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Gift Return December 25, 2015

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John 1:10-11

Christmas Eve

December 24th, 2015

 

Focus:  God gave us the gift we needed most.

Function:  That the hearers humbly rejoice in the gift they so desperately needed.

Structure:  Sermon outline by Phill Tague as part of his Socks and Underwear Advent series.

 

Gift Return

 

I want to begin tonight by sharing with you the story of a king.  This story was first told by the nineteenth century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.  The king had everything.  An exquisite palace, immeasurable wealth, a vast kingdom.  In kingly terms, he had it all.  But something was missing.  He wanted someone with whom he could share it.  He wanted a queen, a woman he could love and share his kingdom with, share his life with.

Now, on the surface, this wasn’t a problem.  He was a good man, with a reputation for being just and kind.  And there was certainly no lack of suitors, no lack of women willing to be his queen.  But therein lies the problem.  How could he know what these women were after?  How could he know if they really sought to share life with him, or if they were just after his stuff, his power, his wealth, the crown?

This troubled the king for some time, until one day as he wandered around the villages of his kingdom, he spotted her.  Just a young, simple peasant girl.  There was nothing remarkable about her, nothing that should have made her stand out.  But for whatever reason, she caught more than his eye that day, she captured his heart.

The king went to his advisors and told them of his situation.  “Shower her with gifts, my lord.  She is stuck in poverty, her needs are numerous.  With the snap of your finger, you could remove it all, you could change her life and win her affections.”  The king knew they were right.  But he still had that fear.  If I do all of this, how will I know that she loves me, and not my stuff?  And again, the question ate at him.

Then he had an idea of his own.  The king took off his crown.  He took off his royal robes.  He dressed himself as a servant and left the palace.  He went down into the village where she lived, to be a simple peasant.  To get to know her and to give her a chance to get to know him.  He gave up his rights, he gave up his throne.

Now maybe you would like to know how that story ends.  But it doesn’t.  Kierkegaard never wrote an ending.  The ending wasn’t the point.  The point of the story was the king’s unconditional love.  That he loved her so much he was willing to give up everything for her.  That’s why you’re here tonight.  That’s why we’re celebrating tonight.

John begins his gospel by telling us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Jesus, the King, was in His kingdom, but He gave it all up.  He laid aside His crown and His throne and He came down to us.  He came down to the one He loved.  We heard from Luke earlier, “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

The King, the Lord of the universe, became one of us.  Became as ragged as us as He was wrapped in rags and placed in a feeding trough.  Immanuel, God with us.  But despite being such an incredible gift, it wasn’t always well received.

At the 6 o’clock service here tonight we looked at gifts, specifically the difference between the gifts that we want, and the gifts we need, like socks and underwear.  But let’s face it, sometimes we get gifts that we don’t want at all.  I’m not sure who tracks this stuff or how, but American Express reported that we return on average, one gift per person per year.  I want you to take a moment now, turn to someone sitting near you and share with them one gift that you’ve either returned or regifted to someone else.  And be careful not to mention something they gave you!

Pause

Masses of people rejected Him because He wasn’t the Savior they wanted.  He wasn’t what they were expecting.  He’s sacrificed heaven for them, but He’s just not what they want.

John also wrote, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.”  Christ, the King, the Savior came to His own people, to the children of God, but they rejected Him.  It is as N.T. Wright once said, “This is the central problem which dominates the whole gospel story.  Jesus comes to God’s people, and God’s people do what the rest of the world do: they prefer darkness to light.”

But John’s very next verse says, “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”  It’s a free gift.  Just like those you unwrap from family tomorrow.  They’re gifts.  They’re free, they’ve been given to you.  Just like when you were born, and your parents lifted you up and said “You are my child, I love you, and I will care for you.”  You didn’t have to do anything.  It was a free gift.  And yet, just like any gift, we can reject it, we can return it.

Today is one of the biggest shopping days of the year.  Every man who’s procrastinated buying a gift for the special woman in his life will hit the stores, looking for something to get her.  And probably a few ladies were hitting those last minute sales as well.  But if you went shopping today, what did you hear?  The radios playing Christmas music, and I mean, real Christmas music.  Not just “Grandma got run over by a reindeer,” not, “Christmas Shoes,” but real Christ-centered songs and hymns like “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night.”

Our culture which continues to drift away from the good news of a Savior, our culture is for the most part still okay with the story of this little baby boy.  It’s a cute story, it hits home, it reminds them of warm feelings from their childhood, traditions, celebrations.  It brings them some happiness.  You’ll hear Christmas music because most people like the Christmas Jesus.  But for many it’s only because it’s a baby.  This Jesus is non-confrontational, this Jesus is non-demanding.

People like cute babies.  But this baby grows up.  This same Christmas baby boy is the man who cleansed the temple with whip in hand.  He’s the same man who said multiple times “repent or perish.”  This is the same man of whom Isaiah prophesied:

But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to His own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6

 

The baby boy whom we celebrate tonight is the same crucified man.  This is Jesus, whose own people did not receive Him.  Instead, they beat Him.  And come Good Friday, you won’t see that in stores.

Many Romans hated Jesus because they hated His followers.  They hated the Jews.  These soldiers had to live away from their families to patrol and police an unruly bunch.  Get rid of the Jews, we get to go home.  They rejected the Son of God because they hated the children of God.

We see this still today.  Many people even in our own community won’t give Jesus a chance because they hate Christians.  They reject Jesus’ free gift because of His kids.  Dan Kimball wrote a book a few years ago called “They like Jesus, But Not the Church.”  It’s on my shelf downstairs, you can borrow it if you’d like.  But here are two real quotes from people he surveyed:

Before my friend became a Christian, you could talk to him.  It was normal…but after his conversion, you couldn’t talk to him anymore.  Every conversation was about condemning something about my lifestyle.  All he did was keep telling me the things I was doing wrong…you ask why I don’t go to church?  Why would I want to become a negative person like most Christians are? – Maya

 

The church is a group of judgmental mudslingers.  They seem to really like picking fights with others.  Whether it is homosexuals, or other religions, or even with each other.  That’s the weirdest part.  Jesus said to love one another, but you’re always hearing how the church even fights among themselves and with other denominations.  But this isn’t anything new.  Look at the Crusades.  The church has always been an angry bunch. – Gary

 

These are bitter words, angry words coming from angry people.  But where are they getting their opinion of Christ?  From us.  From Christians, even if it’s often only based on one person.  Their opinion has nothing to do with Christ or what we find in His Word.  They want nothing to do with the church because it’s full of hypocrites and annoying, judgmental people.  Maybe you’ve seen that reaction, maybe you’ve felt it.  And you know what?  In some ways it’s true.  Because the church is full of sinners.  Sinners desperately in need of an unexpected gift, a needed gift.  We’re imperfect, but don’t let the poor wrapping job keep you from the greatest gift ever.

Then there were many of the Jews, God’s own chosen people.  They rejected Christ and His gift of salvation because He wasn’t what they were expecting, He wasn’t what they wanted.  They wanted deliverance now.  Save us from the Romans, save us from oppression.  One day they’re cheering His arrival in Jerusalem and just a week later they join the masses chanting “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”

Many today fall into this trap.  They think “If I just follow Him, if I just do what He says, He’ll fix my life.  My life will be good, and easy.”  So when they start trying to follow Him, they run into issues.  “Why is my life still hard?  Why isn’t He working in my life?”  And so they dismiss Him.  Just like the Jews did, even though they had Isaiah 53 telling them what He’d look like, what He’d do for them.

What kind of Savior would allow me to lose my house to foreclosure?  What kind of King would let cancer attack my body?  What kind of Lord would let divorce tear up my family?  Why isn’t He saving me?

But He is.  Just not in the way we always want it to be.  Theologian D.S. Carson once said:

If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist.   If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist.  If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician.  If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor.  But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.

 

God knows what we need even when we don’t.  God knows of our sin, of the depths of our despair and corruption.  And He knows what it takes to overcome it.  Not to deliver us from temporary pain, although sometimes He does, but to deliver us from permanent destruction.  He says in John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Let me give you an illustration.  You’re staying in a nice hotel.  When, in the middle of the night, the fire alarm goes off.  You’re annoyed, agitated, groggy.  But you get out of bed anyway, and you do smell smoke.  This time, it’s not just an alarm, it’s an emergency.  And so you grab what you can, including that ridiculously expensive bottle of water on the counter.  You know, the one they bill you $4 for if you even so much as look at it.

You’re making your way towards the fire exit when you hear a little girl screaming.  Instinct takes over, and you head for the voice.  You find her, alone, afraid, in a room where flames have already begun to eat away the wall.  Surely, this is as good a reason as any to pay $4 for that bottle of water.  So you hand it to the child, and then you leave.

What good would that be?  Sure, she’s not thirsty anymore, but what good is that if she’s left there to die?  See, Matthew tells us “She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  Christ didn’t come to make us comfortable.  He didn’t come to make life easy for us, to take away our pains and our temporary trials.  He came to save us from ourselves, from sin, from death, and from the devil.

In the first chapter of John’s gospel he mentions that Christ’s own did not receive Him.  He doesn’t use that same Greek word again, the word “receive,” paralambanw, until chapter 14, when Jesus says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Christ will receive us unto Himself.  What will that look like?  What delight will there be that day?!  The next time He comes, as He’s promised, won’t be as a baby boy in Bethlehem, but as King, a King ready to claim what is His.

A King who has fallen in love with a simple peasant, who took off His crown, who took on the nature of a servant.  The story had no end because it’s our story.  And it’s not over.  The end isn’t mine to write.  It’s between God and the people He so dearly loves.  Merry Christmas!

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Unexpected Gift December 24, 2015

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John 1:1

Christmas Eve

December 24th, 2015

 

Focus:  God gave us the gift we needed most.

Function:  That the hearers humbly rejoice in the gift they so desperately needed.

Structure:  Sermon outline by Phill Tague as part of his Socks and Underwear Advent series.

 

Unexpected Gift

 

We’ve finally made it.  Christmas is finally here.  The excitement, the buildup, the anticipation that’s been going on since stores put out Christmas decorations in July.  It’s finally here.  Let the traditions begin.  Let the wonderful aroma of home-cooked family meals fill your homes.  Let the traveling, the celebrating, the gatherings commence.

Of course, if we polled the kids here tonight, asking them what they anticipate the most about Christmas, we know what the answer would be.  We know.  Gifts!  Presents, those shiny, glittery packages under the tree.  Thinking about what you want the most and trying to figure out if it fits the box shapes that you see.  Could my PS4 fit in that box there?  Maybe they hid a fashion playset in that round box over there.  Maybe he hid that necklace that I really wanted in that bag by the fireplace.  If we’re honest, it’s not just our kids that anticipate gifts at Christmas.

For me growing up, it was probably the Nintendo Gamecube.  I still have great memories of that machine, of the time I spent building up friendships by laughing and playing games.  What about you?  What’s the gift you remember wanting the most growing up?  Take a moment, turn to the person next to you and share that gift.

Pause

Now a few of you might have just told your neighbor what you want this year.  Still dropping hints here even at the last second.  And we do that throughout the year.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a new…  Wouldn’t the house look so much nicer if we just added…

But I would guess there’s no one here tonight that hasn’t been let down.  There’s no one here tonight who hasn’t opened up a present hoping for what they really wanted, and then when you’ve ripped off the paper and you pop open the box, short pause it’s socks and underwear.  It’s something you needed, but not really something you wanted.

I still remember when that happened to my dad.  It was a party, his family and his friends were there.  Coworkers, too.  We were celebrating, and it came time for gifts.  And my dad grabbed one from his sister.  He opened up it up, and to his surprise, it really was socks and underwear.  I still remember how embarrassed he was to have opened that gift in front of his coworkers.  He found it awkward.

I want to share with you a verse you know, John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that, whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Sometimes it’s the unexpected gift that matters most.  But other times, it’s the needed gift that we overlook.

God sent His Son Jesus Christ into this world, God gave the gift that mankind needed desperately more than anything else in the world.  And most people didn’t even notice.  This is one of the most crucial moments in all of history, in eternity, and billions of people could care less.

You know the Christmas account, we just read it from Luke 2.  But starting today, and going for the next few weeks, we want to give you a different perspective.  We want to look at what John had to say.

John begins his gospel by writing:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Now when the John says the Word, he means Jesus, he means Christ, he means the Son of God.  In the beginning, way back before the world was even created by God’s hands, Jesus was.  He was there.  This Christmas thing we celebrate tonight didn’t just happen two thousand years ago, God had already started this thing in motion.  Jesus was there.  He, alongside the Father and the Spirit, He created the world.

This is huge!  This Christmas we look at is huge!  Jesus, the Son of the living God, just became a human being, just took on flesh and chose to dwell among us.  As His creation, how could we not notice?!  How could we miss it?!  And yet, nearly everyone did.

Doesn’t it seem like it could have been planned better?  Like God could have announced it louder or something?  God’s been working on this for four thousand years.  Prophecy after prophecy, promises of a Savior who would come for us.  The people were waiting, had been waiting for generations for their Messiah.  But by the time He finally came, no one noticed.  They’d stopped waiting.

Just look at the details.  Mary and Joseph, really?  They’re just a poor couple.  In fact, they were so poor, they couldn’t even afford the sacrifice that the Old Testament required at the time of the birth of your firstborn son.  They couldn’t afford a lamb for the Lamb of God.

And there’s the journey.  A nine month pregnant woman riding across the desert on a donkey’s back, if they even had a donkey.  Some 70 or 80 miles they traveled to reach Bethlehem, perhaps by foot.  It didn’t look like the Hallmark card, that much is for certain.

And then there’s so many people in Bethlehem for this census, there’s no room for them, anywhere.  Couldn’t God have made a reservation?  And why was He born during the reign of an evil king?  King Herod was so corrupt he was even willing to kill his own family to keep his throne.  Add to that that these Magi thought it was smart to go to this wicked king and announce they’re looking for the new king of the Jews.

So then we get Luke 2:7: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”  How do we reconcile that?  How to we fit the very Word of God, the Son of God who created this world, how do we fit Him into a feeding trough?  Into a manger?

For this to be more than just another holiday, another day off work, something we celebrate with family and friends, for this to be more, we have to recognize that God did all of this for a purpose.  And that purpose wasn’t comfort, so we could have nice things and a nice life.  That purpose was connection, a relationship.

See, we’d expect a king to be born into ideal circumstances.  We’d expect Him to be born to a wealthy family, living in a wonderful home, surrounded by loved ones.  We’d expect the leaders to be faithful to the Son of God, to come and kneel before this baby, recognizing Him as their Lord.

But instead, John tells us, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Jesus takes on flesh.  The Son of God becomes one of us.  He comes down into this broken world not on a chariot of fire, but as an infant, a lowly child.  He comes down to us to have a relationship with us.  To connect with us.  To save us.

He comes down to live among us so that He can truly say to us, “I know what it’s like.  I know what you’re going through.  I’ve been there.  And I’ll be there for you.”  You think you’re poor?  You think you have family issues?  Jesus’ family thought He had gone insane and tried to stop His ministry.  Have your friends, the people you count on, failed you?  He was betrayed by a kiss.  Have your closest friends abandoned you in the worst possible moment?  Have you been taken advantage of?

Have you been accused of crimes you didn’t commit, tried and found guilty when you were innocent?  Christ has been there.  And He did it all the way to the cross, so that He could look down and say, “I’ve been there.  I’ve felt that.  And I’m with you.”

The author of Hebrews tells us, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Christmas isn’t about comfort, it’s about connection.  It’s not about royalty, but humility.  The surprise isn’t that it was announced by angels, He’s the Son of God.  The surprise is who they announced it to.  The surprise isn’t really a virgin birth, He’s God.  It’s that it was a poor, uneducated, teenage girl in a small town.  That He was born in the shadow of Herod’s extravagant palace, within just three miles of royalty, He was born in a cave, in a manger.

We read from Paul in Philippians 2:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

 

For Christ, this is a thing of humility.  And in the midst of a time filled with wishlists and gift-giving, you and I need to see this.  To see God show us what humility is, as we learn from Matthew 20 that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  Christmas is about humility.

And Christmas was not about leading us, but about loving us.  He could have come however He wanted, with whatever theatrics of heaven He could think up.  But He came humbly in the way He chose so that we would know how far He was willing to go for us, so that we would know just how much He loves us.

As you finish preparing for your Christmas celebrations and gatherings, and even as you begin putting it all away, take the time to pause.  To truly see the nativity, to think of the unexpected gift.  See the stable, see and smell the animals.  See the Word of God, the Son of God take on flesh, wrapped in rags, lying in a feeding trough.  And as you think of that, know that He did it for all mankind.  Know that He came so He could look you in the eyes and say: “I know where you’re coming from.  I’ve been there.  And I still love you, and I will always love you.  I have come to offer you grace.  I have come to pay the price for you.  Your sins are forgiven.  You are loved and you are Mine.”  Merry Christmas!

Power of Christ December 20, 2015

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Isaiah 40:10-11

Advent 4

December 20, 2015

 

Focus:  God reveals His mighty power in the form of a Savior.

Function:  That the hearers find comfort and joy in the power of Christ.

Structure:  Pre-written Sermon Series, “Comfort and Joy” by Tim Klinkenberg, Drew Gerdes, and Michael Hoy via Creative Communications.

 

Power of Christ

 

The best ride in all of Southern California is not found in the Magic Kingdom of Disneyland, but at the airport in Santa Ana. Noise abatement procedures over Newport Beach make takeoffs thrilling. The pilot stops the plane at the edge of the runway and turns the engines up to 100%. The plane is filled up with power. It shakes and rattles as the engines are roaring to be released. Finally, when it feels like the plane is going shake apart, the pilot takes his foot off the brake and the plane is catapulted down the runway. The plane is like a rocket ship taking off for the moon. The raw power of the engines and the power of the airplane are on display for everybody.

In our text today Isaiah leads us to see the power of the Messiah. He writes, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might and His arm rules for Him; behold His reward is with Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:10-11).”

Human understanding of power and God’s understanding of power are two different things. When humanity thinks of power, we may think of those jet engines and incredible outputs. We may think of power as political cunning, or strength of personality, or military power, or other types of attitudes or behaviors that put people under the will of another.

If that is the case, then the power of Christ is something to fear. Coming to the manger, we bring sin and its results. Our brokenness and weakness are on display. If God chose to use His power to destroy us, it would be appropriate. He could look at us with the power of an angry king who’s been ignored by His subjects. He could count up the intentional and willful acts of sedition, the multiple legal infractions, the treasonous gatherings and all the evasion of responsibility. If God chose to use His power to destroy us, He would have reason to do that and His drawing near would be terrifying.

Isaiah leads us to a different power. Power that is masked in human weakness and love for people is what Isaiah is writing about. Babies aren’t powerful, yet the birth of this Boy in Bethlehem was heralded by angels. Itinerant preachers aren’t powerful, but at His baptism this Man was acclaimed as the Son of God. People at their weakest moment are not filled with power, but this Man, when physically destroyed, brought redemption from the cross for all mankind.  God cloaks His power in weakness and makes the weak strong.

The good news of Christmas is that the power of God is for us. Jesus comes humbly and gently, but with power. He forgives our sins through the power of the cross. He puts that grace on us through the power of our baptism. He feeds us and our family of faith in the powerful meal of Communion. Hidden away in a Man, in some water, some wine and some bread. God’s power, made clear through humble means, sustains us in our faith and life.

Part of the joy of Christmas is the deception and the hiding of gifts. Children dig through closets, trunks, and garages to find hiding places. Parents go to extreme measures to ensure that the gifts remain a surprise. So parents’ll put a small gift in a large box. They’ll put a square gift in a round box. They wrap an expensive gift with plain paper. The amount of deception to keep the surprise can be phenomenal, but so is the joy.

When the gift is revealed and the surprise is over, the joy is real.

God wraps up the power of redemption in the baby Jesus. He is wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Yet, He is without a doubt the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. The simple outward wrapping belies the power of the gift that goes with us into the new year. God delivers His power in humility. He wraps power up in gentleness.

Many of us grew up with the image of the Good Shepherd. We hear the words “The Lord is my shepherd…” and something deep in the soul finds peace. We love the visual; we love the closeness and the intimacy of these words. Isaiah wrote, “He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”

Some of us will unwrap difficult things in the coming year. Some of our families will deal with loss and illness. Others will deal with anxieties over money and the economy. Still others will deal with hurts that are so unique to them that only someone who knows them better than they know themselves can comfort them. Through these moments our Good Shepherd tends to us as a shepherd, gathers us in His arms and carries us in His bosom. He is the voice of comfort and the voice of peace. His power is for us in His gentleness.

Many of us will unwrap joyful celebrations in the new year. For some it will be significant anniversaries. For others there’ll be graduations, baptisms, confirmations, vacations, holidays with family and on and on. We smile to even think about the joy of these gatherings. We look at those milestones and give thanks to our Good Shepherd who tended, gathered, and carried us. He shepherds us with power wrapped in grace.

Next stop: Christmas, and we are blessed. In Christ we receive God’s peace, His pardon, His presence, and His power. There for us in the year almost done, waiting for us as a new year dawns, and revealed to us this Christmas in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

Presence of Christ December 13, 2015

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Isaiah 40:6-9

Advent 3

December 13, 2015

 

Focus:  God is with us.

Function:  That the hearers.

Structure:  Pre-written Sermon Series, “Comfort and Joy” by Tim Klinkenberg, Drew Gerdes, and Michael Hoy via Creative Communications.

 

Presence of Christ

 

One of the many blessings of the Christmas season is gathering together with family and friends. White elephant gift exchanges at office or school parties is an event that brings laughter and joy and brings people together. One gathering that brings grins and chuckles is a tacky Christmas sweater party. People go through garage sales and thrift stores to find the tackiest and most ridiculous Christmas sweaters they can. Prizes are given, joy is shared and most people have a good time.

Gathering in our church for worship on Christmas Eve is always a marvelous experience.  The sanctuary is dimmed and the warmth of the candlelight fills the space. We gather with the family of faith. We know the hymns “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” We see people we haven’t seen for a while and we have our hearts filled with the presence of Christ.

Yet sometimes it feels like God is absent. It must have seemed that way for Isaiah. It was a long time since God was present with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It had been a long time since God had sat face to face with Moses on Mount Sinai. Even King David’s dynasty had come and gone. God’s people were now assimilated into their country of exile, losing their distinction and following a God that now only speaks to them through prophets. It seemed God had become silent and His presence was no more among His people.

We wrestle with the same issue in our lives. Sometimes it seems God is silent. We would love for Him to sit with us in a room and lay out in a PowerPoint presentation the decisions we need to make for tomorrow, and the next day, and every day for the rest of our lives. How should we handle the treatments? How should we handle this conflict? Should we take a new job?  How do we reconcile our relationships? When will I feel loved again? Why am I so lonely? So many times we would love for God to sit with us like He did with Abraham and Moses, but that doesn’t seem to happen.

Isaiah prophesies that we will behold our God! John says it this way: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling with us” (John 1:14). God is present with His people. God is present with us. He comes to be present the same way we all were. He was born of His mother Mary. He was wrapped in cloths. He was laid in a manger. He is the Messiah who was born to be with His people. He is present with us.

Our Christ is not an angry father coming home to punish His children. Rather, He comes to be God’s gracious presence among us. He came to be present in preaching, teaching, and healing among the people. He came to be present at the cross as the sacrifice for our sins. He came to rise to new life and be present with His disciples on a shore, eating breakfast and loving them. He was truly present in every way.

His presence is with us now. The Spirit of the living Christ is among us in our church. He gathers us around the baptismal font and with the water and the Word He delivers forgiveness and new life. He is present. He gathers us around the altar to receive the Lord’s Supper. He is present to forgive sins and speak words of grace to us. God is with us.

He is present with us now in His Word. The words of Isaiah speak to us. The words of John speak to us. The words of Jesus speak to us and they remind us of a present truth. God is with us in His Son Jesus. Jesus’ words speak a present word of grace to us. God is with us in His Word to instruct us. God is with us. His word is His presence among us still.

Advent is a season of great anticipation. Brightly wrapped gifts provide anticipation for children. They shake, they tear, they stay awake wide-eyed at night wondering what the gift will be. Part of the joy of Christmas is the purchasing of gifts and knowing that little hearts beat faster as gifts are gathered under the tree. Anticipation and waiting are both great blessings this time of the year.

As Christians, we live in anticipation. The present Lord will return. While we don’t have a clue when He will come back, He has sealed His promise in the blood of His Son Jesus. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He was present in creation, He was the baby lying in a manger, and He is the one who will return and take us to heaven to be with Him in eternity. A present truth and a present reality and a future hope! Amen.

 

 

Pardon of Christ December 6, 2015

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Isaiah 40:3-5

Advent 2

December 6, 2015

 

Focus:  God gives us a second chance in the blood of His Son.

Function:  That the hearers.

Structure:  Pre-written Sermon Series, “Comfort and Joy” by Tim Klinkenberg, Drew Gerdes, and Michael Hoy via Creative Communications.

 

Pardon of Christ

 

The Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is like nothing else in the world. It’s 50 miles of hairpin twists and turns, huge drop-offs on one side of the road, and amazing views of the Rocky Mountains on the other. Traveling on this road requires that the driver completely pays attention and sometimes creeps along at a snail’s pace to make way for a bighorn sheep and some of God’s other little critters! It’s a phenomenal drive.

Isaiah writes, “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” This heavy road work would be the work of the Messiah of whom Isaiah writes. The Messiah who would come and take the twisted mess of roads and valleys and straighten them out.

This season we get to go back and press forward. The end of the year provides opportunity to reflect on where we are now. We think about our present struggles. We remember the previous year and leave the rough places behind. We engage in a new path, a smoother path, a path that flows from the pardon of our Lord Jesus.

When we go back down the path of the previous year, we do see those congested highways. Those moments where anxiety clogged up our lives like bumper-to-bumper traffic. We become anxious about the simple things of life, like food and clothing. We become anxious about the complicated things of life, like relationships and people. And somehow we struggle to navigate that anxiety on our own. It wears out our bodies. It wears out our souls and we need our Lord to come and deliver us and give us relief.

We look forward into the new year, wondering what the rough places will be. Our jobs seem to be somewhat disposable and the uncertainty in the world makes life rough. We depend on our own ability to make our own way. We try to smooth out the rough spots and somehow engineer our own straight ways. Yet all humanity, you and me included, has no way to predict the future or to reckon the past.

The Messiah is on the way, Jesus our Lord. It’s His advent that we celebrate. Isaiah proclaims that “every valley will be lifted up and every mountain and hill made flat.” The One who can reckon the past and predict the future is our Lord. God chose His Son Jesus to do the work of pardoning us, forgiving the sins of the past and graciously laying out our future.

Jesus goes back down the highway of the past and provides His pardon for our sins. He leads us not to look inward, but to look to the cross. In the Christmas season we are led to the one place where the pardon of God was so clear and so public. We are led to the cross. Jesus cleared up the past, not with tar and asphalt, but with flesh and blood. He is the sacrifice by which all of our past is reckoned. He pardons us with His death and our past is released from us. We see it; He doesn’t. We go back to it; He has crucified it. We are pardoned in Jesus.

The future may look treacherous, but we have our Messiah with us. He doesn’t promise that things will be easy, but that He will be with us. He promises that His Spirit will lead us into the New Year. There are no road blocks that will dissuade Him. Amazing is the power of His grace. He not only forgives the past, but He gives us hope for a new year filled with experiences that flow from His open hand. We can’t predict the circumstances of the future, but we can predict that our Savior’s love and grace will go with us.

A pardon is a second chance for someone. It’s interesting to think about. Having the guilt and the fear along the way is draining and tiring. Serving time incarcerated must be horrible. The cells are tiny. There are so many people. The day is ordered for you. There is no freedom. But then the phone call comes: the pardon is on the way. The governor has said, “I pardon you and you are free.” It is a fresh start for the pardoned. The hope for the future is grand.

In pardoning us our Lord enlivens our hearts and souls. The drudgery of guilt is replaced with the joy of redemption. The gate of the cell of shame is opened, and we are led out to freedom. Life takes on a hopeful spirit. Pardon has a way of doing that.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road is 50 miles of amazing scenery as it winds through Glacier National Park. Lake McDonald is on the west all the way to St. Mary on the east, but it’s a treacherous road. There’s almost always congestion. There are almost always bicycles on the shoulder. There are almost always cars parked in crazy ways. And sometimes there is rain, snow, wind, or other random weather. There are unpredictable places all throughout the drive. But the drive is worth it in every way.

In our lives, as well, the journey is worth it. There are many things that we can never predict, such as challenges with people, economics, politics, and the like. Yet with Jesus, as His pardoned people, we can depend on and rest our complete confidence in Him. He has removed the past and promised His presence in the future. With that promise in tow, we can take on the challenges of a new year and have a joyful Christmas celebration. Amen.