A voice of one calling...
"Prepare the way for the LORD
…the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it."
Have you ever missed your name being called while in a waiting room? If you missed the announcement, what was the reason? You may have been preoccupied, deep in thought. Or perhaps you stepped out of the room, out of range of the announcement. Have you ever missed your name being called in an airport? There the stakes are higher; missing your name may mean missing a flight. If you missed the announcement, what was the reason? Maybe you were busy with a mental checklist of all the to-do’s on the business trip before you, or you may have already started your vacation, drifting in carefree thought, not at all expecting your name would be called. You naturally play the blame game and fault the announcement; it wasn’t loud enough or clear enough or repeated enough. But the bottom line is that when an announcement is made and you miss it, it’s on you.
People find fault with God for not sufficiently announcing Himself, for not making Himself known. But He has openly announced Himself from the very beginning, and His announcement has continued through the ages. And oh, by the way, He’s calling your name!
There seems to be a lot of anger and despair around us these days. Maybe it’s there personally in your life too. But Jesus wants us to learn that we have far better reasons to be celebrating than to be brooding in anger or despair. He points this out when He was criticized because He and His followers were not fasting. Jesus said, "How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them." (Mark 2:19) It would be unthinkable for guests at a wedding feast to fast. It would actually be inappropriate and offensive. As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. They must feast and celebrate.
Do you see why Jesus' followers (the wedding guests) weren’t fasting? Jesus is the Bridegroom, and His presence is reason for celebrating! There before them stood God in the flesh to fulfill everything that pointed to and prepared the people for the Savior’s coming. His critics missed the point of fasting and all the other Old Testament religious laws. God gave those laws to emphasize their need for a Savior, not to earn favor with Him. But self-righteousness blinds people so that even when the Savior is standing right in front of them, they don’t see Him. We make the same mistake if we view going to church and other forms of piety as religious acts to please God or to make ourselves better. Those self-righteous ideas blind us from seeing the purpose for which Jesus came, lived, suffered, and died; they rob us of the joy of forgiveness and eternal that is ours in Christ, even in the face of any reasons for anger or despair. So come to church, for all the right reasons. LET US CELEBRATE – THE BRIDEGROOM IS WITH US!
For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given…
And He will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Have you ever been so taken aback by an unexpected gift that you were left in disbelief? What words stammer out of your mouth in such a moment? '…Really? For me? What did I do to deserve this?' And as you search your heart and realize that you don’t rightly deserve such a kindness, your words may turn to, 'No, this is too much; I can’t accept.' But the loving insistence of the giver, which has already melted your heart, moves you to receive it with gratitude as your hearts swells with love for the giver.
Consider how amazing it is that we can look to God’s gift of a Savior and say, "For TO US a child is born, TO US a Son is given." 'To us? Really? What did we do to deserve such a gift?' And as we search our hearts and find countless examples of selfishness and rebellion, we know we don’t rightly deserve such a kindness. In fact, we deserve quite the opposite. But before we turn away from God’s gift saying, 'No, this is too much; I can’t accept,' let’s take a closer look at this gift He gives us.
It’s a fun question to discuss with friends. 'If you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would you choose?' Think of the possibilities! Have you ever imagined what it would be like to have dinner with Jesus? We have a description of such an experience from the life of Levi. He was a tax collector, and to the Jews this meant he was a visible reminder of Roman oppression. Tax collectors were corrupt, greedy, and despised. They excessively taxed their own people to profit from them. But Jesus shows His gracious initiative toward sinners when He comes to Levi and says, "Follow me." And follow Jesus he does! But first, a dinner party with Jesus as the guest of honor…surrounded by tax collectors and other scoundrels. What is Jesus thinking, eating with these people of well-earned wretched reputations?
Jesus dining with Levi and all the other despised demonstrates His gracious, relentless pursuit of sinners. Those blind to their sin and their need for a Savior were offended. Jesus answered His critics, saying, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17) Just as a doctor exists to serve the sick, Jesus came for sinners. Therefore, He must be with them. This is good news for us, because our condition is as desperate as Levi’s. We are not well, and we know it. But Jesus came for us! Do you see what a marvel it is that Jesus calls us, that He would intentionally associate with us? This is STUNNING GRACE – JESUS CALLS YOU! Put another way, Jesus chooses to have dinner with you! It’s not so crazy that Levi immediately followed Jesus and became His disciple for the rest of his life, is it? That’s the effect grace has. This is the grace with which He calls you.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
(I John 3:8)
'The thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat.' Does this saying have a familiar ring to it? It was popularized by a sports program that ran for several decades which took viewers around the globe to experience 'the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat' in the world of athletic competition. Victory and defeat are really two sides of the same coin. In any contest that pits one side against another, whether on a field of play or a field of battle, there is one that triumphs and one that tastes defeat. The higher the stakes, the more on the line, the greater the thrill of victory…and the greater the agony of defeat.
"The reason the Son of God came was to destroy the devil’s work." He came to triumph over the devil, to deliver him a crushing defeat. You see, the devil’s work is to separate mankind from God. He led mankind into rebellion against God, driving the wedge of sin between God and man. This is how the Bible describes that wedge of sin: "Your wrongs have separated you from your God, and your sins have made Him hide His face so that He doesn’t hear you." (Isaiah 59:2) Left in our sins, we lay in defeat, cut off from life with God. 'The agony of defeat' has a familiar ring to it because we ourselves know it; we have felt it, and in a much deeper way than the dejection that comes with a favorite sports team losing. With our very lives on the line, we ourselves have experienced it, the absolutely agony of failing God.
But God had promised to send a Savior to crush the devil, to destroy his work. (Genesis 3:15)
In the 1950’s, polio was the most feared disease in the U.S. The whole country was hoping, searching, waiting, and praying for a cure. Imagine how cool it would have been to announce the cure to the country when it was developed in 1955! That’s the kind of privilege God gave to a man named John the Baptist, who pointed to Jesus and proclaimed, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world."(John 1:29) This announcement followed 1,500 years of Old Testament worship that pictured what God’s solution to sin was going to look like. As animals were sacrificed at the tabernacle and temple, God’s message was graphic and powerful: 'Sin requires death, but I am providing you with something else, ultimately Someone else, to bleed and die in your place.'
"The Lamb of God" is the perfect name for Jesus that sums up everything the world has ever needed – a perfect substitute to suffer and die to make things right with God by taking away all sin, "the sin of the world." Think of all the sins, of all mankind, all lumped into a huge mass. Yes, the terrible sins you read of in the history books and see in the world are there. But so are the sins that keep you awake at night, and the sins that make you feel ashamed when you think about them, and the sins you just can’t seem to leave behind. God took this gigantic mass of "the sin of the world" and He put it on the Lamb that He offered in your place. You see, sin can only be in one of two places: it’s either around your neck and you’re lost, or it’s on God’s Lamb and you’re saved. The privilege that John had and that I have today is to point you to Jesus, God’s Lamb, and tell you that you are saved. BEHOLD, THE LAMB OF GOD!
She will give birth to a son,
and you are to give Him the name Jesus,
because He will save His people from their sins.
Anyone can save a life. Ordinary people like you and me have been at the right place at the right time and have saved a life by performing CPR or the Heimlich maneuver, by pulling someone out of an accident scene or out of deep waters. However, some life-saving situations call for people who are uniquely qualified and specifically skilled. It takes a specialist to perform an open heart surgery. It takes the Coast Guard to perform a major rescue operation at sea.
What kind of specialist would it take to save us from our sins? An ordinary passer-by like me can’t save you; I can’t even begin to save myself! And I think you realize the same for yourself too, don’t you? You recognize your inability to save yourself when you strive to change your sinful ways but you can’t, when you know what is godly but choose what is evil, when you struggle to curb thoughts of anger, greed, and lust but you fail, when you determine to guard your lips from lies and gossip and godless talk but the filth flows anyway, when you resolve to humble your pride and stop looking down upon others but soon find yourself back upon your throne of judgment. Like someone who is unable to swim thrashing about in open waters, our efforts to save ourselves are in vain; we are drowning in our sins.
Most of us don’t like to wait. We don’t like waiting at the doctor’s office or in traffic or even in a drive thru line. But when it comes to waiting on God, we must not think that waiting time is wasted time. After Jesus’ birth and the later visit of the wise men, the first 30 years of His life are summed up in just a few verses. We might wonder what Jesus was doing all those years. A simple answer is to say that He was waiting. He was waiting on His Father. This waiting time was not wasted time. Through it all, the Father was working in every single aspect of His life. "The child grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him." (Luke 2:40)
We shouldn’t think those years don’t have meaning for us. ALL of Jesus’ life has do to with us; every moment of His life was lived for us. What more significant thing could Jesus have done in those 30 years for you and me than to offer to His Father in heaven that pure life of unbroken obedience that you and I fail to live? And what more significant thing could Jesus have done in His last 3 years for you and me than to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sin that you and I could never offer? To think, this is what Jesus waited those 30 years for! As a result, what more significant thing could we know than that we are saved through faith in Jesus? May this strengthen you to WAIT UPON THE LORD, knowing that He is silently but steadily working His good will.
When the time had fully come, God sent His Son,
born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law,
that we might receive the full rights of sons.
How would you define the word 'redeemer'? Humor me for a moment and look it up on dictionary.com. The first annotation is what you might call a 'duh' definition: 'one who redeems.' Illuminating, isn’t it? But the second definition is stunning: 'Jesus Christ.' 'Redeemer' is synonymous with Jesus Christ!
But what does it mean that Jesus Christ is 'one who redeems'? 'Redeem' means to buy back, to set free. So why is Jesus 'The Redeemer'? Who did He come to redeem, why did they need redeeming, and how did He redeem them?
The shepherds said to one another,
"Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,
which the Lord has told us about."
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph,
and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
'Quick, you’ve got to see this!' Think of a time in your life when you heard that call to action. What kind of can’t-miss moment had you springing out of bed or jumping off the couch, setting every other preoccupation aside? What did you hurry off to see or to hear?
Now think of a time when you were frozen with fright. I’m not talking about being scared but about being terrified, hit with the panic of feeling undone, not knowing what comes next or what to do next. It could be that a piece of personal news took you by surprise. Maybe you saw a tragedy unfold before your eyes. Or perhaps it was a realization of how you had hurt someone or some other crushing awareness of guilt. Yes, those moments can be absolutely paralyzing.
Why would I lead you down memory lane for these two very different experiences? It helps you understand what the shepherds experienced that one life-changing night when they encountered first one angel, and then a whole host of angels with some remarkable news. You’ll better appreciate them hurrying off to Bethlehem if you can first understand them frozen in time in a moment of terror.
Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
Daniel is the Staff Minister at Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, El Paso TX.