Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. --Romans 8:34-35, 38-39
The Christmas season is too short. In the world, it seems as if there’s an entire month of build-up…followed by a sudden and abrupt end of Christmas and turn toward New Years.
I recall having the radio on in the background of the house from Thanksgiving on and hearing Christmas song after Christmas song after Christmas song. As Christmas day came and presents were opened and relatives were visited, and exhausted children went to sleep, I sat alone in our living room, drinking a beer and listening to the familiar Christmas songs. Suddenly, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” was abruptly ended mid-song and a song from the 90s band Matchbox 20 began playing. It was exactly 12:00 AM on December 26th. Christmas suddenly ended and the lack of Christmas music on the radio made that clear.
Advent and Christmas are comforting in their predictability. You know how things are going to unfold—the virgin Mary will be with child again. Joseph will again consider calling off the marriage until the angel, Gabriel, tells him to take Mary as his wife. They will again travel to Bethlehem. Again, there will be no room in the inn. Again, shepherds will be out in the field watching their flock by night when the angel appears and they are afraid. We will again sing Joy to the World and O Come, All Ye Faithful.
New Years is much different. New Year’s Eve carries with it unmeasurable uncertainty. We look back at all life’s twists and turns that happened to us during the course of the year and marvel at what we experienced. We are reminded of the celebrities who died during the course of the year and we are surprised all over again. We see footage of the year’s major news stories and wonder how these things could ever have been predicted.
Then, we look toward an uncertain future. What joys will we have? What will be the cause of this year’s tears? Who will we meet and who will we say goodbye to for the final time? What news stories will delight us or terrify us? We cannot possibly know.
And yet, one thing remains for certain. We cannot be separated from the love of God in Jesus, our Lord. Jesus’ forgiving love remains more powerful than loss or COVID or war. Jesus’ forgiveness is greater than our most horrible sin. Jesus’ life is greater than death. Jesus’ victory is greater than our most-humiliatng defeat. Jesus will never stop loving you, Jesus will never stop forgiving you, and Jesus will never, ever abandon you…come what may.
We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we know that Jesus is already there in his grace. Amen.
Eternal God, we commit to Your mercy and forgiveness the year now ending and commend to Your blessing and love the times yet to come. In the new year, abide among us with Your Holy Spirit that we may always trust in the saving name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
And the angel said to them [the shepherds], “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…” --Luke 2:10-11
Of all the people in the world that God could’ve chosen to reveal the birth of Jesus to, he chose a group of cold, tired shepherds on the graveyard shift. These shepherds had the societal respect and economic power of a group of fast-food workers. Their reputation was as solid as that of a used-car salesman or a personal injury attorney. They smelled like the gentleman who takes your garbage. Of all the people in the world for angels to seek out and have the privilege to announce the arrival of the Savior, he chooses the lowliest of all—shepherds.
When we are all enjoying eternal life in heaven, I’d like to seek these shepherds out and ask them to tell me more about that first Christmas night… but first I’ll have to ask around and find out what their names are; the names of the shepherds are not even recorded in the Scriptures.
Yet it may be that the shepherds’ names are withheld because we are to see ourselves in the account of the shepherds. The shepherds were nobodies and (I say this respectfully), so are you. So am I.
None of us set fashion trends. None of us command armies. None of us has international fame. None of us rule nations or have our faces on currency. Yet, just as the Gospel came to the shepherds, so the Gospel comes just as fully to you.
God himself is born in Bethlehem as a baby. God himself lived under the law. God himself suffered death on your behalf. God himself rose from the dead and defeated death. God forgives you. God purifies you. God gives life eternal to you. Jesus makes you a son or daughter of the Kingdom and he shares his eternal reign with you.
The angel tells the shepherds that Jesus is born “to you.” You is plural in the Greek. Jesus is born to the shepherds and to more—Jesus is born to you (you who are reading these words) as well.
Jesus saves you. Jesus forgives you. Jesus loves you—as lowly as you are, Jesus’ love for you has no bounds.
Jesus is born for you and he is born for all. The young and the old, the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick—people of every race, tribe, people, and language have the hope of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Through Jesus, we have good news. Through Jesus we have great joy. Through Jesus, we are saved. Amen.
Most merciful God, You gave Your eternal Word to become incarnate of the pure Virgin. Grant Your people grace to put away all sin, that they may be ready for Your visitation, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. –Galatians 4:4-5
Our Lord God is above all and he makes decisions that are pleasing to him.
Jesus was pleased to enter Jerusalem in humility on a donkey while people shouted “Hosanna!” and waved palm branches. Jesus was pleased to enter into our world in humility, born of a virgin in a stable and laid in a manger.
Jesus is pleased to come to us in Word and Sacrament. Jesus is pleased to return in awesome glory.
Our Lord not only chooses the method of his arrival, but even the time of his arrival. And while God still chooses those things that are pleasing to him, we rejoice because it pleases our Lord to grant you forgiveness and salvation.
When the time was right, when the perfect moment had arrived, when all things were properly in order, Jesus was born into this world…born of a woman…born under the law…so that you (who are under the law) might be redeemed and adopted.
Jesus (who is wiser than us all) doesn’t work on our timing, although we would often like it to be different.
I have often prayed and asked God for certain things with an expectation of when God should grant my prayer. I have been frustrated because things are slower and more difficult than I think they should be. I get upset because good things are over far too soon, before I got a chance to fully appreciate them. I would do well to leave the timing up to God and not begrudge the fact that he remains in control of all things.
God promised salvation through a Son to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, shortly after they fell into sin. The promise was renewed and repeated by God continually and the world waited for thousands of years for Jesus to
be born and fulfill these promises. Jesus promised to return and the Church has been waiting nearly two thousand years. Yet God’s promises will be fulfilled when God chooses.
God’s timing rarely makes sense to our human minds. Why do some come to faith in Jesus on their deathbeds while others can’t remember a time when they didn’t believe in Jesus? Why do some seemingly struggle with faith and
doubt while others appear to have unshakable faith? Why do some find difficulty around every bend while others seem to have much easier lives?
We cannot know the answer to these questions, but we trust in a God who loves us and always works for our Good. Amen.
O God, our Maker and Redeemer, You wonderfully created us and in the incarnation of Your Son yet more wondrously restored our human nature. Grant that we may ever be alive in Him who made Himself to be like us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” --Mark 11:7-10
Advent is the beginning of a new church year and a preparatory time for Christmas. The traditional Gospel reading for the first Sunday in Advent is the account of Jesus coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. This is not exactly the reading we’d expect to prepare us for Jesus’ birth.
And yet, Jesus doesn’t often do what we expect him to do.
As he enters into Jerusalem, just days before his crucifixion, Jesus doesn’t enter as a condemned criminal. Even though Jesus is about to rise from the grave and conquer death for us, Jesus doesn’t come as a military hero. Instead, Jesus comes as a servant riding upon a donkey.
Jesus also came into the world with great humility. The author of all creation doesn’t come into his creation with all the eyes of the world watching. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords isn’t born in a golden palace. Jesus is attended by angels in heaven, but his earthly attendants are a young virgin and her husband, shepherds, and barnyard animals. He is born anonymously without anyone watching or even caring.
Today, Jesus continues to come in humility. He doesn’t come to you on a donkey nor does he come to you wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Instead, Jesus comes to you in Words—the Gospel (read in the Scriptures, sung in the hymns, preached in the sermon). Jesus comes to you in the waters of Baptism. Jesus comes to you in bread and wine, which is his body and blood. And the reason he comes to you is always the same—to forgive your sins, strengthen your faith, and fill you with his resurrection victory.
A day is coming when Jesus will return and he will not come in humility. The sky will roll up like a scroll, trumpets will blast and archangels will shout. All eyes will see Jesus returning, descending from the clouds. The dead will be raised and all people will be judged. For the wicked, this is a day of great terror; but for you who have faith this is a day of great joy. Your salvation has come to fruition. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Stir up your power, O Lord, and come, that by your protection we may be rescued form the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.