Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sermon on Psalm 98, for Christmas Eve, "Marvelous Things!"

The concluding Sermon from a series on "Psalms for Advent." May your celebration of Christ's birth be filled with joy!
            “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace good will toward men!” Our sermon text for this Christmas Eve is Psalm 98, and I’ll be quoting it as we go along, if you’d like to follow. As you may have already guessed, the great Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” is directly based on this Psalm, and I’ll be making references to both.
    1     Oh sing to the Lord a new song, A song that celebrates God’s new work of salvation—a song to praise the redemption that Jesus brings as He is born to Israel, to all the earth—yes to all creation! For he has done marvelous things! He has made a new marvel for all time, the Virgin conceives and bears a child. The infinite and all powerful God, whose scepter rules over all creation, has joined Himself to lowly mankind. The Virgin conceived by the Holy Spirit and gave birth to the Son of God, Jesus, our Immanuel—God with us. Marvelous! Marvelous that God and man are joined in the mystery of the incarnation—son of God and son of Man.
         His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of God the Father, rules in His Father’s power and might. He comes meek and lowly to the earth to bring the Father’s redeeming love, to work salvation for God by being born under the law to redeem us under the law. Salvation means rescue and rescue comes from danger and distress. Our danger and distress is sin and death. All the creation was subjected to futility because of the sin of Adam, and longs to be set free from the bondage of corruption, from sin, death, suffering and decay (Romans 8:18-23). We need a rescuer, a Savior! Christmas marks His coming, His birth for us! It marks the undoing of the curse, as Jesus comes to set creation free. “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” Not only mankind, but creation too is promised freedom from the corruption of sin and the curse.  
    2     The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. Angels were the first messengers to make His salvation known. Glorious angels praising the birth of the Christ child, proclaiming peace to the fearful and lowly, sending messages of hope across creation. Shepherds made salvation known to the countryside; wise men later came offering their gifts, and returned rejoicing. Through Jesus’ life and ministry the rippling tide of His message spread until after His death and resurrection, the ripples spread from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria, and finally to the ends of the earth! The righteousness of the Lord is truly seen in the sight of all the nations, and it continues to be made known as messengers, missionaries, pastors, teachers, parents and children tell the love of Jesus around the world.
    3     He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. The One True God does not forget His promises and love. He is faithful to His children, to Israel His chosen nation, and to people of every nation, tribe, people, and language, who have been adopted by faith and baptism into His ever growing house and family. God remembers—He forgets only our sins that He has forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross. He remembers His unchanging love.
    4     Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! The swelling joy of creation is so great and powerful at the arrival of Christ our Savior, that it cannot be contained! It cannot be quieted, it cannot be silenced, the very earth leaps for joy. An explosion of jubilation…celebration…as all of creation sings forth the new song of God’s salvation! Your songs and voices join too in the chorus—don’t quiet or quench the song, but make a joyful noise to the Lord.
    5     Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!  6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord! Let every musician and every musical instrument be tuned to give praise to the Lord! Music is God’s gift to creation, to give glory to Him. With melodies and harmonies, strings, brass, and joyful horns “let men their songs employ” and echo forth through all creation to make a joyful noise before the Christ child, the King born in the manger, worshipped by all creation. Let the skill of hand and voice and the creativity of the mind give honor and praise to the God who made them and filled them with His glorious sound.
    7     Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it!  8 Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together  9  before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. God has not only given voice and sound to mankind, but all heav’n and nature sing to Him. “Fields and floods, rocks hills and plains repeat the sounding joy.” Crashing waves and babbling brooks, roaring waterfalls, deep calling to deep, all of creation humming with sound, resounding with the praise of its Creator and Judge. As another hymn puts it, “All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays, stars and angels sing around Thee, Center of unbroken praise. Field and forest, vale and mountain, flow’ry meadow, flashing sea, chanting bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee” (LSB 803:2). All creation calls back and forth, from the realms of glory where angels dwell, to the revolving spheres of the planets and the distant stars and galaxies that declare His glory and proclaim His handiwork (Ps. 19), down to the lowly lilies and sparrows of the field. Creation calls to us, “Worship Him! Praise Him! God, Creator, Lord! Join now in the new song of all creation to praise Him now as Savior and Judge!” 
            The very song of creation beckons our hearts to open and to hear that Joy has come to the World. “Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room.” This joy that creation cannot contain is a joy that is meant to dwell in and overflow from your heart. The joy of the Christ child, creation’s King and Mighty Deliverer. A joy that will overflow from your heart to all your life. A joy that flows up from your heart to fill your lungs and resound through your voice, as you see and embrace your Savior. Your heart is the object of His coming, of His birth as God and man. Your heart is the object of His redemption, His costly blood shed on the cross, to give you the greatest gift of all—rescue from your sins, freedom from the curse, adoption as God’s children, the redemption of our bodies. He sends His Spirit into our cold, closed, sinful and selfish hearts, and opens and renews them—prepares a fitting temple for Him to dwell. His joy alone can lighten our hearts in a world filled with selfishness, darkness, and madness, and lightens our eyes to see Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome!
         He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove, the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.” Jesus’ judgment is a two edged sword—rescue and deliverance for those who trust in Him, but destruction for His enemies. We rejoice to know that He rules with truth and grace. We come to our merciful judge, because all “those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed” (Ps. 34:5). He will not turn away from us when we look to Him. His is a divine and wondrous love, that forgives us, poor, undeserving sinners. That gives His righteousness to us by faith, so that we are judged with the righteousness of Jesus Christ on the Last Day. We look to His righteous judgment, that He spare us from what our sins deserve, and declares that we are innocent because of Jesus Christ, and that therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  
            Marvelous things, all! Marvelous that God has worked salvation for us in the miracle of Christ’s birth—the miracle of His life, death and resurrection lived for us. Marvelous things that He has spared us from what our sins deserve, and that all creation is promised freedom in Him. Joy, Joy to the World! “Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things! His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him!” In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

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