Friday, December 31, 2010

Nothing Can Seperate Us From God's Love in 2011

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the epistle lesson appointed for New Year’s Eve. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Every year at this time, the major news outlets come out with their “Year in Review” specials—and they list all the major events and news stories of the last year as a kind of measure of whether 2010 was a “good” year or a “bad” year. And based on this, they wonder what 2011 will hold. What will happen on the Korean Peninsula? Will the economy recover? What can we expect from the last election?

We have the same human tendency to conduct our own “year in review”. Did my bank account go up or down? Did I have a major health crisis? Did I lose a loved one? And we look forward to the New Year with either hope or trepidation based on these kinds of material markers.

But as children of the heavenly Father, our view of the past and our confidence in the future should not be based on the changes and chances of this life-- but rather upon the constancy and consistency of God’s love for us-- and his promise to us, that nothing, absolutely nothing in all creation can separate us from Christ’s love. It is that promise that relieves us of the burden of the past and shapes our view of the future in this new year of 2011. Paul writes:

If God is for us, who can be against us? 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?

With that big “IF” at the beginning of the sentence, it seems, at first glance, as if Paul finds himself in the same place as the world, wondering what God is about. But this is one of those places where the Greek grammar matters very much indeed. In the original, there are grammatical cues that alerted Paul’s audience that he was affirming in the strongest terms that God is for us. They would have read: “SINCE God is for us, who can be against us?” Or: “If God is for us—AND HE IS—who can be against us?” And even if we know nothing about Greek grammar, and care less, we still know that God is for us beyond any shadow of a doubt-- because of what comes next:

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?

During the Christmas Season we give gifts to our friends and family because we love them-- and when we receive a gift that was selected with care, we know their love for us. But the real marvel of this season is God’s gift of his Son for us—for it is a gift that was given, not to those who were his friends or his family—but to those who were by nature his enemies. And it was not just a small token of goodwill—but that which was most precious to him.

When we look at the year in review—both on the world stage and in our own lives—the world, our flesh, and the devil may tempt us to doubt God’s love. But God draws our attention away from our external circumstances back to the manger and the cross and the empty tomb and the One who is the enduring, undeniable sign of his love: his own Son Jesus.

As we stand on this dividing line between an old year and the new, Jesus invites us to cast our burdens of the past upon him: the guilt of our sin—the sorrows of our losses—and our concerns for the future as well—and to know beyond any shadow of a doubt that God is for us: that we are the objects of his enduring love and members of his own family and that having given us his Son—the most precious gift of all—we can be confident that our heavenly Father will give us all that we need—both materially and spiritually—in this new year. For the gift of God’s Son is not just the Good News of the past—it is also God’s promise for the future. Paul writes:

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Oftentimes, these “Year in Review” specials are almost seen as an indictment of God’s love and even his existence. The focus seems to be on all that is wrong with the world. Fighting in the Middle East. Rising unemployment. Politicians on trial for ethics charges. And then there is that cheery list they always run of all those famous folks who have passed away this last year. The unspoken question seems to be: where is a God of love in the midst of world like this?

That thought comes unbidden even to our own minds at times. When the broken-ness of this world comes close to home—when we struggle financially—when we suffer the loss of one we love—the accusation of the world, our flesh, and the devil is that we are not really God’s child—that we are really all alone in a universe devoid of meaning.

In answer to this charge-- is God’s judgment—his justification—his declaration: that we are indeed his children for he has redeemed us from our sins in the death of his own Son and he has forever removed the oppressive reality of our human frailty by raising his Son from the dead and promises the same eternal life to us.

And this Good News is not just about the events of the past-- but is also a present and future reality for Jesus lives at his Father’s right hand, continuing to work for our salvation.

Much too often we think of our salvation in Christ only in terms of his birth, death, and resurrection but forget about his ascension to the Father’s right hand—and what that means for our lives right now and in the days and years to come. It’s like we watched him ascend into the clouds-- and as he faded from view-- he also faded from being a present reality in our lives and what he has promised for the future is forgotten.

But the same Jesus who was born and lived and died and rose again still lives at this very moment-- and for every moment of the future and into eternity. This upcoming year holds no fear for us because Jesus continues his saving work on our behalf.

Paul says that he is “at the right hand of God interceding for us.” When I was a kid and I heard that phrase in the creed that comes from this verse—that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand—I pictured God with his hands spread out and Jesus sitting on his right hand. But of course that is not what’s meant at all.

That Jesus is at this moment at the right hand of God is an ancient way of saying that he occupies the central place of power and authority in heaven—that he is the One who is in control—that our Savior is the king and ruler of the universe. And that is the best possible news for us-- for when Jesus ascended to heaven, his work for our salvation did not cease.

Jesus continues to intercede for us—which means that he is our advocate of heaven: constantly lifting up his sacrifice for our sins—ruling the world in every moment and circumstance for our ultimate good—and providentially ordering our lives so that we will be brought safely to our heavenly home.

The first thing that occupies my day when I come into my study in the morning are my prayers—and a very big part of my prayer life concerns you folks here tonight. I pray that God would richly bless you in body and soul—I pray for all of those who are near and dear to your own hearts—and I especially pray for your final salvation. That has been my routine in the past and it certainly will be in the year to come.

But what is much more important-- and I hope much more comforting for you than the knowledge that I am praying for you-- is the Good News from God’s Word tonight is that Jesus himself is praying for you—your lives are the object his love and concern and prayers.

And what a comfort this is because we have not yet been delivered from this vale of tears and we are not immune from the hardships of this world. Paul writes:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What Paul is essentially asking us to do is weigh the evidence of God’s love for us. When it comes to our concerns about the past and our confidence concerning the future, what are all the hardships and trials of our life in this world compared to what God has done for us in Christ? Given the love that he has shown to us and continues to show to us, how can anything cause us to doubt that love-- no matter what happens—even if it involves hardship and suffering?

Let us resolve once and for all tonight that we will never again listen to any person-- or buy the book of any person-- claiming to speak for Christ-- who tells us that we Christians are somehow immune from the adversities of life or that if we suffer from them it is only because our faith is somehow deficient. This kind of thinking goes all the way back to the enemies of Jesus who stood at the foot of the cross who ridiculed him and mocked his suffering--calling upon him to end it by coming down from the cross.

But the love that compelled him to remain on the cross-- is the same love that abides with us even in the darkest moments of our own lives.

Not only can tribulation, distress, and the lack of material necessities be a part of the believer’s life—so can outright persecution on account of Christ. It certainly was for the Christians of Paul’s day and for Paul himself and for all the Holy Martyrs of every time and place. And that same cross will mark each of our lives as baptized believers in Christ in one way or the other—to one degree or another.

But nothing in this life—and nothing on this earth—and nothing in the spiritual realms—and not even death-- can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In fact, it is the very midst of real hardships that we truly discover how much more powerful is the victorious love of Christ than any pain or weakness or defeat we may suffer in this life. It is his victory for us—a victory won at the cross—that makes us more than conquerors in our own hardships. That was certainly what Paul learned.

Paul faced a crisis that threatened to undermine his ministry and he prayed earnestly for God to remove that thorn in his flesh. But God did not. Instead, his answer was this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul learned that the greatness of God was seen most clearly when Paul was weakest and that same promise of God’s grace is made to us in this new year.

No matter what 2011 holds in store for us--earthly blessing or hardship--or as is most likely, a little of both—we know the One who holds the future in his nail-scarred hands and he promises that we will be more than conquerors through him and nothing can separate us from his love in 2011. Amen.

And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good evening, fellow redeemed!

Today, the Church commemorates St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. Tradition tells that St. John was the lone apostle of Jesus' 12 who died a natural death in old age. John's life was not without trial, though. Reportedly, John survived an attempt on his life in which involved boiling him in oil. John also was exiled from his beloved Ephesus, sent to the mines of Patmos, where he was given the Revelation and wrote the record bearing the same name. John died either late in the first century or early in the second century.

The point of celebrating such days right after Christmas, at least in modern times, serves to ground us in the reality that the world hates the message of Christ and His followers. Christianity, then, doesn't guarantee us a good life - far from it. But, in Christ, there is the promise of life everlasting. Thus, Christianity does promise a good death - a death which has been overcome at the cross by our Lord and Master, and a death from which we will be called in resurrection.

