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Wednesday of Gaudete
Perhaps our biggest problem with sin is not so much the committing of sin, though this is bad and truly damning. Our bigger problem with sin is our comfort with it. Yes, we confess in the three Creeds that Jesus sits at the right and of the Father, from whence He will come to judge the living and the dead, but, like anything repetitive, eventually we get used to it. The loudly ticking clock in the living room is just part of the familiar noises of your house. You stop noticing the tiny strip of darker wall paint on the white ceiling where you didn’t tape well. It all fades into the background, nothing that grabs your attention. Our problem is that sin does the same thing. We all do it. We all have favorite sins, things we go back to time and time again. Sometimes we call these pet sins. The proper term is besetting sins. “Pet sins” sounds too cute and innocent, like the puppy that curls up next to you on the couch. What puppy is harmful?! Consider Webster’s definition of “besetting:” constantly present or attacking. What sin, what lure to evil is always attacking you, always present, always singing its siren song to you? I know mine as well as you know yours. Besetting sins are never “one and done.” Once you give in, it happens repeatedly. Consider what James said: “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown brings forth death”( Jas 1:14-15).
This is why besetting sin is so dangerous. You get caught in its endless spiral.
Who, tempted by the fresh plate of cookies stops at one? How easily does one become two and two a plate of your own. And while in this endless cycle, Satan tries to convince you that it’s okay. He tells you, “God will understand. Jesus is a human like you. He knows that sometimes you just need to sin to get it out of your system. But this is a lie. Remember what you sang in the Psalm, the Word of God that condemns your delusion: “You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. ‘Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!’” God does not justify sin. He will never see your sin and whisper in your ear, brushing it off: “I get it I do the same Myself.” There is never a godly justification for sin. And sin never brings relief. It only brings shame, desire for more, and eventually death. You and I are addicts of the most powerful drug ever seen on this earth.
What calls us to sobriety is the vision of Daniel: “I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated…the court was seated, and the books were opened.” There will be a Judgement Day.
At present we live in God’s Day of grace. He gives us this time to hear His Word and its call to repentance. Instead of damning us as He could—and should—He calls to us to repent, and He meets that repentance with forgiveness. He does not want you or anyone else to receive the fiery torment of eternal death. To prevent this, He gladly makes avail able this, His second Advent, where He comes to you in His Word, in His Sacraments, and when He bends low His ear to hear your prayer. By the work of obedience, crucifixion, death, and resurrection accomplished in Jesus’ first Advent delivered to you in this second Advent, His final Advent need not be a thing of fear.
If your sins terrify you and make you question your eternal salvation, look no farther than your forehead and heart where the holy cross was placed upon you as a sign of your redemption. The water of Baptism may have dried from your head, but its effect is still there. When temptation to your besetting sin pulls you hard, remember your Baptism and pray for deliverance from the evil. The Lord will help as He has promised to do.
This deliverance and help is not temporary, but is eternal. In the Psalm Asaph recorded the Word of God: “Gather My saints to Me, those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” Except it is God who has made a covenant with you by sacrifice, the sacrifice of His Son. You are gathered to God and He has judged you innocent by Jesus’ sacrifice and has welcomed you into His kingdom, one Daniel confessed to be everlasting, unable to be destroyed. And if the kingdom cannot be destroyed, neither can you, its inhabitant.
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Gaudete, the Third Sunday of Advent
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
About 25 years ago the big Christian fad was the “WWJD bracelet,” a reminder to ask yourself in various situations, especially ones that could lead to sin, “What would Jesus do.” Though the intended change of action is not bad, the question is. It was a bad question because it has no answer we can know. The mind of Jesus is the mind of God. So, you can’t possibly know what Jesus would do or say in any given situation because your mind is fallen, it is not the mind of God. Thankfully, that fad died. Today gives us a chance to revise WWJD to ask “What would John do? In this season of preparation for Christ’s appearance, John is presented to us as the one to mimic because he is the picture of what the Christian life should be as one waits for the Son of God to set things right.
The Gospel today opened with John in prison. Why is he in prison? Because he stood firm in the faith against both church and state. He did not back down when the Pharisees tried to silence him when he was baptizing in the Jordan River, which was one very large strike against him. But the greatest thing he did was call a sin a sin, even when it meant risking his life. Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, was having an affair with his brother’s wife. John had the conviction to condemn this and paid the price. He was beheaded at the order of Herod’s mistress, angry that she was publicly shamed for being an adulteress. John’s imprisonment and eventual martyrdom are an example to us. He was willing to risk everything, even his life, to speak the truth. How many of us have kept our confession silent or said something like “I’m a Christian, but not one of those Christians who are militant about that” to keep from being harassed, or claimed to accept something contrary to the Word of God and our conscience to keep a job? John is an example to us of what we as Christians need to do, being willing to endure all, even death, rather than keep our confession silent.
Another example John gives us is the importance of seeking reassurance from Jesus, to cry out to Him in faith. John sends those two disciples with the question, “Are You the Coming One or are we to look for another?” Jesus’ response is almost sarcastic: “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” In other words:” You know the answer.” John knew that Jesus was the Coming One, but it didn’t feel like it. John was in prison. Jesus was supposed to be his partner in kicking Rome’s behind and He didn’t appear to be. Instead, He was out befriending tax collectors and sinners and getting invitations to Pharisees’ dinner parties. John felt betrayed and abandoned. So he asks “Are You the one” like the wife asks her husband, “Do you love me?” John and the wife both know the answer, but they need to hear it.
How often do you feel betrayed or abandoned in this life? How often do you think “Maybe God wasn’t quite telling the truth when He said that all things work together for the good of those who love Him?” We have all been tempted to think that, especially when the diagnosis is bad, the friends seem to have ditched you, or the blood of family didn’t end up being thicker than water? “You call this working out for good?!” “Is this promise true or do I look for another?” You know it’s true, but you need to hear it. Doubt always accompanies faith because our faith is housed in a mortal body. Until these corruptible puts on the incorruptible at death, doubt will always plague us. The good of complete trust that we want to do we do not do and the untrust we do not want to have we have. Who will rescue you from this body of death? Thanks be to God: Jesus Christ Our Lord!
Do what John did! When his flesh questioned, when he wanted to call the shots on what made for happiness, he went to Jesus, he went to the one who has the Word of eternal life. Jesus gently corrected John, but He did not abandon him. Jesus directed John back to His own works, to the miracles, the power over sin’s effects, and to the Gospel. You must do the same. When unbelief threatens to gain the upper hand, flee to Jesus, ask Him for your gaze to be redirected to His works, to His forgiveness of sins, for your body and soul to find sustenance and strength in the delivery of His death and resurrection here in the Means of Grace.
What this did for John is it gave him an eternal—not an earthly—perspective. Here there are imprisoned saints, there are martyrs, there are blind and lame saints. But Jesus spoke of an eternal reality. In heaven there are no prisons, no oppressive regimes, no blind or lame saints, only whole saints whose lives are freed of sin’s consequences. That eternal perspective gave John the courage to face the axe of the soldier and his disciples to find consolation in Jesus. An eternal perspective gives you the courage to make a bold confession and to endure the cross and trials of this evil day. According to the flesh it may not seem like there is much to rejoice over, but there is. Your warfare is ended. Your sin is forgiven. Heaven is yours. Now, but not yet. Until that future reality becomes your present and eternal reality, until your eyes behold it, rejoice that it id yours. The Gospel is preached to you, Jesus comes to you, and He gives you wat you need for body and soul to sustain you to live everlasting.
Wednesday of Populus Zion
There are two things necessary to be a Christian. First, you must be a fruitful branch connected to Jesus the Christ, the Vine. Second, you must be pruned by the Father, the Vinedresser. If you are a branch bearing no fruit, you are cut off. If you are a branch bearing fruit, you are pruned. There is no life apart from God.
No branch has life unless it is connected to the vine. It may appear to be alive lying on the ground after a storm, but it is a dead branch because it no longer has the sap of life flowing to its tiniest twig or leaf. So it is for us as Christians. How many claim to be members but are lying on the ground, very much looking alive, but are disconnected from the Vine? How many have, by their own actions, chosen to allow themselves to be broken off, to allow their leaves to wither and their twigs to become dried out because the sap of life, Word and Sacrament are no longer flowing into them? They may look alive, but like our Christmas tree, which despite its beauty and vibrant color, is dying a slow death?
But that paragraph is not aimed at those not here tonight to let ourselves off the hook, the preacher included. It’s directed even at us, even at me. It’s tempting to cut ourselves off from the Sap of Christ. It’s easy to say that one feeding a week is perfectly fine. It’s better than nothing because I’m busy or tired, but when the food is available daily and in so many ways that even the disciples themselves couldn’t have dreamt of, isn’t it better to be fed daily? You wouldn’t go without eating daily, so why keep faith from eating daily?
But to us who are hungry and even for those broken off, there is hope. None of us rightfully belong to the vine. None of us are natural branches. Every one of us have been grafted into the Vine. To graft in a branch, the vine is cut, the branch inserted into the cut, and then bound to the vine. Jesus, the vine, was cut, His side pierced. You are grafted into that pierced side by the Blood and Water, the sacraments that flowed from it. Now you, the dead vine, are made alive through the death of the vine, the death that gave you life. With His life coursing through you, now you who were once cut off by sin produce fruit, the fruits of love, patience, gentleness, and the rest.
Which means the vinedresser prunes you to cause you fruit to increase. Pruning is not fun. It involves pain as parts of you are affected by God, who allows cross and trial to grieve you as a way of making your faith stronger. Every time a branch is pruned it allows more sap to flow through it, increasing its strength and fruitfulness. So it is with your pruning, your trials from God. They cause your faith to become stronger as it calls for more of the sap of Jesus Christ. When you bear the weight of your crosses, be it temptation to a particular sin, temptation to walk away from the faith, temptation to despair, come to the sap that feeds you, that reinvigorates and heals you. Without that nutrition you waste away, but with it you thrive.
This is a particularly appropriate message for Advent. While we are prepared by the Spirit for Christ’s final Advent, we are called to receive Him in this second Advent in Word and absolution and Supper. Tonight He has poured His joyed into you that He may remain in you ad that you joy may be full until your final day.
Populus Zion, the Second Sunday of Advent
Song of Solomon 2:8-14
esus has one message for you: Look up! Lift up your heads! Be courageous! Things will get worse before they get better, but they will get better because your Redemption draws near!
This means today, and really the entire season of Advent one of longing. It was expressed in all three of the Readings. The lovers in the Song of Solomon spoke of their excitement at the appearance of one another and of spring that would soon give way to summer. Paul wrote to the Romans about the coming day when there would no longer be a distinction between Jew and Gentile. But Jesus captured it best: The end of all things is at hand: see the buds on the tree and know that soon the leaves will burst forth and the winter of our sin will take flight.
But to us who are sinking into the longer hours of darkness and the cold gray death of winter, that is, the increasing signs of the world and failing of our hearts, our ability to wait much longer for Christ’s return is diminishing. Because we hear Jesus’ Words of promise, not of fear, that He, our Redemption, is drawing near. Like the faithful Jews of old longing for the birth of the Messiah, we cannot do this anymore. An end needs to come so we are relieved by the Lord’s appearing. It is as you sang a moment ago: “When will You come with comfort strong? Wen will our hearts behold Your dawn?” We see the signs in the sun, moon, and stars. We see the nations gripped by fear. We feel the perplexity, the anxiety caused by a lack of necessary good. We who believe what Scripture says and dare to confess it know what it is to be attacked by the militant soldiers of the devil, the prince of his world. We are tempted to question God, to ask if He has forgotten us, if He will leave us with signs forever and no action on His part. We are tempted into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Our hearts of faith are trembling and feel like they will fail us.
But today Jesus has come to you with comfort strong. The trees are in full bloom. The winter of tour sin, long and dark, is flying because of His dawning. of Jesus, the Light of the World, is on the horizon. Look up! Lift up your heads! Despair no longer, fear no longer, doubt no longer. The impending celebration of Christmas is a reminder that the day is quickly coming when Christmas will no longer be a foreshadowing of what is to come because Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead, to raise the dead from their graves, to send the faithless into endless torment in the fires of hell and the faithful to the endless bliss of heaven. Today Millie was added to that number. Her name is now written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Because she is Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, she has nothing to fear in these gray and latter days.
Nor do you, you Baptized children of God. Remember those other words of Jesus. He will cut this evil day short so you, His elect, do not fall away. He is calling you to live in repentance and in hope.
Things certainly do look bleak and foreboding, but it is merely the beginning of the joy to come. As painful as labor is, it is a precursor to the joy that the long-expected child is about to be born and loved by its family. That is what today is for you. Look at the signs but know that the signs will soon give way to the thing they point to. Soon the signs will end, the death throes of this world will cease, and Jesus will appear to remove you from the evil days by taking you to Himself in heaven. So look up! Lift up your heads! Be courageous! your Redemption draws near!
Everything in the Christian Church has been designed to point us away from ourselves, away from earthly things, and to Jesus. This is the case in something as simple as our calendar. The Church’s calendar even influences the world’s calendar whether the world knows it or not, whether the world likes it our not. Christmas and Easter, the two greatest day of the Christian calendar, affect the secular calendar, bringing days off work and even closed banks, government offices, and stores. This doesn’t work vice-versa. The Church does not alter her calendar for Independence Day or Fathers’ Day or National Donut Day because those days do not point to Jesus. But every day of the Church Year does, even days like today where the Church remembers St. Andrew, or any other saint. Of the saints who are remembered throughout the year, St. Andrew holds a certain place of honor. Because His Feast Day, today, November 30, is used to determine the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the new Church Year.
Why St. Andrew? We heard it just a minute ago in the Reading. Andrew is the first missionary. He was a student of John the Baptist, the final Prophet sent to prepare the way for Jesus. One day John is teaching his students, spots, Jesus, and directs his students’ attention to Jesus—” Look at Him! He is the Lamb of God I said was coming, the one who is sent by God to take away the sin of the world. Andrew gets up and follows Jesus without a second thought. He spends the whole day with Jesus, listening to His teaching and asking Him questions, when everything from Jesus’ mouth aligns with what John taught and the rest of Scripture, Andrew knew He was in the presence of God. Andrew then becomes the first domestic missionary, finding his brother, Simon Peter, telling him, “We have found the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed of God who comes in the Name of God, with the authority of God, the one who is God in the flesh. All our hopes are met in Him! The salvation of the world will be accomplished in Him! Come and see!” And then later, this same Andrew will be come a foreign missionary of sorts. Some Greeks will come, desiring to see Jesus and once again, Andrew will point them to Jesus. For this reason, this eagerness to point to Jesus, Andrew gets to begin the Church Year, as its entire purpose is to point us to Jesus, the one who has come to die and to rise, to take away sin and condemnation, to prepare an eternal home for us.
So, St. Andrew is an example for us. Like him, we are presented now with so many opportunities to point to Jesus. In this season of Advent, so many stores have started selling Advent calendars filled with chocolates, beers, Legos, and makeup. They took the name Advent but have ignored what Advent is about. The secular Advent calendar Advent builds up to disappointment. All of the chocolates are eaten, the books read, or whatever the calendar gave is exhausted and the one counting down is left with nothing but emptiness and uncertainty over what comes next. But the real Advent, the one St. Andrew’s Feast Day begins, is not filled with diabetes and despair. The true Advent points to Christ. St. Andrew stands as an example to us in his excitement, his eagerness to find Peter, his brother, and to bring him to Jesus. It’s a reminder to us to go and do likewise. But you may not feel you’re up to that task of being a missionary, an evangelist to point the world to Jesus. Don’t get caught up in the countless number on earth. Do what Andrew did. Start at home, in your neighborhood. Use this Christmas time as your opportunity to tell people to forget the candy and to find their ultimate longing, their greatest gift in Jesus Christ, who was born in Bethlehem to shed His Blood for the sin of the world, to draw all men to Himself and t open heaven to all who believe.