Archive for the ‘Christmas 1C’ Category

A Peaceful Departure

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

First Sunday after Christmas Year (C), December 30, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

““Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lords Christ. [Luke 2:25, 26]

Merry Christmas dear Christians!  In our gospel reading we remember the presentation of our Savior Jesus Christ; a time when He was  only eight days old.  But even then as a small baby, He was true God and true man; He was already the Word of God in human flesh.  The  same living Word of God who spoke these Words of comfort: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you  the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). In other words, stop fearing that thing which you fear; do not fear it any longer. Your Father has been  pleased to give you the kingdom.

Many Christians today, still fear earthly death; their own death and the death of loved ones. But how can this be, when we who are  baptized confess the certainty of life after death each and every Sunday when we speak about “the resurrection of the body” in the  Apostles’ Creed and “the resurrection of the dead” in the Nicene creed? And still, some of us fear death, and “grieve as [do] the rest of  men, who have no hope”? (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Did you ever stop to think that the fear of death, is like a sermon that we’re preaching to the world; it’s a message that says that we  aren’t any better off than those without Christ; by our fear, we are teaching that God can’t be trusted. Instead of displaying confidence in the certainty of Christ’s death and resurrection for our sake, we are demonstrating instead a life of doubt, uncertainty, and a lack of faith or hope in the peaceful departure our God has promised us. When you live a life of fear and uncertainty because of death, you are proclaiming a false gospel about a false god who can’t be trusted, and not the story of the living God who has already acted to give you eternal life.

And so this morning, let’s consider Simeon, a man that God declared righteous and devout.  Why was he righteous and devout?  Was there something great about him?  Was he a great leader or a man who stood out in the crowd?  No, not at all, in fact we can assume that because scripture mentions nothing about him before he met the baby Jesus, he was simply ordinary; ordinary except for one thing… he was waiting for God to fulfill His promise that a Savior would come to take away his sin and make Him right with God.  And because he had faith to trust God’s promise, God declared him righteous.  You could say that He had faith in God’s faithfulness; he knew that God would do what He said He would do.  But how did Simeon become so faithful?  Friends, the very same way you become and stay faithful… through the word of God that promised him that he would not see death until the Lord’s Christ had come.

You have the very same promise, and you also have had the promise fulfilled.  In your baptism, God’s Word not only promised you a peaceful departure from this dark world of sin, but it provided the fulfillment of the promise.  Christ has come, and in your baptism you have been clothed with not only the righteousness of Christ but also the promise that He will come again for you!

But we have a problem; we are told by this world that being assured of a peaceful departure is not that simple.  Not only do we have other religions who resent and ridicule our blessed assurance, but in fact we have people who call themselves Christians who want us to believe that there must be a little something added to the promise besides our belief.  They tell us that we must do more than just trust in God’s promises.

They will point out that we are still very much trapped in our sins, and the proof of that they say lies within our own hearts, which testify against us and about our sinfulness.  They will insist that we follow certain rules and regulations in order to know that God loves us.  Or they will tell us that our own love and service of love must be great in order to finish what God started in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They will even insist that we acquire certain gifts or demonstrate certain acts of faith in order to know the real blessings of God.

But, when others talk like this to us, it is only evidence that it is they who do not understand God’s plan of salvation; they don’t understand what true forgiveness of sin is because they are so caught up in their own idea of what righteousness is.  They don’t understand that it is God’s Word, which calls each of us who are trusting in Christ alone His saints, or people of God.  It’s a shame that they have forgotten who we are, that we are saints already, because to forget this is the same thing as forgetting our baptism and the faithfulness of God to do what He says He will do.

These folks who claim to be our brothers and sisters, really only want to punish us with heavy consciences and guilt because of the sins they commit and think are to many or to big for God to forgive; they love to remind us that our sins are an offense to God because it helps them forget about their own sinfulness.  And instead of turning to God’s faithfulness and love they want to turn us to the same thing that they hope in… our own resourcefulness and strength.

And to this thinking, let me quote Luther’s response to the same faithless logic.  He said that just as “Motherly love is stronger than the filth and scabbiness on (her) child, so the love of God toward us is stronger than the (sinful) dirt that clings to us.  (So, even though) we are sinners, we do not lose our relationship to the Father on account of our filthiness, nor do we fall from grace on account of our sins.”

And that dear friends moves us to the solution of the problem; the very thing that Simeon declared in a song that the church calls the NUNC DIMITTIS.  “O Lord now let Your servant depart in heavenly peace, for I have seen the glory of Your redeeming grace.”

In God’s Holy Word and in the Blessed Sacraments He shows us Jesus; He shows us His glory.  In the infant Son of God holy and lowly, born in a manger in Bethlehem, God shows us His love for us by showing us the solution to our sin; He shows us the God-man crucified, high and lifted up upon a cross in Jerusalem.  You dear saints are more blessed than Simeon; he had only the promise of what this child in His arms would do, but you know the story completely.  He had the promise but you have the fulfillment of the promise.  And even more than that you have yet another promise from the God who does what He says He will do; He has promised you that He will come again to take you to be with Him in paradise.

Whether He comes for you on the last day of all creation or comes to you in your final moments at death is immaterial; He has promised you that He will take you home to be with Him!  And it is to the promise fulfilled and the promise still unrealized that we grab onto to by faith.  You are asked to live a life and tell the story about God’s faithfulness so that others may believe and be saved as well.

What is it that we are supposed to speak and model?  Well what did Simeon say?  Didn’t He say that He had seen God’s saving grace that He had prepared for all the people?  Didn’t he say that this message, this good news was to be a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of God’s people Israel?

So the message we are to live and speak to the world isn’t one of fear and trembling but faith and rejoicing.  We are to hold on to both the promise and the One who promises in heaven at the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ our Savior.  If we fall into sin, He will be there to pick us up again; by His Word, He encourages us to keep on fighting our sin until we are finally given victory over not just our sin but even the devil and our own death.  When we fall into sin we will remember our Savior who though He fell under the burden of the sin of the world that was place upon Him through the cross, He got back up and made His way to Golgotha, where He suffered and died to take away even our sin.  When we feel filthy and unloved because of those same sins, we will remember the life giving and life changing waters of our baptism that washed us clean and made us forever holy.

So you see dear friends, our Christian faith truly is different from all other religions; it is different because it isn’t based on what we will do, but on what Christ has done.  It is different because our faith in God’s faithfulness grows stronger, even in the middle of evil and sin; even in the face of death.  But we also remember that without God’s Holy Spirit ever providing and strengthening His gift of faith through His Holy Word and sacraments, we would be just as lost as any other sinner.

So when others belittle you for your child like faith, and when they try to rob you of the joy of your salvation, turn away from anger and fear, and feel godly sorrow for those who can only trust in their own resourcefulness for hope.  And by faith, turn to and trust in a Faithful God and say, “Through Jesus Christ, I am a child of God.  And as His child all of my works that are done in faith are good.  And even when my good works are lacking, God’s Word promises me that He will not condemn and leave me, but continue to change me until I lack nothing according to His good and perfect will.”

This is the message that many find so hard to accept and receive this Christmas season, but it is the only message that will give to both sinners and the dying, a peaceful departure.  It is a message that you dear saints live out and trust in by faith, and it is marvelous in the sight of God and His church…AMEN!

Are Ya Saved?

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

First Sunday after Christmas, December 26, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message 

INTRODUCTION: “Are ya saved yet?” Have you ever had a well meaning Christian ask you that question or something similar?  Usually when they ask you a question like that they want you to recall some specific moment in your life when you knew for the first time that God loved you.  They seem to want to evoke some kind of emotional response from you as proof that God really saved you.  Well if you are like most truthful Christians you will probably find yourself struggling with an answer to this well meaning but misdirected Christian neighbor. 

This morning, we will be looking at the life of Simeon, the man in our gospel reading (Luke 2:22-35), to get a better handle on God’s meaning for the word “Salvation”.  I believe that by the time our message is complete this morning, you will see that the correct answer to the question “Are ya saved?” is: “Yes, I’m saved; yes I’m being saved; and yes I will be saved!” 

I. Yes I’m Saved: Let me ask you a question—Before Simeon saw baby Jesus in person, was he saved?  What I mean by that is, did he have the assurance from God’s Word that He was loved by God, and that he would receive God’s peace and forgiveness?  Before you answer, let’s look at verses 25 and 26 of our gospel reading: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon Him and it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” [Luke 2:25,26] 

Good old Simeon!  Have you ever heard or used that expression to describe someone?  Good old Bruce!  Good old Susan!  When we use those words, usually what we mean is that person in no one remarkable, their just ordinary but dependable people.  Usually they’re just like you!  And that was Simeon—good old Simeon.  In the world’s eyes he was no one worth calling attention to; he was just a man, one of many that seemed to always be at God’s house.  There was nothing great and wonderful about him; he had no high office; no authority or power, yet God called him a righteous man; that means friends, that God judged him worthy of salvation.  The Jews would simply say that he was devout, devoted to God’s Law and temple, but so what!  He is simply doing what everyone should be doing!  But God said, “Oh no!  He is far more than just a church-goer; he is a true child of Abraham… he is a man of faith!”  

Why?  What did God see in Simeon that others missed?  Friends, God knew that Simeon was anxiously awaiting and praying for the consolation of Israel… the coming of the Messiah.  Who was the Messiah?  He was the one foretold throughout Holy Scripture who would smash the head of Satan, by destroying the power of sin, death, and the devil.  He was the one who would restore man’s lost relationship of love with God their Creator! 

Simeon, like many people of faith who had gone before him, trusted in God’s forgiving love simply because God’s Word promised that very thing!  Simeon knew that no one deserved God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness, but if God said it then it was so!  That’s why Simeon was righteous in God’s sight, because he trusted or had faith in God’s Word.  Because of this faith, God saved him from his many sins.  But that’s not the end of Simeon’s faith story. 

In verse 26, we learn something even more amazing: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  Are you amazed by this?  Good!  The work of God’s Holy Spirit should always amaze us!  Are you desirous of this experience?  Why?  You have the same promise that he had.  In your own baptism, God promised you that through the water and His Word, the eyes of your heart, your eyes of faith would be opened and you also will behold the Lord’s Christ!  Will you rest in that promise?  In your baptism you have been given Christ and the promise of salvation—peace with God.  Every day, God shows you His Chris so that you can say with Simeon…. 

II. I am Being Saved! Verse 27 of our gospel continues with these words: “And he (Simeon) came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God.” [Luke 2:27]  Now, let me pause here and say that up to this point, you are no different than Simeon.  You too were filled with God’s Holy Spirit at your baptism.  You too, are able to hear that same Spirit speak to you through God’s Word; and through that Word you too can lift up Christ in your heart.  And you can also receive Him in your hands at His Holy Table and bless God as He blesses you through the eating and drinking of His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.  Like Simeon, you too are promised by God that you can see His Christ, and behold, you have seen Him through the means that I have just shared with you! 

And like Simeon friends, God has put a song in your heart!  Let’s sing Simeon’s song together, before we talk about your song.  Simeon’s Song is the Nunc Dimittis, which in Latin means “Now Dismiss”.  “Lord, now let your servant depart in heavenly peace, for I have seen the glory of Your redeeming grace; A light to lead the Gentiles unto Your holy hill.  The glory of Your people, Your chosen Israel.” [Luke 2:29-32; LSB #211 vs. 1]   

Friends, unlike Simeon, our song, our personal testimony to God’s faithfulness will never be recorded as Holy Scripture, but in God’s eyes it is every bit as holy!  You see, it is your story… your testimony about how God met you in the waters of Holy Baptism and saved you from this evil age.  It is the story about how every day His own Word assures you that nothing can ever separate you from His love; not your sins, not your death, and not even the devil.  It is the story that explains that even if others give up on you, God is always your ever present hand in times of trouble saving you from anything that seeks to separate you from God’s love, which is yours through Jesus Christ!  So, you see friends, God has saved you and He is saving you, but there is still one more truth for you to proclaim; you must tell them… 

III. God Will Save Me! Friends, when you give your testimony to others, give it with certainty because that is how God makes His promise of salvation to you.  Let those who hear your testimony marvel as Mary and Joseph marveled at the words of prophecy Simeon spoke.  But don’t let them marvel at your faith but at the reason for your faith—Jesus Christ… God’s only Son your Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary; who suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was crucified, died, and was buried for you!  Don’t hold back; tell it boldly like Simeon did, listen: “And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” [Luke 2:34,35]  

Dear friends, when your well meaning Christian neighbors try to invoke a personal or emotional salvation story from you, send them and your own heart to the same place God through Simeon’s testimony sent mother Mary… send them to the cross!  Center all hopes there alone!  Tell them this: “I know that I will be saved only because God’s Word is true and that Word promises that because of Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross I am forgiven.”  Tell them that you have no experience to share that could ever be greater than our Lord’s cross.

Sadly friends, some will not want to hear your testimony; they will tell you that just your baptism and the cross are not enough, but don’t listen to them… don’t let them shake your faith in Him who is faithful.  Remember that it was by His stripes alone that you were healed… saved from all manner of sin!  This simple truth has always caused many people to fall away from God’s love, but it is also the reason that many WILL rise up and be saved.  When people choose to reject God’s grace alone, and add their own devout living or their emotional experience, they are only demonstrating their unbelief in God’s means of grace, and if they won’t abandon that false hope they will fall and die in their sins.  But, if through your witness they see God’s work of faith in your life through His means of grace… His Word, Holy Baptism, and the Supper, then perhaps, they like you will know the certainty of God’s love and salvation.  Then they can also say along with you, “I will be saved!” 

CONCLUSION: “Are ya saved friend?”  Yes, I was saved long ago in the waters of Holy Baptism when I received the washing of the Word.  I am being saved every day when I read God’s Holy Word, hear it preached and taught—when I hear my pastor speak the sweet Words of absolution, the very Word, which assures me that my sins are forgiven.  I’m also being saved when I approach His Holy table and eat and drink His very body and blood for the forgiveness of all of my sins.  And I will be saved because just as Jesus rose from the dead on the third day and ascended into heaven, I too have been promised that when I close my eyes for the last time in death I shall join my Lord Jesus Christ in paradise forever.  Tell them, “That’s my experience, brother.  It’s an experience of faith.  It’s an experience of wonder and awe!” 

Dear friends, let me close with the words of the great hymn, Chief of Sinners Though I Be: “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.  Died that I might live on high; lives that I might never die.  As the branch is to the vine, I am His and He is mine. [LSB #611 vs.1]  We sing the Nunc Dimittis (Sung) In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost…AMEN!