The End of Suffering

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany based on Matthew 8:1-13

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

“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” With this short, simple phrase, the leper prayed to Jesus. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”

By calling Jesus “Lord” the leper confesses that he believes that Jesus is Lord and ruler over all creation; that He is the Lord of heaven and earth, the Lord of sickness and health, the Lord of life and death.

By saying, “if you will” the leper is submitting his will to Jesus’ will. He is praying for cleansing from his leprosy only if God so wills it.

By saying, “you can make me clean” the leper confesses that Jesus has the power and the authority to heal him. He confesses that he is unclean and only Jesus can make him clean.

In other words, he is saying to Jesus, “You are God. Because I have leprosy, you obviously willed me to be a leper and I deserve my illness. You have given me this illness because of my sin or to reveal your glory. I deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment and I would rather have this illness and your favour than to be healthy and have your wrath. I know you can heal me, but thy will be done.”

This is a prayer of faith. True faith trusts in God even when He does not heal you. True faith trusts that God knows better than you about what is good for you.

Jesus responded to the leper with the words, “I will; be clean.” Jesus willed him to be clean, so he was cleansed by the word of Jesus.

Can Jesus still heal today? He healed many during His earthly ministry from various illnesses and diseases. He even raised the dead. Can He still do it today?

Scripture tells us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8) so we know that He certainly can still heal.

Jesus said that He willed the leper to be clean. Does He will any less for you? Does He love you any less? Assuredly not! Jesus wills you to be clean of all illnesses and diseases, and He promises you that you will be cleansed. But He has not told you when. He has given you no firm date or time. He can heal you now. He may heal you now. He will most certainly heal you in the life to come. In heaven, you will have no ailments of body or mind.

He will bring you into heaven and give you a new body and mind not because you deserve it. You don’t. You deserve only temporal and eternal punishment. Jesus will bring you into heaven because He died for all of your sins. Jesus will raise your body from the grave because He has cleansed you of the dirt of your sins in your Baptism. Jesus will bring you into heaven because He continually absolves you of your sin and gives you His body and blood to keep you cleansed.

As the Roman centurion realized, Jesus has the authority to do this. As the Roman centurion had authority to send his soldiers to come and go according to his orders, he knew that Jesus has all authority in earth and heaven (cf. Matt. 28:18). This means that if Jesus commands a leper to be clean, he will be clean. If Jesus commands the centurion’s servant who was lying paralyzed and suffering terribly to be healed, he would be healed. If Jesus commands His minister to forgive you your sin in His name, it is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with you Himself (SC V.6).

He does cleanse you of your sins so you will be eternally in heaven with Him, and He will ultimately cleanse you of all illnesses and diseases and save you from every trial and tribulation.

When you pray, be careful that you don’t desire to be released from your trial against the will of God. Say joyfully, or at least firmly, “Not my will, by thy will be done.”

In fact, Scripture says we should rejoice in our suffering because God works through our suffering to strengthen us, to form us, and to increase our faith (Rom. 5:3-5). We should thank God for suffering because suffering teaches us to pray and pay attention to God’s Word. If we only knew the great good for us that is hidden under our trials, we would gladly give up all our days of joy for them.

Do not for one moment think that you are the only one under great trial. In First Peter 4, you learn that such trials are common to Christians, and in the next chapter that sufferings come upon all your fellow Christians who are in the world (I Pt. 4:12, 5:8-9). When a person begins to imagine that he alone is suffering, or that his sufferings are greater than those of others, it is a sign of a vanity and of being self-absorbed.

Finally, do not resist God when He drives you to His Word in suffering. Do not avoid His Word and thus sink and entangle yourself in your own thoughts or feelings, throwing yourself into the enemy’s camp that is besieging your soul. Cling to the words of Scripture. Ponder them in your heart. Repeat them again and again and direct the thoughts and emotions of your heart to them. Sing them in hymns of comfort and praise.

And pray. Pray saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean. If you will, you can heal me. If you will, you can remove my trial and my affliction. But not my will, but thy will be done. If you know that this affliction is for my good, grant me to accept it, to rejoice in it, and to thank you for it. For I know that you desire only my eternal good – that is why you gave your life for me; that is why you suffered and died for me; that is why you have granted me to be baptized, and to hear your Word and absolution, and receive your body and blood in my suffering and affliction. And according to your promise to me grant me the resurrection of my body and life eternal according to your good and gracious will. Amen.”

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

[Portions of this sermon are adapted from “Brief Counsel for the Suffering and Afflicted” by W. Loehe.]

Widows and the Church

Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost based on 1 Kings 17:8-16, Hebrews 9:24-28, and Mark 12:38-44

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

We heard of the faith of two widows in our Scripture lessons this morning – the widow of Zarephath who gave all the food she had to Elijah, trusting that God would take care of her, and the widow at the Temple who put all the money she had into the offering, trusting that God would take care of her. They both demonstrated by what they did, that they had faith that even though their circumstances seemed dire and hopeless, God would not forget about them or forsake them.

This was a faith that God shaped in them through suffering. That’s the thing about widows with faith. They have a wisdom of experience, and I’m not talking only of old age, but of fighting the good fight of faith. They are veterans of the war with sin and death. They have accompanied their spouses through the process of dying; and that last enemy, that has somewhat kept its distance from the rest of us, they have seen face to face. They know death. They know what is at stake. They know what in the world is truly important, and for them in their wisdom, they supported the preaching of God’s Word.

The widow of Zarephath supported the prophet of God, Elijah, in a time of drought and famine. She had intended to make a last meal for herself and her son before they would starve to death. Instead she made a little cake with her last flour and oil for the prophet of God, and God took care of her.

The widow at the Temple supported the work of the Temple and the worship that took place there. What happened to her is not told to us, but we can know for sure that God took care of her.

In her case, it was not a time of drought or famine. She was not supporting a prophet in need. She was giving offerings at the Temple – offerings which the greedy scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests used for their long robes and their lavish feasts. Indeed, Jesus accused them of devouring widows’ houses.

They made long shows of prayer and piety, but it was all a hypocritical ruse and a scam to get more money from poor widows. We are told they were lovers of money and they ridiculed Jesus for telling them that they cannot serve two masters; that one cannot serve both God and money (Lk. 16:13-14). They were so greedy for gain that they preyed on the poor widows, taking the little the widows had to add to their own wealth and riches.

What a stark contrast to the poor widow who trusted in God and gave everything to God. She gave herself to God. She entrusted her life to Him. She was thinking about eternity, not her earthly needs, knowing God would take care of both.

These two believing widows knew their Saviour from death, and they knew that it was of the highest importance that the message of salvation and the promise of forgiveness be preached by Elijah and flow from the Temple before death sticks his face into the lives of others.

Widows have a faith that has been tried and tested and strengthened by the Lord through tribulations that we have yet to experience. They trust God to get them through their current trials and tribulations, just as He has gotten them through all their previous trials and tribulations.

Where would we be without widows? Widows make up a large percentage of the hearers in the pews on Sunday morning [in many congregations, certainly at Zion]. Widows support this congregation with sacrificial offerings and with their time in preparing meals for events and sandwiches for funerals. Widows have told me that they pray for me and for my pastoral care for you. Widows volunteer at the nursing home and gather the residents for Divine Service in the chapel. They volunteer at the thrift shop and in the community in many ways I don’t even know.

Now, I don’t want to downplay the many contributions of those who are not widows. That is not the point. Rather, I want to highlight what a blessing faithful widows are to the church; what a blessing they are to me. They have seen our heavenly Father get them through at least one battle with death, and as they await their reunion with their husbands in heaven, they serve their neighbour and serve the church as the two widows did in our lessons.

God blesses the church through widows, and He blesses widows, and all of us, through the church. Church is where our sins are forgiven – our sins of not trusting in God when our situation seems dire and hopeless; our sins of clinging to mammon; our sins of being angry with God when we have faced trial, tribulation, and loss. All our sins are forgiven.

Our sins are forgiven because Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26). Your sin has been put away because Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross for you. It was a once for all sacrifice. No more sacrifice is needed. Your sins have been paid for in full.

Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him (Heb. 9:28). We eagerly wait for Jesus to return. Jesus dealt with our sin the first time He came, so now when He returns there is no more sin to deal with. Our sin has been put away, so Jesus returns to take us to Himself, so that we will be with Him in heaven. There, believing widows will be reunited with their believing husbands. Believing widowers will be reunited with their believing wives. We will be reunited with all our loved ones who have died in the faith.

For that day we pray. For that day we wait. We wait with widows. We wait with widowers. We eagerly wait with the whole Church on earth for that day when Christ returns. Then death will be no more, only life, and we will live forever with our Saviour who has saved us from sin, death, and the grave. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen.

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

[A note to readers: We will being following the One-Year Lectionary in Advent. Also, as always, I am indebted to the many preachers with which God has blessed our church. I regularly steal ideas from the sermons of others that I find insightful or helpful. For this sermon, I stole entire paragraphs from a sermon by Pastor Kurt Lantz related to widows.]

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.

Blind Faith

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent based on John 9:1-41

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

God is just. He is righteous. He is fair. Knowing this, upon seeing the man blind from birth, the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” God is just. He is righteous. He is fair. Thus, the disciples thought the blind man was obviously getting what he deserved.

Keep in mind that in that day there was no welfare system to take care of this man. There were no disability benefits for which he could apply. There was no centre for the blind, no school for the blind, no seeing eye dogs, no government assistance for the blind. This man was born blind and the only thing he could do for food was beg on the side of the street and hope that enough people had pity on him to toss a couple coins in his direction so that he could eat.

God is just. He is righteous. He is fair. So, the disciples thought this man must have deserved what he got. God punishes sin, and here you can see it. Either his own sins are the reason, or his parents’ sins are the reason he had been suffering in complete darkness from birth, relying on the compassion of strangers just to eat. The explanation for such an awful situation must be payback for something.

Is that how we tend to see things? Any suffering that someone else goes through must be deserved. Any tragedy that strikes others must be divine retribution for their sin. Either they sinned, or their parents sinned, but they are getting what they deserve.

This is easy to understand. Sin results in the just punishment of God. What we do has consequences. This is justice in our eyes. If I don’t smoke, I won’t get cancer. If I eat healthy and exercise, I won’t have a heart attack. If I don’t drink and drive, I won’t be in a collision on my way home. It’s the smokers who get cancer, the unhealthy eaters who get heart attacks, and the drunk drivers who end up in collisions.

The problem with seeing things this way, is that we know that things don’t work out this way. Non-smokers die of cancer every day. Young athletes have heart attacks. Innocent families get hit by drunk drivers.

That must be just bad luck, many will say. You can do things to decrease your chances of getting cancer or a heart attack or being in a collision, but in the end, it just comes down to pure dumb luck. You may not be a high risk for a disease, but if you do get it, it’s just unpredictable chance and bad luck.

Jesus’ answer to the disciples, however, was not that the man was blind because of his sin or his parents’ sin. Neither was His answer that the man was blind out of pure dumb luck. Jesus told the disciples that it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. In other words, God made the man blind so that He could display His work in the man.

Well that’s not fair, we might be quick to say. We prefer to say that God allowed the man to be blind. Whoever did it, it cannot have been God. God wouldn’t do such a thing. But God allowing something is still His doing. Nothing happens apart from God’s will.

Do you remember Job? He lost his oxen and donkeys to raiders as well as the servants who cared for them. Fire from heaven burned up his sheep and the servants who cared for them. Another group of raiders took his camels and killed the servants tending them. A great wind blew over the house of his oldest son and killed all ten of his children. Job was struck with loathsome sores from the bottom of his foot to the crown of his head. And Scripture says that God brought all this disaster upon Job (Job. 42:11). God did it. It wasn’t Job’s sin. It wasn’t coincidence or chance. God did it.

According to our sense of justice, righteousness, and fairness, we say that this is not just, it is not righteous, it is not fair. We don’t just say that about what God did to Job. We say it about what God has done to our loved ones. We say it about what God has done to us.

We say it’s not fair that my loved one died. It’s not righteous that she suffered so long. It’s not fair that I have cancer.

Did we sin or did our parents sin so that we suffer like this? We can go right back to our first parents, Adam and Eve, and say yes, our parents sinned, and that sin has been passed on from generation to generation, so that we also have sinned. That is why we suffer. We suffer because we are sinful. We will die because we are sinful. If we were not sinful, we would never suffer and we would never die.

This does not give us the complete answer, however. The truth is that we will not receive a complete answer on this side of heaven to why we suffer in the ways that we do. We will not know the answer because we are blind.

We might sing, “I once was blind, but now I see,” but that’s not true. We don’t see. Jesus says, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” Don’t say that you see, because you don’t. If you say that you see, your guilt remains.

If you could see, you would never question God’s justice, righteousness, or fairness. You would see that all that you suffer is so that the works of God might be displayed in you. What is the work of God? Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29) Everything God does is so that we would believe in Him, but we don’t see it. We’re blind to it.

If you could see, every time suffering came upon you, you would rejoice and rush onto your knees to thank God that He is allowing you to suffer. In the face of loss, you would say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) In the face of illness and death, you would say, “Thank you God for displaying Your works in me.”

The work of God is that you believe in Him whom He has sent. The work of God is that you believe in Jesus.

This might be easier to understand first from someone else’s suffering. That’s why we have the example of Job. God took away all of Job’s earthly possessions, yet Job still believed in God and trusted in Him. That displays God’s work of faith. God killed all of Job’s children in one great blow, yet Job still believed in God and trusted in Him. That displays God’s work of faith. On top of all this loss, God struck Job with loathsome sores from the bottom of his foot to the crown of his head, yet Job blessed God, he did not sin, and he did not charge God with wrong (Job 1:21-22). God displayed his work in Job.

God displays His work in us also. We suffer in this life. We cannot say it is because of some sin that we committed. We certainly cannot say that it is just random dumb luck. If it is by random chance that we suffer, then it is by random chance that our suffering ends. We suffer at the hand of God, so that He would display His work in us.

God’s work of faith is displayed in us when we continue to believe and trust in Him even when we suffer illness and loss. God’s work of faith is displayed when we, who are blind, trust in what God does even though we cannot see what He does. Faith is by definition in something that is not seen. Hebrews 11 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (v.1) Romans 8 tells us, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (vv.24-25)

God’s work is displayed in us when we accept that we cannot know all the reasons why we suffer as we do, but we trust that God knows better than we do. God’s work is displayed in us when we accept that we are blind to what God does but we accept from His hand both days of gladness and days of sadness. God’s work is displayed in us when despite what we suffer, we say with firm confidence that God is just. He is righteous. He is fair.

You can trust that everything that God does is for your good. He sent His only Son to suffer and die for you. What more could He do for you? The Son of God voluntarily came to take your sins on Himself and receive the punishment that your sins deserve. Jesus suffered and died for you so that you have the promise of leaving this world of suffering, sorrow, and death. His death gives you the promise of an end to suffering and a reunion with all your loved ones who have died in the faith.

Because of what God has done for you, you can blindly trust Him. Even though you cannot see now, one day you will see clearly that He has loved you dearly. Despite what you cannot see, you can trust God’s promises to you. His promises to you are sure and certain, because Jesus died for you. Amen.

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

 

Christmas Joy

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 1:18-25

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

Christmas doesn’t always feel so joyful. We may be able to remember past Christmases which were filled with joy, but times change. For some, this will be the first Christmas spent in a nursing home and they are unable to celebrate with family as in the past. Some are spending this Christmas in the hospital, reeling over a scary diagnosis. Many are spending this Christmas as widows or widowers, and Christmas just isn’t the same anymore.

The first Christmas wasn’t all joy and happiness, either. Joseph’s life was unravelling. Everything had been going well. Joseph had found the girl he wanted to marry. In fact, Joseph and Mary were betrothed, so they had already promised themselves to each other. They were already in a legally binding relationship, the first stage of marriage. They were living chaste, pious lives – not living together or sleeping together, but waiting for marriage.

Then Mary came back from visiting her relative Elizabeth for three months, and she was “found to be with child.” Joseph knew the child wasn’t his, so he assumed Mary had been unfaithful to him. What other possibility is there? Sure, she had some story about being pregnant by the Holy Spirit, but that sounded about as believable to Joseph as it would seem to a husband-to-be today.

Scripture doesn’t tell us much about what Joseph was thinking, but it does tell us that he resolved to divorce her quietly. He obviously didn’t believe Mary’s story. He must have been upset. He must have felt let down and betrayed. How could Mary do this to him? He loved Mary, but what was he supposed to do now? If Joseph kept quiet and just took Mary as his wife, then everyone would think he was guilty. The small community in which they lived would ridicule and shame him. Back then it was not as it is today, with fornication and children born out of wedlock as the norms of society. Back then, there was still a sense of shame over such sin, and the law prescribed penalty for a betrothed virgin fornicating was the death penalty by stoning (Dt. 22:23-24).

Therein lay the other problem. Joseph didn’t want Mary to be executed, either. He thought if he could quietly divorce her, then she could escape the death penalty. Yes, he thought she had acted very wickedly towards him, but he loved her and didn’t want her to die, and he didn’t want the community to shame or ridicule her.

As Joseph wrestled with these decisions, he was not joyful. There was no happiness in his life as it seemingly crumbled apart and as he thought of what the future would be. Joseph was not full of Christmas joy and cheer.

A messenger from God changed everything for Joseph. The messenger told him, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

That’s great news! Mary was telling the truth! She hadn’t betrayed him or been unfaithful to him! And on top of it all, this child is the promised Saviour who will save people from their sins!

That’s the thing about messages from God. They show us that in the middle of what seems like crisis and disaster, God is there with His people. God gives good news in the midst of sadness. In the midst of loneliness, sickness, death, and betrayal, God sends His good news through His messengers.

Even if Christmas will not be the same this year for you; even if Christmas will never again be the same as it once was, know that the Christ child came to save His people from their sins.

This is such good news that it is bound to bring joy. This good news means that the nursing home isn’t your final home – you have an eternal home in the heavens. This good news means that your stay in the hospital and your diagnosis isn’t permanent – even if God doesn’t heal you in this life, He will heal you in the life to come. This good news means that your sadness and loneliness won’t last forever – you have the promised reunion with your loved ones who have died in the faith.

Thus, we will have joy this Christmas no matter what we have to face in this life – no matter how much our lives might seem to be crumbling, no matter how bleak and sad things look, no matter how little this year’s Christmas will remind us of Christmases past.

We have the good news that God fulfilled His promise and sent us His only Son. The virgin Isaiah prophesied about did conceive and bear a Son, and His name is Immanuel, which means God with us. Immanuel died for our sins and He is still with us. He is with us in His Word, He is with us in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He is with us in His body and blood which He gives us to eat and drink.

Jesus is the bringer of joy, because He has saved us from our sins. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is with us through the heart-breaks and betrayals; He is with us through the illnesses and diseases; He is with us at our death beds. When our last hour comes, He will take us to be with Himself in eternal joy and happiness. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and we will never again be sad or sorrowful.

Thus, Christmas is joyful. Even amidst the sadness of this life, we have the joy of Christmas, that God sent Jesus, our Saviour, who died for us, saving us from our sins. Having the promise of eternal life, we have the joy of the promise of eternal joy. Amen.

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