Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Sermon -- New Year's Eve (December 31, 2019)

PSALM 136

HIS LOVE FOR YOU IS STEADFAST.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Romans had a god in their pantheon who had two faces.  One face looked forward to the future, the other looked backward to the past.  The god's name was Janus, from which we get the name of our first month, January.  On the threshold of January, we do what the Roman god Janus mythically did—we look back on the past year and we look forward to the next. 
     If you recall abundant or unexpected blessings this past year, you might be sad to see 2019 pass away.  If 2019 was marked by bitterness or sadness, you are eager to say, “Good riddance!”  God blessed each person, each family, differently this past year.  Our prayers for 2020, however, are the same—for blessings and happiness, but we don't know how God will bless us in the year to come.  Perhaps the cross you bear will become lighter.  Perhaps it will be heavier.  You can't know what 2020 will bring—no matter what kind of vision Janus claims to have.  But what God has revealed to you should be enough.  In fact, it is everything.  This is what the Lord says: His love for you is steadfast.  It was true in 2019, and it will be true in 2020.
     The Psalm we are considering this evening mainly looks back.  Its look back goes much further than a year.  In fact, it considers God's faithfulness all the way back to creation.  “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever... to him who alone does great wonders, … who by understanding made the heavens, … who spread out the earth above the waters, … who made the great lights, … the sun to rule over the day, … the moon and stars to rule over the night...” (Psalm 136:1,4-9)  He who created the heavens and the earth has faithfully maintained them.  He has provided for you again this year with abundance and variety.  Even those who despise the Lord were clothed and well fed.  The Lord has not been fickle or petty in his concern for the world.  You can mark each and every year with the same tag line: His love for you is steadfast.
     But Psalm 136 gets much more specific about God's love and concern.  It reviews God's acts of salvation for Israel.  Israel was God's chosen people.  And when you hear the phrase “God's chosen people,” your follow up question should always be the same: “Chosen for what?”  They were chosen to be the people through whom the Savior would come.  God would fulfill his promise of salvation through Israel.  And not oppression, not slavery, not the armies of Pharaoh, not the depths of the Red Sea could prevent God from being faithful to his promises.  Not the wandering in the desert, not the lack of food and water, and not warfare with Sihon and Og would keep God from bringing his people to the Promised Land.  Nothing can subvert the promises of God.  Each and every act of God is punctuated the same way: “His steadfast love endures forever.” 
     What is striking about Psalm 136 is not only that it details the faithful acts of God for the benefit of his people, but also that it omits the faithlessness of the people of Israel.  The Lord was steadfast in his love, but the people of Israel surely were not.  They grumbled that the Lord led them through the wilderness, even wishing they could be back feasting in Egypt.  “Oh, that we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” (Numbers 11:4-5)  They complained about the Lord's anointed leaders.  They were convinced they were smarter, could accomplish greater things, and would enjoy more success—if only the Lord got out of the way.  They were convinced that human designs would serve them better than divine direction.  Sound familiar?
     This was the reasoning back in the Garden of Eden.  This was the life-style before Noah entered the ark.  This was the refrain for Israel's 40 years in the wilderness.  This was the complaint of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Was it also repeated in your home in 2019?  Did you have better plans than the Lord?  Would God have served you better if he had gotten out of the way?  Did you dismiss God's word to find your own way to increase your wealth, gratify your desires, and chase after your happiness?  If you look back at 2019, do you feel that God failed you?  The devil may convince you he had, which is also how the devil convinces you to exalt your own way, your own will, and your own wisdom.  When Adam and Eve did this, they lost Paradise.  When the people in Noah's day did it, they perished in the Flood.  When the Israelites did it, they died in the desert.  When the Pharisees and Sadducees did it, it resulted in the destruction of the Temple and the slaughter of Jerusalem.  Do we deserve better?  By no means.  Repent.
     Remarkably, the refrain in Psalm 136 never fades out, because neither God's love nor his promises are conditioned by the people to whom he gives them.  The sins of people, generation after generation, have never caused God to revoke his love or to repeal his promises.  Our Lord desires the salvation of all mankind.  Therefore, God acted to uphold his promise, to demonstrate his love, and to accomplish our salvation.  His love for you is steadfast.
     “It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:23)  The Lord Jesus Christ came as God had promised.  Jesus did not despise us.  He took up our cause despite our sinful condition and our offenses against him.  Though we have questioned God's wisdom, challenged his word, and abandoned his will for our own, Jesus answered for our sins with his faithfulness to the word.  He did not question God's love for those who gratified their baser desires, challenge God's compassion for those who betrayed or abused him, or refuse to suffer for sins which were committed against him.  Jesus followed God's will even when it meant suffering injustice, submitting to blows from those who hated him, and dying to the sounds of his enemies who mocked him and of silence from his Father who had forsaken him.  His love for you is steadfast. 
     “It is he who remembered us in our low estate, … and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever...” (Psalm 136:23-24)  Jesus remembered your lowly estate and delivered you out of your sins by his death.  More than that, he exalted your humanity so that you, too, will rise from the dead as he did.  Just as he dwells in the presence of God the Father, so shall you.  Just as Jesus is the Son of God, so now in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:26)  He has sealed his promise to you in your baptism, and he remains faithful to his promise.  And he strengthens and keeps you in his promise by his holy Supper.  The body and blood which were given into death for your sins are here for you for the forgiveness of sins.  The body and blood which live and reign forever are here for you for everlasting life.  His love for you is steadfast.
     “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1)  The effects of sin may have filled your eyes with tears and pain and angst in 2019.  But the Lord's face did not stop smiling upon you; not even once.  His love for you is steadfast.  “Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever.  Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever...” (Psalm 136:2-3)  If 2019 meant blessings and joys, then give thanks to the Lord who was pleased to entrust you with temporal gifts.  But let not your joy rest on what is temporal; let your joy rest on what is eternal and you will never be disappointed.  “His steadfast love endures forever...”   
     Like Janus, we look back.  No matter what you saw or felt or experienced last year, you can still confess the refrain, “His steadfast love endures forever...”  As for 2020, Janus is blind.  January and each successive month is still blank.  Your history will be written as each day goes forth.  And who knows whether you will inscribe fortunes or frustrations?  But whatever happens, his love for you is steadfast.  Every year, every day, and every hour are punctuated the same.  For the Lord is faithful in all he does.  Fear not.  Rejoice!  “Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:26)

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

Private Confession & Absolution -- Saturday, January 11 (9:00-11:00 AM)

Private Confession & Absolution -- Saturday, January 11, 9:00-11:00 AM

Private confession and absolution will be available at church from 9:00 - 11:00 AM on Saturday, January 11.  No appointment is necessary.  Just stop in.  If this rite is new to you (and it is for many who attend here), the pastor will walk you through the rite so that you understand and appreciate it more.  Private confession and absolution is always available by appointment throughout the year.

