Jesus, Our Great High Priest!

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Ash Wednesday
Hebrews 1:1-3

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, access is a big part of our lives, isn’t it? We lock the doors of our home so that only those with entrust with a key can have access, we don’t want just anyone entering our homes. We put passwords on our online accounts so that only we who have the password can have access to our accounts, we don’t want just anyone looking at our information. We put locks on our safes or our gun cabinets so that only we have access to those things so that children can’t get in and be harmed. Access is a big part of our lives, isn’t it? Well, “access” was kind of the function of the Old Testament High Priest.

Over and over again in the OT God taught His people that their sins separated them from Him. The key individual who had access with God to intervene on your behalf was the High Priest.  In the Old Testament house of worship there were two rooms, the holy place and the most holy place. Only priests were allowed in the holy place and no one was allowed in the Most Holy Place behind a massive curtain except the High Priest one day a year – on the great day of Atonement. We’ve tried to illustrate this here at St. Mark’s by placing a curtain over our back window. It’s a visible illustration that our sins separate us from God, our sins block our access with God. So, in the Old Testament, if you sinned or did something wrong, you couldn’t just go to God to ask for forgiveness. You went to the High Priest. The High Priest would offer a sacrifice on your behalf to restore you with God again. The High Priest had a limited access to God, he was the go-between, the intermediary, between the people and God.

But the office of High Priest in the Old Testament was only meant to be a picture of the ultimate Great High Priest. All the old Testament priests were themselves sinners, they had to offer sacrifices for their own sins, their work was never complete, they had to offer sacrifices for sins again and again and again, and they kept dying and so another high priest had to take over. But they were to be a foreshadow of the ultimate Great High Priest who is Jesus. The truth we’re going to focus on this Lenten season in our midweek services is that we HAVE, right now, a Great High Priest. Tonight we’ll focus on Jesus is our Great High Priest because He is qualified, through Him we are purified, and with Him we’ll be glorified. Qualified, purified, and glorified.

First, qualified. The OT high priests had special qualifications to serve in that capacity. He had to be from the tribe of Levi, the family of Aaron, had to be without physical deformity or defect, had to marry the right kind of woman, he could not attend funerals, had to wear certain garments. But what about our Great High Priest? We’re told, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Throughout the OT God spoke to great men – Moses, David, Isaiah – great men, but just great men. They were given bits and pieces, each providing a piece of the puzzle, but when all those pieces were put together the picture was of Jesus. If people listened to those prophets, how much more so shouldn’t we listen to Jesus! He is God’s own eternal Son! “Whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Wow! Consider Jesus! Heir of all things, Maker of the universe, radiance of God’s glory, exact representation of His being, sustainer of all things! The point is, don’t turn a deaf ear to him. Jesus is fully qualified to be our Great High Priest to tell us of heavenly things- listen to him!

Second, purified. One of the most important things that the High Priest did in the OT was provide purification for the sins of the people. On the Great Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 God tells us that the result of all the elaborate rituals that were involved with the Day of Atonement were this: “On this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins.” But here, what are we told about Jesus? “After he provided purification for sins.” Interestingly, the OT priest, who normally wore fancy clothes, on the day of Atonement would actually put on different clothes, simple clothes, probably was covered in blood and dirt from the sacrifices and looked more like a slave than a king.

And isn’t that the picture we get of Jesus? On the night before Jesus died, he took off his outer clothes, got down on his hands and knees and washed the disciples’ feet purifying them from the accumulated dust and dirt. But there’s more than just meets the eye. It was a foreshadowing of another purification Jesus was about to provide hours away on the cross. When Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet, what did Jesus say? “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” We need to be washed, purified, cleansed of more than our feet, but of our sin.

That’s what Ash Wednesday is all about. The ashes are an outward sign of what’s in our hearts. Dirt, dust, and ashes. The pride, the arrogance, the selfishness, the sins of our lives has stained us with a stains no detergent, soap, or anything we do can get out. It’s a spot that won’t go away. But that’s why we need Jesus, our Great High Priest. He went to the cross to be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. The blood of Jesus applied to our hearts, our mouths, our hands, our feet by faith cleanses us from all sins. Wash me, Lord, and I will be clean! Our qualified High Priest has purified us.

And finally, with him we’ll be glorified. “He sat down a the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God confirms to us that His work of purifying us from sins is completed. But the incredible thing is that Jesus’ exaltation wasn’t just for him- it’s for us too. It’s meant to inspire us that Jesus is right now preparing for us a place in glory. God knows our weaknesses, God knows how difficult  life is here on earth, God knows how difficult it is to deny ourselves and follow Christ’s example through life in this world, so He promises us a place with Him in glory, we can be assured that because of the qualified Great High Priest, because He has purified us from all sin, so we will one day, in due time be glorified with Him forever in heaven.

We may have very limited access in this world, but because of the work of our Great High Priest Jesus, we have complete, perfect, total access to God forever in heaven. What grace! Amen.

The Space Between

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Transfiguration Sunday
Mark 9:2-9

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

The space between. There’s a space between where you are and where you want to be. In all kinds of things in life. There’s the place where you are and the place where you want to be. If you’re going on a trip, there’s a space between. When you’re thinking about life- maybe you’re single and you want to be married and have a family, there’s a space between where you are at and where you want to be. If you’re working and want to have enough in your retirement to retire securely, there’s a space between where you’re at and where you want to be. When you get sick, there’s a space between the time when you’re sick and the time when you will recover. If you’re going to school, there’s a space between where you are at in school and the place where you want to be. But ultimately, as Christians, our whole life is really lived in this space between, a space between where we’re at now and the ultimate goal of where we finally want to be and that’s eternal life.

But it’s not very easy to live in this space between, is it? There’s a certain longing, a certain anticipation, a certain waiting that makes it difficult. And it happens every year but here we are again in the middle of the space between now and the beginning of Lent. Lent is the time when we focus on the sufferings that our sins caused our Savior. Lent is the time we focus on the path that our Savior went down that ended with His excruciating death on the cross. And Jesus knew exactly where He was headed, He knew exactly what was going to happen to him during this space between. But the disciples didn’t. So, what happens? Here on this Transfiguration Sunday we focus on something that Jesus showed His disciples and us to first of all help them through the space between all His sufferings and death and His glorious resurrection. But it also helps us through every space between that we are in right now.

This happened probably about 6 months before Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Jesus took with him three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John. They went up on a high mountain where they were all alone and we’re told that Jesus was transfigured before them. Then we’re told what that meant: “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Then we’re told that Elijah and Moses are there talking with Jesus.

Peter is just so overwhelmed by this experience that he says, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Then we’re told that they were so frightened, he didn’t know what to say. Then a cloud comes and envelops them and God the Father speaks, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly everything was gone and there was only Jesus and Jesus went with them down the mountain.

How was this event going to help the disciples in the space between now and Jesus’ glorious resurrection? How does this event help us in our lives, in this space between where we’re at and where we want to be? What I want to focus on is four things that Jesus helps us with here by His transfiguration. In the space between we face all kinds of things, but today we’re going to focus on 4: good times, bad times, death, and sin. How does Jesus’ transfiguration help us with each of those things.

First, good times. Notice that the disciple Peter recognized that this was an awesome situation. Yes, frightening, but awesome! He had Jesus shining in divine splendor, he had Moses – that incredible OT leader and deliverer, and Elijah- the incredible prophet and preacher- they were there! And he wanted this moment to last. So he offered to build three shelters for them so that they’d stick around, he wanted this moment to last, he didn’t want this moment to end, he wanted a “heaven on earth” so to speak. But that’s not why Jesus came. Moses and Elijah disappear. Jesus’ incredible glory is once again hidden and they walk down the mountain. Why? Because that’s not why Jesus came. Jesus didn’t come in order to give us wonderful, happy life here on this earth. No, He came to give us something far greater. And not only are the good things of this world often fleeting and temporary, they can so easily distract us from what isn’t fleeting or temporary- God and His Word. So, in this space between, let’s not get caught up looking for a “heaven on earth.” Yes, we can enjoy good times, enjoy the gifts God gives us, but be ready to leave anything behind for the sake of following Jesus and His Word.

In this space between we also face bad times, don’t we? Jesus’ disciples were about to follow Jesus from the mount of Transfiguration into the valley of suffering and death. After this, Jesus would make his last and final journey to Jerusalem. And what would happen there? He would be betrayed, mocked, spit upon, beaten, suffer physically, but far worse- suffer God’s eternal wrath against the sins of all people. The disciples were going to see it all. It would be tempting for them to become discouraged, to doubt God, to become depressed. They would be tempted to fight back, to flee in fright, to fasten doors out of fear. But did they need to be? What do they see here? Jesus isn’t just some normal human being! Jesus is God’s very own Son! Jesus has all the power, glory, and majesty as God’s Son all the time! He’s shining dazzling white!

The truth is, we, like the disciples face all kinds of bad times in the space between, don’t we? As soon as something goes against us, as soon as something goes wrong, as soon as something doesn’t turn out the way that we planned, what thoughts enter our minds? Do we become discouraged and depressed? Doubt God and His control? Angry or afraid? But think about it, if the disciples had only taken to heart this scene on the mount of Transfiguration, instead, with trusting hearts they could have thought, “This is the very Son of God, who has all glory in heaven and on earth, this is God Himself, that means that whatever he does or allows to be done to Him will be for the best! This is God! Even if he dies, He’s able to rise from the dead!” And that’s true for you and me as well. Here we see without a doubt that Jesus is God Himself, shining with all the power as God. You know what that means? We’re about to head into Lent and see all of Jesus’ suffering and death. Lent would never be possible, unless Jesus chose to do it! What depth of love that God Himself would lower Himself to suffer and die for YOUR sins! Transfiguration shows that God must love you with a depth beyond tracing out. And if God Himself went through so much to rescue you eternally, will he not also take care of you every day, watch over you, protect you, work out all things for your good? Jesus’ transfiguration helps with the bad times in the space between.

Another grim reality that we face in the space between is death. Each of us here has somehow felt death’s bitter pain. But what do we see here? Moses and Elijah. They had been gone from this earth for hundreds of years, but they’re not dead, they’re alive, so much alive that they’re talking with Jesus. The fact that Moses and Elijah, both true believers in God, appeared with Jesus shows that they are alive and well and already for a long time enjoying the eternal glory of heaven!  You see, our loved ones who die in the faith in Jesus are right now enjoying eternal glory and we will see them again!

And finally, the main thing we struggle with in this space between is our sin. How come we’re never fully satisfied in this life? How come we’re constantly longing for something more or better? The reason is sin. Sin created a separation between us and God. It’s a separation that Adam and Eve felt in the Garden when they hid from God and were banished from the Garden, a separation that Moses felt as he couldn’t look upon God’s glory and live, a separation that the disciples felt here as they were frightened at the sight of Jesus’ glory. It’s a separation that every human heart feels, a longing to be right with our Creator, a longing to be at one with God again.

Jesus came in order to bridge that gap. Jesus shines with all the glory of God Himself, Jesus comes to live as the perfect human in your place and mine, and then…he goes down the mountain. He went down the mountain to offer Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice of sin. He went down the mountain to go up on a cross to offer himself as the sacrifice of atonement, to make us at one with God again, to reconcile us to God forever.

And that means this: wherever you are in the space between, whatever you’re waiting for or longing for, you have this confidence, this boldness, this peace, to know that there is now no more separation between you and God. You are His own dear child. You stand right with him right now. Forgiven and loved. And knowing that gives calmness, peace, and rest wherever you are at in this space between. Amen.

Abundance or Scarcity?

Stewardship Sunday
1 Peter 1:3-9

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, 30 seconds, that’s it, that’s all it is, 30 seconds. As many of you are aware, later today will be the much anticipated 2018 Super Bowl. And yes, many of us are disappointed, because the Vikings are not playing in it. But did you know how much one 30 second, just 30 second, television advertisement during the Super Bowl costs? The estimates are over $5 million. That’s crazy! But even crazier, is the fact that people, companies will pay it! Who could afford such costs? Who would you say is the richest American who has ever lived? You might think it would be Jeff Bezos who has surpassed Bill Gates with a fortune of around 115 Billion dollars from the company Amazon which he apparently began in his garage in the 90s, but it’s not him. Actually, the richest American ever was J.D. Rockefeller. He lived in the 2nd half of the 1800s through the first part of the 1900s and founded the Standard Oil Company right when cars and gasoline and oil were beginning to be needed. In todays dollars his fortune totaled somewhere between 300-400 billion dollars. One day he was asked, “How much money is enough?” And you know what he responded? “Just a little bit more.”

“Just a little bit more.” Does that describe your life? Whether you have hundreds of billions of dollars or a little less than that, doesn’t it always feel like we just need a little bit more? There aren’t enough hours in a day, there’s not enough time to finish projects at work, there’s not enough energy to finish the projects at home, not enough money to get what we want, not enough friendships, we’re just a little short. That’s really our human condition isn’t it? That we’re never really satisfied, never quite have enough, we need “just a little bit more.”

There just isn’t quite enough. And perhaps the word that describes that is “scarcity.” We go through life with a kind of scarcity mentality. If I just had a little more time, just a little more energy, just a little more sleep, just a few more friends, but I’m short. Scarcity.

But here’s the problem: it’s a lie. And here’s why, Because if I don’t have enough, that can only mean one thing: that God hasn’t given me enough. And that’s a lie that Satan’s been using since the very beginning. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden had absolutely everything, they had a perfect relationship with God, perfect relationship with each other, the whole earth to rule, but then the devil came and convinced them that they didn’t have enough. “if we just had that fruit, God hasn’t quite given me enough, I need something more, I need something different.” That’s where scarcity began. And what happens next? Exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden: God begins to seem like he demands more than he gives. “Did God really say you must not eat from ANY tree in the garden?” How unreasonable! How awful!

But here’s what happens when we fall into this scarcity mentality: it hurts to give. Generosity is painful. Giving has lost its joy. Here’s a test to see if you’re living in this scarcity lie: How hard is it to give your money away? If it’s difficult and painful- you’ve bought into the scarcity lie. I just need a little bit more.

But that’s not the mindset God wants us to have. He wants to free us from the lie, free us from this attitude that feels that we’re always short. The first thing he does is takes us to a farmer. “Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” Think of a farmer or a gardener: If you don’t sow seeds, you won’t reap. The farmer has to give to receive. In fact, the more seeds he gives up and the more plants he puts in the ground, the greater his harvest will be. That takes trust doesn’t it? God says that He who gives, receives, and whoever sows generously, reaps generously.

How can you trust God like that? How can you trust God to give generously? Can you count on him? Listen to this: “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” Did you hear that? While the devil wants to fill us with this mindset that says, “Just a little bit more, then I’ll be happy.” What does God do? He says, “all.” “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” God is not a God of “just little bit more” but of “all.” God is a God of abundance, not scarcity.

Where does it all start? It starts with this: “God is able to bless you abundantly.” What is this blessing, this grace? Grace is God’s incredible undeserved love for us in Jesus. It’s like this abounding and overflowing love “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). How do we move past this “I need a little bit more” mindset? It’s the grace of God. You have it all! “You will be enriched in every way.” Not long before this section we are told: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Whoever thinks they don’t have enough in life is missing the big picture. Jesus died for you, Jesus has forgiven you, Jesus saved you, Jesus loves you, you are rich- right now!

Being rich isn’t about how much money or time or power you have. It’s found in what you have in God. You might not have a fraction of what Jeff Bezos has, you may never have enough money to by 30 seconds during the Super Bowl, but what do you have? You have God’s peace. You have infinite worth that is not found in how much money you have, but in Jesus’ precious blood shed for you on the cross. You have a freedom that all the money in the world couldn’t buy, you have the freedom of knowing that every single sin you’ve ever committed is forgiven. You’re not short, you have what you need most in all eternity- the overflowing, abundant grace and love of God!

I want to leave you with two practical thoughts. The first is: God blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others and the second is: Live with an attitude of abundance. But first, God’s blessings are not to end with us, notice what God says, “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” God blesses us with everything that we need for a purpose. He doesn’t want our blessings to come to stop with us. God’s given each of us an amazing purpose in life: you exist to be a blessing for others. God’s abundance flows through us to others!

Think of it like seed money. Seed money is used to start something bigger. The financial company Thrivent gives its members a $250 gift card for seed money in order to do an event to help in the community, you put seed money in your child’s college investments in the hope that it grows. God’s blessings are like that. The money, the time, the possessions, the talents, God gives us are like seed money to sow generously. He gives us blessings to plant them so that they grow and flourish and spread and bless more people with God’s abundance. So how much should I give? What are told? “God loves a cheerful giver.” Giving to others comes from the heart. It reflects your faith. Nowhere will God tell you and me how much we are to give. Rather, God simply leaves that up to you and me. But ask yourself, “What kind of God do I have? Do I have a God of abundance or a God of scarcity? Do I have a God who gives me a little or who gives me all?”

And the second thing is an attitude: Live with this attitude of abundance. It’s so easy to fall into this mindset of not having enough, of being short, but notice what God says! “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” Whenever scarcity creeps in tell yourself: “God is able, God is able, all, all, all, I am rich, rich in what really matters for all eternity!” God has given you the exact right amount of time to serve him. God has given you exactly the right amount of money to serve him. God has given you exactly the right talents to serve him. Don’t have an attitude of scarcity, but of abundance.

God is able. Though He was rich for your sakes he became poor so that you through His poverty might be rich. Being joyfully generous is our response to the abundant grace of God! Amen.

Called to Serve the Lord

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3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Acts 13:1-5

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, when I was going to school I had a full time job during the summer and I was often in a truck driving and as you know, your music interests have a way of changing over time and at this time I was really interested in classic rock. So in southeastern Wisconsin there was a station that I listened to almost all the time, well they had this tradition that on Friday evenings at 5 pm and I’d often still be working and driving somewhere in my truck, but they always played the song by the Kings called “Switchin’ to Glide” that has this phrase in it, “Nothing matters but the weekend.” And I’m sure that they played that song because at 5 pm most people were getting off of work for the weekend and “switchin’ to glide.” But if you think about it, there’s actually quite a few songs that talk about getting done with work, isn’t there? “Working for the weekend” “Hard working man” “It’s five o’clock somewhere” “forty-hour week.” And the list could go on. There seems to be a theme for many people in America that work is a necessary evil in our world that you have to put up with in order to make money so that you can do the things that you really want to do anyway. And then finally someday, hopefully, you can retire so that you can live the way that you always wanted to live. It seems that many people “live for the weekend.”

But how does God want us to view our vocations in life? How does God want us to think about the callings that we have in life? How does God want us to view the work that we do as employers or employees, as husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, students, etc? God has some glorious good news for us to shape the way we view working and the way we view serving Him with our lives.

In our text this morning we’re focusing on one aspect of work. In fact, we’re focusing on the work that God calls certain people with certain gifts to do. We’re told here about a certain church in Antioch. Antioch was located way to the north of Israel in Syria. And this church in Antioch in a way became a hub for missionary activity. They sent off missionaries to share the gospel in places where they couldn’t all go. And this is the first time that we see that happen.

In this church, this congregation, we have all kinds of different people, some of them are mentioned here by name: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. This is just a sample list of the Christians at this congregation, but notice something, they’re all different. Saul had been a ruthless persecutor of the church, Manaen had been brought up with Herod- this is the same evil Herod who ended up murdering John the Baptist, there’s Lucius and all we know is that he’s from Cyrene, which is a city in the territory west of Egypt. What brought all these people together? What did all these people from different backgrounds have in common? They had a shared faith in Jesus, they were children of God, heirs together of eternal life.

The same is true today of every congregation of believers. People with widely different talents, interests, backgrounds, but God brings them together through faith to work together for the common good of sharing the gospel with more people that more people may come to know their Savior.

But while they were worshipping and fasting, the Holy Spirit, probably through one of them who was a prophet, said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So, they placed their hands on Barnabas and Saul and sent them off to do work in another place.

Many of you are well aware that at this time I have 3 calls to serve in different places in God’s kingdom. I have a call to continue to serve the Lord here in Bemidji at St. Mark’s, I also have a call to consider serving the Lord at St. Luke’s in Oakfield, WI, and I have a call to consider serving the Lord at Good Shepherd in Cheyenne, WY. In each case, the Holy Spirit was involved, just like he was here in our text, to work through God’s people to give me these calls and to consider serving Jesus in each of these places. It’s a call from God through His people and He allows me to decide where I can best serve using my gifts at this time. In Acts, God, the Holy Spirit, through His people called Paul and Barnabas to proclaim the Word of God in other places.

But the truth is, we all have callings in this life, we all have different vocations. God has given each of us different talents and abilities that we get to use to God’s glory and for the benefit of people. One of those callings is being a called servant of God in the public ministry. I love being a pastor. The Lord has so given me the talents, abilities, and desire to be a pastor. I love teaching, preaching, administering the sacraments as a called servant in your name and on your behalf. I love the fact that studying God’s Word and sharing it with others is my full time job. It’s a humbling and awesome thing. So, I would say to any young man, if the Lord has so constructed you, and you have a desire to serve as a pastor, seriously consider it – I couldn’t dream of doing anything else. Mr. Bitter and Mrs. Holderbecker also have the talents, abilities, and desire to serve in the public teaching ministry, they get to share God’s Word to all the students in our school. So, I would say, if you have those talents and interests consider being a called servant in the teaching ministry.

But as awesome and rewarding as the called public ministry is, it’s not the only way you can serve the Lord. The truth is, each one of you is in the full-time ministry of the Lord and whatever your calling is at this time in your life it’s not any less pleasing to God than those who are pastors and teachers. In whatever calling or situation you are in, you are serving the Lord. Martin Luther once put it this way, “The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays – not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

While serving the Lord in the public ministry is incredible, it’s not for everyone and that’s fine! In fact, that’s a good thing. God doesn’t want every person to be a pastor or every person to be a teacher, God doesn’t want every person to be an architect or a carpenter or a custodian. God has given to people different gifts, different interests, different ambitions, different passions -that’s a good thing!

But in each of our unique situations we have a general call from God. If you have a job, you are called by God to be a faithful worker, a faithful employee, to faithfully use the gifts, abilities, talents, skills that God has given to you for His glory and for the good of other people. If you’re a parent, you have a calling from God to be a father or a mother. If you are married, you have a calling to be a faithful husband or wife. If you are friend, you have a calling to be a faithful friend. If you have siblings, you’re to be a faithful sibling. If a leader in the church, to be a faithful leader. The Christian doctor who carefully does a surgery glorifies God because he performs a good surgery, not because he leaves a tract about his church. A mother serves the Lord as she changes her child’s dirty diaper. A cook serves the Lord by making good food.

Many in our world are “working for the weekend,” just waiting to do what they really want to do. But as Christians, that’s not us. Do we find fulfillment in the station or calling in life where we are? Your job, whatever it may be, is an opportunity to serve God as you faithfully do your job. There’s a story about someone who lived in the 2nd Century after Jesus’ earthly ministry and he talks about how the plows made by Joseph and Jesus in the carpenter’s shop were still in use, that would have been well over 100 years. Those must have been very well-made plows. Whatever calling you have, whatever job you have, whatever station in life you are in, serve the Lord in it by doing it to the best of your ability and know that God is pleased with your service to him.

Why so? Because that same Jesus faithfully did every job that he was called to do. He faithfully and perfectly served God in everything, he faithfully and perfectly served God by doing everything that God expected of us, and he faithfully and perfectly completed His calling of dying on the cross to pay for all of your imperfections, all your sins, all your failings. Jesus’ blood so fully covers us that it cleanses all that we do. So that means you are a full-time minister of God. In all you do, work at it as if you were doing it for Jesus, serve others, and know that Jesus is well-pleased with your service done for His glory, no matter what job, occupation, or calling you have. Amen.

Speak, for your servant is listening

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2nd Sunday after Epiphany
1 Samuel 3:1-10

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you know how to listen? One key skill that every person needs to develop in order to have healthy relationships with other people is something that is called “Active Listening.” In other words, you’re actively listening and actively engaged paying attention to what the speaker is saying. Here are some tips that people have come up with to assist in active listening: face the speaker and maintain eye contact, be attentive but relaxed, keep an open mind, listen to the words and try to picture what the person is saying, don’t interrupt and impose your solutions, wait for the speaker to pause before you ask clarifying questions, ask questions only to ensure understanding, try to feel what the speaker is feeling, give the speaker regular feedback. So, are you a good listener? Certainly we all want to learn good listening techniques when we’re dealing with other people. But what about with God? Are we active listeners when it comes to what God has to tell us?

In Samuel’s day we’re told that the Word of the Lord was rare. It seems that for about 300 years during the period of Israel’s history while they were ruled by people called judges, there were only 2 prophets from God that we know about. You see, one of the greatest judgements from God on a certain people is that when they no longer appreciate his Word, He takes His gospel from them. That doesn’t surprise us. A few weeks ago we saw how King Herod and the religious officials from Jerusalem heard the Magi message, saw the prophecy in Scripture where the Christ was to be born, but they didn’t appreciate the message, so only the Magi got to see their Savior and their salvation. The same is true today. Let us continue to appreciate God’s message!

How do we do this? By continuing to listen to our Lord’s voice, His speaking to us, to keep saying with our thoughts and words and actions, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” That’s what Samuel did. When we find Samuel in our text this morning we’re not exactly sure how old he is, but some have supposed he was around 12 years old. If you remember Samuel’s background, he was the son of a woman named Hannah. Hannah had been barren and prayed to the Lord that if he would give her a son, she would give him over to the Lord for service in God’s house. In mercy, the Lord granted her request and she brought Samuel up in the training and instruction of the Lord and taught him to honor, respect, and obey. Then, when he was very young, she brought him to the house of the Lord and stayed there day and night. He probably did things like open the doors for people to come in, replenish the oil in the lamps, and so on. Part of his job was also helping out the aging priest, Eli, who was getting quite old and we’re told was not able to see well anymore.

One night, as Samuel was in his bed sleeping and it was probably very early in the morning since the “lamp of God had not yet gone out,” Samuel heard someone call, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel dutifully jumped out of bed and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Now, I’m a parent and I have young children, now, when I try calling them in broad daylight, in the middle of the day, when they are wide awake, it may take 4, 5, 6 times of calling before they slowly and sluggishly come or say, “just a minute.” But Samuel was different. Three times he was called and each time he came running to Eli to see what he wanted and Eli kept telling him, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Now we’re told that “Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” It would be terribly naïve of us to think that means Samuel didn’t know who the Lord was. He had been brought up by a God-fearing mother, he was working in the house of the Lord day and night. He knew the Lord. But what had never happened to him before was that the Lord was speaking directly with Samuel, he didn’t recognize the Lord’s voice and that’s why he kept thinking it was Eli who was calling him.

Well, finally the third time Samuel went to Eli and Eli finally realized what was going on. He “realized that the LORD was calling the boy.” So, Eli correctly told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” There is nothing better in all of life that Eli could have directed someone than to say those words. So, Samuel went back and lay down as before. And then the Lord Himself came and called to Samuel the fourth time: “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel would go on to become a great prophet leading the nation of Israel through the transition of having judges to kings. Yet, what made Samuel great was not so much that he could speak to people, but that he would listen. Listen to the Lord speaking to him. And I would say to you that no matter what you strive for in life, what will make you or me someone great, isn’t so much how well we speak, but how well we listen, and not just how well we listen in general, but how well we listen to the Lord.

And notice something else. Samuel had no idea what the Lord would require of him or what the Lord would ask of him. He didn’t know the ins and outs of what God was going to tell him. He didn’t know where the Lord’s direction would lead him. He didn’t know what his future held. But notice his response, his attitude: “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

The truth is that’s what God calls each of us to as well, to actively listen to Him. And how do we listen to God’s voice? When Martin Luther was a student at the University of Erfurt he was studying in the library when he came across a Bible and he happened to open it up to this account and began reading. He was fascinated and thought how great it would be to be like Samuel and to hear God’s voice. But the truth that he rediscovered is that God DOES speak to us! He speaks to us through the words of the Bible.

So, are you listening? Am I? Do we have the same attitude as Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening?” What is our attitude toward God’s Word? Is listening to our God’s Word the most important thing we do each day? If someone was objectively watching your life or mine on a day to day basis would they be able to tell that the most important thing to us is listening to our God?

And it’s not just listening either, is it? God also wants us to be ready to do whatever it is that he tells us to do no matter the implications. God asks husbands and fathers to lead their homes by being the greatest servants and putting their family before their own interests. “But, but, I just need time for myself, I work hard all day isn’t that enough?” No. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God asks wives and mothers to be servant helpers to their husbands and families. “But, how could I possibly submit to my husband, when he rarely shows me he loves me?” “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God wants children to obey their parents. “But, I want to do my own thing, I know what’s better for me than they do.” No. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” How often are we not all guilty of presuming to know more about how to run this universe, what would be best for our lives, what God should be doing than God does.  How much don’t we say, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking?”  “Listen Lord, I could sure use more money in the bank account, a better job, a new car, more obedient children, a more understanding spouse, etc, etc.”

But remember Samuel. What made him such a good prophet of God wasn’t so much what he said, but that he listened, listened to God.  But why? Why would Samuel characterize his life by listening to God? Why would we ever want to conform our lives to listening to God? It’s because of who our God is. You see, we have a God who listened to us and to our needs far before we were even able to speak. We have a God who planned out our eternal rescue from horridness of sin’s slavery, the fear of death, and the punishment of hell, long before we were even born. We have a God who listened so intently to our every need that He came in this world. Jesus came in order to be the perfect listener, to listen and to do perfectly everything that God wanted from you and me in our place. Jesus even listened to the point of going to the cross and assuming in Himself God’s righteous wrath for all of our sins. Why would we ever want to listen to our God? Because again and again through God’s Word He reminds us of the precious good news of His endless love for us, of His joy in rescuing us eternally, of His plan to bring us home to heaven.

So what do you do? Where do you start? First, make it a habit, schedule a time every day where you can say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Open the Bible or if you have an audio Bible listen to it. Second, meditate on it. Take a short section and ask yourself over and over again, “What does this mean? What is my Lord telling me here?” What’s amazing is that in the Hebrew the word “meditate” is also used for the word “growl”- it’s like what a dog does with a large bone. It takes it to a quiet place, it chews on it, relishes it, turns it over. Do that with God’s Word. Thirdly, keep at it. Chinese bamboo is very interesting. When you plant it, it spends over 4 years underneath the ground, nothing is seen, but then in the fifth year it grows some 80 feet in just 6 weeks. Perhaps we’re tempted to stop listening to the Lord because something is difficult, but don’t give up, keep at it, the Lord will bless it. And finally, don’t just listen, do what the Lord tells you. Why? Because you know that the Lord who loved you so much to rescue you eternally, will only tell you what will bless you eternally. May you have such a Samuel attitude, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Amen.

Your Triune God’s Baptismal Treasure

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Baptism of our Lord
Mark 1:4-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, a new TV show aired in the United States in 1997 on PBS. It was called the Antique Roadshow. In fact, the show is still running. What happens in it is that it travels around to different cities in the United States where people are invited to bring in various old antiques that they have lying around in their home. They bring them in and share a little about what they know about this item, perhaps it was handed down in their family from several generations, it’s been gathering dust in their attic, and they wanted to know a little bit about this thing. Then there’s an antique expert who talks about the history of the item, where it was from, who made it, etc. And then, typically, the expert will ask the person how much he or she thinks that this item is worth. Then the expert shares what they figure it would sell for at an auction. Sometimes the antique is worth an extraordinary amount and the owner is shocked that this thing that’s been sitting in their attic collecting dust is the most valuable possession that they own.

But did you know that you have such a treasure, such a gem, such a pearl, such a prize? It’s a treasure that can so easily be forgotten about, left collecting dust in the attic of our minds, left rather unappreciated as we go about our day-to-day lives. We’re celebrating, today, the Baptism of our Lord. This gives us not only the opportunity to review what a treasure Jesus’ baptism was for us, but also what a treasure our baptism is for us. Just like the Triune God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – was involved in Jesus’ baptism, so also the Triune God was involved in your baptism.

When Jesus was about 30 years old he went from the town where he grew up, Nazareth in Galilee, to John the Baptist who was baptizing in the Jordan River. Now, perhaps one of the first questions that comes to our minds when we consider the baptism of Jesus is, “Why was Jesus baptized?” I mean, we’ve gone over this morning part of the meaning of baptism for us. We were born sinful, we were born with sin that we inherited from Adam and Eve, we were born dead in our sins and enemies of God. We needed to be reborn, we needed the forgiveness of sins in baptism. But Jesus didn’t. Jesus was the lamb without blemish or defect, Jesus had no sin, Jesus was born sinless and remained sinless his whole life. Why should he be baptized? In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist tried to deter Jesus, “I should be baptized by you, and you come to me?” He understood. So, why should Jesus be baptized?

Well, in order to understand Jesus’ baptism, let’s look to what the Triune God did at Jesus’ baptism. First of all Jesus is there. Jesus willingly went to the Jordan River to be baptized. By being baptized Jesus was officially beginning his work of redemption. Yes, Jesus was perfect from conception, yes, Jesus was carrying out our salvation every second from his birth to his death and resurrection, but here Jesus is showing us what that work means. He comes as our substitute in order to save us. Jesus receives the same baptism as tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners, like you and me. Jesus not only had to live a perfect life for us, but he also had to receive the punishment for our sins. Jesus identification with sinners began at his baptism and would end with his treatment as a sinner on the cross, when God would let all of his anger and wrath for sins fall on Jesus. Jesus’ baptism marked him for his work as our substitute.

But the Holy Spirit was also present. “He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” In the OT God foretold that the Messiah would be the “anointed One.” In fact, that’s what Messiah and Christ means. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit at His baptism. In the OT, prophets, priests, and kings were all anointed. Someone would take some kind of canister of oil and pour it over a person’s head, this act designated them as either a prophet, priest, or king. When Jesus was baptized He was anointed by the Holy Spirit to be our Prophet, Priest, and King. He came as the Prophet to tell us about God, as a Priest to offer himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins, and as the King to defeat our true enemies – sin, death, and Satan on the cross.

And finally we’re told that the Father was present too. “And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” God the Father announces to all that He is pleased with the work that the Son has come to do on behalf of sinners. He is pleased with His Son who came to rescue sinful, fallen humans, like you and me.

What a treasure Jesus’ baptism was for us! But that’s not it! Not only was Jesus baptized with us but He has joined himself to us through the baptism he has given to us. And we see this blessing of this same Triune God in our baptism.

But again, is this a treasure that we’ve left to collect dust in the attic? For many of us our baptism was such a long time ago, maybe when we were very little babies, we have no recollection of it, it didn’t look like a whole lot- a few drops of water, a few words spoken. On the outside it looks rather simple, rather mundane, rather obscure, rather unimpressive. It’s easy to brush past it as not that important. Or, maybe we forget what our baptism means for us every day of our lives. Our sinful nature attacks us, Satan tempts us, and it can be so easy for us to forget what our baptism made us and has done for us and we give in as if we couldn’t say no to temptation and sin.

Well, let’s take this treasure of baptism, dust it off, and be reminded once again of what a treasure it really is. The Triune God was involved in your baptism. You were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of them was involved.

First, the Son, Jesus. Did you know that when you were baptized you were connected to Jesus? Jesus’ baptism marked him as the substitute for sinners who came to do in every way what you and I were supposed to do perfectly. And not only that, but Jesus came to receive in Himself the punishment for sin that was properly to be ours. He did that with his death on the cross. What baptism does is it intimately connects the person who is baptized to Jesus. The Bible puts it this way, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead…we too may live a new life.” And also “All of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” In other words, through baptism, you were connected to Jesus; everything that Jesus was and did becomes personally yours.

Second, the Holy Spirit was involved in your baptism. We’re told that through baptism a person receives the “gift of the Holy Spirit.” We’re also told that baptism is a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Jesus told Nicodemus that flesh gives birth to flesh but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit and that the way to enter the kingdom of God is being born of water and the Spirit. In other words, when you were baptized God the Holy Spirit entered your heart, your soul. He worked faith in your heart to believe in Jesus.

And finally, God the Father was also involved in your baptism. The way God brings children into this world is amazing. God chooses to use a father and a mother. God’s family plan is that that father and mother care for and nurture and feed and protect that child. It’s also God’s intention that the father and mother not only provide for the physical well-being of that child but also the spiritual. Providing for the spiritual needs of a child first means bringing that child to the baptismal font where the child is adopted into a new family. Because of sin we’re born dead, we’re born enemies of God, and outside of his family. Through the gracious waters of baptism God adopts a person into His eternal family. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit so that having been justified by His grace we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.

Because of the work of Jesus as your substitute and Savior, because of the work of the Holy Spirit working faith in your heart through baptism, God the Father looks at you and can say about you exactly what he said about Jesus: “You are my son, my daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

You know what that means? That means that you have a treasure worth infinitely more than any treasure discovered on the Antiques Roadshow. In fact, you have a treasure worth infinitely more than any treasure in your house. In fact, you have a treasure worth infinitely more than all the treasures in the world combined. Why so? Because through your baptism you have the forgiveness of sins, through your baptism you’re a child of God, through your baptism you have been freed from sins shackles so you can live a new life- not enslaved to sin- you can make changes, through your baptism you have a treasure in heaven that will never perish, spoil, or fade, no matter what! Amen.

 

The Secret Revealed to You!

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Epiphany Sunday
Matthew 2:1-12

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests! In the name of Jesus, who was born to save us, dear fellow redeemed by His blood, dear friends in Christ, her name was Esther. She lived in one of the apartments that my wife and I managed while I was attending Seminary in Milwaukee. As managers we took care of any issues that people had with their apartments. One day Esther called and complained that she had this white dust all over her apartment and she couldn’t get rid of it. So, I went over to check it out. And, sure enough, she had this white dust everywhere. She was older and suffered from emphysema and so was particularly concerned. She had cleaned everything off and sure enough the next day this white dust was again all over her apartment. She claimed that it was coming from the heater. But I knew that couldn’t be possible because the heat was hydronic baseboards, simply hot water, there was no air heat being blown in. It was really a mystery. So, I, as a product of my generation, did what anyone would do when there was a mystery: I googled “white dust all over apartment.” And sure enough I discovered what it probably was: if you use tap water in ultrasonic humidifiers it can cause the minerals in the water to become dust all over your house. So I went back to Esther’s and sure enough she had this humidifier that was just caked with white mineral deposits. Mystery solved! But Esther refused to believe. It didn’t matter what I said or how much I explained it, she insisted it was from the heat. Ugh! Has that ever happened to you? You have the answer, you solved the mystery, you know the truth and you try to explain it to someone and they just don’t see it, they refuse to believe it, even though the answer is right in front of them!

Today we’re celebrating “Epiphany.” And “epiphany” literally means “appearing” or “revealing.” And what we see is the mystery of the gospel is revealed. The mystery that Jews and Gentiles alike are heirs of eternal life and children of God simply through believing in the Christ-child, the Savior. Some people see the truth, many have no clue and refuse to believe it. We see that here in our text. The truth of who this Christ-child born in Bethlehem is, is revealed to some, but many in stubbornness and unbelief refuse to believe it!

This account is filled with all kinds of questions. Who are these Magi? Where did the come from? How come they knew so much about the birth of Jesus? What’s with this star that led them to Israel? How come they weren’t incredibly discouraged by everything that happened?

Imagine being these Magi. Can you imagine how disappointed they must have been when they finally arrived at Jerusalem? They saw this special star, somehow they knew that this signaled the birth of the Savior-King. They set out on a journey of who knows how long- weeks, months, a year? Apparently at some point the star disappeared so they when to the capital city of Israel. They finally arrive in Jerusalem and…no one knows what they’re talking about! No one has a clue that their King has been born! No one really cares. Herod is disturbed and the whole city is acting cold and strangely to them. They direct them away from the capital city and to some small little village. No one offers to go with them. No one is excited. No one seems to care one bit about this Savior King who was born!! Martin Luther surmised about what they must have been thinking, “Oh how odd and unusual everything appears at the birth of a king! If a young pup were born, there would be a little noise. A King is born here, and there is no stir. Should not they sing and dance, light candles and torches, and pave the streets with branches and roses? …There is more noise when a child is born to our shepherd, and a calving cow is more talked about than this King.”

Can you imagine how discouraged these Gentile Magi must have been? They come to the very nation through whom the Savior was to be born, right after this WORLD’s Savior is born, and no one has a clue, no one seems to care. The truth is right in front of them, but they refuse to see it, refuse to believe it. Imagine if these Magi relied solely on their human reason and senses. They would have given up, packed up, thought of themselves as foolish, and left in despair. But faith goes far deeper than what we see or feel. Faith takes God at His Word no matter what the outward appearance of things seems to be.

And so it can be with us. It can be so easy for us to become discouraged when we look at this world, when we look at our own lives, when we rely only on our feelings. And it’s not just long, cold winter days or news headlines of more problems in our world, it’s things that we face on a day to day basis. Sickness makes a feel miserable or our plans don’t happen the way that we want them to. Friends or family disappoint, make poor decisions, or fail to come through for us. We enjoy some good times but then are always ready for the disappointments to come around the corner. So, yes, if we relied simply on what we see or feel or on outward circumstances, we could easily become discouraged, give up hope, and despair. But that’s not what faith does. Faith clings to God’s Word and promises in spite of outward appearances. Martin Luther said, “Grace joyfully steps out into the darkness, follows the mere word of Scripture, no matter how it appears.”

The Magi, in the face of everything that appears contrary to the way things are supposed to go at the birth of the world’s King, cling to the word of Scripture that says that the baby was born in Bethlehem. And even though, no one else cares, no one else bothers to come with them, they go. They rely on the Word. And notice what God does, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” The star re-appeared! And it directed them right to the Savior. They clung in faith in spite of outward circumstances and kept going. And what happened? They were overjoyed. In fact, the Greek is far greater than “overjoyed.” It literally says, “Seeing the star they rejoiced joy great very.” I’m not sure if there is a more superlative way to say that they rejoiced. And they found the Christ-child, they worshipped him and presented their offerings to him.

The Magi believers were met with so much discouraging news, but it didn’t discourage them.  The very people who should have known the truth didn’t get it, had the Magi given up and gone home they would have missed out on seeing God’s grace and love.  Even though no one went with them, they went, they saw, they believed, and they were blessed.  In our world full of doubts and deception and discouragements, don’t be discouraged!  Why?  Because look at God’s love and mercy.  Though many may stare blankly at God’s message, His Word, His Sacraments, the Means He uses to come to us, you know the truth, you know the secret!  God has revealed the secret to you!  You know that in the Word God strengthens you, equips you, nurtures your faith, and gives you joy!  You know God gives you forgiveness of sins in the Supper!  You know that He washed you clean in Baptism!  Indeed, you know the secrets!  God in grace has revealed the truth to you.  Don’t be discouraged!

You know the secret because God has revealed it to you!  God has called you by the gospel, enlightened you with his gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith!  No, God didn’t use a star to bring you to faith in Him, but He did use the “sign” of His Word.  His Word leads you again and again to the manger to see your Savior, His Word guides you to Bethlehem to see far more than an ordinary Child, but the Redeemer, the Savior, His Word allows you to gaze at glimpses of glory, His Word lets you see the shimmers of the bright, shining brilliance of eternal glory in heaven that awaits you!   Many have come and gone in our world who have rejected God’s “signs” and refused His message and have missed out on eternal glory.  Many…but not you!  God has called you to faith in Him, you see the hidden glory, you know your Savior, give thanks!  You know the secret!  What grace!  Amen.

To Depart in Peace

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1st Sunday after Christmas
Luke 2:25-40

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those one whom God’s favor rests! In the name of Jesus, our newborn Savior, dear friends in Christ, are you making any New Year’s Resolutions for 2018? Newsweek recently published an article of 15 top ideas to help you in setting goals for 2018, here they are: eat more fish, make meaningful connections, take a warm bath, go to bed early, volunteer, make your own meals, give up soda, hit the gym, don’t eat after 9 pm, pick up a book, eat salad once a week, spend more time outside, get a coloring book, use social media less, and save for the future. A new year presents us with the opportunity to not only reflect on the past year, but to look forward into the next year. So, are you setting any goals or making any resolutions for 2018? Almost every popular list of resolutions people have for a new year are exclusively to do with a person’s outward life. But, as Christians, we know that there is something much more satisfying, much more rewarding, much more lasting than making some outward changes to our lives. Are there any inward or spiritual resolutions that you will be making this coming year?

We obviously don’t know what lies ahead in 2018. Will there be a sudden change to our lives? Will we face some major expense? Will there be some big thing that will happen on the world scale? Will we have some major health issue? Will a close loved one pass away? Will this be the year that we pass away? While we don’t know what will happen in 2018, wouldn’t it be nice to have to peace of Simeon and the joy of Anna? Well, the good news is that because of God’s resolution about us we can have the same peace and the same joy.

Joseph and Mary have taken the baby Jesus to the temple. And while they are there a man named Simeon came up to them. We’re told that Simeon was righteous and devout. The word “righteous” indicates that he was a true believer in the promised Savior. Through faith in the coming Savior God credited him with the righteousness that Jesus came to win. He was also “devout.” That indicates that his faith was evident in his life. He wasn’t just a “religious” person, he honestly lived to serve God giving thanks for the salvation that God had come to win for him.

There was something special about Simeon. It had been revealed to Him by God the Holy Spirit that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah. On one particular day, moved by the Holy Spirit, he entered the temple courts and went up to Joseph and Mary and took the baby Jesus into his arms and praised God with the words of what has come to be called the “Nunc Dimittis” which is Latin for the first words in Latin, “Now you depart.” “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Now, we often assume that Simeon was a very old man and what he is saying here is that he can now die because he has seen Jesus. But we’re not told that specifically. It could be. But that’s not really the focus of his song of praise. For many centuries the Christian church has placed this song of Simeon right after people have received the Lord’s Supper. And that’s a very fitting place. The word translated “dismiss” has the basic meaning of “set free” or “release.” It could be used to set a prisoner free or to a slave being given freedom from his master. Simeon was set free from this intense yearning and waiting to see the Savior from this special promise that the Holy Spirit had given him. Now with the child Jesus in his arms he has seen the salvation that God brought into the world and that spoke peace to his heart.

The same is true for us.  Every time we receive the Lord’s Supper we are receiving in a miraculous way the very same body and blood of this Christ-child, the same body and blood that was nailed to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. And what is our response to that? We may go in peace knowing that our sins, personally, have been forgiven. We have seen our salvation.

Joseph and Mary marveled at what Simeon said about their little child. But then he turned to Mary and said, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The purpose of a sign is to tell or reveal something. Jesus has come to reveal God’s grace and salvation for all people. The purpose is fulfilled when people believe and receive Jesus as their Savior. They rise from sin, guilt, death and hell to life, faith, becoming children of God, and heirs of eternal salvation. But he will also cause the falling of many. There are only two reactions to Jesus. He is really the great divider in all humanity. Either you believe in him or you don’t believe in him. Unfortunately many don’t believe in him, many reject him, many don’t want Jesus to be their Savior. Because of their rejection many will face the ultimate falling- spiritual death now and eternal death hereafter. And a sword will pierce Mary’s soul too. Did she remember this as she stood at the foot of the cross watching her son go through inhuman, unbelievable, excruciating pain suffering an eternity of hells for whole mass of all humanity?

Then we hear about Anna who was very old and came up to them gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Can you picture this elderly woman excitedly going up to people telling them about the Christ-child who was born to be their Savior?

Do you have that? Do you have the peace of Simeon? Do you have the joy of Anna?

Here we are on the eve of another new year. Tonight, we will bring 2017 to a close and usher in 2018. We reflect on the joys, challenges, difficulties, struggles, experiences of 2017. We look forward to a new year. What will 2018 bring? We don’t know what lies ahead. We can make our plans, we can make our resolutions, we can anticipate, but in the end, we don’t know what the future will bring. And not knowing can lead us to fear, can lead us to worry, can lead us to anxiousness.

So, how do we have the peace of Simeon and the joy of Anna? How can we, too, say with Simeon, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace”? How can we? Because our eyes, too, have also seen our salvation. Simeon never saw Jesus perform a miracle. Simeon never heard Jesus preach a sermon. Simeon never saw the cross or the empty tomb. But Simeon saw through the eyes of faith that this child was God’s answer. This child came in order to make all things right. This child came to undo what sin had broken. This child came in order to crush the serpent’s head. This child came to win the forgiveness of sins. And knowing that, Simeon could depart in peace. He knew that God had fulfilled His promise to send the deliverer, the rescuer, the redeemer, who would take care of everything that made death terrible. He knew that the punishment for his sin was upon the Messiah and that by the Messiah’s wounds he was healed. He knew that though his sin was as scarlet, because of this Christ-child they would be as white as snow. He knew that death was now the entrance to life eternal. What did he have? Peace.

And you do too. No, we don’t know what lies ahead. We make our plans, but we don’t know how or if they will succeed. We often are left with many questions in this life that is so affected by sin. But through the eyes of faith, we too, have seen our salvation. This baby, this Christ-child, came in order to provide the ultimate answer. He came in order to make us right with God, forgiving our sins and winning eternal life for us. Knowing that we have such a God who would go to such lengths in order to save us really makes our whole lives one long joyful Christmas celebration in which the best present of all will be opened last of all when at last the Lord allows us to depart in peace. Amen.