The Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent based on John 1:19-28

Dear hearers of the voice crying in the wilderness: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

John the Baptist confessed, and did not deny, but confessed that he is not the Christ, that he is not the Elijah the Jews expected, nor is he the prophet foretold by Moses of Whom we heard in our Old Testament lesson.

For four hundred years, God had sent them no prophets. The last prophet, Malachi, had foretold of the coming of Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5). The angel Gabriel says that John will go before the Christ in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17), and Jesus confirms that John is Elijah who is to come (Matt. 11:14; 17:11-13). John was not, however, the falsely interpreted Elijah the Jews were expecting, and thus he denies being that Elijah.

Neither was John the the prophet foretold by Moses. The prophet foretold by Moses is none other than Jesus Himself.

John rather quotes this prophecy concerning himself, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” He is different from all the other prophets. He was not pointing forward in time to the future coming of the Christ. He was pointing to Jesus who was there present, standing among them, and saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He was not a prophet who gathered people to teach them and advise them, but he gathered them to bring them to Jesus, who was there present. He was the forerunner, running directly in front of the Lord of all prophets, telling people to step aside and make room.

John preached, “Make straight the way of the Lord!” This must mean that the way of the Lord was not yet straight among them. They were crooked. They had neither the Lord nor His ways. Where the Lord is not, nor His way, there is only man’s way, the world’s way, the devil’s way.

This was John’s preparation of the Lord’s way. He was to humble the whole world and to proclaim that they are all sinners – lost, damned, poor, miserable, pitiable people. He was to tell them that all their works are nothing but sin and they all deserve eternal punishment in hell and can only be saved by the grace and mercy of the One whose way he was preparing.

This humbling is necessary, for whoever is full of himself has no room for Jesus. This therefore John preached to prepare the way of the Lord, telling everyone to give way and make room.

There are two responses to the preaching of John. Some confess that his preaching is true, that they are sinful. These are the people to whom the Lord comes. In them His way is prepared and made even. As Scripture teaches, God gives grace to the humble (I Pet.5:5), and the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14).

The other hearers deny John’s preaching. They see their way as being straight. They think that they do enough good in the community and are generous enough in helping the needy that they are not poor, miserable, or deserving of hell. They say they are not sick, and thus have no need of a physician. They think John and his preaching are crooked.

Such hearers cannot endure such preaching. No wonder John had to be put to death, and His Master after him.

Having heard John’s answer that he is not the Christ, he is not Elijah, and neither is he the Prophet, those sent by the Pharisees ask, “Then why are you baptizing?” Who do you think you are? We are the rulers and leaders of the church. We are your superiors according to the Law of Moses and you have to answer to us. You can’t go off on your own and do your own thing without our knowledge and permission.

Here they reveal their hypocrisy. The Pharisees did not send the priests and Levites to ask who John is so they could hear his preaching, learn from him, and be baptized by him. They went to him to tell him to stop doing what he’s doing, no matter who he thinks he is. Really, that could be recognized from the outset, because the Pharisees didn’t go themselves to hear John preach or be baptized by him. They sent their goons. If they had actually believed that John was the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet, they would have come themselves to hear him preach and be baptized by him, as others did.

But John is no reed shaken by the wind. Neither their hypocritical flattery nor their threats deter him. He responded, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” He may not have had authority from the Pharisees to baptize with water, but he had authority from the One whose way he prepared. The Pharisees didn’t know Him, otherwise, instead of questioning from where John had authority to baptize, they would have come themselves to be baptized. They did not know Him, but among them John says that He stands.

Thus John continually pointed his hearers to Jesus. What good is it to preach and humble the whole world by calling them sinners and then leaving them in their poverty, misery, and damnation? He must also preach comfort and tell how we can get rid of our sins. This is done by pointing to Christ, who came to redeem us from our sins.

Thus John preached, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He is how you get rid of your sins and in no other way. He alone takes upon Himself not just your sins, but the sins of the whole world. Not just some sins, but all the sins of the world, be they great or small, many or few.

This is the message of comfort, that your sins are not yours anymore; they no longer lie on you, but they were taken by the Lamb of God. Innocent though He was, He was condemned for your sins and died for your sins. But He could not be held by sin and death. He rose from the dead, vanquishing sin and making it nothing. Likewise, death and hell, being the reward of sin, must be vanquished also.

Sin naturally makes a conscience timid, which fears God and flees as Adam did in Paradise. Such a conscience knows that God is an enemy of sin and severely punishes it. Hence it flees and is afraid even to hear God mentioned.

With sin taken away by the Lamb of God, the conscience is not timid, but is bold even to pray and make requests of God. The conscience rejoices and loves and praises the Lamb of God, and you will become cheerful and willing to do His divine will, as best you can, with all your strength. Then you won’t ask, “What do I have to do for my neighbour?” but you will continually look for ways to help and serve your neighbour. You will realize the great, rich eternal blessings bestowed on you by Christ, and instead of offering your meagre help and service to your neighbour, you will realize that Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40)

May God our Father according to His infinite mercy continue to send into the world and to us the voice of John who calls us to repentance and points us to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, freeing us to serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days (Luke 1:74-75). Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

God’s Visitation to Come

Sermon for Advent Midweek Service – God’s Visitation to Come (based on Exodus 4:27-31, Romans 8:26-39, Luke 1:57-79)

Dear people who will be visited by God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We have heard of God’s visitation of old and His visitation now, and how His visitation of unbelievers is Law and judgment, but how His visitation of believers is Gospel and forgiveness. Today, we look to the future. We look to how God will visit us in the time yet to come.

Judgment Day will be the final visitation of God. After Judgment Day, you will either be forever with God and in His presence, or you will be cast out of His presence, never to be visited by Him again.

As with God’s visitation of old and His visitation now, everything depends entirely on faith. Just as God visited the unbelieving Egyptians with plague and death, and visits unbelievers who commune at His altar with judgment, so He will also finally visit all unbelievers with eternal judgment. And, just as God visited His people of Israel and saved them from slavery, and visits His people at His altar with forgiveness, so He will also finally visit all believers with eternal life.

We heard in our Epistle lesson, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” (Rom. 8:28-30)

This passage beautifully brings together the past, the present, and the future of God’s children. Because in the past God predestined you and chose you for Himself, and because He has called you to faith and declares you justified in the present, you know that He will glorify you and grant you eternal life in the future. Put in another way, because God has graciously visited you in the past and graciously visits you in the present, you know He will graciously visit you on the Last Day.

Notice how Scripture speaks of your glorification in the past tense. It doesn’t say, “those whom He justified He will also glorify.” It says, “those whom He justified He also glorified.” Because it is God’s promise to you, it can be stated so certainly like it has already taken place, as if you have already been raised from the dead and given a glorified, resurrected body.

This is what Zechariah’s prophecy also does. At the time Zechariah uttered the prophecy, Jesus was not yet born. Mary was three months pregnant with Jesus. But what does Zechariah say? He says, filled with the Holy Spirit, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.” When God makes a promise to do something, it is as good as done. Because God had promised to send a Saviour, even though He hadn’t yet died for our sins on the cross to save us and was not yet even born, Zechariah says that He has redeemed His people. He has saved us from the hand of our enemies and delivered us from the hand of all who hate us.

That is how you should view God’s promises to you – that they are as certain as if they had already been fulfilled. Even though at this time you remain in this world of illness and suffering you have been delivered from your enemy of death. Even though you still struggle with sin, you have been saved from sin. Even though you are still tempted by the devil, you have been delivered from his clutches.

And you have God’s promise that for those who love God all things work together for good. Your eternal good in heaven is what God wants for you. To make sure that you will make it there, God has visited you, claimed you as His own, and given you faith. He visits you in His Word and the Sacrament of the Altar to keep and preserve you in the faith.

Out of His love for you and His desire for you to be with Him in eternity, God may also visit you with discipline to turn you back if you have wandered into sin. Scripture says, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives. It is for discipline you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:5-11)

God visits His children with discipline now so that He will not visit us with punishment on Judgment Day. Under discipline, it may seem as though we are forsaken by God, but that is precisely when He is loving and caring for us the most. Through hardship, the Holy Spirit quenches sinful desires and kills the flesh, to prepare us for eternal life.

Do not become bitter at God when He disciplines you. Rather, humble yourself and repent. Confess your sins and receive absolution. Even when God is visiting you with discipline, He also visits you with forgiveness. Even when God disciplines you He wants you to remember His promises to you.

All things work together for your good. God has visited you and redeemed you. He continues to visit you with discipline and forgiveness so that when He visits you on the Last Day you will enter into the eternal joys of heaven with a glorified body. God’s promises to you are as certain as if they had already been fulfilled.

Therefore we do not fear the return of Christ. Rather, we pray: O Saviour, rend the heavens wide; Come down, come down with mighty stride; Unlock the gates, the doors break down; Unbar the way to heaven’s crown (LSB 355 st. 1). Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Are You the One?

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 11:2-10

Dear people who have good news preached to you: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our expectations of Jesus often miss the mark. We are often tempted to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” He doesn’t always do what we expect Him to do, even when we think it is obvious what He should do. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8).

John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus that question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” John was in prison for preaching repentance. He was in prison because he had been preparing the way of the Lord as sent by the Lord. If Jesus is truly the promised Saviour, surely He would rescue John from prison, right? But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways.

John himself had said concerning Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30) John had been pointing his disciples to Jesus saying that He is the Christ; that He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). But John’s disciples were jealous when they saw that Jesus was baptizing and that everyone was going to Jesus instead of John and following Jesus instead of John. Thus, John told his disciples, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John was only the forerunner. His task of preparing the way of the Lord was completed. As Jesus started His public ministry and was performing miracles and the crowds were going to hear Him preach, it was time for John to decrease. It was time for John to stop baptizing and for Jesus’ disciples to start baptizing. It was time for John’s disciples to become disciples of Jesus.

John ending up in prison was part of him decreasing, but it was a tough pill to swallow. Surely Jesus could have just let him go retire on some Mediterranean island, but that was not His plan for John. His plan was for John to end up in prison until he was beheaded by Herod the tetrarch.

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus answers John’s question in two ways. First, by His works, and second, by His words. He did the same thing when the Jews surrounded Him in the Temple and said to Him, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (Jn 10:24) Jesus responded to them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me… even though you do not believe me, believe the works.” (Jn 10:25,38) Jesus speaks God’s truth and His works prove that He is the Christ promised by the mouth of the prophets. See what God spoke by the prophets concerning the Saviour, and see that they are fulfilled in Jesus.

To John’s disciples, Jesus quotes from the prophets. He quotes a prophecy from Isaiah about the promised Christ, how through Him the blind will receive their sight and the lame will walk, how the lepers will be cleansed and the deaf will hear, how the poor will have good news preached to them. Jesus ends with saying, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Jesus’ words and deeds prove to John’s disciples that He is the promised Messiah, the very Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. John never did the miraculous signs and wonders Jesus was doing. Neither did anyone else. Further, these signs and miracles were foretold by the prophets. Therefore when they saw these signs that the prophets had foretold, they could be assured that Jesus is the one who is to come and that there is no sense looking for another.

The Jews, even today, look for another. Jesus is not what they expected, so they rejected Him and they reject Him still. They are offended by Jesus, so they still wait for a saviour (except of course for those Jews who have given up waiting altogether and expect no saviour to ever come).

All the promises of God are founded on Christ who preached good news to the poor. Without Christ you have no promises of God and you have no fulfilment of prophecy. It is therefore in vain if anyone, like the Jews, expects the fulfilment of divine prophecy without Christ. Christ is the fulfilment, and all of God’s promises are only through Him. Only He has good news for the poor.

In fact, Christ’s preaching of good news to the poor is the most important of the promises of God as foretold by the prophets. The blind receiving their sight, the lame walking, the lepers being cleansed, and the deaf hearing are all insignificant deeds compared with preaching good news to the poor.

Those filled with pride and self-conceit will disagree. Those who do not understand the wickedness of their own hearts or how great their sins are don’t care for the preaching of the Gospel. They only want healing in this life and care nothing for eternity. They want comfort and pleasure in this life and do not want to hear that they are spiritually poor children of God’s wrath and deserving hell.

However, those whose hard hearts have been crushed by the Law desire nothing more than to hear good news preached to them. Their pride and self-conceit has been crushed by God’s Law. They don’t look to themselves to save themselves from their sins. They know it would be futile. They look to and see Jesus, the promised Saviour, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. They hear the good news that their sins were put on the Lamb of God who was led to the slaughter without complaint. They hear the good news of the undeserved promise of eternal life. They would rather be blind, lame, leprous, and deaf than have the good news taken away from them.

What more joyful tidings could a poor sorrowful heart hear than his sins are forgiven, his conscience is at rest, the Law is fulfilled, and at last eternal life is granted to him as his inheritance? Such a heart cannot stay sorrowful and troubled. Sin, death, hell, the world and the devil are scorned, derided, and held in contempt. Joy fills such a heart because iniquity is forgiven and sins are covered by Jesus’ blood.

This is the good news Jesus sent to John and that He sends to you. Jesus takes misguided expectations and gives His promises that exceed all expectation. If you want to know what to expect of Jesus, look to His promises. Jesus will never fail you. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Him. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

God’s Visitation Now

Sermon for Advent Midweek Service – God’s Visitation Now (based on Acts 1:15-26, I Corinthians 11:23-32, John 12:44-50)

Dear people who are visited by God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last week we heard of God’s visitation of Old – how His visitation of unbelievers throughout history meant curse, suffering, plague, and death, but how His visitation of believers throughout history meant blessing, salvation, and life.

Today, instead of looking back into history, we look to the present. We look to how God visits us now.

After Judas had betrayed Jesus and killed himself, Peter quotes Psalm 109 verse eight, “Let another take his office.” Matthias was chosen to take his office. What is interesting, is that the word translated as “office” in English is the same word as “visitation” in both the Hebrew of the Psalm, and the Greek in which Peter cites it. The office or position to which Judas had been called, is an office of oversight or supervision, but it speaks specifically of the act of watching over with special reference to being present, of visitation.

This makes sense, because it is through the office or position of His ministers that God visits His people. God sends His ministers to do His work, and through them, visits His people. Thus, Ephesians four tells us, “When [Christ] ascended to the highest place, He took captivity captive, He gave gifts to men… He Himself gave the apostles and the prophets and the evangelists and pastors and teachers, for bringing the saints to completion, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:8,11) Christ gives pastors to His church to work in the church for the benefit of His people. Pastors continue the work that Christ started.

Of course, it is Christ Himself who works through pastors. Thus Jesus says to His ministers, “He who hears you, hears me.” (Lk. 10:16) Pastors in themselves can do nothing. Indeed, Jesus says to all believers, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) It is God who works through His Word. It is God alone who turns us away from our sins in repentance. It is God alone who creates faith. It is God alone who saves.

Yet, God saves through the preaching of the Word. God saves through water with the Word. God uses these means to save. God uses these means of grace to visit His people, and He calls ministers to dispense these means of grace.

As with God’s visitation of old, His visitation today can be for good or for ill, for blessing or for curse. For those who trust God’s Word, His Word is a blessing and the path to eternal life. For those who reject God’s Word, His Word is a curse and the path to eternal damnation.

Thus Jesus says that whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in Him is condemned already (Jn 3:18). He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (Jn 5:24) “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (Jn 12:48)

Jesus is speaking of the very same Word. His visitation by means of His Word means life for believers and judgment for unbelievers. His Word does not judge believers because they pass from death to life, but His Word does judge and condemn unbelievers.

We see this also in the Lord’s Supper, where Christ visits us with His true body and blood. The same body and blood of Jesus can be received for forgiveness or for judgment. Whoever eats and drinks in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. We are therefore told to examine ourselves before partaking.

You must examine yourself to see whether you are sorry for your sins, whether you plan with the help of the Holy Spirit to change your sinful life, and whether you believe in Jesus Christ and His words in the Sacrament. If you aren’t sorry for your sins, you receive the Lord’s Supper to your harm. If you have no intention of turning away from your sins but returning to them upon receiving the Sacrament, you receive the Lord’s Supper to your condemnation. If you do not believe in Jesus or you do not believe His Word that He truly gives you His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins, you eat and drink judgment on yourself.

This once again serves to point out that the same visitation of God is a curse for unbelievers and a blessing for believers. For the faithful, God’s visitation is a Gospel event, but for the godless it is Law.

This also serves to point out that faith alone saves. It is not a question of how many sins you have committed. It is not a question of how many sins you struggle with or how many times you have fallen into temptation. Faithful reception of Christ’s true body and blood means being sorry for your sin and desiring to do better, and believing that Jesus gives you His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins.

Christ visits you humbly with forgiveness. He sends pastors to His church who are in the office of visitation, visiting you with His Word and His body and blood.

Since faith alone saves, God has given you faith. He visited you by washing you in the waters of Holy Baptism, joining you to Himself. He visits you by speaking His Word to you through His ministers to call you to repentance and to strengthen you in the faith. He visits you in the Sacrament of the Altar where He nourishes you to life everlasting.

God visits you in His Word and Sacrament. His visitation of you is not in wrath or anger, but forgiveness. He gives us His Word for this purpose. Christ also specifically instituted the Lord’s Supper for the very purpose of increasing and strengthening faith. If you are weak in faith and struggling with your sins, the Lord’s Supper is for you to give you forgiveness and strengthen you in your fight with temptation. As for all believers throughout history, God’s visitation of you means blessing, salvation, and life for you. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

God’s Visitation of Old

Sermon for Advent Midweek Service – God’s Visitation of Old (based on Genesis 50:15-26, I Peter 2:1-12, Luke 19:29-48)

Dear people who will be visited by God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Times of God’s visitation are recorded in the pages of sacred Scripture. For the faithful, this visitation is a Gospel event. For unbelievers, it is Law.

Joseph prophesied to his brothers that God would surely visit them in the land of Egypt and bring them out of Egypt to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God did indeed visit His people and He saved them. God’s visit meant that the Hebrews were freed from slavery and brought into a rich land flowing with milk and honey.

God’s visit for the unbelieving Egyptians, however, meant that their water was turned into blood. God’s visit meant that they had plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, and locusts. Their livestock was struck dead, and the people were struck with plague. Hail killed man and beast and struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field. Darkness enveloped their land and God struck down all the firstborn in all the land of Egypt. Finally, God drowned Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen in the Red Sea.

God’s visitation had dramatically different results for the Egyptians compared to the Israelites. For the Israelites, God’s visitation meant blessing, salvation, and life. For the Egyptians, God’s visitation meant curse, suffering, and death.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we heard that Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He said, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

God was graciously visiting His people in the person of His Son. Jesus was there in compassion to seek and save the lost. He wept because the people of the city that He came to visit would kill Him before the end of the week and would be punished by God for not believing in Him. As He was led away to the cross, Jesus said to the daughters of Jerusalem, “Do not weep for me; but weep for yourselves and your children.” (Luke 23:28)

The name “Jerusalem” means “city of peace,” but the people of Jerusalem did not recognize the Prince of Peace when He came. Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem is the visitation of God that offered peace. Their rejection of Him would mean their destruction, just as Jesus lamented.

Indeed, Jesus’ prophecy came true in the year 70 A.D. Jerusalem was besieged by four legions of the Roman army and conquered. The Temple was burned and destroyed. The historian Josephus records that the city was filled with slaughter. Even the peaceful citizens, the weak, and the unarmed were butchered wherever they were caught. A section of the wall surrounding Jerusalem was saved to show how well fortified the city was that the Romans had laid to waste. The rest of the wall was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those who dug up its foundations that you could not tell the city had ever been inhabited.

Josephus writes that 1.1 million people were killed during the siege, mostly Jews. The siege happened during Passover, when Jews had gathered from far and wide in Jerusalem to celebrate. Those who were not killed were sent to be gladiators in the arena. Others, including those under seventeen years old were sold into slavery.

Another writer reports that Titus, the commander of the army and future Emperor, refused to accept a wreath of victory, saying that the victory did not come through his own efforts but that he had merely served as an instrument of divine wrath.

Jesus wept because He knew this future. He knew that because they rejected His gracious visitation, they would have a visitation of wrath and punishment.

Matthew records Jesus saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

Jesus loved the people of Jerusalem, but they did not love Him. They rejected Him. They mocked Him. They beat Him. They crucified Him. They did not know the things that make for peace.

Yet, in their crucifixion of Jesus, peace was made. They did not know it, but peace was made between God and man. The punishment of the sins of mankind was put on Jesus. Because of Jesus’ death for us, not only do we escape punishment, but we are put into a positive relationship with God. We are at peace with Him. We are His dear children and He is our dear Father. The things that made for peace were Jesus’ suffering and death.

God will visit us. His visit will be curse, suffering, and death for unbelievers. His visit will be blessing, salvation, and life for us. Not because we deserve blessing, salvation, and life, but because Jesus earned it for us.

When will God visit us and give us every blessing? When will God visit us and right every wrong and end our suffering? When will God punish the wicked and save His children? We do not know. So, we wait for Him. We wait for Him in joyful anticipation because He will graciously visit us.

God’s visitation in the person of His Son shows His disposition towards us. We know that He loves us to the point of sending His Son to suffer and die for us. Thus we know that when He visits us, He will visit with grace and mercy. He will visit us with a loving and forgiving heart. In repentant faith, we are ready for His visitation, whenever it will be. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Your King Comes to You

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 21:1-9

Dear hearers of the prophetic Word: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you live by what you see and feel, you will be sorely disappointed in Jesus. He rides in poverty, humbly on a borrowed donkey into Jerusalem. How is such an advent befitting a king?

But faith does not judge by what it sees or feels, rather by what it hears. It depends on the Word alone, and not on vision or sight. For this reason, Christ was received only by those who believed the words of the prophets who foretold His coming. Christ was rejected by those who had their own ideas about what the Saviour should say and do. He was rejected by those who did not believe what the prophets spoke about Him.

If you live by what you see and feel, you will be sorely disappointed in Jesus. He comes in mere water with the Word. He comes in humble bread and wine. But faith does not judge by what it sees or feels, rather by what it hears. Faith hears the words, “Baptism… now saves you” (I Peter 3:21) and “This is my body… this is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:26,28)

Faith does not judge by what it sees or feels, rather by what it hears. Your king entered Jerusalem to suffer and die. This is not an advent befitting a king. He gave His life for you, so that you will live eternally.

You receive your Saviour, because you believe the words of the prophets who foretold His coming. The prophet Zechariah prophesied, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey.” (Zec. 9:9) Your king. He who was promised to you, whose own you are. It is your king – He whom you have yearned from the beginning, whom the prophets desired to see, who will deliver you from all that has burdened, troubled, and held you captive.

This is a comforting word to a believing heart. An unbelieving heart trusts only what it sees and feels. An unbelieving heart sees only a poor man riding on a humble donkey to die a gruesome death. Thus, an unbelieving heart is left in uncertainty, without a clear conscience, and in fear of death and hell.

Where the heart receives the King with firm faith, it is secure and has no fear of death, hell, or any other evil. The conscience is clear and the certainty of eternal life is known. Your king rode in to Jerusalem to die for you, thus securing your victory over sin, death, and the devil. Your king is the Lord of life and death, of sin and grace, of heaven and hell, and all things are in His hand.

Such great things are contained in these seemingly unimportant words, “Behold, your king.” Such boundless gifts are brought by this poor and despised king. Reason and emotion cannot understand or comprehend, but faith alone does. Therefore, He is called your king; yours, who are vexed and harassed by sin, Satan, death and hell, the flesh and the world. He is your King and He will bring you into His eternal kingdom.

“Behold, your king is coming to you.” He comes to you. This is great news, because you cannot go to Him, neither can you bring Him to yourself. He is too high and too far from you. With all your effort, work, and labour, you cannot come to Him. You cannot receive Him by any merit or worthiness of your own. You have only demerit and unworthiness on your side. He comes to you with grace and mercy on His side.

By this is condemned the teaching of free will in spiritual matters. As if we should by the power of free will first seek God, come to Him, run after Him, and acquire His grace. Beware, beware of this poison! It is nothing but the doctrine of devils, by which all the world is betrayed.

Before you can cry to God and seek Him, God must come to you and must have found you. As Saint Paul writes, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14-15) God must first seek you before you can seek Him, before you can call upon Him in prayer, before you can cling to Him in faith. Thus, your king seeks you. He comes to you.

Your king comes to you in the Gospel. Hence, it can be recognized that not greater wrath of God exists than where God does not send the Gospel – there is only error, sin, and darkness. On the other hand, there is no greater grace than where He sends the Gospel, even if not all, or perhaps only few, receive it.

This is what is meant by “your king comes.” You do not seek Him; He seeks you. You do not find Him; He finds you. For the preachers come from Him, not from you. Their sermons come from Him, not from you. Your faith comes from Him, not from you. Everything that faith works in you comes from Him, not from you. Where He does not come, you remain outside. Where there is no Gospel, there is no God, but only sin and damnation.

Where the Gospel is preached, there your King comes to you. Where holy communion is distributed, there your King comes to you. He comes to you humbly, but with overflowing grace and mercy.

Christ did not ride into Jerusalem just for the apostles, but for you. He is your Saviour from sin and death. He is your Saviour from Satan and his Satanic crew. He is your King and you too will reign with Him.

Believe your Saviour’s Word and promises to you. As you see the dark times that have overtaken us, trust your Saviour’s Word. As you face illnesses and tribulations, trust your Saviour’s promises. As you face death, believe that your King has come and died for you, that He comes to you in His Word and Sacrament, and that He will come again with glory to take you to Himself.

Faith does not judge by what it sees or feels, rather by what it hears. So, hear and listen to the Word of your king, and receive Him as He comes to you in bread and wine with overflowing grace and mercy. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[This sermon borrows content from a sermon by Martin Luther on the same text.]

A House for David

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent based on Second Samuel 7:1-11, 16 (Luke 1:26-38)

Dear ones gathered in the house of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

David wanted to build a house for God. He lived in a palace, while God’s house was a tent – the tabernacle that Moses had first built after God had rescued His people from slavery in Egypt.

Since God had brought His people into the promised land and they had settled there, and since they had peace because God had given them victory over their surrounding enemies, David thought it would be a good time and a good thing to build a permanent house for God. Nathan the prophet agreed with David, also thinking it a good and noble task.

God, however, had other plans. David would not make a house for God; God would make a house for David – a house and a kingdom made sure before God, and a throne that will be established forever.

God reminded David that he was not king by his own strength or might or wisdom. God had chosen David when he was but a shepherd boy. God anointed him king over His people and defeated all of his enemies before him. The victories of God’s people were God’s doing, not a result of the might of man. The kingdom of Israel existed because God brought it about and sustained it with His might.

What makes this clearest of all, is God’s promise to David that his kingdom and throne will be established forever. No earthly kingdom or throne remains forever. In fact, there is no kingdom of Israel today. There is no earthly king on the throne of David.

God’s promises to David were not concerning an earthly kingdom or throne, nor an earthly king. Yes, the King would be a descendant of David, and thus a man, but not an earthly king with an earthly kingdom.

From the time of David onward, the most common association of the promised Messiah in the Psalms and Prophets is with David, and this is echoed in the New Testament. The promised Saviour is called the Seed of David (2 Sam. 7:12), a reminder of the promise God made to Adam and Eve concerning the Seed that would crush the serpent’s head. The Messiah is called the Son of David (Matt. 1:1), because He is the lineage of David. He is called the righteous branch for David (Jer. 23:5). He is called the root of Jesse and a shoot from the stump of Jesse (Is. 11:1, 10), Jesse being David’s father. So connected is the Saviour to David, that often the prophecies concerning the Christ simply call Him David. For instance, Ezekiel 34, hundreds of years after the time of David, says, “I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and He shall feed them: He shall feed them and be their shepherd.” (vv. 22-23)

David prefigures Christ, an earthly shepherd foreshadowing the Good Shepherd (Jn. 10). David was the chosen king, God’s anointed, an anticipation of God’s anointed, the King of Glory (Ps. 24). As God brought victory to His people over their enemies and gave them rest through David, so God through Christ has brought us victory over our enemies and given us rest.

Jesus even baffles His opponents with Psalm 110, where David writes, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” His opponents could not understand how the Son of David could also be David’s Lord, because they did not comprehend that the Son of David is not only a man, but also God (Matt. 22:41-46; Luke 20:41-44).

And what was it that the angel Gabriel said to Mary, in announcing that she would conceive and bear a son? He said, concerning her baby, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)

Gabriel thus announced to Mary that the promises that God made to David are now being fulfilled in her womb. There was no throne of David on earth; the people of Israel were under Roman rule and had no king. The Israelites had been cut down like a tree, but the shoot from the stump of Jesse was in Mary’s womb. New life emerging in the midst of death. The eternal King of Glory, who sits on an eternal throne, would be born to Mary.

This King was not just another David. David sinned and brought misery on himself and his kingdom. The Son of David never sinned, but walked the path of the Lord with every step He took. Misery was brought on Him by us and our sins. He willingly took our misery on Himself to save us from it.

Jesus, the King of Glory, has brought us victory over our enemies and given us rest. Sin, death, and the devil lie defeated and powerless to do us harm. The Son of David has brought us into His Kingdom through the waters of Holy Baptism, and because His Kingdom is an eternal Kingdom, we will live forever with our glorious King in His eternal joy. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

A Son Named John

Midweek Advent Sermon – For Unto Us a Son is Given: John

Dear people who are waiting for God to fulfil His promises: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The elderly priest, Zechariah, was chosen by lot to enter the Temple of the Lord and burn incense. This was a rare privilege to be in the Holy Place of the Temple, right in front of the veil that led to the Most Holy Place where the ark of the covenant rested. Zechariah was there to pray and offer incense to the Lord.

Offering incense was combined with offering prayers. Thus, we sing, “Let my prayer rise before You as incense” from Psalm 141. These were not personal prayers offered by the priest, but corporate prayers for all the people. Most especially, these prayers were that God would send the promised Messiah to save His people; that God would send the Saviour promised to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to all God’s people.

Thus, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah by the altar of incense and said, “Your prayer has been heard,” this was certainly in response to his prayer on behalf of the people, that God would send the promised Saviour. Also, Gabriel brought word that Zechariah’s elderly wife would conceive and bear a son, one who would go before the promised Saviour in the spirit and power of Elijah, preparing the way of the Lord.

This was to fulfil what the prophet Malachi has written, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Mal. 4:5-6)

Zechariah had a hard time believing this could be. He wanted proof. He wanted a sign. He said, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”

Zechariah was not ignorant of what had happened to Abraham and Sarah. He knew very well that God had granted the elderly Abraham and Sarah a child in their old age. He knew well that the Lord had rebuked Sarah for her laughter of doubt. He knew well that God keeps His promises and does not break His Word.

Yet, the fact is, when God’s promises become personal to us, that is when we doubt. Oh, sure, God fed the Israelites manna in the wilderness. He sent food to Elijah by ravens during a famine. He fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. Yet, somehow when it comes to feeding us, we worry that He will not feed us when we are in need. Somehow, we think His arm is too short to keep His promise to us to feed us like He feeds the birds of the air. Are you not of more value than they?

Oh sure, God rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from an evil king that commanded them to commit idolatry. He shut the mouths of the lions when Daniel refused to stop praying to God. He rescued Peter who was thrown into prison for preaching God’s Word, though he was chained to two soldiers, behind locked gates, and guarded by four squads of soldiers. Yet, somehow when it comes to protecting us from the evil and wickedness of the world, we think we are doomed and hopeless. We worry about the future as we see how wicked our Prime Minister is and how ungodly his every word. We think we need to be silent instead of confessing the truth, as if our salvation from the evils of the world lies within ourselves, and not in God’s protecting arm.

In response to Zechariah’s doubt, the angel responded, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to you to bring you this good news.” In other words, “These are not my words. Thirty seconds ago, I was standing before God. He spoke these very words to me to bring to you. Here I am, speaking them to you. How can you doubt my words? Doubting the message God sends to you is doubting God Himself.”

What is God to do with us doubters? Will He stop providing us our daily bread? Will He stop protecting us from the devil and the world? Will He stop forgiving us our sins? Surely, we deserve these, and nothing but punishment, but God does not give us what we deserve.

Sarah was rebuked for laughing at God’s promise. Zechariah was mute until the prophecy concerning his son was fulfilled. God corrects His children, He does not punish them. God does not make an end of His children, when they in their weakness have their struggles and doubts. “He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” (Ps. 103:14)

God does not punish us or give us what our sins deserve, because Jesus was punished for us. Jesus got the punishment that we deserve.

Despite our sins, God keeps His promises to us. God could have told Zechariah that because he doubted, he would not have a son; because he doubted, God would not send the Saviour. But God did not break His Word. A son was promised to Zechariah, a son was given to Zechariah. A Son was promised to save all of mankind, and Son was given to die for all of mankind. God keeps His Word even when we have our doubts.

Zechariah was unable to speak a blessing when he came out of the Temple, but upon the birth of his son, his tongue was loosed and he could speak. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied about his son, the forerunner of the Saviour. Even more, he prophesied about the redemption of God’s people through the promised Saviour. He prophesied that the Saviour would save us from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

Once again, we have God’s promise of deliverance from all that would seek us harm. Whether it is from those who would command us to commit idolatry like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, those who would command us to not pray like Daniel, or those that would throw us into prison like Peter, we will be delivered.

Yes, even if like the prophesied son of Zechariah and the forerunner of Christ we are beheaded for speaking God’s Word, we will be delivered from all who seek us harm. Death is our ultimate delivery because Christ has conquered death.

All the death Zechariah witnessed and in which he participated at the Temple was to be at an end. All the Temple sacrifices would no longer be needed, because they only served to point forward to the one sacrifice of our Saviour on the cross. The death of one has brought life for all. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins, but by the single sacrifice of Christ on the cross, He has perfected us through the forgiveness of sins (Heb. 10:4, 14).

This was the message proclaimed by John, the forerunner of Christ. He gave knowledge of salvation to God’s people in the forgiveness of their sins, as Zechariah prophesied. This meant that he did the same thing every prophet ever did: he pointed to Christ.

However, John was unique. While Moses could say, “One day, the Lamb of God prefigured by these Passover lambs will come and save us,” John was able to point at Jesus standing before him and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) While Isaiah prophesied concerning a child that would one day be born of a virgin, John could point to Him in the flesh, born of the virgin Mary, and say, “Here He is!”

Promise fulfilled. Doubting be gone. Our prayer has been heard. God’s promises to us have been fulfilled. The Saviour has come. He has come, and He has taken away the sin of the world. His death has brought life for all. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Broken Hearts Bound

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent based on Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Dear people with broken hearts that have been bound: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We know broken-heartedness. We have lost loved ones over the years. Yes, our hearts have been broken by death and loss. Oftentimes, this broken-heartedness is felt most strongly at Christmastime.

That is why during Advent, the Church waits not just for Christmas, but the return of Christ. Our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah promised us that Christ will bind up the broken-hearted, and that He will comfort all who mourn.

These are not empty sentiments. Christ binds up broken hearts with the promise of the resurrection. When Christ returns, He will raise the dead, and give eternal life to all who believe in Him. We will be reunited with all our loved ones who have died in the faith.

In addition to death and loss, we also know broken-heartedness from sin at the hands of others. Other people have sinned against us and our loved ones. Our spouses have sinned against us. So have close family members, dear friends, people we loved, even pastors we trusted. We know the broken-heartedness of trust that has been betrayed, secrets that have been revealed, lies that have been told, sin that has wreaked havoc in our lives and the lives of those we love.

We are delusional, however, if we are not aware of the broken-heartedness we suffer from our own hand because of our own sin. We have sinned against others. We have sinned against our spouses, our family members, our friends, the people we love, and our pastors. We have betrayed trust, gossiped, and wreaked havoc in our lives and the lives of others around us. We have held grudges, had sinful thoughts, spoken sinful words, and acted out the sinful thoughts of our hearts that we ourselves have broken.

It is one matter to speak of being broken-hearted by sin you have committed against another human being, and another matter to be broken-hearted by sin you have committed against God. Of course, all sin is a sin against God, because He is the one who has given us the Commandments to follow. He sees all our actions. He hears all our words. He knows all our thoughts. Nothing is hidden from His sight.

We can try to justify ourselves to our neighbour. We can lie about our motives for what we have done or left undone. We can make up excuses for our sin. We might even be able to convince ourselves of our excuses.

Before God, however, our mouths are stopped. His Law condemns us. He is not tricked or fooled by our attempts to excuse or justify ourselves. God sees our sins, and His Law causes us to be broken-hearted because we realize that we have once again failed to do what is right. In our weakness, we have again sinned against God.

We have lived as if God did not matter and as if we mattered most. Our Lord’s name we have not honoured as we should; our prayers and worship have faltered. We have not let His love have its way with us, and so our love for others has failed. There are those whom we have hurt, and those whom we have failed to help. Our thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin (see Individual Confession and Absolution, LSB 292). We have broken others’ hearts with our sins, and we have broken our own hearts with our sins.

We need our broken hearts bound. We need comfort in our mourning. We need the Gospel proclaimed to us because we are poor in spirit.

When Jesus preached on our text from Isaiah in the synagogue of His hometown of Nazareth, He said that Isaiah was speaking about Him. Jesus says that Spirit of the Lord God is upon Him; that He has been anointed to bring good news to the poor, that He was sent to bind up the broken hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and comfort to all who mourn (Luke 4:16-21).

Jesus came to bring the good news of victory for poor sinners. He was sent by God the Father to preach forgiveness of sins to miserable sinners held captive by their sins. He was anointed to proclaim the bursting of the gates of hell to release all of us captive to the devil. He was sent by God to bind up our hearts that have been broken by death and loss, by the sins of others against us, and by our own sins. Jesus came to proclaim comfort to those who mourn over sin and mourn over death.

There is no greater comfort than the forgiveness of sins, because through the forgiveness of sins, Christ’s righteousness and perfection cover our sins. Through the forgiveness of sins, we have the promise of life and salvation. Our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the west because Jesus has taken our sins away from us onto Himself. Jesus died for our sins so now we will live forever. He rose from the dead so that we would know that we also will rise from the dead.

With our sins forgiven, we have no fear of death or the grave; we have no fear of hell or the punishment of sin. With our sins forgiven, our broken hearts are bound. We are comforted in our mourning.

And we wait.

Yes, Jesus says that this Scripture is already fulfilled (Luke 4:21). It is fulfilled because Jesus came and did what the Scripture says He would do. It is fulfilled because we don’t have to wait for the forgiveness of sins; we already have it now. We don’t have to wait for our sins to be removed form us; they’re already gone. We don’t have to wait for comfort; we already have it.

We do, however, wait for Christ to return and take us from this vale of tears to Himself in Paradise. We wait for our illnesses and losses to have an end. We wait for the final enemy, death, to be defeated. We wait for the tears to be wiped from our eyes, the end of death, the end of mourning, crying, and pain (Rev. 21:4). We wait for the day that we will no longer sin; when we will no longer cause others to be broken hearted, and when we will no longer feel the pain of our own broken heart.

We wait for Jesus to return as He has promised and make all things new. Then we will not just have hearts that has been bound, but we will have new hearts that will know no suffering or brokenness, but only joy and gladness forevermore. We will have new hearts that will desire no sin, but will only desire what is holy, and righteous, and good.

Jesus promises three times in the final chapter of Revelation, saying, “I am coming soon.” We trust Him and know that He will return at the right time, because He gives His promise to us, “I am coming soon.” He says, “Surely, I am coming soon.” And we pray, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Rend the Heavens and Come Down

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent based on Isaiah 64:1-9

Dear people of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down. Isaiah longed for God to come from heaven to earth to see the suffering and affliction of His people. He longed for God to have pity on them and rescue them from their enemies.

Their enemies had trampled down God’s sanctuary among His people (Is. 63:18). Isaiah prayed that God would come down and make their enemies tremble at His presence; that He would reveal Himself in terror to those who terrorized His people. Even creation’s most secure elements are insecure in God’s presence, as even the mountains quake when God comes down. The mighty man who is bold to fight and tyrannize other men, cowers and cries aloud in fear before God (cf. Zeph. 1:14).

Yet, it was God who gave His people into the hand of their enemies because they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit (Is. 63:10). Therefore God turned into their enemy, and Himself fought against them. God was angry with them and hid His face from them.

Isaiah confessed their sins to God. He said, “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.”

Why would Isaiah still pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down? What hope is there for sinners before God who tears the heavens open and makes the mountains and nations quake at His presence? What hope is there for sinners before God; sinners whose righteous deeds are filthy rags? If their righteous deeds are filthy rags, how much worse are their unrighteous deeds? If their good works deserve punishment, how much worse punishment do their sins and evil works deserve? Why pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down?

When God came down to Mount Sinai and gave His Law, His voice shook the earth. There was thunder and lightning and the sound of a trumpet and the mountain was smoking. The people were afraid and trembled and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Ex. 19:16-20:21; Heb. 12:18-29) Why pray to God that He would rend the heavens and come down?

Isaiah tells us. He prays, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father… Behold, please look, we are all Your people.” Because God is their Father, Isaiah prays that He would answer the plea for compassion and salvation for His children. Because they are God’s people, Isaiah prays that God would not be so terribly angry or remember their iniquity forever.

This is the same plea that Moses had for God’s people when thy fell into sin and worshiped the golden calf. God threatened to destroy them all, but Moses pleaded with Him, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? … Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” (Ex. 32:9-18)

The plea is for God to rend the heavens and come to His people in mercy, despite our sinfulness. Remember the promises you made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Remember the promises you made to us in our Baptism when you put Your name on us and made us Your people.

God is merciful to us for His own name’s sake; for His own glory. His glory is to snatch us from the devil. God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature… and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die (SC III.3).

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down. Come rescue us from sin, death, and the devil. Not because we deserve it, but because we are Your people. Come rescue us from this evil world. Not because we merit such salvation, but because You are our dear Father and we are your dear children. Come rescue us from our own sins because we cannot save ourselves, and you are merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

The Church prays that God would rend the heavens and come down, and the Church waits. The Church at the time of Isaiah and Moses waited for the promised Saviour to come. Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin and God promised them a Saviour, the Church waited for the Christ. He did come. He came and fulfilled the Law of God on our behalf, took the punishment our sins deserve, and suffered and died for us. Now the Church waits once again. We wait for Christ to return as He has promised.

Advent is about waiting. Yes, waiting for and looking forward to Christmas, but even more waiting for and looking forward to Christ’s return, when He will rend the heavens and come down. Yes, He will come in power and great might. The mountains will quake, and the nations will tremble in His presence. He will destroy His enemies.

To His people, however, He will give everlasting life. He will not be terribly angry with us; all of His anger was poured out on Jesus. He will not remember our iniquity, He has removed our sins from us. He will remember His promises to us and He will save us eternally as He has promised.

Thus, the Church prays, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.