Why Private Confession & Absolution?  The answer follows:
When Lutherans hear someone speak of Private Confession and Absolution, the response is usually a knee-jerk, "That's Roman Catholic!"  Though that may be a common perception, the perception is because either it was taught wrongly or understood wrongly.  Consider what the Lutheran Confessions teach about Private Confession and Absolution.

Our churches teach that private Absolution should be retained in the churches, although listing all sins is not necessary for Confession.  For, according to the Psalm, it is impossible.  "Who can discern his errors?" (Psalm 19:12) -- Augsburg Confession, Article XI

What is Confession?
     Answer: Confession has two parts: the one is that we confess our sins; the other is that we receive Absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no way doubt, but firmly believe that our sins are forgiven before God in heaven by this.
What sins should we confess?
     Answer: Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those that we do not know, as we do in the Lord's Prayer.  But before the confessor we should confess only those sins that we know and feel in our hearts. -- Luther's Small Catechism, Part V

These are basic confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  They are catholic, insofar as they are Christian.  But they are not Roman, insofar as the penitent is not obligated to orally confess every sin in order to be forgiven of it and insofar as one's forgiveness is not dependent upon some action on the part of the penitent.  The forgiveness is based on Jesus' sufferings and death for the penitent who has been baptized into his name.

Since the practice of Private Confession and Absolution is a Lutheran practice, it would be good for Lutherans to practice it.  It is good for the penitent who is grieved by a particular sin to confess it so that he can hear Christ say through the mouth of his minister: "I forgive you."  It would be good for the one who is burdened to be relieved of his burden by Holy Absolution.  It would be good for this practice, though foreign to many in my corner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, to be restored.  And so it will be.

Private Confession and Absolution has always been available to all members by appointment.  (I am guessing that has been a pretty good secret.)  In order for this practice to be restored and perhaps put to better use, there will be dates on the calendar set aside for anyone who would like to drop in and make use of this means of grace.  These will be set up about 4 times per year.  Private Confession and Absolution will still be available by appointment in addition to these scheduled times.

It is anticipated that Private Confession and Absolution will roughly follow this regular schedule.
     A Saturday around Epiphany (Epiphany is always January 6)
     The Saturday before Palm Sunday
     The Saturday after Labor Day weekend
     A Saturday after Thanksgiving weekend (should coincide with the 1st Saturday in Advent)

The next scheduled date and time for Private Confession and Absolution will be Saturday, January 11, 9:00-11:00 AM.  Appointments are not necessary.  You need only drop in.  All participation is voluntary, as Absolution cannot be forced upon anyone.

Of course, this will be new to pretty much any member who decides to make use of it.  If you happen to come in, the pastor will walk through the rite with you and explain the various parts of it, especially including the "private" part, namely, that this confession is to Christ and, therefore, remains his business alone.  The pastor will not report any confession or even the names of those who come for confession.  Finally, the point of this is not for a pastor to learn everyone's dirty, little secrets.  (His life is easier if he remains ignorant.  But God's people do not call a pastor to be ignorant; they call him to absolve in the name of Jesus.)  The point is for the guilty and the grieved to find relief and receive forgiveness, or absolution.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sermon -- 1st Sunday after Christmas (December 29, 2019)

MATTHEW 2:13-15,19-23

THE SAVIOR WAS DESPISED BY THOSE HE CAME TO SAVE.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The prophet Isaiah had spoken of our Lord Jesus when he said, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)  This verse and the whole chapter it comes from speak specifically about the Suffering Servant who was despised by those he came to save, but who nonetheless was given by God to bear our guilt and to die as a sin offering for us.  There is no denying that Jesus was despised by the religious leaders of his day who plotted his death and rallied before Pontius Pilate to give the order for his crucifixion.  However, Jesus was despised long before this.
     As soon as Jesus entered the world as an infant, he was despised.  King Herod the Great was told that the King of the Jews was born.  Herod was a man who was zealous for his power and his throne.  He had no problem killing his own children when he felt threatened by them.  To hear that another had come as King was met with rage.  To ensure that no newborn boy in Bethlehem would live to rival him, Herod gave the order to have every boy in Bethlehem, two and under, slaughtered.  Herod had no room for Jesus in his heart or on the earth.
     Herod's despising of Jesus seems senseless to us.  Jesus was fully dependent upon Mary and Joseph for everything.  What could he do as an infant?  But Herod was on to something about Jesus.  If Jesus is King, then others are answerable to him.  Even in his infancy, Jesus was still God Almighty.  As God, he has expectations of Herod and you and all people.  Since Jesus is God, all are accountable to him.  Jesus had come to uphold all of God's Commandments.  He is the embodiment of the word of God.  He is love personified, and the main focus of his love is the Lord and his word.  Anyone who does not render due obedience to those Commandments must answer to him.  Anything outside of that he will not praise or bless or tolerate.
     The Commandments of God start with this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)  In the same way, the longest Psalm in the Old Testament, Psalm 119, confesses in each and every verse how we are to love God's word.  If we love the Lord and his word, our love for our fellow man will follow without fail.  Putting God's word first also means that we will despise whatever is opposed to it.  This does not mean you have license to despise other people.  It means you begin with yourself.  Disobedience is not excused because you meant well or because doing right was too costly.  Sins are not different because your children are doing them.  The word of the Lord is always true—in all places, in all circumstances, for all people, for all time.  If we refuse to call sin what God calls sin, then we call God a liar.  God cannot be despised more than when we call him a liar.  If Jesus tells us what is good and we reject it or tells us what is wicked and we do it anyway, we cannot truly call him “Lord.”  We may not become as violent as Herod, but we have the same sinful, stubborn heart, as do all men.
     This rebellious heart is nothing new.  When the Lord acted to save the people of Israel by bringing them out of Egypt, their gratitude did not last long at all.  They grumbled against God's plan and rebelled against God's will.  They even groaned that serving Egyptian gods would be better because at least their bellies were well fed.  At the foot of Mt. Sinai, they gave way to their perverted desires around the golden calf, and called it worship.  These were God's children, but they did not live as the children of God.  And for them, for Herod, for you: God sent a Savior.  The Savior was despised by those he came to save, but he came to save nonetheless.
     Jesus came to give the obedience that we have not.  He proved himself to be God's true Son as he kept the Law and fulfilled God's word.  Like the Israelites, Jesus also went to Egypt.  But unlike the Israelites, when God called his Son out of Egypt, Jesus did not grumble or complain about God's will.  He remained a dutiful Son throughout his whole life.  For all of Herod's rage against Jesus, it did not benefit him at all.  Herod died in hateful rebellion.  Jesus remained King.  And if we persist in our sins, despising to order our lives according to God's word, we will not benefit either.  We will perish.  Jesus will remain King.
     Jesus' glorious reign, however, did not take place until he rose from the dead.  Throughout his life, he was a servant who was obligated to obey all of God's Commandments.  And so, he submitted to the slanderous words of others, to the mockery of friends, and to the attitudes of people who think it laughable that they owe God anything.  But Jesus did not respond with violence, vengeance, or bloodshed.  He came to be the Savior even for people who despised him. 
     Jesus also had to face the heinous plotting of violent men.  By means of Joseph's protection and by other means, Jesus was delivered from a violent end until his hour had come.  When it was his hour, Jesus willingly endured the violence of those who sought to kill him.  He willingly subjected himself to the accusations and assaults of those who despised him.  He willingly submitted to bloodshed, making himself the sinless sacrifice on behalf of all sinners.  The Savior was despised by those he came to save.  But he did not base his love for mankind on how much mankind loved him.  He loved us perfectly and sought only our good.  Therefore, he gave himself up to take away our sins.  He covers us in his innocence.  He converts our hearts so that we do not despise his word, but rejoice in it. 
     From the very beginning of his life, Jesus was committed to humble, obedient service to God's word.  “Out of Egypt I called my Son,” (Matthew 2:15) declares the Lord.  And this Son was fully obedient to the Father.  After he came back from Egypt, the Lord directed Joseph in a dream to go to Galilee.  St. Matthew noted, “And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:23) 
     Although Matthew stated that Jesus' dwelling in Nazareth fulfills the words of the prophets, there does not seem to be any clear reference to which prophet said this.  Perhaps it is a prophecy that was never recorded in the Old Testament, but it seems strange that Matthew would refer to a message we can't confirm.  What we do know about Jesus' residence in Nazareth is that it resulted in people further despising him.  The apostle Nathanael summed up the reputation of Nazareth with the question: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
     The Savior was despised by those he came to save.  He has saved you, and he has made you the people of God.  Now, what God's people are in danger of despising most is likely his grace.  Consider this: We are convinced we know why Herod was damned—because he was evil.  By contrast, why are we saved?  Because we are better.  Herod did what was bad; but God chose us, it is supposed, because he knew we would not reject him.  If this is true, then we don't view salvation as a gift.  It is what we are owed, at least in part.  We believe some are worthy of salvation; others are not.  This is what it means that we despise grace. 
     The Savior is despised by those he came to save, and that includes us.  We have been neither perfect servants nor perfect students of God's word.  There is only one Son who is perfectly obedient to God—the Nazarene who is despised and rejected by men.  And while he would have good reason to despise us, he does not.  He does not tolerate our sins; he atones for them.  He does not overlook our faults; he covers them with his own holiness.  He does not care if we are better or worse; he judges us blameless based on his own perfect life and innocent death on our behalf. 
     God be praised that his love does not depend upon us!  He is a faithful Savior whose love endures forever.  He does not despise what he has created, but he has reconciled us to himself so that he will forever be our loving God, and we will forever be his beloved children.

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

Friday, December 27, 2019

Lutheran Satire -- Horus Ruins Christmas, Part 2

Here is another production from Lutheran Satire.  Horus tries to ruin Christmas and the Christian faith.  Sadly, some Christians have already done worse.

Horus is satire.  The rest, unfortunately, is accurately representative of some churches.


Thursday, December 26, 2019

Update from Good Shepherd (December 26, 2019)

Greetings!


REGULAR SCHEDULE
        Divine Services are Sundays at 10:00 AM.
        Sunday School and Adult Bible Class will be on Christmas break for December 29.  Classes will resume on Sunday, January 5 ,2020 at 8:45 AM.

BIBLE INFORMATION CLASS TO BEGIN JANUARY 13
        Good Shepherd will be having a Bible Information Class to benefit anyone who desires to know more about Bible basics.  If you have ever had questions about God's word, wondering how some things are supposed to make sense, this is a good class to come with your questions.  For more information, click the link to the pastor's blog here.

NEW YEAR'S EVE SERVICES
Although Good Shepherd does not have a New Year's Eve service, we can refer you to several WELS churches which do.  The following churches have New Year's Eve services at the listed times.
St. Paul's, Livonia (17810 Farmington Road) – 3:30 PM
Peace, Livonia (9415 Merriman Road) – 7:00 PM
Lola Park, Redford (14750 Kinloch) – 7:00 PM

Our Saviour, Westland (33333 Warren Road) – 7:00 PM

OFFICE HOURS
        Regular office hours at Good Shepherd will be Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM. While there may be some flexibility to this schedule, we will try to keep it as regular as possible. 

REDFORD PREGNANCY CARE CENTER
The Redford Pregnancy Care Center is eager to enjoy a greater participation with the WELS congregations who so graciously support this charitable work.  In the past, the role of the center was mostly to offer free pregnancy tests to concerned women, to give encouragement to cherish the child they were carrying so that they would carry their child to term and give birth, and to witness with the Gospel as much as possible.  With pregnancy tests so readily available from many sources, that kind of interaction doesn't happen much anymore.  The role of the center has become much more a source of support for the women who have given birth and now whose concern is caring for their children.  The Redford Pregnancy Care Center, therefore, is mainly a center for charitable aid to struggling mothers/families.  Of course, the encouragement to cherish life and witnessing with the Gospel remain a strong emphasis.
In order to continue our service to mothers and families, we think it is important to have our congregations aware and engaged in this ministry.  We hope to increase and improve the communications on our end so that you know the connections we are making with people.   And we hope that these connections will lead to people connecting with our congregations.  
        For now, we are hoping to increase awareness by asking you to like our Facebook page.  Search for “The Pregnancy Care Center” and follow us for updates. 

