New Year’s Eve – 2014 LSB #733
Text – Psalm 90:11-12
Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
The Numbering of Our Days
“Teach us all to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom & finally be saved.” That’s a traditional prayer for the bereaved. As the year ends, it’s typical to think of those who have left us behind, during the past twelve months, as they departed this life.
On April 15, 1912, E. J. Smith, the captain of a large passenger liner, led the passengers of his ship in a Sunday morning devotion. The worship service included the singing of the familiar hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” which includes the words:
“Time, like an ever-rolling stream, soon bears us all away; we fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day.” (LSB 733 v. 5) About 16 hours after that devotional service, 1502 people, among the passengers & crew of that ship, learned first-hand the meaning of those words as the Titanic slipped beneath the waves of the North Atlantic.
That hymn, along with Psalm 90, upon which the hymn is based, bear vivid witness to the swift passage of time & the shortness of human life, facts which are already on our minds as the year 2014 quickly fades into 2015.
How short life is! In times of trouble & hardship the days can seem to stretch on forever & ever, but when we look back upon the days gone by, we must still exclaim, “How short life is!” Despite all our avoidance strategies, we are always confronted by the stark reality of this truth: “we fly away” (v. 10), & quickly we are forgotten as a dream.
Many of us cannot recite the full names of our own grandparents, the very people who meant so much to our parents, who in turn mean so much to us. Unless the end of the world comes 1st, even the cemetery memorial stones, which supposedly mark our whereabouts forever, will soon weather away & be erased. In the psalm before us, Moses, who has seen a whole generation of his Israelite brothers & sisters die during a 40-year span in the wilderness, faces the prospect of his own death.
He speaks of human life as something quickly washed away by a torrential rain, as a sleep which is over even before we become aware of the passage of time, & as grass which is mowed down the same day it first sprang up. All people return to the dust from whence they came.
In the psalm Moses used the word we to emphasize that not even the people of God are exempted from the swift race toward death. As the passage of life is swift, so also death is inevitable, no matter what people do to try to masquerade its inevitability.
Some of us will try to hide from death through sheer busy-ness. We figure that as long as we’re occupied with a multitude of duties & hobbies, we’ll stay young & not have time to think about death. Others of us will stock up on many of the world’s supplies that we can thereby pretend we are never going to leave this world behind.
Still others will think that we can push back the inevitable indefinitely through organic food or through fitness programs. Some try to insulate themselves from death by institutionalizing it, tucking it away behind the solid brick walls of hospitals & funeral homes.
There’ll always be those who try to “immortalize” themselves, those who by sheer effort & achievement attempt to leave in this world a permanent mark which no one could possibly erase or forget. Last, there’ll be those who try to philosophize death away by adopting an “eat, drink & be merry” outlook. Much of this evening’s festivities around the world are patterned on that approach. Then, there are people who refuse to confront death’s reality by viewing it through a pair of rose-colored glasses as simply a return to Mother Nature. But through Moses, the “man of God,” the Lord Almighty exposes the whole masquerade. Go ahead! Shout & laugh & cry, sweat & squirm & rationalize as you will, the brick wall is standing there. It stops everyone cold in their tracks.
The sand in the hourglass will not slow down for anyone – threescore & ten, perhaps 80 years, but not much more than that. Even after a whole life of scurrying about, your long list of accomplishments, the things that cause you to burst with pride, will amount to nothingness or, at most, the sweat that accumulated on your brow.
As generation follows upon generation, what is it that makes the human condition so helpless & hopeless? Here Moses remains relentless in his honest appraisal of life in this world. The entire problem from beginning to end, the problem which always was & now is, belongs not with God, but with us.
The problem always has been our guilt – sin which is nothing less than the cause of humanity’s mortality. Even our secret sins are laid totally bare in God’s sight. We have built up the brick wall of death with our own hands, yet they’re entirely powerless to tear down that wall.
If we could double our anticipated lifespan, we’d probably be driven mad by living so long in a world as sinful as ours. So it is that Moses simply will not tolerate any false optimism about human life. So-called positive attitudes about life & pondering the possibilities of life are exposed for what they are.
With Psalm 90, Moses would have us look at human life with such complete honesty that we despair of it entirely. As we stare death in the face, & all the problems that lead up to it, we can do no more than fall flat on our face. Yet, Moses wants us to fall flat on our face in the right direction – in worship of God. He does not leave us comfortless. Already in the first verse of the psalm he shows us the direction in which he wants us to fall: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” (v. 1) What is the answer, the solution, to the human dilemma? In the spirit of the psalmist, we confess:
“O Lord, the answer to our poverty is not wealth. The answer to our sicknesses is not health. The answer to our sadness is not happiness. The answer to everything that life & death can throw at us is You, & You alone.”
As expected, never in this psalm does Moses blame God for the problems we’ve brought upon ourselves. But there is something incredibly enlightening about this psalm. Moses does not base his evaluation of human life on either a false optimism or on cynical pessimism.
Whether he was feeling good or bad, he simply draws a comparison, a contrast, between us transitory humans & our eternal Lord. In other words, what we happen to think or feel is not what counts. The only thing that matters is what God thinks & feels & does for us. That is the message of the Gospel. It is the glory of Christ Jesus.
With this in mind, Moses speaks for all of us when he prays, “Relent! O Lord . . . Have compassion on your servants.” (v. 13) It is that compassion, that mercy which makes all the difference in the world. Like the mountains He created, His steadfast love was there for us long before we were born, & it will be there for us when we die.
His mercy has been shown & given to us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus came into this world knowing what He would find. He experienced the full range of life’s problems (though without sin). In Gethsemane, He stared death in the face, & alone on Calvary He slammed into the brick wall of death & shattered it.
By His death Jesus has destroyed death, & opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. The prayer of Moses, “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love” (v. 14), was answered on Easter morning when Jesus arose on the other side of the wall as our conquering Lamb. Our own grandchildren may forget our names. The stones which mark our resting places may be obliterated or removed. But when we are baptized into the death of our Lord Jesus, we are also baptized into His resurrection.
By His grace, we count for something. We are not forgotten. Our Savior remembers our baptismal name. Our life with Christ is described so beautifully by Moses: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (v. 12)
There are three ways in which we count our days as children of God. First, we count our days to be reminded of our human frailty. The days, months & years which fly by continually remind us of our sinful condition, & that God, & only God, can remove our despair over it.
Second, we count our days by a brand-new unit of measurement: we count them not by days, months & years, but by the grace of God. Each day we behold with wonder the mercies of our Lord, which are new every morning.
Gone are the frantic efforts toward self-preservation. Gone are our blind efforts to masquerade the stark fact of our own mortality. Gone are the attempts to put our name on the map to be remembered. It is what Yahweh has done that counts, & in His salvation He gives us His perfect peace, so that we can say:
“Let the days & years roll by! My days will be as limitless as His mercy. My name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. The answers to all my woes are the one answer, the Lord Jesus Christ. My desire is to be with Christ, for that is far better. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”
Third, we count each day because each day is precious in the eyes of God. Each moment is a valuable opportunity to serve our Redeemer, to do the works He has prepared in advance that we should walk in them. Moses says it rightly: even now God establishes the works of our hands. We will be remembered for the works God performs through us. These works, the apostle John tells us, will follow us into eternal life. And St. Paul had a great way of putting together all these different ways of numbering our days. He said to the church in Corinth:
“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8–9)
The very same apostle said to the church at Philippi, “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.” (Philippians 1:22) As a child of God, Paul valued life in this world so much that he could not decide whether he wanted to remain on earth to labor for Christ or be with Christ in glory.
As children of God we can number our days in a similar fashion. We can get up in the morning, observe the continuous ticking of our alarm clock, flip over another page on our calendar, & thank God that we are very much remembered by Him, since we have been baptized in His triune name.
As people who have been baptized into both the death & the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can say a two-fold prayer: “Lord, please take me out of this sinful, dead-end place called the world. But until you do, Lord, I thank you for each joyous day under your mercy. Help me to relish every moment of life here that You give me.” Amen.
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, & our eternal home. Under the shadow of Thy throne Thy saints have dwelt secure; sufficient is Thine arm alone, & our defense is sure. O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be Thou are guard while troubles last & our eternal home. Amen.
1st Sunday after Christmas – B LSB #392
Text – Galatians 4:4-5
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
RECEIVING THE GIFT
“You’re nobody til somebody loves you you’re nobody til somebody cares you may be king, you may possess the world & its gold but gold won’t bring you happiness when you’re growing old the world still is the same, you never change it as sure as the stars shine above you’re nobody til somebody loves you…”
For people who believe nobody loves them, the Christmas season brings a high rate of loneliness & depression. Songs like that #1 hit by Dean Martin highlight the sadness for them. All the bright lights & parties of Christmas just emphasize what’s missing in their lives. You’re Nobody til Somebody Loves You speaks to the heart of many of our world’s problems.
Is that a problem you struggle with? Have there been times when you’ve felt like singing the “I’m a nobody blues?” Do you know someone else who feels that way? In the year 2003 a group called Evanescence scored a major hit with the song Bring Me To Life. Listen to the thoughts expressed by these lyrics:
“How can you see into my eyes like open doors? Leading you down into my core where I’ve become so numb without a soul my spirit sleeping somewhere cold until you find it there & lead it back home.
Wake me up inside wake me up inside call my name & save me from the dark. Bid my blood to run before I come undone. Save me from the nothing I’ve become.”
Two hit songs, almost 40 years apart, in totally different musical styles, yet they speak to the same core issue. Even if you don’t struggle with the problem, of feeling like nobody, apparently a lot of people do. That shouldn’t be a surprise to us in the Christian Church either, because the Bible explains very clearly why human beings have problems with it.
In the book of Acts, St. Luke wrote how God created, from one man, all nations. Then he gives the reason: “God did this so that men would seek Him & perhaps reach out for Him & find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. ‘For in Him we live & move & have our being.’” (Acts 17:27-28 NIV)
In other words, if our very life exists in God, then apart from Him we are nothing. The sin of Adam & Eve destroyed the relationship & the connection mankind had with the source of life. When sin entered the world it cut us off from life. As the song lyrics put it: “Bid my blood to run before I come undone. Save me from the nothing I’ve become.”
The song lyrics bring it down to earth & make it real, yet the problem is still rather abstract. The Bible correctly diagnoses the problem, but in our culture, as each day goes by, fewer & fewer people are putting stock in what the Bible has to say. If we’re going to offer them hope for living, we need to arrive at the Bible’s answer from another direction.
Let’s begin with the matter of identity. When you meet someone new, how do you introduce yourself? You probably don’t say, “I’m Mr. Nobody.” I doubt you begin with, “I’m Mrs. Nothing.” Most likely you tell people something about yourself, about who you are, what you do, which hobbies & activities interest you.
In the United States, people are less likely to define themselves in terms of who they are related to. Our culture teaches us to define ourselves based upon who we see ourselves to be. We live in a nation that is obsessed with self. We see that in the proliferation of these kinds of terms: self-fulfillment, self-acceptance, self-image, self-esteem, self-identity & self-promotion. The culture encourages us to think that our world revolves around ourselves, our wants, our needs, our desires. Such a self-centered world, however, tends to be a lonely existence. It isolates us, not only from other people, but from our Creator. When the singer belts out: “Save me from the nothing I’ve become,” she is singing of a self-inflicted wound.
Concerning the lyrics sung by Dean Martin, the idea that you’re nobody until somebody loves you can be thought of as an answer to that dilemma. The love of another person has made each of us feel special at one time or another. It is an incredibly powerful & elevating force, yet human love falters. Who of us has not also been hurt by a love that varies like the wind?
While human love can absolutely erase the feeling that you’re a nobody, it can also send you crashing back into the deepest depths of nothingness when the lover inevitably falters or fails. If we rely on human love only, to cure us of the ‘nobody blues,’ then we’re left as slaves at best, to the failings & the weakness that all mankind suffers from.
What we truly need is something, or someone, who’s capable of lifting us up & out of the fallen human condition. So many of the world’s problems stem from the fact that people are constantly searching for a sense of value & worth that’s able to transcend the brokenness of our lives, & of the world we live in. If there’s no hope of that, there is no hope at all.
“Eat, drink & be merry, for tomorrow we die” is the best that life in this world can offer, unless there’s something permanent enough, & powerful enough, to lift us beyond the disappointing heartache that all of us have encountered through simply being alive. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son…”
We’re still in the Christmas season, but we’re past all the hype & the anticipation. Now that all the excitement of unwrapping the presents is over maybe we can examine the birth of our Savior in a less cluttered & more rational light. The answer to being nothing & nobody, as our heavenly Father reveals it, is the birth of God’s Son into the human race. In the Garden of Eden our Creator, & His creation, were in perfect harmony. There was no self-centeredness, no dissension, no failure or brokenness. It was paradise. Then rebellion entered in & the perfect relationship between Creator & creature was shattered.
Although physical death took 900 more years for Adam, the spiritual death occurred immediately. Adam & Eve were cut off from life, & like any dead branch, they were powerless to change that; incapable of re-grafting themselves to the Vine. They truly were left as nobody & needed someone to save them from the nothing they had become.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” You see, the genius, the glory, the amazing fact of Christmas is that Jesus has come to set us free from our slavery to everything self – self-centered, self-important, self-reliant.
Jesus has freed us from the broken helplessness of a sin-filled world, & He did all that so our heavenly Father could adopt us back into His family, where He created us to belong. As members of the royal line of David we, already now, are somebody. We have been saved from the nothing we had become.
Through Jesus being God & Man, the human race has been reconnected to the perfect harmony of paradise. It’s true, we can’t see that yet, but it’s real in a way that only our heavenly eyes will be able to see. Where you have faltered & failed in your love for the important people in your life, Jesus has not. Plus, He died to take away the effects of our failures.
We can live with no shame, no matter how often Satan & his minions throw it in our face. However, because Jesus has removed it, true faith in Jesus wants to, even longs to, live up to the standards of paradise, as we know them in the Ten Commandments. Yes, we still fall short, but in the big picture, in the true reality that only God can see, we never give up trying. We can’t say, “What’s the use,” because Jesus has fixed all things. Our broken & sinful eyesight just can’t see it yet. Was your Christmas perfect this year? Did you not fail in any way, in any thing? I know the answer to that before I ask it.
Yet the love of God enables us to try again, this afternoon, tomorrow, next week, next year. Even our failures, our heavenly Creator is able to use to build His kingdom, for here on earth & for there in eternity. In a sense, you & I are still dead today, even as children of God, but it is Jesus who is living in us, working through us, strengthening & healing us.
We have been slaves to a tyrant, the tyrant of sin, death & the devil – the unholy trinity as it’s sometimes referred to. And St. Paul summarizes his message of the 1st four chapters of Galatians at the beginning of chapter 5, when he writes: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, & do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV)
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote: “So then you are no longer strangers & aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints & members of the household of God…” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV) Being adopted is the same as receiving a gift. That we might receive that gift is why God sent His Son Jesus to be born in a manger & to die on a cross.
Have you received that gift this year? Have you opened it? It’s yours to keep & to use for all of eternity. Maybe we’ll even be singing songs there about how we were nobody until Jesus loved us. Amen.
I was in slavery, sin, death & darkness; God’s love was working to make me free. He sent forth Jesus, my dear Redeemer, He sent forth Jesus & set me free. Jesus, my Savior, Himself did offer; Jesus, my Savior, paid all I owed. Now I will praise You, O Love eternal; now I will praise You all my life long. Therefore I’ll say again: God loves me dearly, God loves me dearly, loves even me. Amen.
 "You're Nobody till Somebody Loves You" is a popular song written by Russ Morgan, Larry Stock & James Cavanaugh, published in 1944.
 Written by Amy Lee, Ben Moody & David Hodges.
Christmas Day – 2014 LSB #374
Text – John 1:14
And the Word became flesh & dwelt among us, & we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace & truth.
For me, & perhaps you too, worship on Christmas Day reaches a depth of meaning that’s hard to come by on Christmas Eve. To be sure, Christmas Eve is an emotional time with an impact on people no one wants to give up – the anticipation, the lights, the gifts, the tree, the childhood memories, the family togetherness.
When we reach Christmas Day, however, most of that is over. Here we are, fewer in number (for which reason some churches don’t have Christmas Day services). The hype is gone, the Christmas tree looks different in the daylight, & the world around us has shut down. I believe we’ll find that to be an advantage for us this morning.
We are no longer caught up in the hectic countdown that began weeks ago. We’re no longer distracted by the secular approach to Christmas. We are able, this morning, to focus on something we perhaps could not have focused on last evening.
We are better prepared today to deal with the central affirmation of the Christian faith, which probably is also the central offense of the faith, namely, that “the Word became flesh & made His dwelling among us.” (v. 14)
In some ways this is almost the reverse of what we were about last night. Christmas can very easily become an escape from the world as we know it – a flight into unreality. By means of all the traditions & symbols & activity we can translate ourselves into a world that is beautiful & fanciful, a world of dreams & emotions; a happy, harmonious world, even if it lasts for only a few hours. We are, then, in the world of fantasy, while the truest meaning of Christmas has to do with the world of the flesh. Christians – & other people for that matter – have always had a problem with the flesh, in this case with the human nature of Jesus. Notice how quick we are to defend the divinity of our Lord, often at the expense of His humanity. The creedal statement, “Jesus is Lord,” forms on our lips easier than the assertion, “Jesus is our Brother.”
The truth is we are more comfortable with a Jesus who promises everlasting life, a heavenly home, an escape from a world that is filled with sin & pain – a Jesus, & a world, which are not really part of our blood, sweat & tears. We could define the original sin described in the story of Adam & Eve as a refusal to be human, as a desire to be like God.
To be human means to be in this world, to live in dependence upon God, to be humane to one another – in other words, to be servants rather than lords. To be human is to be content in being a creature. To be human in this now fallen world means to be willing to suffer for the sake of Christ, & to be willing to suffer for others in order to share Christ’s love.
Yes, I believe we have a problem with being human. It is a gift often unaffirmed, if not outright despised. To truly affirm our humanity is to profess that we have been made & redeemed by God, & He is among us: “The Word became flesh & dwelt among us.”
Those who had a problem with Jesus opposed Him because He said that God was at work in & through Him. That was offensive to those who wanted to keep God at arm’s length, preferably up in heaven. Let God rule from the heavens with judgments against the wicked & blessings for the good.
It’d be a scandal for God to come among us as a weak human being, to associate even with the worst of sinners, for then we’d be compelled to affirm our humanity, to recognize all people equally as God’s creatures & objects of His love. It’d mean that we worship a God of grace & forgiveness right here in the midst of men & women called to be the body of Christ, right here in a common meal shared by those in Christ. That’s what Christmas really is about – God among us, even in the midst of the chaos & misery of sin. That is what informs the meaning of Jesus’ death & resurrection – that He is God manifest in the brokenness of human flesh.
Without the incarnation, there’s no Gospel to hear or tell. But John begins his gospel by immediately affirming that the Logos, the God who created all things in the beginning, now joins His creation by means of flesh & blood, by the human nature of Jesus. The implications of that are mind-blowing as well as life-changing.
Hear it clearly: the love of our heavenly Father is an incarnate love; a love our God lived out in flesh & blood. It is among us; it is here, a reality. Love is not an emotion floating around in the air. Love is physically present in Jesus, who reached out to people – even unlovable people. He drew near to sinners. He touched people who were broken, bitter & hurting.
God in the flesh touched them & brought them the forgiveness of our almighty Creator. That love of God has touched us. It’s in you & in me. As the Church, as God’s redeemed & re-claimed humanity, we bring to the darkness around us an acceptance & an affirmation that is the very presence of our Lord.
Make no mistake about it: the Word is working in us flesh-and-blood people so that others will know God is with us. As the Roman centurion said at Jesus’ death, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
God is with us – in the world as it really is, with all its greed & pride, the vanity & ambition, the racial hatred & inhumanity in whatever respect. Jesus is with us despite the world’s strife, ruthless violence & senseless death. Our Savior came to this world where the innocent are crushed, & where the weak are tossed aside.
Christ was with us on the cross, where He intimately knew, & suffered for, each one of
our sins. In fact, from before the foundation of the world, Jesus’ human life was directed toward saving us from our sins. Our Savior is with us out of the tomb; turned loose in the world to show His love to the broken people we meet. He is with us – the Word made flesh in real people like you & me, among us for all time & then for all eternity.
Isn’t this the Word that we, our nation & our world need today, at a time when people are losing their humanity & their souls in the process? Wouldn’t you agree there’d be no hope for us unless God had become a human being, uniting God’s Spirit with ours, & destining us to have God’s life in our physical body?
The anticipation, the lights, the gifts, the tree, the childhood memories, the family togetherness, each of them is certainly a blessing from our Father in heaven, yet none of them is the meaning of Christmas. The foremost meaning of Christ’s birth as a human child is that all of our lives are worth living, & the world in which we live is worth saving.
On Christmas day we find grace & truth in the lowly One who is born of Mary, who identifies with sinners, who blesses ordinary & common things, who calls us to be His servants. Not to see that glory of God is to miss out on Christmas, no matter what we do on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day.
To see, with John & all God’s people through the centuries, the true glory of Christmas is to recognize that God is with us in the person of Jesus, both now & forever. Amen.
Gentle Mary laid her Child lowly in a manger; there He lay, the Undefiled, to the world a stranger. Such a babe in such a place, can He be the Savior? Ask the saved of all the race who have found His favor. Gentle Mary laid her Child lowly in a manger; He is still the Undefiled but no more a stranger. Son of God of humble birth, beautiful the story; praise His name in all the earth; Hail the King of glory! Amen.
Christmas Eve – 2014 LSB #’s 358 v.1-4, 361, 358 v.5-8
Text – Luke 2:6
And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.
The Time Came
One Christmas, some years ago, a pastor’s child expressed a feeling we’ve all shared. She said, “I wish Christmas time would never be over.” This season, like all others, is a time that comes & goes, yet Christmas seems to leave us yearning for a day when time would stand still & our lives would be filled with excitement, our days more kind, lovely & peaceful.
Though the longing for it lingers in our heart & soul, time is not capable of lingering. It is an ever-rolling stream that never pauses. For people who’ve lived in a stable country, like the United States anytime in the past 100 years, those special moments of life form a large percentage of our memories. What would our lives be like without them?
For example, just think how this time of the year dominates our days. It’s Christmas time, wintertime, shopping time, school vacation time. Every day there comes a time to wake up, a time to go to work, a time to eat, a time to play, a time to sleep. To human perception, time defines our existence, as the preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes put it:
“There is a time for everything, & a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born & a time to die . . . a time to weep & a time to laugh . . . a time to search & a time to give up . . . a time to love & a time to hate . . .” (3:1,2,4,6,8)
Those are the times that come & go as we move through life – happy times, sad times, exciting times, boring times, full times, and empty times. And so it is with the world in which we live, marking our time every moment of every day. We are creatures bound by time, which can be a challenge or a problem, an opportunity or a disaster. Time, which was intended by our Creator to be a blessing, sometimes seems to be more like a curse. We delight in those moments when we have good times, exhilarating times, hopeful times, yet we easily turn them into anxious, stressful, hurtful, desperate times.
In the Christmas story, the time came. It came as a decree from the emperor requiring everyone to return to his ancestral hometown for a census. Today the Census Bureau sends government forms or representatives to our house. In those days a census required many families to take the time for a long, hard journey.
When the fullness of time arrived, the shepherds were busy keeping watch over the flocks by night, shivering in the cold, enduring the time until morning came. For Joseph & Mary, it was time to find a place – not just to rest, but to deliver a baby. There was no room at the inn, so what a time that must have been!
Yet, all of that was merely setting the stage for God breaking through the boundaries of time & space, for an event that would change all time, all our times. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.” (v. 6) An angel announces the meaning of that time & event. That is how significant was the birth of Jesus:
“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (vs. 10–11)
Another messenger of God – the apostle Paul – wrote to the church in Galatia: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, so that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
The Christmas we celebrate is a moment in time so unique, so decisive that it is not possible for us in the space of an evening’s service to capture the full meaning of this event. That is really what our lifetime is for – to know that time, to love that time, to ‘live’ that time. Whatever other times come, that time changes all the rest of them. There are four times that are the most significant in history – all of them are God’s times.
The 1st is the time of creation. No one was there to observe it or videotape it. The time came when God created, & the best we can do is marvel at God’s mighty work. He continues to sustain his creation, moving it toward his intended goal. We are part and parcel of that process.
The 2nd time came when Messiah was born. The love of God took the shape of One named Jesus, born of Mary, called Immanuel – God with us – thus blessing & redeeming our times. He subjected Himself to the limits of time in order to fully take our place in every way.
The 3rd time came when Jesus was raised from death. Thus He started a new creation that surpasses even what happened in the beginning. One reason He did was to reveal the perfect goal of all humanity, the future of everyone who trusts in the Savior’s love for mankind. Jesus was born to redeem us, to fulfill all time & to deliver all things to His Father.
The 4th & final time, yet to arrive but already on its way, is Christ’s triumphant return, which the Bible calls the Last Day – an event that will take place at the conclusion of time. For us who trust in Christ, it will be the beginning of peace & joy forevermore. It’ll be the fulfillment of that which we celebrate in Holy Communion.
For the millions of believers in Christ, tonight is the culmination of much wishing & hoping & waiting. Christmas means that what we yearn for has already come, is here right now: God is present. He is with us, with an everlasting love in each & every moment of our lives, whether we perceive those any of those moments as good or bad.
The time has come for us. In Jesus, God has entered our world where we are born & die, work & play, love & dream. Let this Christmas time fill our lives with the knowledge that all our days are in the hands of our Lord. Since God joined us in our pain & disappointments, since He knows our weakness & death, let this Christmas time bring us strength, knowing that God’s love is stronger than death, & Yahweh is able to bind up all our wounds. Since the time has come, & our Savior has been born, God has rescued us from the sin that enslaves us. He’s freed us from the destruction we do to ourselves, to others & to the creation itself.
Let this Christmas time fill you with the will to love & care for all, just as our Savior did. Since the fullness of time has come & our Creator has visited His people, let us join Mary & Joseph, the shepherds & angels, all believers everywhere this night, in glorifying & praising our heavenly Father. The time has come for all of that!
That Christmas leaves us yearning for a day when time would stand still & our lives be filled with excitement, our days more kind, lovely & peaceful, is not a bad thing. If we think about, what that yearning is actually for is the life all God’s children will have in heaven. That yearning is for life as our Lord meant, & created, it to be.
We long for the day when life, & we ourselves, will be perfect in every way. For now, though we don’t see it clearly, our times are truly in God’s hands. Then, our eternity will be in His hands as well.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep & dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light. The hopes & fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven. No ear may hear His coming; but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in. O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin & enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel. Amen.
4th Sunday in Advent – B LW #’s 24, 18, 309, 31
Text – Luke 1:38 TLH #’s 73, 60, 613, 62
Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.
THEN THE ANGEL LEFT HER
The Christmas season is a time for family get-togethers, so in the next week or two there’ll be many people traveling. There’ll be parties, happy reunions & emotional times all over the country. But when the vacations end, when the time arrives to go home, there’ll also be a lot of sad good-byes as people return to their lives & leave friends & family behind.
I’ve been through that scenario so many times in my life, I’ve lost count. And in spite of all the practice, it’s become more & more difficult as the years go by. For that reason I wonder how it was with Mary on the night Gabriel came, delivered his message, & then left?
After hearing such an incredible announcement, did pangs of loneliness touch her heart when the angel left her? Did she feel abandoned? Did a hundred more questions pop into her mind as soon as Gabriel was gone? What was it like to have been told she would be the mother of God? Who would you share that with? Who would believe you? PAUSE
As close as we can figure from the Greek language, & from the culture of that day, it was likely that Mary was only 12 to 14 years old. Imagine the burden she’d be carrying. It seems only natural to call after the angel, “Don’t go! Don’t leave me! I need your help.” But Gabriel left.
Being left behind isn’t easy, even if it’s on friendly terms like often occur at Christmas.
On those terms you’re left with a quiet, somber house where only a few hours before there was laughter & joy. But if you’ve been left behind under hostile terms, not only is there the
absence of laughter & joy, but in their place are left confusion, doubt, guilt, fear, bitterness.
In the hands of Satan those emotions are powerful tools for destruction. The damage can seep down to the very core of your soul. What’s left is a terrible sense of being something less than whole, of being torn & fragmented. Decisions that used to be simple & easily taken for granted, have become impossibly complicated.
To make matters worse, those decisions can end up revealing the hopelessness that has come to color everything in your life. Activities that used to bring pleasure now bring only bitter regret for what’s missing. They bring back the raw emotions of having been left behind, rejected & forgotten.
And then the guilt sets in, & the second-guessing. If only I had done this, or tried that. Maybe I should have said something. Maybe I am at fault. Maybe I am worthless. Satan gladly uses the bitterness & the guilt to change your very personality.
One of my seminary professors, who’d been practicing psychology for 20 years, believed that suppressed feelings of guilt are the cause for 90% of all mental disorders. That ties in very well with what I read in a book titled, “Magic Trees of the Mind.” Research suggests that guilt & bitterness will alter the physical structure of your brain.
Information like that may cause you to become a pessimist. It brings to light the inherent dangers in our sinful world, dangers that for the most part go unseen, & unaccounted for, in our day to day choices. Denial is one of our mind’s strongest defense mechanisms. However, it gets out of control if we live our lives with our heads stuck in the sand.
Ignoring and denying our failures & the guilt of our decisions, only allows their damage to perpetuate. Denial of our sins will allow them to spread & to grow. They’ll contaminate everything in our lives, & everyone else they come into contact with. Sin can change the physical structure of our brain, so if you’ve ever had someone leave you behind, all that may help in your understanding of what goes on. It may help explain some of the things you’ve experienced, like the depression, the feeling that you’re not yourself, the loss of memory & so forth. The wages of sin is death, but that death is not simply a one-time event at the end of our earthly lives.
The death that comes as a result of sin is a continuous process that takes place from the moment we are conceived. From that moment on, for the rest of our lives, we are corrupted, twisted & altered by our sinful nature. We cannot run from it, we cannot hide from it; & try as we might, we cannot make it go away through denial.
That’s why, in last week’s gospel reading, God sent a man named John to witness to the coming Light. That’s why in this week’s gospel lesson an angel named Gabriel was sent to announce to Mary that she would become the mother of God. That’s why in the upcoming gospel reading for Christmas God will send His sinless Son to save us from our sins.
Denial of our sin does not change the facts. Suppression of our guilt only changes the structure our brain, & for the worse. But a repentant heart, a heart that admits our sin, trusts in God’s love. It then brings those sins out of the darkness of our soul, & gives them over to the light of our Savior. God alone has the power to make our sins go away.
Our Creator has the power to re-create the structure of our brain in a positive way. He has the power to change our soul from darkness to light, from harbinger of death, to harbinger of eternal & perfect life. Unlike the angel Gabriel, our Savior will never leave us. He is always be with us, & it was prophesied that His name would be Immanuel. It means God with us.
In today’s gospel text, the angel Gabriel told Mary: “The Lord is with you.” Shortly after this sermon, we begin our communion liturgy with the Preface. The first words I’ll speak to you are, “The Lord be with you.” It’s a reminder that through the sacrament of Holy Communion, Christ our Lord is truly with us, not just in spirit, but in body & soul. The next words I speak will be, “Lift up your hearts.” That’s asking you to offer you’re dirty, guilty, sin filled heart to the Lord, that He might cleanse it with His body & His blood. It’s through this means of grace that our Father has promised to come to us, to cleanse us, renew us & strengthen us.
Here, Yahweh reverses the effect of the sin in our lives. Here, the Holy Spirit opens your heart to the Light that Christ might enter & live there. It’s here that God strengthens your trust in His promises while removing the confusion & doubt, the fear & bitterness.
If someone has ever left you or betrayed you, you have a right to be hurt & angry, but you cannot remove the bitterness on your own. For that you need your heavenly Father’s help, & He’s offering it to you today, right here in God’s house. Come & receive it. PAUSE
On a typical Sunday, as Lutherans, we confess our Christian faith with the words of the Nicene Creed. In less than one sentence that confession captures the whole of the Christmas season: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, who was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, & was made man.” That is God with us.
God was made man. That is the ultimate in being with us. He became one of us. From that moment on, the heavenly Father & His children would never be separated. Jesus Christ cannot leave us, because He is one of us. Through the incarnation God has been inseparably united to mankind, & He did that out of love for you & me, even while we were sinners.
He loves us first, in the hope that we might turn back to Him & be saved. God no longer needs a temple, because His dwelling place is now in man, in Christ. It is through the incarnate Son of God that our heavenly Father lives in us. He participates in our very being.
The angel Gabriel left Mary behind, because his presence was only an external one. Jesus Christ has been born a man, that He might live in mankind. His presence in our lives is
internal. He is with us always, even to the end of time. Satan’s temptations can never drive Jesus away from us. No matter how quiet & somber your home may be during portions of this Christmas season the Christ Child is always near. The guilt & shame of your life has been totally erased as far as your Savior is concerned. You are holy in God’s sight.
Through the power of Christ living in our lives, may each of us be able to say along with Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be done to me according to Your word.” Amen.
The peace of God, that surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet