Archive for December, 2015

There’s Something About the Name Jesus

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

Christmas 1 (HL), December 27, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” [Luke 2:21

Just like every other Jewish baby-boy, Jesus was circumcised a week after His birth.  Maybe that’s the reason why this gospel lesson always falls so close to New Years Day; so we can begin our New year with the name of Jesus on our lips and in our hearts.  You see…

It was at God’s command that Jesus’ name was given.

The name Jesus means “God Saves” or, as we simply say in English, Savior.  That’s why the Angel said to Joseph: “You shall call His name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

So, the name Jesus is given to God the Son by God the Father Himself, and because of this, all of God’s power is contained within that name.  Within the name of Jesus is everything that all of creation needs to be saved from the sins of the world.  That’s why the name Jesus is to be used and spoken only with the highest reverence and respect.  When we speak and use this name, we are in fact dealing with God Himself.

Within the name Jesus, is contained all that Christ possesses and is. When that name is mentioned, He is present Himself with all of His power, but here is something you must always remember when you speak or call upon His name; He is Jesus for you!

You know, we’re living in a time, within a society, that not only celebrates political correctness, it demands it.

This is an age where everyone is free to speak the name of their “god” but no one wants us to speak the name Jesus; and because we don’t want to offend the Muslims, the Jews, the Buddhist, nor the atheists, and because of our desire to get along with everyone, we end up avoiding the sweet name of our Lord, thus providing a witness to no one.

Once perhaps, when we were young and new to our love for Jesus, we spoke His name freely and with joy, but now, maybe thinking that we have matured and become respectful of others, we have possibly regressed into an immature state, and within this regressed state, we’ve left the very foundation of our faith and life, which is Christ crucified and resurrected.

This morning, the Holy Spirit calls out to us in love, and He warns us; He testifies to us concerning the name of Jesus; if we choose to shy away from our Savior and the blessed name of Jesus, it will at one point become near  impossible to be renewed again to repentance, since as deniers of His name we will be crucifying the Son of God all over again to our own harm as we allow Jesus to be held up to contempt. [Hebrews 6:1-5]

Jesus said that whoever is ashamed of Him (His name) and His Words (His gospel message), (He) the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. [Luke 9:26]

So I want you to know, that there will come a time, that at the name of Jesus every knee (will) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”  [Philippians 2:10]  That means that the day is coming (whether they acknowledge it or not) when every Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, and atheist that you are afraid of offending, will have to get down on their knees in judgment before God, and confess before they depart to the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, that Jesus is Lord!

Listen friends, Jesus knew that His name would bring division and trouble to this world; that is why He declared, ““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  As Simeon said in our Gospel lesson (Luke 2:22-35), Jesus has been appointed for the fall and rising of many, and for a sign that is opposed and a sword that will pierce not only through Mary’s soul, but the souls of all, so that they may receive the recreating work of the gospel.

Do we really want to be shy, ashamed, and muzzled while so many who persist in unbelief will only know the edge of God’s sword, which is His law?  Is that what you want?  Do you want them to be lost without knowing what you know about the wonderful name of Jesus?  You see, Jesus doesn’t want them to wait for that last day; He wants them to avoid the eternal darkness; He want us to speak His name; the sweetest name they’ll ever know.

His name is Jesus; Wonderful Counselor, mighty God, and Prince of Peace.

By faith in His name, the saving name of Jesus, His work of salvation is for you and for all that still can not nor will not allow that name to be spoken!

It was because of the mighty name of Jesus that the apostles performed their great miracles.  To preach in the name of Jesus then, to speak, to teach, and to witness to that name, means not just speaking His name, but to speak in a very personal way through Scripture, which He has promised will be filled with His Spirit and power first for you and then for those who will listen to you.

To believe in Jesus, can therefore be said to have faith in His name and only His name.  To believe in and speak the name Jesus, is to proclaim to all who will listen, that there really is forgiveness of sins for those who will receive Him!  To believe and speak His name, is to proclaim to all those who do not yet know Him, that there really is a way back to God’s love.  This is why the name Jesus really is the sweetest name you will ever know.  To speak His name freely then, is simply to be a Christian, that is a child of God through Christ, who through Jesus, has life in His name; life He brings for you!

Jesus!  It’s a name that shoots out from not just the dead stump of Jesse, but from every stump that once represented the best intentions of men and women, from within a culture that once was great, but now is dying or completely dead.  It’s a shoot of new life that promises that there is a way that most certainly leads to an eternity of joy and happiness.

Through the name of Jesus, we are taught by God Himself that the Holy Scriptures are to be taken literally, because they are the very things that teach you both of Jesus and the power of His name.  And through these same scriptures, we are to have no doubts in our minds or our hearts when we hear that: “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  “… at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” [Acts 4:12 & Phil 2:10]. And when we hear His name spoken, our hearts and our lips are compelled to proclaim, “He is my Lord; He is my God!”

To pray in the name of Jesus, then, means to pray by faith in Jesus, under the protection of Jesus, with all of our sins forgiven that would otherwise prevent us from being heard by God, and with Jesus as our helper and our intercessor, we may always know that not only are we heard, but we are in fact forgiven.

And finally, to do something in the name of Jesus, whether we go to His table for His Holy meal, or rest quietly at home preparing for the New Year, by faith, we take Jesus with us, to stand under His forgiveness and His protection, and to know that He is with us always and everywhere, all of our days, and in everything we do.

Dear friends, can you see that you are in the very same place as Simeon?  You too may now behold the anointed one of God, Jesus Christ, and you may depart in both faith and peace.  For your ears have heard the good news of salvation and forgiveness of sins; your eyes too, have seen His salvation, in the breaking of the bread and the lifting up of the cup for the forgiveness of sin.  You are partakers of the very salvation that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have prepared in eternity in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to God’s people who both speak and rest in the blessed name of Jesus.  Oh, there is indeed something about the name of Jesus; it is the sweetest name I know!

In the name of Jesus then, let all God’s people say… AMEN.

“The King Is Born!”

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

CHRISTMAS EVE-The Nativity of our Lord, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” [Isaiah 9:5, 6]

We all have experienced the waiting and anticipation of the birth of a baby in the family. And even though we live in a country that doesn’t have a king, we know from our friends in England how they followed (and maybe we did, too!) the royal births of William and Harry.

But the British monarchy isn’t the same kind of kingdom as in the ancient world of Israel, where the king and his dynasty were everything – and actually affected the lives of even the lowest of subjects he ruled. But since the British monarchy is the closest thing we have to understand life under a king, we might want to think of Henry VIII and his obsession with having a male heir. Not only was the king himself the sole (and predominantly selfish) center and essence of the kingdom, around which everything revolved, but he also had to secure the future of the dynasty with a son.

So any royal pregnancy was closely watched. And can you hear the well-known words of our text as a royal birth announcement for a people who were under siege by the nations around them, who wondered if their kingdom would remain, who pinned their hopes and their futures on the birth of a prince and the succession of the kingdom?

“Unto us a child is born!” Ok, fine, but is it a boy? Yes! “Unto us a son is given!”  And the ruling power will continue—on his shoulder!  And yes, he will have royal names that proclaim his importance and power!  And the kingdom will endure—“Of the increase of his rule and of peace there will be no end— On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it, With justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore!”

But then comes a striking reminder, less so for the folks back then, who should have known that their king and their kingdom was not like any other. Remember that this was not a kingdom like the nations; this was the kingdom of God. And so this announcement concludes: “The zeal of Yahweh of Hosts will do this!”

So what does this have to do with us, dear friends in Christ, this Christmas, this year, in our world and our culture that was founded on the principle of removing the king and establishing a society “of the people, by the people, and for the people?” We know the dangers of a monarchy where everything revolves around the king. I mean, we as Americans know how easily the “government can lie solely on (some ruler’s) shoulders,” with little concern for anybody else, for all the men and woman and children who want to work and play and be free.

Sometimes we want to think that the “zeal of Yahweh of Hosts” will do whatever we think is best for us, and even for our nation, because, well, aren’t we the people of God? In fact, that is less a temptation in recent years, as our nation and society drift further away from even some sense of living in the ways in God has established his created order. But there is always the temptation to think that “God is on our side” as a nation, or even individually, to provide for us the life that we want.

But the kingdom of God, as our king would put it, is “in the world, but not of the world.” Like ancient Israel, we remember that we are involved with something unique, grounded in our relationship with God. And on a holiday when even much of the world around us at least recognizes something of who we are as “Christmas” people, that is, “Christ centered people” or “People of God in Christ,” we celebrate today what it means for us, in the “kingdom of God,” to hear the news that a “king is born.”

We have been talking about this king for the last four weeks, as Advent has prepared us for this day. We have waited with the hopes of a mother who is “expecting”—and with her the future of the kingdom. And today we hear the birth announcement: “A child—a son—is born.”

In reality, this birth should mean even more for us than a royal birth meant for a kingdom. First, it means that the kingdom is secured. It may not look that way, as we wonder about all the forces around us that work against what we confess as Christians. But remember; this is not just another kingdom; this is the kingdom of God. The zeal of Yahweh of Hosts will do this, has done this. In fact, it is God himself who has come as our King.

That is why this kingdom, the increase of His rule, and of peace will have no end! That is why His justice and righteousness will be established from now and forevermore! That is why we can celebrate this day as something that is far greater than just another holiday, even a “national holiday,” for this kingdom is the kingdom of God, not just here, but everywhere, not like the nations, but for all nations!

Next, the King is, indeed, the true essence of the kingdom. Everything does revolve around Him. But here’s the difference in the kingdom of God: the King has come to serve, not to be served. Here’s the difference in the kingdom of God: the King has come, not for His sake, but for you. Here’s the difference in the kingdom of God: the king has come because He cares for each and every man, woman, and child (born and unborn), both those in His kingdom and those who have yet to come into it. Here’s the difference in the kingdom of God: the King has come to give His life as a ransom, to “buy you back” from the kingdoms and the powers that want to control you, whether they be your own internal temptations, your personal sin, or simply that natural temptation to think the world—and God—exist for you, and your wants.

In fact, the King has come because of your needs: your need to be loved, your need to be saved; your need to be rescued, your need to be forgiven and given a future and a hope and peace that will, like the kingdom, have no end.

This is the King who would come to save his people. He will be called Jesus, remember, because He will “save” his people from their sins. And I declare to you this day—this holiday that is really a holy-day—that Christ has come for you. Christ has died for you. Christ is risen for you. Christ will come again, for you.

Finally, what did they name the baby? This Sunday we will talk about His proper name Jesus, how He comes to save us from our sins. But our text this evening gives us four royal names, typical of ancient kings. We don’t have time to unpack them all, but each one gives us a reminder of why this day, and this King, are so special, so different, so “one of a kind.”

In short, each pair has a name that could describe just another earthly king: counselor—every king was to be known by his wisdom and good counsel; mighty—every king was to be a good warrior; father—why we even call George Washington the “father of our nation”; and prince—yes, kings were princes when they were born.  But to each ordinary name is given a most extraordinary twist: a counselor who does “wonders”—not just great insight, like the proverbial wisdom of Solomon—but someone truly extraordinary, even with the power of God!

Not just a warrior, a war hero rightly honored for his valor, but one Who fights with the might of God himself, who conquers all foes, human, superhuman, and the principalities and powers of spiritual darkness.

A father, indeed, to whom we can pray, “Our Father in heaven,” for he is a father who is ours forever.  And yes, a prince, the prince who brings a true and lasting peace, not like the world seeks and never finds, but a peace that comes only from knowing the King of the kingdom of God.

Dear people of God, a King is born. Not just a sweet baby in a manger; a King who will reign forever. He came humbly. He came holy. He came for you.

He came as the counselor of wonders. He came as the mighty God. He came as the everlasting Father. He came as the prince of peace. He came for you.

We pray, as He came and taught us, this day and day after day, “Thy Kingdom Come.” Luther reminds us that the kingdom will come, whether we pray for it or not, but we do pray that it may come among us.

This evening the Good News I proclaim to you along with angels is that the King has come. His kingdom is among us. We are his forever. Christ, a Savior is born! Christ, the king, is born!  Merry Christmas!

The King’s Royal Roots-Back to the Future

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

Advent 4-C, December 20, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

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“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” [Micah 5:2]

There’s something about going back to your roots; it can help you remember who you really are. Isn’t it true that sometimes we can lose our way in life, and isn’t it also true that becoming lost usually happens so slowly that we hardly realize that it’s happening.  I think that it’s kind of like getting lost in the woods, when suddenly you realize that you don’t recognize where you are or where you’re going. And what do you do then? You retrace your steps; you look for and go back to familiar landmarks, until you find your way home.

Well, like getting lost in the woods, we can get lost in life, too. We have plans, even strategies for achieving them. We have values and priorities. We have a sense of who we are, who we want to be, what we want to do. And then… and then life happens.

Now there always seems to be some people who appear to instinctively stay on track. They have a plan and strategy for their life, and they seldom deviate from it. But others, or maybe most people, somehow get off track, because, well, life happens, and things pull us in all different directions. And when that happens, we can find ourselves far off the course we had set for our lives.

This kind of thing can happen in our spiritual lives, too.

Many of us were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ when we were infants or children, and when it happened, we were totally dependent on God’s grace and his action in Christ, for us. But as we grew older, something happened; we became more independent and more sure of ourselves and our place in this world, and then we started to think that God needed our help with some things.  And so, we began to evaluate our spiritual life on what we had done or wanted to do, instead of what God has done and will do for us.

Perhaps when we were confirmed in our faith as young teenagers, we promised to remain faithful, even unto death. And then came high school, and college, our career, and, well, life happened. And then, maybe we found ourselves distant and disconnected from God, His Word, His will, and His way.

This can even happen to the church too. Frankly, it’s what happened at the time of Luther—the whole Reformation was really a course correction for a church that had, over time, drifted away from the basic truths that became the great themes of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone, Christ alone!

It can even happen to an entire denomination. Sometimes churches can find themselves majoring in the minors, or emphasizing Christian living for its own sake and not for the sake of accompanying Christ on His mission. We can become so caught up in our priorities and strategies that we begin to lose our theological mooring, our identity as Lutheran Christians. Or conversely, we can focus so much on who we are that we forget what we are to be—and to be about—on mission with Christ.

Yes sometimes even we Christians can loose our way, and when we do, we have to recalibrate our spiritual GPS—in our lives, as a congregation, as the church, as the kingdom of God in grace on earth. This is really what had happened in the time of Micah, the prophet of our text. As we’ve heard the last few Sunday’s during our Advent journey, the people of God had lost their way. The kings of the house of David acted as though they were the real kings, not the servants of God for the kingdom of God. The people had become more interested in themselves, in their own success, than serving God and their neighbor.

And the prophets had some hard words, as we have heard before. Of the great citadel Jerusalem and its temple, Micah said, “Zion will be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins. Yet their message was not without hope. They spoke of a new king, another son of David. But there was also a sense that the new king was not just another David, as though maybe just one more generation was needed to get it all back on track. No, this was not just about going forward, this was a message of going back, remembering where they came from, and getting back on course.

For the king, this meant remembering David and his humble beginnings, back in his home town of Bethlehem. It wasn’t “David’s royal city” then. It was a small rural town, and Jesse and his sons were shepherds. Remember that Samuel looked for a son to anoint as king, and they paraded all of Jesse’s sons past him but David, he was the youngest and was out in the fields doing his work. He wasn’t even under consideration, but he was the one.

Of course, we know by a simple reading of scripture that when David became king, he quickly outgrew his humility and meekness. It didn’t take long for the house of David to get off course. And God would have to find them, having lost their way, and bring them back. Back to the beginning. Back to Bethlehem.  Back to a new birth of a new king.

Dear friends in Christ, we started our advent journey toward understanding God’s king and his kingdom by talking about “home,” the place, the city that is the king’s capital, which identifies his kingdom. We talked about the importance of a place to call home, with its safety and security. But we also noted that even a king who is serving in the kingdom of God could confuse his ideas about the kingdom with what God really wanted and intended it to be.

And now, this morning, we hear God’s solution to our sinful tendency to get lost; a Messiah would be born, One who would be ruler in Israel. His origins, and his “goings forth” (that is to say, where he came from and where he was going) was all part of God’s everlasting plan to send a Savior who would save the world, save the church, and save you and me, from our irresistible tendency and temptation to get ourselves lost, to get off course, to wander from God’s plan and then even to wonder if we are still God’s people.

In our text today, on this last Sunday of Advent, now less than a week away from Christmas itself, God calls us to consider not just our home, as we did when we started this journey, but our roots—not where we live, or lived, but where we were born; where we started, where our family comes from.

We think immediately of our family home, but in our spiritual lives, God reminds us to consider where and when we were born into His family. For some of you, that may have been right here, at this baptismal font. For others, it may have been in other churches in other places, but the point is, it was within the same waters of holy baptism, all of which has the same power of God unto salvation wherever and whenever it comes to his people.

So, as we prepare to celebrate our Savior’s birth, we recall that little town of Bethlehem, not for the sentimental scenes we might find on Christmas cards but for the holy history that it conveys: this was the birthplace, if you will, of the kingdom of God with men.

And as we prepare for Christmas, we remember how God himself went back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to Bethlehem. And this time the son of David got it right. No losing his way. No selfish sinful acts. This son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom.

Yet He was the King, a true and greater King than any ruler of Israel or president of the greatest democracy on earth. An angel choir announced his birth – not to the people of power in high places but to shepherds, out in the fields, doing their jobs like David was doing back in the day, just outside of that little town of Bethlehem.

He was God’s true King: David’s son but also David’s Lord. He would come to His capital city in a royal procession and be crowned with a crown of thorns. He would take upon himself the sin and suffering for all, to bear our sin and be our Savior, securing God’s forgiveness for all of our own sin. And He would be raised again, ascended to his heavenly throne, where he lives and reigns to all eternity, for us and for our salvation.

Yes, there will be peace, even on earth, not just for the house of Israel, but to the very ends of the earth!

As our Advent season draws to a close, and we draw nearer to the manger itself, our preparation turns, too, back to the beginning, back to the basics, back to the font, back to the baptismal waters where it all started for you and for me. There we received our own new life. There the Christmas message became a lasting truth for our personal lives. There we became God’s people, forgiven, to live under him in his kingdom, and to serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness!

O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth— And praises sing to God, the King!—and peace to all the earth!  AMEN.

The King Will Have His Day!

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

Advent 3-C, December 13, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

Isn’t it true, that life, our lives seem to be full of what we perceive to be good days and bad days? And if we feel we’re having a bad day, then we just look forward to a day when things will be better. And sometimes, in the middle of a bad day, other folks will try to cheer us up by saying, “Well, tomorrow is another day, and hopefully a better one!”

Of course, how we evaluate our days, whether they’re good or bad, are often affected by our own definitions of what is good or bad, and sometimes what we think is a bad day turns out to be not so bad, or we might even discover latter on down the road, that it was even for our good. And then on the other hand, what we may think is good can many times turn out to be bad.

Kings in the time of our Old Testament lesson (Zephaniah 3:14–20)—and I suppose world leaders today as well, too—can have good days and bad days. They don’t like to talk about the bad days, and they certainly don’t like their fellow citizens—or their enemies either for that matter—to hear about anything bad coming out of their kingdom or government. And it’s also true that as sinful people, we all have a very selfish and self-serving way of measuring things, and we really want things in our lives to be good, and if they turn out not to be good, we at least want things to appear to be good.

Of course, deep down we know the truth; we are not immune to bad days.  How many times have we sensed that others (and yes, also ourselves) are putting up a good front? Maybe it’s also true that we’ve gotten good at hiding our problems or internalizing our sadness, and because of this facade we’ve built, we’d rather talk about good days rather than dealing with the bad ones.

The Old Testament prophets talked about good days and bad days. But they had a better perspective on the realities of life. They measured and evaluated by something higher than human wants and wishes, needs or notions. They understood reality— past, present, and future—from the perspective and vantage point of God Himself, who made all of our days.

One of the biggest problems that these prophets—well, let’s just call them preachers, one of the biggest challenges they encountered was the tendency of the people to get the good days and the bad days mixed up, turned around. Isaiah gets to the heart of this problem when he says “(You call) evil good and good evil, you put darkness for light and light for darkness, (you call) bitter sweet and sweet bitter (Isaiah 5:20). In other words, we pick what looks good, but too often it turns out that is was not so good for us.

Part of the problem was that the people thought that God was obligated to giving them only the good stuff that they wanted. Since they were the people of God, they thought they were privileged to have things their way. And since God was a God of salvation and deliverance, they assumed that he would, well, save and deliver them no matter what the circumstances were.

And there was this phrase that the people kept talking about; about God’s great day—the “day of the Lord”—and their understanding was that it would be a day of salvation; a day that was anticipated as the time when God would finally give them victory over all of their earthly enemies. But the prophets (those faithful “preachers” of the Old Testament) had a way of turning this saying on its head. Amos, for example, preached, “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness and not light! It is as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or he went into the house and leaned with his hand against the wall (safe at home) – and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness and not light, and gloom with no brightness?” [Amos 5:18]

Last Sunday we had a similar taste of how the truth of God can turn us upside down, when Malachi told the people who were crying out for justice that when the king comes to bring justice, they’ll get justice all right—and none of them would be able to endure the day of his coming.

Today, in our text from Zephaniah (Zephaniah 3:14–20), we hear another prophet who talks about the day of the Lord.

Listen to a portion of Zephaniah’s sermon in chapter 1 (14‒16) before his sermon found in today’s lesson.  He says: “The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; The sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and think darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on mankind so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD.”

Does that sound like a good day to you? But here’s the rub, all of these words that bring fear and trembling had to be spoken so that mercy and grace could follow. It is a serious warning that God had to make clear to His children of faith. God comes as King to get the job done right?  He doesn’t come to acquiesce to our definitions of good and bad, light and darkness. In the end, if we’ve sinned and fallen short of the glory and goodness of God, then every day, and especially our last day, our judgment day, will be a day of darkness and distress unless God can make a way out of no way.

But before God will do this work for us, He wants us to first agree with Him, that all of our days lived apart from His perfection and light—are days of darkness. And, if we can see things God’s way; if we can admit that He’s right and we are wrong, then like the plot twist in a good novel or movie, we will encounter God’s great reversal; we will discover that God has made a way out of no way—his one and only way—of showing us that all those bad days have been made into good days.

This is because of the one great day, a day that according to human standards, should be called the worst day of all, the day on which the innocent Son of God and our Lord and King was put to death, not for anything He had done but for the sins of all the world. A day that seemed to bring out the greatest injustice of all, turned out to be the best day of all, and the King finally brought justice in a very swift and severe manner. And what do we call this “bad day”? We call it GOOD Friday! It’s good, because God has turned the mother of all bad days into the best day of all. And now, the darkness of that day and all days following, we can claim as light, the glorious light of Easter morn: He is risen, and ascended, and lives and reigns to all eternity.

Dear friends in Christ, gathered today on this third Sunday of Advent, we are in the midst of our own good and bad days, busy days preparing for holidays. But every day is lived in the shadow of the darkness and the light of Good Friday and Easter morning.

Here, in the midst of Advent, we are already thinking ahead of our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection, as we do every Son-day, in the light of God’s son, our Lord, our King. Last Sunday the theme of Advent turned dark. Malachi reminded us that the King Whom we are seeking will come—but with a twist. Though His coming is well announced, He will come suddenly, and with a surprise. Those who were looking for justice will find judgment. Those who were looking for light will find darkness.

Today, the prophet Zephaniah brings us to the end of the story; those having a dark day will see the light. Even in the midst of the dark deeds all around us, in the dark uncertainties of our world and our lives, even in the midst of the dark secrets that we keep hidden, out of sight and out of the light, God has a message of a very, very Good Day: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion, . . . Rejoice and exult with all your heart . . . The LORD has taken away the judgments against you. The King of Israel is in your midst—Right here, right now, in His word of grace and forgiveness, in His body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of YOUR sin.  ON THAT DAY (like today it’s a good day, hear the Word of God) It shall be said to Jerusalem (that includes you, right here, right now) Fear not, O Zion!  Let not your hands grow weak.  The LORD YOUR God is in YOUR midst— A mighty One who will save.

This morning the prophet Zephaniah has abruptly ended his message of law, and immediately breaks into songs of joy and he calls us to join him in praising God.  Why?  Because the Lord has taken away YOUR punishment, He has turned back YOUR enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  They were YOUR enemies that He defeated.  It was YOUR sins He took away.  He did it for YOU!

YOUR enemies and YOUR sins were removed by YOUR King and Savior, Jesus Christ. Death and hell are no longer a threat to YOU who cling to and trust in Christ your King, only!  This very morning, the Lord promises YOU that while you may not perceive it fully today, He has restored YOU, His faithful people, to a position of honor and praise. No longer are you to be despised and ridiculed by a world of unbelieving and faithless people. The last, great day of the Lord has come in Jesus Christ, and it will come again as a completed day of universal deliverance. You dear saints, will be among the sea of faithful children of God through Christ, who will be the center and joy of His creation, as He always intended the crown of his creation to be. On that final and great day of the advent of our God, our Lord will restore the original beauty of His creation and open up to us once again our heavenly home, Paradise restored!

Yes, the kings of the earth have their days, good days and bad days. So do we. We all may wait to “have our day,” but this day, this very day, is our day indeed. It is the Lord’s Day, it is the Day of the Lord. The king has come and had his day; it was a bad day that turned out to be a Good Day, a Good Friday.  And because of His day, He makes all our days His—His good days, for us!  AMEN!

The King’s Herald and Messenger

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

Advent 2-C, December 6, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA


How do you feel about unannounced guests arriving at your home? I think most of us would agree that it usually is not a good thing!  If it’s a good friend or family member, well, ok—come as you are and we’ll take you as we are. But what if someone rather special—say your boss, the media, or maybe your pastor just showed up out of no where with no warning?

Sometimes, in the time of our Old Testament reading, leaders—and kings—would arrived unannounced; they wanted to surprise their subjects so that they could discover the truth. I think we would all agree that announced visits by anyone are always preferred.

Finally, two things are worth noting in relation to our text today. First, we need to understand the important role that messengers or heralds played; they were the individuals who announced the coming of the king.  And then we need to understand what it usually meant for the king himself to come visit his people.

Our Old Testament text this morning [Malachi 3:1-7a] begins like this, “Look, I am about to send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” [Mal 3:1]

Messengers were an important part of the way that the ancient world communicated. Long before the Internet and email, long before CNN or telephone and telegraph, even before the pony express, it was the feet of messengers that brought the important news. And the news was generally good. If it was bad, well, it wasn’t worth reporting, and the king usually didn’t want you to know about it any how. Of course, sometimes the news was not what people wanted to hear, and that’s where we get the old saying: “don’t kill the messenger.”

So we can say that the messenger came to “prepare the way” for the king. The Old Testament prophets used this image to prepare the people for the coming – not just of any king, like David or Hezekiah, but for the great and glorious “once and for all” King Who was yet to come.

Today we consider the words of Malachi, whose name itself means “my messenger.” You see, the prophets were also the “messengers of God” who not only prepared the way but also communicated the message from the King of the kingdom of God to His people of faith.

So in a sense Malachi is serving as a herald in announcing that another herald after him, would announce the coming of the king.

So now that we’ve been warned, how do we prepare? Both Isaiah and Malachi use language that describes clearing the road: getting rid of obstacles. Isaiah actually talks about a highway, like a superhighway that would provide smooth travel for the King; no traffic lights, no CalTrans construction, nothing in the way. But it was God who actually did the preparation, through his servants. The people were to simply anticipate the coming of their King.

And that brings us to a question that will lead us to the second important understanding: What did it mean for the king to come? Again, we need to think about this question with an Old Testament mindset. Kings marched home to their capital city in a victory parade; that’s just what kings did. Do you remember from last weeks message the close relation between the king and his city? This morning we think about the king himself coming home to his royal city. The grand processional included a good deal of pomp and circumstance. He was to be recognized and honored for whatever victories, conquests, and spoils of the nations that he was bringing with him. It was all about the king, and he did not come unannounced.

But did you catch the subtle little word in our text, “suddenly.” The whole point of this passage is about the messenger who’s only job was to prepare the way, and about people who were “seeking” their kingly lord. You would think they would be well prepared. Yet when “the Lord” comes, he comes suddenly.

So, dear saints, what are you expecting, now that the herald has announced the coming of the king? Victory? Triumph? The spoils of a conquering king shared with his people—or if not shared, then at least trickled down from rich to poor?

In Malachi’s day the people were expecting God to come and finally fix the problems of an unjust world.

They thought that the kingdom of God should be doing better than it was.  To them, God seemed to have somehow lost His vigor and power over the nations in the last few waning centuries.  So the people were waiting, they were wanting for something greater to happen. They had witnessed a lack of good leadership in their kings, and even the devotion of the people seemed to be dying or dead.   And now the priests were losing their edge, taking any old sacrifice as long as it came with money to fund the temple or grease the palms of the priests. Many people had lost their trust in the way of God, and they were just going through the motions; if the priests simply did the ritual, they thought they’d be fine, no matter how they chose to live their lives, attended to their marriages, families, and vocations. The way they looked at things, was that God was certainly big enough to accept a wide variety of spiritual practices and conduct!

But “suddenly” the whole scene seems to shift from a joyous occasion to pending gloom here in our text. The eager expectation of the coming king is met by the sudden and striking question: “who can endure the day of his coming?” Something seems terribly wrong here. The king was supposed to bring the wealth of the nations, whether gained justly or not, to his kingdom. The enemies were the ones who should be punished for practicing injustice; they knew nothing about good and evil, but these heralds are saying that the punishment would begin right here within the king’s  kingdom! And those who wanted justice – well, they were going to get it. And those who thought God should reward their self-­‐‑asserted goodness in a better way, well, they are going to realize that they’re not as good as they thought they were. And those who thought that God should punish evil, well, they are going to find out that the evil they want punished is a lot closer to them than they thought; it’s within their own hearts!

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap” (this was long before ivory was 99.44% pure and gentle!). And he will purify the sons of Levi, yes starting first with the corrupt priests and leaders, but then moving on to the common folk and their weak and pathetic sacrifices and offerings.

And you see, this is really a good thing! It might not be what we expected, or even what we wanted, but it is what was truly needed. “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord—purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean!” (Ps 51:10, 7).

What could be worse than thinking you’re doing all the right things, when you’re not? What is worse than telling God how to be King, when he is King, and you are not? Do we want to be clean or just “blessed” in our mess?

Yes, the King is coming, this Lord whom we are seeking. And He has a few surprises for us, and for everyone, when He comes. But he is not coming unannounced. John the Baptist made sure of that (actually it was God working behind the prophet, who was his messenger, remember, to prepare the way). John had some hard and harsh words to say, too, as we heard in this weeks Gospel reading. [Luke 3:1-14]

And just behind John came Jesus Himself, but he didn’t come like other kings; no, He came as the very Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. And it is this very truth that completely separates Jesus from all other types of kings and leaders. You see, the message that both John and Jesus brings isn’t about conquest and victory; it isn’t about distribution of wealth and physical blessings; it’s a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. If we are to have justice, then it will come by God’s mercy and through his grace. Our sins will be paid for, but not by you or me.

The Lord, whom we are seeking, came to his people. They wanted justice, and he gave them justice; he exposed their sin, yes, our sin, but then he let our justice be done and paid for by His own suffering and agony, as He, through His life-blood and death paid for our sins himself.

The Lord, whom we are seeking, came to his temple. At one point He even mimicked the king’s triumphant entry, but it was a parody; He came upon a donkey and not a steed; He came in a procession leading sinners and rag-a-muffins rather than the king’s parade accompanied by warriors. A procession that eventually continued down and out of the city He had entered, and then up a steep hill called Golgotha.  Why, you ask?  Because He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom, for YOU.

And then, but only then, came the victory parade: not into the city, but out of the tomb!  He came to those hiding in an upper room, scared of the world out there! And then, He went out to Galilee, back to Jerusalem, and sent His peculiar people of faith, His redeemed sinners and rag-a-muffins He calls Christians, out with a mission and message to herald his kingdom to the end of the earth.

And then he left, but He WILL come again. Will his return be unannounced? Certainly not!  God used Malachi, and then John, as his messengers, his heralds the first time Christ came. And now, God wants his coming to be announced again. We know he is coming, soon, even though it may well come “suddenly.” But he has announced it. And He asks us announce it, too.

Advent is a time of preparation, for the coming of the King has been announced. “Hark, the herald angels” we will be singing in another great announcement very soon. We are waiting for His arrival. It is the Lord that we are seeking. Our expectant hearts turn to the preparations at hand. Repent, for the kingdom of God is, indeed, at hand! AMEN.