BAD WEATHER POLICY FOR SERVICES AT GOOD SHEPHERD

We will always have services as scheduled at Good Shepherd.  Since I live across the parking lot, I can get to the church no matter how bad the weather gets.  Even if the service is just me and my family, we will be here.  For everyone else, please use your God-given common sense to determine whether or not you will get on the road to attend any service when the weather is bad.  We don't want anyone to risk his or her life to be here.  But if you do venture out, the scheduled service will take place.  It may be only a handful with a cappella singing and/or spoken liturgy, but we will be here.
        Bible Classes and meetings may be canceled due to weather.  Check your email regarding announcements to see if any of those scheduled events is canceled.  If there is no email about it, it is not canceled.  But again, use common sense to determine if you can make it, and call the pastor to let him know if you will not be coming.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2020 
     >>> A new Bible Information Class will be starting up on Monday, January 13 (7:00–8:30 PM).  Now is the time to be thinking of whom you might invite and bring to this class.  
     >>> Want to read through the Bible in a year?  You can find a schedule for daily Bible readings at Good Shepherd’s web site here.  This schedule is rather aggressive, covering the entire Bible and the Gospels twice.  A less aggressive schedule (Through the Bible in 3 Years) is available in the tract rack at Good Shepherd.

DO YOU LIKE US?
Look for Good Shepherd on Facebook.  Then “LIKE” us for updates and other postings.

God bless you.

In Christ,
Pastor Schroeder
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SUNDAY SCHOOL -- Sundays at 8:45 AM.
ADULT BIBLE CLASS -- Sundays at 8:45 AM

DIVINE SERVICES -- Sundays at 10:00 AM

GOOD SHEPHERD’S WEBSITE

Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
41415 W. Nine Mile Road
Novi, Michigan  48375-4306
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Divine Services -- Sundays at 10:00 AM

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Sermon -- Christmas Day (December 25, 2019)

o logos is the Greek for "the Word," which refers
to God the Son, the 2nd person of the Trinity
JOHN 1:1-14

THE LIGHT SHINES TO REVEAL SALVATION.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Christmas account that is most familiar and most picturesque comes from the Gospel according to St. Luke.  It tells of angels and shepherds and Bethlehem and the manger.  The Christmas account from St. John's Gospel has none of that.  John does not even mention Joseph and Mary.  John writes about the cosmic battle that takes place between light and darkness, life and death, good and evil, Jesus and Satan.  It is a battle for your body, soul, and life.  It is much easier for artists to depict the solemn scene at the manger than it is to depict the infant Jesus releasing us from the death grip that Satan has on the world.  After all, babies don't look like warriors.  But Jesus was born into the world to rescue the world from Satan's reign.  On Christmas, the little Lord Jesus begins the counter attack against the devil—a battle that will be waged for 33 years until Jesus finally laid down his life as the ransom price for you.
     While it is true that Jesus has come to snatch you away from the devil's grasp, Jesus did not come to steal what was not his.  St. John reminds us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3)  God the Father created all things by his almighty Word.  All things were made by means of that Word, the Logos, which is God the Son.  And so, when Jesus enters the world, he comes to his own creation.  He comes to that which is his own. 
     St. John wrote, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11)  Jesus entered his own creation, but that does not mean he has been welcome in it.  To this day, the devil teaches us to fight against God's word.  To this day, the devil wants us to believe that glory and happiness are found by turning away from God's commandments.  Sinners boast of their sins.  We laugh as we tell stories of personal victories about how we used our fellow man, cheated him, and shamed him.  Yet, we still want to believe that we are good people.  This is the darkness of the sinful heart; that we have been deceived and that we deceive ourselves.  We believe the devil's lies and regard God as the problem.  The devil's lies have produced in us shame and regret and fear and death and damnation.  This is the end pay-off for trying to find happiness in our sins.  There is no glory, no peace, and no heaven for those who turn away from God's word.  Repent.
     St. John said, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)  The light is Jesus.  The world does not welcome him because Jesus shows us for what we are—sinners.  Rather than be exposed, sinners flee from Jesus and continue to hide in the shadows.  This does not save you.  This is how you continue to deceive yourself.  You can live in the shadows and in the darkness of rebellion if you like, but that does not extinguish the light.  That light still shines.
     St. John, however, assures you that there is hope for sinners.  That hope is not found in you—not in better behavior, or Christmas spirit, or New Year's resolutions.  This hope is not had by claiming that you are a good person or by your loved ones telling you that you are.  It is found only in Jesus.  St. John wrote, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9)  
     The battle of light and darkness was engaged by Jesus who fought and labored to save sinners from darkened hearts and minds.  Jesus enlightens you to see that God's word is not wicked.  It is not an opinion, nor is it optional.  It is truth and life and light.  God's word tells you what is good and right.  Even the Golden Rule is enough to show you that:  “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” (Matthew 7:12)  We all have expectations for how we are to be treated, but we do not live up to those expectations in the way we treat others.  Our Lord enlightens us to see that we do not live up to the good even we expect.  God's word is good, but it exposes that we are not.
     But the light does not shine just to expose sinners; the light shines to reveal salvation.  The light shines to show us God's glory.  St. John reminds us what happened at Christmas.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)  The glory of God is not that he exalts himself at our expense.  The glory of God is that he lowers himself at his own expense in order that we might be exalted.  The light shines to reveal salvation.  Jesus is the Light of the world which shines in the darkness to show the world that God loves what he has created, that he does not discard it or despise it, but he mobilizes himself to reclaim and to restore it.  So Jesus came, full of grace and truth to proclaim God's truth that he is gracious to sinners.
     “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)  The battle was engaged, and the devil was not going to give up easily what he had stolen.  Jesus did not steal it back.  Instead, he purchased it.  The Son of God gave himself up as the only true casualty in the battle—exchanging himself for you in order to buy you back from Satan's reign.  That is why Jesus came as a man.  As a man, Jesus could allow himself to take all the blows, to suffer and die for mankind.  He became flesh and blood so that his flesh could be flogged, punched, and pierced to a cross and so that his blood could be shed as the payment for sinners.  The darkness tried to consume Jesus by death, but the darkness has not overcome it.  Instead, Jesus has overcome death so that his light still shines today to reveal salvation.  Jesus has overcome the devil so that he cannot have you or harass you.  Jesus has overcome the grave with his flesh and blood so that your flesh and blood will rise from the dead to live forever.  And Jesus still gives you his body and blood in the holy supper.  It may not look like much to the world, but Jesus enlightens you to know that here he gives you what was paid to redeem you.  Here he bestows the forgiveness of your sins and his blessed salvation. 
     The light shines to reveal salvation.  The light shines to show you God's grace and God's glory.  The light shines to expose the devil's lies and deliver you out of his reign.  St. John wrote, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)  No longer are you under the reign of Satan.  Now you have been enlightened to know that the Lord's word is true and that the Lord is gracious.  Therefore, you are free from guilt, from death, from shame, and from damnation.  And by faith in the Son of God, you are all children of God.  You have been born again by water and the Spirit into the kingdom of God.  You have been given new birth into a living hope that cannot spoil, perish, or fade.  You are born again into the family of saints on earth and hosts of heaven.  And since you are the children of God, you receive all the gifts of God—full pardon for all sins, total access to God's ear in prayer, divine compassion in your weaknesses and trials, and everlasting glory in the heavenly kingdom.
     Behold!  The true light, which gives light to everyone, (has come) into the world. (John 1:9)  The light has shone into the darkness, and has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  The light has revealed your salvation to you, and has made you children of light who now recognize that the word of the Lord is good and right in all things.  Therefore, we live as children of light—honoring God with lives that reflect his purity and glorifying God with words that praise him for his goodness.  The world will continue to be a gloomy place, but we have the light of Christ.  We have joy that a guilt-ridden world cannot grasp.  We have hope that not even death can destroy. 
     Our prayer is that the light that is reflected in our lives will enlighten others to know the truth and grace of God.  The light shines to reveal our salvation.  The cosmic battle has been won.  Jesus Christ is born.  Jesus Christ lives and reigns.  Jesus Christ has saved us.  Peace on earth, and glory in the highest!

