In this third midweek of Advent, we pause to appreciate the wrapping of the gift of the Prince of Peace. He comes wrapped both in beauty and in darkness. He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. That’s the wrapping of glory and greatness we expect when God gives us His Son. But He also comes with the simple wrapping of a manger quietly hidden underneath the Christmas star that speaks of peace to those with ears to hear.


By now, you have your plans for Christmas set in place. December 25 is so close that you can’t be guessing and wishing anymore. It’s Monday. But you still need to plan. Who is coming to your house for Christmas? When are they getting there? Is everyone staying with you? What are you eating? How are you going to balance everyone’s particular diet? Remember, everyone invited to your table will be sitting for the same meal. This takes some planning.


Of course, all this depends on you getting them to the same table at the same time. You’ve got the guests who always come a half hour early and then there are the ones who think that 1:00 p.m. means 3:30 p.m. And don’t forget what happened last time Cousin Sue sat next to Uncle Frank. So, plan your seating chart carefully.


Christmas can call for control. Maybe peace can come if we can get these people into the right place and at the right time. It’s a bit like the circus master who directs jugglers, acrobats, lions, dogs, and elephants. 


If everyone would only listen and do what you tell them, there would be peace. This is the hope of every grandmother who plans Christmas dinner for the whole family. Control is the theme of our peace tonight. 


Tonight, we finish the points on our star. We’ve been pursuing peace. Our first point at the top of the star was the pursuit of more possessions. If only we could get all we dream of, we would have peace. But God stops us with the gift of a baby born in a stable. With Him laid in the manger, we have more than enough, and we can find peace. Last week, we sought peace in the two horizontal points of the star. We were looking for peace in distance. If only we could get away to that perfect retreat. Or if only we could get away from our past, then we would find peace. But again, God catches us and gives us peace in the present. Our peace is not in a distant retreat but in this very moment. God’s peace is present even when the storm is still here. 

So tonight, we have the last two points of our star. These are the bottom points where the weight rests. To manage all that weight and all our plans, we need to take control. And if we had that control, then there could be peace. Wouldn’t it be reasonable that God would help us in this? God should want us all to get along and get through at least one weekend in peace. 


After all, isn’t that the very name by which we know the Messiah, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)? Wouldn’t it be fitting that the celebration of His birth would be celebrated in peace? We can hear this call for peace in the inspired writer to the Hebrews: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Through the Holy Spirit, Paul also gives clear direction: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).


Can we bring enough control over our world so we have this peace? Getting everyone to follow our plans can be the second of the two bottom points of the star. Control of others can become our purpose. When we are so busy getting ready for Christmas, we might ask ourselves, “Why am I doing all this? It takes a lot of work to get ready for Christmas. Why bother?” If you’re wondering that yourself, it’s time to find peace and purpose. What will be enough to give us meaning in all that has yet to be done before Christmas? Find that, and we imagine that we will have our peace.


But God stops our search for control and purpose. Peace is not in our tight grasp over others. Peace is not in our plans. Peace comes only through the Prince of Peace. 


It’s His kingdom that brings peace and His work as the Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God that gives order to our world. If we seek that peace of control, Jesus shows us another control. 


In Matthew 10, Jesus asks if we expect Him to bring peace. He says that He came to bring not peace but a sword. He came to set two against three, three against two. He came to divide family members one against another. This is the very opposite of our goals of control and outward peace. 


We want the peace that comes from getting everyone to agree with us. But what brings peace to the world? Only Jesus brings true peace. Jesus brings peace by stepping into the middle of our troubled world and letting Himself be the center of the world’s anger. In that center, He brings us peace through the cross. Peace has come through what seems to be chaos. 


Being the Prince of Peace, His peace has endured thousands of years. Our best plans won’t always make it through one meal, but His peace, like His kingdom, is without end. He comes as the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, and the Everlasting Father so that His peace might reign over the world. This gives us a new purpose and a new peace. The star of peace does not rest on our plans and our control. God’s peace doesn’t come by our control of others. Peace only comes by hearing His Word—the Word that comforts us. The Word that controls us


We might not be able to corral everyone at the right time and place. Our plans might not be fulfilled. But our real goal is to focus on God’s plans—the plans that have come true.


It’s like the story of our gifts. When we were young, we simply wanted the gift. But when we became older, it was the story of the gift that mattered. It was hearing how long someone looked for the right color or size and how the gift was hidden in the back of the closet. The gift was good, but it was the story that was the key. We find God’s gift in the simplicity of the manger and a newborn baby. But the key to peace is hearing the story of how He made our peace. He built it by the straw of the manger and the wood and nails of the cross. He made that peace through the ages of promise and the waiting of His coming. 

The gift of the Prince of Peace came by the perfect planning of God, who arranged the whole world for the birth of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


So, the gift of peace has come through the birth of the Child, the Son of God. The Prince of Peace has come with His gift of peace, and the story of that peace lives on. What will bring you peace when so many of your plans are still undone? We find our peace rests not in our work but in following Him, the Prince of Peace. He filled the manger and the cross. That’s where we find our peace. Peace rests on Him, and we rest in faith in all that He has done for us. Amen.


The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.