New Year’s Eve – 2018 LSB #’s 878:1-3, 899, 783, 878:4-6
Text – Luke 13:9
If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down. NIV
WAIT ’TIL NEXT YEAR
Another season is finally over. No, I’m not talking about the season of Advent or Christmas. I’m not even talking about the year of 2018. I am speaking of another season of Detroit Lion’s football. The refrain began already months ago, “Wait ’til next year!” The Lion’s organization has been playing that refrain for over 60 years.
2019 will be 35 years since the Detroit Tigers won a World Series & their fans have been singing the same refrain ever since, “Wait ’til next year.” It’s common for sports fans to be optimistic, always hoping for better things next season.
And you know, a fair number of Christians seem to be optimists as well. If you ask them to serve on a committee they’ll frequently express the optimistic hope that next year they will have time. If you enquire about their interest in attending a particular Bible study you might hear, “Wait ‘til next year.”
Next year arrives in about five hours. I brought a signup sheet with me tonight. Is there something in particular you are waiting for in 2019?
Is it then that you’ll finally have time to serve your congregation in some way? Is 2019 the year you’ll actually get around to attending a Bible study? Could next year be the one when you’ll start taking the commands of God as something other than optional?
If the gas tank is nearly empty & you have another 200 miles to drive, you don’t reason that filling the tank is optional. Yet, a full gas tank only helps keep your car going. God almighty not only keeps you going, He created you in the 1st place. Why is it that strengthening your relationship with your Savior is something so unnecessary that it can always “wait ‘til next year?” PAUSE
Sporting teams certainly can get set in their ways & need the digging around their roots to change their losing attitudes. The Detroit Lions are a perfect example of an entire organization being stuck in its losing ways. Yet the Gospel reading this evening isn’t concerned just with organizations, but also with individuals.
Has “wait ‘til next year” been the attitude concerning your relationship with God? If so, then God’s sense of judgment is speaking about you this evening: “For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?”
Those are some ominous words. We use the phrase “wait ‘til next year” about teams that didn’t do so well this past season, or maybe the team’s coach, or general manager. Sports writers are calling this day – Black Monday – because six NFL coaches were fired today. Does that leave you wondering how they might refer to hell?
God’s judgment is a far more serious issue, & we have no guarantee that there will be a next year, nor even a tomorrow. Our Lord has been looking for fruit in our lives. That fruit is a repentant attitude & God’s vineyard is too important to leave an unproductive tree occupying good ground indefinitely.
As the OT reading stated, there is a time to be born & a time to die. Your death will come. Judgment Day will arrive. On which hand of God will you be found, His right or His left? PAUSE
From sports we learn to say, “Wait ‘til next year!” Then my team will do better. But sin fools us into thinking that applies to our lives also. “Wait ‘til next year,” God, & then I’ll
do better! Right now I’m too busy, or too lazy, or just indifferent. Fortunately God’s sense of judgment is not the only force deciding whether or not we should be cut down. God’s sense of mercy also factors in. It is His sense of mercy that states, “Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it & put in fertilizer. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”
There, we find that God’s Word too uses the idea “wait ‘til next year.” In His Son, Jesus Christ, God has acted to save the tree – you & me. And in His Son, He continues still to act, calling us through His Word & Sacraments. His voice of mercy pleads for our forgiveness yet again & again, “Wait ‘til next year.”
As we are children of the world we seek after the things of this world. As we are children of God, we need the church to call us back home to God. As we are children of the world we tell the church, “Wait ’til next year.” As we are children of God, we repent of our sinful indifference & joyfully return to God’s family.
As long as we are God’s children, there will always be that tension in this life, the tension between our saintly nature & our sinful one. God must act in order to save, yet as long as we refuse God’s saving actions, they are of no benefit.
What next year will bring, God only knows, but just 365 days from now it will all be history. Our heavenly Father will have sent trials & struggles into our lives in order to dig up the hardened soil around our roots. He works through those painful events to help us see our sin with repentant hearts. And He does so purely out of love & mercy.
However, along with what we see as the rain, Jesus also sends the sunshine, the joyful events that we more easily recognize as blessing. There will be times when everything seems right with the world, like the candlelit moments as we sing “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve.
Those too come purely out of Yahweh’s love & mercy.
