Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday after Christmas (January 4, 2015)

The Greek letters X (chi) and P (rho)
are the first two letters
in the Greek word for Christ.
LUKE 1:68-75; GENESIS 17:1-7

In the name + of Jesus.

     Nobody likes liars.  It is insulting to be lied to.  Sometimes it is embarrassing that you were foolish enough to buy the lie.  You may think that it is easier to believe no one, and to assume that everyone is a liar.  But that is no way to live.  You would learn to do nothing and to hate everyone.  But you cannot always tell who has your best interests at heart, and so sometimes you fall victim to liars. 
     Sometimes it is not a matter of lying.  We make promises with the best of intentions, but then circumstances change and we cannot come through on our promises.  I am sure that this happens with politicians all the time.  They can see the problems you face, and they are convinced that they have the solutions.  They promise: “Send me to Washington and I will get the job done and the problem solved.”  Once he goes to Washington, he finds himself in a room with 434 other politicians who don’t care about your problems.  Suddenly, his promises crumble and there is nothing he can do to fix it.  He may have had every intention of following through on his promises, but circumstances are not what he thought they were.  Meanwhile, the voters only know that they have no solution to their problems, and they call their congressman a liar. 
     When a man makes a promise, you don’t always know if his going to keep it.  You may have your suspicions about his reliability, but you cannot call such the man a liar until he actually fails to keep it.  In some cases, you may have to wait quite a while before you can call the man a liar.  But until then, you have to wait, and watch.
     It was about 4,000 years ago that the Lord had made a promise to Abraham.  When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” (Genesis 17:1,2)  Abraham may have thought to himself, “I have been hearing this promise since I was 75.  It is a quarter of a century later, and I still have no son to be the heir of these promises.”  But Abraham did not call God a liar.  Nor had God backed down, saying that circumstances had changed.  God was in charge of the circumstances, too.  “I am God Almighty” (Genesis 17:1), he said.  God did not just talk big.  He could back it up.  The Lord keeps his oaths.
     The Lord continued his promise: I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7)  In a year, the Lord proved himself faithful to part of his oath.  Abraham had a son, Isaac.  But Abraham died before he saw the rest of the oath fulfilled.  He had not begotten kings or nations.  He had not taken possession of the land.  Nevertheless, Abraham believed God to be faithful to his word.  Abraham would not call God a liar.  Abraham lived and died in faith.  And by this faith, Abraham was justified and saved.
     It was some 2,000 years later that the Lord proved faithful to his word.  It was another aged, childless man who heard the word of the Lord.  He was a priest named Zechariah.  He had gone into the temple to make the evening sacrifice and to pray for Israel.  Zechariah’s prayer was not that he and his wife would have a baby.  That dream went away when old age came.  Circumstances had changed.  Zechariah’s priestly prayer was, rather, that God would keep his oath and send a Savior.  God’s angel had told Zechariah,    The Lord keeps his oath.
     At first, Zechariah called God a liar.  But God’s faithfulness does not depend on our opinion of him.  Nor does God’s faithfulness hinge on our faithfulness to him.  God would send the forerunner, and then God would send the Savior.  Elizabeth would bear a son to Zechariah in their old age, just as Sarah bore one to Abraham.  God is not a man, that he should lie... (Numbers 23:19)  Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s circumstances did not matter.  He is God Almighty.  He is in charge of circumstances.  The Lord would keep his oath. 
     This is your great blessing, for you have also called God a liar.  You have not believed that obeying his commands is a blessing for you or even good.  You have heed given into temptations because they are fun.  You have given way to your lust because you like it.  You have gratified your greed because you were pleased with whatever you could gain through it.  You have manipulated your spouse because you are happier in taking advantage than you are in serving.  You have exalted yourself because you think there is nothing to be gained by humility.  In all of this, you have called God a liar.  You have deemed his word idiocy and would not follow it.  Why would sinners defy God?  Perhaps it is because we believe that God is also lying when he speaks about judgment and damnation.
     Repent!  For, it is not God who lies to you.  [The devil] is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)  The devil has convinced you that his ways are fun and fruitful and lead to good times.  Do not be deceived.  Sin brings death and damnation.  Though it has not come yet, it will.  God will be proved true in this.  His threats are not empty.  He keeps his word.
     Though the world had to wait 2,000 years for it, the Lord kept his oath to Abraham.  Zechariah had to wait mere months for it, but the Lord kept his oath to him and Elizabeth.  And when Zechariah held his infant in his arms, he rejoiced that the Lord had heard his prayer.  He celebrated that the Savior was coming.  “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…[and has remembered] his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we … might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” (Luke 1:68,72-75) 
     The Lord has kept his oath.  He has sent a Savior who has delivered us from the lies of the devil, from the sins that condemn us, and from all fear and dread.  While it is true that sin brings death and damnation, Jesus Christ brings life and light, peace and hope, mercy and forgiveness, joy and salvation.  The Lord keeps his oath by sending his Son to take our sin from us.  God has been faithful in delivering you from the curse of your sins and the consequences of every lie Satan has ever deceived you with.  For, if your sin is taken away, then you are delivered from death and damnation. 
     The Lord keeps his word.  Jesus, who paid for your sins, declares you are forgiven, and he does not lie to you.  Jesus, who rose from the dead, assures you that you will rise from your grave, and he does not lie to you.  Jesus, who ascended into heaven, has promised that he will come back and take you to the place in Paradise that he is preparing for you, and he does not lie to you.  Though the Church has been waiting 2,000 years for it, your trust in God’s word is well-placed.  Just as the Lord kept his oath to Abraham, so he will keep his oath with you.  That is why we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
     Until that day, we will serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. (Luke 1:74-75)  There is no fear, for you are forgiven.  There is no fear, for God regards you as one of his saints.  There is no fear, for you are delivered from death to life, and you will be delivered from perdition to Paradise.  There is no fear, for the Lord has sworn all of these things on oath.  God does not lie to you.  The Lord keeps his oath.

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