Thursday, December 6, 2018

Sermon -- Advent Vespers: Week 1 (December 5, 2018)

LUKE 1:5-22

GOD'S FAITHFUL PEOPLE AWAIT THE COMING OF THE LORD.
They Prepare.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Throughout the Bible, the Lord God demonstrated his grace by fulfilling promises that seemed impossible to fulfill.  For example, when God called Abraham to be the one through whom the Savior would come, Abraham was already 75 years old.  God told him that he and his wife would have son who would carry on the promise.  After 24 years, Abraham and Sarah were still waiting for that son.  God appeared again and promised that Sarah would give birth to this son a year from that visit.  Sarah laughed at the idea that she would give birth at age 90.  God had made this impossible promise so that, when he did fulfill it, there would be no doubt that God was at work to graciously, mightily, and faithfully fulfill every word he says.
     2,000 years after Abraham, there was another aged man named Zechariah.  Like Sarah, Zechariah's wife, Elizabeth, was also barren.  Like Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth were also well past the age of hoping for children.  And like Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth were waiting for God to fulfill his promise.  Abraham and Sarah had to wait 25 years for the birth of their son.  Zechariah, Elizabeth, and all Israel had been waiting 2,000 years for the Lord to fulfill the promise to Abraham that the Savior would come through him. 
     And yet, they believed.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. (Luke 1:6) They ordered their lives according to God's commandments. They trusted the Lord's promised salvation and prayed for its fulfillment.  God's faithful people awaited the coming of the Lord.  Through Zechariah and Elizabeth, the way was prepared.
     Zechariah was on duty at the temple and was chosen by lot to enter the holy place and offer the incense at the altar.  As Zechariah offered incense, the worshipers prayed.  The prayers of the people ascended with incense.  God's faithful people awaited the coming of the Lord.  They prepared themselves by hearing God's promises, by faithfully attending worship at the temple, and by their prayers.  Finally, the prayers of Israel were answered.
     The angel Gabriel informed Zechariah that he and his wife would have a son, named John.  John would prepare the way before the Lord by calling the people to repent.  John would emphasize the need for a Savior so that, when the Savior came, they would rejoice in his salvation.  It was all good news.  It was the answer to prayers.  It declared the grace and the faithfulness of God. 
     But Zechariah was skeptical.  This word from the Lord seemed impossible to keep.  Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this?  For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (Luke 1:18)  Zechariah believed what his reason told him—he and his wife were old.  Even in her younger years, Elizabeth could not get pregnant.  So, Zechariah demanded a sign to prove that Lord would be faithful to his word..
     This word from the Lord, however, was not unprecedented.  This is exactly what the Lord had done for Abraham and Sarah.  That was the sign.  What God had done before, he was doing again.  It did not matter that Sarah laughed at God's promise; God would be faithful to it.  Isaac was born through God's promise as God said; and through him the Savior would come.  It did not matter if Zechariah was skeptical of God's word; God would fulfill his word.  John would be born through God's promise as God said; and he would prepare the way for the Lord.  The Lord had made a promised which seemed impossible to keep to show that this was all God's word, God's grace.
     Rejoice that God is gracious and faithful, but repent because you are skeptical of God's word and even laugh at his decrees.  Like Sarah and Zechariah, you do not always believe that God's word is believable.  God tells you in his Commandments what is good and God-pleasing.  You usually recognize that it is good and should be obeyed.  But sometimes, following God's will comes with a cost.  When our Lord calls us to forgive those who have sinned against us, we are skeptical.  We do not to forgive because we would rather see them squirm in their guilt.  When the Lord tells us to pray for our enemies, we might think of ISIS who doesn't really pose a threat to us in Novi.  They have not harmed us personally, so it is easy to pray for them.  But what about the one who always seems to be looking for a fight with you.  Or who cannot make comment to you without including some jab.  Are your prayers for them, or against them?  When the Lord tells us to welcome strangers, we are reluctant.  We think in terms of what material things they may take from us rather than what spiritual blessings we can give to them.  So, we are skeptical about doing the good God wants us to do, because we fear what may cost us.  Repent.
     Now, like Sarah and Zechariah, you have reasons for your skepticism.  Forgiving someone may mean they take advantage of you again.  Praying for your enemies is hard; and their animosity against you may not change.  Welcoming in a stranger is a risk—minimal, in my opinion, but it is still a risk.  Doing good may go unrewarded and unappreciated.  So, our sinful nature counters, “Why bother?  Why do good if there is no gain for me?”  Repent.  This is not the reason we do good to our neighbor.  God does not work by karma—that a good deed means a good reward.  God  calls us to do good because we are his people.  We do good because God has been good to us.  We take God at his word because it is true, even if our reason laughs at it and especially when it exposes our sinful skepticism.
      When Gabriel spoke to Zechariah, Gabriel did not ask Zechariah to affirm that God's plans were reasonable.  The Lord was going to act to fulfill his promises, even if Zechariah was skeptical.  And since Zechariah would not say “Amen” to this word, Zechariah had no words to say until God's words proved true.  In this way, the Lord prepared Zechariah for the fulfillment of God's word.
     Not everything God says to us in his word seems reasonable to us, either.  But the Lord is not looking for a consensus among us.  He does not put his will up for a vote.  Nor does he ask us to affirm his plans before he acts.  The Lord acts to save us.  His faithfulness is not affected by our skepticism.  Instead, Jesus delivers us from the guilt of our doubts, unbelief, and reluctance.  Jesus committed himself to suffering the curse for every time we laughed at God's word, responded to God's word with a “Whatever” instead of an “Amen,” or decided we would mull over God's instruction instead of acknowledge that God does not lie to us.  Salvation is delivered to you despite your skepticism and weak faith.  He saves you completely even if your faith is less than perfect, if you don't grasp parts of God's word, or struggle against sins.  For, it is not confusion that damns, but unbelief. 
     If you find parts of God's word confusing, or if you do not understand why God says what he says or works the way he does, pray that he may enlighten you.  Who else could you call on for that?  But even if you remain confused, you can be sure that everything God tells you is true and right and good.  And if you remain confused about somethings, there is no confusion about this: God's love is yours through Jesus who takes away your sin and delivers you out of darkness and into the kingdom of light.  If he can be trusted as you face death, he can also be trusted to guide you through life.  God's faithful people await the coming of the Lord.  Prepare by clinging to his word; for, his word is always for your good.

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