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Many Lights are Brighter–Together! December 13, 2017

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Romans 15:4-7

Second Wednesday of Advent

December 13, 2017

 

Focus:  God gives us hope in the midst of darkness through His Son.

Function:  That the hearers shine in the darkness.

Structure:  Concordia Pulpit Resources Advent Midweek 2, vol. 28.

 

Many Lights are Brighter—Together!

 

Several of you recommended it, so this Monday evening Hannah and I took the girls over to Christmas in the Park.  They love Christmas lights, and the neighborhood we’re staying in right now doesn’t have any.  It’s just…dark.  So as we drove down, they were looking out the windows, picking out the businesses with lights up.

And when we got there, it starts out pretty empty, still dark.  As you sit in the bumper-to-bumper traffic waiting.  There’s an elf here, another elf there.  A few sailboats, but it’s pretty mild until you get near the back of the park.  And then you come to the point where they actually have you turn off your headlights.

Now, I was driving, so I couldn’t see the look on the girls’ faces, but I know they really liked it.  Eliana was mad when we left, she wanted more lights that she could point to and yell at.  But it was neat to see all the lights up, and all the work that must’ve gone in to designing and putting on that display.

But we were there, in the midst of darkness, to see a great light.  I don’t have to describe darkness to you.  I don’t have to teach you about what the darkness is in this world.  You know it.  You live in it every day.  You see the anger, the hate, the pain, the suffering, the fear, the greed.  And it’s only grown in our particular culture over the past couple of generations as we have distanced ourselves from the true light that is in Christ.

Many Christians today live in fear of the darkness.  They look around themselves and they see the spiritual and moral decline.  They wonder how bad it can get.  And they worry if it will harm them.  Will persecution come to me and my family?

If you’re in that place right now, there are many brothers and sisters in Christ who’ve been there with you.  We can remember the prophet Elijah, despairing as he thought he was that last follower of Yahweh on earth.  We can remember Job, as he lost everything around him, family, friends, worldly possessions.  We can look to Jeremiah, a prophet who was rejected and condemned at every turn by the very people that God sent him to serve.

Yet, these men all have something in common.  While they lived in the midst of darkness, their hope remained.  Yahweh reminded Elijah that he was not alone.  He comforted Job and was with him to overcome Satan’s temptations of despair and doubt.  He continued to speak His Word unto Jeremiah to give him renewed hope each day.

The Scriptures are that source.  As we try to combat against the fear, the despair, the darkness, we can’t do it alone.  But we aren’t alone, we don’t have to fight alone.  Paul encourages us to look to our Old Testament, to see endurance and encouragement.  These things are attributes of God that He gives to us.

All of the Old Testament does the same thing, it all points us to Christ.  And so we can’t talk about endurance without Jesus.  We can’t talk about encouragement without Jesus.  What gave the people of the Old Testament, people like Elijah, Job, and Jeremiah, what gave them endurance?

It was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  He is our hope.  And that’s not just any hope.  Earthly, American hope can’t get you through tough times.  Sure, hoping for ice cream at the end of your shift might help get you through it.  Wanting that sweet taste, looking forward to it when you get home can give you a little boost to get your work done.  But an ice cream cone isn’t going to get you through getting laid off.  It isn’t going to get you through losing your livelihood because you don’t buy into the agenda of the culture.  It isn’t going to get you through the illness of a loved one.

Because it’s not real hope.  The author of the letter to the Hebrews gives us a different definition.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for.”   Biblical hope, hope rooted in Christ isn’t just a “want,” it’s a guarantee.  We aren’t just hoping for a white Christmas.  We have full certainty that our hope in Christ is real.   That the promises of Christ are real.  And that they belong to us.

In this way, your faith isn’t blind.  You see the promise, and you cling to that promise.  This is what gave our Old Testament brothers and sisters endurance.  They could put up with the darkness of the world around them entirely because they knew that no matter the outcome, they had a Messiah, a Savior who would rescue them from that darkness, the great light of the world, Jesus Christ.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ in other areas of the world today endure things we can’t even imagine.  Even to the point of martyrdom.  But they endure, they endure in faith knowing that their hope is not in vain.  Knowing that their hope in Christ, their faith in Christ, will be rewarded.  That no earthly darkness can rob them of the everlasting life promised to them in Christ alone.

Just as they are, we are encouraged daily by God Himself.  We are encouraged in our faith when we read, mark, and inwardly digest His Word.  We are encouraged together in our faith, when we come together to hear the forgiveness of sins in the words of Confession and Absolution.  We are encouraged together, built up in our faith, when we see another child added into the eternal kingdom of Christ, just as we will this coming Sunday, when Regina is baptized right here.  We are encouraged together, hope renewed, when the body and blood of Christ overflow from the cross and this altar for the forgiveness of our sins.

It is through these things, through His Word, through His sacraments, through His promises that our hope and our faith are strengthened, that we may endure whatever the devil and our own sinful flesh throw our way.

But we are like Elijah.  We need that reminder that we aren’t alone.  That we’re not in this alone.  We are part of God’s family, and we have one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  If Christmas in the park was just one light bulb, it wouldn’t be very bright.  There wouldn’t be many people who would see it.

But when you start adding more lights, the brightness grows.  And more and more people see the wonder of the display.  Alone, you are still a light in the midst of darkness, a light enduring in Christ.  But together, we are an even brighter light, encouraged by Christ that we can give His light to others.  As His church, we are a burning light in the midst of darkness, bringing hope to people who have none.

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A Thousand Years in Eternity December 10, 2017

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2 Peter 3:8-14

Second Sunday in Advent

December 10, 2017

 

Focus:  God promises us Paradise upon Christ’s return.

Function:  That the hearers live each and every day as children of God.

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

 

A Thousand Years in Eternity

 

As we began our Advent journey of waiting last weekend, Pastor Otto sought to prepare us for the physical second coming of Jesus.  That Christ, fully God and fully man is indeed returning to this earth to bring about the Final Judgment.  And it is really Him, tangible, in the flesh, scars and all.

Our text from the Apostle Peter today allows us to continue on this theme.  The Advent season isn’t just waiting for Christmas and the baby Jesus, but it’s also waiting for the resurrected Jesus and the Last Day.

Two thousand years ago, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ made us a promise.  John recorded these words at the very end of Revelation: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”  I am coming soon.  Those are our Lord’s words to us.

And in the time that passed, these words have been heard in different ways.  If you’d like, make it a point to read Paul’s writings to the people in Thessalonica sometime this week.  They heard that Christ was returning soon, so they lost interest in work.  Well, if He’s coming back soon, why do we need to plant a crop?  Why do we need to worry ourselves about the harvest?  Christ is coming back before all that!  Paul had to teach them that that was the wrong way to live their lives.  While on the one hand, they were trusting in Christ’s promise, on the other hand, they failed to keep in mind their vocations to serve their neighbors.

But aside from those random false prophets today who keep trying endlessly to predict Christ’s return, even though Christ Himself said that no one knows the day or the hour, aside from these, we really don’t have a Thessolonian problem, do we?  Our problem today with this word “soon” isn’t that it’s coming upon us immediately, it’s that we’ve lost patience.

This is a sinful nature problem.  Patience isn’t a strong suit for us.  And even if you count yourself among their rare individuals who actually are viewed as patient by their peers, what would happen to your patience if it were tried for a couple years, instead of a couple of minutes?  The Jewish people ran into this.  As they waited for the coming Messiah, as they longed for Christmas, many gave up.  As years turned into decades, and then lifetimes, and then centuries, and then even millennia, they lost their patience.

And for those who failed to see Jesus as their Messiah, many of those Jews today have stopped believing in a coming King.  They’ve turned it into a metaphor that deals not with the here and now, but deals with life beyond the grave.  And as we look around Christendom, we’re seeing this pattern emerge as well.  Christians turning the soon return of Christ into a non-event.  A metaphor that His return is simply synonymous with your moment of death.

We’ve lost patience to the point where we no longer are waiting.  Think about it for a moment.  If I could tell you, that without a doubt, Jesus is returning to this green earth tomorrow, what would that do to you today?  How would that impact what you do when you walk out those doors in thirty minutes?

Sure, some people would seek to get in as much of our idols as we could.  Our favorite entertainment, our favorite hobbies, our favorite foods.  But others among us would be overjoyed.  And concerned.  Overjoyed at the return of the King, not the Lord of the Rings movie, but Jesus.  And at the same time concerned for their neighbors, their loved ones who didn’t know Christ was coming tomorrow.  And so they’d leave the church today, pull out their phones, send a text, wait, no don’t do that.  They’d go and visit.  They’d strike up conversations, they’d share the excitement and the good news of sins forgiven in this Babe of Bethlehem.

But what if I told you, without a doubt, that Christ was coming back precisely 100 years from this very moment?  How would that change your day today?  Would it at all?  If we’re honest, most of us have the opposite problem of the Thessalonians.  We live as though Christ isn’t coming back at all.

And so today, Peter is reminding us that we’re still waiting.  And he’s giving us an eternal perspective.  A day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day before the Lord.  You see, when we look at God from our perspective, we see just this tiny glimpse.  Just a minute fragment of reality.  And God sees the whole picture.  So indeed, soon still means soon.  It could be this very night.  It could be next week.  It could be another couple thousand years.

So instead of asking when, instead of trying to figure out when, Peter tells us how to wait.  That is, to live our lives in holiness and godliness.  For something to be holy doesn’t always mean perfect.  The utensils used in the Tabernacle weren’t perfect, but they were holy.  They were set apart for a specific purpose.  We are set apart for a specific purpose.

Sometimes we falsely think we need to care for this world because this planet is our future.  That’s not true.  God promises a new heaven and a new earth.  And whether that new earth is a completely new creation, or if God terraforms this rock, we don’t know.  No, instead, we are care for this planet because we’re holy.  Adam and Eve were set apart in the Garden of Eden, distinguished from the rest of creation to be caretakers of creation.  And so, you and I today care for this creation because that’s part of our vocation as children of God.

But we aren’t just holy before the plants and animals of this world.  We’re also holy before our neighbors.  We are set apart, to be salt, to be light, to be a city on a hill.  That to live our lives in godliness, living out our vocations before our families, friends, and coworkers, is to share the good news of Christ with them.

I’m not telling you to carve out sixteen hours a week for speaking gospel into the lives of your neighbors.  We’re called to live each and every day as Christians.  The people around you will notice.  Your friend will notice when you refuse to speed to cut a few minutes off the trip.  Your neighbor will notice when you clean up the trash laying around their yard.  A random stranger, who’s still your neighbor, will notice when you hand them a blessing bag on the road.  Your kids will notice when you choose to shun the words “that’s okay,” and instead speak the words, “I forgive you.”  The little, seemingly insignificant things that you do each and every day can speak volumes to the people around you.  And they can give you opportunities to speak about Christ and what He has done both for you and for them.

That’s the final verse of the text.  On the service, it looks like works, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”  But what is it that makes you without spot or blemish?  No amount of bleach, no amount of good deeds.  Christ alone.  Jesus is the only one who can make this wretched, fire-bound sinner, spotless.

And in His blood, shed on the cross, He has.  That’s exactly what He’s done.  In Christ, I’m without spot or blemish.  In Christ, you’re without spot or blemish.  In Christ, we have peace.

This is what it means to wait.  That your hope isn’t built on earthly things, but on Christ.  That your treasure isn’t bound up in the stock market, but in the wonder of His Word.  That the longing of your heart isn’t for your lunch this afternoon, but for His body and blood at the table which we receive together.

This is the promise of the gospel: there is a new heaven and a new earth.  And when Christ returns, that new earth will be your home.  Because you are His.  Because you are forgiven.  Because you have life in His name.  And this “promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off.” (Acts 2:39).  So we wait.  We wait for a Paradise we can’t describe, but we know is there.