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REady for Jesus!

3rd Sunday in Advent (C)       December 16, 2019      Text:  Luke 7:18-28      Rev Jon Nack

            “Hello Pastor!  Ready for Christmas?”  I don’t know about you, but I usually start hearing that question a day or two after Thanksgiving.  I’ve just finished Thanksgiving services in the middle of the week, thinking about Sunday’s services which are a few days away, and all the rest of the things that need to be done before November comes to an end – and fitting an annual trip to visit my mother in too. 

            What I’m thinking is, “I’m not sure I’m ready for tomorrow, let alone all of the extra things that are coming at me in the month of December.”  What I say is something like, “Getting there!  Getting there!” 

            It’s probably about the same for most of you too, I imagine.  When you’re asked, “Ready for Christmas?” you could probably honestly say, “I’m not sure I’m ready for tomorrow, let alone everything that has to be taken care of yet.  And then there are all the problems and burdens that we carry that don’t necessarily let up just because it’s December.

            “Ready for Christmas?”  We could answer that two ways.  From a “cares of this world” perspective, we could say, “No, I’m not ready.  And I don’t know how I am going to tackle it all!”  That perspective is clouded by the sense of anxiety, doubt, and sometimes dread. 

            But, when we understand it a little differently – what Christmas is all about, we could simply ask ourselves, “Ready for Christ?” 

            The answer to that depends on what you expect Christ to do when He comes.  If you expect Him to come and reward you for how well you have done shaping up your life, to commend you for how strong your faith is, for how well your life reflects the will of God each day, to smooth out all the rough places in your life and straighten out all that has become warped and crooked in your thoughts, your actions, your hearts, and for how far you have come as a Christian and how brightly you shine, then I doubt any of us will every be truly ready for Christ.  There will always be more to do, more to correct, more to fix.

            But if you expect Christ to bring healing and restoration to broken sinners, to those whose hopes and expectations in themselves have been crushed, those whose lives have been damaged by sin, those who cry out from the pit of anxiety, frustration and despair, those whose lives have not gone the way they had hoped, and those who know they have fallen far short of the glory of God.  Are you ready for the Christ who brings sight to the blind, freedom for the captive, forgiveness of sins, life to the dead, and hope to the hopeless?  Then the answer is, “YES! YES! YES!”  I am so ready for that Christ to come.  

          John the Baptist was sent to prepare for the coming of the Christ.  He was sent to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins.  He called on people to make straight the way of the Lord.  He proclaimed that the coming of the Christ was near!  And John was that voice, crying out in the wilderness. 

          And that is exactly where Jesus came.  He came into the wilderness.  He came to people who could not fix or straighten out what was wrong with them.  He came to people who were crushed by the guilt of their sins.  He came to people whose expectations and hopes had been crushed by broken marriages, loss of loved ones, loneliness, sickness, disease, oppression, broken trust, desertion, cruelty, and more.

          He came into a world where evil seems to reign.  Where the ungodly seem to exercise their will and power with impunity, and where the innocent often are victimized and suffer extremely at the hands of the wicked – as did John the Baptist who was sitting in prison. 

          And John sends certain ones of his disciples to ask, “Are you the Christ, or should we expect another?”  And what does Jesus do? He sends them back to tell John, “Tell him what you have seen and heard:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raise dup, the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  John was ready for that Christ and what He brought His life and restoration of hope and renewal of strength – and so are we!

          I’d like to conclude this sermon by sharing with you a letter that I received from Rev. Harold Senkbeil, director of the Lutheran Doxology program as we think about the question, “Are you ready for Christmas?”:

Whenever the first Sunday in Advent rolls around, every seasoned pastor steels himself for the familiar roller coaster of mid-week services, Christmas program practices, and multiple events where he’s expected to make polite jovial conversation. There’s nothing like chowing down on holiday goodies while trying not to think about all the services yet to be planned, sermons yet to be written, and homebound visits yet to be completed before Christmas finally arrives.

Ah yes, I remember it well. No doubt you do too. That’s why you likely have mixed emotions as Advent looms large and the familiar marathon starts up all over again.

Well I’ve got news for you. It’s good news of a great joy which shall be to all people - including you.  It was for you that an angel was sent to Nazareth in Galilee to a young virgin named Mary to bring the astonishing news that she would bear a Child: the promised seed of Eve Who would crush the serpent’s head. In the tiny embryo soon to grow within her by the power of the Holy Spirit, all the fullness of the godhead would be pleased to dwell in bodily form. All for you.

For you that Child would be born, for you He would grow into manhood, and for you in His most holy body He would bear all your sins – even the ones of which you are most deeply ashamed.  And by His blood He would blot out forever the penalty that stood against you. Then for you He would be raised up again from death so that He might give you an inheritance among the saints in light.

So open up your eyes, dear brother, and see this holy season for what it really is. Sure, it’s a busy, hectic time. But it’s also time for cleansing and renewal. Advent is a time to start all over again. It’s time to cleanse your heart and renew your spirit in the One who came not just for the people you serve, but for you as well.

Marvel that Christ Jesus came all the way down from heaven to earth just to make you His very own. Call an occasional halt to all the madness – deliberately pause every now and then from your frenetic busyness. Quietly ponder the wonder that Jesus Christ has come to bring you life. Earnestly pray that God for Jesus’ sake would give you His Spirit so that by His grace you may believe His holy Word and lead a godly life in His service in this holy season and for all your years to come.

I’m so ready friends in Christ – ready for the Christ of Christmas to come.  Amen.

What Shall We Do?

2nd Sunday in Advent (C)        December 12, 2018     Text:  Luke 3:1-14     Rev. Jon Nack

            Dear friends in Christ, the question “What must I do?” has a different answer depending on whether it is asked in a spirit of repentance and faith, or asked in a spirit of self-righteousness and unbelief.

            For example, in Luke chapter 18, we are told about a rich young ruler who approaches Jesus with the question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  To quote Luke:  [Jesus said, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” 21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.  22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.

            No doubt this rich young ruler had done things that would have been considered good by his community.  No doubt he was highly respected and looked up to.  But there is also no doubt that, in his unbelief, he could not see the things that weren’t good in his heart, in his words, and in his actions.  Most of all, he could not see that he loved and trusted in himself, more than God.  His heart was hardened with lack of repentance and faith.  And so, to hold up a mirror to show him what was really in his heart (or what wasn’t there) Jesus told him to do the one thing he couldn’t do – sell all he had – give it all up and give it to the poor.  Sadly, this rich young man was really a fruitless tree – facing the axe of God’s judgment. 

            On the other hand, the crowds in our text for today from Luke chapter 3 are a different story.  Here we see the power of God’s Word to bring sinners to repentance and faith and put them on the road of discipleship and following Jesus.  What we see here is the way of repentance and faith.

            First comes the scorching, searing sting of the law.  “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath!  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”  Your bloodline back to Abraham cannot save you.  Can’t you see that you are spiritually dead and fruitless?  And what will happen to a tree that bears no fruit when the owner comes?  That’s right!  You will be cut down and thrown into the fire!  And this isn’t a matter to put off or ignore because the axe is already at the root of the tree.  So said the voice of one sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.

            John’s preaching was one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  It was directed at turning people and preparing the for the arrival of the Lamb of God.  John was heralding the arrival of the king and the kingdom of God which comes as God’s Word is preached and hearts are turned and made alive and folks put their faith in the one who comes to take away their sins.

            You can almost see the light coming on for those in the crowds in the text.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit who enlightens us with His gifts.  He brings to repentance and faith and makes possible the fruits of the Spirit.

            I remember teaching one of my first adult classes as a field work student while still in the seminary.  I had a group of about 8-10 people.  Some came from different church backgrounds – some from no church background at all.  As part of becoming a communicant member, we took them through instruction as a way to teach the faith, impart the faith, and familiarize them with the faith so that they could say with good confidence that they agreed with the teachings of this church because they were in accord with what the Bible teaches.

            This particular lesson was about the way of salvation.  It was about grace.  It was about the full and complete salvation Christ accomplished for us – not by our works – but He has done everything necessary for us and opened the way of salvation.

            One woman, who had been a member of another church denomination all of her life was sitting down at the end of the table.  In that case, I could see the light go on in her eyes.  She actually piped up excitedly, “I get this now.  This doesn’t depend on me at all!  It is all about Jesus!  I’ve never heard that before!”

            That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.  But it doesn’t just stop there in bringing a person to repentance and faith.  It’s about more than being sorry for sins and confessing Jesus.  The Lutheran Confessions teach us that repentance is nothing more than the life of faith.  It is the acknowledgment of sin and turning again and again to Jesus for His healing words of forgiveness. 

            And then, the question, “What shall I do?” becomes a godly question of the repentant and faithful.  For if I believe that Jesus comes to me and makes me holy by His blood, and that He is coming again, than I am going receive Him in faith and walk as a child of God in this life, with Him and waiting for Him until He comes again.

            So “What shall I do?” is a question of the faithful.  And unlike the answer giving to the unbelieving rich young man, these answers are not impossible for those who trust Jesus and look to Him.

            What shall I do?  Use the means of grace.  Take comfort in your baptism.  Repent of your sins daily and arise to live before God and serve Him in righteousness, innocence and purity.  Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Hear the Word.  Continue to gather together and encourage one another as God’s people gathered for worship and all the more as you see the day approaching. 

            And then, love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Right where God has placed you, do what is right for the benefit and blessing of your neighbor.  If you have an extra tunic, share it with those who have none.  If you have food, do likewise.  Use what you have to do the right thing and care for others.  That is godly fruit when it grows out a heart that trusts and rejoices in Christ’s forgiveness. 

            Are you a tax collector?  Receive and live in the grace of your baptism, continue to repent and trust in what you received there and arise to live before Him daily.  And then, treat others fairly.  Use the power and authority that you have for good and do not abuse it or take advantage of others. 

            Are you a soldier?  Same thing.  Get down into the waters of baptism, receive the forgiveness of Christ Jesus and then come up and let what you have received there direct your daily walk.  Don’t use your authority or power to extort money from people and be content with your wages.

            What about you, people of God?  Having been cleansed and made new I the waters of Holy Baptism, drown your sin daily by repentance.  Trust what God says about you, that you are forgiven and Holy for Christ’s sake.  And then put that gift to use.

            God isn’t asking the impossible of you.  He’s given you all that is necessary?  Are you a husband or wife?  Then lead a sexually pure and decent life.  Honor your spouse.  Carry his or her burden.  Forgive.  Walk the way of Jesus.

            Are you a worker?  Be diligent, reliable, honorable and trustworthy.  Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.  Look for ways to help improve the business and serve people.  Be patient and forgiving.  Walk the way of Jesus.

            Are you a student?  Do the best you can to respect your teachers, learn your lessons.  Don’t be lazy.  Apply yourself.  Know that God is preparing you for service.  He has a plan.  Don’t be distracted or misled by the ways of this world.  Walk the way of Jesus.

            Are you a retiree?  Use the gifts God has given you.  Be generous.  Look for ways to invest in the lives of others around you.  Mentor.  Encourage.  Serve as humble examples of those who are following you.  Be patient.  Encourage and equip younger leaders and servants in our community and church.  Let them know you care.  Pray for them.  Walk the way of Jesus.

            Use what you have, where you are, to serve and love others as yourself.  God isn’t asking the impossible.  Just simply that the blessings you have received in your Savior would flow through you.  This is the way of faith.  It is the way of Christ.  You see, we have come up out of the water, having been met by Jesus – to walk with Him on the way.  Amen.