Advent 4 – “Annunciation” (Luke 1:26-38)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Today is a bit of a liturgical crisis. Today is December 24, known to us as Christmas Eve. But today is also the Fourth Sunday in Advent. This morning, we will focus on the theme for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the annunciation by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she will conceive and bear a Son. If you want to hear the account of the birth of Christ, then you will need to come to our Christmas Eve services tonight at 5:00 and 10:00.

“Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” “Do you promise to be my best friend, pinky swear?” We live in a world that is full of promises. Some are kept, many are broken. Where there are large amounts of money or property involved, the promises are defined in long and complicated legal documents full of mumbo jumbo to make sure there’s no wiggle room and no loophole by which one can escape the obligations of his or her problems. We can no longer simply depend on another’s word.

Even in the closest of relationships, promises are broken and people are let down, disappointed, and left feeling betrayed. Maybe you’ve been the victim of a broken promise. Maybe you’re the one who’s broken promises. Fortunately for us, there is One who makes a promise and did not fail to keep it – God, our heavenly Father.

God gives us the promises of His Word at our worst moments. At the Fall, there was nowhere for Adam and Eve to go except down. They had sinned against God. Things were not going to go well for them after God had condemned the serpent. But in that condemnation was a promise, both to the serpent and to Eve as well: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” While God pronounced judgment upon sin, He also offered words of hope as He promised to provide a Savior from sin. He established a covenant with Adam and Eve, a relationship built on promises that God had made. That covenant extended to Israel. Even though Israel was so often unfaithful in this covenant relationship with God, God continued to act on their behalf according to the Word that He had spoken. He had made promises and had full divine intent to keep those promises.

Through Old Testament history, the promise of God continued to remain unfulfilled. The people were left waiting and waiting for God to make good on His promise. When would it happen? How would it happen? Would God go back on His promise? As one surveys the Old Testament panorama of God’s Word and promises, it becomes evident that the annunciation to the Virgin Mary is an account of God at work, according to His Word, keeping His promises to redeem fallen mankind.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.” During the pregnancy of Elizabeth, the angel Gabriel came to a lowly and unsuspecting virgin named Mary to deliver a message that had never been nor will ever be again: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

With these words, one begins to get a sense that God is at work according to His Word. We have facts revealed to us from Gabriel that we should pick up on – house of David, virgin birth, the child is a son. This is what Isaiah had foretold of long ago. All that Gabriel proclaims are incredible words of promise!

What is Mary to do with this new information from an angel? Angelic visitations aren’t an everyday occurrence, and here stands an angel before Mary. It would be easy to doubt, easy to dismiss all that was told her. Instead, Luke says this: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” What faith from a young girl! Faith that would accept all that Gabriel had declared – that by the Holy Spirit, she would conceive and bear a child. But not just any child, a son. And not just any son, but the Son of God!

In a few hours, we will hear the familiar account of the birth of Jesus. But for a brief moment, let’s lay aside all tradition and sentimentality about this event. Let’s focus on the Word of God spoken by His messenger Gabriel to Mary. In the next twenty-four hours, we will hear the wondrous account of the Savior’s birth that God kept His promise to Mary. According to His Word, even though she was a virgin, she did conceive; she did bear a Son. This miraculous event invites us to see that God does indeed not only speak a word of promise but fulfills that promise, according to His time and in His way.

By virtue of His virgin birth, Jesus shared in our humanity, but not our sinfulness. Such a perfect, Holy Savior was necessary. It was this Savior who kept the law perfectly in our place and offered Himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Here we once again see God at work to come to us – to be with us – not in condemnation, but in grace. Here we see that the same grace of God that allowed Mary to be the Mother of God is also available to us so that we can be the children of God. The Son of God who took up His humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary also comes to us. He is with us.

The Lord Jesus came into this world for you. On Christmas, we will celebrate the fact that God and man come together in one person – Jesus the Christ, the Son of Mary, the Savior of the world. His conception by the Holy Spirit and His birth of the Virgin are the beginning of His journey to save us. During His journey, He will live a life without sin, He will teach and heal, He will suffer, die, and be buried. He will rise and ascend back to His Father in Heaven. He will do all this so that He could come to us without punishing us for our sin. He will do all this so He could be with us and we could be His favored people.

Gabriel uttered God’s message to Mary over two thousand years ago. The promise in those words has come to pass. The baby was born and Mary named Him Jesus just as Gabriel had said. Jesus kept all the promises that God had made. His life was perfect in every way. Never the less, even though His life was perfect, He suffered the cruelty of death on a cross. Because His death conquered sin, death could not hold Him and He rose from the dead just as He had promised.

Just like Mary, you are the recipient of a miracle. You have received the miracle of life and salvation in Jesus’ name, on account of Him and His sacrifice for you. You have received the gift of forgiveness of all of your sins. This miracle God caused to happen for you, for He has created you. It is by the Babe promised to a young woman named Mary that your miracle has happened: your sins are forgiven and you have been granted everlasting life. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 3 – “Good Times Cometh” (John 1:6-8, 19-28)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Nostalgia, resignation, and fear. That pretty much sums up how people generally tend to view their lives. How often, in talking about the past, do we hear people long for “the good old days” or lament that “they don’t make things the way they used to.” When it comes to the present, there’s often a general feeling of resignation. As we look at the world around us and our own situation, many generally respond with the well-worn cliché “it is what it is.” As far as the future goes? Most of us don’t want to think about it. Who knows what is going to happen in the political and economic sphere. Who knows whether another war will happen in our generation. Who is to say what the world will look like for our grandchildren.

As we come to the Third Sunday in Advent, the emphasis is on rejoicing, and so our texts tell us of the work and witness of John the Baptist. If you were paying attention last week, the focus was on John the Baptist. In fact, this is John’s parallel account to that found in Mark. So why focus on John the Baptist again? It is because of the message that John proclaims. In the midst of a people who longed for the glory of their past under rulers like David and Solomon, who resented their present situation of being subdued and ruled by the Romans, and who had grave concerns about their future if things didn’t change, John brings God’s message of greater things to come. His message, as one sent from God, was a message of hope and a promise of greater things to come in the coming Savior, which would be cause for great rejoicing.

Things have not played out well for the people of God. While everything was at first perfect, it didn’t last. Sin entered into the equation and God’s creation was thrown for a loop that would have more twists and turns than a roller coaster. There would be good times and there would be bad times. There would be times where God’s people treasured the Word of God and would follow His commands, while at other times God’s Word was despised and God’s people paid the price for their disobedience. But in all of this, God had a made a promise long ago that would make things right again. In fact, it would set creation in a restored relationship with God. But when would it happen? That was the million-dollar question.

God’s people had waited and waited for the promise to be fulfilled. And now, the time was near. A prophet appeared named John the Baptist. Great, another prophet with a message of how God would fulfill His promise in a time that is unknown, a time that is likely far away. But that’s not quite how things played out. John records, “He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

That sounds like any other prophet, right? The prophet comes with a message about God’s promise, of how it would be fulfilled. But here’s the difference between John and all the other prophets: John has had contact with the Messiah already and that Messiah is around the corner.

In Luke’s Gospel, we hear of Mary visiting her relative Elizabeth, who also happened to be pregnant. When Mary and Elizabeth greet one another, something happened. “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.” That baby was John. Elizabeth said, “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” John, meet Jesus, the Savior of the world, the One to whom you will be the herald.

There were those who thought that John the Baptist was the promised Messiah. They went to him to be baptized, seeking something more than he could provide. They expected him to be more than who he was; they expected him to do more than he was capable of doing.  John had one mission: “to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.”

Many times, we often confuse the messenger with the message. If we receive bad news from a doctor, we blame the doctor for our illness, though he has nothing to do with it. John clearly understood that his purpose was not bearing witness to himself and his own greatness, but glorifying the Savior. The spiritual gifts of faith, humility, selflessness, and faithfulness to the great privilege of his calling were expressed in the life of John, for he was true to his conviction: “He must become greater; I must become less.” John’s appearance on the scene, his manner of life, and other features of his ministry were extraordinary. His work had provoked sensational comment and had attracted unusual attention. Curiosity and concern for their own welfare as subjects of Rome prompted the sending of an official fact-finding delegation from Jerusalem.  Their question was simple, “Who do you claim to be, and what place do you aspire to?”

The Messiah was coming, everyone knew that. But for John to appear and speak so intimately about the Messiah, well, that was different. The only way he could speak so intimately about the Messiah was if he was the Messiah. But that’s not John, that’s not what he’s about. He is all about Jesus.

For the Jews, they needed an answer to who this John was. They sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him who he was. John took no pleasure in pretending to be someone whom he was not. He very easily could have said that he was the promised Messiah and no one would have been the wiser, at least for a while. John did what he was called to do: proclaim Christ. He’s not the Christ. He’s not Elijah. He’s not the prophet Moses promised back in Deuteronomy 18, the prophet who would, in fact, be one and the same as the Christ. John was content simply to announce the coming Lamb of God.

In the Church, the talk isn’t about us – it can’t be about us. If it were about us, then there wouldn’t be much to say other than, “I’m a sinner. I deserve death and damnation”; it’s always about another. In the Church, the talk is always about the One who is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” It’s about the One who’s infinitely greater than we, because He was before us all, for we are the work of His hands, even as we are also the creatures of His own redeeming. He came among us as one of us precisely so that He could serve all of us. He shouldered our sins as He carried His cross, and He died our death and shattered our hell, and by overcoming the sharpness of death He opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Truly, the Son of Man did not come among us to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as the ransom for many.

As the season of Advent approaches its midway point, John the Baptist does the Church the service of focusing all the joy of the Church entirely on Christ. John’s words remind us that the joy of the coming days isn’t found in presents, parties, and eggnog, but they are found in the One who came into this world through a manger to meager parents, to be our Immanuel, God with us. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 2 – “Baptism for Repentance” (Mark 1:1-8)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Christmas preparations are in full swing. Decorations are hung. The music is playing. The stores are bustling with people looking to buy presents. By the time Christmas arrives, many people are ready for Christmas to be over. The world observes Christmas in the days leading up to it. It’s as if the birth of Christ takes a back seat to the business of Christmas. Who would celebrate a baby’s birth before the child is even born? It’s an easy answer for those in the Church, for we long for the Christ Child to come, and we keep on celebrating after Jesus arrives, for Jesus is at the very center of Christmas.

What type of preparation is necessary for an event like this, for the arrival of God in the flesh? How should one prepare to meet the Lord? Our text for today tells us how John prepared the way of the Lord for this grand event.

Mark begins his Gospel account about thirty years after the birth of Jesus. While Marks begins by saying, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” he in fact doesn’t begin with Jesus but rather with words from the prophet Isaiah: “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet….” Didn’t Mark say that this was the gospel of Jesus Christ? If that’s true, then why begin all the way back in Isaiah? Mark isn’t wrong with his layout of the gospel of Jesus, because it begins all the way back in the Old Testament.

Isaiah had prophesied of the coming Messiah time and time again. He told the people where the Messiah would come from. He told the people about the purpose of the Messiah. He even prophesied of one would come before Jesus to be His herald, John the Baptist. John has a singular purpose to his being: preparing the people to receive Jesus. Isaiah says of John, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

What does John do that is so important for the coming of Jesus? People sensed that John was indeed a prophet, if not the Messiah himself. John denies the latter while affirming the former. He declares to those that think of him as the Messiah as one who is unworthy to until the sandals of the One to come. This is not about John, not even in the least. It’s all about Jesus. It’s all about preparing the people to receive the long-promised Messiah when He comes. John prepared for Jesus by pointing away from himself and instead to Christ.

That same style of John should be ours as well. John prepares us for Jesus by turning us from our sins to Christ. Sin is a turning in on itself. And we all like to turn inward to ourselves, don’t we? We emphasize how great we are. We downplay all of the sins, I’m sorry, “bad choices,” that we’ve made. We think of ourselves as much better than what we are. We are nothing but a walking pile of sin. John knows that because he too is a walking pile of sin. But “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

One cannot properly prepare themselves to meet Jesus. It is the Lord who graciously calls and comes to us. No sinner can stand in the Lord’s presence in his own strength and character, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. We do all of our good works as if it will earn us merit with God. But none of our works prepare us to stand before the almighty God at His judgement.

John knows that he is not worthy of the Messiah and what He comes to bring and to do. He proclaims a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John’s baptism is unique in its purpose. It is to prepare people to meet the coming Lord. First, one must be washed, that is baptized, to be able to repent and be forgiven. The baptized are washed and covered with the robe of righteousness that comes from Jesus. Being baptized is preparation for the coming One, but it is not our work.

As we see, people from all of Judea and Jerusalem were coming to John to be baptized. They were baptized in the Jordan, confessing their sins. That meant turning from those sins to the One whom John was proclaiming. Though they didn’t know His identity yet, they were trusting that their sins were being forgiven by the Christ, the Messiah. And they were. And ours are. Yours are.

John the Baptist calls on you to trust the Messiah and repent! Get your sins out in the open. Confess them to almighty God. Rely on His mercy. Look to the forgiveness of sins you received through baptism. John comes telling the people that if you have not yet received baptism, then be baptized for the forgiveness of sins!

John exhorted the people to believe in the Messiah who was to come, in fact, who was already there, and who is here for you. This mighty Savior is no one other than Jesus Christ. He is the one whom the prophets proclaimed and He is the one in whom they believed. This mighty Savior is the solution to our problem of sin. He is the one who earned forgiveness for our sins and offers that forgiveness to us for free. He is the one who makes us holy in God’s sight.

How did He do this? As mighty as Jesus is, He demonstrated His might in weakness. Even though we are not worthy to touch His feet, He allowed mere men to nail Him to a cross. It was from the apparent weakness of that cross that Jesus demonstrated His greatest might. In the apparent defeat of death, Christ conquered death. He became the solution for sin by taking our sin onto Himself and paying the price for it. It is only through Him that we receive the forgiveness of sins.

This is the task of John the Baptist, preparing the way. If people are going to rejoice in the Lord’s mercy, they must first understand how much they need it. With physical sickness, it is easy – the leper looks at the decay in his body and earnestly desires a cure. With sin it’s more difficult, because people naturally believe they are good enough. They must hear differently. This is why John the Baptist must preach to them a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. He must tell them of their sin, how they deserve God’s wrath and punishment. When they understand that they do not deserve grace and life, they will be ready to hear that their sins are pardoned. They will be ready to receive what they don’t deserve. They will be ready for the Lord’s mercy.

The Lord comes and John prepares the way. Through the Word of God, we hear His Law and confess our sin; we repent and trust in His Word of grace. Therefore, we are confident that when the Lord comes to be present among us, He comes to be merciful. We cast our cares upon Him, trusting in His mercy, for we hear Him declare these merciful words: “Your iniquity is pardoned, your warfare is over, and you are forgiven for all of your sins.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 1 – “Here Comes Jesus” (Mark 11:1-10)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Jesus is soon to come. In fact, it’s 22 days until Christmas for those keeping track. But we are expecting to receive a newborn baby lying in a manger. Instead, we see an adult Jesus making His way to Jerusalem. That doesn’t sound Christmassy, does it? Of course it doesn’t because that’s what we hear during Holy Week. But this isn’t Christmas, it’s Advent. Advent means “coming into” and that’s what we are doing. The story of Jesus in Advent is the story of hope coming into the world. When the time was just right, God sent His Son, Jesus into the world. We learn how to prepare to receive Jesus, the hope of the world.

And that’s where we find ourselves. We find the people preparing to receive Jesus when He goes to Jerusalem. This isn’t going to be a social visit for Jesus; He has an appointment to keep. His appointment is with the cross.

Jesus sends two of His disciples ahead as the advance preparation team. They are to go into the village ahead. They will find a colt tied, they are to untie it and bring it back with them to Jesus.

This seems to be out of character for Jesus. For three years, Jesus has been teaching and preaching, healing and performing miracles. On more than one occasion, He has been called a King. But this doesn’t seem kingly by any means. When we see royalty of Jesus’ day, they are riding on horseback or chariot, not a donkey. There is great fanfare and pomp and circumstance. Here, there is no fanfare. There is no pomp and circumstance. Rather, there is Jesus riding on a donkey.

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, Jerusalem was poised for the celebration of the Passover. This annual remembrance of God’s act of deliverance of His children from Egypt would have swelled the streets of Jerusalem with holiday crowds. The day of the slaughter of the Passover lambs was fast approaching. People were anticipating the delight of being with family for the Passover feast. But when King Jesus comes into Jerusalem, it interrupts the sort of celebration people are expecting. He comes into Jerusalem, the city of the temple – the place of sacrifice – to suffer and to die as God’s ultimate Passover Lamb. His sacrifice interrupts the monotonous routines of sin and death. Here is a King like no other, for this King comes not in royal splendor or with military might, but in the humility of the Servant who embraces the cross for you.

Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was at best a local news piece. His handlers could have done a much more impressive job of staging the event. The colt takes Jesus along the road at a casual pace. People have gathered along the way. They’re excited to see Jesus, but these aren’t a celebrity audience. Instead, these are mostly plain folks. People from Bethany and the surrounding area were anxious to see Jesus, who raised Lazarus from the dead. He was coming to the Holy City, Jerusalem, where they expected Him to be enthroned and overthrow the despised Romans. The crowd eagerly put their cloaks on the road along with palm branches. Something special was going to take place and they wanted to be a part of it.

We see much the same with Christ at this time of year. We begin celebrating the “real” reason for Christmas: gift giving, parties, but most importantly, gift receiving. We are doing our own thing, enjoying what Christmas is all about, then Christ comes to ruin everything. For all who think like that, just remember one thing: you can’t have Christmas without Christ, no matter how hard you try.

Today, we begin preparing ourselves for Christ’s entry into this world, coming into this world by being born in a stable in the small town of Bethlehem. We prepare our hearts for what Christmas brings: it brings the Savior of the Nations, the Virgin Son who makes His home amongst the chosen people of God, as sinful as we are. God came to His people and lived among them as one of them. As God came to us in flesh and blood, He experienced all the things we experience – gestation and birth, childhood, weeping and laughter, pleasure and pain, and all the other things that make up the human experience. He even experienced temptation, but He never gave in to it.

We wait for Jesus’ coming by observing another season of Advent. We look back at Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem and give thanks. We see the climax of that first coming with His enthronement upon the cross. We celebrate, yet ponder this awe-filled mystery. Jesus came to live and Jesus came to die. He came to give His life as a ransom for all. Gentleness, humility, and meekness marked His first coming, even as He journeyed to Jerusalem to the cross. A crucifixion is the last place one would look for an enthronement, but here is Jesus, crucified for you. All your sins were laid upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. He fulfilled God’s Law completely. His death and resurrection ushered in His coming Kingdom.

All of this, He did for you. He is the Blessed One, for in His saving death, He brings all the blessings of heaven – forgiveness of sins and peace with God – down to earth, down to you. It is no wonder that during the season of Advent, we especially hear that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, God with us. Even as God lives with us, He still comes to us. He comes to us as we read and hear His Word. He also continues to come to us in His flesh and blood as we eat and drink the bread and the wine of His Table.

As He comes to us in His flesh and blood, we eat the very flesh that He sacrificed for us on the cross and the very blood that He shed for us on the cross. However, this flesh and blood are not dead things. For the Son of God did not remain dead and buried in the tomb, but He came to life. He rose from the dead. The flesh and blood He gives to us are not just the flesh and blood of crucifixion, but they are also the flesh and blood of resurrection. In this sacrament, He comes to us with the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Consider God and His coming during this Advent. Consider His coming at Christmas, but don’t limit your consideration just to Christmas. Consider the love that God shows in His coming in that even while sin causes terror and hatred, He continues to come with His love. Consider how He came to save us with His suffering, death, and resurrection. Consider how He now comes in Word and Sacrament. Consider how He will come to take His people home with Him. Consider the blessings that He once gave, that He now gives, and that He will give when He comes again. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 4 – “Grace and Peace” (Romans 1:1-7)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is our Epistle, which was read earlier.

St. Paul’s introduction to the book of Romans might seem out of place in the season of Advent at first glance. There is nothing about Mary, Joseph, a Baby, shepherds or angels. There isn’t anything that would make this about Christmas. If that’s your thinking, then you’re right – this isn’t Christmas, but rather Advent, preparing to receive the infant Jesus. But while you’re right, you are also wrong, for this text does indeed prepare us for what happens in a matter of a few days.

These opening verses of Romans are St. Paul’s greeting to the Church there, but this is much more than a simple greeting. In these few verses St. Paul preaches the Gospel of our Lord and at the same time gives us a summary of the history of God’s dealings with his people.

This Gospel for which St. Paul has been set apart has been promised from of old. The prophets told the people of God the Savior was coming. The faithful people of God throughout the ages longed to see Him, but did so only by faith. But when Jesus finally came, the Gospel of God promised of old arrived in the flesh. The Gospel came to the people of God in the holy incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. This Jesus was no ordinary baby. He was God in flesh made manifest.

What do we know of this promised Jesus? St. Paul says that He was “descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from dead….” Jesus is who the prophecies declare Him to be: descended from David’s line. Long ago, to a people far away and in great anticipation for the Messiah to manifest Himself, Isaiah gives this prophect of who Jesus is and where He comes from. He comes from the line of David, as did His mother Mary and earthly father Joseph. And because He has earthly parents, that means He is of flesh and blood. He is like you and I, with ten fingers and ten toes. He is as much human as you and I. But not only is He man like us, Paul says He “was declared to be the Son of God….”

As much as we think of cute and cuddly Jesus in a manger, we cannot forget that this baby will one day go to the cross for mankind. We know that to be true as Paul tells us. He says that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God, “in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead….” In short, He is none other than Jesus the Messiah—our Lord who is both fully God and fully man.

This is the Lord whose birth we prepare to celebrate this Advent season. He is the everlasting Son of God, begotten of the Father from all eternity. And His birth is the revelation to us that He has willingly taken on our flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary, and come down to earth to save His people.

What is it that we receive through this infant that comes to us? “We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” By Christ’s birth, the saving grace of God makes it entrance into the world. In Christ’s birth, the call to the messengers of God goes out. In Christ’s birth the nations gather and see not only a baby, but also their Savior and their Lord. In Christ’s birth, we see the one who calls us to faith and to everlasting life, and the one to whom we belong for all eternity. In Christ’s birth we hear God’s call to us to be His saints, for from the blessed child in the manger we receive grace and peace from our God and Father.

Finally, we are left with familiar words: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” God gives grace to you. He gives you forgiveness for your sins, and it is wholly undeserved. You don’t work to merit grace. Grace is given to you. Forgiveness is done to you. You couldn’t do it on your own. So you rejoice today that God gives grace to you.

Not only do you have grace, you have peace. He declares that you and He are not opposed, are not at war. This strikes many people as strange: how could you ever be at war with a loving God? Yet Scripture says that you were born as an enemy of God—not because of Him, but because of you. By nature, you’re sinful. By nature, you’re hardwired to do precisely the things that are contrary to God’s will—that oppose His love and His kingdom. By nature, you hear God’s Word and get angry when He shows you your sin. That’s what enemies do. And despite the fact that we are God’s enemies, He grants to us peace. That peace is one that passes all understanding, for there is no way to understand how God could forgive the likes of you and me, and yet He does.

You needed real grace and peace for your body and soul, your thoughts and words and deeds. So Jesus became flesh, to be perfect in body and soul, to think pure thoughts, speak true words and perform godly deeds for you. He has done this to robe you in His righteousness, to give you the credit for His perfection and perfect life. He has done this to die in your place, to take away your sin, so that He might raise you up as He has been raised from the dead. The grace and peace of God is real and tangible—as real as flesh and blood, because Jesus became flesh and blood for you, and He is your grace and your peace.

Jesus came to save the lost. He stepped into your place, by taking humanity into His divinity, and became true Man. He became flesh for you. Jesus took your sins upon His shoulders and He suffered for you. His Father poured out His wrath against your sins which were heaped upon His Son, along with the sins of every man, woman, and child ever born, and Jesus endured it all for you, in your place, unto death, even death on the cross.

Through His suffering and death, Jesus made right that which went so wrong so long ago in the Garden in Eden. When Jesus gave up His spirit on the cross, He justified you before His Father. He declared you not guilty of your sins because He became sin for you and bore your sins and paid the price for them, for by His stripes you are healed.

So, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace and peace are yours this day because your Savior comes to you this day. He is present. He is real. You are filled with His grace. You are blessed with His peace because you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 3 – “Are You the One?” (Matthew 11:2-15)

A 6 Advent 3  Mt 11 2 15

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

God is funny; not funny in a ha-ha kind of way, but funny in an ironic way. What I mean is that God does not act in ways that we expect Him to act. As we look at Israel’s history, they found out firsthand just how God did not act they way they wanted Him to act. God chose the least likely to preach and teach of the coming Messiah. All too often, God didn’t choose the biggest and baddest of them all to lead Israel. For instance, when God delivered Israel from slavery, He chose Moses, not when he was the prince of Egypt but rather when he was reduced to working as a shepherd. When Goliath was defeated, it wasn’t at the hands of Israel’s massive army but by a lowly shepherd named David. The greatest display we see is when God would bring ultimate deliverance to His people, and to all people, it would be in a way that many were not expecting.

Israel had expected God to act in certain ways. The people of Israel expected God’s reign to come in a way that irresistible. There was the expectation that God would kick out Roman authority from Jerusalem and restore it to its glory days of old. That’s what the coming Messiah would do; everyone knew that, or at least had hoped that’s what their version of the Messiah would do.

When God sends forth the Messiah into creation, He doesn’t do it according to the will of man but rather to His own will, the will that is perfect. He sends forth a very simple and unkempt man named John the Baptist to herald the coming of the Messiah. While his appearance and attire were odd to say the least, the message that he was proclaiming was spot on according to the words of the prophets of old. He comes, baptizing the people with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins.

Some time later, John hears while in prison the many deeds of Jesus. He sends his disciples to Jesus to ask a single question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

That’s the question on our minds isn’t it? Is Jesus the one who is to come or should we be looking for another individual claiming to be the Messiah? Is Jesus really Messiah-enough for us? For many, the jury is still out. It’s hard to believe that a little baby born to lowly and insignificant parents would be the Messiah. There’s nothing about Him that screams Messiah from an outward appearance. He’s born in a barn of all places! If He truly is a king, then why isn’t He born in a palace somewhere, with servants waiting on Him hand and foot? Where is His mighty army that will kick Roman authority out of Jerusalem? Where is the kingly garb for Him to wear?

Jesus doesn’t fit the mold of the Messiah because it’s the wrong Messiah. He doesn’t come as a great earthly king like the people want. He comes as the heavenly King that the people need! The way that He makes His entrance into creation is how God had ordained it. While He is indeed the King, the King of Creation, He is not meant to be served, for He Himself says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He has no mighty army because the foe that He faces is not of this world. His foe is Satan himself. The kingly garb He wears is the crown of thorns He wears as He takes creations sins upon Himself.

Returning to John’s disciples’ question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”, Jesus responds by saying, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” This answer isn’t meant to assure John of who Jesus is; John knows that, for he is the herald of the Messiah. The question and answer are meant to assure everyone else of who Jesus is. They need to get out of their minds this messed up and made up notion of the Messiah and accept the Messiah that God sends forth in the person of Jesus Christ.  

The question that was asked of Jesus so long ago is still asked today. Well, it’s not really asked so much as an answer is given to Jesus: “We’ll look for another.” We can thank the world for that answer. The world has perfected that answer to the point that Jesus need not even be considered for salvation. The world won’t go so far as to say Jesus is the Messiah because that would assert that there is a single means of salvation and the world doesn’t want that to happen, lest we offend someone.

For as much as the world puts forth that salvation can be found in anyone or anything other than Jesus, the Church should be the one place where you should be able to find the right answer to John’s question, but unfortunately, even that is not always the case. You will get the prosperity preaching that says believe hard enough, have enough faith and God will bless you. But notice who the subject is: it’s not Jesus but it’s you. You are the one doing the work. But as soon as you are the one doing the work, then you have a problem. It has to be, it must be Jesus who does the work and not us.

For all those times when God’s people wonder whether or not God will keep His Word regarding the Messiah, the time is soon to be fulfilled. When we have our doubts, we return to Jesus’ Word. We return to Jesus’ life. From birth to death, there was a singular mission that He was focused on: the redemption of God’s creation. Everything that was done was done with you in mind. He sends people to proclaim the wonders He has done so that we can hear about them. By this proclamation of His deeds, He sends the Holy Spirit to bear us up and strengthen us as we travel through this sinful world, especially as we travel through those darker times of doubt.

Here is the true antidote for doubt: the proclamation that Jesus forgives sins. We may think that we can take comfort and certainty in the many supernatural attributes of God; His power, His knowledge, His wisdom, His holiness, and so forth, but that is not the case. Without forgiveness, those other attributes only serve to terrify us. If there is no forgiveness, then God’s holiness only sets Him apart from sinful people like us. If there is no forgiveness, then God’s total knowledge reveals our every sin. If there is no forgiveness, then God’s power is there to punish our sin. Without forgiveness, God is simply the ultimate terror.

When there is forgiveness, then God is comfort and assurance. When there is forgiveness, God’s holiness is for us. When there is forgiveness, God’s power protects us. With forgiveness, God is the ultimate comfort. He is the ultimate re-assurance.

We celebrate the coming of our Savior in the manger at Bethlehem because it is through Him that our sins are forgiven and the gates of heaven are opened. Through His atoning death He conquered your death, and raises you to a new life. By faith granted through the Holy Spirit, we now have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He came to His people, He now comes to you, who are His people by faith, and He will come again, that you would need and expect no other. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 

Advent 2 – “Repent” (Matthew 3:1-12)

 A 4 Advent 2  Mt 3 1 12Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

There is recorded for us in today’s Gospel account from St. Matthew one of the most vulgar sounding words to our ears. It’s a word that we don’t’ like to hear, especially when directed at ourselves. That nasty and vulgar word is “repent.”

When John the Baptist makes his appearance, it is not the kind of appearance that you want to see. He goes into the wilderness of Judea with a singular message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John the Baptist is the son of Zechariah the prophet, making him the last of the Old Testament prophets. The prophets’ job was to prophesy of the coming of God’s Messiah. These prophecies had been spoken for hundreds of years so the people would have been familiar with who this coming Messiah is and what it would mean. But when John the Baptist makes this revelation about the coming kingdom of heaven, just what did that mean?

It would mean that God’s promise is about to be fulfilled. It means that the Savior of creation was about to make His grand entrance into the creation He was going to save. It meant that creation needed to prepare itself for the arrival of the Messiah, and what better way to prepare oneself than to repent of your sins.

How is one to repent? What is it that they are supposed to do? What does it mean to repent? We normally think of repenting as being sorry for our sins. This is true enough, but there’s more depth to it than that. To “repent” in the Greek means literally to “change one’s mind.” You can see the obvious: when you repent of sin, you’re saying, “I thought it was a good thing, but now I know it’s not.” That’s a repentant mind-change that happens only by the grace of God. But again, there’s a greater depth to repentance because there’s a greater depth to sin.  When John calls the people to repent, he is calling them to repent of all of their misconceptions and wrong ideas about the Savior. If they have the wrong idea of who the Savior is supposed to be, then they’re not going to like the Savior for who He truly is. If they’re looking for the wrong things in a Messiah, then they’re not going to recognize Him when He makes His appearance.  Remember, John the Baptist is called by God to prepare the way of the Lord. He therefore prepares the people by teaching them the true nature of their sinfulness, so that they see the need for the Savior; and he prepares them by teaching them who the Savior is, and what He will do.

People from the region of Jerusalem and Judea and the Jordan were coming to John the Baptist to be baptized and confessing their sins. For the people who came to John the Baptist, they were contrite and believed. They desired to repent, to change their minds, but more importantly, they desired to hear the message of the coming Messiah. 

This Adventide, it is important for us to heed the words of John the Baptist, as did the people of old. We must repent of our sins, repent of our false perceptions of who the Messiah is, and is not. We must repent of our false perception of ourselves and come to grips with the reality that we are a people in need of a Savior.

This is what John prophesies about to the people. His singular goal is the preparation of God’s people to receive the Messiah when He comes. Despite his best efforts, not all of the people were convinced of the message that he was proclaiming. Believe it or not, we’re not fully convinced of his message either.

Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, we make excuses to our behavior. They make the claim, “We have Abraham as our father.” Abraham was a God-fearing man. He followed the law of God. But just because they descended from Abraham, did that make them any less of a sinner? No it did not. To be honest, the statement that the Pharisees and Sadducees and all of mankind should make is “We have Adam as our father.” We don’t want to make that statement because if we do, then we acknowledge “that we are sinful and unclean.” We acknowledge that we have sinned against God “in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” No one wants to admit that fact. We would much rather say that we have Abraham as our father because Abraham was “good.” If we say that we have Adam as our father, that’s a black mark because Adam was “bad,” and let’s face it: we would much rather be “good” than “bad.”

What we fail to understand, just as did the Pharisees and Sadducees, is that we are not “good” because of our sinful nature; we are like the tree that does not bear good fruit; it is cut down and thrown into the fire. We have all shared in Adam and Eve’s sampling of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a result, our lives are unfruitful: we do not do the works that God requires; in fact, we cannot do them. God’s righteous judgment comes down upon Israel and it comes down also upon us. But instead of leaving us with just judgment, doom and gloom, John the Baptist also promises something beyond our wildest imaginations: the coming of the Savior.

Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” John the Baptist is the one crying in the wilderness of the coming Messiah. He is making the paths straight by preaching a message of repentance to the people, to prepare them for Christ’s arrival. John the Baptist comes to lead people to repentance, to baptize with water. When Jesus arrives, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” He is coming to do something far greater than John the Baptist, the Pharisees, Sadducees or we could ever do: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

While everything about John seems to be crazy, the message he preaches is anything but crazy. It is a message that draws the people from all over, drawing them to repent of their sins and to be baptized. For as much as John the Baptist seems out of place in the coming Nativity of our Lord, the message is very much appropriate: He comes with grace – to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, to prepare you for everlasting life. Even now in Word and Sacrament we feast upon Christ as our tree of life. He is the vine and we are the branches. By Word and Sacrament, we bring forth the fruit of repentance and live in trust and obedience. He declares to you even now, “Repent, because I am at hand; and because I am here, you are forgiven for all of your sins.” In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 1 – “Behold Your King” (Matthew 21:1-11)

A 1 Advent 1  LHP  Mt 21 1 11            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

            Preparations need to be made for the arrival of guests, especially since you know they’re coming. If you have a dirty house, you clean it. You make sure that the house is spotless, almost to the point that the house is sterile and might even seem as if no ones lives there, for everything is perfectly in its place. Once you have a clean house, the best china laid out, then it is okay to entertain guests. To make sure you are ready, listen to me now: you have a guest coming!

             What kind of guest is coming, you might ask? The Introit for today tells us what kind of guest is coming: Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation.” We have a King coming! Some of you may respond, “Pastor, that’s old news. Of course our King has come. Jesus came, died, rose again, and ascended. Tell us something we don’t already know.”

            We all know that long before Jesus was born and long before Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem as the Son of God, the prophet Zechariah had given Israel advance notice: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a best of burden.” We see Zechariah’s prophecy fulfilled. It happens much later in the Church Year. It happens on Palm Sunday as Jesus enters triumphantly into Jerusalem. That same account is the basis for the Gospel reading on the First Sunday in Advent. Why would that be? We’re getting ready for baby Jesus to come into the world, not adult Jesus make His exit in the world.

            As we begin the season of Advent, we mark a time of waiting and preparing. We wait for our expectant King to arrive; and while we wait, we prepare. We prepare to receive Him as He comes. How does He come? According to our Gospel account for today, our expectant King comes in a very humble fashion. There is no great pomp and circumstance to our Lord’s arrival. If you want pomp and circumstance, the only thing you have is a star to guide the shepherds and the magi to find the infant Jesus. We prepare for the remembrance of the first coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we hear that our King is coming, this message is the call to prepare by opening our hearts to His grace. We need not fear, for He comes in meekness and lowliness. But He comes as King, mighty to save, full of grace and truth.

            When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, Jerusalem was poised for the celebration of the Passover. This annual remembrance of God’s act of deliverance of His children from Egypt would have swelled the streets of Jerusalem with holiday crowds. The day of the slaughter of the Passover lambs was fast approaching. People were anticipating the delight of being with family for the Passover feast. But when King Jesus comes into Jerusalem, it interrupts the sort of celebration people are expecting.

            We see much the same with Christ at this time of year. We begin celebrating the “real” reason for Christmas: gift giving, parties, but most importantly, gift receiving. We are doing our own thing, enjoying what Christmas is all about, and then Christ comes to ruin everything. For all who think like that, just remember one thing: you can’t have Christmas without Christ, no matter how hard you try.

            When Christ does make His appearance in this earthly life, it isn’t with great pomp and circumstance. He is born to lowly parents in very circumstances. It should be no surprise that when Christ enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He does so in a very unexpected way. He doesn’t enter with trumpets blaring behind a large processional. Rather, He comes riding on a donkey. This is done also to fulfill what the prophet wrote: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” You see, whatever perception the people had of the Messiah and what He would look like and what He would do, Zechariah puts them to rest several hundreds year before the Messiah first graces us with His presence. He comes into Jerusalem, the city of the temple – the place of sacrifice – to suffer and to die as God’s ultimate Passover Lamb. His sacrifice interrupts the monotonous routines of sin and death. Here is a King like no other, for this King comes not in royal splendor or with military might, but in the humility of the Servant who embraces the cross for you.

            Today, we begin preparing ourselves for Christ’s entry into this world, coming into this world by being born in a stable in the small town of Bethlehem. We prepare our hearts for what Christmas brings: it brings the Savior of the Nations, the Virgin Son who makes His home amongst the chosen people of God, as sinful as we are. God came to His people and lived among them as one of them. As God came to us in flesh and blood, He experienced all the things we experience – gestation and birth, childhood, weeping and laughter, pleasure and pain, and all the other things that make up the human experience. He even experienced temptation, but He never gave in to it.

            All of this, He did for you. He is the Blessed One, for in His saving death, He brings all the blessings of heaven – forgiveness of sins and peace with God – down to earth, down to you. It is no wonder that during the season of Advent, we especially hear that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, God with us. Even as God lives with us, He still comes to us. He comes to us as we read and hear His Word. He also continues to come to us in His flesh and blood as we eat and drink the bread and the wine of His Table. 

            That is what Advent is really all about. It is a season of repentance and belief while Jesus serves us with His coming. Just as Lent is a season of repentance and belief in preparation for Good Friday, so also Advent is a season of repentance and belief in preparation for the coming of Jesus, not just as He came at Christmas, but also as He comes to us now and will come to raise us from the dead and live with us forever.

            Consider God and His coming during this Advent. Consider His coming at Christmas, but don’t limit your consideration just to Christmas. Consider the love that God shows in His coming in that even while sin causes terror and hatred, He continues to come with His love. Consider how He came to save us with His suffering, death, and resurrection. Consider how He now comes in Word and Sacrament. Consider how He will come to take His people home with Him. Consider the blessings that He once gave, that He now gives, and that He will give when He comes again. In Jesus name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 

Christmas 2 – “In My Father’s House” (Luke 2:40-52)

C-17 Christmas 2 (LHP) (Lu 2.41-52)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

When we last left the Holy Family, they had just gone to the temple to purify Mary and to consecrate Jesus. Simeon and Anna saw God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Since that time, twelve years have passed and it is the Feast of the Passover. This was one of the major feasts for the Jews. Every Jew who was able would journey to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, marking the yearly remembrance of how God spared His people from the devastating plagues while they were slaves in Egypt.

When the feast had ended, the Holy Family did what everyone else did: pack up and head home. They were traveling in a large caravan with other family and friends on the multiple day journey and after a days worth of travel, Joseph and Mary noticed that Jesus was not with them. Was this something to be alarmed about? No. Traveling in a caravan like this, if Jesus wasn’t with His parents, then He was surely with other family members in another part of the caravan. It was likely that they didn’t see other members of their extended family very often so why not let Jesus play with His other family members? Eventually it was determined that Jesus was nowhere in the caravan and so Joseph and Mary returned to Jerusalem in search for Jesus.

Even after the Passover busyness had ended, Jerusalem was still full of people and that meant because of the crowds, it would take a while to find Jesus. After the first day of searching, there was no sign of Jesus. After the second day of searching, still no Jesus. Surely their luck was going to improve on the third day. Luke doesn’t record when on the third day they found Jesus, other than the fact He was found. Where He was found might have seemed like an unlikely place for some, but the obvious place for others. He was found in the temple.

While Jesus was in the temple, just what was He doing? According to Luke, Jesus was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Now, the first part of what Luke says wasn’t surprising. Jesus was 12 years old. That meant He would have been of the age of study so listening to the teachers of the law and asking questions would not have been out place. However, it’s the second part of Luke’s account that is out of place. Everyone who heard Jesus was amazed at His understanding and answers. Jesus was nothing more than a mere child. He had no right to be doing anything other than listening and definitely not doing anything resembling teaching.

Jesus had no authority to be teaching anything, especially teaching the teachers of the Law. Not only was He teaching them, they were amazed at what He said. One can imagine the teachers hanging on every word that Jesus spoke. Out of the mouth of a twelve-year old boy came such great wisdom. In one sense, you wouldn’t expect much to come out of Jesus because of His age. He was nothing more than a boy who is at the right age to study in the synagogue. Yet on the other hand, He was the Son of God who had all the answers because He knew all the questions. Everything that the teachers and those gathered could ask, Jesus had an answer for them. Jesus has come of age. He has found His voice and taken His place. And that voice and place, we learn, are “in my Father’s house.”

When Mary makes a fuss of looking for Jesus and how they were treated, He responds, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” In these short utterances of Jesus we see the beginning of His break away from familial attachments in order to identify more intimately with God the Father. He is doing so in the immediate presence of His parents, presumably for the first time. His commitment to the Father now transcends His love for the family. Jesus knows that He is here for a purpose – to do the Father’s will.

To do the Father’s will. One can imagine the pressure placed upon Jesus. Here is a boy who could appear to be torn but in reality is not. To do the Father’s will may mean continue in the family business as a carpenter, since after all, Joseph is a carpenter. It would make sense for Jesus to continue in His father’s footsteps. But Jesus is not talking about being in His earthly father’s house. Rather, He meant being in His heavenly Father’s house, in the temple. And what does that mean? It means doing all that God had ordained for Him to do. That means living a sinless life among a world of sinners. That means facing the scorn of humanity when He did nothing wrong. That means accepting the sins of all when He committed no sin. That means going to cross and dying in order to redeem creation. For all of that and more, that’s why Mary and Joseph find Jesus in His Father’s house.

Jesus’ words not only convict Mary and Joseph, but they also convict us. We too try to search for Jesus and can’t find Him. We find ourselves with Mary and Joseph in that we too are looking in the wrong places. Jesus said, “ I must be in my Father’s house.” Never the less, we look among the things of this world. We look to earthly security, wealth, power, popularity, and so forth. We look for Jesus everywhere He is not.

Today, we must be our Father’s house looking for Jesus. We need to look for Him in worship, where His Word is proclaimed, and His gifts are given – in the absolution, in the waters of Baptism, and in the Holy Supper, which He lays before us every Sunday for our refreshment, and for our forgiveness, and for our blessing, and our strengthening. Here, in His holy Word. Here, in His body and blood is where you need to look. Here in the fellowship of His people – His holy body – is where He is to be found, and nowhere else.

All the work that Christ does for the Father culminates on the cross. That’s where the true intersection takes place between God and man. It takes place in Christ on the cross. Holy, perfect, and almighty God Himself gave up all of heaven in order to come down to this fallen and sinful world and take on our fallen and sinful flesh. However, Christ—in the flesh—did what fallen and sinful man can never do, no matter how hard we try. Christ Jesus lived the perfect life. He kept every one of God’s laws perfectly. He did this for us, in our place, precisely because we cannot do this. Christ Jesus took every single sin of the entire world upon Himself, taking every single one of those sins to the cross so that they would be put to death, once and for all.

This account of Jesus today gives for us a wonderful illustration of Jesus and His dedication to the work of His Father, even from the earliest of ages. He is about the Father’s work from the very beginning of His life until His death. In today’s Gospel, we might be tempted to say that Jesus was lost. In fact, Jesus was exactly where He was supposed to be. It was really Mary and Joseph who were lost. In a similar way, we are also lost – lost in our trespasses and sins. It is God who finds us and places us among the things of the Father. There the Holy Spirit works faith and makes us people of the Father. Since Jesus said, “ I must be in my Father’s house,” that means we are with Jesus. That is exactly where we are supposed to be. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Advent 4C – “Blessed” (Luke 1:39-56)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

Have you heard the phrase, “Count your blessings” before? I’m sure you have. The idea behind it is to be grateful for all you have, all that God has given you. This isn’t bad advice, but this also presents a problem. How many individually identified blessings count as being highly blessed? Think about this: are wealthy people more blessed than poor people? What do we count as a blessing? Counting one’s blessings may actually miss the point of what it means to be blessed by God. In our Gospel today, Mary and Elizabeth help us see the true nature of blessedness: we are blessed by God through the presence of Christ.

To be blessed by God comes from the presence of the incarnate Christ. To be blessed by God does not come from ourselves. The angel Gabriel had visited Mary and what took place was nothing short of a miracle. He came to her to tell her that she had found favor with God. What exactly does that mean to find favor with God? It means that God shows His grace upon us. In Mary’s case, Gabriel shares with her great news: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” She will conceive and bear the Son of God.

No sooner had Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Savior world, she hurried off to visit a woman she knew who would understand and share her joy: her relative Elizabeth. What made Mary think that Elizabeth would know what she’s going through? It comes from what Gabriel shared: “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” A miracle was happening to Elizabeth just as it was for Mary.

As Mary arrives at the house of Elizabeth, upon being greeted, the baby who would be known as John the Baptist leaped in the womb because he was in the presence of his Savior. Elizabeth declares something to Mary, something that is not to be glanced over by any means: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!… And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

What a feeling to be called blessed by God! It should be noted that Mary is blessed not because of what she has done, but rather what God has done for her. She acknowledges that she is indeed blessed moments later in her song, the Magnificat, but she is not blessed, however, because of who she is. In her hymn, she notes the humble estate of God’s servant. She calls God her Savior because she is a sinful human being like everyone else is, and she knows she is in need of saving. She makes it abundantly clear that it is God who has done great things for her, and so she gives all glory to Him.

Unlike some teachings, Mary wasn’t blessed because she was sinless. Mary wasn’t blessed because she was somehow better than another young girl her age. Mary is blessed, as Elizabeth tells us, because of the blessedness of the “fruit” of her womb. What made Mary blessed is the presence of Christ within her womb. And because of the Child that Mary bears in her womb, we, the Church, are blessed as well.

What we have to understand is that we as the Church are not blessed because of who we are. Who are we? We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We deserve God’s eternal punishment and death. And yet given who we are, we are blessed. Our blessedness consists in the presence of the incarnate Christ who is the ultimate source of every true blessing. Jesus entered the womb of Mary so that He could be born, live a sinless life and ultimately die on the cross for our sins, only to rise again triumphantly three days later. It is through the death of Christ that takes away our sins that separate us from God and now brings us back into God’s presence now and forevermore.

That happens in our Baptism where we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, forever replacing our sinfulness in the Father’s eyes so that all He sees is the perfection of His Son. That same presence is realized also in the true body and blood of Jesus Christ in His Holy Supper where our Lord comes to us with His gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Being blessed by God is received through faith in the promise of the Child whom Mary bears in her womb. Being blessed by God is received through what God does for us in Christ and not through what we do for ourselves. That is the whole theme behind Mary’s song and it is the whole theme for Christianity with regards to our salvation. There is no chance of salvation by ourselves. Adam and Eve failed to keep God’s Word as do we. Only by keeping God’s Word perfectly can we achieve salvation. That is not something that we can do, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we think we can. Our sole means of salvation comes from the Child that Mary carries. Mary understands God’s grace and finds her peace in the promise of Gabriel’s message.

Listen to these words from the Magnificat: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” What Mary says is a direct fulfillment of God’s prophetic promises made long ago. She believed in the promise made by God so long ago and now she sees it being fulfilled in her own life and it comes through the fruit of her womb.

Just as Mary accepted this message of the Savior through faith, so do we in the Church accept this by faith, faith that comes from the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, we understand and respond in faith to the continued proclamation that our Lord Jesus Christ, who took on human flesh and dwelt among us, is our promised redemption and salvation.

And so here we are. Mary will give birth to her first-born Son. He will grow and become a man, a man who had an appointment with a cross. As God stepped down from heaven into the womb of the Virgin, He took His first step to the cross. The cross is the reason He took up human flesh in the first place. He came to be Mary’s Savior, and not only her Savior, but also the Savior of all mankind. For as He took up human flesh He also humbled Himself under the Law in order to fulfill the Law in our place. Then as He suffered on the cross, He took up the wrath of God that we all earned with our sin. This is the way in which He is Mary’s Savior and the Savior of us all.

We are, on account of Christ, exactly what is attributed to Mary: blessed; blessed for Christ’s sake, blessed for we are in Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.