Month: December, 2013

The Greatness of God

Pastor Dan Haugen

“The Greatness of God”

December 15, 2013

 

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

2013 is coming to a close so we will soon learn who Time’s man of the year is. Aren’t you excited? Soon we will learn who has had the greatest influence in the world this year. Let’s see who the candidates are:

Bashar Assad, President of Syria – Hmm. Maybe for his bad influence. It could happen. Both Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler were once Time’s man of the year. Syria is in ruins and they harbor and train terrorists. That has sure affected the world.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder – If he were chosen it would be his second time having also been the man of the year in 1999. He sure formed a good business. As far as making money and finding ways to get us to spend ours, I guess he’s had a lot of influence.

Ted Cruz, Texas Senator – The new republican hope. Newly into office and saying a lot of provocative things. He recently tweeted some beautiful things about Nelson Mandela upon his passing but made news when some people attacked him for doing so. Politics certainly has its influence on the world.

Miley Cyrus, Singer – A one-time positive teen influence who is now becoming more famous for her twerk expression and the habit of wearing next to nothing on stage. I wonder why she wasn’t nominated when she was doing good things.

Pope Francis, Leader of the Catholic Church – Nominated not for his faith but because of his views. Has shown a positive influence on the church depending on who you ask. A reformer of sorts and the only religious figure on the list.

Barack Obama, President of the United States – No matter what you think of him, he’s influential because of the office he holds. The President of the United States is the most powerful man in the world. He’s come under a lot of fire lately.

Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran – A president of Iran who is finally making gestures of peace toward the U. S. Lately, however, talks have slowed. Let’s hope he’s genuine in his desires.

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services – A mover and shaker on Obamacare. Has come under a lot of fire for its hazardess rollout but promises to make things right. Those silly politicians always promising things.

Edward Snowden, N.S.A. Leaker – A person who isn’t even free to enter his own country because he sold secrets that affected many lives. Is he a traitor or a saint? Everyone has an opinion.

Edith Windsor, Gay rights activist – A woman on the forefront of the gay rights movement who believes that marriage is with the one you love regardless of what scripture might say against it. After all, God is love right?

Do you think it’s a good list? Lots of controversial people there but no one can say that each didn’t have an effect on many lives throughout the world. We look at the list and we can see what is most important in our society. We can see what the world values most. It’s strange that we only have one religious figure and he’s only up there because he isn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers. In case you haven’t heard yet, the Pope won.

If this list were available in Jesus time, I wonder who they would pick. Maybe Caesar, he sure had an influence in the world. What about Herod? He was a master builder and a ruthless businessman. They seem to be popular. How about one of the many Roman and Greek philosopher’s, they sure had an influencing effect. It could have been any of these people.

Who do you think Jesus would have picked? We get a strong hint in our Gospel lesson for this morning in verse 11 where Jesus says, “I tell you: among those born of women, there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” It’s certain Jesus would have picked John but I don’t think he would have gotten a vote.

So, what is it about John the Baptist that Jesus would value him so much? Compared to some other people of his time, he certainly didn’t have a lot of influence. Yes, like Pope Francis, he wasn’t scared to ruffle a few feathers, last week’s lesson showed us that, but he affected far less people than any pope would. So why does Jesus think that John should be man of the year?

Jesus does so because He defines greatness different than the world does. According to Jesus, greatness is not a matter of impacting the world and leaving your mark upon what society values. It’s something much more. What is greatness to Jesus? We see it in the person of John the Baptist.

Last week we introduced John the Baptist as the one of whom Isaiah prophesied was, “the voice of one crying in the desert.” But from that time when John was introducing the Messiah and baptizing Him in the river Jordan to now, a lot has happened. From the time John the Baptist was declaring Jesus not only man of the year but man of all years, opportunities and fortunes have changed significantly for John.

Now he is in jail after speaking out about Herod’s worldly and promiscuous life. It seems he had ruffled the wrong feathers and he lay in a dungeon close to death. He knew he would never again see the light of day and he was probably wondering what had gone wrong. As he lay, his followers would have kept him up-to-date on the comings and goings of the Messiah. So where was the justice the coming Messiah was to bring? Where has the greatness of God been shown and why isn’t His vengeance upon those who have imprisoned him? The unrighteous religious leaders were still spewing their false teachings and sinful pagans were still ruling the world. Everything and everyone was still as sinful as before Jesus had made His presence known. Where is the justice, where is the greatness? Nothing has changed.

 

We can imagine that John the Baptist was all twisted up with emotion. His cousin, Jesus, was chosen for a great mission but it seemed he was more interested in preaching and teaching with a few miracles thrown in for good measure then He was about overthrowing a corrupt society or raining His vengeance down on the sinful pagans. It’s no wonder then, that John would have strains of doubt within him. Even the most faithful Christians have doubt now and again. Its part of our sinful nature and something we can never hope to completely shake until that time we see Christ face-to-face.

Have you ever had moments like John when you wondered what to make of it all? When things don’t go as you think they should have, do you wonder if God is even aware of the problem? I look out and it seems we all are pretty secure in our faith, but deep down inside I know that many have secret doubts lurking around waiting for the devil to use them to his advantage. Maybe you think that Christ has not lived up to your expectations like John. Or maybe you sometimes feel let down, like John, wondering why the world seems to be so lost.

I have a very good friend in Idaho Falls. He not someone who might seem like someone I would pick to be a companion. He’s incredibly vain at times (he calls himself the fabman). He’s incredibly talented and he can’t figure out why he isn’t the king of his profession by now.

I think I love him so much because he has so much passion. I’m drawn to people of passion and he has it in spades for what he does. He is a symphony conductor and I could honestly watch a tape of him conducting any piece with the volume turned completely off and be perfectly entertained.

As our friendship grew, so did his faith. We would spend lots of time just discussing God and our need for Him, not easy for a guy who already thought he has everything he needs. But something happened that shook his whole world and his faith.

The only time I can remember seeing my friend humbled was when his kids were with him. I have never seen a man love so much. He loved his kids with the same passion he loved his music and he was completely satisfied with life when they were around.

Then his son died from a drug reaction. That happened over four years ago and he still can’t talk about it without completely losing it. He has so much emptiness inside him and he can’t seem to forgive God for taking his son from him. He doesn’t want to hear that we live in a sinful world and with it comes death. He just wants his son back.

 

He is filled with doubt because he expected one thing from God and he got something completely different. Much like John the Baptist, my friend needed answers for the questions that have come because of his mistaken expectations. Like John he felt confused, wondering where the greatness of God was when he needed it most.

Jesus understands that we have doubts. He understands that in our weakened condition, when we feel pain and loss, when we feel sorrow from having to bear things seemingly too heavy to bear, that we have moments when we wonder why.

We look at these things when we are strong and it’s easy to see how sin has affected this world. We know why pain and death happens to people. We know what our sin has caused us to become. But when we are at our weakest, we wonder and even sometimes lose our way.

Jesus understands, not only because he is God but because He once walked in and lived in this world with us. He saw the same expressions on the people of His time as He does on the people of our time. He experienced the weakness of the world and He came to change these things once and for all. He knows we are going to be weak sometimes because of the things that sin has caused us to bear and He forgives us.

Not only does He forgive but He comforts and strengthens us through His Holy Spirit so that we might, once again, place our complete hope and trust in Him. We see Him do this for John. Even though there was evidence of doubt, Jesus said words of comfort to send to John saying, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”

Jesus is saying to John, “I have come to fulfill those things which have been said about me. Jesus refers to Isaiah 35 verses 5-6, Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” He is basically saying, “John, have faith, I know what I am doing and I am still the one who was to come. Have no fear, just believe. I’m doing exactly what the prophets foretold. I am the Messiah. You introduced the right person to the world.”

And he says the same to us during all our wonderment and doubts. When we wonder where the greatness of God is, we have only to open our Bibles to be reminded. Then we can see what has been done and what has yet to be done. We can see that God has not forgotten us but that He has sent His son to give us the greatest of gifts and will send Him again to bring us to Him in heaven.

When we wonder where the presence of God is we are reminded when we partake of the Lord’s Supper reminding us that He is always with us and in us offering us His forgiveness for all those times we were weak.

When we wonder about the greatness of God we have only to look at what God has created and the perfection of it all. We can look at the stars at night and at the mountain and oceans by day. We can see the miracle of birth and we can see promise in death. Don’t look for the greatness of God in your worldly experiences. Sin has wreaked havoc on those, causing confusion and strife.

