Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Midweek Advent Sermon 1

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Sarah was old. And, well, she had been old for a long time. She was already 65 when she and Abram had set out from their old home of Haran for the Holy Land, and by now she was 89. And while over and over the Lord had said to Abram that he would become a great nation, Sarah had become convinced that this wouldn’t happen through her. Sure, God had promised this to her as well – changed her name from Sarai to Sarah to remind her daily, to remind her whenever anyone addressed her that she would bear a son – yet she had basically given up hope. Then the three “men” showed up, and her husband Abraham had burst into the tent and set her to work to prepare a feast for these visitors – obviously they were of importance. And when everything was cooked, Sarah couldn’t but help herself. She stood at the door of the tent listening to these men and her husband, just to see what they said.
“The LORD said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.’" Those were no mere guys from down the road. That was God come to visit her husband – and once again God says that she, she will be the one who has this blessing. And Sarah does something that any of us who are tired and worn and simply sure that nothing good will come to us can understand. She laughs. And this isn’t a laugh of joy – it’s that coarse, bitter laugh, that snort, that sarcastic laugh – that “yeah right” sort of laugh. “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’"So sad, so bitter.So sure that the promises of God are just going to come up empty and short. And God calls her on it – asks, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” And all Sarah can do is deny that she laughed in her fear.
We are not strangers to doubt. All of us here are familiar with those creeping doubts that can sneak in. Understand that this is the goal of your old foe, the Devil. He wants to make you doubt, make you doubt God’s Word. This is what he did even from the very beginning – murdering Adam and Eve with his lies that caused them to doubt God. And Satan will try to stir up doubt in you as well. But consider Sarah for a moment – she doubts, and what does this bring her? It makes her bitter, where even her laughter, even her “joy” is tarnished and marred. It makes her afraid of God – God graciously comes to her house, and yet, she is left in fear. This is why Satan loves to stir up doubt – it first makes Christians miserable, then it makes them afraid of God, and if that fear goes unchecked enough, people will keep running and running away.
This is how Satan will attack you. Satan will try to get you to doubt the promise that God has made to you. And what promise is that? Not the promise to give you a son, but the promise He made when at your Baptism He made you His own son, His own daughter. At the font God promised you that your sins are forgiven, promised that He would support you through anything you face in this life, no matter how difficult or hard, and finally, that He would raise you from the dead come the last day and that you will indeed inherit the new heavens and the new earth – and that all of this promise is on account of Christ Jesus and His death and resurrection. Satan will try to make you doubt this. Satan will attack the idea of Baptism itself – he will tell you that it is preposterous that God could give so wonderful a gift through mere water – surely there must be something great and wondrous that you must do. “How can water do such great things? Answer: It is not the water that does them, but the Word of God which is in and with the water, and faith which trusts the Word of God in the water.” This is an old ploy of Satan’s – that why Luther included this question in the catechism. It’s one that we get thrown at us even today by people who downplay baptism.
Satan also causes us to doubt the promises of God by having us look at the troubles we face in our lives. Our foe says to us, “Surely, if you really were a child of God, you wouldn’t be facing these hardships that you are – surely this problem would go away, or that would have never happened to your family, or your pocketbook wouldn’t be so tight.” We can even hear this preached if we turn on the television – after all, doesn’t God want you to be happy so if you just have enough faith you’ll get more and more blessings now. And the words that hammer our confidence in God and bring doubt are said with the biggest smile. But note what happens here – it’s a bait and switch. God has not promised us nothing but joy and wealth and health and success in this life. He hasn’t. Baptism wasn’t your heavenly Father giving you a credit card to go shopping with. In fact, Christ Jesus has even warned us that in this world we will face difficulties precisely because we are His, because we belong to Him. We are told that the world will hate us. We are told that we will have to be patient, that there will be times when we cry out with the Psalmist – “How Long, O Lord?” But the promise of God given you to in your Baptism still holds – He is your God, and you are His forgiven child who will rise and you will live long after this world and its vain and fleeting glories are gone. Satan will use troubles now to get you to doubt what God has said will happen then. Satan will try to make you miserable, angry, and fearful, so that you hide from God and let your faith wither and die.
God understands how Satan attacks you, and this is why He proclaims His Word to you again and again. When Adam and Eve hid in the garden, God still came to them. When Sarah laughed, when she derided God, when she was fearful and afraid – God didn’t change His mind. God doesn’t turn to Abraham and say, “Get that laughing fool out of my sight – go find yourself a better wife.” Nope – He has said Sarah will have a child, and so she shall. A few chapters later, in chapter 21, we hear this: “The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised.” Simple enough – at the right time the promises of God are fulfilled. Indeed, even Sarah marvels at the turnabout – she says, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” She admits the irony – I was laughing in bitterness but now I laugh with joy – and when people hear this, they will laugh with joy too.
This is to be a lesson, a reminder for you this Advent Season, dear Christian friends. This unusual birth is a reminder to you that God’s promises always come true – even if the world, even if our sinful flesh call out to deny it, to doubt it. Your old foe wants you fearful and afraid, wants you bitter and coarse. But the Word of God holds true. Your baptism is true. The promises God made to you there at your Baptism still hold. God does not despise you, does not disdain you. He continues to support you now, and in just a little while, you shall see. Just as Sarah was able to hold Isaac in her arms and have joy – in just a little while you will lift up your arms and see them resurrected and renewed – you will laugh with joy in your body then made sinless and deathless. God always keeps His promises. He kept His promise to Sarah and Abraham – He kept His promise to Adam and Eve to send Christ Jesus – and He shall keep His promise to you to have you as His own child at His side for all eternity. Come quickly, Lord Jesus – Amen.

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