Jesus, Our Savior

Once again, a reminder that this series of posts were written by our author, Martha, as a teaching tool during the Christmas season.

Savior: We have considered Jesus as the Great High Priest, preparing the sacrifice that will atone for our sins once and for all. We have watched him become that sacrifice, taking those sins onto himself and dying on a cross to defeat death forever. Now we see the resurrected Christ, his triumph over the grave complete, granting us eternal life.  We have known about this child in the manger since the beginning of time; God told Adam and Eve that one day a child would come who would crush Satan’s head. Where Adam’s sin brought sin to all, this child will bring redemption to all. This child is the physical manifestation of the mercy and grace of God: mercy because we do not receive what we deserve, and grace because we  receive what we do not deserve.  Without the grace and mercy of God, we would walk in  darkness, but the birth of this child is the coming of the light into the world. Every baby is a miracle, but this one is the greatest miracle of all: the miracle of God’s love – the miracle that he loves each one of us so much that he would die to purchase us back from death to life.  This child in the manger has come to accomplish all that. His birth will reveal both his godly and his human natures: He comes amid the glories of heavenly hosts to a world that barely has room for him. He is visited by kings, but first he is visited by humble shepherds. He will be hailed by those who recognize him when he is presented in the temple, and then he will be forced to flee in the night to escape those who would have him killed. And in the end, he will be killed, but only to rise again and bring us salvation and eternal life.  

For more about Jesus, our Savior see these posts:

No One is Good Except God Alone

The Way to the Savior by Jeff and Abbey Land–Book Review

Make Jesus Your All in All

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Advent

This quote seemed to go along well with my previous post about really seeing those around us.

“Jesus stands at the door knocking (Rev. 3:20). In total reality, he comes in the form of the beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God is in the Manger

For more quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer see:

A Quote on the Christian Life by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Optimism

Loyal to the End — A Quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Cheer up! You’re Worse than you think!

I’m currently reading a book about spiritual formation, and the author mentions the Jack Miller (pastor, author, missionary) quote I’ve used as the title of my post. I liked it, because it reminded me of something I was thinking about during the readings at our Sunday worship service. Here are the verses that caught my attention:

“But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgement. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:1-5

In other words, we’re going to be judged someday by God Himself. That should strike terror in us! But often we read these verses smugly, thinking, I don’t do those things. I haven’t committed adultery or practiced sorcery…. I’m not even an employer so I can’t be guilty of unfair wages. I practice hospitality, and so on. I’ve thought these things myself.

However, Jesus teaches us to look deeper. We’ve committed adultery in our hearts if we think lustful thoughts about someone other than our spouse; the clothes on the backs of most Americans are produced through the exploited labor of people in other countries; many argue that our immigration laws and policies are unfeeling and unfair toward immigrants (our sojourners), we don’t fear God because we secretly think we’re the “good” people … and so on. I don’t claim there is an easy answer to these issues, but we must face up to the fact that we are indeed worse than we like to think. We sin in thought, word and deed and we do it every day.

Jack Miller evidently had a response for this too: “Cheer up, God loves you more than you know!” We’ll be judged for our sins, but not condemned, because God Himself has paid the penalty. That’s what Advent is really about. So be merry, not because of the gifts under your tree, but for the true and lasting gift of salvation given to those who believe.

For more about sin see these posts:

Sin and Grace

Occasions of Sin

Martin Luther on Sin

Martin Luther Quote about Advent

“For God’s ancient people that time was fulfilled with Christ’s advent in the flesh, and in like manner it is still being fulfilled in our daily life, whenever a person is illumined through faith, so that our serfdom and toil under the Law come to an end. For Christ’s advent in the flesh would be useless unless it wrought in us such a spiritual advent of faith. And verily, for this reason He came in the flesh, that He might bring about such an advent in the spirit. For unto all who before or after believed in Him thus coming in the flesh, even to them He is come. Wherefore, in virtue of such faith, to the fathers of old His coming was ever present.”

Martin Luther

An Advent Hymn

If you’re a Lutheran, you’re probably aware that “Hello – It Is Not Christmas Yet”. That means in the Lutheran churches I’ve been attending this month we are not singing Christmas carols — we’re singing advent hymns. The particular one I’m going to highlight today was written by a German Lutheran pastor, Georg Weissel (1590 – 1635). Psalm 24 is the inspiration for this hymn, particularly verses 7-10:

“Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.”

In this psalm David is celebrating the moving of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. To the people of that time, it meant that God would be among them. In the same way, this hopeful hymn asks us to make our heart a temple for the presence of God.

For more advent hymns see these posts:

Hopeful Hymn #3

O Come

New Month/No Theme

Well readers, another month has passed — it’s December already! This month there will be no theme, but for many people, one particular theme will be on their mind — Christmas. As Lutherans, however, we know that “Hello – It Is Not Christmas Yet”. It’s Advent. We’re in a season of waiting, not celebrating. That puts us at odds with much of our culture This month is a time of stress for many.

Have I purchased all the presents I need? Have I completed my decorating? My baking? Are all the Christmas parties scheduled and planned? We’ve turned what’s meant to be a time of peaceful anticipation into a whirlwind of activity. When we do this, we’re worshipping the gifts, instead of the Gift Giver.

I’m as prone to give into this as everybody else, but this year I’m going to try to focus on the essentials. Christ is coming! He has given us the best gift ever — salvation. It doesn’t matter how many other gifts I get, how many get togethers I attend, or whether people enjoy my pumpkin bread. What matters is the God who came down to us when we were unable to reach Him.

Give thanks. Don’t stress. The heavy lifting is already done.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Hope #2

“Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent;  one waits, hopes, and does this, that or the other–things that are of no real consequence–the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

For more quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer see:

How to Study(according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Times of Uncertainty

A Quote on the Christian Life by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

Are You Missing Something?

In a recent post, I talked about the sermon my family heard the Sunday after Thanksgiving in South Carolina.  It was a good one.  However, there was something missing in the service itself.

It was contemporary — not my favorite, I love the liturgy.  However, I can enjoy a contemporary service now and then. But this one was missing some key pieces.  First of all, no confession!  To me, this is crucial.  We can’t appreciate the light if we don’t understand our own darkness, which is sin. Without sin, all the darkness around us is reduced to bad luck, or something we can blame on another person.  Worse yet,  if we don’t acknowledge our sin, there is no need for the good news of the gospel.  We can save ourselves by becoming better people.

Also, no recitation of the Lord’s Prayer of the Apostle’s Creed.  Because we are sinners, we constantly need to remind ourselves of just who God is and what He has done for us.  Advent is a time, like Lent, when we should be pondering these things.  When we rush too quickly into Christmas, we forget the message of Advent– the anticipation, the meditation, the true joy of knowing that Christ came in human form to die for each of us.

So, don’t leave out the important stuff.  Don’t leave it out of the church service or out of your life.  Take time to appreciate the real meaning of Advent– confess, give thanks, remember Who you believe in and why. Christmas will mean so much more when you realize why we needed it so much.

For another post on a similar topic:

“Hello – It Is Not Christmas Yet”

This Darkness Will Not Last

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, my husband and I were in South Carolina visiting our daughter and son-in-law and our two granddaughters.  We attended a Presbyterian Church where the pastor used the following verses from Isaiah as the theme for his sermon:

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan-The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2-3

The prophet Isaiah was speaking to the people of Israel during a dark time.  His words were to encourage them. There was hope.  God had a plan.  THIS DARKNESS WAS NOT MEANT TO LAST FOREVER.

His point — all of us are often in the darkness.  Our darkness may be financial distress, relationship problems, poor health, or worry about a friend or family member.  It may seem as if our nation is headed for self-destruction.  It doesn’t matter what the darkness is, in these verses God has promised that THIS DARKNESS WILL NOT LAST FOREVER.  He is still in control.  Light is coming.

We are living in the “in-between” times — the time between the birth of Christ and His second coming.  During Advent we are waiting to celebrate His birth;  during our daily lives we are waiting for Him to come again.  During all of our waiting, we must remember that THIS DARKNESS WILL NOT LAST FOREVER.

It was a good sermon.  We need to celebrate the light of Christ Who has come and will come again.  We need to know that even in the darkest of seasons, light is coming.  Wait and rejoice because THIS DARKNESS WILL NOT LAST FOREVER.

 

 

What Then Shall We Do?

“And the crowds asked him (John the Baptist), ‘What then shall we do?  And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none and whoever has food is to do likewise.  Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’  And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.  Soldiers then asked him, ‘And we, what shall we do?’  And he said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats for false accusation, and be content with your wages.'”  Luke 3:10-14

 

This was part of the gospel reading in church this past Sunday, and the passage on which the sermon was based.  John the Baptist has just finished rebuking the people for their sins and lack of repentance, and their response is “What shall we do?”

You may remember that we discussed repentance a few months back, and I believe more than one of the Lutheran ladies mentioned that the literal meaning of this word is ‘to turn around’ or ‘go in another direction.’  John the Baptist is telling the crowd that they must turn around and do something different–they must serve others.

He doesn’t tell them to change their occupations or do anything drastic about their circumstances;  they just need to go about their lives in a way that is helpful and fair to others.  Soldiers are not to intimidate;  tax collectors are not to cheat;  everyone who has plenty must share with those who are in need;  everyone is to be content with what they have.

Seems pretty simple, right?  However, we’re still not doing it!  How often do we abuse our authority over others?  How often do we take a little more than we’re entitled to?  How often do we envy that person with the bigger house, nicer car, or glamorous vacations?  How willing are we to give our extra coat or extra cash to the homeless man on the corner?

If you’re anything like me, you don’t always do what you should.  We’re still a brood of vipers and we still need to repent and try every single day to do a little better at being a servant.  It doesn’t come naturally.

Thankfully John also preached some good news.  He said:

“I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”  Luke 3:16

Advent is a time of waiting and a time of repentance.  A time to reflect upon the servanthood of Christ and to try to become better servants ourselves.  Use this special season wisely.  Serve others.