Look at verse 11,  Jesus says, “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Who is the least in heaven that Jesus is speaking of? All who believe obviously, but He is also talking about Himself. Jesus lived a life of serving others but He even went lower than that. He placed Himself beneath the whole human race, dying on the cross when, by all rights it should have been us on that cross. That is where you see the greatness of God, in Jesus’ humility even unto death, in Jesus coming to save a world that had been lost to sin and then rising from the dead to assure us a place in the kingdom as rightful heirs.

You can see the greatness of God, even in death, even in the death of a beloved son or daughter. Because, through God’s word by way of the Holy Spirit we have learned that death has been defeated. We have learned that Jesus Christ came to make things right even in the humility of a manger birth.

We have learned that, one day we will all rise again to the Glory of God, healthier and happier than ever before, to be with Him for all eternity made possible because of the greatest of sacrifices. It’s all in His Word and if you want to see the greatness of God, in its pages are all the evidence you will ever need.

John the Baptist knew this, but even he needed a reminder, yet Jesus would have voted him man of the year for what he had done and for the sacrifices he was willing to make for the greater good. Jesus said, But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more

than a prophet. Maybe Jesus placed this great honor on him because he was the only one of the prophets to see God in the flesh. He was the only one to witness the Messiah and it was he who ushered him in to begin a ministry that would change the world.

You and I are among those are the least in the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is referring to. What does that mean? It means that in many ways, we have been blessed even more than John the Baptist. We have been given God’s Word to guide us and His Sacraments to give us His grace. Because of God’s Word, we get to witness the greatness of God over and over again. We have all of God’s promises written down so that we might be reminded of that grace every time we open His Holy book. In that respect, God has made us even greater than John.

 

So what is greatness? Greatness is what Jesus has done for us. Greatness is the grace God has given us and Greatness is in His  promises fulfilled. Who belongs at the top of the list for Time’s man of the Year? This year it was someone who wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers. But if you think about, it should be Jesus Christ every time. Because no one has or ever will impact the world like Jesus has.

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, remind yourself where the greatness lies. We celebrate so much more than a simple birth, so much more than angels and shepherds. We celebrate greatness. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing The Way

Pastor Dan Haugen

December 8, 2013

“Preparing The Way”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

Many of you know that in my life I have been blessed to do a number of things for a living. I’ve been a grocery store bagger, a night manager for that same grocery store, a baker, a drug store manager, a mission leader, a Deacon, a seminarian and through this journey, the Lord has prepared me for what I am so blessed to do now as your pastor. Along the way, I have learned many lessons about life and death, success and failure.  I have become wiser, largely because of the education I have received from my own mistakes. In each phase, I have had the opportunity to observe life in a different way and each experience has had a hand in shaping who I am today.

In my retail years, one of these observations was to the slow death of Christian holidays. Little by little, I could see our Christian celebrations become more and more about profit and less about what that celebration was to commemorate and I believe that Christmas has paid the highest price

Christmas used to be about Christ and now it’s more about profits. Every year, the Christmas stuff is put on the shelves just a little earlier then the last with hopes that this will translate into higher earnings.

In my last years in retail, I can remember putting Hallmark Christmas ornaments out as early as July. In the same store you can find Halloween items an aisle over from the Christmas items and I can promise you that many stores already have their Valentines items ready to put out. Every store wants to be ready for the next profit push.

As God was shaping me, he was showing me that readying ourselves for the Christmas season has become something different than it used to be. When I ask you if you are ready for Christmas, what is your first thought. Chances are it would include thoughts of trees being set up, decorations being hung, gifts being bought and wrapped, and cards being sent. So I ask you, should that be what preparing for Christmas is all about? What has happened to the spiritual aspects of readiness?

In every Gospel you will find the account of John the Baptist urging people to get ready for the coming Messiah. It’s the message of Advent to make ourselves ready. The account in our Text in Matthew gives us a glimpse of how we are to get ready for the season. It won’t include anything about strings of lights or pretty wrapping paper but make no mistake, we must heed these words if we wish to be fully prepared for Christ at Christmastime.

First, John tells us to be prepared. To make anything work to its greatest advantage, one must be prepared.

Before we put up any decorations at the house, the room has to be prepared. The first year in any new place is the worst because it is then that we have to decide how to arrange the furniture so that we might fit in a Christmas tree. In our little apartment in St. Louis I must have moved the living room furniture in thirty different configurations until we came up with the perfect fit. It meant buying a skinnier tree so we would have room but, eventually we found a configuration that gave enough room for the tree and all the presents underneath. With that, other decorations had to be stored to prepare room for all the Christmas ones. I’m glad it only happens once a year.

