Jan 13, 2019
Jesus’ Baptism is Our Story
Series: (All)
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  • Jan 13, 2019Jesus’ Baptism is Our Story
    Jan 13, 2019
    Jesus’ Baptism is Our Story
    Series: (All)
  • Jan 6, 2019The Light of Christ has Come
    Jan 6, 2019
    The Light of Christ has Come
    Series: (All)

    “The Light of Christ Has Come”

    Matthew 2:1-12

    January 6, 2019

     

         This is a picture a friend of mine sent me that he took in his neighborhood on December 26 – a Christmas tree waiting to be hauled away with the rest of the trash.  We can’t say that it’s wrong to throw the Christmas tree out the day after Christmas.  After all, people have their own decorating schedules for Christmas and their own timetables for packing their decorations away.  Many radio stations stopped playing Christmas music on December 26.  While I wish they would have continued playing Christmas music until today, I’m happy that they were willing to play music during most of December that talked about the birth of Jesus.  Several stores took their Christmas decorations down before January 1, but at least they put up decorations.  Some people don’t put up a tree at all, and there’s nothing wrong with that; but it’s sad if people do this with the Good News of Jesus’ birth on December 26 – throw it out or pack it away for another year.      Today, 12 days after the birth of Jesus, we take a moment to remember the last piece of the Christmas story – the coming of the Magi, or wise men, who came to worship Jesus, the newborn King.  While the story is probably somewhat familiar to us, our world has a tendency to mix up some of the facts of this story with the events that took place at Christmas.  For example, many of our manger scenes show the wise men, with their gifts, worshipping the baby Jesus at the stable, along with the shepherds on that first Christmas night.  But the Bible tells us that when the wise men found Jesus, He had already been circumcised and presented in the temple; and instead of being in a stable verse 11 of our Gospel lesson for today tells us that the wise men found Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a house; which Joseph had probably found for them to stay in until the time came for them to flee to Egypt.  Therefore, having traveled a good distance just to get to Bethlehem, the wise men probably arrived several months after Jesus was born.      In fact, we don’t even know how many of them there were at the house.  We often assume there were 3, since they brought 3 different gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh; and many of our Christmas songs tell us that there were three (we’ll even sing one of those great songs this morning, which clearly tells story we celebrate today) but the Bible never tells us how many wise men came to worship Jesus.  Plus, how did the wise men know that this special star that they saw in the east signified that the Savior of the world, the King of Kings had been born?  After all, these men probably had very little training in the Bible.  All we can say is that God revealed this to them.      But what we do know is that when these astronomers and astrologers arrived, they did not find a king surrounded by royalty, but rather they found ordinary people in ordinary circumstances.  They easily could have looked at this situation, with Joseph the carpenter, his wife, Mary, and the baby Jesus and said, “This can’t be it.”  They could easily have turned around and headed back home, but they didn’t.  When they saw that child, they bowed down and worshiped Him.  In that child, they saw and recognized the Son of God.  It was truly an epiphany moment for them.      However, when these guys showed up in Jerusalem and told the people they had seen a miracle star pointing to the birth of the Messiah, you would think that the people would have been filled with great joy.  Instead, the star that was such great news to the wise men turned out to be very upsetting news to everyone in Jerusalem.  Again, verse 3 says, “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”  Why would everyone be upset?  The answer: King Herod.  Herod was a clever and vicious warrior and diplomat.  On the one hand, he could be very compassionate.  Several years prior to this event, when a great famine hit the area, Herod had several gold items from his palace melted down in order to raise money for the poor.  Other times he refunded taxes to those who were struggling financially.      On the other hand, Herod could also cruel and jealous.  He killed his wife, three of his sons, and his mother-in-law.  Later in life, when he knew he was about to die, he ordered the arrest of 100 of the most respected residents of Jerusalem and had them imprisoned with the strict order that at the moment of his death, all 100 of the prisoners would be killed.  That way he could ensure that there would be mourning in the city at the time of his death, for he knew that otherwise there might be only rejoicing.  Herod had the potential for good, but he was driven by jealousy.  If he saw any threat, real or imagined, he did whatever was necessary to destroy it.  So when Herod heard of this star, he didn’t think of God’s promised Savior and what a good thing this would be for him and all of his people; instead he saw the infant Jesus as a threat to his throne, who must be put down with force if necessary.  The people were also upset, because they knew that Herod could go on a rampage trying to get rid of this child and there was no telling who could get killed.  Therefore, the clever Herod figured he could get these wise men to unknowingly help him get rid of this child.  But, fortunately, God intervened and told the Magi in a dream not to go back to Herod.      These wise men, who probably knew little of the true God, were truly men of faith, because they saw in Jesus who He really was – the very Son of God and Savior of the world.  Did you see Jesus for who He really was this past Christmas or did you miss Him, because you were too busy with the hustle and bustle of parties, presents, and traveling?  If you missed Him this past year, today is a good time to see Him again and to learn from the example of the wise men.  In fact, there are 3 things that we can learn from these wise men, who were willing to act when God spoke to them.      First, they worshiped the Christ Child.  The wise men certainly didn’t come to impress Joseph and Mary.  They came to worship God’s Son, who was sent to save them and all the world from their sins.  All other religions in the world try to help people look better before God, so that God will finally accept them into heaven.  But only in Christianity do people come to know and believe that they are helpless sinners, who can do nothing to impress God.  And yet, out of His tremendous love for us, God sent His Son to suffer and die for us, so that we can live with Him forever.  Therefore, the appropriate response for us is to bow down, give thanks, and worship our God – like the wise men – every day of our lives, for the tremendous gift of eternal life He has given to us.      The second thing we learn from the wise men is that they just didn’t fall down and worship Jesus, they also offered Him gifts.  The gifts they offered were certainly not ordinary gifts from around the house, and they didn’t give to God what was left over in their wallets.  Their gifts had great meaning and value.  Kings in those days were the only ones who ever received gold as gifts.  Frankincense was usually used in the temple and it was burned as an offering to God as a sweet smelling sacrifice.  Myrrh was often a reminder of death as it was used in perfume in the embalming process.  So here are the wise men, offering gold to the King of Kings, frankincense to the Lord of Lords, and myrrh to the One who would die to save all people.      During this past Christmas, I’m sure we all gave gifts that had meaning and value to our families and friends, but what did we give to God?  Did we follow the example of the wise men and give God our best or did we give to God what we had left over in our wallets, after we purchased gifts for everyone else?      Third, when the wise men saw the Christ Child, they were transformed.  They were changed.  While they did go home a different way, it wasn’t a routine trip back home; it was an entirely new journey.  They had seen their Savior.  As God looks down upon our church, what does He see?  Does He see people who have been transformed?  The wise men had to make a long, difficult, and inconvenient trip to see their Savior, but we don’t have to do anything like that.  Instead, Jesus comes to us right here in this place, in His Word, and in His Sacraments of Baptism and Communion, to wipe out the darkness our sins and to fill us with the light of His love, so that when we leave this place we will be changed into today’s wise men: anxious to worship, ready to serve Him in humble ways, and willing to faithfully give God our very best every day in 2019.     
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    Dec 24, 2018
    Presence
    Series: (All)
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  • Dec 2, 2018Our Heavenly Potter
    Dec 2, 2018
    Our Heavenly Potter
    Series: God With Us

    “Our Heavenly Potter”

    Isaiah 64:1-9

    December 2, 2018

     

         I was driving home from Virginia last Saturday after Sue, Sarah, and I had spent a few days with Sue’s family for Thanksgiving and traffic on I-95 was packed.  Cars were crawling on the highway at about 20 mph and I’m sure everyone on the road was tired and anxious to get home.  All of a sudden, though, this car came flying by me on my left.  Normally, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that, but I was in the far left hand lane.  This car was driving on the left shoulder of the road right next to the concrete wall that separates the two directions of the highway.  This was wrong.  This was dangerous. That car was not in a proper lane as it was trying to get way ahead of the rest of us who were following the rules of the road.  And immediately I thought, “Where are the police now?”  Justice.  That’s what I wanted.  I wanted that guy to get caught by the police.      Now that speeding car did not hurt me or anyone else as far as I know, but what bothered me was what could have happened.  That car could have caused an accident and that could have slowed traffic even more, but if the police were around that car could have been stopped and maybe the driver could have learned a valuable lesson to never drive so carelessly again.  Talking about what could have happened doesn’t really change anything except that it gives voice to our feelings.      Isaiah, in our Old Testament lesson, is someone who was crying out for justice, and he, too, was concerned about what could have happened.  Now he wasn’t looking for the police to show up, instead Isaiah wanted God to show up in a powerful way in order to make His presence known for everyone to see.  Notice how Isaiah begins his prayer in our text saying, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence” (Isaiah 64:1).  Apparently Isaiah knows what could happen when people see God.  Instead of turning against God, they are much more likely to follow Him.      We all know that when a police car is sitting in the median of a road for everyone to see, immediately people become safe drivers.  You go the speed limit and you obey all traffic laws; but take the police car away and you see people speeding on the shoulder of a highway in bumper to bumper traffic.  If the presence of a police car can change a person’s bad choices or actions, then just imagine the effect the presence of God would have on people if He made Himself known for everyone to see in a real, physical way?      What could happen if God parted the Atlantic Ocean and appeared before thousands of people on the shore of North Carolina?  Do you think everyone there would take notice and repent of their sins right away?  Or imagine if you were in the midst of a group of atheists and while you were talking to them about believing in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, Jesus suddenly came down from heaven and stood before all of you to offer physical proof of His existence.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  How many of those atheists would suddenly convert?      In a way Isaiah is facing that kind of situation.  He is surrounded by people who have rejected God.  He has tried to get their attention and now wonders if there is any chance that they will ever turn back to God and believe in Him.  So he prays that God would come down or do something miraculous for everyone to see in order to fix everything that was wrong in the world.  In verse 2 he explains that the presence of God would be like fire saying, “As fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil” God if you would just come down to this earth your presence would cause an instantaneous change.  Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting God to do one of those big miracles we see in the Bible, like parting the sea or coming down in a pillar of fire.  After all, with today’s technology such miracles would easily be seen by the entire world on social media.       Isaiah wants this because he saw how the sin of worldly living was destroying the people from the inside out.  Without God’s presence to remind His people that He really is the only true God, the only One who gives life, who is with them always – through their joys and their difficulties – Isaiah feared that the people would begin to slide back to unrighteous living.  They would lean on their own understanding, their own intellect and wisdom to meet their needs.  And that’s exactly what happened in the days of this text.  Things were so bad that Isaiah said, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags…There is no one who calls upon your name, there is no one who rouses himself to take hold of you” Isaiah 64:6-7.  In other words, the people are lost.  They are not going to live in heaven.      So why doesn’t God do something big?  Why doesn’t He just come down, say a few words, and part the ocean?  When we look at our society today we may wonder the same thing.  Why doesn’t God prove to this world in a physical way that He does exist, and that Jesus is our Savior?  After all, God has done it before.  So why won’t He do it again?      I think the fact that God has done it before is the reason why He won’t do it again.  God could come down here and do some impressive things to get the world’s attention, but it would be a redundant effort.  What I mean by that is since God already came to this world once as a human being in the person of Jesus and performed many miracles, including rising from the dead, and many people witnessed these miracles, if those things did not convince the world that Jesus was God in the flesh then doing them again is not going to convince everyone either.  God has given us everything we need to have faith in Him and if people will not believe in God through the hearing of His Word in the Bible, which was written by many of these witnesses, then nothing else will get them to come around.  Not even a pillar of fire or parting the ocean.  Oh sure, God would get our attention and many might even convert or repent if He came down and did something impressive, but eventually most would backslide, just like the Israelites did as soon as God left their sight.      I guess if God felt that by showing up here in this world, physically, was the only way He could save His people, then we would see God on a daily basis.  But our Lord chose another way to lead His people.  He chose His Word and all of us as the way He would reach and lead His people.      In our text for today we are reminded that we are the clay and God is the potter, and we are the work of God’s hands.  It’s a great thing to be in the hands of the Heavenly Potter, because we need a lot of shaping.  We don’t start off as something beautiful in God’s eyes.  The Bible tells us that from birth sin permeates us so that to God we are like dry clay and you can’t do a whole lot with dry clay.  If you try to shape it, it just crumbles.  So what does a potter use to make dry clay pliable again?  Water.  And so through the water of our Baptism God made us pliable again.  He breathed new life into us so that He could mold us into His likeness.  Everyday God will shape us so that we will be His beautiful witnesses to others, just like a potter working on that clay to shape it into something beautiful.  In fact, if you have ever heard someone say, “I feel like I’m being worked over by God,” it’s true.  We are; in His love our Heavenly Potter trims bits and pieces of unwanted “clay” from us and He shapes us into something beautiful.  Then God puts us through fiery trials so that, just like a piece of clay baked in an oven comes out strong and useful, we come out of our trials as people who are strong and useful.      As we begin our preparations for the coming of Christmas, like Isaiah, we could easily look at our world and cry out to God that people are falling away from Him as their Christmas preparations focus only on shopping, presents, and parties, instead of praising God for the greatest gift we could ever receive – the gift of His Son.  But God has given us His Word and we are His vessels that carries His Word to our communities, and we know what can happen when someone hears the words of our Lord.  Their focus and their lives can change.  So in this season of preparation may the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you are shaped by God to be His lights to the world.
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    Nov 25, 2018
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    Nov 4, 2018
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    Series: Self-Storage