You see, “Wait ‘til next year,” is a phrase that cuts both ways. It speaks of our sinful indifference to the Lord who died a most terrible death purely out His love for us. It also voices our stubbornness as we get set in our selfish ways; as we cling to our lazy & losing attitudes.
But “Wait ‘til next year” also speaks of God’s patience & mercy. Jesus sacrificed His body & blood that we might we might receive it in Holy Communion. He sacrificed His own flesh & blood that ours might be strengthened & preserved through it. At the resurrection we’ll receive a new body of perfect flesh & perfect blood.
God’s sense of judgment was carried out against His only begotten Son. Jesus was the Tree of Life that was cut down in our place. In the 1st Judgment, the Baby born at Christmas was our substitute. Yet, if we constantly refuse His mercy & love, the 2nd Judgment will see our own tree cut down, & that will be for eternity. PAUSE
The OT reading is a beautiful passage as it describes the proper times for many of the events of life. May it remind you also that there is a time to repent & to seek God. That time is now while He still waits patiently with loving arms. Amen.
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living & enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, & all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers & the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. Amen. (1 Peter 1:23-25)
1st Sunday after Christmas – C LSB #376
Text – Luke 2:40
And the child grew & became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon Him.
The rather lengthy Gospel lesson for today closes by shifting from a scene of drama in the temple at Jerusalem to mundane life in the village of Nazareth. In the original Greek language, it’s only one sentence that makes up the sermon text. Then, in the verses following it, the scene shifts back again to more drama as His parents find Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem.
There’s drama in the temple. There’s a sentence that appears totally insignificant. Then, there’s more drama in the temple. As I was reading the Gospel lesson in order to choose the sermon text for this morning, I wondered, “Why is that sentence in the Bible? What purpose does it serve? Amidst all the historic events of Jesus’ life & death, what does this mean?”
“And the child grew & became strong, filled with wisdom, & the favor of God was upon Him.”
For a God, born as a human being in order to suffer, die & then rise from the dead, to save the entire world from sin, that sentence seems completely pointless & insignificant. I believe this is the connection. How many of you have wondered if the struggles you’ve gone through in living are significant in any way?
Have you asked yourself, “Is there any purpose to my life? What good has all my hard work accomplished?” What about your education, & job, or career? Was all of that just so you could work for a living & then die, hardly to be remembered ever again? What if you end up spending the last five years of life in a nursing home? Would that have any value?
What about this congregation? How significant are we? What are we doing here that has any lasting effect? We keep paying the bills & teaching the students & repairing the building & singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve, over & over again, year after year. Yet fewer & fewer people are hanging around. More & more of them are drifting, if not running away. Is this congregation irrelevant to history? Is there any lasting point to any of all the stuff that we do?
I’m guessing that not a one of you could name my grandparents. At most, only a few of you know the names of my parents, & probably half of you cannot correctly spell my last name. Is there even the least bit of significance to what I do here as the pastor of this congregation? Will anyone remember me ten years after I’m gone? Is my life completely irrelevant?
King Solomon, supposedly the wisest man to ever live, famously wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, “…vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 ESV) Solomon was wealthy & powerful enough to have done it all, & claims that he did, yet he concluded that all of it is vanity. PAUSE
“And the child grew & became strong, filled with wisdom, & the favor of God was upon Him.” The same could be said for millions & millions of other human beings born to this earth. The vast majority of us never become famous, & as far as the world is concerned our lives have no significance or worth. And that is why the message of Luke 2:40 is so important for us.
It’s important because none of our lives are making the world go round. None of our tweets are detailed across the nation in the daily news. We have not written symphonies like Johann Sebastian Bach. We can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound. You & I have not invented the iPhone, or designed the Empire State Building.
The 1st thirty years of Jesus’ life also appeared insignificant & irrelevant to anyone except His immediate family, & the small community in which He lived. Other than the two events we noted earlier at the temple of Jerusalem, nothing more is mentioned of His first 30 years until His baptism at the Jordan River. In fact, one of the greatest scandals of Jesus’ entire ministry is that He did not come to save the rich, the powerful & the well-healed upper classes of society. Instead, Jesus came to save the lost, the poor, the broken. Messiah came to save women & men like Anna & Simeon. Neither were significant people in world history. After the verses in chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel, neither one is mentioned again in the Bible.
Anna & Simeon have played the role ordained for them by God & then moved off the stage, back into obscurity. However, they are not irrelevant, & they are not gone. And you know where they are! They’re with angels & archangels, & with all the company of heaven. If you end up in eternal paradise, your life here could not possibly have been insignificant.
It may look that way, & often feels that way, because sin has totally destroyed our ability to see the things of God with our physical eyes. Countering that Job prophesied, “I will see [God] for myself. Yes, I will see Him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!” (Job 19:27 NLT) In heaven, it will be obvious to the naked eye that no one there is insignificant.
To take our place, in every way, not just on the cross, but in every aspect of life, Jesus had to live a life that appeared insignificant & irrelevant. He had to be born & to grow up just as we do. Since we fail to live every aspect of human life perfectly as we ought, Jesus had to live through every aspect of human life in order to perfect all of it as a gift to us.
You see, we sin every day even in the insignificant & seemingly irrelevant aspects of life. We can’t even grow up properly, or perfectly, as Yahweh intended when He created the human race. So He sent His Son, in person, to do it over. God the Father sent God the Son to grow up perfectly so there is zero reason for us to fear anything at which we have failed.
Do you remember the struggles of your own childhood? Was it a struggle watching your children grow up? Is it a struggle now watching your grandchildren grow up? Jesus has taken your place, & He has taken their place, even in those things: “And the child grew & became strong, filled with wisdom, & the favor of God was upon Him.” The favor of God was upon Jesus so the favor of God can now be upon you, & upon your children, & upon your grandchildren. The favor of God was upon Jesus so the favor of God can now be upon every single child that comes through the doors of our childcare & our school, every day of the year.
As those children grow & develop & mature, they already face a lot of struggles, & more are sure to come their way. Operating our childcare & school programs is a ton of work. It is filled with headaches, & costs a bunch of money. However, we can do it with optimism & hope because Jesus “grew & became strong, filled with wisdom, & the favor of God was upon Him.”
The Christ Child blazed the way for you to give you hope & a future no matter how unimportant you feel your life is. That’s news worth passing on to children & grandchildren, to infants & toddlers & preschoolers. It is news worth passing on to men & women in nursing homes, & to anyone, anywhere, who feels irrelevant, or insignificant, or left behind.
It may seem odd that between 2 well-known events in the life of Jesus, there is this one sentence between them that sort of stands alone, like an afterthought: “Oh, yeah, the child grew & became strong, filled with wisdom, & the favor of God was upon Him.”
It is the news we need to hear as members in congregations the world seems to have passed by. Today’s Gospel reading is important for us because God used two elderly people who were completely insignificant in the affairs of Caesar or King Herod. Through them God gave information about, & glorified, the Christ child before He performed a single miracle.
It seems fitting now that, in all the resources I looked at to study for this sermon, there was hardly a word written about the 40th verse of Luke 2. Apparently the theological scholars of the world couldn’t find anything significant to write about, & yet God’s message was right in front of their eyes. It is the news we need to hear as people whose values & beliefs the world seems to have passed by. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you & not to harm you, plans to give you hope & a future.” (29:11 NIV) At the very least you & I can rest assured that our future will include eternity in heaven, & that will be no small thing. Amen.
Once in royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle shed, where a mother laid her baby in a manger for His bed: Mary was that mother mild, Jesus Christ her little child. He came down to earth from heaven, Who is God & Lord of all, & His shelter was a stable, & His cradle was a stall; with the poor & mean & lowly lived on earth our Savior holy. For He is our childhood’s pattern, day by day like us He grew; He was little, weak & helpless, tears & smiles like us He knew; & He feels for all our sadness, & He shares in all our gladness. And our eyes at last shall see Him, through His own redeeming love; for that child so dear & gentle is our Lord in heaven above; & He leads His children on to the place where He is gone. Amen. LSB 376:1-4.
Christmas Day – 2018 LSB #’s 366, 361, 363, 364
Text – Isaiah 9:2
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
A Great Light
The soldier lay in the hole he had crawled into at sunset. The cold night settled over him. An eerie silence shrouded the battlefield. The place of fire & fury had become an icy tomb.
He needed to move, to get back to his lines, to rejoin the others. But which way? He had no idea. Turned & turned again, during the fighting, running & often falling – now in the darkness, he was completely lost – as lost as he’d ever been – as lost as anyone can be. Going the wrong way could cost him his life. Not going at all could mean freezing, capture or worse.
He tried to pray. The words didn’t seem to come. He had not prayed much in the years since he left home. Somehow God had slipped away...
“Pray. Prayer. What prayer?” The word brought a clear picture of his mother to mind. Every evening she would gather the family by “the altar” – as she called it. And there at an old table with a piece of white cloth on it, she would light a candle & they would pray.
He always thought it such a bother, so silly, all of them praying on their knees in front of a broken-down table, & an old, bent candle. “I don’t need this!” he would grumble – more & more as he got older. “Just come & pray,” she would say. “For what?” “Someday,” she would answer, “it will light your way.”
Now, the darkness pressed upon him. “God, remember me,” he muttered. “God help me.” Stumbling prayers; not what they should be, but what else could he say? He waited for an answer. There was nothing but darkness, & silence, & cold.
Finally, he raised his head just above the edge of the hole & squinted into the gloom. There! Off there, barely visible in the mist he saw a flame – a single, silent flame. What was it? Could he trust it? Could he follow it? There was nothing else to do. He began to crawl toward the flame, toward the tiny, flickering flame. After what seemed like hours he broke into a clearing. There were the others, soldiers he knew, huddled around a little fire.
“Hey soldier,” his sergeant whispered. “Where’ve you been? You look a little lost.” The fire still peeked at him between the gathered figures in the darkness. “The fire,” he muttered. The sergeant came closer: “Just a little while ago, the captain said we could risk one small fire to help keep warm. But we’ve got to put it out soon. The enemy...”
The soldier got to his knees & stared at the flame in wonder. “It looked like a candle. From out there – from out there in darkness, it looked like an old, bent candle I used to know.”
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). The soldier in the opening story certainly was in the dark. It surrounded him, trapped him, held him captive. Left on his own, he had no idea where he was, where he could go, where he would be safe.
The darkness describes your story & mine. On our own, people are left in the spiritual darkness of this world. It is a deep, blinding darkness, one that we alone cannot overcome. We have the illusion that we can make our own light. We think we can find the way, make our path by the light of our intelligence, our wisdom, our inborn ability to be light to ourselves.
But human beings are no more able to create our own light than was the soldier in the story. All of us are lost in the darkness of sin & we cannot fix it, nor make our own light. All of humankind is unable to create anything but the illusion of light. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11-12). “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Our spiritual situation is no different from the soldier lost on the battlefield. We know there is a path ahead that will lead to life, but where is it? How do we find it? That’s where the flame comes in.
This Christmas celebration is not just a happy time to give & receive gifts, decorate the house, recite the Christmas story. This is the time we celebrate the light that has been placed in our life & in our future. Indeed, it is God’s light that guides us to the safety of God’s kingdom.
“(We) are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-25). Indeed, we are those who walked in darkness, at least we were destined to before we were received into God’s kingdom by Baptism.
Now, we are His own, marked with the cross of Jesus Christ & filled with the light that is the grace of God in Christ. We have a light that will guide us through this earthly life & bring us to eternal life. Certainly, we can turn away from the light. In fact, for all of us, there are times when the light does seem to fade, but the Spirit does not leave us.
We wander into what we think we want or what we deserve. Clearly, because of our sin, we deserve nothing but judgment & separation from God. But Jesus took action for us. He went to the cross for us. He gained forgiveness & life for us. Now He offers it to us as a gift. Children, gifted by God, we walk by faith, by the light of faith amidst a dark & dismal world:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp & put it under a basket, but on a stand, & it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works & give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). The one who is the light of the world, now names us the light of the world. We become light by the grace of God. We give off light, not just keep it for ourselves. We can no more hide the Good News of God’s salvation in Jesus than can we hide the spiritual light that is now in us.
Darkness, sin, evil & death still exist & always will, in this life. Christmas is the story of how light shines in the darkness even as the darkness did not comprehend it. As the light shines, it allows us to see, past the darkness, to the shadows of love, grace & hope which found us.
The flickering light provides a glimpse of the companions that wait for us, walk with us, & sometimes will remain after us. The gentle light of Christ leads us away from all that would close our future & destroy life. That gentle light of Christ guides you toward the amazing power of God’s love let loose in the world. Shine, Jesus, shine!
This is the Christmas message of joy – “You are the light of the world... ” (Matthew 5:14). The lights of Christmas remind us that the light of God’s salvation has come as a baby born in a cattle stall. The lights of Christmas are to remind you that you are light to those who remain in darkness, even if you are nothing more than an old, bent candle.
The lights of Christmas reassure us that God will hear even the stumbling prayers of anyone who turns to Him. Amen.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep & dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting light. The hopes & fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. 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 361:1, 4.
Christmas Eve – 2018 LSB #’s 379:1-3, 367:1-2, 5
Text – Matthew 1:18-20
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man & unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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.”
WHOEVER TAKES THE SON GETS IT ALL
A story is told about a wealthy man who, years ago, shared a passion for collecting art with his son. They had priceless works by Picasso, Van Gogh & others, adorning the walls of their family estate. One year, war engulfed the nation & the son left to serve his country. Soon his father received a telegram. His son had been killed.
Distraught & lonely, the old man faced the upcoming Christmas with anguish & sadness. On Christmas morning, a knock on the door awakened the depressed old man. As he opened the door he was greeted by a soldier who was holding a package. The soldier said, “I was friends with your son. I have something to give you.”
The soldier mentioned that he was an artist & then gave the package to him. It was a portrait of the old man’s son. Overcome with emotion, he hung the portrait over his fireplace, pushing aside millions of dollars’ worth of art.
The following spring, the old man died. The art world waited with anticipation for the day when his paintings would be auctioned off. According to the will of the old man, the art would be auctioned off on Christmas Day. The day finally arrived & art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world’s most spectacular paintings.
The auction began with the painting of the man’s son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid, but the room was silent. “Who will open the bidding with $10?” No one spoke. Eventually someone called out, “Who cares about that painting? It’s just a picture of his son. Let’s move on to the good stuff!” The auctioneer responded, “No, we have to sell this one first. Now, who will take the son?” Finally a neighbor of the old man offered $10. He explained, “I knew the boy, so I’d like to have it.”
The auctioneer said, “Going once, going twice . . .” The gavel fell. “Sold!” Then the auctioneer looked at the room filled with people & announced, “The auction was over.” Everyone was stunned. Someone spoke up & said, “What do you mean, it’s over? We didn’t come here for a painting of someone’s son. The art here is worth millions of dollars!”
The auctioneer replied, “According to the father’s will, whoever takes the son gets it all.”
Whoever takes the Son gets it all is the story of Joseph as well. You remember. Mary conceives Jesus through the Holy Spirit. At 1st Joseph is hesitant to believe, & we can’t blame him. So God sends an angel who speaks to Joseph in a dream. Joseph is convinced. His anxiety is gone. He believes the unbelievable. Joseph takes the Son.
Joseph chooses to trust God, & to love Mary. The two will now live together & share a home. This most certainly raised some eyebrows in their hometown of Nazareth. Busybodies standing on the street corner will assume that Joseph & Mary conceived the child during their engagement instead of waiting to be married: “What nerve, those two!”
Nazareth was a very small town – only 2,000 people lived there – so gossip of this sort would travel quickly. The impeccable character of Joseph would be undermined, but in spite of it, Joseph takes the Son. “She will give birth to a son, & you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).
“Jesus” is the English form of the Hebrew name “Yeshua.” It means “Yahweh saves.” The child’s name is Yeshua – or Jesus – because this Son will save His people from their sins. Whoever takes the Son gets it all. All sin forgiven—lock, stock, & barrel! And we need it. Oh God, do we need it! Far too often, instead of taking the Son – like our 1st parents in paradise we stubbornly take the forbidden fruit.
Then we take advantage of others. We take the blessings of God for granted. We take vengeance upon those who harm us. We take hold of our possessions, “Mine,” we shout to the world. We take part in sin, oblivious to how it breaks the heart of God. And we repeatedly take life into our own hands, singing like Sinatra, “I did it my way!”
One day an elderly couple was at home & the husband said to his wife, “I’d like a dish of vanilla ice cream.” The wife said, “I’d be happy to get that for you.” Her husband asked, “Wait, shouldn’t you write that down?” She said, “Don’t be silly. I can remember a dish of vanilla ice cream.” “Yes, but I want chocolate fudge on it, & a cherry on top.” “Got it.” “Don’t worry.”
With that, she went into the kitchen. After a while the husband thought he should check on her. He walked into the kitchen & there on the table was bacon & eggs. He sat down & asked, “Where’s the toast?” PAUSE
God forgets as well! God forgets & God forgives all of your sin – lock, stock, & barrel! And why? Whoever takes the Son gets it all! In Jesus’ name we get all of our sin forgiven & forgotten. A totally clean slate! But there’s more!
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child & will give birth to a son, & they will call Him Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us’” (Mt 1:22–23).
“God with us” is what Matthew’s Gospel is all about. It appears here, in the beginning. Then in the middle, at Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three gather in my name, there I am in their midst.” And again in Matthew’s last verse, where Jesus says in 28:20, “I am with you
always, to the very end of the age.”
Bette Midler sings in her song From a Distance, “God is watching us. God is watching us. God is watching us from a distance.” That is off the mark. God is not watching from a distance. Our God, the only God is Immanuel, & Immanuel is God with us – up close & personal. Immanuel is God in us & God behind us, & Immanuel is God going before us.
Jesus is God – up close & personal – entering our muck & our mire, our chaos & our confusion. We see it most profoundly on the day of deepest darkness. On that day we all grabbed hold of Immanuel, nailed Him to a cross & said, “Leave us alone! Leave us alone!” To this day, our every sinful choice demands just that – for us to be left alone by God, forever.
On the other side of Good Friday, though, Immanuel lives! There was the cradle & there was the cross, but conquering death, Immanuel now wears the crown. That’s why we have this sure & certain promise: Whoever takes the Son gets it all! In Immanuel’s name we get all of His powerful & loving presence: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Joseph takes the Son. And so, of course, does Mary. Peter does & Matthew too. James & John, Paul & Luke, as well as millions of people since. I invite you tonight, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to take the Son – for either the 1st, 50th, or 500th time. And why?
Whoever takes the Son really does get it all – we get every last bit of God’s mercy, grace & love, packaged & delivered in two marvelous Hebrew names – Jesus & Immanuel. They are God’s Christmas gifts for you this night & forevermore! Amen.
Shepherds in the field abiding, watching o’er your flocks by night, God with us is now residing, yonder shines the Infant Light. All creation, join in praising God the Father, Spirit, Son, evermore your voices raising to the eternal Three in One. Come & worship, come & worship; worship Christ, the newborn King. Amen. LSB 367:2, 5.
4th Sunday of Advent LSB #’s 367:1-3, 367:4-5, 375:2-6, 368
Text – Matthew 1:18-19
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man & unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
OPEN THE DOOR
Family Life. When you think about those two words what comes to mind? Norman Rockwell? Father is at the head of the dinner table, carving the roast. Mother is wearing her unsoiled apron, beaming over the meal in matronly elegance. The children are gathered dutifully around the table, obedient & rosy-cheeked.
And when Christmas rolls around – family life is absolutely perfect!
Now, when you live – not think, but live family life – what comes to mind? Dad snoring on the couch? Mom a limp dish rag, completely maxed out? The younger children fighting again? The adolescent son locked in his room with the walls shaking to some alien music? The older daughter who’s been on the phone so long that her head will soon be stuck to it.
Family life, according to Norman Rockwell, has no hassles, no headaches, & is never in hot water. But real family life faces painful & perplexing predicaments. Loved ones die. Children make bad decisions. Parents get divorced. There’s never enough money. And who’s going to the nursing home this week to visit mom?
I bet Joseph & Mary – because they appear in the Bible – had a Norman Rockwell family life, right? Dead wrong. Let’s take a look. “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18)
If Mary’s pregnancy isn’t shocking enough, the explanation is even more so! Through
the Holy Spirit? Really? Come on! Can you imagine 15 year-old Mary going to her twenty-something fiancée? Joseph is talking about floor plans & wall colors when Mary interrupts, “Joseph, sit down. We need to talk. Joseph, honey, I’m pregnant.” So long Norman Rockwell. Houston, we have a problem!
Close the door. That’s our 1st option when there’s trouble. It’s the one Joseph took. He closed the door. As we read Matthew 1:18 we see that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. We know that, & Mary knew that, but Joseph did not. All he could think of was how unfaithful Mary had been.
It must have torn him up. When Mary broke the news Joseph’s heart must have broken into a million pieces. “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man & did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19)
There is a huge difference between our modern idea of engagement & that of the first-century Jews. This verse describes Joseph as already being Mary’s “husband & it uses the word “divorce” to describe ending the engagement. Though they were not yet living together, Joseph & Mary had a binding contract that could be terminated only by death or by divorce.
Joseph plans to divorce Mary quietly. After all, he wasn’t that gullible. Mary said the Holy Spirit made her pregnant. Well, would you believe that? It’s clear to Joseph that Mary wasn’t the person he thought she was. Mary was, in fact, carrying another man’s child. Joseph doesn’t want to talk about it or work through it. So he chooses to close the door.
When family conflict comes our way we sometimes react exactly like Joseph. Let’s say a neat-freak wife needs a certain amount of law & order in her home, but her lazy husband doesn’t give a rip. So the wife says, “I’m so mad! Look at this mess! Nobody ever picks up anything!” But the clueless husband responds, “You need more energy! Are you still taking those vitamins we spent all that money on?” This couple exchanges clichés & facts, but they don’t directly address the problems. They close the door.
When all hell breaks loose, another option is to slam the door. In the OT the penalty for adultery was death (Deuteronomy 22:13–21). Thankfully, Joseph forgoes this option. He doesn’t want to embarrass Mary or disgrace Mary or hurt Mary. He just wants to move on without Mary. This is commendable, & it’s why Matthew 1:19 calls Joseph “a righteous man.”
When faced with similar family pain, sometimes we are not as righteous. We slam the door. We drop verbal bombs. We rant & rave. We have tempers & throw tantrums. We fight like cats & dogs; like the Hatfields & McCoys. Discussion is over. Lines are drawn in the sand. It’s “in your face,” “no way Jose,” & “it ain’t gonna happen.” Slam the door.
Another way of handling family hurt & hassles is to lock the door. That’s what Joseph is planning to do – total withdrawal. Lock the door. It’s broken & I’m done. The issue is too sensitive, too intense & too explosive. I lock the door & throw away the key.
Is there a better way? Yes there is. Open the door. It’s that simple. Open the door! But we need help – God’s help – to do this. So did Joseph, “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.’”
Can you imagine having a dream like that? “Joseph, wake up! You’ve been drafted!” Joseph gets the inside information – literally! Mary was not lying to him after all! Joseph needed help with family life so God spoke to him in a dream. In fact, four times in Matthew 1–2, we are told that God speaks to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:20; 2:13, 19, 20).
We need help with family life, too. Martin Luther taught us to say, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him.” Using my “own reason or strength” I close doors. I slam doors. I lock doors. Luther continues: “But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.” God gave dreams to Joseph & His Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel.
God told Joseph, “What is conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit.” But Jesus is not only conceived by the Holy Spirit. At His baptism Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit. When tempted, Jesus is empowered by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus died He gave up the Spirit. Three days later Jesus was raised by the Spirit. What is the 1st gift Jesus gives after His resurrection?
It’s the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit calls us by the Gospel; delivering all of the gifts purchased & won for us by our Savior – mercy, forgiveness, new life, & the power – in the midst of deep family pain – the power to look at our spouse & children & open the door. That’s what Joseph did. He finally opened the door – accepted & loved & cared for Mary & the Child.
In the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia, the one titled The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis describes his characters facing the mother of all battles. At a strategic point they come to a door. Some claimed that behind the door was a life-threatening monster.
But once through the door, “They stood on green grass, the deep blue sky overhead, & air blew gently on their faces like that of a day in early summer.” Walking through that door took them into a heavenly kingdom. And once there, they could continue to go “further & further in” making wonderful discoveries. What is the point?
Open your foreboding door. Open your heart, open your ears & open your life to people in your family. The door isn’t as threatening as it looks. In fact, when you open the door, maybe not at first, but soon enough, you will find yourself standing on green grass, the deep blue sky overhead, with air blowing gently on your face like that of a day in early summer. Amen.
From the bondage that oppressed us, from sin’s fetters that possessed us, from the grief that sore distressed us, we, the captives, now are free. Oh, the joy beyond expressing when by faith we grasp this blessing, & to You we come confessing that Your love has set us free. Amen.
 Matthew 1:20 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet