Sunday, December 27, 2009

First Sunday after Christmas Luke 2:22-40

And a branch comes forth from the stump of Jesse, and a sprout from its roots bears fruit. And leads upon Him the Spirit of Yahweh, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh. And He is pleased to smell upon the fear of Yahweh, yet not in the sight of His eyes does He judge, and not in the hearing of His ears does he pass sentence. But He judges in righteousness, the poor, and He decides in fairness toward the afflicted of the earth. And He strikes the earth with a rod of His mouth, and in the breath of His lips He slays the wicked. And righteousness is a belt of His back, and truth a belt of His waist.

There are some wonderful smells at Christmas. The fresh pine scent of a live tree, the aromas of food cooking for Christmas dinner, the fragrant holly of the Christmas wreath, and the sweet smells of baked treats fresh from the oven. In today's Lesson, Isaiah describes a different smell, one that is pleasing not to us, but to God. An odd aroma, one we wouldn't think would be so pleasant. It is the smell of fear! But, for some reason, the aroma of our fear of the LORD is a fragrant aroma to Him.

For us to understand this, we have to back up a bit, all the way to the very first commandment. There, God forbids us from fearing any other god but Him. "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." From the Hebrew, God is forbidding any other god from being placed, literally, *before His nostrils*. Why? Because all other gods stink in the nostrils of the One true God. Likewise, all those who fear those false idols as though they were real gods are themselves a malodorous offense to God's nose!

So...have you been smelling badly to God? Whenever you fear, love, or trust anyone or anything more than God, you are an offending odor to the LORD. Have you loved money and the Christmas gifts it can buy, more than you've loved God recently? Have you craved authority, responsibility or power more than God's love? Have you placed your wants, your ideas, and your plans above God's will? If so, your loving, fearing and trusting other things or people has been an unpleasant odor to Him.

Not unlike a familiar Christmas figure, God sees you, and knows if you've been bad or good. He has heard your sinful grumblings and complaints against His providing, and has seen your following the earthly gods of mammon. He has plenty of evidence on you for His fair judgment. He could easily pass sentence against you condemning you to dwell eternally with the prince of this sinful world, since you've so often fell into his temptations and followed his evil ways of sin and death.

But that's when God surprises you. He could (and probably should) judge you according to the sins His eyes have seen you commit. He could (and probably should) pass the sentence of condemnation upon you for the gossip, lies, and hurtful words He has heard you speak. But instead, He chooses to look past the sins He has seen you do. It's as though He chooses to turn a deaf ear to those reputation destroying words He has heard from your mouth. With a new righteousness/fairness He judges you!

How? Through that young sprout from the stump of Jesse's tree, Jesus. Though so young so soon after His birthday, He would grow strong with the very Spirit of the Lord upon Him. He came to fix the problem of your sinfulness by becoming sin, your sin, on the cross. There He took the burden of your sin completely on Himself, bearing all your guilt and punishment in full on the tree, even though that meant being forsaken by His Father, for there He became the very stench of all your sin and mine.

Yes, you were the afflicted of this earth, suffering the horrible afflictions of sin, that eternally deadly disease. But Jesus came to decide in your favor by means of a new kind of fairness, giving up his innocent body unto death in your place, and shedding His blood for you so that you could live on! This same body and blood which He willingly paid as your ransom price at Calvary is given to you this day for your forgiveness, for your eternal life, and for your everlasting salvation from sin and death.

You were the poor, completely destitute of God-pleasing righteousness, in and of yourself. So Jesus judged you with a new righteousness, His very Own, credited to your account by faith. You were blessed to be created in Christ as a believer at your baptism, one who by faith, since that day, now has the fear of the LORD! And as a believer who fears Yahweh, you have been made by Jesus into a pleasant aroma to His nostrils, for you are blessed to fear no other god than the LORD, Jesus!

Indeed, the priest Simeon is right as He speaks of this Righteous Branch, that through Him, hearts would be revealed. He reveals the hearts of all believers to have the fragrant fear of the LORD.

Hymns from LSB:
#381 Let Our Gladness Have No End
#389 Let All Together Praise Our God
#937 Lord Bid Your Servant Go In Peace

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009 Advent IV John 1:19-28

A Prophet from among you, from your brothers, like me, He will raise up for you–Yahweh, your God; you will listen to Him. Like everything which you requested away from Yahweh, your God on Horeb on the day of the assembly saying, "May I not take in to hear the voice of Yahweh, my God; and this great fire, may I not see any more, and I will not die." And Yahweh said to me, "It is good, what they have spoken. A Prophet I will raise up for them, from among their brothers like you, and I will give My words into His mouth, and He will speak to them all which I command Him. And it will be, the man who does not listen to my words which He will speak in My name, I, Myself will demand from him.

It would seem that John the baptizer is not 100% clear on exactly who he is, according to scripture. Jerusalem priests ask him, "Who are you?" and he immediately answers, "Well, I'm not the Messiah." So far so good. Then they ask him if he's Elijah. There he is somewhat muddled, for John actually was the promised return of Elijah, preaching with Elijah's own spirit as Jesus testifies to on more than one occasion. Then they ask him if he is The Prophet. To this, John answers correctly: No!

How can John not be The Prophet? Didn't Jesus say that there was no man born greater than John? No other prophet of this earth can compare to John can they? Of course not. John is the greatest of all the line of OT prophets who preceded him. His is the culmination of OT prophecy concerning the Christ. John is by far the greatest of all the prophets of old, pronouncing prophet with a distinctive small *p*. But John is not The Prophet with a capital *P* predicted in the days of Moses.

There is only One superior to John, as far as Prophecy goes. That One, of course, is none other than Jesus. Jesus is the perfect Prophet, for every word uttered from His mouth is, by definition, God's word! The prophet Moses prophesies about this great prophet, that He would be Yahweh, your God; but Moses also predicted that he would be from among the Israelites, from their brethren. How can this be? Because Jesus is God who took upon Himself the human flesh of a prophet.

How humble was John, to downplay His own role as the one who prepared the Lord's way, recognizing that the great Prophet to come would far surpass anything he would do. This humility is a lesson to us all this day. For each and every one of us must learn to be slow to speak, and quick to listen to the Prophet, Jesus. For if you fail to listen to Jesus' prophecy spoken in His Father's name, God will demand from you what you cannot ever pay to Him, and that wouldn't bode well for you.

You must be humbled by God's Law so that you realize, like John, that you are not the Prophet. You may think that this is a sin you would never commit, but don't be too sure. If you love to talk about what you think is best for your church, and if you make it a priority to convince others of your opinions, then you are acting as if you are the Prophet. You act as if Jesus isn't the Prophet when you make excuses to avoid those God-given opportunities to come to His house to hear Jesus' word.

The voice of the Prophet Jesus convicts you of your sin for the purpose of bringing you to repentance so that you can be forgiven. His comforting voice proclaims all your sins to be forgiven, including those of trying to talk in His place, or acting as if His word doesn't matter. Jesus declares you to be forgiven, blameless in His sight, and righteous once again for His sake saying, "Father, forgive them." For whenever your Pastor forgives you in God's name, it is done in heaven just as here on the earth.

Part of being humble is knowing when to use our ears to listen to Jesus, our Prophet. Not just hearing, but really listening in such a way as to heed Jesus' words so that they can make changes in your life. For if you do not pay attention to the words Jesus prophesies to you, in the end, you may find yourself in trouble. On the last day, when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, you may be called on the carpet, so to speak, for your lack of listening to the words of your Prophet.

For those who don't hear the words of the Prophet in faith, demands will be made of them by God. Not so for you who believe, for all of the Fathers demands have already been met for you in Christ Jesus at the cross. There, He suffered all of His Father's wrath against sin in your place, receiving in full the punishment you deserve. So that in blessed trade, you now receive the blessings Jesus alone earned for you by the giving up of His body on the tree, and by the shedding of His blood.

A great Prophet has arisen for you, Christ Jesus, who proclaims your sins to be forgiven, Who has cleansed you at the font, and Who nourishes your soul with His body given, and blood shed for you.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dec. 13, 2009 Third Sunday in Advent - Gaudette Matthew 11:2-10

Comfort, comfort, My people, says your God; speak from the heart to Jerusalem and call out to her, for completed–her warfare, for pardoned–her iniquity, for she has received from the hand of Yahweh double, in all her sins. A voice calls, "In the wilderness prepare a way of Yahweh, straighten in the desert a highway to our God. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be made low; and the uneven ground will be to level, and the rough places to a plain. And the glory of Yahweh will be revealed, and all flesh will see it, together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken. A voice says, "Call out!" And I said, "What will I call out?" "All the flesh is grass, and all all its beauty as a flower of the field; the grass withers, the flower fades, for the breath of Yahweh blows on it; truly the the people is grass. The grass withers, a flower fades, yet the Word of our God stands forever.

Now that it is late fall, most of us have put up our lawn mowers until the Spring. Once the first frost hits, we retire our flower gardens for the winter as well. The grass has withered, and the flower fades. But God isn't talking here about lawn care or gardening. He's talking about His people, you and me! We are like grass, in that our time is short here on earth. Most of us live 70 or 80 years if we have strength, and then our life is over. Such a brief time really, compared with eternity.

God used John the baptizer to proclaim this very message to prepare the way for Jesus' ministry in his first Advent. His message was simple: The time is short for repenting, because the kingdom of heaven is coming soon! But this message is just as poignant as it was in John's day, as it prepares Christ's Way to us that we also may repent of our sins before it is too late. Yes, you are like grass, fading away quickly. You don't know how many days you have left on this earth before Jesus returns.

So how is your time-management as you await Christ's second Advent? Probably not so good. Most likely you are caught up in the everyday, mundane things of life in this world, and spend very little time preparing for the world to come. Oh, you can manage to give God an hour of time per week, on Sunday morning to focus on the things of His kingdom, but it's like pulling teeth to find any more time.

Yet God pardons your iniquity of neglecting to put Him and His Word first. Ironically, He forgives your avoidance of His Word with His Word. He proclaims your sin removed from you by the Word of His Gospel love, that in Christ Jesus God was reconciling the people of this world to Himself at the cross. Just as He declared from Calvary, "Father, forgive them..." so too does He declare you forgiven in God's name as you hear it from the pastor, as sure and certain as Christ forgiving you Himself!

So, how is your perspective on Christ's second coming? Probably not what it should be. Do you wake up each morning hoping that today will be the day Jesus returns? Do you go to bed each night praying that Jesus will come back soon? Or, instead, do you assume that you are safe at least until the year 2012, or even much longer, since Jesus hasn't returned yet in almost 2000 years.

Yet God finds a way to keep you in the right perspective, by His Word. Not the word of the bible, exactly, but the Word Who is God. That Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. You know that Word as Jesus Who stands forever. He died for you on the +, then rose for your justification so that buried with Him by baptism into His death, you are now raised to new life in your baptism to stand in Him forevermore! As He stands at the right hand of His father in heaven, so do you!

So how high a priority is the imminent return of Jesus for you? Probably not as high as it ought to be. When you think of the future, your first thoughts are probably of retirement. You worry whether social security will still be there for you down the road, if your pension and savings will hold out, and you may doubt that there will be affordable health care in your old age. But what of your eternal security?

The LORD takes care of your everlasting welfare, beginning here and now. He does it by filling in the valleys of your pits of despair, and removing the mountainous burdens that would impede His way to you. Jesus levels His path to your rescue by removing the stony sins of your heart and by filling in the ruts of your sinfulness with His mercy. For this forgiveness of your sins, He gave up His body and shed His blood for you, giving you that same body to eat and that same blood to drink in His Holy Supper.

Yes, these words of the prophet Isaiah do indeed teach you to number your days, to bless you by the Word of God which stands forever. Jesus, the Word of God constantly readies you by His forgiving word proclaimed, by reminding you of your baptism, and by feeding you at Holy Communion. Amen.