Where Is Your Focus At Christmas? (Advent 2)

Where Is Your Focus At Christmas?


Where your head goes, your body follows. Years ago I took a driver’s education class. And in that class we were taught that where your eyes go, your body follows. You could be driving down the road and see a deer way off in a field. So what do you naturally do? Naturally, you look over and see the deer. And even though you only look for a second or two, what happens when you look back? You used to be perfectly in your lane. But now you’re swaying to the right of your lane. Or even worse, you can be crossing over into the other person’s lane. Christmas is a joyous and blessed time of the year. But it’s a time of the year when it’s easy to become distracted. And so, this morning God’s word invites us to ask ourselves the question, “Where is your focus at Christmas?” And the place that teaches us the answers to this question is from the last book in the Old Testament, the book of Malachi. In Malachi 4, we read: ““For look, the day is coming, burning like a furnace, when all the arrogant and everyone who commits wickedness will become stubble. The coming day will consume them,” says the Lord of Armies, “not leaving them root or branches.” (Malachi 4:1 CSB17)


So Malachi reminds us what we’ve been talking about for the last several weeks, that Judgment Day is coming. And indeed, it could come at any time. But notice where he goes from there: 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings, and you will go out and playfully jump like calves from the stall. 3 You will trample the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day I am preparing,” says the Lord of Armies.” (Malachi 4:2–3 CSB17)


Malachi mentions that those who do not repent will be consumed in the fires of hell. But then he speaks those ever-so-important words, “But you.” He let’s them know that Jesus’ righteousness will be their shining sun. God was what they could never be. He was perfect. And sent would send his perfect servant to do for his people what they could not do for themselves. They could not love God perfectly. But about 300 years down the line, when Jesus was born, he could. They could not love their neighbors perfectly. But this coming Savior could. His righteousness would dawn and rise and shine on them. And the healing of forgiveness would be theirs.


But there’s even more. Because Jesus’ righteousness and perfection would be their own, there were effects in their lives. They would be like calves who are let out of the barn. This is the sort of sight that is not too difficult to see at all. You take some calves that are hemmed in and enclosed in barns during the cold winter. And then the spring comes and they don’t just leave the barn. They run and jump around. And if you’ve ever seen this, it’s amazing to watch. For a young calf is not the most graceful animal. If you want to see a graceful animal, maybe a horse might be better to watch. If you want to see joy—pure joy, look at a calf.


Now, my friends in Christ, this is a picture that Malachi paints. And he paints this picture for us. But what does it mean? What is it a picture of? This is a picture of Judgment Day. Judgment Day should be a day of pure, unshaped and unrestrained joy—like calves let out of the barn. But our temptation to sin is that we can can look at the joy in front of our eyes and forget about the better joy in heaven. There is nothing wrong with opening up your Christmas ornaments to put them on the tree and looking to the past to be reminded of your Grandma or Grandpa who gave them to you. There’s nothing wrong with looking forward to the very unique worship that happens a week from now when our Children share God’s word with us or on Christmas Eve when we light candles and sing beautiful hymns. But the joy of the present or the joy of the past wipes away your joy of Judgment Day—your joy of the future, there is where the sin enters in.


But that’s how good and gracious the Lord of the Heavenly Armies is. He brings our focus back to where it needs to be. He reminds us that that shining righteousness was not just there for the sinners in Malachi’s time. Jesus’ perfection is our own. For all the times we lost focus and forgot about the joy to come, his perfection and righteousness forgives us and covers us.It is also here for us. And because of that, joy, unshaped and unrefined joy is waiting for us there in heaven, the sort of joy that you cannot wrap in a present or bake in cookies or decorate on a tree.


So, where’s your focus at Christmas? In these words here in Malachi the Lord reminds us to focus our thoughts and hearts forward to Judgment Day. But there’s more. We read: ““Remember the instruction of Moses my servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.” (Malachi 4:4 CSB17)


Where’s your focus at Christmas? First, focus on the joy of Judgment Day. But, second, focus on the joy we find in God’s word everyday. Here in these words, notice what the Lord encourages his people to do. He encourages them to remember what Moses taught them.1(Malachi 3:22 BHS-T)}} The word here, “remember” does not just mean to remind someone of something. It’s the sort of action that makes a person take action. When you say, “your hair is on fire”, that’s not just a “for your information” sort of comment. We take action if someone tells us this. Here the Lord of heavenly armies is urging his people to remember God’s word by learning, reading and growing in it. And then he follows up by letting them know why they should remember God’s word: 5 Look, I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”” (Malachi 4:5–6 CSB17)


The Lord of heavenly armies sends Elijah. In the New Testament Jesus tells us that this Elijah is John the Baptizer. And, as John shares God’s word with the people of Jesus’ day, what happens? The hearts of fathers turns toward their sons and the hearts of sons turn toward their fathers. That is the power of God’s word. It changes people. A guy I once knew, his dad was an unbeliever. And it shouldn’t shock us that his dad acted like an unbeliever. But this son knew his Savior. He knew Jesus great love for him. And that love wasn’t just there for him. It was also there in him. And in that light he was able to look at his dad differently than he did before. And, slowly, as he was able, he shared God’s word with his dad. And then, on his death-bed, his dad confessed his faith in Jesus. And so, through his powerful word the Lord of heavenly armies changed the son’s heart toward his father.


But this too is where we see our temptation to sin. Joy, true, life-changing joy is found here in God’s word every day. But there is such a temptation to replace that joy with different joys. If you find joy lighting candles but find no joy opening up your bibles and finding joy there in reading about Jesus, the light of the world, your focus is in the wrong place. If you study, whether it’s taking out that recipe book to study up and make the perfect Christmas meal or study as you watch Youtube to figure out how to make the perfect Christmas ornament—if you study other books, but find no joy and no time to study God’s word with you pastor, your focus is in the wrong place.


And my dear friends, there is joy, real and true joy there to be found in God’s word. And it’s not just joy that we find at this truly special time of the year at Christmas. It’s joy we find every time we open up our bibles and read them. It’s joy we find every time we sit down with our pastor and go through the details of God’s word. And as we do that, it changes us, for good. But the source of that change is not law. It’s gospel. It’s our Savior Jesus. It’s knowing the great joy he had in taking on human flesh and blood for us, to take away our sins. That is the source of our joy. And the Holy Spirit takes that joy and performs a miracle. The joy that Jesus had for us, as we see that our sins are forgiven, we reach out, forgive and serve others. That’s the only way a man with an unbelieving father could forgive his father and be there for him in his last days. And it’s the only way love will be in our hearts to show true Christian love to others.


And so, my friends in Christ, where is your focus at Christmas? Let your focus be on Christmas on Christmas. But don’t let that be the only place your focus sits and settles. Focus on the joy that will be yours on Judgment Day. And focus on the joy that is yours every day in God’s word. Amen.



1 ”זִכְר֕וּ תּוֹרַ֖ת מֹשֶׁ֣ה עַבְדִּ֑י“

What Did You Expect? (Advent 1)

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What Did You Expect?


Why is he reading that? It’s the beginning of a new year. It’s the first Sunday in Advent. So why is your pastor taking you back to Palm Sunday? To answer your question, I didn’t choose this reading. This Sunday we begin the One-Year or Historical lectionary series. These readings for these Sundays are close to a thousand years old. A better question to ask is not, “why did the pastor pick that reading,” but instead, “why did Christians a thousand years ago pick them?” They chose this reading from Palm Sunday to ask you a question: what did you expect? What did you expect to find last year at Christmas? And what do you expect to find this Christmas? And as we read through these words from Matthew 21 we find real answers to that question, not just about Jesus at the end of his earthly life, but also at the beginning. In Matthew 21, we read: 1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”” (Matthew 21:1–3 NIV11-GKE)


What do we expect? What do we expect of Jesus our King? What we see in these words is that every detail about this king was perfectly planned. Jesus tells two of his disciples to go to a specific place, to specific people and to get two specific animals. And, as we look to the events that will unfold in these next four weeks, realize that the same is true. Every detail about this king was planned—and planned perfectly. But what else do we expect? 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”” (Matthew 21:4–5 NIV11-GKE)


What did you expect in this king? Yes, he is a king that is perfectly planned. But he is also a king that is prophesied in the past. Hundreds of years before he walked up to Jerusalem to die God’s word told us that he would enter on foot only to the bottom of the hill. He would travel like the true king of Jerusalem that he was into Jerusalem. He would travel on two donkeys. That’s what the king rode on. And this teaches us what to expect at Christmas too. As we look ahead, won’t there be ancient and true promises and prophecies about what this king will be like? But these words aren’t done. We read: 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”” (Matthew 21:6–9 NIV11-GKE)


What did you expect as you look and your coming King? Expect a king that is perfectly planned. Expect a king that was prophesied in the past. But finally, expect a king that is praised properly. The people shouted, “hosanna!”1 That’s the Aramaic for “Please save us!”2 They spoke the precise and proper words. They said it. But they didn’t get it. They said “hosanna.” But they meant, “let me take advantage of your humility.” Let us use you and abuse you, making you into what we want in a king and not listening to what you want.


That’s how it was on Palm Sunday. And it’s the same every Christmas, isn’t it? Look at the world around you. When they celebrate Jesus as the King of kings, what picture do they usually use? Do they use the picture that we saw last week as the conquering King coming down from the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead? No, outside of Christian churches, it’s hard to find that part of the bible spoken of? Why is that? Just like the people on Palm Sunday then, so also the people today like a humble king so that they can take advantage of him. A baby in a manger—how could that person be full of wrath against or even be aware of my sin? So whatever I’m doing that sinful and wrong, I can keep doing that.


And that is a temptation for us as Christians too, isn’t it? And what did you expect? What sort of king did you expect to find as we prepare for Christmas? Did you expect the sort of king that would not care when you sinned and would not be offended? That, for the times you gossiped and lied, for the times you hated and harmed others, Jesus was either not filled with wrath against that sin or not even aware of it.


These words move us to repent. For if we continually and constantly take advantage of Jesus’ humility, what did you expect would happen? Jesus will not come to cuddle with you, but instead, to crush you. And so we repent. And then finally, we praise him properly. Instead of ignoring Jesus’ words and taking advantage of his humility, we cling to them. For his humility is the only hope we have to pay for our sins—and it’s the only hope we need. And that’s why we don’t just read ancient words picked out long ago on this Sunday. We also sing ancient words too. For the good hymns remind us what we are tempted to forget. Take, for example, our hymn of the day. Listen to these words:


Love caused your incarnation;
Love brought you down to me.
Your thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
O, love beyond all telling
That led you to embrace
In love, all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race.3



What did you expect as you closed off one year and began another? What did you expect your king to be? These words from Palm Sunday teach us what to look forward to this Advent season. Look forward to a king that is perfectly planned for. Expect a king that was prophesied in the past. And look forward to one who is praised properly—that we repent of the times we used and abuse our king’s humility. And instead of doing so, we cling to it. For it is our only help and hope to save us from our sins. Amen.



1 “ⲱⲥⲁⲛⲛⲁ” (Matthew 21:9 GNT-WAS)

2 הוֹשַׁע נָא

3 CW 19:2