Thursday, December 3, 2015

Sermon -- Advent Vespers, Week 1 (December 2, 2015)

MATTHEW 1:1-6a

Through Patriarchs.

In the name + of Jesus.

     St. Paul wrote in his second epistle to Timothy: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness...” (2 Timothy 3:16)  It is obvious how some portions of Scripture are profitable for us.  We even have students in Catechism class memorize portions of Scripture which are profitable for them to learn and remember so that they will not be led astray by fine-sounding arguments.  But I suspect that very few Christians in the history of Christendom have committed the first seventeen verses of Matthew's Gospel to memory.  You may even wonder, “Why are these recorded at all?”  But if we believe that all Scripture is breathed out by God (and we do), and if we believe these verses are Scripture (and we do), then there must be something profitable in them for us to consider.
     St. Matthew begins his Gospel by introducing Jesus Christ.  For us, he needs no introduction.  But the audience who first received Matthew's Gospel was likely a Jewish audience.  They knew that they had been chosen to be the people through whom God would send the Messiah, or the Christ.  If it could not be proved that Jesus was of Israelite descent, he could not even be taken seriously.  So, while lists of ancestry might boring to us, it was essential, especially, to the Jews.  Therefore, Matthew begins by introducing Jesus Christ as the son of David, and more than that, the son of Abraham.  Matthew is proclaiming to his audience: See how the Lord begets the Christ.
     Matthew had no need to introduce Abraham to his audience.  The Jews all boasted that they were children of Abraham and heirs with him of the promised Christ.  Abraham holds a remarkable distinction in salvation history.  Prior to Abraham, the Lord's promise was that a Savior would come into the world.  People were left to wonder: Where will he come from?  From what nation?  From what family?  From what city?  From what hemisphrere?  The Lord narrowed down this promise by calling Abraham to be the one through whom the Savior would come.  Abraham, through you and through your offspring “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)  Therefore, the focus is put on Abraham, and his son Isaac, and his son Jacob, and so on down Matthew's list.  So, if Jesus is the son of Abraham, then he meets a key criterion as the Lord's Christ.  See how the Lord begets the Christ through the patriarchs.
     When we speak of the patriarchs, we often think of their great faith.  There is a good reason for that.  Abraham was called by God when he was 75 years old.  He and his wife, Sarah, were childless.  They remained that way for the next 24 years.  Yet, they still hoped against all hope, and they still believed that God would give them a son.  Isaac and his wife, Rebecca, likewise had to endure decades of infertility.  No son now meant no Savior later.  Still, they believed that God would send them a son; and he did.  Other patriarchs lived through years of brutal slavery in Egypt, through 40 years of God's judgment against them in the wilderness, and through successive periods of oppression in the days of the Judges.  In all of these times, they still waited for God to fulfill his word and to bring forth the Messiah.  They never saw that fulfillment, but they believed God would be faithful.  See how the Lord begets the Christ through patriarchs.
     Now, you may get the idea that the patriarchs were all but faultless.  That is far from true.  There is nothing new under the sun.  Just as we demonstrate our sinful condition today by regretable and shameful words and deeds, so did they.  We will consider just one.  St. Matthew writes, “Judah (was) the father of of Perez and Zerah by Tamar.” (Matthew 1:3)  As tame as this sounds, this was both immoral and shameful.  Judah had three sons.  The oldest was married to Tamar, but he was wicked and so the Lord put him to death.  Judah's second son was to assume responsibility for his older brother by producing offspring through Tamar for him.  He would not do it, and so the Lord put him to death, too.  Judah sent Tamar back to her father's house until the youngest son was grown up.  But even after his youngest son had grown up, Judah did not set up the marriage.  Some time later, Judah was traveling near Tamar's hometown.  She disguised herself as a prostitute, and Judah, shall we say, “hired” her for the might.  Through that act of adultery came forth twin boys.  One of those boys, Perez, became the ancestor of our Lord.  See how the Lord begets the Christ through the patriarchs.
     That sordid episode sounds beneath our Lord, that he should enter the world through the sinful acts of sinful people.  But it is for people like them that Jesus came into the world.  He did not come for the righteous, but for sinners—like Judah, and Tamar, and you and me.  Like Judah, we, too, have been ensnared by our own lusts—gazing at images that we should not look at, coveting another man's wife or woman's husband, or rejecting God's word which says that fornication and living together outside of marriage is sinful.  We also are affected and corrupted by this world's spirit so that we also cast aside God's commands and adopt the world's morals.  If Judah was not acting in good faith by his adultery, neither do we act in good faith by our sins.  Just as Judah and Tamar were wrong, so are we.  And so are we all worthy of death.  Repent, which is to say, turn away from your sins.
     But see how the Lord begets the Christ through the patriarchs.  The Lord Jesus Christ came through the immoral union of Judah and Tamar.  He did not come because he approved of their immoral union, but to atone for it.  It is just like the woman who gets pregnant and becomes an unwed mother.  Even though she may say how much joy she has because of her child, she and her lover are guilty of sin.  Judah and Tamar were indeed guilty of sin, but their offspring results in great joy, not because he is cute, but because he becomes a sacrifice to pay for the sins of Judah, Tamar, and anyone else who has given themselves over to carnal desires.  Jesus has come to atone for every illicit affair, every regretful word, and every impure thought.  Jesus' life of purity and innocence was given on behalf of our filth and impurity.  His innocence covers up our guilt.  His holy blood cleanses us so that we are reckoned as blameless before God.  No matter what filth has marked you, Jesus Christ has cleansed you of it.  No matter what shame you strive to keep hidden or try to forget, know that the Lord Jesus Christ has covered your shame with his righteousness.  He does not remember your sin, but rather his payment for your sins.  And therefore, he forgives you and calls you to flee from these sinful ways and to live godly lives to his glory.
     See how the Lord begets the Christ through the patriarchs.  The son of Abraham came into this world through sinners and through people who proved themselves to be sinners.  But that's because Jesus came into this world for sinners.  The son of Abraham has come for us, and he has made us all children of God. 

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

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