In our Gospel lesson, we are told that John the Baptist was the one whom Isaiah was talking of in chapter 40 of His book, the voice crying out in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord.”

I found that the word for prepare in Hebrew means to clear a path. It’s not just about preparing ourselves, it’s about clearing a path, preparing a way for the message of Christ to get through to others. We are to take away all the obstacles that might get in His way. This Advent we are called to make His highways straight so that every valley might be lifted up and every mountain and hill made low. In other words, we are to work for Christ so that His words might lift up those who are in the valleys of their lives and bring humbleness to the haughty.

Our preparing for Christ at Christmas is not just about us, in fact, it should be less about us then it is about others. To be prepared for Christmas is to become the means by which Christ reaches out to all those he came to save. We are called to clear all those things that would get in the way of our relationship with Jesus Christ and we are to make His paths straight so that He may also reach others.

Secondly, we are called to confess. Martin Luther was especially fond of the confession found in Psalm 130. Let’s hear it now:

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”

To Luther, confession was more than running to a confessional booth waiting to be absolved from sin, it was about a sincere intent to purge yourself through repentance. Not that he didn’t value the act of Public confession before your pastor, in fact, he would be very disappointed that we have given up the requirement.

No, what he sought was an honest confession, a sincere expression born from the understanding of one’s own guilt and an earnest need for redemption and forgiveness.

He knew that God’s way of forgiveness required a genuine admission. It requires an understanding of our wrongs and a willingness to make them right. But is it enough to confess them to God only? James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for one another so that you may be healed.”

Luther always believed in public confession as a way of purging oneself of sin but it has become something we only do in private. I invite you then, to remember the words of James and trust God in confessing your sins publicly, be it to me or to those you have wronged.

We prepare for the Lord by bringing our sins out from their hiding places. We prepare for the Lord by confessing the things that have taken us off the narrow path to heaven. We prepare for the Lord by trusting in Him to cleanse us from the sins that hinder us from having a true and honest relationship with Him.

We are so blessed to have a God who even takes the time to hear our confession but it’s so much more than that. We are so blessed to be able to enjoy a relationship with God that is so intimate and honest that we know our confession reaches willing ears.

With confession comes repentance and no, they aren’t the same thing. Repentance is actually taking confession to the next level and it is the next logical step in preparing for the coming of the King of kings.

Our two boys were like many others. When they were younger, they had a love/hate relationship. One minute they would be laughing together about something and the next they’d be smacking each other. As the smacking would increase, the inevitable would happen and mom and dad would have to get involved. Someone would get the brunt of the punishment as the confessions were dragged out of them and this would usually bring with it a promise to be better next time. This is when you learn that promises are not always promises with little boys. More often than not, another skirmish would soon happen and the whole process would have to be repeated. Eventually we found out that if we made them hug each other nice and tight until they could forgive each other again it worked to prolong the interval between episodes.

This shows us the difference between confession and repentance. What the boys did was give the obligatory confession so that they could escape further punishment but what they didn’t have in their hearts was repentance.

To repent means to turn back or change. When we repent properly, it means that we sincerely intend to turn back from our evil ways and change how we approach and react to things.

It means that you are willing and intent on making a difference in your behavior. Often when we confess, it doesn’t necessarily bring a change in attitude or lifestyle.

When my boys confessed, it was not about wanting to make our or even their lives better. It wasn’t the beginning of an honest attempt to make better decisions next time. It was a way of getting out of an already unpleasant situation. Repentance is more than this.

I wonder if God scrunches His face up in frustration every time He looks down at us making our kids promise never to do something again only to do the same sins we do over and over again ourselves. It must be wearisome for Him. Thank God that He is a God of love and mercy.

I imagine this is why heaven gets so excited for one who honestly repents.

Do you remember the story of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to find the one sheep that as lost and when he finds the one he calls his friends to celebrate? Luke 15:7 says, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

You see, simple confession is not enough, it is just a first step into a changed life. Repentance shows that you truly understand the gravity of what you confess with a desire to make a change.

We are so blessed to have a God who even cares that we repent but it’s so much more than that. We are so blessed to have a God who delights in our repentance so much so that even the heavens themselves rejoice along with Him.

Finally, we are called to produce. John the Baptist said in verse 8 to the Pharisees and Sadducees that they should bear fruit in keeping with repentance. This is the next step in preparing for Christ, to bear fruit.

We must confess our sins. Then we must repent and change those things which have been keeping us from Christ. Then he tells us that, with this repentance we must bear fruit, we must produce. What fruit you ask? We have only to turn to Galatians 5 to find out. True confession and repentance leads to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

How many people do you know that call themselves Christian but who have very few of these qualities? Many times it’s someone who has gone to church their entire lives but who never seemed to get the message. Instead of trusting in confession and repentance, they bank on church attendance to get them right with God.

The Pharisees and Sadducees that John was speaking to in our text were just such people and he saw right through them. They had the law to hold them up but what they lacked was the relationship that God treasures most.

They were descendants of Abraham and they thought this and the law would be sufficient for their salvation but John gave them a different message. John understood that the importance didn’t lie in their ancestry with Abraham but in their having the same attitude and belief as Abraham. John goes on to say that the Lord is ready to cut down any tree that does not produce good fruit. To me, John is saying that church attendance and family history are not what save you. You must produce.

If you have a job but don’t do anything you’ll get fired. If you go out on a date and only think of yourself you’ll probably not get a second date. John is telling us that if we don’t produce fruit in our Christian lives, Christ is not going to have any part in our lives.

So I ask you again. Are you ready for Christmas? Are you ready to meet the Savior in an up-close and intimate way? You must prepare by clearing for Him a path through confession both to God and your fellow man followed by an honest and earnest repentance with fruit-bearing in keeping with that repentance.

Why are you here this morning? I pray it’s because you’re preparing for Christ in the proper way. I pray that your ears have taken in His instructions to you and that you have made a commitment to take the next step. I pray that when you partake of His body and blood this day that you do so because you have confessed your sins and have repented with a true heart in eager anticipation of His forgiveness. When you leave here this morning I pray that you leave committed to changing not just your life but the lives of all you come to love and to know.

We are so blessed that God even cares for us but it’s so much more than that. We are so blessed to have a God who cares for us so much that He would send His only Son as a babe in a manger to make things right. We are so blessed that He would allow that same Son to die so that all of us could live with Him into eternity. We are so blessed that God has given us His Word so that we might find the way to prepare for His coming again and we are so blessed to have each other so that we might uphold each other in faith until that time when we will be face to face with Christ Himself.

Are you ready for Christmas? Listen to the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight His paths. Amen.

Readying Ourselves Bible Study

Bible Study – Matthew 24:36-44

Why did Matthew’s community need to be reminded to remain alert and to “love in expectation”?

 

Is this section of Scripture talking focused on informing Israel or the church?

 

Why has God kept the day of His coming a secret? 1 Corinthians 13:9, 12

 

What other passages tell us of this time? John 14:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

 

Jesus says “But concerning that day and hour no one knows..” Why do we continue to see people making attempts at predicting the day?

 

What similarities can we find between the second coming of Christ and the story of the flood as referred to in verse 37? Verses 38-39. What other comparisons are there?

 

Who is the Son of Man? Matthew 13:36-37; Mark 2:27-28, 9:9, 13:24-27; Luke 9:44; Luke 11:30 Luke 22:15-22; John 5:26-27, 6:60-62;

 

In describing the people of Noah’s time, He describes them doing normal things, not necessarily evil things. Why is this?

 

These statements are both apocalyptic and prophetic. For what purpose does God use prophesy? Amos 3:7; Daniel 4:17; Isaiah 4:17

 

Why does the Son not know of the date when “Heaven and earth will pass away” if He is fully divine? Philippians 2:5-11

 

Where else in Scripture do we see the comparison of the coming of Christ and a thief?

1 Thessalonians 5:2-4; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3, 16:15. Why is this comparison used so often?

 

Some people read rapture language in this section of Scripture. What do you think Jesus means in verses 40-41?

 

How does the warning of Jesus to be watchful apply to how we live our lives?

 

How might our surroundings be distracting us?

 

What do we need to do to prepare for the Lord’s coming?

 

Readying Ourselves

Pastor Dan Haugen

“Readying Ourselves”

December 1, 2013

 

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

The superintendent of a large Christian school was concerned about the mess he found in so many of the classrooms he visited. Papers were often thrown on the floor, and the students’ desks were surrounded by clutter. Feeling strongly that proper learning could not take place in such an untidy environment, he decided to take action.

He chose one classroom for an experiment, introduced himself to the students and with a smile made this proposition: “Your teacher, principal and I provide a well-equipped classroom for you to enjoy but we need your help in keeping your desks and the classroom orderly. Many of you have crumpled papers inside your desks with books left open and the pages bent. Often there are pencils on the floor under your desks along with other debris. “I would like each of you to clean out your desk today and begin this school year resolving to keep it clean. One day I will return and inspect your desks and the person with the neatest desk will be given this $100 bill. I won’t tell you which day it will be. It will be a surprise. Not even your teacher or the principal will know the day.”
The children squealed with excitement and began immediately pulling things from their desks, filling the trash baskets with crumpled papers, stacking their books neatly inside their desks, and neatly lining up their pencils and pens. Every morning for the first week, every student checked his or her desk to make sure it was in perfect condition, confident that today would be the day the superintendent returned.

The next week, a few boys grew weary of the exercise and returned to their former habits. By the third week, several students remarked, “I doubt if he’ll come back at all. He just said that to make us keep our desks clean.” After two months, no one in the classrooms bothered to inspect their desks and in fact, forgot the superintendent’s promise.
Except for one girl.

Dutifully, she inspected her desk every morning and several times a day, making sure things were in proper order. For months, she was teased by the other students. “He’s not coming back! Why do you keep looking for him? You look stupid believing that promise, anyway.” Still, she remained quiet, kept her desk in perfect condition and waited.

Near the end of the school year, there was a knock on the door and the superintendent entered. Quickly, the students flung open their desks and began frantically to clean them. But the superintendent held up his hand for them to stop.

All the students were asked to stand beside their desk at attention while the superintendent inspected each desk. One after another, he rejected them for being messy. One boy tried giving excuses but to no avail. Another blamed the teacher for not reminding them. Still another blamed the superintendent for making them wait so long.

Finally, the superintendent arrived at the desk of the little girl who confidently displayed her well-kept desk while beaming at the superintendent. After inspecting her desk, he took her by the hand to the front of the classroom and awarded her the $100 bill. “Boys and girls,” he said kindly, “this girl never stopped believing I would return so she kept her desk in perfect order. She didn’t need to worry about what day or even what time of day I would arrive because she was always ready. Always.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, a beginning of the Church year, a time we look forward to the coming of the Savior as a babe in a manger and also to His second coming as the Savior of the world and just like the little girl in our story, we are called to be prepared.

Just like this little girl we are to prepare ourselves daily, always readying ourselves should that fateful day arrive. We are to keep our own desks clean in the faith that Christ will return as He has promised.

In other words, we are to repent daily, because it’s through repentance that we are washed clean of the sin that would separate us from God. A lack of faith will betray you, excuses won’t work and nobody else can take the blame, only repentance and faith will keep our desks clean.

My job at the seminary was to supervise the student workers in the maintenance dept. Part of my duties were to collect all the garbage that was thrown away by the students in student housing. We called that area the Woods.

I could write a book on all the disgusting things I had to collect but it’s a book you would never want to read. You might imagine that future pastor’s and their wives might be a little cleaner and more courteous than others but you would be wrong. Some trash bins were so disgusting you had to approach with caution, holding your breath as long as possible. One time I opened a trash bin and a squirrel foraging for food jumped out nearly landing on my face. I think I lost about three years with that episode. All the disgusting things you can imagine I witnessed and I couldn’t wait to get home to get my clothes in the wash and take a shower. I needed to get all the grossness off of me as soon as possible. Just thinking of it makes my stomach turn. It was a great feeling to get myself washed and into some clean clothes.

How absurd it would be to take my shower and then put on those same disgusting clothes again. This is a good analogy of what Jesus is talking about this morning in our Gospel lesson. We are to keep ourselves and our lives clean of the filth that tries to cling to us every day. Through Christ’s death and resurrection we have been given the opportunity to take off the dirty clothes of sin and put on the new ones of grace.

Because Christ took our sins with Him to the grave, through repentance and faith we are daily washed clean of the grime of sin we all collect on a daily basis. And just as this sin is with us every day, so we should make a habit to use the gift of repentance to daily renew ourselves so that God may look at us through the prism of Christ and see us as unsoiled by the world.

Advent is a time of preparations and new beginnings. Each time we come to God in repentance and faith, our sins are wiped clean and we experience a new beginning of sorts. Each day we are given the opportunity to take off the old self and put on the new.

