1st Sunday after Christmas – B LSB #’s 370, 375, 770
Text – Luke 2:35
…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.
A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
It’s a figurative way of asking someone to rejoin a conversation. It asks a person lost in thought or otherwise distracted to tell the speaker what they’ve been thinking about or to simply redirect their attention back to the conversation they are supposed to be having. It suggests that the speaker is willing to give the person lost in thought a ‘penny’ to hear what they’re thinking.
It’s not an uncommon experience – wondering what other people are thinking – when it comes to things like our job performance at work or what grade the teacher is giving us in school. What do people think of the car we drive, or the phone we have, or how often we mow the lawn around our home?
What thoughts are going through someone’s mind as they look at you? It can be unnerving when you think too long about that. In the worst case scenario it’s not unheard of for teenagers obsessed with social media to end up taking their own life over the things being said about them online. What thoughts are going through your mind right now?
Thousands of years ago, in Jerusalem, a devout & righteous man was speaking to Joseph & Mary about the thoughts of other people. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Simeon prophesied that Jesus will be a sign that many people will speak against, & then Simeon explained, “…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:35 ESV)
When your thoughts are being revealed to others, without your permission, things can get very uncomfortable very quickly. It’s especially true when those thoughts are manipulative or unkind. In Simeon’s case, those are not the thoughts he’s prophesying about. He’s speaking of a much larger picture, on a much grander scale, as the words of Revelation 12 make clear:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, & on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant & was crying out in birth pains & the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads & ten horns, & on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven & cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God & to His throne, & the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (Rev 12:1-6 ESV)
If you were to retell the story how would you summarize what’s happening? It could be said like this. An important woman is giving birth to a son who is to rule the world, but an evil creature wants to destroy the child. The child is rescued & the woman flees to the wilderness where God is protecting her from the evil creature.
In a sense, all of salvation history is condensed into one brief paragraph. Almost no details are included because the view is from high up in heaven. What’s being portrayed is the cosmic war between God & Satan, a war taking place in the heavens & on earth. This warfare is the source & the cause of all the battles between God’s people on earth & the forces of evil.
In the Gospel reading from St. Luke, the Holy Spirit, through the words of Simeon, pinpoints the cosmic warfare going on & centers it in the child that Simeon is holding in his arms. This is the male child that the red dragon was seeking to devour, & the most important question in all warfare, is this: Whose side are you on?
Since the children of God have both saintly & sinful natures, it is extremely complicated for us to determine whose side any other human being is on. Keep in mind, it’s not our primary purpose here on earth to determine whose side anyone else is on, but the words of Simeon do give us a clue:
…“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall & rising of many in Israel, & for a sign that is opposed, …so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35 ESV) Primarily those words are addressed to each one of us individually. In our thoughts, words & deeds, whose side are we on? We should be asking ourselves that question daily & with every choice we make. And we do so for the purpose of seeing our sins, & then, by the power of Jesus’ forgiveness, we repent of those sins & believe that Jesus has paid their price on our behalf.
Yet, Holy Scripture makes clear that not everyone is ultimately repentant, & that is what determines whose side you are on. The problem is, in this world, we live by faith, not by sight. That’s true because we cannot see the heart of man. We cannot tell if another human being’s heart is oriented towards God, or away from Him.
It’s true, their actions often speak louder than words, but of the trio, thought, word & deed, their thoughts are by far the least visible to us. And the great red dragon is referred to by Jesus as the father of lies. So a person whose heart is oriented away from Yahweh may still claim to believe in & follow Jesus. Satan himself is able to ‘appear’ as an angel of light.
But God has not left us completely in the dark. Through Simeon, we have been given a sign, …“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall & rising of many in Israel, & for a sign that is opposed, …so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35 ESV)
The preaching of Jesus caused humans & demons to reveal their thoughts, by their opposition to Christ. In the Garden of Gethsemane, His disciples fell asleep, & Satan tempted Him to walk away from the cross. Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him. Eventually, humans & demons were allowed to crucify Him.
The season of Christmas, in spite of its brightly lit & often jovial character, is a good time to spot opposition to Jesus. What adult hasn’t heard a story about a child, on Christmas Eve, blurting out, “Where are my presents?” We laugh, at least in part, because we know from experience that it’s all too true, in our own hearts as well. Our prayers often take the form of a demand of God, “Where is my healing, where is my larger house, where is my dream vacation, where are my presents?” But we seldom say those thoughts out loud, especially when other people are around. That’s why we need the sign that Simeon gave us.
For example: People who promote the theory of evolution are opposing Jesus as the author of the universe. People who promote abortion or euthanasia are opposing Jesus as the author of life. People who promote choosing your own gender are opposing Jesus as the author of themselves.
Preaching & teaching in the name of Jesus will cause humans & demons to reveal their thoughts, by their opposition to Christ. Those who oppose Jesus are revealing that they do not believe in Him as the Savior from their sins. Preaching or teaching what Jesus taught will cause others to rise up against you, & that opposition reveals their thoughts of unbelief.
Knowing that we would face opposition on account of Him, Jesus forewarned us of the world’s hatred for us. He told us in advance, what their thoughts would be:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20b ESV)
This talk of opposition can make us uncomfortable. Especially at Christmas, people want happy sermons & happy songs. However, people who exclusively promote happy sermons may be opposing Jesus as the author of division. They are forgetting St. Luke’s quotation of Christ:
“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, & two against – or two in favor & three against.” (12:51-52 NLT)
Jesus is God’s instrument for exposing human resistance to the work of their heavenly
Father. The inner thoughts of people come to the surface when Christ is preached. Many of them manage to keep their evil nature pretty well hidden until then. But through their attitude toward Christ, people reveal what their thoughts are – their thoughts toward God & toward living by faith instead of by sight.
Simeon’s oracle is meant to keep Joseph & Mary from entertaining false hopes about the ministry & the reception of Jesus. He calls Jesus a sign that will be opposed & this is part of God’s plan. The picture is of a banner unfurled, an ensign, that serves as a rallying point for some & for others as the focal point of attack.
The star of the Magi functioned as such. The Wise Men followed it to worship Jesus & Herod followed it to have Jesus killed. What thoughts are going through your mind right now? Those who thoughts toward Jesus are negative doom themselves to eternal death, even though God gave the life of His Son in order to save them.
Neutrality toward Jesus is not an option because there is a war going on & Satan will never surrender. Jesus is the point of decision, precisely because He is the point of salvation. It cannot be another way. Yahweh’s primary will is that all be saved, but He does not impose salvation on anyone. Only sacrificial love, not force, is able to change someone’s heart.
That is the terrible & horrific reality of sin, but that is also why Simeon & Anna were so joyfully proclaiming thanks to God for the unfathomable gift that He gives to us in His Son Jesus Christ. They knew & believed that they were saved by this Child from the terrible & horrific realities of sin.
We too can have this peace by means of the Gospel of Peace preached to us & through the faith it creates in us. As Simeon held Christ in his arms we too can take hold of Jesus in our hands & mouth in Holy Communion. Through His body & blood the Son of God is delivering
you from all your sins, all your failures & all of the shame that hounds you here in this world.
As we leave the Lord’s Supper & as we leave the house of God this morning, along with Simeon we can truly say, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” (Luke 2:29-31 ESV) Amen.
Come, your hearts & voices raising, Christ the Lord with gladness praising; loudly sing His love amazing, worthy folk of Christiandom. Christ, from heaven to us descending & in love our race befriending; in our need His help extending, saved us from the wily foe. Jacob’s star in all its splendor beams with comfort sweet & tender, forcing Satan to surrender, breaking all the powers of hell. 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. LSB 375:1-3, 5.
Christmas Day – 2020 LSB #’s 380, 370, 384
Text – John 1:14
And the Word became flesh & dwelt among us, & we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace & truth.”
Praying COME, LORD JESUS to Him Who Brings the Enlightening Word
The sublime glow of candlelight at an evening service conveys to many a feeling of peace. The sparkling lights of a Christmas tree can radiate joy & happiness. Shining lights this time of year symbolize an important aspect of the Christmas message – enlightenment!
The good news we celebrate is that Jesus Christ brings true enlightenment – & with it peace & joy. God’s incarnate Word dispels the darkness of sin while bringing the light of grace & saving truth. This connection between word & light is brought out in St. John’s Christmas gospel message. He writes:
“In the beginning was the Word... All things were made through Him... In Him was life & the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, & the darkness has not overcome it... The Word became flesh & dwelt among us, & we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace & truth” (John 1:1, 4, 5, 14).
