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Advent Sermon for 20 December 2020

FIRST READING                                      Isaiah 7:10-17

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted 17 The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!”

GOSPEL LESSON                                   Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Jesus Became a Savior

Over and over again this Advent season, we have heard from the prophets of old who were given a message from God: that God Himself would send to His people the Messiah to save them from their enemies, enemies both from within their people and without.  The people thought this Messiah would be a war hero, a valiant soldier who would fight for them.  A Savior who would, in their current context, free them from the Roman oppression and drive the Gentiles from their land.  Instead, God sent His Son to earth in the form of a frail infant who was born in a stable far from home.

This One, who set aside His kingship and claim to riches, who was the consummate servant, and who took on human sin even though He was sinless, was the promised One of the line of David.  When Jesus came, He was the fulfillment of the promise made to their ancestors — to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the kings of Israel and Judah.  Deliverance, not from the physical enemy but from the bonds of evil, would come from this One who was as meek as a lamb and as compassionate as a loving parent.  

Amid the conflict between the Northern and Southern kingdoms, Isaiah prophesied the Word of the Lord to King Ahaz, telling him to ask for a sign concerning the impending doom of Judah.  Ahaz, who was unfaithful to the Lord, was already living under God’s judgment.  Under Ahaz’s reign, the temple had been neglected, idol worship took place in Israel’s holy places, and human sacrifices were a part of Ahaz’s idolatry.  Ahaz had even used the offerings of the temple in a failed attempt to buy off a foreign invasion.  God was ready to give Judah into the hands of Israel in order to bring the wayward king back in line.

It was into this context that God gave His people the prophecy of Immanuel, “God with us.”  Ahaz was offered a sign from God, but he was too wicked, too stubborn and maybe too afraid to take it.  He refused to accept God’s Law, and now he refused to embrace God’s promise.  Fortunately for Israel and for us, God always has the last word.  Ahaz’s idolatry would not win the day.

In the days that were to come, God would bring a child, born of a virgin, into the world to save humanity.  Then “the people who walked in darkness would see a great light” (Isaiah 9:2-6).  Those who lived a land of darkness and evil would have the light of Christ shine upon them, and they would turn from their wicked ways, back to the Lord.  Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph of the tribe of Judah, a descendant of King David — and, interestingly enough, a descendant of King Ahaz — would come into the world to save the world.  Not by force or might, but through love and mercy; Jesus became the Savior!  What then does it mean to call Jesus “Lord” and “Savior?”  

There are so many people and things we can pledge our faithfulness to, but when we call Jesus “Lord and Savior,” what we should be confessing is that Jesus is No. 1 in our lives.  And if we confess that Jesus is #1 our lives, then this is a major commitment, because there are so many people, obligations, duties, and allegiances for us to juggle.  Claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives means we must daily prioritize our lives, deciding where we will spend our time, energy, and resources.  And those decisions, for better or worse, show us where our allegiances ultimately lie.  All this is First Commandment stuff!  

For many people, the thought of putting God before family, work, and the 401(k) is difficult to conceive, let alone to do.  The problem lies in how we see ourselves.  Do we even feel that we need a Savior?  Or are we simply happy to look at the baby Jesus wrapped in bands of cloth in the manger scene?  The truth is, Jesus didn’t stay a baby in a manger.  He grew up, became a man and called disciples.  He healed, forgave, pushed against the religious leaders of His day, and got Himself killed.  But on the third day, (thanks be to God!), He rose.  He did all this for us!

If we see ourselves in need of a Savior rather than seeing ourselves as the masters of our destiny, then we know that Jesus is so much more than just a baby in a manger.  If we think we have it all figured out on our own, we will neither need nor want a Lord to lead our lives.  But when we see ourselves as people in bondage to sin and in desperate need for forgiveness, we then recognize our need for a Savior.  It’s then that we discover who Jesus really is and realize that His promise is real!  

We have a choice.  We can be like Ahaz and ignore the sign of Immanuel, or we can let the Holy Spirit have His way in our lives — and God will fill us with faith and hope and a future as we follow our Savior in this life and the next!  Luther’s explanation to the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed says it so beautifully: “He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, and has freed me from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with silver and gold, but with His holy and precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.”  Oh the depth of love our Savior has shown us!  His coming to us has changed our lives.  His birth has given us new birth.  His death has put an end to the power of death for us.

            God sent Jesus, Immanuel (“God with us”) to show us just how much He loves us.  In Jesus, we see the very image of God in human form.  Jesus was faithful unto death, and His love for us is what saves us.  So, what does the claim that Jesus is our Lord and Savior mean to us, and what impact does that proclamation have on our lives?  How does the knowledge that Jesus has done all of this for us change the way we live our life?  And just as important, who do we know that needs to be told the true meaning of Christmas?


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