Saturday, December 22, 2018

Advent 4 Sermon

Advent 4 – December 22nd and 23rd, 2018 – Luke 1

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
One of the adages one of my fellow pastors likes to say is “follow the verbs.” It’s a great little guide for keeping on track when reading the Bible. Follow, pay attention to the verbs – keep your focus on who is doing what. If you do that, whenever you read the Scriptures the wonderful thing that you will see is that God is the One who is active, who is *doing* things for you. December is such a time of busy-ness for us, where we run around with lists and decorations and plans and all that – but in the Church, Advent is a season where we wait and listen and see what God is doing for us. And this fourth week of Advent there is nothing better to ponder, nothing with better verbs to follow, than our Gospel text, where Mary will sing forth her song, the Magnificat.

Let’s remember the set up. Mary is pregnant – not married, young, probably 13 or 14, Joseph was planning on divorcing her, calling off the marriage – God has to send him an angel to get him to relax. You want to talk about your weird, stressful situations? You want to talk about times where we’d get thoughts of “what am I going to do?” Here’s one for you. And Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, and Elizabeth just starts gushing. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” We’ve got Elizabeth gushing, we’ve got baby John jumping in the womb, it’s all wild and caddy wampus!

And then Mary speaks. She speaks the words of the Magificat – words the Church has sung for over 1900 years. And listen to this, pay attention to the verbs, pay attention to Who is doing What. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. Here we have Mary doing something – she is rejoicing, she is praising God. That’s what “magnify” here means – if you have a magnifying glass, it makes whatever you are looking at bigger – Mary’s praise is showing the bigness, the greatness of God. And from Mary – that’s it. That’s the last time Mary talks about anything *she* does. All that is on her plate to do is to praise and rejoice – there’s nothing left for her to do, because God is going to do it all. “For He has looked on the humble estate of His servant” – who is Mary? She’s just a humble nobody. A simple servant. Yet, what happens? God acts on her behalf – God does all the work required to make her the mother of God. And because God acts, well: “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me.” Mary was just sitting there, and God acts, and wham, she is going to be called blessed. Even Elizabeth is praising her – and not because Mary has done anything, this is all solely because God has done something great for her.

Now pause here for a moment. There’s a reason why the Church sings this as well. Let me ask you a question. Are you blessed? And I don’t mean this in a “are you buying your spouse a lamborghini like that televangelist” sort of way, but I mean this: Are you blessed – that is, has God looked upon you in your lowly state, and has He done great things for you, so that from now on, until the end of time and even beyond unto eternity, you will be called blessed? Yes. Your answer is yes, too. It is not just that Jesus came down and now Mary gets to say, “I’m the mother of God, see how blessed I am” – Mary may be His mother, but Christ Jesus is your brother. Think on that – you are, in Christ, the brothers and sisters of God Himself. And not because of anything *you* do – rather He comes and declares this to be true. This is why Jesus came, to win you salvation with His death and resurrection, these are the great things He has done for you, and come the last day when you are raised from the dead by Christ, you will reign with Him. From now on even the angels in heaven will declare you blessed, for you are one redeemed by Christ Jesus. And again – all about what Jesus has done.

“and Holy is His Name. And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.” Again, we get more focus on God, who God is, what He does. God’s Name, the God who does all this for you, His Name is holy, and He is full of mercy. Mary sees that – and her name will ever be associated with God’s Name. She will forever be remembered as Mary, the Mother of God. And she sees the great mercy that she has received, that she, a sinful being, receives such wonderful things from God.

Now, dear friends, consider the fact that you are Baptized. You have been joined into God’s own Holy Name, His own holiness has been applied to you. The proof, open and public, that you actually are Christ’s brother, Christ’s sister, it’s right there at the font – for you have been Baptized. You have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Father. You now have Christ for your brother. You are part of the household of God – and as such, you receive His Mercy. This reality, this truth of who you are in Christ all flows not from your strength or what you do – it flows from His mercy. You have been forgiven on account of Christ – you have been given the gift of faith and welcomed into the family of God. God in His great mercy and love for you has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, and this is something that is for eternity – and it’s not dependent upon you, but flows totally from Him. It is all Jesus for you, for your good.

He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate. Mary shows us more God at work – and with something we don’t focus on as often in the Church today. We do not need to look very hard to see the mighty and powerful abuse and harm others, indeed, even harm us. But Mary’s words remind us of a truth that we can forget when we see wickedness and oppression in this world – there is so much more that God prevents, there is so much that God brings to an end. The proud are scattered, their plans fall apart and so often do not come to fruition. The tyrants on their thrones fall, the powers crumble – evil doesn’t endure because God brings an end to it. And this is a comfort to us, it gives us a new perspective – for even when evil is done to us, even when we are getting it heaped upon us – we know that God does not let it last, that it will crumble and fail sooner or later, and that He will deliver us.

Indeed, the great example of that is the very fact that Mary is pregnant with the Christ Child as she says this. No more will God be content to have fallen king after fallen king come and rule on this earth – no more will He let this world’s prince have His sway – no, God Himself comes to be our king, to be our Lord, to defeat Satan – and because He has come we have victory assured. The brief battles we face now in this life will give way and yield to the eternal victory celebration of the life of the world to come, because God’s strong arm wins the victory by being nailed to the cross and rising again on the third day.

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever. God’s great actions for you continue. The coming of Christ changes things; things will be different because of Christ. Wickedness will be overcome, the powerful will be cast down. The failings and the disappointments that we face in this life eventually will go away. And instead, God fills us with all joy and blessedness. And as those of the New Testament, we see these words of Mary and the promises they point to all gathered together in the Lord’s Supper. If you are so dumb as to think that you in yourself are spiritually “rich”, that you are fine on your own, that you need no forgiveness, that you have no need for God’s mercy – you will remain as empty and shallow as you were. But for you, dear friends, you who see and know your own sin, who know your own struggles, who feel the pressures of life in this world and who are burdened – you who are hungry for righteousness – behold what God does for you. He calls you to His own table, and here He fills you with not merely good things, but the very best thing – He fills you with Himself – Christ Jesus gives Himself unto you, in a way most wondrous and amazing – He forgives your sins in His Supper, He gives you His own strength – He helps you face down the fears of the past and helps you to face the trials of the future, because in His Supper we see the proof that He is with us, indeed, in His Supper He is with us.

And then Mary stops. She’s pretty well covered everything, hasn’t she? These are all the things God has done for her, done for you. And all of them, all of them depend upon God, upon His strength, His mercy, His righteousness. My dear friends in Christ – rejoice in Him, for He has done all things for you already, and now we simply await His return when we will see all things in full. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Advent 3 Sermon

Advent 3 – December 15th and 16th, 2019 – Matthew 10:2-10

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Now, when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, 'Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?' This is how our text for this Sunday starts. John the Baptist in prison. The boldest, brashest professor of Christ there was – the man who called out sin most bluntly – you brood of vipers – the man who declared a confession of Christ so beautiful that we ourselves will sing it just before communion – Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! And he's in prison. Put there by a wicked, weak-willed and manipulated man. The government had failed him, and he's stuck in prison, and while he hears all this stuff that Jesus has done cold, dark, and dank prison walls and his own impending death are all that he can see. And so the messengers go out with a very important question – are you actually the one who is to come, or do we look for another.

Look for another. Use our eyes. Go on a search. You see, what John was seeing wasn't meshing up with what he thought he knew. If this Jesus is the Messiah, then why do I see the impact of death and sin so drastically? If my cousin is God incarnate, why am I wasting away here – isn't there some sort of heavenly hook up – a literal get out of jail free card that ought to come into play? If I've been good, then why are bad things happening to me? My friends, you know these sorts of thoughts. They are the very same thoughts that we get whenever our life goes sideways, and it's not our fault (or at least doesn't look to be our fault). This the question of doubt and fear and anger that comes up in any of those “why do bad things happen to good people” situations that we so often find ourselves in. The sort of questions that come up when what we see isn't what we want to see.

And so John's disciples go, and John's disciples ask Jesus this question – apparently right in front of the crowds. This isn't a pull Jesus aside sort of thing – up front and open – Hey Jesus, what about your cousin that you've left in prison? Are you the coming one, you coming to do all that awesome rescue stuff, and maybe starting with a prison break? Sort of puts Jesus on the spot. But Jesus, like He always does, just answers calmly. “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” Now, let's pause there. Jesus does something very important. Two things are mentioned – what you hear, and what you see. Hearing and Sight. And John, John had started to put more of an emphasis on his sight, what he was seeing. I'm looking the lousy prison I'm in, so do I need to look for someone else. Jesus sets up a different emphasis – go tell John – if someone tells you something, you hear it. Go tell John what you hear. Faith comes by hearing.

We can give hearing short shrift today. In our modern age, we don't think faith comes by hearing. We think the phrase “we walk by faith, not by sight” is backwards – oh no, we say “seeing is believing”. You ever realize that that simple phrase that we toss about is actually directly contradicting the Scriptures? But this is just part of the culture, the day and age in which we live – we want to be shown things. We end up thinking that things are most real and certain if we see them for ourselves. And this even creeps into how I preach. How often after I make a point do I end up asking, “Do you see?” See? You didn't see anything – you heard. But we associate reality with what we see.

This is why faith can be so problematic. This is how Satan attacks us. Instead of listening to God and His Word, we go by what we see. And it's been this way since the garden – God says don't eat. Satan says, 'eat it – it will open your eyes to good and evil' and “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food...” My sight, elevated over what God says. This plays out in all our lessons today too – not just with John. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem – call out words of comfort and peace – but that hadn't been what she'd been seeing. She'd been seeing hard times. Or 1 Corinthians – the Corinthians are in the middle of one of the nastiest church fights in history, where some are supporting Paul, and others are hating Paul and supporting Apollos, and other yet are saying we should ignore both of them and rather try to get Peter over here. It was a mess – people saw enemies and louts all over. And Paul says this: This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. What do you see? Do you see the pastor you'd rather not have... or do you hear someone proclaiming the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation, the mysteries of God? When it comes to baptism, do you just see water on a kid, or did you hear the Word of God comprehended with that water and attached to it making it a life giving water and lavish washing away of sin? Or in the Supper – do you just see bread and wine, or did you hear Christ Jesus say, “This is My Body, this is My Blood”? That was the problem in Corinth addressed later on – For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the Body eats and drinks judgment on himself. But we can keep going - Do you see your spouse as a pain in the ying-yang, or do you hear God say that He has given you to your spouse as a gift and joined you two together? Do you see your neighbor as an annoying jerk and sinner, or do you hear that Jesus Christ has taken away the sin of the world? Do you get caught up in sight, rather than the Word?

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 them. Oh, there's a lot going on here, my friends. First, Jesus is giving the laundry list of the signs of the Messiah from the Old Testament. John, you've heard the Old Testament – well, doesn't what you hear is happening now line up perfectly with what the Old Testament said? Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. But Jesus does something else that is subtle and strongly emphasizes hearing. Oh, the blind see – there is some seeing involved. But let's move past sight, shall we? The lame walk – because I told them to walk and they heard it. And lepers are cleansed – because I spoke clean and they heard it. Even the deaf who couldn't hear – I speak and they hear. The dead, I speak and they hear. Even death itself will not hinder the power of God's Word. But the kicker John, the best thing of all, the most Messianic thing going on – the poor have good news preached to them. Hearing.

Yeah, John – prison sucks. You are in a lousy place. You are poor and miserable right now. But, you know John, you were poor before you went into that prison too. You of all people, as the great preacher of “repent” should know that you are a poor miserable sinner. But be at peace. Comfort, comfort John! The preacher of the Good News, the Gospel is here. You have sins to repent of – well, the Lamb of God who takes away those sins is here. You must deal with evil folks who will hound you to death – well, so does the Christ – and in fact, a head on a platter is a lot quicker and nicer than the Cross. And you know what John – even to you there, when you are at your lowest, when you aren't able to do anything good any more, when your service is at an end – the Good News of Salvation and life is proclaimed to you. And whatever they do to you in that prison – if they take your eyes, or break your legs, or let you fall into disease – or even when they take your head – doesn't matter. The Good News will be preached to you – and with your sins forgive by the Messiah you will rise. God Himself has said so.

And so, John's disciples go back, and they speak this word to John, and faith comes by hearing. And John, even in that prison, has everything – every good and wonderful gift there in the word of God. A former LCMS President – Al Berry – had a simple catch-phrase: Get in the Word, Missouri! Hear the Word, Trinity. Service here in this place, where the Word of God is proclaimed – this should be a priority. But not just this service - This is why there are so many bible studies offered here – get in the Word. Hear it. If you're on the go, I can recommend wonderful podcasts to listen to. Be in the Word. Because your eyes are bombarded day in and day out with so much wickedness and temptation, and it's easy to just fall into walking by sight. That's even what Jesus asked the crowd there – What did you go out into the wilderness to see? Was John just a spectacle for you, a show? A reed shaking in the wind or lifestyles of the rich and famous. No – John was a prophet. One who speaks the Word. More than that – John was a promised prophet – who fulfilled the Word. God's Word of promise is the center – not what we see.

I don't know what you will see this week. Some of it will be flat out bad. Some of it will seem like a good thing but not be at all what it was cracked up to be. Some of it will be razzle dazzle and some of it will be winter gray dreariness. But the Word of the LORD remains true, His promises remain sure. You are forgiven, you are His Baptized child and an heir of eternal life. Christ Jesus comes to you in His own Body and Blood this day to proclaim this peace to you again, so that you are in His peace, His comfort no matter what sin or the world or your own flesh or the Devil himself try to shove in front of your face. You are forgiven and redeemed. Peace be with you. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, Amen. In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Assertion: There is never a non-salvific punishment in the Scripture

Here is a theological assertion for a day:

There is never a time in the Scripture where God executes a punishment that is not also designed to work salvation for His people.

I think this is important because we can end up putting God's Wrath, God's Anger, God's Punishment off in an abstract box, as though this somehow describes who God is or what He is like.  We forget that these things - wrath, anger, punishment are always in relation to sin.  It's not as though God is just sometimes wrathful; He executes wrath upon sin.

And sin is not just some neutral, moral category describing X number of bad things.  Sin is the enemy that seeks to enslave and destroy you.  And God will not have that... so there is wrath and anger and punishment, but however that plays out, it plays out for your salvation.

God really does work all things for your good.

Go out of the garden, because you will receive salvation via the Messiah, not your own works.
Pain will increase in childbearing, but the Son will be born.
You will eat bread, but Christ Jesus will give you Himself and forgiveness in bread.
The flood drowns wickedness but saves and rescues Noah.
The fire and brimstone delivers Lot from Sodom.
The Red Sea drowns pharaoh but rescues Israel.

See the pattern.  Even to the ultimate emblem of God's wrath and anger and punishment - the Cross.  It is wrath and anger and punishment - but it is for your good to deliver and rescue you.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Advent 2

2nd Sunday of Advent – Luke 21:25-36 – December 8th and 9th, 2018

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
The things of the Christian faith are backwards. Last week, things were utterly backwards. We had Palm Sunday in winter talking about a King who enters Jerusalem not to conquer and kill the enemy but rather to suffer and die – to win forgiveness even for our enemies. To the thinking of the world, that is utterly backwards. Well, today we have another backwards sort of text, where Jesus turns everything upon its head, and where we are taught to do things that seem just the opposite of what any sensible person would expect to do. Jesus teaches us how to face the end of the world.

We've touched on the end several times in the last few weeks – 3 weeks ago we talked about how things might be boring while we wait, 2 weeks ago we had the wise and foolish virgins. And today, Jesus speaks about the end times in the way that we are most used to – fear. “There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the seas and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming upon the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” There it is – there's the end times we're used to talking about. The scary end times, the panicky one. It's the disaster film, the horror film chaos sort of end times. Panic and fear. And, well, there is going to be some weird scary stuff with the end of the world – it's the world's end. But, remember, Jesus is going to have things be backwards for you, O Christian. “Now, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” When the world panics, when the world is gripped with fear because things are crazy and they are just getting crazier – that's not time for you to panic. That's not time for you to give into fear and hunch over and hunker down. That is the time for you, O Christian, to stand up straight. Shoulders out wide, chin up – just like you're going to sing, because you are going to be bursting into song. It all means that you redemption is drawing nigh. It means that Jesus is just that much closer to coming again, and “then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Christ will return, and we will sing – yes, even you stubborn people who don't like to sing. It's going to happen – and it will be good.

Sometimes we forget just how profoundly different our lives and our attitudes are as Christians. We face all things in this life resting in Christ Jesus our Savior. Oh, to be sure, sometimes we too give into fear or panic for a moment or a time – we are still sinful human beings after all. However, the way in which we view things is different because of Christ Jesus and His love for us. A huge problem – like the end of the world. Well, for you O Christian, since you are in Christ, it's all good. It all works out for your good in the end. And this is the truth that you know – it all works out for you, whatever trial or trouble. You're in Christ – this dying world and the wicked therein can do their worst to you, can make things really lousy and miserable for you – but you are in Christ, and so really, in the long run, they can do nothing to you. Nothing that lasts. Whatever they do to you must end and be followed with the sentence, “and then Christ returns and you are raised to glory for all eternity.” That fact gives you an incredibly different, a radically backwards approach to things. End of the world – lift up your heads. Someone attacks you, causes you problems – Jesus says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. That's not just being well behaved – that's because you are in Christ Jesus – you are sure and safe, and the fact that they are being evil to you just shows how sadly they are trapped, would that Christ would rescue them too! We look for Christ to come, even to our enemies, to come to them with love and mercy and peace – love and mercy and peace that Christ Jesus even gives to them through us. This is the utterly backwards way in which we live our lives as Christians when we see things through and in Christ.

Jesus continues with another little image. And He told them a parable. “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the Kingdom of God is near. It's getting closer. Christ's return is getting closer. The world is continually falling apart. This is something we like to ignore – we have spent the past 200 years telling ourselves that actually we are improving and getting better and all that. Yeah, 200 years ago we didn't have deadly peanut allergies, and people didn't starve to death on wheat. Our technology is improving (thanks be to God!) – but not us. Humanity as a whole is at least as weak and frail as it always has been, and I'd say more so. And we keep on finding new ways to hurt and harm our neighbor, we take innovations and weaponize them. But, our task today is not just to lament how lousy the world is. Nope, you know this all for what it is. The leaf is coming out, the summer is near. All of this just reminds us that the Kingdom of God is near, that Christ is closer and closer to His return.

“But wait!” some of you might say. “What about this next line that Jesus said? What about 'Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.' It's been almost 2000 years since Jesus said this!” You're right – it has been 2000 years since Jesus has said this. However, the problem here is with us and how we think of the end of the world. We think of the end of the world as something that is off then – it's merely coming. That's not quite accurate, biblically speaking. It is more accurate to say that the End has begun and will be finished when Christ comes again. This is how Hebrews starts – Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us through His Son.” In these, these here now, last days. We are in the end of time. The end of the world has already started.

Consider – there will be signs in the heavens... and on one Friday afternoon, they put Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, up on a cross. And the sun was blotted out and darkness covered the land – Luke describes this saying, “and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour [3 pm], while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice said, 'Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit!' And having said this, He breathed His last. Now, when the Centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, 'Certainly this Man was innocent!' And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.” Do you see it? The Son of man, lifted up in the air, dies. And while the world is shook, and people beat their breasts in terror, one fellow straightens up and praises God. The innocent Man, the Man without sin has shed His blood, and salvation comes into play. With the Cross, the world is done for. It is finished. The Kingdom of God is here, because we are able to proclaim Christ and Him Crucified – Died and Risen for all. We are in the end, even now before the end. The first coming in complete, we simply are waiting now, in these last days, for the second coming.

So, Jesus continues - “But watch yourselves lest your hearts become weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” And the temptation that you face, o Christian, is to forget that you are in Christ in these last days. You are a forgiven child of God, and as such you are a tool that God uses to not only do good earthly things for the neighbor, but also to bring Christ Jesus and His love and mercy to people. Wherever you go, you bring with you the blessings of God Almighty, to be given freely and generously to your neighbor, without thought or worry about what you will get back in return out of it – because you are in Christ and your story ends with the resurrection of the dead, so it doesn't matter what you get out of it now. But, we do get tempted away from that, don't we? And Jesus warns us what tempts us away – dissipation. Where you waste things and squander them and fritter them away – like when what looks to be a promising rain shower dissipates and breaks up and we get nothing and the farmers grouse. We too can get scattered and lose our focus on Christ and not do folks any good and stop being a blessing to them. That's not good. Or we can get caught up in drunkenness – where we go simply to live in immediate pleasure, and stop being a blessing to our neighbor. That's not good. Or we can be so focused on the cares of this life – of what we want, what we “need”, that we forget that our job is to love the neighbor while Christ tends to our needs. Again, not good.

Over and against this, we are called to prayer – and this is a we. It's a plural – But stay awake at all times, praying that [y'all] may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. Over and against the dangers of dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life, Christ calls us to gather together for prayer – and this word for prayer here is fascinating. It is the begging sort of prayer, it is the 'Lord have Mercy' sort of prayer. It is the Christian cry for deliverance that we together pray here in the Church seeking Christ's forgiveness. And what happens here? Christ comes to us, and He strengthens us with His forgiveness. You are forgiven, you are joined to Christ in Holy Baptism, and Christ gives you Himself in His Supper to strengthen and keep you in the One true faith, to keep you in Christ. And in Christ – you are prepared. You are raised up, now and eternally. You are prepared for whatever comes, and whenever you come here to His Church, Christ will continually prepare you for whatever comes down the pike.

And that's how it works. You are prepared for the end, because you are in Christ Jesus. And while the world goes spinning, you remain steady and steadfast in Him, for He is your Lord and Savior who has won you forgiveness with with His death and won you everlasting life with His resurrection. Nothing can change that. So we face the end with hope, we face fear with love, we face sin and wickedness with the forgiveness of Christ, and we wait together, calling upon God to give us mercy. And Christ Jesus does so as He comes to us in His Word and Sacraments today and even until He comes again on the Last Day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus – Amen. In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Advent 1 Sermon

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Who is God? Who is He? What does He do? While that seems like a broad and wide question, it is basically what Jeremiah was asking the Kingdom of Judah in our Old Testament text. See, Judah was in a bind. It was right around 588 or so B.C., and the Babylonian kingdom up north was rattling its sabers and had already invaded Judah a few times, had already taken Daniel off to captivity. And Judah didn’t know what to do – but the prevailing wisdom was that Judah should buddy buddy up with Egypt and trust in Egypt to protect them.

If Jeremiah had asked a Jew of his day who God was, the expected answer should have been this: “He is the LORD our God who brought us up out of the land of Egypt.” That’s really how the 10 Commandments start – that’s the point of Passover – the LORD is the God who got us out of slavery in Egypt. And now what – with fear and worries about Babylon, you forget the LORD your God, you continue in idolatry, in fact, you want to run back to Egypt, back to the people who enslaved you. And so Jeremiah preaches. He says that Babylon will win, and they do. But in our text he also says the day is coming when they will call God “The LORD who brought us up and led the offspring of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where He had driven them.” 586, Judah is conquered. 538, King Cyrus sends them back home. Jeremiah was right.

But Jeremiah points forward to a greater truth, a greater prophecy. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” No, Egypt won’t be the solution. A stronger military or just paying tribute won’t be the solution. Nor will the troubles of this day endure; Babylon won’t vex us forever. Instead, here is the truth – the Messiah will come, and He Himself will fix the problems. He will be the Righteous One for us, and His day is what we should be looking for, more than just any military victory now.

And then we come to our Gospel Text. The triumphal entry. Palm Sunday. And once again we can look at this in terms of a “who is” question. Okay, Israel, who is your King? What does your King look like, what does He do? Jeremiah had prophesied a righteous Branch for David – that is, someone Righteous from the line of David who would be King, and there hadn’t been a king since Babylon conquered them – but then here comes Jesus. And Jesus enters Jerusalem riding a donkey, just like King Solomon had when he was enthroned. And everyone gets the symbolism; this is why they cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Son of David! The Guy who should be King! The fervor and the excitement are astonishing – so high that come Palm Sunday in a few months, we’ll get in on it with little kids waving palms. But again, there was a problem. Who did they really think this King was, and what did they really think He was going to do? Immediately after our text, we hear this: “And when He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’” Wait… just a prophet? Just a guy from Galilee? Why don’t they call Him the King? That’s because for the people, He wasn’t really viewed as their King – that's why in a few days on Friday morning they will cry out that they have no king but Caesar. He ended up not being what they wanted. The King they expected wasn't the King that was promised. Sure, a king was wanted, but you don’t call him the king until he’s driven out the Romans! Once he’s made the nation glorious again, then we can give the fellow the throne – you only get the throne after you’ve beaten the bad guys! That’s the way it still is in stories and movies today. But here’s the problem. That wasn’t what was promised to them. They were promised a king who would be wise, who would execute justice and righteousness. But that wasn’t what they wanted. Power was they wanted. Earthly glory was they wanted. Revenge against the Romans was they wanted. And Jesus doesn’t do that. That’s not wisdom. That’s not justice, that’s not righteousness. Jesus is more interested in driving out the money changers in the temple and reforming worship than He is in driving out the Romans and reforming an Empire. And by the end of the week, Pilate orders his death to prevent a riot. Think on that. It’s not that there would be a riot because they are *killing* our king and we will rise up to rescue him. No, the riot would come if you don’t do Him in.

So. What of us today? Let’s ask ourselves the same questions. Who is God? Who is our King? What does He do? What are the expectations, what do we look for from God? If I turn on the religious tv channels, I get horrified. If I look on-line at facebook, I get horrified. I’ll see tons of stuff about God giving money and wealth and affirmation and validiation and making your dreams come true if you just trust in Him. Is that what we want from our God? We are in the Advent season, where we focus on the fact that Jesus came down from heaven. Is that what we think He came to do? In Advent we focus also on the second coming of Christ. What do we want? Do we want a Jesus that is going to reform American society and make us a better land (whether that's the liberal definition or the conservative one) if only we obey Him? Is Jesus the guy who brings the better rules that will make sure your family keeps its nose clean? And, of course, if you don’t send in money, if you don’t click “like” Jesus will be mad at you and punish you.

What does your God look like? Does He look like a Man coming humbly, seated on a donkey? Does He look like a Man who is beaten and whipped and scourged? Does He look like a man hanged upon a cross and left to die? Because this is what Jesus comes to do. Jesus is the LORD, our Righteousness. And He is our righteousness by going to the cross and suffering and dying, by being buried, by rising again. This is the point, the point of contention, the reason why so many people forsake Christ Jesus even to this day. Jesus deals with what we need, not what we want. Jesus isn’t Santa Claus; we don’t get to just tell Jesus what we want and know that if we are good little boys and girls that we’ll get it. Because the simple fact is this – a lot of times what we want is foolish. What we think is important isn’t. Judah wanting Egypt to deliver them was foolish – that would be even worse than Babylon in the long run – at least Babylon respected the Jewish culture. Wanting to take down the Roman Empire was foolish – if you aren’t certain of that, when Rome falls, we call what comes next “the Dark Ages” – it’s the fall of Rome that allows Islam to conquer and destroy Christianity in the middle east and in Egypt and in Babylon. And that’s just immediate problems – that’s just current events turning to history. Where was the thought given to sin – where was the thought given to the fact that I am a sinful human being and I am going to die in my sin unless God intervenes and saves me? Meh, they didn’t think that was important. Who wants a spiritual solution – we want a better war machine, we want “justice” that looks like our enemies crushed and bleeding and destroyed.

That’s not what Jesus comes to do. Oh, He could have come with legions of angels brandishing flaming swords – in fact, He will come that way on the last day. But first, He had a job to do. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” His job is to be your righteousness. His job is to win you life and salvation and the forgiveness of your sins. His job is to execute justice, by taking up from you all the weight and wrath of your sin and crucifying it upon the Cross. His job is to fulfill all righteousness, to live the perfect holy life, and then to cover you with that righteousness in Holy Baptism so that He may say to the Father, “See these, My brothers and sisters, they are righteous and holy and without blemish in My name.” His job is to see that you dwell securely, not just for a day, not just for a season, not just until the next election, but for eternity. This is His wisdom. And He still comes to you, brings this righteousness, this forgiveness and salvation here in this place, preached, proclaimed to you, comes to you humbly riding in, with, and under bread and wine, for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

So, who is this Jesus, our God? He is the One who pays no attention to human expectations. Rather, He comes to fulfill the Scriptures, to fulfill the Word of God that has proclaimed your redemption and your salvation. And in His great wisdom, He does whatever must be done to accomplish this – and it means coming down from heaven, and being incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and being born in a manager, and suffering and dying. He is determined to be wise for your sake; He is determined to execute justice for you, to be the LORD our Righteousness. And so He is. This we have heard in the Word, this we have received in Baptism and the Supper, and this we shall see face to face when He comes again. Amen. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +