Gaudete Sermon 2013 (Advent 3)

Isaiah 40 is a wonderful chapter, a unique view into the mind of God. These are beautiful words. I spent weeks at the Seminary studying them once, diagramming them. I even drew a chart showing the connections between the words in each verse, and then a paper which explained the relationship. I swam in these words, and it is one of the best memories of my life at the seminary.

This passage is God speaking to Isaiah, but also to John the Baptist, but also to me, and to every preacher sent to proclaim the Word of God. Comfort, speak tenderly, the warfare is over. All flesh is grass, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. “Behold your God,” he tells us to say, and He is coming and his recompense—that means His Work, His Salvation—comes with Him.

Think of this as the ultimate “come to Jesus” moment. God calls Isaiah, the Prophets, the Apostles, the Preachers and Pastors into the back office, pulls up a chair and says, “OK guys. You have all kinds of things to do and say. I’ll tell you to speak against this or that nation, to proclaim other judgments, to teach many facts about me. You pastors—you will be like these priests who serve me, managing the gifts. All of you are busy with all kinds of things.

“But here’s the deal,” the Godhead says. “Comfort my people. Life is hard. Things go wrong. The forces of evil war against them. Cruelty and crime and beatings and even tortures are out there. You know this. Comfort my people.

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Speak tenderly to the Church. Be gentle with them because the world is harsh and death is the enemy. Tell them: Your war with God is over. Jesus is your peace. Your sins? All those failures and wickedness and disobedience and harsh things YOU’VE done to others? Forgiven! Forgiven! And you have double grace and love and forgiveness for every sin! Forgiveness in abundance!”

“John will make the way of the Messiah straight. So will you, O preachers of the Gospel. Work slowly and carefully. Don’t be a stumbling block, but help them hear about Jesus the Messiah, clear the way of false assumptions and show them Jesus.”

God continues to shoot straight with preachers:

“All people will see God—God in the flesh you will see with your flesh! God becomes a man! He stands before you and does all these things—and you will see His Glory! Glorified on the Cross for your sins, and Glorified in His Resurrection and Return.”

“Cry out,” says God to His prophets and apostles and preachers. “Remind them that all flesh is grass. Remind them of the Law. That their sins are killing them, even those sins which seem small and maybe even enjoyable. No, sin brings death. Remind them of this, so that they may know me—but so that they may know that all my promises and comforts and peace and tenderness lasts forever. My Word is stronger than death,” says God the Almighty.

“Now go!” He says. “Go and be bold to share this. Don’t be shy, but go up on a mountain where everyone will see you and hear you, so that everyone will know that God has come in the flesh for them!” Who is this God? It is Jesus, who came to serve you!

Finally, God concludes, “My way of salvation in becoming flesh looks weak. It’s not what you will expect, the Son dying on the Cross. But it is strength! It is might, for this is how I defeat the curse of sin and death and hell and satan forever. This is the end of all things, the beginning of all things, this is how I make all things new. This is my might and power: in giving myself over to the enemy for you.”

“And I will be your shepherd and tend you and be gentle with you.”

This is what God would have me and every pastor, every preacher speak to you. This is what God is all about. This is the heart of God. It’s not all of Him, to be sure. His ways are beyond our understanding. He does so much more. But this is the heart of His revelation to us humans.

So dear friends, this is what I preach. When you ask yourself, “When will this misery end? When will the pain be dulled?” When You wonder when it will be that every moment, every object, every story will not bring it to mind. It doesn’t matter if it’s a divorce, a bad break-up, a tragic death, it’s the same. Catastrophic illness or war. These are the worst times of our lives and what we need then is relief.

When all these things are roiling in your life. Remember that God addresses this. There is an end. It will not last forever. This life, these days are coming quickly to an end. Christ has come and brought double blessing and forgiveness for all your sins and suffer. And the day will dawn fresh and new and the pain will subside and it will seem like a nightmare, and then a shadow, and then just the memory that once there had been trauma. And for you, even more comfort because God is bringing Christ to you. Today. This is His healing I speak of, His gift, comfort, recompense and joy. The joy of His Word to us through all the Scriptures and prophets and preachers. Comfort to you, God’s people. Comfort to you.

Advent 1 Sermon

In the Romans commentary, Martin Luther noted that the Scriptures talk about sleep in three different ways. There is sleep which means death as in the Old Testament where it says a king would “sleep with his fathers.” There is the sleep which is blessed, the rest He gives to us in the night. The kind of sleep of grace our Lord had in the boat with the storm raging all around Him. Psalm 127:2 says, “ It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (ESV)” The ability to sleep even when the world is crying and pulling their hair out in clumps, because we know our Lord is King of Creation and that all things are Christ’s.

Then there is the sleep to which we are called to cast off. Wake, O Sleeper! The sleep that looks like living, the sleep that looks like activity and busyness but is a blindness to reality. This is the sleep we must fight against.

We hang the lights and set up the displays. We plan for weeks the gift lists of giving and receiving. We plan the dinners and the parties. We fret about the time that sped too quickly this year and make our end-of-year donations. We buy our tickets and watch the weather. We begin thinking about 2014 and your personal and work objectives. You are people living in the moment, living in this glorious time of year that looks a lot like Christmas. The longer your to-do lists, the bigger your purchases, the more intricate your plans, the more diligent you are.

And this is a dream and fool’s gold, the Spirit of God warns us. Here we are in the season of Advent, and what do we see? As St. Bernard wrote, “For the unhappy children of Adam, turning aside from serious and salutary reflections, give their minds only to that which is perishable and transitory.” These words cut to my heart when I read them. What perishable and transitory things do you reflect on? Oh, we could name this or that, like sports or politics, like music and celebrity gossip, like salt water fish tanks and cars and guns and fabric. But the problem is not one of these as an idol, but the gallery of transitory worries and obsessions and accumulations which gather around ourselves and our spirits and numb and lull and sedate ourselves into. It’s all of it. And as much as we rail against 94.Whatever playing Christmas songs beginning in early November—early November!— we are part of that slumbering system of consumerism and sedate pleasures.

Wake up, O Sleeper! Arise and shine. Open your ears to those things of permanence and imperishable joy and goodness. Open your eyes to that which Christ has prepared for you. You are surrounded by saints and angels—and these images remind you of this. Your name is in that Book of Life, cradled by the Cosmic God-Man Jesus Christ—see that is an image of it, to remind you. You are part of the Creation and Salvation of God, gathered in this body, this mystical body of Christ I see in front of me. You have been pulled from darkness and slumber, from rot and decay by this blood of Christ which is given to you this day. Christ’s death and rest in the tomb has reversed death, has made the dead alive, has brought the Spirit into this world, has reversed the curse and inaugurates you into the imperishble Kingdom of Heaven which is right in front of your eyes, which is preached into your ears, which is placed in your hands and on your lips and of which you are royalty.

Jesus has awakened you from the dream of death, that dream that made Adam think he could be like God. Jesus has awakened you from the dream of decay by opening His own tomb and giving you Himself to wear. Jesus has awakened you from the dream of sin, that claustrophobic desperation of feeling and seeking joy in those deeds of the flesh, in those things of the night, so that awake you may step outside and see the infinite of heaven, the light of joy, the openness of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus has awakened you from the dream of the devil, who lulls you fear and desperation.
Awake and watch for Jesus. Make no provision for the flesh, as St. Paul says. Here in this season of decadence and feasting and fudge and peanut brittle and gum drops, turkeys and Christmas geese we have this warning. Tryptophan may do more than make you sleepy.

So how do we carry out this great awakening to the promises of Christ in this wasteland of consumerism? We don’t want to loose our Christmas traditions, do we? No, but let us temper this with the Advent observances. Start the Advent wreath at home. Limit your television time. The Orthodox Christians have a strict fast during Advent that rivals Lent. Here in the west, the tradition of Friday Fasting and Abstinence can be renewed in Lent, as well as the Ember Days: this year, December 18, 20 & 21. As Luther says in the Small Catechism, fasting is good outward preparation for receiving the gifts of God.

Of course we rely on the Grace of God for the strength and help and forgiveness in living as wide-awake Christians. Self denial and spiritual disciplines are only tools for us, not merits to earn. Ultimately we set our eyes and hopes on Jesus above all.