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Israel Reduced to One December 30, 2012

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Luke 2:22-40

 Christmas 1

December 29-30, 2012

Focus: God replaced Israel with one little child.

Function: That the hearers recognize Jesus, the Son of Man, as the One who was to come.

Structure: If this…then this…and thus this.

 

Israel Reduced to One

            December must be a perfect time for babies.  My brother-in-law and his wife found out they’ll be having twins.  In the past couple weeks alone, I can name three seminarians who have had babies.  The names of the little ones?  Eleanor, Judah, and Karsten.  And thank the Lord, they’re all healthy.  In talking with Eleanor’s dad, he mentioned that the birth of a little girl is actually less expensive than a little boy.  Now as she grows up, maybe he’ll change his mind about that.  But what he meant is that there is an extra cost involved with a baby boy.  An extra procedure for mom and dad to pay for.  He was talking about circumcision.

Even in our high tech society today, circumcision is still a normal, regular practice in medicine.  So normal, we don’t even talk about it.  When he mentioned the cost difference, it surprised me a little bit.  We just don’t think about it.  But Israel did.

From the very beginning of God’s covenant relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and eventually Israel, circumcision played a major role.  It was the sign of the covenant for the people.  On the eighth day of a boy’s life, he was to be circumcised.  As he grew up, it would serve as a daily reminder to him of who he was, a daily reminder that he was one of God’s people.  A daily reminder that Yahweh is God.

Circumcision was a normal part of life.  Every Israelite boy had it done to them.  Every Israelite woman went through purification after giving birth.  Every firstborn child was given to the Lord’s service.  Every firstborn animal was sacrificed as an offering to God.  These were things that they viewed as normal, regular parts of life.

The little babe in Bethlehem was no exception to the rule.  Sometimes we make Jesus Christ out to be a superhuman, not like the rest of us.  Sometimes we think, that even from birth, He must’ve been able to talk, walk, and perform miracles.  We forget that God took on flesh.  We forget that Jesus became a man. He was just a tiny baby, needing His parents’ care and love.  We forget what Luke tells us, that “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  And the favor of God was upon Him.”

We get the sense from Scripture that Mary and Joseph viewed Jesus as a fairly average child.  Outside of the virgin part of His birth, everything to this point had been normal.  In our text today, we see that Joseph and Mary were amazed by what Simeon said about their little boy.  When Jesus is twelve, and they forget Him in the temple, they don’t understand what He means when He tells them He was in His Father’s house.  And when He begins His ministry, Mary and His siblings come looking for Him, trying to stop Him and bring Him home because they thought He’d gone crazy.

Should we expect otherwise from a young Jewish girl?  Nonetheless, there was something special about this baby.  A contemporary song catches this dynamic:

Mary did you know that your baby boy would someday walk on water?  Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?  Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?  This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

 

He was a normal boy, with a fairly normal life.  But, there was something different about this Jesus.  Something different that would unfold as He grew up.  He was the chosen One of God.

Early on, God chose Abraham and his descendants to be His people.  He chose the nation of Israel.  Throughout their history they experienced a rollercoaster-like relationship with God.  Ups and downs, good times and bad.  Stretches of faithfulness and stretches where they completely abandoned God.  But throughout it all, they were God’s chosen people.  The nation of Israel.

One way in which theologians and preachers like to talk about Jesus is by calling Him Israel reduced to One.  The nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, reduced to one Man, the Son of Man, the Son of God.  The Old Testament is filled with prophecies about the coming Messiah.  Some prophecies were two-fold, meaning that the prophecy had a present meaning for the people while also pointing forward to Christ.  Some prophecies pointed straight to Christ.  And yet, other things that Christ fulfilled we wouldn’t call prophecy at all.  Events, trials, struggles, and the history and lives of Israel can be seen repeating themselves in Jesus’ life and ministry.

We could spend days talking about the various things that point to Christ.  And while that would be fun, and we’d all surely learn some things together, we won’t cover it all this morning.  But let’s at least look at some of these things.  Luke tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, fulfilling our Old Testament reading from last weekend, Micah chapter five, where he says:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2 ESV)

 

Luke also tells us that Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, brought into the covenant which God had made with Abraham long before.  And then we see today how our Old Testament lesson from Exodus and our gospel lesson from Luke fit together.  The offering of the firstborn child.  This one goes back to the Exodus account and the tenth plague in which God wiped out all the firstborn in Egypt.  But, He spared the people of Israel, as they painted the blood of a lamb on their doorposts and the angel of death skipped over their homes, sparing their children.  The firstborn child of every womb was then to be given to the Lord, presented to Him for service. Like circumcision, this was a reminder to the people of the covenant and their relationship with God.  Little did this little Jewish girl know, that her Son would be the last firstborn child, that Jesus would fulfill this prophecy.

The time of purification that Luke mentions refers to Leviticus chapter 12.  A woman was unclean for a week after giving birth to a son, at the end of which, he was to be circumcised, as Christ was, and she would then spend 33 days in the blood of her purification.  After those 40 days, she was to bring the child with her to the temple, and offer a lamb for a burnt offering and a turtledove or a pigeon for a sin offering.  If she was poor, the family could replace the lamb with another bird, as Jesus’ parents did.  Mary had no idea that she in fact was holding the Lamb of God in her arms.

Just to name a few more for fun:  Christ’s baptism, going down into the Jordan River and coming back out of it, connects to the parting of the Red Sea, and the Israelites crossing through it.  A new people, redeemed, rescued and saved.  That was their baptism by water.  And the forty years of wandering through the wilderness that followed, are immediately paralleled in Christ’s life by forty days in the wilderness, being tempted by Satan.  And the whole sacrificial system, so intricately outlined in Leviticus, is all trumped by what Christ did, serving as the sacrifice for all sin on the cross.

Jesus’ life and ministry is God’s story of redemption.  He is Israel reduced to one in everything that He did.  When Jesus was born, the nation of Israel ceased to exist any longer.  God’s chosen people became a chosen One.  And Jesus then opens that up to all mankind through His death and resurrection.  Jew and Gentile alike are the chosen people of God through baptism.  Through your baptism, you are His child, part of the new Israel, God’s chosen people, a holy nation.  We are not a nation of space and boundaries, but a nation of faith through baptism.  Together, all Christians today are Israel.

Like circumcision was for the first Israel, baptism is a sign and reminder to us that we are God’s people.  In addition to that, so is the Lord’s Supper.  That’s one of the key reasons why God instituted the sacraments with tangible things that are common to us.  Every time you see water, be it in the shower, washing your hands or your dishes, be it an ocean or a river, all water can remind you of your baptism.  And every time you see bread or wine, from the grocery store to the kitchen table, these things remind you of Christ’s death on the cross, the forgiveness of your sins.

Jesus wasn’t a superhero.  He was a boy, a normal boy who happened to be the Son of God.  He was the chosen One of God, set apart from the beginning to be our Savior.  Set apart as the child who “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  And the favor of God was upon Him.”  The very favor God which marked Him as Israel reduced to One.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man?  Mary did you know that your baby boy would calm a storm with his hand?  Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?  And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

Prepare the Way of the Lord December 9, 2012

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Luke 3:1-14

 Advent 2

December 8-9, 2012

Focus: God sends His only Son for us (twice!).

Function: That the hearers prepare for Christ’s return.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view…but here is the claim of the gospel.

 

Prepare the Way of the Lord

            Prepare, prepare, prepare.  We have to be prepared.  What’s going on in the news right now that is prompting us to need to be prepared?  What’s the concern three weeks from now?  We have to prepare for the fiscal cliff.  If you watch any of those news channels and especially the shows on the economy, they’re probably already telling you what to do with your money.  How do you handle your investments?  What are you going to do about the increase in taxes?  You name it, they’re saying we must prepare!  At least the fiscal cliff is more likely to happen than the Mayan apocalypse two weeks from now, right?

Much of our lives deal with preparation.  How do we prepare our children for school?  How do we prepare them for the real world?  In what ways can I prepare myself for marriage, retirement, or even death?  And isn’t success in our culture often defined by the how well prepared we are?  The one who has everything laid out for their future, aren’t they the ones who always succeed?

Last weekend Pastor Mitteis introduced us to Advent.  He even admitted how many Advents he has had the pleasure of celebrating.  As we look up here to the front of the church today, we see a banner.  A banner that is helping us to prepare for Advent.  And with this being the second week of Advent, we move on to the second candle; we prepare.

But what is it exactly that we’re preparing for?  Pastor talked about that, too.  The word “advent” means “coming.”  And specifically, when we celebrate Advent at church, we are celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ.  We celebrate that nearly 2,000 years ago, God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world.  We celebrate that Christ took on flesh; He became a man; He became a part of His creation.  We celebrate that first Christmas morning not just because a baby was born, but because that baby would be our Savior.  That Christ would die for us, redeeming us and this world from the clutches of sin, death, and the devil.

So this Advent season, we prepare for Christmas.  From family celebrations, gift giving, and decorating the home, to choirs, Christmas caroling, and going to church to celebrate, you’re probably good at preparing for Christmas.  Despite the fact that Hannah is still bugging me about not having the tree decorated, I’d like to think I’m pretty well prepared for my 25th Christmas.  And quite honestly, I feel pretty prepared for my 26th, 27th and God willing, even my 70th Christmas.  We’re pretty good at preparing.

In our text, as John comes to prepare the way for Lord, he gets a brood of vipers!  He gets to deal with the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and other teachers of the law who think they know how God operates.  Notice how he cuts them off: “And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”

It’s a covenant mindset.  The brood of vipers think they know everything.  “I am a son of Abraham, therefore God is my God, and I don’t have to worry about it.  I keep the laws, I’m golden.  The rest of you need to follow after us.  You need to keep these 613 laws.”  That’s not how God operated then, or at any point in history.  They were vipers, serpents, leading God’s people astray, to eat of the forbidden fruit.

But just because we aren’t Pharisees doesn’t mean that John the Baptist isn’t still speaking to us through God’s Spirit and His Word.  When we celebrate Advent together, we’re not only celebrating Christ’s coming as a babe in Bethlehem.  But we are also celebrating His promise when He said that “the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds,” (Matthew 16:27).  We celebrate the fact that Jesus is coming back for His people.

Are you prepared for Jesus’ return, for His second coming?  Are you prepared for Judgment Day?  Most of us would probably say yes, knowing that we are children of God in our baptisms, forgiven of our sins in confession and absolution and the Lord’s Supper.  We are indeed saved by the very blood of Christ.  And, as good Lutherans know, we don’t do anything to earn it.

But what are you doing to prepare?  Are you going to church, praying and reading your Bible?  If you are, that’s great, those are terrific things.  But if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not being a good Christian, you’re just being a good American.  See, we live in a culture that is all about being an individual.  We live in a society that triumphs independence and freedom.  In our schools our children are taught that there is no one right truth.  Whatever seems true for you is good for you, and what’s true for me is true for me.  We live in a world where we only look after #1.

If we’re not careful, it even penetrates here.  You can see it in church.  We are prone to drawing out the individual even in worship.  In the absolution, “I forgive you all your sins.”  In the distribution, “the body of Christ, given for you.”  And “the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. Depart in peace.”  And in the benediction, “the Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.  The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.”  We’ll come back to these.  But first, we need to overcome our American, individualistic thinking.  It’s just not Christian.

Are you prepared for Christ’s return?  Jesus Christ promised He was coming back.  And He promised it was soon.  Let’s put a time on it.  If Christ were coming back at the stroke of midnight tonight, what would that mean?  Would anything in your life change?

Pause………….

            Would any of us really just go home, watch a little TV, and go to sleep?  I certainly hope not.  Instead, would you reconcile with a loved one that you haven’t spoken with in years?  If so, you’re holding on to a grudge and have let the sun go down on your anger.  Would it cause you to confess of certain things in your life that aren’t God-pleasing?  If so, you’re living a life of unrepented sin.

But there’s even more to this.  We aren’t just individuals, we’re a community.  Christians are a community. We are the body of Christ.  Together, we are one.  Look through His Word, and you’ll see how constantly God works through a community.  In our liturgy and worship, the Scriptures that we take the word “you” from aren’t singular.  They’re plural.  When Pastor says “you” in the Lord’s Supper, the word expresses “you all,” or for some, “y’all.”  We’re together, a community of brothers and sisters in Christ.

If Christ were coming back at the stroke of midnight tonight, how many of you would reach out to your friends and relatives who don’t believe in Christ?  Here in Madison County alone, that’s about 60% of people.  150,000 out 270,000 people, more than half, in this county would be going to hell.  5 billion people worldwide.  They are our parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, cousins, nieces, friends, classmates, coworkers, and random people all around us.  Are you prepared for Christ to come back?

I’m not.  There are things in my life that I would do differently, that I should do differently.  I’m not perfect, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are people counting on me and you that don’t even know it.  God has placed us in a community, in relationships, and He has placed those people in our lives.  Even if Christ doesn’t return tonight, that same sense of urgency still needs to be in us.  John the Baptist knew it.

“Bear fruits in keeping with repentance…even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  Even now.  Even now those relationships exist all around us.  Even now, we see these people and we talk to them.  And even now we die and they die, time runs out.

You don’t need a degree in theology or special training in evangelism.  John’s preaching helped show the people this.  “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’”  What are the fruits born of repentance?  What does it look like to prepare the way of the Lord, to make His paths straight, to fill valleys, straighten the crooked, and level the rough places?

We call John’s answer “vocation.”  Vocation comes from the Latin word for a calling.  Vocations in your life are everything God has entrusted to you.  When you want to know what your vocations are, just name your relationships.  Being a spouse, a parent, a child.  Vocation.  Being a student, a boss, an employee.  Vocation.  Being a friend to someone who’s hurting, caring for dying parent, and even celebrating a birthday.  Vocation.  We see that in John’s answer.  He tells them to be good to others, giving away clothing or food to those in need.  And he takes two jobs, careers that were deemed unfit for a Jew, and he turns them into good.  Tax collectors, take only what you’re told.  Soldiers, don’t extort people or falsely accuse.  Just do your job.  That’s vocation.  And God works through us in those relationships.

We are God’s children.  He loves us, cares for us and forgives us.  He gave His Son to die for us.  He cherishes all of us and calls us His own people.  As God’s children, we are called to be His children in all of our relationships and in everything we do.  We are called to share His love and His Son with everyone we know.  Like John the Baptist, this is how we now prepare the way of the Lord.  And we do it so that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”