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Sermon -- Christmas Eve: Service of Lessons & Carols (December 24, 2019)

Below are two of the devotions that followed lessons from our Service of Lessons & Carols on Christmas Eve.

1st Lesson
Genesis 3:8-15
The Seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head
Adam and Eve tried to hide their shame under fig leaves; it did not work.  Adam and Eve tried to hide in fear from having to face the Lord; it did not work.  Adam and Eve tried to dodge accountability by offering up excuses for their sinful choices and actions; it did not work.  It still does not. 
You cannot talk yourself out of the fear of death.  You cannot ignore the guilt that festers in your conscience and accuses you relentlessly.  You cannot avoid accountability before the Lord.  You can pretend God does not matter.  You can pretend God is not real.  You can pretend your rejection of God's word means that God's word no longer applies to you.  You might even convince yourself that rejection of God and his word result in freedom and fun.  But these are the same kinds of lies that the devil sold to Adam and Eve.  He still lies.  We still believe him.
Adam and Eve were not free from God, from guilt, or from death.  God had them dead to rights.  Satan had them under his realm.  Adam and Eve were free only in one respect—they were free from God's blessings and love and mercy and eternal life.  They were promised better than that.  The devil lied.  He still does.
Even though Adam and Eve did not ask for it, God promised it—mercy for sinners, a solution for sin and death, a Savior.  The Savior would be the Seed of the Woman.  God refers to him as a specific person: “He.”  He will come from a woman—not the seed of a man, but of a woman.  He will come as one hated by the devil, for the devil knows he comes to destroy his work and put an end to his dominion.  He will come to crush the serpent's head.  He will come to pardon sin, to alleviate guilt, to set sinners free from fear, to cover our shame with his goodness, and to put an end to death.  He comes to give us something better than excuses; he comes to give us forgiveness for our sins.
But it will cost him.  “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal.”  He will suffer and die in order to set us free.  But he will set us free—free to live under God's blessing, free to live without fear or guilt, free to know that God's favor rests upon us.  Now you live under a new realm, and this one does not end in death but in life.  This is what God had created us for, and this is what “He” redeems us for.  The serpent is crushed underfoot.  The Savior lives.  And you are free to live in peace, and to live forever.

6th Lesson
Luke 2:1-7 The birth of Jesus
Caesar cared little for what was going on in Israel.  He only wanted his taxes collected.  He needed his subjects counted.  So Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be counted.
This was God’s timing.  Time for the Savior to come.  Time for every promise to be fulfilled.  Time for the world to receive its Savior.
And so the Son of God was born.  He was wrapped and swaddled in cloths—a commoner who came for common sinners.  The Lamb of God was placed in a manger.  The Lamb of God had come to be the sacrifice that is made for common sinners.
  The Son of God did not come into this world to rival Caesar.  Caesar had his kingdom where he collected the wealth of his people.  Jesus came to establish a greater kingdom where he gives lavish gifts to his people.  He comes be the ransom price to save you from sin, from death, and from the devil.
Caesar's decree resulted in Joseph and Mary having to go to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.  His decree resulted in the Scriptures being fulfilled.  Caesar did not know, and he did not care.  But God knew it was time to redeem his people.  God cared to save you.  
And so, through Caesar's unwitting decree, the Lord fulfilled his promise.  
And so, the Savior would be born in Bethlehem—just as God, through Micah, had decreed it would be.  
And so came into this world the Seed of the woman to crush the serpent's head—just as God, to Adam and Eve, had decreed it would be.
And so came into this world the Seed of Abraham—just as God, to Abraham and Isaac, had decreed it would be. 
And so came into this world the Prince of Peace—just as God, through Isaiah, had decreed it would be.
And so came into this world the one who is called Jesus, “the Lord who saves,” who saves you—just as God desires it to be.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Christmas Schedule

Christmas Schedule -- 2019


Christmas Eve Candlelight Service
Tuesday, December 24, 7 PM


Christmas Day Festival Service
Wednesday, December 25, 10 AM

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Advent (December 22, 2019)

MATTHEW 1:18-25

THE SAVIOR COMES: 
RECOGNIZE WHO HE IS.

In the name + of Jesus.

     We have all been guilty of romanticizing the Christmas story, almost to the point of making it unrecognizable.  Some of the blame goes to the songs we sing about it.  Silent night?  Says who?  The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes?  Why not?  That's what babies do.  Snow on snow had fallen in the bleak midwinter?  Not likely in Bethlehem.  The ox and lamb kept time, pa-rum-pum-pum-pum?  No.  Just, no.  And what about that evil inn-keeper who refuses to take in a woman in full-blown labor?  Read through the story again: There is no innkeeper.  These ideas have crept into the Christmas narrative over the years from various sources and for various reasons.  Thankfully, they have not destroyed the core of the Christmas message: The Savior has come.  But if we romanticize the story, we lose the significance of how God works.
     The events in Matthew's account occurred in Nazareth and are all quite normal.  Joseph had been betrothed to a young virgin, likely in her late teens.  Eventually, he discovered that Mary was pregnant.  Joseph's reaction was both reasonable and noble.  “Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” (Matthew 1:19)  Joseph knew that the child Mary was carrying was not his.  Joseph was not a fool that he would concoct some crazy explanation for Mary's pregnancy.  No one today would say, “Yes, that girl is pregnant; but rest assured: God did it.”  And if anyone did say it, he would get laughed at.  So Joseph was going to call the marriage off.  He was not driven by any sense of revenge that would publicly humiliate Mary.  Nevertheless, Joseph was not going to make himself responsible for someone else's adultery.
     The Lord, however, sent word to Joseph to reveal what was really going on.  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.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  (Matthew 1:20-21)  The Savior comes: Recognize who he is.  But to recognize him, God has to reveal it.  So God told Joseph, “Do not be afraid.  Your betrothed is still faithful to you.  In fact, she is still virgin pure.  For the child in her is from any man; he is conceived by the Holy Spirit.  He is God the Son, now become a human being.” 
     The Savior comes: Recognize who he is.  If this is just a story about a young couple who has a baby in rough circumstances, we might find it endearing, but not comforting.  The Lord reveals what we need to know: The Savior comes: Recognize him.  He is Immanuel, God with us.  God has become a man and has united himself to mankind!
     Once again, our familiarity to the story causes us to lose our sense of amazement.  To appreciate what it means that God unites himself to mankind, consider this.  Take the most despicable person in town.  You can make him reprehensible however you choose, whatever offenses disgust you most.  Now, imagine saying to that person, “I would like you to come and live with me and my family.”  You'd never do this.  This is the kind of person you tell your kids, “Stay away from that guy.  He's nothing but trouble.”  Now, you and I are sinners.  We have turned our noses up at God's word and turned away from his commands.  When God has told us to love our neighbor, to help the needy, to remain chaste in words and deeds, we may have said, “Oh, yes, that's right.  We should do that,” but then we didn't.  Either our words were lies, or we are incapable of doing the good we are supposed to do.  Either way, we are guilty.  Why would God join himself to rebels?  Rebels deserve death, not reward.  Why wouldn't he reject us and stay far away from us?
     He could have, but he did not.  The Savior comes: Recognize who he is.  He is God with us, Immanuel.  He is the Lord, now made man.  And he comes because he loves us.  He does not want to banish us; he wants to save us.  He wants us to be his dear children.  The angel had told Joseph: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)  The name Jesus means the Lord who saves.  It is who he is.  It is what he does. 
     The Savior comes: Recognize who he is.  He is the Lord who saves you.  He comes in a common way so that common people will know he comes for them.  He does not come radiating in glory so that you would flee from his holiness.  He is not born in a palace so that you would think he comes only for the elite or special people.  His birth and life are as common and normal as anyone's because he comes for everyone.
     The Savior comes: Recognize who he is.  He is the Lord who saves.  He saves you from your sins, from death, and from the devil.  He saves you from your sins by taking them from you.  He accepts the charges of rebellion and suffers the consequences.  He saves you from death by dying under God's curse in your place.  We have also romanticized Jesus' death on the cross.  Rest assured, it was a gory, brutal death—the kind that people hide their faces from.  Jesus looked like some poor man, beaten to a pulp, and caught in unjust circumstances.  But we treasure it because God has revealed what was going on there.  This is the payment for your sins.  This is how much God loves you.  Jesus died and was buried, but he is risen to deliver you from death.  He will raise you up to live in glory forever.  And even though the devil will try to convince you that you are not really saved because you still feel guilty from time to time, rest assured that the devil is a liar.  Jesus is the Lord who saves, and he has saved you completely.
     The Savior comes: Recognize who he is.  He is the Lord in the flesh.  His birth and life were so common that most did not believe him to be the Lord.  So God reveals to you what is really going on.  Jesus is the Lord who saves us from our sins.  He is Immanuel, God who came to live with us so that, when our time on earth is done, we will go to live with him.  God has revealed this to you so that you will be comforted and confident of your salvation.  This is how God loves the world.  He gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

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

Friday, December 20, 2019

Bible Information Class begins Monday, January 13

Bible Information Class will begin on Monday, January 13.
Classes will be 7:00 – 8:30 PM.

The schedule for this class is as follows:

January 13 God's Plan of Salvation
January 20 God Created a Beautiful Universe.
January 27 Why is the World So Crazy?
February 3 How did Jesus Save the World?
February 10 The End is Coming!
February 24 Why do We Need the Bible?
March 2         God Works through Holy Baptism.
March 9         God Works through Holy Communion.
March 16         God Gathers His Church.
March 23         A Conversation with God.
March 30         Our Spiritual Heartbeat
April 6 Love the Lord your God
April 13         Love your Neighbor – Part 1
April 20         Love your Neighbor – Part 2; Take good care!

NOTE: Depending upon how many questions or discussions we have with the material, we may be able to complete more than one lesson in a session.

While this class is geared toward people who are interested in church membership at Good Shepherd, taking the class does not obligate you to join the church.  If you simply want to grow in your knowledge of the Bible, this class is for you. 

There is no cost.  All materials are provided.  You will not be put on the spot to answer questions (though we will ask your name).  You are not even expected to know anything.  Come with questions.  Come with friends.  Come and learn what God wants you to know.

Call (248-349-0565) or e-mail (welsnovi@aol.com) if you are interested or have any questions about this class.  

Good News about Detroit

Detroit's River Walk
 Detroit seems like it is forever the butt of jokes.  Internet stories about urban blight will regularly highlight Detroit as the poster-child of all urban blight.  Want stories about the ten worst cities for poverty, crime, abandoned houses, etc....?  You can bet Detroit will be mentioned, even if it has to be put in an honorable mention category (e.g., "Are you surprised Detroit did not make the list???").

The Spirit of Detroit
John Gallagher is a writer for the Detroit Free Press, or should I say, "was."  Mr. Gallagher wrote his final article and now is retiring after 32 years of covering urban and economic development for the Detroit Free Press.  His final article reflects on what he has seen regarding Detroit--both the ugly and the good.  But his article notes that things are trending in the right direction for the city of Detroit.  That is news that does not seem to get shared anywhere but in Detroit.

Mr. Gallagher is not a cheerleader.  He is honest in recognizing Detroit's marred history and current flaws.  He does not forget that Detroit had to declare bankruptcy in 2013 or 2014.  And he does not proclaim triumph, not yet.  Detroit still has work to do.  But, Detroit is working toward a better city.
Inside the Guardian Building

Anyone can tell you: Destruction can be done in a moment; improvement and growth take a lot of time and are hard work.  And Detroit is working at it.  Mr. Gallagher details some of the success stories that are leading to a renewed (some would say "resurrected") Detroit.  I hope the work continues, and I hope people outside Detroit will recognize that Detroit is no longer a joke.

Here is Mr. Gallagher's article: https://www.freep.com/in-depth/money/business/john-gallagher/2019/12/19/reporter-john-gallagher-retires-detroit/2685362001/?fbclid=IwAR0OcpjGekPPkuT8gLIjssW6qbUfgS4sHfDNA3pvVuZWOcfN4qZYMZUrqyU


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Update from Good Shepherd (December 19, 2019)

Greetings!


REGULAR SCHEDULE
        Divine Services are Sundays at 10:00 AM.
        Sunday School is on Sundays at 8:45 AM.
        Adult Bible Class is on Sundays at 8:45 AM.
        Adult Bible Class will be working our way through the book of 2 Samuel.  We will consider how God worked in the life of David who foreshadows the Son of David.  NOTE: Wednesday classes are suspended until January 8.

CHRISTMAS OUTREACH
You are encouraged to share Facebook posts or send people to Good Shepherd's web page for information about our Christmas schedule.  Outreach is the job of all of us, and this good news of great joy which is meant for all people should be made known to all people.

CHRISTMAS POINSETTIAS
Christmas poinsettias will be available to purchase and take home after the children’s Christmas service 12/22. Cost will be $10.  Donations can be given to Susan Shipe, Cathy Mowers, or place the money in an envelope in the offering plate marked “Poinsettia.”  There is a sign-up sheet in the Fellowship Room.

CHRISTMAS SCHEDULE
        There will be a lot going on in December, so here is a glance at what the schedule is.  If any times or dates should change, you will be notified.  If you have any questions, call the church office.
December 21 Sunday School Christmas dress rehearsal  (9:00 - 10:30  AM)
December 22 Children's Christmas pageant – 10:00 AM
December 24 Christmas Eve Candlelight Service – 7:00 PM
December 25 Christmas Day Festival Service – 10:00 AM

OFFICE HOURS
        Regular office hours at Good Shepherd will be Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 9:00 AM – 2:00 PM. While there may be some flexibility to this schedule, we will try to keep it as regular as possible. 


REDFORD PREGNANCY CARE CENTER
The Redford Pregnancy Care Center is eager to enjoy a greater participation with the WELS congregations who so graciously support this charitable work.  In the past, the role of the center was mostly to offer free pregnancy tests to concerned women, to give encouragement to cherish the child they were carrying so that they would carry their child to term and give birth, and to witness with the Gospel as much as possible.  With pregnancy tests so readily available from many sources, that kind of interaction doesn't happen much anymore.  The role of the center has become much more a source of support for the women who have given birth and now whose concern is caring for their children.  The Redford Pregnancy Care Center, therefore, is mainly a center for charitable aid to struggling mothers/families.  Of course, the encouragement to cherish life and witnessing with the Gospel remain a strong emphasis.
In order to continue our service to mothers and families, we think it is important to have our congregations aware and engaged in this ministry.  We hope to increase and improve the communications on our end so that you know the connections we are making with people.   And we hope that these connections will lead to people connecting with our congregations.  
        For now, we are hoping to increase awareness by asking you to like our Facebook page.  Search for “The Pregnancy Care Center” and follow us for updates. 

BAD WEATHER POLICY FOR SERVICES AT GOOD SHEPHERD

We will always have services as scheduled at Good Shepherd.  Since I live across the parking lot, I can get to the church no matter how bad the weather gets.  Even if the service is just me and my family, we will be here.  For everyone else, please use your God-given common sense to determine whether or not you will get on the road to attend any service when the weather is bad.  We don't want anyone to risk his or her life to be here.  But if you do venture out, the scheduled service will take place.  It may be only a handful with a cappella singing and/or spoken liturgy, but we will be here.
        Bible Classes and meetings may be canceled due to weather.  Check your email regarding announcements to see if any of those scheduled events is canceled.  If there is no email about it, it is not canceled.  But again, use common sense to determine if you can make it, and call the pastor to let him know if you will not be coming.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2020 
>>> A new Bible Information Class will be starting up on Monday, January 13 (7:00–8:30 PM).  Now is the time to be thinking of whom you might invite and bring to this class.  
>>> Want to read through the Bible in a year?  You can find a schedule for daily Bible readings at Good Shepherd’s web site here.  This schedule is rather aggressive, covering the entire Bible and the Gospels twice.  A less aggressive schedule (Through the Bible in 3 Years) is available in the tract rack at Good Shepherd.

DO YOU LIKE US?
Look for Good Shepherd on Facebook.  Then “LIKE” us for updates and other postings.

God bless you.

