Christmas Joy!

Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas based on Luke 2:22-40

Dear rejoicing Christians: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We try so hard to have a joyful Christmas. We gather with as much family as we can get together. We buy presents for our children and other loved ones in the hopes that receiving such a gift will brighten their Christmas. We may even buy ourselves something which we’ve been eyeing for a while. We cook and bake the best foods, preparing ourselves feasts. We may even help out those less fortunate, because then we think we can really feel good about Christmas.

We can have a good Christmas when our family is around and when we have money for presents and elaborate dinners. How good would our Christmas be if we were all alone and broke? How good would our Christmas be if we just received a diagnosis of terminal illness or if a loved one passed away? Some of us have such situations in our future. Some of us are living through them right now.

These are the situations of the characters in our Gospel reading. This first Christmas, Mary and Joseph were far from their family. We know they’re not well off. The Old Testament Law required a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering (Lev. 12:6). Those who were too poor to afford the sacrifices could instead offer just two pigeons or two turtledoves (Lev. 12:8), and that is what was offered by Joseph and Mary. They could not even afford the normal offerings for purification, indicating that they were quite poor. Does this make for a good Christmas?

Anna was very old. She might have been eighty-four years old, or a widow for eighty-four years after being married for seven, making her over one hundred years old. Surely she was suffering the aches and pains of old age, especially at a time when they didn’t have the advances in medicine we have today to at least help with some relief. She had been a widow for many decades and was spending Christmas by herself in the Temple. Does this make for a good Christmas?

What about Simeon? The Bible doesn’t tell us how old he was even though he is always pictured as an old man and that is what the text certainly seems to indicate. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel. He was waiting for the double comfort Isaiah prophesied and we heard about during Advent. He had been told by God that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Lord’s anointed. Well, he saw the Lord’s anointed, so he knew death was coming. It’s about the same as getting a diagnosis of a terminal illness. Does this make for a good Christmas?

And then Simeon speaks a prophecy by the Holy Spirit to Mary, saying that her Son will be opposed and that a sword will pierce through her soul. Add to that why it would not pierce Joseph’s soul also – because by all accounts Joseph died before Mary’s soul was pierced at the foot of the cross of her Son.

Where is the Christmas cheer? Where’s the festive gathering and the feasting? Where are the gifts that brighten Christmas?

Well, they are all actually there. If you listen to Simeon’s song of praise, it is full of Christmas cheer and joy. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Simeon said that he’s ready to die. He’s got everything so there’s no point hanging around anymore. He has peace with God through the baby Jesus. He sees His salvation in the face of this infant. He knows Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promises ever since man’s fall into sin.

And Anna begins to thank and praise God. She, despite her age, starts running around telling everyone who this baby is. She’s as excited as a little girl who just unwrapped the Christmas present she’s been waiting to open for so long. Anna also is filled with Christmas joy.

And Joseph and Mary just returned with the baby Jesus to their home in Nazareth, and go back to regular, everyday life. They marvelled at what was said about Jesus and they witnessed the praises of Simeon and Anna. Joyful about the birth of Jesus, and witnessing the joy of Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph could return joyfully back to their regular lives.

So why would we allow poverty to ruin our joy of Christmas? There’s no reason to have a bad Christmas even if family isn’t around, if you can’t have the great feast you’d like to have, or if old age is catching up with you. You can have joy at Christmastime even if you have been a widow or widower for decades like Anna or have just recently lost your spouse. You can have joy at Christmastime even if you have just received a diagnosis that you will soon die.

Because poverty isn’t the problem. Sickness isn’t the problem. Loneliness and sadness aren’t the problem. Even death is not the problem. The problem is sin.

Some families struggle to meet daily needs because there is sin in the world. There is sickness, loneliness, and sadness in the world because there is sin in the world. The only reason why there is death in the world is because of sin, because the wages of sin is death. The problem is sin.

That’s why Anna and Simeon were so joyful. They knew that Jesus was the solution to sin. God had promised that He would send a Saviour to rescue us from sin, the root cause of every problem in the world. Simeon could sing that he has been saved from sin, that he himself had seen God’s salvation. Anna could run around telling everyone that the redemption of Jerusalem had arrived, the Saviour who would redeem us from our sin.

Because with our sin forgiven, what is illness or sickness or loneliness? What is death but the doorway to heaven and a reunion with our loved ones who have died in the faith? Our Christmas joy doesn’t need to be crushed even if we don’t receive a single present, are near death’s door in a nursing home, long since widowed, without family around to even visit us for Christmas. All of this is the result of sin, and yes, we suffer in this world because of sin.

But sin is conquered. All of your sins are forgiven. The devil can’t accuse you of anything. Your guilty conscience can take a hike. You may suffer in this life because of your sin and you cannot undo those things that you regret, but Jesus paid for those sins with His holy blood. Your sins are not on your slate; they’ve been wiped away. All the sins on your account have been paid by Jesus.

We can continue to sing the joyful Christmas hymns throughout the Christmas season. We don’t have to stop just because our relatives have gone home and there are no more presents under our trees. Our Christmas joy continues. We don’t have to throw out our Christmas joy with our used wrapping paper just because the world has moved on to look toward the next holiday.

In fact, we can celebrate the joy of Christmas every day of the year, no matter what is going on in our lives. We can sing with Simeon. We can run around with Anna. We can return to our regular lives with Joseph and Mary because we have the joy that Jesus has defeated sin. We can be ready to depart this life in peace because we have received the joy of our sins forgiven. We can have joy all the way to death’s door, where we will enter our eternal joy forever. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

On Track With Christmas

Sermon for Christmas Day based on John 1:1-14                                                                        

            Dear recipients of the greatest gift ever: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Gospel reading for Christmas Day gets us back on track. It’s so easy to get off track with Christmas. It’s so easy to get caught up in a commercialized Christmas; to get caught up with family, feasts, presents, decorations. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness, the long line-ups at the grocery store, or the hustle to pick up some final presents elbow-to-elbow with someone who’s ready to road rage with her shopping cart.

It’s too easy even to get caught up in the wrong things when we hear the Christmas story. Even when we come to church to celebrate Christmas and hear what happened the first Christmas, we can easily get off track.

We can get off track when we sing about how silent the night of Jesus’ birth was. How Jesus didn’t cry as a baby. How He was surrounded my cattle, donkeys, and lowing oxen. How the stars went silently by or looked down where He lay or twinkled for that matter.

The Bible never says the night Jesus was born was any quieter than any other night. Yesterday we heard that Caesar Augustus had declared a census decree and everyone had to go to their hometown to register. So many people were in Bethlehem the night that Mary and Joseph arrived, that all the inns were full. Every room that was available for travellers was full. There was no room for them anywhere in town except in some place with a manger, likely a stable. Bethlehem was as full of hustle and bustle as Yorkton’s Superstore earlier this week. It probably wasn’t all that quiet or peaceful at Jesus’ birth.

Jesus was born a human baby boy. Babies cry, that’s how they communicate. We know Jesus cried as a man, so why would He not cry as a newborn?

Jesus was laid in a manger because Joseph and Mary were unable to find room anywhere else, but none of the Gospels mentions that there were any animals around. It’s not like Mary and Joseph were going to sit there and watch the cows eat the hay out of the manger in which Jesus was laid.

Now, we can probably say that the stars went silently by or looked down or twinkled because stars do these things every day, but Christmas isn’t about stars.

 We can even get caught up in the Christmas story that is in the Bible, with the angels and the shepherds, the wise men and Mary and Joseph. The shepherds were so poor, the wise men so rich. What did Mary know about her Son? What did Joseph think of all of this?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t hear about the shepherds and the wise men or that we shouldn’t consider what Mary knew or what Joseph thought. We just shouldn’t get off track and think that these are the things Christmas is about.

We can even poetically sing about the silence of the night in contrast to how we might expect God to come to earth or in contrast to when the angels filled the skies and sang glory to God. We can sing poetically about the humble way God in the flesh was born, in a manger where oxen and donkeys would usually eat. We can sing about the stars in the sky to bring to light that the infant Jesus in the manger created those stars in the night sky.

The problem is when we get off track. The problem is when we’re caught up in everything else and don’t focus on the fact that in the manger is the Word made flesh, the Creator of the starts of night. That all things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. Our focus should be that Jesus is God who came to save us from our sins, from the devil, and from hell. That Jesus is our Saviour who reconciled us with God by covering our sins and crushing our ancient enemy.

Jesus did not come to be a cute baby for us to gush over, but He came to be crucified for our sin. God took on our flesh so that His flesh could be nailed to a cross. He came to be rejected by men and suffer unbelievable cruelty at the hands of the men whom He created, all so that He would save us. This should be our focus at Christmas.

Yes, many reject Jesus. But to all who receive Him, who believe in His name, He gives the right to become the children of God. Jesus came as a baby, so that we would be given all the rights that He has; that we would be adopted as God’s children and given the inheritance of God’s children.

Our inheritance is eternal life because Jesus, God in the flesh, came and dwelt among us. He did what we could not do. He put Himself under the Law that we cannot keep to fulfil its demands for us, in our place. He died our death taking the punishment of our sins on Himself so that we get His inheritance of eternal life.

That’s the focus of Christmas. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feast and celebrate with our families. In fact, what a great reason to celebrate! What a great reason to give gifts to others because we have received the greatest gift ever!

In our celebration of Christmas, let’s remember what it is that we are celebrating. Let us celebrate the birth of God in the flesh who came to destroy sin, death, and the power of the devil and give us the right to become the children of God. And let us not be afraid to learn good Christmas hymns like the one by Paul Gerhardt which says:

O Jesus Christ,

Thy manger is

My paradise at which my soul reclineth.

For there, O Lord,

Doth lie the Word

Made flesh for us; herein Thy grace forth shineth.


He whom the sea

And wind obey

Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness.

Thou, God’s own Son,

With us art one,

Dost join us and our children in our weakness.


Thy light and grace

Our guilt efface,

Thy heav’nly riches all our loss retrieving.


Thy birth doth quell

The pow’r of hell and Satan’s bold deceiving. (LSB 372 st. 1-3) Amen.


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

So What?

Sermon for Christmas Eve based on Luke 2:1-20                                                                            

            Dear hearers of the angelic news: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            So what? What if that was the response of the shepherds to the angelic news – “So what?” It might sound ridiculous but hear me out.

            The shepherds were working the night shift. Well, more exactly, they were working the only shift there was for shepherds – the 24 hour, 7 days a week shift. They had to stay with the sheep to protect them from predators and to ensure the sheep don’t wander. They were outside the town of Bethlehem in the grassy pastures. Shepherds slept out in the pastures with the sheep and so they often didn’t smell like fragrant roses when they did come into town. Being a shepherd was a pretty lowly job. It wasn’t the most popular booth at the career fairs in those days.

            So an announcement to them that a baby had been born in town and was lying in an animal feeding trough… well, so what? The shepherds were kind of busy taking care of their sheep. They didn’t know the father or mother of the child. They weren’t dressed to make a visit, nor did they have enough cologne with them to cover up their smell. It seems like it would have been pretty easy to respond by saying, “So what?”

            However, the shepherds had heard the promises of God as written in the Old Testament. Promises like the first one made to Adam and Eve, that the offspring of Eve would crush the head of the devil. Promises like the one made to Ahaz that a virgin will conceive and bear a son. Promises like the one from Micah that the Saviour of the world would be born in Bethlehem. Promises like the ones in Isaiah that the child born will rule forever on David’s throne, that He would carry our griefs, sorrows, and sins and be crushed for them in our place. Promises like the one in Psalm 16 that Christ would rise from the dead.

            The shepherds knew not to look for salvation in heaven. They knew they could not ascend to heaven to grasp hold of salvation even if it was there. They knew they couldn’t work their way into heaven or talk their way into heaven. Salvation had to come to earth. God Himself had to come to earth to give us salvation.

            This was the song of the angels; the good news that is for all people. For to you is born in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. He was born for you. Jesus wasn’t born for the angels even though they sang His praise and glory. He was born for you. He was born for all mankind who has fallen into sin and thus needs saving. He is the promised salvation for all mankind.

            So how can we possibly respond by saying “So what?” It doesn’t matter how busy we are at work. It doesn’t matter how many priorities we have in life. It doesn’t matter how busy we are with anything; nothing should hinder us from Christ. Certainly not the fact that we are not dressed to visit or because our sins make us smell like anything but fragrant roses. Christ Himself gives us His white robe of righteousness that covers all of our sins. He covers up the smell of our sins and takes our sins away from us, removing them from us as far as the east is from the west. He throws our sins into the depths of the sea.

            Salvation for us is also not found in heaven, but here on earth. God Himself took on human flesh to come and save us. He took on our flesh so that He could die in our place, taking all the punishment of our sins on Himself. Then He rose from the dead, proving Himself to be victorious over sin, death, and the grave.

            And even though He has ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, He still comes to us and gives us salvation here on earth, for we still cannot ascend into heaven ourselves. He clothes us with the robe of His righteousness that covers all of our sin in Baptism. He comes still, not in a feeding trough for animals, but in a feeding meal for sinners in His true body and blood. He comes in His Word of Absolution that absolves us of all our sin. Jesus still comes with forgiveness and salvation to us since we cannot go to Him. Salvation comes down from heaven to earth.

            This was the good news the angels proclaimed and the promise which the shepherds believed and rejoiced to hear. Believe the same promises the shepherds believed. The promised Saviour has come. Salvation is for you. The forgiveness of sins is for you. For to you is born in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

            Sing with the angels. They sing even though Jesus wasn’t born for them. How much more then should we sing His praise and glory, because Jesus was born for us. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased! Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

What You See Is Not What You Get

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent based on Luke 1:39-45

            Dear believers waiting for the promises of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

What you see is not always what you get, especially when it comes to God. Take Mary in today’s Gospel reading. Our Gospel reading is a tiny little slice of the pre-Christmas story. It’s maybe one of those events that could even be overlooked as it falls between the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will conceive and bear Jesus, and Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat, which we’ve been singing every midweek Advent service. But this tiny slice of history is so profound, it will amaze you as you come to grips with what happened.

            The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she will be with child. She immediately ran with great haste to see her relative, Elizabeth. The trip from Mary’s home in Nazareth to the town near Jerusalem where Elizabeth lived could not have taken more than a few days. So most likely, Mary was visiting Elizabeth within a week of conceiving Jesus, since the text says Mary went with haste.

            At one week along Mary couldn’t see any signs of her pregnancy. No baby bump, no weight gain, no cravings. Anyway she was a virgin; she naturally couldn’t be pregnant! But Mary believed the angel’s word. In her excitement she ran to see her relative Elizabeth.

            As soon as Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy! John the Baptist, 6 months old in his mother’s womb, leaped for joy because he heard the voice of the mother of Jesus, who was one week old in His mother’s womb! That’s incredible! Jesus was only a little speck of cells in Mary’s womb yet His very presence causes great joy in the unborn baby John.

That is faith in the unseen. That is faith in the promises of God. That’s why we baptize infants because as Scripture clearly teaches, infants can have faith. God gives them faith in the same way He gives us faith – through His Word and through Baptism. Just as an infant can trust his mother, so he can trust his Creator even if he can’t put words to that trust. Through the Word of God, the unborn John had faith!

What comfort this is for mothers who have had miscarriages. God’s Word isn’t powerless to save. God’s Word isn’t hindered by age or by the fact that a baby hasn’t been born yet. God’s Word can save the unborn just as well as it can save those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, just as it saves us. What you see is not always what you get.

Mary believed that despite what she could see and feel, God’s promise to her through the angel Gabriel was true. Because God keeps His promises. He had promised 800 years earlier, through the prophet Isaiah, that a virgin would conceive a bear a Son. And here, in the womb of Mary, that promise was fulfilled. Mary believed God’s promise, even though she had no evidence of it. John the Baptist believed that promise, even though he was a 6-month old unborn baby.

So you too can believe God’s promises despite what you see. What you see is not always what you get, especially when it comes to God. You see change and decay. You see sickness and disease, crime and terrorism. You see death. But despite what you see, you can believe in the promises of God.

You know that this life is not all that there is. Jesus is preparing a place for you in eternity, even though you cannot see it yet. Jesus will raise you from the dead and give you a perfect resurrected body even though you cannot see it yet. And you belong to Jesus even right now, although you cannot see it. It’s all based on God’s promises to you.

In your Baptism, all that the witnesses saw was water poured over your head as they heard the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But in Baptism, God put His name on you. He claimed you as His own. He promised you that He will never leave you or forsake you. You were baptized into the death of Christ, so you were baptized into His resurrection also. Thus you have the promise of eternal life.

What you see is not always what you get, especially with God. So despite the fact that you cannot see these things, you believe them because God has promised them. God always keeps His promises, even if we don’t see the fulfilment of them all yet.

Hebrews 11 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (v. 1; cf. also Rom. 8:24) In other words, faith trusts in what is not seen. Faith is trust in the promises of God even though we haven’t seen them.

Faith isn’t an opinion. Faith isn’t an empty hope based on our feelings, ideas, or experiences. Faith is the gift of God which gives us trust in the promises of God. God keeps His promises so we can fully trust them.

And He promises you the true body and blood of Jesus your Saviour in the Lord’s Supper. He promises you the forgiveness of all yours sin through eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood. No, you cannot see it, but you know it’s true because God promised it. All you see is bread and wine. But what you see is not always what you get. The Lord’s Supper is overflowing with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The Lord’s Supper nourishes you and strengthens you in the faith God has given you. Holy Communion is spiritual medicine for the soul that brings you to eternal life.

Despite what we see, we can trust in God’s promises. Just as surely as Mary could run with haste to share the excitement with Elizabeth of God’s promise being fulfilled even though she had no evidence of it, so we too can run with haste to share the promises of God with our relatives even though we have no evidence of them being fulfilled as of yet.

God’s promises are for the young and for the old; for the unborn and for those near death. God’s promises are for you. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Rejoicing in Suffering

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent based on Luke 7:18-28

Dear rejoicing daughter of Zion: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The first week in Advent we heard of our King who is coming. The second week in Advent we heard John the Baptist’s call to prepare the way of the Coming One through repentance. This third week in Advent is about rejoicing. This third Sunday in Advent is traditionally called Gaudete, which means “rejoice.” It anticipates the joy coming into the world at the Nativity.

Our Introit says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!” Our Gradual says, “Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion”! Our Old Testament lesson says, “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion… Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” And our Epistle lesson contains the line already quoted from the Introit. Rejoice! Even our Advent candle for the day is rose coloured to signify the joy of this day.

But we have a slight problem. Our Advent hero is in prison. The messenger sent before the face of the Coming King to prepare His way has been thrown into jail for doing what God had sent him to do. John the Baptist preached repentance, telling people to turn from their sins and receive forgiveness. The tetrarch Herod didn’t want to hear God’s Word. He was living in adultery and he had no desire to stop his sin. Instead of repenting, Herod threw John into prison.

John was shocked. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The Coming One was supposed to deliver God’s people, not allow them to be cast into a small, dark dungeon. The Coming One was supposed to usher in a new kingdom of freedom, not of chains and bars. John had been sent to preach of that kingdom and the Day of Judgment. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees,” we heard him preach last Sunday. Christ’s winnowing fork is in His hand to collect His wheat into the barn and cast the chaff into unquenchable fire (Lk. 3:17).  How is it possible that Herod can have Christ’s forerunner cast into prison? How is it possible that the one who prepares the way for the Judge of the living and the dead is cast into prison by this this adulterous chaff?

Here in the jail cell, John sees no sign of the deliverance of God’s people. No sign even of his deliverance from prison. This is where doubt sets in. This is where the devil attacks, when John is at his weakest. He begins to question, is Jesus the Coming One? Is He truly the deliverer, or is there someone else? If Jesus is the Messiah, why would I be suffering here in prison? If Jesus is the deliverer, why has He not come to deliver me? So he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Doesn’t sound much like today is a day for rejoicing or for having a rose-coloured candle.

We can certainly relate to John. Things in our lives don’t always go how we had envisioned them. We often have doubts about whether God actually knows what He’s doing. Is Jesus truly the deliverer, or is there someone else? If Jesus is the Messiah, why am I suffering with this serious illness? If Jesus is the deliverer, why has He not come to deliver me? Why did He not deliver my loved one so that now I have to be all alone? We see no sign of the deliverance of God’s people. It still doesn’t sound much like today is a day for rejoicing or for having a rose-coloured candle.

But John knew where to go in his doubt. He sought out the Word of Jesus. And Jesus sent His Word to John. Jesus quotes promises concerning Himself as prophesied by Isaiah some seven to eight hundred years earlier, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear” (Is. 35:5-6), and “the poor have good news preached to them.” (Is. 61:1) This wasn’t Jesus just telling John that He has the power to do all these things. Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back to the prison and tell John what they see. Tell John that you see the prophecies of Isaiah being fulfilled. Tell John that the very things that are promised concerning the Coming One are being fulfilled. Thus I am the Coming One, and I have come.

Very interestingly, Jesus does not carry on with that second passage in Isaiah, which continues, “He has sent me… to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound [Is. 61:1].” Jesus does not speak these words that might lead John to hope for release from prison rather than understanding them to refer to being released from the prison of sin and the chains of Satan. Instead, Jesus adds a phrase that does not appear in these passages of Isaiah. He told John’s disciples to tell him that the dead are raised up.  Jesus does not point John to hope that suffering and affliction will disappear in this life. Instead, Jesus sends John two clear messages. The poor have good news preached to them, and the dead are raised up.

The word used by Jesus for good news is “Gospel.” That’s what Gospel means – good news. The Gospel is the good news that Jesus is the Coming One; that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The Gospel is the good news that Jesus has taken on Himself the punishment of your sins so that you are forgiven. The Gospel is the good news that when you die from this life, you will be raised from the dead to eternal life. Thus Jesus sends John His Word that the dead are raised up.

With Jesus’ response – with His promise – John could wait even for Herod’s soldiers to come and behead him, in his last moments clinging to this promise of good news and resurrection.

This promise of good news and resurrection is also for you. When you have doubts about what God is allowing in your life; when you have doubts if Jesus is truly the deliverer; when you feel trapped in a jail cell of grief with no hope for release – then seek God’s Word like John did. Seek the promises of Jesus. Hear the good news that Jesus’ death is your death. Hear the good news that the dead are raised up.

Don’t expect suffering and affliction to disappear in this life, but rather know that Jesus is preparing a place for you in eternity with Him, away from this world of sin, suffering, and misery. Jesus is the deliverer, and He has delivered you from eternal punishment. Jesus has released you from the prison of sin and the chains of Satan. Jesus will deliver you from all illness, grief, and sorrow.

With this good news from Jesus to you, you also can cling to His promises in the dark moments of your life, even in your last moments of life, even if soldiers are coming to behead you in your jail cell for standing up for the truth of God’s Word.

So rejoice! You can rejoice even in the midst of pain and suffering. You can rejoice even in the midst of grief. Regardless of what you see, feel, and experience, the promises of God will never fail. Your sins are forgiven. You will be raised to eternal life. God will bring you from this valley of tears to your eternal home where there are no tears. God will save you from your jail cell of grief and doubt and bring you to the joys of Paradise.

So “Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion”! “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion… Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!” Amen.

The peace of God which comforts troubled hearts will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

True vs. False Repentance

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent based on Luke 3:1-14

Dear penitents: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Advent is a season of repentance. But what does it mean to repent? This is what the crowds asked John the Baptist. When they were told to repent, they asked, “What then shall we do?”

John did not suggest today’s typical idea of repentance, which is to respond along the lines of, “I’m sorry, but this is just the way I am” or “I was born this way.” People who have this false idea of repentance may say things like, “I’m sorry, I’m just an angry person; I’m sorry, I just have a bad temper;” “I’m sorry, I’m just a worrier.” But this is not repentance. It is excusing sin. It is attempting to explain why you do what you do, but it is not repentance. True repentance is not an excuse or explanation of your sins. True repentance is a desire to be free of the sin; it is a hatred of the sin; it is turning away from the sin.

This we can see from John’s response to the crowds when they asked him what they should do. John doesn’t tell the crowds, “I see that you are sorry that you are selfish, but I understand that’s just the way you are so whoever has two tunics had better hide his second tunic from his brother in need and whoever has food should gorge himself on it so that a brother in need will starve.” John doesn’t tell the tax collectors, “Hey, I see that you are sorry for charging more taxes than are owed so that you can fill your own pockets, but I understand that’s just the way tax collectors are.” John doesn’t tell the soldiers, “I see that you are sorry for extorting money from people and threatening them and accusing them falsely, but you were obviously born with a little more aggression than most civilians, so I understand, that’s just the way you are.”

No, John tells everyone to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. He says, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Repent! Repent so that God doesn’t cut you off from Himself and condemn you to eternity in the fires hell. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your excuse “this is just the way I am” will cover your sins. Don’t fool yourself into thinking for a second that any explanations or excuses for your sin mean anything before God. Your explanations and excuses will not cover your sin. This false repentance will only get you God’s punishment.

Very well, then. “I’m sorry; I’ll do better,” we say. “Next time, I won’t fall into the same sin. I take full responsibility for my sin and I will try harder.” That may sound noble. That’s bearing fruit in keeping with repentance, isn’t it? Actually no, this also is false repentance. This false repentance seeks to offset sin by doing good. It sets your good works against your bad works as if the good works you do can cover your sin. They cannot. Further, this type of false repentance turns you inward, to look at yourself for the answer to sin. “If only I can do better, then everything will be okay.”

This type of false repentance will also only get you God’s punishment. Your good works cannot turn away God’s wrath. God’s wrath will not be satisfied by your promises to do better. On top of it all, we struggle to do any better. We continue to sin and fall into temptation. We avoid one sin only to fall into another. Even if you could stop the anger, the jealousy, the gossip, the lust, the greed, the worry, and the pride going on in your heart, do you think that would be enough? Nothing we can do can turn away God’s wrath or cover our sin. False repentance clearly gets us nowhere except hell.

What then is true repentance? If true repentance is not to excuse sin, and true repentance is not to promise to do better, what is true repentance? True repentance is the work of God. God works this repentance in us through the Law and the Gospel.

The Law accuses us of sin. The Law shows us that we are guilty of not following God’s commands. The Law shows us that we have rebelled against our Creator. The Law crushes us so that we cease our excuses. The Law crushes us so that we stop our explanations and our rationalizations of our sin. Romans 3 says that the Law speaks to us so that our mouths may be stopped, and the whole world held accountable to God (v. 19). The Law shuts our mouths from excuses. The Law shuts our mouths from promises to do better.

If we respond to the Advent call of repentance by saying, “That’s just the way I am,” we are saying that we are not repentant. If we respond by saying, “I will do better,” we are saying that we don’t need to repent, but only need to do better. Clearly, neither is the answer. Instead, the Law shuts our mouths and makes us offer nothing: no excuses, no whining about unfairness, no pointing to others who are doing the same sin, no promises to do better; nothing.

And that is exactly when the Gospel comes in. The Gospel isn’t Jesus excusing your sin or helping you to do better. The Gospel is Jesus turning away the wrath of God. The Gospel is Jesus taking the accusations of the Law from you onto Himself. The Gospel is Jesus taking your punishment on Himself and dying in your place for all of your sins by taking the wrath of God on Himself. Thus Jesus went quietly to His death, like a Lamb led to the slaughter. “Like a sheep before his shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Is. 53:7) He didn’t excuse sin. He didn’t give elaborate explanations and rationalizations of sin. He silently suffered for your sins and the sins of the whole world. Jesus even died for your excuses and your unkept promises to do better.

This is why repentance is the work of God. God silences our excuses and gives us forgiveness that we do not deserve. God quiets our explanations and declares us innocent and holy. There’s nothing we can do to receive forgiveness, but Jesus has already done everything for us and He gives us forgiveness freely.

And that free gift of forgiveness changes us. We are no longer sinners enslaved to sin. We no longer have to follow our every craving and desire. The forgiveness of our sins gives us new desires and impulses – desires to follow God’s will for our lives; impulses to keep God’s commandments – not out of fear, but out of love.

But we will continue to fail. We will continue to sin. We will continue to struggle with doing what we do not want to do, and not doing what we want to do (cf. Rom. 7). That is the Christian life. Thus by daily contrition and repentance our sinful nature should be drowned and die along with all sins and evil desires (SC IV.4). We daily turn away from sin and daily cling to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. We don’t turn ourselves away from sin, but God turns us. He turns us by continuing to silence our excuses and by continually forgiving us. He turns us by continuing to quiet our explanations and by giving us the body and blood of Jesus our Saviour to cleanse us of all our sins. God turns us by continuing to declare us innocent because Jesus has borne all of our guilt.

True repentance is being killed by the Law of God and being raised to new life through the forgiveness of sins. True repentance is God turning our hearts away from sin to Jesus our Saviour. True repentance is sorrow over sin, but trust that because of Jesus’ death in our place all of our sins are forgiven. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.