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A Bare Arm, Beautiful Feet, and Lots of Singing December 25, 2016

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Isaiah 52:7-10

Christmas

December 25, 2016

 

Focus:  God has laid bare His arm.

Function:  That the hearers break forth together into singing.

Structure:  OT…NT…Church parallels.

 

A Bare Arm, Beautiful Feet, and Lots of Singing

 

I’m not sure what your Christmas traditions are like.  But when I was growing up, us kids would always be overjoyed at the thought of opening our presents.  Maybe you’re still that way.  Maybe you still find it difficult to sleep on Christmas Eve under all the anticipation.  So we’d get up ridiculously early.  We’d run into Mom and Pops room and jump onto their bed just begging for them to get up.

Once they finally did, we’d rip through wrapping paper, excited over whatever our gifts were that year.  And then we’d eat a quick breakfast and head off to church, to celebrate our Savior’s birth, the true gift of Christmas.  Maybe your memories or your current traditions are similar.  Maybe they’re a little different.

But whatever you’re traditions are, Christmas Day is one usually marked with great celebration, great joy, great happiness.  But to keep with the text this morning, we have to momentarily set all of that aside, and sit in sackcloth and ashes, grieve over the depth of our sin.  Because, in honesty, without grief of sin, there’d be no Christmas celebration.

I’m not asking you to think of, and recount, specific sins blow by blow.  That’s already done.  That was done this morning in the words of Confession and Absolution.  But instead, just the overarching fact that we are by nature creatures of wrath.  We are by nature under the curse of sin which brings about nothing but death.

That’s what sin is, that’s what sin does.  That’s what original sin is, not some new way to break God’s commands, but that we are from the moment of conception, broken, separated from God our Lord and Creator.

And so it is, in the context of our text from the prophet Isaiah this morning, that we find God’s holy nation, set apart to be His people, the Israelites, we find them stuck in their sin.  To the point where the prophet Isaiah is sent to warn them of their upcoming destruction at the hands of their foreign neighbor, Assyria.

That is an exile that comes.  It comes in 722 BC, when the nation of Israel is destroyed, dragged off into exile in a foreign land, where they continue to serve false gods.  Their sin leads to their death.  Just as ours does to us.  And it is to this exiled people that the prophet speaks in our text.

For thus says Yahweh: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” For thus says the Lord Yahweh: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. Now therefore what have I here,” declares Yahweh, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares Yahweh, “and continually all the day my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.” –Isaiah 52:3-6

 

Right there, in the midst of their exile, the Lord plops down this great word.  “You shall be redeemed without money.”  That’s how you buy something back.  It’s pawn shop language to us today.  You need money, so you pawn an item.  In order to get it back, you have to redeem it, that is, pay for it.

But not here.  Not now.  How is our redemption going to be paid?  Blood.  You’re right, but we’re not quite there yet.  First God proclaims a familiar word for us: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news.”  The more we know of their culture, the more absurd this proclamation sounds.  I’m 99% sure no one back then had a foot fetish.  There were no foot models.

We’re talking about open-toed shoes on rocky and dirty terrain.  These people aren’t living in comfortable, tiled or carpet floored homes.  They’re living on dirt.  And so their feet are constantly dirty, constantly bloodied, constantly sore.  Often infected.  This is what made washing feet in the New Testament such a big act of humble service to your neighbor.  And it’s why Peter at first refused to allow Jesus to do it.

And yet God declares the feet of those who bring this good news beautiful.  Why?  Because they bring good news.  The direct reference here is to the prophets, to men like Isaiah, who came to an exiled, beaten down, worn out people, many, if not all of whom had lost hope in life.  And they come with great, good news.

News of a Savior.  News of salvation.  News that as verse nine says, brings comfort.  God comforts His people.  He has redeemed Jerusalem.  He has redeemed His people.  By baring His arm.

It’s a military term.  To bare one’s arm is to reveal one’s weapon.  You can remember back perhaps to the judge Ehud, the sneaky lefty secretly hiding his weapon, and only baring it just in time to slay the wicked King Eglon, who was oppressing God’s people.

And indeed, the baring of the Lord’s arm brings bloodshed.  But not the enemies’.  Not even our own, although we deserved it, just like Israel, stuck in our sins.  Instead the blood bared by the arm of the Lord is His own.  It is the Savior’s blood, it is the baby boy’s blood.  It is Jesus’ blood.

And instead of baring His arm to reveal a piece of steel, Jesus bares His arm to reveal a hole.  Right here (point to just beneath the wrist).  Our redemption, paid for not in money, gold or silver, but in the very blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior.

That’s what comes next in Isaiah’s writings.  The rest of chapter 52 and all of chapter 53 are known as one of the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah.  They are without a doubt, beautiful good news.  They are a prophecy of Jesus Christ, foretelling His suffering at the cross, His death that redeems us from our sins, and His resurrection.  This is perhaps the most explicit prophecy of Christ that the people had ever heard.

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

 

Go ahead, go home and read the rest.  Good stuff.  Good news.  And this good news made the prophet’s feet beautiful.  He came bearing the good news of a Savior.

On the day of Jesus’ birth, who has beautiful feet? Who got to tell the world about the Christ-child’s birth? The angels and the shepherds.  Right, the angels, but that was their job.  Literally, angel means messenger.  That’s one of the very foremost reasons God created them.  But then it was the shepherds.  A grungy and despised class, looked down upon often as petty thieves.  And it is to these men that God entrusts the opportunity to go and tell everyone the good news.

Who has beautiful feet today?  Today, who gets to tell the world about their Savior?  All of us.  We bring good news to those around us.  Despite our sin, despite being enemies of God, He loves us so greatly that He chose to redeem us in the blood of His Son, to forgive our sins, and to entrust us with the care of His creation.  And He does so, by giving us beautiful feet.  By giving us the proclamation of the gospel, of good news to all people.

And it is such great, good news, that it seems to always be accompanied by singing.  Don’t tell my wife I said this, but it seems like our life is meant to look like a musical, where we’ll just burst into random, and joyful song at any moment.

The prophets, the watchmen as they were called in verse eight, lift up their voices, singing together for joy at the good news of a Savior.  The Israelites, the wasteplaces of Jerusalem, breaking out into joyous song because they’ve been comforted by God.  The angels, bringing forth good news to the shepherds that night burst into song.

We too, burst into joyous song.  We sang 23 hymns here yesterday, and we’re adding another 6 to that here this morning.  It’s a good thing.  Singing praise to our God and Savior is a way of giving thanks.  And so we rejoice, all day, everyday.

As you go forth today, rejoicing in the bare arm of the Lord, rejoicing in the beautiful feet of the prophets and the shepherds, as they all reveal to us the good news of a Savior, of Jesus Christ who has redeemed us from sin, death, and the devil, as you go out, read Isaiah 52 and 53, and sing a couple of your favorite Christmas hymns.  For today, and everyday, we rejoice in this baby boy, this Jesus, born unto us.

And while I wish this led into song, we’ll pray first, with some more singing in just a little bit.

 

 

 

One Starry Night December 24, 2016

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Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2016

 

Focus:  God took on flesh, born of a virgin, to deliver mankind.

Function:  That the hearers worship their newborn King.

Structure: Dramatic Monologue.

 

One Starry Night

 

Welcome.  Thank you, thank you for taking the time to listen to me.  Thank you for hearing me out. I know you all don’t care for me.  I know you look down upon me because I’m not clean, I’m, I’m not well-kept.  I know being around me makes you uncomfortable.  You don’t like shepherds, I get it.  I really do.  But something happened last night that you simply must know.  So I thank you, I thank you for giving me this chance.

Last night, it was, it was just like any other night.  Samuel, Marcus, and I, we, we were just doing what we do.  Keeping the sheep.  Taking turns resting, waking, guarding the sheep, guiding the sheep, making sure the pastures were cared for.

As you well know, it was a peaceful evening.  It may have been crowded in town for the census.  But the fields were as quiet as ever, not even a cloud in the sky.  No storms in sight.  We had a perfect view of the stars dazzling in the night sky.  One of them was even more magnificent than anything any of us had ever seen.  But as I was laying there with one of the injured lambs in my arms, trying to sing it to sleep, the night sky lit up.  It was so bright, so alarming, it was like suddenly, out of nowhere, night had passed away, and it was day.

And I really, I don’t know how to tell you what the three of us saw next.  You already think me a fool.  But I must try.  It was the most terrifying thing any of us had ever seen.  It had the appearance of a man.  In some ways, he looked like you and like me.  But he wasn’t.  He had wings.  Large wings.  Six of them.  He used two to keep himself hovering just above us in the heavens, while he used the other four to partially cover himself.  It was almost like he was shielding us.  Like he knew we were afraid.  And, and for good reason, the very sight of him caused my bones to tremble.  Just as quickly as light lit up the sky, this man, this angel descended from heaven upon us.  Not one of us could even mutter a word.

But this angel wasted no time.  He had a message to deliver to us.  And he did.  I will never forget those words.  They’re seared into my very thoughts.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

 

These words melted our hearts.  Just as quickly as we had been seized with fear, as soon as the angel spoke, the fear, it, it just melted away.  There was a sense of overwhelming calm.  We were at peace again.

And oh those words!  Why did the good Lord of heaven and earth choose to speak such words to us?  I mean, just look at me.  I’m worthless.  I’m, I’m an outcast.  Not even the least of you would consider hiring me to serve in your home.  And it’s not just that.  I don’t deserve any of this.  I’m wicked.  I haven’t kept the commands of God.  I haven’t been to the temple any time in recent memory.  I’m not offering sacrifices like I should be.  I’ve hated my brother, I’ve held grudges against all of you for how you’ve treated me.  I’m a sinner, a poor, miserable sinner.

And yet, this angel, this angel came to us.  And he gave us the greatest news we’ve ever heard.  It’s been so long.  Not one of us has even seen a prophet, but the priests and the scribes tell us about them.  They tell us about the promises of God.  How He loves His people.  How He plans to send a Savior to us.

And He did it.  We’ve heard nothing for generations.  Until last night.  The Savior of the world.  Our Messiah.  He’s here.  Just as Samuel said long ago, the Christ would come from David’s house.  Just as Micah said long ago, the Lord of Lords would come from Bethlehem.

The Christ, the one who will save us from sin and death and from this wretched fallen world.  He’s here!  I, I couldn’t believe the news.  As awestruck as we were when this angel had first appeared, even more so now.  Could it be?!  Could it be?!

But before we could even rise to our feet, there was another flash of light, blinding us.  When we looked back up, we no longer saw just one angel.  The heavens were filled with them.  Even if we’d had all night, we never could’ve counted them, it was like an army.  But instead of instruments of war, instead of killing us like we might have first believed, they began singing.

It was the most melodious sound.  The most beautiful song my ears have ever heard.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace

among those with whom he is pleased!”

Peace.  We definitely had peace last night.  It was as though there were no more troubles in all the world.  As though we needn’t worry about anything anymore.  And, and maybe that’s true.  If the Christ really is here, maybe indeed all is well with my soul.

Before, before we could even process everything we had just seen and heard, just as quickly as they’d arrived, they disappeared.  It was night again.  Still a beautiful night, with that bright star almost as though it was pointing the way to Bethlehem.  Almost like it was inviting us, inviting the world to come and see.

I quickly turned to Samuel and Marcus.  And I didn’t have to say anything.  You could see it on their faces.  This wasn’t a dream, I wasn’t just having some crazy dream.  I hadn’t fallen asleep on the job, I promise!  This had been real.  These angels had brought to each of us last night great peace, great joy.  We were so excited.

It was Marcus who broke the silence.  One of us would’ve eventually.  But it was Marcus who suggested it.

“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,

which the Lord has made known to us.”

That was one of those moments that you just knew to be right.  He didn’t have to ask.  We were going.  I gently laid the little lamb down by its mother, and we ran.  It wasn’t far, but we were so excited.  We were just so filled with wonder and amazement that we couldn’t wait.

It seemed like an eternity.  I know it wasn’t, I know it wasn’t far.  But this great gift was finally here.  The trip took forever.  But we arrived.  We arrived in your crowded city last night.  We arrived in the quiet, still of night.

And like I said about that star, it was like we were beckoned.  We didn’t need directions, we simply knew, somehow, we just knew where to go.  With haste, we found the home of Joseph’s relatives.  We found the baby and his parents just inside.

The home was crowded with all the extra guests, the animals were all inside to keep warm.  But right there, right in the manger in the floor where the cow would eat, right there on a fresh bed of hay, it was Him.  It is Him.  There’s no doubt about it.  This little boy is the Savior!  He’s the one, He’s the one we’ve been waiting for all these years!

The craziness, the madness of our sprint was over.  We made our way into the home, we greeted the parents.  Joseph’s love for his young bride is unquestionable.  He had the difficult task of moving her here to town while she was pregnant, and he cared for her every step of the way.  And even since they arrived a few weeks ago, he’s done for her whatever she and the baby needed.

And Mary, well, she’d just given birth.  She had that mother’s glow about her.  You’ve been there, you know the look I’m talking about.  But this joy on her face was like nothing we’d seen before.  It’s obvious that she and Joseph know who this child is.

But we asked any way.  We listened to them as they shared their story.  We listened as they spoke of being visited by angels, too, both of them.  And that the angel had told them that this baby would be the Son of God.  And he told them what to name this boy.  That He would be the Christ and that they should name Him Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins.

I’m just, I’m so excited.  Even now, even here.  I didn’t sleep at all today!  I just can’t.  Jesus is born.  Our King, our Savior has come for us.  Even me, the least of all people, He’s even come to save me.  Thank you for hearing me out.  Thank you for listening.  But there’s no need for me to speak anymore.  Go and see for yourself.  The Christ has come for you, too.

 

 

 

Trust in Your King December 18, 2016

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Isaiah 7:10-14

Circuit Meeting

December 8, 2016

 

Focus:  God sent a Savior for His people.

Function:  That the hearers rely on God alone for all their needs.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Trust in Your King

 

It’s that time of year again.  And as the people crowd around you, you sit before a flaming, frosted delicacy.  Alright, so that’s a fancy way to say it’s your birthday.  And so you sit in front of the cake, close your eyes, make a wish, and attempt to blow out all those candles your family put on the cake.  And if you’re lucky, they didn’t use the trick candles this year.

Whether it’s making a wish before blowing out the candles, or wishing on a shooting star, or tossing a coin into a fountain, or breaking a wishbone, our culture has some traditions that come along with wishing.  But while it may be fun to do, is there really any point?  There’s no genie listening who magically grants your wishes.

But this wasn’t the case for Judah’s king.  Ahaz had the opportunity to ask God for anything he wanted as a sign that God is God, and could be trusted.  “As deep as Sheol,” or in other words, ask me to raise the dead, and I’ll do it.  “As high as heaven,” that is, ask me to send down angels upon you, and I’ll do it.

Our text this morning plops us right down into the midst of the Syro-Ephraimite Crisis in the year 735 BC.  King Rezin of Syria and King Pekah of Israel have decided to join up against Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria.  And Rezin and Pekah have come to Ahaz, the king of Judah, to request his aid in the battle.

Except, it wasn’t really a request.  They threatened to run a sword through his gut and put Tabeel on the throne in his place if he didn’t join with them.  But rather than join them, Ahaz had already reasoned in his own mind to side with Assyria.

It’s at this time that God sends the prophet Isaiah to speak with Ahaz.  As his land lays besieged, Isaiah comes before the king to talk about trust.  That’s really what the problem of Isaiah 7 is, a matter of faith, or the lack thereof in this case.  There’s a really fascinating connection here in chapter 7 and with chapter 36.  Isaiah is sent to meet Ahaz by the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field.  The only other time we see this field is when the king of Assyria sends his army against Ahaz’ son, Hezekiah.  Both kings under siege faced the same test.  Trust in God, not in armies.  One passed, the other failed.

According to the words of Psalm 2, used for the coronation of Judah’s kings, God declares Ahaz His son.  There’s a relationship here between God and the king of His people. A relationship that Ahaz quickly disposes of.  It’s clear from his conversation with Isaiah that Ahaz doesn’t have any faith in God.

And if it weren’t clear enough there, it certainly becomes crystal clear in 2 Kings 16:7, when Ahaz approaches Tiglath-Pileser and says, “I am your servant and your son.  Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria, and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.”  He even emptied the house of Yahweh of silver and gold and gave them to the Assyrian king as a sign of “good faith.”  In a manner of speaking, he disowned his birthright, as son of God, as king over His people.

So it’s no wonder when Isaiah presents Ahaz with the opportunity to put his trust in the Lord for deliverance, that Ahaz balks at the entire idea.  He plays it off, trying to act wise, but it’s all a con.  And God is not easily mocked.

The law is endless with this text.  When the enemy comes knocking, we are called upon to radically trust in Yahweh alone.  So the law is anything that takes our trust off of Christ.

We could focus on the election, or politics, but we’ve done that enough already.  We could focus on government in general, as people put their trust in rulers and armies to give them safety from their enemies.  Even to the point where we consider other Christians our enemies on the battlefield in the name of earthly kings.

But in our current culture, the most pressing thing for us to focus on is our desperate desire to control our own futures.  It’s not just planning, it’s obsessing.  Careers destroy families, as we put our trust in our income, our bank statements, our retirement savings, in just about anything to provide for our daily needs.

We put our trust in the doctors and the nurses, and the latest diet fads, and in essential oils, and all kinds of other things to provide us with basically a fountain of youth.  And then we worry constantly, and we panic at the slightest downturn in the economy or our own personal health.

Not unlike King Ahaz, we find it difficult to trust in God.  And to this failed king’s trust, God gave a sign.  We often hear the following prophecy as beautiful gospel.  But it wasn’t spoken that way.  This promise of Immanuel isn’t gospel at all, but law to the ears of an unrepentant king.

That indeed, a “virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  Too often we sell this short, too often we unfold this two-fold prophecy and make it to be only about Jesus.

The Hebrew word “almah” can mean virgin, maiden, or young woman.  Or, it can even mean a young married woman who has not yet given birth to children, such as in Joel 2:16 or Proverbs 30:19.  English doesn’t really have a term for that category, but the Hebrew word can mean that.

But if there is no birth in Ahaz’ time, it voids this prophecy.  This prophecy is spoken, this sign is to be given to King Ahaz.  And so a young woman, whose identity commentators and Concordia professors debate to no end, this young woman, marries, has a son, and they name him Immanuel.  And to Ahaz, this boy becomes an ongoing reminder, almost like circumcision to the Jews, a constant, visual reminder to the wicked king that God keeps His Word.

Personally, I think this boy is Ahaz’ son.  Whether Ahaz’ wife had been barren before and God is now opening her womb, or if he had a young wife and they simply hadn’t had kids yet.  That would make the boy Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, who becomes king after his father, and who passed the test at the Washer’s Field, by radically trusting in Yahweh alone.  Hezekiah’s name means “God is my strength,” which is extremely similar to Immanuel meaning “God is with us.”  A constant, present reminder to King Ahaz that God is God, whether he listens or not.

But rather than trusting in God as the true King of Judah, Ahaz thinks himself king, and takes the salvation of his people into his own hands.  And he rejects the sign of God, even as he sees it play out.  The kings he dreads, Rezin and Pekah, destroyed, their lands laid waste.  Assyria following through and sucking Ahaz’ kingdom dry.  Even as these things happen, the house of David, Ahaz, rejects the sign of Immanuel, of God with us.

When does the house of David finally repent of rejecting this sign?  Joseph.  It’s not until our gospel text from Matthew that the house of David finally receives the sign of Immanuel.  And as two-fold prophecy usually does, the latter fulfillment is far greater than the first.  Whatever that young woman was before, and the son she bore, the virgin Mary truly bears the Immanuel, God with us.

For many, these words are still law.  They still, as good Advent themes, and in anticipation of John the Baptist’s preaching, call us to repentance, to hear God’s Word and to repent of our sins.  For those who ignore the sign, these words are words of warning, they’re a message of impending doom.

But for those who hear and heed these words, this prophecy is good news.  This prophecy is of a baby boy, born of a virgin, God in the flesh, Immanuel, come down to earth to deliver His people.  And that’s precisely what the Christ-child does.

He lived among His people, among His creation.  He lived out the perfect life demanded of us, the perfect life we failed to live.  He then willingly sacrificed Himself, bled out on the cross, taking our sins upon Himself to give us life.  To give us forgiveness.  To save us.

To those who hear and heed this good news, Jesus is Immanuel, God in the flesh, a true King that will not bend or sway to the temptations and trials of the world.  A true king in whom we can place our trust and know that He will not fail us like an earthly king or a 401(k).

To bring in the Immanuel theme of Matthew’s writings, Jesus speaks this very promise to us.  In Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.”  And again in Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Immanuel is a call to trust in God above all things.  But more than, it’s indeed a promise that He will keep.  That He will be with us always.

And indeed He is.  As we gather here together, two or three or a hundred, Christ is among us.  In Word, in Confession and Absolution, and in Sacrament.  The good news is yours, forgiveness is yours dear brothers.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Clear the path December 4, 2016

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Matthew 3:1-12

Second Sunday in Advent

December 4th, 2016

 

Focus:  God sends His people to clear a path that others may see Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers clear the path for the gospel.

Structure:  .

 

Clear the Path

 

All summer long, and even this fall, if you wanted to get to Rochester, you had to be patient.  Construction crews had the roads all torn up to the point where Rochester’s official mascot might as well’ve been the orange traffic cone.  And if that was part of your work commute, I’m sorry.  But over those months, they built new roads, new bridges, reinforced old ones.  The trip to get to Rochester is now easier and safer than ever before.  The hard work of those crews paved the way for you to get into their city.

The Winterfest parade here in town doesn’t quite live up to the Fourth of July.  So even though that was just yesterday, think of any parade you’ve been at before.  The roads get blocked off, chairs are lining the streets.  People are preparing to see the procession.  And of course, when the parade begins, where are the children?  Up front.  Right, they’re right up front.  There’s no point to them sitting in the back, they can’t see anything.  They’ll get bored, antsy, frustrated, and distracted.  And they become a distraction.  So they go to the front, where they can see and hear everything.

And even though Pastor Fritsch and I don’t throw out candy during the service, the same thing really applies to church.  Kids behave better, pay attention better, hear God’s Word better, up front, where they can see.  There aren’t a bunch of heads blocking the way.

You’re all good at this, making things visible.  Next weekend we have the Wee Care Christmas programs.  And this place will be packed.  And you help.  You actively help to arrange chairs and risers and other things.  But even as we remodeled this space for worshipping God, you kept people’s ability to see in mind.

Even though it proved unfeasible to rip out these pillars, you saw fit to ramp up our tech, to put in a great camera system that broadcasts the service onto those side screens.  So when those green chairs and folding chairs are filled with relatives next weekend, they can see the kids singing and it makes hearing the good news of the gospel all the easier for them, because the way has been made clear.

In many ways, this was John the Baptist’s task, his calling.  As God’s prophet, he had a very specific call to fulfill. “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”  Those words were waiting for John, for over six hundred years.  This was how God saw fit to prepare the way, to put up construction cones, to clear a path.

John didn’t get any dynamite to work with, aside a potent proclamation.  “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  I’ve always thought it was pretty cool that the sermon John preached to the people is the same exact sermon that Jesus begins His ministry with.  In Matthew 4:17, it’s word for word.  The same exact message.  “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This is the proclamation which God gave to John to clear the path.  To obliterate the obstacles in people’s lives so that they could see the Christ.  John was sent to take away any roadblocks that would stop people, physically, mentally, emotionally, whatever it may have been.  Prepare the people for the coming of Jesus.

And his message does exactly that.  Repent, turn away from your sins.  It’s the law.  And John, as a prophet, comes equipped with the full force of the law, able to point people to what sins are burdening them that they aren’t even aware of.  Or in the case of the Pharisees and other leaders, challenging their pride.  Cast these things off, repent.  Turn away from your sins and turn to God.

And the message also included the timing.  The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  It’s here.  The inbreaking of God into our midst, the inbreaking of God into the brokenness of our lives and our government is here.  You don’t have to wait anymore.  The Christ has come.  Life will never be the same.

John spoke on behalf of the Lord and the people listened.  “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

John did his job, with the Spirit’s help no doubt.  But people from all over the world were coming to John, hearing his message, confessing their sins, and being baptized.  John was clearing a path for people to be ready to see and hear Jesus.  That when He comes, they’d be’d dying to hear the good news of the gospel.  Of salvation by grace alone.  And to be baptized into His kingdom which knows no end.

In some ways, this is what we do.  You haven’t been called by God to be prophets.  You haven’t been called by God to baptize.  But you are called by God to prepare the way, just as it was said in John and Jesus’ preaching.

That’s the point of Advent, that we prepare for His coming.  That we repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  And so we do.  We gather together, as His people, His children the church.  We enjoy some fellowship over freshly cooked meals.  Then we gather here, in this holy space, set apart for the preaching of the Word.  For the preaching of both law and gospel.  That you’re sinners, in need of repenting, confessing your sins before the Lord.  And so you do, you already have.  And then He speaks to you His good news. He speaks to you His forgiveness.

There’s not much of a point to a worship service without the means of grace.  If you come here, and the forgiveness of sins isn’t here, we’re doing something wrong.  Through confession and absolution, through baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper, your confession of sins is heard and your sins are absolved, they’re removed from you.  They’re forgiven.  And there’s nothing better than that in the whole world.  That Christ died on the cross in our place.  That’s why you pay for this building.  That’s why you call and pay your pastors, which you do generously!  Without forgiveness, there’s nothing here.

Parents probably have the easiest task of clearing a path.  And I don’t say this to belittle parenting.  Not at all.  It’s a challenge, and a blessing.  I say the path is easier for parents because our children, when God gifts them to us, are blank slates.  Yes, sinners, by all accounts.  But they have no worldview.  They don’t know what to think, how to live, who to trust.  As parents, we get to build their worldview.

And so Advent is a parental reminder, clear the path for your children to see Jesus.  What’s this look like?  Well, this is where gets tougher.  We actually have to look at what we’re teaching our kids, at what we’re telling them matters, and we might have to change things.  We might have to clear a path through some self-erected obstacled.

I shared an interview from the Issues, Etc. radio program this week on Facebook, with Pastor Hans Fiene.  In that interview, he breaks down how we’ve made sports an idol.  I encourage you to go and listen to it.  If you don’t Facebook or can’t find me, that’s okay, just Google “Issues Etc.” and it will be one of the first archived shows on their site.

It’s worth your time, even if you don’t have kids, or never will.  Because the point can be expanded.  With sports and children, the problem now is more than just that teams and leagues and coaches insist on Sunday morning practices, games, and tournaments.  The problem is deeper than Wednesday night commitments that keep our kids out of Confirmation.  The problem is that those things get chosen over hearing the Word of God, over receiving His gifts of life and forgiveness in a place that He has set apart for you.

Children don’t fall for the old “do as I say, not as I do.”  They learn from this that it’s okay to do something else.  God can take the backseat, He’ll be okay with it.  And “just this once” has an awful bad habit of becoming regular routine.  And like I was saying, it’s not just sports.  What in your life takes your eyes off the cross?  What hinders you from devotions at home, from being in His Word?  What prevents you from coming to His altar and drinking His blood, shed for you?  Whatever these things might be, clear the path.  Don’t take on the commitment that strips you from this community.  Say no to the traveling league. Say no to the camping trip.  Say no to the promotion that gives you bad hours.

That’s the challenge of clearing the path for parents.  Sometimes we have idols that have to be torn down, cleared, so that our kids can see Christ.

But the challenge is still for all of us to clear the path for our neighbor.  And this one’s tougher.  This one’s tougher because your neighbor already has a worldview.  They already have commitments. They already have mentors and role models.  They already have an entire framework for how they’ve come to be them that doesn’t understand that they were created by God intentionally.

It’s hard to overcome the worldviews of our culture.  But in this way, we’re like John.  We’re tasked with giving the Word a hearing.  With building a relationship with our neighbor through which we can tell them of God, of His creation, of our sins, and of forgiveness in the cross of Christ.

In that too, we have idols.  Idols of comfort, of tolerance, of freedom, things that we must again clear to share the Word.  We don’t want to risk losing our friends, but what kind of friend are we if we don’t care if they’re forgiven?

Now don’t hear what I’m not saying.  You’re not responsible for their worldview.  You’re not responsible for whether or not they actually hear the Word of God.  John the Baptist wasn’t called to hammer home the Word over and over again until the people finally listened.  He was simply called to share it.

He acknowledged his limitations.  He didn’t even see himself as worthy to untie and carry the filthy, bloodied sandals of Jesus.  And he’s right.  And neither are we.  We can’t save ourselves, so we certainly can’t save others. That job belongs to God alone.

And He has done it.  The same Spirit who created life in you from the dirt has brought you to the font to be baptized, to create a new life in you.  The same Lord who knew you before you even existed, willingly laid down His life on the cross to claim your sins as His own.  The same God who could make the rocks proclaim Christ, chooses to work through us, as His children, as His family.  The same God who watched as we corrupted the creation He entrusted to us, continues to entrust it to us.

So we are called to put on our hard hats and clear some paths in our own life, in our family, and with our neighbors.  But even in hearing that, those words of Advent preparation, we still rejoice.  We rejoice in the work of John the Baptist, clearing the path for so many to see Jesus’ ministry on this earth.  We rejoice in the work of all those since Jesus’ ministry who have continued to clear paths that we too have seen our risen King.  And most of all, we rejoice in our Lord and Savior, who loves us so much that He willing surrendered His own life, to save us from the unquenchable fire.