New Year’s Eve – 2015 LSB #’s 522 v.1-4, 454, 522 v.5-8
Text – Revelation 12:12
Therefore, rejoice, O heavens & you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth & sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!
THE PROBLEM WITH TIME
I’d like you to think back a few years & remember what life was like when you were growing up. Specifically, I’d like you to consider how often TIME seemed to literally stand still. It took forever just to become a teenager. Life could be boring with little to do that seemed worthwhile or important. As a child, the problem with TIME is that it’s too long.
Then you get old. No one can say exactly when that happens, but the TIME does come for us all. Then, the problem with life is not that it’s too long, but that it’s too short. It is common to hear adults speak of how quickly TIME seems to be passing. The older we get the faster TIME seems to go. It’s as if our lives are getting more & more busy all the TIME.
People are so busy that someTIMEs they feel like they’re losing their sanity. It seems as if we just can’t get enough rest. Even when we get enough sleep, the TIME crunch is right there waiting for us when it’s TIME to wake up. Maybe you haven’t had TIME to realize it, but God’s Word has answers for you.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor & are heavy laden, & I will give you rest.” That includes rest from the crush of TIME, & the audience Jesus is speaking to includes you & me, today. So why aren’t we feeling rested? Is it because God has not given us enough TIME? Did our Lord not foresee the endless number of opportunities that compete for our TIME?
Depending on which translation we use, the Bible uses the word TIME, 771 TIMEs. Twelve of those TIMEs it speaks of TIME as being short. The sermon text is one of them & it turns out that the devil has exactly the same problem we do. His TIME is short! “But woe to you, O earth & sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his TIME is short!” (Revelation 12:12b ESV)
That TIME is of enormous impact is beyond debate. Often it dictates when we eat, sleep, work or play. Compared to some other cultures, Americans are inordinately focused on schedules & TIME. We’re known as a culture that is always in a hurry, pulled in many directions at once, each of which requires a commitment of our TIME.
On the other hand, TIME is also relative, depending on our perspective or situation in life. There are people with too much TIME on their hands where the moments of each day pass by at a snail’s pace – the lonely, the isolated, those in prison, the fearful, the depressed. For them, life itself has little importance, because they seem to have so little control of it.
By contrast there’re others who believe they have all the time in the world: time to pursue their dreams, to raise their children, to build their nest egg, to get their spiritual life in order. For them, there’s no reason to hurry. They have life by the tail & are able to make TIME do their bidding. Life is of great importance to them, because they seem to have total control of it.
In both situations, what people are lacking is a big picture perspective. Our time here is tiny in comparison to the context of eternity. It is laziness & unbelief to claim that you have no control over the time that God gives you. It is arrogance & unbelief to claim that you are the master of your own destiny, & have total control over the time that God gives to you.
The devil heartily encourages both attitudes because he does have the big picture very clearly in mind: “…he knows that his time is short!” Jesus also has the big picture very clearly in mind & encourages this attitude instead: “Repent, for the reign of heaven stands near.” In each viewpoint time is urgent, but each end point could not be farther from the other. Because the consequences of those differing viewpoints are eternal, God’s Word, in Revelation, is giving us the big picture from the heavenly perspective. St. John writes chapter 12 because it explains why the events on earth, of the previous chapters, are occurring.
In chapter 5, Christ the Lamb is seated on the heavenly throne. That event controls the entire book of Revelation, because everything which transpires in world history is under the lordship of Christ. He alone is worthy to rule because of His sacrificial suffering & death on behalf of the world. He dies that we might live. Satan’s goal for us is that we die with him.
Revelation reveals nothing less than the cosmic war between the Light of the world & the prince of darkness. That war broke out in heaven, as we heard in verse 7: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael & his angels fighting against the dragon.” Then it dropped down to earth, which is revealed as the conflict between the Church & the World.
Today’s struggles with sexual identity & sexual freedom are manifestations of that war. The cultural focus on wealth & possessions is a manifestation of that war. People wanting to pick & choose & create their own spirituality, is a manifestation of that war. These trends in our culture are explained by Revelation chapter 12. There’s a battle going on & the time is short.
This war is playing out the promise given to Adam & Eve in Genesis 3:15 as Yahweh curses Lucifer for his rebellion, “I will put enmity between you & the woman, & between your offspring & her Offspring; He shall bruise your head, & you shall bruise His heel.” (ESV)
A lot of what is happening in our lives, in our country, & around the world can be understood if we simply recognize the ongoing battle between the Church created by God & the demon hordes of Satan. If that language sounds a bit strong to you, or overblown, then you’ve clearly missed the big picture that John is writing about in the book of Revelation.
The World around us is truly going to hell in a hand basket. So turn your heart away
from the World & turn it back to Jesus. That doesn’t mean isolate yourself off into a monastery or convent. That’s too easy, even if you don’t find that desirable. You can’t leave the World behind just by hiding from it. Sin would follow you since it springs from your own heart. In effect, you have to turn away from your own heart in order to turn away from the World.
That is the work of the Holy Spirit, as Martin Luther described it so well in the Small Catechism: “…the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified & kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens & sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth & keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
Already in the OT, Ezekiel wrote these words by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh & give them a heart of flesh.” The problems we have with TIME, the problems we have with family, career, church, government – all of them stem from the fact that we are not keeping the big picture in mind as we make decisions.
As children of God you & I are at war with Lucifer. We need to keep that in mind for every decision or judgment we make. Military people talk about the “Fog of War” & how it confuses the picture, making good decisions much more difficult. In the same way, sin & our heart of stone, confuse the picture making good decisions much more difficult.
With that as the context, a perceived lack of time adds pressure that we cannot properly handle. We think we’re too busy so we fail to do the good works prepared in advance for us by God. Being in a constant state of frenzy, at other times we forget to do the good works prepared in advance for us by God. Chief of all, we skip spending time daily with our heavenly Father.
All our struggles with TIME are a manifestation of the war between God’s people & Lucifer. Our lives are the front lines of the battle. As children of God, our relationships with any & all other people are the front lines of the battle. Revelation 12 begins an explanation of all St. John sees happening on earth from the TIME of Christ’s ascension into heaven up to the end of this present world at Christ’s return. Every day is Judgment Day. You & I are always at the crossroads, poised between life & death, order & chaos. Every choice & activity, even the most trivial, is fraught with ultimate consequence. There is no middle ground.
That is the problem with TIME, & most of us are too short-sighted to be aware of it. The sinful heart is naturally short-sighted. For that reason, when John was arrested, Jesus began His preaching by saying, “Repent, for the reign of heaven stands near.” Satan’s time is short & so is yours! “For everything there is a season...” “…behold, now is the day of salvation.”
The next time you’re offended by someone’s words, put them into the larger context of the war going on between you & the devil. The next time you feel taken advantage of for the sake of money put that into the big picture of the war going on between the Church & the devil. The next time you feel the pressure of the clock working against you, remember the fog of war.
St. John wrote in order that we might understand why the events of our lives happen as they do. St. Paul wrote of a similar viewpoint when he stated, “For we are not fighting against flesh-&-blood enemies, but against evil rulers & authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, & against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT)
Fortunately, St. John doesn’t only write of the grim explanation of the war that is impacting our lives, friends & family, neighbors & nation. Also included in the big picture is the reason we have for a sure & certain hope in spite of the cosmic battle being waged against us every moment of our time here on earth.
“For everything there is a season, & a time for every matter under heaven: …a time to kill, & a time to heal; …a time for war, & a time for peace.” The natural state of this broken world is to kill & to make war. It is not lightly that the Word of God says, “The wages of sin is death.” Yahweh sent His only-begotten Son to bring healing & peace into this sinful world. He sent Jesus to bring healing & peace into our sinful lives & into our sinful hearts. Christmas is all about the coming of the Prince of Peace. He made that peace by shedding His blood:
“And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation & the power & the kingdom of our God & the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day & night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb…” (Revelation 12:10-11 ESV)
It’s not surprising that TIME is the focus of many a New Year’s Eve sermon. It is an entirely natural TIME to look back & contemplate our thoughts, words & deeds of the year past. It is a natural TIME to consider once again turning our heart back to Jesus & away from our self-centered focal point.
Jesus has won the victory. Are you willing to participate in it, or do you more often join in with the losing side? If you still have pulse & a heartbeat, there is still TIME to join the victory parade & to welcome & invite others to come along with us. Do you remember what the 1st sentence was of the sermon text?
“Therefore, rejoice, O heavens & you who dwell in them!” The TIME may be short, but the victory is ours if we trust in Jesus. Warfare is not easy & the battle does drag on, but the victory is eternal. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle; sing the ending of the fray. Now above the cross, the trophy, sound the loud triumphant lay; tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer, as a victim won the day. Unto God be praise & glory; to the Father & the Son, to the eternal Spirit honor now & evermore be done; praise & glory in the highest while the timeless ages run. Amen. (LSB 454:5)
 Matthew 11:28
 Matthew 4:17b
 11:19b ESV
 Matthew 4:17b
 Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV
 2 Corinthians 6:2b ESV
 Romans 6:23 ESV
1st Sunday after Christmas – C LSB #’s 384, 465, 387
Text – Colossians 3:12-13
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy & beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, & patience, bearing with one another &, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
WHERE CHRIST IS FOUND AT CHRISTMAS
It’s finally over – another month of insane expectations. All the festivities, parties, shopping, extra church services, birthday celebrations, the practice sessions & then the Christmas program, decorating, wrapping gifts, opening gifts, giving gifts, maybe some extra baking, cooking, cleaning, family get-togethers. December is a busy time of year.
We don’t do all those things just for nothing either. There are reasons behind the chaos of the season. So I want to ask this question to kind of bring it all together for us, to help you appreciate everything you’ve been through in the past 30 days, & why all of it is so worthwhile: “At what moment during the past month of activities did you find Jesus?”
Yeah, I know, it’s a question so blatantly obvious, it should not have to be asked. During all the festivities & celebrations, during all the pandemonium of the season, was there at least a moment or two in which you can say with certainty, “Yes, it was then, or it was there, that I found Jesus”?
One year I found Him during the Living Nativity walk as I was literally shepherding people through the countryside & village. I was one of the tour guides, disguised as a shepherd, & as the village of Bethlehem came alive for me, I found Jesus.
One year I was shopping for Christmas music & found a CD by a singer named Kathleen Battle. The lyrics & the music combined in such a way that I found Jesus while listening to that Christmas album. Another time it was listening to a jazzy version of the song, “Rise Up Shepherd” as it was being sung during the Christmas Eve service in which I preached a sermon of the same title. And yet another year was docked by the pier, on board the submarine on Christmas Day. The El Nino storms that year took out the power lines to the island where we were homeported. We had no electricity, no heat, cold food & warm water for our meals. No friends, no family, no loved ones, yet I managed to find Jesus even there.
We can find Jesus in joyful & beautiful times. We can find Jesus in sorrowful & depressing times. Yet, in spite of the fact that the question is so blatantly obvious, it shouldn’t have to be asked, I’m pretty certain there actually is a need to preach a sermon titled, “Where Christ is Found at Christmas.”
So I need to explain what I mean when I ask the question “Was there a moment or two in the last month when you found Jesus?” I don’t literally mean did you find Jesus. It’s a rhetorical question meant to spur your mind to think, to question, to ponder.
I want you to dig deep into all that your brain has processed over the past 30 days, & I want you to identify an event or a moment when you realized that Jesus was there with you! It’s more like I’m asking was there a moment or two that you recognized Jesus. At meetings now, we ask people to share what we refer to as God stories. It’s the same concept.
If you’ve been a follower of Him for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard that He is always with you. He never leaves us. One of His most famous quotations is these parting words from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus says, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” Since that is true, the God stories are there even if you fail to recognize them.
If I, as your pastor, am unable to help you find Jesus in the sorrowful or depressing times, then I’m not really measuring up to the task of being an under-shepherd of the Great & Good Shepherd. You see, Jesus really is there, even amidst the frantic & chaotic pace of the modern American celebration of Christmas. But maybe 99.9% of the time we’re totally unaware of His presence. In some cases we’re just not paying attention. In others, we’re actually closing our eyes & plugging our ears. Some of the time, we are even hardening our heart so that we purposely do not find our Lord & Savior. That is sin at work.
That goes back to the idea in last Sunday’s sermon that we are very uncomfortable in relating to Jesus as our Lord, our Master & our King. If that is the problem you are struggling with you might need to hear words that convict you of your sin. Those are words that are never easy to hear. Trust me! I know that from experience, not just from a seminary education.
A lot of people like to state very forcefully that people need to hear more of the Law these days, until that Law is actually spoken to them. Suddenly, the pastor becomes a jerk who thinks he knows it all. “Who is he to tell me that I’m a sinner? Who is he to challenge me about my lifestyle? He’s never liked me from the moment he got here!”
You see, the Law, when applied from the outside, never changes anyone’s heart. It only reinforces their hopelessness & despair. The Law turns people in an ever more inward direction until it crushes them & kills them. The devil is a master at using the Law to destroy people. St. Paul recognizes that very clearly, since he once lived entirely under the Law.
By nature, sinful human beings gravitate to the Law. Your heart & mine resonates with it, because of the twisted nature of the human heart as corrupted by sin. Haven’t you heard of people who do not practice what they preach? Haven’t you fallen into that trap yourself? Only the promise of forgiveness can turn a heart back to its heavenly Father.
Yes, the gospel can be taken advantage of. The sinful heart does that exceedingly well, but the sinful heart is already lost. We have nothing to lose in spreading the gospel freely, because in some it will take root & produce as Jesus made clear with the parable of the sower: “Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, & they sprouted, grew, & produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, & even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Mark 4:8 NLT) That is what the Apostle Paul is aiming for when he writes the letter to the Colossians. They were struggling to live life as followers of Jesus, & that was before the celebration of Jesus’ birth had ever begun. That didn’t come until about 300 years later.
We can relate to the struggle to live life as followers of Jesus even today, almost 2000 years later. Being compassionate, kind, humble, meek & patient, while bearing with one another &, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; that’s a longer list than Santa Claus usually gets, & it’s almost impossible to shop for!
God knows the world needs it. You know the world needs it, & the godly heart within us longs for it. What have you done personally, this past week, which demonstrated to another human being, where Christ can be found at Christmas?
The sermon hymn that we sung (at the first service) is actually written for the season of Easter, but the 3rd verse is based upon today’s Bible reading from Colossians:
“O fill us, Lord, with dauntless love; set heart & will on things above that we conquer through Your triumph; grant grace sufficient for life’s day that by our lives we truly say: ‘Christ has triumphed! He is living!’”
We celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, but then, what do we do with that news? Do we simply give material things as gifts? Or, do we share the life-giving message that in Jesus’ life, death & resurrection He has triumphed over sin, death & the devil?
Each year, even among Christians, our celebration of Jesus’ birth is pretty much a one & done event. December 25th ends & we put away the decorations, clean the house, & thank God that the celebration is over. Yet Jesus never leaves us. We just don’t “see” Him anymore once we pack away the nativity scenes. Out of sight, out of mind! And that is even if we did find Jesus at this year’s Christmas celebration. In the events of my life, that I shared earlier, where I found Jesus at Christmas, every one of those was a humbling event. In each of them I came to a new realization of God’s grace, & of my heavenly Father’s mercy. Those events turned me back to my Savior because I recognized anew what Jesus had truly done for me.
And those events were not about the Law. I already knew my sins. I didn’t need someone to point them out to me, again & again & again. What I needed to “see” was our Lord’s forgiveness & mercy. It is that, & always that, which draws a sinner to Jesus. Turning back to God is one definition of repentance, & that is where Christ is truly found at Christmas.
As children of God we might truly find Jesus in the manger at this time of year, but where do non-believers find Christ at Christmas? They aren’t looking for Him at all, but almost all of them are searching for something. Are we willing to help them find what they need rather than what they want? What they need is a Savior who comes in forgiveness.
Our celebration of Advent & Christmas should encourage you & me to find Christ in our repentance. As we turn away from our sins, which is always by the power of the Holy Spirit, we turn back to Jesus, & then we “see” Him, we find Him, in His tender love & mercy.
If Christ could be found in the Law, He would not have come as an infant, tender & mild, no crib for a bed. Rather, He would have come as a mighty King & Judge & Ruler of the world. That is how Christ will be found on the Last Day of time.
Now, while there is still time, St. Paul encourages us to recognize that believers & non-believers alike will find Christ, at Christmas & year around, as we put on: “…compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness & patience, bearing with one another &, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other…”
Paul encourages us to “put on” those things as we would put on a coat. Putting on those
virtues is already an accomplished reality in our Baptism. There, we were made holy in the sight of our heavenly Father. At the same time, putting on those virtues is also a goal we strive for as children of a God who is eternally gracious & merciful to you & me. His love is what motivates & empowers us to help other people find Christ, at Christmas, or any other time of the year.
For most Christians, where Christ is typically found at Christmas is in the manger, but He’s no longer there. Where did you find Jesus THIS Christmas? If you have no answer for that question, don’t worry too much. No one ever ‘finds’ Jesus really. Jesus finds us, & at some point we actually recognize that, become aware of it, & finally believe it to be true.
Thank God for His mercy as it is so generously given to us through His Gospel. The reasons behind the chaos of the Christmas season probably have to do with our sinful brokenness & our flailing attempts to fill misunderstood & unmet needs within our heart & soul.
Jesus is the answer & if we can say that we “find Him” it is certainly through turning away from our sins. Having returned to our Savior we will find rest for our soul. And in that rest we can then serve Him, & our neighbor, in everlasting righteousness, innocence & blessedness, just as Jesus is risen from the dead, lives & reigns to all eternity. Amen.
Eternal is the gift He brings, therefore our heart with rapture sings: “Christ has triumphed! He is living!” Now still He comes to give us life & by His presence stills all strife. Christ has triumphed! He is living! O fill us, Lord, with dauntless love; set heart & will on things above that we conquer through Your triumph; grant grace sufficient for life’s day that by our lives we truly say: “Christ has triumphed! He is living!” Amen. (LSB 465:2-3)
Christmas Day – 2015 LSB #’s 374, 386, 383
Text – 1 Thessalonians 5:16
Charles Dickens’s wrote a novel titled A Christmas Carol. You’ve heard of it. It’s about Ebenezer Scrooge & how his heart was changed one Christmas. It’s a story that makes us feel good because “they all lived happily ever-after.”
But the lines from another novel by Mr. Dickens more accurately describe the way Christmas feels for most of us. He begins A Tale of Two Cities with these infamous words:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity. It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”
Christmas is also a time of contrasts. It is a time of prosperity & a time of poverty. It is a season of good will & a season of ugly greed. Christmas is a time of family togetherness yet also a time of excruciating loneliness. It is a season of light & it is a season of darkness. Christmas is the spring of hope & Christmas is the winter of acute despair. PAUSE
Don’t get me wrong. We all want Christmas to be the best of times. That’s why we decorate & donate & shop ’til we drop. We put up trees, hang tinsel, cook turkeys & put together all kinds of toys. We want a jolly, holly Christmas. But let’s be honest. As much as we want Christmas to be the best of times, sometimes it is the worst of times.
Some of us have spent too much money, again, & we’re worried sick about our financial future. Others are struggling with their health, or the health of a loved one – wondering if this might be their last Christmas on earth. Some are wrestling with old hurts that won’t heal & new wounds that just won’t go away. Still others are missing loved ones this Christmas – either because of distance or death or by cruel design. That’s why the text from 1 Thessalonians can seem so out of place, so artificial. “Rejoice evermore.” Really?
Paul, just what is there to rejoice about? Isn’t Christmas just a fantasy in a season of fantasies? Isn’t Christmas about as real as sugar plum fairies, old St. Nick & Jack Frost knocking at your door?
And even if Christmas joy is real, it’s for other people, not for me. I’ve got problems that no one else can relate to. My parents had a lot of hang ups & passed all of them on to me. My siblings? We don’t get along all that well, especially this time of the year. My job is a hassle. My marriage is on the rocks, & it’s too late to do anything about this mess I call my life.
How dare Paul say, “Rejoice evermore”?
This morning I’m here to tell you why. Paul knew about the angelic announcement, “I bring you good news of great joy.” Not for some of the people. Not for the good people. Not for the religious people. No. This is “good news of great joy for all the people.” Joy is the gift Christ gives to everyone, & He gives it especially to you.
Please hear what I’m about to say. It’s very important. There’s huge difference between happiness & joy. They are not synonymous terms. External gifts like health & wealth & family are awesome blessings from God. They make us happy. But – & this is a big but – they are not essential for joy.
Why is that? First off, happiness is determined by what’s going on around me. I can’t control that. Joy is determined by what’s going on inside of me. And God has taken control of that. He sent His Son Jesus who didn’t have a lot of reasons for earthly happiness. He didn’t become an emperor, a statesman, a general or an investment banker. He was born in an animal feeding trough to a blue collar father & a teenage mother. As an adult Jesus had no home: “Foxes have holes & birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20) Jesus was as an itinerant preacher & washed feet. Those have never been the key to making it big.
And then this: “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself & became obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8) Death on the cross was reserved for slaves, thieves & murderers – the lowest of the low. They ripped His skin, burst His arteries & severed His nerves. It brought unimaginable pain.
In spite of it all, Jesus exuded joy. Poverty couldn’t take it away. Disappointment & rejection couldn’t take it away. Even death on a cross was not able to take away His joy. Hebrews 12:2 says as much, “. . . who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.”
What does it all mean? No matter what your life may be like right now, this one great truth makes everything worthwhile: Jesus Christ was born to die for you. From His cross He freely gives joy; unlimited, undeniable & unending joy. And it is for you. How can I be so sure? The angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
Jesus once said, “No one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22) Why is that? I spoke about it earlier. Happiness is determined by what is going on around me. I can’t control that. Joy is determined by what is going on inside of me. And God has taken control of that by sending Jesus who is the doorway to deliverance, the pathway to peace, & the gateway to glory.
His mercy is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His love never changes. His grace is sufficient. His word is enough, & His reign is righteous forevermore! No one will, & no one is able, to take this joy from you! Joy stems the tide of gloom & despair. It brings confidence in the midst of confusion; hope in the midst of uncertainty & calm in the midst of life’s chaotic storms. But please, don’t confuse happiness & joy. They are not the same thing. There are happy Christmases & there are sad Christmases. That depends on what is happening around us.
Joy, on the other hand, is dependent upon what is happening in us. The birth of Jesus is God’s commitment to all people, that He will send the Holy Spirit to heal our hurts, forgive our filth & redeem our wretchedness.
Whether today is for you the best of times or the worst of times, the birth of Jesus – announced by the angels, witnessed by the shepherds & marveled at by the magi – leaves us finally with only one response. St. Paul wrote what that would be. Think of this as wondering what’s in that present under the tree, & then opening it to discover great joy.
The one response that is totally & always appropriate to the birth of our Savior is this, “Rejoice evermore!” Amen.
Now sing we, now rejoice, now raise to heaven our voice; He from whom joy streameth Poor in a manger lies; not so brightly beameth the sun in yonder skies. Thou my Savior art!
Thou my Savior art! Come from on high to me; I cannot rise to Thee cheer my wearied spirit, O pure & holy Child; through Thy grace & merit, blest Jesus, Lord most mild, Draw me unto Thee! Draw me unto Thee! Oh, where shall joy be found? Where but on heavenly ground? Where the angels singing with all His saints unite, sweetest praises bringing in heavenly joy & light. Oh, that we were there! Oh, that we were there! Amen.
 Luke 2:10
 Luke 2:10
Christmas Eve – 2015 LSB #’s 370, 900, 363
Text – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
FAITHFUL WATCHING & WAITING
Have you ever been in an airline terminal when a plane is late? The passengers who are waiting often people break out into at least five different groups.
First, there are the pushers. They push for information. They go up to the ticket counter asking, “When is the plane going to be here? I’ve got to know now, when it’s going to be here?” Pushers demand information as if knowing is going to cause that plane to fly faster.
Next, there are the doubters. They sit down in defeat. “It’ll never come. If it does come there’s going to be something wrong with it. They’re going to have to get another plane. We’re all stuck! Doomed! I say, we are all doomed!”
Another group will be the sleepers. They curl up into an airline terminal chair, or stretch out on the floor & hope that when they wake, everything will be fine. They let others handle the stress, but they don’t contribute anything to the solution either.
Then there are the players. Players say, “The plane’s late! Great! Let’s go to the bar & have a few more drinks; watch a few more games; eat a few more chicken wings. As long as we’re here we may as well have some fun!”
Finally, there are the encouragers. Encouragers say, “True, we don’t have an arrival time yet but the plane is on the way. This airline has never let me down. Be alert, though, because it could show up at any time!”
What type of person are you when it comes to waiting for a plane to arrive? More importantly, on this Christmas Eve, what kind of person are you when it comes to waiting for the Savior to arrive?
First, we’ll look a little closer at THE PUSHERS. They need exact dates & times. You might remember a man named Edgar Whisenant. He was a NASA engineer who used his mathematical skills to set a date for Christ’s return.
He wrote a book called, 88 Reasons why the Rapture will take Place in 1988. He was so certain that Jesus would return on September 10, 1988 that he said, “If I’m wrong then the scripture is mistaken.” He knew for certain that Jesus would arrive on that day.
Jesus says in Matthew 24:36 that the angels didn’t know, & Jesus Himself doesn’t know, but amazingly enough, Edgar Whisenant did. September 10, 1988 came & passed. Yet, the old saying held true, “If first you don’t succeed, fail & fail again.”
Edgar wrote a 2nd book the next year claiming he forgot that the calendar didn’t start with one but with year zero, so he was just a year off. 1989 would bring the rapture. That failed too. No one knows. That’s what Paul says:
“Now, brothers, about times & dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” 
The only other time in the Bible these same two words, “times & dates,” appear together is in Acts 1:7. There Jesus told his followers, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.”
The apostles were asking Jesus for details about the future, & He makes it clear that the duration of time between His 1st & 2nd coming are hidden from our view. There are some things that we are not meant to know until they happen – when we will die, surprise birthday parties & when your mother-in-law is coming. Add to that list the Day of the Lord.
That day will come like a thief in the night. The expression also appears in Luke 12:39 &
Revelation 3:3. How does a thief come? He comes unexpectedly. He comes when we are
unaware. A thief doesn’t call ahead telling you to get ready.
The next group we examine more closely are THE DOUBTERS. A man called 911, saying, “My wife is pregnant, & her contractions are only two minutes apart!” The dispatcher asked, “Is this her first child?” “No, of course not!” the man said, “This is her husband!”
We all know that a pregnant woman is going to have a baby. There is no escape. Just so, Paul says to the doubters, you will not escape: “While people are saying, ‘Peace & safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, & they will not escape.”
There was a young man who was told by his father if he touched an electrical fence, it would shock him. So the boy touched it. His dad said, “I told you so.” The boy’s reply, “Yeah, but I didn’t think you meant it.” God means it when He says Christ is coming again.
There isn’t much that needs to be said about THE SLEEPERS. Especially in the busyness of the holiday season, all of us understand what it is to become a sleeper. It is so easy to become indifferent & apathetic to the good news that our sins have been washed away. Pretty soon we end up spiritually asleep. Many of us need a divine wakeup call!
“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert & self-controlled.” (1 Thessalonians 5:6)
The 4th group we’re referring to are THE PLAYERS. In the sermon text, St. Paul wrote: “. . . and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.” (1 Thessalonians 5:7)
Abraham Lincoln died. So did Woodrow Wilson & Babe Ruth. John F. Kennedy died & so did Princess Diana. We all die; about two people every second, more than 6,000 die every hour, more than 155,000 people die each day & about 57 million die every year. The Players deny these facts. They avoid thinking about the fact that it might happen to them. They ignore
biblical warnings. They have a great time. Life is just a party!
The last group to consider are THE ENCOURAGERS. St. Paul wrote this:
“But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith & love as a breastplate, & the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are alive or dead, we may live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another & build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 
Using armor imagery, Paul reveals what’s essential for our “Day of the Lord Preparedness Kit.” He says nothing about canned food, purified water, a generator, or a handgun. Instead, we are to put on faith, hope & love, the same triad of character qualities Paul mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 1:3. The apostle Paul was an encourager.
In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul says that when life is boiled down to its absolute essentials, these three remain: faith, hope & love. Living that out encourages others; it gives them credible hope in Christ’s return.
Carl McCunn moved to Alaska in the late 1970s where he got a job, made some friends & planned an adventure that still has people talking about him. He planned a five-month photography expedition into the Alaskan wild. He checked the details & prepared for everything he would need.
In March of 1981, Carl was dropped into a remote place near the Coleen River, 70 miles northeast of Ft. Yukon. He had two rifles, a shotgun, fourteen hundred pounds of supplies, & five hundred rolls of film. He began his adventure, completely unaware of an overlooked detail that would cost him his life.
Carl had made no arrangements for anyone to pick him up. In August of that year, he wrote in his diary an understatement the size of Mt. McKinley: “I think I should have used more foresight about arranging my departure.” By late November of 1981, McCunn was out of food, strength & hope. Isolated with no one to rescue him; trapped with no exit plan, Carl McCunn died in the Alaskan wilderness. Every trip comes to an end. So will ours! The only question is, “Which of the two final endpoints will we find ourselves at?”
Encouragers want people to have an exit strategy! They say to their loved ones, friends, co-workers, anyone who will listen: “We don’t have an arrival time, but Christ is on His way. He won’t let us down. Don’t be afraid. Be alert, though, because He could show up at any time! And when Jesus returns He will take us home!”
The sins of the entire human race have been paid for by Jesus. So turn away from your sins, & turn back to your Savior. Trust in Him alone & you will live eternally. That is faithful watching & waiting. Amen.
Jesus! Name decreed of old, to the maiden mother told, kneeling in her lowly cell, by the angel Gabriel. Jesus! Name of priceless worth to the fallen of the earth for the promise that it gave, “Jesus shall His people save.” Jesus! Name of wondrous love, human name of God above; pleading only this, we flee helpless, O our God, to Thee. Amen.
 1 Thessalonians 5:1–2
 1 Thessalonians 5:3
 1 Thessalonians 5:8–11
4th Sunday in Advent – C LSB #’s 354, 346, 353
Text – Luke 1:41-43
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, & she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, & blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
THE MOTHER OF MY LORD
Ever since the Revolutionary War, Americans tend to struggle with even the concept of king or lord. Those terms bring to mind authority & submission. The terms fly in the face of rights & freedom. Because Americans are such an independent people, the whole concept of worshipping anyone as Lord is troublesome.
At the time of the American Revolution, King George III of England was a poor reflection of our Savior’s kingship. Ever since, Americans have struggled to put their trust in kings & lords. That dislike for authority is healthy if the king is a dictator or tyrant. The dislike for authority is also a hindrance for those who claim to follow Jesus.
It can be even more of a hindrance for people who don’t follow Jesus. He doesn’t come on like Donald Trump, & that’s one of the biggest sticking points for people who don’t follow Jesus as Lord. In general, people assume that a lord should have power to get things done quickly. We consider hurricanes to be powerful, but not a gentle summer breeze.
The grace of God is more like a gentle summer breeze than like a category 5 hurricane. With all the evil that is being perpetrated, a common reason cited for not believing in God is that a loving God would not allow such evil to continue. The thinking goes that a loving God would wipe out the evil quickly & efficiently.
What that sort of thinking forgets is that our heavenly Father did that once already, in the global flood of Noah’s day. Genesis 7:23 provides the scope of that destruction: “He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man & animals & creeping things & birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, & those who were with him in the ark.” You know the rainbow is the sign of Yahweh’s covenant. Here’s how that promise came about, once Noah & family got off the ark:
“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord & took some of every clean animal & some of every clean bird & offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.’” (Genesis 8:20-21 ESV)
Unlike sinful human beings, Yahweh finds “…no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from His way & live...” (Ezekiel 33:11 ESV)
The other serious issue that crops up, with quickly & efficiently wiping out evil, was highlighted above. It’s human nature to overlook this crucial point: “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
In other words, all human beings have an evil heart, yet we naturally assume that we are not guilty of that. Because our heavenly Creator wants everyone to turn from their evil way & live, He created a more effective solution. God would take on human flesh & Himself suffer the punishment for the evil deeds of all mankind.
If anyone thinks God isn’t harsh or swift enough in dealing with evil, let them watch Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of Christ. It portrays the suffering & death of God’s holy & innocent Son. That is where the price is paid in such a way that all mankind has been given a 2nd chance. Jesus is our Lord because He willingly submitted to this plan in order to save us.
Believer & unbeliever unlike struggle to be patient with the manner in which evil is being dealt with. We see that on a world scale in the wide range of opinions on how to deal with ISIS. Each of us also sees & knows that struggle on a personal scale, whether we believe in the fact of sin, or deny it. All of us are broken & daily experience the routine failures of life, whether we chalk that up to Murphy’s Law, or to the effects of sin. We wish that brokenness, that evil, would be dealt with, yet, in our pride, we strive after that which is above us, more power, more honor, more wealth, more knowledge & a life of greater ease.
There’s a reason so many “Christian” churches today no longer go through the trouble of confessing their sins at their worship services. People just aren’t comfortable in confronting the wretched truth of their corruption. All that discomfort goes right back to our cultural struggle with the concepts of authority & submission. We dislike the very concept of having a Lord.
In contrast, listen to portions of the sermon text for today: “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, & she exclaimed with a loud cry… ‘…why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” Not a trace of pride or arrogance in those words. She freely refers to the embryo in Mary’s womb as Lord.
Our spiritual life, our ability to experience joy, would both do well if we put some effort into actively making Jesus the 1st priority in our lives. Jesus is the source of all peace, comfort & joy in this broken world. Why do we allow so many other things, broken things, to take His place? Let’s consider Mary in today’s Gospel reading:
“In those days Mary arose & went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, & she entered the house of Zechariah & greeted Elizabeth.” (Luke 1:39-40 ESV) Mary had just found out, from the angel Gabriel, that she would conceive a child who would be the long-promised Savior of the world. And Mary said:
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Her response also contains not a trace of arrogance or pride, just simple obedience & submission to the will of the Lord. Having heard the good news about her relative Elizabeth, Mary went with haste to live there for three months. In a world broken by the cruel & cynical nature of sin, it is sheer craziness that is going on in the 1st chapter of Luke’s gospel. A woman around the age of 90, unable to bear children even in the prime of life, is now pregnant, while a young relative of hers, still a virgin, is now carrying the Son of God in her womb.
It’s the kind of thing that probably makes Charles Darwin spin in his grave. Yet this is the very beginning of Yahweh’s re-creation of His Creation. The work of bringing about a new heaven & a new earth, though a long way from being finished, has now begun. Can you imagine what a blessing it was for Elizabeth & Mary to be together for those three months?
In Mary’s womb, God almighty has united Himself to the very substance of His Creation. He did so to suffer & then die on Good Friday in that flesh, so that all of Creation might be renewed, restored, re-created, through its union with the almighty Creator.
In Holy Communion then, as we receive the body & blood of Christ, we are participating in that re-creation. Through that re-creation our sins of arrogance & pride are erased, & we are enabled to submit to Jesus as the Lord of our lives.
It’s clear that the effect of receiving the Lord’s Supper is not like living through a category 5 hurricane. Instead, it is a case where the grace of God certainly moves like a gentle summer breeze. Most of the time it’s barely noticeable, & easily missed, but our Lord promises that His words are faithful, & carry out the purpose for which they are spoken.
If we call Him Lord, then we should believe His Words, & trust His promises, & live our lives accordingly. When in doubt, just repent! Turn back to Jesus, again & again & again, as your Lord & Savior. He is God almighty, yet he lowers Himself to come to us in human flesh. Jesus uses His weakness & poverty to overcome the power & money of this corrupt world.
For sinful human beings, that’s not a very satisfying way of having our enemies defeated.
Jesus reveals Himself as a Messiah of mercy, compassion & forgiveness – not one of vengeance. He did not come to execute judgment but to absorb judgment. Jesus came in solidarity with all human sinners & bears in Himself the vengeance & wrath of God against His enemies.
That means, when the devil tempts you to despair of your salvation, you have no reason to fear. Jesus has already borne the punishment. As it says in Hebrews 10:10, “…by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The death sentence has been served. You are free to serve Him in joy & blessedness.
In the meantime, Yahweh is busy at work, recreating His entire Creation. We can’t see much of it, & our impatience makes everything more difficult. So the prophet Isaiah gave this thought in 25:9, as we look forward to the final advent of Christ:
“It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad & rejoice in His salvation.’”
The Word of God in Lamentations 3:26 adds this thought: “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Most of the time, the grace & healing of God comes to us in the form of a gentle summer breeze, yet He is the Lord of the universe. Amen.
When all the world was cursed by Moses’ condemnation, St. John the Baptist came with words of consolation. With true forerunner’s zeal the greater One he named, & Him as yet unknown, as Savior he proclaimed. Before he yet was born, he leaped in joyful meeting, confessing Him as Lord whose mother he was greeting. By Jordan’s rolling stream, a new Elijah bold, he testified of Him of whom the prophets told. O grant, dear Lord of love, that we receive, rejoicing, the word proclaimed by John, our true repentance voicing, that gladly we may walk upon our Savior’s way until we live with Him in His eternal day. Amen. (LSB 346:1-2, 4)
Pastor Dean R. Poellet