This week, I am out of the office, visiting family and friends in Austin and taking some much needed time off. If an emergency arises, please call one of the Board of Elders, who will in turn call me.

Rather than my regular list of prayer concerns, I will simply ask that you pray for Christ's Church and her proclamation, for those who serve in our armed services and their families, and for my uncle, Raymond Whitaker, who will be undergoing surgery soon. Also, pray for our brother in Christ, Emmet Wright, our sisters in Christ, Ruth Prytz, Esther Felsberg, and Donnae Blake. Pray also for those who travel.

God bless, and see you in the New Year!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Series A, Christmas 2, Series A January 2, 2011

Lessons for the Second Sunday after Christmas

1 Kings 3:4–15 ~ Solomon prayed for wisdom to govern God’s people.
Psalm 119:97–104 (antiphon vs. 99)
Ephesians 1:3–14 ~ God chose us in Christ to share in His spiritual blessings.
Luke 2:40–52 ~ As a boy, Jesus lingered in the Temple to do His Father’s work.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: Wisdom and Understanding
Two of the gifts of the Spirit mentioned by Isaiah (11:2) in connection with the Messiah, are wisdom and understanding. The young King Solomon recognized that he needed wisdom from God in order to govern God’s people. St. Paul explains that to be chosen by God and adopted into His family through Jesus, means to receive redemption through Christ’s blood along with all wisdom and understanding. Just as Jesus grew in wisdom and understanding as a young boy, so we as God’s children continue to grow spiritually and in the understanding of God’s will and ways.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Dear Lord Jesus, as a little boy you grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. Help me continue to grow in spiritual understanding all my life so that I may reflect your great love through me to others. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Riches and honor and even long life are gifts from God to be used for God’s glory and to bless His people with justice and peace.

OFFERING PRAYER: Father, in this Christmas season as we marvel at Your love,
Let us always know the reason You have blessed us from above
Is that we may be Your servants, bringing justice, hope, and peace
So the ones that You have chosen, may in Christ find their release.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: We see everything from our perspective, like children searching under the tree for their gifts and eager to open them first. We are troubled by inconveniences caused even by those who are dear to us. We turn wealth and long life into ends in themselves thinking they bring honor to us, rather than using them as means to honor the One who gives them by serving His people. And yet, God has chosen us in Christ Jesus, and brought us into His house to know and do His will! May we continue to grow in His grace!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

God's Perfect Plan of Salvation

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the Gospel lesson appointed for the first Sunday after Christmas. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Life doesn’t always work out as we had planned. I know that’s not exactly a news flash for those of us who have lived a few years on this earth. But still, we’re shocked when the course of our life takes a turn that we never planned for and never expected. Until they happen to us, we suffer under the illusion that life-changing, even life-shattering events always happen to someone else. But they don’t–they happen to us as well--and the entire course of our life is changed.

A young wife and mother is unexpectedly left with small children to raise when her husband dies. Chronic illness changes the plans of a couple who have waited their entire life for their golden years. Our adult children make decisions that we could have never foreseen—decisions that change the future that we had planned.

As we travel through this world on our way to our true, heavenly home, events big and small change the direction of our lives and the simple fact of the matter is that oftentimes, we are forced to go down roads not of our own choosing. Instead of the straight and easy road that we want–we find ourselves traveling a path of suffering and hardship.

So it was with the Holy Family who were also forced to go home another way–a way not of their own choosing—and yet a way of God’s guiding.

Now when the wise men had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.."

Life for Mary and Joseph started out hard and just got harder. At the beginning of their lives together there were all those painful questions and difficult events surrounding Mary’s pregnancy. Then they were forced to travel to Bethlehem in the late stages of her pregnancy. Then she had to deliver her first-born in a stable.

And now this flight into Egypt–away from all that was familiar and comfortable.
If I had been Joseph I would have been thinking that Murphy’s Law was invented for just for me. “What else can go wrong”, he must have thought to himself. But there was much more hardship still to come for God’s chosen family.

The king who ruled Judea at that time was a man by the name of Herod–a wicked king by even ancient standards. Herod had heard of the birth of the new born king of the Jews and was determined to kill this rival just as he had murdered his own sons and wives who got in the way of his ambition. Nothing would stand in his way this time--not even the death of every male child around Bethlehem two years old or younger.

Not only did it seem that Mary and Joseph and Jesus were at the mercy of one of the most powerful, evil men of their day, but we learn from the book of Revelation that Herod’s murder of the Holy Innocents, as this event has since come to be called, was not just the action of an evil king, but the plan of Satan to destroy the Messiah while he still a helpless child. Powerful, evil forces were allied against the Holy Family.

And while Mary and Joseph could not have known the cosmic dimensions to all these events–their loving heavenly Father did-- and his guiding hand was upon their lives. He had other plans for them–plans to bless and prosper them. He had prepared a way home for them that was even better than what they would have chosen for themselves.

The Good News for the Holy Family was that they were not at the mercy of terrible forces beyond their control at all. Instead, they were safe and secure in the hands of their loving heavenly Father who was guiding their lives and ordering history for their good.

God had already seen these events before the beginning of time and made provisions to accomplish his good and loving will in their lives. All of it—even the painful and unexpected-- working together according to God’s plan for their good and for the good of the world.

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more." But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: "He shall be called a Nazarene."

Centuries before Christ’s birth, God had promised through the prophet Hosea that he would call his Son out of Egypt and so he led the Holy Family to safety in that land. And again when Archelaus was ruling in Judea, God had already planned that they would find safe refuge in Nazareth so that his Son would be called a Nazerene—just as had been prophesied.

God took the evil that surrounded the Holy Family and worked it to their good. In every situation and moment, he directed the events and circumstances of their lives by his guiding hand so that they would be a blessing to them. Of course, God could have easily have prevented the whole situation. He could have changed the course of history so that Herod was never king–he could have directed the wise man so they never met up with Herod–he could have had his Son be born in a different time and place.

So many different paths the Lord could have taken in their lives. When we look at that situation it might seem as if we could have done the whole thing a lot better. But the Bible says that, “When the fullness of time had come” (that is, at just the right moment) “God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
God’s timing and God’s plan were perfect in the lives of the Holy Family—not only for their sake-- but for the sake of the salvation of the world.

An important part of God’s plan of salvation was for his Son to succeed in every place where humanity, and especially ancient Israel, had failed. Though the Israelites were led out of Egypt by the might of the out-stretched arm of the living God, through their disobedience and faithlessness, they failed to enter into the Promised Land.

But in this time, in this deliverance, God’s Son would not fail. He too would be called out of Egypt by the power and might of God’s guiding hand, but where his people had sinned, he, by perfect obedience and faithfulness to his heavenly Father, would deliver from sin and death all who put their faith and trust in him and he would lead them into the promised land with him.

Led by Jesus, we are on the way to that place at this very moment. But on our way home, there can be detours–changes in our travel plans for us too. I know that we would all very much prefer the smoothest most direct way to our heavenly home with no bumps or roadblocks along the way. But life doesn’t work out that way.

As those who follow Jesus Christ as his disciples, we must not think that we will receive better treatment than our Lord received. Just as the Christ child went home another way that was much more difficult, so will we who follow in his steps.

Like the holy family, we too are affected by the broken sinful world around us–we are seemingly at the mercy of events and people and circumstances beyond our control and not to our liking. We too are affected by the works of Satan who prowls this world like a roaring lion looking for those he can devour just as he once tried to devour the infant Jesus. We must never forget that there is a spiritual battle that rages around us and the course of our lives is affected by that conflict.

We struggle to live in a world broken by sin–experiencing fires and famines and disease. Our own sinful flesh leads us astray–sometimes years of our lives are lost as we wander through a haze of alcohol or drug abuse. And the devil and his angels work tirelessly to tempt us away from the narrow way that leads to eternal life. God did not zap Herod on the spot and God does not eliminate every evil and hardship in our path.

But that we suffer is not a sign of God’s angry judgment upon us–it is not God’s punishment of us for some sin. God punished Jesus once for all on the cross—in our place-- for our sins. The hardships we endure and the plans that go awry are simply a part of the life of a child of God who lives in a broken world-- just as they were for the sinless Christ Child. But just like him we are always safe in the guiding hands of our loving heavenly Father who fashions and shapes hardship and suffering for our eternal good.

The Bible says in Romans that God works all things for the good of those who love him. The Bible says in First Peter that hardships can be a sign of God’s presence on our lives. And in Hebrews the Bible says that God disciplines those he loves. When you have setbacks and detours in life I want you to remember that God sent the Holy Family home another way-- not to punish them, but to help them and protect them. In the same way, God’s guiding hand rests upon all of those who are his children by faith in Jesus.

Has your life taken an unexpected detour? Is it not going according to your plan? Do you find yourself at this moment on a road of suffering, sacrifice, and trial? Do you feel as if you are traveling down a deserted highway? You are not alone. God has not abandoned you and you can be confident that his guiding hand rules over your life at this very moment.

In fact, all of God’s faithful people have gone home in ways that they never expected–in ways that they never would have chosen for themselves. We cannot arrive at our heavenly home by always following the way of ease, safety, and comfort. But rather the Christian life involves fleeing evil, enduring hardship, and making sacrifices. That’s the way it is for all those who follow Jesus in a world broken by sin and death and held captive by the power of Satan.

But you are not alone on this earthly journey. God goes with you and God is in control. God led the Holy Family home another way to protect, help, and save them. He did it so that his perfect plan of salvation would go forth and his name would be glorified. May God’s guiding hand lead us home for the same reasons! Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

In The Beginning Was The Word-Christmas Day

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word on this Christmas Day is the Gospel lesson appointed for the day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That is the amazing, wonderful, saving story that we have been hearing this week of Christmas.

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent we heard this story told from Joseph’s perspective from Matthew. Last night we heard this story told from Mary’s perspective from Luke.

We heard about particular places that you can still visit today like Nazareth and Bethlehem. We heard about particular political rulers that you can read about in history books like Caesar Augustus and Herod. This story of the Word becoming flesh took place at a particular moment—in a particular place—among real people of history.

But today we learn that this story is in no way LIMITED to a particular place and time—it is not just a footnote of history that impacted a few ancient lives in an obscure part of the world.

Instead, we learn today from the Bible that the story of the Word who becomes flesh in Jesus of Nazareth stretches back into eternity for he is the eternal Second Person of the Holy Trinity-- and it stretches forward into eternity for he lives and reigns eternally at the Father’s right hand.

Matthew and Luke reveal the historical particulars about the birth of Jesus of Nazareth-- but it is John who reveals the cosmic significance of just exactly who it is that is born this day. The Bible says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Many thousands of years before this moment in history when the Word takes on flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, Moses, inspired by the Holy Spirit wrote about the beginning of time:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

And then in verse after verse Moses reveals how God brought the world into being—how he brought light out of darkness—how he brought life from an empty void—how he spoke-- and his powerful Word brought it forth. Light and life where before there was only darkness and emptiness—brought forth, not by an impersonal force—but by a person—the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who with the Father and the Holy Spirit was there at the beginning—who had always existed together as one true God.

And not only was he the One who brought life and light into being—he himself, in his very being, IS light and life—and everything in all of creation finds its existence and meaning and purpose in him.

Joseph was told by the angel of heaven that his Son would be: Immanuel. But it is John who reveals what that means: that Jesus is literally, physically “God with us”—not some disengaged, sterile first mover who merely set things into motion in the beginning—but at his birth God in the human being in the flesh of a newborn baby.

That is the cosmic reality behind his identity—but the question that must now be answered is: Why? Why was it necessary for God himself to enter into human history—why was it necessary for the Creator to become a part of the fabric of creation?

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

What we have in these words of John is the summary of the great tragedy of our human existence in this broken world. A world that was created by the Word of God—a universe that was enlightened and enlivened by the Second Person of the Holy Trinity—a human race that owes its existence moment by moment to the eternal Word—no longer, by nature knows him.

The very purpose of our lives—our existence—our presence in this world—has been mutilated and ruined by sin. We were created by the Word to live with God forever—to bask in his glorious light—to have fellowship with him as his children. We were called into being by the Second Person of the Holy Trinity for that purpose eternally.

But when Adam and Eve sinned, creation rebelled against her Creator. It was no longer light in which they lived-- but they tried to hide in darkness. It was no longer everlasting life they possessed-- but now they would die. The light and life that they had been granted by the One who is light and life personified was lost to them-- and not only was it lost to them but it was lost to all their children—lost to us along with the relationship that we were created to have with God.

That is why it was necessary that the Word—the Second Person of the Holy Trinity—God’s own Son who is Light and Life --entered into the world. Because these gifts had originally come from him—he was the only one who could restore them. But because the world no longer recognized him—it was necessary for him to be revealed.
That is why John the Baptist came preaching repentance of sins—that is why he pointed to Jesus and proclaimed him to be the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world—the only One who could restore what sin had destroyed by sacrificing his own perfect life on the cross as the reconciling work that would re-unite God and man.

That is what he had come to do—to restore that which he had originally created—a relationship between us and God which is that of a father with his children. The Bible says:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Later on in his ministry Jesus would explain to Nicodemus, one of the leaders of his people what he had come to do. He said: Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh and that which is born of spirit is spirit. In the beginning, mankind was created to be in perfect fellowship with God and live with him forever. That is who mankind was by nature in the beginning. But sin has ruined our human nature—we are no longer naturally God’s children—simply being born does not mean we are in fellowship with God. We must be born again by God to be his children.

The new birth that makes us God’s children comes only in one way: and that is by the power of God in those who receive Jesus in faith and believe in his name—who recognize him as the God who is with us and the God who saves us. This new birth cannot come to us in any other way but by our heavenly Father.

He is the One who brings us to himself in Holy Baptism—uniting us in his Son’s death and resurrection. It is the powerful voice of the Holy Spirit who works in our hearts every time the Good News about Jesus is preached that renews our faith. It is Jesus who makes himself present in the Sacrament of the Altar, applying the saving benefits of the cross to us personally and individually by giving us his body and blood to eat and drink.

What Jesus created us to be in the beginning—God’s sons and daughters—he has recreated us to be-- so that now, through faith in him, we are restored to the family of God- by God himself- in Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible says:

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.

In our sermon hymn, we asked the question that is the question of the ages—the question that must be asked and answered if we are to be saved: “What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping?” Who is this surrounded by livestock? Who is this worshiped by king and commoner alike? Who is this who nurses at his mother’s breast?

It is in these first verses from John’s Gospel that God the Holy Spirit gives the answer to that eternally important question: he is the Word which was from the beginning—he is the Son of the Father—he is Jesus, the Lord who saves—he is Christ the promised Messiah—he is God.

The Bible tells us that in the beginning, God walked with Adam and Eve—he knew them face-to-face and had perfect fellowship with him. But sin destroyed that relationship and from that moment on sinful man could not bear to look upon the glorious, holy face of God—and in fact, that sight would bring death—for that is the penalty for sin. Even a man as close to God as Moses could only look upon him from behind as he passed by.

The chasm that lies between our sin and God’s holiness remained an insurmountable barrier until that night two thousands years ago when Jesus was born. God’s grace reached out across that barrier and made a way for us back to God in his own Son. And the face of God that sinful man cannot bear to look upon was clothed in the precious face of a child that can be loved and cherished and adored.

That is why Jesus came as he did—so that once more we can draw near to God unafraid and unashamed. His unveiled glory that is too much for us to bear-- is now clothed in the flesh of a child and beckons us to come and bask in its presence.

Only one person can reveal God to us in this way—in the way that he desires to be known—the God of grace and truth and love who wants to be reconciled to his wayward children—and that person who reveals God ‘truly and fully’ is God himself in the person of his Son who lives and reigns at the Father’s right hand.

To know Jesus is to know God and to possess all of the gifts and blessings we were created to receive and retain forever: gifts of life and salvation and fellowship with God. These are the gifts that the Christ-Child gives and I pray they would be yours in abundance now and forever. Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

The Savior is Born! Christmas Eve

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word this Christmas Eve is the Gospel lesson appointed for the Day. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. St. Luke writes:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

You can read about Caesar Augustus and Cyrenius and Herod in history books. If you take a trip to the Middle East you can visit Bethlehem and Nazareth and Galilee. As Luke wrote the biography of our Lord’s life in his Gospel and the history of the early Christian church in the Book of Acts he took the greatest pains to carefully set the story of our salvation in concrete places and times and people. And so we know when and where it was that Mary traveled to Bethlehem to give birth to the Savior of the world a little over 2,000 years ago.

But tonight I want to begin our meditation on the Christmas story by traveling back in time 4,000 years before Mary to a different time and place (though no less real) and the story of a different woman—a woman named Eve.

Every mother has—at the very center of her heart—hopes and dreams for her children. From the deepest center of her being she is lovingly committed to her children’s spiritual and material welfare. And so reflect with me just for a moment what it must have been like for Eve to discover that-- not only had her sin destroyed her relationship with God and with her husband—but that the consequences of her sin would reverberate down through history to each and every one of her children-- in broken-ness and heartache and finally death. With her sin, she had destroyed a world and none of us can imagine what an unbearable, crushing burden that was for her.

But it was in that very moment—when the consequences of what she had done—began to dawn upon her—that God came to her rescue. He assured her that all was not lost—that one of her daughters would bear a Son—who would rescue her children from the consequences of her sin—who would destroy Satan and undo the havoc he had brought upon mankind. Truly, God promised, Eve would be the mother of all the living because one of her daughters would bear the One who is in himself, light and life.

That was the first Gospel promise that God made—and then he re-affirmed and renewed it again and again for the next four thousand years down to the moment where Luke tells of its fulfillment: AND IT CAME TO PASS. If we heard nothing else of the Christmas story—no angels from heaven—no adoring shepherds—no worshiping kings—eternity would not be enough to thank God for those words that fulfill a promise made four thousand years before: IT CAME TO PASS.

Every moment of history. Every technological innovation. The rise and fall of nations-- and the plans of great men—God had carefully worked together so that his promise of salvation was fulfilled --AND IT CAME TO PASS that when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that might receive adoption as sons. As mankind had begun—as sons and daughters of God—as God created them to be--so mankind would become once again through God’s Son who was born in Bethlehem. St. Luke writes:

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Our Lord’s birth is the pivotal moment—and he the pivotal person-- in all of human history. God’s saving plan took on the human flesh of a particular person in a particular place in a particular moment in time. What the world had been hoping for—praying for—searching for --was accomplished one dark night two thousand years ago –in- a –shelter- for- animals. You would think that such a moment would be marked by opulence and luxury—but it was not—it was cloaked in the deepest humility.

The humble nature of our Lord’s birth: his peasant mother—a rough manger for a crib—surrounded by barnyard animals—is not recorded by Luke to elicit our sympathy—but rather (from the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly life) to put flesh and bone on the words of our Lord—that he came not to be served—but to serve—and to give his life as a ransom of men—that he did not count equality with God something to be held onto—but made himself nothing—taking on the form of servant—entering into the world to die upon the cross and reconcile God and man—joining them together once again by his birth in our flesh—his atoning death upon the cross—and his glorious resurrection. St. Luke writes:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Already in these first moments of Jesus’ earthly life you can clearly see the reconciling work that he had come to do and still accomplishes in the world today. God’s angelic messengers tell the Good news of a Savior—to lowly men—and all of heaven rejoices to see that great chasm of sin and death that separates God and man bridged by the perfect, holy life of Jesus.

It is not an accident that the Good News of our Lord’s birth was first proclaimed to lowly shepherds. In that day and time they represented the least among men-- and in their lowliness they are representative of us all.

We may have all kinds of sinful pretenses—we may regard ourselves as a cut above everyone else—we may look down upon others—but who we truly are-- is who we are in God’s sight. And he says that, by nature, we are his enemies—by nature we are unworthy of the least of his many gifts—by nature we are the dust of the earth and to the dust we will return.

And yet God condescends to bestow upon the lowliest- the greatest gift of all—the gift of a Son—and in the angel’s announcement of this world-changing event (first to shepherds) we are promised that this gift of God’s Son—is a gift, even for us poor sinners present here tonight.

No longer do we have to stand before God in fear and shame—no longer does his great glory reveal only our lowliness—but the Gospel that is still proclaimed by God’s messengers assures us that the glad tidings of great joy that rang forth from the angels are for all people—even for us—and there is no longer any need to cower in fear-- because the gift of God’s Son has reconciled us to the Father and made us his children.

The Father’s saving plan is accomplished-- and just as the multitude of the heavenly host rejoiced that Christmas morning, knowing that the restoration of the world had begun—so do the heavenly hosts still rejoice with singing each time a lowly sinner is restored to God through faith in his Son.

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men were not just the words to the heavenly anthem sung by the angels at our Lord’s birth-- but they were the reality that Jesus accomplished.

God’s true glory is not the shaking of mountains and the roaring of the sea and the fire and lightening of Sinai—God’s true glory is the newborn baby of Bethlehem and the dying man of Calvary. And good will towards men really is God’s gracious attitude towards us on account of his Son-- and we really do have peace with him that passes all understanding.

Every bit of the precious gift of salvation that is given to us in Jesus, God intends be shared with others. St. Luke writes:

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

God has never promised an ongoing heavenly choir that will proclaim the greatness of his love to every time and place. That was a singular event seen by only a few lowly shepherds. And yet the message of that heavenly choir is a message that is meant by God to continue to ring out throughout the world. It is a message that he has entrusted to us to share with others.

Each Lord’s Day we are invited to do just as the shepherds did—to come and see. We come into the presence of the Lord and we hear his voice. In Holy Absolution we receive the gift of forgiveness that he came to bring. In Holy Communion we stand in his presence as he comes to us in bread and wine just as surely as the shepherds stood by Jesus’ manger. We worship him as they did.

But we do not remain here, self-satisfied that we have received the gifts of the Christ-Child while so many in the world around us remain in darkness. Instead, we go out into the world just like the shepherds did, bearing the Good News that there is peace on earth and God is favorably disposed towards all people on account of his Son Jesus.

The Lord has made this Good News known to us and he has entrusted us with the mission to make it known to the world. And so our worship of Jesus—which is real and deeply personal, is never an end unto itself—always has a missionary focus because God’s love in Christ is not just for a few—but for the world. Luke writes:
Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

As it was for Mary and the shepherds, so it still is for the church today. The gift that God has given in his Son Jesus Christ is for each and every one of us. It is intensely personal. We know our own sins that need forgiving. We know our own worries that need comforting. We know our own burdens that need lifting. Just like Mary-- tonight we ponder in our hearts what Good News it is for us that Christ is born.

But our individual faith in God’s Son always draws us into a worshiping, witnessing community of believers just like the shepherds—glorifying and praising God for Jesus and sharing that Good News with the world. May God grant that this Christmas season will be an opportunity for us to be renewed in our own faith—but also re-committed to the church and her mission in the world. Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Series A, Christmas 1

Lessons for the First Sunday after Christmas

Isaiah 63:7–14 ~ Even though God rescued His people from Egypt, they rebelled against Him.
Psalm 111 (antiphon v. 91ab)
Galatians 4:4–7 ~ In God’s good time He sent His Son.
Matthew 2:13–23 ~ God rescued Jesus from Herod by taking Him to Egypt until it was safe.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: It Takes One to Save One.
There is a kind of closeness that is born from sharing similar experiences. God our Redeemer became one of us to rescue us from our plight of sin. Isaiah describes this powerful change: 'In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them.' St. Paul also: 'God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law.' The same repetition of his people's experience is summed up in the Gospel: 'Out of Egypt I called my Son.' God's Son became one of us that we might be made children of God.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord Jesus, I celebrate the mystery of your birth in the flesh and wonder at the miracle of my spiritual birth! As you took on my flesh and sin, let me receive your spirit and righteousness, not only by the word of God, but also in my daily deeds. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: Jesus paid a price greater than silver or gold to rescue us from bondage to our sins and made us fellow heirs of life. All the resources of our lives are dedicated to the new life He has provided for us in service to His love.
OFFERING PRAYER: Lord, in the fulness of Your time and the power of Your Son,
You rescued us from sin and made us children of Your grace.
From slavery to service, You have turned us, every one;
Now use us as Your messengers in this and every place.

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Whether we are trapped under the curse of God’s law or by fear of tyrants or in slavery to hard rulers, God comes to our rescue. Sometimes we seem to prefer the bondage, as the Israelites did when they rebelled and grieved the Holy Spirit. God sent His Son into Egypt to escape the danger of Herod’s anger. He called Him out of Egypt to rescue us from the power of sin. We are redeemed by the One who was born under the burden of the law to rescue us from the slavery of our sin.

This Week at Mt. Olive

Good morning, fellow redeemed!

Today, the Lutheran Church commemorates Katharina von Bora Luther, the wife of Martin Luther. Yesterday, the Church commemorated Adam and Eve. On December 17, the Church set aside a day for Daniel the Prophet and the Three Young Men. On December 6, the Church commemorated Nicholas of Myra, and December 7 was the day for Ambrose of Milan. Why should the Church set aside all these days? Why not, many churches do, and as many Christians advocate, focus on the future while downplaying or even denigrating the past? The fact of the matter is that our culture has been so trained to view "new" as "improved", while believing that old is never quite as good.

I would heartily disagree, and so would the founding reformers of the Lutheran church. Here is what our Lutheran Confessions say: "For here a threefold honor is to be approved. The first is thanksgiving. For we ought to give thanks to God because He has shown examples of mercy; because He has shown that He wishes to save men; because He has given teachers or other gifts to the Church. And these gifts, as they are the greatest, should be amplified, and the saints themselves should be praised, who have faithfully used these gifts, just as Christ praises faithful business-men, 5] Matt. 25:21, 23. The second service is the strengthening of our faith; when we see the denial forgiven Peter, we also are encouraged to believe the more that grace 6] truly superabounds over sin, Rom. 5:20. The third honor is the imitation, first, of faith, then of the other virtues, which every one should imitate according to his calling."

In commemorating the saints, those who have gone before us in the faith, we are given the opportunity to praise and thank God for yet another blessing upon blessing. By the way, three saints' days follow Christmas, ones most would think ill-placed because of the syrupy, sweet season. More on that later.

O God, our refuge and our strength, You raised up Your servant Katharina to support her husband in the task to reform and renew Your Church in the light of Your Word. Defend and purify the Church today and grant that, through faith, we may boldly support and encourage our pastors and teachers of the faith as they proclaim and administer the riches of Your grace made known in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

As one would expect, there is a certain amount of business for the coming week. That always seems to accompany the weeks before Christmas and Easter. When asked how much he prayed each day, Martin Luther is reported to have said that he prayed two hours each day, unless he was really busy. Then, he said, he prayed three hours. I encourage you in this week of fevered activity to maintain and even increase your time of devotion. One way to accomplish that is to take the Small Catechism each day and read, and reflect, on the Second Article and its explanation.

A big thank you to Katie Jennings, Matthew Catherman, and Dru Blanc who helped with the skits over the last four weeks. Thanks especially to Trevor Johnson, and Jonathan and Michael Jennings who served as the permanent cast of the skit. I praise God for your service and for the message that you were able to proclaim!

This week at Mt. Olive, I'm not sure of the Zumba schedule, so I'm going to include it in the schedule below.

Tuesday, the youth of Mt. Olive will be engaged in cookie baking and decorating. Many of these cookies will be taken to shut ins later in the day on a caroling trip.

Thursday, the cast of the Christmas program will be having a dress rehearsal, starting at 6:30 p.m. We're trying to make it through the program twice that night. A couple of things need to be said here. Yesterday, the cast of the program rehearsed briefly. Nobody gave them clues. The children simply did what they were supposed to do. I was definitely impressed! Second, the adults who have helped with the Christmas program rehearsals this year are, like those who have helped in years past, great blessings from God to me!

Finally, below is the service schedule for the week.

Prayer Concerns:
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Dru Blanc, Ryan Radtke (Corpus Christi), Andrew Epley, Michael Baker (reservists who have seen deployment in the last couple of years). Remember to praise God for these people, and for their service in protecting nation.
Emet Wright, Ruth Prytz, Donnae Blake, Ann Cleveland, Raymond Whitaker (my uncle)
Jennifer Doerk at the birth of her daughter Regan last week
The children who will be presenting the Christmas story in the program this week, and those who will be reading in the Candlelight Service
The Church throughout the world as she proclaims the birth of her Lord at His first advent, and looks for His second advent
Those who travel

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, December 20
6 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

Tuesday, December 21
9:30 a.m.
Youth Cookie Baking and Caroling begins

Wednesday, December 22
9:30 a.m.
Bible Study (Deuteronomy)

6 p.m.
Zumba Aerobics

Thursday, December 23
6:30 p.m.
Christmas Program rehearsal

Friday, December 24
Christmas Eve
6:30 p.m.
Sunday School Christmas Program

11 p.m.
Christmas Eve Candlelight Service

Saturday, December 25
Christmas Day
9:30 a.m.
Christmas Divine Service

Sunday, December 26
8 and 10:30 a.m.
Divine Service

9:15 a.m.
Sunday School/Bible Class

God bless!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Word of the Lord has Been Fulfilled!

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is Matthew’s account of our Lord’s birth. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The facts of our Lord’s birth are confessed by nearly a billion Christians each and every Sunday in churches around the world: Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and protestant, confessing together: “I believe in Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”.

These words of the ecumenical creeds are not a theological construct (that might or might not convey the truth)-- nor are they the compromise of a church council (designed to please everyone because they say nothing). Instead, they are the words of Holy Scripture. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Matthew wrote:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

Both Luke and Matthew record the miraculous facts of our Lord’s birth: that by the power of the Holy Spirit, without the aid of a human father, within the womb of the Blessed Virgin, a child was conceived and began to grow.

That has been the universal teaching of the Christian church from the very beginning-- but also from the very beginning this doctrine of the virgin birth of our Lord came under attack.

Early on, it came under attack from Jewish rabbis who wrote the most hateful things imaginable about the Mother of our Lord. And then as time went on, the attacks came from people within the boundaries of the church herself—from teachers and scholars and theologians who felt they had a duty to remove the miraculous from Christianity to make it more plausible, more believable, for people with a modern, scientific world view.

But when the miraculous is removed from Christianity—when there is no Virgin birth; no incarnation; and no resurrection--Christianity simply ceases to exist. Christianity by its very definition is the story of God acting in human history in mighty and miraculous ways and when that is denied, Christianity becomes just another human religion of moral precepts with a really wise teacher who lived a good life and now lies in his grave offering no real peace or hope to those who follow him.

But that is not the Christian faith revealed in Holy Scripture or taught in the church. In fact, the faith taught in Holy Scripture instructs us to expect the miraculous when it comes to our Lord. Matthew wrote that:

“All this took place (that is the miraculous nature of our Lord’s conception and birth) to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us) "

The virgin birth of Jesus was not something the early Christians dreamed up to make Jesus more than he was. The miraculous nature of the Messiah’s birth had been prophesied 700 years before and virgin births were just as unlikely in Isaiah’s day as they were in Jesus’ day and as they are now. Ancient people were not gullible fools—they knew how babies came into the world. But the birth of Jesus was not just any birth—it was the birth of God’s Son—and it would be different.

From the moment of his conception within the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was fully man--taking his human flesh from his Blessed Mother as every baby does. But he was also fully God—God in the flesh of a tiny human embryo barely visible to the naked eye: Immanuel—God with us.

The church has always confessed this miracle of God becoming Man in the titles they bestowed upon the Virgin Mary. The orthodox church calls her the Theotokos—the God-bearer-- and western catholics—including Lutherans—call her the Mother of God—not because she came before God-- and not to lift her up above her humble dignity which is her true glory-- but because the Bible teaches that from the very moment of his conception in her womb, Jesus was God in flesh.

That is the real miracle of all the miracles of Christmas: that the all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere present, eternal second person of the Holy Trinity entered into human flesh: Immanuel—God with us.

In ancient days, God had raised up deliverer after deliverer for his people—faithful men who acted on his behalf: Moses and David and Cyrus and the prophets and the judges. And they fulfilled their God-given tasks. But they could not do the one thing that humanity really needed—the one thing that would endure forever--and that is to deliver us once and for all from our mortal enemies of sin, death, and the devil.

The world around us may refuse to even think in these kinds of moral and spiritual categories of sin and evil and so they take these things lightly—but God does not take sin lightly—and neither did Joseph. Matthew writes about Joseph’s reaction to what he supposed was Mary’s sin.

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

Like every other faithful Israelite, Joseph knew the promises of God going all the way back to Genesis that God would raise up a deliverer for his people. He knew from the prophet Isaiah that the Messiah would be born of a Virgin and from the prophet Micah that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Joseph knew from Moses that one day God’s Messiah would be born from the seed of a woman. He just didn’t expect that it would be Mary.

Mary and Joseph were betrothed—an ancient combination of engagement and marriage. An agreement would be reached by the couple’s family that two young people would be married and from that point on they would be married--legally and in the eyes of God-- while their wedding night and the physical consummation of the marriage would take place at a later date.

And so when Mary became pregnant before their wedding night, there was no other possibility in Joseph’s mind except that she had been unfaithful.

Matthew tells us that that Joseph was a just and righteous man--a faithful child of God who trusted in the promise of a Messiah and who lived his life of faith in holy obedience to God’s law. There was no way that he would have a part in Mary’s sin-- but such was his compassion for her that he would deal with her as gently as possible.

In Joseph, God chose a man after his own heart to be the guardian of his Son. There are many lessons to learn from Joseph’s life but his approach to sin and sinners might be the most important for us to follow as Christians-- for it reveals our heavenly Father’s attitude towards sin and sinners.

As children of God, justified by grace through faith in God’s Messiah, we have the same obligation as Joseph to live our lives guided by the rule of God’s law. We have not been set free to live as we see fit and as our flesh tempts us. Rather we have been set free to serve God and one another, living lives guided and informed and shaped by the Ten Commandments.

And so among us there ought to be a keen desire to live lives that are holy and pleasing to God, having nothing to do with sin. Lives just like Joseph’s.
But we also ought to look compassionately upon the moral failures of others like Joseph did with Mary. We have a tendency to get that turned around—judging others harshly while forgiving ourselves. But Joseph shows us God’s way of mercy. Joseph made plans to deal with Mary as gently as possible, not excusing what he thought was her sin, but at the same time showing genuine compassion for her. In this attitude, the heart of the heavenly Father towards sinners filled his own heart.

God loves us-- but he does not love our sin. So we in the church, as we strive to live holy lives, are to hate the sin in ourselves and in others, while at the same time loving the sinner and dealing mercifully and compassionately with them—like Joseph did with Mary.

And so Joseph resolved in his own heart to divorce Mary quietly as was his right under the law but before he could do so, he discovered that Mary had not sinned at all-- but rather had been the object of a miracle. Matthew wrote that:

As Joseph considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

That the new born baby of Bethlehem was “Immanuel” might not be such Good News for us if we did not know that the baby was also named Jesus. After all, since Jesus is Immanuel, God is with us: with us when we lose our temper--with us when we say unkind things—with us when we are angry and bitter in our hearts—when we are unforgiving. But the Good News for us is that God is not just with us—he has saved us. That is what the name “Jesus” means—the LORD saves.

Jesus was born to save all of us from sin and death. His miraculous birth by the power of the Holy Spirit served that salvific purpose. He was born perfect—the new Adam unstained by inherited sin. Where Adam eventually fell victim to Satan’s schemes and sinned—where we have sinned--Jesus overcame temptation every moment of his life and lived the life of holiness that God requires all of us to live.

That holy life was offered up upon the cross as the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. For every single sin that has ever been committed—for every single person who has ever lived—Jesus laid down his life. Our salvation has been won by his holy life and death on the cross and glorious resurrection and a new life has been given to us as a free gift of God’s grace in place of the old. Joseph shows us what that new life of faith in God’s Messiah looks like. Matthew wrote:

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

We see in Joseph’s life that the new life that comes through faith in the Messiah is a life of obedience and sacrifice for Christ’s sake. At God’s command through his angel, Joseph obediently took Mary into his home as his wife.

In many ways this was not an easy thing to do. There would be a lot of malicious gossip in the small town of Nazareth. Joseph would be subject to ugly ridicule. But as a child of God, Joseph knew that he had not only been saved from something by the birth of the Messiah—but for something—and that was to lead a life of obedience to the Lord’s will-- and so he did as the Lord commanded.

So it is for us. Christmas is a time to rejoice in what God has done for us in sending his Son to save us from the enemies of sin, death, and the power of the devil. But it is also a time to be renewed in our faith and rededicate our lives to him—a time to remember that God has set us free: not to live life as we see fit, but to live for him.

During this holy season we come in faith to the manger and know that in the Baby of Bethlehem-- God has saved us from our sins. But we also need to know that he has saved us for a purpose: so that we can live a different kind of life—a life like Joseph’s—obedient to the Lord’s will. That will be a sacrifice for us but it’s always been that way for the Lord’s people. It certainly was for Joseph.

When Joseph took Mary into his home as his wife, he still did not make use of his rights as a husband because he did not want there to be any doubt that the child that God had entrusted to his care was anything but a child conceived and born by a miracle. And so Joseph sacrificed that which was rightfully his for the sake of the mission of God to save the world.

So it is for us. The very center of our lives as disciples is his call to take up our cross and follow him. The cross MEANS sacrifice—even sacrifice of those things that are rightfully ours. We sacrifice our money for the work of the Gospel. We sacrifice our comfort zone to share the Good News of Christ with others. We sacrifice our autonomy in marriage and family to serve those closest to us. We sacrifice our pride as we forgive those who have wounded us.

These sacrifices are the true Christmas gifts that we give back to God in thanksgiving for the Christmas gift we have first received from him—the gift of Jesus—our Immanuel—God with us. Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Joy of the Ransomed

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the Old Testament lesson appointed for the third week of Advent. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

At this time of the year we are overwhelmed with media images designed to manipulate us into feelings of joy and delight. The perfect, smiling family gathered around the table for their holiday feast. The beautiful young woman kissing the handsome young man and thanking him for his perfect gift of a diamond necklace. The cherubic carolers crunching their way through glittering snow up to a New England cottage in a scene suitable for Norman Rockwell’s signature.

These are the cultural Christmas images that we see in every possible venue throughout this season. And as we draw nearer and nearer to December 25, the refreshment and beauty and joy promised in these images-- seem to fade farther and farther away into the distance as the reality of living real human lives in a broken world comes closer and closer.

The family won’t be together for Christmas because physical or emotional distance. Finances this year are not what they’ve been in the past and so there won’t be as many presents as last year. Health concerns make us wonder if this will be our last Christmas together. And so on-- right up until Christmas morning when we wake up wondering how we could have missed it-- and what went wrong-- and why we don’t feel like the media images say we ought to feel?

The answer to those questions is very simple: there is no Christ in these cultural Christmas images.

Though the world does its best to convince us otherwise, the real hope and peace and joy of the Christmas season does not come from stores or meals-- or even from families and good health.

The hope and peace and joy of Christmas come from the promises of God fulfilled in the Baby of Bethlehem: the sure and certain sign that our God is the God of kept promises who has sent his Son into human flesh to ransom us from sin and sorrow. That gift of a Son—that good news of salvation--is what gives this season its hope and peace and joy.

And if you have no family- and if your health is failing- and if your finances are stretched thin-- it will not matter. Your Christmas will not be a disappointment--if you fix your hearts and minds and dreams and desires on the manger—on what God has promised in his son Jesus. If Jesus alone is the reason for your season then: “everlasting joy shall be upon your head; you will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” That was the promise of God to his people through his prophet Isaiah.

For years the Israelites set their hearts and minds, dreams and desires on the things of the world. They believed the message of the unbelieving world around them who said that what really mattered was wealth and power-stuff they could see and touch.

Such was the deceptive power of this message that even in the dark moment in which Isaiah lived, when God’s righteous judgment was almost upon them, the Israelites were still hoping for some kind of political solution to their national problems.

None would be found. They would undergo the Lord’s hard discipline at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians. But as serious and painful as their chastisement would be--and as much as it would seem to crush the very life from them--God wouldn’t abandon his people-he himself would come to them--judge and punish their enemies--and set his people free. Isaiah promised:

“Strengthen the weak hand and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.

God kept his promise–he always does. He raised up a deliverer for them in Cyrus who would set them free and return them to their homes and place of worship.

Though there was much hardship for them to endure until that moment of freedom, they knew that God had already made plans for their release from slavery and their return home-- and so those years of waiting were filled with peace and hope and joy in what was to come.

As wonderful as that return from exile was for the ancient people of God--it was still merely a sign of something greater to come 700 years later as God himself, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, entered into the world to set us free from sin and death and bring us to our heavenly home.

God’s divine vengeance and retribution over our sins was poured out upon his own Son and his shed blood on the cross was the ransom price that was paid to redeem the world from sin and death–to set us free and bring us to our heavenly home.

And yes, just like the ancient Israelites, there is still hardship for us to endure until we make it to our heavenly home–but it is joy and gladness, not sorrow and sighing, that characterizes the life of a child of God-- for we know that the One who keeps his promises will lead us home-- just like he led the Israelites home.

You can imagine the joy of the people of God as they set out for home from their slavery in Babylon. As though it were already accomplished, Isaiah wrote of that glad day when they would begin their journey through wilderness towards home:

A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

You can almost hear the singing and thanksgiving that must have filled their hearts and mouths as, step by step, they rejoiced in the God who redeems and saves and sets his people free.

Just think about what they were leaving behind: The indignities that they faced as they lived in slavery. The loneliness of being separated from loved ones and the presence of the Lord in his temple. The sinful ways of their captors. All of it being left behind. Why wouldn’t they rejoice? It must have been like waking up from a bad dream!

But it was a long trip home and they grew weary along the way. Still, they were going home-- and the hope that sustained them day after day on that long journey-- was to once again stand upon Mt. Zion in the Lord’s presence.

In these verses, Isaiah tells us not only what was true for the children of Israel, but what is true for all of God’s people. It’s our story too. The Lord has redeemed us and set us free from slavery to sin and death. He has raised up a deliverer for us in the person of his Son Jesus Christ and set our feet on that narrow way that leads to eternal life.

And yes, there is still a long way to go--we still have to live as strangers and pilgrims in this dark and dying world. We are ridiculed for believing the promises of God. We are separated by death from brothers and sisters in Christ. We witness the sinful ways of those who deny the Lord’s will and reject his redemption. We experience our own share of the world’s broken-ness.

But the Lord has set our feet on the way home–on the way of holiness that leads to a new heaven and a new earth where we will live in the presence of God forever with the crown of everlasting joy on our head.

As we journey to our heavenly home, we are called to walk each step of that journey home in holiness–living our lives just like our Lord lived his life–set apart from the sinful ways of the world around us–set apart for the Lord’s service–set apart to speak his Word of joyful hope-- knowing that one day soon we will stand in his presence.

That is the life we live-- and that is the hope we have-- and so we must take the warning of Isaiah seriously, that no unclean person will journey on that way-- but only those whose sins are washed clean and made white by the blood of the Lamb.

It is a long journey and like the children of Israel we grow weary along the way–we lose patience and falter in our faith—we are tempted by the deceitful images and false promises of the unbelieving culture around us. Joy and gladness seem to be a challenge for us at times. So what was it that sustained the children of Israel on their way home? It was the Lord’s promise of what awaited them.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

That’s what sustains us and strengthens us on our journey to our heavenly home as well–the vision of a new heaven and a new earth promised in God’s Word–a new, eternal life in Christ’s presence where evil has been destroyed–where there is no more suffering or sorrow--want or need--only everlasting, joyous life.

Fixing our eyes of faith on that promise, we are called by God to reveal that wonderful reality in our lives right now by alleviating as much sorrow here on earth as we possibly can–by sharing the glad Good News of our coming King with others-- and by showing forth in our lives what a joyous blessing it is to be God’s children.

The Good News for us tonight is that this vision of what already is--and what will one day be-- is no media image that will fade away–leaving us sorrowful and empty and disappointed. It is a rock-solid promise from the “God of kept promises” and it shapes our lives every step of our journey home.

As the Holy Spirit directs our eyes away from cultural Christmas images and to the Bethlehem manger where all the promises of God are found to be true--we take to heart the promise of Isaiah: We shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. May God grant you a joyous Christmas for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Rev. Franke's Theme Thoughts

Series A, Advent 4

Lessons for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 7:10–17 ~ God’s sign of peace to Ahaz is also the promise of our Savior’s birth.
Psalm 24 (antiphon v. 7)
Romans 1:1–7 ~ The good news promised through God’s prophets is fulfilled in Jesus, our Lord.
Matthew 1:18–25 ~ Joseph, agonizing over Mary’s pregnancy, was reassured by the angel.

GATHERING THE TEXTS: God's Power in Love
While Syria and Samaria prepared to attack, King Ahaz of Judah was given a sign of God's love so he could wait patiently: Immanuel - "God is with us." St. Paul introduced himself to the Romans as an apostle set apart to proclaim the Gospel of God's love in Christ Jesus, descendant of David and Son of God. When Joseph struggled with his loyalty to God's law and his love for Mary, God answered in Jesus: God himself would save his people from their sins.

PRAYER BEFORE THE SERVICE: Lord, stir me up with Your mercy so that I may be comforted by Your love in Christ my Savior. Keep me ready to welcome Him always; help me live so that my faith is active in love toward my neighbors at all times. Amen.

STEWARDSHIP THOUGHT: God is with us in the person of Christ Jesus, to help us through hard decisions without oppressing others. We are free to deal with others in loving ways, as resources to our neighbors in their bondage, inviting them to the freedom provided in the good news of God’s redeeming presence in their lives.

OFFERING PRAYER: Dear Lord, by the sign of Your love and a messenger’s Word,
Even Joseph was bold to take Mary as wife
And to name Your Son ‘Jesus,’ Your Gift to the world!
Make us bold to proclaim Your sweet message of Life!

CONVICTION AND COMFORT: Our lives are often beset by turmoil and conflict. Hard decisions twist us between alternatives, none of which are desirable. Left to our own choices we either indulge ourselves or take advantage of others, or both. God has promised to be with us in these hard times as well as the good ones. He fulfilled that promise in the birth of Jesus, the promised One, called Immanuel - ‘God with us.’ Trusting in His promise we are joined to His resurrection and rescued from the bondage of sin and death.

Monday, December 13, 2010

This Week at Mt. Olive

Today is Gaudete Sunday in Advent, the Sunday of rejoicing. Today, we rejoice as the commemoration of our Lord Jesus' First Advent nears. Over the past few weeks, we've been paying attention to the texts of Romans. Romans isn't usually at the top of the list when considering Advent, but the apostle St. Paul has a way of guiding us into the ways of preparation for our Lord's arrival.

The cause of rejoicing in today's text (Romans 5:1-11) is the hope given us in our Lord Jesus Christ. Many translations say, "Hope does not disappoint." A better rendering is this: Hope does not put to shame. The hope of the resurrection in Jesus Christ, the event of our Lord's Second Advent, does not leave us with egg or mud on the faces of His people, just as the First Advent is the source of unending joy in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

O God the Holy Spirit, keep us ever watchful for the return of our Lord Christ, that we may rejoice in His appearing, even as we rejoice in His gifts now. Amen

The Lutheran Women's Missionary League (LWML) Christmas Dinner is being held Tuesday evening at Frank's Spaghetti House on Leopard at 6:30 p.m. If you haven't registered and wish to attend, please call the Church Office at first light tomorrow morning!

Tuesday, also, Mt. Olive Lutheran Church will be the starting site for the Corpus Christi Christmas Bicycle Ride. I believe the ride starts about 7 p.m. and is around 6 miles in length. Last week, I asked for donations so we could provide each rider, as our guest, with a bottle of water. Currently, we have three cases of water (72 bottles) with an expectation of about 150 riders. If you're able to provide a case of water (some of the drinking water at HEB is $3 per case!), please bring it by the church office by Tuesday morning.

Wednesday will be the last Advent Midweek Services for Advent 2010. Midday Prayer is held at 12:15 p.m., and Advent Vespers is held at 7:15 p.m.

Thursday, Mt. Olive Lutheran School will host its annual Christmas program and celebration.

Finally, one extra rehearsal for the Christmas Pageant is needed. This will be held Sunday, December 19. Plan on eating lunch at the church - it will be provided - right after late service, and practicing at 12 p.m. We'll be done by 1:30 p.m., which will give the youth plenty of time to get to Nutcracker for the 3 p.m. matinee.

My thanks to the skit actors for their service so far. We have one skit left, and it's anybody's guess what will happen then (okay, one other person and I know).

Prayer Concerns:
Kelly Lyons (Preston's dad) undergoing treatment
Raymond Whitaker, my uncle, undergoing tests
Ann Cleveland, hospitalized
Those who serve in our armed forces and their families: Rob Vadney (Afghanistan), Richard Rhode (North Carolina), John Sorensen, Ryan Radtke, Dru Blanc (Corpus Christi)
The home bound of our church during this holiday season
The Altar Guild (they're busy during Advent)
The Sunday School children and the young people of Mt. Olive, as they prepare to lead the Christmas Eve services
The Church throughout the world as she prepares to celebrate her Lord's First Advent, while looking for His Second Advent

This Week at Mt. Olive:
Monday, December 13
6 p.m.

