Archive for the ‘LUKE 1:57-80’ Category

Comfort…Do You Need It?

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Do you need comfort?  Did you notice that I didn’t ask you if you wanted comfort, I asked do you need it?  There’s a difference.  If I were to ask you if  you wanted me to comfort you, and if you weren’t going through any perceived crisis or threat, you’d probably think I was out of my mind.  But if I  were to tell you, I have comfort to give and you will see a need for it in the future, would you let me comfort you?

Such was the case in our Old Testament reading (Isaiah 40:1-5).  The Prophet Isaiah is proclaiming the very heart of God; God wants to comfort His covenant people;  He wants Isaiah to speak tenderly to them and declare that their warfare is ended and their sins are forgiven.  In fact, He wants His people to know that  within this comfort comes a double portion of blessing, directly from the hand of their Creator and Redeemer God!  But they didn’t get it.  They saw no  need for comfort because their lives seemed to be going smooth.  They still had their homes, a good job, money to buy food, and national pride!  Why  what more could they want?  So comfort, no thanks Isaiah, but we will take that double portion of blessing from God that you mentioned.

What they refused to acknowledge was God’s appraisal of their sinful lives.  They refused to agree with God that how they were living was sinful; that God  was right and they were wrong.  They refused to hear God’s Word of Law.  And because of that, God promised through the prophet Isaiah that they  would be destroyed as a nation and occupied; they would be forcefully removed from their homeland and taken away in bondage.  They would feel  helpless and abandoned.  Then they would want comfort, because then they would see a need for it.  So through the prophet, God is saying, here is My  comfort, and after knowing all that I’ve told you, do you think you need it?

Do you need His comfort?  If you find yourself this morning a little like the stiff necked people of Judah that Isaiah was preaching to, thinking that your life is fine right now, let me help you out a little by being blunt.  You do need His comfort and so do I!  We need His comfort because we are sinful and broken!

Do you understand that everything that is and ever will be wrong with your life is the result of your sin and the sin of people around you?  Somewhere in your past, maybe even in the near past you have made decisions that you knew were unpleasing to God;  maybe you’ve done something or failed to do something that has had a drastic effect on your present or your future.  God wants you to know that you can’t undo that past, but you can find comfort.

Maybe there’s a character flaw in your personality that keeps hurting the people closest to you; maybe the hurt you’ve caused others is so deep that you may never have a loving and healthy relationship with them ever again.  Maybe because of that sin, you feel alone and abandoned?  If so God says that He has come to bring you comfort!

Perhaps, at one time you seemed to have everything.  God had blessed you with money, reputation, and authority, but now it seems that all of this has been taken from you.  You may see yourself as a shadow of what you once were.  If so, God wants me to speak comfort to you this morning.

Or maybe, you are looking back at your family, your children and it seems that what was once a strong Christian family has become dysfunctional and distant from God and His divine service.  Maybe the hunger to know God’s forgiving love and mercy is no longer a priority to you or your children.  Maybe you’ve struggled with answering the question who is to blame?  Is it your fault, your adult children, or a combination of the two?  This morning God is telling you that regardless of who is to blame, He wants to bring peace and comfort to you and your family.

And finally, maybe God wants us to look back together as a congregation and see how far we’ve fallen as a worshiping family of faith.  Maybe He wants us to look back at our strong legacy of sharing the gospel that was once Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Maybe He wants us to see how we are but a shadow of what we once were, and then agree with Him that our fall from greatness is the result of our own sin as a congregation.  Maybe within our collective congregational guilt, you too can find some personal responsibility and guilt on account of what you failed to do or give that would have helped the church’s mission?  If so, God wants me to speak Words of comfort to you this morning!

What is this message of comfort?  Simply this, your warfare is over, the battle is won!  You no longer have to worry about how you will account for  your sinful life to God; you don’t have to wonder what you can do in order to take away your guilt.

This morning, God is telling each of us that it’s good that we see our sin and our inevitable death as punishment for that sin; that’s the proper work of His law.  But God also wants you to hear and believe the other portion of His Word that brings you new life, the gospel.  He wants you to know that if your sinful heart longs for freedom and release from your guilt, then He has heard your cry.  He has sent His Son, your Savior and King to take away your guilt.  Yes you have sinned, and yes your sin is offensive to your holy and perfect God, but He and He alone has acted to take away that sin.  You need never worry that God will not forgive, or that He will take away His love from you.  Instead, He wants you to hear His Words of comfort.  You are forgiven!  You are no longer locked up in a prison of your own making.  Your sin no longer defines you.  In other words, you are no longer a slave to your sin.  The devil can no longer threaten you with an eternity of punishment in hell, because Jesus has come to set you free.  Upon the cross His life-blood was spilled to set you free!

And to make sure that you will have no doubt about God’s complete and perfect work, He makes the gospel very personal, by coming to you in the waters of your own baptism.  It is there where He assures you that every one of your sins has been washed away and that you have been, and everyday are being recreated into the very image of your Savior, Jesus Christ!  Just as Judah could not pay for her own guilt that Isaiah made so plain to them in his preaching, you can do nothing as well.  You are helpless and must depend totally on God’s mercy; you must stake everything on His undeserved love.  And in your baptism, that is what you do every day.  You remember that it was God alone who saved you and is saving you.  Listen, its true, someone must pay for your sins, and someone has; it is Jesus Christ, not just the Son of God and your Savior, but the Heavenly Father’s Suffering Servant who came to suffer in your place! In your baptism, Jesus took away your guilt and sin and exchanged it with His obedient life and death upon the cross.  So in your baptism, God wants you to see that on the cross, Jesus not only took away the sins of the world, but He especially took away your sins!  Hear this word, believe it, and be comforted!

But there is one more piece of comforting news for you this morning.  God has not come to the world in one great moment upon the cross and then left us alone.  He did not come to you once in your baptism to wash you clean with the water and the Word and then abandoned you.  No, His Word this morning promises you a double portion of blessing; in other words the blessing of His real presence is with you, it is eternal, and it will never end.

In this season of Pentecost, God wants you to remember that His Holy Spirit is with you always.  When you were baptized, God put His seal upon you and declared to the devils and this sinful world, “This one is mine!”  He is always with you protecting and blessing you.  When you read God’s Word and stay in that Word, His Spirit is teaching you things so great that the angels stand in awe.  In His Word you hear and understand about a comfort from God that will never leave you or forsake you!  In His Word you learn that while God will not take away the discomfort and the temporary consequences of your sin, He has taken away the eternal consequence.  “You are free!  You are forgiven!”  Now that is a message of double blessing, and through the Holy Spirit He repeats it to you over and over!

Now do you see that you have really received a double blessing? Good, then God wants you to leave this place with not just gratitude and appreciation, but with a new personality; a new mindset.  God wants you to leave here knowing one simple thing.

You have been blessed to be a blessing to others.  How?  By speaking the gospel; by speaking the same message of comfort to your neighbor.  Speak the gospel and live the gospel.  And as you speak and live the gospel, God wants you to invite others to be changed by the gospel.  Tell them that there is a place at 7210 Lisbon Street, in the city of San Diego, where they too can hear a message of comfort that will change them just as it has changed and is changing you.

This morning friends, it is my prayer that you not only see your need for comfort but that you would also want it, now and always.  I pray that God has shown you that you are not to be defined by your past, by what you have done or failed to do, but only by what the Son of God Jesus Christ did for you upon the cross and what He gave to you within your own baptism.  I pray that this realization will change you and you like St. John the baptizer, you will leave this place speaking and living a message of repentance; always turning to Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith and your Christian life.  I pray this always in Jesus name… AMEN!

Lasting Comfort

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

The Second Wednesday of Advent
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego, CA

Isaiah 40: 1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD‘s hand double for all her sins.

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.

 

INRODUCTION: Tonight’s service centers around Zachariah’s Song!  Does that seem a little odd to you?  We know that Marry has a song (it’s called the Magnificat), but what is all this about Zachariah Song?  Glad you asked!  Zachariah’s song is really prophecy that God spoke through Zachariah concerning a question that was asked about his son, John the Baptist.  Verse 66 in our Gospel lesson is where we find this question: “What then is this child going to be?”  The answer to this question is what provided great comfort to Zachariah, his wife, and latter their son John. 

 

What gives you comfort?  Maybe it’s your favorite pair of shoes or a well worn sweat-shirt? For some it’s a favorite food that Mom used to make.  I have a friend who swears that he finds comfort only at the seashore, and then I have a few acquaintances who say that there is nothing like a good stiff drink or two to bring real comfort.  All these things are ways that we use to relax, but…do these things really bring comfort during times of illness, death or crisis?  They didn’t for Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, but he did find comfort.  Tonight, I would like to examine a period in Zachariah’s life and his true source of comfort and then see if you and I can turn there as well.

 

I. The story of Zachariah is the beginning of John the Baptist’s story.  In our Gospel lesson, we join Zachariah, family, and friends on the eighth day of life for baby John, who would be called “the Baptizer.”   It is his circumcision day and that was a big event in the life of a Jewish male; in ceremony, it was much like our sacrament of baptism.  It took place in the town synagogue.  Walk with me in your minds eye, up the stone steps and into the stone building that was the local synagogue. 

 

As you enter, your eyes haven’t quite adjusted to the dark, but your eyes are drawn to some torches around a stone table, and you see a group of people gathered around that table.  You soon realize that this is the family of Zachariah the priest, and you are here to witness his son’s circumcision.  There’s his wife, Elizabeth, boy she sure is old looking, and then you remember that’s because she really is old.  What a miracle story that is.  Here is a woman unable to conceive throughout her childbearing years and now, well somehow she had this baby.  You feel happy for her and you also remember hearing a strange story about how this little baby was jumping for joy in his mother’s womb when Elizabeth’s cousin Mary came to visit.  Elizabeth told everyone that her baby was excited because Mary was also pregnant, but not just with any normal baby but with the Messiah!  Could this be true?  Well, at any rate, now that your eyes are beginning to adjust to the light, you see Zachariah, the proud father.  He’s been literally silent for the last nine months.  You heard that something happened to him nine months ago in the Lord’s Temple when he was performing his duties as priest.  Elizabeth said that the angel Gabriel came to him and said that a son would soon be on the way.  Zachariah doubted the Lord’s Word, so the angel said that since he would not accept the Word of the Lord, no words would be heard from his mouth either, that is not until the circumcision of his baby.

 

Well it looks like things are about ready to get started…there’s the Rabbi.  “I assume this baby will be named the same as his father” says the Rabbi.   But Elizabeth screams out, “No! He is to be called John.” The Rabbi quickly turns to Zachariah and says “But there are no Johns in your family, what is this woman talking about?!”  Zachariah signals for a writing tablet and at the same time he writes and screams out, “His name is John.”  So Zachariah gets his voice back just as promised and the baby gets a surprise name that’s a good one too!  You see, John means, “The Lord is faithful.” 

God has been faithful to Elizabeth and given her a son, and he has been faithful to Zachariah when he promised that his voice would return after the boy was named John, but He has been faithful about another promise that is far more important than any of this, and through the Holy Spirit, Zechariah is keenly aware of this.  Now, with his voice in the best form that it has ever been, Zachariah begins to sing a song about his child, but it is really a song about what the Lord will do first through John, and then through Mary’s Son, the Son of God, the Messiah.  It is a song of hope, it is a song of prophecy fulfilled, and it is a song of comfort!

 

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high  to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” [vs. 76-79]

Zechariah knew that the arrival of his son meant the fulfillment of every prophetic word that was ever spoken concerning the Messiah.  He knew that his son John was the fulfillment of our Old Testament Lesson tonight, found in Isaiah 40 that speaks of a prophet crying in the desert: “prepare the way of the Lord.”  ““Comfort my people!  Comfort them!” says your God.”  He knew that his son was the one that would come in the power of Elijah, drawing men to the saving work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Before John, a host of great prophets had been sent by God to announce the future coming of the Messiah; they told of a time when God would wipe all tears and save men from their fears and sins.  Prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah said “Wait just a little longer.  The Messiah IS coming.”  But now, John gets to say, “Your wait is over-He IS here!  Your Savior has come and He will make all things new!  Prepare the way of the LORD!”  Zechariah knew that John would preach about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of not just the Jews but the world.  The Savior who delivers men from darkness and sets those held captive by their sins free!  John would preach that men could now, through the Messiah find peace with God!

II. Dear friends,  Zechariah found comfort in God’s promises now fulfilled, because he saw not only what the coming Messiah meant for his son John, himself and the Jews, but he saw into time and knew what it would mean for all the world, for all time.  He knew what it would mean for you and me.  He knew not only what kind of child John was, but he also knew what kind of child you and I would be because of the saving act of the Messiah…. precious children of God!  We are the righteous children of God not by our own reason or works, but solely because of what Jesus has done for us.  This is the same Jesus that John would continuously point to, and eventually die for.  This baby Jesus, whose birth we will celebrate in just two short weeks, grew up in time and obediently went to the cross for our sins; He died and rose to life again for you.  When he obediently washed in the waters of John’s baptism, God the father declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  At your baptism, for Jesus’ sake, God the Father declared the exact same thing about you.  Because of Jesus, to whom John pointed, you are a child of God and an heir to eternal life.

III. As a child, Advent always struck me as strange; I would wonder, “Why are we waiting for something that has already happened?”  We wait for baby Jesus to be born to save us, but he has already come and saved us.  But now as an adult I have come to really appreciate the full meaning of Advent.  During advent we remember how the whole world waited for the messiah to come, and we do this by waiting in our own lives for our savior to come again and make all things new and right!  Just like those before us, we also wait in a world full of sin.  We need help to find comfort and hope.  We need healing from the many hurts that life dishes out, and God gives us that help and it is found in His Word.  God’s Word is living and active.  Through His Word, Jesus is here with us!  He first came to us in the waters of our Baptism and He promised that He would never leave or forsake us.  He comes to us in His Supper and says “This is my body, and this is my blood.”  “Through His Word He says, “Behold I am with you always, even to the end of time.”  Dear friends, apart from the Word of God no real comfort exists. 

CONCLUSION: Tonight, may I suggest something new this advent season?  You know that during lent, we give something up.  I suggest that during advent we take something up, or pick something up that is, God’s Word!  Let us resolve ourselves to grow in faith by reading His Word and joining with God in prayer daily and regularly, and as we grow in faith we will also experience the joy and comfort that Zechariah found.