New Year’s Eve – 2016 LSB #919
Text – Deuteronomy 33:27a NLT
The eternal God is your refuge, & His everlasting arms are under you.
HIS EVERLASTING ARMS
Try to picture yourself in this scene: Moses is about to ascend Mt. Nebo. From the top of the mountain Yahweh will show him the land that was promised to Israel. However, because of earlier disobedience on the part of Moses, God will not permit him to set foot in that land. After Moses is given a glimpse of the promise he will die.
Knowing what awaits him, & his people, the 120 year old leader of the Israelites lifts his hands over them & pronounces a farewell blessing. Tonight’s sermon text is the climax of that benediction, “The eternal God is your refuge, & His everlasting arms are under you.”
That was good news for the Israelites 3400 years ago. It still is good news for us every single day of our lives, but especially this evening as we bid farewell to an old year & welcome the new one that is dawning upon us. Let these words, which God spoke through Moses, be the heart & center of our New Year’s Eve meditation.
We look ahead at 2017 & it’s clear that vast changes are taking place in our country, whether on the surface or behind the scenes. Donald Trump is so confident that he believes we are about to enter the Promised Land now that he’s going to be president. Hillary Clinton thought that we were already there.
Regarding last year’s presidential candidates, millions of people across our nation did not agree with one or the other, or both. There seem to be fewer & fewer important issues that any majority of our citizens can agree on – whether that’s immigration, policing, national security, education or environmental regulations, just to name a few.
It may well be that the only thing most of our people are like-minded on is that we now
have become a very divided nation. Patrick Henry was one of the founding fathers of our country & he’s famous for saying, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” In the last public speech he gave he said this, “Let us trust God, & our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall.”
History reports that Patrick Henry was a Christian so maybe he borrowed the idea. The Gospel of Matthew says: “Knowing their thoughts, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, & no city or house divided against itself will stand.’” The message for our country is quite clear &, from an earthly perspective, the prognosis is not good.
It’s for that reason that Jesus was constantly teaching His disciples to look at things on earth from a heavenly perspective. God took the same approach with Moses as they ascended Mt. Nebo. Yahweh is blessing Moses with the opportunity to see the Promised Land on earth from a heavenly perspective.
On this eve of the year 2017, guess what our heavenly Father wants us to do, as we consider the problems of our nation, the problems of our congregation, & the problems in our own lives? It’s not a simple thing to do for sinful human beings like us. Beyond that, we have lived in a corrupt & sinful world for our entire existence.
There is no amount of “doing” on our part that can deliver us from either predicament. It is extremely difficult for us but we do need to look at all the moments of our lives, good or bad, from a heavenly perspective. That is, after all, the essence of faith in Jesus as Savior. Here’s how the book of Hebrews describes the outlook Jesus had on His suffering & death:
“…Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, & is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (12:2 ESV) Now there’s an example of looking at life in this sinful & broken world from a heavenly perspective. While Jesus was suffering & dying in the most brutal way possible, He thought about all the people of earth’s history who would join Him in heaven because He was paying for their sins. If that is how Jesus endured the crucifixion how shameful that we choose not to use the same technique in our sufferings & trials. What a tremendous source of comfort & blessing we forfeit!
Yet Jesus came to suffer & die because He knew how desperate is our need to have our sins washed away in order that we might truly live. There is no amount of “doing” on our part that can erase our guilt & our shame, so Jesus did that for us. That is where the joy of Christmas really lies. It’s the only reason the day of His crucifixion can be called “Good” Friday.
Thus Moses spoke the benediction of tonight’s sermon text, “The eternal God is your refuge, & His everlasting arms are under you.” With faith in Jesus as Savior, we cannot fall through the cracks. Yahweh’s everlasting arms are beneath us. No matter how divided our families, or congregations, or country may be, the eternal God is our refuge.
We may look at the division in our lives & recognize that things are moving in the wrong direction, but in the 12th chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, we see that is not such an abnormal thing:
“They will be divided, father against son & son against father, mother against daughter & daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law & daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (12:53 ESV) Just verses earlier Jesus explained why that would be: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (12:51 ESV)
Jesus brings division because the darkness hates the light & will not submit to it. Jesus is the same yesterday & today & forever. (Hebrews 13:8 ESV) It’s the darkness that brings change, & not for the better. It isn’t Jesus who is causing the division. It’s the darkness rebelling against God’s eternal love. If Jesus did not bring division He would not be bringing His love.
After The Fall, all human beings are naturally born in darkness. That is the normal state
of the world. There is no division. The division occurs when God’s Son rescues us from the darkness. Christ pulls us away, & delivers us from, the darkness of sin & death. Thus, darkness & light are divided. The Son of God brings life out of death & that is seen as division. Looking at it from the heavenly perspective we see that division as a good thing.
Going back to the 12th chapter of Luke, Jesus is explaining that His Apostles would be serving during a time of division. But the patient perseverance required of them, & the anguish they may endure, are put into proper perspective by the immeasurably greater anguish & perseverance that will be required of their Lord Himself.
Those baptized into Christ undergo death & resurrection with Him, in that order. The hostility & division we encounter are a result of being incorporated into Christ through baptism. Being saved by the everlasting arms does not mean life in a rose garden… until heaven.
For the Israelites, God’s everlasting arms would mean no enemy could rob them of the blessings their Father had in store for them. They were the instrument of His choosing to bring salvation to a sin-cursed world. The danger is that Yahweh will not force us to trust Him. He will allow the darkness to remain if we reject the light.
Looking only from an earthly perspective, many people see the division that the light brings, & in the ignorance of sin they blame the light. They reject the everlasting arms of God which would divide, or separate, them from the darkness, from sin & from eternal death. Those are what we deserve from the Lord because of our sinful heart.
No question about it, we deserve God’s clenched fist! What does He offer – His open, everlasting arms of grace! As we look ahead to the year 2017, as we contemplate the division in the hearts of our nation’s people, let us not be afraid of the division. It is God’s sign to us that there are two ways, one of life & one of death, & there is a great difference between the two. We see that, yet do not fear, as we view life in the manner which our Savior taught us – from a heavenly perspective. St. Paul commented on that in 2 Corinthians 5:
“While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan & sigh, but it’s not that we want to die & get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God Himself has prepared us for this, & as a guarantee He has given us His Holy Spirit. So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing & not by seeing.” (5:4-7 NLT)
In tonight’s Gospel reading from Luke 2, Simeon demonstrates that for us when he holds the Child in his arms &, in spite of the helpless looking nature of the Child, he believes that the promise of a Messiah has been fulfilled:
“Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, & He is the glory of your people Israel!” (2:29-32 NLT) Simeon was blessed with seeing the baby Jesus from a heavenly perspective & he gets to hold the Everlasting Arms in his arms.
But notice, St. Luke also records a word of division, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose Him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (2:34b-35 NLT)
As long as sin remains in this world, darkness will reject the light. Yet, the Light has won. Even the Promised Land, that Moses saw a glimpse of, was only a foreshadowing of the true Promised Land which is heaven. Knowing that paradise is our eternal home helps you to see all things in this life, even the division, from a heavenly perspective. Amen.
Abide, O dearest Jesus, among us with Your grace that Satan may not harm us nor we to sin give place. Abide with heavenly brightness among us, precious Light; Your truth direct & keep us from error’s gloomy night. Abide, O faithful Savior, among us with Your love; grant steadfastness & help us to reach our home above. Amen. LSB 919:1, 3, 6
 Matthew 12:25 ESV
Christmas Day – 2016 LSB #’s 359, 412, 368
Text – Isaiah 9:6
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; & the government shall be upon his shoulder, & his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The King Is Born!
We know the waiting & the anticipation of a birth. Though we live in a society that does not have a king, we know from England how they followed (& maybe we did, too!) the royal birth of prince William & prince Harry; then prince George & princess Charlotte.
Yet that monarchy is not really a kingdom as in the ancient world of Israel, where the king & his dynasty were everything – affecting the lowly lives of those over whom he ruled. Thinking of England, we might better recall Henry VIII & his obsession with having a male heir.
The king himself was the sole (& predominantly selfish) center & essence of the kingdom, around which everything revolved. He also was concerned with securing the future of the dynasty with a son, so any royal pregnancy was closely watched.
The nation of Israel was a people wondering if their kingdom would remain; a nation pinning their hopes & their future on the birth of a prince & the succession of the throne. If you listen carefully to the text from Isaiah, you can hear those well-known words as a royal birth announcement for a people who were under siege by the nations around them.
“Unto us a child is born!” But is it a boy? Yes! “Unto us a son is given!” And the ruling power will continue on his shoulder! And He will have throne names – Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God – that proclaim His importance & power. The kingdom will endure!
Isaiah continues in 9:7, “Of the increase of his rule & of peace there will be no end – on the throne of David & over his kingdom, to establish it & to uphold it, with justice & with righteousness from this time forth & forevermore!” But then comes a striking reminder: “The zeal of Yahweh of Hosts will do this!” Now, what does this have to do with us, dear friends in Christ, this Christmas, this year in our world & our culture that was founded on the principle of removing the king & establishing a society “of the people, by the people, & for the people”?
We know the dangers of a monarchy where everything revolves around the king. We realize how easily the “government can lie solely on his shoulders,” with little concern for anyone else, for all the men, women & children who want to work & play & be free.
Yet, there is always the temptation to think that “God is on our side” as a nation, or even individually, to provide for us the life we want. We are tempted to think that the “zeal of Yahweh of Hosts” will do whatever we think is best for us, even for our nation, because, well, haven’t we been the people of God?
The answer of our King is that the kingdom of God is “in the world, but not of the world.” Like ancient Israel, you & I are to remember that we’re involved with something unique, something grounded in our relationship with God.
On a holiday when much of the world around us at least recognizes something of who we are as “Christmas” people, that is, “Christ-centered people,” we celebrate today what it means for us in the “kingdom of God,” to hear the news that a “king is born.” We’ve been talking about this king for the last four weeks, as Advent has prepared us for this day.
We have waited with the hopes of a mother who is “expecting” – & with her the future of the kingdom. Today we hear the birth announcement: “A child – a son – is born.” This birth means for us what a royal birth means for a kingdom. First, the kingdom is secured, at least for another generation.
It may not look that way, as we wonder about all the forces working against what we confess as Christians. But remember; this is not just another kingdom; this is the kingdom of God. The zeal of Yahweh of Hosts will do this. In fact, it is God himself who has come as King. That’s why this kingdom, the increase of His rule & of peace, will have no end! That’s why His justice & righteousness will be established from now & forevermore!
That is why we can truly celebrate this day, something that is far greater than just another holiday, even a “national holiday.” This kingdom is the kingdom of God, not just here, but everywhere, not like the nations, but for all nations!
Next, this King is indeed, the true essence of the kingdom. Everything does revolve around Him, but here’s the difference in the kingdom of God: the King has come to serve, not to be served. Here’s the difference in the kingdom of God: the King has come, not for His sake, but for your sake.
Here’s the difference in the kingdom of God: the King has come because He cares for each & every man, woman & child, both those in His kingdom & those who have yet to come into His kingdom.
Here’s the difference in the kingdom of God: this King has come to give His life as a ransom, to “buy you back” from the kingdoms & the powers that want to control you, whether they be your own internal temptations, your personal sin, or simply that natural temptation to think the world & my God revolve around me, & my wants & my timing.
In truth, the King has come because of your needs: your need to be loved, your need to be saved; your need to be rescued, your need to be given a future & a hope & peace that will, like the kingdom, have no end. This is the king who would come to save His people. He will be called Jesus, because he will “save” His people from their sins.
And I declare to you this day – this holiday that really is a holy day – that Christ has come for you. Jesus has died for you. Christ is risen for you. Christ will come again – for you! That’s why Joseph was instructed to name the child Jesus, for He would save us from our sins. But our text gives us four throne names as well, typical of ancient kings. We don’t have time to unpack them all, but each one gives us a reminder of why this day, & this King, are so special, so different, so “one of a kind.”
In short, each pair has a name that could describe just another earthly king: counselor – every king was to be known by his wisdom & good counsel; mighty – every king was to be a good warrior; father – we even call George Washington the “father of our nation”; & prince – yes, kings were princes when they were born.
Yet to each ordinary name is given a most extraordinary twist: a counselor who does “wonders” – not just great insight, like the proverbial wisdom of Solomon yet someone truly extraordinary, with the power of God even!
The King who reigns in our lives is not just a warrior, or medal of honor winner rightly decorated for his valor, but the might of Yahweh Himself, who conquers all foes, human & superhuman; even the principalities & powers of spiritual darkness.
This King of kings & Lord of lords is One to whom we can pray, “Our Father in heaven,” for He is a King who loves us beyond comprehension & is ours from everlasting to everlasting. Jesus is the prince who brings a true & lasting peace, not like the world seeks & never finds, but that peace which comes only from knowing the King of the kingdom of God.
Dear people of God, a King is born; not just a sweet baby in a manger but a King who will reign forever. He came humbly. He came holy. He came for you to make you His heir. He came as the counselor of wonders. He came as the mighty God. He came as the everlasting Father. He came as Prince of peace. He came for you.
We pray, as He came & taught us, this day & day after day, “Thy Kingdom Come.”
Martin Luther reminds us that the kingdom will come, whether we pray for it or not, but we do pray that it may come among us & reign in our hearts. Today, the King has come. His kingdom is among us. We are His forever. Christ, a Savior is born! Christ, the King, is born! Amen.
To us a Child of hope is born, to us a Son is given, & on His shoulder ever rests all power in earth & heaven. His name shall be the Prince of Peace, the Everlasting Lord, the Wonderful, the Counselor, the God by all adored. His righteous government & power shall over all extend; on judgment & on justice based, His reign shall have no end. Lord Jesus, reign in us we pray, & make us Thine alone, who with the Father ever art & Holy Spirit one. Amen. LSB 412:3-6
Christmas Eve – 2016 LSB #’s 331, 361, 376
Text – Micah 5:2
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
THE KING’S ROYAL ROOTS: BACK TO THE FUTURE!
There’s something about going back to one’s roots that can re-establish a sense of identity. With the frantic nature of our lives, sometimes we lose our way. It can happen slowly & in tiny steps such that we don’t even notice it’s happening.
When getting lost in the woods, suddenly the realization can set in, “I don’t recognize where I am, or where I’m going.” What can we do? It may be possible to retrace our steps, get back to familiar landmarks, & find our way home.
People get lost in how they live also. We have plans, even strategies, for achieving them. We have values & priorities. We have a sense of who we are, who we want to be, what we want to do – & then life happens.
Sometimes we continue on the path, following our life’s map, as it were. Other times we get off track, because life happens & things rapidly pull us this way or that. One day we wake up & find ourselves far away from the course we had set.
So it should be no surprise that this can happen to our spiritual lives as well. We receive baptism into the death & resurrection of Jesus as infants, totally dependent upon God’s grace, His action in Christ, for us. Then we begin thinking God needs our help; we value our spiritual life based upon what we have done instead of on what God has done.
We reconfirm the vows taken at our baptism to remain faithful even unto death. Next comes high school, college, a career, or lack of a career, & then, well, life happens, time flies. We may find that we’ve wandered quite some distance from the Way that Jesus tells us He is, as in John 14:6, “I am the Way & the Truth & the Life.” This can happen to the entire Christian church. In fact, it did happen by the time of Luther. The Reformation was really a course correction for a church that had, over time, drifted away from the basic truths which then became the great themes of the Reformation: Grace alone! Faith alone! Scripture alone! Christ alone!
There are times we major in the minors. We emphasize truth & doctrine for its own sake & not for the mission of the church. Or we chase any which way to do mission but lose our theological mooring, the very things Jesus taught. At other times we focus so much on who we are that we forget what we are to be – & to be about – the mission of revealing God’s truth.
It can certainly happen to a congregation. Like the story of the rescue station that becomes a club for its members, a congregation can drift from its mission & central message, which is to be the body of Christ in this place for all the people around it. How do we as people, or as a congregation, make a course correction in our spiritual living?
We need a recalibration of the GPS in our lives, as a congregation, as the church, as the kingdom of God. This is what happened in the time of Micah, the prophet of this sermon text. As we have heard now week after week during our Advent journey, the people of God had lost their way. They had drifted off the path or even run away from it.
The kings of the house of David acted as though they were the real king, & not servants of God for the kingdom of God. The people of Israel & Judah had become more interested in themselves, in their own success, than in serving God or their neighbor.
And the prophets had some hard words, as we have heard before. Of the great citadel Jerusalem & its temple, Micah said, “Zion will be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins.” (Micah 3:12 ESV)
Yet, their message was not without hope. They spoke of a new king, another son of
David. There was a sense that the new king was not just another David, as though maybe just one more generation was needed to get it all back on track. No, this was not just about going forward, this was a message of going back, of remembering where they came from, & getting back on course.
For the king, this meant remembering David & his humble beginnings, back in his home town of Bethlehem. It wasn’t “David’s royal city” back then. It was a small rural town. Jesse & his sons were shepherds, far from being the elite people of Wall Street or Washington DC.
Remember, Samuel looked for a son to anoint as king, & they brought past him all the sons but David – he was the youngest & out in the fields watching the sheep. His father Jesse didn’t even consider him, yet lowly David was the chosen one.
Of course, when he became king, David himself quickly outgrew his humility. It didn’t take long for the house of David to get off course. God would have to find those, having lost their way, & win them back – back to the beginning, back to Bethlehem, back to a new birth of a new king, a King of a completely different quality.
Dear friends in Christ, we began our advent journey toward understanding God’s king & His reign by talking about “home,” the place, the city that is the king’s capital which identifies his kingdom. We talked about the importance of a place to call home, with its safety & security.
We also noted that even the king of the nation of God could confuse his ideas about the kingdom with what God really wanted & intended it to be. And so would be born one to be ruler in Israel (notice, Micah doesn’t call him “king”). His origins & His coming forth were part of God’s everlasting plan to send a savior, who would work all things together for our good.
Jesus came to save the world, save the church, save you & me, from our irresistible tendency & temptation to get ourselves lost, to drift off course, to wander from God’s plan & then even to wonder if we are still God’s people. In the sermon text, on this Eve of Christmas itself, God calls us to consider not just our home, as we did when we began this journey, but our roots – not where we live, or have lived, but where we were born; where we started out, where our family originates.
We think immediately of our family home, but in our spiritual lives let us consider where & when we were born into the family of God. For many, that may have been right here, at this baptismal font.
For others, it may have been in other churches in other places, but still, in the waters of holy baptism, which is the same power of God unto salvation wherever & whenever it comes to call His people home.
And as we prepare to celebrate our Savior’s birth, we recall that little town of Bethlehem, not for the sentimental scene we find on cards but for the holy history that it conveys: this was the birthplace, if you will, of the kingdom of God. And as we prepare for Christmas, we remember how God Himself went back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to Bethlehem.
This time the Son of David got it right. No losing His way. No selfish self-interests. This Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve; to give His life as a ransom for all. Yet He was a king, a true & greater king than any ruler of Israel had been, & greater than any president of the greatest democracy on earth ever would be.
An angel choir announced His birth – not to the people of power in high places but to shepherds, out in the fields, doing their jobs like David was doing back in the day, just outside that little town of Bethlehem. Jesus was God’s true king: David’s son but also David’s lord.
He would come to His capital city in royal procession & be crowned with a crown of thorns. He would take upon Himself the sin & suffering of all, to bear our sin & be our Savior, securing God’s forgiveness for our sin & self-interest. This Jesus, who reconnected mankind with its heavenly Father, would rise from the dead & ascend to His heavenly throne. Already now, though behind the scenes, He lives & reigns to all eternity, for you & for your salvation. One day, not just for the house of Israel, but to the very ends of the earth there will be peace!
As our Advent season draws to a close, we draw nearer to the manger itself. Our preparation too, turns back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to the font & the baptismal waters where God begins His reign in the lives of His people – you & me included.
There we received our own new life. There the Christmas message became a lasting truth for all the days of our living. There we became God’s people, forgiven, to live under Him in His kingdom, to serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence & blessedness! It is there that our heavenly Father established our identity.
It is there that He began to call us home, that we might never lose our way again. Oh, there will be plenty of lost times yet before Judgment Day, but the Almighty Creator is working even those together for good of those who love Him. Amen.
For Christ is born of Mary, &, gathered all above while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wandering love. O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth, & praises sing to God, the King! & peace to all the earth! 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. LSB 361:2, 4
4th Sunday in Advent – A LSB #359
Text – Matthew 1:20
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
AN ANGEL OF THE LORD
She called out, “Good morning,” but received no answer. So she went to the bed & drew back the curtains. There lay her grandmother with her cap pulled far over her face, & looking very strange. “Oh, grandmother,” she said, “what big ears you have.” “The better to hear you with, my child,” was the reply.
“But, grandmother, what big eyes you have,” she said. “The better to see you with, my dear.” “But, grandmother, what large hands you have.” “The better to hug you with.” “Oh, but, grandmother, what a terrible big mouth you have.” “The better to eat you with.”
And scarcely had the wolf said this, than with one bound he was out of bed & swallowed up Little Red Riding Hood. When the wolf had appeased his appetite, he lay down again in the bed, fell asleep & began to snore very loud.
The huntsman was just passing the house, & thought to himself, how the old woman is snoring. I must see if she wants anything. So he went into the room, & when he came to the bed, he saw that the wolf was lying in it. “Do I find you here, you old sinner,” said he.
It is December 18, 2016, & I could make the exact same declaration of every one of you, “Do I find you here, you old sinner.” Why do we think we are any more welcome in God’s house, than the wolf who was in the home of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother? That uncomfortable point is where we need to begin if we’re going to appreciate the message Matthew’s Gospel reading has for us this morning. You may have heard it a hundred times before, but you have never really understood the brilliant message the angel of the Lord brought to Joseph if you cannot explain why the words of the huntsman are so appropriate to every one of us – “Do I find you here, you old sinner,” said he.
In our day & age, Christmas is all about good news. Anymore, no one actually gives someone else coal in their stocking for Christmas. Because of that all of us struggle to truly appreciate the miracle of Jesus’ incarnation. As we are influenced by, & connected to, the culture around us so much of what we know is the light that the world would shine upon us.
St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11: “But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours. These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
You see, the unbelieving world also thinks it has the light. That secular world spends a lot of time trying to shine its light upon us, trying to “educate” us, trying to communicate its message to us. What we see with our eyes, hear with our ears & feel with our heart is not always the true light that we believe it to be.
It’s not right. It’s not fair, but Satan does disguise himself as an angel of light. He is the original author of fake news, & of evil itself. Each time any one of us tells even the slightest sort of lie we are working for the father of lies. In every one of those situations we are disguising ourselves as an angel of light.
Thank God almighty that today’s Gospel reading reveals to us a man named Joseph who listens to, & works for, a different type of angel: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…” (Matthew 1:24 ESV) That is the 1st critical thing we need to learn if we are going to appreciate the message that today’s Gospel reading from Matthew has for us. Even though Joseph, & each one of us, is an old sinner you & I are not slaves to sin as Joseph so clearly demonstrated. It is possible to follow an angel of the Lord rather than someone disguised as an angel of light.
Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that it is possible for children of God to follow an angel of the Lord, we are still old sinners, & truth be told we are predominantly weak, broken & fallen creatures. Pride cometh before the fall because pride always focuses me inside myself instead of outside. God’s Word was given to point out where real help, & real hope, come from:
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven & earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2 ESV) In the 1st chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, he writes about our heavenly Father sending a messenger to Joseph. It’s necessary because his wife is pregnant & Joseph knows that it’s not his child.
You can imagine the pain & confusion he’s feeling because he believes he’s been betrayed by the woman to whom he has pledged his very life. For all he can tell, Mary has been merely disguising herself as angel of light. Now it appears that the truth has come out. There was no way Joseph was going to discover God’s truth in this matter on his own.
Remember, like us, & like his ancestor David, Joseph is a weak, broken & fallen creature. He’s lost the full image of God in which Adam had been created. Like us, Joseph also lives in a broken world. In his culture it was customary to stone to death someone in Mary’s situation. As badly as he’d been hurt, Joseph could not bring himself to put her to shame in that way.
Yet, in spite of his kind heart, Joseph was not going to be reconciled to Mary from within. He needed the answer, & he needed healing, to come to him from outside of himself. St. Matthew wrote how God intervenes & reveals the truth to Joseph through two different voices: that of the angel & that of the prophet Isaiah. So there’s the 2nd critical thing we need to learn if we’re going to appreciate the message from God’s Holy Spirit concerning the origin & the birth of Jesus. Sinful human beings cannot understand, even a cute story about a baby in a manger, unless God reveals His purpose to save us in & through Jesus.
The Creator of all there is sent His only-begotten Son to save us precisely because all of us are old sinners. That is the focus & the starting point for the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity to take on human flesh & blood in order to reconnect us old sinners to our Creator. Thus, the Lutheran understanding of God’s Word always begins with confessing our sins.
You may have heard, or even said, from time to time: “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins & iniquities with which I have ever offended You & justly deserved Your temporal & eternal punishment.” (LSB, page 213) That uncomfortable point is what all human beings eventually need come to grips with to appreciate the events of Christmas.
“Do I find you here, you old sinner.” “…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, & you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:20-21 ESV)
That is why even old sinners like us are welcome in God’s house, far more so than the wolf in the home of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem precisely because you & I cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.
Christmas is God’s answer to our sins, our confusion, doubts & fears, the likes of which Joseph had many as he came to grips with the unlikely pregnancy of his wife. Jesus’ conception & birth were not actually nice, cute & comfortable like we so often picture them. They were born out of our desperate need to be rescued & healed. The circumstances of Jesus’ life, beginning to end, were hard & mysterious. We need the faith of Joseph to believe it. Those of us who are adults need to recover our sense of mystery as we approach these last days before Christmas. Maybe that’s why children love this season so well, because they have not yet lost their sense of the mystery of it all. Jesus’ birth as a baby in a manger is often so clear to them.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the angel of the Lord, through speaking to Joseph, freed Mary’s husband to be what God intended Joseph to be all along, the father of the Lamb of God. All the events, the Bible points out as miracles, are simply a revealing of our Lord’s power to erase the effects of sin.
That very message has the power to create & evoke a trusting response in men & women across the planet & across the millennia of time. We can now surrender our disguise as an angel of light. Our sins, even our lies, have been washed away. Amen.
Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the rose I have in mind; with Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind. To show God’s love aright, she bore to us a Savior, when half-spent was the night. O Savior, child of Mary, who felt our human woe; O Savior, King of glory, Who dost our weakness know: bring us at length we pray to the bright courts of heaven, & to the endless day. Amen. LSB 359:2, 4
 Little Red Riding Hood, by the Grimm Brothers; © 1994-1999 Robert Godwin-Jones, Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Foreign Languages; English translation by Margaret Hunt.
 11:12-14 NLT
Advent Midweek 3 LSB #’s 348, 354, 338 (tune 826)
Text – Zephaniah 3:15
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.
The King Will Have His Day
We often talk about good days & bad days, & life seems to be full of some of each. If we have a bad day, we look forward to that day when things will be good. We might even say, “We’ll have a better day.” Or “I want my day in court” with the idea that truth & justice will then prevail.”
Of course, our measures & means of evaluation are also affected by our own definition of what is good or bad. Sometimes what we thought is bad is not so bad, or we may learn that it is even good. Conversely, what we may think is good can so often turn out to be bad.
Kings, in the ancient world – & world leaders today – also have good days & bad days. They don’t like to talk about bad days, & they certainly don’t like their people – or their enemies – to hear about anything bad. As sinful creatures we have a very selfish & self-serving way of measuring results. We want things to be good, or at least to appear that we are good.
Inside, we know it just isn’t true. How many times do we sense that others (& yes, we ourselves) are putting up a good front? Maybe we’re hiding our problems or internalizing our sadness, but we’d rather talk about good days than have to deal with the bad ones.
The OT prophets also talked about good days & bad, but they had a much deeper understanding of the realities of life. They measured & evaluated by something other than human wants & wishes, needs & notions. They understood reality – past, present & future – from the perspective & vantage point of God Himself, who makes all of our days.
One of the biggest problems the prophets encountered was the predisposition of the
people to get the good days & the bad ones mixed up & flipped around. Isaiah gets to the heart of this when he says “you call evil good & good evil, darkness light & light darkness, bitter sweet & sweet bitter. (Isaiah 5:20 ESV) Like Eve eating the forbidden fruit, we pick what looks good, but far too often it’s not good for us at all.
In the days of Zephaniah, part of the problem was the people thought God actually owed them the good stuff they wanted. They were the people of God, after all. They assumed it was their privilege to have things their way. Since God was the strong arm of salvation & deliverance, they figured He would save & deliver them no matter what.
The “day of the Lord” was a phrase that talked about God’s great day. The people knew it to be a day of salvation. But God’s prophets (those “preachers” of the OT) had a way of turning this talk of the day on its head. Amos, for example, called out:
“Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness & not light, as if a man fled from a lion, & a bear met him, or went into the house & leaned his hand against the wall & a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness & not light…?” (5:18-20 ESV)
The prophet Malachi gives a similar taste of how the truth of God can turn us upside down, when he tells the people who were crying out for justice that when the king comes to bring justice, they’ll get justice all right – & no one can endure the day of His coming.
Tonight, in the text from Zephaniah, we hear another prophet who speaks of the day of the Lord. Listen to his earlier words in chapter 1:
“The great day of the Lord is near, near & hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress & anguish, a day of ruin & devastation, a day of darkness & gloom, a day of clouds & thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast & battle cry against the fortified cities & against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on mankind so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord...” (1:14-17 ESV)
This does not sound like a good day, but here’s the twist. God’s wrath must come. God comes as king to make things right, not to pander to our definitions of good & bad, light & darkness. In the end, if we have sinned & fallen short of the glory & goodness of God, then every day, & especially our last day, our judgment day, will be a day of darkness & distress.
But God has a way of showing us, first, that all our days – or any day lived apart from His light – is a day of darkness. What’s more, in that great reversal, God has a way of showing us through faith that all those bad days have been made into good days.
This is because of the one great day, a day that should be called the “baddest” day of all, the day on which the innocent Son of God, our lord & king, was put to death, not for anything He had done but for the sins of all the world.
What seemed to be a day of the greatest injustice turned out to be the day that the king finally got justice done. He made things right. And what do we call this “bad day”?
We call it GOOD Friday! Our heavenly Father has turned the bad day into good, & the darkness of that day we can now claim as light, the glorious light of Easter morn: He is risen, & ascended. He lives & reigns to all eternity.
Dear friends in Christ, gathered on this 3rd Wednesday of Advent, in these busy days of preparing for the holidays, we are in the midst of our own good & bad days. Every day is a day lived in the shadow of the darkness & the light of Good Friday & Easter morning.
Here, in the midst of Advent, in the light of God’s son, our lord, our king, we are already thinking ahead of our Lord’s passion, death, & resurrection, as we do every Sunday.
Last Wednesday the theme of Advent turned dark. Malachi reminded us that the king whom we are seeking will come – but with a twist. Although well announced, He will come suddenly & with a surprise. Those who were looking for justice will find judgment instead.
Those who were looking for light will find darkness.
Tonight, the prophet Zephaniah brings us to the end of the story – those having a dark day will see the light. In the midst of the dark deeds all around us, in the dark uncertainties of our world & our lives, even in the midst of the dark secrets that we keep hidden, out of sight & out of the light, God has a message of a very, very Good Day:
“Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion,... Rejoice & exult with all your heart... The Lord has taken away the judgments against you. The King of Israel is in your midst –
Right here, right now, in His word of grace & forgiveness, in His body & blood, given & shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin. On THIS day it is said to Jerusalem, (which includes you right now) “…Fear not, O Zion! Let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst – A mighty one who will save...” (Zephaniah 3:16-17 ESV)
Yes, the kings of the earth have their days, good days & bad ones. So do we. We all may wait to “have our day,” but this night, this very night, is our day indeed. It is the Lord’s Day, it is the Day of the Lord. The king has come & had His day; it was a bad day that turned out to be a Good Day, a Good Friday. God’s wrath is finished!
And because of Jesus’ day, He makes all our days His – His good days, for us! Amen.
Prepare the way before Him; prepare for Him the best. Cast out what would offend Him, this great, this heavenly guest. Make straight, make plain the way: the lowly valleys raising, the heights of pride abasing, His path all even lay. Prepare my heart, Lord Jesus; turn not from me aside, & help me to receive You this blessed Adventide. From stall & manger low come now to dwell within me; I’ll sing Your praises gladly & forth Your glory show. Amen. LSB 354:2, 4
Pastor Dean R. Poellet