Monday, December 10, 2012

Sermon for 12/9/12

Sermon “Who Shall Stand?” Grace, mercy and peace to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. During Advent our call is for the Lord to come. We start to realize our darkness and our need for a savior. Yet like anything else, we are able to twist that which is good into something self-destructive. We take what God intended for good, a call to repentance so we can receive forgiveness with great joy. But once we have twisted it around a little bit like these pipe cleaners we have something that won’t even serve our purposes. Here’s a case in point. Christmas sales. I recall a time when it was common for people to do most of their Christmas shopping starting about now, in the two weeks or so before Christmas. And that was among people who were thinking ahead. Is it nice to give presents? Certainly. Is it a good thing to be able to find those presents without it being a tremendous last-minute rush to locate, purchase, and wrap all those bits of mechanized, electric joy? Well, it probably is a nice thing. So the Christmas merchandise comes out earlier and earlier. To inspire a rush of purchases we started seeing this special holiday called “Black Friday.” This started in the 1960s. It isn’t a long-standing tradition, though it’s been around for most or all of our lives. Black Friday? Sometimes it’s more like black and blue Friday. And it’s moved into Thursday now, making a civic holiday, a day of Thanksgiving, originally to God but now pretty universally referred to as “turkey day” a day when a bunch of turkeys want to go out and buy more Christmas presents, sold to them by a bunch of people who are being made to work on a holiday. But we need to get an early start on Christmas because everyone is going to pile it up with so much activity, so many desires, a greed for things to be “special” that we forget the nature of Christmas. We stop using this season to anticipate the coming of Christ and we let Christmas move forward, earlier and earlier. Then by the time the twelve days of Christmas arrive at the end of December 24 we’re so tired of it all that we unwrap the presents and look forward to getting that Christmas tree down as soon as possible after Christmas Day. We don’t even make it through those twelve days of Christmas and we’d sure be upset if we were supposed to give each other a little gift each of those twelve days like “my true love gave to me.” Rush, rush, rush, hurry here and hurry there, and we twist this good celebration of our Savior’s birth into something which can barely be recognized. By the end of it we’re worn out. It’s not surprising that mental health professionals report December and January as the most depressed months of the year. We start out with some high hopes and bit by bit they are crushed. We build these expectations that nobody is going to fulfill. And some of those expectations are expectations of our savior. Who are we looking for? Are we looking for a mild Jesus who is going to make us feel good about ourselves? Are we expecting that sweet little baby to lie quietly in the manger forever so we can talk baby talk and see if he smiles? What kind of a Jesus are we looking for? Let’s take a look back at Malachi chapter 3. How does our Lord come to us? He is a refiner. He takes us as lumps of ore and heats us to burn off the waste and lift the valuable metal out, making it useful. In all this smelting we are pulled out of our former lives. We are changed. We cease to be the pieces of rock that we once were. We are made useful, valuable. But we’re subject to great heat, pressure, crushing, sifting. When it’s all over, though, what emerges? Maybe silver, maybe gold, certainly something that is valuable and useful when it was not valuable and useful before. Our Lord comes to each one of us. He calls us to repent of our sins. He calls us to believe the Gospel. He promises us forgiveness and grace. And when we receive that, he works in us as the refiner, making us valuable and beautiful in his sight. Jesus comes to us as a refiner. Jesus also comes to us as a launderer. In baptism he washes us, cleansing us from sin. In confession and absolution he delivers us full and free forgiveness, washing away all the stains of our sin day by day. He takes that which is dirty and foul and presents it clean and sweet-smelling. Again and again in the Bible we read about washings. Sacrifices are washed. Priests are washed. People who have made sacrifice are washed. Sometimes there’s a sprinkling of blood, which is also called a washing in the Bible. We care cleansed, ceremonially, which means we are cleaned on the inside and the outside, by the blood of Christ shed for us. Jesus washes us from all sin and shame. Again, what is unrighteous is taken away, only what is good and fine remains. Jesus changes us into people who make offerings of righteousness. Our old habits, our self-centered view of the world, our selfish desires can gradually pass away as he takes us and makes us able to minister to others, to build them up in the faith. Have you seen this happen? This is the kind of change that we receive when we are courageous enough to let the Word of God change us. That’s one of many reasons I always encourage people in daily Bible study themselves and at least weekly Bible study with others. There’s something we gain when we are taking in the Word of God and discussing it with others, or at least listening in as others discuss it. Over time our Lord equips us with all that we need for life and godliness. He uses the Word for instruction in righteousness. He changes us so we can act as encouragers for others. This is why we kept the Adult Bible Class going through the summer. This is why we’re having some Wednesday evening Bible studies looking specifically through the Gospel of Luke, drawing out what our Lord would say to us. May the Lord change us into good offerings. How else does he come? He comes in judgment. He will judge all that evil, sorcery, adultery, perjury, failure to do justice. So where do we stand? We seem to be guilty. How do we confess? Sins in thought, in word, in deed. We have failed to love God with all our heart, all the time. We have turned our back on his goodness and mercy. So how will we stand? Who can stand before this kind of a judge? We should be destroyed. Yet in verse 6 we see that we are not destroyed. Why not? We are not destroyed because God does not change. Wait a minute! I thought God was the judge and would destroy all the evil. Now he’s not destroying us because he doesn’t change? What’s going on here? Maybe we need to remember what he just told us. What did we think all that refining, that washing, that changing us from inside to out was about? God is the one who doesn’t change. He is still full of mercy. He is going to cleanse us from all sin and present us to himself as his perfect bride, with no fault. This is how great our Lord’s mercy is. But what happens to all that sin and evil, all that slag, all the dirt and grime that he cleans from us? It all falls upon Jesus. That’s the Jesus we are looking for, not the sweet little baby, but the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, by taking them upon himself. We are looking for the Jesus who lives a perfect life in our place and who then becomes sin for us. We are looking for the Jesus whose mercy never changes, who will be crushed for us, who will be twisted beyond recognition, so that we can be presented to the Father holy and innocent. And that’s exactly the Jesus the Bible gives us. The more we learn from Scripture the more we see that Jesus is our only hope in this world. He himself is the light at the end of the tunnel. He himself is the one who gives us repentance. He himself is the one who draws us to him in faith. He himself is the one who raises us up. He is the one who takes us, who were once useless, fouled, destroyed, and makes us, like Paul in Philippians, a partner with him in the Gospel. He is the one who frees us from eternal death. He is the one who enables us to be about the business of making disciples. Earlier I talked about how our wrong expectations can drive us to be so very busy about things which will always disappoint us. Looking to Jesus, can we be busy about learning from our Savior? Can we be busy about the Word of God? Can we be busy about the work of training the next generation in righteousness? Can we be busy making a difference in our world, being those people who were making the precious offerings in the book of Malachi? By his grace, may he make us eager to hear and to obey his Word. Lord, let us see you as you come, not the one we may have expected, but exactly the one we need. Change us, cleanse us from inside out Fill us with your Spirit. Make us walk in your paths, bringing your grace to all those around us, for you live and reign, one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

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