Luther said, “To repent means to feel the wrath of God in earnest because of one’s sin, so that the sinner experiences anguish of heart and is filled with painful longing for the salvation and the mercy of God.” He said we are to, “drown ourselves daily in the waters of Baptism and then rise up again as a new, forgiven person living in the grace of God,”

New beginnings as people forgiven, washed clean of the sins that once condemned us. We are to ready ourselves, prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ through our acts of repentance and faith. We are to acknowledge before God that we are in need of His salvation and mercy given us through Christ, then we are to symbolically drown in the waters of our Baptism and then rise up again as a new, forgiven person living in the grace that only God almighty is prepared to give.

Repentance is the act of turning away from our sins to a new life in Christ. If we do this, when the second coming does come, God will see us as washed clean by the blood of Christ. God will recognize us because of Christ’s sacrifice.

Ian Macpherson tells a story about a little girl who was on a train to London shortly after the Second World War. She had been evacuated from the city during the air raids and had not seen her mother for a long time. She was excited about meeting her mother on arrival at the station. A fellow-passenger teased her by saying. “What if she does not recognize you? It is so long since she saw you and she may have forgotten what you look like.” At first the child was shocked by the idea that her mother would not recognize her. But soon she was all smiles again as she announced, “It will be all right. Mummy made the dress I am wearing. If she does not know me by myself, she’ll know me by my frock.”

God will know us because we will have been washed clean. Our figurative clothes will glisten because we came to Him in repentance.

Daily we are to repent because daily we sin. In the beginning of our Gospel lesson Jesus says, “But concerning the day and the hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” Repentance can’t just happen once, it must be a daily cleansing in eager anticipation of Christ’s return. Daily we should invite the Holy Spirit to work on our penitent heart. Daily we should rejuvenate ourselves in God’s Word so that our faith may be renewed. At every opportunity, we should take part in the sacrament of the alter so that we might be prepared by His body and blood to receive God’s forgiveness becoming, once again, unpolluted by the world. Every day we must present ourselves prepared and ready for our Lord to come again.

In our Epistle lesson in Romans, Paul shares with the believers in Rome a warning that we must still learn from today, he said, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is not far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

 

We cannot afford to let ourselves fall asleep because of our own impatience or lack of faith. Salvation is nearer then when we first believed and we are called to stand ready at all times. We are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, as Paul says, making no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

We look at the world and we see that it could really care less. The signs of any preparedness evade us and it is easy to let ourselves go with the flow. “Live for today,” the people say. Nowhere do we hear in the public square, “Prepare for the time when Christ will come again.” God asks us to change but we ignore the plea because we, like so many, have become lost in the world

I remember an illustration I used in another sermon about faith. It told of an episode that Charlie Brown had with Lucy that I think many of you will remember. It involved Charlie Brown trying to finally kick the football held by Lucy. It always started the same. Lucy would hold the ball for Charlie’s placekicking and then Charlie would try to kick the ball. Every time Lucy held the ball for Charlie, he would approach the ball and kick with all his might. At the precise moment of the point of no return, Lucy would pick up the ball and Charlie would kick and his momentum unchecked by the ball, which was not there to kick, would cause him to fall flat on his back.
This strip opened with Lucy holding the ball, but Charlie Brown refused to kick it. Lucy begged him to kick the ball. But Charlie Brown said, “Every time I try to kick the ball you remove it and I fall on my back.” They went back and forth for the longest time and finally Lucy broke down in tears and admitted, “Charlie Brown I have been so terrible to you over the years, picking up the football like I have. I have played so many cruel tricks on you, but I have seen the error of my ways! I’ve seen the hurt look in your eyes when I’ve deceived you. I’ve been wrong, so wrong. Won’t you give a poor penitent girl another chance?”

Charlie Brown was moved by her display of grief and responded to her, “Of course, I’ll give you another chance.” He stepped back as she held the ball, and he ran. At the last moment, Lucy picked up the ball and Charlie Brown fell flat on his back. Lucy’s last words were, “Recognizing your faults and actually changing your ways are two different things, Charlie Brown!”

So, what would Christ see of you if He were to return today? Would He see you wearing the armor of light or would you just be clothed in filthy rags? Lucy saw her fault and was unwilling to change her ways. What about you? Are you ready and willing to repent and change your ways? Are you ready to confess your faults to Christ and so be cleansed in the blood of the lamb, prepared for Him to come again? Jesus says, “Therefore you must also be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Don’t be caught unexpectedly. Jesus will return. Will you be ready? Amen