Jerusalem Alone

Sermon from Sunday, January 6. 2019 – Luke 2:41-52

As I read through the account from Luke 2 which you heard this morning of how Jesus was left behind by his parents in Jerusalem, I couldn’t help but think of what has become classic Christmas movie, “Home Alone.” If you’re not familiar with the movie, it’s about a boy around the age of 10-12 years-old who is unintentionally left at home for Christmas when his large and extended family take a vacation to France. The family gets on the plane and it takes off and that’s when the mom has a feeling that she’s forgotten something, only to realize that she forgot her son, Kevin, at home. Not to ruin the ending if you haven’t seen it, but the family is eventually reunited after the mischievous little boy spends a few nights at home alone.

Well, we might call the account that we heard of this morning from Luke chapter 2, “Jerusalem Alone.” But this is not the story of some mischievous little boy surviving in the big city or negligent parents who forgot their son. This is the story of God’s Son Jesus, knowing exactly who he was and why he had come into the world, something that was important for his parents to remember, something that is important for us to stop and see this morning.

Last weekend, we also found Jesus at the temple with his parents Mary and Joseph, but he was a little over a month old at that point. Remember how they had travelled from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to present their son to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice for purification. Some time later, the family returned to Nazareth where Jesus and his family would permanently live.

Twelve years had passed and Jesus’ family made their annual trip to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover. This was a week’s long festival that was also called “The Feast of Unleavened Bread.” This was probably the largest celebrations of the three major festivals that God commanded his Old Testament people to observe each year, and rightfully so. It was the celebration of how God had rescued his people, the nation of Israel, in magnificent fashion from their centuries’ long slavery in Egypt, guiding them through the Red Sea and bringing them into the Promised Land. It was during the Passover that God’s people were reminded of God’s promise to send the Messiah, who would rescue people from the slavery of sin, and by his sacrifice make the eternal death of hell pass over us.

Every year, Mary and Joseph, along with thousands of their fellow faithful Old Testament believers, travelled from all over Israel to Jerusalem, to celebrate the Passover. But this Passover was one that Mary and Joseph would not soon forget. The festival came to an end and the family began their journey back home to Nazareth. They had travelled for nearly a day when Mary and Joseph started looking for Jesus who they had thought was travelling with their Nazarene family and friends. And that’s when panic began to set in. They couldn’t find Jesus! If you’ve ever lost sight of a child in a large crowd even for just a few moments, you know how that feels. The darting eyes, the questioning of relatives and friends if any of them had seen Jesus. And then you can’t help but imagine Mary and Joseph thinking about WHO they had lost! This was not just their son, this was the Son of God entrusted to them by God the Father, and they had lost him! This was really not good!

They started retracing their steps which led them back to Jerusalem. They searched the city for three days when they finally arrived at the temple. And there he was. We’re told, “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:26,27). These religious experts had what would become a quite common reaction when listening to Jesus. They were amazed. That was especially understandable considering Jesus’ age. This 12 year-old boy showed such maturity in understanding and putting things together that he just wowed all that witnessed it. At first, Mary and Joseph are also caught up in the amazement at what they are seeing and hearing. But then that parent part kicked in. Frustration, relief, fear and anger all come together as Mary questions Jesus, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you?” (Luke 2:48). That word “anxiously” doesn’t do justice to what Mary was saying. It literally means anguish, a word that is sometimes even used to describe hell. In other words, “Why did you put us through this hellish experience?”

The 12 year-old Jesus’ response is simple and to the point, “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). At first, Jesus’ answer might seem somewhat dismissive of his parent’s concern for their son. But take a closer look. Jesus words reveal two very important things. 1) Jesus knew exactly who he was. Even as a 12 year-old boy, Jesus understood that he was the Son of God. This was not some surprising revelation that would later be dropped on him or that he would come to. He fully understood who he was. 2) The second thing that Jesus’ answer reveals is that his parents needed this reminder of who he was and why he was there living in this world. Yes, he was their son, but more importantly, he was the Son of God. Why did Mary and Joseph need to be reminded of that? Just think about it. For the last 12 years they were raising a child – a child they loved and cared for like any other child. He learned, played, had friends, ate, slept, got up in the morning, just like any other kid. Mary and Joseph needed the reminder that although Jesu was their son and may have appeared to be like any other child, he was also the Son of God, who had been sent into this world for a very specific purpose – to carry out his Father’s plan for the salvation of all poeple.

Did you notice Mary and Joseph’s reaction to Jesus’ answer? “But they did not understand what he was saying to them” (Luke 2:50). Does that surprise you? I know how they felt, don’t you? Aren’t there things in the Bible that you read and you think, “I don’t understand. I don’t understand how that’s possible. I don’t understand how this is good for me. I don’t understand why you would ask me to do this, God. I just don’t understand.” But here’s the thing. God doesn’t ever ask us to understand. He simply asks us to believe what he says. Why would we believe what God says when we can’t even understand it? Because our God does the impossible and the improbable. Just look at Jesus. Here is God as a 12 year-old boy learning what HE wrote in the Bible. Here is Jesus being cared for by a family, a structure that HE created for the care of children at the beginning of time. Why would Jesus be willing to do this, to humble himself to this extent? Because Jesus understood that this was what it was going to take for us to be with him in heaven. He was going to have become like us so that he could trust God for us, follow God’s will for us, be obedient for us, and die for us. He did that because he knew that otherwise our sinful doubt and our repeated disobedience of God’s will, would separate us from God and his blessings for eternity. And so Jesus lived in our place and faced that separation from God in our place. The 12 year-old Jesus understood that. He knew who he was and what he was sent to do – to be our Savior.

Although Mary and Joseph may not have fully understood everything, did you notice what Mary did? “But his mother treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). One of the Christmas traditions that our family has developed over the years which I don’t think is unique to us, is that we put together puzzles during Christmas vacation. When you first dump all those pieces out it doesn’t look like much of anything. Then you start putting them into piles of similar colors. And slowly the pieces come together and you see the picture – a picture that was difficult to see when looking at the hundreds of individual pieces of the puzzle before they were put together. Mary was collecting the pieces of the puzzle. She didn’t always immediately understand how they all fit together or what the full extent of the picture was going to look like, but she kept them, treasured them because she knew that they were significant – because they were words and works of God’s Son and her Savior Jesus.

I think that’s a good reminder to us when it comes to our studying the Bible. There are some things that we might not understand, that we read and we wonder about. But no matter how much we understand we can be sure that they are significant and important for us to know. How can I be sure? Because of all the things that God COULD have revealed, he specifically chose these things in the Bible to be written down for us to know. They are certainly significant. Sometimes we might wonder how that specific thing that we’re studying applies to us, but what do we do? Like Mary, we treasure them, keep them. And sometimes, later on, God shows us how that piece perfectly fits into the situation we find ourselves in. We see how that piece we’ve been carrying around for years perfectly fits together with something we learned later on. The point is simple. Gather as many of those pieces as possible, grow in your knowledge of the Bible, because God wants you to have as many of those pieces as possible, because he has great things to show you now and later on.

Yes, that Passover when Jesus was in Jerusalem alone, was not only a memorable trip for Mary and Joseph, but a significant one for them and for us. Jesus, their son, was also the Son of God, sent to do his Father’s will, completely capable of perfectly carrying out the work of our salvation. Amen.

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First Trip to the Temple

Sermon from Sunday, December 30, 2018 – Luke 2:22-40 – Series: Our Savior’s Scrapbook

As we come to the close of another year and the embark on the year 2019, it’s only natural for people to take look back at what the last 12 months have all entailed. And maybe you’re thinking, “2018 – what a year it has been!” I certainly feel that way. One year ago, I hade not personally met any of you. At most you were a voice on the other side of a phone call, signature at the end of an email, or a face in a pictorial directory. This year has been filled with many firsts for my family and for our church family as we’ve gotten to know one another. Maybe you look at the last 12 months and you think about all that you have personally experienced – additions to your family through births or marriage, new friends, new jobs, special events that you’ve celebrated –birthdays, baptisms, confirmations, graduations, retirement, and then maybe some of the hard things – loss of a loved one, diagnosis of disease, surgeries or sickness. When you stop and think about it, “What a year it has been!”

I can only imagine that as Mary and Joseph made their way from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, they may have had a similar conversation, “What a year it had been!” Just think, 12 months ago, Mary and Joseph were maybe engaged and starting to plan their wedding and looking forward to beginning their married lives together. Then those plans were abruptly interrupted by an angel who delivered some startling news – pregnant by the Holy Spirit, a baby, the Son of God, Savior of the world. Mary had spent 3 months with her relatives Zechariah and Elizabeth, and then returned home to Nazareth where she and Joseph began to prepare for the birth of their son. Then came the mandate of the Roman government that forced them to make the 70 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem where Mary had given birth to Jesus in less than ideal circumstances. Yes, Mary and Joseph may have looked at one another and with a slight smile on their face thought, “What a year 0 BC had been for them and their family!”

It wasn’t a very long trip from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, right around 5 miles. Jesus was already over a month old. The verse just before our reading says, “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived” (Luke 2:21). The humble faith that Mary and Joseph had already demonstrated in so many different ways in the time leading up to Jesus’ birth, we continue to see here. They simply did as God asked of them and that continued as they now traveled to the temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus was 40 days old and this was the first of many memorable trips that Jesus would make to the temple in Jerusalem throughout his 33 years of life. Mary and Joseph went to the temple in Jerusalem for two reasons. We’re told, “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him [Jesus] to the temple to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22). The purpose for Mary and Joseph going to the temple was two-fold.

1) They went to present Jesus to the Lord. The Lord told his Old Testament people that the firstborn male of every family belonged to him. That child could either remain in the service of the Lord helping the priests, or the parents could pay a small amount of money (a few dollars), to redeem that child, freeing that child from that obligation.

2) The second reason that Mary and Joseph went to the temple was to offer a sacrifice as payment for purification. This might seem a bit foreign to us who are so far removed from the Old Testament, but for those who lived before Jesus came, it was a rather regular part of their lives. You see, there were many things that God said made a person “unclean.” One of those things was any form of shedding of blood. In order for a person to be purified from that uncleanness, a sacrifice needed to be made, a price needed to be paid. This payment for purification was a constant reminder of their relationship with God and what was required for it to be repaired. These were pictures that reminded people of their sin which makes them unclean before a holy God. In order to be purified from sin, a sacrifice needed to be made, a price had to be paid. The countless sacrifices made by people like Mary and Joseph throughout the Old Testament pointed people to the perfect sacrifice that the promised Messiah would make as payment for all sins.

While you and I are no longer required to observe those sacrificial laws with their pictures of sin’s effect on our relationship with God, it doesn’t take long to find the messy fingerprints of sin in our own lives. The loss of patience with that child or spouse that led us say somethings we wish we hadn’t. The decision to use our time watching another TV show or football game instead of talking with a hurting friend or grieving family member. The times we chose recreation over worship, or breakfast over Bible study, sleeping in over Sunday school. As we reflect upon the past year, it’s not always so pretty, in fact, sometimes it’s pretty messy.

That’s why it is so good to see Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem. That’s why Simeon sang and Anna could not keep from telling people about the baby she had seen. You see, it is right there in that temple in Jerusalem that Jesus is paying the price for our sinful mess, for our purification from sin, our freedom from sin’s condemnation, the price for us to be at peace with God. Now you might be thinking, “Hold on for just one minute! Did I miss something? I thought that Jesus did that at the cross. This is just baby Jesus!” The only reason that the cross MEANS anything; the only reason the death of Jesus at the cross DOES anything is because of what Jesus is doing right there and then in that temple in Jerusalem. And what exactly is Jesus doing? Jesus is living a perfect life, a life that is in complete compliance of what God demands of us. Jesus is being presented to the Lord just as the Lord commanded his Old Testament people to do. Jesus’ perfect obedience of God’s will would continue throughout his entire life as the Bible tells us, “And the child [Jesus] grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Jesus grew up, he learned and he lived perfectly in our place. That’s why Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross is sufficient payment for our sin. The reason the Bible can say, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7), is because Jesus was perfect. As the Apostle Peter would write, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed… but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18,19). What Mary and Joseph’s sacrifice pointed to, their Son Jesus was doing! He was paying the price for them, and for all, to be purified from sin, to be at peace with God.

Did anyone get a gift card for Christmas? Maybe a few of you did, especially if you’re a little hard to shop for. Did anyone get a credit card for Christmas? Hopefully not. What’s the difference? Many of them look quite similar and they both can be used to purchase things. But you know what the big difference is, or you quickly find out. With a credit card, you still have to pay for what you bought. But with a gift card, someone else has already paid for what you bought. You own nothing! Yes, gift cards are so much better than credit cards.

Through faith, Jesus has in a sense given you a “Gift Card” that is payment for every one of your sins. Jesus has paid for your sins with his perfect life and the sacrifice of that perfect life at the cross. Because of that “Gift Card of Christ Jesus” God can never demand payment from you for your sins. Jesus has already paid. That is the “Gift Card of Christ Jesus” that God the Holy Spirit hands out every time that he creates faith in a person’s heart. It’s the “Gift Card of Christ Jesus” that little Charlee received this morning through the waters of baptism. Her sins have been fully washed away and she now possesses everything that she needs for heaven. Why? Because Jesus paid for it all for her.

What peace that brings to us to know that Jesus has fully paid what we once owed. That we are right with God because Jesus did everything right in our place, even as a little baby in Jerusalem. That’s the peace that you heard the Apostle Paul encourage his fellow Christians to have permeate every part of their lives as he wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Colossians 3:15). That’s my prayer for each of us as we begin this new year, that this might be a year where the peace of Christ rules in our hearts. How does that happen? We’re told, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16). That peace needs empowering. And where does that power come from? The message of Christ Jesus. Therefore, I would encourage you this next year to recommit yourselves to worshipping with your fellow Christians on a weekly basis, to growing in your knowledge of the Bible through study of God’s Word in a Bible class, personal Bible study plan, Sunday school, family devotions, and an active prayer life. Let gratefulness for the “Gift Card of Christ Jesus” which the Holy Spirit has given to you, guide you to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Light in the Darkness

Sermon from Christmas Eve, December 24, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 4:6

What do you do when you walk into a dark room? You reach for the light switch, right? For many of us, it’s probably hard to imagine living without that little thing called “the lightbulb” – that little glass bulb that instantly dispels the darkness and brings light. Can you imagine experiencing that for the first time? What a memorable and life-changing experience that would be! In 1893, Chicago hosted the World’s Fair. And one of the most memorable events of that World’s Fair, was on May 1st when nearly 100,000 incandescent lights instantly flooded the nighttime sky and illuminated once dark roads and rooms. For many people, this was their fist experience with this novelty called the lightbulb. That little thing – the lightbulb – has quite drastically changed the world in which we live and how we see the world in which we live.

One little baby – born 2000 years ago, in an overcrowded town in the Middle Eastern city of Bethlehem – one little baby changes everything. Now maybe you think that I’m exaggerating a bit. But I don’t think you can possibly exaggerate just how dramatically Jesus changes things. How can one child, born so many years ago make such an impact us today? Maybe we should back up a bit. In fact, let’s go back to the beginning.
“Let there be light.” God spoke, and time began. The infinite darkness was instantly shattered by light. God spoke and the universe and everything in it came into existence including the first two people who God had carefully, personally crafted with his own hands. These two people were to be the crown of his creation. They were meant to live forever in the perfect world that he had created for them. They were to reflect the glory of their Creator as they daily lived to honor and serve him.

But that perfect world and that perfect relationship with God was soon shattered by the darkness of sin. Adam and Eve selfishly thought that they knew better than God. They disobeyed God, and just as suddenly as light had shattered darkness, now the darkness of sin shattered God’s perfect creation. A relationship without fear, a world without pain, a life without death – was instantly gone! The darkness of sin hangs over all of human history and every human heart. We see it in the senseless acts of violence and the disregard for human life. We hear it in the hateful words and condescending comments. We see it in ourselves – selfishness that doubts God’s goodness when it comes to sexuality, humility and forgiveness. We are quick to grab more than we need, and slow to be generous with those in need. The darkness is deep, and it is deadly. It is a darkness that leave us lost, searching for some way to escape, to fix things, to get rid of guilt, find peace, and fix this broken world. So we find people that are trying to solve the problem. But let’s face – anything that sinful people come up with is probably not a real good solution. That’s kind of like the dying man to ask the blind man to drive him to the hospital. Not a real good idea. We need someone outside of this darkness, someone outside of this to step in.

“Let there be light.” Same God, but different occasion. This time I’m not talking about the creation of physical light. Here I’m talking about the light of rescue that God promised to provide. Like the bright glow of the spotlight that comes from the coastguard ship announcing rescue to those drifting in the open sea, God was providing a saving light for a world lost in the darkness of sin and without any hope of rescue on its own. This was what God first promised to those first sinners, Adam and Eve, a promise that burned brightly throughout the centuries, until at the perfect time and place, 2000 years ago, in Bethlehem God announced, “Let there be light!” and the promised Light of salvation, Jesus, entered the darkness of this world.

It is no wonder that the angels could not contain themselves on the night of Jesus’ birth, but shouted, “Glory to God in the highest heaven!” (Luke 2:14) because there, in that manger, in that one little child – God’s glory was being revealed. Now you might wonder, how can all of God’s glory be found in a newborn. But that’s the amazing part. This newborn is none other than the one who created light at the beginning of time. This baby is none other than God himself. I know it’s hard to fathom, but if God declares it to be true, who are we to say, “God, I think you might be mistaken.” The Bible declares, “For in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). And thank God that this baby is God, because that means that this baby is able to do what none of us could do. He is able to rescue us from the darkness of this sinful world. And that’s exactly what this baby did!

About 30 years after Jesus was born, Jesus made it clear what his purpose was for coming into this world when he said, “The Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). From the moment of his conception till the day of his death, Jesus was searching and saving those lost in the darkness. Each day, Jesus went to battle the darkness for us. He was tempted by the devil and this sinful world, but never stumbled and fell into sin. Jesus perfectly lived to the glory of his heavenly Father for us who have so failed to do so in our words, thoughts and actions. Jesus’ love for the lost drove him to the cross where he took the punishment of hell, eternal separation from God, for the sins of all the world. And then on Easter morning, Jesus rose from the dead to declare that a drastic change had occurred. For those who trust in him, Jesus gives his perfect life and the payment of sins which he made at the cross. Death is now God’s way of plucking people out of the darkness of this world to live with him in the glory of heaven. All of this because of that one little baby, born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.

You see, that is the glory of our God. This baby is what makes our God glorious. Sure, you can see God’s glory in what he has created – that massiveness of the universe, and the complexities of the human body. But all of those things pale in comparison to what Christ Jesus has gained FOR us and what God the Holy Spirit has given TO us through faith. That’s the life-changing light that you hear described in these words, “God… made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2Corinthians 4:6). Darkness naturally brings with it fear and frustration because of the uncertainty is causes. That’s why nightlights are so popular. We like to be able to see what is there. By nature we live in a spiritual darkness, uncertain of what our status is before God, hoping that everything will work out, but never really knowing for sure. But when the Holy Spirit shows us Jesus through faith, the light clicks on. This is not some dinky nightlight. This is a light-up-the-room, let-me-show-you-everything, light. Suddenly there is confidence and certainty because you know where you stand and where you are going. Jesus is standing there with you. He has given you his perfect life. He has paid for every one of your sins. You are right with God and now worthy of the glory of heaven’s home.

That Light of Christ changes the way that you look at your life – your purpose and the problems that you face. The Light Christ helps you to see people, relationships and all you have in a different light. You see them as gifts entrusted to you, opportunities to glorify God through your use of them. You see problems of life for what they are – the results of living in a sinfully broken world – sometimes brought upon ourselves and other times thrust upon us by others. We do not deny those problems. They are real and sometimes very painful – but we also know that they are not forever. Instead, God promises to give us the strength to endure them, to use them for our blessing, and to one day permanently rescue us from them. Yes, one little baby changes everything.

Have you ever tried buying Christmas lights in July? They’re kind of hard to find. If you walk up to the customer service counter and ask where the Christmas lights are, you might get some strange looks and the answer, “Sir, that’s a seasonal item. We don’t carry those all year. You’re going to have to wait until September when we put out our Christmas items.” I think that might be one of the temptations when it comes to Jesus, the Light of salvation – we make him a seasonal item in our lives. “When I have more time… when the kids are older…when I retire…when I have problems…when my life settles down…” Jesus is not meant to be a seasonal Light in our life. Jesus wants to be a permanent fixture in your life, in your family, in your marriage, in your relationships. And that can only take place through regular exposure to that glorious Light of Christ Jesus which beams brightly and powerfully through his Word. We need that Light of Christ to navigate us through this world, to redirect us to the cross when we have fallen off course, to refresh us with his forgiveness, and strengthen us with his love.

One little baby – a Light that changes everything for those living in this dark world. A Light that by God’s grace has changed us. May that Light of Christmas continue to shine in your hearts at every season of life as you reflect the glorious love of Christ Jesus. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises on you!” (Isaiah 60:1).

The Call of Christ’s Coming Continues

Sermon from Sunday, 16, 2018 – Philippians 4:4-7

When you look at that picture of a mountain range, can you tell me which mountain is closest or where one begins and the other ends? It’s kind of hard to tell from a distance, isn’t it? Only when you get closer, into the mountain range itself will you be able to tell which comes first and where one ends and the next begins. Throughout these last two weeks of Advent, we have heard the call, “Christ is coming!” We’ve heard the call come from the Old Testament prophets. We’ve heard the call come from John the Baptist as he pointed to Jesus as the Christ. But the call of “Christ is coming!” does not stop once Jesus is born. The Bible views the coming of Christ kind of like that mountain range. The first coming of Christ at Christmas nearly 2000 years ago, so often blends into the second coming of Christ at the end of the time. Sometimes the two events blend so closely one into the other, you can’t tell where one description stops and the other begins. That’s only fitting because those two events are so closely connected. For it is the preparation that takes place for Christ’s first coming, that also makes us ready for the Christ’s second coming at the end of time. And it is Christ’s first coming as that child in Bethlehem that affects our view of Christ’s second coming and the time leading up to it. This morning, in the words of Philippians 4, we again see how closely connected those two comings are and how they prepare us both to celebrate and anticipate the coming of Christ Jesus.

This letter that Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians is what many people have called his most joyful letter. It is true that you can sense Paul’s joy as he thought about his fellow 1st century Christians who he had heard were witnessing their faith in Christ in many different ways. And so it might almost seem a bit redundant for Paul to say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). While Paul had heard of many good things going on among the Philippian Christians, he had also heard about two prominent women among those Christians who were fighting with one another. In the verses immediately before the one I just read, Paul told those two women to stop fighting and instead, “Rejoice!” And just in case they didn’t hear him the first time, he says it again, “Rejoice!” Now this might seem superficial, almost like he’s telling them to just pretend like they’re happy. But did you notice where their joy was supposed to come from? Pauls says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” There is the key “IN THE LORD.” This was a joy that was to come from recalling what the Lord had done for them. It was a call for them to remember how Christ had come, the Lord God almighty, to live for them and die for them and rise for them, so that they could live with him for eternity. This is the joy that comes from recalling the Lord’s forgiveness of our sins, and the salvation that Christ had come to win for us. This is a joy that belongs to every Christian through faith, as we continually recall the love of Christ Jesus. And yet, what too often happens to that joy?

You might picture it like a campfire on a cool night. If you stay close to the fire it will keep you warm and toasty. You start to walk away from the fire, that warmth quickly leaves and coolness sets in. The Philippians had started to step away from the fire of Christ’s love and their joy had begun to cool and quarreling had taken over. Their loss of warmth had affected their relationships even with their fellow Christians. Paul tells them to get back by the “fire” of Christ and his love, and to get that joy warmed back up. And I think that’s probably a good reminder for all of us also.

Do you ever sense your joy cooling? You get frustrated with a fellow Christian because of what they did or did not do? Bitterness begins to set in, and you slowly begin to step away from the warmth of Christ’s love. Dear friends, don’t freeze! Come on back, and stand around the fire that Christ provides for us, the warmth of Christ’s love that comes through the repeated hearing and life-long learning of his Word, the regular receiving of the Lord’s Supper. Have that joy warmed back up with Christ’s love for you.

Paul goes on in these verses to show how that joy positively affects our relationships with the people around us as he writes, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5). That word “gentleness” is kind of an interesting one. It has the picture of “yielding,” let someone else go ahead of you even if you have the right to demand otherwise. Now this is not talking about apathy or ambivalence towards what we know to be wrong or sinful. It’s talking about how we treat the people around us. How good are you at “yielding” to others? It seemed to be a bit of a problem among the Philippian Christians, and unfortunately, they’re not unique. Instead of “yielding” we can be more interested in winning, of making sure that we’re heard, of getting OUR way. How often do we attempt to excuse our lack of gentleness by saying, “It’s my right to…” That’s the voice of our sinful nature, not our faith. That’s the voice that is quick to make demands and slow to show gentleness. But that is not the way of our Savior.

When you are tempted by quick tongue, or a stubborn heart remember Christmas. Look into the manger and remember who this is and what he was willing to do. Paul reminded the Philippian Christians of that in chapter 2 when he wrote, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8). Jesus yielded his divine rights for you. He gave up what was rightfully his from all of eternity, so that he could serve us. What perfect gentleness our Savior has shown to us as he went so far as to willingly die on a cross, so that we could live with him for eternity. Out of joy in what the Lord was willing to do for us, we put our egos to the side and put others first.

Paul adds additional motivation when he adds, “The Lord is near!” That is not a threat but a reminder. Christians recognize that Christ is going to come and take us home to heaven whether through death or the end of the world. So we recognize that we have a limited amount of time. Therefore, we want to make use of every opportunity to reflect the gentleness that Christ has shown to us with those around us.

Paul then goes on to write, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). These verses remind us that God knows us so well. If there is one thing that the human race is good at, it is worrying. We worry about weather, about money, about our kids, our grandkids, our health, our jobs and the list goes on and on. God tells us how to deal with our anxiousness when he says, “Prayer.” How does prayer help to deal with worry? As we approach our heavenly Father in prayer we are regularly reminded of who this God is and what he done and promises to do for us. We recall the love of the Father to whom we pray, his faithfulness, his promises, his forgiveness, his power, his knowledge of what we need. Our prayers of thanks build our confidence as the Lord reminds us of the many spiritual and physical blessings he has already provided for us.

The hymn writer had it so right, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer” (What a Friend We Have in Jesus Joseph Scriven 1820-1886). It’s sadly ironic that when we don’t take time for prayer it’s too often because we are too busy worrying. Take that time with your Father in prayer and grow in your confidence to trust him more and worry less.

Finally, Paul concludes by writing, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). God gives you a peace that surpasses anything that this world can possibly offer. The world’s peace is always dependent upon what people will do or not do, and therefore is always temporary. Jesus’ provides real and lasting peace because this is “the peace OF GOD.” This is the peace that completely depends on what God has promised to you and already has done for you. It is the peace that comes from knowing that Christ has come to bring you peace with God. Yes, the baby of Bethlehem has lived and died for you and your salvation.

When your hearts are burdened by sin and when your mind cannot fathom how God has or is going to do what he promised, the peace of God calms our troubled hearts and minds. He takes us to the stable of Bethlehem and then to the cross of Calvary and asks, “What kind of God would be willing to do that for you?” And there is only one answer. A God who has loved you so much that he came to earth for you, all so that he can come back and take you to be with him in heaven. You see, the coming of Christ, has made us ready, for the coming of Christ. Joy, gentleness, prayer and peace – all yours because Christ came, all so that you can be ready for Christ to come again. Amen.

The One Thing for Christmas Prep

Sermon from Sunday, December 9, 2018 – Luke 3:1-6

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. ‘Tis the season to be jolly. Fa-la-la-la-la…” Hold on! Tis the season to be JOLLY? You might slightly disagree with that when you look at your December calendar or attempt to do some shopping. It seems more like, ‘tis the season to be FRANTIC! Christmas is one week closer than last weekend and the length of things to do just seems to be getting longer instead of shorter! Christmas cards to send, cookies to bake, houses to clean, Christmas presents still to purchase, car rides to endure, and the list goes on and on – all the different things that you still need to get done before Christmas! Now maybe you’re thinking, “Thanks a lot! I was hoping to forget about those things for a few moments at church this morning, and now I’m all stressed out.” First let me apologize, and secondly, what if I could help you to simplify your Christmas preparation? In fact, there is really only one thing that is necessary to truly be ready to celebrate Christ’s coming. What is it? What is that one thing? It’s the one thing that we heard about in our gospel lesson this morning, as we listened to a man named John the Baptist.

John the Baptist is a rather interesting person. He was certainly unique for a number of different ways. You might recall his birth which was certainly unique. You’ll hear more about that on Wednesday at our Advent service, but John was the result of a miracle. His parents Zechariah and Elizabeth were unable to have children, and Elizabeth was way past that time of life when women normally have children. Then an angel appears to her husband Zechariah and tells him that Elizabeth would have a child. Sure enough, 9 months later, John was born. But that was just the beginning of John the Baptist being unique.

John was the fulfillment of a very specific Old Testament prophecy written by the prophet Isaiah some 800 years before John was born and repeated by other prophets like Malachi who we heard this morning in our first lesson. You heard the reference to that prophecy this morning in Luke 3:4, “As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord…” (Luke 3: 4). John was “the voice” who literally lived out in the wilderness around the Jordan River. And what was John’s job supposed to be? He was to call out to people, “Prepare the way for the Lord.” The call of the prophets, “Christ is coming!” that had echoed throughout the Old Testament over centuries and centuries, was one that John the Baptist would also join in, but in a bit of a different way. What all the Old Testament prophets only saws through the eyes of FAITH, John the Baptist would see with his very own eyes. John would actually see Jesus and literally point to him, identifying Jesus of Nazareth as the long-awaited and now arrived promised Savior. His call, “Christ is coming” would soon be followed by, “There he is!”

What would this getting ready people to welcome the Christ all involve? Listen again, “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, and every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall be come straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation’” (Luke 3:4-6/Isaiah 40:3-5). John was supposed to be that voice, the person calling out to other people “Get ready because Christ is coming!” How would those people prepare? Well, the Lord uses a picture of a major construction project to describe that preparation.

While I’ve never personally worked in road construction, I do consider myself somewhat well-experienced in road construction having regularly driven through both Chicago and Milwaukee for the past 14 years and spent many hours sitting in traffic, watching multi-year construction projects reach completion. The picture that these words from Isaiah paint is not merely sending through the streetsweeper to pick up some trash, or even the adding of a lane to relieve some traffic congestion. This is MAJOR road construction. Did you hear what needed to be done? The blasting away of boulders, the leveling of mountains, the filling in of monstrous canyons, rerouting roads to make them straight, removing any and every obstacle that might make travel difficult. This was to be a luxury highway that was fit for a king.

The Lord used this picture to describe the SPIRITUAL preparation that needed to take place for people to be ready for Christ’s coming. It was major, and it is the same major preparation that needs to take place today, for us to be ready to celebrate Christ’s coming. It is the major preparation that you heard John the Baptist calling for in Luke 3:3, “He [John the Baptist] went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). There is one word that might best summarize the preparation that John was calling for – it’s the word “repentance.”

Repentance begins with an inspection of your life, a surveying of your thoughts, your actions, your attitude to see if it perfectly lines up with what God requires of you to enter heaven. And what does that survey quickly reveal? It reveals how far short we have fallen of God’s glory. It reveals the mountains of selfishness and arrogance that we have piled up, being more concerned about ourselves than about others, needing to be recognized or the center of attention, building ourselves up instead of others. It reveals the valleys of doubt that have led us to ignore certain parts of God’s Word because they cause inconvenience or embarrassment. It reveals the crooked roads of lust that have led us to say or see things that we shouldn’t, the arrogance that leads us to look down on others, the anger that we harbor in our hearts for what someone said or did to us in the past. I think that the temptation is to conduct that spiritual survey and think, “Alright, it’s certainly not perfect, but it’s not so bad. It’s just a little mountain, a shallow valley, a scenic road, but nothing all that bad, all that serious.”

When I was growing up in Florida, there was a sinkhole that started as a small “pot hole” in the back of a luxury car dealership. Within hours it had grown into the size to that of a small lake, swallowing dozens of Mercedes Benz and few Ferraris, part of a city park and half of a public pool. I remember driving by the sight with my parents when it first happened and being just a little scared. A number of years later we returned to the same sight. The city had built a bridge over the sinkhole and if you didn’t know better, you would think that it was just a bridge over a harmless little lake or large pond, unaware of the destruction it had caused.

Dear friends, repentance leads us to see the seriousness of sin. Sin is not an inconvenience to “get around” or some obstacles that if we try hard enough we can bridge on our own or fill up with our good works. Sin is eternally dangerous as the Lord warns in these words, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Sin intends to destroy our relationship with God, to place barriers that rob us of God’s blessing. Sin intends to create a chasm that separates us from God for eternity. Sin calls for major spiritual construction.

That was what John the Baptist’s message was all about. Repentance is meant to bring people to see the seriousness of their sin, so that they can see their need for and welcome the one-man construction crew of Christ Jesus. Only Jesus can complete this major spiritual construction project. Only Jesus’ powerful perfect life and sacrificial death can blast away the boulders that once barred our entrance into heaven. Only Jesus can fill in those valleys of doubt in the authority of God’s Word, as he humbly followed God’s will perfectly in our place. Only Jesus can straighten out those crooked paths of our wandering thoughts and eyes, by living a life that was always in line with God’s will for us. Jesus perfectly paves the way to heaven’s home, builds that bridge that crosses the chasm of sin and death. Jesus has built a “freeway” (in the truest sense of the word) to heaven, every sin fully paid, eternal life completely purchased, salvation fully won by Christ.

You see, it is only when you see your need for Christ that you appreciate what Christ has come to do for you. That’s what repentance does. It leads us to daily recognize our sin, its seriousness, and to turn to Christ, trusting that he has fully forgiven us of our every sin, that through faith in Christ, we are on the way home to heaven. And with that knowledge, we are then empowered to fight sin, to struggle against temptation and to live lives that reflect where we are headed by God’s grace – we’re on the freeway home to heaven.

There it is, the one thing that you really need to be ready for Christmas – repentance. Repentance helps us to look at what we are filling up our lives with and to simply ask, “Is this something that is helping me to appreciate the salvation Christ came to win for me, or is it something that needs to be pushed down the list, or maybe just taken off the list completely?” We are very good at convincing ourselves that we NEED to get done all these things in order for it to be a “successful” or jolly Christmas. In reality, there is only one thing that we truly need to do to be ready for Christmas, that is repentance. With repentance we will be ready to appreciate and celebrate the coming of Christ – the one-man construction crew that has arrived to perfectly prepare us for heaven. Amen.