Jesus brought true light into this sin-darkened world. Jesus gives God’s true enlightenment as the Word of God in the flesh. This morning, we gather to hear God’s word &, like Mary, ponder its enlightening impact in our hearts. The goal of this sermon is that you may learn to believe that God’s word in Jesus Christ brings into your life true enlightenment.
But, do we really have a problem with darkness today? Not in the realm of physical light. In fact, the people of Jesus’ day would not be able to fathom the lighting technology we have. Look at the Christmas lighting options on display this year. But the darkness in John’s Gospel has to do with knowledge. We have long used the term “enlightenment” to refer to knowledge & understanding. In many ways, our modern world is more enlightened than ever. There’s nearly unlimited & virtually instantaneous access to information – not just in written forms but audio & video, as well.
If you need to contact someone who isn’t here, what do you do? Call or text them; or you FaceTime. You need to know something, a piece of information, what do you do? Google it. You need to learn where a place is located or what’s the best restaurant, what do you use? You search with an app. You need to find a certain Christmas recipe? There’s Pinterest.
You need to share Christmas memories? There’s Facebook. You need to figure out how to assemble the new electric scooter you got for Christmas? Go to YouTube. Someone has a video for you to watch. With all of today’s technology, do we need more enlightenment?
Many people would say no. Science has become their god & if all of us would just follow it, everyone would live happily ever after. But in terms of what Jesus came to bring, the people of our nation absolutely need true & godly enlightenment as much as ever!
The basic problem of darkness in the heart & soul of human beings has never been solved by technology in any period of history. The discoveries & devices that humankind has been developing through the ages, have in once sense improved the physical standard of living. But they’ve given us new ways to be selfish, more efficient ways to rob & steal & hurt each other.
Consider all the cybercrime going on. Technology has provided much greater capacity for good, but also for destruction. Why? The problem is sin. It makes us ignorant of God’s true nature, of His will, & of His grace. Sin is rebellion, & the evil foe, Satan himself, is always one step ahead of human beings.
Like a computer hacker, Satan seems to know more about technology’s use for destruction than we do about its capacity for good. The words of St. John reveal the depth of this darkness: “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, & the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, & His own people did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11)
It is incredible to think about! The creation cannot or will not recognize its own Creator. God’s chosen people cannot identify their promised Messiah. The very prophesies of God which He fulfills are not recognized by so-called enlightened, religious experts. That is the problem of darkness. You cannot see, & you don’t even know what you don’t know.
The prince of darkness takes full advantage in playing on the spiritual ignorance of mankind in order to covertly steal, kill & destroy. To counter this, & to rescue us, enter the true light who has come into the world, the word of God made flesh, our Messiah & Savior. As was announced to Joseph when he was in the dark about Mary’s pregnancy, the angel said:
“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).
And John reports: “In Him was life, & the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, & the darkness has not overcome it... To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:4, 5, 12, 13).
And, in what do the enlightened, those who are born of God, believe? They believe that in the hour of darkness, on Good Friday, the light of the world, defeated the forces of evil as Jesus died on Calvary’s cross for the sins of all mankind. There, when darkness fell, He died for your sins. Every sin of yours & mine were paid for by His death.
When He rose in the glorious light of Easter, God revealed this enlightening truth – in
Jesus Christ God has brought to us the light of eternal life. That is the enlightenment of the word made flesh that we rejoice in today, & we rejoice with confidence in the power of God’s word to overcome all darkness.
As we’ve been reflecting on His word in our Advent & Christmas services this year, we have acknowledged the powerful enemies who want to keep out the enlightening word of God & keep us in sinful ignorance. The unholy trinity of the devil, the sinful nature & the fallen world, work to keep God’s word out of people’s hearts.
Thanks be to Yahweh, the Holy Spirit is also always working through the Word to create faith that bears the fruit of life & salvation. As Jesus says in His parable about hearing the Word of God, the parable of the Sower, “The one who hears the word & understands it... he indeed bears fruit” (Matthew 13:23).
As we confess regarding the Holy Spirit, He uses that word as He “calls, gathers, enlightens & sanctifies us & keeps us with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” That is the enlightenment of Christ that we receive in the ministry of word & sacrament at Christmas.
It is also the enlightenment we can receive in meditation on the word of God & prayer in our daily lives. For that purpose, we can receive the blessing of modern information technology to bring us the enlightening word of God. In our own church heritage, we have an example.
Martin Luther’s use of the printing press brought to the people of his day the word of God in accessible & understandable ways. That was the new information technology that came to the fore during the Reformation 500 years ago. We still benefit from that today as we open our Bibles & read them in homes & work places.
Today, we also have access to the word of God through the various media of digital technology & the internet. You can listen to the word of God while you commute to work or walk on a treadmill. On the Internet, you can look up sermons & Bible studies, or play hymns during family devotions. Various apps & other communication resources can be used to connect with those separated by time & distance, to be together in devotion to God’s word.
The important matter is that we remain focused on God’s word no matter the resources we use, from memorized Bible verses, to reading a printed Bible or a digital one, to hearing a recording of someone sharing God’s word, or being in God’s house in person.
Through the word of God comes true enlightenment revealing the darkness of sin & leading to repentance. Through God’s Word shines forth the gospel that gives faith & guides life in God’s kingdom to bear witness to His saving grace & truth in a world that does not know what it doesn’t know.
As this happens, the body of Christ, His church, continues to bring the light of life & salvation, at Christmas time & throughout the year, until Christ comes again in glory. Amen.
What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping? This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard & angels sing; haste, haste to bring Him laud, the Babe, the son of Mary! Amen. LSB 370:1.
Christmas Eve – 2020 LSB #’s 332, 702, 374
Text – Matthew 13:23
As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word & understands it. He indeed bears fruit & yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, & in another thirty.
PRAYING, COME, LORD JESUS TO HIM WHO HAS COME
TO CREATE FAITH
“…Mary kept all of these things & pondered them in her heart.” Let’s begin by pondering that line from Luke’s Christmas narrative. Often we have heard it read. What does it mean that Mary kept all of these things, that she pondered them in her heart?
It describes Mary right after the amazing report regarding her newborn child. Shepherds had come to tell what they had seen & heard. They said that an angel had appeared to them & announced, “Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”
The angel told them where to find Him & after that the entire sky was filled with angels singing praises to God at this glorious occasion. So, the shepherds went to look. When they found Him & gave their report to Mary, Luke wrote, “[She] kept all of these things & pondered them in her heart.” Mary was thinking deeply about the words announced by the angels.
This wasn’t the 1st time either that Mary had something amazing to ponder regarding her special child. When His birth was foretold, also by an angel, he told her some amazing things, like, “You [Virgin Mary] will be with child & give birth to a son, & you are to give Him the name Jesus.” The angel continued, “He will be great & be the Son of the Most High!”
As Mary raised questions about how this could be, especially since she hadn’t been with a man, the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, & the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God!” The angel then concluded, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37 NASB) That was something to ponder! The last line was a clincher to this woman of faith. Since it is true that nothing will be impossible with God, she believed & replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” We hear in those words that the Holy Spirit was working in Mary’s heart & soul.
In the other places where Mary is described, you get a similar sense that she is pondering to understand & believe in the word. In the temple at Jesus’ circumcision & naming, when more amazing things were said by Simeon, Luke wrote, “The child’s father & mother marveled at what was said about Him.” (Luke 2:33)
When Jesus was twelve & she found Him in the temple sitting among the teachers of God’s word, & He called that place His Father’s house, & said He must be about His Father’s business, Luke wrote that she once again treasured these things in her heart.
Years later, in the account of His first miracle recorded by John, at the wedding in Cana, Mary again demonstrates faith in Jesus. When the wine runs out, she approaches Him trusting that He can fix the problem. She says to those present, “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary’s pondering on God’s word showed itself in a life of faith.
In the sermon series this Advent, we’ve been pondering how Jesus overcame the enemies of His word – the devil, our sinful hearts, the sinful world. We’ve considered how He came & continues coming to save us. We’ve been looking at the parable of the Sower as it illustrates these opponents that Jesus defeated.
There are birds symbolizing the devil as they gobble up the seed that is the word of God. There’s the rocky soil symbolizing the shallow, sinful hearts of mankind which do not let God’s word penetrate, so their spiritual life withers & dies. And there are the weeds representing the cares of the world & the deceitfulness of riches that choke the life out of faith in God’s word.
Thankfully, there is a 4th soil described in the parable: “Other seed fell on good soil &
produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Then Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” Later He explained to His disciples:
“As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word & understands it. He indeed bears fruit & it yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, & in another thirty.” From our perspective today, Mary is good soil. As Mary pondered what was said, she received the word of God. It was planted in her heart through faith in that word.
Like Jesus explained, hers are the ears & the heart which are hearing & seeking to understand the word of the God spoken to her. But how did Mary come to have a heart of faith, a heart that received, pondered & believed the saving word of the Lord? How is she an example of the 4th soil type that produced abundant fruit?
Let’s first say what is not the case. It is not because Mary was holy in herself. Nowhere in the Word of God is she described as sinless, as perfect, or as a saint who earned salvation by her good deeds. There is no evidence of that in the Biblical description of Mary.
What is the case, Luke writes, is that the Lord is with her. She has been given His favor. In the life of Mary, we see how good soil is made, it is through the work of the God, work that led her to ponder & treasure God’s word. This is the realm of the Holy Spirit for us, as well. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will come to us through His word & create faith in our hearts.
We confess this in the catechism explanation of the 3rd article about the Holy Spirit: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe... But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified & kept me in the true faith.”
All of us are that good soil, as well, as we respond in faith to the promises of God’s word. Yahweh has given us His favor. We see that in what Jesus came to do. In John 3:16 we hear, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” You & I are those whom He loves. And now, with His word, He sends His Holy Spirit to teach us to trust in His promise to save & deliver us. How might this happen in daily life? What’s needed is a situation like that described in the parable of the Sower where the farmer generously sows his seed wherever he can.
Such abundant spreading of God’s word can be seen in what happens when we read & daily devote time to God’s word. In the course of day to day life, we experience real struggles. As we do, the Holy Spirit is also working on our hearts to convict us so that we realize the need for God’s mercy.
Then, as we hear God’s word, the Holy Spirit helps us understand why & how the word of Christ’s death & resurrection is so important for us. He builds us up in to trust in God’s care, just as He did with Mary.
During this sermon series, I’ve been stressing daily devotions as important to receive & remain faithful to God’s word. I’ve described a scenario where a family sits down to spend time in Holy Scripture & in prayer. Imagine how this plays out over time when it is a daily practice.
For example, the family learns before Christmas that dad has lost his job. This would be devastating by itself, but learning this when things are supposed to be so happy, can be especially difficult.
Yet, if the family has the holy habit of daily reading God’s word & taking their anxious cares & needs to Him in prayer, the Holy Spirit will use the word of Christ to give comfort & hope in a deep & meaningful way.
The troubles of this life, such as the pandemic of 2020, break up the hard hearts of mankind & create fertile ground in which to plant the word of God. However, without the generous sowing of God’s word in daily prayer, the hope of the Christ child would not be realized in any deep & enduring way. But with daily devotions, when the family goes to Christmas services, the comfort of Christ’s real presence in the Lord’s Supper gives true Christmas joy that sustains them amidst the fleeting hopes of the world. Also, in this way, the devil is prevented from using life’s disappointments to snatch away the word of Christ.
So this Christmas, let’s follow Mary’s lead as we hear the announcement of the good news of great joy that will be to all people. Let’s rejoice with the angels at the birth of our Savior. Let’s ponder this daily in our hearts, seeking to understand God’s word & how it addresses all of life while promising a hope that surpasses all human understanding. Amen.
Solo “Mary Did You Know?”
4th Sunday in Advent – B LSB #’s 341:1, 3, 5; 606; 357:1-5
Text – Luke 1:38
Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be done to me according to Your word.” Then the angel left her.
THEN THE ANGEL LEFT HER
The Christmas season is a time for family get-togethers, so in the next week or two there’ll be many people traveling. There’ll be parties, happy reunions & emotional times all over the country. But when the vacations end, when the time arrives to go home, there will also be a lot of sad good-byes as people return to their lives leaving friends & family behind.
I’ve been through that scenario so many times in my life, I’ve lost count. And in spite of all the practice, it’s become more & more difficult as the years go by. For that reason I wonder how it was with Mary on the night Gabriel came, delivered his message, & then left?
After hearing such an incredible announcement, did pangs of loneliness touch her heart when the angel left her? Did she feel abandoned? Did a hundred more questions pop into her mind as soon as Gabriel was gone? What was it like to have been told she would be the mother of God? Who would you share that with? Who would believe you?
As close as we can figure from the Greek language, & from the culture of that day, it was likely that Mary was only 12 to 14 years old. Imagine the weight that she may have felt upon her shoulders. It seems only natural to call after the angel, “Don’t go! Don’t leave me! I need your help.” But Gabriel left.
Being left behind is not easy, even if it’s on friendly terms like often occur at Christmas. On those terms you’re left with a quiet, somber house where only a few hours before there was laughter & joy. But if you’ve been left behind under hostile terms, not only is there the absence of laughter & joy, but in their place are left confusion, doubt, guilt, fear, bitterness. In the hands of Satan those emotions are powerful tools for destruction. The damage can seep down to the very core of your soul. What’s left is a terrible sense of being something less than whole, of being torn & fragmented. Decisions that used to be simple & easily taken for granted, have become impossibly complicated.
To make matters worse, those decisions can end up revealing the hopelessness that has come to color everything in your life. Activities that used to bring pleasure now bring only bitter regret for what is missing. They bring back the raw emotions of having been left behind, rejected & forgotten.
And then the guilt sets in, & the second-guessing. If only I had done this, or tried that. Maybe I should have said something. Maybe I am at fault. Maybe I am worthless. Satan gladly uses the bitterness & the guilt to change your very personality.
One of my seminary professors, who’d been practicing psychology for 20 years, believed that suppressed feelings of guilt are the cause for 90% of all mental disorders. That ties in well with what I read in a book titled, “Magic Trees of the Mind.” Research suggests that guilt & bitterness will alter the physical structure of your brain.
Information like that may cause you to become a pessimist. It brings to light the inherent dangers in our sinful world, dangers that for the most part go unseen, & unaccounted for, in our day to day choices. Denial is one of our mind’s strongest defense mechanisms. However, it gets out of control if we live our lives with our heads stuck in the sand.
Ignoring & denying our failures & the guilt of our decisions, only allows their damage to perpetuate. Denial of our sins will allow them to spread & to grow. They’ll contaminate everything in our lives, & everyone else they come into contact with. Sin can change the physical structure of our brain, so if you have had someone leave you behind, all that may help in your understanding of what goes on. It may help explain some of the things you have experienced, like the depression, the feeling that you’re not yourself, the loss of memory & so forth. The wages of sin is death, but that death is not simply a one-time event at the end of our earthly lives.
The death that comes as a result of sin is a continuous process & it takes place from the moment we are conceived. From that moment on, for the rest of our lives, we are corrupted, twisted & altered by our sinful nature. We cannot run from it, we cannot hide from it; & try as we might, we cannot make it go away through denial.
That’s why, in last week’s gospel reading, God sent a man named John to witness to the coming Light. That’s why in this week’s gospel lesson an angel named Gabriel was sent to announce to Mary that she would become the mother of God. And it’s why in the upcoming gospel reading for Christmas God will send His sinless Son to save us from our sins.
Denial of my sin does not change the facts. Suppression of your guilt only changes the structure of your brain – for the worse. But a repentant heart, a heart that admits our sin, trusts in God’s love. It then brings those sins out of the darkness of our soul, & gives them over to the light of our Savior. The Great I Am alone has the power to make our sins go away.
Our Creator has the power to re-create the structure of our brain in a positive way. He has the power to change our soul from darkness to light, from harbinger of death, to harbinger of eternal & perfect life. Unlike the angel Gabriel, our Savior will never leave us. He is always with us, & it was prophesied that His name would be Immanuel, which means God with us.
In today’s gospel text, the angel Gabriel told Mary: “The Lord is with you.” Shortly after this sermon, we begin our communion liturgy with the Preface. The 1st words I’ll speak to you are, “The Lord be with you.” It’s a reminder that through the sacrament of Holy Communion, Christ our Lord truly is with us, not just in spirit, but in body & soul. The next words I speak will be, “Lift up your hearts.” That’s asking you to offer your dirty, guilty, sin filled heart to the Lord, that He might cleanse it with His body & His blood. It’s through this means of grace that our Father has promised to come to us, to cleanse us, renew us & strengthen us.
Here, Yahweh reverses the effect of the sin in our lives. Here, the Holy Spirit opens your heart to the Light that Christ might enter & live there. It’s here that God strengthens your trust in His promises while removing the confusion & the doubt, the fear & the bitterness.
If someone ever has left you or betrayed you, you have a right to be hurt & angry, but you cannot remove the bitterness on your own. For that you need your heavenly Father’s help, & He offers it to you today, right here in God’s house. Come & receive God’s healing.
On a typical Sunday, as Lutherans, we confess our Christian faith with the words of the Nicene Creed. In less than one sentence that confession captures the whole of the Christmas season: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, …incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary & was made man.” That is God with us.
God was made man. That is the ultimate in being with us. He became one of us. From that moment on, the heavenly Father & His children would never be separated. Jesus Christ cannot leave us, because He is one of us. Through the incarnation Yahweh has been inseparably united to mankind, & He did that out of love for you & me, even while we were sinners.
He loves us first, in the hope that we might turn back to Him & be saved. God no longer needs a temple, because His dwelling place is now in man, in Christ. It is through the incarnate Son of God that our heavenly Father lives in us. He participates in our very being.
The angel Gabriel left Mary behind, because his presence was only an external one. Jesus Christ has been born a man, that He might live in mankind. His presence in our lives is
internal. He is with us always, even to the end of time. Satan’s temptations can never drive Jesus away from us. No matter how quiet & somber your home may be during portions of this Christmas season the Christ Child is always with you. The guilt & shame of your life has been completely erased as far as your Savior is concerned. You are holy in God’s sight.
Through the power of Christ living in our lives, may each of us be able to say along with Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be done to me according to Your word.” Amen.
The peace of God, that surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Advent Midweek 3 LSB #’s 348, 341:1-2, 4; 350
Text – 2 Peter 3:13
But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens & a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
PRAYING, COME LORD JESUS, TO HIM WHO WILL COME AGAIN
TO BRING FINAL VICTORY
Have you noticed? There are lots of opportunities for worship this time of year. Even though it’s not yet December 25th, in many places various forms of Christmas worship have been going on for some time. Right now I’m thinking of one particular example.
It is quite traditional. It’s been around a long time. It is heavily promoted. The houses of worship are filled. Music is always playing. The sanctuaries are adorned with impressive holiday color & beauty. This particular example of Christmas worship consistently proclaims a gospel that promises relief from cares & hope for the future.
But there is a problem. Even though it’s popular, though it claims to celebrate Christmas, it is Christmas worship without Christ. With this type of so-called worship “Jesus is NOT the Reason for the Season.” I’m thinking of the worldly version of Christmas that promotes money & material possessions as the ultimate source of relief & hope.
Jesus described money as one of the world’s gods. In his Large Catechism, Luther said a false god is something that people ultimately look to in time of need. Anything besides the true God that we trust in becomes for us a false god. Money, & the things it buys, is always near the top of that list for many people.
From that perspective, we could say this false god’s houses of worship might be stores & shopping venues. You can even worship online through the temple of Amazon. The marketers & advertisers are evangelists for the god money & its worship known as materialism. You could even play around with this image & say that cash registers are like altars of sacrifice which promise blessings if our offering is large enough. This is a materialistic approach that could be called, “Christmas worship.”
Now, merely shopping for Christmas presents is not in itself worship of money. Rather, it is the fallen world’s approach, & our fallen nature’s approach, to money that makes it worship. We can buy things, including Christmas presents, for good reasons. Our Christmas shopping does not have to be a materialistic practice.
But make no mistake about it, the devil will tempt & our sinful nature will often fall for such false hope. Jesus was well aware of this. So in the parable of the Sower He warned against what He called “the cares of the world & the deceitfulness of riches.” He said that these can choke out the word of God.
In these Advent services, we’ve been listening to Jesus’ words in the parable of the Sower to help us focus on God’s word, especially on daily devotions with God’s Word. So far we’ve considered how Jesus came & still comes to overcome the devil & our sinful nature. Today, we focus on Him overcoming the sinful world. Hear His description in the parable:
“A sower went out to sow, & as he sowed, some . . . seeds fell among thorns, & the thorns grew up & choked them.” Then He explained that the seed represents the Word of God: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world & the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, & it proves unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:7, 22)
That is to say, when the world’s cares & false hopes close off the word of Jesus from us, it is like plants being choked out by weeds. Worldly cares & false hopes can take various forms. Earlier I described materialism in the world’s false Christmas. Another is atheism & false beliefs that seek to discredit God’s word & teach empty, human centered philosophies.
There is also the most basic form in the worship of self, which the world fully promotes.
God declares that someday He will return to put an end to it all. Jesus will come back in power to judge the living & the dead. There is no negotiating with the sinful world, it must be destroyed before a new one is created to replace it. In his 2nd letter, the apostle Peter writes,
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, & the earth & everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy & godly lives as you look forward to the day of God & speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, & the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven & a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (3:10–13).
And a new thing is coming. Christmas advertisers tell you to buy the latest new thing. Our Lord promises to give us the last new thing – the new heaven & the new earth. This will happen when He returns.
It was our Creator’s plan from the beginning. The promise of a new world was given through Isaiah in the OT. As prophesied, Jesus came to redeem His people in the fallen world so He could take them to a new one when He returns, a new & better world, called “the home of righteousness.”
Jesus could do this because He & His kingdom are not of this world. When He came that 1st Christmas, promising to bring peace on earth & good will to man, it was not the world’s fleeting form of peace that He promised. As He said during His ministry:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled & do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
God’s Son made available to us this peace when He took up the sin of the world & carried it to the cross. It was through the peace of His cross & resurrection that true hope was given right in the face of the world’s lies. You know these words of Jesus: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) This peace, that we know now only by faith, will transform every part of life in the new world – the new world Jesus will bring when He returns. In the Book of Revelation, John prophesied:
“Then I saw ‘a new heaven & a new earth,’ for the 1st heaven & the 1st earth had passed away, & there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, & He will dwell with them. They will be His people, & God himself will be with them & be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy & true.’” (21:1-5)
It is the promise of God’s word that is “trustworthy & true” which wipes away our fears of this world coming to an end. After God judges the world for its unbelief, He will take us to a new world where peace with God & with one another abounds.
That’s why we gather together to encourage one another in communities of faith as we wait for Christ’s return. That is what the church does in its worship. It forms people into the community of faith that draws hope from the word of God amidst the sinful world.
But let me ask, “Is weekly worship enough?” I would say, “No.” The world calls us to take part in its false worship seven days a week. Therefore, we need to receive guidance & strength from God’s word each day. This Advent we’ve been stressing daily devotions. They are more important than ever today. Every day we need the life given by God’s word.
This is also vital for raising children. They experience the world’s messages 24/7. It has access to their heart, mind & soul through social media, TV, YouTube & video games. What messages are they getting? Certainly not all are evil, but some are. To counter those daily messages they need forming in the faith each day as we read God’s word & pray with them.
Children also need the Word of God’s law to show them their need for a Savior, & they
need the good news of what Jesus has done for their salvation to give them faith. When they leave home for school or work we want them to be well-grounded in a faith that will not allow the world’s cares & deceitful desires to choke it off. Daily devotions in the home, on top of weekly worship at church, help to make this happen.
Does that mean devotions are just for children? All households need daily devotions; married people with an empty nest, single adults at every stage of life. We need support from one another with the word of God. Music can be heard through technology to support singing the faith.
New communication technologies can help us stay connected to God’s word & one another, as we’ve seen through live streaming our services. In addition to older inventions like the printed word, we now have Bible apps that can read God’s word to us. There are even Bible apps that enable people living in different homes to engage in daily devotions together.
Technology isn’t for everyone so fortunately all you really need is a Bible. There are many resources out there that can be used to encourage us with the good news of Jesus Christ. So, this Christmas, don’t let the world’s worship push Christ out. Keep coming to God’s house where our focus is on the true Lord.
Keep Christ in your home through daily devotions, & encourage one another, all the more as you see the day approaching, finding strength in knowing Jesus will come back & bring in the new “home of righteousness” where true joys abound. Amen.
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates! Behold, the King of glory waits. The King of kings is drawing near; the Savior of the world is here. Life & salvation He doth bring; therefore rejoice & gladly sing. To God the Father raise your joyful songs of praise. Fling wide the portals of your heart; make it a temple set apart from earthly use for heavens employ, adorned with praise & love & joy. So shall your Sovereign enter in & new & nobler life begin. To God alone be praise for word & deed & grace! Amen. LSB 341:1, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet