Lent 1 – “Tempted No More” (Mark 1:9-15)

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.

“I don’t like you.” “I hate you.” “I wish you were dead.” Have you ever heard those phrases spoken to you before? There’s probably a good chance that you. And even if you haven’t heard them spoken by a person to you, you have had them spoken to you. Your enemy, the devil, has spoken those words to you, time and time again. He loves to speak those words to you because he doesn’t like you, because he hates you, and because he does wish you were dead. The reason why he speaks those words to you is because you are a child of God and he doesn’t like that. That’s why, for you, God sends forth His Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to combat Satan.

Turning to our Gospel reading, it begins with the Baptism of Jesus and God declaring forth, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Here is God’s pronouncement of who Jesus is, the very Son of God. That’s what you and I want to hear. That’s exactly what Satan doesn’t want to hear! Here is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, beginning His ministry of salvation for the people of God. That’s good news for us, or at least, it should be. Here is a God who isn’t aloof, twiddling His thumbs as His creation continues in a life of sin and death. He sends forth the only one capable of putting an end to death, once and for all. That sounds great, until it isn’t.

Mark goes on to say, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.” That’s not good news for us, but it’s great news for Satan! Here is his opportunity to defeat God, once and for all. He tried it once, but failed to realize that he, the creation, was inferior to God, the Creator. He revolted and took with him angels and was cast out of the presence of God. But here is Round 2, a second chance of victory over God. If he can’t defeat God directly, then the next best thing is to defeat God through Jesus. And that’s exactly what he sets out to do.

For forty days, Satan tempted Jesus with a singular desire – get Jesus to give into temptation. Surely it can’t be that hard; it worked on Adam and Eve. Satan knew what he was doing. If he could get Jesus to give into temptation, any temptation, then he wins. It doesn’t matter what the temptation, whether great or small. It doesn’t matter what the temptation is, just get Jesus to give in to temptation. And once Jesus does, God’s means of salvation for His people is done. When Jesus gives in, Satan wins and it’s game over for God.

But that’s where Satan got too cocky. He truly thought that he would be able to tempt Jesus, that sooner or later, He would break and give in to temptation. Satan could wait Him out; it was just the two of them. Eventually, Jesus would give in.

And that’s where Satan loses Round 2.

Jesus would not give in. The stakes were too high. Creation had lost once already. It would never see the Garden of Eden again. There was no more perfection, only imperfection. There was no life, only death. That’s a fact, one that Satan enjoys. When he says, “I wish you were dead,” he meant it. And, he is right. We are dead, dead in our trespasses and sins. But because of Jesus, our death is past tense. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….”

That’s not what Satan wants you to hear. He wants you to hear that you are still dead, still separated from God, still hopeless. But Jesus comes to make you alive again. Jesus comes to unite you to God once again. Jesus comes as the giver of hope.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who carries away the sin of the world. Even though He carried the sin of the entire world into the desert, He Himself never sinned. He endured and triumphed over every temptation of the devil. Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus endured the temptations of the devil and triumphed. He not only endured the temptation in the wilderness, but He also endured all the other temptations that the devil threw at Him as He journeyed to the cross.

Because of Christ’s victory over the devil during His 40 days of temptation, you have won as well. Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil is your victory over sin, death, and the devil. God sent His Son into the world to deal with all three of these. In the luscious, fruitful Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted the first man; in the bleak, barren wilderness he tried the same with the stronger Man. Jesus, the second Adam, would dispatch the devil, defeating Satan who had caused the fall of the first Adam. As a result of the first man’s sin, Adam could only lead his wife out from Paradise and into this land of disease, decay and death. As a result of Jesus’ victory over Satan in the desert, the Lord journeyed out from the desert in order to lead His bride, the Church, from this world and into Paradise.

It is important for us to know that Jesus endured all the hardships that we endure. He is our substitute. He doesn’t just know our lives academically, but He has experienced life as we know it. He was tempted just as we are tempted. He also experienced our pain, our sorrow, and our frustrations. He experienced it all except that He never sinned.

In spite of the fact that He never sinned, He was full of sin. St. Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Just as the High Priest placed the sin of Israel on the scapegoat, God has placed the sin of the world on Jesus. He became full of our sin – your sin, my sin, the sin of the entire world. Jesus has carried that sin to the cross. As we remember the cross, we will remember that our sin filled Him as He suffered and died to pay the penalty that God’s justice demanded – a payment that freed us from our slavery to sin.

For us during this Lententide, our focus is this: Christ has defeated Satan, once and for all, and because of that, salvation has been won for you and for me, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 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.

Epiphany 2 – “Good Comes from Nazareth” (John 1:43-51)

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.

“Follow me.” It’s a very simple command. It means to come with me, to do what I do. It’s straightforward and means what it says. In other words, a simple task. That’s the command that Jesus gives to Philip: “Follow me.” And Philip does just that – he follows Jesus. Good for Philip, you might say. He listened to Jesus and did just what He said to do. And for a brief moment, you might be right.

As Philip follows Jesus, doing what Jesus has commanded, going where Jesus says to go, he finds another, Nathanael. Right now, Nathanael doesn’t seem to be doing anything, and so Philip tells Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Unlike Jesus’ command to Philip, Philip doesn’t tell Nathanael to follow him; rather, he states the obvious – Jesus is here.

That’s great news, isn’t it? Jesus is here! Obviously Philip is happy about that news and so should Nathanael. Instead, Nathanael responds by saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Talk about putting a damper on everything. Instead of celebrating the fact that Jesus is here, Nathanael becomes “Debbie Downer,” insinuating that nothing good can come from Nazareth, not even “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Biblically, there may be an answer to Nathanael’s question. Nazareth is never mentioned in the Old Testament. Outside the New Testament, the first mention of the town of Nazareth seems to be in the second century AD. Nathanael’s response may be a piece of flippant sarcasm in view of the insignificance of Nazareth. No messianic prophecy was associated with Nazareth. Hence, Nathanael expresses skepticism that one from Nazareth could be the Messiah, for nowhere in the Law or in the Prophets is Nazareth the origin of the Coming One.

Despite what Nathanael may think about Nazareth or this so-called Jesus, Philip doesn’t bite. He doesn’t give in and say, “Yeah, you’re right Nathanael. What was I thinking!” He doesn’t argue against Nathanael and tell him all the ways that he’s wrong. Instead, he simply tells Nathanael, “Come and see.” Once again, it’s pretty simple for Philip. He doesn’t ask questions, he doesn’t doubt. He just does what Jesus says, and in turn, encourages Nathanael to do the same.

You and I are exactly like Nathanael. We want to come up with every reason not to believe that Jesus is who He says He is. We want to come up with any other explanation of salvation than the fact that Jesus died on a cross to forgive the sins of mankind in order to redeem creation. It’s all so bloody, so disgusting, so revolting. That’s not what we want to hear, and so we seek to find a way to sanitize all of it, to make Jesus’ death more appealing and less bloody. But that’s where our problem lies. We cannot make Jesus’ death any more appealing that what is already not. There is no way to sanitize Jesus. If you want Jesus, then you need Jesus for who He is – the blood pouring out of the side Jesus, the blood rushing over you to forgive your sins Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by His blood Jesus.

With fire and Holy Spirit power, the Messiah comes, but instead of being a terrible judge, awesome to behold, He’s a lamb. The Messiah, with gentleness, heals and teaches. In lowliness, the Messiah calls disciples and raises the dead to life. Gentiles will follow Him, sinners will adore Him, little children call Him “Son of David.” The Messiah of God loves the lame, the mute, the seeing, and the blind. In humility, this Messiah touches lepers and washes feet. To be the Lamb of God means to be lowly and gentle and humble to the point of death, even death on a cross.

That’s why we are like Philip. We need that Lamb. In this world where death lords over us, we sinners long for that gentle Lamb, who is our Good Shepherd. That’s why Philip immediately leaves all and follows Jesus wherever He may go. Philip doesn’t follow Jesus blindly, but with eyes wide open. Philip doesn’t follow in the hopes that Jesus is the One; rather, Philip follows because he knows that Jesus IS the One. Philip follows Jesus because Jesus is salvation promised and salvation fulfilled.

This Jesus whom you and I come seeking week after week is the prophetic proclamation of God. With the incarnation of God and the revealing Epiphany light, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, invades the world, and the kingdom of the enemy has no chance. The silence of the prophets is broken with Jesus’ infant cries and John’s recognizing Him as the Lamb to be slain. Christ will come to save those who trust in Him, just as Moses and the prophets said. He will save them by dying for them. He will save you by dying for you. He HAS saved you because He has DIED and RISEN for you!

Despite the fact that we are sinners, God calls us unto Him. He calls us to be forgiven. He calls us to receive. He calls us to be His beloved children. Just as God called Samuel, just as Jesus called Philip and Nathanael, so are we called. We are called in our Baptism to be made forgiven children of God. We are called to serve our neighbor, to spread the Gospel to those who have not heard.

At the end of the day, we want, no, we need to be able to make the same confession that Nathanael did: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Such a bold confession for someone who didn’t think anything good could come from Nazareth. But that’s where Nathanael would be wrong, and that’s where we would be wrong as well. Good things do come out of Nazareth, for that is where your Savior is found. It is because of Jesus of Nazareth that you will hear, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” For all who confess that Jesus is Lord will indeed see heaven open and will see the Son of Man. You will see the Key to your salvation, Jesus Christ.

God has drawn you to Himself and found you as well – here at the font and in His holy Christian Church. And here, when Jesus sees you approaching – every time He sees you approaching – He says, here is a true child of God, in whom there is nothing false. That is, He declares you righteous and welcomes you into His presence. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

 

Baptism of Our Lord – “Baptized into Jesus” (Mark 1:4-11)

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.

Back to John the Baptist, again. From Advent until now, he has been the focus of the Gospel reading on two separate occasions, all focusing on the same thing – his baptizing of people for the forgiveness of sins. Today, we get the same account – John baptizing people for the forgiveness of sins. It sounds like the same old story we’ve heard before, because we have. In Advent 2, it was from Mark’s Gospel, Advent 3 was from John’s Gospel, and then today, the Baptism of Our Lord, we hear again from Mark’s Gospel, in fact, half of today’s Gospel account is a repeat from Advent 2. Again, what’s the big deal about John the Baptist going out into the desert and baptizing people? As has been established on two previous occasions, this was for the forgiveness of the people’s sins. That is something that is notable, because people definitely need their sins forgiven – just ask me and I’ll tell how much I need MY sins forgiven! But there is something new added to our text today from the previous accounts, there is one more baptism, one that is different than all the others – the baptism of Jesus.

Here is John the Baptist, going about his business as the herald of Jesus, baptizing people from all across Judea and Jerusalem. Again, old news, move on to something else. But Mark writes, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Clearly, that must have been a typo on Mark’s part. John is baptizing for the forgiveness of sins and here comes Jesus to be baptized, the only one in all of creation to have no sins. Clearly this must have been a mistake!

It’s easy to think that way, especially if you read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”” That sounds more like it. That sounds like the way it’s supposed to be. Why baptize the sinless One of God; it just doesn’t make any sense. But that’s where you would be wrong. That’s your limited thinking, just as it was John’s limited thinking. John has already confessed to the people, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” John knows his place and his place is beneath Jesus, hence why it doesn’t make any sense to John to baptize Jesus.

John isn’t the only one who is confused by all of this. We’re confused as well, because Jesus is Jesus and not a sinner. Baptism is for sinners, Jesus is not a sinner, thus, baptism is not needed for Jesus. It’s really simple to connect the dots. But it takes Jesus to reconnect the dots for us: “But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.””

We see in our text just how easy it was for John to question and do what he did. And when Jesus came out of the water, heaven was torn open and the Holy Spirit came to Him and dwelt with Him. Did Jesus have to be baptized? Was it mandatory for that to happen? No. In allowing Himself to be baptized, Jesus was showing His solidarity with sinners. Though Himself sinless, He was identifying Himself with sinners by giving Himself to the work of bearing their sins then and our sins now.

We need to make sure we fully understand what took place in the Baptism of Jesus by John. The view that by being baptized by John, Jesus only showed His willing obedience and that Jesus, though not needing baptism and yet submitted to it, makes the baptism nothing but a formality and misconstrues what John’s Baptism really was. It was not law, but gospel, not a demand to obey but a gift of grace to accept and to retain as such. Jesus was baptized by John because He regarded this as the right way in which to enter upon His great office.  He, the Sinless One, the very Son of God, chose to put Himself by the side of all the sinful ones, for whom this sacrament of John’s was ordained. He signifies that He is now ready to take upon Himself the load of all these sinners, that is, to assume His redemptive office. As Luther points out, Jesus was here rightly beginning to be Christ, the Anointed One, and “was thus inaugurated into His entire Messianic office as our Prophet, High Priest, and King.”

Here, in the Jordan River, Jesus became one of us. He took on all that has gone wrong with us, every sin. By taking our sin onto Himself, He becomes the greatest sinner. He becomes the greatest sinner so that He could become our only Savior. He takes His place under our sin, so that He could lift it from us and carry it away. He carried our sin away from us so that the punishment for that sin will not fall on us, but on Him. That is how God has decided that His judgment and His righteousness should go. Jesus should take our sin to Himself with all its condemnation, guilt, and punishment. God turns His friendly face to us because Jesus became one of us and took our sin on Himself.

The Baptism of Jesus reveals the plan of God to restore this love – to heal our relationship with Him – to open heaven to us once again. Here we see the Son of God in the flesh in order to take our place under the law. Here stands the sinless Son of God who carries in Him the sin of the entire world. Here is Jesus standing with us in the waters of baptism in order that we might be joined to Him in eternity.

From the moment that Jesus came to be in the womb of the Virgin, the Son of God has carried the sins of the world. Up until this moment of baptism, He carried our sins in silent anonymity. Now, at His baptism, His role as sin bearer becomes public. The heavens were torn open. The Spirit descended on him like a dove. A voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The time has come for Jesus to publicize His journey, a journey that will pass through the cross where He will take away the sin of the world, a journey that will also pass through the empty tomb of Christ’s resurrection that demonstrates His power over death.

God the Father is pleased with His Son as He continues this journey of salvation. This is God the Father expressing delight in God the Son. This is God the Father expressing delight in us as well. For Jesus’ journey through the cross and the open tomb earned salvation for us. Through baptism, the Holy Spirit joined us to Christ Jesus. All that is ours belongs to Him, and all that is His belongs to us. So God delights in us just as He delights in Jesus. In a world that has long ago surrendered to sin, death, and the devil, there is one place where we receive the delight of God. That is where we are in solidarity with Jesus who heard the Father say, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Christmas 1 – “Ready to Die” (Luke 2:22-40)

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.

Here’s a question I doubt that you’ve asked yourself lately, or possibly ever – are you ready to die? I mean, right now, while sitting in the pew, what if you died? I doubt that many of you would say that you could die right now, but here’s the thing – you should be able to say that! As a Christian, as a believer in Jesus Christ, you should be perfectly fine if you died right here, right now.

Turning to our Gospel reading for today, we see something happen that isn’t out of the ordinary – parents bringing their child to the temple for the rite of purification. Mary, because she had given birth, needed to be made ceremonially clean. The Child that was born also needed to be presented to the Lord and a sacrifice made on His behalf. Like I said, that’s not unusual. In fact, that is according to the Law of Moses and the Law of the Lord. That’s something that happens all the time so seeing that take place is no big deal. But, in fact, it is a big deal because of who the sacrifice is for.

Ironically, a sacrifice was being made on behalf of Jesus. Though this was according to the Law of the Lord, it was out of place. “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.” The fact of the matter was that Jesus was already holy to the Lord, for He is the God incarnate. The sacrifice for such thing required “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. This was an alternative sacrifice, for according to Leviticus 12, the sacrifice is a lamb or two turtledoves or two pigeons. This helps us to understand that Mary and Joseph were indeed of a humble state, given that they were too poor to be able to afford a lamb. Here is a great reversal – no lamb was necessary because already here at forty days old, Jesus is the lamb brought to His temple for sacrifice.

And so we meet a man named Simeon, “and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Luke says he was righteous and devout. That meant he could probably be found at the temple daily, making sacrifices and the like. He wasn’t a religious leader, but rather a religious follower. But Simeon wasn’t a follower of the religious leaders of the day. Instead, he was a follower of God and of His promises. Luke records, “And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

We know that Simeon was old, but that he was not going to die until God had kept His promise. After today, Simeon could do just that, die. Taking Jesus into his arms, he speaks the most wonderful hymn the Church could sing: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” The only thing missing from that hymn is an amen, a yes yes, let it be so.

Now, Simeon could die in peace because he has not only seen the promise of God but has also held the promise. There is no more waiting. Here is the promise, a promise for all people. Because of this promise fulfilled, you can die.

We can all say, along with Simeon, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word….” God made a promise and God kept a promise. Despite the length of time it took for that promise to come to fruition is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that God did indeed keep His promise. It is only because God kept His promise that we are able to die in peace as does Simeon.

This Child named Jesus wasn’t just for Simeon and He’s not just for you either. As much as we like to have Jesus all to ourselves, Simeon doesn’t say that this is our own, private Jesus. Instead, he says that this salvation has been “prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” You see, this Jesus is meant for people that shouldn’t be meant for. This Jesus is for the Gentile, for the one who is not Jewish, not part of God’s chosen people. Despite our wanting to say that Jesus is for me and not for you, that’s just wrong, for Jesus is for all people.

When God made the promise of a Savior, He didn’t make it for Adam and Eve and no one else. He didn’t make it for just Israel or just for the good. God made the promise to all people of all nations. That means that Jesus is for the bad just as much as He is for the good. It means He’s for the wrong as much as He is for the right. It means that He’s for the Gentile as much as He is for the Jew. It means that He’s for you as much as He is for me.

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians says the same thing as Simeon does, just in another way. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Simeon waited until God saw fit to make good on His promise. He sends Jesus, who is under the Law to fulfill the Law and redeem us. By His death on the cross, we are made sons and heirs of God. It means all that He has, we have. It means that we have His holiness because Christ grants us holiness. It means that we are perfect because Christ has made us perfect. It means we receive everlasting life because Christ is everlasting life.

We don’t know what was in store for Simeon after he left the temple. We don’t know how long Simeon lived or how quickly he died. We don’t need to know because it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that Simeon saw the promise of God fulfilled and could now depart in peace, knowing that God kept His promise of salvation.

Like Simeon, you behold your Savior today. You don’t see tiny toes and a hairless head; you observe a man preaching and then see bread and wine. But faith tells you this: God keeps His promises. His Son has come, died and risen, as promised. His Son is here, in these means, to forgive, as promised. You know this by faith, not by sight.

So what is in store for you and me? Will it be a long life lived or will God call us home tomorrow? As much as we want that long life lived, it really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is this: God has made a promise and God has kept His promise. He has sent forth Jesus just as He said. He grants to all who believe forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. You and I are ready to die, for we have seen the salvation of our God made full in Jesus. The only thing left for you and I to do is sing: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word….” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Christmas Day (John 1:1-14)

“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Today is indeed a joyous day, or at least it should be. We celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That should be enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. But unfortunately, that’s not true. In the hustle and bustle that is the season of Christmas, you know, sometime around Halloween until today, we fail to ask ourselves an all-important question: Could God be left alone for Christmas?

What a silly question to ask, you might think. Of course, God could never be left alone for Christmas, but He was. Some 2000 years ago, the almighty God, in a way, spent the first Christmas alone. He has a Son who had been by His side. That Son was even there in heave with His Father the beginning of time. John says, “The world was made through him.” But the Father was willing to let Him go when it came time for the first Christmas at Bethlehem. He didn’t kick Him out of heaven as some sort of punishment, the He did with Satan and all his demons. Instead, something else happened.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” God our Father spent that first Christmas alone you might say, not because of anger. He spent that first Christmas alone because He wanted His Son to be with us, right here as one of us.

When you look at this world, when you see all the sin that man commits, you have to ask yourself why would God want His Son to be with us, to be one of us. We frequently don’t care much about other people or even about God. We’ve made quite clear time and again that we’re going to live our lives our own way, regardless of the consequences. Human sin has a made a horrible mess of everything. So why would God send Jesus, full of grace and truth, to a place that is full of unkindness and lies? Because of just that.

God knew full well it would take far more than just another prophet or priest, preacher or diplomat, to fix it all. So He sent what was needed: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That cute and cuddly Baby lying in the manger is the eternal God come down to our world to rescue us helpless souls by His living, His dying, and His glorious rising again. He’s as human as human can be, a real Child, not some made-up notion. This Child would grow up and face disappointment of being rejected, the pangs of death when they nailed His body to the cross, when He would pour out real blood in a real, ugly death.

This slumbering infant of Bethlehem’s manger we heard about last night is at the same time the true God who has all authority in heaven and on earth. That includes, as John says, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” You, the poor, miserable sinner, who is good for nothing because of that sin, you are now something of great worth – a child of God. You are a sinner, just as I am. God doesn’t owe either one of us a dime, and yet He gives this right to you. He gives it to you because of who He is and what He has done. Heaven’s Father was willing to be left alone that first Christ, if you know what I mean, so that this Christ, this God-man, could come and take His place here with all of us.

This is indeed the most incredible thing that has ever happened! That’s why we decorate the church, sing hymns of praise and cannot get our fill of this time that we call Christmas. But in the midst of that incredible news, John says something that makes things come to a screeching halt: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

In a tragic sense, God was left alone that first Christ, for it seems as if the people of Bethlehem didn’t care about His gift to them. They took no notice of Him, they made no room in the inn for His mother. The very people He came to save had other things to worry about than Jesus.

Sadly, that same sentiment is alive and well among us today. What is the purpose of Christmas? Many would say Christmas is all about getting presents. The birth of Jesus? Well, that’s important too, I guess. Just point me to the presents.

You want a present? Your present lies in a manger. That same wood used to fashion the lowly manger in which He lay is what is used to fashion the instrument of His death. Your present, the only present that matters in all the world of presents, is the one delivered by God – delivered in the manger, delivered upon the cross. Despite a world that is hell-bent on rejecting the Savior, the Word made flesh still comes to you. He still comes, with you in mind, to make you part of Him, to graft you unto Him, so that all He has can and will become yours.

Jesus is present with you in His means of grace, freely giving you salvation. The Lord is consistently faithful to His people, as He has been since Adam and Eve. He still draws near to save, despite so much sin and utter rebellion in the world today. He still comes, though so many do not even pretend to receive Him. In His faithfulness, the Lord does not abandon this sinful world. Hear this remarkable statement of salvation: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” You are now His children: Not by blood or genetic heritage; nor by your plans, works or will; but by His work of saving you on the cross.

Here is the joy that you have: That almighty Word became flesh to dwell among His people, to go to the cross for you. From the cross, He descended into hell, rose again, and ascended into heaven. Drawing near, the Word made flesh proclaims His Word that you are forgiven for all of your sins. Amen.

Candlelight (Luke 2:1-14)

“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Imagine for a moment the scene: two, lowly parents walking the streets of Bethlehem after a long trip from Nazareth. Every door knocked on, the response is the same – no vacancy, that is, until they found room in a barn. Nothing is ideal, but this is the way that it is to be. In the end, God is there, recognized by ox and donkey, praised by angelic choirs. The stars adjust themselves to look down upon the scene. It looks like heaven.

Don’t be fooled. Salvation is not in heaven. Salvation is on earth, where the Savior was born for us. Salvation is earned for us by a baby being born, a baby who would go to the cross for our sins: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

What a joyous announcement from the angel! A Savior is born…to me and to you! The angels break out in a joyous chorus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” But the Savior is not born to the angels and the archangels in heaven. He doesn’t come to save the angels, but He comes to save you. He comes to the shepherds in the fields and the priests of old; He comes to the doctor, lawyer, police officer and trash collector. He comes to mankind in order to redeem mankind. The angels are secure in their holy bliss – we are not. And so He comes for the good and the bad, for the faithful and the unfaithful, for the person who recognizes their sin and for the one who doesn’t. He is born unto all. He is born unto you.

This is news that should be shouted from the rooftops, and yet it is pushed to the back burner in favor of parties, cards, eggnog and gifts. The importance of our Savior’s birth becomes nothing more than an afterthought at best. But Jesus’ birth is anything but an afterthought. God saw fit to send forth a Savior to our world. This Savior is not for when we want Him but when we need Him.

Right now is when we need Him most. In a time where sin runs rampant and unchecked, in a time when sin is viewed as “bad choices” and nothing more than that. The Savior is born to give you life, to satisfy your soul and forgive you all of your sins. He is put into a manger, not only because He is rejected by men and there is no room for Him in Bethlehem’s inns, but also because He gives Himself to you, as food on earth.

This is the great message the angels sing about. This is the cause of the shepherd’s arrival. They see a Baby lying in a manger. But more than a baby, this is their salvation. This is your salvation.

As miraculous as this event is, we want to know more. We want to know how exactly was this accomplished. We want the inside scoop from Mary about her angelic visit with Gabriel. We want to know what it was like when the shepherds arrived. None of that matters. We don’t need to know how God did what He did. All we need to know is that God did it – not for Himself but for you.

That is the meaning behind this night, that God would be born among us in order to die for us. Luther, in one of his sermons for Christmas, writes the following: “This Gospel is so clear that it requires very little explanation, but it should be well considered and taken deeply to heart; and no one will receive more benefit from it than those who, with a calm, quiet heart, banish everything else from their mind, and diligently look into it.” Just what does Luther mean? Everyone has heard the Christmas Gospel time and time again, and yet it is hard for us to accept this for what it is. It is simply the promise of salvation fulfilled for mankind.

This is the reassurance of the Gospel, that no one has to wonder, “Was He born for me? Did He die for me?” The answer is always yes. For all, He came. For all, He died. On some, God’s chosen elect, He will create faith through His Word. These will receive the gracious gift. They will enjoy eternity, not because of anything they have done, but because God’s favor rests upon them. Again, Luther writes, “He does not simply say, Christ is born, but to you he is born, neither does he say, I bring glad tidings, but to you glad tidings of great joy. Furthermore, this joy was not to remain in Christ, but it shall be to all people.”

This is His will, His promise, and His grace. He is God. His is man. He is born unto you and He is your Savior. He will take up flesh, to be God and man at the same time, without compromising either. You receive a reward that you did not earn.

The manner of His birth was in keeping with His mission: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” There would be no posh palace on earth for this King. His reign on earth would be marked by humility and Luke sets that up for us from the beginning, by focusing on where the Christ Child was born.

This is the Christmas story which Luke tells us. This is the story which we have heard year after year. This is the story which we have seen time and time again in a Charlie Brown Christmas. The Baby is Christ, the Lord, says the angel. He is the Messiah, the anointed One.  He’s the One that God has promised through the ages, the One for whom His people have waited through centuries of darkness and suffering. God the Father has specifically appointed His Son to go about this work, and He will accept Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf. No matter what appearances indicate, no matter how the manger and cross look, this Christ will not fail in what He has come to do.

There is indeed great joy that the angel speaks of to the shepherds. This is the comfort and exceeding goodness of God that, if a man believes this, receives the peace that the angel declares, a peace among those with whom God is pleased. In this case, that is us. We, the chosen ones, have God’s peace. This is a peace beyond understanding, a peace that is always with you. It is the peace that Christ purchased for you, the peace of knowing that your Brother is God’s own Son, and therefore all will be well with you. Christ takes care of His family, so He will take care of you. He has already purchased forgiveness and eternal life for you. He will not forget about you or let you slip through the cracks. You are His own.

For you, God has seen fit to deliver you the greatest Christmas present one could ever ask for – Jesus Christ, the Savior of the nations, come to the world as God has promised, to go from the manger to the cross. The promise of the Messiah in the Old Testament is now fulfilled. The Word was made flesh in the form of an infant, and that Word made flesh died so that the gates of heaven would be opened for us sinners. Here is Jesus, our Savior, the Anointed One and our Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Christmas Eve (Matthew 1:18-25)

Joseph showed himself to be a godly and wise man. Even though he had been wrong and had every right, he would not shame Mary. He was set to suffer loss of his betrothed, to put her away quietly and suffer her shame because of her adultery. It was a noble act indeed, given that the law was on his side. In fact, the law stated that Mary should be put to death for her adultery. But Joseph was above that. No good comes from vengeance or making a scene. But something happens, something unexpected. An angel intervened. The Child came by the Holy Spirit, not by a man. Mary’s virginity, her loyalty, and her love to Joseph remained pure. It was not merely lip service; it was real. And things were not quite what they seemed. This child is the Lord who saves His people. He is the Messiah. “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Talk about a turn! No one could have seen this coming. Except, everyone should have seen this coming! The prophets of old have spoken of the coming Messiah. In fact, we heard from Isaiah a few moments ago, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This is what the people should be familiar with. This is from the Scriptures that they have heard and learned from their youth.

Whatever the wagging tongues of Nazareth were saying, Mary had not been unfaithful. But reality rarely stops gossip. Joseph knew then that the gossip wasn’t true, but his shame, even though it was undeserved, remained. Even if the wagging tongues heard the truth, they were unlikely to believe it. And if they did believe it, gossips are always liars. They embellish their tales even when they know it is false.

But none of that matters. Mary’s supposed infidelity doesn’t matter. The tongue-wagging gossip doesn’t matter. What matters is that God has kept His promise. From a time that was known only to God of when this promise would be fulfilled, the people waited in eager expectation, never knowing but always hoping. Now, God has seen fit to send forth the Savior of the nations.

Things have not worked out the way that Joseph and Mary had planned. I’m sure they were looking forward to a nice betrothal, a wedding with family and friends and then a nice, quiet life as husband and wife. But that’s not what has happened. Mary has accepted that things are not as planned, and now, so has Joseph: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”

Joseph was in a sense free – free from all that would now distract him from his mission – to take this God-Child and raise Him to see that He would fulfill His mission: for he will save his people from their sins.”

And so, we have arrived here. We come to gather around Christ, our newborn King. We have this wonderful gift in Jesus Christ that should be our focus but yet we find ourselves focused on things of this world rather than on the gift of salvation that we have received in Jesus Christ. It’s ok; it’s to be expected because of our sinful nature. We turn to the world before we turn to God, thinking that the world will provide what we need the most – forgiveness from our sins and salvation. But the world cannot provide that. The only One who can provide salvation is God our heavenly Father, and He does so by His Son, Jesus Christ.

We have Immanuel, God with us. But on this holiest night of the year, it can be difficult to believe or accept that He is indeed with us. We lose sight of the one thing needful: to hear the Word of the Lord, the Word-become-flesh, and to be still and know He is God, our God-with-us. Stores have been crowded with last-minute shoppers, whether shopping for gifts or for the fixings for Christmas dinner. Travelers come from here and there, from near and far, to be with friends and family. And some families come to terms with an empty chair at the dinner table for the first time because a loved one has died within the past year. It’s hard to think of Jesus in the midst of our busy-ness, in the midst of our grief. It doesn’t help that the devil uses these things to distract us from Him, to not fix our eyes on Jesus. The One whose birth we celebrate tonight is our Rock, our Fortress, and our Might, our God-with-us. Jesus says to you, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” And again, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

God comes to us, despite our being unworthy of His coming. When we had most certainly committed many shameful acts, the Lord could have simply abandoned us. That is what we deserved. We were supposed to be faithful only to Him. Yet we went running after every false idol that could entice our fickle hearts. We deserved the public disgrace of falling under God’s judgment and being cast away forever. He could have simply acted out of His justice, and given us what we deserve. He could have let His anger break forth against us. He would have been perfectly justified in doing so.

But instead God had compassion on us. Out of love, He did not want to treat us as our sins deserve. He made a plan to rescue us from the disgrace of our sins. It was a secret plan, a mystery hidden for long ages until He revealed it in the Virgin’s Son. God became flesh. God became one of us. God became Man for our sake.

You have a God who loves you: God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. His love for you is deep and vast. Jesus says, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved”, and St. John writes, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [payment] for our sins.” The Babe of Bethlehem would go to the cross at Calvary and die for you and for the life of the world. He bled and died for you, and He rose again for you, that you would have eternal life with Him. Even as Jesus came down from heaven into the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, so also does your Lord come down from heaven into your ears by the power of the Holy Spirit working through His Word, the same Word you heard tonight in the story of your Savior’s birth, from the first promise of the Messiah to the announcement of His birth to the revealing of His incarnation and to the proclamation of Jesus being our Immanuel—our God-with-us, this holy night and always. Amen.

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.