Focus: God’s spirit gives life to our lives.
Function: that the hearers continue in habits of piety.
Today we’re looking at habits and virtues, and we ask what is the value of habits and virtues? Or maybe more appropriate after a week with all kinds of services, what is the value of going to church?
In our little office area, an often-quoted article comes from Father Chinappa, the Indian priest that was with us here in little Janesville, starting around the time that I got here. He wrote an article that spoke of the difference between value and virtue. Values are intellectually held, where virtues are deeply ingrained. For example, if someone left a gold watch on a desk, a person who didn’t have either values or virtues would look both ways and when the coast was clear, if he wanted it he would take it. On the other hand, a person that had values would see that gold watch, would be tempted by perhaps, but would look at the watch, remember his values and at the end of his struggle, choose to follow his values. On a third hand (apparently I have three hands today), a person who has the habit of virtue would see that gold watch sitting on someone’s desk, and he wouldn’t even think about taking it for his own but instead his first and only thought would be to return it to the person whose watch it is. Over time, when practiced enough, values turn into virtues.
Today we meditate on the lives of two really pious kinds of people, a man and a woman of great virtue, both of whom had spent their lifetimes looking for and waiting for the promised savior that would come into their midst. Three lessons for today as we look at our three Scripture readings.
First, God had prepared for this for a long time. You can see it way back even when he set up the structure of the people of Israel, way back when Moses led them out of the land of Egypt. He commanded that every firstborn son should be redeemed by his parents with a sacrifice so that that family could remember how God had bought them back from Israel, and now for a thousand and a half years, the people of Israel had been keeping their piety by redeeming all kinds of firstborn sons and each of these families had been remembering back to when God had saved his firstborn son, Israel from his slavery.
Now fast-forward to Joseph and Mary. You can see several times in the text that Luke stresses, “This happens because they were fulfilling the law.” For Joseph and Mary, this was first a habit ingrained in their Jewishness, to remember that their firstborn was a gift from God and they would redeem it just like God redeemed Israel from slavery. And so they complete the habit that God had made for his people…
But now something more happens. In our text for today, it’s that structure of pious remembering that becomes the vehicle for present salvation. Let me say that again. It’s piety that becomes the vehicle for salvation. The thing that was supposed to help them remember now God fills it and in filling it makes it more than it was.
Isn’t that wild? That’s the reason this story could even happen. This whole text happens because of the habits that God had formed in his people long ago.
Second, let’s look at Simeon and Anna. What habits did they have? Well, we can see that they came to the temple regularly, they were well-regarded among others, they had a habit to look on the bright side, they were in it for the long-haul. You can see when the Christ-child was set before him, they had the eyes to recognize him (not an easy feat in the gospels, let me tell you!), and they had so studied the word that Simeon bursts out in beautiful song, a song running deep and clear with the Old Testament. St. Paul expands on these habits. In Colossians 3 – put on like the socks and pants you pull on every morning, put on compassion and humility, patience and forbearance. Put on peace, and bind it all together with love. These are the habits you should form, because when you do it becomes easier to be loving than to be jealous, easier to forgive than to take revenge, easier to find hope than to despair.
Now if that’s too abstract, he goes into detail: Forgive because Christ forgave you. Teach and admonish others, and when you are being taught and being admonished by others listen to them. Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs because these remind you on a daily basis what’s most important in your life. The kingdom of heaven is like a bunch of grandma’s and grandpa’s that make a habit of listening as much as they do teaching. It’s like a bunch of husbands and wives being quick to confess and quick to forgive each other because they remember how much God had forgiven them. It’s like a bunch of young people wondering about their identity while still knowing they are first and best children of God. It’s like a bunch of kids learning Christmas hymns in times of joy, so that they chase away the darkness when they sing them in times of sadness too.
Third, we see in Anna and in Simeon today that the fruit of their piety was a long time in coming. Simeon would not see death before he saw the Savior. Anna had been living as a widow for three-fourths of her life. She went to worship in a regular kind of way, and I’m sure that there were days when it was easy and other days when it was hard. There were days when Simeon heard the voice of the Lord telling him that he would see the savior before he died and other days when the readings didn’t speak to him. Days when the preacher was preaching right to Anna’s heart, and other days when he was preaching to her watch hand. Days when the habits of psalm, hymn and spiritual song shined light in the darkness, and days when it was too hard to sing.
For us too, there are days when it seems worth it and days when it does not. But here, we see the fruit of a life of piety, a life full of the habits of kindness and compassion, teaching and being taught, singing and worshiping, the best fruit of that life aren’t the habits you’ve developed. No, the best fruit of that life that…
Your righteousness, your habits, your piety, the best clothes you can put on, as good as they are, are only like filthy rags compared to God’s righteousness, and that’s really good news. Here’s why: it’s only when you try to be kind that you find out how hard it is to be kind. It’s only when you start to have compassion for those who are truly different from you that you realize how difficult true compassion is. It is only when you try to truly forgive that you find out hard it is to forgive. It is only when you remember the truths of our God for the hundredth, for the thousandth, for the millionth time that we start to understand how little we really understand, and how he loves us so.
One song-writer put it like this: “He is jealous for me. His love’s like a hurricane, I am a tree bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy. I don’t have the time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way he loves us.”
On this first Christmas weekend, we remember again the life of a Savior who knew more about us than we know about ourselves, who redeemed more about us than we could confess even if we were able, whose love extends so far that it couldn’t be crushed by the weight of the whole world’s sin. He couldn’t stay dead even after he was crucified suffered and was buried.
The real value the habit of piety isn’t the piety itself. It is like (and stay with me here) a man digging riverbeds in the desert. The value of the riverbeds is not that they give life or make water appear; the value of digging riverbeds is that when the water comes, it has a worn way where it is channeled and directed. The value of piety is not for itself; the value is that when the Spirit of the Living God fills you, you have the words to express his reality.
Amen and Amen.
Isaiah 7:14, 1 John 4:9-10, Matthew 1:23
Focus: God is with us.
Function: that the hearers would rejoice in the depth of God’s presence.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We’ve been working our way through the verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel, translations of the Great O Antiphons, fixing our eyes in this Advent season on Jesus, who is Wisdom from on high, who comes to teach the way of prudence, who is Adonai / Lord of lords coming to save us from slavery to sin, who is Root and Branch of Jesse, doing what he promises to do, who is Key of David with joy in His heart forgiving the sins of the penitent and with tears in His eyes retains the sins of the impenitent, who is the rising sun who chases away the darkness every time He visits and then last week, Jesus who is the King of Nations drawing all people to himself….
And now Emmanuel. Hear the Antiphon, summing up all the other antiphons: O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord / The anointed for the nations / and their savior / Come and save us, O Lord our God.
We speak of Jesus tonight as Emmanuel, which means God with us… and this little word “with.” What does it mean that he is with us?
And when I think of the word, “With,” I first think of my bouncing bubbly baby boy Benjamin, (it only took me a minute to get to him, it’s getting worse) and how in the last few weeks he’s gone from not particularly caring about toys to swatting them around like a pro, how he has gone from not particularly caring what’s around him to getting his head on a swivel, and how in these most recent days he’s has started to recognize his momma and his poppa’s faces and turns toward our voices, which is really cute, except that it means specifically he’s realized at bedtime when he is in the presence of his parents and when he’s not, when they’re standing right next to him and when they’ve tried to creep out of the room because they are certain he’s asleep. Now that he knows us, he desires greatly to be in our presence, to be with us.
Three ways that we think about the word “with” when we hear about Immanuel, God with us, first that he is against us, second that he is for us, and third that he is in us and three lessons, one from each of these ways.
First, with means “against.” In Seminary school we had intramural teams, where you could choose to play the sport of the season, or you could choose sit out. Now, I’m not much of a football player (if you look at me you can see why), but one fall, I decided to go out and play for a day, and they stuck me at receiver and told me to stretch it out. So on first down, the guy opposite to me stayed in close, and, for at least one time in my life, I blew past him, he couldn’t stay with me, so much so that the next down he said “This guy’s fast! He’s got legs!” so he took a couple steps back, and for the next three downs, he gave me a cushion. And because of that he was able to stay with me and keep me from getting open.
The point is, he was with me, and as long as he was with me, he was against me. It was the same thing that happened in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden, God with them – Immanuel -- came among them in the midst of the garden and with him came judgment. When Isaiah spoke to the wicked king Ahaz, the wicked king rejected God’s offer of a sign, and Isaiah said to him he said, hear this, God will give you a sign, and when this Immanuel comes, God will come with him, and it will not go well with you. Your army will be decimated. Your capital will be destroyed. Your land will not be your own anymore.
Lesson number one is to spend your days knowing that God would be near you, and that he does not abide your sin. Just kind of like when you are in the presence of a snarky friend, it’s pretty hard not to talk smart. Just like when your roommate eats salads on a regular basis, it’s hard not to eat salads. He is against our sin. God is absolutely perfect, and when you are in his presence our sinful nature cannot stand.
He will not stop until he is with us, and when he is with us, he would tear away from us all that is broken so that he might heal us. He takes the broom of his justice and would sweep away all the mess of our lives. He is Wisdom and all foolishness turns away. He is the light of men, and darkness flees. He is the redeemer, and all slave drivers get driven into the sea. He is the forgiver and no sin can stand to be in his presence. He will break us of our sin, because that’s who he is, and as much as it might hurt, he does it for your good.
Second, with means “for.” Last year I had been running pretty consistently in the spring, and I wanted to run the Hay Daze 5k, and I asked Laura if she would run it, and for the first time of my life, Laura actually agreed. If you know my wife, you know that she is many things, but a runner is not particularly one of them. To this day, she isn’t sure why she did. But, we found a training program; we trained, and then came the Hay Daze race. Laura, the first thing she said to me when we were at the starting line was, “You know if you want to go faster, you can.” And then after a mile and a half, she said again, “You know you should just go.” And then about two and half miles in she said, “Paul, you’re going to get a bad time. You should just get going.” But I said, “I wanted to run this race with you. I’m running this to be with you.”
The point is, I ran with her because I wanted to be with her. Now look at the God that we’ve been talking about in the last four weeks. He didn’t have to create Adam and Eve. He didn’t have to save Israel. He didn’t have to seek out David. He didn’t have to come to his people again and again and again, but he did. He did it. He follows them around like a shepherd wherever they would wander, even to the point that he’d enter into his creation as both God and man. Matthew writes in chapter 1, Jesus’ title is Immanuel, and that means he is God with us. The one called Immanuel promises in chapter 18, “Wherever there are two or three gathered, I am with them,” The one called Immanuel promises in chapter 28, “I will be with you always, even unto the very end of the ages.” He promises in the water of Holy Baptism and in the bread and wine body and blood of the Lord’s Supper, so that there can be no doubt that when the water touches your head, when your tongue tastes the bread and wine that you are indeed touching forgiveness incarnate that died on the cross, and died that death for you.
Lesson number two for tonight is that you would know that your God is eager, absolutely eager to walk with you in every deep, dark valley where the sun doesn’t seem to shine, and every tall and lofty peak. There is nothing he hasn’t seen before, and he knows your heart even before you do. He is eager to walk with you when you make the worst mistakes of your life, and even when you are better than you’ve ever been. The little one born in a manger was born in order to be tempted in every way that you’ve been tempted; he’s been born to live even to death so that he could redeem every single soul from death itself.
Third, and finally, with means “in.” During premarital counseling sessions, we end the first session with a few questions, first what are the top three qualities you love in your fiancé? What do you see as your three biggest weaknesses? And then, finally, as they get tired of Pastor Muther asking them questions and as they look to pick up their coats, I ask them the last question of the session, “What is love?”
And usually I ask the man first, because he’s the man, and they usually hem and haw a little bit like I did when I was first asked, until they land on something like “She’s really beautiful, I like to provide for her. I like to be with her.” And then I turn to the girl, and usually by this time the girl has something a little more put together to say, and I do remember that the best response I’ve gotten so far is this: “Love is multi-faceted, interconnected dependency.” What does that mean? It’d take another 20 minutes for us to figure that out, but I end the first session by saying this, by saying the same thing that John says in his letter. In this is the love of God made manifest: Jesus Christ.
The point is, for the Christian, love is Jesus Christ. John says, “In this, not that we have loved God but that while we were still enemies he loved us and sent to us his son. In this, that when we love each other, it is not we who love but God who loves others through us. God is love and love is this: Christ has died; Christ is raised; Christ will come again. It is in Christ we find love, and it is Christ who is in you.
Do you remember that final verse of the reading from John’s letter? Love is perfected with us – the word there is the same one that Jesus spoke on the cross, teleo, It is finished. It is completed, it is made perfect and made whole, it is love, fully orbed and fully known. It’s in your baptism that his love sets up shop. It’s in the words of absolution that we stir embers of his love. It’s in the Lord’s Supper that we add more fuel to the fire that is Christ in you.
Lesson number three for tonight is that if you are a Christian, and if you want to know what love is, then you would spend your days following around love incarnate. If you want to learn how to love, if you want to fill your life and your marriage, your friendships with good things, then follow around the man, Jesus Christ, as we see him save his people. Hear him speak truth that hurts to people who need to hear it. Watch him dole out unconditional love when he sits in the dust next to those who’ve really screwed up. Let his grace first wash over you and all your imperfections and then, and then, when you recognize yourself as a redeemed Child of God, then take up your role to look like Christ in the life of others.
As we sit at the edge of the manger tonight, let’s remember that the manger leads to the cross, and the cross leads to the empty tomb, and the empty tomb leads to a people longing for Christ to come back and set all things right. Let’s remember that when God is with us, he breaks us of our sins, he walks with us on whatever path we wander down, and that his love has set up shop within us. Immanuel means God is with us, and for the Christian, that is good news. Amen and Amen.
Isaiah 49:3-10, II Timothy 4:1-8, Luke 1:26-38
O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people; Come and save us all, whom You formed out of clay.
Dear Friends in Christ,
We have been fixing our eyes in this Advent season on Jesus,
• Jesus, who is Wisdom form on high, Wisdom in the flesh who pervades and permeates all of creation
• Then Jesus as Adonai / Lord of lords, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and keeps redeeming us in Word, in the waters of Holy Baptism, in the bread and wine of the Holy Supper
• Then Jesus as Root of Jesse, who stands before us as a banner around whom to rally, before whom all kings stand speechless
• Then Jesus as Key of David who with joy in His heart forgives the sins of the penitent and with tears in His eyes retains the sins of the impenitent,
• Then O Dayspring who chases away the darkness every time He visits
• Today O King of Nations, the ruler we long for and who is the cornerstone uniting all the people, come and save us all, whom You formed out of clay.
Luther told two parables about kings meant to show that to change government isn’t necessarily to improve government. The first parable is of a widow who stood and prayed for her tyrant most devoutly, that God might let him live long. The tyrant heard this and was astonished because he well knew that he had done her much harm, and a prayer such as this was unusual, for prayers for tyrants are not commonly of that sort. He asked her why she prayed for him in this way. She answered, “When your grandfather was living, I had ten cows. He took two of them. Then I prayed against him that he might die and your father might become lord. When that happened, your father took three cows form me. Again I prayed that you might become lord and he might die. Now you have taken four cows from me, and I have only one left. I am praying for you, for I am afraid that your successor will take the last cow from me and everything I have.”
Today we worship the king who has been ruling the nations in days gone by, is ruling the nations in these days, and will be ruling the nations in the days to come on behalf of His Church. Three parts to our sermon today, each part beginning with an ”R”, each part based on one of our three lessons assigned and already read, Rejoicing, Recognizing, and Reverencing.
In our Old Testament reading for today, we are led to do some rejoicing. Rejoice in the King who doubles as your (Servant). This king would be unlike any other king. He would be famous not for throwing lawbreakers into jail, but setting them free. He would spend his days not having his underlings shine his shoes, but in fact getting down on his knees and washing their feet. He wouldn’t be sending other people’s sons off to war fighting for his pet cause, but surprise of all surprises, He would lay down His own innocent life on behalf of his guilty subjects. In Isaiah 49, we listen in on a conversation between this Messiah, this Suffering Servant, and His Father. We learn two truths from this conversation.
First, we learn that He / this King who doubles as our Servant / knew where to go with His (complaints). We hear Him say, “ I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” On the night he was betrayed, as Jesus cried out for strength in the Garden of Gethsemane, all appeared lost. Eleven men surrounded Jesus, the 12th led a band of soldiers to arrest him. After three years of ministry, after all the sermons and all the miracles, after all the walking on waters and the stilling of the storms, after all of the giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, after all the telling of the lame to get up and walk and saying to the dead sit up and live, after all of that, only death awaited him. From all human perspectives, the Messiah’s mission had failed. And so Jesus cries out to His Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Even as He is forsaken, you and I are accepted. He gets crushed, we get healed. He gets punished, we go free. We worship a God who has always known what He is doing, He knows what He is doing in our lives today, tomorrow, He will still know exactly what He is doing.
In Isaiah 49, He / the King who doubles as our servant / gets both reassured and (reassigned). He knew where to go for help, and he was not disappointed. The Lord answers, it is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” To whom much is given, much is required. First, Jesus came to restore the tribes of Jacob, secondly He was to be a light to the Gentiles. First, He came for Israel, and when the time was just right, His Church would be sent to the nations. First, this Suffering Servant would be reassured, secondly He would be reassigned. Lesson #1 today is that in this season of Advent and moving into the twelve days of Christmas, is to spend our days rejoicing, rejoicing in the King who doubles as our servant.
The second “r” is recognize. In 2 Timothy 4, we learn to spend our days recognizing reality. Recognize that in these last days there will be a massive turning away from (sound doctrine) Paul writes from death row to young Pastor Timothy, and tries to get him ready for what is to come. He is urging preachers in all generations to proclaim Law and Gospel whether people want to hear it or not. Congregations are to make sure their pastors and teachers of the faith are convicting, chiding, and admonishing and that they are doing so with all of Scripture, that they are speaking truth and doing so with patience.
How tempting it is to confuse patience with (permissiveness). Just a couple of days ago, I spent an afternoon supervising our grandson 5 year old Oliver. We did a bit of wrestling, a bit of snowboarding, a bit of sledding down the big hill with about a half inch of snow on it, a bit of drinking hot chocolate together, and then little Oliver tested my patience. He jumped around on our living room couch, Grandma’s good couch, and I calmly told him not to do so. He did it again, and I patiently and firmly said not to do so. He tested Grandpa a third time, and Grandpa had to draw the line. So as to make sure patience wasn’t confused with permissiveness, little Oliver was banned to the basement for 15 minutes. In reality, not a terrible punishment, but it seemed to be for Oliver. On a much grander scale, pastors and congregations are to make sure that in our preaching and in our practice, we are not confusing Godly patience with an ungodly sort of tolerance of bad behavior.
How important it is to mind (our p’s and q’s!) (To mind our p’s and q’s is to mind your manners, mind your language, be on your best behavior, origin of saying in dispute, perhaps tavern owner paying attention to consumption of pints and quarts, parents telling kids to say please and thank you) Paul urges Timothy to be sober minded, to endure suffering, to do the work of an evangelist, to fulfill your ministry. To be sober minded is to be clear thinking. It is to be attentive to what is happening in our society. It is not to be blinded and carried away by follies, fables, and twisted opinions. Lesson #2 as we pray for the King of Nations, the ruler we long for, the cornerstone uniting all people, as we pray for Him to come and save us, we want to recognize that in these last days there will be a massive turning away from sound and healthy teaching of God’s Word.
Third, as we pray O King of all nations, Reverence to Whom reverence (is due) The Christmas story is like no other story ever told. An angel frightens the “you-know-what” out of Mary and tells her not to be frightened. This virgin girl would be having a baby, and this baby would be a king and of this kingdom there would be no end. No matter what the world says Christmas is about, the Church knows what in fact it is about. It is first of all about coming to and kneeling at the manger and giving reverence to whom reverence is due. Honor to whom honor is due. Worship to whom worship. It’s common for us to say that we’re going to have Christmas with this side of the family on Christmas Day and this other side of the family on the Saturday following Christmas Day and so on and so forth. In reality, we have Christmas as often as we worship the Christ Child for who he is, for what he has done, for what he is doing, and for what he promises to do in the days to come.
This sixth antiphon would remind us that Divided, we scatter, united, we (kneel). On the one hand our world is divided between the haves and the have nots, wherever Jesus Christ is, poor and broken and struggling sinners have all that they need. Their names have been written in the book of life. Their sins have been washed away. Their souls have been saved. Their mansions in heaven are on reserve. What is there to do but kneel and adore Him? What is there to do but to spend our days thanking and praising? What is there to do but to spend our days loving as we have been loved, forgiving as we have been forgiven, serving as we have been served?
What shall we say, in conclusion today, but to say with Mary, Lord, let it be (as you say). Mary didn’t have any idea how a virgin could be with child, but she believed that with God all things were possible. She really didn’t understand why God would choose her to participate in the salvation of souls, but she believed that He knew exactly what He was doing. There was little about her future that she could know or predict, and so she stayed calm and replied in simple fashion, Lord, let it be as you say. So also with you, dear friends, I don’t really know what is particularly troubling your souls today, and you may have no idea of how God will be working certain difficult situations out in your life in the days to come, but of this you may be certain, with God all things are possible. You may not understand why God is permitting certain trials to come your way or why He may be opening certain days of opportunity for you, but this you may believe, that God knows exactly what He is doing, always has, and always will.
A closing parable from Martin Luther. He tells of a beggar who was full of wounds on which many flies would sit, sucking his blood and stinging him. A merciful man came that way and, wanting to help him, drove all the flies away from him. But the beggar cried out and said: What are you doing? Those flies were almost full and satisfied, so that they no longer greatly worried me. Now the hungry flies will come in their place and will plague me far worse.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of people who are learning how to pray. They are learning not so much to pray that their earthly suffering would stop, not so much to pray for their pain to go away, but instead they pray, O King of the nations, the ruler we long for, the cornerstone uniting all people, come and save us all, come quickly. Amen.
Funeral Sermon for Terry Hinze
(55 year old man, husband of Pam and dad of two sons)
Looking to the Things That Are Unseen
II Corinthians 4:16-18 – So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are seen are eternal.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Both the Psalmody for today and this text from 2 Corinthians were chosen by Pam for us to hear today. In this text, the Holy Spirit would invite us to spend our days living by faith instead of by sight. To walk according to what we believe in our hearts instead of what we can see with our eyes. I’m sure that we will all agree that that is far easier said than done. It is of our very nature to believe only what we can see with our own eyes. We are distracted by what we see.
We are like the farmer who told his wife that he was going out to plough the field the next day. He got up early the next morning so that he could oil the tractor. He needed more oil, so he went to the shop to get it. On the way to the shop he noticed the pigs weren’t fed. So he proceeded to the storehouse, where he found some sacks of feed. The sacks reminded him that his potatoes were sprouting. Then when he started for the potato pit, he passed the wood pile and remembered that his wife wanted wood in the house. As he picked up a few sticks, an ailing chicken passed by. He dropped the wood and picked up the chicken. When evening arrived, the frustrated farmer had not even gotten to the tractor, let alone to the field.
In our text for today, Paul warns us not to be frustrated, not to be distracted, not to be discouraged by what we see. He mentions at least two things that make our hearts grow faint – our ailing bodies and the troubles we see all around us. Our sermon theme today is “Looking to the Things That Are Unseen.”
The beautiful promise from God in which we rest this morning is that as often as we look to that which is unseen, that often we will not lose heart. As often as we fix our eyes on Jesus Christ crucified, risen, ascended into heaven, sitting at the right hand of God and coming back again, that often we will not be discouraged. As often as we focus on the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting, that often cancer and death and urns full of ashes and visits to the cemetery will not get the best of us. As often as we listen to God’s Word and remember and hold onto and cherish what we have learned from our mother’s knees, that often we will be able not only to survive our days of trouble, we will be able to be of good courage, and more than that we will be able to encourage other people in our lives, and even more than that, the peace and the joy and the strength that we Christians have in this Christmas season will be like a wave of fans rising and circling the stadium encouraging their team to do well.
Hunter and Ryan and Pam and Ken and Loretta and Travis and Trinette and Kenda and Darin and all of you who are bent low in grief today, your family and friends gathered here today are rooting for you, we are praying for you, we are collectively urging you to look to and hold onto the promises of God you cannot see. We are praying for you to not be growing faint, to stay as close as you possibly can to Jesus Christ, and more than that, the pastors and the people of this church believe that if you keep on incline your ears and listen really closely this morning, you’ll hear Him crying with you. You’ll feel Him holding tight your hand as you walk on through the valley of the shadow of death. You’ll hear Him whispering that in the waters of Baptism, the Triune God claimed Terry as His own son, that His Name was written in the book of life on Christmas Day, 1960, that His Savior has been following Him around with goodness and mercy, that his sins are forgiven, that at the moment of death the angels of God carried his soul into the presence of God, and that the day is coming, and it’s coming soon, when this body of dust and ashes will be raised and glorified and will join you in living face to face with Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4 and 5 are all about us not losing heart in days like these. Days of grief that are almost too much to bear. I say “almost” for good reason. Paul writes earlier in this chapter that we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
Believers are not exempt from pain and suffering, as this family knows full well today. But we are exempt from being driven to despair, we are exempt from being forsaken by our Father in heaven, we are exempt from being destroyed. In fact, we know that though even as Terry Hinze’s body was wasting away, his inner self was being renewed day by day. We know that all of the hell on earth this family has gone through in these past 10 months was light and momentary affliction, when compared to the eternal glory that is promised.
This family knows as well as any family I have ever known, what every good coach has preached down through the ages, “no pain, no gain.” Hunter was telling me a story about Terry’s commitment to intense physical training. If my memory serves correctly, it was a program called Play Opedia, and even on vacation, even while staying at the motel and in the motel parking lot, there would be the Hinze boys working out, sweating and grunting and punishing their bodies, in training for important athletic contests that lie ahead. This family knows better than most, that winning is way better than losing, and that a price needs to be paid if the trophies are going to be gained. No doubt many of the stories told today will focus on basketball and football and baseball, and how true is the expression, “no pain, no gain.”
Go ahead and remember those times, and by all means tell those stories and enjoy those stories, and then fix your eyes on the story that is even better, the best story ever told, the story that culminates with the story of Christmas, leading into the story of Good Friday, and culminating with the story of Easter. Keep looking to that old old story which led St. Paul to write, as he approached death, that for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. The story that led Paul to write to young Pastor Timothy, …train yourself for godliness, for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.
In conclusion, a word to you, Ken and Loretta, we cry with you today and we hurt with you as you do what no parents should have to do, as you lay the remains of your beloved son into the cold dark earth. We commend you for making sure he was baptized, for making sure he knew the difference between right and wrong, for making sure he knew the six chief parts of Christian teaching, for making sure that you handed to him the baton of Christian faith. We pray that you keep on looking to that which you cannot see, that you spend the rest of your days staying close to your Savior and receiving all that your God wants to give you, that you never lose heart.
A word to you Kenda and Darin and Trinette and Travis and inlaws and nieces and nephews and good friends and family, we cry with you today, we hurt with you as you say goodbye to a brother who loved you with an amazing kind of love. We commend you for receiving his love and loving him right back in a way that was ever so pleasant to behold. We pray that you keep on looking to that which you cannot see, that you would spend the rest of your days staying close to your Savior, never losing heart, receiving all that your God wants to give you, and passing the baton of Christian faith to the next generations.
A word to you Pam and Hunter and Ryan, we cry with you today, we hurt with you as you do the unthinkable, as live the next chapters of your life without the man who was your earthly refuge and rock, your human and very present help in every day of trouble. We commend you for receiving his love and loving him in a strong and faithful way to the very end. We commend you for blessing so many of us in the way that you walked through this valley of darkness and almost overwhelming distress. We pray that you will keep on looking to that which you cannot see, that you never lose heart, that you would rest in the promises of the remission of sins and resurrection of the body and reunions that never end, that you would spend the rest of your days staying close to your Savior, receiving all of the goodness and the mercy that He is wanting you to have, that you would run your own races on that road which is straight and narrow, on that road which has shoulders and sometimes steep ditches on both sides, on that road which leads to a really happy ending.
This Christmas Day and in every Christmas Day to come, do remember that this was the day Terry Hinze was baptized, this was the day Jesus Christ came to us in the flesh, this was the day when all of God’s promises were verified as trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. Amen
Fifth in a Series of Seven “O Antiphons”
Malachi 3:16 – 4:3, 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, Luke1:67-79
O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Dear Friends in Christ,
In this Advent season, we are fixing our eyes on Jesus Christ, the very author and finisher of our faith. We have worshiped Him as Wisdom from on high and pleaded with Him to come again and teach us the way of prudence. We have worshiped Him as Adonai, as Lord of lords and cried out for Him to come again redeem us with an outstretched arm. We have worshiped Him as the Root of Jesse, before Whom we are speechless and asked Him to come again and to come quickly to deliver us. This past Wednesday evening we worshiped Him as the Key of David who remits the sins of the penitent and retains the sins of the impenitent, and we begged Him to come again and rescued prisoners yet sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. This weekend we hone in on Jesus as Dayspring from on high, as the splendor of light everlasting, and we petition Him to come again to enlighten those sitting in that same darkness.
(Sunny spring days on the farm) The readings for today are those appointed for December 21, the shortest day of the year, the day of Winter Solstice. On the day of deepest darkness, we would recognize Jesus Christ as God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. Back on the North Dakota farm where I grew up, winters seemed long, cold, windy, snowy, and dark. They seemed that way because they were long, cold, windy, snowy, and dark. My dad raised white faced Hereford cattle, and the cows would give birth in March and into April. More than occasionally, the calves would be born in the midst of a spring snowstorm, and mother cows and calves would end up in our little red barn for days and even a couple of weeks if the calves needed special attention. When the first sunny days of spring did arrive, the calves and mother cows would be released, and they were a sight to behold. They ran, and they kicked, and they leaped as if this was the best day ever! The prophet Malachi pictures the people of God who are understanding and appreciating that Christ has set them free as calves leaping from their stalls on a sunny spring day. In our sermon today, we invite you to consider the great and epic battle between darkness and light. Lesson #1 is to recognize how life is when darkness has its way, and Lesson #2 is to rejoice in how life is when the Dayspring from on high enlightens.
Three truths we want to recognize about how life is when darkness has its way. First, when darkness has its way, the cold barnyards have no frolicking. We Midwestern types know well the signs of winter. Trees lose their leaves, lawns go brown, storm doors and windows appear, fuel assistance requests skyrocket, and years ago at least, vehicles refuse to start. In the devotional book from Lutheran Indian Ministries, one author writes from Alaska that they are seeing less and less daylight every day; that they lose about seven minutes a day until there are 22 hours of night. Now that’s what you call darkness. Precious little frolicking, to be sure.
When the spiritual forces of darkness have their way, the nations have no peace. In Malachi’s day, the nation of Judah had gone so far astray that God was threatening to leave them and take the Gentiles as His people. Their priests were teaching false doctrine and leading many astray. Their men were divorcing their Israelite wives and marrying foreigners. Instead of honoring God with their tithes and free will offering, they were making Him weary with left-overs and blemished animal sacrifices. Malachi asked no fewer than 22 rhetorical questions in 55 verses to call this nation to repentance and to fix their eyes on the sun of righteousness who would be rising with healing in its wings for those who would fear the Name of the Triune God.
In our day, apart from Jesus Christ, the nations still don’t have peace. From sea to shining sea, there are wars and rumors of war. Christians are at odds with Muslims, Muslims are at odds with the Jews, gun control advocates are at war with the NRA, Democrats are against the Republicans and the establishment republicans are against the anti-establishment republicans, pro-abortion supporters are against the pro-lifers, traditional values folks are at odds with the not so traditional value folks, the baby boomers have their differences with the millennials and the elderly are asking the same questions they asked 50 years ago, “what’s the matter with young people these days?” The most basic of differences is till darkness vs. light. Unbelief vs. faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Sinful nature vs. new life in Christ. Culture vs. church. Bad angels vs. good angels. And still it is true what Jesus said to Nicodemus that “a great light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” When darkness has its way, first of all there is no frolicking in the barnyards, and secondly there is no peace in the nations.
And third, the minds of unbelievers have no good (eyesight). Paul said it this way to the Corinthians …the gospel is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. Dear friends in Christ, we’re not wrestling against flesh and blood in these end times, we’re wrestling against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. And so we cry out again and again for Jesus Christ to come into our hearts and souls and minds in the preaching of His Word, in the teaching of His Word, in the remembering of His Word. For the Holy Spirit to keep on calling us by the Gospel and gathering us into the assembly and enlightening us with His gifts and sanctifying us with His truth!
O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Zechariah sang it this way, that as often as the sunrise shall visit us from on high, He gives light to those who are sitting in darkness and guides our feet into the way of peace. Three truths we learn about with the light of this world has His way.
First, When the Dayspring from on high enlightens, Christians have a hard time containing their (joy). As often as the Word of God is a lamp unto our feet, we are no longer like little white faced Hereford calves cooped up, penned up in foul air and packed down manure, we let loose with a running and a leaping and a frolicking kind of joy obvious to all. As often as the Word of God is a light unto our path, no longer do we sit in our corners swallowed up in darkness, paralyzed by the politicians, terrified by the terrorists, worried about what is to come, and yearning for the good old days which we think have passed us by. Now that the Dayspring has arisen, we can get up and walk, we walk about in freedom, we move forward on the pathway to peace. As often as we taste in our Lord’s Supper that our God is good, as often as we make the sign of the cross and remember that we are the baptized and believing people of God, as often as we get refreshed with the forgiveness of our sins, as often as we bring an offering and come into the house of our God, that often we want to shout it from the mountaintops that a Savior is born, that often we desire to direct those with whom we disagree to Joseph and Mary and their baby lying in a manger, that often we find it easy to forgive those who have harmed us, that often we just feel like singing like we’ve never sung before!
Secondly, As often as the Dayspring from on high visits us, nations get called to (repentance) In Malachi’s words, the day was coming when unbelievers will get what they have coming. The day was coming when the Lord of hosts will judge the living and the dead, the day was coming when all the arrogant would be burning as in an oven and evildoers would be stubble. In John the Baptist’s day, the message was the same. Repent, or you will die. Or to say it with a more positive spin, repent, and you will live. No matter what our culture says this December is about, the Church in fact knows what it is about. Advent is about throwing ourselves on the mercy of God, that the forgiveness of sins might sweep over our souls, as the sunrise sweeps over the horizon. It’s about Jesus Christ coming near, that we might be safe. It’s about this church and churches across the globe being little cities of light, set on a hill announcing judgment on the same old sins that keep on ruining our lives and Good News to sinners of all stripes and sizes.
Whenever the Light of the world has His way, new days keep (dawning). It’s as if we are living in the pre-dawn. It’s still dark outside, but we can see the first glow of the new day peeking over the horizon. We know that very soon the full light of day will be here. Christ, our day spring gives us hope. When you know the long dark night is about to end, you begin to get excited about the dawning of a new and more glorious day. There’s already enough light shining to give us light, to give us sight, so we can see where we’re going. Right now our eyes are getting adjusted to walking in the light. We’ve been sitting in the darkness long enough, this morning brings with it mercies that are new, and tomorrow will be the same.
The kingdom of God is like a large congregation of believers in a small town who can see clearly now. They agree with Johnny Nash, who sang it years ago, “I can see clearly now the rain is gone, I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright bright bright sunshin’ day.” Their days will be bright and sunny not because their lives are any easier or smoother than those who are living apart from their Savior, but because the God who said in the first place, “Let light shine out of darkness” has in the second place found a way to shine in their hearts in a regular sort of a way. They still have dark corners in their lives, but as often as they pray to be enlightened, they are. As often as they cry out for mercy, mercy is theirs. As often as they ask for their Father in heaven to hold their hand, He does. As often as they seek the face of Jesus Christ, they find it. And as often as they look for the light at the end of their tunnels, they can’t miss it, there it is. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther