The Father Is Interested In Us Growing (Epiphany 2)

Jesus in the Temple

The Father Is Interested In Us Growing

Some lessons are shocking. Years and years ago, we went on vacation to New York. We were getting onto the Subway. And, like any of you know, if you have children, if you have Children, you also have so many other things to carry with you. And so, you have to picture me throwing one thing after another into the subway car before the door closed. And you also have to picture our little girl there on outside the subway car—all by herself. So, I worked hard and got all the stuff into the car. And the door began to close. But there was our little girl outside. And I rushed to put my foot in the door, but I was way too far away. And I knew it. Thankfully, there was a dad who saw my problem. And he put his foot in the door ahead of me. And all of us ended up on the subway car together. Some lessons are shocking. But the lesson I learned wasn’t nearly as shocking as the lesson Mary and Joseph learned: 41 Every year his parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up according to the custom of the festival. 43 After those days were over, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming he was in the traveling party, they went a day’s journey. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.” (Luke 2:41–45 CSB17)

Josephs and Mary and their entire family went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. And they thought that after the Passover was over, they were all going back home. But when all of the rest of them left and went home, Luke here tells us that Jesus remained. And what follows is fear, terror and shock. Joseph and Mary get about a day’s journey away from Jerusalem and they ask around and realize that Jesus isn’t there. What a grievous and horrible sin to commit. It was their God-given role to watch over the Christ-child. And they forgot him. So they travel back to Jerusalem. And they search for him for three days! Can you imagine how frustrated and fearful they were? With that in mind we can begin to understand what happens in the words that follow: 46 After three days, they found him in the temple sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all those who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:46–47 CSB17)

Three days later they find him. And where do they find him? They find him in the temple. And what is he doing? He is listening to the teachers of teachers and professors of professors. And even more than that he is asking them one pointed question after another. Finally then, they make their way up to the front of the group and they ask their son the question they needed to ask: “When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”” (Luke 2:48 CSB17)

There you are as parents. You are full of fear. You are full of frustration. You need answers as to why your son didn’t obey you. And the answer Jesus gives is amazing. We read: 49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked them. “Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them.” (Luke 2:49–50 CSB17)

He tells them that he absolutely had to be where he was.1 And there’s a translation issue here. And you’ll see this in the footnote in any decent english version. In these words Jesus says that he needed to be in his Father’s……..2 And context has to fill in the proper word. Is it his Father’s rooms? His Father’s work? His Father’s interests? The best answer is probably all of these. This is Jesus’ way of letting his parent’s know that he wasn’t the one in the wrong. They were. He had to remain there in Jerusalem because Jesus’ interests were the Father’s interests.

And just what exactly was their Father in heaven interested in? He was interested in them growing by asking. Notice the huge contrast we see in these words. Mary and Joseph were convinced that what was most important was that they rush back home and get back to work. But Jesus deliberately stays in Jerusalem to teach them that, no, that was not correct. What was absolutely necessary is that he grow by asking. And Jesus had to be there in that temple asking questions for one simple reason: Because we fail so miserably at it. Our Father wants us to ask questions. But it is so easy to not do this. It is so easy to rush out of church after our service is done and not stay to ask questions in our bible study class. It is so easy to sit down at home and read our bibles so that we can check that off of our mental list of things to do instead of reading in such a way that we ask questions. He wants us to listen to sermons like Jesus did: like one who was asking questions in his soul and mind all the time he was hearing the sermons. That’s what our Father wants—that’s what he is interested in. But that’s exactly and precisely what we fail at. And that’s why it was so absolutely necessary that Jesus not go home—why he would stay and ask questions. We needed a Savior who would ask questions when we, in our sin, do not want to. We needed a Savior who would ask questions of God’s holy word when we didn’t have the energy to. We need a Savior to ask questions of God’s word when we didn’t even know what to ask. And in this boy of twelve years old that’s exactly what we find.

The Father is interested in us growing through asking. But our Father is interested in much more. We read: 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and with people.” (Luke 2:51–52 CSB17)

The Father is interested in us growing through asking. But he is also interested in us growing through obeying. The other huge area that we find a temptation to sin is that our Father in heaven asks us to station ourselves under other people in our lives—not because they are better than we are, but this is what he is interested in. This is his plan for us. So parishioners obey pastors, wives obey husbands, children obey parents, students obey teachers, and workers obey bosses. The problem is that there are times we don’t want to do this. And this is understandable when the person over us asks us to sin. Indeed, we must obey God rather than men. But most of the time, we get angry with them simply because we want to do what we want, not what they want.

And for this sin too, we need a Savior. We need someone who will not just ask in our place, but also obey in our place. We find that Savior in this twelve year old boy. Jesus was not the one who messed that week. His parents were. Jesus was the one knew what his Father was interested in. Jesus was the one who made his Father’s interests his own need. And we see that here so beautifully in these words. For not only did he ask when we do not, he also obeyed when we so often do not. He humbled himself and went down the mountain and back to Nazareth. And he did this not because his parents were equal to or better than he was. He did this because this is what his Father was interested in.

And so, what the Father was interested in, Jesus was to—perfectly and obediently in our place, so that our failings would be replaced by his faithfulness. And with that amazing fact, the Holy Spirit encourages and gives us a new person to grow in the very areas we fail in. And so, my dear forgiven friends in Christ, ask. When you hear God’s word read, ask. When you read it at home, ask questions. When you come to bible study class, ask questions in your own heart, if not even out loud. And I will do my best to answer those questions. And not just ask. Also obey those whom God has put in your life to lead you. For both of these are what your Father in heaven is interested in. And as you struggle to do these your Father in heaven promises to bless you. Amen.

1 “ⲇⲉⲓⲉⲓⲛⲁⲓⲙⲉ” (Luke 2:49 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲉⲛⲧⲟⲓⲥⲧⲟⲩⲡⲣ̅ⲥⲙⲟⲩ” (Luke 2:49 GNT-ALEX)

Why Was Jesus Baptized? (Epiphany 1)


Why Was Jesus Baptized?

Wax on—wax off. Years ago, when I was a child, we watched this movie called, “The Karate Kid.” And in the movie there’s a teenage young man. And he is learning Karate from a neighbor who is an expert in Karate. The only problem is that it doesn’t really look like he’s learning Karate at all. For days, if not weeks, all the elderly man has him do is wax his deck and fence by hand. Finally, the teenager can’t take it anymore. And he says that he came to learn Karate, not to be a slave. Then the teacher shows him that the same movements involved in waxing the deck are the ones used in blocking in Karate. Life is like that, isn’t it? There are times we are told to carry out a task. But even as we are doing it, we wonder why we are doing it at all. That’s how our words start out this morning in Matthew’s gospel. In Matthew 3, we read: 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.” (Matthew 3:13–15 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus came down from Galilee to the River Jordan to John to be baptized. And that, right there, is the problem. Jesus asks John to baptize him. But John, in response, tells Jesus how strange and unfitting it is for John to baptize Jesus. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That’s what John’s baptism delivered to the person who was being baptized: forgiveness for their sins. The huge, massive problem here that John points out is that Jesus has no sins to be forgiven. Why does Jesus need to be baptized?

Notice the answer that Jesus gives: To fulfill all righteousness. There were perfect pronouncements and promises given in the Old Testament. In fact, there were thousands of them. And it was the Messiah’s job to both know of them all and to keep them. And one of these pronouncements and promises is that Messiah would be anointed with the Holy Spirit. In these words we see how different Jesus’ baptism was to our very own. If you were told that you had to keep 1000 promises, how many would you be able to keep? How many would you even be able to remember? One of the great sadnesses we face as humans is that there have been good and proper promises we have made, but then have broken. In these words we see how different Jesus’ baptism was than our very own. For Jesus was baptized so that he could fill all righteousness. And this is good news for us. For in our baptisms then all these pronouncements and promises that Jesus kept are then given to us, so that when the Father looks at us, he doesn’t not see our broken and forgotten promises. Instead he sees his Son’s fulfillment of them.

So, why was Jesus baptized? He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. But there’s another reason he was baptized. We read: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” (Matthew 3:16 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus was also baptized to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Part of the work the Holy Spirit does is to lead people to live out a godly life. And we see what that looks like in Jesus’ life. Right after this we see Jesus going out and with such constant zeal and determination he opposes Satan. In this way the baptism that Jesus receives and the one we receive are the same. Both of them give to us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And with the Holy Spirit we have the ability to wrestle and struggle against sin. And so, what was impossible for us to do before we were Christians, we now have the ability to carry out and get done.

But in this too we find a real temptation to sin. There is this temptation we face to pretend that in certain areas of our lives we are unable to wrestle against sin and do what is right. And even worse, when we are urged to wrestle and struggle against our sins and do what is right, we then move onto the next stage where we stubbornly lash out against those who urge us to do what is right. And in every congregation I’ve served in I’ve seen this. And so I say, “Please stop cursing, gossipping, and being hostile with people,” and the person says in response: “Pastor, I am not able to do that—and stop asking me to do that.” I say to my members, “Set aside time to pray, read your bibles, come to bible class,” and the person says, “I cannot do that—and stop asking me to do that.”

When we give into those sins, notice what we’re doing. We are pretending that one of the most amazing gifts the Holy Spirit gives to us in our baptisms didn’t exist. And so, for those times we have pretended that we weren’t able to do what was right, we repent of those sins too. And when we repent of those sins, these final words that Jesus speaks to us are so filled with comfort, strength and joy: “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”” (Matthew 3:17 NIV11-GKE)

Everything Jesus did perfectly pleased his Father. And my friends in Christ, that is good news to us. For Jesus wins the Father’s approval for us in our place. His perfection replaces our stubbornness. His perfection replaces all the times we made promises and couldn’t keep them or didn’t even want to keep them. And where does baptism fit into all of this? Through baptism Jesus delivers this forgiveness to us. So that now, our Father does not see all the times we stubbornly clung to sin or the times we made and then broke our promises. Instead, he sees his Son’s perfection—perfection showed and offered up in our place. But do remember there is one final gift given to us in baptism. In baptism we have the ability to live out a godly life. We have the ability to oppose Satan and his seducing lies. We have the ability to see what is good and right and carry it out.

In all of this then we find an answer to the question: why was Jesus baptized? He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness because we could not. And he was baptized to be filled with the Holy Spirit, just as we are in our baptisms. Amen.

We Have Come To Worship The King (Epiphany)


We Have Come To Worship The King

What is beyond the next mountain? Years and years ago, President Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark to explore the land to the west to see if there was a way to the ocean. And they went up the Missouri river deep into Montana. But then the river thinned out and the mountains stood there in front of them. And they thought to themselves: “All we have to do is climb to the top of those mountains, then it’s all downhill to the other side.’” So they climbed with all their strength and determination to the top of the mountains through feet of snow. And then, when they got to the top, what did they see? They saw more mountains. For the mountains in the west were nothing like the mountains in the east. This evening in Matthew’s gospel we meet men who traveled so very far to get to Israel. But, much like Lewis and Clark, when they thought they were so close to the end of their journey, they realized that there were more difficulties in front of them. In Matthew 2, we read: 1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”” (Matthew 2:1–2 NIV11-GKE)

The Magi were close—so close to arriving at their goal: worshipping their King. But they faced an obstacle. It was an obstacle that actually we have no hint that they stumbled on. But it’s one we wrestle with in our every day life. What guided them from the East to Bethlehem? The Lord provided a star for them. How amazing this star must have been—How bright, how brilliant. There was the real temptation to be distracted by the star instead of be guided by it. And we face the same temptation today. We use earthly aids to help us focus on our King, Jesus. But the problem is when these earthly aids replace our worship of the king. If you remember singing Silent Night with lit candles more than the content of the readings and the sermon, you’re not worshiping the king. If you get frustrated that the pastor didn’t pick out your favorite hymn on Christmas Eve or Day and you miss the opportunity to see through God’s word yet again your king born and placed in the manger, you are not worshipping the king. The magi had a start to guide them. And again, we have no hint that they were led astray by that earthly aid. But if we look into our hearts, we have to admit that we have faced that temptation to find more joy and meaning in lit candles and sung songs than in the hearing of God’s word.

And so, signs are an obstacle to worshipping the king. But there was another obstacle: 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”” (Matthew 2:3–6 NIV11-GKE)

We have come here to worship the king. One obstacle we face is signs that should help us and instead distract us. Another obstacle is what we find here in these verses: earthly stress. When the magi came to Herod and started throwing around the name, “king,” everyone was shaken and stirred up. They were terrified because all of them knew that Herod the Great had one solution to whatever problem he faced: he killed it. When one of his sons threatened to take over his throne, he killed him. When he heard rumors that his wife—the wife he really, truly loved, was plotting to overthrow him, he killed her. And all the elders and priests gathered there knew this. And so, there was pressure, there was stress to stay away from this little king born in Bethlehem. And we see how real this stress was. For when the Magi asked where the king was to be born, the teachers and priests knew exactly the passage in the Old Testament to go to. They went right to Micah 5. But when the Magi left to worship the true king of Israel, did they follow? What good is it to know the truth of who the king is, but then to give into earthly stress and pressure and then not worship him? This too is a temptation we face today. If you refuse to hand over your artistic expression to endorse same-sex marriage today don’t be surprised if you will be condemned by the world around you and then fined by the government. And this too is an obstacle in front of us that gets in the way of our worship: earthly stress. But there’s one more obstacle to speak about: 6 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”” (Matthew 2:6–8 NIV11-GKE)

Look at all these roadblocks and obstacle that get in the way of us worshipping our king: earthly signs that might allure and entice us away from our Savior and King, earthly stresses that threaten to make us cowards. And here we see our final one: God’s silence. Every year when I preach on these words I am amazed at how blind the Magi are. You can just see Herod standing there, saying to the Magi, “Show me where the king is so that I may stab—urr, I man see him.” And we find no hint that they could see through his lies. In fact, it takes a vision from God to warn them to not turn back to Jerusalem.

And that too is a stumbling block in our way too, isn’t it? God gives us promises. But then he leaves us in the dark. He does not tell us where, when and how he will keep his promises and answer our prayers. He just simply promises that he will. And the Magi showed that they were wise not by seeing through Herod’s lies, but instead by humbly and thoroughly trusting the words that the Lord spoke to them.

Look at all these obstacles: signs, stresses from the world, silence from God. Who will clear away all these obstacle? How great it is that we have a king like the one we have. Look at how Jesus deals with these obstacles. First, he reminds us that his power and forgiveness does not come to us through stars in the sky or candles in the sanctuary, but instead, through God’s word. Second, just like he did with the Magi, he gives us so strong of a faith that we follow him even amidst all the stress the world puts on us to not worship him. Third, he gives us one promise after another in his word and then asks us one simple question: “how many have I broken?” Indeed, he has kept all his promises. So if he keeps all his promises we don’t need to know the when and how. It is enough for us to know that he will keep these promises.

And where does that leave us tonight? Let’s read our concluding words: 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:9–12 NIV11-GKE)

With all these obstacles removed, we, just like these Wise Men have the privilege of bowing down and worshipping Jesus, our king. And what I love about these words is how simply they end. There are parts of God’s word that call on us to act. But notice here, in these words God’s word does not call on us to take action, but instead to do just the opposite. The Holy Spirit on this beautiful night calls on us to fall down in humble worship. For Jesus is our king. He is the one who has cleared away all the obstacles. He takes moves our focus away from the signs that might distract us and places them on his word. He gives us focus and courage to worship him despite the earthly stresses that surround us. And he reminds us that even though he is silent so much of the time, nevertheless, he has spoken to us in his word. And the promises he makes, he keeps. Amen.

The Light Shines (Christmas Day)


The Light Shines

It’s hard to juggle. When I was in high school I began to learn how to juggle. They start you out with one ball. And you throw it up in the air again and again. Then you add two. Then finally you can add a third and begin juggling. But it’s not easy because you have to have your focus on many objects at once. And I never really learned how to do it. In the words we look at this morning, on Christmas Day, that’s what the Holy Spirit is asking us to do. Through the words of John he is asking us to juggle one weighty and important truth in the bible after another. First we learn that there was this Word—this divine expression and communication of thought. This word was face to face with God.1 But this Word is also himself God. But then, as soon as he drops this massive and amazing truth on us, what does he do? He makes us juggle. He makes us focus on another truth. In John 1, we read: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1–5 NIV11-GKE)

So this word wasn’t just God. This word was also light. And this light shines out to all people, into the entire world. But what’s the problem? It shines out into the darkness. But what happens? The darkness does not understand this light.2 And, to make matters worse, it pushes back against this light. This is John’s beautiful, poetic way of speaking about the sinful world that we live in and that we are a part of. Every person who is born does not know who God is. And yet, the very little that we do know about God, we hate and push back against.

And so, the light keeps shining.3 But the problem is that that darkness of unbelief tries so hard to drown it out. So then, what is the solution to this problem? 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:6–13 NIV11-GKE)

How do you deal with the darkness of unbelief? You send out a preacher. You send out someone to testify to the truth. That man’s name was John the baptizer. Through his preaching the Holy Spirit performed a miracle. Through water and word he put his name, the name of the Triune God, on them. He gave them new birth. He made them children of God. And notice in these words how detailed John is. They were born again. But none of this was their work. They were not born “from bloods.”4 We would just simply say, “bloodlines.” Being from a Christian family doesn’t make you a Christian and give you a new birth. They also were not born “through human will”5 Here John is speaking about the fact that we cannot choose to give ourselves a new birth and be born again. No, instead, God is the one who makes us his children and gives us faith in him through those waters of baptism where he puts the name of the Triune God on us and adopts us into his family.

So the light shines. It shines in the darkness. And through God’s word he gives us the gift of faith so that we are God’s children. But in this final verse we discover more about this light, Jesus who shines: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NIV11-GKE)

And now you can see why these words are the gospel for every Christmas Day. This divine word that is also the divine light takes on human flesh.6 And then he dwells with us. The light dwells in the darkness. That’s the fact of Christmas that we rejoice in. But what follows after that is the gift of Christmas: grace and truth. Grace is this amazing truth that, if we ask the question, “why should God love us so much as to adopt us into his family and give us faith in him,” what is the answer? We would like the answer to be, “because I…” But John has gone out of his way to say the words “not you” so many times already, that we know that cannot be the meaning of this word. If we ask the question, “why would God adopt us into his family,” the answer is: “Because God adopted us into his family.” Out of such deep and undeserved love, he reached out to the darkness in our souls and gave us light. He gave us faith in him and made us his children.

That is a gift that he gives to us every day. But there is another gift he gives to us everyday. He gives us the truth. On the one hand, he gives us the truth about our sin. There’s the old proverb: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6 NIV11-GKE) Friends tell us the truth because they love us. But how do they know what the truth actually is? The real, perfect and absolute truth his found here in God’s word. And that gift that corrects our errors is here for us every day.

But the other part of truth is the truth of forgiveness. Such sins we pile up throughout our lives. We sin when we think we can do God’s work for him, as if we are the ones who made ourselves Christians and give ourselves birth. We sin when we neglect the very tool that God used to create faith in us—God’s word. We sin when we commit this most Minnesotan sin of all, that we are insulted when someone, out of love for us, would actually correct us and tell us when we mess up. All these sins we pile up. And out of love for us Jesus shines out with the truth, showing us what our sins actually are. But he does so much more than that. He also shines out with the truth of forgiveness. On its best day, the world we live in might forget our sins—as long as we don’t do them again. But look how amazing the light of Christ is. His light and love shines out so much and so brightly that he doesn’t just forget, he actually forgives..

And so, my dear friends in Christ, know this Christmas Day that it’s ok to not juggle. Next Christmas we can circle back and talk about what Jesus the Divine Word is. Next Christmas we can talk about the ministry of John the Baptizer in more detail. But today focus in on the fact that Jesus, the light shines. He shines in the darkness of our own hearts and gives faith in him as we sing in our hymn this morning: unasked, unforced, unearned.7 And he gives us Christmas gifts we carry with us every day: grace and truth. Amen.

1 “ⲡⲣⲟⲥⲧⲟⲛⲑ̅ⲛ̅·” (John 1:1 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲁⲩⲧⲟⲟⲩⲕⲁⲧⲉⲗⲁⲃⲉⲛ·” (John 1:5 GNT-ALEX)

3 “ⲫⲁⲓⲛⲉⲓ” (John 1:5 GNT-ALEX)

4 “ⲟⲓⲟⲩⲕⲉⲝⲁⲓⲙⲁⲧⲱⲛ·” (John 1:13 GNT-ALEX)

5 “ⲟⲩⲇⲉⲉⲕⲑⲉⲗⲏⲙⲁⲧⲟⲥⲥⲁⲣⲕⲟⲥ·” (John 1:13 GNT-ALEX)

6 “ⲕⲁⲓⲟⲗⲟⲅⲟⲥ Ⲥⲁⲣⲝⲉⲅⲉⲛⲉⲧⲟ” (John 1:14 GNT-ALEX)

7 CW 54:4

A Child Is Born For Us (Christmas Eve)


A Child Is Born For Us

Old words are hard to understand. Here we come a wassailing among the leaves so green. A well-known Christmas carol starts with those words. You sing it and then you ask yourself at some point: “What is wassailing?” Wassailing is when about 1000 years ago the everyday people would bring a gift to their feudal landLord. And he, in turn, would give them a gift. And that carol is a reminder that there are old words out there that are hard to understand simply because they are so old. This evening we run into the same difficulty. In Isaiah 9, we read these words: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2 NIV11-GKE)

The people live in the land of……—Is it “death” or “darkness?”1(Isaiah 9:1 BHS-T)}}
And the word is so old that it’s hard to figure out which context is meant. If the problem is figuring out whether the word means ‘death’ or ‘darkness’, the solution is context. And the context here is Old Testament history. In the Old Testament the Lord asked and then begged his own people, the Jews to worship him and follow him. Instead, they worshipped other gods. Then he threatened them. And still, their attitude didn’t change. Then finally, in 722 B.C. the Lord had the Assyrians come down from the north and conquer and kill the ten northern tribes of Israel. And then so many of those that remained were carried and carted off to the distant ends of the world. And the result is that, where there were towns with the sounds of voices, now there was silence. Where there were towns where there were lights—lamps and torches lit, now there was darkness. For the people who had lived there were either killed or carted away. So if we ask the question: “does the word mean darkness or death” , the answer is that it is the death that brings darkness.

What a strange way to start out a Christmas Eve sermon, isn’t it? And yet, that’s where God’s word precisely leads us to this evening. And it’s a fact that each of us at some point has to deal with. For in every family there are treasured family members who used to be there at Christmas, but now are not. Grandpa used to be there sitting in that chair watching the grandkids open those presents, but now there is silence. Grandma used to be there baking those cookies in the kitchen with her daughter or grandkids. But not anymore. For just as in Isaiah’s day, so also in ours: death brings darkness. Or, to use words we hear in the New Testament: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NIV11-GKE) And that’s why there can be this strange sadness and guilt, that this time of the year that should be filled with joy and peace instead is filled with darkness and sadness.

My dear friends in Christ, that’s what living in the sinful world that we live in looks like. But thankfully, God’s word doesn’t stay there. We read: 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.” (Isaiah 9:3–5 NIV11-GKE)

Death brings darkness. But look where God leads us from there: Light brings joy and peace. Here too God gives us a picture. In the Old Testament there was an enemy of the Israelites called the Midianites. And the Lord chose a leader among the Jews by the name of Gideon.2 Gideon, with thousands, went to war against Midian, with their tens of thousands. But just before he was about to go out to war against them, the Lord told him that he had too many men. With their their thousands of men, the Jewish warriors might conclude that they were the ones who defeated the Midianites, not God. So the Lord then narrowed their numbers down to about 300. And then with 300 men Gideon went out to war and defeated them. And on that day everyone knew that it was not Gideon, nor his men that won the victory. Instead, it was the Lord alone who brought this victory.

That’s the picture. But what is the point? There would be a light that would shine out and bring peace and joy. But the Lord is the one would provide it. If the problem was death that brings darkness, the solution is one that only the Lord can provide. And as the words travel on, we see then what this solution is: 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:6–7 NIV11-GKE)

Death brings darkness. And a light will bring joy and peace. So what then is this light? God’s word tells us that a child is born for us. A son is given to us. And this son will also be “Mighty God.”3(Isaiah 9:5 BHS-T)}} What is the solution to death that brings darkness? The solution is a son that will destroy death by dying. And in that he will bring us peace.

And isn’t that an important issue to speak about too at Christmas time? This is a time of the year that should be filled with peace and joy. But instead it’s a time strained with stress. Tests are due. Work has to be done before you go away for Christmas break. There are choir concerts and band concerts. There’s shopping to get done and dinners to plan. And in that stress and strain it’s so easy lash out with words against our loved ones that we wouldn’t say if it were the middle of Summer.

And that’s why these words are so beautiful to us this evening. Jesus is the light that brings peace. He is the one who puts death to death by dying. He is the one who gives us joy by rising from the dead. He is the one who gives us peace by promising to us that, for those who die believing in the Lord, they are now at rest with him. He is the one who gives us rest by letting us know that, for those times that we lash out against those we love at the very time of the year when we speak about peace—those sins are forgiven.

And so, death brings darkness. But Jesus, the light brings peace. For to us a son is born. But notice, my dear friends in Christ, where these words close: “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:7 NIV11-GKE)

The Lord was the only one who could defeat the Midianites in the Old Testament. The Lord is the only one who could shine out and conquer the death that brings darkness and then give us the light of peace. He is the only one who could do this. And he is the only one who did do this.

What then is our response to this? Like the shepherds in the open countryside keeping watch over their flocks at night, just like them, we bow down and thank, worship and praise Jesus. For to us a child is born; and to us a son is given. Amen.

1 ”צַלְמָ֔וֶת“

2 Judges 6-7

3 ”אֵ֣ל גִּבּ֔וֹר“

Praise God For His Greatness (Advent 4)


Praise God For His Greatness

How do you know if someone is “great?” 300 years before Jesus was born there was a man named, Alexander. And he was great because he fought many battles and never lost one of them. And he conquered the then-known world within his own lifetime. Right before Jesus was born, Herod was the king of Judea. And he was called great because he built up the temple and made it pretty. In the words we look at this morning, Mary can’t help from proclaiming how great her God is. By this time the angel has told her that she will give birth to the Christ-child. And she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. And when she sees her cousin, the baby inside of Elizabeth leaps for joy. Then Mary speaks this beautiful poem, which Christians very quickly set to music and made a song. In Luke 1 we read: 46 And Mary said: My soul praises the greatness of the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 because he has looked with favor on the humble condition of his servant.” (Luke 1:46–48 CSB17)

Mary praises God for his greatness. But why? Why does she praise God for his greatness? What is that makes God so great? Our God is great because he lifts up the lowly. And that makes us ask a question: What does it mean to be lowly? In what was was Mary lowly? First, Mary was lowly because she was a sinner. Notice how she says that she rejoices in God my Savior.1You don’t need a Savior from a bad hair day. You need a Savior from sin.

This is a powerful reminder for us too. The biggest problem you have this morning is not the test you took at school, nor the concerts you practiced for, nor the extra work at the end of the year, nor any of the other stresses that come with this time of the year. The biggest problem is that you are not able to not sin. Every day you get up in the morning and think what you should not. And at the end of the day you have to go to your Father in heaven with a list sins you thought, said, and even did—and those are just the ones you remember.

How lowly we are. But look what we learn from Mary. We too praise God for his greatness. He is great because he lifts up the lowly. Mary praises the God that she will give birth to and hold in her arms because he will be what she is not. He is holy. As she says, 48 Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 because the Mighty One has done great things for me, and his name is holy.” (Luke 1:48–49 CSB17) He is holy. And his holiness covers the lowliness of our sin.

But my dear friends, there is another way in which we are lowly. And Mary speaks about this too: 50 His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear him. 51 He has done a mighty deed with his arm; he has scattered the proud because of the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has toppled the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. 53 He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:50–53 CSB17)

In these words we see how lowly we are in that we are humans. Humans are limited creatures. We depend completely on God for our health. We depend completely on God for our wealth. And this too is a reminder of how easy it is to fall into sin by forgetting how frail, limited and weak we are simply because we are humans. Years ago there was a big snow storm in PA. And the power went out. We couldn’t get out of the drive way. We had enough food. And we had a wood-burner stove in the basement. So we all gathered downstairs around the fire eating cold, dry food waiting to be plowed out and for the power to be turned back on. The first day was ok. But after you get past the second day you realize just how dependent you are on the power grid. That fact is so easy to forget. It’s so easy to forget how lowly and limited we are and then take the next step of concluding that we really don’t need God. And we show it by simply forgetting him.

Mary did not forget this fact. She realized that we are lowly simply because we are humans. And she praises God for his greatness in lifting us up. But how he lifts us up is so wondrous. Jesus lifts us up by becoming one of us. In other words, he lifts us up by taking on our frail flesh and living our lowly lives. And he does this in our place, to win forgiveness for all the times we forgot how frail we actually are.

So, my dear friends in Christ, praise God for his greatness. He shows his greatness by lifting up the lowly. But in these remaining words he shows his greatness in a different way: 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he spoke to our ancestors.” (Luke 1:54–55 CSB17)

Our Triune God is so great because he lifts up the lowly. But he is also so great because he remembers his mercy. The Lord had made promises to people in the Old Testament. He did not need to. But he did so anyway, purely out of his love for them and his pity on them. This sort of love that reaches out and loves people because they are so un-lovable and so un-able to earn your love is what we call ‘mercy.’2 That is the sort of love he showed to Abraham and the rest of the people in the Old Testament. That is the sort of love he showed to Mary. And that is the sort of love he shows to us today. It’s a reminder that it’s all to easy to forget why we give presents at all as Christians. If you watch TV or watch movies what you learn about presents at Christmas time is that you get gifts because you have been good enough. But what’s the problem? Every child knows that he or she has not been good enough. Every child has a year of fighting with brothers or sisters and not obeying their parents. Every child has this but yet anyway gets gifts at Christmas. And the reason we received these gifts at Christmas and why we give these gifts at Christmas is to remind us what Mary realized here. The Lord remembers his mercy. He showers this mercy on a world of people who did not deserve it. We give gifts as Christians every year to remind ourselves of God’s mercy and to teach that mercy to our children.

Alexander was great because he never lost a battle. Herod was great because he built up the temple. But learn what Mary speaks here and sing it with her—if not on your lips then in your heart: Praise God for his greatness. He shows his greatness in lifting up the lowly. He shows his greatness in remembering his mercy. Amen.

1 “ⲉⲡⲓⲧⲱⲑⲱ̅ⲧⲱⲥⲣ̅ⲓⲙⲟⲩ·” (Luke 1:47 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲙⲛⲏⲥⲑⲏⲛⲉ ⲉⲗⲉⲟⲩⲥ” (Luke 1:54 GNT-ALEX)

Who May Ascend The Mountain Of The Lord? (Midweek Advent 3)


Who May Ascend The Mountain of the Lord?

Iwant to see it with my own eyes. There are so many states in our nation that have places that are beautiful. The internet has now figured out that I live in Minnesota. And so, now I see all these pretty places in MN. But evidently the prettiest place in MN is the north shore. You see the light houses and the pretty sunsets and you say to yourself, “I want to be there; I want to see that with my own eyes.” This evening, God’s word takes us to an even better place. Which would you rather see with your own eyes—the prettiest part of the North Shore, or our Triune God who made the North Shore and every other pretty place in the whole world? At the beginning of Psalm 24, we read: 1 The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord; 2 for he laid its foundation on the seas and established it on the rivers.” (Psalms 24:1–2 CSB17)

Climbing up a hill and seeing beautiful lake Superior would be pretty. But that’s nothing to being able to climb up the mountain of the Lord and see the Lord himself—that would be wonderful. But there’s a problem. And in the words that follow we see what that problem is: 3 Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? 4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not appealed to what is false, and who has not sworn deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who inquire of him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” (Psalms 24:3–6 CSB17)

If you want to ascent the mountain of the Lord and see him with your own eyes, what do you need to have? You need to have clean hands and a pure heart. You need to have never ever done anything wrong in your entire life (clean hands). you need to never ever have thought any evil desire in your life too (pure heart.) And just to make sure that we aren’t so foolish as to think we have had clean hands and a pure heart, the psalmist gives some examples. First, he says that if you have ever told a lie, you cannot stand on God’s holy mountain. Second, if you have ever made a promise you didn’t keep, you cannot stand on God’s holy mountain. This is not a small issue, is it? More than anything, when we die, we want to be with the Lord on his holy mountain. But our sin separates us from God and his holiness. But note where these words go from here: 7 Lift up your heads, you gates! Rise up, ancient doors! Then the King of glory will come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle. 9 Lift up your heads, you gates! Rise up, ancient doors! Then the King of glory will come in. 10 Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord of Armies, he is the King of glory.” (Psalms 24:7–10 CSB17)

The Psalmist urges us to receive the King of Glory. And then he asks the question that we all want to ask: who is the King of Glory? Here is where it’s good to know what glory is. The glory of the Lord was that pillar of cloud by day and that pillar of fire by night that followed the Israelites as they made their way from Egypt to Israel in the desert. It settled on the temple and filled it with smoke when King Solomon dedicated it for use. What did it mean? This was God’s special way in which he showed his people that we was with them, but not just in some abstract, distant way. No, instead, he was close to them to rescue them. That is what the glory of the Lord is.

But what else do we learn about this King of Glory? He is also the Lord of heavenly armies. He is the one who goes out and wages war for with angels at his command. For he is their king and commander.

Now, can you think of any time where the Glory of the Lord appeared and angels were present there at the same time? Who is the King of Glory. Jesus is the King of Glory. When he was born Luke tells us that the Glory of the Lord shone around them and the shepherds were terrified. And also we are told that the night was filled with powerful angels. And that was perfect and appropriate because that baby born in Bethlehem was their king and commander.

Jesus is the King of Glory. But, let’s return to the question we first asked: Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? The only one who can ascend the mountain of the Lord is the one who has clean hands and a pure heart. What does Jesus have to do with that? The King of Glory came to us to make an exchange with us. He takes our unclean hands and all the unclean actions they committed and exchanges them for his innocent hands. He takes our filthy thoughts and desires and exchanges them with his own pure thoughts. And the result is that, in those waters of baptism when we are brought into God’s family, God does not see our sin. Instead, he sees Jesus, the King of Glory and the commander of angels. He sees his own Son’s purity and sacrifice in our place.

And that cleanness and purity comes to us in a very simple, but special way. It comes to us through God’s word. Through God’s word he forgives our sins. Notice how that shows itself in our worship on Sunday mornings. Just about every Sunday morning how do we start our our worship. We confess our sins. We honestly confess the fact that our hands are not clean and our hearts are not pure and that our sins have put a wall between us and our God on his holy mountain. And then what happens? We hear that amazing news that the wall is torn down. Our sins are forgiven. And we have the privilege of spending the rest of our time in worship having more of our sins forgiven, growing in faith and encouraging one another.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? The only one who may ascend the mountain of the Lord is the one who has clean hands and a pure heart. Is that you? We started out tonight saying, “no.” But we finish saying, “amen” and “yes.” Jesus the King of Glory and commander of angels has exchanged his glory for our sin and his purity for our sin. And now, whenever God calls us home, we have the joy of ascending his holy mountain and not seeing the North Shore. Instead we see so much more and better. We see God face to face. Amen.