Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Advent (December 16, 2012)


In the name + of Jesus.

It has been a hard few days.  People all over the USA are trying to make sense of something so senseless.  The slaying of so many young, innocent children is heart-breaking and mind-boggling.  All of the grappling for answers is going to leave you still scratching your head and wiping your eyes.  We can come up with theories about what moved a lonely, young man to act so brutally.  Whether they are answers or guesses, they don’t help.  The news reports won’t change.  The holiday plans for many, many families are obliterated.
     And though we are far removed from Newtown, Connecticut, we still grieve for them.  This tragedy, like other senseless tragedies in Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, and Northern Illinois University, leaves us feeling vulnerable, scared, and confused.  Newtown, Connecticut was supposed to be safe.  So was a movie theater.  So was a suburban high school.  We think of our own children and we wonder and pray.  We wonder if we are really safe.  We pray for answers.  We try to make sense of the senseless.  We are frustrated, and fretful, and fearful.  This is not what the holiday season is supposed to be.  But this year, it is.
     In the midst of all of this, St. Paul urges you to do something that seems out of place.  Certainly, it seems ill-timed.  But St. Paul not only urges you to do this, he urges you twice: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4) 
     You must understand that St. Paul does not say this as a man who is in an easy chair, reclining by a cozy fire-place and sipping hot cider.  St. Paul did not live in some fantasy world where he was protected from the angst and anguish that we endure today.  St. Paul wrote these words from prison.  And he wrote this to a church that was enduring persecution for the Christian faith.  While their hardship may be different than yours, they knew what it was to pray to God, “Deliver us from evil.”
     Nonetheless, St. Paul from his cell wrote: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)  You wonder: Rejoice in the wake of such deadly violence?  Rejoice in the uncertainty of safety and security?  Rejoice when life seems to be regarded so cheaply and is so quickly and easily taken?  We want someone to do something.  We want someone to stop the insanity, to provide a solution, to prevent more suffering, or at least to give us an answer.  We want the broken world fixed.  We want the shattered lives mended.  We want the sadness and pain to end.  And St. Paul wants us to rejoice?!
     St. Paul does not peddle empty clichés.  He does not tell you to bet your bottom dollar that the sun will come up tomorrow.  He does not insult you by saying, “Everything happens for a reason.”  Sometimes the reason is that people are evil.  Or deranged.  Listen carefully to St. Paul’s encouragement.  It is not clouded in a fantasy; it is cemented in a promise.  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)  Even when the world is falling apart, the word of the Lord still stands.  Even in the midst of tragedy and pain and heartache, St. Paul’s encouragement remains: Rejoice!  The Lord is near!
     St. Paul reminds you that you have a heavenly Father to whom you can pour out all of your cares and concerns.  Your Father in heaven knows the world you live in.  He knows that it is broken.  He knows that you are victims of evils—those brought on by natural disasters, those which are self-inflicted, and those which are crafted by wicked men.  The Lord knows the pains and the frustrations you endure.  It is he who taught you to pray, “Deliver us from evil,” so he is aware that you dwell in a world of evil.  Sometimes that is more obvious than others.
     Rejoice in the Lord, even when these evils come.  For, you are not forsaken.  The Lord is near.  Your Father in heaven knows your plight, and he has taken it upon himself to do something about it.  He does promise you a world that is not broken.  He does tell you of a life without crime or disaster or sorrow.  He does not merely tell you to pray, “Deliver us from evil.”  He actually provides deliverance.
     John the Baptist prepared the way for this Deliverer to come.  In order to get you to recognize how much you need him, John the Baptist highlighted not the evil in this world, but the evil that dwells in you.  John the Baptist called to repentance the ultra-righteous religious leaders, the burly and brutal soldiers, the corrupt and criminal tax collectors, and average tradesmen and herdsmen.  From the high and mighty to the poor and lowly, whether famous or infamous or anonymous, all are the same.  Whether you are a violent or peaceful person, and whether you die a violent or peaceful death, you are all sinners who have to give an account to the Lord.  You may be disturbed by the heinous actions of a man in Connecticut, and rightfully so; but you do not have to answer for him.  You can only answer for yourself.  You are only responsible for your own sin.
     Rejoice; for the Lord has come to deliver you from the judgment that rests upon you.  He entered our corrupt and broken world to be broken for you.  By the calculated actions of wicked sinners, Jesus was put to death.  By the calculating acts of a holy God, Jesus was condemned for the sins of the world.  He made himself sin for you.  He made himself a sin offering for you. 
     Rejoice, for Jesus provides you an answer for all of your sin and guilt.  No excuses, but instead forgiveness.  He provides you the answer you need when you must answer for your life – not that you must behave better than you have, but that you are washed, cleansed, and purified from all evil and unrighteousness.  Jesus was crucified for your sins and raised to life for your justification.  That is your confidence.  It’s not that Jesus makes this world better, it is that he delivers you from it.  He puts an end to the evils by delivering you out of the world to a glorious home in heaven.
     Rejoice!  The Lord is near.  He is coming again soon to bring you to a place that knows no shooting sprees, no deranged minds, no grieving parents, and no tear-stained communities.  You see, dear Christians, that is the Lord’s answer in all of this.  He will deliver you from evil, once and for all.  And even in Connecticut, he has delivered at least some of his children to their heavenly home.  Granted, their departure from this world was violent and tragic.  But in God’s kingdom, they have mercifully been spared many evils, and they have been lovingly delivered to their heavenly Father’s arms.  Nothing can harm them anymore.  Nothing.  They enjoy a peace which we cannot truly grasp, and which will never be taken from them.
     This peace is what you yearn for too.  It comes when Jesus comes, and his coming is not that far away.  Rejoice!  The Lord is near.  Deliverance from all evil is near.  Deliverance into glory is near. 
     In the meantime, the Lord remains as near to you as his word and sacraments.  This is where he forgives your sins.  This is where he bestows his blessing.  Here, he sustains you in a wicked world until he takes you to his glorious Paradise.  That is the answer you crave.  That is the peace you have, even when the world is broken and when your heart is breaking in it.  The Lord knows your pains; but the Lord provides his peace to soothe you and his promises to encourage you.  You will not dwell in a bad, broken, depraved, and dying world forever.  Peace is yours.  Salvation is coming.  Rejoice!  The Lord is near.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.

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