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
Advent Midweek 3 LSB #’s 358:1-4, 358:13, 433:1, 3-5, 358:8, 14
Text – Matthew 1:1
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
If you didn’t notice, the Gospel reading from Matthew 1 is a listing of Messiah’s family tree. Preaching from a list can be sermonic suicide, a certain sleeper. Professors tell students, “Avoid lists. Shun lists. Whatever you do, never, ever preach on lists!” But today, foregoing all conventional sermon wisdom, the text is a list.
I know. I know. Those 17 verses read much like a telephone book. And yes, people under the age of 20 have no idea what that is. Back in the dark ages, in BC times – BC stands for “Before Computer” – you’d actually have to look up someone’s phone number in a book! And that’s what Matthew 1:1–17 looks like, a big, fat, dull, dry telephone book!
“It’s true,” you lament, “This is going to be suicide by sermon, a certain sleeper! Wake me up Martha when it’s over! Why in the world would pastor choose to preach on a list?” I’ll tell you why. Matthew’s list tells us something very important about family life.
“Family Life” is the name of this Advent sermon series. We’ve been in Luke’s Gospel, learning about Zechariah, Elizabeth & John the Baptist. Today’s family truth comes from Matthew’s Gospel, & it is this – Lower your expectations. That’s it. Pretty simple, isn’t it? That’s the goal. Lower your family expectations.
Don’t get me wrong. You have cute children. Your husband can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Your wife can cook to the moon & back. Your teenagers are polite, good athletes, & solid citizens. But when it comes to family life it is time, high time, it’s past time, to what? To lower your expectations.
What do I mean? All too often, we expect children, spouses, in-laws, cousins, aunts, &
uncles – to be perfect. And when they don’t measure up to our standards, we let them have it. “After what you just did, I can’t believe you’re my son!” “You’ll never get it right! Will you?” “Do I have to show you everything?” And then the final nail in the coffin, “You’re not the person I thought I married!”
In the midst of all this trauma & turmoil Matthew’s genealogy says, “Lower your family expectations.” How does the Apostle do it? He does it with a list! Let’s look at this list of the family members of the Chosen One.
Tamar dressed like a woman of the night. She is 1st mentioned in Genesis 38:6, “Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, & her name was Tamar.” Er died, so Judah gives Tamar to another son named Onan. Onan died, so upon the birth of another son, Shelah, Judah instructs Tamar to wait until Shelah grows up. At that time Shelah will become her husband.
Are you kidding me? Judah is asking Tamar to wait 20 years to get married again! This leads to one of the shortest business transactions in the Bible. Tamar dresses up like a woman of the night. Not knowing she is Tamar, Judah propositions her. She asks for payment. Judah promises a young goat. They sleep together. Tamar conceives. They both go their own way.
And this Tamar is in the family tree of Jesus! But hold on to your hat, because Rahab (also in Christ’s family) was a Canaanite & a woman of the night. (Joshua 2:1) A woman of the night & a dreaded Canaanite. We all know from the children’s song, “I Just Wanna Be a Sheep,” that Canaanites do what? They raise Cain, at night!
And, horror of horrors, Matthew includes another person on his list, Ruth – & Ruth was a Moabite. That’s a title she receives six times in the book of Ruth! Ruth once worshiped Chemosh! It was bad enough that Canaanites worshiped the detestable gods called Baal & Asherah, but Moabites paid homage to a violent god named Chemosh who demanded child sacrifice. And it keeps getting worse. Next in line comes Bathsheba who was an adulteress. This is so unsettling that Matthew can’t even bring himself to write her name “Bathsheba.” In Matthew 1:6 he simply calls her “the wife of Uriah.” You know the story.
It was springtime & King David, instead of going off to war, takes a walk on the palace roof. He sees a beautiful woman bathing &, in staccato-like fashion, finds out her name, sends for her, takes her in, & the two sleep together. Sometime later Bathsheba sends a two-word message to the king in 2 Samuel 11:5: “I’m pregnant.”
David orders her husband Uriah to return from the battle. Little does Uriah know that his refusal to sleep with Bathsheba, out of a sense of honor, becomes his sentence of death, because after that David orders his general named Joab to make sure Uriah is killed in battle.
Tamar dresses up like a woman of the night. Rahab is a woman of the night, & a Canaanite. Ruth is a Moabite, while Bathsheba not only bathes openly, but later is instrumental in the death of one of David’s sons – named Adonijah. That’s quite a list of family members!
But there’s more. Looking at some of the men on Matthew’s list, are they any better? Hardly! Solomon broke every commandment in the book. He had 700 wives & 300 mistresses (1 Kgs 11:3). Solomon worshiped a multitude of foreign gods while enslaving people to build his palace & God’s temple.
Solomon’s son Rehoboam divided the kingdom – the north from the south. Then there was Manasseh who filled Jerusalem with blood; 2 Kings 21:16 says that Manasseh “shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end.”
The purpose of a biblical genealogy is to give solemn honor to the final descendant – in Matthew’s case, Jesus. Why, then, doesn’t Matthew invoke the names of Israel’s three lovely matriarchs—Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel? And why doesn’t Matthew work around names like Solomon, Rehoboam, & Manasseh? It’s not with glitter & Hollywood glitz that Matthew introduces us to Christ’s family. There are no fireworks or fine pedigrees. There is rather a bunch of ramshackle relatives!
What do you do with your ramshackle relatives? Let ‘em have it, right? Hold a grudge. Stay bitter. Walk around with a chip on your shoulder. Maybe that’s us, but it is not Jesus. “She will bear a son, & you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21) That’s what “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.”
And who are His people that He saves His people? Tamar, who deceived Judah – Rahab, who sold herself to men – Ruth, who grew up worshiping a violent & murderous god – Bathsheba, who left Uriah for David – Solomon, who began so well only to finish so bad – Rehoboam, who ripped a nation in two – & then there was Manasseh. Enough said!
The point of it all? Lower your expectations! Take your list of unrealistic family expectations & tear it up. Let go of your impossible demands, your absurd assumptions, your ungodly ultimatums. And replace them with what? Replace them with forgiveness; the forgiveness Jesus won for you. How did He do that?
Jesus not only chooses ramshackle relatives. Jesus chooses fishermen instead of Pharisees, sinners instead of Sadducees, harlots instead of Herodians. Climactically, Jesus chooses thorns for His crown instead of silver & gold, spit & blood instead of sweetness & light. His choices lead to torment & torture, darkness & death.
All this led to the greatest shock of all, “Don’t be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, He is risen, as He said.” (Matthew 28:5-6 ESV) Jesus is life overriding death & making all things new – even you.
For many Matthew 1:1–17 reads like a telephone book containing names no one cares
about today. For others it’s sermonic suicide, a certain sleeper. But to those of us who know what it’s like to expect perfection in our families, Matthew’s list means letting go of false hopes & unrealistic expectations. It means replacing them with forgiveness, a clean slate, & a new beginning. It can mean accepting humiliation as Jesus did, which leads to life.
That’s why Matthew’s list means, why for all of our families Matthew’s list means, everything! And Jesus has guaranteed that there is still room on the list for you. Amen.
Glory be to Jesus, who in bitter pains poured for me His lifeblood from His sacred veins! Blest through endless ages be the precious stream which from endless torment did the world redeem! Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies; but the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries. Amen. LSB 433:1, 3-4.
3rd Sunday of Advent LSB #’s 344, 349, 348
Text – Luke 1:59-63
And on the 8th day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet & wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered.
Have you heard of the boy, just 6-years-old, who announced one day, “I’m running away from home!”?
His parents asked, “What will you do when you run out of food?” “That’s easy,” he said, “I’ll come home for more.” “What will you do when you run out of money?” “That’s easy,” he said, “I’ll come home for more.” “What will you do when your clothes get dirty?” “That’s easy too,” he said, “I’ll come home for more.”
The dad turned to the mom & said, “This kid isn’t running away from home. He’s going to college!”
Did you know that people of all ages are running away from home, & this in record numbers? The pain of sick families is so great that people will run almost anywhere to experience love & acceptance. Husbands run to bars or go on achievement binges. Women run to extramarital relationships that offer a listening ear, a loving touch, or more.
Some children run from their family pain which so infects them, that later on in their 20’s & 30’s, an awful sickness wells up inside. Then their entire life is up for grabs.
This sermon series is titled “Family Life.” We began last Wednesday with Zechariah & Elizabeth. Remember their devastating circumstances? Longing to have children, they could not. While friends & relatives delighted in children & grandchildren, Zechariah & Elizabeth had nothing but shattered hopes & dashed dreams. There must have been times when each of them simply wanted to run away. Homes can be tough places, can’t they? Someone once said that marriage goes through three stages. “The Happy Honeymoon,” “The Party’s Over,” & “Let’s Make a Deal.”
Maybe your conflict concerns money; there is just never enough. Or raising children; you’re either too strict or too lax. Or where you’re going on vacation next summer: “We always go where you want to go!” And, let’s be honest, the approaching holidays can make for some very trying family times.
Family conflict, though, is not the issue. I’m going to repeat that. Family conflict is not the issue. How we handle family conflict – now that is the issue!
When conflict strikes our 1st option is my way. “Let me make this clear. This marriage is all about my agenda, my needs & my wants. After all, I’m always right & you’re always wrong. That’s why my way is the best way, so my way is the only way. And if you don’t like my way then guess what? You can hit the highway!”
Then there is no way. I back away. I ignore the problem & avoid it at all costs. I use discussion killers like, “Oh, grow up!” or, “Give me a break!” or, “I can’t believe you’re making such a big deal out of this!” Nothing is ever resolved because I kill every discussion. I won’t engage. I run to my room & lock the door. Solve this conflict? “No way!”
Another option is your way. I give in, roll over & play dead. I give in to your way. There’s an epidemic in America called the passive, detached husband & father. At an alarming rate more & more men are becoming detached, distant & disengaged. They shrug their shoulders & say, “Fine! Have it your way!”
Zechariah & Elizabeth, though, decided on another way. And what is that? That would be our way. “On the 8th day they came to circumcise the child, & they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up & said, ‘No! He is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who has that name.’ Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child” (Lk 1:59–62).
Zechariah had doubted the angel Gabriel’s promise that God would give him a son, so Gabriel told him he would not be able to speak until after his son’s birth. So for 9 months Zechariah was unable to speak to anyone. This has got to be a pastor’s greatest fear!
Then, when his son was born, in the midst of all of the hullabaloo regarding his son’s name, Zechariah “asked for a writing tablet, & to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John’” (Lk 1:63). Amazing! When it came to naming their son, for Zechariah & Elizabeth it wasn’t my way, no way, or your way. It was our way.
Our way means I care about solving our problem. (What are we going to name our son?) But I especially care about healing our relationship. Our way attacks the issue. It does not attack the person. It emphasizes reconciliation, not resolution & there’s a big difference. Reconciliation means my 1st priority is our relationship.
And why is that? You are more important than our problems. Let me say that again. You are more important than all of our problems. Don’t get me wrong. We don’t bury the issue. But we bury the hatchet. We keep talking about the issue, but we talk about it together. We can disagree agreeably. We can walk arm in arm without seeing eye to eye.
Why did both Zechariah & Elizabeth insist on naming their son “John”? Because that’s what the angel said in Luke 1:13. “John” means “The Lord is gracious.” The angel told them to name their son “John” because in the midst of their conflict the only way Zechariah & Elizabeth would get to our way would be through God’s way; & God’s way is the way of grace.
Because of grace God gives us new life, forgiven life, and eternal life. John 1:16 says
that God is full of grace. Romans 6:14 says we are “under grace.” Ephesians 2:9 says we are saved by grace, & 1 Peter 5:10 calls our God, “the God of all grace.” Hebrews 4:16 says that God’s throne is a throne of grace, while James 4:6 says, “God gives more grace.” Grace reconciles us to God. Grace reconciles us to each other.
On December 17, 1903, Orville & Wilbur Wright got their flying machine off the ground. The airplane was born! In their excitement, they sent a telegraph to their sister Katherine. It said simply, “Flew 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.”
When Katherine got the news, she ran to the local newspaper in Dayton, Ohio & showed the telegraph to the editor. He glanced at it & said, “How nice, the boys will be home for Christmas.” He completely missed the point! Yes, it was nice that the boys would be home, but a person had flown an airplane for the 1st time. That was big news!
How often do we miss the big news at Christmas? Too easily we get caught up in the tinsel & toys, the trees & the trimmings. Those things are nice just like it was nice that the Wright brothers would be home for Christmas, but that’s not the big news. The big news of Christmas is that God took flight & traveled from heaven to earth.
The Word became flesh & dwelt among us! And He did it to show us the full meaning of grace. “John” means “the Lord is gracious,” but Jesus is the Lord of grace. When it comes to grace, Jesus nailed it perfectly!
Yet, before the nails, He wanted to run away. Three times in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus asked His Father to remove the cup of suffering. But the Father did not. Jesus’ human nature was feeling the pressure of the temptation to reject this mission He was on. Finally He resisted the temptation went willingly to the cross.
Jesus went to Calvary where He took upon Himself all of our sin – including those sins
we have committed against family members. After rising on the 3rd day Jesus now lives as the gracious Lord of heaven & earth. His human flesh, raised from the dead, is now the beginning of the new creation – the new heavens & the new earth.
Forgiven by grace, overflowing with grace, forever in grace, when family conflict comes you & I are empowered to renounce my way, no way, & your way while saying, “Yes” to a better way – God’s way. It’s the way of Zechariah & Elizabeth. And what would that be? You know it, don’t you? It’s… our way. Amen.
Hark the glad sound! The Savior comes, the Savior promised long; let every heart prepare a throne & every voice a song. He comes the broken heart to bind, the bleeding soul to cure, & with the treasures of His grace to enrich the humble poor. Amen. LSB 349:1, 3.
Advent Midweek 2 LSB #’s 331:1-4, 331:5-6, 862
Text – Luke 1:5
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, & her name was Elizabeth.
In the 1st year of their marriage, with his wife sick with a fever, her husband insists, “I’m taking you to the hospital for a complete checkup.” In the 2nd year of their marriage, when his wife gets sick, her husband announces, “I’ve called the doctor & he’s going to rush right over.” In the 3rd year her husband says, “I’ll make you something to eat. Do we have any soup?”
In the 4th year of marriage, when his wife is sick again, her husband says, “After you’ve fed the kids & washed the dishes, you’d better get some rest, but don’t worry, I’ll cash the check from AFLAC.” Family life can be the best of times. It can be the worst of times.
On this 2nd Wednesday in Advent, we begin a new sermon series called “Family Life.” There’s much to learn from the families connected with the birth of Jesus. They faced infertility, rejection, frustration, loss, & so much more. Luke 1:5 introduces us to two of these families:
“In the time of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah.” This sermon has two parts. In the 1st Herod’s family will be highlighted. In the 2nd we will zero in on Zechariah’s family.
Herod’s family – This Herod is also called “Herod the Great.” And, yes, this is the same Herod who, when Jesus was born, ordered the execution of all the boys under the age of two in & around Bethlehem. In fact, to say that Herod was a monster, is putting it mildly. Born into a politically connected family in 73 BC, Herod was destined for a life of political hardball.
He married ten times & ordered the execution of two of his wives & three of his sons. When Herod’s father was poisoned by a political opponent, seething with revenge, he formed an ingenious plan. He invited his father’s killers over for a dinner party. As they arrived he had all of them murdered. By the age of 69 Herod knew he was dying & that no one would mourn his death. He longed for tears at his funeral, so he devised one final, desperate plan.
He would bring together the top leaders of the land for a meeting in Jericho &, once they arrived, he would have his fortress gates locked. Just before the moment of his death all the leaders would be massacred. One way or another, people would cry when Herod died.
In the late 1800s two paddleboats on the Mississippi River left Memphis, Tennessee on a race to New Orleans. As his boat fell behind, an enterprising sailor took some of the ship’s cargo & began throwing it into the ovens. When other sailors saw that the supplies burned just like coal, they threw more & more of it in.
That boat ended up winning the race, but in the process burned all its cargo. It is a tragic picture of Herod’s family. To win the race, eliminate every rival, & to be top dog, Herod burned all the cargo. He destroyed his family.
“Thank God,” I can hear us saying, “I am not like Herod. I never raise an angry hand against a child. I pay my taxes, & every now & then I slip a little money into the offering plate. Once at a nursing home I even played bingo with my grandmother.”
But, if we’re honest with ourselves, we sometimes see in the mirror a little Herod staring back at us. There’s a part of us all that would rather rule than serve, dominate rather than submit, get ahead & win even at the expense of people in our family.
We’ve all used words to slice & dice our spouse, made selfish decisions that hurt our children & ignored clear warnings from God’s word. The result? Though family can be the best of times, too often family is also the worst of times. That’s enough highlighting of Herod’s family. Let’s now zero-in on Zechariah.
Zechariah’s family – “They had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; & they both were advanced in years.” (Luke 1:7) In Luke 1:25, Elizabeth describes her barrenness as “a disgrace among the people.” In those days, if you had children you had everything. Conversely, if you had no children you had nothing.
Zechariah & Elizabeth longed for a child, but now it’s too late. That ship sailed & the train left the station. There was no going back. “They were old.” The pain of regret hits us most frequently when it comes to family.
Maybe you are like Zechariah & Elizabeth, wanting children but not able to conceive. Maybe you’re single, desperately wanting to be married, but it just has not happened. Maybe you’re married, & it hasn’t turned out like you had hoped. Like Zechariah & Elizabeth we can all feel disgrace & shame among the people.
End of story? No way! God intervened! He gave Elizabeth & Zechariah gifts – the same gifts He gives to our families. What are they?
God’s promises never end. Israel’s three matriarchs Sarah (Gn 11:30), Rebekah (Gn 25:31) & Rachel (Gn 29:31) were all barren at one time. So was Hannah, the mother of Samuel (1 Sm 2:5). All four women eventually had children. Elizabeth & Zechariah must have believed if God could do it before – not once, but four times – God can do it again!
Has family life left you frustrated & empty? Then hear this. If God was faithful to Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel & Hannah, He will be faithful to you. God loves you. His promises for you in Jesus Christ never, ever end! You may have given up on you. But God will never give up on you. He replaces barrenness & brokenness with goodness & grace!
God’s presence never disappoints. “[Zechariah] was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord & burn incense.” (Lk 1:9) Luke 23:45 records another time that someone has access to the temple; “The curtain of the temple was torn in two.” In Luke 1, Zechariah has access to God’s presence. In Luke 23, because of Christ’s death, we all have access to God’s presence. And the presence of Yahweh never disappoints!
God’s presence is most evident in the Lord’s Supper. The body that suffered & was crucified – that true body is present for you. The blood that was shed, spilled & splattered – that true blood is present for you. By the blood of Jesus you have access to the most holy presence of the most Holy God! And His presence forgives all your family failures – every last one of them!
God’s plan never fails. God gave Elizabeth & Zechariah a child, promising that John: “would go before the Lord, in the spirit & power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children.” (Lk 1:17) God’s plan & desire is to turn all hearts toward home, to replace vengeance & bitterness with forgiveness & love.
So one day a mother came home from the grocery store. Looking in her living room she saw her four children sitting in a circle. As she got closer, she saw that her children were playing with four of the cutest little skunks you’ve ever seen! The mother yelled, “Run, children, run!” So each child grabbed a skunk & began to scatter.
After that? Let’s just say that things began to get real stinky! Family life! It can be the worst of times. It can be the best of times. The next time it gets stinky in your family, don’t fly off the handle like Herod – you could lose it all. Instead, trust in God’s promises, God’s presence, & God’s plan. They are real. They are alive. And they work.
Don’t believe me? Then just ask Zechariah & Elizabeth! Amen.
Oh, blest the house, whate’er befall, where Jesus Christ is all in all! A home that is not wholly His – how sad & poor & dark it is! Oh, blest the house where faith is found & all in hope & love abound; they trust their God & serve Him still & do in all His holy will. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet