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All Nations Will Call Me Blessed

1st Sunday after Christmas (B)   Text:  Isaiah 61:9-62:3, Luke 1:48   December 31, 2017    Rev. Jon Nack

 

     Dear friends in Christ, I recently read a story about a man who wanted to make a big impression at his high school class reunion.  He showed up in a limo, made a grand entrance with a beautiful woman on his arm, wore an expensive suit and a Rolex.  Everyone was very interested to hear that he had made it big in Hollywood, recently writing a script for a hit movie.  He made a big impression.  Everyone was talking about him that night.  There was one problem, none of it was real. 

            He had a terrible job, lived in his parent’s basement, was single and his life was pretty much a disappointment.  He had rented the limo, and clothes, borrowed the watch, and bribed a coworker to go as his “date.”  He simply wanted to give the impression that he was something that he wasn’t.  He wanted to be someone in the eyes of his classmates from high school.

            It is understandable.  We know what it is like to want to be someone in somebody else’s eyes.  The high school student (or 10 year graduate) wants to be someone in her classmates eyes.  The wife wants to be someone special and special in her husband’s eyes.  He wants to be someone who is respected and loved in his wife’s eyes.  The father wants to be someone who is looked up to in the children’s eyes.  The child wants to be someone who is treasured in the parents’ eyes.  The boss wants to be someone who is respected in the workers’ eyes.  And the employee wants to be someone who is appreciated in the boss’s eyes. 

            But it doesn’t always happen that way, does it?  Instead of being looked up to, the Father is seen as someone who is short-tempered, harsh and unforgiving.  The wife is seen as someone who stings with her words.  The children are seen as disobedient and disrespectful.  The boss is seen as a task master.  And the employee is seen as someone who lets the boss down.

            Besides all this, the bottom line is that we want to be seen as someone special in God’s eyes.  But it is hard not to see our sin, our rebellion, our failure, our lack of forgiveness, or stubbornness.  In the Old Testament, we are told that God looked down during the time of Noah and saw how evil people had become.  The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Genesis 6:5-6.  This was a disaster!  It wasn’t that way in the beginning, for then God looked at everything He had created (including Adam and Eve) and it was very good!

            Imagine being something utterly despised in God’s eyes – deplorable in God’s eyes – rejected in God’s eyes – empty, cursed and repulsive in God’s eyes – as good as dead in God’s eyes.  This is what sin does.  And it is what God sees – no matter how we may try to be something in His eyes. 

            And we can try to be something we aren’t in His eyes, just like we can try to be something we’re not in other peoples’ eyes.  We can try to be good people by doing good things.  (But then we are doing the evil of simply doing good just to look good.)  We can try to be special in God’s eyes by making a special gift or offering or donation.  (I remember talking to a woman who hadn’t been in church in years.  She had contacted the pastor and offered to donate $25,000 to have a special marble altar carved and placed in church in her families’ memory.  The pastor told her to keep her money, the Lord wanted her heart, not her money.)  And some try to look good in God’s eyes by standing behind others who are much worse sinners then they are.  But in the end, look at which line you are still standing in!

            Israel couldn’t avoid it.  They were poor, miserable sinners in God’s eyes.  Nobody’s with no future.  They were seen as ones abandoned by God in the eyes of the nations.  That is what the nations saw when their lands where invaded by Assyrian and then Babylonian armies.  That is what they saw when they were massacred, humiliated and humbled by being put into chains and marched away into captivity. They saw a people who were being punished by God.  They were even given the names of “desolate” and “deserted.”   That is what they were in God’s eyes, in the eyes of the nations, and in their own eyes.  And sometimes, when we haven’t been the people we want to be in other’s eyes – or especially God’s eyes, the name fits, doesn’t it.  For that is what everyone sees in us.  “Hello, my name is deserted.  Hi, my name is desolate.”  And nothing that we do can make us something we are not.

            But right there, in the midst of that reality, is the message that God gives to His people that He promises to make us something we are not.  God looks and sees someone to love, to redeem, to give hope and a future – to make them something they aren’t.

      He does that by dressing them in the robes of righteousness and the garments of salvation.  The words recorded here by the prophet Isaiah are the words of a believer who has received the great blessings of God. Great joy fills the heart of such a believer.

      Every believer may rejoice that God has covered his or her sinful life with the robe of righteousness. Jesus fashioned this robe from the threads of his perfect life. Then he wove it on the loom of the cross and colored it with his own red blood. God freely gives the cloak of his Son’s perfect life to the sinner, and it covers every sin, rebellion, and deviation from God’s standard. This robe of Christ’s righteousness is long and wide enough to cover every twisted human thought, word, and deed. But this robe comes only from God. No human can erase a single sin.   But God can make us something we are not.  He can make us the Apple of His Eye.  That is what David prayed for in Psalm 17:  I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. 7 Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. 8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings ..

            The Lord God in Christ Jesus does what we cannot do.  He is going to act.  He cannot remain silent.  And so He speaks.  And it is the Word of God that He uses to turn us into something we are not.  As He speaks forgiveness to us He dresses us up in the beautiful light of His mercy and righteousness that shines forth for all to see.  And what all nations do see is not the goodness of our own works, but the goodness of God who chooses the lowly, the sinner, the humble in heart, and lifts them up to be the centerpiece of God’s goodness and glory, like the diadem or crown of God’s glory.

            Verse nine of our texts says that all nations will see that they are a nation that the Lord has blessed.  It sounds like what Mary sang after she was told by the angel that she would bear the Savior of the world:  “My soul magnifies the Lord,  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.  For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed  for he who is mighty has done great things for me,  and holy is his name.  Luke 1:46-49

            God makes you into something you aren’t.  That is even reflected by the new name that He gives.  For you are no longer deserted by God and left desolate.  Now you have been chosen forever by God.  You are His holy people the Redeemed of the Lord.  Forgiven and sealed in the blood of Christ forever.  God has chosen you in His mercy.  And because of that, all people will called you blessed – blessed by the Lord.

Lord, Take My Hand

1st Sunday after the Epiphany (B)        Text:  Isaiah 42:1-7         January 7, 2017     Rev. Jon Nack

            Dear friends in Christ, one winter, just outside of town, near the church I was serving, a dramatic story with potentially tragic results unfolded.  There were two young boys who were outside playing in a gravel pit, where they shouldn’t have been.  As they were jumping off of the large snow covered piles, suddenly the snow above them broke loose and instantly buried them.  One of the boys managed to struggle free and run for help.  The first person there said she frantically called and searched through the snow hoping to find the boys alive.  All of the sudden, a hand popped up through the snow.  As a matter of fact, that is what they say to do if you are in an avalanche, put up your hand so that someone will come and see where you are and rescue you.  As I was studying the Old Testament text for this Sunday, a certain portion of it stuck in my mind.  It is the text for this sermon.  It is the promise of God to His people:  I the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.

            As I thought about the boys buried in the snow, I also thought about our own situation, how we are buried by our sin, buried by troubles and sorrows and weighed down by anger and guilt.  We might not think that sin is that much of a big deal.  But if we were a "super saint” and somehow managed to only commit just three sins a day, in one year that would be 1,095 sins.  In ten years – 10,950!  And I very much doubt whether there is someone here who could claim they only commit three sins of thought, word and deed a day!  So we are rally the ones who need to raise up our hands to heaven and say, “Lord, God, look at the mess that I am in.  I could really use a hand.”

            Not too long ago, I was going downtown, and I saw what must have been a mother or day care provider with a whole gaggle of little toddlers.  As they neared the busy intersection, this person told them all, “Hold on to each other’s hands.”  So connected by the firm grasp of little fingers, the adult lead out into the street with all the little ones in file behind her.  As long as they held on to each other they would be safe and they wouldn’t wander off into harm’s way.

            Hand holding is not only a means of keeping connected and safe, it is also a way to comfort someone.  We even say, “I went along to the interview to do some hand holding.”  The knowledge that another person is there to support really helps.  Or we hold the other person’s hand to communicate that we love them.

            All of us could use a hand and help is on the way!  Today is the day in the church year when we hear about Jesus Christ’s baptism.  John the Baptist had been out baptizing in the Jordan River and preaching a message of repentance.  But he always pointed to the one who was greater than he was.  – the sandals of whom he was not worthy to untie.  Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John.  There He was again revealed to us as the true Son of God.  When he stepped out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit of God descending upon him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven:  “You are my Son, whom I love:  with you I am well pleased.”

            Why was Jesus baptized?  Did He have the same need for baptism that we do?  He was without sin.  What makes Jesus’ baptism important to us is not that He got something out of it, but rather that He put something into it.  He poured His word and promise into the water for all time so that we might become His children.  And He did that because we needed a hand.

            Some symbols for Christ’s baptism include the hand of the heavenly Father along with the dove of the Holy Spirit.  Symbols for baptism will also occasionally include a hand along with a shell and water.  We were buried in the avalanche of our sin, buried in our baptism, but not left there to drown in our sin.    We were grasped by the hand and brought forth, rescued for new life.  Just as we learned in Luther’s catechism:  What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six:  We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

            God’s words of approval from His Baptism echo those words of prophecy from Isaiah:  “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.”  God sent us His Son Jesus Christ to rescue us because we had let go of His hand.  We had wandered away.  This is exactly what is recorded in the chapter before this one.  The people were seeking counsel from false prophets.  This is something that is only going to get worse in our times.  Whom do we listen to?  We make important decisions about our lives and faith.  We seek the advice of friends.  We seek the common opinion.  We look online. We go with the flow.  We have to ask, “What is the source of our information?"  How do we become informed and formed in the faith?

            We really need a hand in this area.  We don’t have to look too long if we are honest to find out that we are really in it up to our necks.  We expect everything to be handed to us.  Even as we have let go of God and His word, we have used our own hands for ungodly things.  Our hands have been used for grabbing, greedy purposes, rather than open giving tools.  Our own hands have become stained.  We take matters into our own hands.  We deal in short- handed and under handed ways.  Instead of turning in repentance and forgiveness we run away from the hammer that would crush us.  We pull our hands away from the one who comes to cleanse us.  We strike out at those who are simply trying to hold on to our hands to keep us safe and in the faith.  And finally, we all too willingly wash our hands of our own Christian responsibilities towards God and each other.

            Sometimes we even worry that our own grip may be slipping.  That is why God sent His Son to give us a hand – to give us two of them stretch out upon the cross.  He would bring the justice that we have perverted.  He will not bring about His kingdom with violence or overwhelming power.  He would bring it by sacrifice. He would not shout or cry out in the streets.  He would not even raise His voice.   

            He comes in compassion to give a hand to those who are weak.  The text says that a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  A bruised reed He will not break.  Today we don’t have lamps with wicks that can burn out or go dim.  Today we have light bulbs.  When a light bulb burns out or gets dim, we simply unscrew it and throw it away.  That is what each of us deserves because of our sin – to be destroyed!

            But Jesus came to make a new covenant with His people.  We have been scattered and buried by our sin.  But the Lord came again to take hold of our hand.  When we needed a hand, He was there.  When we need a hand, He will be there.

            Jesus came to give us a hand – to bring us up out of the burial of baptism the avalanche of God’s grace that drowns all our sin.  When we need a hand, Jesus comes to protect us.  He comes to call us to reach out to others and take their hands so that we can stay together in peace and unity.  He gives us a hand so that we can share the good news of release of prisoners.  He comes to take our hand and guide us and accept us and hold us close to Him.  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

Christmas Angels

Christmas Eve     December 24, 2017     Text:  Luke 2:9-11, 17-18     Rev. Jon Nack

 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 6 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,

            Dear friends in Christ, today our focus is on the Christmas angels.  Certainly angels are part of the trappings of this holiday.  There are angels on Christmas cards, lighted angels in Christmas displays, angels on the tops of Christmas trees.  There are angels on T.V., and on banners in churches.  There are children who dress up for pageants and who put on wings and tinsel halos.  There are even angels in the cookie jars.

            But angles are more than just a cool Christmas decorating idea.  They are central to the Christmas story.  For without the angels that night, the Shepherds would not have heard the good news that a Savior had been born for them.  They would have remained in the darkness of that night, and the darkness of their sins.  They would have never seen Jesus.

            Luke writes that an angel of the Lord appeared to them.  I wonder if it dawned on them, that for the time being, they were the only ones.  Or did they think that each person that night had their own visit from a Christmas angel to announce the good news?

             Whether or not this thought even crossed their minds we are not told.  What we are told is that they went with great haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger.

            The fact that they went “in great haste” tells us that the recognized the importance of what the angel had told them.  This message personally impacted them.  This was no ordinary baby.  This was the one who had been promised by God since the time of Adam and Eve.  This was the one who would come to lift the curse of sin and death and rescue them from bondage and death.  These shepherds knew that because of their sin, they would be separated from God and condemned forever.  They knew they could not avoid the wages of their sin.  They knew they had no ability to save themselves.  That is why they went with great haste.  They went because the angel told them it was true and that He had come and that there was salvation, life, and fellowship with God in this Savior.  And so they ran to see this thing that had happened that the Lord had told them about.

            What an amazing message!  Unto you this day in the city of David is born a Savior – Christ the Lord.  Unto you!  There could be no doubt about it.  God sent their very own angel, a messenger from heaven that they would know and believe the good news and receive this most precious gift.  There can be no mistake, no missing the message when God is the one who sends a messenger directly to you with the good news.

            Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God sent angels, messengers from heaven to us, personally, so that we could have the same certainty and joy of the shepherds.  So that we could know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this message of a Savior is for me?

            Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God sent someone that I would hear the Good News for myself?  That the baby born in Bethlehem is for me?  Perhaps someone like my parents or yours who shared the Word of God with us from the time we were little and who helped us understand that Jesus is your Savior. 

            Wouldn’t it be wonderful if God would send us a messenger like Eleanor Mueller, whose story is printed in the Lutheran Witness.  Eleanor was 99 years old, the widow of a pastor, mother of three and grandmother to many more.  She was 99 years old when a young man named Joe came to work at the nursing home.  Joe had recently lost his own mother.  As you read the story, you can only conclude that God brought these two together and this 99 year old woman was a messenger sent from heaven to help Joe come to know and worship Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  And that they did – on two Christmases before Eleanor herself was called to eternal glory.

            Wouldn’t it be nice if God would send us our own messenger to proclaim to you personally the Word of God, to proclaim the need for a Savior and to announce the good news to you personally that in Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven.  Wouldn’t it be nice if God would send a messenger to give you the most personal assurance of the forgiveness of sins – not from the mouth of an angelic being – but the body and blood of our Lord and Savior into your very mouth along with the words, “given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins?”

            My point is that God still sends the Christmas angels to you – personally.  This good news is for you.  God in His mercy has sent those messengers to you throughout your life and continues to do so.  Without them, we would be in the darkness of unbelief and sin.  But at just the right time, God sent His messengers with His Word that we might know and worship Christ the Lord as our Savior.

            And in a great irony of God’s design, those shepherds almost immediately become messengers sent by God to people who need to hear the good news.  And so we share not only in the worship of the angels here glorifying God and praising His Holy name.  We are here not only to thank God for sending us our Christmas angels.  But now we are sent to go and share the Good News with those who are still walking in darkness.  God has designed that you would be the one whom He sends to the right person, at the right place at just the right time that you would tell what you have seen and heard. 

            So go, now that you have seen and heard, and tell – spread the word!  In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.     

 

[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1984, S. Is 52:7

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