Archive for December, 2014

Who are You?

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Christmas 1B, December 28, 2014
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Galatians 3:23-29 and Luke 2:21-40

Click here for audio of this message

About 10 years ago, my two brothers and I made a startling discovery about our lineage; about our family history.  Our uncle informed us that our true family name wasn’t Henderson, but something else.  It seems that our great grandfather was making and running moonshine for Al Capone, and that got him into a lot of trouble with the Federal government.  He fled the Chicago area and hid out in a small village in Wisconsin and assumed the name Henderson.  And so it seems our family identity was forever changed, or was it?  Did our name define my brothers and I or is there something deeper and more substantial that defines us?  What defines you?

Who are you? I know who you were; before God gave you faith, you were someone who was held prisoner by the law.  You needed to be held prisoner, because your sinful nature was leading you.  And within your sinful nature was the potential to be a thief, sexual deviant, liar, and even a murderer.  You were forever separated from God’s love and presence because of your sin.  So it’s true, “Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” [Galatians 3:23]

But faith has come; the Living Word of God, the promise of God that He would come and be the Savior of the World has come to us, in our own flesh.  He was born of the Virgin Mary, presented at the temple of God for circumcision and a name.  The act of circumcision was done so that Christ would be held accountable to the law of God just as we are; the only difference is he kept the law perfectly.  The name that was given to this baby God-man was Jesus.

What is in a name, well in the name Jesus, there’s a whole lot.  You see Jesus or Joshua means God saves!  In this child is God’s answer to the sin of the world; even your sin that separates you from His love.  In this child is the only One who is the begotten Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary.  He is the one who has suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  He alone is the one who not only gave His life for sinners separated from God, but He took it back up again by rising from the dead on the third day and He ascended into Heaven, where He forever sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

All of this, He did for you.  He did it so that you would be free from the bondage of God’s Law that always declares, “You are a sinner.  You don’t deserve God’s love or His forgiveness.  No matter how hard you try to be good, you will always fail; you will always fall short.”  So, who are you, really?

God knows who you are, do you? Well, let me tell you who God says you are!  Through faith in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God!  Through faith, because of faith, only by faith are you right with God.  It has nothing to do with what you did or wanted to do, it’s by faith alone.  Listen to me now, you are a son of God.  Don’t change it to daughter, because this has nothing to do with your sex.  It also has nothing to do with your race or economic status.  You are a son of God exactly and precisely as everyone else who has received this gift of faith.

It’s a gift that you received in your baptism, and it’s a gift you’ve confirmed you still want, within the rite of confirmation.  You see, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  You have put on His identity, His persona.  And what is that identity?  You are one who is holy, perfect, and righteous before God the Father.  There is nothing that you need to do to have this new identity, it was given to you 100% in your baptism.  All that you’re asked to do is live out this identity.  And that dear friends is where the struggle comes in.  In our baptism, we were given Christ’ identity, Jesus name once and for all.  Our old sinful nature was drowned in the baptismal waters where we were washed by the water and the Word of God.  But now, every day God directs us to live out this identity by daily drowning or putting to death our sinful nature.

Every day we are asked to turn away from our sins and turn to Jesus for forgiveness, faith, and strength to live for and with God.  It’s a little like learning to climb a telephone pole.  In order to climb, you have to have a belt that goes around the pole and you have to wear spike shoes.  The secret is to lean back and depend on the belt so that the spikes can dig into the pole.  Leaning back, I mean really leaning back and trusting in the belt is hard to do, because it’s in your nature to be afraid and doubt the effectiveness of the equipment.  All beginners go through this period of doubt.  The first few times they try it, they get partially up the pole, panic and slide down, getting splinters in their arms and other places.  Eventually, each beginner is faced with a decision, give up and look or another profession or lean back and trust the belt.

In your walk of faith, God wants you to follow Him by trusting in and depending on Him.  When we are hurt by splinters or falls and failures, He wants us to recognize that the successful climb has already been given to us, He just wants us to keep following Him and learn to depend on the faith and strength that He gave to us in His name, which is our name too!

Who are you? Are you someone who’s defined by your failures or someone who’s defined by Jesus victory over sin, death, and the devil?  Every morning, when you get out of bed you have a choice; you can live as a victim or as a victor.  You can follow Jesus and watch as His forgiving love remakes you into His image, or you can shrink away in anger, hurt, or disappointment.  Who are you, really?

God wants you to always remember that in your baptism, you were given a gift, the gift of faith.  It’s the same gift He gives you every time you come to His table of mercy and receive His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.  Faith is a gift from God.  So is the air, but you have to breathe it.  So is food, but you have to eat it.  So is water, but you have to drink it.

So who you are depends on whether you will receive and live out this gift.  How do you receive it?  I’ll tell you one thing; it doesn’t depend on how you feel, because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” [Romans 10:17]  Faith isn’t something that you need to sit down and wait to experience, instead it comes when you take God at His Word, and that Word says that in your baptism, through the gift of faith you have been made a son of God!  You have been made right with God!  You either take that truth and live it out and let it change you, or you walk away from it and go back into bondage.

I’d like to close with a story about a young boy who was doing chores in the yard with his Dad.  He was doing his best to lift a rock that was too large for someone his size.  He grunted and groaned as he tried to lift the rock.  He tried all different methods to move it, but nothing seemed to work.  His father finally walked over to his son and asked if he was having trouble.  The boy answered, “Yes, I’ve tried everything, and I can’t move this rock.”  The father knelt down to his son and asked, “Are you sure you’ve tried every possibility son?”  The boy looked up with frustration at his Dad and grunted, “Yes!”  With kindness, the father bent over and softly said, “No, son, you haven’t tried everything.  You never asked me to help.”

How often are we like that little boy, struggling with our problems, unable to solve them, and forgetting that we are children of the Most High God.  We forget that we have a new identity, a new nature, and a new name, and a Heavenly Father who loves us because we carry His Son’s name!  Jesus, God Saves, His name is your name too, so trust that name and in prayer continue to ask the Father for His help and protection!

Who are you?  You are a Christian now go and live out that identity.  AMEN!

The Lord Will Make You a House!

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Advent-B, December 21, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

The song you just heard is of course the theme song from the T.V. show Cheers, and it is meant to be a mental hook for you to hang our message upon.  We really do want to be where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad we came.  Wouldn’t you like to be in that place where you can see that all of our troubles are really just the same, and that they all find resolution and are replaced with peace through the same means.  Well congratulations, you’ve arrived in that place; a house that the Lord has built for you and me.  Now I admit, that this place here has its issues; it has its problems, but nonetheless it is a place that the Lord has built; it is a place where He truly has called you and knows your name.  And because He knows your name, we all know you too; we know you and each other in the peace and love of Christ.

Now before you let your emotions get the best of you and you begin to feel let down, let me say that this place with all of its flaws, is just temporary, and it will soon be replaced by an eternal place that will renew your mind and free your soul to be all that God has created you to be.  But you’ll have to wait in this place for a while until God calls you to your new home.  So relax, take a load off of both your feet and heart and let me share God’s Word with you this morning.

In our Old Testament lesson this morning (2 Samuel 7:1–16), we see King David also longing for a place of peace; a sanctuary where God’s people would collectively and eternally know God’s house as a special place where God would forever reside with His people.  David wanted to build a temple, a house of God that would glorify God forever.  And God heard the heart of David, and He knew David was a man after His own heart, and He was pleased with David.  So God sent the prophet Nathan to David and said, “Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” [2 Samuel 7:4-7]

Here God is reminding David and us, that His name and His eminence are glorified with or without our help, after all He is the creator of us all.  Here God wants us to set our hearts on an important truth: It was and still is His work to teach us Who He is and how His name will be glorified among us.  This is the very reason that God traveled with His people in a tent, moving from place to place.  You see, the tent and the sanctuary that rested within it, were reminders that God is always with His children as their protector and redeemer.

And now God speaks this Word of remembrance to David, to both calm His fears and strengthen His faith: “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you.”  Here, God is asking David and us to look back at our lives and see the many twists and turns that have brought us here thus far and proclaim, “If it had not been for the Lord, I would be…!”

Here is one way that we can glorify God’s presence and eminence; by remembering His work and presence in our past.

But God must still speak faith and hope into both David’s heart and ours; He must not only remind  us of His work in the past but the work He promises to do in the future: “And I will make for you (David) a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.”

What is this undefined and continuous work that the Lord will perform to make David’s name greater than all other names on earth.  How will God create a place for His children of faith and plant them so securely that nothing may move nor destroy neither them nor their place?  But more than this, where will this place, which is both the house of David and the house of God be located at?

Certainly, we can read in God’s Word that the temple of the Lord would years latter be built by Solomon, the son of David.  Is this the house and the seed of David that God speaks of?  At first sight, yes, God kept His promise through David’s son Solomon.  But verse 16 of our reading warns us that God’s building and providential presence and care did not stop with Solomon nor the great temple that he built.  Listen: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ”. In other words, it will be eternal.

If it’s only through Solomon that the promise of God is fulfilled, then in the famous words of the Apollo mission, “Houston, we have a problem.”  And the problem is this, Solomon is dead and the bloodline of David is lost.  Further, the temple of Solomon was destroyed long ago, and the second temple of Herod was also obliterated as well.  Now what?  Now, God shows all of us through Whom and how this promise of providing a place and home for each of us is ultimately fulfilled.

In our gospel reading (Luke 1:26–38)we begin to understand how this prophecy is finally fulfilled: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”  And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”

Make no mistake, the angel Gabriel is speaking to both Mary and all of us this morning; he is explaining in the clearest and most simplest way how God will ultimately fulfill His promise made to both David and us; a promise of providing a home, a place for us where God both knows our name, and cares for us eternally.  God will raise up a physical son of David who is also the eternal Son of God.  All of this prophecy would occur without any help from men, and it will occur whether they wish to receive this mighty champion or not.  The name of this God-child explains both His person and His work.  He is called Jesus, which means, “the One through whom Jehovah brings salvation;” for it is this Jesus who will save His people from their sins. [Matthew 1:22]

This exalted Savior God, born of the virgin Mary, who is of the bloodline of David, is the fulfillment of the promise that God first made long ago to Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the garden of Eden.  The seed of the woman would now complete the promised work of God that would bring God’s children of faith back to the promise land of Eden now restored.  An eternal abode, where men and women may once again walk with God in the cool of the day in peace.

In a few short days we will gather again on Christmas Eve to celebrate and renew our joy centered around the birth of the God-child Jesus the Christ, through Whom alone comes the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring each of us home to a place that guarantees us an eternal peace with Him and each other.  And today, as we prepare and wait for our earthly celebration, we are led by faith to look past the earthly and perishable temple of Solomon and see the remaining and still standing presence of the eternal fulfillment of the promise.  God’s dwelling with men of faith did not cease at the destruction of the earthly temple in Jerusalem, but it has been realized and continues today and forever, in an amazing way through the coming of Jesus Christ, in Whom Jehovah came to be with His people.

He has come to us as our God who is the Logos, the very Word of God, who made our human flesh and our redeemed nature His eternal dwelling place.  God did all of this through the eternal glory of His only begotten Son.  We were reminded of this truth, when Jesus our Champion and Savior proclaimed in truth and in the power of God to those that planned to crucify Him, “Destroy this temple (the temple of His body), and in three days I will build it up again” (John 2:19). It is with this building up of the temple destroyed by the Jews, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that the complete and essential fulfillment of our promise of eternal life begins. And this promise continues through the temporary earthly body of Christ, which is the Christian church, which will one day soon, in God’s time be transferred into God’s Kingdom of Glory, where each of us will continue dwelling eternally with the Father and Son through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, who for now resides within each of the hearts of you who believe, that is have faith in the promises of God. [John 14:23; 1 Cor. 6:19]

But for now, we wait in these temporary temples made of flesh, as we gather together across the face of the earth in buildings made of wood and stone.  But we gather together always as the church of Jesus Christ, which is first and always, essentially a spiritual house of God, composed of living stones [1 Tim. 3:15, 1 Pet. 2:5; 2 Cor. 6:16, Heb. 3:6] And as we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments, we are reminded that it is the promise of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ that gives us the ability to both wait and proclaim to all who will listen, “If it had not been for the Lord, I would be completely cut off from life and left hopeless.”

This morning, after hearing all of this work of God, His Holy Spirit continues to draw us deeper and deeper into a right relationship with Him through faith in His Son Jesus.  And as He leads us to reflect His love and forgiveness to our neighbors, even in times where love and forgiveness are the last thing we feel like offering, we will be moved like Mary to simply say, ““Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Can you be this strong?  Will you cooperate with the work of His Spirit?  Yes, you can and you will, if you will but remember the rest of the promise yet to be fulfilled.  The promise of Jesus that speaks these Words of comfort to you: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [John 14:1-3] A place of peace, a house prepared just for you by Jesus Himself; a place where God and everyone else knows your name and are glad you came.  AMEN!

Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus… AMEN!

Rejoice, Pray, and Give Thanks!

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

Third Sunday in Advent-B, December 14, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [Isaiah 61:1]

You dear Christians know these Words well, don’t you?  Of course you do; it was your Lord who read them in the synagogue and added these additional gospel Words: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” [Luke 4:21]  In other Words, Jesus is telling us that this prophecy spoken first by Isaiah is ultimately fulfilled by the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  But do not diminish the importance of the prophet Isaiah, all other prophets, John the Baptist, the holy Apostles, and all faithful preachers and proclaimers of God’s Word, including this humble preacher who stands before you.

My earnest prayer is that God would train each of our hearts to hear His Word when faithfully proclaimed and know by faith that the preacher’s Words are really in fact God’s Word, and that the man addressing you is to be received as a scholar from God.  Speaking through the mouth of the preacher is not simply the voice of a thousand angels but Christ Himself declaring that God is present to bring into your hearts a message of true and lasting forgiveness of sins.  He is speaking to repair hearts that have been broken by other’s sin, to free you from the condemnation of the Law of God, and to free you from the accusations of guilt that come from your own conscience.  In other Words, this is your season of blessing and good favor from God Himself!

Isn’t this the one message that we sinners long to hear?  Isn’t it true that with out the work of Christ that sets us free from our sin and guilt, we in fact remain imprisoned by our own passions and lust for something that never seems to  complete us or fulfill us?  Don’t we all really just yearn to hear God say, “Your sins are forgiven”?  And this dear friends is exactly the message that God is bringing to you this morning.  You are forgiven!  If you will receive this message and work of Christ, then you will find that your ashes of failure have been replaced with the oil of gladness instead of mourning.  And instead of walking around like old “Sad Sack” in your dark and lonely attire, God has in fact clothed you in Christ’s own robe of righteousness, which for you is to be a garment of praise unto your God and Savior.

Now you may be wondering if all of this is true for you, and if so how it can be true.  And simply put, your answer is this: “It is the Lord Jesus work and it is marvelous in our sight!”  In your baptism, Christ planted you within His garden, within His kingdom to be a mighty oak of praise unto your God.  All who see you are to acknowledge you as the very offspring of God, a child who is highly favored and blessed.

You are here to rejoice in the Lord so that others will also be drawn into His year of favor and Kingdom of Grace.  But how?  The answer is in our Epistle reading (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24).

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”

Now, at first this might sound like just another demand of the Law of God; a demand that like all others is outside of our ability to complete.  You might hear it like this: Rejoice, don’t ever stop praying… ever, and don’t ever forget to say “thank you” to the Lord, or else!  But remember, God has sent me this morning to proclaim good news and to set you free from your fears of failure to measure up.  He has sent me to point out to you this part of the reading: “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Do you hear that?  It is God’s will, His desire that you be in a continuous spirit of prayer, that you offer up praise and rejoice in His presence, and that you be thankful in all things, and because it is His will for you He will make sure that you are able.  This morning it is my duty and privilege to proclaim to you that it is “He who began the good work in you  (who) will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” [Philippians 1:6]

Do you understand dear saints that it is not your responsibility to complete you in God’s holiness, but instead, it is the Lord’s work that completes you?  It is the work of the Holy Spirit, which since your baptism has dwelt in you richly in order to complete what was begun in your baptism.  And it is also the Holy Spirit’s work to ensure that you are in fact bearing the fruit of Christ’s cross.

From Christ’s passion upon the cross, your heart has been taken to the Font where you received that holy cleansing of the water and the Word, and from the Font, your hearts have been given the faith necessary to receive the Word of God as it comes directly from His heart and into yours.  And as this Word continues to sanctify, that is preserve you in faith and eternal life, you experience the work of the Holy Spirit, which gives you a spirit of joy.

Rejoicing in the Lord is a natural and consistent expression of one who has been forgiven much through Christ.  And because it is a work of the Holy Spirit, and not your own, it causes you to be filled with joy, a glad confidence in knowing that all things will work together for your good.  But the ugliness of this sinful world does its best to take our eyes of faith off of God’s own goodness through Christ, and for this reason, God has commanded you to call out to Him in prayer.

Prayer, that is the ability to speak directly to God at any given time, is a privilege given only to those who see a need for a Savior.   Those who scoff at the infant lowly, born in a manger and crucified upon the cross for the sins of the world, obviously see no need for a Savior; they have neither God’s ear nor heart when they pray.  Why?  Because prayer is a privilege given only to those who know that without Jesus, they are helpless and hopeless.  You see it is your ability to call out to God in prayer knowing that in Christ, you are never helpless and vulnerable, which empowers you to naturally produce another trait that God wills we Christians to have… a spirit of thankfulness.

Be thankful in all circumstances.  In other words be thankful in all things.  This does not mean that we are to be thankful for all things, because as we all no there is much evil in this world, but in the midst of the evil, we can be thankful that in Christ, all of God is right there with us. (Cancer, Illness, Addiction?)

One of the most difficult things that God’s Word asks us to do is to adjust to the many changes that happen in our lives.  But it becomes so much easier when we remember that He is right there with us in the midst of those changes.  And this is another reason why we must gather often to hear His Word proclaimed; we must be reminded constantly that because the God who delivered me from my sins through Christ is ever and always at work throughout life’s changes, then at the very least I can by faith be thankful to Him for the work He is doing to preserve me in the one true faith.

Thanksgiving, prayer, and rejoicing are God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  These three crisp words jump out at us not as a command, but as a description of the desire of God’s heart.  They are gifts of the Holy Spirit, that keep our hearts centered on the work of Christ’s cross and the promise of the resurrection, which is proclaimed through Christ’s empty tomb.  We must remind each other that because we are adopted children of God through Christ, we have been enable by God to live out holy lives and embrace the fullness of live that is ours by grace.  But even this too is a work of God, performed so that we might never quench the work of the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us until the day of Jesus Christ.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; that is may no nook or cranny of your life be left without the peace of God.  May He reign undisturbed in every portion of your being, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it, and it can be done in no other way.  AMEN!

Words of Comfort and Warning

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent-B, December 7, 2014

Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
http://www.tlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” [Isaiah 40:1]

Comfort… the consolation and reassurance of those who are in distress, anxiety or need. This kind of comfort is an essential part of being human, of living within a community. Scripture declares and reassures us that God is continually comforting His people in times of distress.  And so He does through our message this morning.

Have you heard the story about an old farmer who had been in the habit of plowing his field with an ox and a mule together?  One morning, the ox said to the mule, “Let’s play sick today and rest a little while.” But the old mule said, “No, we need to get the work done, for the season is short.”  But the ox played sick, and the farmer brought him fresh hay and corn and made him comfortable. When the mule came in from plowing, the ox asked how he made out. “We didn’t get as much done, but we made it all right,” answered the mule. Then the ox asked, “What did the old man say about me?” “Nothing,” said the mule.  The next day the ox, thinking he had a good thing going, played sick again. When the mule came in again very tired, the ox asked, “How did it go?” The mule said, “All right, I guess, but we didn’t get much done.” Then the ox also asked, “What did the old man say about me?” “Nothing to me,” was the reply, “but he did stop and have a long talk with the butcher.” The moral of the story?  Be careful, or your idea of comfort may in fact be the beginning of your demise!

This morning God speaks to us real words of comfort, and they come directly from His heart. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” [Isaiah 40:1, 2]

Not just once, “Comfort”, but twice, “Comfort, comfort.” So the Lord begins with a single repeated command. The command flows from the heart of God, and God himself directs this message to be proclaimed  by His messengers, who will announce the good news of his undying love. God wants everyone to hear these words of comfort. He calls us, “my people.” After all of our unfaithfulness, all our rebellion, all our sins, we are still his people! God is still our God, and more than that, He is faithful and gracious, as he promised to be long ago: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” [Exodus 34:6, 7]

Here is a truth that many forget as they mistakenly proclaim their version of comfort: The church through the equipping and power of the Holy Spirit has been entrusted with a new and different kind of teaching, which is the proclamation of the Gospel.

But go to many churches today, and you will hear nothing but the Law; nothing but a confusing message of self-improvement. But that is not God’s heart; He desires that a new message be proclaimed.  He desires that we the church proclaim a sweet, comforting, and joyful message, the Gospel.

This morning God calls you His people. You dear saints are a people, which He will never forsake.  But we are not God’s people by natural birth, but like those born unnaturally.  We are a people who have been crushed and humbled, plagued by turmoil, and who call upon God in the day of trouble. There are other people who trust in their own way, works, and riches, but they are not the people of God. They don’t need comfort, because they have not gone through real sadness for their sins, tribulation over the fate of their sins, and turmoil over the solution to their sins.  They will not receive comfort because their cup is full and there isn’t any room for comfort and consolation.

But you dear Christians hear these words of comfort from your God and you long for it.  Your are not afraid, because you know God as a friend.  You call out to Him, “Dear Father make me holy and pleasing.”  And God speaks back to you, “I have and will continue to make you holy through Christ.  I have brought an end to your terror and fear; I have brought you a double portion of forgiveness for all of your sins.”

And This is how God makes you holy. “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” [Isaiah 40:3-9]

Seven hundred years after Isaiah wrote these words, John the Baptist appeared. Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that he came preaching, and all three cite this passage, identifying John the Baptist as the voice who calls. But John the Baptist was not the only voice that fulfilled this prophecy. All preachers have a similar calling to announce the good news of God’s love for all the world. Finally, all believers respond to the Lord’s call when they give voice to the gospel and live out the freedom of the gospel as a witness to others.

The message of John the Baptist and every messenger of God remains, a message of repentance. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. The prophecy pictures the Lord coming to his people from the wilderness. In preparation for his coming, the people are to prepare his way by removing all obstacles to his coming. The mountains, rough ground, and rugged places represent the natural condition of the hearts of the people; by nature all human hearts are hard as rock. The call of the gospel empowers human hearts to believe. Repentance is a turning away from sin and a trusting in the forgiveness God offers. That was John’s message in the wilderness and the message of every believer who gives voice to the hope within. Through the words of the gospel, God knocks on the door of an impenitent, unbelieving heart and creates faith. The obstacles disappear when the Holy Spirit creates faith.

And now for a Word of warning. “A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. [Isaiah 40:6-10]

The voice of the church, of every faithful pastor and proclaimer of the gospel always cries out two messages.  The first is repent, that is turn to God’s mercy because your many sins that define you, are proof that you will die in those sins with no promise of real comfort without God’s solution.  And the second part of the message shows you God’s solution… they show you your Savior Jesus Christ and declare, “Behold your God!”

Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world… even your sins.”  But the sinful world will not receive a Savior born in a manger and put to death upon a cross.  This idea of God is ridiculous to them.  They can not admit that their existence without this Lamb is exactly like the grass and flowers; they can not admit that without faith in Jesus, they too will one day simply wither away and pass into the eternal judgment of this very same unattractive God!

And God’s solution to this is simply for the preacher to go up onto the high places, lift up their voices with strength and… and… proclaim the message again and again.  “The Lord has come and you are free.  The Lord will come again and you will either behold and receive His reward or you will receive your eternal punishment.”

And now for a Word of encouragement for you the church as we wait for Christ’s second advent. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” [Isaiah 40:11]

Dear saints, you have been prepared for the coming of your Lord Jesus.  You are prepared because by faith you see that He first came as a baby, the Son of God born in a manger, and that He left this world as a Conqueror and Savior when He defeated sin, death, and the devil upon the cross and through the truth of the empty tomb.  You have been prepared for that great day when Christ will come again and provide for each of you a resurrected body like His, to live forever within His eternal reign of the new heaven and earth.  But as you wait for His return, you do not wait alone.  Hasn’t He promised that He is with you always, even until the end of this present sinful age?  And because He is with you, you rest within His very heart as He leads you.  But leads you where?  Out, out, forever out into the darkness of this sinful world demonstrating His love to those who are lost, through the very lives that you live.  When you the baptized devote yourselves to the very lives He has equipped you to live, those in darkness who will not acknowledge the Lamb of God, take notice of you and how you live!  As you perform sacrificial acts of kindness such as offering forgiveness freely, caring for the poor, obeying the laws and authorities, helping strangers and neighbors alike in time of need, people notice; people who need a Savior.  And when they notice and they comment, you may simply point them to both the source of your comfort and the divine power that gives it.  You point them to Jesus Christ.

Dear friends, as you live your lives within God’s comfort may He bless your efforts to lead others to the source of that comfort, even to this little church we call Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.  In Jesus name… AMEN!