Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “The Mystery is Revealed!” based on Ephesians 3:2-12 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, January 6, 2019
The word epiphany means some sort of appearance, an uncovering, or a revealing of something that was, beforehand, hidden or unknown. And, throughout this Epiphany season, God’s Word will reveal some characteristics of Jesus that were, for a time, unknown to the world – how he is the one who works wonders, makes disciples and missionaries, and loves even his enemies. But, before this season discusses those characteristics, it is important to uncover and reveal the mystery about exactly for whom Jesus came and how you can know that to be true.
The account of the Magi, which you heard in the Gospel reading for today, does a great job of showing that those men from the far east knew that Jesus was their King. However, to dig just a bit deeper, to see Jesus as someone who is more than just a king and how he came for more than just those who seek and follow his star, the Apostle Paul, in the second lesson for today, revealed the answer to those mysteries. Listen again:
In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
For thousands of years, throughout the Old Testament, God made it clear that he made a distinction between those who were his people and everyone else. He talked to his people through prophets. He revealed himself to some of them, in a burning bush, a cloud, and in visions and dreams. He made promises and agreements specifically with them in mind and had rules and regulations that they alone were to follow.
The men in those generations had every right and every reason to believe that they, and they alone, were God’s people and that God’s promises of a Messiah were made to them alone.
However, God gave the Apostle Paul an epiphany. He uncovered and revealed a truth to him—something that was always true, but was unable to be seen clearly and unable to be known in full. God’s plans certainly had some specific steps for the people of Israel, but his plans, even before the creation of the world, always also had the Gentiles in mind.
And, that revelation given to Paul has profound impact for you and for me. Your latest 23 and me results may show a percentage of Hebrew heritage in your bloodline, but, even with an Israelite ancestor from ages ago, you would not be included if God’s promises were only offered to the people of Israel. Instead, in reading this, you will be able to understand that the truths God taught his people in the past apply to you, too.
But, friends, that’s kind of a “good news, bad news” situation. If all of the Bible’s teachings apply to you, too, that also means that when God told Noah that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time, that included your inclinations. When God spoke through Isaiah and said that your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, it was your iniquity and guilt that built up a barrier between you and him. And, when David realized the reason he committed adultery and murder was because he was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me, it means that from your conception, you, too, have been sinful and, therefore, unqualified to be with the God who included you in his plans.
But that, brothers and sisters, is not a mystery that needed to be solved, is it? You see the implications and results of that every day. Whether you made them or not, have already failed to keep them or not, why do people see the need to make resolutions at this time of year? Isn’t it because they have seen how they failed to be perfect in 2018? You weren’t the best dad you could be. You didn’t always do your job to the best of your ability. You let your habitual sins happen again and again and you numbed your conscience with all sorts of little lies and half-truths to convince yourself that they were all ok, anyway.
Yes, you, together with me and the rest of the world; all people past, present, and future have not and cannot keep up with the commands that God has given or meet the requirements God has made for his people to qualify for eternal life with him in heaven. God’s law is pretty clear about those facts.
No, your sin and its deserved consequences is no mystery, but God’s reaction to your sin most certainly is.
This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
God promised his people that, instead of seeing your sins, iniquities, and transgressions and judging you accordingly for them, he would send his Son to be your brother and to live his life perfectly in your place. He promised that the inclinations of Jesus’ heart would only be honorable all the time. He promised that Jesus’ righteousness would tear down the wall that stands between God and men. He promised that Jesus’ purity and love for mankind, even from the time inside Mary’s womb, would cause him to have no need for a New Year’s resolution for any of his years on this earth.
The mystery is that this good news of Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death was done not just for Israel, but for you, for me, and for all. You receive what you could not deserve from a God who should not love you. It is a mystery that could not have been solved by any of the world’s greatest sleuths. It is a mystery that does not make any sense. But it is a mystery that God has known even since before the creation of the world and, thankfully, as Paul revealed in the second half of this lesson for today, it is a mystery that he revealed to you. Hear again and have an epiphany:
Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known.
Because you wouldn’t have been able to uncover or understand the mystery of the gospel on your own, your God had someone uncover it to you and for you.
You don’t have to look for a burning bush, a pillar of cloud or fire, or wait for some vision or dream to have your God talk to you and reveal his plans for you. Instead, he put sinful human beings, covered in white cloth, to stand in front of a congregation and he called workers to stand in front of your children in a classroom. Here, through the Church, he administers to you the mystery hidden under words from a centuries-old book, water poured into wood and stone, and wafers and wine placed into your own hands.
Celebrate this epiphany. The mystery is revealed. Jesus is the Savior God planned and promised for you and for all. Amen.
Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Welcome to the Family!” based on Hebrews 2:11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, December 30, 2018
About 30 years and about 60 pounds ago, I met my first true love—and her name was Spalding. When I was growing up, I ate, slept and breathed basketball. It was my life. In fact,I can remember spending numerous sweltering summer nights as a high schooler playing pickup basketball games in the gym of Winnebago Lutheran Academy. There were usually 10-12 guys at these informal open gyms, but it’s important for the story that you understand there were never, ever any spectators at these open gyms.
Now at that time, I was usually the youngest guy in the group. All the other players, including Pastor Steinbrenner by the way, were older and they were better than me. I desperately wanted to impress them. I desperately wanted them to think I was cool. Any possibility of that happening went right out the window the night my family showed up at the gym—parents, older brothers and sisters, their spouses and their young children, lawn chairs in hand. Setting those lawn chairs up along the baseline of the basketball court, they proceeded to cheer wildly every time I touched the ball. They weren’t being serious, of course. They were cracking up the whole time. They did it for one reason alone. I was the little brother. And older siblings take great pride in finding new and creative ways to mortify an overly image conscious little brother.
I should mention that they’re wonderful people by the way. Today, I number them among my closest friends. But that night, I wasn’t exactly proud to say that they were my family. “Who are those people?” “Ummm….I don’t really know.” I was hoping to create as much distance between me and them as possible. That feeling is the exact opposite of what our text for today is talking about. Because Christmas isn’t about God creating as much distance as possible between him and us. Christmas is about Immanuel-God With Us. It’s about God coming near and proudly claiming us as his own family, his own flesh and blood. That’s what the writer of Hebrews is talking about when he says in Chapter 2: Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
But, you know, shouldn’t he be? Has there ever been a human being who didn’t let Jesus down on a consistent basis? His mother Mary? She left her kid behind in Jerusalem (for crying out loud!) and decades later came out to wrangle him home, trying her best to quiet him rather than having him proclaim the kingdom of God. Peter? He spoke too often from zealous selfishness instead of having in mind the things of God. And then there was that whole denial episode. The apostle John? The apostle Paul? Every single Old Testament patriarch, matriarch and hero of faith? Time doesn’t allow us to specifically address them all, but as you skim the Bible through that lens you realize: every single person in the book does something cringeworthy, has some skeleton hiding in their closet, does something that should by any measure result in Jesus turning away in disgust and shame.
And then there’s us…I mean if Abraham is cringeworthy, if Bible heroes like Noah, David, Elijah, Mary and Paul all are guilty of doing things that are embarrassing to Jesus, how do we stand up in comparison? Have you given Jesus good reason to be ashamed of you?
For what generally speaking causes you to be embarrassed of a person? Isn’t it when someone close to you does something or says something that is wildly inconsistent with the things you hold important or dear? My example from earlier was supposed to be humorous example of that—I valued being cool and my family showed up purposely acting as absolutely uncool as they could be. That embarrassed me.
But it’s far more serious when we give Jesus reason to be embarrassed, when we act in ways that are wildly inconsistent with the things he holds important or dear. He gives us families to be present for but so often we ignore them in favor of our screens and devices. He gives us homes to shelter and warm us, but we complain and are dissatisfied with the stuff inside them. He encourages us to bravery, we offer him cowardice thinly draped in excuses. He encourages us to obedience, we give him embarrassing excuses and loopholes.
They caution you about using the pulpit as your personal confessional so I’m not even going to tell you the things that I do to embarrass Him, the things that shame me so grievously–but they are many and they haunt me daily. I know the Gospel, so do you, but that doesn’t erase the memory of my embarrassing actions of the past and my ongoing failings of each day….they always stand lurking in the shadows of my heart. They are never far away for you either, are they? With the sinful woman of Bethany, we wash Jesus’ sinless feet with our tears of regret, shame and embarrassment. With Isaiah we say, “Woe to me, I am ruined, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” With Peter we say, “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinner!”
He has every reason to turn away, red faced and angry and ashamed of us. But he does not turn away. He does not chop up the manger or chop down the cross in disgust. For the manger and the cross are monuments of God’s faithfulness, not measures of our faithfulness. Did you notice there’s nothing conditional in our text? Through his inspired writer, God makes a simple statement of fact, as true today as it was at Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. Immanuel isn’t just a name. It’s an ongoing status. Immanuel keeps being God with us, not God at a distance from us. Why? Because Bethlehem happened and nothing can change that. We’re his family now.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity. He, too, shared in their humanity—the import of that statement may not fully strike you until you consider how completely unwilling we are to settle for anything less than we think we deserve. If we pay for second row seats behind home plate, there’s no way we’re going to accept being ushered up to the 25th row of the upper deck terrace instead. If our team is robbed of a victory by an official’s error it will sting as we remember for years to come. If we reserve the Ford Edge as our rental car and all they can offer us at the counter is the Ford Festiva, we are going to grumble and complain and grouse to anyone who will listen. Do you want to see how awesome Jesus is? Look at how willing he was to settle for less than he deserved, to share in our humanity. He deserved the best heaven could offer. He willingly traded it for headaches and stomach flu. For a crust of bread as his dinner and a rock for his pillow. For the indignities of childhood and for insecurities of young adulthood. He has shared in our humanity. All so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
It’s a fact of life that you just never know which sermon will be your last sermon. For one weekend we could be here and the next weekend our usual space could be empty. I’ve seen it happen and so have you. But if we don’t happen to see each other again, could there be better words to part with than these? Set free. One day we will die, but don’t let that thought bind you in chains of dread and fear. Jesus lived a perfect life. Paid for all your sins on the cross. And then came to life, conquering death for you. He has done everything necessary for you to live eternally in heaven. And if it all depends on what Jesus has done…none of it depends on what you have done. Don’t let the thought of death hold you captive. Let those shackles fall. Jesus has set you free.
Christmas is over. But the joys of Christmas still sparkle fresh and new. The one who has every right to create distance from us, instead draws near to us. The one who has every right to be ashamed of us, instead embraces us. He shares flesh and blood with you. He shares his victory over death with you. Rejoice today that Jesus is a part of our family. Amen.
Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Remember to Love” based on Luke 1:39-55 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, December 23, 2018
Pregnancy can be an emotional time. That has been true ever since Eve, just outside the Garden of Eden, and continues for just about every woman who has ever been with child. There are hormonal balances that become unbalanced. There are physical changes to a woman’s body during those 40 weeks that can make favorite outfits unable to be worn and, therefore, can make a woman feel uncomfortable even in her own skin.
But, it’s not just the chemicals inside or her outward appearance that can make for an emotional roller coaster ride. The simple idea of another human being growing inside of you has its own ups and downs.
Like many other women, both before and after, Mary must have had her fair share of feelings about the embryo inside her own womb. Some of her thoughts were surely the same as what might run through your own mind if you were in the same situation.
Fear definitely has its place. She was carrying another human inside her; a human completely and utterly dependent on her for life – for protection, for nutrition, and even to supply oxygen for lungs that hadn’t fully developed yet. Every move and every decision would have its implications on her child. There is a healthy amount of fear involved in that responsibility.
That fear, though, is, at times, displaced when the joys of life are considered. What a gift God gives to allow women, with a little help from their male companions, to create and sustain life inside themselves! A sense of holy pride, not like the kind in the bible that makes you bad, can send women’s hearts swimming in a sea of accomplishment while carrying their children those nine months.
Fear and joy, godly pride and helplessness, happiness and anxiety. All those emotions are normal. But, as you well know, Mary’s situation can confidently also be called atypical and abnormal and not simply because she lived in a different culture than you and me.
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me…from now on all generations will call me blessed.
Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, confessed the truth of the mystery of this pregnancy and Mary concurred. The conception itself was outside of the norm, but the result of that conception was even more important and impressive. Both women knew, by divine intervention, that the child inside of Mary’s bourgeoning belly was the Lord promised to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, and to all his descendants, forever.
Now, because it was God, himself, inside her womb, he could have cared for himself and been an independent infant. He could have, in miraculous fashion, provided for his own protection and provisions. Yet, instead, he chose to rely on Mary. He chose to be born in a natural way. He chose make himself like you and me in every way, in human flesh. Why? Why would God do such a thing?
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.
In her famous song, the Magnificat, Mary sang the motivation behind the Lord’s choices. He remembered his mercy.
Though the world may claim otherwise, particularly in times of trouble, natural disasters, and the horrors of human existence, your God did not remember because he forgot the people in this world which he created. Rather, this word, translated into English as remembering, has much more to do with bringing things to the forefront of your mind at an appointed time.
Do you remember how to cook a steak? How about the directions to your parents’ house? Do you remember how to turn off your alarm in the morning or how to turn off the Christmas lights when you go to bed for the night?
You probably never forgot those things. They were always in your mind and they are always important, but there are times when you turn your attention to other things that lead up to them. You focus on starting the grill, packing up the car, getting your good night’s sleep, or simply enjoying the seasonal glow inside your house. Then, when the appointed time comes, you remember to carry out your next action.
God’s focus, even since before the creation of the world, has been on sending his Son to live and die for you. And, when the appointed time came for Jesus to take on flesh inside the womb of Mary, he called it to the forefront of his mind. All of the promises and prophecies and provisions he made for his people had been laid in place. Now was the time to use what he never forgot and was always the focus of his plan.
And, in sending Jesus to do what mankind could not and to correct the wrongs that all of humanity has wrought, God accomplished all that Mary sang about in her song—bestowing his blessings upon the humble, the hungry, and the helpless. In short, he chose to be merciful.
Those who are humble, hungry, and helpless know that they cannot gain anything for themselves in God’s eyes and that, in contrast, the only thing they have earned from their God, based on their own thoughts, words, and actions, is his divine and deserved wrath for all of eternity.
But, friends, that’s the very definition of God’s mercy. He called to mind and remembered his plan not to give his people, Abraham and all his descendants, including you and me, what they rightly deserved. Because Jesus lived in Mary’s womb, was born, lived a perfect life in your place, and sacrificed that life to pay the redemption price for sin, God chose to be merciful to them and to you. And, as motivation to act this way, God used the only emotion that would cause him to remember his mercy—his great love for you.
He made the decision to love you whether you deserve it or not and did not let anything stand in his way. He worked behind the scenes of all of history to put Mary where she needed to be and carry out his plans for her and for the benefit of each and every one of you.
And, because God, in love, remembered his mercy, all of the emotions and circumstances that surrounded Mary’s pregnancy caused her to remember to show love as well. She showed love for God, and for all Abraham’s descendants as well, by carrying out her calling from God. With all of the hormonal and physical changes and the emotions that affected her every action, you would be hard pressed to say that she ever forgot that she was carrying Immanuel everywhere she went.
And yet, when the appointed time came, she remembered to love that child and all people when she delivered him to them and to you and to me.
Whether you are pregnant or not, whether you have ever been or won’t ever be, you surely have your own share of emotions that affect your own thoughts, words, and actions. Fear and joy, godly pride and helplessness, happiness and anxiety aren’t only reserved for those who are with child.
The world you live in can cause any number of setbacks as well as reasons for celebration and, as you endure your own roller coaster ride of emotions, it would be easy to allow those things to distract you and cause you to forget your own calling from your God.
Especially over the next few days, you, too, are carrying the mystery of the Christ-child within you—not in your womb, but in your faith-filled heart. And, whether it is during your Christmas celebration or in the weeks that follow, the time appointed for you to deliver him for the benefit of others will also come.
As you wait for that appointed time, motivated by God remembering his mercy to you, remember to love. Call that message of free forgiveness for all to mind, glorify the Lord, rejoice in God your Savior, and sing the song of your salvation. Amen.
Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Brings Joy Against Any Backdrop” based on Philippians 4:4-7 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, December 16, 2018
For a lot of different reasons, the professional photography field has really changed. But back in 1989, when me and my classmates were getting our senior pictures taken, we went to a studio. There the photographer set up his lights and cameras. And he had backdrops. You could pick from a brick wall background or a rustic wooden wall or maybe even train tracks and trees. One moment you could be standing at the bright sunny beach and, a few seconds later, a new background would appear and you’d be in the dark of night, surrounded by skyscrapers and city lights. It’s still you, just standing there, but the background can keep changing. Isn’t that a little like life? It’s you…you’re just standing there, living your life, but the backdrops keep changing…the circumstances in life keep changing. Sometimes peaceful and calm and relaxed. Sometimes manageable, but a little draining. Sometimes hectic and out of control and even scary. At the studio, you can choose the background you want; not in life – circumstances change, without checking with you first.
That can lead to stress. Anxiety. Yet, Paul says, relax. Not just relax, rejoice. Oh yeah, easy for him to say. He’s the apostle Paul. He met Jesus personally on the Road to Damascus. He’s like a super-Christian. Everything was probably easy and smooth for him. Not quite. In fact, I’d be willing to bet Paul’s difficult and stressful backgrounds were much more numerous and extreme than any of ours:
- Flogged 5 times
- Beaten with rods 3 times
- Shipwrecked 3 times
- Stoned once
- And even now, as he writes this letter, he’s not on a beach or a quaint bed and breakfast…he’s in prison, under house arrest…not sure if he’ll get released or sentenced to more prison or worse.
Yet he says, rejoice. In fact, as a point of emphasis he says, “I will say it again, rejoice.”
- Rejoice because it’s Christmas time and you can almost feel the positive spirit in the air and all the family will be all together and there will be fires in the fireplace and presents under the tree?
- But also rejoice if you’re going home to an empty house this Christmas or maybe these special holiday-cheer days heighten your recent loss or if your near-empty wallet means few, if any presents under the tree.
- Rejoice because we just celebrated our wedding anniversary and things couldn’t be going better?
- But also rejoice even though your marriage may be going through a rocky spell.
- Rejoice because everybody’s health is good?
- But rejoice even though you’re taking five different medications and that dull pain makes it impossible to get a good night’s sleep.
In other words, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” You see, even the godless…the hardened atheist can look at his clean bill of health and his full cupboards of food and his garage with the nice car and his job promotion and feel happy about his good fortune. But Paul suggests we can have a deeper joy…a joy that goes beyond having nice stuff and having nice things happen to us. A joy that is ever-present. A joy that dwells in our heart even though it might have to share space with other emotions like sadness and loneliness and heart-break…joy is still there. Because this joy is rooted not in the ever-changing backdrops and circumstances of life but in Jesus. Rejoice in the Lord always.
Here’s one reason why: The Lord is near, Paul says. Some translations say, the Lord is at hand. He is close. Always right there. One form of the word actually means guarantor. A guarantor is the person who backs you up when you take out a loan. He’s close. He’s right by your side. If you can’t pay your loan, he pays it for you. So, rejoice….
- There was a very special time in history when the Lord came near…took on flesh…was born in a manger.
- There was a very special time in history when the Lord came near…took the debt you could not satisfy, and he paid it.
- But that’s not all. The Lord still is near…he is close at hand to his believers. So every moment of every day the Lord is near to you. You may not feel it. Life circumstances may try to convince you otherwise. The devil will be sure to chime in, hoping you’ll see your problems as overwhelming and God as distant and disinterested. But that’s not the reality. Here’s what’s real: “This is what the LORD says…he who created you…he who formed you…fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine…when you pass through the waters…I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:1-3).
For this reason, since the Lord is near, there’s no need for you and me to be anxious or to worry. Plus, worrying doesn’t help. Remember what Jesus said, Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Well, then, what are we supposed to do? It’s hard to just sit still. I want to be active and do something that can help and be productive. Awesome. Then Paul has just the thing. Instead of being anxious…instead of worrying…in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. For there is nothing too great for his power to handle and there is nothing too small for his Fatherly care and concern.
Does the name Corrie Ten Boom mean anything to you? She was a Dutch Christian woman – she and her father hid Jews in their home so they could escape the Nazi holocaust during WWII. She was caught and sent to a concentration camp. There was a particularly down moment she had when she and her friend, Betsie, were jammed into an over-crowded living quarters. It smelled horrible. And it was infested with fleas. It took some convincing, but Betsie urged Corrie to pray and to rejoice and to give thanks. Afterall,
- We are in the camp together – so we have each other. Let’s give thanks for that!
- We have pages of a smuggled Bible – so we can read God’s Word every day.
- It’s crowded in here…cramped – but see how many other people we can touch with God’s Word!
- And even the fleas…these horrible fleas – the fleas are keeping the Nazi guards from carefully inspecting our barracks…and so we can read our Bibles ad even have quiet worship services.
- And so they prayed…with thanksgiving…they even rejoiced. They weren’t magically transported away from that concentration camp, but they knew the Lord Jesus was near. And so they had a joy, so deeply rooted in Jesus, that fleas and Nazi soldiers could not extinguish.
For Paul, floggings and shipwrecks and a stoning could not remove his joy in Jesus. You also have a joy that cannot be extinguished no matter what your backdrop is right now or what any of your circumstances in life have ever been. Nothing in your life…
- can go back in history and keep Jesus the Son of God from being born in Bethlehem.
- can undo or erase what Christ accomplished on Calvary’s cross.
- Can plunge into the depths of the sea and retrieve your sins which have been buried there.
- Nothing in your life can keep Jesus in the tomb or keep him from declaring, “Because I live, you too shall live” or keep him from returning on the Last Day to gather his sheep in his arms.
- No backdrop can remove Jesus…for the Lord is near. Amen.
Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Prepare to be Purified” based on Malachi 3:1-4 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, December 9, 2018
Advent can be a difficult season of the Church Year to celebrate. You may have your Christmas tree already up. The stores have been advertising their Christmas specials for weeks already. The music you listen to, whether in the car on the way to work or at home as you decorate for the season and wrap gifts, is all about the baby boy born in Bethlehem. For much of this season, you find yourself looking forward to celebrating something that already happened two thousand years ago. That paradox, in and of itself, can make this season somewhat confusing to celebrate. But it even goes deeper than that, doesn’t it?
It can be a healthy, faith-focused journey to the Christ’ cradle when you put yourself in the sandals of God’s Old Testament people. It can be soul-searching to discover the hope and anticipation that those people experienced when they considered and prayed about the coming Messiah. But, ultimately, your journey is different. You already know that he did come, when he came, and what he did when he came. It’s like watching a movie to which you already know the ending. It can be good and worthwhile, but it is different and, therefore, a little difficult.
See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come, says the LORD Almighty.
With the eyes of faith, and two thousand years of history, it is clear to see that the promised messenger, who would prepare the way before God, is John the Baptist. No need to look any further than the Gospel appointed for today. He is the voice calling in the desert, who prepared the way.
And then, of course, it isn’t surprising to discover that the messenger of the covenant, the Lord they were seeking, who came so suddenly after John the Baptist, is the Messiah, himself, Jesus Christ.
God’s Old Testament people were waiting for those two men to arrive. It consumed their thoughts and prayers. The simple idea and promise of their impending arrival gave comfort to their sorrows and peace to their troubled hearts. And, yet, their arrival didn’t actually happen for another four centuries after these words were written.
It may not have been lesson one in Peace through Jesus or your Sunday School lessons, but you didn’t have to wait years, let alone centuries, to have Jesus and John the Baptist revealed to you.
So, in this Advent season, how do you celebrate a prophecy like this? How are you, in the words of the prophet, prepared for John and Jesus’ arrival?
To be sure, it is good and beneficial to study again and remind yourself of just how John and Jesus fulfilled these prophecies. It’s good because, well, sometimes you just forget. But, it’s also good because whenever you spend time in God’s Word, meditating and searching and growing in your spiritual knowledge, it will strengthen your faith.
It is good to be reminded that Jesus is indeed the messenger of the covenant. He came not only to tell you of the deal and agreement that your God has made with his people, but to be the basis of it. Rather than simply blessing the people who do good, in and because of Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death of substitution, God gives you everything that is his without expecting anything from you.
It is good to remember that Jesus accomplished that covenant by refining and purifying you, again, without any action from you. He took on himself the impurities of your sin, removing them from you, and experienced, in his suffering and death, the pain and price for them that you deserved.
But, brothers and sisters, as you look at that analogy, that metaphorical explanation of how Jesus washed and cleansed you, do you see how it limps a little?
When silver is refined and clothes are laundered, does the refiner or the launderer feel any pain? Not if they are doing their job properly! The silver and the soiled linens, if they had feelings, would most assuredly feel the pain of the fire and the lye. They are what get burned. They are on the receiving end of the chemical reaction. And, yet, when Jesus is described as refining and purifying you, he is not only the refiner and the purifier, who should feel no pain, but the fire and the soap, himself, as well and, therefore, should be the one inflicting the pain, not experiencing it.
Yes, taking this illustration in that way does indeed remind you of what the baby boy born in Bethlehem came here on earth to do for you. That is good and beneficial for you as you prepare to celebrate Christmas.
But here, friends, is the beauty of the Advent season. You are not only looking forward to the cradle of Christ, but, also, to when he arrives on the earth again. And, in clear prophecy, Malachi portrays what needs to be done to prepare you for that coming, as well.
You are purified. You are washed and cleansed by the blood of Jesus and you are going to heaven. And, yet, like a three year old who sees a puddle, the temptations of this world continue to seem so alluring and, so often, the robe of righteousness that you wear is covered again and again with the filth offered by the Devil, this world, and your own sinful nature and you need to be kept clean.
That is why Advent can be not just a difficult, but even a painful, season of the Church Year to celebrate. Advent reminds you that, like the silver and the soiled linens, you have, indeed, felt the fire in your life.
What has been burned off of you? What stain, that was so deeply rooted in your fibers, has been scrubbed away from you?
Was it that job that you thought you would not be able to survive without? Was it a relationship in which you found so much fulfillment? Did you lose that loved one that was your rock? Did your lungs, your heart, or your central nervous system; those basic fundamental functioning facets of your life fail you?
Your God, through the prophet, is not minimalizing the pain you experienced in losing those things. In fact, for many reasons, those may have even been beneficial for you in your life and blessings bestowed upon you by your God. But, in all truth, you did not and you do not need them.
In working what is best for you and keeping you and your faith pure and primarily focused on him, your God has allowed the fire and the lye to burn, but, as in all things, he did so for your good.
And, almost as if to put salt in your wound, the prophet explains how you are to react to that pain of purifying preparation that you experience. After you see it, recognize it, and remember it, you ought to offer him a sacrifice because of it.
You may be familiar with some of the offerings that were to be sacrificed in the Old Testament. The Passover Lamb, slaughtered and eaten. The beasts of burden that were butchered. The goats and lambs whose blood was sprinkled in the holy of holies and showered over the people with the hyssop plant. Those sacrifices, in many ways, were sacrifices of substitution. Their death was to remind God’s people of the death they deserved because of their sin.
However, that is not the type of offering that the prophet is preaching about in these verses. Rather, looking at the purification you have gone through; what has been done to you and what has been removed from you, you then ought to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving. A joyful response, coming from a happy heart, because of that purification.
That happiness and joy in this Advent season comes not because you are a masochist who enjoys the pain, but because you know from where and why that pain has come. Your God loves you and wants you to be with him, forever. He wants you to be refined, pure, clean, and holy. Celebrate this Advent season by preparing for Jesus’ arrival. Prepare yourselves, then, to be purified and offer your sacrificial hymns and prayers in thanksgiving because of it. Amen.
Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “The Story of Sodom Gives Us Advent Hope” based on Genesis 19 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, December 2, 2018
Some cities are so well known they get their own nickname…like Milwaukee – sometimes called Brew City because of the major breweries that were located there or Cream City because of the light colored bricks used on so many of the buildings. If I gave you a few seconds you could come up with list of other nicknames for different cities: The City with Big Shoulders, Steel City, Mile High City, The City that Never Sleeps. All those nicknames highlight some kind of characteristic or quality that city is known for and many times is kind of proud about too.
What is Sodom known for? It certainly is known. It was wiped out about 4000 years ago, yet just about everyone recognizes the name Sodom and its twin city Gomorrah. Historians agree that Sodom was an advanced city…a wealthy city…a sophisticated city. At one time the land was lush and rich (remember, Lot went to live there for just that reason). But Sodom isn’t known for any of that; it’s known for perverse sin and extreme unbelief. Whenever Sodom is referred to in the Bible it is being held up as an abomination…an embarrassing model of immorality.
- In Genesis Moses tells us about their perverted views of sex and their abusive and violent behaviors.
- In the book of Ezekiel we learn that the people of Sodom were well-to-do and they used their wealth to over eat and over drink and over indulge in whatever they pleased, meanwhile, neglecting the poor and needy.
- In his second epistle, Peter talks about the filthy lives and the lawless men in Sodom.
This was Lot’s home. This believing man, nephew of Abraham, lived smack dab in the middle of this godless and immoral city. And yet, The Story of Sodom Gives Us Advent Hope.
Sometimes it’s not always so easy for me to relate to some of the believers in the Bible. It’s hard for me to put myself in the shoes of the shepherds who were in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night, and all of a sudden – surrounded by a great company of angels. That just doesn’t happen to me every day…or ever. But I can relate to Lot. He was surrounded by people
- who were comfortable taking advantage of others
- who over indulged in food and drink and desires of the flesh
- who hoarded their wealth and stepped on and over the less fortunate
- who had a perverted and ungodly view of marriage and family and sex.
You’d think Lot was living in America in the year 2018. So pervasive the sin and wickedness, I wonder if sin started to feel kind of normal. Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like you are so surrounded by wickedness, it starts to seem normal?
- Is it normal that there are 40-50 million abortions each year, worldwide?
- Is it normal that 12% of websites on the internet are dedicated to pornography?
- It is normal that about $5billion is spent on pornography each year?…Americans spend over half that. Just imagine what that is doing to our marriages and the development of our youth.
- Is it normal to have same sex marriages?….to have sex outside of marriage?…to have debates about whether or not homosexuality is a sin or whether or not there are only two genders?
- Is it normal to allow our society and our media and our entertainment industry to shout in our ears, telling what is right and wrong and telling us what relationships should look like and telling us how we ought to view human life and human sexuality?…and if we’re not careful, the more we listen to them, the less we are listening to our God…and the duller our conscience becomes.
Unfortunately, I can relate to Lot. He was a believer, a sinner himself and surrounded by sin. How could he survive without getting gobbled up? God rescued him. When [Lot] hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. It wasn’t the strength and virtue of Lot that delivered him. It was the mercy and the love of God. In fact, the angels needed to grab hold of Lot and his family and pull them away. Again, I can identify. I was a product of this sinful, evil, wicked, ungodly place….weren’t you too? Weren’t we all conceived and born in this filth? And yet God, in mercy, grabbed hold of us and pulled us away…he pulled us into his family of believers. It wasn’t our virtue that saved us, but his mercy and grace. Today, a burning Sodom reminds us – that’s what could have been…should have been our fate…fire and brimstone.
Fire and brimstone. Lot ran away from that. I would too. Who would run into the fire? Who would purposely go to great lengths are run smack dab into the middle of God’s fire of judgment? Jesus would. Jesus did. Evil. Wickedness. Over-the-top, pushing-the-boundaries, perversions – that’s what Jesus was accused of…those were the offenses, along with so many others, that were nailed to the cross. Every bad decision, every bad thought, every bad word, every bad example….those were nailed to the cross with Jesus too…and the fire and brimstone of God the Father rained down on the Son, so we could receive the smile and favor of the Lord. Today, a burning Sodom reminds us – God is serious about sin…he’s also serious about providing a payment for that sin.
You know, archeologists have some minor disagreements on where exactly Sodom and Gomorrah were located so many years ago. Some say the remnants are now buried under the southern half of the Dead Sea. Others, based on some fairly recent findings, believe the ancient cities were a little further west. In fact, one of the excavation sites unearthed shards of pottery, buried under 3 feet of ash. The pottery, they say, is covered in a frothy, glassy substance, suggesting that the temperatures may have been as high as 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, disagreement by historians. Some say a meteor hit Sodom. Some say it was an earthquake that caused some kind of unusual volcanic eruption. Some say, we’ll never know how Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.
And we say, Oh yes we do know. The Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah. When we are tempted to think lightly of our sin, let the burning Sodom serve as a reminder of God’s law and judgment. God is God and he will not be mocked. When you are tempted to feel overwhelmed at the wickedness that surrounds you and to worry about your kids and grandkids and how will they ever make it through this cesspool, let the burning Sodom serve as a reminder of God’s hand of grace. In 2 Peter, we are reminded: the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.
The Lord gave Lot and his family a safe haven in a place called Zoar. What safe haven has he given you? What is your Zoar? Hasn’t the Lord given you safe haven within this family…this gathering of believers?
- Here you are surrounded by not perfect people, but sinners like yourself…but they are seeking to help one another in our faith walk, not sabotage each other’s faith.
- Here you have God’s law which identifies sin – it may make you feel uncomfortable but that’s far better than celebrating sin and thinking it is normal and ok.
- Here you have God’s gospel which assures you that those sins have been washed away.
- Here you have the Lord Jesus himself who says, Have no fear, little flock, for the Father has chosen to give you the kingdom. And he knows how to rescue his own.