“Mary, What DID You Know?” (Luke 1:26-38)

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 21, 2014

“Mary, What DID You Know?” (Luke 1:26-38)

Every year several of the radio stations in St. Louis start playing nothing but Christmas music. I think they start sometime around mid-August, but that’s beside the point. They play Christmas music, and a few of the songs even have something to do with the birth of Christ. Yes, it’s true! And one of the most popular of these songs is a song called, “Mary, Did You Know?” You’ve probably heard it, I’m guessing. The idea of the song is that someone is asking Mary, the mother of our Lord, if she knew what would become of her son. Did she know at the time of his birth what her son would do later on? And so a couple of the lines from the song go like this: “Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?” “Mary, did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?” And so on. You get the idea. It’s not a bad song. It uses the poetic device of addressing Mary and asking her about her baby, to highlight what the Christ child would go on to do–why he came, really.

But the song, as it stands, raises this question of what Mary actually did know at the time when Jesus was born. In other words: What did Mary know, and when did she know it? And that’s where our text for today comes in, the Holy Gospel from Luke chapter 1. This text tells us what Mary knew, even from the time it was announced to her that she would give birth to the Christ. And with that, we will be able to answer the song’s question–and find some answers for ourselves, as well–as we find out: “Mary, What DID You Know?”

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Published in: on December 20, 2014 at 10:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Great Christmas Gift Exchange” (Isaiah 61:1-4, 10-11)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 17, 2014

“The Great Christmas Gift Exchange” (Isaiah 61:1-4, 10-11)

There is a game that is played at this time of year at Christmas parties all across the land. The game goes by several names, but I think most often it is called “Rob Your Neighbor,” and I’m sure many of you have played it. The rules may vary from place to place, but generally I think it goes something like this. Each person brings a gift that could go to anyone in the group, depending on how the game turns out. The gift is wrapped in a package, so you can’t tell what is inside. When it’s your turn, you pick one of the gifts. The thing is, you have nothing to go on, other than the packaging. But watch out, because the packaging, the size of the box and the colorful wrapping–that might be impressive, but the gift inside may not be so great. On the other hand, the best gifts might be in the least impressive packaging. You don’t know. Then, after everyone has got a gift–then everybody unwraps their package and sees what’s inside. At this point, a period of “robbing your neighbor” may ensue. If it’s your turn, you may steal a gift from someone else at the table. But then somebody else may steal it away from you, and so on, and so on. When time runs out, who knows what you’ll end up with?

So that’s one kind of Christmas gift exchange that may or may not turn out so great. It’s all in fun, though, because the gifts are not that expensive, and so it’s not that big of a deal what you get or don’t get.

But today I want to tell you about a gift exchange that is a pretty big deal. And it’s no game; this is for real, as real as it gets. The items exchanged are not all of the same value; there’s quite a difference among them. Don’t look at the packaging; in this case, the best gifts will come in rather unimpressive-looking packaging. And best of all, what gets taken from you is nowhere near as valuable as what you get in return. And so today we’ll hear about “The Great Christmas Gift Exchange.”

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Published in: on December 18, 2014 at 3:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Who Are You, John?” (John 1:6-8, 19-28)

Third Sunday in Advent
December 14, 2014

“Who Are You, John?” (John 1:6-8, 19-28)

How would you like to be defined in terms of someone else? I mean, who you are, your life and identity–when people think of you, they always compare you to somebody else? Are you like this person? Are you like that person? I suppose it could get old after a while. Why can’t people just take you for who you are, on your own terms? Well, today we’ll meet someone whose life was always being defined in terms of someone else. And you know what? He was okay with it. And so this morning we ask the question: “Who Are You, John?”

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Published in: on December 14, 2014 at 2:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Comfort, Comfort My People” (Isaiah 40:1-11)

Second Sunday in Advent
December 7, 2014

“Comfort, Comfort My People” (Isaiah 40:1-11)

“Comfort, comfort my people.” Yes, comfort. A word so nice, they said it twice. Who did? Why, Isaiah did. Well, actually God said it, through his prophet Isaiah. You heard it at the start of today’s Old Testament Reading from Isaiah 40: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,” etc. God wants his preachers to bring comfort to his people, to speak tenderly to his church. And so this is what God has sent me to do here today for you. He says, “Comfort, Comfort My People.”

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Published in: on December 7, 2014 at 7:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Restore Us, O God” (Psalms 80, 85, 126)

Midweek Advent Vespers
Wednesday, December 3, 2014

“Restore Us, O God” (Psalms 80, 85, 126)

We’ve just heard three psalms that are appointed for this Advent season, Psalms 80, 85, and 126. Did you happen to catch what they have in common? There was a connecting theme running through all three of these psalms. And here it is. It is the prayer, in one form or another, that goes something like this: “Restore Us, O God.”

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Published in: on December 3, 2014 at 9:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“A Prayer to the God Who Acts” (Isaiah 64:1-9)

First Sunday in Advent
November 30, 2014

“A Prayer to the God Who Acts” (Isaiah 64:1-9)

Today is the First Sunday in Advent, the first day of a brand new church year. And this season of Advent is a time of waiting, a time of penitential preparation, as we wait for the coming of our King. Christ is coming, our Savior and Redeemer. We prepare for the celebration of our Savior’s birth at Christmas. And we wait for his coming again at the end of this age. Advent is a time for remembering God’s promises to send a Savior. It is a time to repent of our sins, to prepare the way of the Lord before him. This is a time for humble prayer and reflection, a time for patient waiting for our God to act, as he has promised to do.

And so the Old Testament Reading for today is a fitting lesson for this season of Advent. It’s a prayer, really, this reading from Isaiah 64. Isaiah the prophet is voicing a prayer to the Lord that is most appropriate for us to pray, also. It’s an Advent kind of prayer. It’s a prayer to God to come down and deliver his people and make his glory known. It is a prayer of remembrance, as we remember how God has acted in the past. It is a prayer of repentance, as we mourn our sin and turn to God for forgiveness. And it is a prayer of quiet trust and patient waiting. As we’re about to see, this prayer from Isaiah 64 is “A Prayer to the God Who Acts.”

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Published in: on November 30, 2014 at 5:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“A Very Ferguson Thanksgiving” (Habakkuk 1:2-4, 9-11; 3:17-19)

Day of National Thanksgiving
Thursday, November 27, 2014

“A Very Ferguson Thanksgiving” (Habakkuk 1:2-4, 9-11; 3:17-19)

I’m sure many of us were watching on our televisions the other night when we saw what was supposed to be a peaceful protest in Ferguson suddenly and not unexpectedly turn quite unpeaceful. Looters started breaking store windows and stealing what they could get their hands on. Arsonists began to torch buildings and cars and burn them to the ground. Rioters were running wild and not much was being done to stop them.

Now suppose you were one of those business owners whose store was looted or burned. Or maybe you worked at one of those businesses, and now you don’t have a job. And here it is Thanksgiving. Maybe you’re asking yourself, “What do I have to be thankful for? Why did this happen to me? Why did God let this happen?”

Or let’s look at it from the other point of view. Suppose you were one who genuinely felt that the police officer should have been indicted and gone to trial. You sincerely believe that justice was not done in this case. You feel that the police do not treat everyone the same. You’re upset about it. And it’s Thanksgiving. And you wonder, “What is there to be thankful for? We’re still being persecuted unfairly.”

Whichever side of this case you find yourself on, this is not a happy week for our greater St. Louis region or for our nation. Unrest has been stirring in many cities across our land. And here we are at Thanksgiving. Indeed, here we are at the Day of National Thanksgiving. This holiday is specifically supposed to be about giving thanks to God for his blessings on our nation. And right now America seems to be at a low point. The economy is not great, race relations are not great, there’s rioting in the streets, Buffalo is digging out of tons of snow, and the polar vortex has arrived early and settled in for what looks to be a long cold winter. Is this anything to be thankful for? Well, today I want to submit to you that, yes, we do have much to be thankful for. Even when we’re having “A Very Ferguson Thanksgiving.”

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Published in: on November 26, 2014 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Separating the Sheep from the Goats” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 23, 2014

“Separating the Sheep from the Goats” (Matthew 25:31-46)

Judgment Day is coming! Are you ready? This is an important question, because the Day of Judgment is indeed coming, and you will be judged. Now that judgment could be positive or it could be negative, but you will be judged.

In fact, everybody will be judged, all the people who have ever lived. Many people don’t want to hear this, but it is the truth. The Holy Scriptures throughout teach that there will be a final judgment, that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming again from heaven to do the judging, and that everyone will be included. Likewise, then, the Christian creeds confess the reality of this coming judgment. We just said it a few moments ago in the Apostles’ Creed: “From thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.” The Nicene Creed, same thing: “And he will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” And also in the Athanasian Creed: “From whence he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

So there is no question about it: Judgment Day is coming. We don’t know when it will come, that is, the day or hour. It could come tomorrow. It could come next week or next year. It could come a hundred years from now. We don’t know. But we do know that it is coming–or, better yet, that Christ is coming, he is coming to judge the living and the dead.

This is what the Holy Gospel for today is telling us. Indeed, this is what Christ himself telling us, in his own words: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Jesus here is telling us about Judgment Day, the day when he returns, in glory, as king, to judge. So we will be wise to listen up, as Jesus now tells us about “Separating the Sheep from the Goats.”

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Published in: on November 22, 2014 at 11:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Christ Has Brought Us out of Darkness” (1 Thess. 5:1-11; Matt. 25:14-30; Zeph. 1:7-16)

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
November 16, 2014

“Christ Has Brought Us out of Darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30; Zephaniah 1:7-16)

Well, here we are in the middle of November. It’s cold. It’s dark outside. The trees are growing bare. The days are growing shorter. The earth seems to be dying. Darkness seems to be winning. So it seems appropriate that at this time of year–every year, in November–in the church we focus our attention on the end times. We’re coming toward the end of the church year, before Advent comes and we start all over again. The end times, the last things, Judgment Day, the Second Coming of Christ, and what to do while we’re waiting for Christ’s return–these are all themes we get on these Sundays in November. And rightly so, for these are all major themes that we find in the Bible, and our readings today are good examples of that.

The way it is in nature in November is the way it is in the spiritual realm in our world: The days are growing shorter. The earth seems to be dying. Darkness seems to be winning. But as we look at the Scripture lessons for today, we will hear this good news: “Christ Has Brought Us out of Darkness.”

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Published in: on November 16, 2014 at 7:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The True Rapture” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
November 9, 2014

“The True Rapture” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Maybe you remember a bumper sticker that was popular a few years back, which read: “In case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned.” What that bumper sticker meant is the idea that when Jesus comes again, all the Christians alive on earth at that time will be “beamed up” suddenly, leaving the rest of the people on earth behind. That’s why the cars and airplanes and so forth will be vacated when the Christians vanish. This is the so-called “Rapture theory,” and it has been the basis of a veritable industry of popular books and movies and TV programs and radio shows. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the best-selling “Left Behind” series of books and a couple of “Left Behind” movies, one of which came out just recently. All of these books and movies and so on have at their core this idea of the Rapture as the moment when all the Christians will be taken up and disappear, and everybody else, all the unbelievers, will be left behind and not know what just happened.

So that’s the Rapture theory, and it’s usually associated with several other things taking place, which we will get into. And the thing is, there is a Bible verse that does talk about the Rapture. In fact, it’s in one of our readings for today, the Epistle from 1 Thessalonians 4. However–and it’s a big “however”–what the Rapture crowd thinks is going to happen and what the Bible actually teaches, those are two very different things. And so today I want to help you to see the difference, so that a) you will not be misled by what people talk about as the Rapture, and b) you will be encouraged and strengthened in hope by what the Scripture actually does teach. And so our theme this morning: “The True Rapture.”

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Published in: on November 9, 2014 at 12:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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