Tuesday, December 14
6:30 p.m.
LWML Christmas Dinner at Frank's Spaghetti House

Christmas Bicycle Ride

Wednesday, December 15
8:30 a.m.
School Chapel

9:30 a.m.
Bible Study

12:15 p.m.
Advent Midday Prayer

6 p.m.

7:15 p.m.
Advent Vespers

Thursday, December 16
7 p.m.
School Christmas Program

Sunday, December 19
8 and 10:30 a.m.
Divine Service

9:15 a.m.
Sunday School/Bible Class

12 p.m.
Christmas Program Practice

2 p.m.
Youth to Nutcracker

God bless!
Pastor Kevin Jennings (PKJ)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Root and Branch of Jesse

The text for our meditation on God’s Holy Word is the Old Testament lesson appointed for the second week of Advent. I bring you grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hope is the theological virtue of looking forward to the future with a confident expectation that heaven and eternal life are still to come for us as the children of God. It is the firm conviction that—come what may—God is for us and will bring us to himself.

This hope we have as Christians is based upon the promises of God. The Bible says that we are to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hope is meant by God to be his cure for discouragement, depression and despair. And yet all of us are tempted this way at times. Why is that?

It is because we have based our confidence about the future upon things that we can see and touch and experience. We put our hope in a retirement plan or social security only to see them face insolvency. We put our hope in vitamins and check-ups and healthy eating only to face an incurable disease. We put our hope in our nation’s might and power only to discover that it can’t really protect us from the evil in the world.

In hope that is misplaced -comes discouragement, depression, and despair. That is what the people of Isaiah’s day were facing. God raised up the Assyrians to chastise his people and punish them for their sinful disobedience. Despite their confidence in wealth and military might and strategic alliances—the northern kingdom fell. 140 years later the southern kingdom fell to the Babylonians and the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. The dynasty of Davidic kings came to an end.

Isaiah was called by God to prophesy in those days—to warn Judah about what was to come in God’s judgment-- but also to comfort them with the good news that judgment was not God’s last Word—but that even from the midst of ruins—God was able to bring blessings. Those blessings were still in the future—but they were so certain and sure that the people of God could hope even in the midst of dark days.

Isaiah’s words still have that same purpose—to give God’s people hope—and even more so for us than them--because we know many of his promises to be fulfilled. And so tonight, as we listen to God’s prophet speak of the Root and Branch of Jesse, we can set aside doubt, despair, and depression and look forward to the future with hope. Isaiah prophesied:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

Very few things look as hopeless and desolate as a clear-cut forest—to see a place that was filled with towering plant life turned into stumps and mud-- is just heart-breaking and thankfully it’s a lumbering practice largely abandoned in our country.

But that’s how things looked in Isaiah’s day. Those giants that God raised up in David and Solomon and their offspring no longer ruled God’s people. Instead, Israel was ruled by wicked men-- and Judah was ruled by men who tried to have it both ways when it came to God and their pagan neighbors. None of them inspired hope in God’s people.

But Isaiah promised that from the desolation that was the Davidic line brought low, God would raise up new life—a shoot from the stump of Jesse (David’s father) who would be anointed with the Spirit—and he would rule with justice and restore creation and redeem the world.

700 long years later, in the city of Bethlehem where David was born to Jesse, two descendants of David, Joseph and Mary, delivered a baby named Jesus—the virgin-born fulfillment of that promise of Isaiah made long before—the one upon whom the Spirit of God would rest. Isaiah promised:

The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

We know very little of Jesus’ life until he was thirty years old when he was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River and the Spirit came to rest upon him in the form of a dove and the voice of God from the heavens declared: “You are my beloved Son. With you I am well pleased.” Throughout his earthly life he was led and guided by the Holy Spirit life as no one before or since. He said of himself: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim Good News.” He conducted his ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And not only was he anointed with the Holy Spirit for his work as Messiah, he was the giver of the Holy Spirit to all who trusted in him. John the Baptist told the crowds that Jesus was the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathed on his chosen twelve and gave them the Holy Spirit. At his ascension, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit upon the whole church.

The only cure for the spirit of discouragement, depression, and despair that threatens to destroy hope in us-- is to know Jesus Christ- and be filled with the Holy Spirit- and receive his gifts of wisdom and understanding and counsel and might and knowledge and the fear of the Lord. These are the spiritual gifts that help us to live in hope towards the future and in holy obedience to the Lord’s rule here and now. Isaiah said:

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

Last week we talked about how in the Advent season we hear promises from God’s Word that are “even now and not yet”—that is, there were promises fulfilled when Jesus came the first time and their will be promises fulfilled when he comes again—but all of them ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.

That is what we have here in these verses. When Jesus comes again in glory he will judge the living and the dead. The earthly injustice, inequality, and animosity that robs us of hope-- will be dealt with. All people who have ever lived will undergo this final judgment. There will be no hiding the truth about ourselves from others or from Jesus-- for what is true about us in the deepest recesses of our hearts will be laid bare.

Those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb—who are clothed in his perfect righteousness—will be commended for the good they have done while on earth and enter into eternal life. But those who never had a part in the Savior’s life—those who tried to cover their sin under a cloak of self-righteousness-- will be shown for the wicked people they really were in God’s sight and given over to eternal death.

That judgment is still to come. But in a very real way every person who lives on this earth is already judged and it has been that way going back to the Messiah’s birth. The wise men and shepherds worshiped him and were right in God's sight. Herod tried to kill him and was guilty in God’s sight. During his earthly ministry many came to him in faith and were right in God's sight. But many of the religious leaders and Pontius Pilate rejected him and remained in their sin.

So it still is today. Those who believe in Jesus are innocent in God’s sight—those who don’t, are guilty and remain in their sin. Jesus is the absolute dividing line—the measure of judgment—between those who are innocent and those who are guilty.

The only difference between today --and judgment day-- is that this day is a day of God’s grace when the guilty still have an opportunity to forsake their sins and receive God’s forgiveness in Jesus and live with him in everlasting peace. Isaiah prophesied about that day when evil comes to an end:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

The scene that we have here is one of those Messianic blessings that is still in the future---the restoration of God’s good creation which has been destroyed by sin.

A couple of weeks ago in the adult bible class we had a question about why our physical resurrection matters since our soul goes to heaven when we die. It was a good question and the answer is that God created us with bodies and souls—he created a world where mankind and nature were in perfect harmony—a world in which there was not death at all. That is what Jesus came into the world to redeem and restore and renew.

His own resurrection from the dead is the beginning of that—the first-fruits of a harvest of life that will follow—not just in mankind but in all creation. Death is not the end for us and destruction is not the end of the world—we will rise from our graves and there will be a new heaven and a new earth—all of it unaffected by the sin, death, and devil that destroyed it—because the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth.

Standing in the midst of a redeemed humanity and a renewed creation will be the root of Jesse. The Bible says:

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

I don’t know if you caught it or not, but we began our meditation on God’s Word talking about a branch from Jesse’s root—a fresh, new shoot. But we conclude our meditation tonight hearing that this new branch is actually the root. How can this be?

It is because this shoot is not just the Son of David—he is also the Son of God. The angel Gabriel told Mary: He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David. The Old Testament prophets knew this about the Messiah as well. Isaiah promised that he would be a virgin-born child but he also called him the Ancient of Days.

The Branch and Root of Jesse is Jesus—David’s Son and God’s Son—the God-in flesh-redeemer of the world who has ascended to heaven to prepare a glorious resting place for his people and will come again to take them there. That is the promise of God and in the light of that glorious promise discouragement, depression, and despair must give way to hope.

But it also calls us to action right here and now—it gives us a purpose until Jesus comes again. Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to be a "signal" for all people—a rallying point that people from every nation, language, tribe, and culture can come to and take their own place in his glorious presence.

And so the Lord calls us to make Jesus known in word and deed to a world around us that is still held captive in darkness and death. That is our mission as a congregation—that is our purpose in life as individuals—and when we are about the Lord’s business—there is simply no place for discouragement, depression, and despair. Resting on his promises--active in his kingdom--may God grant us the gift of hope that looks forward with confidence to the future! Amen.

And now may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.