In Christ,
Pastor Schroeder
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SUNDAY SCHOOL -- Sundays at 8:45 AM.
ADULT BIBLE CLASS -- Sundays at 8:45 AM

DIVINE SERVICES -- Sundays at 10:00 AM

GOOD SHEPHERD’S WEBSITE

Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
41415 W. Nine Mile Road
Novi, Michigan  48375-4306
+   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +   +
Divine Services -- Sundays at 10:00 AM

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Sermon -- Advent Vespers: Week 3 (December 18, 2019)

ISAIAH 40:9-11

ADVENT MESSAGES FROM ISAIAH:
Advent Points To A Person.

In the name + of Jesus.

     If you ask people about the special feelings that Christmas brings, you will hear a lot of common answers—even from people who have no interest in the church.  People will say Christmas brings peace, joy, and love.  You can find the words “Peace, Joy, and Love” stitched into hand towels or painted onto wall hangings.  I don't think anyone will fault you if you want to find peace, joy, and love at Christmas, or at any point in the year. 
     The problem, however, is that peace, joy, and love are pretty hard to locate.  For some,  peace, joy, and love are supposed to be found in a quiet, candle-lit, cozy setting.  For others, they are to be delivered by a raucous, chatter-filled party.  At least, that's how the advertisers say it's supposed to work, but rarely do our lives and homes match the ads.  Even if you can fabricate your moment of peace, joy, and love, the moment does not last.
     When Isaiah proclaimed his Advent message, he wanted sinners to know that peace, joy, and love can, indeed, be found.  In fact, they are not captured for a moment, but endure with you through all seasons, moods, and circumstances.  For Isaiah, peace, joy, and love are not abstract things.  Advent points to a person.  Peace, joy, and love are all found in Jesus.
     Peace, joy, and love tend to elude us because of sin and the consequences of sin.  Blessings are ripped away from us.  Regrets haunt us.  Fear cripples us.  When Isaiah declares, “Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him,” (Isaiah 40:10), this sounds like a threat.  If God comes with recompense, that sounds like God comes with revenge and that we are getting our comeuppance.
     It is understandable that we would feel this way.  Our own conscience testifies that we are not as good as we credit ourselves for.  While we knock ourselves out to create peace, joy, and love, we get annoyed by others who are trying to do the same thing.  We assume others are self-absorbed and rude.  We voice our judgment with an eye-roll, a groan, or even a low-toned-“I-hope-you-could-hear-that” comment.  But all we have done is demonstrate is our own self-absorbed priorities. 
     We fail to know or to care about the burdens others are carrying.  Who knows if that woman consumed with worry about her son who is deployed?  Or if that man is coping with his wife's Alzheimer's?  Or if that young lady is recovering from a miscarriage?  These people may be doing what they can just to get through the holidays.  We assume the worst of them, writing them off as annoying or rude.  If we fear God's judgment for this, it's because it is deserved.  Repent.
     Peace, joy, and love do not come naturally to sinners.  Nor can they be fabricated.  They must be given by God.  They are.  And they are not given in abstract, theoretical terms.  Advent points to a person.  Advent reminds us that a Savior comes not just to talk about blessings and healing and compassion, but to give them.
     Isaiah summons those who bear good news to raise up their voices and to declare to God's people, “Behold, the Lord GOD comes!” (Isaiah 40:10)  Since it is good news, the reward and recompense he brings is not judgment.  It is the opposite.  It is deliverance from judgment.  It is the pardoning of guilt.  It is the end of God's wrath upon sinners.  Once again, these things are not proclaimed out of thin air.  Advent points to a person.  Your God comes in the flesh to save you.  God's love is revealed in person. 
     All people recognize that love is best expressed in person.  You might get a letter from your beloved, scented with perfume or cologne.  Their smell makes you feel like they are closer, but it certainly does not replace that person.  A phone call is better, because you get to hear their voice.  If you Skype, you can even see their face.  But when that person walks through your door, you drop everything and wrap that person in a hug.  It is not that you loved your loved one less when they were away.  But love in person is much more real, tangible, and endearing.
     Therefore, God did not limit his love, his peace, and his joy to words that are preached or written.  Advent points to a person.  The Savior comes in the flesh to rescue sinners from God's wrath by taking that wrath in your place.  God's wrath is not theoretical, and therefore Jesus' crucifixion was not either.  Behold!  Your God comes to redeem sinners from their guilt by bleeding and dying as the sacrifice that pays for sins.  That payment does not happen in theory, but by God in the flesh.  God comes in the flesh to save sinners from death and renders the grave powerless by rending the tomb open in his resurrection.  Behold, the Lord GOD comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. (Isaiah 40:10)  His reward is the salvation he won by his life and death, and now he rewards you with his gifts.
     Advent points to a person.  Just as his salvation was earned by real and tangible ways, so he delivers his love, peace, and joy to you in tangible ways.  Yes, it comes by proclamation.  But he also attaches his word to water so that you are visibly, tangibly cleansed of all sin.  He attaches his word to bread and wine so that you literally taste and touch and smell and see that the Lord is good, and so that you ingest the body and blood which has paid for sins and has destroyed death.  Advent points to a person, and this person comes to you in real ways with love, peace, and joy.
     Advent points to a person whose love, peace, and joy continue through all seasons, moods, and circumstances.  Isaiah declared, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11)  Jesus assures you, again and again, of divine love, peace, and joy.  He is the faithful shepherd who knows that you are weak and that your world is fragile.  It does not take much to bring us to tears, to become overwhelmed with stress, or to recoil at the bitterness that life makes us swallow.  This is why Jesus has come for you.  He has not only rescued you from the sin that produces death, but he also guides and carries you through the difficulties of life.  You may struggle against temptations, but his mercy endures through all of it.  You may lose many blessings in this world—wealth, reputation, and even friends.  But you never lose Jesus or his blessings.  He lives and reigns forever.  Therefore, his love remains constant.  His peace survives every disaster.  His joy sustains you even through grief. 
     Advent points to a person—a person who came to our world and knows that it is a gritty, cruel place.  But this person, Jesus, consoles you, strengthens you, and gives you a kingdom to look forward to which is everlasting peace, joy, and love.  But he does not make you wait to have these.  God is not disinterested in you; he loves you.  God is not angry with you; he has declared peace.  God does not leave you in doubt or grief; his promises produce joy. 
     Love, peace, and joy are not feelings to be fabricated; they are personified in Jesus.  Advent points to a real person who gives real blessings.

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