Receiving the Word Made Flesh

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So begins the Gospel reading for Christmas Day. The Word, the Son of God before He took on human flesh, was with God in the beginning and was God. Everything that was made was made through Him, John tells us here. He was there in the very beginning with God.

But then, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” So ends the Gospel reading for Christmas Day. The Word that was there in the beginning, the Word that was with God, the Word that was God, became flesh taking on our humanity in every respect and came to live among us.

These two phrases, “In the beginning was the Word…” and “the Word became flesh…”, are kind of like book ends on our Gospel reading today. In just 14 verses we move from God the Son being with God the Father in the beginning to God the Son coming down from heaven above to take on human flesh and win salvation for all mankind. These are truly some of the most loaded verses in the entire Bible. It is also important, however, to take a look at the verses in between these two monumental book ends. In particular this morning I would like us to consider verses 11 and 12 where John says this, “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

The first part of that is quite troubling. “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” Imagine that, the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us and His own people did not receive Him. To be clear, that is not simply referring to Jesus own people, the people of Israel, it is referring to all of us who were created through Him. All of us did not receive Him. That statement, as baffling as it is at first, invites us to consider how we receive Jesus, the Word of God made flesh.

When company comes at to visit at Christmas time we receive them by rolling out the red carpet (at least figuratively) and welcoming them. I remember as a kid all the work that we would do to get ready for family, friends, and other guests who would be stopping by this time of year. We treat our guests to special meals, comfortable beds, deserts and drinks, and anything else we think we might like. Receiving guests becomes about what we do for them to make them feel welcomed and loved. That is how we welcome ordinary human company, but how are we to receive the Word made flesh (God Himself in human skin!) who comes to us in the manger at Christmas time?

Well, if we think we ought to treat Jesus like human company by rolling out that figurative red carpet then we have it all wrong. Jesus emphatically insists in the Gospel of Mark that, “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus comes not to be served by us, to be welcomed by us, or received by us, but to serve, welcome, and receive us. He comes to die on a cross where, by His death, we will be served with the forgiveness of all of our sin and the certainty of life everlasting. He comes to serve by taking our wrongdoing upon Himself and suffering the death that is rightfully ours so that we would never suffer that death ourselves. He comes not to be served, but to serve.

Martin Luther once famously quipped in a Christmas sermon that everyone always thinks that they would have done a better job than all those good for nothing Bethlehem folks who could not have been bothered to do anything to make Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus more comfortable. Surely we could do better than to offer them a place with the animals. Surely we could do better than a manger. Surely we would find a place for them and bring them a nice hot meal! Not so fast, Luther said. We look back with hindsight and say that we would have done much better, but the reality is that we would have done the same thing. How did he know that? Because we have people all around us who need homes, shelter, food, clothing, and all kinds of other things and we don’t bother to help them. If we can’t muster up the effort to help those in front of our own eyes what makes us think we would do any better than the people of Bethlehem welcoming this little family, even the family of the Word made flesh? No, our hearts are too self-focused to see those needs, too self-consumed to welcome Him, and too distracted to receive Him.

But again, the Word does not become flesh so that we can receive Him by our actions and deeds that show Him our love. The Word does not become flesh so that we can serve and welcome Him. The Word becomes flesh so that He can serve us.

Our Old Testament reading provides us with a mental picture that can help us understand how we are to receive the Word made flesh. Isaiah speaks to us about a ruined and destroyed city. The “waste places” of Jerusalem. A city left in a heap of rubble. A city where most of the population has been forcibly removed and taken away to a foreign country. A city where those who remain pick through the garbage in the streets looking for something to eat. A city where the once busy markets that used to be full of people are now full of cats, dogs, and all kinds of rodents scampering around. A city where everything is in ruins. This is the kind of city Isaiah portrays for us in our Old Testament reading. The city of Jerusalem after the Babylonians destroyed the place in the year 587 BC. To this kind of city Isaiah says, “The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion.  Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.”

To the people living among the ruins Isaiah says “Listen to the voices of your watchmen. They have great news to tell. A visitor is coming. The Lord returns to you, His people, living in the midst of this broken, run down, and dilapidated city. He is coming. So rejoice, you waste places of Jerusalem. Rejoice. He is coming.”

Jerusalem, the heap of rubble that it is, has no red carpet to roll out for the Lord as He comes to them. They have not great home or room where He can stay. They don’t have the finest foods and drinks so that they can dote upon Him. They have nothing. All they can do is rejoice at the one who comes to them.

Christ, the Word made flesh, likewise comes to us. We have nothing by which we can properly greet Him. We have nothing that we can offer Him to make Him feel more at home. We have nothing to give in response to His coming. Instead we receive Him by literally receiving from Him the gifts that He gives. We receive Him like the people of a ruined city who hardly have enough food for themselves. We receive Him like people who have nothing to offer. We receive Him empty handed and poor in spirit. We receive Him as a gift to us, freely given, and we rejoice in Him.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us a midst the ruins of this world, a midst the ruins of a world and a life destroyed by sin He comes to live. And you and I we receive Him in the brokenness, in the midst of the ruins, by simply receiving what He gives. By coming with open hands and open mouths to His altar to be fed by Him. By coming empty handed to Him and kneeling before Him. By coming and hearing promises that we could never imagine apply to us. By coming and being forgiven through His death for us. By coming and trusting in His love for us in the midst of this brokenness.

To those who did receive Him, to those who received Him empty handed and open-mouthed, to those who received Him empty hearted and broken, He gave the right to become children of God. To those who received Him in emptiness He gave the fullness of being a son or daughter of the most High God. To those who received Him this way, to us who come before Him today, He gives this tremendous and unimaginable gift, a gift we by no means deserve, to be called children of God. And that is what we are. Come, let us receive Him. In Jesus name. Amen.


A Real Treasure

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Back in May of this year Olivia, Leah and I’s third child, was born. There is a lot that was memorable about that day, but one memory for me stands out among the rest. It happened late in the evening. Our other two kids, Hannah and Rachel, had come for a visit to meet their new baby sister. My parents had come up for a visit too. But now all the visitors were gone. My mom had taken Hannah and Rachel home and it was just me, Leah, and Olivia still there at the hospital. It was quiet. It was calm. The nervous energy and anxiety of the day had largely faded away. Our baby was born and everyone was healthy. All the phone calls to notify relatives had been made. All the visitors had come and gone. There was nothing more that needed to be done. We just sat there, the three of us, in the quiet hospital room thinking about the day that had been. I’ll cherish for a long time, I think, those quiet moments. My life doesn’t have too many of those anymore. What a joy it was just to hold that new born little baby and think about the blessings I had been given.

When I read the well-known Christmas story as we just heard it from Luke chapter 2 I am reminded of that day at the hospital when Olivia was born. We sing about it being a silent night when Jesus was born. We sing that all was calm and all was bright, but it must have been rather chaotic. From the less than ideal living accommodations and the sounds of the animals gathered around to the shepherds rushing in from the countryside to visit it was undoubtedly a day that was anything but silent and calm. And yet, as I did the day Olivia was born, Luke tells us that Mary at the end of it all “treasured up all these things pondering them in her heart.”

I like to imagine Mary sitting there beside the manger pondering these things. The shepherds had probably gone home. Perhaps everyone else was sleeping. And finally, at the end of the chaos this poor mother has a chance just to take it all in.

And my goodness does she have a lot to think about. When I sat there that evening in the hospital holding my new born daughter I thought about which one of us she looks like, whose nose she’s got, what her hair is going to be like, what colour her eyes will be, what she might sound like, what life is going to be like with three kids, how we are going to manage, and all that kind of stuff. Mary may have wondered about all of that too, but Mary has much more to think about. Just nine months earlier an angel had appeared to her to tell her that she, though a virgin, would bear a child. This child would be God’s Son, the angel said. This child would be conceived in her by the Holy Spirit. His name would be Jesus and He would rule over a kingdom that would never end. That right there is a lot to think about.

Then, when Mary went to go visit her relative Elizabeth who was also having a baby, Elizabeth greeted her with joy and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me! When the sound of your greeting came to my ears the baby in my womb leaped for joy!” That baby, the baby that Elizabeth was carrying, was John the Baptist. He leaped for joy in the presence of Mary and her child Jesus.

As if that weren’t enough, shortly after this child was born those shepherds showed up. They tell Mary everything that the angel had told them out in the fields as they were tending their flocks by night. They tell her how the angel said that there was a child born in Bethlehem, the city of David, who was the Christ, the Messiah, the Lord. Then they tell her how the heavens opened and choir of angels poured out and praise God for the miraculous gift of this child. I wonder what ran through Mary’s mind as she heard all that.

Of course, we don’t know exactly what Mary was thinking, but Luke just tells us that she treasured all of these things pondering them in her heart. She treasured them. All the words she had heard from angels and shepherds about her child, all this unbelievable news, she treasured it all up in her heart. It became her treasure.

And that brings me to a question I would like to set before you this evening. What is your treasure? Mary heard the good news about this child laying in a manger and she treasured in in her heart. What do you treasure in your heart? This Christmas Eve night what is the treasure in there? Family? Friends? Loved ones? Traditions? Presents?

On a night like tonight we treasure many good things. We treasure family and time with friends. We treasure those we love. We treasure spoiling each other with gifts and enjoying long held family traditions together. These are all wonderful things. But what do we treasure on other days?

On other days and other nights, when the good intentions and sentiments of Christmas are in the rearview mirror, we often treasure things that are much less pleasant. We treasure money, having more of it than others. We treasure power, wielding it over others. We treasure pride, feeling superior to others. We treasure ourselves, thinking about ourselves before we think of others. Above all, day after day we fail to treasure the gift given to us by God in this child born in a manger. Even on a night like tonight we let the others things we treasure usurp the place of the one real treasure, the Son of God born to us. Unlike Mary we often do not treasure up these things, the things God has done through Him, and ponder them in our heart.

That brings me to another question. What do you think God’s treasure is? What do you think that God treasures up in His heart? The answer to that question is simple, really. God treasures you. God treasures you in his heart. Not because your perfect just the way you are or because you are worthy of being His treasure. No, He treasures you despite all your mixed-up priorities. He treasures you despite all the times that you neglect and do not treasure the gift He has given you. You are God’s treasure for the sake of Jesus.

How do I know that? How can I say with certainty that God treasures you? Because He sent this child for you. Not wanting you to perish and die apart from Him God sent this child. He sent His Son, into your flesh, into your skin, to walk in your shoes, and die your death so that you could live with Him eternally. This child in the manger is a sure sign for you that you are God’s treasure. And an even surer sign will come on the day He hangs on a cross and dies for you. He will die because He loves and treasures you. He will die to purchase you, the treasure of His heart, with His own precious, holy blood. He died to save you from your misplaced treasure. He died to save you from the things that distract you from Him. He died to make you His own. You are His treasure.

It is my prayer that some time over the next day or two of holiday celebrating, maybe later tonight when all is quiet or in the morning after all the gifts are opened or tomorrow evening when the turkey is finished, that you will have some quiet moments to think about the treasure that this child is for you. I pray that our service this evening can be one of those times too. That together tonight we could treasure up that child in our hearts and rejoice that He came to die on a cross to save us. I pray day after day that the Holy Spirit would work through the Word of God in our hearts and make all of us treasure what Christ has done for us because in Him there is life.

He is God’s Son, just like the angel told Mary. He is the Saviour, just like the angels told the shepherds. He is Your God who has come to you this day. He is Jesus who has saved you from your sin. Let us treasure this child together. In Jesus name. Amen.

Unworthy, But Favoured

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our text this morning is the gospel reading that we just heard from the Gospel according to Luke, but before we get to that I want to bring up something from our gospel lesson last week. Last week in our gospel lesson from the Gospel according to John we heard about John the Baptist. John, when asked by the Pharisees and others about his identity said this, “Among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” John is talking about Jesus in those words and he is saying that Jesus, the one who comes after him, is so much greater than he that John would not even dare to stoop down and untie His sandals like a servant might. John knows that he is not worthy of even such lowly service to Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

What John says there is truly remarkable because of something that Jesus says about John in another place. When Jesus was asked about John the Baptist one time He said this about John, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” Jesus says that John is the greatest human being to ever be born, essentially. That really is saying something considering Jesus Himself was born of a woman. But what really matters is John, who according to Jesus is the greatest to ever be born, is not worthy to untie the sandals of Jesus.

By now you are perhaps wondering what all this has to do with our readings this week and why I did not bother to preach about all of this last week when our Gospel reading actually was about John, but this is where the connection is. If John, as lofty and great as Jesus says that he is, is unworthy to untie the sandals of Jesus where does that leave Mary?

Mary, as the mother of Jesus, will be doing much more than simply untying His sandals. She is going to carry Him in her womb for 9 months. She will give birth to Him. She will nurse Him, change his diapers, toilet train him, teach him to walk, talk, and, yes, even tie and untie His own sandals. If John is unworthy of such a simple thing as untying Jesus’ sandals does this mean that Mary is somehow more worthy of such a lofty calling? Is Mary more worthy than any other woman who ever lived?

The simple answer to that question is no. The story of the angel appearing to Mary and announcing the good news to her that through her God is bringing the Saviour into the world is not a story about the greatness of Mary. Nothing in this story talks about any qualities in Mary that make her worthy of being the mother of the Son of God. Instead, this is a story about the gift of God’s grace as He bestows His favour on those who are unworthy and works through an unworthy woman to bring His Son into the world and with Him the salvation of all mankind.

As the angel appears to her in her home Mary, I think, is keenly aware of her own unworthiness. There she is, likely just a teenager, sitting in her home minding her own business when an angel of the Lord appears to her suddenly in her living room. Like any of us would be, Mary is taken aback by this rather startling situation and is afraid that this might end terribly for her. She knows that she is not worthy of having such a distinguished guest in her living room. The angel greets Mary joyfully, however, and calls her the “favoured one.” “The Lord is with you,” the angel assures her. Still trembling, Mary wonders what this might all be about. She cannot forget how unworthy she is. Then, knowing that Mary is still terribly afraid the angel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God!” He uses that word again, “favour.” He then goes on to explain that she will bear the child who will be the Son of God. Jesus will be His name and He will reign over an eternal kingdom as Saviour of all mankind. Then, after the angel has explained to her how this will all happen, after he has told her that the Holy Spirit will conceive this child in her, and after she is reminded that nothing is impossible for God, Mary says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to you word.”

As she sat there in her home staring on of God’s holy angels in the eye, Mary must have been keenly aware of her own unworthiness. That is why she was afraid of the angel. She knew she was not worthy of such a visitor. Even more so, when the angel started talking about how she would conceive a bear a child who would be the Son of the Most High God, surely Mary became even more aware of how unworthy of such an honor she really was. No one could be worthy of such an honor, but that’s the point.

That is why when the angel repeatedly calls Mary the “favoured one” and insists that she has “found favour with God.” He means that even though she, like the rest of us, is totally unworthy of such a distinguished calling and is, like us, a sinner who needs the salvation that this child brings, God has, for the sake of Jesus the child who is to be born, shown favour to her. He has grace for her. He takes her, unworthy though she is, and bestows on her this gift of a child. A gift that comes for the salvation of all mankind.

And so it is with us. Though we are unworthy in every respect. Though there is nothing in us worthy of such a gift, God, out of His grace and favour, bestows on us the greatest gift of all, His Son. He gives to us, unworthy though we are, a child conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary. He give to us, in all of our unworthiness, a Son lying in a manger. He gives to us a Saviour who will give His life for us on a cross and pour out His blood to earn the grace and favour of God for us for all eternity.

That same Saviour comes to you today. He comes to you to dwell in your heart. Even though your heart is filled with unworthy thoughts He comes. He comes to you today in His supper. Into your hands that do unworthy deeds, into your mouth that speaks unworthy thoughts He gives the gift of Himself to you to pour out His grace and favour for you again.

The remarkable thing here is that Mary believes the whole thing. “Let it be to me according to your word,” she said. To put it another way it is as if she said, “Even though I am unworthy, I believe that this thing you have promised to me is going to happen and I rejoice in this good news for me.”

How could Mary trust this good news? How could she believe it? Well, it is a miracle. The miracle of faith. The Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who conceives that child in her womb, gives Mary faith to believe. Every human instinct in Mary is telling her to reject such far-fetched promises and ideas, but the Holy Spirit it works in her to say, “Yes, these promises are true and they are for you.”

Again, so it is with us. The promises of God’s grace and favour, the promises of a child born for unworthy sinners like us, the promise of forgiveness for us through His death on the cross, the promise of eternal life in His name, the promise of God’s eternal unending love for us, and all the other promise made to us through Christ seem completely and utterly impossible.

When we, like Mary as she sat in her living room looking the angel Gabriel in the face, are aware of our own unworthiness these promises become even harder to believe. Could God really love someone like me that much? Could He really send a Saviour for me? Is there forgiveness even for me? The doubts rage in our minds.

But there again the Holy Spirit works. The Holy Spirit works in our hearts to make faith, to cause us to trust, to make us believe so that, like Mary, we say to our Lord and our God, “Let it be so to me according to your word.” In other words we say, “God, you say that you forgive me. I don’t see how that could be possible, but let it be so anyway because I need it” or “God, you promise me the body and blood of Jesus in this bread and wine. I don’t see how that could be possible, but let it be so to me anyway because I need it.” That’s how it is with faith, the miracle that it is, as it trusts God’s Word of favour for sinners like us.

What a blessed faith that is. Faith that trusts and believes that though we are unworthy God would call us His favoured ones. And so it is. In Jesus name. Amen.

Divine Restoration

Text: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Ever since my childhood one of my favorite stories has been C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. When I was a kid I think I just liked it because it was an entertaining story with plenty of imagination, excitement, and action. As an adult I love the story because of the many ways in which it reflects the Biblical story of God’s salvation for us through Christ. Often when I am reflecting on the Scripture readings assigned each week I am reminded of scenes from The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe.

If you haven’t read the novel, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is the story of four children, all siblings, who are magically transported to a magical land filled with talking animals and fairy tale creatures. This land, as enchanting as it seems at first, is under a curse. It is ruled by an evil queen, the witch from the title, who has put that entire land under a curse so that it is always winter, but never Christmas. For children reading this story imagine how devastating that would be, always winter, never Christmas. Could there be a worse fate than that?

As if that were not bad enough, this evil queen also turns anyone who opposes her, speaks out against her, or threatens her in any way to stone. The courtyard of her castle is filled with what look like statues, but really are good creatures who were turned to stone.

As the children enter this magical land everything is about to change, however. Around the time that that children arrive another visitor appears on the scene. Aslan, the great Lion who created this land in the beginning, has returned to bring an end to the evil witches rule. Wherever Aslan goes the winter begins to break. The temperature rises. The snow melts. The rivers run free. Plants start to grow again. And the sun shines more warmly and brightly than it has in years. Not only that, but St. Nicholas, Santa Claus himself, appears bringing the first Christmas that this cursed land has seen in many years. Finally, in one of my favorite scenes from the whole book, Aslan the great lion storms the witches castle and breaths on all those that the witch has turned to stone with her magical powers. They are transformed in an instant from stone, statue like figures and returned to life. They are free from the witch’s evil magic. They are restored to what they once were.

These parts of the story of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe are all what comes to mind for me when I reflect on our Old Testament reading today from the prophet Isaiah. There in the words that the prophet records we hear the words of Jesus Himself.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”

Even though these are Old Testament words they are the words of Jesus. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,” the voice says. The Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, descended on Jesus when He was baptised in the Jordan River by John. This is Jesus. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me.” The word “Christ” literally means “Messiah” or “anointed one.” Jesus is the Christ. He is the Messiah. He is the anointed one. This is Jesus talking.  Even here in the Old Testament we hear Jesus talking about what it is that He has come to do, what kind of Saviour He has come to be. He comes, Jesus says here, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to open the prison of those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and to comfort those who mourn. In other words, Jesus comes to set us free from the powers of evil, to save us from them, and to restore us to what we were meant to be from the very beginning. As Aslan romps through the magical land of Narnia and brings an end to winter, the joy of Christmas, and sets free those entrapped in stone he does the very same thing.

Jesus comes to you and me today to do this very same thing. As we consider these Old Testament words there is a very important reality that we need to realize. The world around us, the world we see out the window and the world we see when we look at ourselves in the mirror, is not the way it was meant to be. Like a land trapped in and eternal winter without the hope of Christmas, like poor creatures trapped in evil magic that turned them to stone, we are trapped in a world broken by sin and trapped ourselves in sin itself.

By his deception of Adam and Eve the devil has trapped this whole world under an evil curse. A curse that separates us from God. A curse that separates us from one another. A curse that separates us from this world. A curse that even separates us from ourselves.

Under this curse we are poor both physically and spiritually. Though by worldly standards we may be wealthy in reality we are always lacking, needing something. Under this curse we are broken-hearted. Hurt by this world, by other people in it, or by the loss of someone in it. Under this curse we are in prison. Bound by the same evils our fathers and mothers committed. Bound by the reality of death that waits for all of us. Bound, unless freed by someone far greater than us, for eternity in prison. Under this curse we mourn our own existence and the loss of our existence. Under this curse things seem utterly hopeless.

That is, however, until our Saviour arrives. He comes to restore what has been lost. He comes to undo the curse that we have lived under for so long. He comes to bring the joy of His salvation to every heart who will trust in Him. He comes, our Saviour, to us in a manger. He comes, our Saviour, walking on water. He comes, our Saviour, healing the sick, the lame, and the blind. He comes, our Saviour, to put Himself under the curse and die under that curse and then rise from the dead defeating the curse itself with its own most powerful weapon. He comes and the curse is defeated. He comes and we are restored to what we were meant to be from the very beginning.

Christ comes to you today to heal and restore you. In the beginning man and woman were created in the image of God, but that image has been all but destroyed by sin. But now in baptism Jesus comes to you and restores the image of God to you. He put His own image, His divine image, on you and covered you with His righteousness.

In the beginning God talked in the Garden with Adam and Eve directly. Now the prospect of God talking to us directly seems terrifying. The people of Israel at Mount Sinai when God was about to make His covenant with them were terrified by the thunder and smoke they saw rising from the mountain. The insisted that Moses talk to God for them, they did not want to speak to Him directly. But now Jesus comes to you today to talk to you face to face in His Word and proclaim His love, mercy, and forgiveness for you.

In the beginning God fed humanity directly from the fruits of the earth, but now only through our sweat and labour is food produced. “By the sweat of you face you will eat bread,” God said to Adam after he and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. But now Jesus comes to you whenever we celebrate His supper to feed you again with food you can’t make or earn with your labour. He feeds you with His own body and blood. Jesus comes to you, even now, to restore all things, renew all things, and make all things the way they were meant to be.

That means as we look at the world around us and as we look at ourselves and see the dismal state of affairs that we sometimes see there that we ought not to be discouraged. Instead, despite all evidence to the contrary we have good reason to rejoice. As we witness first-hand the brokenness of this world we have the joy of knowing that a Saviour has come into the hopelessness of this world and sin to us to restore us and give us hope.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,” Jesus says, “because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to you; he has sent me to bind up your broken heart, to proclaim liberty to you, and to open your prison; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor to you,; to comfort all you who mourn.”

Having heard these words from Jesus Himself the prophet responds by saying, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” I will rejoice, Isaiah says. I will rejoice. We too can rejoice. Even here. Even now. We can rejoice that a Saviour comes to us to heal and restore. To set us free. To give us life. The curse is broken. The battle is won. Thanks be to God. In Jesus name. Amen.

Comfortable in Christ

Text: Isaiah 40:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The text for our sermon this morning is the first two verses of the Old Testament reading we just heard. There prophet Isaiah recorded these words: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received double from the Lord’s hand for all her sins.”

I want to start out this morning by asking you a question. It’s a question that I’m almost afraid to ask because I already know what the answer likely is. The question is this: Have you ever, while sitting in church listening to a pastor (me or someone else) preach, wondered what the point of all this preaching really is? To put it another way, have you ever wondered why Sunday after Sunday, week after week, service after service, pastors like me get up and preach a message to you that sometimes is eerily similar to the one you heard last week and the week before? Have you ever wondered what the point of this preaching really is? Why do we bother?

Like I said, I think I have a pretty good idea what the answer to that question is. You have, more than likely, thought thoughts like that at some point in your life while sitting in church listening to the pastor drone on and on. How do I know? Because I’ve had those thoughts myself. I’ve sat in the pew thinking the same thing. Even as the one up preparing sermons and up here preaching them I have sometimes wondered what the point of all this really is.

Believe it or not, however, there is a rhyme and a reason to Christian preaching. There is a purpose to all of it. It may seem as if pastors just step into the pulpit every Sunday without any purpose, without any goal, and just talk until their tired of talking about things that the average person does not care about, but deep down there is a purpose behind what we do. The purpose is this: To afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted.

Let me explain what I mean by that. The purpose of a Christian sermon is not to make you feel good or to uplift you, to energize you or to pump you up, to teach you how to live the right way or to give you instructions. A Christian sermon might do any or all of those things, but those things are not the main point or purpose. The main point or purpose of Christian preaching is to show us our sinfulness (to afflict the comfortable) and then show us our Saviour (to comfort the afflicted).

This pattern for preaching is not something that we have just made up on a whim. This is how the Bible talks and preaches to us. This is how people in the Bible preach. The best example of that is John the Baptist.

We meet John in our gospel reading today from Mark chapter 1. Mark doesn’t give us a ton of details about John here, but the other gospels do. John is a preacher and a baptizer out in the wilderness of Judea. People from Jerusalem and all over flocked out into the wilderness and down to the Jordan River to hear and see John. There, in the wilderness, they found a preacher who afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted.

Almost everything about John was kind of uncomfortable. He wore clothes made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. Even in those days that would have been quite the outfit. Today if we saw someone like that walking towards us on the sidewalk we’d seriously consider crossing to the other side of the street! He ate locusts and wild honey, the Bible tells us, strange food to be sure. Just being around someone like that has to make a person at least a little bit uncomfortable. But John’s physical appearance and the food that he eats really doesn’t matter. It’s his message that is designed to make people uncomfortable.

When John saw some Pharisees and Sadducees coming out to him to be baptized John called them a brood of vipers, the children of snakes. They were comfortable in their sin and so John afflicted them. He called what they were. He called them sinners.

It wasn’t just them, however. When the crowds came out to see him John called them to repent too. He told them that if they have any extra clothing or food they ought to be more willing to share it rather than hoarding it all to themselves. To some tax collectors who were there he said that they ought to start being honest in their dealings and stop stealing from people. When soldiers came out to him he said that they ought to treat people more fairly and be content with their wages. To all these people who were comfortable John preached repentance. He called sin, sin. He called on them to change their ways. He afflicted the comfortable.

That is only the first half of John’s preaching though. John did more than just make people uncomfortable, afflict them, and call them sinners. He also preached the good news, the good news the comforts the most troubled and afflicted heart, the good news that Christ has come to save sinners like us. One day when Jesus walked by John and his disciples down by the Jordan River John pointed at Jesus and shouted, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This preacher who called out sin, who afflicted the comfortable and called them to repentance, now comforts the hearts of those who have heard his preaching. Look, behold, the one who saves you, the Lamb of God who takes away all of your sin.

The pattern is still the same today. Following in the footsteps of John the Baptist pastors step into their pulpits every week and try to do the same. Admittedly, we do it better some weeks than others, but the goal is still the same: to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

So which are you? Are you comfortable? Have you become so comfortable with mistreating others with thoughts, words, and actions that you don’t even notice you’re doing it anymore? I have. Have you become so comfortable with the ways of this world and the ideas of this world that there suddenly is little room for God and His Word? I have. Have you become so comfortable with loving yourself that you have convinced yourself that loving yourself is more important than loving other people? I have. I’m pretty comfortable. How about you?

If any of that applies to you then you are comfortable and need to be afflicted by God’s Law. You need to consider your life according to the Ten Commandments. You need to look at that first commandment that says that we should have no other gods and you need to realize that you have not loved the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. You have not kept God’s name holy. You have not loved and cherished His Word the way you should. You need to look at the other commandments too, in particular commandments four through ten. You need to realize that you have not loved your neighbor as yourself. You have not honored everyone who has authority over you. You have not done everything you can to help your neighbor keep his possessions, income, and life. You have become preoccupied with yourself. You have covet what other people have. You have not always loved others. You and I we are sinners, it is true.

When we realize that. When all the comfort that we think that we have is stripped away. When we have been thoroughly afflicted by God’s Word we can finally get to our sermon text today. To afflicted people like you God says this: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

To troubled hearts, to burdened consciences, to broken spirits God has one word: comfort. Not comfort that you can find for yourself. Not the comfort of a nice warm bed, a soft sweater, or a pair of slippers. Not the peace of mind that comes from temporarily forgetting our problems only to have them come rushing back again. But the comfort that comes from Jesus Himself. The comfort of knowing that our struggle with sin, our struggle with our own thoughts, words, and deeds that so often leave much to be desired, is over. The struggle is over. The warfare is finished. The victory is won. Christ, our Saviour who is coming to us born in a manger, has won that victory and has given that comfort to us. Our warfare in ended. Our iniquity is pardoned. We have received double from the Lord’s hand for all our sins.

That last part, the double part, might be my favorite part of this whole text. What have we receive “double” of from God for all our sins? Double punishment? Double consequences? Double judgement? Nope. Double comfort. “Comfort, comfort (twice over!) my people says your God.”

Are you afflicted? Is your heart troubled? If it is take this to heart. Your God comes to you to give you comfort. This is what we are celebrating in Advent and Christmas. This is what the Saviour in the manger is all about. He comes to give you comfort, double comfort. He comes to take the sins that burden and afflict you upon His shoulders and to die for them so that you can live. He comes to take you up out of the afflictions of this life into the comfort of His presence eternally. He comes to life you into His arms and carry you into life everlasting. He comes to give you His comfort. Comfort, comfort my people says your God. He has done it. Thanks be to God. In Jesus name. Amen.

Wonderful Counselor

Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7 and Matthew 21:14-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” You don’t have to go very far to hear those words at this time of year. Weeks ago already I heard those lyrics ringing through the speakers at different stores and shops. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

It’s true, isn’t it? It is, in many ways, the most wonderful time of the year. The song says it all, there are “kids jingle belling, and everyone telling you ‘Be of good cheer.’ With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call. There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow. There’ll be much ‘mistletoeing,’ and hearts will be glowing when love ones are near.” Truly, there is much that makes this the most wonderful time of the year.

It is the most wonderful time of the year, however, until it’s not anymore. It’s the most wonderful time of the year until the stresses of preparation and meeting the expectations of others become overwhelming. It’s the most wonderful time of the year until those long hidden family conflicts and arguments are bubble up to the surface during what should be a season of peace, joy, and love. It’s the most wonderful time of the year until we start to wonder why we bother with all of this stuff still. It’s the most wonderful time of the year until the bills start to roll in and we wonder how we spent that much this year when we were trying to cut back. It’s the most wonderful time of the year until there is an empty place at the dinner table for Christmas dinner. An empty place that really represents an empty place in our hearts, a gaping hole left by the death of someone we loved. It’s the most wonderful time of the year until reality comes in and crashes the party tearing down our delusions even before the stores have turned off the Christmas music and the “most wonderful time” comes to an end for another year. It’s a wonderful time until it’s not.

And yet, in the midst of our delusions about what makes one time of the year more wonderful than another there is a concrete reality grounded in the truth of God’s Word that makes this time of year a wonderful time. It has nothing to do with our holiday traditions, our gatherings with friends, the gifts we give and receive, or anything else that we think might make the Christmas season wonderful. It has nothing to do with how we celebrate the holiday. Instead, it has everything to do with what our God has done to cause this time, even these gray and latter days that we live in, to be the most wonderful time.

“To us a child is born,” Isaiah says, “to us a son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulders. And His name will be called: Wonderful Counselor.” In the weeks to come leading up to our celebration of Christmas we will work our way through some of the names that Isaiah presents for us here. Names for the Messiah. Names for Jesus. Wonderful Counselor. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. Today: Wonderful Counselor.

Depending on who you ask, there might actually be two names there. The old King James Version of the Bible says “Wonderful, Counsellor” with a comma in between so that they are two different names. Bibles today often say “Wonderful Counsellor” without a comma meaning it’s just one name. Either way the point remains the same: this promised Messiah is wonderful.

By calling this Messiah, the Christ child, “wonderful” Isaiah means more than just “he’s really great” or “super special” or that we really “like” Him. When the Old Testament talks about someone being wonderful it means that the one being called wonderful literally does or performs wonders. It is God Himself who does these wonders. He alone is truly wonderful. The “wonders” of the Old Testament are God’s acts of salvation on behalf of His people. God saved His people from slavery in Egypt. He led them through the Red Sea on dry ground. He fed them in the wilderness with bread from Heaven. He led them into their new land. He conquered their enemies and established their kingdom. He acted wondrously on behalf of His people.

Now, Isaiah says, a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us, who is literally wonderful. He Himself is a wonder. He is God in human flesh born of the Virgin Mary. He is conceived by the Holy Spirit and in Him the fullness of God dwells in bodily form. In a bag of skin and bones like you and me dwells the fullness of God Himself. He Himself is a wonder and He does wonders. The people in our second reading today saw it. Jesus was there in the temple in Jerusalem and the blind and lame came to Him. Jesus healed them. He gave sight to the blind and caused the lame man to run and jump like a deer. He did wonderful things in the sight of the people. They saw these things and they praised His name. “Hosanna, save us now, Son of David!” they shouted. This is the Christ, He has come to save us.

This “Wonderful Counsellor” has done wonders for us and for our salvation as well. By His death He has set us free from our slavery to sin. By the water of Baptism He has brought us through the flood and made us His people. By His rising from the dead He has brought us up from the grave to new life in Him. By His Word He leads us through our lives in this world. Through His Supper He feeds us on this journey. And, when our last hour comes, His promise carries us into life eternal where we wait for the day when He will raise us and all His saints to life everlasting. He truly is wonderful. He has performed wonders for us and through us all the days of our lives and will continue to do so even now as we prepare to celebrate again His birth and wait for Him to come again. He is our wonderful Saviour.

Does it feel like a wonderful time of the year to you? If it does that’s great. Rejoice and be glad. Your Saviour has done wonderful things for you! This is a reason to celebrate!

If it doesn’t, if the wonder of the holiday season is wearing thin, I don’t blame you. You are not alone. But remember this, your God has come to you in human flesh. He has come into a world where the wonder seems to be all worn out, into the misery we know all too well. He has come to save you. By His death you have new life. There is wonder in Him. He is the Wonderful Counsellor born to you. In Jesus name. Amen.


Text: Isaiah 64:1-9

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Waiting is the hardest part. For weeks now, since Halloween really, the kids have been asking me, “Is it Christmas Eve yet?” on a semi-regular basis. Knowing that Christmas is the next major holiday after Halloween and being excited for the celebrations to come the waiting seems to go on forever. The countdown is on now. Advent has begun, Christmas is just around the corner, but for the kids the waiting still seems like it might go on forever!

In many ways waiting is a constant reality in our lives. Last week I had to call our telephone company. I was on the phone for half an hour waiting to talk to someone before I finally gave up and decided to call another time. Knowing I’ll have to wait like that again I haven’t gotten around to making that call. We wait in line at the grocery store or at Tim Hortons or at the bank, we wait for packages we ordered to arrive in the mail, we wait for taxis and buses, we wait, we wait, and we wait. And the longer we wait the harder it gets.

This is also true in our lives as Christians. Much of our lives in this world as Christians is filled with waiting. We prepare in Advent to celebrate our Saviour coming, but we also look forward and wait for the day when He comes again. In the meantime we pray. He has blessed us with the gift of lifting up our cares and concerns to our Father in Heaven through Him, so we pray. Even then, however, we have to wait. We pray and we wait. We pray for a solution to the problems in our lives, we pray for an end to our pain, we pray for healing, we pray for comfort, we pray for wisdom, we pray for peace, we pray for happiness, we pray and we wait. And sometimes the waiting seems to go on forever. As we wait we start to wonder, “Is anyone really listening to these prayers? Is God ever going to do something about the problems I am having? Is He going to save me?”

For us who wait and maybe begin to wonder if the things that we are waiting for will ever come to fruition Isaiah has some wonderful words of comfort for us today in our Old Testament reading: “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you who acts for those who wait for Him.” The Lord our God acts, He does things, for those who wait for Him. There is no other god who acts, who does things, like the Lord our God.

In the midst of all the waiting and all the questions and doubts that come with it those words call us simply to wait and trust in our Lord. These words don’t call us to action. They don’t tell us to stop waiting around and take matters into our own hands. They don’t urge us to pull up our socks and get down to business. They call on us simply to wait. The Lord our God is the one true God who acts for those who wait for Him. So, we wait.

But waiting is hard and we don’t like doing it.We’d rather have an answer to our prayers right now. We’d rather our problems go away immediately. We’d rather see God do something about whatever ails us instantaneously. We’d like to see Jesus come again now and bring an end to all this waiting.

The prophet Isaiah understands that feeling too. Our Old Testament reading starts out with Isaiah praying to the Lord and, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!” Isaiah wants God to break into human history definitively and powerfully and bring about a solution to the plight of His people. “Come down from heaven and save us!” Isaiah prays, “Rip apart the heavens and come down now!” Isaiah prays, Isaiah asks God to intervene and come down, but God doesn’t do it. Not yet. Isaiah has to wait. The people have to wait. We have to wait. But we wait with that promise, “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you who acts for those who wait for Him.”

But how do we know that God is going to act? As we wait and pray and trust how do we know that God is actually listening and going to do something? How do we know that this waiting will not go on forever? Well, first of all we have God’s promise, His Word assuring us that He will act on our behalf. We have these words in our reading today from Isaiah and many more. In Psalm 46 the Lord says, “Be still (ie: wait!) and know that I am God.” In another place, in Lamentations 3, the prophet Jeremiah writes, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Again and again God’s Word urges us simply to wait, to trust, to know that He is God and that He will act on our behalf. Even with these promises, however, doubt creeps in. but Isaiah also remembers here how God has acted in the past.

Isaiah had seen, first hand, how God acts for those who wait for Him. In Isaiah’s day the kingdom of Israel was under siege. The king of Assyria, a man by the name of Sennacherib, threatened to invade and destroy the city of Jerusalem. He camped around the city with his massive army and threatened to destroy the city and all the people in it. In the face of such threats and danger God spoke to His people through the prophet Isaiah and called on them to wait. They were tempted to run out and try to find help from other nations. They were tempted to find a solution to their own problems. They were tempted to give up in fear and despair. In the face of these temptations, however, they trusted God’s Word that they heard through the prophet. They waited and God acted. God saved His people. God defeated Sennacherib’s army. God acted. Isaiah remembers these things and is sure that the Lord, the one true God, acts for those who wait for Him.

The same is true for us. We have God’s Word, His assurance and promise, that He hears our prayers and answers them. However, if we begin to doubt His Word and His promise we can recall the acts that our God has done in the past, the acts we have seen in our own lives and, most importantly, the acts that we have read about in the pages of Holy Scripture. Above all, we recall how the Lord our God acted for those who waited for Him by sending His one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to save those who waited for Him.

Earlier we talked about that verse at the beginning of our Old Testament reading where Isaiah said to the Lord, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!” Well, God did rend the heavens and come down. Two thousand years ago in Bethlehem the heavens were rent, torn apart, and God Himself came down. He came down as a little baby, a helpless, innocent child, born in a manger, born of a virgin. God acted in human history by becoming one of us. The heavens were torn open and angels poured out to praise the God that would do such a thing for us.

Why did He do it? Why would God rend the heavens and come down for us? Why would He act on our behalf like that? Because, as Isaiah says it in our text today, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” God rent the heavens, tore them apart and came down because He loves His broken people. He loves broken sinful people like us who have nothing righteous in ourselves. He loves dirty, polluted sinners like us. He loves His people who can do nothing but wait for Him.

All we could do is wait for Him. We could not save ourselves, we could not set ourselves free from our sinful condition. So, out of His love for us He came down and acted for us who had no choice but to wait for Him. On the cross our sin, our uncleanliness, was placed on Him and, washed in His blood we are clean, forgiven, restored children of God.

The birth of this Saviour, the rending of heaven as God came down, is what we prepare to celebrate at Christmas. The people in Old Testament times waited thousands of years for this Saviour to be born. Ever since Adam and Eve humanity had been waiting for God’s decisive act as He would come and save His people. In Bethlehem it happened. We don’t have to wait thousands of years to celebrate that, but we will wait a few more weeks. Waiting is hard, but it’s good for us. Waiting makes us appreciate the gift even more.

As we wait in life for other things, for answered prayers, for healing, for joy, we have this assurance as well. The Lord our God acts for those who wait for Him. This is even more certain because we know how God has acted for us in and through our Lord Jesus. The apostle Paul puts it this way: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Will our God act for us as we wait for Him? Of course He will, because He already has. So we wait. In Jesus name. Amen.