Category Archives: Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent – John 1:19-28

This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem: No. Here ends the testimony. Well, it’s not quite the end of his testimony, but it describes who John is and why he says and does what he says and does.

A negative says so much, especially when people come loaded with all the wrong questions. Who are you? John is not who you think he is. In fact, the one for whom he prepares the way is one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. The word know here is not head knowledge knowing, but a personal knowing. John is saying to those sent from the Pharisees that they don’t have a clue who stands among them. Jesus, to them, is the X-factor. He is an unknown entity to them because they have strayed so far from the voices that have called to those who have ears to hear their cry.

John says about himself that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” The definite article the is not the best choice here. Perhaps it’s better to hear John use the indefinite article. He is a voice one crying in the wilderness. John confesses, does not deny, but confesses that he is, so to speak, another brick in the wall. He stands in a long line of confessors who are not the Christ, not the Prophet promised by Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 18, or even Elijah who is to come from Malachi chapter four. John is a voice.

The voice of the many voices says Make straight the way of the Lord. Clear out of the way everything that gets in the way of welcoming Messiah among His people. That’s the message of Advent in a nutshell: Make straight the way of the Lord. Now is not the time for asking questions, judging motives, or making everything just so for the hap-hap-happiest Christmas of all. Now is the time to let everything go that gets in the way of Jesus coming to see you in order to save you from sin, death, and the devil.

Saint Paul says in the Epistle: do not be anxious about anything. If this month, this season, is about anything, it is about anxiety. Even if you think you have this whole Christmas thing down pat, you will have plenty of knuckle balls thrown your way from places you never saw it coming. Then there are those who dread these December days for reasons of their own. A family member won’t be around this year, perhaps that one special family member whose presence made the holidays worth celebrating. All the preparations for a few hours of greeting card-like feelings and good spirits get blown up by one little thing that gets in the way of the roles you expect everyone to play.

There’s no need to recast every scene. Throw the script away. Throw the movie in the trash. Push everything to the side that is outside of Christ and His joy for you. It’s not an easy chore, especially if you think you have to live up to some false expectation welling up inside of you. Satan paints what looks like a masterpiece in your head, only to look like a portrait of horror and fear.

It’s enough to make you look at the scene here at church and say, as the priests and Levites say to John, who are you? Who are you, Lord? Why does December bring so much heartache when it’s supposed to be a season of joyful expectation and fulfillment? What got in my way again this year?

Confess, do not deny, but confess that you have not heard a voice crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord. The way is made straight through the Holy Spirit repenting you in the good and wise Law of God. The Law says you cannot save yourself. You cannot shed your own blood in order to pay for your sin. Currier and Ives, Country Sampler, even Parade Magazine’s helpful hints for a stress-free Christmas won’t get you through these days.

The message of John the Baptist that points to Jesus Christ gets you through the heartache and hurt of sin and regrets. Make straight the way of the Lord. Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. Ransom me, Lord, from the prison of death and hell that my sin has brought upon me.

Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel. Emmanuel, God with us, comes to you today with joyous news. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. The peace of God, spoken of by countless voices through the centuries, has come in Jesus Christ. Jesus takes on our flesh, becomes one like us, yet without sin, in order to buy us back from the devil and from hell.

The Christ, the Elijah, the Prophet whom the Pharisees and all Israel are waiting for is now among them. None of them, none of you, are worthy to loosen the strap of His sandal. Yet He deigns to dwell with men in their own skin. He dwells among us to set us free. He dwells among us to die, and yet to live in order that you live with Him.

He dwells among us in His Word, the Word that declares you free from everlasting death. He dwells among us in His Word under bread and wine: This is My Body…this is My Blood…given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. He dwells among us in water and His Word, rescuing us through water from death to life. He dwells among us as our hands, feet, hearts, and lives embrace our neighbor’s every need.

You may not know Him as well as you think you know Him, but He knows you. He knows that you are in need of salvation. So Jesus comes, just as those voices crying said He would come. He comes to set you free from your own expectations, especially your own personal hell that you built for yourself. Jesus knocks that down, pulls you up on His shoulders, and carries you home, a lost lamb, washed, robed, fed, and declared righteous for His sake.

Rejoice! The Lord is at hand for you.

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Make Straight the Way of the Lord

This, then, is the preparation of Christ’s way and John’s proper office. He is to humble all the world, and proclaim that they are all sinners – lost, damned, poor, miserable, pitiable people; that there is no life, work, or rank however holy, beautiful and good it may appear, but is damnable unless Christ our God dwell therein, unless he work, walk, live, be and do everything through faith in him; in short, that they all need Christ and should anxiously strive to share his grace.

Behold, where this is practiced, namely, that all man’s work and life is as nothing, there you have the true crying of John in the wilderness and the pure and clear truth of Christianity, as St. Paul shows: “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) This is truly to humiliate man, to cut out and annihilate his presumption. Aye, this is indeed to prepare the way of the Lord, to give room and to make way….

The way of the Lord, as you have heard, is that he does all things within you, so that all our works are not ours but his, which comes by faith….

A spiritual preparation is meant, consisting in a thoroughgoing knowledge and confession of your being unfit, a sinner, poor, damned, and miserable, with all the works you may perform. The more a heart is thus minded, the better it prepares the way of the Lord, although meanwhile possibly drinking fine wines, walking on roses, and not praying a word.

The hindrance, however, which obstructs the Lord’s way, is formed not only in the coarse and palpable sin of adultery, wrath, haughtiness, avarice, etc., but rather in spiritual conceit and pharisaical pride, which thinks highly of its own life and good works, feels secure, does not condemn itself, and would remain uncondemned by another.

Such, then, is the other class of men, namely, those that do not believe the crying of John, but call it the devil’s, since it forbids good works and condemns the service of God, as they say. These are the people to whom most of all and most urgently it is said, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” and who least of all accept it.

Martin Luther, Church Postil for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (John 1:19-28)

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Third Sunday in Advent – Matthew 11:2-11

You’ve seen it happen. You’ve probably done it yourself. Someone shows you something and you respond, “That’s nice”, but on the inside you find the whole thing tedious. Why do you have to go through a tour of someone’s house, or looking at their paper clip collection, or some other point of pride in their life? That’s not your thing, but you go through with it, say your pious platitudes, and wait for your opportunity to get out of there.

Translate tedious experiences to the Christian faith. It is clear and certain that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. Jesus proves this to the entire world by His miracles and deeds and by His preaching. Yet many hear His preaching, read His words, even attend church after being invited to worship, say, “That’s nice”, and want nothing more to do with Jesus.

His little band of disciples is so small. Yes, there are those congregations that meet in former sports arenas and other large buildings. But most Christian congregations are small. If Jesus says He is Who He is, and John the Baptist prepares His way like no other prophet, then why doesn’t everyone get on board with Jesus? If such a small crowd of people cling to Him as their Savior, then there’s no opportunity to get lost in the crowd. That’s nice, Christians. You have a Savior. Now where’s the door?

Such a reaction ought to be proof that Jesus is the promised Messiah. It’s scandalous to be a Christian. Consider the disciples of John who are still offended at Jesus. They wanted to cling to John as long as possible. This newcomer Jesus was raining on their man’s parade. So John sends two of His disciples asking Jesus, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? Take a look at all He has done and preached. You’ll find your answer there. Jesus is nice enough to add, Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.

What was the offense? Consider both Jesus and John and their lives to this point. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. John was from a priestly family. Jesus looked like your typical Jew and preached a message that sounded unlike anything anyone had ever heard. John was scraggly, but was an earnest preacher of repentance in the wilderness. Jesus had a small following, but John stood in high prestige among all the people. Even the high priests and elders thought well of John, as we’ll hear in next week’s Gospel.

What is the offense today? People are willing to believe Jesus’ preaching as long as it doesn’t offend them or their neighbor. People love to hear Jesus help the poor and downtrodden of society, but when it comes to preaching forgiveness of sins and eternal life to the poor and downtrodden, especially to the outcasts of society, that’s out of line. Who doesn’t love the parable of the Good Samaritan? Jesus tells a story about a Samaritan helping a Jew when other Jews won’t help. Helping your neighbor in such a circumstance is a good thing. Yet there’s more to the story than merely helping the hurting neighbor. Consider that the Samaritan helping the Jew is an outrageous scandal. A Jew is supposed to ignore the Samaritan and let that person die.

“That’s nice.” Jesus died for your sins by shedding His blood for you. “That’s nice.” Jesus comes today through humble preaching of the Word and the inconspicuous Sacraments. “That’s nice.” No matter the size of a congregation, Jesus is there giving out His gifts to the poor and lowly, using a poor and lowly man standing in His stead to give the Gifts. “That’s nice.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ wrecks all wisdom and righteousness of this world. His all-availing sacrifice upon the cross and His resurrection from the dead is for every human being, even the worst of humanity, even the vilest of all sinners. “That’s nice.”

There must be offense at the preaching of Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah says, [The Lord of hosts] will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The apostles are told early in the book of Acts to stop preaching the resurrection of Jesus. These words, among many others, along with the offense of many at the mere speaking of Jesus’ name, are proof that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.

If it were not so, then churches would be full and no one would get angry at the proclamation of the Gospel. That’s the way it is among many. The Scriptures promised it. Jesus shows it as many come to Him to try to trick Him or try to trap Him. Ultimately Jesus is betrayed into the hands of men, suffers cruel torture, and dies for the sin of the world. Those who sent Him to the cross have their sin forgiven in the shedding of His blood. They tried to silence His voice, but they could not silence the shedding of His blood for their sake.

The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me. Amid the indifference of the world to the Good News of forgiveness of sins and eternal life, you find joy in this Good News. It would be nice for the entire world to believe this message of hope.

Yet there remains many who will openly reject it or merely give it a “That’s nice” and go on about their business. In this disappointing response you have confirmation that Jesus is the Savior of the world, your Savior, in Whom you are not offended. You find instead life and salvation in Jesus Christ. John prophecies it. Jesus delivers it. You receive it in His preaching, His baptism, and His Supper. Forgiveness is yours. New life is yours. Jesus gives you every good and eternal thing as a gift. He does all the work of saving you. You receive all the benefits of His saving work on your behalf.

Yes, that is nice. It’s also life-saving, life-giving Good News from a giving God to a needy people. People went out into the wilderness to hear John prepare the way for that News. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for you.

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The Offense of Jesus Christ

And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” – Matthew 11:6 ESV

The force and significance of the preceding sentence must be carefully dwelt on; on that, namely, which is preached to the poor; that is, they who have laid down their lives, who have taken up the cross and followed after, who have become humble in spirit, for these a kingdom is prepared in heaven. Therefore, because this universality of suffering was to be fulfilled in Christ Himself, and because His Cross would become a stumbling-block to many (1 Corinthians 1:23), He now declares that they are blessed to whom His Cross, His death, and Burial, will offer no trial of faith. So He makes clear that of which already, earlier, John has himself warned them, saying that blessed are they in whom there would be nothing of scandal concerning Himself. For it was through fear of this that John had sent his disciples, so that they might see and hear Christ.

St. Hilary of Poitiers

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Second Sunday in Advent – Luke 21:25-36

The words Judgment Day either strike fear into a person’s heart, or remind them of a movie title. Both responses tend to run hand-in-hand. Judgment Day for that person, the second-coming of Christ in judgment, scares them so much, even if that person won’t admit it, that it isn’t going to happen. A person has to think that if Jesus hasn’t come yet to stop this mess, especially the mess in the news this week in San Bernardino, California, then He’s a definite no-show.

There is a third option: the option of being at peace and even longing for Judgment Day. Christians once began their day by praying, “Let me expect the dear Day of Judgment with longing and pleasure.” Why would anyone think of praying for the world to end with Jesus appearing to judge the living and the dead? We confess it every week in the Creed, but do the words we confess hit home for us? Jesus is coming to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom never ends.

Just the mere thought of what lies beyond Judgment Day is enough to keep you up at night. The New Creation is so new, so beyond our understanding, that thinking about it blows your mind. That’s the point. It wouldn’t be called the New Creation if you knew exactly what was coming. There is a picture of what’s coming in today’s Gospel when Jesus says the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Jesus also says, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. There is a waiting through and from faith in Christ’s words here and elsewhere in the Gospels. Jesus has never lied to you. He keeps every promise He makes. He will keep this promise to you as well: your redemption is drawing near.

Your redemption is drawing near every time you see signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Another sign happened this past week with a mass shooting in California and flooding in southeastern India. It’s enough to make you ask, “When is Jesus going to put an end to this mess?”

That’s a good question. The answer is “All in good time.” Just because the times are bad now doesn’t mean the times haven’t been worse in the past. Natural disasters and random acts of violence show us that we live in a sinful world. What has happened before continues to happen today. Today will end and tomorrow will come, as the Lord wills. Something awful will happen to someone tomorrow as it happened today. It may be your turn tomorrow.

Our heavenly Father does not merely make a random selection of whom to zap with bad things. He doesn’t have a list of who has been naughty and nice. He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. The difference is whether or not you recognize these signs as a call to repentance or as the acts of a clockmaker God Who hides Himself from His creation and is mad at what we’ve done with His stuff.

Do not ignore the signs. Judgment Day is surely near. Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

Okay, Jesus says to watch and stay awake and all times. How does that happen? It happens in patient waiting, a waiting with expectation. You bake cookies or grill a steak knowing that, if you watch what you’re doing, you’ll have something good to eat.

Saint Paul tells Saint Titus, the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

God’s grace is His undeserved love given to us through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus applies the Father’s love to us in His Gifts that He gives His Church. His Word proclaims you not guilty of sin because of Christ’s innocent suffering and death. Jesus’ blood completely covers every sin. You are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. Robed in His righteousness, you live as one who receives good things from God. His grace gives you patience and hope, two things you can’t get anywhere else. Eating and drinking Christ’s Body and Blood, you live through the random events of life keeping your focus on Jesus and His promise of His Advent now in the Gifts and later in His bodily appearance to raise the dead and take His beloved into the New Creation.

You long for Judgment Day because that day brings you total redemption. All consequences of sin, together with our last enemy, death, will be removed. Saint John’s words in his first epistle will come true: beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

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First Sunday in Advent – Romans 13:11-14

What time is it? Don’t look at your watch or your phone. What time is it? Do you know the time? Saint Paul says you know the time, even the hour. He says the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.

This is not a game. This is real life stuff. The Greek language uses different words to describe time. “χρόνος” is clock time. You might know this word from “chronometer” or “chronology”. “ὥρα” is a unit of time, an hour. Kind of sounds like the word “hour”, doesn’t it? Then there’s the vocable “καιρός”, a word that is translated here as “time”, but it perhaps better translated as “the right time” or “a limited period of time”. That’s the time Paul writes about when he says you know the time.

We live in the right time, certainly a limited period of time. This right time is more than a season of the Church Year, although Advent is a little picture of a bigger picture of time. Four weeks isn’t much time to prepare for Christmas, but it’s the right amount of time within the time that the Church lives.

Confused yet? Let’s take some time and work through what’s happening here. The end times, the fulfillment of the promise of the final coming of Jesus Christ, begins when our Lord takes on flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Christ’s incarnation starts the countdown to the end of “the right time” in which we Christians live. The clock of καιρός time continues to pass. Only our heavenly Father knows when that countdown reaches zero. Nevertheless, we live as if that countdown will end at any second, even though over two-thousand years have passed since the clock started.

Waiting so long causes us to think that Jesus has forgotten about us. We can go about our business as if there is no Father or no Son. There’ll be plenty of time to settle accounts before Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. After all, God’s chosen race, the Israelites, waited thousands of years for the coming of Messiah.

While they waited, the Old Testament people of the promise also fell asleep countless times. They cast off the armor of light and put on the works of darkness. We heard about one particular time last weekend in the account of making and worshiping a golden calf. The Israelites had broken the commandment of God not to have any other god before their God and call it god. Moses threw down the tablets written by the finger of God to show they had broken the Word God wrote for them.

We also fall asleep, casting off the armor of light and putting on the works of darkness. Mom and Dad told us, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” Yet we live as if midnight is high noon. Our sins are laid bare before the world as we no longer want to wear the full armor of God, giving attention to protection from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. Instead, we let that evil trio run our life with reckless abandon. After all, there’s plenty of time to spare before Jesus shows up for the final time.

Paul reminds us that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Understood from the χρόνος perspective, this is a true statement. But this is not χρόνος time. This is καιρός time, the right time, the decisive hour. Advent is the decisive hour before the fullness of time breaks forth in our midst. This is the time to shake off everything that gets in the way of receiving Jesus Christ’s forgiveness and salvation in His gifts. This is the time to prepare yourself for Jesus’ birth as well as Jesus’ return.

When Paul says salvation is near, he is not necessarily talking from a directional perspective. Salvation is near. Salvation is on the way, just as salvation was on the way in the promise of the birth of Messiah. Messiah will be here soon enough, perhaps before the end of this sermon. The fullness of time came to Bethlehem. The fullness of time will be seen by all, even by those who wish Jesus would never show up. Their indifference will be shown to be foolishness. What looked to be foolishness to many will be seen as prudent waiting and expectation.

While we wait, Paul says to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Advent is a penitential season, but not as penitential as Lent. We’re getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth according to the flesh. It is appropriate to reflect on why God’s only-begotten Son takes on flesh. He is born to die for you. He is born to suffer great affliction for you. He is born to fulfill the Law for you. He makes no provision for the flesh for you. So much joy at such great cost, yet all of it is for you.

Note again the subjunctive mood of Paul’s exhortation. Let us walk properly as in the daytime. As a baptized child of God receiving the Gifts Jesus gives you, you walk properly before God and your neighbor. It’s a given this is going to happen. You will stumble in this walk because you are a sinner. Your nature is corrupt and shattered. You will succumb to the many temptations that daily gnaw at your heels.

Christ has been put on you. His Word convicts you of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. You are repented in His Word of judgment. Yet this Word of judgment also quickens you in Jesus’ blood and righteousness. You are judged not guilty of sin. That guilt goes on Jesus, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. The hour of judgment, the perfect time to settle the debt, happens on that black Friday afternoon at Golgotha. The hour of judgment, the perfect time to announce the end of Satan’s power over you, happens on that bright Sunday morning at the tomb.

The saying is true: Timing is everything. It’s time for a new church year. It’s time to wake from the sleep of sin and unbelief. It’s time to put on the armor of light and play defense against the old evil foe. It’s time to walk in the light of Christ. This is the καιρός of Jesus Christ. Soon it will end and you will always be with the Lord. Until then, salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Salvation is in this pulpit, on that altar, and in that font, for you. Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

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Advent 4 – John 1:19-28

John the Baptist’s preaching is simple: Make straight the way of the Lord. It is appropriate to prepare for the birth of the Savior of the nations as you would prepare for any birthday celebration. Except this birthday celebration is a unique occasion. Never before, and never again, will God become man to save His Father’s people from their sins. No wonder John preaches, Make straight the way of the Lord.

So how is the way made straight for Baby Jesus’ arrival? One way is for you to answer the question posed to John, Who are you? That’s a rather personal question, isn’t it? It’s not good to ask others that question, let alone pose it to yourself. The Jews ask John this question because his preaching and baptism displeased them. When you pose that question to others, more than likely it is to humiliate someone and lift up yourself. “So you call yourself a Christian, eh? How come I see you do this and that and yet you’re in church? Some kind of Christian you are!”

Pose that question to yourself now. Who are you? You are man. Consider what the Scriptures say about man. You are a sinner, an enemy of God. Let’s let Saint Paul speak the truth: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness…. The way of peace they have not known…. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. How do you even begin to respond to what Scripture says about who you are? The answer is, God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Blessed are you, for now you are properly prepared for Christmas.

Not so fast, though. Ask yourself again, Who are you? You are a Christian. Yet your way of life is not in the way of Christ? You don’t crucify your flesh and die daily to sin in order that the new man may emerge and live in the Good News of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. You love the world. You love your own flesh. You are afraid of death. You do not trust the Psalmist when he sings, I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord. How do you begin to respond to these true accusations? You answer in the way of John the Baptist: “I am not worthy to untie His sandal strap. I am a poor, miserable Christian. I cling to Christ as my hope for salvation.” Blessed are you when you answer this way, for you are properly prepared for Christmas.

But wait, there’s more. Ask yourself one more time, Who are you? Consider your station in life. Do you live in a Christian household? Do you pray without ceasing as Scripture says? Do you read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Sacred Scripture every day? Are you rebellious against authority figures? What about your children or other members of your family? Where do you stand compared to what Scripture says? Your answer must be with the Psalmist, If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? Your answer must be that of Job: If one wished to contend with [God], one could not answer Him once in a thousand times. Blessed are you when you answer this way, for you are properly prepared for the Savior’s birth.

Now that you have examined yourself and discovered once again you are in need of a Savior, listen to John’s testimony: I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of Whose sandal I am not worthy to untie…. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.”

John’s testimony brings great comfort as Christmas approaches. The Christ Child comes to bear the sin of the world, even your sin. You are a great sinner, but you have an even greater Savior Who becomes sin for you that you might become the righteousness of God. Jesus is a man, but also God. Do not fear. He conquers all for you. Though you are a weak Christian, our Father in heaven still delivers salvation for you day after day. He bestows new grace that richly, daily, and abundantly forgives your sins. You deserve death and hell, but on Christmas night the heavens burst open over the sinful world. You shall not die, but live.

Your preparation for Christmas finds its ultimate fulfillment in receiving the Gifts Jesus gives His Church for the forgiveness of sins. You hear the Good News of sins atoned for in the all-availing blood and righteousness of Jesus. You are baptized into Christ; baptized into His perfect life, perfect death, and perfect resurrection. You eat and drink Christ’s true Body and true Blood in His Supper for the forgiveness of sins. So you are actually preparing as much for Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem as much as you are also preparing for His final coming on Judgment Day. Martin Luther’s Christmas hymn says it well:

Welcome to earth, O noble Guest,
Through Whom the sinful world is blest!
You came to share my misery
That You might share Your joy with me.

In other words, Make straight the way of the Lord.

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Crushing Law and Soothing Gospel from 1888

C.J. Otto Hanser was the long-time pastor at Trinity congregation in the Soulard neighborhood in St. Louis, MO. Part of the time he served alongside C.F.W. Walther. He was a prolific submitter of outlines (Dispositionen) to the homiletics magazine of the Missouri Synod. Here is a portion of my translation of his outline for the Fourth Sunday in Advent. Any errors of translation are mine. DMJ+

Ask yourself: “Who are you actually?” Answer: a man. Excellent, do you believe also what a man is according to God’s Word, namely a sinner, an enemy of God, under the curse of the law, a child of the devil, a victim of hell and damnation? For we have all turned aside, all men are liars, filled with all unrighteousness. Is your heart scared, do you speak in truth: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”? Blessed are you, you are properly prepared.

Ask yourself again: “Who are you?” and answer: “A Christian.” Excellent, if it is true. What kind of Christian are you? Are you truly converted, born again, are you in the true faith? Are you ruled by the Holy Spirit or by the flesh? Do you aspire for higher things, or for what is on earth? Do you crucify your flesh, do you renounce the world? Do you surely hope to be saved or are you frightened at the thought of death? Blessed are you if you can answer humbly with John the Baptist: “I am not worthy that I should untie the sandal strap of my Jesus, that I am called according to the name of Christ, because I am such a poor, miserable Christian that I am ashamed of myself. Then you are properly prepared.

Ask yourself further: “Who are you?” Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, manservant, maidservant? What are you all in your station in life? Christian parents, do you lead a Christian household, do you have prayer and God’s Word in the family? Are your Christian children and servants according to the Fourth Commandment obedient or rebellious, humble or arrogant and headstrong? Blessed are you when you answer: “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” “One could not answer him once in a thousand times.”

John testifies about Christ that He is man, but also God (“preferred before me”); for this purpose He became man, that He Who is the Lamb of God bears the sins of the world; the testimony of Christmas confirms it. You should faithfully embrace this and say: I am a great sinner, but I have a great Savior, for He is God, I fear nothing; I am a weak Christian, but God Himself says:Rejoice,the Savior brings salvation every day, new grace that abundantly, daily, forgives my sins. I deserve death and hell;but on Christmas the heavens over the sinful world have opened up, therefore I shall not die, but live. “Welcome to earth, O noble Guest!” etc. In other words, prepare the way for the Lord.

– Otto Hanser (1832-1910), Outline for a sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (John 1:19-28)

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Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-10

The phrase “He comes” resonates in the promises of God all the way back to the Garden of Eden, where the promise of a Savior first sounded. From that moment on, all prophets proclaimed “He comes.” Moses proclaims, The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen. David sang about the Savior, You are the most handsome of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all the prophets affirmed with one voice, “He comes.” Jesus Christ is the promised Savior Who comes to us to save us.

We see this from the miracles He performed. The question of John’s disciples to Jesus was an Advent question: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? The Advent of the Son of God is near. Has John made a mistake? Did he prepare the way for an impostor? How could that be possible? John is the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the Lord’s presence. He is the one to whom God revealed the person of the Messiah by the appearing of the Holy Spirit at the Jordan. John is the one who pointed his finger at Jesus and said, Behold the Lamb of God! John, whose endurance Christ praises so highly in Matthew chapter 11, mistaken about Christ? Never! The two disciples were sent by John because they thought more of John than Jesus. They are the ones who need convincing. Christ’s answer to their question leaves no room for doubt.

Go and tell John what you see and hear. The fame of Jesus’ miracles had filled the land of Judea. It even penetrated into the tower at Machaerus, where John was imprisoned. The disciples whom John sent were now eyewitnesses and even ear witnesses of it. Saint Luke tells us when these disciples of John appeared, In that hour Jesus healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. It’s as if Jesus looks at these disciples of John, performs miracles, and says to them, is that good enough for you? Satisfied now?

Add to this that it was precisely these marvelous works that were already known in the prophets as the certain characteristics of the Messiah. Isaiah prophesied about Messiah’s coming: The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. Every dead person who rose from the dead, every blind person seeing, every leper who was cleansed by the mere word of Christ, gave testimony in their healing: See, hear, Jesus is the One Who should come, and no other! Jesus is the promised Savior!

Yet the disciples of John had been angry at Jesus. The harsh forerunner of Messiah appeared to them to shine in greater holiness. That is why the warning is precisely for them: Blessed is the one who is not offended by me. The warning is for you as well when you doubt that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The warning is for you when the world, your sinful flesh, and Satan tempt you to look elsewhere for your salvation. Do not doubt that you have a Savior, the Promised One, Jesus Christ. Believe in Him and don’t wait for another Savior.

We also see Jesus as Savior in the office and vocation of John the Baptist. He was a prophet. Elijah was a great prophet, yet the preaching and miracles of Elijah were nothing compared to the last and greatest of all prophets. John was the other Elijah promised by Malachi. In order that you might not think of John in contempt compared to Christ, Jesus has words of praise for His forerunner. What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. People did not go into the wilderness in order to see a reed shaken by the wind or a soft servant of a king’s court. They admired the severity, the crushing seriousness, the incorruptibility, the resistance, the power and the force of John, in whom was the Holy Spirit.

John also is the forerunner of the Messiah. This is what Jesus means when He calls John more than a prophet. John reports the arrival of Christ. He draws attention with a loud voice of a herald to the Savior, the coming One. He prepares the way for Him in the hearts of the people of Israel as His messenger. Jesus relies on John in order that you believe Jesus is the One Who should come. You don’t need to wait for another Savior.

When the morning star shines, then the sun is near. When the morning star turns pale (in this case John in prison), then the sun is in full glory and bright radiance in the sky. John’s Savior, his disciples’ Savior, your Savior has come. Jesus has come to pay the price of your sin. He drinks the cup of woe to the dregs, not shrinking or shirking from His duty. Jesus comes today in the preaching of His Word and in His holy Supper for the forgiveness of your sins. Once He came humbly. Even now His coming among us is humble. His coming again, His final Advent, will be triumphant. All will see His glory. Not all will rejoice in His glory. All will see the Savior. Not all will want to see Him. They wish they could wait for another. There is no other.

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come/ Let earth receive her King.” These words are more than a Christmas hymn. These words are truth because what you sing about in this hymn will happen. The season of Advent is a season of new, yet old, blessings. It brings us new, yet old, grace; new, yet old, blessings; and new certainty of our faith in Jesus Christ. Joy, new joy, yet old joy, is yours because Jesus comes as your Savior King.

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