What kind of monster is God?

Rembrandt_Abraham_en_Isaac,_1634Lent 1 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
February 18, 2018
Genesis 22:1-8, James 1:12-18, Mark 1:9-15

Sermons online:
Text:                         pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

Another week, another horrific school shooting, another senseless massacre where teachers and students are gunned down mercilessly in their school.  It is too terrible to imagine the terror, the pain, the grief caused by one evil individual bent on death and destruction.  It is incomprehensibly awful for anyone to murder another person, but it is especially appalling when the victim is an innocent child.  What kind of monster can kill a child?

And then we come to our Old Testament reading for today and we find that it is about the planned killing of a child.  And even worse than someone killing a child, a man is ordered to kill his own child.  This is truly disturbing.  What kind of monster would order a man to kill his own child?  What kind of twisted, terrible thing is this?  Who would do this?  What kind of evil, awful, sick, cruel being would do this?  Oh.  It is the Lord God Almighty who gives Abraham the order to do this monstrous thing.  God Himself orders Abraham to kill Isaac.  What is going on here?

At times I have online discussions with an atheist from Canada.  One of his proofs that God is not real is this story from Genesis.  What kind of God would order a man to kill his only beloved son?  It is a good question.

In the Old Testament God condemns the worship of the pagan god Molech.  Part of the worship of Molech was to place an infant in the idol’s outstretched arms with a fire underneath and burn the infant alive as a sacrifice to this pagan god.  The Lord God rightly condemns this perverse practice over and over again.  And yet here in Genesis we see God ordering Abraham to kill his son Isaac.

Believers and unbelievers alike read this account of Abraham and Isaac with revulsion at the very idea that God would demand child sacrifice.  We do not sacrifice our children.

It seems everyone is deeply disturbed by this Bible story about child sacrifice, but I think that society’s revulsion at the account of Abraham being instructed to sacrifice Isaac is insincere.  It is insincere because as a nation we do sacrifice our children.  We sacrifice around 3,000 unborn children each day in the United States on the altar of sexual freedom.  That is 125 infants every hour.  We need to repent of our past sins and return to the Lord our God for forgiveness.  We must continue to work to stop the slaughter of infants in our nation and the world because we should not sacrifice our children on any altar.

     Believers and unbelievers alike read this account of Abraham and Isaac with revulsion at the very idea that God would demand child sacrifice.  We do not sacrifice our children.

And this is why this lesson is so disturbing.  How could God command Abraham to do such a terrible thing?  What kind of monster is our God?

But as we slow down and look at this lesson we can see what God is really doing here.  The horror of child sacrifice is a big part of this.  God is testing Abraham to do the absolutely unthinkable.  Genesis 22:2 (ESV) 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”[1]

But hold on.  Something is happening here.  God is painting a picture.  “Take your son, whom you love.”  Take your beloved son.  Where have we heard this today?  “Beloved son?”  This is what God the Father says to Jesus at His baptism.  Mark 1:11 (ESV) 11 …“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” [2]  It is what God the Father calls Jesus at the Transfiguration.  Mark 9:7 (ESV) 7 …“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”[3]

We see Abraham take the wood of the burnt offering and lay it on Isaac his son as they head up the mountain for the sacrifice.  Isaac is carrying on his back the very wood on which he is to be put to death.  Who else do we see carrying on His back the wood on which He will be sacrificed?

We hear Isaac say, “Genesis 22:7 (ESV) 7 … “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”[4]

Abraham replies, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”  In the Gospel of John, When John the Baptist sees Jesus approaching he says, “John 1:29 (ESV)…“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world![5] God Himself provides the Lamb for sacrifice.

Isaac is a type for Christ.  Through this account we see God painting a picture of what is to come.  We see the future when God provides the lamb for sacrifice.  We see God’s plan.

God never intends for Abraham to actually sacrifice Isaac; instead He is giving us a picture of what is to come.  The horror of child sacrifice is part of the test and part of the future picture.  What God asks Abraham to do is shocking, and because of that we get a better picture of the shocking love God has for us; sending His only begotten son to die for us.  God was never going to let Abraham harm Isaac.  As Abraham raises the knife to kill Isaac, Genesis 22:11-12 (ESV) 11 …the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”[6]

Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah bring into focus the horror of sacrificing your only son.  It shows how absolutely appalling this is.  It shows that God takes this appalling horror on Himself by offering His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as the Lamb of God.  Jesus, the beloved son, carries the wood of the cross to Calvary.

For Abraham, God provides a ram with his horns caught in a thicket.  For us God provides the Lamb of God with His head caught in a crown of thorns.

Jesus is stripped and laid on the cross.  A nail is place on his wrist and the Roman soldier raises his hammer.  God was there with Abraham to protect his beloved son Isaac.  No one is there to protect Jesus.  No one is there to stop the Roman hammer driving nails into Jesus’ flesh.  God the father has forsaken Jesus; He has given Him over to be punished for the sins of the world.  The Father allows Jesus to suffer and die for your sins and mine.  God provides the divine sacrifice.  Jesus passes the test; He conquers sin and death by rising from the dead.

The Lord tests you and you so often fail to do the hard things that He calls you to do.  The devil tempts you and you so often give into the temptation.  Jesus passes the test.  After the Lord Jesus is baptized into our sin the Holy Spirit drives Him into the wilderness and God the Father tests Jesus by allowing Satan to tempt Him in the wilderness and Jesus passes the test.  Jesus resists the lies and deceptions and accusations of the devil.  Jesus passes the test where we would fail and then offers Himself up as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world.  You are baptized into Christ.  His perfection has been given to you.  In Christ you pass the test.

We do not sacrifice our children on any altar.  God does not ask for human sacrifice from any of His creatures.  God Himself provides the Lamb.

Amen.

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[6]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

What does rising from the dead mean?

mountain_17218pTransfiguration 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
February 11, 2018
2 Kings 2:1-12, 2 Corinthians 3:12-18; 4:1-6, Mark 9:2-9

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

What did you mean by that?  In the world of text messaging with no face to face interaction and with auto correct, there is a lot of misunderstanding.  Sometimes punctuation can make all the difference.  “The mother said the child is mad.”  Who is mad?  Depends on the commas.  It is frustrating to be misunderstood when you are speaking and it is annoying to not understand when someone else is speaking.

Often when we misunderstand we are tempted to just nod our head and smile as if we did comprehend.  When we were trained to work with campers at Bethesda camps for handicapped adults they instructed us not to just nod and smile, but to really work at understanding what your friend is trying to say.  But this takes a lot of effort and patience.

And then sometimes, when you are having a conversation and you understand what they say, you may not understand what they mean.  Someone tells you, “I saw a man on a hill with a telescope.”  There are at least five possible meanings of that statement.  There is so much miscommunication in the world.  This is what you said, but what did you mean?

At the end of our Gospel reading today we find Jesus along with Peter, James and John descending from the Mount of Transfiguration and Jesus is telling them not to tell anyone what they have seen, until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.  The very next verse shows that the disciples still don’t understand, Mark 9:10 (ESV) 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.[1]  Questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.

You would think that the three disciples would be having a moment of clarity.  Peter, James and John have just seen the Glory of God shining forth from Jesus as He stands with Elijah and Moses.  God the Father spoke to them from an enveloping cloud.  Mark 9:7 (ESV) 7 …“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”[2]

Now for those, like me, who are not that good at picking up subtleties, here’s a big clue to figuring things out.  God the Father says, “Listen to Jesus.”

Jesus has already been telling the disciples what is going to happen.  Six days prior to the Transfiguration, Mark 8:31-33 (ESV) 31 …[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly.”

Peter likely doesn’t even hear anything beyond Jesus being killed and Peter knows one thing for sure; that will not happen to Jesus while Peter is around.  “And Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”[3]

Six days later Peter sees firsthand the glory of God radiating out from Jesus with Elijah and Moses present, but Peter still doesn’t understand what this rising from the dead might mean.

  Now for those, like me, who are not that good at picking up subtleties, here’s a big clue to figuring things out.  God the Father says, “Listen to Jesus.”

Jesus tells the disciples again in Mark 9:31-32 (ESV) 31 …“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. [4]

They were still questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.

In Mark 10:33-34 (ESV) Jesus tells them again, 33 …“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”[5]  And in response to this, James and John ask Jesus to let them sit at His right and left in His glory.  They were still questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.

God the Father told them to listen to Jesus, and Jesus has been telling them what is going to happen, but the disciples do not understand.   And they are still questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.

Jesus will give more clues.  Mark 10:45 (ESV) 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [6]

Jesus’ life will be given as a ransom.  And Jesus teaches about what will happen on the last day, Mark 13:27 (ESV) 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. [7]

Something big is happening here.  Jesus continues to teach as the cross looms near, Mark 14:24 (ESV) 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.[8]

Mark 14:61-62 (ESV) 61 … the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”[9]

What does rising from the dead mean?

The earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end with Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James and Salome at the tomb hearing that Jesus has risen from the dead Mark 16:8 (ESV) 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. [10]

They were still questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.

Here you are, 2,000 years later, with a longer perspective; able to see the big picture.  You see the Transfiguration of Jesus and you know what rising from the dead means.

Now the Transfiguration can inform.  You can learn that Jesus’ clothes shone brightly; Elijah and Moses were present; the three disciples were confused.  But the Transfiguration should not simply inform, but transform.  The Transfiguration transforms you because it shows you who Jesus is; and this changes everything.  You look through the transfiguration to see everything else that takes place.

The Transfiguration of Jesus is a filter through which you look at Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and also through which you look at your life, death and resurrection.

Seeing Jesus shining with the glory of God shows you who Jesus is.  Jesus is God in flesh, so as we look through the Transfiguration to the crucifixion we know that His suffering and death on the cross for you is not the end for Jesus.  Jesus will rise from the dead and ascend into heaven and Jesus will again shine with the glory of God.  Because He is God in flesh; He is God with us.

Look through the Transfiguration at your own life, death and resurrection.  You are a baptized child of God.  You have had God’s name watered onto you and you belong to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as we saw with little Clara this morning.  You are fed with the Body and Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.

Life in this valley of the shadow of death is difficult.  This life is hard with disability, disease and dementia.  This life is hard with anger, hatred and violence.  There is a hopeless saying paraphrased, “Life is hard and then you die.”  And that is true, but looking through the Transfiguration you know that there is more.  This life is not all that there is.  The difficulties of life do not rob you of eternal joy.  The hard times in life are often opportunities to serve others; to live your ordinary life in an extraordinary way.  Death is not the end.  You will rise from the dead on the last day.  As a follower of Jesus you take up your cross daily to do the hard things in life; to live out life in your various vocations loving and serving others; loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you.  You carry the cross in life, but you carry that cross knowing you will rise from the dead and you too, clothed in a white robe, will shine with the glory of God on the last day.

No longer do you need to question what this rising from the dead means.  You know what rising from the dead means.  There is no misunderstanding.

There are people who say they believe in Jesus, but they don’t believe He rose from the dead.  They say Jesus was a great prophet; Jesus was a great teacher; but that He didn’t rise from the dead because that doesn’t make sense.  But if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead then he is, in the words of C.S. Lewis, either a liar or a lunatic.  He told His disciples he would rise from the dead.  He told them over and over and over.  And then He did rise from the dead; and you know what that means.

It means Jesus is not a liar or a lunatic; He is Lord.

It means there is no misunderstanding.

It means Jesus is the Son of God.

It means that His sacrifice as a ransom for many is enough.

It means that Jesus’ word is true.

It means that His promise to you in your baptism is solid.

It means that you, who are in Christ, will rise from the dead on the last day.

It means you will shine like sun in a white robe in the heavenly city with Jesus, Elijah, Moses and all saints.

It means your sins are forgiven.

It means you have eternal life.

Amen.

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[6]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[7]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[8]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[9]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[10]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

What to do with the riff raff?

2015-09-18 12.02.38 (1280x720)Epiphany 5, 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
February 4, 2018
Isaiah 40:21-31, 1 Corinthians 9:16-27, Mark 1:29-39

 

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

As many of you know, Jeannette and I were blessed to get away for a week in January to go to a wonderful resort in the Dominican Republic.  We stayed at the Majestic Elegance which is a beautiful place with lush landscaping and lots and lots of palm trees.  There is something almost magical about being around palm trees in January.

When I was booking the trip there was an option to upgrade to the Elegance Club for a small fee.  The club is an adult’s only section of the resort with private pools, special snack and drink areas and a private section on the beach with Bali Beds.  You even get a butler.  It sounded like a good idea so we did the upgrade.

When we arrived at check-in the clerk informed us that we would not check in at the front desk, there was a separate area for club members.  We received special coconut shell wristbands to identify us as such.  The head butler gave us a tour of the resort and showed us to our room.  During the week we were able to lie in the shade in the adult section of the beach which was relatively quiet and peaceful.  We had special towels so the beach monitors would know if a non-club member tried to sneak into the club.

There were signs around our section of the resort showing it was for members only.  We saw a couple with two small children wander past one of those signs and a butler informed them that they did not belong in that area; it was just for club members.  Jeannette and I joked that they were protecting us from the riffraff.  This was a new experience for us; normally we are the riffraff.  For that week it was fun to be members of the club.

     The church is indeed a sanctuary from the evils of the world but also the Church is here to reach out to the world with the Good News of Jesus.  The Church is the gathering of believers in Christ and yet the church is not an exclusive club for members only.

At a resort it was nice to be in the club, but I fear that sometimes that being a member of the church can start to feel like being a member of the club.  Like we are in the club, away from all the riffraff on the outside.  We can start to feel like we are in and they are out because we were smart enough to choose the upgrade.

There is a little sense of this in our baptismal service:  “…Grant that she be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers…”

The church is indeed a sanctuary from the evils of the world but also the Church is here to reach out to the world with the Good News of Jesus.  The Church is the gathering of believers in Christ and yet the church is not an exclusive club for members only.

This is the hard task of the Church; to be, at the same time, a refuge and fortress for sinners and also be welcoming and reaching out to a world of sinners.

In our Gospel lesson today we see Jesus in Capernaum healing Peter’s mother-in-law.  He heals her and she goes back to doing her normal tasks.  Jesus helps her and restores her to her vocation.  Word spreads of what Jesus can do and that evening, once the Sabbath has ended, the whole city brings their sick and demon-possessed loved ones to Jesus.  Jesus heals the sick, and silences and casts out the demons.  Jesus had a great following there in Capernaum; He could set up shop right there on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and serve those people; but He doesn’t settle in.

Early the next morning Jesus goes to a desolate place to pray but the people cannot leave Him alone, Simon and the others go searching for Jesus and when they find Him let Him know that the town is waiting for Jesus to continue what He was doing the day before.  “Everyone is looking for you.”

But Jesus is not content to settle down in Capernaum and just minister to the people there.  Jesus did not come for a select few; Jesus came for all.  Jesus came to help the downtrodden all over; Jesus came to bring His Good News to all people.

We see this in our Epistle reading as well.  Paul preaches the Gospel because that is what He has been given to do.  Not just to one group of people, but to many.  Paul says that He is flexible in how He preaches to reach the most people possible so that He might save some by bringing the Good News of Jesus.  1 Corinthians 9:22 (ESV) 22 … I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.[1]

The Good News of forgiveness of sins through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is not something just for a select few; Christianity is not some kind of members only club.  The Good News is for all people.

The challenge is how to reach out to all people; to be all things to all people, without compromising the truth of scripture.  We want to reach out to all and be welcoming to all without changing the truth of God, because all people need the unadulterated truth of the Bible.

How do we protect ourselves and each other from the devil and the world and, at the same time, remain open and welcoming to all who seek the Lord?  How do we nurture and care for those in our midst and also reach out to all people with the Good News and invite them into our midst.

We are blessed at Immanuel to still have our school where we can reach out to so many children and families with the love of Jesus, and bring them to the waters of baptism and into the family of faith.  We get the children for 30 hours a week to care for them and love them and teach them about all that Jesus has done for them.  We are blessed that we are able to reach out to more and more students each year to the point where we need to build more classrooms to hold the new students.  This is a tremendous opportunity for Immanuel to continue to bring the Good News of Jesus to this community.  You make this possible.  You have enabled this outreach to so many children to survive and to thrive.  You have been the supporters with finances and prayers for so long.  Together, we reach out through the school.

Together you help the Gospel go out into the world through the support of Missionaries.  Together we support missionaries in Mexico, Ethiopia and Kenya.  Our children on Sunday morning bring their offerings to support children at Lutheran schools in Liberia, West Africa.  A lot is being done and I challenge you to consider doing more.  We can do more as a congregation and you can each do more individually.  Go online to lcms.org and search for missionary support, learn about a missionary and the country where they serve and prayerfully consider making a one time or ongoing gift to support the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world.  Prayerfully consider a short term or long term mission trip to help bring the Gospel to those around the world.  Go to lcms.org and search for serve.  This is not for everyone but it may be for you.  Find ways to volunteer here at Immanuel or in the community.  Help out at Pathway to Hope; the pregnancy care center, with donations and volunteer service.

Pray for opportunities to share the Gospel with friends and family and those you encounter in life.  Hear God’s Word, study God’s Word, 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV) 15 …always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;[2]  Invite them to join you on Sunday morning or a Wednesday in Lent to hear the Good News of Jesus here at Immanuel.

You know the Good News and you are compelled to share it; it is what you have been given to do each in your own way.

Not everyone has been given to preach from the pulpit or teach Sunday School or evangelize door to door.  But you have each been given the great Good News of eternal life in Christ and the ability to share it with others in your own way.  With your spouse, children, your grandchildren, coworkers, neighbors.  You have many roles in life and many opportunities.  Pray for more opportunities.  And I know this is hard.  Sharing the Gospel is often a difficult, seemingly fruitless task.  There are no silver bullets that if you can just say the right thing in just the right way people will be compelled to repent and believe in Jesus.  We plant seeds, we water seeds, but God gives the growth.

The Good News of forgiveness of sins in Jesus is not a treasure to be horded, but a treasure to be shared.  And the more you share this treasure the greater the treasure becomes.  The Good News of salvation in Jesus is not meant for a chosen few but is intended for all.

The Church is not an exclusive club for members only.  There is no special wristband or password to get in.  Immanuel Lutheran Church is God’s mission outpost here in Hamilton to bring the Good News to this community and the region and to the world.  The Church exists to love and care for those in Christ and to continue to spread the Good News to those who are not yet in Christ.  The church is not here to keep the riffraff out; we are the riffraff saved by the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  Jesus has paid the price for all to be in His Church.

Amen.

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

Gargoyles, lies and accusations.

gargoyle2Epiphany 4 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
January 28, 2018
Deuteronomy 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

If you ever go to Europe and tour the churches or look at pictures of medieval cathedrals one thing you will notice is that they often have gargoyles on the corners of the building.  Often these function as elaborate downspouts for rainwater but they are also thought to frighten off evil spirits and protect those inside.

How quaint.  Frighten off evil spirits.  Those simple-minded medieval peasants were so superstitious, weren’t they?  How can anyone believe in evil spirits?  We are way too smart for that nowadays?  Right?

Well, we think we are.  We like to think that we are too smart to believe in such things as demons and evil spirits; that we have moved beyond these things; that we are too sophisticated to think like this.

But evil spirits are real.  Evil spirits are scary.  And they are still very much around and active in the world, even if we try to ignore them.  1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)  8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.[1]

The devil tried to get Jesus and stop Him from doing what He came to do, so after Jesus’ death and resurrection the devil knew his power over Jesus was gone so the devil, in his anger, now targets the followers of Jesus.  Revelation 12:17 (ESV) 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus…[2]

One way that the devil and his minions attack you is through lies and accusations.  The demons try to convince you that you are not good enough for God.  The evil spirits whisper in your ear, “How can God love a sinner like you?”  “Who are you fooling to think you can sit here in church and pretend you are a Christian?”

As a baptized follower of Jesus you are a target.  At your baptism and at your confirmation you renounced the devil and all His works and all His ways.  You have renounced the devil and now his evil spirits are all around you looking for openings to drag you back into slavery to sin and the devil.  Look around this morning at the folks to your right and left, in front of you and behind you. Everyone you see is a target for evil spirits tempting them into sin and evil; trying to draw them away from Jesus and His Church.  These, your brothers and sisters in Christ, are targets for demons and you are as well.

One way that the devil and his minions attack you is through lies and accusations.  The demons try to convince you that you are not good enough for God.  The evil spirits whisper in your ear, “How can God love a sinner like you?”  “Who are you fooling to think you can sit here in church and pretend you are a Christian?”  Or the evil one tries to convince you that you don’t need Jesus, “You don’t need this, you are good enough all on your own.”  “What are you doing here, getting up early, wasting your time with all these pathetic sinners.  You are too good for them.”  The devil tries to convince you to listen to him rather than listen to Jesus, “Did God really say that you need forgiveness?  Did God really say that you are a sinner?”  “Did God really say anything at all?  The Bible is just an old book, how can you know any of it is true?”

The demons are good at what they do.  They know which lie or accusations will be most effective for you.  Do you tend toward despair?  Do you tend toward self-righteousness?  Do you tend to doubt the Word of God?  They will tailor an attack just for you; to hit you where you are weak.  Do you think you are worse than others?  Do you think you’re better?  Do you think you are too smart for God?  The demons’ lies and accusations are a continual monolog in your ear trying to convince you that you don’t belong in God’s house; this isn’t the place for you.  “What have you to do with Jesus?”

When Jesus goes to the synagogue in Capernaum His presence prompts an unclean spirit to cry out, Mark 1:24 (ESV) 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”[3]

Jesus’ presence causes the demon to cry out.  What does Jesus do?  Does He have a discussion with the demon?  Does He debate and negotiate with the unclean spirit?  Does He try to reason with him?  No.  Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit.  Jesus silences the demon and drives him out of the man.  “Be silent, and come out of him!”  Jesus has the authority to silence the demon and drive him out.

Jesus still has that authority.  Jesus’ presence in your life makes you a target for the evil one.  The demons are out to get you and your presence here in church brings out their voices of lies and accusations.   But Jesus still has authority to silence the evil spirits.  “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins.”

Jesus has the authority to silence the accusations of the devil because Jesus has the authority to forgive sins.  When the pastor announces forgiveness of sins it is accomplished by Jesus’ authority.  You hear the words of absolution and you know you are right with God; not because you are good enough but because Jesus is good enough.  You are right with God even though you do not deserve it.  You are right with God through the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

You are here by the grace of God; a baptized child of God, forgiven by Jesus, gathered with all your brothers and sisters in Christ.  And together we stand to resist the lies and accusations of the devil, loving one another and caring for one another.  Together we reject the self-centered, pleasure-seeking ways of the world and love and care for each other.

Together we care for one another and protect one another.  This is what St. Paul is talking about in our lesson from 1 Corinthians.  You can have lots of theological knowledge, but if you don’t have love, the knowledge can be damaging.  You can know all the ways of redemption in Christ’s blood and be confident in your salvation but you still need to deal with each other in humble love and care.  “This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.”  Love builds up.  The love that greets one another by name.  The love that reaches out to those who are hurting.  The love that overcomes awkwardness and asks the name of that lady two rows up whose name you should know but can’t remember.  The love that sends cards and visits and prays.  The love that holds your tongue when you are tempted to speak harsh words.  The love of Christ flowing into you and out of you that builds up the Church; the Body of Christ.

Look around this morning at each other and see your brothers and sisters in Christ.  See the one you don’t know very well.  See the one who is new.  See the one caring for young children.  See the one slowed down by age.  Love and care for her because she is a sister for whom Christ died.  Love and care for him because he is a brother for whom Christ died.

Biblical knowledge is good.  It is good to know the truth of scripture, but remember that there are no high horses in church to climb up on and look down on others.  We do want to have good knowledge of scripture.  We want good knowledge so that we can know and teach the truth of scripture, but not to use knowledge to tempt a weak brother or sister in Christ.

For the Corinthians it was Christians with “knowledge” eating meat sacrificed to idols because they know that idols are nothing.  But for the brother who just came out of that religion of idol worship this looks like they are taking part in idol worship.

We don’t have an issue of meat sacrificed to idols, but we do need to take care not to cause others to stumble because of our freedom.  I’m not going to give specifics because it is more complex than just a list.  Because remember we are all targets of the evil one and we do not want to cause a brother or sister in Christ to stumble and be lost to the devil’s lies.  We are called to love and care for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We may not have gargoyles on our building but we are still surrounded by evil spirits seeking to harm us; seeking to pull us away from Christ.  This morning you are engaging in a counter-cultural movement by admitting that you are a sinner who needs Jesus and gathering together, not just for yourself but for each other to resist the devil and the world.  You are called to live out life as a Christian not focusing on yourself, but focusing on each other; not being torn apart, but standing together to resist the lies and accusations of the devil and receiving the forgiveness of Jesus.  Amen.

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2][1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

You and Jesus are like water and salt.

photolibrary_photo_of_salt_sprinkled_into_water

Baptism of our Lord
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
January 14, 2018
Genesis 1:1-5, Romans 6:1-11, Mark 1:4-11

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

You have a quarter cup of salt and a cup of water.  You pour the salt into the bottom of a drinking glass and then pour in the water and stir, what do you have now?  Saltwater.  Saltwater is a solution.  The salt and the water are now merged together as one; if left alone it will remain in solution.  You can only separate the two items by boiling off the water or letting the water evaporate.  The salt and the water have merged into a new identity with each other.  They are one.

At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River He is baptized into your sin and the sin of the world.  Pure, holy, innocent Jesus becomes one with the ugly filthiness of sin.  Jesus is mixed into your sin and he becomes one with your sin.  2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.[1]

  At your baptism you are merged with Jesus.  You are made one with Jesus.  In the waters of baptism you are mixed together with Jesus like water poured into salt.  In baptism you lose your individual identity and you are made one with Christ.  You and Christ are intertwined.  You are identified with Christ; you are a Christian.

Jesus and your sin are inseparable until Jesus takes your sin to Golgotha; the place of the skull, and your sin, and my sin, and the sin of the world are boiled off of Jesus through His suffering and death.  Jesus pays the price for your transgressions with every blow of a fist, every lash of the whip, every nail driven into His flesh; every agonizing gasp for breath as the sin is violently removed from Jesus.  Jesus is the sacrifice for sin giving His body and blood and His very life.  He gives everything…everything to save you.  He merges Himself with your sin and He is brutally purged of your sin through His suffering and death.  He rises on the third day, again pure, holy, innocent.

At your baptism you are merged with Jesus.  You are made one with Jesus.  In the waters of baptism you are mixed together with Jesus like water poured into salt.  In baptism you lose your individual identity and you are made one with Christ.  You and Christ are intertwined.  You are identified with Christ; you are a Christian.

In baptism you have been merged with Jesus.  You, body and soul, are one with the Lord God Almighty.  In baptism you are merged with Jesus in His death on the cross.  His death becomes yours; for your benefit.  Romans 6:3-4 (ESV) 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.[2]

You are a Christian; your identity is in Christ; you are one with Christ.  In baptism you are born again into new life in Christ.

This new life in Christ is your life to live in this world.  This new life in Christ also means that death will not defeat you forever.  Romans 6:5 (ESV)  5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.[3]

Being made one with Christ in Baptism means that your body will be raised from dead on the last day, and body and soul reunited, clothed in the white robe of Christ’s righteousness you will march into the Heavenly City of New Jerusalem to live forever with Christ.  You will be one with Christ forever.

In baptism you died with Christ.  Now you live with Christ.  You bear the name of Christ.  You are a Christian; made one with Christ.  This is good news, but it also makes you a target for you are living in a world that hates the name of Christ.  You live in a world that hates Christ and since you are one with Christ, the world hates you for bearing the name of Christ.

The world is all about self-serving greed and pleasure and egotism and power.  The world teaches you to be all about yourself; all about what is in it for me; all about how does this help me; all about how many likes I can get on the latest selfie; all about how much attention can I get.  All about me, me, me.  The world tells you that you need to sacrifice everything and anything in order to follow your dreams and achieve success.  We admire successful people.   But many whom we admire are those who have left a trail of broken marriages and families and relationships in their wake as they relentlessly pursue wealth and fame.

The recent Pixar Film, “Coco”, has a refreshing message about success.  Without giving away too much of the plot, the film’s big message is that there are things more important than being famous and successful.  The film is based around a 12 year old boy named Miguel participating in the myths associated with the Day of the Dead in Mexico, but the overall message is one that resonates.  There are many things more precious than your dreams.

This world tells you to love yourself above everything and to hate Christ who teaches humble love and service to others.  There is great temptation in this world to sin.  Temptation that calls to you like an irresistible Siren song, “Come on…what are you waiting for…it’s no big deal…everyone is doing it except you…you deserve to be happy…you deserve to follow your dreams…you deserve to do whatever you want to do…if it feels good, how could it be wrong?”  And sin lights a little fire under you to try to separate you from Jesus.  The devil wants to gently trick you and tempt you into sinful situations so he can turn up the heat and boil you apart from Jesus before you know what is happening.  He wants to pull you into ongoing sin and so separate you from Jesus.  The devil wants to slowly turn up the heat so you don’t notice sin increasingly taking charge of your life.  The temperature increases and increases and one day you find you are boiling away from Jesus, you are just steam floating away in the air.  The devil wants to normalize sin in your life so that you live in sin.  The devil, the world and your own sinful nature want to convince you that living in sin is the natural way to live.  And being, by nature sinful and unclean it is true.  So we try to convince ourselves that sin is okay.  I like to sin, Jesus likes to forgive sins.  It is a perfect situation.

What does St. Paul tells us?  Romans 6:1-2 (ESV) 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?[4]

Don’t be deceived by the devil.  Don’t let him turn up the heat on you.  Do not continue to live in sin and let the devil separate you from Jesus.  Renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.  Repent of your sins.  Turn away from sin and turn back to Jesus.  Confess your sins and receive the living water of forgiveness.  Remain one with Christ.

The devil has another trick.  He doesn’t so much get you to sin as he just gets you to separate yourself from Jesus; just stay away from worshiping the king.  Stay away from hearing the words of forgiveness.  Stay away from the preaching of the Law and the Gospel.  Stay away from receiving the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion.  The devil has clever little lies.  Did God really say that you have to go to church?   You don’t need to go to church.  You will be just fine.  Being in a church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.  You don’t need church.  You can do it on your own.

And it doesn’t happen fast, but over time you just evaporate away from Jesus like a glass of salt water left on a windowsill.  After a while the water is gone and all that is left is the salt.  You evaporate away and all that is left is Jesus; waiting for you to return.

You need Jesus.  More than that; you are one with Jesus.  Living in this world you need to consistently hear the Good News of forgiveness again and again.  You need to hear the preaching of Law and Gospel.  You need to receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.  You are one with Christ living in a world that is anti Christ.  You need to be reminded of who you are.  You need to remember your identity.  You are a Christian.  You have been baptized into Christ.  You have put on Christ.  You are one with God in Christ.  Amen.

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

What are they doing here?

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Epiphany 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
January 7, 2018
Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

What are they doing here?

You go to sports bar in Columbus on game day and everyone is wearing their scarlet and gray and the gathered patrons are all pulling together for the home team when in walks a group wearing blue and maize.  “What are they doing here?”

You go to an elementary school band concert and you see a group of teenagers dressed like they are going to a rock show come in and sit in the front row looking like they are ready to start a mosh pit.  “What are they doing here?”

Sometimes people just look out of place.

You come into church on Sunday morning and you get settled into your pew and some folks enter in and walk past you toward a front pew.  Who would evoke the response from you, “What are they doing here?”

Maybe a group of teenage boys and girls with tattoos and gauged ears and bare midriffs and sagging pants?  Maybe a group of steelworkers getting off the night shift all grimy and tired? Maybe a group of folks sporting rainbow t-shirts and wrist bands?  Maybe a group of foreign students? Maybe a group of Orthodox Jews with their yarmulkes and fringes on their shirts.   Maybe a group of strung out drug addicts who look like they have been sleeping on the street for a month?  Maybe… who else?  Who might elicit the question, “What are they doing here?”

This is the kind of question the wise men likely encounter as they roll into Jerusalem asking about the one born King of the Jews.  The ESV translates their title magos as “wise men”, but that may give them more credence then they deserve. Perhaps it is better to leave it at Magi.  In the book of Daniel this word in the Greek Old Testament is translated as magician; one of those who could not interpret the kings dreams.  In Acts 13 the word magos is also translated as magician.  But here in Matthew we get it as “wise men” which may cause us to miss an important question.  “What are they doing here?”

These eastern Magi; magicians, soothsayers, fortune tellers, astrologers; what are they doing here?  What are they doing in Jerusalem looking for a baby born King of the Jews?  They are not Jews.  They are not descendants of Abraham and Sarah.  They do not bear the mark of the covenant.  “What are they doing here?”

They don’t belong here.  And yet, the Magi are the ones who follow the star and come seeking the newborn king.  The Magi are the ones who go to Bethlehem.  The Magi are the ones looking for the Messiah.

The ones who belong; the scribes, the Pharisees, the priests, none of them go the Bethlehem.  The ones who belong do not go.  The Jewish religious leaders do not go.  The supposedly Jewish King does not go.  The Magi go.  And these unlikely ones bring kingly gifts and they worship the newborn king.  The ones who have no business being there are the ones with the greatest understanding.  They may not fully understand all that the baby Jesus is destined for in His life, but they understand He is King of the Jews and He is worthy of worship and given gifts fit for a king.

These eastern Magi; magicians, soothsayers, fortune tellers, astrologers; what are they doing here?  What are they doing in Jerusalem looking for a baby born King of the Jews?  They are not Jews.  They are not descendants of Abraham and Sarah.  They do not bear the mark of the covenant.  “What are they doing here?”

Who are the Magi?  We really don’t know much.  Magicians; soothsayers from the East.  Perhaps they are of the same group of Magi that interacted with Daniel in Babylon 500 some years earlier.  Perhaps Daniel familiarized the Magi’s predecessors with knowledge of the true God YHWH and the promise of a coming Messiah.  Daniel may have shared with them from Isaiah 60:1-3 (ESV) 1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.[1]  That is only a guess.  We really don’t know much about the Magi except that they are most unexpected.  What are they doing here?  And yet these unexpected ones worship Jesus when the expected ones ignore him, at best, and, at worst, try to kill him.

We can ask the same question of the shepherds who come seeking the baby the night of His birth.  “What are they doing here?”  These rough, callous, men working nights watching sheep.  These are not the ones you would expect to come seeking the baby Savior; Christ the Lord, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.  Thek shepherds and the Magi come and folks ask, “What are they doing here?”  But the ones you expect are nowhere to be seen.

We need to be on guard against becoming so comfortable about belonging that we no longer seek to worship the King.  We need to also beware of ever thinking about anyone else, “What are you doing here?”  How arrogant of us to think that we deserve to belong while others do not.  Your belonging in the Body of Christ is not about your goodness but about Christ’s good gifts.

We need to always keep fresh in our minds that we are the unexpected ones coming to worship Jesus.  It is quite unexpected that you are here; Gentiles from Europe, Asia and Africa.  The Gentiles were not God’s chosen people, but then, in Christ, everything changed.  Paul writes in Ephesians, (Eph. 3:6 ESV) “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

The mystery of Christ is revealed to people shouldn’t who shouldn’t even be here.  It is revealed to unlikely people.  We are unlikely people.  My ancestry traces back to Germany, Norway and England.  How unlikely are these people?  Germanic tribes, Vikings, Celtic Tribes, and yet all these countries became Christian nations.  You come from unlikely people and you are unlikely people.  We are unlikely people to be followers of Jesus.  We are as unlikely as the Magi and yet here we are to worship the king and offer gifts to the King.

The Magi come and bring gifts for the King and worship Him.  We are called to do the same; to come to Jesus as King in worship.  We worship Jesus as our merciful Lord and Master.  Jesus is King we are His subjects.  We pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

There is a danger that people come to Jesus and want to change Jesus, but that is not how it works.  The Magi do not try to change Jesus.  They worship Jesus as He is.  You do not get to change Jesus.  You do not get to mold Jesus to fit your understandings.  You do not get to adjust Jesus’ teachings to fit your desires.  You do not get to erase parts of the Bible that don’t fit your ideas.  If you mold and shape Jesus to fit your understandings and desires then you are taking authority over Jesus.  You are declaring yourself to be king and Jesus to be your subject.  Then you are praying, “My Kingdom come, my will be done.”

You do not change Jesus; rather you are transformed by Jesus.  You come to Jesus as a sinner and are cleansed in the waters of baptism and called out of your sin; you are called into humble obedience, you are called into love and service.  Like the Magi, you come to Jesus on His terms and in His ways, which are not the ways of the world.  Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.

The Magi do not come to a palace to worship a king on a throne.  They come to a house to worship an infant on His mother’s lap.  We do not come to the throne room of heaven to worship Jesus.  We come to this house to receive Jesus in, with and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  We come to worship Jesus as He is; the Lord and Savior.  The Lord and Master.  The creator and redeemer.  God incarnate.  Jesus is the master; you are the servant.  And Jesus shows us how to serve as He is the Servant Savior.

You are molded and shaped and transformed by Jesus and you learn from Jesus to be servants to one another.  This is not a place for glory and pride as the world knows glory and pride.  This is a place of forgiveness, love and service.  Jesus is our king but Jesus is not a King of earthly glory and honor.  Jesus’ glory is in His suffering and death.  Jesus’ throne is the cross of Calvary.  The Magi come to Jerusalem asking, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews?”  At Calvary Jesus is recognized as King.  The sign Pilate orders hung above His head on the cross announces Jesus’ title that the Magi first use, “King of the Jews”.  INRI, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

The Church is a collection of unlikely sinners gathered together to receive forgiveness in unlikely places; in water, in the Word of God, and in the bread and wine.  It is an unlikely gathering of unlikely people all gathered to worship and bring gifts to the King.

The Church welcomes all the other unlikely people for whom Jesus died.  When you look around on Sunday morning and see all the other folks look at yourself and say, “What am I doing here?”  I don’t deserve to be here, but I am here by the grace of God who led me to faith through the Holy Spirit.  What am I doing here?  I am here to worship the King.

Amen

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

God visits His Temple

simeon_7376cChristmas 1 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 31, 2017
Luke 22:22-40

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

The Law of Moses is fairly clear.  Concerning the first born, it states:  The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.” (Exodus 13:1–2, ESV)

When God freed the Children of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, He sent the angel of death to slaughter the first born of every man and animal in the land of Egypt.  The angel of death only spared those households that had the sign of the blood of the lamb painted on their doorposts.  From that moment on, God claimed the firstborn of every man and animal.  As Mary’s firstborn, Jesus had to keep this law.  The law required Mary and Joseph to bring Jesus to the temple and consecrate Him to the Lord.

The law also spoke about mothers who had just given birth.  Concerning these mothers, it states:  The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed.” (Leviticus 12:1–4, ESV)
“And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.” (Leviticus 12:6–8, ESV)

According to the law, mothers who had just given birth were basically unclean for forty days after giving birth to boys and eighty days after giving birth to girls.  At the end of that time they had to present themselves for purification.  This was a blessing in disguise.  You see, anyone who was unclean was forbidden from participating in the normal routine of the community.  For a woman, this included the normal household duties.  The indirect result was that she was forced to rest up for forty days, or eighty days in the case of a baby girl, before she could rejoin the community and resume her normal duties.

Remember who this little child is.  This little child is the Word made flesh.  He is God incarnate.  This temple is His temple.

So, we have a reason for Joseph to take Jesus to the temple, and another reason to take Mary to the temple and so Joseph does them together.  He goes to the temple to perform the presentation of the firstborn and the purification of the mother on the same day.  So it is that today’s Gospel informs us that Joseph brought Mary and Jesus to the temple in order to perform these rituals.

Now, let’s just stop right here and consider how weird this is.  Remember who this little child is.  This little child is the Word made flesh.  He is God incarnate.  This temple is His temple.  The sacrifices in this temple are made to Him.  Now, He is going to work through Joseph to place Himself under the law and keep it Himself.  In a way, the consecration of Jesus will be to Himself.

In addition to that, the temple itself is the place where God dwells with His people.  That means that the baby that Mary and Joseph carry into the stone temple is, in fact, the living temple of flesh and blood … Immanuel, God with Us.  So Mary and Joseph are bringing the living, breathing temple into the stone temple.  There are all kinds of amazing things happening as the infant Jesus enters His holy temple.

Then there are these two Old Testament saints waiting for Jesus … Simeon and Anna.  The Holy Spirit had given Simeon a special promise.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:26 ESV) Anna was also ready for she did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” (Luke 2:37, ESV)

People often wonder about the faithful who live at the time of Jesus.  The Old Testament Christians are saved by faith in the Christ who will come sometime in their future.  The New Testament Christians are saved by faith in the Christ who has already come in their past.  But what about the faithful people who lived between the time Jesus was born and the time He ascended.  What are they to believe?

Simeon and Anna provide one answer to that question.  The Holy Spirit guided Simeon into the temple at the exact right time so that he was waiting for Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought Him into the temple.  Anna was always in the temple, so that she was also ready when the Lord came.  These two remind us that God never abandons His people, but always preserves them in His salvation.

The reaction of Simeon to the presence of the Christ-child is marvelous.  Parents do not ordinarily allow strangers to take their babies from them.  Perhaps there was something special in Simeon’s face when he approached Mary and Joseph, or it may be that Mary and Joseph already knew Simeon from some other time.  At any rate, Jesus ended up in Simeon’s embrace.

Apparently Simeon knew exactly who he enfolded in his embrace.  As he looked down into the face of this infant, he prayed, not to the heavens, but to the baby in his arms, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29–32, ESV) Simeon’s faith was in the baby who laid in his arms.

I imagine that Simeon was reluctant to give the infant back to Mary and Joseph, but as he did, he had a word for them as well.  Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34–35, ESV) Even in this account from Jesus’ infancy, we already see God preparing Mary for the road ahead.  The Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of Simeon to begin preparing Mary for that day when she would look upon this son as He hung on a cross and paid for the sins of the world.  When the Virgin saw that her innocent Son had been condemned, it cut through her heart, especially his crucifixion.  And she was not the only one who had to see and experience the malice of the world.  The entire Christian Church at all times must have a broken heart as she observes the price God paid to redeem us from sin.

Anna also believed, for although we do not have her exact words, Luke provides a description of her activity as she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38, ESV) She proclaimed this infant as the redeemer.

The events of today’s Gospel finally come to a close as Luke once again reminds us that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had done everything according to the law.  So we see that even as an infant when, from a human point of view, Jesus was absolutely helpless, God still worked through Joseph and Mary so that Jesus kept the law perfectly.  In this way, we see that Jesus was already our substitute under the law even though He was only a tiny baby.

When we combine this obedience with the piercing of the heart that Simeon spoke of, we see that the Gospel already teaches that Jesus will fulfill the law of God perfectly until His innocent sacrifice on the cross where He will totally redeem the entire world from sin.  So we see that even as an infant, the Lord was already on the path that led to the cross.

The church today joins Simeon and Anna as we too celebrate the coming of the Lord to His people.  We often join in Simeon’s song as we also have seen and even tasted the Lord’s salvation as He comes to us in His body and blood.  Just as the Holy Spirit worked in Simeon to bring him into the temple to see the Lord’s Salvation, so also the Lord has given us His sacrament so that we may also see the Lord’s salvation as we eat His body and drink His blood.  So it is that the Lord will always dwell with His people and give them His gifts.  Amen

 

Donkey dung, the smell of Christmas

donkeys_15384bcChristmas Eve 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 24, 2017
Various Lessons

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

What is it for you?  What is the classic smell of Christmas for you?  What is that one aroma that brings you back to Christmases long ago?  There is a powerful link between the sense of smell and memory.  Smells can evoke powerful remembrances and emotions; both good memories and bad.

Scents are powerful; a certain perfume, the locker room after a game, burning leaves, a baby’s breath.

It is probably very weird but I like the smell of diesel exhaust, because for me it reminds me of overseas trips when I was younger to work on construction sites.  The smell invokes for me a sense of adventure and excitement.  There are also smells that remind me of sad times; the smell of hospital disinfectant and latex gloves.  I once performed CPR on a young man when I was a lifeguard in high school.  He was a smoker and every once in a while the smell of someone’s breath will bring me right back to that pool deck 33 years ago.

Smell is powerful and we are very sensitive to smells.  There are a lot of smells we want to cover up.  At Wal-Mart there is about half an aisle dedicate to air fresheners, not to mention all the shelves of body deodorants and also sorts of scented products to try to make you smell like fresh sheets hanging on the clothesline.  It would be unthinkable to actually smell like what we really smell like, so we strive to cover up the scent of real life.  We have air fresheners for cars, shoes, kitchens, lockers, and of course the bathroom.  We have fans, fresheners and Febreze so we can pretend nobody actually uses the bathroom.  We do a lot to mask and cover up the smells of real life because smells are powerful.

What smell brings back for you good Christmas memories?

What is the classic, quintessential smell of Christmas for you?  A pine tree?  Baking cookies?  Spiced wine?  Gingerbread?  A ham in the oven?  A fire in the fireplace?  Peppermint?  Cinnamon?

What is your smell of Christmas?

What was the smell of that first Christmas 2,000 some years ago in Bethlehem?  We’re not sure if Jesus was born in a stable or in a house, but we are sure that he was laid in a manger; an animal feed trough.  So there is the smell of hay.  There is the smell of animals.  There is probably the smell of smoke from a fire for cooking and heat.  There is the smell of real, unfiltered humanity emanating from the people gathered there who did not bathe or wash their clothes nearly as frequently as we do.  And since there is a manger where animals eat we can be pretty sure it is also where animals poop.  So there is the smell of manure from whatever animals ate there.  Sheep, goats, cows, donkeys.  What is the smell of that first Christmas?  The scent of donkey dung.  Donkey dung; the smell of Christmas.

Jesus is born into the unmasked reality of human life.  Jesus is born into the genuine smells of real life.  No fans, no air fresheners, no Febreze.  Jesus gets the full on stench of reality.

What is the smell of that first Christmas?  The scent of donkey dung.  Donkey dung; the smell of Christmas.

What does that smell like for you?  What is the fragrance of real life?

I am amazed by the scented candle industry.  I figured you just need to have scented candles like vanilla and cinnamon.  But I was naïve.  You can buy scented candles with an incredible variety of scents.

You can buy a scented candle that smells like the Haunted Mansion at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.  You can buy a candle that smells like wine.  You can buy a scented candle that smells like a place.  A Brazil candle or Australia or France or Denver, San Francisco, New York.  There is even a scented candle for Ohio in which scents of fresh, fragrant carnations, honeysuckle and orange zest are balanced with powdery musk and an herbaceous blend.  I guess the Buckeye Tree doesn’t give off a recognizable scent.

What would be the smell of a scented candle of real life?  Scents of sleep deprivation, fresh, fragrant anger, lust and greed, balanced with fear, and a guilt, shame, failure blend.

What is the smell of grief and sadness?  What is the scent of loneliness?  What is the aroma of feeling lost?

What is the odor of a fractured family and broken promises?  These are smells we would rather cover up and keep to ourselves and we do our best to cover up the stench of our lives.  We use the freshener of self-righteousness and the Febreze of pretending to be good.  But there is no covering up our true scent to Jesus.  Jesus sees you for who you really are.  Jesus can smell the true you.

These are the smells that Jesus is born into.  Jesus comes into the world to the smell of donkey dung and human sin.  That little baby boy doesn’t live a sanitized life in which all the bad things and foul odors are covered up.  Jesus’ nostrils are filled with the unfiltered stink of humanity.

Jesus comes as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world.  He who is without sin becomes sin.  Jesus is baptized into the stench of sin and He takes it into Himself to remove it from the world.  The pure and holy Jesus takes the rottenness of your sin into Himself and carries it to the cross.

The smoke from the temple sacrifices made by the children of Israel are a pleasing aroma to God.  In the same way the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is a pleasing aroma to God as the sin of the world is atoned for; as your sin is paid for.  What was broken by the first Adam has been restored by the second Adam.  God and man are reconciled.

Jesus has given you the cleansing bath of baptism to wash off the stink of sin.  Jesus offers His gift of forgiveness to all people and continues to distribute His free gift of forgiveness.  Jesus continues to freshen you throughout your life with His word of forgiveness and His body and blood in Holy Communion.

The quintessential smells of Christmas such as pine and gingerbread trigger in us fond memories of Christmases past but I fear that too often as the years go by our memories become sanitized and idealized and when compared to the reality of Christmas present it can never live up to our idealized past with all the wonderful smells.  But remember the true smell of Christmas, the smell of donkey dung, the smell of reality, the smell of our sin and trouble and failure, and know that Christmas cannot disappoint when we know the true gift that comes wrapped in hay in a manger near the dung pile.  The gift of a real savior who takes on real human flesh in order to save real people from real sins by offering Himself as the real fragrant sacrifice for real stinky sins.

Christmas this year is as good as any other year because the joy is not found under the tree; joy is found in the manger of Bethlehem.  The true gift of Christmas is your Savior Jesus.  Joy to the World.  The Lord is come.  Let earth receive her king.  Amen.

Lessons from the Blessed Virgin Mary

pinecone_16521cAdvent 4 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 24, 2017
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

Here we are on the cusp of Christmas Day.  We have gotten all the way through the four candles on the Advent wreath and the 24 days on the Advent calendar.  We are nearly to Christmas.  The wait is almost over.  But… we are not quite there; not until this evening.  So before we get to Christmas, let’s back up.  Let’s back things up nine months to March 25.  The day the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Savior Jesus.

Now the dates are interesting and a source of much discussion and debate.  I had always heard that the reason Christmas is on December 25 is that was the date of a pagan sun festival and the Christians were trying to make Christianity more compatible to the pagans in Europe.  The problem is that there is no early evidence of this being the reason and only a passing note 1200 years later that might suggest it.  But it is a popular idea online and in the media because many want to discredit Christianity by tying it to pagan roots.

There is evidence against this theory in that there are records of December 25 being set as Christmas as early as 200 AD; well before Constantine converted and legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire.  This was a time of persecution and Christians would certainly not be adapting pagan practices.

Now, there is another possibility that doesn’t get as much press that seems to make more sense and have more evidence.[1]

It was thought in the early church that prophets died either on the day they were born or the day they were conceived.  The date of Jesus’ crucifixion was calculated to have occurred on what we now know as March the 25th, in spring, at Passover.  This was set as the day of Christ’s conception and became the day to observe the Festival of the Annunciation; the day when the Angel Gabriel announced Jesus’ conception to Mary. Nine months later we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25.

So we back up nine months and that brings us to our Gospel reading today.  Luke 1:26-27 (ESV) 26 In the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.[2]

As Lutherans we are reformed Roman Catholics.  In the Reformation Luther did not invent something new, but went back to an older form of the Catholic Church before many errors were introduced.  So we have a lot in common with Roman Catholics.  And since we look and sound a lot like Roman Catholics, sometimes Lutherans have a tendency to do things, or not do things in order to not look “too Catholic” to emphasize that we are not Roman Catholics.  Sometimes Lutherans have issues with making the sign of the cross because it feels “too Catholic”, or chanting, or processing with the crucifix, or private confession, or having communion each Sunday.  These are thought to look “too Catholic”.

Lutherans are often guilty of ignoring Mary and not talking about Mary enough.  Mary is, after all, the Mother of God.  She had God the Son in her womb and gave birth to God in Flesh and named Him Jesus, Jeshua, which means YHWH Saves; the Lord Saves.

Something else that can strike us as “too Catholic” is talking about the Virgin Mary.  The Roman Catholic Church has elevated Mary beyond what is Biblical.  They teach the perpetual virginity of Mary.  They teach that Mary was conceived without sin in the Immaculate Conception declared to be church dogma in 1854.  Also, that Mary ascended in heaven in her body in the Assumption of Mary declared to be church dogma in 1950.  There has also been a movement afoot in Rome for centuries to declare Mary to be Co-Redemptrix.

But while the Roman Catholic Church has gone too far in the veneration of Mary, Lutherans are often guilty of ignoring Mary and not talking about Mary enough.  Mary is, after all, the Mother of God.  She had God the Son in her womb and gave birth to God in Flesh and named Him Jesus, Jeshua, which means YHWH Saves; the Lord Saves.  Mary nursed Immanuel, God with us, at her breast.  Mary is blessed by God.  Mary is indeed the Blessed Virgin Mary and it is quite okay to call her that.

When Mary visits her pregnant, elderly relative, Elizabeth declares to Mary, Luke 1:42-45 (ESV) 42   …“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” [3]

Mary says of herself in the Magnificat, Luke 1:48-49 (ESV) 48 … For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me….[4]

Mary gets it.  Mary understands.  Mary knows she is blessed not because of who she is or what she has done, but because of what God has done for her.  Mary trusts God.  After Gabriel has told her what will happen she trustingly declares, Luke 1:38 (ESV) 38 … “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” … [5]

As far as we know, Mary was a normal, young lady from the small, Galilean hill town of Nazareth, and yet we can learn great things from the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Mary is blessed because of what of God has done for her.

In this life we are far too often concerned about who is better than whom.  Who is the best at school or at sports?  Who is the most popular?  Who makes the most money?  Who is the strongest, fastest, thinnest, best looking?  Who has the most attractive mate?  Who has then nicest car; nicest house; newest cell phone?  One of my children once stacked up the presents under the tree to see who had the most.  Far too often we want to compare ourselves with others to see how we measure up.

So learn a lesson from the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Your status, your value, your dignity do not come from anything that you have done; it comes from what God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has done for you.

Your identity comes from being baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Your value comes from being made holy and perfect through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for you.  Your dignity comes from being forgiven and knowing you will rise from the dead on the last day to live eternally with the Lord.  You are blessed because Jesus died for you and you have faith in God through the Holy Spirit.

The Blessed Virgin Mary’s statement, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” should also be your declaration and mine.  When you are faced with difficulties in life; when you are tempted to take a sinful shortcut; when you are tempted to give in to the ways of the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature declare this in opposition, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Mary receives this incredible message from Gabriel.  Luke 1:30-33 (ESV)  30 …“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”[6]

It is interesting that we don’t hear anything about the angel other than his name.  No description of how he arrives, what he looks like; nothing.  The focus is completely on the message he brings.

The Blessed Virgin Mary hears the message and inquires.  “Luke 1:34 (ESV) 34 … “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”[7]  Mary does not think she has to take charge of this.  She doesn’t start thinking of how she can make it happen like Abraham and Sarah with Hagar.  She simply asks, “How will this be?”

The angel Gabriel brings God’s word to Mary, changes her identity, and the Blessed Virgin Mary accepts the role she is given by God despite the shame this will bring on herself and Joseph and their families.

The Lord has spoken to you through the words of the pastor and changed your identity; “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  You have been set apart by God to do His will in the world; to love and serve your neighbor despite any shame it might bring you.  Declare with the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Amen

[1][1] https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/new-testament/how-december-25-became-christmas/

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[6]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[7]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

Stay at your post. Pray for the light.

dawn_5330cnAdvent 3, 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
December 17, 2017
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

It is 19 year old Marine private Harlan Pierce’s turn for night guard duty.  While his brothers in arms are asleep in the makeshift barracks Harlan stands awake leaning against the cold sandbags that surrounded the forward operating base.  It is a dark, moonless night and Harlan feels very much alone in that hostile area with enemy combatants out there; hidden in the darkness.

He stares out into the murky darkness but cannot see much of anything.  There is a light wind and every rustle, every sound, resonates in Harlan’s ears and reverberates throughout his body as he grips his M4 Carbine and looks through the scope trying to pick up any intruders in the perimeter.  There is a sound of crunching brush close by and Harlan’s swings the M4 over and is ready to fire when he sees a little rabbit scurry off in the brush.  The darkness has made him jumpy and nervous; every sound, every shadow makes his hair stand on end.  He knows there are men out there in the darkness who want to kill him, but he doesn’t know where or when.  Harlan desperately longs for the sun to come up over the eastern hills so he can see again and he won’t be alone.  Harlan is a good marine.  Harlan stays at his post and prays for the light.

Psalm 130:6 (ESV) 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.[1]

For those living in Israel at the time of the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus it is a dark world.  The Romans have had control for decades and Herod the Great has been on the throne since 37 BC and the older he gets, the more violent and crazy and unpredictable he becomes.  He is supposed to be the King of the Jews, but he is just a puppet for the Romans.

The temple leaders; the scribes and the Pharisees, are supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the people, but instead they are just pawns for Herod.  They set up systems to support the Roman occupiers, keep the people in line, and pad their own pockets.  They care nothing for worshiping the true God, but instead serve Caesar.  When word comes that the Messiah was born in Bethlehem none of the temple leaders go to seek the new king.

It is a time of darkness, hopeless darkness, crushing darkness, suffocating darkness.

Psalm 130:6 (ESV) 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.[2]

It is a gloomy world today with darkness pushing in on you from all around.  There is darkness in your own soul as you sin in thought, word and deed.  There is darkness in your soul passed down to you from your first parents; Adam and Eve, and no matter how calm and good you can seem on the outside, inside you are a bubbling cauldron of evil thoughts and desires.  Who among you would want people to see your inner thoughts through a window to your soul?  The darkness of your soul is deep.

The darkness of the world pushes in on you.  There is evil and violence and disease and disaster all pushing in constantly.  There is terrorism and war and threats of war.  There is a constant push to encourage depravity and perversion.  There is physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse.  There is bullying and harassment.  The darkness of the world can be suffocating.

The devil, the world and your own sinful nature want to make the darkness seem so attractive that you invite the darkness into your life; you welcome the darkness into your soul; you pursue the darkness, and let the darkness envelope you and suffocate any light in you.  Resist the darkness.  Stay at your post.

The Prince of Darkness continues to pursue you and drag you back into the deep darkness of his lies and accusations.  Those are his tools to bring you into the darkness; lies and accusations.  The devil lies to you to get you to sin, “It’s no big deal.  No one will find out. Who is it hurting?  Everyone is doing it.  You deserve it.”  After the Devil gets you to sin he then switches to accusations.  “What have you done?  You are a dirty, rotten sinner.  Your sin is so great!  God cannot love you.  Jesus can never forgive you.”

And there is just enough truth in the Prince of Darkness’s accusations that they ring true.  It is true, I am a sinner.  The Devil knows your weaknesses and preys on them.  And the darkness closes in on you.

The devil, the world and your own sinful nature all want you to walk away from your post and embrace the darkness.  The devil, the world and your own sinful nature want to make the darkness seem so attractive that you invite the darkness into your life; you welcome the darkness into your soul; you pursue the darkness, and let the darkness envelope you and suffocate any light in you.  Resist the darkness.  Stay at your post.  Pray for the light.

Psalm 130:6 (ESV) 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.[3]

It is a time of darkness, deep darkness, hopeless darkness, crushing darkness, suffocating darkness.  You are on guard against the darkness.  The darkness can make you as nervous and jumpy as a marine on guard duty in hostile territory.  You stare into the darkness and the unknown and you wait; you wait for the light.  The darkness makes you desperately long for the sun to come up over the eastern hills so you can see again and you won’t be alone.  The darkness is powerful, but you don’t leave your post and go into the darkness.  You stand your ground and you pray for the light.

Matthew 4:16 (ESV) 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” [4]

John 1:1-5 (ESV) 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.[5]

Jesus is the Word. Jesus is the light.  In Jesus the light has dawned and spreads.  Jesus is the light and brings joy to the world.  Jesus brings light; Jesus brings joy.  This third Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of joy because we know what has happened and what is going to happen.

The King shall come when morning dawns
And light triumphant breaks,
When beauty gilds the eastern hills
And life to joy awakes.

“From heav’n above to earth I come
To bear good news to ev’ry home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come.

Let earth receive her king!

You live in an Advent world waiting for Jesus to return, but you live in a Christmas world that knows Jesus has already come.  The Light of Christ has come into the darkness.  You live in the light with fellow followers of the light.  You live in the joy of Christ’s salvation.  You live in the light and joy of Christ and you are not alone.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV) 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.[6]

The light of Christ has dawned.  You can see the truth even as the darkness tries to push in on you.  You are not alone.  When the devil accuses you of being a sinner now you have something to say.  You can tell the devil, “It is true.  I am a sinner.  But Jesus paid for my sin.  I am a baptized child of God living in the light and joy of Christ.”

John the Baptist is sent as a witness to the light.  John points people to Jesus, the light of the world.  John is not the light.  John bears witness to the light.  Still today we have witnesses who point people in the darkness to the light and joy of Jesus.  The light has dawned in the darkness.  Jesus is come to save you from your sins.

Psalm 130:6 (ESV) 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.[7]

You live now in the light of Christ even amidst the darkness of this world.  You resist the darkness.  You point others toward the true light in Jesus.  You stay at your post and pray for the light and wait for the light to dawn again when Jesus returns in glory on the last day to drive out the darkness forever.

Amen.

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[5]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[6]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[7]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001